Living, Loving. Learning.
Thursday, August 04, 2011 | | 0 Comments
Greetings from a very, very warm Salima, Malawi. Hot season has finally hit its stride and there is no relief to be found. My thermometer broke back in September at 120 degrees Fahrenheit when I took it outside, so I don’t even want to know what the current temperature is (well, maybe I’d like to know, but just for bragging rights).. Luckily, my house is a bit cooler than outside – about 90 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the night and 100 during the day. I will say that the heat is more manageable the second year, but not necessarily any more enjoyable. One great thing about hot season, however, is that MANGOS abound!! I am doing my best to limit my consumption, but they are wonderful!! I wish I could send each of you your own fresh, juicy Salima mango because there is simply no way for me to adequately describe a mango’s glory.
Anyway, life is good! It has been a busy couple months here in Malawi, and specifically in Khombedza. Our pit latrine training took place the week of my birthday, back in September, and the work has continued ever since. Thus far, the community of Sompho has 20 new pit latrines (just 20 more to go before total coverage of the first 2 villages). The work is slow, but we are looking to make certain people know the importance of hygiene. After we finish the next 20, we are hoping to begin digging for 2 or 3 new water pumps in the same area. Only the next “cholera season” will tell if our work is worthwhile, but I am very excited to see things finally in progress. The community is really beginning to take ownership!
More great news! My proposal to build an under-five clinic was just approved! After 2 long months of waiting, we will be beginning construction on a building to be used for health education, sanitary inoculations, and, hopefully in the future, family planning and HIV and AIDS testing and counseling. The community will be doing ALL of the construction while my counterpart and I supervise. My personal hope is to put together a nutritional garden and educational murals when it is finished. Sompho has a lot of work to do, but I believe that after we finish re-vamping the village, we will find a whole new attitude towards health management and disease prevention (any artists interested in coming to help!?).
Other than these 3 big projects, we have also been hosting our Youth Friendly Health Football (soccer) League. The educational portion is going along great, but the scheduling has been a bit difficult. Another group decided to put on a league just after we began ours, so the interest level in the league has been divided. For the sake of maintaining a high turnout to the health discussions, we have postponed games until after the other league is finished (this coming weekend). The audience is mostly men, which is pretty awesome considering that most men here in Malawi never see the health centre unless it’s a life-or-death situation. I have had the pleasure of watching a 50 year old man giggle like a school girl during condom demonstrations! It’s been an effective forum to gather men (mostly between the ages of 15 and 25) and talk about safe-sexual practices, and Arthur is truly doing an incredible job.
The health centre itself is facing a bit of a struggle right now. I won’t go into detail as I have been instructed to remain neutral by the Peace Corps office, but the preventative health staff are “on strike” (which to them means simply refusing to work on a particular campaign). Other than some raised voices, everything is very peaceful (no reason for anyone to worry). This is fascinating to watch given my interest in conflict resolution and I am actually learning quite a lot!! If only Peace Corps would let me mediate…
On a personal level, I am also doing really well! Since I last wrote, I have grown older in age and, wow, 24 feels really good. The birthday celebration couldn’t have been more perfect as friends joined me in Lilongwe for a night of dancing and then at the beach in Salima where we all tanned our very white thighs with beers in hand. I feel that this year will be one full of many new adventures, and I am looking forward to each of , excited for what they will bring; my return home will give me (and Alinon, too!) the opportunity to start completely fresh, redefine priorities, and share experiences with the people I (we) love the most!
Vanessa and I decided that we would run a half-marathon this November. Training started out really well and I made it up to 5 miles every other day… then this began, or that started, and then the heat came, so we called it quits. Nevertheless, it reminded me just how much I love working out and running around. Keeping up a workout routine has done wonders for my physical and mental health!
This time last year, the roof was ripped off the top of my house and with this weather, I almost wish it was again!! My house is still a work in progress - I found myself having a “Krake weekend” recently, patching up holes in my wall with mud and refinishing the floor in my “kitchini,” also mud. Next up: beautifying my grass fence and getting my garden ready for the rains. Now, if my parents had only spent a little more time teaching me to build mouse-traps, I wouldn’t have anything to gripe about!!
