Pad Project: A Closer Look

A few people have asked me how we make the reusable menstrual pads. Since this has been a big part of my service so far, and will continue to be, I wanted to share the step-by-step instructions with all of you.

MATERIALS:

-Chitenje (fabric)

-Black plastic

-Some type of absorbent material

-Buttons

-Sewing needles

-Thread

-Scissors

(The Peace Corps Malawi Office provides kits that include enough materials to make 30 pads, which is awesome! Since my site is far from the office in Lilongwe, I cannot always get a kit when I find a group of interested women. I have also bought some of these materials on my own. The items can all be found in larger trading centers throughout the country.)

STEPS:

Some people choose to have the girls or women cut the materials, but so far, I have been cutting everything beforehand, mostly because I only have 2 pairs of scissors at the moment. 😝

In the Pad Project Kits from Peace Corps, there are sample lessons to teach alongside making the pads, and there are also patterns to use.

For every woman, I cut 2 pieces of chitenje and 1 piece of black plastic using the standard shield pattern. I also cut 2 pockets for each pad, (out of chitenje). Every individual will also get a needle, thread, and a button.

Additionally, I cut the absorbent material into smaller squares, which will be handed out at the end of the session.

After giving materials to everyone, we can begin…

1. Each pocket has a rounded side and a flat side. The women will fold the flat side over about 1 cm and sew the seam, for both pockets.

2. The 2 pockets will then be sewn to 1 piece of chitenje, at either end. The women will not sew over the seams they have already made on the pockets… there needs to an opening.

*Some chitenje have a “pretty or right” side and an “ugly or wrong” side. To make the nicest looking pad, it is important to pay attention to that. For step #2, the pockets should be sewn onto the “pretty” side of the chitenje.

3. This tends to be the trickiest step, in terms of getting the order correct. The women will stack the layers as follows: the black plastic piece, then the chitenje with the pockets (“pretty” side facing up) on top of the black plastic, followed by the other piece of chitenje (“pretty” side facing down) on top of that. All 3 pieces need to sewn together leaving a small 1-2 inch opening.

4. The opening will be used to turn the project “pretty” sides out when done.

Before pulling “pretty” sides out

After pulling “pretty” sides out


5. Then the opening needs to be sewn shut.

6. A button is sewn on 1 flap. (Same side that the pockets are on… the front side.)

7. A hole is cut on the opposite flap for the button. The women should sew around the hole so that it does not fray. 

Finished product (front)

Finished product (back)

8. We hand out 2-3 pieces of absorbent material per individual and show them how to put these in the pad. We also go over how to use the pad, along with care and repair instructions. Everything can be washed, which is great! And the women can use a lot of different items for the absorbent material part. They can carry extra pieces with them, when they are away from home, and change them throughout the day. Used material can be stored in small baggies (“jumbos”) until they can be washed.

Throughout the session and at the end, Foster and I discuss HIV, safe sex, and healthy choices. We also talk to the women about the importance of getting tested and where they can go to do so. Foster and I have done the Pad Project with 3 groups of women so far and have plans for more sessions already.

I wrote about this project in a previous post as well, but I want to reiterate how valuable it is. The women all walk away with new knowledge and their own reusable menstrual pad, which will hopefully make their lives a little easier. Below is a link to a recent article I read about Pad Project in Malawi:

https://www.google.com/amp/m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_586fa510e4b02b5f8588554e/amp

Please comment or contact me with any questions! Also, I always love to hear project ideas or cool things you have seen done in other places. 😊

How I Spent My Holiday – Photo Edition

Check out HOW I SPENT MY HOLIDAY in Malawi. I missed my family and friends back home but luckily, I have another family here. We blended some American traditions with Malawian culture to come up with new festivities to celebrate the season.

*H…


Hiking. (When I am hiking on Zomba Plateau, I feel like I am back in Colorado or California, totally encompassed by the natural world no matter where I look. It is my happy place. 😊)

*O…

Photo by Rachel Walls

Observing cichlids. (Snorkeling in Lake Malawi is incredible. There are about 1,000 species of cichlids (a type of fish) that call it home, and I had the privilege of swimming with them!)

*W…


Wearing glow sticks. (What would New Year’s Eve be without glow sticks? My hometown girls know what I mean…

…throwback to Summer 2014 when we were always glowing! #glowsticklife #countryconcerts)

*I…


In awe of the beauty all around me. (Is this real life? I feel blessed to live close to the lake, and at the same time sad that most of my village has never had the opportunity to see it.)

