Saturday, July 9, 2011

Living in Limbo

    First, let me just apologize for my long lapse in posting.  Internet is quite spotty here in Malawi and power cuts in the evenings make it virtually impossible to keep this updated on a regular basis.  However, I am committed to this blog and to make it up to you, here are four posts that should update you on my experiences here in Malawi.

   Moving between the villages and my hotel in Blantyre has proven exhausting, not only because of the physical labor involved, but also because the psychological transitions required have started to tire my brain.  Arriving back in Blantyre after my week in Kachumbe once again allowed me to experience the sweet relief of returning to electricity and running water.  However, what’s missing are the smiling faces, the friendly greetings, and the rural ways of a typical Malawian lifestyle.  If you asked me which life I prefer, I don’t know if I could choose, because while rural living brings a sense of peace, my life in Blantyre brings a sense of home.  Unfortunately, my confusion has only been exacerbated over the past two weeks as I have been frequently travelling between the villages and Blantyre during the day to collect malnutrition data at some of Joshua’s feeding centers as part of a research project I have undertaken.  In the mornings, I have been collecting sample measurements of height, weight, and arm circumference for both orphans and vulnerable children at some of Joshua’s feeding centers with the goal of analyzing the success of Joshua’s efforts at combating malnutrition.  While this project has so far proven successful, my return to the villages brings the children running to greet me and with them comes a flood of comforting memories that reenter me into their world of simplicity.  In short, all these transitions have left me feeling like I’m living in limbo. 
          My weekend adventures to Mt. Mujane and Dedza have followed this trend of escaping into the countryside, however, unlike I had hoped, these short getaways were not entirely uneventful.  After my week in Kachumbe, I decided to climb Mt. Mulanje, the tallest rock formation in central-southeastern Africa.  Venturing out on my own for the first time, I once again experienced the painful slowness of the minibus system with the added pressure of getting to my camp at the top of the mountain before dark.  The climb was about five hours to my lodge and thankfully I was able to hire a porter who both guided me and carried my bags for the duration of the arduous climb. Unfortunately, the most unsettling part of the journey came that night when I found myself joined in bed by a multitude of furry little creatures running across my face, pillow, and sleeping bag.  This place was infested with mice!  While the scratching and scampering sounds of mice persisted long into the night, making sleep very hard to find, I was fortunately delighted in the morning by the sunrise over the Mulanje Massif which brought me back to a state of peace and serenity.  I guess for every dark cloud there is a silver lining. 
      Last weekend, my destination was Dedza, a small town about four hours north of Blantyre known for its  excellent pottery and crafts.  On Saturday, I was determined to get to a remote town called Mua which boasts possibly the finest ethnographic museum in Malawi as well as a wonderful art shop stocked full of wood carvings made at the local carving studio.  However, Mua’s remoteness forced me to search for other means of transportation and it was here that I learned why God blessed me with a hitchhiker’s thumb.  Rolling down the escarpment in the bed of a pickup truck packed with oil canisters and other hitchhiking locals is not an experience I can match with words, except that at this moment, more than at any other, I felt truly engaged with the Malawian lifestyle.  My trip to Dedza was capped off with a jarring ride into the outer reaches of the region to see ancient rock art painted by local tribes centuries ago.  While this excursion left my stomach feeling like I had just gotten off a rough week at sea, it was still fascinating to connect historical events to actual evidence left by many of the local tribes. 

      Since this past weekend, the weather has started to change and old man winter has arrived, washing away the clear blue skies and seventy degree temperatures that blessed me with the most stunning farmer’s tan.  Over the past few days, fifty degree temperatures and days of steady rain have sent Malawians running for their winter coats and have left me yearning for the warmer climate back home.  As the smell of trash fires fill the streets, I’ve once again witnessed a new aspect of a culture where resourceful locals, not blessed with heated homes, gather round street fires as a source of warmth.  Witnessing these different culture practices and now adjusting to a new climate really has emphasized my distance from home and the feeling of living in limbo, unsure of where my true identity as a volunteer lies in this developing nation.  As I sit here in my internet café writing this post, the gentle sounds of Christmas music have started playing over the sound system, leaving me confused as ever as to exactly where I have ended up.  However, thankfully Christmas music is quite comforting, so at least for now, I can take comfort in my state of confusion.

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