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.


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