Monday, March 12, 2012

32 days and a wake-up!!!

This string is how the builders keep the bricks even... Crazy...

The original builder... The new main builder is the guy in the blue shirt...
 And... here are some more pictures!!!  I'm absolutely amazed at the building process in this country.  Its fascinating to watch construction.  When my neighbor was building his house, I'd literally sit there and stare at him... taking pictures.  They couldn't figure out what was wrong with me... Anyways... We've had a few setbacks in construction.  First, we lost our original builder to tuberculosis.  He had been sick for quite awhile and relapsed about 2 weeks ago.  He was transferred to the main district hospital, but unfortunately, the intervention was too late.  Myself, my counterpart Alex, and some members of the school staff, management committee, and library committee attended his funeral.  It was far more difficult for me emotionally to attend since he had a daughter in Standard (Grade) 6 that was very emotional, plus I recognized her as one of the girls who attended the field trip to Mulanje, so I knew her.  Thankfully, his partner is also a very good builder, so he agreed to continue the project. 

Another setback has been costs of materials.  Prices have gone up quite significantly in the last few months.  Also, additional items/cost keep getting added unexpectedly from the original budget.  That's been pretty frustrating.  But, because of a donation from a 3rd party (huge thanks to Hayon and her class at Deira International), we managed to cover all the cost increases.  Additionally, we've been able to use some of the additional money to cover a training for all 10 library committee members at Muloza instead of either not having the training at all or sending only 1 person to Blantyre to get training.  Pretty exciting!

Otherwise... things are moving along fast!  The walls are constructed, roof is on, and as of today, walls should be all plastered!  Tomorrow starts the floor leveling and cementing.  If things go as scheduled, the wall should be limed by the end of the week!!  I'm hoping by the end of the training on Friday, we can start moving the library from the classroom into the new building!!! 

In other news... we welcomed 39 new trainees that will be replacing my group and then the COS-ing health in August.  Its awesome to see some new faces and I hope that they will love being here.  Attended my last Volunteers supporting volunteers (VSV) meeting last week as well.  It's nice to see the group moving into a positive direction.  I think that this committee has a ton of potential and definitely think its on the roll to achieving it. 

Anyways... here's a few more pictures from the library... they are about 1.5 weeks old, so its much farther along than this... And also the trainees as they got to the airport! Sorry folks, the picture isn't zoomed in... and we didn't get time for more due to rainy season drizzle... :(  Pepani!

Halfway thru constructing the walls.. with home-made scaffolding!

A view from the inside!  Sort of...

Trainees!!!  Wahoo!!!  We welcome you with two hands! (Takulandilani ndi manja awiri!)

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Hey all!!  As promised, here is an update of the building progress!  The grant money was deposited early last week, and since then, Alex (my counterpart with forestry) and I have been running around like CRAZY!!!  Cement, lime, and roofing wire have been recently purchased and transported to the school to be stored with the iron roof sheets and nails that the school had previously purchased!  The builder started working on Friday, and I'm amazed at how fast he's working!  Don't worry, he knows what he's doing; he's also built the storage room for the World Food Program at the school and the building is really nice.  Friday he finished digging the trench for the foundation and by tuesday, he had completely finished the foundation bricks and started on the walls.  You can see from the pictures posted the progress he's made up until last night (Wednesday).  It hasn't even been a week, and he's so far along!  Alex and I have been busy this week buying 20,000 bricks and making transport arrangements for it, as well as for the dambo sand to be used as mortar.  Additionally, we've gotten a new library committee together and are working on revising the old library's guidelines and by-laws.  Anyways... I've been fighting with federal job websites and have developed quite the headache... so off I go!  Thanks guys for the continuing support!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fully funded!!! Wahoo!!!

So... I just got confirmation today that the PCPP grant to build a school library for the Muloza L. E. A. Primary School has been FULLY FUNDED!!!

A huge, heartfelt thank you to EVERYONE who helped by getting the word out, donating to the project, or who helped with both!!!!  I will keep everyone updated on the project, hopefully with pictures if the internet cooperates.  Thanks again!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Those who pray for rain shouldn't curse the mud...

