The Rain Gods

​The arrival of the rains is truly a magical time in Malawi. Around early November, the rain gods begin to tease the country, gently tickling Malawi’s southern toes with light sprinkles. After nearly eight months with no rain, the softest touch of moisture is exhilarating. Though ephemeral, these early rains are a sign of change, a clue left by the rain gods that portend their certain return. Community members rush to prepare their fields, sculpting the land into long, elegant rows. Others begin fixing their thatch roofs, making sure to replace torn plastic and patch any holes. Meanwhile, the wispy rains tiptoe their way to the north and all dream of corn.
Then, one day in late November or perhaps early December, the “true” rains come. The rain gods open the sky, and out comes clean, fresh water that the earth eagerly accepts. The drops start gently, pitter-pattering on my metal roof. But soon they morph into heavy globs that crash down like cymbals above me and drown out the musings of Ira Glass. Outside, the leaves whip around their stems, clinging to the trees which they belong. The water comes in waves, blasting the roof and then retreating, blasting and retreating. Puddles begin to form. I stand on my back porch and survey what is usually a noisy, bustling scene outside of my fence. Yet everyone has retreated into their homes and all that remains is silence –a vacuum of noise that is not dissimilar from how it sounds to walk in the woods during a snowstorm. After ten or fifteen minutes, the rain gods tug a pulley, the sky closes, and the rain stops. 
Gradually, the village speaks again. Bike taxis that sought shelter wheel out of their hiding spots. Ox carts continue their journeys. Kids call out to their friends and rush to the road, puddle-stomping in glee and trudging through newly formed rivers. The village is already livelier than it was before the rain, yet no new plant growth has occurred just yet. I walk out to the street and join my neighbors in awe of the transformation. It’s ten degrees cooler and the ground is a deep brown color. We hadn’t had a real rain 250 days. I smile and suppress the urge to run through the water like a madman, but choose instead to walk slowly and intently around my homestead.
The following day, everyone is in their fields and it feels like Christmas morning because planting season has finally arrived. This means food in three short months. I watch a farmer balance on one leg, push their opposite heel into the dirt and toss maize seeds into the hole. They then flick some dirt over the seeds with their toes and shuffle down the row. Over and over, they repeat this motion. Over and over, over and over.
In a few days time, the ground is covered with beautiful, green grass. In a few days more, the maize begins to sprout and the land becomes speckled with ankle-high nsima machines. It feels like springtime, my favorite season in the US. I plant my own vegetable garden, spread flower seeds, and create one single line of maize to appease/entertain my neighbors. Finally, hot season has come to an end. I thank the rain gods. 

The Dreaded Minibus

​Minibus drivers. They’re a different kind of breed. Aggressive, hot-headed and unapologetic, they have all the characteristics of an obnoxious, testosterone-exuding  preteen trying to prove his worth. Yet somehow, they’re even more irritating. As you approach any bus depot (or in fact any place where there is a bus), they will swarm you like vultures to roadkill.

“Madame! Madame! Yes you are coming to Lilongwe! Come! Come!”

Oh… Am I? I thought I was just walking to the market to buy some flour…

These vultures flock to any body they detect. They yank your bags off your back and begin to pack them away before you can even process what’s happening. They slap down the metal chairs inside their buses, often hitting other passengers’ limbs and tell you to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. They sloppily sling children off their mothers’ backs and toss them into the bus like a sack of potatoes. They rev their engines and tell you they are leaving “fast-fast” but then you spend an hour sitting still. 

Minibuses are the only mode of accessible transport to the average Malawian. While there are scheduled “big buses,” these can be quite expensive and only travel between the major cities. Minibuses, on the other hand, will stop any point on the road– wherever there is an arm reaching out to flag them down. And often, they’ll stop when no one at all is flagging them down. “Hey look, there are two people facing the opposite way in deep conversation 100 meters from the road. Maybe they are looking for a ride!”

