Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wafwiti alipo (witchracft it's around)?

So…. I am a bad person and have not updated this in a long long time but we live in Africa so sue me :) Right If you want a overall update about what Tina and I have been up to jump over to her blog ( ) and you’ll get caught up on our live. I on the other hand am going to regale you with a story of epic proportions emotions frustration, etc.
It all started on a sunny day in Africa (interesting because it had been raining for the last several months). We had just gotten back to the village from our little vacation to America and after the obligatory small chat and greeting I asked one of our students how things were while we were away.
“Oh, things were very okay.” Zondweo said, “and the students went on strike for a day.” He adds as though this is only slightly bigger news than it is sunny this morning.
After talking with some of the teachers and headmaster I find out that the students did indeed go on strike over something to do with sports and asked for the head teacher’s (Singini’s) removal. Of course the sports thing they are complaining about is not anything to do with the head teacher but if you’ve read Tina’s blog you know that there were some higher ups trying to push Singini away. We assume they kinda started the whole thing.
Any way I sat and chatted with Singini for a few hours that day (I hadn’t seen the guy in a month and we’ve become fairly good friends) and went home frustrated that things had deteriorated so much over the last few weeks. Little did I know that more was to come…
Besides finding out about school and what not we learned that Singini had a son die as well and the funeral was only a day or so ago (not a real son it’d be like Uncle Dan calling Uncle Sam’s kids sons, so not son but still close relation) and people were upset. The next morning we find out that people have accused Singini of killing his brother using witchcraft! Witchcraft! It shouldn’t surprise me I have yet to be to a funeral where witchcraft wasn’t blamed, of course people die from treatable diseases but no one cares about that they just yell witchcraft. Of course why wouldn’t they. Lets say you’ve had several young children die all of them had diareah. Some dude with minimal training comes in sees what is going on mixes some salt and sugar in water and has the parents start giving this to the kids. Poof no more dieing kids. How is it not witchcraft, he just made a solution, a potion basically, and completely eradicated this thing that was taking babies; if the cure comes from witchcraft then why wouldn’t the cause be witchcraft. Try and get your head around that one!
Back to the story.
So again I find myself talking with Singini and he is looking awful his ‘son’ just died and now people are saying he is the one who did it. We go home. Next morning. We find out that he went home and there is a mob of people there at his house waiting because the witch doctor has been called from Ekwendeni to see if it is witchcraft.
Now realize that I was not there and this is my interpretation of events after asking several people from different sides of the story but this is what happened…
They called the witchdoctor. At her house she predicted that there was a bottle wrapped in cloth and that the spell was found there. Then she come to Kacheche to Singini’s house and starts to look for it. It was found on top of the roof to his pit latrine. She said it was not Singini’s but his fathers and had been around for some time.
“But, Singini, have you ever seen a bottle on the roof of your chimbuzi (toilet)?” I ask, thinking that I’ve use that chim and never seen anything on the roof.
“Well, no. Its magic. You can’t see it until the witchdoctor makes it appear!” he explains as though I am someone asking about why grass grows green.
I am thinking at this point I should become a witch doctor because they’ve got a fabulous racket going. I make a prediction that a yellow ball is where the spell is at and bring one with me. Throw it somewhere on my in and then find it later and say that you couldn’t see it before because it was hiding with its magic.
