The Other Side – First steps off the plane

I’ve meant to write this post countless times. I’ve spent many hours thinking about it, sat down to a computer to start typing it, wrote a sentence here or there but never a full entry and certainly nothing to post. Somewhere along the line I fell into the trap of leaving your blog behind when you step off a plane and back into Canada. Well, starting now, I’m climbing out of that trap.

This is the first in a series of posts of the other side, the experience of being in Canada after working overseas. 

I stepped off the plane in Toronto sweating profusely. After three months of wonderful health in Malawi, the starting effects of malaria hit me on the descent into the airport. As we began to descend, I had bundled under all the blankets from the other passengers in my row; by the time we landed I had whipped them off and was sweating inexplicably. For anyone who has had malaria these hot-cold flashes are the tell tale first sign.

Malaria, like many of my other experiences as a JF, was different than I was expecting. For one thing, the timing took me completely by surprise. Not two days before I had donated all my malaria treatment with my other remaining drugs to a local hospital in Malawi thinking I would not be needing them. The timing, although surprising, could not have been better. The effects of malaria kicked in just as I was joining a group of people who had spent between 3 months and 4 years working overseas, many of whom had previously had malaria and all knew its effects and how to take care of a person with it.

With 11 personal nurses checking on me, one of whom was actually a nurse (thanks Stan), treatment from a friend (thanks Amanda), and our JF Manager watching over me (thanks Trevor) I was easily the most spoilt ‘patient’ of all time.  I was likely the most stubborn too, walking from the EWB house to our National Office for reintegration training every day. That was the other surprising thing about malaria; for me it was not that bad. I was able to walk around and participate (although I am still reminded I looked haggard as could be and took many naps on the floor between and sometimes during sessions). Plus, I never suffered any of the stomach trouble that many experience.

Malaria can be fatal if untreated and must be taken very seriously. I will never discount the seriousness. But for me, as a healthy person, wealthy enough to afford the treatment (which is quite cheap around $18 Can for the brand I took) with a relatively mild case, malaria was only a week of extreme exhaustion from which I bounced back and was running up hills again in two weeks.

The experience made me realize again, just how important EWB and other NGOs work is in promoting sanitation to prevent people from getting sick and more vulnerable to malaria or other diseases. I won’t focus on my work in Malawi or EWB’s other work there now, if you want to learn more please visit

For quite a while I thought I would not post about having had malaria. In the grand scheme of my summer, it is a completely inconsequential memory, the only lasting effect being that I can no longer donate blood. It was nevertheless a part of my experience and worth mentioning to dispel some myths about how malaria manifests and how easily it can be treated if caught early and a less serious strain (rest, water, tylenol and malaria treatment pills for three days). So beyond this, the story of the other side continues.

I realized walking down the streets of Toronto, in those first few days of reintegration training before myself and the 11 other JFs returned to our families, just how much stuff we have in our society. I couldn’t believe walking down Spadina that there could possibly be enough people to buy all of the stuff displayed in all the stores all the way down the street let alone that the objects could all have some practical use!

The things I watched with wonder in those first few days, were not what I would have guessed before leaving. Traffic lights, and generally any system where humans lined up, moved methodically in a really ordered fashion interested me. It’s not that traffic lights (robots in Malawi) didn’t exist where I was overseas, it was just watching these things happen – seeing how people in our society function according to collective norms and rules in an orderly fashion made me realize how little attention I had paid all my life to how things work and are in Canada. I was a tourist in my own country for the first time.

And so began the next chapter of my life, as a tourist in Canada, reconnecting with friends and family and taking on my next role as chapter president at The University of Western Ontario chapter of EWB. I’ll be sharing more about this chapter in the next few weeks.

For now, thank you for reading,  sorry it took me so long to post from the other side.



4 responses to this post.

  1. Love that you are back on the blog wagon! Can’t wait for more posts, and the discussions that will come from them.


  2. Posted by Craig Sandy on March 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks Lauren, this was really informative. I had no idea you had a reintegration period, but of course it makes total sense in hindsight.
    I am also glad to know your malaria wasn’t too debilitating (sp?)
    Have you had any relapses since?


  3. Posted by Cathy Sandy on March 25, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks It’s always great to see what is ordinary to us through another person’s eyes.


  4. Posted by Carlie on March 30, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    it was really cool to see what caught your attention when you got back, thanks lauren!


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