Sunday, November 25, 2007
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
View from Mountain behind my homestay - Mozambique in distance
The homestay guys and me
Scott and Karl on Mulanje, striking the conquering pose.
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.
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!
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
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!
Saturday, June 02, 2007
I have also biked around my site and checked out all that is going on. Surprisingly there are a great deal of projects going on. I'm pretty excited about hopping on board and pitching in. The Mwanza river which is about 1 KM away from my village to the south has swelled enormously over the past few years. Population concentration and an increase in deforestation has lead to some rather damaging flooding. That is actually what has brought me to the computer here. I am writing a proposal for funding on behalf of the CBO (community based organization) that I am working with to the EU for a 4 year afforestation project. Also, there is a new library opening at the secondary school in my village thanks to the work of the previous volunteer and US AID. I am hoping to work with the library on community issues and I may even be able to set up a display on nutrition and permaculture (native food harvesting around the homestead). I have met countless people and now I am just waiting for things to fall into place and as some of you know in Africa, that takes a long time. Oh well, I have 23 more months.
Two weeks ago, I visited another volunteer at Lengwe National park which is about 35 km away. She has an excellent site and she has been doing some wonderful community outreach in the nearby villages. When we arrived at the lodge that was in the park I was greeted by a baby Baboon, a baby mongoose and a teen blue monkey, all of which were very keen on climbing all over me! Luckily I was not peed upon. The lodge was something out of Conde Naste Traveler and made me feel quite out of place as I have been living in the village. Nonetheless it was very nice as you could imagine
Thoughts on village life and Malawi
- Life in the village is indeed quite different. The rosters seem to have a horrible sense of time. They go off alllllll through the night and only shut up once the sun is up!? I usually go to bed shortly after sunset as I do not want to waste batteries or candles. perhaps that will change when I find that I have more work to do (like now).
- Things do indeed move very slow! I am waiting and waiting and waiting to receive my furniture. Its been really hard with everything on the floor, battling insects, mice and lizards. However, a few chairs and tables should be just what the doctor ordered. My house is being completed today!
- It really is true, the days go by slowly but the weeks fly by. I'm still grappling with how that happens.
- Malawi is indeed a very poor country, however I believe that the combination of work that is going on in the rural areas as well as smart government policy toward trade and development (which so far has been pretty good) will yield a robust and prosperous Malawi in the coming decades. The BBC, which I have been listening to daily (I get it on FM from Blantyre!!!) mentioned that the Malawian ecomony has grown at a small but steady 4% while keeping inflation comparatively low. Its difficult to see changes at this stage, however if things continue the way they are, I will remain quite optomistic.
- I'm not going to get my work done if I keep ranting on the blog, so I'm afriad I must leave it here.
Take care, I miss you all and please send me some e-mails and letters!
Peace and Love,
PS. I have a new address and phone #. the number is 265 09116953 ( to call, dial 00 265 9116953). If you want to send packages, send them to Lilongwe, if you wanty to send letters, send them to:
Friday, April 13, 2007
I still have yet to get a cell phone number, however that should be taken care of soon. I am not sure if I have coverage at my site in Chikawawa, but there is a small hill nearby where I will be able to talk and I'm told that there is a new tower going up soon (we'll see if it gets up by the time I leave). Its great to be back in Africa. I had a wonderful introduction to my community by some very energetic people who I will be workin with. I am supposed to work with the department of forestry, but my actual work will cover a range of issues. A possible project for me is as follows:
Majete Game reserve is in the process of constructing a fence around the perimeter so that they may introduce another 100 elephants (next year) and eventually wild cats (maybe by 2012) thereby making it a strong tourist attraction. However, my village spills into the area where the fence is to be constructed. I feel that I may be able to meet with farmers and discuss how to better manage their crops and land usageso that they will not need the land in the game reserve for farming. This is just one of many possible projects for me to do and I look forward to really diving into the issues of the Chapananga area.
Chikwawa is one of the poorest regions of Malawi, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. I will surely be faced with great challenges both with the heat and the poverty, but I look at this as a good thing. So that any sort of a reward will be just that much more sweet.
I would really like to write more, but some excellent Indian food awaits me. These next few weeks, I should have ample access to the internet (ample meaning once or twice a week) so send me some emails, I would love to hear from all of you.
That is all for now, Peace and Love to all
P.S. That wasn't 1/4 of what I wanted to say, but hopefully I will be able to give an indepth report when boredom sets in!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
-We are half way through training after completing a month long homesty in a rural village outside of Dedza in central Malawi. The surrounding area is beautiful; mountains everywhere, forests and a great view of Mozambique. The temperature hovered around 75 during the day and dropped to about 60 at night - Perfect! I was beginning to like my chances about a comfortable two years.
- Just 5 days ago, I learned where I will be staying for the next two years. I will be in the South Region, in Chikwawa district. I am about 25 km from a tarred road and I live smack between two parks. The average high temperature here during the warm months is around 110... not so perfect. Is rarely gets below 75 and I'm told that this is known as the second hottest place in Malawi! Awesome.
