Saturday, 24 November 2012

Change in Plans....

The title of this Update is called: A CHANGE IN PLANS for a reason. Might as well cut to the chase:
Im staying in Malawi until June. I’ve given up my spot at Hands at Work.

Here’s how it came about: 

There is an incredible need here. A need for everything. From food, to paper, to resources, to teachers, to materials etc.
A need.
And as selfish as this sounds, it is really nice to feel needed!

The thought of staying longer had been brewing in my mind since the second week I was here. There is so much to do, so much to enjoy. At that point, everything was still new and exciting. I was careful not to make a decision based on that honeymoon phase, but continued to pray about the choice before me.
One afternoon I was walking home from work. This is my sidewalk in case you need a visual.
As I was walking along, I thought about why I was considering staying and why I may have been apprehensive about going to Hands at Work. It occurred to me that the choice came down to Relationship vs Experience.
If you know me well, you will likely have no problem agreeing with the fact that I tend to be an experience junkie. In recent years I’ve mellowed a little and allowed myself to invest more in “one place” rather than remain nomadic.
But for the most part, I enjoy EXPERIENCING new places, new cultures, and then revisiting ones I’ve enjoyed!
And so, I weighed out the relationships I was forming against the experience of the unknown in a new place.
And frankly, the relationships won!
I work with an amazing team of women! From the preschool teachers, to the young woman who oversees the spec. ed class without any formal training. From the ladies who cook and clean tirelessly despite our growing numbers, to the travelling rehab technicians I’ve accompanied on outreaches (who are learning to ride a motorbike in order to go to further outreaches on roads not intended for vehicles)
I work with a dedicated staff of Malawian women who are working to change the stigma and stereotype of their nation.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
So, I asked if I could stay. And, last week Kathy agreed (after speaking to several of my coworkers to get feedback). And so, there it is. Im staying until June.

Originally I planned to stay in Africa until August, and transition from Malawi to Hands at Work in February.  Now, I will likely come back to Canada a few weeks early. I am still interested in going to university in September (which was the plan for this year until Africa happened!) and so I thought it might be wise to get home a few weeks before classes start, as opposed to a few hours as I’d unrealistically planned when I left home.
AND! My cousin is getting MARRIED in August….all the more reason to make sure Im back on Canadian soil!
My housemates are leaving for the USA on furlough in a couple of weeks. They get back in March, and they’re bringing back Jenn’s sister. So, when I told them I’d made a choice to stay until June, I asked them if it would be okay for me to stay here until March. They were confused and both of them immediately asked: “Why not til June?” I explained that I didn’t want to interfere with their plans to bring home their sister and that I was willing to move out if they thought the house would be too full. They laughed. They were completely unquestionably welcoming me to stay until June. They didn’t even need to discuss. It was an incredible moment of peace! And I was really touched. I hadn’t realized just how much they enjoyed having me live with them.

What’s more, we had an awesome weekend together. Im not even sure how it all came to pass, but Saturday we all stayed home and did NOTHING. Literally. We had only three hours of power, from 2-5pm, and so somehow, over a dark dinner, we ended up embarking on an incredibly serious conversation about life in Malawi vs life in N.America. We talked about our struggles and some of the amazing relationships we’d made (Jake and Jenn have been here for over a year and a half). We talked about God, and how He fits in in Malawi. In some ways, the people here are so dependent upon Him – N. American’s could use a good dose of this reality. But at the same time, there are days when the poverty and the corruption are so overwhelming that you wonder “Where are you God?”

