Keep Walking

Hello my loyal readers!

There’s not too much to report as of late. Mainly life has just been moving along and slowly but surely I’ve started working. February has been an interesting month to say the least, full of ups and downs and surprisingly a lot of time away from site. It has definitely been a month to seriously wear on my patience…

I’ll start with the bad and work to the good, that way we all end on a more happy, positive note, ok?

Like I said before, my patience lately has been tried beyond its limits. I feel like there are a lot of cultural behaviors that I put up with or let slide, and so far that’s been ok, but I guess everyone has their breaking point in which all the little things build and build and eventually it’s all too much.

I do not feel like explaining all the issues that came up over the last couple of weeks, since it would only be to my benefit to “bitch” about them, and I’ve already done that enough to close friends and family.

I will say though, that the cultural behaviors that bother me the most are:
1. Alcoholism – alcoholism is a serious problem here and not treated as such. People (mainly men) can get drunk and act like idiots and treat people poorly and it’s written off as acceptable because, “Oh he’s just drunk, it’s ok.” No one stands up to drunk people either. Once a drunkard followed me and Dre into a tea shop to beg us for money and the shop owner didn’t do anything about it. Money is wasted on alcohol and it’s all completely acceptable.
2. Lack of accountability – there is practically no accountability here, no pride in one’s work. I honestly think someone does a poor job on something just so they can charge you more later to fix it. People borrow things and break them and don’t tell you or act like they never took it in the first place. And back to the alcoholism, when sober, a drunk will never admit or hold himself accountable for his behavior. Low on the chain government workers (teachers, HSAs) are never fired. They can show up drunk or not show up at all and it slides because there’s no one to replace them. If there’s a serious issue they move them to a different location. Like my former head HSA was a drunk and had many problems, and recently they moved him to a different health center, and I found out this is the fourth time he’s been relocated.
3. Lack of appreciation and understanding of a “gift” – people are grateful when you do something for them, that’s not the issue. The issue is that it’s never enough. At a fellow PCVs going away party at his village (he had been a teacher at a secondary school for 2 years) one of the other teachers got up and said, “Thank you, and when you go home, do not forget us and tell your family to send us money.” There’s no concept that if I do something here it’s out of the kindness of my heart, I’m a volunteer, not an employee, that everything I give (time, money, things etc.) are gifts, and that you’re not supposed to act like you deserve more or ask for more. For example, my mother sent Gladys a headlamp because she’s always using mine and they have been feeding and taking care of me. Well in my latest care package from my mom, she sent me two small fans to travel with. Gladys was playing with one one day and says to me, “You should tell your mom to send me one too!”

*sigh* I know all these things are cultural and that not everyone acts this way, but dealing with this kind of thing day to day is very tiresome..

Luckily I was spared at my tipping point. I took a trip to Lilongwe for the weekend last weekend to get away and when I went to talk to my supervisor about something he asked, “What are you going to be doing next week?” I said, “No plans.” And he asked if I would be willing to come to Dedza for the week to help with their planning for the next Pre-Service Training for the new group of trainees coming in on April 27th. It was a whole week of free food, hot showers, free lodging and time away from site. Who could say no to that?

So last Sunday I went Dedza with 2 other volunteers from the Environment sector. The new group coming in is half health half environment. It wasn’t very exciting, and mainly the three of us spent the majority of the time watching Glee and True Blood and a few movies in between. BUT we did help out, giving input and suggestions on the over all curriculum and logistics of the next training, so I think the next PST will be even better than ours was.

I’m going to be a  Resource Volunteer during the actual training. They like to bring current volunteers in for a week at a time to help out and answer questions and give input. I sent in my application, but they haven’t made decisions yet. I will be going for Week 1, which is the second week the trainees are here and their first week at homestay. I’m really excited that I get to be a part of the new trainees’ experience, but I’m not looking forward to staying with some strange family for a week with not electricity, lol. But it’ll be fun and feel like I’m back at my own homestay experience. I can’t wait to meet at the new people when they arrive here on Sunday! Smile I’m having a very very busy time lately and a lot of time away from site, but I guess I can’t complain too much. hehe

Other exciting news: I’ve completed my first ever grant proposal, and I must say I’m quite impressed with myself! It’s for my Nets for Tests program, a mosquito net exchange program, offering a free net for an HIV test. I filled out the project proposal, came up with monitoring and evaluating and drafted a project budget. I gave it all to my supervisor to go over before turning it in for good, so hopefully he likes it and I can turn it all in and get this show on the road!

It feels good to have actually started to do something. I know a huge part of Peace Corps and my experience here is cultural exchange, but it’s nice to feel like I may soon accomplish something real.

This doesn’t pertain to my work, but another thing I’ve done recently to do something, is I’ve hired a secondary school student to do work around my house (slash the grass, repair my fence, sweep, dig away the termite mounds etc.) in exchange for me paying his school fees. This way I don’t have to do all that crap and I’m helping a boy finish school and have a shot at a real future. I feel pretty good about it Smile 


I am happy that I’m here and they don’t call this “the toughest job you’ll ever love” for no reason. I’m back at site after my week at Dedza and feeling a little better and optimistic about the remainder of my time here. I love my village and my neighbors, I think I just need to learn to set better boundaries and expectations of my life here for things to be good. As with any problems in life, it’s important to breathe and just keep walking…

Speaking of my village and neighbors, here are some photos!

During rainy season, fire wood is a problem because it’s expensive and this is the time when people have the least amount of money. So people resort to digging up tree stump roots and chopping away at them for wood. This is some of my lady friends (including Gladys and Generous, my water girl), right outside my house doing just that:



That’s my house in the background (left)

Me and Generous

Me and my crazy puppy Nzelu! He’s getting SO big!


Well that’s all I’ve got for now! I’ll be posting this on Thursday when I go to Lilongwe for Volunteers Supporting Volunteers (VSV). I’ll update again soon, and maybe it will be about hanging out with the new trainees! Smile


Posted in Malawi, thoughts, update | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Work and Play: What I’ll be Doing and the Portal to America


Work: I thought I would post a quick update before heading back to the village this afternoon and just explain some of my project ideas and what I’ll be working on so you all can know what it is I’m actually doing here besides watching movies and having dance parties! Laughing out loud

Project Ideas:
1. Nets for Tests – I want to start a mosquito net exchange program where we’d give out a free net for every HIV test. I am currently working on writing a grant proposal for funding for this project and hope to have the ball rolling as soon a possible.
2. Moringa Tree – I want to start a Moringa tree nursery at my health center and have permission already from my supervisor to use whatever land I choose around the center. I am also working on a grant proposal for funding this project as well as visit a fellow volunteer to check out his current successful Moringa tree project. For information on this “miracle” tree visit:
3. Youth Club – I want to start a youth club in my village, because the secondary school (high school equivalent) is 5 km away so many youth do not attend school, and there are many many teenage girls still in primary school (grades 1-8) and the teachers are not allowed to discuss condoms or sex education whatsoever. The kids in my area need a well-informed, safe, friendly and fun environment to learn about life skills, HIV/AIDS and sexual health. I am visiting a fellow volunteer who lives near me and is working with the Youth Center in his area, so that I can find out what resources are available through them, how to get started, and what activities we can do to keep youth interested.
4. Demonstrations – I am starting and will continue to do various health demonstrations at Under 5 Clinics on Tuesdays at my health center. Recently we will be doing water treatment and net hanging demos since it’s rainy season and water borne illnesses and mosquitoes are a huge issue.

That is about it for my ideas, but it’s a lot for now and I have lots of work to do. Smile It feels good to have some direction finally and actually start working.

If any one is willing, some other funding options include opening a funding program through family and friends back home, but its important to know you have people states-side willing to donate before even trying to apply, so please let me know if you’d be interested at all in helping to fund any of my projects either in the near future or any time. I am not sure if I’ll ever choose to do this option, but in case I cannot get funding elsewhere I may look into it. Thanks!


Play: I have recently discovered a portal to America here in Malawi!

This weekend I took a trip down to Blantyre where there is a small movie theater to see the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. I went with a couple friends who were willing to be dragged to such a silly event and we all had a magical American experience.

The theater, although small, had popcorn and candy for sale and nice theater seating and real good-sized wide movie screen, AND previews! Open-mouthed smile I definitely had a moment, eating popcorn, sitting in air-conditioning in a real theater about to see the new Harry Potter that I really felt like I could have busted into tears, lol. It was surreal to say the least. And when we exited the theater and hopped on a minibus back to our lodge, reality of still being in Africa slapped us all awake. We are all in agreement, however, that we really were transported back to America for that 2 and a half hours.

Here are some pictures!

Out in the theater hall before the movie, I was pumped!

And if you thought being in Malawi would stop me from “dressing up” for a Harry Potter movie, you were SO wrong! This is my HP 7 shirt from when the book came out. Smile

My friend Daniel, munching on popcorn. Check out the seats! It was legit.

