What’s it Like? Living in Malawi
Thank you to all my amazing friends, family and ex-colleagues who are following my blog and cheering for me along the way. This really is a special time in my life and my career. While I still haven’t made many friends, found any cool places to go out dancing or taken any solo adventures outside the city… I am still really enjoying the atmosphere that is Malawian culture. Undoubtably, living in the capital kind exposes you to the poorest of the poor and the wealthiest of all classes in the same day, and I admit it’s been hard to stomach at times.
I thought at first I would write about a day-in-the-life of Lacey abroad, but then the creative genius in me came up with a new plan. If you’d like to know what it’s really like to live in Malawi, read on and follow my instructions.
Choose a week that is ‘convenient’ for you, and try this lifestyle:
- Crank the furnace in your house until you are sweltering. If your underwear is not damp with perspiration by the time you get to work in the morning- it’s not hot enough and you might as well quit the experiment now because all tasks must be carried out in sweaty-hot-mess fashion
- Wake up with your hair matted to your face, feeling clammy and untuck your mosquito net from around your plywood and foam mattress. For simulation you can sleep on the floor with couch cushions but be sure to hang sheer curtains around you for the ‘net effect’
- Listen for birds and roosters and enjoy that it’s been light out for an hour before you’re even getting out of bed at 5:30am. Scan the floor for creepy crawlies and things that go bump in the night, make sure your slipper is beside the bed and at the ready for spiders, centipedes and god knows what else. Say hello to Simon the salamander who is realizing you’re awake and is crawling back up into the roof.
- Grab your laptop and try to connect to the internet, it’s early enough here, and late enough at home that you might actually be able to online chat with someone for a few minutes
- Take your malaria medication and do not forget, this is crucial
- Scratch. Scratch everywhere, mostly your legs. They will be the most bitten and ichy but your eyes will also be scratchy from the dust
- Remove your bathing suit from the shower then jump in and turn it on. I recommend lukewarm to teeth chattering cold. After shower, lather on the after-bite or cortisone cream for your legs and moisturizer with SPF for your face then go to fridge, get water, brush teeth
- Skip out on doing your hair! You have a few options for this, sopping wet down, messy traveler bun or sunglass ‘headband’ with ponytail on the wrist
- Put on deodorant and something that contradicts your hairstyle, I prefer business style dresses, with earrings
- Don’t make coffee, don’t have coffee, just have bitter remorse for the loss of your beloved best friend
- If needed, boil some water to fill your jugs so it will be cold and drinkable when you get home
- Eat an orange, or peach, or apple, or cut up some pineapple, don’t overdue the peanut butter and toast, that’s usually your evening snack or supper
- Go back to your room and collect your belongings: laptop, camera, associated cords, cards, chargers and adaptors, get your notebook, wallet, passport, wad of emergency toilet paper, gravol, immodium, advil and any other over the counter drugs you may require to battle the heat and food, if your bag weighs less than 10lbs you’re likely forgetting something
- Manually lock your doors with an old fashion key and head out into the courtyard, comment to your roommate about how hot it is already, you must do this everyday because the same shit never gets old when you’re living in Africa
- Say hello to the nicest lady guard you will ever meet. You will ask her “How are you” she will always say “I am well, what about you” You will say: “Fine, thanks” as she opens the gate for you, she will also say “thanks” then you will merge into the foot traffic on the street. You do not have a car, you do not take a bus.
