We fly on Thursday. Do family stuff in England. And then I get on that plane.
The first time I went, I really, honestly, did not know where Malawi was. I did not believe it actually existed until the plane landed.
And you know, that feeling was not so far off.
That there and here can exist in the same reality is not quite believeable. In some ways I felt like a time traveller. A Time traveller. Or National Geographic, actually. That people still live in thatched mud huts and wear rags and cook on three stones TODAY as in RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT is difficult to swallow while I consider whether I want to have raspberries or strawberries with my chocolate crepes and then worry about fitting into my jeans.
When I first arrived in Malawi, when I realised that alternate reality or not, this is where I was going to be living for the next couple of years, the culture shock threw me back hard. The staff at VSO were undoubtedly laying bets on whether I would ask for my ticket home this week or next.
I cried my way through the language lessons. I worried about my housing situation, because nobody I met could say to me they had actually seen my house. I couldn't face the pit toilet with scorpions and cockroaches and god knows what all. I was terrified of spiders. I had nightmares about giant mosquitoes and about being lost in the dark and about all the unfamiliar faces.
And I hate to say it, but everybody looked the same to me. I had never considered myself a racist, but I was from small town Newfoundland and I simply had no experience discerning black faces. I had no clue what to look for.
Terrified. Why ever did I leave Canada?
So eventually our training period was over and we all had to go to our various placements. My employer came to fetch me, and surprise, surprise, there wasn't a house for me (it would take six months to sort out a permanent one).
And where I wound up staying had a pit toilet.
And I had a tree frog living on my door.
And I learned the names of all three hundred of my students in the first six weeks.
And I got my neighbour's house-boy to teach me Chichewa.
And I made so many great friends.
And I stayed for three years.
And I still had nightmares about spiders, but I wasn't lost in the dark anymore.