Hi friends and family!

One of my brothers is currently backpacking Europe, and that statement is all the news we are getting out of him!  And from me, you have not heard much for the past month!  I apologize for the lack of posts - life has been incredibly hectic with wrapping up the school term assignments, making sure my house-mates got the most out of their last few weeks in Malawi, and the final crunch of work.  But, don't worry - I have been keeping a list of things I want to share with you, and these posts will be making their way onto the blog over the next few weeks.
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Life is good when rolling down the highway with close friends, loud sing-alongs to Wicked: The Musical, and a sunny beach waiting for us at the end of the journey!
The placement coordinator for INDEV asked us if we could answer a few questions for a newsletter, so I thought I'd share my responses with you too!

1) How are you finding your placement and the country/environment you are living in?

I absolutely love Malawi – the climate, people, work, friends – it seems to have been made for me!  My placement is amazing – I get to work with some great kids with special needs in a refugee camp, and also with a large women’s cooperative craft group.  I have difficult days where I miss family, work is difficult emotionally, or conveniences such as consistent running water, sure, but on the whole, this has been some of the best months of my life.

2) What have you learned (which you did or did not expect to)?

I have learned that I really don’t mind not having electricity, except for when papers are nearly due!  And that having no running water freaks me out – I have a bunch of 5L containers filled with back-up water as we are not always given notice of water cuts, and they could last from a few hours to a week in length.  I have learned that cooking and baking for others is a huge way for me to relax and reduce my stress levels after a long day of work.  And a big one is that Canadians are not nearly as friendly and welcoming as Malawians – they really do live up to the moniker ‘the warm heart of Africa’!

3) What are you looking forward to now?

I am looking forward to or dreading with all of my being (depends on the day) to graduating this spring, and deciding whether to go to graduate school or get a job in Malawi, or try to do both at the same time!

 
 
Today I am excited to introduce you to my friend, co-worker, and housemate - Lara Gooding.  Lara is here in Malawi for three months from Seattle, and is volunteering with JRS in JC:HEM, the higher education centre in Dzaleka.  If you'd like to read some more of her experiences, including one exciting one about almost being t-boned by a cow, visit her at http://laragoestoafrica.wordpress.com/ and check out her blog!
Preparing to leave Malawi, I'm having a lot of bittersweet thoughts about my impending departure. Things I'm going to miss like crazy (my coworkers, mandazi, chitenge, the scenery..). Things I'm going to absolutely 100% never want to see again (looking at you, massive cockroaches).

There's a lot of reflection going on throughout this process, but it's easiest to start with the more tangible things.
Packing.

For those of you who know me, I loathe this process. During the career test we took in like 8th grade, that asked if we liked putting things into boxes, my answer was no. And my answer is still no. It always feels like I'm forcing myself into a little compartment, which ultimately leads to crippling panic, which then leads to an adamant refusal to proceed with the task.
Therefore, for future me, or for future ex-pats with the itch to travel to Malawi, I bring you:

The Malawi Packing List
•    Two long skirts (Cover your knees!)
•    Seven t-shirts
•    Two tank tops (Ex-pats are allowed to show shoulders outside of work)
•    One pair of jeans (Seriously. It's too hot for them. Don't bring more.)
•    Work out shorts (In case of hiking or dance class or exercise)
•    Your three second favorite bras
•    Lots of sturdy underwear
•    Two swimsuits
•    Approximately $1500 USD hidden all over your carryon and person
•    Makeup and tampons and favorite toiletries, because they probably don't exist here
•    Your medicine, including favorite OTC stuff. (Again, doesn't exist here.)
•    One pair of tennis shoes, one pair of sandals, one pair of nice shoes, one pair of water proof shoes. (I went for Birkenstocks and Crocs, and got flats here. Make sure they’re durable, because Malawi beats your shoes up! Especially in rainy season.)
•    Cards and pictures from home
•    An unlocked smart phone with a SIM card (not necessary, but definitely nice to have.)
•    ATM card (Make sure your bank unlocks it in Malawi and in all of your country layovers)
•    Water purifier – Steripen is best (super useful for travel, rural areas, and when the power is out and you are also out of boiled water/want something faster than boiled water)
•    One liter water bottle with a lid that covers the mouthpiece
•    Computer or tablet (but you'll have limited internet access, and laptops are easier to access the internet with)
•    Sunscreen (the intensity of the sun here is very different from home, and it is super expensive here)
•    Hand sanitizer (handy when you are travelling or in camp, not available here)
•    Books or digital books (paper books can be donated, and a kindle or kindle app on a smartphone is very portable)
•    Jewelry – small to pack and makes you feel more at home and put together

And there you have it. Anything else you need you can get here, and you can get it for cheaper. For what you do bring, don't bring anything you are very attached to, because the hand washing is hard on your clothes. And bring stuff you can leave, because you'll load up on chitenge and carvings and jewelry and beautiful Malawian things that trump anything you brought out.

