From the ashes

If you could reset your life, what would you do? If you could change your job, your relationship, your home, where would you go? Who would you be? And what would your life look like moving forward?

Few of us ever allow ourselves to think about this kind of scenario as adults. Upending your existence and making drastic, lasting changes that alter your place in the world are made difficult by the obvious day-to-day responsibilities of life – Finances and money. Love relationships and family. And maybe just the overwhelming feeling of “I can’t possibly do that” because, well, changes – big, 180-degree type changes – are scary and really fucking hard.

While I didn’t see it in the big picture at the time, in 2018 I made a series of incendiary decisions that started to burn at the pillars of my life, slowly and quietly undoing the very things I had for years looked at as me, my very proof of existence. In June I left my job, recognizing finally that the environment I had been unnecessarily mentally and emotionally depleting myself to keep afloat for the past nearly four years was at best, not fixable, and at worst, toxic to my soul. In November, I stopped drinking thus ending one of the most consistent “relationships” of my adult life. And in December, I struck the final match that ultimately burned my world down to its foundation: I broke up with my boyfriend of almost four years. It was not a surprise, though its ending came after an abrupt, almost physically startling realization that more than anything I want to have a baby. And the then swift and simultaneous clarity that our relationship was broken and could not fundamentally give me what I want most in the world: a family.

And so, in 2018, I left. I burned everything I knew and understood to be fundamental mile-markers of who I am into ashes and dust and walked away from a life I had been trying desperately to make work for more years than I would like to admit. I closed my eyes, walked past the glowing embers, feeling blindly through the deep, dark smoke, and emerged on the other side into a clear blue great unknown.

It’s a big leap, going from the place you thought you were into this; finding yourself alone in a wilderness of your own creation, trying to shed this skin of expectation and values you’ve worn almost your entire life which are just no longer helpful or useful to who you are or would like to be. This is the in-between. It’s either the land of infinite opportunity or the existential abyss. And the most terrifying thing of all is that you’re the only one who gets to decide which one of those definitions ultimately lays the foundation the rest of your life.

I am facing in the direction of unbridled opportunity but it’s scary and new and there is a recurring voice screaming WHAT THE FUCK running though my head many, many times a day. But, as my grandma would have said, “them’s the breaks” – this is life. And there’s no qualifying that as bad or good or otherwise. It is a season and it is as necessary as it is temporary.

For now, what I can tell you is that at the moment (on a Monday afternoon in a coffee shop on the northern California coast) I am more vulnerable and emotionally unarmored than I have ever been in my entire adult life. Freedom from any sort of expectation is the source of simultaneous excitement and terror – I can do anything I want and be anything I want in a world that is infinite in possibility and acceptance. As a start, I gave myself a small gift of grace and moved far north to live near the sea for a few months, a dream I’ve had for many years. Every day, I walk on the beach with my tiny dog, past high cliffs, ancient redwoods, and wide rivers that have no expectations of the world around them other than to just be.

When a fire burns hot, it leaves only ashes behind. And though small, those tiny grey particles have to go somewhere. Into the ground. Or up into the wind. Or out upon the sea. One way or another, they are trying to find their way back into the world. They are trying to reset, to find a home, in order to make way for a new, great, glorious and most importantly, yet unknown life.

Tiny town. Big league.

I posted something on Facebook the other day, mostly an observation and reflection on love and how tiny stolen moments are a great breath at a time when it feels like the world is suffocating from bad decisions. People commented back, as they do on the interwebs: an old friend sent a kind note over messenger; I got some nice text messages. It made me want to write for the first time in a long while. And so, here we are.  

In a way, I suppose the timing feels right, it being the New Year and all. Because it’s the time of the year when lots of people are reflecting on hope and love, and the importance of not losing sight of who we are and what we all want out of life. Everything feels so fresh and possible at the start – new beginnings. Resolutions. All those visionary statements about who you’re going to be or what you’re going to do – or not – in the coming year: This year I’m giving up gluten! (Uh-huh). I’m finally going to take that basket-weaving class I’ve been meaning to! (Mmmkay). I’m getting up early every day to go to the gym! (*thumbs up* buddy).

This year, I am resolving to do almost none of that. And mostly because I’m pretty sure I learned everything I need to know about how to get through the coming year on day one of 2017.

I kicked off the new year in a tiny little town in the far north of California we’re going to call “Pinevale”(names in this story have been changed to protect the sanctity of this magical place from terrible bay area hipster dwellers like you). So, Pinevale. Population: 1,300. Or 1,303 if you count the three of us who settled in there for the last weekend of December.

As quaint quiet country towns go, Pinevale is a damned prize. It’s on the right of the Pacific and left of the middle of nowhere, tucked away into a majestic little a nook of dairy farms and pasture land at the edge of where giant redwoods meet the sea. There are 3 restaurants and one main street – during the holidays the center of town is lit up by twinkling fairy lights and dotted up and down with Christmas trees, each decorated by a different elementary school class at the local school. The town has one bar. One proper dive bar that heaven help me may be the best hideaway in which I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting shitfaced. (Pouring one out here for you Starla, you glorious bartender goddess).

We ended up there by accident. By the time I started looking for New Year’s accommodations nearly everything from Mendocino up to the Oregon border north and west into Nevada was booked. Except…for unassuming tiny Pinevale. It was the perfect misfortune.  Rather than glitzing and glamouring it up, we opted for puzzles over drunken dancing; cozy dinners instead of mad house clubs. We decided against heading down to the big city to chase taxis after midnight and instead followed the Christmas lights down Main Street into the warmth of the local pub. It was freezing and raining, and I may never want to see another Bud Light again as long as I live but damn was it the right place to be.

Pinevale – it might be love.

So the fact that I had a great New Years is a side note. The real lesson here, and what I will circle back to, is that Pinevale left me with some takeaways, which I think are worth repeating now because, well, 2016 was rough. 2017 might be worse. Pinevale itself I think proves a point about the ebb and flow of real circumstances vs expectations, something I think a lot of us could probably use a refresher course on right about now.

I was thinking about all of this when I woke up on that first day of 2017. This sliver of a town that by all laws of economics and industrial change should have disappeared off a map half a century ago still stands, preserved in time and present in modernity all the same. Pinevale has managed to stay afloat through earthquakes and tsunamis; flash floods and economic decline; the fall of the forestry industry and the unexpected phoenix of weed as a legitimate money maker. It’s like the whole world came and went and Pinevale stood there nodding and taking note before shrugging its shoulders unremarkably and heading back to the dairies, the barns, and the pubs to just get on with life. And remarkably through it all, this weird rabbit hole of a place seems to have kept its true nature and its heart, beating steadily and reassuringly as the world changed drastically all around it.

