Monday, August 14, 2006

Old and New

Alicia, Belinda, Ruth, Kim, Desola and Alyssa

Wine and cheese party

Malawi is a revolving door of people, especially in these development circles that seem to recycle young people at three month intervals. You see it alot in Washington, DC as well.

At this stage of my life, I tend to find it exciting. Don't like your job? Wait three months, someone is bound to leave. Don't like your housemates? Wait three more months and the real kooky ones will get their mother's to buy them townhouses. There's always an opportunity to meet new people and almost everyone passes through eventually (ok that's slightly more true for DC than Lilongwe, but you'd be surprised - last week a few of my old coworkers showed up).

After a year, you're considered an old-timer and can look with derision at those people who squat for a few months. Thus, the dichotomy between old and new is created.

To stereotype: old timers have been around the block, made their friends, know the best bars, the best deals, have done all the touristy stuff (ostensibly) and can be extremely jaded, like old war vets. New comers are fresh, excited, ready to party, do touristy things, talk to anybody and go through crappy experiences (generally, the first few times) with a huge, dopey smile on their faces.

Not surprisingly, smart new comers glom onto older timers to show them the ropes.

Equally unsurprising is the old timer hesistance to let them.

And why should they? What with the revolving door policy, what sense does it make to create a friendship with someone who will be gone in three months? My college buddy Alonzo, who was from Mexico City and consequently had alot of foreign exchange student friends, once complained to me how painful it was to open up to someone only to see them leave. After the fifth semester of saying goodbye to his "best" friend with promises to email that never came to fruition, he felt burned - and alone.

I sympathize with this. It's hard to say goodbye to people. There have been a few awesome folks that I've met here in Lilongwe that I would've loved to have gotten to know better, except for this old-timer/new comer divide. They already had a circle of friends. I could quite clearly see their dance card was booked. Yet, I felt those were the ones who could provide perspective, keep me grounded, and engage in meaningful reflection. I found it alot easier to make friends with the other three-month interns (who then, consequently left before me! ha ha justice..)

Nevertheless, however painful the goodbye, it doesn't justify the shutting up of yourself. I've never operated like that; I secretly think it's impossible for me to do. My general philosophy is that people come and go into your life when you need them; some stay, some don't. It's not any failure of our relationship if we don't keep in touch - it's enough for me to know that we shared pieces of our lives for awhile. Besides, I have a fairly good track record of "re-meeting".

To those generous old timers who opened themselves up to me during my time here, thank you. Kim, Alicia, Belinda, Alex; I'm sorry I have to go. You have graciously touched my life.


1 comment:

Megan said...

And thank God, I say.

Just because some people were never meant to stay in your life does not mean those people are worth any less. It doesn't mean they aren't still friends of some kind. It just means that as the seasons change, so do our needs and situations.

Conversely, this makes me even more thankful for the people who manage to drift back into my life; or even better, the people who never really left in the first place.

Thanks for always coming back, girl. I've missed you.