Malawi illuminated!

"CLTS yabweretsa mgwirizano"- CLTS has brought togetherness

Monday, August 16, 2010

but it's alright ma, it's life and life only.

I left the village this morning. Holy shit. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. What a mess of indescribable feelings I have grumbling around in my stomach. It’s a mixture of- unbelievably sad about leaving monica, absolute freedom, lifted containment from being in man’s household, sad about not being able to see Edina and Thomas grow up, and depressed that I’m losing my community.

This morning, I packed up all my stuff. I layed it all out on the bed and decided what I was going to leave behind for the fam- headlamp, work shirts, work shoes, extra toothbrushes, books. I cried and cried as I was packing. Pearson came to tell me something and saw me crying and I made him uncomfortable. Monica quietly swept, washed the dishes and cooked breakfast. Every once in a while popping her head in and saying “Sindikondwera” (I am not happy). This has been the phrase of the last three days. Her and Pearson don’t deal with sadness the way I deal with it, which is to pretend it’s not there and try to distract myself by talking about and doing other things. They’ve been bringing up that I’m leaving every hour for the last three days and I just couldn’t deal with it. I’ve had to keep from crying every time they said it. This morning Monica said “at 2 oclock Thomas is going to say “where is Kate? Maybe she’s at the hospital” at 6 oclock “where is Kate? Maybe she’s at the boma” one week “where’s Kate?” Man. it is so freaking sad that I’m leaving these folks behind. I wish I could stay with them forever.

Everyone knows how much I love tea, so we’ve had late night tea parties every night for the last week. It’s really strange to drink tea in the evening in my village, and every time you drink tea you need to have it with bread so it’s quite an expensive event. But we’ve all pitched in and it’s been ridiculously fun and well worth it. Pearson has been going to the market with his friends at night lately, so the women have been coming over for a cup and then going back to their homes. Me and monica have stayed up late chatting most nights. All of the women came over last night for tea and it was wicked. By the end of the night, most of us were falling asleep because we didn’t want it to end.

They all came over this morning and walked me to the truck today. They carried my luggage on their heads and we walked as a woman clan. Along the way I said goodbye to every house. They all asked me how I was and if I was leaving and when I’d be back. I said goodbye to every elder and all my friends. I said goodbye to all the old people knowing that they’d all be dead by the time I came back to the village. I cried the entire time and Monica talked for me. The walk was terribly sad and long. I kept telling myself that everything ends and this is just a part of growing up. Loving people and leaving people. I’m far too sensitive for this kind of goodbye.

We got to the market and loaded my stuff on the back of a truck. I cried and hugged everyone goodbye. By the time I had hugged everyone, I looked at everyone one last time and saw that most of us were fighting tears. I found comfort in this and cried some more. I hugged monica a second time and jumped on the truck. They walked away and when the truck rolled away they turned around for one last wave.

I never ever anticipated how hard it would be to leave.

Once again. Trying to think about how much Canada rocks.

Love kate


Today is my last day of work. All week, I’ve been doing lasts of a lot of things. I’ve broken them down into Levels of Sadness.

Level 3- It’s cool, I got thick skin.
go to the “Photo Plaza” to charge my computer
see Monica’s brother
bring bubblegum home for the kiddies
go to the Post Office
bike to Chiputu
be in a meeting where everyone is speaking Chichewa and I have nothing to contribute
peel potatoes on the front porch

Level 2- Man, that’s a real bummer.
bike the path to the hospital and see all the kiddies
sleep in my bed and see the sunrise creep onto my wall
come home at lunch to see the ladies
go to the tea room before work
say good morning to Mr. Zulu and Katole at the hospital
carry water on my head from the borehole

