Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How I Know My Dog Is Malawian (story time)

At last, the long anticipated story post about everyone’s favorite Malawian, my dog, Patti Mayonnaise. Once upon a time, I was a newly sworn in Peace Corps Volunteer, dealing with the typical loneliness that sets in during our first few months at site. It wasn’t that bad, but adjusting definitely played a part in my heart when I saw a few little puppies roaming around my health center one day. I was sitting around with the nurse when I was the TINIEST puppies roaming around, staying close to their mama. They were so small!!! And of course, as what I am finding to be typically American, my response was ‘OH MY GAH PUPPIES!!!!’ My nurse asked if I liked them, and I said ‘OF COURSE!!!’, to which she responded that they were hers, and I could have one. YEAY!! They were so small so I knew I had to wait for awhile, but I was very exciting, anticipating the eventual arrival of the puppy to Casa de Renee.

My nurse went on vacation, but the puppies stayed around. Only a little time passed when I realized that the puppies’ mom was no longer anywhere to be seen. I brought this up to Laston (my now counterpart) and he suggested that yes, maybe I should take the puppy now, because no one had any food to feed it. That morning he said “Today, we capture the puppy.” I wasn’t totally psyched by the use of the word ‘capture’, but oh well. I went home, got a scrap piece of chitenje (fabric) to carry the puppy home in. My counterpart did indeed capture the puppy, and the puppy squealed as she wasn’t totally into humans (or being capture), and he put her in my chitenje covered arms and I carried her home.

I was mildly prepared in that I shelled out some extra dough to buy real dog food, hoping this would be the lure to keep the puppy at my house. This did not initially work, as I put the puppy down, she ignored the food, and immediately proceeded out the back door to escape. I caught her before she escaped thru my holey fence, and she cried which made me sad. ‘Why doesn’t she like me??’ I wondered. I liked her already, but probably only because she was a puppy. Puppies are so cute!! Anyway, I then decided to keep her inside the house with the door shut, taking whatever pee or poop came with it, until she was ready to commit to me.

The puppy never touched the food that night, which of course extremely offended my puppy sensitive heart. Eventually I was cooking dinner outside and came in to eat, and subsequently forgot to close the door. By the time I realized, the puppy was gone. The sun was setting, and she was so small I knew it would be hard to look for her. Also, it seemed like she didn’t like me (again, I was being extremely sensitive), so I decided to let her go. Not long after a neighbor came to my door and said ‘is that your puppy?’ pointing not too far in front of my house, where the puppy was snooping around. I said yes, and that it would probably come back for food, and I wasn’t worried. Of course, I was completely frontin’ and extremely worried, but I figured maybe she’d come back, so oh well.

I texted my friends who had been in touch with me about how the first day with the pup was going, and I said “the puppy ran away. I will wait to find a puppy who wants to live with me’. Seriously, Renee? I know, but I was hurt. I mean, the puppy was soooo cute!!!! When it got dark that night, there was a knock at my door- extremely strange, since no one ever knocks on my door (the Malawian way of getting the attention of someone inside a house is to say ‘Odi!!!’), but I answered and a group of kids were standing on my porch (also strange, few people come up the stairs to my porch). The big kid in the group said ‘Dog.’ And pointed at the pup, who was leaning against my house, looking sad, and as if she had run out of choices (she had, of course). I said thanks, picked up the puppy, and brought her inside.

I decided to keep her inside that night, and I cracked the back door just enough so she could slip out to pee if she wanted. Instead, while I was in bed, I heard her squeak- I got up and went to my living room, where I discovered she peed under my bike (where she was still hiding from me). I finally decided to stand up for myself, and put the puppy outside on the chitenje that I had carried her home in. If she stuck around, she stuck around. And so began me and Patti’s life together.

Patti was actually named on that first dramatic day- via text. I had been thinking of puppy names for a few days before getting the puppy, and I was planning on sticking with the Angelo family tradition of having pets with B names. I was planning on naming her ‘Bwana’, which in Chitumbuka means ‘boss’. My thinking was that if people called me a bwana (which many Malawians often call white people because they believe us to be rich) I could be like ‘No, I’m not a bwana, that’s Bwana’. I thought this was extremely punny. But I couldn’t commit, and then the idea struck me- one of my best pals, Stacey, had gotten a puppy the first week she moved to site. His name was Doug, which I just think is one of the best possible names for a dog ever. That’s when I realized… Doug… loves… PATTI MAYONNAISE!!! I texted Stacey about my brilliant idea, to which she enthusiastically agreed about its awesomeness, and then I proceeded to text my friends about my puppy’s clever name. Go me.

Anyway, as you know, and as I have told many of you, Patti is the best. We live a very happy life together, and although I think she should really get a job if she wants to eat fish all the time, things are going extremely well. Yes, I love my dog, and this leads many people to ask me if I am bringing Patti back to the USA. My answer (and my plan has always been) NO. ‘Why?’ you might ask. Or, ‘it’s clear you love her so much, how could you leave her?’ you might say. To which I say, I can’t take Patti to the USA because she is a Malawian, and she will never be as happy as she could possibly be here in Malawi. And below, are the following reasons why Patti the puppy is a Malawian (raised by an American, me).

Kubopa- is the verb that describes how women tie babies to their backs. When it was my birthday, only a month after getting Patti, I was travelling to meet friends in Nkhata Bay to celebrate, but I didn’t want to leave Patti behind. She was so small… and therefore, quite easy to tie to me with a chitenje. I was travelling to Nkhata bay with my friend Jay, who helped tie Patti to me that morning. It wasn’t that easy, but we got it done- and as we left my house, we prepared for what would sure be a lot of attention being thrown at us. And that is exactly what happened. As it turns out, bopa-ing a puppy is not that common, and also,totally hilarious. During our long journey from my place to Mzuzu and then to Nkhata Bay, people were constantly pointing out that indeed, there was a puppy tied to me. My favorite thing that I heard repeatedly that day (in Chitumbuka) was “That is not a baby. That is a dog”. So insightful. Anyway, like any true Malawian baby, Patti was a champ. She rode in two matolas on her way to Nkhata Bay, and two minibuses on her way home, without complaint. Actually let’s be real, she complained even less than a Malawian baby, because she never cried once. Way to go Patti, the best behaved Malawian baby around.

As you know, it gets very very hot here in Mlowe during hot season (and other times throughout the year of course). This past hot season, when I was slowly [unintentionally] progressing into serious heat exhaustion, Patti pretty much never ever moved. The pup who used to follow me everywhere, all over our catchment area, never left the house, the yard, nothing. And whenever I was in the house with her, she was napping (and panting). This is not so different from how many of the people of my village react to hot season as well- taking a near constant break from any activity. And let’s be real, I probably should have been taking more breaks from activity, instead of continuing to be active and contributing to my severe dehydration. So clearly, Patti’s got it right, the Malawian way- hot season, take a break. Now that rainy season has begun, Patti is in tune with the people of Mlowe yet again. It rained all night last night and into the late morning. Patti spent the night and morning in her bed (I left the backdoor open last night; I’m not so cruel that she needs to be stuck in the rain). But I mean seriously, she never ever moved. And my little ‘hood (as I like to call it) didn’t move or make a sound as well. It was amazing (and extremely Malawian). I however, began to get restless (and the book I was reading began to get less interesting) so I indulged the American in me, waiting until the rain wasn’t SO terrible, and headed to the health center. Patti stayed home. Just one of our many cultural differences.

Shade is hard to come by here in Mlowe, mostly due to deforestation (gotta make room for cassava planting) and well, I don’t know why, but there’s just not that many trees. The few trees that are around (mango trees! Hella!) are all surrounded by houses. It’s just the Malawian sensibility to have your house near a mango tree- I mean, you gotta sit under something that provides shade, or else... or else you wouldn’t be Malawian. As I previously said, Patti wasn’t moving during hot season, but now that it’s cooled down just a bit, she is back to following me on my journeys. When I make my walks around the village, there is no shade for me to hide under basically- maybe some straggling trees on the side of the road or some bushes. But Patti, as she follows, makes sure she hits every spot of shade created by trees, bushes, buildings, etc. She will speed up to hit the shadey spots, wait for me, etc. It is a very serious effort on her part, and a very Malawian trait of hers. Here’s a picture of Patti sitting on the porch of a stranger’s house as I was walking (in that great hot African sun) home from school. You can barely see her because she went so far off the road to get to that shade. Oh Patti.

I believe I have discussed sima before- the staple of Malawian food, a mush patty? Dende, which I think translates to something like 'relish', doesn't really mean relish, in America terms it means more like a side, usually greens. Anyway, one time when I was away, I guess Patti's food ran out (I believe she is putting in a concerted effort for me to go broke feeding her) so my neighbor made her some sima. But apparently, Patti would not take just the sima. She would not eat sima without some dende. Just like any good Malawian.

Usipa, are these tiny tiny fish that are usually served with sima after being dried in the sun. I haven't met many PCVs who are fans of usipa... but it is very popular with the Malawians, and of course, the Patti.

