Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Mr. Joseph Katsala
On the evening that I was told by the CorpsAfrica/Malawi Country Director that I had been placed in Karonga to Volunteer for the next ten months, my mind ran all sorts of imaginative iterations. I was literally shaken to the core. I had never really been to Northern Malawi (apart from my one-day trip to Mzuzu to my sister’s school), and the stories I had heard about that part of the country weren’t encouraging either.
Days turned into weeks and before I knew it, I was in a Toyota Hilux with two other Volunteers, our luggage in the back, moving to the North. In the travel frenzy, we at times forgot we were relocating from the cities we knew to rural communities to start new lives. It’s surprising how you can want to do something and not want to do it at the same time.
Just as we started passing through Chikangawa, our car broke down and we had to wait for some two hours for help. During this time, and the next few hours being towed to Mzuzu, I had more than enough time to contemplate the fates that awaited the three of us in our respective sites across Rumphi, Karonga and Chitipa. After spending a night in Mzuzu, we arrived in Rumphi to drop off one of my fellow Volunteers in the village that was soon to be her home. As we bade farewell, I could see the anxiety on her face as she was being left, probably hundreds of kilometers away from her closest relatives to live with people of a different culture and language. Passing the grass thatched houses, maize fields, and curious eyes, as we sped on, the dusty road gave me a perspective of what probably awaited me in Karonga.
Upon entering Karonga, the heat was apparent, the smell of fish unavoidable; reality of what was about to happen was slowly creeping upon me. My anxieties made me wish for a magical fast-forward button that would take me to the end of my service just at a single press.
Before three o’clock in the afternoon, we reached my site and we were warmly welcomed by my host family, the development officer, and the chief. Even though I could not understand every Tumbuka (local community language) word and phrase they said, I did manage to catch a few including; happy, welcome, feel-free, and home. It felt as though they were happy to see me. As I muttered to myself, ‘This will probably not be as bad as I thought,’ I remembered the quote; “We suffer more in our imagination than in reality.” Nevertheless, let me not get ahead of myself, it has just been a few weeks into my ten month stay.