Well, I've finally managed to publish my Malawian travels on kindle (and other e-platforms). This has been a difficult book to write - wherever I went I met people eager to give me their opinions on the aid industry. And I went with First World assumptions about the importance of overseas aid and its role in changing the lives of those living in poverty - views I ended up questioning but finding no answers.
And so I've left the reader with my unanswered questions. Should I have plucked solutions, rather than leave a reader uncomfortable? Or is it fine to present the challenges and leave the reader to think about them?
This dilemma was part of the reason for choosing my title: Everlasting. 80% of the population of Malawi lives in poverty - and I could see no evidence of a co-ordinated of effort to challenge that. The big organisations don't seem to be trying to work themselves out of a job. At the same time, there are some magnificent, locally-driven projects that are changing lives.
But the title is more than a reflection of the problems faced by the country. For it is also the name of my guide - that's him on the cover. We had six weeks together. He is an extraordinary man. He filled long drives with stories - some of which have made it into my book. He looked out for me, kept me safe, picked me up when I slipped in the mud. And we talked about families - his family, my family, and it became the context in which I came to understand some of the complexities of African life. (He has given all necessary permissions for me to write about him and to use his picture.)
Just before I published this I typed ‘Everlasting’ into the search box on Amazon - and was rewarded with pages of romance. I sat for a while and played with alternative titles. None reflected what, for me, is the essence of this book: I needed a title that put my guide at the centre of the stage, and that indicated some of the complexities of the country.