Malawi Musings

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Daily commute

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.

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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.

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Some colleagues and Students With Dreams mentors at their end of year graduation!

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!

 

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. 1528050334609

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!

Until next time, Sam

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Beautiful view from the boat

An ode to 2017

2017. What a year.

Thank you for being one of the best yet. Thank you for allowing me to pursue myself, to pursue passion, to pursue learning, to pursue adventure, and above all to pursue Jesus and the plans He has for me. It’s been so good.

2018: you’ve got a lot to live up to…somehow I’m believing you’ll be even better.

So here’s to you, 2017, with all your jumbled joy and challenge. Thanks for being:

 

A year of adventure and of travel.

A year of learning.

A year of working and a year of rest.

A year of strangers and of friends and of family.

A year of thriving.

A year of passion, of cultivating dreams, a year of sparks being fanned into flames.

A year of church searching and finding.

A year of getting lost and of laughing.

A year of rain dancing and mountain climbing, a year of paddle buying and canoe trip leading.

A year of address changing.

A year of deep question asking

A year of meetings and long days in a cubicle

A year of language learning and poem reciting.

A year of climbing and of hiking, of dancing and of stretching

A year of coffee shops and life chats that lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

A year of geyser watching and waterfall chasing, of cave swimming and pouring rain zip lining.

A year of book reading and blog writing.

A year of coffee drinking and bread baking.

A year of bike riding and of long walk taking

A year of chasing the future and a year of quiet nights taking it the now

A year of back porch dreaming and fairy light hanging

A year of prayer and of pensiveness

A year of breathing deeply in Creation

A year of gratitude

A year of changed plans and positive attitudes

A  year of late night essay writing, of co-op interviewing, of office hours visiting, of difficult exam taking.

A year of duty and floor meetings, of loving residents and loving my teams

A year of bucket lists actually fulfilled

A year of inspiration

A year of loving people and of being alone

A year of contentment and of peace

A year of ignition, a year of climbing to the high diving board and getting ready to leap

A year of being spontaneous

A year of being unapologetic in pursuing who God created me to be.

Sometimes a year of anger, of fear, of frustration.

Mostly a year of hope and of joy.

Always a year of Jesus, a year of faithfulness, a year of promises fulfilled.

Thank you.

2018. I am ready for all you have to offer.

 

Skál and Bless

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Where to begin?

Well, I’ve been home from Iceland for just more than 24 hours and I’ve already figured out where I want to go next reading week and scoped out the cheapest flights, if that tells you anything. I’ve travelled before but this was the first time by myself and the first time in this way. Going on exchange in Switzerland, visiting family in Ireland and spending time at resorts in Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican are very different than staying in a hostel and travelling just for the pureness of it.

It truly was a whirlwind 5 days. Between hours spent on buses, planes and waiting around for the two former, I lost all of Sunday and most of Thursday to travel so in reality, I had just THREE days in Iceland. Call me crazy (and some did) for taking such a quick trip but it was exactly what I needed to wet my feet and get out of this city. Don’t worry Ottawa, I still love ya but the change of scenery and sense of adventure, independence and autonomy was so good for my restless soul.

A long time ago, just after coming home from my exchange I wrote a spoken word poem that I posted here, about the intense desire I felt to see more of the world, as well as about how I expected travel to shape and change me. I look back now on my exchange and I am so incredibly grateful of the afternoons I spent wandering around my adopted city (Geneva) and the road trips my lovely host family took me on; it allowed me to see so much of their mountainous country. It was then that I first learned a new language, that mountains became so dear to my heart and that I made friends because hey, they happened to be sitting next to me! My trip to Iceland brought all of these memories rushing back.

And the fact that I wrote “I want to get lost in unknown cities and find Sam in the process”  makes me laugh because I really did get lost in Reykjavik one day and rather than panic or get upset about having lost a good chunk of my day, I just went with the flow and had a perfectly “Sam” adventure. It ended with me standing knee deep in the North Atlantic Ocean in February, staring up in awe at Mount Esja, up close and personal.

I had also written about wanting to meet “people rushing about, strangers who were really just friends I hadn’t yet met” and that certainly came true on this trip, to an extent even I hadn’t expected. I noticed that there is something about being a solo traveler in particular that draws friends to you. I’m not sure if it’s because you’re less intimidating/more approachable, if they just don’t want you to be alone or what but I was constantly being invited to do things. That was a common theme in the hostel as well as on tours or even just in the streets. Every traveller I met was eager to meet other people, which was SO refreshing. In my everyday life, I find that we are all  so focused on our own busy lives that we rarely look up to see the strangers with whom we could have SUCH GREAT conversations, if only we made the time. As people have been asking me my favourite part of the trip, this actually has been sticking out, above even all the incredible natural wonders that Iceland had to offer and my own adventurous spirit being satisfied. I enjoyed meeting diverse and interesting people everywhere I went.  Some of them, I spoke to for just minutes and others hours. Some I am connected with on social media and others I will never hear from again. Some were “recurring characters” so to say  (those in my hostel room in particular), well others were part of only one scene like the teachers from New York that I met on my first day at 6am. These “characters” are what fill out an adventure. The beauty of a place is important yes, but those conversations had floating in the lagoon or chatting over drinks are what will stick with me the most I think.