- I am only 10 km away from another volunteer in my group who I get along very well with. I am very excited about having someone near by to comiserate with about the heat.
- I am writing from an up and coming game park, Majete, which is about 2km from my home in Kakoma village. Yesterday we got a tour of the park which has 70 new Elephants that were translocated last year. 6 rhino are coming in the near future. There are abundant antelope species, baboons, bush pigs and warthogs, a bazillion bird species, a few cervals, some bushbabies and quite a bit more. The land scape is beautiful. Everything is very green now, however once the rains stop, which they already have, the landscape will be very Lion King-esque (savannah).
- I must go now, I will be in Blantyre tomorrow afternoon, so I shall write more then. I have much much more to say but Im worried that I cannot do any of it justice.
- Oh and I ate Hippo last night
Okay take care all, and thanks for the emails
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
I am writing this in an internet cafe in Georgetown (Washington DC) awaiting my departure. My staging event here went wonderfully and I really anxious to finally get on that plane. I am in a group of 22 other volunteers and I really am excited to work with all of them, they seem like excellent fellow volunteers.
Our staging coordinator has told us that we will not have access to internet or phones until about April 5. I would like to work on that preminition, so as to not feel anxious to get to a computer or cell phone. I can still receive snail mail though!!! We were also told that we will be in a forestry college about 1 hour south east of Lilongwe in an area that is about 5,500 ft above sea lvl. AWESOME!!!!!
Thank you to everyone for your wishes and prayers. I will try to update as soon as possible.
Off to Malawi I go!!!
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Sorry to confuse anyone, I'm copying Chris Hulette's blog and using his format... so sue me (<< obscure Office reference).
Also, if you happen to miss any posts and you are just itching to go back and read them, you can navigate your way back with the "archives" section over on the sidebar. E-mail me f you have any problems.
Apologies again for the delayed post (I have a feeling I will be saying this quite often). So yes, its true, I leave for my adventure this coming Sunday morning. I will be taking the train down to Washington D.C. where I will have my first introduction into the Peace Corps. While in DC we will be having our staging event, kinda like an orientation, etc. We will be receiving our shots and all sorts of administrative materials. On Tuesday afternoon, my group will embark from Dulles on board a direct South African Air flight to Jo'burg. The flight apparently last 15 hours and 10 minutes, but Briana who was on the same flight said that hers came in at just over 14 hours... long nonetheless. We will stay one night there at a hotel on the airport's premise and the next morning, we hop on a flight to Lilongwe and, TA-DA, off we go.
Many of you have received the email that I sent out( if you happen to read this and would like to be put on the list, try to get a hold of me before I take off and give me your preferred email addy). Thank you so much to all of you who replied, it was really great hearing from you. I'm looking forward to receiving small emails from friends and families at random times while in Malawi. If its this satisfying now, I could only imagine what it would be like during the next two years.
The last month has been wonderful. My aptly named, "Farewell Tour" has taken me to Grand Rapids, Michigan and back as well as to Chicago and back. The "Birthday Spectacular" was ... well spectacular and It was really really great to see everyone. It kind of makes this adventure that much more enjoyable, knowing that I may be able to share it with all of you. I hope that emails and messages from my friends and family will be just what I need during those really tough times.
Where do I stand right now? I am currently sitting in a horrendously cluttered room that is scattered with clothes, camping stuff, books, etc. I hope to get everything in bags by tomorrow night. The whole packing process does not seem as onerous as I had made it out to be, but accomplishing things that I wanted to get done before I left has proven so. I feel blessed to have been able to speak to a former NRM (Natural Resource Management) volunteer in Malawi. I find it quite ironic to find one of the elusive RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) from Malawi not 3 miles from my house. I have had some wonderful conversations with her and I think I have calmed myself down and have developed some legitimate expectations. I also feel blessed being able to talk to my girlfriend who is currently in Namibia with the Peace Corps. As in the previous post (not the one about Sir Charles Barkley) she has been able to give me a heads on what to expect from the PC and how things work. You may view her blog too, the link is in the sidebar. She's awesome!
I also feel blessed to have the friends that I do. Talking to them has reaffirmed my commitment to the Peace Corps and has inspired me greatly. As of right now: Jason Morgan and his girl friend, Akira Yammamoto and Chris Hulette are in Japan teaching English through JET, Ryan Tracy is in Thailand teaching English through a similar program, Nick Shungu is in Ethiopia doing a sort of medical practicum through Duke University, Jamie Cahoon has returned from working in Ireland and Jordan Kaplan is about half way through the Peace Corps application process and is expecting to go to Francophone Africa with the medical portion. The ones still at home are doing great things too and I can't wait to get back together and share stories with everyone.
