Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Greetings and goodbye

Hello Everyone! This will be my last post as A Peace Corps Volunteer as today, April 6th, I will finish the last of my paperwork and officially complete my service here in Malawi. It's hard to believe how fast two years can go by but as we know, the older we get the faster it seems to go. These last four months have been amazing; and I've spent my time truly appreciating and enjoying all that Malawi and life have offered. I have been extremely lucky to have had such a wonderful and fulfilling service here and I thank you all so much for reading this and keeping up with my life.

The last opportunity I had to post anything was right before my vacation to Zambia and Botswana. I think many of you had the chance to see some pictures I emailed my parents from the trip. Five friends and I rented a car and spent three weeks exploring these two beautiful countries. We started by camping in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia where I got to see Zebra, Giraffes and Leopards for the first time along with many other big game. I can't really describe what an incredible experience that was or what it feels like to be so close to such exotic creatures that I thought I would only ever see in a zoo or on T.V. Next we headed to Victoria Falls which absolutely blew my mind. It was so incredibly beautiful; the sheer size of one the worlds largest waterfall was almost incomprehensible. Sitting at the edge of the falls, and looking straight down, while watching the water rush past, is something I will never forget. My friends and I also took advantage of the fun touristy things to do as well. We went whitewater rafting, which was pretty amazing and something I look forward to doing in the States; bungi jumping 117ft into the gorge; and also took a New Year's Eve sunset booze cruise down the Zambezi. Finally, we went to Chombe National Park in Botswana and were lucky enough to end our vacation watching a pride lions for hours amidst the largest numbers of elephants, giraffe, and kudo I have ever seen. The trip was amazing for everyone who came and I was excited to be able to drive after almost two years.

I was very happy to return back to my village knowing that I only had three months left. In terms of my work here and the relationships I have built, those last three months were so intense and special to me. I worked with some great people in my village to raise around 400 tree seedling at my house that we later planted all around the village to help in many different ways. I continued to work with my different women's groups advising them on small business opportunities. Finally, I kept spreading the good word about the Moringa tree and its health benefits which could do such much to combat the health issues in this country. Each day I cherished every conversation, bike ride, hole I dug, and tree I took care of. The reflection and joy I felt was so intense. Getting water at 2 a.m. due to my water shortages may seem crazy to all of you, but to me those moments under the stars waiting with other women are experiences that are so wonderful and unique it gives me chills to think about them.

My last project in the village I was able to do because of the kindness and generosity of you my family and friends. I can't thank you enough, or express the gratitude of my community for the love and compassion you have shown. With the money you donated, we were able to complete the following restorations to my primary and secondary school: the repainting of 8 classrooms and all the blackboards, the girls hostile, and 6 roofs in addition to the fixing and re screening of all the windows in the girls hostel (to reduce mosquitoes), and the re patching of floors and small repairs to beds. Over 100 community members donated their time to bring this project to completion. I cannot find the words to truly express my gratitude to you all. More importantly, the people of my area will never forget the selflessness of your actions and how it will affect their children and their future education. I really feel lucky as I've already said, to have been supported so thoroughly by the people in my life back home. My service would not have been the same without you.

It is almost impossible to share all that I have experienced and learned here as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Spending two years of my life living in a rural African village in one of the worlds poorest countries has changed my life and my philosophies in ways that I have yet to fully understand. These have been two of the happiest and richest years of my life even though I've lived with less than I have ever before. The people of Malawi have taught me how to smile, laugh, and be happy no matter what life has to offer. I will miss the camaraderie of the village life, and the sense of the community it instills in all who live there. I feel forever changed and my professional ambitions and what I need for happiness have changed also. My goal now is to come home and apply to graduate school though I have yet to decide on exactly which program. I'm looking at programs that allow me to work internationally toward positive social and environmental changes that will allow people to live a better life.

Thank you all for the support I have received over the past 2 years. As much as I loved it here, the phone calls, letters, e-mails, and packages always brought me joy and reminded me of the amazing people in my life that I have back home. I look forward to catching up with you all soon but I still have a few more African adventures ahead of me before I am on the North American continent again. This beautiful woman has been a major part of my life and happiness here and together we are travelling to Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and Turkey for what I'm sure will be an amazing time. From Turkey I'm heading alone to Europe to explore the people, countries, and cultures that I have dreamed of seeing. Life is amazing and each and everyday I am happy and lucky to have another day on this earth.

