Monday, November 5, 2012

Malawi Trip - Part II

I left you hanging with the beginning of my encounter with the hippos of Liwonde during our canoe safari… we were so close to them! We just quietly canoed on by, and although we got some seemingly dirty looks (but who can really read a hippos face?) we passed by safely. It was a beautiful view of the river and the park from where we were canoeing. Mike, photog extraordinaire, took a billion pictures which will hopefully be updated to facebook soon for your viewing pleasure. I couldn’t even name all the animals we saw (and that Mike has pictures of), we saw a lot of the smaller type of animals.

UNTIL… we turn our canoes around and begin to head back the direction we came, when we see, a small herd of elephants feeding themselves in a field. We have to stop our canoes, because the path we need to go thru is too close to the elephants- and the facts are, although elephants are beautiful and majestic creatures (my personal favorites) they will stomp the shit out of you if you bother them. And I guess they’ve earned it, being the biggest land mammal on Earth and all. So we sit in our canoes, watching the elephants eat… for awhile. More than a half hour passes, and our canoe guides take some safe efforts to force the elephants to leave- namely, tapping the side of our canoes with the oars. [Ideally] just bothersome enough to send the elephants away, but not so bothersome that they will desire to stomp us.

Another half hour passes with our subtle oar tapping. Elephants show no sign of moving. Our guides start talking amongst themselves between our canoes, apparently discussing what we should do. They decide… to move on,  and head toward camp. We’ve been stopped in our canoes for more than an hour, so I guess it’s just time to move on… much to Kate and I’s fear. Mike was desensitized to the danger of elephants as he had just ridden a domesticated one in Zambia. Kate and I on the other hand, were quite fearful. As quietly as we could possibly be, our guides paddle our boats forward as Kate and I duck down into our boats, in pathetic attempts to hide/keep an eye on the elephants, should they decide to head towards us to stomp us. We moved very, very slowly, but eventually, we’re in the clear, out of view of the elephants and we can begin to chat again. Mike asks his canoe guide if he can paddle back the rest of the way, as we are nearby now. Mike takes over paddling when his guide says “There might be elephants around the corner” and my canoe’s guide says “alipo”, which means, “it’s there”, and we look up, and see in the near distance a baby elephant. Cue Kate and I’s desperate ducking, we paddle by, and make it back to camp before a full on panic attack is induce. Whew!!

It was a very exciting safari that was TOTALLY worth the money ($20!!!). We were exhausted from all the sun exposure (even with our awesome hats) so we went to get lunch in town, and have some drinks by the river (where we could watch the hippos have their meetings at a safe distance). It was a really wonderful stop on our trip and Kate was a wonderful host!! Thank you Kate!!!

The next day we headed to Zomba- the former capital of Malawi. It is a very developed area, with a big university, lots of NGOs, businesses, and the famous Zomba Plateau. My friend Gibran lives in Zomba town and hosted us for the night most comfortably in his very fancy loft apartment. We had brownies and watched tv!! The plan was for Mike and I the next day to head to the plateau to camp the next night, so it was nice to live it up fancy style before our overnight camping trip.

The next morning we repacked our bags and shopped for some food supplies to take with us camping. We headed to the base of the Zomba plateau and began the walk up.. it’s a paved road all the way up (there are less developed paths, but we knew the road would take us to our camp site). We walked for a bit of it but then we were easily able to hitch a ride all the way to our camp site, the Trout Farm- the site of a fish farming operation in progress. The ride was beautiful. Zomba plateau houses a very full and green forest reserve, and a beautiful dam. Again, Mike gladly took pictures. We set up camp and then set out to hike some more- there is a big loop of a hiking path around the top of the plateau, supposedly 7 hours. Mike and I packed some bread and peanut butter to take with us to eat on our long hike. Using Mike’s impeccable sense of direction we were able to just wing it- although our hike had no big “end point” or destination, we stopped at some beautiful sites and enjoyed the exercise. We also may or may not have left our initials carved in a tree stump somewhere.

