Mulibwanji from Malawi! I arrived in Blantyre from Johannesburg by way of NYC on Fridayevening, so I’ve had a few days to adjust to the 8 hour time difference. I have to admit though… It’s only 6pm and I am ready for bed! I am here with EKARI Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Seattle but operates in Phalombe, Malawi. I will explain more about my work with EKARI in another post, but for now I will discuss initial impressions. Phalombe is a rural area that is two hours east of Blantyre (the biggest city in Malawi) and is fairly close to the Mozambique border. I am staying in a house with a group of nine engineering students from Michigan, plus the site lead, Melissa, who I met last summer when she started the program with the partnership between EKARI and the U of M students. She just graduated with her master’s degree from the U of M.
On Saturday, I woke up early (Chad the rooster started cawing at 3am) so Melissa, her roommate Emma and I went for a run. I hadn’t seen Phalombe in the day since I had arrived the night before, and it is SO green! I had seen pictures, but it is very lush, with beautiful, jagged mountains rising not far from the town. We ran on the main road, which was paved, but is mainly used for people to walk and ride bicycles. Most people looked right at us, some stopped to watch us run, and kids ran in front of us to get us to chase them.
The U of M students are teaching classes at two secondary level schools (9-12th grade) plus helping with tutoring at EKARI Foundation. We rode bicycles to Holy Family, a tier three (the lowest) secondary school that is in extremely poor condition. The classrooms did not have desks, the electricity didn’t work and the windows did not have any glass panes. Somewhat ironically, a beautiful Catholic Church was situated right next to the school buildings. The church owns the buildings, but the government runs the school.
On Sunday, we went to another Catholic Church for a 6am bright and early service that lasted two hours. This church was simply decorated with the only ornamentation behind the pew an unframed picture of Pope Francis. I imagined Pope Francis would be right at home in this church. The service was in Chichewa, the local language, and we had two locals that sat with us. The women and the men sat on separate sides of the church, but the women’s side filled up muchquicker than the men’s side. Women and children were even standing outside of the church. The women wore colorful fabric wrapped around their waists as skirts, called chentenges, neatly tailored dresses made of silk and cotton, and the hairstyles varied greatly, from cropped hair to braids to high quality wigs.
So far, Malawi is wonderful. The people are extremely friendly and the scenery is beautiful. Even though the people don’t have much, they keep what they have in excellent condition for as long as possible. Fair warning, we are in the middle of an electricity blackout and internet costs money to use here, so I may not be able to post again for a few more days, but I will keep sending pictures to Amanda via text (if the power comes back on and I can charge my phone!) and she can post them for me.
Zikomo! (Thank you!)