If you do in fact require a lift, the first step is to negotiate a price with the conductor. Without fail, he will name an astronomical price (especially if you are an azungu). Hopefully, you know the fare and can barter down to what’s fair. To miss this step is a rookie mistake. I’ve seen an agogo (elderly woman), who didn’t pre-negotiate, get dumped on the side of the road mid-route after refusing to pay the greatly inflated price of which she was just informed.

Your next duty is making sure your bags are safe. If you have a large pack, it will be shoved somewhere in the back amongst buckets of fish, sacks of maize, chitenje-wrapped luggage, a box of tomatoes, and a screaming goat. It’s important to keep an eye on the bag for you never know who might be violating your zippers and stealing your IntoCircuit 15000mAh Battery Bank that your parents just gave you for Christmas… 

After settling in, your only task is to endure. Minibuses are overcrowded 99.9% of the time (according to my research) and you will never have enough room. Instead of sitting three to a row, conductors cram in at least four regular-sized humans with their respective children and bags sitting on their laps. (Picture the last row of that ol’ minivan you used ride in to soccer practice. Now, picture it stuffed with four large adults, two children and a rustling plastic bag with a live chicken head poking out of it). Due to the intense squishiness of the situation, your arms are trapped at your side, suctioned into the undulating shape of the voluptuous woman sitting next to you. Those trapped human arms have now been demoted to T-Rex arms. You can barely reach your forehead to wipe off the beads of sweat that have formed and instead, let them drip down your face. Did I mention that it’s hot season and 100 degrees out? The air you breathe is thick and filled with many interesting smells, including but not limited to: fish, baby poop, baby spit up, adult throw up, chickens, rotting tomatoes, goat, and of course, body odor. The stench is unbearable as no one, including yourself, is wearing deodorant. (In fact, you realize that you didn’t actually shower yesterday and feel a creeping guilt that maybe you’re the one who’s primarily responsible for the B.O.)

Further compounding your discomfort of is the fact that the distance between each row of seats is astonishingly minimal. Most of the time, your long American thighs cause your knees to be rammed into the back of the seat in front of you, offering another lucky passenger a bony, blundering massage. Unfortunately, there’s no way of adjusting your legs because directly under your feet is another sack of maize.

As aforementioned, minibuses are the only budget-friendly transport in Malawi. This means that even if a person is traveling from Nsanje to Chitipa (over 600 miles), they will be on a minibus. Aside from the lack of comfort, minibuses are notoriously and painfully slow. Some buses are delayed by heartless drivers who pull over in the middle of nowhere for a random 30 minute break. Others are slowed down by policemen, who saunter around the bus, “inspecting” it’s stickers while subtly looking for a bribe. And yet others delay themselves, purposefully driving slowly to maximize the number of passengers they can squeeze on. A five hour journey by car turns into a twelve hour journey by minibus. 

Yet, despite all of these hardships, I have come to love and appreciate the sense of camaraderie and  quirky smel—- just kidding. Minibuses are awful and I cannot wait for American transportation once again. 

 

Update with photos: June-September

Hi all! For those who have been following my adventures, I wanted to provide a quick update and show you some photos of my new home! So yes, I have a new home and a whole new village. It has taken me awhile to write about the change, but in June, I left Maganga and moved to a new district. It was sad to leave my wonderful counterpart, my Rajah baby (who Gift has adopted as one of his sons) and other friends, but I am 100% satisfied with my choice. I won’t get into the details of why I left, but I am in a much better place – literally and figuratively.

 

The past few months have proved to be very busy for me. I have been implementing an after-school club at the primary school twice a week that covers topics such as self esteem, puberty, pregnancy, HIV, healthy sexual choices, goal planning, etc. While attendance hasn’t been great, I have a small group of dedicated students that I’ve really enjoyed getting to know and helping them learn. In two weeks, they will finish the 24-lesson program!

