October 5, 2010 Coming to America
I am tying up lose ends for my trip to America, and have found more strings than I expected. Thankfully, I am only going to be out of my village for a month (something I have done before) cause I fear what would happen to my projects if much more time was taken. Most things can stand on their own, and while I feel confident that the results will continue after I have long since ended my service; I fear that the periodic meetings would not happen without my presence. You see there is something I have found the people doing which I fear could hinder them to ever getting anywhere in the development process… waiting. When I ask if something has happened or why there is no progress in an area they simply say they are waiting for someone else to make the first move.
I noticed this at the Area Executive Council meeting which took place this past weekend. The meeting which I asked to happen so we could find progress on water and sanitation was actually the first the group has had in months (maybe even years). You see the new TA has placed himself as the chair, and since he doesn’t call meetings there are simply none being had. In fact, the first half of the meeting was actually the members complaining that they don’t meet more to work on proposals and such. I told them simply, “don’t wait” if they continue to sit around and listen to empty promises from other people then they themselves will be the only ones to suffer. So, they have promised me action and we are actually meeting again before I leave for the states to make sure progress is being made.
Long story short, there are things to do: from projects to garden prep (getting the land ready so that when I get back I can go ahead and plant for the next season). I am cleaning, planning all the things I have to do (I have about five post-it notes of lists in various places so nothing is forgotten), and having restless nights as I anticipate the journey. I can’t wait to return to everyone and catch up, go to Stefanie’s wedding, Elon Homecoming, and Hot Atlanta. While I worry that I will have changed too much or I won’t click with once good friends, I am still eager for the adventure home. All of which would not have been possible without my friends and family who pulled together to make is possible. I love Usisya, but I love the people from home more and can’t wait till I get to see everyone again. I just hope that it’s not too overwhelming, and those who put into the time and work to get me there will see the effort as worth it. I promise to be on my best behavior ; ).
12 October 2010 – Overwhelmed
So I have only made it to the South African airport in Johannesburg and I am already in a state of confusion and frustration. The world out here is so different from where I have been, I could never imagine my neighbor Princess going through such a place and not being overwhelmed as I have become. The overpriced consumerism, the human obesity, and the complete naivety to what the real Africa is. The shops have ‘crafts’ sporting the concept of being ‘out of Africa’…. Indeed they are as I doubt that any African possesses it. It’s not all disheartening as diversity is once again alive in the world and I am not being stared at as the local sideshow. Children don’t find me any more interesting than the average 20-something person. People don’t ask me for things or point out my white skin as if it is something I never noticed having. There are a variety of places I could eat and even more options for reading (however I can’t purchase them as I convert their prices to Kwacha and cringe).
I wonder where these people have come from and where they are going. I judge them for being in this place of high prices and the elite class, but then again I to am here. Most are traveling in groups, solitary travel doesn’t seem to be the chosen option, and multiple languages are heard as I pass through their lives for a few moments. They stand frustrated in airport lines while I zone out, and read the latest self-help book while sitting in oddly comfortable seating. There is no reason for me to not like them, and in another situation we may have been neighbors or friends. So, I have decided to not judge their ignorance just as I don’t think less of the woman in my village who hold a different kind of education level. They are in Africa, that is more than most, and maybe they understand something which I don’t.
Okay, so I have convinced myself to not judge, and to avoid the nagging need for assumptions. At the same time, however, I no longer feel like I am part of their world. I don’t connect to them in conversations as I might have once done, and the ability to associate myself as a part of their culture is weak. The people in my village have said in recent months, “ah, Nyausisya now you are a Malawian” maybe I am.
November 2, 2010 --- Returning to Malawi
First off I can’t start this entry without expressing my highest gratitude to the friends and family who made this trip possible. I know that it took much time and heart to bring everyone together and get my tickets, so while I can’t fully express what this trip meant to me, just know that it’s more than most would do. That all being said, you all make America a difficult place to leave each time; home really is where the heart is.
I could go on for pages about my time spent in the states, but those who were with me will share my memories, and those who weren’t would probably not fully understand the insanity that the whirlwind was. In brief, I will never forget: the trip to the gym that left my arms soar for days, the many meals had to catch up, the math theorems I learned, rock paper scissors, goblets at tailgating, dancing with family at our first cousin wedding, and my last America meal. America is a funny place, which I look forward to returning to… 7 months remain.
Coming back I have feared since before I left as it took me a large amount of time to get used to it in the beginning. Don’t worry, however, because I instantly found Peace Corps Volunteers to ease in the transition. I spent my first two days back doing business in Lilongwe and playing with some friends in town (one night involved me being given free reign of everything behind the local bar… for free). And now I’m inching back through Mzuzu and Nkhata Bay to have meetings about a grant I just received. Had I gone directly to the village I do believe there would have been a bit of depression involved, but by returning to some amazing friends on this side of the ocean I have found that Malawi which I’ll continue to love. So, time for work and updating on the PC gossip. Then back to the village (which I hear is still without solar power and cell phone reception).
November 5, 2010 - a story from the road
As told by a Romanian engineer--- I was kidnapped once. You see I was working in Nigeria building bridges in remote areas and found myself in-between two sides of an ongoing feud. The river, impassible at the time of my arrival, stood as a barrier between two warring tribes. I didn’t know this when I took to job, but found it as just one more hurdle to working in a developing country. The people I was working with wanted me to have a full body guard of soldiers while working there, but I didn’t want the locals to feel threatened and I knew they would not approach me in the same manner if guns were involved. Instead, I decided to talk to the villages and reason through working together.
I first went to one side of the river and asked to speak with the chiefs to follow traditional protocol. The meeting went well as they agreed to work with me and provide some people we could employee. Then we crossed the river by small boat and found the other side a bit less willing welcoming. You see, they saw us on the other side of the river speaking to their enemies and therefore thought we came on bad terms. So as we stepped off the boat were immediately taken hostage where w stayed for the next two days until the elders of the community could decide what to do with us. Luckily, they called us to a meeting and insisted we explain ourselves. The next few hours involved a lot of misunderstandings, puffing of chests, and cultural exchanges. As a Romanian I held my hand across my chest to show respect but also insisted that we speak as equals and warriors as we both came from societies who have known war. After sometime we came to an understanding and I hired my captors to work on the bridge and to even be my body guards for the duration of my stay in country.
I continued to work with the two sides of the river, and as time passed their interactions between each other became less hostile. As I had the chiefs working together on my council they were able to come to equal grounds and even develop a friendship. The workers even banned together (even though they to came from different sides of the river) and insist that that the name tags which I was providing said ‘assistants’ instead of ‘laborer’. They formed a fraternity of ‘assistants’ and were seen wearing their hard hats around the villages even on days off to show their position. As far as I know the two groups are still staying in peace and cross the bridge frequently without a second thought to the violence which they had before its existence.