Just a mummified bat this time

September 22, 2011

Whew, it’s been busy lately! The end of the school year and preparations for moving were interrupted by helping to train the new group of education volunteers. I helped plan the training, hosted 3 English teachers at my site, then spent a week with them in Dedza. In fact, I got stuck in Dedza because that was the week of the protests and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere for several days. Don’t worry, everything was fine and rather boring where I was. The safest place to be when there’s crazy stuff going on in town is in a village.

On the 11th of July my school hosted 15 American students and 7 chaperones from Passport Camps, a sister organization of Watering Malawi, the NGO that funded our toilet construction last year. It was a fantastic day. After some opening games and speeches, our students took the visitors on a tour of the village and worked side by side with them to mold bricks that will hopefully be used to build either a hostel for our students or a teacher’s house. After a cross-cultural lunch (nsima, cabbage and goat from Malawi and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from America) the students and community members shared songs, speeches, skits and dances (including Gule Wamkulu!). It was an exhausting but absolutely great day.

Leaving my old site and moving to my new one wasn’t as hard as I had expected. One of my students dragged me all over the place, including villages I’d never visited before, saying goodbye to people. When moving day finally came, my moving crew included two students, the head teacher and my neighbors, Beatrice and Jacob. They cleared out my old house, loaded up a truck and the head teacher’s car and unloaded everything at my new place. Beatrice and Jacob stayed with me the first night to help me settle in. I was so incredibly grateful for all their help (mostly Beatrice…two-year-olds aren’t terribly helpful). I was also glad to see 4 familiar faces within my first 24 hours at my new site–a former neighbor and 3 students live nearby.

My new house is absolutely lovely, except for the smell. The last residents were birds, and their scent still lingers. But pang’ono pang’ono (little by little) things are getting better. A group of teachers’ wives came over to welcome me and then proceeded to clear out a storage room, which contained a whole lot of pipes and a mummified bat. Definitely less creepy than a severed owl head. Filing cabinets got moved over to the staff room at school. And some poor guy got paid to crawl up into the ceiling, sweep out 300 pounds of bird poop/dirt/bugs (seriously, I’m not exaggerating) and spray some kind of chemical up there. I’m having a fence built to keep the chickens, goats, dogs, cows and donkeys from pooping all over my yard. Overall, I like the community, the living situation will be fine (despite the lack of electricity, distant borehole and lingering bird smell), and I’m excited about my new job. Also excited to go home for a visit at Christmas!


Heads up

June 10, 2011

After a difficult month of soul searching I’ve finally decided to stay a little longer in Malawi. I’ll be working with primary school teachers on strengthening their English instruction, in hopes that by the time the students reach secondary school (where instruction is theoretically all in English) they will actually be able to function in English. Many of them can’t. My Chichewa is better than many of my Form 1 students’ English, which is pretty scary. I don’t know details yet, but I’ll be moving down the road, closer to town. I’ll still be able to visit my current village fairly easily. I’m planning on coming home for a visit at Christmas, then finishing up my last few months of service in Malawi.

So that’s the big news. On a more entertaining note, I have another bird story to share with you. This time it’s not about chickens. On Saturday morning I was looking for a broom and couldn’t find it anywhere in my house, so I went out to the kitchen (my kitchen and bathroom are separate from the rest of the house) to look for it. All thoughts of sweeping quickly vanished when I looked in the kitchen and found…a severed owl head.

Now this is creepy and disturbing in any circumstances, but in many African cultures owls are considered bad luck, to put it mildly. If you hear an owl hooting near your house, it’s a sign that there will be a funeral in the near future (granted, there’s funerals all the time anyway). Most people in my community are Christians, but there’s still a strong underlying belief in witchcraft, so my initial reaction was, “Oh my gosh, someone’s trying to curse me.” Malawians are generally pretty non-confrontational, so it’s entirely possible that I wouldn’t know someone hated me until animal body parts started showing up at my house.

