1 Interior decoration

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My room was pretty stark when I got here, and I had some fun the other night going through my pictures and cutting out images from magazines. Now it feels a little bit more like home.

Hugo, and the mosquito net I should be using

Above my bed (clockwise from the top): my great grandmother, words to live by, some of my dad's family a while back, my mom and little cousin

Night stand / desk / bookcase / throw-all table-top

Above night stand, from top: Hermes ad and words cut from a magazine, my little cousins, my brother and me when we were little, my family and me on Sanibel Island, Florida, Laura, me and Celeste on my last birthday, personal stationary, a favorite poem, "Trapeze"

I forgot to upload a close-up of the pictures on the far-left, but there is a picture of me and Kelsey, of Marissa, Alison, and me, and some other magazine collages

Clockwise from left: My parents after my mom's first Avon Walk, one of my favorite poems, "Drought" (where I got the title of this blog), handmade Kenyan card, best friends from school in West Hartford

Clockwise from left: My love Amanda Seyfried, me and Laura in Montreal, silly sayings from a friend at camp, me, Brittany and Jess in Boston, handmade Kenyan card

3 Teaching - first impressions

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I began my teaching yesterday. The kids are amazing. Kwithu consists of over one hundred kids from Mzuzu, and I spent time with about 40 of them today, aged 4-16. They all happily played Duck Duck Goose and learned the hokey pokey, and taught me some of their own games and songs. Every one of them is so eager to improve their English and they're just fun and love to laugh and dance and sing. To see kids acting like kids, even not jaded into their teens - it's refreshing.

On a regular basis, I'll be working with a small group of older kids, around ages 12-14, and helping them prepare for their high school entrance exams. Yesterday I met with five of them. The little kids are really cute but I'm happy to be working with the older ones and teaching at a more advanced level. We will get to do a good amount of essay-writing practice and some creative writing. I adore my little group and already feel myself getting sad that I will only be with them for three months. There is a trio of boys - Isaac, Bakeem and Walani - who make me laugh to no end. They are all so curious and ask the most interesting questions. For instance: "Is it hard to get a job after graduating from college?" "What is the marrying age?" "What about gays and lesbians?" (What about them?) How do you begin answering any of these? Walani asked today, "are there beautiful places in the United States that tourists like to visit?" He's so cute.

Faith, who I want to bring back to the U.S. with me

Anna and I harvesting beans

A traditional Malawian lunch: hard-boiled egg, pumpkin leaves, tomato sauce, and nsema, a corn porridge. You eat with your hands.

The Kwithu farm

Isaac, resident charmer and class clown

Walani, Bakeem, and Charity

I've started blogging at the Maloto Blog as well - check it out. And a reminder that all my pictures are up in my Picasa album.

0 It's 4 am in Malawi

Monday, February 22, 2010

I passed out at 8 pm last night after a long day of bean harvesting, and now I am wide awake. Things are going well here in Mzuzu - I still feel I am adjusting to this very different lifestyle. It's difficult not having the internet at my fingertips (I am on the office computer now, but during the work day I can't use it extensively. As for uploading pictures from my camera, I have to go to a nearby hotel with wireless internet to do that.). I am so used to being able to talk to my friends and family whenever I want to. Power outages are a big issue, and electricity cuts out altogether on Sundays. The food is good but heavy - not sure how much longer I can subsist on salty meat and greasy "chips" (fries). And the poverty is staggering. Everywhere are dirty, emaciated, barefoot kids. Whenever we drive by they yell "mzungu," which means "white person" - it is not derragatory but a denotion of their surprise or curiosity, as many of them have never seen a white person before.

But the people are so kind and I feel very welcome here. Yesterday, I went to the Kwithu farm. Kwithu is Maloto's feeding center, where AIDS orphans go for their meals - most of them live with extended family who cannot afford to feed them. It is also a place of refuge for them. Local women (and one guy, my new friend, Vitu) volunteer at the center. Together the women and children plant beans, maize, and vegetables like tomatoes and pumpkins, then harvest the crops when they are ready, and finally cook meals for everyone. It is a collective effort and the community is so warm and must be very comforting for the children. I also find it amazing that the women do not get paid at all for their hard work.

