homeward bound

I wrote this earlier today while in the Malawi airport.

I sit here in denial that I am actually homeward bound. Three months in Malawi flew by, and in this moment I can’t honestly say I am ready to leave. I am however very ready to see my pup Luna, but not ready to leave the Warm Heart of Africa.

It is bizarre how you can leave one place for an extended period of time, live a completely different lifestyle, and then return to find things not very different from when you left them. I know for these three months my friends and family have been living their lives as if I never left. I know I will go home and pick up where I left off, however something will be different because I am now different.

Trips like these always change me, always for the better. My perspective on life is brought back to the center, and I always return home with knowledge and insight that will be essential for me for years to come.

I don’t know what the next days, months, or years have in store for me, but I know without a doubt that my time spent in Malawi will only enhance my future. I know every time I travel I evolve in ways that are not possible otherwise. With traveling comes struggle, risk, but more importantly beauty and love. I wouldn’t trade my experiences abroad, especially in Malawi, for anything else in the world.

When I travel my heart grows, my mind expands, my eyes open, and my soul frees. I form a deeper connection with myself, with others near and far from me, with the earth, and with humanity. Traveling helps me to again understand what we all desire most in life is to form connections, connections that eventually foster love.

In this moment I have no clue what will happen next, no clue what I am going to do once I am home, but that is okay with me. I do know that I will travel again, continue to make connections, and that I have a whole lot of love to give.

I am sad to say this will be my last post on this blog, however I do think I will continue to blog. I was once fearful of putting my feelings into words and publicizing them, but I have grown to find comfort in this process. I will continue to blog while I travel, and I even think I will keep blogging once I am home.

Thank you all for your support and love, even from across the pond. Everyone at home I will see you all soon. Everyone I met along the way in Malawi I truly hope to see you again. Malawi thanks for an amazing three months. I will be back. xo

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For those of you who don’t know, as I assume most of you don’t, nsima (SEE-MA) is the traditional Malawian cuisine. U.S. southerners would recognize nsima as a version of grits. It is basically maize (corn) flour put through the mill and sifted multiple times, until turned into an extremely white powder. After milled and sifted over and over again the remaining flour lacks any nutrients, which leaves Malawians with a very unbalanced meal. The flour is then added to boiling water and stirred until it reaches the right consistency. A consistency that is still soft and sticky but not firm; it is rather hard to explain. The nsima is then scooped into patties using a uniquely designed nsima spoon. The patties are massive and most foreigners can only eat ½-1 patties at a time, whereas most Malawians can eat 2-4 patties per meal.

Just like grits nsima lacks flavor, so it is consumed with a “relish”. Relishes can be anything from greens like pumpkins leaves, cabbage, and okra, to beans, to various meats like fish, goat, or pork. Popular relishes include brown beans and greens mixed with chopped tomatoes. My favorite relishes to have with nsima are cabbage, beans, pumpkin leaves with groundnuts, or eggs in a tomato sauce.

Yes I actually like nsima, and the act of eating it is quite fun. Malawians do not eat the meal with any form of hardware, except their hands. To begin you take a small chuck of the nsima patty, using one hand only, and you ball of the nsima and make an imprint with your thumb. Then scoop the relish into the nsima, and quickly deposit the food into your mouth. The consistency of nsima makes the consumption process easier than it sounds, but always harder than the locals make it look. The kids at camp seem to always giggle with amazement that the azungu “white people” can eat nsima like Malawians.

Malawians, not all but the majority, eat nsima for every meal. By every meal I mean every meal, every day.Maize nsima has a deep tie into Malawian culture. When Malawians are able to feed their family and guests white maize nsima it is a sign that they are successful and “wealthy”.If a Malawian were to come to my house for dinner and I served him/her steak, potatoes, vegetables, and dessert, but no nsima they would go home and tell their friends and family that they are hungry and that they were not served dinner, although they ate a full meal.

When we carry out camps at Malawian schools our programming runs until about 4pm everyday, and for most learners this is late considering they usually are dismissed around 11:30am from school. Keeping all of this in mind when we serve nsima and relish at the schools we serve rather hefty portions, knowing Malawians eat a lot of nsima and that we are keeping them at school much later than they are required.

