Wednesday, August 25, 2010

As to my side; I finally finished that goat husbandry training that I feel has been pending for months. It went more smoothly than I ever could have dreamed and the content was rather impressive. Once it was in full swing really I was just on food duty, which can be crazy for 30 people when you only have a bike, which means lots of bread and spreads. Sometimes trainers were late and trainees didn’t show, but at the end of I was left with and students that hopefully learned enough to not kill these 500$ a pop goats from south Africa; not to mention a bloody bowl of testicles from the castration practical. I was a bit skirmish the how time and my site mate who came to take pictures couldn’t hold still for the phantom crotch pain. But my women jumped right in to participate. I was so proud of them.
I go to Lilongwe more often these days to enjoying an array of creature comforts and spend time with the boy and recently (I don’t know how my boss worked it) we got to have a luncheon with the president of Malawi! We went to the state house complete with Zebras grazing in the front yard, lunch, speeches, open bar and dancing. It was super chill and I was surprise at how much fun we all had. It was a good PR thing and they even put it on the local TV station. My first time ever to shake the hand of a political leader and his wife, it was awesome! But man did I get some nasty blister because after only wearing tevas for some 17 months having to polish up and wear heels was a bit too much for my feet.
I have now sat on this email long enough I have other things to add to it. Now the goats have actually arrived in the village. We are still waiting on the big males, which is unfortunately the main point but the other 40 local females for breeding are there…well actually only 25 of the 40. So here is the story. When we meet the suppliers in the boma the goats they had in their truck were not only less then 7 months old and sick but they were fainting because they hadn’t been feed of watered for 2 days and later some would actually die. This was a breech of contract so we got the price lowered but for what we were paying they were still way too expensive. We were paying 2 different prices as the goats were coming from 2 different places and we did this in order to mix up the genetics. Come to find out later that the further away company called the closer company and they all came for the same place but the prices remained the same. I was furious and thinking of the horrible things I should say in Chichewa to their faces. I laugh now as the worst things I could think to insult them with is that I hoped they got aids and die. This country will never go anywhere if citizens and government employees continue to try and take financial advantage of those local people who have initiative enough to try something new or people who are trying to help or at least not until there are legal consequences for such to action act as deterrents. For example, Peace Corp had an accountant who for years and years embezzled money. By the time they caught it in the records he had taken thousands of US dollars. But even with lots of paper trails and evidence because the court system doesn’t work here and probably someone got paid off it has been two years and no sentence/verdict has been passed. It was just frustrating in that we tried so hard to do our homework so that we would get a good product. Talking to vets and extension agents in order to do the right thing but we still failed. We are still trying to coordinate for the male goats, which is the whole point. We are thinking this week but once again I’ll get back to you if it actually happens.
Got an oil press to a women’s group but they are dragging their feet to find someone to make the stand of it so I may just borrow my sitemate’s tools and go try to make it myself, though the board I got for making it I think is going to be too thick and heavy so I might have to buy another one. Recently went to a wedding…When I finally arrive back in the states I’m going to miss being the guest of honor, given all the best food and seats, everywhere I go. I didn’t the story all that clear but my neighbor was saying something about two guys stealing all the money that was earned for the new couple and then something about the police finding the guys and an ax.
In other news my neighbor’s twins are babbling up a storm and they know mama and the name of the dog, Charlie. They are little crawling monsters that can stand and dance if you give them a beat but not walk. The Academe has been on their winter break so there are no students around and I have found pleasure in going and watching music videos until late in the afternoon at the club there. It’s still a little cold here to be using the pool. While waiting for my rare door to door ride to Lilongwe the other day (To get to Lilongwe it is usually a 2k walk to the road, a 30K ride in the back of a pickup to kasungu, a 2k ride on the back of a bike to the main highway where I stand under a flattop African tree where I do my hitch hiking to get to town. Then people who take me to Lilongwe usually can’t drop me exactly where I want to go so I often have to catch a 15 min minibus ride too. You can imagine how nice a direct delivery is.) I played a Malawian game called fly, which is a kind of dodge ball with the neighbors. I had played it many times before but it had been awhile and the interaction was refreshing but I was so dusty by the end I had to go take a bath I couldn’t go into town looking like that.
It is crazy to think that I only have 8 months left to be here and have to start little by little thinking about what will be next only when I have begun feel that I have gotten settled here. It’s rather tiring yet exciting that once you get a job lined up and your life in order you have to turn around and change it again. I’m considering anything from staying here in Malawi, doing initial 1st world reentry on an organic farm in Squim Washington, moving to Vermont and getting a low stress job going food service or going back to school. I don’t have to starting making serious decisions about this kind of stuff until December.
As it is i'm going up to the northern part of the country to Karonga where a girl in my group is holding a week long women's development camp. Showing these high school girls their career opportunities, other women who hold leadership positions in the community, their rights as a human being, reproductive and sexual health, leadership skills, self respect and in general just create a space for discussion. I'm going to get help teach and control the chaos as needed. Well that 's all i can think of for now so i'm going to head out and get lunch at my usual greasy spoon place in the old town market called the silver spoon where i get a coke, a huge plate of beans, rice with greens and a type of tomato sauce to pour over the rice for just $1.50 of 210 Kwacha.

