Monday, 29 October 2012

The Unusual Typical Day

I chose to jump ahead of my November 1st update, because I felt today was too good of a day to not share.
I’ve received a lot of questions from people asking me “What is it like?” and yet, I don’t have a really good solid condensed answer. I hope this note will bring a little of it to light for you.

The title: Unusual Typical may seem contradictory to you, but it’s purposed.
Today has been a very unusual day in regards to some “firsts” that I experienced, but also extremely typical in that nothing ever goes according to plan.
So my unusual day actually began Sunday morning, just before six am. I was woken by the sound of my fan cutting off. Power outage, no surprise. Typical. Tried to go back to sleep, but I have a cold, been fighting it for a couple of days. My housemate offered me some cold medication, and it knocked me out. Didn’t make it to church. In fact, ended up sleeping through til 11am. When I woke up, my fan was still not running, BUT neither were the taps!
Water outage, surprise. Unusual.
Night time power outages last maybe three or four hours. Our power outage yesterday lasted eight, but, because it was day time, there wasn’t much of a set back to our schedule. The water I expected would follow shortly after the power returned around 2pm. But, it didn’t.
I’ve never had a water outage. Not that I can recall at least. Have you? It’s a pretty good wake up call if you haven’t had one lately. And just in case, let me remind you of all the things we rely on water for:
1) drinking on a hot day; drinking on a cold day; drinking to just stay hydrated
2) flushing the toilet after we use it to expel all the water we’ve drank to stay hydrated
3) washing your hands after using the toilet
4) showering off the sweat and dirt from  walking outside in a hot and sweaty country
5) washing food to eat because despite the fact Malawi fruit and veg are grown without pesticides, the transport from the field to my fridge is as messy as my bathtub is after I have washed off the sweat and dirt from walking each day!
No, nothing major, but a lot of convenient things. And, considering I was due for a shower Saturday night, waking up to no water STILL this morning (Monday) was a real inconvenience for sure!
Our Gentle Guard, Waliko, had rounded up a bucket of undrinkable water for us to flush our toilets, and because I had left my taps open overnight in my tub, I did manage to accumulate about three and a half millimeters of water for which I was able to sponge “bathe and shave”!! Woohoo, CLEAN!

