Monday, October 24, 2011

Malawi through someone else's eyes

This morning, I went out to the Chikela airport outside of Blantyre to drop off my beloved, after having him in Malawi for about 12 days.  It was so amazing to have him here... and, now, it is time to get back to "work."  Albeit, "work" here in Malawi seems so much different from work back in Montreal.

After the 9 day holiday and a few days in Blantyre that we had together, there is lots to report on about the amazing things that we saw and experienced and people we met.  Like traveling to Likoma island.  And seeing monkeys in Monkey bay.  And seeing hippos and elephants in Liwonde national park.  And seeing fantastic rural community initiative projects.  It was a refreshing (though, somewhat tiring) time.  So, wait for the upcoming posts on those items!

The boy i like was off this morning, to get back to "Real life." back to a place which is pretty much the furthest away possible from me on this earth.  back to a long distance relationship.  And, i can't wait to see him in December.


A great thing about traveling with someone, is you get to experience things through the other person's eyes.  You see thing differently, than what you see yourself.   That has been especially true for me in the past 2 weeks.  You see, I have been to Africa 3 times prior to this trip.  I have been here in Malawi for 2 months already.  Sean, on the other hand, has never been to Africa. He had 12 days here.  a *very* short time indeed.

I was recently asked by a Malawian "What is the differences between Canada and Malawi?"  I laughed, and said: "well... what do you want to know?  there are a lot!" If I were to be asked that question by a canadian, I would say: "Think about what we have and what we do in Canada.  Now, think of the exact opposite, and that is what Malawi is like."  And, not completely, because people (i believe, world wide) have the same basic needs... to love, to be loved, to eat and sleep, to dream of bigger things, to have good health.  but, from there, things change.


  • time frames change.  a motto here has been "be on time, but be prepared to wait." 
  • food changes.  my favourite food is probably berries.  a Malawians favourite food: nsima or rice.  (seriously.  that is what people have responded to me.)
  • temperatures change.  cold is when the wind blows and it hovers around 15 degrees.  hot... is HOT.  with no AC, rare chances for ice in drinks. and the sun is intense on those hot days.
  • personal spaces change:  in canada, you might go through a day with shaking hands being the most physical contact that you have.  In Malawi, people hold hands, they put arms around each other in mini busses and on the backs of trucks (Motolas), they hand children/babies to each other (even strangers) to get them in and out of different forms of transit, they will hug when it has been a long time since seeing someone.  
  • communication changes: in canada, you can ask a favour and be out doing something else in about 3 minutes.  In Malawi... a simple greeting goes something like this: "good morning!" "good morning!" "how are you? (Muli Bwanji?)"  "I am fine!" (Ndili Bwino) "what about you? how are you?" (Kaya inu?  Muli Bwanji?) "Ah, I am fine too! Thank you." (Ah, Ndili bwino.  Zikomo.) "Thank you very much!" (Zikomo Kambiri!).  more often than not, it also includes the exchange of names.  and, that happens on the road to strangers, in meeting someone for the first time, when buying something, anywhere... Malawi, despite being quite a reserved nation (as compared to other african nations I have travelled to, i.e., west africa), and filled with "introverts," it is much "easier" to get along here if you are an extrovert.  in Canada, if you think it is bizarre that strangers will just strike up conversation with you... well... expect that in Malawi it will happen all the time. 
  • income changes: in canada, you are struggling to have enough day to day if you budget 1250$ per month.  here in Malawi, in 2005, the per capita GPD was 157 US$.  I have met people who literally have no money.  the guides i had for Mt Mulanje? you have to pay them some beforehand, so they can buy food to eat on your trek. afterwards? they use the money to pay for school.  after that... there is no more.  you also "bank" on the street.  Foreign exchange... try the market place... you will get a MUCH better rate there, than at the bank. 
  • nature changes:  in canada, i can have sparrows in the yard, and a few bugs in the park.  In Malawi, well... let just say that the other night, i went to sleep with a tarantula on my window screen, and woke up to a heron in my front yard.  bug bites create craters in your skin.  and cleanliness... well, the dirt (and sweat) can cake onto your skin.  Soap is rare, and toilets are most often pit latrines.  


so... understandably, it takes time.  it takes time to adjust to this.  and, when you do, the little things don't bother you as much, and you are able to prepare for the other things (i.e... if you know that you will probably have to wait, bring something to do with you). if you don't have the internet, you don't miss it as much.  you pick and choose minibus seats based on your knowledge of people movement and leg space.

One of the great things about travelling with my beloved was that I could show him the things i love. like the automatic hand wave when Malawian children see a muzugu.  Like the sunsets which are unmatched in Canada.  like the generosity of people you meet.  like the areas in which you can seriously be an influence.  like the simplicity of activity and the amount of time where you just relax.  like the creativity and handiness of people to work with what they have available.  like the gentleness and friendliness of people you meet.

one of the great things about travelling with my beloved was that we could speak about the things that actually do put me out of my comfort zone.  like seeing problems, where you honestly do not know the solution to it.  like feeling as if you are automatically classified into one ex-pat mould by many people.  like feeling frustrated when it takes an hour and 15 minutes to get a simple lunch.  like how easy it is to feel pulled into situations where you would not normally place yourself, or into situations in which you really actually want to not be in.  like not wanting to drink liquids on long bus trips, out of the fear that there will be no time/place to pee.  like how i drink way more pop here than I ever would at home.

one of the great things about travelling with my beloved was to watch him adjust.  there were certainly times where he was "A grumpy pouty face."  there were LOTS of times where he was not comfortable and times where he would get frustrated with situations.  as time moved forward, i saw him laugh about things i laugh about here.  i heard him make jokes about situations where the differences are so vast that you have to laugh about them.  i watched him identify the fact that he was experiencing culture shock.  i saw him stop wanting to "do something" and just relax, because he adjusted to the fact that you couldn't do anything.

one of the great things about traveling with my beloved was to see africa through a different perspective. and, that is great.  traveling with him reminded me that I have to realize that he was going through adjustments, just like I have in the past.  traveling with him opened my eyes to what a insanely selfless person he is... he traveled to a continent where it might be the hardest place to travel to in the world.  he allowed himself to be uncomfortable in order to share in something that I love. he reminded me that education and health care are good places in which to spend money.  traveling with him pointed out areas in which this culture might benefit.

1 comment:

melusi said...

welcome to the warm heart of africa. the only thing you forgot to mention was the reaction after tasting nsima or the african dishes we have.thats one adjustment one has to make.
above all , its always nice to be in the company of your loved one , life is short so enjoy and cherish the moments