Saturday, June 14, 2014

Like Disneyland but better…

You know life is good when this is next to your tent
Anyone who has been to Disneyland remembers two things; the “magic” and the crowds. The “magic” consists of beautiful recreations of reality. Nobody can bend the fabric of what is real and what is false quite the Disney staff. The crowds are self-explanatory. You find yourself surrounded by people from all over the world who’s sweaty, smelly children keep running around and screaming for countless hours. You may find yourself pushed to your limit but, somehow, the “magic” brings you back down. Very few people leave Disneyland unhappy.

Africa- obviously- is not Disneyland. Africa is a continent western culture associates with poverty, hunger, and AIDS. Although these things are persistent problems, we tend to focus too much on the negatives- like the lines and heat at Disneyland- instead of the “magic”. Africa is not a continent of problems that need to be solved but of deeply rooted cultures and beautiful people. It sounds cliché but there really is something magical here.

The last two weeks, we have had the opportunity to start teaching the nutrition and food preservation classes to the families at SAFI and to children at Primary (Elementary) Schools. We experience first hand what life in Malawi is really like. Yes, there are problems with malnutrition but the families and children we teach are so excited to learn from us and apply what is being taught. Yes, families face some financial struggles but who doesn’t? People here are happy. Children play, adults work, occasionally people get sick, often people are healthy. Girls giggle and play when boys they like walk and life continues as normal. Most of the time, it is a blast.

But sometimes we have to deal with miscommunications, bad weather, plans falling through, and problems with our projects. It is like being stuck in lines at Disneyland. It’s frustrating and feels like the circle of Hell reserved for people who didn’t rewind videos before returning them to Blockbuster. Despite that, when things turn around, the love I feel for Malawi comes to the surface and the “magic” is back.

Not the elephants that tried to charge us... but still huge
The last few days we took a long weekend to experience “Wild Africa”. We went to Liwonde and Lake Malawi National Parks. We got to see hundreds of hippos, waterbucks, kudu, elephants, impala, and other animals. We went on a river cruise and Land Rover game drive. The river cruise felt a lot like the Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise and the game drive felt exactly like the Indiana Jones ride, but with one major difference; it was real. The elephant that tried to charge us was real. The hippos peeking their head out of the water were real. The boat and Land Rover were real. Most importantly, the people were real. Everything about it was magical. There was no need for animatronics. Nothing was bolted down to floor. Nothing was artificial. Although I enjoy Disneyland, I experienced the real thing. No amount of twisted metal and audiotapes can even be compared to living it firsthand.

At Lake Malawi, along with snorkeling, tubing, and playing around, we walked along the beach to spend time with the natives and the other tourists. To be honest, I was also trying to find a place to watch the World Cup (interesting fact: I was at Disneyland when the last World Cup started and in the Missionary Training Center when it finished

), but we also wanted to make some new friends. We found a group of people sitting around a fire playing drums. We happily joined them. Quickly, a group of about 15 people sat around and we got to enjoy each other’s company. The World Cup quickly became less important as we talked and played around the fire. We quickly formed a web of association with people from all around the world, all with different desires and problems. The time we spent there around that fire felt almost as magical as the safari.

I guess this is a roundabout way for me to say that if you aren’t living your life- both the good parts and the lines at Disneyland- you are really missing out. Not everyone can drop everything and spend a summer in Africa, but everyone can put down the phone, computer, iPad, etc. and experience what is real. Cherish your friends and family, experience nature, talk to a stranger (obvious dark alleys are not the best places to do this), and don’t let the fake things dominate your life. If your relationships are fake, make new relationships. If your entertainment is fake, try something else. Disneyland version of happiness is great, but go find the real thing because it is better. If you can’t feel, smell, touch, see, or taste it, is it really worth your time and energy?

I know my generation hears that a lot, but after this weekend, I’ve decided that I am going to make some changes. It is time to not just live my life 87.9% to the fullest, but the full 100%.

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