Saturday, May 16, 2009

Going to my site

During training we visited a local health center to visit and plant trees. It was raining that day and the secondary roads were very muddy. The center does not have a doctor and it has almost no medicine or supplies. The director is a medical technician and there is one nurse. The ambulance is a small motorcycle with an open sidecar for the patient.
Because of this lack of resources they can only handle births and emergencies. Some rooms were being rented to families who needed a place to stay. (photos: muddy road, director, ambulance)

As our training neared its end we all traveled by bus, mini-bus and motola (a flatbed truck or pickup which is often heavily overloaded with freight and people) to the area we will be living in for the next 2 years. We spent a couple of days with Dave, a nearby volunteer to see how he lives and what he does, then we were taken to our site to meet people and see our home for the next 2 years. (photo: right - Lauren, me, Jonathan, Dave)

First Lauren, who will be about 15 miles from me, and I took a mini-bus from the Peace Corps office in Lilongwe with Dave to his site in Kapiri in Mchinji district near where we will be. The ride was about an hour long and cost 700 Kwacha which is about $4.66. We stayed with him in his village and met his counterparts. These are the people he works with in the community. They can be extension agents from government ministries such as forestry, parks, agriculture or individuals.

Dave works with Alex and his brothers who wanted to have a fish farm and asked him to help them. Dave didn't know about fish but as educated Americans and trained Peace Corps volunteers we know how do research and find resources. Often, due to a lack of education and poverty, people do not know how to make a plan, save money, create a budget or find the information they need to start an IGA (Income Generating Activity). Dave did the research and found experts in fish farming to train Alex and his brothers raise fish. They have 2 small ponds and are now digging a bigger pond.

Dave also works with an NGO (Non-Government Organization) called CADECOM which is the Catholic Development Commission in Malawi. It has a contract with USAID (you have to get used to acronyms when you work with government agencies!). USAID is the main way the US government provides humanitarian aid and development to other countries. This contract is to provide food to people who are caring for orphans and people with HIV/AIDS, which is a big problem in Africa. They also build capacity which means training local people to do the work themselves after the program ends. In fact this program is ending after 5 years.

In Dave's village we also saw a mill used to grind corn into flour for making nsima – the staple food of Malawi.

After the food distribution we hitched a ride with the CADECOM truck to Mchinji BOMA where we met Jonathan, who I am replacing. From Mchinji we got on a matola. This one was a small pickup truck and it was loaded with 5 crates of eggs, 6 cases of soft drinks in glass bottles, about 10 large sacks of grain and 16 people sitting and hanging on where they could. There were also several jugs of oil and kerosene as well as our 2 bicycles tied on. You would not believe it. We were travelling on a very rough and rutted dirt road and the springs were bottomed out. When we moved to the side to pass another truck or ox-cart it felt like we would roll into the ditch. After 10 kilometers, about 6 miles, we dropped Lauren at her village which is near the orphanage where Madonna adopted her son, David Banda. David's father, John, lives in my village and I have met him several times since then.

Jonathan and I stayed on the matola for another 10 km where we got off at a small village called Kayigwazanga. There we met Mr. Mcfarland Nyienda who is an agriculture extension agent. While waiting we met Mr. Nephitale Banda who is a veterinary technician from the Agriculture Ministry. Then we rode our bicycles about 20 km, a little over 12 miles, to my village of Lipunga with Mr. Nyienda leading the way. That's right, I have to take an overloaded pickup truck and then ride my mountain bike 1 ½ hours to get to my village from the nearest town! There is a dirt road, however, and vehicles pass through occasionally. I may be able to hitch rides with forestry department trucks or an NGO once in a while if I'm lucky.

You may notice that I use ”Mr.” in front of names. Malawians are very respectful and it is built into their language. Men are addressed as “abambo” which means father, sir, or mister and women are addressed as “amayi” which means something like madam or mother. The “a” at the beginning of these 2 words indicattes respect and there are formal forms of parts of speech which are also used to show respect.


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.