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
P.O. Box 55
Nyungwe, Karonga, Malawi
I miss you all and all my love to everyone!