I sit in a small hostel room in an enclosed compound. My Malawi experience thus far has been sterile. In many ways, it feels as though I’m still in America: I have electricity, internet, warm running water, three square meals a day and safety. This all changes tomorrow morning.
After arriving in Malawi, the cohort was bussed to the Malawi Institute of Management, a private campus that includes programs from universities from the U.K. and Scotland. We have spent the days since last Thursday in training, preparing for “homestay”. We have spent much time (more than eight hours a day) learning aspects of Malawian culture, safety, getting various immunizations and vaccines, and learning survival Chichewa (pronounced chich-chay-wah), the most widely used language in Malawi other than English (which is used mostly in formal, urban settings). The days have been long and very structured.
There are 37 beautiful people in the cohort. We have learned together, sang and danced together, lived in close proximity to each other, been excited and tired together, and ate together, among many other activities. It has been a pleasure slowly getting to know each individual. It is an assembly of very capable and passionate folks. I look forward to hearing the successes (and even the failures) of all of them over the next 27-months. Cheers!
Homestay is where we each move in with a Malawian family in a remote rural village. The village we will be traveling to in the morning is in the Kasungu district, about a two hour drive down poorly maintained roads north of Lilongwe, the country’s capitol. We all will live in two close villages. Over the next couple months, we will live and work with the host Malawian family. We will sharpen our language skills, learn how to do basic survival techniques to be able to live on our own after homestay at our permanent sites, as well as study technical information regarding each of our cohort’s two sectors: health and environment. I am an environment volunteer. I will learn in real time environment issues of pressing urgency relevant to Malawi and slowly evaluate how to create programs to address them. I’m excited to meet my host family and get to work developing programs I can implement when I am at my permanent site a few months down the road.
There have many noteworthy events that have happened since I arrived in-country:
I went for a run on campus and ended up with a two inch gash on the top of my head. I’m alright and Peace Corps has done a phenomenal job responding to the injury. It should clear up in no time.
There has been a lot of talk about poop. In preparing for my time in Malawi, I read many volunteer blogs regarding this issue (not exclusively). The basic rule of thumb is that one is truly not a Peace Corps Volunteer until they have diarrhea. I can’t say I look forward to this initiation but considering the sanitation and health issues that plagues Malawi, it is only a matter of time. It is not advisable to drink the water out of the tap here on campus. When I get out into the village, water filtering and treatment will be essential to staying safe from the long list of water-borne illnesses that can be found in Malawian water.
The Malawian culture is generally conservative. The ways of dress, privacy, taboos, and sensitivities reminds me of 1950s America for some reason.
Chichewa language is proving to be a trying endeavor to try and learn. There are many Malawians that work on the campus so it is easy to practice the basic words and phrases that I have learned thus far. Also, the cohort does a good job of practicing with each other and learning from each other’s mistakes.
Religion in Malawi is a mixed bag. There is a huge Christian influence. It is mostly Roman Catholic and Presbyterian. The Malawian people reflect faith in basically every aspect of their lives. One of the first things a Malawian will ask you is, “Where do you pray?” This last Sunday was new territory for me. I did what I could to get in what I did but I look forward to exploring options in the future.
I’m starting to read a book called “The Primal Vision” by John V. Taylor.
I will not have running water, electricity, or access to a market center when I get to homestay village. I will write in a journal and when I get to a source of power and internet, I will transcribe those passages into digital form and post them here.
Until then, no news is good news. I will probably not have any access to internet for a relatively long time.
It’s been a long day and I’m very tired.
Until next time, many blessings to you.