Monsters and Dust

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Day 6

The upholstery on the Air Malawi seatbacks is embroidered with hearts, suns, lions, airplanes, rabbits, and what look like bottles of hooch. I am leaving Malawi amazed, changed in innumerable ways. I have a layover in Jo'burg, and sleep on the flight to Senegal. I do not want to leave Africa.

Deplane in Dakar at 1 a.m. It is steamy and foggy — we're right on the ocean, and everything is pitch black. I can smell the hot, dirty salt air, like bathhouses at the shore.

We're escorted to a waiting lounge, brand new with Delta blue leather chairs, round red tables and an espresso bar. What day is it? The point on which Dakar rests stretches into the same time zone as Reykjavik, G.M.T. A fact that seems to have snuck past the makers of my iPod. And now that I have Internet again, do I update my Facebook status? Jess is lost in time.

It is hard to describe my stay in Malawi. It doesn't lend itself to being parceled out in anecdotes. How to explain every starving, happy, angry, soulful kid I came in contact with? The churchgoers, ex-missionaries, NGO operators, colonialist descendants, and countrymen helping each other? The miraculously pervasive joy and peace in a country that has nothing? What I know is that I returned grateful, and can say with confidence that helping even just one person can make a world of difference.
I look back at the scraps of information I collected before this trip, and now they're alive, three-dimensional. I suppose life anywhere, Brooklyn, Lilongwe, Siberia, is just a collection of statistics to someone who sees your existence as completely foreign to their experience. Now that I've been to Malawi, I will never look at living the same way again.

Author's Note

My trip was made possible by the generosity of the NuSkin Company, its Force For Good Foundation, and Nourish the Children program, from which you can buy a bag of VitaMeal porridge mix for those in need.