Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays

This is a lot at once so once again sorry
Anyway here goes nothing…


So not much really exciting happened in September I spent most of the month riding my bike around the nyungwe catchment area and getting to know the community. I also started helping in the maternity ward, since I am not really allowed or trained to actually deliver babies, but I get to clean off the babies and weigh them. The first birth I watched was a woman who was delivering her 4th child and she made it look really easy, very little noise or visible pain for shooting a watermelon out of her, but the next one I watched was a first time mother who was tiny and her baby was huge and she was pushing for 45 minutes and wow that looked terrifying, to say the least. I also got to name a few children so there is a leah and susan running around Malawi, you’re welcome mom and leah.

I have made it my mission to teach the kids in nyungwe that my name is Alexandra and not to call me azungu, which means foreigner or white person, which takes a lot of effort and patience. September is when it starts to get really hot in Malawi especially in the lake shore regions and the far south and I am lucky enough to be a part of those regions.


The end of October marked out 3 months at site and when we had our three month reconnect training. It is really interesting to see how much I have adapted to life in the village because when I first traveled through Lilongwe I thought this is a city? No way it is too small and there is not enough here no way could this be considered a city or a capital, now however I am totally overwhelmed by Lilongwe and the cars and how many people are moving around.
We all made it back to Lilongwe, 4 in our group decided to go back to America between swearing in and reconnect, so our group seemed much smaller at 17. We spent 2 weeks in Dedza where we initially had our training. The training was really great because it was all things that were applicable to our work at site, where as in pre service training we had no clue what we would need to know. We got to visit our home stay families, which was so much fun because even in the 3 months since we’d been gone the kids had grown so much. They were a little hesitant when I first arrived but by the time I left it was like old times and I brought them markers and pads of paper which they loved. During the second week of training our counterparts from site came and joined us and it was really helpful to have someone at site come and really understand what peace corps is and what was are expected to do, most people thought I was a nurse coming to help at the health center when in reality I am just loosely connected with the health center.


So I got back to site just in time for the heat to start and let me tell you it was unbelievable, I felt like I was living on the face of the sun. My house, brick with a tin roof, acts like an oven so while it would cool off a little at night my house would still be around 105°F. One afternoon when it was particularly hot I took a little travel clock and put it in the shade outside and it read 112°F then I tried putting it in the sun just for fun and it got up to 125°F before it broke. The only good thing about Nyungwe is that there is a breeze off the lake and it helps with the heat a little and it is a dry heat, but I have never sweat so much in my life!

I headed back down to Lilongwe for thanksgiving because the American ambassador hosts thanksgiving at his house for just Peace Corps volunteers. It is sort of a pot luck and the volunteers bring dishes, and while there is no turkey the ambassador roasted a pig. We all ate like we’d never seen food before. After a little digestion time we played a football game North vs. South and of course the north won.

After thanksgiving Sabrina and I were lucky enough to be bridesmaids in a Malawian wedding, WHAT AN EXPERIENCE. So the bride was sabrina’s neighbor in Chitimba and she had never met me when she decided I would be a bridesmaid. Sabrina was the “best girl” I was just a bridesmaid. Anyway so we were supposed to show up in the rumphi boma a week before the wedding for rehearsals because here in Malawi they don’t walk down the aisle they dance. Because we were delayed in Lilongwe after thanksgiving we didn’t make it to rumphi until Wednesday and the wedding was Saturday, the bride was a little stressed. We had to learn 2 dances one for the church and one for the reception. The church one was very simple – tap you right foot 3 times tap the left 3 times kick the right foot out then switch and start with your left. Anyway we managed to pick that one up pretty quick. The church ceremony is really not all that different from an American wedding, but the reception is very different the main goal is to raise as much money as possible so it is like an auction/sporting event. So we had to dance our way down an aisle in the reception hall to a stage, the dance was a lot like the electric slide. Now the electric slide is not a dance you would do to get anywhere quickly so we had to electric slide for about 20 minutes – I am now damn good at the electric slide! Our dresses were not too bad, I was expecting much worse, they were baby blue with a sequent band going diagonal across the chest and white shoes. The major challenge came with what to do with out hair, the bride wanted to “freeze” it which Malawians do where they put so much product in their hair that if a hurricane came through their hair would not move then they attach fake hair to the top of their head – think a fake bun or tons of curls. They decided on a high ponytail with a chunk of hair left down, which was not so bad, but then they brought out the afro-gel and covered out heads with it, basically making it look like we had not washed our hair in weeks. So survived our first Malawian wedding and now everyone says I have to marry a Malawian man since I’ve been in a Malawian wedding, yeah we’ll see about that.


