its a bittersweet time, a time of transition…for today, i leave africa for the first time in almost 2 years. sorry i have not been great with my last 6 months of updates. i figured people quit reading my blog anyway at this rate. plus i had some technical difficulties and could no longer post photos. anyhoo, i’ll just have to fill y’all in – in person soon enough. i arrive home to north carolina wednesday may 11. i’m really excited to be coming home. i will probably sleep the first few days away, as i try to readjust to american life again (including the time zone)! but my phone number will be the same so feel free to give a buzz. see y’all soon. thanks for reading.
the first half of december was full of traveling, partly for work and part for fun. i had a conference to attend in the capital, but then went with some friends of mine to the northern lakeshore for yet another wedding. the best part of this wedding was when a certain song was playing, the translator said this was for those who want to give the couple marriage advice. apparently that meant us. however, the three of us single women in our thirties looked at each other and started laughing…”we got nothin’!”
so i was eager to just be home in zomba for the holidays for my own tradition something i call “christmas with the Cap’n” (as in Captain Morgan). well i was approached by an expat friend of mine who needed a house and dog sitter for the week while she and her family went on holiday to cape town. the 2-year-old rottweiler apparently won’t eat unless he has human company. who could say no to that?! what sealed the deal? his name is…Captain. so yes this year it was a christmas with 2 captains!
the family said it was ok if i had some other volunteers over during the week, mostly because none of us had anywhere else to go. so we relished in this real world house complete with wash machine and waffle maker. (needless to say, we had breakfast for christmas dinner.) funny how you forget what real life is like with such inventions! it was a nice break from the life we volunteers lead. we ate, drank, and were merry all week. we even watched “tv” via a computer and projector, so the best christmas present was being all caught up on gLee!
new years was quiet, just me and the dog – we were both asleep well before midnight. got back to my house on saturday and cleaned up a bit…starting to clean out drawers in preparation for moving out someday soon. not much time left now, about 4 months to go!
HAPPY, HEALTHY, & PROSPEROUS 2011 TO ALL! and best of all you will get to see me again, so it WILL be a good year :)
this is a story about my first ever attempt at cooking thanksgiving…and of all places, in malawi! how did i get the honor? well, i’m pretty sure i’m the only volunteer in country with an oven.
first, we were on a turkey hunt. my friend carrie was also looking for a turkey, but they were very expensive in the capital city. and they usually come from Brazil. the word for turkey in chichewa is “nkhukudembo” (which loosly translates to elephant trunk chicken). carrie thought she was pronouncing in correctly, however she kept saying “nkhuku mtembo” which after some days, she was told she’s been saying “corpse chicken.” as we say here in malawi “chimodzimodzi”…basically the same thing.
so my friend ben who lives in a village with many turkeys bought one for much cheaper, cleaned it and brought it to zomba where we cooked it up, along with all the fixins: garlic mashed potatoes, caramelized sweet potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cornbread, cranberries (the $10 can, which cost more than the dang turkey) and of course pumpkin pie! i impressed myself. it was a lot of work but the fruits of our labor were worth it! my fellow volunteers now call me “Marla Stewart.”
(will try to post photos but i have had trouble lately uploading them to wordpress)
thank you stevie for that classic hit circa 1984…
some of my fellow vounteers and i have been discussion how we wishing that were true for us. some lucky volunteers get a lot of calls from home. it makes volunteers like us a bit jealous, since we are the other end of the spectrum that don’t get any calls.
granted, yes its nice in some ways to be “disconnected” from the compulsion and dependence of those shiny electronics in the western world. especially when these new ipad doodads do everything including do your laundry and open your beer. however, this job is tough and some days we just want to quit and go home because we feel no one appreciates us here…or at home.
malawi is one of the least developed nations on earth, and it does feel like i live in a time warp on another dimension some days, ok most days. but it does have technology – like internet, and cellphones, and internet ON cellphones! so its not like Dr Carter going to Africa on season 10 of ER where there is one pay phone for miles and miles. its not like that. really. almost everyone in malawi has a cellphone, and all PCVs have one!
so for most of us, it just feels like we are “outta site, outta mind”. we feel forgotten. we miss home, and worse – we are missing you and and the everyday things. personally, i am tired of missing weddings, births, birthdays. we want to know what is going on back home! it may seem trivial to y’all, but to us its maybe all we have to keep going to motivate us.
the following is taken from a Peace Corps publication called “On The Homefront” describing how you can support your volunteer from back home. I think it has relevance to anyone overseas or away from home (working/studying abroad, military, etc). the entire handbook can be found here:
Staying in Touch
“It may be the family member who actually serves in the Peace Corps who gets all the glory, but those on the home front play a key role in the Volunteer’s experience. Anyone who has ever seen a Volunteer open a letter from home knows how much support the families of Volunteers provide. Nothing boosts morale higher than a letter from home (and nothing undermines it more than the absence of mail). While Volunteers receive a lot of support from friends in their host country, it does not replace the special understanding and acceptance that comes from family. Thus, the single most important thing families can do is to stay in frequent touch with Volunteers, even when there is no news to report. What you say in letters, e-mails, or tapes is not as important as continuing to send them. For Volunteers, just knowing that family members are thinking about them is what matters.