*S…


Skyping. (Service is rarely good enough for a video Skype session… gotta take advantage of it when we can. P.S. Zack is in Costa Rica, hence his shirtlessness. 😝)

*P…


Playing bao. (Addicted to this game. It is similar to Mancala, which I used to play when I was younger. I am hoping to score some major village points when I whip out my board and play bao with my neighbors. So glad I learned how to play over the holiday!)

*E…

Christmas morning breakfast

Crocodile braii (Photo by Rachel Walls)

Eating. (We had so much delicious food. It was amazing. No need to elaborate.)

*N…


Near elephants. (They are trying to beat the heat too…

Photo by Rachel Walls

…we also understand that hydration is the key to surviving hot season.)

*T…



Trekking to waterfalls. (Another hidden treasure on Zomba Plateau.)

*M…


Matching. (Matching Christmas PJs for the win. The boys were good sports about it. 😊🎄)

*Y…


Yipping with glee… (…after eating this chocolate lava cake. Officially the best dessert I have had in Malawi. This cake and I already made future date plans for any time I am in Cape Maclear.)

*H…


Hearing hippos. (Yes, they make noise. There are so many in the Shire River that runs right through my boma, Liwonde.)

*O…


On Zomba Plateau. (The plateau is my favorite place in Malawi… so far. Every time I come here, I discover something new. Adventure always awaits.)

*L…




Photo by Rachel Walls

Loving my friends. (Could not have asked for a better group of people to spend these 2 years with… Fingers crossed for all of us as we continue to ride this crazy roller coaster every day.)

*I…

Photo by Alexa Griffin

In Lake Malawi. (We spent hours in the lake every day. How could we not, it was only a few steps away from our lodge.)

*D…


Dressed up. (Thanks to Nikki and Jenna, I had something fun to wear for New Year’s Eve… although I will always enjoy going out in my Chacos and cheap tank tops.)

*A…


Appreciating sunsets. (No matter where I am in Malawi, the sunsets are always amazing.)

*Y…


Yearning for another great year in 2017. Let’s make it happen!

One of the main reasons I got this tattoo was to carry peace and love with me always. This world seems to get crazier every day. Let’s not forget to love and care for one another… we are all connected… we are one. 💚

The Best Kind of Pre-Holiday Craziness

Yes, Christmas is 2 days away, but that does not mean work stops. In fact, the last week has been one of the busiest of my entire service. I think this is a good sign and could mean that next year will start off with a bang! As you have learned, I like to hit the ground running, while still embracing that flexibility and patience I have further developed (or at least tried to develop) since landing in Malawi.

The rain is still coming, so we decided to hit the ground running 😝

Foster and I have been busy with our malaria work, but we took some time for other projects this week. Over the weekend, we met with one of the local support groups. Still relatively new, their meetings focus on diverse topics. They expressed interest in food preservation so I brought out a few tricks I have learned from Peace Corps volunteers and trainers.

In my village, mangoes are still EVERYWHERE. On my way to work, I always accidentally step on a few because of the plethora covering the ground. I have spent the last few months drying mangoes. It is pretty simple… You need some black cloth, a basket, clear plastic, and sun.

Within a day or two, you will have dried mangoes you can munch on for the next year, even when mangoes are no longer in season.

Mangoes drying on the roof of my outdoor kitchen

The group members were hesitant to try the mangoes but once one woman took the plunge, they all followed suit. Initially confused by the chewier texture, they were asking for more by the end of the session.

As I was walking home, I stopped to pick up mangoes off the ground, and to my surprise, several individuals from the group joined me in filling zitenje with mangoes to bring home and dry! They are excited to try this method with other fruits as well, especially when there is a surplus, as there will most likely be with tomatoes next year.

We also talked about the basket cooker, a way to cook using less fuel. I told them of my own struggles to get the hang of this method for making beans, but they had some ideas on how to improve it! We showed them how great it works for cooking rice. Just a few minutes over the fire, then into the basket, and 20 minutes later… the rice is ready to eat!

The best part of the day was teaching them how to preserve and even improve the nutritional value of vegetables, like cabbage, through fermentation.

Checking out the sauerkraut

Group members had lots of great questions during my sauerkraut-making demo (a skill I have picked up with the assistance of some awesome PCVs). They enjoyed the samples I brought and asked if I would return when the kim chi is ready to eat. I have recently started making my own pickles as well, so I will show them this technique at the next meeting.

Curious about the kim chi

All in all, the demos were a huge success and once again, Foster was a rockstar with his translations and personal insight.

Our next endeavor was something I have been looking forward to since I began my service. Pad Project. A unifier for women everywhere. We all have our own horror stories about menstruation mishaps throughout the years.

