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!)