Our last camp of the summer was at Chata Full Primary School. Chata is located off the beaten path, about an hour and a half from out house in Lilongwe. The villages surrounding Chata are some of the poorest I have visited, but the people there are prime examples of why Malawi is called “the warm heart of Africa”.

Because of our rather low volunteer numbers this session we were typically only able to work with 100 leaners at each school. To our surprise about 200 learners showed up to Chata on our first day. With only enough nsima, relish, and sobo to serve 80-90 people we had to turn many children away. That day I felt heartache like I never had before.

We were determined to try and make it work though. I was in charge of serving the relish, which was beans that day. We started rationing right from the start and only serving small portions, but the kids would hold out there bowls with confused eyes wondering why they were getting so little. My heart hurt every time I had to shake me head indicating they couldn’t have more. Due to the importance of nsima it was embarrassing that we could only serve small portions to the learners and teachers that day.

As if things weren’t hard enough, the last class lined up to be served and as expected we only had enough for 10-15 more learners. My heart sank knowing half of the class wouldn’t get food. Karen and I scrambled trying to figure out what we could do for the hungry white eyes staring at us, waiting for the nsima from the azungu. Chata is about as rural as rural can get in Malawi so there was no market or trading center nearby or we could have bought them some snacks. Panic set in and I began to feel sick to my stomach. I knew I wouldn’t be eating lunch today but I didn’t care. Suddenly my hunger faded away with the overwhelming pain in my chest. Luckily Karen was able to find two loaves of bread (we had bought that morning) in the bus and each hungry leaner ended up getting two pieces each. It was not much considering what they normally would have received.

After serving was finished we talked to each of the translators and volunteers and they apologized and ensured the learners that there would be plenty tomorrow. Karen and I, with our heads down and eyes filled of embarrassment, apologized to the teachers and head master. Everyone was very understanding but that didn’t take away our feelings of guilt and shame. When lunch was over Karen and I were left with empty coolers, blanks stares, and an agonizing silence. We took some time alone knowing that neither of us was ready to talk about what had happened. We would later confession we both cried that day, and we are not usually criers.

It is hard for outsiders to understand what Karen and I felt and went through that day. If you are reading this post you have probably never experienced hunger, I know I haven’t. When I say hunger I don’t mean the urge to eat that most people get every three to four hours. I mean actually aching; alonging for food that completely transforms your mental and physical state. Most Malawians have experienced real hunger, real famine, and real pain. I have stopped counting the amount of children I see everyday in Malawi with swollen bellies. That doesn’t mean a swollen belly child is overfed, but rather that they are malnourished and often starving. Seeing the swollen belly doesn’t make me pity the child, rather it ignites a wave of anger inside me. I am livid that people live like this, that everyday millions of women, men, and children wake up hungry.

It is important to know that experiencing all of this doesn’t make me want to give handouts. Many westerners think giving away free food, supplies, and aid is the way to solve all the world’s problems. This is far from the truth and I don’t understand how others don’t recognize that. Giving handouts creates a vicious cycle of dependency. There isn’t a day in Malawi that I don’t walk down the street and hear kids say, “give me money”. That phrase irritates me more than anything, because I know what those kids need is not money. Malawians associate all azungu with money and free handouts. What they don’t realize is that the short-term money won’t solve the long-term problems they face, like lack of quality education, access to healthcare, and inadequate living conditions.

Do me a favor the next time you see that commercial with the starving children somewhere in Africa, Asia, or South America don’t feel guilty because you have more than they do. Feel distraught because there are millions of people living everyday in inexcusable conditions. Let your emotions fuel your thoughts, realize this isn’t how it has to be, and let that inspire you to take action.

only three weeks left

I can’t believe it is already the end of July, and that I have been in Malawi for over two months. I have exactly three weeks until I fly back to Charleston, home sweet home. These next three weeks are going to be packed full with all kinds of work and play. Tomorrow starts Camp 3, on Thursday we leave for safari in Zambia until Sunday, right after safari Camp 4 starts, we head to the Lake for a couple of nights, the volunteers fly out early August, and then I am here with Karen to close out the session until my departure. Woah, where has the summer gone?

I am so excited for what the next three weeks has in store for me, but also so excited to get home and see my pup, my family, and my friends. I am not as excited to get home and have to find a job and start paying bills again, yay for the real world. Look out for some awesome pictures in the weeks to come!

