Saturday, August 30, 2014

Congrats to the Malawi PCVs

I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer now! The 19 of us in the Peace Corps Malawi Education group swore in on the 28th of August at a ceremony in the village of Chinkhombwe, Kasungu District.

Here we are, in all of our Malawi finery! Notice the sweet 'staches on some of the guys. It was just for swear-in though.

Wish us luck! Our service to Malawi has officially begun!


We made the Malawi news. Check it out:

A few corrections - Please note that despite the quote in the article, we actually do have two volunteers posted to the district we trained in, including one from my group. Also, there is a Secondary School nearby the village, which is where we completed our Model School. Finally, if a school would like to have a volunteer placed there in the future, all they need to do is contact Peace  Corps and apply.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chakudya Cha Masana ku Malawi

Here are photos of some of my lunches during homestay.

Nsima and chicken

Nsima and soya pieces (cooked with onions, tomato and oil)

Ngaiwa nsima with beef and cabbage (Yum! Anything ngaiwa is delicious, and cabbage is my favorite vegetable side dish here. This isn't typical, but I enjoyed it so I wanted to share.)

Nsima and cabbage

Dinner is usually the same as lunch. The leftovers from lunch are covered and stored in our house until dinner time, then reheated and served with fresh nsima for dinner.

Other lunches/dinners:
- rice with scrambled eggs
- nsima and beans
- rice with hard-boiled eggs
- nsima with pumpkin leaves

Monday, August 25, 2014

Chakudya Cha M'mawa ku Malawi

Here are photos of some of my breakfasts from homestay in Malawi:

Ngaiwa (whole-grain maize) porridge mixed with sinjiro (peanut flour) and sugar, tea

Rice, tea


Chigumu, also known as African cake. It is made with maize flour. Amayi usually makes this in the evening and then serves it for breakfast the next morning. Despite it's name, it is less like a cake and more like cornbread. There is very little sugar in it. Sometimes mashed nthochi (banana) is added, which makes the cake a little more sweet and moist.

Chipisi (French fries):

Other typical breakfasts (not pictured):
- roasted peanuts and tea
- white bread and tea

Care Packages

Last week I received two care packages, and it made my day! See how happy I am? That's because getting mail from home is wonderful!

So far I have had three packages mailed to me, and everything has arrived safely. I know Coalee has received several packages sent to her also. We have both received letters too (including from each other). So it seems like the mail systems in both Malawi and Moldova are pretty reliable after all, which is great.

If you want to send us a care package, please do! It is so nice to get something from home when we are so far away. If you need ideas, here are a few suggestions:

Coalee in Moldova
Granola bars (Lara bars & kashi bars)
Polaroid camera & film
Mini portable speaker for iPhone
An adult wooden rocking chair kit that I can build myself
Sticky tack, to hang pictures on the wall

Stacy in Malawi
Photos of you!
Duct tape, in cool colors/designs
Clif Bars, Lara Bars
Trail mix
Dried fruit
Sugar-free gum
0.7 mm pencil lead
Sticky tack, to hang pictures on the wall
Chocolate that doesn't melt, like plain M&Ms or Nutella or cocoa powder
Anything you feel like sending!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Munabadwa Liti?

In Chichewa, that means "When were you born?" You answer, "Ndinabadwa pa 9 October 1940", for example. (That is the birthday of my favorite Beatle. Guess which one...)

When we learned this in Chichewa class back in June, I went home and asked my amayi (host mother) when everyone's birthdays were. She knew everyone's birthday except my middle brother Roddy. She knew he was born in August, but couldn't remember the day. That might sound strange to an American, but here in the village they do not celebrate birthdays. However, this seemed like a fun opportunity to share a little about my culture, so I made plans to do a little birthday celebration for Roddy.

On August 3rd I asked my abambo when Roddy's birthday was. He told me it was August 4th, the very next day! That meant I had only one day to prepare.

The next day I made Roddy a birthday card and grabbed a few strawberry candies I had brought from America. After dinner I presented him with the card and sang the Happy Birthday song to him. My amayi joined in at the end. Then I gave him the candies.

He gave one of the candies to abambo, one to amayi, and one to his older brother. My amayi split hers up, saving a piece for my little sister who had fallen asleep. A few minutes later a couple neighbor boys came over, and she gave them part of her candy to have as well.

