Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tiwonenge Ziyewo - Goodbye Ziyewo

Last summer, I completed my internship in Livingstonia, Malawi in Eastern Africa. I befriended and worked closely with a wonderful man named Fletus Ziyewo. He recently passed away, so this is a tribute to a man who I owe my life’s calling to.

When I first met Ziyewo, he exuded so many qualities – he was shy, humble, sweet, kind, and wise. Even though he faced hardships in life, he handled them with grace and always a smile on his face. He always cared so deeply for me: he was enraged when he found out that I would have to walk for 2 hours to get to our training site and he was overly protective at the thought of me riding on his motorbike on rocky paths. And he was proud of me for pursuing my masters in public health.

Having spent two years working with health workers in Malawi and experiencing the frustrations that came with it, Ziyewo was the one who restored my faith in Malawians who loved their jobs because of the goodness of their hearts and their love for their communities. Because of my experiences working with him, my passion and resolve to pursue a global health career was strengthened.

When I left Malawi in July 2011, he made me promise that I’d return to visit him one day and that I wouldn’t forget him. To the first promise, I was so sure that I’d see him again and now I am sad that I can’t fulfill it. But to the last promise, I will certainly never forget it. Not only was he a nurse and environmental health officer, he was also a father, husband, community leader, church elder, and a friend.

Ambuye akudalitseni Abambo Ziyewo – May God bless you Ziyewo.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Repost of My Last Day in Malawi 2009

I really should be writing my final graduate 15-page paper but I read this email that I wrote oh-so-long-ago and made me nostalgic for Malawi. Malawi, when will I get to see your beautiful land again?

Date: 6/29/09

Dear friends and family,

My journey in Malawi has come to an end. I have officially moved out of my house, out of my site, and soon to be out of country. It is amazing how fast two years passed by. At first, I thought time could not be any slower, and now that the end is here, I almost wish that I could make time slow down.

The end is surreal though. My brain has not fully processed the fact that I won’t be here any longer, and that in fact, I probably won’t see most of my friends and family ever again. Including my 81-year-old agogo, who shed tears when we parted. And the pastor who burst into tears during his farewell speech that left the congregation crying. And my dear supervisor whose teary eyes nearly set off my own waterfalls. And my counterparts who promised that they would continue the work that I’ve started with the under-five and youth shelter and the natural medicine garden. Little did I know that two years with all these people would leave a mark on my heart. I already miss them and know that I’ll never forget about them.

But I know that it is time to move on, as do all my friends and family here. They wish to greet you all, especially to my parents. They say that they know it’s time for me to go home to you. They send you their love and greetings from halfway around the world.

This will be my last update from Malawi, and I want to end it with snapshots of my life in Malawi. These are some of the highlights, though there are so many that I cannot put them all down in one sitting.

Exhibit 1:  My favorite part of the day was when I strolled out of my house at 8 A.M everyday. As I approached the nursery school, I could hear the 3-4-year-olds chanting my name, “Ellen-e! Ellen-!” A few of them would run up and hug me tightly. They would look up at me with their big adorable eyes and beautiful smiles. They were my babies.

Exhibit 2: My Saturdays spent at the water tap. I would bring my 30 liter basin and 20 liter pail with my stash of laundry. After filling them up with water, I would sit on the steps of a house and scrub the dirt out of my clothes and rinse them. Two hours later, I would hang them on the line and dry them. Then, at the end of the day, I would take them up. In the meantime, my agogo would come out of her little house and sit on the step with me as we chatted about everything. And as of a few months ago, there was a missionary living in the house with whom I would talk to about faith, life, and love. They were both my surrogate grandmother and mother during my stay and my Saturdays belonged to them.

Exhibit 3: The May 19th election. The same president won his second term! For all his success in his last term, he had done something right to be re-elected by a large margin. I do believe he had about 3 million votes while the oppositions followed with 1 million and less. The vice president is a woman! There is actually a good number of women serving in the parliament as well. And the best thing about the election was that it was very peaceful. Not a fight broke out. It was a very proud moment for Malawi.

