Thursday, June 25, 2015


This afternoon I heard a frantic knocking on my gate. When I went out to answer it, there was a group of my neighbor kids all crowded around holding sticks, and shouting in Chichewa about "help" and "cow". I figured out that the neighbor's dairy cow had gotten out of her pen, and the kids were trying to get her back in.

The cow was trampling their garden, breaking buckets and eating their drying sorghum. There were no other adults around, so they came to me. You know things are bad when they have to ask the azungu (white person) for help! 

I came up with a plan to surround the cow and then sort of herd her into the pen. It worked pretty well, and she got really close a few times, but then at the last moment she would run in the opposite direction. I stuck with it a long time, trying to show the kids we could herd her gently, without whacking the cow with branches or throwing rocks at her. (Which is the usual method of herding animals in Malawi. Livestock have it rough here.)

Finally one of the adult neighbors came home and took control of the situation. Which meant I could go back inside my house and get back to my lesson planning. But it wasn't a total waste of my time. At one point I got close to the cow and she nudged me roughly with her head, and I screamed and jumped back cuz it kinda hurt. Well, the kids just about died laughing. They kept doing little impressions of me jumping and screaming. It was really funny. By now I'm sure all my neighbors know all about it. So even if I couldn't get their cow back in the pen, at least I could provide them with a little entertainment!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

One Year in Malawi

As of last week I have been in Malawi for a year. It's crazy how much has happened to me in such a short time. To celebrate, I had dinner with a group of PCVs at a fancy restaurant in Blantyre. I forgot to take photos, but let me just say three words-- "garlic cheese loaf." It was a really fun night, and I felt really lucky to be here and have this incredible experience.

So now it is time to celebrate on the blog. In sixth grade we had a writing assignment that went "I used to _______, but now I _______". It was supposed to be a way to reflect on how much we had changed during elementary school. So I am going to borrow that idea to describe some of the changes that have happened to me this past year.

I used to speak English and a little Spanish, but now I speak English, Malawian English, and a little Chichewa. (My Spanish has mostly been displaced by my new language. Pobrecita).

I used to drink tap water, but now I only drink water that has been treated by filtering, boiling or adding WaterGuard.

I used to wash my hair everyday, but now I wash it once or twice a week.

I used to be a vegetarian, but now I eat meat when I feel it is safe and has been properly cooked (usually only in a city restaurant or cooked by a PCV.  Or when I get it in a care package. Beef jerky is like my new favorite food.)

I used to wake up to an alarm clock, but now I wake up to the crowing of roosters (and sometimes the mooing of cows).

I used to think powdered milk was gross, but now it is like sweet nectar when I put it in my coffee and cereal and hot cocoa.

I used to wear jeans everyday, but now I wear skirts and chitenjes, and only wear my jeans in the city. I still love them though.

I used to use a shower, a sink, a washing machine and a flush toilet, but now I use buckets for washing stuff and my toilet is a pit latrine (aka the chim).

I used to be blissfully unaware that cockroaches shed their exoskeletons at several points in their lifetimes, but now I have seen direct evidence of this in the chim. And I have the photos to prove it.

I used to mostly recycle my trash, but now I burn it. I still compost my food waste though.

I used to drive a car, but now I walk or ride mini-buses or bike-taxis to get around. 

I used to think it would be cool to move to another country someday, but now I want to live in America forever and just visit other countries.

I used to think I had the best family and friends in the world, but now I *know* I do. I love you guys! Thanks so much for all the letters and packages and emails and phone calls. It means a lot.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Mid-Year Solstice 2015

Happy Solstice everyone!

Today is the longest day of the year for you Northerners above the equator, and the start of summer. In Chisinau, Moldova the sunrise was at 5:09 a.m. and the sunset at 9:03 p.m.

Here in Malawi it is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It's been raining a little the past few days and getting pretty cold, at least for Malawi. (I'm sure Colii would say it is still t-shirt weather.) As there is no insulation or indoor heating, I am wearing lots of layers and drinking plenty of tea.

In Blantyre, Malawi the sunrise was at 6:06 a.m. and the sunset at 5:17 p.m. So  basically I wake up and go to sleep at dark-thirty these days  : )

Monday, June 15, 2015

Scottish Invasion

Yesterday we had some special visitors at my school. A group from our partner school in Scotland spent the day with us.