It is amazing how communal this culture is. Sharing is not even a thought. It's almost automatic. Could you imagine sharing a small piece of hard candy with three other people?

After she finished the candy, my amayi mentioned that her birthday was the next day. I knew it wasn't though, as she had told me her actual birthday when I first asked, so I called "bodza" * on her. She laughed, and said sort of apologetically, "I like sweeties." **

*Bodza - translates to "lie", but it has a more playful connotation depending on the tone, so here it is more like "fib" or "I know you are joking"

**Sweeties - sort of a generic term for candy

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Food or Pet?

Here at homestay, there are quite a few creatures sharing my living space (the outside part). Try to guess which of these animals are considered food and which are a pet here in my rural village in Malawi.

A) Mbudzi (goat)

B) Chivala (grasshopper)

C) Mkhuku (chicken)

D) Mbira (Rat)

The answer is, they are all for food, sort of. My family eats goat, chicken, beef (not pictured), mice (not pictured) and grasshoppers. However, they haven't eaten these goats or chickens during my stay. The goats are kept in an elevated pen near the house, and the chickens sleep in a coop adjacent to the kitchen. My host brothers are raising the rats in an underground pen to sell, and they said some people eat them, but my family does not.

And the grasshopper? My host brother said he was planning to cook them and eat them today. Yum.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bread Day

In Malawi PST we love Mondays. Why? Because it is the day PC gives us trainees bread, peanut butter and fruit. It probably doesn't sound too exciting, but when you eat nsima everyday, it is pretty amazing. Bread and peanut butter fills us up when we need a snack or can be a meal when we have been feeling sick and can't eat our regular meals (which has not happened to me in a while, luckily). 

The peanut butter provides a little extra protein in our diets. Peace Corps provides meat to our families three days a week plus eggs and soya pieces, but my family still has some days where we will eat all three meals without any protein. Plus, the protein portions of our meals are very small. So a little protein boost is nice.

The fruit is also especially welcome. Fruit is pretty scarce in the diets of our host families this time of year. They eat small, green oranges that grow on the trees here, which were pretty sour in July, but are finally getting sweeter. Small tangerines just finished ripening last week. (My host brother got stung by a bee while harvesting a bunch of tangerines.) You can find small bananas and apples at the outdoor market in the city, but we do not go there very often. Plus, the apples are from South Africa so they are pretty expensive. Of course, this is the "cold season" in Malawi, so the real fruit is on the way. Papayas, mangoes and pineapple--oh my!

Today we each received two apples with our bread and peanut butter, and they are my favorite fruits right now. So happy bread day to you!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Spaghetti Night

A few of the us trainees decided to cook American meals for our host families a couple weeks ago. We bought spaghetti in the store in the Boma over the weekend (695K) and picked up tomatoes and onions at the local trading post.

The day I decided to cook, I went home and found my amayi already cooking the chicken for dinner. I could see all the chicken pieces in the pot, including the feet. I told her I wanted to make spaghetti, and she got excited and said yes! And then she said we would eat it after nsima. Well, of course we would. After all, it's not really a meal without nsima.

I set a large pot to boil over the fire while I chopped the tomatoes and onions. There is no cutting board so I had to just hold them in my hands  as I cut, but the knife is pretty dull so it is relatively safe. Kind of difficult to cut evenly though. My amayi came by and tried to get me to break the noodles in half before cooking, but I told her they were supposed to be kept long and she let me be.

Roddy and Vinny, my host brothers, were very excited about the spaghetti and decided to help out with the cooking. Which is sort of unusual in this culture, as females do all the housework, but since my host sister is only three, my brothers do a little of the household chores, like sweeping and clearing the dinner plates, and sometimes helping out with cooking.

As it was dark by this time, my host brothers held the flashlight for me so I could see what I was doing. I cooked the noodles, and then it was time to remove it from the fire. Mavuto (problem). There are no oven mitts here. I tried to use my skirt to grab the scalding pot, but the flames were  going up the sides of the pot a little, and I was afraid it might catch fire. Just then, amayi swooped in and grabbed the hot pot with her bare hands and set it aside. Amayis have super hands that can withstand intensely hot temperatures. 

Time to cook the sauce. I sautéed the onions in oil, then added the tomatoes and a generous bit of salt. (In Malawi, salt is the primary seasoning and is used in generous quantities when cooking. And then again when eating). I let that cook, and assigned my brother Roddy the task of stirring it.

