Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Sweet Smell of Manure

This month I have found out just what the smell of success really is. Hint, its not leathery like the inside of a wallet. Nor is it the smell of a pretentious bottle of wine from eons ago. Give up? Well, it smells more like the backside of a parade. I’m serious, it really does. Normally only soil science nuts revel in the olfactory onslaught that is the smell of manure. I’m afraid however, I can now relate.

Lets first back up a little bit. I need to explain something that has a huge impact on my time here. The life of a Peace Corps Volunteer sees some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows one could ever experience. One day you could be walking on air, sure that you belong nowhere else but right here among smiling people and a landscape more ruggedly beautiful than anything I have ever seen. Everything is just beautiful. The next day, you detest anything and everything that moves, the drunkards, the incessant smoke, and hideous music from a fifth hand radio that is virtually unintelligible. You wish to God for a magic flute that will warp you back to... well wherever (or straight to Bowser’s Castle). Its also extremely ugly.

Fortunately, if you can’t tell by the subtle spunk in the post thus far, I’m in a happy place. I am drawn back to just about a year ago when I was but a naive pup in my village. The month was June and unaware of the ridiculous heat that awaited me and unafraid of failure, I was rather gung-ho about everything. Later when things slowed down, I regressed (conversely to the thermometer) and began to despair about actually getting things done. Every slight attempt of mine to grow something in my back yard failed. I couldn’t really rally the villagers to try one of my cockamamie ideas and when I could get their attention, they would listen to me, or so I thought, and then nod off to sleep. They weren’t uninterested. Rather, as I wrote a few posts ago, they were tired because they had been up since 3:30 AM working in the fields in preparation of the rain. Little did I know, I was infringing on their highly coveted "nap time".
I endured a good five or six months of some serious soul searching; questioning my ability to see anything through past the idea stage. Luckily I had some vacation in there to break things up, but as I was gallivanting around Southern Africa, I felt even more guilty. Not only was I not able to get anything done, I up and left to go do some sailing, drink some wine and go dune hopping.
In those first few months however, I got quite a bit done and I was pretty excited about everything. Thankfully, a year, and agricultural cycle, later, I am happy to report that I have been walking around with a little skip in my step. I have finally been able to rally the troops just like when I first got here. This time, however I’ve got them all riled up about... poop. Yes that's right, poop (well leaf and grass matter too). I’ll take my victories where ever they come from, thank you.

In an effort to address the food security issue (the one I wrote about rather dismally in the previous post) I have been trying to put together a number of projects that will hopefully mitigate the impact of an extended hungry season. Kitchen gardens, or small household gardens have, thus far been my main focus. As you may know, the soil that surrounds a typical villager’s household is nothing but compacted dirt which is swept clean every day. This makes gardening a bit difficult; like trying to grow vegetables in the fast lane of I-95. Last week, we held a little demonstration of how to make compost manure. We made soaking wet layers of leaves and cow dung, up to about one meter high. On a side note, it was about 65 degrees under an overcast sky with a slight drizzle. The villagers were dressed for a Canadian Squall. I on the other hand was reveling in it. Anyway, we finished off the heap and upon retuning the next day I was greeted with smiles and a steaming pile of decaying poo! Seeing the people so anxious about compost made me grin and at the same time made me excited to be a volunteer out in the bush. We decided that those present would venture out into their respective villages and do similar demonstrations with their neighbors. Kevin is Elated! Not only is making compost a very important concept, the villagers have gone and decided to make the project sustainable! What more could I ask for?

Well, I'm afraid I must leave the post here, I am in the capital only for a few days and I will be returning to Mulanje Mountain for another hike. There are rumors that there was a pretty substantial frost there in the past few weeks. Luckily I still have some warm clothes. After that, I intend on returning to the village to make some more of that sweet smelling compost!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Greetings all,

Sorry again for the delay but the speed of which life moves here is conducive of one update per two months. I am updating this time from the capital, Lilongwe, where I have been for the past few days celebrating a premature (American) independence day. Each year the US ambassador holds an event for all American ex-patriots (aid workers, volunteers, missionaries, etc.) in Malawi. Its a pretty typical picnic complete with hamburgers, hot dogs and the whole nine yards and is a nice little taste of home. If the prospect of a fourth of July picnic in Malawi isn't ironic enough, the weather has truly made this week an anomaly. I have memories attending picnics where I sweat more than I ate and one would expect the same here. NOPE! Today is more reminiscent of Thanksgiving in America. Its cool and in the low 60's with a wind and overcast skies. This morning was downright chilly. I can't remember ever wearing a sweatshirt to an Independence day picnic. I guess this is a reminder that Malawi is indeed a highland area(except for my site) and actually has a pretty admirable climate (except for my site).

The big news in Malawi other than allegations of coup plots against the current president is the looming food crisis. As many of you know there are some pretty telling bits of evidence that suggests the majority of the world's citizens are in for a rough ride. Food prices around the world have skyrocketed (Malawi is no exception) and transportation has been made virtually impossible for many because of the price of oil (which I just heard is projected to reach nearly $200 per barrel by the end of the year). This prospect is anything but good for the worlds poor and 95% of Malawi. So while we keep dumping our food into bio fuel products (eh hem Brazil) people are starving and rioting and are generally hungry. I'm sure the developed world is anticipating the looming crisis, cooing at the prospect of dumping our surpluses on people who have nearly become dependent on this sort of "aid"; only making the outlook for the future bleaker. There are hundreds of variables to this argument, and it is apparent that a great deal of it is rooted in controversial global agricultural policies and attitudes toward global climate change. I'm not sold that the answer lies in the complete opening of agricultural markets (although subsidies to American farmers seem hypocritical at best) as mono-cropping and the treatment of food as a tradable commodity has led to a plethora of environmental and nutritional disasters. And I'm not completely sold on the argument that a more conservative "closed market" approach works. There's no real reason we should be paying farmers when their yield prices are drifting toward the basement and the price of their product is headed that way as well. However, I am comfortable saying that I believe any future policy that does not include crop diversification or attention to localized nutritional and environmental concerns will have little positive impact on the future food security and environmental complications and it could even make things worse.

So what are we doing about it? Last Week we had a long discussion about what we as volunteers can do to mitigate the effects of high input prices and irregular weather patterns which are quite apparant in this part of the world. I can't count how many times I have heard, "Never can I remember in Malawi, this (rain/drought/heat/cold) lasting this (long, short, early or late) or to this extreme." We focused a lot of our time brainstorming ideas that would give families an easier ability to meet basic nutritional requirements. This included methods of low impact farming and conservation agriculture (mulching, reduced tillage which will improve soil fertility, reducing their dependency on fertilizer) and CROP DIVERSIFICATION!!!! I really can't stress that last one enough. Malwaians eat Maize, Maize with their Maize and more Maize; they drink it too. We are trying to reduce their dependency on their staple just the teeniest bit and replace that void in their diet with something more nutritious and something that wont have such a detrimental impact on their land. Personally, I have been working with families, trying to get them to start planting small gardens right out of the back of their house. This would provide the family with those few extra vitamins and minerals that would help them get through the quickly approaching "hungry" season without serious consequences. We'll see if this works, people seem to be stuck in that maize rut. To be fair, there is a bit of diversification but there is very little emphasis on expanding it. I am a bit lucky in that people in my area have a competitive advantage with their weather (this I still find hard to comprehend). The hotter climate is great for growing cotton which has recently gone up in price and Sesame. Sesame's market is growing quickly and has provided a quality harvest for the past few years and a potential project for me!

I am trying to acquire an oil seed press which we could use to press this abundance of sesame in our area. The price for cooking oil has shot up as well (there's no surprise) and we may have the ability to make a 50% greater profit selling locally processed oil than dumping our seeds to the local buyer; hopefully making the product more attractive and raising the value. I have a number of farmers who seem interested and I hope to have some more info in the next few months. Though the sesame does not go to direct consumption, this is a wonderful example of the benefits of diversification. Sesame tends to prevail during hot and dry spells when maize wilts and it can grow in sandy soils, which would in effect help to reduce the potential of erosion in sandy areas. On top of that, too much water seems to have little harmful impact on the plant's growth.

There is a lot to think about as my role as a volunteer and by far the hardest par is translating these thoughts into action. The next few months should be good, I intend to keep waiting for the electricity project to come to a head. Perhaps by the time I leave I can do some Asian cooking on an electric cook top with locally harvested sesame oil in our community center. I suppose that's a reasonable goal and I could get a pretty mean stir fry out of it! For now, I will work my way back to the South and see where I can focus my attention in the coming weeks. Egypt plays Malawi in a World Cup qualifying match on Friday and I will be sure to tune that in on the radio. I will be back in Lilongwe at the end of July and I will try to shoot out another update then.

Until then, take care and keep the letters/packages coming!

- Kevin

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


It seems as though I am up to the tardy antics that results in a post once every three months.

