Molly in Africa

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One month in...

Hi Folks!
I've been here a month now (woohoo!) and it's about time I updated this blog…
Malawi: It's the dry season right now which means it has not yet rained since I've arrived here. The ground is mostly sand, but I hear that once it is the rainy season that we will have grass and everything will be lush and green. It's quite warm here and we're just entering the hottest time of the year (October, November and December). I'm a little bit nervous about how hot it will get- I might melt! On the upside, I do have a fan in my office so hopefully that will help.

My Community: After a month of living together, I think we are working to get to know one another more and I'm really enjoying my housemates. In this past month we've gone on some fun adventures- Kat and I spent a Saturday at the beach swimming, building a sand castle and playing catch with some locals. We had to walk to the beach and it took a little more than an hour and a half each way. Another adventure I went on was to the border on Saturday with Andy and Matty to renew our visas and it included some entertaining attempts at bargaining and an interesting mini-bus ride where I was sat on for a little while! We've also had a bunch of fun around our house- playing with our puppies (we're about to give most of them away- which is a good thing since we can't afford to pay for food for them so we just haven't been feeding them enough), playing sports (inside and outside) or playing cards (I taught Sarah and Emily Nerts and they like it a lot!). I'm getting to know everyone better each day and especially in these last two weeks, I've had really solid conversations with folks and that's been really nice. Overall, they are quirky and funny and I've been surprised a lot in our community, but I am finding ways to adjust and I continue to look for more ways to accommodate different needs that people have expressed within the community. I am still frustrated with the fact that we don't live simply. We've talked about it in a meeting this past week and are scheduled to have another meeting tonight about it, so hopefully that will go well. People have been very respectful in our discussions, which is more than I expected. We have made some minor changes like moving the TV out of the community room so that the focus is off the TV and on to conversation. We just moved it on Friday and most of the community was gone to visit friends and students this past weekend, so we'll see how it goes this week. Even if some changes are made, I think I'm just going to have to get used to a lot of the luxuries we live with here and take the initiative on my own to make changes in the way that I live here.

Chaminade: Chaminade is the boarding school where the rest of the volunteers teach and well… it's been interesting there lately. The short version of the story goes like this: the students were frustrated with the food they get, how strict the headmaster is and the fact that they are getting fewer outings each month… among other complaints. Two weeks ago they expressed these grievances in, what started out as, a very respectful and organized meeting/confrontation but turned into sort of a free for all where anyone could speak and students were bringing up insignificant issues, which I think made it harder to take them serious. On Tuesday, the students established an ultimatum and on Tuesday night, there was some violence- a fence was lit on fire, they tried to burn a summer hut (where the teachers meet each morning), a few windows were broken and threats were made about the Headmasters house. [Oh, FYI, a headmaster is a principal.] The police were called in several times that week and to be honest, I only had one night where I felt unsafe and the feeling didn't last too long. The riots and strike (students refused to go to class once their needs weren't met immediately) led the administration and the government officials to suspend all Chaminade students for two weeks where they were required to go home. This allows the teachers to have endless (and often times pointless) meetings to discuss how to move forward and ideally, it gives the students some perspective so that they will calm down and focus on their studies. They're coming back to school this coming Saturday so I'll let you all know if that plan worked. As for the teacher meetings, they've caused A LOT of frustration among my housemates- culminating yesterday in a meeting where most of my housemates didn't agree with the decision made by the headmaster, which pushed some over the edge. Again, I'll keep you posted as to how this all works out.

MIRACLE: That's the trade college where I work in the social office and I am LOVING work! Can I just point out that I am so happy that I feel this way? I was pretty nervous the night before I started just because I'm in this for the next two years and what if I didn't like it?!? But we're into our second week of being open and I am learning a ton, making new friends, and having some fun in the process. :) I've mentioned my co-workers in the social office a little and my relationships are growing stronger with each. What was really funabout last week was getting to meet all the OTHER staff members at MIRACLE. The teachers are AWESOME! I've made three pretty good friends so far (Timothy, Kasunga and Ndamiwe) and I'm so excited to grow in those friendships and to get to know the others more each day. The staff is pretty good about encouraging my minimal Chitumbuka knowledge, so that's really helpful and I'm getting pretty good at the greetings. We start the day with a staff meeting and prayer and then have tea break at 10. Participating in each of those times has helped me get to know some of them and has helped them become more comfortable with me. As weird as this may sound, they have all been pretty obviously watching me this past week. It's made me a little nervous at times, but I'm passing a lot of their "tests" and have clearly moved beyond the watching stage with some of them. All day yesterday we had intake interviews, which are interviews with people who would like to become students at MIRACLE next year. All the classes were cancelled and the staff was split up into eight groups (mostly groups of 3) and were assigned a trade. I was with Madame Longwe (the principal of MIRACLE) and Mr. Mwasikakata interviewing potential Hotel and Catering students- that means they want to learn to cook well and possibly work as a housekeeper/deskworker at a hotel. Each interview took at least 20 minutes and we interviewed 18 people yesterday… needless to say it was a long and draining day, but it was so interesting! We had to find out all about these students because we accept them based on academic performance AND need… in fact, first priority is need. MIRACLE was opened with the mission of serving orphans and it's really interesting to interview people with that criteria in mind. Not only did I get a better understanding of the culture and what people experience here, I also built a pretty strong bond with Mrs. Longwe and Mwasikakata. At first, I felt pretty unsure of myself and didn't want to be voicing my opinion at all- I just felt like I didn't know enough. But by the afternoon, I actually completely stood up for myself and my ideas, which resulted in a really interesting discussion. Madame Principal and I saw eye to eye on a lot of things and that makes me feel even more comfortable working here.

