The beginning of Holiday season is marked in America with Thanksgiving. Here in Malawi there is no such holiday that really exist. There are many festivities that take place around the end of the dry season. In Malawi there are 2 main seasons; the rainy season and the dry season. Because we are on the other side of the equator they are the opposite of my homeland. April-May is the harvest season with the rains ending. At that time people have more food and money then most of the year. They have been able to sell their harvest if they have cash crop or extra harvest or if they want to make a little bit of money. The weather becomes cooler by June-August, which is also very windy. This is called the "cold season". When people complain about the cold I just laugh and tell them they would die if they stepped foot on Michigan Avenue in December when the wind comes blasting around the tall buildings and cuts through your body ( this is of course difficult to explain in Chichewa ). This is also wedding season. Because it is cooler, not raining and people have money I presume. This is also time for more traditional dances of the Gule Wamkulu. This is a traditional dance that originated from the Chewa tribe which is very prominent in the central region where I am located. From what I have been told is made of men who have been initiated to do these dances during adolescents. There are different levels and no one knows who you actually are because you are dressed in disguise. They were used for many different reasons, but mostly each mask was associated with a special dance that taught a lesson. Now they are used for different ceremonies and celebrations. The Chewa believe that living things were created by God — Chiuta — on the mountain of Kapirintiwa, which borders present day Malawi and Mozambique. Ancestors and spirits of other living creatures play an important part in present day society by being in constant contact with the living world, predominately through dance of those initiated to "Nyau", or secret societies."Gule Wamkulu", literally meaning "big dance", have become a sort of title for secret societies of traditional Chewa religious practices. The Gule Wamkulu ceremonies consist of formally organized dances to admire the remarkable physical abilities of these individuals — considered to be adept at their dance as a result of their spiritual state. Informally, Gule Wamkulu, or "Gule" is a term associated with anyone who participates in the rituals of these secret societies. The peak season for Gule occurs in July, with young men dressed as ancestral animals, trees, or in masks of ancestral spirits. The Gule themselves are initiated through formal ceremony into this society. Gule are considered to be in 'animal state' when they are dressed in such attire, and are not to be approached. If one has the misfortune of passing a Gule on the road, traditional behavior consists of dropping a few coins for the Gule — never handing them the money directly for fear they will grab you and take you to the cemetery for ritual purposes. Generally, it is best to avoid Gule in informal situations. In their animal or ancestral state, they are unpredictable.
Within the village, Gule may appear in small groups of 4 or 5 and villagers do their best to avoid any encounters. Gule are common in the afternoons, a strong incentive for tending to all business outside the home in the early hours. These secret societies have allowed for a close knit kinship between members of the Chewa — and equally divided them from neighbor groups.
As they weather becomes hotter in the months of September-December just before the rains come. It is amazing to see the landscape change in this amount of time from a dusty landscape to a beautifully green landscape. It is very easy to forget that it is Christmas time. As of now it is hot and humid as we wait for the rains to come. Luckily enough I have the opportunity of being in a community of a parish. Where Christmas is greatly celebrated and there are feast to commemorate different catholic holidays. Though it isn't the same as being with my family, luckily enough it nice to have a family and community wherever you go.