Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Bag Only?!

I am currently sitting in my friend's house in Marseille, France. Its gorgeous and just a couple of blocks away from the Mediterranean. Ah-mazing to say the least. But I wanted to share with you my last hour in Malawi because, well, it seems Africa had to get the last word.

You can ask Anna Marie, but I did a pretty good job of packing. She had to help me make some tough decisions on what to bring home, but overall, I did okay.

Some of my co-workers came to my rescue though because they said they would bring stuff back for me in February when they come to the States for a visit.

So, with that in mind, I packed my two bags just under 50lbs.

I was really proud of myself.

And then we got to the airport. I was already emotional because I was going to have to say goodbye to the Laffoons. Anna Marie was actually letting me hug her, so that was a sign right there we were both pretty emotional.

I got up to the ticket counter, put both my bags up, and the African looks at me and says,

"One bag only."

Uhh...Anna Marie keeps asking me, "Are you okay?" and I couldn't even answer I was in such shock.

Then, the guy turns to me and says, "To take the extra bag, it will cost you $650."

So, then the tears just start pouring down my face. I couldn't take it anymore. Luckily, one of my bosses and hero for the day comes and takes over.

She pulls both my bags down and leads me over to the side of the airport. We then proceed to open both bags and take out only the things I need to take for my Europe trip and she agrees to bring some stuff for me home in February.

After all that, I'm coming home with 2 pairs of shoes, 4 outfits, some toiletries, a couple of t-shirts, a scarf, and some underwear.

Yep, that's it.

I'll see the rest of my stuff maybe sometime in Feb. or March. Praise the Lord for friends who are willing to bring some stuff back for me, or else that situation could have been REALLY bad.

That just means I get to buy more new things in Europe, right? :)

Oh Africa. You really do always win.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Letter for Malawi

Dear Malawi,

We've had quite a two years, huh? Well, 22 months to be exact. Everyone thinks that to go home to the land of plenty and the land of the rich is going to be so much better than to leave of the poorest nations in the world...but actually my feelings are quite opposite.

You see, you have something that America doesn't have. Most people that come to Africa I think would agree with me that there is just something about this place that gets in you...and it keeps pulling you back.

I've been perplexed for a long time about what it is that does this...Is it just new surroundings? Adventure? the beautiful scenery?

But for me, it always, always comes back to the people and their joy.

I just love Africans. I love their joy in their circumstances. I love their joy in meeting a perfect stranger. I love their joy despite the heat, bugs, poverty. I just love them period.

So, first and foremost, I will miss the Malawian people.
The way you aren't afraid to hand me your baby even though you've never met me.
The way you smile and show me such great respect because I am a visitor to your country.
The way you offer up food that I know is a sacrifice for you merely because you want me to feel welcome.

I'm also going to miss my less complicated life. Sure, in a way, I have to come face-to-face with heavy stuff: beggars, starving people, dirty children, death, and horrible life circumstances...
And its so much easier to not see that when I go back home...
But after two years here, I would rather see that than the petty things I surround and focus on back home most of the time.

I'll miss just sitting with people and talking.
Knowing that I'm on Africa time and so is everyone else...and that if I don't get my to-do list done today, its okay because there's always tomorrow.
Meeting with ladies from the community every single week for a couple of hours just to chat and drink of cup of tea together.

I'll miss even just walking down the dusty road passing women carrying babies on their backs and huge loads of firewood on their heads. I'll miss mangos and red bananas and nsima & beans and coke in glass bottles. I'll miss Lake Malawi and those beautiful mountains I'm surrounded by. I'll miss speaking Tumbuka (the little that I know) and knowing that Dada Nguruwe is just outside on my porch if any bad guys come around. I'll miss Smokey, my dog. I'll miss the Laffoons and all my friends I've made here. I'll miss Friday nights with Anna Marie. I'll miss Maggie, Mama Tegha, and the Chirwas.

I'll just miss you, Malawi.
I have spent two of the hardest/best years of my life here.
I will never ever forget you.
I've changed, I've grown, I've learned things about myself, and I've learned things about God all here in your country.

Keep your joy.
I'll try to keep mine.
And I hope, one day, we will meet again.

Until then,

Monday, October 10, 2011

Goodbye Mzuzu

Goodbye Mzuzu,
You've been my home away from home. I'm always glad to be back home in Mzuzu. It took us a while at the beginning to become good friends, but now, I will always consider you a home. I was always ready to come back to you when I went away on trips. I'll miss your rainy weather and your beautiful mountains.

This is an extremely hard goodbye for me. All the people that I've met has turned into my family. And though I've had other hard goodbyes, I feel like this one is so final because there is a good possibility I won't see these people ever again.

