Monday, July 28, 2014

Eating like a PCT

Here is a look at a day's menu from homestay in Malawi and homestay in Moldova.


In Malawi, the food is heavily salted and cooked with a lot of oil. Sugar is expensive, so my host family uses it liberally in their tea, but otherwise uses it sparingly. Typically my host family adds salt to their food before  eating as well. Sometimes they add hot sauce too.

Breakfast - plain white rice and tea

Snack - plain white rice

Lunch - nsima (maize flour and water cooked into a thick porridge) with boiled greens and chicken

Snack - bread and peanut butter*

Dinner - nsima (maize flour and water cooked into a thick porridge) with boiled greens and chicken.

The nsima is freshly made each meal, while the ndiwo (side dishes) are usually cooked in the afternoon and the leftovers eaten again at lunch.  There is no electricity and therefore no refrigeration, but the ndiwo are covered and placed in a cool room between meals.

* Peace Corps supplies Malawi PCTs with two loaves of wheat bread and one jar of peanut butter each week. This is to supplement the meals provided to trainees during homestay. They also provide some fruit for us trainees, usually bananas, apples or oranges. PC also provides  our host families with chicken twice a week, beef once a week, eggs, soya pieces, sugar and salt. Otherwise we would probably not have much protein during homestay.


Breakfast: eggs cooked in pig fat; placinte (pastry) filled with oily pickled cabbage & cheese; bread

Lunch: pasta w cheese swimming, LITERALLY, in oil; bread

Dinner: salad swimming in oil; soup in chicken(?) broth; fish fried in oil & cornmeal; & of course bread

There's a little cup of salt ALWAYS sitting on the table to dip whatever u want in it (which they do to like everything)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Childhood, All over Again

This photo has nothing to do with this post, but I know people like photos so here you go. This is one of the many roosters in the village, which love to start crowing about 3am and continue throughout the day.

Okay, back to the point of this post. Being a Peace Corps Trainee is a bit like being a kid all over again. Let me explain. I live at home, with my (host) family. I have chores, like sweeping and cooking. My amayi often wakes me up in the morning, and tells me when it is time to bathe. The amayis try to get us trainees to walk to "school" (training) together, even though it is only a ten minute walk away. If one of the trainees leaves a little early, the amayis hurry us and tell us we will be late for school. They pack us snacks, and we go home to have lunch. My amayi tells me to sweep my room and my abambo tells me to clean my lantern. Also, I have to ask them if I can go out, and I'm not allowed out after dark. All of this is kind of awkward for an adult in her 30s.

That being said, it is all in our best interest. We are new to this country, this culture and the language. Our host families are teaching us how to live in Malawi, and keeping us safe. I really do need someone to teach me how to cook over an open fire, clean the lantern, carry water on my head and give me an estimate on the price of a mini-bus. The being out after dark prohibition will actually continue during my service too.

So thank you to my host family for helping me learn to live in Malawi. Now I have to go sweep my room.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Happy Independence Day, Malawi-Style

I had my first American holiday here in Malawi. On July 4th we celebrated with a cross-cultural cooking demo here in the village between the American Peace Corps Trainees and our Malawian Trainers and host mothers. We each prepared locally available foods according to our cultures. So us PCTs made guacamole (they grow avocados here, and they are HUGE), mashed potatoes, potato curry, veggie kabobs, fruit salad (they grow bananas here too) and chocolate cake (the cocoa was imported, but it is chocolate so it is okay). The Malawians prepared potatoes in several different ways, including a potato salad with peas that was really good, pumpkin leaves with sinjiro (ground peanut flour), African bread (similar to  cornbread) and lots more. Everything was cooked over an open fire, even the cake (you put the lid on the pot and then put some smoldering sticks on top so it cooks evenly).

The amayis (host mothers) were amazing and even the food we cooked was only possible because of their help. They helped us start our fires, find kindling, and always seemed to know what we needed before we did, whether it was fresh water or a potato peeler. It is like an amayi superpower. So thanks to all the amayis for the delicious food!

Also part of the festivities-- four PCTs slaughtered chickens for the meal. Those chickens ended up on the grill, which was manned by Americans and Malawians. You can see that there are chicken intestines wrapped around chicken feet on the grill. There is also a head too. And no, I didn't try any of that.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Kuno ku Malawi

I've been in Malawi for almost three weeks now. The first week was spent with the other PCT (Peace Corps Trainees) at a training center. Then we relocated to a rural village where we will be spending the remainder of our training.

I am living with a host family in the village. We have no electricity or running water. The house has several rooms, including a living room and a grain storage room. I have my own room, which includes a mosquito net, water filter and a twin-sized mattress, all courtesy of Peace Corps. There are three separate buildings which are all part of the house too. These are the kitchen (with a built in henhouse), the bafa where we bathe and the chimbudzi (pit latrine). Then there is an area for dry corn storage and an elevated pen for the mbudzi (goats).

A typical day starts with kusesa (sweeping) outside. We use branches which have been tied together to make a pretty effective broom. I also sweep my room. My amayi (host mother) is always up first, and has usually already gone to the well and gotten water for us. She usually has the moto (fire) going too, with a pot of water boiling for tea. She heats water for me to bathe each day, so after my chores I take my bucket bath in the bafa. Then I get dressed and have breakfast with her and my achemwali (host sister). My achimwenes (host brothers) have school on weekdays and usually leave before me. Then I head to "class" with the other PCTs. We have class all day, with a break so we can go home and have lunch with our host families. In the evenings I might visit with the other PCTs or spend time with my host family. There is always chimanga (corn) to de-kernel so that is a frequent evening activity for everyone.

Corn is so important in this village. The kernels are ground into flour to make nsima, a staple food. We eat it everyday, usually for lunch and dinner. The corncobs are used to make the cooking fires, or burned for light in the evenings as we work on the corn. Here is a photo goats on a neighbor's maize pile. Goats are everywhere here.

It gets dark at 6:00 so we eat dinner in the light of the lantern. Sometimes we go over my Chichewa lessons together by flashlight and my host family helps me practice. We had fun drawing different animals and labeling them in Chichewa.

Stuff I have done this week: swept, lit the lantern, carried water on my head from the well, washed my clothes by hand, washed dishes with my amayi, helped prepare the nsima and masamba  (vegetables), and stripped countless kernels from their corncobs.

I'm learning a lot, from language and culture to technical training and household tasks. I usually go to bed pretty early, exhausted from the long days. It's challenging, but rewarding too. Sometimes I look around and just wonder at how much my life has changed in just a few weeks. All in all, it's pretty amazing to be here.