For those of you who have heard me speak, you know I often start by saying “Sanitation is a story that is often untold. It is the elephant in the room silenced by taboo and disgust”. This is a true statement but I feel the need to discuss it nonetheless. For years, I have been known as the “poop girl”, which has always been figuratively, not literally. Until now.
Last weekend, I travelled with several GHC fellows from Lusaka, Zambia to Mangochi, Malawi to attend a well-known music festival called the Lake of Stars which is on Africa’s third largest lake, Lake Malawi. It was a time to decompress from all the work stresses and to find time to celebrate after the recent death of my Aunt Zanna, with whom I was very close, that I intended to visit next month. ZamFam adventurers- Kalin, Sara, Reena, Brian and I-climbed aboard the most chaotic bus experience of my life. Tickets were oversold so travelers were standing in the aisles for this alleged 12 hour journey where no air conditioning was present and baggage was overflowing from the ceiling spaces; honoring Zambian transportation tradition, our journey started nearly 2 hours late and took 2 longer than anticipated making it 16 hours of sweaty restlessness in a coach that had no onboard bathroom. Finally, after spending an extended period of time at the Zambian-Malawian border, we made it to Lilongwe to meet up with our GHC Malawi friends.
Greetings were exchanged and food was had as we attempted to freshen up before yet another mini-bus type experience- a 6 hour shuttle ride to the festival venue. Similar to our transport delay in Zambia, the mini bus travel was delayed by a tardy mini bus arrival which caused some tension amongst the Malawi fellows who had planned the excursion. Luckily, we soon made our way and another 6 sweaty hours later we FINALLY arrived in Mangochi and to the beautiful Lake Malawi. Those of you who know my passion for music festivals can imagine how excited I was to be able to attend this festival, on the same weekend that I was missing the third annual, international and magical experience of TomorrowWorld.
ZamFam lucked out and borrowed sleeping bags from friends and tents from the Malawi fellows which was awesome. We had a sweet little camp site full of GHCers from Zambia, Malawi and the Uganda cohorts and even previous fellows were present. Much to my dismay, literally as soon as we stepped off our last mini bus, my stomach began to growl. And then scream. And then erupt. NOOOOOOOOOOO!
Without much warning, I was thrown into vomiting and diarrhea fits-my first GHC parasite came at the worst possible time. Luckily, I was traveling with the absolute best crew that was super supportive and even hooked me up with some meds. As much as it sucked, literally everyone that does development work has been through this at least a handful of times. It was comforting to be around people who were constantly talking about monitoring their bowel movements and who traveled with poop meds in large quantities. I cannot imagine what I would have done without them! Seriously, I love yall so much for helping me out. Although not ideal, this parasite situation did give me plenty of direct research on the type and quality of toilet facilities that were around for first hand research!
Luckily, I was still able to enjoy many parts of the festival including incredible artistic performances and a bit of the street food. We spent a day lounging on the beaches and also saw some monkeys in our campsite! As my parents always say, many things do not go as planned, but you have to make the best of it. And I did. It was truly a beautiful oasis of a vacation despite the ass-lava situation that limited my range of activities.
While I really did enjoy myself, I realized that there was no way that I would make it on another 6 hour bus ride proceed by another 16 hour sweaty journey with minimal bathroom stops. However, as an aside, my friend Brittany told me that shitting in your pants during long bus rides is actually a very common thing that happens to expats—but I am glad I dodged that bullet, for now at least. I had to call in back up.
As much as I want to be a full fledged adult that handles her own crises, I am forever thankful that I have dedicated and devoted parents who are always on standby to help me during my times of need.Fortunately, there were 4 seats left on a low cost flight from Malawi to Zambia, and I had some savings that I could tap into.
After the shows were over and camp was packed, we headed out on another 6 hour bus ride from Mangochi to Lilongwe where I spent the night with the Malawian GHC fellows. Early the next morning, I was able to relax and have a nice breakfast at the Korean Garden Lodge and then flew back to Lusaka that afternoon with this really legit plane ticket.
I immediately started taking the heavy duty antidiarrheal meds that were in my room upon arriving back home. Thankfully, I have recovered, and celebrated having my first solid poop a few days ago! Despite the parasite, I had a beautiful time at the Lake of Stars Music Festival with my ever inspiring and amazing GHC Fam.