A Peace Corps Volunteer's Journey to Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Basics of my Malawian Life

Here is a basic description a about how I live my life here in Malawi, insipred by my sister's kid's questions I received in a letter. 

1          I am a Peace Corps Volunteer- Peace Corps is a volunteer organization created in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy with the intention of building stronger communities worldwide through a cultural exchange and in the process both cultures creating a better understanding of one another. In Malawi three major fields were chosen to focus on, Health, Education and Environment. This picture is of most of the Health Volunteer and Environment volunteers that arrived in March of 2012 with me! We will all serve in many different communities throughout Malawi for 2 years. We live in our own communities, all with our own projects to improve the lives of those we live amongst. We do not live together; we have our own houses within our own villages. Some of us have to travel up to 3 hours to see another volunteer, while others are only a 15 minute bike ride away from another volunteer.

             Malawi- Welcome to Malawi! Malawi is a beautiful country full of life, culture, food and people all different than from our home in America! The majority of the population in Malawi, about 80%, relay on farming as a way to earn money and as a way to survive. The staple crops here are maize, soy, tobacco, cotton, tea, peanuts and sugar cane.
Malawian people are very hard working and they have to be since their day to day life is full of physical labor, like these women in the picture carrying bundles of firewood on their heads. Women carry most anything on their heads as it is the easiest way to transport materials while walking.
The official language in Malawi is English, though the national language is Chichewa. Chichewa and many other tribal languages are spoken in the villages in Malawi. In the central region, where I live Chichewa is spoken, in the northern region Chitombukha, Chilambia and Chitonga are spoken and in the southern region Chichewa, Chiyao and Chisena are spoken. We have volunteers that speak all of these languages depending on where they are living.
When walking around in the village it is common to greet almost every person you see. This is the typical greeting exchange: “Moni, muli bwanji?” (Hello,how are you?). “Ndili bwino, kaya inu?” (I am fine, how are you?). “Ndili bwinoso, zikomo” (I am also fine, thank you). Zikomo, tiwonana (Thank you, see you later!).

               How People Live- In most parts of the country people live in houses like this one, made of mud with a grass roof. There is no electricity or running water meaning that in villages, there are no computers, televisions, microwaves, refrigerators, dishwashers or even washers and dryers. Everything is done by hand and water is fetched from a well.

              A Shallow Well- Here is a picture of the open well I pump water out of to get water, 25 liter buckets at a time. This well is located about 500 meters away from my house. I go to fetch water sometimes up to 3 times a day. During September and November the shallow well in my village dry up, which is common throughout the entire country, meaning myself and all the other women in my village have to walk even further to get a bucket of water. 

              Typical Family Compound- Many families live together on a compound similar to this one. Unlike America, the whole extended family will live together. Women will live with their families until they are married, usually around the age of 17, then they move onto the compound of their husband’s family. Each small mud hut on a compound has its own purpose. There is usually a mud hut used for cooking, pictured to the left, next to that, a brick structure used to enclose chickens and pigeons, then the white painted 2 room hut used for sleeping and eating and finally the brick structure over to the far right is the grandmothers house. The nuclear family all sleep in the same room sharing the space of a reed mat which is rolled out onto the floor when it’s time for bed. You can also see in this picture, the grandmother sorting and laying beans out to dry in the sun, a raised dish drying rack and a woman carrying a bucket of water on her head.

              What We Eat- The staple food in Malawi is called Nsima. It is a white, thick maize porridge eaten three meals a day. In the morning it is made into a porridge and mixed with peanut powder and in the afternoon and evening it is made into a patty and eaten with different side dishes, called ndiwo. You can see in this picture women are cooking a large pot of nsima. This day was a celebration because the church choir from the neighboring village came to visit so the women from the home village made them a big lunch in celebration.
             Nsima and Ndiwo- This is a typical meal here in Malawi, though it is more common to eat just one side dish with a meal, not all three like pictured. You can see the maize porridge cooked and formed into a patty and the side dishes, from left to right are soya pieces, which are dehydrated soya meat that when boiled in water with onion and tomato become rather delicious, eggs which are also usually also cooked with tomato and onion and mustard greens cooked with oil, onions and tomato as well. Every side dish is eaten with onion and tomato. The most commonly eaten ndiwos are the three pictured, along with cooked cabbage, beans, small dried fish and on holidays and special occasions goat, chicken and cow meat. 

