There is no ‘typical’ Peace Corps Volunteer experience and among Volunteers even in the same country, no typical day-to-day routine. I brought my camera along with me for a day to give you a glimpse of what “A Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Volunteer” looks like.
. . .
4pm, the day before
My day starts the day before. I always take time before I prepare dinner to reflect on the current day and make plans for the next. I keep a small memo pad and planner close in case I have notes. I plan before dinner because its important to know if I should make extra food for breakfast the next morning — that way if I have to be somewhere, I don’t have to worry about preparing something. I also take this time to read and respond to emails and make calls confirming meetings or making arrangements for the following day. If I have to travel the next morning, I pack my day bag and mount it to my bicycle’s carrier.
I wake up when the rooster crows. The whole flock is staying in an unused room in my house (until I finish the coop) so Mr. Jambawe (the name of the cock) comes in loud and clear when he’s sounding his morning alarm. My furry feline friend, Mr. Peace Corps, usually sleeps in a ball on my clavicle, head or an obscure fold underneath the blanket.
I turn on my phone and check the news and my email. I get the best reception this time of day. This is often the time I post a new blog entry. If I’m preparing to publish a journal entry, I will proofread the text and go through the process of getting the copy from my computer to my phone (my computer has word processing software whereas my phone has a connection to the internet). If I’m not preparing a post, I’ll read the handful of books that I have laying in the corner of my bed at any given time.
By 6am, my landlord’s family is out and the children can be heard playing. I finally get out of bed by slipping under the mosquito net. I let the chickens out to free range. This morning I decided to trim the primary flight feathers of all the birds. I put out a dish of water and give them a generous cup of maize mash. I enjoy watching them for ten minutes or so, studying them. I check the room inside the house to see if they have left me any hen berries. Today, they gifted me with two! Lovely ladies, the lot of ’em.
I feed the cat. I’ll step back outside and greet my neighbors. If I didn’t fetch water the night before, this is when I usually go to the borehole and draw 30 litres of water for the day. I can do dishes, water the animals, water my small garlic and herb bed and bathe in the evening with this much water. I’m pretty efficient. Fortunately I live close to the borehole so it isn’t as burdensome an endeavor as some folks in the village have to undertake. On days I’m doing laundry, I draw twice the amount above and also fill a large plastic basin (the orange one in the picture). When I first started living here, the ladies at the borehole and the men walking by laughed at me. Culturally, I should be married by now and drawing water would be my wife’s task. Now, the ladies and I carry on, rinsing and filling our containers and making small talk.
Today I’m eating left-overs — rice and eggs — that I stored in an aluminum pot with a book over the lid to keep the night-time critters out. I have to wash my dishes from the night before and start a fire to prepare water for coffee and reheating the food. This is pretty routine and I could probably do it blind folded now.
Today is laundry day. It takes me the better part of a couple hours to hand wash and rinse my laundry, which I tend to do once a week in small loads. I use a large rock as my washing board. Culturally, washing clothes is a female endeavor. If the neighbors come to visit and they spot me pounding my clothes on a rock, they laugh (indeed, I laugh at myself!). I always ask them why they are laughing and explain to them that men can wash clothes, too. I’m always searching for ways to push the boundaries of gender issues and equality, even when doing simple tasks such as this.
I quickly take a bucket bath using water warmed by the sun. I’ve crafted an indoor bathing area, equipped with a drain pipe. I use a large cup to draw water from the bucket and rinse. I get dressed and I’m out the door.
I’m fortunate to have a short 3.5 mile bike ride into the local trading center, called a boma. Folks are friendly and greet me as I pass. The kids are getting better at not asking me for money every time they see me which is refreshing. I deny them every time and even go as far as asking them for money — which confuses them. I giggle as I watch them standing silent, stunned.
Today I’m having lunch with my friend Nedson. We are eating nsima, pumpkin greens and small-minnow like fish that are caught in the nearby Shire River. Nsima is a thick maize porridge that you roll into a small ball in your hand and use to scoop the two relishes. It is the staple food here. Chikudya chabwino (the food is good).