Monday, April 12, 2010

April 11th

I got my new kids today!!!! They arrived in malawi about 2 months ago and I had the opportunity to go down to dedza to help out with their training for a week. It was priceless to gain that point of reference by which to see how far I’ve come in my understanding in being here for a year. I'm excited to see that the 2 new puppies (the new kids) i got to take home are two awesome boys! One from Connecticut who will be replacing my sitemate audra and the other from Georgia who will be at a new site near the Nhotakhota game reserve. We are going to have good times!!! I am so excited in fact that they arrived today that I am typing this at 3:00am because I can’t sleep. And in conjunction with life’s cyclical nature in receiving two new good friends I have also lost two good friends. Audra and then a good friend i have made and always stay with while in Lilongwe. Her name is Kamla and she grew up in Manhattan right next to freakin’ central park. I went and saw her off at the airport. They were incredibly generous and genuine. (The people who are moved into the house after Kamala left are also awesome; a Norwegian, an Irish and a Canadian.) I hope I never cease meeting people who inspire me to awe and wonder.

My Easter weekend though it wasn’t filled with chicken dumpling soup or peeps being blown up in the microwave was filled with YOGA!!!! I have an education sector friend who hosted a yoga party. Six of us headed to her place and aside from eating cinnamon rolls and chicken fajitas, we would lead each other in yoga sessions. I just finished a two day training of the “Hope Kit” which is an interactive, visually aided resource given to us by the peace corps to facilitate teaching people about HIV/AIDS. This group was a newly formed and motivated Community Based Organization (CBO) out of Ntumtama. I was no doubt wringing my hands at the edge of my comfort zone for those first few minutes, but looking back I had nothing to worry about as they loved it. We had a ton of fun and I finished out by giving them the kit to use with other villages and having feeling I had actually accomplished something. I’m sitting high this week.

Next it’s back to msulira to teach soap making and get the women of Zombe to commit to an oil press. Then in the end of April going to visit some of the places my coworkers live, then to mid service training (i can't believe a year has passed already!!), Finally, my mom and Wesley come for 3 weeks in MAY!!!!! I’m also excited that afterwards my brother (who I haven’t seen in 3 years because he went on a mission for two and then I was here) is going to see my dad and sisters and after that my dad’s family in South Carolina. Mind you last time they saw him he couldn’t even walk yet, so some 20 years! My mind can't think past May. I’ve only printed calendars off to the end. My life has not been thought about much past may.

As far as before may....the rainy season has come and gone. My garden is and mostly was weeds and grass. Any seeds that were too small were washed away though I tried reseeding many times and alot of stuff drowned, but the string beans, radishes and zucchini did great which is funny because those are the crops that people always plant but no one likes to eat. Everything else failed though I have yet to try to dig up the sweet potatoes or cassava so there my yet be hope. The raised beds I built by my house are doing good. I've got booming ginger, lemon grass, oregano, birds’ eye hot peppers and an assortment of flowers.