Now imagine living in a place where you could not drive 20 minutes down the road to the closest Target to purchase tampons and pads. What if all you had was fabric or clothing? Would you be able to manage? So many young girls struggle to go to school because of this dilemma. It points to yet another connection to our common humanity… no one enjoys being humiliated or laughed at. But there is something we can do for these girls and women… teach them how to make reusable pads, which is exactly what Foster and I did yesterday.

Our first group of 25 women came from a nearby village. I decided to start here because I run past them multiple times a week and have stopped to chat frequently. They are aware of what I am doing here and were beyond excited to take part in this project. We had so much interest that we started a waitlist for the next session after the holidays.

We ended up with 27. Every single person who signed up attended the session, plus a couple more. Two women, who were waiting to see the doctor at the health centre, asked if they could join! All 27 women and girls walked away with their own reusable menstrual pad.

You may be wondering why I chose Foster, a male Malawian, as my counterpart for this project. Let me tell you… the women loved him. They said it was good to witness a man willing to discuss and address something so sensitive that only happens for girls and women.

He had them laughing and cheering during his demonstration of how to wear the pad. I have always appreciated Foster’s dynamic, charismatic style but yesterday, he truly became a male champion in my eyes. He fights for a brighter future for the women of Malawi. I cannot thank him enough for his support and guidance throughout this journey.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Right now, in America, people are attending holiday parties, enjoying peppermint mochas, shopping for Christmas gifts, decorating their houses with colorful lights and bows, praying for a white Christmas, and baking the most festive cookies. In Malawi, it is also a wonderful time of year… the rains have come. Good rains = better harvests = less hunger. There is reason to celebrate.

It varies depending on district, but where I am in Malawi, we are seeing rain almost every day. I was dancing and singing right alongside my neighbors when the first rains came, until I went into my bedroom and saw this.

My bedroom wall

My own custom water feature to put me in a zen mood. People pay thousands for such things, right? No worries… Peace Corps and my favorite carpenter got to work fixing the issues. Now I can cuddle up with some tea and a good book, while listening to the pitter-patter of rain on my tin roof, no fear that it will invade my sanctuary.

Glorious maize plants are already poking their heads out of the soil all over my village. If the rains keep up as they are now, it should be a good harvest year… but with Mother Nature, you never know.

The rain does present some challenges… road damage, flooding, more breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Last night we had quite the downpour… this bridge flooded, making travel to and from the village impossible.

After the water went down this morning, we were hard at work clearing the debris to make the bridge passable again. It was a community effort, as it often is in Malawi.

The number of malaria cases increases during the rainy season, which is the main reason we are forging ahead facilitating as many bed net demos as possible. Foster and I are hoping to hit every Under 5 Clinic in our area. Knowledge is power.

This time of year does present risk but there is beauty in all the new growth and the promise of a brighter future. People are hard at work in their fields every morning. More maize means more food and less struggle next year.

I have been working on my own home garden. I picked what I thought was the perfect spot, not realizing that with the heavy rains, the whole area would flood. Now I spend those rainy afternoons watching the water in my front yard, identifying potential ways to redirect it. My neighbors are curious about my gardening methods. We have talked a lot about why I am digging deep… trying to get the water to move down, not just across the surface of the soil.

Shading the compost for my permagarden

These past 2 months have felt productive. Community members have shown more interest in working together. They are willing to try out new ideas and they teach me more about this land and culture every day. It is great, although I cannot lie, there are many days that I struggle.

Right now, I am reading an autobiography called Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle by Moritz Thomsen. He served as a volunteer in Ecuador in the 1960s but I find myself relating to him and his experience in so many ways.

“A month later, to leave my tight little world of books, letters, pots, and pans, and walk out into the country still required that one conscious decision to do it, like deciding to jump from a twelve-foot board into icy water.” Leaving my house feels just like this more often than you would think. I still feel isolated and lost some days. The good thing is that once I make it out the door, I usually don’t regret it.

“I realized then that perhaps my main frustration with the town had been all that free time without definite obligations.” (Another quote from his book) I previously posted about being happier when I am busy. This experience has pushed me to be even more of a go-getter and persistent. Even if an activity falls through, there is no reason to believe that it will never happen. Try, try again. Just like my fellow community members who have been struggling to develop an irrigation system that works for them… after several months, they have it working now, making their lives a little easier. If you just keep pushing, things will happen.

I find comfort in making these connections with my community members, and with a man who was able to articulate so much of what I think and feel every day (roughly 50 years after he experienced it). We often assume we are vastly different from those around us but there are commonalities to be found, and with that comes connection, understanding, love, and growth.

Enjoy this wonderful time of year wherever you are in the world!

