Monday, December 29, 2014

Boxing Day Safari

Guess what-- I finally saw some wild animals in Malawi! First I saw the monkey on the Zomba Plateau on Christmas Day. Then Mary Beth and I went to the Liwonde Safari Park for a boat tour on the Shire River and... well, see for yourself.

Crocs, hippos and elephants-- oh my! There were a ton of birds too. Plovers, ibises, herons, egrets, kingfishers and white pelicans, to name a few.

We camped that night at the park, and heard the grunting noises of warthogs as we slept. They are actually kind of cute with their little snouts and tusks-- from a distance.

It was one of the best experiences I have had in Malawi so far. It made for a lovely Boxing Day.

By the way, Boxing Day is a National Holiday in Malawi that falls on December 26th. According to Wikipedia, the holiday started because long ago it was traditional for employers to gifts of appreciation to their servants the day after Christmas. It is celebrated in many places including the United Kingdom, which explains why they celebrate it here in Malawi.

Christmas keeps on giving

I have been craving Pop-Tarts for some reason, especially strawberry. And then magically, two boxes showed up at the Peace Corps Office in Lilongwe, where I am hanging out for a couple days.

Okay, it wasn't magic. They were donated to the PCVs by the Acting Ambassador. Mmm, strawberry Pop-Tarts-- it's a Christmas miracle!

It has been nice getting a chance to get some work done here at the office, and to enjoy some of the local amenities. Like toilets and showers and restaurants that serve American food like pizza and ice cream. (I think all PCVs are crazy about pizza and ice cream at this point). Mary Beth and I decided that the hostel where I am staying is not quite as nice as a Motel 6, but to us it is like a four star hotel. I mean, it even has a mini-fridge, a couple paintings on the wall and air-conditioning. It also has a TV with one channel on it. I feel like royalty right now.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Happy Christmas from Malawi

What do my friend Mary Beth, french toast with strawberry jam, waterfalls and sugar cookie marshmallow Peeps all have in common? Christmas in Malawi!

For our first Christmas in Malawi, Mary Beth and I decided to take a trip to Zomba in Southern Malawi. And since my Mom sent me a pack of Peeps for Christmas, I decided to take one along with us for our Christmas Day adventures.

Here is my Christmas morning breakfast. I have really missed french toast in the village. No syrup though.

Then we went on a hike up to the Zomba Plateau. We saw Butterfly Falls, William Falls, and an overlook that the Queen of England had visited long ago.

It was so surreal to be in a forest. It is so different from most of the Malawi I have seen so far. It rained off and on so it was damp and very green as we walked. And guess what we saw-- a monkey! Oddly enough, the monkey was in a pine tree because a number of Canadian pine trees have been planted for the forestry industry. The plateau also has non-native Eucalyptus trees in some areas.

We had Christmas dinner at a backpackers hostel where we were staying for the holiday. We ordered apple pie for dessert, but the power went out before we could get it. So we lit some candles in our room and lamented the fact that we couldn't talk to our families since our phones were almost dead. Then the power came back on and we were able to charge up and call our families.  It was a Christmas miracle!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas in Chișinău!

From top to bottom, left to right: John, me, Rosemary, Nate.

Me & Rosie

The day after Christmas dinner at the "Embassy House"... notice: NO SWEET POTATOS!!! Moldovans have never even heard of them!!! 😢

Rosie petting Matty at the "Embassy House".

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Look what the rain brought in

We've been getting more rain in Malawi. The farmers finally planted their maize a couple weeks ago, and the maize is about 4-6" tall on the farms in my area.

Besides the good planting conditions, the rain has also brought about some new creatures. I put a pencil in for scale because that is one giant snail!

This millipede is pretty big too. He liked my new garbage pit and decided to head down to check it out. I really hope he stays out of my house.

Also, look what I found on my papaya tree yesterday morning!

Crăciun (Christmas) in Chișinău

After seeing my Mayor's Office's "frumos" Christmas decor (which can be seen in a prior blog posting), it was good to see that the capitol (Chișinău) decorates to 'almost' American Christmas decor standards. ;op

(From left to right: Rosemary, Nate, Rosza, me, Dominique)

Distracție Crăciun! (Christmas fun!)

Îngeri de Crăciun! (Christmas angels!) My partner teacher, Natalia, made the one on the right and two of my students made the other 2!!

I decided to hang them up in the window...i bet when classes start again in ianuarie (January), more kids will make them so we can hang them up in the other 2 windows!