Work as always is happening little by little and because of that I’ve shifted my focus. I've stopped taking myself so seriously in matters of ‘work’ for three primary reasons. First I’m doing development work and not environmental conservation. Though I understand the importance and connection between the two I still find myself incline to participate in the later half, which is reaffirming as i continue down my path of discovering my future course. Secondly, as a extension worker stationed in the field, I find myself, instead of implementing projects spending most of my time writing grants to get money to do projects, which (insert sarcasm here) I’m finding difficult as I’m 5 hrs from the office. Lastly, many of the people with whom I work despite their being the most warm, generous and kind people I’ve ever met, I pray forbid you ever have to work with them. First it’s like putting a rocket scientist in a trailer park. I’m have trouble trusting them to be fair with each other (will the person housing the oil press/nut sheller actually allow the other people in the group to access it?) to honest with money (skills of balancing a cashbook, tallying receipts or budgeting have never been taught and some always gets skimmed off the top), or being responsible for tasks (6 reminders and 3 weeks later something might be done). So what the hell am i supposed to do? I'll tell you what I'm doing!

I'm cherishing the relationships I'm making (which have become very dear to me) instead of stressing. My little neighbor boy is my buddy. He give me hugs. He runs up saying “auntie huggy” and comes to check on me every day. I have another other neighbor whose daughters always humor me with a dance parties whenever I want them and they always send me home with delicious food. Then are there is the chief’s youngest daughter and grand daughter who are like sisters to me, Moreen who is so proud of her little boy and can ask any question of and the group village head man who damn near shakes my arm off my shoulder every time i see him. Chisomo’s twins are now sitting on their own, are a lot more gutturally verbal, interactive and are beginning to do the worm. Tandy who just had a little baby and let me name him bring my total to 4. I’ve given up on R’s and L’s so this one is christened Jacob. I held him when she wouldn’t let anyone else; the list goes on. The things I'm learning and the time I’m having away from the noise of the usual is such that when i go back it will be impossible for me to return home and go back to doing what it is have always done, which was the point in the first place.

Know that at this moment of focusing on nothing but thoughts of you, who I left at home, that my deepest most sincere heartfelt wish is that you are happy and healthy. I no longer have tabs on your coming and going other than through the technological miracle of facebook. My minds eye has kept you all to be exactly as you were when I last I saw you; this casting being as true for you as it is for me. In any case know that i send you nothing but thoughts of strength and peace in the endeavors you are sharing and engaging yourself in these days.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Christmas Vacation Installment #2

It was a rare moment that I didn’t feel I was walking through a national geographic spread. The path was just a foot one that connected village after village along the slope of mountain after mountain that cascaded into in the water. I wondered at how for the people who lived here their only flat space was the waters surface. We asked daily how far to Rawarwe, which the local’s call charlie’s after it’s owner, and everyday it was anywhere from hours to days away. Women dried khonole on rocks, the men mended nets, the little girls fished with long poles from the shore and the boys took the boats out like teenagers do their parents cars back home. We saw monkeys, snakes, chameleons, an array of colorful birds and fish. We would hike ‘til we were exhausted and then hiked a little farther ‘til we found a good bit of sand. After asking permission to stay we’d wash up, cook dinner and watch the night. From time to time people you’d find someone selling a coke.

Did I mention it was beautiful? After 5 days of walking we were skeptical that this rawarwe as going to be any better than what we had been experiencing the last couple of days but it was and by the time we got there we were ready for the sit and enjoy spot that it was. Drinks, swimming, snorkeling, natural waterslide, high scream extracting rock jumping, good company and my tent was on a little cliff that overlooked the bay. After a few days of the main event being the family style dinners where we’d pass about big bowls of food we hiked to a village were the only public passanger boat on lake Malawi, the Ilala, stops. The hike out was a bit more of an exercise in patience as children would grab at your bag and hands wanting to hold them and the cries of ‘Adzungu’ reached volumes and reputations of 15 and 20. We finally got a old lodge that had obviously seen it’s glory days years before. Cushions were fading, termites where eating books away, hammocks were deteriorating, the resident dog was so old it looked like a rat and there was just one caretaker seeing to the grounds. Surreal, perhaps even eerie, but we had run of the place and were soon endeared with it.