Exhibit 4: The annihilation of the roaches. Not really my favorite memory but definitely one of the most unique ones. After I got tired of not being able to urinate at night (because the roaches were fond of coming out of my pit then), I had the brightest and the dumbest idea. I mixed a mosquito treatment tablet (used to prevent mosquitoes and other bugs from entering the beds the nets were covering) with water and dumped it into my pit. When I saw a diaspora of hundreds of cockroaches all over my yard, walls, and latrine, I completely panicked, especially when I saw some of them trying to creep into my house. (What can I say? I’m not fond of roaches.) After I ran away and returned with my agogo, I found most of them plopped over dead or being consumed by my neighbor’s chickens. My agogo looked at me told me to shush my mouth and not tell a soul that the roaches were poisoned, because the chickens were going to have a little bowel problem for sure. (At least they didn’t die as I thought they might.)  My latrine was roach-free for at least a few months before they started mass reproduction in my pit again.

Exhibit 5: My neighbor’s “warm heart of Africa”. My neighbor, a deputy headmaster at the secondary school, was the only one in my community who knew how to display Malawian hospitality at its best. (I can’t really say the same for the other women in my community.) He was like a uncle to me. Obsessed with pumpkins and fruits, he always loved bringing back food from his garden and cooking them for me. He knew that I especially loved tangerines and always brought me the freshest fruits for me. He helped me out in so many ways, especially when I had all kinds of problems with my house, and made my life so much easier and better. He would always tell me that though he had met many foreigners, he admired me most because of the way I lived my life.

Exhibit 6: The Asian vs. American identity. “Where are you from?” America. “No, really? But you look so… Chinese/Japanese/Korean/European [take your pick].” But I was born in America. “No you must not be. Aren’t all Americans white?” Uh… no. There are all kinds of people there. All kinds of cultures… Oh, never mind. I’m from Russia.

Exhibit 7: And then there were the Asian stereotypes. One of my favorite conversations with this educated community development officer went like this: “So, were you there when 9/11 happened?” A pretty good question but my answer was “No, I was at the other side of the country.” He responded, “Oh… so sad, so sad. Ah… so do you know kung-fu?” “Uh… no.” How did this intelligent man get such a stupid notion? “Why not? Don’t all you people know kung-fu?” What in the world?! “Well, no. It’s just like do all of you play football (soccer)?” “But isn’t Bruce Lee your brother?” Needless to say, the conversation ended right there.

Exhibit 8: The mosquito bites. You may not recognize me when I come back, because… my face has been pretty disfigured. I hate it when the Malawians always stare at my face and ask, “Are those mosquito bites on your forehead?! You must’ve been bitten pretty badly. Pepani, pepani, (Sorry, sorry).” I’d glare at them for a second and grumble, “Yes, those are my mosquito bites…” compounded by all the dirt and sweat Malawi had to offer!

Exhibit 9: Snakes. Apparently some snake shedded in my backyard... so I decided to not urinate after dark for awhile. Then my youths and I saw a black mamba snake hiding underneath the bricks next to the shelter we were constructing. My counterpart obliterated it with my hoe.

Anyway, those are just some snippets of my life in Malawi. I would love to share more with you, but that will have to wait until I return to America! Come August, I will step foot on American soil! It’s funny, because I don’t feel so American anymore. My friends all call me “Malawian” and even when they asked me to sing the American National Anthem, I could only belt out the first line or so and then draw a blank. Then I told them, “Pepani, ndinaiwala (Sorry, I forgot)… I guess I’ve been Malawian for so long that I can’t remember my own national anthem anymore!”

But now it’s time for me to move on… to Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia! My friends and I will be backpacking through for a month. I take off on July 1!