We got back to camp to find someone selling fresh raspberries harvested from the plateau- we gladly bought the whole bowl and destroyed them immediately. Delicious!! So yummy!!! I’ve never really considered myself a berry person but these were delicious. As the sun began to set, we met some fellow campers- a swiss couple with an AMAZING truck that turned into a residence. It looked much more comfortable and warm than our dinky (yet awesome) tent. We started a big fire to cook and for warmth- and enjoyed a dinner of delicious ramen noodles and soya pieces. It was a wonderful evening of chatting around a campfire, who doesn’t love that? Unfortunately, when we headed to bed, we found we weren’t as prepared for the drop in temperature that comes with being on top of the plateau. We were quite cold, the difference in temperature between the plateau and town was astounding.

But we survived!!! We were tired from our not so great sleep, but we packed up and headed down the mountain. We did not luck out so much on the way down- we had to walk the entire way, which was a little rough (but made me appreciate the ride we got up that much more). On our way down we stopped at Casa Rosa, a new Italian restaurant, where we had chocolate crepes and fruit salad. It was random, and delicious. We headed back to Gibran’s to get our things together and for a rest, and that afternoon, we set off to Blantyre- the biggest city in Malawi, located in the southern region.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Malawi Trip - Part I

(I am publishing this in parts, as I find it difficult to write so much in one sitting. Enjoy Part I!)

in August/September I was fortunate enough to be able to take two weeks vacation to finally, travel around Malawi. And I was even more, extra super duper fortunate that my best friend Mike was going to be travelling with me! If you ever followed my old blog updates from my time in The Gambia, you may remember Mike as that guy I hung around with constantly during my first trip there. It was in The Gambia that Mike and I actually decided that we would do the Peace Corps. Mike was sent to serve in Lesotho in June 2010, and completed his service in August 2012. Upon completion of his service, Mike travelled from Lesotho to Malawi, taking time to see some of the cool sites along the way (i.e. Victoria Falls), and arrived in Malawi towards the end of August.

I hadn’t seen Mike since we said goodbye in May 2010, so it was truly thrilling to see him when he arrived. I know I am so crazy lucky to have been able to go home this past April/May, so I wouldn’t have to wait so long to see my friends and family. Lucky me! The poor guy had been travelling for 22 hours on a bus to get to Lilongwe (capital of Malawi) where we were meeting, so we happily ate and passed out- our big journey began the next day!

From Lilongwe we went to Dedza- to the Chongoni Training Center, where I received my anamed training this past April (hope you remember my blog post). The founder of anamed, Dr. Hans Martin, was visiting from Germany, and a few of us volunteers (and Mike) got the chance to meet him. For me, it was truly inspiring to meet Dr. Martin. Anamed has had endless influences on my work in Malawi and my perspective about nature’s role in our lives. To meet the founder of an organization that works to help so many people in need in tropical regions across the world, in a way that is compatible with nature, is something I could have only dreamed of. It was anamed coming full circle for me!

My friend Carolyn was also in Dedza meeting Dr. Martin with me, so from Dedza, Carolyn, Mike, and myself headed to Mangochi where Carolyn lives. Mangochi is a southern, lakeshore district. We had a hell of a time travelling there- hitching rides and not spending too much on transport, laughing all the way. It’s great to travel with Carolyn as her language skills are crazy awesome (and by now we’re in a region of Malawi that does not speak the language I know). It was a pretty full day of travelling, but we arrived at Carolyn’s cozy house with ELECTRICITY for dinner and sleepytime.

The next day, Carolyn took us to Club Makokola- probably one of THE nicest hotels on Lake Malawi. There was a beautiful pool (that cost about $2 just to get in the pool) just yards from beautiful Lake Malawi! It was also the first place I’ve been to on Lake Malawi with actual, cushioned, lounge chairs. Having lived a cushy life filled with lots of parent-sponsored vacations, I appreciate a good lounge chair. It was an amazing day. Having seen a place so ritzy, it convinced me to work on maybe convincing the Angelos to make a trip to Malawi… should you speak to my parents, be sure to give them encouragement!

That night back at Carolyn’s, being the wonderful host she was, made us fish tacos!! Even though I live on the lake, I rarely eat fish- mostly because I don’t cook it myself, and I don’t cook it because I don’t go to the lake at 5am to go buy it. But Carolyn lives near her district capital, so lots of vendors are around selling fish and other foodstuffs. Pretty awesome.

