Sunday, August 28, 2011

Catching up... CAMP SKY!

I've been so busy lately. But before I begin with camp SKY, take a journey with me to the past. Don't worry, it's not too far away, just about a month or so. No need to pack your bags.

On July 20th Malawi was not in a state of safety. Unfortunately, I was heading down to Lilongwe on that day to attend to some Camp SKY business. As I passed though Mzuzu with Garrett and Chris, we noticed that the market was completely bare. It looked like a ghost town. The streets were also void of their usual sellers of avocados, ground nuts, scones, etc. While walking out of Mzuzu to begin hitching south, we saw groups of people gathered near a local school. By the time we were out of town the civilians began to demonstrate their frustrations with the government and their president. About every 10 minutes or so the crowd would disperse as the army and police squadrons fired tear gas into the crowd. At this point we were conveniently observing the protests from a hill outside of town, from where we could see most activities. The protestors quickly turned into rioters and began to wreak havoc and destruction wherever they happened to be chased. We watched as they tore down a roadside billboard picturing the current president, and lit it on fire in the middle of the road. Then they turned their anger on the DPP building (the DPP, "democratic progressive party", is the political party of the current president and most members of parliament and other ministers in the government). They tore off the iron sheets to make road blocks, preventing any traffic from getting into or out of Mzuzu. Then they tore down the DPP building and lit it on fire. The road block caused traffic to takea detour, using the road from where we were trying to hitch. Once the rioters realized the traffic could still get through they began running towards our turn-off with more iron sheets and other rubbish with which to make more road blocks. And we happened to be in their way. Once we noticed the angry mob coming our way, we all picked up our backpacks and started running away. Yes, I actually ran away from an angry mob in Africa. After we had ran about 1/2 mile or more we looked back and noticed an empty overlander bus (a tourguide bus) that just barely made it through the mob of people. They pulled over to pick us up, and we had to basically jump into the bus as we were running away from the mob. The bus brought us safely to a petrol station only a few miles outside of Mzuzu. The drivers and the tour guide told us of how the mob was throwing rocks at the bus and threatened to burn the bus down if the drivers didn't give the mob all the money they had. We all felt lucky to get away from the craziness. I'm sure, had they caught us, they would've taken everything I had.

We finally got a ride down south, but we were advised not to come into Lilongwe, the governmental capitol of Malawi, as it would be a dangerous area. Instead we stayed at the house of some friends just outside the city. We were put on lock down for several days, and I felt horrible because we ate all my friends' food. I hope we can repay them some day. When everything calmed down we were able to come back to Lilongwe, and I got many things done for Camp SKY.

Let me skip ahead a few weeks. Most of that time was only preparation for Camp SKY and reading about 8 Newsweeks I received from Mom. Thanks Mom, now I know up to date news... from June. (I'm not being sarcastic, it's really nice to be in the loop even though it might not be as recent as a month or two ago). I also set up a hammock in my house that looks over the valley. It's a great place to read and contemplate the existence of life, if true love can ever last, the ingredients of Malawian puff snacks, and all of life's great mysteries.

CAMP SKY 2011 - "From the Classroom to the World" Camp SKY began on Sunday, August 21st at Lilongwe Girls School. I had been in Lilongwe for days before that, staying at a the house of some different married friends just outside Lilongwe (PCVs). We were, yet again, on lock down due to expected riots again. (The Malawians had given the president until August 17th to either do a drastic governmental overhaul or step down, otherwise they were going to protest again. This did not end up happening, but the protests are supposed to have been rescheduled for September 17th. I guess we'll see.)

Anyway, the campers arrived on Sunday evening, and spent most of that day playing some games and getting to know the other campers. The next day, the first full day of camp, we got into the swing of things. Every morning from breakfast to lunch the kids participated in something like a summer school where they had 5 55-minute classes - Physical Science, English Grammer, Literature, Biology, and Math. The kids were split into 2 groups that learned different things within those subjects. For example, the students from group 1 learned about coordination in Biology, while the students from group 2 learned about genetics. Then after lunch were varying activities including laboratory time. The lab time was such a wonderful opportunity, as most of the students have never been in a lab before. They were able to use apparati and chemicals they have only learned about in science theory. It was great for them to be able to use their knowledge practically. In addition to these daily happenings, there were 3 1/2 meals a day (breakfast, lunch, tea, & dinner), and every one of them filling and delicious. Even the volunteers enjoyed the food. We considered that a win.

On Monday the students learned about HIV/AIDS transmission and listened to a wonderful guest speaker, Dr./Ms. Fulata Moyo, who is a native of northern Malawi who has obtained her PhD in ethics and gender, and spends her time doing research for a Catholic organization in Geneva. She was quite inspirational. The other activities for that afternoon included jam making, music (taught by me), drama, and resume writing. That night after dinner we played mission impossible (in the dark), where the students acted like spies and had to find a glowing box that was hidden somewhere on campus. If they were caught by a PCV they had to begin their mission again at the home base. They really enjoyed it, but I think the PCVs enjoyed it more.