So I finally made it back to site after being gone for 2 weeks and the rains have begun a little – prior to December it rained once in the 4 months I’d been at site. The big rains have not started yet but we did have one big shower and WOW it is loud on that tin roof.

I’ve started HIV/AIDS education sessions with the youth group that works with the health center and the first one went well and hopefully I’ll be able to work with other groups starting soon. I am also looking to teach starting in January at a secondary school near me so we’ll see how that goes.

I’ll be spending Christmas with Sabrina in chitimba then we will head to Mzuzu where our group will meet for a belated Christmas celebration, then to the lake shore for a new years celebration.

Happy holidays and I miss you all

Keep in touch

Friday, August 31, 2007


Ok so where to begin…

First of all I’m so sorry that I have not been able to update this blog more regularly, my internet access was and still is very limited. I’ll try to do a recap of the last 3 months but as you can imagine a lot has happened and I’ll try to cover the major events thoroughly.

End of May the only thing of importance – the flight over is a BITCH!

So let’s start in June – We arrived in Dedza and started training June 1st with everyone extremely jetlagged we all felt like zombies and I actually cannot remember if we really did anything of importance that first week. Our group played a lot of uno at night but they kept us pretty busy the first couple of days with language and technical trainings. I found out after the first week that I would be heading to the northern part of Malawi so I started learning Chitumbuka, 7 of the 21 of us are in the north, the rest of the group kept learning Chichewa.
The interesting thing about learning Chitumbuka but doing home stay in the central region where they speak Chichewa is I knew I would not be able to communicate with my family at all – I got really good at hand gestures. My home stay family was really great they were a family – the parents were 26 and 27 and their three kids were 9,7, and 4 years old. My family was one of the wealthier families in the community so my room was in brick structure with a tin roof and my bed was off of the floor while most of the other trainees were not so lucky and had mud huts with thatch roofs. Also Dedza was FREEZING – I kid you not it was unbelievable – we all kept saying to each other we are supposed to be in Africa where it is warm? The part that made it worse was bathing outside – imaging standing naked in Chicago in the middle of November and then throw water on yourself.
Our technical classes got a little tedious after the first 2 weeks – not because of all the information just the teaching style in Malawi is very different than that in the United States. One major difference was we had classes grass fenced in area, and we were right in the middle of the village so we often had animals wander through class – chickens, goats, pigs – one day during a particularly boring lesson we heard a goat being killed or giving birth and out trainer acted like nothing was happening, we all tried to hold it together while learning about how deep to dig a well while this goat was being killed and then we all at the same time lost it and burst out laughing. Our trainer asked what is so funny – “um can you hear the goat?”.
During home stay as a thank you to the community who had to deal with us for a month and to help us learn we built them a protected well, which we did not get to complete before leaving home stay but were told that it would be completed soon – but here in Africa that really could mean anytime.
After home stay we went to our site visit and they basically took us to Lilongwe (July 7th – to give you all some sense of time) and said good luck. My site is Nyungwe in the Karonga District which borders Tanzania but my site is in the middle to southern part so the border is probably a good 2 hours away from me. We all paired off with trainees close to us and started the journey north – and what a journey it was. Sabrina and I paired off and the safest way to travel in Malawi is hitch hiking – yes mom hitch hiking and no it is not the same as in America. They also sent us north on a Sunday which also happened to be a national holiday which meant no one was traveling north. We went 45 km on three hitches and walked about 10 of them – which took 4 hours. We finally got a hitch up to Mzuzu where we spent the night at the Peace Corps transit house. Then on that Monday (July 9th) three of us, Mark, Sabrina and I kept going north – we are the three furthest north in Malawi. Sabrina is 45 km south of me and Mark is 15 km north of me so we will see a lot of each other over the next two years.
Anyway I got to site and it was a little bit of a shock – well I guess shock is an understatement. I am not replacing a volunteer so my house was completely empty and there were broken windows and they had wired the house for electricity but it needed a new coat of paint. There were cockroaches EVERYWHERE! I stayed one night then went down to Sabrina’s place and stayed for a week there – I basically did her site visit not mine. It was a reality check to see where I’d actually be living for the next 2 years. Anyway we had a great week at Chitimba (Sabrina’s site), Mark came down Thursday and we went to a resort down the beach for dinner which was Amazing.
On Saturday July 14th everyone in the north met in Rumphi to start out intensive language week at Jenjera camp. One of our trainers described it as a resort with circle chalets – it was a small camp with circular mud huts and thatch roofs with 2 mattresses on the floor in each hut. The huts were so small that 2 people could not stand in there at the same time one had to get into bed first before the other could come in. No running water or electricity – and the rest of our training group was back in Dedza with running water electricity and watching movies – we were a little bitter. The camp was also overrun with mice our neighbors Danni and Carrie found 3 mice on three different nights in there hut and one of them jumped on Danni’s head. , all Sabrina and I could hear from our hut was Danni yelling “Carrie that was not a toad it was a RAT!”. It turned out to be a really fun week with a lot of good hands on technical training which we all needed and felt was really helpful. On our last night in Jengera we all were ready to get out of there and Sabrina and I heard a mouse in our hut instead of trying to get it out we stayed in our mosquito nets and slept with our headlamps on. Saturday July 21st we had Peace Corps transport back to Dedza to wrap up training and have our final language evaluation.
On Tuesday we packed up our stuff and went to Lilongwe for one last day of training sessions before swearing in. We were officially sworn in on July 25 at the ambassador’s house (which was amazing) and then we had a little reception before we had to hit the ground running, we were given 3 hours to shop for everything we needed for our houses because the following morning most of us were leaving for site @ 6:30 am. Think amazing race style shopping we bought so much in 3 hours then we had to be back at the Lilongwe transit house to get transport to the country directors house for a dinner party to celebrate swearing in. It was really great with wonderful American style food and lots of cheese, guacamole and free beer and wine. We stayed until 9 then went back to the transit house where the celebrations continued. We all looked like the walking dead the next morning when trying to pack up vehicles and say goodbye to everyone. Mark, Sabrina, and I were all in the same car loaded up with buckets, pots, luggage and bikes and started off to the north – our sites are probably 8-10 hours away from Lilongwe so we made ourselves comfortable for the long trip. I got to my site just before sunset and nothing had changed and no furniture had been moved in – the district hospital is supposed to provide a table, chairs and a bed frame. I had dinner at the medical assistant’s house and got back just in time to greet my furniture arriving.
Week 1 was a little rough at site; they really hold your hand through training then throw us in the deep end. I struggled a little – there is a lot of free time and not much to do in the beginning so I read a lot and sat on my steps and tried to greet everyone. After week one things got much better, I started helping in the antenatal clinic and going on under 5 outreach clinics to get to know the community my health center serves. The clinic workers gave me a Malawian last name Gondwe and here in Malawi Alexandra and Allie are both boys names so when I am introduced as Alexandra Gondwe people find it pretty funny they also say that my cat, lily, and my dog, huck, are my first and second born children which all the mothers at the under 5 clinic find very amusing. Here in Malawi a woman my age would be married with 3 children and a 4th on the way – they all find it strange that I am single and probably won’t get married anytime soon.
I also hired a night watchman named Jackson – who I am in love with! He is a 55 year old man and he can do anything, I wanted a dog and the next day he shows up with a month old puppy that was too little but I now have him and is so cute. I also have a mouse problem in my house and they chewed through my clothes and one night I woke up to one running on my headboard, I went outside and made Jackson come in and find it and he killed it and one other one then he found me a cat. He is building me a fence and when my carpenter was taking too long to build something he took me to a new one and insisted that I use him because the first one is taking too long. He is also a member of the community police so he is a prominent member of the community which is also a deterrent for crime.
I really like my neighbors and they have been very welcoming. I try to go and sit with them every afternoon and go to the market with them when they go so I am more visible in the community. Some of them speak English but I definitely need to learn Chitumbuka in order to work with the more at risk groups, women and the younger children. I am still trying to figure out what exactly I want to do as a primary and secondary project but I’m starting to see where I can help and what issues are facing Nyungwe and the surrounding villages.
As for cooking and the daily activities well it all takes a little more time… Cooking is over an open fire so it really takes some patience and starting a fire is a bitch but I am learning some new tricks to get the fire going and I can always go over to my neighbor’s house and get coals from her fire and my range of cooking is limited w/out an oven or level settings for a stove top (campfire cooking is the great African diet). With no electricity or running water in my house everything is done by hand washing dishes and laundry takes a while and my clothes will never be really clean again.