The next morning we visited Carolyn’s health center, in my attempt to still feel connected to work (even on vacation, a PCV never rests!). Carolyn works at a government health center (whereas I work at a church sponsored health center) that is BRAND NEW to her area. It is small, but very very nice, and just getting started from I can tell. It seems to be filled with motivated health workers, and Carlyn clearly has a great relationship with the staff there. It’s got to be a neat experience working at a brand new health center in an area where there was none, and really working to create the positive relationship between the health center and their catchment area. All volunteers’ experiences are different!

From Mangochi we hitched a ride to Liwonde. First we embarked on a matola (pick up truck) that promptly broke down not long into the ride. I was not having this, so while we were on the side of the road and people were attempting to fix the matola, I flagged down another car, and we made a run for it! It was a quick and pleasant driver, going further south, from the lake to the Shire River. We arrived mid-late afternoon, and met up with Kate at a local bar that overlooks the river- which is full of hippos! It’s quite the view to say the least J Kate lived in my homestay village and was in my language class during PST, so we are close friends- that never get to see each other because of the great distance between our sites! Kate is a nurse and has her master’s in Public Health, and here in Malawi she is working on a project sponsored by the CDC- she is helping with very important malaria research- testing the effectiveness of medicine, mosquito nets, and more.

The next morning, we headed to Liwonde Game Park- “game” as in wild animals!! Kate had looked up some things for us to do and we decided to take a canoe safari in the river that was run by a lodge in the game park called Bushman’s Baobabs. The lodge was beautiful! I highly recommend it to anyone travelling thru the area. We arrived and signed up for our canoe safari. They were packing a cooler for our canoes so we even got to bring some Carlsberg refreshments along for the ride J With our two guys, complementary hats (just for the ride) and our cooler, we loaded our canoes and headed out!

Almost as soon as we got to where the river gets really wide, we saw a bunch of hippos! It looked like they were having a meeting of some sort, and I swear one of them was giving me the eye like I was interrupting...  (leaving you hanging! keep a lookout for Part II, coming so soon!)

Friday, September 7, 2012

seeing Malawi for the first time!

I try not to start every blog post with an apology about not posting very recently, so I won't... but you get my drift right? I haven't blogged in awhile. I've been on holiday with my best friend Mike, whom I first visited The Gambia with in 2007, traveling around Malawi- and I mean really traveling. Until this trip, I had never been south of the my Peace Corps training site, Dedza- in the central region. Now, I've been to the southern region!! Hit up all the hot spots- Mangochi, Liwonde, Zomba, and the biggest city in Malawi, Blantyre. I'm glad that I won't feel like I've missed out on parts of Malawi by the time I go home. It's hard living in such a remote corner of the country- it takes awhile to get places, to say the least.

I plan to expand further on my trip for you guys, but I hope a lot of you have been keeping up with me on Facebook too, as I've tried to keep everyone posted on my findings and post some pictures along the way. Somehow, at every stop we've made, my little internet USB stick has had 3G. If only my site did!! But expect a more detailed post in the coming weeks for sure.

Hope you are all well. Love to you all!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Greetings family and friends. I am sure that numerous times on here I have mentioned "that lodge my friend Matt owns". This phrase doesn't do justice to a lot of things- the lodge, what really goes on there, and Matt. So let me be more clear, so you might learn more about a really special place where I like to spend my free time.

The lodge I am constantly referring to is "Maji Zuwa", which means water and sun, in Chitumbuka. It was founded by my now dear friend, Matt Maroon. Matt was a (non-Peace Corps) volunteer in Malawi in 2006-2008, and was so moved much by his experience that he wanted to come to Malawi to stay. And so he founded Maji Zuwa- a beautiful, lakeshore lodge (about 50kilometers north of where I live), that is more than just that. Matt and his non-profit, Determined to Develop, do projects in the area to support the needs of the local villagers, and to help people help themselves. Matt also hosts about a dozen local orphaned boys at Maji Zuwa- providing housing, food, school fees, and the boys help out with work around the lodge. Matt had experience working with troubled youth in America and is a great role model for these young boys in need. If you go to Maji Zuwa and ask who works here or who doesn't, Matt will reply "We're all family here".

Clearly Maji Zuwa pretty special place- and Matt is a pretty special person, to have accomplished all of this by age 28. Now, it's time to get the word out about what's going on here so people can learn more about the plight of people in Malawi and to hopefully inspire people with Matt's story. Ben Blair is raising funds to produce a documentary about Matt and Maji Zuwa. I know that bringing Matt's story to the masses in the form of a documentary could inspire so many people, so I'm hoping you will be willing to contribute and pass along this information so people might be able to pledge.

