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November 3rd 2009
Published: November 5th 2009
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Okay, it has been a while! (I feel like I start with that sentence a lot)

First of all: I HAVE FROGS LIVING IN MY TOILET. Well, maybe they live in the plumbing? I thought this was an appropriate way to start my blog off for the last 2 months because for me it is a very big dilemma....To flush or not to flush - that is the question. I wont tell you what I usually end up doing...I am just worried one morning I am going to look into my toilet and find a black mamba. THAT would be a definite FLUSH.

So, anyway, to start off the month of September we lost our principal to a neighboring college. We really are having a hard time keeping our staff at the hospital and college! Same old story. I think until we get a road it will always be difficult for people to want to stay past their contract. We (the tutors) organized our own going away party for her, and saw her off before she left via matola. Now, for the most part, matola's are the only way to move all your stuff if you HAVE to. DON'T do it in the rainy season! (Refer to picture)

It wasn't long after Kaliza (the principal) left that it was announced that Peace Corps would be losing the transit houses. Yes, Peace Corps also took a hit during this economic crisis. So, all the southern volunteers met up in Blantyre to discuss our options once the houses were closed. Now, the transit houses were located in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu so that volunteers have a cheap, safe place to meet up when they are on transit in and out of their site. For some volunteers the houses were an essential stopping point because it is often impossible to get back to or from their sites in one day (like me). SO, we had a meeting to "see our way forward" on the issue...and to have an auction for all the house supplies! It actually ended up being a lot of fun (when it wasn't sad that we didn't have a place to stay for only MK200/night). We had "Mexican" for dinner - I spent like 2 hours making chipati's - and there was a mini dance party in the living room. Nice.

From Blantyre I decided to go to Zomba to visit my students. Half of the second years had their clinical allocations at the mental hospital in Zomba. The mental hospital wasn't as horrible as I had heard, but it was by no means optimal, or even comparable to what we would see in the states (is anything here in Malawi?). It basically was an old compound with a long, creepy hallway that divided the hospital between the more acute patients and the patients that were improving... Anyway, I went to the mental hospital twice, and on the second day I saw electroshock therapy, something that I had not seen in the states, and now I wish I had so I could compare the two.

While in Zomba I stayed at a new health volunteers site. She is a nurse as well, and is attached to the college in Zomba. We met up for lunch both days, and our last day in Zomba we ate lunch at this nice coffee shop just down from the District Hospital. IT WAS REAL COFFEE. A little pricey though. They even tempted me to come back with the promise of iced coffee! Afterwards, Sika and her mom took us up the plateau, and we even had desert at the Sunbird while there (don't get the ice cream, it's way overpriced, the cake is better).

The following day we got a ride to Lilongwe with a doctor from Baylor. It was a good ride. I stayed in Lilongwe a week to restock and get some work done at the office before traveling back to Blantyre the following weekend for the VSV meeting September 26th. Kelly invited me to an engagement party the following day. One thing you need to bring with you for all ceremonies (weddings, funerals, engagement parties...) is LOTS of money. Kelly went to the bank and got tons of 20 kwacha bills for the event. So, for a few hours on Sunday, AFTER we got dressed up and were appropriately over an hour late (Malawi style) we got a ride to this engagement party and proceeded to dance up the aisle and throw 20 and 50 kwacha at the engaged couple. It was fun, but not something I want to do every weekend on a PC salary.

I headed back down to Nsanje shortly after...ONLY to find out that we (Trinity College) were not to get any new first year students because the school fees went from being paid for (the students went to nursing school before for FREE) to costing MK330,000/year! This is over $2,000; way too much for a villager...or a PCV for that matter. Currently the government of Malawi and CHAM are looking into finding money to pay for the school fees - but I doubt whether there will be any new students anytime soon...😞

October 9th-11th I went to the Lengwe Game Count. Concurrently Malawi was also hosting the Liwonde Game Count, but my friend Ross lives in Lengwe so I supported his national park instead. We are both Shire Valley people, so I really didn't have a choice did I? Haha. This game count was at the water holes. In Lengwe the important animal to count is the nyala, followed by the big mammals (minus the baboons and monkeys) and then the birds. Unfortunately there was a shortage of water so the waterholes were more dried up than usual, and there were about 30 people for the count...So we (the Peace Corps Volunteers) were unable to do all the viewings. This, however, was fine with me because I liked having the free-time (and 3 hours straight staring at a small pond can get old). Instead I was free to poke my head into a viewing for as long as I wanted without having any real need to stay. I DID get some great views of some Cape Buffalo, and plenty of other antelope, kudu, birds and baboons. And Nyala Lodge has excellent Hamburgers and Hotdogs! In all it was a fun time. AND I managed to get some information about income generating activities (IGAs) for my site while I was there - so it wasn't all just fun and games! I hope to soon be introducing an oil press to one of my support groups as an IGA - Ross even followed me back to site to talk to my community more about it.

I traveled to Mangochi Thursday, October 15th (Mother's Day here in Malawi). This year the annual Lake of Stars was to take place about 20K north of Mangochi boma, so I decided to bunk up at Jodi's house. I was going to go to the Lake on Friday the 16th, but because of transportation issues and no one to go with I decided to stay in Mangochi. It was nice. I wandered around Mangochi for a few hours...I crossed the Muluzi Bridge, took pictures of the Monument and haggled with people in the market behind the district hospital. Saturday Hannah, an AVI volunteer, and I hitched up to the Lake of Stars. We saw performances from the Black Missionaries, and many other African artists, and lounged around on the beach. We camped at a VSO's house. We returned to Jodi's on Sunday and I managed to get back to my site the following Monday.