                          Local Diet- Mbewa-Mice- In the months of August and September the famers burn all of their fields to clear crop residue in preparation of planting season in October and November. The burnt fields show the holes to the underground mouse burrow. As a past time and to gather food for their family, children around the ages of 10-15, enjoy using a hoe to hunt for mice in their fields. Once the mice are caught and killed, they are taken home, where their mother’s will boil the mice then allow them to dry in the sun. It’s important to note that the hair isn’t removed before eating. This is a common practice in the central region of Malawi where the Chewa tribes have settled, other tribes, like the Tombukhas find it shameful to eat mice. 

             Local Diet- Caterpillar- People are permitted to enter the Nkhotakota Game Reserve, which my village borders, to gather non-timber products including caterpillars, termites and mushrooms, all of which will be eaten with nsima! 

             My House- Dry Season- There are 2 seasons in Malawi, the dry season, where not a drop of rain can be felt from April to November and during the months of September, October and November, temperatures can get up to 100 by 8am! The rainy season begins in December and ends late March and the country of Malawi bursts with life! You can see this in the two pictures taken of my house, the first during the dry season and the second during the rainy season. The rains bring life to Malawi but also can bring danger. Sometimes it rains so hard the roads, mainly dirt roads here, are transformed into rivers. It can be dangerous to leave the house during a heavy rain because even walking paths are impassable because of thick clay mud.
I live in a 3 roomed hut house made of mud with grass thatched on the roof. Since it is made of mud and has a thatched roof, it stays nice and cool during the hot season and doesn’t get too cold during the rainy and cold seasons. The only downside to having a thatched roof is that it is pretty leaky during the rainy season. 

              My House- Rainy Season- You can see the impact the rain has on Malawi! Isn’t it beautiful? Though Malawi is in Africa it is a tropical country, meaning there are many tropical fruits growing here. Around my house I have banana, guava, orange, tangerine, mango, papaya, avocado, peach and musuku, an African bush fruit.

              My Local Diet- Food here in Malawi isn’t bought at a grocery store like in America; it’s grown in villages and sold in open-air markets. The only things that come in a package are soya pieces, powdered milk, sugar, cookies and candies. Other than those, everything is sold and bought fresh like sweet potatoes, small Irish potatoes, peanuts, and bananas. 

              How I Cook- I’ve learned to get creative and cook some pretty good food with limited ingredients. I cook everything, even pancakes, on a paraffin stove. 

              Baking Malawian Style- African Cake, or Chikondimoyo or Chigumu,  is a bread made in a double pot, firewood oven like pictured. The cake is made with refined maize flour, baking soda, water, a pinch of sugar and salt and sometimes banana. It tastes similar to corn bread but a bit drier and with less of a corn flavor. My neighbor makes the best Chigumu with banana, which she sells for 10 kwacha a piece (there’s about 350 kwacha to 1 US dollar).

               Baking Bread- Here my friend Happy is baking bread. For large scale production, like she does, a mud oven is used for baking. One of the mud huts on her compound is used as a tea shop where she sells cups of tea and rolls for 100 kwacha every day. To bake in the oven, she first starts a large fire. Once mainly coals remain inside the oven, she removes the larger smoking sticks, it’s important not to have any smoking wood while cooking the bread as it will make the bread taste like smoke. The large tray of bread is then set onto the coal, the top vent covered with a large rock and the front opening covered with several scrap pieces of metal and within 60 minutes or so delicious bread is ready to eat!

               Roadside Food Sales- Food is sold everywhere here in Malawi from markets to the sides of roads like shown here. Here women gather daily to sell bananas, musuku, and grilled or boiled maize to passing cars going through the Nkhotakota Game Reserve.

               Open-Air Market- Here is an example of a small open-air market selling the typical Malawian food items. There are onions, tomatoes, and greens. The greens are mustard greens, pumpkin or bean leaves. A typical pile of 4 large tomatoes is 100 kwacha, a bunch of greens is 30 kwacha and a large onion is about 20 kwacha. 