Odi is indifferent to mice, but very partial to the clothes drying on my laundry line. She is getting very big, very fast and has quite the “’tude.” She has the basic commands down when fish is held in front of her, but otherwise, she has discovered that chickens are scared of her, that she is faster than me, and that anything of value tastes quite delicious. She follows me everywhere and people call her my “mwana” (child). I must say, that having Odi walking around has been really comforting and the house doesn't feel quite so empty.
With about 6 months left in my service (moved up due to programmatic changes), I have also started the search for jobs. I know that I still have quite a while left in Malawi, but I hear finding work is still pretty challenging state-side. Generally, I am looking for dispute resolution work, so if you hear of anything, please don’t hesitate to let me know! My resume is updated and ready to send out… ;)
I am very excited to announce that I am headed home for the holidays!! I have saved up my vacation days and will be going back to California for about 3 weeks :) What a blessing – I am counting down the days (36 from today, Nov. 2) till I can see (and hug!) family and friends in person. If you will be in Southern California, please send me an email so we can meet up.
Ok, enough. If you’ve made it this far through the blog – you are wonderful. I hope all is well, wherever you are!
Peace, love, and abundant joy,
P.S. I hope you “got out the vote” today - I did!
Muli bwanji nonse?!
After several picture updates on the blog, it’s about time for me to descriptive update you on my service here in Malawi. WHAT A COUPLE OF MONTHS THIS HAS BEEN. I will give you a quick run-down on a few noteworthy events, but I will focus the blog on the one thing that has completely consumed this last month, Camp GLOW.
During July (my memory doesn’t seem to extend past there), we celebrated another Independence Day at the Ambassador’s house. It wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as it was last year, but much more laid back and the food was just as good, if not better. Once again, I ate twice my weight in food and went to bed a very happy and satisfied person. It will be the last Independence Day with Ambassador Bodey here in Malawi as he recently received a huge promotion for development in the Middle East. Another nice addition to the Independence Day weekend was meeting Jamie’s friend from home, Dorothy. I was able to spend a few days with Jamie and Dorothy and had a wonderful time. I don’t think it was only me who had a good time… I believe Dorothy had a blast, so if anyone is looking for an adventure, please feel free to join me here in Malawi for any length of time ;)
The following two weeks were spent meeting with the Sompho community talking about pit latrines… almost all of the small pit latrine bricks were ready to go, and they had another little surprise waiting for me also… another 8000 bricks (!!!) as a commitment to me if I would help them find funding to build an immunization and family planning clinic in their community. Wow. I was shocked. These projects usually take a lot of time, but if the proposal goes through quickly, I think everything can be done by the time I leave Malawi. Upon arriving to Salima (one year ago!), I swore I would not help with any construction projects. Many projects which involve buildings seem to go into a quick disrepair and disuse after the contributing volunteer leaves. After seeing how large the catchment area is, however, and noting how many women simply cannot access the health facilities due to the distance, I feel better about helping with this project. I should not forget to mention that the community came to me with prepared bricks and a commitment of community laborers. Their dream is to have it done in November. My role as a volunteer is not to provide mass amounts of monetary aid, but to see where a need can meet up with opportunity and connect the two. If this is truly as much of a community motivated project as it seems to be, I, against my original oath, have no problem helping out. The thought of providing a confidential place for women and mother’s to access birth control methods, for children to receive immunizations, and for the entirety of the community to be able to test for HIV feels good.
After a couple weeks of work in the village, the Peace Corps volunteer community was called into Lilongwe for a very special event, a Presidential Luncheon. The President of Malawi invited all volunteers and staff of Peace Corps to the Statehouse for a day of music, food, and drinks. No matter how politics fall into play – whether we all personally agree or disagree with the direction of the executives - it was quite the affair and as a “lowly volunteer”, it was truly humbling. How cool to say that I met, shook hands, and danced with (okay…near) the President of Malawi! Just so we are all clear, every portion of the “presidential” meal included meat. And yes, I ate it all.