Thanks for all the care package love! You have no idea how much it helps on the hard days ❤️

Thanksgiving… Malawi Style

Although I did not watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or run in the Manchester Road Race, I was still able to celebrate Thanksgiving here in Malawi. In many ways it felt just like home… lots of good food, being with people I love, and celebrating everything we are thankful for. Nevertheless, there were some changes to my usual Thanksgiving routine. Ever eaten crocodile? Yea me either, until now. You may be thinking “ummm gross!” I normally would be too with my vegetarian ways but guess what… I ate a ton of crocodile… and loved it! Favorite thing I have eaten in Malawi by far. Guess this Peace Corps experience is changing me 😝

That is a lot of croc!

Alexa and I are hoping to get some for our Christmas festivities. I think it will be a holiday tradition from now on… at least while we are in Malawi. Not sure how I could procure crocodile in the United States. Maybe get some alligator instead?

For Thanksgiving weekend, we traveled to Salima to stay on the lake. For actual Thanksgiving, Alexa and I shared a simple, yet lovely meal together.

Eating by candlelight makes things so much more fun. Although I do miss electricity; I cannot lie about that.

The day after Thanksgiving we made our way to the beach. It was my first time seeing the lake. For those of you who don’t know, Malawi has a HUGE lake that takes up most of the eastern border… Lake Malawi to be exact. It is the 3rd largest lake in Africa and home to more species of fish than any other lake.

It was just as beautiful as I imagined, although there are rivers that connect to the lake so one must be on the lookout for crocodiles and hippos when swimming.

Near the lodge where we camped there is a crocodile farm, which is where we got the crocodile for our Friday night dinner!

Our big Thanksgiving feast was on Saturday. For appetizers, there were deviled eggs and mango salsa with homemade “chips.”

Mango salsa and chip making/eating crew 😊

We chowed down at dinner with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, mac n cheese, and rolls. Some Malawian additions were present as well – greens and rice with cooked tomatoes. For dessert, I brought brownies and Hayden and Justin created some delicious pies. Everyone was in agreement that it was just as good as a Thanksgiving meal in the US!

Mashing potatoes

Turkey queens 💁🏻💁🏼

Dinner is served

Thanks to McKenna and Kelsey, we also had Thanksgiving decorations to make it even more festive. We even created some turkey koozies because… why not?

Even though rainy season is in full swing back in Machinga, we were lucky with no rain for the weekend. Although there was some intense wind, which made the beach camping interesting for sure. After living the tent life in Colorado, I am used to the walls of “my home” constantly swaying back and forth while I am sleeping.

My front yard ☔️

My front yard on a different day this week 💦

Sunrise on the lake… no rain!

Being back at site now and reflecting on the weekend, I am beyond grateful to be here with such an amazing group of people. My biological family may be miles away but I do have another family here to celebrate all the holidays with. We may be kinda wacky but that just makes all of our gatherings even better!

Photo by Hayden Fennoy

Happy birthday shoutout to my favorite mountain man! Sending love from across the sea 💜💚

Working Together Makes Everything Better

I am usually happier when I have a lot to do. If I am not busy, I feel a frantic need to find things to fill my time. Luckily, I have had a ton to do since getting back from Lilongwe. These last few weeks really made me recognize how working together makes everything way better. Whether it’s with fellow volunteers, counterparts, or other community members, I find myself even more passionate and excited for work when I get to collaborate (which is most, if not all of the time).

Last weekend I was able to travel to the Mahans’ site to help them with a training about sustainable nutrition.

Representatives from different HIV Support Groups in the area came to learn, share, and later teach their respective groups about the knowledge and skills they gained. Although it was a nutrition-focused training, great discussions about various topics ensued, including an interesting chat about healthy marital relationships.

Talking about what foods are available during which seasons

I was only there for 2 of the 4 days but the group was really engaged with all the topics. Amelia and Marc did an amazing job leading sessions and adding energizers when needed… it was seriously HOT of course. Marc’s counterpart, Billy, is also an incredibly enthusiastic and charismatic translator. You cannot help but want to hear more when he is speaking.

Billy, Amelia, and Marc with volunteers from the group – Mango and tomato drying demo

My favorite picture from the training – She was laughing at Marc showing us how to make chapati 😊

There’s funny Marc… showing us how it’s done!

The training helped me generate some ideas for my site as well. We focused on food preservation for one day and I taught about fermentation. Fruit/vegetable drying is another useful skill to have here in Malawi. On my short walk to and from the health centre every day, I usually pick up at least 4-5 perfect mangoes. THEY ARE TRULY EVERYWHERE! There are so many that go to waste, unless we preserve them.

Mango drying!

My counterpart actually brought me some great mangoes from the tree near his house. He said he saw me picking them off the ground and wanted to give me some better ones lol. I talked to him about how I feel bad so many mangoes go to waste when we can dry them and enjoy mangoes all year long! Needless to say, I did a mini fruit drying session with him at my house.