Since January, not too terribly much has happened; life continues. As if the flooding wasn't enough in the beginning of the rainy season, we have now been thrown into a premature dry season. This means that those who lost their crops in the heavy rains have no opportunity for a second harvest. The seedlings that sprung up a few weeks ago will have a tough time making it to harvest. This is a marked contrast to the success of the past two years. Malawi has had a significant surplus in maize and has had tremendous success with their other cash crops (Tobacco, Cotton, Tea and Sugar) but this year may be a little different. So how does this manifest itself? It robs people from that extra little money that is used for emergencies; getting to the clinic in the district center, paying for school fees - things we take for granted. This of course will not be felt at present. However come the end of the hot season this year, villagers' food stores will be empty earlier and the potential for illness will be higher. Its really amazing how much people here live at the whims of nature. One year with good rains, yields an excess of crops and 10 new electrical hookups occur in the village. One bad year, people starve. Things aren't so bad right now. The harvest is underway and people are happy and starting to get healthier, so I will remain optimistic for the moment.

The highlight for the past few months was a visit to Malawi by my parents. It was a fantastic time. I brought them to my village where we were shown the true hospitality of Malawians, with food, gifts and more greetings than most politicians go through. I did my best to show them as much diversity in the country as I could in 7 days and i think I succeeded. We saw Blantyre (the "city"), my rural village. We were up in highland altitudes in the mountains, we were in the low veld of my area. We saw the bush and we saw the lake. It was an excellent time and I think that they could probably do a better job of describing the visit. We also spent six days in the uber-luxurious surrounds of Cape Town. The Western Cape ceases to amaze me. It is absolutely astounding how beautiful it is and how perfect the climate is. It was an excellent trip as well and an excellent time for me to stuff my face with seafood!

At the moment, I am working on trying to get electricity to the CBO where I am working. It's a big task that requires a lot of traveling and bouncing around, but its been good and it has been keeping me busy. I have just completed the funding proposal, and I am now waiting to receive the money. We'll see how long it takes! The idea behind bringing electricity to the CBO is to foster the development of future income generating projects as well as set the grounds for the introduction of computers into the village. This will probably not be my project, but it can and will certainly be a hot topic for future volunteers. I also just completed drawing a giant world map on the wall of one of the rooms in the CBO office. It measures about 4 meters by 2 meters and will eventually be painted. It was a great project and not terribly difficult; something I would do back in America in my own place.

The new group of Environment volunteers has arrived and its crazy to think that I only have just over 11 months left, time has flown by. There will be two more volunteers near me but with transport so ridiculous, I will only see them in Blantyre most likely. Nonetheless they should be a wonderful resource to the area and its good to know I have people that understand what its really like in the Lower Shire valley.

I've had a lot of time to converse with fellow volunteers about the difficulties with development work and I have found it to be a very interesting topic, especially in the Malawian context. I will eventually get around to posting my feelings on various issues related to development soon. But it remains a fascinating field and though not what I see myself doing, I love to talk about it. If anyone reading has any questions or opinions feel free to email me and I would be happy to respond!

Alright, I need to share the computer I suppose. Take care all and I will hopefully update again soon!


Saturday, January 26, 2008


The last two months, while not busy have surely been eventful. I fear that I have been a rather strange face in my village, breaking a rule I set out for myself of being there as much as possible. I packed my bag and headed off to Namibia to visit Briana and spend Christmas with her and her family. It was a welcomed opportunity to see another part of Africa and to spend the holidays in good company. I left Blantyre, in a deluge or rain, en route to Jo’burg via Lilongwe. The first leg of the trip was a short 25 minute flight that turned out to have the most interesting passenger list I could have imagined. I sat next to 2 girls who were around my age who, judging by their accents hailed from North America. It turns out that one was from Canada and the other was from, South Brunswick, New Jersey (A town about 15 miles from where I grew up). They were working/doing research with a university here in Malawi. It is indeed a small world. The rest of the flight was a massive group of Muslim families, whom I learned were on their way to Mecca for Hajj. The plane literally cleared out as there is an Air Malawi flight direct to Dubai from Lilongwe. It really made me appreciate how global of a religion Islam is and how awful of stereotypes we have about it in the west. Anyway, we’ll save that conversation for another time.

Getting off the plane in Johannesburg was like stepping into another dimension. There was a jet-way first of all and once inside the airport, there were moving sidewalks (that worked), more shops than one could find in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, people speaking a million different languages and construction workers everywhere, I mean everywhere. This was shortly before seemingly every laborer and even some professionals in South Africa went on strike. The construction inside and outside the airport was truly amazing and, fingers crossed it will be completed for the World Cup in 2010. The next flight was very quick and not nearly as interesting. Nonetheless, it saw me arrive safely in Windhoek.

