America the Awesome, Camp GLOW, MST and Other Stories…

Well hello, hello!

Long time no see, huh? Sorry ‘bout that! After hitting Malawian soil I’ve been none stop crazy busy. But I’m finally taking sometime to update the world on the ongoings of mine.

Let me first begin with my “vacation” home…

My “Vacation” Home

As you all know (from my last post and maybe seeing me recently) I just took a 3 week trip to the states from July 4 – July 27. Here is a quasi-brief overview of how it went:

After 34 total hours of travel time, I landed in Tulsa around 4 pm on the 4th of July, making it possible to spend the holiday with my family. We went to Craig’s house and I pigged out on steak, salmon, sausages, baked potatoes, grilled veggies and beans. Yep, I ate all of that! It was glorious! We set off fireworks in the street and enjoyed many laughs and hugs. Needless to say it was a perfect first day home.

Sadly, after such a simplistic diet in Malawi, gorging myself on massive amount of protein did not sit well and I spent the first week mildly sick and appetite-less. This particularly sucked because the first week was when everyone wanted to take me out to all my favorite restaurants and buy my lots of my favorite snack foods (like Ben & Jerry’s, Fish Food!), but I powered through and by the end of the first week was back in the game!

The first weekend I had a party with all my friends and family. It was a lot of fun and the first time I’d seen many of them in a year! It was so surreal that just a year prior we were doing the same thing to say good-bye to me and that so much time had passed, yet here we all were, back at my house eating cake and burgers all over again as though nothing had changed. I want to say THANK YOU to any of my readers that attended my party, it was wonderful to see everyone and spend some time catching up!

The second weekend I went with my family to the Lake (can’t remember which one tho ha!). We rented a cabin over looking the water and for 2 days rented a pontoon boat. We stayed from Thursday to Monday morning. It was a blast! Sure, lots of close family time resulted in thinly spread tempers every so often, but overall it was a great time and I’d do it all over again if I could. The place we stayed at was awesome too, offering crafts, ping-pong, nature trails and a nature center.

Monday after the lake we headed home just in time for….. HARRY POTTER and THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2!!!! In IMAX 3-freaking-D!!!
*clears throat* I was excited…
And for good reason, because IT. WAS. AWESOME!!!! By far the best Harry Potter of the whole lot if you ask me. It was the only movie I went and saw twice while I was home too. *sigh* soooooo good….

On the last weekend home I went with my family on a float trip down the Illinois River. It was the perfect day too, cloudy and even rained at one point, so it wasn’t unbearably hot. The river was packed with other families and crazy young people getting trashed. Music was blaring, people were laughing, and all-in-all it was a wonderful day. I didn’t even get sun burned! Hehehe

Other highlights of my time home:
– Karaoke twice with my lovely friend Katie! No I didn’t sing, that place we went was for serious singers only! One guy didn’t even need the lyrics as he walked around the audience like he was a real rock star!
– Movie nights with “the gang” (Megan, Brad, Erik, and Brent)
– TWO pedicures (yup!)
– Seeing a grand total of 7 movies in the theater
– Eating steak 3 times, sushi once, and ice cream more times that I can count
– Visiting the Juvenile Detention Center (where I used to do classes for Youth Services with the girls there every week) and talked to the girls about Peace Corps and Malawi. It was amazing. The girls were all on the edge of their seats hanging on my every word. Hopefully I inspired just one of them to clean their act up and go to school.
– Seeing all my friends that I’ve missed so so much!!
– Laser Quest!
– Buying new clothes, like my first pair of Gap jeans, to bring back with me
– Sleeping in my old bed in my room… Awesome.

Regrettably, my incredible time home had to come to an end and at 6 pm on July 27th, I boarded a plane heading to Washington DC. Eventually I landed in Malawi on July 29th at noon.
I admit, regardless of how amazing my time was, sometimes I wonder if I should have gone. I do not regret it by any means; however, coming back to Malawi was really tough and being here even more so. It has been a roller coaster of emotions since coming back. Being relieved to be back and even happy, yet hit by these debilitating waves of homesickness.