I didn’t want to scare my neighbors or any unexpected visitors, so I closed the kitchen door and waited for my head teacher to come and advise me. He theorized that my cat had killed the owl and left me the head as a present, which would have been feasible except for the extreme neatness of the head and the surrounding area. He went to find my guard and see what he knew.

I had been gone the previous weekend, and my guard had been house-sitting for me. Someone had killed an owl at the church next door and offered it to my guard, who cooked it and ate it. (My Malawian friends also find this strange and have never heard of people eating owls [see aforementioned superstition].) He decided to keep the head to show people (this part was all in Chichewa, so I didn’t completely understand why he wanted to keep it) and put it in the rafters to dry. It fell down at some point, completely creeping me out.

The head teacher advised my guard to please communicate with me about any unusual circumstances (like a sudden interest in taxidermy) in the future. My guard apologized and came back later to assure me that he doesn’t practice witchcraft and that he and I are both going to heaven. Now that it’s all over, I think it’s pretty funny. At any rate, I’ve got a good story to tell.

Too much sitting!

May 28, 2011

I wasn’t kidding when I used the word “madness” to describe typing exams. This year several schools decided to work together to create mock exams in order to prepare our kids in Forms 2 and 4 for their national exams. My sitemate and I spent three days typing about 30 tests. A few weeks later I found myself typing yet again: end of term exams for Forms 1 and 3. During the last week of school (including the last day of the term) I helped out at one of my other schools because they were so far behind. I lost count, but I’ve definitely typed over 50 tests this term. Madness.

In addition to hours of sitting in front of a computer, I’ve spent hours sitting in various forms of transportation. On the way to Zomba I spent 11 hours on a bus. For 5 of those hours it wasn’t moving, just sitting in the Lilongwe bus depot waiting to fill with passengers. During the break between terms I went with some friends to Zanzibar. Two solid days on the road each way, plus a ferry ride. On our last day of travel (from the Tanzanian border back to Lilongwe) we spent 19 hours in (or waiting for) 8 different vehicles. Needless to say, I’m glad to be back at site and not traveling any farther than Lilongwe for a while.

Zanzibar was great. The food was fantastic. Zanzibar grows a lot of spices, so the food is especially tasty after being in Malawi, where the only flavor is salty. We took a tour of a spice farm (I spent the rest of the day smelling my hands and smiling). We spent a few days in Stone Town eating and shopping and playing tourist, then spent the weekend at the beach. Being from Hawaii, this is not the usual type of vacation I would choose, but I really enjoyed it. Very relaxing.

Happy birthday again!

February 9, 2011

Another year older, another year wiser?  That’s questionable.  This year, to quote Avenue Q, I find myself “broke and unemployed and turning 33.  It sucks to be me.”  OK, technically, I’m a volunteer living comfortably on $200 a month and most of the time I don’t think my life sucks.  But whatever, close enough.

I got together with some friends in town over the weekend for some pre-birthday fun.  I accomplished my three major goals for the weekend:  eat good food, hang out at the pool, and spend time with friends.  I love this picture, by the way.  Nothing says birthday in Lilongwe like a plastic penguin, a cake that says it sucks to be you, and a birthday candle that you can’t blow out until the electricity comes back on.

On the actual day of my birthday I went to school as usual.  While I was teaching a goat came into the classroom twice and a truly ugly chicken came in once.  Even though I’ve been here over a year, this still makes me laugh every time it happens.  Thanks for the birthday greetings, animals!  Macaroni and cheese, more cake, and time spent with friends in the village rounded out the birthday celebrations.

Right after that I got to host a volunteer who just transferred here from Niger.  Peace Corps sent a language trainer every afternoon to give her a crash course in Chichewa, and I got to give her a crash course on teaching in Malawian schools.  After a week in Lilongwe and a week at my school, she’s on her way to her site. It’s been an intense, but good week.  With really good food.

Business as usual for the next few weeks, followed by the madness of typing exams!

Christmas pics

December 28, 2010

Generic Christmas letter

December 21, 2010

Dear ___, 

In case you’ve been wondering why you haven’t heard from me lately (i.e. over a year) it’s because I moved half way across the world and you really should read the rest of this blog and get up to speed.  Do it.  Now.