Okay, these are just a few reasons as to why Patti is Malawian, and believe me, there are numerous more. And maybe you still think I should bring Patti home, but you gotta trust me- Patti is better off here. She lives life without a leash, can come and go as she pleases, has lots of people who know her and care about her well being, and of course, she gets to chase chickens and goats all day. What more could a dog want?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Catching Up + Story Time

It has been a long, long time. Please trust that I definite plans to update long before now, but have been thwarted for various reasons. I’m sure a lot of you heard that I recently fell ill. I decided to spend my hot season by spending 6 straight weeks at my site… which is a hot site already as it is the lakeshore after all. I was getting busy walking to school 5 days a week (a 40 minute walk one way) and following my counterpart just about everywhere- meetings with my youth network, etc. Well, sweating away a few pounds, I started to not feel well, and then never started to feel better... so I had to get down to the Peace Corps Office in Lilongwe to see our doctor, the brave Dr. Max. Turns out I had some heat exhaustion and dehydration- got 3 bags of IV, and got to rest in the capital for several days. It definitely made me feel better. On my way home I got to visit my friend Willie's site, Nchenachena, and it was extremely beautiful!! Maybe almost as beautiful as mine (he has no lake, but he is in the mountain and valleys and things so it's pretty nice). It was nice to see another Peace Corps site, and was a good transition to getting back to my own site.

My paternal grandmother passed away while I was sick in Lilongwe. It was hard because my maternal grandmother just passed away two months before this. Somehow, I was lucky enough to be with friends both times that these things have happened. I had wonderful support from the Peace Corps Office and my Peace Corps friends, and I was in touch with my family as best as possible. It's hard not to be there for them when I know they are hurting, and I'm hurting too. I love you family, miss you so much. Wish I could have been there with you guys.

Anyway. Things at my site are going well. It's almost the end of the school term, so me and the kids have a lot of work to do to wrap up and prepare for exams. All of my other projects are in progress, more details coming (as they get more interesting to write about). I'm going to be a counselor at an upcoming girls' camp during school break, exciting! One thing that is also coming up soon that I am excited about is World AIDS Day, which is December 1st! My health center and one of our CBO's (Community Based Organization) is cohosting a little celebration. We are luring people to our celebration by the promise of a chance to win a FOOTBALL (soccer ball) if you get an HIV test! This is quite the pull for the local youngin's, and basically anything really, because a good football is hard to come by. So, if you come to our celebration, and get your confidential HIV test, you get a raffle ticket to win. In addition to testing, we're going to have different informational sessions for people to learn more about HIV and how to support their friends who are positive, or help their friends make healthy choices. There will hopefully be a lot of learning and positive discussion going on- and even if there's only a little it will be an improvement, as HIV/AIDS is still a very quietly discussed subject in my area. It's my dream that at least 100 people get tested... wish us luck!

Now I'd like to introduce a little "story time" segment that I wrote awhile ago- it's about transport in Malawi. Future story time topics will include "How I Know My Dog Is Malawian", etc. So enjoy! (and check out my updated wishlist! love you guys!)

I should be clear before beginning, that I don’t like any form of transportation in ANY country. I hate driving, I’d always rather tag along in someone else’s car. I do not like trains. I don’t enjoy the time spent on planes, I find them wildly uncomfortable. When I was volunteering in DC and had the ride the metro for a half hour each way once a week, it was okay I guess, but also quite expensive. When I lived in my apartment in St. Mary’s I used to ride my bike to the grocery store sometimes, which I enjoyed, however many people looked at me like I was crazy (I’m going to assume they were jealous of the extremely large basket on the back of my bike). So yeah. I don’t like transportation. I like to walk! I really like walking. Maybe one day I will walk a marathon.

Back to business. Transportation overall in Malawi is not the best, to put it lightly. There are few privately owned vehicles, and they are owned by Malawian bwanas (bwana means boss, and when said it means rich person). Occasionally a Malawian bwana will pick you up, which is nice, but it’s not a way to rely on for getting around the country. Many of the NGO’s and other national organizations (i.e. the Peace Corps) have white Toyota jeepy like things… they go really fast, and you’ll be lucky if one can pick one up. Otherwise maybe you can catch a ride on a big rig. They go slower than some other transportation, but they rarely stop and go long distances if you’re trying to get somewhere far. I haven’t had much luck trying to get sweet rides like this, but it happens every now and then. Many volunteers depend on these kind of transport because of the hassles of public transportation.

Most transportation in Malawi is public- in the form of minibuses (large vans with rows of seats), matolas (open air flatbed trucks), and big buses (like greyhounds… but generally not as nice). The big buses are the cheapest generally, but unless you’re leaving from their start destination, it’s hard to guess when they might be arriving near you. They are often overloaded with people (a common theme in Malawian transporation). I was riding from Mzuzu to my friend Robert’s house in Nkhata Bay and I got on the bus an hour before it left and I still had to stand. However, a nice Malawian who saw me falling asleep while standing up gave me his seat. I like that the buses are cheap and generally, don’t stop as much as other forms of transportation. When I went to IST, I took one of the bwana big buses (the nicer big bus… more expensive ticket) and the bus actually left at the time it said it would, the seats were comfortable (I had a seat!!), and there was a TV on the bus playing music videos; and it was about time for me to catch up on my American 1980’s music videos, and my Malawian music videos as well. We stopped very few times and it was an enjoyable ride. If I was going to travel alone a long distance, I would shell out the dough for the bwana bus.

