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 (