Cheers, Pat

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hello and Happy New Year friends and family! It has been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity to update this blog and in the meantime, a lot of life has happened. I apologize for the delay; it seems like life is just flying by and my time remaining here is coming to an end. Over the past four months I’ve had some great adventures and will try to catch you up on my life here in Malawi as best as I can remember. Lately my responsibilities have drawn me out of my village, but I still love my home in Misomali village and always look forward to returning. So here is a cursory overview of the last four months.

We left off last when I was on my way to one of the Northern most districts in Malawi, Karonga. I was invited to intend a week long gender development camp called ‘Women to Women’. The camp was coordinated by another volunteer, Monica, and seven other facilitators including myself. The idea of the camp was to invite girls from the local secondary schools and teach them about their health and education and encourage them to make smart choices for their futures. The camp began with sessions on Human Rights as outlined in international covenants. It is amazing that many girls here don’t know that it’s their right to marry whom and when they choose; to have babies when they choose, that they have the same rights to education as boys. I led sessions on Nutrition and Moringa cultivation as well as gender roles and how they are affected by culture. There were sessions on self defense, sexual health, public speaking, self esteem, business training and lectures from successful Malawian women in the local community. There was even a night session called “the sex bucket”, where the girls were allowed to write any questions they had about their bodies and sex and then have them answered. I was not allowed to attend this session as we wanted the girls to feel as comfortable as possible. All in all it was one of the most amazing and rewarding things I have done and probably will do as a volunteer. It was just incredible on so many different levels to see women slowly start to believe in themselves.

The next major event was my close friend Mel’s 30th birthday party. Her site is right on the beach so a ton of volunteers came from around Malawi and we had some amazing days on the beach drinking, eating, and celebrating life. Mixed in with the birthday extravaganza was a trade and resource fair she decided to organize for her entire community. At a community center near her house, about 20 volunteers set up various exhibits and demonstrated to her community all the different projects we do in our village that could financially benefit them. There were exhibits on soap & jam making, sewing, bee keeping and honey, small businesses information, information on health, beneficial trees they could plant, tree grafting and so on. It was a ton of fun and I had a station demonstrating how to make cooking oil from peanuts. We put this fair together quickly but it turned out extremely well and it was a blast to be a part of. A one day event like that can make a big impact long term and really open the eyes of villagers to the many opportunities they may not have known existed.

In early October I had 3 guys from my group come visit me in my village before we headed down to the game count in Liwonde National Park. I would not normally mention visitors, but I had an extremely funny Malawian moment I will never forget. Here is the abbreviated version: I bought a chicken from the Chief’s son to feed to my guests. On the way to deliver the chicken to be cooked, a village friend noticed the chicken and thought he recognized it as his own. He asked me to wait until nightfall to see if the chicken came back to his house to sleep, as all chickens here do. By evening it was determined the chicken was his, so he, my neighbor who always translates for me, and I all went to the Chief’s house to confront the son. By the time we arrived many of the household members including the Chief and his son were drunk. After ten minutes of yelling, threats of going to the police, and other banter the accused finally confessed. One of the Chief’s other sons who is my friend and does not drink, become extremely embarrassed over the incident and challenged his brother to a fight. So, it was on but……… this is Malawi. They watch tons of kung fu movies and believe it is the optimal way to fight. I proceeded to sit there over the next five minutes and watch a hilarious and pathetic attempt at a fight that included round house kicks, karate chops, and whatever else they could remember from Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and other martial arts masters. At one point I looked at my neighbor sitting next to me with a look of general disbelief and asked him “is this f@#king real?” He just shook his head and smiled at me, clearly in as much disbelief as I was in. After the great battle ended with little damage done to either party, the Chief agreed to give the chicken back to its rightful owner and pay me back the money I spent. To this day the Chief has never paid me my money, but ultimately, the money owed to me was worth the price of admission for such a bizarre and funny moment here in Malawi.