Mangoes anyone?

Back to the Mahans for a moment… they were such great hosts, they even gave me a goody from one of their care packages!

I do not like to share… just ask my brother… I used to take all his Halloween candy. When it comes to anything sweet… it is all mine! Especially when it is in a precious care package. Nevertheless, I feel blessed that the Mahans are such good sharers 😊 Trader Joe’s pumpkin goodness… ALL FOR ME lol 🎃

Before leaving their house, I did get to witness some great interactions between Amelia and her chickens. They get really excited for mealtimes… don’t we all 😝 Penelope just could not contain herself and almost knocked Amelia over flying to the food.

Back at site, I had a busy week with Foster. We did a lot of malaria surveys and bed net care and repair demonstrations during a few different under 5 clinics. So much bike riding!

The mothers seemed most interested in learning how to convert a rectangular net into a round one, making it easier to hang because you only need one point of attachment. We also did education and demos for how to wash and sew torn nets.

Foster has been amazing to work with. We have gotten a lot closer in the last week. I really enjoy leading sessions but watching Foster do so is my favorite. He is passionate and has a strong desire to learn. He does an amazing job sharing knowledge and skills he has gained through trainings. Since Mini Malaria Bootcamp, we have really hit the ground running trying to stomp out malaria in our area.

Foster showing them how it’s done!

To wrap things up for this post, I have a silly story for your entertainment. Last night, I was winding down, jamming to some tunes, taking my Malarone (anti-malaria med), planning my breakfast for tomorrow, ya know… the usual… when my blissful mood was instantaneously slaughtered by a bluish centipede/millipede, whatever it was, that came scurrying from underneath my new dresser. When the flicker of movement caught my eye, I foolishly assumed it was one of my friends… a lizard, a scorpion, a giant spider… the ones I have grown so accustomed to. Nope. Not this time.

I immediately recognized this villain as one of the creatures I was seriously warned about by my neighbor. It may look like a “normal” centipede/millipede but do not be fooled, apparently its sting causes unimaginable pain and suffering! Alexa saw one awhile back and her night guard promptly killed it, warning her that those are VERY BAD.

Well I have no idea where exactly the little devil is now. I will say I did not scream but panicked for sure. I ran around the room, seeking safety, struggling to decide if it would be better to get on my bed, knowing I would not have time to fully tuck the bed net before its approach, or climb the dresser, or… my personal favorite… play dead. Luckily, it barely touched the edge of the bed net before scurrying back under the dresser. Obviously I had 2 eyes wide open 😳 watching that area while getting into bed and FIRMLY tucking in my net. Safe and sound… for the night.

I hope this does not turn into one of those things that I comically write about now and then later need to unfortunately share my tragic story of actually getting stung by this thing. Hmmm… well I guess it would be a good story for a future memoir… if I live to tell the tale.

Apparently the supermoon brings out the major creepy crawlers!

What day is it?

Time has flown by since my last post. I was in Lilongwe most of the time, but for different reasons. During my first week in Malawi’s capital, I attended GRS training, then spent Halloween weekend at Kuti Wildlife Reserve. After that I went to Mini Malaria Bootcamp, and then had my first GAD meeting. You may be wondering what all these acronyms mean… What exactly have I been up to for the past few weeks? Not to worry… I will explain it all, in chronological order of course because organization is my favorite.

Whose got skillz? I’ve got skillz… well, I am not suddenly cool or anything, but I am trained in GRS (Grassroot Soccer) and PC Skillz now.

That is a picture of the crazy bunch I “graduated” from the program with. GRS is basically a way to teach kids about health issues, but in fun ways with games, etc. The topics mostly focus on HIV/AIDS but there are also lessons about malaria, female empowerment, relationships, and additional health issues teens face.

Learning the rules of the game

This training brought us back to MIM (Malawi Institute of Management), where we were when we first arrived in Malawi, before going to the homestay village. It was surreal to be back 8 months later. So much has happened! When we were there in March, we celebrated 2 birthdays. To bring it full circle, we were able to celebrate another birthday this time around. Cake, cake, cake… no one loves cake more than a hungry bunch of PCVs!

We started our Halloween celebrations on Friday with a party at the Marine house in Lilongwe.

The next day, we made our way to Kuti Wildlife Reserve in Salima. We saw zebra, sables, and warthogs on the drive in, but they were too quick to photograph!

We ate tons of candy (even real candy corn!), bobbed for apples, carved mangoes, and even went on a “haunted hay ride” of sorts.

Rice krispies treats!

