Monday, May 30, 2011

Food for Thought

It is extremely easy to get some foods in country, and simply impossible to get other foods. For instance, I can literally open my kitchen window and pick a papaya from my tree and maybe a few bananas. There are avocados, and mangos, and every other type of fruit tree within 100 meters of my house. However, other food products such as meats and dairy are nearly impossible to get. The rule is if you own the animal, raise the animal and kill the animal that you can eat the animal. I became physically ill when we killed a chicken in class, so there’s really no chance in hell I’ll see meat in country.

The concept of grocery stores has not trickled into Malawi. I actually know the location of the only TWO grocery stores in country. Otherwise, you just have to hike it to the outdoor markets, which are usually only open once or twice a week. There you can purchase tomatoes, onions, bread, rice, and some other very, very basic foodstuffs.

I’ve already realized the getting any protein in my diet will be very difficult. With the exception of eggs and beans there are no real protein options.

Addendum: Since writing this I have discovered “soya pieces,” which are dehydrated chunks of soy meat that you can soak until the consistency of cat food, fry up, and enjoy! If anyone would like to try them I would be more than happy to mail you some.

Cooking in this country is certainly not for the weak or lazy. It seems like meals take twice the time and effort here; microwaves are just a far, far away dream to me. On the bright side of things, it is challenging my kitchen creativity and has certainly lowered by expectations of a “real meal” which often consists of bread with an avocado spread on it and a hard boiled egg, or rice, rice and more rice. Oh carbs…

Addendum #2: Every week I become more and more adventurous in the kitchen attempting things like cheese making, pizza, tuna casserole, pumpkin soup, etc.

But, there is a serious lack of flavor here. We take for granted how many spices and sauces we use in our cooking. Malawians flavoring techniques involve deep-frying in oil, and then salting it until you can feel your mouth pucker. For those of you that are familiar with my eating habits you may be wondering why I would have a problem with this. But when I say they add salt, they literally will add a half-cup of salt to three servings of rice. Sometimes the food is flat out inedible.

This post was a little long winded so I’ll save my talk on “anxiety meat” until next time.

Malawians only eat two meals a day so they really make those meals count. This is a picture of what they gave me, just me, to eat for dinner one night. Needless to say, now one of my favorite phrases is "American's have very small stomachs."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

DIY: The Meat Arm

I wish, I really, really, really wish that I could take credit for the meat arm. If I was that creative I would be doing something really spectacular like... well, I don't know, but I would have thought of the meat arm first.

Shellie and I are working on training the nursing staff for the very first "real" ICU in the country. There are limited resources so we require maximum ingenuity.
Shellie came up with this glorious creation. For those of you non-medical: reach down to your wrist, put your finger right below your thumb and feel for a heartbeat.

All you need is a slab of meat, some cardboard, an old hemapheresis pump and you've got yourself an artery! The nurses can jab the meat arm with needles for practice all day!

Take that Martha Stewart.
This is DIY Malawian Style. (Liz, I know you would like me to include this on ECAB. Feel free to link this post to your blog.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

As Promised...

Home Improvement

I think that we can all agree that even under the best circumstances home renovations can be a stressful and trying event. Now throw in this wonderful language barrier, stir in a slight difference in definition of quality workmanship, and a dash of work ethic confusion, and I’ve ordered myself up a steaming bowl of daily surprises and headache.

List of Requested Home Improvements

-New floor for my outhouse

-Cemented front porch (currently a pile of bricks and dirt)

-Flower Garden

Yep that was it. Here is where I currently stand….

-No cement or new floor but I have three lovely bags of cement sitting in my living room, and no hope of moving them as they weigh approximately 2323425234 lbs.

-6 sheets of corrugated tin roofing that appear to be about 5ft by 12ft. Where? Also in the living room. Why? I honestly have no idea, but my landlord showed up with the cement at the same time so I figured why not? Till When? Not a clue.

-A cornfield. I think. At least that’s what I’m pretty sure they told me when I asked "what is in the dirt?"

-Lots of flowers, at least what used to be flowers. They actually appear to be flowers, dug up for some unknown location, and placed randomly in piles of dirt in my front yard. Its reminiscent of a pet cemetery.

And so I wait with bated breath… If nothing else my bags of cement are doing a great job as my new footstool and the shiny metal is practically as good as television.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bready and Kitten

There are only two reasons I would post two blog entries in one day
1. Really good internet
2. Bready the monkey and his best friend Kitten who he climbs on and rides around everywhere. I have yet to get a picture of this awesome phenomenon, but when I do rest assured there will a post dedicated to it.

Words, words, words

The Language Barrier: Ok, so I have always known that language just ain’t ma thing. I took four solid years of French and my vocabulary consists of…. Well, nothings even coming to mind. So when I first applied to Peace Corps, I just conveniently decided to forget about the whole word, speak, communication thing. Well it pretty much slapped me in the face the first day. My biggest issue is that for some reason I can’t not speak Chichewa without a thick Italian accent. It confuses the Malawians to no end.

