Circumstances have conspired to leave me alone in front of the computer, with no access to internet and little excuse for not writing. It is, of course, not unusual to be without the internet. That happens every night. It is the fact that I am alone. All 5 kids are sleeping, and Dave is out at his clinic seeing a patient (rare). So many times this year I have written blogs in my head, or even started them on the computer, but our lives are so chaotic and full that only occasionally do I finish and post anything. There have been so many emotions this year that I know have gone undocumented. There have been so many changes that I have not taken the time to reflect on.
For the last several months I have been in a better place. I think it is the sad but inevitable result of being surrounded by poverty and illness: eventually you don’t cry over every death. The patients and the people are always affecting, and there are still some that put me over the emotional edge, but I have been more able to go on with my life, without being thrown into a major depression with every bad outcome. Similarly, the hassles of life here have become routine, and we have learned both short cuts for and to have patience with the idiosincracies of Malawi. It has also helped that the former president, who many believed bordered on dictatorial, had a heart attack, and was replaced by one of his rivals, a woman named Joyce Banda. Fuel lines have been better, and there are less scary-looking police thugs roaming the streets with guns, although the store shelves remain half-empty, and the value of the kwacha just dropped 40%. I also think it really helped my outlook that I knew I was going home soon. There appeared to be a light at the end of the tunnel of our life here.
Unfortunately, my glow of tolerance has dimmed. It began to fade when I realized that this trip is no “light at the end of the tunnel “. It is a window, letting some liver of light into a dark, somewhat claustrophobic tunnel that we have only half-way traversed. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic (well maybe I do), but when it dawned on me that we would be returning to Malawi after our vacation, with a renewed sense of all that we are sacrificing and missing, and without the sheen of novelty to ease the transition, I started to get depressed. As the date of our voyage has loomed nearer, my funk has grown.
The hole that the absence of my family has left in my heart is huge. I am almost afraid to see them again. I’m afraid of having to try to distill two years’ worth of experience and growth and change and love into just a few days. I’m afraid to remember what it is like to spend time with them, to watch our children run around my yard again, to laugh and reminisce and hug, I’m afraid that every family dinner, every shared joke and shared beer will be tinged with sadness, because it will be the last for another year, and it has already been so long. I’m afraid of saying good-bye again.
And, the truth be told, I’m tired of life here sometimes, and the thought of coming back to the same stressors make me anxious and sad. We are going broke; it is ridiculously expensive here, and is only getting more so. The economy has gone through so much since our arrival that the price of most foods has literally doubled in the last year, and in some cases it has tripled. We are now spending $170 USD to fill our gas tank. We have had to give our nannies 40% raises, to compensate for the devaluation of the kwacha. Electricity is through the roof. We have been living off of the money that we saved before we came, and we have gone through it at a startling rate. I am worried we won’t survive financially for another year, and I’m terrified of going back penniless and with huge credit card debt.
There’s a side to living in a place like this that I think you don’t appreciate unless you experience it, which can be uncomfortable to explain. I know that I am blessed to be in the position of giver, and it can also be frustrating and overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like an ATM. There are so many people, and they need so much. My measure of poverty is this: if another human being will eat the discarded food from your plate, then they are poor. There are literally scores of children, kids the same age as my own, who live on the streets and eagerly accept our scraps. And I know that I should be (and I am) so very, very grateful to be the one giving, but sometimes, especially in light of our own financial concerns, I wish people would stop asking for so much. I wish I wasn’t such an obvious target. By virtue of my color, I cannot walk 2 feet without being offered something for sale, asked for money, or asked for a job. I try to understand. I am walking opportunity. But being an Azungu in Malawi can be like being a giant dollar sign with appendages. I long for anonymity.
Tomorrow we go home. Once again I will see my family, laugh on my porch deck with my brothers, watch our kids run around on the front lawn together, hug my mom and my little brother and sister. Once again I will have good food to eat, and tons of it. I am going to eat ice cream or frozen yogurt every single day. I am going to eat Thai food, go to salad bars, drink fountain soda, and eat Twizzlers until I vomit. I am going to drink Starbucks twice a day. Once again, I will have entertainment, and exposure to American culture. I will go to the movies at least twice per week. I will take my kids to the Life Science Museum, and the beach, and to see friends and swim in the pool. I will go to the air-conditioned gym EVERY DAY. I am going to live a life of convenience and consumerism and comfort, and I am going to try to love every single minute of it.
And then I’ll come back.