Malawi is a picturesque country known as the “warm heart of Africa” based on the notably friendly nature of the people and the highly safe environment. While strolling the crowded streets of the Lilongwe, the capital city, greetings by strangers are common as they warmly engage with short conversations and authentically kind smiles.
This type of quick meet and greet is typical and takes place upwards of 50 times per day. Personally, I like the interactions, but they are so similar and rarely specifically memorable. Instead, they flow together as pleasant snippets of an overall nice day.
In this crowd of conversations, lucky for me, there was one not be forgotten. On an aimless, but purposeful meander through a grocery store parking lot, on a mission to buy some fabric to have dresses made, a young man matched pace with my stride and introduced himself with, “My name Respect.” He had likely noted my circling walk that distinctly lacked a plan and offered conversation and an offer to join my quest for the nearby market.
As we walked and enjoyed our conversation, I asked Respect about his work. His response was, “I am an artist.” It felt like a flash of Divine intervention… a purposeful meeting and invitation to work together. Not having secured a local artist for a hope mural in Malawi, I feel an immediate assurance that Respect would be the guy. As I told him about the Hope Travels project, we decided that he would begin the mission of locating a community space to paint. We agreed it should be in a highly public spot where the message of hope would feel valued and fruitful.
After we separated, (with fabric purchased and dresses ordered), he was back in touch within hours to report that a local screenprinter had agreed to let us paint his storefront. We met again so I could check out the space which is adjacent one of the small river bridges connecting two markets and in a central spot within the vegetable section of the market. All of these factors contributed to the location being a bustling hub of activity.
Initially, the storefront was dark and fading – looking like it had evolved over the course of time. It was a place you might pass without taking a second glance as you busily shopped at nearby potato and tomato stalls.
After a short detour with Respect to his home city near Lake Malawi, it was time to start painting. With paintbrushes in hands, Respect and his friend Max created a storefront that regally stands out in the market now. Bright colors draw the eyes to a stunning African village scene. At their work evolved, all eyes were on the store and many who passed stopped to compliment their work.
For me, there was something therapeutic about just being able to sit back ond watch their talents in action. As the scene unfolded, village huts, trees, people in motion, and a moonlight covered the walls.
Of particular note to me was the high quality of their lettering – even though I saw it happen – it was hard to believe the perfect, decorative letters were done without a stencil and evolved from their steady hands. Messages of hope in English and Chewa will greet all visitors of Lizulu Market and proudly highlight the location of the “Amazing Signs” shop.
Sometimes, well actually often on this journey, I have had a strong feeling guiding hands were directing my purpose and relationships. With Respect, I have no doubt this was the case. His name is a perfect description for the kindness shown during our time together – rarely letting me lift a package, always concerned about my well-being, and anxious to share the finest parts of Malawi.
I am so grateful for Respect (also known as Arone), Max, and Amazing for their deep commitment and contributions to this project. This HOPE mural is something special and a reminder that transformation is always possible.