Lock down.

My brain is one of those brains that sifts information.

  I am amazed, on a daily basis, by how much information my kids brains seems to be able to retain.  The sheer volume of facts they lob at me every day and the number of times every week that I think ‘How do you even know that?’

Every day I pick them up from school and its like a torrent of information hits me between the ears and runs me over…and it just keeps on coming.  I mean; does anyone else out there know that adult blue whales can hold the equivalent of their body weight in water, in their mouths? Or that the Praying Mantis is such a fussy eater than when in the midst of devouring an insect, if the insects head just happens to fall off, it rejects the rest of its meal? Or that, (and this one is my personal favourite) Cows ‘moo’ in different accents, depending on where they are from.




I only know these particular facts because they were fed to me earlier today, so I haven’t sifted them yet.

I have decided that my brain sifts information and only stores  essential facts, so as to keep space for all the mundane information that must be retained, in order for ones family to function. 

I need a lot of space for stuff like:

 ‘Electricity 3 evenings in row, likelihood of 4th very slim, must cook in morning’.  


 ‘Food trucks due to arrive tomorrow, must get there before Asian community wipes out entire stock’.


‘Fuel crisis possibly approaching, must fill up 240 ltr drum in garden with 25 ltr jerry can in next 3 weeks’


‘Must buy  jerry can’. 

So you see, I just don’t have too much space for the life cycle of the sperm whale.


 But every so often a piece of information seems to manage to avoid the sifting, and it sticks.


Years ago, before we embarked on this crazy international journey, I had a cup of tea with a friend.

This friend had lived as a foreigner in another country for a number of years and had met many diplomats and their spouses along the way.   I remember her saying something like the following:

“Guard your heart. Fight the urge to self protect.  Give space for sad goodbyes, homesickness, grief and confusion, but then choose authenticity and vulnerability, keep your heart open, otherwise you will lose the essence of who you are.”

I didn’t sift this information.

Infact, over the past few years it has been something of a mantra for my life.

Man, but its hard.  Our world is a constant rollercoaster of change.  We arrive, we observe, we reach out, we take risks, we learn, we adapt, we make friends, we build relationships, we find community…always knowing that it’s a temporary thing.  Then just on the crest of ‘comfortable, settled and at home,’ we tear our children away from their friends, pack our lives back into suitcases, say goodbye and start all over.

It’s no wonder really that ones inclination is to numb and self protect.

The’ long timers’ here in Malawi; that is the white Malawian community along with a lot of repatriated Zimbabweans and South Africans, plus much of the Asian community, who have made this home, admit that they don’t make an effort with us ‘ex-pats’,

They say they are sick of making friends and then those friends leaving. 

 I totally get it.  I understand why it’s too hard. I know the sadness of permanent goodbye and the pain of watching your children grieve over lost friendships, knowing that you cannot promise that they will ever see those friends again.  It totally sucks.

I understand the need to go into ‘lock down’. To batten down the hatches, and say ‘no more’.


But then stuff like this happens.


I took the kids to an outdoor café a couple of weeks ago.  It had been a particularly crappy couple of days for one reason and another. I was feeling tired of the challenges of Africa, I can’t remember what the specifics were – probably water cuts and not being able to find some imported items which I consider essential to my survival on the planet…anyway I know I was grumpy and tired, and feeling thoroughly disillusioned 


There was only one other family at the café, and as I sat down to order my latte (Yes we can get Latte at, not just one, but two cafes, in Lilongwe) I clocked the fact that I hadn’t seen them before, and this observation usually stops me in my tracks, as I do pride myself on being Lilongwe’s most accomplished social butterfly, and frankly…well, I know everyone.

     However, grumpy me was in no frame of mind for making new friends and I sent the kids off to play and buried myself in my book.

      After a few minutes Esther started to try and connect with the little girl (she is absolutely so her mothers daughter) and I realized I needed to facilitate name swapping etc.  The child’s mother came over and introduced herself and we began a conversation.

       We were only a minute in when she told me that they, as a family, had only been in Malawi a matter of months and that they were in the process of adopting the beautiful baby on her hip, whose parents had both died of HIV and they had taken from an orphanage just weeks before.  More to the point, they were only staying for as long as the adoption process takes place…It was then, at this point in the conversation, that I felt something physical happen in my body.  I literally felt a physical withdrawal.  My heart locked down.  I felt it happen.  It was weird and it caught me totally unawares.

           I knew in that moment that I had a choice.  My weary heart was spiraling into disconnection and there is nothing I hate more than disconnection.  I have spent 7 years fighting ‘lock down’, and the urge to self protect.  Because, simply, I believe that if I don’t keep on making myself available and practicing authentic vulnerability, and in that, fighting for relationship and community, I really believe I will lose my essence and wither away.

So I made a choice.

I said, “Hey I live around the corner and this afternoon I’m hosting a kids art class, why don’t you guys come for lunch and join us for art, and meet a bunch of other families?”

 The long and the short of it is this.  

My new friend turns out to be one of the most inspirational women I think I have ever met.  We shared stories, dug ridiculously deep for two women who had never met before. 

Her story, is her story, and not mine to share, but I promise you by the end of the day I felt ‘born again’.

  I watched this beautiful Iranian woman and her beautiful children, and there was something profound in the connection she and her two children had with their new sibling. 

 It was somehow ‘sacred’. 

 I watched in awe as she put her new daughter to the breast and fed this tiny, orphaned, malnourished baby her own breast milk, and she told me how her own son had taught his new sister how to feed from the breast.

 I watched this mother and her new child, and it felt like I was on holy ground.

 I know it sounds dramatic, but they restored my hope.  And that day, I really needed my hope restored.  Malawi can leave you feeling a kind of defeated at times, and for ‘feelers’ like me, It can get exhausting.

 I so nearly missed out on a profound moment, and the beginning of a wonderful friendship, because I so nearly locked down.

 We can’t afford to miss those moments.  And sometimes they come in the most unusual packaging, right?




About Emily M. Bailey

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3 Responses to Lock down.

  1. Kirsten says:

    Good on you for fighting the urge to ‘lock down’ and instead open up to a new friendship. I think we all know the feeling but isn’t it great when an unexpected curve ball is thrown at you and turns your life around for the best 😉 . Enjoy, yet another great piece of writing. xox

  2. Juliet says:

    My lovely Em, I can feel for your struggle. I would only hope I could be as brave as you, to be able to stay open to whoever. Just what Jesus would want for us all wherever we are, but can be so hard as well. I am so proud of you. Xx mum

  3. Rach says:

    This is brilliant Em! Thanks for sharing such precious and helpful lessons! So proud of you! I’m finding this to be so true in my life journey, but I love how well you have communicated it.

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