Malawi Andy

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Girlie and Sr. Lucy

Girlie is trying on Sr. Lucy's veil just to see how it fits

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Words of Wisdom

Always bring toilet paper...

Our Students at the Boarding

Rose, Kondwani, Alinafe, Deborah, Felistas, Edna, Pauline, Regina, Lucy, Prisca, Emra

At The Pool (Not ours)

(From the Left) Me, Gabi, Kateri, Gary, Eva
This was at the Hippo View Lodge about 30 Kilometers from our school near the Liwonde National Park. It was not too hard to get to and less than a dollar to swim. Boats went out on the river for around $15 per person (maybe) and there were a bunch of hippos

Our Doorman

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fast Food

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On Kasungu Mountiain

From the Left: Natasha (Slovenia), Me (Guess where I'm from), Kateri (Kentucky), Gary (California)

Back Home

So I am back home now and things are going well. I don't know how long I will continue to post but a few things have been popping into my head since coming back and maybe it will be good to write them down. Anyways, there were requests for pictures and now that I have a more reliable internet connection, it will be easier to do.

I have just received word on the results from the government exams the Form 4's took last year. Out of 37 students that took the exam 28 of them passed which was above the national average of a 50% pass rate. For the computer exam, 35 of the students passed with 9 of the students receiving a credit (C or above, 6 credits are required to pass overall). I am happy with the results, but wonder how good they would have been had they had a teacher who actually knew what he was doing and not making it up as he went along. Oh well.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Last Post From Malawi

So the two years are finished.  If I still had any concept of time, I could say something like "Wow, it's really flown by!" or "It's been the longest two years of my life!".  Thanks to my two years in Africa, my time meter is shot and it honestly feels like both of those at the same time.  There are a lot of things that I am glad to be doing for the last time, at least for a while (beans, rice, and cabbage), but there are also a lot of people that I would rather not say goodbye to forvever.  Posting to a blog while here was sort of an afterthought (not even mine actually), but it was a good one because it became and opportunity for me to sit and think about something good, or at least funny, that happened in the week.  Since that's the way I looked at it, a lot of not so nice things were left out.  I'm not against talking about the not nice things, but they just weren't the kind of things I enjoyed typing.  Tomorrow, we head to Rome to meet the incoming volunteers.  Then we are going to Poland to visit Gabi before she heads out to mission again in Bolivia.  From Poland, we will visit Natasha in Slovenia who is about as Africa crazy as a person can be.  After which, we will visit Fr. Antonio in Italy for a retreat.  I haven't mentioned Fr. Antonio, which is an unforgiveable oversight.  He is a Comboni Father who was here in Malawi for our first year and was a big help to all of us.  I have a few more things that I wanted to post, but who knows how it will go.  I'm pretty tired.  I think I'll go home now.

Excellent Adventures

During our training in Rome, the volunteers we were replacing spent a few days with us.  They talked about tips on life in Malawi, the people they knew, and the places they had been.  Then we came to Malawi and went through a lot of the same adjustments, met the same people, and visited many of the same places.  Now we are heading to Rome for the same meeting we had two years ago with the roles reversed.  The first time, when I was looking at the returning volunteers and realized that is how I would look in two years, it reminded my of the scene at the beginning (and the end) of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures.  For those who are unfamiliar, it is about a two high school students that travel through time to pass their history final, thus ensuring a peace loving, enlightened future inspired by their rock band the Wyld Stallions.  Anywho, after they meet their time traveling guide Rufus, their future selves show up through a misunderstanding in the use of their time traveling telephone booth (what a great movie).  The Future Bill and Ted tell the present Bill and Ted everything they will do, but it doesn't make any sense because the present Bill and Ted don't understand what is going on yet.  Then Future Ted tells Present Ted not to forget to wind his watch which he inevitably does and has to remind himself when Present Bill and Ted go through the whole adventure and become the Future Bill and Ted in the very same meeting at the end of the movie.  This might seem like a long a pointless tangent to the original idea of meeting our past selves going to the mission for the first time, but it is a really good movie and if I could fully explain the parallels in a coherent way you would agree that it is most excellent.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The First Wealthy Malawian

