The greatest gift of all

Today, my last day in Mzuzu, I spent at St. Marks’ Orphanage again, spending time with the children and participating in the ceremonial gifting of the latrines that were built for the grandmothers taking care of the orphans. This was a really great program, because even though the latrines were donated by an NGO, the work was done by local masons and older orphans were trained in the process, giving them much needed job skills and increasing the supply of workers in the market.

These two little girls were super cute and they thought  my Chitumbuka wasn't half bad!

These two little girls were super cute and they thought my Chitumbuka wasn’t half bad!

Once everyone arrived and got organized, we drove to go inspect a few of the latrines that had been installed. As mentioned before, local labor was used, but as well the women were able to choose which latrine design they wanted and best suited their needs. NGO work where from start to finish the project is controlled by those receiving the aid and the community are the ones that are the most beneficial.

Satisfied customer

Rochelle with some satisfied customers

I was also able to get some pretty great views of Mzuzu City and hike around in the villages one more time. Tomorrow morning, I take a bus to Lilongwe, the capital, where I will be spending my last night in Malawi so I can make my flight. With transportation never working out in this country, it is important to give yourself plenty of buffer.

One of the villages built into the hillside

One of the villages built into the hillside

Distance shot

Distance shot

After touring around, we made our way back to the orphanage where there was a little ceremony. The pastor, one of the grandmothers and Rochelle said a few words thanking everyone and the importance of good programs like this. They then handed over the keys to each of the grandmothers. I was told that custom in Malawi dictated that the households could not use their new toilets until this ceremony occurred, so this was an important event for the program.

She was very excited about her new latrine

She was very excited about her new latrine

All in all it was a lovely morning and I could not have asked for a better way to end my time in Mzuzu. Now it is on to packing, a few more goodbyes, bathing, a final review of my data and getting an early night’s sleep to catch my 7 am bus.

Saying goodbye to Chrissy- I'll miss you!

Saying goodbye to Chrissy- I’ll miss you!

48 hours left Malawi!

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To market, to market

Yesterday (Tuesday), I spent a lovely morning in town with Cat running errands and getting my visa renewed. ‘But Paula, you are leaving Monday!’ you might exclaim, and you would be correct. I had initially gotten a 60 day renewal back in June, which covered me for the rest of my time here; however, by heading on my excursion to Zambia and Botswana (aka leaving the country) I invalidated it. Coming back in, I noticed that I had 34 days until my departure, but was unable to convince (monetarily or with my words) the immigration office at the border to give me those extra 4 days on top of the standard 30-day tourist visa.

The visa renewal took far less time than I expected, so I met Cat in the fabric market and we walked around chatting with the women who ran the stalls. We then went to the chapati place in the food market for lunch. It’s nothing more than a small open stall with a roof, but the food is fantastic. We scarfed down two chapatis with beans and salad apiece, while chatting with the other patrons.

Chapati Chapati!

Chapati Chapati!!

One of the more notable conversations that were had while here was when we first walked in. A man complimented Cat on her traditional Malawian wear (she was wearing a Malawian dress) and then asked her “How much for your friend?” After a pause, we realized he was asking if he could buy me from her. I’m not sure how serious he was being, but Cat was nice enough to tell him that I was not hers to sell. After a quick glance towards me, I definitively, but politely, said “No”.

Next stop was to the food market, so I could pick-up a few things to restock my kitchen. Again we chatted with the vendors and I snapped a few photos. Here is where you can find tables full of vegetables, fruits, beans, meats and fish. Basically, almost everything.

For those few things you can’t get at market (peanut butter, tea, cleaning supplies), you go to the nearby Chipiku or Peoples (Malawi versions of grocery stores). Since the roads are so terrible, it is sometimes a crap shoot whether or not what you are looking for will be in stock. I spent 3 weeks waiting for oats to make their way to the shelves and there has been a tragic shortage of  Garlic Nali (hot sauce) since I arrived.

An alley in the food market

An alley in the food market

While at first it was completely overwhelming, weaving through the tight aisles and maneuvering around stands and food is quite enjoyable. The photo above does not accurate in how crowded the market usually is, and the spaces between tables can maybe fit two people side-by-side. As well, after a few visits you learn that there are different areas within the market- fruit (or I as I call it the banana stands), vegetables, rice, meat, etc. are all situated near each other with little exception. The vendors also setup in the same place each day.

