Monday, October 1, 2012


So its no secret that my bestie in the village is my cat, Kitty. I got her only a few weeks after arriving in Balng'ombe (It's a boy but I call her a she because it just sounds right).
Anyway, Kitty died on Saturday rather unexpectedly, and it just really hurts.
I had been in Dedza teaching the newer group about how to make sanitary pads. I noticed that Kitty was looking a little strange before I left- her nose was pale and she seemed extra hot. But she was young, and still active and I just figured it was something she could fight off.
I came back four days later from Dedza to find her sprawled out on my bed, too pale to be ok (her gums and sclera were pure white....not good). In the morning she seemed a bit better and took a little walk around my garden, but by noon I knew she needed to see a vet, stat. I scrambled around making phone calls (most Malawians knock off pretty early on Fridays and I was a good hour and half outside of the city..)
A nice Belgian vet agreed to stay in late to see me. I assured her that I could be there in an hour, then stuffed Kitty in a basket and ran out the door. I bribed/compensated my Imam friend to take me out the 5Km to the road right away. He can't drive on the paved road though because his car doesn't have license plates. So I started hitching. Immediately I got picked up by a trucker, who agreed to take me into town, even directly to the general area where I needed to go (I was crying by this point).
Once in the neighborhood, I called the vet again to get directions. It was a jumble of turns that I couldn't write down fast enought before my phone ran out of call time. Houses and streets in Lilongwe don't really have names or numbers. There are numbered areas, and then the houses in that area are numbered according to the order they were built in. So, for instance, a house may say 3/34, which means that it was the thirty-fourth house built in area 3. Very helpful, I know.
I tried to walk to this vets house, but got utterly lost, burst into fresh tears and tried hitching again. A lovely Malawian businessman picked me up (complete with moaning cat). We couldn't find the vet, but he felt so sorry for me that he kept stopping and asking people if they knew where it was. Finally one guy did- he actually got into the car with us and showed us the way. This driver wouldn't even accept any money for gas...sometimes I am shocked by the kindness here.
Miraculously, I did in fact make it to the vets within the hour that I had promised. She said that Kitty was severely anemic and was in septic shock. She tried to start an IV, but Kitty literally wouldn't even bleed... at all. She gave her some anti-parascitic shots and then started giving normal saline subcutaneously (just injecting it under the skin). After a few minutes of this, Kitty had a seizure and went into full on shock. Because of my background as a nurse I knew that Kitty was dying but I had no idea what to do about it. Helplessness is the worst.
Kitty stopped breathing for a minute, and her heart started beating erradically. The doctor was about to say she had died when her heart just shuddered and restarted, and soon enough she was breathing and conscious again. The vet couldn't keep her overnight, so she gave me a bunch of syringes and fluid and told me to keep giving her the saline shots. Total bill: about $9.
At this point the vet realized that I had in fact hitchiked to her house and had no way of finding my way out of her neighborhood. So she drove me to the city where I frantically called my friend, Mary, and asked if my cat and I could stay for awhile.
That night, at Mary's house, Kitty was in and out of consciousness. She would see me and there would be a glint of recognition but then her eyes would glaze over and she would be out again. I stayed up giving her the saline shots, and even managed to get her to take some antibiotic pills and water. At one point she was well enough to hop up onto the bed. We snuggled ferociously.
In the morning she was moaning and wheezing again. She couldn't stand up. I laid next to her in the bed as she lost consciousness for the last time. There were about ten minutes of agonal respirations. Then I could feel her heart slow down, speed up, then flutter and stop. I held her for another two hours.
Fortunately Mary's neighbor is an animal lover (a large animal vet.) Since his housing is a bit more permanent than ours, he offered a nice gravesite in his yard. I tucked Kitty and her blanket in a box, and said goodbye.
Now I'm in Lilongwe, getting ready to return to an empty house.

Tiwonana Kitty....ndimakukhonda......

Monday, September 24, 2012

My Hens, Updated :-)

In the evening

In the morning!
Two weeks later...
Watching my hen reminds me of that scripture..." How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn't let me."

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Summer/Winter in Malawi

 So here in the Southern Hemisphere "summertime", when school is out and the Peace Corps runs Camps, is technically winter. That doesn't mean its not still tank top weather, just that at nighttime one requires many, many layers of tank tops to stay warm.
In July and August, Cait and I taught at both big Camps that Peace Corps runs; Camp Glow and Camp Sky. I taught a session to 60 girls about reproductive anatomy and physiology, family planning and STD's. Believe it or not there were a lot of laughs- along with a lot of really good questions from the girls (and 'aha' moments). Althought this stuff is all supposed to be taught in secondary school the truth is that it usually isn't. Most Malawian teachers are male and don't feel comfortable teaching proper sex ed. Girls get a lot of bad advice here. For example, many girls had been told that if they abort a baby, the father immediately dies too. The fact that rape can happen within marriage was a new idea to almost all the campers. One of the most common problems is that girls don't even bother going to school when they have their periods because they don't have any leak-free options for hygiene.

