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Far, but close

October 18, 2010

Shortly after arriving in Mzimba, I was connected with a friend of a co-worker, who was looking for a housemate.  It sounded pretty sweet – live with a Malawian, my age, close to work, my own room, running water, tv, an indoor toilet!  And it definitely has been nice.      We have a great house, in a really nice neighbourhood – its on the edge of town, lots of space around, we have a dog with puppies, an awesome view, and nice neighbours.

Eunice is fantastic.  She’s teaching me to cook and will help me with chitimbuka whenever I ask.  She’s introduced me to her friends, shown me where to find tailors, and explained culture and customs. She worries about me when I travel, and makes sure I call to say I’ve gotten there safely.  I’m building a nice group of friends, through my her and workmates.   Most work for the government or NGOs.   They live in houses similar to my own. We cook together, go for walks, I play with the dogs.

The tv is on most nights – South African soaps, Nigerian films, Big Brother Africa, and British Sky news are the main selections. After cooking supper and washing up, I do work or write emails, before reading and heading to bed.

Eunice has attended wedding related (engagement parties, weddings, showers etc.)  events for  4  of the first 5 weekends I’ve been here, I’ve joined her for a few of them.   The weekends that I’ve been in Mzimba, I’ve spent them doing chores, cooking, errands, reading, catching up on work, going for walks around town, heading to the market, meeting people, going to church, hanging out with friends. Last Sunday I put my Girl Guide Leader experiences to use and helped out with the Girls and Boys Brigade – ‘An Interdenominational, International Christian Organization.’  A couple weeks ago we had a TED talk marathon (thanks Tony for sharing those!) on a Saturday night.

My living situation has allowed me to make the transition to Malawian life, quite effortlessly.   Of course there are some differences.   I take baths instead of showers, and if I want hot water, I have to heat the water in the kettle before hand.  I eat nsima, most nights instead of pasta or stir-frys (although we have made several attempts at Canadian food as well – pizza, pancakes, spaghetti, peanut butter cookies, roast chicken with mashed potatoes and swiss chalet sauce).  A wide variety of vegetables are hard to come by (I crave lettuce based salad).  I wash my clothes by hand, rather than in a machine.  Internet and cell phones are far less reliable and accessible.  I go to sleep earlier, and I wake up earlier.

The differences seem minor and trivial.  Despite moving half way around the world, my life hasn’t really changed that much.  I realize that the life I’m leading is the reality for many Malawians, but it’s also not the reality for many as well.  Some of my neighbours have no power, no running water. Instead of watching tv at night, they do chores by candle light.  I know others who education is limited by the cost of schooling and the spaces available.  Instead of heading to bridal showers on weekends they are working hard trying to support themselves and their families.

I’m enjoying my living situation, and realize what a great place this is.  But yet I’m still not really happy with it

Maize field in the front, mountains in the back, jacaranda tree overhead

.  Part of the reason I came to Malawi to experience new things, to try other ways of life, to build a greater understanding of those who are in a different position then me.   It’s a privilege and an opportunity that not many have, and I don’t know that I’m making the best of it.

I thought at first that I could have both.  I’d spend more time outside of the house, with people from other areas and backgrounds.   I’ve been trying, but after a month and a half, I’ve learned that your reality is very much defined by what is around you.   There are only so many hours in a day and where you live, does make a difference.  It’s connected to the food you eat, the friends you meet, the connections you make, the language you speak. Right now I feel that I’m missing out on something that is just outside where I am at.  I can see it, hear it, touch it, but yet, it’s not mine, I can’t fully understand it, because it’s not what I come home to each night.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. Nadia permalink
    October 18, 2010 2:50 pm

    Hi Alyssa!

    Sounds like a lot of fun– but are you thibking of moving to a new place now that you feel there’s something missing?

    • October 19, 2010 1:59 pm

      Yeah, I am. I could see this being a great place to be a while from now, but right now I think with language learning, and the experience I’m looking for its time to find something else. I think I’ll be disappointed if I don’t. Its trickier than it seems tho, don’t want to hurt anyone’s feeling, and the challenge of just finding a place that works for my situation. Wish me luck!

  2. October 18, 2010 9:18 pm

    Sounds like there is a lot of adjusting that you have done and will keep moving forward until you feel you are in the right place. You will know when you get there and it will be amazing because you are amazing. Keep smiling and sending us posts on what you are doing. You are definately doing and seeing more than me. Cause right now if I were to write to you about what has been going on with me it would only be about 1/2 a page. LOL. Janice

    • October 19, 2010 2:03 pm

      Ah, but I’d still love to hear it, even if its only 1/2 a page! I’m enjoying blogging, but finding it somewhat of a monologue sometimes…. its really nice to hear what’s happening back home too .

  3. Holly permalink
    October 20, 2010 5:09 am

    You are so awesome….Hope you are having a wonderful week!!!

    • October 23, 2010 12:23 pm

      Thanks Holly! I’m hearing from all my cousins this week, making it a great one for that fact alone 🙂 Hope you’re doing well too!

  4. Mike permalink
    October 20, 2010 3:49 pm

    Hey Alyssa,

    This is a really phenomenal and honest post. I think it takes courage to share this kind of reflection in the open space of a blog. I had very similar feelings last summer in Zambia -> I lived with a co-worker in town for the first 6 weeks, and felt like I wasn’t being challenged to learn as much. Also that I wasn’t connecting with the more challenging reality of so many Zambians. I ended up living in a “village” 5km outside of town for the final 6 weeks, and it was so refreshing to have such a different experience.

    Gearing up to go to Ghana it’s very much on my mind again. Thanks for articulating your thoughts and feelings so well.


    • October 23, 2010 12:44 pm

      Thanks Mike for the affirmation that it was worth posting. It definitely is a bit of a delicate subject, and not something that I maybe gave enough thought to before arriving to really understand what I wanted from my living situation. Glad to hear you’re thinking about it already. Hope you guys have a great start to training, sad that you’re not going to be down here in Southern Africa, but the Ghana folks I’m sure will be glad to see you soon!


  5. susan permalink
    December 11, 2010 5:56 am

    hi lyssa,
    it’s so funny how we’re always going through similar things and thoughts even though we’re cities (and now continents) apart! i think i’ve been having that feeling of unrest myself in my work with the urban community in downtown toronto… it affected me the other day when i was standing in the foodbank line to advocate for one of the youth i work with and a community resident looked at my engagement/wedding ring and said, “you don’t look like food bank [user].” it wasn’t a hostile comment in anyway but he recognized and i recognized in that moment that i’m not an organic part of that community… i’m very grateful for where i live and what i have but there are layers for me to unpeel to truly understand and serve that community in a way in which i’m like one of them. over this year the message of incarnation has been challenging and with Christmas approaching, i hope to reflect more on what Christ’s incarnation means for the way I live and work. thank you for your post! you really have a wonderful gift for writing which i never knew you had until this blog. Lord bless you and keep you dear alyssa! i’ve sent you a card in the mail today but i’m not sure if the address is correct anymore… well, it’s somewhere floating amongst the other letters destined for Malawi 🙂

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