Beans and popcorn

Beans and popcorn

Everything is out in the open, so I always soak the fruit and vegetables I may eat raw (peppers, tomatoes, etc.) in a bleach solution before placing in the fridge. While I have tried to be super careful about food, considering the field and research I am in, I also do things like eat at the chapati place and get samosas from the guys in the street who wander around with buckets of fried food and small pieces of plastic. The food is just too tasty to worry about getting sick sometimes.

All beans and rice are sold by the 'serving container' which can vary from vendor to vendor

All beans and rice are sold by the ‘serving container’ which can vary from vendor to vendor

I have vendors I go back to again and again because of the quality of their food, their fair prices and quantity of ‘prize’ (prize is the extra tomato or scoop of beans they throw in beyond what you pay for), and the ease of which it is to get to their stall. I am a huge fan of when they look at me, smile and say “PRIZE” before placing whatever extra into my bag.

My tomato, garlic and onion lady

My tomato, garlic and onion lady. After I took this photo she told me that she was like my mother and I was her daughter, so I couldn’t forget her when I went home

There is an unwritten way the vendors display their food. Tomatoes are always stacked with three on the bottom and 2 additional tomatoes stacked on top (see picture above).

My green beans and peas man

My green beans and peas man

Green beans are displayed in small piles, and peppers are in small stacks of 3 or 4 (but similar to the tomatoes). Onions are sold in bunches of 3, carrots in 4 or 5, depending on size.

Besides the normal items you expect to find here, there are always some surprises, like skewers of mice and unidentifiable fruit.

Cat and I couldn't figure out what the spiky fruit on the far left was

Cat and I couldn’t figure out what the spiky fruit on the far left was

The food is definitely fresher here than in the US, and I going grocery shopping is certainly more exciting than simply going to a Giant or Kroger. I definitely prefer the open markets (and prices) here in Malawi, and will miss it terribly when I leave.

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Bao at the beach and a cemetary

After a week of solid rain, when I was offered to join the research team from Virginia Tech on a day-trip to Nkhata Bay, I jumped at the offer. We left early on Sunday, leaving a dreary and cold Mzuzu behind us. It initially wasn’t much warmer at the lakeside, but as the day progressed and the sun came out it definitely got to better temperatures. It was nice to be outside after being stuck indoors all week.

Bao on the beach

Bao on the beach

The morning was spent on the beach, admiring the beautiful, yet cloudy, view and playing bao. Garret, one of the VT engineering students, didn’t know how to play so I took it upon myself to teach him while we were both critiqued by locals on our game play.

Artistic shot (courtesy of Ashley)

Artistic shot (courtesy of Ashley)

When Garret had had enough, I played with our driver who flattered me by telling me I was a real “Malawian player” and didn’t believe I had only learned a week ago. But to be fair, I did beat him in two moves in one of the games we played.

I'm a little in love with this game

I’m a little in love with this game

After spending the morning on the beach we drove down the coast to another lakeshore town, Chinthenche, for lunch. The sun came out and the beach was beautiful. I had another ‘really great’ cheeseburger.

Lookin' so casual at Chintheche

Lookin’ so casual at Chintheche

Our next stop was to go to the Old Bandwe Church which was alongside the lake. This was the site of a missionary, but because many of the missionaries died of malaria, it was moved north to a plateau away from the water. There is a grave for those who passed away and is a pretty cool historical tidbit of Malawi.

Old Bandwe Church

Old Bandwe Church

We got there before the sun went down, but due to mislabeled roads (I use this term very loosely), we ended up getting the car stuck in over a foot of sand. At first Garret, Ashley (the other engineering researcher) and myself got out of the car to try to push. When it clearly wasn’t budging we enlisted the help of a few locals who were walking by and the driver got out to help, leaving Penny (an MD and current MPH student) behind the wheel.

Since Penny can be a bit absent-minded, when we had gathered everyone and was ready to push the car, I repeatedly asked her if the car was in reverse. She assuredly told me it was (and she was correct) but even with all of us pushing the car wasn’t moving. It was looking bleak until the driver went to the car and noted that “the hand break was on.” Ladies and gentlemen, the importance of asking the right questions and being thorough.