After a good visit with friends we headed to Liwonde National Park to help the park service do an annual game census. It was just amazing. We got to stay inside the park for three days and go on two different game walks with a scout and do a grid transect walk to get an estimate of the number of animals in the park. I was able to get up close and personal with warthogs, elephants, hippos, impala, sable, water bucks, and so on. It was amazing to be moving by foot through the park with only a ranger and an AK-47 through the bush. I got to see such beautiful animals and landscapes. We found bones, traps set up by poachers, and crops planted near the border of the park by encroaching villages. At night we hung out and camped near lodges inside the park. As with most parks here the game moves freely through the lodges at night. In the middle of the first night I was there, a few of our tent `s became surrounded by elephants. It was so exciting and insanely terrifying at the same time. You cannot move or make a sound, no lights can be turned on, and all you can do is sit and hope they do not trample your tent. We just sat and listened to them eat tree leaves around us and tried to contain all the emotions of fear and excitement inside us. Seeing the elephants and other game in their natural habitat was beyond amazing and provided me with memories I will never forget.

At site things are rolling along as well as ever. I have gone through another hot season here and this year was much hotter than last. I guess I have acclimated as much as possible because day after day of 100 plus degree heat really did not wear me out that much. At times you just laugh about it. You work when you can and you sweat constantly. When I ate lunch with my neighbors it was comedic how much we would sweat once we put hot food in our mouths. I generally like the challenge of the hot season, and personally, I would always rather be hot than cold. The hottest days come during the dry season which makes water was very difficult to come by. Not impossible, but difficult and time consuming. At times I would dream about water. As I think I’ve said before, my concept of water and its importance to daily life has changed dramatically after living in Malawi and especially my notoriously dry district.

I had yet another adventure with a baby goat. Once again a young goat fell in my pit latrine, but this time no one was around to help me. Once again I found a long piece of wire and made a noose. I spent minutes fishing for the goat’s neck and at last was able to hook the little guy. I pulled the young goat up, slightly choking it in the process. Once again it was saved. After bathing the young chap he was free to be and I was left covered in shit, all over my clothes, skin, and of course in my beautiful beard. All I can say is that I just laugh in those moments and oddly enough cherish them. Soon I will be back in the states and little adventures like these will be fond memories I will always enjoy.

As for my work back at site, it’s the tree season. The height of the hot season is when my counterpart and I encourage villages and villagers to plant tree nurseries so seedlings will be ready when the rains come. This year we have been working with villages to try and replant trees along seasonal river banks. In the past these rivers ran year round but due to deforestation, the water in the rivers dries up as soon as the rains stop. I have also been growing many tree seedlings at my house. I have already planted many, but soon I plan on just being a crazy man who roams around my village and digs holes and plants trees. Most people value trees, but not the actual planting of them or the concept of reforestation. So I’m sure I will be viewed as a crazy man but planting trees is my job here and I will try and help any way that I can. It is a real challenge to get villagers to grow and plant trees. They take so long to mature and in a culture where so many live day to day, preaching the benefits of something that will take 10-15 years before it can be used is as challenging as one would imagine. Outside of my work with trees, I continue to work with my women’s group. I have recently taught them to make cooking oil from peanuts as a small business, but the whole ordeal is taking quite some time to get off the ground. I also wrote a grant and received money to get my village properly trained on our roller coaster of a bore hole. After a week of training, I can finally say that my village has the knowledge to fix and maintain our bore hole without my help. The only problem now is the bore hole is producing little water because of poor rains last year and a low water table. Hopefully, this rainy season will be better.

This year I rented a plot of land to cultivate food so I am trying my hand at being a small scale farmer. I am trying to intercrop my food crops with a plant that fixes nitrogen. I am growing corn but also other crops with higher nutritional value. I’m not sure how things will turn out but I wanted to at least try one season as a farmer. With any luck, I will have some success and maybe convince some farmers of different agricultural practices that are more beneficial to soil than the ones currently being used.

The rainy season has officially begun. After so many hot and dry days, the coming of rain is welcomed with enthusiasm by all. The country is becoming green and beautiful once again, the water tables are starting to rise and the sweet relief of water is finally here. Life has returned to Malawi and at night you can hear frogs and insects aplenty. With so many insects in abundance now, we have extra food options available. I have enjoyed a few good meals of termites.

