After an interesting, challenging, exciting, confusing, frustrating, outstanding, life-altering summer working for EWB in Malawi, I am officially back on native soil. It’s been two weeks since my return to Canada and it’s been a very interesting experience. At times, it has felt like I’m a stranger to that which was once familiar. At other times, it has been relieving to return to old haunts, familiar routines and this feeling that I once understood to be normality.
Here’s a quick synopsis of the past little while. We departed from Lilongwe on August 27th and were delayed in Addis Ababa waiting for Hurricane Irene to move away from Washington where we were scheduled to fly through. Eventually we got off the ground and ended up in Washington via Rome. Having missed our connecting flight to Toronto, we headed across the city to the other airport where we caught a flight and arrived in TO the evening of the 28th. After that it was three days in the EWB house running workshops on reintegration, chapter work and communicating our experiences. After debrief, I headed to Edmonton August 31st and have been bumming around here ever since. My mind is still greatly scattered in many regards, but I’m working on putting the pieces together. In the meantime, here’s a pseudo-random list of observations and experiences that have come out of the last few weeks.
North America is incredibly intent on getting my attention and it can be kind of taxing. When we were waiting at the airport in Washington, I spent about an hour just looking around with eyes the size of saucers at everything there was to see. So many products, so many colours, so many options. It was a bit overwhelming and I think it ended up taking me about twenty minutes to finally decide on something to eat. It also didn’t help that I was still measuring things in Malawian prices and refused to pay much more than $3 for a meal and a drink. I found myself getting caught in an odd sort of tension in that everything was so new and interesting that I couldn’t stop staring at all the fancy advertisements with their fancy products, but I’m not a particularly big fan of consumerism so even though I wanted to ignore the signs, I just couldn’t tear my eyes away. I suppose that’s why the ad men are paid the millions they’re paid.
People are much more uppity about things happening on time, things working, things being just right and things going according to plan. I have mixed feelings about this. When I was in Malawi I found that, generally, people have an incredibly high tolerance for dealing with life’s crap. When the door falls off the minibus, everyone just sits patiently and waits for it to be put back on. When a meeting is running several hours behind schedule, everyone just sits patiently and waits for everything to eventually wrap up. Most Malawians were much more relaxed when situations inevitably went awry and were much better at laughing off less than ideal situations. But in many ways, this attitude of accepting what’s not great is one of the barriers to Malawi’s development. If no one is upset when things aren’t going well, then there’s no real incentive for things to get better. So while at times I think that Canadians might worry a bit too much about everything, that isn’t to say that Malawians couldn’t stand to be a little more uppity than they tend to be.
I am no longer a novelty. This was something that I hadn’t really given much thought to when I was preparing to come back to Canada, but it is definitely a very different experience to walk into a store and not have everyone stop their conversations to stare at you. For most of my time in Malawi, I was the only mzungu (foreigner) living in my village so I drew a fair bit of attention whenever I did anything. It’s kind of nice to be able to blend into the crowd, but it does make it harder to meet new people when you’re just another face.
Electricity will be the death of me. It’s amazing how easy it is to fall back into old habits, but one week back at classes and I’m already staying up well past my village bed time, reading, playing board games, prepping EWB things and all of those other activities that just weren’t possible in the village after the sun had set. This is especially problematic when I try to hold onto the other side of village sleeping patterns: waking up at 5:30 AM every morning. The early rising fell apart pretty quickly though since it’s much harder to get up and go when you’re sleeping on a big box spring mattress that’s so much more comfortable than a four inch chunk of foam. Not to mention that there is no longer a gang of roosters intent on screaming their lungs out until I get out of bed.
Hopefully I’ll be able to put together a bit more of a cohesive debrief of my experience in the near future to share to the internet, but for now, those are some things that have been on my mind since I’ve been back.
All the best,