Most of the group dressed up

“Haunted hay ride” with the Gule Wamkulu

I have not seen the Gule Wamkulu since our Pre-Service Training. They are only in certain areas so it was a lot of fun to experience that part of Malawian culture again. And they can be kinda scary… perfect for Halloween!

When we got back to Lilongwe, we made a stop at KFC (it’s relatively new, still no McDonald’s in Malawi though 😕).

I don’t think I have ever gone to a KFC in the U.S. The food they serve in Malawi is a little different though, like the Doritos Crunch Burger, which is delicious btw.

Next on the agenda… Mini Malaria Bootcamp. We spent 3 days learning more about this deadly disease and how we can work together to stomp it out.

I fight malaria because…

My counterpart (Foster)

Foster and I are hoping to train the rest of our health centre staff about all the new things we learned. One of the coolest things we did was mapping. Using https://www.openstreetmap.org, I was able to start mapping my village. It took Foster and I about 45 minutes to find the village; it had not been previously mapped.

Busy mapping

There are so many great things about this tool. In the event of a disaster, like the flooding Malawi has seen in the past, these maps can assist search efforts. Maps can also be used to track things like bed net distribution and usage, illness cases in the community, etc. People (from anywhere in the world) can help map my area as well… I will let you know when I have more info about this.

Overall, this training helped my counterpart and I create some great step-by-step plans to implement malaria projects in our community.

I ended my trip to Lilongwe with my first GAD meeting. GAD stands for Gender and Development Committee. I applied and was selected to be a member during our In-Service Training.

We talked a lot about future goals and projects that we can work on as a committee. Beginning November 25th and ending on December 10th is an international campaign entitled 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. We will be having a competition and the PCV who facilitates the most gender-related activities during the 16 days will win a prize! We also explored other campaigns we want to take part in for the next several months.

Our updated bulletin board!

The last few weeks have been packed, but in a good way! I am back at site with even more ideas and plans for my service. It was such a whirlwind, I’m still not sure exactly what day it is… I keep calling my mom at work when it’s the weekend and clearly, she’s home. Who keeps track of days when there is so much going on? Not me apparently.

Health volunteers at Mini Malaria Bootcamp

 

Kreees-teena, Kreees-teena… Bo… Bo… Bo

I am back at site and figuring out how to survive during hot season, while dreaming about the blissfully cool days of May and June. Do you think it is possible for Malawi to have a freak snow storm? Stranger things have happened, right?

My trek back to site was the hottest yet but I must say, I am slowly adjusting. I think back on my time in Egypt and the plethora of sweltering days I experienced there. Eventually our bodies just get used to it. While riding back, I snapped a photo of the chaos that normally ensues when a minibus stops to pick up people and drop others off.

I thought you guys would be interested to see what it looks like. All of those people are selling things. Mandasi, samosas, chippies, lollipops, cookies, sodas, water, eggs, veggies, and fruit are all for grabs as soon as the minibus halts, even for the briefest moments. At first I found the whole routine kind of odd, but now I understand the pure genius of it. What’s better than being able to buy snacks right through the window of your bus? Not enough time to go grocery shopping? No problem. You can do it along the way, without ever leaving the vehicle! I think Americans would be on board with this too 😊

I was surprised that I was able to get all my stuff back without any major issues. Well, maybe there was just one problem.

Apparently butter melts 😝 And plastic lids do not stay on too well while being jostled in the back of a minibus for several hours. Luckily, I was able to salvage most of the butter. I mean the bag, book, and other items from the grocery store that it exploded all over were relatively clean… sort of. 5 second rule. More like 5 hour rule in this case. And luckily the book is only a little greasy… still readable.

My sitemate, Alexa, is a rockstar and made us the most delicious meal.

Tacos with homemade chapati and delicious Velveeta… plus Passionfruit Fantas of course. And brownies too. Hey Alexa, can I hire you as a cook… lol… but for real, I am actually serious 😊

Speaking of food (as always), the mango trees are full of fruit. They are not ripe yet but it shouldn’t be too much longer. Now that all the trees are fruiting, I finally understand why everyone says mango season is crazy. There are mango trees EVERYWHERE! Literally EVERYWHERE! I never noticed how many until I got back.

My friend at the hospital also showed me a new fruit that is now in season. (Just new to me lol) It is called masuku. To me, it tastes sort of like a pear but sweeter. There are 4 huge seeds in it. Let’s just say, I am officially addicted.

Other happenings: My backyard fence is almost complete! This man was at my house all week working on the fence and the roof for my bafa/chim/outdoor kitchen. I am grateful for this progress… so unbelievably grateful!

My counterpart, Foster, gave me a present when I was back at work.