But that’s life, right? As much as you plan and research, or envision your path (if you’re into that hippie woo woo stuff) your current life circumstances are the result of 60% accident, 30% purpose, and 10% crazy weird WTF miscellaneous luck. Pinevale rode out that formula and while it hit some pot holes along the way, it’s still here to tell the tale.  Pinevale made the decision to stick it out. As far as I’m concerned, that is what we’re all facing right now: Just a heap of decisions to be ok with and celebrate the life we have individually and collectively, or a choice to wallow in absence and the darkness of past wishes.

My unsolicited advice to everyone in 2017 is this: Be like Pinevale. Embrace the innumerable accidental life circumstances we may find ourselves in in the coming year, or at the very least figure out how to adapt to the uncertainty of certain change. Be like Pinevale. Stand in the tide and let the waves roll all around and over your head – they’ll recede eventually. Be like Pinevale. Let go of things and people in your life that drag you down instead of lifting you up – they probably aren’t as important as you thought they were. Be like Pinevale. Fight for the things that matter and ignore the noise that doesn’t. Be like Pinevale. Listen more to your inner voice/gut/garden gnome – that barometer usually knows what’s best even before you do. Be like Pinevale. Rock that camouflage and Carhartts because they’re still not, and will never be, fashionable but do it because YOU DO YOU PINEVALE. And please continue to watch the evening news and whammy up that panic button because shit, kids, we may be in for a rough four years but in the long run, nothing is unfixable.

And if in the end it still feels hard, take my last piece of Pinevale advice:  Find a bar with a bartender who loves whisky but loves you more. (Starla, someday people will write songs about you).

Get ready, 2017. We’re a comin’ for you. 

The ants come marching in

In ancient Greek mythology, there’s an unsavory character named Sisyphus, king of Ephra, whose constant, wily plotting for power eventually gets him condemned for crimes against the gods. For these grave infractions he is punished to an eternity of hard labor, which involves rolling a great boulder up a hill that can never – will never – quite reach the summit. Every time Sisyphus manages to huff, puff, and push the boulder up to the top, it simply pauses, teeters, and rolls back down the hill again. 

This is the embodiment of insanity. 

This is also how I feel every time I walk into my bathroom (kitchen/living space) between the months of November and February, as I watch thousands of little boulders infiltrate my apartment through microscopic cracks I cannot see but that I loathe all the same.

Welcome to Antpocalpyse 2014, ladies and gentleman. You can run. But you can’t hide. 

I live in a building that was built in 1922. Most of the time I like to think of her as a dear old lady you want to help with her groceries or hold the door open for. Sometimes her bones creak and her white, wispy hair gets a bit disheveled, but overall she’s tender and kind, and trying her best to keep her 16 unit family safe and snug inside her aging but lovely home. 

Then again, sometimes she’s a cranky, old demon whose sole mission is to dementedly scream ungodly profanities while she throws peanuts at you from her wheelchair and cackles like a crinkly little witch. 

We’re in one of those stages right now. 

Every year during this time, my building surrenders to a seemingly immortal colony of ants that apparently resides in the ground beneath my first floor apartment. Every day, thousands (millions?) of these ubiquitous little f**kers crawl up through the floors, through cracks in the windows. Up through the drains, the faucets, and the showerhead. Onward and away through the heating ducts and out through the radiators. In some places, I honestly think the gods of the underworld have simply willed them to appear out of thin air because why/how the hell else is there a swarming army of ants just hanging out in the middle of my living area for no earthly reason? 

Alas, apparently there IS a logical reason. One that has nothing to do with cranky old ladies or malevolent Greek gods. According to the interwebs (an internationally renowned and reputable source of useless information), Alameda County sits on one of California’s premier ant “super-colonies,” which means that at any given time, there are about 10 or 20 million ants just chillin’ in the ground beneath our feet. Grossed out yet? You’re welcome. 

When the weather gets yucky and the air grows cold, thousands upon thousands of these little guys march their way up to urbanity the seeking bigger and better opportunities. Evidently even ants are striving for the American dream. 

I have ant-proofed nearly every corner of my bathroom. There are traps lining the edges of my radiators and my windows. Cinnamon has been sprinkled in historic ant-highways to deter the advancement of future fronts all around my kitchen. I am single handedly keeping the orange oil industry alive trying to deter these prolific little jerks from advancing any further. And yet?

And yet, every time I seem to overcome them, every time I think I’ve reached the top of that mountain and finally conquered those squirrely minions, they return in earnest and with reinforcements. 

My breaking point came one morning last week as I was getting into the shower before work. (As a critical digression here, it is important to note that I have optical powers akin to a mole – when I wake up in the morning everything looks like a knock-off Monet painting. If you left me in the jungle at night without my contacts or glasses – which, true story, someone once threatened to do – I would be puma meat within the hour. Most importantly, I generally do not have any of these optical support mechanisms in or on my face before 8 o’clock in the morning).

So I step into the tub and immediately notice two things: 1) the shower walls and floor look kind of dirty and 2) there is a giant hairball up near the drain. 

Only, the dirt is moving. And so is that hairball. 

I believe that was the shriek of “MOTHERF**KER” heard round the world. 
As I discovered, once I had catapulted myself out of the shower and grabbed my glasses in one utterly ungraceful movement, the “dirt” in the shower was actually ants. Ants coming out of the drain. Ants coming out of the faucets. Ants coming in through the window and swarming up and down the walls, over the shampoo and the soap, happily blanketing every inch of the tub and tiles with swirling blots of moving brown.
And that “hairball”? Oh, that was a giant wolf spider about the size of my big toe who I presume had made his way into the tub because he was hungry and ants are a tasty treat.

Oh my god. Just. No.

Insanity is a girl in a towel, cursing up a storm, throwing cinnamon and orange oil everywhere, trying to vanquish 2,000 ants and the world’s biggest spider out of her bathroom just so she can get dressed and go to work. 

CLEARLY, I was all up in arms about this by the time I got into the office that morning, whining about the whole intolerable situation. Pissed off that I was going to have to go home that evening and likely face yet another wave of impervious ant – and now spider – enemies. And then my coworker Mara walks into my office:

Mara: “So the plumber finally figured out what’s up with the water that’s been leaking through my ceiling and walls all month.” 
Me: “Oh yeah, what is it?”
Mara: “Poop. It’s poop. From the upstairs neighbor’s toilet.”

