By Lia Grant (McGill University)
May 31st – June 1st, 2014
With the end of a month and the beginning of a new one, an epic journey begins. It is presently June 1st – 5:03 am. I have been awake for maybe an hour. I stumbled awake at the realization of the practicality of my dream about something Malawi-related. I lay in bed for the next fourty-five minutes, unsure whether to simply get out of bed or keep trying to sleep, knowing we are hiking up Kasungu Mountain today. Finally, as Rita, my roommate, woke herself, I was able to get out of bed. I whispered to her as she came back in the room after her short excursion outside, explaining that I was awake but that I was afraid of lifting my net to retrieve my head-lamp, imagining that there were spiders crawling all over my net. In fact, I actually have yet to see one of these infamously large spiders in Rita and my room at all, though others have been finding them crawling about their own bedrooms, only mildly concerned (the girls, not the spiders – who I am sure are concerned).
Here I am now, in the common-room, no longer afraid of my irrational fear thanks to being able to verbalize it to someone else. Several members of the Malawian community are up as well – they are conversing outside, getting ready for the day ahead. The rooster is up, and as the hour keeps creeping forward, I’m sure others will start to appear from their bedrooms as well. We have all been going to sleep and getting up quite early – following the cycle of the sun. In this quiet darkness, with our third day in Malawi about to begin, it seems a perfect time to reflect upon the days that have passed already.
After our immensely long flight – during which time I agonized over trying to sleep – we arrived in Lilongwe. We collected our baggage and with only a short delay headed off towards the village of Makupo by bus, our home away from home for the next month. The ride from Lilongwe to Makupo was only about an hour and a half. There was so much to see as we drove along the road, but after only a few minutes I began to doze off. Along with several others from our group, I slept almost the entire way to Makupo. Glad that I’d gotten a little shut-eye, I awoke when I heard we were finally nearing our destination. Still drowsy, an immense number of women, men and children awaited us outside. We were greeted by so many welcoming faces, cheering and song, even as we still sat in the bus, coming to a full-stop. Overwhelmed due to our long voyage, both lethargic and tired, I felt myself ready to start crying. Thankfully, I told myself to hold my tears and simply give myself to moments ahead.
We greeted each member of the community one by one, speaking in a combination of English and Chichewa. (I was very happy that I had taken the time to practice my Chichewa greeting at the airport before we even left.) After several minutes, we all entered our new home, Canadians and Malawians together. Chief Makupo welcomed us on behalf of the village, and in turn Dr. Stonebanks said a few words as well. The rest of the day was spent getting to know the village a little. In particular, many of the girls and I got to know the children. The very young ones held our hands, and we walked from path to path, looking upon the beauty before us. We played with the children for the next several hours, the time passing by in a blur, our exhaustion nowhere to be found. Around 6:00 pm the sun was almost set and it became dark – time for us to get inside and unpack, and time for the children to return home to their mothers and fathers. As I stood outside saying goodnight to a small group of children that remained, and said to them, “see you tomorrow!” they taught me a new beautiful phrase in Chichewa, “Tionana mawa!”.
The “dzuwa” is up now. 6:00 am. Time for another day.