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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beige Malawian

A staple article of clothing for a Malawian woman is a chitenje.  This is a brightly colored piece of fabric that is sold in 2 meter increments and worn over a regular skirt.  This outer, wrap around skirt is used as an apron, a basket, a baby carrier, as well as many other uses.  I recently purchased a chitenje from the market and took it to a tailor where I had an ankle length skirt made. I wore the skirt to work today and it was so nice to wear something that was authentic.  I loved the compliments I received from coworkers and will definitely keep an eye out for more fabric.  My favorite compliment however; came from one of my students.  He is Malawian and when he walked in, he gave me a hug and said I looked pretty.  He then proceeded to tell me that I look like a beige Malawian.  I absolutely loved it and couldn't believe that a first grader had said this!  It made me smile and reminded me of the importance of culture.  I know he had no idea how much this comment meant to me (not only for the smile) but because it made me feel so thankful for the love I feel from those around me.  Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa and I am finding that to be true through everyone that I meet. I am truly blessed to be able to experience the kindness and love of the people here.  I know my first chitenje was used to make a skirt that I can actually zipper and wear to teach in.  I will try and work my way up to just wrapping the fabric around me and maybe even putting it to use like the amazing women of Malawi do.  For now, I will smile whenever I wear my skirt for it gave me the title of "beige Malawian!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sports and pictures

I had a wonderful weekend filled with many sporting events.  The college here on campus has so many wonderful sports teams and a three minute walk from my house gets me to the gym, the basketball court, and the soccer field.   It's amazing how much "showing up" does as I am seeing familiar faces and getting to know some of the college students.  I love showing my support and also talking in the stands with others who are cheering on their classmates. There is always a very lively cheering section.  This usually consists of congo drums, dancing, and jumping on the bleachers so hard that those sitting bounce up and down.  Although I don't know the cheers yet, I am highly enjoying watching everyone else cheer!

On Friday, I was planning on heading over to the field to watch the soccer game and then heading into the gym to catch some of the volleyball game.  I also wanted to make sure I caught a few minutes of the netball game (I told you, so many sports!)  As I was leaving my classroom, I got a call asking if I would take photos of the teams since they just received new jerseys.  I grabbed my camera and headed over. I had no idea I would use my camera this much and I'm absolutely loving it. There aren't a lot of pictures taken over here and I'm finding it's a way I can capture a moment while also sharing with others.  It's also incredible to have such an amazing digital SLR that I can take as many pictures as I want and show people right away (this is perfect for in the villages!)  Here are a few shots of the teams:

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to go to a village with the Chisomo Idea.  You can check out the Chisomo Idea online at  I didn't know about this until coming here, but I'm so impressed with the goal of connecting western and eastern cultures.  This truly gives those who are  privileged a chance to help with issues of poverty in Africa. This is done in villages through providing children centers focussing on education, sports recreation, and spiritual development (discipleship).   It was so moving to see so many kids, old and young gathering around to  play and watch soccer.  I saw such a mixture of determination and joy on their faces as they went through the drills and listened to the coaches.  I had never thought of soccer as being a way of building community as well as self esteem, but I saw this as I watched those who had the chance to play.  I also saw a respect in the younger ones who gathered around to intently watch.  I was so excited to see the joy in these kids and the lessons they are learning as they work together as a team, have positive role models to look up to, and have fun with one another. One of the ABC graduates has worked with this organization and faithfully goes 2-3 times a week to oversee and help with the program.  He also takes out soccer balls and works to provide the kids with uniforms for school.  In the public school system here, you cannot attend school without a uniform.  Uniforms cost about as much as one latte from Starbucks would cost.  Unfortunately, many of the kids in the village cannot afford uniforms.  After we finished with soccer and were about to leave, uniforms were given to 6 of the boys so they can attend school.  It amazed me to know that something of so little monetary value was prohibiting them from receiving an education.  Cos asked if I would take pictures of the boys with their new uniforms on. It was an honor to take pictures of the boys and I love the little one holding on his shorts because the buttons hadn't been sewn on yet.  Cos is the one in the middle and he does so much for the kids and this program.  I didn't do much this week with the actual soccer training, but I did use my camera.  The kids in the village followed me around shouting, "Azungu" which means "white person" and wanting me to take their picture.  The moment I'd point the lens somewhere, they would all run at that spot.  They would then want to see the picture on my camera and would shout with joy when they saw themselves.  I took lots for them to see and they were disappointed when I wanted to take some of the kids playing soccer.  They would wait patiently and then ask again for another photo to be taken.  The children are absolutely beautiful and I was amazed at how many young girls were taking care of babies or toddlers.  Many would carry them on their backs and watch soccer at the same time.  I posted a picture of this for you to see.  I truly enjoyed going and seeing what the Chisomo Idea is doing here in Lilongwe.  I hope to go again soon to take more pictures and maybe even help out with soccer.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Possible demonstrations

