Monday, September 5, 2011

the art of being uncomfortable

Ohhhhhh… where to begin?! 

I guess it is with the thought that being comfortable in “Africa” doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable to me.  And, I will get more to that in a bit.  I arrived in Blantyre (Malawi… if you haven’t read my recent posts) on Friday night.  School “officially” started last Thursday.  In those two days, I managed to register with the nurses council of Malawi and get my research proposal together to submission to the College of Medicine ethics review board.  And drive to Blantyre.  And. That. Is. All.

One of the common things that people talk about when being in Africa, is the different concepts of time.  Time doesn’t necessarily run the same way here, but sometimes it does.  And, so, I tend to take the outlook of “be ready on time, but prepare to wait.”   Pretty much, that way of thought gets you by, and you are consistently reminded to be patient. 

Moving to a new city is hard.  No matter where you are.  It is always going to be big and confusing and lonely.  And, I am not even going to say that it is especially hard because I am in Africa… but, it is definitely challenging.   You feel a long way away from the things you know in your everyday.

 When I arrived, I was put up in the College of Medicine guest house.  Which is not a terrible option for people… who have money.  Which… is something that I do not have.  7000 Malawi Kwatcha translates into just over 40USD a night… which, times 30 is just over 1300$/month (which includes a small breakfast).  Which, obviously, I cannot afford.  Um… I pay 350$/month accommodation in Montreal!!!  Not being happy with this (or… the fact that it was lonely, or that it was in a very upper class part of town, or that I would have someone come in and make my bed every day…)  It gets back to the comfort thing.  In Lilongwe, at “The titanic off shore lodge…”  in Blantyre at the COM guest house… it can be comfortable.  It can be easy. 

But, that kinda (and, when I say kinda, I mean really) makes me uncomfortable.  To me, there is something very uncomfortable to me to stay in a place that is so far out of touch of the communities that surround me.  To me, there is something very uncomfortable about “being a rich white girl” in Africa.

So, I prayed.  And then… I walked.  And then... I prayed while I walked.

I explored Blantyre by foot and I jumped on the mini busses and turned corners that I didn’t know where they led and opened doors to new places and peaked over walls where I heard laughter and spoke to people who looked like they might be able to help and bought food from vendors that I would see. 

And, through this prayer and exploration, I was able to find (um… be provided with?!?!) a more suitable accommodation.  I was able to have intelligent conversations with people who weren’t just asking for money.  I was able to discover where I was supposed to go for school.  I was able to laugh. I was able to wave.  I was able to take photographs.  I was told by the people who “are responsible for me” that they are amazed with how independent I am.  I was able to start being reminded why I love to be on this continent.

Every day, when I was starting to feel a little “meh” something would happen that would remind me… about how my heart beats for this continent.

And… now I am uncomfortable.  I am uncomfortable in the way that I should be.  I am uncomfortable in the way that will make me slow down and be reminded of the things that are important.  I am uncomfortable in the way that I don’t have internet, and when I do (to quote a PhD student I am sharing an office with), “It’s a nightmare.”  I am uncomfortable in the way that will make me eat food that I normally would pass up on (um hullo meatballs for dinner)… but, since it is what the people around me are eating (and frankly, that is all there is.  Well, at least for now), and what I have been provided with, then it is great.  I am uncomfortable in the way that makes me look around to see what people are doing, to make sure I am not just offending the world with my actions or words.  I am uncomfortable in the way that could lead to me having an amazing, self-directed research project.  I am uncomfortable in the way that I know the next 3.5 months are going to change my life.

It will take time for me to find a groove.  And that time finding a groove will probably prove to be to be really challenging.  But that’s ok.  Cause the groove will come.  I am in high anticipation of it.
With love from Malawi…

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