On Tuesday the afternoon the students had their second round of HIV/AIDS, this time learning about prevention. The students learned how to use condoms, and some of them even volunteered to put a condom on a wooden penis to demonstrate their knowledge to their peers. What brave kids! The students also participated in some Malaria knowledge and prevention activities that day. The other activities were the same as above for Monday. That night I taught the students how to line dance. Because there was no power in the main activity hall, I had to dance on a table with another volunteer tracing my footsteps with a candle so everyone could see the dance steps.

Wednesday was field trip day. In the morning we went to the Lilongwe Wildlife Center, where the students -and volunteers- saw crocodiles, many monkeys, a leopard, a lion, antelopes, a porcupine, a python, and many birds. We also watched a presentation about Antarctica, given by one of the Malawian staff working at the LWC who had the opportunity to travel to Antarctica. She showed us pictures and a video of her trip. It was quite inspiring. It made me want to go to Antarctica. Most of these kids don't understand what that level of cold is, and can't really understand the concept of snow. After LLC and lunch, we traveled to the Malawi Parliament building, where we got a tour of the building and got to go inside the Parliament chambers. The kids asked many great questions and were really moved by seeing something their parents and grandparents have only dreamed of. Once out of the building, we also took the students to see the tomb of Kamuzu Banda, the first president of Malawi. They really enjoyed it. We came back to the campus for tea and some afternoon activities. That night after dinner we showed a movie in one of the classrooms - Pirates of the Carribbean. The students liked it, even though they talked through most of the movie. The wooden eyeball of the pirate just cracked them up!

Thursday afternoon the students learned about permaculture, and how to use the resources they have to make good environmental and agricultural decisions. They also learned how to and participated in composting and paper briquette making (you can make charcoal-esque briquettes out of trash paper and leaves). It was pretty interesting, and I also learned some things. The activities in the afternoon were music, resume writing, solar engineering, and drama. After dinner we had a talent show, which was... interesting. Think about the most awkward middle school dances and turn it into a talent show. That's about how it was. My music class performed a rhythm sequence with cups which didn't go so well, mostly because the students were nervous. They did perfectly during practice, but that's how it goes. I was still proud, and everyone had fun. The show ended with the volunteers singing the Malawi national anthem, and then the American national anthem.

Friday was the last full day of camp. In the afternoon, we had the groups divide up and make posters of what they had learned in their week of classes. Then one group of students taught the other group what they had learned. This was all done without the students looking at their notes. It was quite impressive to see all they had learned in one week. Unfortunately, I did not get to see this portion of the afternoon because I was busy dissecting a goat. We, a few of the PCVs, bought and killed a goat, and took out several of its organs to show the students how the body really works. I removed the reproductive system and the colon after sawing open the pelvis. I also removed 2 eyeballs and removed and skinned the head so the students could see the musculature of the face. I taught the reproductive system (it was a female) and the excretion system (kidneys). Others showed the eye, digestive system, the heart, the lungs (which the students got to blow up with a straw), and others. The students were inquisitive and got some great knowledge of the body out of their experience. I later dissected one of the ovaducts that was swollen to find a tiny goat faetus. I was guessing it to be not more than a few weeks old. I held it in my hand and walked around so students could see it. They have only seen pictures of such levels of development. I think my friends at Blayney Vet Clinic would be proud of me and my skills with a blade. For the last night we fed the students some pasta with a tomato sauce. They enjoyed it, but I think the PCVs enjoyed it more. What they really liked, though, was the ice cream they were given as a dessert - with toppings! Everyone was asking for seconds. We then had a ceremony of giving the students certificates of participation and T-shirts. They were thrilled to receive the shirts, and to be recognized individually. After dinner we had a disco/dance. It was a lot of fun for everyone involved.

On Saturday the students left the campus at 6:15 am, and the PCVs did some inventory and cleaning. I checked into a lodge and passed out after some lunch. Since then I've been relaxing and not doing much. I can't believe it's over. I keep feeling like there's something more to do. That I'm resting now, but I'll have to get up and deal with some problems of campers or PCVs or some other logistical snafu in only a minute. But no, it's finished, and I can relax and go home to teach in only a week or so, and that can be the only thing to trouble my mind. I'm going to have to find some other secondary projects to fill my time, because I don't think I have enough books to occupy all that free time. Thank you to all of you who have helped, whether you have helped to fund Camp SKY, or you have just been supportive of me during some stressful times. Thank you so much. You have made our camp the best yet! Now I'm going to go get a massage and some Chinese food.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hiking to Paradise

I have had quite a long month or so. Starting the 21st of July, I traveled down to Dedza to help train the new education volunteers. This means that the education volunteers that arrived a year before I came are finishing their service, and everyone from my group has been here for a year! Yay! We've made it a year – we're half way! It doesn't seem like it. The new group is full of enthusiastic young faces who seem ready for their next two years of village life. They smell and look so clean, but ah, these things do pass. I spent some of my time during this training living in the village near the Dedza BOMA (British Overseas Military Area). I lived with a woman, her one-year-old child, and her elderly mother. It was a wonderful experience, and I got to use some of my survival Chichewa. I'm pretty rusty.

