The past month has been a whirlwind of emotions, people, places, and experiences. In mid-January, I had the pleasure of hosting four PCVs at my site and implementing a project that I had begun conceptualizing in October. Over the course of three days, my fellow PCVs and I visited three primary schools and taught malaria lessons to 757 children. The lessons were delivered via stations, in which each PCV was paired with a teacher that had been trained on their topic. I designed the lessons to be interactive and fun, incorporating songs, hands-on demonstrations, and cheers. Surprisingly, our time with the kids went really well! I was excepting at least a few teachers to be absent or for the rain to completely ruin the project, but we managed to implement the stations with relative ease. (After working in Malawi for two years, you expect at least one major pitfall). The students also showed, on average, a 37% increase in malaria knowledge, which made me happy!
After visiting the three schools, our culmination event was a grand malaria rally at the secondary school. I had been working with my Malaria Club the past few months to develop songs, dramas, poems, news reports, and raps about malaria. We also invited two of the most popular football teams and two netball teams to compete for new balls. Lastly, after training a local Youth Group on malaria, the members were invited to perform a drama on how malaria can affect farmers and businessmen. The day before the big event, it began raining at 2pm, continued throughout the night, and showed no signs of stopping right up until the event. By some miracle, the skies cleared up, the water dissipated, the DJ arrived only one hour late, and a huge crowd of about 400 community members gathered. The students did an amazing job performing -despite a rowdy crowd of children- and I was one proud PCV.
The morning after our rally, the other volunteers and I departed my house at 7am. Time (for me) to go to Cape Town to meet my best friend! This was the first international vacation I had taken since arriving in Malawi (besides a two day stint in Zambia), and I certainly got a taste of culture shock. When I arrived, I could not comprehend how clean and convenient everything was! I loved the diversity, the warm people we met, the natural beauty that surrounds the city, and of course, the sushi. I would not be surprised if I called it home in a few years. Another thing I thoroughly enjoyed in Cape Town was meeting other Malawians! Although it was a mere 10 days out of the country, it was so comforting to overhear Chichewa being spoken and to strike up a conversation my fellow countrymen. (Shocking the Chichewa-speakers with my skills was highly entertaining too!)
After leaving Cape Town, I headed back to Malawi and joined my cohort for our last ever conference. This was a time for us to be medically examined, say our goodbyes, review resumes, prepare ourselves for culture shock, and learn how to put our experience into words. I realized through this conference just how much I admire my fellow PCVs. Our group is the most talented, resilient, clever, weird, supportive, diverse, hilarious, intelligent group that I have ever been a part of. I know that everyone in my group has gone through some dark, difficult times, and am proud to say we have all struggled and overcome these difficulties together. Even though there are many people in my cohort who I wouldn’t say I’m close with, I feel like I could go to anyone for support, knowing that we will share a lifetime connection. (If you couldn’t tell, the end of the conference became quite emotional for a number of us who were just starting to realize that never again in our lives will we be a part of something so special).
Now, I am back in my village and have been busy reflecting on these sentiments. Returning after being away for such a lengthy time has made me realize how much I truly enjoy the people and way of life in Malawi. As I rode in on my bike taxi last week, my neighbors shouted out “Welcome back!” and the kids announced, “Chiri is here! She has arrived! She’s around!” My neighbors laughed as I came in, telling me how much they missed me and how worried they were about me. My landlord’s family lightened up when they saw me, and his daughter eagerly alerted me to the state of my exploding garden. Although I was a bit apprehensive to transition back into village life after my luxurious time away, I was delighted to be reunited with my community. That night, when I crawled into my dingy bedroom with a belly full of nsima, listening to the chatter of the village outside, I felt at home more than ever.
Now, knowing that I have less than two months left, each day in Malawi has become more meaningful. When I’m sharing tea with a stranger on a straw mat in a dimly lit room, I ask myself, when will I ever be able to do this again? When my youth group members and I laugh together during a condom demonstration, I think, where will these kids, who I have come to adore, be in ten years? When I take the long way to work, ambling down paths surrounded by maize, I ask, what other time in my life will I be so comfortable in a foreign land? Lastly, when I chat with Harriet on the stoop of my porch I muse, will I ever see these people again -the ones who have supported and loved me over the past two years?
While these questions are difficult to ignore, I’ve been trying my best to enjoy the little moments that I will never get back. I’m taking in the beautiful and vast night skies, I’m chatting lazily with the agogo next door, and I’m feasting on the local fare, for I know that life will never again be the same.
Harriet and me showing off my maize!