Africa: August 17-18

Moni! (hello!)  I’m telling my Africa story. You can read the first installment here. These are thoughts from my journal, so at times it might seem a bit jumbled.

Day 2:  From Washington DC, we loaded the shuttle van with 27 Army duffel bags, most of them filled to their 50 lb. capacity. And I’d say that more than half of them were full of supplies: dresses, shorts, t-shirts, hats, vbs materials, medical supplies, etc. The rest was our own gear, much of which was donated at the end of our trip.

We had a nice breakfast and crammed all 12 of us, plus the translator (now our friend, David) and the driver (also our friend, Lemek) into the shuttle. Made for quite a “cozy” experience.

These bags do not have wheels but they stack up on top of each other well, which is why we brought them. We dragged these heavy bags through security and everywhere we went. I’m quite sure us ladies were able to do the lifting, but we were happy to have four men on our team. I will tell you, chivalry is not dead and I appreciated it.

There are a lot of bags!

We boarded the Ethiopian flight from Dulles to Addis Ababa and settled in for the next 17 hours. The flight was pretty open;  I was lucky to get an aisle seat and an empty seat next to me.

The flight seemed to be a mix of locals and humanitarians. I overheard people talking theology and saw people wearing their “Jesus” shirts. I wonder what the locals think of us? These white people who are trying to “save” them?

The flight attendants speak their native language as well as English. This is my first taste of the cultural differences, as I have no idea what they are saying.  They do seem much friendlier to the locals. I suppose that’s to be expected. I notice that the Ethiopian people are very beautiful. They all seem to have large, round, beautiful brown eyes. (I just thought you should know this.)

It feels like we’ve been travelling forever.

August 18th

We arrive in Ethiopia after a long flight. My stomach is in knots after eating several salty airplane meals and not moving around at all. I’m happy to get out and stretch and I think I’ll stick to my granola bars on the ride home.

Our layover was just long enough to browse through the shops. We’ll stop here on the way home, so I don’t feel the need to buy anything. I didn’t want to carry any extra stuff.

We board a flight from Ethiopia to Lilongwe (the capital of Malawi). The flight was about 4 hours, but seemed like forever because we’ve already been traveling for a day and a half.

The stewardesses on this flight are much friendlier. Malawi is known as “the warm heart of Africa” because of the friendliness of it’s people. And it shows!

I can tell you that our bags are a burden, but we know it’s all worth it. They’re full of supplies that we must deliver to the Malawian people. 

When we arrive in the capital, the locals are happy to help us unload. They’re very eager to make a few bucks and jump at the chance to carry our bags. It’s an equal partnership because we’re happy for the help and also happy to provide them with some income.

Our team of 12 loads into our shuttle with the 27 bags (Remember: quite cozy. Think ‘people sitting on top of people.’) There’ s a traffic jam because President Banda is hosting a summit. We get rerouted. I suppose we can compare it to rush-hour traffic in Hartford around 4pm. It’s not great, but it could be worse. Lemek is our driver (though we call him by his last name, Tsalka). He’s very good, but they drive on the opposite side of road. It felt a little erratic at first.

 

We arrive at “Nelly’s Place,” our guest house for the week. We were greeted by “Michael” who will be our translator next week. We set up wifi, connect with our families and order dinner. I asked Michael what he would recommend for dinner, something Malawian. He suggested “chambo,” which is a fish that comes from Lake Malawi. I enjoyed it very much – a local white, mild fish. My only trouble was navigating through the tiny bones. Afterward, we sort the dresses and medical supplies for our visit with the “Ministry of Hope” tomorrow. 

My teammate Carole, outside Nelly’s Guest House.

On our patio we could hear  Muslim prayer from the local Mosque down the street. I had never heard the sound of that community prayer before and we stopped to listen.

We have mosquito nets over our beds, but I don’t think I’ll use mine. I haven’t seen a mosquito yet and I am taking my Malaria medication. The rooms are clean and quite comfortable. My first shower was a cold one, but I fully expected that. I would soon realize there are only two temperatures in Africa: cold and scalding. No matter, I was happy to have some running water.

There are at least two runners in our group and I wish I brought my sneakers. I wasn’t going to run in Africa by myself, so now that I know, I’ll be sure to pack my shoes next time.

We have to brush our teeth with bottled water. Though the water from our sink at the guest house looks clean, it will make me sick. Must. Remember. That. 

Rita is my roommate.  She’s super hip, oober loving and a ball full of energy. Our team is diverse, ranging in age from 19-70 and that’s pretty awesome.

We ended the evening with a game of cards. Apparently it’s a “Michigan” game called Euchre (most of the team is from Michigan). It’s terribly confusing and took me close to a week to finally get the hang of it. I promised to share the game with all of my “Connecticut” friends so that I can hone my card skills for the next time.