…And that’s the story of how my ants and I lived happily ever after.

Love. Actually, nevermind.

“Meagan! There you are. How wonderful. Come here, there’s someone I’d like you to meet,” are the words every single woman in her mid-30s dreads. Especially while at a wedding. And most especially at a wedding when those words are coming from the bride’s sixty-something year old dad. 

I take a deep breath, put on my best parent-pleasing smile, and turn around to face the small group of people hovering near the cheese table. While I’m not entirely sure what is about to go down, I am certain it lies somewhere on the spectrum between probably not very good, and the absolute worst case scenario. As I prepare myself for the inevitable, I glance over at the person I imagine is the someone I’ve been beckoned over to meet: 

Oh look. A human. Who is a man. What a surprise. 

My friend’s father carries on, singularly focused on this matchmaking mission which is now making my stomach flip, and not in a good way: 

“Meagan, I’m so glad you’re here…because I’ve been meaning to ask you…AND my [at least 47 year old] brother Bob here…why…neither one of you…is married?” 

Yeah. So just to be clear? My friend’s dad has just tried to set me up with his brother. Aka, her uncle. I mean, I guess I’ve always wanted to be an auntie? 

In total, I attended 5 weddings this year. Five. Five receptions. Five bizarre conversations with mostly total or near strangers needing to understand how…you’re here alone…? But you are dating someone, right? No? You’re single? Oh, well, let me give you some advice. Or ask you more questions. Are you SURE you’re not married? How old are you? Haven’t you thought about kids? What about online dating? Or maybe just that guy over there by the punch? 

At a wedding in August, I was asked by drunk cousin Bertha “whhhhhhhyyyyyyYYYYYyyyyy” I wasn’t dating the groom’s 27 year-old brother, who at the time of this cross-eyed inquiry, was standing next to me with a look of ‘please let this be the end of this conversation’ plastered in terror across his face. The month before in July, an old lady I’ve never seen in my life told me I had ‘too beautiful a neck not to have a man’. Ummm, thanks, I guess? In October, it was the slurry short guy at the family wedding who noted that I was “real tall”…before launching into a diatribe about how ‘time is running out’ and I really should think about getting married. A week later, it was the friend-to-friend pep talk on how I should figure my shit out before my ovaries permanently go on strike. And finally we have Uncle Bob and what I like to think of as the formative basis for Father of the Bride Part III: The Most Awkward Family Affair EVER – Reasons Why Meagan Will Definitely Be Drunk At Your Wedding. (Touchstone Pictures, we can discuss royalties later). 

And yet, in the grand scheme of things, all of these utterly absurd wedding encounters were merely tame, laughable microcosms of my actual romantic life circa 2014.

This year has been a real doozey in the relationship/finding love/chivalry is definitely dead department. At some point along the line of my general existence, I apparently managed to deeply (and I mean DEEPLY) anger the gods of romance. In response, it seems they have chosen this past year – 2014 – to enact their sweet revenge and wreck continuous and utter havoc on my so-called love life. As we speak, somewhere out there in the universe, there is an army of vindictive little cupids flame-throwing arrows at my head and watching with delight as every romantic encounter I’ve had over the last 12 months spontaneously combusts upon impact. Over. And over. And over again.

First, it was the phase around January of this year, which included the weird surgeon who smelled creepily of antiseptic and parted his hair down the middle a la 1902. Then there was the super tall wine marketer who was so promising! Until he proceeded to talk for 25 minutes on our second date about why he exclusively drinks bottled water from Whole Foods. Because “other water tastes weird” out of the tap, through a Brita filter, and even when delivered in large water coolers. I can’t believe he wasn’t “the one.” 

February and March gave way to the “I’m going to have an open mind about men” period, whereby I agreed to go out with a bartender who works at my favorite bar in Oakland. The bartender who was also – wait for it – a musician in a band who was also – wait for it – a tax accountant during tax season. I thought things were going pretty well until he vanished two weeks before taxes were due, resurfacing just long enough to let me know by text that, and I quote: 

“It’s not you. It’s Uncle Sam.” 

Can I get a slow clap for the best worst break-up text in the history of texting? Thanks a lot, Uncle Sam. Not only are you an asshole, you’re an asshole who just ruined my access to the best vodka martinis in town on Friday, Saturday and Monday nights. 

There were the 4 or 5 droning dates I went on through OKCupid in the late spring. A Canadian pharmacist. A painfully awkward software engineer. The Republican with the Lego helmet hair. Also the guy from the gym who while nice, was so socially and politically oblivious that talking to him filled me with debilitating levels of irrational rage. Also, he was a grown man living alone with a pet chinchilla. The end. 

But why stop there! In April I met a lovely man from the UK who I thought was the most normal human I had encountered in months, right? WRONG. After nearly 12 weeks of dating, it became clear that this dude had major, borderline very scary life issues that I quite frankly, had no desire to handle. Aside from the creepy drive-by he later did past my apartment on a motorcycle late one night (yes that happened), my favorite part of our break-up was the time he sent all the stuff I left at his house back via UPS. I’m still not entirely sure who “Megan Demilde” in apartment 102 is, but shit! We’re like the same size AND have the same set of beach towels? What a coincidence! Oh, and thank you for the extra women’s sun hat – that was definitely NOT mine but it should come in super handy during my trip to Mexico in December. 

Then wedding season started. Flirtations with an adorable best man at a wedding in July. Congratulations: He lives in England. The nice, but overly eager dude at the wedding in August who asked the bride what his odds were with me that weekend: “I mean, I don’t want to say zero but yeah. Somewhere close to zero.” The funny, handsome (god, so handsome) friend of a friend who – because the universe hates me – of course has a girlfriend. And then there’s Uncle Bob, the father of the bride, and their merry band of complicit crazies. 

The final straw came last week, when one of my coworkers tried to set me up with her friend’s son…who in a small world twist of fate, turned out to be my ex-boyfriend’s best friend. The discovery of this of course prompted a somewhat angsty email from my ex, which he sent me this past Sunday, aka on my 34th birthday. The best part? No mention of my birthday AT ALL. Why? Because he clearly didn’t remember. Thanks for that lovely metaphoric reminder of why we are no longer together. 

