After Malawi: 10 things that did or did not happen but that I thought would

Before I left for Malawi, I made a list of 10 things that I thought might happen. Some of them did, some of them didn’t, and whole lot of other things occurred in between. The following is a recounting of my list with some anecdotes of what actually did happen.

  1. I totally offended someone

Offended

The thing is, I’m pretty sure I did. But the other thing is, I’m pretty sure the people I offended either didn’t speak enough English to convey their annoyance to me properly or were too polite to say anything about it.

  1. Loneliness was an abstract concept

bunk beds

I did feel homesick for the first couple of weeks but between the buzz of village life (where you are never, EVER, alone) and the constant whatsapp/facebooking with homies in Canada and across the continent, I never felt alone. In fact, I probably felt more lonely prior to coming to Malawi, when I was a sad little University student holed up in her room with only a tub of ice cream and Gilmore Girls on Netflix…

  1. Gonna save the world.

What happened

Actually… nope. Didn’t save the world. Wish I had been wrong about this one too but come on… 3 months to save Africa? Let’s be realistic (plus I was only in one small district in Malawi). What I did accomplish was a lot of self-growth and many little wins like getting a project rolling at the District Water Development Office where I was based, stopping my host family from using a plastic bag when boiling their yams (which I really hope they won’t start again after I leave), and telling everybody I met that homeless people exist in Canada. Really proud of that last one.

  1. Internet withdrawal was kinda hard (but not really)

no internet

I had a good enough connection to be on whatsapp and facebook messenger all the time. Streaming videos was not possible but streaming music through google play was definitely possible (and good for late night dance parties). For those odd times (like OSAP applications), when I had to use mildly fast internet, I was forced to go to the local print shop where I ended up making a friend (yay!). Didn’t miss Netflix tho. Surprisingly…

  1. People were friendly and nice…

Forced Hug

So nice. So unbelievably friendly. Everybody greets everybody and gets super appalled when I try to explain that people just walk by each other without saying hi in Canada if they don’t know each other personally. Like whut? You don’t greet strangers?

  1. I stood out like a sore thumb.

Sticking Out

One of the most uncomfortable feelings is going out on a busy market day and feeling overwhelmed with the amount of attention people (vendors, children, random passerbys) are giving you because you’re white. To the vendors, it means you automatically have money and are therefore a prime customer. To everybody else, it’s like being an amusement park attraction. On the flipside, I never have to greet my friends first because they always spot me from a mile away since I’m like that bleached spot on your black dress pants.

  1. The biggest danger was not Ebola.

Ebola

It was actually the absence of electricity. The number of scars on my body from walking into things at night are countless and come attached with really embarrassing stories.

  1. Food was bland for the most part…

meh

Or just really salty. Or sweet. And for a country that can’t handle a lot of spice, the chilli sauces available are like a dream. I think I’m bringing back a bottle of Nali for myself.

  1. My toilet was the least of my concerns.

elmo dancing on toilet

Hot water or a refrigerator were fonder memories.

  1. This was the most important and incredible thing that has happened to me since birth.

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Word.

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Before Malawi: 10 things that I think will probably happen

Tomorrow is the start of my pre-departure training in Toronto. Everything is happening so fast and in hindsight, I probably should’ve set aside more time between Ottawa/moving, New York, and going to visit my parents. But I can’t really do anything about anything anymore.

However, one thing that I can do before leaving is a written reflection of my expectations and concerns. I thought it’d be kind of fun and horrifying to later compare my imaginings to the reality. Because lists are generally boring, I’m going to attempt this one in a buzzfeed style.

10 Things that I think will probably happen in Malawi this summer

1. I’m going to offend somebody.

Like Lauren (our chapter’s return junior fellow) has said to me time and time again, ‘it’s going to happen.’ So I’m just going to get over it and move on to more important things.

2. It’s going to be lonely….

lonely animated GIF

… at least only for the first few weeks. I’m having flashbacks of first year University when a little awkward girl decided it’d be a good idea to go live somewhere far away where she doesn’t know anyone. It seemed to work out then, so hopefully I’ll manage to pull off the same feat. Or I could just bribe people with candy.

3. Gonna save the world.

marvel animated GIF

It’s one of the most common sendoffs I’ve been receiving when people find out I’m going to Malawi this summer, “Have fun saving the world!” I wish I could save the world in 3 months. My coop work terms were 4 months each and one of my biggest accomplishments during my most recent one was understanding almost all of the acronyms that were used at the meetings.

4.Internet withdrawal will be hard.

the lord of the rings animated GIF

My understanding is that I won’t have it every day and I won’t be able to stream stuff. This is a good thing because it’ll force me to interact with my real time surroundings. But the withdrawal will be real too.

5. People will be friendly and nice…

glee animated GIF

… is what I’ve heard. I have no reason to believe that this information will prove false.

6. I’m going to stand out. 

reaction animated GIF

And people will probably treat me differently because I’m a Westerner. I’m sure they have an idea of what Westerners are like just like we have ideas about what Africans are like. It’ll be interesting to see how much of those stereotypes will prove to be true.

7. The biggest danger is not Ebola. 

ebola animated GIF

I don’t even think Malawi had any outbreaks. And I’ve been so heavily vaccinated and medicated that I don’t think I’m going to catch anything. Plus super cleanliness is apparently a big part of Malawian culture. I think that I probably had a higher chance of getting sick on the metro in NYC.

8. Food is gonna be bland. 

food animated GIF

And it’ll probably be offensive if I take hot sauce. Although I did find a Korean restaurant in the guidebook so maybe if I get homesick, I’ll trek out there and just drink a vat of hot pepper paste.

9. My toilet will be a fond memory. 

toilet animated GIF

But I will survive. If everyone in Malawi can do it, I can too. No big deal.

10. This is going to be the most important and incredible thing that has happened to me since birth.

my little pony animated GIF

I have little experience, no expertise, and no knowledge of the culture. I’m a foreigner and the fact that I’m going to be able to sit in and work among Malawian District Officers is kind of crazy. Kind of really crazy.

This is going to be great. 

happy animated GIF