Some of my good friends I won't ever forget! :


Sam and Bobby at the Green Shop


Ronel and Betsy and Family

My Tea Ladies

All my kids at the SOS orphanage and the Crisis Nursery

The Robertsons

The Robinsons

Mama Tegha, Watson and Dada Tegha

Maggie, her mom, and her sister Pacharo

There are so many more people, but these are just a few of the ones I've had to say bye to this past week. So many goodbyes!

On my way to Lilongwe...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Extra Baggage

Jeremy knows that I taught 2nd grade back in America, so since he is officially a second grader as of Friday (woo!), he decided that he wanted to come back to the States with me so I could be his second grade teacher.

We were trying to figure out how to get him back with me, and he came up with the ingenious plan of going in my luggage. :)

Of course, we needed to see if he fit in there...
Can you spot him?

So if my suitcase is moving when I get'll know why.

Leaving Mzuzu tomorrow morning....
4 days until my flight....

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Normal

I have some other friends who have written about the odd things that we adopt when we move to a new culture; things that shocked us or seemed so weird when we first came, and now we don't think twice about them; or, they've written on "You know you live in ____ when..."

I thoroughly enjoyed reading their posts about it, so I thought I would do the same.

So here's my list of things that are now "normal" for me, but not so very long ago, were quite odd. Plus, just weird quirky things that make me laugh and strange habits I've picked up. I've stolen a few from my friends. :)

  • You aren't surprised to see men peeing in public. In fact, I see this at least once a week.
  • You make friends with the geckos and spiders that live in your house and bedroom. They eat the mosquitoes, so you repay the kindness by letting them bunk in your house.
  • You only use skeleton keys for your entire house.
  • Shifting with my left hand has become very easy and more comfortable, and now switching back to my right hand seems very odd. In fact, switching back to the other side of the road seems really strange too!
  • You often get told, "You look so fat!" "You've gained weight!" and they are meant as compliments.
  • I buy my electricity units at the filling station to which I receive a receipt with a code. I then have to punch that code into a box at my house to "fill" my electricity back up. That means, sometimes, when the power goes off, I just forgot to get more units!
  • Its completely normal to see a women's breasts hanging out of her shirt because she was breast-feeding, but its extremely immodest to show above your knees or your midriff. 
  • You have a hard time remembering correct English grammar because you’ve been using African English grammar which makes you sound like Yoda.
  • You see other white people in your city and wonder what they're doing here.
  • You save your biggest cooking endeavors until the day before you house-help comes so you don't have to do the dishes.
  • You've forgotten what its like to walk on carpeted floors.
  • Burning piles or forests on fire don't worry you. It's normal.
  • You call strangers either 'Mama', 'Dada', 'Auntie' or 'Uncle.'
  • People ask you what you miss about America and you list foods and fast food restaurants.
  • Toilet paper is in your car at all times for when you have to stop on the side of the road or use a squatty potty.
  • You can take a bath with only one bucket of water.
  • You have to plan your day around whether or not you'll have electricity. 
  • You are used to babies crying when they see you because you look terrifying.
  • Flashlights = torches, fries = chips, grade = standard, mosquitoes = 'mo-squee-toes', line = queue
  • You've learned many uses for your chitenji: curtains, towel, tablecloth, spill wiper-upper, skirt, baby-carrier, sweat rag, etc.
  • now = some time in the next several hours; now-now = some time in the next hour
  • You can make just about anything from scratch.
  • If you are a female over 20 and not married, you will be asked why aren't you married, when are you going to get married, and be told its time to start having kids.
  • The largest bill you can get here is worth about $3.00, so when you go to the ATM, you get a wad of cash to carry around...and no debit/credit cards are used anywhere, so you know which wallets to use to make sure you can carry around piles of money that is inches thick.

There are SO many more, but I'll stop there. :)
Oh Africa, how I'll miss you!

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Here's some of my favorite things in Africa:
1. Jackaranda trees in bloom (I've blogged about those before)

2. Frangipani's in bloom. (Those are my favorite!)

3. Rainy Days...the kind where its raining so hard on your tin roof, you can't hear what's going on inside the house.

4. Mangos
5. A bazillion other things.

But, guess what I got this week...My LAST week in Africa?

The Jackarandas are in bloom, the Frangipanis in MY yard are in bloom, early mangos are out in the market, and...

It's pouring raining this morning!!!
In the MIDDLE of dry season!!!

Thanks God.
You are so loving.
And I know that you didn't make the flowers bloom for me, or the mangos, or even the rain, but thanks for allowing me to see all those things before I leave. 

