This weekend, after a long and arduous journey down the Kern River, I stumbled over to a sweltering tent determined to nap away the hot afternoon. Exhausted, sunburned, and maybe a little tipsy, I closed my eyes with conviction and waited to drift off to sleep. Approximately three minutes and two liters of sweat later, I gave up on my sleepy aspirations and climbed, gasping for air, out of the death trap. As I sat in a shaded folding chair, cursing the boiling air inside the blow up mattress, I began to dreamily ponder my recent relationship with sleep.
There are few things more frustrating than being awake when you’d rather be asleep. There are also few things more frustrating than Malawi, so as you can imagine, combining these two things makes for a fairly frustrating (albeit entertaining in hindsight) situation.
Sundown in Malawi is 6:00 p.m., which means that the only light comes from the moon and two candles that Russ had strategically placed around the room. While peaceful at first, there’s only so much time you can spend in dark silence before you decide it’s time for bed.
While at home I could fall asleep to the white noise of traffic and wake up to early morning leaf blowers (regardless of the time of year), in the silent Malawian night, any creak, movement, or slight wind would jerk me awake.
Me: “What was that?!”
Russ: “Just a bird tapping on the roof.”
Me: “What’s that noise?! Is something in the room?”
Russ: “No, I sealed up the hole where the bats used to get in. It’s just something outside.”
Me: “Ok, that’s definitely hail. What’s happening?! Is the world ending?!”
Russ: “It’s just leaves falling on the tin roof. Go to sleep.”
Had it not been for the mosquito net that I tangled myself in each time I entered or exited the bed, I never would have slept for fear of death by flying cockroach swarm.
And of course, once I finally found a spot on the shared twin bed that allowed me to sleep without sweating to death, the trusty neighborhood rooster would alert us to the fact that there were only 2 hours left before the 5:30 a.m. sunrise. With the sun up and Malawians yelling across the village at one another (they are great distance talkers), we groggily trudged out to the porch chair each morning and watched Malawi wake up.
Despite the restlessness of sleep in Malawi, I still find myself missing the sounds of village life. Waking up to Malawians working at 5:00 a.m. or a rooster crowing to protect his free range hen is often preferable to the early morning dump truck and late night drunken brawls outside my city bedroom window.