Anyway…back at the ranch…or village rather everyone hears that the witch doctor ‘proved’ it was witchcraft that killed this guy. Now no hears that the ‘spell’ was put there by his father, they just hear Singini did it. Now Singini is like hating his father (who has been dead for the last 10 years) because he has brought on all of this. Of course he is also saying that he doesn’t believe that witchcraft is real (this only means that he doesn’t practice it) and the village is going crazy about all this and Tina and I are sceaming into the wind that witcraft is not Freaking REAL!!! but we don’t know what to do. We also find out that the guy who died had TB, had been kicked by a cow and was in and out of the hospital for several months, but not a disease, no, must be wafwiti. So the next day it is decided that in order to break the curse the body must be moved from the graveyard of the father to the graveyard of the mother. SO that night another mob shows up at Singini’s and forces him to dig up a corpse that has been in the ground for the last week. Everyone is arrested. EVERYONE. For trespassing in the graveyard. At this point Tina and I were in Mzuzu because we also found out that people in the village were saying the Singini was cursing us so that we were not seeing his true colors, so people were pitying us. They were also saying he had bewitched us to make us pay for his daughter’s private school. And well we were all trying to explain witchcraft is not real and blah blah blah. We were afraid we might be hurting and not helping, and we didn’t know what to do, we didn’t want to be used as a pawn for anyone and so we ran away into town. Basically the more time that we spent in the village the more frustrated we got.
He is in jail for a few days and then released on bail. Then basically transferred to another school and we haven’t seen him since.
Icing on the cake; while we were in Mzuzu we took our computer so that we could just chill watch some movies play some games. I was sitting in a room with bookshelves when they decided to fall over directly onto our computer. It happened so fast I didn’t know what happened. I just saw our computer flying in the air and landed all closed up and carefully lifted the lid to see, yup smashed screen. At that point even I was starting to wonder maybe there is something floating around in the air.
So now what. Now we start again. Singini was the guy I was working a lot with. He was our main connection in the area and now we start again. Its tough because it leave a bad taste in you mouth. My other friend in the village was one of the guys that made Singini dig up the corpse, but how can he say no when the head chief is pushing you. I mean we always show respect to people in authority here, always. And it would be disrespectful to not do something he wants done, even if there is a chance of being arrested. And it doesn’t matter that we all know that the chief doesn’t want Singini around and has been trying to kick him out for the last 6 months. So we are picking up the pieces. Students are still there (it took a few weeks to get everyone back and in uniform and learning again), teachers are starting to teach again, we have a new headteacher, and we are finding ways to move ahead.
This has really forced us to think a lot about what our job is here. We are suppose to be here to learn and understand a culture not change it. Its just this idea of wafwiti is not something I get, at all. So we should be trying to understand and not change. But at the same time we are teachers and isn’t it our job to teach about treatable disease and differences between illusion and magic, and generally truth and non truth. And we are also seeing this ruin our friends life basically; people are stealing his tobacco and he is now living away from his maize so how is he going to harvest and have enough to feed his family for the year? And he is my friend so just as a human I want to be supportive of him but it seems that it is not culturally acceptable and our heads are still trying to grapple with the whole situation.