So, when people ask me that awful question, “why are you single?” that’s my explanation. Everything you just read. Because most humans are terrible. Because the Internet is full of creeptards. Because meeting people in real life who aren’t the worst is nearly impossible. Because life – like your grandma always said – isn’t always fair. Because sometimes you have to get set-up with your friend’s uncle or your ex’s BFF to realize that as hard as it feels (a lot of the time) to be alone, there is a silver lining of unbeatable comedy to all of this. Which makes you realize that your life might actually be ok right now. Sometimes it’s borderline great, even if you don’t have a person. Or you simply get to the point where you can accept that for this moment at least, the most important person in your life is actually you. And you’re some kind of wonderful. (Suck it, Uncle Sam).

Or, maybe the reason I’m single really is because there’s some punk-ass winged cherub motherf**ker up there, looking down on my would-be relationships all up in flames, and doing a happy dance every time he scores a fiery hole-in-one through the ridiculous, disastrous rom-com that is my love life. 

So, if you’re listening, you little jerk, I CONCEDE. You WIN. I fold, give up, throw in the towel. I know when to take a hint. I officially give up on dating in the year of our Lord 2014. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have important single girl life things to take care of. Like washing my hair. Maybe (probably not) shaving my legs. Netflix binging on every episode of Gilmore Girls ever created. Right after I finish googling “cat adoption near you…”

Everything old is new again

Well, hello there…Newman. Fancy meeting you here. It’s been awhile, my fat little friend.

Without going into a tremendous amount of detail, let’s summarize briefly what’s been happening in the last 2 years or so since I vanished into self-induced blogger obscurity, presumably never to be heard from again:

I got a new job. I moved to Oakland. I traveled to England – Albania – Oregon – Ireland – Louisiana – New York – Las Vegas – South Africa although not necessarily in that order. I reignited my love affair with burritos. I continued my totally un-clandestine love affair with Jean Luc Picard. (Shh, don’t tell Commander Riker). I saw Patrick Stewart in a play. I learned how to paddleboard. I got a promotion. I had a run in with the CHP. I had two fillings replaced. I went to a Bone Thugs ‘N’ Harmony concert. I saw Lionel Richie. I landed a huge grant. I lost a huge grant. I made a quilt. I read Catch 22. I voted. I had approximately 4,268 transatlantic FaceTime calls with Claire Walsh. I attended my first Bay to Breakers race. I learned I like watching football. I learned I still hate baseball. I signed up for online dating. I went on countless dates. I ended up with a boyfriend. I broke up with said boyfriend. I online dated again. I went on countless dates. Again. I got dumped by Uncle Sam. I got into a fight with a bartender. I won. I made some bad decisions. I went to 9 weddings. I got invited to 4 more. I gave a kick-ass maid of honor speech. I had my first concussion. I got called for jury duty. I made some good decisions. I learned how to cut myself some slack. And how to say “thank you” in Ethiopian. I took my first RV trip. I got the best piece of mail ever. I made new friends. I fell in love with old friends all over again. I cried a lot. But I laughed so much more.

And somewhere in all of this, I stumbled my way into an awesome little life. A rooted, grounded California-knows-how-to-party kind of life that 2 years ago seemed like the most preposterous possibility in the history of all things possible.  

Which is where this blog comes in: I had a conversation with someone last night that somehow ended up winding its way into a brief discussion about the fact that I used to write – a lot. I spent the morning re-reading some of my old posts, mulling over things I’ve said, people I’ve known, and places I’ve been…it reminded me of the fact that even though I haven’t so much as tapped a keyboard as it relates to this virtual soapbox of mine in a coon’s age, I actually maybe sort of still have a lot of things to say. There is still shit to be talked. Absurd circumstances to be agonized over. So SO many (so many) ridiculous stories just floating about in space, all dressed up with nowhere to go, just waiting for someone to invite them to an Internet-themed party and I don’t mean San Francisco.

While I can’t make any promises on the frequency or philosophical depth of my internal commentary — if anyone was holding out for poetry in motion let’s just remind ourselves that Prince, I am not, so let’s get our expectations straight — me and ol’ Totes McGee here are going to try and say something (anything? Many things) every once and awhile.

So, that’s all. Oh, and you’re welcome. In advance. 

With the caveat of ‘sorry I’m not sorry’ about what happens after this in 3…2…1… 

Entry stamps

“Wow. You’ve been a lot of places.” This waitress in Healdsburg, CA is flipping through my passport, seemingly unaware that every time she touches another page and opens her mouth I come one step closer to kind of wanting to punch her in the face.

“Tanzania? Bolivia? That’s a big visa from Kenya, huh?”

I smile politely and ask her, again, if she could possibly deliver on that order of zinfandel I just put in. Oh right. She smiles and hands my passport back to me before day-dreamily walking back towards the bar, totally unaware that I am sending her stabbing eye jab looks at the back of her head the whole while.

This scenario played itself out twice that night, again at another bar with another server who felt entitled, when I handed her my passport as identification, to flip through the pages and discuss the contents of the last 9 years of my life while I sat on the other side of the bar listening to my internal commentary switch come dangerously close to “f**k it” and “f**k you.”

I suppose bar patrons, particularly Americans living and drinking in America, don’t often use passports as the common denominator of identification. But I don’t really have much of a choice at the moment. My Massachusetts-issued driver’s license ended up on the losing end of a battle between me and a Malawian cop who for various reasons (ranging from me having an expired “certificate of fitness” on my car at the time to a streak of obstinance that prevented me from bribing him purely out of my own stubborn principle) resulted in my license being impounded sometime in July, effectively vanishing into the abyss of the Malawian police system never to be heard from again. Hence, the passport as my principle form of I.D. – As it turns out, it also now functions as a passport into my life when placed into the hands of complete strangers. Zikomo. You are certainly NOT most welcome.

Reverse culture shock this time around is creeping up on me in ways I didn’t anticipate. Some things are the same, like the fact that my first trip to the local supermarket nearly gave me a heart attack. (Are you aware of how many kinds of blue cheese there are? Or the fact that a pint of sour cream is only $1.69?! It’s criminal — CRIMINAL. Someone needs to stop the insanity). But the emotional ebb and flow of being back in California this time around is hitting me up side the head a bit differently, I suspect mostly because I am having to dually reconcile that this time it isn’t a vacation. This time, I’m not going back to Malawi.

