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December 9, 2009 Day to Day 0 Comments

Random Thoughts

Three weeks from now I will be in Malawi starting the adventure of my lifetime, so far. The idea that I’ll soon be there is still so surreal that it sometimes shocks me to the point of gasping when I actually realize it. There is still so much to do. I’ve got to rent out my apartment, wire some money over, move money from ING to a regular bank account, cancel the phone and internet, pack, get medication, book a spot for an extra bag and who knows what else.

I am so amazed by the generosity of the people around me. The members of the Port Rowan Community Church of which my parents are members, have been very generous in supporting my orphans. My staff and the students at my school have also been incredible. I am still nervous because I’m taking a massive pay-cut and may lose a lot of money on the apartment but these donations certainly ease the pressure tremendously. I also have to say that the words of encouragement from unexpected people, like parents of former students, are incredibly comforting. I am feeling much fear and anxiety right now and the words of encouragement and praise help me realize that I have made the right decision.

One lesson I am slowly learning throughout this process is that I am, unfortunately, dispensable. My job has been filled. My replacement came yesterday and I know that “my” kids will soon fall in love with her.

Although some are very clingy now and say, “I don’t want a new teacher,” the reality is the new teacher will replace me in their hearts. The unselfish part of me thinks this is good but the selfish part feels a bit sad at the short term memory functioning of six year olds.

I am also learning about relationships and how different people respond to change in different ways. Some of my friends are going out of their way to be kind to me, even bringing me home-cooked lunches while others have been very critical and distant. I have definitely been very emotional.

I am now quite excited about the adventure. I can’t wait to really get to know Malawi and experience life there. I know it will be exciting, enriching and intriguing. I know it will also be lonely and scary at times. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to follow this passion of mine and see where it takes me.

Thanks to all of you for your kind words and gestures.

November 9, 2009 Day to Day 3 Comments

Getting Ready to Go

Well, the preparations for my upcoming adventure to Malawi are underway. I’ve been approved for a leave of absence until June. The parents and staff at my school have been told that I am going to Africa.

I am of course very anxious. I’m nervous mostly about what needs to be done here. I have to find someone to rent my apartment. A real estate agent is helping me by listing it on MLS. It will be listed as a short term furnished rental. I hope that someone will take it. It will alleviate a lot of my anxiety.

I’ve contacted three travel agents who are researching flight prices for me. So far the cheapest flight is through London on Air Canada and Kenya Airways at a cost of $2600. I was really hoping for a much cheaper ticket. My usual route is on KLM through Amsterdam, which I’ve grown a bit bored with but it’s easy and familiar. I hope an agent will call me back with a better price.

I will soon visit the dentist for a cleaning. I also have to go to the travel doctor to get updated vaccinations and medications. I need to research malaria more thoroughly because I think it’s not safe to take the prevention medication for a prolonged period.

I have not yet told my students. It seems cruel to do that to them at this point. They are just little and they get attached to their teacher.

I’ve sent many emails and text messages to Malawi. I’m very lucky to have friends there who want me to be happy and safe. I have written to ask many questions about the availability of goods. Do they have chart paper? Do they have coloured pencils? Do they have parmesan cheese? Tofu? Can I get a wok? How muddy will it be? Do Malawians fall in the mud? The list of questions goes on and on.

I’ve received emails from the school. They will meet me at the airport and a driver will take me to buy groceries. I will meet the principal and the other grade one teacher to go over the syllabus. Stationary supplies have been ordered for my classroom. All in all I feel like I will be well taken care of.

I know I will miss many of my creature comforts like lattes, pesto, Magic Bullet, cable TV, high speed internet and a washing machine. I will surely be writing home to ask for care packages.

As the time draws nearer I become a bit more excited and a lot more anxious but I know that I have made the right decision. I will learn a lot and become an even better teacher.

November 2, 2009 Day to Day 5 Comments

Exciting News

Many of you know that I am not a religious person but I am spiritual and I do believe in a higher power directing my life. This belief has been strengthened by the events of the past few months.

On the long weekend in September I spent many hours searching for NGO teaching jobs in Malawi. I was bored here in Toronto and I wanted to return to the place where I feel alive.

My search revealed a posting for a “principle” at an international school. I figured that the misspelling of the word principal meant I could shine in such a school. I wrote to the unknown person to enquire about possible teaching jobs. I also sent emails to a few other international schools with websites.

Several weeks passed, I was back in my routine of teaching grade one at a middle class school in downtown Toronto. I’d forgotten about writing to these Malawian schools until I received an email from a woman identifying herself as the director of an international school in Lilongwe. She informed me that she was looking for a “standard one and drama teacher.” I was shocked. I have a specialist in drama and I’ve been teaching grade one for three years.

I immediately sent a resume and cover letter. The reality of the situation started to show itself and I became afraid of what was about to happen. I looked at the school on the internet and saw that it is quite modern and attractive. Again I got excited and afraid. I decided to let the powers that be do their work.

I had a telephone interview the first week of October. I had expected there would be something about the job offer that would turn me off completely. I expected the salary would be very low or the children wouldn’t speak English. After the interview I realized that the job sounded perfect for me. The director agreed to let me know within a week if I was chosen as the successful candidate so that I’d have enough time to apply for a leave of absence from the TDSB.

The conditions of the job were so promising that I immediately called friends in Malawi to inform them that I would be coming. The salary is enough for a comfortable life. The class has 26 students and a full time assistant. The school pays for a house for me and for any medical expenses I may incur.

I was growing very afraid. I worried about being lonely in Malawi. I worried about the new curriculum. I worried about the hot, rainy weather. I worried about the muddy roads. I worried about the lack of internet and TV. I worried about the food. I worried about everything. I became so worried that I wasn’t sleeping properly. I thought of this situation constantly even though the board had not yet approved my leave.

Finally, I couldn’t take the stress of trying to decide. I sat in the dark talking to myself and listing pros and cons. I went to bed with the decision that I would stay in Canada. I decided the financial hardship of going was not worth the learning experience. I had a good night’s sleep. The next morning I started to laugh at myself. My parents had told me that they had chuckled over my prudent decision. I realized finally, that if I didn’t go I’d live to regret it. If I went to Malawi I might be lonely, bored, sick and scared but I would never regret going.

I made the decision to go. Two days later I got the news that my leave was approved. My reaction was smiles and laughter.

This was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. You know I like security and consistency. I am not always very courageous or adventurous. I am practical and careful. This decision is the right one but at times I felt as if I was bullying myself into going.

I know it will be a difficult time. I will miss my home, my family and friends, my awesome grade ones and the comforts of a good school in a world-class city. I know life will be hard. I know I will learn a lot and I will definitely become a better teacher. This is the best PD I could ever sing up for. It is also likely the best weight loss program I could ask for.

So, at the end of December I will head back to Malawi. I will visit the orphans often. I will send photos and email and I ask you all to write to me. I will definitely need contact.

Wish me luck!