For Christmas and New Years I went on a 3 week vacation to Zambia and Botswana with some friends. I will post pictures and stories soon. I also just attended what we call a COS (Close of Service) conference and I found out that April 6th will be my last day as a Peace Corps volunteer. The end is near with still a lot to do and a ton of emotion building as I near the end of this adventure. To my friends and family I miss and love you all and hope the holiday season was kind and that life is good.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Opinions expressed in this blog do not represent those of the Peace Corps or the United States Government

Hello to everyone out there and a happy new day to you. It is late August here and the good times roll on. It has been almost 3 months since the return from my trip in Mozambique. Things have been well and good here for me. This is the slow season for us volunteers and Malawians who work with the department of forestry. Soon the trees will start dropping seeds again and our work will pick up but I have been trying to keep myself busy. I have had some fun times and as with everyday of life new adventures pop up and provide me with some new stories.

First off, soon after I arrived back from my trip I had some kids run up to me and start yelling about my bathroom aka my hole in the ground with a roof. Not understanding exactly what they were saying I followed them to my house and bathroom where I proceeded to hear and soon see that a baby goat had fallen in the hole and was chest high in human feces. I went and found my neighbor who was a bit drunk and we proceeded to make a nose from rope. After a few minutes we managed to get the noose around the young goat’s neck and pulled it up. For those of you not familiar with goats the sounds they make on a normal basis which are all day and loud are unique to say the least. When we were pulling this goat put and choking it at the same time you could not imagine the sounds that emanated from this beast. It safely made it out though with no injuries but we had to bath the dam thing and after a few minutes the event was over. However my neighbor and I had to strip ad bath due to the fact that the bathing process resulted in us becoming soiled and the smell was far from pleasant. Another day in Africa I guess I can say. At night while lying in bed I just started to laugh reviewing the event in my head.

It has also been fun dealing with one of neighbor’s chickens. I have a storage room lacking a door separate from my house which a particular chicken decided to lay eggs. No big deal I use the room little but I could barely go in for a month as the mother chicken patiently awaited her hatchlings. After hatching she and the babies decided to make it their permanent home. The room however is almost a foot off the ground so each day after the daily pursuit of food all chickens go through here the babies could not yet fly enough to make it up into the room (they could however jump down). The mother would go in and the babies would freak out unable to reach their mother. So for about two weeks I had a daily ritual of getting the chickens up into the room. However the 5 chicks always ran from me when I tried to pick them up while at the same time the mother would run out, puff her body, and become aggressive towards me in defense of her babies. I was successful from day to day but I often dropped them, ran around like an idiot trying to catch them, and generally looked like a fool. Those passing and my neighbors refused to help because watching me proved too humorous for them to pass up and in their place I would have done the same thing. All is well now however, the chicks have grown and now can make it up on their own.

A few of you I know saw the political and moral debate that made national news here. Two homosexual men publically proclaimed their love for one and another and desire to marry. Homosexuality being illegal here prompted the authorities to arrest them and they were eventually convicted and sentenced to jail time. This prompted international attention from major countries that provide aid here as well as some international humanitarian groups. A few countries and aid organizations threatened to cut funding which eventually resulted in the men being released from prison. It was interesting to talk to local villagers about the situation. Most thought they deserved to be in prison. They believe homosexuality is immoral more or less due what is being taught by the churches here. I did however run into a small number of people who thought that the men or anyone should be free do as they please as long as they are not harming anyone. Two men in particular supported the men I have thought from the first time I had meet them that if they were in a free country like the U.S. that they themselves would probably be living a different lifestyle that they are here. Homosexuality is still illegal here and supposedly authorities were putting in significant efforts trying to crack down on some establishments that accommodate to such peoples. This brings up a lot of philosophical arguments about countries receiving aid and the role of those providing it. For very poor countries like Malawi as well as other can almost be forced into policy being dictated to them by large donors due to fear of losing funds. I am for the right for everyone to find their own personal happiness as long as other are not being harmed. However it is kind of a tricky scenario to dictate policy to other countries and not allow them to develop socially at their own pace. I can say volunteers talk about these things a lot here along with many other topics. Often over adult spirits in heated debates which over the course of the night we solve the world’s problems. Well at least we think we have for a small period of time.