Families are not passive players in the experience of Volunteers. Their participation in the Peace Corps experience may feel decidedly indirect, but it is nonetheless crucial. During times of loneliness, doubt, and frustration, what sustains Volunteers is usually a mix of factors. These include not only their own strengths, sense of commitment, and fondness for the host country, but also the love and concern of their families back home.”
i know y’all think we are too busy here saving the world, maybe living vicariously thru our adventures and/or wishing you could be here doing the same. don’t get me wrong, we very much appreciate all your care packages and letters that have been sent! we just don’t have our usual creature comforts from home…no tv, no comfy couch, no chocolate chip cookies. but in the end, those are just things…things that would be traded in a heartbeat for a 5 minute call from home!
i am basing this post on behalf of discussions i have had with other volunteers recently. yes we depend a lot on each other since we get it, we get what its like being here, we also want you could get it too. and someday you will, since that’s part of our peace corps goals is to share with you the life and times in 3rd world countries.
i fear that my huge disconnectedness from american life will be a tough one to tackle come 6 months when i am closing my service and returning home to the motherland. hope you can understand and i know y’all won’t be flooding my phone with calls or texts. but i do have access to email most days of the week, and attempting to use skype for the first time this week! please stay in touch with me and my fellow SV’s (Super Volunteers)! we appreciate it more than you will ever know.
ZIKOMO KWAMBIRI! (many thanks!)
so things in my house continue to be surprising, usually resulting in some sort of crisis. (part of me still thinks my house is cursed by witchcraft.) for example, last week i spent a few hours catching up on my washing. mind you, washing everything by hand by myself can take some time. i just finished hanging up my wet clean clothes on the line, walked inside my house, and hear a **phooomp** the line snapped and all my clean clothes were now lying in the mud, dirty again. i wanted to scream (as in explitives outloud very loud) but i refrained. i had to call for help (to the office). they came back with a new line that was too short. so they had to tie it with another to make it reach the trees. meanwhile i had to re-wash half of my clothes. i can’t wait to use a wash machine again!!!
i now refer to the rats and creatures in my ceiling as my 3rd story tenants. i realized something sitting during a blackout one night listening to their foot patterns on the crumbling tiles above my head. it is something HUGE with behemoth-like claws that sort of gallops and chases (catches and eats) the rats. pleasant-sounding, eh? i am convinced its a monitor lizard, which can grow to be quite large – its the only thing that can make sense that can live up there! still no hope of capturing this creature…altho by the manner it runs around above me, its just a matter time before it falls thru the ceiling. i foresee another ***phooomp*** in my future.
GOOD NEWS: i am in the home stretch of my service. i had a site visit this week and last week by my peace corps bosses. they decided that they would like to try to replace me at my site when the new trainees come earlier than usual (due to changes in the intake schedule). SO that means i will most likely be home in may instead of july. so keep your fingers crossed!
upcoming events that will make time pass quickly till then…taking the GRE november 20, hosting and attempting my first thanksgiving, christmas with the Captain, birthday in tanzania, then close of service. i think the time will go by quickly.
if you want to send me something for christmas that’s fine but it will most likely be the last chance for safe arrival due to the time length. feel free to send me OR just wait til i’m back and meet me for a nice drink…ice cream…the list could go on forever!
so i had the pleasure of attending yet another wedding in malawi this weekend. wedding receptions here are SO different than those in america. the guests are seated like an audience, while the happy couple and the wedding party sit on a stage. there is an MC who directs the “show” and the dj. if you want to dance, you must bring money and throw in on the ground or in the basket. so you get up and dance, throw money around, and go back to your seat, and repeat…for like 4 hours. and if you are lucky, you get a soda and a snack, but no meal.
its basically like a telethon on tv. the whole point is to raise funds for the couple and the wedding. at first, i thought how LAME. how can you have all these guests pay this money for their own party. but the more i thought about it…its freakin’ brilliant! its still sorta weird but weddings are expensive, even in malawi. it’s still fun since me and dancing at weddings have a memorable history. malawians love white people dancing.
now that camp has come and gone, it was back to work – at the office but especially at home. there have been so many problems with my new house that i’m beginning to think its haunted or cursed by witchcraft.
the biggest problem is the rats. at first they were just running around the ceiling, but then, just as i predicted…it was just a matter of time before they found their way inside and to my food. they started to run around my house at night in my kitchen, bedroom, and bathroom. not ok. so i complained to the Malawian Housing Corporation (who owns my building). they laughed at me and told me i should “just catch them and cook them for dinner.” seriously, malawi?! seriously?!?! yes malawians do cook and eat rats but hell if i’m gonna.
so i bought rat poison and put it out. they ate it up like candy. then a carpenter came to patch up the entry points with cement. silence for a few days. then my house started to smell like death. carpenter came back and had to extract 3 big fat stinky dead rats from my walls. gross. they no longer enter my house and eat my food but still run around the ceiling. and they sound like a species of hippopotamus rats, which makes me think its another creature. or a ghost. or malawi is making me psychotic.
