Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sticken Around!

I think you all know by now by now that I am extending my contract in Mwazisi. I recently submitted my application and one of the sections asked me to explain my reasons for wanting to extend, so I thought I would post my answer to fill everybody in as to why I want to spend another year of my life in Mwazisi.

These past two years have been a whirlwind, and if I left Mwazisi right now I would consider my Peace Corps service to be a successful one. However I also feel that if I left right now and wasn't replaced then many of the projects I started with community members would most likely begin to putter out, and eventually be forgotten. This is just the nature of most community/group projects here in Malawi. Community projects designed to generate income generally need to be pushed through the first few business cycles in order to work out the kinks of working in a group, and give the parties involved enough of a taste of success to encourage them to continue the project. Peace Corps volunteers are in a unique position of being a part of the community, but also still enough of an outsider to provide a more objective perspective. We are also in a good position to take risks without getting burned both financially and socially if things don't work out.

For me two such projects are the continuation of the Mwazisi Beekeeper's association that I helped start, as well as several tree nurseries from Chitanga to Kwaswamesenga. Both of these projects have seen some success and are building momentum, but I fear that if I leave now these projects will stop functioning. I'm sure that a replacement would keep everything afloat, but I don't want to rely on somebody else to finish off my projects. Additionally a replacement would have the period of adjustment, learning, and finding there place in the community to go through. I will be able to just carry on with what I've been doing so far in my service and have the experience of the last two years of working in Mwazisi as a valuable tool. This experience and understanding of the community dynamics will help me to be an even more effective volunteer in my third year.

Another professional reason for me to extend in Mwazisi is the encouraging development of the Mwazisi Agriculture EPA project. I have been very happy to see how the community has come together to make our project goals a reality. I am especially impresed by the dedication of individuals who have been coming to work on the project day in and day out. For example Matthews Kavisepo Gondwe, a leader in the community came almost every single day for about three months to mold bricks, and continues to help with the construction as a builders assistant, and with digging the fish ponds. The little compensation he has received certainly is not equivalent to the time and effort he has put into the project, yet he still comes each and every day because he wants to have an agriculture office with a competent staff of extension workers in Mwazisi, so that he and his children can benefit from seeing and learning new things. I owe it to people like Kavisepo to stay in Mwazisi and see that the project is finished completely and the EPA gets off on the right foot.

In addition to seeing through our original project goals, in my third year I will also have an opportunity to build on what we have started. For example, if this year’s fish ponds turn out to be very profitable, then we will already have the know how to expand and dig more ponds next year, and we could stock them with the fingerlings from our first pond. Another example would be if the universal groundnut sheller generates a lot of income this year than we can reinvest the profits to buy an oil press to make an even greater profit from the groundnuts we buy off of the farmers. Having a designated agriculture extension area will give us a good base to start new projects like the rearing of dairy goats for a heifer project to distribute goats to responsible interested individuals. There are so many different things I would like to do with the positive social deviants I have identified in Mwazisi. Our previous experience working together will make starting new projects together much easier.

Proud to be a Peace Corps Volunteer Under President Barack Obama

"To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your
farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed
hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative
we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside
borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to
effect. For the world has changed and we must change with it."

Barack Obama

January 20, 2009

I was in Lilongwe for my group's close of service conference last week and stuck around to watch President Obama's inauguration. I watched it live at the home of the program director of USAID who is a former Peace Corps volunteer and loves watching out for poor volunteers. It was a nice quiet setting to enjoy watching such a historic event.

I'm sure you all saw it so there's no reason for me to recap what he said, but I thought he did an amazing job of capturing the ideals and history that make America such a great country. He also pointed out how we have let those ideals get away from us in the last few years, putting us into all of the problems we face now.

His speech was a call to action for us all as he declared:

"The time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to
reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry
forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to
generation; the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all
deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness."

His words are rousing but they mean nothing unless we collectively decide as a country to live up to them. We all need to be prepared to start living like a country at war and in economic crisis. Gone are the days of Bush where the President deals with national crisis by telling us to go out and buy stuff: we have to learn to start sacrificing the lavish lifestyles we have become so accustomed to.

I thought his speech was also a call to service recalling to memory JFK's immortal inaugural words "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." I think now more than ever we need to look at our own lives and see what we can do to help put our country back on the right track again. No matter how big or small we should all find ways to pitch in, whether that means volunteering at the local food bank, or offering our services to teach for America. Equally important the role of child rearing; we must is to devote our time to raising our children to ensure the next generation will value the ideals that President Obama said our countries success depends on: honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism. We all have a role to play and the time to start is now, as Obama said, "Starting today, we must pick our selves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America."

As I listened, I thought a lot about the people in my own life who I think live up to Obama's call. I thought about my parents who are going through hard times as my Dad was laid off last year. He has since been hanging on to contract jobs. He remains positive and tells me every time we talk how grateful he is every day that he is able to go to work. My Mom still spends every free hour she has from her job as a cook at the local golf course volunteering with the many charities she's a part of, or supporting my Aunt Kathy who suffers from MS. I also thought of my brother and his wife Meta. Mike is literally working on changing the world as a staffer for the Senate Energy Committee. He is fighting for great ideas to build a sustainable energy system that can support our need for reliable energy without destroying our environment. Meta has devoted herself to raising their two sons, is the President of Logan's Parent Teachers Association, and an all around supermom. Finally as President Obama payed homage to our soldiers saying "they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves" I thought of one of my best friends from home Bobby, who has already served in Iraq, and is now in Army Ranger training.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Sweet Pandemonium of The Rainy Season

I love the madness of the rainy season, everyday is chaos and catastrophe. This is the one time of the year when everybody seems to be just as busy as I am. You don't see nearly as many people strolling back and forth on the road in the trading center, or the boys sitting in front of every shop either playing checkers or watching the grass grow. Now is the time when folks are busy in their fields, transplanting their tobacco nurseries, or applying fertilizer to their maize.

I've been extra busy this rainy season with the construtction of the EPA dominating the last several months, I spend each morning at the construction site mixing cement and carrying bricks for the builders. To keep up with the rainy season my afternoons are filled with a whole bunch of new seasonal projects like out planting the trees from the tree nurseries or digging our fish ponds. This also happens to be the peak honey season, so I have been helping lots of different people harvest their hives and get their honey to market.When I'm not doing these things with the community, I can generally be found hoeing in my field where I'm mostly growing rizobium inoculated soy beans and some maize along with Tephrosia Vogelli a nitrogen fixing tree to show some different ways people can regenerate soil fertility and start saving money on inputs.

Aside from busyness, the other trademarks of the rains are more mangoes than you could ever want to eat, and snakes appearing in strange places now. Every Mango tree has a growing pile of rotting fruit under it, as the kids can't eat them fast enough. And my neighbor killed a five and a half foot long cobra in his chimbuzi (pit latrine). I skinned it and stretched it out to dry in the sun, now I think everybody thinks I'm practicing witchcraft!

A Village Christmas

It never ceases to amaze me the generosity of poor people. Famalies who have almost nothing to give are ussually the most eager to share what they do have. My Christmas in Mwazisi is proof of that. For Christmas I was given a massive bag of Mangoes, a bundle of bananas, copious amounts of honey from two different beekeepers, a Guinea Fowl, and enough rich food and meat to put my stomach in a rough state on through New Years.

Sharing food is a very important part of Malawian culture, so all of the people who had me over to eat and chat on Christmas really made my holiday. These last few months I have felt like I've been running around like a mad man trying to keep the EPA project on track while always dealing with the chaos of keeping up with farming in the rains. So it was nice just relaxing and hanging out with friends for a few days.
I went to Davey Nysulu's place in the afternoon on Christmas Eve to see his daughter who I named this time last year Patti Mtende Nysulu. They insisted on giving her an American name so I named her after my Mom and gave her a Timbuka middle name which means Peace. I brought over a bag of porridge flour for Patti and a couple children's books sent by my aunt Kathy for the rest of the children. Davey played some Christmas music for me while his wife served me tea, and rice with honey on it, along with chidongwa, a locally made sweet beer made from millet and maize flour.
That night I had dinner with Nya Nfuni and her son Kazito. Nya Nfuni is my neighbor who cooks for me. Usually I buy her food and she just cooks extra of whatever she makes for her family, she brings my food over to my house because she's married and it's not really proper for me to eat over there all the time. Nya Nfuni is by far one of the people I love most in Mwazisi, so I was really happy to spend christmas eve with her and Kazito. We had a good meal of Nsima with eggs cooked in tomatoes and onions as well as my favorite village green, pumpkin leaves cooked in peanut flour. After dinner i pulled kazito on my knee and read t'was the night before Christmas. He enjoyed the pictures but asI tried to translate, i also had to explain why it wasn't scary that this strange man would sneak into your house while you were sleeping. Then i played some Colorado Christmas music my Mom sent from KBCO while we made a stocking for Kazito with a blue sock and decorations and glue that Corie sent to make Christmas crafts. To comfort Kazito I hung the stocking in the kitchen outside so Santa didn't have to come into the house. The next morning Kazito came screeching over, "Santa apokala chawananga!" Santa filled his sock with sweets, biscuits, bananas, and Colorado playing cards...Fancy that!

I went over to Benidicto Gondwe's house for Christmas morning breakfast with his present on my head, a top bar bee hive I made for him. After having tea with his wife's prize Chigondamoyo (a sweet corn bread with sunflower seeds and honey mixed in.... so damn good!) Benidicto gave me a Christmas box with a jar of honey and about 2 KGs of goats meat.

I went for church services at the Catholic Church where Devin a volunteer in Kapenda (within biking distance) found me. I invited him to come down and watch the big football tournament called the Christmas Bonanza. But most of the teams hadn't come yet so they didn't start until the day after Christmas. It was a fun three day tournament that people came from all around to watch. The pitch was packed with folks who carried their lunches and hung out all day watching 6 games a day. Mwazisi's Gam United made it all the way to finals and lost to the town stars in rainy muddy mess that ended in penalty kicks.

Devin and I had our Christmas dinner with the EPA project's chairman Cuthbert Kachali and which turned out to be another stuffing meal. Cuthbert slaughtered a sheep, and his wife Queen must have spent the whole morning cooking, because there was about 6 different pastries and African cakes she baked dutch oven style. After the first few courses I was uncomfortably full, but Queen force fed me untill I think she must have gotten full from watching me eat. The Kachalis live a bit far from me so I stayed the night there after also making stockings with his kids. This time Santa brought balloons, more sweets and Colorado Key chains...Whoda thunk it!

The next morning Cuthbert's son Geoffory, Devin, Cuthbert and I took a hike to check some of his hives. The mountains behind his home were beautiful, and the forest's back there still look pretty virgin, it was a great way to hike off some of the overeating of the past few days. Cuthbert sent me back with an entire sheep's leg which Devin and I butchered and smoked over a fire while we gazed up at one of the best starry night skies I have seen in several months. I couldn't help thinking of how lucky I am to be here.