Next, we have matolas. Nothing about matolas seems official- there’s no notion that it’s a taxi service or anything of that nature. There’s two people working the matola- the driver, and a ‘conductor’ who sits in the back with us laypeople, collecting money. I find that many people who work on matolas (and minibuses) aren’t the friendliest, but hey, we gotta get around somehow. Many volunteer prefer matolas because it is an open air situation, and it’s better than being crammed in a hot minibus. I have had both positive and negative matola experiences. I do appreciate the open air experience of the matola and getting to see the beautiful view of Malawi. However, I have also been extremely crammed with tons of people and their kuthundu (kuthundu means stuff… could be anything, but especially near me, it often means USIPA… giant baskets loaded with these tiny little fish… nice and smelly), weighing down the matola so you can barely hit a good speed. I would say matolas are often most likely to be in the worst shape, and to stop the most along the road. I’ve tried to make the point to different matola drivers that people would pay more for a more enjoyable ride with less stops (at least I would anyway) but that idea hasn’t seemed to have gotten across yet. For me to get out of my village and to the tarmac road (the M1, which can get me almost anywhere), it is almost exclusively matolas. The road in my village isn’t the best for a matola ride, but the view is the best in the country, I guarantee it!

Last but not least, we have the minibuses. Many volunteers vow never to ride minibuses. I do, because once I’m on the tarmac road I like to get somewhere, and often a minibus is the first thing that arrives. A minibus is the equivalent of what we would have called a bush taxi in The Gambia. Minibuses are often extremely overcrowded, depending where you are- I heard from someone who lived down south that they actually enforce only letting a certain amount of people on a minibus. I’ll believe this when I see it, I honestly hope it’s true. But near me, it’s usually myself and what feels like a million other people, and again, all of their kuthundu, crammed on a minibus. It’d be hard to travel in Malawi if you had serious personal space issues. Every possible space on the bus is taken up by people or kuthundu, and we’re going beyond the seats here. Empty space is lost money, and as much as I appreciate this savvy business idea, again, I would pay more to be more comfortable. Minibuses also stop a lot, which is probably one of the most annoying things about transport, cuz once you’re finally in it, you just wanna get to where you’re going!! When Patti came with to my birthday, on our way home from Mzuzu we took a minibus, and I felt like a jerk taking up space with my puppy, since Malawians don’t all love dogs as much as we Americans generally do. But then a few months after that, I was on a minibus sitting next to a Malawian who was holding a puppy! So, I know that I must be fitting in pretty well at least.

Another thing I should address- I live at the bottom of THE escarpment. Emphasis on THE, because that is how we describe it, as if it’s the only one (it’s not). I don’t think I had even heard of the word escarpment before coming here, but what it basically means to me here is that I live at the bottom of a mountain, and the windy scary road that goes down it. We volunteers feel very divided by this escarpment, constantly trying to lure our friends to what we believe is the cool side of the escarpment (and it is cooler on our side, because we’re there and so is the northern lakeshore of Malawi). But our many rejected invitations can be understood, because the escarpment road is probably one of the most frightening roads I’ve ever been on. It is incredibly steep, and WINDY. And when you’re in a packed minibus, trying to chug your way up the steepest hill ever, sometimes you just think that you might not make it. Going up the escarpment is scary cuz it puts a lot of stress on whatever vehicle in to chug up it. Going DOWN the escarpment is probably equally if not a little more scary, as your driver has to ride the brake the whole time and the windy-ness is known to make people sick. On that same minibus where I was sitting next to the Malawian with the puppy, several people on my bus got sick. I was sitting in the back and there was a lot of noisy commotion, when the man next to me said “People are vomiting!” and laughed. That’s when I noticed that people had their heads out the windows. Lovely! One of the coolest things about the escarpment that is that you are almost always guaranteed to see baboons on the side of the road, and since many people won’t see baboons outside a zoo in their lifetime… then yeah, it’s pretty cool. Also, if you’re not too scared to keep your eyes open, the view of the lake is amazing!