Scotland and Malawi have a close partnership. There are so many schools and aid organizations from Scotland in Malawi. On my site visit last August I met a Scottish couple in the Boma that was raising funds to build a girls hostile. A couple weeks ago I met three university students from Scotland that were teaching Expressive Arts at the local primary school for six weeks. (Now all their students know the words to that song "And I would walk a thousand miles." A group of kids came up to me and started singing it, and were delighted when I joined in. It was pretty funny.)

Our partner school (which is not affiliated with the PC) is a Catholic high school in Scotland. They provided funds to build a laboratory at my school, provided books and science materials and sent sports equipment like footballs. They also fund a program at my school called Girls Go for Health which provides support for girls to stay in school, including free menstrual pads, tampons and ibuprofen.

We had about 25 visitors from the school, mostly female students. When their bus arrived, it created quite a stir at my school. So many azungus in one place!

First things first-- gotta take snaps. Cameras and photos are universally loved by teenagers, no matter what side of the world they are from.

The visitors observed classes in the morning. In my Form 3 Bio class we were finishing up our unit on Reproduction. The topic was problems of the reproductive system, which include sterility, maternal death and sexually-transmitted infections. Fun topic for a day we are having visitors, right? After my lecture I had the students work in their groups to answer questions about  STIs. The Scottish students assisted them.

After that, classes were suspended for the rest of the day so that everyone could play sports. There was football, netball, races and even volleyball. All equipment was provided by the Scottish partner school.

Below you can see some of the girls playing netball. Netball is like basketball except you don't dribble the ball. Also it is almost exclusively played by females.

In Malawi you always feed your guests, so our visitors were treated to a traditional meal of nsima with ndiwo (side dish). The ndiwo was some kind of local leafy green cooked with tomatoes and onions, maybe rape? I don't eat much nsima now that I cook for myself, so I always enjoy it when I have it. We also had Coca-cola and biscuits (cookies). Yum!

After that it was time for our visitors to be going. It was a really nice day and my students enjoyed spending time with the foreign students.

Fun fact-- did you know that the National Animal of Scotland is the unicorn?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sunday breakfast, just like old times

Something that helps me get by here in Malawi is to focus on what I do have here, instead of what I am missing. So I enjoy the fresh, local tropical fruits like bananas and mangos and guavas, instead of longing for berries and peaches.

But sometimes it is nice to have a little taste of home. Back in the States I used to have a french toast breakfast with eggs and coffee every Sunday morning. It was a tradition that my Mom started in my childhood, when she made pancakes for breakfast every Sunday before we went to church. (FYI - my Mom makes the best pancakes in the world. I can't wait to have some when I go home next year.)

I haven't bothered making pancakes or french toast much here because, let's face it, it just isn't the same without maple syrup. And while we have a lot of crops here, maple trees are not one of them.

But all that changed when I opened my care package from Becca and Brandon this week. The box was filled with some of my favorite things, including... maple syrup!!! This called for a celebration. And what better way to celebrate than to make a pancake breakfast?

 (I know it doesn't look pretty, but it tasted amazing. Trust me.)

Thank you so much! It was a wonderful little taste of home on a Sunday morning : )

Thursday, June 11, 2015

My Second Malawian Graduation

Thursday was the Form 4 Graduation Ceremony at the Secondary School where I teach. It was a fun day of speeches, dancing, food and of course, “snaps” (aka taking photographs). Bonus—this time I didn’t have to make a speech!

The preparations had been going on all week. Classes were mostly suspended, as the undergrads were sweeping, mopping, arranging chairs and cooking in preparation for the event. The Form 4s were mostly busy rehearsing and studying for their upcoming exams. The teachers were busy supervising the students and preparing the programs, awards and food. I was assigned to the Cleaning and Decorating Committee. Which basically consisted of supervising the cleaning done by the students, although I did get to decorate the chalkboard in the staff room with my usual kindergarten artistic flair.

The hall where the ceremony was held was decorated by some Form 3 students with a side decorating business. They did a really nice job. Be sure to check out the decorations in the photos below.

The event was supposed to start at 9:30 a.m., but actually started two hours later. Not too bad for Malawi. Around 11:30 a.m. the Head Teacher, Deputy Head Teacher, school staff, Guest of Honour,
School Management Committee, Parent Teacher Association members, Chiefs, parents and student guests were seated in the hall. Then the music started up and the Form 4 students made their entrance, with a choreographed dance they had been practicing all week. When they reached the entrance way, the Guest of Honour cut the ribbon in the archway and the event officially began.

