Saturday, April 4, 2009

last mass least for a while...

Hello All,

(the surprise will follow this's like christmas, you have to wait for the good presents!)

So it has been a while since you have heard from me. I apologize for it being so long between emails. I've spent three months at my site in Nambuma loving life, loving teaching, loving my students and my village. Of course there were ups and downs: dealing with corrupt administrators at my school, learning how to light charcoal without losing my eyebrows, learning that I cannot do everything asked of me even if I tried. I found my place in that school to be more of a guidance counselor type. My students spent afternoons on my porch talking about their lives, their families, their incredible stories, and I felt comfortable in that position. The Reverend's family (my neighbours) took care of me: the 9 year old girl, Chisomo, would wake me up at the crack of dawn just so she could give me tomatoes or ask if I wanted to go get water at the at 6:00 in the morning you would find me either with a bowl of 20 tomatoes or a bucket of water on my head. I spent time in the city of Lilongwe relaxing with my beautiful friends in Peace Corps and I spent time at my site making incredible friends (including a Minister of Parliment's son...celebrity, eh?).

I love Peace Corps and I love Malawi. So much.

But as of right now, I am home on the Cape. Due to a complicated situation I'm not exactly allowed to discuss, I had to leave Malawi...

Don't worry: I am safe, I am healthy, and I am okay. I arrived in DC last week and home a couple of days ago (my cat got so FAT). It is incredibly surreal to be back home, back in the states, back under these circumstances.

I have many things to figure out including if I want to go back to Peace Corps. I have a year to decide if I want to be reinstated, but due to the circumstances, Iprobably cannot return to Peace Corps Malawi. I'm thinking I'll spend a few weeks bumming around seeing people and maybe end up in NYC or San Francisco with a sister...I'll figure it out eventually, right?

I am sorry I had to send this in an email, but I wanted to let you all know before the phones started ringing.

Sending my love,

Saturday, February 28, 2009

In the city with a ton of other people. I came on Thursday to get away from site and get a nice long break. I needed it. A lot of the conversations surrounding sites have to do with how much we love our sites, but also, there is a certain amount of time away needed. I can maybe last three weeks at site before I need to come to the city to unwind. Last night Meagan, Natalie, Bryan and I went to diplomats and had a ton of fun. Irish ex-pats, rastas, and a very gentlemanly Peace Corps boy who protected us. Oh, Bryan. Bryan is officially my chibwenzi to any sketchy Malawian men who approach me. And he is just damn good at being my chibwenzi. He was dancing with the men last night to turn them away from coming near us. What a guy.

The past three weeks have been relatively low-key. Classes are good. Teachers are still corrupt. No electricity. Still smell like campfire. I probably will for the rest of my life. Joe is introducing me to more and more people making it easier to be at site. Charles has made my life as my adorable lil boo who is constantly at my hip. He waits for me outside the school gate until school is over and all of the students know him and know who he’s waiting for. I scoop him up into my arms and take him home with me. I can’t handle it sometimes. Kennedy and I have gotten into a nice routine as well. I usually mark homework outside on my porch (in dire need of some Adirondack chairs, mama…project when you get here?). But the past two weeks Kennedy has been reading/playing/chatting alongside with me every single day. He comes over at three after lunch and stays until dark when the mosquitoes come out to scare us away or until Joe comes over and scares Kennedy away. It’s a nice routine and it hasn’t gotten old. He is like a little brother to me teaching me Chichewa, giving me exercise when he steals Lolo and threatens to throw her into a pack of cows, making me laugh with his Terminator impression, etc. He told me if I cut my hair, he’ll never speak to me again. Uh-oh.

Gave my Form One students a test last week. I am learning more and more that this class is more ESL teaching than anything. The other teachers sometimes teach in English and they usually just lecture and give notes. I go in there and I want question and answers, but they are completely clueless. Putting a decent sentence together takes days.

My Form Three boys are still incredible learners and hilarious. My Form Four class had a debate on abortion last week, which was very interesting. It turned into a conversation about using protection and contraception. A quote: “But Madam, is a candy as sweet with the wrapper on? And how can you know how to play a game without knowing all of the positions?” (similar to Omni-bambo, eh, Tim?)