The Ilala was actually a really pleasant ride though riding the life boats from the shore to get to the steamer was a bit intense as there was overloaded and loaded poorly.

The itinerary for the return home:

10:00am: Board Illala
2:00pm: Arrive in Nkhata Bay and hunt for food
3:00pm: Catch a matola to Mzuzu
5:00pm: Arrive in Mzuzu and walk to the Mzuzuzoo to stay the night

Next day
8:00am-11:00am run errands with Lyn
11:00am: Catch the AXA bus to Jenda
3:00pm: Arrive in Jenda and walk to Lyn a fellow PCV’s house
3:30pm: Take a load off

Next day
8:00am: Walk to main road
9:00am: Catch a hitch to Kasungu
11:00am: Arrive in Kasungu
11:00am-2:00pm: Run errands
3:00pm: Leave minibus depot
3:30pm: Arrive at Msulira
4:30pm: Arrive at home sweet home!

Did i mention that since it started raining bacteria has been able to grow a bit better and have to laugh as most any cut I get now becomes crazy infected and I walk around with these huge sores like some charity case. But don't worry they are getting better...slowly.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I realize it is a little late to be relating to you the details of my Christmas travels but I figured it was a good enough story you wouldn’t mind waiting for it. So here is my Christmas Eve itinerary as I traveled from Msulira to the place of Peace Corps convergence about 200km away at another volunteers house on the lake shore.

7:00: Start sitting on the side of the M18 waiting for something with wheels to pass.
8:00: Found the wheels
8:10: Arrive in Malomo to find more wheels.
9:00: Wheels that were found finally start rolling toward Nkhotakhota.
11:30: Wheels arrive at Nkhotakhota.
12:00: Big, Fast Bus comes then passes as it is too full to take more passangers.
1:20: Big, Fast Bus #2 comes and goes as the first.
2:00: Gave up on Big, Fast Bus and took as twice before crowded pickup truck beds.
3:30: Arrive in Dawangwa.
4:00: Another matola
5:00: Matola driver pawns me off on to a semi-truck not much slower than the matola.
6:30: Arrive in Tukombo just after nightfall.
6:45: Walked to Melanie’s House.
6:46: Drink in hand!!!

Christmas morning woke up early to take a swim in Lake Malawi in the light rain which turned to pouring. Beautiful! Walking back to the house I was stricken with mango greed. I’d pick up one only to drop two I was already carrying. Shirt, skirt, chitenge and my friend’s hands all were over flowing and I ate every single one. Melanie the night before had stayed up and painted some black socks her mom had sent her with our names and Christmas symbols and stuffed them with goodies also sent by her mom crystal light, chips, gum, chocolate, Malawian candy, granola bars, complete with a mango in the toe. John brought a santa hat so we all sat on his lap as he gave us our stockings.

The Rest of the day was spent connecting with family from home and cooking delicious food like mac and cheese, boxed stuffing, mashed potatoes, salad, chip dip, cheese, crackers, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole; most of which was curtsey of home. Though the neighbors brought a huge cut of beef and we slaughtered two chickens I don’t think I will soon forget pat’s face as he was frantically sawing at the chicken hanging from the tree who refused to let it’s neck be separated from it’s body. Not to shabby of a way to spend my first Christmas away from family.

