The adjustment period goes on and I am quite surprised by the intensity. The central issues are consumption and complaining. As I reflect on the way people live in Malawi, it seems incredible how little consumption goes on day to day. They walk everywhere with a few bicycles thrown in and buy almost nothing as the barter economy works well enough to keep people alive. There are so few vehicles that the passing of one is cause for everyone to pause and note the direction, the occupants, and to hypothesize about the destination and purpose of the trip. All, and I emphasize all, movement is purposeful. For instance, no one goes out just for a walk. They are going somewhere to deliver something or pick up something and usually both. People were always curious about my bike rides as I just went and came back without a pile of firewood or a bag of corn strapped on somehow. My behavior was very unusual (no surprise to those of you who know me!). So, for a Malawian to see our huge vehicles roaring about with one occupant would be surprising and confusing. A pickup truck or a van over there will always be loaded with upwards of 20 people all going somewhere like a hospital or on a serious mission of some sort. As I sit here typing (on a full key board now. What a relief!) I have heard at least 50 cars go by on the rural road we live on. To hear that many vehicles in the hill country of Malawi would take most of six months.
As to the complaining issue, we here in America are masters of the art. I am thinking it has to do with all that we have and are used to using. If our “normal” patterns are disrupted and our power goes out or the car won’t start it really throws us for a loop. When you are used to living without some of the privileges we take pretty much for granted, your expectations are lower and you just go ahead with your day. There are widespread areas of Malawi with no power and those with power have it sporadically. I would hazard a guess that only about ten percent of Malawians have access to a vehicle on a regular basis and a high percentage of those work for the government. I am left with the simplistic thought that having less might increase a happiness quotient in us that is presently tarnished with unmet expectations. I am not suggesting that we do without things which make our lives run smoothly and allow us to be productive. I am wondering if we could do with less in general and would that help us to feel more happy? The happiness of the Malawian people and their “can do” spirit in spite of everything they face daily has opened me up to a great deal of wondering.
I have spent portions of three days in schools here in Maine sharing some of my experiences and that has been most gratifying as the students seem to realize how fortunate we are to have what we have. The tantrums and demanding behavior I observed earlier upon my return seem to be pretty much contained within the confines of airports and grocery stores, both of which are probably high stress areas for children. I have been fortunate to have had opportunities to chat with bright motivated young people who seem unfazed by the amounts of “stuff” we all seem to have accumulated here. That is some of the news from back here in the good old USA where clean tap water, showers, and toilets are very special all of a sudden.
(c) 2013 Go! Malawi. All rights reserved. Go! Malawi, PO BOX 108, Hebron, Maine 04238