And I hope you do make it out to Malawi because in its simplicity there is such beauty here. You don't need a lot to feel completely at home and to never want to leave.
Reading through Lara's list got me thinking as well, so here are some of my additions to what she has above!  Most of these would have been wants or handy to have, but are not super necessary – good things to note for those of you who are planning to come for a longer period of time though!

•    Extra batteries for devices – laptop, camera, phone… power goes out a lot and it is super helpful!
•    Headlamp or good flashlight (preferably one that can be recharged) for when the power is out
•    Hair dryer and flat-iron if you use them frequently – get a travel one (made for 240V) or you will quickly burn them out (they are available here but are not good quality, and if you’re out here in rainy season, these are a waste of money and space – the humidity combined with the flash storms will nullify any styling you do anyway.)
•    Lots of videos and TV shows on an external hard drive or on your computer
•    Familiar bedsheets (once again, makes you feel more at home)
•    Playing cards and other portable games – fun with roommates, easy to transport
•    Favourite teas – basically can only get black and rooibos here
•    If you eat a lot of them, nuts and energy bars – can generally only find peanuts here (can sometimes get walnuts and almonds at the expensive grocery stores)

My biggest tip – pack light or pack a lot of things that you will use up or leave behind!  You are going to find so many awesome things here, and if you are in need of almost anything, you’ll be able to find it or a substitute, possibly more expensive than at home, but it does exist here!  Clothes can be bought in the open air market for really cheap and are from North American second hand stores, or new in some of the Chinese shops or South African retail chains here in Malawi.  Or you can get them made by a tailor for pretty cheap.  Shoes can be found at the open air market or along the side of the road.  Food-wise, you may have to do some shopping around to get everything you long for, but it is generally possible to find everything (things I haven’t found: whole wheat flour or pasta, salsa, corn chips, chocolate chips and roastable marshmallows; rarities include good cheeses and pork).  
 
 
This week, a WUSC staffer from Canada arrived to complete interviews for the Student Refugee Program in Dzaleka.  One of the WUSC volunteers living in Blantyre right now, Sasha, has been involved in the Student Refugee Program in British Columbia, and was invited to assist this week.  So, the girls and I had some visitors to hang out with, and on Friday afternoon when we were all done with work, we piled into my car and went on an adventure.

We headed out of the centre of Lilongwe to an area called Chinsapo, and spent nearly an hour meandering our way through the rutted back roads of the neighbourhood, trying to find our way to a specific church where the Zikomo Bags project is hosted.  We eventually made it, with the help of a kind Rastafarian man who ran next to the car for a few blocks, making sure we took the correct turns!

Zikomo Bags (Zikomo primarily means thank you in Chichewa) is a project that was started by some WUSC volunteers, one of whom is an INDEVOUR, as a way for some local women living with HIV/AIDS to make a living.  They make over the shoulder bags out of traditional chitenje material.

We were able to meet some of the women who make the bags, speak with the project manager, Rocky, about the work that the Rainbow Centre does, take photos, and then purchase some of the bags.  Visit the website here to see some more of the work they do.
A super cool happening is that at a recent event that Zikomo Bags had a table at, the President of Malawi, Joyce Banda, walked past their table.  The women presented her with a custom made bag that they had used her political party chitenje for, and she was so impressed that she immediately placed an order for 500 bags to give to her supporters as she heads into the electoral campaign!
 
 
My mum works for a church in my hometown as the Director of Adult Ministries, and she wrote this lovely article for the local paper recently.  I asked her if I could share it here because I found it to be such a beautiful piece.  Enjoy!
A watermark is an image imprinted on important papers or photographs to prevent counterfeiting.   You can see a watermark on your passport or on currency.  The watermark indicates that these papers are authentic, and in a sense, verify who they belong to.  The waters of baptism mark us as children of God.  In believer’s baptism, they provide the opportunity for a follower of Jesus to publicly declare the authenticity of their faith.  This is who I belong to.  This is what I believe.  I commit my life to walking with Jesus.