It’s strange when you can honestly call two very different places “home.” And that’s how I feel about Tulsa and Malawi. When I went to Tulsa, I kept thinking, I’m home… Did I really just spend the last year in Africa? Did that really happen? Yet, when I returned to Malawi I had similar thoughts, I’m home… Did I really just go to America??

Luckily, when I first returned, to help keep me occupied physically, mentally and emotionally, I had Camp GLOW….

CAMP GLOW

Camp Girls Leading Our World (GLOW)

Camp Glow is a week long girls empowerment camp, put on by Peace Corps Health Volunteers, every year. Each health group gets a chance to put it all together and this year was my group’s turn.
I wasn’t part of the coordinating committee, though, I was a camp counselor! It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a coordinator or anything, it was that I’d rather be with the girls and a part of the camp, not just the behind-the-scenes. And that’s what I did!

There were 60 secondary school aged (13-19) girls from all over Malawi. They we’re broken up into 6 groups of 10. Each group had a trio counseling team. A PCV counselor, a counter-part counselor and a junior counselor. The counter-part counselors were younger, strong Malawian women who had overcome a lot of challenges in their life and were now successful women in Malawi. The junior counselors were girls who attended Camp Glow last year.

My group was me, Assiatu (counter-part) and Tizgowera (pronounced “tee-zo-way-ra”, junior). Our 10 girls were: Ruth, Ulemu, Juliah, Martha, Martha, Mina, Pilirani, Zidyawa, Enelyce, and Chimwemwe.

The theme for the week was “Take Charge!” And each day a sub-theme: Take Charge of My Body, Take Charge of My Future, My Choices, My Heritage, Myself, and Our Future.

How can I sum up Camp Glow in one sentence?

BEST WEEK OF MALAWI EVER!

Yup. No contest.

This one week spent with these 60 girls from all over the country, getting to know them, teaching them, learning from them, playing with them, and helping them, was the pentacle of my service. The climax, the apex, the ultimate. If I had ever questioned why I was here, Camp Glow was the answer.

For more information, visit our website:
http://www.campglowmalawi.com
And I did the recent updates to the website, f.y.i!

Camp Glow being so incredible, of course, has made the time since merely gray and bland in comparison…

Mid-Service Training

Right after Camp Glow we returned to Dedza for 4 days for Mid-Service Training (MST). MST marks being a volunteer for one year and, although called “training” isn’t really much of a training, but serves as a way for each group to re-connect and plan for the last year of service.

It was fun being all together again as a group since IST last December. We had movie nights and parties and ate lots of tasty food. We talked about our service thus far and reviewed grants, project ideas and our Emergency Action Plan.

However, all was not fun and games. This was when we got the news…

As many of you know, we have been expecting to go home early. The whole issue with the change in intake group timing, and such… However! Apparently they have decided to not replace us this next round of health PCVs so that we will have to finish our full service until August 2012. Yeah… So basically all of us who are being replaced, our sites will be empty for SIX months until the next-next group comes in. Regardless of how annoyed and disappointed I am, this plan is ridiculous. Leaving our sites vacant for 6 months is stupid, plus my *coughincompetentcough* boss wasn’t able to secure 10 new sites adequately for this last group, seriously, half of them didn’t have a house when they moved to their sites! And now he has to secure 25 new sites! Yeah, that’s gonna happen…

*sigh*

I’m sure many of you are shouting “No!” to your computers right now and believe me, I feel ya. I think I was hit the hardest with this news because as some of you may recall from my time home, I have been feeling a little less than satisfied with my service. Even to the point that I set deadlines for things when I came back. Like, if I didn’t have a house by mid-September, I was out. (Spoiler: I have a house now!). But when I returned I thought to myself, I can do this. I do love Malawi, and it’s only 7 more months. I had decided to push through, only to be shot down by this news.
I know what you may be thinking, But Ashleigh, isn’t August 2012 what you signed up for? Well, yes, this is true. And a valid point. But honestly, I’m not that same girl who signed up for Peace Corps two years ago. I’m not sure how I feel about 3rd world development work anymore. And my service has felt like a failure to me. Aside from Glow, I have no major projects or accomplishments that define my service or make me proud. I feel like my service has been one big vacation, like college all over again. And even though I wouldn’t change coming here for the world and have no regrets about it, when you think that I could be getting my Master’s degree, making change and feeling satisfied with a job in America, seeing my friends and family and eating awesome food…. Well is there even a comparison?