Village visits: Honestly, this probably deserves its own entry, butI'm finally getting around to updating so I feel like I should just make this one count by including it all. I've now gone on village visits three different times visiting up to seven villages in a day! The meetings are mostly conducted in Chitumbuka or Nkhonde because that's what the people in the village are more comfortable with (and most of them don't know English), so I pay a lot of attention to body language and have tried to fully take in my surroundings. Each time we visit a village head (aka Bwaka which means boss, or in this case chief), we're invited behind the house to sit under the tree in the shade. I love this tradition of people using the shade under their tree as the meeting place. Chairs or benches are always brought out for us (the social office staff and the Bwana) and often a mat or two is brought out for women or any village elders that are present to sit on. The visits so far have been a chance to introduce me and the Bwana, invite the Bwanas to our first village head meeting which will take place next week and in some cases to inform the Bwana of what MIRACLE is because we have some new villages involved. I think we work with some 28 villages and I'm really excited to get to know the system a bit better and find ways to improve the frequency of visits to the villages. I'll try to write an update after the next village visit and then I'll be able to share some experiences from the visit to give you all a better understanding of what I'm doing over here.

Faith: I've been struggling a little bit with my faith here-especially before this last week. As a community, faith has not been something talked about very much. We do have spiritual night every Thursday, but beyond that assigned time, it is not really a discussed topic. Church is all in Chitumbuka, except a little bit of the homily, but that hasn't really been a source of spiritual food for me at all. I was finding small ways to connect with God, but overall was mostly lacking.

I mentioned that this last week has been different and it really has. I went to Mass three times with the Marianist brothers (who liveright next door) in the morning before work and it was a GREAT way to start off the day. I hope to continue that this week but last night I was up too late hanging out with Ryan to be able to get up this morning in time for 5:45 Mass. I am not a morning person (which many of you know), but I found Mass to be a great way to wake up and it helped me be more awake when I started work at 7:30. It also just gave me some great things to reflect on throughout the day and try to implement in my life.

Ok, this is now quite long and I'm sorry for that. I really prefer to share stories rather than just writing little updates on each part of my life like I did this time, but I want you all to have a picture in your mind of what it's like here. If you want more story-type information, please feel free to email me! I'm not the best at sending emails back, but I'm working on it and I will get back to you if you email me.


At 5:36 AM, September 11, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Molly - So glad you were finally able to post. I know the limited internet access has been a problem. Great to hear you're getting more practice with your Chitembuka. I know they need the water there, but please don't melt! Love you lots, Mum

At 10:33 PM, September 12, 2008, Blogger Marybeth said...

So glad to hear from you. I have several blogs (including Scott's and David Gayes') that I visit daily, so it was nice to have an update from you after a dry spell. You are wrestling with questions BIG and small (and is MIRACLE an acronym for something?), and it's nice to share some of that struggle with you. We are all holding you in our thoughts and prayers--even at 5:45 am.
Love, Marybeth

At 8:16 AM, September 18, 2008, Blogger Katie said...

Yeah Molly! Oh man I feel so lame not having adventures! It sounds like you are in a place you really really belong and Im so happy to hear things are going well. Right now, Im sitting in a cubicle in Chicago, the seasons are changing. We are at that time when you dont know if you should wear a coat so you do but you really should have. Oh weather. Keep writing lots like this, Im obsessed with hearing all of your stories! Miss you. -Katie "Spit Up" PS- do they have Bob Evans in Africa?

At 3:55 AM, October 03, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey molly! how crazy is it that we are both in africa right now? i love reading about your adventures! we leave for the eastern excursion to mbale next week and practicum is coming up fast! i'm enjoying it and love the group of students i'm with and my host fam is great! i'm praying for you! adrienne

At 12:26 PM, October 10, 2008, Blogger Greg Calhoun said...

Many blessings on your continued journey in Malawi!


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