A very lovely Malawian proverb... And let me tell you... we've finally gotten the rain we've all been praying for, and with it has come A LOT of mud.  So trying really hard not to complain.  But its everywhere.  We had a late start to the rainy season... There was this weird 2.5 weeks in October, usually one of the hottest and driest months of the year, when we had really cool temperatures and a ton of rain.  Then nothing... until the beginning of January.  And now... 3 days this past week I was basically trapped in my very small house because of torrential downpours.  I haven't seen the sun for more than 30 minutes in over a week (SAD in the tropics anyone?).  I've been the cause of much amusement with neighbors and friends; I had several severe cases of cabin fever and started wandering around in the late afternoon when the rain became a drizzle.  "Mutowe mvula" or "You should run from the rain" they all yelled at me... Either way.  Its nice to not worry about crops failing because of too little or too late rain.

So... Merry late Christmas and a Happy New Years to everyone who reads this!  I hope the holidays were family and fun filled.  A bunch of us went north to the lake and then to the tropical island paradises of Likoma and Chizumulu Islands.  We relaxed, ate delicious food, were visited by Santa (actually the amazing and thoughtful Miss Sara Lane... thanks again!), hung out at one of the coolest bars I've ever seen (a series of decks and patios placed among boulders right by the lake... the owner claims that decks disappear and appear as the water level changes over the years... crazy!)...  New Years was also at the lake... dance party funness.  While I was up in my second favorite region of Malawi (sorry... the South still rocks), I got to hang out at some other volunteers sites as well... Which is always a great way to see other parts of the country.

Our COS (Close of Service) conference was a blast as well... I have an official date: April 13th is my last "official" day as a PCV.  From there, I'll be heading on a "COS trip" which will include Vic falls, Zanzibar, and hopefully a climb up Kilamanjaro.  Then flying home!!!!

In village life.... I'm super glad to be back.  I really missed my house... my friends... my neighbors... my work... my routine...  everything.  First couple days back got to hang out with my awesome site mates.  We had a sushi themed dinner that was absolutely amazing.  Discovered that when you haven't ridden your bike more than 10k in over 6 months, going longer distances and then climbing up half a mountain will take more out of you than expected.  Also, attended my first funeral in Malawi of an older gentleman who lives next to my borehole. The man, Mr. Mbisa, was super friendly, and never failed to say hello when I passed every day.  He was a Jehovah's witness, and somehow managed to procure English (as opposed to Chichewa) versions of the Watchtower magazine most months to give me.  Since cell network at my site sucks, I usually sat at this tea shed in the same area as the borehole and his house to check messages and have family phone call day on Sundays.  He always sent one of the neighborhood kids over with the magazine, and while I wasn't necessarily interested in reading them, the fact that he thought of me really touched me.  He passed away this past Tuesday; he had been sick with malaria and when treatment at our health center wasn't working, they transferred him to the boma, but he didn't respond to the treatment there either.  The funeral was a very moving experience.  In some ways, it was very similar to ones I've attended in the US, but in other ways, very different.  For instance, women sit inside with the deceased one throughout the morning while the men sit outside.  Often close family members are crying or wailing, but people don't physically comfort them.  Instead they simply sit close by and silently offer their support.  When you come to pay your respects, it is customary to show your respect by contributing money to assist with the funeral expenses (they actually record who and how much was contributed and then read it later as a sign of gratitude).  Around noon, the service starts.; people are still segregated by gender.  Then things begin to be more similar to American funeral- people sing hymns, read eulogies, read bible passages, etc.  Suffice to say, it was a very moving experience...

Finally, a huge thank you to all of you that have helped my library projected by contributing money, getting the word out or both!!!  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!  As of today, the project has "disappeared" from the Peace Corps website... that hopefully means its fully funded (I'm being cautiously optimistic) and we can get started on it.  I'll know for sure on Monday (the Program assistant in charge of the grant is in the field today so won't know till then).  Please keep your fingers crossed that this is the case (and not that something weird has happened)!  If so, I have just enough time to complete this project before I leave... so Yippie!!  Until next time... lots of love and hugs to everyone out there!!

Friday, October 21, 2011

elephants and rhinos and buffalo oh my!!!

Hello all! It's been a lllllloooooonnnnnnng time since i've updated this... but... lots of news!!!