Donate Here & learn more about the documentary project
Learn more about Maji Zuwa
Learn more about Determined to Develop
Like Determined to Develop on Facebook
Like the documentary 'Maji Zuwa' on Facebook

Friday, June 22, 2012


It’s been a month or so since I left America and it’s hard to believe it was so long ago now. Or is a month very long at all? Not really I guess, especially since I have less than a year in Malawi now- everything is month to month! As I’ve mentioned briefly before and declared on facebook and in person to most of you, I had a truly wonderful time on my trip home, and I am writing this blog to elaborate J

I think my trip home was perfectly timed. They say it’s hard for everyone when they hit the one year mark (one year in country, one year at site- two different one year marks) and I found that mostly to be true. I didn’t really have doubts about my being here but things were getting tough. I think it was good that I knew when I left for Peace Corps that I would be coming home this year- and basically since I swore in last year that I knew I would be coming home at the time that I did. It gave me something to look forward to and I never had to wonder whether or not I would see my family and friends during my service.

Travelling home went pretty well. My flight from Malawi left like 20 minutes late, but I got to Johannesburg with enough time to get to my next flight- but not enough time to find the mythical pizza vending machine (which I have yet to research whether that is real or not). I have to say, travelling alone is pretty boring though- and not ideal, because you can’t leave your luggage alone anywhere to go get a snack! But I did end up getting a snack in Johannesburg- mostly for the novelty that was the Johannesburg airport, the most modern thing I had seen in more than a year! It’s pretty impressive. The flight from JohannesburgàDakaràDC was pretty uneventful. I tried to sleep and maybe got a few hours, but probably less. I watched a lot of movies, and was most happy to watch THE MUPPETS movie (which I later watched again while I was home, because it was so awesome). I found myself laughing out loud a lot on the plane probably because I haven’t seen any new television or movies in so long. It was a fun transition.

The trip home was long (about 24 hours between when I left for the airport in Malawi and my arrival to DC) and it was so long that I found that I kind of felt like I had forgotten everything that had happened since I left America for Peace Corps. It just all felt so far away, like a distant memory. Of course that turned out to not really be the case as plenty of you heard me blab about Peace Corps during my trip. But that’s what it felt like. Going thru customs and waiting for my luggage on the way back also felt like an ETERNITY. I was very anxious to see my family (and make sure they arrived, as I realized I didn’t have a cell phone to contact them should they not show up). Thankfully, all my luggage turned up (no damages) and I dragged it out to see my parents, my sister Kara, and my baby Bernard!! It was a great reunion.

All of my family members will be quick to tell you that Bernard didn’t really seem to give a crap when he saw me, but you gotta give the pup a break- he got up at like 4:30am to come to the airport and had to wait like another 3 hours before I showed. Considering how carefree his life is I’m sure this was a great strain on him. Anyway Bernard did sit with me the whole way home, where I also enjoyed some pretzel rods my mom brought, the first pretzels I had tasted in a year! (There are no pretzels in Malawi, what is the deal with that?!? Please send pretzels!) We had a great pancake breakfast upon my arrival home and I quickly spent the day jumping back to America-ness – reactivating my cell phone, going shopping, using fast internet, etc.

It was quite exciting for me that the first weekend I was home I got to go to my cousin Kristen’s college graduation party at our favorite place, Ralph’s Italian Restaurant (Philadelphia). It was so wonderful to see my dad’s side of the family, and be able to catch up with them. And of course, almost equally enjoyable was the delicious food and the yummy wine (wine that was not made by Peace Corps volunteers in buckets, what a change!). I did lots of story sharing, especially with my cousins Mark and Tana- and I am certain now that they loved hearing about the hole I get to poop in everyday and how hard it is to make fires to cook on. Love you family!!

