I was just finishing up researching some maternal health programs in surrounding countries when this guy who I had said hello to early came up to my office. He asked or rather stated “you’re American, aren’t you?” I said “yes…but how did you know I wasn’t British?” I had only greeted him in Chichewa…so I was interested to hear what his cultural cues were…he replied “because you are friendly and like kids.” Huh? Was I wearing my “I love kids” t-shirt today? Anyway, he told me how he loved America (of course!) and he had been to Boston…blah blah blah. He was friendly but I was trying to keep the conversations short before he arrived at the inevitable “I need to find an American wife” line. But he said he had a meeting and was off. Phew! Then a few hours later I was headed into Liwonde for a meeting and waiting for a minibus when this bwana (“boss” or fancy) car pulls up and rolls down the window. It’s my new American loving best friend again. He asks if I would like a ride, of course. This is saving me 200 kwacha ($1.20), a plethora of personal space violations, and my olfactory system from the unknown. So I hop in forgetting my past hesitations. Plus it’s only 15 minutes, I can do this! He begins to tell me that he grew up with Americans…"how so?” he tells me “well, Peace Corps volunteers...You’re Peace Corps, right?” So I’m wearing my “I love kids and I’m a granola hippie (aka I didn’t shower because we didn’t have water today) Peace Corps Volunteer” t-shirt. But he goes on to tell me his Peace Corps story:
When I asked what he was working on he told me he was at the district finalizing a project to build a small bridge just outside of Liwonde. The heavy (late) rains had washed away a crossing bridge that many children use in order to get to school. From which the children were being eaten by the crocodiles! He seemed remorse, but then this happens during rainy season. After the shock wore off it made me ponder how my perspective of normal colors all my experiences.