Thursday, December 8, 2011

Eat your Heart out Anthropologie

As you approach the holidays, and question what to get yourself, or your loved ones, consider these gorgeous bags made by an amazing group of women right here in Malawi.

I have multiple bags; they hold up great and the patterns are always stunning!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bye Bye Milo

My sweet kitty, Milo, was put to sleep this morning. I'm so sad I wasn't there to say goodbye. Thank you to everyone who loved her, friends who played with her, and roommates, family, and friends that took care of her.
She was a wonderful cat.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This turkey did NOT come with a pop-up thermometer

Its never easy to describe how different life is over here to you guys. Other volunteers talk about becoming desensitized to the crazy stuff we go through daily. Its true, and it can be difficult to relate to the normalcy of life back home.
Luckily, those familiar things like holidays bring back all the hominess and traditions and snap this crazy world back into focus.

So, here is my first Thanksgiving in Africa Adventure...

First, there was no thought of turkey for dinner. They are large, muscely, expensive, and rare, so that was out. The solution: 4 large fish sold from a man's bike handlebars, one duck that a random villager appeared with, and one chicken.
The chicken was SMF and I's responsibility. So how do you get a Thanksgiving chicken in Africa?? Here's my step-by-step guide.

1. Pick a direction and start walking
2. Tell anyone you see you are looking for a chicken, in Chichewa, of course, which roughly translates to "Tikufuna nkhukhu. Mukuziwa ali kuti?"
3. Eventually villagers will start pouring out of their houses to follow and watch the action.
4. The man who earlier had a school of fish tied to his bike will approach, gesticulate wildly, and indicate that he has a chicken to sell for double the price you are willing to pay.
5. You follow him to his house a kilometer away.
6. He makes you take your shoes off, sit on his mat, meet his entire extended family.
7. He will bring you a bowl with no less than 12 mangoes to eat and knife that looks like a piece of shrapnel from WWII.
8. You will hack at the mango while you watch most of the extended family chase a chicken around and around the yard and into the house.
9. They will tie its legs and start waving it in your face.
10. You patiently explain that you want a "lady" not a "gentleman" chicken while pointing at your chest area to get the point across.
11. More chicken chasing and mango mutilation
12. Argue over price until finally pulling out all your money to prove that's all you have.
13. Walk away proudly with the chicken and 11 mangoes tucked underarm
14. Chop off chicken head (I had nothing to do with steps 14-19)
15. Throw in boiling water
16. Pluck
17. Disembowel
18. Season
19. Cook
20. Enjoy!!

Hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Here's to a lifetime of exciting memories and wonderful friends and family to share them with!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's all in the Game, Game Count that is

All semblance of a social life, real meals, productivity or hygiene activities have all come to a screeching halt. I always was a sucker for crime dramas, and, with the recent introduction of HBO's "The Wire," I've had to re-prioritize my life a little. Locking myself away to shamefully finish all five seasons as fast as possible has proven to be a little difficult in the absence of electricity, but, not to be deterred, I've figured out I can get in about three episodes a day if I haul my computer up to the hospital, make sure its fully charged before hauling it back home, and, if I bring lunch to work, I can furtively close my door at lunch time and get it one more episode.

I have a problem, but I'm going to blame it on my lack of westernized culture and my need to feel connected back home. West Baltimore is practically identical to Decatur, Georgia; right?

