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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Peace Corps Malawi Reading List

Just like Peace Corps Zambia, I spent a lot of time reading. This time most of the books were on my Kindle and that is a technology I could not do without. It will be years before I read everything I have on my Kindle. I finished the following books in 16 months:
    1.  Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
    2. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
    3. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming
    4. The Man Who Loved Books too Much by Allison Hoover Bartless
    5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    6. Girl on Fire by Suzanne Collins
    7. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
    8. The Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr
    9. The Hades Project by Robert Ludlum
   10. 28. Stories of AIDS in Africa by Stephanie Nolen
   11. The Winner by David Baldacci
   12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
   13. Catch Me if You Can by Frank W. Abagnale, Jr.
   14. Dark Fire by CJ Sansom
   15. Dissolution by CJ Sanson
   16. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
   17. Lie Down with Lions by Ken Follett
   18. The Man Who Smiled by Henning Mankel
   19. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
   20. The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez
   21. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
   22. Lifted by Evan Ratliff
   23. The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick
   24. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
   25. A Dangerous Fortune by Ken Follett
   26. The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
   27. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
   28. The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson
   29. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Steig Larsson
   30. The Places in Between by Rory Stewart
   31. Code to Zero by Ken Follett
   32. The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer
   33. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
   34. Avenger by Frederick Forsyth
   35. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
   36. The Listerdale Mystery by Agatha Christie
   37. Dispatches From the Edge by Anderson Cooper
   38. In the Still of the Night by Ann Rule
   39. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
   40. Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell
   41. The Gunslinger by Stephen King
   42. Thunderstruck by Eric Larson
   43. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
   44. Consent to Kill by Vince Flynn
   45. To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck
   46. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
   47. The Cobra by Fredrick Forsyth
   48. The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth
   49. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
   50. Echo Park by Michael Connelly
   51. The Janson Directive by Robert Ludlum
   52. Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
   53. The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie
   54. The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz by Denis Avey
   55. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young
   56. Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi
   57. Term Limits by Vince Flynn
   58. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
   59. The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood
   60. War by Sebastian Junger
   61. The Stranger by Albert Camus
   62. Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox
   63. The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett
   64. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
   65. The Fever by Sonia Shah
   66. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
   67. A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
   68. Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
   69. Pathologies of Power by Paul Farmer
   70. Memorial Day by Vince Flynn
   71. Murder of the Centure by Paul Collins
   72. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
   73. Diary of a Public Radio Slave by Kerri Wood Thomson
   74. The One You Love by Paul Pilkington

Final Malawi Update

I’m home. There isn’t much else I want to say but I think a few people want more of an explanation.

I left Malawi mid-June after thinking about leaving for 6 months. It was not a decision I made overnight or without much thought. I was full of hope and optimism when I came to Malawi. I spent 2+ years in neighboring Zambia learning the culture and language of my neighbors. I felt I had a successful Peace Corps Zambia service. I came to Malawi with the intention of learning about public health and passing on skills I’ve learned through my previous jobs. I learned very little about public health and a whole lot about foreign aid. It was not a failed service; it just didn’t take 26 months to learn these lessons. 

I learned that foreign aid has created a dependency cycle for Malawi as a whole. Malawi doesn’t have much fuel, medicine, medical supplies, or other necessities unless someone else donates it. How do you break the cycle? I don’t know. I naively thought I could make a difference but when a country is accustomed to hand outs and failure, I lost hope. I also feel strongly that there are several members of Peace Corps Malawi staff that do not believe in the program. It’s hard to feel hope when your supervisor clearly doesn’t care. I tried to work in a non-traditional Peace Corps position improving the supply chain of an NGO but Peace Corps Malawi did not want to think outside the box. That was the beginning of the end for me.

Until the majority of Malawians truly want a better Malawi, it won’t happen. But remember, wanting it doesn’t make it so.  America didn’t become the country it is just because people wanted it. It became successful through hard work, sacrifice, and ingenuity. Ok, there’s more to it than that but the point is Americans and our government didn’t sit around waiting for someone else to make it better. How does a country with little to offer the outside world move up the economic ladder? I don’t know and I’m a long way from even offering a solution.