It was a surreal day - I walked fifteen minutes down muddy trails and through maize fields to get to the Kwithu farm. Everything is so green. When I was in sight, three of the boys whom I will be teaching ran up the hill to meet me. "Hi Andy!" they yelled. "It's Mandy!" Vitu corrected them. One immediately took my bag. They all followed behind me while Vitu held my hand down the path to make sure I didn't slip. When I got to the farm all the women were singing and dancing and each of them gave me a big hug and welcomed me. We all danced together and I felt silly but it didn't matter. Then one of them pointed to a stool for me to sit on and another held out a cup of water and poured it over my hands. Then I was given a plate of traditional Malawian food - nsema, which is a maize-based substance that is sticky and sort of looks like mashed potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, tomato sauce, and cooked pumpkin leaves (which look and taste like spinach).

For the rest of the afternoon I picked bean stalks in the fields and then harvested the beans, pulling them individually from the stalks and separating the dried ones from the fresh, green ones (they use the fresh ones immediately and save the dried ones, using them year-long). I talked with the women and children. One women said she saw snow on a television, and asked if it was still snowing - I realized she was referring to the Olympics. She asked what snow felt like, if it is more like water or more like ice.

I talked with one girl and asked her if she had any siblings. She said yes, one brother and four sisters. I asked if any of them were also at the center. "No," she said, "there are no more."

I learned a few words in Timbuka, the most widely spoken language in Northern Malawi (though there are so many languages in Malawi, it's hard to keep track). Tomorrow I will go to the center for lunch and get to know the kids better. We are waiting for my teaching materials to get here - until then, I have to improvise.

There's a bit of a lag on the pictures - I didn't get to upload them yesterday - but these pictures are from Sunday, when Anna showed me around Mzuzu and the Maloto projects in progress.

View from my bedroom window

More rain

Anna, our house, and our car (which sounds like a tire's going to fall off every time we hit a bump in the road)

The biggest and most delicious avocados

Mzuzu Academy, opening in September 2010 (I am working with promising students from Kwithu who need to pass entrance exams in order to get into the Academy)

An unfinished room

I opened a Picasa web album, so you can check out all my pictures here - I will update as often as I can.

1 Welcome to the rainy season

Friday, February 19, 2010

I woke up to pouring rain at 6:30 this morning (the time change is still messing with me). I felt like I was in a rain forest. The best thing about the rain is that it cools everything off; before the rains the weather becomes unmanageably humid, but afterward, the sun comes out and there's a perfect little breeze.

The project manager of Maloto drove down to Lilongwe last night and then took Anna and I back to Mzuzu this morning. I wanted to stay awake and see the people and the landscapes, but I ended up dozing for most of the four-hour drive (I'm telling you, this jet lag is no fun). We drove through some towns that were nothing but storefronts with signs falling off and windows boarded up, and people just hanging out in front of them, barefoot. We pulled into one shopping mart to buy water and kids came up to our windows, palms open, "Give me money, please."

I'm now in Mzuzu, kind of settled into my house. Anna gave me the biggest room - so generous, this one (she's also been refusing to allow me to pay for anything) - and I have lots of closet space, a bathroom, a long nightstand with two shelves and of course a bed (with a mosquito net over it).

Unfortunately the internet where I'm living is very slow, and I can only use a desktop, so I need to come to the nearby hotel with wireless internet to blog. Hopefully once I get the lay of the land I will be able to walk here - it's very close.

Tomorrow we are going to Lake Malawi! Which has the largest amount of freshwater species in one body of water IN THE WORLD! And Monday I get to meet the kiddies I'll be working with.

A final note: You should see the amount of weight women here can carry on their heads. I'm talking wide trays of dozens upon dozens of bananas. It's impressive.

1 All this girl needs

A shady spot to write

blue skies

and a cup of coffee.

I'm finding it hard to believe that it's February. I'm sorry beloved northeasterners: let me just bask in this for a minute.

