Goats, babies and iwes.

10 Things I’ve Done The Past Few Weeks:


1). Explained to my curious neighbor that yes, in fact, all women (even azungus!) undergo menstruation. All in broken Chichewa.


2). Taught the iwes how to play duck-duck-goose. (This of course led to about 50 squealing children in my yard).


3). Went to a GOAT PARTY complete with loudspeakers, dancing, goats on leashes, and happy amayis. (Vulnerable families in the community had learned to raise goats through an NGO called Coopi. That day, they were passing off one of their offspring to another set of beneficiaries that would also learn animal husbandry).



4). Named a baby! I chose to name her Henniker after my beloved hometown, but the name has since morphed to ha-KNEE-kah. Close enough, right?


5). Been within three feet of a mask-wearing, machete-yielding Gule Wamkulu. These are “spirits” that come out of the forest during special ceremonies and events such as funerals. (I’m definitely going to write a post on my experience, so I’ll spare the details here).


6). Biked about 15 miles and back to pick up a package that has changed my life. My parents sent me a little camp stove that propels a fan and charges phones via thermoelectricity. No more fire fanning or failed attempts at making food! They also sent other amazing goodies like ~trail mix~ that I’m so thankful for!



7). Chicken-proofed the gate to my fence. I was incredibly happy to see carrots growing in my garden last week after plenty of watering and waiting. A few days later, however, they had been completely dug up by chickens! Hopefully the bastards won’t be able to access the replacement row now. (Other than carrots, a single tomato plant is also sprouting).


8). Attended and danced at a Malawian wedding! All while sporting a Malawian baby on my back.



9). Drank a fair share of my ginger bucket beer. I was going to explain the process here, but a good friend of mine beat me to it and wrote a great blog post on homemade wine/beer. I followed his recipe, which can be found here:  http://tales-from-malawi.blogspot.com/2015/06/diy-bucket-wine-beer-champaign-mead.html?m=1


10). Spotted a mouse in my house right next to my head as I was laying in bed. So disturbing.



That’s all for now, folks! Comment with questions if you have them. Miss you all!



Hi everyone! In a previous post I mentioned that I was starting a community development group called SOLID and that I would explain the program in a future post. So here we are. SOLID, like almost all Peace Corps program titles, is an acronym. It stands for Sustainable Opportunities for Leaders of Internal Development, and is a program designed to transfer the skills and knowledge of PCVs to members of the local community who are interested in actualizing change in their communities. SOLID aims to empower its members to execute their own development projects without relying on help from NGOs or other donors. Another element of sustainability is derived from the fact that graduated SOLID members are responsible for future SOLID trainings and thereby propagating their new skills to future members. There are for main sections of the SOLID program, which last from three to six months depending on the duration and frequency of meetings. The sections are as follows:

1). Sustainable Community Development

2). Community Assessment and Analysis

3). Project Design, Management & Implementation and Monitoring & Evaluating

4). Professional Skills

After completing the lessons, SOLID trainees take a final examination and receive a certificate if they pass. They are then expected to work together to design and implement projects in their villages, in addition to training a new group of SOLID members.

Because I’ve: 1) never started a club before, 2) never taught a lesson on anything before, and 3) don’t speak Chichewa, starting SOLID was slightly intimidating. Luckily, my counterpart has been wonderfully helpful and motivated. To generate interest for the program, we met with various village chiefs, talked to different community groups, and explained the program to the TA (or “head honcho” of the 40,000 person catchment area that I’m working with). With my counterpart translating, we urged these contacts to circulate information about SOLID and inform curious community members about an upcoming interest meeting.

When the day of the interest meeting came, I was saddened to hear that two funerals were occurring. While that may not sound relevant to the success of the meeting, funerals in Malawi are a HUGE deal. Typically, the whole area around the deceased person’s home will attend the service- which lasts for hours. (I’ll have to devote a separate post on the intricacies of Malawian funerals). Anyway, I believe the occurrence of the funeral detracted from the number of people who showed up, but I’d still consider the meeting a success. I was slightly apprehensive about having an uncontrollably large group, so I was  a bit relieved to see only 21 people.

After explaining the program and fielding questions from attendees, everyone registered and decided on the logistics of the next meeting. One woman’s words were particularly encouraging, affirming the gist of what it means to be a SOLID member. She said, “Those who came today know what it is to be a true volunteer. We all want to improve our communities and are willing to do so on our own, without compensation.” I found her comment to be especially meaningful in a country where most meetings and volunteer opportunities are accompanied by allowances. Last week, for example, I was invited to attend a meeting during which I was given two sodas and 2,000 kwacha. I didn’t accept the money, suggesting that the group use it for something useful but it was hastily divided amongst the group members instead. It was clear that many of the people at the meeting were only present to get reimbursed. Another example stems from a day that I had planned to meet with a local Community-Based Organization (CBO). When I arrived, I learned that an NGO had showed up in the village with fanta and bread and therefore my planned meeting would have to be postponed. For these reasons, hearing that my SOLID group was committed to the program’s goals and uninterested in compensation, I was very happy.

Since the initial interest meeting, we’ve had two lessons, which I think went pretty well! I have actually really enjoyed teaching and find it interesting to be on the opposite side of the classroom for the first time. It’s frustrating to rely on a translator when delivering lessons, and especially during group discussions, but my counterpart has been doing an excellent job. We have been meeting a few days before the lessons to translate important points into Chichewa, which I then transcribe onto posters. I’ve started taking Chichewa lessons here as well, so hopefully I’ll be able to overcome the language barrier and communicate effectively soon!

