Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Simple Things...and other thoughts

Since I last posted we are back at SAFI again! I felt like I had been traveling non-stop for more than a week, because I kind of had been. Since I left on Friday the 9th for St. George and didn't stop traveling until Sunday I was pretty pooped. I am so beyond grateful for that extra night over at Korea Gardens especially since it has been a little crazy. Also, After being at SAFI one night, I can see now how Korea Gardens is such a luxury! Hot showers and softer beds as well as a restaurant - which means Coke Light which is ice cold.

It's all in your perspective and expectations. One thing I have really wanted to get out of this trip is getting back to a more simplistic lifestyle and remembering to let go of excess. It has not disappointed. When I travel, particularly developing nations traveling, you truly learn the meaning of letting go of the comforts of life for the greater good. Some things are definitely easier than others to do without, but you appreciate little things so much more. You also learn to make good with what you have, and I so often forget that at home.

One thing I am so incredibly grateful for is getting a different mattress! The mattress I had before was so thin and badly damaged that I would equate it to sleeping on top of maybe a blanket or two folded in half. That on top of essentially just slats of wood were definitely not very comfy. Mostly it hurt my back because of getting stiff from my surgeries and my hips from laying on my side. I was OK, and I knew I was going to live through it - especially when I know many of the children that I work with probably don't even have a blanket. It's hard to be too uncomfortable when you consider that. However, we found an extra mattress that was super thick and able to go underneath. I thought I had died and gone to heaven last night! I slept like a rock. Like I said, it's those little things you're grateful for...or actually, a really big thing.

One thing I don't know if I will ever get used to is the bugs...AKA mammals because they are so huge! In all my travels, I never really saw bugs. I always thought I would, and prepared myself for it, but never really dealt with them.  I kind of assumed it would be the same here - but I was hugely mistaken! Our personal favorites are the giant wasps that sound like lawn mowers and are the size of (what feels like, but an exaggeration) a small bird. Poor Danielle in our group came into my room in a panic and asked me to help her kill a few one night. Mind you this was after an extremely long and funny day and she had just helped me clean up the bathroom I just flooded with my first shower. Go figure. Anyway, I wish there was some kind of security camera to watch back as we run and scream through the halls like crazy Azungus. I don't think either one of us was proud of the language that was unintentionally used and saved for great distress, and how ridiculous we both looked with our brooms, shoes, and "doom" bug killer spray. I will say that I killed - count them - 8 ginormous wasps. I can barely do it because of how loud and big that crunch is, which has led to unfortunately beheading them because I felt like it was less suffering for the poor thing and somehow less gruesome. The thought of it really gives me the "willies". We also saw a giant tarantula, leaf bug, frog, and lots of lizards. I don't mind the frog...but that's about it. I stop there. It's amazing how safe your little bug net can make you feel and how small comforts of home like a fleece sleeping bag cocoon gives you some piece of mind that it may keep bugs out. I am covered in mosquito bites that are finally healing up, but definitely not normal bites on me. Must be allergic to them here. Always a good time in Malawi!

There have been so many funny things that have happened here and I wish I could bottle them all up, but one in particular happened yesterday. Obviously we are always looking really crazy and funny here, especially with the kids. They think everything we do is absolutely ridiculous...because it probably is. Especially when we try to speak Chichewa, which I suck at, can be really entertaining. Anytime you just walk anywhere, or show your face kids are laughing at you and yelling "Azungus!!". It doesn't bother me at all, maybe because I have missed it so much and longed for it for so long. Also the kids are just so darling to me....but I can see for how some of our group it could be frustrating to be on display all of the time with such a huge language barrier. Now the teenagers, well, maybe they don't like us quite as much as the kids? Or maybe they want to be tough? I don't know, but I will get them to warm up to me if it kills me! But yesterday I was sitting in the dirt with the kids drawing pictures and learning Chichewa and teaching English. It worked really well! One of the teenagers came up in between and wrote a word in Chichewa in the dirt...duh I should have known better. But I kept sounding it out and trying to say it and the kid's faces got worried. Obviously I stopped saying it and moved on. When Calvin came later that night, I just wanted to ask him what I had been saying over and over. He said, "come again?", so I sounded it out for him...multiple times. He then proceeded to tell me what I had been saying, and of course it wasn't pretty. The big topper of all words. Dang teenagers!! But, hey, at least I won't fall for it again.

We also did bubbles last night which are a huge hit. There was one little girl in the group that is maybe 2 that seriously thought it was the funniest and most fun thing she had ever seen. Every time I blew a bubble and everyone ran after it, she went into the deepest belly laugh I have heard in a while. Pure joy and the cutest thing in the world. We are going to try and make giant bubbles with dish soap one of these days and I think they will love that!

