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A Mirror in Malawi

We were crowded with children after visiting a Chewa village on the edge of Lake Malawi. The sun was setting and the magic photography hour made everything turn rich that afternoon – from golden strands of grasses that our trail cut through, to sheer amber curtains of dust our little caravan kicked up, to the bronze glow cast on deep brown skin tones punctuated with white toothy grins, and my decadent warm memories from that lively walk to our boat.

The children, who are void of digital devices, were clamoring to have their photos taken – and see them. At one point, I put my phone in selfie mode and started a video so the kids could watch themselves on the screen as we walked – it was the only way to keep moving forward. This moment was another poignant reminder about how we all want to be seen. I tried to 'see' them all with the click of my shutter, but only captured a few on my memory card.

Perhaps it's a sentimental mood or I'm just happy to see joyful emotion in my photography, but as I was filtering through some photos from this short adventure seven months ago in Malawi, I came across an image so dear to me that I nearly cried:

This young girl, waved and pushed through her friends to offer me a brilliant smile. Her exuberantly waving hand even blocked her face from the lens in a previous shot. But in this photograph, I looked into her eyes and I saw myself - both literally mirrored in her glossy dark iris and pupil while I set up my shot, and figuratively in the joy of making a human connection. If we can see ourselves in the happiness we bring other people, we must be so richly blessed, just like the completely saturated golden hour for photography.

I can't take these memories and photographs for granted. Each person we cross paths with makes an impact on us; whether it's a small divot or a big crater. This girl in Malawi, who is now etched in my memory, reminds me of another girl's smile who I captured in the Philippines seven years ago – a young woman, Biana, who just passed away. She also brought me so much joy while we worked together to rebuild homes in Ormoc on the Island of Leyte after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated the island.

Please cherish those people you encounter. They may not always treat you with these brilliant smiles or glowing sundown fanfares while walking to a lakefront, but they may offer you a way to connect meaningfully to themselves, their culture, or the place where you are – thus making your life more vibrant and rich – or they may simply need your smile and warmth to get them through a bad day.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. - Edith Wharton

I will leave you with the most spirited and colorful farewell you will ever see as the sun sunk low across the water– look at all that color reflected in the water, because those vibrant hues are what I felt cast on us and our boat as we departed across Lake Malawi.


The trip to Malawi in April 2021 was booked through Trekkup Dubai. My five weeks in the Philippines was spent volunteering with All Hands and All Hearts in March 2014. This blog is not sponsored.

© 2014-2021 Andrea Rip | The Earth Ink. All rights reserved.

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