When I was little girl, my Grandma Kelly used to write stories for me and my cousins. Every few months or so, we’d get a new one in the mail and each one was illustrated by hand, complete with cover pages and each sheet in plastic slip covers. Sometimes, one of us grandkids would make a guest appearance in the stories, which was always exciting. My whole childhood, these stories piled up until I had a binder about 3 inches thick called “Stories by Grandma K”. They were always part of the bedtime rotation and my favourite was about Cecilia, the cyclops who learns to love her big beautiful eye.
I remember so clearly the day I decided that I was going to write stories too. We were in the car on the way to visit my Grandma for the day and I told my mom I was going to make a story for Grandma K (illustrations included, of course). I was probably 7 and I wrote 3/4 of a page on lined paper called “Too Litle Grils Go for a Walk”. There were crooked trees lining the page and a whole lot of spelling mistakes but I was so proud of my story and couldn’t wait to give it my Grandma!! She loved it (or claimed to, hehe) and about a month later, a story by the same name, dedicated to me, appeared in our mailbox. Grandma had taken my idea and written a longer story, completing each copy with my story photocopied at the back. I was enthralled. Look at what an idea that had started as a thought in my head had become!
And so, the stories continued. In elementary school I kept extra notebooks and filled them with stories featuring my friends and I as the “Horse Helpers” who rode horses and saved people in our neighbourhood. I self published a poetry book called “Daisy Chains” and wrote my first “novel” in 5th grade. I thrived in creative writing classes and clubs and told anyone who would listen that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I entered poetry and short story contests and sometimes I even won.
And then the storytelling began to stretch beyond paper. I read a ton as a kid and would reenact the stories for my friends who didn’t want to read themselves. At camp I would drag a book out over a week or two, using funny voices and making the best (aka my favourite) parts last the longest. I loved when friends would ask what I had been reading or ask me to tell them a story. I remember going on canoe trips and making up tall tales about the trees following us as protectors on our voyage.
In high school I discovered blogging and loved that I could share my thoughts whenever I felt like it. I learned about spoken word poetry and fell in love with the way people could dramatically and passionately twist words into powerful performances. Even my everyday life became filled with stories of spontaneity and humour, sometimes even stranger than fiction, that I would retell to my friends, hands flying and eyes sparkling with excitement.
I love to tell stories, in every way, shape, and form. When I think about the core of who I am and what I am passionate about, my identity as a storyteller is always one that just feels right. It settles into my soul like it belongs there. I love words and the way creativity and the real world weave together like multicoloured threads, making people stop and listen and feel and engage. Remember the last time you read a book that made you cry or laugh out loud or wish you could have coffee with a character?
It’s wild to think that I have been in Malawi for nearly a month now. I’m going to renew my visa tomorrow and I can’t believe it’s that time already! So much has happened and yet at the same time, life is quiet here. I’ve settled into a routine and so as much as it’s adventure to adjust to a new country and culture, at the end of the day, I still go to work Monday to Friday. The day to day is too boring for Instagram I’m afraid! Still, there has been a lot of beauty to be seen so I’ll try to give an update on the most major things without dragging on too long.
Firstly, I’ve been learning to live without instant access to electricity. I really don’t want to whine or go on too long about this but it has been a significant adjustment to not always be able to flick a switch and have light. Malawi deals with power load shedding which sometimes follows a schedule and sometimes does not. This means for a certain number of hours each day, each area of the city gets the electricity cut off. The sun sets here at around 5:30pm so not having lights at night means a lot of hours of walking around with a flashlight or lighting candles. I also live by myself so for the first couple weeks I absolutely hating coming home at night knowing I’d be alone in the dark for hours…I’ve gotten a lot more sleep by going to bed at 8pm some nights! The schedule seems to have mellowed out though (less nights in a row without power) and my place got a gas stove so I can cook even when the power is out which I am super grateful for. I’ve also just gotten more used to it…I always complained about not being allowed to have candles in residence so I am certainly making up for it now haha! I even did a co-op interview by candle light this week.