The next once again drizzly morning the 8 of us packed up (our parade would turn many heads before it dissipated at the end) and walked out to the bus stop but because we were so many before we even got there a minibus going the other way stopped kicked everybody off, turned around and took us to Mzuzu. Took a while, but around 1:00 we got there had lunch and soft serve ice cream…..oh ice cream. After arguing trying to get a fair price with conductors for about at hour we found a bus at the depot that took us in the pissing down rain down hairpin turns in late afternoon into nightfall. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t scary. To give you an even better of what a motley crew we really were. On the way down the escarpment we began playing that “Do you know where to get off?” “No, I thought you knew!” “Who would know?” “Emily?” “You got her #?” “No.” “Hey lyn you got emily’s #?” And thus we arrived at Chiweta at night in an African monsoon. We took refuge in the local police station of this little unfamiliar village. Upon asking if there was an empty structure we could seek refugee in for the night. The policeman, who by chance was on duty, took our token Chitimbuka speakers to a local priest who opened the doors of his church to us.

The little priest, who was very concerned for our well-fair, led us up the escarpment a little ways to a, by Malawian standards, fairly affluent church that was still contained remnants of the days Christmas mass included three different colors of toilet paper stung from the ceiling and flowers. We kindly turned down offers of food though agreed to some buckets of water and spent the evening watched from our amazing vantage pointed the lightning storm that was pounding the lake.

The next day we made tea and brushed the pegs to an audience (once again the first of many times this would occur) and took off along the dirt path that would lead us south along the lake shore and with hopes to the magical place all PCV must see before going home, Rawarwe.

To be continued......

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dec 4th

Though I didn’t spend thanksgiving with family, I did spend it with friends and spent it cooking insane amounts of food at the ambassador’s house in his industrial sized kitchen. It was very satisfying to be reminded that though I have a hard time, making cassava leaves tasty, I do know how to cream butter and sugar and use a kitchen aide to make an applesauce cake.

We cooked such ridiculous amounts of food we were contemplating the serious options of mashing the potatoes in a washbasin with our feet and all this while the US ambassador tried to get his breakfast out of the toaster amid the chaos. We didn’t have turkey but we did have two roasted pigs complete with the token apple in the mouth. And though the boys were inwardly disappointed that there was no big screen football, the mail worn cans of cranberry sauce, in my mind, more than made up for it.

The ambassador’s house it full of beautiful treasures, each accompanied by a wonderful story; attained from his various placements. (They have priceless antiques from all over the world but I laughed when I saw a small cross stitch that read “home is where the state department posts you.”) Not to mention 4 couch sets that after dinner were filled with sleeping food induced comma volunteers. The rest of us were swimming in the pool. I didn’t know what to expect when I meet my first ambassador but I want you to know that your US ambassador for Malawi is Peter Bodde and he the most down to earth, generous, chill person and does much to renew my respect for those in political positions. He is a gracious host that exudes nothing but the genuine and an up most respect as he seems to be able to spare a piece of his individual attention for all. He was last stationed in Islamabad so Malawi is a seeming vacation for him.

My latest adventure, other than being an unsuspecting foreigner that almost bought tree leaves from some young kids that were just playing at selling real greens; is getting all my stuff stolen and then returned in a week. This may be the fastest thing that has ever happened to me in Malawi, but even so it is a long story.

I left to meet with one of my groups and to run some errands around 11am. I came back about 3pm to find my bedroom window open. This window had been a problem for sometime not shutting well and as I investigated I found that anything with a cord or that was shiny was gone. Ipod, camera, 10,000mk, my glasses, chargers, phones and the list goes on. I spent the rest of that afternoon sitting on my porch waiting for local chiefs to show up and calling Peace Corps security officers; though even now I’m not sure what I expected them to do. All my neighbors were super supportive saying they couldn’t believe anyone could have such shame and they more or less sat with me all afternoon just so I didn’t have to be alone. Defiantly a cultural difference but I really appreciated it.

Mphezi (recently learned this means thunder in chewa) even accompanied me the next day to the local police which reminded me a bit of group therapy because as you waited outside people would ask why you were there and upon telling your story they would sympathize shaking their heads. A good community forum to discuss common problems perhaps? It was also here that someone suggested that I go to a very powerful witchdoctor (a women) that lived in a village not 4km away. It was explained by my Presbyterian church attending mphezi, in all sincerity, that if I told her my story to her by the time I returned home the person who had stole my things would be dead. I than admitted that I didn’t want this individual dead as much as I just wanted my things back and killing this person would less likely result in the return of my things and more likely result in the making of orphans and a widow. Though I have to admit I can understand the function/usefulness of this belief/tradition in that it really did appeal to my ego. I would never see those things or this thief again and to think that he had received punished for his crimes and would not be benefiting from my stuff was very tempting. I was even just curious in seeing the processes but the last thing I want to do in get caught up in rumors of witchcraft as it is not taken lightly here.