OK, now that you’re all caught up, here’s what’s been going on since September.  I had 4 fantastic visitors during the first half of October, MO and her HBA/PCCS entourage.  We spent a few days at my site, then traveled to Zambia, Dedza, Liwonde and Zomba.  Traveling to new places and visiting my host family in Dedza were great, but everyone’s favorite part was being in my village.  They got to meet lots of people and shake lots of hands and get a taste of what my life is like here.  Combined, they took over a thousand pictures at my site alone, so if you want to see pictures you should ask them.  

Once I got back, life settled into an incredibly hectic routine, visiting 2 other schools and substitute teaching on Mondays and Fridays in addition to teaching at my school.  Yes, I’m aware that I need to learn how to say no.  On the plus side, one of my teachers typed a couple of her own exams (I’ve been teaching her how to use the computer) and I got a friend to type the Chichewa exams for me.

One of the best decisions I’ve made this term was deciding to hire a student to help me out around the house.  I pay his school fees and he does the laundry, sweeps and mops every week.  It’s a pretty fantastic arrangement for both of us.

It feels like I’ve been in town excessively this term.  Sometimes it was just to be social (e.g. Halloween and Thanksgiving) but most of the time I was there on legitimate business (e.g. mid-service medical exam, printing exams, getting the SIM card in my phone replaced after it was stolen by a student).

In addition to school stuff, I’ve been working with a community-based organization and got to be present for a ceremony in which they distributed a bunch of supplies to some of the people they help out.  My favorite part was when they gave plastic sheeting (to put on the roof to keep the rain out) to a bunch of agogos (grandparents).  I’ve never seen so many old Malawians at once and they were just adorable.

I’ll be spending this Christmas in my village.  I’m a little sad (especially since most of my Peace Corps friends are in America now) to be so far from home for the holidays, but my neighbors are happy that I’ll be spending Christmas with them.  I’ve already promised to bake something for the festivities.

I hope you’re having a lovely holiday season.  Let me know how you’re doing.  Eat something amazing for me. 



October 30, 2010

Here’s a few pictures of recent events (July-September).  Sorry, nothing from my October travels yet.  Plus clothes I’ve sewn, odd things I’ve purchased, and things that make me laugh.

How do you measure a year?

September 29, 2010

In weddings: 4, plus 1 engagement party

In funerals: 6, plus 2 memorials and 2 condolences

In chiefs’ ceremonies: 2

In falls off my bike: 2

In illnesses: only 2 bad enough to keep me from my job

In zitenje purchased/gifted: 22

In items sewn from zitenje by hand: 3 skirts, 1 blouse, 6 dresses, 1 pj bottoms, 2 bags

In clothing purchased/received: 1 skirt, 7 shirts, 1 pair shiny purple leggings, 2 pairs slippers

In exams typed: about 100, a dozen of those in Chichewa

In grant proposals typed: 4

In consecutive days without electricity at site: 126

In toilets built: 8

In haircuts: 2

In weight lost: 25 pounds

In mefloquine meltdowns: 1

In books read (for fun, not including work-related stuff): 40ish

In marriage proposals received: too many to count

In babies who cry when they see me coming: too many to count

In babies who cry when they see me leaving: 2

Epic blog post

September 16, 2010

My sincerest apologies for being such a delinquent blogger. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. Au contraire, there’s too much. Here’s what’s been going on, in brief, since my last post:

Fourth of July celebration at the US Ambassador’s house

Helping with PST in Dedza

Lunch with the President of Malawi

Finished construction of toilets

Birth of my niece

End of school year

Camp Sky

First visitors from home

Start of new school year

Visit from Watering Malawi folks

So as you can see, I’ve been busy. We’re down a few teachers this year, so I’m increasing my teaching load. Additionally, I’m getting ready for 4 visitors next month, which is really exciting but a bit challenging logistically. MO says I can’t just give the short version; she wants details. So for my mom and others who want to know more about selected events from the list above, read on.

