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December 1st, 2003


08:25 pm - What this is and how to navigate
Hey folks,

For those of you not familiar with this format, what you have here is a set of about 40 letters arranged in backwards chronological order. I wrote them while in Malawi, sent them to my Dad, he typed them and emailed them out to a whole bunch of people, and my friend Melissa put them on this livejournal website. I've added subject headings so you can browse more easily.

I wrote the letters in forward chronological order, obviously, so readers of later letters are assumed to already be familiar with the Peace Corps acronyms and important people and places in my life. Ideally, you would start at the beginning and read them in the order I wrote them. Not everyone has time to do that, though. I marked a couple of entries that are particularly vivid, so if you only have a couple of minutes, read those.

The entries at the top here are from my travels with my father after I finished my Peace Corps service, and then there are thirty-odd entries dating back to my first days in country.

Enjoy!

Laina

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July 5th, 2003


06:48 pm - Last one from Cape Town
Hey y'all,

We've come to the end of the road, I'm sad to say. It's been a long
journey, almost two and a half years, and one that, as much as I have
tried, cannot be contained in words. I've evolved as a person, in terms
of what I know, what I've experienced, and how I think. I've met people
who have taught me, loved me, and keep me in their hearts... I stuck my
neck out in a way, joining the Peace Corps, and instead of coming back
ambivelant or just tired, I've been renewed, blessed in so many ways.
All I can say is that I'm thankful.

I'm at a slick internet cafe next to an art college in Cape Town,
Tamboerskloof area, listening to Nirvana behind strains of Afrikaans and
that harsh South African English they speak here. Cape Town is a
breathtakingly beautiful city - they aren't kidding when they say it's
the most beautiful city in the world. Surrounded by dramatic mountains
and bays, chuckablock with interesting architecture, from the graceful
Cape Dutch to the ornate Victorian styles, clean, beautiful people, loads
of cafes and cool spots, music, culture, refinement and gritty vitality
that comes from places with the ridiculously rich and the desperately
poor rubbing shoulders. It's got an edge, that's for sure, not the
safest place in the world, but fascinating just the same.

The safari finished a couple of days ago, and we parted company with our
newfound friends amongst hugs and wellwishes for the next legs of our
divergent paths. Guides going back out on the dusty road, Italians to
hot and sticky Milan, our Swiss friend back to his job in Rwanda, us
whirlwinding around CapeTown theWinelands CapePenninsula
scubadivingTableMountainRobbenIsland and back on the plane on Tuesday.
Adventure over, time to go back and pick up our lives again. Or in my
case, to select some pieces, some used, some new, and put together a new
life. I'm excited for grad school, for my own flat, learning a new
neighborhood and making new friends, but I am still sad about leaving
Africa.

Gordon, the guy who cooks and cleans in our guest house, is Malawian, I
discovered yesterday, and we have been enjoying chatting in Chichewa. I
was FINALLY able to finish my mixed tape of Malawian/African music, and
gave Gordon the two local music tapes that I'd been carrying around for
ages after I got the songs off that I wanted. His face lit up like those
fireworks that start with a spray of brilliant white and then twinkle
into blue sparks - he was so happy to have some music from home. :)
There is a small community of Malawians here that clean houses and such,
and he shared the tapes with a Malawian friend yesterday who was equally
delighted.

I know I haven't told you much of the safari itself, haven't had the
opportunity to write a lot. It seems futile to really attempt to go into
it... suffice it to say that the southern Africa region is breathtaking
in its diversity. We went from the still waters of the Okavango delta,
islands of fig, palm, and acacia trees reflecting between the day lilies,
to the border of Angola, where Nkwasi Lodge has an arrangement with the
Angolan police to allow tourists to come over (unofficially) and visit an
Angolan village.

We crossed the river surrepticiously in a motorboat and met the police
and the sub chief of a little village up the bank a ways. They are poor,
really desolately poor there. The climate is bad for agriculture, so
they survive off scraggly millet (rain was bad this year as well) and
what goats and cattle they manage to keep on the scrubby semi-arid
pastureland. We visited a Roman Catholic church, which consisted of some
rough, twisting logs nailed to posts for pews, arranged under a huge
acacia tree. The choir and band were practicing with the priest,
singing, dancing, and playing traditional drums, one of which utilizes a
wetted reed on the inside of the drumn which is rubbed with the thumb and
forefinger. They were interested in us, and we chatted with them through
an interpreter for a while. I could understand a few words of their
language, because they are Herero people, another line of Bantus that
came down from Central Africa back in the day. All Bantu languages have
things in common, which makes it pretty easy to learn others once you
know one. The priest motioned to their airy "church" and asked us if we
had anything we might want to donate to them to help them rebuild, as
their church building had been destroyed in the civil war a couple of
years ago. We looked at each other, not wanting to encourage dependency
or begging, and I said something about how God is not confined to
buildings, that He is present everywhere, as much in trees and sky as in
stained glass and cut stone. After we got back to the lodge, we decided
to give them some money through the priest and in front of the
congregation to try to ensure accountabililty - the more people see the
money, the less likely it is to disappear into someone's pocket. We
wrote that it is for the development of their community in whatever way
they think is best, whether that is a bag of maize meal to give to the
poorest members of the congregation or to save and buy cement for a new
church.
We encouraged them to develop something for tourists, like traditional
dances and drumming or something, just to get community groups going and
take advantage of the opportuity they have with the lodge so close.

Thinking of the civil war in Angola, again, I saw something in Rundu, the
northern Namibian capital of the Caprivi region, that disturbed me a
little. I was waiting in the van outside the bank for our friends to
change some money, and I saw an older man dressed in a worn suit coat and
trousers bend over behind another man, holding his arms as if he had a
rifle. He pretend-stalked another man, who was aware of him, for a few
seconds, and then jumped out from behind someone else and pretended to
shoot his friend, who grinned and they slapped hands in greeting. I
shook my head, a little uncomfortable at the clear reflection of the
recent war in their play. We saw some destroyed buildings and bomb old
bomb shelters, but otherwise little evidence of the wars that have raged
in the Angola and Caprivi regions.

Aside from that, the other thing that struck me were all the people who
were clearly of San origin (one of the "bushman" tribes indigenous to the
area) that looked just like the pictures in my guide book. They evolved
in what is now South Africa, so they are very light skinned with
particular facial features. We saw a lot of Khiosan type folks - the
San, of course, Nama, and Damara peoples - as we travelled down through
Namibia.

I'm running out of time, but even if I wasn't, I couldn't even begin to
describe for you all the things we've seen. I have a healthy respect for
this region, and an affection for South Africa, somehow. Her people are
very diverse, and are not so unified, even within the same racial group -
English and Afrikaaners often don't get along, nor, necessarily, do
Zulu-Xhosa-Batswana-etc people - but everyone seems to be proudly South
African. A great country, indeed. I'm sure I'll be back, hopefully
sooner rather than later.

Finally, thank you VERY much to all of you who have supported me on this
journey. Some of you wrote letters, others sent packages, others simply
good wishes and prayers. I am immensely grateful - without the backing I
have from you all, there's no way I could have done the things I have. I
hope I have given back in some way by sharing my experiences with you.

All my love,
Laina

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June 17th, 2003


06:46 pm - Travels with Dad - Malawi and Zambia
Hi all,

Other than the fact that the mosquitoes here are more numerous than the
pigeons in Trafalgar Square, this place is lovely. Dad and I have been
staying in the town of Livingstone for a couple of days enjoying Victoria
Falls, which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. We're
leaving on our three week safari tomorrow morning, and are coming from
eleven wonderful days in Malawi.

To start with Malawi, we spent most of our time with Duncan and his
family, taking Duncan and his wife and three of the oldest boys down to
Lake Malawi (where none but Duncan Sr. and Duncan Jr. had ever been) and
showing them a good time. The kids were amazed to see the quantity of
water, the showers, and taste ice cream and cheese (not together) and
Duncan's wife experienced the only three days without work of her entire
life. Everyone went "swimming", which consisted of splashing around with
lifejackets on, and they got to look through Dad's goggles at the little
sand-colored, black-spotted fishes. Duncan's first glance underwater
yielded a start and spluttering exclamations of a snake, only to realize
that it was the curving pattern that the waves carve in the sand.

We had a fabulous time seeing all my VNRMCs, who were overjoyed and
surprised that I actually came with my father to see them. We pushed our
Toyota Hilux Raider to the limit, rocking over ridiculously eroded
terrain (they hoed out a parallel track to the bike path so now cars can
pass where before only bicycles could go) crossing streams, and deep
sand. I had fun taking loads of people in the back, driving them from
the nursery to the chief's house and back, picking up little girls on
their way to the well, matola style. :)

Everyone was really sweet and happy to see us, including Jeffery, my
guava jelly friend, the forest staff of my areas, Elias and his family,
the part East Indian folks who have been so nice to me in Balaka, the
Peace Corps staff... I was very sad to leave the country that had been
such a warm home to me.

I have been delighted to discover that Zambians all understand my
Chichewa, though! It somehow makes it seem like i haven't really left
Malawi. (Hee - now that I reek of REI bug juice, the flock of mosquitoes
has moved on.)

So here at Victoria Falls, the first thing we did was for Dad to
vicariously experience my flight on a microlight flying machine, which
looks basically like a hanglider with a motor and a pilot / passenger set
up. I am a bit shy to say that although the view of the falls from 1800
meters in the air (and the pinky-brown backs of hippos) was phenomenal,
the most amazing part for me was the takeoff. I've been in airplanes
before, so I've seen the earth from above, but what I had never before
experienced was rushing down a rapidly shortening dirt track while
strapped to a contraption made of glorified tent poles at breakneck speed
and having the ground suddenly angle down below me, grass and shrubs and
finally trees whisked by beneath my feet. The air resisted our passage,
pressing me in my orange insulated flight suit into my seat, tricking my
neck intro flinging my head sideways when I looked to the side. We
soared on our faded aluminum and nylon uniwing, the pilot explaining to
me through headphones about the operation of the microlight and the
formation of the falls. We banked left and flew above the plume of spray
eminating from the unimaginable crevace into which the mighty Zambezi
river drained. We circled right with a slight shift of the control bar
and stared down at the sucession of zigzag gorges that marked the
sucessively more ancient former Falls. When my 15 minutes was up, we
glided back upriver over hippos and little islands, the sun and clouds
reflecting angelic patterns on the surface of the Zambezi. Much to my
amazement, the landing was smooth and easy, we just swooped, slowing,
above the treetops, and leveled out over the runway, dropping slightly to
allow the wheels to touch, and braking with the wing and conventional
brakes. We taxied in perfectly to the landing square, me with a smile
exceeding my cheeks. Wonderful stuff.

I have only three minutes left, so I'll write the rest later.

Cheers to all!
Laina

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May 25th, 2003


06:44 pm - Travel and scuba diving in Mozambique
Hey y’all,

I’m in Pretoria at the moment, staying with the same people I stayed with
when I got my eyes fixed over the December holidays last year. Lovely to
see them again; they run such a comfortable and homey B&B. I noted how
nice it was to hop right into bed last night (after a two days of bussing
down from Tofo beach, Mozambique, where I’ve spent the last week scuba
diving) without wrestling my way under the mosquito net and carefully
brushing the sand off my feet.

My clothes now smell of sunshine fresh laundry detergent instead of
campfire smoke and vinyl bus seat sweat, and I slept warmly between
smooth, soft sheets instead of curled in three shirts and my trousers
under both layers of my sleep sheet. I didn’t realize that I was
following the tail end of a cyclone that had hit Madagascar and disrupted
the weather on the opposite side of the Mozambique Channel as well. It
was cold and drizzly with huge surf the first day and a half, but things
calmed down and warmed up soon enough. Fortunate that I didn’t arrive
any earlier, though, because the dive boats couldn’t go out for four days
because of the rough seas.

I somehow had a blanket conception of Mozambique as hotter and more humid
than Malawi, just because it’s right on the coast, and has a lot of low
coastal plain kind of stuff. It is hot and humid part of the year, just
not now. Flying over the north and west parts, and driving through the
southeastern portion, Mozambique seems to consist mostly of rolling hills
and river valleys. It’s very much more sparsely populated than Malawi,
and chock full of food trees – loads of citrus, cashew and coconut, with
papayas, mango, and the odd guava. Primary shoreline trees are a wispy
sort of cypress-pine-juniper sort of conifer, and, of course Eucalyptus
trees. Anyway, I had neglected to consider the fact that Maputo (the
capital city, southeast coast very near the South African border) and
Inhambane (coastal town dating from the 1600s slave trade set up by the
Portugese 6 hours drive north) are significantly higher (lower?) south
latitude than Malawi, and therefore cooler, shorter days, and farther on
into winter.

Tofo Beach made for a wonderful vacation that I sorely needed after the
stress of finishing off my contract writing the Training Manual for Peace
Corps. I didn’t have a lot of time for just relaxing, as I did 5 dives
for the Advanced Open Water Scuba Certification course and one reward
dive over six days. The AOW certification allows me to dive down to 30
meters (100 feet), which is necessary for a lot of the cool reefs and
wrecks (maybe I can go wreck diving off Cape Town) and whatnot.

I was taught by a Mexican guy named Santiago who makes his living
travelling around and teaching scuba diving. He’s probably in his late
20’s, and has lived all over the world, staying for several months in
each place, and just earning enough money to support himself and move on
when the season turns or he decides he wants to go somewhere else. I
will always think of manta rays in a Mexican accent. :)

The diving was phenomenal. My last dive we flipped into the water and
started descending, only to realize that EIGHT enormous manta rays were
floating in formation ten or fifteen meters below us, waiting for us to
come down. They glide like kite shadows, hanging there dark backed and
inanimate until some notion stirrs them and they flap their great thick
wings like organic spaceships. They are intelligent, curious creatures
who glide right up to you and fix their brown, alien eyes on yours,
sheering off at the touch of your aura, or whatever it is that determines
their comfort zone. I finned towards one, on a collision course, and we
drifted within armslength of each other, me helpless to inertia, breath
imprisoned in my chest to avoid scaring it with my bubbles and paralyzed
with excitement. The manta looked carefully at me, furled its mandible
arm things, (the parenthesis-like appendages around its mouth that help
it feed) flicked its wings, and veered up and away. I let out my breath
and the bubbles tickled its white vented belly, causing it to start and
fly in a rollercoaster loop surfaceward and back down. They’re amazing
creatures, manta rays.

We saw enormous schools of fish that seemed to be perfectly comfortable
with our presence, almost brushing our masks before they moved away. I
remember turning upside down to look at a couple of rare harlequin
shrimps clinging under a coral ledge, and when I righted myself, I was
staring into the gills of a school of silver Big Eye Groupers, which are
about dinnerplate sized. They regarded me without fear, and moved
casually around me as I finned off to catch up with Santi(ago). We saw
huge Honeycomb Moray Eels, Lionfish, tons of different kinds of Butterfly
fish, Angelfish, Triggerfish, Parrotfish, a couple of wrasses, lobsters,
shrimp, two turtles (I was very excited), an extraordinarily cute baby
box fish, a stingray, and a whale shark, which was VERY lucky, because
they are mostly migrated by now. We were at the end of our safety stop
at 5 meters down, and someone saw it, pointed wildly with whites of eyes
showing, and we chased the thing for two or three minutes. It had
evidently brushed so close to the other group of divers that they had to
backpeddle to keep from bumping it, which can damage the mucus covering
of the whale shark’s skin, causing it to get infections. We saw it on
its way by, and managed to just glimpse the curvature of its huge,
rounded face before we gave up. The shark was perhaps fifteen feet long,
and rather thick of body. Spotted white on brown skin, with a sail-like
tail that reminded me of an airplane.

I should note that I had the best seafood I’ve ever had in my life in
Mozambique. :)

I met two women who work for IDS, an English development organization,
doing a microfinancing confrence in Johannesburg. One was actually
Engish, Allison, but she has lived overseas in Japan and Thailand for the
last nine years, I think. The other, Jamie, is Australian, from Sydney.
I met them in Maputo, and travelled with them all the way to Tofo, where
we shared a three bed hut made of poles and woven palm leaves. They were
lovely companions, especially Allison, which whom I got on quite well.
She just finished her doctorate in Anthropology, and reminded me
powerfully of Melissa, so we had a lot to chat about. It can be nice to
travel alone sometimes, because you can end up meeting some great folks.
By the end of the week we spent at Tofo, I felt like we had a comfortable
little group with the people I met from diving and other backpackers just
staying at the camp. It was fun.

Mozambique seemed to me to be more developed than Malawi in many
respects. I’m not sure if that is technically true, since Mozambique
just came off a 17 year civil war after a 30 odd year long war for
independence from the Portugese. The road was very good, complete with
periodic rest stops consisting of a cleared area with a pull-off for
vehicles, a shade tree, and a cement picnic table and benches. People
seemed adequately fed, and quite stylishly dressed, even in the smaller
towns. We passed a huge two story presidential secondary school complete
with basketball courts and sports-uniformed girls and boys on the courts.
Women and girls wear shorts even in smaller towns; there is no ritual
separation of males and females; couples publicly display affection
(shocking to the Malawian eye.) I didn’t see many churches or mosques,
nor did I see much impressive Portugese style architecture, which was a
little disappointing. The buildings in Inhambane and Maputo both were
blocky, run down, and unexciting, with a couple of exceptions.

In Maputo, I saw some smallish but beautiful houses with painted tile
accents on the outside walls and nice attention to detail. The roofs are
often red tile, with pointy little spires on the peaks. Avenues are
pleasantly treelined with jacaranda and flame trees (would be gorgeous
when they’re in bloom) but there is garbage everywhere, and the sidewalks
are in very poor repair, with chunks of concrete and missing sidewalk
dirt stretches everywhere, even on the main streets. Walking around the
city, I was perplexed to note that there seemed to be no agreed-upon
custom for pedestrians passing each other on the right or left. People
were everywhere walking in both directions, weaving around the garbage
and potholes at random. This irritated my orderly nature, which is
perhaps unreasonable, but did nor enhance my perception of Maputo.

There were surprisingly few beggars, however, and people were very
friendly, for the most part. It was a little frustrating to go from
being able to count on communicating with everyone I met either in
Chichewa or English to being slightly lost with my smidgin of Portugese.
I discovered that I needed to at least learn “how much” and the numbers
in addition to the greetings, which I did and that helped. I was amazed,
though, to note that everyone speaks Portugese to each other even in the
villages. I heard no tribal language except for some Chichewa on the bus
from Joburg to Maputo (which gave me the false hope that I might be able
to communicate – many Mozambiquans fled to Malawi during the wars, and
adopted Chichewa. The language also doesn’t stop at the Malawian border,
but is spoken widely in northern Mozambique and even western Zambia.)

The anti-AIDS initiative is strong, it appeared, judging from the red
AIDS ribbon symbol spray painted on every electric pole in every medium
and large sized town we went through going up to Inhambane. Billboards
all over the place read “onde esta a mulher?” (where is mother?) and
something underneath that ended in SIDA, (which is the Portugese acronym
for AIDS) that I assumed meant something like “she was a victim of AIDS.”
They had ones for mother, miner, bus driver, boy, and others. On the
way out of Maputo at 8am, however, we passed a huge cemetery with (I
counted) eleven groups of colorfully dressed people circled solemnly
around a gravesite, hands respectfully clasped behind backs. Hawkers had
set up tables selling fruit and cashews outside the iron fence.

I didn’t stay long in Mozambique, but I liked it and I would go back, at
the very least for the diving. There are a lot of other places of
interest that I didn’t have the time to check out, but that’s how it
always is. The world is full of fascinating people and places.

I'll try to keep you up to date on my travels, but I'm not expecting many
more chances to do these long detailed emails. There won't be too many
more of these letters, because I'll be home soon and the adventure will
be shifting to much more mundane things (grad school) that no longer
warrant mass emails to all you lovely people.

Hope you're well,
Laina

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April 29th, 2003


06:34 pm - Easter visit with Jeffrey in Dedza
Dear All,

This was the best Easter Sunday in recent memory. I had been regretting that I was àbout to leave Malawi without experiencing a Malawian church service -in the beginning I was avoiding village politics, and then I just ran out of time. I’ve been staying alone at the college this past week while everyone has been in Lilongwe or at their homes and the Trainees on site visits, so I’ve been chatting with the guard on day shift, Jeffery Chilombo. He’s a young guy about my age, and it’s been nice to have someone to talk to just to pass the time. The topic came up of church, as it inevitably does (he’s Roman
Catholic) and he offered (well, I invited myself and he thought it was a good idea) to go to church with him and his family on Easter Sunday.

I arrived at his house in the morning, and he met me with his
one-year-old daughter on his hip and a big smile on his face. I chatted with his wife and the stream of neighbors that stopped by to greet the visitor while he bathed. We laughed at the baby’s attempts to wash herself sitting in the metal basin in the warm sun, and I admired all the beautiful flowers and fruit trees they have planted around their home. After Jeffery finished his bath, he cooked hot milk for us while his wife bathed, apologizing for the lack of tea leaves. I told him not to worry, that I was quite pleased with the fresh milk, which was a novelty for me.
His wife’s grandfather milks his cows and sells it by the Coke
bottle-full (stoppered with a length of maize cob) for about 12 cents.

We drank the boiled milk with sugar and ate some dry rolls, and Jeffery showed me his little collection of pictures. Every Malawian I’ve met loves pictures. :) At about 9am, when everyone was dressed in their Sunday best - for Mayi Chilombo that was a newish T shirt and a brightly patterned chitenje over a skirt, for Jeffery a pair of black nylon zip-off sport trousers with a silver stripe down the side and a white and yellow plaid shirt, the four-year-old, Robert, wore a shiny orange and
blue soccer set, and the baby a frilly green and white dress -we set off through the cornfields for church.

We arrived a bit late, when the church was already full of dark heads and brightly colored clothing, men on the left, women on the right. I enjoyed the service, though I couldn’t hear everything over the noise from the babies and children. Jeffery related it again to me over the guard’s fire last night (he’s on night duty this week), and I was able to put together the parts that didn’t make sense. There was a wonderful choir, accompanied by two skilled drummers. Some people in the congregation sang along, and the parts I liked best were when the soprano and alto voices on my right blended in harmony with the tenors and basses on my left, filling the building with sound.

We walked back though the drying maize with the sprightly four year old trotting ahead. Mayi Chilombo and I collected pumpkin leaves for lunch, while Jeffery ran back to the road to buy tomatoes and onions. The little boy helped me de-string the pumpkin leaves, which surprised me, not so much because a four year old would help without being asked, but because he was a boy, and boys don’t normally help with cooking or cleaning tasks. It reflects his father’s progressive ideas of gender equality and the example he sets, I suppose.

I was happy to have made new friends, and especially to enjoy village hospitality over satisfying hand-work. We cooked the ndiwo (relish) together while the pet guinea pigs churrled and squeaked in the corner of the kitchen. Jeffery says he sells them to people, some of whom eat them, others just keep them as “decoration.” J It was fun to see them interact with each other as well -being young and progressive, their husband and wife relationship is more like friends than beneficent master and servant as it is among the more traditional families. I
enjoyed chatting with the Chewa tribe women as well -Yao women are
culturally reticent to the point of being irritating (from my bias, of course) to show respect, so it was fun to laugh and answer questions with these obviously bright, curious women.

I left them around 2pm, and cycled to Duncan’s house in Mzengereza
Village. I passed a couple of gulewamkulu cult members on the road, dressed as and possessed by spirits. They chased me, shouting “Iwe! Taimani!”(Hey you! Stop!) to demand money, as is their custom, but I just playfully grinned at them and stood on the pedals to race by. I found Duncan well and happy after his visit home this last week. Everyone is fine, including all the cats, kittens, and newly adopted orphans. He and his wife have just decided to take in a 14 year old boy who was orphaned last hungry season. His mother died some years ago, and his father died just last year. Rumor has it that he was so malnourished and weakened by the tough year that he just expired on the
side of the road. He was cycling back home from looking for food, and felt extremely tired, so he lay down under a tree for a rest, and never rose again. Anyway, the boy is a quiet guy, a hard worker, and very interested in continuing with his schooling -next year he’ll start secondary school. He is just happy to have a home and a family, and Duncan is glad to have someone a little older to help out with all the projects he’s got planned. Looks like things will work out well on all sides.

It was nice to have some uninterrupted time to chat with Duncan. It is rare these days that we have time to hang out without the pressure of Trainees or work. We shared a mango that I had bought up in Mzuzu; one of the huge ones with sweet, non-fibrous flesh around a tiny (for a mango) seed. He’s going to germinate the seed and plant the seedling at his house in Bwanali, which is what I had hoped when I bought the mango.

Today I’m in Lilongwe to do check in with Darlene about the
Technical Training Manual I’m writing. I got some good feedback,
and I’m excited to keep working on it. That is, if the electricity is back on. Electricity has been a huge problem these past few weeks, which is frustrating. When I’m a volunteer, I’m fine with working on African time, but I’m an American consultant on contract for and American organization, so I feel the pressure of efficiency.

Speaking of which, I’ve got more I need to do today before we go
back to Dedza, so that’s all for now.

Attached are a couple of pictures -Duncan explaining wave action to Duncan Jr., and me shelling peanuts with Duncan’s wife. The little girl on the far right is Alehemetu (which means Joy in... Arabic?), on of the orphans they adopted.

Hope y’all had a happy Easter!

Cheers,
Laina

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February 18th, 2003


10:37 am - Leaving the village
Dear All,

My world has shifted. I am sitting in the air-conditioned Information
Resource Center (IRC) at Peace Corps headquarters in Lilongwe, typing on
a brand new black and silver PC that they just installed. It's so
hard to understand that my days as a real Peace Corps Volunteer are over.
No longer will I communicate primarily in Chichewa. No longer will I
spend most of my time out of doors, or sleep in a tin roofed oven. My
hands will be more often clean than dirty. My showers will be taken in a
tiled cubicle instead of by cup and bucket under a leafy canopy of
branches. Cycling is no longer my primary mode of transportation. My
work depends on computers and paper instead of upon conversations under
mango trees and village demonstrations. Bizarre. I miss my cats. I
miss Duncan.

I've done it. I went through 2 months of training, and served 22
months in the village, learned languages, made friends, grown a garden,
trained villagers in natural resource management, become known and loved
by people all over my area. I've also been affected by witchcraft;
I've known people who have died; I've been sick; I've
seen my friends become thin from the hungry season; I have despaired, and
wandered in the forest looking for escape, failing that, looking for God.
I had realizations of my limitations, my strengths, and my needs. I
kept trying. I hung out, mellowed out, went the way things go. In the
end, I succeeded.

On February 10th, we put on a huge farewell party for all my friends and
70 VNRMC members at our houses. I bought two goats and a bag of maize,
and the committees split themselves into work groups to fetch firewood,
build a cooking shed, take the maize to the mill, and on the day of, to
butcher the goats, cook, and serve food. I hired a traditional dance
group (who walked 12 miles each way from Chilipa to get to the party) and
Humphrey's band came and played, singing an ode to me and some
environmental songs. The committees put on a hilarious skit depicting
contrasting families and their relationships to natural resources (they
are excellent actors!) and sang a thank you song to us, their extension
workers. There were six chiefs, and the group village chief gave a very
touching speech of thanks. The chairman of all the VNRMCs spoke first,
so eloquently that tears sprung to my eyes. I struggled to hold myself
together during the chief's speech, and lost it when it came time
for my own.

I was overwhelmed by the love people showed to me, and the thought of
leaving the life I had made. Everyone said that they were much more
worried that I was leaving because they doubted that anyone who followed
could stay as harmoniously and productively with them as I, and they
wished the very best for me. An excerpt from the chairman's
speech, which he kindly gave me a copy of (I translated it and wrote it
in my journal): "We, your family here at Phirilongwe Forest,
wishes you well on your journey. We thank you for sharing with us your
knowledge in a humble way. You were buffeted by winds, but you did not
falter. You traveled far to work, but you did not tire. You struggled
through flooded rivers, but you were not upset. Because of these things,
we say, 'thank you, sister.'" *sniff* Mr. Phiri, our
supervisor from Mangochi, came to the party and made a speech as well, in
which he said that I was the best volunteer the district had ever seen,
and he surmised that I might be the best volunteer in Malawi. I doubt
that, but the sentiment was nice.

Fortunately, I managed to pull myself together and give my speech.
Duncan told me later that he saw three or four villagers with tears on
their cheeks to mirror mine. I told them how grateful I was to them for
accepting me into the village and their culture, and how much I have
learned from them. I spoke with pride of the work we had accomplished
together, and encouraged them to continue down the path that we had
cleared. I told them that another volunteer would be coming to replace
me, and begged them to remember how I was in the beginning -
ignorant or language and customs, fearful and private, unsure of how to
respond to them, but interested and trying to learn.

Toward the end of the party I was mobbed with committee members and
friends wanting my address and giving me theirs, and as people left they
each shook my hand and prayed that God should go before me to lead me on
a safe path. They looked at me with real love in their eyes, and their
rough hands spoke regret at my departure. I am swallowing a lump in my
throat even now as I remember.

I'm so glad that we made a ceremony to say goodbye. Greetings and
farewells are important in Malawian culture (I have had to apologize all
over the district to people who were miffed that Jeremy didn't say
goodbye when he early terminated his service), but the ceremony was
important for us to be able to communicate to each other how we really
felt. It's like the difference between what you say to your mom
every day and what you say to her on Mother's Day. The party was
in traditional style, complete with me wearing a special dress/suit made
in Malawian style out of fabric that my forest staff bought for me. The
ceremony started by four women bringing me out of my house under a
rectangle of fabric held over my head, heralded by drums and singing,
dancing women. I wasn't supposed to dance or look at people until
they brought me to my seat in the middle of Duncan's front porch.
(Similar to the way the bride and groom are brought out during a wedding
ceremony.) All the guests of honor were seated to my left and right.
Sinto, Jeremy's counterpart and a good friend of mine, was the MC,
and Duncan, his wife, Mr. Million's wife, the Chairman, and Mrs.
Kankha (chair of one of the Malopa VNRMCs) took leadership positions
running the party. Poor Duncan was up at 4am to go and get one of the
goats I had bought, only to find that it had been eaten the night before
by a hyena. He scrambled around and found another one, fortunately! He
was working from 4am until 8pm that night when we finally got all the
stuff unloaded from the car I had hired to take my extra stuff to his
house at Bwanali. We were exhausted, eating a decadent meal of goat
organs and special bits of stomach with nsima.

After dinner I brought out the gifts people had given me to admire by
candlelight. It is Malawian custom to give people a little bit of money
or a present upon their departure, but I didn't expect anything
from people. This is the time when people have no money, and the
committee members had already donated a lot of their time to putting on
the party. Nonetheless, Mr. Phiri, the Forest officer from Mangochi,
gave me a beautiful carved kudu (antelope), and Mr. Malunga, the
headmaster of Nsasa primary school (where I had never worked, only
stopped to chat) gave me a chitenje whose pattern I liked (not easy to
pick, because my tastes are specific when it comes to zitenje,
those wraps women wear over their skirts.) The committee members each
donated 5 kwacha to come to 200 kwacha, which was very sweet, and the
chiefs each gave 10 kwacha. Even more touching was the 5 kwacha gift of
a 15 year old orphan named Whiskey, who has no unripped clothes, and not
enough to eat, but has been a friend of mine since the early days and
wanted to give me a token farewell gift.

I gave each member of the Phirilongwe forest staff (even those at
Malenga, the station 15km away where Jeremy "worked") a
T-shirt that I had brought back from my holiday in America. I tried to
remember their styles and the size of their bodies, and did a pretty good
job of matching shirts to people. They were touched that I had thought
of them and more so that I didn't just randomly hand out shirts,
but rather had ones in mind for specific people. The next day when I was
cycling around I saw people wearing their gifts proudly, and was told
that everyone was showing them off that day. :-)

Bean and the kittens are safely relocated to Duncan's house in
their little box at the foot of my bed, and Duncan has hopefully taken
Mkango by now. He ran away the day of the party, not surprisingly.
Duncan Jr's little cat is all about playing with Bean, who is
gradually getting used to her. I'll miss those cats.

So here I am in Lilongwe, writing up my close of service papers, final
reports, and all that. The village and my life there has moved into
memory, and I am reorganizing my life along lines that have faded,
blurred, maybe even changed direction. I'm excited to begin this
new job as assistant technical training coordinator, excited to be
thinking forward to a new chapter in my life. I'm working as a
volunteer for half of the training, and as an independent contractor for
the second half, which is okay.

It's noon, I'm hungry and thinking of where to go to buy food
instead of thinking of making a fire and starting to chop up vegetables.
I can have almost ANYTHING I WANT. Wow. :-)

Take care, all. More later.
Laina

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October 1st, 2002


10:36 am - Village sociology and the importance of cultural preservation
Dear All,

I am back in Blantyre because I realized I needed to make arrangements for my eye surgery (Lasix - to correct myopia and astigmatism) in Pretoria ASAP. I want to go down at the end of November, but I'm not planning on being in a city before then to make the appointments, buy the visas, get the bus tickets (She's flying - DP), etc. Fortunately I was successful in finding out when I need to do things, so I can come out to Balaka or Mangochi and make the appropriate phone calls at the appropriate times. I'm quite excited to have the procedure done - it's almost 1/3 the price it is in America, or ½ including transport, lodging, food, and the rest. They developed the Lasix procedure in S. Africa, and the doctor has been doing it for seven years (3000 eyes) so he is well-practiced and reputable.

It is hot today. I have happened upon an old estate converted into a beautiful outdoor café which overlooks the valley and hills at the edge of Blantyre, and I am sipping an iced coffee while eagerly awaiting a chicken salad. A 10" (including tail) lizard is bobbing its golden yellow head at me from the tone wall, his deep blue arms bowed like a bulldog. Oop, and off he goes over the edge, disappearing in a flick of blue and turquoise stripped tail. The clamour of Malawian pop music, hammering on tin, minibus traffic and thousands of voices float up to our hilltop oasis from the shanty town in the valley below. Here it is peaceful - birds chatting amicably in the flowering trees, lizards squaring off, bobbing their yellow-wattled heads or glaring balefully at each other. The banana trees are drooping their leaves from the spines to avoid the heat beating down through the haze. Even the sky is bleached pale, but at least I am in the shade of an enormous version of that ornamental tree they used to have in the lobby of the Edmonds library (Norfolk Pine?) And every so often a breeze wanders by. Ooo, here comes my salad! :-)

Yum, it's a treat to have all these different vegetables at once. As the rains approach, and the gardens that are being watered grow (mostly those in wetland area or destroyed stream banks), we are getting more cabbages and pumpkin leaves in our market, though for some reason no one is selling tomatoes any more. That's Malawian entrepreneurs for you - everyone does the same thing at the same time, floods the market, and then they all wonder why no one makes any money at it.

I was thinking the other day about village life and how important it is for us to help each other. Sometimes you get screwed - somebody doesn't pay you back, or steals something or whatever, but most of the time you give people the benefit of the doubt just to make life easier for everyone. We depend on each other. Everything from holding a child while its mother climbs down from a lorry, to sending messages through people going past the village where your friend lives, to sharing rubber cement for patching bicycle tubes, to sharing food in times of hunger.

Depending on the good will of your neighbors puts you in a very bad position to be judgmental. Even though the chief of my village has engaged in some shady dealings involving the sale of forest produce (he took a bribe of approximately $1.25 to look the other way when maybe $1,000 worth of hardwood planks were being smuggled out of the village) and has become friendly only after my working here for more than a year, I still greet him respectfully and smile genuinely because it's just easier that way. We are all human beings. No one is perfect. And we have to live with each other, so we might as well forgive transgressions and move on.

Even the man who I used to think of as our evil neighbor seems to be turning over a new leaf. He was caught red-handed engaging in corrupt manipulations of forest law, and instead of turning him in (meaning he would lose his job, and some of his kids would likely die of starvation in another four months), Duncan talked to him and said he had better just stop doing things like that, particularly because he's not so good at covering his tracks. He seems now to be becoming more interested in learning how to be a better extension worker. [I think the gait of a lizard can be best described as a "skedaddle."]

I gave George the opportunity to go with me and the Kabudira School Wildlife Club to Liwonde National Park, and Duncan briefed him (with an impressive showing of analytical ability; I was pleased.) on the role he would need to play as teacher/mentor/discussion facilitator. George was happy to go, but felt that he wasn't up to the task, and asked Duncan to accompany him and teach him how to best work with the children and learn from the Park extension staff. Duncan asked me what I thought, and I said it's true, by himself, George would fail miserably at the tasks required, but if he truly has interest in bettering himself, we must help him any way we can.

I surprised myself by feeling so benevolent toward this man who has done so many wrongs to us. If he has an inclination to turn over a new leaf, we must allow him to change, and support him as per his request. If, when a person makes a mistake, she is judged and forevermore holds that judgement in the eyes of others, not only she but her community has lost the opportunity to become more loving, more supportive, and a better place to be.

It's hard to see that view in America. If we don't like someone or something, we can usually avoid it. If wrong is done to us, there are lots of measures in place to restore justice (assuming you are not a minority). You can often pick your friends to include only the people whose values and behavior are agreeable to you. You have the luxury of seeing the world in terms of actions and consequences, right and wrong, good and bad. Of course, nowhere is life really that simple. But in America we have such an overdeveloped sense of fairness, especially among the idealistic upper and middle-class non-minorities, that we can fool ourselves into thinking, even expecting, that once you learn The Rules, you're good to go. If you're one or more of the groups that struggle against justice in America, you laugh at the idea that what is printed on hallowed paper is really The Way It Is, or if you go some place like Malawi you learn the same thing, albeit at a much more advanced age.

Another train of thought has been going round and round in my head, and I would like the advice of all of you who are sociologists or artists (like Melissa, Mali, Jordyn, Sandy, Vicki, Lenore, and anyone else who has a good thought to share). Countries like Malawi which are developing very rapidly are coming into conflict with changing religion and culture in response to the influence of developed western countries and their media. Traditional dance, music, and art are very much tied to traditional religion, which is being pushed away in favour of Christianity or Islam. People living and working in towns no longer have the time or the life style conducive to following traditional cultural practices, and want to show themselves as "civilized" as possible by abandoning old ways. Some of the old ways needed to be changed, like burying alive two maidens and two young men to escort a dead chief to the spirit world, or forcibly "initiating" girls to sex by one older man.

Nowadays children grow up (even in the village) without knowing their tribal dances, songs, or traditions. Even Duncan's kids don't know that stuff because "good Muslims" don't do those things. Aren't they being raised bereft of their cultural identity? They don't have to do or believe the same things that their ancestors did, but if they know nothing of their roots, where do they claim their identity? What does it mean to be Malawian, then? Commonalities of language, weather, cultural behaviors (like greeting people, being late, etc.) and political history? But isn't the richness of culture in artistic traditions? Or is that my personal bias? When you travel, you look at architecture (Malawi has little of interest), food (even less interesting), dress (almost totally second-hand Western), scenery/geography, and art. All of those things make up cultural identity. But here the race is to leave all of that behind as out-dated, un-biblical, and worthless. American lovers of art and culture, respond! What is the value of preserving at least the knowledge of these things on an individual and societal level?

Yours truly,

Laina

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September 25th, 2002


10:36 am - Duncan's and my trip to Monkey Bay, Justine, hungry season
Hey y'all,

No.s 37 & 38 are in the mail, so here's a quick update while I'm at a
computer in a lovely AIR CONDITIONED place. :)

Duncan's house is built, but we are waiting for the tin roof sheets to
come from Blantyre. I think it will be done in a matter of a week, and
with no doubt before the rains come at the end of October. He'll then
think about cementing the porches and the main room, plastering the
walls with mud, and re-building the fence. He is SO excited, he can't
even really imagine what it will be like to sleep in that grand house
and know that it's HIS. :) His wife and children have been
contributing to the work of building and with the money they can earn
themselves - Hawa, his wife, from sellign her agricultural produce,
Duncan Jr. and Buba from charging people to watch the TV that I helped
Duncan buy.

Big and Little Duncan just got back from Monkey Bay where the three of
us went to learn more about home-based care of AIDS victims and
plant-medicinal treatments that actually work better than the chemical
versions. We saw a couple speak about living with HIV and AIDS who are
both HIV+ and have been so for over ten years. Very inspirational, and
once again, Duncan learned a lot. Little Duncan was amazed to see and
"swim" in the lake (the first night we were there the two of them
camped and I got a room at a cheap lakeshore resort, and we swam and
had a good time.)

My birthday was fabulous! I spent it with the Duncans and two Peace
Corps friends, Justine and Kate at Justine's place in Monkey Bay. They
baked me a cake, and we made DELICIOUS pasta and garlic bread. Kate
was there with a group of villagers doing a visit with Justine's
Village AIDS Committee and we got to tag along one morning. After
everyone left, Justine and I went over to the permaculture oasis (June
and Brian Walker's house) and enjoyed home baked bread, SALAD, home
made cheese and jam and yoghurt, and watched Steel Magnolias on their
VCR after baking chocolate chip cookies via a recipe obtained by
reverse charge calling Justine's mom in North Carolina! (They invited
us to make ourselves at home while they went out to dinner with their
friend, a former VSO, the UK equivalent of PC)

Justine is getting evicted from her fancy Health Center house by the
donors who built it (from Iceland) so she's building a new mud hut in a
gorgeous village called Kankhande about 10km away. We walked out from
June's place to see the site, make sure the bricks were being burnt
properly and brought to the property, and see the chief. I had a
wonderful time dreaming with her about where to put the kitchen, bath,
and latrine, and sitting hut to enjoy the view of the hills and valley.
The plot has never been farmed, meaning the soil is virgin and will
make for a delightful garden under Justine's loving care. She was glad
to have positive feedback (I'm the only person from Peace Corps who has
been out to visit her new home) and affirmation of her plans. Justine
is like me in the eyes of our bwanas (bosses.) She's a health
volunteer, so her APCD is not Darlene, but Justine is held in equal
esteem. She was basically told that she can extend service as long as
she wants (and she is thinking of staying for 3 years here, then maybe
getting a master's in India, and coming back to start her own village
based NGO) and that she is trusted to go on her own and do what she
needs to do to get her job done.

The bridge across our river is almost done (yay!) so there will be no
more am-I-going-to-be-able-to-leave-when-I'm-supposed-to worries.

I have arranged with the Member of Parliment for our area to take my
wildlife club, me, Duncan, and Duncan Jr. to Liwonde national park,
where they will be driven around to see elephants, hippos, kudu,
duikers, and whatever else there happens to be, and given some
educational sessions by some park staff. It's going to be great - oct.
7-9.

We are still full speed ahead with nurseries and all that, and now I'm
starting to move more into group education sessions about nutrition and
HIV and AIDS. I'm looking for more opportunities to talk about HIV and
AIDS; I found some great comic-style AIDS education pamphlets that I
plan to put in the tea rooms where guys hang out during the day, and
see what happens. I'll chain them to the table or wall, of course,
otherwise they will mysteriously "go missing."

The hungry season is rolling on slowly, not as bad as I had feared yet,
but it's early. There is hunger now, yes, but mostly for single-mother
households, orphans, and sick or lazy people. Maize prices are rising
fast, though. I bought maize for 400 kwacha three months ago, and it
has now more than doubled in price. It'll double again before it tops
off.

All for now,
Love, Laina

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September 11th, 2002


10:35 am - Soil, death, and initiation
Dear Everyone (but especially Jordyn, because today is her birthday):

The eucalyptus trees are all in agreement about something - perhaps it is the strangeness of rain in September that they are whispering of. I was for some reason surprised, this morning, that despite the patter of rain on my roof, the sky through my window was steadily lightening. Rain preempts most things, but not dawn, apparently. I remember laughing at a weather report from some sunny part of California years ago - the radio announcer warned everyone to "stay inside today because they tell us it's going to rain!" If Seattlelites suspended their daily activities on account of rain, they would calcify on their couches. In Malawi, rain means you will be wet, cold, and dirty if you attempt to go anywhere, and/or it means that you should hurry to your field and perform the appropriate farm labor while the soil is still moist.

I am quite proud of my soil, these days. I have, with the help of millions of ants and termites, managed to encourage the formation of beautifully fertile loam soil in selected areas of my yard. The discovery of a new watering technique taught to me by my friend, Justine, has also facilitated speedy growth in my yard. She showed me that to make a cheap and simple drip-irrigation scheme, simply upend full 1 or 2 liter bottles and plunge them into the soil at your chosen plant's feet. The soil will plug the mouth of the bottle, and will suck the water directly to the roots over a period of 2 - 5 days depending on the moisture already present and the size of the bottle. My passion fruit vines are starting to fruit; my custard apple, papaya, banana, and mulberry are all pleased; and the tomatoes are especially grateful because they hate getting their leaves wet from overhead watering. I've got tamarind seedlings three inches high in their little tubes, and basil, dill, garlic chives, and sesame just sprouting. Poppies, marigolds, begonia, cannas, morning glories, and pretty red-veined big-leafed things are all coming along, and my Irish potato bed is starting to fill in.

Duncan is excited about making his yard productive and beautiful like mine, which is great. These forest houses (belonging to the government) should be good examples of how a homestead could be - fences made from truncheoned poles (meaning the posts are cut from trees which stay alive and sprout from the post the next rainy season, eventually growing into trees. Obviously this alleviates the need of cutting new fence posts every two or three year; we just replace the grass), little gardens which make use of excess dish or bath water, fruit and shade trees, compost files, etc. The next PCV who inherits my yard will be hooked up!

Duncan Jr. came this morning with a larger boy big enough to pedal the bicycle they borrowed, to tell us that a child from Duncan's aunt's house died last night, and Duncan was to go to the funeral today. No making garden beds, no writing reports, no going to the nursery to work with the VNRMC. Death is a way of life, here. While Duncan was building his new house (which, by the way, is only waiting for the roof) there were four funerals in three days in that area, so of course the builders didn't build. People aren't dying of starvation directly, here, though they are in other parts of Malawi. People die of pneumonia, TB, strange sores on their bodies, malaria, fever, diarrhea, weird swellings and headaches, AIDS. It's because they grew up malnourished, they beat and soak and mill and dry and cook all their foods until they've removed all the nutrients and spent more energy than the food is now worth, they eat hardly any fiber and drink hardly any water, they are exposed to lots of bacteria and parasites from living in less than sanitary conditions, and their bodies are stressed by hard work and seasonally inadequate food.

People also die because of witchcraft, real or merely believed. Magic is dangerous - if you steal via familiars like snakes or rats sent into people's houses to take their money. They may be tempted to go to a witch doctor and have him cast a protective spell. The spell traps the familiar in the house red-pawed (or in the case of a snake, red-jawed?) And the witch-thief has to come begging for his familiar. If you don't give the familiar back, or you kill it, the thief will also die. Just a few months ago a man in this village had to go begging for his rat because someone "spelled" it, and caught it stealing. I think he got it back but now everyone knows he's a thief. It's the same if someone breaks into your house and steals something. A witch doctor can collect the footprint of the thief (if you're sure that print was made by the thief) and cast a spell which will kill the culprit. There isn't much middle ground with witchcraft - it seems to often be fatal.

Five, furry, round-eyed, spotted kittens are flinging themselves into piles, paws flailing and tails flying. They are almost six weeks old, well into weaning and able to climb, leap, chase paper balls, and eat a tremendous amount of food. Fortunately, I have homes for all of them and a waiting list for the next litter. I am surprised at how tolerant and loving Mkango is to them. He lets them play on him, washes them, lets them eat first. Impressive, for a male cat.

Before I got sidetracked by my lovely litter of sharp-clawed babies, I was going to tell you of an experience I had in Lilongwe which is a good example of how Malawians deal with death. I was on a full minibus going from the business center of Lilongwe to the Peace Corps Office. We had just pulled out of the bus stop when the driver saw a man he knew walking on the side of the road. "Kenneth ali kuti?" (Where's Kenneth?) he shouted to the man, who promptly shouted back, "Anamwalira!" (He died.). "Oh?," said the driver, "Bwanji?" (How?) "Basi, anangomwalira," replied the man (He just died, I don't know.) "Chabwino, tiwonana," (OK, see you later.) said the driver, and we continued on our way. No further mention was made of Kenneth, and the driver sung along to the radio, playing local gospel songs.

A couple of days ago, I took the opportunity to attend one of the few remaining vestiges of traditional culture around here. I can't say the practice is really traditional, but a corrupted modern interpretation (oh, look, she is judging other people's cultures again!) Of something that used to make sense. In the past, children didn't find out about the biology and mechanics of reproduction until puberty, when girls and boys were taken to camps in the bush and informed about everything they would need to know to be a good wife and mother or husband and father. The boys were circumcised, the girls were told how to deal with their periods, and when they came back, the village threw a big party to welcome the children to their place as adults in the society.

Now, however, kids are taken as early as six years old, and told all sorts of nasty details about sex, and not so much about how to be a responsible adult. Consequently, they come back and try to practice what they learned, and get used to promiscuity, which becomes a plague later in life. In some tribes the girls are slept with by an older man, but not here.
Regardless of my objections to the practice (as it is done nowadays) of Chinamwali, or initiation, I was lured by the promise of drums and dancing, which I rarely see. In fact, I have never seen any drumming or dancing except once, performed for tourists, and once at a Chewa Tribe funeral during my homestay in Dedza. And the kids who sing and dance in little circles in my neighbor's yard at dusk.

At first I was self-conscious, wanting to join in the dancing, but afraid people would laugh. Women encouraged me, though, so I joined one of the circles, rotating around three seemingly tireless drummers. The dances were very simple, and didn't allow a whole lot of personal expression, but I got into it and had a blast. There were men wandering around give little bits of money to dancers (of both sexes) and drummers whom they thought were doing well, and three people gave me money! Everyone was supportive and happy to see me there celebrating with them, so it was a good PR op, since folks from the entire area came - maybe 2000 people.

That's all the news for now. Take care, all.

Love,
Laina

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August 8th, 2002


10:34 am - Cross-visit to Monkey Bay to learn about HIV work
Dear everyone,

Duncan and I and Jeremy and his counterpart, Sinto, spent 5 days visiting my friend Justine in Monkey Bay to learn about her work with Village AIDS Committees and permaculture- nutrition teaching. The two counterparts and I had a fabulous time, enjoying a day at the beach before we started training (no transport Sunday, so they came down Saturday to hang with me and Danielle and her friend at the lakeshore). I don't think Jeremy got as much out of the visit - maybe it was too early for him in his service. Justine and I both speak Chichewa, but Jeremy has already decided he won't be able to learn it. I was more frustrated that (after I went through all the effort to include him and Sinto in the cross-visit I set up) he asked for no whispered translation from his counterpart, asked no questions, and hardly engaged any of us all five days we were together. Up to him, I suppose.

Anyway, we all rented a couple of teenage fisherman and their motorboat to go out to a tiny uninhabited (except by birds, lizards, and maybe the odd rodent) island where we swam, snorkeled, and had a little picnic. The guys wore life jackets and thrashed around in an inner tube. Duncan was very cute in his new found enthusiasm for snorkeling - there are tons of colorful cichlids and mouth brooders around the rocks there. Sinto had never been on a boat before, despite growing up not ten miles from the lake. He was also all excited, even asking the boys to show him how to drive the boat. Jeremy, of course, didn't want to go in the water, and instead stole off by himself to lay on a rock in the middle of the island.

We went by boat to a remote fishing village called Mvunguti on the Nankumba Peninsula and were blown away by the courage and effort displayed by one of Justine's youth groups. The problem with her area is that almost every man fishes for a living, and so is away from home (but with thousands of other guys) following the fish for up to six months at a time. To compensate for being away from their families, they spend most of their money on beer and prostitutes, giving the leftover cash to their families when they get home. Their wives are dependent on the little farming they can do and the income their men bring home, but since they stay alone with no money for so long, they become desperate to feed themselves and the kids, so they sell their bodies for food or cash. This is the cycle of AIDS transmission. In the village we went to, every adult pair of people support between 10-15 orphans left behind by their siblings or relatives.

Justine works to educate youths and at-risk groups (like fishermen) about AIDS and how to protect themselves as well as empowering women with their own income-generating activities so they don't have to depend on prostitution. She really just encourages and helps organize groups of motivated men and women to come up with their own solutions to the problems they identify with a little facilitation of (under-developed) analysis and evaluation skills. I - actually we - were really inspired by Justine and her work. She's a great Peace Corps Volunteer. We came home with all sorts of cuttings and plant parts from June Walker's permaculture estate, and they have revitalized my garden. (I was devastated to find everything destroyed by goats and chickens when I came back from vacation. My evil neighbor stopped our forestry worker from fixing my fence as I had asked him to, so everything was gone when I came home.) It will come again, with work. I made three compost piles right when I got here, and they'll be ready in time to establish plants before the rains come.

Take care all.

Love,
Laina

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