Me and my friend Mary, also enjoying popcorn and getting excited for the movie to start!

Needless to say the entire experience was incredible and the movie was AMAZING. I can’t wait for part 2!! But I think I love Harry Potter too much and am biased. lol

It’s been a whole week filled with Harry Potter, since I also forced my neighbors through a 1 – 6 Harry Potter movie marathon prior to going to see the new one. It was fun and interesting to see how they responded and reacted to all the magic and stuff. George even asked me at one point, “Ashley? Is magic similar to physics?” Me, “Uh… Yes… kinda…” hahahaha. I love my neighbors.

* * *

So now I’m finishing up a few things in the office before heading out to find a ride back to my village. Hopefully the next time I post I’ll have more progress to report regarding my projects.

I miss and love you all!


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A Word for the Newbies

Congratulations to the new Health and Environment Trainees!! Party smile

Not too long ago I was preparing for my departure to Malawi for Peace Corps as well. I remember all too well the late nights of blog stalking and packing, unpacking and repacking trying to make sure I was ready to leave my home for 2 years.

One thing I found that was helpful was when a few current volunteers made blog posts about their suggestions/recommendations on packing, so I thought I would do the same Smile

A girl from the new group coming to Malawi at the end of February emailed me a while back for suggestions so I’ll just say what I told her!

First, there have been many questions regarding iPhones so here’s my take: if you want it, get it before you come AND make sure it’s unlocked before you come. That’s what I did and it’s been awesome. Many people brought them without unlocking them and are having difficulties finding a way to do it here. There is a program called black ra1n or red sn0w that you can download for free to jailbreak the iPhone. But any internet phone that can take a SIM card will also work, as long as it’s unlocked.

I recently went thru and updated my ‘Packing List’ page to reflect what I actually brought, so please first refer back to that.

After looking at my packing list, here are my changes and recommendations:
1. You probably don’t need any cold weather gear like we did, since we came during winter and Dedza was cold! Maybe a light jacket or sweater and one pair of pj pants or sweats.
2. I brought what now seems like a crap-ton of underwear, only because I usually only wear the same two pairs lol. I like to wash the pair I’m wearing when I take a bath which is everyday, so I just cycle back and forth btw two pairs. There’s like 6 pairs I haven’t even touched! So I’d say 6 or 7 pairs is good.
3. With any clothes, make sure they’re good quality. Hand-washing is hard on clothes, especially if you have a Malawian do it for you, and you want them to last a while
4. Pack things that are easy to mix and match, less clothes more outfits!
5. Girls – Try not to bring too many skirts or dresses that show any knee. Knees are scandalous here (lol) and especially in the village it is very inappropriate for women to bare their knees. Tank tops are fine, but knees? Nope. There were a few girls in my group that I guess thought it wasn’t that big of a deal and hardly brought anything below the knee and it ended up being an issue. I’m not saying you can’t bring anything, cuz who doesn’t like to look cute to go out to the clubs in town, but just be mindful 🙂
6. If you pack sunscreen, only do so if you want over 30 spf or a nice brand like Aveeno or something. PC provides it but it’s only 30 spf. I brought a couple bottles of 50 spf cuz I am white white white. lol

Things I think are a must (outside the obvious like raincoat) and why:
– The camp towel ended up being a good bring because some ppl said not to bring a towel since chitenjes can work as towels, but I wasn’t convinced and I’m glad for that. Chitenjes can work, however the ones they give you during training suck (well the material is not that great) so if you have any hair it fails miserably to soak up any water. I eventually bought a full-sized towel in Lilongwe, but during training the camp towel was awesome.
– Pumice stone is a must. This place is murderous on your feet. So bring that and anything else you use to take care of your feet.
– Advice given to me before I left that is still true: If it is important to you in the states it will probably be important to you here. Yes, your standards may change after a while, but at first the comforts of familiar and home are really nice. Same thing with the laptop, many ppl who did not bring one have regretted it and/or ended up having ppl from home bring one. The netbooks are nice cuz they’re small and have good battery life.
– External hard-drive (if you bring a laptop) Movies are like gold here amongst the PCVs and you’ll want plenty of room to put some on before and during service.
– It’s always good to have extras! Like my 2 nail clippers and tweezers, and extra toothbrushes and chapstick.
– Hand sanitizer, you will want it and PC doesn’t provide it. Bring a good sized bottle, not monstrous, but not tiny either.
-good deodorant and hair conditioner (if u use it), it’s hella expensive here.
-Ladies – Diva Cup! Bring 2, just in case. It will change your life, I swear.
– leggings are good to have when riding a bike in a skirt! I probably over did it with 6, but I don’t regret it.
– ear plugs and maybe eye mask, Malawians start their day crazy early so it helps to have them to drown out the racket, plus the lodges we all like to stay at have dorm style rooms where there are 6-10 ppl in each room, so they’re nice to have since staying in the lodges in town.
– Things that remind you of home! Little knick-knacks and pictures to hang up. It really helps to make your house a home here and those few things can make a big difference. But also keep in mind not to bring anything you’d be too devastated if something happened to it!

The Nook is not a must, but oh man have I enjoyed having it. But I’m a huge reader and with the new WiFi installed at the office here (yay!) you can download new books when in Lilongwe. So just fyi. 🙂

* * *

Well that’s my input! Good luck packing and we’re all looking forward to meeting you when you arrive on Feb 27th! I’ll be at the airport, among others, to greet you. Smile

See you soon!

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Tis the Season, Africa Style!

A very Merry and very late Christmas to you all! And Happy New Year! Smile

I apologize for my slacking throughout the holiday season and even since then, but my excuse is that I did not really have time nor access to post a blog during the holidays and within 2 days of being back at site came down with acute bronchitis that spread into my sinuses and was out of commission for nearly a week! I’m just starting to really feel better and even now am still hacking up a lung and am almost through my 3rd roll of TP with how much I have to blow my nose. It’s really unpleasant…  Sick smile

Any hoo… shall I fill you in on my African holiday shenanigans?

Well ok! Here’ goes…

Deck the Palm Tress – My Holiday Lake Shore Tour Island with a palm tree


I know it’s small, but it was the best picture of Malawi I had without access to the internet. I’ve added red numbers to the various areas (in order) of the lake we visited so you can have an idea of where all I went! Smile

Thursday before Christmas I traveled down Southeast a bit to stay with Chloe and see her site in Balaka. Friday morning the two of us set out directly North to Mangochi district and eventually to Cape Maclear (1). At Cape Mac, I stayed at a beach lodge with Chloe and about 20 or so other volunteers. We enjoyed a Christmas Eve dinner at a near by restaurant of pork, roasted potatoes, green beans and some kind of cheese broccoli dish. It was delicious and we finished with a warm cake drizzled in caramel icing.

On Christmas day a group of 8 of us went snorkeling!

All of us about to load up in the tour boat and go across to a small island for snorkeling.

CIMG3454                                  CIMG3492
Chloe looking hott in her snorkel gear – Me surrounded by a million cichlids!

This is a view from the boat back toward where our lodge was.

We all had a really fun time and spent nearly 4 hours out in the water! We were lucky that the entire time we were there we did not experience much rain during the day, but more than one night of our stay there we were entertained by lightning storms over the lake Lightning. One night I was even able to capture at least one good shot:

Breath-taking isn’t it?

Chloe and I had really only solidified our plans up to Christmas. We had yet to commit where to go for New Years, since there was more than one thing going on. One option was to go up with most of the people we were with at Cape Mac to Nkhata Bay, however we weren’t sure if we wanted to travel that far north. The other option was to go down to Blantyre with a few other friends from our group, but that didn’t seem too exciting and Blantyre was kind of “been-there-done-that” for both of us.

While trying to decide, we spent a couple more days just lounging around the beach at Cape Mac and enjoying the warm weather, water and sun. Finally I suggested that maybe we should just go to Nkhata Bay since neither of us have been there and maybe we could make a “Lake Shore Tour” of the week leading up to the New Year by stopping at various beaches along the way. Chloe thought this idea was more than perfect and apparently so did a couple other friends, Daniel and Mary, who asked if they could tag along as well.

So Tuesday morning the 4 of us headed out of Cape Mac and traveled up north along the M5 (aka Lake Shore Road) to Nkhotakota (2). Using the Malawi Lonely Planet guide book we located a small inn on the beach call Sitima Inn.

The building was such an odd, eclectic place, that all four of us instantly fell in love with it. The owner, a eccentric South African man name Zig, was more than welcoming and sat to talk with us while we enjoyed beers on the second floor balcony of their bar. He even gave us a ride out to the main road the next morning! The inn was along a stretch of beach that did not look particularly safe to swim in because of the amount of reeds (prime schisto territory!) so we didn’t swim here but the view was still beautiful.

From the bar balcony looking out over the beach.

Down on the beach, the view of the broken down dock. The Ferry still stops here though and since the dock is destroyed they bring people to shore using emergency rescue boats!