Thankfully, I was forced out of my reclusive/obsessive patterns to go to a Game Count. I thought it sounded like a great idea.... Go walking through a Game reserve,(think safari park) and assist the park by counting any animals you may see. This is how it was sold to me. Sounds nice right?
Further probing uncovered that Peace Corps volunteers are led by a lone gunmen/forest ranger as they bushwhack their way across double digit kilometer distances, to try to get really close to animals that are a lot bigger and more territorial than we are. In retrospect, I'm fairly certain we were being used as bait; who else besides Peace Corps volunteers are stupid enough to not only do this, but get put on a waiting list to do this. In fact, if you have more seniority you get to go and count/chase after the more dangerous animals.
So, possibly not such a great idea, but, since moving to Africa, my sense of adventure and need for adrenaline has spiked considerably.
In reality the Game Count was a lot of walking in high heat and humidity, occasionally a glimpse of an antelope-like thingy running away, and a giant splinter in my foot.
To liven up the atmosphere I asked to hold the clipboard; at least then I could pretend I was a lady scientist on a very important scientific exploration. When that fantasy staled, I went back to what I'm most fond of and became a renegade cop who has chasing drug dealers into the heart of the jungle.
It got even better when we happened on a group of "poachers," and surrounded them commando style crawling on the ground, ready to attack, until we realized it was just another group of Peace Corps & Gunman. Good thing I wasn't holding the gun; my crime drama training tells me to shoot first and ask questions later, but that would have been quite a lot of paperwork for poor Peace Corps.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A break from reality

Out of the village and into luxury for my birthday. Hot showers, food not over a campfire, wine, cool temperatures... it was perfection

Monkey on Dog!

The monkey has upgraded his ride

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More hot topics

Its so hot. How hot is it you ask? Its so hot that it makes me want to use very, very bad words to describe it but I can't because
A. I'm a United States Peace Corps Volunteer and I have a sterling reputation to uphold
B. My parents read this blog
C. I live with lots of Seventh Day Adventists, and for better or for worse they are rubbing off on me a little.
Suffice to say its hot, and this is coming from someone who spent 27 years in Atlanta, Georgia, the first decade without air conditioning, and much of the second decade too cheap to turn it on.
The hardest part is that there is no relief, nowhere to hide. There are no cars to get into and blast the AC, or work AC to mooch off. Its just oppressively hot ALL THE TIME.
Thankfully, I don't even live in the hottest part of the country, where many volunteers are stationed. From what I understand, they're all sitting under trees with squirt bottles and slowly sweating the summer away in misery and self pity.
I'm not quite that bad. I can actually function in the heat. Its just the nighttime that's hard. No electricity means no fans, which means NO air moving at all at night. My new tactic is a giant bucket of water and lots of towels. I can dunk the towels and then put them all over my sweltering body until they dry and then dunk them again. Its effective but it doesn't make for quality sleep.
One small benefit of the heat is that I'm up and moving much earlier these days, and I like to think I'm much more productive as a result. My normal wake-up time is around 4:45am. So by 7pm its lights out and time for sleep.

I hear the rains are coming soon. Thank goodness because I feel about as wilted as my poor garden looks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Caliente! Chaude! Kuthente! HOT! HOT! HOT!

Until it cools down this blog is dedicated to all things HOT!

Making a house a home

Here is a sampling of my new furniture. You'll probably have to zoom in a bit to see my ingenuity. The blue bucket on the table is positioned over a bucket fitted into a counter... and presto! A sink! Even a new cabinet for me so the roaches, ants, rats, and villagers can't get to my food!
I'm moving up in the world!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

These are a few of her favorite things

In the absence of real dog toys, Ginger has come up with an eclectic mix of objects she values above all others.
Seriously, she likes that stupid potato far more than she likes me.
I know, I know, my blog is pink now. Still working out some technical difficulties.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Don't judge me

Q: How stupid can I be?
A: Shockingly stupid

Is it my fault that a tiny, malnourished puppy could EASILY be mistaken for either a boy or a girl?
Is it my fault that in my former life I mistook my unspayed female cat for a neutered male one, had already named it Milo, and decided to keep the name?
Is it my fault that I've never owned a dog before?
Is it my fault that I don't walk around looking between the legs of dogs to compare sex organs?
Is it my fault that I mistook Simon's lady parts for a very immature male part?


So please don't judge me when I tell you that my darling little boy Simon is actually a girl, and it only took me 4 months to figure it out.

I've already done the female-animal-masculine-name thing, and I'm not doing it again! Henceforth the puppy will be named Ginger in honor of her gorgeous red locks and my penchant for those blessed with red atop their head.
In my defense I would like to remind all of my readers that through my intelligence, hard work and natural intuition I cured this dog of not one, but TWO deadly illnesses, and nursed it back to health when it was on the brink of starvation.