Speaking of game, my football team is kicking a**. Nambuma boys are just doing so well. The game itself is a blast. A crowd of people run around the field the entire game singing and dancing and when a goal is scored, everyone runs into the field to shake their butts at the other team. Many of my older students (in their 20s) were drinking, but it wasn’t too bad. As soon as we get electricity, I’m organizing a variety show and a disco for my students. They are supposed to have activities planned by the school every weekend. They haven’t had activities since the school started 8 years ago.

A bunch of us are trying to plan on a trip to Mozambique in April after In-Service training. I can’t wait. The traveling part (hitching) will be a chore, but getting to see different parts of Malawi and the countries around us will just make me feel more on the map. I was telling someone the other day that I hardly ever feel like I’m in Africa until I talk to my family, friends, and Victalla (Chichewa-ized version of my boyfriend’s name). The novelty has worn off and the honeymoon stage of my culture shock has quickly disappeared. This is becoming a routine and a life I will have for 21 more months (can you believe it?), a job that I am constantly surprised at how much I enjoy it. I think I am loving the guidance counselor aspect of my job more than teaching. It is making me think about grad school (taking GREs next year in Lilongwe). What for? I don’t know. But I need to go to school for something I love. Let’s figure that out soon, yeah?

I am so lucky to be here and to be happy. I am always going to be grateful for that.

Happy Birthday, big sis.
Happy Birthday, Collin Begley.


Friday, February 6, 2009

rough week

I have decided that I am a terrible blogger. I put my pictures on Facebook where ya’ll can’t see ‘em, ha! And I get here to Lilongwe and totally don’t know what to say. A lot has happened this week. A lot a lot. And I’m pretty exhausted. I’m still sick. Can’t seem to shake this flu-ish thing.

I haven't had a phone since Tuesday because electricity has been out and my phone died and now I have left my phone at home by accident.

Monday I walked out of my Form II math class after a really good lesson and I found almost all of the Form III boys surrounding this one Form I boy, William. They were yelling, in Chichewa, obviously teasing him. I stepped between the Form III boys and William and got them to stop. William told me what happened and other students who were there told me what they were saying. It was absolutely terrible. I got the names of the three boys who were the ringleaders. I walked into the staff room and asked the teachers what they do at this school for bullying. Half said expulsion, half said suspension…so what do they give as punishment to the three boys? Slashing grass. I was PISSED. I realize that I am underrated as a 22 year old at that school. I should be in Form III at that age. And I realize that I’m just the “azungu” to some of the teachers there, but slashing grass after I told them exactly what witnesses told me had happened and William? Why? I don’t know. Even Bonface who was one of the ringleaders who was upset I caught him told me what happened.

That started my week of coming to understand what this school is all about. I’m not supposed to speak ill of my coworkers and school. I am just very frustrated this week.

However, Tuesday and Wednesday made up for it. Tuesday afternoon, Joe came over while some of my students were over doing some work. He told me that on Wednesday he was going to call me about a certain “function.” And I was reminded by that smirk on his face that Wednesday was his birthday and I completely forgot. More on that later.

Tuesday night I had a conversation that gave me clarity of what I want and need in my life and what I want to give to one person more than anyone. I could talk for hours, for days, for months, for a long time in that sense. It helped me, too, you know. And I just want to be good enough for me and good enough for you.

Wednesday after school, I had a few students over again, as always, and they were asking me very serious questions about pregnancy and abortion when Joe comes over and tells me to get my bag, “We’re going shopping.” I told my students we’d continue the conversation in Life Skills or after school on Thursday and I followed orders. He took me to the market to buy certain things for this “function” and all the while, I was asking him what he was doing to celebrate. He started telling me he’ll be eating chicken and celebrating with his family and friend Ken. Then he started asking me questions about how I like to cook my chicken, etc. I was very confused. We bought fantas, bisquits, salt, and oil. We walked around the market to wasted time before the “function” and finally ended up in front of my house. “I’ll go see if Ken can get the powers and I’ll meet you here. Start the fire. We have to kill the chicken.” WHAT? At my house, apparently we were having the function. Thankfully it ended up just being me, Joe, and Ken. We killed the chicken (oh god…what can I say about this?...not a fan…), and I cooked TERRIBLE rice. Of course on his birthday, I make terrible rice. And it takes us FOREVER to cook the chicken so we don’t eat until 9. Then we have powers shots and fantas. My night guard at the school must be spreading rumors about me already. Honestly, after what was happening at my school this week, I could care less. But two men at my house past sunset? Oh, heavens.

