Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mua Mission

We went on a field trip to Mua Mission during IST. It’s a complex with a Catholic Parish, hospital, dam, museum, lodge located near the lake and a bit of a tourist attraction. To get there we took what must’ve been the most treacherous road I’ve encountered yet here in Malawi. It’s a paved road connecting the M1 to the lakeshore road (M5), but it’s very steep and very winding. Most of it seems like if your brakes failed you’d just go careening off the mountain-side. But on the other hand, the view is beautiful from the road. There were waterfalls and numerous scenic overlooks of the lake and mountains.
At Mua we had a tour of the museum. It was put together very well, there was one building with pictures, sculptures and carvings that dealt with the coming and spread of Christianity to Malawi—but that was the only building that tourists could take pictures in.
There was a little vestibule about the history of tribes immigrating to Malawi. The first people here were pygmy peoples that lived as hunter-gatherers. Then Bantu tribe people (which split and formed the Chewa and Tumbuka and Ngoni tribes, and others) migrated here from the Congo. They got along for a while, then there were land disputes and the pygmy peoples were chased out—so they aren’t found in Malawi any longer.
The second building was all about Chewa culture. It was filled with over a hundred gule-wamkulu masks and costumes. We also learned about the color scheme of the masks. Red stands for danger or menstruation. Black for fertility. White for spirits or sexual disinterest “coolness”. Yellow or pink for strangers/outsiders. There were also pictures about Chewa tribe traditions; I guess one of the missionaries was an anthropologist as well. It was really neat to see actual pictures of some of the ceremonies my language group researched. From naming babies at birth, through Chinamwale (the coming of age ceremony for girls), through marriage. And I learned a few new things as well. Such as if a baby dies in the first three months after birth, it isn’t yet considered a person. It will be buried in a shallow grave (if the grave is deep like a usual grave there is a belief that the mother will lose her fertility), and the father never goes to the gravesite, though the mother might. And girls have their heads shaved at Chinamwale to symbolize a new beginning.
The third building was split between culture of the Ngoni and Yao tribes. With the Ngoni, I had a very basic understanding of their culture from Language intensive, but pictures made a huge difference. Some interesting culture tidbits about the Ngoni people is they select their chiefs in part by having a series of qualifications, such as standing on one leg for half an hour. J Also traditionally, the men pay lobola (like a dowry) when they marry, and if the new wife doesn’t please her mother in law by deferring respectfully to elders or cooking a good enough meal, she is run out of the village. Also, when a chief dies, he is put into a sitting pose before rigor mortis sets in, and buried in a “sitting” tomb, that looks a bit like a pyramid. The Yao people we learned are originally from Mozambique and are mostly Muslim. They bury their dead in a white shroud, facing Mecca. The women also are known for their pottery and for painting/decorating their houses.
After the museum we looked at a bunch of the carvings, went to a small zoo where there was a crocodile, two pythons, a porcupine, and an antelope, then had lunch at the lodge. If I thought food at Dedza was good, the food at the lodge was phenomenal. We had rice, a carrot/eggplant dish, a pork in tomato sauce dish, and potatoes with a peanut sauce. Then there was pound cake (or something like it for dessert). It was probably, excluding dinner at Thanksgiving, the best meal I’d had in Malawi. Mmmm.

March letter excerpts

From 3/15:

