Friday, October 31, 2014

Tsiku la bwino la Halloween

love Halloween. Obviously they don't celebrate it here in Malawi though. And while I am all about sharing our American traditions with my Malawian friends, somehow I don't think Halloween would translate. Plus I have been told there is still a belief in witchcraft and magic in a certain part of the population here, so Halloween might get a little too real.

So what's a Halloween-loving PCV to do? Celebrate it in Malawi style!

I give you, the Jack-o-Paw Paw (in Chichewa they call it a papaya, but in English they call it a paw-paw here. Not sure why. I'm just going with it).

And what would Halloween be without a costume? My little care package buddy decided to get into the Malawian-Halloween spirit with a pineapple costume.

Add a Snickers bar from the Boma and my traditional Halloween episode of This American Life (Episode 319, "And the Call Was Coming from the Basement"), and I've got a pretty festive little celebration. I even ate dinner by candlelight so it was kind of spooky.

Now I just need a photo of my adorable niece in her Halloween costume to complete the holiday.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chocolate Biscuits

had a serious chocolate craving, so I went to the local msika (outdoor market). I ended up with these chocolate cookies, or as they call them here, chocolate biscuits. Biscuits, you ask? Well, let me explain.

Malawi used to be a British colony. While the country has been independent since the 1960s, you can still see subtle signs of the British in the culture and language here.

A few examples-- tea is quite popular, and oftentimes breaks are referred to as "tea breaks" (even though Fanta might be served instead). They drive on the left side of the road here, and the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. BBC News is on the television (so I've heard) and on the Malawian radio.

This photo is from my first week in Malawi when I was at the training center. Each day we had tea breaks with little snacks-- so nice.

English is one of the two official languages of Malawi, but the English they speak is closer to British English. (English English?) So french fries are chips, college is university and cookies are biscuits. Flashlights are torches, chalkboards are blackboards and erasers are dusters. To tune into the BBC station you would turn on your wireless. And I'm always having to check the textbook to make sure I use the local spellings for words like colour, haemoglobin and sulphur. Oh, and "herb" is pronounced with an "h".

I guess this is why whenever people meet me here, they usually assume I am British or Scottish. There are British VSO volunteers and Scottish church organizations in the area, so that's actually a reasonable assumption.

So how did I get on this topic? Oh yeah, chocolate biscuits. Everytime I say "chocolate biscuits" it brings a smile to my face because I think of this Eddie Izzard comedy bit where he tells the story of plane ride he took where they gave out cheap cookies. It's quite funny. I used to listen to that show over and over with my sister back when I was in college (or should I say, university). I think it was from his "Glorious" show. If you get a chance to listen to it, I recommend it.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Market Day

Today I went with a couple teachers from my school to the msika (trading post) in a different village for Market Day. In the larger trading posts they have "market days" on certain days each week when there are a lot more vendors and you can get a greater diversity of items.

Besides the usual onions, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and greens that I typically see at my local market, they also had carrots, okra, eggplant, green peppers and green beans. Plus, they had fruit! I saw ripe mangos and two kinds of bananas. I've been pretty low on fruit the past two weeks so I jumped at these.

Guess what else I got-- macadamia nuts!  I think these come from the Thyolo area which isn't too far away. It would be fun to visit that area and see how they are grown.

When I got home the first thing I did was go for the mango. And... it was delicious! Very sweet, lots of flesh, and only a little bit stringy. I'm sporting a "mango mouth" right now where the fruit touched my skin while I was eating it. (Mangos, particularly the peel, contain a chemical that can be a skin irritant in some people). Totally worth it though.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I've caught my first cold in Malawi. All I want to do is stay home and sleep right now. But I have classes to teach and there was a problem with my house that I needed to take care of today, and I had no food so I had to go to the trading center. Plus the kids keep knocking at my door wanting to chat. They are really persistent too. I guess I can sleep over the weekend...

Back home when I got sick I would drink lots of orange juice with those Emergen-C packets and/or powdered greens, but ndilibe (I don't have any). I'm making due with drinking lots of water and tea with honey. Also, Peace Corps provides us with a number of useful items in our medical kits so I've been taking the sore throat lozenges, cough drops and ibuprofen from my kit.  No tissues here so I'm using toilet paper instead. (They probably sell tissues in the big cities, but there are none to be found around here).