Down the beach a little ways. Here is a traditional dug-out canoe sitting on the beach. A lady is digging up sand to sell.

After out stint in Nkhotakota, we headed further north to an area called Chintheche and stayed at a very popular beach resort called Kande Beach (3). All of the places we went to were in their own way beautiful and awe-inspiring, but I must say Kande was probably the best beach.

We spent 2 nights at Kande and enjoyed delicious burgers and fish at their restaurant. On Friday morning (New Years Eve) we finished our north bound travel at Nkhata Bay (4). There were probably over 30 of us all together staying at a lakeside lodge called Big Blue Star. Many of us were camping, but Chloe and I stayed in the dorm room (that had 16 beds!). 

For New Year’s Eve we all went to this bar/club/restaurant called Kaya Papaya where we also met up with a group of Peace Corps Zambia volunteers who were visiting Malawi for the holidays. We all danced and drank and had a fun time and ended up doing the countdown TWICE! Party smile No one was paying attention apparently and so the first one was late and then a bunch of people missed out on the first one so they did it again! Laughing out loud It was pretty silly!

Saturday we all just lounged around, nursing our wicked hangovers and watched nonstop music videos on the satellite TV at the lodge.

Sunday Chloe, Mary, our friend Brian and I, left early in the morning to make the very long journey to Lilongwe. First we went to Mzuzu and stopped to check out the market there so I could buy some chitenjes. We had a really difficult time finding a ride out of Mzuzu, mainly because there were 4 of us and 4 is a hard number to hitch with, but also the North is less populated and thus less traffic and people willing to pick people up.

We finally got a ride that was going all the way to Lilongwe. It was a pick-up truck with an extended cab, but there were already 3 people in the car so 2 of us could cram in the back of the cab and the other 2 had to sit in the bed. Mary and I were the “lucky” ones who got to sit in the back and about 45 minutes into the ride it started POURING rain! Storm cloud Needless to say we were both miserable. We both were huddle up against our packs in our rain coats trying to not freeze to death while being pelted viciously by the onslaught of rain. Luckily the rain only lasted about 20 minutes but that was definitely 20 minutes TOO long! Crying face

Our ride stopped in Kasungu at a mosque (they were Muslim) to pray. Chloe and I set out for snacks since we’d been en route for over 5 hours at this point. When we came back the men driving us said they had a few things they needed to do there so they would not be leaving for another hour or 2, so they suggested we catch a bus. I’m fairly sure they were just trying to find a nice way to ditch us but who knows lol.

We sat on the road in Kasungu for over an hour and a half before submitting and taking a minibus. This minibus ride was by far the most ridiculous and at one point there were 28 people (children included) and 3 chickens crammed into what is supposed to only hold 12 people.

Two little girls sitting next to me and one of the chickens! Smile At one point the girl in the red was sitting on my lap for part of the ride!

The bus stopped in some other town and they told us we had to switch buses. I was not very happy about this because the bus they wanted to fit us on was already packed, which meant we’d end up in the isle and thus be the ones to climb in and out to let people on and off. No way José! So we opted to stay there and try to find a hitch to Lilongwe.

We luckily found a truck going all the way to Lilongwe and all piled in the back of bed. Once in Lilongwe we went to our usual lodge, Mufafa’s to stay the night. The entire trip took a whopping TWELVE hours! Annoyed

I stayed in town until Tuesday because Monday the PC office was closed for a holiday and I really wanted to check my mail before heading back to site. And I’m glad I did because I ended up having 2 packages to pick up at the post office!

After gathering my packages at the post office I called Simon from Mitundu to see if he was going to be in town and it turned out he was coming to town for a few things and said he could take me home. *happy dance* Simon picked me up at the office and by 2:30pm I was back at my nyumba in my village.

Thus concluding my Lake Shore Tour, holiday extravaganza!

Back to Reality – Village Life LatelyGoat

Two days after returning to site I came down with acute bronchitis (as previously mentioned) so I’ve spent the majority of my time since the holidays recovering from that. I went on antibiotics for a week and slept a lot.

I’m happy to report that I am feeling loads better and hopefully by next weekend this wicked cough will have gone. Rolling on the floor laughing

Since I was stuck at home feeling wimpy, I watched a lot of movies laying on my couch. One day Gladys came over while I was watching Inception (great movie by the way!) and she sat and watched a few minutes of it with me. She said the next day she wanted to watch a movie with me again, lol. So the next day I decided to take the movie to her and packed up my lap top and speakers and took them next door. Even though George is the only one who really speaks English well I thought they may all still enjoy it. I told them I thought we could watch a movie together and George and the rest were more than excited about the prospect.

I asked them what kind of movie they wanted to watch and Aubrey made punching motions and said, “fighting!” hahahaha I perused my video library and tried to find a good action movie and decided on Batman Begins. They all seemed to enjoy the movie very much and have more or less become obsessed with watching my American films.

Everyday since then we have watched at least one movie a day! So far we have watched: Batman Begins, the Hangover, Avatar, Super Troopers, X-Men, the Matrix, Romeo and Juliet, and Gamer.

Yup. hahaha The boys really love the action movies, and during intense fighting scenes Aubrey always says, “Ashally, goo-ed feelm!” Open-mouthed smile

* * *

The other day we got a spontaneous downpour and I was just hanging out in my house when I heard a bunch of laughing and singing. I looked up out my open front window to find this:

Vicky (Gladys’ daughter), Thalandila and Aubrey all dancing half naked in the rain! lol


I love my kids here Smile


* * *

When I arrived back after the holidays I was pleasantly surprised to find my garden growing!
These are my zucchini plants! I can’t wait till I will have food I grew myself!

I also went with Helen to harvest some maize (corn) from her garden fields. The same ones Nzelu and I went with her too a while back to water. Now look at it!

Nzelu followed too and had a good time running around the fields like a crazy dog, even falling into a water hole at one point. Guess that was his bath that day!

A couple boys pulling the corn off the stalks to take home.

* * *

I was also roped in by Gladys, to buy a matching chitenje with her so we could both have one that was the same. The next day we coordinated to wear them at the same time, and I thought it was definitely a good photo op:

And while we were taking that picture, Aubrey and another boy Marriot posed for there own:

I also thought I’d include a picture of one of my lunches so you all could see what a typical meal looks like. The white lumpy stuff is nsima (see-ma) then below that on the left is eggs fried in cooking oil with tomatoes and onions (probably one of my favorite things here) and on the right is inswa (flying ants). Yup, bugs. Nyah-Nyah They weren’t too bad, but I don’t know if I’ll make a habit out of eating them!

* * *

This weekend there was a funeral and Sunday was the “Big Dance” day. I went with Gladys and George to where the ceremony was being held. When the Gule Wankulu (Big Dance) members are out and about the women and children run away from them. Legend is that they are possessed by spirits so many people are genuinely afraid of them. All members are men and all their identities are secret since they were crazy costumes with masks.

I told Gladys I didn’t want to run with her and the other ladies because of the mud (it had just rained) so I went with all the HSA men for most of the time. After they all ate nsima and beans, George came up to me and said, “It is time for the big dance, you have a chair, follow me.”

And of course, in the line of chairs reserved for all the village chiefs, I was sat smack dab in the middle. You know, since I’m not a spectacle enough already… However, as embarrassing as my seat was, it does provide an excellent view of the dancing. I realized a little too late, though, that I had my iPhone with me and neglected to snap pictures of the other dancers, but I did manage to get a few of the big animals at the end!

These are lions, each one is “driven” by two men.

Here is a traditional dancer on the left and the large black thing is a llama (I think).

Another traditional dancer on the left and the white thing is either a boat or a hat, representing the village headman.

The last two (the black llama and white boat thing) are not supposed to be seen by women, so the lions before them chase away all the women and children before these two come out.

I don’t really understand a lot of this, but it is their culture, and very entertaining to say the least. Smile

* * *

Well that concludes this update for you all!

I hope you enjoyed all my stories and pictures and videos! And I hope you all had wonderful holidays of your own!

I miss you all and promise to try and be more regular with my posts. Winking smile 

Next time I’ll fill you in on my actual work!


Posted in Christmas, Holiday, life, Malawi, update | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My 3 Week Hiatus from Village Life


As predicted, much time has passed since my last real entry. Mainly because I forgot to pack my internet usb stick, so I was unable to post anything during IST. Now there is lots of catching up to do, the only question is, where to begin?

How about Thanksgiving?

Ok good.

My grand adventure, that was the last three weeks, began on Thanksgiving. Thursday, November 25th, I left my site and headed to Lilongwe. We have a group here called Volunteers Supporting Volunteers (VSV), so for Thanksgiving each region’s VSV hosted a Thanksgiving dinner/orientation for us newbies. I live in the central region and Lilongwe is the main city in this region so that’s where they hosted dinner. They cooked very yummy Mexican food, including handmade tortillas and guacamole!