I was standing in line at Peet’s Coffee the other day, waiting patiently to order some sort of ridiculously fancy and overpriced cup of coffee/espresso/tea/whatever when I had a little mini “WTF America” moment of unpleasant zen. The couple behind me were talking about repainting their house. The two women in front of me were discussing the sale going on at the local boutique where they were apparently headed to next. The entire place was packed with people, chattering, jabbering, gibbering people. When the cashier at the front said “hello” to me he looked genuinely surprised when I answered back, “Hi. How are you?” (Because greeting people in America is apparently akin to holding them up at gunpoint and demanding the soul of their first-born child). At any rate, it was your typical yuppie coffee shop scene, and all I could think about the whole time was, “jesus, this is utterly ridiculous cacophony…and there is a panic attack lurking riiiiight around the corner as a result.”

It’s only been a little over a week since I left but I miss the sense of living life in my own personal observation bubble. When you live abroad and don’t speak the language, the daily sound of life is almost like friendly white noise. It’s like a chipper background tune in a foreign tongue that buzzes around your head in an odd, yet soothing, urban symphony that you don’t realize exists until it’s no longer there. Or you’re no longer there. Instead, you’re in a new place where you suddenly understand EVERYTHING being said and demonstrated by nearly everyone around you almost all the time. I find this incredibly unnerving and kind of intrusive. Quite frankly, I’m having a really difficult time concentrating on the internal when everything external is just so incredibly chaotic, rapid, and irritatingly “loud” both in an audible and lurid sort of way.

And as “American” as this place so obviously is, so much of it sends me right back to thinking about people or places, even specific moments in Malawi. My friend J out there always says that even on the worst days of work, in the afternoons where you feel totally depleted as if the inanity of Malawi has actually, finally, crushed you, there is always this moment at the end of the day as the sun is setting where you catch a glimpse of something bigger. When you can suddenly understand the reasons you’re there and why we all do the things we do. The sun dips low on the horizon. The sky turns orange…then pink…and ends in a sea sky full of deep blood-orange red. You are conscious of your heart as all this is happening, and the sense that it is expanding, bursting, and breaking all at the same time. Everyone around you could be talking total bulls**t but that one moment in the day is clear and nothing, absolutely nothing else in the world could bring you more peace and clarity than the site of that sky and that sun setting in the distance.

I’m having trouble letting go of those sunsets out east and embracing the ones out west. There’s too much background noise here. Too many people, too many cars, too many kinds of blue cheese. I underestimated the learning curve getting back into the groove of American society. It’s not bad, but I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard and I have moments where I feel torn and tired, and a bit compelled to hibernate from the world and my friends and LIFE for a little while I retune my internal radio settings. None of it is unexpected but that doesn’t seem to lessen the fact that it kind of sucks. 

Which is where the passport situation comes in. I am putting barricades up against the noise. I’m plugging my ears to the dissonance. I’m fighting NOT to have panic attacks at the supermarket and do normal things like have a nice glass of wine with friends I’ve known for over a decade and haven’t seen in a year. And yeah, I know you’re curious about all those pages and all those stamps, and god knows you probably don’t come across them all that often, but those 22 pages of my very old American passport are a little summary of my life, one that I don’t have an obligation to share with you and one I am clinging to while the discord of my new life in America knocks on my door as asks to be let in.

So, madam bartender, if I may? Please just serve me up that glass of vino. Go back to your banter with the other patrons. Comment on the weather. Wipe up your bar. Do whatever is you need to do while I take a second to myself here. I need a moment with this part of the sky, with these new 7 p.m. pinks, oranges, reds, and blues. Because I’m looking for that heartbreaking moment on the horizon where it all makes sense…so far, it still feels a world away. 

All things big and small

I’m in Dakar, Senegal sitting on a flight back to the U.S. that originated (originally) in Johannesburg via Lilongwe, as they transfer passengers and staff, restock food, fold up blankets, and get ready for yet another 8 hour trip to yet another destination. If this plane is anything, it is a metaphor for my life: Another country/city/place, everything I own packed neatly into three suitcases in the cargo hold and 2 carry-on bags in the overhead. A life lived abroad all suddenly coming to a strange and seemingly abrupt end.

The process of change and transition, no matter where one is geographically or psychically, is never easy. Moving my life from Lilongwe to California has been a series of mini battles – some good, some bad, some more complex than others, and almost all of which have been in my own head and my own heart. For almost two years, Lilongwe has been my home. And although I knew it was time to leave, even though I could feel my body and my heart telling me it was time to go, it just never felt like quite the right time. Now that I’m here, on this plane, it all seems too soon and too fast. It feels a bit like I’m about to walk into a party to which I was not necessarily invited…and one that I’m poorly prepared for (and certainly not dressed for) to boot.

My last week in Lilongwe was spent in tears: tears with my housemates, tears with my coworkers, and tears with my clients. I pulled out of camp last Thursday sobbing in the front of the Land Cruiser as a dozen of my women clients showed me off waving and crying themselves. It was heartbreaking in a way that I cannot even describe…quite honestly, I don’t really want to. Although it was a very public good-bye, on the inside it felt a lot like someone squeezing my heart until it bled.  Given the hiccupping sobs I was rocking while leaving camp that day, I’m sure this wasn’t exactly a secret to anyone within about a 1 kilometer radius.

There was simply no way to prepare for it – no matter the time or the place, that final day in camp was going to be heartbreakingly beautiful and desperately tragic, not just for me but for everyone whose lives I have become inextricably intertwined with over the past 20 months. I’m on a plane leaving Dakar in the middle of the night one week later and I’m on the brink of tears just discussing it. I get the feeling that maybe the overwhelming feeling of loss is never quite going to go away – I am, in many ways, willing it not to, like my emotional baggage is the last remaining link I have to my life in Africa which is quite literally getting farther and father away as I write.

I left Lilongwe on Tuesday, after a weekend of going-away dinners, going-away BBQs, going-aways in general. At one point I think I just stopped processing the whole thing and sort of flat-lined emotionally because the very thought that I wasn’t coming back this time was too goddamned unbearable to contemplate. Leaving Malawi was more than leaving a job that I loved:  It was leaving my people, a group of people who over the last 20 months have become my family and my support network, silly, loyal, and occasionally dysfunctional as we all are. I feel as thought I am leaving my home– and again, as I say these things typing in the middle of nowhere transatlantic-dome I am crying like a bit of a maniac and hoping that $2 Malawian valium is somewhere within arms reach for the next 8 hour leg of this trip. (Malawi lesson #252: It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. If you have a problem with that, mentally stated to the American man sitting next to me looking HORRIFICALLY uncomfortable as the woman next to him types and drips tears onto her keyboard, too bad. Pass the tissues, kids. I’ve got 14 more hours to go and I’m just getting started).