Some of the things I miss most:

real milk

Luna (my dog)

reliable water, electricity, and internet

looking presentable

quality cheese

sleeping in

having time to exercise

not having to take medication everyday

good southern soul food

driving (surprisingly)

Charleston bars and restaurants

having access to a library

keeping to a routine

ice cream

my family and friends (yes I miss all of you)

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my Luna

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miss you momma

 

oh how I love summer reading

So far on my trip I have read:

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Reading is one of my favorite things to do. Ever since I can remember I have enjoyed reading, even if it is the back of the shampoo bottle in the shower, a dense school textbook, or a book I have chosen for myself. My favorite are the books I read that make me feel as if I am a part of the story. At times I can get so entrenched in a story I can imagine the events unfolding before me eyes, as if I was apart of the action or just an on looker watching the characters make their next moves.

Every book I have read this summer has done just that. Especially my most recent read, The Sun Also Rises. It is a story set in the 1920’s during what Hemingway calls the “Lost Generation”. The novel focuses on two individuals, Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes, whom seem to be madly in love. Of course Hemingway writes the story in such a way that the chemistry and romance between Lady Ashley and Mr. Barnes seems almost intoxicating, yet neither will allow themselves to be with each other. Throughout the story they are presented with numerous obstacles in deflecting them from achieving their true happiness together. I can’t put the novel down for the desire to learn which fate Hemingway has deemed right for them both. For me this makes Hemingway a brilliant writer. When you have your reader so locked in all she wants to do is keep reading, you have done your job. Regardless of the ending I tend to enjoy a book as long as it keeps be hooked through the duration.

Next I am reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I have seen the movie in both versions, but have not read the books. I love comparing novels to movies, but usually prefer reading the novel before seeing the film. So this should be an interesting read.

What is on your reading list for this summer? Over this next year I am going to have some extra time on my hands, so I need novel suggestions.

America, the land of opportunity

One day last week on the way to camp the Malawi police stopped us at a roadblock. Roadblocks are typical in Malawi considering the police force can only afford a very small supply of cars. The police post up on the roads every so often, stopping cars at random. They usually just check for registration and a valid driver’s license, and if everything checks out, they send you on your way. This particular day one of the police officers had a rather unpleasant disposition and ordered our driver to get out of the vehicle so they could talk. As this happened we all anxiously waited in the minibus, ready to get back on track for the school.

Within a few second another officer, whom I greeted in Chichewa, approached us. He was very pleased that I knew how to speak his language, even if it was only very little. He said Chichewa is a difficult language to speak, which we all have come to realize.

He then asked us in English, “Where are you all from?” Karen replied, “In town”, and he chuckled knowing that we are not Malawian. We then explained that most of us are from The United States of America. He loudly replied, “OOOOOOO America, the land of opportunity!” As you can imagine we all laughed out loud. He continued by telling us about how he used to be in the previous president’s security team and that he once traveled to America, NYC to be exact.

Within a few more minutes the driver had jumped back in the vehicle, we said good-bye to the nice officer, and we were on our way. On the way to school and throughout the rest of the day I thought more about what he had said about America being the “land of opportunity”. This is only my second time in Malawi and third time to the region, but each time I visit I encounter many southern Africans who tell me about their dreams of visiting or living in America. I always tell them that America is great, but not as great as Africa, because I always miss this place when I leave. I have heard many people say, “the grass is always greener on the other side”, and that couldn’t be truer. We always want what we don’t have, and if we get what we want we usually realize it isn’t as “green” as we thought it would be or we want to change back.  When I am home I want to be in Africa and sometimes when I am in Africa I want to be home.

It is bizarre to realize that the only thing separating me from Malawians or people of any other nationality is the country of my birth. It is merely by my birthright that I have grown up in the “land of opportunity”. A land that prides itself on the idea that we are all created equal and all are given the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, so much so that it is explicitly stated in our U.S Declaration of Independence. Yet when I am home I look around every day and see inequality racism, and hatred. How have we come so far, but still seem to be held down by our past? Take the recent ruling on the Trayvon Martin case, all I can ask is how and why. How does one justify the killing of another, and why do we continue to let violence of this kind poison our humanity? These are questions I wish I knew the answers to but I don’t; all I can do is speculate about the reasoning behind this type of inhumane behavior and hope that one day it ends. This is not to say that inequality or injustice are only present in the U.S., but that we shouldn’t call ourselves righteous when we still have a lot of learning and growing to do.

