16 September 2010- Adventure in the Bay and Nyika
As usual I found myself out of site for an adventure with other volunteers. It seems that at least once a month I have discovered something to do while out restocking and rejuvenating mentally. This time I had two events which I combined into one outing seeing as it's difficult to get out of site in the first place.
First, I met up with Julia and Jeremy for a night in Chikwina and then a weekend in NkhataBay. A nurse from the district (who lived in Usisya on relief basis for a little over a month) got married on the 4th Sept. and I also wanted a chance to see some volunteers leaving for America as their service ends/ they have chosen to leave early. It was the usual NkhataBay experience with many tourists running around the place, Rastas befriending you with ulterior motives, and cheap meals in the market. We also got to meet up with some Moroccan PCVs who were just traveling through on their COS (close of service) adventure. It was interesting to see just how different people's Peace Corps service can be based on where you are stationed and even the variations within a country itself. They spoke of people in their group being everywhere from town centers with all the niceties to deserts which took whole days to get out of.So, again I say that it is nice to talk to returned PCVs but you really won't know what you are getting yourself into until you are on the ground.
Anyhow, after that I went with Julia to her site in Muhuju, Rhumpi. She came in with me and was even my roommate in staging and PCT (training). But, she has decided that it's best for her, personally, to not continue her service. In the last few months we have lost two other girls from my group, and while it is sad to see them go we all understand that the full two years is not in everyone's best interest. That being said, there is no judgment when people leave early, only a regret that they wont be here with us any more. So, I helped her pack and talked about all the amazing things she'll have the opportunity to do when she gets home so as to ease the departure. Malawi will miss you JULIA!
Last on my adventure list was a four day hike through the southern park of Nyika National Park. It's a plateau reserve area which the government put under protection about 40 years ago. The trip was organized by an environment volunteer in Nchenchena, Scott, and included: me, Yoel ( envi. volunteer in Livingstonia), Matt (envi. volunteer in Karonga), Munthali (ranger from Muhuju), and Zambo (Scott's counterpart and park ranger from Nchenchena). So, me with the 5 guys started off on Friday walking straight up into the park.
Day1: we started at 7:30 am and walked uphill for about five hours. It was terribly exhausting and we required frequent water breaks in any shade areas we could find. The ascent took us through fields of wild flowers, a few wooded areas once we entered into the park boundaries, and across grassy fields. The two rangers with us carried guns (from WWI) not incase of wild animals so much as for any poachers who might be discovered. Sadly, none were found but you could see where they had been by the burnt hills and one unfortunate dog caught in a snare. Since very few people visit the park (especially in the area we were) and funding is so low for scouts; poachers frequent the area in search of everything including: wood, meat, and orchids. If the locals don't soon begin to value the reserve then it will only continue to lose what makes it worth keeping. All this and more we learned as we chatted along the way as the volunteers have learned a lot in their time around the park and the two rangers have spent more than twenty years patrolling it.
Anyhow, that night we camped at the top of NchenchenFalls which was cold from the mist and a lack of natural shelter, but beautiful all the same. Nsima with usipa for dinde was has and we told stories keeping warm around the camp fire. Very appropriate camping evening.
Day 2: We woke to a breakfast of scones and tea and began a much easier day. Saturday we hiked only for about 4.5 hours along road and across a few fields. Needless to say it was a much easier day and I no longer struggled with a walking stick and shoes which are too old to grip up a terrain. We saw our first wildlife as well: a roan, many common duikers, and a franklin (bird which nests in the grass) were seen as they fled our path. The rangers talked about how much more game used to travel the sloped, but again poachers have either killed or chased them away to areas where more people visit so as to have protection from rangers and law enforcement. We finished by lunch time and set up camp on the outskirts of the JuniperForest. One of two places in Africa where such a flora exists, the area holds massive trees which reminded me of the great redwoods of the American west coast (although not quite as large). As we finished early we had time to bathe in a small waterfall just near the campsite and practice our whittling skills on some wood taken from a fallen Juniper.
Day 3: With bellied full of rice palla we left our gear and hiked around the forest for a bit. This gave us the opportunity to truly see the size of the trees and the old growth of the area. We stopped for many photo ops of the beautiful area and then returned to gather our things from camp. On our way out of the area we passed over an ant hill (a common thing anywhere in Malawi) but this particular ant was supposedly lucky, as the ranger pointed it out and mentioned that it was a good sign. Not thirty minutes later we were walking up a hill when across the ridge walked an adult leopard. Beautiful (and larger than I thought it would be), it trolled across like we were not even there. Matt was lucky enough to have a camera handy and got a pretty decent picture, while the rest of us looked dumbfounded at the site. Just as quickly as it came into view, it sleeked into a forested area and was not seen again but we all were on a high from the few seconds that it was there. I guess the ant was lucky?!?
Our last night of camping we struggled to find a spot, but by 2:30 we were slashing grass by a small stream and boiling rice for tea. Our last night was the warmest, and we all slept well with full bellies and less layers (except matt who neglected to bring a sleeping mat)
Day 4: Our last day holds little to report as it turned into a one-by-one march down out of the plateau. We crossed some questionable bridges, killed out knees and thighs trying to hold our balance, and warmed up as we entered the valley below. It was an amazing experience and great to spend fours days seeing nothing but flora and fauna as we chatted about movies (Yoel and Scott can quote almost any movie you throw at them in its entirety) and just got back with the basics. Nothing like washing in a cold mountain stream, and cooking on a fire to remind us to appreciate nature. I was kind of sad to see it all end, but also happy to have kept up with the environment kids for the whole trip (a point the rangers were surprised to see as I was the token girl). We finished out hike in Muhuju so we spent one last night with Julia cooking a feast and playing rummy till the mosquitoes got too bad and we grew tired.
This is what Peace Corps in Africa is all about. The development, and the moments with good friends seeing the beauty of all that surrounds you.
18 September 2010- Development Meeting
On September 18-19 Nkhata Bay North held its annual development meeting in Usisya at the community hall. Well over 200 people came from around the area and District office including: traditional authorities, member of local government, district officials, DPP party members, NGOs, CBOs, area representatives, and interested parties. Usisya was, to say the least, buzzing with talk of chitukuko (development).
To my side there were two points which I presented to those in attendance. First, I have brought in equipment for a local youth CBO (Chigwirizano) to produce groundnut oil, flour, and butter. The materials have all arrived just within the last week and while the training for their use is not occurring for another week, we decided it was good to show the products to people so they can speak to their communities about the upcoming business. Thus, I gave a quick rundown of their functionality and showed everyone present the possibilities of using the equipment, encouraged them to plant groundnuts in their areas for sale to the CBO, and taught the importance of adding the products to their diet for health reasons. In all it was a bit of a fumble to get it all together in time, but there was a lot of interest shown for working in conjunction with Chigwirizano and creating a business village wide in the production of ground nuts and their products.
Secondly, Usisya has a poor and usually non-functional system of piping water/ water use. Therefore I asked for some time to present and discuss the options for development with the water system and civic education regarding water and sanitation. The presentation, unfortunately, was scheduled for the end of the day which meant people were restless and tired. Thus, I fear that all which was said may not have been heard but I tried to keep their attention as best as possible (it helped that most of it was in 'chitumbuka' so the women and chiefs could understand). I essentially, presented the information that I have heard from interest parties (including NGOs, government, and churches) and asked for collaboration between them and the community. It was a fast little speech, but luckily those who I wanted most to hear it (chiefs and government officials) were seated in the front and appeared to be listening. I consider it all successful as afterward several people came to me for discussions on the way forward.
First- We will have a meeting with the AEC (Area Executive Committee) in the next week to create a proposal form the community which will include: needs, areas in need, and suggestions for how to meet the water challenges.
Second- We will then present this information to the ADC (Area Development Committee). At that meeting we will get opinions from the traditional authorities and all other people working with development in the area.
Third- That report is taken to the District in NkhataBay (which I hope to happen in the next month). There we meet with officials to write proposals, look at our funding options, and get approval for all works planned.
Fourth- We take the proposals and plans to possible donors, search for people who will help in implementation of the projects, and begin the process of putting everything into action.
Development is slow and a process full of protocol (especially here), but little by little Usisya will have water which is clean and wont facilitate the spread of disease.
23 September 2010- Education in Malawi
Since I arrive in Usisya I have tried to spend ample time at the local secondary school (like an American high school only without hallways or enough seats to suit the class sizes). To begin with I taught life skills (health essentially) but found it to be an uphill battle as most of my teaching methods required student participation (something few are comfortable to do). Also, I found that having a Malawian teacher tackle the subject worked better as I was unable to relate to the life of a teenager here. Other health volunteers have found this course plausible, but I moved on to a place where the local teachers could not. So, I am now teaching English literature as I am not taking away from what they are capable of doing here, and filling in where the teachers here can literally not teach.
So for several terms I have been teaching Romeo and Juliet on top of helping the students practice their English. I have the students read the play aloud and in that help them by defining words, correcting pronunciation, and explaining the overall plot at it is now a testable book in the national curriculum. It is interesting to hear old English spoken with a Malawian accent and while they don't usually know what they are reading, it is good practice just to speak English (as I have learned in my struggle to learn chitumbuka).
