Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Arriving in the Warm Heart of Africa (October 23rd, 2011)

Sleep eludes me as I lie under a mosquito net for  the first time in my life in a lodge in Lilongwe, Malawi.

It is apparently 3AM, but my body has yet to sync with what my mind knows to be the time.
The occasional rooster goes off – I thought that they were only supposed to cock-a-doodle-do in the morning?
I feel mildly disoriented – the past 40 hours have been an absolute whirlwind.
I didn’t feel any excitement until I was on the plane from Addis Ababa to Lilongwe.

Sitting in the airport lounge, trying to stretch out my muscles after the 12 hour flight from Washington, I see Atuweni.

I met her in July in Armenia, before I had even applied for this volunteer posting.
She was a Malawian delegate to the meetings of the international organization that I was attending.  She had told me about Malawi and chuckled as she said ‘Maybe one day you will come see our country’.

Well, that has apparently happened.
Funnily enough, she was on the same flight to Lilongwe from a few days of business is Addis. Her presence reminds me of the serendipitous nature of human connections is this big, beautiful world. She invites me to join her and her family for church one Sunday and also invites me to go with her and her husband to volleyball on Wednesday. I eagerly accept both offers.

On the airplane to Lilongwe, I heave my oversized carry-on into the overhead bin. My Canadian patch must have given me away, for as I collapse sweating into my seat, ready for the last lag of my journey, the gentleman beside me asks if I am a WUSC  (World University Services Canada - link) Volunteer. Lucky is the Executive Director of a Youth NGO that trains Malawian youth on sexual and reproductive health. His organization has taken WUSC volunteers in the past and he hints that they need a new one. We talk and laugh throughout the flight and agree to be in touch in the near future.

As we land in Malawi, I already feel welcomed, connected and warmed by Atuweni and Lucky’s presence.

After elbowing my way to the small and crowded luggage belt to collect my 4 oversized suitcases, I heave them (along with my 2 giant carry ons and my overheated self) by the baggage inspection lady who looks at me suspiciously and asks if I am not bringing a lot for a year.

I feebly explain that I didn’t think my hair product is available in Malawi in attempt to mask the fact that two of the suitcases are full on donations of soap, toothbrushes, etc from my family and church.

Finally through, I am met by a WUSC Malawi coordinator and driver. We pile my things into a small-ish car with a cracked windshield and set off towards my new home.
Purple and red flowers on trees
The thing I notice first about the landscape are the trees – they are beautiful! Some have bright purple flowers and others are green and look like African savannah trees from national geographic. I suppose that is what they are!

We drive past people riding bicycles (often 2 per bike) and women carrying baskets on their heads with children in tow. The Zambian dance hall music beats from our car and out of my open window as we slow to pass jam-packed fuel stations. Steve, the WUSC Malawi officer explains that with the fuel shortage, people drive to the gas station in the morning and oftentimes wait all day for the fuel truck to arrive. Sometimes they don’t manage to fill up by the time the fuel is gone. There are so many cars jam-packed in and around the station that I can’t imagine there would be enough for each of them to drive their cars home at the end of the day.
I feel all-the-more grateful for the ride from the airport as the driver accelerates and we move beyond the visual manifestation of the fuel crises.

In the lodge I attempt to unpack but feel dizzy and fall asleep. When I wake up it is dark and I am a bit confused to be surrounded by the blue mosquito net. Growing up, friends who were into princesses had these hanging over their beds in Canada. Purely for show, the white nets elicited a feeling of a luxurious other-worldliness. As I lie hot in bed, the irony is not lost on me that these nets are a basic survival tool. I wonder if Disney will come up with Princess Please-God-I-Don’t-Want-to-Get-Malaria.  She could come accessorized with Deet, Malarone and some Purrell for good measure.

Speaking of Purell… In Canada, I tend to avoid hand santizer unless I am camping or sneezing at work. The reason being I want to keep my immune system strong via exposure. As such, I only brought a few small bottles of Purrell to Malawi as they were a gift from my colleagues.

I owe my colleagues a thank-you note. I had my first Purrell moment when I turned on the tap and watched brownish water fall over my hands, doing the opposite of cleaning them. I chuckle at the irony of Purrelling ones hands to get clean from the water you used to wash them.

Waking up under net
first day in Malawi
As I lie awake I feel oddly disconnected, like I have shed the intricate web of support that I am part of at home. I lie hot under the blue net feeling like an uprooted tree.  Severed from the land and nutrients that held it up.

I am alone.

I know that everyone is well-wishing from the other side of the world, but the reality is I am lying by myself far away under a mosquito net in Malawi. I allow the feelings to move through me and don’t hold onto them. I also feel free and excited. That’s all for now.

Xo Love Princess Purrell surrounded by a Mosquito net in Malawi.

No comments:

Post a Comment