Friday, July 8, 2011

In the end...

It has taken me nearly a week to try and find the words I needed to write my final entry on Malawi. I started writing a final entry nearly a dozen times in Malawi but nothing seemed appropriate, and I couldn't get very far without breaking down into tears. I'm not sure I will ever find the right words to summarize my time in Malawi, they might not even exist.

In the end these are some of the things I will never ever forget: landing in Malawi anxious and excited and extremely exhausted, living with a wonderfully generous Malawian family where I learned to cook on a fire and speak with my hands, eating way too much nsima, getting used to the water (read: becoming violently ill on multiple occasions), swearing in as a REAL volunteer, moving to my first home, heartbreak, a crazy crazy Christmas, New Years in Nkhata Bay, climbing Mt. Mulanje, planning camp SKY, celebration at President Bingu's house, Camp SKY, AMERICA, game count, Thanksgiving, MY FAMILY ARRIVES,New Years on Mumbo Island, safari in Zambia, loneliness, Sarah's death, carrying 20l of palm oil around Malawi and making soap, the opening of AYID, climbing Kilimanjaro, snorkeling in Zanzibar, the world map project, Eunice, Charity, Ruth, Dennis, Derrick, Vinny, Innocent, Henry, Mavuto, Amayi, Mr. Kasiya, Mr. Masofa, Mrs. Matumba, William, Charlie, Alexander, Gertrude, Mr. Lisambo, Enesti, John, Dickens, Blessings, falling in love with Malawi...

In the end my experience is not about the frustrations and the challenges, rather it is about the hope and beauty I witnessed in an extraordinary place. In the end I learned more about myself than ever before, I was challenged and frustrated and inspired. I am so thankful for the support of my family and friends both in Malawi and at home, you knew it was not always easy, but you supported and encouraged me and reminded me why I was there. In the end I will always remember the moments that remind me why Malawi will always be magical.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Girls' Day

I have had plenty of good days and amazing moments but Saturday, June 4th was easily a top 5 day in Malawi.

In a last minute effort to hang out with the Form 3 and Form 4 girls I asked my sitemates, Twila and Debra, if they would be willing to help with a girls' day--a day to discuss health, environment, and education issues and a forum for the girls to be comfortable enough to ask questions. Twila and Debra agreed and so we bought some beans and rice and fantas and had our day.

Twila, an environment volunteer spoke about taking care of their environment. They talked about where to plant gardens that would be easier to water, where to plant trees to help lower the water in the chimbudzi, and good fruits and vegetables to plant in our area. This is all really helpful information because they will all be the heads of their households and will (hopefully) be able to provide their children with lots of healthy foods.

Then Debra, a health volunteer, got to the good stuff. They talked about their bodies, how menstruation works, how you can become pregnant, all the stuff that kids learn in America in the 5th grade that is taboo in Malawian schools. They also learned about HIV/AIDS, they learned how to put a condom on, and why THEY are in charge of their bodies. It was an incredible conversation.

I talked about setting goals, both long term and short term, and how they have to work step by step to achieve their big goals. We also made a calender and mapped out our day so we can be efficient and effective with out time. (thanks TFA) I was pretty encouraged when Eunice told me me Monday we needed to finish our map because it was on her schedule.

The rest of the afternoon was spend doing a question and answer which was unbelievable. The girls were so open and honest and the next day one of the girls wrote a report in my class about the day, she said "we must take care of our vagina coz its so beautiful we must not allow anybody to destroy it." To that, I say 'yeah, girl.'

see you all soon!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Holy May!

Somehow it turned into the end of the month. I'm not entirely sure what happened but the days that used to go by achingly slow have somehow flown by. Here is a brief recap of this months adventures!

HIV/AIDS Training
In Senga Bay. Sweet. For better or worse this was one of the best Peace Corps trainings I have attended. For better because it was informative and inspirational; for worse because at this point I have one month left at site, it would have been awesome to know this stuff 20 months ago. It was a pretty basic workshop in that we learned about contacts to make in our Boma and discussed current HIV/AIDS programs-their successes and their flaws. The most exciting part was planning future events like medicinal gardens, fun activities to do with youth groups, and the basic biology of HIV. I am kinda bummed to be missing these future trainings but so excited they might be a reality for future groups.

The Perfect Day
Lots of people ask "what do you do everyday?" To be honest, I'm not always sure- it changes everyday. Some days I teach a lot, some days I work at home planning and organizing, some days I go to Lilongwe or the Nkhotakota-it's a pretty flexible job...but the other day I had a near perfect day, this is what happened:

Almost all of the teachers were gone (they were at the bank because they haven't been paid in like 3 months, but that is a whole other story) so I taught the Form 4s for about 4 hours. They got so into the lesson on phrasal verbs (not to be confused with verb phrases--I made that mistake) so we just kept going and going. I love the Form 4s- they are creative and clever and curious - all of the best qualities in students. In the afternoon I walked to my friend Gertrude's house about an hour away. Gertrude runs the positive living clubs for people living with HIV/AIDSand after the workshop I realized what a rockstar she is. Gertrude is one of those people that makes you feel better about life, she has been on the brink of death without access to ARVs and has since risen to become a beacon of hope transforming the way positive people are living and how they are treated in our area. She has a smile from ear to ear and a contagious laugh and the world is better for her being here.

