Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alicia's Update - March 24, 2009

So my New Years Resolution was to be better at blogging. As you can see I’m doing such a good job at keeping it! Actually I haven’t been avoiding blogging (ok, I have a bit), but SO many things have changed since my last post in mid-December.

When I posted my last post in early December, secret to just about everyone besides my family, I was in the process of talking with PC Malawi about moving sites. Although I have tried to remain positive on my blog, I guess it is time to come clean with all of you: the last year has been extraordinarily difficult. That said, I don’t regret the time that I spent in Mwanza. I do think it is funny that I had almost exactly the same conversation about changing sites with my APCD all the way back in MAY. Although a difficult decision, now in retrospect, it was the right one. After talking with family and friends they all encouraged me to move, sensing that I was incredibly unhappy. The decision was not an easy one because I just felt like I was giving up, that I was abandoning my community, that I couldn’t complete what I had set out to do. As many of you are well aware, I am really stubborn. Throwing my hands up and saying, “I can’t do this anymore” is not in my personality. After long discussions with family and friends, I had to accept that everyone has their limits, even me; and if mine are in a different place than other volunteers then that is OK. It took an additional 3 weeks after Thanksgiving to have to OK from the office, make sure the Department of Forestry would pay my living allowance, and to work out the logistics of the move. It was really a coincidence that I was able to move. Bryan and Keah, second year environment volunteers, are extending for a third year near Liwonde National Park, so I was able to move into their house. Peace Corps and I set a date to move of January 27th, which worked out really well because I could finish up my mushroom project in Mwanza and take an extra long Christmas vacation! So, I returned to my site with the knowledge that was only going to be there for another 1 ½ months. My last few weeks in Mwanza before Christmas was spent training my women’s group how to plant mushroom spawn, care for the mushroom house, harvest and sell mushrooms. We had a three day training covering substrate pasteurization, bag preparation, incubation, placement in the house, harvesting, and house maintenance. Although my Chichewa shills are sub-par, I was able to conduct the training all by myself without the help of any translator. We ate lunch together each day in between the morning and afternoon sessions. The ladies were really enthusiastic and willing to learn a new skill. Mushrooms are very popular in the villages and once they were ready to harvest they had no problem selling them to their friends and neighbors. The women in this group really made my time in Mwanza worth it. Even on days when we didn’t have meetings I would walk down to their village and hang out for the afternoon. We could just sit around and chat, without any pressure, they were interested in my life and my family and friends. They always gave me huge piles of mangoes and were the only people in my village that knew me well enough to know that I love popcorn—especially the crispy burnt half-popped village kind! I hope I was able to provide them with all the information they need for a successful project that will last for many years as well as the skills and confidence to start other projects.

Putting up the clear plastic on the walls

Preparing the pots to pastuerize the substrate

Covering the pots to hold in the steam

Pasteurizing the substrate

Placing the substrate to cool

Placing the substrate and mushroom spawn in the bags
Because I knew I was leaving I took an extra long Christmas vacation. Shortly before Christmas I left site and headed up north to Mzuzu where I met my friend Emily. We travelled to her site near Rhumpi for a village Christmas. On Christmas Day we visited Emily’s friends and brought them cookies and other Christmas gifts. Christmas in Malawi is often an excuse to get drunk (as I remind myself how many Americans drink to get through the holidays!) so walking around town was quite a lot of fun! People that Emily had never seen touch a drop of alcohol were totally demolished. As we made the rounds we drank several obligatory cups of tea, visited friends in the boma and ate lots of doughnuts and cold cokes. In the afternoon we biked to the Stains house. They run a paprika farm near Emily’s house and they invited us to dinner. I drank so many cold cokes I almost made myself sick! We spent the rest of the week eating more doughnuts, visiting friends we didn’t get to on Christmas day, finished off a few books, and made some pretty good village food. Emily and I were only 100 meters from each other during homestay, but now she is up north and I don’t get to see her that often, so it was really nice to spend some time together. (Sorry I only have three pictures from this whole time!).
Drinking Coke and eating donuts at Emily's site in Rhumpi
We travelled back to Mzuzu and then made our way to Nkata Bay for New Years. Nkata Bay is full of rocky shores surrounding a small bay and is a very popular tourist stop in Malawi. We spent our days swimming in the lake and reading under shady umbrellas. As Peace Corps volunteers, we spend our nights drinking when on vacation. It was great to see all my friends that I haven’t seen for a while and just relaxing after a really stressful fall in my village.

Eating at Chipati Lady. The. best. drunk.food.EVER.
Swimming in NkhataBay

Happy New Years 2009.
We are Peace Corps--we love America!
January 1. The drinking continues....
January 2...

