Thoughts on Missing Malawi

Missing Malawi hits me in weird ways and at random times.

This week it was a quiet night in my dorm room with low lights, no hurried task to complete and my bed sheets smelling of essential oils that reminded me of (sometimes) lonely nights in the back of the cake shop. Reminded me how I gravitated towards creating rituals in the often candle lit evenings, dabbed soothing oils on my wrists to remind myself to be calm when I heard noises I didn’t recognize, read pages and pages of books, sang loudly in the shower, took time each night to arrange my mosquito net around my bed just so. I hadn’t used my essential oil spray much since coming home and the scent brought me rushing back to my room in Zomba.

Last week it was walking downtown thinking about what I should buy for lunch and suddenly, vividly, being able to taste rice and beans and masamba otendera, all drizzled with mango spicy oil at Uni Café. Since then, I’ve thought often about my lunch hours, eating always too full plates of rice and chatting with my wonderful colleagues.

It’s being at Thanksgiving and my family talking about how the last time we were all together was Canada day. Except I wasn’t there because I woke up in a tent at Chingwae’s Hole on Zomba Plateau, stared at views that seem to stretch forever, hiked down in the mud and sunshine, chatting with friends. It’s missing spotting monkeys and it’s remembering the burn of fire ants biting my ankles.

It’s calling a taxi and having the driver not say a word to me. It makes me think of Edoh and Mr. Mmanga and Kevin and Patrick and miss the friendships that came along with service in Malawi.

It’s getting confused for a month straight as to where my evenings were disappearing to because the sun would set and it would suddenly be 9pm?! I kept forgetting that darkness was not a sign of my evening starting but of bedtime approaching and lost a lot of time being confused by the long summer evenings in Ottawa.

It’s a flood happening in residence and immediately thinking of the morning I woke up and put my feet down into a puddle, called Esnatt and then went to church, while secretly hoping the rat I’d been sharing my house with would drown. William mopped up all the water for me and Esnatt and I thanked Jesus that my laptop survived.

It’s thinking of Esnatt and Esela and Emela and their kindness, their honesty and humour and care for me. It’s missing invitations to dinner and Ntanda nearly pulling my hair out and eating cake way too often. I need to call them, I miss them a lot.

It’s getting covered in bug bites in late August, panicking for a second, not believing how stupid I  was to not wear long pants and bug spray before I remember that here bug bites are just itchy and not a risk for malaria.

It’s sitting in my government cubicle and not having Mwayi ask questions about the weather in Canada, not hearing Bongani singing in the background, not seeing Helen in all her beautiful skirts, not watching Stella and Queen have photoshoots outside, not getting movie reccomendations from Lekodi, not hearing Bosco sing “Samantha oh Samantha”,  not seeing Sharon and Rodger and Janet and Jess, not chatting with the other volunteers. It’s sitting inside at the same place each day and missing sunny porch mornings and rides to the field.

It’s missing feeling like I was doing truly meaningful work that made my soul sing.

It’s walking all the way to work and realizing no one looked at me. It’s putting my phone on shuffle and hearing the songs I used to dance to with the kids on my street.

It’s Tuesdays with no plans that make me think of Paka and yoga and drinking shitty Carlsburg beer. Its missing friends but knowing paths often cross again, hoping some of our paths will cross again.

It’s buying tiny avocados and being appalled at the cost. It’s missing the conversations I used to have with my potato lady and my banana lady and my vegetable guy.

It’s wearing my Chtienge clothes and getting showered with compliments, always answering “my tailor Isaac made it” with a smile, because I promised him I would give him credit when people asked.

It’s randomly thinking about going on safari because it was beyond incredible and often feels like a dream. It’s having a snapshot saved in my mind of sitting under most star filled sky I’ve ever seen, everyone quiet and the car engine turned off so as not to scare the seven lionesses surrounding us, stalking a pray far off in the distance.

It’s people asking “So what’s Africa like?” and wanting to tell them how little I know about Malawi, let alone the continent, but instead just saying “it is incredible” because that is also true.

It’s getting grades back for papers written about MASA, thinking of the plays and songs and students I got to see. Thinking about how academics can’t capture their energy.

It’s eating eggs for dinner cooked in curried vegetables like I did so many nights in Zomba and remembering how the man whole sold eggs on my street never let me get away with speaking English, always made me practice my weak Chichewa.

It’s working in Ottawa with another intern from Malawi and talking about it rarely but knowing she is missing it too.

It’s planning trips for the Outdoor’s Club and being bombarded with memories of Mulanje and weekends at the lake.

It’s seeing friends on social media and remembering laughing with them in person on another continent where now neither of us are.

It’s walking past tall buildings instead of tall mountains on my way to work.

It’s hearing myself say “when I was in Malawi…” way too often, even when I try to contain it and wondering will people will get sick of me and tell me to knock it off. Half hoping they do and half hoping I get to keep telling stories.

It’s taking my morning vitamins and thinking “wow I’m glad I don’t have to take Doxycycline” Every. Single. Day.

It’s plugging in a charger and for a split second being surprised that it worked right away, even now months later surprised that the electricity never fails me. It’s knowing how incredibly privileged that makes me, how privileged I was even there to have power much of the time in Malawi.

It’s the painting hanging in my office and the tapestry on my bedroom wall.

It’s going to post this blog and having to wade through countless drafts of posts never published because I was scared of telling the wrong stories or of making people think things were law instead of just my experiences.

It’s settled contentment of being home and with friends and yet still missing Malawi.

It’s wondering how long simple things will bring this ache.

It’s missing Malawi sometimes intensely and overwhelmingly but not feeling like I want to run back. It’s people asking me if I want to return and not knowing how to say I’m not sure without making it sound like I didn’t love it, because I loved it but…I don’t want to hop on a plane tomorrow.

It’s remembering that my internship was hard and also good. It’s realizing that missing Malawi is hard but also good.

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Missing Malawi

  1. We miss you here in Zomba too Sam. This is a beautifully written post which really captures so much of life here. Hope all is going well in well in your new job. I’m certain our paths will cross again.

  2. Bec Reaume

    Sam, your writing, my green tea…. thank you for a wonderful, and emotional start to my morning. I can relate in so many ways from the past and living overseas…but my aw and inspiration to go to Africa is mildly satisfied for now thanks to your detailed wrtitings. You are an incredible writer and it warms my heart to think of how many people you touched along the way. Isaac, the kids…. I smile at your promise and sticking to it, and the dancing in the streets… ❤️ And so much more.

    1. Thanks Bec ❤ I have no doubt you know the feeling! I always looked up to you and your travels so much when I was younger so I’m glad I can share some of mine with you now 🙂

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