My counterpart Paul and I have both loosely come up with our own mission statements for 2013, not as any sort of January 1st resolution or official mandate, but more as a causal reminder of what we’re doing and a reflection of our overall mission . This, on my part, is a new step in leadership that I’m trying to grapple with, and for Paul it’s a “welcome development”. The year started off with a real need for re-direction on my part as a Peace Corps Volunteer. What issues can we address realistically what strengths do we have, what community interest exist? Coming up with some mission statements has been a natural first step. Paul’s statement is pragmatic yet highly complimentary toward the human potential to affect weather.
“Communities will have a very good environment, which will divert the weather ie; good rains”.
My statement, which is something I sort of spurted ou at a business training, is cautiously optimistic (not cynical), sort of a spin off of an Americorps motto, and spiritual.
” We’re gonna work hard and get some stuff done; if God allows.”
I think both mottos keep us motivated in our own ways and that’s the goal.
I took a week for the Christmas holiday to spend time with some friends in Nkhata Bay on Lake Malawi and then spent time visiting with other friends in Nkhotatkota for New Years. Unfortunately, on New Year’s Day my bicycle was stolen and my foot was progressively swelling with an infection, so for the first 2 weeks in January I literally started off on a bad foot. I know that’s a pun, but that’s really what I’m intending to say. I started off on a bad foot. Because of the circumstances of the bike theft and because I was using a bike lock, the Peace Corps was very accommodating and helpful to provide another bike and I was placed on medical hold for a few days to heal my foot.
I think that it was important to acknowledge and confront some of the remanent failures from 2012. It really was a big year of transitions and so this introspection wasn’t at all an overly negative thing, but mostly it was realistic . Paul and I have become invested in 3 different Village Savings and Loan groups(VSL’s) to varying degrees. Each group has different dynamics and are at different progressions in the overall VSL process. VSL’s in short are simply a group of 15-30 people that come together on a regular basis to save and loan money amongst group membership. Two of the groups are all women and in some ways Paul and my presence is a necessary evil, and so we try to tread lightly. We are trying as best as possible to be less and less needed, as these groups begin t take hold of VSL principles. The groups seem to be interested, but I has become apparent that you cannot assume everyone in the group knows what an interest rate is, or even how to keep a budget; you can’t assume treasurer’s secure place for holding the groups savings is anything more than a piece of cloth. So we have started from a basic level and are working from there. This is the time of year where no one has money, so we can train members how to plan for and best utilize their anticipated incomes in the coming harvest season. So I’d suppose that’s somewhat like financial planning.
And as I mentioned in the last post, we have started Grass Roots Soccer with a mob of secondary school kids. The focus of the program is on HIV awareness and prevention for youth and by default has turned into a sex ed. class. The overall curriculum includes 11 practices , so far we have done 3 and it has been overwhelmingly great. Very luckily, Paul and I have pulled in an energetic primary school teacher, Chimwewe Katola, who compensates perfectly for my immaturity and Paul’s apprehensiveness to openly give “sex talks”. We call ourselves “couches”, which is a great excuse to wear polo shirts and yell things. So far gender has been equally represented and in light of that we have had many great conversations in a graceful mix of Chichewa and English. My only real concern is that we maybe slowly eroding away some of the cultural norms between boys and girls. At last weeks practice I noticed my tall lanky neighbor Travis holding hands with a girl and we almost started a riot when a boy and girl preformed a provocative dance in a group skit. Both of these instances are culturally unheard of in rural Malawi. You should know that these kids have not grown up with MTV. We all want this activity to help kids make healthy life choices, but at the same time I don’t want to be partially responsible for sparking a sexual revolution in my catchment area.