 In a second session, Cait and I taught 90 girls how to sew their own reusible fabric menstrual pads. And -surprise- we handed out full sets of fabric pads to each girl!! Now they have enought to get started going to school EVERY DAY, and the skills to sew more. The girls here are often convinced that boys can tell when they are on their periods through magic or special senses. We taught them that if they walk tall and confidently, they don't have to worry about anyone "knowing".

 Happy happy girls :-) Several of them pleged to show their friends how to sew the kits and a few even expressed an interest in sewing them as a business. Meanwhile several other PCV's want to start local pad-sewing projects at their site. AND Cait and I have been invited to teach the pad making to the mother's groups at all 32 primary schools in our area. Fun fun fun. Very busy though.

 Inno is fat and happy
 Kitty owns the night.
One night Kitty showed up completely soaking wet. (There is no running water in my village, no rain for 4 months, the river is dried up. How, Kitty, How??)
Oh and we met Hillary Clinton. Surprisingly beautiful in person!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fourth of July Vacation- complete with Pirates!

My Fourth of July vacation began with a reception at the Ambasassador's house. Very chic. I had the privilege of meeting William Kapalamula, who wrote 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind'. If you haven't read that book go get it!
 His English was waaayyy better than my Chichewa :-)
 On vacation at Nkhata Bay- one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
 The water was very clear with lots of cichlids. Perfect for snorkeling.
 We took a rowboat out to explore Lake Malawi.

 We found a little cove and tied up the boat in what we thought was a safe spot.
 Then the waves kicked up ;-(
 More waves
 The boat is very much in trouble
 Some fisherman came and helped us
 They wanted an extravagant amount of money for helping, which of course we didn't have....
 So they "escorted" us back ot the lodge and demanded the money from them.....I said "Carolyn, isn't this what pirates do??". They eventually settled for 4,000mk. Now Carolyn and i officially know what our lives are worth :-). Oh, and that includes the rowboat.
Memorable souvenier bruises!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Picture Post!

Riding the Lorry home after a busy day in Lilongwe

Balang'ombe- Home sweet home

Instead of just laughing to myself at funny shirts (that people here don't know are funny, I have started complimenting them and asking if I can take a picture :-)

A member of the school Mother's Group at the first training session I did on sewing reusable feminine hygiene pads

I want YOU in the US Peace Corps!!

Net Distribution day at the Health Centre. This man is explaining a poster that instructs people to not sell their mosquito nets 

True true

Inno in a sweater!! Do my neighbors think I'm crazy? Yes they do!!


The second Mothers Group training session- which was held outside in a windy plateau.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bedroom Intruder

So in general I'm feeling better- I'm over my mid-service crisis and quite at home in my little dusty savannah town. Inno is outgrowing her baby fat and is becoming strong enough to PULL me when I put her on a leash. She still tries to make friends with everything. Last night she tried to say Hi to a very large, very pregnant goat, who then head butted her. Inno flew back a few inches, landed on her bum, and then smiled and panted at the goat, happy that a new friend had been made. Wilfred happened to be watching on the other side of the fence and was rolling over laughing, saying "Inno thinks she is a goat!"
Last week something scary happened. It was 8:30 at night (it gets dark here now at 6pm), and Inno was barking her little head off. Very strange. I went outside so make sure she was ok and saw a man crouching down behind my bafa. Yikes! My house has a main part and then a set out outbuildings, including my latrine and where I take my bucket baths. The man was scurrying around out there in the darkness, just beyond the scope of my headlamp.
I headed back inside, locked the door behind me, and tried to call Wilfred from my living room. Of course he was asleep and his phone was off. Oh well, I figured. The man knows I saw him, he probably ran away. On my way back into my bedroom, I picked up an arrow that I got with a souvenier arrow set in a curio market a while ago. I guess I thought it would make me feel safer. I had on my tiny (batteries dying) headlamp in my room when I spotted the man crouching at the foot of my bed.
I had left my window open. This was not good.
I was really angry- not really afraid, just angry. I held up my arrow and yelled a bunch of questions at him in English. It didn't really occur to me to speak Chichewa. The man was actually quite timid and seemed very afraid of my arrow. I ordered him out, but the back door was locked so I had to fumble around for my keys before I could shove him out the door. Then I got REALLY angry. I grabbed his collar and the thought passed through my mind that I was going to march him right over to Wilfred's and make him explain when he had done. But this time he finally pushed back and ran away, out through my broken fence. Inno let loose one last bellow of growls.
Then I realized what had happened and I started shaking. I knocked on Wilfred's window, and called the Peace Corps. The bars in the window were fixed the next day, and I am getting the mother of all replacement fences put in.
I have a lot of alone time back at site to analyze my response. Fortunately I have a lot of experience in stressful situations thanks to my previous career as a night nurse in a public hopspital. It bothers me that I was so quick to pick up an arrow, as I am quite the avowed pacifist. Most people here say they would have really hurt him and are surprised that I didn't. I know it sounds corny and idealistic, but I actually felt a pang of guilt that I coudn't solve my differences with this guy though dialougue. But then again, he was in my bedroom at night.....I don't know.
What I do know is that he has tried to enter four more homes since then. I also spotted him back in my yard three nights ago. I yelled at him and he ran away. My village doesn't have police but the "village good guys" are working on the problem.
On a much lighter note, I finally made a spinning wheel here in Balang'ombe! I managed to buy an old bicycle wheel and with some rought hewn timber, a borrowed (extremely dull) saw and lots of duct tape, I have a great wheel :-) Its wonderful to have an alternative to my drop spindles, especially now that I am getting some fiber in care packages.
Special shout out to Sugar and Spice Alpacas- they sent me a lovely bump of brown alpaca roving- thanks!
 It was quickly turned into a ribbed cap to wear at night. It gets cold here in the Southern Hemisphere Winter.
All right- 10.5 months to go :-)
Grace and Peace

