When in July 2013, we as youngsters, went to Africa for a “temporary” summer job, we could never have imagined that we would still be living here 10 years later. And work too, because building your own company brings completely different dynamics with it! We have met so many special people. Some short-term, others are an important permanent part of our lives. Everyone has contributed in their own unique way to our growing love for this extraordinary continent. In this blog we share 10 lessons that we, as down-to-earth Dutch people, have learned after a decade in Africa.
It’s impossible to choose which are more important than others. So they are not listed in any specific order!
Many African cultures are known for their warm hospitality. It’s important to be friendly to new people, welcome them with open arms and treat them like family. Especially here in Malawi, which is called the Warm Heart of Africa for a reason. Everyone very quickly becomes your “brother” or “sister”! We have the nicest conversations with people we meet randomly, for example in the queue at the bank. That is certainly a place where you can spend some time needing a distraction…
Life in Africa has taught us to be more flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. Plans rarely stay the same and it’s important to respond quickly to new situations. Improvisation skills basically become a part of your DNA here. Although we don’t deny that sometimes, but only sometimes, we still complain. We’ll always be Dutchies, who could understand the clock before we knew how to tie our shoelaces.
3. Respect for nature
Africa offers an incredible variety of natural beauty and biodiversity. Before we settled here, we already admired nature. Our respect for the people who protect national parks and other natural areas continues to grow. We do our part by offering responsible tourism that helps protect ecosystems and supports local communities. Without involving the people in and around an area, nature conservation remains a one-sided and unsuccessful story.
Terribly cliché, but the pace in Africa is usually slower than we were used to in the Netherlands. We have learned to be patient and enjoy the moment, rather than pushing and rushing. Earlier we mentioned the queues at the bank as an example, but also when it comes to waiting for people with whom you have an appointment. Nowadays, we plan appointments as much as possible at one of our own venues, so that we can continue working while we wait. On the other hand, it isn’t that bad to let go of the typical Dutch mindset to always having to be busy. Staring out the window every now and then certainly has its advantages!
5. Community spirit
Africans place a high value on community and solidarity. Every day we see how important it is to work together and support each other. Both within the local community and within our company. We are incredibly grateful with the team we have. Despite the usual ‘things’, everyone is doing their very best to fulfil their role. And there is plenty of room for a chat and a joke to keep happy vibes. Together you achieve much more than alone!
Most people here are resilient in times of setbacks and difficulties. This also teaches us to persevere, even when things don’t go according to plan. You may know that Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, but that doesn’t mean that the people are sad and bitter. Unfortunately, politicians often beg for financial help from other governments and NGO’s. However, once you spend a little more time in the country, you will see that most people have big dreams and ambitions. They also want to work really hard for this. What is usually lacking are the means to take that first step in the right direction by themselves. In our view, creating employment and supporting the local economy are the best long-term solution.
7. Cultural diversity
Africa is a continent with an incredible diversity of cultures, languages and traditions. It is extremely important to embrace and respect others, and to help travellers experience and appreciate this diversity. Even within the relatively small country of Malawi, you will find large differences per region. By opening up to this and not shying away from new experiences, your holiday and your life will become a lot more colourful.
The diversity we mentioned above leads to even more creativity. The mix of people with unique backgrounds sparks a lot of inspiration. The most beautiful art in all forms is found in Africa.
Specifically the building of a business here, has taught us that there is always a solution, because so often things don’t go as planned. You regularly have to think innovatively and find new approaches to be successful. Sometimes working with limited (or other) resources produces the best results. In these 10 years, we’ve learned that it’s getting easier to think “out of the box”, and we are very grateful for that!
9. Celebrate everything
Enjoy the simple things in life. It’s usually not our material possessions that bring happiness, but rather the moments of connection, joy and gratitude.
People in Africa know how to have fun. They always find a reason to dance, sing and laugh, even in difficult times. This has taught us to make the most of life. Celebrate everything from the first raindrops after a long dry season to the juicy mango you eat straight from the tree.
10. The sun burns harder than you think
For real! Somehow, we still forget sometimes. For example, when we go hiking on a cloudy day. After a few hours we are as red as a tomato. And what do you think about snorkelling to see the famous cichlid fish? In the lovely waters of Lake Malawi you don’t realize how powerful the African sun is. So please, do not underestimate it and stay out of the midday sun as much as possible. We try that too…
Life on this continent continues to enrich us every day, both personally and professionally. We understand that this life is not for everyone, and it’s certainly not always a bed of roses. But when someone asks us when we will finally move back to the Netherlands again, we happily agree on the answer: NEVER 😉
We look forward to the next 10 years. Which will include welcoming you here, right?!
On the About Us Page you can read how all kinds of (dirt)roads have brought us to where we are now.