Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Alicia's Update: December 17, 2008

Sorry the photos don't line up at the end of the blog, I got really tired of dragging them down the page. I thought you all would appreciate photos even if they don't quite line up!.

Knack Attack!! The staff room at Camp Sky.

Brian and Keah in the staff room. Another Knack Attack--I think we might be addicted.

Me teaching graphing at Camp Sky

The students on their Business Field Trip to the Southern Bottling Company in Blantyre.

Field Trip to The Nation, the national newspaper.

Picking berries on the Zomba Plateau

Meleia and I getting ready to go riding on the Plateau

Some well needed R&R by the Zomba Reservoir

Thanksgiving at the Ambassador's House.

Emily and I hanging out outside the PTC.

All of us hanging out outside the PTC, drinking..too bad you can't do that. Opps.

Thanksgiving at the Ambassador's. Bryce being well, Bryce.

Dave, Jen, and Devin at 4th of July Party.

Brian came on a site visit and took a picture of me carrying my water from the borehole.

Mwaswera bwanji? How have you spent your day? I hope all of you are healthy and happy. The past few months have included an amazing diversity of experiences—and perhaps the reason why I have failed to write in so long. I would try to make some kind of excuse and say that months of being without technology makes it difficult to find any patience in dealing with it….but that’s lame so I’ll just start in with the update. I promise my New Year’s Resolution is to be better about communication with you all at home on my part.
I have been so very fortunate to find a good friend inside Majete, Jeanette. She was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Chikwawa with African Parks and without her good advice I probably would have quit PC at least three times. But, after each mental breakdown on her front porch she and her (now husband), Harvey feed me pasta, coffee, and lots of veggies. They are both amazing people and I will miss not only their company, but also their good counsel when they leave in June 2009.

They invited me to their wedding and the day before I travelled through the park and was able to do all the fun doing pre-wedding stuff. Two days before the wedding there was a surprise bachelorette party inside the park on B-line road—right down in the dry river bed with elephant dung and all. The scenery, company, and food were all amazing. As is traditional, the mother of the groom gave a chitenje to the bride and the married women offered their best piece of advice for a happy and healthy marriage. In between snacking on mini quiche, cupcakes, and champagne, I would look over every so often toward the scout that was guarding our little tea party from elephants with an M-16! The wedding was held in Blantyre at the church commissioned by David Livingston, Saint Michaels of Angels. The ceremony was a combination of traditional western and Malawian. As much as I love traditional and modern Malawian music, it is not the music of my childhood. Just as drums move the hearts of people all over Malawi, for me, there will always be something special about an organ in a big church with stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and tall roman columns.

Jeanette having a practice round. In the background is Amy, Sarah, and Caroline (on the right). All are people who work/volunteer inside the park.

In the river bed off of B-Line Road.

Jeanette (looking quite surprised), her mom, and sister walking towards the party in the river bed.

Amy, Sarah, and Caroline. And those Fairy Cakes look just as good as they tasted.

The Bridal Party, including Jeanette's sister and Harvey's niece.

The Bridal Party
Catherine and I at the Reception in Blantyre
Harvey, Jeanette, and I at the reception.

After the wedding we went to Chez Macky’s in Blantyre and I ate so much food I should really be ashamed of myself. Good thick whole grain nsima, pumpkin leaves with peanut flour, local red beans, and even grilled chicken (yes, Mom and Dad, I ate some!). If I could eat like that every day I wouldn’t complain about the food in Malawi so much. Not only is there a complete excess of food at Malawian weddings, but there is also a lot of dancing—and unlike American weddings you don’t have to drag the men onto the dance floor. In fact, they are the first ones out there! All throughout the night people dance around the bride and groom and throw money in a big basket until the ‘cashier’ decides that enough has been giving by those present. It was a great time and I am very thankful I was able to attend.

