Friday, September 4, 2009

UPDATE: April-August

ilSo I arrived back from Ireland just the day before Swearing-In Ceremony for the new group of Environment volunteers. All the women in my group had traditional wear made for the event—and if I do say so myself we look quite stylish by Malawian standards! As always it was nice to be at the Ambassador’s house because he always feeds us so well! It is really weird to be on the other side of the table watching the swearing in ceremony for someone else. It is hard to believe I have put a whole year behind me, and what a year it has been, and at the same time realizing I’ve got one more year to make this experience everything I hoped it would be, to complete projects, and to get ready to go back home.
Keeping with tradition, we threw a big party for everyone after the ceremony. Beer Olympics 2009 was a huge success, complete with Chibuku Challenge, dizzy-bat, and a new addition this year, wrestling! The best part was sitting around in the morning with my big cup of coffee watching the new kids strapping all their stuff to cars, pretending they don’t have hangovers, and aren’t scared out of their minds.
We stayed around Lilongwe for a few days waiting for our Mid-Service Training (MST) to start on Sunday. We traveled down to Dedza on Sunday afternoon and spent 3 days reflecting on our first year at site, and discussing what the next year will look like. We spent a lot of time discussing how to wrap up our projects in a responsible way and how to start preparing ourselves for the transition home. After MST I travelled back to site and stayed there for the next 8 weeks—a new record for me! Spending that much time at my site doesn’t really phase me anymore. I won’t give you the day by day, but I included pictures below of the activities that I did during that time. Since I haven’t written in a while (sorry, like to be at site, not in the city!), for this post I thought I would break it up into days of the week and I can give you the back story and details on things as they come up.

I have lots of Big Brothers here, this is Devin and I waiting for food at MST

All of us hanging out at Ed's Bar during MST
Joel and Matt give a new take on traditional wear with suits made out of chitenje
Emily, me, Sarah P., Audra, Sarah S. Jen, Bright, Kory, Tenely, and Jenny--all the ladies of Environment 09
You are so jealous of my headress!
Environment 2009
Just a reminder.....

Khama AIDS Club: I meet with Khama AIDS Club every Monday morning at 9:00 AM. They are pretty much the only group I have that shows up on time. Well hell, they are the only group I have that actually meets on a weekly basis and wants to get something done. When I arrived in Sharpevale I asked them what they wanted to do and their first answer was to raise egg laying chickens. So, for the past few months we have been working on the grant writing project. They process was slow and painful as we widdled the budget down from 15,000,000 kwacha ($15,000 USD) to something reasonable say like, 30,000 kwacha ($200 USD). We applied for a grant through the Volunteer Advisory Committee. VAC is funded through the money volunteers pay to stay at the transit house. The committee is made up of 2 volunteers from each group and a few others. Every other month we get together and talk about volunteer issues as well as hear grant proposals from volunteers and then fund them if we like them (and if we have the cash). Khama AIDS was given the money in July and we started the project.
A club member, Matthews, went to Blantyre to buy 6 week old chickens. Unfortunately, upon arrival he learned that the incubator had broken last month and there were no chicks. Thankfully, someone took pity on the club since we live so far away and gave us the 6 week old chicks of someone who lived much closer and could travel easier. Also, he got to meet the President while he was there! Apparently, Dr. Bingu Mutharika (the President) was visiting the facility and Matthews got to meet him. How about that for luck!
After the chickens came back to Sharpevale the following happened in three days: I found out the coop had not actually been finished and had no fence. Five chicks were stolen the first night even while someone was sleeping in pen. Matthews didn’t buy the chickens from the factory he bought them from someone on the street. This person said he gave them the proper vaccines, but how am I supposed to trust ‘guy on the street’. Matthews used three times the amount of money allotted for transport to and from Blantyre. Matthews told three different people three different prices for the chicks—fishy, don’t ya think? Chicken feed was suppose to be bought in Blantyre, but wasn’t. Money was used to go to Balaka to buy feed, but we didn’t allot for it in our budget. The chickens were moved to my house because people think that’s the safest place. Oh, and we had to switch treasurers’ because after she started keeping the money, no one saw her for three weeks.
Thankfully, people are coming to take care of the chickens a few times a day everyday. I believe everything will work out and they will have enough money left to cover the cost of feed and medicine for the chicks until they start laying eggs and they can start making money. I really like working with Khama AIDS Club and I very much want this project to succeed. So much so that if these first few chickens work well and they learn how to save money, buy more feed, and re-invest—that I am willing to work out a partnership with the Montgomery County 4-H Poultry Club to expand the project. But, if it fails then not only does Khama AIDS Club lose out on a great opportunity, but I have to pay back VAC with the funds and be horribly embarrassed in front of my peers as I explain why the project failed. I have confidence that everything will work out because we have an excellent Chairman who will help to get things back on track. We shall see!
Another thing I like to do with AIDS Club is have workshops about every month. I learned through another Volunteer about ANAMED and Nelson Moyo. ANAMED I think was started by Germans but they only have one contact in Malawi and he will come out to the village and teach about natural medicine, but all you have to do is provide a place to stay and pay for his transport. I learned about him through another volunteer and called him up to plan a two day workshop with Khama AIDS. After a somewhat late start he started the workshop with a discussion about the differences between western and what he calls, mankwala wa Chikhalidwe, literally cultural medicine. The group discussed the benefits and drawbacks of each, and where they are each uniquely applicable and where they are not. It was great to see members of the group discussing and topic with such enthusiasm! It was also pleasantly surprising to see them recognize that their own cultural medicine had a place in their lives—that western answers are not always the right answers. Far too often Malawians will set aside the best and most beneficial parts of their own culture and defer to west simply because they have always been taught (or forced) to do so. In the afternoon of the first day we discussed the uses for all the medicinal plants that people had collected and brought to the meeting. Just on one mat we had 20 different plants: papaya, lemons, moringa, acacia, tamarind, amaranth, baobab, and artemesia. As Nelson would explain the uses for each plant the old people would speak up and say, “oh, I remember my grandmother using that when I was a child!” It so strongly reminded me of the interviews I did in Australia with Aboriginal People there—that we are just a generation away from losing all this knowledge.
On our second day the group actually agreed to start an hour early. I couldn’t believe it! So we had a full morning of discussing the signs and symptoms of different diseases and then all the different treatments you can use to treat it. It was difficult for many people to write all this information down, but they were fascinated and so tried to keep up as best they could. In the afternoon the group learned how to make herbal tea. This first of hibiscus flowers everyone liked because it has a natural sweetness and pretty pink color to boot. The second of artemesia, almost everyone hated. It looked like you are drinking dirty pond water from all the crushed leaves and the flavor is horribly bitter. Evolution taught us not to like bitter things. Bitter equals dead. But Nelson just said, “just keep drinking, it’s wonderful for you,” as he slugged back cup after cup while most of us struggled to take a few sips. I snuck back inside and dumped a ton of honey in mine and then lied (at least with a smile now) that I loved it. Have to set a good example, right?
Ok, back to the normal Monday. After AIDS Club I try to have and joint executive committee meeting with the irrigation clubs. There are four that were started by Bryan and Keah. They always forget to come to meetings so we actually only have one about every other week because I always have to send letters to remind them. Anyway, I’m trying to do two things: get them on a regular maintenance schedule and teach them how to dig a gravity-fed irrigation scheme (i.e. use the pumps in the right way and not like a garden hose). There are over 30 pumps between the four clubs alone and they are not of any use to anyone if they are broken. We are having meetings about paying annual fees to be in the club. This money would then be used to send one person to Lilongwe with a list from all four clubs to buy replacement parts every six months. Individual families would be responsible for covering the cost of the broken parts of their pump, thus encouraging proper use and personal responsibility. This way, transport cost is shared between all the clubs and no pump will go idle for more than 6 months. The other program I am working on with them is to dig a demonstration plot for a gravity-fed scheme at each of the four clubs. Right now most people are dragging the treadle pump pipes from one plant to the other. This is not only an in-efficient way to water crops, but also a good way to put lots of holes in the pipes. A few members from each club would also come to help dig (or at least observe) at the other three clubs. Each plot of land has to be assessed individually to see what the best design and most importantly placement will be. People must decide how many sets wide to make it in multiples of two because every set of beds shares one minor water channel. They must also determine what the major and minor slopes of the land are as the main channel must lie on the former and the feeder channels on the ladder. As of August we have still only visited one club, which means I have 3 more to go, but it is a work in progress. We have dug the proper irrigation scheme and Mr. Liwonde’s garden and he is already harvest lots of vegetables from it.
This was a nutrition workshop we had back in May. We had really great turnout.
A collection of medicinal plants at the ANAMED Workshop
Me and a baby. Malawian women always carry thier children around like this, now that I have actually done it I much more appreciative, because it is really not all that comfortable and you get peed on!
Nelson is showing people the aloe vera that is growing around my house.
When you have a big crowd to feed you need a big pot to cook all that nsima in--and two people to stir it. Construction on the main channel for a demonstration scheme for one of the irrigation clubs.
Me and Mr. Dickman. I visted his garden one day and he really wanted me to take a picture of him by the well.