The empty seats were for the Form 4 students, and were soon filled.

We started off with a prayer, as it is a Catholic School. Then the Master of Ceremonies took us through the ceremony. The order was basically speech, speech, performance, speech, speech, performance. There was an interesting theme to some of the speeches that I will discuss in a separate blog post, as I have lots of thoughts about it. Suffice to say there was lots of thanks and encouragement for the
graduating class and the incoming students.

The performances were prepared by the students. There were dances, a rap, a drama, an acapella gospel song, and two comedy acts. Here is a photo of one of the performances. 

These Form 4 students were dancing to an old Michael Jackson song. And let me tell you, they could really dance. Michael Jackson probably couldn't have done better.

During each performance there was the expected cheers and clapping, but also people came up and tossed money at the performers. And a few candies too. The dances got the most Kwacha.

Then it was time for the “testimonials”, which is when the Head Teacher and the Guest of Honour present the certificates to the students.

The Head Teacher is on the left, and the Guest of Honour in the middle.

After the testimonials, some students were given awards. Some of the categories were Most Punctual, Most Well-Dressed and Most Outstanding Student. Awards consisted of dress shirts for the boys and chitenjes for the girls. Plus they got a cute little canvas bag along with them.

Then we had a closing prayer and the ceremony was over. Which meant it was time for the food!

The teachers and students had been preparing the meal all week. I remember on Monday during a staff meeting I saw a group of students walking by holding squawking chickens by their feet. Then 20 minutes later the students walked back, and the chickens were still. When the meeting was over, the students were plucking and washing the headless
chickens. In Malawi, everyone knows where their meat comes from.

Around 100 people partook of the meal, which included chicken, cabbage and rice with your choice of Coca-Cola and Fanta. It was pretty good, and not just because I hadn’t eaten anything in seven hours. No silverware though—have you ever tried to eat rice with you hands? It's difficult. I should really start carrying a spoon with me again. It comes in handy.

After lunch, it was time for snaps. A few of the students asked me to pose with them, which was sweet.

Around half-three (3:30 pm to us Americans) people started making their way back to the hall for the
disco. Because you can’t have a big event in Malawi without a disco, after
all. I wanted to go, but I also knew that it gets dark around 5:30 pm now,
and it was really cold so I wanted to bathe before it got much later. So I ducked out and headed home. Just in time too—I barely had my dishes washed and my buckets emptied before the sun set.

So that was graduation. But it’s not over for the Form 4 students yet. They begin their national exams on the 17th of June. Their score on the Malawi School Certificate Examination (MSCE) affects whether they can go to a university or technical school, and whether they can get most jobs, so it is really important for their future..

Here’s to the Class of 2015!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Live like a PCV for a Day Challenge

It's June, and that is a special occasion here on the Peace Corps Sisters Blog. In June of 2014 both of us left our family, friends, jobs and homes in the USA to travel across the world and become Peace Corps Volunteers. It's been quite an adventure and we have had fun sharing our experiences with all of you on this blog. So many things have changed for us, like the way we bathe and cook and get around and even the way we speak.

To celebrate, we have decided to offer up a challenge to all of you! During the month of June, we want each of you to live like a PCV for a day. Choose one activity from the list below, and do it for one day. Then let us know (with a comment to this post or an email) about how it went for you.

Live like a PCV for one day during the month of June! Pick one of these activities to do for one day:

  • Take a bucket bath using water that was heated on the stove
  • Treat your drinking water - boil & filter all water before you drink it or brush your teeth with it
  • Use only candles or flashlights after dark
  • Only use water from your outdoor tap for one day
  • Wash all your laundry by hand and dry on a clothesline
  • Pee in a bucket after dark
  • Go without electricity
  • Go without refrigeration
  • Take only public transport and sit next to a stranger
  • Walk to an outdoor market and buy all the vegetables and grains you will eat that day

During your day, why not greet someone in one of our local languages?

  • In Chichewa, you can say "Muli bwanji?" (how are you?).  The typical response is "Ndili bwino" (I'm fine)
  • In Romananian, you can say "Bună ziua" (boona zeewa) which means "Good day".