One Woman’s Smile Transformed the Way I See the World

The small interaction that inspired me to be more grateful

By mimagephotography/ Shutterstock
By mimagephotography/ Shutterstock

Fifteen years later, I can still vividly remember my first ride to town.

We were heading to a small village outside of Lilongwe, Malawi, where we would be running an AIDS educational session for the local township. At that time, Malawi had one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, with over 10% of the adult population (about one million people) having contracted it.

When the truck stopped, we hopped in the caged backend that I was so grateful had some protection from the already hot sun, with a heavy canvas tarp pulled over top. The truck reminded me of ones I’d seen on the prairies in Canada that farmers would use to transport livestock. The air was heavy, and I could feel beads of sweating running down my back.

I gazed out the window as the crowded bus continued down the dusty dirt road, lined with random food stalls and merchants selling everything from veggies to clothing to toys and cell phone cards. A hairdresser had even set up shop in a makeshift structure.

There were two benches on either side that I quickly learned were premium seats. Within five minutes, I watched the benches quickly fill up. Just when I thought we were full and would not be taking another passenger, another five people got on. And then another person and another and another, until we had managed to pack an additional 28 people on the truck, including two goats, and a cage full of chickens. There were people everywhere — standing, hanging off the back, the sides, and even balancing on the metal frame the canvas roof was pulled on. It seemed that for every person that got off, another two got on.

The combination of heat, smells, sounds, and the sights from all around became overwhelming, and I found myself getting increasingly uncomfortable and irritated. I glanced over at the woman sitting next to me and was surprised to see that through all this commotion, her baby lay sleeping peacefully, wrapped to its mama’s chest.

That’s when it dawned on me that’s it’s all about perspective, and perhaps I needed a big shift in mine. I was fortunate to have traveled so far, to have this opportunity and these experiences, to be healthy and able to help people. As I started listing out all the things I was grateful for in my head, I began to feel lighter, and then a little bit happier, until I began to feel an appreciation for everything I saw, smelled, heard, and felt around me. I turned and smiled at the woman next to me, and she reciprocated. This one small interaction has inspired me to be more grateful to this day.

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