Level 1- I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk.
wash dishes with Edina
hold Thomas on the front porch and watch the sunset
cook nsima in the smokehouse with Annette
make Monica laugh when I tell her I don’t want to bathe (she finds my bathing habits hilarious- it’s too cold, I’ll shower tomorrow morning. I don’t want to right now, I’ll shower in the afternoon. I’m very late Monica, I’ll shower this evening. It’s too dark Monica, I’ll shower tomorrow)
watch Lenesia and Edina dance and play and cry and laugh together
hang out with quiet Penina
have a conversation with Pearson in choppy English
see Pearson’s unpredictable smile
hear Monica say “Kay-teee” or “Ay-yah” when I do something good
have late night chats with Monica while we take turns holding Thomas
Monica telling me family secrets or village gossip or things that I’m not allowed to tell Pearson
have a sugar cane or tea party after dinner
look up into the sky and see not stars, but galaxies

To ease the pain, I’ve been thinking of things that I’m looking forward to in Canada. I’m stoked to hug my family, drive to Manitoulin and see the rocks and trees of “Northern Ontario”, drive down Grandmas lane as Tugs (my dog) starts hysterically running around the car because he knows where we are, look out at Treasure Island from the cottage with the family, play the piano at grandmas, go for a walk in grandmas field, sit around the big table with everyone for a massive delicious Manitoulin dinner, clear the table and bring out the coffee, play Rook, listen to Meg and Uncle John/Dad or Logan get into a political debate (usually started by some comment about her vegetarianism), see Tony, drink a delicious stout, wear comfortable (and likely very dirty) clothes, cook my own meals, go out after dark and feel safe, dance with Meg and Bronwyn, do homework with Katy/Madavine/Gerrit/Sondus/Tony. The list goes on.

I guess love isn’t finite. Because I love home and I love Malawi and the more people I meet the more I love them all. I guess leaving is just a part of life. Last night, Pearson said that my leaving is just like I’m dying. Which I guess is very true. It’s hard to accept that I’ll never see these folks again. Monica has become one of my closest friends and it really sucks that I might not ever see her again.

One of the first things I did when I arrived in Mkanda was go with Mr. Katundu, Chunga and Pearson to the Police Station and the Traditional Authority’s (TA) office. He told them all that my mission here was a sanitation project but also to learn and live the Malawian culture. I’ve named this blog resolution because, just like how a song starts and ends on the same chord, my placement will. Today, Pearson is taking me to the Police Station and the TAs office to tell them I am leaving. I’m sure he’ll tell them how last night I cooked nsima for the family, this morning I fetched water and did the dishes, and I might even speak a little Chichewa.

I only have two days left in the village. I’m trying to stay cool about it. I really didn’t think it would be this difficult to leave. I know that it’ll be fine once I leave but we’re all trying to get the most out of the days leading up to the departure.

Love kate


note: In the spirit of CLTS, I have used profanity on purpose.

Because it’s my last week in the village, we’ve been staying up a little later than usual to chat. Last night might have been the latest night yet.

I think it was about 8:30 and I was ready for bed so I said my goodnights and headed to my room. I did what I usually do; I grabbed some toilet paper and my cell phone (functioning as a flashlight) and walked out to the latrine hoping that I don’t step on a toad.

I got to the chimbudzi (latrine in Chichewa), turned on my phone light, inspected all the corners for snakes or other various Malawian wildlife and then carried on my way. I stood up and next thing you know, the cell phone slipped out of my hand. I did a clumsy juggle from one hand to the next and watched it fall to the ground and bounce right into the hole. It landed at the bottom of the latrine with a smack.

I stared down at my phone, on the pile of shit and maggots, saw it staring at me and watched the interface light turn off. I grabbed my head, pulled my hair, stared down at the phone and laughed harder than you can even imagine.

I walked to the house laughing out of complete disbelief. All summer I’ve been terrified of dropping something in that hole, and of all things to drop, I dropped my connection to the outside world. I basically watched my family and friends fall onto a pile of shit. So I walk into the house laughing hysterically and Pearson, still sitting in the eating room, and Monica, coming out of the bedroom wearing only a bra and a skirt (preparing to go to bed), looked at me wanting to know what on earth was going on. I said “Pearson, I dropped my cell phone in the latrine”. Immediately Monica starts laughing, I’m already laughing, and Pearson looks at me seriously for a second and then I watched an embarrassing laugh sneak onto his face.

