Evan and I spent Saturday in Land O’ Lakes with his family, celebrating his grandfather’s 75th birthday. Of course, everyone asked, “How was Africa? How was your trip?” I still haven’t found a concise and coherent way to describe this trip. I tell people, “Oh, it was amazing!” or, “Our seminar went well, and I loved the people I met,” but those answers don’t seem sufficient.
So, instead, I show them my photos, and one by one, I tell the story of the person or place on the screen. It’s the best way I’ve found to give a complete picture of the trip, but, at over 300 photos, it takes a long time and hardly makes for fast and easy conversation.
Saturday night, after the birthday party, I sat down with my father-in-law on the oversized leather couch in the living room, and I showed him every picture. He asked good questions, zoomed in to see the details, and asked to look at some pictures again so he could remember people’s names. I’ve been home for a week, but that was the first time I went through every picture, start to finish.
And that night, I dreamt of Malawi.
When my alarm went off on Sunday morning for work, I woke up confused about where I was. I expected to see a blue mosquito net wrapped around my bed or the faint smell of fire lingering in the air. It took a moment for my brain to catch up.
I was only in Malawi for 9 days.
Still, I can’t shake it. I carry the red dust on the bottom of my shoes and the unresolved stories, percolating in my mind.
Every other Wednesday, some friends and I meet at Panera for what I call Writing Lunch. We each bring a blog post for the others to critique, and we push each other toward more writing and better stories. Last week, I brought an unfinished draft and we discussed how I’ll approach writing about Malawi. My friend Lauren said, “You’ll have to find something better than saying ‘I left my heart in Malawi,’ because everybody says that, and what does that even mean, anyway?”
Truth is, I’m not really sure that I left anything in Malawi besides toiletries and old pairs of shoes.
I brought Malawi home with me.