That following Saturday, Peace Corps held a Thanksgiving feast for ALL of us. The country director and a couple other staff paid for it out of their pockets. The dinner/lunch was held at the US Ambassador’s house (where our swear-in was) and there was lots of good food, beer and music. Among the excellent food was a whole-roasted pig! For serious. Check it out:


I admit it was a little freaky, but oh so delicious! Smile

The next day, Sunday, Peace Corps provided us new health volunteers with transport from Lilongwe to Dedza for our In-Service Training (IST). The training was 2 weeks long and for one week our newly appointed counterparts joined us. The purpose of this training is to go over all of our community assessments and create a six-month action plan for when we return. We also learned about grant writing and funds available through Peace Corps, as well as project ideas and various IGAs like jam and soap making.

On the Saturday during IST, we went on a field trip to Mua Mission. A place in another area of Dedza district that has a cultural museum about Malawians.  The museum was incredible and very insightful and helpful for us, since much of the information is usually only privy to Malawians. Sadly, because of this, we were not allowed to take photos of the inside of the museum, but here I am standing outside it:


One room had this faux-tree built up in the center and hanging from all the braches were various Gule Wankulu (the traditional dance, where men dress up) masks and all their meanings were on little flip charts around the tree.

There were pictures and information regarding most of the rituals in the Chewa tribe, including weddings, funerals, rites of passage, chieftainship, and birth.  The Chewas are mostly located in the central and southern regions. The language they and I speak is Chichewa, which is language of the Chewas. Other tribes in the north are Timbuka, who speak Chitimbuka and Tonga, who speak Chitonga. Make sense?

To get to Mua Mission we had to drive through the large mountain range that passes through Dedza district. The road was a mess of steep hair-pin turns that made many passengers feel sick. I, however, was loving it and took a ton of pictures of our scenic view.

Here is one shot that includes the crazy road and some mountains:


Chloe was sitting next to me and passed out on my shoulder, so I took the liberty to take a photo, lol:



IST was held at the same location PST was, at the Dedza College of Forestry. The 15 of us bunked up in one of the dorms and the week the counterparts came, they stayed in the other dorm. We all had a blast and it was great to have it just be us and not the Education group too, like during PST. Not that I don’t love those guys too, but 35 people is a lot! Plus our group dynamic was completely different with just us. We had movie night almost every night using the PC projector and a blank wall in the lounge of our dorm and the nights we didn’t have movies going we had mini dance parties!

For our last night and dance party, Chloe, Chelsea and I decided to make real flower lei bracelets for everyone using the fallen plumeria flowers from a tree by the college. They turned out awesome and everyone loved them. We had some extra so I made a necklace too!


One afternoon Chloe, Brian, Os and I hiked up the mountain behind the college, and the boys and I thought it was a good James Bond photo op:


Because of the rains there were a BAJILLION bugs everywhere, including big green grasshoppers. Apparently Malawians eat these grasshoppers and a fellow PCV, Talia, decided she wanted to try them. She asked our cook Christopher if he would cook them for us and he agreed. So we all caught a bunch and Christopher fried ‘em up:


And we ate ‘em!


And they were GOOD!! Smile I don’t know if I’d go as far as snacking on them regularly, but I was pleasantly surprised.


Towards the end of the second week, we had a couple days dedicated to learning about Income Generating Activities (IGAs) that we can help groups or CBOs in our communities with. We actually did a few of them, like making jam and soap.

Here I am with Chloe mashing bananas for banana jam:


We also made peanut oil, so we had to shell the nuts first using a groundnut sheller. Here I am shellin’ some nuts:



When IST was over last Friday, many of us decided we weren’t quite ready to return to the village and took the weekend as an opportunity to do some light traveling. We first had to go to Lilongwe though for a meeting, so we got PC transport Friday after lunch and on Saturday I went with Chloe, Brian, Talia and Chelsea down south to Blantyre. To travel we broke up our party a bit to make hitching a little easier, so I traveled with Chloe and Brian. We made the trip in 3 hitches, which is not ideal, but better than it could have been. The first one was a crazy Chinese lady who just got us out of Lilongwe and dropped us on the M1 going south. The second was this cute Australian guy who took us down to Dedza. Our last hitch from Dedza to Blantyre were a couple of Malawian men on their way to visit some family. During the trip they stopped around 5 different times to buy food to take with them. And by food I mean roasted mice, bugs and tiny birds… yeah.

People just stand along the side of the road waving the food as you pass, so we’d just pull over and get bombarded with adults and kids alike waving their goods at us through the window.

Here is one boy holding a pan piled high with mbewa (roasted mice):


Here is a girl with a bowl full of fried bugs, I think they might be flying termites:


Here’s a guy with a bunch of skewers with roasted tiny birds:


It was pretty amazing how much mbewa they bought. They explained it was rare during rainy season so they wanted to stock up. Ew..

Once we arrived in Blantyre, it was lunch time, so after checking in and dropping our stuff off at the lodge we stayed at, Chloe, Brian and I hit the market for some street food: chips, steak bits and a fanta. We wandered around the market a bit then took a mini bus to this shopping center where Game and the movie theater is. I had hoped Harry Potter 7 would be playing but it was not. I’m not giving up hope yet, though, cuz I heard the last couple did come out here so maybe in the next month or so it will be here.

The city was incredible. You can tell it’s much more developed than Lilongwe and the scenery around it was amazing too. I was happy to finally see it, even if for only a day. Smile

Chloe and I had planned on meeting up with Chelsea and Talia who had been hanging out with these Greek guys Talia is friends with, so we got all dolled up and waited at the lodge for them to pick us up, but apparently there was a miscommunication and they thought we said we wanted to stay there, so they never came. We were bummed, but ended up having a pleasant evening anyway. We ate hamburgers at the restaurant in the lodge and met a bunch of cool people who were traveling around. One guy we met was this cute Swedish guy name Per, and he, Chloe and I all got burgers together. Chloe and I demolished ours before Per was even half done eating his and he was eating it with a fork and knife! Naturally we were both embarrassed, but he was thrilled to be eating such an iconic American dish with real Americans and another guy said, “Yeah and usually girls never eat a lot in front of guys, so it’s nice to see some girls who really eat!” Even though this was a compliment, I think we both were even more mortified than before, lol.

Sunday we got up and had breakfast at the lodge and kind of piddled around until we heard from Talia. Around lunch time one of the Greek boys came and picked me and Chloe up and took us to meet Talia, Chelsea, Chloe’s friend Julia and the rest of the Greeks for lunch. We all ate at this little Chinese restaurant and the boys paid the bill that was almost $200! It was freaking delicious though!

After lunch the girls and I went with one of the Greeks, Hari, to his house in Zomba. He has a really nice place, complete with flat screen TV and satellite, leather couches, PS3, and bathtubs!  We had a pretty low-key night, which was just fine with me after traveling and partying a lot. We watched Oprah and other reality TV shows, took baths and painted our toes. Hari’s cooks made pork chops and spaghetti for us for dinner and it was amazing. Over all it was a really nice weekend Smile

Monday morning Hari dropped us off at the tarmac to get a ride into Zomba boma. We piled into a small pick up truck and went to the town. In town we wandered around a bit, but I needed to get going back up to Lilongwe so Chloe and I headed out to hitch back north. We got a hitch from Zomba to Liwonde, with this guy from South Africa who had an American car and ran a boat safari in Liwonde National Park. From Liwonde we got a ride with a British man from Nkhotakhota, who runs a pottery and lodge there. He dropped Chloe off at the turn off to her site and me in Balakha. From Balakha I got a ride with a nice Malawian family who took me to Dedza. From Dedza I got a lift on a big lorrie truck that took me all the way to Lilongwe.

Sadly I didn’t make it to Lilongwe until 4:30pm and the man that was going to take me back to my site had already left, so I had to stay another night in Lilongwe. On Tuesday I called Simon, who lives in Mitundu and gives me rides sometimes, to see if he was going to be in town. It turned out he was coming in to buy a few things and said he’d take me home. He picked me up around noon and bought me pizza on our way out of town.

Finally around 2pm he dropped me off at my house and I was home for the first time in almost 3 weeks! I got into my house and put everything inside and went to gather Nzelu from Helen’s house. I was shocked to find Nzelu had grown tremendously since I’d seen him last! It was weird and a little sad. He seemed to have behaved himself more or less, except that he apparently killed one of Helen’s chickens trying to play with it! Luckily she said it was a young chicken and she knew he didn’t meant to, so I didn’t have to pay for it.

Another shock was how much things around my house had changed since rainy season has started. I actually have a lawn!


I also had a sofa frame built while I was gone, so that I could stick one of my extra mattress on it, futon style, to make a sofa. I went and picked it up after getting Nzelu and set it all up in my house. I’m actually amazed at just how perfect it fit and looks! I’m so happy! It’s nice having a place other than a chair or the floor to sit. Plus since it’s a mattress it’s long enough to lay down on. I also didn’t have to cut it at all, so when people visit they can either sleep on it like that or just pull it off and lay it on the ground! Pretty dang awesome if you ask me!