About a week and a half after my arrival home my friend Mike (so generously) threw me a party in his apartment complex’s courtyard in which SO MANY of my friends were able to show up and hang out all at once. It was a night of epic reunions, particularly myself and Bob Manzo’s exaggerated reunion, which involved me jumping into Bob’s arms and excessive yelling. It’s just how we do. Mike also made a touching toast that I wish we’d gotten on film since I’m sure none of us remember it with great clarity. We also played wiffle ball! Where it was clear to me yet again, that I should not participate in team sports. It was a beautiful evening, and I want to thank everyone who was able to go! That party ia a memory that will stick with me for a long, long time. After being away for so long- to come home to such a warm welcome is so reassuring and heartwarming. Thanks again to Mike for hosting; I’m going to owe you a long time for that one! And thanky thanks to Leelee for picking me up in Bel Air, taking me to Starbucks where I got to embarrass myself ordering tea, eating my first and only McDonald’s with me, and then later stopping again at Sheetz for cheese fries, where I proceeded to embarrass myself yet again dealing with American coins (they are SO SMALL!). Love you guys so terribly!

Also during my trip home I got to go on a mini-Angelo family vacation to Colonial Williamsburg!! I love Williamsburg so much, every time I go there I love it more! Probably because my penchant for nerdiness just increases as I age. It was wonderful to have some just family time too (and we also ate some really delicious food!). I am hoping to go back to Williamsburg with friends next year when I return home! Great vacation family J

The rest of my trip was just as wonderful, it was great to spend whatever time I could with people I missed so very much. Thank you to everyone who was able to meet up with me- and often pick my ass up to do so- I appreciate it endlessly. I know I missed some folks during my trip- I STILL MISS YOU, please keep in touch! Otherwise, my trip was just completely sublime.

Any regrets about my trip home? Not eating Chipotle. What was I thinking?!? Also I really wanted to bake some molten chocolate lava cakes but I never got my shit together. Sigh. Soon enough I’ll be there until further notice!!

I know a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers have a lot of trouble coming back to service after trips home (and this dissuades a lot of volunteers from making trips home during service) but for me, I am so happy to say that the opposite has been true. I feel happier than ever- in Malawi, in life, just complete and total happiness. I would never say Peace Corps is easy, of course it’s hard. But my perspective now is better than ever, and it just seems no problem to let the annoying or bad things roll of my back. I am feeling that this positivity and good outlook are going to last a long long time.

I want to thank everyone again for spending time with me on my trip home. And of course, the major thanks go to my wonderful parents Rich and Mary Ann Angelo for financing my plane ticket and plenty of other things during the trip. Thank you Mama and Daddy!! I love you all so much, and I hope we all can continue to stay in touch until I return in May 2013!!

action for natural medicine

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for so long. I only hope that some of you heard me talk about anamed during my visit home (or here in Malawi, since I tend to bring up anamed daily) because I feel so passionately about the cause. What is anamed you ask? Anamed stands for ACTION FOR NATURAL MEDICINE, an organization based in Germany founded by Dr. Hans Martin-Hirt and Bindanda M’Pia. “Anamed aims to enable people in the Tropics to develop the greatest possible degree of self-reliance, particularly with regard to their health. To this end, anamed runs seminars and conducts research into medicinal plants and the preparation of medicines. Anamed seeks to work in complete harmony with the environment”. Maybe I’m a sucker or an idealist- but have you ever HEARD of a greater mission statement?? I couldn’t think of a better one myself for any cause- anamed is where it’s at!

Over the past year, Peace Corps Malawi has been connecting PCVs with anamed- namely thru natural medicine trainings, where volunteers bring their Malawian counterparts to receive the training, so that they might bring the knowledge of natural medicine back to their sites. The director of anamed Malawi, Nelson Moyo, runs these trainings- and there is now a volunteer whose site IS the training center, and works with Nelson Moyo for the cause!

The knowledge that I gained during that week of training is innumerable- and incredibly valuable. Although I work at a health center, we are often short of the services and medicines people need. Beyond that, natural medicine really shines in how it can be used as preventative care- keeping people healthy by incorporating medicinal plants into their lifestyles. And when prevention is too late, for those already suffering from HIV/AIDS, incorporating medicinal plants into their daily lives can boost immunity, prevent opportunistic illnesses, and things as simple as helping to increase appetite.

One thing that became especially clear to me during anamed training (although I had a basic idea of this before) with the help of Nelson Moyo is that living as close to nature as possible is what will make us the healthiest. It’s like the plants knew we would need them- passionflower to help us sleep, artemisia to clean our blood, moringa to give us all the essential amino acid proteins we need. It’s amazing! The knowledge of how to use these plants appropriately has become out of touch with the advances of modern medicine (which often use extracts of these plants as is) and anamed aims to bring this knowledge back to popularity through its own research.