Thursday I have a drunk man on my stoop proposing to me. A teacher from the primary school asking me if I "practice" with my chibwenzi (boy/girlfriend). I have gotten many proposals from men here in many different ways…but this was incredible. Funny and terrible. I kept telling him it was not a conversation I wanted to have with him and he kept insisting that the Americans have invented condoms so Africans can practice before getting married. It was terrible. Talking about the “dirty disease” that is killing so many of his friends, but he was happy because condoms would help him. Not okay. But thankfully my tactic of telling him my chibwenzi is a heavyweight boxer (aren’t you something like that?) got him a little scared and he left.

Friday: school cleaning the first few periods. My students found a sick baby outside the school. I was leaving for Lilongwe and they found a man to take him to the hospital with me. Starving. Sick. Weeping. Hardly holding up his head. I don’t know what to say about it.

Rough week at school, but I’m better now. I’ll be okay. Just need some rest, I think.

I came to Lilongwe for internet, money, shopping, and mail. Mail. Mail. Mail. I got Christmas packages and pictures, and cookies, and fiber, and jerky, and laundry sheets, and speakers, and letters from my loves, and mix cds, and just lovely lovely things. The Christmas pictures made me cry, as funny as they were.

I miss you guys.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

me plus one

Antelope Loveness. Lolo. a new addition to my Malawian adventure. She's black and white and beautiful and tiny and sweet. A kitten from Africa. Think Zamba will mind?

In the city for restock. Feeling a bit under the weather, but it'll pass. The first month at site is going surprisingly well. I am in love with my Form Threes and my neighbours. I am doing well and I'm happy. It's hard to see how long the year will feel right now, but thankfully these restocks will be good reboots.

some news: MEAGAN WYLLIE IS MY NEW SITEMATE. sorry for the caps. it's just a pretty exciting tidbit, huh? We're maybe 25K away from each other, but this means the whole "attached at the hip" thing will become a literal phrase. My counterpart is very happy that I will have another azungu I am close with so near to Nambuma. That and he loves azungus.

I'll hopefully update this better in a couple of weeks with pictures and a longer post. Right now I just wanted to say hi.
lots of love,

Friday, December 26, 2008

a very interesting christmas

so. christmas in malawi.
What was going to happen was Meagan and I were going to meet about 10 of our friends at Senga Bay...if only we knew....
I met Meagan in Lilongwe after a long four hours of travelling. It should only take me an hour and a half to get to the city, but it is harder to travel on the weekends. I get there. We talk about our troubles at our sites and how we are so looking forward to seeing everyone at the beach for a nice Christmas by the Lake. We decided a while ago that we wanted to get there on Tuesday and have a day before the Christmas rush on Christmas Eve, when the rest of our party was getting there.
So Tuesday morning, we set out in taking a minibus to the Salima turn off for k100. not bad. All we need now is a hitch to Salima/Senga Bay to get to our campsite/resort. Lucky us, we found a hitch all the way to Salima. Hitching is an interesting science. You not only can have the worst luck ever finding a car, you can have the worst luck finding someone who 1) has been drinking or 2) has filled their matola with people, goats, tomatoes, rice, etc and they expect you to fit...not so much. But our hitch was a nice guy just doing business in Salima. We get to the transit town and we're only 17km from Senga bay! so close!! We're walking down the road and while observing a clinic funded by UNICEF, I trip, twist/sprain my ankle hella bad and catch myself with my opposite knee, twisting it and scraping the crap out of it...not fun. We sit by the road and we are approached by women leaving the clinic who offer their cotton (used for their women business) and their aid in finding a hitch to senga bay. I'm barely walking two minutes before I have to sit down. I don't know if it was from the blood or lack of real food in my stomach, but I was passing out. I was desperate for a ride. so Meagan puts on her best friend face and goes the road to show a little leg for the cars passing by. Not much worked until a guy and his wife were kind enough to pick us up (after about 20 mins...not bad) and drive us all the way to our resort. Thank the heavens, right?
So we get there. We set up our tent. We get in our suits and enjoy the gorgeous water out before us, about 20 meters from our resort. It's gorgeous. The sun is shining, the beach boys are oogling, the malawian kids are aching for us to play with them, we lay out, go swimming, read, nap--everything we wanted to do and were ready to do for four days....

