When we venture to the other side of the world, I think we all have the tendency to look for the exotic. The first thing that struck me when I gratefully staggered down the staircase from the plane to the tarmac at Chileka International Airport in Blantyre was the pungent smell of woodsmoke. The second was the colorful attire of the onlookers who peered curiously through the fence at the string of weary travelers making their way to the customs terminal. I joined two of my recently arrived team members on the other side of a very cursory visa verification and security interview, and together we succeeded in fending off the swarm of overly pushy fellows who kept trying to carry our luggage out to the parking lot for a fee until our taxi arrived from Zomba Town.
As we spun through the countryside, wedged into the backseat of a sedan piled with our gear, I felt like my eyes were drinking the surroundings: dusty red soil, quaintly painted concrete shops, piles of raw bricks drying in the fields, freshly hewn pine furniture in open-air workshops, eucalyptus trees, huts, brick cottages, fields of maize in dazed lines. The blur of colors in the bold batiks and block printed garments of passerby slowly resolved into a palette drawn from the landscape. There was the rusty maroon of amaranth plants that were scattered in drunken clumps across the fields, likely the remnants of a now forgotten agricultural aid project. There were the golds of maize tassels; the blacks of charred roots, cobs and rubbish burned by the roadsides; the purples of sugarcane; the creamy whites of cotton bolls; and the blues of the darkening sky.
As I glanced toward the horizon, I saw a bank of cumulus clouds sweeping over the hills, and for a second, I could have imagined myself in California, British Columbia, or anywhere familiar. It was a gentle reminder that no matter where on the earth we call home, we all share the same sky.