Chaka Cha Tsponano (New Year!)

Below is an email I wrote yesterday, with the intention of finishing it and getting it out today.. but then somethign happened. EEish.

"I can't tell you how much better teaching is year 2. I am used to the students and the language and the culture, and then on top of it all, school is running so better. Last year, our head master was transferred at Christmas, and first term we were left with our corrupt deputy in charge. This year, our new head is in charge and starting the year off right; he is a very good administrator. Not only that, but the teachers are ganging up (with no instigation or input from me) on the deputy, trying to request a forced transfer. He takes money, he hits on students; he is lazy; he is a bad administrator.... the list goes on and on.

School is amazing this year. I have much fewer periods to teach, so I am much less overwhelmed and can plan my work so much better. My lessons are unrecognizable in quality compared to last year.

I started an English club. Each week, we meet for free time, 15 minutes of reading dictionaries, text books, and magazines, where they can ask questions. Then, we go into a lesson of the week on a subject that I try to tie in with all the English teachers' lessons for the week (I look at their schemes before hand). Then, we do a fun game or activity. Last week, for example, we had a debate. Then, we end the day with vocabulary of the week. It starts right as school ends, 3 pm, and all weeks so far have pushed into dinner at half 6. Speaking of dinner, we expanded the lunch program to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is great, because it gets the students to school on time (or no breakfast), to stay the whole day and have more energy (lunch), and return in the evening to the solar panel for evening study hours (which start just after dinner). Plus the food is more varied and healthy than what they cook on their own.

This has allowed female students to begin sleeping on the floor of the science lab. They lay clothes down for their beds, with 50 crammed in on every available inch of floor space. If I had seen it last year, I would have cried. But after losing 15 girls to pregnancy last year, and only having 6 (of 75 or so) girls pass their junior exams to continue to form 3, I feel it is needed. And, it has really gotten me working even harder (although I have already been hauling ass at it) to get funding to build a girls' hostel. It's a tough thing, as building is not trendy in development work lately, plus it is a mid level project. There is a lot of money for very expensive projects, 20$ thousand plus, or very small, $100 bucks or so. But nothing for slightly larger but still small projects like a rural building. Luckily, a friend in the ministry of education is trying to help me fast track it to the Canada fund. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

The best part of the lunch is that it has attracted a lot more, and much higher quality, students. We recently got a truck load (literally 10 students on the back of a pick up) from Lilongwe. They are smart and driven. My favorite, Eneless, is the new desk mate to Justice (my favorite Dzoole boy, whose school fees I pay.) The two of them are a killer combo that, rather then overwhelm the class, get discussions and ideas out, moving it to new heights. We are starting poetry, and they get it. In Life Skills, Eneless says her role is her mother, who got an education and worked for herself to take care of the family. Wow. This weekend, their homework is to write a love poem. Her poem, I've been giving a hint, is about someone like her who still does not know romantic love. She told me, "Madam, I really want this to be good... I mean really good." I can't wait.

I have also gotten small funding to start a school permiculture garden, and am a strong candidate to get LARGE funding for an international permiculture training done on a grass roots level right in Dzoole! Permiculture is low-input, sustainable agriculture, something that Malawi, the second most densely populated country in the world, needs terribly. (the only country with more land pressure, number 1 on the densely populated list is Rwanda, and we all know how well that went there). It not only improves the quality of the land, cuts dependency on unsustainable and unaffordable fertilizers, and is less work to do, but also diversifies Malawians horribly boring diet and greatly improves their nutrition. I would bet my life that 90 percent of rural Malawians are malnourished. Very few are underweight, but their staple (processed white fermented maize flour) has literally 0 nutritional value. It is the nutritional equivalent of corn starch. In town, Malawians are quite tall, but in my village, I can name 5 people out of over 1000 who are as tall as me. Now I am 5"7, tall but not gigantic! The best part is that I am doing the project with my best friend in Malawi, Tara. She is an Iranian born in Malawi to Malawi's first dentist, her mother. I am extremely excited and can't wait."

This morning, I was hit with a little mishap. It happens though. It was really frustrating. As I was on my way to buy some basins and supplies for the food program and the girls to wash with, well, actually on my way to the ATM, my wallet was stolen. it had my cell phone (is that number 4 now?!?!?!), my Malawian bank card, my American check card, and 200 MK ($1.25). So, as there are no credit card facilities in Malawi, they don't have my Malawian ATM pin, and my phone is brokish, they got pretty much nothing. I on the other hand, have to cancel my card, get a money transfer for stuff I need to buy, and re-collect all my phone numbers. It happens. It sucks though. I still like my site and love Malawi. There is good and there is bad. In my village, I lock my doors but I probably don't need to. In town, it is extremely safe in terms of my physical being. Rape an murder are unheard of; there are no guns. But man, if they weren't stuck in your head, people'd find a way to steal the gold fillings from your teeth if they cool. It makes you appreciate the village, even with candles and buckets of water on my head. The worst part, well not the worst, but something stinky, is that I will have to delay my trip home an extra day to deal with stuff here. As they say in Malawi, I will be so missing from Dzoole, so missing!
You are all so missing to me. Missing you, missing you.
Ndimakukondani (I love you all)Kathryn

Camp Sky

Camp SKY is what I thought everyday teaching in Malawi would be like:no electricity, limited textbooks, students with broken English, andpoor facilities. The thing is, Camp SKY is "the cream of the crop"from Peace Corps Schools.
Every year, each Peace Corps teacher takes his or her best male andfemale student to a two week Camp, held at an upscale (for Malawi)private boarding school. The students are given transport and food,and for the first time in their lives, learn in classes smaller than100 and interact with students who are on their same level.
Sure, their were limited text books, but during their library periods,the students cold check out a selection of books, and when they did,they didn't steal and try to sell them (like at our regular schools)!
I have never had so much fun as I did in that class room. I taughtjournalism to 25 students, about 10 of who wanted to be the nextWoodwards of Malawi. They asked questions and were able to followalong with my lessons. We even made a mock newspaper, the Camp SkyCourier (I will send it in a later email, it is priceless! Myfavorite is the description of what a sandwhich is in an article aboutthe field trip - "two pieces of bread, one with chiponde (peanutbutter), the other fruit jam, fixed together). The first drafts theyturned in had fake quotes and were fictional news, but after gettingthem handed back unedited, the students learned that I was seriouswhen I asked, "what is the number one rule of journalism?" ---"Journalism is real!" They'd yell back.
I had already been tipped off from last year's journalism teacher thatthey would make up ALL their stories, so I had them hand the drafts invery early. I soon realized that this was no exageration when I reada quote from the camp director in a story about the goals of Camp Skythat said, "We, the whites, are very happy to help the black ones."
In the end though, I am proud to say pretty much everything was true,or at least a best attempt at it.
The kids were so sweet too and full of energy. My friend Angela and Ibrought a radio to all the knitting classes and tought the kids todance while they knitted. We also went on a field trip to a safari atLiwonde National Park. They kids sang and danced the whole way there;the bus literally bounced. Then, in the park, we saw hippos,elephants, bush bucks, water bucks, kudus, monkeys, baboons, warthogs(which the students pronounced, warth-ogs) and all kinds of birds. Itwas awesome. A Malawian Safari is different from typical safaris,like Kenyan or South African ones, because Malawian and ZambianSafaris are in quite wooded areas, rather than wide open plains. Itwas absolutely stunning.
All 100 students went to Liwonde, and then additional field trips werearranged depending on what classes they were in. Some went toBotanical gardens, others Zomba Central hospital, others a Balaka artscooperative. It was agreed though that the best field trip was thejournalism and business classes, who went on a tour of the Daily Times(Malawi's biggest newspaper) in Blantyre from the papers Editor inchief.
It was awesome, or at least people said it was awesome. A fewstudents even called me to tell me about it. Unfortunately, I wasn'table to make the trip I had set up. My good friend Ben and I had toleave camp four days early, rushed to Lilongwe on Medical hold.