Here it is:


I even made pillows! I cut an extra pillow in half and used one of my cheaper chitenjes to make covers. Smile


Phew… That was long…

Now I’m back in my house in the village and I must admit it’s a little strange. I’ve been really spoiled with good food, running water and good electricity, as well as lots of American company, that now I’m here thinking, “oh…” lol It’s not that bad, but it is weird. I am happy though, it feels nice to be back and in my own bed, with Nzelu and not living out of a back pack.

However, next Thursday I’m off again! I know crazy huh? It’s Christmas next weekend so I’m going to the Lake with Chloe and some other PCVs for the holidays. I can’t believe it’s Christmas time! It’s so hot and tropical here and un-christmasy in the village that I don’t even think about it. I like it though because then I’m not as sad about missing it.

Well, I’ll end here. I hope everything back home is going well and you all are enjoying the holiday season for me! Smile 

Till next time…

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Africa’s Fallen Angels

Their crumpled, lifeless bodies
litter the cold cement floor
An unlikely graveyard
Remnants of a long, overnight battle,
a struggle to survive
a fight for food
a buzzing debacle of sorts.
Fallen soldiers,
ripped limb from limb
Silent, sleeping amputees,
With no more song left to sing.
The casualties were high
on every side.
Each army’s dismembered comrades
creating a eery obstacle
for their gods to tip-toe by.
No one gives a second glance
to their twitching,
spazzing appendages.
We cannot entertain the thought
of saving yet another soul.
At the rising of the swollen African sun,
the troops have all dispersed,
and cut their losses.
Perhaps now recuperating,
mourning their defeated brothers.
These swarms of mother nature’s angels
Have faded for the day
away from our waking world,
All in preparation,
For their midnight, six-legged domination.

By Ashleigh Stafford

Posted in Poetry | 4 Comments

Currently Loving Malawi


Well, it sure has been an eventful week!

Monday I went to Lilongwe because another PCV, who works with the NGO Save the Children, needed some volunteers for their Every One campaign launch event that was Tuesday. I met up with her and the other people helping out and we all stayed the night at her house. The rest of them had been out at the venue all day Monday getting things ready so while I was in town I bought food and then once at Kelly’s (the  girl we were helping) house, I cooked dinner for everyone. I was surprised at how well it turned out! I made spaghetti with a meat sauce (which I made from scratch: tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, ground beef and oil), and sautéed green beans! It was yummy!

Tuesday morning we got up a little after 5am and were picked up by Kelly’s boss Jobee (I think that’s how you spell it), we first went to the Save the Children office to pick up a few things then drove out to the venue. The event was being held on the soccer field of a school in a village about an hour north of Lilongwe. The first lady was going to come and make a speech but that morning she called to cancel (lame) so there were a few logistically glitches to work out, but with all things considered the event went really well.  We helped to set out the thousand-some-odd chairs and pass out stickers and pledge cards. I helped to guard the water since all the villagers wanted to take it so I had to sit with all the bottles and hand it out to guests and workers.

Here are a few pictures from the event:

IMG_1226 IMG_1229 IMG_1223

I just took these with my phone while I was sitting with the water. The left picture is of the booths they set up with information and I was on the end with the water. The middle picture is of the whole area with all the people in the back and some ladies in the center doing a dance. The one of the right is where are important guests were sitting along with the band all the way in the back on the left.

The fabric all the ladies are wearing was chitenje fabric they had made and to order a custom print like that they had to order a crap-ton so a lot of people had outfits made and they used it to decorate the tables and stage. A lot of us got just a chitenje too, which is pretty cool.

After the event was over we had to break everything down, including all the big tents we were sitting under. It was chaos! The villagers were like the living dead, ambushing us and cars that were leaving yelling at us to give them things. “Sister, give me tee shirt!” “Sister, give me cap!” “Sister, give me chitenje!” and so on. It was seriously insane. At one point Kelly wanted to give a group of children who performed these drinks call Maheu, but only to the kids who performed and we ended up having to have the security guards create a human blockade to keep the rest of the people away from us as we passed it out!

When we arrived back in Lilongwe, Jobee (Kelly’s boss) invited us to his house for pizza and beer! It was awesome! The pizza was delicious and he even bought us fried chicken! And he had a really sweet house, I felt like I was in America for a bit lol.

We stayed the night at Kelly’s again and on Wednesday we all went and had breakfast at a cafe in town called Bohemian Cafe. I had waffles with bacon and iced coffee! yum yum! The lady working there thought it was really silly that I wanted bacon with my waffles, she kept saying ,”But Madame, waffles are sweet…” hahaha

Then I just kind of hung around town all day. I ran a few errands with my friend Daniel who also lives near Lilongwe and was helping with Kelly’s thing too. His errands ended up being a much bigger pain than either of us expected so to make up for dragging me along he bought me lunch, which was pretty awesome. I had to hang around the whole day because the nice man who gave me a ride home the last time I went to town was going to pick me up but couldn’t until 6pm, so I had to just hang out. But I didn’t mind because it was a personal, free ride home. Plus I decided to buy real dog food for Nzelu and since I was getting a ride with him I went ahead a bought 2 bags lol. 

On Thursday I met with a couple HSAs to make last minute plans for my village meeting that was the next day. We figures out the agenda and made sure we were all on the same page. The two helping me were Felix (Salima’s, the volunteer before me, counterpart) and Samuel.

As I’ve mentioned before I have slim pickens for choices of counterparts here and even though my APCD said I could really pick anyone and even suggested a teacher, I hate the idea of meeting someone for the first time and in less than a week making a decision whether or not to have them be my counterpart. So after some deliberation I’ve decided to ask Samuel to be my counterpart. I still have a few issues with some thing he does (like he openly admits to being a drunkard) but he put a lot of effort into making my village meeting happen, going as far as hand writing invitations for all the people we asked to come. I figured if it doesn’t work out then ok, but at least I can give him a chance.

Friday, in the morning, I made all the last minute preparations for the meeting which was to start at 2pm. I went up to the health center around 1:30 and was pleasantly surprised that we were able to start by 2:30! Hey, for African time that’s amazing! 🙂 There were about 30 people there and about equal men and women.

First we had a prayer and then I did an introduction (in Chichewa!) and our first activity was to make a Community Map. I split the group up into two groups, one for the men and one for the women.

Here are the ladies working on there map. Helen is the one drawing it and the bottom.

And here are the men working on there map. It was funny because the men had to use a ruler and wanted to make it perfect and precise.

When everyone was finished I asked one person from each group to present their map. Here is Helen presenting the ladies’ map. And yes, Mr. Nzelu was hanging out with us during the meeting!

After the community maps we did a Seasonal Calendar. Here I am explaining how the activity works.

Samuel is explaining something here (in the middle with blue pants) and Felix is to his right and the man on the far right in the chair is the local Village Headman who attended.

Here I am with all the people who attended my meeting! Samuel is to the left of me and Helen is behind me.

George took all the pictures for me. He took his job very seriously and was walking around getting different shots from different perspectives and took like 35 pictures! lol

All in all the meeting was quite a success! I was pleased with the turn out and everyone who came participated in all the activities. One man even asked when the next meeting was so he could be ready to come! It makes me really happy that the community was willing to come, play a part in it and seem eager to help out in the future. I’m now feeling much better about being here and working with this community.

From the exercises we did it evident water is the number one issue. I knew this beforehand but it came out again and again during the meeting. The number 2 issue is HIV/AIDS and then (get this..) teen pregnancy! Not that I’m surprised that it’s an issue, but that the group came up with it as an issue. I was very impressed.

Now I’m just kind of stuck because to take on water as a project is has to be a primary project, which I’d probably spend at least half my time here working on and even though I know it’s important I don’t really want to do a water project. I don’t really know much about water or communicable disease nor do I really have the passion to work on it. I would rather work with the youth here and do life skill building and HIV/AIDS education. Even though water is the number one issue, what I want to do is tied in with issues 2 and 3 so maybe it’ll work out for me to just do what I want to do. And who knows, maybe by the end of my first year I will feel more up to working on the water issue? We shall see!


Now it’s Sunday and in less than I week I will be going to Lilongwe for Thanksgiving dinner and then on to Dedza for In-Service Training (IST) which is a 2-week long training, part of which our counterparts come too, and we learn more specific information about projects we are interested in. I already told my APCD I want to work with the youth so he said he’s going to make sure to have a section regarding youth projects. I’m really excited about IST, because it will be 2 weeks back with the gang! It will be really nice to see everyone again and catch up on what they all have been up to the last 3 months.

