Monday, December 3, 2007

My Life in Malawi



So here I am in Africa. I have been at my site for just over a month now and am really enjoying the village life. My site is Dwambazi which is in Nkhotakota District along the lake shore. I live at a rural health center in a government house. The house has two bedrooms and a living space with a small out door kitchen, store room and shower. Currently I do not have running water or electricity. There is a local market were I buy my food and my diet is catered to what crop is in season. So rice, fish, tomatoes, eggs, cabbage maybe an onion and maybe some beans are what I have to work with. I'm getting creative. My cooking job in college at Cowles House is really paying off!!


The people are very nice, warm and welcoming. The in-charge at the hospital lives just two houses down and often invites me over for dinner. I have met SOO many people and they are all interested in teaching me Chitonga (local language)! I am constantly tested. I'm fairly certain the whole area knows me. I greet every person I pass. It's funny because you have to plan extra time to get anywhere because of the need to great each and every person you pass (culturally important). Each day seems to be a new experience, one day an NGO comes with food aid, another day I'm taken up the mountain to a small villages were we do outreach on HIV/AIDS, killing a chicken then cleaning and gutting it, another day I'm learning to canoe on Lake Malawi! Now fishing in Malawi is an experience in of itself. First off the boats are small canoes carved out of large tree trunks. They are not easy to maneuver, to say the least, and especially if the water is rough. I tipped over MANY times. All the people on the beach were laughing. What's amazing is that the Malawians stand on these boats. They tell me by the end of two years I will be doing the same! We'll see about that.


Each day I am reminded of the severe poverty. Many people are malnourished and dieing of disease (infection). HIV/AIDS is very evident and funerals are always going on in the area. The numbers of orphans are astonishing. It's really a sad site. I had an opportunity to visit our District Government Hospital in Nkhotakota and help with an ARV (Antiretroviral) clinic. ARV's are immune system boosters given to HIV+ patients. There are nearly 1000! This number is just for the hospital attachment area, patients come once a month. Many of them are small children. It was a difficult sight to see. It is also very frustrating when you remember that this disease is entirely preventable!


In my area there is an HIV+ support group that meets once a week at our local secondary school. I went last week; it was really neat to meet these people. They are working hard to live positive lives and are very interested in taking an active role in warning the community about the dangers of HIV. With the help of some people at my hospital we hope to find funding to boost this group to become a community based organization (CBO, a grass roots organization). We hope to implement small income generating activities, such as selling eggs from our own chickens, making peanut butter, sun drying fruit and basket weaving. This little money produced will be used to teach the villages about healthy living. It's really exciting and we feel it will work, though the process is slow.


At the health center I am currently acting as sort of a consultant, teaching simple tasks such as scheduling workers on a monthly basis, inviting drama teams in the area to perform dramas to the large number of patients that come to see the doctor each day. Also doing an inventory, monitoring and evaluation reports (from outreach), making a small budget for the eggs, veggies and chickens (male) that we are selling as an income generating activities for our nutrition unit.


Most of all I'm enjoying the village life, fetching my water from the well, cooking local foods over a fire, hand washing my cloths, bathing with a bucket of water, reading and writing under candle light at night. The conversations I have with people each day are also really enjoyable. People asking me questions about the World and listening to the problems they encounter each day. Though it's a simple life with many problems it's not with out its blessings.


Pray for the people of Malawi, and that our work here will bring behavior change for the betterment of this nation.


Wow this is long but I could talk forever! I miss you all and I thank you for your letters, love and support. I am doing well here and I hope you all consider visiting me! I promise an incredible experience! So below I've added an address. We have a rest house in a city in the North, Mzuzu, that is closer to me than Lilongwe and I'd like to ask that letters be sent there and packages sent to Lilongwe. Thank you for all the letters and packages that you all have sent!



Alex Cobern, PCV

US Peace Corps: Malawi

Private Bag 126 Mzuzu, Malawi

Southern Africa



Alex Cobern. PCV

US Peace Corps: Malawi

Box 208 Lilongwe, Malawi

Southern Africa


Ndawonga Wakongwa! (Thank you very much).