At any rate I hadn’t been sleeping very well at night, feeling discouraged and questioning as to why I was even here. Disgruntled over losing over a $1,000 worth of stuff (I can only imagine how a farmer feels upon getting his life savings stolen from the shoe under his bed from the men who broke in with panga knifes. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.), worrying it had been one of my neighbors and then I was waking at every bug that walked over a plastic bag. It was 8am two days after all the stuff got stolen and I was laying in bed still rolling over and napping in the soft light of the suns early morning and I heard a noise. Upon looking I see a pair of legs coming up and over my bedroom wall, passing through that foot gap between my wall and roof. All I could think to myself is “You have got…to be shitting me!” I decided I was going to catch this guy. I had actually spent a lot of time thinking of how this would go down and now was my chance. But he heard me and started to scramble down and I took off after him. This is when I need you to start using your imagination. It is awful hot at night so here I am in a red pair of underwear and a scandalous tank top with no bra chasing this kid through my compound laying on my peace corps issued bullhorn screaming profanities such as “GET BACK HERE YOU FUCKER!!!!!!”

As you could imagine there was no way I was going to catch him with no shoes. I let him go kicking myself for missing my chance. I didn’t even get so far as to see his face. I ran, got dressed and found mphezi’s wife frantic in explaining. At her call the hired hands came running. I gave a brief description and a directional indication and they were off. I didn’t follow, I’m not sure why, supposed I didn’t think I would be of much help. Not a minute had gone by and I heard shouts of “PANI, PANI, PANI” meaning “HERE, HERE, HERE!!!!” He was in the tall grass putting his shoes back on and the chase ensued! I could here their voices getting futher away. My surrogate mother yelled "Thief!" as she ran and the people they passed in the fields would drop their hoe and take up chase even if they had a baby on their backs. This guy had a trail of some 15 people after him.
And you know what…they caught him. I still can’t believe it. It turned out to be a 16 year old kid that had worked for Mphezi herding cattle a couple months before and instead of going home he moved a little ways away and with no family around. He had also at night been stealing milk from the cows and selling it at a market not to far away. When they caught him he was wearing my watch, had my camera in hand and far too much money in his pockets. It was a bit hard to watch as they brought him into the compound. Mphezi’s wife was having to pulling mphezi off the boy yelling at him to stop hitting him. They tied him up and all the men came one by one and hit him either once good or a couple of times and chewed him out. He eventually ended up on the ground but I think it was mostly becuase he had lost his will to stand out of depression. The women were gathered to one the side jeering saying things like ‘he is just a little boy or he’d be married by now’, ‘he’ll never be able to get a job after this’ It almost seemed the men were the bringers of ‘justice’ (It’s not the right word but it is the first that comes to mind.) for the women. I’m sure they were surprised at my calm reaction of just looking at him.

The police came and walked the boy to his house where they recovered most of my stuff; camera, ipod, ect. The stuff they couldn’t find; glasses, money, ect, will be replaced by peace corps. The police had to take all the evidence to there office and it was a bit heart braking to get it all back only to have to turn it back over for an undetermined amount of time.

Next the boy pleaded not guilty so I had to go to court. ~Melissa rolls her eyes~ Of course the first time I ever have to testify in court it had to be in a foreign country. It was pretty wild, the court room was a crazy run down hole. Huge cracks in the walls, bare lights and wires, water stains, caving in roof; very much a closet like feel. There was a judge, translator, police officer, witness, the accused and myself. At one point the boy and I were left in the room by ourselves…awkward, uncomfortable, creepy, pick an adjective. The judge let me sign the register and take my stuff and the boy will either be sent to a juvenile detention center or sent home on a heavy probation.

