Malaria Mural

Today, with the help of four PCV friends, the mural project that my counterpart and I have been working on is finally completed! The project, funded by an umbrella grant written for malaria work, was more extensive yet more rewarding than I had surmised.

 

The first step was to determine a highly visible location for the mural. Considering that Maganga Primary School is very close to the main market and directly next to a football pitch, we chose the school as the perfect spot. My counterpart and I then spoke with the headmaster about teaching malaria lessons to accompany the mural. In addition, we discussed how the wall could be altered because at that point, all of the buildings had uneven bricks which would not be ideal for painting. Although our budget didn’t include cement, we decided we could make it work if the school committee would be able to help provide labor and sand to plaster the wall. A week later, the committee, my counterpart and I worked together to mix cement and plaster the wall. The cement was mixed into water & sand on the ground and then adhered to the wall with some construction tools we borrowed from Gift’s friend’s friend. The women in the committee even made us tea!

IMG_20151031_104223507IMG_20151031_123727359

The next step (I thought) was to paint the cement white. After using an entire liter and only partially covering one small area, we decided that the cement was too absorptive and it would need a base of lime first. (Another expensive cost outside of our budget). After procuring it in town 20km away, we then did a base of lime and returned the next day to cover it with white paint.

 

During the following week, Gift and I taught malaria lessons to grades 5-8. It was my first time teaching at the primary school and I definitely  gained a respect for the teachers. Each class had about 80 or 90 students jammed into a American-sized classroom. Surprisingly, the students were attentive and well behaved. We covered malaria transmission, symptoms, prevention, and treatment through what I think was an interactive and fun lesson. The students seemed to know the basics about malaria so it was cool to get more in-depth about the mosquito life stage and to answer questions about things like drug stock-outs. At the end, I asked the kiddos to draw ideas for the mural. What will you be doing to prevent malaria in your homes, I asked. I then took photos of the best pictures and videos of children explaining how to prevent malaria. (I’m hoping to make a malaria video featuring Maganga residents!)

IMG_6164

The following week, I designed the mural and created the key messages I wanted to share. I then went to the school and sketched out the image for four hours as hundreds of children gathered around to watch. When I was done, I asked them to read the penciled messages aloud and made sure they were clear.

IMG_20151120_091655832

On Friday, three of my friends came from nearby districts to complete the last step. We painted from 5:30-11am on Saturday and 7:30-11am today. Most people that stopped by seemed to be very impressed with our work, and of course, the children loved watching. I think it turned out beautifully (shout out to my painter friends!) and I hope it will be a constant reminder to the students to protect themselves against malaria! In addition, I hope community members who see the mural will also learn from it.

IMG_20151122_132147

 

The mural reads as following:

EVERYONE IS AT RISK FOR MALARIA

USE KNOWLEDGE AS A WEAPON TO FIGHT MALARIA

 

First panel:

Mosquitos breed in stagnant water. REMOVE STAGNANT WATER AROUND YOUR HOME TO REDUCE THE MOSQUITO POPULATION

 

Second panel:

The only way to transmit malaria is through mosquito bites.

SLEEP UNDER A BED NET EVERY NIGHT, ALL YEAR, TO AVOID GETTING MALARIA

 

Third panel:

The only way to treat malaria is to take specific malaria medication (LA*)

GO TO THE HEALTH CENTER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS

 

Third panel inset:

Vommitting, fever, body pains, headache

 

Coping With a New Normal

As I sit down to write this blog, there seems to be an overabundance of short stories I could share. At the same time, I feel like I have nothing to say. Perhaps after eight months of living here, things are starting to feel normal. I no longer cringe at the sight of goat meat sizzling in a puddle of oil on the side of the road, I don’t erupt into laughter when I see a pig strapped to the back of a bike, and cooking every meal without electricity is not a laborious chore but an everyday task. There are probably dozens of amusing moments and odd observations throughout my days that might come as a surprise or shock to my readers back in America, but I now find myself conditioned. Is the way in which the children aggressively jockey ox carts that striking? Is taking a bucket bath next to my chicken and puppy uncommon? Don’t most kids help their parents brew moonshine?

                Reaching this state of acclimation has been quite long and at certain points, quite difficult. While I myself have adapted to life in Malawi, my neighbors seem less adjusted to my presence. Every time I leave my house, I am bombarded with a thousand greetings. A crowd forms anytime I do something that strays from what Malawians consider normal (like a white person using a hoe) and if I sit on my front porch, twenty children will be at my side in less than five minutes. To avoid even more attention than what I’m describing, my identity must lamentably be compromised. I can’t openly reveal that I don’t attend church, I must refer to my boyfriend as my husband to avoid judgmental comments, and I can only eat luxury foods like peanut butter in private for fear of being perceived as “bwana” (rich). I originally tried my best to conform, but recently I have been introducing fragments of American culture and my past life into my routine in order to stay sane. Below are three things I’ve done to improve my mental health, which I’d also suggest to future volunteers:

1). Bought a puppy! (For a total of one dollar). Living with my new best friend, Rajah, has been one of the best decisions I’ve made here. He loves me unconditionally, I love him unconditionally, and he brings great joy to my neighbors who have never seen such a relationship. They ­keel over in laughter each time I kiss him, stop & stare if I ever carry him around like a baby, and inform me of his midday wanderings when I return home from work. Having someone who is so incredibly excited to see you every day is incredibly comforting.

2). Started to run again! For the first five months at site, I had a mental block when it came to running in the village. Fortunately, I have since overcome my fear of crazed iwes chasing me and have started to exercise again. Running beside a nearby river as the sun rises is beautiful, peaceful and gives me a chance to be alone outside of my house. I even have a running buddy- Rajah!

3). Visited the lake. While most Malawians only utilize the lake to fish or bathe, I have recently been using it to cool off and relax. I recently discovered that it only takes about 35 minutes to bike to a beautiful resort on the beach that has a pool, delicious Indian food, and cold drinks. While I definitely can’t afford to stay there or even frequent the restaurant often, it has been an oasis when I need a break from village life.

The past month has definitely been the most difficult thus far. As reality sets in and I realize that indeed, I have lived in Africa for eight months and indeed, I will be here for eighteen more, it has become important to critically consider how I can make my life here sustainable. What can I do for myself that is not viewed as too outrageous, but will still provide me with joy? How can I assimilate yet retain my autonomy? I love my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I love my counterpart, and I love my bucolic life, but there are some truly rough days. While integration is certainly important, I have come to realize that doing my own thing (no matter how strange I seem to my neighbors), is vital.

Baby Rajah! And my new cornrows:

IMG_20151110_153232