Saturday, 1 August 2015

Returning to Malawi, the first country I have returned to

People often asked me if I would go back to Malawi and I always answered "Of course". Malawi is a place that is, and will hopefully always remain, somewhere that is very close to my heart. Yes, I didn't leave in the best of head spaces and yes, one of the people who was a huge part of my life there is no longer part of my life, but I felt I owed it to myself to go back to this country. At the very least I needed to say a proper goodbye.

I booked my flight on a cold, snowy afternoon in March when I was hungover from one of my best friend's wedding and I had just driven across Ireland in the snow in my little Opel Corsa. This could potentially become a very expensive hungover habit! Immediately I started dreaming of the sun rays hitting my shoulders as I gazed out of the expanse of Lake Malawi and downed a cold MGT with friends. A few short emails later and I had a few people every bit as excited as me. A vague planned involved a side trip to Mozambique but lots of time with friends.

As I checked in in Dublin airport I had those familiar butterflies. Every time I get on a plane, I get a twinge of excitement. I hope that I can continue to travel for as long as it is exciting for me. Even an unexpected layover in Frankfurt was a bit exciting although the ensuing rebooking of delayed flights nearly made me want to pull out my hair. Once I landed in the Warm Heart, I realised that my shoulders which had been tense relaxed. My worries about how I would feel being back melted away and as I sat in Lilongwe bus depot waiting for the bus to fill and head north, I realised I felt at home. Buying hard boiled eggs and apples out the bus window, the thumping Africa pop music resonating through the bus and the smiles of children shouting "Mzungu, mzungu". The further north the bus travelled, the more excited I got. Yes, I was a day late and yes I had been sitting on the same bus for nearly 6 hours and was as yet not even half way to the Bay but I was in country.

Was I nervous? Yes, a little. Would coming back here taint my memory of the place? Would my experience be totally different when so many of my friends no longer lived there? Should I just leave my fond memories as that, just memories? All those nervous thoughts disappeared the minute I stepped into the bar at Mayoka when, at 1 am, I was wrapped in a group hug and had many people say "Welcome Home". This was a trend that continued over the next 24 hours, from walking into Butterfly the next morning and getting hugs from Ez and Thoko (and AJ and Josie), to getting fist pumped from the rastas on the beach and my first MGT watching the sunset over Lake Malawi after a Chikale Sunday.

I easily slipped back into the relaxed, laid back Nkhata Bay lifestyle, lazy breakfasts with Eimer and Benjie, afternoon swims or bobs depending on our energy levels, sundowners on the deck at Butterfly or afternoons spent hanging out with Alice and the kids become part of my life. I felt at home, I felt at ease and I at once knew that this decision to come back was a the right one.

Between nights spent in Mzuzu, reliving my time spent living there, eating delicious Korean food at Joy's Place, drinking too many greens at Mzoozoozoo and hunting in the second hand market or chitenje market, I felt contented. This country, and indeed, the Northern region, was a place i could return to. A place I could slip back into and be enveloped by the warm hands of old friends.