After helping with training, I stayed in Lilongwe for a few days getting some Camp SKY things lined out. We have almost hammered out our field trips, and know most of the students who will be attending. This year will be a trial for the combination of Peace Corps and Jica (the Japanese equivalent of PC) working together to make Camp SKY even bigger and -hopefully- better. Eight students of Jica volunteers will be attending the camp.

Upon my return to my house I obtained a cat from a volunteer who is finishing his service. I am now on my third cat, Kamwezi – meaning “small moon” in Chitumbuka. Unbeknownst to me at the acceptance of the feline adoption is the fact that Kamwezi has two 2-month-old kittens. It was quite an adventure getting the fully conscious cat and kittens from Chitimba to my house, about a 2 hour minibus ride. The cardboard box was reinforced with twine and a chitenje (piece of cloth), which saved me as the cats destroyed the top of the cardboard box. The cloth was the only apparatus separating a minibus full of innocent passengers from a 3 unhinged feline weapons. Needless to say, I was scratched and bitten numerous times during that trip.

I was given only two nights at my house with the cats before Garrett came to the north to begin his vacation to the (obviously) superior northern region. At that point, we traveled to GAD (gender and development) camp to help with the camp's activities. The camp was very well run and it seemed like it was set up for success. The camp was designed to expose some students from the villages in the northern region to careers in the city. They split up into groups and shadowed various professions including a radio DJ, a doctor, a mechanic, a hair stylist, and other entrepreneurs. In the afternoons the students participated in various activities designed to approach the idea of gender, gender roles, and other sexual issues in Malawi. Garrett and I were only at the camp for two days, but we observed some good group and individual discussions. Things like this make me want to teach Life Skills.

After a few days of camp, Annette met us in Mzuzu, and we prepared for our vacation. We got a hitch from a huge semi going north. It was the biggest semi I've been in. I mean, I've had my fair share of semi hitches, but this one was, like, the mothership of semis. Anyway, we arrived that evening at a friend and fellow PCV's house in Mlowe near the lake where we met another new volunteer, Jay, who was to accompany us. Our team had assembled. The adventure had begun. That night was filled with slap shots and random drawing of body parts on chart paper that were hung in various parts of the house – including the ceiling. We did not go to bed as early as other, more conventional hikers would have on the day before a hiking trip. We are neither your normal, conventional hikers.

The next morning we set off on our adventure around 8:30. There wasn't really a distinguishable trail head, it was more of a road that became increasingly narrower until it was eventually a single-person-wide trail. The hike was never more than 400 meters from the lake at any time during the whole hike, which made for some beautiful views. We crossed many village bridges of questionable construction, but it didn't seem to slow us down. We stopped around noon to have a light lunch and an hour-long nap before continuing on our path. Around four in the afternoon we came upon a village, Tcharo, which had a lovely beach . We decided to camp there for the night. After we set up our tents and started a fire we began to smell ourselves and determined the need to bathe was apparent for the whole hiking party. At this point, some men came to the beach to chase away the children with sticks in order to give us some more privacy. How considerate.

The next day we continued our travel with tired legs and only a few hours of good sleep – at least to my side. Sand is supposed to be soft, but it's not when you're sleeping on it all night. Damn my wide, child-bearing hips. At the end of the afternoon, as the sun was tucking itself behind the mountains, we rounded the final bend bringing us to Ruarwe bay. The end of the hike was the most difficult of the entire hike, being more climbing up and down. It was a bit stressful to the knees, but once we got to our lodge the destination seemed to be well worth the pains brought on by the travel. The lodge was wonderfully nestled into the deepest part of the bay, brimming with vegetation and an overall tropical vacation aura. The food was amazing. Our activities while at Ruarwe included daily swims (sometimes multiple swims), jumping off 30+ ft. high balconies and rocks, yoga on the beach, snorkeling, and naps on the hammock. It was quite a tough few days.

At the end of our trip we caught the Illala, the lake-dwelling cargo and passenger boat, to Nkhata Bay. The trip took about 7 hours or so. They have a nice restaurant on the boat, and a bar on the top level, so when we weren't napping on the deck we were treating ourselves to some boat food and drink. It was a lovely trip, and I hope to go again before I leave the country.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Ok, so I've had an interesting week. Lets back up. Not much has happened since my last entry. Basically I've just been chillin' at my village and working on finding a Camp SKY location, which I believe I've finally done. Let's hear it for Lilongwe Girls! At this point we're planning on having SKY in August 13-21 or so at Lilongwe Girls. It's a pretty nice campus and seems like it'd be able to accommodate our camp well.

I'm trying to keep the library open as often as possible, so I leave school earlier than the other teachers so I can have a break during the mid-day. I come back to the school around 3 to open the library, and the students usually stay until around 5:30 or so. By this time it's starting to get dark. For those of you in the northern hemisphere, it's our winter down here, so our days are just getting shorter and shorter (and colder, though we'll never see snow). At this time, I close the library and head home where I find a nice hot meal ready, or almost ready, thanks to Leah. She's been amazing! I don't know what I did without her!