So, I continue on my way to work as per usual. Each morning I walk through the dusty roads, past garbage, squatter growing maize, a school already in session since 7am, and a few unemployed families selling their wares – donuts, boiled eggs, mangoes. Some days I buy donuts or eggs, but today I had already eaten a scone with peanut butter and banana. Typical breakfast.
I board the first blue minibus I see. I’m not superstitious, but I have a theory that the best buses to ride to work in the morning are the blue ones. I’ve gotten pretty confident when boarding the bus, and have even negotiated my price a few times when the conductor thinks he can charge me more on account of my “naivity”
Today though, I pay the standard fee of 100Kwatcha (1/3 of $1CDN) and the conductor offers me back 50Kwatcha. UNUSUAL for sure. But because I’ve learned that 100kwatcha is the regular price to work, I tell him it’s okay, he can keep the change.
I arrive at work on time – unusual – but I need to print off a few worksheets for the preschool children that I’ve made over the weekend. Once they get printed in the office (which happens to be at the other location from the preschool), I will have to get them photocopied at the business next door to the preschool. 15kwatcha per copy.
However, as Im on my way to the other building, I run into Grace – one of the cooks the center employs. She informs me that Mary, the office administrator, has had to run out on an errand. No idea how long she’ll be, and worksheets are needed for the morning, so I improvise.
The man who owns the photocopy company also has a printer.
70 Kwatcha per page printed; 15kwatcha per photocopy.
450Kwatcha and twenty three minutes later, I have my worksheets printed for the day at school.
School supplies are a hard sought after commodity. Just ask the five little children who followed me to the photocopy shop asking for “pesos”. Pesos? What are pesos? The going currency here in Malawi is Kwatcha. I call my friend Bridget (one of the workers at the preschool) to translate. Turns out, they’re saying “Pencils”
The children were looking for pencils for school because there aren’t enough to go around.
As I’m explaining to the children that I do not have any pencils, I notice my voice is disappearing. It’s becoming harder and harder to hear what I have to say as my voice cracks and breaks frequently….is my cold getting better? Or is losing your voice a sign that there is still more to come?
We have a student from Germany working at Children of Blessing Trust for the year. I ask her to do the worksheets with the children because I want to sit in and observe the Communications Rehabilitator who comes on Mondays.
He has 27 children registered to see him each Monday morning. Needless to say, his sessions are a bit chaotic. Specialists are hard to come by in Malawi, and expensive. Mr. Morgan gives up one morning from his private practice each week in order to assist at the preschool. Today there were only 16students for him to see. Not one-to-one though. That is not feasible. So instead, Mr. Morgan handles them in small bundles; grouped together according to need. The most he had today at once was six. But six is a lot when you have to address each special need in an individual need. Each child, though grouped similarly, is at a different development level and facing different coping strategies. Some are physically disabled and unable to use their limbs. Some are mentally delayed and so, despite having full use of their hands, they do not understand a simple color sorting exercise.
The diversity of needs at the preschool alone are extreme. And preschool is only one of four or five programs I am a part of each week. Adapting as you go, on the fly, is a necessary skill.
Overall this morning was pretty typical!
Skip ahead until the end of the day when myself and the German student and the two preschool teachers are leaving together (Valerie, Joyce and Naomi respectively). I don’t often go the same route as these three, but today I needed to go get cold medication in town. Hop on a new minibus – new because of the route, not because of the bus itself – and we’re off to town. This ride is much longer than my usual bus ride home and I am happy when my stop appears around the corner. I had planned to go to the pharmacy closest to home, which is located in a strip mall, about half hours walk from my place. If I need cash, I can always draw some from one of the two bank machines at the plaza. And if by chance I have enough cash on me, I am close enough to home to walk without having to pay for a minibus.
The cold medication I prefer is 2400Kwatcha. Of course I don’t have that much with me. I don’t like carrying more than 1000 each day unless I know I have to pay for something large.
So, back to the bank machine I go. The one I know for sure will give me money is not working – out of service. The other machine will not accept my card. Unusual, and typical!
Now what?
I could return home without medication and suffer through the night, or I can suffer through a walk up and over to the next plaza in order to use their bank machine. I opt for the latter.
Last weekend I bought a wheely bag. It comes in great handy when I’m walking long distances and carrying school supplies, my lunch, my knitting etc. It does not come in handy when there are no sidewalks and I have to cross a traffic circle in order to get to the next plaza. Either roll it through the dusty, dirty shoulders, or carry it on my back, which by now has a permanent bruise on my spine where the wheely handle rests.
I remind myself of the cold medication I am in need of and suck it up. By this point in the day, my voice is pretty much gone. I chose to whisper instead of force sound out, as that is only making it worse.
I approach the first bank machine – Out of Order; slightly unusual
The second, I am twelfth in line – typical; but the line does not move – Out of Order; definitely unusual
I discover a pharmacy at this plaza also, so I go check the price of the medication. Lucky me, 1700Kwatcha. I’m still 1700Kwatcha short, so I still need to access a bank machine.
At this point, some of you may be wondering, “Why don’t you use your visa or debit?”
“Ha! Because no where here takes plastic!” That’s right, its Almost-Completely-Cash-Society
(try paying 195,000Kwatcha for a computer last weekend in 1000kwatcha bills as those are the biggest denomination they have)
Just to make sure that my card will be rejected, I check the other bank machine that I have tried before. Of course it will not recognize my card; not so unusual at all.
Last ditch effort, I try the first bank at the second plaza again. Maybe it was just offline for the moment. Sure enough, I am second in line, and I get my money out (have I mentioned that each time I withdraw cash, there is a $5 service fee in addition to the conversion rate I pay). The maximum I’m able to take out in one transaction equates to $132 approximately, depending on the exchange rate. Helps me feel better about the service charge – so I max out my daily limit.
I treat myself to a latte simply because I can. It’s the first one I’ve had since being here. Three weeks and it’s the first coffee shop I’ve found at all in fact. I am delighted. I chat with the ladies at the counter. I have to pay for a take out cup, but I am too ecstatic over having a latte to be concerned. Her foam was quite impressive too!
Latte – Unusual.
By now, I’m tired. My feet are getting blisters because the band aids have sweated off and I hate the dress I’m wearing. I keep seeing myself in the reflections of the store windows and I’m reminded my hair needs a trim!
All my insecurities rise to the surface when I’m tired, hot and just plain worn out; Typical.
I go back to the second pharmacy to buy the cold medication. I get a day time and a night time, just to be safe. I ask about lip balm, but they don’t have any.
I go to board my minibus home. As I approach the first bus, I try to tell the driver where I’m going. He can’t hear me because I have no voice. He isn’t going the direction I need, so I walk away. I see a bunch of children staring at me – TYPICAL – and I say HI! But my voice is gone. They think it’s funny. So I laugh with them. Another typical experience – being laughed at. Nothing like a dose of humble pie in a foreign country to cure impending pride!
I find a bus going my direction, and I almost trip over my ankle length dress to get into the seat. My bag drops, the conductor picks it up and comments on how heavy it is. The bus laughs. I do too. What else is there to do at this point?
I have to ask the nice young man sitting next to me to tell the conductor where my stop is because I can’t yell loud enough to get his attention. I have a ten-fifteen minute walk home. It’s after 5pm by this time, and it has been engrained in me to not be out past 6pm. Im almost there…and I pray the water will be too.
And as I start to pray for the water, I also take a look around the street Im walking down and realize I have MUCH to pray about. This day has been challenging, busy and of course, hot. But I find myself not praying for strength, or patience or tolerance to the seemingly backwards way of life I’ve jumped into.
I start to thank God for the gorgeous sun setting view. I thank Him for the beautiful children I have the privilege to work with and the lovely ladies I work alongside of. I thank God for the dreams I have as I can see the potential in the people and the land. I long to do more, but recognize I’m only getting my feet wet. I thank God for my safety, and His provisions thus far. I smile as I walk down the street, feeling peace.
I love those times when you feel peace in the midst of chaos. I love those moments when Joy is free!
I love being reminded that Africa has been a long time coming dream come true and that it has not disappointed. Of course it’s not what I expected, but there isn’t much in my life that has turned out the way I hoped or expected. But I love how God can take a potentially broken dream and create it into something so much more valuable – kind of like how the oyster makes a pearl out of a grain of unwanted sand!
Thank you for journeying with me and allowing me to share this unusually typical day with you!

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