P.S. If you want to follow my adventures in Africa, simply click "follow" or "subscribe" using one of the tools on the right sidebar of this blog. Even if you are not a blogger yourself, you can follow me using your Google account; my posts will automatically show up in your Google Reader.

1 Malawi wawi

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I arrived safely in Lilongwe at about 2pm this afternoon - 7am US Eastern time. To put this into perspective, I left for the airport at 6:30am on Wednesday, so door to door it was about a 24-hour trip. The flight from New York to Johannesburg alone was 14 hours, but I was wide awake. I watched two movies, one good (The Darjeeling Limited - love that Adrien Brody) and one bad (Love Happens. The previews were so promising...), read my fluffy new chick book (Something Borrowed), and exhausted my new Ryan Adams collection on my iPod. The plane was not too full and many people had empty seats next to them or even entire rows, but I was in a two-seat side row with a dude next to me who had to pee on the hour, every hour (though he was perfectly nice about it and never woke me from my cat naps).

When I saw little glimpses of land peeking through the clouds upon our landing in Johannesburg, I got a crazy rush of excitement mixed with a feeling of achievement like I've never quite experienced it before. I guess what I mean is that I'm proud of myself for going after one of my dreams. It took so much planning and hard work to find Maloto and to get to Malawi, but now that I am here, it feels amazing.

It was another two-hour plane ride from Johannesburg to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, but I had a whole row to myself this time and passed out for the entirety of the flight. The Lilongwe airport is surrounded by a grass-thatched huts and dirt roads - we could see people moving outside of their houses as we got closer to the ground. When we landed we walked down the long steps to the outside world and towards customs. The airport itself reminded me a little bit of the one in the Dominican Republic, being part-inside and part-outside, with the humid air sort of just hanging out at the baggage claim. I got my first taste of Malawian bargaining when Anna was told she had to pay 6,000 Kwacha (about fifty US dollars) for her second laptop (she brought a brand new one for the Maloto office) and she talked the attendant out of charging her.

Anna's friend picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel in Lilongwe. It did not dawn on me that this was a British colony until the 1960s and thus cars drive on the left side of the road (which makes me feel like we are going to get into a head-on collision every time a car passes us). On the sides of the roads are women balancing large baskets on their heads, children carrying bundles of sticks, or lying in the grass, or leading herds on donkeys. There were lots of donkeys, as well as what looked like small cows and bulls, which may have been steers or oxen - or perhaps cows are just smaller here? Soon I will have to brief myself on South-East African Zoology 101. I wanted so badly to be able to get out of the car and take pictures. Anna also pointed out a large piece of land where Madonna is opening her school in Malawi, though apparently people live where they want to build it and they are trying to kick them out of their homes so they can use the land. This seems counterproductive to me, since Madonna says she is trying to build Malawians up by creating this school, not tear them down.

The hotel where we are staying for the next two nights is quite nice - gorgeous landscaping with what look like palm trees everywhere (though I'm not sure if there are). We were given glasses of yummy mango juice when we checked in (again...Dominican Republic?). There is also a health club, a pool, a bar and a restaurant - and 24-hour room service. I've yet to eat the food in Malawi - and barely touched the airline food - I have been subsisting on Luna bars and trail mix for the past two days. The food here is one thing I'm nervous about - I'm a fairly adventurous eater but I'm more worried about it being too heavy/meat-based - I'm a fruits and veggies kinda girl. Only time will tell on that one, I suppose.

Anna has meetings with the Ministry of Education tomorrow but she says it is safe for me to explore Lilongwe on my own. I also need to do things like buy more adapters and get Malawian currency. I plan on having a good treadmill session in the morning and then perhaps venturing out on my first mini-adventure. Hopefully some pictures are in all of our futures!

See that tiny country sliver of a country between Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique in the southeast part of Africa? The one that looks a little bit like New Jersey? That's Malawi!

Here's a close-up - I'm in Lilongwe now, the capital city, sort of in the south central part of Malawi. My final destination in Mzuzu, which is further north, just north of Nkhata Bay and west of Lake Malawi.