A lot of Americans, those who have thrived in the land of opportunity, have become so blind to the lack of opportunity everywhere around them. It seems as if some have forgotten that in this world we are all connected, whether we like it or not. Woman, man, black, white, brown, rich, poor, young, old, regardless of the place you were born, the person you love, or the religion you follow, we are all linked on a deeper level among the universe. We all have blood running through our veins and a beating heart that keeps us breathing. We must not forget about our shared humanity, and more importantly we must all work together toward preserving it.

I am really fortunate of my birthright as a U.S. citizen, but will always remember that more importantly I am a citizen of a much larger community, the world. I grew up in a nice house, with a wonderful set of family and friends whom have supported me in every way, and the opportunities to pursue any venture I can dream up. I have lived my life thus far without much struggle, and even if I do struggle from time to time my struggles are minor compared to millions of others around the world. Even as my country seems to be crumbling from disparity and difference I will not lose sight of who I am and who I strive to become. My heart and soul will remain constant and I will always listen to them before I allow my mind to dispute with fear or reason. I challenge you all to do the same. This journey of opportunity is not worth living without others to share it with, never forget that. Don’t lose sight of who you are, but more importantly remember to never stop learning from others, loving all others, and evolving with others.

smile, it’s contagious

4 July 2013

The summer session one interns departed on Tuesday and the summer session two volunteers arrive today. That means today Karen and I will be joined by five new high school volunteers and one more coordinator, Maysam. Orientation starts today and then camps start on Tuesday. I am excited to see what summer session two has in store for us all.

With no volunteers here that meant I got to run alone for the first time since May. Although I don’t love running I do enjoy it, because it always helps me to relieve stress and clear my mind. This morning on my run I felt especially recharged and motivated. My strides were a little longer, my knees lifted a little higher, and my arms pumped a little faster. My pace even increased from my normal jog to something that felt more like a run. And yes this could all be because I am slowly getting back into shape, but I don’t see it that way. As I ran I felt inspired, therefore I pushed myself harder.

In honor of my inspirational run I decided to share some quotes and sayings that help me get through everyday with a big smile. Enjoy!

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“You can’t really begin to appreciate life until it has knocked you down a few times. You can’t really begin to appreciate love until your heart has been broken. You can’t really begin to appreciate happiness until you’ve known sadness. You have to struggle up the mountainside to appreciate the breathtaking view at the mountaintop.”

“Life would be so different if you stopped allowing other people to dilute or poison your perception with their words and opinions. Happiness is derived from the way you see your own life. It depends on your thoughts, not on what you have or what you do not have, or by what other people think you should have.”

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

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“As we grow older, we realize what matters most. We discover ourselves. We find out what we want…what we need….what we deserve. As we mature, we finally say, “I don’t know everything.” As we age, our family and our true friends, they all become vital in our existence.”

“Just remember that yesterday doesn’t matter. Five minutes ago doesn’t matter. What you do right now and going forward is everything.”

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 “Once we realize that we are here for a much greater purpose that just for ourselves, a purpose to serve others, to live for others, knowing that the self and its ego is temporary and can only hinder one’s spiritual pursuits, than we can humble our minds and understand we are here by the grace of a higher force. We are so much smaller than what we claim ourselves to be, so it is important to remember that at any time of any day, our ego can be re-adjusted for the better or for the worse, and we can control the ego by allowing it to be without letting it be you.”

“Never waste your time trying to explain who you are to people who are committed to misunderstanding you.”

“The past is where you learned the lesson. The future is where you apply the lesson. Don’t give up in the middle.”

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“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others to work on ourselves.”

“Don’t give up on your dream because it is not going in the direction you want. There are different routes to the same destination.”

“Extraordinary things are always hidden in place people never think to look.”

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“Not until we are lost do we begin to find ourselves.”

“The measures of life will not be in what you accumulate but in what you give away.”

“Every act of kindness grows the spirit and strengthens the soul.”