At Woodside, baptisms are a time of celebration as a church family.  We listen, spellbound, to the faith stories.  We are astounded by how God is working in the life of someone we sit with at church.  God is real!  We hold our breath with them as they are lowered into the water in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  We cheer as they come up grinning and crying and hugging their pastor.  We celebrate how real life with Jesus brings transformation.  

On just such a Sunday, as I left the sanctuary to find the girl who took the plunge, I saw a trail of wet footprints on the carpet of the church foyer.   I wonder if there is a trail to follow from my baptism?  Do I leave footprints of holy water wherever I go?   Is the water of my baptism still dripping on the path of my day?  The waters in which I die to myself?  The living waters that raise me up, gasping and laughing and grasping at new life – soaked in the Spirit of Christ, washed in the cleansing flood of Jesus’ love.  Can you see the direction of my footprints?  Am I walking well, in step with the Spirit?  Can those around me follow my trail back to the spring of living water?  Does my trail take them on detours where they lose their way or lose interest in Jesus, or does it make them thirsty to find Him?

And then I noticed the trail of big splashes of water on the carpet.  Messy, irregular, but clearly a trail to the baptistry.  Early that morning we realized that no one had thought to fill the tank, and the tap would certainly not run fast enough to fill it in time.  These splashes are a testimony to the Bucket Brigade of saints, who rolled up their sleeves and got their Sunday clothes wet, to carry bucket after bucket from the kitchen to the baptismal tank.  So it is with the Body of Christ.  God graciously uses each of us to prepare the tank, bucket by bucket, for a baptism.  A bucketful may feel heavy and cumbersome, and once emptied into the tank, it looks woefully inadequate.  But your bucket plus my bucket plus the bucket of the children’s pastor, and eventually the water rises ready to welcome a new member of the Family.  We each do  a bit, like a link in a chain, dragging our bucket as an act of faith, that God will take my small offering and do something wonderful.  Water into wine perhaps?  So we heard, in the life-giving stories, how a Bucket Brigade of saints had each poured a bucket of water into the lives of these who once were lost.  And we choked back tears and applauded wildly as they rose from the living waters of baptism that morning.

Praise God that He has left his watermark on my life and yours!  Welcome to the Family!
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I love my mumsy!
 
 
The Umoja Craft Group is working to build their self-sustainability and the developments are really exciting!

Currently, there are two volunteers working with Umoja - Violaine and me.  I leave in two months and JRS does not plan to have another volunteer intern working with the group, and Violaine is leaving the country in August.  So, one of my co-workers, Violaine, and I sat down and brainstormed way to help the Umoja group become fully self-sufficient and able to continue to grow the group and their market, and to maintain the current quality and quantity of product.  We then had a big meeting with the Umoja ladies - almost all 50 of them came, and we asked them what they thought they should do to become more independent.  Their ideas were very similar to the ideas that Violaine and I came up with, and so we were able to move forward with the plans.

We held a big election, starting with nominations of candidates for leadership of the group.  Once we had 6 leaders, the women voted for one of them to be the group president, and the ladies subdivided into smaller groups under each leader.  This means that there are now 6 groups of about 8 women, each with a group president and vice-president.  We discussed roles that would be needed within each group - such as a quality control officer, and voted women into those roles as well.
We are now working with the leadership team to create official policies and procedures for the group, and running trainings for the individual roles, so that they can be completely self-sufficient by August.  It has been very exciting to watch the women step into their roles and begin to take initiative and feel more confident in their abilities as they prove to themselves that the group can function without 'azungu' help.
 
