As I wrap up my last week here in Malawi, I am overwhelmed by how lightning fast and yet excruciatingly slow this year has been. I came to Malawi as a 22 year old (granted, I was two days shy of my birthday), and am leaving 24. I feel as though I had a lifetime of experiences in a 12 month period that I am still attempting to process, but I know that this year significantly altered my perspective on life, my career path, and what I hope to achieve as I continue within this field.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I write on a napkin/back of a receipt/a journal all of the things I am excited to see, learn, and experience. Then on my flight home I write about what I’ll miss the most and what I am grateful for. I figured for my last blogpost I could come up with my list a week early.

Malawi, I want to thank you for:

  • Teaching me how to be vulnerable, to ask for help when I needed it, to cry when it was deserved even  though I hate doing it.
  • Making me work harder than I ever have before – you exhausted me in the best way possible.
  • Giving me friendships that have significantly changed me – before GHC training, I didn’t have friends interested in global health and development. Being able to talk into the late hours of the night about our passions for improving health systems, our frustrations with inefficiencies, and brainstorming ways to be better at our jobs completely galvanized me. I no longer feel alone in my fervent commitment to achieving global health equity.
  • Beating me up – physically, emotionally, and mentally. I think I needed it to learn how to fight back.
  •  Welcoming me wholeheartedly into the “Warm Heart of Africa.” I’ll miss the daily greetings by every Malawian I pass on my walk to work, children waving and shyly running away afterward, maybe even the vendors who yell “Azungu” to get my attention. I’ll miss dancing at Malawian weddings. I’ll miss trying nsima every now and again hoping that my tastes will change and I’ll actually like it. I’ll miss my co-workers calling me their daughter or Hexin and I “the twins.” I’ll miss our Mentor Mothers and playing with babies whenever I went on site visits. I’ll miss Malawian babies in general – damn they are cute.
  • Showing me an entirely new perspective on life – I have never lived in a place with such a commitment and responsibility to family, strong traditional practices that have sustained colonialism and development, and love for one another.
  • Making me experience loneliness for the first time. Prior to moving to Malawi I never fully grasped what the word lonely actually meant; it is probably the worst emotion I have ever encountered, but emerging from it has been one of my greatest life lessons. #malawirollercoaster
  • Forcing me to be a better daughter, sister, and best friend from across an ocean. I am the WORST at emailing, calling, texting- basically showing my love via anything that ties me to a device, but this year taught me how to love from another continent and how important it is to keep in touch with those you care about.
  • Teaching me how to deal with loss and sadness and not taking my attacks on you personally during my lowest points.
  • Being so ridiculously beautiful. Seriously Lake Malawi, Mulanje, Chikhwawa- all of Malawi actually – you sensory overloaded me.
  • Playing Chop My Money at some point, often multiple points, in a day. Sources can range from ringtones of passerbys, car speakers, supermarket sound systems, my own ipod – the list goes on. All I know is girl has got to get her dancing on at least once a day and Chop My Money does it for me.
  • Giving me the cutest puppy/ hyena EVER

On Friday, I head to the GHC end-year retreat in Uganda, see family for a few weeks in the States, and then move to South Africa to work for a pediatric HIV organization in a township outside of Cape Town. I couldn’t be more excited for my next step, but feel a bit heartbroken saying goodbye to Malawi. As the Malawi GHC crew has repeatedly said all year, “it’s real out here” and I’ll miss it.

 

By Lauren Marcell

Lauren is from Long Beach, New York. She graduated from the George Washington University with a major in International Affairs, dual concentrations in International Development and African Studies, and a minor in Public Health. While pursuing her undergraduate degree she assisted in the management of a mobile triage clinic in response to the 2009 earthquake that affected Indonesia. In addition, she interned in a Liberian refugee camp where she supported maternal health and prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) programs for HIV positive pregnant women. Upon completing her studies, she worked for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) in pursuit of securing USAID funding to support HIV vaccine research and development. She then lived in Indonesia where she developed a humanitarian outreach program for a social-business that supported local orphanages, animal welfare organizations, and micro-finance programs.