I move on to other topics and specifically our annual 4th of July at the Ambassador’s house. This year was just as enjoyable as years. Good food and drinks as well one of the few chances to see most of the volunteers at one time as well as meet tons of people working with NGO’s along with other organizations. It was also interesting because it was Ambassador Bodde’s last event to host U.S. citizens here in Malawi. As I said in a previous post Ambassador Bodde is the equivalent of a five star general in Foreign Service and he thought this would be his last post. There were very few promotions available for him so he thought after Malawi he would retire. However, Ambassador Bodde received a promotion and his been appointed the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq which is an enormous task and an honor. He will basically be responsible for the development of the country and as we all know after a prolonged war will be an enormous task. I wish him all the best. He was a very genuine and super supportive to the Peace Corps and idea the organization represents. We are now awaiting a new appointee but that may not happen until after I leave.

Continuing on the political front Peace Corps Malawi was invited to the State House by the president is Honorable Dr. Bing wa Mutharika. It is a rare that Peace Corps volunteers get the chance to meet their host countries president so this was a big deal for us here locally as well as Peace Corps in general. So in late July almost every P.C. volunteer in country assembled in Lilongwe and we headed for a luncheon with the president. It was an amazing day. We were all dressed to the nines in suits, dresses, etc. bought at local clothes markets (it is all secondhand clothes from the States oddly enough). We had an afternoon of good food, plenty of drinks, speeches, dances, and good times a plenty. It was on the radio live as well as T.V. here in Malawi. The president gave a speech honoring us and all our work and I have to say it was quite a unique feeling to be the honored guest of a president of a country. We had one volunteer Sarah who speaks the native tongue Chichewa really well and she gave a speech. The amazing part was that the speech she gave I got to write and my site make Jake (who is about 12k from me) helped with the grammar mistakes I often make. The Peace Corps Country Director liked it and it was passed to the Ambassador who made just a few small changes. It was incredible to have a speech I wrote read to the president. After the president gave his speech he demanded that we all get on the floor and dance (he had hired a live band). Before we knew it we were all dancing and I get to even dance with president and his wife for a few minutes. My country director also asked me to come to the table where he was eating with the president and personally introduced me to him and I got to chat for with him for a few minutes. Life always amazes me with providing unforeseen events and that day I will remember for a long time to say the least. When I got back to my village some people had heard the event on the radio and a few people who had T.V. had seen me at the event dancing with the president and so on. Everyone in my village was very excited about me being there and I had to retell the stories of that day’s events many a time since.

Back to life at the village here in Misomali and some local happenings worth mentioning. My deaf friend is pregnant but where not sure by whom. Whoever it was is not taking responsibility. She is very excited, she really wants a child and I am happy for her. She comes from an extremely poor family so every time she comes to my house I am shoving fruit down her throat for nutrition. She is in the first trimester and still helps me around my and at this point I am overpaying here quite a bit so she can use the money for food. The lone Muslim in my village who was my friend a few months back died from complications caused by being HIV positive. It is sad but death here is almost a normal part of life. The village mourns for a day and the next day everyone is back to business as usual. He was survived by 2 children and a wife. His wife is positive and since his death his 2 year old child died about a month and half later from HIV complications. It was sad but the only positive is that his first born his negative and with any hope will live a long happy life. So as of now his wife and 1 child remain. She however was just found along with another woman to be teaching witchcraft to a small group of children. The news traveled fast and was talked about for days. The punishment giving to them by the chief was the cost of transporting themselves and the kids to an herbalist who lives in my district who with his knowledge of plants and so on would make up a concoction to dewitch them for a lack of a better term. I was at a loss of words after hearing the entirety of the story as well as the punishment. Every culture is different I guess, who the hell knows. The game park next to me Majete Game Reserve also lost one of its park rangers. He was out with some tourist tracking elephants on foot and was charged by a large male bull and subsequently killed. Elephants are beautiful and amazing but to the people of Africa they are terrified and justifiably so. Elephants are extremely aggressive towards people and often break out of park fences to raid fields for food.