On a particular trip to the market, that I was going on in order to buy various parts for the various things I try to put together for demonstrations or repairs, I got a lift from Eva and Sr. Salo who were going to the House at Bakhita Primary in town.  They dropped me off and I walked from shop to shop trying to explain what I needed.  Despite all of my discription attempts and hand waving the best I got were confused looks and referals to other shops.  I finally found a few things that weren't exactly what I needed but just might work.  It's been awhile and there were other part hunts since then, but it's safe to say that they didn't.  Anyways, I stopped in at the Seven Star Superette for a cold drink while waiting for Eva to return and was sitting in in front of the store when a ragged Malwian with a backpack decided that he just might be able to convince me to give him money for bus fare to the next town.  His reason was that a dog had bit him a long time ago and now he has pains up the entire side of his body.  The next town, Ntcheu, was the only place to get the medicine he needed.  He showed me his leg, and while it wasn't exactly pretty, I couldn't make out any sign of a dog bite.  While I am not opposed to assisting people in serious need, I also don't make a habit of handing out money to every Malawian who asks for it.  I told him I wasn't going to give him the money.  Seeing that I wasn't trying to get away from him he sat next to me for a conversation which was fine since I was just waiting for my ride.  Talking with locals in the market can be interesting but it's often difficult to get past the fact that I am not giving them money, buy what they are selling, or going to be pen pals.  This man fortunately got past the money situation and talked about how he was the first wealthy man in Malawi.  He said that he had even traveled to Mozambique (Next door not that impressive), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and South Africa upon which he produced a small bag of coins from the various countries.  He then mentioned that he was a political prisoner during the time of Kamuzu Banda.  I wasn't too interested until he rummaged through his pack and pulled out his letter of release that looked as official as anything looks in Malawi.  We talked a little while longer until he offered to sell some of his coins (back to the money situation).  With such a good story and the offer of coins from countries that don't even exist anymore, I was pretty much sold.  While looking through the coins again, the man very abruptly chased away a group of kids looking to get in on the action by yelling and swinging his pack around at them.  That kind of soured me on the deal and I might have been convince otherwise, but just then Eva pulled up and I took that as my exit from the uncomfortableness.


I have to admit that I didn't notice Chifundo much the first term this year in Math class.  She was very quiet and didn't draw much attention to herself.  By the time, I had I didn't have much hope for her to pass.  She is from the village, her English was very poor and even simple concepts were a problem.  She did, however, make an effort and seemed, at least, to care which is more than I can say for some of the students.  Sometime during the second term, it became very clear that she made the decision that she was going to pass despite how difficult she thought the subject or how strange the accent of her teacher.  She came to Girlie and Eva on Saturdays for help with her English.  She began asking questions, offering answers and forcing the same teacher to repeat that which he said to fast in that same strange accent.  The improvement in her grades did not come right away.  The material in the second term was more difficult and she was still catching up.  She was one of the few students that received an extra comment for exceptional effort on the report card and the only one of those that still did not pass.  In the third term, she continued.  She was still very shy and did not attract unnecessary attention, but I could tell she was improving.  When I wrote the term exam, which constitutes 80% of the final score, I made it fair but certainly not easy, meaning many students that did not care and did not try would more than likely fail and have to repeat Form 1.  Math is now required to advance, but then again 40% is a passing grade.  I went on a marathon of grading papers so I could return them before the students left the next day, and I left the country the next month.  Some students that should have passed didn't and some that probably didn't deserve to pass managed to get lucky.  Many complained that it was too hard or too long.  Walking back to the house after distritbuting the exams, I passed Chifundo and knowing her score asked her what she thought of the exam.  She just smiled as big as she does (quite big) and said in a very satisified way "I passed!"...very easily I might add.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Citric Shortage

Most of the time we just drink water, properly boiled.  Eva drinks coffee and Girlie drinks tea even if the weather is has hot as the drink.  Other things available that we have on occasion are Soft Drinks, Milk, Juice, and drinks of the fermented variety.  Coca-Cola is the dominant provider of soft drinks and they colaborate with the local Southern Bottlers (Sobo) company which provides its own local flavors, Coco-pina and Cherry plum.  Sobo Orange Squash is a non carbonated orange flavored drink that is concentrated so it must be deluted before drinking.  While we usually pour a little bit of sobo a lot of water, Malawians usually pour a little water and a lot of Sobo.  Most soft drinks are purchased in bottles with an additional deposit if you don't bring an empty with you.  Drinks in cans are almost twice as expensive so they are not that common.  Fresh milk is available in small plastic bags, but does not keep well for more than a day.  Powdered milk is...well, powdered milk.  We've done some experimenting and it is actually good with chocolate drink mix after a couple hours in the freezer.  The fruit juice is good, but it is expensive.  It also usually has the second ingredient of milk which is a little strange, but not bad.  As for the fermented variety of drinks, Carlsberg (European Beer) has control of most of that which you would recognized as actually being beer.  Somehow they managed to work out a deal of being the only foreign company allowed to bottle in Malawi or something.  This means in most stores the only brand available is Carlsberg: Green, Brown, Special, Stout, and Kuche Kuche (Carlsbergs local brand).  The fermented beer that you would probably not recognize as beer is the local Chibuku.  It is a fermented drink made from corn flour.  It is very gritty and doesn't taste that great but it is very popular.  They also have a sweet non-alcoholic Tobwa which is similar.  I like Tobwa sometimes, but as far as Chibuku, I am conent just to say that I have tried it.  Last week, as we were trying to prepare for a party before leaving and we were unable to get any Soft drinks because apparently there was a shortage of citric acid and they stopped produciton.  We went from store to store only to find empty shelves.  Fr. Bob said he saw a truck pull into town in the morning so we rushed to see what the situation was and it was a false alarm.  Empty shelves.  We managed to get enough lower quality orange drinks and a few cases of the fermented variety so it worked out.  We cooked a big pots of meat, rice, and cabbage over trenches dug in the back yard and spent the day eating, talking, and playing games.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Technical Difficulties