Do you know? I have been a volunteer longer than I was a trainee! Crazy… December 3rd I will have been here for exactly 5 months! Time here is so surreal. Days I feel like I can’t believe how fast the time has gone and then other days I feel like I’ve been here forever. I remember hearing about this phenomenon from blogs before coming but it’s only something you can really understand once you’ve experienced it. It’s very strange.

Today is the 3rd day in a row in which it has rained, so I’m thinking rainy season really is starting which is making me happy because I’m not drowning in my own sweat anymore. The only thing that sucks is Sunday is my laundry day and now I have to wait till either it stops raining or tomorrow. Ugh. 

I’ve been busy lately doing a little feng shui in my house. EVERYTHING is different! It’s pretty crazy. Here’s what happened… First I thought about moving my bed to the other side of the room so that I could sleep next to the window I like to keep open at night and maybe it would be even cooler. Then I was talking with another PCV who was in my training group about furniture and I said that I have an extra mattress that I keep thinking maybe I could turn into a couch because the only place I have to sit are hard wooden chair or the floor and after an hour it’s very uncomfortable, and he said, “Well that’s what I did. I just had a carpenter make a sofa frame and then I made cushions with a spare mattress.” Genius! I don’t know why I didn’t think of just having a frame made before, lol. So I measured the mattress and made out a plan for a frame so that hopefully I don’t have to actually damage the mattress, but just fold it in half long ways and voila! sofa. 🙂 So then I thought, where the heck would I even put a sofa?

Now let me say that for some reason I had this idea since I got here that my spare room was just that a “spare” room. That for some reason I needed to keep it that to store stuff or to have a place for guests to sleep. But in my brainstorming for ideas on how to get a sofa in my house I realized I could actually use the spare room! I know, duh right? So after a little more thought and a long day of moving things around I now have a kitchen/dining room instead of just a “spare” room! It’s great; I even have plans to procure a hotplate so I used the table I had to made a kitchen counter type space that I will put the hotplate on and all that is in one corner and then I brought in the big cabinet that holds all my food and dishes and then my hand washing station and water filter. I also got another table to use as a dining table from Helen, because she wasn’t using it and I can give it back when I leave and it saves me money from having one made!

My main room is now going to be just a living room space. I don’t have the sofa yet, but I have a place for it and am even going to use the table I had made for a desk (but really is too short to use as a desk) as a coffee table! It’s a little empty right now but when it’s all complete it’s going to be ah-mazing! That is why I don’t have pictures yet, I want to wait till it’s all finished okie dokie? 🙂


Well I suppose that’s all for this update. I wanted to show you all though the way people dry maize (corn) flour here:

This is right outside George’s house in a clearing. Gladys and Generous (my water girl) are on the left collecting it into big baskets to store over night. I helped too and we were all covered in flour at the end. It was actually a lot of fun 🙂

Now, let’s play, guess this strange African animal game!
I honestly am not sure what it is, I have my guesses, but I want to see what you think it is…


I hope everything back home is going well! I miss you all very much. I’m not sure if I’ll have another chance to update until after IST so if it’s a couple of weeks, don’t fret! I’ll update again asap.


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Africa: Not Fit for Man nor Beast

Even though Rainy season ebbs nearer, hot season still gnashes it’s violent teeth at me. I am now even happier then before that I do not live by the lake because I would truly melt. Today is blistering hot. Period. Water sitting in my room isn’t warm, it’s hot. Chocolate melts in the shade. And I’m in a constant state of gleam with a thick layer of sticky perspiration.

Have I mentioned before that even the Malawians complain about the heat? Well, they do. “Kutenta kwambriri!” Which translates into “Too much hot” lol. George is constantly keeping bottles of water in the fridge at the health center so his family can have cool water. Most of the day is spent in the shade sitting on reed mats, wishing the wind will stay a constant breeze and keep us cool. Even staying indoors is not usually an option since our mud-brick, tin-roofed homes act as human ovens in this otherworldly sun. I, myself, write to you now from the almost comfort of the shade of my lone tree in my back yard; however I may need to relocate since the ants are already encroaching on my space. ugh.

Speaking of ants: it is SO insanely hot here that if you sweep a small swarm of ants from the shade to the sun they died instantaneously. Seriously. I must admit I enjoy doing this since I loathe ants, but c’mon, that’s some heat! Poor Nzelu sleeps most of the day inside on the concrete floor with a steady panting breath and any time we walk anywhere he is done walking within 2 minutes and flops down the next time we pass shade. He whines when we walk too much in the sun because the ground scalds his tiny padded paws. I noticed none of the other village dogs are out during the day either, if they are they are sleeping in the shade. It is only in the evening when the sun is setting that the dare tread on the once wicked, hot ground.

It is truly amazing that people live here and have lived her for so long. It is truly amazing that –I– live here!

The last week has passed lethargically. The heat makes every bone in your body ache with warm tingly fatigue. Even my appetite has decreased dramatically,  mainly because food is usually served hot and when your already on the verge of heat stroke, hot food is the last thing you want. The heat has made me even more unproductive than before since leaving the house entails going out in the sun. I’ve read 3 books in the last 4 days, if that’s saying anything! But soon, I am finally going to do some real community assessment work. George is setting up a meeting for me with the HSAs so I can find out who is willing to help me with a village meeting. A meeting to have a meeting! I’m also hoping that of the people who volunteer to assist me will also be viable candidates for my counterpart, as I have still yet to chose one. If they volunteer then they are obviously motivated and willing to help me, I just also hope it’s someone who hasn’t already been a counterpart for one of the previous volunteers since I’m technically not supposed to chose them. Wish me luck!

With such an unproductive, heat induced coma-like week, sadly that means it has also been rather uneventful and therefore I do not much to report on.

I thought maybe I would take this time, then, to answer some of the questions you have been asking:

Q & A with Ashleigh

1. Have you had any GI problems with the food you’re eating?
 Not too much. For the most part the food here is really simple: nsima (the bane of my existence in Malawi), beans, dark leafy greens among a few other veggies, and meat. Honestly compared to some of the things I ate in America, the food here is doing wonders for my GI system! hahaha in fact I’m more ‘regular’ here than I have been in my whole life! There is just the occasional bout of diarrhea and of course that intestinal bacteria infection I got a couple weeks ago, but otherwise I’m in tip-top GI shape!

2. Whatever happened to the eggs the chicken laid in your banana tree?
Gladys came over and took them and I’m pretty sure we ate them because some time has passed since then and there are no new chicks running around. *shrug*

3. Do you go to church on Sunday with the people? And if so, what is it like?
Sometimes I do. My friend Helen takes me to her church on occasion which is called CCAP, I can’t entirely remember the acronym, but it’s Presbyterian. It is definitely interesting to go, but it is all in Chichewa so I generally have no clue what is going on unless Helen writes down little notes for me and shows the the passage they’re discussing in her English bible.  At CCAP there is singing, but not a whole lot of dancing. It seems very similar to church in America, expect its not as flashy, just simple people, using the primary school so we all sit at desks, worshipping God and singing his praises. Very simple. 🙂 Once a month they have a special day called “Paper Sunday”, when it’s a big celebration. Sadly I haven’t been to this yet. Not because there hasn’t been one to go to or that I haven’t been invited, but because the entire celebration is about money. It’s similar to the money dance at the wedding. You have to take a bunch of small bills and the people call you up to give your donations to God. I know this seems harmless but there is so much emphasis on money and how much money you give. Being the “azungu” here, naturally I’ve been invited to several Paper Sundays even from other villages, but have turned them all down because I know they just want me to come to give them lots of money they think I have. I’m just not very comfortable with it. Maybe one day I’ll go just to at least see the whole thing once, but I’m still not sure.

4. Are the stars also brighter? Can you see the South star?
The stars here are incredible! Yes when the moon is out it does create light pollution and blocks many of them out, but when it is not out the stars are quite a sight to behold. I am not sure whether or not I have seen the South star. I’m sure I have but I don’t even know what to look for. I actually didn’t even know there was a South star! lol

5.  How is your dog? What does he eat?
My puppy is great! He’s very ornery and has a small biting problem but otherwise is pretty well behaved. He eats a wide variety of things but mainly I feed him usipa, which are tiny fish. I fry them up in cooking oil and sometimes add an egg. But sometimes I’ll feed him left over nsima and bananas when I have them. There is dog food in the city, but getting it here is the issue. I’m going to look into it on my next trip tho. Another volunteer said they mix dry dog food with rice to make it last longer, which is a really good idea, so I may try that.


Well I think that’s about it. Let me know if you have any other questions! 🙂

On a new note, clouds have just rolled in! *fingers crossed* for rain! Other exciting news: I had another bundle of bananas ready this week so George came over and cut them down for me *happy dance*. I already gave a bunch to Helen since there are easily 80-100 bananas and, well, just plain too many for one person to eat. I also am happy to announce that my spinach seeds have started sprouting! Nothing else yet, but I am in mild shock. I’ve never really grown anything in my life so I’m all giddy with the possibilities of have fresh produce from my own yard and own hard work.