Finally, we went to church in Lilongwe and it was amazing! The spirit was so strong and it was so amazing to partake in the goodness that came from that chapel. They have a few missionaries out, and one who has one of the strongest testimonies I have ever heard, is preparing to leave. He is so excited! And it is great to remember some of the basics of the gospel that I sometimes take for granted. Maybe the difference of language and culture helps to break down some of those cultural barriers we have. I loved it so much.

So this week the families should be back from the holiday and the elections so Macie and I will be able to really get started on our project. We have a lot to do but are kind of stuck til the families are home. The elections are today and they are saying that there could be some violence of Joyce Banda wins again. They said the only way she could win is if she rigged the elections, which it sounds like she is doing. Malawi is a very peaceful country, but nothing like political uprising to change that. We will be in country so I don't think we will run into it even if it happens, but it will be interesting to see. We were so lucky to be at that political rally, and people here are very educated on politics! It's an interesting time to be in Malawi!

More soon!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

That African Life

Gosh, there is just so much to write, so much to say....

Things are so amazing here. It is crazy how great my body feels too! I guess it just knows I love it here so much. I also think that somehow the time change is better for me. I am such a crazy insomniac at home and usually my day feels like night because I am so tired and my night feels like day. So maybe that helps? I am not sure, but I will take it!

My days are all mixed up, but I got to the school Thursday after a long day of travel and I was just so happy to be with the people and my team. Speaking of the team, I absolutely LOVE them. I was worried, as always, about group dynamics. I had nothing to worry about because they are all so great. I felt ok being alone for those few days, and so happy to have an extra day to just rest and get used to the time change, but so happy to meet everyone!

Getting to the school was so fun as well to get a tour and meet all the kids. Here they call white people Azungus", in Kenya it was "Muzungus", but it didn't change how excited they were to see us. Azungus are not as normal in the rural areas as in Llongwe in the city. There were lots of introductions and lots of excitement. I feel bad because I am already so bad at names, let alone Chichewa names and learning the language....I definitely was not blessed with the gift of tongues.

This picture was on my tour at the school - it is so beautiful! This is where they teach fishery, and Gloria (in the picture) teaches it. She is one of the brightest young women I have ever met. She studied at the university here in Malawi and has come very far in her education at such a young age. 

This is Alisha in our group with one of the cutest babies!
 I love Alisha, I'm so lucky to work with such amazing people.

I am so in love with this place. I can't tell you that happiness that I have in my heart. I barely can contain it! I'm so in love with this place and cant believe I am here. 

I was only at the school one night and then we were headed back to Llongwe and Salima for the weekend. It is a holiday here because they are holding national elections. It is huge here! People are so excited and rallies are happening all over. 

In the middle of writing this blog we ended up actually going to the rally and sitting on the stage with the president of Malawi. Nobody knows how this happened up it was actually one of the coolest things that I have ever done!

This is Calvin - our driver, bodyguard, and confidant. He is honestly the best! We are so grateful for him!

This is completely out of order because I have been working on this blog post for so long...but this weekend we went to Lake Malawi. It is so incredibly beautiful! I still can't believe it is a lake and not the ocean.

This is a tropical fish farm, they send fish all over the world.

This is Salima, the town where Lake Malawi is located. 

Alright, this is getting lengthy...I'm out.

More later!
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Welcome to Llongwe!

I can't believe I finally made it. Truthfully, that journey and those 4 plane rides are a blur because of how long and how tired my body is/was. It's all worth it.

I just love Africa so much! The sights, sounds, smells, foods are all so familiar and something I have loved and longed for. Malawi is much like my dear Kenya, however, I feel much safer here. The poverty is great, much greater than imagined until seen....but I don't see the inequality of rich to poor like in Kenya. I think this makes people less desperate and Malawi lives up to it's name, "the warm heart of Africa". I feel very safe!

In the last 48 hours, the following happened:

- I flew into a very small airport in Malawi....very small. A sweet girl who was a passport or customs agent noticed I was alone and in the back of the line. We made small talk and she instantly became my friend. This led to her sweeping me to the front of the line and right through where they stamp your passport and get your visa....without stamping my passport or giving me a visa. For some reason I don't think that is allowed. Despite her generosity, I ended up waiting through the line - I guess I didn't want to get arrested and deported for some reason.

