“Ndili Bwanji!” Eager to practice my Chichewa and make friends, I greeted the cab driver as I stepped into his aging stickshift. He immediately laughed and explained my mistake. “Muli bwanji is ‘How are you?’, Ndili bwino is ‘I’m fine’. You just just walked in and asked ‘How am I doing?”
As of today I have been here a month. I’ve settled into a daily routine; up at 6:00 to prepare for work, sit at desk at the office till noon, eat nsima, chicken, and beans for lunch, contemplate some more work in the afternoon, and get home by 5:00 and prepare dinner, then read, chat or write till I go to bed at 10:00. My Chichewa has improved since my taxi blunder a few weeks ago, but I still find myself unable to answer my own question: How am I doing?
Malawi is more beautiful than I could’ve imagined and lonelier than I care to admit. It is more challenging than I anticipated, and yet I sit for days with nothing to do.
Working for the National Youth Council is exciting as I figure out how to deal with massive amounts of data for the Research and Evaluation department. Yet NYCOM is boring as we sit useless, waiting for government funding so that we can purchase internet and fund programs.
Malawi is fantastic and I am surrounded by incredible volunteers and generous, talented colleagues. At the same time, I feel uprooted and alone, separated from the people and communities that made Canada home.
Everyday life is easy in Malawi. I have guards, gardeners and a cleaning lady; the supermarket sells frozen pizzas and snickers bars. At the same time, just getting through a week of bartering, public transportation, language barriers and summer heat is exhausting.
I’m in Malawi. Sitting in the back of a tuk-tuk this weekend, the dirty, life-filled streets of Lilongwe seemed somehow a world away as they blurred by. I commented to a friend that there wasn’t a single adjective that could describe more than half of my experience here.
So how am I doing? Though I’ve mastered the proper Chichewa response, “Ndili bwino” (I’m well), I don’t yet have words for expectant, patient, discouraged, inspired, confused, alone, thankful and hopeful. The emotions vie for my attention like market vendors, but clarity comes from old poetry:
“From the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I”
Feeling untethered and off balance, I look to the higher rock. The hills and valleys on my journey change, but the peak I am headed to remains the same.