If you look closely, you'll notice there's a woman with a baby on her back helping. Women here are badass

If you look closely, you’ll notice there’s a woman with a baby on her back helping. Women here are badass

Once that had been rectified, with our powers combined (…I am Captain Planet!)
we were able to back the car out of the sand and walked the rest of the way to the church.

The pastor was nice enough to let us in the church to see and walked us to the grave sites, even though it was dark out and well past the ‘people being out and about’ time.

There's a body in that dirt!

There’s a body in that dirt!

A hilariously mundane car ride ensued and I arrived back in Mzuzu after 8pm. I know, I’m such a night owl- what can I say.

All in all, it was another good day that left me with some interesting stories and great memories. I’ve also realized I generally have bad luck with cars here. One week left!

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Questions? Comments?

As my time quickly comes to a close on my summer trip to Malawi (10 days left), I wanted to give you, my faithful readers (Bueller… Bueller?), the chance to ask me any burning questions you may have about the past 2ish months.

Like we all learned in school, there are no dumb questions- so anything is fair game. Promise. You just have to ask by leaving a comment on this post.

The sun is also setting on my summer abroad (nice metaphor, right?)

The sun is also setting on my summer abroad (nice metaphor, right?)

Moreover, the more questions I receive the more blog posts you’ll have to read (I doubt my days pouring over data would be that interesting to you). So… Ready, Set, ASK!

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Rain, Rain Go Away

It has been raining, scratch that- POURING, since Monday. That’s 5 days of torrential downpours with limited breaks, cold weather and power outages. Oh, and wet puppies.

The road to my house, a muddy mess

The road to my house, a muddy mess, during one of the brief cessations of rain

Thankfully I have finished my field work and have now moved onto the thrilling portion called data analysis, literature reviews and final reports. I was planning on relaxing by the lake or at the very least sunbathing on my porch while I worked, but plans obviously had to be changed. So instead I’m stuck in my office and at home, listening to the deafening, nonstop beating of the rain on tin roofs.

The view from the office

The view from the office

Mzuzu has gone from a vibrant city with blue skies to a grey, dismal and muddy ghost town.  Most of the roads on town have been torn up by drivers trying to get through the mud and umbrellas and coats can only help so much.

I can only hope that this clears up soon and my last week in Malawi will be a warm, dry one.  Especially considering that this week marked the beginning of the dry season in Malawi… Mother Nature clearly missed the memo.

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I’m gonna pop some tags…

So, if you were paying attention I mentioned that there were three main markets in Mzuzu: lumber, food and fabric market. This post is about the latter of the three.

The fabric market is different in from the first two because it’s actually a closed market (as in, it has a ‘ceiling’). This gives the alley-ways a dark, but colorful appearance because the Malawian, Zambian and South African textiles sold here. Whether you want solid colored, floral pattern, pictures of her Excellency the President of Malawi or anything else you can think of on your fabric- this is is the place to go.

You know you're heading towards and exit when you go into the light

You know you’re heading towards and exit when you go into the light

While the food market is my favorite to walk around in, I have enjoyed myself looking at all the different fabrics and trying to pick out good ones to make clothing out of. The women are also super friendly and love to chat with me in Chitumbuka and teach me new words (and correct the ones I know). The only problem is I keep getting sold ‘4 meters’ of fabric when it is really 3 1/4 (chitenge length). I even have it measured before I pay- I’m not sure how they manage to fool me each time.

A booth in the market- the colors Duke, the colors!

A booth in the market- the colors Duke, the colors!

The tailor always laughs at me when I bring him ‘4 meters’ and it ends up not being quite so much. While its enough fabric to get what I want sewn (I’ve had a chitenge, dress, pair of pants and capris made), its still funny every time when he brings out his measuring tape and I wind up short.

Hemming my chitenge like a boss

Hemming my chitenge like a boss

Getting clothing made here is very cheap and you end up with one of a kind pieces. I am going to be lookin’ sharp when I arrive back in the states, to say the least. I get all sorts of compliments here when I wear traditional Malawian clothing, and apparently I’m beginning to catch the eye of a few Mzuzu natives according to Chrissy. But don’t worry mom, I won’t be coming home with an African husband this trip!

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Quote of the Day

“Africa continues to kick my a$$. I haven’t had a solid sh*# since 1992” -an expat after hearing about my research and its connections to diarrheal disease

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