Sometimes you just have to write…

My First Blog Post in More than a Year…

Lake Malawi

on the shore of Lake Malawi near Mangochi

This is my first blog post in more than a year, and, not surprisingly, the topic is … why I haven’t posted in so long.

I used to post rather intermittently, whenever something came up that I wanted to write about: an angry rant, an observation from my teaching, whatever. I posted much more during my travels: partly because of the novelty of the new, so I felt like there was more to say; and partly just because I had the time to sit down and write.

So a bit more than a year ago I joined a writer’s group. My stated reason was that I wanted to get myself to write more regularly for my blog, aiming for at least once a month to start. Obviously, that’s not what happened.

At the time, what was most on my mind was the two years I spent in the Peace Corps in Malawi back in the 1980s and the trip I was planning back there to visit after 25 years. So I wrote pieces for the writer’s group describing various memories of Malawi. Some were completely newly-written while some were rewrites from diaries and notes.

What surprised me was the reaction of the other writers in the group: they liked it! And they kept asking more questions: what happened next? Why were you there? How did you feel at that moment? So I wrote more, filling in the gaps in the stories I’d already written. I hit on the idea of writing down all of my memories, at first with the idea of self-publishing them to give to my immediate friends and family.

And I found that I couldn’t sustain both: a project to write down all of my Malawi memories and regular blogging. I just couldn’t bring myself to do both at the same time. That’s why there have been no blog posts since September 2011.

(The same thing has happened in other parts of my life. Years ago, when we lived in San Francisco, the windowsill of the living room in our little apartment was filled with plants of various sorts, all thriving under my care.  When my first child was born and I was suddenly responsible for this other little life, I neglected the plants so badly that few of them survived.)

By the time we – my husband, my children and I – left for Malawi this past summer, I had written down most of my memories from the 80s. As we travelled, I wrote some more, linking what I was freshly experiencing with those long-ago memories.

So the end result is a book. Here’s a synopsis:

For all the wrong reasons, a young woman, fresh out of college, joins the Peace Corps. Her two years in Malawi are challenging, funny, adventurous, sometimes difficult, and certainly life-changing. Twenty-five years later, she revisits Malawi, and the passage of time allows her to reassess the Peace Corps, the country and its people, and her own life as Malawi has shaped it. This is her story: part memoir, part travelogue, its main themes are memory and guilt. Her trip back to Malawi with her family serves as a framework for revisiting her memories of those years and the fallibility of those memories. Her liberal perspective competes with her desire for comfort and luxury as she struggles with questions of charity and foreign aid and explores the contradictions presented by her comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle in light of the poverty of her friends in Malawi. Along the way, she provides rich description of her travels, both in 2012 and the mid-1980’s.

The first draft is done, and my writer’s group is helping me revise it chapter by chapter to tidy it up and decide what should and should not be included, given that it’s on the long side right now. (Thank you, Andrea, Jude, Karen, Kate and Lysette!)

And perhaps I’m being too optimistic or presumptuous about this, but I’d like to see it published. I’m looking for a literary agent, which is the first step if I want to get published in the US. (Any suggestions would be welcome!) And if I can’t get it published, I still intend to get it “out there,” through self-publishing, but I’d rather try traditional publishing first.

In the meantime, it’s time to post here on my blog some more. And again, I’ll aim for once a month to start with and see how it goes. At least, until I start my next book…

By the way, any suggestions for the book’s title would be greatly appreciated!



3 comments on “My First Blog Post in More than a Year…

  1. Anita
    December 30, 2012

    Not having read the book, the first thing that comes to mind is something I remember riffing on with Mari ages ago: Mango. “Ma” being the pluralizing force in the li-ma noun class; “ngo” translating, roughly, to “just”. So our fabricated meaning of mango was “justs”. You can imagine the rest at least as well as I can contort my brain to remember it.

    That riff superimposed over a quote I half remember from a hitchhike in Botswana with an expat who said something like, “If you had been here ten years ago, you would have thought the world was full of elephants.” Or maybe it was “you would have thought the world was made of elephants.” The image of an elephant world superimposed onto Malawi during the growing season conjured an image of a world made of mangoes.

    Anyway, a couple of mango titles…
    The Mango Chronicles
    Mango World
    A World of Mangoes

    There’s probably a corollary to the mango that would speak to your experience. Word association is one route to a fitting title.

    My other thought is to plunder images in proverbs, a trope that is sometimes overused but often effective if used sparingly. Also, Malawi proverbs are not at all well known or overused, so it becomes new use of an old trope. Or if not in the title, you might still consider using a proverb to start each chapter of the book.

    A few nice ones…

    1. Ukayipa, dziwa nyimbo.
    If you are ugly, know a song.

    2. Ndikanadziwa, knikanaphika therere.
    If I had known [you were coming], I would have cooked okra.

    3. Alendo mame.
    Visitors are like the dew.
    [Used to remind each other that guests should be treated well. Like the dew, they are only here for a short while.]

    4. Chikomekome cha nkhuyu m’kati muli nyerere.
    The beauty of the fig; inside, it is full of ants.
    Or, less literally: The most beautiful fig may be full of ants.

    5. Ichi chakoma, icho chakoma, pusi anagwa chagada.
    This one is sweet, that one is sweet; the monkey fell on its back.

    6. Walira mvula, walira matope.
    S/he who cries for rain, cries for mud.

    Or how about…
    White Girl Gone Crazy
    Mzungu Unleashed
    Lake Nyassa, and Other Redundancies
    Lake Nyassa, and Other Misunderstandings
    Nyassaland Revisited

    Or for a Harlequin Romance feel, how about…
    Mistress of the Dispensary

    Even if it doesn’t work as an overall title, how about this for a quote to begin a chapter: “And the sign said long-haired freaky people need not apply. Huh!”

    Oh, so many possibilities, like mangoes dangling ripe from a tree…

    What fun. I love making up titles. It’s also fun hashing out proverbs with Dean. I’ll have to post a list online somewhere. Current online lists are lacking a certain something.

    I’m glad your book is going well, and I hope you and the Fam are all looking forward to the New Year. Give Albert a tweak on the nose for me.

    • rachela
      January 3, 2013

      Thanks for the suggestions, Anita! Mangos never meant much to me; I don’t like them that much. I was thinking of something to do with nsima or ndiwo, but most potential readers wouldn’t know what they are, and they’re hard to pronounce besides. Why do you use the name Nyassaland instead of Malawi? You got me thinking, though: what about a riff, as you call it, on the country’s tourist theme “the warm heart of Africa”? Maybe I could call it “My Warm Heart”, with the subtitle “a Peace Corps volunteer revisits her service after 25 years”. What do you think?

      Albert’s nose has been tweaked, as ordered!

  2. Anita
    January 3, 2013

    Use of Nyassaland was just for the old-timey feel. Warm heart is certainly a good direction to consider. I’ll let it percolate in my brain as well. @

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This entry was posted on December 26, 2012 by in Featured, Travel, Writing and tagged , , , .
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