Tuesdays are a really busy day for me. I have to be at school by 7:20 for the start of classes. I teach four 40-minute blocks to Forms 1 through 4 (Grade 9-12). Although the school administration is the most difficult part of working at the school and on many occasions they make me want to quit, I really enjoy working with the students so I keep going back. For the whole of Term 2 we focused solely on HIV and STIs—obviously they most important topic to teach them about. I try to keep things as lively as possible with games, group activities, dramas, role-playing, and all other sorts of things I thought were dorky when I was a student.
During this term I thought that it would be most appropriate to teach how to use a condom. I thought I would probably get in trouble, but knew it wasn’t actually illegal to teach condom usage in school…so I just went ahead and did it without really giving my head teacher or the PTA a heads-up. Figured they might let it slide, and if they didn’t then at least I got to teach the kids how to use condoms before I got shut down. I taught the Form 2 and 3 students and at the very end of my Form 3 there was a knock at my door from the Deputy head teacher telling me I had to “cease and desist” and “leave the premises immediately.” I told them there was no way in hell I was leaving and that I didn’t have time to chat because now I needed to go and prepare a new lesson for the remaining Form 1 and 4 students. In retrospect, I guess I didn’t give people enough credit. After I was hauled into a painfully long joint meeting with the PTA, the School Management Committee, the Head and Deputy teachers, I was given permission to teach condom usage only with one caveat. No anatomical models. They weren’t happy that the students were learning how to use condoms, but they knew it was important; their beef was with the fact that I had used an anatomically correct model. In the end I was happy to be able to continue with my lessons, but I was disappointed to see we are not giving our students the best information possible. Many people talk about their commitment to stopping the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but in this case I certainly didn’t see a full commitment. All talk, no action. Plus, it is really difficult to give a proper condom demonstration using just your hands—it does the students a huge disservice. Anyway, carrying on with the week…
Tuesdays I go to the market. Sharpevale market has people that come from all around with food, used-clothes, shoes, hardware, fruits, meat, bike parts, and even cassette tapes. I could really live out of my market but I’m too much of a snob and like things like lentils and olive oil. These days the real determining factor about whether I go into Lilongwe or not is when I run out of oatmeal! I realized I’m so very blessed to have such a big market with just about everything I need. Caitlan and I usually head down after school and do our shopping and then have a cup of tea in the market before heading home. Some days we even get lunch at one of the local restaurants.
Another recent project I have started is trying to form a Groundnut Cooperative (GC). Sharpevale has lots, loads, tons of groundnuts—but no one has a market. The local government agriculture distributors will buy for 65 or 90 kwacha per kilo, but most people don’t like that price so they just hold on to them. There is a company in Lilongwe called African Commodities Exchange (ACE) and they post commodity contracts on the web for buyers to choose from. Peace Corps (and especially Brian) has encouraged us to work with them for a few reasons. One, the sellers stipulate the points of the contract. Meaning community members choose the price, place of pick up, and whether they want replacement of cash for the feed sacks. The community chooses a target and a low price that they will be willing to sell at. If ACE sells the nuts above the target price, they keep the difference (its how they make their profits).
This whole process has been painfully frustrating and every single day I have to force myself not to give up on the project. I have tried so many times to have meetings with farmers in order to choose the price they like, but no one comes. No one wants to come unless they know the price. No one wants to bring their groundnuts into storage unless they know the price. But, I don’t decide the price—they do! That my friends, is a text book case of a Catch-22. So I keep office hours Tuesday to Thursday from 9 to 1 waiting for people to bring their groundnuts into storage. I wait and wait and no one comes. People tell me they have lots of nuts and that they will bring them, but they never do. Some people have suggested that we just bring them the day the buyer comes. But I know that could have all kinds of problems. We tell the buy we have 5 metric tones of groundnuts and then they show up and find of a ton, maybe two? I know I am fighting an uphill battle on this one because the local farmers have been screwed not one, but two times in commodity bulking projects. Two years ago an NGO called Africare said they would find a buyer. People bulked their nuts at the Agricultural Project (just like we are) and then Africare never found a buyer. And ten years ago ten metric tones of maize was stolen. Outright stolen. The buyer came to pick it up but didn’t bring any money. He said he would return with the cash but never did. I really try to take this project one day at a time, but my patience is wearing thin.
Another point of contention is the price. Trying to make people understand that the price of commodities change based on the world economy is difficult. How could something so big affect the small African farmer? They know the price of things change, but I think are unwilling to accept it. They will quote me prices from 2000. 2000. It’s 2009. They want the highest price they have ever gotten and sometimes more. I have explained so many times every which way I can how things work. If you go to the market and 3 people are selling tomatoes for 50 kwacha and one person is selling them for 100 kwacha, who will you buy tomatoes from? They said the 50 kwacha tomatoes, but then turn around and ask for 150 kwacha for a kilo of groundnuts when the market price right now is barely 100 kwacha. Like all of us, they inherently know basic economics, but it seems like they are just unwilling to accept them. And I have to be the bad guy and say, “no, you can’t ask for that price.” This project just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
On the bright side, my site mate Jen and I are going to work to bulk for the same contract. Hopefully with more groundnuts we can get a better price. Her counterpart at BERDO understands the history and the cultural differences that are keeping the project from moving forward so he has offered to help us by putting BERDOs name behind it and helping to organize people. We are planning to finish bulking by October 1. If it won’t work by then, it won’t work. Sometimes as a volunteer you MUST realize that as much as you want the project to work, as much benefit as you see coming from it—if you have to push that hard to make it go then maybe you shouldn’t push at all. It is a hard lesson to learn and for me I’m the one that feels guilty afterward. It’s my fault, what did I forget to do, what cultural element didn’t I factor in. I know that’s not totally rational (so please don’t send a slew of emails telling me so), but I always said I would make a damn good Catholic. Once again, we shall see!
One of the students got a bit too excited about beating up HIV....
This is a drama showing the interactions between ARVs, HIV, and secondary infections.
On Wednesday I wait again at the Agriculture office for people to bring their groundnuts from 9 to 1. But, we have been trying to have a weekly meeting at 2 PM with local groundnut farmers to answer any questions and listen to them complain about the price and how it is so much work to shell the groundnuts for selling.

