Nsima, Nsima, bas..

Greetings from the warm heart of Africa,

I hope this finds you healthy and happy, and that everyone’s having an awesome summer.  We are having a very dry and hot winter here in Chinthakwa Village, but I guess that’s all part of living in Africa.  Zonse Zilibwino as they say here. Things are good!  I’ve continued to stay non-stop busy, my Malawian friend Paul often pays the compliment that I’m half a man and half amayi (woman).  I see no reason to be a ashamed because cooking, cleaning, and laundry still need to happen regardless of gender.  I have to designate at least a few days per week for ” home and garden days” where I get to stay at home all day and be an amayi.  If you are a woman reading this don’t take this the wrong way, just know that the counter-equivilent, a man day, mostly involves sitting around and talking about the price of peanuts.  The house is coming together, I look at it as an empty slate it’s all very exciting, I’m not too sure how excited my land lord is though but the language barrier helps you get away with a lot.  There are a never ending cycle of project going on. I’m building a brick walkway, an improved mud stove, replenishing compost piles, making a cribbage board, making countless things out of bamboo, shelves, hanging baskets, and teaching my puppy not to poop in the house.  And so then there’s the puppy his name is Achimadyo.  It’s sort of an inside joke for all the Chewas out there.  Translation; one who eats too much nsima.

Since the last blog update my garden has begun to take shape.  I have 3 vegetable beds with tons of things popping up left and right.  The MVP of the garden right now are two summer squash plants, which have pretty well exploded all over my backyard.  If I lived any closer to the Mid-West I would definitely have county fair contenders.  I pull tomato seedlings out of the ground like weeds and I have a never ending supply of lufas (bathing sponges) that grow on everything.  Last week I was able to celebrate the 4th with some freshly harvested lettuce.  That doesn’t sound very cool, but trust me… it was.  Explaining lettuce to a Malawian evokes a strong sense of patriotism, like hey this is Butter Crunch Lettuce, have a taste of freedom!  Every morning I make a cup of coffee and walk around the garden pulling weeds and dreaming up crazy schemes; it’s a food jungle.  With that said, I always come back down to earth when the water spicket dries up 100 meters away and I have to go a half mile up to the next village for water.  But growing your own food is so rewarding, I’m all geeked out on it for the time being, my land lord has given me a quarter hector plot of land for the rainy season so that should be pretty wild.

People have been asking about what I eat in Malawi.  It has been a real blend of lots of things, there is no way to refrigerate foods here so if you open a can of something you should probably finish it within the day.  The big question that Achimadyo  and I say every night in the kitchen is ,” why not?”.  So tonight we’re having taco seasoned tuna with pumpkin leaves and garlic over rice, additionally seasoned with a mustard packet because when it’s dark and you’re really hungry it’s so easy to say,”why not?”  For most of my neighbors and villagers eating is very limiting, but really I should say that eating could be limiting, that it’s more of a choice than anything.  There are a handful of locally grown produce and then that’s it, that’s what people know to grow.  People in my area eat the same thing each and every day, Nsima. Nsima is twice processed corn flour that is mixed in boiling water, served like mashed potato patties, and eaten with ndiwu, which could mean greens, beans, or on rare occasions meat. But there are no big surprises when it comes to Malawian cuisine.  Almost everyone grows peanuts and some people do rice, but these are cash crops and so it’s preferable  to sell these off so that you can buy more fertilizer for your corn crop.  Food security in Malawi is a phrase that is thrown around a lot and is synonymous with corn/ finding ways to grow more of it.  Taking a bike ride through any part of rural Malawi leaves you with the impression that wow, there’s a lot of mouths to feed here.  Lots of people get full every night on nsima (i’m sometimes guilty), but you look up and malnutrition is all around.  So the short answer on food is we eat a lot of nsima here in Malawi.  People are constantly asking me how much corn I grow in my geilds back home in Ohio and I say none because I don’t have any fields. And then they say, “so this is your first time tasting the corn”, and I try to explain how I come from such a strange maybe even magical land where we have made it economically feasible to replace the sugar cane out of Coca Cola and replace it with corn syrup, and then sometimes we have corn on the cob in late summer.  I’ve thought about explaining how there are ways to turn corn into fuel to help run cars, but you always have to be cognizant that this part of the world experiences a hunger season every year, so that’s best left in the dark.  And then people are always asking if we eat nsima in America and I like to explain how that some people in the South eat grits.  I think that’s accurate.  So I’ve talked a lot about food.  I’m assigned as a forestry volunteer, but I have tons of freedom in my job description to take on any projects that are remotely related to the “environment”  The way things look now, I think that I’ll do lots of work with nutrition and trying to utilize more indigenous foods, but health education, HIV prevention, deforestation, income generation projects are really endless.  I just completed a month long survey throughout my catchment area, which is roughly 30 villages.  One of my big questions I asked was, “before corn and fertilizer went bananas in the the 1960’s what did people here eat?”  Not a single person knows.  That leaves an entire population of people  who have grown up and lived their entire lives eating corn morning, noon, and night with very little protein and no variation.  Being 6 feet (2meters) tall here makes you a monstrous giant, but I’ve always taken for granted having a steady diet of protein my whole life.

The survey was super helpful if anything it was a great exercise for getting getting out and meeting people.  I’ve learned that if you sit around your house for too long you start to feel like an exhibit at the zoo. Like you look up and there’s 10 kids watching your every move and every noise you make is shocking, so I’ve really liked  being out of captivity roaming around the bush seeing village life, and eating lots of nsima with my friend Paul.  I am the first volunteer at my site so I feel pretty adamant about setting realistic expectations and goals for the next two years, especially if there will be another volunteer that moves in after I leave.  You really could commit to a million things, but your time and energy would be pretty diluted.  I have had to look at lots of chiefs and lots of villagers and say “no, or I’m not sure” , which has been really humbling.  I’m honestly not sure how to build a bridge, or fix a well, or graft fruit trees, or start a fish farm, or stop a crocodile from eating the goats, or keep a neighboring village from stealing your bee clubs honey.  And that’s the short end of it.  The fact is that as a person absent of color, there are lots of people who look at you like you’re a pinota stuffed full of Malawian Kwacha, so I try not to wear bright colored clothes in public because relatively speaking that is partially true.

More on housing.  I live in a cluster of houses, I live under a tin roof, so I’m doing alright for money.  My land lord/ shop owner lives farthest to the left.  Then my neighbor directly to the left is a teacher at Nyenje Secondary School.  He is very stoic, always very proper, while I’m sort of rough around the edges and covered in dirt.  His wife has the worlds most beautiful laugh and there kids are all really great, but we live about 1 meter away so we are getting to know each other well. I just spoke with my neighbor to the right of my house, he just informed me that he was leaving his wife and had come to collect his goats.  I told him I was very sorry to hear the news and hes says, “zimachitika” (it happens) and then made an inquiry about getting seeds from my summer squash plant.  He plans on staying with his first wife in a neighboring village.  It’s too bad he seemed like a really good guy, but I don’t know enough Chichewa to to take sides, so then there was Loveness.

Here in rural Malawi time is not money (exception; internet cafes), cause and effect are not related, being on time is 2 hours late, and working hard is not seen as a desirable quality, but it simply means that you’re poor.  There’s lots of speed bumps that I’ve hit lately, but I’m lucky to have plenty of goats and small kids to yell at.  And even on the worst of days the papaya is worth it.  On top of it all I have a really truly great friend, who is also my official translator (from the chiefs) and my language tutor.  I spend most days with Paul I think it’s fair to say that I would be a pretty sad and pathetic Peace Corps Volunteer / person without his help.  I’m also a proud dog parent, which I never thought I would get myself to say, but it’s all true.  On January 4th when I found out that Malawi existed as a country I wasn’t too sure why I would go  or how I would swing it in Africa for 2 years, but having people like Paul around and the really amazing relationships that have grown from back home have all left me with the indescribable feeling that God is very faithful!


That’s all for now! Thanks for reading,

Jeff G.

PS. sorry for any miss-spellings/ grammatical errors.

Isaiah 58:11


About jeff G.

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Malawi. I work as a forestry advisor near Nyenje Forest Reserve in the district of Nkhotakota. I like reading, chatting with friends,biking, farming, and eating nsima, at least that's all I do anymore.

2 responses to “Nsima, Nsima, bas..

  1. Anonymous

    Sounds like you are using your gifts well. Remember to add our favorite CORN MEAL MUSH to your list with grits. 🙂 Love you. Mom

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