After more than a month, the Form 4's finally finished their exams this week and the last one was Computers.  As their computer teacher and considering that most of them had never used a computer when they started two years ago, I was a little concerned.  The first day was the theory portion which did not go very well and I was not too happy about.  Questions concerning ways to increase processing speed, procedures for mail merge, and DOS commands seemed somewhat out of place.  The students felt pretty beat up afterwards.  The practical exam held in the college lab the next day was much more in line with what the students were prepared for, but I think a few of them panicked even after I specifically instructed them not to making it more difficult than it should have been.  As their teacher, I wasn't officiallly overseeing the exam, but I was there to assist with any malfunctioning computers.  Just after the test began, I watched a few of them open their heads, take out their brains, and place it on the desk next to the monitor.  Unfortunately, since I could not instruct the students after the test began, I was unable to advise them that this was not an exam in which body weight was important and they would need their brains despite how difficult it would be for them to hold up.  Inevitably some of them forgot what to do with the floppy disks I passed out at the begininng, said very clearly were for saving all of their files, and spent the week running up the exam reviewing how to use.  Others, while trying to remember how to get the disk into the computer, pressed the power button which I specifically pointed to on each computer and warned them to never press under any circumstances.  I watched as one student spent precious time clicking on every button in the window except the one she should have.  Some faced the typical problems that happen while using computers, but as I said before, chose to panic only making the problems worse.  One girl accidently deleted all her data while using Excel.  Instead of staying calm and using the Undo command as I showed them in class, she closed the progam trying to find it back and lost it for good.  She had enough time to start over and still finish, but she cried instead.  The official exam proctor, unexperienced with this reaction, actually asked me to see if I could get it back for her, but it was to late.  Another almost lost it right at the beginning of the exam when she could not get the cursor to do exactly what she wanted.  After I said that I couldn't help her, the tears were on their way and she stood up to leave.  I gently pushed her back down into the chair, told her to calm down and finish.  She did, but I don't know if she fully recovered.  Overall, the execution of the exam went much better than expected.  The power didn't go out once and nothing blew up.  I believe many of the students did much better than they think even though they weren't very happy with the exam or with me for not answering their questions while they were taking it.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Computer Problems

Eva's computer is having some problems and it will likely be more difficult to post as a result so I'm not sure if I'll get to post as much as I wanted before a month.

Maturity Level

I think in the classroom the Form 1 students are the most difficult. Probably because there are so many 12 year old girls and I am teaching them math which they have a lot of trouble with. I am currently trying to teach them algebra while even the idea of negative numbers is still beyond there comprehension. Rita helped my grade their homework on negative numbers when she was here ask her. Outside of class, however, I get along with the Form 1's the best which I think has to do with me being on about the same maturity level as them. While the upper classes are usually too cool for anything I do the Form 1's are more likely to play along. One form 4 students is named Cecilia so I would at random times say "Cecilia, you're breaking my heart" to her much concern and confusion. Then I finally sang the actual song for them and now the form 1's are always asking me to sing the "Cecilia" song. One afternoon when I was feeling particularly immature I got a group of form 1 students singing the chorus of the song in the corridor replacing "Cecilia" with the name of whoever happened to be walking by. Of course, other form 1 students thought it was hilarious, but eventually the form 4 students walked around to avoid us.


One of the workers came to Gary this week asking for a loan of 100 Kwacha (less than a dollar). While it isn't uncommon for people to ask us for money this particular situation was. He said that before he went to sleep, he tied his goat to a tree near his house. The next morning he woke up and the goat was missing. A note left near the tree said that if he wanted his goat back he would have to pay K100. He went to the police, but they could not or perhaps just would not help so he came to us since he didn't have the money. We don't normally give money away, but since this was such a good story and he only wanted a loan it was worth it this time.


Now that the Form 4 students have had their graduation they get to take the government certification exams. These take place over a five week period with a one two hour test each day. They can take as many of the tests as they want or are able to pay (there is a fee per subject, but are required to pass English and five other subjects in order to receive a certificate. There are a few subjects, like Home Science that are girls won't be taking so they get a few days off. They've been taking them for over a week now and I ask the girls how the tests are going only to get a lot of groans, sighs, and "very difficult".

Monday, October 16, 2006


Yes, it is as glorious as it sounds.  The first time we stumbled upon Burgerland in Lilongwe the clouds parted and rays of the sun shined on the entrance.  A chorus of angels could be heard while the proprietors walked around in flowing white robes...well, sort of but I'm getting ahead of myself.  A few weeks, months, or some other time span of which I no longer have any concept of ago, it was absolutely necessary for the men of Bakhita to be somewhere else.  While I think we would be justified in leaving for only the sake of being anywhere else, it wasn't difficult to find another legitimate reason for a weekend trip to Lilongwe.  We had an open invitation from Br. Walter, the principal of the Don Bosco Technical College, to stay for a weekend and we thought it would be useful to see how their computer classes were set up.  We also had a list of various parts that we need to get from computer stores in Lilongwe.  The Don Bosco Technical College is a school run by the Salesians and is combined with the local parish.  In the compound, they have courts for Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis, and netball, two soccer fields and a playground.  They are currently building a new church so the masses are held in the Youth Center Hall.  The college has courses for Accounting, Auto Mechanics, Carpentry, Brick Laying, and Tailoring.  One of the major appeals of staying there was the big comfy couches made by their students.  Good enough to sit down and stay there for the rest of your life.  After seeing the school, we had time to go to the city center where we found a comptuer store a little off the main road in a cluster of electronics/stationary stores.  He had very few things on the shelves, but Gary managed to buy a CD burner and place an order for some Network parts which were later delivered to Bakhita buy the owner himself.  I think he was desperate for customers.  Around the corner from the computer store we found Burgerland (Clouds parting, Angels Singing, etc.).  It was even sharing space with Pizzaland, but it was not open yet.   Burgland was run by a Muslim who looked to be in his forties.  I can't be sure of his age because I am terrible about that sort of thing and while he never actually said that he was Muslim, he was wearing the Muslim uniform: Long beard, white hat, very comfortable looking long white robe-like shirt.   We asked about the Burgland Special which we ordered immediately after hearing it was double cheeseburger.  While waiting for our order, he asked where we were working and how long we've been in the country.  He wasn't familiar with the Canossians, but talked about the Catholic Sisters he knew growing up.  It turns out that he was something like fifth generation in Malawi from India and he mentioned some of the problems Indians in Malawi had getting pushed around in the past.  He was very friendly and when our order was ready he threw in some chips and drinks for free.  The burgers were good...on nearly the same level as when God created earth and it was good..  We ate, watched the TV for a while (watersports or something), and talked with the owner a little while longer.  All this and no one was accused anyone of being and infidel or a terrorist.  It was a perfect cultural exchange all based on the preparing, selling, buying, and consuming of there anything they can't do.

Something I Won't Miss

Mosquitoes.  I really can't stand them.  A good way to express how much you don't like something is to compare it to something else that is commonly disliked and say that you dislike it more than that.  I really can't think of anything approaching the level of which I don't like mosquitoes so I'll say that I detest them more than whatever it is that would make you think "Wow! Really! More than THAT!"   I guess as far as mosquitoes go they really aren't that bad.  They are small and when they bite it only itches for an hour or so.  Even here in Balaka there aren't nearly as many as you might find around the lake and people from countries with jungles would probably come to Malawi for a break from mosquitoes.  Coming from a country with an actual winter the problem comes from them being around all year.  And the worst of it isn't when there are ten, fifty, or a hundred mosquitoes, but when there is a single mosquito that insists on buzzing around my head at night.  If it is outside of the net it jars me awake and I sleep uneasy until I am certain that it is outside the net.  If I see one flying inside the net, It sets off a reaction of flailing hands around trying to crush it.  If it manages to escape the first onslaught (they usually do), then I am forced to thoroughly search the entire net/bed area with the aid of my desk lamp while cursing their general existence.  Usually, very little sleep follows.