The Other Side – Tionana

Tionana means “We will see one another” in Chichewa, the indigenous language in Southern Malawi. It is the language that I spoke with my host family, the Bandas, as well as the other people in my village all throughout my summer working in Malawi.

For me, tionana encapsulates my sentiments as I left my Malawian family and home to return to Canada in August of 2010.

Prior to leaving, I wrote a couple of posts on how attached I had become to Malawi; the actual feelings as I left were different than I was expecting. Leaving Malawi I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. Around the fringes I was feeling sad, nervous, excited but the prominent feeling was one of calm.

I had expected to cry, to feel like I was leaving a family and a life behind. Truth be told, I actually tried to cry a couple of times in the last days. Driving home from dinner out with my coworkers on my second last night in the village, a sappy Celine Dion song came on the radio and I thought that would push me right over the edge. When it didn’t I realized that those tears I was sure were coming would not be spilling down my cheeks. It is not that my time in Malawi did not touch my heart, in fact it touched me more than I had ever expected, but instead that it never felt like goodbye. It was instead Tionana – tionana Bandas, tionana Mbenderana, tionana Malawi.

In my last weeks in Malawi, I found myself tipping my head back and smiling more times than I could count. I would walk to work with my host father and tell him everyday “Malawi ndi wokongola” (Malawi is beautiful) and “Ndikusangala ku Malawi” (I’m happy in Malawi), and even more often “sindikufuna kupita ku Canada” (I don’t want to go back to Canada). He would smile and say “Malawi is very, very nice” and tell me to come back soon. In fact, it was not only my father but instead everyone that would tell me to come back soon. Even more correctly, they would ask when I would come back not if.

There is no if in my mind about returning to Malawi, not on the day I left and still not to this day, it is only a matter of when.

And so it was, on my final morning, I packed up the rest of my bag, sang and danced “Waving Flag” with my sister Nduzani one last time and walked with my family through the market to the bus stop. My breakfast that day was special, we had tea with cream and extra bread and donuts. Ziwone (I previously spelt her name Zoene oops) and Happy had been working all week making bricks and both had to shower to take me to stop. We took photos in the morning and each of my family members took a bag and walked with me.

In the market, I bought one last thing, a chipande (serving spoon) to be able to make nsima (staple food in Malawi) when I returned to Canada. I decided not to buy a tiko (stirring spoon) so that I could carve one in Canada with my brother and my dad and merge the two cultures just a little bit.

We made it to the edge of the village and I hugged Nduzani, Ziwone and Happy goodbye. Alinafe, my eldest sister was away visiting her mother in another village and we had said our goodbyes the night before.  The Canadian tradition of hugging friends and family is not commonly done in Malawi and it was always funny to me the way that Ziwone and Nduzani would only hug me for a short second in public but would give me bear hugs at home. Today, in the middle of the market they gave me full bear hugs as I told them to work hard in school. Happy, my host brother, awkardly gave me a hug and patted me on the back saying he would see me soon and flashed one of the silly lopsided smiles he liked to put on for pictures.

It was just my host father and I who went on to the spot where I would catch a bus. We each hailed a bike taxi, climbed aboard and rode to the stop. Waiting for the bus, I was switching back and forth between excitement to see my Canadian friends and family, anxiety over how late the bus might be and what time that would mean I would reach my final destination of the day, Lilongwe, and sadness that standing there on the side of the road would be the last time I would see my host father for some time.

As the mini bus rolled to a stop in front of me, my stomach was in butterflies. I hugged my host father, a proper bear hug, not truly appropriate in Malawi but at the time I didn’t care, and he helped me load into the bus. I’ll never forget the smile or the way that my host father vigorously waved goodbye. The bus rolled away with my host father still waving vigorously; I turned, a small smile broke across my face and I leaned my head against my pack in my lap.  I was calm, happy, not to be leaving but to start the next chapter of my life in Canada and to be able to tell everyone back home about the people who had touched my heart in Malawi.

I started this post, saying that leaving Malawi was never a goodbye and that remains true. I talked to my host family at least 15 times in Lilongwe before I actually left Malawi and have talked to them sporadically since being home. The tears that never came as I was leaving, welled up again writing this but only because I have let myself fall out of touch with the incredible family that touched my heart in Malawi. There is not a day I don’t think about them but returning to Canada has a way of making you forget to call and the time between calls just starts to feel daunting. I write this to publicly make myself accountable to talking with my family more often and making sure that tionana never becomes goodbye.

Ziwone, Happy, Nduzani, Mr. Banda and I on the morning I left Mbenderana Village for Lilongwe and Canada.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Great post Lauren, you really captured the emotions of the moment and I had tears welling up too. I can’t wait for your next post and to hear more about getting in touch with your family!
    – Alex


  2. Posted by Craig Sandy on April 6, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Thanks for sharing this Lauren. I always enjoy reading your posts, they make me think — about our lives here, how we interact with people, how important these relationships are and about how impressed I am with what you are doing. Keep it up. Craig


  3. Ah so much love and positivity! Thanks for injecting some happiness into my week 😀 Hehe and good luck with your resolution! Make that phone call–if it’s important to you then you definitely have time for it 😉

    P.S. I love your blog’s icon… a lil Lauren is chillin out at the top of my browser! 😛


  4. Posted by Anne on April 7, 2011 at 10:02 pm


    I loved your post. It brought back a lot of feelings and thoughts from my own experience, and motivated me to reread some of my own posts and reflect a bit more, since it’s coming up to a year since we started the whole adventure. Pretty incredible, to realize this really happened and to see how much it has changed things. I don’t think you should feel guilty about not calling – no matter how often you do or don’t call, both you and your family know that you share something special and that you’ll speak again soon.



  5. Posted by minashahid on April 8, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Hey Lauren,

    Thanks for the honesty and openness in this post. You brought me back to August 2008, when I left Kambinda Village in Mongu, Western Zambia.

    “I took the bus back to Lusaka at 12am on Tuesday night, and when I said goodbye to my family there was a part of me that knew some day I would be back.” – taken from my last blog post.

    It’s been difficult for me to remain connected to my host family, as they didn’t have a phone but I know that one day I’ll walk back into Kambinda and feel at home!



  6. Posted by Carlie on April 22, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Hey Lauren,

    I loved your post. Well I love reading all your posts. They are honest and real and get to me every time, even though I have no experiences in common to draw on. I don’t know how you do it, but you get me tearing up! Thanks Lauren for sharing



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