Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Final thoughts, goodbye Malawi

It's a fitting end I think. I am sitting here in my living room watching the sun go down. The sky is beautiful of course, a sundowner (Kuche Kuche beer ) to accompany the view. It never gets old. My wonderful wife and children are probably in line to board a plane that will transport them back to home.  It is sad to leave this place. But good to get back home.

It has been a wonderful year. It has been a challenging year. I’ve learned alot .. 

Such as - It takes time to feel comfortable with new experiences. Moving across the world (to Africa) is not easy, and takes patience… But it’s good to do and worthwhile.. I leave here as I left Botswana.  Feeling like we’ve accomplished something . I leave here with a greater appreciation for this part of the world. I leave here feeling lucky to have this time under my belt. My kids will benefit from this, not necessarily immediately, but in time. They have learned that there is a whole other world out there , and that people are pretty much the same wherever you go, no matter what color or what high school you went to. I’ve learned that again too.. It’s a good thing to be reminded of.. I learned that in order to make a difference, doing it on an individual level is probably best.  I've learned that kids can do anything. That kids feed off of how we perceive things.. If you talk bad about something, they will do the same. If you embrace an event (such as moving across the world) they will embrace it. They feed off of us.. and when you hit them with a life altering experience as this, they will do as you do. 
I’ve learned that I would have never done this if it wasn’t for Michelle. She is the one willing to take the jump. She is driven that way, and I love that about her. But I’ve also learned that I love my life back home and I hope to find a balance between the two.. I love my friends, my family and my home .. This is no earth shattering fact. We are lucky on all levels. 
I’ve learned that I’m a pretty good father. As Michelle was pulled in all directions due to work, it was my job to keep the ship afloat. And I think I did. I was the facilitator .. I kept the kids smiling(sort of), kept them fed and was their companion every single day. I am grateful that I had a job that kept me close to them all day every day. I will miss hugs in the morning , listening to “Take it to the Limit “ with them on the way to work.. and singing Boston and Journey songs.. I will miss bragging on my 13 year old daughter,  who missed graduation , summer camp with friends, 8th grade experiences with friends she’s had for years, so that she could come to Africa again to fulfil her parents itch to return to a place she may utterly despise. And yet, she was a star. She never complained.. Instead, she stopped by my classroom each day (many times a day) to say hello and to tell me  that she loved me. 
I’ve learned that we can learn from this part of the world.… People come here to preach, to teach , to give to a place they think needs help.. And it does… But probably not like we think they do. … They don’t want what we want. They don’t necessarily want what we think they want.  They understand life, understand time and understand peace. People here are amazing. 
I’ll miss the absolute natural beauty that surrounds us here every day .The sky, the sunsets, the breezes you can hear for miles .. Ill miss seeing people who live off of the land, who use and reuse  everything..  Ill also miss the gritty, dirty, smelly, human existence that is life here. beauty that is unlike home. … garbage on the ground, ants on my plate, burning debris, burning tires, body odor, strange food smells,  rats in your ceiling, snakes , bats, bugs , spiders the size of your hands, sleeping under a net, no running water, power that goes out for hours, … Ill miss all of it. 
I will love saying that I lived here.. we are lucky.. Ill go home, slip right back into the day to day routine that is home.. And Ill love it.. But there won’t be a day that will go by without thinking of this place and the people I was lucky enough to meet. And that is the hard part about these things.. 

Kids got to go to a school where shoes were optional.. They took malaria medicine, were surrounded by people who they would never otherwise have been exposed to.. They were the minority for once. It was good. 
Michelle saved lives, taught others to save lives and made a difference every single day. She’ll hate to leave this job. But she’ll be back.. Many times. 

So, I say goodbye to Malawi, to Africa, to a place I hope to see again. I hope this has been a worthwhile read. It’s been great to keep in touch this way and share some of what this place is like.. 
One last thought- If you’ve ever wanted to come to Africa, do it. It will change your life. And once you visit this continent, it will never , ever leave you.
See you on the other side... Ill leave you with the great song from Malawi.. It is by a local artist named Lawi... I heard it once when Michelle and I went our for a night on the town..  I dig it.. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

busy and slight change of plans

Not much to report.. We've cancelled our cable tv subscription, our internet is almost finished and we are depleting our food here at the Malawian home front. Things are coming to a screeching halt. We have many errands to run today so Ill probably keep it short.. But I will say there will probably be two more posts... Ill give you my final thoughts in a few days.. I'm sad to see this blog come to a close... It's really been a great way for me to process everything that has happened here and keep in touch with great friends.  It's funny how things change though.. I was reading some of my initial posts from August and September and you would have thought I was going to lose my mind. Those things that were so frustrating and so new and different from life at home have now become 2nd nature..  Now we prepare for the shock that will be America.  This has been an experience.

