As I sit here on my bed, a foam mattress with a hand carved bed frame, cloaked by a blue mosquito net, the mix of African-Latino-Euro dance music pumps away at the pub across the street. It must be deafening inside the bar, because I can hear it loud an clear through the thin walls of the guest house I am staying at, just a short walk away. It's Friday night in Blantyre, Malawi and as much as I wish I could join the sweaty dance party just on the other side of the street, I am confined to the complex, not allowed or really willing to risk going out at night. This really is a shame, because as much as I would like to experience the Malawian culture and night life it is not safe to go out without an escort. What a strange feeling, to become a prisoner because of my ethnicity and origin; I have never quite felt cultural boundaries this strongly before.
We drove into the city of Blantyre today and stopped in a few neighborhoods with our Malawian co-workers where very few Muzungus (white people) visit. We were stared at with piercing eyes by most, but were also received with laughter and pointing or a thumbs up in mockery from the children. What can I do but smile? To some of the kids I said hello or waived from the car, not sure if I should feel like a celebrity or a criminal, resembling some sort of colonial effigy riding in an unattainable chariot from another age in the form of a beat up Toyota 4x4. Of course, my intentions are only the best. We are here to perform an internal audit of our partner non profit that provides comprehensive water, sanitation and hygiene projects to the Malawian people, who are severely in need of a bolstering of their lackluster infrastructure. As I look forward to the challenge ahead, I can't help but wish I was able to blow off a little steam from the intensity of this trip by tossing back a beer and joining in on the dance party that is bumping to the beat of the bass just across the street, although it feels like worlds away.