We’re in the middle of the harvest season now. Busy as I am with classes and other activities, I still try to set aside some time to work in my garden. I feel I have to, what with my good natured Malawian friends shaking their heads and sighing at my overgrown, over-ripened produce. “You’re green maize is ready for roasting,” they say to me. “Your beans are sprouting in their shells. When will you pick them?” Their concern for my small farm even causes them to offer assistance. Mr. Jesmond, my night watchman, will stop by sometimes in the afternoons and offer his farming expertise, giving me hints about when pumpkins or corn or green beans are at their ripest. One Sunday afternoon, some of the girls boarding at the school saw me with a great load of beans. Soon afterwards I had about 20 girls in my house, shelling the beans with gusto. It took us half an hour to complete the task, which would have probably taken me the whole afternoon. Even with help though, it’s still a battle to keep up with the quickly ripening corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, okra, cucumbers, tomatoes… and I’m told the groundnuts (or peanuts) will be ready for harvesting soon.
Still, demanding as it is, I do love my garden. I love watching the plants fruit and flower. I love wandering through my maze of maize stalks, peering under the broad fuzz-covered pumpkin leaves and sometimes discovering baby pumpkins or a dwarf bean plant overloaded with pods hiding in the shade. I love watching the fuzzy, bright colored caterpillars and inchworms—I know they are happily eating the leaves of my plants, but I feel, this time of year, I can let them. There’s plenty to share.
Speaking of sharing, the teachers’ wives and I have somehow gotten involved in a frenzy of fresh produce trading. Well, I probably started it. I came back loaded down with so many things from home visits (in addition to what I produce in my garden) and would have felt guilty if any of it went to waste, so I distributed the things I couldn’t eat myself among the teachers’ wives: extra corn, beans, tomatoes, chicken feet… As a result, they’ve returned with roasted corn, cooked corn, cooked pumpkin, fried and breaded fish, donuts, guavas. At this point, if I’m missing something in the kitchen or if I want to bake/roast something and haven’t started a fire yet, I pop over to a neighboring teacher’s house to ask for an onion in exchange for some tomatoes, or a pot, or if they can bake/cook something for me (then I usually give them a generous portion of whatever the thing I’m cooking is). In exchange, they come to me if they need pumpkin leaves or spices.

Culinary successes (and some failures)
These are some of the things I have been cooking up, now that the chickens have started laying eggs, and so many different foods are in season.
Guavas: Mangos are over but guavas are in. As usual, people give them to me for free, so it’s up to me to find some ways of using them. As a fruit, they’re okay to eat fresh (not as yummy as mangos)—but I prefer to make juice or jelly out of them. To make jelly (or juice), you boil your cleaned and quartered guavas in a pot with just enough water to cover them, until they’re soft. Then you strain the juice through a cloth (a messy process that forces me to mash a lot of guava quarters with my hands into a thermos and remove the skins and seeds). At this point, you can add sugar to taste and have guava juice (and if you leave the juice overnight, it will ferment into something like fruit wine. I don’t trust the integrity of the wine enough to drink it straight, but it works well as a cooking wine.)
If you want to continue on to make jelly, you would measure how much guava juice you have, then add about one cup of sugar and the juice from one lemon (because lemons contain pectin) for each cup of liquid. Then you boil and boil until the liquid becomes syrupy looking. Then you start testing for the setting point by cooling a spoonful of your boiling liquid. If it has a skin like coating and takes on a firm texture then it’s reached setting point, and you should remove it from heat and allow it time to cool a little—but not too long, or else you won’t be able to pour it—and then bottle it up. Of course, the first time I tried this, I removed my jelly from heat, waited only a minute or two, then poured it into a plastic jar—but it was still too hot at that time. The plastic didn’t melt, but it did deform and I lost half the jelly, which oozed out of the top. But as usual, I’ve learned from my mistakes, and now I have lots of yummy jelly (and other volunteers have confirmed it’s yummy-ness too, so I’m not completely making a self call) that I don’t have to spend 250 kwacha a can to get at the store.
Baking: One day while at the local market I saw people selling smaller amounts of wheat flour from the 50 kg bags you might find the store. I wouldn’t be able to use (or easily carry) a 50 kg bag of wheat flour. So I was happy to get a more manageable amount (3 kgs) from my favorite market-man. I also had a few packets of yeast, the chickens have started laying eggs, and I can find relatively inexpensive long-life milk… so, with the purchase of flour, I could finally try baking.
Shortly after getting the wheat flour, I made mandazi (Malawian style donuts that you make with egg and baking powder and fry in hot oil). Then I baked banana bread, (on my paraffin stove and set the kitchen on fire in the process. There were remnants of the guava jelly I’d spilled that mysteriously lit up when I stepped out momentarily. When I came back I found the table and the stove aflame. I put the fires out, opened all doors and windows, then retreated outside to grade papers until the smoke cleared.) Despite that, the banana bread turned out well. I did wait a few days though, before I got out my yeast and baked cinnamon swirl bread, herb bread, rolls with a little pocket of guava jelly baked in the center. Finally, with some pumpkins in the garden, I made pumpkin bread. (You boil/steam the pumpkin first and then bake the bread with mashed cooked pumpkin). Baking without an oven isn’t too difficult. You can do it by putting a pot on hot coals, then putting a lid on the top and put more coals on top of the lid. Or, by putting a big pot on a fire and some small rocks inside, then a smaller pot on the rocks and cover all with a lid. I’d like to try baking some other things too, if anyone wants to pass along recipes with simple ingredients.
I’ve also tried making pasta—with less success. I couldn’t get the dough rolled out, and when I tried to boil it, it all formed a lumpy mass in the water. It was pretty inedible but I ate it anyway.

