More endings, more goodbyes. It’s an inevitable part of this kind of life. I’m used to it, but that doesn’t make it any easier. At least my goodbyes to host families, YONECO staff and youths at the drop in centres were all temporary – I would be back there with the new group of volunteers. But for my group, it was heartbreaking. They all say they will come back to Malawi and/or Zomba, but who knows when, so the goodbyes had a big question mark attached to them – when will we see you all again? Will we ever see you again?
And of course the goodbyes to our team, to all the volunteers, were final in a way. I’m sure I’ll see most of them again, but we won’t ever have the same as we’ve had for the last ten weeks… everyone together, supporting each other, working with each other every day, watching all our our confidences collectively grow and seeing the difference our group is making to so many people. It’s such a weird situation for all of us. And it’s so lonely without them here. Of course it’s nice to have a bit of a break from being in charge – to turn my phone off and rest – but I miss everything about them.
The project work and our relationship as a team just kept improving in the last weeks. We really managed to do a lot during our time. The best thing about the team is that they will just go and do things with no notice or planning; there’s a school that has some time for us to do a life skills session in an hour? Great, let’s go there and do it! There’s a tournament that is running today? Let’s run along and chat to them about HIV testing. Just like that. We definitely got our message out. We also managed to do a couple more theatre sessions which were a wild success – after training the youths at the drop in centre to be involved in the dramas and community investigation, this now means the activity is becoming sustainable since when we leave the youths can continue to run sessions and reach many communities. The young people love that they finally have the chance to perform in public too – so it’s a win-win situation.
During the community investigations, some of the volunteers uncovered some pretty serious cases relating to child abuse among other things. A group of them including fellow team leader Samson, worked endlessly to try and get this case sorted out and reported to the police, whilst the rest of us kept the project going. It was incredible teamwork and everyone got very emotional about the cases as well as frustrated that no one else that we took it to seemed to be taking it seriously.
After all this good we managed to do around Zomba’s communities, we ended the placement on a high. After a final week of parties, dancing and cake, we drove back to Lilongwe in good spirits, and entered Messa’s Lodge (where we all first met) singing and dancing. Being reunited with the other team leaders was a breath of fresh air. We presented our end of term report to all the other teams and it was interesting seeing what everyone else had done. The next day was full of ‘last times’, and some emotional speeches from the volunteers as we all gathered around in a circle. Then we drove the UKVs to the airport for a final goodbye, and waved the ICVs off on their coaches later the same day.
This happened on Friday, but it wasn’t until Monday or Tuesday the next week that I fully recovered from the lack of sleep and busy-ness of the week, since the weekend was spent in Kasungu National Park! This meant an early morning start on Saturday to travel there, and we would stay overnight. We were thrilled to see that our lodges looked out over the lake, with a view of hippos slumbering as well as many wading birds and some eagles and pied kingfishers. ICS paid for the weekend, including some very decent food. Saturday was basically for relaxing (in our cases, sleeping), strolling around (which we were later told wasn’t allowed, but at least it was a pretty walk), and we had some drinks in the evening… it turned into a very late night which made it difficult getting up at 6am for our safari. But, waking up early was so worth it – seeing the perfect scarlet circle of a sun, over the misty water, was an unforgettable sight. Kasungu is a very heavily poached park and this was apparent from the safari. We did see a herd of zebra, many antelope, and some pretty birds, but not much more. We got right up close to the hippos on the other side of the lake, who quickly plummeted into the safety of the water. Some of them had babies!
We were very lucky that afternoon to see a herd of elephants come to the lake to drink. That was definitely a highlight of the weekend. I was so tired and grumpy when we finally got back to Lilongwe and the fact that we started meetings/training the following day didn’t help! It was full on. Spent the whole of Monday basically giving “constructive criticism” to International Service. Which just meant an excuse for all of us to moan about project partners and/or volunteer dramas! To be fair my experience has been mainly positive but sometimes it feels good to share the headaches with the other team leaders who understand!
Luckily the week wasn’t as full on as we originally thought. After a long Monday I think they realised how tired we were and we had shorter days, and time to go into town and stock up on things. We moved from Messa’s Lodge to the office which gave us a bit more freedom and at least there wasn’t a problem with running water (although the powercuts are common). We were supposed to go back to our host communities at the end of the week, but after protesting that we needed a rest and some time together with the other team leaders, we now have a whole week here in Lilongwe where we can relax. Am enjoying it at the moment, I imagine I’ll start getting restless soon though, and then it will be time for new beginnings as the next group arrives.