If Johannesburg was another dimension, Namibia was a different planet. It’s difficult to describe the vast differences in geography and culture in Southern Africa. As soon I stepped out of the cabin onto the ‘air-stairs’, I looked left, I looked right and apart from the quaint terminal, control tower and a few small hangers, I saw nothing… nothing. On top of this I seemed to feel the very moisture in my skin evaporate before I reached the terminal. I left the most densely populated country in Africa in the midst of tropical rain, and arrived in the second least densely populated country in the world in the throngs of a dry summer. I was surrounded by people speaking a number of Languages, some with the tell tale guttural sounds of Afrikaans, and Damara, a language where clicking seems more common than vocal sounds. This immense variation in only a few hundred miles, the distance between New York and St. Louis.

The next three weeks absolutely flew by. A few days in Windhoek (very much a small European city), where we went to a mall, ate some delicious food and generally dappled in the more luxurious aspects of Africa was a welcome treat. Having been thoroughly overwhelmed by city life, Briana and I set out to the Southwest toward the Namib-Nakluft National Park and the red sand dunes of Sossusvlei. A six hour drive from Windhoek on sometimes very narrow and dangerously steep gravel roads took us to the campsite just on the outside of the gate to the park. We passed maybe 8 cars the whole time. It truly was a different world. The idea is to see the dunes as the sun rise so that one can get the full effect of a two-sided dune, one side in shadowy black and one a fire-red (truly an amazing sight). We set off after all the giant overland busses roared passed our tent and on the way out (still in the camp ground) we hit a patch of sand that our poor Toyota Corolla couldn’t quite negotiate; we were stuck. We eventually freed the car and entered the park (on paved roads!) and set off for the main dune 60 km away a little dejected. After about 15 minutes inside the park, the sun began to rise and threw its rays against a number or equally impressive dunes and mountains. This turned out to be quite an advantage. We were unmolested by the swaths of tourists that were undoubtedly at the main dune in a race to get to the top before the sun peeked over the horizon. Instead we were treated to a panorama which included a number of Oryx or gemsbok, springbok, ostrich against small distant trees dwarfed in the presence or massive rich red sand dunes. We had a magnificent site all to ourselves that I wish you all could see (I’ll explain later).

The next evening took us to a desolate game farm which is now a country lodge perched on a rocky hill made up of a number of cave-like rock structures. We had the place to ourselves including the bar, delicious restaurant, large pool situated on a ledge overlooking the farm and distant mountains and a meerkat colony! It was a nice taste of luxury on our way to Walvis Bay. After a long drive through more desert, we reached the coast and were met with a shrill wind off the water. It produced a wonderful smell that I missed dearly. After another nice meal, this time with delicious sea food, we retired back to our B&B. The next morning we joined 5 others in a Kayak trip out to the southernmost reaches of the bay and to a colony of very playful and loud seals.

Next was another taste of Europe in Swakopmund. A holiday town about 35 km north of Walvis Bay. Good food, a nice beach and relaxation were in order. After a few days there we took the train back to Windhoek (not recommended). It took 12 hours (overnight) paralleling a stretch of road that takes roughly four hours to drive. We met up with Briana’s parents and after a quick night in Windhoek headed back to Swakopmund for a bit more fun in the sun. This is unfortunately the site of a bit of a setback. I was reunited with my laptop, and I immediately uploaded all my pictures that I have taken thus far onto the hard drive. After two lovely days in Swakop, we headed north, and on the way out of town, we were signaled over by a minibus, to make a rather embarrassing story short, they picked up my laptop which apparently flew off the top of the car, where I inadvertently left it. I was immensely grateful for them having retrieved it, but it was indeed destroyed. Alas, we will figure out a way to get my pictures back!

Fortunately we spent a wonderful Christmas Eve on a Game farm in the central northern part of the country. We had a delicious meal and retired to a night of cards and drinks. All in all a peaceful and relaxing time. As we worked our way north toward Briana’s site, we passed what is known as the ‘red line’. Left over from Apartheid days, the majority of the land south is white-owned ranch or farm land and north is the traditional home of the Owambos and other African people. Crossing the line in to the more densely populated part of the country was a little more familiar to my Malawi experience. Eventually we came to Briana’s village and school. We were given a wonderful and warm reception including an introduction in front of the Church, a tour of the school and a lengthy meal at Briana’s home-stay family’s house, capped off by a show of traditional dancing. Though different in various ways, it was interesting to observe the many similarities between Chewa and Owambo cultures. After all, they did emerge from the same group of people hundreds of years ago. This is where my trip to Namibia was cut off. I bade farewell to the Andersons, before their journey East to Victoria Falls and into Botswana and headed South, back to Windhoek.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and what I believe an integral part of Peace Corps Service. It’s difficult to take extended leave from the village, for sentiments of desertion and a disruption in ongoing projects, but I feel it necessary to make the most of my time in this part of the world to where I may or may not return. So I will leave it here. If any of you are considering a trip to Namibia, I highly recommend it. If you can tolerate a fair bit of driving, the possibilities are numerous and the country’s tourism industry is very well established and a pleasure to deal with.