I really wouldn't blame you if you judged me for this one; I already have.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My buddy and me

Its time I revealed a little about an intimate relationship I've recently become involved in. His name is Herald, and we've been involved for about a month now. I THINK we met sometime during my training and travels. He is cuddly little worm that has somehow ended up nesting lovingly inside my intestines. At first I barely noticed him, kept him tame with regular administrations of Pepto Bismol; however, now he has begun to really let me know when he's around.
Owning/possessing/being possessed by a worm comes with its own set of trials and challenges. For instance, its very important to be near a "facility" about 30 minutes to an hour after food consumption. Food seem to make Herald overly excited,or angry, I'm still not sure which; foods such as ALL dairy, caffeine, meats, vegetables, starches, fruits, and oils. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what he enjoys the most, he seems to treat all of them as equal opportunity fodder. Herald also seems to be nocturnal, which means lots and lots of late night trips to the outhouse. This past weekend he and I made that trip 17 times in one night. Needless to say, what started out as a harmless flirtation with each other has now gotten serious, too serious for me. So I'm afraid its time for us to part ways.
RIP Harald. I'm afraid I won't miss you all that much, but I promise to think of you every time I pass the outhouse.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Let's make it count

Now that my training is all done I think its ok to share my projects and what exactly I’m doing with all the fabulous tax dollars I’m sucking up over here.

Sorry for not sharing sooner, I really want to make sure that I only included projects that I think have a decent chance of success. I also needed to hear from Peace Corps that everything I’m doing is stuff they will support.

So I’m dividing my time between four main areas

The Hospital

My job description lists me as the “Safety and Quality Volunteer,” which means that sit around and think of things the hospital could do to improve our patient care. How to do this?

- I have revamped each flow sheet on the patient chart to minimize documentation, maximize patient care, and provide a more accurate clinical picture of the patient.

- Providing continuing nursing education by facilitating peer-led education talks with morning report

- Trying to get a better lab point of care system donated

- Revising outdated policies

- Beginning a hospital chart audit and data collection system

- Forming a Quality and Safety committee to function after I’m gone

- Wrote a few grants in order to get a youth friendly service center started and the staff trained (think Planned Parenthood in America.) This is my biggest project and the one I am most excited about!

- Hospital staff volunteers will be trained in soap making as an income generating activity and to provide soap to our patients (this one isn’t off the ground yet, and yes, I DO know how to make my own soap now.)

The College

My job description at the University lists me as the “Clinical and Skills Lab Coordinator.” This one has a lot of potential! I’m going to be in charge of the nursing school skills lab and helping run the patient simulations. The rest of the job is sort of what I make of it, but it will involve placing the nursing students with good clinical experiences, monitoring their progress, and evaluating their work. I think I’ll be reading lots and lots of care plans!

I’ve also done a little lecturing, most recently the reproductive system. That one deserves its very own blog post….

Private Hospital in the City

They are opening an ICU, the first that will be to true “western” standards. My job for the past few months has been to train the nurses in Critical Care. There is no such program in the schools, so we were starting at square one here. I helped to form a relationship with the government hospital, which has a high acuity unit that we can train in and observe for learning purposes.

The Village

My village chief was kind enough to give me a nice long list of things to do.

- Build them a clean water source. Looking for funding for this now. *

- Find a way to treat their current water source

- Help facilitate their fish farming endeavor (yep, that’s right, I know how to fish farm now as well)

- There’s quite a few more small projects but since I’m not sure they are going to get done I don’t want to list them

Ok, so the fifth area is my house and what I want to do just for me.

- Get chickens

- Get a goat and make goat cheese, but at least just own a goat

- Start a beehive. Just received training on this and it seems totally possible. Not to mention a certain crazy friend is beekeeping in downtown Atlanta, so I always have her as a resource and motivator.

- Build a brick oven to make pizzas in. Hoping special man friend is going to help with this one. Construction isn’t my greatest asset.

