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!!!

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