And, as you can see...NO ZĂPADĂ (snow)!!! It's 23 de decembrie and there's NO ZĂPADĂ! I feel jipped! I thought for sure when we had our 1st snow on 24 de octombrie, that we were in for a cold SNOWY iarnă...i was wrong. :o[ It's currently 11'C (52'F)! My partner teacher told me this is primăvară (Spring) weather!

In Moldova, vacanță de iarnă (winter vacation) doesn't start until Christmas day...meaning there are classes through Christmas Eve. Christmas this year is on joi (Thursday), so i only have 3 of my 5 classes - on marți și miercuri (Tuesday and Wednesday). So instead of having a boring lecture, we made Christmas cards! This is my 5th grade class...well, like half of them. :o]

Sistemul imunitar (Immune System)

I did a class on the immune system with my 9th graders. It was very similar to the class i did on the digestive system where they came up and labeled the poster. 



Monday, December 22, 2014

tisk tisk...

It's kinda hard to see, but if look closely you'll see the imprints of naughty little drawings where my arrows are pointing on one of my 6th graders tests. It's not the first time i've seen this (and i'm sure not the last), but i felt the need to point it out so he knows i know and maybe feel a little embarrassed about it.

"Serious?" is an actual Romanian word that is used how we usually use "Really?" in a sarcastic tone. The "tisk-tisk" part is just me adding my Amercian shame...I wonder if he'll understand that part, but that's part of the fun for me! If you're gonna draw naughty things on stuff you know i'm gonna read, then i'm gonna give you some good ol' American commentary! ;op

A Mini-Bus Tale

I had to make a trip to the Boma today. I'd been putting it off since I got back, but today it had to be done. So of course as I was leaving it gets cloudy and I hear thunder. I grabbed my rain jacket and headed out the door.

Drops started falling while I walked. I saw a mini-bus go by, but I hadn't reached the main road yet. When I got to the Tarmac, the mini-bus had stopped at the staging area. It was pretty far away, so I would have to run to catch it, and I still might have missed it. So I decided to let it go and wait for the next one. That was my first mistake.

There were only a few raindrops, so I decided to walk and catch a mini-bus further up the road. Otherwise I would just be standing there in full view of the crowded market while I waited in the rain. So I started walking. Second mistake.

After about ten minutes a mini-bus approached, but then flashed his lights. Okay, full. He drove on. I kept walking. Another mini-bus went by. And another. What was going on? Why were they all full today? The rain picked up a bit. More thunder. I kept walking. There had to be another mini-bus coming soon, right?

A guy on a bike came up and asked me where I was going. It annoys me when perfect strangers ask me where I am headed, so I was vague. Then he offered me a ride. I looked and saw his bike taxi plate. But all the way to the Boma? No way! That seemed too far and too hilly for a bike taxi. I had stuff to do today. So I let him go. Third mistake.

I walked and walked. Two more mini-buses went by. I started to get desperate. I didn't have all day for this trip, and it might start pouring any second. I tried to hitch a ride from a car going by. They didn't stop. I heard a vehicle coming up. It was a matola (truck) with people in the back. The engine cut off, and the people had to hop out and push it a bit to get it going. I let it go by. I wasn't that desperate.  That wasn't a mistake though. I saw them up the road pushing it again a few minutes later.

Finally after about 45 minutes of walking a mini-bus stopped. I got in the first row with three other people. We drove about two minutes and then picked up two more passengers. A woman jumped in my row, so the conductor squeezed himself in the space between the door and the seats. We drove another minute, then pulled over. The conductor returned my money and said he couldn't take me any further because there was a traffic stop up ahead. They had too many people and would be fined, so me and two other ladies were booted out. Luckily another mini-bus rolled up and we got in. I reached the Boma five minutes later.

I ran my errands, caught a bike taxi to the next village, bought a new pair of flip flops to replace my broken ones, along with a bunch of bananas, then it was time to head home.

I sized up the three mini-buses waiting. The first one had the most people, so it would leave the soonest. I crawled in after checking the price with the conductor... and saw one of the teachers from my school! So we had a nice chat as we rode back to the village together.

It was feeling pretty bleak for a while there, and I seriously considered turning around a few times. But I did what I had to do, I got to see a few more villages, and the view of the mountains was beautiful. I'm not sure what the moral to my tale is. "Never let the first mini-bus go by"? Or maybe "If you hear thunder, go home?" But it all worked out in the end.

How about this: Never give up

Friday, December 19, 2014

Halva- quite possibly my fave Moldovan snack

Oh Halva, how do i love thee??!!! Enough to post you on our blog and sing songs of your praises!!