 

I have also been visiting a youth group in a very rural village to implement Grass Roots Soccer, a program that combines HIV prevention and soccer. This has been my favorite activity so far, as the youth LOVE the games we play and always ask me to stay longer. Right now, we are planning an HIV Testing Day for all the youth in their area which will encourage

 

Another activity I’ve been doing is building cookstoves. These stoves use less firewood than the typical method of “three stone” cooking (setting a pot on three bricks with an open fire underneath). The rate of deforestation in Malawi is one of the highest in the world so although I’m not an environment volunteer, I was eager to do this secondary project. I’ve been flying solo (counterpart-less) on this one and building them with an awesome female chief in the village next to mine. While the language barrier is still tough, we have slowly become friends by visiting different families and helping them construct the stoves. The chief is very hardworking, caring, and always trying to give me food! I feel lucky that I get to work with her.

 

In between my weekly activities, I occasionally help my counterpart with his health center work, going to outreach clinics or leading health talks. For example, last month we taught women how to make porridge that contains all six Malawian food groups.

 

So, what’s in the works for the future? After the aforementioned HIV Testing Day, the same youth group will have a graduation in which the whole community will be invited to watch them perform about what they have learned the past three months. My counterpart and I would then like to implement the same GRS program with a different group since it has been so successful! I will also be starting a Malaria Outreach Club at a nearby secondary school that I’m really excited about! After some detailed lessons, the plan is for the students to spread malarial knowledge in the community through various mediums (possibly dramas, radio shows, murals, marches, bed net demos, etc). I will be working with a wonderful female teacher who I have been getting to know over the past month and am eager to start. So, that’s my work update!

 

In terms of my personal life, I have been very content since the change of villages. Two other PCVs have previously lived in Kasinje before me so I believe that has really helped integration. Additionally, my neighbors are very kind and the girl who carries my water (the borehole is way too far for me…) has become a good friend. Everyday we check out my garden together, noting any new growth. She also planted a little pumpkin patch in my fence, which we harvested for the first time on Sunday! I’ve been running and doing yoga everyday which has also been great for my mental health. Of course there are challenges (ie HOT SEASON, being even farther away from my boyfriend, living in an NGO-saturated area, drunk men, etc etc), but life here is pretty good! Next month, I will be hiking Mt. Mulanje which I’ve heard is beyond beautiful and in November, I’ll be doing a four-night hike in Nyika National Park for Thanksgiving. I can’t wait!

 

P.S. Only 7 months left of my service!

 

A now some photos while I have wifi:

 

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This is my Harriet, the girl who fetches my water

 

 

 

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Our pumpkin patch

 

 

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Chief Jamu (left) and her sister in front of their newly built cookstove.

 

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My back stoop, where all the cooking takes place! Notice my two little flowers in the bottom right corner which just blossomed this week

 

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Solar panels (how I charge my phone), sweet potatoes growing on the left, and two garden beds in the middle that have okra and zuchini

 

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My bathing area

 

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Selfie in my chim! It’s actually the coolest place to be on my property

 

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One of the women at our cooking demo declaring the peanut butter as “zokoma!” or “delicious!”

 

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Cookstove demonstration… how many azimayi can you fit in a tiny kitchen?

 

 

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My cozy living room. The last two volunteers left a lot of furniture. (Thanks Beccy)

 

 

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My even cozier bedroom. Just enough space for my bed…

 

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My kitchen, fully stocked with spices and utensils from the last volunteers!

 

 

 

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Members of the youth group that I meet with to implement “Grass Roots Soccer”

Village Runs

​Meeeeeh! Meeeeh-eh-eh-eh!



Akin to the way your eyes adjust when you walk indoors after exploring freshly fallen, blindingly-white snow, my mind begins to make sense of my surroundings. 


Meeeehhh-eh-eh! Meh-eh!



I begin to feel my saggy matress supporting my body, I sense a soft glow of light coming from what must be a window, and I hear a child yelling directly through that window. Meeeehhh-eh-eh! Although my dreams had wistfully carried me back to the US, I realize that I have woken up in Malawi, in the same bed that I have woken up in for the past year and a half. I realize that the child yelling is not a child at all, but the malevolent goat that always seems to be crashing into my gate, eating my tenderly planted vegetables and bleating at the top of its ugly goat lungs. Reality sinks in. I glance at my watch, but it’s too dark to see anything in my cramped, poorly-lit bedroom. I figure it must be around 5:45, according to the amount of light sneaking in. I force myself to get up, rising slowly. 
 