the second biggest problem is the college students that i live next to. there is a brand new college dorm built for the very prestigious Chancellor College down the road from me. well…let me put it this way…its like living next to the worst frat house ever. except here in malawi they don’t have any noise policies or enforcement, so these freaks blast their music til sometimes 5am. EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. i have to sleep with ear plugs every night! and it still doesn’t help! SUCKS since that is the LAST thing i ever imagined having to put up with in malawi. i’m too old for this shit.
then i had some other plumbing and electrical problems. not to mention the swarm of bees that is outside my window – only have been stung twice so far. seems like every time i think put out one fire, 10 others ignite. so frustrating! my malawian boss has told me he could just move me. to which i said…the next move i’m making is home to america!
hopefully sooner than later too. we are in the home stretch now. and rumor has it they may be releasing us early due to some changes in the intake calendar. so pray that they let me come home early, God knows i’ve been thru enough!
camp G.L.O.W. 2010 “I’m Gonna Stand”
Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) was created by Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania in the early 1990’s and since has been adapted in several countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve. for the last year or so, our group has been planning our 8-day girls’ empowerment camp in Mponela, just north of Lilongwe (capital city). there were about 90 girls there from all over the country attending this camp. i haven’t experienced so much enormous female energy since cheerleading camp when i was in highschool!
I did not have the capacity to help with planning much of the camp, so i decided to help more with implementation, and volunteer to be a camp counselor. this meant long days, from 6:30am to 10:30pm! i also taught a few classes/sessions, like journalling and dance. it was really long, exhausting week but overall so much fun! we even had the vice president of Malawi come and speak, since she is a woman and a huge role model for the young ladies of this country.
The best part about this camp was that you could see the change take place in these girls. we always here that “change happens so slowly” here in africa, and many developing countries. and this is so true. however, in the course of a week, the transformation of these girls was tangible. they became confident young ladies, learning how to be assertive and plan for their futures, and that GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING! over the course of the week they learned how to stand for themselves, their bodies, their heritage, their country, their choices, and their future.
it really warmed my heart to know that i made a difference in the lives of these young women. to date, it has probably been the best experience in my service. so a big ZIKOMO KWAMBIRI (thank you very much) to those who were able to donate to the camp. its a very good cause that needs to continue in countries such as this one.
send all carepackages now to:
Marla Kasper RN PCV
c/o Emmanuel International
Private Bag 12
as of now, i have a lot of stuff i realized when i moved my stuff again. so the best things to send would be consumables meaning edibles ;) or bakeables. i still love getting packages, it makes me feel good. and so does the post office lady, cecilia, because i always share my goods with her. i would love to have the 2nd half of season one of gLee…apparently i only had the first 13 episodes but there are more to the season?!
*not only a reference to my new found love of “gLee” but also to my life in general lately…
sorry everyone, things have been pretty crazy lately so i’ll try my best to update you in the next few posts, highlighting the latest happenings here in malawi.
sooooo as maybe most of you know i was unfortunately fired from my last position as a nurse at the orphanage. i really really loved that job, those kids, and being there. it brought me so much joy, but i was treated so badly and unjustly by the staff and funders. i even contemplated coming home as a result of such mistreatent. so it had been a very rough time for me emotionally after all that i’ve been through. (and i will have to keep my words short on the matter for several reasons, and share with you in person next time i see you. so for now, my legal advisors say i should plead the 5th.)
therefore, last few months were spent wallowing in complexity: i had to find another new job and housing. after some networking, i managed to find some work with an NGO, that wanted to use my nursing expertise on a new large-scale project regarding people living with HIV, especially orphans. the project is just starting up, so i’m learning as i’m going.
as usual, my stuff was put in storage and i lived out of suitcases (story of my life!) I stayed for about 6 weeks at my good friend Kris’ house. it was fun to have someone to drink coffee and do yoga with but by the end i was ready to have my stuff back in a place of my own. now i have a nice loft apartment, yes another upgrade! i guess one of the perks to frequent moves? it doesn’t compare to, say the loft i had in Boston overlooking the Common…but for malawi – its pretty nice. there are a few slight home improvements (ok a list) that is being worked on, like getting rid of rats. its also right next to a loud college dorm that blare bass music most of the time. i find myself less and less tolerant, thinking “i’m too old for this crap!” but i feel helpless since screaming at them thru my window won’t help much.
the upside is that i have a gas stove/oven in my kitchen! so i get to bake!!! so send me some baking mixes or chocolate chips – my friends and guests will LOVE it. i keep promising my Malawian friends some american baked goods.
i’ve also decided recently to take the GRE (grad school entrance exam) in november. i haven’t gotten as far as applying to programs or anything, i just want to take the test to get it out of the way and study while i have more “free” time to do so. plus they offer the old school paper version here, which is reportedly easier than the computerized version they offer back home. we’ll see how i do.
am in my new office now, much like a zoo. as i type, monkeys are literally swinging from the trees and howling as they chase after each other. won’t ever find that in america! well…unless maybe you work at a zoo…and i mean a REAL zoo, altho some of us may believe hospitals, offices, etc may sometimes resemble such.