Just before our In-Service Training (IST) we had a Central Gender and Development fundraiser, Iron-Chef Malawi! This was an event I had been looking forward to for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. We received our secret ingredients, yogurt and chocolate, and 5,000 kwacha to buy all other stuff. Immediately my team members, Matt Jones and Alinon Arpin, decided we would do an Indian Style Chocolate Mole and a Chocolate Tortellini with a Strawberry Yogurt Sauce. After months of a lack of culinary inspiration, I was completely stumped on what to do for an appetizer. Thankfully my ingenious friend Matt thought of a Chocolate Lassi and the very last second! I have to say that I was not the heartbeat of the team as Matt’s Chocolate Mole was INCREDIBLE. Although we didn’t win, we had an awesome time and we raised over 60,000 mK ($400 USD) for Central Gender and Development and Scholarships. Totally want to do it again next year!

Taking a break before we all get cooking. I mean, we don't want to work too hard or anything.
Team Indian! Alinon, Me, and Matt

Environment '08 provided 2 of the 3 teams! Devin, Al, Jen, Brian, Me, Averill, Matt

Serving up food to all the guests.

Kristy Rolig with the MC for the night, Angela--in some smoking National Wear!
Ken is very happy that he won the Men in Chitenje Fashion Show

IST happens 3-4 months after volunteers first go to site and is held in Dedza. For the first week of our training we spent time catching up with everyone, going to the Nordin’s (also former Malawi PCVs) permaculture farm outside Lilongwe, went to Mua Mission in Salima, had a lot of impromptu dance parties, learned about food dryers, mud stoves, extension work, how to make soy milk, and groundnut shellers. I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about all the stuff we learned about, but the pictures are way more fun. But, I will talk about two really special experiences we had at Mua Mission and Nordin’s Permaculture Farm.

They are very excited because I made chocolate cake. We are easy to please.
Making a solar food dryer and then drying all kinds of good stuff to eat.

More solar food drying. That's Bright, btw.

Matt is making a mud stove. This simple "technology" saves 30% on firewood!
Mike is making soy milk.

Alinon found another groundnut sheller at his local market (so much for thinking the new stuff is better!)

We had a "Shell-Off" to see which one works better. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

View of our favorite mountian (ok, its a hill) behind the College.

Stacia and Christof Nordin were both Peace Corps Volunteers in Malawi during one of the worst famines in Malawi since recent memory in 2001. The experience had a lasting impact on them and they decided to return to Malawi and establish a Permaculture farm outside Lilongwe. Although the climate in Malawi in tropical, the soil is full of clay, and the rains only come 5 months out of the year—Malawians do not need to be malnourished or go hungry. They just need to change the way they farm and modify their diet. That may seem a bit arrogant and insensitive for me to make that assessment, but it is either that or Malawians continue to be malnourished and the famines more severe and more frequent. Take your pick. The trip to the Nordin’s Farm opened my eyes to farming system that produces more food, on less land, with less work. I could spend a lot of time covering all the points of permaculture, but I strongly encourage you to check it out and maybe even incorporate some things into your own backyard.
Christof explaining about Permaculture.

Checking out the collection of local foods.

The second place we visited during IST was Mua Mission in Salima. It was founded by Catholic Priest, Father Bouche, in the 1960’s. From the beginning, Father Bouche and his counterparts decided to run the Mission differently than almost every other NGO inside Malawi at the time. Their motto has always been, ‘nothing for nothing.’ Many NGOs give away all the services they provide, don’t require any kind of community contribution, and therefore villagers have no personal stake and therefore no motivation to dedicate any time or effort to the project. In many ways, Peace Corps operates out of the same model. Anecdotal at best, Peace Corps and Mua Mission have been operating in Malawi longer than most other NGOs and I believe they are one of the few that are actually working well. We had the chance to sit down with Father Bouche for a few hours and chat about the culture, where we fit in, when to push, and when not to. As someone who has been in Malawi for over 40 years, he knows a lot more than I do.

Statues of different legends in Malawi

A depiction of the Creation Story at Mua Mission.