We decide to get some sun on the veranda or at least get some drinks and relax up at the resort a bit. Now let me preface this next sequence with events with a disclaimer: on ANY OTHER DAY Meagan would have brought her huge, awesome camera on vacation, but we decided in LL that it would be my job this trip to take the pictures: a hefty job seeing as Meagan usually takes about 200 pics at each PC event. But I was excited to take on the job...

So there were these monkeys.

adorable, cute, little, gray monkeys.

They were sitting on the veranda with us, just eating the leafy goodness in the potted plants, being cute and sniffing flowers. Meagan strikes up a conversation with the manager of the resort and his uncle as she tells me to get some good pictures of the monkeys. So I approach them slowly after the men say they are used to humans and nice creatures. I am about 7 feet away from one and I get a shot of him sniffing a flower so innocently.

and then henotices me.

and then heapproaches me.

I get up from my seat hesitantly.

What I should have done is run.

But I didn't.

So the monkey decided to jump down from his ledge, attach himself forcefully to my leg, and bite me.

Now don't be too alarmed here. My battle wounds are more scratches, gnawing bruises, puncture wounds, and bruises from him holding me tight.

But really. Christmas: friends, the bars, the beach, the sun, the camping, the everything...

and much to my dismay, as I was in shock, Meagan calls the PC doctor.
The conversation went as so:

Dr. Max: Hello, meagan.
Me: Oh, no, Dr. max, it's Erica. Don't hate me.
Dr. Max: Oh, Erica! What happened? (he was expecting much worse)
Me: well, there was this monkey. I was taking pictures. and it bit me.
Dr. Max:.....oh, my.
Me: tell me I don't have to come back to Lilongwe.
Dr. Max: What really was happening Erica?
Me: just what I said! I took a picture and then it attacked me!
Dr. Max: Oh, Erica. you were playing with the monkey, weren't you?

I promise I was not playing with the monkey. It must have just not liked the paparazzi. Maybe if PC had trained us to not be fascinated with all the animals Malawi has to offer this wouldn't have happened...haha

So I had to stay one night at the resort and head to the city to get rabies shots and meds and be on med hold for christmas. bummer. But the next morning, I was so incredibly happy to get a hitch with Meagan in the back of a matola (truck bed) all the way to the city. This meant fresh air and sights. As we were leaving the resort, I was explaining how happy I was to be sitting in the back of a truck bed because of the wind and everything beautiful when *WHAM*, I get smacked in the face by a tree branch. It just popped out and whacked me in the face, leaving me with a bit of whip lash and some leafy business in my mouth and bra.

bad things come in threes, right?

So Christmas '08. Remember that Christmas Erica got bit by a monkey?

I do.

It's a good laugh, really. maybe not on Tuesday, but now it is. At least I got some sun before the monkey bit me...

Missing you guys more than you know. It's been a pretty restful vacation. minus the whole "I might get rabies" thing, it was a good christmas. Zeb is on med hold, too, so he and Tina cooked us some christmas eve dinner and when we woke up in the morning, Santa had made a paper christmas tree with little boxes of tambala and kwacha. I was about to give Meagan hand sanitizer for christmas, but money is WAY better.

will be back on the computer by New Years, hopefully. I send my holiday wishes from Africa. So does the monkey.

