Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Smoke and Mist

A friend I made near Victoria Falls
Two and a half weeks ago, I swam to the edge of Victoria Falls. Mosi-oa-Tunya, the local name for the falls translates to “The Smoke that Thunders”. From miles away, visitors can see what appears to be a giant pillar of mist that looks like smoke coming directly from the heart of the falls. I lay on my stomach with my head extended over the Zambian side of the gorge. The mist barrels upward with such force it felt like a summer shower on my face. The roar of the falls was so loud that it literally shook the ground. I understood why the ancient legends label that spot as the home of the river gods. I could feel the roar in me. My heart raced as I tried to let out a yell that could match the sound of the falls. I failed. My mouth was filled with water from the alien, upward rain and I choked. I coughed and looked up across the gorge. There was a brief gap in the mist where there was standing a group of Japanese tourists. I smiled and waved at them and they gave an awkward, halfhearted wave back. They clearly thought I was crazy and I didn’t mind. I left that little pool at the edge of the falls, in the middle of the Zambezi River, knowing that I a part of me changed.

Victoria Falls 
Just a few days ago, we hiked Mount Mulanje. The mountain is actually a large plateau (almost 2000m in elevation) with various peaks that extend out of the already impressive base. From a distance, it appears as a lone mountain. There are a few small mountains in the area, but nothing can compare to the immensity and power of Mulanje. The first day of hiking involved nearly 4 hours of climbing up shear rock faces on your hands and knees. The second morning of hiking took us to one of the peaks (2553m in elevation). The peak ended in a steep drop off which allowed for an unhindered view of the surrounding region. From that elevated perspective, all of Malawi seemed to be covered in a thick, hazy mist. It appeared dreamlike, as if the entire world was still asleep. A part of me wanted to yell off the mountaintop, “Wake up Malawi! Don’t you know the things you can be today?” Instead, I sat near the edge and asked myself, “What will I be today?” My answer then, as it is almost every day, was, “I’ll be me.” The rest of the hike was hard, as climbing mountains usually is, but it was the dreamlike mist that held my attention. My affirmation about being myself remained as a reminder that going through the motions, like we often do, can rob us of whom we are. Once again, I part of me changed.

I come home from Malawi in about a week and a half. I haven’t been in the US since April 26th. I am hungry, tired, and ready to jump in my bed and sleep for three straight days. I’ve eaten mouse and cricket, watched Germany win the World Cup, and I have had a constant group of children follow me around every afternoon for the last three months. A part of me is screaming out for the routine of being a student. Having a constant schedule, going to the grocery store when I run out of bread, and hot showers every morning are things my body craves. Another part of me, however, will not accept the fact that next Saturday, I come home.  It might sound odd but I will miss the smoke and mist of Africa.

Nearly every morning, the area around SAFI is covered with a foggy mist. It is beautiful to wake up to. The way it blankets the ground fascinates me. Frankly, I wish I could come up with some metaphor for its meaning to make it sound cooler but, more than anything else, I just think it looks cool.

Smoke is also a very common sight in Malawi. Nearly every meal is cooked on a coal fire. Children also set fire to fields in order to hunt field mice (if you want to know what they taste like, imagine burnt field). Excess trash is burned in the fields as well. I feel surrounded by fire and smoke almost constantly. Its warmth brings people together. Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” and every time I see or smell smoke, I think of the warmth of the people. It really has been a blessing to be here for the last three months. The people are incredible and I’m going to miss them very much. 

Just finished hiking Mt. Mulanje
This experience has actually changed me as a person. I guess that is the purpose of all experiences we have in our lives. Being raised in the LDS culture, I feel like I heard that a lot. Everything I experienced growing up has help build the person I am today. My mission surely did the same. This time in Africa is no different. Working with new people and experiencing their culture and seeing their hardships have made me more grateful for so many things. I've been forced to be humble when I want to be proud and patient when I want to be hotheaded. It has also taught me many things that I just don't know how to describe yet. When it is all boiled down, I am just grateful that I've had this experience. 

I have so much I need to do in the two weeks I’ll be home in CA before I have to head out to Provo, but I am feeling ready to jump back into my real life back in the states. I know that, at least for a while, every foggy morning or smoky bonfire will bring back the memories of being here. I’m almost ready to come home but I know that a part of me will always be here in Malawi with the people I’ve had the chance to work with. It is almost like leaving my mission again. Bittersweet. I know my life will bring be back to Africa at some point in time so there is no point in getting too down about it. I’ll let band, school, and work consume my time and energy for a brief period of time, and before I know it, I’ll wake up back in Africa, South America, or anywhere else my life will take me and that is fine by me.

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