Malawi was not a “trip.” It was not “part of my travels.” I didn’t go there to party or go on adventures to the lake every weekend (although I will admit that these were all immense bonuses to the last nearly 2 years of my life). I went there to work and accidentally stumbled upon a life, one that I miss with an intensity I don’t yet know how to explain.  In many ways, Malawi made me whole again at a time when I didn’t even know how broken I really was. I found “people” in Malawi that I didn’t realize I needed until it all sort of tumbled together in this unexpected balance of f**ked up expats and life-hardened refugees. It just might be the most ridiculous faux group counseling scenario on the planet – and yet somehow, in sliding into all this, I rediscovered myself. I went to Malawi to help people put their emotional lives back together and in the process, it seems, I too ended up getting patched up along the way.

I always joke about how Malawi is like Never Never land, how even Peter Pan has to leave the island and grow up eventually. It recently occurred to me in a discussion with a friend that maybe this metaphor isn’t so accurate after all. Life in Malawi is very real, real on in-your-face levels few people in the West have to deal with on a regular basis. The last 20 months of my life has been a crash course in all things poignant: Death, dying, loss, hope, joy, love, and all sorts of in-between crazy shit I cannot even begin to explain. (Goat induced panic attacks? Three-quarter length suits? Inexplicable shortages of water, fuel, electricity, internet, and telephones occasionally all at the same time? $20 butter and the world’s most expensive processed cheese?). All of these ridiculous and amazing things, bundled into this crazy time and spread out over a refugee camp and an expat community I didn’t know I needed until I stumbled my way into all of it. And now? Now it’s over. And Peter Pan or not, it’s time for me to leave.

I know that going back to the U.S. is the right thing to do right now even if I feel like I am breaking my own heart and tearing myself away from the people I love…even if I feel like I don’t know what I’m going “home” to when home feels more like Africa than anywhere else. What scares me the most is not returning to the states, because I am looking forward to it on some level. I’m nervous about living in California for the first time in 8 years but this too is a new adventure and there is an anticipation about living in the place of my birth for the first time in what seems like eons.

What scares me the most right now, as I look west in the middle of the night over the Atlantic is facing the reality that a chapter in my life has closed for good. Malawi is over. My job is over. I have become another hole in the lives of my friends in Lilongwe and the people at Dzaleka…in time, I will just be another chapter in a story, but one that cannot be re-visited or re-opened. There will, quite simply, never be a time in any of our lives like this again.  It is so very Malawi by virtue of its beautiful tragedy – immensely joyful and sad, intriguing and terrifying, friendly and yet lonely all at the same time. And now? Now it exists in memory, like a scene in a snow globe: perfect and untouchable all at once.

I am, for once in my life, not whinging. I am not lamenting. I am not complaining. As sad as I feel right now, somewhere over the Atlantic between Africa and America, the emotions I feel are not out of angst, depression or despondency. Rather, they are out of love and immense gratitude to my friends, to my once-upon-a-time home in Africa, to my clients, and to the universe, I suppose, for taking me in, for dropping me on African soil, for making me part of a community I didn’t know I was supposed to be in until I got there.

I am not ready to say good-bye and so I won’t. I will simply say, “thank you”. To whom? Well, that is a list too long to start. You all know who you are. You know I miss you with an intensity that will probably always make me smile, and very well may always make me cry. Thank you for the blessings of the past 20 months. Thank you for teaching me to love. Thank you for gifting me back me. A million times thank you for all things big and small.

So, as they say in Malawi? Tionana. See you later, my loves. This is Meagan Demitz, a once-upon-a time Malawi expat, signing off the island for the last time.

Over and out. 

If God is with us, who can be against us?

There’s a guy who sells bumper stickers down the road from my office. He hangs out around the traffic lights in Area 15, right next to the homemade sling-shot hawker, the stray puppy purveyor, the mop/broom/feather dust buster man, and an ever-changing variety of mobile merchants who sell live chickens, turkeys, and your occasional duck off of the handle bars of their bicycles.

The thing about bumper stickers in Malawi is that there are only about five – five staple phrases that you are sure to see on the back of at least every other vehicle in town. For the humble worker: “No Food for Lazy Man.” For the romantic: “I Love my Wife” (also available in “I Love my Husband”). For the God-fearing man: “RELAX: God is in Control” or the sticker that graces the back of my 1996 Toyota Corolla: “This Car is Protected by the Blood of Jesus.” (Trust me, if you were in a driver in this country, you’d want Jesus on your side too). And last, but not least, the Malawian adage that most aptly plucks the strings of satire: “If God is with us, who can be against us?”

Who can be against us…who, oh who, can be against us? Oh Malawi. You really just walked right into this one, didn’t you?

As much as I would like to think that I am optimistic about the future of international development and the burgeoning government systems in which we work, there are moments where the sheer irrational logic that seems to dictate infrastructure and problem solving in this country just completely overloads my capacity for lucid, balanced reactions. Malawi, I love you like a second home, but seriously? You are doing my head in.

There has not been steady running water in my neighborhood in almost 7 weeks, which when paired with the twice weekly electricity blackouts, the 72 hours this past weekend where the entire country was without functioning cell phones, and an apparent region-wide diesel fuel shortage, is making city living around here a real kick in the pants lately. When this first started, I made one, maybe two phone calls to the water company, politely asking when we might have running water again. “Yes, Madam, we are working on it. We do not know what the problem is.” Fair enough. Pipes burst, shit happens. I tell myself that there are people who work at the water board whose only job is to fix this sort of thing, maybe there is some kind of clandestine mercenary plumbing troop tasked with rappelling down in the middle of the night to fix busted water lines or clogged dams for the betterment of Lilongwers everywhere. I mean, no water for 7 weeks: There MUST be a contingency plans for this right? There must be. There has to be. Someone quash that grumbling rage in the pit of my stomach that says mockingly, “you are a moron. Of course there isn’t.”

