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

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10 thoughts on “A Series of Unfortunate Events

  1. Jan Smith

    Oh dear. Yes very frustration experiences. Hang on – it has to get better – or that’s what everyone always tells me! Good luck, Aunt Jan

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  2. Claire

    Hello beautiful. I’m so sorry to hear about your difficulties. It seems like you just can’t catch a break right now and I can only imagine how mentally And physically draining that’s been. I don’t know what to say in encouragement other than to express my never ending love, support and astonishment for you and what you’re doing. The life you’ve chosen for yourself for these two years is not only something that not many people would have the courage to do, but also something that requires a great deal of strength and selflessness and an adventurous spirit that make you who you are: a caring, smart and enviable young woman. I am consistently impressed with your resilience and enthusiasm for this work and these new circumstances. It might be really hard right now, but these are just more of the experiences that help you grow and thrive and that make up you’re incredible personality. We’re all lucky to know you steena, keep on doing what you’re doing and I know it’ll turn around. I love you. Xo

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    1. cbaum27

      Aw thank you so much for the kind words Claire! I always look back on comments like these when I’m having a rough time. I also JUST received your letter yesterday! It definitely cheered me up as I read about your escapades in the real life haha! I miss you so much and will be responding soon!

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      1. Anonymous

        Ha! I was wondering what happened to that letter, I sent it like 4 months ago. I’ve written you a couple more since that I’m going to send together to keep you updated in weird spread out increments, I figured if mine was taking so long to get there, yours will probably take a while to get back to I’m just going to keep sending them. I hope things are getting better and I’m glad you got my letter and more will be on their way soon!

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  3. Anonymous

    Hi Christina,
    Thinking of you and realizing how much you have learned about grit and resilience through these difficult times. I admire your spirit and know that you will come out on the other side of all of this! Take care of yourself and stay strong. Is there something I could send you that would help? Stronger locks?

    Love, Aunt Marianne

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    1. cbaum27

      Thanks Aunt Marianne! Haha I’m not sure that stronger locks would help but I always love receiving letters! I need to know what the cousins are all up to 🙂

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  4. Holly B

    Oh, my dear child. What challenges you are facing! You are so strong and so capable…I know you can handle anything. From mice to bats to dead electronic equipment to flat tires, to changes in programs and disappearing counterparts, etc., you will find a way to get through it all.
    Keep up your spirits and remember the love that is felt for you from many people back home.
    Mom

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