I miss my friends in Chioshya/Chimteka and volunteers within and outside of Peace Corps (especially Michaelo) but I’m happy I came home when I did. I’ve been given opportunities I would not have otherwise had if I came home next year. I’ve been able to spend invaluable time with family and friends and I’m thankful for these moments.

Until next time…..

Thursday, March 01, 2012

My Marathon

I've told a few people over the years about my marathon-Peace Corps analogy but now seems like a good time to share it again. I hope even non-runners can appreciate this and while I've never worn my name on my shirt for a race, I've seen what they go through. So here goes...

First, I'll talk about a marathon and what the average runner goes through in their first 26.2 mile road race. Before the race starts, you're milling around with nervous energy. You pee a lot, you question if you're wearing the right socks and underwear, and you compare yourself to everyone around you. But you know you picked the right shirt...the one you had made special with your name on it! Finally it's time to start and off you go. 

Miles 1-4 are great! You notice everything: the way the light hits the buildings, the fans and their signs, the smell of the city in the cool fall morning and it all seems rather magical. You feel like you can run forever. And it's great that everyone knows your name-that shirt was such a good idea!

Miles 5-13 are still good but not as crisp as those first few. You don't notice as much of your surroundings and the miles don't seem to be changing...was that mile 8 or 9 I just passed? But you reach mile 13 and realize you're half finished! You are congratulating yourself for finishing a half marathon and gloating that you're going beyond 13.1. You will be part of that elite group of marathon finishers. And people are still cheering your name. 

Around mile 14 you realize that while you are more than half finished, you still have a long way to go. You become consumed with thoughts of not finishing. People will still be impressed if I quit now, right? You spend the next few miles giving yourself a pep talk. And people are still cheering your name but it's more than a little annoying now. You just need a few minutes of peace to find the drive to keep going. 

Around mile 18, you are in need of some serious motivation. You think 18 miles is a long distance but 8 more seems out of the question. But you keep going. It's probably a good thing you've lost the ability to do basic arithmetic because you now spend whole miles trying remember which mile you just completed and your per mile pace. You consider removing your shirt so no one knows your name...seriously why do they keep cheering? Can't they see what I really want is an orange or a wheelchair??

But then you reach mile 20 and finishing seems possible and probable. You dig down deep and push yourself. You start to enjoy the race again because it's almost over. You're still wearing your favorite shirt but you know you will never, ever wear it again. And you must find that person that suggested putting your name on your shirt and give them a piece or your mind. 

Finally it's mile 25 and you look back at how far you've come and how much you've enjoyed the day. You start to forget about those times you wanted to quit (and you're really glad you didn't), and think about the sense of accomplishment you will have in one short mile. You're even happy you didn't throw away your shirt because hearing your name is giving you a kick to the finish. 

Then there it is...the 26 mile marker and you know this is it...all the sweat, pain, and probably a few tears, were completely worth it. You are feeling the tears coming again as you see the finish line in front of you and you wish more than anything that you could put this moment in slow motion to enjoy it just a little longer. But then it's over and you're congratulated and given your hardware and you go back to your normal life. Just like that, you think?! Sure, friends and family are really proud of you but how long can you talk about the race before they lose interest? You start thinking about your next race or competition and that gets you through the day but nothing will compete with the memories of your first marathon. 

So here I am at the mile 13 mark. I'm feeling pride for coming this far and a bit of nervousness that I still have equally long to go. I'm tired of my own name and even more tired of azungu (white person) being yelled from near and far no matter where I go. I've realized I still have many goals to reach and I just hope I have enough time. I know when I get to the end of this Peace Corps roller coaster I will be happy, sad, nervous, and ready for a new adventure. 

I've learned a few things about Peace Corps that I'll share. 
1. It's not always about putting numbers in a box; you feel accomplished when you say you've trained x number of people in a skill but you can't quantify the things you've learned about yourself and the way you've shared yourself with your host country. 
2. Peace Corps brings out the best in you and the worst in you. 
3. Peace Corps is a roller coaster and at times (good and bad) you'll feel like you're riding it alone. 
3. Someone told me not to go chasing the next big adventure. Very true but it's good to have a plan. 
4. Life is too short to be unhappy so decide if you need a change of attitude or a change of latitude. 