More time at the Agricultural Office. Yay! At least during all this down time I get time to study for the GRE. Thankfully that nightmare will be over on October 24th, after which I will be promptly learning Lilongwe and going to the beach for the rest of the weekend!
On Thursday afternoons I have Tilimbike Women’s Club. We still are not on a regular schedule—the women are always busy. The club has dwindled in numbers, but I am starting to teach them how to sew by hand. If people have clothes to be made (national wear) they will take them to the tailor, but people could greatly benefit from learning how to repair clothes. Just fixing hems, seems, a torn shoulder, and putting on patches would extend the life (and look) of clothes here. Caitlan is helping by teaching the women how to knit, mostly because I can’t. Hopefully in the near future we can pick out a simple project with just a few stitches and each woman can work on that.
The oil pressing project isn’t going so well. The women think it is a lot of work to press oil so they really just use it for personal use and they also bent the threads on the screw cap when cleaning it so it had to go to Lilongwe to be repaired. Maybe I’ll buy them the first bag of groundnuts to start the business. Haven’t really decided how I’m going to revitalize the project. I have a student who went to a local IGA workshop run by PCVs and I’m thinking it would be great confidence booster to her to teach the women in a one day IGA workshop just focused on groundnut oil, just to get the project going again.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday:
I use these days to do all kinds of things: yoga, long runs (training for a half-marathon at Christmas!), laundry, clean my house, lots of reading (and now GRE studying). I also try to plan my lessons for school or AIDS Club and inevitably there is some extra meeting that I need to gave or someone’s garden to go and see. I get to spend time with my neighbors and often sit around and play with the kids. Their new favorite thing is bubbles and making bead necklaces. Caitlan might come over for the night or maybe I’ll go down to Balaka and visit with my friend Erin.
Other random projects/events in the past few months:
On May 19th we had the National Election. Funnily enough, it was extra quiet on Election Day! I went to the market and no one way there and somehow all the children had disappeared. Even the chickens seemed quieter. All in all the election went smoothly. It may sound a bit odd, but it was more important for Malawi to have a peaceful election as oppose to a fully democratic election. And that’s all I have to say about that via blog so I don’t get myself in trouble.
Something that has really taken off and that I’m really excited about is that Mrs. Liwonde is learning to sew on a sewing machine! She is my neighbor and really like my mom while I am here. She really takes care of me and now I want to take care of her. The women of Damascus United Methodist Church gave me a more than generous donation to help women in Malawi. I used the money to buy a sewing machine with the hopes of finding someone that would be interested. Mrs. Liwonde was very excited to learn how to sew and so we found here a tutor. They come to my house every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and sew for a few hours on my front porch. It should take a few months for her to learn how to sew, take measurements, and make her own patterns. At the end she can start a business and will then pay back 25% of the cost of the sewing machine (standard procedure in the aid world). Hopefully we can use the money to set up a shop for her in town!
On July 4th we celebrated well, July 4th! Happy Independence Day, America! As always the Ambassador opened up his house to the American Mission in Malawi. The Ambassador has quite a sense of humor and he asked me to do him a favor—go insult some guy I’ve never met by telling him he had quote, “the ugliest shirt I have ever seen.” I recon when the Ambassador asks you to do something, you do it. The guy I had to insult told me to tell Ambassador Bodey that he would like to give him a special gesture, but that there were children present. It was funny and I got an extra beer out of the deal—not too shabby! After the 4th Celebration we decided to have a Peace Corps Prom at the Lilongwe house. I don’t have the best pictures, but you can tell the party was 80’s themed in all its glory. The markets of Malawi are a treasure trove of cast off 80’s wear and Halloween costumes just waiting to happen.
Happy 4th of July, would you like to buy a PC t-shirt?
Erin and I enjoying the grass at the Ambassador's house!
You would have to pay big money for a dress like that back in America, even if it was for Halloween. I think Cupcake, vamp, hershey kiss. The 80's were such a great decade, no?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