The next big undertaking on the horizon, if the grant passes through the Peace Corps office, is a 5 day low-input beekeeping workshop. The primary goal of this workshop is to make beekeeping more affordable by constructing beehives, bee suits and bee smokers using locally available resources. The workshop will host 30 participants from the entire Tradition Authority of Mwansambo and the participants will be sent forth to be productive beekeepers, teachers/trainers and to create a network from which to find local and regional markets for bee products. And from the completion of the workshop at the end of April until December 31st we will be collecting data from these participants. I”ll just be humble and say I”m not really too sure what I’m doing when it comes to beekeeping, but I do know that if you keep the bees happy, they’ll do most of the work. We have a good crew of trainers facilitators and so that will hopefully allow me to put the right people in the right place . By far, the greatest variable for this project is in finding the right workshop participants.
I have taken another dog from the renowned puppy farm of Mary Emanuel in Mbewa village. The dog’s name is Chilombo, which means predator in Chichewa. I truly want him to develop a firm, unfaltering hatred for goats, but I can tell that he’ll never hate anything in his life. Villagers always ask me if he bites, and I say no way, but he farts if you rub his belly, which never translates well. Dogs bite frequently when they constantly have rocks thrown at them. I think that if Chilombo starts to act aggressively towards goats he’s gonna get rocked, and then he’ll bite. So with that said, I think I’ll just mend my fence for the coming free range goat season and pray for God to increase my capacity to love all creation ie; goats.
The quarter acre field behind my house has been a rewarding first exposure to farming. It’s a small enough piece of land that I can take care of and also do some new things on. Initially, I planted sorghum in December, but the seeds had expired and nothing germinated, so I alternatively grew cassava. Cassava is a tuber crop somewhere between a sweet potato and an edible woody shrub. Between cassava plants, I’ve inter-cropped cowpeas and also an agroforestry shrub called tephrosia. This planting season the goal has been to grow somethings to eat, but to also build up soil fertility, and practice some of the principles in conservation agriculture . Interspersed throughout, there is also pumpkins, cantaloupes, tomatoes and lettuce, but the crown jewel of my garden is a transplanted banana tree. It has survived to shoot out giant healthy green leaves, which are rival only the American flag in beauty. I think that if this banana tree dies, I’m going to ET or quit.
Pulling weeds early in the morning and digging in the dirt, watching the rain move in from the Congo,or just the rainy season in general has been a worshipful experience. It’s all very simple, hard work. From that I have grown in gratitude for the everyday mercies we receive from God on a daily basis, Just in seeing the effect of life-giving rains falling in the fields of sustenance farmers. There is no water faucet or irrigation system, or any other water source besides the rain that falls from the sky. In that way a rain shower is a blessing in every sense. I think that 1 Kings 17:14 says it better.
A few weeks ago my friend Jonathan, an agriculture extension worker, asked me to join a group of three agronomists who had come to Mwansambo to inspect some conservation agriculture plots. I went to meet this group and soon discovered that I wasn’t invited for my technical input, but rather as a human buffer to receive and understand these three white visitors. It was an interesting experience to have a farmer and an agronomist standing in the same field looking at peanuts together. One guy travels the world going to conferences, and spends his time pouring over data for hybrid corn varieties. The other man grows peanuts and corn every year and is wearing just enough material to call pants. This is where the ideals of science and research and the benevolence of the world collide with poverty in a very direct way. As I listened to all the things the agronomist was prescribing to this farmer, I marveled in the obscurity of this conversation and carried the feeling of not being connected to either party. In a sense, I was floating. The analytics behind improved seed varieties and the scientific method approach to soil structure sounded overzealous and was in no way translated coherently into the local language. The agronomist and the farmer, it’s a novel idea, but the agronomist doesn’t know poverty and the farmer doesn’t know that the agronomist is just a human being.
Expected and noteworthy visitors coming to the Mwansambo area. Her Excellency President Joyce Banda in March. The US Ambassador to Malawi in April. My dad in May, and Beth Morris in June.(best for last!)
I think of all of you frequently back home in the dissipating grip of winter, gambling on college basketball, and staying busy with life. I apologize that I’ve made this blog so long. I maybe right on the fringe of narcissistic for taking up so much of your time by talking about myself, but please write! I’ll write you back. Nyenje CDSS P/B 7 Mwansambo, Nkhotakota, Malawi, Africa.