Thursday, July 18, 2013

Visitors to Malawi rave about its natural beauty, wildlife, and the generosity of its people. Aptly nicknamed the “Warm Heart of Africa” Malawians are famous for their gentle, genuine affability and hospitality. In fact, according to Richard, who is one of the managers at GOLD Restaurant, “in Malawi we believe visitors bring good luck”.

Rural village to big city

Richard Mkandawire was born in 1972 in a rural village in the Rumphi District of Northern Malawi. There wasn’t much money but he had his mother and granny to care for him. At the age of seven he went to live with his uncle in Lilongwe, the capital city. He’d never been away from home. His mother had hopes for him to have a better education and he was eager to learn. As a little boy he had no idea that he wouldn’t see her again until the age of twelve. In fact, he would only meet his father for the first time when he was ten.

Growing up away from his parents was hard for Richard but he had big dreams. He believed that if he studied and worked hard, one day he would find employment in a big company in the city. He wanted to provide for his family – to give his mother a better life.

Far from home in search of better prospects

By the time he had matriculated and was studying to become an electrician his uncle was no longer able to provide for him financially. It was 1994. The country was changing. Many of the big companies had closed down and opportunities were scarce. He headed for South Africa where he worked as an assistant electrician, a butler, a barman, and a waiter. He knew he was capable of more but being a non-South African was a very real challenge. Regardless, Richard was humbly appreciative that “people trusted me at face value and gave me opportunities to learn and grow”.

Working at GOLD Restaurant

Today he’s a manager at GOLD Restaurant in Cape Town. He’s happily married and has three small boys under the age of 11. His wife, a bus driver, leaves the house each day at 4 a.m. He too works long hours. Together they juggle family and work as a team. But Richard doesn’t complain. He says, “if Cindy (GOLD Restaurant owner) can work as hard as she does, then so can I. I take my inspiration from her. Right now I wouldn’t change my life for anything”.

Richard's favourite dish on the GOLD Restaurant menu is the Venison pie. “It’s something different and exotic. This place is unique because it brings together people with different cultures and food traditions from all over Africa. Our people as much as our food make our restaurant truly African”.

Yearning for home

He recalls some of his favourite food from back home like “chambo”, a fish from Lake Malawi, or granny’s simple but utterly delicious onion and tomato based chicken.

Richard tries to go home once a year when he can afford to. He still plans to save enough money to one day go back home to his village for good but his goals have grown loftier. In addition to helping his extended family back in Malawi, he has every intention of empowering his village.

“I now know what it really means to be a human – to help other less fortunate. To be a man you must first work at being a human being and I hope I can teach that to my sons”.

Everyone has the right to aspire to something

Nowadays Malawi is a densely populated country and most rural Malawians live in extreme poverty. As a largely agricultural country grappling with climate change food supplies are low. Subsistence farmers are barely able to feed their families for a couple of months of the year. While efforts are being made to overcome these and other problems, life is hard. But that doesn’t mean that Malawians don’t have same aspirations as everyone else. Richard is proof of that.

“Things might take longer than expected” he says, “but I will reach my goal. I will always help others. Life has taught me that you really do get everything back along the way.”

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