Alinon, Devin, Matt, Averill at Mua Mission.

The second week out counterparts came and we did some additional training with them. We spent a great deal of time working on basic business planning. Topics like strength/weakness analysis, book keeping, marketing skills, and profit analysis took several days to cover. Coming from American it was practically common knowledge for the PCVs (something we all agreed we were very thankful for), but completely new and exciting concepts for out counterparts. The other highlight of the second week was training with the Hope Kit. The Hope Kit is a joint project between Bridge Malawi (funded by USAID) and Malawi National Aids Commission. Peace Corps uses the kit to teach the basic principles of HIV transmission, biology, pathology, and most importantly prevention. It uses simply games, skits, and activities to promote self-confidence and control—for both those who do not have HIV and those who do. The training experience was surreal. I was amazed and frankly, appalled, by the lack of knowledge among my counterparts, the lack of mutual respect for both genders, and the lack of a commitment to adopt practices that will stop the spread of HIV. I can say that even four months later I have still not fully processed the experience or accepted the outcomes that I see as a result of detrimental cultural practices. Although the Hope Kit is intended to inspire, and foster confidence and control—I was saddened by the whole experience.
Acting out how HIV interacts in the body, part of the Hope Kit.

Sarah working with her counterpart on a mock business plan.

My counterpart, Harare, and I receiving our certificates at the end of training!
The whole group with out counterparts at the end of IST.

September is a busy time in Malawi as people begin to get their fields ready for the rains (even though they don’t come for another 4 months…). I caught a ride to my site with my APCD, Brian, because he was coming for a site visit. Although he was really sick, we had a training with the Home Based Care Group with the groundnut sheller. Unfortunately, the sheller was not built well and Brian had to take it back to Lilongwe. In the long run this actually turned out to be a good thing, because the group was suppose to build a fence at my house in exchange for a bag of cement to help build the sheller. Peace Corps requires the community to give 2,500 mk or a bag of cement in exchange for a sheller. So, they didn’t do it, and I can’t just give them a sheller.

Groundnut sheller demo (but, that didn't actually work out). Check out for more info.

In the second week of October I went to Liwonde National Park to participate in the annual large mammal census. It takes an hour to drive into the park by car. We were able to watch the sunset over the Shire River, and as I hope you will see soon, those are some of my favorite pictures thus far. We sent up our tents at the camp even though we were a bit concerned about the large piles of elephant dung very very close to the camp. Later that night we were all awakened by the sound of elephants no more than 15 feet from our tents. Needless to say, the next night we placed lanterns outside our tent to keep them away. Don’t ask me why, but apparently it works. The next morning we woke at 4 AM to go on our walking transect. Although we didn’t see any elephants on the walking transect (and frankly, that is a good thing) we saw a lot of elephants on the drive to our walk. They are so cool! I wasn’t able to talk any pictures, because although it would be nice, you don’t really stop the car to take pictures of elephants. Tenley and I were assigned to walk a 12 km section of the river. We saw crocodiles, hippos, waterbuck, bushbuck, impala, kudu, sable, buffalo, and some other stuff I can’t remember. We also called the main office from our cell phones to tell them we had seen poachers on the river just outside the park! The second day we had a 2 hour drive to get to the start of our transect and on the way there we saw kudu and buffalo. At one point we stopped suddenly and all the gaurds jumped out and started chasing a bunch of villagers. The Scouts knew they were poaching because when the poachers saw the truck they started running! Although they didn’t catch them, they did bring back the mangled back leg of a baby bushbuck. Our second transect was only 5 km, but we had to talk another 10 km to get back to the road. Oh, and we saw 1 animal the whole time! It was still really cool and I want to go again next year.
Sunset over the Shire River in Liwonde National Park.
Game Counts at Liwonde National Park. Don't worry there aren't any bullets in those guns.
My transect partner, Tenely and our scout checking out some habitate destruction by elephants.