I had hopes that maybe once I moved and started my new job at an actual NGO, where I’d have an actual job, things would start looking up. Which leads me to my new site….

New Site, New Job, New Life…

Before I left for the states, I moved out of my old village. I put all my things in a storage unit at the Peace Corps office and hopped on a plane. So, once all was said and done with Camp Glow and MST, it was time to move on. Amazingly enough my supervisor actually did his job while I was gone and found me a house and had it approved by the security director.

Right after MST, I spent a couple of days in Lilongwe completing my Mid-Service medical. I went to the dentist (no cavities!), had a physical (healthy!) and even went to the eye doctor for new glasses (prescription change!). Once all that was finished, Friday morning August 12, I loaded my things in a Peace Corps pick-up truck and headed south to my new site in Ntcheu.

Ntcheu, pronounced “In-chey-oo”, is about 2.5 hours south of Lilongwe on the M1 (the major “highway” that runs north to south in Malawi). It’s about directly half way between Lilongwe and Blantyre. It’s towards the end of the Dedza mountains, but still in them enough that it’s a lot cooler temperature than most places in Malawi. *happy dance* Plus I’m surrounded by mountains! It’s gorgeous here!

The House:

We went to the Catholic Health Commission office (who I’ll be working for) and met Esther, my neighbor. She got in the truck with us and directed us to my new house. As we pulled toward the plot, she explained that there was a minor hiccup and the house I was supposed to get, the previous tenant didn’t move out, so they had to find something else. So they rented this behemoth of a house on the other side of Esther’s house. And when I say behemoth, I mean it! Even Esther refused to move into it and let me have her house because she thought it was too big!

The house has 3 bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen, TWO toilets and TWO showers! Yup. And I live there, all.by.my.self. I guess I can’t really complain, who ever thought I’d think my house was too big? It is awesome having running water and electricity and plenty of room for people to stay with me when they visit. And hopefully I’ll have many visitors since I’m a 5 minute walk of the main road.

The one thing that does really suck is I have no furniture. Because of the small car I used to move my things out of my other site, I wasn’t able to get any of my old furniture. So piece by piece I’m having to slowly furnish this giant, empty house. So far I’ve obtained a bed frame, a table and 2 chairs! And this week I’m picking up a book shelf. Yay!

I also got really creative and “made” a table in my kitchen using a door, sewing machine base, and bricks. I took down the door that was between my living room and dining room, because when will I ever shut that? Then when Amy came over the first weekend I was here she helped me drag in a crap-ton of brinks from a pile outside. We built up a wall on one side and the other side we used the base of a sewing machine Amy discovered in the corner of the kitchen. (Sewing machines here are big, antique things with wrought iron bases and pedals). When we first tried setting the door on top of our make-shift table stand, we realized the brick wall wasn’t wide enough. When we went to take the door off, we accidentally didn’t pick it up high enough thus pulling the bricks over… On to my foot. Ow is right! It bruised my big toe in a matter of seconds and skinned off the top of my “ring” toe. But I was a trooper and after rinsing it off, bandaging it and sitting for a minute to recover, I was back in the game! We completed the wall and voila! Sturdy, gigantic table in my kitchen! I also put a sheet over it to make it look a little nicer. It’s perfect. I think next month I’ll have a sofa frame built (like the one at my old house) and a coffee table!

The Job:

I am now working for Ntcheu Catholic Health Commission through Dedza Diocese on their IMPACT Program. I can’t remember right now what IMPACT stands for, but basically it’s a program trying to improve the health and lives of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). My job is to help with monitoring and evaluation of this program, to do data entry when needed and supervise field work.