Well it is 9:00 and we are still trying to get back to site today from Lilongwe which means a 6-8 hour ride to Mzuzu and then an additional bit to home so I’m going to post this as is and next time I’m around if you all have posted questions and thoughts I’ll do a post trying to answer all those and one that maybe is more about our thoughts and what is happening and how the pieces we are picking up are working out. Until then eat some seafood for me but don’t tell me how it is; you’ll just make me jealous :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Crazy Term and questions answered

So in this post I’ll try and answer a few questions that have been left over the last few months. It is crazy that it has been so long since I last did a real update but things have been super busy. We are just finishing third term here and it was a crazy term. This is the term where the form 2 and form four students (sophomores and seniors) take their national exams. The way it works is teachers from each school are selected to invigilate the tests at other schools in the area. That means that they are not at school for lessons. So at one point in the term for about two week it was Tina, myself, and the deputy-headmistress at school. Needless to say it was a bit stressful. On top of that we have had some budget cuts in the Peace Corps program and so the transit house in Mzuzu was closed and they will soon be closing the one in Lilongwe. This has been a big issue here because a lot of volunteers (including Tina and I) took advantage of these as a kind of recharge the batteries (literally and figuratively) place. So they are closing and we are trying to find new ways and places that we can go to get refueled. Then along with that the new group of education volunteers arrived at the end of September, so we came down to the airport to welcome them to Malawi (boy did they looked bushed. When we came in we had a staging time in Philly with 3 nights and a night in Joburg; they had 4 hours of staging, left at 2:30am and had a 3 hour layover in Joburg). I had been working with our boss Dora on some new training ideas and went with the new group for their first week in country while Tina was at site and then Tina went as PCV of the week a couple of weeks ago (basically it is a chance for them to meet some people who have been here for a while and bounce questions and ideas off of them.) THEN we found out that the school calendar was changing. Normally third term ends in November and the new school years begins in January with about 3 weeks between terms (trimesters). But we found out a week or so ago that this year the school term will end on the 20th of November as scheduled but the new school year will begin December 7th. So we have 16 days between to grade exams, make maintenance repairs and prepare for classes. This has caused a number of headaches as well. We will only have one week between each term and the school year will end in September. This will be interesting because that means the following school year will begin in October and we will only be here until December of that school year. So there are still questions on what exactly we will be expected to do. Do we teach for a partial term? Do we focus on secondary and community projects? If we are living in school housing can we stay if we are not actually teaching? And a host of others. Along with all this they have retrofit the intake calendar of volunteers to accommodate being able to teach two full school years. This could mean that if we are wanting a volunteer to replace us we will have a roommate for a couple of months. So there was all of that and now Tina and I are headed back down to the training site to do a bit more work, and answer more questions etc. with the new volunteers before they meet their Malawian counter parts and visit site for the first time. So that is what’s been happening in our lives lately.

Now to answer some questions
Shane—yes please do use the drinking pee episode for your retreat. I could also offer another time when I was life guarding at Bohn Pool and we cleared the pool as a result of some suspicious “droppings" in the deep end. After further examination (a dive mask and rubber gloves) it was concluded that brown was not a good colour for peanut M&Ms. Also Music we like…ummm. I have to admit that I have had a hankering to hear some Petra, but we like a lot of bands. Bare Naked Ladies, Dave Mathews, etc. type stuff is good. Umm I don’t know; really we are old farts and listened to NPR for the last three years before Malawi. DC Talk holds a special spot in my heart along with Newsboys, and living in North Carolina I really enjoyed some worship songs by Israel. So basically I don’t know.
Lets see what else
The most fun thing we have done since being in Malawi is tough; it depends on what kind of ‘fun” you mean. If you mean like job related (interacting with students) we celebrated May Day. I spent about three hours popping pop corn over a fire the day before and filled up a couple of boxes (thanks for all the packages; even the boxes are useful. Of course I like the stuff inside a lot better :)) wrote a note about the first of may being a holiday in America and that they would have to find us to answer more questions, ran up to the classrooms shouted happy may day and ran off into the bush to hide. It took a few seconds before they understood what they needed to do but it was so funny watching 50 students pour out of a classroom trying to figure out what these crazy Americans were doing. I also made Jam with our form 3 students which was cool. And we climbed a mountain with the form 4 students behind our house and went mushroom hunting. It is actually hard to think of what is the most “fun.” Sometime I think that a lot of people back home look at Peace Corps as being a big adventure, and it is, but its not like we are doing a lot of traveling all over the country for fun. We travel when there is training and I have yet to be any further north than our village and hadn’t gone further south from the capitol city Lilongwe until my parents visited. We spend a lot of time at site and do a job just like in America; the adventure part comes in when that job involves finding ways to get around language and cultural barriers. But as far as traveling in Malawi I had a blast with my parents. We went and saw some elephants and hippos and other wildlife at Luande National Park. And we ate some AMAZING FOOD. I had a meal that consisted of 4 different proteins WOW! We also spent some time on an island that I will say was probably the most fun thing I’ve done here. We got to spend time with my parents in a beautiful place and just relax! It was fabulous. I think I have some pictures posted on the picassa site. And it was just nice.

My reed weaving is on hold until the new batch of reeds has grown up so no wicker yet.