Next up, Mom and Dad come! Oh Boy!


Back In Malawi

I began this blog in order to keep track of the intricacies and the various facets of my Peace Corps service in order. I anticipated that internet access would be scarce at best and up until now I admit, I have done an abysmal job. Nonetheless, in the words of our ‘eloquent’ former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld “it is what it is”. And now you are in for two long ones.

First, thank you all who sent Holiday cards. I truly appreciated the thought of all of you and it made coming back to the village all the easier knowing that you’re all still out there!

My return trip to Malawi went smoothly and I rewarded myself by attending a New Years gathering at a volunteer’s site near Nkhata Bay, directly on the lake - a truly breathtakingly beautiful part of the country that I had previously not seen.

I found returning to my site extremely difficult. It was a real treat to spend time with friends and loved ones, and the uncertainty of the future and the retreat into village life was daunting. After traveling through a fairly well developed country, I saw Malawi in a new light. Though the rains are indeed a staple in the recipe for life and indeed they bring out, in force, any living thing that had been dormant during the dry season and the physical beauty of the country, they also bear a curse. Until now, people had been relatively healthy, clean and patiently awaiting the arrival of the rains. Well, they’re here and things have changed.

As many of you have probably heard, there has been massive flooding in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Southern Malawi (my area) for the better part of the last month.. The Zambezi river has swollen to record levels, and though the government in Mozambique has done a commendable job of responding to the humanitarian crisis, the fact of the matter remains that life is made tremendously difficult for millions of people here because of what we in the west would deem, a ‘wet winter’ and leave it at that. People in my village, although safe are becoming increasing isolated in a time of great need. The road out to the district town, if you can call it a road, looks more like a detonated mine field in some places and like a tidal basin in others. Now I fully understand why most of the vehicles in Malawi are in such a state of disrepair. I understand why people are now reluctant to join me in my various ‘crazy’ projects. They have myriad more pertinent issues to worry about; protecting their precious food crops from being washed away, securing fertilizer in order to give them that healthy yield, attending to sick loved ones as a result of the high temperatures, increased humidity and the proliferation of mosquitoes and battling hunger that arises around February as their stores begin to vanish. This time of year truly shows just how difficult life is for millions of people in similar situations. Nonetheless, life goes on with nearly everyone in my village, bar myself, not batting an eye at the deluge that is such a potential threat. To my stark realization, this situation is commonplace.

I have patiently spent the past few weeks reading, wiping sweat from my brow every few minutes, puttering around in my garden and preparing for the arrival of my parents. I have found the evening bucket bath to be a welcome reprieve from the intense heat and humidity (about 95-100 degrees and close to 100% humidity). Last week however I was in for a bit of surprise as I worked my way back into my house after an evening bath, I found a small boy, around 12 years old sprinting from my house. I chased him to the front and then around back where he nimbly scaled a tree and escaped over the fence. I had noticed a few things missing from my house in the previous days, but chalked it up to my inability to keep tab on my possessions. Now I had proof that I was not crazy. This episode did give me quite a fright. Previously I had felt EXTREMELY safe in my village, it is perhaps one the most favorable aspects of my life there. Anyway, I shouted for help and everyone came…. Everyone, even the drunks. My neighbor rushed over with his hoe over his shoulder and peered through the darkness to see if there was anyone else. I took tabs on what was stolen, a flashlight and a plastic knife, as well as my jar of locally made peanut butter. These were missing a few nights previous. And to my dismay, my Leatherman multi-tool that was a gift to me from Stephanie at the farm was gone. The village headman was called, my landlord neighbor came and both apologized profusely, visibly irritated at the situation. We went over what had happened a number of times and they assured me that something would be done.

