Hello, my name is Jaidynne and currently I am 19. I will never forget at 17, January 1st of 2018 when I checked to see who was on the list for the Malawi 2k18 crew. I saw my name, and as if my excitement couldn’t get ANY more intense, I saw my best friend’s name too! I was going on a 3 ½ week trip to Malawi, Africa with my best friend in 5 months! The high school I went to was a boarding school in Sedona, Arizona; and every year they picked 8 students to attend the trip with Caroline, our Equestrian instructor who’s involved with the Global Goals Project.
I had always wanted to travel to the Motherland because although my mom is American, she was raised in Kijabe, Kenya and went to Rift Valley Academy. Growing up, I heard so many stories from her, so naturally I developed a love for African culture. Everything was perfect: I was finally going to Africa, Amaya was coming with me(my best friend), and Caroline who is like a mother to Amaya, was leading the whole trip.
The feeling of anticipation leading up to setting foot in Malawi, was partly my favorite part! Amaya and I went shopping together, packed together, and was able to finesse the passengers on the plane so that we could sit next to each other for the 17 hour long flight from LA to Addis Ababa with a stop for gas in Dublin. I remember before that flight, our group was eating at some ramen restaurant in a terminal of the LA airport. Our table was up against the wall of the terminal. The wall was all windows so you could see the parked planes and there was an emergency exit right next to us. My friends dared me to eat an entire spoonful of wasabi, and I did, and they recorded me. Obviously… I was crying uncontrollably and my eyes were burning, but it was really funny and everyone was laughing. I went over to watch the video and see my face, then I started laughing uncontrollably too. So much so, that I lost my balance, leaned into the emergency exit, and set off the alarm in the ENTIRE TERMINAL for 10 minutes straight. Yup. Everyone at the restaurant left and I still get crap about it till this day, but it was an unforgettable start to our long journey ahead lol.
I couldn’t forget my time in Malawi if I tried. As an African American woman, I feel like my experience was somewhat unique in contrast to my peers. I was the only black person in the group, everyone else was caucasian American/Canadian, Chinese, South Korean, Philipino and German.
We are driving down the dirt roads and I see women in chitenjis(traditional Malawian fabric) carrying gigantic heaps of logs, food, and HUGE buckets of nsima on their heads. Chickens and goats roamed freely on the sidelines, and there was an occasional stop for herds of cows that were crossing the street. Kids would chase after our van yelling “AZUNGU!” which meant foreigner or whites. It didn’t take long for me to truly understand why they call Malawi the “Warm Heart of Africa”. These people have such innocence in their eyes that I found present in all ages. With everyone I met there was overwhelming kindness and such authenticity in our interactions. I remember when we stayed in Namalo village, and a little girl ran up to a friend of mine and gave her a piece of food. Malawi was in the dry season at that time, and Namalo wasn’t harvesting any food besides nsima and rice, and they STILL offered us the last of what they had.
We visited a couple high schools and I promise you I had never been happier in my entire life. I laughed with those students so much, literally everything was hilarious. We played soccer and net ball, we rapped and freestyled, we drew dumb cartoons on the chalk boards, I danced with the boys and talked about boys with the girls – it was just simple, quality, fun; like when I was a child.
Whenever Malawians greet each other, often they do what I like to call “The Malawian Handshake” – it’s basically a shake with slap and a snap between the thumbs. I noticed that when some Malawians met our group, they would shake everyones hand, but I got the Malawian Handshake! Or if we were all buying from a local shop, I was discounted more because I was their “sister”. Sometimes, I would even get a call from a stranger, they would yell “hey!”, I would look, and they gave me a nod of acknowledgement. Whether it happened because I was black, or they assumed I was Malawian(which happened a lot) I was grateful for this extra bit of attention.
In this country, it’s SO easy to build a deep lifelong connection with people in a matter of days… even hours. I met Philly for 4 hours and never saw him again. When we got back to the states and I had service, we talked every single day for 6 months straight, and then every week up until present; it’s been 2 years! A part of our service involved working at an orphanage, and I bonded with a 2 year old named Nuali. She was so gorgeous, I only took care of her for 3 or 4 days but I genuinely had love for that baby. When we said our goodbyes to the orphanage and drove 6 hours to Zumba, my sappy American emotions took over and I cried. I hated leaving her. I felt so blessed that I could experience a connection like that in such a short amount of time. I didn’t even know this was humanly possible, I had never had encounters like these in the US. Never.
To Be Continued…
By Jaidynne Lyke