Hotter Than Hot

I dip my fingers in the water-filled bottlecap that lays flat on my chest, parallel with my limp body. I then smear my forehead with the liquid that has clung to my fingertips, akin to the way Rifiki smears fruit juice across Simba’s face in my favorite childhood movie, the Lion King. My fingers continue down my temple and trace the back of my neck. On top of my bare body rests a water-drenched chitenje, doing its best to put out the flames errupting from my pores.

It’s hot season in Malawi, and I have stopped at nothing to keep myself cool. Yet, my efforts are fruitless. At 8:00pm, temperatures are still north of 85 degrees and living in a house with a tin roof only exacerbates the problem. I feel like a bee whose hive has been flooded with a repressive smoke. I am crippled and can no longer think clearly. I decide that I cannot remain indoors. I laboriously erect my body, schlep my reed mat outside and lay beneath the stars. It’s not cool by any means, but there is a marked difference in temperature.

I think back to New Hampshire summers when as a child I was tortured by only a handful of 80 degree nights. I would deck out my room with all sorts of cooling technology: My overhead fan would be shaking frantically on HIGH, while a huge floor-level fan also blasted me with air. I would put a bag of ice across my forehead (which was usually too cold and actually gave me brain freezes), and a damp towel across my chest. One year I even had an extra hand-held, battery-run fan. I would also strip my mattress and relocate to the floor, as I had learned that heat rises and the difference in temperature between my bed and the floor was to me, unmistakeably palpable. These lavish attempts to stay cool in the Northeast now seem absurd in comparison, but also inspire jealously in my older, Malawian self. If only I had some ice, or even just cool water, I constantly muse. Or what about that cute little pink fan with the green rubber blades? How amazing would that be right about now?

During the daytime, the scorcher is of course even more intense. I walk into the sun and my arm hair seems to turn brittle as if I had just gotten too close to a hot fire. My face starts to melt off and my recently wetted hair is already dry. Two days ago, a friend informed me that it was 124 degrees in the sun in our district. As my grandmother would have said, “UNBELIEVABLE!!” And indeed, it is unbelievable. The heat affects me in ways that I could never imagine. I have even lost my apeptite, a situation strikingly more rare than me deciding to work on Wall Street. I’ve also been inundated with headaches, experienced throbbing edema-laced feet, and succumbed to complete exhaustion. Yesterday, after foolishly biking 45 minutes in the sun, I produced a once-in-a-lifetime show for a concerned Malawian audience by vommitting outside a grocery store. #whitewomanpuking. Luckily, I had my amazing counterpart, Gift, to bring me refreshments and watch over me as I rested on the curb for more than two hours.

The heat is certainly not something to take lightly. Even the already slow pace of life here loses steam, which is telling of its great influence. Women sit or lay in large groups under the mango trees attempting to stay cool for much of the day. Many people sleep outside at night. Some businesses halt. When I first arrived here, I didn’t believe the grotesque descriptions of hot season but they have proved to be more than true.

One of my child friends claims that he’s unaffected and that hot season is “actually not that bad”… but I’m calling his bullshit.

Lake of Stars: a brief blurb

For those curious about the aforementioned music festival, it was a three day event called “Lake of Stars” situated on the southern shore of Lake Malawi. The festival hosted a plethora of artists coming from Malawi and other African countries that sang on three different stages along the beach. The event itself was fun, but the best part was hanging out at the house we rented with fellow volunteers. In total, there were 80 PCVs and assorted travellers from Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Canada and more. Yes, 80! Yes, staying at one house. The lawn was very large and graciously housed a little tent city, while others slept in beds inside. During the day, we went swimming (it was right on the beach), did henna, face-painted, drank, cooked, played cards, and sun-bathed. There was always some fun activity to partake in! During the late afternoon, transport would arrive to take us to the festival. 80 people ÷ 3 trips = 26 people riding in the back of a truck for 40 minutes to the venue. Worries of whether you’d fall off were drowned out by the group’s carolling of classic songs such as Beyonce’s Irreplaceable and Cheerleader by OMI. Once we arrived at the festival, we danced, ate, watched the sun set and the moon rise, and then danced some more. It was a perfect four days.

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A Series of Unfortunate Events

The past seven months in Malawi have surely been filled with ups and downs. There are days when I ride through my village in awe of how lucky I am to to be living this life, responding thoughtfully to every “Khiri bo!” that I hear. Then, there are days when I firmly affix my sunglasses to my face and peddle head-down as fast as possible to my destination.