Fifteen minutes later, I walk out of my door wearing long yoga pants, running shorts, a tie-dyed t-shirt that I made in highschool, and running shoes. The same ‘progressive’ outfit that I wear every time I run. The one stinks to high hell and has sweat stains that are more offensive than Donald Trump. I pass the three men who have been building a new house for my neighbor and wave. “Wawa, wawa,” I mumble, still sleepy. Piles of bricks are scattered around the new house’s foundation, encroaching upon the path connecting my house to the main road. When I finally maneuver through the minefield of bricks and reach the wider dirt road, I begin to run. 
 
I first pass the primary school, which is eerily silent now but which will be erupting with energy in a few hours. It’s comprised of about eight brick buildings and has a full sized soccer field next to it. (Which could be more accurately described as a rectangle of uneven dirt.) I tread carefully as to not twist an ankle in one of its many holes.  
 
Next, I pass a handful of amayis chatting unobtrusively and plodding along at a glacial pace. I wonder where they are going this early in the morning and how far they will walk. Their weight shifts momentously from hip to hip as their bodies waddle from side to side. 

The sun has certainly risen, but it remains soft and merciful. It gently reaches down and touches the few farmers that have begun to prepare their fields. The sun’s rays meet with a smokey layer of fog that snakes its way through the farmers’ fields, slithering between leftover tobacco plants and dried corn stalks. Their convergence creates a soft, purpley-blue light and reminds me why it’s worth getting up so early. 
 
I continue on, passing the multitude of houses that line the road. Children squat in circles around small bush fires that they’ve started. They warm their hands while gaping at me. Many of them shout my name or give me the thumbs up as I pass by. Some cower nervously behind their mothers’ legs. Thankfully, they’re still a bit subdued in their sleepy states.  

This interest in my behavoir is not limited to just children. I am stared at, pointed at, waved to and greeted by all ages. The farther away from my village I run, the more intense the reactions become. I witness mothers seeing me and then promptly grabbing their friends or children and pointing in my direction. It’s as if they’ve spotted a moose in their own backyard. Come look, quick! The children drop their chores and run to the road. Everyone in the village turns to see, stunned into silence. (The best reaction I have witnessed so far, however, came from an adorable 80-something year old agogo. When she saw me coming, her face broke out into a huge, genuinely happy smile as she pumped both of her fists in the air to cheer me on. I felt like an Olympic runner.)

 
I keep running, heading back towards my house now. On the right, I pass the local watering hole teeming with life. Women, children and many variously shaped buckets and basins surround the borehole. Babies are strapped to their mothers’ backs in colorful fabrics that contrast the bleak, brown landscape. 
I survey the land around me and indeed, it is bleak. In between each small village or clustering of homes is brown, dessicated farmland. The carefully sculpted rows where maize will be planted have been baked by the sun. The soil is dusty and barren of life. Tall spiky trees dot the landscape, but they are sparse.  
 
As I near my house, I sense a change in energy as the village is now waking up. The roosters have apparently fulfilled their work, evidenced by children playing games in their front yards, mothers starting fires, and goats exiting their pens. Bike taxis begin to pass me more frequently and the road becomes littered with people commuting to the trading center. I dodge a poorly driven an oxcart manned by a group of young boys. I maneuver around a bicycle carrying three bundles of straw. 

The calm feeling that blanketed the village a mere thirty minutes ago is now gone. The fog has dissipated and the colorful sunrise has been muted. I arrive back to my house, mourning the end of a peaceful morning. I start a fire, put on a pot of water, and wait for my bath water to heat. 

 

This is Eunice who joined me on a run the other week and ran two shoeless miles while carrying her blanket! A true sport. 

​16 Things Every PCV (Except For You) Is Doing

1). Hanging out with the most respectful, cutest children. Not only do they love to read quietly and take selfies with the PCV when he/she has recently showered, but language is not an issue because the children were schooled in Blantyre.