Mama-G introduced me to halva a few months ago, and i've been hooked ever since! It's not original to Moldova...i think it's a Middle Eastern treat! It's delicious! This is the 1st time i've seen it in a tub, usually Mama-G brings a block of it home in a plastic bag, similar to produce plastic bags in The States. 

I've heard there are different types of halva, so maybe how this one is more uniquely Moldovan is cuz it's made out of sunflower seeds!! That's basically all it is - sunflower seeds mashed into a paste-like consistency (although much dryer than paste) that is very slightly sweetened. 

When i 1st saw it, it didn't look appetizing. It looks like dirt and grass (and even has a dirt-like texture) predigested in a cow's stomach that it's since pooped out...but if you know me, you know i'll try almost anything, so i didn't even hesitate in trying this...and it was one of the best culinary decisions of my life! 

My favorite is coming home from school and having it with a cup of coffee. It's the perfect match because of the coffee's bitterness and the halva's very slight sweetness!! 

As you can see in this picture, i've already taken a few bites from it...that was it is over half gone! It's always "just one more bite (sip coffee), just one more bite (sip coffee), just one more bite (sip coffee)..." 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Care Package Love

I just picked up two care packages from the Post Office. One was sent in October and we were worried it would never arrive, but it made it. It's a Christmas miracle! The other was sent in November. So the average is still about three weeks for a package to reach Malawi.

So what was inside? Tea and almonds and instant oatmeal and chapstick and a ton of school supplies which I can use with my Malaria Education Club. And a lot more. But I can't think about all of that because I am distracted by this:

That's right-- real dark chocolate. 72% cacao. That is the first dark chocolate I have had in months. And it is just as good as I remember. And I haven't seen chocolate chips anywhere in Malawi, so these are like gold. If gold came in tiny edible morsels. I can't decide if I should try to make cookies on my hot plate or just keep eating them plain. (Cuz you'll notice there is a little tear in the corner where I opened the bag immediately upon spotting them. I am only human after all.) Also, holiday peeps! I've got big plans for these festive little treats.

Thank you SO much, Mom! I love you : )

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tea Break

I spent all of last week and a bit of this one in Peace Corps trainings. And if you go to a meeting in Malawi, there will be breaks. And they will be called Tea Breaks. And they are wonderful.

We had two tea breaks everyday (plus our three square meals). It was a LOT of food and drink. Which is probably why I started to get sick around Day 4, and still feel a bit off today. But I am digressing and you don't want to hear about my intestinal issues. You want to hear about tea breaks!

So most breaks, even at school, are referred to as tea breaks. That doesn't mean there will be tea though. At my school there is usually hot water, sometimes sugar. Which is fine with me since it was way too hot last term to drink tea at school anyway.

At meetings and workshops though, tea break is a serious business. There will usually be tea, Ricoffy instant coffee, Fanta and at the swanky places, Coca Cola. To go with your drink, there will be some type of snack meat (they served gizzard once this week) and a small pastry.

Black tea and a real biscuit

Instant coffee and "cake"

Even the bus I took to Lilongwe last week had a little tea break, with a drink and this little snack of chicken, a muffin and a mandazi (like a donut hole):

With beverages served at every meal, I was getting super caffeinated so I had to cut back to two cups a day by the end. But now I'm home so I'm back to water and a morning cup of joe. Except this coffee is special, as it was a gift from a PCV up North. He brought us all local Malawi coffee at our training as a Christmas gift. Thanks, Kade!


I just returned from Blantyre, one of the three largest cities in Malawi. It is in southern Malawi so it's my closest one.

Going to the city after living in the village is a bit of a shock. There are stores and restaurants and cars and a lot more people and noise than I am used to. But the toilets and running water are nice... when they work.

Here is a blurry photo I took while we were moving through Blantyre. I know it is a terrible photo, but it's hard to take photos when walking around. I usually try to keep my phone put away when we are in the city.

My favorite part about Blantyre is meeting up with the other PCVs. I've made lots of friends and acquaintences in the village, but nobody understands quite like a fellow PCV. And our favorite thing to do when we get together is eat! On Saturday we went to this amazing Indian food place where I had chana masala, garlic naan and this spicy cheese ball thing that tasted amazing! Full disclosure: I have eaten chana masala at that place three times in the past two weeks. It is that good. There also may have been a mango lassi involved.

My favorite thing to eat when we go out is pizza. I miss pizza so much! You can get pretty good pizza in Malawi if you go to the right places. Although admittedly my standards are a bit lower now. Here is a spicy veggie pizza I had last Sunday.

Love the thick crust. Yum!

After pizza we went out for gelato. That was kind of a big deal because you can find ice cream in the cities, but usually it is soft serve only. Which I do like, but it's not available in flavors like cookies and cream or mint chocolate chip. The gelato was really good, but then I was soooo full. Luckily we had a long walk back to our hostel. During which time it began to rain. But I had a hot shower waiting for me so I was happy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Malaria Training

Today I finished my two day malaria training in Blantyre. I attended with a counterpart, a teacher from my school. The best PC projects always have a counterpart because we are supposed to focus on sustainability and capacity-building. After all, PCVs will only be here two years. If we want real change to happen, it has to be through the work of the people that live here.

The training was really great. I learned a lot about malaria, I learned about a planned mosquito net distribution that will be happening in Malawi next year, and they gave me a ton of activities to bring back to my school and village to help educate my community about malaria.

We watched this short video about the history of malaria. I learned a lot in just three minutes:

My counterpart and I decided to start a malaria education club at our school next term. We'll meet once a week afterschool  to do a number of activities, like singing songs, making a book that can be read to primary school students, taking a survey about bed net usage, doing some grassroots soccer malaria activities and teaching then about bed net care and repair. It should be fun and educational, and I am really excited to start!

By the way, I need stickers for one of the activities I want to do with the kids, but I can't find any locally. So if you feel like sending me any, it would be much appreciated! All kinds would be great-- butterflies, rainbows, cartoons, cars, words, letters, anything. Zikomo kwambiri!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lumini de Crăciun (Christmas lights)...Moldovan style

Today my partner teacher told me to go to the Primăria (Mayor's Office) at 5pm for the "foarte frumos" ("very beautiful") lighting and i went...and this is what i saw:

I was expecting a lot of people gathered around with a possible speech from the Mayor...not so one else was there (not even my partner who told me to go) and what you see in the photo is the whole shabang! Kinda funny. ;op ...O ya, and my partner told me to bring my camera, so i did! :oD

Had to add my gloved peace sign bunny ears for the occasion! ...and ya, it's this dark at's actually dark by 4pm, and it's only getting darker earlier...

mmmmmm...gwoodness from home :-)

Yesterday and today i've had the priviledge of eating super delicious wild rice and green lentils from HOME! Thanks to my very wonderful, thoughtful dude at home! Mama-G was away for a couple days, so i got to make my own food...and it was sooooooooooooooo good! And i ate it completely oil, no salt, no sugar, no butter...NOTHING! And o how gwood it was!! Thanks babe!! :o]

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ziua de Sfântul Nicolae (St. Nicholas' Day) 6 decembrie

Yesterday i celebrated Ziua de Sfântul Nicolae with my host family. Since i didn't know what exactly that meant, i looked it up and this is what i found:

Saint Nicholas by Susan Seals

I'm gald i looked it up because it really made me WANNA celebrate it! St. Nicholas was a cool dude and he's where Santa Claus is derived from! 

We had a masă (party/feast) with LOTS of food, of course. 

In Moldova there's ALWAYS a reason to celebrate:
- birthdays, which are always celebrated on the actual days need to wait until weekends to get drunk
- "leftover" masă's from the day before - one time i went to school and during one of the 10 minute breaks a whole masă was prepared in the conference room, which was leftover from the previous day's masă, including meat, mayo, cheese, and other foods left out for over 24 hours unrefrigerated...o ya, and the shots of whiskey...all during the "10 minute" (which ended up being about 30 minutes) break inbetween classes...ALL the staff was there while unsupervised children were left to their own devices in their classrooms...interesant!
- somebody's cousin's baby's birthday (without the birthday person actually being present)
- and the always fun (and confusing) double holidays - 2 Christmas's, 2 New Year's, 2 Easters, 1 national Independence Day, but several "Hram's" (individual village "birthdays").

And since we're in the Christmas season, i'll explain a little about the 2 Christmas's (of which Ziua de Sfântul Nicolae is not it's kinda like a 3rd Christmas). "1st Christmas", or "New Christmas" is on December 25th. And "2nd Christmas" or "Old Christmas" is on January 7th. 

When Moldova was occupied by Russia, Russia didn't allow the celebration of religious holidays, so they tried to downplay Christmas on December 25th by making New Year's (January 14th because they followed the Julian Calendar) more of a national celebration. So, the religious people of Moldova (98% of Moldovans are Christian Orthodox) went along with the January celebrations of "New Year's" but secretly celebrated Christmas instead. Since Moldova became independent in the 1990's, Western influence has intertwined with their culture and December 25th once again became Christmas, or as they call it here, "1st" or "New" Christmas. But, the Eastern culture is alive and well here too, so "2nd" or "Old" Christmas is also celebrated on January 7th! It depends on the family and /or village which one or both are celebrated. Mama-G told me we celebrate "Old" Christmas on January 7th, so that's when I'll be celebrating with my host family :o]

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Got trash?