As far as 7 foot roaches…ugh…we just started getting rains and I swear the creepy crawly factor has increased by a factor of ten. Tina is afraid of spiders as most of you know, and the other day we were playing a quiet game of pinochle by candle light under a full moon when along the wall crawls this ridiculously ugly looking spider thing. I only got a glimpse of it and Tina didn’t see it but my immediate reaction was to back up away from the thing. I actually downplayed my reaction quite well I thought because I didn’t want to freak Tina out but she realized “Oh if Zeb is backing up that quickly then that means this is a new and rather disturbing creature he has seen” (maybe not those words exactly) and she too backed up. This thing was crazy it moved faster than anything that size should be allowed to move, had 8 legs (which I suppose most spiders do), and two huge pincher things that were bigger than any of the legs. I was scrambling around with the headlamp trying to kill the thing when it turned and headed directly for Tina at an amazing speed. I of course thought this was going to be a horrible thing, but Tina stood there watched it alter course and stomped on it like it had just tried to steal our chocolate cake; I almost felt sorry for the thing. I almost burst with pride that my wife, afraid of spiders, looked this thing in its many eyes and killed it like it was an everyday event…what can I say She’s amazing. But then there have been ants galore, and other bugs, and yeah I wouldn’t be surprised at 7 foot roaches; I’d just introduce them to Tina and she’d take care of them for me.

That's all for now. I have to admit that I am missin fall. (i know it is nearly winter but things move at a different pace around here sorry). I love getting all the letters people have been sending and I have to appologize for not getting letters sent right back but they will be sent. Enjoy the cool weather everyone (130 F yesterday kuno ku Malawi).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


So Josh asked about friends. Great question. So of course I have other Peace Corps friends that we see every couple of months. Adam one of the guys I really connected with during our training is posted on the opposite end of the country so we see each other maybe once a quarter or so. At site though is a different story. I have Tina which is fabulous (I recommend doing Peace Corps while you are married). And there are the other teachers who I guess I would call co-workers a type of friend in the same way you may call co-workers chat and discuss work and what not but outside of work there isn't really a whole lot. Then there are students. They are probably the closest thing that I have to friends. I spend a lot of time with them, I enjoy their company, we have fun together. The problem is that I have a hard time being 'friends' with them because they are students. It is drilled into you that the teacher student relationship is NOT a friendship because that can lead to a lot of problems. On top of that we typically are at school doing things for students and preparing lesson till between3:00-3:30 and then we go home start the fire for dinner have that ready to eat by 4:30-5:00 finish eating around 5:30 clean the dishes and put hot water in the thermos for the morning and have maybe 10 minutes before it gets dark to work in the garden. After it is dark it is read for a bit and then get in bed. So, I sometimes feel like there isn't really time. There isn't really much time for recreation and there isn't much time for relationship. granted part of that is because some the time that I do have for relationship (Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon) I like to spend on my relationship with my wife. It is odd how you can live together and work at the same place and still find a way to neglect the type of relationship that is needed to have a a marriage work. And honestly that is the friend that I need most and cherish most. So as far as friends go, i have a few but none of them are close. I'll try to think of some good stories of what type of things I've/we've done with people that will give a better idea of the type of friendships we DO have.

Friday, July 3, 2009

financial year end

So I did think of something that is not exactly an everyday experience for people back in the states. A couple of weeks ago the Ministry of Education decided that they wanted all of the schools to do their year end financial report in a new way. So on a Tuesday our headmaster had all of the teachers come together to go over the years finances. Some of them had met the night before and started going through the numbers and had a little bit of the required information. So the next morning we are all together going through the numbers and we are making good progress. I had to remind them that they cannot just change the numbers however they want to make the end result correct but we got to a point where everything added up correctly and we were looking good. All of this only took from about 7:30 am to 1:00 pm straight through. And I was feeling very good thinking we were all set and might actually be able to teach a couple of classes before going home for the day. Then the headmaster, who had been acting like we were going too slow or wanted to rush through some of the information, announced that it was time to begin the second part of the process! It would have been nice to know that there were two parts of the whole thing to begin with especially when I realized that the thing we had just spent 6 hours on is actually supposed to be a summary of the part we have not yet begun! Wow!

