By Elise Brown-Dussault
When the woman seated next to me on the plane warned me that my malaria pills were known to have mood swings as side effects, I laughed.
“I’m seventeen years old,” I told her. “I’m used to it.”
And yet, three days later, I must admit that the array of emotions I’ve felt since our arrival has certainly explored an interesting range.
The village of Makupo is lovely. So far, our stay has gone without a hitch. Our hosts are polite, funny, patient and so welcoming. Since my departure from Montreal, I’ve been shown time and time again that I have been given everything to be grateful for in this life. After a mistake that almost cost me my entire trip, I was blessed with help from my hometown that allowed me to catch my flight against all odds. When we arrived in Makupo a full day later, we were greeted with singing and hugs. It is difficult not to feel blessed.
Dizzying periods of bliss, however, often seem to be accompanied by negative counterparts. Coming from an environment wherein one’s personal space is sacred and not to be infringed upon, being told to wander around as we please and feel completely at home was at once nice and slightly nerve-wracking. It’s difficult to refrain from cooping up in our hostel and conversing with other members of the group rather than challenging the language and cultural barriers we face in the villagers. My limited Chichewa skills makes me feel as if they might secretly start to believe that I’m a total dork; even if I know that the premise is completely unfounded, I need to constantly repeat it to myself. It’s hard to shake the feeling that someone staring at you is doing so with a spiteful connotation, especially since our pallor is so blatant and unavoidable.
Nevertheless, this journey is astonishingly eye-opening—especially since we haven’t even started our study yet… These three days have been chock-full of surprises. I’ve discussed Celine Dion with a Makupian, enjoyed a beautiful choir performance from the children at a school for the blind and visually impaired, and even piled a stool on the bed to try to squish a giant spider with a walking stick. I can only hope that the next few days will be as stimulating as these have been so far, mood swings or no.