This update comes after a few weeks of feeling that halfway might be good enough. But just like half of a marathon, it isn't. The best is yet to come. 

Monday, January 02, 2012

Happy Holidays!

I hope this blog update finds everyone healthy, happy, and ready for 2012.

It's been a fast few months. Work continues to go well. Six fish farmers have stocked ponds, moringa trees have been planted, and I have the start of a garden.

I spent a lot of time out of site in November. Peace Corps and USAID celebrated 50 years with a party at Ambassador Jackson's home at the beginning of November. I then attended a medicinal garden training for a week - it was awesome! Then fast forward to Thanksgiving and my birthday. I celebrated at the lake and it was the best birthday yet! If my birthday was any indication, 32 is going to be a great year!

On the other hand, this hasn't been a great year for Malawi and 2012 isn't looking much better (in fact, probably worse). Lack of foreign exchange continues to cripple the economy. When there is fuel (sometimes it's just a rumor), it only lasts a few hours, creates parking lots of roads around petrol stations, and is at a price few can afford. Transport costs have gone up, food prices have gone up, and morale amongst Malawians and residents of Malawi is way down. It will be an interesting year for the country.

I celebrated the holidays with Michael and friends. Christmas in Kasungu was relaxing and New Years in Lilongwe was profitable at the American Pirates Casino! It's been a great time but I'm missing family and friends at home.

Friday, October 14, 2011

IST, Fish, Rabbits

I finished 2 weeks of In Service Training (IST) in Dedza at the end of September. It's been a productive and fun couple weeks back at site.

Before leaving for IST I conducted some follow ups with fish farmers and got them started on the next task and now they are almost ready to stock their ponds! The potential for fish farming is high so I hope people stay motivated. I enjoy working with the farmers abstracting other volunteers about the benefits and potential of fish farming.

I was also on a mission to get a rabbit hutch before IST but it didn't quite work out but it was ready when I came back! The rabbits seem to be enjoying their new home and their new cat friend. Peppers moved into the hutch soon after the rabbits and they all get along.

This week was the first meeting of the Edzi Toto Club (HIV awareness group) at the secondary school. We had about 100 students for the first meeting. At our next meeting, we'll elect officers and start planning the World Aids Day event on December 1.

I also had the chance to visit some volunteers in Kasungu district and teach about HIV to a group of secondary school students. I got to spend a little time at Kamuzu Academy, a posh secondary school that is like nothing I've experienced in Africa. It felt like I was on holiday.

November is fast approaching and promises to be very busy. I'm most excited about attending a training on medicinal gardens. I've heard it's a good training and I think my area can benefit from medicinal plants.

I'm starting to think about what I want to do for the holidays. I'd like to go many places but the budget is tight and I'll probably stay close to home...Zambia or the lake??? Speaking of Zambia...I'll be there in a couple weeks for a quick visit!

It seems rainy season has come early to Mchinji district. It's my least favorite time of year and lasts far too long. Maybe if the rains start early, they'll end early? I hope.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Three Months Down

I've been in my home in Msuzi village for over three months and it feels very much like home. I think I'm done making home improvements for a while. I now have furniture with cushions, a guest bed, and painted walls. Eventually I will cement my walkways and add a step off the front stoop.

I now feel I know my way around the area and boma (Mchinji) pretty well. I know where to find the foods I like and the basic necessitates I need (vegetables, chocolate, eggs/protein, candles) and a few things I can probably live without (Coke, biscuits, mabunsies, chips).

I'm making contacts in the community that will help with work related goals and social contacts. Overall it's been a successful three months of community integration. In September I will attend In Service Training for two weeks. Week one will be with my fellow health volunteers and our counterparts will join us for the second week. We will learn technical skills that we did not have time for in pre-service training and create a two year plan with our counterparts.

As you may be aware, Malawi is going through a period of instability. Its nothing new but has gained momentum and turned violent recently. More can be found online if you are interested. I bring this up because it has highlighted the importance of Peace Corps Volunteers and other on-the-ground-workers like us. We don't give large amounts of money (unsustainable) but teach practical information (sustainable) that Malawians can use to change their own situation.  I hope I'm here long enough to see the situation improve for the people I live and work with.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Another old letter

This is another old letter but slightly more recent....

