Most of you who know me well would not describe me as a crier. That has not been my experience of myself in the last month…
Part of preparing for this experience meant detaching from friends, family, work, belongings, familiar routines, and passions, and of course ZoZo. During the last 10 days at home I found myself weeping in strange places without warning; on the trails at Mt Tom, petting ZoZo, hugging a friend, saying goodbye to mom, eating my favorite peanut butter! The feeling of loss and separation would just wash over me unannounced, and then pass. I understood this process and accepted it as just the nature of preparing for a life changing experience and a year of disengagement from the familiar.
Immersion in my new life has brought more tears and different challenges. At times I feel like a caged animal; living out of 3 suitcases for 3 weeks with 2 weeks to go before arrival at my site on August 12th. At 62, this is annoying, irritating, and difficult.
We have the arduous task of padlocking our valuables in our suitcases when we leave our rooms, which means, money, passport, camera, computer, ipad, any other electronic device, jewelry, and medication. We are told that the maid may smile and love you but steal your money or your earrings the first chance she gets. The security guard may befriend you yet reach through your open window and lift out whatever may be on the window shelf within reach. You may at any time be hit over the head with a rock, shoved, assaulted, or harassed while in public. We are not to walk around after dark, which is 5:30. This is not the norm, just what is possible and in most cases preventable.
I am yearning to sip my favorite latte or to run my hands through Zoey’s coat. I miss hot showers, clean clothes, mesclun, and organic milk; the kind that is cold and wet, not made from a powder with added vegetable oil. I am aching to see mom, my kids, and my girlfriends.
Compounding these completely normal sentiments around settling in and adjusting is the reality of the incredibly competent and skilled professionals on my team here. The Malawi team consists of 5 nurses, 2 MDs and a “trailing spouse”. They are all seasoned, highly educated medical people with a vast and diverse array of training and international practice experience. All have advanced degrees, I am the lone Bachelor “ette”.
Our training and orientation is packed with very dense material about security, diseases, cultural traditions, and language lessons. Additionally, get a room full of medical people and everyone has their own opinion about how to do something and wants to share their war stories and experience.
During lunch break I quietly snuck up to my room and had a mini meltdown. “I just don’t know as much, I haven’t had that exposure or experience or training. I couldn’t even begin to understand the answer to that question.” ; my story, the tape playing in my head. The tears streamed down my face and I chose to pray and meditate to sooth myself in the quiet and privacy of my room.
This is where I find my center; the peace, the optimism and the memory of why I chose to come here to serve. I understand and believe that I come here with my own strengths, knowledge and experience that, though different, are uniquely valuable and inherently useful. It is my heart and soul that I bring here, with ALL my life experience. It is dangerous for me to compare myself to my counterparts, yet human nature. I am exactly where I am supposed to be…
I am humbled to have the opportunity to learn how much I don’t know. How much I rely on the familiar and my routines. I am humbled by how difficult it is to let go of things, both material and intellectual, even though I understand it is for a temporary and limited amount of time.
On an up note, we have found a work around to working out. Every other morning 4 or 5 of us gather in the parking lot and do circuits and sprints up the tiny hill for a 30 minute workout. There is always a crowd of Malawi men lining the perimeter, watching the crazy ‘azungu’ flail around the asphalt working up a sweat! But oh, it feels good when it’s done! And I forget about my silly troubles for a while.