So here it is, my final day in Malawi. In a few short hours (1:40pm Friday afternoon, to be precise) I’ll be boarding the first of several glorified shiny lawn darts that will be launched through the air taking me away from Lilongwe, through Blantyre, Addis Ababa, Dublin, and finally Toronto on my long journey home to Guelph. If all goes according to my very detailed airline itinerary, I should be touching down in Toronto at 8:30am Saturday morning, meaning I should be at the door of my condo roughly around 10am or so.
While I’ll be excited to spend my very short return to Guelph snuggling with the wee fuzzball and catching up with friends, I’m struggling with the fact that I’m leaving. As I wrote in my last post, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough yet. But it’s actually more than just that – and I’m really struggling to put it into words. The best I can say is that I’ve got this feeling in my gut that I’m not finished here; that I’m leaving for now, but that I have to and will come back.
And it’s more than just wanderlust and my desire to adventure. It’s that something here is pulling at me, pick-pick-picking at me from some part of my brain that I haven’t yet been able to shine a light on, leaving me with this incredible gnawing feeling of incompleteness. It’s as if there’s this urgent hollowness that seems to grow in the pit of my gut as the minute and hour hands of the clock race towards the moment when I’ll see the red soil of Malawi fall far below me, and the places and people I’ve met here will blend together to form a beautiful patchwork of farmland and villages; a simplified and aggregated memory of the experiences I’ve had while I’ve been here.
The best I can figure is that this all stems from the incredible richness and variety of the moments that have made my time here so incredible. I’ve talked of the incredible beauty of the country – the land, the burnt red soil, and the incredible and seemingly endless vistas that stretched out before me as we drove to a weekend getaway. I’ve already written about the spirit that seems to embody and define the people of Malawi, and I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions the people who I’ve met who have inspired me with their incredible hearts, their charm, and their openness to the world and how they might make it better. And it seems that these things have created a near perfect storm – a too perfect mix of all the right ingredients at just the right time – and it’s almost overwhelming.
But tied to this is an incredible sense of urgency, one that I’m sad to say I had never heard of at home. I don’t know if that’s because the story wasn’t newsworthy, or if perhaps I was distracted by any number of things happening around me, but I can’t help but feel that I should have known better before I arrived here about the state of food security in Malawi. And this feeling is only intensified given that food security has become such a major part of my day-to-day since my students began the long journey towards developing the Farm To Fork program.
The fact is that Malawi has a population of roughly 16.4 million people. Last year, as a direct result of climate change, extreme weather, and changing weather patterns, combined with a lack of infrastructure common to developing nations, roughly 1.2 million people were going hungry and needed assistance. As stunned as I was to learn that fact, it paled in comparison to what I learned about the situation this year. Six point four million.
Let that number sink in.
Six point four million people, in a country of 16.4 million. That’s pushing 40% of the population going hungry. What makes this so intensely worse is that Malawi is full of rich farmland – land that could and should be used to feed the country, but also generate income for its people. It has water to irrigate the crops. It has an incredibly resilient people to grow and tend to the crops. And yet that number – 6.4 million – still rips through my heart and my mind. The impending food crisis in Malawi is not something that should be happening – it goes against logic. And it’s something that could be fixed – not by handing out food (although in the short term that is exactly what will be needed) – but by building the infrastructure and capacity of the people who live here and go to school here and work here.
And so as I leave here, I do so feeling that I’m leaving at the very time I should be staying to help. And it’s not that I think that I will somehow fix things. It’s just that I have this sense that I have to help; that I have to do whatever is in my power to make things better. And maybe this is the ultimate source of the urgent hollowness I feel.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m leaving Malawi feeling privileged for this experience. I’m leaving with a sense that I’ve done the job I was intended to do. And I’m leaving with an overwhelmingly abundant supply of beautiful memories of laughter and new friends. But I’m also leaving knowing that I have much more work to do.
Farewell for now Malawi, but know that somehow I’ll find my way back to the Warm Heart of Africa.