The Canadian contingent (Sarah, Josie, Kate and Dominique) from Saskatchewan, Quebec and Nova Scotia
I spent my last day in Blantyre yesterday, which has been my home for the last two weeks. I spent my last night in Blantyre at the Bombay Palace for dinner with a group of friends from Malawi- other Canadians who are doing development work, as well as my German friend who saved me from the taxi driver. It was a really fun evening.
If you had asked me a few days ago if I would be sad to leave Malawi, (and if I was answering honestly), I would have told you I had no hesitation to leave and never return. While I have learned a lot in my time here, I haven’t been bonded to this place in a way that I would have expected. But Malawi, and all of Africa I think, tends to reach inside you (even in the last few days) to touch you so that you can’t forget what is special about these people and this place… so that when it really is the last night before you fly out, you realize that you may just want to make your way back here after all.
You see, I’m happy to leave here because Malawi is hard. It’s hard to deal with because there is such instability and unpredictability. I was reminded of that in my last full day in Malawi:
- I caught a coach bus even though I wanted to rent a car so that I could do a little sightseeing. There’s just no cars available with enough gas.
- The bus was so comfortable because it had a bit of air conditioning and a bit of padding on the seats- this is total luxury in Malawi!. Suddenly there was a loud bang: the bus had a flat tire. They were not too sure what to do with the bus, or the passengers, and we are in the middle of nowhere.
- Another bus arrived to give us a ride, so I rushed to make sure my big bag is put onto the bottom of this new bus. I carried my smaller backpack with me onto the bus (which is heavy but filled with breakables so I want it to keep it with me). I walked down the skinny aisle, and there were only two seats seemingly available- at the very back. Everyone was watching me (because I was the only white person on the bus). When I got to the back of the bus, I find that the seats are both taken. So basically the bus company sent us a full bus to give us a ride. This isn’t a minibus though, so you’re not invited to sit on someone’s lap. I left the bus frustrated, rushing again to get my big bag out from under the bottom of this new bus. Then one of the people who had been holding the empty seat decided not to take the bus, so I end up getting her spot. I feel very lucky- I have no idea how long it would have been otherwise. For all I know, those passengers are still standing with their luggage on the side of the road.
- The bus ride is supposed to be 4 hours but take 5.5 hours. This second bus did not have air conditioning, but it did come with a child who liked to pull my hair from behind, even when I say something to both him and his mother.
- I got a taxi to the office for my final meeting. The taxi didn’t work properly. It stalled four times in the 15 minute ride. Then the taxi driver admitted that he lied. He didn’t really know where he is supposed to go. I have to call the office to ask for directions.
- Eventually I finished my meeting and I take another taxi to have a late lunch at a nice lodge in a wilderness reserve (only about 15 minutes drive from where I am staying), and that’s when the rains come. It has not rained in 7 days. I have just put in my order, when the electricity goes out because of the rain. The waiter comes back to inform me that I am not able to get what I have ordered but they are able to cook with propane. I try ordering three other dishes on the menu and eventually he explains that I can have the fish (it seems no other dishes can be cooked over propane).
- I ask the manager of the hotel to call for a taxi to take me back to my hotel. It takes him 15 minutes to find a taxi that he can call, since most are not running because they are out of gas.
So living in Malawi is hard. It’s never what you expect. Things just simply don’t work here. I have learned to expect that what I expect will not happen.
But somehow, before I leave Malawi, I end up being touched by a young girl in a way that makes me want to return here.
Let me introduce Nsita (I’m not sure that’s how it’s spelt). She is about eleven years old, I believe.
Alfred and Nsita
You see Nsita was in a class that I visited at the private elementary school. There were a lot of students in the room but she stood out to me because she was just so earnest. The next day, I go to get on my minibus, and there is Nsita. She is so excited to see me and we chat on the way to Nancholi. When we get off the bus, I think about how she’s a nice little girl, but I think nothing more of it.
Then on Thursday afternoon, when I am running the youth workshop, Nsita is there. She is overjoyed to be the only student who knows me personally. At the end of the day, she comes up to me, dragging a little boy beside her. She introduces me to Alfred, her six year old brother. She asks me if we can take the minibus together. I agree, so we head off on my last walk out of Nancholi village, on my last day at NAYO, walking down the street to find a minibus. The minibuses however have been less likely to come to Nancholi as often, now that there’s no gas in the city. So we end up walking together for an hour or so and I teach her and her brother how to skip. I find a minibus to catch but it’s not the exact same one as the one she needs, so I say goodbye to her and Alfred. That night at dinner with my friends, I tell them about Nsita. I tell them how I wish I could make sure she could afford to go to secondary school, since many of the students will not be able to go. I had felt pathetic that all I could give her was two pens that I had brought from Canada and encourage her to go to school.
The next morning, I have to leave the house at 6:30 am for the bus. I have moved in the last week of my stay, to stay with the German family who originally helped me with the taxi driver in Zomba last week. I decided to move in there because they had a kitchen and that way I had some company (and the pool was an added bonus). The German family employs a driver, Aldrick, who lives on the back of their property in a small house. So Aldrick is waiting for me by the car in the driveway to take me to the bus station with all of my bags. Standing beside Aldrick, much to my surprise, is Nsita. Aldrick was laughing as I gave her a hug, and told me that she was his daughter.
It turns out that Thursday night, Nsita was telling her Dad how much she loved a new friend she had met at school. She showed her Dad the pens that her friend had given her. That was when Nsita told her Dad that her friend was from Canada, and her name was Susan (that’s the name they all know me as here). Aldrick and Nsita had a good laugh about how I had been living on the same property as Nsita for the past week.
So as fate would have it, I can find out what happens to Nsita, and now I find myself feeling bound emotionally to Malawi for good. It’s always the kids that get your heart, isn’t it?
The participants of the youth workshop along with some of my colleagues
This morning, I am going to run down to the market and spend the last of my kwacha (you can’t take more than 3, 000 MK out of Malawi [about $20 Canadian] and I’d rather not take any].
Then at 9 am I get taken by taxi to the airport to fly to Nairobi (with a long 9 hour wait so I’m hoping to explore Nairobi during the layover- if they let me into Nairobi for the day), then off to London (another 6 hour layover) and finally arriving in Vancouver on Sunday afternoon. Here’s hoping for some easy flights with good company and some good adventures in Nairobi and maybe even London!
See you all soon!