It all started on a rainy November day in 2008, when a wee Brit named Rachel Ruscombe-King moved her fabulous ass to Chitipa Boma. Imagine the scene… La la la - Fast forward- Laugh laugh drinks drinks love love cry smile talky talky - BOOM. You find yourself in the hot and dreary month of December 2009 accompanying your homegirl to the airport so she can return to the real world while you are still firmly planted smack dab in the middle if BFE. This seems to be a recurring theme in the past 20 months. It’s not the first or the last time to see a great friend, a great person, and someone I love peace out while I sit in my little house, open book in my lap, contemplating the reality that things will never be the same. What other option do you have but to seize the moments you do have and send that person out with a bang. BANG. After Rachel and I have managed about a week long farewell extravaganza stretching from one end of Malawi to the other, here we are at the Lilongwe airport, Rachel, myself, Gracie, and Bright, nursing well-deserved hangovers. We decided to get there early since the airport is super fun! There’s a cool outdoor area, a sort-of patio, if you will, overlooking the runway, where you can order food and cocktails while you sit and watch the planes departing and arriving. So, there we are, awaiting Rachel’s imminent departure, anticipating Devin Butlers return to the Motherland, all the while trying our damndest to deplete Rachel’s remaining stash of Malawian Kwacha, when we find out via text message that one of Rachel’s coworkers has a friend flying in and isn’t going to be able to pick her up. She asked if we could find her friend and get her in a taxi. No problemo. An unexpected side mission - find Jazmin and get her in a cab. Doable. Exciting in fact! Life is slow here - or maybe we’re just easily amused. Eventually the time comes for our little Rachel to go, spread her wings, and become a rockstar. We walk her as far as we are allowed to and wish her well in a calm, dignified manner. Well, maybe not me…does calling after someone who’s walking away “Don’t go! Don’t do it!” meet the specifications for a dignified farewell? Yeah…well…I’m selfish and I’m crude. Sue me.
After Bright, Grace and I pull ourselves together, we decide the best thing for us to do would be to go back to the bar and get another cocktail. We still have kwacha to burn and Jazmin’s plane is due to arrive shortly. When we see Jazmin’s plane fly in we bound downstairs in great spirits with our “JAZMIN” sign and a welcome to Malawi beer and wait in line to greet her. We are a ball of energy - well at least I am a ball of energy - as I hold up my “Jazmin” sign with pride, calling, “Jazmin! Jazmin? Jazmin.” Out to passerbys at random intervals only to receive uncomfortable smiles and apologetic nods. One hour passes, then two, her welcome to Malawi beer disappears in my mouth, and then I finally receive a text from our friend who says Jazmin is already in a cab on the way to find her. Well WTF Jazmin. How many people on your flight do you think have the name “Jazmin” Jazmin? She must have walked right by us! Well, now it was practically time for Devin’s flight to arrive, so with a brief but forceful release of tension, Bright quickly and immediately tore the “Jazmin” sign in half, balled it up, and threw it in the garbage. This cracked us all up and we trudged back up the stairs laughing to wait for Devin’s flight to arrive.
The set up for the airport is fantastic. You can sit at a table with food and drinks in front of you and clearly see every plane arriving and departing from far away. There’s no screen or glass or buildings blocking your view, there’s a nice breeze, and depending on the day, potentially rain or sunshine. It was cloudy and stormy that day so we saw the light from Devin’s plane far before we saw the plane itself, so we were up and cheering with our “Sassy as F-ck 2009” sign (Hello loud Americans! Yes we can!) as the plane landed hoping Devin could see us through the window of the plane. The plane lands facing one way, then loops around the opposite direction to let everyone out in full view of all the people there watching. We are immediately on the look-out for the big white guy with short dark hair who walks with a strut. Ol’ Eagle Eye Grace is the first to spot him as he struts out of the plane and onto the shuttle bus. The shuttle bus parades the passengers around to the doors directly underneath the balcony and when Devin jumps off the bus he throws us a fist pump, which is immediately returned with waves and cheers. The next step of the dance is to go downstairs to the main doors where the passengers come through one at a time after clearing customs. We devise a plan so when Devin rounds the corner we aren’t going to say a word, we’ll just step out into the middle of the walkway and each strike our sassiest “sassy as f-ck” pose - private joke, trust me, it’s awesome. So, wait for it…wait for it…wait..for..it…BAM! 3 girls in the middle of the walkway…poses struck…sassy as f-ck. After a second, I can’t help it, I look up at Devin - my pose consists of a full lunge and a slow, retracting fist pull - and see him frozen in surprise with a look of pure approval with his fist pumping (fist pumps are an important indicator of joy) and the biggest effing smile on his face. We have succeeded. It still makes me laugh out loud when I think about it. Ahh…airports are fun.