In His Name,


Alex Cobern

First months in Malawi

Muli Uli! Muli Bwanji! Mwu Uli!
These are three greetings in three languages spoken where I live!! A bit overwhelming but keeps me on the ball when I'm greeted by someone. So here I am living in Malawi! I have been in training for the past month in rural Malawi. I just got done living with a host family in a small village of about 70 people. It was quite the experience! About 50% of the population lives below the poverty line and my family was no exception. It was back to basics! I lived in a thatched roof, mud hut. I bathed amongst some tall grass with a bucket of water provided for me by my host mother. The toilet is a hole in the ground. The people of the village cook over an open fire so meals are very simple and because of culture there is not much of a variety. The main crop is maize and they make a dish from it called "Nsima." It is very plain tasting and has no nutritional value, it is a huge problem because this is the majority of what they eat so many are malnourished.
I have recently found out where I will be living for the next two years and I am really excited! I just had a chance to visit my site and I am very lucky because I'm near Lake Malawi! I will be living in a small town called Dwambazi. Its on the border of the northern and central regions of Malawi therefore there is a hodgepodge of languages spoken there. I am living at a health center campus and it is a busy place. Disease is a  huge problem in Malawi and so many people are in need of health care. As you all know HIV/AIDS is devastating here. This is mainly due to some cultural practices that promote the spread of HIV. It is a big job. I will be working on various consulting activities with the health center particularly with income generating. I am helping with a large garden with a variety of vegetables and raising chickens for eggs all of which we will sell to make some money for the hospital. It will also be used as a teaching tool for those with malnourishment concerns. There are many starving children and it will be part of my job to inform parents/guardians of the need to have a balanced diet also to do it at a low cost. All the people at the health center are really motivated and very good to me. I am really blessed to be working with them.
I have two other volunteers near me (biking distance) one is an environment volunteer and other is an education volunteer and both are very cool. I am already planning a project with the environment volunteer on selling local produce to some of the beach resorts. It is all very excited but I'm quickly realizing that life is not going to be easy here. We are told to take the days one at a time and I like to remember that these people are God's children as well and that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ therefore we are called to help one another out. Please pray for the people of Malawi and for the work that I'm doing here.
I hope all of you are doing well. I have so much to tell but I will wait for another time. If you get a chance it is a lot of fun getting mail, send me letters! I have a cell phone now and my number is as follows 0012659476695. You have to call it a few times for it to work but i can receive and send text messages real easy and cheaply so send me your numbers! I hope all is well with you all! Let me know what is new in your lives.

Headed to Malawi

Hello Friends and Family:

Recently I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science at Michigan State University. College was an awesome experience and was very sad to leave. Throughout college I learned about our political system here in America and the political systems of other countries in the world. Through my courses I gained an interest in International Development, particularly in Urban Planning/Urban Geography. It fascinates me to learn how societies develop, succeed and fail. What better to get me started in the international learning experience than the Peace Corps.

I have always wanted to do some sort of public service and after a few years of thinking about the Peace Corps, I finally applied. The Peace Corps is a unique government sponsored organization that takes skilled Americans to countries that lack certain skills. Peace Corps employs thousands and are stationed all over the world. Volunteers have many different degrees and work in many different fields from education to business/community development to environment. I began the application process in December of 2006 after two essays, two interviews and three letters of recommendation, I was nominated for a community development position in Africa. The whole process leaves you in suspense because you could be denied at any time and they give no details about what could happen. I then began a three month medical review. I have been examined from head to toe. In April I passed Medical review at this point the process began to run faster. I soon after got an invitation to serve in community development-health in Malawi, Africa.

I will be leaving May 27 to Philadelphia for a staging event where I will meet others that will be in my tour (22 total). We will go through a few seminars and more shots! On the 29th I will fly out to Johannesburg, South Africa then on to Lilongwe, Malawi (capital of Malawi). We will then move to a small village south of the capital to begin our house stay and training. Training is an intense 8 week program in language, health, culture and technical fields. Living with a host family will give me a glimpse into the life of a Malawian and a chance to immerse myself in the language, Chichewa. Upon completion of training I will be sworn in as a US Peace Corps volunteer by the US Ambassador to Malawi and I will be off. I will be placed in a village somewhere and will begin my project for the next two years.

I am very excited and nervous! I look forward to learning about a new culture and language. I am also excited about developing my interests in international development. I plan to continue with grad school when I return. I will have a little access to Internet but it will most likely be minimal and unpredictable. I look forward to emailing you all and maybe writing a few letters.

Malawi is a small Sub-Saharan country located in east southern Africa. It is a small country with about 12 million people and land mass about the size of Pennsylvania. On its eastern border there is a very long lake called, "Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi)." The country is a sub tropical country with mountains in the north and south of the country. The middle is Savannah grass lands and in the south tropical jungle. The official language is English due to its history as a British colony but most speak a native language called Chichewa. Malawi has a lot of natural beauty but it is a country with a lot of sadness as well. Malawi is devastated with HIV/AIDS. Just over a million people are infected with the disease. Because of this development is very slow and hard to overcome. If you can imagine with a life expectancy of 37, progress goes only so far when so many die so young. I will be doing a lot of work with AIDS and other disease awareness. Other projects that I will be working on will depend on the needs of the village and my own personal goals when I arrive at my site.

Below I've included a few websites for you to check out to further learn about Malawi.

My address abroad will be:

Edward Cobern, PCV
US Peace Corps/Malawi
Box 208
Lilongwe, Malawi
Southern Africa

Mail will take around 2 weeks to get to me but its a good way to keep in touch. I will be unsure about my Internet access until after my 8 weeks of training and I'm at my site.

I will also have a cell phone there. I will send out the number in a later email and information about calling cards on your end if you ever feel like giving me a call.

Thank you all for your support. I look forward to hearing what you are all up too in the future. Keep the people of Malawi and my work in your prayers.

In His Name,

Alex Cobern

Monday, May 21, 2007

Getting ready to go!

Hello All-

In just under a week I will be starting my Malawian adventure. This next week will be spending time with my family and getting last min. odds and ends together before I leave. I leave May 27 for Philadelphia for a staging event hosted by Peace Corps were I will attend a few seminars and meet others in my group. Two days later, May 29, I will be off to Malawi for the next 27 months. I will try to keep this blog updated so that you all can see what I'm up too in Africa. Keep in touch! My address is as follows:

Edward Cobern, PCV
US Peace Corps/Malawi
Box 208
Lilongwe, Malawi
Southern Africa

Write me!!