As I sit cramped in my seat on Delta flight 201 from Johannesburg to Atlanta, I have many emotions as I approach my first holiday in the states since leaving in July. So eager to see my family, I wonder how I will feel when I arrive and am bombarded with western culture again.
I had a flavor of this just prior to leaving as we had a Peace Corps training in the capitol for two days last week. We met with Peace Corps staff from Malawi and Washington as well as SEED Global Health staff to discuss our experiences so far, share stories, and learn some education and research tools which may assist us in doing special projects in our sites.
Friday evening we congregated at the PC country director’s house for drinks and dinner. As we entered the spacious home, there was Christmas music playing and the lighted tree stood in the corner. Candles burned in the fireplace and a few stuffed Santas adorned the mantle and the buffet. This was shocking to me as other than the purple tinsel decorations at Shoprite, there is no evidence in Malawi of Christmas holiday season.
I have canvassed several students and faculty about how they spend the holiday and the answer is universal. The extended family congregates and has a special meal of chicken, rice, and vegetables. No gifts are exchanged. Decorations and trees are a western phenom and generally the day comes and goes without fanfare, and oh yes, there is church.
As the dinner was served family style, enormous 1 pound juicy T-bone steaks were passed, green beans, carrots, mashed potatoes, mousakka, and vegetarian sausages. It was an absolute feast and it was only then that I realized how monotonous and simple my diet has been for the last 5 months. When I rounded the corner heading for the desert table I gaped in amazement at the mammoth piece of carrot cake Amanda held on her plate, grinning from ear to ear. I was struck by my reaction; I was staring for well over 30 seconds (a long time to stand still and stare at a plate of cake), my mouth wide open, in awe of this site! It was this reaction that served as a warning of potential challenges I may feel as I re-enter life in the US.
I expect the difficulty may be around having so much…food, choices, shopping, stimulus, afluence, in contrast to having simplicity and poverty in recent months. I am striving not to set expectations for my reactions and feelings but I am aware of the glaring contrasts as a result of attending a simple gathering at an “ex-pat’s” home in Malawi.
What I loved about the evening was the sense of belonging and camaraderie. We played charades, shared stories, and just enjoyed the company of each other, freed from the stresses of our jobs and communities. It felt like home, like a haven, an oasis of friendship and comfort after 5 months of stress and adjustment.
Carrie “gave me permission” to accept this position and travel to Africa for a year as long as I promised to return in December to attend her long awaited graduation! Kate is home on leave from PC for a month so she will also attend as will Tina and Lauren and new baby grandson, Holt. So it will be a family reunion of sorts, minus some of the grandchildren.
The most difficult adjustment for me may be the cold! I love the weather in Malawi. I look forward to running in anonymity, without being stared at, to understand the conversations around me without having to tune out the language I cannot comprehend, though maybe that is a blessing.
Blissfully unaware of the holiday season, I am bracing myself for what may be overstimulation….so here goes! Arriving at 7am in Atlanta!