So the 'second' part was suppose to be a running total of expenditures and a running balance of expenditures and deposits. Now schools here do not have checking accounts; instead they write vouchers for everything they spend money on, basically a receipt and keep those as a paper trail. So the headmaster brings out a stack of papers that are the vouchers for the past year and we have to decide what section the monies came from. (The money from school fees is split between rotating textbook fund, tuition, central development fund, and something else that I can't remember). We got to a point where I thought we had everything sorted well and in order according to date and put the numbers in and then we noticed a small stack not quite 1/4 the size of the original stack that was sitting on a desk across the room. Surprise, we have to go back and redo the whole thing. At this point it is about 3:30 in the afternoon and I still haven't had a chance to pee. So I just say I'll go through it all at home. The headmaster says okay and hands me the stack of receipts.

I walk home and Tina just looks at me (she had not been feeling well that day and was not at school for any of this). She shakes here head and says "Imagine your mother having the principal walk into her room with a random stack of papers and tell her to balance the budget for the past year. Oh, and do it all by hand."

So I got up at 2:00 am and started re-working the whole thing trying to add up numbers with a tiny calculator that Aunt Becky sent us and I am thinking I'm doing well (getting up at 2:00 is not a big deal by the way. My body has decided that 3:00 am is a good and normal time to get up each day). I have all the number in and am ready to do the summary in the correct order and then I notice guessed it, the vouchers that we had put all together somehow had been split into two stacks again and I only got through one of them. So, it is now 7:30 and I finally have all of the vouchers in and I start checking the numbers. Not a single one matches with what I am expecting to have. At this point I'm a little concerned that maybe someone has been messing with the schools finances but then I think to my self why would the headmaster ask me to do this if they were messing with the money he would know that I'd find out.

I take the stuff over to the school explain what has happened and tell them that I can get all of this done in a matter of hours if I just take it in to Mzuzu and put it on a spreadsheet. By 9:00 I'm on my way to the road with all of the vouchers now (we found 3-4 more that morning). I arrive about 11 and work till about three find three vouchers that had been written twice (when they were doing the summary they thought we needed to change some of the dates on the vouches to make them match something or other and had made new ones which replaced the originals but didn't take the originals out) and had all of the numbers done correctly. That when I realize I left my flash drive at home and the printer at the transit house is not working.

long story short I get it printed and end up getting back to my house in Kacheche about 6:45 pm. Computers really do make things more simple, if you can keep the information on them from the get-go. The good news is that I think we will be able to keep a very good book this financial year since I know what to expect now. So we are learning and taking steps for improvement. I think Uncle Dan needs to come and visit and do a one day training on keeping a budget (personal and institutional). I'm only half joking too. actually anyone who would like to come and do some kind of training with our students or staff is more than welcome. I'll even roast a chicken for you.

