I spent an absolutely lovely week in Germany with the entire German side of my family over Christmas - we were very busy, and had a ton of fun! I got to see my lovely cousins Caro and Nathalie and catch up, go shopping with my Mumsie, go on walks with the entire family and just my parents, enjoy the choir, organ, brass choir, and traditions of the German Christmas services, spend evenings eating and hanging out with my brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and have a wonderful time all around. Plus, I brought an entire suitcase full of gifts from Malawi for family in Germany and Canada, so that was fun to share and tell the stories behind each item!
Ok, let’s strip away all the fun stuff of this placement. My family keeps on commenting on the many vacations I seem to be taking, and asking whether I actually have a job.
In all honesty, working in a refugee camp is hard. The stories break my heart every day, and when I come home from work and have a blog post to write, retelling those same tragedies doesn’t seem to be a fun way to spend the evening. Whereas, telling you all about the amazing weekend trips that I have the privilege of experiencing is a lot more interesting to me. But, I understand where you all are coming from, so here goes sharing some of the harder stuff.
The Umoja women’s craft group is made up of vulnerable women from in the camp. Some of them have lost their families to violence, others have managed to flee with their families. Some of the typical stories involve the loss of a child or plural children, raped and pregnant teenage daughters, abusive husbands, currently kidnapped children, head-hunters looking for families because of their last names, and the common and unrelenting drive to continue with life and do their best to make the future different for their children. They lead a difficult life in the camp – when the rations that the UNHCR gives out equal to about 800 calories/day/person, basic survival comes into question. So, JRS runs the craft group and we do our best to find them markets within which to sell their products, and work with the group to improve their quality and tailor their designs to the market. We are trying to build the leadership within the group so that they can run it themselves, but there are cross-cultural and family rivalries within the group that make handing leadership over to the women a complicated process.
The special needs class that I work with is also comprised of hard stories. During the home visits when the teachers and I did initial evaluations of the children and learned more about their special needs, we had multiple parents say to our faces, in front of their children, that the kids were worthless and had no value, so why should they go to school? It is extremely rewarding to now see some of those same children learning by leaps and bounds, but the discrimination is still faced at home, and we know that when they leave our classroom, they will most likely go and sit in a dark corner in their home, and wait for the next day that they get to come to class.
In comparison to the lives led by the refugees and Malawian subsistence farmers, I have nothing to complain about. Work can move slowly at times - try having an entire segment of your work put on hold because you are waiting for a single piece of paper (for three weeks!), but there is an overload of things to do at JRS, so I'm never sitting around bored. I can get nearly everything that I am used to at various stores in the city, and have an amazing friend circle. I have found a church family that suits me, and am generally just thankful that I get the opportunity to live and work in this country. But there are downsides… there are power cuts a few times a week, which I have learned to deal with and they don’t really bother me anymore… unless I have a pizza half cooked when the power shuts off! I went three days without water last month – and that was difficult – I drink at least 2 litres of water a day, and when you aren’t certain when there will be more water coming out of the taps, it gets a little worrisome. Thankfully, I have the funds to be able to purchase bottled water as needed, so I can work around it, but it is definitely not an enjoyable experience. My poor co-INDEVOUR Anna, who is located in Blantyre, Malawi, experiences much longer in duration and more frequent water and power cuts in her neighbourhood, and I am amazed at her fortitude!
Living on an entirely different continent than my family is no walk in the park either. We are seven hours apart and that makes it rather difficult to find a time that works for everyone to skype or have a phone call. When you’ve spent over 20 years living with your parents, not speaking to them for a month at a time is a very strange thing to experience. And trying to explain life in Malawi just doesn’t translate very well. The richness of the culture and land and people is just not expressed well enough through stories and pictures – though I do my best!
So, now you have the nuts and bolts of the life I lead. And don’t think that this negative Nelly is here to stay – I love my job and life in Lilongwe, and will hopefully soon have permission to share some more details from my job and happier stories from friends who live in the camp.
