I’d like to recommend two different blogs for those of you who enjoy what I write about:

Life Magnanimous is my friend Bekka, who is currently serving in the Peace Corps in Liberia. I am VERY proud of her, and her blog is fantastic about painting the picture as to what it’s like to serve both in the Peace Corps, and to live in Liberia.

Komai is a new venture by two women who visited us–Amelia and Kaitlyn. They’re working to promote NGOs and their work. Check them out!

In the meantime, I’ll try and update again soon!

Part of what Sean and I are doing is a community needs assessment. We visit each of the 11 schools in the Malikha School Zone (which is located in Lilongwe Rural East district).

We interview eight people at each school: the group village headman (who oversees many villages) or the village headman (who oversees one); the headmaster of the school; the SMC (school management committee) chair; the VDC (village development council) chair; the PTA (parent teacher association) chair; a mother’s group (counsels girls at school) member; a literacy trainer or a parent; and a teacher.

Thus far, we have been to: Malikha FPS (full primary school), Liwera FPS, Mkoma FPS, Nankhonde FPS, Namangwe FPS, and Chata FPS. We are six down, and have five to go! Below is a map that hangs in the PEA (Primary Education Advisor) office in Malikha. Note: It is NOT to scale. It is much farther to walk that it looks.

We ask questions about the needs of the community and the school, as well as questions about the relationships in the village, and how the school and community work with the local government, NGOs and other organizations, and other stakeholders. To say that Sean is teaching me a lot is an understatement. I’m really lucky to not only work with someone who is so knowledgeable, but to be married to someone who is so passionate about helping others and preserving the environment for future generations.

We have met some amazing, amazing people who have really gone out of their way to help us achieve our goals and interview the people we need. Headmasters, Deputy Headmasters, PTA chairs, SMC chairs, community members…All amazing and very enthusiastic to help us.

However, it’s a bit hard to roar in Malawi if you’re a woman.

I’ve been thinking about all of the things I wanted to say about being a woman in Malawi.

Though I know how to tell everyone who I am (dzina langa dine Emily), but this culture is patriarchal. I’m not so much myself now, as Sean’s wife; even John, who knew me first as Emily, now calls me Mrs. Sean. It’s an interesting experience, having been here once already as an individual, but now I’m one half of a whole, the wife, the woman, the Mrs. Sean.

On one hand, I’m inordinately pleased and amused to be called Mrs. Sean; from John it doesn’t bother me much partially because I know how much he likes Sean’s name (it’s the Irish version of John). I’m proud to be married to my husband; being Mrs. Mark is wonderful.

On the other hand, I’m still me. Not being called by my name is a little disconcerting, though it isn’t everyone who does that. Some simply accept me as Emily, and are excited that I’m here. And while I’m an American, I’m also a woman in Malawi, which means playing by a different set of rules. I can choose to be culturally respectful, or to be rude and ignore customs. However, sometimes it isn’t up to me.

I’m expected to wear a long skirt and dress somewhat modestly at all times; no pants, and no low-cut shirts. Men and women aren’t supposed to touch in public, so even though we’re married I can’t hold my husband’s hand.

When I was at the big market recently with Kaitlin and Amelia (from Komai) I experienced how aggressive some of the market sellers can be. Generally I go with Sean, and the presence of a man seems to keep everyone at bay. A woman is fair game, though. It’s a little unnerving because I experience the market one way with him, but that isn’t guaranteed to be the same when I’m on my own.

I still have privilege, of course. If I got sick I would be easily taken to the African Bible College hospital and treated. We have international travel insurance, and access to transportation. This isn’t the case for everyone, though. When Sean and I were at Liwera school this week, he was told how important it was to have a nearby clinic. Last week a woman died giving birth, and they couldn’t get her to the hospital. Yesterday in Mchezi, a woman who works with one of the community health organizations lost her five year old child from unknown causes. Leaves were placed on the road, indicating a funeral. Sean and I will have a child within the next few years, and my sister-in-law just had a lovely baby boy a few months ago. Both of these stories strike so close to home, and I can’t imagine how I would feel, if I was living in a village, faced with little to no prenatal care and no access to emergency help.

Sometimes being a woman is a benefit: women are much more open with me, and sometimes our exchanges are really wonderful. They also seem to enjoy greeting me in the street, and are delighted when they find that they’ve got an azungu woman who can speak a little Chichewa.

Men seem to respond well when I ask them to organize a meeting or to answer my questions. My research might be helped, though I can’t say that it isn’t hurt either. Am I entirely respected? Probably not. Am I seen as a capable, independent researcher? I can’t say that either. Does it help that I’m a White woman? Well… I can’t tell, either. Maybe a Malawian woman would be more accepted because she spoke Chichewa and knew the customs. But being an azungu woman means that I have foreign authority.

Being married also helps. It keeps away the creepers and the guys trying to gauge whether or not I’m free to date. I haven’t had anyone offer anything to Sean for me yet, but I’ve had a few guys seem disappointed when they found out we were together. I even had one say that I needed a Malawian husband instead. No, thanks. I like mine.

It’s definitely interesting, being a woman in Malawi.

Or Missouri, to be accurate.

We have no real internet. It was much easier last time I was here. Skyband changed their policy.. selling by the MB instead of by the hour. Cheap bastards. It’s expensive to use the internet.

We haven’t had hot water in a week. Last Saturday I was washing clothes in the bathtub, and the water came out brown. Since then, the hot water is gone, and there is no water pressure–the water will randomly explode out of the taps, dousing you and everything near you. Most recently, the cold water in our bathroom looks like milk: opaque and white. Eugh. Can’t even brush your teeth without going to use the safe water from the jug.