I hope this letter finds you well. I’m settling into my Malawi life quite nicely. I’ve been in my home in Msuzi for 2 months now and the time seems to be flying. My home is slowly becoming more comfortable. I now have a wicker love seat and chair of my own. I need to get cushions made for it b/c it gets hard quickly. I also plan to paint walls and doors very soon. I have a wooden bed frame and foam mattress, a wood table w/ 2 chairs that I eat and work at, two sets of shelves for clothes and kitchen items, and a table for my handwashing bucket and water filter. All of this furniture was made in the village without any power tools.

I plan to have an extra bed frame made so I can have guests and that should make my furniture collection complete.

My typical day starts between 5:30 and 6:30. I rarely set an alarm b/c the roosters usually wake me up. I get up and do some exercises then start a fire for breakfast. Some days I have a hot fire within 20 minutes, other days it takes an hour. I never take a good fire for granted. I make breakfast – usually coffee or hot cocoa and oatmeal. Some times I’ll make eggs or French toast if I have bread. While waiting for the fire to get going, I do the dishes from the night before and get my things ready for the day. After breakfast I make sure my cat is outside and then I leave for the health centre or community based organization. I work until noon then go home and have lunch. I don’t start a fire for lunch; I eat leftovers from the night before. After lunch I go to the community based organization or the school. Some days I don’t have anything planned in the afternoon and I spend the time reading and cleaning my house. Around 5pm I start another fire and make tea, then heat bath water, then make dinner. I have to heat bath water b/c I don’t have running water to take a shower. I mix the hot water w/ cold water in a bucket until the temperature is right, then I bathe in a cement room with a drain in my backyard. My dinner is usually vegetables (eggplant, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, peas, green beans, or cabbage, whatever I can find) and rice, lentils, or pasta. I make enough for that night and lunch the next day. I put the leftovers in a bowl with another bowl on top as a lid. This is my routine Monday through Friday. On Saturday’s I spend the day at the community based organization working with a physical therapist to give therapy to handicap children. Sunday’s are usually spent doing laundry and relaxing with my cat, Peppers.

 I occasionally go to the district capital, or boma, to buy vegetables or other supplies I need. I either bike 22kilometres to the paved road and take a mini-bus the rest of the way or I go with a friend in the neighboring village that has a truck. There is no public transport from my village to the paved road but if I don’t want to bike I can pay the equivalent of $2.00 and go on a bike taxi – a bike with a padded rack on the back that you sit on and a man pedals. It’s a nice way to get around if you have the money.

At the health centre I help weigh children or pregnant women, take the blood pressure of pregnant women, help with reports, or anything else they need. I’m not allowed to vaccinate people but I update the health records of those that receive vaccines. The health centre serves about 30,000 people and does so with limited staff and frequently without medications, but they do have electricity. They primarily treat malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia. They also treat tuberculosis, rabies from dog bites, and an occasional measles outbreak. Two nurse/mid-wives work 24/7 shifts (alternating weeks) and deliver over 100 babies every month. There are frequent delivery emergencies and in these cases the ambulance is called from the district capital (about 30 miles away) and on a good day the ambulance arrives within 3 hours of being called. When a woman delivers at the health centre, she brings her own bucket, plastic sheet, and towels. She walks home the same day she delivers and can take the equivalent of Tylenol for pain if her finances allow.

Malawians do not have an easy life but they rarely complain. They are welcoming and always eager to feed a guest. I enjoy the Malawian lifestyle and I am humbled daily.

Old Letter

This is a letter that I sent to a few people...

By time you receive this letter I will have been in Malawi for about 3 months. The time has gone quickly but I’m sure it will slow down at some point soon once I get into my routine. I spent the first 8 weeks in Dedza for training. I lived w/ a host family, the Rabson Laurenti family, and went to language and technical training in health 6 days/week. In Malawi I speak Chichewa, a Bantu language spoken in Malawi, Zambia, and parts of Mozambique.  I’m not very good at learning new languages and I was very thankful that I already spoke Chichewa from my 2 years spent in Zambia.