What a perfect high to the beginning of my M-O-N-T-H in Lilongwe. The other Camp GLOW Coordinators and I made a new home at Mufasa Lodge in Lilongwe for our last month of preparation for what would be the Best Camp Ever (B.C.E. as we would commonly refer to it). No need to go into detail about those few weeks… it was a lot of menial tasks, stress, and blisters on my feet. I did, however, receive a soft bristled tooth brush from some new friends (to-be-dentists doing volunteer work for the summer) and it changed my world. The small things in life… *sigh*
Camp GLOW was amazing. Humbling, invigorating, and inspiring. We were graced with the presence of 75 campers, 7 incredible junior counselors, 7 local mentors in the role of counselors, and a host of willing Peace Corps volunteers. Most of our campers and junior campers come from the villages (not the city), where poverty and culture poses seemingly insurmountable barriers for young women to become educated and independent. This was most likely the first time they had ever traveled away from home. The week brought in motivational speakers – members of parliament, government ministers, a radio talk show host, teachers, nurses, a deputy-warden of the southern prison system, the director of the National Youth Council of Malawi, and… are you ready for it?!?!?! Joyce Banda, the Vice President of Malawi herself. Wow. That all of these inspiring Malawian women would respond to our invitation with an eagerness to motivate our campers had us all in awe. For many of the young women who attended, these leading ladies are their role models; they are people they hear about in the news and secretly hope they can become. Wow. In combination with curriculum focusing on self-esteem and leadership, reproductive health, the environment, human rights and planning for their futures, these inspirational speakers were paramount in affecting the transition the girls made during the week.
We witnessed some truly special moments – whether a girl opened up about her HIV status, traumatic events in her past or current life, the barriers she will face when she returns home, or the new lofty goals she set for herself – we were often brought to tears. I knew the camp was a success when one of our guest speakers said to me “these girls are truly listening.” The perfect close to the camp was our Guest of Honor, Vice President Joyce Banda (three girls made BEAUTIFUL speeches to address her), as well as the awarding of a scholarship taking one of our participants to Scotland for a few weeks next year. Some of these young women will be changed for good and Malawi will be the better for it.
It is impossible to describe every moment of the camp. Photos seem to do a much better job. I have already posted several on Facebook, but being that I am currently at Khombedza, uploading photos onto my blog would be near impossible. Next time I am in Lilongwe, I promise to post some on here for those of you who cannot access my account.
I can hardly believe Camp GLOW is over… it has consumed the majority of my time here in Malawi and if I left today, I would leave knowing that I did what I came to do. I am NOT leaving today, however, and am excited to be back in Khombedza re-defining my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There is much left to be done and I am eager to spend more time with my community talking about and acting on it.
I have invited a new friend to join me at my house here in Khombedza… Odi, a 6 week old puppy and my new night guard. “Odi” is what people say to announce their arrival at someone’s house. It actually means “zikomo” in Chichewa, or “thank you.” Thanks to Dannelle for giving me the idea for this name… now every time someone announces their arrival at my house, the dog will go and greet them.
This is all the news I can update you with for now… Hopefully having an (unreliable) internet source in the village will help me to be in much better contact. I miss you all immensely each and every day, but my heart is comforted knowing I have such strong support back at home. Thank you.
I also want to thank several people who have inundated me with packages in the last couple months, I am so incredibly grateful (believe me, after spending all my money surviving the prices of Lilongwe, I am happy to announce I will be able to eat throughout September!!).
Thank you to:
Dan and Rhea – the dehydrated ice cream sandwich was an entirely new experience, it was... interesting but good! I will let you know how the rest go :) How many fast food places did you raid for the mayonnaise and mustard packets? Awesome. The magazines will be a huge help as I prepare for job applications at home – you ROCK. P.S. Dan, I started training for a half-marathon… whether or not I do it here, you better be ready for me when I get home.
Brian and Kristy Rolig – you’ve lived in Malawi before, haven’t you? Even if some of the things were “pulled from your pantry,” you knew exactly what to send. I will take the pictures to Matenje for everyone to see. So great to hear from you, and thank you.
David and Art – I received your packages the day I left to travel back home to Khombedza. A week later, all of the Smarties have been devoured and I am still committed to saving the mac and cheese for my birthday dinner! :) I had a great time sorting through it all and I don’t think the gift receipt will be of any use. Also, I shared a few razors with some girlfriends… hah. You two are incredible. Thank you guys.
