Saturday, August 26, 2006

the dichotomies of africa

Life in Africa? Well, it's been four months here in malawi and there is something about life here that brings in me conflicting responses. some days, i miss home so much that i can barely stand it. other days (and more often as time passes), i get a brief glimspe of life in its glorious forms. there is something about being here that makes you feel alive. what does that mean anyway - when people say i feel alive? can you remember back to certain moments in your life where you felt most alive? for me, i can remember a particular moment. i was running on an extremely hot afternoon in my home town...i was sweaty, hot, and had been running for over an hour but felt a boost of energy as i glanced at the quiet trail with blurs of greenery rushing past me. i remember thinking how happy i was to be alive and how connected i felt to my surroundings right then. it's as if you suddenly become privy to a secret that only you understand...but the moment is so quick, you wonder how it happened when you are jolted back to reality. shrug. maybe the heat had gotten to me more than i had thought :). in any case, back to my point...here...the instances i feel like that are much more frequent. how can i not when i see land that stretches as far as the eye could see just beyond some very modern looking buildings.

the dichotomy of life is magnified here. what's different? well, i'm sure you've heard plenty of times that life is just simpler. who knew how servicable a pair of black shoes can be. fit for work, fit for weddings, fit for dancing, fit for chillin. it's amazing how your perspective of what you think you need changes so quickly. here, even the internationals who temporarily make this their home are different. i suppose this land attracts certain types of people. so much the same, but so much that's different. they are still scared of spiders but will fearlessly hike through snake infested mountains. they dance to Kanye West tunes but will ensure to stack KuthiKuthi in their homes. they spend hard earned money on luxurious trips to the spa but will rough it camping with heavy rain pelting down their tents. what can i say? they're just heartier, minimum fuss, no fear of bilharzia (water parasites), bring on the hippos (common in the lake), let's see the top of the mountain type of people. my dichotomy? life here brings out my my my strengths and my weaknesses. my strength? minimum fuss. i dont need 10 different pairs of going out shoes. my weakness? i wasnt scared of snakes until i started to frequently see them on random trips to say...a restaurant. now i check under my bed at night. my strength? i have a knack for picking up languages quickly. so i enrolled myself in french lessons while i try to pick up Chichewa for free :). my weakness? fear of the unknown. my strength? the unknown becomes less unknown every day.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

What do you think it is?

Today, a friend told me he lost another member of his family. that makes 5 people who died in the three short months i've known him. on most days, it's difficult for me to remember that i'm world's away from my home in canada. you become entrenched in daily routines...you wake up, you rush out the door in a frantic hurry for work, you get stuck in traffic, some days go by in a hurried blur, some days seem to stretch in time, you go home or you may socialize with a few friends, and then you start all over again. but it doesnt take long before someone or something jolts you back to remind you where you really are. you are actually in a place where you have had people away from work for 9 different funerals, but George with the five missing members still smilingly asks about your day. you are actually at a place where the life expectancy is 39 (!) years of age and your 38 year old co-worker laughingly jokes that she's got one more year left to live. when did i forget that a large scale event to commemorate lost relatives became an event to entertain the crowd with song, comedy and dance? how did i forget that i now live in a place where the very first person i spoke with informed me that his wife was infected with AIDS? we're not playing with odds, it is a very distinctive pattern. it is not a coicidence that in this time and place i notice problems from poverty to governance. i bet you're thinking that my friend George who lost 5 members all died from illnesses. maybe from AIDS? well...two died from simple infections easily treated in the West. one died from old age. 2 from violent mini bus accidents. i once saw a mini bus that was so broken down it was almost comical. all four sides looked ready to collapse. it was a car from the flinstone era. of course, you will see many a mercedes and BMWs. like i said though, it is not a coincidence. what do you think the problem is? we throw around lack of accountability, poverty, dependence on donors, governance issues, lack of capacity...dependence...accountability...dependence...accountability...but who knows...i'll let you know as soon as i find out.