It is weird that I have been emailing you about my experiences and emotions but not seeing your faces. But now my adventure is coming to an end and I will get to see your lovely faces. I can’t wait to see you all!

Tiwonana Malawi! We shall see each other again Malawi! 

Elaine Lo

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rotary International Published My Article

I spent the summer of 2011 in Malawi conducting an evaluation of a water and sanitation project. Here's the article, starting on page 8!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

World AIDS Day

No one ever wants to talk about the unspoken word.


In Malawi, it was once known as the "American disease". Or the "witch's curse". Everyone was afraid to speak up, because they were afraid that they would be accused of being bewitched, of infidelity, or of doing something godforsaken.

But out of this fear, I saw something beautiful happen when watching a group of villagers who were HIV+ care for one another. I remember I visited a few patients' homes with a few others who were HIV+. One was incapacitated and could not move or breathe. I remember being gripped by fear of what to say and what to do. But her friends sought her out, helped clean up her home, brought her water, contributed what little money they had, and prayed for her. They comforted her in the darkest times.

Let's stand in solidarity and fight the good fight. Get tested. Seek ARV treatments. Say no to unprotected sex. Reject discrimination.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

-Proverbs 31:8-9

Remember the Malawians who are among the poorest in the world.

Remember the orphans.

Remember the girls who are often taken advantage of by the Sugar Daddies.

Remember the people whose stories touched my life: Chikhadzula, Nankuku, Annie.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Malawi's hospitality

These past few days have been eventful, fulfilling, and tiring. I spent two days in Lilongwe and met old friends throughout my time. I saw Peace Corps staff and spent much time catching up with them. I also ran into another RPCV at a cafĂ© in the morning and we chatted away. I met up with another Malawian friend whom I met from Duke, Wazi. He’s now back in Malawi working for the Ministry of Finance.

Early the next morning, I had to haul my katundu again back to downtown Lilongwe. It took me about 45 minutes this time. But on the way there, some guy on a bike slammed into my arm and fell. He kept looking at the drops of blood on his hand, then at me, then apologizing “Sorry madam”. Now I have a big, fat bruise on my arm.

I got to Dedza where I did my homestay training when I first arrived in Malawi. Oh, it was such a heartfelt homecoming. As I walked into the village, streams of kids ran around me and followed me to the Odala household. I was awkwardly sitting with about 50 kids staring at me, waiting for me to make a move. Slowly neighbors and friends came to greet me while I waited for my grandmother to come. I finally got up and decided to walk around and just as I did, they said “Amayi is here”. I turned the corner to see her looking for me and when she saw me, she couldn’t stop smiling and saying “Elaine-ee!” She kept saying “Alendo! Alendo!” (Guest! Guest!) and how people told her while she was farming that she had an alendo waiting for her. She kept wondering who she was and was so ecstatic that I was there. After three years, we finally met again. She wanted to prepare me a chicken but I told her I was in a hurry so she made me chips and eggs for old time’s sake.

Then I took a minibus to Ntcheu, which took forever. Because of the fuel crisis, we had to switch to 3 different minibuses just to travel 90 km. But finally I arrived and stayed with a good friend of mine, Isaac Talimire. He used to be a teacher and neighbor at my old site. In fact, he shared the other ”half-house” I stayed in and took such good care of me. This time around, he still took good care of me and was very happy to see me.

I wanted to go to Blantyre the same day but transportation takes so long in Malawi and I didn’t want to travel while it was dark, so I decided to stay with Talimire. The next morning, I was going to Zomba to visit another health worker friend, Andrew Chikhadzula, who had transferred from my old site. Because of the uncomfortable experience the previous day, I wanted to hitch a private ride. But after standing for 2 hours, I figured no one was going to pick me up so I finally took the minibus. On this ride, the minibus broke down about 5 times in one hour because the oil was completely out, so we switched to another minibus. When I finally got to Zomba, I had to take a bicycle taxi to my friend’s house about 12 km away. It was actually kind of nice to sit on the back of a bike and enjoy the scenery with the wind whipping through my hair. His area was much more remote than the last person I stayed with. He didn’t have a door lock; he opened his house with a machete. We ate dinner in the dark and his neighbor graciously offered his place for me to stay since my friend did not have sleeping accommodations for me.