As I previously mentioned, the rides to get out of my village are almost exclusively matolas. Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason to finding a ride out at whatever time you’re wishing to leave. After 5 months or so of living in Mlowe, I would say it’s probably easiest to leave early in the morning… but sometimes you still might end up waiting for awhile for a ride. Leaving any other time of the day is a gamble, and I have on occasion walked the 10 kilometers to the tarmac when transport was not available. I would say the hardest transport day is Sunday, and I try not to take too many chances on that day since I’m not trying to make a habit of walking 10 kilometers in the heat with all of my kuthundu. But at the same time, as I try to make all these notions on how easy or hard it is to get transport out of Mlowe, anything can happen. Sometimes I’ll be waiting for just 10 minutes and find a ride, and other times upwards of two hours. 10K is not that far, but it’s not a paved road, and… it’s hot people! It’s hot! The ride cost 200kwacha, which is about $1. Many of the drivers know me now and they will drop me right by the turn off to my house w/o my saying anything, which is pretty nice. I would say getting into Mlowe is much more annoying than getting out, because you have to wait for your matola to fill up (and then overfill, and then some) and the time it takes for that to happen is long and arbitrary. Few times I’ve lucked out and arrived at Chiweta (the point on the tarmac where you get onto Mlowe road) with a full matola ready to leave, and those days are great moments in time. But we can’t always be so lucky! But again, it’s all not SO bad.

One of my favorite things about travelling though is STREET FOOD! I have been a fan of street food since my time in The Gambia, where my friend Mike and I used to go to the market every Sunday evening to walk thru the market and buy our dinner bit by bit. We also would often by frozen juices thru the windows of our bush taxis while travelling (I miss wonjo juice!). Here in Malawi, whenever your bus makes a stop near a trading center, people are at your windows trying to sell you food! For cheap! My absolute favorite thing to buy on the road is hardboiled eggs! I can never get eggs in Mlowe, so to be able to buy an egg (or 2 or 3) from the side of the road, with my own little packet of salt is greatly appreciated. I also love the boiled maize, which is only 20kwacha! And it’s delicious! Chippies (French fries basically) are a PCV staple, but some chippies stands are better than others. Sometimes you get a little salad of cabbage and tomato with your chippies, which is sweet. Mendazi (fried dough) and scones (not actually scones, more like… a biscuit? Or a roll?) are classic and cheap cheap. Samosas are one of the best finds- it is rolled out dough that is wrapped around something delicious and fried. If you’re lucky, you can find a meat one (gotta get that protein!) which cost 50kwacha, and other vegetarian versions (maybe filled with rice or potatoes) for 10kwacha. We know that anything fried is delicious, and I like to buy my fried things while sitting in a vehicle, thru a window. The number one road food for hot season is MAFREEZIES!; Which is frozen juice or soda in little baggies. How refreshing! And at big trading centers you can buy even more- bags of potato chips, rolls of cookies, FRIED CHICKEN, all types of things. I always try to indulge on the road, it’s the cheapest way to eat! Although the first thing anyone in a position of authority will tell you when travelling is to NOT eat street food, I have to disagree. Get out there and try something! You just have to be open to having some GI difficulties every now and then. Bring some Tums! I’m lucky that I’m pretty sure I have a stomach of steel and have had probably the least amount of GI problems than other other volunteer I know in country. Lucky me!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

IST, and on to home!

Greetings friends and family! I am still on my way home from In-Service Training (IST). After training I decided to travel with my best friend Kathi, who lives in Dwambazi, in north Nkhotakota district. Kathi lives and works at Dwambazi Rural Hospital, which is a bit different than the health center I work at. Her catchment area is much larger, and they have more staff (both curative and community medical workers) to cover so many people. And they speak Chitonga! Luckily, most people around have been able to appreciate my Chitumbuka. Kathi has been a wonderful host, and it’s nice to finally visit a volunteer in my group’s site to see what everyone is up to.

I just spent 2 weeks in Dedza at the College of Forestry, which is where Peace Corps hosts all the trainings volunteers go thru- pre-service training, in-service training, etc. It was nice to see the old stomping grounds again. For the first week of training, both the environment group and health group were there (all 43 of us!) and it was wonderful to see everyone again. We are lucky that we are such a friendly and fun group and all really get along. It was awesome to hear what everyone was up to; Malawi varies so much by location! I can’t wait to see more of the country when I am able to travel some more.

During the big group first week, we had some basic sessions with office staff about general Peace Corps issues- administrative, safety & security, medical, etc. I am proud to say that I am an alternate warden for the northern region of Malawi- that means myself, the other alternate wardens, and the head warden, will be taking the lead should the volunteers need to consolidate for safety and security reasons. Of course, I hope that never happens, but you never know. We also spent 3 days of that first week with all HIV/AIDS sessions lead by our PEPFAR Coordinator, the incredibly inspiring Irene! Irene was a PCV in Lesotho (where my friend Mike is currently serving) and did Peace Corps Response in Malawi. She is now the liason for PEPFAR funding in Peace Corps Malawi, and for Peace Corps Response Malawi. Irene is the bomb, and incredibly supportive of volunteer’s works. We got the extensive training we needed on how to deal with HIV/AIDS in our communities, and many many guides and resources to help us along the way.

