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?

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Whew! Great post. Hope your vacation was fantastic!!