 
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Sasha, Jessica, Yanara, and Lara on the sunset catamaran cruise.
This past weekend both Lara and I came down with a stomach bug that had been making its way through our house.  We pushed through it though, and decided that going on our planned weekend trip to Cape MacLear would be a better experience as sickos than sitting around at home, suffering a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out).  So, off we went!  We got in late on Friday evening, and had a fun time catching up with Sasha and Jessica, two other volunteers who are living in Blantyre.  On Saturday, we spent a few hours shopping in the crafts market and ordering 'happy pants', and then took a boat out to Otter Point for a few hours of swimming with the cichlids.  Then we headed back to the lodge and got ready to go on a sunset catamaran ride.  It was a lovely sunset - we had fun swimming off the boat and watching the incredible clouds.  On Sunday, we took it pretty easy and just chilled on the beach until we had to head back to our respective cities.  It was a wonderful weekend!  But, when we got back to Lilongwe, Lara and I both succumbed to the stomach bug and spent most of this week at home waiting to get better.  We are now on the 'other side of health' as one of our co-workers put it when she saw us back at work!
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Driving through the clouds and mountains on the way to Cape MacLear.
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On the boat on the way to Otter Point.
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Heading back to the lodge after a few hours of swimming.
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The clouds on our sunset cruise.
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Heading out on the catamaran.
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Working our way down the mountain on hairpin turns through clouds!
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Lara enjoying the view from the boat.
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Otter Point rock outcroppings.
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Such stunningly beautiful water & cloudscapes!
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The beach of Cape MacLear and some of the nearby islands.
And, Lara's university has a dance marathon to raise money for charity, and she got a kid band on the beach to play one of their songs while she danced, as a contribution in solidarity with her classmates... check out the moves those kids have got!
 
 
Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv.
- The Impressive Clergyman (from The Princess Bride)
As much as I do hope to one day be married, I was not expecting to have to turn down as many proposals of marriage as has happened before the real thing...  It's rather funny, actually.  While walking around the camp, there are often men that follow us female azungu (foreigners) around and propose to us.  At the beginning of my time here, it happened once or twice a week, and when I dyed my hair red, it suddenly increased to once or twice a day!  

But last week - last week I unlocked a new achievement - a proposal 'en français'!  He actually put some effort into it too - not just a 'Hey baby - will you marry me?', but he initiated a conversation and even asked me if I was married before he proposed!  Pretty impressive, so I thought I would share!  (And don't worry parents and grands - I said I wasn't interested...)
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The view from one of my workplaces in Dzaleka - the outdoor classroom at JC:HEM, overlooking the community garden.
 
 
Last weekend the Lilongwe three had the great fun of hosting three of the Blantyre girls  for a few days.  They took the coach bus up from Blantyre on Friday night, and we had a lovely late dinner and then hung out at one of the local ex-pat haunts.  On Saturday, I made a big pancake brunch and the girls did some Umoja shopping from the bag of goodies that I brought home from work with me on Friday.  Then we went to the local open air market and spent a few hours shopping in the chitenge stalls and used clothing stalls.  It was so much fun and we spent a lot of time laughing together!  I then dropped the girls off at the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre - none of them had been, and so they got to see the sad rescued lion and the other animals there while I worked on a paper for school and got dinner started.  We had a bunch of friends over for a pizza party and chatted together until late.  On Sunday morning, I picked the girls up nice and early and dropped them off at the coach stop to begin their journey back to Blantyre.  It was so great to see them and I hope we get to have another weekend like that in the near future!
Also, meet my friend Jan!  He appeared in a small flower garden outside the Women's Centre at the JRS complex in Dzaleka, and hung out there for about three weeks!  Lara and I went to check on him every day when we arrived, at lunch, and before we left, and were able to watch him get stronger purple stripes while sitting on my purse, catch and eat bugs, and just be super cute in general!  We named him Jan Rufus Sparky (get it... his initials are...) and were sad when he disappeared this week.
 
 
Hi blog readers!

I am still alive and doing well, and I apologize for the long period of silence - January and February have been really hectic!  I have quite a few ideas swirling around in my head, and am working on getting them recorded to share, so please to expect to see some more action around here!   (I will be posting updates this week and backdating them to the appropriate weeks from the past month and a half.)