My last stop was at P.I.M., my old site. I left Zomba in the morning, had to get off in downtown Zomba to exchange money since I was running out of money, then hopped back on a minibus. This minibus took longer than I expected getting to Limbe but finally I arrived in Limbe and had to board another minibus to go to P.I.M. But I wasn’t sure where I was going to stay because the administration at the site told my friend (former counterpart), Davie Makanani, that they didn’t have room for me. But my friend graciously said that I could stay with him. He made room in his food storage for me to sleep in where his chickens were also residing. I was really grateful that he went out of his way for me to have a place to stay and took me on his bicycle to the places I needed to go. He even said “A few days is not enough. You should stay 2 weeks!”

I’m really so thankful for Malawian’s hospitality. It’s living in these villages that have shown me what genuine hospitality looks like. My friends, who had little and didn’t own much, went out of their ways to ensure a comfortable bed for me to stay in. I think that some may even have given up their own blankets to ensure that I stayed warm at night. I know it’s not easy to accommodate guests, because you have to prepare their bath water, their meals, and their rooms, but they do it with such willing hearts. It was when they sacrificed for me that I realized how true hospitality really looks like. It wasn’t like they could just roll out a couch for me to sleep in, pick up some McDonald’s for me, and hand me a towel to jump into the shower. They really don’t have much, but they took me into their homes anyway and made me a part of their family. For that, I’m truly grateful for their kindness and graciousness. Even though I’m living the village life, I couldn’t ask for more. This is why they call Malawi "The Warm Heart of Africa".

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Goodbye Nkhata Bay *sigh*

These past few days have been blissful, even though I know I really should finish my report. The first day I got there I hung out at Mayoka beach (I was staying at Mayoka Lodge), went into “town” when there was a big football (soccer) match outside the Nkhata Bay Prison and walked around. The next day I went to Chikale Beach (tinier than I thought) where I saw people washing their clothes in the bay. It was kind of funny. Then some guys kept trying to holler at me; I think they wanted to sell me some mj. On a separate occasion, I met some Rastafarians who were trying to get Malawi to recognize their religion and legalize ganja. Then yesterday I relaxed at the lodge, then finally had my butterfish! I’ve met some really interesting people on this trip:

There were two French girls who were cycling through Africa.
Then I met another British guy who cycled from the UK down to Africa.
There were two Belgian guys who had spent 4 months in Central America, now 5 months in Africa, and will spend some more months in Asia.

It’s kinda cool meeting all these people. Only in Africa!

Today I woke up at 5 to take a 8.5 hour bus ride to Lilongwe, the capitol. I lugged about 20 kg of stuff (carrying them front and back) for about 20 minutes trying to get to the bus depot. Why did I let my parents and brothers convince me to bring the “gifts” and candy?! I only brought 2 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, and a skirt. (I bought more skirts here.) But my bags are so heavy! I hope that by the time I return to the U.S., I’ll only have one bag!

Anyway, this bus ride was supposed to be made in half the time. We stopped so many times that I had about four different passengers sitting next to me throughout. One of them kept leering over my shoulder to look out the window so that she could make sure no one was stealing her katundu. The bus was filled with wafts of body odor, usipa (dried fish), and a little bit of feces. The bus hardly stopped for anyone; everyone had about 20 seconds to run after the bus and hop on. A kid had to stop pooping so that he and his mom could get on the bus, otherwise the bus would take off without them. And of course, a true African experience is not complete without the overcrowding buses with reggae music blaring through the speakers.

And now I’m camping somewhere in Lilongwe. :)