Before I jump into this post, I want to it clear that although spending my summer here in Malawi is very fun, it is not a glamorous vacation. Yes, there are a lot of things that we do that are very fun and those are the images that most of you will see on Facebook and Instagram, but other than those fleeting moments of relaxation and trying to snatch a quick photo that will get the most possible likes on social media, we spend most of our time trying to keep our heads above water. I often find myself lacking the materials I will need for my projects, lacking the ability to communicate effectively, and, being the only guy on this internship, lacking a good guy friend. Sometimes I notice myself dwelling on the things I lack, and I find myself frustrated and occasionally even angry. It is often easy to shake our fists towards heaven and think to ourselves, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.” Generally, we haven’t made an error of judgment, we just happen to be kayaking into the wind.
This past weekend, us interns had the wonderful experience of going back to Lake Malawi. We planned to take a 2-day kayaking tour of the lake which would include cliff jumping, snorkeling, volleyball, Frisbee, a little bit of hiking, and camping overnight on a beach. The first day of the trip we were full of energy and really very gung-ho about the experience. Having grown up in Minnesota, I found myself the most experienced kayaker in the group (except for our guides of course) with many of the group never having kayaked before. Day One seemed pretty easy for everyone at first but towards the end of the day, most of our group was happy to set up camp. We later found out that in just one day we had travelled 18 kilometers. The next day, we had to kayak back those same 18 Km to but this time; we had a strong head wind.
Anyone who has canoed or kayaked into the wind knows that it is often very difficult. Not only does the wind try and force you backwards, but also you might find yourself slowing turning towards one side or the other. Life’s challenges often come at us in a similar way. We end up not only having to spend our strength to keep moving forward but life’s obstacles can also push us way off course from where we truly want to be headed.
About halfway through Day Two of kayaking, the wind was really taking its toll on our group. The smiles from the previous day were fading. Sunburns and sore muscles stopped being ignored and became painful reminders that we still had a long way to travel. The ideas of “I can’t do this”, “this is too hard”, and “what is the point?” slowly crept into the mind and fogged out all other thoughts. The key is that we continued going. It never got any easier, in fact, there were times when the winds picked up as if to just make us angry, but we all just kept on paddling. By the time we saw the first signs that the trip was almost over, we rejoiced. When we landed on shore, some of the girls even cried. Having had experienced what it is like to be forced back by the wind before on trips to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Northern Minnesota, I had full confidence that at some point in time our struggle would end, but for those who have never experienced that feeling before, it was truly an eye opening experience. They had to move forward with just the wavering faith that if they kept paddling, they would make it to shore.
Sometimes life is really easy and nothing seems to hold us back from our pursuits but in other cases, we find ourselves facing the winds of life with very little other than the hope that it will get easier. That little glimmer of hope needs to be cultivated. Even just a little bit of faith can make the most outrageous tasks possible but they require time, patience, and a lot of hard work.
Right now I find myself in a situation where patience is a key skill that I need to develop. Things aren’t perfect but I am working with what I do have to make the best out of my time here in Malawi. I am waiting for my sunburns to heal and the vegetables that I need to arrive but in the mean time, I will embrace the fact that I am learning and growing everyday with each obstacle and difficulty. I can tell myself over and over that things would be different if I was “in charge” but I’m not. Certain situations will just be outside my control and I had better accept that and move on rather than getting frustrated and hung up on the details. I will find ways to contribute and be productive. In life, we should do the same thing. Why wait around waiting for the situation to change when there are things you can do now? So what if you needed to adjust your plans? You just have to keep moving forward, even if it is against the wind.