Can you say Bingu wa Mutharika? I know I ought to have more to say about this. Really, how often do you get to dine with the president of a country most people have never heard of? I enjoyed it, but it pales in comparison to what happened a week later.

Here’s Emi! At about the same time I was sitting in the school library, annoyed with my students’ inability to reshelve books properly, my niece was being born half a world away. She is, of course, the most fabulous baby in the world (I can say this with complete confidence despite the fact that I’ve never met her). One of the first things I do when I come into town is check Facebook to see if my dad has put up any more pictures of her.

Camp Sky: This year we held Camp Sky at the Teacher Training College in Kasungu. We had roughly 70 students from volunteers’ schools all over Malawi, learning and having fun together for 10 days. My responsibilities included being a substitute English teacher; teaching study skills to students and teachers; assisting with electives in sewing, solar engineering, and orienteering; and being a dorm amayi. I was initially not thrilled about being a dorm amayi (like an RA in college) but it turned out to be great. We had two extremely helpful junior counselors and our girls were wonderful too. We got more sleep than the PCVs in the staff hostel, except on the morning of our field trip to Parliament and the airport, when all the campers inexplicably woke up at 3 a.m. Overall, everything went pretty well.

Visitors: Lehua and Aunty Susie and I had a great time visiting the lake and my site. They made sure I was extremely well-fed from start to finish, which I highly appreciated. I may have lost weight here, but my appetite has certainly increased. I think I ate as much as the two of them combined. Some highlights of the trip–horseback riding at Kande beach, meeting up with various Peace Corps friends, fabric shopping in Mzuzu, and playing with my neighbors’ kids.

Toilets: In July we finished building the toilets at school and the kids worked together to create some rules for their proper usage (this was a pretty funny process, including suggestions like “No pairing in the toilets” and “Use tissue, don’t wipe your hand on the wall”). This week the founder of Watering Malawi, the organization that helped us with the funding for construction, visited the school and officially handed over the toilets to the students.

So as you can see, it’s been busy lately. I’ll try to have a bunch of pictures for you next time. I’ve got several good ones of the above events, plus some fantastic completely random ones.

Another chicken story

June 24, 2010

Sorry for being a less-than-satisfactory blogger.  There’s just not much to tell at the moment.  In between terms several of us headed up to north to Mzuzu to indulge our chitenje-buying habit (Tanzanian market was actually open this time!) and to a friend’s site by the lake.  We had a good time, ate well, and spent far too much money.

 We’re well into Term 3 and I’m typing exams again (fastest school year ever), the new group of education and health volunteers are coming soon, and we’re busy planning for Camp Sky.  Consequently, I’ve stopped gallivanting around to 4 other schools for the time being. 

 I have yet another chicken story to share.  We had a PTA meeting the other day to talk about the developments happening at school.  Of course all 3 hours were in Chichewa, so most of it went straight over my head.  The best part of the meeting was, of course, the chicken.  One of the teacher’s hens roosts in the Form 1 classroom, which is where the meeting was being held.  Chickens wandering into the classroom is a normal, everyday experience, but this one wanted to lay an egg.  For those of you unfamiliar with egg-laying chickens, let me tell you–they’re noisy.  One of the parents had stood up to speak, and he paused mid-sentence, picked the chicken up and threw it out the window, then continued with his speech.  This would have been hilarious on its own, but the chicken kept coming back!  People shooed the determined little thing out the door several times and the second time it went out the window one of the teachers grabbed it and carried it away.  We could hear the miserable creature squawking all the way out of ear shot.  Best all-Chichewa meeting ever.

 Since I have so little to say, I’ll spice things up a bit by uploading a few pictures instead.  Sorry, don’t have the patience to do more than this.  First, an old picture of what my back yard looks like during the rainy season.  Next, for anyone who wonders what nsima looks like and how you eat it, feast your eyes on this.  Here’s the toilets we’re building at school, complete with the ever-present goats.  And finally, one of the few decent pictures I took at the baptism ceremony.