Quote 1

My sisters and I would sit at my father’s feet, and he’d explain the ways of the world, how magic had been with us from the beginning. In a land of poor farmers, there were too many variables for God and man alone. To compensate for this imbalance, he said, magic existed as a third and powerful force.

In Chapter One, the importance of the setting of Malawi is revealed through Trywell’s words to William. As a child, William learned about magic as an integral part of his culture. Trywell puts forward a coherent idea, which is that magic was given to humans to make up for the chaos of the world. To many Malawians, this idea is not far-fetched. The setting is revealed by this characterization. William must struggle against this cultural force in his quest to bring electricity to his village. Many in the village refuse to learn about electricity and claim the radios work by magic. William struggles against this mentality again and again, always coming up against the same superstitions and paranoia. But ultimately, William must make peace with the people’s beliefs, and instead focus on educating future generations in the methods of science. William strives to prove the power of science over magic so his people can have real solutions for their survival like electricity, water, and medicine.

Quote 2

Although the people in the trading center were content to simply enjoy [technology] without explanation, these questions constantly filled my mind. If solving such mysteries was the job of a scientist, then a scientist is exactly what I wanted to become.

In Chapter Four, William struggles with cultural forces that oppose his scientific curiosity. William naturally wants to know about how the CD player works, but many Malawians do not. In the face of a desolate landscape for learning, William must take charge of his education. He does not like the culture of ambivalence that pervades his village, but despite his early cynicism, William eventually learns that mutual support can make a difference as his journey continues. Not only does William “solve the mystery” of the CD player, but he also helps his community as a result. One small action, one investigation into how things work, has set William on a path of discovery that will greatly impact his community. Working in relative isolation, William must rely on his investigative spirit to accomplish his goals. For the moment, his goal is a small one, all he wants to know about is the CD player. But this question leads him to bigger and bigger issues. Eventually, William will be validated by his community for providing them with tangible support.

Quote 3

’Africans bend what little they have to their will every day. Using creativity, they overcome Africa’s challenges. Where the world sees trash, Africa recycles. Where the world sees junk, Africa sees rebirth.’

This quote from the blogger Erik Hersman in Chapter Fifteen describes the creative problem-solving of people in Africa. At this point in the narrative, William has proven his worth as a scientist and inventor. Though these words are not about William directly, William certainly fits the description. He has scoured the junkyard and salvaged old electronics. He has taught himself with meager means, and he has found solutions that work for his community. Though he has overcome poverty and cultural forces on his journey, he has also received crucial support from his fellow villagers and beyond. William’s cynicism about Malawi has changed over his years of work. Now, William sees the potential in all people. He has made tangible differences in many ways and knows that others do the same thing. People in his village, even, may be capable of making change. William is now an educator, hoping to pass along what he has learned to future generations.