My first journey through With Change in Mind was in 2013. I traveled here with 11 other teachers to experience the joy of the warm heart of Africa and left here with new eyes and a more open heart. Finally, I am back and taking in the sights and sounds of Malawi with a new group of people and a new volunteer project. Although there are many similarities-I am staying in the same hut, saying hello to the children of the same villages, and crossing the same rickety wooden bridge each morning- each trip has it’s own unique spirit and energy.
We spent our first week busy with volunteering at Adziwa and enjoyed cultural lessons and performances each evening. Stanley, an employee of our volunteer village, asked me whether I took the Chichewa lesson on my first trip and when I confirmed I had he told me, “I can see you don’t remember much.” So it was clearly necessary for me to brush up on my local language skills! When our cultural speaker presented to us I was amazed by how much I could remember from my first visit. That 90 minute lesson from 3 years ago had stayed in my mind quite well and I found myself recalling a lot of the traditions and history he had taught me in the past. However, having traveled and living abroad over the past 3 years gave me a new perspective on the information we were receiving and I found myself asking more questions and understanding his words in a new way. Returning to the volunteer village was a wonderful way to feel like I was returning ‘home’ to Malawi but has also helped me reflect on how I have grown and changed since my last visit.
Saturday not only marked the end of our work week at Adziwa but also the start of our travels which are all brand new to me. We started the morning by shopping in a local women’s market for fabric. The energy and colors of the market invigorated me and as I browsed the hundreds of designs of fabrics I felt connected with the community in a new way. I ended up with 18 meters of fabric in 9 different designs (I have big plans for this!) and all of us left the market chattering, comparing experiences, and making plans for our purchases. From there we continued East all the way to the lake. Although I had never been to Lake Malawi I could tell by Erin’s excitement leading up to the weekend that this visit would be a special one. As soon as we pulled in to the property I understood her love of the lake. The water is expansive and creates a contrast to the dry, dusty land we had come to know. Within an hour we each strapped on a life vest and launched our kayaks out on the lake to feed the fish eagles. As we looked across the water to the mountains of Mozambique all of us felt newly energized, excited, and free. After throwing fish to the eagles, we paddled back in just as the sun was setting. I put my oar down and patiently watched the final moments of daylight pass. As I sat in my kayak, I thought about my husband in Shanghai who was probably already asleep as it was midnight there and my parents in Indiana who were just starting their day. I thought about how strange it was to be in the middle of Lake Malawi by myself watching the sunset when everyone I know is just going about their lives. As my kayak drifted with the motion of the water I came closer to the fisherman’s inlet. Many of the fishermen were in for the night, selling their catches to the people of the village. One of the young boys saw us drifting in and reached quickly in the water to pull up a small fish with his bare hand. He held it up and the silver gleamed in the sun, and I laughed as he yelled, “Fish!” In our direction. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude that I was exactly where I was at that moment and allowed myself to sit in silent awe at the beauty of Malawi. The vibrance of the landscape is matched by the joy and energy of the Malawian people and seeing the sunset and the bustling fishing village side by side intensified this relationship.
That evening I spent some time relaxing in a hammock on the beach, feeling at peace with the world. There were some other travelers at the property and we all stayed up late in the night playing games, sharing stories, and learning about each other. It was a wonderful reminder of the many paths people take in order to meet in the same place. I always feel inspired to be a part of a group diverse in age, background, and experience who are connected only by the present moment. In some ways, that connection is stronger than the one you feel with people who share your hometown or age as it is deeply rooted in an understanding of the world through a traveler’s eyes.
After staying up far too late, our alarms pulled us from under our mosquito net at 5 am. We set off in the dark to hike up the nearby mountain (or hill if you are going by the local standards!) in order to watch the sunrise. We shuffled up a large east facing rock just as the sun was coming up and sat quietly until it broke through the clouds. Again I found myself thinking of my husband and my family who were going about their lives at that very moment and thought about all the small moments and decisions that had led me to be on that rock with these people at this moment. I felt so overwhelmingly fortunate and privileged to be adding this memory to my experience bank. When we reached the top of the mountain, we cheersed mugs of coffee and looked out over the mostly empty land, asking question after question to Tiwangi and Mpatsu, the Malawian men who joined our hike. They were so knowledgable about their land, their people, and the world around them. They could identify each land mark- natural and man made- and explain their function. I so admire their connection to their country and people and am constantly reminded of how much I still have to learn.
After a fully relaxing day we left the lake recharged and calm and ready for our next adventure. As I write this we are on the bus to Zambia for safari. Looking out the window is a journey in itself as we get to see the landscape change, observe the local markets, and simply see people going about their day to day lives. As our bus stopped at a roadblock I peered out the window and saw a local woman washing her clothes on the side of the road with a serious expression. As she caught my eye her face changed into a bright smile and she flashed me a head nod and a thumbs up and I happily returned the gesture. Another day is off to a wonderful start here in the warm heart of Africa!