Monday, May 7, 2012

You know how sometimes it has been so long and so many things have passed that need describing, that you don’t know where to begin? And so instead of beginning, you swear that you will write tomorrow. And then the next day, and then the next. And then some months pass.
So it is. I’ve been here in Malawi over 14 months, and in Balang’ombe over a year. This is my home. But the disconnection is still there. I still wake up and wonder where I am, and I still dream about shopping in America. I sleep and I’m in IKEA. I wake up to feed my chickens. I sleep and I’m in Sephora, buying mini bottles of Burberry Brit.
A while ago I woke up to find a green mamba, the same color as my bright lemongrass, sliding through my garden. We locked eyes and it slithered as I grabbed Kitty and flung her into the open window to safety. (I guess I know now how I react to danger- at least when my cat is around.) I went to grab my camera, but the mamba was gone. That day I took my neighbor’s advice to cut my grass. I have a hand-scythe that slices chunk by chunk through the viny, tough greens left over from the rainy season. I took the clippings and made nice beds for my chickens. Baby started laying eggs again last Thursday.
Shortly after the mamba morning, I returned to find my garden beds all scuffed up. Wilfred apologized. There was a rabid dog stuck in my garden- it couldn’t find it’s way out for a long time. Wilfred waited for it in the dark, outside my gate while I was spending the night in town. He “took care” of it for me. Over the next few weeks he took care of three more rabid dogs. I called the PCMO, panicking. “I feel like my environment is trying to kill me.”
            “You’re in Africa. Some of the things around you are dangerous. You can deal with it.”
            “Ok.” Deep breath.
            I bugged the district vet tech for some rabies vaccine for Kitty and Inno, and when I finally got my hands on a vial, I gave the injections myself. Twelve days later, Inno came home bleeding.
I called the PCMO again.
            “How long does it take for the rabies vaccine to start working?”
            “Ten to fourteen days. Watch for abnormal behavior.”
            I have never owned a dog before, and everything that Inno does, the half-wild, inbred, dumb mutt that she is, started to seem abnormal. I asked Wilfred if he would “take care” of Inno if she had rabies. Yeah. A good neighbor is one that will take care of things.
            But Inno is still alive. Its been six weeks now since she got the vaccine. She grows and grows and does stupid things like chase around Wilfred’s anemic little runt, Precious, until both of them are just rolling in the ground, panting and exhausted. Kitty looks on judgementally.
            Then the President died. I was helping to delver a baby when I got the text. I took it around to all of the other staff in the Health Centre. Everyone already knew that he was dead. He had been dead for two days, but this was the government finally confirming it. And all of a sudden, the country where I had been raging and bellowing about womens’ rights had a woman President. A week and a half after the First Lady came to Balang’ombe for World TB day, she wasn’t First Lady anymore. Today the Kwatcha has been formally devalued; a move that the IMF has been prodding Malawi to do for three years. The fuel lines are gone. The sugar rationing has stopped. Things can change so quickly.
            Right now I have the blues. Every once in a while life stops becoming a pleasant swim in warm blue oceans and the water starts to bowl me over. My footing gets lost. And so I’ve spent a lot of afternoons sitting on my back steps, staring at my chickens and trying to cheer myself up. I’ve had long talks with the PCMOs, and they are encouraging. I remembering how fortunate I am. I think of things I am grateful for, things that make me smile.
I know I’ll get better and the storm will pass and I will be back out there swimming along, basking in the ebbs and flows of my community. Till then I’m hanging on, knowing that wherever I go, there I am. I am American but I am not. I am Malawian, but I am not. I am only me.