For starters, I've only got about 6 months to go!!!  I've been sort of feeling conflicted about this.  I really do love Malawi, and I'd love to come back, whether its to visit or to work again, but I'm at that point where I'm beginning to feel a bit burned out to say the least.  I definitely will be ready to go home in April.  In addition to that, I'm realizing how little time I have left for working in my village, seeing the sites of Malawi, and seeing friends.  Its going to require a careful balance between travel and staying at home... I have a lot of smaller project ideas that I think will be perfect for my last few months.  For instance, tree nurseries are ongoing.  Plus I helped with a business training early this month, which means I can help my groups utilize the information.  The CBO, or community based organization near me is now active and I'd like to help them with a few projects, particularly with the HIV/AIDs support groups they are connected with... So... should be a busy 1/2 year....

Last week I turned 28.  Not much to say on that besides, no... I don't feel any different!  It was a lovely birthday though.  Thanks for all the wishes.

Last week I was also a volunteer at the water hole count in the rhino sanctuary at Liwonde National Park.  The sanctuary is a fairly large area inside the park that is fenced in to keep re-introduced animals, such as black rhino and zebra, protected from poachers and the issues related to the high human population density surrounding the park.  Because the sanctuary has no natural permanent water source inside the fence, the park has created 4 artificial water holes... so... the program was to get an estimated count of animals inside the sanctuary... so we took 4 hour shift in hides (think a little shack to keep animals from seeing you) and literally counted whatever came.  I saw a ton of elephants (which I'm still secretly thrilled by whenever I see them!), bush buck and impala, sable (which are kind of shady... just kind of creep around), eland (think an antelope the size of a small horse), buffalo, ZEBRA (apparently my African spirit animal...), and a bunch of other random stuff.  Plus.... RHINOS!!!  Saw 4 (2 pairs: m/f and then mom and baby) total... at about 1:30a... but the moon was out and I was boring some really really nice high powered binoculars from a friend.  Suffice to say, the whole experience was amazing.

Biggest accomplishment for me in the last few months has been this business trainng for my mushroom and peanut butter group.  It has been soo frustrating to teach these women business concepts.  First, we have a pretty significant language barrier.  I'm pretty good at Chichewa, but obviously not a native speaker.  There are just some concepts I have difficulties explaining.  On top of that, I have repeatedly gone over some easy business strategies and they seem interested, but actual implementation is not happening... So... I approached Mobi+lise, an NGO in my area about providing some support and training... They found funding to pay trainers plus to provide a communal meal for a 4 day (2 days/group) training on business.  It was awesome!  We'd had extensive discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of these two groups, and I'd say that everything that was important was covered in depth and as long as we keep the momentum going, I think they will actually use what they learned.

My borehole is now functioning... another frustrating situation to get it working again... but more on that another day... or not...

And last but not least... Time to ask for help.  My primary school has a library that was started a few years ago by the volunteer I replaced.  Its small, but definitely has the potential to grow, and the school community really supports its continuation.  The problem is, the library is currently housed inside a classroom, and because of security of the library books, the classroom is not being used to teach.  With over 2400 students, and 23 (hopefully this is increasing to closer to 30) teachers, resources are already really scarce, and that includes classrooms (only 12 are able to be used now).  We want to build a small, separate building to but the library in, and then provide training to at least 3 teachers so they can properly manage the library.  I know times are tough in America... but please consider helping out this much deserving community.  If you are unable to donate money, please help by spreading the word to people who might be able to contribute!  One advantage to a project with Peace Corps is that you know every cent donated is going to be used for the project... no overhead costs, no salaries... just to get this done (heck, I can send you the budget and original proposal if you ask!).  Anyways... donations can be done thru the Peace Corps website.  I'm pretty positive they are also tax deductable... The link is:

If you have any questions or want to see pictures, please contact me at  Your help is greatly appreciated!!!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Saturday, I met a boy whose name means "Please Think" in Chichewa...

And that, my friends, is a true story.  Ganizani was his name.  Kuganiza is the infinitive form "to think." Add onto that the suffix -ni, and there you go... Hope you enjoyed today's lesson of the Chichewa language!

Anyways... To the few (and by that I mean 3) people who actually read this blog, I wish to say “pepani” or sorry for neglecting you!  It has been far too long since I’ve updated this.  I wish I had a great excuse, but unfortunately, laziness is by far the biggest factor.  In fact, I’m only overcoming this obstacle by the fact that I need to be doing something while my iPod is charging on my computer so it doesn’t go into standby and since I’ve run out of work to do otherwise, the blog it is.  J  I have to say… its sort of odd to be typing this by the light of a kerosene hurricane lamp and candles (I should be more stingy with the candles, but I can’t stand sitting in the dark). 