5 Nine Things: Deb

Monday, February 15, 2010

Since I'm leaving for my trip tomorrow, this week's Nine Things can't fall on the hump day. So as a Tuesday treat, here are nine things from the darling Deb of The Debonaire.

9 Blogs you frequent
     9. Small Bright World
     8. Boing Boing
     7. Milk
     6. Dog-Eared
5. Garance Doré

     4. Hollister Hover
     3. Swiss Miss
     2. A Cup of Jo
     1. Pretty Much Amazing

8 Places you’d hop on a plane and visit right now
     8. Kathmandu, Nepal
     7. Capetown, South Africa
     6. Reykjavik, Iceland
     5. Cairo, Egypt
     4. Portland, Oregon
     3. Buenos Aires, Argentina

2. Seoul, South Korea

     1. Paris. Always Paris.

7 Irreplaceable items in your closet
     7. Steven Alan Navajo print dress
     6. Old, oversized, striped Brooks Brothers shirts (thrift store find)
     5. 17-year old teal Patagonia fleece, still in perfect condition
     4. Canary yellow Gap cords

3. My collection of sailor-striped shirts

     2. Dark grey wool vest with mismatched gold buttons (another thrift store find)
     1. My dad's faded green canvas jacket from the '70s

6 Foods you can’t live without
     6. Spicy Korean tofu stew ('Soondooboo')

5. Brownies

     4. French fries
     3. Garlic hummus
     2. Olives
     1. Baguettes

5 Celebrity dream dates
     5. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
     4. Lee Pace
     3. Colin Firth
     2. Melvil Poupaud

1. Jason Schwartzman

4 Things you do everyday
     4. Think about getting a burrito bowl from Chipotle, and then decide not to.

3. Take the subway

     2. Scan my Google Reader
     1. Have a cup of coffee/tea

3 Desert island items
     3. iTunes Library
     2. Wine
     1. Piano

2 Books you love
     2. Chance Acquaintances by Colette
     1. The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald

1 Quote to Live By

     1."Goddamn it, feeling is what I like in art, not craftiness and the hiding of feelings."

          -Jack Kerouac (Paris Review Interview)

images via: 1. garance doré 2. june1777 via flickr 3. posh 24 4. polyvore 5. swagger paris 6. tongue in chic 7. martha stewart 8. hot geeks 9. henry roxas via flickr

0 Valentine's Day

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day, my loves! My Valentine is my little brother, who surprised me by coming home from college this weekend (I'm leaving for Africa on Wednesday). Tonight, a few girlfriends are coming over to watch movies, eat chocolate and drink wine. I hope you all have a happy Valentine's day filled with love and chocolate!

image via we heart it

1 Gaga and Cyndi Lauper for AIDS awareness

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper are the new faces of the Mac Viva Glam Campaign, which promotes HIV/AIDS awareness amongst women. I just think this is such an important issue, and it makes me love Gaga even more that she's passionate about it. Below is their recent interview about the campaign on Good Morning America. If you don't have time to watch the interview, at least take away these facts:
  • The highest rates of HIV infection occur in women between 17-24 and women between 39-60
  • 3 in 5 (55%) of women admit they have never been tested for AIDS
  • 78% of women admit they've engaged in sex without a condom
  • On average, American women who do get tested do so every three years; for the average man, it's two years
  • The number of women living with AIDS has tripled since 1985
  • Black women between the ages of 18-35 die more from AIDS than from any other illness

  • 0 You're my exception

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010

    I've been watching Big Love recently and have a newfound girlcrush on Ginnifer Goodwin. She's just too cute! Lucky for me, I caught the very end of He's Just Not That Into You during lunch today. This scene makes me melt. (Spoiler ahead, obviously. And be sure to enjoy the German subtitles.)

    1 Valentine's florals

    I know I said that roses are overdone on Valentine's Day, but this arrangement of mixed roses, which are cut at varying lengths and placed in individual vases, is pretty enough to change my mind.