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“Worry less, smile more, accept criticism, take responsibility, listen and love, don’t hate, embrace change, and feel good anyway.”

“Treat everyone with the same level of respect; people will notice your kindness.”

“Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.”

“One day in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”

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“The nature of life is to change, but the beauty of life is to give.”

“Did you say it? ‘I love you. I don’t ever want to live without you. You changed my life.’ Did you say it? Make a plan. Set a goal. Work toward it, but every now and then, look around; Drink it in because this is it. It might all be gone tomorrow.”

“Be weird, be random, be who you are, because you never know who would love the person you hide.”

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“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” -Henry David Thoreau

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” ~The Dalai Lama

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“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
~ Nelson Mandela

To the mind one day may seem ordinary, when another may seem remarkable. Really each day is ordinarily-remarkable. To see it you just have to open your mind heart and soul. Each day we all have the choice to put on a smile and be happy, and yes I realize that is not possible every single day, but we do have that choice. Sometimes the best way to see the positive is not to open your eyes, but to close your eyes, quite your mind, take a deep breath, and open your heart.    -Haley

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Oh yeah, Happy 4th of July, drink an American beer and shoot off some fireworks for me!

how has something that is so simple become so complicated?

I got to play “doctor” twice today at camp. The first incident occurred early on in the day when a young girl and boy probably around 6-7 years old got into a fight. I was sitting in the Land Rover at the time and didn’t see it. Karen called to me saying a girl was bleeding and to grab the first aid kit, which is really just an old toolbox stuffed with medical supplies, but it does the trick. I walked over, first aid kit in hand, on edge because I didn’t know what to expect. When I approached the scene there was a young boy hysterically crying and an even younger girl sobbing, covered in blood. She had blood all over her nose and mouth, streaming down her adorable pink dress onto her shoeless feet.

First rule in first aid care: always wear gloves. This rule is always important, but it is even more important dealing with injuries in Malawi, especially those involving blood. This is due to the fact that Malawi has one of the highest rates of HIV positive and AIDS infected people in the world.

So as I am cringing at the amount of blood coming out of the tiny child I grab a pair of rubber gloves. Over the next 10 minutes I cleaned the girl’s nose, face, and feet with Karen’s help. Her uncontrollable sobbing and glum expression made me want to give her a big bear hug and a kiss on the forehead; I refrained because I knew how unsafe that would be. Regardless, I realized how much it hurt my heart to see a small child hurt like the little girl was today.

The second incident was much less dramatic but more severe. At the end of camp Karen told me there was a girl participating in our camp who needed some medical attention. The young girl, probably 15-16 years old, had a lot of sores on her leg. The sores were so bad her whole leg had become swollen, and it was obviously painful for her to walk. I looked at the wounds and knew almost instantly she had staph infection. I gritted my teeth knowing that she needed medical attention and realizing that the nearest clinic was not near at all. I again grabbed another pair of rubber gloves and did what I could to clean the septic wounds. The girl told us she had to walk a long way to her house from the school so we offered her a ride. We are always trying to arrange to get her to a clinic before camp is over, so hopefully that will work out.

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cute kiddos

In the aftermath of all this my mind ran wild (as usual). I witness and I have been one of those people back home go to the doctor anytime I needed for very minor injuries or illnesses. Yet here is a young girl with an awful and potentially life threatening infection and she hasn’t been to a clinic or seen a doctor in probably years. I live in a part of the world where it is so convenient for me to just call in sick to work head over to the nearest clinic and get medication in less than two hours. Many kids in Malawi have to walk over an hour to school each day and rarely, if ever, see the inside or a medical clinic or hospital. Recently World Camp founder, Baker Henson, ventured back to Malawi and began to set up a medical program where he will bring a team of surgeons to Malawi next summer. During his time here he informed me of a lot of information about Malawi’s medical status. Baker said, “there are 37 practicing surgeons total, either foreign or domestic, in Malawi; consider this number in the context of a population of 16 million.” That number is mind-boggling.

