Ponderings of an American far from home

Our summer full of volunteers is over now, and we're slowing getting back into 'normal' routine. The first couple meals I cooked for just our family seemed ridiculously small, but we've adjusted. But seeing all our friends and visiting with so many Americans has made me realize I've forgotten some things. Nothing major, just small stuff that made me realize I've been away for kind of a long time.
1. Americans smell really good! Our volunteers were tough-cookies, with no prissiness in any of them. Yet even these down-to-earth ladies who were willing and able to walk for miles in dirt and sit on mud hut floors and eat goodness-knows-what in the villages would come in from showering and smell like heaven! It made me realize that smells are very culture-bound. Now, I realized the minute I stepped off the plane that body odor is most definitely viewed differently by different cultures! But, for example, the dish soap we can get is scented..."smells ammonia fresh" the label boasts. Ok, so I guess that's ok for a cleaning agent, though I would not call ammonia a 'fresh scent.' Then there's the shower gel. It boasts it is "aromatherapy scented to reduce stress" which sounds promising. Only it's scented with marjoram. As in the Italian spice. Who knew smelling like Ragu could be stress-relieving???
2. American toilet paper is unearthly soft! One team brought some as packing filler. I would have never dreamed of asking someone to bring us TP, and I would have never thought of myself as caring that much. But it's , soft. I mean, compared to what we have here... it's pretty awesome! Now, I won't go asking people to send it out to us at $50/box for shipping, I promise. But just let me enjoy having it while it lasts.
3. Hanging out with Americans isn't exhausting, even for this introvert! I really enjoy visiting with Malawians, but I'm always surprised at how much it takes out of me. With Americans, I actually understand what they mean with almost every word they speak. Now I'm not talking about accents. Accents don't usually throw me anymore. It's the meaning I'm talking about--the deep, true meaning that's hidden behind all the confusing words that mean different things to different people, behind all the unspoken expectations. It was so refreshing and actually relaxing to not have to try and de-code anything. The speakers just meant exactly what I thought I heard! AMAZING!
4. We have a pretty exciting, crazy life here in Malawi. I don't know why it took having volunteers to more fully realize this, but there was something about watching their awe and wonderment over the things we take for granted. Things my kids will grow up thinking is totally normal are mind-blowing for someone who has not been out of the US. One friend was completely in love with the excitement of "getting to" eat in the dark when the power would go off. I could use a little better attitude at getting to share candle-lit dinners with my family several times a week! And the game park safaris? Wow!! So we don't have waterparks or roller-coasters, but who can complain about lions guarding a buffalo kill or leopards walking beside your car???? Even with marjoram-scented shower gel, rough toilet paper, and lots of little inconviences of life, I'd say we're pretty lucky!


  1. So glad we could help you appreciate the warm heart of Africa differently. Interestingly enough that friend has not asked for dinner with the lights off back home!


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