The small things seem to have either sustained me or without them, pushed me over the edge into culture shock. Those last minute decisions that I made when packing to come to Malawi have shown to be rather important. Some stuff I brought ended up being here (in which case, I could have left it at home), and other items that I left behind I haven’t been able to find. The details are showing to become more and more important. Challenges that I knew would be here are now staring me in the face. Of course, this is a different culture; it is also a third-world country, so life is different here.
My list of small things: food, the language, hot water from the faucet, communication, and electricity.
The food is different. N’sima, rice, potatoes. Chicken, steak, lamb chop, pork chop. Cooked vegetables. Those are the dinner choices that I have experienced so far. Plus, the whole hygiene aspect is different too. I haven’t really seen what goes on inside the restaurant kitchens here but so far eating cooked things has worked out just fine. I do like the fruit here: papaya and bananas. There are also apples but those are probably from South Africa. I find it strange that there are apples. Mango trees are all around. The planting season is coming in November, just before the rainy season starts (pray for rain for the crops!) so perhaps there will be other foods later in the year. I think I miss cheese the most so far. They do have it here at certain stores, so I’m just waiting on a ride to get some.
The language is different. We’ve learned a little bit of Chichewa. But the learning is slow and I have to repeat myself a million times before I remember the new phrases. The most difficult thing about the language barrier is when I’m with other people who are just chatting away and I feel excluded from the conversation. That has been hard. Or when I’m saying hello to someone, and then after I’ve said everything I know how to say, we’re just standing there uncomfortably. English is spoken here: among the educated. Even so, many have a heavy accent –so even though it is English, it’s difficult to understand. For example, the caretakers are not educated, so their English is limited. We have been around them the most.
The water is different. It’s unsafe to drink from the tap. It must be purified. Boiled. A basic need is now work. Also, there is a switch that makes the water heater turn on. We can only have it on during the evenings because from Monday through Friday there is a water shortage so we don’t want the water heater burn up if it happens to empty during the day.
Communication is different. It breaks down. We found out that somehow the manse committee didn’t know that we were coming until two weeks ago, which was like three days before we arrived. That’s not enough time to make sure a house is in order. At least, I don’t think so. The whole planning ahead thing seems to end up without some details.
It is also a challenge to communicate. I know a little Chichewa and they know some English, and then I think I communicated something but am left questioning whether or not they understand after I have walked away. Even though English is the official language here, it’s still a second language. Chichewa is the first language. The culture is also different, so that adds another layer when communicating.
Electricity is different. Only a little bit. Rather than having planned blackouts in the evenings when people are usually asleep… or having the weather cause power to go off during storms and such, here in Malawi, having power is a gift. Here, the power goes out when you’re cooking breakfast before your induction (installation) service at this new church. When the power went out, I was thinking that I had done something, like have too many appliances on at the same time.
These are the “small things” that fade into the background in the day-to-day. However, they come into focus more when one is removed from familiar surroundings. I am sure that our time here will continue to challenge and shape me each small day.