I’ve probably left out a lot of details about SOLID, but promise to fill in the cracks and provide updates as the program transpires. Here are a few pictures from our recent meetings:


The women of the group do a community mapping activity during our second meeting.


A “whiteboard” I made to write down key lesson points in Chichewa. I constructed it by covering an old bean sack in strips of translucent tape. More sustainable and cheaper than using flip chart paper!

IMG_20150604_105056302A shot from the first interest meeting. The lessons are held in a building that is also used as a nursery for young children.

A Walk to the Market

The instant my foot makes contact with the ground outside my house, it begins.

“Khiiiiriii! Khiiiirii! Khiri bo!”

One sole child emerges from behind a mango tree and scampers towards me, hollering and thrusting a thumbs-up sign in my direction. Her voice carries down the road, alerting the other neighbors that the azungu (white person) whom they have nicknamed “Khiri” has indeed emerged from her house. The news is then conveyed from household to household like fire in a medieval beacon system used to signal the approach of an enemy. My treatment, however, is far from hostile. Instead, as I make my way towards the market, I am bombarded with greetings like:

“Wawa” (Hi), “Bo-bo” (What’s up), “Azungu,” “Hello Madame,” “Muli bwanji?” (How are you?), “Hello Sister,” and “Mwaswela bwanji?” (How have you spent the day?).

Although I pass by them everyday, the children are thirsty for my response, often exploding with laughter or joyous shrieks when I reciprocate their greetings. Adults too, will often approach me to impart a formal salutation, ask me where I’m going or gesture from their homes that I should come see them. Through these interactions, I’ve learned how to cook khobwe (cowpeas), received a bag of the biggest tomatoes I’ve seen in Malawi, been taught two different styles of Malawian hair braiding, practiced the art of denying marriage proposals, been invited to eat nsima and fish, and been scolded for not wearing a chitenje over my long skirt. As is evident, I never know what a five minute walk to the market will entail. I’m always flattered and thankful that the community is eager to learn more about me, but simultaneously find their curiosity hilarious. My favorite moment regarding this curiosity was when I was approached by an older woman while walking to the market one afternoon. She had been seated with a group of other amayis about 50 yards away but hastily arose and began jogging towards me when she saw that I was nearing. With urgency, she said (in Chichewa),

“Hello Christina. How are you?!”

-“I’m fine. How are you?”-

“I’m fine also,” She promptly responded. Then, with great concern and wonderment, she implored, “Where are you going and why?!”

Upon hearing my response that I was going to the market to buy sugar, she thanked me and withdrew contently, turning back towards her friends. I stood there confused at our short but seemingly grave exchange as I watched her jog back towards the other women. Then, as if she couldn’t wait to share with her friends the highly important and enthralling information about my intentions, she shouted at them,


Her friends nodded in ostensible acceptance and relief, beginning to discuss the news as another neighbor across the way yelled,


Again, the woman cupped her hands over her mouth and shouted,


Who knew that my life would ever be found so fascinating.

“So… what are you actually doing there?” A Guide To My Role as a PCV

Over the past few weeks. I’ve fielded many questions about what my “work schedule” is like so I wanted to dedicate this post to explaining my role as a PCV. For starters, although I am a health volunteer, I will not be posted at the health center doing clinical work. In fact, we are prohibited from dispensing medications, administering vaccines, etc. Rather, the bulk of my work will be directly in the community. As a PCV, my job is to build capacity within organizations, service providers and community members, thereby promoting sustainable development. Rather than arriving with and imposing my own project ideas, I will be working with the community to access the area’s strengths and weaknesses/needs. Then, using the available resources in conjunction with the knowledge and skills that I bring, the community and I will work together to address these needs and engender change. As emphasized during our training, the purpose of our work is to develop capacity so that the people in our catchment areas can improve their own lives without outside support. Instead if basing developmental success on tangible “things” like the construction of a borehole, it will be based on the sustainable development of the people here and their ability to accomplish their goals long after I am gone.

Guiding our work is a “project framework,” which is the Peace Corps document that outlines each sector’s goals and objectives. For the health sector, the three goals are as follows:

1). HIV & AIDS: Community members will adopt healthy behaviors and practices to decrease the spread of HIV & AIDS. (Prevention, Care and Support, Orphans and Vulnerable Children)

2). MATERNAL AND CHILD HEALTH: Community members will adopt behaviors and practices that contribute to improved maternal and child health outcomes. (Nutrition, Malaria Prevention, and Community Water and Sanitation Systems)

3). LIFESTYLE FOR HEALTHY BEHAVIORS: Peer educators will be trained to empower community members to adopt behaviors and practices that reduce risky sexual behaviors in youth and increase healthy choices. (Behavior change).

These goals will be the focus of my work and will provide guidance for future projects. While I am eager to begin, our first three months at site are dedicated to solely integrating and assessing. Therefore, my “work” right now is to build relationships with community members, including my supervisor, counterpart, landlord, neighbors, tomato vendor, health workers, chiefs, etc. I am also supposed to be accessing the community to ascertain as much information as possible regarding demographics, social issues, health issues, existing organizations, current resources, perceived problems, seasonal activities, etc. These findings will then be presented to PC staff and fellow volunteers at our “in-service training” in September. So, as of now, I am making my house a home, adapting to village life, and meeting countless community members. Additionally, although we aren’t supposed to be starting projects yet, I am in the process of forming a community leadership and development group called SOLID. More on that in my next post! Also to come: my adventures making bucket wine!