- Still working on learning to play guitar and failing miserably

- Make time to read!!

- Possibly learn Chichewa, which I am STILL failing miserably at.

Wish me luck. I’m down to less than 2 years to get all this stuff done; a fact that sends me into a sweaty-palmed panic. I may not sleep until 2013, but at least I’ll be productive!

* You guys knew that eventually I was going to hit you up for money. Well I won’t quite yet, but it’s coming. You’ve been warned.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Unexplained Absences Explained

I should have given a little warning about my current absence from the blog. In my defense, I didn’t do a very good job communicating with anyone about it, including my very own mother who just emailed me the following:

"Did you get eaten by a lion? Or a hyena? Or sucumb to a dread disease?"

The Peace Corps requires so much official notice when we travel like supervisor signatures, landlord acknowledgement, office approval, blah blah.. I wish they would just generate a nice little official notice we could send out to everyone. Turns out if you aren’t around for a few days in America everyone just thinks you’re working hard, maybe just being a little anti-social. Here, if you’re not good about warning people and go missing you get emails about lions and disease. For the record, I haven’t seen a lion, and I’m pretty sure that because THERE ARE NO MORE LIONS. Ok, the disease scenario is slightly more plausible. I did manage to get mange, which is evidently almost impossible for humans to get, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got another worm, actually, I’m positive I have another worm. I promise I will get around to taking care of it.

So I’ve been in the mountains training for two weeks, then to the city for more training only that was me conducting the training. Then, across the country for a music festival at the beach with special man friend, then back home for a few days, then back across country with special man friend for safari. Here is a visual representation for those of you that didn’t get that the first time.

Sorry its so enormous....

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Old house

I don't know that you guys were sufficiently impressed with the awesomeness of my home. To put it in perspective a little bit this WAS the home I lived in for 5 weeks when I first arrived. I was just a little cramped.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Going to the vet, Malawi Style.

Gone are the days where I can just hop in my car and drive wherever the wind, or traffic, may take me. It still shocks me how much a car can change you life, change everything about it. I’m proud of myself that I manage to get around without a car, get around quite well actually, and even manage to navigate the public transportation system fairly well.

All my smugness and self-satisfaction got blasted right out the window the other day when I had to haul the puppy, no longer a small puppy, into the city to be seen by the vet. I had put it off getting the immunizations for long enough, possibly leading to his afore mentioned illness.

Simon and I woke up yesterday morning around 4:30, had our breakfast, packed our lunches, and left home around 6:15am with plans to arrive at pre-arranged transport at 7am. It normally takes me 25 minutes to walk there…. turns out, dogs slow you down. Especially dogs that still don’t understand the concept of a leash. Now we’ve been practicing our leash training by prancing around the house with it; we had even graduated to walking around the house with it. Nope, not the same as a 25-minute/75-minute walk. In fairness, he didn’t pull that much. He did however cower and shake uncontrollably every time a chicken came within 10ft; there are no less than 11,23,820,982,309,823,948,203,948 chickens walking around my village. He’s also refuses to walk if there are cars, people, large rocks, holes of any nature, big sticks, and strong breezes.

Over an hour later we arrived at my friend Diane’s house who had graciously agreed to let us ride along with her to the city. How does Simon thank her? By vomiting profusely all over me, the seat, the car floor, her coffee cup, and himself.

As previously agreed, we were dropped off on the street where we could take a public bus to get to the vet’s office. Important point: Many Malawians are terrified of dogs, even 7kg dogs like Simon. They are even less impressed with vomit-covered dogs. Can't say I blame them.

The bus dropped us off in the middle of the market in the largest city in Malawi. It took exactly 0.2 seconds for me to understand that Simon was absolutely, under no circumstances, going to walk through the chaos. So into my arms went the vomit dog; not that it mattered since I was equally covered. Just six blocks to go!!

I suppose I should have expected this, since I’m not the picture of grace and poise normally; but, of course, I fell, crashing to the ground with a shriek, still clutching the dog high in the air so as to avoid crushing him. Skinned both my knees, which started bleeding like slaughtered pigs (believe me if you haven’t seen this in person, its gory).