This moment kicks off “Devin meets the wrecking crew part 2” starring Dawn and Devin. Introducing our newest member Grace ‘The Bulldozer’ Mwanza. And featuring cameos by Matt Jones, Averill, Yotham and Tom. In memory of Michael Hardesty and Rachel Ruscombe-King. We spent a couple of nights in Lilongwe before Grace, Devin, and I headed north to Chitipa. We actually came pretty darn close to full circle when we were stuck in Karonga searching desperately for a ride to Chitipa, in order to avoid the dreaded Karonga-Chitipa matola ride. It just so happened that we ran into Mike’s old truck on the side of the road and the current owner agreed to give us a free ride up to Chitipa. Awesome! So we grab some sachets for old times sake, hop in the back of the truck and off we go. The road trip was full of breakdowns and successful push starts as usual, and we were in the back laughing, wind blown, and enjoying every minute. Once we made it to Chitipa we tossed out our original plans and decided to just bust a chill in Chitipa for the remainder of Devin’s time. Cool with me! We decided to walk from Chitipa Boma to Ifumbo one Saturday. Well, Grace and Devin decided we should walk to Chitipa Boma to Ifumbo…I was all about finding transport. They wanted to take in the “full experience” of walking. Hey, I’m no fun hater…so off we go! We left the boma around 11:30 am taking the “short cut” that goes directly from the boma to Ifumbo. I have only taken this route once, by bicycle, and it was about a year ago. My usual routine is to take a matola to a village called Lufita, and then take a 3 hour walk to my village, but that’s the long way around, so I estimate this short cut should take us about 3-4 hours if we walk at a decent pace. About 2 hours in, it starts POURING on us. I’m talking thunder, lightening, a full on thunderstorm on top of us. We quickly decide to stop and ask some random villagers if we can take shelter in their little mud hut. No problem. We sit next to a fire with 2 little children in the family’s cooking area, separate from the house, listening to the storm and watching the rain drip steadily from the grass roof. We are there for about 40 minutes or so before we decide we need to leave or we’re not going to get to my house before dark. Off we march, in great spirits into the rain. It becomes clear to me pretty early that my 3-4 hour time frame is WAY off, but everyone seems happy and optimistic, so why skip a beat to point out something so trivial? On we go! At this point, we are approaching Chinunkha Trading Center, soaking wet, full of mud, slipping and sliding all over, when we come to a cliff where the road has seemingly collapsed. I stand at the edge looking straight ahead to the other side of the gaping hole in the earth till I finally notice a small sketchy bridge about 15-20 ft down that allows passage over another, smaller, gaping hole in the earth formed by a river flowing rapidly through it. Great. We have to slide our way 15 ft down this muddy cliff to get to this wet, muddy, sketchy bridge made of a few haphazardly scattered wooden planks, with no railings leaving us zero margin for error, where one slip or small mistake will result in an unavoidable plunge into a narrow tundra of fast flowing river water/filth/infestation. Awesome. Left with no choice, one by one, we shoot down feet first to the foot of the bridge, laughing nervously as we unsteadily catch each other hands. For some reason, Grace ‘The Bulldozer’ decides to ascend the bridge first and I follow shortly after. Grace takes maybe three steps out and freaks out. I mean FREAKS OUT. She’s standing there legs shaking looking at me with the most frantic, panic stricken look on her beautiful face saying (shrieking) “I’m SCARED! Dawn, I’m really scared!” I’m laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation- and Grace can make me laugh just by looking at her. Then she’d start laughing, reach out for me, calm down, take a few more steps out, look back at me, panic again, this time half crying half laughing hysterically screaming “Dawn! I’m scared! Help me! I’m scared!” I’m standing on the bridge about 3 feet behind her shaking and scared myself looking at her as she keeps grabbing my arms, telling her “Grace! Don’t grab me! I’m gonna fall! Don’t grab me!” We are both looking into each others eyes laughing hysterically. We are a mess. A complete mess. Apparently a pretty entertaining mess because finally a spectator came out from the other side to Grace’s rescue, took her hand, and guided her to the other side of the bridge. Once it becomes clear that Grace is going to make it safely to the other side I instantly drop to my knees and crawl across the rest of the bridge. I feel like the fat kid on the train tracks in ‘Stand by Me’. VERN! Devin’s strategy seemed to be close your eyes and go, ‘cuz I turned around just in time to see Devin barreling towards me at full speed and hear Grace holler “Catch him!” to me. Ha! We all make it and climb up to the other side of the Earth laughing. That shit was REALLY scary! By this time, it’s rollin’ up on 5pm; we need to book it, ‘cuz it’s getting dark. Finally, we get to Chinunkha Trading Center and I’m happy, ‘cuz this means we only have about an hour and a half left of walking. But, then we find out that another river we have to cross (there are about 4 or 5 more, all that you have to wade through) is super high and impassable right now. Oh yeah…it’s STILL raining. Still. After some debate, I make an executive decision, being the only one that has seen that particular river and know that it can be fast and furious, that instead of walking all the way to the river to check it out and most likely having to turn around and come back, that we should suck it up and take the long way around where a big bridge goes OVER the river. Grudgingly and sopping wet we haul our asses up and over the