I’ll close with a few pictures that are a little old, but that haven’t been posted yet! Enjoy!

Helen and her husband have gardens in a near by village and she has been taking me with her to water them, which really means watching her water them hahaha, here she is watering along with the man and his son who live next to the plot:

And me and Nzelu are being productive by watching from the shade:

The man and his son again, hold guinea pigs. Yeah I was surprised too, apparently they eat them here! Helen cracked up when I told her people in America keep them as pets.

A gigantic praying mantis that was on my house the other day. He looked ready to kick some butt if I got too close! There are A LOT of praying mantis here tho, huge ones like this, that I’ve also seen as green, as well as teeny-tiny ones and every size in between! It’s crazy.

My love! Nzelu! With a piece of duct tape stuck to his chin! hehehe

Ok it’s starting to rain!! *happy dance* gotta run!


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Third World Super Women

You haven’t seen a silent strength like this before
The long hours of physical labor
“women’s work”
I wonder if their necks aren’t made of steel or
Their hands of thick, soft kevlar.
I’ve seen these women accomplish impossible feats
carrying so much water atop their heads, a friend must help to hoist it up there.
I’ve seen them grab angry, red coals with bare hands
and hold the edges of cooking pots with no complaints
These women come complete with night-vision
as they walk calmly with ease beside
my stumbling with a flashlight.
I’ve seen women with babies on their backs
out tilling soil in the fields
under the unforgiving sun.
They cook 3 and 4 course meals over a single fire
Walk barefoot over rocks, sand and brittle grass.
I wonder if there isn’t an extra hinge, hidden within
their lower backs,
The way they spends hours folded in half to wash clothes
to wash dishes
to sweep or to mop
all by hand.
Watching these third world super women living their humble lives
I wonder what they could accomplish if THEY were the ones allowed to go to school and their brothers made to stay home and work,
If they were told,
if the believed
if they only knew
How different their lives could be.

By Ashleigh Stafford

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Tut-tut, Looks Like Rain and Other Stories

The transition from October to November is also the transition of seasons here in Malawi. While most of you at home are pulling out your cold-weather gear and bracing yourselves for winter, here in the Southern hemisphere, we are preparing for Rainy Season. The Malawians talk about the coming season as though it is the Play-offs or the Apocalypse.
“Ashley, take care… the rains are coming…”
“Madame, will you manage in the rain?”
“We must be ready for the rains!”

Even though the daunting “rains” are not due to officially start till mid November, we have already been experiencing some mild storms. Currently it is dark with heavy clouds and the air is thick and muggy. No rain yet today, but I am hopeful. I enjoy this weather because it also means the blistering sun is hidden behind the clouds and a cool breeze stirs the stale, warm air in my oven-esque home.

Pros & Cons of Rainy Season (so I hear…):

Pros- Cooler weather; lots of produce and mangoes; lush, green scenery; easy water, just set out some buckets; no more termites.

Cons- Bugs, snakes and mud Oh my! the ants are worse; the mosquitoes are worse; snakes try to take refuge in your house where it’s dry; many roads will be impassable due to water and mud, and the bridge the trucks take that drive past my village is flooded over, so transport is scarce; laundry has no where to dry; I will also have less power since my system is solar.

Phew, that’s a lot of cons! But you know what? Cooler weather, trumps them all.

The End.


Keeping the Faith – A Trip to the Lake

Yesterday I returned home from the most lovely weekend I have had in Malawi so far. This weekend also proved to be the luckiest transport EVER. I shall tell the tale of my luck, woven in with the story of my first trip to Lake Malawi. Sunday was my friend Sally’s birthday so to celebrate she had a combined Halloween/birthday party and we all went to Senga Bay. Sally lives in a town called Salima, which if you look at the map is a little Northeast from Lilongwe, near the Lake.

It all started on Friday morning…

I decided to try George’s method of travel and see if I cold get a truck going from Dedza straight to Lilongwe. I reached the roadside around 7am and sat to wait. Around 7:40 the Police men alert me that they see a truck coming. Sure enough a big, blue semi-truck comes down our main road. They stop and let me board in the back in the bed. We also picked up some amayis from my village who were apparently waiting a few meters ahead of where I was. They had to resituate their cargo (coke bottle crates) before heading out, but by 8am we were off!


Mom, Grandma, just don’t think about it too much ok? 🙂 I’m still in one piece!

When we arrived in Lilongwe I ask the driver if he can drop me at “Bwalalongove” the place George told me I could find a truck coming back to my village. The man says, “But aren’t you going to Salima? That’s not a good place for me to drop you.” I said, “Well, yes, but I need to go to the Peace Corps office first and it is near Shoprite.” To which he replies, “Oh, Shoprite? I will just drop you there!” Heck, no way was I about to refuse a practically front-door drop off service and save a lot of walking, so I just said thank you many times.

At the office I ran into another volunteer who lives in Salima and she said she was going to hitch there if I wanted to join. I agreed and so I hung out and enjoyed the new free wifi at the office. We got lunch with some of the other volunteers first and then took a minibus to Area 25 to find a hitch at the Salima turn-off. We walked past a couple other turn-offs on that road to avoid hailing anyone turning soon and waited. Barley 10 minutes later we had a ride in a private car with a business man. The car was fast and air conditioned, and wonderful! He dropped us both off within walking distance of our final destinations and never asked for money. I arrived at Sally’s house and was happy to be reunited with others from my training group, especially Chloe!

We all slept at Sally’s for the night. Chloe and I slept outside in my tent because Salima is HOT. hot hot hot hot hot hot. Just sitting in Sally’s house, I had sweat pouring down my face and down my back, soaking my grey tank top. It was truly awful. I don’t think I could live anywhere near Lakeshore. Luckily, Sally had electricity (and running water, jealous!) so she had a fan going, but it could only do so much.

Saturday morning a few more people joined us and we caught a truck going to Senga Bay. This truck was even scarier than that first blue one. It was a small pick-up and the 10 of us were all crammed in the bed with out katundu (stuff) along with about 5 or 6 other Malawians and their katundu. Yeah. They dropped us right at Sunbird Livingstonia Resort and Campsite and we made our way to the beach. Apparently Sally and the rest who live in the are, normally go in through the Resort gates, but there was a wedding and we were forced to go in on the campsite side. We all planned to camp the night anyway since it was so unbearably hot at Sally’s house.

The Lake is amazing!

I almost forgot I was in Malawi for a while. I seriously felt like I was on the beach in Florida, expect the water wasn’t salty. The lake is so expansive you couldn’t see the other side. It was just blue, clear water as far as the eye could see.


Yes I wore a bathing suit and yes I felt extremely exposed and naked, my knees were showing for petesake! But at the Lake everyone is wearing swimsuits, or just underwear in most Malawian’s case. There were many men wearing boxer briefs to swim in, hahaha.

Oh, and of course, being Halloween, America or Malawi, I was determined to celebrate the right way!
What else did you expect me to dress up as? hehehe! Not many other people dressed up, but we all are living in the bush in Africa, so supplies and options are limited. But I managed to be extremely creative and bust out a faery costume using small tree branches (that were fresh so they would break during travel) and an old mosquito net! Pretty awesome if you ask me! I wanted to go all out with make-up too but it was just WAY too hot. This was good enough 🙂

It was such a great experience and even though I am still freaked out about schisto, the cool water was worth it (at least I think so). We all had a great time, drink beers and soaking up lots of Vitamin D. Most of us left with warm, pink sunburns on our faces and exposed shoulders.  Sunday we relaxed on the beach till noonish and then went to a nearby cafe for lunch. After lunch we found another truck back to Salima and once back in Salima most of us went out our way. I took a bike taxi to the main road and decided to try and hitch back to Lilongwe and if worse came to worse I could still get a minibus in the same area (but avoid public transport is always preferable!). I waited for a bit and then realized that just down the road was a gas station so many people were pulling into the gas station and not pulling over for me, lol. So after the last attempt to hail an older white couple in a truck, I meandered to the other side of the gas station. I was over there for about 2 minutes when the older white couple was about to pull out of the gas station and the man waved giving me a well-come-on look.

I rushed over and he said I could put my stuff in the back. I got loaded up and thanked them a lot. They were very nice and the woman was from the UK and he was born in Mozambique on the Portugal side. They’d been in Malawi for over 23 years! We talked a lot about Malawi, politics in Malawi, America and the UK, my work, their work and eventually turned out she knows one of the Peace Corps doctors! They said they could drop me at Shoprite if I didn’t mind going to their house first so they could unload before heading to church. I said it wasn’t a problem so we went to their insanely bwana (rich person/boss) house. It was massive, maybe even bigger than our country director’s house! There was a brick wall with barbed wire on top surrounding the premises and a metal gate with a guard! They offered me a bathroom and cake while I waited and then took me to Shoprite. It was so nice of them!