During that first week of training, I heard from home that my grandmother, Concetta Ursini, had passed away. It was sudden news, and extremely hard to be away from my family at that time. I was lucky in that I was with everyone I knew best in Peace Corps Malawi- my amazing group of 43. The night I heard the news, we went to our local watering hole, Ed’s, to toast my grandmother’s memory. It was a really special night filled with an outpouring of support from all of my fellow volunteers. I just want to say to them how much I appreciate the being there for me, and I know everyone at home is looking out for my family as well. I love you all!

The Sunday we spent at training we were able to go visit the families we lived with for the 5 weeks of homestay. I have to say it was really emotional! As my village crew was driving to Mkonkera we were pretty quiet, unsure what emotions would hit us when we saw our families again. When the Peace Corps vehicle dropped us off, people finally heard the word that we were in town and they came running into the street! I saw my agogo (grandmother) running towards me with my baby brother Haroldie!! I gave then a great big hug when I saw my amayi (mama) running towards with me with her beautiful smile!! They escorted me back home, where I saw my bambo (father) and we sat and had a Fanta and biscuits. Haroldie was a little hesitant with me, having not seen me in so long, but he was pretty willing to share biscuits with me. I really loved my homestay family, they are a beautiful family and I am grateful to having been able to spend my homestay experience with them. Sadly we didn’t have too long to spend with them, but for good measure, and in true Dedza style, my amayi sent me off with a sack of potatoes. Love them!

Eventually, the environment group headed home, and our counterparts came for their week of training with us. My poor counterpart, who had one of the longest distances to travel to training, had a rough time getting there- his bus from Mzuzu to Dedza broke down several times along the way, but luckily he was able to arrive by 7:30pm that night. A late hot meal (and ice cream!) was hopefully enough to soothe the troubles that is transportation around Malawi.

The week of training with the counterparts was very inspiring. We all did presentations on our sites, and it was great to see what everyone and their counterparts are up to at their respective sites. All of the counterparts were incredibly engaged, and brought new perspectives to our hopes for our sites. We definitely learned how to utilize our counterpart-volunteer relationship to the greatest benefit of our communities. One of the most important things we learned about were Income Generating Activities (IGA) that we hope to implement in our villages. IGAs often fund Community Based Organizations (CBO), HIV/AIDS support groups (PLWHA), youth groups, etc. We learned how to make soap, peanut butter, healthy biscuits, and more. We also had a session on beekeeping! Apparently, my site is a good place for beekeeping, so I will be looking towards the experts in my area to help start beekeeping in Mlowe. I am hoping that many community groups in my areas will be willing to receive training in IGAs and put their profits to great use. My counterpart definitely benefitted a lot from training, and I am really excited to get to work for these next 19 months in Mlowe with Laston.

Things are going great and I am really happy here. I have tons and tons of work to do, and I am so happy to have the opportunity to live and work in Mlowe! I believe my trip to America may be scheduled around the very end of April/beginning of May… so fear not, you will see me soon enough and for a few weeks at that!

Oh yes, and I wanted to brag about some amazing cooking that Kathi and I did when I visited her site (you probably saw the pictures on facebook, but I’m going to brag anyway). One night we made PIEROGIES!!! We stuffed our pierogies with mashed potatoes, cooked greens and boiled carrots- we fried a few for an appetizer, and then boiled the rest- which we topped with an Italian seasoned tomato sauce. It was amazing!!! Kathi is the dough expert, and now I am an expert by association, and I will soon be wrapping all my meals in dough, just because it’s damn delicious. Another night we made tacos!! Homemade tortillas, green beans, zucchini, onions, pepper, and taco seasoned mince soya/tomato as the meat!! It was flipping delicious!!! Of course we miss tacos with ALL the fixin’s- guacamole (avocadoes are out of season), sour cream, cheese… but they were pretty damn good. I’m hoping to become more adventurous with my cooking, even though the selection of food in my village is limited. I loved cooking in America and it’s time to translate that love to my charcoal stove here in Malawi!

P.S. I reorganized my wishlist- I’ve been meaning to for awhile, and now it is much more organized for your viewing and carepackage sending pleasure.

P.P.S. I believe I mentioned this in my previous post, but does anyone have any contacts with a t-shirt screening company looking to “give back” to benefit the works of GAD Malawi? Please let me know!!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On the Way to IST

Greetings! I am spending the night in Mzuzu on my way to IST in Dedza. I get to catch a 7am bus for a 6 hour ride (at least) to Dedza tomorrow... I'm glad at the end of the road will be many familiar faces, free food, and many new things.

We have a new Peace Corps Response volunteer (the mini-Peace Corps you can do after you complete regular Peace Corps) that lives in Mzuzu, and she was a volunteer in The Gambia- and we definitely knew each other there! We just had lunch and its great to have a friend who experienced the specialness that is The Gambia around. Especially that lives in Mzuzu, since I am here about once a month. It will be exciting to continue to hang out and reminisce.