So yesterday was a day that will go down in the history of, well... just me I guess. I was reading on my couch in the early afternoon when I heard some yelling and running around outside my door. This is fairly normal on any given day. I figured people were just playing games. Then I heard a loud bang! like someone hit my door with a brick. Wondering what was going on, and a little upset about throwing things at my house, I opened the door to see that, in fact someone had thrown a brick at my door. I was a little upset until I saw the last bit of a snake slithering underneath a pile of maize stocks. There were about 5 or 6 men trying to beat it with sticks and hoes, while others attempted to throw bricks at it to kill it. It was then that I was informed of the large snake that was found just outside my house. Leah found it as she was going to enter the house, and screamed for help, at which point, the village people came (as in the people of my village, not the band that sings YMCA).

The younger boys started taking the maize pile down a little at a time, while the women, including myself, watched on the sidelines. Eventually, they found it trying to slowly sneak away from the pile and its imminent doom. Fortunately they killed it. After hacking it into about 4 pieces they used sticks to bring it to the footpath so everyone could see it. It turned out to be a 5+ foot-long black mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in Africa. It was HUGE! I couldn't believe this thing was found in my front yard! Crazy! I decided to turn this dead snake carcass into a biology lesson, so I ran inside to grab my pocket knife. I was the only one who would touch it, so I had someone put plastic bags over his hands to help me. I cut it open down the middle of its underside and showed my "students" the internal organs, ribs, rib muscles, etc. Then I skinned it. Luckily, there were a few long pieces left over from the massacre. I'm making a belt out of it. How bad ass is that? It probably would've been a better story if I had killed it myself, but I still feel cool. How many people are going to come back from Peace Corps with a black mamba belt that they made themselves? At least one! I'm also going to try to make a bracelet out of a smaller, tail piece. Here's hoping it works out.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I've seen the Zanzibarbarians

The second term of school ended on Wednesday, and all went well. My students did fairly well, but more importantly, Leah rocked my exam. She has been studying very hard, a habit I think she's picking up from my constant reading in the house. She's such a good girl.

Friday, April 15th was my 24th birthday! Happy birthday to me. I'm getting old. It was fairly uneventful. On the eve of my special day Yeager, Margaret, Chris, and Dre came over, and on my birthday morning they all made me pumpkin pie and sang to me. IT was very sweet. That was all that marked my birthday. From there Chris, Dre and I caught a semi hitch to Karonga during which I made several thymine dimers (that's a sunburn for you non-science nerds). It was Dre's first hitch ever. I think she enjoyed seeing the lake as we climbed the escarpment.

That night we stayed at Kaporo Secondary School (Yeager's old school) in Karonga. We stayed in the teacher's lounge, but didn't sleep. We were all so excited to travel to Zanzibar! SATURDAY: The next morning we jumped the border to Tanzania- legally of course. At the border Dre was robbed of about 4000 MK, which is not a huge loss but enough to be annoying and create a sense of violation. What a nice welcome to Tanzania. Because of this, none of us were going to trade money unless it was at a bank.

After going through immigration we took a bus to Mbeya. This was when we still had fairly high hopes for the travel... When we got there, Chris and I found a currency exchange shop to obtain some TSH (Tansanian shillings) while Yeager and Dre got Dre a SIM card for her phone. She wanted to be able to make calls from TZ. After putting about 2000MK of units on her phone she found that it wouldn't work on her phone. They wouldn't give her a refund. That was the second time Dre was robbed that day.

We hurried to the Mbeya train depot, where the departure time was originally scheduled at 2:30pm, to find thatthe time had been changed to 8:00 pm. Alright, that's cool. After staying for a few hours it was changed again to 2:30 am (Saturday morning), with 8:00 am written for the arrival time in Swahili. What?!?! Dre, Yeager and I went out for a beer while Chris watched our luggage. What a trooper. Around 9 or so, as everyone was starting to go to sleep they brought a TV into the depot which they turned on to the annoying commercial channel at a very high volume. [We are expecting a small population of Mbeya to suffer from hearing loss within the next decade.] Later, that channel aired a program showing parliament voting on God knows what new laws to pass. Shoot me in the face. Also, the bathrooms were nightmares - the most disgusting I've ever experienced. Think of the worst portopotty magnified by 10. It felt like I got many communicable diseases every time I entered the forsaken room. Everything was wet, no toilet paper, afraid to touch anything, almost gagged from the smell. During the night there would be wafts of potent bathroom smell permeating the entire depot.

In Mbeya it's cold due to its relatively high elevation, so everyone covered themselves in their chitenjes, looking like mummies. The wrapped bodies on the floor combined with the luggage everywhere gave the impression of a natural disaster victim's ward. All the white people (the four of us plus some Europeans) formed an azunzu [African word for white people] fort with our luggage and cuddled for warmth. This is the first time I've snuggled with complete strangers for comfort.

