Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Ms. Mable Mpagaja
“Whenever you feel uncomfortable, instead of retreating into your old comfort zone, pat yourself on the back and say, “I must be growing,” and continue moving forward.” -T.Harv Eket. “I was thrilled when I was accepted as a CorpsAfrica Volunteer. During the pre-service training (PST), I met intelligent, fun-loving people who challenged my thinking. I learned a lot from them and participated in educational activities that pushed me out of my comfort zone. Host family stays helped me to learn and do new things that I had never done before.”
The day I was deployed to my site was quite boring for me. I knew that soon, I would be in the company of strangers, far away from anyone I knew. I didn’t want the journey from Lilongwe to Kasungu to end, but of course, that was impossible. The road leading to my site was small and dusty, with barely any houses or people in sight. All I could see were trees and gardens. However, that’s a story for another day. I received a warm welcome from my host family and the community members. And oh! That’s when I learned that this was a Tumbuka-speaking community. At that point, I only understood the greeting, everything else sounded like Spanish to me. I made it a priority to learn the language. It’s almost unbelievable that I can now hold a brief conversation in Tumbuka. I must say, I’m proud of myself.
It has been 2 months already! How time flies, right? I have managed to learn and understand their culture. I’ve learned some things that are different from my own culture. One of the things that has stood out for me is the respect they have for one another, especially towards the father-in-law. It’s not as we do it back home. One day as I was walking with two women, I saw an elderly man coming in front of us. One of the women went into a garden next to the small paved road we were using. I was so confused, I did not understand what she wanted in an empty garden. I and the other woman greeted the man and we carried on with our journey. Moments later, she joined us. “What were you doing in the garden?” I asked. It was then that I learned the man was her father-in-law and they could not use the same road like that. That is how much they respect each other.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you”. I have always been scared of speaking in public. I started facilitating meetings with chiefs. I could not believe that I was indeed doing it. I then decided to give teaching a shot. I have never taught in my life. When I first got in class, the kids were so excited to see me. There were smiles everywhere. Naturally, I have a low voice, but on this day I spoke like I had a microphone. The lesson went well and I left the class feeling satisfied. It was at this moment that I realized I was capable of doing a lot. Teaching has been great so far. I help out when I am done chasing deadlines. I have been able to do the things that scare me with ease.
The CorpsAfrica service is a life-changing experience. I am learning a new language and a new culture, I have made new friends and I am also learning a lot from the community members. This is my new normal and it feels more like home now.