Today I feel defeated.
I want desperately to be the person that everyone wants me to be here – joyful, passionate and productive in support of a beautiful country that is in much need of lots of TLC.
Although it is true that Malawi is a beautiful country and that is very much developing, I am sad to say that I don’t feel like I am doing my part. I feel tired, broken and lost.
I haven’t been acknowledging this because I want to have a great experience here and want to be able to give to causes of importance. The truth is that I don’t feel like I am doing those things right now via my volunteerism. This entry isn’t intended to be negative or disheartening, rather I need to acknowledge that what I have been doing here isn’t working so that I can be better - for both this country and myself.
First off, let me be a bit indulgent so that you know the context from which I am writing this.
I spent the night sick. Feverish, chilly and aching behind my eyes. I ran to the toilet more times that I can count. I drifted occasionally out of conscious and then woke up disoriented and afraid.
I am scared to eat anything and have been drinking as much juice, pop and water as I can manage to rehydrate. At first I was scared that I had Malaria, but I now think that an Ethiopian meal that I ate last night is the culprit. I then woke up to a hurtful e-mail from a very dear friend and stumbled to work trying to hold back tears. At lunch, I went to pick up my new bicycle. Being on a bicycle always makes me feel happy… and for a few seconds I am just that, soaring down a hill, over a bridge… people wave and smile at me as the breeze provides me with a temporary escape from the oppressive heat… then the bike starts making funny noises, I realize the brakes barely work and the pedal falls off. I turn it around and push it back up the hill to try to get a refund. All-in-all I feel emotionally, mentally and physically drained.
The other thing is that I am having trouble with is self-motivating and getting excited about work I am doing as I wait for the HIV stuff to start. I have been very tentative about taking too much initiative for fear of being pushy – I know that I come from a direct culture and am a very direct person. That said, I can’t sit idle or with only small pieces of work and just take up space here. I also must carve out where I believe I can make an important contribution and believe that the organizations I am with would be responsive to this.
As Elizabeth Gilbert so brilliantly says in ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, it is time to stop wearing my wishbone where my backbone oughta be. It is time to get down to making things happen and choosing the experience that I want to have.
In that vein, I have done enough indulging in negativity. The reality is that we all are responsible for choosing our thoughts and feelings. If I want to have a positive experience, I need to make it happen by thinking and feeling positively. Although this can be trying as a visible foreigner in one the poorest countries in the world, it is no one’s fault but my own if I don’t put in/get something valuable out of this experience.
Out of my wallowing and into my decision to pick myself up by my bootstraps, here is my action plan:
1) Start taking Chichewa lessons. Language gives an important insight into culture and can break down many barriers. If I can show that I am making an effort to learn, I think that people will know that I am serious about being here. It will also help me understand what is happening (i.e. in meetings, politics and on the minibus when everyone is laughing but all I can understand is ‘Azungu’). I have requested to have 1-hour sessions 3 times a week and hope to start soon.
2) Kill ‘em with kindness & choose an attitude of gratitude. I am finding that due to certain challenges I am facing, I am not being as positive or friendly as usual. If Malawians still manage to smile and ask how I am despite crushing poverty and a fuel crises, why can’t I choose kindness and positivity? I am going to choose to smile - even when I want to cry. I will fight my instinct to withdraw by choosing to being interested and engaged instead. I have a lot to be grateful for here in Malawi - a nice home in a great spot, some newfound friends, warm weather (& no winter!). I also am blessed to have friends and family back home and the support of the Rotary Foundation to do something that I am passionate about. I will choose kindness and gratitude.
3) Health (Physical, mental, spiritual & emotional). I will continue to exercise and try to get the nutrients and proteins that my body needs to function and feel good. I am going to continue to keep abreast of local and foreign news as well as read for pleasure (African lit would be great if I can find some!). My new place is going to make all of this much easier – there is a pool for swimming and a hammock with a beautiful view of the sky for reading and reflecting. Being in a permanent place with a kitchen will allow me to cook more and have nutritious food on-hand.
4) Re-finding my passion! I will keep my eyes and ears open for initiatives that make me feel interested and excited. I will do the work that is asked of me, and at the same time look for things that I find interesting and take initiative to do them.
5) Be honest with myself. I have let a whole bunch of things build up and haven’t shared them because I haven’t wanted them to be my experience. I need to remind myself that it doesn’t matter what I think the moments of my life should offer. If I’m not honest, how will I move forward?