SUNDAY: At about 4 in the morning, the train still having not come, Dre and Yeager went to the bus depot to buy tickets to Dar es Salaam. We got on the bus around 6 and headed north. It was great to be free of the train depot! The bus stopped at a rest area around 9 and Dre and I visited the little girls room. While others were doing their business I grabbed some crisps to eat and share on the bus. Dre changed and I waited for her. We were the last ones out of the bathrooms and noticed, while on the way back to the bus, that it was no longer there! Luckily, Yeager stopped the bus before it got too far away, and Dre and I ran after it. Soon after, we had to stop to weld the chassis together, or at least that's what they said they were doing. This is Africa.

We finally made it to Dar es Salaam around 9 that night. The day was saved by going to dinner at a wonderful Indian restaurant at some Indian fraternity house. It was also nice to have a beer that wasn't Carlsberg! MONDAY: The next morning we caught the ferry to Zanzibar. From then on the trip was amazing. The ferry was fun and it was exciting to see little islands on the way to Zanzibar which is itself about 12 m wide and 50 m long or so. When we landed and got through immigration we took a taxi to the eastern side where another PCV had already procured a place to stay at a nice village called Jambiani. It was the most beautiful beach I've ever seen! Iv'e only seen pictures of this kind of thing!

Jambiani is the place where dreams are made. The sand is bleach-white. The others said it's even whiter than beaches in Hawaii. I wouldn't know, but it was certainly something to behold. The night we got there, we were joined by 3 other PCVs who had just ascended Kilimanjaro. They said it was a feat, but a wonderful one. I'm jealous! I'd love to do that, but I should probably start with Mulanje and work my way up. I digress... That day I also had my first swim in an ocean. Who knew my first ocean would be the Indian? It's salty! ( I know, duh, but it was surprising despite my knowing the fact) I loved the waves, albeit small ones, crashing over me making me bob like the little Sara-buoey I became. It made me giggle, especially as it washed me ashore. I spent much of my time in Jambiani searching for sea shells to bring back for gifts, as well as having some for myself. They were everywhere! I gave some to my teachers and to Leah upon my return so they could have a little something from Zanzibar. They seemed grateful.

Every day in Jambiani we walked to a nearby tuck shop to buy chocolate. I ate more moo pies during those 3 days than I had in my entire life proceeding. I'm pretty sure they gave me a tummy ache. One night we met a local man to make dinner for us. It was the biggest, best seafood schmorgasboard known to man! To put it this way, I as actually able to say, "Please pass me another lobster." I will probably never again utter that sentence unless referencing this evening.. I ate two lobsters, a few handfulls of prawns, and a black snapper. That is not including the soup, rice, chips, and eggplant on the table. It was a meal I will never forget. My tastebuds can die a happy and fulfilled death. Other than that epic meal, the east coast was enjoyed by relaxation, seashell searches, bananagrams, and good conversation. Oh, and beer. Did I already talk about the beer? It's not Carlsberg! Safari and Kilimanjaro beers were alipo in the house throughout our stay. Whether the bottles were full or empty depended on the time of day. The last night we ate at a nice beachfront restaurant. I had the octopus sandwich. I tried to eat as much octopus and calamari as possible. Oh, I almost forgot, during low tide you could walk for about a kilometer before reaching the water. Near the low-tide water the natives had built seaweed farms that they collected and sent to Japan - it made me miss sushi!

THURSDAY: We left for Stone Town on the west side (where the ferry comes in) in the morning. Four of us (Dre, Chris, Elizabeth, and I) took a hitch while the others got a taxi. We got there for free, but I'm sure there was some sort of drug trafficking going on with our driver. Oh well, we got there. Upon arrival we headed to the hotel, dropped our luggage, and hit the town. It didn't take the boys long to decide sticking around with the girls was a bad idea, especially when the girls are shopping-deprived women just set loose on a sea of beautiful things to buy! They departed soon after the shopping commenced.

The shopping adventure started with scarves. Beautiful ones. Then, after entering about 10 shops on the street we set out to find the old slave market. The slave market was so humbling. One of the buildings is now a hotel, restaurant, and curio shop. In that basement were the rooms where the slaves were kept 2-3 days before being sold. The rooms were maybe about 10x10ft and 15x20 ft and held 35 and 75 slaves respectively. Many died in the rooms. outside was a memorial showing the pit where slaves were shown and sold. There were statues of slaves chained around the neck and wrists in the pit to show what it was like and to pay homage to the past slaves. A church was built on the site after the closing of the market. The main front altar was built upon the spot where the slaves were whipped. The church was beautiful. Livignstone was also involved with the abolition of the slave trade there. That man is associated with every place on the eastern coast of Africa it seems. After the slave market we went to the actual market to buy cloth and spices. I found some nice fabric and bought many spices for Mom, Dad, and Grandmother.

FRIDAY: In the morning Chris and I took the ferry back to catch the train (yes we decided to try again) in Dar. We barely made the train and there were only economy class seats available. This was the only time during the trip where I broke down. All I wanted was a bed. Oh well. I didn't sleep during the whole 27 hour train ride, but it was ok. From Mbeya to Karonga, crossing the boarder, and returning home all went well.