And of course, we had four power outages in three days: a night, then the next day and night, and then the following day. I heated up water on the stove in giant pots for a hot bath, and when I got in, the lights went out. Nooooooo!

It’s been cold, as well. Fifties and below at night, and in the sixties during the day. It IS Malawi after all. And no indoor heating to be seen. I’ve whined enough that it’s too cold (John agrees with me) that he’s trying to teach me how to say “it’s very cold!” in Chichewa. It’s something like “aziza kwambili” but really, it’s cold.

I’ve read Fast Food Nation (while standing in the kitchen making dinner, or waiting for things to boil) and all it has made me want is a bacon cheeseburger and fries. How awful/awesome is that? But regardless, I’ve been making some decent dinner-ish. One of the stores has teeny frozen chickens for around 350MK, which is great. I’ve been making roasted chickens with the sweetest carrots you’ve ever had, and potatoes. Lots of tomato-based soups and stews. And chili! I found ground beef in small amounts, and have beans and rice from the village markets (300MK for  1KG).

So.. it’s not Kansas (Missouri) anymore, but it’ll do for now. I just need some hot water.

Sneaky Goat


Sneaky Goat is very sneaky (and stealing food from stalls).

Taken in Mchezi.

There is so much to talk about, it’s a little overwhelming. I’ll have a separate post for our 40 hour bus ride from JoBurg to Blantyre, because that was an adventure in and of itself, and deserves it’s own story.

The house at World Camp is as I remembered it, though the couches have been re-covered. John (our house caretaker/dad/jack of all trades) is still here and still as wonderful as always. He makes delicious enchiladas, and knows where to find everything, how to fix everything, and pretty much… everything else. He is a font of information. I learned that, after his Uncle, he’ll be chief of his village next! It’s  mostly a legal position, settling disputes and enforcing rules and law, and he’s not totally keen on it. But I think he’ll be wonderful.

Eating here has been better than I remember. I’m also much braver than last time, and have no problem strolling into the small market across the street, or the large one down the street, and getting my veggies and fruit. A huge pineapple is 250MK (250 kwacha = $1 USD), a huge papaya is 250MK, a football (American) sized avocado is 100MK, five tomatoes are 100MK, etc. We’re eating wonderfully, and we’ve both lost weight. Less processed food, more healthy food!

I’m healthier than I have been, as well! Not a single illness to be seen (cross your fingers). I’m not so brave as to go drinking out of the tap, but I haven’t gotten sick once. A HUGE improvement over the last time.

My birthday was on the 7th, and we celebrated with Indian food and a lemon cake. I brought the cake mix from home. Sean surprised me with some jewelry and balloons! BALLOONS! Heart-shaped ones, even. It shocked me that he found balloons in Malawi.

We visited Mchezi, the village we’re working in, as well as Malikha, a smaller village where the PEA (an education liason) is working. We have a big meeting tomorrow with headmasters, chiefs, etc. in order to fill them in on the work that we’re starting. It’ll be really neat to see everything tomorrow, as this is really Sean and Reinier’s forte, not mine. I will get to help with headmaster interviews, but beyond that I’m just a pretty face.

In the week and change since we’ve gotten here (last Saturday), we’ve had our hot water go out, the power go out, a giant fire next door, a bbq in the front courtyard (on purpose), my birthday, a village visit and a homestay, went to a wildlife sanctuary in Lilongwe, visited the Malawi parliament building, and took about a million trips to the market for fresh food. It’s been exhausting, and there’s still a lot of work to do before the volunteers get here. I’ll be working on photos, because I know that’s what everyone really wants to see. :)

Also, the first night we were here, we went out for a green (Carlsberg, as it’s locally known) and food and I forgot to put bugspray on. I have (no exaggeration) two dozen mosquito bites on ONE LEG. I took a picture to show everyone, but it’s so gross that I just sent it to my parents instead. Really. And horribly itchy. And I got one on the bottom of my foot. Do you know how badly that itches when you have shoes on? AWFUL.

So goes life in Malawi!

We are in Johannesburg! We’re staying at a nice little hostel near the airport, so that we can hop on a train tomorrow morning to go to the bus station, to catch a bus to Malawi.

Our first flight, from STL to Detroit was nice and uneventful. The second flight, from Detroit to Paris was nice. We had awesome food (Air France is the way to go, but then, international flights are always good).

We had a twelve hour layover in Paris, and so we decided to make the most of it. We hopped on the RER into the city, then visited Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and Sacre Coeur. Did you know that the Musee d’Orsey is closed on Mondays? No? Neither did we. And I love Monet, and Sean has been wanting to go–and when we showed up, it was closed.


Paris, I am judging you. That museum should be open seven days a week.

Dinner was at a nice little bistro in Montmartre, and included an amazing strawberry tart. It was unfortunate that we only had 12 hours (in reality more like 6 with all the transit and needing to go through security). I would have loved to stay longer. We made it back to CDG airport–which has admittedly improved since I was there in 2005 (though not by much)–and got situated for a few minutes before our flight started to board. We had a lovely dinner again, and settled in for the night, as it would be our second overnight flight. This one left at 11:20 and got in around 9:40.

I have to say, taking two overnight flights that are 7 hours or longer wo days in a row, and running around a city like mad makes you sore. And I have cankles and sausage toes. Putting our feet up for the evening will be really nice.

I’ll put up pictures soon, but not now, as I need to save my laptop battery.


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