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I experienced Malawi’s deprived healthcare system first hand a week or so ago. John’s uncle was traveling back home when his bus caught fire and he had to jump out. When he jumped out his foot was run over by the bus and he suffered other injuries. In panic he called John while John was working with us at the World Camp house. His uncle’s phone somehow disconnected and John was unable to reach him again. In a panic we hired a local taxi and John, his son Alex, and I all traveled through the roads of Malawi in search of his uncle. We ended up finding him at Kamuzu Central Hospital, the largest hospital in the central region of Malawi. What I saw and felt at Kamuzu is hard to describe in words. The hospital has approximately 1000 beds for inpatients, but at any given time, the census of the hospital is well over 2000. After realizing John’s uncle’s injuries weren’t life threating we could rest with ease, but the day was far from over. At times I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in that hospital. The cabinets and shelves were empty and all other supplies were bare. I was constantly being asked by the flooding of others from the bus accident for attention, because they assumed any azungu “white person” at Kamuzu must be medical personnel. When we moved to the section of the hospital where John’s uncle could have a cast placed on his broken foot we discovered the doctor was heading home for the day. After some begging and cash on the side we convinced him to stay and cast one last injury. We were then told the pharmacy was closed (it was only 4pm), so we couldn’t get his much needed pain meds filled at the hospital. Luckily a pharmacy in town was still open, we just had to make an extra stop. After about 5 hours at the hospital and multiple trips to the ER, x-ray, and orthopedic we all ventured out of there feeling exhausted, and me feeling very distraught. I didn’t mind spending my day making sure John’s uncle was taken care of, but I couldn’t believe the state of Malawi’s healthcare system.

The car ride home I spent thinking about “universal healthcare”. It is a concept that since Obama’s term in office has been a hot topic of conversation in the U.S. Some people support it and some people think access to free healthcare should be earned. I have always supported the concept and after spending time abroad I support it more than ever. The biggest arguments I have heard against the concept are that doctors in smaller practices will lose too much money, or why should more well off people have to foot the bill for someone else’s healthcare. To me to these arguments do not make sense. Every human has the right to receive healthcare, and every person on this planet should not have a problem making sure that is achieved. So what if you lose a little money in the process. Money isn’t everything and it sure can’t buy happiness, but that is a whole other issue.

Politics aside I believe that every individual no matter his or her status, race, religion, sexual orientation, income, or age deserve access to basic and adequate healthcare. I am so fortunate to have access to excellent healthcare back home, and it makes me upset knowing so many people back home and around the world don’t have my same opportunities to seek necessary medical attention.

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” -Nelson Mandela

halfway to halfway

06.18.13

Today we started camp three of four in this first summer session. World Camp carries out two five week summer sessions where each session holds four three-day camps at four different primary schools. The first summer session is halfway over which means for me this is the halfway point to my halfway point of my time in Malawi. So in less confusing language, I am one-fourth of the way through my time in Malawi. That still seems confusing, but that is beside the point of this post.

In honor of my halfway to halfway I thought it would be good to share some valuable things I have learned thus far:

1. I loathe Malawi grasshoppers. (see below post)
2. My feet stay dirty here.
3. I have really missed John’s (our chef) cooking, but more importantly I have missed seeing his big smile when he arrives to work every morning.
4. Malawi gin is way better than Malawi vodka.
5. My organization skills are extremely valuable in this working environment.
6. Malawians will always be late, always. “African time” is real.
7. I prefer using plastic sporks to any other type of eating utensil.
8. I am way more afraid of bugs than I originally thought, including but not limited to grasshoppers, spiders, and lizards.
9. I enjoy making to do lists way too much, but they are proving to be effective.
10. American dairy products are WAY better than Malawian dairy products. (I miss real milk).
11. The clouds in Malawi just may be my favorite clouds in the world. They are amazing.
12. A small smile or wave can ignite so much happiness in others.
13. It really is the simple things that matter.
14. Most first world people, including myself, take for granted the accessibility we have to clean water, electricity, and adequate healthcare.
15. Malawi really is the “warm heart of Africa”.
16. I am so thankful for where I come from, what I have, and who I am.

the year of the grasshoppers

06.17.13

I first visited Malawi in 2009 and was here for about six weeks. During that time I never once came across a grasshopper.

I am 28 days into my time here and this go around I have come to the conclusion that Malawi is being over taken by grasshoppers.

