Saturday, December 28, 2013

Giraffes Everywhere!

I’ve been shamefully remiss about my turn to blog, so I’ll begin with an apology for the lull and for the lengthy post following.

To reiterate Krissy’s Christmas post, we had a really splendid day relaxing and reflecting on our journey thus far, as well as enjoying a lovely dinner with our new friend Sami, a Cal Poly alum. She’s an inspiring woman and the project is great as well – I’ve included a hyperlink for those of you interested in checking it out.

Thursday, December 26th
This was meant to be our final day surveying a new community. However, when Daniel came to pick us up, he told us that one of the community members had died. We learned that funerals in Malawi traditionally take place on the day of the passing, and that the event is not only reserved for friends and family, but for everyone in the village – another example of the deep community bond we’ve been lucky enough to witness in Kumponda and Malawi. Since community surveying was no longer an option, we decided to hold our wrap up meeting with the AFES team in their Blantyre office. We discussed what we had observed in the community (namely a need for access to food, clean water, and adequate healthcare) and what the next steps were in our partnership. It was also a great opportunity to thank them for their hard work, selflessness, and friendship. We feel unbelievably blessed to have found such a great match for the Malawi Team, and it’s clear they are equally excited. Daniel, Elton, Paul, Grace, and Shaquiela have been true friends and gracious hosts. We agreed to meet the next day at the Kumponda Development Committee meeting.

We then embarked to Limbe (another urban area adjacent to Blantyre) in search of a chitenje factory. Have we talked about chitenje? You can see pictures of Krissy and I wearing them in previous posts. We’ve each had just one which we wore everyday in the community, but have been wistfully admiring the beautiful colors and patterns the other women in Kumponda wear. Sami told us that she’s having some sewn into skirts and dresses from a local tailor for around six US dollars per garment – immediate regret for not doing that on the first day here. We followed Daniel around like ducklings (as per usual), listening to him bargain in Chichewa at a number of stores until we found a shop with a great selection and reasonable prices. I’m terrible at tying mine as a skirt (yet great at entertaining the women in the community by attempting to do so), but think they will make lovely wall art/table clothes/beach towels back in the States. We’ve seen some impressive chitenje origami, most notably using it as a sling to carry a baby on the mothers back, hands free. This is made all the more impressive based on my inability to walk more than ten meters without it falling off my waist. Props, Malawian mamas. 

Friday, December 27th
We left earlier than usual to grab some snacks for our final meeting with Chief Kumponda and the rest of the development committee - apparently meetings are more enjoyable with refreshments in every country. We had the intention of visiting Thursday’s village afterwards, but tragically there had been another death that day. Unfortunately, this meant that we were unable to visit the community at all. We told Daniel to reassure them that us not visiting doesn’t eliminate them from inclusion in any projects we may do. We sat in the shade in the company of Group Village Headman Kumponda, the development committee, and the chiefs and representatives from the villages we had visited  – Zwanya, Maluwa, Kamwendo, and Kumponda. Similar to the meeting with AFES, we summarized the challenges and strengths we had seen, and talked about our next steps together. It’s a tough concept to approach, since we know that it will likely be a while before we can begin to implement a project there, and we still can’t guarantee anything. But they seemed just as willing to work together as they did on the first day, if not more so. We expressed our respect and endless thanks, and proceeded to take lots of pictures with the various village chiefs and representatives (to be posted when there is more internet access!).

It was bittersweet, as goodbyes are wont to be. I’m still overflowing with gratitude for the kind people we have met and the good fortune we had finding AFES and Kumponda. I don’t think I’ve processed my emotions enough to describe them eloquently enough here, but can say that the forefathers and mothers of the Malawi Team have done an impeccable job of finding a good fit for our goals here. Shaquiela even brought me a chitenje of hers that I had complimented in passing. When I offered her mine as a trade, she simply shook her head and insisted it was a gift. It will be treasured.

We decided to embark for Lake Malawi. Some car troubles led Matt, Krissy, Munir, and I back home while Daniel and Arash adventured onward – Arash will have to post about the great times had there later. We were bummed about missing the one attraction we had been told again and again to see, but decided not to dwell on it and ended up having a pretty amazing consolation day around Blantyre with Sami. As an ex-pat, she lives in an entirely different Blantyre than Daniel, so it’s fun to see it through her lens. She’s been here about seven weeks, and had some fun spots tucked under her belt. First we saw a French bed and breakfast-style place with a phenomenal saltwater pool, great views of the surrounding landscapes, and some amazingly awkward nude statues. We got gin and tonics (Malawi Gin is incredibly cheap and a local favorite) and relaxed outside until the late afternoon showers downpours rolled in. We got dinner at a place called Gelato Carnival (not a real carnival, but did have some impressive light up signs and lots of gelato) and headed to her favorite hang-out, Chez Maky, a local restaurant and bar. There we had the good fortune to run into a couple of guys in the midst of a Peace Corp stint in a district south of Blantyre. Hearing them talk about their living situations (100-degree nights, no electricity, no running water, and abundant wild creatures) made us all the more grateful for our living situation in the trust house. We shared thoughts on development here and on processing some of the things we’ve seen for the first time in the third world. They also had some great ideas for GIS resources we can use, making me excited to dust off some map making skills to establish an effective visual tool for understanding the physical and social needs and resources within Kumponda.

I’m posting this on our last morning in Blantyre. Time has practically evaporated during this trip and I’m still trying to process all of the wonderful things that have happened– Munir will be posting a final segment to wrap up our journey, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Although I’m sad to go, I can’t wait to roll up our sleeves and see the work our team can do in the coming months with our newly forged relationships with AFES and Kumponda. Gratitude is bubbling over.



P.S. Arash’s birthday was yesterday (Dec. 28), so send him some awesome birthday thoughts!

P.P.S. No real giraffes, but we've been looking - sorry Gabby!

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