Let’s fast-forward to this past weekend, six and a half weeks after this utility debacle began. I am on the phone, once again, with the water board, arguing against the most incomprehensible reasoning I have ever heard in my life in regards to why there is STILL no water between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. every day in Area 12:

Me: Good afternoon, Sir. I am calling about the problem in Area 12. We still do not have water. When will this be fixed? 
Water Man: Yes, Madam, we are working on it. 
Me: Right, so what is the problem? 
Water Man: Ahhh, we do not know.  
Me: Sir, it’s been six weeks. Your company turns the water off at the exact time, for 12 hours a day, six days a week. 
Water Man: Yes. We do not know what the problem is. 
Me: Ok, but that is what I’m saying: The problem is that your company turns off our water EVERY DAY. 
Water Man: Mmm-hmmm, yes, well…we do not know what the problem is.

Based on my dead-end conversation with the “faults” line personnel, my housemate then decided on Monday that perhaps a physical visit to the water board might prove more fruitful in terms of information gathering. Wrong. That scenario clearly ended in similar obscurity, with a rather bright-faced Northern Irishman storming out of the building muttering unmentionable curses and with no clearer picture of how, when, or why anyone would conceivably expect that there be reliable utilities, like water, in this city.

Argue that I am petty and spoiled all you like. I don’t care. I live in a house, in a city, I pay for public utilities and I have quality of life expectations, although they are certainly more tempered and flexible here than they would be at home in the U.S.  But what I would say in retort is that my annoyance with the infrastructural failures of this country is the accumulated frustration of living in a place that seems so apathetic to problem solving. Yes, my water may not be a major concern to you, Mr. Water Utility Man, but that is because I am a half-enraged white woman who, you figure correctly, probably has other alternatives to getting water when I need it. I can go to the posh hotel around the corner for a shower or I can drive up to a friend’s house for a hot bath and a cup of tea. But that is sort of the crux of the problem, now isn’t it, because there are LOADS of people who live in my neighborhood who can’t do the same thing. They are housekeepers, watchmen, guards, gardeners, tomato sellers, maybe even bumper sticker vendors – they are the ones who have to bear the brunt of bullshit like this and I am equally, if not more so, infuriated for them. As a Malawian friend of mine said last week, “it is very bad. Water is life. Without water…this is a difficult thing.” I obviously agree although after nearly two months of dealing with this, I can’t say that I have an immense amount of faith in the system’s ability to right itself at this point. Bucket showers and evening water hoarding continue, as do the occasional early morning shouts of “F**K MY LIFE!!!” that come from the bathroom when my half-naked roommate realizes, once again, that there is nothing coming out of the tap and we are both going to work dirty today. 

An expat friend wrote me in a gchat the other day, “I realized recently that living in Malawi is, sadly, like interacting with a teenager on a daily basis:  Stubborn, temperamental, crazy illogical, and sure that it is right 100% of the time.” As development workers, we are here trying to build systems of sustainability, to create projects that help people better themselves, their lives, and their country – at least this is the altruistic half-truth we all tell ourselves. But I question this rationale and wonder if our involvement here is, perhaps, doing more harm than good. I mean, how do you build sound, sustainable policies and projects if the infrastructure of a place is still so unreliable? It’s like building a fortress upon a foundation that has been crazy-glued together with a colorful mish-mash of questionable internal policies, politics, and ever-shifting international influences. I often feel like we are just tripping over one another, dog-piling onto an already incomprehensible bureaucracy that seems to bottleneck at the top before anything gets down to the bottom where it is really needed. 

I know God is with us, even as someone who walked away from the Church a long time ago, I believe in the spirit of something bigger and a faith in hope, and I can see that in the faces of the people I work with every day. But it isn’t God I’m worried about: It’s us, the communities of this country, expat, Malawian or otherwise. The biggest enemy of development is development itself and maybe all we’re doing here is compounding the problems, proliferating the crux of the issue even through our most altruistic efforts to make things better.

At the end of a 12-hour workday, when I’m tired and I’m dirty with red African dust, when my heart feels heavy and I’m angry at the world for the list of injustices we just can’t seem to sort out, the only thing I want to do is go sit in my shower, under an artificial rain of warm water and pretend, if only for a moment, that everything isn’t f**ked up, that God is nearer than he is far, that everything we’re all doing here is for some kind of purpose.

So, God, if you’re listening, cut us some slack. We could use a break here. And a little bit of water too.

When you’re a stranger

It is a categorical fact that often when one part of your life is sort of spinning out of control, another piece steps up to the plate and anchors itself in the ordinary, as if to save your somewhat drowning soul from swallowing itself up completely. By last week, the universe had apparently had enough of my self-indulgent whinging and decided to head-butt me back into reality by sticking its foot in the great big giant door I had decided to slam on myself just long enough to make me turn around and peer in on what I was missing.

It was strange and had a bit of that “Alice in Wonderland” affect to it that I love — as if the world suddenly stopped and slowly fell into this perfect, genuine, colorful frozen portrait. It was almost like how they reenact taking an old-fashioned photo in a movie scene: Point. Click. Poof!, as that burst of smoke sort of mushrooms out of the camera’s flash and everyone in the picture stops in this perfectly framed shot.

I was in camp last Thursday in the late afternoon, walking towards the schools to drop of a letter for one of the headmasters. I crossed the new road that bisects one end of camp from the other and started down the clay pathway towards the Primary and further down, the Secondary school. Children were giggling and chatting as they ran out from the end of classes for the day; teachers and parents were on their way up the road to catch mini-buses home or to walk back into camp; the sky was filled with nothing but lazy afternoon sun and big blue sky on one side and slightly grumpy looking rain clouds on the other, which gave off the effect of the reddish-clay buildings with the blue framed windows and bright red flowers underneath, being super-saturated in primary colors. I literally stopped dead in my tracks. I have entered the Twilight Zone, I thought to myself, it’s a good Twilight Zone, but I have definitely shifted sideways into another reality.

That was the first thing that came to my mind. The second thing that dawned on me as I stood there, saying hello to passing children and adults, my feet and my flip-flops covered in clay mud, smiling by myself and sort of stupidly looking around was: I fit. I don’t know how or why and I don’t really even care, but right here and right now, at this very second, I fit. I am supposed to be nowhere else but here.

I write a lot about the obvious, about how it’s strange to be a Westerner in a very non-Western environment at the camp, or maybe less ostensibly about how anonymity around here is a statistical impossibility whether it be because of the color of my skin, or the fact that I am a fish out of the water of my own culture, or because in this culture, social privacy is frowned upon and considered something spoilt or rude. I don’t pretend that I “belong” here, because I don’t. I do not make assumptions that I am “one of them,” because I’m not. I am a white American woman who works at a Malawian refugee camp, which is almost a country (or many countries) unto itself. I unquestionably do not blend in, so to speak. Oddly, and I mean this in a very different way, neither do the refugees, even those who have been in this country over 15 or more years. I live in a wholly alternate reality than they do, there is no doubt about that, but on the simplest, most superficial level, all of us are just strangers in Malawi, circling around one another like little planets and moons, getting sucked into different kinds of gravity depending on what we’re running from, or where we’re going, or where or who we are trying to be.