Alinon – You already saw me in the hat, your button is on my backpack, and I’m halfway through the book :) I love you, but you know that.
Aunt Debbie and Uncle Jeff – I have the prettiest toes and the best smelling armpits in Peace Corps. Sometimes there is no better way to cope with the stresses here than to pamper yourself for a day. The novel was AMAZING – potentially one of my new favorites, in fact. Thank you so very much. I love receiving your notes every so often as you are constantly in my thoughts. xo
Monday, August 23, 2010 | | 0 Comments
One of my favorite pictures: She made a protective fence to ward of the goats... we'll see how it stands up to their crop-eating habits...
The Secondary School in the background. The block on the left is where I taught physical science.
Reaching the peak, Sapitwa!
Thank you for your patience as I have been slacking off with my blog-writing responsibilities. February and March came with some highs, some lows and mostly a lot of changes.
Since I last wrote, my time in Khombedza has been quite limited...
Camp G.L.O.W. (Girls Leading Our World) has really begun to take off and the amount of work associated is beginning to increase exponentially. As you know, I was selected by my group to assist in coordinating the counselors at the camp, which is mostly comprised of training and... (wait for it..) conflict resolution. Right now I am focused purely on preparing curriculum for the counselor training and disseminating applications for those who want to be counselors or know of great local women who can also serve in that role. We have also decided to add an additional leadership component to Camp G.L.O.W. by bringing back women who have participated in years past to be "Junior Counselors." I will begin putting together an outline of their curriculum together this week to make sure we can really take GLOW to the next level. I couldn't be more happy to assist with this project... In my opinion, women's empowerment is the most important thing for moving Malawi forward into sustainability, and there's an overwhelming amount of work to be done.
*PLUG: Please check out our website!!! http://www.campglowmalawi.com/
We've posted a description of the GLOW empowerment camp, its history, a few pictures, and ways you can assist us. If you are able to assist financially, there is a link to a partnering non-profit which allows you to claim your donation as tax-deductible.
Around the beginning of March, Alinon found out that his grandfather had passed away. Since he was so close to the end of his service, Peace Corps allowed Alinon to close his service early so that he could attend the memorial. He spent the first week of March packing up his things, saying goodbye to his community and organizing his quick departure (I tagged along to keep him company). Luckily, we had already planned to have a small engagement party at a friend's site, so some of our closest friends here in Peace Corps were able to come out, celebrate the fact that he and I like each other a lot, and also to say goodbye to Alinon before he left. It was such a blessing to have friends around - thanks to those of you who were able to make it. The second week of March, we came to Lilongwe so that he could finish his medical and administrative requirements for leaving the country and closing his service. Of course, I'm very sad that he had to leave a couple months early (or even at all), but happy that Peace Corps was so supportive in helping him get home in time. Life after he left has been quite an adjustment... Luckily, we have been able to keep in good contact, but I definitely feel like I am learning how to settle in at site all over again. He made my original adjustment so much easier and now its time to step up to the challenge and really make this experience my own.
The day he left, I went back to site for a short time - focused on researching water and sanitation issues in Arthur's catchment area, setting up fruit tree projects with the health centre and secondary school, introducing a potential HIV and AIDS education project to a primary school, participating in a basketball tournament, and of course, working on GLOW. Other than Camp GLOW meetings, I have also been busy with VAC (Volunteer Advisory Council), which called me back to Lilongwe a mere week later, as well as another workshop with the Dreyfus Foundation and Local Initiative for Better Health. The training was WONDERFUL. It helped Arthur and I organize our thoughts on our new project, helping to build pit latrines. The workshop focused mostly on problem analysis and provided a framework for proposal writing which was awesome for my counterpart to get that experience. I feel confident that if I had to leave today, he would have the skills and contacts to complete whatever project he wanted to. Cool, right?