Greetings are a big part of the culture here. When you are sick, you are supposed to let people know by modifying your response to the greetings. So when someone asks, "Muli bwanji?" (How are you?), instead of responding with "Ndili bwino" (I am fine) you should say "Ndili bwino pang'ono", which roughly translates to "I'm a little fine", indicating all is not well. Then you explain why. I tried this yesterday since it was obvious I was sick. Of course, now all my neighbors think I have malaria. The way they explained it to us in PST is that in Malawi, non-medical people blame malaria for a lot of different illnesses because it is a common ailment. Kinda like how we might say we have the flu in the U.S. without going to a doctor and getting properly diagnosed. For the record, I do not have malaria!

Today I had a coughing fit in my Form 1 class which was fun. Imagine a dry cough and then your eyes water and your throat is burning, while 90 pairs of eyes stare at you. Then I tried to speak and my voice was all hoarse. They thought that was hysterical. Luckily it came back after a few minutes and I was able to finish the lecture.

I'm home now so I'll try to rest while I can. Let's see what my immune system makes of the Malawian cold virus.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lunch with my Fellow PCVs

I have been spending a lot of time in the village. Then yesterday I had the opportunity to meet up with some local PCVs for lunch so away I went.

I took a mini-bus and then did a little walking to get there. It was kind of warm, but a lot of it was in the shade. Isn't the view lovely here in Mulanje?

For lunch I had pizza and Coke at a restaurant, and it was delicious. I was not a big soda drinker in the U.S., but anytime I have the opportunity for one here I jump on it. I don't know if it is because it is cold or because my only beverage is water most of the time, or just because it is something familiar from home, but I really love Coca Cola now. (Side note-- you only see Coke, Fanta and maybe an occasional Sprite here. So the Pepsi lovers lose out.)

They had vanilla ice cream too, but I was too full. Maybe next time. But I did have room for a bit of PCV homemade chocolate banana bread. It was gooey and chocolately and wonderful.

One of the volunteers I met is moving, so she gave a few things away. I am now the proud owner of some cocoa powder, baking powder and condensed milk. With the wheat flour I got at the trading post, I see some baking in my future. On a rainy day. Literally. Otherwise it is way to hot to even think of baking anything.

Good food and good people. Another lovely day in Malawi.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Culori de toamnă (Colors of Autumn)

The above pics i took while on my 6km (4 miles) walk in my village...they don't do the colors justice though, unfortunately.

The 2 above pics were taken in a beautiful town called Vadul Lui Vodă last weekend during the healthE's annual "Sharing Experiences" get-away. As you can see, it's right on the River Nistru, which is the boarder between Transnistria and the rest of Moldova. 

Transnistria is the Russian-occupied part of the country that still has strong Soviet beliefs. When Moldova declared their independence from the USSR in 1990, the Transnistrian War started between Russian-occupied Moldova and the rest of Moldova. In 1992 a cease-fire was announced, and it remains at that status today. So, although still technically a part of Moldova, Transnistria is basically a country itself and it is very difficult for trade or anything else to happen between Transnistrians and those outside of Transnistria. As A PCV, we've been warned that if we "find" ourselves in Transnistria and something bad happens to us there, Peace Corps does not have the authority to help get us out...kinda scary! And if you're wondering, like i did when they said "if you happen to just find yourself in Transnistria", how does someone just end up in Transnistria without knowing it??... well, it can happen, and pretty easily. When you don't know the language and you're at the mercy of whoever you happen to be in a car with, you might "end up" in Transnistria.

While i was in PST living with my host family, they took me to a birthday party. We all crammed into a car and started driving. I had no idea where we were going. We drove for about 2 hours. At one point i actually saw a sign that read "Transnistria" with an arrow pointing in the direction where it was, but we went the other direction. But that's how easily i could've just "found" myself in Transnistria! That's when that reality hit me! 

A lot of non-Transnistrian families have family in Transnistria, and it's easier for a non-Transnistrian to enter into Transnistria than for a Transnistrian to leave it. 

And as far as "if something bad happens to you if you find yourself in Transnistria and PC can't help you" goes, apparently there's a lot of anti-American sentiment in Transnistria, so it could be very likely that if we "found" ourselves there, that something "bad" could happen to us, and we'd be kinda least from a PC standpoint. 

