The idea of a country

My partner and I lived in Malawi from April 2008 until April 2010. We had both travelled before, but this was the first time we had lived in a foreign country. We were working for a French NGO, implementing a food security project in a small area in rural southern Malawi. During those two years, I also found time to work on this photographic project.
My initial, perhaps naive objective was simply to show what a small country in southern Africa looked like at the beginning of the 21st century. But although Malawi is the foreign country I have spent most time in, I feel there are a lot of aspects of it I have somehow missed. During far briefer stays in other countries, I felt I had captured something of their essence. But perhaps I mistook clichés for insights. In the time I lived and worked in Malawi, I may have delved beyond the clichés, but I'm still not sure what I found. Ultimately, two years is not long enough to get a real picture of a country. Besides, we were not simply travellers observing from the outside: we were Western ex-pats managing a project for an NGO. We had a particular social status that distanced us from the villagers, despite the close friendships we made during our stay. I ended up with the bewildering sensation that the harder I tried to represent Malawi, the more it eluded me. In the end, if my photographs have captured anything, it is that distance: the particular lights, silhouettes and atmospheres they depict are like markers that may eventually help me to piece together a comprehensive notion of Malawi.