At site I have been working with a People Living with HIV/AIDS Support Group (PLWHA). There are 166 members of this group that meet every month, but they have been meeting outside in a field because we have no buildings at the hospital for them to meet in. They have made bricks and collected sand, but their proposal for funding for supplies for the building hasn't found any donors. So, currently, while I am waiting for students to arrive at the college, I have decided to try to find this group funding for a small resource center so that they can meet and support each other, with out having to do it out in the field behind the NRU...It's going well - I just hate writing proposals (and grad school applications for that matter - which I am also trying to do).

I actually managed to get a ride straight from my site to Lilongwe not long after. My principal went to a meeting to discuss the absence of students issue, and since I needed to get the proposal I mentioned above done in the PC office I jumped in as well. It was good timing because a lot of my friends were taking the GRE that weekend - and it was Ken's birthday - so I got to see a lot of people in the capital while still doing official work. Jen, Stevie and I even helped make a small brunch for the people in our group that finished the GRE, and a chocolate cake for Ken. One warning when taking the GRE here in Lilongwe - Don't leave anything valuable in the lockers because the guards will take it. One girl thought she needed cash to pay for the GRE and half her money was stolen. Another PCV had their bag stolen. Mavuto.

I then followed up all that hard work with a long weekend up in Chitipa for Halloween. I can now say that I have seen both sides of Malawi!

Chitipa is in the far north and just west of Karonga. Without private transport it takes forever to get up there...Luckily an returned PCV was in town and rented a car. Cathy, Alinon and I got a hitch straight up to another volunteers house in Karonga on Wednesday the 28th and then proceeded to Matt's house in Chitipa the following day.

Our first evening in Chitipa was spent on the preparation for the events to be held on the 30th (the following day). Mostly, as people started trickling in 2 and 3 at a time, Cathy and I helped collect water, build fires, cook food, etc. Some of the guys even slaughtered two pigs and skinned them.

Cathy and I had decided to pitch our tent a little ways from the house (the following day would boast something like 42 people) to cut down on the noise and traffic. Unfortunately we put our tent up far out BEFORE Matt told us about the lions in Chitipa. Not cool.

Of course I was busy and put it out of my mind until I was awakened by Cathy in the middle of the night who was banging on the side of our tent. When I asked her what she could possibly be doing she asked if I heard a digging sound. When she mentioned it (and stopped banging on the walls of the tent, over my head of course) I DID hear something...But it didn't sound big enough to be a LION. Maybe a snake or an evil baboon. OR the mama hog of the two we slaughtered...

Well Cathy, of course, took this opportunity to NEED to use the toilet - and proceeded to investigate the situation. I promptly stayed inside the tent to watch our things. Turns out there were actually GIANT ANTS burrowing under our tent. Gross.

Saturday, October 30th was AWESOME. People kept arriving and tent space was running out near the house...More and more people wished they had our spot! After bathing (bucket bath of course) a bunch of us went down to the secondary school to see Rachel (VSO) and Matt play some bluegrass songs. Matt, Rachel and a few others would hit a few more places over the next few hours before ending up in the market around noon.

Cathy and I went to the market in search of costumes and chitenjes. We found chitenjes but our costumes were LAME. Cathy got black clothes to be a rat and I found a goofy apron and was going to go as a chef. We then danced with our friends through countless bluegrass songs before returning to Matts.

The pigs - left on the hot bricks overnight and properly cooked - were ready by our return. We spent the rest of the evening chatting, eating, singing and dancing around the fire.

Halloween came and we moved our party to Chitipa Boma at a VSO's site. Some PCVs dressed in their costumes and wore them all day... Few Malawians new the difference, but we did talk to those who asked where we got our "fancy" clothes...cultural exchange at it's best! We ate lunch in the Boma and then many people played volleyball against the Chitipa Boma Police. We lost, but it was fun. Afterwards everyone dressed up, ate our awesome cooked dinner (and pumpkin cake) and went to Handyman's.

Many people left early the next morning, but I stayed an extra day before proceeding to Karonga via matola. I met Tenley in Karonga and we visited the CMCK: Cultural and Museum Centre Karonga. They have a dinosaur there! It was cool. Tuesday I managed to get a straight ride back to Lilongwe and I have been finishing my proposal since yesterday.

I hope everyone had a Happy Halloween!!

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5th November 2009

Hi Kristen, don't worry; Joann had a frog in her toilet for a long time as well and she flushed it over and over...... The frog survived!!! Nice to read your story again and glad to hear you are still enjoying yourself although there are no students....!! Say hello to everyone in Fatima!! Love, Elly
5th November 2009

With two pigs cooking on the bricks and your camping outside, HOW COULD YOU EVER SLEEP. Now, I'm sure you're going to tell me that the fire keeps the LIONS away. However, at that point, I would not be concerned about the little piggies being stolen from the flames. I would be worried about the "tidy little snack" all wrapped up in a tent and ready to go! Sounds like F.A.S.T. food to me!

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