Firstly, I updated my "Keep In Touch" page with my new mailing address at site and my cell phone number- there are directions there on how to call from a phone or from skype. Letters and texts and calls are wonderful! I really miss you guys but only have access to things like internet every-so-not-often, so letters and my phone are generally the best way to contact me.
Well, it has been 3 months since I came to Malawi, and I can't believe I'm a real volunteer already. I really loved training, I love my site now, and I am loving getting to know my community and what it is like to be a volunteer. I happen to be in the northern city of Mzuzu right now as I just finished an HIV/AIDS training with other volunteers in my region, so I knew I had to update while I had the chance.
Training was a wonderful experience. Each week was numbered and extremely different. The week we arrived was "Week Zero", where it was just about getting to know each other (my training group of 44, half health trainees and half environment), our amazing amazing staff, and the country of Malawi. This is where we were introduced to the concept of PCVs of the Week- 4 current health/environment PCVs joined us for the week as peer support and to let us know what its like out there in the field. The PCVs, our trainers, and my fellow trainees would prove to be an support group throughout training and now.
Week 1-5 we moved to our host-villages. We were split into 4 villages (2 health, 2 environment), and I lived in the village of Mkonkera with my host dad (John), host mom (Louisa), and their baby Harold, and bagogo (grandma) and my cousin Stazio. Although initially this was a hard transition (living in country for one week and then suddenly living with a family that I can hardly communicate with) is a lot, but I really loved my host family and we had a wonderful time together. However at the end of Week Zero I found out that I would be learning Chitumbuka (a language of the northern region of Malawi) and we were living in Chichewa speaking villages, so even though the language barrier stayed, we were still somehow able to get by and communicate. We really had fun! I really miss them and will hopefully visit them next time I am in the area.
So myself and 9 other trainees (across 3 of the host villages) were assigned to learn Chitumbuka. We had daily language class and I really enjoyed the language learning experience. My class was the best (shoutout to Michelle, Ilana, & Kate) and our teacher Geoffrey was amazing, we are all truly indebted to our amazing language trainers. I think all of the Chitumbukas in our group are totally awesome, and that pride is indicate of us northerners, who tend to be a very proud people. Hey, we're awesome, what can I say.
Also during these Weeks 1-5 we had daily technical training about the health sector in Malawi. Our host villages hosted a current health volunteer each week so they could lend their expertise to our topic of the week. I of course think that my village hosted the coolest and best volunteers, and I really appreciated the volunteers taking time out of their schedule to contribute to our training. I also obviously have to shoutout to my amazing technical training Grace, who is a nurse here in Malawi, and truly a pioneering in working for the public good in the health field here.
Week 6-7 we hit the road! The first week all the northerners (The Chitumbuka speaking trainees and Chitonga speaking trainees) headed to Mzuzu for a meetup with current volunteers in the northern region. Then the volunteers had us shadow them at their sites, and then we got to visit our own sites! Yes, the sites we're living at for two years! Health volunteers are generally assigend to health centers, so I got to meet my health center staff and spend two nights there in the village. My village is Mlowe and it IS the most beautiful place in Malawi (pictures on facebook). Week 6 was a great week- it was awesome to meet all of the volunteers, get to know the region, and see our sites!
Week 7 we left our site visit and headed to Ekwendeni for the Chitumbuka Language Intensive Week. We stayed for a week with all of our language trainers for what else- a week of intensive language, our final preparation for our language test and for moving to village! It really was a fun week, and especially fruitful in working on our language skills. Our trainers and the Chitumbuka trainees are awesome, how many times can I say this? We all passed our langauge test with flying colors!
Week 8 was just the last minute preparations before swearing in. Swearing in was held at the ambassador's house and it was a beautiful day and I have to say we then-trainees cleaned up pretty well. One of the trainees and friend of mine Matt wrote a speech on behalf of the trainees. The language trainers broke it up and translated it into the 3 languages we learned (Chichewa, Chitonga, Chitumbuka) and I was selected to read the Chitumbuka portion. It was great to be apart of the ceremony. The speeches by our trainers were really heartfelt and it was a wonderful day. And finally, we were volunteers! And yes, I momentarily cried after finishing swearing in- I was just REALLY excited and sitting next to my best friends Stacey & Kathi and I was overwhelmed with joy to say the least. Way to go, me.
So now I live in my way too big house in Mlowe, cook my meals over fire, shit in a hole, sleep under a mosquito net, and work! My first 3 months at site are supposed to be focused on community integration and a community needs assessment, and I'm just getting started. It's an undertaking to say the least, but I love Mlowe and wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
I don't know when I'll be able to update again- I actually will be in Mzuzu again next week for a Gender & Development meeting, so I write a post at site and translate it here so you can get a better picture of my daily life. I really miss you guys and want to thank everyone who has been in touch with me so far, it has really meant a lot! Plenty of you I do NOT have your addresses or phone numbers, and the best way to get that to me is thru a letter, so please send one! I always write! I love you, keep in touch!
Renee Angelo, PCV
P.O. Box 2
Mlowe, Rumphi, Malawi