‘The warm heart of Africa’ and ‘the land of the lake’ are the standard tourist slogans, and they do fit the bill for Malawi. This is an attractive little country which follows the southern end of the Great Rift Valley, most of which consists of the long expanse of Lake Malawi. This lake and Chogoni Rock Art are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The scenery is sometimes stunning, ranging from the wooded shores of the lake to the cool Nyika Plateau, a game reserve, Zomba Mountain and Mount Mulanje, approached through green tea gardens. There are pleasant lakeside resorts, such as Salima and Monkey Bay, and historic mission stations at Livingstonia and on Likoma Island in the lake. The main towns are the commercial capital, Blantyre, the new capital at Lilongwe and the rather charming old capital, now the university town, of Zomba. Communications and the climate are good and the people are very friendly.
However, rapid population growth means that the single major national resource, agricultural land, is under pressure. The food supply system is precarious and prone to natural disasters, both droughts and heavy rainfall, so constant food aid is needed. Sensitive tourism can help to offset increasing poverty. Malawi is among the world’s least developed countries with a low life expectancy, partly due to the high rates of HIV/AIDS infection. However, after more than 70 years as a British colony and three decades of totalitarian rule, it is now a democratic multi-party state, and hopefully it can move forward.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of friendly local people is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.