With the knowledge myself and my anamed counterpart Dennis gained from the training, we have brought back to Mlowe Health Center, namely with the creation of our anamed garden, which is partnered with the local People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) group. We have a great artemisia plant growing from which we hope to propagate many more plants, moringa seeds planted, garlic, ginger, aloe, cassia spectablis, and more! We’re a work in progress and I am thrilled to be laying the foundation for anamed to be spread throughout the catchment area of Mlowe Health Center.

Now you might be saying, “Hey Renee, this natural medicine stuff sounds pretty cool, I’d like to see what I can try for myself back here in USA”. If you are really super interested, email or facebook me and I can try to get some anamed literature to you. Otherwise, some basic tips? Incorporating as much raw garlic into your daily diet will provide you numerous benefits (because of its anti-viral and anti-fungal properties). In addition note that you can straight up EAT the sap inside your aloe plant’s leaves (as well as of course rubbing it on skin wounds and rashes) for immuno-modulating effects. Maybe you’re not yet at the point where you want to suck on an aloe plant leaf- note that delicious ALOE JUICE is commercially prepared and probably available at your local health store. While I was in America I had some and it was DELICIOUS! Floating in it are little pockets of the sap to give you all the medicinal benefits. Try it!

I hope you are interested in learning more about anamed. For me, I feel this is just the beginning of a lifelong passion in my quest for the ultimate healthy living! Contact me for more information or check out (

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Although you can see I have changed the format of my blog (hope you enjoy the new look) this is not the opening post for Big Hat News yet- first I want to thank everyone as I am preparing to leave home and head back to Malawi until I finish service in April.
My trip home has been so so wonderful, and I owe it to my wonderful family and amazing amazing friends. Thank you family especially for scheduling soooo much fun times with me and driving my ass places and continuing to take care of the wonderful Nard Dog. We shared so many laughs that will get me thru the next year!
To my beautiful friends- it was so wonderful to see you all again and I am so thankful that I have such loyal friends that have kept up with me for so many years, no matter where I am in the world. You have no idea how much I appreciate it! Thank you Mike for hosting my bombass party that I was able to see so many people at, and to all the attendees to making it. You all mean so much to me and I hope to keep better in touch with you all over the next year, so expect a letter (and send one too!)! Love you guys!
So to close this quick little blog, I have just a few pics of the highlights of my trip:
(click to view larger)

Congrats to my sister Kara and Mike on their engagement!!!

(that's me in the mask)
Cheers until next time...

Sunday, May 13, 2012


First, I'd like to apologize for not writing more. I definitely owe you some posts and trust that they are slowly but surely in the works. But something that I think is going to help is that I'm going to reformat my blog and give it a new look, and I hope you will stick with me in the transition for PC & Me & Malawi to...

Stay tuned!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Belated Happy New Year!

I realize it has been quite awhile since I have written a real blog, and for that I apologize. I guess even in Malawi you can get lost in the holiday shuffle… or at least that is what I will claim as the reason I have not written. But I hope you all had a wonderful holiday and are starting off 2012 awesomely!

I thought it would be harder to miss the holidays then it actually was. Of course, I would have preferred to have been with my family fulfilling all of our family traditions that I am so stringent about each year, but since Christmas is more subdued around here, it wasn’t like I was lost and lonely amongst Christmas cheer. It was kind of just like any other day- except throughout December there were many more goats tied up around my village, which I presume were all consumed for the holiday. Yum!

My friends Ross and Jay came to my house for Christmas- we made delicious food, put our presents around my Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (care of K.E. Angelo, thank you sis!), and watched Batman and Twin Peaks. Christmas morning I retrieved (from a friend’s freezer, thank you Nurse Anna) our ingredients for mimosas, and we opened presents (mostly mine, thank you family) and drank mimosas. We spent the rest of Christmas day swimming in the lake and getting sunburned, and then recovering from our sunburn by not moving for several hours. I should mention that Jay and Ross are MUCH more pale than I, and even I was suffering from some sun pain. Ouch. But we survived, and on Boxing Day we moved our celebration onward to Maji Zuwa, a lodge in Karonga- the owner is a great friend of ours. Here at Maji Zuwa, we proceeded to celebrate CHEESEMAS, as we had pooled our money to buy a giant block of cheese. Our dinner consisted of several courses of cheese-centric food- grilled cheese, mac and cheese, bruschetta, etc. It was amazing, and damn, did my stomach hurt. That night we also decorated the table with fake snow from my parents, and proceeded to play an epic game of beer pong, our first in country. It was a wonderful Cheesemas, and I hope we will all celebrate again next year.