As for me work wise I have started a garden of moringa trees which I am growing as a food supplement. Once it reaches about 50 centimeters I will cut the trees by their base, remove the leaves, dry them, and then finally crush them into a powder. The trees once cut down near their base will shoot again and I will repeat the process 3 to 4 times a year. The powder should be taken 3 times a day in small spoonfuls and probably one of the healthiest foods I have ever come across. Researchers from the U.K. and U.S. have studied the nutritional properties and they are off the chart. Before I leave I hope to convince enough people to use it (I take it 3 times a day religiously) and I am convinced along with a lot of other people it can be a huge combatant against malnutrition. We shall see. I have been making cooking oil and from ground nuts and selling it raise money for my bore hole. I have a small machine that is hand operated which I will soon give away to one lucky motivated villager (yet to be identified) so they can make a small business of it. As for my bore hole we have had some major ups and downs. It works than breaks and the cycle repeats itself. It has been a challenge but I am working on getting money for proper training for the maintenance of it as well as money to buy some desperately needed parts. Many days recently I have been getting water from a dry river that that a hole was dug deep enough in to get water to surface in a pool which we can scoop with cups into buckets. I have also started to teach jam making. Right now the most available fruit/vegetable is tomatoes so we are making tomato jam. It is not that bad and Malawians seem to like it so it works. Mangos will be available soon so I look forward to making some mango jam. I also helped rebuild my fence at my house (dam termites are a nuisance) as well my football team has started practicing and playing once again.

In general this is the dry season and the end of our cool season. I am happy the heat is coming. With temperatures in the 60’s to low 70’s taking a bath with water near the same temperature is very cold. I try and heat with the sun but I refuse to make a fire and heat because it is waste of trees. Right now is building season also because of no rain. People everywhere are making mud bricks and some burn the brick in a type of kiln which require an abundance of trees to heat the bricks properly. As for me I am heading to the furthest district of Malawi in the northeast called Karonga. My friend Monica is hosting a camp called women to women. It is based on educating and empowering women in a variety of subjects. The reason I am going is because my friend Monica asked me to be the positive male role model for the week. It should be a blast. I think it will be around 40 girls from form 2 through form 4 (10th-12th in the U.S.) along with around a half a dozen women Peace Corps volunteers. I am excited and look forward to updating my blog with more about it in the future.

So to wrap it up life is good and I am still super excited about my work hear and the things I want to get done in my last 8 months. Life in the village is amazing and knowing my time is running short here I am trying to enjoy every minute of my adventures here in Africa. To my friends and family I miss and love you much. Take care and good times to you always.

Opinions expressed in this blog do not represent those of the Peace Corps or the United States Government

Monday, July 19, 2010

Adventures in Mozambique

Greetings and happy July to all my friends and family on this beautiful planet. I am a little late getting this post up about my trip to Mozambique but things happen and in the realm of African time I am doing just fine. So as said in my last post in May I went on a 2 week holiday with 6 volunteers including myself to the land of Mozambique. We left just after our mid service training and the trip started out on an amazing note which continued through its entirety. We left from our capital here Lilongwe, and split up in 2 teams so we could hitch to the borderand save money. My hitching partner Mel and I were picked up by a Malawian in a brand new Mercedes which to ride in style is always nice (note to anyone who ever plans travels in Africa, if you want to hitch as a man you should always try your best to have a female partner it makes a HUGE difference to say the least). The gentleman was very vague about his life and profession but after a stop at a gas station where the attendant made reference to seeing him on T.V. the previous night he opened up to us and told us he was a top member in the president’s cabinet. He was supposed to be traveling with a security detail but he snuck away because he like the freedom of being alone and anonymous and having the option of such things as picking up hitch hikers. We proceeded to have an amazing conversation for hours as we were traveling about a variety of subjects in including the state of Malawi, international aid in Africa, the life of women in Malawi, and many other related topics. His take on things were amazing, refreshing, and overall was probably one of the best conversations I will ever have on this continent.

So needless to say we all made it to the border in one day and were able to make it to a city called in Tete in the northwest part Mozambique. We were exhausted when we arrived and we found an economical hotel (to put kindly) to stay the night. A few of us wanted to rest while a few of us wanted to grab a beer and some food so we made it to a local bar. It turned out to be quite an interesting time with a generous man buying us food and beer who spoke no English but that did not stop him from chatting in the least. We were also joined by an extremely drunk Portuguese man who took quite a liking to me and he would not leave me alone as holding my hands and he even planted a kiss on forehead. My friends and I were tired and were a few beers into the evening. We proceeded to laugh and smiled through the entire event. The following day we got bus tickets to start our journey to a coastal town call Vilanculos. The only problem we found out that the bus did not leave until 4 a.m. the following day. We made plans to close down a bar and just wait at the bus depot to save money on getting another night at a hotel. By 7:30 p.m. our plan seemed like a nightmare, we were tired and one of my friends Lyn was a bit sick. After we ate we decided just to get another hotel room for a night even though we did not want to spend the money. As we were walking towards the hotel a Brazilian named Gui and I started chatting. He was in the country teaching at a college and the city gets few foreign visitors so he was excited to chat with us and before we knew it he offered his house for us to sleep at. We all said what the hell and we ended up talking with him at his house for a few hours, getting showers, food, and a free few hours of sleep before we headed out the following morning. He was an amazing guy and we all made a new friend who plans to come and visit us in Malawi.

The following day’s bus trip was quite the adventure. The first leg took 6 hours on one of the most crowded buses I have ever been on. 2 of us myself included had to stand and were so packed that if someone moved anywhere the rest of us felt it. I just laughed and made the best of it by having fun conversations and just taking in the new scenery. It ended up taking 5 different modes of transportation and around 16 hours but we made it to the coast late in the day. We stayed in Vilanculos for about 3 or 4 days and enjoyed being in one spot and on the beach. The Indian Ocean is absolutely courageous to say the least. The water is so clear and even going in the cooler time of the year for Africa the temperatures in the water were high 70’s and low 80’s. The highlight in Vilanculos was going snorkeling at a reef on a day long boat trip. I had done little snorkeling in my life but I was astounded by the beauty of the reef we were playing around. The aquatic plants and marine life were amazing and I was lucky enough to have an underwater camera so one day I will get to relive the pictures.

For the rest of the trip we traveled further south down the coast to a district called Inhambane and a place called Beira. The area is beautiful and has lots of old Portuguese architecture. We made it to a small beach town of Beira and were lucky enough to rent the top floor of a beach house. It was not enclosed which was amazing. Every night we went to sleep and woke up to the sounds of the ocean with fresh sea air all around us. We stayed there for 4 or 5 days and just had an amazing time. We had a kitchen so we would cook big dinners nightly while enjoying spirits and great music. During the day we lounged around the town and of course relaxed to our fullest on the beach. I had no idea what to expect with the Indian Ocean but besides being beautiful it had fun waves. I tried for a few days to rent a long board so I could surf a bit but by the time I finally found a board and a good rate the waves had become not so good for surfing. My dreams of surfing on this continent are on hold for now, but I have not given up. One night after going out for beers we were coming back and we were all walking along the coast feeling nice and enjoying the night. We were near our house and I just decided right then and there to shed my clothes and go for a night swim. Before I knew it 4 others had joined me (only 1 decided to take a pass) and we all enjoyed a moonlit swim playing in the waves and feeling about as free as one could feel. The last night before we started our departure back north towards Malawi was a perfect way to end our beach adventure. A big dinner was cooked and many drinks were had. There was live music that night so we all ventured to a hotel with a huge patio for the band and festivities. When we arrived all of us were already feeling quite good and happy. The place was packed and the band was playing fun music but no one was dancing. The 6 of us proceeded to grab and drink and get right to dancing. The band was happy that we were out on the floor dancing it up and soon after the entirety of the place decided to join us. The 6 of us only stopped dancing when the band took a break and it was just an amazing evening that could not have been scripted better. After that we took a few days and made it back to Malawi with little money left but memories that will last a lifetime.