5.5 blocks, after Simon desecrated a churchyard, and peed on a Malawian’s shoe, I limped into the vet, caked in blood, vomit, and despair.

Simon is now vaccinated.

The vet says I need to return in three weeks for the second round of shots…

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It takes a hell of a lot more than a just a village...

I admit that my blogging these days has beensporadic at best. I WANT to do better, but life just seems to get in the way. Simon decided last week that he wanted to take a few years off my life by attempting to end his own. I won't go into details for those of you with delicate constitutions. Lets just say this: I have NEVER, EVER wanted paper towels and Lysol spray more.
Three miserable days into his illness, after laying on the couch with him and sobbing every second that I wasn't at work, I got desperate and emailed my mother to please try to contact a veterinarian in the area and try to solicit any advice.
My mother is next to sainthood; if you've been lucky enough to meet her you know how she puts others before herself every single time. Even though she was on vacation she not only contacted one vet, but several, until she got some answers. Because she did this I was able to give Simon the medicines that saved his life. I just want to say thank you so much to her and my father, and thank you so much to the responses from various vet's, both in Georgia and North Carolina, that helped me out. I am touched that you were willing to help even though there was no chance of monetary compensation.
Simon and I both say thank you very, very much. I sincerely hope that we won't have to go through anymore illnesses (he's now fully immunized). However, it is a wonderful feeling to know how supported you are by your family and community, even way, way, way over here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My House, in all its brick and mud Glory!

Finally, pictures of the front and back of my house! Someday I may actually have grass!

The rooms from left to right: chim (outhouse), dog house, outdoor shower, brick oven room, and compost pile room.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hotel, Motel continued...

I have to admit I was a little hesitant to dedicate two whole posts to staying in a hotel. I mean really, how much can one talk about? HA! Part of the reason I haven't posted in awhile is because I'm still recovering from the process. Needless to say, I did end up purchasing the box of wine in an effort to soothe my damaged psyche.

Day 5 of living in a hotel: Day started off great! A friend shared the contents of a care package, and since Salami and cheese are best enjoyed from the comforts of bed, I tucked in and face planted into both of them. Crumbs don't matter, the insects have never seen salami so how would they know they liked it?
Day 6 of living in a hotel: They like Salami. A lot. I returned home from an exceptionally crappy day at the hospital, crawled in bed only to fling myself out of it. The bed is no longer safe. There were not one, not two, but FOUR big bugs IN my bed. Then took off the mattress and found more, many, many, many more. I've never packed my bags so fast. I marched straight to the office, hauled the poor door man out of bed, and insisted on being moved. This wonderful watchman moved with no problems at all!
Day 7 of living in a hotel: The new room is much nicer, no smell, no insects, and absolutely NO MORE food in the room. However, the city water supply has apparently exploded. I dare anyone to try and wash their hair in a sink the size of a soup bowl using bottled water.
Day 8 of living in a hotel: Sitting there casually eating my dinner and trying to forget the baby at the hospital with the eyeball the size of a lemon. I am approached by the owner of the hotel who kindly asks me to pay my bill up until the point "of course!" I exclaim, thinking this is a harmless request. When I hand over the money he looks at me like I'm the one with an eyeball the size of a lemon and kindly explains that this is not enough money. He then asks for what is the equivalent to three months rent at my house in the village and politely tells me to get out of his hotel if I can't pay it. Well that just simply not going to work because I'm pretty sure its against Peace Corps rules to sleep on the streets, so after much begging he allows me to move my stuff into the 8 bed hostel. So now up to three room changes... trying not to freak out.
Day 9 of living in a hotel: I've taken to affirmations in the mirror of "just two more days, just one more day, etc." Each morning I have to pack my stuff up, put it in the office, wash with cold bottled water, and the insects have returned. Two stores are now competing to see which megaphone is louder, and after a week of MC'ing they've run out of things to advertise so its like dueling Malawian karaoke from 7am-5pm.
Day 10 of living in a hotel: I have nothing left to say. The city has broken me. I can't wait to get home to my outhouse, my paraffin stove, my buckets. I will never complain about my home again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hotel. Motel. Wish it was a Holiday Inn!