View from our hostel over NkhataBay
After New Years, since I didn’t really want to spend too much time back in my village before the move I decided to travel to a remote lodge called Rurarwe. The easiest (or so we thought) way to get there was to take a boat from Nkata Bay to Rurarwe. Averill, Shar-dey, Bright, Jen, and I chartered a boat to leave Nkata Bay at 9 AM. After buying petrol, snacks, packing the boat, etc, we left at 11. The waters within Nkata Bay were pretty calm, but as soon as we got outside the protection of the bay things got a bit more rough. After 2 hours we actually had to pull into this bay in the middle of nowhere (so far out that I don’t even know how the people who live there got down into the ravine) and wait. The driver told us that he wanted to wait until night to travel because the waves would have been smaller. He might have been right, but we were thinking that if the waves stayed this big then we really didn’t want to be travelling at night, and we really wanted to get there! Averill negotiated with the driver to leave at 2 with the condition that he bail out the boat from the water coming over the top (Averill is still convinced that the boat was actually leaking). So, we set back out. Shar-dey was sea sick so she put on her iPod, covered her head with her jacket and ‘danced’ to the waves for the next 4 hours to fight the sea sickness. Bright was so excited to be traveling there that she was totally lost in her book and oblivious to the big waves. Averill put on his life jacket (and if you see pictures of him you will see why this freaked me out) and then kept turning around every 10 minutes to ask me if Shar-Dey (his GF visiting from America) still had life jacket on. Jen couldn’t even read a book because the wind kept blowing waves on her. I could read, but kept looking at the ever increasing size of the waves and the creeping darkness. By time we got there it was dark and we were all soaked to the bone, but Rurarwe was totally worth it. The lodge is tucked away that you can’t even see it from 50 meters away. The youth hostel had a balcony that looked out onto crystal clear lake water were we could see 20 meters to the rocks below. The group dinners of curry and crepes with chocolate sauce were amazing to us village bound PCVs. At night, when it was time to take showers, the staff would heat up a gravity fed tank and you would have to shout at him when you were finished so he could turn off the water! We spent all day in our bathing suits snorkeling, jumping off 26 foot platform into the lake, reading, and napping in the sun. It gave me some time to really think about putting my old site behind me, and moving on to a new site. It was a great way to start 2009. We travelled back down to Nkata Bay via the Illala- the ancient ferry boat that runs up and down the lake. Christmas vacation over I travelled all the way back down the Mwanza to spend my last few weeks in my village before the big move on the 27th.

Jen and I waiting for the waves to pass.

Those smiles are so fake! Averill and Jen

Rurarwe. Can't even tell there is a lodge there, can you!?!

Jumping off the platform--20 meters

The group the went to Rurarwe: Rob, Emily, Jen, Shar-Dee, Averill, Dave, and Bright

On the Illala going back to NkhataBay. I look very scary in that hat, don't I?

As you all know, during this time Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, and on a totally less important note, I turned 25 on the same day. I like to think that I got Barak Obama as my birthday present. To celebrate the day I dressed all in red, white, and blue, and bought mushrooms from my womens group for a ‘fancy’ village birthday dinner. Although a memorable even, I was a bit sad to be spending this historical occasion alone in my village—until I was listening to President Obama’s Inaugural speech. As he was speaking about how America will renew our pledge to help all those in the “forgotten villages” around the world. That was my village, my friends, me, that he was talking to—I was a member in one of those forgotten corners of the world. I was so proud of the United States, my fellow citizens, and my new President. Do I think that Obama will actually affect much change in Africa? Absolutely not. But I do know that people here look up to him. They see a descendant of Africa become the leader of one the greatest nations in the world, an inspiration, and an example for leaders across Africa to follow (and God knows some of them need a good example!). My students tell me they want to be the President of the United States, just like little American children, and I just don’t have the heart to tell them you can’t be a naturalized U.S. citizen. If I slept at all on moving night, I got up even earlier to make sure things were in order before the Peace Corps car picked me up the morning. I had 3 or 4 times the amount of stuff that I actually moved to site with, but with my years of traveling experience I have become an excellent packer and it all fit into one car! I was rather impressed with myself. Three hours later I was giving an “Odi” (what you say when you approaching someone’s house in Malawi—it just means, “hey, I’m here!”) to Bryan and Keah. Keah responded with, “You don’t have to give an ‘odi’ at your own house!”. I was home, and couldn’t be happier about it. (You can take a tour of my house on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8j6RVTBWmP8&feature=related).

Glow bracelets for the kids!

Reading books and eating popcorn on my front porch.

Rose and I. Having a last party with Mtendere Mushroom Club.

Mtendere Mushroom Club

Harvesting mushrooms.

All my stuff packed and ready to go to my new site--all in one Land Rover!

No comments: