World Ark senior editor Austin Bailey and photographer Russ Powell are visiting Malawi this week to report on projects there.
In cities and villages, among old and young, the women of Malawi honor tradition by wearing the chitenje. This brightly colored swath of cotton comes in countless colors and patterns, but is worn in only two ways. Practically all women wrap them around their waists, with two magical tucks that keep them in place without buttons, zippers or snaps. Mothers in rural areas use a second chitenje to tie babies on their backs, freeing hands for hauling, cooking and other work.
In the capitol city of Lilongwe, professional women wear skirts and high-heeled shoes, but wrap zitenje over their suits when they leave the office. (Zitenje is the plural form for chitenje in the Chichewa language spoken in Central and Southern parts of the country.) Not only is the chitenje traditional, it’s also considered by many to be the only moral way for women in Malawi to dress, explained Grace Phili, a field officer for Heifer who often wears a chitenje over jeans when she travels over bumpy dirt roads to project sites by motorbike. Although Malawi is becoming more modern in terms of gender issues, many still believe women who shirk the traditional dress also shirk their morals. “In the villages, if you wear pants, people say, ‘She is a woman, but she wears the clothes of a man,’” Phili said.
Giving zitenje is considered very respectful and generous, and they’re the common gift at rural weddings. Many women in Malawi complement zitenge with a matching head wrap called a mpango. On special occasions, women wear the chitenje with matching mpango and blouse all made from the same cloth. Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda, always wears a chitenge outfit with a matching wrap over her shoulder and mpango.
Watch Heifer Malawi field officer Grace Phili demonstrate wrapping the chitenje in the video below.
Writer Christian DeVries recently traveled to Heifer projects in Vietnam to collect field stories for Heifer. Below, Christian gives us a snapshot of the culture he had the chance to see while traveling for us.
Photo by Russ Powell, courtesy of Heifer International
Anyone who visits Vietnam’s Mekong delta will be dumbstruckby the quantity of boats floating in the river, its tributaries, canals, pondsand seemingly even puddles.Many peopleknow about the quaint sampan, but inmy opinion the most graceful are the vo lai.
These long, slender boats are typically propelled by largeengines which sport long drive shaft and a propeller on the far end. Their flat bottoms and sleek lines help themcut quickly through any canal, no matter how shallow or narrow.
Painted on the front of many vo lai, and lots other watercraft in Vietnam, are two stylized eyes. Legend has it that these eyes protect riverboats from monsters or evil spirits. They add a special touch to the character of each boat.
Writer Christian DeVries recently traveled to Heifer projects in Cambodia and Vietnam to collect field stories. Below, Christian gives us a snapshot of the culture he had the chance to see while traveling for us.
Photo by Christian DeVries
I love the spirit houses you see everywhere in Cambodia.
Beyond the rich colors and beautiful designs, I really enjoy seeing what people leave as offerings. Incense, food and drink are common. Occasionally, they have figurines, photos, or remembrances of loved ones. The variety and style of each house is a reflection of the family that loves and cares for it.
These mini dwellings are displayed prominently in homes and businesses across the country. According to Wikipedia, “The house is intended to provide a shelter for spirits which could cause problems for the people if not appeased.”
In almost all of the restaurants and hotels that I visited, there were indoor shrines that were even more ornate. Shrines and pagodas are also scattered across Vietnam. I have included a few in the slideshow here.