I was told that the headman and his village police group were conducting an investigation and had a pretty good idea of who had done it. The next day, yesterday morning, I was called from my house at about 6 AM to the headman’s. When I arrived, I found the village police, a group of about 5 men whom I see almost every day including the man who built my fence, my landlord, the chief, a few very old men whom I greet every day and I gather to be the “elders” seated in a circle with the small thief on the ground in the middle. Though my Chichewa isn’t the greatest, I detected stern questioning of the boy who was small, a bit dirty and visibly quite ashamed. After a while with a recount of what happened, the men got him to admit stealing the peanut butter. After a number of false excuses and denials, they carted him back to his house where the found the flash light and the small plastic knife. At this point they tied palm leaves around his wrists and around the wrists of the father who had also been lying and offering excuses for the boy. They brought him back and questioned him about the Leatherman. At this point the entire village of about 100 people including some I had never seen before; men, women, children headmen from nearby villages and other prominent figures gathered around to observe the proceedings. It was shaping up to be quite a shaming. Throughout all this, my heart was racing and a mixture of sorrow and anger passed through my blood. The boy decided he wasn’t going to tell them where the Leatherman was, but after a threat of a lashing from the sugar cane, he said he threw it back over my fence. With this the men jumped up grabbed him by the arm and dragged him back to my yard. A quick search yielded nothing and upon further questioning, the boy changed his story to say that he had dropped it down the village headman’s pit latrine. With this, the men became enraged at his stories and dragged him again, back to the headman’s house, made him climb down into the pit to dig it out. As the men removed the cement slab a horrible stench emerged. After being nearly thrown down the pit with a hoe the boy shouted a few times and vomited, he then claimed to have sold the knife in the previous day’s market to a man from a distant village. The interrogators were livid grabbed him again and took him back to the circle of elders and threatened him with lashings if he was found to be lying. A lengthy and stern scolding bordering on humiliation was given to the boy and his father by the old men and the headman. The village police told me I could return home and they would come to me with further news and take care of the remaining business (not sure what that meant). I had been planning to travel to Blantyre for the weekend in any event. Upon my return I will have the complete story. Hopefully I did not leave too early as apparently the district police were to be called. I was, however reassured that the village police would take care of everything.

The whole episode left me with mixed feeling. While I felt angry and cheated by the boy and his father, I also felt sad at their circumstances. The boy’s father couldn’t have been more than 35 though he looked like he was 60. He clearly was a drunk, and this was reflected in the upbringing of the boy who does not attend school and has been known to be mischievous. I also felt a wonderful sensation of comradery and community as people rushed to apologize and offer their help. I was reassured that I was every bit a part of my village as the oldest member. I felt grateful for the overwhelming support that has been shown to me by my neighbors and fellow villagers. A significant aspect of Peace Corps service is community integration, and after this episode, though I still am a bit put off, I feel that the positive response has contributed to my sense of successful integration and has been more of a positive impact on my experience as a whole.

So this is where I leave you. My experience with village justice is still fresh in my mind, I’m sure I will still need more time to synthesize my feelings. It seems as though this system of keeping order in the village is rather effective without the immediate presence of an established public police force. I’m sure I could offer opinions about issues of justice in traditional settings around the world. Let’s just say I feel as though in my experience it was appropriate and further discussion about that can be saved for another day.

Take care everyone and hopefully I will get my hands on some pictures soon.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gobble Gobble (Oink)

I'm still alive and kicking. This past week nearly every volunteer in country gathered at the US ambassador's house for an excellent Turkey Day celebration. As turkey is not exactly commonplace here in Malawi, we feasted on concoctions made by PC Vols and 2 large roasted pigs. It was delicious. It was nice to gorge myself finally. As many of you have heard, I have dropped some pounds. I came into the program around 195 and I am currently down to about 155. Not to worry! I am getting all the necessary nutrients but its just too hot to act the glutton on a regular basis.

Volunteer life is moving slowly but surely. I am currently in the pre-planting stage of a small fruit orchard outside my local community based organization (CBO). The volunteer who was in my area before me worked to establish a rural library at the nearby secondary school which would act as the new home for the organization's office. We have erected a fence around the front of the building and we have constructed a number of garden beds and paths. The idea is to grow a substantial number of fruit trees and indigenous vegetables intensively in a rather small area around the building. We have already transplanted a number of tangerine and Banana trees and hopefully this week we will transplant some Papaya, Tangerine, Mango and Masawu (no equivalent in America). It really looks excellent and I'm extra excited because locals need to walk right through the orchard in order to enter the building. A demonstration garden at its finest.

All of this is part of my overall goal to get people to focus on improving the land immediately around their houses. Most people simply sweep away any sort of vegetation that grows or any sort of leaf matter, leaving exposed dirt. This creates a situation conducive of localized flash flooding which in turn leads to wide spread damage to homes and livelihoods. By moving fruit trees to an area around their house, they will have the opportunity to hopefully grow a sizable amount of supplemental food while protecting their houses and improving not only the aesthetics of the village but the security against natural disasters.

I have told some of you that the rains started, but I'm afraid we were given nothing more than a tease; although I did get a glimpse of what can come. We experienced about 3 days of HEAVY rains and incredible winds. The road into my area from the district headquarters was washed out in a number of areas and there was extensive damage to homes and other buildings. Just a little further south of me around 500 people were forced from their villages as their homes were completely washed away. With this news I thought that for sure we were in the throngs of the rainy season. That was about three weeks ago, we haven't gotten a drop of rain since. This is particularly devastating because villagers ran out into the field to plant their crops only to have the seedlings die a few weeks later. Hopefully there is enough seed store to make up for this early setback.