What all that translates into so far is…. Nothing. I’ve been here for almost 2 full weeks and I’m still not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing. For example, I’m writing this entry up on Word right now on my lap top at the office and no one else is here expect me and the assistant lady who is just sitting and reading a Children’s Bible. Everyone else took off around 9am without saying a word to me about where they were going or if and when they’d be back. It’s now 10:30am.

The last couple of days have been a little more eventful. Our health centers were sponsoring these “Tsiku la Umoyo” or “Days of Health”, where at various areas there would be a gathering of people: the health staff in the area, volunteers, support groups and chiefs. They would perform skits and sing songs about healthy life practices and give nutritional talks and demos. It was one of those kinda fun but kinda boring things. At least it was something to do, but all I did was sit there and watch it all. And the whole thing was in Chichewa and therefore mostly lost on me. I was then forced to entertain myself while trying to not get a sunburn, by texting other volunteers, playing games and reading on my phone. The only nice thing was I got a free coke and 1000mk lunch allowance for just being there. Which was nice since we didn’t get any chance to eat lunch all day. But now those events are finished and we’re back to hanging around the office not doing much of anything.

It’s rather annoying actually. Having to get up early and be here everyday just to do nothing. And here I had had high hopes for what working at an NGO would entail. Sadly, it seems to be the trend around Malawi for volunteers working with Malawian NGOs. After starting here I have been in contact with other volunteers working with various Malawian NGOs and everyone has the same issues. Not much of a job description, not much to do, not much of feeling needed.

But I have to think that I’m wanted here. Even if there’s not much for me to do. They’ve already paid for my house for the year. They pay for me to have a night watchman. And now they’re paying for me to have a fence built. So I have to think they want me here, I guess I just wished they showed it more in the office and not where my house was concerned.

I’m trying really hard not to feel disappointed and sad, but it’s difficult. I’m going to give it some more time before I really let it get me down because I want this work out, I want to be here, but I just don’t know if I can put up with this for another year…

I’ll keep you posted on how things go here for sure.

Life Now:

*sigh*

I almost feel like I should apologize to everyone that my exciting Peace Corps adventure is turning out to be rather a drag. And I’m sorry if this post sucks because of how melancholy I am about everything. I am trying to stay positive and hopeful, but I also want to be honest.

And honestly, I am happy to be here still. I do love Malawi and my Peace Corps family. I just want to feel like me being here has a purpose, that I’m actually accomplishing something by spending two years of my life here, ya know?

Right now I’m just trying to focus on the positive:
• That I have this awesome new house with electricity and running water.
• That I live in an area that is still pretty cool even as we move into hot season.
• That I have access to lots of things now that I live in a town.
• That I have many good friends here.
• That I live in freaking Africa!
• That I have a few trips to look forward to, like Chitipa Halloween and other trips to the Lake.
• That I’m having this crazy experience of my life, that I’ve grown so much since coming here and that I’ll will never be the same again.
• That I’m planning on helping with the Large Mammal Count at Liwonde National Park in October!

So don’t feel too bad for me. I know things are crazy here and can still feel like a roller coaster sometimes, but I’m looking ahead and feeling hopeful.

OH! Can’t forget! I have a new address!

Ashley Stafford
Catholic Health Commission
PO Box 75
Ntcheu, Malawi

So now if/when you send me letters or packages send them to this address k? That way I don’t have to travel all the way to Lilongwe just to check my mail! But if you send them to the old address, I’ll still get them because that’s the Peace Corps address and won’t ever change.

Well, my lovely readers, thanks for sticking with me for the past year and all my shenanigans and stories!

I hope I’ll have more stories to entertain you with in the future.

I miss you all!
Till next time,
Tiwonana!

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About Ashleigh

All the world is my stage. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Malawi, Africa from 2010-2012 as a Community Health Advisor.
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One Response to America the Awesome, Camp GLOW, MST and Other Stories…

  1. Amber says:

    Have you tried asking them where they head off to? Or asking to come along? You could say you want to tag along to get a feel for what they do. It sounds like your job is to track their progress, so maybe they are a little wary?

    It sounds like you need a better idea of what bases they already have covered before you can initiate things, but I could be misreading the situation entirely.

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