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Many times I like to write funny stories to make light of the tough situations that we are faced with everyday. But regardless of what I write I must face the fact that I am living in a developing country where the life expectancy is 57 years which has grown dramatically (almost a by a decade) when it was less than 45 years, and the average person lives off of less than $1.25 a day. When I was home I never had too many people that were close to me pass away so often, here it seems more common. I know I've talked about how the funerals are the most beautiful part of the culture here but it is also the saddest. Because death is so common, you mourn as much as you can that day, then you recover quickly. Here in the past month I have lost 2 people in my life who were so supportive of me in my first year in Malawi. First a priest who died too young and next my Abambo ( father like figure) of my village. Both them were so supportive to me when I was building my clinics. The priest came all the way out to my village 15k away to support me and see the opening ceremony. We he died I never had real closure. Then today my abambo died suddenly. I used to visit him during my first few months in the village. He would give me whatever he had in harvest and always told me he loved me and was so proud of me. When I got to busy to come and visit him at first he was sad. But when I opened my clinics he also came riding his bike 20k. He said to me "now my daughter I see why you were so busy". Now this is sad. But people do die. So all we can do especially here is just know that your time with each person is precious. That no matter how busy you are you should always take your time to greet everyone. I used to get annoyed at having to great every person throughout the day. But now I get it. You must acknowledge them, let them know you appreciate their presence and give respect as though each time you see them, you may not know if you were see them again. In America we move to fast never really looking in a persons eye to actually greet them and send them love. Look into someones eyes today and just thank them for their presence.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
I have been on yet another journey in the past few weeks since I have written last. In the past month I made my journey to my “home village” as they would call it in Malawi to ….America! As the anticipation began I kept telling myself to stay calm and not get overwhelmed. When I told people here that I was going home to visit they seem upset. Though this is somewhat flattering yet upsetting because they thought if I went back home I would see “glorious America” and never come back to Malawi. I tried to assure them that it was just to see my family, loved ones and friends but they were not convinced. Other volunteers warned me of the ‘hangover’ after coming back to America. So all of this at the same time as my grant arrived J was a bit overwhelming. The saying when it rains it pours is so true. I remember during the rainy season while I was still in the transition of moving to my house and waiting for the end of the rains to start my projects almost questioning my purpose here. But alas, when the rains finished and I moved into my house things were moving at light speed. There are two things I learned about this rainy season. It’s amazing to see a landscaped totally transformed by water! Everything was so beautiful and colorful. There was an abundance of veggies and fruit. Also this was the first time I really had time to reflect upon my first year in Malawi. Now I have been told that this was this season was not a good season as the rains started too late while finishing too quickly. There are some with nothing to harvest and others having crops that just stopped in the middle of their prime growing. What to do? As in Malawi, you just go on in life and have faith that all will be well.
They last few days before I went home many people visited me and gave me some small remembrances. I ate as much Nsima as I could and ate at many people’s houses J Then when I was in Lilongwe the capital, I received carvings from friends as remembrance (as they were still under the impression that they needed to convince me to come back to Malawi) that I was able to give as gifts. Coming home was wonderful. I was met with a great welcome of my husband and our family dog. For the past 5 years I have been with a dog that is like my child, who I left to go to Malawi. I was slightly worried that she wouldn’t remember me. At first she sniffed at my feet and when she realized who I was she went crazy (one of my best moments home). Then America! I was slightly overwhelmed by the wealth and choices when I came home. But then I found my happy place, the local co-op where I felt at home again. I must say I felt out of place. For the past 14 months America kept on going on as to no surprise, while I kept growing in Malawi. It was awesome to see my friends and family, but at the same time I kept feeling that feeling of my heart was in Malawi. We have so much, which is a blessing yet I still feel the guilt. After a week things seemed so familiar and I felt at ease. Saying good-bye was tough but I felt so much love in those 2 weeks I was so grateful.
Coming back I felt a slight hangover from America and coming back to the village as well. But by the 2nd and 3rd day all was well. I guess I’ve been too busy to even think about it. Also I’ve had great things happen when I arrived. I must give you background. I used to worry that one day when I leave nothing will be sustained and that the work I asked to be done wouldn’t be done. Yet in most cases things worked themselves out naturally. And things that didn’t need to work out or shouldn’t (as my boss says) it died a natural death J so progress so far this year. We have completed home based care training for community volunteers, started working hard in the communities to find those that are chronically ill to receive help and resources available to them. The beginning stages of youth friendly services from the hospital. Started some pad projects in the community. This is for young girls who are unable to go to school during their menstruation because of a lack of sanitary pads. So I and my counterpart have begun teaching women and girls to make their own with cloth. Next I will be doing natural medicine training for the support groups to help them start their own gardens in their communities to use for immune systems and nutrition. Along with many other things I think I will have a lot in my next year. But in general I must say I’m just feeling so grateful that I have the opportunity to do these projects. I once was telling someone. The projects themselves don’t need a lot of help from me, unless I write a grant. Most of it is me being there to encourage the people. The sense of community has always been here they just need a reminder at times. My friend says the biggest steps we take are the ones we can’t see ahead of us. But I feel like most of the developing is happening in me. I’m learning to be patient, actively listen and be easy. There are times when we want to just get to the point or correct, but I’m learning to sit back and wait. Either things that are supposed to happen will happen or ‘it will die a natural death’. I’ve learned to listen to nature as she is always there to teach us a lesson. Example:
Aisha: I’m feeling so overwhelmed
Mother Nature: You need to rest.
Aisha: but I only have so much time
Mother Nature: Time is relative
Aisha: so what to do?
Mother Nature: You’ve planted your seeds so see after the rainy season which ones will sprout
Aisha: OOOOhhhh I see, but as a human being I have a short memory so I will need reminders.
Mother Nature: I’ll be here just look around and listen
So you may think after this I have gone crazy….but it’s just a metaphor of course. I only talk to the trees on really bad days…. (Sarcasm).
So I must give a shot out to all the wonderful people who helped me have a wonderful time while I was home and your continued love and d support. I will try my best!
Funny story time:
So when I first moved into my house I had a really bad time with termites. I have a great house that I love and appreciate, yet it was not maintained to the best of its ability. So when I moved in I used a mixture of many different chemicals to keep my ‘security guard’ as my friend says. Yet they always come back! My first night consisted of them welcoming me by crawling in my bed and me not sleeping. After many attempts to rid myself I asked my friend Emily what to do. “It’s just the season” she says. So I guess I have to let it go. What would a Buddhist do? “Find ways to not invite your security guards in”. I guess it will just have to die a natural death J
It seems only fitting that after more than a year in Malawi I make a visit home. There have been times when I missed my family tremendously but now I feel I am at a good point to go home and not feel hesitant to go back to Malawi. We recently had our Mid-service training for Peace Corps. This is a time when all of the people from the health sector that I trained with more than a year ago come together to discuss our experiences from this past year at our respective sites and our future. We all looked at a photo taken just days before we swore in and moved to our sites. We made comments like “I looked so clean” or “I looked so innocent” or “I had no idea what I was getting myself into”. But in general this was the best training we had yet. It seemed with were all in a similar place of contentment for the journey we are experiencing. I say that we were not sure of what we were getting ourselves into not in a negative way, but how can you be able to predict the experience of living in a village for 2 years. I remember that feeling of anticipation and hesitation when we were leaving for site more than a year ago. At first we had the awkwardness of training with 38 other individuals who I knew nothing about and living in a village with a host family for 4 weeks. But by the end of the 2 month training, I had a new family. Not only just the peace corps family, but my home stays family as well. When we returned after being at site for 3 months which is called ‘Introduction Service Training’ because our first 3 months at site we are suppose to find out the needs of our community and not start projects. At this training we all seemed still a little uneasy not because it was so hard to live in these conditions (even though it’s not easy) but because we still facing the unknown. At that point we had survived in the village setting while accomplishing the following: finding a way to feed ourselves without modern conveniences, keep ourselves relatively healthy and figured out how to travel semi-successfully around Malawi. It may not seem like a lot but it seems enough to be proud of at that point. Now our MST we seemed to have made at least some progress at our sites, some more than others. But the main contentment arose from the acceptance of things that may have succeeded while making some peace for the things that didn’t quite work out. The next step is to think of what is next after the Peace Corps. Where will we end up, what will be our next step? We have learned to survive in the Malawi, but will we be able to assimilate back into our society. There is a change I think that happens to all of us while here. As a volunteer you have the unique perspective of seeing what really happens on the ground on the ‘development’ side. We see real poverty, injustices and suffering. I realize that these things all exist in America, but the level of reality here is slightly higher, with less opportunities for change.
As I make this trip home and wonder how I will be comfortable with how comfortable my life is in America. I’m grateful to be an American, to be educated, to have been raised well, to always have food to eat and to never really experience injustice like I see in Malawi. But I can’t help but wonder, what would my life had been like if I were born in a developing country where the sad statistics I read every day were my reality. 51% of children in the central region of Malawi suffer but stunting due to a lack of nutritious food. The illiteracy rate is almost directly correlated with the pervious statistic.
But out of all this sadness I experience real emotions that make me be a stronger person I think. I am not the same person I was a year ago, but that doesn’t mean that I have become bitter or angry at the injustices I see every day (though someday It’s hard). I feel more motivated to work hard to make a small dent in the future of Malawi. I feel more confident, because I have stepped outside of myself to see myself in the good and ugly. I am grateful for the simple things in life while less distracted on thinking“If I had this” instead I try to think ‘I’m so grateful because here in Malawi I have…” Even though I have so little in Malawi vs. what I had in America. I still have more than my neighbors. I am grateful that I get to experience this simple life, where I waste little and try to leave more. As I make this journey home after 14 months of being in America I will try my best to see how lucky I am to have all that I have to spend time with loved ones and staying present in this moment right now. I know I can say after this year that I have changed, but I am still me at the core.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
In Malawi there are many instances that you must be culturally appropriate no matter how much of an “Azungu” (a foreigner) that you are…A Maluwa or funeral is one of these occasions. Maluwa is coincidentally the same word for flower. There are many interesting things at a Malawian funeral looking at it from cultural stand point. I will try my best to describe the events and cultural practices of the mourning process in Malawi. When someone dies there is a mourning ceremony at the house of the deceased with family. The women sit with the women in a room together while they cry or wail the whole day until midnight. The men sit separately while chatting and mourning. You walk into the room with your hands behind your back to show concern and respect. You greet the most senior woman that is mourning and send your condolences. You then sit and sing songs with them for at least for an hour to show respect. The next day is a daylong of mourning and ceremonies. You mourn at the hospital or wherever the body is by sitting as the women cry and even the men as well. People bring cloth for the woman to wear, but nothing is required for you to bring. Just your presence and concern is enough. There is a committee of women who come to support women in the event of a death. But the crying is not always followed by tears but with a loud distinguishable wailing. The sound of a mother crying for her child that has died of malaria is one that cuts through your soul. They then cook Nsmia in huge Mpikas (large clay pots) and sing even more beautiful hymns. Then they proceed with a church ceremony with more crying and wailing while the priest gives a sermon. But in between you see the woman laughing and making jokes. It is interesting to see how quickly the emotions can change. Finally you proceed to take the body to the grave yard. The interesting thing about grave yards is that you always no one once you can distinguish one. In a country with a big problem of deforestation it is the only place where there are a lot of trees. It is bad and forbidden to take trees from the graveyard. The body is laid to rest and family members place flowers hence the coincidence of flowers and funeral as the same word. Then you go home and move on. It seems that in America we don’t really mourn like they do in Malawi. In this ceremony processes you grieve get it all out and then you move on. It’s not held inside and reserved it’s all there for you too seen and feels. Who and I to say which one is the best.
Living the green life
In America we are obsessed with living green as much as possible now. But here I do so because it’s the path of least resistance. Every drop of water I use I have to carry so you can imagine how that makes you really appreciate water. They say here “Madzi ndi Moyo” which means water is life. IT truly is. If there isn’t enough water your crops fail, your harvest fails and you may not be able to feed your family for the year. If you don’t have enough water you are forced to take water from unsafe places which can put you life in danger. I find myself collecting rain water that I can use to wash my dishes to then use for my garden. My water that I bathe with is also used for my garden. If I make a charcoal fire I use every bit of the charcoal to heat something that I may need at the moment or for tomorrow. I use a solar charger and keep it charged along with all my electronics in the event (which usually happens every day for at least 3 hours) that there is a blackout. My remains that are appropriate are used for my compost which in turn I use for my garden which in turn provides me with nutrition. I find myself only using and taking exactly what I need and not more. This is not done because I struggle as much as the average Malawian does but because I have a better respect for resources that I use now. Have you ever tasted fresh beans taken from the pods? Village rice is the best. But it only the best if you have to pick out the rocks! Walking outside my house to find vegetables that just grow everywhere during the rainy season. It’s nice finding food right outside your porch. Life is good during the rainy season! Oh and it just finished raining and we saw the most beautiful double rainbow. Whenever I worry or get sad I just look outside and God always says in his own way that….everything is going to be alright. Or as a peace corps volunteer once said I just outside and let Africa find me.
Sunday, March 3, 2013
Today is my birthday. Which among all things is a day to celebrate. It means at the end of the day I have been lucky enough to be on this earth for another year. This last year has been one full of tremendous challenges, life changing moments and incredible growth. Last year at this time I was having a surprise party before I left for Malawi. All my family, friends and loved ones gathered to wish me well on my journey. At that moment I had no idea what was in store for me. I say if you really want to get to know yourself, go half way around the world were you don't know anyone. live with a family where you barely know the language. Learn a culture and history that is not your own but really is your own because it's he cradle of human beings. All of this and more will make you feel more alive than you have ever felt before. But I must warn you. When you do so it will come with the most realist emotions you have ever felt. If you are not careful you could be overwhelmed. But if you look at the situation just right, you will find the gal for growth. You will the opportunity to do the right thing. You will find the opportunity to step outside yourself and really decide who you are. Most importantly, in all the chaos you will find beauty. Like when you hear a jazz song that seems chaotic, yet suddenly you hear the harmony and don't realize how you miss it his whole time. For those moments I am grateful. I'm grateful for the peace that it brings me. I'm grateful for the good people in my life who support me from thousands of miles away. I'm grateful for the good moments that I enjoy because I have waited for them. I'm grateful that even though I may not be in a place of abundance, some how I always have what I need. Finally I am grateful for my health that has allowed me to make this journey while still maintaining my stride. So yes this is a lot. But it is my life in a nutshell. Most importantly I grateful for you the reader who cares enough about me to read my story. So thanks!
Monday, February 11, 2013
Tis the season
This is the season for many things in Malawi. Everything stands still as the rainy season brings life to the dusty Malawi scenery. What was once brown is now green. Where there was nothing in the garden. If untamed in weeks you have a jungle. I had neglected my beloved garden while I was away on holiday and traveling a lot in the past couple months. I was surprised to see my garden full of things that I don’t remember planting or even plants that I didn't sow seeds. But it is a beautiful time of year when people are busy in their gardens and farms to hopefully have a good harvest. If you don’t plant, don’t have a good harvest you and your family may go hungry. It is latterly life or death. People are busy with little food to eat. What do you say to a person who is your friend who says, “l haven’t eaten in three days”. Not to be dramatic but it is just life here this time of year. You see the babies getting weighed this time of year and see their weights decreasing. What do you say? To Malawians they just say “Tis the season”. So much abundance during this time but the biggest staple crop, maize is yet to be harvested. If people don’t eat Nsima made from Maize, they go hungry. So as I may complain on trivial things of not having enough money sometimes or projects taking a long time to get started; the real issue remains, did I eat? Most days yes! Even with hunger comes generosity. Yes they may not have food, but they will always invite you to the little you have. Things are interesting this time a year. As this whole country is based economically still on agriculture, everything slows down as we wait for the harvest. Will the rains bring enough water to make a good harvest? Let’s only pray.