Now it's back to school. The students are getting ready for their exiting exams, and they're really buckling down to study. It's good to see their motivation. Now if I can only get through teaching Reproduction in Form 4 without it getting too awkward...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Once in a blue African moon

AAHHHHH a new post! Sorry. I've been very busy and every time I sit down for the internet I'm in a hurry to check my email, and I'm paying for internet by the minute with my meager allowance. I would love to say that there's been nothing going on here so I don't have much to say, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for me) that is simply not true. I've been having a great time here! I would like to add that I have attempted to blog several times in vain due to running out of internet time. I have written long blog entries only to realize that I am no longer connected to the internet. It's a bit frustrating. So, for anyone who has read this blog, I do apologize but I have some really good excuses.

I've started doing business for Camp SKY - an annual camp held in July or August for students going into their 4th year of secondary school. It's supposed to help them get motivated before their last year, as well as prepare them for their MSCEs (exiting exams taken by the whole country's form 4 students, for which they must pay). This is, in fact, why I am in Lilongwe, and finally able to write on the blog again. Anyway, I'm going to start buckling down and getting things done. We're trying to have the camp in the Central-Southern area of Malawi, so the distance from my site is not beneficial to the logistical planning, but I'll work with it.

A lot has happened since I last wrote. I'm continuing to do well; no new diseases or parasites to speak of since my bout with malaria in November. I do feel that my health is going a bit downhill, though, because I haven't been waking up early to run lately. It's been raining for many of the mornings, and I'd rather not slip in the mud and sprain something (that's totally an excuse). Really I just need to get my butt out of bed in the morning (sometime between 5 and 5:30). I'm sure I'll find motivation soon.

In the 2nd week of December I went to our IST (inservice training), which was nice; I didn't have to cook for a week, I had electricity, I didn't have to start a fire, and I had a toilet! But the best part was that I was with all my friends. It was quite a party - massages, facials, games, beer, chatting, and a lot of love! Soon after, I went to Garrett's site to visit him and check out his school, but also just to love on him as he is one of my besties here. While I was at Garretts we went to a nearby mission to visit some doctor friends of his. Not only do they have a pretty nice hospital (as hospitals go in Malawi), but they also had a grand piano. I spent about an hour playing Christmas songs on the 'ole ivories. It was so amazing to touch the keys again after about 6 months of nothing. It made me want to sit next to Mom and play duets again. I cried.

After visiting Garrett's site we traveled with a larger group of PCVs and other expats to Cape Maclear for Christmas. We arrived on Christmas Eve and set up our tents. Although I was supposed to share a tent with Garrett, I found out that weekend that my tent is not big enough for 2 people. I ended up sleeping on a hammock on the beach for the 3 nights we stayed there. I'm not complaining. It was amazing! On Christmas morning a small group of us went snorkeling. I got to see tropical fish found only in Lake Malawi on Christmas morning. It was a great Christmas present. That night we had a white elephant gift exchange. I got a Malawian license plate. Awesome.

I stayed at home for a few days before traveling to Nkhata Bay for New Years. The group of people were basically the same ones from Christmas. I spent my New Years swimming in the lake daily and relaxing - something I really needed on New Years Day after a night of partying. It was awesome.

I lost a friend in December. While I was in IST, a friend and colleague of mine passed away. Her name was Madam Soko, and she was a teacher of Chichewa at my CDSS. The loss of her was very shocking and really hit close to home. What's worse is that she left behind her daughter. I had been teaching her daughter in school, and knew her from my frequent visits to her house to chat with her mother. Because she is now without a mother I offered for her to live with me, and she accepted. Leah and I have now been living together for about 1.5 months now. It's pronounced "Lay- uh", like the princess from Star Wars. She is a great girl! She's 14 and in my Form 3 class (Junior year). She's very smart. We've been having some interesting cultural exchanges. She has now eaten spaghetti and real chocolate cake, and I now eat nsima every day. She is teaching me Chitumbuka every day and how to build a fire. My attempts to build fires usually end in me yelling, "Leah, novwirani!" ("Leah, help me!"). Then she laughs and makes disappointing sounds. I think I'm getting better. She has learned how to play some card games. Our latest is Phase 10, but she's also a fan of UNO and bacci ball, as well as word finds. She makes me smile every day. She's always singing, and I have taught her some American hymns which we sing together when I'm playing the ukulele. I'm very grateful that I've had this opportunity to help someone in a big way, despite it being a minor financial burden (I pay for the food for both of us as well as her school fees and anything she needs for school). Lets hope it continues to go well.

On Valentine's Day I received a great gift from my valentine: baking materials! I told him stories of how I'd bake cookies or pies and take them to old ladies in the valley, or ride my horse over to Grandmother's house to exchange cookies for a loaf of my favorite bread. Sounds a bit like a fairy tale, doesn't it? Or like I'm from little house on the prairie? Anyway, he got me cake flour, vanilla, powdered sugar, blue band (Malawi equivalent of margarine), and other goods for baking. These items are a bit more costly, so I had not purchased them during my stay in Malawi. It was so sweet - double entiendre? I made banana cream pie, double layer devil's food cake with frosting, and two loaves of bread. They were all delicious. I think I gained a few pounds last week! Leah liked it too.