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Saturday, December 20, 2008

At Site

December 15, 2008
It’s my first Monday at site and what a whirlwind of a couple of days. I have no idea where to start so here’s a mishmash of events.
Wednesday-Monday at site:
Being dropped off at site: I was hungry. I was scared. I was not ready to decorate this mammoth of a house, but I was ready to FINALLY unpack. That was the most exciting part of the day. I was greeted by the PTA members who were all smiles. I bet they’re just as scared of what I am going to do with Nambuma as I am. Mr. Benjamin, my current counterpart, greeted me and let me know that when I need something (even if I don’t want help), I need to ask him. This man is incredibly helpful and thoughtful. When he found out that I don’t make tea everyday (mostly because I suck at lighting charcoal right now and I don’t want to be a bad volunteer using charcoal whenever I want), he told me, “Oh, this is no good. You need tea to be strong. Oh, I am very surprised at you. You must make tea everyday and I will make sure you are strong. You cannot get thin. You must eat a lot and not get thin.” Interesting, no? Well, the food aspect comes up later, so be prepared for that.
The reverend (with many many many children…he’s buana “rich” by Malawian standards…the more children, the richer! Guess I better get on that…kidding, dad!) came to visit me. He lives right next to me along side the CCAP church (oh, more stories on that). He offered to find me a puppy for January, to find trustworthy people to interview to work for me, and he offered his kids as helpers. His twin daughters, about 18 years old, tend to always see me on my way to the borehole and they always insist on helping me. I carried my water on my head once and got laughed at a plenty, which was fine with me, but not Maria and Martha. I think they’ve taken it upon themselves to make sure I never have to do that again, though I’ve been sneaky and doing it when they aren’t home.
My daily food intake varies depending on the rains. The torrential downpours during the day make it hard to go to the market on some days. The food only keeps about a day and a half so going to market is necessary. The lowest of the low for me right now was taking the mold of my bread and making a hot sauce sandwich. I promised myself it would never get to that point again. I am mastering the mbeula, the charcoal stove, but I am hoping that with electricity I can replace it with a hot plate. I have little girls helping me everyday to light the charcoal so I can at least boil water…Stella, a seven year old, has taken a liking to me, so she comes almost everyday. I have been using soup mix to make my meals more interesting. I have a lot of eggs, masamba (greens), and tomatoes in various ways. Beans are very expensive right now, but that will soon change. And hopefully as the rainy season continues I will get a wider array of vegetables in my diet. The gardening has been put on hold right now. Being an “example” house and being new in the community, I have been advised to not do much to the front of my house. I also have been told that lately there has been some thieving in this village so having a garden away from my house will be hard. I am just hoping that they’ll change their minds soon so I can save money and grow some food!
The rains last night destroyed the road to my house and when I asked my friend Chimwemwe (Mr. Benjamin’s daughter) why that happened she said that the workers constructing my school did not use all the cement they brought. They sold half of it to make profit. hmmmm
I got to talk to Arianne, the rents, & Victoria this weekend. Those phone calls are hard, but really good. I think I am going to sign up for a call-back service so I can start calling some people. Realizing my life here for two years will be pretty lonely, I’ve also decided to get a kitten and a puppy (names have been decided, but not disclosed until a later date). I haven’t decided on boarders yet, but that will come with time. I think I like having my privacy and having girl students here could very well destroy that.
So I went to the CCAP church yesterday with Mrs. Benjamin (also a teacher at my school) to integrate myself some more. Come to find out, sitting with Mrs. Benjamin was a good idea if I wanted to integrate. I am now a proud new member of one of the women’s choirs in the church. By member, I am required to sit with them, do the dances, mumble the words, and pick out the different harmonies I can tag along with these older women. They surrounded me yesterday with handshakes and smiles after I obligingly stood up during one of their songs and danced with them. Now I just have to work on finding the words somewhere other than these women’s memories…
After church, my school staff had a meeting. My deputy was allotting the classes and responsibilities to each of the teachers…I am still gawking at this list, but I already have turned down some responsibilities to make this list lighter…

English Forms 1 & 3, five periods each/week
Chemistry Form 3, three periods/week
Math Form 2, seven periods/week
Life Skills Form 4, two periods/week

Department Head of Languages (Chichewa & English)
Head Librarian (guess I need to learn some library science and find some books to fill our reading room!)
Sports Mistress (I’m learning netball! And going to games around Malawi)
Sanitation Committee (making the school look pretty inside and out)
Examination Committee (I’m teaching the teachers how to use the computer/scanner and possibly writing exams)
Entertainment Committee (I make activities for the students on weekends)
Wildlife Club Assistant (I get to go on fieldtrips to the parks!)
SCOM Assistant (Student Christian Organization of Malawi…the deputy saw me at church…uh oh)

Our new school has tons of textbooks in contrast to 99% of Malawian schools, but our reading room is completely empty. We have no books these students can just take out for pleasure or research. Priority #1 with these responsibilities is organizing the library’s textbooks, creating a system to keep track of them during the year, and filling that reading room.