- Our guide and BFI worker Calvin (the nicest man on earth!!) picked me up at the airport. He had a giant sign for me waiting and I kind of felt like a big deal. The look of relief on his face was pretty great when he realized I actually made it. Poor thing waited FOREVER for me - thanks to the customs incident. I was so exhausted by this time from my flight, but so excited to see Llongwe. He was so kind and so excited to show me his city. We went to the grocery store and then walked through the markets...and the red light district. They call it Devil Street...this may have been the only time I got a little nervous. The sights and sounds of the market and yelling out "Muzungu!!! Muzungu!!! (white person) How are you?! How are you?!" brought back a giant flood of memories. How I love this place. I'm quite the spectacle I tell you. However, in the city they are a little more used to Muzungus. Calvin was very, very, grateful that I have learned through my travels, believe it or not, how to say "no" kindly, not give money to every beggar, and not get jerked around. He said, "I feel so much better that a muzungu knows how to deal with the city. It's very stressful usually!" I'm grateful too. Eventually after a lot of walking and traveling he noticed my yawning and exhaustion. He took me to the hotel and I completely passed out and slept for a good 5 hours. My poor legs and feet were soooo swollen from the flight and my heart. Sitting for that long in a cramped place is not chill. I have never been so happy to stretch out and sleep!

- Much to my surprise and hilarity, I am staying at Korea Garden Lodge....in Malawi. I didn't know there were very many Asians in Malawi! Haha.

- I am not sure what my expectations were of the hotel, but all I can say is that I am brave. It is pretty funny, despite many third work excursions, to figure out my room, the shower, and the bed...or lack thereof. I was glad I had to take off my glasses in the shower room so I didn't have to see what was around me. The windows are all open all the time with a little curtain and the walls are so thin I can hear EVERY single word and well...deed...in every room. Thank goodness for Ambien. There are gold, silver, and bronze rooms. I am in the bronze haha...and 21 dollars later I have a place to stay! I could even hear Malawians come to see the rooms to decide if they would lodge there and they even rejected my room...hilarious. I love every minute of it truly!

- I accidentally blew up my surge protector. Like almost started a fire, blew up... sparks, smoke...the whole shebang. No pun intended.

- I ended up needing to stay an extra night at Korea Garden because of transportation. I will meet up with my group at the school later - I'm kind of glad for the extra time to rest and just chill. I think people are pretty surprised to see a young girl alone in the city. I've gotten to know all the waiters and house keeping! American candy and an easy name (because of the Chelsea Soccer/Futbol team...everyone knows and remembers it) goes a long way. I love getting to know them and everyone is so friendly.

Life is so good! Right now the wifi is much better than I thought and I am thinking in the city and even at SAFI I will have pretty good connection. Pictures might be hard except for Facebook and Instagram every once in a while.

Well, more adventures later! Can't wait to meet up with my team tomorrow!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A (Mended) Grateful Heart.

My little heart is just so happy tonight.

Looking back I just can't believe how far I have come and how life's most difficult moments have woven together into one big amazing miracle.

I can scarcely believe or have the words to describe how many promised miracles have come to fruition. All I know is that many forces guiding my life have created opportunities through (what seemed to be) impossible and devastating situations to be stronger and and still succeed.

I got my grades back today and looked at my graduation map online to see and have an idea of how close I am to graduation. It's such an overwhelming feeling to see that I have been able to do well in school and see the finish line of a huge goal I will accomplish despite these overwhelming health problems. I could have never done that on my own and I am so grateful to a loving Father in Heaven, amazing family and friends, and (somehow) a will power to not give up. It has taken me a while, but I am actually going to make it and I am just so happy and full of gratitude. 

I also went to Dr. Hwang recently and he gave me an enthusiastic bill of health! I think he was just as relieved as I was to see how far I have come, and pretty happy with himself because of the interesting case I was. I walked out with my head held high and happiness in my mended heart because of how well I feel. I haven't gone this long without having a single issue in I (literally) can't remember how long. I appreciate this body and every day I wake up feeling better more than I can describe. 

And finally, I can't believe how incredibly perfect this internship in Malawi has worked out. I am just....speechless really. Tears really can't be stopped because of the gratitude I feel. My passion and dreams of traveling to work in development kind of feels like when you watch those shows and people making it through on American Idol...haha. That's the only way I can describe getting this internship, the scholarship money to go, let alone working in Africa (where I love so much) and being healthy enough to do it. 

There are no words.

Those who have been through thick and thin with me and watched the process unfold have a sense of what a miracle it is to see where I am at today.

Life has a way of just really working itself out when you stick to your goals, stay faithful, and never give up. Doesn't mean it is easy and it usually takes way too long...but it really does work out.

The internet is supposed to work sometimes, and my internship requires emails and updates - so I'll post  what's going on for the next 3 months while I'm gone. You know if you read, it will always be interesting if I'm around...I always get in the funniest situations.

Also this is Macie, my research partner in Malawi.
I just can't tell you how blessed I am to go with her. 
She is so amazing and we work so well together!
Like I said, things just work out :).
10 DAYS!!!