From 3/30

Malawian Cuisine: Okra
Here it is again, the food section. Skip if you have no interest. Read on if you like hearing about what I eat.
Terere (or okra) is Mrs. Mbalame’s favorite side dish. I harvested a whole bunch of the finger-like fruits from my garden one day and decided I might as well ask her how she makes it. She was delighted that I’d asked, of course, and insisted I bring my okra over so we could cook together. I’m sure it will come out just as well on a stove as it does over a three stone fire, so you can try this at home.
First wash your okra and check to make sure it will be tender and not stringy. If you can snap it in half with your fingers it’s good. Cut the okra into slices that are about a centimeter in thickness. (If you have pumpkin leaves, you can also cut those into thin slices and cook them with the okra). Then heat a pot filled with an inch or so of water. When the water starts to boil add about a tablespoon of baking soda. When it bubbles, add the sliced okra (with or without pumpkin leaves). Cook it for a few minutes, until the foam turns greenish. Then add sliced raw tomato. Cook it for 8-10 minutes more, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t boil over, and when the foam turns light brownish in color, remove it from the heat. Add salt, pepper, or any random spices you might like to taste. Serve with rice or nsima. J

From letter 2/20/09

Form 3
The form 3 class at my school has grown. Currently we're at 72 students. Happily, some of the newcomers are girls. Our class ratio is 1:5, 12 girls to 60 boys. Another change, I am their form teacher now as well. I swapped form 1 for form 3 with our agriculture teacher, Mr. Mvula. The reason for this is mostly because form 1 students have the least understanding of English, and of the staff, I have the least understanding of Chichewa. Form 1 students were reluctant to come to me with their problems. Additionally, I have the form 3 students for 14 class periods/week and am in the process of visiting their homes. Being their form teacher makes sense.
As a form teacher, I have given everyone assigned seats (helps with attendance and learning names) and teams. They sit with their team. The teams have all made up names like 'Young Destroyers,' 'Kasmallsmall,' and 'Elephant Grass' and are competing against each other for points (the team with the most points at the end of the term wins prizes). Whenever they do group work, group projects, or lab assignments, they are supposed to work with their team. The class is (at the moment) split into 9 teams of eight students including a team leader (selected by me). The team leaders help me collect and pass back assignments, and are also the go-to people for the members of the group that have difficulties understanding me. When I created the teams, I also tried to separate my chattier students, stick the girls in pairs (I didn't want any single girl to be stranded in a group of boys), and separate those who I saw copying answers from each other during a test. So far the system has been working nicely for me, with only a few bumps.
One of those bumps was a sudden influx of eyesight complaints from my good students who like to sit up front. We've compromised so that they can come sit near the board whenever there are notes to take. Also, being their form teacher subjects me to some less pressing complaints… for example, a few students (concerned about the MSCE) came to ask if I could drop teaching them life skills and teach them math or physical science during that time instead. I had to conceal my reaction (abject horror) at the suggestion, and said I'd consider it if the majority of the class felt the same way. But I think life skills is more important for them in the long run and it is the single class I have that has no exam and I can do whatever I want with, so I would loathe to give that up. Hopefully I won't have to.

Blood Donations
One Thursday, Malawi Blood Transfusion Services (MBTS) sent a representative from Lilongwe to discuss blood donations with the students at my school. I was using that week to test my students' knowledge of HIV/AIDS in Life Skills, and finding many confused about blood donation (no, they will not get HIV from donating blood, they use sterile needles now and test the blood), I strongly suggested that all attend the lecture.
I also attended, listening with an attentive ear as the MBTS representative spoke alternatively in Chichewa and English to the student body about why blood donation is important, what the blood is used for, the criteria to determine who is allowed to donate. In Malawi, many of those who require blood transfusions are women with childbirth complications. The donor has to be at least 16. The usual rules of not being sick when donating still apply. After giving blood, each donor is given a package of 'glucose' (a brand of cookies) and Sobo (a soft drink).
Once the lecture was finished there was a Q&A session conducted in rapid Chichewa. The students wanted to know (as far as I could gather)… why aren't they paid for their blood? Is it really safe to donate? Wouldn't they feel really sick after donating? Was the donated blood going to be sold overseas for profit?
These questions were answered (because it's blood donation; yes; no; no), but the students weren't at all convinced as I later found out. Walking into the form 4 class for Life Skills, I casually asked, as a matter of curiosity, how many of them thought they might donate blood? Not a single hand was raised. I was taken aback. Why not? I asked them, tossing aside any lesson plans I had made. I've donated blood in America before. People all over the world do it for free. It doesn't hurt you (much) to donate. There are no lasting effects, you might feel a little tired for a few hours aybe. And you'd be helping others. You might even be helping yourself. What if you have an accident and need a blood transfusion?
I was on my way to making a fine self-righteous sermon when a student reminded me to take a step back and look at the full picture, though he didn't phrase it as such. "Madam," he said, "There are private hospitals in Malawi and there are Government hospitals and there are the local public clinics. Students at our school have donated blood in the past. But we have never seen any of that blood end up in the local Clinic. When they need blood transfusions here they bring their closest relatives. So where is the blood going? To the cities? To the private hospitals where only the rich go?"
I thought it a good point and said so. Then I added that, to store blood and keep it fresh you need refrigeration and electricity. At my village our power regularly goes out… maybe that's why the blood is kept in bigger hospitals and why, I reminded them, we also have an ambulance that takes patients needing blood transfusions to Kasungu hospital. As for blood going to private hospitals instead of public ones, is the possibility that the blood you donate may go to save a rich person's life any reason to not donate?
We made a chart of the pros and cons of donating. I think maybe I swayed popular opinion a little in favor of donating by the end of class. But as I was leaving I said I would also try my best to track down where their blood goes, to see if most of it is used in public hospitals. One of these days I'll follow up on that by visiting the blood bank or the MBTS headquarters. I'm rather curious myself.