That other day in camp was not some kind of drastic epiphany, more so it was just this comforting realization that somewhere along the way I managed to become part of the crazy background scenery of this place. I’m like the new neighbor you pass everyday on your way to work who you know nothing about but wave to anyway. Or the new kid at school who has actually been there a year but whom you still insist on calling, “the new kid.” I’m the way you know your hometown smells and looks, even if you haven’t been there in a coon’s age. I’m just…here. Around. Present. All in this mini-community halfway around the world from where I call home.

But as I write this, I’m sort of smiling, because I know that it is so blatantly the other way around – this place has found its piece in my life puzzle, it’s gone from being the new kid to old friend, from odd neighbor to comforting companion, from bizarre and foreign to my everyday thing. Strangers in a strange land? Sure, all of us are. But I am not a stranger here. And today, and maybe only for today, that is everything and the only thing I need it to be.

5 minutes of zen

Today is Thursday, which means it’s dog washing day in Lilongwe. Once a week the city streets fill with purposeful individuals leading one, two, sometimes four dogs at a time down the road into Area 18 where the doggie dipping station is located. It’s mostly house staff that carry out this weekly routine – guards and gardeners, mostly men, wearing the unofficial uniform you see around here: Royal blue jumpsuits or brown work trousers tucked into big black mud-rucker boots, all walking or jogging along side Malawian mutts that look as though they must have been cloned from the same little beast ages and ages ago. And it’s the same once a week, every week; rain or shine, hot or cold. Dogs will be washed come hell or high water.

I’ve been observing this odd, collective morning ritual every Thursday now for the past year and despite the fact that I don’t have a wee pup of my own, I realized this morning that somewhere along the way this quirky, quintessentially Malawian routine became my routine as well. In a world where the everyday mundane is grounded in disarray, missed deadlines, delayed appointments, and spinny bureaucratic mania, Thursdays are the sentinels of order and peace, as if the whole of Lilongwe had been, up to that very moment, holding its breath until it finally has the chance to let out a great big pleasant “sigh” of relief. No matter what the day is about to bring and no matter how crazy you know things are about to get, there is always a moment on these mornings where I get a little mini moment of Zen, a few minutes of giddy bliss as we head north through the city towards the camp. Warm early morning sun. Streets dotted with pops of royal blue. Reddish-brown dogs proudly walking down the sidewalk as they show off their clean coats and shake off the water from their early morning baths.

It’s a beautiful part of my week but it is the absurdity of the scene that makes it kind of amazing. We are basically talking about a once per week canine pilgrimage in search of cleaner fur, maybe some kind of pound-puppy enlightenment. I asked one of my coworkers why dogs only get washed on Thursdays, as if there might be some secret meaning behind this weekly ritual I now find myself looking forward to every week: Dogs get washed on Thursdays, he said, because that’s when the dog washing basin is open – most people go in the morning because by the afternoon, the water has become dirty and unusable. And that is that. Make a mental note the next time a stinky dog crosses your path.

I think one reaches a point while living abroad where the bizarre becomes more normal than strange as our social paradigms start to shift from the far West to some murky in between space that straddles our past and our present. Last weekend I sat on a porch drinking box wine and watching a hippo eat grass 10 ft. away from our chalet. On Tuesday I walked through camp and watched kids play soccer with no shoes and balls made from plastic bags. Two Saturdays ago we stumbled upon a head-on collision on the M1 freeway – no one was killed but those who stopped to help injured passengers also happened to be on their way to a “jorts” (jean shorts) themed party. Because hauling bleeding, concussed people out of cars while wearing denim-on-denim mini-shorts in the middle of Lilongwe is bizarrely kind of your average Saturday night around here.

I don’t know what normal is anymore, or if there was ever a baseline for “normal” to begin with. In a final example of this mish-mashed mosaic of mundane and peculiar, our housekeeper was sick last week with Malaria and so went back to her village for 7 days to recover. Our housekeeper basically keeps the house in operational order – if you fuss up the system or fail to maintain the House 33 status quo, soft words of passive annoyance will be spoken, and it’s pretty fair to say that you’ll end up feeling like a badly behaved 12 year old all over again which, let’s be honest, is a pretty accurate description of the two of us who live there.

So it was about day 4 was when my housemate and I realized 1. We had no clean clothes, 2. No clean dishes, and 3. We have regressed to the point where we can no longer take care of ourselves. It’s not that we couldn’t sweep up the house or wash our own clothes, because that can and did happen when the two of us ran out of underwear…literally. It was more the realization that we live in an environment where having house staff is so the norm (shades of 20th century colonialism, much?) that we have forgotten what it’s like to deal with the day-to-day business of our lives even in our own homes. Abnormal would be not having a housekeeper or a gardener, or security guards at the gate of your house every night – it would mean having to deal with your messy house and grubby garden just like you would back at home in the States, Ireland, Canada, wherever. Just like zillions of people do everyday.

I can see eyes rolling from across the globe right now, like, “Jesus Christ, get a friggin’ grip and do your own damn laundry.” I agree – it’s ridiculous for sure. But normalcy is all just a matter of perspective of time and space. Wild hippos and warthogs are a stone’s throw away from your porch in Malawi just as squirrels and blue jays are at home. Housekeepers clean clothes on one side of the globe while millions of people trek out to the Laundromat every week on the other. Social life revolves around theme parties in one place and sophisticated cultural activities rule the scene everywhere else. Potato, potahto. Tomato, tomahto. Who’s to say what’s normal in the end, anyway?

Life here may be strange and unkempt, and a little bit off the rails, but it is a life and everyday of it is meaningful in some way. And who knows, in 20 years things may be different – perhaps the bizarre will become normal and visa versa. Maybe one day the stodgy limitations of this one-doggie-bath-per-week society will be lifted and Malawian pups everywhere will have access to clean bath water 24/7.

But for now, I hope it doesn’t change; I hope this one piece of life here remains the same. Because silly as it may seem, sometimes it’s the only thing that makes sense. Clean, happy dogs and a big bright blue sky. Seems pretty normal to me.