Apparently the year of the grasshoppers is lucky in Malawi. They don’t come around very often and when they do most natives are very excited, seeing how they make for a profitable cuisine (this is not a joke). This year I feel like the count for grasshoppers is much higher than normal, considering every time I walk into town I see a man or woman on the street selling fried ones, cue the gagging noise. I did once contemplate trying one, but I could never bring myself to do it. Karen says they are really crunchy, and it still grosses me out imagining her putting a whole fried grasshopper in her mouth.

I am not really sure what grasshoppers back in the States look like because I don’t come by them often, if ever. I do have childhood memories of catching live crickets and using them as bait for cat fishing. I believe these grasshoppers are nothing like the ones back home, and I know they don’t come close to resembling the crickets. Of course I don’t have any pictures of them to post, because I won’t allow myself to get close enough. So my written description will have to suffice, use your own abilities to visualize to really paint the picture.

Malawian grasshoppers come in two colors: green (the youngsters) and brown (the adults). Neither is appealing to the eye, or at least to my eyes. The green ones tend to be smaller than the brown. The ones I have seen range from 1in-6in long and about 1-2cm wide.  I don’t know much about insects but for a bug that size seems HUGE. They also have very long and skinny legs, no wider than a toothpick, for jumping really high and far. These grasshoppers jump higher than any creature I have seen. I know they can easily jump twice my height (5’3 and ¼), which means they hide on the walls, ceilings, and unreachable corners of the house. All of this combined makes these grasshoppers extremely difficult to catch.

This morning I had a way too close encounter with a “massive” grasshopper. I had just gotten back from my morning run and carried out my normal routine by taking a shower. I was almost finished with my refreshing and so far relaxing shower when I happened to glance up and spot a big green grasshopper posted up on the shower curtain rod. As you can imagine, overwhelmed with fear I quickly jumped to the back corner of our very small shower. While standing there is sheer terror I tried to figure out what I should do next. I knew I had to act fast because it would be oh so awful if it decided to pounce and land on me. I grabbed my razor and proceeded to knock the hopper off the rod. It was a success. Next I panicked thinking out of anger it would hop back into the shower and attack me. Obviously I was being a little dramatic, but you never know with these things. I finished my shower as fast as possible, but was on alert the whole time.

As I turned off the water my next thought was, how the hell am I going to get out of here without encountering the beast again. I peaked out of the shower curtain and spotted it crouched on the rug, which is in my direct path out the door. Shit. The next few movements happened really fast. I folded the rug over the bug, grabbed my towel, sprinted out of the bathroom-soaked, and made sure I slammed the door behind me.

After I recovered from the trauma, got dressed, and made myself look presentable for the workday I called for John (our wonderful housekeeper/chef/residential father).

I told him the story as it had happened and described how the grasshopper was BIG. He went with no fear in to retrieve it from the bathroom. He emerged less than fifteen seconds later giggling with a grin on his face, explaining this is a “baby” grasshopper. I explained how I don’t care about its age I just want it gone. Being the adorable man he is, John decided taunting me a little would be fun for him. After a few shrieks and some good laughter John left the room, beast in hand. I sighed with relief. No more than thirty seconds later I heard a quite knock at my door. It was John. This time he came in with a grasshopper in each hand, one was brown and the other was the green one he had collected from the bathroom. He started laughing saying look he found another one and this one had jumped on his head and it was the “big” one. After some more taunting and laughs (mainly from him) he walked away with his hands now full of lizard lunch. Yeah we have massive lizards too, ugh. They don’t bother me much considering they mostly stay outside and eat the other bugs, so I can handle that.

This wasn’t my first encounter with grasshoppers, however it was by far the scariest, and I know it won’t be my last. I am going to have grasshopper nightmares for a long time to come. One thing I am certain, I will not miss these grasshoppers when I return home.

a hike we won’t forget

 

 

Even with a late start, baboon screams, a fierce up-hill battle, scary almost encounter with fire, and two detours (aka we got lost twice) today was a successful hike up Mt. Nkhoma. It was my second time up the mountain, Karen’s eighth time, and Kate’s and Natalie’s first. Hiking Mt. Nkhoma is part of the experience when people come to volunteer in Malawi with World Camp. The mountain’s elevation is 3,914 feet but the height from the bottom to the top is unknown, don’t forget this is Malawi people.