Home Visits
At some point I mentioned plans to visit the homes of all of my form 3 students. This has started and has possibly20been my best idea to follow through to date. So far I have visited 25 of the students, either at the places where they are staying currently, or at their home village. Some of their parents speak English. Most do not. As a result my Chichewa has shown marked improvement. My knowledge of geography of the area has greatly improved as well. And even better, people are talking. This new volunteer (I'm told they say) isn’t too proud to come to our homes and sit with us and discuss our problems. She even tries to speak our language. This wasn't my intention when I decided to do home visits, but it's a nice side-benefit.
The greatest thing about home visits; no two visits are the same. I've been presented with entire clans: parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, extended family… 30 or 40 curious faces crowded into a small thatched hut and alternatively with only one parent or guardian, or only my student. Sometimes I find myself in a town with a nice, tin roofed, brick house, furniture, and even a TV. One time I visited a grass and mud house (the parents were tenants, and too poor to even be able to afford bricks—the walls were even made of grass). Sometimes my students escort me to and from their village on foot or on bicycle.
Many times, the parents have provided refreshments; soft drinks, snacks (chippies), or full course meals (nsima, eggs, beans, vegetables). Sometimes we have good chats about differences between Malawi and America. I have been asked to aid students from poor families (and sometimes I'm asked to aid not-so-poor families pretending to be poorer than they are). Sometimes people lie, but mostly they are honest and generous. I learn surprising new things.
Often times, I'm given gifts from the students' family to take back home. (Part of Malawian hospitality, culture, and I was told very rude to refuse). I think, in total, I've come back home with 15 small bananas, 8 mangos, 18 medium sized tomatoes, about 2 kgs of fresh beans, 6 cobs
of green maize, 4 eggs, and one live chicken (that I cooked at home).
Home visits have taken me over 10 km away from my home (across rivers and roads, through fields and family compounds... for once I am very thankful that this area is flat, it makes cycling relatively easy).
Some of these villages have never seen a foreigner. I can usually tell. The kids come out from every corner to see the strange visitor. Sometimes the small ones cry.
When I'm in an area that's new to me, I usually am asked to meet the village chief and tour village landmarks. As a result, I've doubled up home visits with community assessment. At least I ask the chief what are the biggest problems facing the area and poke my nose around the primary school my students graduated from.
There were things that, from my position at home, seemed like solved problems. I've found things look very different in the villages. For example, ARVs are readily offered at the clinic, but patients must agree to take them regularly, and must come to the clinic to pick up one weeks worth of medication every Wednesday. That's fine for those who live close by. What about those who are far away and will have to walk 10-15 km to the clinic and back? At the clinic, I was told that some people, counseled to take the ARVs, refuse. The reason given was 'ignorance.' I'm wondering now if actually it's impracticality.

1. I have set up a scholarship fund. Well, I call it that. Really, it's just me setting aside some of my living allowance to assist students with school fees.
To be considered for "scholarship," you have to meet three requirements. 1) You have to be a good student. (I'm a little lax on this one. Even if your grades aren't great, as long as you come to class, turn in assignments, and show some effort, you meet this one.)
2) You have to have demonstrated financial need (and if your family lives in a hut with a thatched roof or your parents are tenants who make next to nothing, you meet this one.) 3) You have to demonstrate what I call "service spirit." An interest in helping others and giving back to the community, (or in participating in other programs I'm trying to establish). I have, so far, 6 students that I'm helping, either fully or partially, with school fees. I'm sure I'll add more as I continue with home visits.
2. A women's group I've recently discovered meets every week on Wednesday. They discuss HIV/AIDs, aid for orphans, family planning, domestic problems, nutrition, food security, and knitting. Their members come from all over the area, and they're a relatively new group.
They've only been meeting since September of last year. They are concerned with a lot of the same issues I'm concerned with. And they want my "expertise" (*cough*) to make sure they have accurate and complete information about issues they're trying to educate their community about. I think I'd like to conduct a training workshop for them, and maybe invite some other Health PCVs to come to help. The women's group have also been trying to identify orphans under age 5 (by the time they hit 5, they are identified at the primary schools), and organize care-taking facilities for them. It looks like a promising crowd to throw in my chitenje with.
3. Clubs are underway. Edzi-toto club (No AIDS!) would like to write and perform a drama in English at our school, and maybe the same drama at primary schools around here (but in
Chichewa). I would like to introduce the Girls club to the local women's group. Wildlife club is trying to get itself registered with the national registry of wildlife clubs. Physical Science club takes a great deal of my energy (and patience) and could/should basically be considered another class. To deal with clubs, which keep me at school, often, from 7:00 a.m. (school begins at 7:30) to 4:00 (and home visits afterwards), I have taken to eating lunch at the kitchen with our school boarders. Because of this, complaints from students about school food have greatly decreased. I guess they feel if I can eat it, they should be okay with eating it too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Camp Sky and Homestay Wrap-Up