Unfortunately, the past week has been on par with the later sort. Perhaps it’s the universe balancing out my fun-filled September or perhaps it’s plain bad luck, but my resiliency is certainly being tested. I hesitate to dump a laundry list of problems on you like an overturned crate of rotten tomatoes, but future volunteers might find my candid struggles to be revealing of life in the Peace Corps. So, here we go:

The first incident that occurred in this series of unfortunate events was my third robbery. While sleeping one night, someone shrewdly climbed through/over/under my LOCKED fence and stole my solar panel, two bars of soap, my hoe, and my all-purpose American knife. Diverting most of my anger and frustration towards the loss of my solar, I didn’t realize the impact that the other missing items would also have on daily life. For example, I no longer have a tool to split wood for the fires I make everyday to cook and EAT. I also don’t have a knife to chop up foods to cook and EAT. The loss of my solar panel has additionally rendered my kindle and music player useless, as my extra panel only has enough strength to power my phone. (Although it barely provides enough energy for the battery to reach 25%, leaving me constantly stressed about its slow death). On top of this, I no longer feel safe about leaving out my remaining solar in the sun when I am not home to monitor it. By having to store it inside each time I leave the house, its usefulness is further diminished. It would be nice to know that my possessions in my own LOCKED backyard are safe, but that’s not the case. *Excuse me while I go fetch the spoon that I left outside, or else my cutlery collection will be reduced to just two forks.*

The next challenge materialized a few hours later when I was informed that my hardworking, sensible counterpart was moving away. He was my go-to guy and showed such loyalty that I became unsure of my future in Maganga without him. In addition, he had committed to attending a 10 day In-Service PC Training with me in a mere two days. This lead me to a tearful scramble to find a new counterpart.

Flash-forward a few weeks after livin’ the life in the capital for training & attending a music festival on the lake, and I was back in Maganga. Before I could reach home though, I of course endured a bout of food poisoning (or something) that withheld me for an extra day. On my eventual return, I felt as though I was being blasted by a hot hair dryer in an overheated Florida salon mid-August with no air-conditioning. Welcome to hot season, my sweat seemed to scream as it glided down my neck, back, face, legs, arms, eyelids, nose, ankles, ears, etc, etc.

Upon arriving at my house, the first thing I noticed was that my garden was dead. Just about as dead as three of my chickens. (Which is not mostly dead, but all dead). Apparently, the chickens were attacked by something my neighbor referred to as a simba (she’s not talking about a lion, right??). Only two of the five chickens survived, and now one is suffering from a lame leg. Mind you, the chickens stay in a LOCKED building inside my LOCKED fence, a seemingly safe set up, but not for Africa I suppose.

The saga continues… After recovering from the stomach issues, I then developed esophagitis or inflammation of the esophagus, which causes chest pains and painful swallowing of foods and liquids. Thankfully this lasted only three days and helped me shed some of the “great fatness” (as noted by my neighbors) that I had gained in the city.

During this time, I suffered my first flat tire and had the immense pleasure of screwing around with my bike for more than six hours while trying to diagnose what seemed like multiple issues. I realized that the problem-hole was located directly at the base of the air valve, inhibiting my ability to patch it. Then, my new boxed replacement tube also had a hole in it. (Why?!) After patching the “new” tube and attempting to fill it with air in vain, I came to the conclusion that my pump was defective. I wheeled my bike to the nearest mechanic and he was able to use his own makeshift pump to fill the tire. Finally! On my ride home, I felt very accomplished. Two seconds later I started skidding around and realized that I once again had a flat. At that moment, I began to feel sick so instead of caring, I returned home, ate a sad piece of corn for dinner, and fell asleep at 6:30.

The next day, I woke up with an impressive fever and snot shooting out of my nose like a super soaker. Frustrated with my body, I decided to stick to my bed (which I didn’t need help with considering how much sweat I was producing) and inundate myself with water. After a few hours of staring at the wall, I was bored and angry with all the bad luck I was having. Turning to my official Peace Corps coping mechanisms, I attempted to listen to music but discovered that my three earphones had been completely chewed up by mice. My mp3 was dead anyhow. Perhaps I’ll read Tina Fey’s book for some comic relief, I thought next. Again, I realized I barely had power to keep my phone running and my kindle was dead. The internet also decided to call in sick and didn’t work for a full 48 hours. This meant no reaching out to my friends, no reading the news, no googling “where do I put all this snot,” NADA. Basically, I have been in bed with this fever for three days with only my thoughts, sweating out my frustrations and wishing that I were back home on the couch with my purple sippy cup drinking ginger ale and being fed perfectly buttered toast by my loving mom.

Times like these can certainly be a breaking point. A time in a PCV’s service when absconding to Africa doesn’t feel worth it. However, I’m trying my best to be positive. The robber that stole my hoe probably needs it more than I do, especially with the upcoming planting season. The fever that has drained my body of sweat will eventually pass. My two remaining chickens will still produce eggs (despite the PSTD), and my bicycle will be fixed- although probably not by me ’cause I’m over that shit! While I have been very happy living here, I can certainly understand how a string of unlucky situations can undermine a volunteers spirit. As for me, I’m trying to find the humor in each situation. (For reference, check out the hair pic below).

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My hair (sans hair tie/spray) after laying in bed sick for a few days. PLEASE SEND SHAMPOO & CONDITIONER… But really.

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RIP earphones.

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The chicks assist me in bike repair