The political climate here in Malawi has been a bit rocky the past few months.  I am hesitant to write anything because I do not feel I know exactly what is going on, but I want to keep you updated on life here so I'll do my best.  There seems to be a lot of frustration with the leadership and people are reaching the point where they want things to be done.  There were demonstrations held in Lilongwe where I am living back in July.  I believe the intent of these demonstrations was to peacefully express frustration with the goal of seeing changes.  Even though this was intended to be peaceful, there were people killed during these demonstrations and a lot of loitering and burning of things.  It was very unsafe and scared a lot of Malawians.  It sounds like this is very unlike the people here, especially as Malawi is known as "the warm heart of Africa."  Not much has been done and so now there are more demonstrations scheduled country wide.  I received an email from the U.S. Embassy with an emergency message regarding tomorrow and possible demonstrations to continue for several days.  We are advised to stay clear of demonstration areas such as government offices and/or Parliament buildings as well as any areas with large numbers of people present.

The academy has cancelled school for tomorrow as a precautionary action to ensure safety for our students, family, and staff. I will be staying on campus and will keep you updated.  I pray things are peaceful and that Malawi does not experience civil unrest.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sweet moments

This week was busy, but very good.  As I think back, there are a few moments that stick out in my mind. These were both times when I felt greatly encouraged and affirmed of my work here.  The first moment took place on back to school night.  I was busy in my classroom getting everything ready.  I stayed at school to print out packets for the parents and to display and organize student work.  As I was preparing, I walked past the playground.  Students that are not picked up after school go there until their ride comes.  One of my students was there playing.  When he saw me, he ran over and gave me a hug.  He then asked if I needed help in my classroom.  He came in for a bit and then went back outside.  About an hour later, he walked back in.  I was busy working on lesson plans at my desk and by the time I looked back up, he was walking out the door.  I wasn't quite sure why he had come in until a few minutes later when I found a white rose bud sitting on the stool at the front of my classroom.  He peeked his head back in about ten minutes later to check and see if I had seen it yet.  This thoughtful gesture made me smile and reminded me of why I absolutely love teaching.  It is such an honor and privilege to be someone that kids look up to and adore.  They bring so much joy to my life!

The other moment took place after school.  I have started helping students after school on Mondays and Wednesdays.  I am working to provide additional support in order to help with foundational concepts.  One first grader I have been helping has wonderful ideas when it comes to writing, but she's struggling with writing the correct letters.  It's difficult to read her writing and she becomes discouraged when trying to read it out loud.  I sat down with her and worked with her on letter sounds and stretching out words when writing.  She completed a piece of writing with me sitting next to her and she was applying the strategies I had taught her.  When her mom came to pick her up, she handed her mom her writing with a big smile on her face.  As her mom read it, I watched as tears started to stream down her cheeks.  When she finished reading it, she looked up at her mom and said, "Mom, why are you crying?" Her mom said, "because I could understand what you wrote!"  It's absolutely incredible to watch a child feel successful with something they've been struggling with.  I will never forget the smile on her face and the way she hugged her mother.

Check back again soon as I have lots to share.  I am greatly encouraged that you are reading this and I feel so supported!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Unexpected Loss

Yesterday was a very tough day at the academy.  I arrived at school to find out that one of the third grade students had passed away at 2 AM.  She didn’t die from a car accident or some other fatal accident, as you would possibly assume of a 9 year old girl.  The cause of death is still uncertain, although I first heard Malaria and then later heard that she died from tonsillitis.  In the states we are not as familiar with death, especially in children and we always ask, “How?” or “What happened?”  Here, this is not so much the case.  There aren’t autopsies done, so we won’t ever truly know.  What I do know is that she was at school with her classmates on Friday.  She was out sick on Monday and Tuesday but still playing a bit and was even able to walk into the hospital and talk to the doctors and nurses on Tuesday.  In just a matter of hours, she was no longer with us.