So officially at the beginning of the month (well, 29 April to be precise), I’ve been a volunteer for 1 year.  That realization has been met with a variety of mixed feelings… ranging from relief that I only have one more year to go, to anxiety that I won’t get everything I wanted to get accomplished done, to depression over the fact that I’m only half-way to when I can see friends and family again, to a lot of anger and bitterness and disillusionment and generally too much bitching to friends here about pretty much everything (hopefully stopping soon)... So, in brief, an emotional rollercoaster.  The last two months haven’t really helped since I’ve been travelling a great deal, but not for fun-mostly “work” related stuff.  And travelling in this country involves a lot of waiting and a need for the patience of a saint.  On top of that, my site-mate Amy, thru a series of unfortunate events and irrational decision making by certain Peace Corps staff (and that’s all I’ll say on the matter) has moved out of our district to the nearby but not an hour’s bike ride district of Chiridzulu.  Thankfully, at her new site, she’ll be working her dream job, but still, it sucks. 

On some positive notes, we’ve welcomed a new group of volunteers (congrats for making it thru training!) in both health and environment, said good-bye to an amazing group of volunteers (you’ll be missed but we’re happy for you!), and I’ve gotten some work done.  And I’ve managed to stay in my village for a solid 2 weeks (looking at 3 shortly).  Which is wonderful.  I’ve missed my house and my cat and my neighbors and the Phundumas, and pretty much everything about my village.  And on a literary note, I’ve discovered the amazing-ness of Sherlock Holmes.  Thanks to my new site mate, Leith, for leaving that book at my house!

Currently, the big project is bore holes… Just got funding for 3 (see appropriate water projects page), and working on another grant to replace missing parts for the one I (and about a million other people) used to go to before some bastard decided that he was more important than the 100+ families in my area that now have to walk 1+ KM to get to a safe water source.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.  So, Alex (my counterpart) and I have talked to most of the water committee members and parts are ordered.  A few other projects are in the works, but waiting on feedback from community/PC. 

This week should be pretty busy, but in a good way.  A few meetings… hopefully not as far as the ones I went to on Saturday (2 ½ hrs on bike… on really bad roads!!  Beautiful though!).  Need to get some laundry done.  And visit with some friends I’ve been too busy to actually sit down and chat with (and then eat nsima… because it’s not proper chatting until you’ve left someone’s house so full of food you can’t eat till the next day J).  Anyways… that’s it for now.  Love and miss you folks back home and thanks for reading.  Till next time!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy 1 year anniversary of arriving in Malawi! And welcome to Malawi for the new folks!

That's right.  One year in Malawi.  And that means what?  Only 13.5 months to go!!!  Ok... I'm not really counting down the months... or days... but its kind of nice to realize that in another year I'll be back home annoying family and friends for the first time in 2 years!

Currently still on Med hold till Wednesday.  Advantages: good medical care, Evelyn's hug, free internet, hanging out with people I never see!  Disadvantages: missing out on meetings back at site, Lilongwe's expensive... and there are so many tempting places to eat, no personal space.

Particularly of concern is that this week I was demonstrating how to construct fuel efficient mud stoves for two of my groups.  Now I'm not going to be able to do this till next week... maybe... if I have time.  Argh.  I miss site so much!  But, my skin rash thingy, while no longer septic, is spreading.  So, leaving now is not a good plan.  Currently sporting a blue circle around it to see if the prednasone helps or if it gets worse.  Max will take a look tomorrow...  I absolutely love the med staff here.  They are amazing and really look out for us...

Yesterday, to break up the monotony of just working at my computer for 8 hours, went with a bunch of volunteers to see the arrival of the new environment and health trainees!  It was awesome.  We have 45 new volunteers total.  We've been following their pre-arrival funness on Facebook and I can't wait to actually chat with everyone in a few weeks (like 2).  A good sign: plane arrived on time, and no luggage was lost!  Current volunteers were on best behavior unlike when I arrived, so overall a success I think.  We did the introductions and pictures and off they went to Dedza to hopefully get a good night's sleep!

So... going to spend the next few days working on a Food Security Taskforce assignment with Jackie and then getting started on Tilipo updates and revisions with Chloe.  At least I won't be bored!  If any folks want to Skype, I'll be able to if the internet here cooperates.  FB message me or email me to let me know.