On another note, my father has notified me of a man by the name of Clement Chiwaya. To make a long story short, he is a wheel chair bound Malawian who was a student at my dad's alma mater, Aquinas College in Grand Rapids Michigan. He was abandoned as a child and was picked up by a Catholic Missionary. He was able to complete education at Aquinas and return to Malawi where has since become elected as a member of Parliament. He has also taken it upon himself to raise villages from ruin through grassroots agricultural, water, construction and political programs. On top of that he has been contacted by Bono himself and is currently working on a large program for Malawi. Needless to say, this man would be a tremendous contact and I hope to be able to speak with him. Stay tuned for more, I hope his name pops up again.
Okay, I could say more but I would be going on and on about boring feelings and such. Hopefully the next post will have more juice. Its pretty crazy to think that the next post will be from Malawi, but I think I'm ready for it. So now I bid adieu to this lovely laptop, my house in Lambertville, my friends (that remain), family and my life here in the States. And its look out Malawi, here I come.
Peace and Love to Everyone
^^^ How cheesey was that last paragraph?!
P.S. If you were wondering Charles Barkley and Dick Baveta really did race during the All star break. Charles won, which really, really surprised me.
Friday, January 19, 2007
Thursday, January 18, 2007
And without further adieu, here is Malawi on a map! Enjoy
The first two posts were really long, I'll try to make the future ones a little more concise and exciting.
Here is a link to the database of blogs that I find to be a wonderful resource some of which have some great pictures. If you navigate back, you can see blogs from volunteers all over the world.
In my discussions with girlfriend Briana (who serving in Namibia for the PC) on the phone, I have becoming increasingly psyched for my upcoming adventure. She has been talking about the familiar quirks that seem to be universal in Africa. From the seemingly unimportant concept of time, to the phrase "sorry sorry" that it uttered when you drop something or hit your head. I'm excited to go back to Africa.
I have since stocked up on all the suburban white man's creature comforts, nearly clearing out the local Eastern Mountain Sports and Blue Ridge Mountain sports stores. I'm gonna look like a complete goofball when I get to my village and start trotting around in zip away pants and tight, non-cotton shirts that feel like the cloth you use to clean the lenses on your glasses. Whatever, I'll be sure to invest in the local garb once I start settling in. The image of "Peace Corps Kevin in Africa" is currently not a pleasent one. I'm drawn back to the witty, word-smith Pete McCarthy who cynically observed young Amreican tourists backpacking around Ireland with "Small refrigerators on their backs". Thats gonna be me.
Lets see.... The blogs that I mentioned in my previous post have been an invaluable resource in preparing for my service. Some days I get a head ache from all of the "what if's" and the thoughts about possible situations I may find myself in. I simply turn to the blogs and my mind is eased.
I am really, really looking forward to learning. I will undoubtedly be surrounded by amazing people, from fellow volunteers to the in country directors and the locals I really can't wait to morph into a sponge and soak up all that I can. Continuing the metaphor, I will need to do my fair share of exchanging and "wringing out" all that I have learned. I suppose that is what my job as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) is.
*note on acronyms - Briana has told me that there will be about 300 acronyms for every day of the year so I'll be sure to pass them along.
*note on sarcasm - I use it quite often and when something doesn't seem right when you read it I'm probably being a sarcastic 9th grader.
On a more introspective level; As many of you know, my friend Chris Hulette (http://makeitsuntorytime.blogspot.com) is teaching English in Japan as part of the Jet Program. He recently visited another friend of ours, Ryan Tracy who is teaching English in Thailand. Though Chris has traveled quite a bit, this was his first taste of the developing world. He had some interesting observations comparing Thailand to Japan and the differences in economy, order, and daily functions. It got me thinking again about how I dealt with my time in rural South Africa and how my mind, heart and patience were tested to the max. I remember how unsettled I was with my first experience with third-world poverty. I wonder how much of that I will relive upon entry to Malawi and it will be interesting to see how my fellow volunteers react and adjust.... (see there I go again with these complicated worries).
Someone the other day asked me what, aside from family, would I miss most. I really had to think about this and I really couldn't come up with something. I thought for a moment that I would miss electricity, but I really don't think I will. I said running water, but again, I really don't think I will. I certainly wont miss TV. After careful consideration, I think I will mostly miss things like sports. Will the Tigers finally win the World Series? Will my Indiana Hoosiers carry their early-season momentum into the NCAA Tourney? Will Michigan Football finally be the best? (chances are no). I will miss playing or simply being a spectator to FIFA on X box with a random sample of friends from Lawrence. Of course I will miss my family and I will miss Briana (I miss her dearly already). But I truly have no idea what I will significantly miss.
Oh well, I'm done rambling.
the next post should have more information about my job/life in Malawi. I will be receiving staging information in the mail sometime in the next two weeks.
I would love to hear from all of you before I leave. Some of you I will see at the "Birthday Spectacular" e-mail me or facebook me for directions.
For now, I bid you all adieu.