If you are reading this in America right now, go out and hug your garbage bins for me. Because I miss them.

Here in the village there is no public waste management. So basically, you have two options for your trash: you burn it or you throw it on the ground. Or if you are a PCV, maybe a third option as well-- throwing it down the chim. None of these options really appeal to me, so I've been putting off dealing with it, but after three months I had a fair amount of trash and it was time to do something about it. (Interestingly, the amount of trash I collected in three months is about what I disposed of each week in America).

So I waited until the wind was calm and burned up my trash today.

And... it was oddly satisfying. Paper makes great kindling, so I got a pretty good blaze going. It wasn't too smoky, and the plastic didn't smell bad. Best of all, no more trash!

But I'm an environmentally-conscious person, and a firm believer in the 3 Rs-- Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. So they are the foundation of my trash management plan. Burning is more a last resort.

I am trying to buy less packaged goods, but I really don't buy much besides food and cleaning supplies, which are both pretty important. Even if you buy produce though, the vendors put it in the ubiquitous blue jumbo (bag) and knot it before selling it to you. I have a pretty good collection of these now.

I have found some cool uses for some of my paper, cardboard and plastic trash. I use the backs of old note pages to write my shopping lists on; I use the cardboard packaging that came with my sheets as a dustpan; my old peanut butter jars have been cleaned and are now used to store salt, sugar and dried fruit; also, the plastic trays from biscuit packages make great soap dishes and sponge holders. And I keep a stack of those blue jumbos to reuse at the market. A lot of the vendors know I bring my own bags now.

And of course, as a science teacher with few resources available to me, I use everything I can in my classes. So water bottles, scrap paper, coins and old batteries have played supporting roles in my science demonstrations.

Food scraps go into my compost pile and will help me enrich my soil and grow yummy things in my garden. I also put some small bits of paper and cardboard in my compost. (Of course, my neighbor torched my compost while I was away, so I need to start all over again. That's a story for another blog post though.)

Recently I heard that there is some kind of public plastic collection here, where people come into the village and you can give them old plastic buckets, cups and plates. Then these will be recycled into new plastic products. But I haven't seen this myself yet.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Visit to the Maize Mill

During PST I spent a lot of time de-kerneling corn with my host family. Often I would come home to a porch full of strangers shucking corn (or maize, as they call it here) and a mountain of maize kernels. These kernels went into bags which went into my host family's storeroom. I never saw the next stage of the process, until today.

Today I visited my local maize mill with my friend Flora, and she showed me the next steps in the maize to ufa process.

The maize kernels we're poured into metal buckets and rinsed in water.

Then the kernels were poured into the coarse grinder.

After grinding, the kernels are warm and smell like roasted corn.

The bran has been detached at this point, but is mixed up with the kernels. Using wide flat winnowing baskets, the maize bran is separated out.

The maize bran is collected in a maize sack, and the remainders of the kernels are stored in a bucket. They are still very coarse at this point, so they need more grinding to make ufa (maize flour). That's where we stopped today though. They are going to bring the maize back for the final grind another time.

A-maiz-ing! (I couldn't resist)

All's well that ends well

Today I thought I was gonna lose it. I had to go to the bank in the Boma, and I had to wait in line over half an hour for a simple transaction. Which is starting to be a common occurrence there.

Then I hopped on a mini-bus back to my village, only they waited for the bus to fill up... And waited... And waited some more. And I was trapped in my too short seat and it was hot, and people kept coming up to my window trying to sell me stuff, and this guy was trying to drum up passengers for our bus by yelling out destinations at people and pounding on the bus, which was giving me a headache. And then these teenagers decided to lean against my open window from the outside so they were actually pressing against the shoulder strap of my bag, and this guy was staring at me and saying "azungu", and this man was yelling about "segula mimba" which might translate to something like open stomach, I don't know. It was just total chaos. And I really considered just climbing over the lady next to me and running as fast as I could away from all the noise and people and cars till I got to the next village. Which is equally chaotic though because it is market day.

But I suffered through it and I made it back to to my village. Then I saw my friend as she was headed to the maize mill, and I had never been there so she said I could tag along. Which I did. And then I bought some Kalonkonda beans from a vendor and stopped at school to say hi before heading home. And then everything was good again.

Kalonkonda beans are rather bland on their own, but if you cook them with onions and tomatoes in a little oil they are quite good. Add some rice and you have a very filling meal.