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First Impressions

4/24:

Last week I had my first glimpse of Maganga- my home for the next two years. Transport to my village consisted of two minibuses and a bike taxi. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a minibus, they are large vans that have four rows of seats behind the driver. In Malawi, they all seem to be falling apart and struggle to climb the slightest hills. What’s more is that they are filled to the brim with sweaty, smelly people, luggage, chickens, fish, gasoline, pigs, baskets, screaming children- you name it. Having long legs and a bony butt sure didn’t help with comfort and by the end of a mere three hour trip, I was ready to get the hell out of there! Thankfully, (*note the sarcasm*) I then boarded a 45 minute bike taxi on a bumpy dirty road on which I straddled the back tire, sitting on a minimally padded wire rack with my full hiking backpack, tent, sleeping bag and shoulder bag strapped to my body. Compared to the other volunteers, I had a really short journey but it certainly didn’t feel that way. Some of my friends had to travel two full days to arrive at their site! Props to them. Anyway, my first impressions of Maganga were as follows:

Its very big! (Much, much larger than Chisazima)

There’s a lot more trees & greenery (yay!)

There are multiple stores and little stands selling food

Everyone travels by bike or on foot

Its hot as hell.

I spent my time meeting various important community members, including the TA (head chief of the entire area), the District Health Officer of Salima, my neighbors, my landlord, and the head teacher of the secondary school. Because my house was not yet ready, I spent the week with my supervisor, who was a great host and -BONUS- lived in a house with electricity! (Which meant ice cold water and freeze pops!) I didn’t realize that the region would be so hot, so being served cold water was a pleasant surprise. I seriously don’t know how I’m going to survive the hot season, especially since we’re approaching the cold season now and I was still sweating profusely. (It was ~80° at night).

The site visit was definitely helpful to see the area and start to assess what the community might need. One major problem that I observed firsthand was a complete lack of malaria medicine. About 40% of all hospital visits are due to malaria- a disease that can be fatal if left untreated. Therefore, this was a HUGE problem. Very sick patients were being turned away and told to look for meds elsewhere. However, due to financial constraints, the chances that they were able to afford the necessary transport to a private medical facility -let alone purchase meds- was very unlikely. While it may have been easy to accept this kind of situation as something that just happens in a country like Malawi, having lived with a family here for almost two months made it very hard to watch. My brother had malaria last week and didn’t receive treatment because there was a shortage of medicine at the nearby hospital. Luckily, he was able to get meds a couple days later, but I would have been a wreck if he had fallen victim to a preventable and treatable disease. Connecting this experience in my own family to what I observed in Maganga reminded me just how important teaching malaria prevention will be. I’m definitely nervous about the challenges associated with moving to a new village, but excited at the prospect of starting projects and getting to know the community.

So, even though I really enjoyed Maganga, one of the best parts about leaving… was coming home. I was only gone for a week or so but driving back into Chisazima and seeing my crazy siblings running and waving alongside the van made me so happy. Then, seeing my amayi jump up and down and hear her singing my name as I walked up to my house, sealed the deal. She told me that everyone in the village was awaiting our arrival and she was constantly asked when I would return. The immense feelings I had of gratitude, happiness and comfort upon my return to the village made it clear that Chisazima truly is my home now. I know I’m going to have a really hard time saying goodbye, but hope that I can feel the same way about my future village in Salima.

Future Home!

Yesterday was Site Announcement Day (aka the day we find out where we’ll be living for the next 2 YEARS!) so naturally, everyone was buzzing with excitement. I was extremely anxious to find out where I  would be and couldn’t contain myself all day. There was a lot of squealing. When the time came, we all blindfolded each other at our training area, linked together in a congo line and followed a leader to a location where the PC staff had set up a giant map of Malawi. After directing everyone to their appropriate locations, the staff counted down from 10 until we could remove our blindfolds. At zero, I ripped mine off and realized I was placed in a lakeside site in central Malawi!!! I also immediately saw three other volunteers standing close to me, meaning that I’ll have friends nearby. Coincidentally, one of the girls that I’ve made great friends with (Katlyn) is only 40km away, which I am so happy about! I also really didn’t expect to be near the lake and am excited to have easy access to it. Additionally, I’m really glad to be central rather than in the deep South so that I can visit people in both the North and the South in a shorter amount of time. Lastly, I’ll be about 3 hours from the host family that I’m living with now so I can definitely visit them. I’m bummed that some of the friends that I’ve made are fairly far away but feel #blessed that Malawi is a small country. I hope everyone will want to visit me lakeside!