I. Camp Sky
Every year, after school ends, first-year education volunteers run a two-week long camp called Camp Sky (yes, next year it'll be our turn). The campers are from schools where PCVs are stationed. Each PCV gets to recommend 2 students, a boy and ag irl (usually from form III) from their school to go to this camp.This year the camp was held a Mulunguzi Government school, a beautiful, almost college-like walled off campus with classrooms that are stocked, electricity, a computer lab, running water, dormitories, sports fields, a theater in the cafeteria - sigh - I was quite envious. Zomba (which is where the school is located) is also a beautiful place with a great big mountains and pretty greenery - there were mango trees and bougainvillea and these magnificent trees with orange red blossoms that are called flamers. I had a great time at the camp too - the students there are the best and brightest, it was great talking to them. I was also very happy to meet other volunteers, it was good to get their advice too, particularly on what to do when I first get to site, what should I not do, etc.
I also sat in on some of the classes at the camp - mostly biology, but also fun electives, like peanut butter making and ballroom dancing, where I learned to waltz, tango, and swing dance. (And my goodness, how is ballroom dancing with Malawian students for something you think would never happen in Malawi).
I. Homestay wrap up
After coming back from Zomba and Camp Sky, we had two days more to spend with our families in the village before moving out. Some of this time we had an environment volunteer, Wiz, talk to us about community assessment and gardening. I painted a picture of the view from my doorstep, took more pictures than I had in the past month, gave chocolate to the kids, was thrilled that Achimwene (my brother) had proposed to his girlfriend and she accepted - so I may have a wedding to attend next August. To Amayi I also gave a bracelet, and a picture frame - I told her that I'd have to come back to visit to give her a picture of us together to put in that picture frame... I can probably get a digital phot printed somewhere in Lilongwe. I will miss my Amayi, she certainly took good care of me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Belated Blog Posts

Hello everyone,
I'm Jocelyn's brother and am supposed to responsible for managing her blog while she's away from computers. Anyways, due to some extenuating circumstances, I'm just getting to put the things from Jocelyn's first three letters onto the blog. I promise things won't be so spotty in the future.
Here are the entries, starting with the earliest:

10/1/08: Entry and Arrival:
Getting from the states to Malawi was a long journey. For us, it started with 4 hours on a bus from Philadelphia to JFK airport, followed by 19 hours on an airplane from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa - though we did have a 2 hour delay getting out of JFK and a 1 hour stop in Dakar, Senegal, to get ourselves another flight crew and drop off/pick up some passengers. We stayed overnight in Jo'Burg and flew out the next morning (2.5 hours) to Lilongwe. As we took the steps from the plane to walk towards the airport, we were greeted with a large sign, "Takulandirani (Welcome) to Malawi" and the cheering of current Peace Corp Volunteers (PCVs) and administration, including our country director and program directors. After getting the luggage, we loaded up on a bus to travel to our training site.
My first impression of Malawi is that this is a beautiful country. There are beautiful flowering purple trees called Jacqueranda trees (check spelling on that though). The roads and sidewalks I saw were either smoothly paved or hard packed earth. The traffic was practically non-existent - most people either walking or biking. The houses are mainly mud brick - or mud - with either thatched or tin roofs (for those who can afford it). The people are friendly - the children in particular - and the domesticated animals one sees most often are chickens, cattles, and goats.
Since it is the middle-late period of the dry season, it is dry and dusty. There are also water shortages this time of year, so the only places where farming is happening at this point is in the flood plains and low lands (at least from what I've seen, it may be different in the South or by the Lake); however, almost everyone seems to have their fields plowed and furrowed, ready for the rains that start in November. This is, apparently, the time of year that people burn their fields to clear them, replenish nutrients, and get ride of snakes.