- Meander down the roads for about 15-20 minutes, alternating first left, next right all the way to the office
- Verbally decline the newspaper from the guy in front of the filling station, then decline again by just shaking your head, keep walking
- Say hello to the young gentleman guard at the gate who is washing someones car at about 7:30am
- Say hello to Blessings, Jovita or Henry at reception and sign-in using the binder
- First door on the right past the squeaky gate is your office, dump bag, set up computer, notebook and the likes and turn on A/C, plug in your laptop because at some point the power will likely go out
- Wait for Blessings to bring you a tray of crap coffee, good tea, cups, saucers, sugar and a hot water butler with red ants in it. Once he leaves fill cup first with hot water, use the scoop and floor flick method to rid ants of your beverage (unless you’re into that… I had them a few times *ignorance is bliss) then heap three and a half spoonfuls of instant coffee into your cup
- Have a great day at work, accomplish all your tasks before you leave for lunch and go to one of your ‘regular’ spots for a peanut butter croissant or cheap veggie pizza
- On the walk, decline the strawberries, over and over, when they chase you with them walk faster. Avoid eye contact with the child beggars and fester in your feelings of guilt and heart break. Buy some airtime for your phone from a lady who is selling them like scratch tickets on the side of the road
- Cross the road in style, my favourite methods are ‘real life frogger’ jumping across single lanes at a time (4 lane minimum) or the ‘local dodge’ where you partner with a Malawian, I prefer the middle aged men usually 2 at a time, who aren’t too quick but also don’t waste time, just get close to them and move when they move exactly as they move, works every time and is faster than you trying to have your eyes in every direction
- If you have time, walk down to the market about 15 minutes away during the hottest part of the day. Barter for pineapples (good price – 400Kw), barter for everything, buy from the women where possible, shout at the guys who shout at you and smile like you’re a celebrity
- If you’re going to a real store, wait…. wait… wait some more. If you want bread, push your way to the front of the mob, there are no lines here, then to pay go and wait… and wait… I think you catch my drift
- If time permits, oh hell ‘this is Africa’ time always permits, stop and appreciate someones art after they’ve chased you down the road. When they find out you’re from Canada and ask if you’re from Vancouver or Toronto, don’t bother to explain where you’re actually from just say ‘somewhere in between’.
- Once back in the office, comment to your fellow intern about how disgusting you feel. She’s cool, she doesn’t care if you have sweat dripping down your butt crack or if you have the worst heat headache of life, she understands, she’s with you.
- At the end of the day, be one of the first to leave at about 5:00pm because you have to walk home uphill before it gets dark
- Open the house and comment to the roommate about how ridiculously hot your house is, turn on fan but don’t open your windows, they don’t have screens and God only knows what’s going to crawl in, go use your washroom that has soap and toilet paper
- Start supper – clean all your vegetables from the market using bleach water and then prep them for one of three meals – raw veggie snack, pasta sauce or stir fry
- Chug half your fridge’s water and then boil water to ‘make’ more
- Don’t use your microwave, plastic wrap, paper towel or anything of the sorts
- Using cold water, wash the two pots, one frying pan and the only large knife you have that you used last night
- Make a delicious nearly organic meal or skip steps 2 through 6 and just have bread with peanut butter, or don’t eat after all you’re a sweaty mess who probably wants to have a nap from heat exhaustion
- Get out your wash basin and boil some water, sprinkle in the powder soap and go get your laundry off the floor in your bedroom. Pick it up carefully and shake it out, you don’t know what could have crawled in there
- Spend the next couple of hours listening to whatever you have on your laptop (right now I prefer Eminem for this) and wash your laundry. Emptying and refilling your wash basin about 3 times for one and a half weeks worth of clothes. Rinse as best you can and ring out all your clothes until the inside of your hands are raw
- Hang your underwear and everything else all over the living room and watch it drip into a concerning death pool on the floor, caution roommate on said death pools and now that it’s been dark for a few hours and you’re done laundry ask what time it is. It’s likely 8:30.
- Have a great conversation with the roomie, or do some journalling or blogging. If you haven’t made the remark in a few days, comment on how crappy it is that it gets dark
so early and you can’t go out.
- Do the dishes, ‘make’ more water, kill some spiders, take a shower, enjoy an impromptu power outage, miss home, crave a cold beer, check Facebook while everyone is at work and not posting, connect with other interns who are in your time zone
- When it’s time for bed, check your bed for creepy crawlies, retuck in your mosquito net, toss and turn in the heat and smack at the one little bugger that probably found his way into your net and then fall deeply asleep to have some intense and unexplainable dreams, one of the great side effects of your malaria medication
WOW! If you’ve made it to the end of this post, congratulations, it was a long one! This my friends, really is my life in a nutshell. Yes there’s awesome highlights: more enhanced freckles, swimming on Sunday’s, feeling like a celebrity when you go to the market but life abroad is a much simpler life, and it’s kind of lovely. I have a renewed appreciation for wholesome food. I kind of enjoy the lack of structure in my day to day environment – bartering for goods, time being relative, buying most things I ‘need’ off the street, not buying crap I don’t need (well except art and jewelry). It’s cool but it’s truly not that glamorous. I hope you read to the end and found some humour in this.
Would love to hear from you!