That's about all that's going on in my world. As for the future, I'm planning on going to Zanzibar during the break between the 2nd and 3rd terms. It just happens to fall during my birthday - best birthday gift ever! We're planning on taking a train from the Malawi-Tanzania border to Dahr before taking the ferry to Zanzibar. I'm so excited! Jealous? You should be! I have no other plans coming up that are unrelated to Camp SKY. I'm hoping to climb Mulanje sometime this year, and I'd really like to get my scuba certification. Ideally, I could get it before Zanzibar, but I don't know if that's feasible with time or money at this point.

This blog was supposed to be fairly chronological, but I have forgotten where the following story fit in, so I'll fit it in here. It's crucial to my Malawian experience. One day on my way back from Rumphi (to access internet and get some groceries) I was caught in a rain storm for over an hour. After holding up in a BP station to avoid the downpour, I finally found transportation back to my village. A car pulled up to the station to let me in. As I got into the front seat I noticed a strange smell and a shrieking sound. In the back of this COMPACT car were 11 goats. A shirtless man was in the back seat trying to control the small herd of goats in the back of this car. I laughed the whole way home as the goats sounded like they were dying. It was an amazing day.

Thanks for reading about my adventures. I'm truly having a great time here. I'm generally very happy anywhere in Malawi (except when I'm in transit), and frequently think about all the people who I love in the States, Malawi, and elsewhere. If anyone has any questions or any suggestions of what I could talk about regarding the culture, people, geography, society, school system, etc. please let me know. It has become a part of life for me now, and I hardly give these things a second thought anymore. It's not going to be 3 months until my next entry. I promise.
Khalani makora! Nkhumutemwani mose chomene!
(Stay well! I love you all very much!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

There's no place like Malawi for the Holidays...

No, I'm not dead... I'm just not yet a faithful blogger. With time I will get better. I have now found a reliable, fast internet source in Mzuzu, so I now have access to the world outside Malawi. Yay! I can't believe how much has happened since August. Where to start?

We swore in on Sept. 1 at the ambassador's house in Lilongwe. Afterwards we had the best meal I'd had since the states (and have had since) at the country director's house. Macaroni and Cheese, pulled pork sandwiches, beer, brownies, it makes my mouth water just to type it. Shortly after, we were kicked out of the nest to become individual volunteers at our new home. My home is awesome! It's fairly close to the main road, so transportation isn't too difficult, and it's near a small mountain range. It's quite beautiful despite the fact that everything is brown and crusty. I can't wait for the rainy season when everything turns green!

I have been teaching now for about 2 1/2 months! How frightening is that? I'm teaching Form 2 (Sophomore) Math, and Form 3&4 (Junior and Senior respectively) Biology. I wish I could tell you which class I enjoyed more, but I love them all. Almost every day at least 2 students come to my house to play Bao (a local game), UNO (which I taught them), or to chat and ask me academic questions. I also taught them how to play bacci ball. They're now addicted to it, which is understandable - throwing colorful balls at other balls is a blasty blast. I have a group of young girls that frequent my house daily and don't speak a smidgeon of english. Because of this language barrier we usually dance or sing songs. Sometimes I get out a magazine and we look at pictures. I also taught them how to play hopscotch. They are wonderful people, and such hard workers even if it's not in the classroom. The people here amaze me!

Other than my headmaster being a difficult person to work with, the teachers at my school are very nice if not completely competent teachers. I have no place to talk; I've never been a teacher, and was thrown into being one here. The beginning of this week marks the end of term exams followed by a nice month long break. I'll havel to find someone to take care of my cat during that time. I have adopted a cute little kitten (white with black spots). Her name is TALULAR - it's an acronym for "teaching and learning using locally available resources". This concept was beaten into our heads during training, so I figure why not? Most of the times I call her Tal (shout out to Tally Ross). I'm trying to fatten her up with local fish and bread, but she still looks like a skinny village cat.

I celebrated the most unconventional Thanksgiving ever by buying my staff Fantas and making banana chocolate chip bread (kudos to Mom for the chocolate chips!). We then went around the staff room and said something we were thankful for. They thought it was a wonderful celebration. I thought, "Wow, I'm in Africa for Thanksgiving drinking Fantas and eating banana bread" This thought was quickly followed by "... and I love it."

The rest of my Thanksgiving shenanigans consisted of traveling to Livingstonia. It was the most beautiful place I've ever been aside from Swan Valley (obviously the most beautiful place in the world). It has a waterfall which unfortunately I couldn't climb, but got to climb into a cave behind it. I am drawn to them like magnets. I then proceeded to Mzuzu where there was a party. I missed most of it, but caught the end to get some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Obviously I was there for the important part. Every time I have access to ice cream, or even ice for that matter - I take advantage of it... I found a soft serve place in Mzuzu with sprinkles. Enough said.

After spending my Friday in a bus to get to Lilongwe, I chatted with the 80 or so volunteers who also came to celebrate. Saturday brought with it a shmorgasboard of food. No turkey or pumpkin pie, but there was a whole roasted pig, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and apple pie. I love American food! I can only take so much nsima. I'm staying at the boss's house on a real couch, and he has satellite tv on a 17'' screen! Doesn't sound like much, but the PCVs are all mesmerized by the awesomeness that is TV, a house with electricity, running water, carpet... I'll be so thankful for simple things when I get back to the states.