huge hill and around the corner to Chinunkha Secondary School. It is getting dark, our pace has been hindered by the rain and the mud, and it looks like we are going to be walking in the dark for awhile. I’m sure we are a sight to see. It’s dark…and I mean REAL dark…like no moon, no stars, no electricity dark and we’re trudging along in the middle of nowhere, on a dirt road, in the rain. No one else. Just us. Me, in the front, with my rain jacket, backpack, flips flops and pants rolled up to my calves, mud splattered all over my back walking just a little too fast, trying to set the pace and keep us moving. Grace is not far behind me with no jacket, just a completely drenched yellow t-shirt, carrying a little blue plastic bag with 3 tomatoes that she insisted we buy in Chinunkha for dinner, her bright red knock off Gucci purse, head up, chest out, sliding around in her cheap little flats on her feet, laughing intermittently saying things like “This is so awesome. I’m really liking thins Dawn. I’m telling you this is really awesome.” Ha! I find out later that Devin is behind her with his Rain jacket, backpack and tennis shoes saying to himself, “If Grace can do this, I can do this!” Finally, it gets completely black out and we pull out our head lamps. Bets were made hours earlier that the 1st person to fall had to take a shot of Brandy when we get home. Well, the first and only wipe out was…you guessed it…yours truly! The 1st disaster happened right before I fell when the bag that Grace was holding with the tomatoes fell apart and the tomatoes went rolling in the mud. We all had a little laugh about that, so I grabbed one and Grace is carrying two, one in each hand, when one of my feet decides to go shooting out in front of my body leaving me no choice but to fall awkwardly on my ass with one leg pointed straight ahead and the other behind me, bent at a 90 degree angle, one fist on the ground with a tomato smashed between my fingers and the other hand up in the air reaching for some sort of sign from God. “OH!” I hear Grace and Devin call out from behind, then silence, then “Shit. There’s a shot of Brandy” I mutter to myself. As I stand up I hear Grace and Devin giggling behind me. “Yeah, yeah..shit.” I mutter “Are you okay?” They ask politely, stifling their laughter. “Yeah, I’m fine. That hurt and I’m bleeding, but I’m fine.” I bitch, as I limp along COVERED in mud. After a little bit of silence, Grace laughs and says, “This is really awesome.” Haha! And it was!
We arrived in Ifumbo around 7:30pm, eight long hours later, beat out of our minds. We cooked a nice little dinner - yes we carried and ate the squished tomato- then passed out almost immediately after. So, Grace and I are sharing my little single bed and Devin’s passed out on the floor when I’m abruptly woken up by a deep rumbling noise that seemed be getting closer and growing in intensity, until all if a sudden the windows start rattling and the bed starts shaking. EARTHQUAKE! I immediately reach behind me, grab my headlamp and tear out of the mosquito net, leap over Devin’s head and run outside. Behind me I hear Grace cry “Dawn! Where are you going!?” and I scream at Devin as I jump over his head, “Get out of the house!” I hear Devin saying, “Oh shit. Oh shit!” Then, it stops. My heart’s racing as I look around and see all of my neighbors standing outside talking. It’s the middle of the night. We had been feeling a lot of tremors from the last Earthquake that had hit Karonga, but this one was even bigger. This one was a 6.2 Earthquake and injured and killed many people and left even more homeless. Houses and big building collapsed, roads were cracked and impassable, Scary Larry. We managed to get back to sleep, but the next morning our little bulldozer got up and walked the 3 hour walk to Lufita and took a matola home to her home in the boma so she could get back to work. We found out a few days later that Grace had full blown Malaria as she was walking back. She had to make several pit stops on the way ‘cuz she was so weak and tired and even had to stop and vomit in the bush. This woman is tough as nails, that’s for sure. The next day she went to the hospital and tested positive for Malaria. Devin and I, with no knowledge of Grace’s illness (there’s no cell service) hung out in Ifumbo for a couple more days, we climbed up to my rock, and walked to the sketchy Tanzania bridge. I was a nice and relaxing few days. Finally, we set off for the boma. We decided to hang out and celebrate Christmas/Grace’s 26th Birthday at her house. We had a fun-filled, wrecking crew style few days there before heading south to drop Devin off at the airport. Grace was headed that way so she went with Devin to Lilongwe while I went to book our room in Nkhata Bay for New Years. I was informed that Grace, Devin, and some other Peace Corps Volunteers had a pretty wild night their last night in Lilongwe (tee hee). I was sorry I missed it. I of course represented the crew in Nkhata Bay. Eventually, the rest of the wrecking crew and a TON of Peace Corps Volunteers came together for a helluva New Years bash. It was a blast. Unfortunately I earned myself a touch of The Doom on the 1st and spent most of the day trying my best to avoid human interactions and laughter. Still in full Doom mode on the 2nd I retreated as fast as I could to Mzuzu and decided to take the fastest and most direct route home. Now I’m here, back in Ifumbo, fully recovered, ready to get my sanity back. It sounds like I’ll have about a month and a half to do just that before Thomas “the Jager Sippin'” LaMay arrives on February 28th and I begin work on my next project titled, “Dawn and Thomas do Zambia 2010”. Of course I will keep you posted on the progress. Until then, keep your head up and your fist out. Eat your vegetables. And, when it doubt…DANCE!
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