    And let's just collectively love this arrangement of pastel tulips and Sweetheart candies. Leave it to Martha.

    0 The Hump Day Nine: Olivia

    Today's Hump Day Nine is brought to you by my darling friend, Olivia, of night falls and towns become circuit boards.

    9 Blogs you frequent
         9. Say Yes to Hoboken
         8. The Bride's Cafe
         7. Black*Eiffel
         6. Darling Dexter

    5. Olsens Anonymous

         4. Home Sweet Home
         3. Small Bright World
         2. Cupcakes and Cashmere
         1. A Cup of Jo

    8 Places you’d hop on a plane and visit right now
         8. South Korea
         7. New Zealand
         6. Siena, Italy
         5. Viques, Puerto Rico
         4. San Francisco, California
         3. India

    2. Versailles, France

         1. Roatan, Honduras

    7 Irreplaceable items in your closet
         7. Any of my striped items
         6. Jeans, jeans, and more jeans

    5. Grandpa cardigan

         4. Loomis Chaffee hoodie
         3. Gap v-neck pocket tees
         2. Leggings
         1. Little boy's blazer from Target

    6 Foods you can’t live without
         6. Apples
         5. Coffee
         4. Diet Coke (does that count?)
         3. Sushi
         2. Quakes (baby rice cakes)
         1. Pad thai

    5 Celebrity dream dates
         5. Perez Hilton
         4. Hugh Dancy
         3. Jake Gyllenhaal

    2. Jon Hamm

         1. Bradley Cooper

    4 Things you do everyday
         4. Work out...LIES...but I try to
         3. Pet my cat
         2. BBM
         1. Drink coffee

    3 Desert island items
         3. Definitely a cell phone
         2. Paints/canvas
         1. Camera!

    2 Books you love
         2. The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

    1. On Beauty by Zadie Smith

    1 Quote to Live By

         1."Let us then try what love will do."

              -William Penn

    images via: 1. olsens anonymous 2. we heart it 3. splendicity 4. gq

    2 Valentine gifties for the single set

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    Single girls, let us not despair. This Valentine's Day should be about giving a little lovin' to everyone in your life, whether it's your mom, your best friend, your cats, or of course, yourself. In honor of the not-so-favorite-holiday of many, here are some lovey-dovey gift ideas for the most non-romantic of relationships.

    Buy one pair of Hanky Pankys for yourself, and one for your best friend. Neither of your lives will ever be the same.

    Pablo Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair are so beautiful, they will break your heart. If you're in a self-loathing sort of mood this V-Day, skip straight to the Song of Despair. Two added bonuses: (1) This edition has the original poem in Spanish and the English translation on the opposite page, so you can practice your Spanish in its most romantic form (I'm sure your cat would let you practice on him). (2) The poems are interspersed with original black-and-white illustrations by Picasso.

    Drink tea out of your LOVE mugs while you're reading your Neruda. They only say "LOVE" when you want them to.

    What purpose does Valentine's Day serve if not to eat chocolate? My aunt from California sends us See's Chocolates every Valentine's Day. I'd take these over Lindt or Godiva any day. My family and I don't like to look at the identifying lists on the insides of the boxes - it's more fun not to know what kind of chocolate you're about to eat (cue Forrest Gump).

    I want to buy this t-shirt for my 3-year-old cousin, Ellie. It's from Milkshop, the first stop for all the trendy little Brooklynites in your life.

    Roses are overdone; buy yourself some pink peonies instead. They look beautiful individually, or as a bouquet - why don't you send one to your mom? (photo via we heart it)

    Don't forget the pup. You could buy her this I heart you collar - it adds a cute Valentine's touch, and pups need lovin', too. (How badly do you want to take this dog home with you? I love me a bulldog.)

    Finally, the best part of Valentine's Day: handmade Valentines. My mom made this for me last year and it hangs on the cork board above my desk (she also made that quilt for me last Valentine's, too, but I'm not suggesting any of you take on that endeavor). There's nothing like getting a Valentine. Tomorrow, it's going to snow all day, and I plan on breaking out the doily.