10/13/08: Getting into a Routine
Today I taught my first class in Dzeneza Secondary School. I have 67 students. It's sometimes quite a bit difficult to wrap my head around the fact that I am living in a village and taking over a freshman biology class (I will teach for 3 weeks and then administer and grade exams) - I have only been here 2 weeks after all. But so far I am very happy with my students, my homestay family, and even the rustic village life I'm starting to adjust to.
The subject of my lesson was the human digestive system - more specifically, an introduction to enzymes, and the physical and chemical digestion of carbs, fats, and protein. To demonstrate enzymes, I used a pair of scissors to cut a piece of paper with "substrate" written on it. For homework, they are supposed to pick two foods (one of them starch-based, like nsima), and write down their initial observations and observations after 2-3 min of chewing.
Let me describe homestay:
Though I am not part of Amayi's family, I have my own nyumba-a mud hut with a thatched roof. It is a very nice place. The mud keeps it cool, and there are two windows with glass panes (though the house is still very dark), a door with a padlock (for my safety), and some furnishings. The house is divided into three rooms; my bed is farthest from the door (just a mattress over a straw mat, under a mosquito net). I have one room for storage, and then the largest room has a large straw mat for eating on, a little 3-legged table I managed to procure a few days ago to use a desk, four chairs, and my water filter. We do not have electricity. After nightfall I use my headlamp or a parafin lamp (kerosene). We also don't have running water, so I have often followed my Amayi or others to the borehole (a five minute walk) to fetch water. I can't say I'm very adept at balancing the bucket on my head yet. I shower via bucket at least once a day - daily baths are the norm here - and the bafa (shower) is hidden with thatched walls, so it's private. The chimbudzi (toilets) are outside and they actually differ quite a bit. The one at my house is like a mini mud house, with a thatched roof and a deep, deep hole in the middle. Others are just walled off with straw, like the bafas, and in the open air.
I have a bit of a routine, after a week of living here. I wake up around 5:00, when the sun rises and roosters start crowing. There are domestic animals everywhere in the village. My family keeps pigs, chickens, goats, and cows. The cows have calves, the goats have kids, the pigs have piglets, and there are adorable little chicks that I have to chase out of my house every so often. Other families have guinea hens (most annoying sounding animal ever), turkeys, cats, dogs, etc.
Anyway, I leave my house at 5:30, generally after greeting my Amayi and the family/neighbors, in order to meet Margaret (another PCV in training) to run together. Then I help my Amayi with some chores, fetching water or getting breakfast, and take my bath... Afterwards, I use the remaining water to wash clothes, eat my breakfast, and rush off to school or training or language class - they generally start at 7:30. After classes in the morning, I go home for lunch.Then, I go to my teacher Dyna's house for 3 hours of language lessons. Since I usually have a ton of questions about "How do you say..." or "I have heard this.... what does it mean?" the language sessions are a great way to augment my Chichewa learning. The fact I take what I learn in class and immediately use it at home or in the village really helps with retaining new vocab also.
After class, I usually have about an hour before it gets dark. I spend this time doing different things. I've been learning Bawo, the national game, which is like a more complicated, more strategic version of Mancala; I've also been learning some of the songs and dances from the kids, or I just sit and chat with neighbors (I have made a friend who lives next door and is a Form IV student, and there is also a grandmother who loves to talk to me though I really have trouble understanding her) and I also have gone into the kitchen to watch Amayi cook.
Once night falls I have to light a lamp... I usually move into my house at that point too, to make lesson plans, journal, do homework for language class, and sleep. I try to be in bed by 9:00, which is usually the time everyone else in the village goes to bed.