In all this time there are some things I have learned about the school system and Malawi's youth.
- They are just like teenagers anywhere else: rebellious, care little about school, flirting with the opposite sex, naive to the world, and trying to be 'cool'
- Most of the subjects (excluding chichewa) are tested nationally in English, however most of the students in my classes are unable to form a proper sentence themselves, much less a composition (really high school teachers back home would assume they were reading the paper of a grade school student).
- There is little drive for a student to try hard as only the top 10% have any chance at getting accepted into college, and fewer then that are even able to pay the school fees.
- Most girls do not finish, nor try hard in school as culturally their role is to marry and care for a household (they don't understand how an education can help in daily tasks as well).
- The teachers get little pay and therefore also lack a drive to try hard, there is little reward and long days required just to get by.
- In all the school system is flawed in more ways than I can count, and a solution would have to be multi layered and many years in the making.
Report from Area Executive Meeting (AEC)
2 October 2010
By direction from the District Water Board, a meeting was held with the AEC to discuss the local perspective on water and sanitation issues in Nkahta Bay North. For those outside of the village protocols: the AEC is the technical body of civil servants who are given the task of reporting and proposing development plans to the ADC (Area Development Council) and VDCs (Village Development Committee). It is at the bottom of the tiered hierarchy which is then climbed so that there is grass roots development and all parties are equally included.
In attendance was the PEA (Primary Education Advisor),Usisya Day Secondary School head teacher, a local NGO representative, HSAs (Health Surveillance Assistant), Area Environmental Officer, and Area Development Officer.
The following points were brought up:
·Construction of public pit latrines- Can there be a proposed budget for the construction of pit latrines which would go hand in hand with civic education (most lakeshore villages have no pit latrines as the villagers use reed areas in the lake instead).
·Civic Education should be at the VDC level and vast. There is little to no education happening in regards to hygiene and sanitation. This results in the area being at high risk for cholera and other water born diseases
·Malaria should be on the top of discussion as there are many taps which are broken and leaking into pools of stagnant water. There should be discussion about providing seeds for these areas as the taps will be fixed and run off water should still be harnessed for dimba (kitchen gardens).
·There is need for a transect walk to see which of the pipes in the gravity fed system are easily fixable or are in need of more maintance.
Conclusion from the meeting: HSAs and AEC members will do a community assessment to gather a list of possible sites for boreholes (including a focus on primary school location). This list will be compiled on the 8th October and the sites will be put in order based on the crucial need for a water source in that area. The compiled list will then be used for further discussion, proposal writing, and funding sourcing. In addition, there is need in the next week of recording the functional and non-functional pipes in Usisya proper. All this information will then be presented to the ADC for approval (a meeting which will hopefully occur in the next month) and then a District meeting date will be scheduled (at which point all involved parties will be invited to attend).
October 5, 2010 Coming to America
I am tying up lose ends for my trip to America, and have found more strings than I expected. Thankfully, I am only going to be out of my village for a month (something I have done before) cause I fear what would happen to my projects if much more time was taken. Most things can stand on their own, and while I feel confident that the results will continue after I have long since ended my service; I fear that the periodic meetings would not happen without my presence. You see there is something I have found the people doing which I fear could hinder them to ever getting anywhere in the development process… waiting. When I ask if something has happened or why there is no progress in an area they simply say they are waiting for someone else to make the first move.
I noticed this at the Area Executive Council meeting which took place this past weekend. The meeting which I asked to happen so we could find progress on water and sanitation was actually the first the group has had in months (maybe even years). You see the new TA has placed himself as the chair, and since he doesn't call meetings there are simply none being had. In fact, the first half of the meeting was actually the members complaining that they don't meet more to work on proposals and such. I told them simply, "don't wait" if they continue to sit around and listen to empty promises from other people then they themselves will be the only ones to suffer. So, they have promised me action and we are actually meeting again before I leave for the states to make sure progress is being made.
Long story short, there are things to do: from projects to garden prep (getting the land ready so that when I get back I can go ahead and plant for the next season). I am cleaning, planning all the things I have to do (I have about five post-it notes of lists in various places so nothing is forgotten), and having restless nights as I anticipate the journey. I can't wait to return to everyone and catch up, go to Stefanie's wedding, Elon Homecoming, and Hot Atlanta. While I worry that I will have changed too much or I won't click with once good friends, I am still eager for the adventure home. All of which would not have been possible without my friends and family who pulled together to make is possible. I love Usisya, but I love the people from home more and can't wait till I get to see everyone again. I just hope that it's not too overwhelming, and those who put into the time and work to get me there will see the effort as worth it. I promise to be on my best behavior ; ).