I’m currently being spoiled by my German family… Oma has food on the table every few hours (seconds are not enough, you must have thirds!). It is so lovely to be able to attend the Christmas services here again, with the brass choir, church choir, and pipe organ in the ancient cathedral in my German hometown. We have a lot of rain and clouds right now – not the happiest Christmas weather, but at least it’s not in the negative degrees… not sure I’d survive that as I’m already freezing all the time! This is a short visit – just enough time to eat my weight in German food, refresh my Schwebish skills, take family pictures with the entire family, get teased relentlessly by my brothers, and build up my hug reserves from my mum before heading back to Malawi for New Years.
Dzina langa ndi Katie! (My name is Katie!)
Let’s learn some Chichewa this week! These are the words that I generally encounter on a weekly basis while walking to and from work and shopping in the city.
Mwadzuka bwanji? (Did you wake well?)
Ndadzuka bwino kaya inu? (I woke well, how about you?)
Ndadzuka bwinonso, zikomo! (I woke well, thank you!)
Muli bwanji? (How are you?)
Deli bwino kaya inu? (I am well, how about you?)
Deli bwino, zikomo! (I am well, thank you!)
Mwaswera bwanji? (How did you spend your day?)
Ndaswera bwino kaya inu? (I spent my day well, how about you?)
Ndaswera bwinonso, zikomo! (I spent the day well, thank you!)
Chakudya – food
Nyama – meat
Nkhuku - chicken
Nsomba – fish
Nsima – corn meal porridge
Masamba – greens
Nyemba – beans
Zipatso – fruits
Choka – get outta here (got taught this one by the kiddos in my yard… they don’t like it when I have to leave for work and don’t play with them!)
Ndikufuna madzi – I want water
Pepani – sorry
Pang’ono – a little
Tiwonana – see you later!
Palibe vuto – no problem
Inde (or ehh) – yes
Ayi / iyayi – no
Tiyeni – let’s go
Bwanji – how
Kuti – where
Lero – today
Mawa – tomorrow
I dye my hair. I dye my hair because I feel more like me when the top of my head is a shock of red. And every time, without fail, as hot pink puddles around my feet in the shower, I wonder, have I gone too far? The shower looks like I’ve killed someone in it – pink and red spotting the walls and the floor, and I question, do I really think the red looks good, or is it an attention-seeking behaviour?
When the water runs nearly clear and I step out into the chill of the bathroom air, I wrap my hair into a towel that has almost become more covered in pink than its original blue, and my wondering continues. Will I be happy with the colour, or will the shade I chose this time be too much for me? But then, instead of looking at the pile of wet hair on top of my head, I avoid the mirror, quickly combing through the strands, and begin to blow-dry it. You see, I know from experience that the colour you see in the shower water and the colour you see in the freshly dyed wet hair is not the colour that appears when the hair is dry. And the anticipation builds.
Now. Now is the time to see the results of the pink-stained fingers and fume-driven coughing fits, and decide. I look in the mirror, and a smile spreads across my face as I recognize myself – too many of my favourite memories are tied to my red hair and without it, I feel as though a part of me is missing. And as I continue to defiantly wear red and other ‘clashing’ colours with my red hair, regardless of the people who think that it shouldn’t be done, I ponder. This change that I bring about myself is still a guessing game and potential failure every time I do it, and yet, I continue to find the bravery to begin the process.
I am learning to like the expectant excitement of entering into the unknown. By no means am I comfortable with it, nearly jumping out of my skin every time a rainstorm hovers over Lilongwe, sending loud cracks of thunder rattling through my bones. However, God is growing in me an ability to delight in the promise of things to come – even when I do not know what they may be. The parallels that I see in the stages of dying my hair and the way that God's plans are slowly revealed to me are catching my thoughts today. I worry, fuss, and over-think, and then decide to make the jump into the abyss of the undefined yet to come. And I have yet to be disappointed when I do. So in this Advent season, a time expecting the arrival of the Messiah, I choose joy in the waiting for the arrival of the next chapter of my story.
