I have run out of money so I can’t indulge in retail therapy, which has a whole new meaning here (read: buying a Fanta and a plate of chippies — the Malawian equivalent to fries). Usually I can make a whole day out of just buying a cold soda and crispy fries. It is usually pretty productive too.
“…people in Western civilization no longer have time for each other, they have no time together, they do not share the experience of time. This explains why Westerners are incapable of understanding the psychology of sitting. In villages all over the world, sitting is an important social activity. Sitting is not a ‘waste of time’ nor is it a manifestation of laziness. Sitting is having time together, time to cultivate social relations.”
— Andreas Fuglesang
I reckon Mr. Fuglesang is on to something.
A Malawian will walk into an assembly of people and conspicuously introduce themselves to everyone present. I haven’t quite figured out why this is so. I presume that it is a sign of respect — a small token of gratitude — for one to simply acknowledge the presence of those which whom you are sharing the privilege of time with. Malawians will often greet each other with cusped hands, as if they are praying. They will look you in the eyes and with a soft, kind gesture, cusp their hands (sometimes with a gentle clapping motion), nod their head down once and greet you. One responds in-kind, finishing the greeting with a handshake — which is not the usual ‘up-and-down-once’ affair for which I am accustomed.
A Fanta and biscuits are a nice way to sit, have time together and cultivate social relationships. They build rapport and strengthen professional synergy. Food relaxes people. People listen when they are relaxed and when people listen, they can learn. That street runs both ways for both Malawians and myself.
At any rate, I have no money.
No store in the nearest trading center has coffee even if I did have money. This is a travesty. I’ve gone almost a week now without coffee. I’m having violent withdrawal symptoms that bank on the edge of psychosis. I fear if I don’t get a steady coffee stream intravenously fed into my body soon, I’ll be submitted to the nearest loony bin, likely donning a pearl white restraint jacket and muzzle.
I’ve read all (and reread some) books in my possession. Can a brother get a book up in here?
I’m now off the grid, pretty much completely. Before, I would have to bike down the treacherous road into the trading center at least once every day (three miles each way) to charge my phone and other electronic devices. This became old real quick because of the energy expended, time consumed and money spent. I now have two solar panels — one large and one small — to easily keep everything topped off. I find myself not leaving my village as often which is nice. The larger panel adds about twenty percent to my laptop’s battery life so I still make a weekly trip into the boma to give everything a top off at my friends house.
THANK YOU AGAIN TO THOSE THAT HAVE SENT CARE PACKAGES AND LETTERS! I spent last Sunday afternoon handwriting letters to my kind donors and pen pals. A friend of mine is going to America soon and will drop those letters off in a mail carrier box. Check your mail boxes soon!
Ants, ants everywhere and no Doom to kill them with. Yes, sugar ants (Doom is a bug killer found here). Everywhere. A steady line that goes from my dirt floor hallway in my house and up my table’s leg. I’ve done everything that any sane person would do but to no avail. I eat probably a good ten a day which doesn’t bother me because they are nutritious. I often feel like I have bugs crawling on me when I don’t.
After fourteen meetings, I now have a framework in which to do work. The government of Malawi takes a decentralized approach to land management and conservation which is a double-edge sword: there are no iron-fisted government officials enforcing land care practices per se, leaving the management of these lands and the well-being of its inhabitants in the hands of the inhabitants. But the other side of the sword shows under-educated and under-resourced inhabitants incapable of doing much change without the aid of outside support.
This is where the development work of a Peace Corps Volunteer is integral. Instead of being a donor brandishing money to host nationals, Volunteers live and work at the village level building capacity using an asset (strength)-based approach. In its broadest sense, ‘development’ is any process that promotes the dignity of a people and their capacity to improve their own lives.
After fourteen meetings, I have successfully built capacity by co-facilitating the creation of a Village Natural Resource Management Committee (VNRMC). Already, the VNRMC has done enforcement patrols. They have seized over ten, 50 kilogram bags of charcoal, a handful of shovels, hoes and sickles, and have cracked down on those that are building on Matandwe Forest Reserve which is located directly behind my house. The charcoal and tools will be sold and that money used to fund the committee for future conservation efforts. I’m excited that work plans will be submitted to be able to form a budget in which the Committee will use to evaluate the allocation of these funds.
Last evening, I began the legwork to start another VNRMC in the adjacent forestry block, Melemia. The Group Village Head and subordinate chiefs agreed to call a village-wide meeting Monday to begin vetting committee members. The process now repeats itself.
“People cannot be developed; they can only develop themselves.”
— Julius Nyerere
I’ll be in the music studio soon, recording. I’m going to record my first Chichewa song! It’s fun. I’ll post it soon. I need to better learn Chichewa (and Chisena) to write more songs in the native tongue. I plan to get a language tutor soon. I want to write music to accompany my lesson plans for the children. Music keeps me sane. Cliché but true. That and coffee. Which I have none of currently, as I mentioned above. So I’m currently half-sane.
I make a trip to the bank this coming Tuesday. On my way back, I’m staying at the orphanage I stayed at last month to hang with the kids. I’m going to give them an introduction to conservation class that is fun and laid back. I’ve already created the lesson plan. I’m pretty excited.
Peace Corps, my cat, is grand. He is both a pain in the arse and a pleasure to have. He is a mouse and locust killing machine which makes it worth it to me to have to feed and love on him every once in a while. The kids enjoy playing with him. I can tell that the cat has already become semi-domesticated. I now feel comfortable leaving the front door open for him to jaunt outside and play in the grass. Also, I got him potty trained! No more poop in my bathing area, FTW!
I plan to buy a large cock and twenty laying hens soon. I want to eat eggs every day, not just a few times a week. I want to kill a chicken at least once or twice a month instead of once every blue moon. I. Need. Protein. I have to construct a pen for them so I’m gathering bricks and tools. I’m excited to build something. I also plan to make an improved cook stove while I’m at it.
Enjoy the pictures accompanying this post. They are my landlord’s kids and now my family. We have a lot of fun together!
That is it for now. Thanks for reading and thanks for all the fish!
“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
— Proverb of the Kikuyu people of East Africa