What a surly little post to leave you guys with last week. I was just feeling a little frustrated because I have to live in a hotel for two weeks for my Malawian Nurse Midwives Council MANDATORY nursing training.
Day One of living in hotel: Not so bad. Room is surprisingly big, sparse, but big, and my bathroom is larger than most peace corps houses. The paint is a little chipped, but an exceptionally large missing piece resembles a very pleasant looking rabbit holding a hammer. The windows have screens on them helping ventilate the interesting smell, which reminds me of a cross between week old raisins and super glue. There is a TV, and there are outlets, AND light switches so really, what could I possibly complain about?
Day Two of living in hotel: The raisin-glue smell is getting stronger. I decided to put my clothes into the "armoire" but when I opened it I saw an insect of remarkable size, so I've abandoned that idea and, just for safe measure, I pushed the chair against the armoire doors. I'd like to see the insect of Satan move that!
Day Three of living in hotel: Chair plan did not work at all, and insect of Satan appears to have invited all his friends to point and stare at the crazed white girl cowering in the corner in fear. I hear their little legs clicking on the walls as they run around. Thankfully, the leg-clicking is drowned out in the day time by the man with a megaphone hollering "expert rice cooker" and "trousers so nice!!"
Day Four of living in hotel: I grow strong on my strict diet of bread, peanut butter, jelly, margarine, and cheese puffs. In a moment of weakness I walked across the street to stare longingly at the boxed wine (yes, I'm reduced to salivating at wine wrapped in cardboard), but I lost my nerve when I realized that a box is the equivalent of three nights in the hotel.

Stay tuned for nights 5-10....

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wouldn't you like to know

So I spent a little time looking over this circuitous blog and realized I haven’t ever actually mentioned what it is I’m doing over here. Were you guys just going to let me never say anything?

I’m sure wandering blog passerbies begin to read this and stop, scratch their heads and think “wait just a second, this is the best and brightest from America? Well, to her credit she did figure out how to get an image into a word document, draw on it, export it to a PDF file, and then upload it onto the Internet system comprised of gerbils, wheels, and bits of copper wire. If she can do that she must be doing something outrageously smart and productive.”

Well I’m here to burst your bubble. I made Alex the IT/Engineer guy help me with the spider picture. I took him away from his incredibly busy and important job help me free hand draw a pencil. Thankfully Alex has developed patience and tolerance for me.

Ok, so what am I doing?

Well I’m not going to say quite yet, and here’s why. In three weeks I will FINALLY be done with my orientation phase of this process. I’ve spent the past few months lurking in corners with a chewed up pen and a notepad that Simon peed on asking lots of questions and furtively jotting down such notes as, “man with short tie wants new office” Are new hospital wings expensive? Woman with puff sleeves requests chocolate cake at next training session.”

In three weeks I will give/acquire/be assigned a very important job description complete with my full name, bullet points, and lots of legalish jargon. I promise to dedicate a whole, very adult, blog entry to my very adult job that I’m doing over here. Rest assured, I am working hard over here at more that just Microsoft Draw.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spider Meets Microsoft Draw

Crisis' here are on hold here. Life semi back to normal, and will hopefully stay that way. Thanks to everyone for the support!

I have discovered Microsoft Draw. Now I can provide you guys with additional commentary and overall enhanced blogging awesomeness.

I would like to introduce everyone to Fred. He is my new roommate. I don't really feel like I had much of a choice in the matter as Fred built his very own in-law suite directly outside my outhouse. If I evict Fred I am petrified he will relocate to the outhouse where the overall visibility is greatly reduced. At least where he is now I can keep in eye on him. I have wishfully named him Fred; if Fred turns out to be a lady, with babies.....

Please note the pencil I have drawn in to portray the scale of his massive bulk. I am not exaggerating. I swear.