While this was all happening I called my mom and talked to her for some 2 hours and, even before we'd caught the boy, I came to terms with all that I was feeling. As such I’m actually really glad that I had to go through this whole processes as I learned a lot and have to say I am pretty proud of my resolve and rather happy that I got all my shit back.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nov. 15th

Time passes in an odd way in a place that lacks the advent of watches or calendars and you learn to tell time in other ways. According to the one and a quarter tubes of toothpaste, 3 packages of pre-malaria meds, and 4 bars of bath soap (yes only 4) that I’ve gone through since arriving here, it is time for yet another update from this pair of rambling pants.

The most notable event is that the rains have finally arrived. It was just as exciting and wonderful of an event as you would imagine this opening of the heavens first time in 5 months to be. It had a contagious festivity that was complete with impromptu singing, dancing and mad scrambling to get stuff under cover. I motivated people to rethatch my roof the day before this affair began, which rather remind me of a cow peeing on a flat rock. The debris and dust this process deposited in my house was nothing short of a pain in my taco.

The best part about the rains, other than finally all my plants (you know how I love my plants) are starting to not look so sad, are the mangos. Mango season is just starting to set in here and they are .08$ a piece. I daily have been eating enough to make my face feel a little puffy. But the day before the rains came was a rather surreal day for me. I was sitting on the step of one of the groceries on market day, which in my village is a big deal though it is still nonsensically small. It was the first day I can remember having been let alone. I don’t mean this in a negative way...ok maybe a little….but I sat down and other than a few waves, I was allowed to just sit and not engage in social interaction, funny how not being talked to is evidence confirming that everybody knows you. I watched these people as they function in what is their reality and recognized that for the time being it is mine too. Before I had the tendency to think of my time here as more like a video game I could turn off and walk away from any time if it got too hard.

It was also this day that I decided that though I am enjoying myself here I never want to be this far from my family, friends (who are as good as family) and overall a world in which I understand how everything works, for this long ever again. A reaffirming discovery as to why my underlying priorities been always been what they are. Though I’m told at point when I return to the world that little bit of Africa rolling around inside of me will even make the world I know unfamiliar. The day before the rains was also the day I saw my first African rainbow, they look a lot like the ones in Utah.

I am in the processes of weaving a chicken coop so I can get some egg chickens, got three avocado trees to plant and I’ve been continuing to volunteer a lot of time with the International Award at Kamuzu Academe. The latest was a trip to the dam that supplies water. A rather small save haven for diversity. Compete with turtles, chameleons, stag lilies and a variety of the rare in this overly cultivated landscape. In the evening the flocks of sparrows rode in the windy sky, skewing the scale of the place to make them seem like swarming mosquitoes. The students were a pleasure to work with as I helped teach ecology and expedition skills. I don’t do this just so I can take advantage of the Academe’s hot showers and up the number of bars of soap I’ve used since arriving here to 5 because if I hadn’t joined Peace Corps I would have opted for an environment education position so it appears I have gotten my pineapple upside-down cake and eaten it too. I’ve also spent a couple of days laying on the late-afternoon warmed beach listening to the waves call to the stars, which would the next day carry sunshine to the shore, with my sitemate Audra from Wisconsin and all we could think of to say to each other is how we missed the snow. We giggled at what sick puppies we are.

I have also been make really good friends with the British teachers here and when interacting I can’t help but get the feeling I’m getting to know some long lost relative. In some slanted way this is true seeing as I am of Irish, Welch, Scottish, and German decent but I can’t stop imagining them in little red hats and wonder how the hell a bunch of farmers with guns beat them? At first blush you think; English, America how different can they be? But a lot of the British people here (they call them Expats) do nothing to deter any stereotypes I may have had of the English. That said they are some of the most genuine people I have ever meet. They are also teaching me all kinds of great English slang like; “Good on ya, minga, sod off, tickity boo, glassier, and quid.” And I am proud to say I sat through my first full football (soccer) game, or for matter sporting event period, from start to finish.

