Coming home, I had a few days to get myself settled back into the Canadian life before fully immersing myself into my optical duties.
That included, unpacking all my treasures I had hauled back for family and friends. First, stop was to my nieces, Cait and Kimmy, who had kept their promise not to give birth to their first babies until I arrived back. Although, I had said I was planning on bringing back shrunken head mobiles blessed by witch doctors, they instead got hand carved chief chairs and a Noah's Ark, with videos of him blessing these items for them and their children. It was delightful.
It was great to arrive at church on Sunday and be warmly welcomed home by the congregation. Assuring them that the rest of the team was doing great and would be home in just another week.
I also had to go and retrieve my beloved fuzzies from the Vanderkooy abode. When I arrived, Seamus and Molly were very excited to have their momma back and ready to cuddle in their favourite arms. Lulu was still sleeping....she's a good sleeper.
With extra hands and stories to catch up on, Karen, Emily, Miranda and I took the fluffy outside to the sunshine and set out to unbraid my hair.
Now, putting the braids in had been a last minute decision and it was the absolute best one. It made the trip so much easier not having to fuss with hair every day. And the women in Malawi LOVED it, complimented me on it regularly and were surprised that women in Canada did it to their hair. I did explain that it was unusual for a caucasion women. But it was a way to open the door to the community for me so that was another bonus for it.
But back in Canada, I needed to go back to my normal hair. Although, Kimmy, who is a hairdresser thought it would be great if I could get grey/silver extensions and then I would finally get the silver hair I am trying to get to grown in.....she might be on to something.
For now, out it needed to come and with extra hands it only took about an hour.
It looked so pastel rainbow and it was not staying that way. Glad I had booked a hair appointment weeks ago for the next day.
On Tuesday, I returned to work and it felt normal and strange all at the same time. First, there was no choir of women singing and dancing to celebrate my arrival. That was a little disappointing. But there were all sorts of options for each patient, as once again each order would be custom made and not just selected from glasses already made months in advance.
As I share with people my stories and experiences of Malawi, here are the things that stick with me:
1- In total, we assessed 948 people over 8 clinic days. Only about 12 of those didn't need glasses. A significant number needed 2, both distance and reading. What was amazing, was how many times we had exactly what we needed in both size and power. The research I had done in statistical refraction seemed to have paid off and for that, I am grateful.
2- People had come to the clinics, walking for kilometers, waiting for hours and wearing their very best clothes. It was SO wonderful that after all of that, we were able to dispense to them beautiful brand new glasses. They had taken the time to present their very best so it was only fitting that we give them the best in return. They were absolutely grateful for it as well.
3- I didn't do this myself. It was hard to be so lauded and praised for the work I was doing. Thanked by the people. I wish that we could have had a projector on the wall showing all the faces of the people who had donated and worked on glasses and helped me put this project together. I just wanted the patients to know that it wasn't just a few people that cared about them, but LOTS of people. I did my best to share the stories, to post Thanks on Facebook with those who had given and sent me.....because they needed to hear that from the people who were grateful.
4- I was reminded again and again, that as volunteers in a community, it is important to, as much as possible, integrate into that community. To understand them, to get their perspective, to build empathy, to become friends. To adapt to their customs, to eat their food, to use their transportation, to try and learn their language, to participate in their community....to work and be with them not just drop in from above. To have grace.
5- It's been amazing that even this week, more people are still reading the stories and contacting me about how to get involved or how to help out. It will be interesting to see how these offers play out. I know how exciting it is to read the stories and say "I want to do that" but when faced with the financial and time sacrifices, sometimes it's a harder decision than people think. We have an open invitation from Silas to come back anytime.
6- That is a dilema. Do you go back? Do you go somewhere else? There is always a need. There are always people to help. Do I spend $5000 to go back to Malawi? OR spend $1000 on 5 smaller trips like the Dominican Republic? What is the better choice? What helps best?
7- When I was assessing the children, like I do in Canada, I always asked them how was school or what they wanted to be when they were done school. They had often missed school to wait in line for the opportunity to have their eyes checked and get glasses but they all had big dreams for their future. They wanted to be teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants......I was amazed at their hope, that their circumstances had not suffocated their dreams. I pray that by the time they are ready that there is an opportunity to fulfil these wishes. I think about the Canadian students that bemoan their debt but these kids don't even have the chance to borrow money to get an education....they would gladly take on that burden.
8- This project hasn't felt as satisfying as the DR did in 2014. Maybe because I had to leave so much undone. Maybe because there were still so many people waiting when we had to leave that last day. Maybe because there is only a little we could leave behind and not a full set up. It just feels incomplete. Like I didn't finish the job.
9- I am grateful that 936 people see more clearly in Malawi than did just a month ago. We did a good thing. But I will always be haunted by Pnanzi and the miracle he desparately waited for, and is still praying for, that he feels I robbed him of. I'm so sorry.
So this is the end of a 16 month project of purpose. Thank you everyone for the love and support and for helping the people of Malawi. We did a good thing. God Bless.