Dirty Lil Hits the Big City

I flung open the door, dropped my bags and marveled at the queen-sized bed. Within two minutes I was in the shower, letting warm water pour over me and infiltrate the rats nest that was my hair. It was glorious.

I had just arrived at a hotel in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Not  experiencing the immense pleasure of a shower in months, I was in ecstasy. I of course forgot shampoo & soap, but that didn’t stop me from hosing myself down like a dog who’d just jumped out of a mud puddle. I watched a brown stream swirl down the drain as I felt my hair relax a bit. The next day I would buy toiletries but for then, getting rid of my ever-present dirt tan felt wonderful.

The next few days in the city were full of luxury. I ate a burrito, wore jeans for the first time, used WiFi and even had a few cocktails. I wandered through a grocery store and ogled at forgotten products like straws and barbeque sauce. I put on makeup and wore a skirt that exposed my knees (*gasp*). In many ways, it felt like I was back in America and centuries away from my site.

While staying in Lilongwe for a few days was a treat in certain aspects, it was completely overwhelming and stressful in others. Having to chose a meal from a menu seemed to be an insurmountable task and  holding a real conversation with other PCVs was tiring. (I love them but it was a lot of energy and English that I’m not used to).

By the end of three days, I was longing for my village. I missed my alone time, the slow pace of village life and the pure independence to do whatever I wanted to without explaining my actions to others. I started to feel guilty about all of my frivolous purchases. What would my neighbors think of me if they knew I ordered a 1,200 kwacha ice cream, right after stuffing myself with a 2,000 kwacha lunch? (They probably earn about 3,000 kwacha PER MONTH). What were they doing after dinner, while I was busy imbibing a box of wine with my friends? I missed the ladies at the borehole and wondered if they were missing me too.

Being in the city certainly made me realize how much of an effect village life has had on me and how intense it’s going to be returning to the US. I’m sure I will eventually re-adapt, but for now, the change is taxing. The reason I’m in Lilongwe  -by the way- is to attend a special malaria training in SENEGAL! As I type this post, its 3:00am and I’m sitting on an airplane to Nairobi. I’m sleep deprived and slightly delusional, but so, so, so excited for this amazing opportunity. I’m attending the conference with two other volunteers (in addition to 40 other PCVs from across Africa) and from what we’ve heard, its supposed to be a great week. Plus, everyone keeps telling me how delicious Senegalese food is. Exploring another African culture + food + becoming a malaria expert = happiness, right?

I’m about to fall asleep mid-sentence so I better sign off. Cheers!

IMG_20150821_170216469 IMG_20150823_034638197


Noises in the Night

The other day, a friend back home inquired about falling asleep in the village. “What kind of sounds do you hear?” he asked. “Is it like falling asleep in New Hampshire?”

While I desperately wished to erupt into a wild, romanticized description filled with lion roars and tribal chanting, I refrained. Instead, I thought about what actually happens each night while trying to fall asleep.

The first noise almost always comes from from the kitchen. I hear a cup fall onto the cement floor, a pot rattle, or a plastic bag crinkle. When I first moved in, these noises were certainly a source of fear and anxiety. Is it possible that someone has broken in? What do they want? #@&$, are they looking for my chocolate stash? But now, these sounds are a source of anger. I’m angry because I know its that motha-lickin mouse that I already spent 15 minutes trying to kill that night. That same mouse that is going to spend all night traipsing around my kitchen while I lay in the next room, being tormented by its late-night shenanigans.

The next noise I hear comes the roof. It’s loud. It sounds like someone is sitting above my head cleaning the tin roof with a metal sponge. This clumsy scratching noise ensues for a few seconds, then stops. It’s succeeded by piercing squeaks that are so high-pitched that I question how my eardrums are still functioning. I usually retort by yelling something back or doing my best to imitate the obnoxious squeaking, but my efforts are in vain. The roof rasping and creature creaking continues.

Meanwhile, outside my window, there are plenty more sounds to be heard. Right now, it seems to be wedding season in Malawi, which means there is a deluge of all-night dance parties. These dances are held directly outside various families’ homes, where huge loudspeakers are positioned to blast music all night long. (Literally all night; you can still hear music playing at 5:00am). There’s actually a word in Chichewa to describe the action of staying up all night: kuchezera. Therefore, many of my nights are spent trying to fall asleep over the music of the kuchezera-ers. (How the bride manages to dance all night long and then look presentable for her wedding the next day is an enigma).

Another lovely, mellifluous village sound is that of blasted drunk men aimlessly wandering the streets, attempting to survive the walk home to their hardworking wives and hungry children. (More on the  drinking habits of some Malawian men later). Slurred words, irregular footsteps, and abrupt bouts of shouting or laughing come drifting into my window, reminding me why I don’t leave the house after dark.

On certain evenings, melancholic hymns are added to the array of sounds I hear while falling asleep. The beautiful voices of a choir, interwoven with gentle sobbing, announce the occurrence of a funeral the next day which are sadly not so uncommon here in Malawi.

Taken together, this orchestra of diverse sounds compose my Malawian nights. As lay in bed staring up at my mosquito net, I hear squeaking from the mice and god-knows-what else that reside in my house, a drunk man’s chortle, dogs barking, Malawian hits playing from a loudspeaker, a baby wailing, the wind crashing against my windows, and sometimes, the mysterious beating of drums. These noises contrive an amusing lullaby; certainly not what I expected when I envisioned my nights here, but regardless, another quirky aspect of everyday life in Malawi.

Nighttime in my house: