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
Alex Cobern. PCV
US Peace Corps: Malawi
Box 208 Lilongwe, Malawi
Ndawonga Wakongwa! (Thank you very much).
In His Name,