I’ve been experiencing serial sleep deprivation over the last several nights. Somehow, I again managed to wake up much earlier than desired this morning. It’s not the end of the world, I’m just getting 5 hours of sleep instead of 8. And if I really wanted to put a positive spin on things, I could instead say that I’ve gained 3 awake hours each day!
I’ve been wanting to jot some reflections on the recently spent year, especially since so much has changed about my situation and my perspective. Now, using my 3 new hours, seems as good a time as any to pen my thoughts.
I was tremendously blessed to have my family fly out to spend the holidays with me. We began our 3 week vacation by spending 2 of them in South Africa. We toured around Johannesburg, Cape Town, and even Victoria Falls. I remember arriving down there, getting picked up at the airport, and being driven down a first world highway – something I hadn’t experienced in almost 5 months. My brain slowly processed the slur of buildings, and billboards that my wide eyes took in while trying to fight the temptation to feel overwhelmed. I arrived at a posh hotel called, “The Michelangelo” and took a nap on what seemed like the most comfortable bed ever to be woven together in the history of the world.
With the exception of a minor anxiety attack at the Cape Town mall, our busy schedule kept me from experiencing reverse culture shock on any meaningful level. We took tours, went shark diving, rode elephants, and heard the SA people talk proudly of their newly deceased leader: Mandela.
Then my whole family flew back to Malawi to spend 8 days seeing what I’ve been doing, and meeting people that I’ve been knowing. I foolishly over-prepared them for the visit by telling them frightening stories about break-ins, riots, and third-world suffering. I wanted them to be ready, but there must have been a more delicate way to do that.
So we arrived, and I took them on the poverty tour, shock-and-awe style. The first activity we did when we got off the plane was visit the marketplace where I had my mom barter for the produce we would be eating over the next week. As soon as we pulled up in our car, a group of young boys ran up begging to hold bags for us while we shopped. We picked one, and then walked through the market while getting pummeled by offers from a crowd of 10 different guys all hoping to get some commission for selling us fruit. All my mom had to say was, “Bananas” and one of them would dart off into the heart of the market to find her desired produce. The rest of our time in Malawi was spent visiting remote villages, helping out with a medical clinic, taking food to hungry widows, feeding starving orphans, and visiting a couple prisons.
At one point I had my dad ride the mini-bus with me and it was so crowded that he literally had someone sit on his lap. I’ve never even seen that happen before. Needless to say, my family got the full African experience and I’m incredibly proud of their eager and willing attitude.
I have spent the last year telling stories, writing blogs, composing emails, all with the intention of communicating what I see while I’m here in Malawi. No one has heard more of these stories, or read my blog more avidly than my parents. They’re my biggest fans and they’ve always taken an astute interest in what I’m doing. If there’s anyone who can satisfyingly grasp the things I’ve been trying to communicate, it would be them.
But they didn’t grasp it. Not until they actually stepped foot in Malawi. It’s one thing to hear about crowded streets, but it’s another to have the blind or deformed bang on your passenger side window begging for money. It’s one thing to hear about the “millions starving in Africa” but it’s another to hold a child with a bloated belly, tattered clothing, and still look out on a sea of little suffering faces who are fascinated by the Azungu visiting their village. And it’s one thing to hear that 2,000 men are crammed into a 500 person prison, but it’s another to walk alongside them and be reminded that they have to lie with their backs against each other to sleep at night because there’s not enough space for them to lie down.
I could go on, but I digress. The point is that in America it’s incredibly easy to turn away from the immense suffering of this world because all you have to do is click a link that takes you to a different webpage, or flip a channel in the urgent quest to find further amusement. But you can’t as easily dismiss this problem when someone is standing in front of you with sad eyes, and cupped hands asking for money so they can have their first meal that day.
I thought I could communicate my experience to people at home, but I don’t think I can.
For me, 2013 was broken up into 2 halves. The first half was spent working a job in corporate America. And the second half was spent educating children in an African country that no one’s heard of. Anyone whose corresponded with me via email knows which half I’ve loved more. To be honest, I’m not sure “love” is an emotion I’m even capable of having towards a corporate job. So having this drastic perspective change halfway through my year begs the question…what am I going to do with the rest of my life? What will 2014 look like?
I don’t know. I do know that I’m less tempted by the allure of security and money than ever before. I know that I want to help the poor. And I know that I’m frankly a little bit nervous about what’s to come. Meanwhile, I try to take comfort in Philippians 4:6.