Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In Blantyre, and with a house!

And I couldn’t be happier - unless all of you were here too. I know this placement will be full of ups and downs, so why not enjoy the ups while you’re in that space. We arrived in Blantyre, about 4.5 hours south of Lilongwe on Monday afternoon, and first off checked out two potential places to rent. Unfortunately, one looked like a work-in-progress and we would have had to find another mattress AND stock the kitchen cupboards. The second was very nice, but was only available until January, and so it wasn’t ideal for both Dominique and I since she stays on for 6 months after I leave. It’s not easy finding a place in new city when you don’t know anyone!

Luckily, after contacting an expat living here, I got a call from a British PhD student who had found a place but needed two roommates. We scooped her up from Med school, introduced ourselves in the car, and an hour later, we were roommates! The place is in a neighbourhood called Sunnyside, and within walking distance to MANASO, where I will be working about half the time. It has a huge living room area; and we each have our own bedroom with a big closet and carpet, plus a washing machine! Dominique and I will move in Thursday night after our first day of work so that we can leave straight away on Friday after work to Nkopola, where the Lake of Stars festival is taking place!

So that’s the big news to share, and my first impressions of Blantyre are good. It seems a bit cooler here than in Lilongwe and the city is bordered by red-brown, tree-topped hills all around. And with the beautiful purple Jacaranda trees everywhere, the city seems very alive and colourful.

I’ll be starting at MANASO’s partner organization, AYISE – Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement, on Thursday. How these placements work is we get matched up with a counterpart, to whom we are supposed to work with to ensure our work continues after we leave and the organization is better equipped to work towards its goals. At AYISE, my counterpart is Kondwani or as the Executive Director introduced him as: the “King of Blantyre.” Being in IT, he knows a lot about website management, so I should be able to help him with the content and he can help me with the technical part. My counterpart at MANASO is Ismael, whom I will meet on Monday (hopefully!)

I haven’t taken many photos here yet but I’m sure the next post will have many J

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's a conspiracy!

Ok, so I'm hoping it will just be something to laugh about, but it appears that my new colleagues at MANASO think that their program officer, Heather, and their acting director, Donald, picked me for this post just because of my name! Fingers crossed to laugh it off when I start work on Tuesday morning.
Hitting the streets of Lilongwe at sundown
Monday to Thursday of this week, Dominique and I had our in-country orientation with WUSC, who organize our job placements with their partners. We met with a CIDA rep, and found out that Malawi is only a "country of modest presence" for Canada, so the nearest Embassy is actually in Maputo, Mozambique. Health and Nutrition briefing: Check. Discussion of work expectations and mandate: Check (thank God). Review of living and working here: Check. Chichewa lesson: Check (and excited that it is similar to Swahili!). There was supposed to be a vigil-type protest for civil society here on Wednesday, so most people stayed home for the morning, but nothing really materialized in the end. More on that in a later post.

I have been a little worried about work because I know former volunteers have had difficulties with their placements in Malawi. But I said months ago that I was looking for a professional challenge - so I'm facing this one with my head up and with a positive state of mind.

It was a great introduction to the HIV/AIDS sector in Malawi to be able to participate in WUSC's annual sector committee meeting with its partners last Friday. Mostly partners made presentations about volunteers they've had, their work in the last 6 months, and the plan for the next 6 months. 

Getting used to eating Nsima, a maize staple that always
reminds me of firm, gelatinous  mashed potatoes
WUSC has two main network organizations that it works with MANASO, who work more at the community level, and MANET+, the Malawi Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, who work more at the national level. I guess there is tension between the two, since the government and the National AIDS Commission, is giving more funding and participatory opportunities to MANET+, meaning that MANASO has severely downsized recently. I hope that staff can still be passionate about their work despite the changes.

In other news, myself, along with two other volunteers Sarah and Dominique, went to Lake Malawi for the day on Saturday to relax. I couldn't believe the wave conditions - I wish I had a board to try it out!
Along the beach of Lake Malawi in Salima district
 - watching some locals wash clothes
So it's off to Blantyre, my permanent residence, tomorrow morning to a guesthouse for the week. My first week of work this week, and then hopefully I'll be off to Lake of Stars Festival in Nkopola this weekend (accommodation is booked!) 

P.S. The extent of Chichewa that I have thus far mastered:

Dzina lanu ndi Heather :)

Muli bwanji? (How are you?)
Ndiri bwino, kaya inu? (Good and you?)
Tuzaonana mawa - See you tomorrow
Zikomo (kwambili) - Thank you (very much)

Seriously, with these waves Malawi needs a surf club!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Landed in Lilongwe

It may come as a surprise to some but I got an opportunity, through Uniterra and WUSC, to help build media and communications capacities in two HIV/AIDS NGOs in southern Malawi. So it appears that another blog revival was in order – so check back here for the next 4 months if you’d like to see what’s up with me, or understand a bit more about this landlocked little gem.

After over 30 hours in transit, I arrived in the capital city of Lilongwe and immediately noticed a few things. It’s very dusty and it’s very hot. I guess there is a reason why their claim to fame is the “warm heart of Africa.” I guess another country swiped up “the heart of Africa” slogan first.  Lilongwe is not much of a capital city to be honest. Since the capital was moved there from Zomba, in the South, after independence in the early 1970’s, the city is still being formed and rather haphazardly. I have been told by numerous people that Blantyre, the commercial capital four hours south and my new home come Monday, is much more beautiful and well planned. I’ll let you know next week!

After a restful Monday, Dominique, another Canadian who will be working in Early Childhood Development in Blantyre as well, and I had day 1 of orientation at WUSC HQ today, which was immensely useful in clarifying what I am actually going to be doing here! I’ll be splitting my time between MANASO, an umbrella NGO coordinating over 400 community-based organizations working on AIDS, and Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement (AYISE), one of their member organizations working on youth and HIV/AIDS issues. Mostly I will be working on building a communications strategy, website development, training on ICTs and building successful relations with media and helping design communications materials. Not bad!

It’s funny that so much here reminds me of being back in Dar es Salaam, between finding stocks of my Milo and Nido favourites, buying a Kitenge (here called a chitenge), minibuses and being called a muzungu, I already feel like I am figuring things out.

I also found out there is Malawi mountain club that takes weekend trips to Mount Mulanje, which looks like a beautiful mountain chain in the south-east part of the country close to Mozambique. Definitely going to check it out! As well as the Lake of Stars festival!

Calling anywhere outside of Africa will cost me $2 per minute but incoming is free, so here is my number if you ever want to chat, I'd love that! +265 992 124 425

Warm hugs from this warm heart.

Toll bridge from the main produce market to the side selling clothes and other random stuff