After visiting Gertrude I went to visit Deckens, a friend of mine who attends Chancellor college (the only 4 year university in Malawi) and is blind. I gave him my old computer because it only worked when it was plugged in and that basically rendered it useless to me. He assured me he could update and fix it and install software that would read him the actions of the computer so he could write his reports and read word documents much easier. He showed off his computer skills proving that, indeed the computer was still kicking and he knew how to use it.

I think this day reminded me of so many good things: how much I love my students, that I have made friends here-real friends so unlike my friends at home, and that the simplest gift can make such a difference in a person's life.

Domasi College of Education

One of my friends has recently been transferred to Domasi to finish his service as a professor in the science department - a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me. He invited Jesi and I to do a 'foldables' workshop for one of his classes. Happy to oblige and excited to see Zomba we planned to do the workshop, hike up the plateau, and head out early Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, Monday morning Jesi got sick-really sick, so I did the workshop and we spent the rest of the day at a lovely clinic in Zomba. (photos are now on facebook) Luckily, we were able to travel back to Lilongwe Tuesday morning but the plateau still remains a mystery. I guess I'll have to come back to Malawi...

loads of love,

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Standing on the Top of Africa

Uhuru peak on Mt. Kilimanjaro is 5895m tall, almost 19,000 feet above sea level and after 4 days of traveling on a bus and 4.5 days of climbing we made it to the top of Africa, the tallest free standing mountain in the world. And that was just the first week of my two week spring break. The second week was spent in Zanzibar enjoying the oxygen available at sea level, snorkeling over beautiful coral reefs, eating my weight in prawns and coconut fish, feeding 150 year old tortoises, and exploring the incredible beauty of Stonetown. This is how I spent my spring break:

Getting to Arusha required 4 days of transport, including a 19 hour bus ride and a night spent in a brothel. (it was only $2.50/night) To be fair, the buses in Tanzania were much nicer and the rides included stops at rest areas with take away food! An incredible upgrade from roadfood in Malawi.

Getting from Arusha to Zanzibar required a 11 hour bus ride from Arusha to Dar es Salaam, the brakes on our bus broke so we missed the last ferry to Zanzibar. We had heard about flights to Zanzibar and went to airport on a whim. About 45 minutes later we had bargained down a flight from $76 to $45 and were sitting in the smallest plane I have ever been in (minus the one I jumped out of) enjoying a sunset flight to Zanzibar.

Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam was not so spectacular as I get incredibly sea sick and had to use a sea sick bag in front of A LOT of people. I have never gotten sea sick in my life, it was terrible. Probably karma for making fun of people who wear those patches behind their ears on cruises. I'm sorry, I promise to never make fun of you again.

I decided somewhere along the 19 hour bus ride it was totally worth it to fly back to Lilongwe. But...the flight was postponed a day, and then the airport didn't take credit cards. Yes, in order to buy a plane ticket in Dar es Salaam you have to withdrawal a lot of cash, walk around the airport with this giant sum of money, and shadily hand over a wad of cash.

The Climb:
Was amazing. The first three days were fairly easy. Our guides, Stanley and Issa were awesome and we enjoyed the luxury camping of having our tents set up, food prepared, and water boiled. easy. And then day 4 started. It was windy and cold and there was not a lot of oxygen. We moved at a snails pace, the beautiful green vegetation was replaced by what looked like the place where rocks go to die. We arrived at our last camp around 4pm, ate dinner and tried to sleep for a few hours. I should explain here that we were all taking high altitude medication, this medication our bladders active. very active. Every night I had to prepare myself to step outside in the frozen tundra (okay, not really frozen tundra, but it was COLD), use the bathroom, and then warm back up inside my TWO sleeping bags at least 3 times. This meant that none of us had a good nights sleep, at the end of the 4th day we began our summit push already exhausted. We woke up around 11:30pm, ate some cookies, and began walking towards the top. Gale force winds seemed to be whipping around us and our tiny headlamps lit the path towards the summit. From 1:30am to 5:30am were rough, really rough. We made it to Stella Point, the lower peak just before sunrise and managed to make it to Uhuru Peak as the sun was rising. I'm not sure if it was the complete exhaustion or the beautiful site, but I had tears in my eyes I approached the peak. Somethings just take your breathe away. literally.