We also talk shop. He tells me unfortunate news — an electrical surge killed one of his hard drives that had a bunch of saved work on it — including work we had collaborated on. Sizili bwino (it is bad).
I have a few meetings planned today. The first is with an organization called SORCOD. We are working on getting a program concept proposal finalized for submission to Peace Corps. It is a small grant inquiry to help mitigate costs for transportation and communication. There are mosquito nets laying idle at the district hospital and my hope is to hold education sessions in villages to disseminate them in preparation for the coming rainy season when cases of malaria generally increase. Katie is a volunteer with SORCOD and is leaving within the next week. I made arrangements to meet back with SORCOD on Monday to finalize and submit the proposal.
I have a meeting with GOAL Malawi to inquire about Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programs. Also, GOAL has a large diesel water pump that is currently sitting idle. I can’t help but think that this is a travesty — why is this pump just sitting here, unused? I want to figure out a way to get this pump working again and back out into the field to help with irrigation schemes.
I have a short meeting with John, a Medical Assistant with the Ministry of Health and a good friend. We are working on a proposal together (along with Nedson, above) for a music program targeting HIV/AIDS stigma issues with youth. Where I live, the HIV/AIDS rates are much higher than the national average (16% compared to 11%). There is no national youth program for those who have HIV/AIDS and consequently there is no support mechanism for those that are orphans because their parents died from the disease or because they were born with the disease by no fault of their own. Today John is traveling by motorcycle to go see his mother. What a good boy. I let him borrow my sunglasses and told him to tell his mum hello for me.
I stop at a local restaurant that I visit frequently — not to eat — but just to visit with Mike, the owner. He has a new concoction to have me try. It is sliced mangos in some sort of hot pepper oil/vinegar mix. He serves it up with a small side of chippies (French fries). Sliced onion and carrot top it off. I pop open a Coke at the cooler and sit down to taste it. It’s delightful! Mike is a long-time supporter of Peace Corps Volunteers and has been friendly with the many PCVs that have come and gone throughout the years. He’s a very clever salesman and enthusiastic businessman. He is not shy in saying that he enjoys azungus (foreigners, white people) to come to his shop because it’s free advertising.
“I like it when you come Keith — it’s free advertising! If my food is good enough for azungus, it’s good enough for Malawians!”
You’re welcome, Mike, you old sailor.
It’ll be dark soon. I finish my soda and head into the market. I have to buy some groceries. I need to buy five kilograms of rice and toilet paper. Also, I want a 20-litre plastic jug and a couple kilograms of sugar to make papaya and banana wine as part of an ANAMED ‘experiment’. Once I have purchased everything and have it strapped to my bike, I kick rocks back home.
I change into shorts. Culturally, men are to wear trousers, even when it is 80 degrees out. I’m hot and tired. The kids all come running to see me. We play until the sun goes down and the mosquitoes come out like a plague.
I threw one of the kids’ flip-flops on the roof because I’m a mean azungu. We had to get it down with a ladder. It was pretty funny.
The chickens are making their way — albeit slowly — back home for the evening. One by one they waddle into their room. I take my laundry off the clothesline.
I make fried rice, eggs and fish for dinner by headlamp. I put water on over the fire to warm it up for another bucket bath. It’ll be the perfect temperature by the time I come back for it.
I round out the night by watching “Rio 2” on my computer with the landlord’s two sons. I’m nodding off half way through — not because it is boring but because I’m exhausted.
Time for bed. I take another bucket bath, brush my teeth and slip under the mosquito net to catch some Zzzs. Mr. Peace Corps thinks it’s fun to attack my big toe.
. . .
I hope this gives you an idea of a ‘typical’ day being a Peace Corps Volunteer! Its hard to say this is a typical day for me though because, for instance, today (the day I’m posting) I spent the morning mending the fence to ward off goats and this afternoon I have to meet with a local village chief to see if I can get land donated to the Village Natural Resource Management Committee that was recently established to start a scaled-up tree nursery. Some days are busier than others.
Thanks for reading and for all the fish!