Due to the timing, it was too late to cancel school and so all of her classmates and the other students arrived and had to go through the grief and the questioning that accompanies loss.  I found myself struggling as I watched students crying and as I thought about the fact that less than a week ago, she was at school with us, laughing and playing and learning. I also struggled because this is not something we would face in the states and I found myself upset that people die of something curable.  My heart hurts especially for her mother who lost her husband two years ago and is now alone.  The pain she must be feeling is unfathomable to me as she is now a childless widow. 

School was cancelled for today so that people can attend the service. It is over a three-hour drive to the village where she will be buried.  It is customary for families to leave the village where they grew up and move to a place where there is better work.  However when there is a death, the family returns and the body is buried in the village.  There was a memorial service closer to the academy where she lived yesterday and I heard there were an overwhelming number of people in attendance.  In the morning before the service, there were many gathered at her home to mourn.  Parents of the third graders were contacted and many students went to the home to present cards to her mother and show their support and give their condolences.  I heard it was a powerful sight to see her fellow classmates in their uniforms in her house, there with her mother.  The headmaster (principal) of our school as well as some of her former teachers also went by the house. 

I struggled a bit on how to talk to my first graders about her death.  I wasn’t sure how they would take the news or how much they would understand, being so young.  It made me so sad that they would have to think of something like this at such a young age.  I have also never taught at a Christian school and so this was a totally different experience, as I knew we could talk about God and about Heaven.  I had my class sit on a circle on the carpet and told them I had some sad news to share with them.  I told them that a third grade student had passed away.  I said that death is always hard and we hurt when we have to say goodbye to someone.  However I said that since she believed in God, she was now in Heaven with Him.  As soon as I said this, my entire class started to clap.   I can’t express the joy on their faces and was utterly shocked by this response.  Then one student said, “Oh how wonderful, she’s now with her daddy!”  I was struck by this childlike faith.  It truly amazed me to see their confidence and certainty and to look at death this way.  It reminded me that life truly goes by quickly for us all and that death ultimately will come to each of us.  I left my classroom yesterday not wanting to take one single day for granted.  I thought of everyone who loved that little girl who will now no longer see her.  I hugged each of my students goodbye yesterday and then said a prayer of thanks for my family and friends. 

I shared my students’ response with the acting director of the college.  He shared this with a pastor who did the memorial service and I found out later that this was shared in his message at the service. It brings me great joy to know that others were able to experience the response of my students.  I was truly amazed at them and I learn so much through them.  I have loved seeing the way the community has responded and the joy that is so apparent. It is in times like these that faith shines through and causes me to stand in awe of God.  This was such a difficult situation and one that I wish didn’t have to happen. However I am grateful to be surrounded by such wonderful people who have hope and faith in the midst of heartache and pain.  Your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated for the family and fellow classmates as they walk through this time of grief.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Small moments

I now find myself in week three of the school year here.  We are settling into routines and the students are doing so well.  I am starting to see their personalities and am greatly enjoying getting to know each of them.  There are a few moments that I wanted to share with you as they put a smile on my face and so much love in my heart.  The first is when one of my students asked if I had ever eaten porridge with groundnuts.  This is what I made and wrote about in a previous post and so I enthusiastically responded that not only did I know what it was, but I also knew how to make it!  He was so surprised and even more excited when I showed him a picture of me cooking it.  I looked over a few minutes later and he was just sitting there with a big smile on his face.  I asked him why he was smiling and he responded, “I just love that you’ve made porridge.  I can’t stop smiling, it makes me so happy!”  Another day last week I let my hair air dry and so it was curly instead of straight.  I didn’t think anything of it until every student that walked in the door responded in total awe and shock.  All my Malawian students wanted to touch my hair to see what it felt like.  It’s moments like these that I’m reminded of our cultural differences and how much we can learn from one another.  I am also greatly enjoying how affectionate my students are.  I receive a hug from each student as they leave at the end of the day.  I had one the other day that gave me five hugs and said she was storing up for the weekend since she wouldn’t get to see me. There are many more, but these are just a few of the moments I am treasuring.  I hope they bring a smile to your face as they did to mine!  

Friday, September 2, 2011

My students

Here are a few pictures of some of my students.  I'll post more and an update soon!