First Week at Home

I’m awaking now under a dilapidated mosquito net to the sound of a whirring fan precariously perched on the wall a few feet from the foot of my bed. I had anticipated going home yesterday evening but a fierce lightning storm blew in and by the time it had ceased it was far too dark to travel the four kilometers home safely. I decided it was best for me to put up at a nearby lodge. For the equivalent of $6, I get a bed, a fan and a small breakfast.

It is still raining this morning. The soft and cool breeze of the fan is a delight to me as the last week has been lived with no such modern amenities: no running water, electricity, gas stove or even a simple table to eat at (three stacked bags of Lafarge cement currently suffice as my dining table). I wouldn’t have it any other way.

This first week has been eventful, challenging and fun.

I plastered and formed cement in my indoor bathing area (a convenience I decided was necessary). Bathing is typically done by letting water sit in the sun all day and then escaping to a thatched structure with no roof with a bar of soap, bowl and towel. Though bathing under the beautiful African twilight is exquisite, with an inside bathing area (called a baffa), preparation is simplified. It also makes it easier to elude the tenacious mosquitoes (I tried to take my baths before it got too dark but it never seemed to happen). This was three days work and though I’m not entirely finished, I’m happy with the outcome thus far. I’ll post pictures when I get a chance.

I met a Malawian named Nedson who turns out to be a fellow musician (see accompanying pictures). We made plans to meet the next day in the nearby trading center (called a boma) to have a jam session. We meandered our way to his house where I was surprised to find a pretty elaborate recording studio! I brought my guitar and he delighted in playing originals he had wrote. He sang in Chichewa but would repeat the song in English so I could understand better (I managed to catch only the gist which I was happy about). I am very impressed with his musical talent! He had played in a band in the capitol some time back and has many music connections there. He had worked with people I had rubbed elbows with when I was in Lilongwe. Long story short, I’m excited to work on music projects with him. He has already recorded an HIV/AIDs project. This is exciting because I had plans to work on a similar project myself! I’m supposed to climb the mountain behind my house with Nedson today but with the rain, we may have to reschedule.

Peace Corps gives each Volunteer money as a Settling-In Allowance. This small amount is for buying furniture and household items for daily living. I’m at a new site – there was no Volunteer at my site previously. This means there was no furniture or household items in the house when I moved in like the majority of Volunteers have when they replace a Volunteer that has completed their respective two-year tour. This means I must start from scratch. Financially, it makes it tougher. For those Volunteers that have a bed and a kitchen table when they arrive at site, they can save this Allowance (everyone gets an equal amount regardless of situation) for personal expenditures and luxuries. It is an issue that needs to be addressed by Peace Corps. In the last few years, prices have gone up for items due to inflation and uncertainty in the Malawian political realm. This puts pressure on the financial well-being of Volunteers who must make these initial outlays that others do not.

Speaking of the political realm in Malawi, a former Deputy Minister has committed suicide in light of ongoing election issues. Minor riots and demonstrations were held in major cities throughout the country. The current president Joyce Banda has claimed vote rigging and mismanagement of election proceedings. She is not expected to win reelection. She is pushing for the elections to be annulled and held again in 90 days. Official results have not been tallied and released. An entire nation (and an entire Peace Corps Malawi community!) waits eagerly for the announcement of the next president! Let’s pray that everything remains calm and peaceful.

Cooking has been burdensome, enlightening, experimental and delicious – all concurrently. Food preservation is difficult so everything is picked/bought fresh the day of the planned meal. I prepared an outstanding pasta dish with homemade tomato sauce, chicken and garlic bread the other night. The only things missing were the parmesan cheese and a bottle of red wine! I have made preparations to make my first batch of papaya wine. . . More on that later in an upcoming post.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Every morning I wake up at 4:30 (I’m in bed by 9 PM) and I usually spend an hour reading the news on my phone. I maybe get through a few articles as the internet connection through the cell phone provider is painfully slow. I am currently reading four books simultaneously (which isn’t unlike me to do). The first is called, “Natural Medicine in the Tropics” by Dr. Hans Martin Hirt and Bindanda M’Pia. It is about ANAMED, a movement aimed at using locally available materials to cure everything from diarrhea to minor malaria symptoms rather than relying on Western “modern” medicine. The second book is called, “What Bothers Me Most About Christianity” by Ed Gungor. The third is Bob Dylan’s fantastic autobiography, “Chronicles Volume One”. What an adventure! The final book I’m rambling through is a book on Carl Yung. It is also an insightful book. I have intentions of rereading Kierkegaard’s “Either/Or” as well as some other dense philosophical works but haven’t had the will to pick them up. Also, I have many agriculture and environmental conservation tomes in the reading queue that may very likely take precedence over the philosophical works. I usually come back to reading after breakfast (which usually consists of toast, peanut butter, fresh fruit like papaya, bananas and oranges and freshly pressed dark coffee) and before I blow out the candle at night. Altogether I spend approximately five hours a day turning pages.

I planted 30 wild custard apple trees (these are absolutely dessert to the palate!) and 100 moringa trees in tubes. I outplanted 100 tomato plants from the established nurseries my landlord had started long before I came into the picture. I get all the free fresh papaya, bananas, tomatoes, mustard greens, moringa and cassava I can possibly stomach! I plan on planting garlic and onion tomorrow.

The children love when I come outside my fenced in housing/garden area and chat with them in Chichewa! I play my guitar, laugh at my broken Chichewa, eat sugar cane and draw pictures in the dirt with a stick. I can’t wait until I can afford a soccer ball! Usually the kids will stay until I have 50 or so surrounding me. Older teens and adults will merely stop, maybe say hello (I always try to initiate conversation with elders) and listen for a few moments before continuing on their way. I feel I have two years to be with the kids and I don’t want my presence to become stale. I don’t want to show all my cards at once. I play one song on guitar or talk with them for twenty minutes and make myself back to the house. When I am closing the gate and walking away, I hear them giggling and watching me through whatever crack in the fence their short frames can manage to see through. Kids are a joy. They will be my biggest “tool” when I start to implement the various programs I have brewing. You tell a kid, you tell the world.

Sadly, I haven’t started a running routine yet. I intend to but with the elections currently dredging on and consequently being on a heightened security alert, I feel it is okay that I haven’t started a regimen yet. But oh buddy, I can’t wait to lace up! There is a 15-mile race up the highest peak in Malawi called the Porter’s Race that I intend to run. The mountain is called Mulanje and is about 10,000 feet high. I believe the race is in a couple months and with the injury to the hand and the craziness of life, it has been nearly a month since I was last on the trail! I hope I don’t make myself look like a fool at this race. . .

Fellow Volunteers have had interesting (and terrifying!) stories of their run-ins with huge spiders, rock pythons and green mambas. Fortunately, I haven’t had any such encounters.

That’s all for now. I have a few things to buy at the market but after I plan on going home and climbing a mountain. Mafuna abwino, nonse (best wishes, all)!

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3 responses to “First Week at Home

  1. I’m curious about the so few photos! I’m guessing internet speeds for uploading must be limiting, but are you limited in taking pictures of the kids? Documenting their changes over 2 years could be very interesting! You’re right to get your shower done first, the kids say (the kids I work with) because nothing is worse than not feeling clean when you get out of the shower. [This raised my eyebrows and I asked how many of them could agree to this statement, they all said, Camp!] Lol. Any wildlife besides the dreaded mosquito? Jessica

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