Here are a few of my more amusing language slips.

Chabwino vs Chobani: I THOUGHT I was thanking everyone the first four days I was here… nope, I was proudly exclaiming “smoked chicken” instead.

Kutawa vs Kutamanga: I decided to get up early one morning and go for a run with a friend. I flipped open the dictionary in the dark for the word “ to run” so I could explain why I was leaving in the dark dressing in crazy clothing. I announced that I was “going running with my friend”…… or so I thought. I was prepared for her to think it was bazaar, I was not prepared for a horrified look, and a stream of loud words that were shouted at me. There was no way I could understand what she was saying, so I just pranced away, proud of myself for communicating. Flash forward several hours, only to discover I had NOT said I was going running, I was running away.

Kusowa vs Kusoka: I needed to get something sewn at the local tailor, so I grabbed my sister’s hand and announced to the family that we were “going to sew” assuming that they would understand this simple sentence; which they probably would have if I hadn’t actually said “we are going to die” and dragged my sister off into the village. My poor Malawian mother.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bath Time

Bathing: Showers are for the elite; no peace corps does not consider me to be elite. So no shower for me. Bathing is an incredibly involved process that makes me seriously consider how much I care about my own personal hygiene; however, Malawians take it very seriously and take around 3 baths a day. Although here they call them passport baths, meaning you just clean what could be seen on a passport photo (so clever)!

For me to bathe it requires getting my 20 liter bucket, walking uphill to my neighbors house and using their spicket, and then managing to haul the 20 liters of water on top of my head, and carrying down a very treacherous path back to my house. Once home, I have to start a fire using a baulo, there is no equivalent to it in America, so just picture a clay pot with charcoal in it. I’ve gotten the fire making down, finally. I was told in my first “fire class” that I may not survive because after 2 hours of trying an explained to my teacher that I didn’t really need to eat hot things in Malawi. But, no worries I just use a WHOLE TON of kerosene and charcoal, and cloth and plastic. The only danger is that I may not come back with eyebrows. But lets be honest, I had too many of those to begin with!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Time fo some Q&A

I’ve received so many emails with so many questions regarding my new life that I thought I would take the time to answer some of the most common ones. The next few posts will attempt to address some of your more burning issues.

Required Vocabulary:

Chim: The latrine or bathroom. Its a hole dug in the ground usually around 3-5 meters, but no more than 7 because you can enter the water table. Of course, one of the first things I was told about my site has a chim 30ft deep…. There is absolutely no way I’m not polluting my water source.

Bafa: This is the grass/reed structure, almost always built outside with just three walls and no roof, with rocks and pebbles lining the ground. This is where one bathes using just a cup and two buckets of water, one boiling hot and one cold, mix and enjoy! My bafa is perhaps the only indoor bafa in the country. Since the house was designed by a Peace Corps volunteer she opted place it indoors. Therefore, I have a small room, with a small hole where the wall meets the floor. All I do is stand there and dump water all over myself, and the floor, it makes me laugh.

Nsima: This is the staple food in Malawi. It is made from corn flour that is processed, dried, refined and reground until completely void of all nutrients. They add it to boiling water until it forms a very, very thick paste and molded into patties. They eat these patties, which are roughly the size of my face, for every single meal; often without anything else.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

New Address

New Address

Katie Schneider
Malamulo Hospital
Private Bag 2
Southern Africa

Mail is MUCH faster here, and the mail Malawian mail system is back up and running. So please, keep the letters coming and I'll do the same!

My house orrr.. nyumba wanga in Chichewa

My first attempt at pictures using the Malawian snailnet...
these are my "before" pictures. I'm planning lots of changes for the kitchen and curtains. Outside pictures to come once my garden looks better.

Living room
Guest room


Monday, May 2, 2011

Just another day in Malawi

Crazy world, crazy life. I spent the last 3 days moving and settling into my new home. I love it!!
I've never been in charge of a whole house before so I'm feeling quite domestic. Chores are a pain considering I have to walk up the hill to fetch water and once the sun is gone I have to rely on candles. I had a paraffin lamp, but then I exploded it, so I'm still getting up the courage to attempt the second one; perhaps by the time my hand heals I'll have worked up the nerve.
My list of things to do today
1. Wait for carpenter to come put new door on because I broke it as well. Katie in Malawi = Bull in China Shop
2. Meet with my gardener. It sounds fancier than it is. My landlord just doesn't trust me not to mess it up and I need a garden to survive.
3. Laundry down at the river
4. Hang up clothes line
5. De- Spider the outhouse. I had a unfortunate incident last night involving a spider the size of my hand.

Tell me what you're up to; any news from back home is big news!