For new years I celebrated by making a short trip to Nkahta Bay where there were TONS of Peace Corps volunteers- volunteers from all over Malawi, and even volunteers from Zambia and Mozambique! (See how alluring Lake Malawi is?? You should come check it out for yourself!!) We did lots of lake swimming and went to a pretty kickin’ DJ’ed new year’s party, where there were actually fireworks!! I don’t even think I’ve been anywhere in my past few new years’ in America where there was fireworks, so yeah, it was pretty cool!

School has started up again, and boy, it is neverending work. I need to say this for the written record- teachers have the hardest job, anywhere in the world- and in no way am I lumping myself under the ‘teacher’ umbrella, since I teach two classes on a subject some might consider ‘fluff’. Teachers everywhere have their work cut out for them and their job is so important! So teachers of the world, I salute you. Anyhoo, most of my students, at least on the Malawi grading scale, passed my exam at the end of last term in December. I am still pretty happy about this- a few of my students even got “Distinction” marks, meaning, pretty flipping good marks. At the same time, I think my students are capable of more, and I’m really pushing them this term to prove it- an effort I do not think they are enjoying, as it has ended with me not being that fun and punishing students who do not comply. Sigh. Tough love I guess, still figuring it all out. It is hard work!

My beekeepers have voiced that they are definitely interested in the training for top bar beekeeping, and I promised I would pay half the training cost if they come up with the rest, so they are working on collecting that money. I hope it works out! Otherwise, here at the health center we have planted 15 plots of moringa seeds. The moringa tree is basically a miracle tree, with numerous benefits to consuming the leaves and other parts of the tree. At the end of an ideal rainy season, our seeds should have grown into small bushes, but our rainy season seems to be not so rainy, so I am a little worried. Nevertheless, I have a million more seeds and we will try try again! An HSA (health surveillance assistant) at my health center, Dennis, is going to be attending natural medicine training with me the first week of March. We are going to learn much more about the uses and benefits of moringa, along with numerous other plants here in Malawi. I am really really excited about what we are going to learn, and I know Dennis is looking forward to learning new things too and sharing them with the community here in Mlowe. My previously mentioned lodge owner friend Matt, is also the head of a non-profit called Determined to Develop, and after we have our training, Dennis and I are going to plan a training thru the non-profit to benefit some of the people in that area, about 50kilometers north of Mlowe. I am so excited that there were will be so many beneficiaries of the training beyond Dennis and I- it’s a beautiful thing about the work we try to do here!

As many of you have heard, Patti the puppy, has had puppies- which I guess means Patti is no longer a puppy, and instead, is a teenage mother. But yes! Patti gave birth to 4 healthy puppies while I was in Lilongwe in January- I left my very pregnant dog on a Wednesday, came home on Tuesday to 4 little pups. They are EXTREMELY cute, and although I know nothing about pups, I think they are pretty fat, which is a feat here for sure. There are two boys and two girls, and both of the boys have already been claimed- meaning, there are two little sweet girl puppies looking for homes people!! Any volunteers (or friends of volunteers) interested in a puppy, you can have one of these grade-A pups FO FREE with FREE DELIVERY!! By me!! What more could you ask for?? If you are interested contact me ASAP!! Pups will be ready beginning in March!!

As many of you know, I will be returning to America for a visit soon soon- I fly out of Malawi on April 24th, arrive back in Malawi on May 21st. For now my for-sure plans include speaking to the sociology department at my alma mater, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and going on a short vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia. I’m also hoping to speak at my old high school. Besides also planning on eating pizza every single day, I hope to see all you people out there!! So please be in touch with me so we can make some awesome plans!! There are so many things I want to do while I am home, people I want to see, and foods I want to eat. It should be a pretty amazing trip.

Hope you all are doing great! Miss you tons!