July 9-12: Mulanje Mountain!

Went to Mulanje Mountain. A.W.E.S.O.M.E. Will write and post lots of pictures later!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

NEWS!: Welcoming Lucas Guy Taylor

I wanted to let you all know that I have a new member in my family! Lucas Guy Taylor was born on June 6th at 3:49 PM. He is 7 lb 12 oz and 20 inches long. Mom, Dad, and baby are doing great! I'm so excited and happy to have a new addition to our family. I love you all so much and really miss you. It's days like this I want to get on a plane and run right home. Love you! Congratulations Erin and Eddie.

Random Picture Post

thought I would do a post of all the other random stuff that fills up my day and entertains me as well! Hope you enjoy

My neighbor is moving into a new house so Charles (and me, some days) are helping to move bricks from the place where we burned them to the new house.

This is me at a wedding, can't you tell? You dance around a big plate and toss in your money. The bride and groom sit in chairs off to the side and try to look at unhappy as possible.

Clement and Charles playing on my front porch

Charles. Love the purple pants!

This is my agogo (grandfather) sitting on top of his grain stores. You can't tell, but he looks quite smug!

We found this guy walking around the Lilongwe market--in bright red ski boots! I just HAD to take a picture.

Clement (in red) and Charles learning how to play with yo-yos. This lasted all of two days because they weren't really that great at it and I got tired of rolling up yo-yo strings every two minutes.
Apparently people in Malawi love to pop bubble wrap too!

There are lots of people close by at my new site: Jen, Caitlan, Danny, Cathy, Joe, Tim, and our new site mate Danielle. So we get together every few weeks and have a party! It's a lot of fun and a great way to relax without actually leaving the village. This week we made mexican food complete with homemade tortillas (you get really good at making everything from scratch in Malawi).

Caitlan (my closest site mate) and I have tea in the tea house at least once a week. Thankfully it's a really cheap form of entertainment.

Sharpevale Crew (well at least when the Payne's were here). Don't we look smart (and clean in this picture if I do say so myself)

I decided you really need to see what cooking nsima looks like. This is me making porridge which you pour in about half the flour, cook 10 minutes, then pour in the other half and stir like crazy so you don't get any lumps. I eat dinner with my family next door every week on Tuesday nights--it makes me feel like I'm actually part of a family. I get to learn how to cook nsima and its lots of fun just to hang out.

Once it is cooked you have to spoon it out into patties. You dip the spoon in water so the nsima doesn't stick. This requires hands made of asbestos.

This is Clement, Charles, and Mordy eating dinner. We all eat together on the grass mat.

This is my favorite meal in Malawi! Whole-grain nsima, pumpkin leaves with groundnut (peanut) flour, and white beans with lots of tomatos.

Jen is taking her chickens back to her house via bicycle.

Jen's mom came to visit and we go to see the Guli WamKulu! I got to see some spirits that I had never seen before!

This guy was on stilts!