Anyways...didn't really mean to go on a rant ;op

Mere (apples) from Mama-G's garden! Delicioase!

sistemul digestiv

This was a fun activity to teach about the digestive system! I cut out the names of the organs and their descriptions separately. I handed them all out and the students placed them on the diagram where they thought they belonged. Then my partner and i taught the lesson and at the end we asked if all the labels were correct. When the students realized they weren't, they corrected them. After that i gave them a blank poster and blank cut-outs of all the organs. As a class they colored the organs, glued them in their correct places on the poster, and correctly labeled it. Then we hung up their "masterpiece" in the class to show it off! :o]

...and saying words like "rect, anus, and fecale" wasn't as bad as i'd imagined it would be with middle-schoolers ;op

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Kuchapa Zovala

Doing laundry by hand in Malawi requires a few necessary items, not much water, and a lot of elbow grease.

You will need:
1 large bucket, for soaking
1 smaller bucket, for rinsing
Laundry powder
Laundry bar soap
Scrub brush
Bug spray (optional)

1) Bring everything outside
2) Fill the larger bucket about 1/3 full of water. Fill the smaller bucket about 1/4 full of water
3) Put in a handful of laundry powder and mix with your hands
4) Put dirty clothes into the bucket. If the water does not cover them, add more
5) Allow to soak for an hour
6) Put up clothesline
7) Spray end of line with bug spray to keep red ants off laundry
8) Inhale bug spray (not required, but difficult to avoid)
9) Remove first clothing item from bucket, and scrub as needed
10) If there is a tough stain, use the bar of laundry soap and/or scrub brush
11) Wring out soapy water into bucket
12) Immerse in rinse water bucket, then wring out
13) Repeat step 12
14) Accept the fact that you are never going to get all the soap out without using way more water
15) Hang on clothesline with clothespins to dry
16) Repeat steps 9-15 for remaining clothing items. Will need to change rinse water as it becomes cloudy/soapy
17) After last item is hung, water plants with remaining water

While I do miss the ease of a washing machine, hand washing with laundry powder is much easier than hand washing with only bar soap, which is what I did during homestay. I never quite got the hang of that. And I do love the smell of laundry that has just come off the line. It's like you can smell the sun on the fabric.

Friday, October 17, 2014

First Thunderstorm

Today was another hot day in Malawi. You know it is hot season when you are sweating at 5:30am. It just never seemed to cool off last night.

Then around dusk I started to hear a low rumble, which started to get louder. I went outside to look and caught a view of lightning. I tried to count the seconds between, but the thunder rumbling just seemed to go on and on, with multiple flashes of light during the thunder.

Then the rain started. A few drops at first, then a good shower, and then it was absolutely pouring. The pounding on my tin roof was incredibly loud. And just when I thought it couldn't get any louder, the rain got more intense and the noise increased.

After about half an hour the rain has stopped. The only sounds are low rumbles of thunder in the distance and the wind blowing. Looking out the window, I can see flashes of light in the dark sky.

And that was my first thunderstorm here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy Mothers Day, Amayi

It's Mother's Day in Malawi. This is a National holiday, so schools are closed. They print special chitenje fabric just for the occasion each year.

This also marks my first holiday as a teacher. I spent the day reading and playing with the neighbor kids. We did leaf imprints with crayons and played cards.

This evening I helped the kids pick mangos from a nearby tree. The mangos are small and unripe, but I guess to a kid it is better to eat now then wait two months for something better. They eat the mangos right off the tree, skin and all, with a bit of salt. Not my cup of tea, but they enjoyed it.

Then I chatted with some of the amayi (mothers) while they cooked dinner. I helped peel the stringy parts off the stems of the pumpkin leaves, then I helped pound peanuts into sinjiro (peanut flour), which was added to the pumpkin leaves and tomatoes as a side dish for nsima. All in all a good holiday!

So, in the spirit of the holiday, sing a little 80s Madonna with me. (For some reason I have had her old classic songs in my head off and on since I got to my site. Let's not analyze that too deeply.)

If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be so nice!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fun with Photosynthesis

Last week we wrapped up our unit on Photosynthesis in my 11th grade Biology class. Before the test we did a hands-on review activity during our double period. How do you do hands-on activities with 70 students without a lab or materials? You have to get creative.

I set up eight stations in an empty classroom, each with different activities and questions relating to a photosynthesis. There was a a station with a microscope to examine a leaf, there was a plant pigment chromatography station, a starch test demo station, a station with the equation for photosynthesis written on cards which they had to put in the right order and answer questions about, as well as stations on parts of a plant cell, the internal structure of the leaf, the chloroplast and the minerals of photosynthesis.

