~Warm Heart Welcome and Friendly Smiles~
It’s been over a month since stepping off the plane in the Warm Heart of Africa. Honestly, it’s been a nonstop whirlwind over the past 8 weeks. The amount of information, experiences and emotions have been overwhelming and just in general… a lot to digest. In addition, add the art of living as a vagabond for the past three months. Mastering constant adjustments and finding a routine in the midst of it all has been a challenge. However, despite the complaints of living out of bags, hotel rooms and sustaining long days of “orientation”, it has been an invaluable experience. Once in a lifetime.
In brief, training in DC was mostly focused on goals, missions and expectations of the GHSP program. Oh, ya not to forget that surprise visit from the Secretary of State, John Kerry, who quoted Nelson Mandela. Dreamy. It also was a crash course on tropic medicine, quick review of how to teach in an academia setting and different things to expect while in the field. While simultaneously wrapping up loose ends in the states. Again, whirlwind is the only word to summarize this experience.
Once landing here in Malawi, it was wheels to the grind. We had 3 hours after arriving to report to the conference room and began lectures that same day. No rest for the weary.
Welcome to Peace Corps.
Peace Corps in-country orientation was primarily focused on policies and protocols specific to Malawi. We were given a lengthy breadth of knowledge ranging from the political landscape of the country, prevalence & burden of diseases mixed with A LOT of sessions focused on safety and security. The days were scripted with nearly 3 weeks of our life mapped out entirely. We hardly had any free days much less time for ourselves to process much of anything. But although limiting and very structured, it was a thorough training and extremely beneficial to anyone living abroad in a low resource setting. One take home message: TAKE YOUR MALARIA PILLS, seriously!
Days blurred into each other and eventually glazed into weeks. The schedule and material was mentally exhausting. The realization of how painful it is to sit through long lectures was palpable from everyone. I suppose it was a great prep course and gentle reminder when lecturing to our students in the near future. In between the state of exhaustion and daydreaming, I would have these moments of clarity. Those inspirational moments that the mind quietly drifts towards and realize, “Wow, I am really doing this. I am here living this experience. This is my life.”
These sparks of inspiration drew from not only extremely influential speakers, but people who are passionate about their work and stepping against the grain. I would occasionally look around the room and feel honored to be in a room- filled with incredibly brilliant people who walked away from their comfortable life to be here, right now. Taking a leap of faith to jump into the unknown and to share knowledge, learn together, grow and be a part of this human experience.
At the end of the day, I was reminded how grateful I am. How grateful I was to be given this opportunity to be informed by some of the leading experts in this field. To hear about the initiatives from PEPFAR, USAID, Peace Corps Return Volunteers and professors from the Universities we will be working side by side with. It was incredible. One of my personal highlights was an informative session by the US Ambassador, Madame Virginia Palmer. She is LITERALLY a walking inspiration and a spit fire. On a daily basis, I was surrounded by experts making a difference in the world and more importantly in this little country in Africa, better known as Malawi.
On a personal level, I would often look around our cohort, albeit painfully long days at times, with the same people day in and day out and yet we were forming a bond with each other. We were forming a family. We connected with each other; some closer than others but I can honestly say we would be there for each other this next year. I felt assured when the dark days crept up we built a solid foundation to reach out to each other. To be a shoulder to cry on or vent to via WhatsApp when the roads got tough. Which we all know that was on the short horizon. Because of this, I am reminded every day I am exactly where I need to be. I am humbled to be a part of this experience and share this journey with a group of badass- doctors, practitioners and nurses who are determined to make a difference in the Warm Heart of Africa.