Its still ridiculously hot and I have found that I am in dire need of a vacation. I need to keep moving! Thankfully, on the 9th of December, I am headed off to Namibia to meet up with my girlfriend Briana. This will be a welcome break and though I wont be with my family for Christmas, I feel lucky to at least be around someone I care deeply about. We have quite an itinerary planned and I will be sure to give an update while I'm there (complete with more pictures.) Alas, I'm afraid that's all the time I have for now. Take care everyone and thanks for the kind words and the emails.


Friday, September 14, 2007


Well here you go finally!!! I apologize for the small size, but it is the only way I am able to upload the files. So here are a couple to whet your appetite (if you want to see the full size images, stay friends with me and I will show them to you in April, 2009).

Dedza Training site in March

My homestay during training in Mzengereza Village

View from Mountain behind my homestay - Mozambique in distance

The homestay guys and me

Scott and Karl on Mulanje, striking the conquering pose.

Market Day in my village

Chapananga road (the only way in and out of my area)

This is a view out of my back yard. I took the picture at about 7:00 AM, by far the nicest time of day. Otherwise everything looks dead and dusty!

My Backyard, with the young garden and my latrine in the back-right.

My Humble Abode

That is all for now, hopefully I will be able to update more with some sunsets and animals.



It's Hot!

Greetings everyone!

Again, apologies for the long delay in updating. Three out of the last 6 weeks I have been away from site, busy of course! In the beginning of August, Karl and I joined Julia and Catherine, both second year volunteers, for a wildlife camp at Lengwe National Park, about 25 km from my site. Catherine received funding to develop a camp for 15-18 year old wildlife club members from the local secondary schools to come for a week and see up-close examples of wildlife conservation in action. We did a whole range of activities including finding animal tracks, alternative resource usage ideas such as mud stoves and paper briquettes to minimize the reliance on firewood as fuel. We also held debates and discussions on the importance of a parks extension program in maintaining healthy relationships with the communities. Perhaps the highlight of the camp for me came while on a game drive with the kids. We were discussing issues about greater habitats and ecology and were offered quite a site. Near dusk, we witnessed a heard of buffalo on the march toward a watering hole. The situation was all quite surreal. We had been driving through the park which is flat and grassy with some HUGE Baobab trees. This time of year, the sky is clouded with dust and smoke from distant bush fires. The sun was a giant red ball against a pale yellow sky and provided a striking backdrop to the whole landscape. It was one of those moments where I think, “Oh crap, I’m in Africa – this is awesome”. The camp finished without a hitch and seemed to be well received by the kids; all in all, a great success.
The next week Karl and I traveled to Lilongwe where we met up with the rest of our group for our four month reconnect. While in Lilongwe we visited a man who is doing some wonderful intensive gardening. It is refreshing to see people who are very conscious about their nutrition and its relation to farming practices and concepts. We then traveled down to Dedza, for a two week in service training. This was like pre-service training all over again, very busy and a bit tiring. All in all it was good, we learned a good deal of information on Income Generating Activities such as Jam and Soap making and information on grant writing, etc.

Most recently, I have made a batch of Papaya Jam with a women's group in my village. This Jam will be sold at Majete's heritage center, a sort of gift shop and mini museum covering the local area and its history. The group intends to take the profit and put it toward another future development project that has yet to be named. So far, everything seems to be working well and I am encouraged by the progress. Other than that, I have been working on a small fruit tree orchard at a local community based organization's office. The orchard will hopefully be constructed using permaculture principles of low-input agriculture, something that is desperately needed here. It will eventually house Papaya, Mango, Tangerine, Masawu (a local fruit to which I can compare nothing. Its small grape like strong smelling fruit tastes horrible... to me at least, but the villagers love it), and Banana trees. We are also going to utilize the fruit from Baobab trees in future projects as well. Should be interesting. Does anyone have any thoughts???

I have been reading quite a bit recently (whats new there). I polished off the Harry Potter series and now feel that I have lost a brother, in the sense that I have no more wizarding adventures to come home to. I promise I wasn't this nerdy at home! But I have moved on to an interesting read called The End of Poverty; Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffery Sachs. I would have read it earlier had I not lent it out but in the past week I have nearly finished it. Sachs, is quite a visionary and if you are looking for reasons for and concrete examples of poverty eradication and its successes, I would suggest it. He highlights, rather convincingly, the lack of concern western governments have about poverty eradication. He spends a great deal of time picking apart and debasing current strategies, but he spends more time actually spelling out ways in which lofty goals can be achieved. This book has made me think a lot about the world and where I fit in as a development worker and it has encouraged me to take on some of these challenges as part of my greater career goals. Overall, a very interesting book (bet you didn't think this blog would turn into a book review too!). Village life also offers me quite a bit of alone time to ponder these dilemmas and I guess as of now, I am drawn toward further education. I have spent some limited computer time on graduate school searches and I have developed a number of ideas. Thankfully, I have over a year to figure them out and Peace Corps, toward the end of service, provides tremendous assistance in arriving at "the next step". Stay tuned!

