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Life in Malawi as a CCA Intern

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Author Lacey Chyz, formerly of Lakeland Credit Union in Bonnyville, Alberta, has traded in her winter gear to spend six months in Malawi as a marketing intern for the Canadian Co-operative Association. In a future post Lacey will write about her work for CCA, but we thought readers might also enjoy a casual look at the life of an international development volunteer. For a more in-depth look, check out Lacey's blog, ChyzTravels.

This really is a special time in my life and my career. While after seven weeks I haven't made many friends here, found anywhere to go dancing or taken any solo adventures outside the capital city of Lilongwe, I'm enjoying Malawian culture. If you'd like to pretend you're living here as a CCA volunteer, try this routine:

MORNING
  1. Crank the furnace until you're sweltering. If your underwear is not damp with perspiration by the time you get to work -- it's not hot enough.
  2. Wake up and untuck the mosquito net from around your mattress.
  3. Listen for birds and roosters and enjoy that it's been light out for an hour before you get out of bed at 5:30 am. Scan the floor for creepy crawlies and say hello to the salamander that is crawling back into the roof.
  4. Connect to the Internet to chat with someone from Canada for a few minutes.
  5. Take your malaria medication -- this is crucial.
  6. Take a cool shower, then get water from the fridge and brush your teeth.
  7. Don't make coffee, don't have coffee -- just have bitter remorse for the loss of your best friend.
  8. Boil water to fill the jugs in your fridge so it will be cold when you get home.
  9. Eat an orange, peach, apple or pineapple; don't overdo the peanut butter and toast as it might be your evening snack or supper.
  10. Collect your laptop, camera, wallet, passport, wad of toilet paper, medicine, etc.; if your bag weighs less than 10lbs you're forgetting something.
  11. Lock your doors with an old-fashioned key and head into the courtyard.
  12. Comment to your roommate about how hot it is -- you must do this everyday because it never gets old.
  13. Say hello to the nicest lady guard you'll ever meet as you emerge into the foot traffic on the street and meander for 15-20 minutes to the office.
AT WORK
  1. Say hello to the guard at the gate who is washing someone's car at about 7:30 a.m.
  2. Say hello to Blessings, Jovita or Henry at reception and sign in, using the binder.
  3. Turn on the A/C and plug in your laptop; at some point the power will likely go out.
  4. Blessings will bring you a tray of crappy coffee, good tea and a hot water bottle with red ants in it. Fill your cup with hot water, use the scoop-and-flick method to rid your beverage of ants.
  5. Have a great day at work; accomplish all your tasks before you leave for lunch at one of your regular spots for a peanut butter croissant or cheap veggie pizza.
  6. On the walk, decline strawberries, over and over.
  7. Buy airtime for your phone from a lady who sells it like scratch tickets on the side of the road.
  8. Cross the road in style; I prefer partnering with Malawian middle-aged men. Get close to them and move when they move, exactly as they move -- this is faster than trying to look in every direction.
  9. Walk to the market during the hottest part of the day. Barter for pineapples, barter for everything, buy from women whenever possible.
  10. If you're going to a real store, wait and wait some more. Push your way to the front of the crowd; there are no lines here.
  11. Stop and appreciate someone's art after they've chased you down the road. When they find out you're Canadian and ask if you're from Vancouver or Toronto, just say "Somewhere in between."
  12. Leave the office at about 5:00 pm because you have to walk home before it gets dark.
EVENING
  1. Open the house and comment to your roommate about how hot it is; turn on the fan but don't open your windows because heaven only knows what's going to crawl in.
  2. Clean your vegetables from the market using bleach water and prep them for one of three meals: a raw veggie snack, pasta sauce or stir fry.
  3. Chug half the water in the fridge and boil more.
  4. Using cold water, wash your two pots, one frying pan and the only large knife you have.
  5. Make a delicious, nearly organic meal or skip steps 2 through 6 and have bread with peanut butter.
  6. Get your wash basin, boil water, sprinkle in powdered soap and retrieve your laundry from the bedroom floor. Shake it out in case something has crawled in it.
  7. Spend the next couple of hours listening to whatever you have on your laptop and wash your clothes. Empty and refill your basin about three times for one and a half week's worth of clothes. Rinse and wring out your clothes until your hands are raw.
  8. Have a conversation with your roomie, or write in your journal or blog. It gets dark early so you can't really go out here.
  9. Do the dishes, boil more water, kill some very large spiders, take a shower, experience an impromptu power outage, crave a cold beer, check Facebook.
  10. When it's time for bed, check it for creepy crawlies, retuck your mosquito net and fall asleep to intense dreams, one of the side effects of your malaria medication.

This really is my life in a nutshell. There are awesome highlights: more enhanced freckles, swimming on Sundays and feeling like a celebrity at the market. Generally life here is simpler and it's kind of lovely. I have a renewed appreciation for wholesome food. I enjoy the lack of structure, bartering for goods, time being relative, buying most things I need off the street, and mostly not buying things I don't need. It's cool but it's truly not that glamorous. I hope you found some humour in this post.

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