After a late camp meeting (a student had given his camp shirt to hiscousin, who snuck into the camp to try to steal our stuff!), we wentto bed, exhausted. I was woken up just two hours later , at 1:00 am.A junior counselor told me that Joyce was sick and crying. I knewJoyce, though she wasn't my student, and I offered to help. I went toher and found her in shock on the floor, shaking and covered in blood;she had fallen onto her head from the top bunk onto the concretefloor. She had bitten a hole in her cheek as well as through her lip. Her mosquito net was also drenched in blood. We rushed her with thecamp director to Zomba Central in a a taxi (Malawian rushing, meaning2 hours later). Approriately, she was the camp director's student. Iwent back to the girls' dowms and calmed them down. They were shakingwith fear that would not go away even when they learned that Joycewould be OK. They thought that it was witchcraft that had thrown herfrom her bed and refused to enter the dorms. After praying with themfor half and hour, they agreed to pray with me in the dorm as long asI slept with them on the floor. I still don't believe in witch craft(ufiti/juju) but I do certainly believe in its power now.
In the morning, the five volunteers who had handled the situationgathered. I still had not slept, and others had only gotton a fewhours of rest. We realized that all of us had been exposed to herblood though, I the most, and Ben and I had cuts on our hands and feetfrom playing sports the afternoon before. Although she seems about aspermiscuous as a grandma, you never can tell. Even if she had takenan HIV test, there is still a 6 week window period after infectionbefore a test is positive and there was no way to be 100 percent sureshe was not positive. Ben and I decided, at the strong recommendationof our doctor, that we should travel to Lilongwe and take PEP (postexposure propelaxis), which stops 90 something percent of infections,plus we were fairly sure she was not infected. However, in a countrywith 15% rate (35 % in Blantyre and Chikwawa districts, where she isfrom), and when that rate is way above that in 18 year olds, you nevercan be too safe.
The problem with PEP is that it makes you feel terrible. I want tosleep all day and I am almost always nautious. I will be tired, butthen not be able to sleep. I get restless legs and anxious mixed inwith the spells of fatigue. Like I said, it sucks, but when I am done,I will feel great and better safe than sorry (to the billionth power).
PEP has been really good in some ways for me. I was never as heavy adrinker as most peace corps volunteers (for many, drinking is theironly stress release), and I am known to go out dancing till very latewithout a single drink in me, but after being stone cold sober and notparticularly social around 80 plus sloppy drunk volunteers, I'vedecided to stop drinking completely, kindof.
I made a bet with a Malawian friend who recently stopped drinking andsmoking cigarettes and realized suddenly he had money for cabs andphone units to call me and he felt fantastic, had money, and still hadfun. I have to go three months with no alcohol at all. Then, afterthat, I can only drink good alcohol (aka, wine with mom in SouthAfrica, European beer on tap, tanquerray and tonic), and one or two,tops, for the next year. I am very happy to make this bet, and thinkI will win.
As unfortunate as all this business is, it turned out well. Thejournalism class and camp sky were still big hits. I will only feelsick for a month, which in the long run of 27 months, is not thatlong. I get off PEP before Christmas :) and I learned something fromthe whole experience. It was also a huge wake up call as to where Iam and what a huge problem HIV is. Don't get me wrong, most of myprojects involve HIV in some way, but 35%! The average lifeexpectancy in Malawi is 37 because of HIV! You cannot avoid it, evenif you try, so I have a new found drive to try to fight it.


One year down.....

On September 27, I had my one year anniversary in Malawi. It also happened to be my school's Form 4 (senior year) graduation ceremony. As entertainment mistress, I was expected to provide music for the ceremony as well as a dance party that night, which meant renting a small radio from a villager and borrowing tapes from everyone I know. Graduation ceremonies are usually 5 hours long, and school dances can go all night, so there was little to no chance that I would make it through the day without stabbing myself in the eye with the pen I had been using to wind up my tapes to the proper song.

