It’s been 110 days. Which is almost four months. Which is exactly a third of a year. Which… I know, you’re probably all “yeahyeah, Catherine. We get it,” but let me just tell you. Time is weird these days, you guys. Life is weird.
Because 111 days ago? We lived in Malawi. Our home was there. We had pets and routines and some of the very best friends there. In Malawi. We had feet that were permanently (or so we thought) stained orange from the ever-present dirt and we had ears so closely tuned to the sound of knocking on our gate that we could tell the vegetable guy apart from the basket guy and definitely apart from those young, a-little-bit-to-friendly trash guys. It was our life. And it was a life we loved.
It’s been 110 days, but sometimes I still have to remind myself that that life is no longer this life, now. And, if we’re honest, likely never will be again.
And I can’t tell you how much this has hurt. Still hurts. It’s a grief that I never really hear expressed in missionary circles, and I get why. I see the why all over the faces of those sweet, well-intentioned souls who, after welcoming me “home” with a hearty “is it just SO GOOD to be back??” are met with a half-hearted smile and evasive answer from me. The once bright-eyed and eager missionary. Because it’s not SO! GOOD! It’s… good. And right. And exactly where we’re supposed to be right now. And there are absolutely really beautiful bright spots and crystal clear examples of God’s grace in this season. But it’s also harder than I ever dreamed it would be, this grief.
It’s as if something died. A dream. A life I loved so big. The hopes of what our future would look like.
At times, I’m asked what I miss the most about Malawi, and there are indeed some things I can name. Like, the slow. I really miss the slow pace and the ease of relationship and the insistence of people in this deeply communal culture that I never sat alone. I miss the greatest hospitality I have ever known and the way that any given stranger would extend a warm welcome to “karibu!” Come and eat with me.
I miss the sounds something crazy. I miss the annoyingly loud birds and the calls to prayer, and I miss the soundtrack of the entire city waking up all around me as the quiet whispers on our streets gave way to music and shouts of morning greetings. It’s so quiet in America.
I miss the way the sun rises and sets over the Malawian terrain. The sun… it’s just pure magic in Malawi. And, okay fine, HOT AS HECK this time of year. But mostly, magic.
I miss the unpredictability and absolute randomness of life there. Bat infestations. Yard fires. Our entire family being low-key electrocuted in the shower for legit WEEKS before anyone ever said a word about it. “Africa wins again” is the refrain of so many Africa-expat-types, but when Africa keeps winning in the most ridiculous ways, sometimes she just endears herself to you all the more.
I miss the people. Oh my gosh, do I miss the people. I miss our friends and our taco nights and sushi nights and “let’s throw a Thanksgiving on a random night in July” nights. I miss Amess’ living room in a profound kind of way. I miss the coffee dates and the endless rounds of Just Dance and the roadtrips. AND THE POLICE. You guys, I even miss my countless encounters with sometimes-shady cops and my unashamed enjoyment found in sweet-talking my way out of tickets.
Scratch that. I don’t know how much I miss the police after all. I’ll have to sit on that one a bit.
I miss the people who surely have no idea that I miss them at all. I miss Noel who sold us bananas and Rose who cleaned my kids’ school and Thimoni who asked me for a bike or a cookie nearly every day of my life. I miss passing my tailor, Chimwemwe, on my walks to the market only to take a few more steps to pass the truckload of rowdy 20-somethings on my right. “Catherine! Catherine! Where are you going? BUY US MANDASI!”
For the record, I only bought them mandasi once, and that was an accident and a total language flop on my part. I thought I would be the one getting the mandasi. I miss Chichewa. Even when I got scammed out of fried dough balls. Or asked if I could buy a boyfriend instead of a watermelon. Oh boy, the language fails I could tell…
I miss the singing. I miss the generalized and blatant lack of rules or regard for safety. I miss the cheap street food packaged in those little blue bags. And my favorite Korean restaurant. And the chitenge market. I MISS MY FAVORITE THIFT STORE EVER.
I do not miss the roaches in my bed. (Just to add, you know, some balance here.)
This morning, I was scrolling through my phone and was caught off-guard by the raw emotions that this one specific photo elicited. It was just a normal day in Mtsiliza, and I was hanging out on Amess’ porch. Books open. Friends joined in. A few puppies that would soon die in rapid succession from unknown diseases that I, too, now probably have WHOOPS.
That’s what I miss. Sure, the safaris and grand adventures were cool and all, but it’s the ordinary and the mundane that forever changed me. I told a friend just today that I’m a little scared that I’ll never “come back” from this. That I’ll never get over Malawi and my grief in leaving. But for now, today, my grief feels like a signpost to the depth of the love I have for this place and this people, and that brings me some semblance of solace. Somehow, in my tears, I feel as though a new kind of beauty is being assigned to our experiences- our lives– over the past three years.
As if to say, this really, really mattered.
Oh my goodness, did it ever.
As I wrap this up- my inaugural “oh hey, we’re back!” post- I feel this nagging sense of responsibility to assure you that “we’re fine! No really! We’re fine!” And I could do that. I could pen pages upon pages on how the kids are crushing it in school and how we have this insanely cute new puppy and how God’s provided for us in some really mind boggling ways. I could put a bow on all of this and make it neat and tidy and comfortable. But the reality is- there’s no bow. It’s not neat nor is it comfortable. Our joys are real and palpable these days, but so is our pain. And that’s just life, isn’t it?
And so, we keep going. And we laugh really hard and we celebrate big and holy cow do we spend a lot of money on therapy.
It’s been 110 days, and I’m not over it yet. And, let’s be real- I probably never will be. Because how can I ever ever get over the unbelievable, truly indescribable privilege and gift that these past few years have been? I can’t. I won’t. The grief might not always be as raw, but my gratitude will always be this big.
Zikomo, Malawi. Ambuye, zikomo.