This is Peace Corps

The back of my couch regrettably leans forward, causing whoever sits in it to morph into a hunchback. Its cushions are thin and misshaped and its wooden arms boast a multitude of sharp edges existing with the sole purpose to dig into your back. The couch is only two cushions wide, too short to stretch your legs out or even curl up on your side. Out of all of the sitting positions I have attempted, none have proved even slightly comfortable.

Yet, as I plopped down today, I was without grievances. Hunched awkwardly with the slats riding into my butt bones, I was one hundred percent content. Why? Because I had just received a package from two old friends that contained, among other things, a Clif Bar. I hadn’t tasted one in over a year and just looking at the wrapper made my mouth water. Oats. Coconut. Chocolate. Oh my!

The past week or so I had been eating modestly. I’d mostly been cooking with greens that I gather from around my house, eating them with white rice. I hadn’t baked any breads or indulged in spaghetti or even purchased a tasty coke in what seemed like awhile. In addition, I hadn’t received a care package in the past month, so my cravings for any type of goodies, (especially American goodies), was overwhelming. Just before a waterfall of drool fell on my lap, I ripped open the Clif Bar, simultaneously feeling a burning sensation on my arm. Had I been poked by a not-yet-discovered deformity of the couch? The burning sensation turned to an itch so I put down the drool inducing Clif Bar and started scratching. I really went at it, not caring if pieces of skin ended up under my fingernails. Looking down at my arm, I saw that the source of the itch was white and bubbly while it’s surroundings appeared raw and red in color. Not dissimilar from an uncooked Boboli pizza. I scratched further up towards my shoulder and the bubbles spread. I scratched my elbow and they appeared there too. Finally, after gaining some self control, I stopped clawing at myself and went outside to test if pouring water over the irritation would alleviate the uncomfortableness. Nope.

There was nothing for me to do except wait it out, I thought. I’ll just have to take refuge within the chocolatey deliciousness of my Clif Bar and wait for the itching to subside. Retreating inside, I saw something shiny in the corner. No. I took a step closer. No. I made out the word “chocolate” flipped upside down. No no no! There was my prized treat! Or there wasn’t my prized treat, apparently fully enjoyed by someone other than myself, violated and cast aside like a forgotten Barbie doll. I was completely crushed.

While I of course fully suspected Rajah (my pup) as the thief and destroyer of my bliss, my suspicions were undoubtedly confirmed a few hours later as I laid in bed. By then, I was still mourning the loss of my Clif Bar. I was also still itching. I tried not to do so, but that seemed beyond my capabilities. As I laid there wrestling with my mind, I was suddenly jolted awake by a wretched noise. A retching noise. I scrambled to locate my headlight and shine it on the floor, but the smell hit me before the situation was fully illuminated.

Yes, Rajah had puked. But not on my easy-to-clean cement floor. Instead, he spewed through my malaria protecting bed net and all over my toiletries. The vomit splashed my bed frame and then seeped into my woven mat. The vomit. Rajah’s vomit. Rajah’s vomit made up of my Clif Bar. He probably didn’t even enjoy eating it- as it happened in a matter of mere seconds- and I’m sure he didn’t enjoy it coming back up. The particularly disgusting smell of the half-digested Clif Bar spread, causing the hot, humid climate of my bedroom be fully saturated with the stench of vomit. My arm itched intensely. I wanted to sleep. But alas, this is Peace Corps.

Modern Malawian Celebration

A couple of Mondays ago marked the end of my longest lasting project, Modern Malawians. It was a program for primary school students that spanned 18 weeks and covered topics on healthy friendships, puberty, pregnancy, HIV, relationships, communication, decision-making, the importance of education, and more. The program followed an interactive curriculum, pushing students to take part in role plays, dramas, and discussions that do not normally happen in their overstuffed classrooms. In the end, twelve dedicated students graduated the program and I was one proud mama.

I would like to extend a huge thank you to those friends & family members that donated money for our celebration. You cannot imagine the joy it brought the graduates. My friend helped me cook three BUCKETS of food (rice, beans and cabbage), that were gone in literally 20 minutes. Aside from devouring two overflowing plates of food each like hungry wolves, the students also took time to draw out their goals and write down the steps they would be taking to reach those goals. They proudly recieved a certificate in addition to a small notebook for their studies. Seeing my students graduate the program after 18 weeks of lessons truly made me happy. In responses to an open-ended survey they took, many students responded that because of the program, they had changed. Many reported that they had become:

1) more self reliant
2) more likely to befriend those with good behavior
3) more committed to having healthy habits

Seeing these responses only magnified my joy. Though there were times throughout the program when only two students would show up and I felt like quitting, I realized it was all worth it. I hope those students will remember the lessons that my counterpart & I taught them and carry them throughout their teenage years.

P.s. I have lots of great pictures that I’ve been attempting to upload but I guess I’ll just have to wait for better service!

Here we go:
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My amazing counterpart prepping the certificates

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The kids devouring the food

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Gift draws out his goals

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The graduates and me

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Gift and Linda

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Falida bursts out in laughter as I take her picture of her & her goals

Girliness

I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor of a dingy, fluorescent-lit room. The walls, once screaming with hot pink paint, are now muffled by dirt, cobwebs, and crumbling plaster. Behind me is a line of empty chairs, all facing a long dirty mirror, beckoning to be sat in. In the corner lean six dilapidated hair dryers- the kind you would imagine old ladies with giant curlers to be sitting under in a vintage American sitcom. Back on the floor, my shoulders are squeezed inwards by two strong Malawian thighs. A sharp pain is felt on the top of my head and a trickle of sweat and dirt runs down my arm.

While the bleak description above betrays a sense of unpleasantness, I am more than content. In fact, I feel somewhat at home. The hot pink paint reminds me of my best friend’s sparkling pink walls circa 2008, where we’d spend hours listening to music, talking, and just being teenage girls. Yet, I wasn’t back in middle school; I was in a Malawian salon.

An hour earlier, after inquiring about a display of hair mesh in a women’s clothing shop, I was led through a back door that opened up to the serendipitous room where I now sit. There are four other women here, who oscillate between gossiping rapidly, griping about the heat, and chatting with me as someone braids my hair. Although I can comprehend only a fraction of their banter, I somehow feel like one of the girls. I feel oddly connected to this unexpected group of women who wear modern clothes, speak some English and understand customer service. Although they were initially surprised to see a white woman enter the salon, the women are giving me space and allowing me to peacefully indulge in the old, familiar world of girliness. Yes, I think I’ve found a new form of stress-relief. #WackyHairDaysHereICome

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PS. Soon I’ll be posting pics from my Modern Malawian group’s graduation party. Stay tuned!