Somehow, what would have been the fun factor equivalent of a ten hour staff meeting became, no exaggeration, the best day of my life. The stars aligned and I was saved! My good friend Duncan and his brother Andy are DJs in some clubs in Malawi. Duncan has even played at international music festivals. When I asked Duncan to make me some mix tapes (to cut down on the pen tape winding), he asked if the school could work gas money into the budget, because he was coming to Dzoole!

I was nervous it wouldn't pan out, because musicians promising to play a gig at your village is a favorite pick up line from Malawian men. But Duncan is married and I can trust him. I was at first calmed by Duncan's 4am drunken call the night before the event, confirming our 8 am departure from Lilongwe to Dzoole. Then, I realized that Duncan was drunk and still at work less than 4 hours before we had to leave. For the first time in my year in Malawi though, a Malawian was not late. In fact, he was ten minutes early. We pulled into Dzoole like celebrities, with professional club speakers (3 by 4 feet each), a turn table, strobe lights and a generator to power it all.

The graduation started 4 hours late, at noon, and droned on till 5:30. Every speech shouted out the new literature program and school lunch, and the audience stood up and danced to music between each speech. The ceremony was held in the school court yard, with the church's benches in rows, the whole thing decorated with pink and blue toilet paper. Duncan and Andy went to nice private schools and were in Dzoole for the first time, yet they treated Dzoole's graduation as if they were working at Harvard. They later told me they were shocked at how little English my students knew and how unqualified the teachers seemed; they seemed to take it as a learning experience rather than being rude or condescending about it all, the way many urban Malawians talk to me about Dzoole.

After graduation, we took a break for food and beer (beer for Andy, not Duncan and me) and we started the gig at dark, something past six. Our African-reggae-Micheal Jackson-hip hop dance party went on till past 3 am... and it could have gone much later had we not had the thought of packing up equipment and an hour plus drive back to Lilongwe lurking in the back of our heads. I sat out for only 5 songs, dancing the rest of the time, and have never jumped so high, banged my head so hard, or shook my body so much in my entire life. I was too tired to run for 3 days; every muscle in my body was sore. During the dance, one of my students asked me, "Madame, why are you not tired?" so I asked her the same. She almost looked like she was going to cry. "I am!" But when I told her to sit and rest, she looked horrified; she could rest when the music stopped. The dust from stomping was so thick you couldn't see ten feet ahead of you.

This past weekend, Duncan ran Lake of Stars music festival, a huge international music festival at the lake in Malawi. 4 thousand people came, most of them stoned Brits who complained a lot about Malawi. Duncan looked out at the crowd after his set and admitted that Dzoole brought a little tear to his eyes. He was saying as if he was joking about it, but I think he wasn't. Those students appreciated every song more than anyone ever had before. He has already promised his services next year.


Iron Chef and ZAIN

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone who helped with the kitchen project. Lunch starts Monday and, one of the first times in my ten months, I really know that I have made a tangible difference at my school. Even before lunch started this week, attendance has increased. Everyone in Dzoole is talking about it.

In town, the Gender and Development club (GAD) just had its iron chef competition. It is a fundraiser where people pay to eat the food from three teams. The teams are given 6,000 Kwatcha ($40) to cook for 80 people! We were given a secret ingredient to incorporate into a started, main, and dessert. There were two this year, yogurt and chocolate (two of the most expensive foods you can buy in Malawi). To top it off, one partner is an amazing helper (peel garlic and chop onions) but doesn't know how to cook. The other, Corri, is an amazing chef, but sadly, a raging alcoholic. We were given the secret ingredient at 7:30 am, then had till 10:30 to menu plan shop in the market for ingredients. We were then driven to the country director's house where all three teams shared a kitchen, grill, camp fire, and mbaola (a small charcoal stove. Corri was passed out till helf ten, only just making the bus to the cooking, so we were down a hand shopping. We cooked bruschetta with yogurt roasted garlic tomatoes and cocoa-papper mayonnaise. The main was bbq sausage with chocolate orange bbq sauce served with curry-yogurt roasted cauliflower served with caramelized onions and glazed carrots. Dessert was burnt sugar banana crepes with chite, dark, and strawberry yogurt sauces. I cooked strait from 11 am till 6:20... even eating the pb sandwich and french fries I brought standing up as I prep worked. The three judges liked the food though and we won! No prize, just the glory and the satisfaction that I won and don't need to compete next year, because that was terrible :)!