4 Days until I leave Mzuzu...
Until I drive away for the very last time...
Prayers are greatly, greatly, appreciated.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Hospital Visit

"You go to the hospital to die." -
That's basically what I've been told before about African hospitals. I saw one in Uganda that just broke my heart.

We have government hospitals and private ones here in Malawi .
I got to visit the government one several times now over the past few months.
However, my first visit there is the one I want to share with you.
Austin Chirwa, My Gardener and Day Guard
A couple of months back, my gardener got very sick. He had severe stomach cramps, a horrible headache, and was vomiting. This had been going on for a day, but he wasn't getting any better, so Mama Chirwa came to tell me about it, and I decided we would take him to the hospital.

Okay, now let me explain this part: at the hospital, there is a great shortage of staff. There may be one doctor for the entire hospital and mostly clinical technicians act like the doctors and even do surgery. So, there isn't anyone to clean your bedding, fix food for you, or give you any extra help.
So, when you go to the hospital, and are admitted, you have to have a guardian with you.
They will cook your food, sleep on the floor next to you, wash your bedding, etc.

Okay, so Dada Chirwa, Mama Chirwa and I packed up in my truck and we went to the hospital.
I parked the car and came back expecting them to be waiting in line, but they were ushered into a examining room very quickly. A nurse got a wheelchair for him to sit in, and a "doctor" order for him to get x-rays.

By this point, I was starting to get a little worried. Chirwa was in so much pain and would just keep calling out "mama." I've never seen him like that.

Because I'm the only white person on the entire hospital grounds, we were definitely making a scene wherever we went, but I was hoping it would be good attention and maybe give them incentive to help us out a bit more because they were with a white person.

We finally came to the x-ray ward.
There was 1 nurse and about 3 technicians standing around the desk talking. No one else was in the room.

We walked in and, of course, they all looked at me trying to figure out why I was there.

Chirwa is just sitting there in the wheelchair, but then he says, "I have to vomit."
The doctors just look at Mama in disgust and say, "Well! Do something about it!"
So, she grabs here chitenji (a piece of material that we wear as a skirt) and holds it as he vomits into it.

I was infuriated! These nurses and doctors were doing nothing to help him! There were standing there looking at us like how dare we vomit in their office! And before the "doctor" talks to Chirwa at all, he comes over to me and wants to know how long I"ve been here and where I work. At the moment, I really just wanted to stomp on his toes and tell him to worry about his patients! :)

Finally, a nurse goes and finds an old large pill bottle and Chirwa carries that around as his vomit container.

We get x-rays and then finally get moved to men's ward where he will be admitted until he is better.

By this time, I was just in a panic. Chirwa was vomiting blood, he was rolling around on a gurney in agony, and just seeing the condition of the hospital wasn't helping any.

So here are Mama and I just standing there, still holding onto the vomit-filled material, watching as they try to inject an IV into his very dehydrated body. 

The ward is a big open room with 16 beds lined up in it. 
All the beds are filled. So, a nursing student goes and gets a mattress from another room and throws it on the floor. There is no pillow, one sheet, and that's all we get.

Mama Chirwa tells me to go back home and get a toothbrush, a pillow, an extra blanket, flip-flops, food, and anything else I can think of for Dada Chirwa. She will be sleeping on the hard ground next to him through the night. (I found out later, she didn't sleep at all.)

I bring breakfast cooked over the fire by their 11 year-old girl the next morning at 6 am. 
She is also taking care of the 9, 5, and 2 year old.
As I was sitting on the floor by him that morning, there was another man on the floor across from him.
You could just tell there wasn't much time left for him...
When I came back that night to bring supper, he was gone and you could hear his mother wailing in the next room.

That is a really eerie feeling. 
The following day, enough beds opened up for Chirwa to get one.
A crowd of people were around another guy and later in the day, he is gone from the bed and they tell me he has died.

Fast forward 3 days. Mama Chirwa stays with him his whole stay. The "doctors" have come by to see him once in his whole stay. 
The only thing he's been given is his IV of glucose.

God has healed him, and now he can come home.
They have no clue what was wrong with him.

As bad as I was feeling about this hospital, these doctors and nurses are doing the best that they can with what they have access too.
They get the toss-off medical supplies, if they get them.
There are too many patients to give adequate care to all of them.
And plus, it makes you put more Faith in God than in the doctors who care for them.

By the way, when I spent a day in the Labor ward, I found out it costs $2.50 to have a baby in the hospital.
Yep, your hospital fees are $2.50.

In America, we have so many privileges that we don't even realize...things we think are our rights has human beings that most other human beings don't get.

And THAT is going to be the hardest part about coming home.

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