Free Time

If you’ve been following my blog, you are probably aware that my main duties right now are community assessment and integration. And if you thought about it, you probably deduced that, while these tasks are highly important, they are not exactly time consuming. Especially considering my three month timetable. So what, you ask, have I been doing?

Much of my personal time recently has been devoted to home improvement. While many volunteers moved into houses that were previously lived in by other PCVs, my site was completely new. It was a roof and five rooms. No bowls, shelves, spices, decorations, furniture, books, or buckets were left behind. I therefore have been sewing curtains, buying and making furniture, painting, collecting useful houseware, and doing my best to decorate. Below is a picture of my living room.

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I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time working on my garden. I utilized a technique which I learned during Pre-Service Training called double-digging.

It’s a method used to loosen two layers of soil, thereby increasing aeration and drainage. While I’m sure it’ll be worth it, double-digging was no easy feat as the soil around my home is rock solid and every swing of my hoe felt like a test of my horticultural faith. To say it was a long process would be an understatement. (And I purport this to be the reason why most Malawians don’t believe I have a garden).  While digging, I also added a few layers of compost underneath the soil, alternating between moist food scraps and dry plant matter to increase the soil’s nutrients. I’m hoping that I’ll see the fruits of my labor (literally) and that these preparations were worth it. Last month, I planted in the first bed: cilantro, basil, tomatoes, carrots, and eggplant. Unfortunately, after leaving the gate to my fence open one day, I came back to discover that a dumb chicken had ate half of my sprouting crops! It was a tragic. Since then, I’ve replanted part of the first bed and started the second bed. In the works are: summer squash, pumpkin, cowpeas, zucchini, beets, peppers and the other aforementioned vegetables. Watching them sprout and slowly evolve has been so exciting! Below are some before and after pictures of my yard.

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Screenshot_2015-07-21-08-44-26 I’m hoping that my vegetable garden will show my neighbors that indeed, a variety of foods can be grown here – not just corn. There is a serious, perplexing lack in crop diversity in Maganga and as I’ve written before, most people just eat nsima accompanied by a “relish” (bean leaves, pumpkin leaves, cowpeas, or some other scavenged greens). This limited diet therefore does not supply them sufficient vitamins and nutrients, let alone calories, for proper growth. I hope that in the future I can use my garden as a teaching tool and inspire alimentary creativity in my fellow Malawians to combat malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies.

I also have planted a few avocado pits and a banana tree! To acquire said banana tree, I biked fifteen minutes towards town, pulled over at the first one I spotted, and then used my machete & hoe to dig up a baby banana sucker. It was a laborious process but I’m excited at the prospect of having bananas right outside my house! Even though they’re commonly grown in a nearby area called Nkhotakhota and can be found for sale in Salima (the closest “city”), it seems that the people of Maganga have made no efforts to grow them here. (The one that I found stood alone in a random field). I’m hoping that my tree thrives and that it can serve as an example of another type of nutritious food whose benefits can be reaped locally. (I swear these food puns just came to me).

In addition to gardening and decorating, I’ve also spent time making preparations to keep chickens! I have an empty structure behind my house that I adjusted to shelter them, adding wire where needed and a proper locking door to keep out chicken thieves and other non-human predators. In addition, I built a roost and a nesting area. On Friday, the day finally came when I was able go to town to pick up my new friends. Although I originally wanted point-of-lay hens (older, egg-producing birds), I couldn’t resist the cute fluffiness of the baby chicks. So, here are my five new housemates:

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Right now, I’m keeping them inside because it gets a bit chilly at night (remember, it’s winter here) and I of course don’t have an electric heat lamp. Instead, I’ve been putting a recycled peanut butter jar of boiled water into their basin that I replace once or twice during the night. The conducted heat manages to keep them warm until the sun rises around 6:30am and they break their huddle. In about 18 weeks, they should be producing fresh eggs every day! Because I don’t plan on consuming 5+ eggs daily, I definitely foresee a surplus which I plan on distributing to members of the community who have kindly fed me nsima, given me tomatoes, and shown an interest for my well-being.

Other highlights of my week include:

-Celebrating Eid (the end of Ramadan) with my Muslim friend and her family

-Teaching a group of women how to make peanut butter (and even starting the fire with ease under pressure)

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-Talking to my dad on the phone while he was on a trip in Johannesburg

-Playing 2 v 2 soccer in my yard with my favorite iwes

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