Sunday, November 07, 2010

Home is Where the Hot Showers and Electricity Are

Malawia: The state or condition of being frustrated to the point of exhaustion by life in Malawi.*

Symptoms
* Irritability
* Frequent use of foul language
* Fatigue; a strong desire to stay in bed all day
* Constant complaining
* Politically incorrect and/or colonial thoughts
* Cravings for Western culture (food, entertainment, etc.)
* Repeatedly counting the time left in Malawi
* Repeatedly checking the date on one’s return ticket
* Obsessively checking bank balance against cost of flights home

Causes
* Lack of schedules and general timekeeping
* Minibuses
* Hot season
* Rainy season
* Dry season
* Overconsumption of chicken and chips
* Load shedding (i.e., blackouts)
* Water shortages
* Lazy, inept lodge “managers”
* Lack of privacy
* Lack of sleep
* Bug infestations
* Deet and/or Doom poisoning

Treatments
* Alcohol
* Letters and/or packages from home (*hint, hint*)
* Hanging out in wazungu spaces (swimming pools, La Caverna, overpriced hotels)
* A “restorative” retreat at the lake (preferably combined with alcohol consumption)
* Ruby slippers

I’ve had an ongoing, low-grade case of Malawia since my arrival, but it’s recently flared up into a rather acute outbreak. I’m tired of waking up---after a mostly sleepless night---soaked in sweat and then not being able to get a decent shower because of water shortages. Coming back in the evenings, soaked in sweat and dirt from spending the day cramped into a minibus to travel out to yet another volunteer site, and not being able to get a decent shower because of blackouts. I miss my car and my washing machine and my kitchen and my ceiling fan. I miss being able to plan my day and know that if I make an appointment for a particular time (a) I’ll be able to arrive on time and (b) the person I’m meeting will arrive on time---or within a reasonable interval---or will call to tell me that he or she is running late. I miss being able to call a business and find out its hours and know that the business will actually be open during those hours. (Seriously, you would not believe the conversation I had to ensure just to find out when the UPS office would be open.) I miss clean clothes and fabric softener and decent pillows. I miss parks and coffee shops and the little farmer’s market across from my place where I don’t have to push my way through a barrage of boys shouting at me to buy their jumbo (plastic bags) and then have the vendors shouting at me from all directions to buy this or that or another thing while the bag boys follow me around, trying to trick me into putting my purchases into their plastic bags so I’ll have to pay them a ridiculous amount.

I miss home.

I think if my research was going better, life here might be more tolerable. At least the time would pass more quickly. But each day is still a slog---cold calling organizations, setting up meetings with people who may or may not actually show up to those meetings, spending hours traveling to sites that turn out to be outside my study parameters, conducting endless interviews that are---at best---tangentially relevant to my study, chasing down lead after lead after lead and feeling like I’m really just chasing my own tail. And now we’re just a few weeks from the holiday season---another dead zone in the volunteer calendar---when the current crop of volunteers---and much of the ex-pat community---heads back West.

I’m sorry this has been another downer post. I do keep plugging along, even if I’m not sure why or whether I’m making any progress.

Nearly three months down! Seven(ish) left to go.

Perhaps it’s time for one of those “restorative retreats” at the lake.


*I've borrowed this term from a long-term volunteer who shall, per IRB regulations, remain nameless.

3 Comments:

At 6:20 PM , Blogger Charitie said...

What I got out of that was:

Deet and/or Doom poisoning = Politically incorrect and/or colonial thoughts

:)

 
At 9:49 PM , Blogger nwt said...

As much as your post made me laugh, I feel for you! I think it would be totally legitimate to adjust your research parameters to include some long-term volunteers. You could do a sort of comparison, and then at least you wouldn't be wasting your time when you seek out a volunteer site and they turn out to be long term...

 
At 4:19 PM , Anonymous Lillian said...

hello Lisa there,

sorry to know what's going on there...I kind of understand...i hope it will get better, or you'll feel better as time goes by.

I haven't read all the post but I think it is definitely legitimate to adjust your reserach according to what is available there.

Take care and we miss you in Madison. We'll miss you at the upcoming holiday.

 

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