2). Relishing in the luxury of a European expat’s house, which happens to be a convenient five kilometers from the PVC’s house. On the menu: toasted bruschetta, sliced cheese, and pimento-stuffed olives. 

3). Successfully executing their projects with highly motivated and concerned community members. These project leaders never show up late (in fact they arrive 15 minutes early) and will certainly be continuing the project for years to come. They have even started a Facebook page.

4). Walking beneath a grove of eucalyptus trees with the wind at their back. Looking up at the mighty, swaying trees. Smiling. Ahhhh, Malawi.

5). Whipping up a delicious Thai-inspired dish over the fire that is full of fresh mango, pineapple, cilantro, and a plethora of obscure spices. Mmmm, it has the perfect amount of heat.

6). Getting lost on a cRaZy adventure to Lake Malawi with their bff during which they meet, among other kind souls, a feisty agogo who used to live in the PCV’s village. After forming a lifetime bond with the woman, the PCV and their bff end up finding the cutest hostel on the beach. The dogs there are the best!!

7). Skillfully painting inspiring quotes all over their walls. Taking a step back and smiling. Now they can do anything. 

8). Swinging joyfully in their hammock. Just. Swinging. 

9). Finding THE BEST mandasi lady in all of Malawi. Damn, her mandasis are delicious. Crisp on the outside, but fluffy and cloud-like on the inside. The PCV arranges to have her deliver them biweekly, because they can.

10). Lying in bed with their Peace Corps boyfriend/girlfriend, talking about their dreams for the future while their partner gently traces their fingernails up and down their back. It’s 120 degrees but no, they’re not sweating. Just existing in love.

11). Fitting in. Most people don’t even notice that an azungu lives in their village.

12). Laughing so hard at their neighbor’s joke that nsmia squirts out of their nose. Oh my god, that abambo is funny! He made the joke in Chiyao, but the PCV has no trouble understanding. The PCV loves Malawian humor. LOL. 

13). Waking up to the gentle murmur of children playing and chickens clucking in the distance. The PCV yawns, opens their eyes, and smiles. Another beautiful day in Malawi. 

14). Playing a little pickup soccer with the neighbor kids. And schooling them!

15). Going for a “joy ride” on their bike. They happen to take a water break near a member of Parliament’s house, who comes outside to speak to the them. Turns out that last year, he visited the same US city that they PCV is from! He tells the PCV that he travels to Mzuzu every week, if they ever want a free ride. 

16). Enjoying a clear complexion. The PCV simply washes their face with cool water each morning, which is not only cleansing, but meditative.

Pictured above: those cute kids that other PCVs can’t get enough of

EDIT: Because 3/3 of my family members texted me within fifteen minutes of posting this to see if I was alright… this post is merely satirical, poking fun at the way that Peace Corps volunteers (myself included) often make attempts to present their PC life in the best possible way. Cheers.

Her time to GLOW

Most days, she rises before the sun. She sweeps, starts a fire, and fetches water while her brothers slumber on. She bathes, eats, and walks to school. Five kilometers is nothing.

This day, however, is different. She packs her belongings and sets off on her own, leaving her family and their customs behind. She is going to a Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) camp for one week, where she’ll be residing in a lodge with forty other girls from her community. She doesn’t know just what to expect but is thankful that her parents have granted her permission.

She is apprehensive upon arrival, observing a bustling room decorated with colorful signs and filled with convivial chatter. She quickly assimilates into her assigned group, aiding in the creation of a team name and cheer. She feels a release from her life in the village as she dives head first into this inclusive, supportive, all-female environment.

On the second day, sessions commence and she begins to bond with her teammates. They jump up and down during breaks, screaming their cheer as loud as possible and banging their palms on the table without reservation. It all feels somewhat taboo, and she senses a distinct aberration from her quiet, submissive nature. She watches the Malawian facilitator with admiration, drinking in her wise words. She inspects her “smart” way of dressing and how easily she communicates with the American counselors. She wonders how this fearless Malawian woman came to be and ruminates about her own future. In the afternoon, she learns about self-esteem, the importance of staying in school, and how to select a reliable role model. A local artist delivers a visual arts lesson, in which he explains how to use art to create powerful social change messages.