After 5 weeks with my host family, I went to see my new home, Msuzi Village, in Mchinji District. I spent one week in Msuzi, where I met my work counterparts, my neighbors, and the patients at the clinic I now work at. I stayed in my new home and slept in my sleeping bag on a reed mat on the floor. My home has 2 bedrooms, a sitting room, and a separate building that contains the kitchen, storage, bathing room, and chimbudzi (toilet). I have a privacy fence all the way around my house and a small backyard where I’d like to start a garden. The home is made of mud bricks and has cement floors. It’s very nice by Malawian standards. I do not have electricity or running water but there is a well very close to my house so getting water isn’t too much work.

And now a bit about my work….my title is Community Health Advisor. Most Peace Corps Volunteers in this position live and work at community health centres and some even have electricity but my situation is a bit unique. I live in a village about 2 kilometers from the health centre and while I work at the health centre, I also work at a Community Based Organization, Chimteka Children Support, about 1 kilometer from my house. At the health centre, I help with growth monitoring of children under 5 years of age, and I also help with the supplementary feeding program for malnourished children under 5. I also go out into villages and help with community outreach for the villages that are far from the health centre. I ride my bike to these villages and people come from miles to get their children weighed and vaccinated.

Chimteka Children Support offers many programs but I will primarily be helping with the HIV/AIDS support group and the developmentally/physically disabled children group. The disabled children come for therapy every week and I will help with that and teach about nutrition.

My main focus during my service is going to be nutrition and malaria (spread by mosquitoes) prevention. Both are major problems here. The main cash crops are maize and tobacco so many people are lacking protein and vitamins in their daily diets. I plan to do some work in fish farming to diversify the diet and increase income for small scale farmers. This part of the world is rife with malaria and while it is highly preventable, it is difficult to encourage people to take the necessary steps. The main way to prevent malaria is to sleep under a mosquito net at night. The government gives nets to pregnant women and children under 5 but unfortunately many of the nets are used as fishing nets and therefore provide no malaria prevention. I have a lot of work ahead of me but I have to remain realistic that I will not save everyone and will not impact everyone. In Africa, you have to measure small victories.

Moving Right Along

Somehow June is almost over (or maybe it's already finished depending on when I post). Time flies when you're having fun...and staying really busy. Programs at the health centre are being developed. I'm focusing on encouraging youth friendly health services by working with nurse/mid-wife & visiting with the students at the secondary school. We are also working on a career planning program with those interested youths. I'm still hoping to develop a nutrition program through the health centre to educate mothers.

The work at the CBO is also coming together. I'm really enjoying the therapy program with the handicap youth and will possibly help expand the program to increase the efficacy. I'm also working with the handicap adult group to develop their income generating garden. This is partly self serving because it's difficult for me to get vegetables so I'm encouraging them to grow vegetables I like. I'll do cooking demonstrations with those vegetables to encourage the group to add them to their own diet. It's a win-win: I'll be a loyal buyer and they might find some new vegetables they like.

I hope to start working with a few fish farmers soon. Other than that, I'm planning a couple big programs for late 2011/early 2012. All of these current and future projects keep me hopping 6 days almost every week. Busy...just the way I like it! And thankfully I'm working with some wonderful and equally motivated people. Staying focused is my only challenge when the needs are as great as they are.
In house developments, I own a love seat and chair. I plan to get cushions made so I can take an occasional nap :) I'm also planning to paint my bedrooms, doors, and windows for a bit more color in my life.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

All Work & A Little Play= A Successful Integration

After one month at site, I'm starting to figure out how I will spend the next two years. I've spent a great deal of time at the health centre and found a few programs I can help with. I foresee myself doing education programs that promote nutrition, youth friendly health services, and family planning. 

I'm also seeing where I can help at the Community Based Organization (CBO). They serve a large population with physical challenges and I've been helping with the physical therapy program. I'm hoping to integrate a nutrition program with them and possibly income generating activities. There is also a large HIV+ support group that I would like to work with in some way. 

I've had the opportunity to attend a planning meeting for the implementation of a new vaccine in Malawi and it's pilot program in my district. It will be interesting to track progress. I also attended a Peace Corps training on HIV/AIDS. It was very good and could lead to even more success for the volunteers in the field. And the training was held at Senga Bay on Lake Malawi so it was not only educational, but relaxing! 

My free time has been spent at home getting to know my neighbors, my cat (Peppers), and acquiring furniture. My house is coming along nicely and is almost ready for visitors!!