I’m having to start to put more and more thought into what to write as I’ve covered most day to day activities and believe it or not most things are losing their surprising novelty. A cultural tid-bit a lot of the older women have what I would describe as 3 short tick marks to the sides of their eyes and sometimes 3 low on their forehead. It is very subtle and not much done any more but done to beautify. Young girls who dance at the weddings will draw dots and their cheeks for similar reasons. Then both men and women will sometimes sport a rectangular scar on over their breast bones, said to keep poisons from passing into the body. I am unsure as to when, where or how these are actually received.

Working on starting a small library in the local primary school. But I’m hard time convincing they should actually let people use them or the paperback textbooks they already have many of which are still in plastic. I do understand their dilemma for once a long time ago I had Barbie, my only one as I was more draw to ninja turtles (I will never let my mother live down the fact that she threw them out, they will be worth a fortune someday) but it had hair gel which I never used because if I had I wouldn’t of had it anymore. It is frustrating beyond reason how the people here sell themselves short in the same way someone passing would say ‘how are you’. They are always saying please ‘help us, you must help us for we are a very poor.’ People in the states would take three jobs, and live out of a storage shed before admitting or begging such and thing. The people here are so smart and capable and they need to believe that. Perhaps some exercises in positive visualization but at any rate free shoes for Africa is over.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Oct. 15th

I had no idea today was a malawian holiday so all offices are closed and I have some spare time at the computer. I just this week got back from accompanying a group of high school age students from Kamuzu Academe on a 4 day backpack trip to Mulanje mountain. We rode 12 hours on a bus that could have been driving around that partridge family (get happy) just yesterrday. It went at between 40 and 80 km the whole way and 30 km from the mountain, just when it’s dark shadow was materializing from the distance dusky light there was a pop and hiss and that was the end of it. After pouring 3 gallons in the radiator, inspecting the oil splattered on the inside of the engine compartment, and nearly dislocating my arm trying to kick start it we gave up and sat into the night until other transport arrive.
The mountain itself was spectacular!!! Not only are you constantly surround by the layers and shades of greys and greens caused by the various distances of huge mountains on top of the plateau but there are really nice huts where you either tent of book a bed. You can sit inside by the fire and cook or get the porters/guides to boil bath water. No big animals other than some spectacular birds, but there tons of unique vegetation. It also rained. So light at first you couldn't tell it from the sweat already literally dripping off of your face, but the mist turned to sprinkles, which made way for thick, fatty, cold, stinging drops of rain that dazed me rather than spurred my pace. I can only say it was as dramatic as you would imagine the first rains after 5 months of dry to be.
There is defiantly alot to be done there by way of management and my mind was going nuts the whole time with ideas proving to me I hadn’t forgotten everything I went to school for. Their biggest problems are encroachment of the village on the park boundary and super eye sore fire breaks mostly constructed to try and deal with poaching. In addition Mexican pine was originally planted in plantations on top of the mountain for sale and is now being removed but revegetation of the plantation and burned areas is non-existent. They also are encouraging the purchase of Mulanje cedar products as a type sustainable harvest but they really don’t have the management or outplanting program to support it. I’m also pretty suspicious of the miles of homogonous fern covered hilltops. I could stand being hired as their conservation restoration ecologist for a couple of years.
My sitemate gave me a pair of pants that were too big for her but they were too small for me. The people in my village will tell you this is because I am very fat. It is meant as a sincere compliment, as I am rich enough to buy food that would make me fat or to eat enough to put on weight, but never fails to give me a bit of a complex every time. Over dinner that night I asked Manasi if she had ever even tried on a pair of pants. She said that she hadn’t so I offered to let her try on this small pair. She was in my house giggling the whole time and after I finally convinced her to come and let me see in the candle light and she was slightly bend at the knees and waist as she crossed her arms over her crotch with a hand on either thigh. You could tell that she was terribly embarrassed to show off the space between her legs even though she was fully dressed. I then convinced her to got show her parents and as we walked to the house I wondered if I shouldn’t have asked if she could put them on first, but it all ended well with lots of laughing. I let her keep them. Could have been the most important thing i did all week.