We had a bit of a hiccup in our plans to come home. As Michelle and I were sitting around enjoying our back porch and doing some things on the computer, Michelle decided to check their flight itinerary.. Everything looked great from Johannesburg to Cincy, but we realised that we couldn't find any flight information for their flight from Lilongwe to Jo'burg.  And we quickly realised that was because WE NEVER MADE THE RESERVATIONS!!!  We finalised our return plans in October and it was a bit of a headache.. I think we were so relieved that we took care of the major bulk of the travel plans that we overlooked getting out of Malawi. So Michelle and I frantically started looking to book flights on Wednesday afternoon from Lilongwe to Jo'burg.. Unfortunately, there is no flight to Jo'burg from Malawi on Wednesdays..  SO, the rest of the family is leaving tomorrow, and spending the night in Johannesburg.. They will be staying in the shopping district and have already looked to see what movies are playing at the theatre down the street from their hotel... A good , gradual reintroduction to the madness of home.. Then they will catch their flight on Thursday evening home.

I will leave Thursday and take care of the loose ends..

Most goodbyes have been said, but some of the major ones remain. And that is with our staff that take such great care of us here at home.. as parting gifts, we are buying them maize and cooking oil for their families.. amongst other things.. As cleaned out the kids school bags and school papers and compiled stacks of old books to be used for fire starters.. I placed them outside, only to find they had been moved.. Cosmas asked if it was possible if he could take the books to "study" ... He asked about the loose leaf paper as well, because they are "good for writing".. I totally took this stuff for granted. So I packed up school materials, extra paper, a ruler, etc and gave it to him.. Yesterday as I left he was writing notes over top of notes . He never finished secondary school and is preparing to take the exam in a year. As he said "these books are very important and I will use them for study."  He is an incredibly smart man and we hope he does well. As stated in previous posts, his English is better than mine.

We've decided after being here for so long that the best way to help people here is to give them what they need most.. Money. they will use it for the things they need. They won't abuse it ... School and food are what is needed most here.  You want to help someone here? sponsor someone's education.. It doesn't cost much.. 100$- 150$ a year.  When they usually make around 50-75$ a month, this cost is almost impossible to meet.  We have many contacts here and many, many people that are in need of education.. It is the only key to getting anywhere here.. Lots and lots of kids drop out after several years because they cannot meet the financial requirement. If you want to help people with school fees, please let me know.. It's very easy to do.. I can even coordinate for anyone interested.. and it doesn't have to happen before I leave.. We can easily get it together when I am back home. 100$.

Ok , I didn't really plan to write so much, but if the outcome is a few children get an education, then it'll be worth it.  Now that I've given my public announcement , I ll stop. Thoughts on our year coming in a few days..  Happy Monday folks.. Off to do some errands.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Last weekend in Malawi

It's 630 am, there's birds that have making noise since about 430 surrounding the house AND there's reggae music pumping from somewhere in the neighboorhood. Your usual start to the weekend.
Not much to say here except we will continue to finalise things here, pack, say goodbyes , and what what (that's what people say here instead of 'and so on').. But hope to enjoy the last weekend here.

Yesterday as we were driving Jude to a friend's house, we pulled over to buy some mice on a stick. I did not eat it of course, but it was a good photo opportunity.. For 4 mice on a stick, it is 1$.. I gave the guy a little more and asked for a photo in return.. He said no problem and as he held up the mice he said "African Sausage!!" .. this is the high time of the year for mice on a stick, since they have picked the fields clean of maize. Now, they burn the fields to prep it for next year's they burn their fields, mice scatter and they catch them.. and smoke them with fur on and sell on the side of the road.. the fur is still on them..
There is not too many places in the world you can drive down a highway road and buy items out of the window of your car such as ... mice on a stick, bird on a stick, live chickens, airtime for your phone , newspapers, grilled corn, peanuts, oranges, apples, tomatoes, smoked fish, bananas , pineapple,puppies, kittens, charcoal, cooking oil, candy , spinach, cabbage, hand made wicker furniture, hand woven rugs, hats, hand carved wood sculptures, ceramic pots and of course, tshirts... It's like a Walmart! I will miss this part of Malawi. Photos of the day are me and mice, the mice vendor and the everyday occurrence of being stared at incessantly.. This time, by a group of men that deserve to be stared at themselves, because they are on the top of a giant mound of maize that is in the back of a semi being carted down the highway at 70 mph!.. Yet, its not a problem for them..

