Africa, where my family and I lived, was always a lesson in the value of material things. Perhaps that seems counterintuitive: the well-worn trope of the affluent visitor to the developing world is supposed to be about the value of people and relationships over material things. The stories we tell upon returning from a mission trip are supposed to illustrate that one can have next to nothing and still be happy.

Aside from the fact that telling this sort of story has the dehumanizing effect of using people as object lessons, the story itself is a lie, because no one understands the value of a pair of shoes or a pack of birth control pills better than a woman from the village whose bare feet are scalded by the hot earth as she walks six miles to the clinic to get her supply of contraceptives, then back again.

Indeed, what one sees in the market in Malawi is evidence that material things matter very much. Matter matters; the apparent pun is etymology telling the truth, particularly when resources are scarce. In Malawi, we could find someone to fix almost anything that was broken. We enjoyed the beauty of people making ingenious use of what they had: soccer balls from carefully saved plastic bags, rope from old tires.