Ok so some funny stories from site

1 – Here in Malawi being fat is considered good and they tell you if you are fat and on a couple of occasions I have experienced this – even though I am losing weight. The first one a man asked me if I was the fat azungu (foreigner) from Mtelera – I was not but it was someone else in our group. The second my neighbor said “I want to watch you cook so I can grow big like you” and she was not talking about my height, she is taller than me.

2 – In the village volunteers a sort of celebrities especially with the children so even a mundane thing such as reading is very interesting to them. Most of the kids understand not to get too close and when I say it is time to go home they leave and they all are trying to help me to learn Chitumbuka faster. Except there is one little girl who has mental issues has been coming by all the time and getting too close and touching my arm hair – Malawians in general do not have much if any hair on their arms or legs, also the hair on my head is of great interest to every mother who lives around me. Anyway so this little girl just doesn’t get it and the other day she was there with a group of kids and one of the kids starts saying “no, no, you peed”. The little girl had not peed but taken a shit on my front steps. I couldn’t believe it – so I went to get something to clean it up and Huck managed to come around to the front of my house and try to eat it so not only did I have to clean up this girl’s shit I had to clean it off my dog.

Overall I am really happy at site and with the way things are going here in Malawi, yes my house still needs work and sometimes I have to repeat myself 3 or 4 times to be understood but I am happy. I’ll try to update this blog about twice a month but more than likely it will only be once a month. Keep the Mail coming it really helps and I love getting mail – I am writing back to everyone who writes to me but this is Africa and it takes a while.

My new mailing address – and I promise this is the last address change is

Alexandra Hoagland
P.O. Box 55
Nyungwe, Karonga, Malawi
Southern Africa

I miss you all and all my love to everyone!

Monday, May 28, 2007

And so it begins

So I made it to Philadelphia in one piece - uneventful flight but a very eventful day. Leah dropped me off at the airport and I made it through security without any trouble although I kept my goggles (my HUGE sunglasses) on until I boarded the plane - I slept the entire way to Phily got my bags and jumped in a cab to the hotel. I made it here in no time at all and found a few other volunteers waiting. We collected almost the entire group before registration which was great fun to meet and talk about our funny experiences and adventures with the Peace Corps thus far. Staging was interesting - a lot of information and common sense stuff all rolled into an afternoon. at one point the staging director said to us if this is not something we think we can do we can still back out - I have to say I thought about it for a second "should I want to back out" and the answer is NO I am so ready for this! three of us went out to an ok dinner and then crashed.

we've made it through half of staging today and we found out this morning one girl decided to go home last night - to get this far and turn around we all were a little shocked, to say the least.

Love to everyone and if I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to anyone I'm sorry but I am not really good at the whole goodbye thing!


Sunday, May 13, 2007

and the countdown begins...

So I officially leave in 13 days...

I first have three days in Philadelphia for staging then on the 30th I fly to Johannesburg (which will be may 31st) spend the night there then fly up to Lilongwe the following morning (June 1st).

my address for the first 2 months of training is

Allie Hoagland, PCT
Peace Corps
P.O. Box 208
Lilongwe, Malawi
Southern Africa

any letters I receive I will respond to (just include your address so I know where to send it to)

please bear with me I am new to this whole blogging thing...