Also, for you viewing pleasure is a video of the lake this past weekend... Beautiful African skies on a quiet, empty, beautiful beach... and then one of my favourite videos of the year... A cheer off at the school , just before the athletic day began.. It got pretty heated but all in good fun. I see why the kids will miss this school. They had a blast and had some great teachers that made the days worthwhile.. check it out, Franny and Jude are in the mix somewhere.. Maura is not ONLY because she was holding the banner.. If you know Maura, she would have been in anyone's faces giving them hell.. She's a rebel, a fighter.. Have a great Saturday at home.

Lake for the last time

                                                        Cheer off!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"My friend"

I spoke with our guard Joseph last night for a while . He was visibly upset about us leaving . We have built a good relationship with them and I am sad to leave them . Unfortunately , they have come to rely on us for many things that we at home take for granted . His wife was recently suffering from malaria and he needed medication . We offered to help, Michelle gave him the name of a medicine to get and where to go .. I gave him about 8$. As I write this he is carting his bike out our gate with a Dixie chili party pak box that he wants to use to store some important items he has at home .. We would normally throw these things away ..  I don't think i can ever understand his life and I'm sure he feels the same way about me . Why in the world are you throwing away a perfectly good box ?!? With handles on it !! I'm sure that's what he was thinking . 
Anyway , he told me he was going to miss me , I said the same  to him .  Then , in an instant his tone changed and he said .."is my friend around ?" Jude is his "friend" and when he asks this , he is asking to play soccer with Jude .. Joseph is probably in his late 20's . So I call Jude , Jude sports up with his soccer shoes while Joseph  strips down to his shorts and Tshirt and they play soccer just about every day . 

The packing has begun and we are now in "wait " mode . The kids plan to get together with a few friends over the next couple of days as Michelle finishes work and I tend to a few things .. 
The lake was beautful and we had a great time relaxing . It was a nice way to end our time here and I was able to snap a few great photos .

Kate took the phot above on our drive home .. This was on the main highway .. You think this would fly on I -75 ? Hope is well back home . Not much else to report . All is well 

Lots of goodbyes and tears.... Last day at the lake

This was meant to come out on Sunday but haven't been able to connect . I will try and write tomorrow regarding our last trip to the lake and update on this week . Sorry for the lack of communication but internet has been poor lately . Also , I am busy packing up and tying up loose ends.  Will post more hopefull tomorrow . For now , here's some notes feomnthenlast day of school .  Real quick before I forget ... Me and the kids saw a black mamba crossing a sandy road by the lake yesterday .. Check that off the list . Here's notes from end if school stuff .. Busy around here.
Well , it was a bittersweet final day . The kids were in tears saying goodby to good friends and were silent on the way home from school . I think they were surprised at how upset they were . It's been a great year .. A year where school opened their eyes to diversity , and a new environment where you were outside almost 75% of your day .. I think going back to school at home will be an adjustment . I think the experience bonded the kids more than ever. Kate realized it was the last time she'd be going to school with the 3 little ones . 
We are at the lake and it is gorgeous .. We have rented a private home with a pool and couldn't ask for a better place to spend our last days at the lake .. Lots of reading , playing in the sand and swimming of course . Pedro is the property caretaker and speaks little to no English . But he's fluent on Portuguese and Chichewa . It will be sad to say goodbye to such a beautful place . But it's a good ending . I think we re ready to come home . One last braai tonight lakeside , one last star gazing session this evening , then we head back to lilongwe to start the organizing and packing for our departure next week. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Last day of school

Ill keep this short and sweet. It's 7:30 am here in Malawi and the field day for the kids is just about to start. The kids at the school are broken up into different "Houses" and will be competing against each other is different events..  Our kids are in the Nyika house.. we'll see how it goes.