Meanwhile, I had to strain the noodles. I still couldn't lift the pot, so Vinny dumped the water out for me. By this time the tomatoes had cooked down and the "sauce" was ready. I mixed the two in the large pot and brought it into the house for dinner. A little light on sauce, but it would do.

Everyone ate their nsima and chicken first, except me. I just took a bit of chicken, and then I tried the spaghetti. Then everyone dug in. We served it with the big flat nsima spoon, so it was funny watching the big portions of slippery noodles slide right off the spoon and back into the pot as people tried to serve themselves. We don't have any forks, so we all ate with our hands, which was pretty fun too. My amayi sent a bowl over to the neighbor's house, and then two neighbor boys came over and tried some spaghetti too. I found out later that one of the boys, Leonard, had just tried the spaghetti at Mary Beth's house across the way, so he was turning into a spaghetti-eating expert.

Here is a photo of my plate of spaghetti and chicken, lit by lantern light.

- Everyone seemed to enjoy the spaghetti, and had second helpings.
- I had a nsima-free meal, which is always a nice change
- I had fun cooking with my brothers

Cultural cooking exchange -- success!

Cell phones in Malawi

Even here in a rural village in central Malawi, I can use my cell phone. Some of the people in the village have them, including my abambo. They are the older phones like you saw in the U.S. ten years ago though, not Smartphones. Interestingly, you do not see land lines here. That technology with all of its expensive infrastructure never took hold here, and now that there are cell phones it never will.

The main cell phone service providers in Malawi are Airtel and TNM. I think TNM works better in some remote areas of the North and South, but Airtel works well most places, including here in the Kasungu district.

Setting up a cell phone with either provider is easy. You buy a SIM card for K200 (about US $0.50) from a TNM or Airtel vendor. Once you set up the phone, you buy data and minutes with little scratch-off cards from Airtel and TNM distributor stands in the Boma or your nearest trading post. They come in denominations of K50, K100, K500 and K1000. The data expires after one month while the talk/text minutes never expire. No contract needed.

I had a problem this week where I used up my data very quickly, and I was not able to get to the Boma to buy more. So I am behind in my blog posting, which I plan to remedy this weekend.

In terms of service, you can get 3G in the Bomas and cities. Here in our village, I get the "E" service. (I can't remember what it stands for.) Basically, I can text, check email and post to the blog, but everything else takes a LONG time. To the point where browsing the web is nearly impossible because it usually times out. So I can't visit websites or load emails with lots of photos, at least not until I get to the city. I have a lot of photos I want to post to the blog, so I will do that when I am in a 3G zone.

Tsalani bwino (stay well).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ebola in the News

As you have probably heard, there is an Ebola virus outbreak in Northwestern Africa. Peace Corps Volunteers have been evacuated from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. I will be praying for the people in that region and for those families affected by the outbreak.

Here in Malawi though, there are no cases of Ebola. Malawi is located in Southeastern Africa, which is very far from the outbreak.

If the virus did reach Malawi however, all trainees and volunteers would be immediately evacuated. Peace Corps is closely monitoring the situation and they send us updates. So don't worry, we trainees are okay down here in the warm heart of Africa.

The CDC has more information about the Ebola virus on their website:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Kuyenda ku Malawi

It's week 8 of Pre-Service Training. For the first month my group was transported by Peace Corps vehicles when we needed to visit the Boma (district center) or visit a local Community Day Secondary School. However, I knew the day would come when I had to travel by other means. That day was a couple weeks ago.

After receiving language training in bargaining and transportation, our group split up into pairs during Week 6. Then we were dropped off at various points along a road, in the company of a language trainer. Our task - get to the local msika (market) by catching a ride in a mini-bus. I was so nervous about it beforehand, and when the mini-bus actually stopped it was so chaotic that I forgot to use my Chichewa. It worked out though. My mini-bus partner Bill and I were sandwiched in the second row between the conductor and another passenger, and after about six more stops we reached the market. Success!

Since that day, I have travelled by mini-bus quite a few times, as well as by  several other private transportation methods. (There is no public transportation system in Malawi that I have seen.)

As a Peace Corps Trainee/Volunteer** in Malawi my transportation options are:

- Walk: this is my preferred option, but it isn't practical for longer trips, obviously

- Bicycle: Peace Corps issued my group bikes and gave us training in how to maintain and repair them. I am not really a bicycle person as I prefer to walk most places if I can, but it could come in handy. PCVs are always required to wear a helmet when riding a bike.

