Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Muli bwanji (You are how) all my friends,
Ndili bwino (I am well)

My group of 19 Peace Corps trainees arrived in Malawi February 22, 2009. We received an enthusiastic welcome at Lilongwe airport from the other volunteers of the Environment Sector. There are about 140 volunteers in Malawi doing work in health, education and environment.

We got in a Peace Corps bus and traveled over an hour to the Malawi College of Forestry in Dedza district where Peace Corps has a training center. The Peace Corps has an excellent training program because it integrates culture, language and technology. There are many NGOs (Non-Government Organizations), churches and government agencies involved in development work here because Malawi is a very poor country. Peace Corps is especially effective because of its integrated training and because volunteers live among the people they serve and speak the local language. This integration helps us develop projects which are really wanted and have a better chance of continuing after we are gone.

The first week – week zero – was an introduction to Malawi and the training program. It gives us a chance to recover from the 17 1/2hour flight across 7 time zones from NY to Johannesburg, where we spent the night, and the 2 ½ hour flight from there to Lilongwe.We were introduced to the culture and language and the technical trainers took us on early morning hikes up a mountain to see the local flora and fauna. The trainers are all Malawians who are dedicated to giving us the tools and information we need to do our work and assist their country. They are well trained and experienced and always available to answer questions and assist us. We have beecome good friends over the 2 months of our training.

After week zero we each began a month of homestay with families in two nearby villages, Chikanda and Mzengereza. A lot of effort goes into preparing the people of the villages to understand our strange ways and help us understand their culture and language. The trainers live in the villages with us and each language trainer has only 3 or 4 students. We have language morning and afternoon for about 3 hours and technical sessions in between. We meet with the village chief and the group village headman, who in our case is a woman and is in charge of 20 villages. We also have assignments which require us to ask questions and interact with the residents to learn about their village and culture. The goal is to be able to integrate into village life in Malawi. Current PC volunteers stop by for several days to tell us about their experience living and working in Malawi.

On Thursdays we travel back to the college for health, safety and medical sessions and shots. These sessions prepare us to travel and stay healthy in a country with many challenges and risks. Peace Corps Malawi has very good health care. There are 2 very well qualifyed doctors and a nurse at the office in Lilongwe. There is always someone on call if we have a problem or question. If there is illness or an emergency they will do whatever is required to take care of us.
We are given an extensive medical kit and manual and taught how to deal with nutrition, malaria, diarrhea, giardia and many other situations because first of all we have to depend on ourselves. We also have a safety and security officer and must create an emergency plan and know area health and security resources.

Occasionally we make a foray into Dedza. Dedza is a BOMA or British Overseas Military Administration center – a term from the British colonial period which only ended with independence in 1964. Each district and BOMA have the same name. They are centers of trade and administration.
There are stores and permanent stalls but also an open outdoor market with firewood, grains, beans, simple hardware and bicycle parts, roots and natural remedies, food, clothes – new and used, cheap electronics and much more. Local goods are very cheap but imported things are very expensive.


MAMMALO said...

I have not responded to you in a while...I have atrial fibrillation which got me real sick and I did go to the hospital and now months later, I am walking 2-4 miles a day and then my back went out but that is okay now, too...we are living off the grid with one solar panel which charges our cell phones and the radio which is also a wind-up type and can re-charge in the sun, too...I have not been driving the Hey Taxi! much since December when I started getting sick and now I am not real sure if I will go back and drive...Great to hear from you, too...with peace and health on this earth...


Even though it is just little bits of electricity flying through the ether the contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps.