When I returned to the States from Malawi, I found myself answering one of two questions: (A) So, what were you actually doing in Malawi? or (B) Name your top five best moments from Malawi.
(A) was answered with general statements. I usually started with: “It was really incredible.” Sometimes, I replaced “incredible” with “awesome” or “fantastic.” From there, I would explain that it was ultimately a three-week service trip, organized through UR, similar to a condensed Peace Corps experience. I briefly described our language and culture training in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, and then emphasized how important the village home stay was, detailing our work with the school, the irrigation projects and the health center. I made sure to mention the trip wrapped up with a short safari – yes, I saw elephants, but the water buffalo were better. (A) ultimately became a scripted response.
I guess (B) is not much of a question. It proved a bit trickier; however, there were some standard answers (but in no particular order). Teaching music was a really unique experience – my pupils picked up solfege quite quickly. I loved the sky there. It was so clear at night in our village Gowa – the stars were amazing. Sunrises were spectacular, too – toward the end of our stay, a group of us started getting up a little after 5 a.m. to see the sun rise from the football pitch. I also got to celebrate my 19th birthday abroad. My new friends, Phillip and Alinafe, baked cornbread, complete with a candle, and I got a card from the group. You had to love your bafa (bucket bath). Our Amayi (mother) always had the water really hot, and it was just so refreshing to feel clean at the end of a long day, followed by dinner and bed. Our visit with Kristof, a former Peace Corps member, was intellectually stimulating – permaculture is an intriguing concept, and I admire him for his dedication and the success that he has had with his garden.
Although my replies became automatic, much could be elaborated. Yet, more detail could not help anyone grasp the profound effect Malawi has had on my life. My thoughts have been consumed by anything that I can remotely associate with my trip. I came back, thinking only of how I was going to return. I find that the people I traveled with have become some of my best friends and are a new support network I can rely on simply because we shared this amazing experience. At present, I strive to integrate my experience into my life at UR – there are preliminary plans to establish a permaculture guild on River Campus.
While I encourage everyone to travel, I know that such an endeavor is expensive and not always feasible. Luckily, you don’t have to go abroad to discover a pursuit or find a community that fosters belonging.
Take advantage of the various opportunities here at the University and get involved; use your time here to find a passion and chase it, perpetually.
Squires is a member of the class of 2010.