I think with SCOM, I won’t be able to help much in reference to bible knowledge, etc, but I can head up different community service projects. I’m thinking with this group we can fundraise money for the nursery school roof, or start a tutoring program with the primary school students, or maybe get the primary school some desks/windows/books/materials for teachers.
I must start my schemes of work and lesson plans right now…or maybe I should start my charcoal…either way I should do something productive. This Saturday I am meeting Meagan in Lilongwe, hanging out for a few days (mail & internet!), then going to Senga Bay with the Central and Southerners of my group. I am wicked excited to see everyone after our first couple of weeks at site. Being with them on Christmas and just relaxing will be nice. And it’s Natalie’s birthday Christmas Eve. Though I would rather be spending it at Aunty Cindy’s with the fam and Arianne and eating something other than hot sauce sandwiches, I think we’ll make it a fun week.
I send my love.

Swearing in

December 9, 2008
Swearing in—
So today we are officially volunteers. We are officially attached at the hip to Malawi and the state department on the United States. The 22 of us got dressed up all pretty-like and got to the American Ambassador’s house with a hoard of distinguished guests from the embassy, the state department, and the ministry of education in Malawi. A good chunk of the girls in my group dressed up in traditional garb with chitenje dresses. I borrowed a dress from my friend and trainer Agatha…just you wait for those pictures. Pretty spectacular. Reminds me of my high school and first year days. The swearing in ceremony lasted about an hour or so with special speakers from the Country Director, Training director, the American Ambassador, our APCD of Education Dora, and three speakers from our group. My speech was divided in two for the Chichewa (central and South main language) and Chitimbuka (Northern) speakers, Darline and Terence respectively. They kicked some major language ass. I got to read my speech in English (written with Natalie a long while ago…it is our baby) to all these people and it was a good moment in my Peace Corps experience. To see the 21 people that I’ve become attached to and gotten to know in ways that maybe not the average American would know and to be a part of the ceremony that put us on the path to becoming part of the Peace Corps history was pretty awesome.
I leave for my site tomorrow at 7:30 in the morning. I will be the first person to site of all of us seeing as my site is so close to the city. By 9:30 I will be left in my house with all of my bags to unpack (thank god…two months out of those suitcases was not fun…and it’ll be like Christmas finding things that I packed months ago that I totally forgot about), with all of my Peace Corps materials to read, my new neighbours knocking my on door (hopefully with food), and this whole two year experience about to start. I guess it’s a pivotal moment in what is about to be the rest of my life and I am sitting in the transit house in Lilongwe scared s***less. We all did our shopping for site (buckets o’ plenty) and we’re about to leave for the director’s house for dinner. Then back to the transit house for a party that will maybe outshine the parties we’ve been having. Maybe. Those pictures, I’m sure, will also be up on Facebook because of our PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader), Stephanie. She tends to take the most unwanted pictures of us and puts them up for all to see. We are all so thankful for her though. She’s been a great resource and friend the past couple of months. We’re all sad that she’s leaving in Jan to start her life in America again. We pretty much want to kidnap her right now.
For Christmas, a group of us, mostly Central and Southerners, are planning on going to a beach side camp ground to just relax after our long and hard first two weeks at site. I’m going to try to get up to Mzuzu for New Years to celebrate it with the Northern EDU group and Stephanie. The only real problem with all these plans are the transport issues. It takes 6 hours to get to Mzuzu by bus or hitch and that is a long ride in a truck bed. We’ll see.

I’ve been getting mail and mixed cds and packages that are keeping me sane. I have these bouts of compete and utter astonishment that I’ve gotten this far. I don’t know what’s going to be different when I’m at site besides everything. Besides leaving for college, this is the first time I feel like I’m taking a step into the rest of my life. This step will define the rest of my life and that is hella scary.