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We didn't speak the language and we looked totally ridiculous with our huge sunglasses and camera gear and whatnot, but photographer Russ Powell and I had no problem making new friends in Malawi. All we had to do was invite ourselves into a soccer game and we were collecting high fives in no time.

Soccer is the favorite pastime for boys in this southern African country. Girls still watch from the sidelines, although gender restrictions seem to be easing a tiny bit, and I did spy a couple girls venturing into games during our week-long visit.

Matches took place on grassy fields, but also on dusty paths and roadsides. No one seemed to have shin guards or cleats or goals with nets, and we spotted only one inflated soccer ball the whole time we were there. Instead, these games were played with bare feet and goals marked by pairs of rocks. Boys made their own soccer balls by stuffing plastic shopping sacks together and tying them with rags and string, or melting bags together over a fire into a perfectly smooth, solid ball.







Photos by Russell Powell


Austin Bailey

Austin Bailey is a writer and editor for Heifer's World Ark magazine.