After the laughing faded out (obviously not completely, the laughter continued for the next hour and a half) Pearson grabbed a couple plastic bags and put his hands into them. Monica got him some elastic bands and he put them around his wrists, securing the plastic bags against his skin. I couldn’t believe he was going to try to save it, especially in the dark. The three of us were crowded at the door eager to see the phone and, looking like he had two balloons on his hands, Pearson turned to me and smiled. More laughing. More laughing.

We all walked out to the latrine together with Pearson’s cell phone as our light. We ran out of batteries in my headlamp a couple days ago, so Monica walked over to the neighbours, told them what happened and asked to borrow their flashlight. Pearson and I waited in the latrine for her to come back and we could hear the neighbours laughing.

She came back and Pearson took charge with the flashlight. You would never believe how the three of us crowded around that hole hoping to see the cell phone sitting at the top. Unfortunately, by the time we got out there, the cell phone had sunk to the bottom of the latrine. Probably 8 feet below the hole.

Pearson then told Monica to go and get a cup from the house. We step outside the latrine and stand there waiting for Monica and Pearson starts says “Katie, you are too young.” More laughing. More laughing.

Monica came back and then Pearson went and got two long branches and another elastic band. We all went back into the latrine and then he took one stick and put it down the hole. I was still laughing, but by now I think the tone switched over to serious because, well, Pearson was digging through shit to find my phone. He poked around for at least 10 minutes and then turned and fashioned himself a scoop by attaching the cup to the end of the other stick with the elastic band. I told him that I think we should give up because it’s late and we can’t see anything but he said “I see it”. I couldn’t believe it. More laughing.

So he took the scoop and put it down the hole and continued digging. The whole time Monica stood above him and held the flashlight. Pearson looked like he was performing dental surgery and Monica was wearing only a chitenge (wrapped around her in a towel kind of way which is totally scandalous in Malawi). I was sitting in the corner, hugging my knees and staying out of the way. I was so thankful this didn’t happen at the beginning of my placement. I was seriously witnessing a candid and memorable moment in their marriage.

I was ready to give up because I convinced myself that the phone wouldn’t work anyways, and then Pearson said “Let’s go” and took the cup out of the latrine with the cell phone in it. How he did it, I’ll never know.

He told me and Monica to gather some sand and we made a pile. He spilled the phone and the rest of the cups contents into the pile of sand and rubbed it around for about 30 seconds. Then he started kicking my phone in the sand and gave it quite the beating. At some point during the royal sand treatment, he pressed something and the phone lit up. It actually worked. I howled at this point. Howled with laughter. Not at all aware that the neighbours were asleep. But seriously man, this is one of the funniest situations I have ever been in.

So the phone works. He then spent the next 15-20 minutes washing the phone with various cobs of husked maize. He would dip the cob into a cup of water and scrub. This was the perfect sponge because it was rough enough to scrape the crevices and disposable enough to wash shit off of a phone. While he was doing this, I said “Pearson, when I leave, you can have my phone.” This made him very happy.

The phone was pretty much clean so we went into the house and Pearson took off the cap on the back to see if the SIM card and battery were in danger of getting wet. They were totally fine. Aside from the maggot crawling on the SIM card, it was dry and the phone was functioning. We gave it one last wipe with an old sock and I took the phone into my room to recover.

This morning, after gently washing it one more time it’s as good as new.

Lesson learned: don’t use your cell phone as your latrine light. Also, Pearson and Monica rock.

Love kate
Engineers Without Borders Canada - Ingenieurs Sans Frontieres Canada
University of Guelph Chapter
Copyright 2010

The views on this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the views of EWB Canada.