So I just want to give my overall take on Mozambique and its people. First off it is not nearly as packed as Malawi. You can go hundreds of kilometers without seeing people or villages which is dam near impossible in Malawi. There are baobab trees everywhere which to me are some of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen. I am in awe of them every time I see them. With that said deforestation does not seem to be near the problem as it is here. The food with the Indian Ocean near is obviously heavily influenced by seafood. The people are not nearly as friendly as Malawians. Many say that is because of the 25 plus year civil war they had which ended in 1992 You can still see remnants of the civil word when traveling at times in such things as guard towers and certain buildings with bullet holes. Greetings in Mozambique often times involve the waving of both hands to say hello. This comes as a result from the civil war. With both hands waving in the air it is a sign that you have no gun in your hand and you are safe. The people also make less of an ordeal about you being white as compared to Malawi. We could walk down the streets and not be shouted at because of our skin color which was a nice break. The integration of the Portuguese with the local Africans seems much less segregated than Malawi. You see many Portuguese and Africans side by side enjoying each other and often times you saw people of mixed blood which is quite rare here. Also the adoption of the Portuguese language by the Africans in Mozambique was astounding. Almost all people can speak Portuguese where in Malawi, a huge majority of its population speak little if any English. Things were much more expensive than Malawi which left me with little money by the time I returned but well worth it. The country itself was much more developed than Malawi. Even small cities in Mozambique seemed to be further along than most cities here in Malawi. I have been told by quite a few people that you will see Malawi’s true poverty once you see other African countries and this was the first time I saw that with my own eyes.

Overall as you can probably tell it was an absolute great time and I enjoyed every minute of time in Mozambique. I am curious to get out and see more of Africa and I am planning around Christmas this year to do the Victoria Falls area and get into some of the parks to see some wildlife. I hope as always all is well and good for all in the states. My life is amazing and I enjoy life everyday here in Africa.


Friday, June 18, 2010

More to come but maybe you can help

Greetings and salutations from Africa. I hope life is well and good for all my family and friends back in the good old U.S.A. and as for me life is wonderful as always. First off my trip to Mozambique was amazing and when I head into the capital for our 4th of July celebration at the U.S. Ambassador’s home I will have a nice update with some pictures telling about my adventures. I have less then 10 months to go and I am starting to feel a little time crunch for all I want to do. I am working on a few grants one for a youth community center, a tree project, and also I am getting a bunch of oil presses to start small businesses around my area. Lots to do and so little time. That is where I am hoping some of you can help.

My local school here had new headmaster come in about 3 months ago. In a short time we have become good friends and his energy and excitement for students and education is really admirable to see. He , along with the school staff , has been pushing the students extremely hard for their upcoming exams. He is adding teachers, opening up the school in the evenings so children can study with proper lighting (the school has some units which have electricity), along with other initiatives that will have a positive effect for the short and long term . He is also reaching out to the local church and community leaders to help raise money for repairs that are much needed. Some money has been raised and given to allow for some upkeep , but there are limitations as you would assume due to the poverty levels here. The headmaster is also trying to get money from the district and petition the ministry of education , but money is once again scarce.

He has never asked for my help , but this is something I really want to do. I fully believe in the value of education and money for schools. I am applying for grants and I am in the process of writing three as we speak. The school year ends in the next few months which is the optimal time for maintenance projects to be done.

So what I am asking my friends and family that can afford it is to donate what you can to help the cause. I know times are tough in the States but a little can go along way here in Africa. I am going to have my parents collect the money with the intentions of wiring it to me sometime in August. For those of you who are local you know where my parents are and how to find them. Those of you that are not located in the Millville area of New Jersey can send my parents a check. You can make it out to either Oscar or Bernice Phillips and send it to the following address.

1202 Pleasant Dr.

Millviile, New Jersey 08332

If you do plan on mailing my parents a check please send them an e-mail so they can know it is coming and verify with you once they get it. Their e-mail is bernblade@msn.com

Thanks in advance for those who help out. I promise the money will be put to good use and I will keep everyone updated with progress as well as pictures. The school is littered with holes in roofs, floors, lack of proper seating, broken windows, etc. Also certain students board at the school and their dorms are in poor condition, So much can be done on many levels. As I said above I will be in the capital in a few weeks so I will give a proper update on my life in Malawi. As for today I am in the city of Blantyre for a trip to the bank as well as other errands including internet time and reading about my beloved Flyers losing the Stanley Cup in six games.

Cheers to all and a good day to you,