In the end, it was a great 6 weeks. I came with a mission and an idea of what I was going to do and ended up accomplishing very different things. Such is life. I didn’t end up contributing nearly as much as I would have liked to the work of MaiKhanda and received more than I could ever have imagined, and continue to realize with time, from Malawi. This experience like many others continues to shape me after it is over as my perspective grows and I reflect on my experiences. I met some of the most amazing people in my life in such a short time and friendships for a lifetime began. It turns out the trip was more direction in my life personally than professionally. I learned more about myself than I could have anticipated and it was a beautiful experience. I received confirmation I am on the right path from many sources and I feel blessed.
Last week I celebrated my birthday in Malawi. As I’ve always done, I kept that bit of information to myself. I quietly planned to cook Persian food for a group of friends here without telling anyone and just enjoy myself. I went to the market for vegetables, which, although overwhelming at first, grew on me. I enjoy buying food in an open market and negotiating prices but in Malawi, you are followed around by a number of people shoving something in your face. Unfortunately being white, you are also labeled as rich so from the second you enter any area with sellers, you will be rushed and crowded. It was a great day; I cooked a few dishes and had several people over helping to cook. It turned out a little birdie © from America cleverly got in touch with Rachael to let the secret out about my birthday so at the end of dinner I was surprised with a birthday cake! It is quite rare that I am surprised, not so much for lack of effort, but more because I am annoyingly perceptive at times so it’s hard to keep a secret from me. Thanks to everyone who came and plotted for me.
Rachael and I left for the south on a mission to see as much as possible in a few days. Our first major stop was Zomba, the old capital. Not much of a city but beautiful sights including a large elevated plateau from which you could see the city below as well as a dam creating a large reservoir up in the mountain. We stopped for a picnic in a secret spot, one not well known to tourists but word gets around the Peace Corps (and that’s not the only thing that gets around, hey-oh!). There was thick mist sweeping across the surface of the reservoir as we sat on the edge of a small peninsula under a thatch hut enjoying our delicious fresh, local veggies and fruit. The mist cleared just long enough for us to see the waterfall and snap some pictures. We continued up the mountain to reach the hotel perched at the highest point. It was quite a spot to stay but out of our price range, although not terribly expensive. We goofed around the property, negotiated some great prices for some curios (souvenirs) and were back on the road south, but not before talking a walk around a beautiful botanical garden at the base of the plateau. I’ve loved hearing the Malawians sing during this trip at various points and during our walk around the dreamy gardens we ran into several people assembled in a small clearing singing. The sound was great and I could hear some hallelujahs mixed in.
Well the last 2 weeks just flew by and I was all over Malawi so I’ll do my best to recall my adventures here.
I’ve noticed how hard it is to come to Malawi and “help”. I’ve talked about how the project didn’t work out because of all the bureaucracy but it seems to pervade many areas and it’s ingrained in the culture. Even trying to facilitate a monetary donation from the States to purchase medical equipment here is not met with much excitement. In fact, responses to my questions on how to complete such a transaction have been very slow. It surprises me that even when offering cash does not ignite any motivation. I don’t know if they don’t see it the way I do, in that there are people dying every day because of simple deficits that even a small donation could go a long way in filling. It’s strange to me but brings me back to wondering about if they really want the help of outsiders. Is it pride? It sure seems so in the case of the current president who has gone to great lengths to put his country in a much worse position and cut ties to governments who had been offering a great deal of help. Traveling around, I can’t help but wonder where this incredible poverty in the statistics is, I just haven’t seen the degree of what I was expecting. In a country with the highest child HIV infection rates, where are they? I’ve been told they are only in certain areas, one I have not seen. In the cities and in the villages, I’ve been met with great kindness and smiles. I haven’t seen the degree of malnutrition I was expecting either. However, this is an area where the solution already exists inside the country.
Hey everyone, if you are able to please donate to my friend Rachael's summer camp fundraising through her Peace Corps Donation Site.
Also, the organization I am volunteering for, MaiKhanda, is in need of the following supplies if you happen to come across any of it please let me know to arrange shipment or a monetary donation:
Last week was slow in terms of work, still working on arrangements for site visits, but the rest of my time here looks like it will be packed with traveling. So by the time Thursday rolled around and my new Bestie, Rachael, invited me to her village for the weekend, I didn’t hesitate to back my bags and head off. We took public transportation (minibuses here are about the size of vans back home and just cram people, standing and sitting) from Lilongwe North for about 30 minutes until we were on a highway. From there we hitched a ride the rest of the way North on the paved highway. It’s very common to hitch rides here since minibuses are not reliable or on a schedule and for asungus (foreigners) living here as volunteers it’s just not in the budget to do otherwise. Rachael tells me her average wait time is about 10 minutes to be picked up and it’s generally safe to do so. We weren’t having much luck after 15 minutes so I decided to step back and leave her to herself. As soon as I stepped away someone stopped and we had a ride! The gentleman was a local post-doc commuting for work and dropped us about another hour North where we needed to head west on dirt roads. We took a 45-minute minibus ride West to the first main village where there was electricity and impressive school buildings. There were two other peace corps volunteers stationed here as teachers but Rachael’s village was another 30 minute bicycle ride deeper west. She leaves her bicycle at her friend’s house in the first village when she heads to town. I borrowed a bicycle and was quickly reminded how long it has been since I’ve been on one. It was not an easy road navigating the uneven surface, cows, goats, and children but we made it, Rachael not phased at all, and me, well, I was soaked through with sweat.