Since I came into Lilongwe later than planned I headed straight to the lodge I like to stay at and ran into another PCV from my group who also lives in Lilongwe district, so we got dinner together and hung out in the lodge bar sharing beers and watching Ghost Busters 2. Monday morning we both went to the office and spent time getting some work done (mainly he was working and I posted pictures from the lake). I also had to figure out how to make it home with ALL the wonderful goodies sent to me from my family back home.

When I came in Friday, the man who runs our mail room declared, “Ashley Stafford! You are the one taking up half my mail room!” And he wasn’t joking! Stacked on the floor beside his desk were about 10 packages and envelopes all addressed to me. *gulp* I was ecstatic to finally receive all the packages my family told me they sent, but all at once? Oh my.

So Monday I went to the Lilongwe market and bought a giant bag in hopes to consolidate it all to be able to carry on my person. I packed and stuffed and repacked and restuffed and eventually managed to fit it all into two bags to carry in my hands, one bag across my front and then my giant backpack on my back. I knew I had to look ridiculous, but I was on a mission to make it all in one trip!

By 1:30pm I decided I really needed to head out and start my hunt for Bwalalonjove in hopes for a truck home and fingers crossed, not any type if public transport. I lug my large bag about a block away from the PC office when a white SUV pulls over and a young white girl pokes her head out and asks in a thick English accent, “May I give you a lift?” I practically started sprinting, regardless of the weight I was carrying. I shoved it all in her back seat and climbed up front. I told her where I was going, that I was trying to find a truck home. She asked where I lived and I explained the location and she offered to drop me off at the turn off to my village and I said that would be perfect since I could still find a truck going to my village without having to wander around asking where all the trucks were going. She even said if she didn’t have other things she had to do she’d take me all the way home. I told her that the turn-off was perfect and thanked her a million times.

Once at the turn off I walked to the side of cars passing on their way towards my village. Then my mom called, so I just stood and half-heartedly waved at a few passing trucks, most of whom either ignored me or made the hand motion to signal that they were staying in the area.  While still on the phone I saw a small pick up turn on to the road but I figured it was a private car and only going to Mitundu so I didn’t bother waving; however, the man still pulled over. It took me a moment to decide if he had pulled over for me or not but then I thought, what the hay! So I took off towards the truck leaving my katundu on the ground. I greeted him in Chichewa and he asked where I was going. I told him “Ndikupita ku Katchale.” meaning “I’m going to Katchale” He asked, in English, “Where is that?” I explained it was 18km past Mitundu and he said, “Past Mitundu? Well let me take you at least to Mitundu.” I told him I was really hoping for a truck going to Dedza or Kabwazi that would go all the way to my village. He insisted that I let me drop me in Mitundu and I could still find a truck there. I decided he was right and Mitundu was still one step closer to home. I load my katundu in the back and climbed in the cab with the man and another woman.

The man’s name is Simon and he spoke impeccable English, probably one of the best I’ve encountered so far. It turns out he works for the President of Malawi! He manages farms in Mitundu that are own by the President and was just coming from having a meeting with him. We talked all the way to Mitundu. He said that he had to go to the office until 4pm, otherwise he would take me to Katchale, but then said that if I couldn’t find I ride by 4pm that I could call him and he would take me. When we arrived in Mitundu he pulled over and asked if this was the place to find a truck. I said, “Honestly, I’ve never hailed a truck from Mitundu before, so I really don’t know.” He shook his head and said, “This is not good. If you do not mind, you can just wait at my house until 4pm and then I will just take you home.” The current time was 2:45pm, so I figured an hour or so wouldn’t hurt for a personal, free lift home. The three of us pulled up to his swanky home. It was not a bwana as the older couple from before but still huge and had running water and electricity. We even had to drive through a special gate and he too had a brick wall currounding the property.

I was surprised to see a couple of monkeys just chillin’ in his yard. They ran off soon after we arrived, but I didn’t know monkeys were so close to me! I and the other girl sat down on the couches in the main sitting room of Simon’s house. He showed me where the bathroom was and then left. I just sat and played games on my iPhone and about 40 minutes later he came back. He sat with us for a moment and asked the other girl to cook chips for us. He gave me his phone number for future reference and the three of us snacked on chips with minced meat and cokes. He even had a computer which he had playing music while we ate! lol

At 4pm he said, “Let us go!” So we loaded back up in the truck and he drove me all the way to my village and even pulled up right in front of my house! Talk about front-door service! On the drive he even said if I ever need to go to Lilongwe to just call him and he will come and pick me up to take me with him!


Not only did I get lots of wonderful gifts and food from home, have an incredible trip to Lake Malawi, but I also traveled almost all the way home for free and now have a hook up for transport to town any time!

I secretly think it was good karmic retribution because right before I left I ‘lent’ 200mk to George’s cousin, Cornex, and I paid my water girl the full 600mk payment for October even though I’d given her at least 200mk throughout the month. Either all that or I’m just super awesome and someone was seriously looking out for me this weekend 🙂

The End.


The Strange Things Malawians Do and Say

There are a plethora of things Malawians do and say that are strange to most outsiders, but a few in particular really strike me as odd or funny. I would like to start off by discussing with you the oral fixation that most, if not all, Malawian children have.

Here’s what I mean:
1. A lot of the kids who hang out on my porch like to play with my Munny doll, they call it “chidoli” which is just “doll” lol. Well while playing with it they will pull off his arms and head and either stick the entire part (usual the arms) in their mouth or lick it for an unusually long period of time.
2. Another favorite toy the children like to play with of my in a small VW Bug model (which now only has 1 wheel) and I’ve since on several occasions on of them try to fit the whole thing in their mouth, or just lick it.
3. Everyday I pass more than one child who is chewing on something not edible. Be it plastic or cardboard, they will chew it and chew it. If it’s too big to chew they will suck and lick it.

*shrug* Your guess is as good as mine…

When entertainment is minimal, how else would you spend your day?
If you answered playing the same card game ALL day and listening to cell phone ringtones over and over and over and over again, then you answered correctly!

There is ONE card game that everyone knows, called Knock. It’s actually pretty fun, but after 2 hours of anything, I’ve had about enough. But Malawians can play this game for hours on end and never be bored with it, it’s truly amazing.
They also will go through the list of ringtones on various cell phones and let them play. And these are not songs, they are the step before songs, the multi-toned jingles that aren’t very creative sounding. They will do this for way too long (once is enough) and they get a huge kick out of it. Once Gladys thought she was really clever by having two cell phones that were the same brand so their tones were the same going in sync with each other.  You should have seen when she discovered the strange ring tones of my iPhone, her and another friend sat and playing those for even longer than they play the cheesy generic tones of the Nokia phones.

Funny things they say:
1. “Moving up and down” – used to describe wandering. If you are walking or riding a bike with not real destination then you are moving up and down. Or if someone doesn’t know where another person is or what they are doing, they say the person is moving up and down.
2. “Take lunch” or “take tea” – here you do not ‘eat’ you ‘take’.
3. “I get you” – often the word ‘get’ is used in loo of ‘understand’ but no one uses understand, they all use ‘get’. I’m not getting you, do you get me?
4. “That one” – used to describe a person. When thinking about it, I’m not entirely sure how I would mention a person either, but it just seems very… impersonal to be talking about a person and call them “that one” or “this one”.
5. “sorry” – this is only funny because they say it ALL the time! In Chichewa and English. What makes it humorous is they will say it when they have no reason to be sorry. For example, if I trip over a rock while walking with a Malawian, they say sorry. If I spilt some food while dishing it to myself, they say sorry. If they dropped food while dishing it to themselves, they say sorry. It’s very silly.

The End.



Ever wonder how Malawians in the villages make things?

Oh yeah 🙂 talk about manual labor! They are making new benches for the Health Center and doing so right outside my house. The men have been out there for over 2 weeks now and are up bright and early at 5:30 am sawing and chopping. I took this photo from my font porch. It’s annoying, but I guess it could be worse.

Well that’s all to this week’s novel! Hope you all enjoyed and my stories weren’t too boring. I miss you all and THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to everyone who has been sending me packages. They are seriously awesome!

If you are wishing you could send me a care package but lack time and/or money, good news! Since they installed wifi at the office I am able to download ebooks to my Nook! So if you want to get me anything, a great thing would be Barnes & Noble gift cards. You can do one of two things:
1. Purchase an eGift card on and have it sent to me at, or if that’s too complicated
2. Purchase a physical card from a BN store and just send me an email with the number that is on the back, as well at the PIN code under the silver square you have to scratch off.

Either one would work and will be cheaper, faster and easier than sending me actual books. Plus you know how much I LOVE my books! So if you’re thinking, isn’t there other things you need beside books? Well yes, but books are way up on my list of things to keep me sane and happy, which is very important!! And please don’t feel obligated to get anything, but I know some of you have mentioned wanting to send me something so I’m just putting the idea out there 🙂

Thanks everyone for reading and supporting me on my crazy African journey! 


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