Celtel, the leading African phone network, was bought out and is now called Zain. They are creating an international network with the middle east (useless for me) and now network is not only non exist ant in Dzoole, but not working in the city. One out of 20 calls I make actually goes through. It was frustrating to say the least. But because of a grant I am writing, I need to be in town next Saturday and the next one too, so hopefully things will be in better order by then.

At school, the kitchen is finished and school lunch is starting Monday. Late yes, but one week late is nothing for Malawi. It is really exciting and despite a million glitches, it is going worse than planned but way better than expected. Also, some of my favorite form one students had started coming to my house and reading the Chichewa-English dictionary and listen to English radio. It is really fun. Also, my garden is looking fantastic! I have lettuce, mustard greens, tomatoes, carrots, and beets :) It has greatly improved the quality of my life.

On a fun note, next weekend I am the co-MC of a dancehall and hip hop concert in Lilongwe. It is a producer who puts out unknown acts that have positive messages, from anti-HIV to education, as well as just some fun, really cool fusion with traditional music. It should be a real experience! Maybe this is my big break :) I could be the next Ryan Seacrest of Malawi!

I hope you are all well. I really love and miss you all.



My time in the city is usually what keeps me sane here... Yogurt, hot showers, dancing, cold beer, and a nice conversation with my city friends. After two and a half weeks in the city though, I am more than full of these things (except the dancing). During break I ended up in Blantyre Adventist hospital with a lung infection. I was in hospital for 2 days on an antibiotic IV and then put on house arrest in Blantyre, which really stinks because there is no Internet near the house there and it's really hard to get anything done. I am now in Lilongwe staying with a friend in a nice clean house (with a bath tub!). I have been relxing and listening to lots of music and reading. It's great. I really am loving African especially Zambian and Malawian music, but miss music from home too (hint hint, blank cd).

It made me realize (or rather remember) how much I love Dzoole though. I went back just for the day yesterday with my friend Brian, who along with a bath tub has a car! Dzoole won finals (as you remember it's been rescheduled many times) 5-0 and it was fantastic! They played so well, dominating the game. As Brian said, it was the best village soccer he's seen, very different from the usually high ball volleying. I have never seen them so happy or excited. They were hugging and jumping up and down like little kids. Plus one of my students was MVP. He is shy and often overshadowed my his best friend, Thomas. Both Mayamiko and Thomas had made the Malawi school district team and were selected to the National school tournament. I'm really proud of them.

Back in Dzoole, the kitchen is being built. It is fantastic and very exciting. I'll know in just one week how the school lunch is going, although I've been impressed with how they are preparing everything, from calling a PTA meeting to getting cooks and firewood and all that.

In town, I am working on grants for girls boarding facilities. It's nice to be doing work after a week of bed rest. Last year, only 10 of 65 girls past their JCE (Junior exams that allow them to go from Form 2 to 3 (between sophomore and junior year). Only 2 girls pasted their MSCE (senior graduation exam). So many girls end up pregnant and tons have sugar daddies, older men who give them school fees or food in return for sex. I would say 90 percent of students board in small rooms in the village (because maybe their family lives 10-20 Km from the secondary school. They are tiny, dirt-floored rooms with 10-15 kids sleeping on top of each other. No blankets, no nothing. They cook for themselves (over fire outside), cut their own wood, draw water and washing, all without the help of their parents. They are completely on their own, impressive for boys, but scary for girls. And the results of these freedoms as well as lack of good support, had particularly obvious repercussions for the ladies.

Although I am still a bit weak, I find time for dancing (I haven't been drinking, but if I am in town, I need to be dancing :) I am anxious to get back, but there is a lot, from more exam making to scheming lessons for next term, that I am not looking as forward too. On the bright side, staying busy makes time FLY.