Five very simple words.
Five words that we’ve all used when a co-worker or family member returns from holiday. Whether we’ve been genuinely interested in their time away or not!
“Nice”, “Lovely” and “relaxing” are all words that I’ve found myself using before when returning from travels. Shortly followed by, “it’s great to be back in my own bed” and “I’ve missed Millie’s cuddles”.
In some conversations, photos would be shared, and in more recent years, I’ve quickly shared blogs and reviews about the places I’ve been to visit.
But this time it’s different.
Having returned from Malawi 10 days ago, I can’t answer this question.
While daily life has kicked back in, no matter how many customers and friends ask, I still find myself pausing and taking a deep breath when asked that one simple question. And having been front of house all week in Millie’s Pet Services, you’d think I’d have sorted out a response given I’ve been asked at least 20 times a day ;0)
But still, 10 days on, I can’t find the right answer.
My brain freezes then frantically tries to search for an answer that communicates even a small part of how I feel about those 12 days in Africa when I’m asked. Then I start rambling on about how I’ve not quite got my head around the trip and make a feeble attempt at answering to make sure people don’t think it’s because I had an awful time.
Because this was the extreme opposite of an awful trip!
I think part of me struggles to answer as I didn’t approach the trip as a holiday.
Yes, I did take time off from both my businesses and I wasn’t doing any paid work while in Malawi. I even uninstalled various work-related apps so that I couldn’t be tempted to check our sales reports or speak with suppliers (this for me is a big deal – yay!).
But I guess in the hindsight I should have known how different this would be to my normal simple beach and pool-based holidays. Even though I’ve travelled in the Far East, when I booked onto Women’s Entrepreneurship Expedition with Orbis Expeditions, I knew it would be a different experience.
We’d be expected to add value to those who we met but also, personally, I’d mentally prepared myself to listen and learn throughout those days. And I knew it would be jam-packed.
But still, I completely underestimated the scale of what we’d see and do
While we had calls with the full group heading out on the same trip to help prepare our workshop sessions, I cannot thank the Kate and Dom and the full team for the thought and care they have put into crafting this trip for us.
In those 12 days, I felt privileged to be part of so many activities including:
- Delivering a workshop on marketing to women entrepreneurs in Malawi as part of a full day of workshops.
- Visited an amazing co-working space and innovation hub.
- Supported our amazing group delivering a days teaching at Rainbow Hope Secondary School.
- Then spent the second morning working with the students on a media project to help with their fundraising for a third classroom.
- We spent an afternoon with a fantastic organisation called The Book Bus. Their work improves literacy by providing books, storytelling materials and libraries for children and teachers.
- Not one but two safaris. My first ever experience of a safari. Wow!
- A few hours with the “No Sex, No Fish” initiative. Around 20 ladies travelled to meet with us and share some of the challenges they face.
- Visit to a cultural village. This was for me, the most emotional day where the extreme poverty and inability of families to feed even one meal a day was more visible.
- An afternoon and morning with Youth for Development and Productivity (YODEP), a non-profit organisation working with orphaned children, youth, women and people infected and affected by HIV/AIDs.
- An evening in a homestay with one of the YODEP leaders and their family.
And I could go on and on and on.
And I actually did go on, as I added on another four days to the end of the trip. I owe a huge thank you to the team in Malawi, as I then spent more time with Rainbow Hope School, one of the female entrepreneurs and a morning at the local dog rescue delivering donations from Millie’s Pet Services customers. I met incredible people over those days including the amazing Jackson who hand makes stunning dog beds for the rescue to sell.
Within each of those days and activities, there were so many conversations, discussions and opportunities to ‘connect’. I could spend hours talking about each and every individual part of the trip and it’s without doubt one of the reasons that I’m finding hard to sum up the trip!
I can’t explain how in a small amount of time, you can form bonds and connections despite language and cultural barriers.
While our group naturally shared stories and got to know each other during our travels and meals together, there were so many ‘stolen’ moments which I’ll treasure.
Perhaps it was the introverted side of me being indulged, but just recalling some of those ‘stolen moments’ to start typing, conjures up such strong emotions:
- The sound of Tiffany and Venetia’s laughter as they both slid down a slide at YODEP, with children around them laughing.
- One of the boys at YODEP asking to take a photo with my phone and then within seconds of being shown how to zoom in and zoom out, got it. I love the photos he took and he then quickly got to grips with Tiffany’s DSLR ;0)
- Ozzie’s smile and his gentle, unassuming nature. I won’t forget stealing a small amount of time with Ozzie, our amazing guide, to ask and hear about his experiences during the 500 elephants project where they relocated endangered elephants in Malawi. He was kind enough to indulge me and share photos of that trip. There were so many other times, that as our group was involved in activity or meeting with a community leader, I’d spot him speaking, playing and dancing with children. He is truly is someone I’ll never forget and hope to meet again.
- Sneaking away to spend five minutes with local children playing with a wheel while we waited for everyone on a quick toilet stop. We had no way to understand each other bar playing with them but it was one of my favourite moments of the trip.
- The sound of laughter and cheering from the girls who won a bridge building competition as part of an amazing workshop session at Rainbow Hope Secondary School by Lorna Dallas. One of the school girls had been quiet at the start of the task but grew in confidence. Just amazing to see.
- Walking hand in hand with one of the children to school the morning after our homestay. And having to double tie up his backpack which was too big for him before he went into the class.
- My roomie, and talented photographer, Venetia’s crazy infectious laughter late at night (claims it was due to meds to stop her itching her mozzy bites!?!?). She’ll forgive me for including this photo of her hard at work when the electricity cut out.
- The time and openness that Joseph and his team showed me when they took time out on a Saturday to talk me through the financials and challenges they face running Rainbow Hope Secondary School. Those few hours helped me truly understand the challenges they face.
These small details and many more similar snippets of time are the ones that both stand out for me and that I’ll cherish from the trip. They are the ones that conjure up the happy emotions I felt at the time.
While there were tears throughout my time in Malawi this was never due to feeling sorry or upset by the economic issues that they faced. It was always due to the welcome they showed and how open, happy and generous every Malawian we met was. Whether young, old, male or female.
I truly did feel at home at every part of the trip.
So. How Was My Holiday?
Amazing, Inspiring, Humbling, Enjoyable, Interesting, Breath Taking, Original, Wonderful, Emotional, Stunning, Exciting, Revealing …. And on and on.
Friends have commented that from the social media updates I posted, that surely this was a life-changing trip.
As you can tell, I’m still digesting all of the information and emotions. So, I honestly don’t know if it was.
But what I do know is that the words ‘life-changing’ also don’t fully capture the experiences or emotions from those 12 days. Nor does it give credit to every single Malawian that I spent time with.
The one thing I do know is that I learnt a huge amount about Malawi, the people and myself too.
And, if it wasn’t obvious, I know this won’t be my last trip (or the last blog) and it is just the start of an amazing journey.
You can find out more about Orbis Expeditions and The Responsible Safari Company via their social media channels:
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/OrbisExp/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/rscmalawi/