updated wish list

So I've had a few people ask if the wish list to the right there is an updated one. Yes. I updated it today. None of the things on the list are things we need to survive here; we do a pretty good job of that on our own (check out Tina's pictures to see some things we've been cooking at site with charcoal and a pot with a lid). Some of the things, like pictures, will help us achieve the second goal of Peace Corps; helping host country nationals to gain a better understanding of Americans. So take pictures of things that you think really mean America or American to you. Maybe it is a GM truck or a John Deer, a picnic at church, fire works, a rally in DC, a mother pushing a stroller, a mall, apple trees, waves on a beach, and eagle, anything.
Other things like games will actually help us to teach some critical thinking skills. We grow up playing games and thinking about probabilities, and making strategies, playing go fish or old maid and what not; all of those things actually help you develop your thinking skills and here, it is something that is definitely lacking. It is hard to teach students who in high school are asked for the first time to begin thinking creatively and critically and trying to teach that stuff is difficult especially because many of the teachers here have never really been taught in that way or maybe have never really had practice themselves. So games could be a fun way to do that (for the students and for me).
It is interesting how many things that we do outside of school with children actually help them learn skills that make them better thinkers, problem solvers, and better able to manage life. We don't even think of those things like having a piggy bank teaches saving money, getting an allowance teaches work ethics, taking care of toys teaches responsibility for keeping personal things in good shape, and so many others that we just don't think about. Here children learn to herd sheep and how to make a toy car out of a milk carton shaped thing that had a local beer in it that morning (the kids don't drink it the men do. But they are allowed to run around the bar and get all the empty cartons). They learn how to plat maize, they learn to write down everything the teacher puts on the board and then read it over and over until they can recite it word for word without any real concept of what it means (work-a job or career that one has to make money, but not a term used in science i.e. force, work, etc).
Anyway there are some others here at the office who would like to use a computer (there are about 70 volunteers in Lilongwe because the ambassador is having a party tomorrow for the Fourth and we like any excuse to have American food).
If you've been reading this or have thought of anything that you would like to know more about as far as our Peace Corps experience goes or what ever leave a comment and I'll try to get some answers up for you. Sometimes we forget what things are different or odd or exciting for people to hear about because it is just everyday life for us now. Kinda like a pilot probably thinks flying a plane is no big deal, but drawing one is amazing. I don't know. Let me know.

Monday, June 29, 2009

How do you explain that?

So there are some things that are just a little difficult to explain to a Malawian in a village. I've started a list.
riding lawn mower
ice skating
TV dinners
bread machine
wieght machine
electric can openner
Easy Bake Oven
Lite Brite
diet self help books
Wal-Mart super center
maize fields in the plains
credit cards
a budget
a morgage
on-line dating
Toys R Us
the mall
milk/beef mega farms

If you've got some ideas of how to explain any of the above let me know :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


So.....I joined PC as an attempt to "run away" from western culture. I wanted to not be a part of the rat race and the hustle and bustle of what everyone's life begins to feel like. I'm sure everyone has had that thought of "I just wish I could get rid of all this stuff." It just starts to feel heavy and awkward and tiresome. So when I heard the commercial on the radio about living on the African plains in a mud hut I thought, "Yeah! That's the life. Simple easy, slow paced. A culture that value relationship over everything else. Lose the watch. Lose the schedule. Lose the excess baggage. Sign me up." And I did. And I'm glad I did....but....There are some things in western culture that just make sense, like efficiency. It makes sense to do things in an efficient manner. Now we, as Americans may take it to extremes (All of you who TIVO one show while watching another--I'm not criticizing, I'm envying) but it makes sense to be efficient. Like instead of spending 1,000 Kwatcha to go to Mzuzu to go to the bank to deposit money knowing full and well that you intend to spend another 1,000 kwatcha two weeks later to deposit 800 just seems to not make sense.

Sometimes you have to run away to fully appreciate what you have left behind. I'm realizing this dazi na dazi (day after day). Like family and friends. I didn't realize how important people are to me. I really think that moving to another country has been a great way of keeping in touch with a lot of people that I would maybe talk to or hear from once a year or less. And then we get letter or packages from people and it like WOW! I don't know how to explain what it is like. Humbling, exciting, sad, wonderful might be close but not really. It is more than that because it is something I can cling to. a letter. someone actually wrote a letter. and the personality just oozes in letters. and i get to hold the piece of paper that they wrote it on. its tangible. I'm half-way around the world but there is that sense of intimate contact with a friend, a sister, a parent.
Its cool.

I cling to memories too. Like when it is 120 and I think I might just fry an egg on the concrete instead of starting a fire... I cling to the memory of Michigan in the dead of winter and snow and digging tunnels in the snow banks at the babysitters, and rushing to try and make a snow man on that first slight dusting of snow when you can see the green lines of grass where the snow ball have been rolled and formed. I cling to that kin of thing.

And I always thought clinging was a bad thing. Maybe not.