At night, she eats an full plate of rice, beans, and greens while imagining what her brothers and sisters might be having at home. Her stomach is full and thankful to have received three large, nutritious meals. She retires to her room. Awaiting her is a real bed dressed with linens, a toilet, and overhead lights run by electricity. She has never stayed in such luxurious conditions and finds it hard to settle down knowing that she gets to live there for an entire week. She chats for awhile with her roommate, then shuts her eyes as a grin spreads across her face.
The following few days are spent learning about female empowerment, the reproductive system, abuse, consent, HIV, and more. She has so many questions, as do her fellow campers. Is it true that if you don’t have sex by the time you’re fifteen, your vagina will close up? Why do men chase after adolescent girls so much? If someone’s uncle is forcing them to have sex with him, and the whole village already knows what is occurring, who can they turn to for help? The counselors seem saddened by their questions but to her, they are normal. Many of the girls in her village have faced difficult predicaments like the one described above, and have also been told noxious myths (usually employed by men to get girls to sleep with them). She is pleased to learn the truth about these fallacies.

Although the girls aren’t accustomed to such scheduled days, they press on. One of her favorite sessions is practicing how to use both a male and a female condom. She giggles with her new friends at the imposing sight of a wooden penis. She also delights in the music lesson, during which a local artist teaches her about the elements of a song including pitch, tone, rhythm, and tune. Her group begins to draft a song about the importance of supporting female education.

On the last day of the camp, each team is allotted time to practice their song and drama, as well as to create additional performances. These dramas, songs, poems, and short stories will be performed on stage in front of the village at the end of the day. She feels timid in the morning, but after practicing and perfecting her pieces, she is eager to perform. She feels greatly supported by her fellow campers and new allies of female empowerment, and also by the counselors who have been supporting and praising her growth throughout the week. When it comes her time to perform, she absolutely shines. She recites a poem urging Malawian society to actually consider women as productive members of society; they are much more than just wives. She watches the other girls put on laughter-inducing comedies, sing beautifully sculpted songs and recite powerful poems. She is proud.

At the end of the night, the campers assemble for a candlelight ceremony. Sitting in a circle in the dark, light spreads from one candle to another as each girl shares her favorite moment from the week and one thing she has learned. Many relay that they have gained self-esteem, some note that they’ve expanded their reproductive health knowledge, while others vow to always prioritize their schooling. She enjoys listening to the girls and celebrating the week’s successes, yet she has an uninvited, disconcerting feeling. How easy will it be to explain to her family what she has learned? Will they be amenable to change or will she be relegated to the same gender-based chores and then subjected to an early marriage? Will her father actually make an effort to support her education? Although she has walked away from the camp filled with new knowledge, inspired by her counselors, and motivated to make change in her community, she is still wary about her return home and the powerless feeling of living under her father’s roof.

Yet, she recalls a comment made by a friend in an earlier discussion. We are capable of making change for the next generation. While her parents’ generation maybe be set in their ways, she can still be a leader and change agent for the future. She can still inspire others, spread what she has learned, and push her female friends to their highest potential. As her candle is lit and the light illuminates her face, she makes a silent promise to become the role model that all girls need.

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My PCV life in gifs #2

 

When I hear new American music in my village:

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When I hear something behind me and realize it’s a stalker child:

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When I don’t understand something in Chichewa so three Malwians shout it twice as fast:

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When the bars continue to play music after my 8:00 bedtime:

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When I hear someone speaking English:

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When I see the drunk man that proposed to me last week:

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My motivation level during hot season:

 

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When I say anything at all in Chichewa, even just hello:

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When the children come running towards me:

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When I see an termite mound forming on my wall:

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When I think about my diet these days:

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Follow this link to see more PCV gifs!