Saturday, November 17, 2007

Malawi Update No. 2

i'm not gonna mess with the capitalization in the emails sent from this particular keyboard, since there is only one shift key, and i find it slows me down. and while this is a cheap internet cafe, it still costs money.
where to begin. well, let's start with the surreal expenses. an imported chocolate bar costs more then a u.s. dollar, but a soda costs 25 cents. a bus trip is never more than 75 cents and is usually around a quarter. local produce is abundant and wildly inexpensive.
jong soh (my volunteer cohort for the whole year) and myself both receive about 45 bucks per week. this is way more than enough money to sustain us. it is kind of surreal to be getting this amount of money, when the field officers on staff with the organization we are volunteering with get a little bit more than that 45 in the entire span of a month. we are volunteers, though, right? weird reality checks all over the place, i tell you. the internet cafe i'm writing you from costs 4 kwacha an hour. there are roughly 140 kwacha in a u.s. dollar. but when we took our weekly allowance to a local grocery store, we plowed through nearly all of our money right away, because we hadn't yet seen the local markets.
the program we are working with is called TCE. this stands for total control of the epidemic. in this program, we are considered a special force accountable for the ever-evolving needs of a troop of 50 field officers. each of these field officers is working with a community of around 2000 people in a given area in a 3 year period. they do outreach and study themselves to gain a counselour and health workers perspective when approaching individuals who are often skeptical at best regarding an HIV/AIDS social awareness endeavour.
jong soh and myself are living very close to blantyre city. blantyre is also a province/state and jong soh will be working with a 50 field officer troop in the southern part of blantyre, while i will be working with a troop in the northern part of blantyre. what we do, is largely up to our own design, but will primarily involve a balancing act of assisting at the offices in the urban area, and hearing/meeting the needs of field officers in the rural areas. so far it has been very easy, but i can sense how momentum will quickly build, and different initiatives will leave me very tired at the end of unfathomably long days. but that is for later. for now i am getting used to the public transport system--crazy minibusses that fit between 16 and 18 people like sardines. the food--nsima primarily (a mix of cornmeal and water, cooked down into the thickest of porridges) but also pizza, when you want to spend a little extra and have a treat. the people--very kind poor. they look at me with a stern stare, and as soon as i wave or smile (95% of the time) their faces light up with the biggest smiles. they have clothes from all over. the funniest so far have been a south park shirt, and a shirt that reads--pale is the new tan.
we have no t.v. and we share a room. most of our time is spent quietly when we are not talking--which makes sense, since we have no radio either. but we keep busy. he with language training, and reading, me with reading and writing. i'm also starting to work on my chichew--the predominant tribal language--and everytime i speak something new to a stranger, their face totally lights up.
i've met some neighbour boys who are as smart and well-educated as the smartest kids i've met in the u.s. one is a writer named jeremiah who is working on a play and writes lots of poetry. he is in a gap year between high school(?) and college. another is named blessings, and he is going to show us around a big local market this afternoon provided our plans don't wash out with the rain. then there is daniel, who is a guitarist and gospel singer. church, jesus, god, worship, religion are all around me in the place. i'm thankful that the TCE program doesn't get undermined by a platform of abstinence education. they distribute condoms even as they pray together. i'm going to go to church on sundays regularly--not because i have to, but because i want to--weird...
i'm reading love in the time of cholera, by marquez, and i'm jealous of all of you in the states who can go see the film version at the theatres. i hear we have a movie theatre in blantyre, but i haven't had the chance to check it out yet.
well, i guess that is it for now.
as they say here when it is time to leave from work, or a task--
time to knock off.

siku la bweenu

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