Thursday, November 17, 2011

Day 2 - October 25, 2011

I wake up exhausted and roll out of bed, grab a quick shower and eat breakfast while waiting for Phalys to pick me up. She arrives and we head back to the WUSC offices to continue briefing.
I meet again with Alice and the country director and it is a productive but challenging meeting as we review expectations.
One partner wants me to lead and train a research team, although I have very little research experience.

The country director then explains to me that they want me to do a work plan for each of the organizations I will be working with, and indicates a number of items that he wants on each. Given that they have requested that I spread my time between 3 organizations, I want to temper expectations as to what I can realistically do.

They also start pushing my time in Lilongwe to 8 months. I really want to make sure that I get to MANASO in Blantyre and try to gently push back without being confrontational. After a delicate verbal dance without any resolution, I resolve to speak honestly with Alice tomorrow and explain my fears to her. I will tell her that I am scared that my time in Lilongwe will get pushed from 8 months to a year and that I wont end up going to Blantyre to work with the organization I was brought here to support.
I decide to also throw some patience and openness at it. I am not here for my own selfish purposes and I try to remind myself of that. I do however think that I will be of best use in my area of specialty and interest. 

I then meet 2 Canadian volunteers for lunch. They both look much like me – sandy haired, blue-eyed twenty somethings melting in the Malawian heat. They both seem a bit tired and wilted but are friendly and offer me some great tips.

After lunch I meet with the Executive Director of MANET+. It sounds like the organization is doing some fantastic advocacy work, and there are some files that I am very interested in working on. I hope that I get to spend a lot of time with them although my office is on the other side of town.

Phalys drives me back to Area 3 Lodge and I put on my sneakers, go for a pitiful little run and then come back and do some other exercises as to try to maintain some muscle strength. Everything is fried and fatty here and I am terrified that I will balloon up. Compared to the thin locals, I already feel like a little tank plodding around, oversized and bloated.

I go into the kitchen to heat up food and ask an employee where the garbage is. He looks a bit shocked, opens the fridge and starts rustling around. He defeatedly pulls out a head of lettuce and says that they are out of cabbage. It takes me a minute to realize that garbage kind of rhythms with cabbage and that we have had a miscommunication. After a few attempts to clarify, he looks at me oddly and says ‘you mean the rubbish’. Oops!

The most awkward miscommunication I have had thus far was when I asked if I was allowed to wear pants to work (rather than the long skirts that most women wear). I was gently but firmly told that ‘pants’ are underwear and that yes, I can wear trousers.

I have been making a concerted effort to learn words in Chichewa (Malawi’s National Language). The words continue to slip off my tongue and into nowhere. I hope that if I keep trying they will imprint themselves in my brain. I can’t seem to remember a single word other than mzungu (white person – this is easy because it is shouted at me all the time) and Zikomo (thank you).

So Zikomo for reading, I am off to bed, sticky under my mosquito net.

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