              Local Transport- There are cars here but to give you an idea of how few out of 3,000 people in the cluster of 19 villages I live amongst, one person has minivan, which he uses as a taxi to up to 15 people at a time. Since many people do not have cars, bike taxis are used. Here is a picture of two other volunteers taking rides on bike taxis. If you’re lucky, your bike taxi will have a cushion seat on the back above the rear tire. Sometimes it’s just metal… which isn’t very comfortable!

               My Pest Eating Cat- This is a picture of my cat. His name is Kombuku, which means jaguar in Chichewa. He’s all black just like a jaguar. Cats are very important pets to have in Malawi since there are so many creepy crawlies. My cats loves to eat mice, spiders, large beetles, moths and basically anything that he can find to eat in my house. 

               Eggs From my Chickens- Along with my cat, I’ve also got 5 chickens and one rooster. I got them with the hopes of having a daily supply of eggs since the market that sells eggs is over a 20 mile bike trip from my house, but it’s harder to train these village chickens than Malawians make it look. Most of my chickens lay and live at my neighbor’s house… Hopefully by the end of 2 years I’ll have figured out how to make them lay at my house!

              Kids Toys- There isn’t any place for kids to buy toys, no toy stores or anything so kids get creative and make their own toys. This is my neighbor boy Manwelo with a car he made out of twigs and mud. 

              Hippos, Elephants Impala and monkeys- These and many other animals live here in Malawi. Nowadays all the these critters live in protected Game Reserves with the intention of reducing poaching, though poaching is still very common. My house is 4 kilometers away from the Nkhotakota Game Reserve were hippos, elephants, impala, monkeys, hyenas, lions, baboons, warthogs and too many deer like animals to name all can be found. You can see how large an elephant is by seeing how my hand inside the elephant track appears so small!

               Me, My Women’s Group and Moringa-This is a picture of me and a women’s group I created planting moringa seeds in potting tubes. My main focus is natural medicine. Moringa is a tree that grows in tropical regions like Malawi and is full of many vitamins and minerals. Today, about 48% of Malawian people are malnourished because they don’t have a diversified diet. To decrease the prevalence of malnourishment in my village, I teach people to grow moringa and how to cook the leaves fresh or pound them into a powder and to eat with a side dish one teaspoon with every meal 3 times a day.

                Moringa Training- It is common in Malawi to sing songs and dance at trainings and meetings. This poster was made by another volunteer and used as a visual aid during our song about moringa. There are over 50 plants that have medicinal properties and easily grow in Malawi, like lemon grass and Artemisia, that I also teach people about in my village. 

                  Thanksgiving!- With the assistance of your care package gravy, myself and the other volunteer that lives 5kilometers away from me hosted her neighbors, Group Village Headman Mkombe, the chief of all of the chiefs in her area and Lovemore Gadi’s family to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. We slaughtered 3 chickens, made mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and steamed pumpkin leaves with fresh mangoes and American chocolate for dessert. As in typical American tradition, left the meal super stuffed! 

               Enjoying Swedish Fish- As much as possible I try to share care package sweets with my neighbor kids. They love it when I bring out Swedish fish and gummy bears!  
The Best for Last- My Chimbudzi (toilet) and Bafa (shower)-These are pictures that show how I bathe and go to the bathroom. For my bafa, I had a reed grass and bamboo structure built that I bathe inside of. It provides plenty of privacy and is especially nice during the hot season, but not so nice when it’s cold and raining as there is no roof and not much protection from the cold. I bathe with a bucket and scoop water with a cup.

My chim is a pit latine… a hole in the ground surrounded by a mud enclosure. It was strange getting used to at first, but once I learned the  basics, I was fine. The basics being, don’t use the toilet at night because of cockroaches and other creepy critters that when night falls decide it’s a good time to inhibit this not so pleasant place and of course good squatting form is imperative to master while above the hole. During the dry season, I use a “composting toilet,” which is a bucket I go to the bathroom in, cover the waste with soil or dry organic matter and dump it into a large pit about once every two weeks. Once the large pit is full, I will wait about 6 months for the waste to completely break down and use in my garden.