We stumbled down the mountain, rested for about an hour and then hiked about 4 more hours to the last camp. Exhausted. Proud. With chapped lips and a smile.

Ahh sea level. Glorious. Zanzibar was beautiful. We spent the first 3 days at Jambiani beach, swimming, snorkeling, eating delicious sea food, and recovering. Bliss. We spent the next few days in Stonetown, a beautiful city with an interesting Arabic and European feel. Stonetown was a slave trading post, full of history. We were able to visit a few museums, feed giant sea tortoises, take in the rich smells of the spice market, and explore this very cool city.

And now I'm back, ready for the final countdown. I miss you all and can't wait to see you!

much love,

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Day We Opened the Library

Yesterday easily falls in the top 5 days in Malawi. Easily. Active Youth in Development (AYID), the youth group we started last January opened the doors of the community center and the library to the village. To say this opening was a long time coming is an understatement. The village, Kanyangale, is about 3k from the closest primary school and about 10k from the closest secondary school. When we started AYID last year I had no idea where it would go, but I liked the group and I needed the exercise. There was always a dream of a building, but they had to prove their want. So, we tried to raise money. We dried fruit (fail) and made soap (success), they carried canoes in from the road, worked in people's fields, burned nearly 25,000 bricks and proved their want. Honestly, the last few months have been trying. The project has been stressful and frustrating and I have lost my patience more times than I care to admit or remember. But, yesterday it was totally worth it. We had about 20 chiefs, the Traditional Authority for the area, a representative from our Member of Parliament, representatives from USAID, my boss from Peace Corps and a few volunteers all came to support the opening. The building isn't perfect, but the best stuff is what is going to happen inside. Today has been spent frantically trying to grade exams before I leave for Tanzania. Yes, this week we opened a library and next week I'm climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the week after that I'll be recovering on the beaches of Zanzibar, I guess my life is pretty cool. Much love, E

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mail Tails of Woe

Just an f.y.i. if you ever thought about sending a package to Malawi now is the time! The post office has been exceptionally slow and I have about 3, yes 3 months left which means in order for me to truly be able to enjoy the letter, package, treat, etc you should think about sending it sooner than later. If you're not into sending packages that is totally cool, you can take me out for dinner in America. : ) much love, e

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Sometimes Peace Corps can seem really glamorous. The 'life is calling' photos with the beautiful sunsets in the background or the beautiful kids looking desperate to be taught. Stories of travel and work make me wonder why my photos don't show up next to Angelina Joli and Madonna (don't get me started on Madonna) in People magazine. Let me be clear, my life is not glamorous. Not in the tiniest way. And if I was starting to believe otherwise the past three weeks have confirmed the lack of glamour. Since returning from Ruarwe I have been entirely at site. This is kind of a big deal for me as I prefer to travel on the weekends to maintain my sanity and see Malawi. But for the past 3.5 weeks I have been dealing with Malawian shenanigans that have made me thankful I can start my countdown home. I'll try and break it down: School I love my school, I really do. I don't love being their go-to person for everything. I have spent the past 3 weeks typing exams for 6 schools. Exams in Chichewa, exams with ridiculous diagrams, exams with intense math equations, exams that don't appear to be in English or Chichewa but some other language belonging to a secret few. Oh, and typing the answer sheets. I type these exams because none of the schools in my cluster have computers and only one has electricity so they would have to pay someone to type the exams and they can't afford to do that, especially since the government has collected ALL the money from the schools without a plan to return it. The problem is that the teachers think I wave the paper in front of the computer and it magically appears-I have the easy job, so it's not big deal to turn in exams 3 weeks late and expect them the next day....I suppose other jobs are like this, I just HATE typing exams. The exams have also taken away time to do other, better things. Like finish the map, teach extra periods, and bathe regularly. But...we did have a special treat this week- A friend of mine stays in Lilongwe and had her sister, Laura, visit Malawi. Laura works at Gymcraftics, a nonprofit group in Boston and wanted to visit a school in Malawi. Monday we had a couple of sessions with the girls, it was absolutely awesome. They are so strong and were able to do some really advanced cool moves. Hopefully I will have photos to post soon but if you are really curious just google Gymcraftics! Exams have begun this week and will finish next week and then it's a 2 week holiday -- Mt. Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar here we come! AYID One of my teachers told me "Malawians are good at starting projects, but they are not good at finishing them." So it seems. We were supposed to open March 17, the date has been shifted to April 4th and sometimes I feel like to babysit to make anything happen. Oh, and we ran out of money....whoops. Life Hmm, some days have been great. Some days I have been woken up at 2am because the witches visited my neighbors in the middle of the night and we had to pray for their house. The more time I spend in Malawi the more I realize how little I know, maybe that is the point. Also, I put a deposit down at the University of Chicago so if you are in Chicagoland let me know, I would love to see some familiar faces! Miss you all! loads of love, e