So my parents really wanted to meet me for a vacation but not all the way in Malawi (a bit too much I think). They have always wanted to travel to Ireland, and I really needed a vacation…so we booked the tickets!
The flight from Johannesburg to London was incredibly long (as expected) and when I landed in London the first thing I did was immediately stop by the closest coffee shop I could find. I asked for the biggest cup of coffee she could find and proceeded to tell her I hadn’t had a good cup of coffee in 14 months. I certainly felt a bit out of place in Heathrow. Everyone was so trendy with their wool coats and hats, adeptly balancing a cup of coffee and their Blackberry at the same time, all while on a pair of stylish heels. And then there was me: dirty jeans, no make-up, not in a hurry. I caught my flight to Dublin just fine and arrived shortly before lunch (just in time for another cup of coffee:). I didn’t have much trouble finding my parents as the Dublin airport is a bit small. I think we were all so overwhelmed by the moment that we couldn’t even be bothered to cry. It was so great to finally see them after 14 long months! Unfortunately, I had to immediately look in my suitcase to make sure the ice hadn’t melted on the second series of my rabies post-exposure shot.
Sorry for the side-bar, but the story (in retrospect only) is hilarious. So a few days before I was scheduled to fly out I decided to give my dog a bath. Sako doesn’t really like getting a bath. About a week later I’m in the medical office getting clearance to leave the country and Dr. Max casually asks, “So, is there anything else I need to know?” And I respond, “Well, my dog scratched me about a week ago. Do you think that is a problem?” Dr. Max thought a 1-inch scratch was severe enough to give me the post-exposure shot—only problem was that I needed to give myself the second shot three days later, but was leaving for Ireland in 12 hours. So, Max and I spent the next 30 minutes scheming how to get it on the plane. Do we smuggle it in checked baggage, hoping they won’t look? Attach the prescription hoping they won’t read that it is for rabies. I could just imagine me spending my vacation in quarantine because Ireland has no rabies and they won’t let me enter the country. My favorite part of this whole story is when I decided to consult my boss, Brian, about what he thought was best. I go in his office and explain my predicament and all the illegal options that Max and I have come up with. Brian’s face becomes increasingly twisted and at the end of all this he turns around in his chair, bangs his head on the wall three times, and then turns back to me saying, “I should write a fucking book about the trouble you guys (i.e. Peace Corps Volunteers) get yourselves into.” In the end we packed it on ice and I got to play Dr. Alicia for about 30 seconds three days later.
Ok, back to Ireland. After some wrangling with the rental-car company and with the GPS (which dumped the maps about half-way through the vacation and became totally useless) we were headed out of Dublin. About halfway toward our destination for the night we stopped at the ruins of Casheel Castle. (Not a vacation in Europe without castles and monasteries!). It has beautiful views of the surrounding hills and valleys as well as one of the only remaining intact round towers in Ireland. We traveled a few more hours to Rathellen House. I think this was my favorite place that we stayed. Although a newly constructed B&B (surprisingly most of them in Ireland are) it had great views of the mountains below. We went out for dinner in town and I had some really amazing chicken with blood sausage and we also had the first good bottle of red I have had in well, 14 months!
Tired from flying, we woke up late the next day but still got the full Irish breakfast: white and blood pudding, sausage, tomato, toast, jam, fruit, and of course, more coffee. I will tell you right now I ate more meat in those two weeks in Ireland than I did the past 14 months in Peace Corps. Both my stomach and my waistline paid the price for that, but it was delicious! We traveled to Kilkenny town where I could have spent hours wandering around, but it was raining like crazy so we didn’t. We got to see Kilkenny Castle, which I think to its detriment, had be restored a bit too much. Continuing the meat tradition, I had a burger and a Guinness for lunch. And yes, the Guinness is better in Ireland.
We left Rathellen House on Good Friday and went out towards the Ring of Kerry in County Kerry and our B&B, Kathleen’s Country House. We arrived in early afternoon and went had enough time to go to Muckcross House just outside of town. The grounds were beautiful and the house was equally as impressive. Much of the renovations on the house had actually been done for a visit from Queen Elizabeth; renovations which in the end, bankrupted the family and caused the owner to have a nervous breakdown. They also had a weaving shop where real people weave real stuff—an art that is all but lost these days. In the afternoon we went to see Ross Castle—the most intact 14th Century castle in Ireland. The reason 14th century castles are cool is because they are the stuff that 5th grade history projects are made of. They are complete with pots of boiling oil, rocks falling from above onto unsuspecting victims, and closed rooms with holes for guards to shoots arrows on intruders below. We had dinner at Bricin in town where I took a break from meat but switched to dairy overload on full cream wild mushroom pasta and chocolate cake. And more Guinness.
The next day we took in one of the most common sights for tourists—the Ring of Kerry. And after seeing it I can see why. It is a long but beautiful drive around the Kerry peninsula with cliffs plunging down into the sea and lush green fields full of sheep. We drove through parts of Kilarney National Park and it was a fairy tale forest. Much of it reminded me of parks I had travelled to in New Zealand. It was a long drive for Dad, so I convinced him to stop for a break of coffee and carrot cake. I can’t really do the drive justice with words, so I’ll just include a lot pictures below.
On Easter Saturday we headed north toward the Dingle Peninsula. We stopped for a bit at Inch Beach and then kept heading west and north round the peninsula. The weather was the best day we had in Ireland. I wouldn’t call it warm, but we had blue skies almost the entire time. Speaking of weather…it was freezing! Ok, at least to me it was. In Malawi it never gets below 55, even at night. We arrived back late at our Inn and ate dinner at Foley’s Restaurant in town.
On Easter Sunday we went to a small church in town and then left Kilarney for the Cliffs of Moher. We arrived around lunchtime and got to stop and eat lunch overlooking the cliffs. Dad had his picture taken with someone one who was campaigning to make the Cliffs of Moher a World Heritage Site. We kept driving through County Clare and arrived at Dunratty House which overlooked the bay and behind us the Burren Mountains. I really enjoyed the Burren. The biological landscape is just so bizarre that the place is captivating. It is covered in heavy limestone deposits and where people can eke out some farmland, they have built the fences from the limestone rocks. For all its barren appearance, of the native wildlife in Ireland, 90% of its native species are found in the Burren. Dunratty House also had the best breakfast spread by far and all arranged in beautiful pottery by one of Ireland’s most famous potters. And as most of you know, I’m a sucker for pottery.
The next day we went to Bunratty Castle and Historical Village. The castle was cool, but I thought the historical park was better. We chatted with lots of the people who worked there, walked around the grounds, and had some really great food in a local pub. Dad had some of the best lamb sausage I have ever had and I got some amazing lasagna. The park included a working water fed grist mill, a small sheep farm, a beautiful walled garden (complete with 2 Irish wolfhounds), and thatched roof cottages that had been moved from their former location and reconstructed on site. The village reminded me of vacations we use to take as kids to historical Williamsburg.
We left Ballyvaughan (town that Dunratty House was in) and drove through the Burren and the Connemara on our way to Clifden. The Connemara was beautiful and so different from the Burren! The Connemara is full of rolling hills, including the famous Twelve Pins. We took a drive through vast peat bogs and into Connemara National Park where Dad and I took a short walk inside the park. The park visitor center had a great information section on both the biology and Irish culture behind the peat bogs in this area. Often Irish immigrants to America would bring a piece of the family peat with them to remind them of home. And, peat is considered a fossil fuel since it takes thousands of years to form and just the right ecological conditions!
The next day we traveled all the way east, back to Dublin. Halfway there we stopped at Kylemore Abbey which is one of the most photographed buildings in Ireland. It is indeed a gorgeous abbey built along the River -----. High in the hills above a statue of Jesus has been constructed as a place of prayer and pilgrimage for the nuns below. We arrived in Dublin in the late afternoon with just enough time to take a walk down Fleet Street. In the area of town that we stayed in all the doors are painted different colors. After Queen Elizabeth died, the Irish were asked to paint all the doors black as a sign of respect. So with a big Irish F* you, they painted all the doors the brightest colors they could find! We had dinner at a restaurant that served just kofte, which are pancakes made of potatoes and filled with some kind of delicious filling. I had a creamy mushroom filling in mine. Apparently, this is a very traditional Irish food. And, I also had a plate of oysters with a Guinness, which surprisingly is a much better combination than Tabasco sauce or lemon juice!
After only two days in Dublin it occurred to me that it is a very young, hip, party hard city. Everyone woman under the age of thirty, and I do mean everyone, was running around the city in brightly colored tights and flashy ballet flats complete with some kind of baggy dress cinched with a belt and a bag they could fit a small child in. It didn’t take long to figure out Dublin’s style. But, none the less, I loved it! On out first day for a bit of Irish history (and a fantastic history it is) we headed to Killmainham Jail on this big touristy double-decker bus. I felt like a big nerdy tourist, but at least it was convenient. The Killmainham jail is at the center of so much of Irish history. Throughout “The Troubles,” the jail was used to house and execute many famous Irish dissident of the crown. Our tour guide placed a special focus on the women and children that were jailed and executed there, which I greatly appreciated. It was a saddening experience, but I don’t think any trip to Ireland would be complete without an appreciation of its rich history.
On Saturday we also travelled to...the Guinness Factory! They charge a small fortune for the factory tour, but at least you get a pint of Guinness at the end. The tour was great! They have toasted barley for you to eat, pump in real hops smell around the fake vines, a tasting lab with instructions from a real Guinness taste tester (how would you like that job), and they have a huge exhibit about Guinness advertising and the Guinness Book of World Records. My favorite part of the tour was the exhibit about the Cooperage. The Guinness coopers were thought to be the first people to burn the inside of the barrels in order to burn away the tannins which will make the beer bitter. It took true skill, brute strength, and dedication to be a Guinness cooper. The apprenticeship alone took seven years and even after that each cooper was required to mark his own barrels, thus allowing the bosses to keep track of who’s leaked and who’s didn’t.
That night we ate dinner at a restaurant called Fire, where I had a delicious beet salad and thin-crust pizza. On our way out we happened to be eating right next to the place that was hosting the Irish Daytime Emmy’s! So, Mom and I stood around and gawked at all the pretty dresses for about 15 minutes.
On Sunday we went to church at St. Patrick’s Cathedral—which to my great surprise and disappointment was completely empty. This beautiful cathedral had halfway been turned into a tourist shop, there wasn’t a choir to be seen on the program list, and there was only 3 other people in church that morning. It is really quite a shame. We had our last Irish breakfast at a local cafĂ© and then took the big red bus again to Trinity College and the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells is also another massive tourist attraction, and I was a bit skeptical about the whole thing at first. But, after seeing the books I can totally understand why people flock in droves to see them. The Book of Kells is one of the first copies of the Four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Trinity College places on display two of the four books at time and also two other Coptic texts. The craftsmanship alone is enough to amaze most, but I think for the religious the books hold a special spiritual importance. The books are made of the skins of 150 calves, the inks made from various rocks and beetles, all painstakingly scribed by candlelight over many years. My trip to see the Book of Kells was actually one of my most favorite experiences in Ireland.
That night we under-estimated the availability of Irish restaurants on a Sunday night and ending up eating at a burger place! It was actually really good. Mom and I walked just around the block to see the Dublin Chamber Orchestra perform and the National Concert Hall. What a treat! After being in Malawi for so long it was wonderful to hear the music of my own culture: Handel, Mendelssohn, and even modern Irish classical composers. It was a great evening of music and a wonderful way to share my last night together with my mom for the next 8 months!
The next morning I rode with my parents to the airport even though my flight didn’t leave to a few hours after theirs. It was a wonderful trip and I really enjoyed spending time with my parents for a full two weeks. We made some great memories together and it is a trip I will look back to with great fondness. We said our sad goodbyes at the airport and parted ways for the next 8 months. But, I get to see them again at Christmas so I’m already looking forward to that!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Alicia's Update - April 6, 2009

New Year, New House, New Outlook! Before I leave for Ireland (which is tomorrow!), I thought

I should catch all my faithful readers up on what has been happening at my new home in Ntcheu. Last time I left you all I had just arrived, so we will pick up from there. Bryan, Keah, Jen (one of my site mates), and Mr. Liwonde (my neighbor and counterpart) helped moved all my stuff into the extra bedroom. After being here for one year I am amazed at how much I have actually accumulated; boxes and bags were literally packed up to the ceiling in my room. For the next two weeks Bryan and Keah showed me the ins and outs of life in their village. We visited the three irrigation clubs that B&K started during their service, went to the market to meet their friends, worked in the garden, read a lot, and just got to know each other better. B&K were so hospitable and I really felt like we had a great transition and I hope I can do some good work at their old site. Thanks guys!
Sharpevale Gang: Jen, Keah, Caitlan, Me, and Mr. Liwonde and Brian in the back (this is the day that I arrived in Sharpevale, everyone came to welcome me!)
I guess I should tell you a bit about my house. I have a two bedrooms, a sitting/library/dining/exercise/office room, and one small narrow room I can use for storage all inside a brick house with a clay tile roof (even though the tile leak like crazy and my roof is actually covered with two tarps). I have an outdoor shower, a bricked patio, pit latrine (but I have a toilet seat as well!), outdoor kitchen which I just use as a shed, 5 raised planter beds, a chicken coop (complete with chickens which are currently not laying eggs and may become dinner if they don’t get on the ball), a dog pen with a dog (Sako, I ‘inherited’ him from B&K), a rabbit coop (soon to have rabbits), and a solar food dryer. My house has lots of old fruit trees which make for great shade (and eating). I live very close to the Liwonde family and they take really good care of me. Examples, if I didn’t absolutely insist on paying them they would bring water for me and my garden for free! Also, the other night, a fox killed one of my chickens that insisted on flying out of the coop and staying out for the night. Mr. Liwonde hears it and runs out of bed at 3 in the morning to try and kill the fox. (Of course my completely worthless dog, although very cute, does nothing). I live in the middle of a corn field, so my only neighbors are the Liwonde’s, her sisters, and the agogo’s (grandparents). The location is great because I have lots of privacy, just a few kids that I get to hang out with, but I still get to spend lots of time with a family. The agogo is always giving me food, and the kids like to come over and read books with me on the front porch. I only ever see Mr. Liwonde’s children (Mary, Mordy, Charles, and Clement (sadly, Jennifer died just a few weeks ago from rabies)) and a few of their friends. Compared to my old house where I had kids passing my house all the time and sometimes it could be a bit overwhelming. Sharpevale is about a 100 m lower than my old house, so it will be a bit hotter here—but I take it compared to all the other improvements!

Desk, door leads to my bedroom
Hallway leads out the back, first door is to the kitchen, second is the store room

Kitchen Prep area (I cook outside on my porch)...thanks for all the food packages.

Store room, my water filter on the left
Bookshelf, door to front porch on the right.

Back of the house. You can see my herb spiral (with lots of herbs this time! and it has a drip irrigation kit hooked up to it). All my firepit and veranda. Shed is off camera but to the left.

Veranda, bathhouse, and the chim (toilet) just to the left and behind of that.

I also have two site mates. Caitlan, is a first year education volunteer, and Jen, an environment volunteer in my group. It is great to have site mates because we can talk things before they become a big problem, meet up for tea, see each other at school, go to the beach on the weekend, and have each other over for great big dinner parties!

Jen coming over to pick up her chickens from my house.
Caitlan over for Mexican Night!

After B&K left I really started to get to work. The first week I tried to be busy because I knew I would be going to Senga Bay for two days (have to have a little fun with the ladies, right?) and then welcoming the NEW Environment group as their plane landed in country (W.I.E.R.D—more later). So the first thing I did was to re-start (it’s best not to re-event the wheel for everything you do) a women’s group with Mr. Liwonde’s wife and some of her friends in my village. They had already formed the group but weren’t meeting regularly. Out first meeting they outlined all the things they wanted to do and learn. Unfortunately it was a list that was 20 things long, so I had to get them to focus. They decided to start with learning how to make jam (Malawi has some amazing fruit, my new favorite being mposa, I think we call it custard apple). They have made jam a few times with some different fruits and each time re-invested the profits for the next batch. However, last week they learned a valuable lesson: they must sell the jam immediately because it only lasts a week or two without refrigeration in this hot weather! They managed to save enough money to pay a carpenter to make a stand for an oil press (Very cool, made by Mtiba, check it out, I’m totally getting one when I get home! You guys can make all kinds of cold press oils with all out local nuts at home). I inherited an oil press from B&K (I also inherited the debt too!). In an effort to foster personal responsibility, I told the women I would give them the press if they paid for the stand to mount it. Mr. Liwonde and I tried it out with some sunflowers and after we worked out all the kinks it worked great! The other thing they highlighted was that they want to learn how to knit. Unfortunately, I don’t know how. My Mom doesn’t know this but she will be teaching my how during all those car rides across the Irish countryside! In between we will also do other small classes on relevant topics. Example, last week we had a class on preventing childhood diarrhea. We covered hand washing with a cup tied to a string with holes punched in it (so the dirty water runs off, the two cup system of taking water out of its storage container to prevent contamination, and making your own oral rehydration salts (which are 35 kwacha in the market and people don’t always give them to their kids when they need them because they can’t afford them). We also spent one afternoon making mudstoves—which they totally love! It is such a simple, appropriate technology (there is a development buzz-word for you) in which they modify the traditional three-stone fire so it is more efficient by filling in the spaces with mud to direct the heat toward the pot. This ‘technology’ saves them as much as 30% on firewood! They want to have other classes on making cakes, cooking lessons for increased nutrient intake, and much to my surprise, they wanted to learn how to protect themselves from getting HIV/AIDS. Although I was really excited to see their interest, I was also a bit saddened. I thought to myself: I shouldn’t have to teach you this, you are all married, you should be safe. But all too commonly, this is not the case. For the vast majority of married women, it is not a choice. Their husbands are highly promiscuous and they can’t say no, they can’t force their husbands to wear a condom. On a happier note, I really love working with them on such a regular basis. They are a great group of women and I think they will do really well with a bit of help! (Apologies for the length of that last paragraph).
A "test press" with Mr. Liwonde, we made groundnut oil.

Making mudstoves (sorry the pic is so bad!)

Tilimbike Women's Club. We made gwava jam and they used to profit to pay the carpender to make the stand for the oil press.

Before I left for Senga Bay and Lilongwe I met with the headmaster to discuss the possibility of working at the secondary school. He was immediately excited and said yes. It is really common for Environment volunteers to teach life skills and have Wildlife/Environment clubs at the high schools. I began teaching life skills to Forms 3 and 4 (grade 11 and 12). Life skills in Malawi will cover topics from self-esteem, goal setting, public speaking, HIV/AIDS (BIG topic), healthy relationships, career planning, and job application skills. It is meant to help students in a very practical way beyond just basic reading, writing, and math skills (although important as well). In the first term we focused on self-esteem, peer-pressure, proper relationships, and goal setting.

My favorite lesson (so far) was one where I had the students draw a picture of their future. The students then put their ‘future island’ on the floor on the other side of the river (a big blue cloth). The river had hippos, crocodiles, and snakes in it which were meant to represent the barriers they face when trying to reach their island. Students said they represent things like HIV/AIDS, STIs, lack of parent support, peer-pressure and poverty. The students then got a “bridge” (a big stick) to help them cross the river. After crossing with just one bridge they got a second and found it easy to cross. The bridges represent things like parent support, friends, education, and a positive attitude. Once they crossed the bridge they all shouted, Nditha, which means, I can! It is very rare that students actually visualize their future outside the village life. It was great to see students wanting to be nurses, teachers, radio broadcasters, and lawyers. I left for Senga Bay at the end of the week (just so you know I didn’t do all that stuff in a week, but over the last two months, so don’t be too impressed). I met Audra, Jen, Kory, and Bright at Senga Bay on our way to Lilongwe. It is great to live so close to the beach! We spent the weekend swimming, relaxing, and reading. Senga Bay is a lot cleaner than Nkhata Bay and there are far fewer tourists!