October at my site was a great month. I didn’t “do” a whole lot because people are very busy plowing their fields and October is the hottest month in Mwanza. How hot you ask? Well, my candles would bend over because of the heat, I would drink 6-8 liters of water a day and still not go to the bathroom, you can’t work from 10 to 3 PM. On the upside, I don’t have to heat my bathwater, I get to eat lots of yummy mangoes (Mwanza district gets mangoes before anyone else and has them the longest) which is great because it is too hot to cook, and you get lots of extra time to read. I don’t feel too bad about sitting around so much in October because my neighbors do the exact same thing.
Borders on my garden beds. (Too bad they never got used!!)

Herb spiral

Beds on the back garden

Food dryer (without the plastic) and dish rack combo
Despite the heat I was able to do some things. Three wells in my area agreed to replant at the bottom of the wells and make better use of the waste water. We only planted at one well, but that’s a start! I plan to finish planting at each of the three wells that agreed sometime in December. One day I made corn husks dolls with my neighborhood kids and they loved it! It was really funny to see the little boys walking around with dolls tied to their backs with ziitenje. I guess those gender roles haven’t quite been so firmly established yet. I also built the framework for a solar food dryer which is big enough for myself and all my neighbors to use. Once I get the plastic I hope to have some meetings to introduce people to it. I also built some borders around my front garden beds, dug the back garden and laid out lots of bricks to make paths and beds, and built an herb spiral in my backyard. (The herb-spiral is something you can all do at home!). I also helped to build two raintanks. One is made with a sifted mud mortar and one is made with a cement mortar. The cement mortar tank is far outside the reach of people in my village, but there is a possibility that they mud tank could be used. People also liked the idea of using the tank as a grain silo—something I didn’t think of, but is a great idea! I also worked to get the Mtendere Mushroom Club ready for their mushroom training in December. All in all a great month!
Mud mortar rain tank at my house (it totally collapsed when the rains came, opps). Worth a try right?
Making cornhusk dolls with my neighborhood kids. They love when I take pictures. Tengani jambula (Take a picture)!!

My sisters, Miriam and Sungen

Planting banana trees at the end of wells to catch the waste water.

I left site on November 4th to watch the election in Blantyre. You didn’t think that just because I was in Malawi I would miss the election did you? We prearranged with one of the local backpacker lodges to let us stay and watch the election all night. We started watching at 6 PM (11 AM EST), but as you know things didn’t really start to get interesting until around 4 AM (9 PM EST). The next two hours we were all on the edge of our seats—waiting for the states that would clinch the election. Most of you, Ok all of you, know I am a huge Obama fan. I assure you that it was no accident one of first posts on this blog was the song by Black Eyed Peas to the now famous, “Yes, We Can” Obama speech. I can’t tell you how much the rest of the world was waiting for a change, a clean slate, a chance to believe in and see the America that they know and love. Obama offers that opportunity. It was an amazing experience to view the election from abroad—and I will remember it as such a contrast to being abroad in Australia shortly after the second Bush election in 2004. The tone is hopeful, optimistic, and passionate—a huge contrast to eight years of violence, fear, and reaction. Most Peace Corps Volunteers are in full support of Obama, not only because he has promised to double the PC budget (we haven’t had an increase in 10 years, programs are being cut worldwide, and even I, at the bottom of the food chain can feel the squeeze), a promise that John McCain would not make, but he believes in the ideals of development, exchange, and mutual cultural respect that are so common among volunteers. Thank you America for making an awesome choice! Go Obama!

