“You are so brave”

These are the words that I have heard most often over the last eight months. And eight months ago I shrug my shoulders and thought “you don’t have to be brave to do this. Once you have visited a place, you are familiar with it. You know that the people there will not bite you, or steal or rob or what not. People in Malawi are friendly, like to chat and be helpful. You can go shopping in stores where you can get everything from groceries, pillows, hardware, bread, cake, fabric, meat, to soap, cook ware, bottled water, mosquito nets, and asthma inhalers. You can get money from a bank ATM, and if you are lucky, you can even sit in a café and drink coffee.

I have learned to ride in a mini bus and how to spot and wave down a taxi. I sat in a beauty salon and visited a library. People walk and ride their bikes everywhere, and I like walking and riding my bike.

The first few weeks or even months after my return from Africa I was not afraid at all, only excited. New adventures and new ideas always have a similar effect on me as has warm sunshine on my skin or a long hike on my body and spirit.

Where there is no fear there is no courage. In fact, the greater your fear the more courage you have to come up with to succeed. And I didn’t have to come up with anything.

But, everything must come to an end. One morning I woke up and was not excited anymore. I thought about all the things a responsible adult has to take care off before disappearing into the jungle for two years.

There was the matter of the house. Sell? Rent? My first instinct was: sell what you can, give away the rest. It seemed reasonable considering villagers in Malawi fit everything they have in a room and a handbag. But as you might already have predicted nothing is that easy. I am a mother. I have to consider my college age daughter. “Where would she live with all her animals? And if I keep the house who would pay for it, take care of it while I am gone? What about insurance, a will, power of attorney. What about my job, 401k? What should happen to me if I get too sick to travel, what if, god forbid, I die? Do I want my body to be shipped to the US, to Germany, to be buried in Africa? What about cremation…”

I know, my thoughts are seriously running away now….but this is how my mind started to wake up now in the morning.

To alleviate some of this pressure I wrote my first letter of resignation and saved it to the desktop. “Impossible to do it all. There is no way. I must have been completely nuts thinking that I could pull it off. I am certainly not 20 anymore.”

And then more tasks arrived from the Peace Corps office. “What to do? Well, it couldn’t hurt to take care of them. I still can resign later.” And so I went and got all my 58 vaccinations (more exaggerations), had dental X-rays, blood tests and doctor’s appointments. And I felt happy again. Things kept moving forward.

My daughter wants to move out now. “Maybe I should sell after all? Is there still enough time?” And then came the flood in the basement, and a dripping pipe in the wall, and the discovery of mold…

I am looking at the letter of resignation again and wonder what to do with it.  And then comes the election. Can I even dare to leave the country anymore? What if I cannot return? My family will then live on three continents until we die….

Well, you get the point. Fear. Doubt. Hesitation. More fear.

And there are only 3 months before departure, and my school already has interviewed for a replacement art teacher, and all my tasks are complete, and I have found a solution for the house and insurance and my daughter. I am still fearful of unpredictable and dangerous political developments and the possibility of contracting a debilitating disease in Africa, the demands of living in a very poor country with no communication skills and the prospect of teaching a potential classroom full of 150 students who don’t speak my language. I also fear that maybe, I am not making the right decision.

And I still have the option to send my letter of resignation. Or I can be brave and courageous.

And maybe, just maybe there is the chance that I will feel the sun on my skin, consciously assuming the risk that comes with fully and unapologetically living my life.

Malawi Sketch Book 1  (my journey in sketching)


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Birgit in Malawi

I am an artist, educator, world traveler, and humanitarian leaving for Malawi, Africa, in June 2017.

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