At first their was some confusion about how to proceed with this crazy activity, but soon they all got it and were diligently working their way through all the stations. Best of all, I think it helped them prepare for their test which improved their scores. Success!

I'm thinking of hanging the leftover diagrams in my house as decorations. Right now the walls are bare and could use a little livening up. Could be a way to entertain guests too. "Identify all the parts of a plant cell and win a free lizard!"

Monday, October 13, 2014


I played a version of Jeopardy with my classes today to review for the test next week. It went really well!! 😃

Moldovan fire extinguisher...for realz

The cones are to put over the fire, and the cylinder next to it is full of sand, to throw on the fire.

Apreciere profesorii (Teacher Appreciation)

Since this is the last year the 9th graders will be at this school (because this school is only for primary and middle school, and 9th grade here is the last year of middle school), they put on a whole production for the teachers at the school, who they've basically grown up with. I was so impressed by everything they did! It was at the school in one of the hallways. They used students' desks and chairs. It was 3 hours long. They had food (pretty good...they even had dovleac [pumpkin] placinte!!), ceai (tea), and vin (wine)...even the tort (cake) was pretty good (most of the cake i've had here hasn't been great)! 

They sang and danced a lot!

They played jokes on the teachers ;op

Everyone danced the horă many many many many was the 1st time i've seen the horă...basically they dance in a cirlce over and over and over and over and over.

They played a game of dancing with their teachers on a piece of newspaper only...pretty funny!

Here they're trying to pop each others' balloons while still dancing with their teacher partners.

Overall, it was a fun evening! Again, i'm just super impressed by how much effort went into it! 

my work peeps miss me!! 😍

Feels good to be loved! I love you all too and miss you!!! ;o]

Miss Ritz!!! XOXOXO 
...side note: am i being flipped off?? ;op

Dr. Hamilton and Cin :o]

Cin & Cindy...miss you both!!!

I've always loved your style Ritz ;o]  Hey Glo! :oD

...and there it throne!!! i REALLY miss my love...sigh...i haven't seen even 1 single rocking chair in Moldova! i've been having serious rocking chair withdrawals! Is there tx for that?? And hey Frances! Sorry i kept missing you before i left! i'm curious to know what you missed giving me?? Please keep my chair in good working order! I know i can entrust you with that mission!! LUVU!!

I'm even starting to miss the food! Give my portion to Gail...she's lookn too skinny!! I love and miss you all dearly!!! 

o floare frumoasă din eleva mea

One of my 6th graders, Nicoleta, gave me this beautiful rose! It smells as good as it looks! 

facem placinte cu nepoata gazdă mea

This is my host neice, Rada. We're making placinte (Moldovan pastries) together ;o]

elevi harnici (hard-working students)

I'm really enjoying teaching health ed to my middle-schoolers! I try to have a lot of activities for them to do because i really want them to have fun while learning! 

The 1st week of school i did an overview class called, „Ce este sănătate?” ("What is health"). I taught „Triughiul de sănătate” (Triangle of Health) which includes the 3 aspects of health: fizică, mintală, și socială (physical, mental, and social). For their activity i cut up posters into puzzle pieces which were color-coded: blue = mental health, yellow = physical health, red = social health. Then i had them draw examples of the different aspects of health, depending on what color they received. Then, once the puzzles were put together, it makes the Moldovan flag - at least via colors and stripes. Then i hung them up in our sănătate classroom so the students can be proud of their work, and so they know i take their work seriously and am happy to display it! As you can see, not all the students showed up for all the classes that we did this activity for, hence the blank pieces. But the students gather by the posters now before class to show off their artwork to their classmates...pretty cute :o]

This is my 9th grade class. During the topic of „Exercițiu fizice” (Physical Exercise), i divided the class into groups and had them lead the rest of the class in exercises the next week. It was fun! Of course, it didn't go as long as i'd hoped, so my partner teacher had us play games for the rest of the time...we played one that reminded me of "Duck, Duck, Goose" but a more teenage version, which was a lot of fun. We also played "Red Rover" which was funny.

"salsa" making

this "salsa" stuff (i don't know the Moldovan name) is so good! as you can see, i did almost all of the grinding of the vegetables and fruits...which probably took about an hour! the palm of my hand hurt the next day! so worth it though...i eat it on everything: eggs, potatos, soups, bread, fresh vegetables, pasta...