Four years ago when I first trekked up the steep mountain I had just graduated high school, played varsity sports year round, and apparently was in much better shape. Now having graduated college I have spent the past four years drinking and eating more than I should and exercising not near enough. All of that combined made today’s hike much more challenging. Although at times the climb was difficult it made reaching the top that much more rewarding. The view from above was just as breathe taking as I remember it four years ago.

Mt. Nkhoma

Mt. Nkhoma

 

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beautiful view

The hike starts out pretty tough with a steep incline and lots of small rocks to twist your ankle on, so I had to pay close attention to the path. Somewhere early into the climb Karen asked us if we have our rabies vaccinations, which I found alarming. She then explained that there are baboons in this area, but the chances of see them are very slim. Now all on edge and very aware of our surroundings Karen tells us about the two people she knows that have been bit by wild animals and treated for rabies. For all you hikers out there rabies and wild animals are not the best topics of conversation while on a hike. Less than ten minutes into the hike we hear awful screaming noises, and Karen informs of those are the baboons yelling. All that ran through my mind was: Seriously baboons!? Thank gosh I have my rabies shot. Luckily we did not actually encounter any baboons but the threat was real, and now I will have baboon nightmares for the next week.

At the half way mark we stopped to catch our breath, have a snack, and snap some photos. We loved it!

halfway!

half way!

the crew

the crew

Upon reaching the top and catching our breath Karen noticed a thick cloud of smoke just around a turn below us. Immediately we became alarmed. As the cloud of smoke grew darker we also began to hear a crackling noise made by fire, but at this point could not see the flames. Some nearby locals explained there was no reason to be alarmed it was just villagers attempting to smoke out a native lizard (massive dragon looking creature) that inhabited the nearby cave. We decided to eat our lunch, take a break, and snap some photos as planned. Within probably ten minutes the smoke and flames grew stronger and we contemplated venturing back down the mountain earlier than scheduled. Deciding to hold out a few more minutes we tried to relax and take in the amazing view. We hung out on top for about 45mins and during that time the smoke and flames would ignite and die down over and over again. We made it out without any direct run in with the fire, but the situation could have been much worse. You could say we all sighed with relief on the way down.

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the top

Natalie and I headed up the front of the pack on the descent. Natalie is from New Zealand and had mentioned a few times how much she enjoys hiking back home. It was obvious she had done this type of hike a time or two considering she was a speed demon going up and down Mt. Nkhoma, making it look so easy. As I followed Natalie’s speed we quickly separated ahead from Karen and Kate, which we thought would be fine. Not realizing we didn’t know the path as well as Karen we soon found ourselves questioning the route we chose to take. Finally realizing we were no longer on a real path we tried to fight through “the bush” (African term for heavily forested and isolated countryside). After finally emerging out of the busy and onto a massive boulder I noticed I had ran right into a plant with thorns and was covered from my waist to feet in the prickly thorns, ouch. Natalie and I attempted to remove the thorns from my legs while crouching from our endless laughter. Within minutes we realized, oh no hopefully Karen and Kate had not followed us, and I yelled to them to not come this way. Too late. Next thing we knew they were right beside us thorns and all. We all had a good laugh and then proceeded on with the rest of the downward trek.

No more than ten minuets into the continued path and Natalie and I again parted from Karen and Kate, thank you hasty Natalie. This time I joked about us getting lost knowing there was no way we would let it happen again. I am sure by now you know where this story is going, we got lost again. We came to a fork in the path and I left it up to Natalie to choose the way we would go. She chose the path to the left, which seemed logical at the time because it was more down hill than the right path (pun intended).  After only about 200 feet down I asked Natalie if she was sure this was right considering it did not look familiar at all. She gave me a very unsure response and decided to let me go ahead of her. We soon came to another fork this time having to again choose left or right. I chose left and within a minute or so came to a huge fallen tree and knew we were again lost, considering we did not climb over a fallen tree on the way up. After more laughter we realized we needed to find the actual path and so we turned around. I began calling Karen’s name and in about five minutes we were all reunited and back on the right track to the finish. We made it down the rest of the mountain without another hitch.

After a long day full of hiking adventures we all were glad to be back home, showered, relaxed, and feeling accomplished. If today doesn’t call for a Carlsberg, I don’t know what does. Cheers!

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we did it!