Sitting on my porch drinking in the warm Lilongwe night air, Daniel tells me:
'I don't know if you've experienced this, but I feel much more alive when I'm in Africa'.
I ponder his statement for a moment, willing my experience to agree with his. It doesn't, I don't feel 'more alive' here.
I think about what I do feel here, what this place has given me if it isn't a feeling of being pressed up to life.
Realization and gratitude sweep simultaneously over me as the answer finds me:
I don't feel more alive here, and this place hasn't offered me what I want. It has however offered me something much more profound than filling my desires.
It has given me everything that I NEED.
When I decided to leave my life in Canada for a year in Malawi, I didn't hope that it would be easy. I did however hope to be challenged, to experience and to grow. I don't know if I've grown but I do know that I have been challenged and have experienced a great deal.
The experiences that I've had and the lessons that have been offered to me are all exactly what I needed at this point in my life.
I've also felt deep joy here, connected with fantastic people and enjoyed the beautiful landscapes. I've seen a complete different way of living and marveled at how people find joy and a beat to dance to in the face of hardship. I've even found new passions – who would know that I would become passionate about education for development and menstrual hygeine?
This place has also held up a mirror and forced me into all of my dark places – apathy, helplessness, discomfort, failure. And although I've been present in these uncomfortable places, I haven't conquered them. I haven't needed to conquer them, but I've needed to know them intimately, and that's exactly what happened.
I'm reminded of the opening line of the poem that my mentor Angela sent to me just before my departure.
When you set out for Ithaca, ask that your way be long, full of adventure, full of learning.
Those words were akin to beads on a rosary string for me. I would turn them over, touch them and they became my prayer.
And Malawi, a departure point to Homer's mystical Ithaca has been just that for me - full of adventure, full of learning.
This place has worn on me like a gentle sandpaper. So refined that I haven't always felt its rubbing, but so constant that when I take stock of this year, I realize that I don't recognize my own shape anymore – I've changed form.
I examine my reflection in the mirror and its odd to say but I even look different now, my skin is a bit worse for wear, my body weaker and rounder.
I wonder what my former self would think if I were glimpsing into the future and reading this entry on the way to Malawi. I was so hopeful about making a difference, building meaningful relationships and sparking positive transformation. I would even venture to say that I was more naïve than today about development and how things function. I felt firm in my conviction and stable in my values.
I think my previous self would smile at this entry and believe that I needed every experience to get to this point where I don't know anything. Where I've been transformed and become well acquainted with my dark places. There is one thing on which I know that my past and present self would agree:
I WOULD NOT CHANGE A THING.
My first post was rife with information about where I was going, what I would be doing. I won't conclude this chapter with facts about what is next. The truth is that I don't know. And that is how I know I'm on my way to Ithaca.