The general pace of life here is much slower as well. Living in Zomba rather than a bigger city like Lilongwe (the capital) or Blantyre (the economic and business hub), means that nights are quiet and there is not much to do…I am used to running around every night of the week with multiple commitments so it’s been a change to come home, cook dinner, read and go to sleep! On the flip side, it is incredibly beautiful here. I love walking to work looking up at the plateau and I am always surrounded by greenery which of course makes this outdoorsy human happy. I don’t think I will ever get used to being in a meeting on the back porch and getting distracted by watching the monkeys and baboons play beside the office!
Speaking of the office, I am really enjoying my work here. It’s been so cool to finally get to work with people in the field and see interventions taking place in real time. A couple of weeks ago I got to go to a drama festival for ArtGlo’s Make Art, Stop Aids program. Along with learning that field work sometimes comes with delays, challenges and broken down cars, I also got to watch Malawian youth use art to be catalysts for conversations about sexual reproductive health in their communities. It was inspiring. On the more regular days, I am in the office (or out on the porch) helping with curriculum, funding research, program review and whatever else I can pitch in with. I love moving seats each day and getting to know my co-workers better all the time. They are quite amused by my weak Chichewa attempts.
I’ve also gotten to start exploring Malawi a bit on the weekends (and I am looking forward to hopefully doing a lot more of that!) My very first weekend in the country I went to Lake Malawi, at Cape Maclear. I hadn’t been feeling well during that trip but even so, I had a great time. Boat rides, a fish fry on the beach, snorkelling, reading and taking in that I was actually, finally, in Africa for the first time was a pretty good way to spend the weekend!
All smiles by the lake
Sunset has started
My second weekend I hung around Zomba and started getting to know it a little bit better. I visited the market with my landlord/friend Esnatt and she introduced me to her vegetable man, potato lady, and banana stand of choice. The market here in Zomba is not nearly as overwhelming as the one Nick and I visited in Guatemala, or even the others in Malawi I have seen. I also hung up my hammock between two mango trees, ate cake at MaiPai (where I live), read a lot and called friends from home. I also went to church with Esela (Esnatt’s sister…there is also Emela) which was interesting…mostly because it wasn’t much different from home! The English service wasn’t, anyway. Apparently the Chichewa services are more lively.
My third weekend was filled with plans that ended up changing. In the end, five of the girls who I flew over from Canada with (the other WUSC interns) came to visit from Lilongwe and we went hiking up on the Plateau that dominates the Zomba views. It was my first trip up and I can promise that it won’t be the last. As I said, my outdoorsy heart is pretty happy here surrounded by all the green. We had a fancy lunch at a hotel on the top with a beautiful view and hiked to a waterfall. Myself and Val even went swimming!
Last weekend, the fourth in Malawi, I happened to find myself back at Cape Maclear…I hadn’t been sure I would make it back at all, let alone so soon! This time I was with a group of other expats from Zomba and it was really a fun weekend. We stayed at a lodge down the beach from where I had been the first time and I read a whole book while laying in the sun, taking swim breaks and chatting with new friends. We did a boat cruise as well, at sunset, and danced to fun songs in the evening. It was nice to get to know some people living here and to feel like I am making friends!
I hate when I let myself fall away from blogging….it always means that when I get back to it, we end up with these long winded catch-up posts that don’t have a particular topic. I think one of the reasons I have been so hesitant to share my time here is that I am trying to be mindful of jumping to assumptions or sharing things I don’t actually know much about. Honestly, I just don’t want to appear whiney either, or ungrateful for the opportunity to be here, or like I can’t handle development work because I am lonely and don’t like not having electricity. And the truth is, I really have been fine, even when I miss Ottawa or wish I was eating a meal that doesn’t involve rice.
I still haven’t found quite comfortably how to be honest about my experiences and share them but also not being dramatic or making things out to be different than they actually are. Where is the line between being critical and being condescending? How do I allow myself to be curious and process my lack of knowledge without spreading ignorance?
Over the next couple weeks (once Skype interviews for co-op are over, fingers crossed!) I’m hoping to write some more specific posts, about things I’ve done or things I am learning. I would love to know what people want to hear more about. Are you interested in more development minded posts, analyzing things are the same or different from what I have been taught in school? Or in more travel focused posts, about my weekend adventures and the beauty and culture of the country? Or stories about my life here, like my show down with the rat who has decided to share my room? Something else? Let me know!