Me, Audra, Kory, and Jen relaxing on the beach (which is funny because we are an inland country). I just love my new site, I can jet to the beach for the weekend. Promise, the green shirts were not all planned, but we are Environment volunteers!

Children fishing in Lake Malawi at sunset.

Senga Bay

Random: Remember that cover of time magazine a while back. Yeah, it was actually Tim Strong. (Hey Tim! How's America?)

We headed into Lilongwe to meet the new Environment group at the airport, just like everyone did for us when my group flew in last year. I cannot explain to you the depth of just how weird it is to be standing at the airport, waving to the new guys coming off the plane. The differences between then and now are so stark! This was my first time back to the airport and I thought to myself, wow this airport is kind of nice as opposed to when we landed a year ago and I thought, oh shit, this place is a total dump what did I get myself into! I remember getting off the plane and meeting the PCVs and thinking, ‘wow, they look so tan, dirty, wise, established, comfortable’. As soon as I saw the new guys I thought, ‘they are so pale, clean, and look totally overwhelmed by what is happening’. February 2008 seems so very far away, yet the year went by so fast. You don’t really recognize the differences until you meet someone who is now where you were. The new kids are completely unrealistic about what they can achieve here, clean, complain about being sick all the time, worry about things that won’t happen and don’t even ask questions about the things that will really bother them, they don’t know what their favorite foods and activities actually are. They are totally bizarre! That said, I really like the new group of Environment volunteers and think they are going to do a great job and fit in really well!
Jen, Sarah, Devin, Alinon. Waiting for the New Env group to land at the airport

We love America!!!!

Bright and Emily waiting at the airport

New and old volunteers (oh God, that's ME!) meeting each other in the airport parking lot.
New Environment Group in Dedza just begining their training. They look so clean!
Can't come into Lilongwe and not go out! Megan and I (we are going to Zambia on safari in August, I'm really excited!)

Another thing I have been working on is exploring the possibility of building a community center. I met with the GVH (group village headWOMAN). That’s right, she is a woman. Good story, so I’ll make a bit of detour here. So, she was next person in line to the GVH because there were no remaining blood relatives (i.e. not married into the family), but her brother-in-law went to the Traditional Authority ((TA) the one above the GVH) and said that he was the ‘only remaining male hier’. Now although that is technically true and he didn’t lie, she was the next in line. After he took over, people went to the TA and told him, that no, this other woman was actually next in line. So the TA removed the brother-in-law from his position and gave the title to her! Awesome! Okay back to the topic of the community center. I met with the GVH and the Village Development Committee, and they thought it was a great idea. So far we have formed a committee of 15 to oversee the project, including at my suggestion, Mr. Liwonde and my friend Annie (she lived in Denver for 5 years and speaks really great English, but now has a shop in town because her husband is stationed here as police chairman). We have met once and they are supposed to write a constitution for the center while I am away for the next three weeks. I am really skeptical that the project will actually work because to get the grant the community will have to contribute 25% of the cost of the project. Generally this cost is usually labor, thatching grass, locally burned bricks, or bamboo. Also because of the size of the project the committee will have to donate a lot of their time. This is where we run into a bit of cultural snafu. Malawians are very helpful and kind, but they don’t volunteer for things like this. Americans are known for volunteering for lots of community projects—almost everyone I know is doing something with some organization, we donate money to lots of causes, we run in races for charity and participate in silent auctions, etc. Now, I’m sure some of you are saying, “but we can donate the 25%”. That would be great, except then it is not a community center, if the community wants the center than the community will have to contribute towards it. That may seem a bit callus, and I hope you all understand, but if I find money to pay people to build the whole thing, then it will never be used: i.e. I will have wasted all your money. Often times with big projects like this volunteers become blind to the problems, they just want to get it finished no matter what problems they run into just to say they have accomplished something. Although it is early in the project and this may not in fact be a problem, I am keeping this issue in the back of my mind. I decided I’m not going to force the project to happen, I would rather do small, individual projects that have a higher probability of continuing once I am gone. I think it would be irresponsible of me to act otherwise (i.e. to act like almost every other well wishing NGO in this country). We shall see!

Last Friday I had an all day nutrition workshop with an HIV/AIDS club that I meet with on a weekly basis. We spent the morning covering food groups, making balanced meals, stressing local foods (which are often more nutritious), safe water practices, and the importance of eating whole grain nsima. We had a great activity were they made a list of foods they buy, find (in the forest), and plant. At first they had almost nothing in the ‘foods we find’ category, but after some prodding (I reminded them of the famine in 2001 and asked them what they ate then) they came up with a HUGE list. The young people learned about new foods they could eat from the old ones. I tried to stress to them that between foods they can plant and foods they can find that they need not spend money on bought foods and that they can eat very healthfully! The other topic that was quite controversial was the difference between eating whole grain and white (processed) corn flour to make nsima. Whole grain is taking straight from the cob to the maize mill while white flour is pounded, the chaff and kernel removed, taken to the mill, then fermented for a day, and finally dried in the sun. By the time they are done processing it is essentially starch. It’s glue, you could make a collage with the stuff. I tried to explain to them that they spend so much money on seeds and fertilizer, and time, but then they just throw away all the nutritious stuff! They told me if they have visitors come and they give them ufa woyera (white flour) that people will think they are lazy. I then replied that is ok to eat is some days, just not all days. I was a fun conversation, but Malawians do not like people messing with their nsima! At the very least I gave them the information and they had a good time. In the afternoon we had some cooking demonstrations: eating things with the skins, steaming instead of boiling, not overcooking vegetables. Much to my surprise they loved the chips (French fries) with the skins!
All day Nutrition Workshop for HIV/AIDS patients. We had a really great turnout of almost 40 people!
That about covers it! As you can see things are going well and I’m really happy in at my new site. In retrospect, I made the right decision. Ok, I’m going to wrap things up because I need to go pack for my vacation! Love and miss, Alicia.

This is a random picture, but I just thought this was so smart! Can you tell what the lamp is made of?