On Easter weekend, several volunteers from my incoming group decided that we should hike Mt. Mulanje. YES PLEASE! We went to Mulanje for a 3 day hike up and down the Mountain (3rd highest in Africa). Mulanje was so BEAUTIFUL and quite the challenging climb. I would do it again in a heart beat (any visitors coming!?). I made it all the way up to the peak, it's named Sapitwa ("People don't go there") - doing a fair amount of bouldering and scrambling which was a LOT of fun. I will admit though that I hired a porter to help carry my bags because my back has actually been injured for quite some time now. Maybe not the "best" decision to climb a mountain, but it felt wonderful to be out and active in nature (trees) again... something I feel I have been missing here.
We also spent a day in Blantyre, visiting all the places that remind us of America - we even went to a movie theater where we got to watch Sherlock Holmes!! I won't go into detail though - you are probably used to good food and entertainment. Point is, it was a great escape for a day.
Now I am back in Lilongwe, working on some things GLOW related and preparing to go back to site. A little nervous given that the ups, downs and changes of the last two months are finally going to have to settle in and I will have to get used to my new Malawian life. A LOT will be happening in the next few weeks - tree plantings, village surveys, GLOW, proposals, the start of a soccer league... hopefully I will be able to schedule a few mental breaks here and there.
Health update: my body has not been too happy with me lately. I injured my back quite some time ago and have been working on re-building muscles and loosening others. I also have been struggling with anemia (due to a low iron diet) and its effects (hair loss, bruising, lack of energy), the shingles (after using an aloe plant, they are finally healing), a "non-allergic" reaction to a bug bite that has been causing certain glands to produce histamine spots all over my legs, among other things. I am not a big fan of utilizing medicines, so I am really looking forward to cutting down my pill consumption in the next few weeks. While this certainly hasn't been fun, its been a great lesson in realizing what people in my community are dealing with every day. Please keep me in your thoughts - I'm determined to prioritize my health a little bit more.
Well, for now I think that's it! I don't have pictures dowloaded just yet, but come back in a few weeks and I will post some pictures from the engagement party and Mulanje. I'm hoping my next post is full of news related to project progress and other exciting new things happening at site. If you get the chance, shoot me an email, letter, or phone call to let me know what is going on in your lives. As usual, I am missing you all immensely.
Oh yea, don't forget to check out http://www.campglowmalawi.com/. Thanks!!!!
Peace, love and laughter,
- Congratulations, Dan, on your promotion!! I am so proud!!!
- My Lil' Sis (Delta Delta Delta) Marcia Garcia is graduating from Pepperdine this month with a near perfect grade point average. Congratulations on finishing and I know all your hard work will pay off!!!
- Grandma and Grandpa, I just received your package yesterday! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. The Emergen-C is bound to help with my host of health issues :)
- Brian and Kristy Rolig, just welcomed their new daughter Ingrid into the family. Congratulations!!
- Go Blazers!!!
3) The rest of my house without a roof.
I can hardly believe two months have passed since I last wrote on my blog. As of November 27th, it has been six months since I left the Los Angeles airport and started this crazy adventure. What a huge feat! I am doing my best to enjoy every moment here, but it is impossible not to count down with each month that goes by. Only 21 months left of Peace Corps service... until I can come home and give you all the biggest of hugs.
So much has happened in these two months... where to begin??
Most of October was filled by surveying staff at the Health Centre about the areas they work in. My "catchment area" for the Health Centre includes about anywhere between 250 official villages and 500 unofficial villages, comprised of 50,000 people... the surveys were to assist me in evaluating what resources and services are already available in the community and who potential partners for my projects might be. In October, I also officially chose my Counterpart (Arthur) who will assist me on my projects and in the community. Not to mention that he will be a fabulous translator. ;) Arthur is 25 years old and a Health Surveillance Assistant at my Health Centre. He finished taking post-secondary school exams for the second time in October in order to reapply for nursing school - ultimately, this is what he would like to do as a career. The university system has very few openings for students in Malawi and is particularly expensive... keep his success in your thoughts!
The rest of the month was occupied by my waiting for a new roof... rainy season typically starts somewhere in the month of November and I didn't want to leave my house for any extended amount of time with a holey roof. After three months of being at site, too many phone calls, and days of hoping the maintenance crew would show up, I finally have a shiny silver new roof without holes!! It was fabulous sleeping in my house without a roof for a few days while they were replacing all the beams... it was comfortably cool at night and I was able to stare at the stars until I fell asleep. The new roof has also somehow lowered the temperature of my house to make it comparable to outside temperatures during the day :) It's still hot, but much less of a sauna. Next time I update my blog, I will upload pictures of all the construction.