A day of finality here and I'm sure there will be some tears.. Our kids received more awards over the past few days and I think the school has left a great mark on our children... I think the overall environment of this school has been really wonderful for the kids... Frances broke down in tears the other day(she rarely cries) so I know it will be coming today... SO , below are some photos ... Final drive to school was foggy and beautiful.. Going to miss the drive here everyday with the kids. To commemorate , The kids chose to rock out to "when the lights go down in the city" by Journey.. It was an apt choice as that is the first song we listened to on our first day of school...

Ill stop here , because I have been a broken record for the past few weeks.. In summary,  sad to leave.. happy to go home.. Grateful for this experience. Hope this isn't the last time I set foot in this wonderful country.

Photos... me and the girls on our walk to class, a nice African fireplace at Harry's bar, the drive to school, and a giant sausage tree on the golf course.. The sausages are giant seeds that are hard as wood and cause serious skull fractures to those who are unlucky enough to be under it when the sausages fall.. In the photo is Roger, my caddy from the golf club.. He and I have become good friends...Roger tells me those sausages are used for medicine for people in the villages.. I will miss him dearly as well.

Might not be able to post for a few days, but will try.. taking off for our last road trip at noon!
Quick story, I ran into a police road block last night.... I unfortunately had crates of beer and soda in the back of the truck.. The policeman said  " It looks like you have been taken to the bottle".. I said, "No, I am just preparing to go on a holiday with my family". He had none of that and said "the fine for taking to the bottle too much and driving is 30, 000 Kwacha... or you will be locked up." I didn't feel like arguing and I didn't want to experience being locked up in a Malawian prison, so I said, " I don't have 30, 000 kwacha, can I just give you 5000? I don't need a receipt." His response was a giant smile and a "Ok, no problem".

All for now, off to field day!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Thoughts for thursday.

Michelle took off for Salima for the next few days and we will meet up with her tomorrow after we finish up school. Things here at school are very much they would be at home. Kids just received their yearbooks and are going around having them signed by friends and teachers.. Yesterday was really the first time I felt very sad to leave... I am trying to take in moments as they come. This has been our home for the past year and it has been totally crazy, but really wonderful at the same time..

I was grilling last night, watching the sun go down as giant bats flew overhead.. and thought how fortunate we are to see this part of the world again. And to have the kids witness it as well.. I am very grateful.  These next few weeks will be bittersweet.

Below are two photos of people I will miss.. I mentioned I was going to do a series of photos of people I speak to , meet everyday... Today's people are Pempho and her  child(not sure of his name.) She has an umbrella and table set up on the side of the road by our school. I buy my airtime for my phone from her and say hello to her every time we go to the grocery store. She is there everyday with her child strapped to her back selling airtime (airtime comes on little scratch have to dial a code into your phone... think bars and bells at summer festival).. Anyway, if we don't stop to say hello, she waves at us every time we pass by.


Then there are these two who have probably seen more of me than anyone in my life.... Since I've been here I've taken to swimming laps everyday.. The pool is 50 yards from my classroom, so each day I'll swim right after school for about 40 minutes..  I even bought a skimpy little bathing suit (not a speedo, but short shorts).. I figure when in Rome... I'll probably retire the short swim trunks upon my return home..  Anyway, Peter and Emmanuel are the life guards.. They work everyday Monday through Saturday from 7-4 and manage the pool. They watched me swim my laps each day and when took a day off, they asked me why I didn't swim. I helped Emmanuel with a loan so he could buy a tin roof for his home. They are great men who were always kind to our kids.. They knew them all by their names and when my kids would leave something behind at the pool, they would seek me out on campus to return it to me.  One time I was finished with my laps and Emmanuel stopped me to ask a questions.. "Sir, I am having trouble with this word".. He opened his Bible and pointed to the word 'omnipotent'. I told him the meaning and he graciously thanked me. If I come back here, I swore to myself that I would learn more of Chichewa. Everyone here can speak some English.. It's impressive.

Peter and Emmanuel

I think that is all for today.. Beautiful Thursday here.. I am headed to the pool actually to do my laps.. Got to get in a few more days of swimming laps in my tiny suit..  I may or may not be able to post something tomorrow or during the weekend. Internet will be spotty, but I will do my best .. Headed out for our last road trip to the lake.. A great way to celebrate the end of the school year.