After the election I ran around Blantyre for 3 days finding things for the mushroom house before traveling to Zomba to be a math teacher at Camp Sky. Camp Sky is a two week camp where the two best (from 3rd to 10th grade) students from the schools of Peace Corps Volunteers come for two weeks of extra help with core classes like math, English, physical science, and biology, and also cool things like ball-room dancing, pottery, composting, paper making, peanut butter making, and malaria prevention. The students were divided into 4 tracks: health, environment, business, and creative arts. I taught math for the business students and we covered things like order of operations, fractions, simultaneous equations, algebra, graphs, and slope. Although surprised by the lack of some really basic knowledge, the students were extremely motivated. Each track had a field trip and my group went to the National Paper and the Sobo Bottling Company in Blantyre. For many students it was their first time in the ‘big city’ and they were amazed! I was impressed by their insightful and direct questions and critical thinking skills. We also got free coke at the end of the tour which all the students were excited about. On a personal note, Camp Sky was great. I think in Peace Corps we might have a tendency to get stuck in our own sector. I really enjoyed spending an extended period of time not only with some people in my sector, but getting to know people in the 1st year education group really well too. I agreed to do Camp Sky way back in September when I wasn’t having the best time at site. October went so well at site that I considered staying, but I am really happy that I made the commitment to Camp Sky. It is definitely something I want to do again next November. There will be lots of pictures up soon by another volunteer, and I’ll let you know the site when it is ready. If you want to see more pictures of Camp Sky (and there are some great ones!) go to:

Also, the first weekend at Camp Sky we were able to go up the plateau and spend a relaxing day by the reservoir. Malia, Dave, Keah, and I spent the morning riding horses around the lake, which was great because we were all experienced riders so she let us do what we wanted. The afternoon included lots of berry picking with Keah on our walk to the waterfall, and of course a short cat nap by the water before heading back down the plateau. The next weekend after packing up all our stuff, cleaning the camp, and saying goodbye to the students, we loaded up the truck and drove up the mountain again but this time to the American Embassy cabin. Anyone at USAID or the Embassy can use it. So our Country Director, Dale, (who by the way is leaving in December to go to Peace Corps HQ and train all the new incoming country directors—a great thing for PC Malawi) invited us for a job well done lunch of chili, salad, and beer. The highlight of the afternoon was the company, the chili, and the fact that I could turn on a light switch to read copies of Country Living magazine and Martha Stewart. It was great.

I know some of you were worried that I might spend Thanksgiving alone at my home in Mwanza, fortunately Peace Corps realizes that is a bad thing. Thanksgiving was held in Lilongwe at the Ambassadors house! VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee of which I am a member) bought all the food and organized the cooking parties the two days before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving morning went off without a hitch, we had more than enough food—which is AMAZING considering how much we can eat. We had a pool to swim in and lots of good company. Although it was NOT a Feuillet Family Thanksgiving, and perhaps the first Thanksgiving I can ever remember where I haven’t had a glass of wine, it was a good time. The new Ambassador welcomed us with open arms and read a lovely poem about how the American Thanksgiving has become a day where all Americans of every background hold on to their old culture but embrace the new, especially through food. It made me think of the wine, cassis, carrot salad, and pate we have at our house. Even in here in Malawi, we didn’t have turkey—we had a big roasted pig!
So, now that I am all caught up I guess I should tell you my plans for December! When I get back I will have a few days where I will be training the Mushroom Group how to plant the mushrooms. The process isn’t difficult, but you just have to be meticulous and keep things clean. I also want to finish planting a permaculture water guild (guess you will have to do some research to figure out what all that means!) at the three wells that have agreed. I also want to work on getting a sewing machine to my site as money has been donated to buy it, have a one or two day training on building low cost hives, and look into an NGO that has moved into my area with what I believe are seriously predatory loan contracts. On a personal level, I would like to get the fence finished, build a roof over each raintank, cement line each rain tank, and plant the garden if the rains have come. In between all that I will be studying like crazy for the GRE which is in February. That should make the month fly by so I won’t have to think about home too much and I’ll be on vacation sitting in the shade in my bathing suit drinking a G&T and reading a good book on the beaches of Likomo Island before I know it! Phew! I think that just about covers it.

Love, Alicia.

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Great blog Alicia! I always enjoy reading. Love Nicole.