“In Malawi, we break up on Valentine’s Day”

It is our third week here, and I think we are finally falling into a good routine. Time passes by very quickly when you are having so much fun (and so much to do).

Every Monday, I meet with my supervisor to discuss what I am supposed to be doing that current week, and one of our decisions was that I would meet Vincent on Tuesday. Vincent is a man from Malawi who has lived and worked in Dublin for eight years to go to school. He is knowledgeable, funny, and not afraid to ask questions. All things that I enjoy in people.  We’ve been told that Irish people love Americans, American politics, etc. Although Vincent is from Malwai, I found all of this to be true in him.  It is incredibly disorienting to be speaking to someone who wants to talk about who your favorite US president is, what you think of Donald Trump, what you think of race in America, etc. within the first 20 minutes of meeting each other. But, I loved every second of it. Vincent is a direct example of how stereotypes can be wrong. Vincent is not poor, he is not uneducated, he does not lack ambition, nor does he need charities to donate food to him in order to survive. He was born and raised in Malawi, he had goals, and he is heading towards them. He blames much of the problems Malawians face on laziness. I told him about how I spent a summer working two jobs, one of them being a maid, to help pay for this. His immediate was to say, “Ye, a Malawian would that job is below him.”  While I must admit that he is about middle class there and that must come with some bias, his life challenges what many Americans believe about Africa. Within a few hours, some food, and a movie, we were easy friends.

I spent Wednesday working in the shop. It is so lovely to be able to spend my days surrounded by good people like John, Mary, Kay, and Byrnie. Their patience and easy going personalities inspire me to let go of my normal feelings of accomplishing things as quickly as possible so you can quickly jump to the next thing to be stressed about. It is so, so relaxing.

Thursday night, we have our internship discussion period. Before this time, we were assigned to watch a TED talk about the danger of a single story (https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en) After my discussion with Vin, this video was really touching. In a very brief, very non-comprehensive summary, Chiamamanda describes how reading (or hearing) only one perspective is what creates stereotypes and leaves us all with an incomplete view of the world. She told stories about how shocked her roommates were that she knew how to use a stove (I even have trouble working the stove in Ireland), how her view of Mexicans changed when she went to Mexico, and more. On Friday, I would be reminded me of this as our Irish Culture & History teacher would point out, “There is only race, and it is the human race. Culture is what separates us.” When you sit down to think about it, it all makes sense. Accepting it in your mind is really what is hard. I think one of my favorite moments from this week that also exemplifies this idea was when Caroline (our German roommate) and Bailey & Shelby (my UF roommates) were sitting in the kitchen talking about what foods we miss the most from home. We went through this whole long list, and then Caroline says some food and we’re all confused. But then she described it, and I realized that it was this same thing that my mom used to make (pierogi) in the exact same way that her mother does. I cannot describe the feeling, but it was pretty cool to know that somewhere in time, there was probably a day that her mom was making pierogis the same day mine was with just as much sour cream.

Friday was another great day. We had our second Irish Culture & History course where we learned about the Celts, the mesolithic period, and the neolithic period. After lecture, we all took the bus to the National Museum of Ireland-Archaeology (there are three different locations of the National Museum, but we were at this particular one). We saw jewelry, weapons, wheels, and different burial urns that the people of this period owned. However, the most haunting were these bog bodies. Essentially, they are the well preserved remains (we’re talking actual hair is still there) of people who had been ritually sacrificed, then their bodies put in the bog. The bog is really what kept these bodies the way they are. The bodies are incredible finds because many of them still had food left in their stomach (so we knew what they ate), their skin was intact (so we knew how they worked), etc. I had to stop myself from vomiting a few times, but it really was crazy to see these bodies in person.

Saturday was a shopping day and going out to eat that night. On Sunday, Jacquie and Vincent were kind enough to take me to Dun Laoghaire (pronounced ‘dun lee-ree’), a dock, and Killiney Village. It was the perfect day. Not a single drop of rain, so we were able to get some beautiful pictures. It was wonderful to be able to see water again (and the sun. We were there all day, ate at Fitzpatrick’s castle, and got ice cream at Teddy’s (Irish milk is less thick, but somehow manages to taste better than milk at home). Here, we don’t really get to see sunrises because its usually cloudy; however, the day was so clear, and we were on the coast, so I got to see what I’m counting as my first Irish sunset on that pier. We had great conversation. Because it was the 14th of February, and Ireland also celebrates Valentine’s Day, we talked a little about that. It is more or less the same here as it is in the USA; however, Vincent informed us that many people like to break up on Valentine’s Day in Malawi. This is so different from home that I could not help, but laugh. The Irish can be very similar to my family, so I was happy to finally here something totally different. He also spent some time that day explaining to me about how some Malawians fill huge containers of stuff, like TVs, fridges, etc. to send back home. He told me and Jacquie a story about how someone he knew had filled a container with $10,000 worth of items that cost $1,000 to ship. But, it was “lost”. It was lost to the government because something was done wrong, so now it was gone, and the man is going to have to pay the government $12,000 for it. That is about $23,000 lost total. To put it in perspective, my entire education from UF should cost about $24,000. I am so thankful to live a life away from such burdens. So far, I am more thankful every day for the people that I get to meet here.



One thought on ““In Malawi, we break up on Valentine’s Day”

  1. Hi Courtney,

    Thank you for all the posts on FB. Your explanation of the bodies from the bog and who the gentleman is, Vincent from Malawi, really is interesting. I am very happy for you to have this experience. You now know how to cook on an Irish stove…what is the difference?
    Keep learning and broaden your horizons, you’ll be glad you did.

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