11/5/08: Thunderstorms and Lizulu Market
Thunderstorms and Rain
It rained while I was gone one day. When I came back, the soil everywhere was darker, there were suddenly swarms of insects everywhere (dragonflies/cricket/grasshoppers... can't tell the difference, a stag beetle? (maybe), and flying termites - more on those later), and mud, loads of mud. I found I wasn't too fond of the mud or the sudden increase in bugs, but I did like the freshness of the air, the lack of dust everywhere, and the change in scenery.
Living in a mud house with a thatched grass roof can be a gamble in a rain storm though. If water comes through, the floor melts into mud. Fortunately, my roof leaked only in a few areas where I didn't have any stuff... others weren't so lucky. Another PCV's house apparently flooded... well, not really, but her bed and some papers did get very muddy. The flying termites also deserve some mention. When it rains, the termites fly out of their holes/hills and Malawians snatch them out of the air and eat them. It's apparently a delicacy, and kids have a lot of fun with it. Still, I think that live, flying insects may be a bit too much for me... I'd eat them dead and cooked... but not straight out of the air. :)
It hasn't rained since Thursday, but colossal, puffy cumulo-nimbus clouds have built up on Friday and over the weekend and lead to some pretty impressive lightning displays. Visibility is also really good where I live, so it can be really disconcerting to see lightning in a far off storm, but never hear the thunder. So far we haven't had any thunderstorms over our village, and I get the feeling that experiencing one in my mud hut may be a bit scary, so that's all right. I do love storms from a distance though. My nearest PCT neighbors and I all congregated outside to watch the storm, and chat, on Friday night. We've all gotten quite close in this past month, they're a really interesting and fun group of people, and I guess the similar experiences we're going through now have brought us closer together. Christmas plans are starting to be discussed among us at any rate.
Lizulu Market
Picture an open air market about a city block long with a road through the center and some small stores at the outskirts and pack it full of people and you have Lizulu. They sell fresh produce: mangos, beans, tomatos, onions, carrots, cucumbers, masuko - a green fruit with large pits and a soft skin that tastes a bit like a soft pear..., bananas, garlic, a variety of flour, corn, wheat, rice. They also sell some livestock: goats, cows, and chickens, and household/kitchen items - like baskets, basins, soaps, pots. There are also food vendors that sell chippies (like french fries), bread rolls, donuts (mandazi), and fish - and everything you want to buy, you bargain for. The nice thing is usually, after the bargaining, you feel good that you talked the price down, and the vendor also feels good that they got a good price. I brought mangos and carrots and helped the people learning Chitumbuka to bargain for the things they wanted. A lot of people got Chitenjes with interesting patterns to have them made into dresses for swearing in, but I'll wait until I get to my site I think - if I get too much stuff, I won't be able to move all of it. The other thing that is nice about Malawian markets is that people don't chase you down to try to get you to buy things, and there was no one begging for money, that I saw anyway.

All right, that's it. Be sure to check back more often for more regular posts in the future.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Hey all... So here I am, finally a sworn in Peace Corps Volunteer, and ready to move into my site for good. But if you're interested in seeing some pictures, I have some posted here:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In country update

Hi, it's almost Thanksgiving, and I'm almost through with training (only a few weeks until I swear in). My site is great, you'll hear more about it, and it looks like, when school starts in January, I will be teaching Biology, Life skills/HIV, and English... at least, that's the tentative plan. My house is wonderful as well, and I will probably keep some hens-- for eggs... I'm also contemplating a cat, because I think I may have a small rodent problem, and a cat seems like a good, inexpensive solution for that. I've so far planted radishes, beans, peas, and cucumbers, but will undoubtedly be working in my garden a lot. Well, haven't got a lot of internet time at the moment, so I'll pass along a message to my brother to work on getting those last letters typed and this blog updated. Love you all! Glad to hear that Obama has won the election. :)