During IST (In Service Training), you may remember we learned about basket cookers and the counterparts loved it. I told Foster that I was sad because we do not have any baskets for sale in our market. While I was in the US, Foster found someone to make the baskets. Next month, we will do a short demo with a local HIV Support Group on how to use them. Instead of spending hours cooking beans, you only need to boil for about 15 minutes before putting them in the basket. Then you can leave them for a few hours and wait for the magic to happen. It is a much more efficient way to cook. People can use less fuel (firewood, charcoal), meaning they can buy less. It is a win, win!

Foster and I have been busy this week completing malaria needs assessments. We will be attending a Mini Malaria Bootcamp together for 3 days. The assessments are a preparation assignment. It was informative to learn more about community beliefs and bed net usage in our area.

One area where we went door to door

While we were out and about, Foster and I also had the opportunity to check out an irrigation project. The community was provided certain materials and trained on how to use an irrigation system. They are struggling a bit with the lack of rain.

The pipes are pulling water from one of the rivers in the community, but with the lack of rain, the river is running low. It was a good opportunity to brainstorm ideas about what else might help these individuals succeed when farming during the dry season.

I will be leaving site for some short trainings at the end of the week but it feels nice to be back, even with the heat 😅 I love seeing the eager, little faces running to the road yelling “Kreees-teena, Kreees-teena… Bo… Bo… Bo” when they see me coming. Then they run back to their parents, full of excitement, to share that I said “Bo… Bo…” back. (“Bo” is a greeting, used most with kids) These are just some of the precious moments that I hold on to, look back on during those rough days, and know I will remember fondly forever.

Bittersweet

My time home was short but I made sure to savor every minute. Fall is my favorite time of year. Anyone who knows me well knows I am obsessed with pumpkin spice 😝🎃 I am not alone in this, as there are many pumpkin spice addicts who can understand my pure joy about reuniting with such a delicious flavor. Being in Connecticut for 10 days in September and October was heavenly. I made a few stops at Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks for delicious pumpkin-flavored drinks. My mom also made pumpkin bread, which I desperately want to replicate in Malawi!

Besides the food, which I will obviously continue writing about later in this post, I loved spending time with some of my favorite people. This awesome guy flew to Connecticut early so he could meet me at the airport. After over 24 hours of travel, little sleep, and not feeling well (I came down with some kind of stomach illness a few days before arriving in the U.S.), seeing Zack’s smiling face at 7am was just what I needed 😊

I also had some important cuddle sessions with my mom, spent time with my dad and other family members, and was able to see one of my closest friends. It is always comforting to be in my hometown, although I have not lived in Watertown for several years.

Lake Waramaug

I had an amazing opportunity to speak at my high school. So many things have changed but a lot felt familiar to me as I walked through the halls. I am setting up a pen-pal exchange between secondary school students in Malawi and teens in a Global Issues class at my hometown high school.

I was initially approached by my neighbor/Chichewa tutor/teacher at the secondary school. He expressed interest in locating pen-pals for the students in his English Club. I was able to find an interested teacher right away. My trip to the U.S. was timed perfectly. The school year just began and I was able to hand-deliver a batch of letters and photos.

English Club students and their teacher!

I spoke to the U.S. students about life in Malawi and the kids they will be communicating with. They had great questions. I am so grateful to have this chance to facilitate a cultural exchange between students from 2 different continents. I hope it will help them see the world from a fresh perspective, thus igniting their curiosity and desire to discover new places, people, and cultures.

I have been fully immersed in Malawian culture for the last 7 months but was able to settle into American life for 10 days. I loved talking about my Peace Corps experience and all the great people I have met in Malawi. My family and friends were excited to learn more about my adventure so far and I was happy to share photos, videos, and stories. Bringing Malawi to the U.S. and vice versa is one of my favorite parts of being a Peace Corps volunteer.

So you may be wondering which American restaurant I frequented most while being home… Before I left I would have guessed it would be Dunkin Donuts hands down, but my visits to Taco Bell far surpassed my trips to any other food establishment. Luckily, Zack was more than willing to treat me to all the Taco Bell I wanted 😊

Just 1 of our many visits

Some of my other indulgences included cheese, ice cream, chocolate, my mom’s delicious homemade tomato sauce, and Denny’s.

All for me!

For some reason, Zack and I always have really intense, but the good kind of intense, conversations at Denny’s. It is an excellent place to talk through complicated things apparently. We had fun reminiscing about the last time we were at Denny’s. It was February and absolutely freezing. Zack was wondering why the heck anyone would choose to live in such an arctic environment 😝❄️

Zack preparing for cold CT on our way back from Costa Rica last February

It was Valentine’s Day. I had chosen Denny’s for our date. People may think that is silly but I love the breakfasts. Zack introduced me to the wonders of Denny’s during our summer in Colorado together. You can get breakfast all day, which is a huge win in my book. I have so many happy memories from all the times Zack and I have spent there. I cannot wait to continue making more.