I went to Lilongwe a day or two before Halloween, to finish up my community assessment reports before our Re-connect/In-Service Training (IST). For Halloween, we got creative with costumes (my curly haired twin and I were Adam and Eve, thanks to nude colored undershirts and slips we found in the "I don't want" box at the transit house), ate delicious food and bobbed for apples - not so great for those of use with TMJ :/ The next day, we were off to Dedza for training.
The first week of IST was just the Health '09 Peace Corps Volunteers. We heard from a variety of speakers, including some from USAID and Bridge. We also broke down our experiences from our first three months at site and took a side trip to the Mua Mission in order to visit a museum about traditional Chewa, Yao and Angoni cultures. While I struggled with the idea of learning about these cultures through the eyes of a mission, the museum still provided a wealth of information and a collection of masks and materials donated by each of these tribes for display. Also, I am excited to let you know that I will be helping to coordinate next year's Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). It is a girl's/women's empowerment camp organized by the Health Sector each year. My role is to coordinate counselor training among several other things. This, OF COURSE, includes dispute resolution. My degree might just come in a little bit handy here ;)
During the second week of IST, our Counterparts joined us for training. We presented general information about our communities and our findings during the Community Assessment. We also heard from more speakers, talked about project design and development, created action plans, and learned about several income-generating activities (IGAs) such as making peanut shelling, oil pressing, making peanut butter, growing mushrooms, bee keeping and soap making. My Counterpart was sooooo excited to be invited and felt like he learned a lot... He's ready to start up an oil press and a bee colony all on his own!! Let's see what community resources/groups we find to get a fun project like this rolling :) Anyway, he left motivated and ready for action in establishing a transportation project and youth friendly health services at the Health Centre - our primary projects.
After IST, I returned to Khombedza for a few days to set a few details in order...
Due to a withdrawal of my past sitemates' site for this group of education volunteers, I will begin teaching Physical Science at the secondary school in Forms 1 & 2 in about one week!! I am excited to get back to site and try my hand at some new things, but a bit nervous as I will be the only physical science teacher at the school. With that said, there will not be any teachers for Form 3 & 4 (Junior and Senior year of high school) in both Biology and Physical Science. Also, I checked in on the two students were sent to Camp Sky - a camp run by the education sector of Peace Corps - and made sure that a friend starting a peanut shelling business was able to function with his new sheller.
When all was clear at site, I headed back to Lilongwe to do some research and begin my mental health week. This week included camping out at the transit house, going for long runs, and celebrating Thanksgiving with my Peace Corps family here in Malawi. On Thanksgiving day, Alinon and I made about 60 pancakes for the other volunteers staying at the house and then spent the rest of the day relaxing, enjoying others' company and partaking in a late night BBQ. On Saturday, we attended the Thanksgiving celebration held for a few embassy members and all Peace Corps Volunteers! While I kindly denied the roasted pig (all parts visible on the table), the rest of the food made and contributed by volunteers was INCREDIBLE... a sweet taste of home. Other than food, we enjoyed playing a game of football, swimming in the ambassadors pool and dancing the night away. It was a GREAT way to spend Thanksgiving if I can't watch Dan and Drew deep fry a turkey.
The next month should be just as exciting as this month. I'm looking forward to getting some projects started (even in the most elementary of forms) and taking a hiking/camping trip to Ruarwe for Christmas and Nkhata Bay for New Years. It's about time to see a little more of Malawi :)
On that note, it's about time for me to run... today we getting our plans for Camp GLOW rolling and I am starting lesson plans for my students. Wish me luck! Missing you all immensely!!
Peace and love,
P.S. thank you to all of you who have sent me letters!! I'm sending out your mail today!! Aunt Debbie, everyone has commented on how wonderful I smell :) Thank you so much! Grandma and Grandpa, I am doing my very very best to space out my use of the Mac n Cheese... it has been delicious!!! Thank you again! LOVE!