The scriptures speak on occasion of bearing burdens. Psalms 55:22 says, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved." Isaiah 10: 27 states, "And it shall come to pass in that day, that his burden shall be taken away from off thy shoulder, and his yoke from off thy neck, and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the anointing." And the eleventh chapter of Matthew has a well-known, and well-beloved, scripture dealing with human burdens: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt 11: 28-30)
Each of these passages is an invitation to come unto the Lord, so that one's burdens may be lightened. Like most of us, I have always thought of these scriptures in symbolic terms. Everyone, wherever they live, have burdens--trials and afflictions--which can be hard to bear. Often the burdens seem overwhelming. They weigh us down and sometimes we do not see how we can find the strength to bear up under them. What a relief it would be for us, at such times, to have someone who cared come to our aid.
In Malawi there is nothing abstract about bearing burdens. Bearing physical burdens is what the people--men, women, and children--do everyday. They carry on their heads bundles of kindling, bags of charcoal, buckles of water. They carry fruit, containers of cooking oil, bananas. Indeed, virtually anything that can be balanced is carried on their heads. It is not uncommon for these burdens to be carried for long distances. Many carry water, each day, 30 minutes from the local well or spring or stream to their homes. These loads are borne, not just by the women and men, but also by the children. They carry these loads through out the day--from the earliest light of dawn, through the baking heat of the mid-day, until the evening hours. Some families, we know, wait until the cover of darkness to make the daily pilgrimage to the local water source.
To us it is almost unfathomable the physical strength and stamina they display in bearing these burdens. Yet they do so almost effortlessly.
The following is a series of pictures of women carrying some of these burdens. Women seem to be the primary carriers, but men and children are frequently seen struggling with heavy loads. As you can see, it is very picturesque, but that, we are sure, belies the challenges of getting by each day. Daily life, at least in the areas in which we are working, is physically exhausting and clearly takes a toil on the health and aging of the people. As you would suspect, these burdens fall proportionately upon the poorer segments of the population.