- Bike Taxi: this is another transportation method that you see all over Malawi. Typically the bike is decorated with bright colors and there is a cushion on the back for the passenger to sit on. There is also a second set of handlebars for the passenger to hold into, and little footrests, although I heard as you go north it is less likely the taxi will have handlebars. Typically women sit side saddle due to the skirt. I am not that brave though, so both times I rode on a bike taxi, I just sat facing forward and pulled my skirt down over my knees.)

- Mini-Bus: for short to long-distance travel, this is a readily-available option in Malawi. Typically the vehicles are designed to seat 12 people, but they usually have a minimum of 16. I heard the PCV mini-bus record was something like 32, but I'm skeptical. So far mine is 18. At my site this will be my primary travel method besides walking.

- Hitchhike: This is discouraged by Peace Corps except in emergency situations, but in a lot of rural areas this may be the only practical option. Sometimes they let you ride for free, sometimes they might ask for money. It just depends. Regardless, you should always ask before you accept the ride. Hitching here is much safer than in America because it is so common here, but it is always wise to use common sense when employing this option.

- Basi: This is a good option for long-distance travel, and considered very safe by Peace Corps. It is travel by a large private bus. Prices vary, but you get what you pay for. I paid about 3000MK for a bus ride going South to Blantyre, but the bus waited for hours before leaving to fill every seat (and even have people stand in the center aisles). It also stopped very frequently, and didn't really offer any bathroom stops. Going back North, I took another Basi which cost about 6500MK, but it left closer to the actual scheduled time, it had music videos on a TV at the front of the bus (lots of Celine Dion, as per usual in Malawi), and stopped only at a few bus depots so it was much faster. It also made two bathroom stops, although I heard it was less a toilet and more a urination trough for ladies. On bus travel days, it is best to drink minimal amounts of water.

In the last few weeks I have travelled by a variety of different methods. Soon I'll be a pro. While in Malawi I would also like to try traveling by boat (on the lake) and by ox-cart (which is less about function and more just to try it). Special thanks to Ryan, now a RPCV, for showing me the ropes with a few of these travel methods during my site visit. I was really nervous about traveling in Malawi, but he loves it so he was a good person to go around with. I hope I can embrace travel here as well.

**Note - Peace Corps Trainees and Volunteers are not permitted to drive vehicles, nor to ride a motorcycle.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Model School

Last week we started Model School. Each of us trainees teach a 40 minute period everyday for eight days at the local Community Day Secondary School (CDSS). I am teaching Form 3 Biology, which is equivalent to the High School Junior level in the U.S. The topic I was assigned to cover is the human circulatory system. The kids are out of school for the summer, but are voluntarily attending our sessions. My class averages about 40 kids.

The purpose of Model School is to provide training in the classroom before we start our actual teaching assignments. It is a time for us to practice teaching, try new techniques and observe each other. Besides fellow trainees, we are also observed by our trainers, our Resource Volunteers (Hi Susan and Tyler, we miss you this week), and Malawian teachers. I find being observed a bit nerve-wracking, but I've learned a lot from the feedback and suggestions I have received.

Part of what we are practicing is how to focus on student-centered learning. We are encouraged to incorporate critical thinking into our lessons, and to accommodate different learning styles.

We have limited resources, as the school does not have electricity and there are very few supplies, so we have to be creative. We have flip chart paper, a few markers, masking tape, chalk and erasers. The students do not have textbooks, so I have to provide everything including definitions, diagrams and homework questions on the board. I spent a long time drawing a huge diagram of the heart last week. Thank goodness Andrew, my partner in lesson planning, brought markers from home. You can't draw the inside of the heart without red (oxygenated) and blue (deoxygenated).

Since we are teaching our classes in English, which is a second language for the students, we are encouraged to speak slowly and clearly, avoid vernacular, and write things on the board.  That takes a bit of practice as I tend to talk pretty fast, but I'm working on it.

Tomorrow is the last day of Model School. It has been a great experience. I have learned a lot, and I really enjoyed getting to teach the kids in my class. They are smart, hard-working and have been good sports about all the new activities I have been trying out with them. We are going to do a Gallery Walk review tomorrow to go over all the topics we have covered. Hopefully it will be fun and they have learned something too.