As for Christmas, I haven't made any set plans. I have IST (inservice training) coming up in a few weeks, and since I'm already in the south-central part of the country for that, I might go farther down to visit my friend Garrett in Mulanje and Blantyre. While there I may or may not visit the Carlsburg beer factory :) There's just so much to see in Malawi, and I feel like I don't have enough time to do it all!

I should probably mention that I had malaria a few weeks ago (2+). I was admitted to a health clinic in Mzuzu and stayed there for a few days. They had to hook up an IV, and i received 7 litres of fluid during my stay. I received 3 litres before passing urine, which just shows how dehydrated I was. I thought I was going to die. Luckily I have good friends that take good care of me here. Other than the malaria and a few times of possible intestinal bacterial infection or gastritis, I'm doing great. Unfortunately, the malaria attacked just before the 1/2 Marathon I was going to run in Lilongwe. I didn't get to participate, but there's always next year.

I am loving my life right now. There's nothing more I'd rather do with my life. The volunteers are amazing people. The natives are so kind and helpful. They make me laugh. I hope to blog more often, but no promises. I love you and miss you all! Nkhumutemwani chomene!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I'm in Africa!

I finally have access to the internet! The sensation of typing on a keyboard has become somewhat alien to me. My typing skills are bound to worsen over the next few years of sparse computer (and other technology) access.

Hey everyone- I'm alive! I'm in Africa! Malawi, to be exact. I've been here for about 1 1/2 months now. There is so much to share. Let me start near the beginning, a very good place to start. I arrived here with 34 other trainees in both the health and education sectors. We are an unusually large group of trainees, as the Peace Corps usually trains only one sector at a time. The large group results in much fun, but also some logistical problems with the schedule and transportation. We flew into Lilongwe on the 4th of July and were quickly moved to our training site in Dedza for about 2 weeks. During these two weeks, we learned what local dialect we would be speaking for the next 2 years. I found that I would be learning to speak Chitumbuka, a dialect spoken in the north. I was a little frustrated initially, because I had been studying Chichewa up to that point, but everything's alright now. Then we were sent to home stay.

So there I was, sleeping in a mud hut with a thatched roof, bathing out of a bucket, squatting over a hole in the ground, and all the while I'm learning to speak a dialect that my homestay family doesn't speak (they spoke Chichewa). It was very frustrating to be learning a language that had no practical application at the time, while the Chichewa speakers were practicing their language at home with their mothers and fathers. My family understood, though, and I had a fun time exchanging languages and other cultural differences. My amayi (mother) was a fantastic cook! But, it's easy to be a good cook when you deep fry everything I suppose. Malawi is a country of fried foods! Fried foods, sugar, and corn. Sounds a little like America, doesn't it? Unfortunately, cocoa doesn't grow here, otherwise I would be trying to teach them how to make some nice, sweet chocolate with that sugar! Hint hint - if anyone wants to send me chocolate I just might be willing to accept.

During our homestay we also learned how to teach in a Malawian setting. Basically, we were cramming a two year long masters program into 4 weeks. It was a little intimidating, but we have completed some teaching practice at a native school, and I think I'm ready to start teaching soon. I will be teaching Biology, and probably a little Math. It will be great to teach math in Africa while Mom is teaching on the other side of the world. Between the two of us, we've got two continents covered, Mom! However, I will not be called "Packebush" here, due to the complexity of my last name. I am now known as either "Madam Sara", or "Madam Packy". Some of the adults in my village simply call me "Packy", and it makes me laugh.

I found that my site will be just south of Rumphi (ROOM-pee) in the Mzimba district. It is a little school of about 150 students in a village just off the M1. I am replacing a married couple who really fixed the place up during their tour, so I am inheriting some wonderful amenities like a couch, a guest bed, a bookshelf, and a kitchen, all of which are luxuries in Malawi. Did I mention the bookshelf is filled with books and games? I will probably be playing a lot of solitaire.

There are so many things I want to update everyone on, but I don't have the time to do so right now. For example: I had a luncheon with the President of Malawi, I have ridden several public transport buses with chickens, I have already gotten sick once, the Malawians frequently pronounce their "r"s as "l"s and vice versa, so I am known as "Sala". There is much more I wish I could let everyone in on, but my time with the computer is short. The sun is out, there are frisbees to be thrown and friends with which to chat.

I would love to receive letters from anyone interested in sending me news or pictures, but please remember it takes around 6 weeks to get to me, and another 6 weeks to return one to you. Also, if you're particularly ambitious you could send me a package or call me! Obviously I'm not going to give my number out on the internet, but if you contact my mother or Ian, they could give it to you. My current address is as follows (however, I don't know if I'm going to keep this address or change it to a closer location relative to my site, I'll let you all know): Peace Corps/Malawi, P.O. Box 208, Lilongwe, Malawi, Southern Africa.

Thank you all for your letters, your support, and your love. I will do what I can to keep the blog updated, but please remember that I'm in Africa, and everything takes longer than you think it should.