The last week or so I was in the US people would frequently ask, “So, how do you feel about going back to Malawi?”
My response was typically mixed. I loved being home, in the Bay Area. It felt right. I finally started to feel that I might be ready to settle down, and I’ve always known the Bay Area is where I’m meant to be in the long run. It was hard to leave my family and friends yet again, especially when so much was pulling me to stay.
However the past year in Malawi has been hugely beneficial and influential for me. In terms of my professional goals, my work at Kusamala has put me on the path to gain the skills and experience I need to work at a higher level in nonprofit management. Through this organization, I have continued to grow and gain confidence in my abilities and myself.
But it was hard to weigh those more abstract career goals with the personal pull I felt being home.
So stepping off the plane a Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe, I was feeling conflicted. Leaving home seems to get more and more difficult as I get older, but there was more I wanted to learn and experience, projects half done, and new goals yet to be accomplished in Malawi.
Coming back to the farm, I was struck by how much had changed in the month that I was gone. There were a few new faces, but mostly I couldn’t believe how much had grown with the coming of the rains. Numerous pepper varieties popping up where we had saved seed during the dry season, huge okra plants almost head high along the path, massive sunflowers knocking me on the head as I stumbled by, and of course grass… everywhere. And everything was wet. Constantly.
Since then I’ve spent the past week quarantined to my hut, trying to make sure that I don’t spread my US-diseased germs to anyone else, particularly the Malawian staff who’ve never been exposed to anything similar.A few days after getting back I discovered that a backpack full of goodies was not all that I had brought back with me from America. The Friday I got back I woke up achy and exhausted. Convinced it was severe jetlag with a little cold, I told my boss I’d be ok the next day and crawled back to bed. After two more days of alternating sweats and chills, constant body aches, cough, congestion, and fatigue, I was finally ready to admit I had the flu.
The first four or five days were no problem; I could barely walk across my hut let alone work or interact with people. However, the past few days I’ve felt better and a bit more stir crazy – a combination of boredom and guilt at people having to cook for me, bring me food, and not being able to work while others have to work harder because of me.
While I’ve contended with boredom, this time has given me a chance to reflect on being back and what it means to me outside of the context of leaving home. And I’ve realized how excited I am to be back, the love I have for this farm, and how many things I want to do here… that do not involve sitting alone in my hut.
The benefits of life in Malawi are not purely professional – I have met wonderful people and created lasting relationships. I have built on my love for growing my own food, working in the soil, and being outdoors. While I hope this continues to be a part of my professional life, I know it will always play a large role in my personal one.
The weeds, my co-permaculturalists, and even the office work are calling to me, and I’m itching to get back in there and get my hands dirty.