Even just this weekend was crazy busy - I had my final graduate school application due (applying to teachers college), a job application due (I really, really want to stay here in Malawi, in case my many posts professing my love for this place haven't clued you in yet!), and a paper for my program due.  Work with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Dzaleka Refugee Camp has been going well, and the special needs class is well-established with regular attendance from children who are learning so well!  I will have a post on work coming shortly!
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The commissioning service.
My church, Integrity Family Church, had a really big day today - two church members were ordained as Pastors within the church, and seven other members were commissioned into various leadership roles.  We had a really big service at a local events venue that has a huge and beautiful garden, with about 250 people showing up - and when the church is regularly around 50, that is a huge increase!  I had my Mumsie bring my violin to Germany at Christmas, and have been added in to the worship band, so I was at church nice and early to practice and get warmed up for the service.  Let me just say that flexibility is huge when a member of an African worship team - we started the service off with songs that we had rehearsed, but a few extra songs got thrown in, and I just had to find my way through them!  It is definitely a stretching experience for my classically-trained brain to think through songs without sheet music, but I am so glad that I have the opportunity to play again and worship with fellow Christians through my violin.  Also unlike my worship team experiences at home, there is no real pattern to verse and chorus repetition, keys can be decided on as the guitarist begins, and if we feel like it, some people who were not originally in the band may get added mid-service!  Anyhow, the service went wonderfully, followed by a huge banquet meal as a community, where we got to spend time together.  I love my church! :)
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Practicing pool-side over New Years. (Photo courtesy of Gino Moura)
 
 
I am hoping to have a few of my fellow Malawi volunteers write some blog posts to share here, and I'm kicking it off with a post from Sasha, a WUSC volunteer who arrived in Malawi in January and is here for three months.  She is working in Blantyre with Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement, came to visit the Lilongwe girls last weekend, and blogs at http://sashagrons.com/ if you'd like to read about more of her adventures!
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These 2×1-metre rectangles of brightly patterned cloth, also called kitenje in some neighbouring countries, are most commonly seen worn by women, wrapped around their waist like a towel. Especially outside the cities, women wear chitenje like it’s a uniform. But truly, it’s more like a miracle garment. Here’s the list I’ve been keeping for the past month of the different ways you can use a chitenje--it’s hardly exhaustive!

  1. Baby carrier–probably the second most common use of the chitenje. Baby strollers are not a thing in Malawi. Instead, women wrap their babies in the cloth and tie them around their back. The babies are always remarkably quiet in this arrangement (maybe because they’re close to their mum!).
  2. Bedsheet. (I’m tempted to use mine like this starting soon, because I don’t want to wash my existing sheets by hand.)
  3. Rain jacket (though not a terribly effective one)
  4. Beach towel or beach cover-up, perfect for a trip to the shores of Lake Malawi.
  5. Tablecloth
  6. Fabric for a dress or skirt. Fun story: one of the guards of the compound where I live moonlights as a tailor, and so I am wearing a chitenje skirt as I write this.
  7. Curtains or drapes. Perfect for the interior of a colourful Malawian home.
  8. Headscarf (if one has such tying skills, which I do not).
  9. Pillow–not the coziest one, but it’d do in a pinch.
  10. Material for a shoulder bag. IN FACT, you can buy a bag in Canada made out of chitenje from the Zikomo Bags group. It’s an excellent cause—the bags are made by ladies working at the Rainbow Centre for HIV/AIDS Home-Based Care in Lilongwe. (Social justice chitenjes are the best kind.)
  11. Grocery sack or mat for produce at the market
  12. Temporary car window. (I’ve seen it done.)
  13. Handkerchief or napkin. Hey, when you don’t have disposable tissues readily available…
  14. Dish towel (I’ve done this.)
  15. Apron. (Also tried this, with hilarious results.)
  16. Fabric for a chair cushion
  17. Wall hanging. Here in Malawi it’d be a bit lame, but at home I think it’d be exotic.
  18. Head cushion. Women in Malawi have an amazing ability to carry large and heavy things on their head, and I’ve seen some roll up a chitenje and put it on their head to make their skull a flatter surface.
  19. Changeroom in the market. Probably the most azungu use on the list. Picture this: three white girls shopping for clothes in the busy, buzzing marketplace. One needs to try on a pair of shorts before buying them. And so: the other two hold up a recently purchased chitenje to form a wall that she can duck behind to see if the shorts fit. Yes, this actually happened. And I was one of the chitenje holders, killing myself laughing at the spectacle.
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(An aside: In the aforementioned market outing in Lilongwe, our group of girls spent a long time and a good chunk of kwacha at the chitenje stalls. I also took a few photos of two beautiful women with their products. I loved taking their pictures and showing them the result—they were happy to see themselves on the camera screen, and it was clear they don’t have their photo taken often.)

 

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