Things at site have been going well. I feel like there is so much to do and so much I need to do, which of course is a good thing, and is why I'm there. However, it is a lot of work that I can't do all on my own, and I'm trying to find the right people (and the motivation on all of our parts) to get to work. But my counterpart is great, and I know we will both get a lot out of IST and will help us focus on how to go about addressing everything we need to.

I start teaching Life Skills at the local CDSS when I am home from IST. Unfortunately the old Life Skills teacher got transferred and hasn't been replaced, so there is only me- and unfortunately again, I don't have enough time to teach more than two classes, so I am only able to teach Form 3 and Form 4. However, I'm hoping this will be an opportunity for me to train some Peer Educators, so at least they will be a resource to the Form 1 and Form 2 students.

The East Rumphi Youth Network is still in the beginning stages, but it looks like my old youth group in America wants to be a counterpart to the youth network here. This is really really exciting, and could be a lifetime lasting relationship between kids in Malawi and the USA. It's exciting to be apart of it all!

Hopefully we're going to be hosting a GAD meeting at IST, to reflect on GAD camp, discuss new ideas, talk about going national (we're currently based in the north), and of course, money money money. I'll let you know how it goes! Also- do any of you Americans out there know a t-shirt screening company that would be willing to donate some t-shirts to our GAD committee? If you do, please get in touch with me via facebook message or email!

Patti recently received a pink collar and bejeweled name tag in the mail from my family. Needless to say, she's the hottest pup in town. She is truly too cool- I'm almost concerned about the crowd she is running with, she's been coming home late, haha. Patti is doing great and I miss her already, and she will be excited when I finally get back home in a few weeks. Thank you family for the amazing packages!! I don't want to reveal how quickly I ate all the m&m's... also this is the best watch I have ever owned, THANK YOU!!

Hope everyone is doing well. Just a reminder to please send all mail to my address in Mlowe, since I am basically never in Lilongwe-
Renee Angelo, PCV
P.O. Box 2
Mlowe, Rumphi, Malawi

Keep in touch!! Love you all!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Just Checking In

Hey everyone! I unfortunately didn't prepare a blog this time around as I had other work emails and things I needed to do, but everything is still going well and I will post a blog on my way to IST in two weeks.

My wishlist is now actually on my page- for whatever reason I was editing it but it wasn't publishing to my page, but it is there now!! So thank you in advance :)

Love you all!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Day In The Life...

Greetings friends & family! I have to give a shout out to everyone whom I’ve received mail and packages from recently- (letters) Gina, The Beckers, Ben, Nard Dog, James, Ryan, and (packages) the Kings, the Dorrs, and my family! (and thanks to my sister Kara for the amazing birthday presents!) You guys have no idea how exciting it is to go to the post office and there actually be something there waiting for me. I feel like every time I’m just as surprised as the previous time that stuff actually shows up. The postal system is amazing, and I’m pretty sure just about everything everyone has sent has actually reached me. I feel like packages always show up at the best time- i.e. when I’m sooooo tired of cooking or happen to be very hungry at the moment I open a package and there are oreos inside, haha. Patti seems to be receiving just as many presents as me... she is making such a good impression on all you guys, and unfortunately, you guys will probably never meet her. Do not worry though- she appreciates the presents just as much as me. She has no idea how lucky she is!

So I’m totally ripping this blog post idea off of my best friend Kathi, who did a little “average day in the life” post, so… here is what I might do on an average day.

I get out of bed by 6am, I often wake up before then and maybe read or surf facebook on my phone before getting up. I get out of bed, open all my windows (they’re closed at night to keep out mosquitoes… and robbers). I open my back door to go to my chimbudzi (local toilet), and Patti (anxiously waiting for me to feed her) sits outside my chimbudzi waiting. I grab a big handful of usipa (these tiny fish dried in the sun, they are the main staple of protein here in Mlowe… I’m not a big fan, but Patti loves them) and put them in Patti’s bowl out back. Then I eat breakfast- if I’m lucky, I made a boiled egg the night before to eat, or I have hot water in my thermos to make oats if I have them. Otherwise I may eat something from a package (thank you everyone who has ever sent me granola bars!!). I don’t drink coffee or anything, so I feel no need to make a fire in the morning.

So yeah, I eat my breakfast, read a little bit, and I get to my health center by 7:30am. My health center is funded/run by the CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) so we do prayers and hymns every morning. After prayers, I do whatever the HSA’s (Health Survelliance Assistants) are doing- which could be an outreach growth monitoring clinic (where we weigh children under 5years to monitor malnutrition) or it might be a day where people come for the Supplementary Feeding Program, or an immunization campaign. If nothing particular is going on, I talk with the HSA’s talk about what’s going on in the village, health issues, etc. I’m lucky that my HSA’s are pretty awesome, and we share a lot of information with each other. I ask about Malawi, and they ask about America- it’s an equal exchange (and directly address the 2nd and 3rd goal of the Peace Corps, woot woot). I should note that Patti is present for all of this- she follows me to the hospital to play with all the dogs that live here, and everyone knows her, she is very famous.