Although 10 days is not a huge chunk of time, I now have so many positive moments to look back on and cherish when I am having a hard day. My mom hosted a fun party, where Zack and I danced the night away, while wearing matching Malawian outfits of course.

The party was perfectly decked out in autumn style. Who doesn’t love the colors of fall?

It was hard to say goodbye. We had a mini photo shoot in my backyard right before I left. The leaves were so inviting and created the most beautiful backdrop. My mom was sad about the colder weather but I could not have been happier. There is nothing more wonderful than a crisp fall day 🍂🍁🐿

When Zack and I got to the airport on Thursday we were surprised to find out that our flights were leaving from the same terminal! We stayed together until I had to get on the plane ✈️ Every moment counts when you live on different continents!

I am back in Malawi now and it is HOT!!!! This heat is no joke and far different from the cooler weather and lush green landscapes that greeted us when we arrived in March. Hoping for good rains this year but we shall see. There is noticeably less food in the markets. Malawians are struggling. I know I need to stay positive to help during this rough time.

It is not always easy to keep a positive attitude when there is so much suffering. I continue focusing on self-care to make sure I am giving my community 100% of my effort. Luckily, I have some new friends to help me smile when things seem bleak.

Thanks to Zack’s dad for sending me back to Malawi with these buddies 😀

Minions watching Minions

Reunited and it feels so good…

I am back in the U.S.!!!! (Just for 10 days lol) I arrived early this morning and am beyond excited to see the people I love. I will share about my U.S. visit in the coming days, but first I need to tell you about the last few weeks. We had our IST (In Service Training) to explore potential project ideas, share about our experiences at site, and support each other. It was nice to be back together again as one big group. Some of us had not seen each other since we left the homestay village in May. The past few weeks have been filled with many reunions, in Malawi and the U.S. 😊

Most of the ladies from our health cohort

One of our main focus areas for IST was food insecurity. Due to the varying weather patterns (droughts, flooding), harvests have been poor. In Malawi, most families only harvest crops once a year, March – May, after the rains. A bad harvest means a lack of food for the rest of the year. The food crisis has already begun. In my village, people started running out of crops in June. There are organizations that provide support through food distributions but the amount of people who need assistance is astronomical.

During training, we focused on what we can do as volunteers and how to handle requests for assistance. We have been trained in permagardening, which would allow families to harvest all year long. Another idea is to conduct preservation demos. Mango season is fast approaching and many end up going to waste. If we dry mangos when there is a surplus, we can eat them throughout the year. Tomatoes and other produce could also be preserved. I have been experimenting with fermentation as well, which is another great way to keep food for longer.

No matter how many discussions we have, I feel that nothing will truly prepare us for the struggles we will witness this hunger season. I have some other projects in mind for my site but I know food insecurity needs to be my main focus right now. There are some community members who already have small kitchen gardens. I want to increase this number, hopefully leading to a decrease in the number of people who are struggling to get food.

For the first week of training, it was just our group of 29 health and environment volunteers. Our counterparts arrived week 2. They loved the hands-on training activities. I think the best part of the training was that my counterpart learned more about my role as a Peace Corps volunteer. We both left with a better understanding of what we can accomplish together.

My counterpart, Foster, and I

Even though our days were jam-packed with sessions, we had time for some fun too. Monja and Tanner MC-ed our Non-Talent Talent Show when we first came to Malawi. For IST, they planned another Non-Talent Talent Show, Family Feud, and Chitenje Homecoming. Cannot wait for more events from T&M Productions. On our day off, we were invited to our Country Director’s house to hang by the pool and enjoy some delicious tacos. Overall, it was a pretty good 2 weeks… Check out more about it in the pictures below…

Family Feud: Places you have had diarrhea (because there are a ton)

Non-Talent Talent Show: Our fabulous hosts!

Non-Talent Talent Show: Boy band performance

Non-Talent Talent Show: Cam jamming out

Non-Talent Talent Show: Closing the show… until next time

Heading to our homestay village for a visit

Pool Time

The most delicious dip

Taco Time

Checking out how to use the basket cooker

Pounding usipa for a 6-food group porridge cooking demo

Chopping veggies for the cooking demos

PAD Project

Homecoming with my roomie

Just a game of tug-o-war

Stay tuned to find out how I spend my U.S. vaca 😊

Also, I received the sweetest postcard from a blog reader and it made by day (pictured above). I just mailed this individual a card with more of my contact info. I hope we can keep in touch. Your words help me get through the tough days! Thank you 😊