A letter from Lilongwe

Dear reader, I can say with sincerity that I miss you. I miss the comfort of the grass in front of Southwick, where you may or may not be sitting right this instant. I miss my friends and the opportunity the school year brings to meet new and interesting people from around the world. It is a life of safety and ease in which you are engaged, but it is also one of personal discovery and adventure. I am sure that you know this. But have you forgotten it? I only ask you because at some point last year, I had. I reached my threshold. I wasn’t hungry for anything that college could put on my plate — with exception of falafel day. I longed for an adventure — a real adventure that was tangible and terrifying. I needed an experience that would shock my psyche and test my courage. I walked into the study abroad office and I passed hundreds of pamphlets and posters, all of which nearly tempted me to go to somewhere other than the one place I was dead set on getting back to: Malawi. If you’ve never heard of it, here is one of a thousand opportunities for you to learn something new today. Today, Malawi is the 13th poorest nation in the world. The poverty is overwhelmingly apparent in everyday life in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city. The bicycles that people ride here are in no way as hip or functional as any bike you see on the racks outside Bailey/Howe Library, nor are the shoes on anyone’s feet close to anything you could window-shop for at Maven. Actually, most shoes here are bought secondhand and are displayed in the markets after being soaked in the Lilongwe River, “because when a shoe is wet, it looks new,” as my friend Ariche humorously pointed out to me. In the villages, shoes are hard to come by and the sun-baked earth leaves children’s feet bare and callused. Even so, the kids of Kang’oma village didn’t have to think twice about jumping on my skateboard, which they call a “skype.” Right now, I am earning internship credit working for two non-governmental organizations based in the United States. One of them is called “The Pendulum Project,” and the other is “The Face to Face AIDS Project.” I have been spending most of my time writing reports and evaluating the progress of two different community-based organizations, or “CBOs.” One of these is a twice a month support group for 15 HIV-positive children, and the other is a youth group that travels to different villages to raise awareness and educate people on the dangers of HIV/AIDS. The youth group has been educated by trained clinicians on topics such as adherence to medication, nutrition, sex education and hygiene. They take this information and infuse it in songs, dances and short plays. They perform their songs and skits at what they call “outreach programs.” So far they have reached 10 villages, with 400 in attendance at each program. Reaching 4,000 people is an astounding accomplishment, considering that they have had to walk more than a marathon to several of these villages. It is no myth that this disease is ruining Malawi. I’m going to stray from boring statistics and just tell you this: it’s bad. The domino effect it has is obvious, and the signs of improvement are not. Seeing Malawi for what it really is, is something you cannot do unless you come here. I knew that when I left Malawi the first time. But what I had forgotten was that the world around us has so much more to offer than what the naked eye can see. Traveling this distance has made me look back on all of the things that I take for granted at home. You can go to an art exhibit and relentlessly absorb everything you see, you can climb into an abandoned building, you can go apple picking or climb a mountain of your choice.     Each of these things will lead you to an internal discovery of sorts, a discovery which you must then share with someone else, because as Christopher Columbus said, “a discovery is nothing unless it is shared.” Sincerly, Chris White, junior