For those of you who may have been praying for the relationship I have with my housemates , I say thank you. I have really grown to love and appreciate them and am looking forward to staying here in my “American” house until June. I must admit, it is so nice to come home after a difficult day of struggle and cultural differences, and grab some American style chips, or a yogurt, or home made cookies and just veg out as if I were at home in Ottawa! I am blessed for sure. I don’t think I could have “lived” in the real deal – at least not at first.
But I don’t feel guilty about this. I know that the comforts of home are what help me to leave my house every day feeling refreshed and ready for the struggles and the challenges that will face me to and from work, and at work, with the children, with the mothers, with the poverty, with the lack of resources, with the power cuts and water cuts and smelly garbage that lines the streets where tulips and green grass ought to!
Last thing to share:
When my parents lived in Hawaii, I went to live with them for three months in 2004, before I moved to Australia. My friend Jen from high school came to visit me and one day we went to Sea World (or was it Sea Life Park) so she could swim with the dolphins and kiss a whalfin (when a whale and dolphin mate). Anyway, I got incredibly sunstroked (how do you say that one in past tense?) and honestly thought my organs were melting inside me.
So, when someone says, “sunstroke” to me that is what I think of.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I suffer from sunstroke daily! I didn’t realize that was what was going on at first. I thought my iron was low, or maybe that I wasn’t eating a proper carb/protein balance for breakfast.
I would arrive at work and be sweating – from the inside out.
I felt like my blood was literally boiling.
And I had a splitting headache from dawn til dark. I would be taking up to nine ibuprophen a day.
When I sat down I felt a bit better, but the second I stood up, I was faint and thought I was going to pass out.
We have electrolyte packages here at the house (propel) but I was trying not to use them all up. They were my housemates and I didn’t feel right about taking one every day.
I brought two bottles of water to work, wore my sunglasses, and sunscreen and still felt awful.

Someone suggested it was the sun, but like I said, it never occurred to me that it was something you could suffer from daily. And what’s more, I LOVE THE SUN! I hate the cold. I hate everything about weather that is less than 20degrees. I should be in my complete element here.
But what I failed to consider is that in Canada I have a car with AC and I visit shops with AC and if places don’t have AC they often have fans that aren’t restricted by a few hours of power each day. At home, if it is hot, there are breaks from the heat. Not so here. Plus, I walk A LOT!
I walk to my mini bus (15minutes); from my mini bus stop to work (15minutes); and then coming home is usually hotter and a more extreme sun than going in the AM. Im outside with the children, or running from one house to the next to get supplies.

So, I went to the doctor. Sure enough, that is what was going on. I had started wearing my hat for a couple of days and found that I could manage. The headaches were nowhere near as severe. I was down to four advil in a day, and days with electrolytes were better than days without. It was such a strange realization for me. And somewhat disappointing too. I don’t want to wish the sun away!

The doctor prescribed me some ORS packages that are a Unicef product designed to combat dehydration. They are yucky! I mix them with drink powder (fruit stuff or ice tea) which only makes them bearable to swallow. I start the day with one in my water bottle and try to drink it before the water gets warm, because that is not a pleasant combination.
It has helped considerably. I continue to wear my FBC Camp hat (represent!) and look rather silly in it. But it helps. And at this point, if Im wearing flats every day, and long unflattering dresses, adding a hat to my attire isn’t a huge sacrifice.

Anyway, the small accommodations we must make to following our dreams!


PS – for my monthly sponsors: in light of the fact that I am leaving earlier than originally planned, please take a moment to change the termination date of your sponsorship. I will remind you again when it gets closer to my departure date, but if you have time now, you may want to just edit that portion to reflect JUNE 2013 as the last month of giving! Zikomo!


  1. First of all I cried while reading your most recent post. I miss you. You are doing such a wonderful thing Melissa. You are making a huge difference in the lives of those children each and every day.
    And for the record, you look super cute in that long layered dress! It's not unflattering.

  2. Can I just be superficial and self-serving for a moment? That dress looks AWESOME ON YOU! It looked awesome on me too, but it needed some adventure =) Proud of you for your decision and am happy that you're enjoying the feeling of being needed. Also happy to hear that school isn't off the radar!

  3. Um, I JUST discovered this blog. I'm SO happy that you've extended your stay; Africa suits you. Keep the updates coming and stay out of the sun! ;)