After finding out our sites, today we had a workshop in Kasungu where we each met our future counterparts, supervisors or mentors. These are the people that we’ll be working most closely with in our communities. My supervisor, John, is in charge of the Maganga Health Centre in Salima and attended the meeting in place of my counterpart. He seems very knowledgeable and excited to have me as a volunteer, which makes me feel lucky to have him as well. The day was full of sessions regarding our future work with little time for chitchat, but I did have time to ask him a few questions about my site. I found out that:

My house is 3km from the lake and 3km from the Health Centre that will be working with (Maganga)

I don’t have electricity but the Health Centre does

My site is remote but not too far from a popular tourist destination called Senga Bay (where a music festival called Lake of Stars is held woo!)

There is a high prevalence of Malaria

The area struggles with potable water (just what I needed… more diarrhea)

The community has never had a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) before

The area is HOT and flat

There are snakes…

That’s about all the information I have now but in two days, we all travel to our individual sites with our counterparts/supervisors and visit our communities for a week. I’m nervous, excited, curious, anxious, happy, and who knows what else, but can’t wait for what’s to come.

Location of my site:IMG_20150415_072312

The nearby beach:

location_salimaandsengabay1

Easter Weekend in Malawi

3/28:

8:00 am in the US: Still sleeping.

8:00 am here: What haven’t I done?

Not to brag, but I’ve had an extremely productive Malawian-style morning. First, I woke up at 5:00 to start a fire. I then walked to the borehole with a bucket, pumped water and carried it on my head. I heated up the water, took a bucket bath and studied for a test. Then, I did all the dishes from last night and at 7:00, I ate breakfast with my amayi (mom). By 7:45, I was finally headed to school. Again, I would definitely still be sleeping in the US but here, it seems like my day is half over. Although I don’t normally do as many chores in the morning as I did today, I actually woke up later and accomplished less than my amayi does on any given day. Usually when I wake up or return from a run at 6:15, my amayi has already made a fire, fetched water and heated it up for me (in addition to sweeping the house and ground outside). Waking up early with her today really helped me understand just how much behind-the-scenes work she does. My arms were so tired from pumping at the well and my back was killing me from washing the dishes on the ground. So props to my amayi!

4/5

First off, thank you for the comments! I love hearing from everyone back home. Secondly, it’s really hard to decide what to post here because I have so much to share so let me know if you have questions!

I had another great weekend, spent with my family and other volunteers. On Saturday, we had our first experience hitch hiking! Our task was to somehow get to a market 30 minutes away via whichever mode of transport we chose. I was in a group with two other girls and we first flagged down a pickup truck, which brought us half-way to the market for free. It was so fun riding in the back! We talked about how crazy it was that we were putting so much trust in a stranger that could literally bring us anywhere (sorry mom), but hitching in Malawi is apparently really common and highly utilized by volunteers. We then were offered a ride by a man who wanted 1500 kwacha to bring us the rest of the way to the market. After denying his offer, he reduced the price to 200 each (less than 50 US cents) and we accepted. It felt like the car was going to break down and there were a total of 9 people smushed into the hatchback, but we made it! I’m not sure how I’ll feel about hitching alone when I’m at my site, but my first experience was definitely encouraging.

On Sunday, I celebrated my first Easter in Malawi, although it hardly felt like a holiday. I’m not even sure if my amayi knew that it was Easter until we went to church because I tried to explain using my calendar and she just kept agreeing that Yes, it was April 4th (duh Christina!). The church we went to was a modest mud & thatched roof structure that fit about 50 people. The service was full of singing, dancing, and plenty of Chichewa that I couldn’t understand. After the service, we went home and cooked our lunch. I was given the task of making the eggs and for the first time, decided to go against the Malawian way of cooking them. Instead, much to my host brother’s dismay, I made scrambled eggs with tomato and onion. (No cheese sadly). I think my family liked the new cooking style, even though they added about a mound of salt to their portions- but that’s Malawi for ya.

After lunch, I walked 30 minutes to a nearby market with a neighborhood friend and her baby. She’s 23 and is always over at my house chatting on the stoop. When she mentioned that she was going to the market, I asked her if I could join and was so glad that I did! It was really fun to go shopping with her and I almost felt like a real Malawian. (Key word: almost). Plus, I bought a couple of cool skirts. Overall, I had a great Easter weekend.

Up next: The location of my site!

We find out where we’ll be placed one week from today!!! Slightly freaking out… Or freaking out a lot… This whole experience still doesn’t feel real to me. I thought it would hit me when I left NH or then when I landed in Malawi or then when I arrived at homestay, but it hasn’t yet. When will this feel real? Perhaps when my site is announced… Stay tuned