As my head sinks into the pillow at the end of another long day, I catch a glimpse of the red, and grin, remembering the promise breathed into life by the rainbow that stretches across the sky following a storm.
Genesis 9:16 ESV
Photo credit for this post goes to Gino Moura, whose talented photography skills captured some awesome moments while at Kande Beach a few weeks ago. Thanks for allowing me the use of these, friend!
Today, I'd like to call your attention to this amazing ministry that has been set up in Guatemala. I am so impressed by the vision and determination shown by the family that is working to establish Village of Hope. The way they choose to simply live saying yes to any situations that are presented to them is inspiring. Unfortunately, their ability to help has been restricted because they simply do not have the space to take in any more people in need of their assistance. Please click over here to read a little bit more detail about their work and how we can help, and take a few minutes to watch the below video to see them in action.
Weekends are my favourite time here. And I have to admit, as much as I have loved the weekend adventures that friends and I have gone on, the ultimate weekend for me is to be at home in Lilongwe hanging out with our wider friend circle. There are always events or parties of some sort happening on Fridays and Saturdays, and we have begun some pretty awesome Sunday traditions too!
This weekend Saturday night involved going to a poetry event at a local hotel. The poets were amazing and one of them was my friend, Trésor, who I met in Dzaleka, and performs heartbreaking and inspirational poetry featuring the stories of his fellow refugees. You can read 'Just Imagine' one of the poems he performed, here, and learn a little more about his passion here (another one of my friends wrote this article and did a great job on it).
But my favourite weekend part, by far, is when we stick to our traditions on Sunday: church, pool, and jazz. My friends here know what I'm going to say when they ask what I think we should do on Sunday... it spills out quickly, excitedly, and sounds like one word: churchpooljazzz!!! Our small group goes to one of the local churches together, and then all head over to Ufulu Gardens, a fancy hotel with a lovely swimming pool, where we wile away the afternoon swimming, chatting, and enjoying the warmth of the sun. Once the sun sets behind the beautiful garden views, we pack up and head over to a chic restaurant and shopping complex, crowd onto mats in the grassy courtyard, and finish up the day with a healthy dose of dreamy jazz.
There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
On this, a day where many are mourning the loss of an inspirational world-changer and leader, I've been reminded for the umpteenth time this week that living a life that matters is the something huge that many people want.
And it's something that I have struggled with and doubted this week. Some days, you forget that the small every day things build into something big, and you think that you aren't making a worthwhile contribution to the world. I had one of those days, and was quickly snapped out of it by some very specific reminders that kept bombarding me from all sides.
Number 1: God loves me so much that He sent His only Son to die for me... yes, it was for all humanity, but He loves me so much, that if I was the only one to accept the amazing gift of salvation, it would have been worth it to Him. And, if He loves me that much, He's gonna have an amazing plan in mind for my life.
Number 2: God 'sees' me (if you've seen Avatar, you'll get this reference) - He wrote my DNA and imagined my identity out of nothingness. He calls me by name and when I am chasing after Him, He aligns my hopes and dreams with His plans for me, so I don't have to stress that my hopes and dreams are empty and will not be filled - because if they are inspired by Him, He'll make it happen.
Number 3: A life that matters by the world's standards is not what matters to me, when I think about it. I'd be extremely happy to be a generic development worker - one among thousands - as long as it is God's dream for me, I am making the difference I should be. Or to be a mom (a job often overlooked that I think is of the utmost importance as it shapes future generations) to kiddos that needed a family that I was able to provide.
Number 4: God places amazing friends and family in my life to remind me of what matters and to call me out when I believe lies, and to remind me of my life's purpose, and to re-inspire me with words of wisdom.
Number 5: This song:
So, I am here living in Malawi, on my way to great things... not because the world thinks so, but because my God is fantastic and personal and calls me to live my ordinary life in the extraordinary pursuit of Him - and a life spent worshipping God is one that matters.
Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.