Moving on...

The Heat!!!

The hot and dry season is here and its quite hot! My little thermometer gave a reading of 117 the other day, but I suppose it was overeating, the actual temp was somewhere around 105-110. My house seems to have turned into a breeding ground for lizards or perhaps it serves a shelter from mid day heat. There are three distinct types of lizards that live in and around my house. The Gecko is the frequent visitor and the least shy, they are almost transparent at night and are roughly 6 inches in length. Then there is a salamander type lizard that doesn't change but keeps its slimy brown color. These are particularly timid and hang out mostly under my overhang. They are roughly 8 inches including their long tail. Then there is the big guy. I have only seen him recently. He looks like a big Gecko but he has bumpy skin the color of concrete. He is about 10-12 inches long but still very shy. The lizards are a huge help in pest control and I fear my house would be riddled with termites, cockroaches and scorpions if it weren't for them.

I have taken a number pf pictures on a disposable camera that is on its way back to my sister's in Chicago. I hope that either my sister or I will eventually be able to put them on here. SO hang in there, I promise you will get a visual glimpse of my time here sooner rather than later.

That is all for now. On the plate the next few weeks, is a glimpse of a Rhino Translocation and a trip to the southern tip of Malawi to visit another volunteer. Until next time, keep the emails coming (I no longer have cellphone network at my village, supposedly it will be fixed soon, yea right!) I would love to hear from all of you!

Peace and Love,


Thursday, July 26, 2007

July 26, 2007

Apologies, for it has been quite some time since the last post. Since last, I have been somewhat busy! Thank you everyone for your emails! It is hard to convey how much a simple correspondence from you all really brightens my day. Email is so mundane at home in the states, but when you are living out in the bush and have access to a computer about once a month, the simplest message really goes a long way.

So with this update I will try to recap the events of the past month and a half. In the middle of June, I was afforded the opportunity to go to the Malawi - Morocco soccer match which was a part of the African Cup of Nations. Malawi, perennial basement dwellers, weren't able to pull out a victory against a Moroccon side which is usually ranked in the top 50 in the world. Despite the loss it was quite an event and one that I soon wont forget.

At the end of June my fellow environment volunteers traveled to Lilongwe where we discussed the goings on and had a few days of welcomed comiseration. We then traveled to the Ambassador's residence and celebrated the 4th of July with a bunch of other American Ex-Pats. I proudly displayed my strange ability at leisure sports, as I and my partner were victorious in the water balloon toss (we did it one handed to boot!!... yes, the other hand was holding a beer) and I handled the Croquet circuit with ease (this will get me somewhere someday, I swear).

Two weeks later my site mate (Karl) and I traveled to Mount Mulanje. We met up with another volunteer in our group (Scott) and set off for 5 days up on the mountain, the tallest in Malawi. We based ourselves at a hiking camp and worked on improving the trails. On Saturday there was a Porters race (which was ridiculous). 25 KM up 5000 ft. and back down in the misty rain, barefoot in 2 hours and 25 min. YEAAAA RIGHT! -- We watched.

Later in the week, A rural library opened in my village. The project was initiated by the former volunteer in my area and is intended to provide a place where the community can access newspapers books and resources about HIV AIDS and other issues. It isn't exactly well stocked but there is a good variety of books and if used properly will surely benefit the area. I plan on using it as a base to identify and possibly run future projects. As of now, I have come to the realization that i may never have one major project, but a number of smaller projects. I am currently working on getting the local secondary school's wildlife club to Majete game Reserve, so that they may be able to see successful conservation up close. I am also trying to get a bore hole places in my village. As of now, I am about 700 meters from the closest one and many of my neighbors are even further. A new water source would ensure that people, (myself included)will have an easier time growing at least some food all year round.

In between all of this, village life is progressing as usual. I have started a small garden in my back yard even though we are in the beginning of the dry season. Temperatures have been rising ever so slightly and every now and then we get a small taste of what is to come.

I've been thinking alot about home, especially about the family and of course my first place Detroit Tigers!!! It seems as though the internet connection I am using is not letting me upload pictures. I vow to get them to you soon!

And until then, keep the e-mails coming!
With Love,