Grief and Geckos in Malawi

April 3, 2018
malawi, malawi stories
Grief and Geckos in Malawi

In February of last year I lost my best friend: Julia. It was awful for all of us. We saw it coming (cancer) but it also caught us off guard (people who are larger than life aren’t suppose to die). I spent the better part of the year trying to figure out wtf had happened. I tried to do self care and sort out life with a massive hole in it. Would things be changed forever? Certainly. Would I ever feel completely normal? The jury still seems out on that one.

I went to Malawi for the month of November. I was there for work, volunteering on a wildlife rehabilitation program. I was making sure it was safe and fun and doing work that I could put my company’s stamp behind. I had met Julia at a wildlife rehabilitation centre in Canada so the trip seemed double sad and double significant and double special and all the things you feel while you are grieving.

Geckos are little messengers from the other side. They are sent to let us know people who had passed on are thinking about us.

On my first day volunteering I met all the other volunteers and we got to chatting about the things you do when you are travelling: vaccinations, movies, phone plans and geckos. There was a gecko in the volunteer living room and as he chirped away, a German woman told us about a book she had read when she was younger. The book was about something she couldn’t remember, but the part that stuck with her was that geckos are little messengers from the other side. They are sent to let us know people who had passed on are thinking about us. I asked if she believed this idea. She shrugged and said she didn’t know but wasn’t it a nice idea? We all agreed.

When I was there, I celebrated Julia’s birthday. It was the first since she had died and I was very hesitant to even think about it. On the morning of, I woke up to the sounds of baboons and vervet monkeys climbing around outside. They called to each other and played in the safety of the centre. I took a deep breath as I un-tucked my mosquito net from my bed and put sandals on. I looked at the light streaming in through the windows below the thatched roof and, through tears in my eyes, saw the dust dance in a sun beam. I took another deep breath, put on my volunteering shirt and took an anti malaria pill. I muttered ‘I miss you Julia’ and went towards the door to start my day. Then I saw it… a gecko. On the ground… dead. I went from hesitant and sad to sitting on the ground laugh-crying.

Julia was one of the sweetest people I had ever met and she also was hilarious. She, like everyone in our lives who loves us, would never want to see any of us sad. A gecko in my cabin on her birthday? That is tear inducing, it’s a bit real. A dead one? That’s comedic gold. I knew immediately she was thinking about me but that she also wanted me to laugh and shake my fist at the sky.

Sometimes life is sad. Sometimes life is an adventure. Sometimes life is absurd. Sometimes life is all of those things (and more) and you remember that because of a dead gecko.

About Nora Livingstone

Nora LivingstoneNora Livingstone is a co-founder of Animal Experience International, a B Corp that helps people travel around the world and volunteer with animals. She also is a mountain guide which helps her live a fairly nomadic lifestyle. She has slept on more couches than beds and never has to worry about going over her mobile data- that’s what airport wifi is for! She currently calls Vancouver Island her home but she wrote this bio while staying in a yurt in Mongolia.

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