That said, Iceland itself was beautiful. With such a short time frame I didn’t see as much of it as some others. And I missed seeing the Aurora Borealis booooooo. Still, that which I did see was breathtaking. On my second day, I took a bus tour out of the city and around the “Golden Circle”: three popular tourist sights that essentially give a good taste of what Iceland has to offer while being a relatively short drive from the capital. We saw a geyser called Strokkur, a waterfall called Gulfoss and visited the national park Pingvellir (a UNESCO world heritage site) where we walked between tectonic plates and saw the site of the first democratic parliament. My particular tour also included a stop at the so-called “Secret” Lagoon which may have been one of my favourite parts of my trip. Just picture hanging out in a giant natural hot tub beside steaming hot mud pits and a boiling geysir that are feeding directly into the pool. So friggin cool. One of the most interesting things about Iceland is the geothermal energy that runs through the country in plenty.

That said, I didn’t feel the intense connection and draw to Iceland the way I have with other places I’ve visited. I know a lot of people adore the country and many travellers return time and again; maybe I just didn’t have enough time to really appreciate it or maybe I spent too much time in the city and not enough out in nature but I don’t feel a desire to return anytime soon. Not to say I didn’t like it, honestly it’s difficult to explain. Just that I’m glad I’ve been but I wouldn’t rush to be back. And this might also sound strange but (sorry Mom and Dad), it kind of felt too safe. Someone I met put it really well: Reykjavik felt almost like a theme park. It was just so peaceful, everyone spoke English, the capital was small and easy to wander. Again, not to say I didn’t love my trip because I did but it was almost like being in this travel bubble where I had huge margins for error and nothing could go wrong. It definitely took away some of the adventurous feel. And I didn’t feel like I got to experience or see a different culture which for me is a huge and important aspect of travel. Definitely, I’ll go back someday if I get the chance and maybe road trip around, see more, but I’d choose to see somewhere new before going to Iceland again. I think I’ve seen enough of Europe for now though actually…I want to be really immersed in cultures very different than my own.

Overall, it was an amazing experience to travel alone, to meet new people and breathe fresh air in a different country. And like I mentioned, I’m already planning my next trip. Although this experience satisfied me for now, it also reinforced the desire to explore and see more. So skál (cheers) and bless (goodbye) to Iceland and to reading week, and another hello to Sam’s continuing, changing and growing grand adventure.

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-Until next time, Sam

I’m going to Iceland!!!

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I did it. I booked a plane ticket. I got my new passport on Friday and this morning I sat on my couch and bought a flight to Iceland. Next reading week, in February, I am going to visit Iceland for 5 days. Alone, much to my mother’s chagrin. AND I’M SO FREAKING EXCITED. So excited that I didn’t take the time to come up with a creative blog title hahah sorry folks. Think I’m crazy? Here’s why I’m doing it.

  1. There will never be a perfect time to travel. My near-future looks like school and co-op as far as I can see. I needed to make an opportunity for adventure where I had time. In my life, 5 days is all I have and that’s ok.
  2. Flights were cheap. Like super cheap. Like I can’t take any baggage other than my backpack or know which seat I am in until I get there because those are add-ons cheap. The airline I’m flying with is budget, no frills and that works for me.
  3. Because opportunities are everywhere and sometimes you have to pick one and make it happen. I crave adventure and movement. I can say “someday” all I want but I am not a traveller unless I GO. Not every adventure has to be long and extravagant.
  4. I want to see what it’s like to be a solo traveller. I’ve gone to Switzerland with an exchange program, Ireland with my family and Montreal with my friends but I’ve never gone somewhere by myself. I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted to do, to totally create and execute this adventure on my own. I want to learn how to rely on myself and be comfortable forging out on my own into this world. Iceland is rated the #1 safest country in the world and that makes it a perfect place for my first solo adventure.
  5. I need a break. I study, work and live in the same place and life is constant busyness, moving from one project to the next. Reading week in Ottawa means studying and procrastinating which is fine sometimes. But for me, self care doesn’t mean sitting in my room doing nothing. To feel truly rejuvenated I need to be doing, living, exploring. I’m not saying I can’t necessarily do that here but a trip is something for me to look forward to as a way to truly step away from everyday life and just be something other than a student.
  6. ICELAND, PEOPLE. The land of snow, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and geysers. Iceland is supposedly beautiful in winter! I want to spend time in every part of God’s creation and see all there is to see in this world, bit by bit. I want to see the Northern Lights and relax in a hot spring. I can’t wait to explore this Scandinavian island.
  7. Because I can. For real, I could probably come up with a million reasons why I shouldn’t go; namely, I am a university student and the typical college budget doesn’t exactly allow for international travel. But I also don’t spend countless dollars on drinking and going out like a typical college student. I get the grades needed to cover almost all my tuition with scholarships and I work in residence to cover most of my living costs. My parents also help me out a lot which I am so grateful for. I’d rather  work hard here so I can go there wherever there might be. Treat yo self 
  8. Life is short. They say that all the time but it’s true. Life doesn’t pause for school or work. Life weaves all aspects of itself into the years, days and hours that God gives me, however long that may be. I don’t want to grow up to be an adult that didn’t follow through on any of my dreams. I’m tired of saying “one day…” and flipping through Pinterest boards about travel. If I want travel, exploration and adventure to be part of my life, then now is the time. THIS IS life and I want to live it fully.
  9. Why not? Excuses don’t trump life experiences.

Now I have to curb my excitement and get back to writing a paper. Just wanted to share my news…eeeek!

– Until next time, Sam

p.s. This reading week was truly lovely too. I went to a conference, my mom and sister visited, I got to catch up with friends and sleep and all that good and wonderful stuff.