At noon everyone goes home for lunch, so I head home. Give Patti some more usipa. If I’ve planned well, I have some leftovers from dinner the night before- which I may have eaten for breakfast- if so, then I eat breakfast food (eggs, oats, granola bar) for lunch. I’ve always felt that food has no certain time of day, its just food, it’s for whenever you’re hungry. Oh, sometimes I make a salad as well (which is often just tomatoes, but hey, its salad like). I often take a nap after lunch, or just lay in bed and read for a while, because it’s really really hot at this time and nobody is doing anything anyway, so I’m not missing out. After that, I take care of my chores for the day- picking up some tomatoes for dinner, doing dishes or laundry or bathing in the river, stop at the post office, chatting with people all along the way (and Patti following).

Late afternoon/early evening (4:30-5) I start to light my (new!) bawula, which is a charcoal stove. You put charcoal in the top and start a fire underneath until the charcoal gets hot- it takes awhile, but it stays hot for a really long time, so I can do a bunch of cooking in a row. I’ll probably make myself some rice and beans or soya and pasta, making extra to eat the next day. I have this porridge that’s for babies that I give to Patti to supplement her usipa diet, so I make that when I’m done with my food, and Patti stares at the pot the whole time as she knows its almost her dinner time (6pm). When Patti is fed, that’s when I boil eggs or water for my thermos, as the bawula is now super duper hot and perfect for boiling. The bawula has made cooking so much easier, and helps me organize my meals, which is great. While I eat dinner I either listen to music (if my phone or kindle is charged) or read. After dinner, I write letters, or journal (by candlelight). Or I workout! I made a workout mix on my phone, so I listen to that, do some resistance bands, dance around, etc. Patti is not amused by this, so she usually takes this as an opportunity to sneak off to my bed for a snooze.

By 7pm its totally dark, so usually I’m in bed- of course, after I’ve lured Patti out of my bed and the house with a treat, because even though I love her terribly, I still want her to sleep outside. I read in bed or (if I was able to charge my computer at the health center that day) watch some TV or movies on my computer. Then I fall asleep. I probably haven’t willingly fallen asleep this early since I was in elementary school, but I mean, it’s dark. I don’t have electricity, and you can only do so much by candlelight anyway (and hey, candles cost money too). It’s better to wake up early and take advantage of all the daylight than stay up at night, so oh well.

So now that I write that all out, it doesn’t seem that interesting, haha. But it is my most average day. It might not seem like much, but everything just takes so much time here. I like the slow pace of life- I’m never bored, there’s always something to get done or someone to talk to. I’ve also read like more than 30 books since being here, haha. Sometimes I have meetings during the week with community groups in the afternoon, and I’m meeting new people all the time in my village (still! There are a lot of people… and only one me). Then I have days that are totally not average- which are the days that I usually write about in here. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little glimpse in the life.

Next time I’ll write a blog on the fun and stress that is Renee trying to get out of her remote village to the city. That’s some work!

I’m in Mzuzu right now, doing some banking and errands on my way to my friend Robert’s in Nkhata Bay to see friends for the weekend. I’m excited! I got into Mzuzu yesterday, after I went to Rumphi boma (boma kinda means like the “city” party of your district- its where all the government offices are- Rumphi is my district) to meet the District Health Officer with my counterpart. The district hospital is not directly charge of my hospital, but only the Health Survelliance Assistants, as they are still funded by the government. The main hospital that oversees my health center, is the CCAP Synod of Livingstonia, and will be celebrating 100 years in August! There’s going to be a celebration and I am excited to go.

So things are going well. In-service training next month- it will be the first time that I’ve travelled south of Nkhata bay (which isn’t even south, its still the northern region) so I’m not looking forward to travelling all the way to Dedza in the central region (it will probably take 2 days). They partially combined our training- so the first week of training my entire training group (environment and health, all 44 of us) will be at Dedza together. It will really be a trip to be with the whole group again back at our old stomping grounds (Dedza College of Forestry, where we had PST). It will be great to hear from everyone and exchange ideas.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. I updated my wishlist as well, for anyone who may be planning to send me some treats J I mean hey, Christmas is just around the corner- at least, when you consider that it could take 1 or 2 months for a package to get here, haha. Everyone else, keep in touch! I love getting your letters and writing. I hope you all are doing great, and I’m sorry that summer will soon be over for you guys at home. Hot season is on its way here, and I gotta say I only keep hearing terrible things about it. We’ll see how my average day changes come hot season!