Molly in Africa

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Starting to Adjust...?

After traveling for nearly a full week to get from orientation in St. Louis to my new home in Karonga, Malawi, we finally arrived on Friday, August 8th. The trip itself included four planes, a ten hour lay-over in London (where we went out of the airport and played Frisbee in Hyde Park), 2 days in Nairobi, Kenya (where we visited a Marianist primary school and spent a day in the city center) and to top it all off, an 8 hour truck ride from Lilongwe (Malawi's capital) to Karonga.

This past week has had its ups and downs as can be expected with trying to settle into a new home, new jobs, a new community, new weather and a new culture. Yep, that's a whole lot to adjust to! So, we're coming along as a community. We've had some intense conversations about what our expectations are for this next year and how we see that manifesting itself in community life, the food we will eat and our budget. Big conversations for sure… some were more productive than others, but I think we all sort of acknowledged by the end of last week that we all should probably get to know one another better before we try to make any more changes to how our community will work.

Chaminade opened up again (they had just been on holiday) this past week so the rest of the volunteers were busy teaching or shadowing. I, on the other hand, was fairly free. I went into town two different times this past week just because there was the opportunity to go and I thought it would be fun to explore. I just asked Sarah and she guesses that it's about 6km into town- that translates into a fifteen minute drive or an hour walk. Ryan and I spent the whole afternoon on Friday in the car as he taught me how to drive stick shift. I did really well on Friday- I didn't kill it at all! On Saturday, I drove our whole community (plus a few more people who were headed in the same direction) home from town and I killed it a couple times in town.
I think I was just really nervous about having so many more people witnessing my new driving skills, but wow it was embarrassing and made me more nervous about driving. I'm hoping I get a chance in this next week to practice more.

This weekend was really fun. On Friday night, we invited all the Chaminade faculty and staff over for a little welcome gathering for us newbie's and it was nice to chat with some of the teachers and get to know their names a bit better. On Saturday, we were invited over to dinner at this Australian couple's home just a few minutes by car away. They are probably a little older than my parents and they work for a mining company in Karonga. They also invited another Australian family over and that family has four kids who are awesome! When we first arrived, we played some volleyball and then the rest of the night eating and swapping stories! It was great and really reminded me of spending time with our family friends at home. The kids from that family came over on Sunday afternoon and we played Ultimate Frisbee out in a nearby pitch with some of the Chaminade students and then took them home and went swimming in Lake Malawi with all of them and their parents. The water felt great because we had been running around in the heat of the afternoon!

Biggest challenges for me so far (and how I'm dealing with them):

1) Having the conversations about simplicity and immersing ourselves in this culture. In Uganda, I was able to really jump in feet first- staying with a family, I was living with other Ugandans, eating what they would eat, living in a typical Ugandan house, using public transportation with them, etc. Here, we live in a HUGE house that has all the amenities (electricity, running water—HOT running water, flush toilets, our own cooks who make us amazing meals AND wash our laundry).
Yes, it's a sweet deal, but it's frustrating for me at the same time. I know that having a tv here where we can watch movies all the time will be nice- especially if I get homesick…or just sick. Anyway, so right now, the way I'm dealing with it by helping to work on the budget to try to pair down our expenses and also requesting that we eat simpler meals. So far so good, but I'm not sure how long my community will stick with this simple lunch plan.

2) Having one-on-one time with other people. During the first couple days, everything we did was all together and, I didn't even know this about myself, but I apparently really need those personal conversations sometimes. Ryan Dugan (one of the old volunteers) has been my outlet for this and I am so grateful he's here. We've had a lot of fun together this past week and he's become a really good friend. Unfortunately, he's only staying until October when his students take a big test, called the JCE. I've threatened to steal and hide his passport so he can't leave. I hope no one will mind. J

3) Having physical touch. I had no idea how much I receive hugs and pats on the back or whatever it is when I'm in America, but here those are all culturally inappropriate. People don't hug… they only shake hands- that's their physical interaction in public. Girls are able to hold hands with girls or boys and boys, but not girls and boys together. Luckily, we've said that it's okay for us to hold hands, hug, etc in our house and for that I am incredibly grateful that I live with Matty! He has been providing me with my fix for hugs, tickling and general silliness.

I wrote this blog post on August 17th, so it's a little outdated. LOTS has happened since then including my first village visits, language lessons and lots of really good fun with my housemates! So I'll try to get another blog post up in this next week! Thank you Dave for posting these for me... hopefully I'll be able to figure out why I am not able to from here soon!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

I'm Here!!!


I'm here in Karonga, Malawi! :)  I'm home, you could say, but it doesn't really feel like that yet.  Soon though, I'm sure.

Our house is beautiful- very big.  Plenty of space for all of us and our stuff.  I'll write more in the next couple weeks but for now just wanted to let you all know that we're all safe and we arrived with ALL of our luggage in tact!  Impressive, right?

Love you all,
Molly :)

Monday, August 04, 2008

And so the journey begins...again!

I've said my goodbyes and I leave today (Monday) for Karonga, Malawi to begin my two year commitment as a volunteer in the Marianist Volunteer Program (MVP).

I'm excited about this new adventure.  I'm excited about all I will learn, excited about cultivating new friendships and about learning the language.  I'm excited about living in community and learning how to do that in a mutually supportive way.  I'm excited...

And yet, it's hard to leave this country where I have SO MANY amazing friends and an incredible family that really loves me.   Saying goodbyes were hard because I know that I will miss people a lot.  I have been blest with so many positive, enriching relationships that it will be hard to be gone for two years from all of those people.  On the other hand, I think all of those relationships have helped prepare me for this journey and will continue to support me through this journey.

I'm traveling over with three of the five other MVP volunteers places in Karonga, Malawi- Andy, Matt and Kat.  We will be meeting the remaining two community members (Sarah and Emily) in Malawi because they have already been there for the past year.  Together, the six of us will live in a volunteer house- sharing meals and prayer time, along with countless hours of conversation and hopefully fun!  The other five volunteers will all be teaching in the Marianist secondary school there called Chaminade.  It's an all boys school and our house is basically on their school's property.

Unlike the rest of my community, I will be working with a Women's Empowerment Program through MIRACLE (the Marianist technical institute in Karonga).  While I am not completely sure of all my duties there, I can tell you what my mindset is for right now.  I believe a large part of my job will include going to the villages to visit the women receiving loans from MIRACLE and my goal will be to build up the relationships between the groups of women and the MIRACLE Office.  With strengthened relationships, the hope is that more loans will be repaid faster.  I think I will also have responsibilities around the office, helping to keep records of loans and continue to plan and run workshops for the women's group.   I will also be spending time learning the local language (Chitumbuka) since the vast majority of the women I will be working with will have no understanding of English.

Hopefully this helps to give some of you an overview of what I am doing and a sense of where I am at as I am entering this new chapter of my life.

Since I'm moving to Malawi tomorrow, I should probably get some sleep.  Next time I post, it'll be from Africa!

PS- For those of you who missed it, here is a link to my interview with Chicago Public Radio about CROSO: