The first night in the village is the hardest. I remember getting dropped off right as the sun was setting, the hired driver dumping my backpacks, buckets, and water filter unceremoniously on the concrete floor of my empty house. That night I slept inside my tent in the middle of my living room, eating cold beans out of a can and avoiding my new neighbors. I remember feeling like I would never feel at home in my village.
Now, seven months into service, I finally feel like I’ve made a home in Nkhata Bay. My house is filled with 5th generation (read: broken) Peace Corps furniture, the walls covered in chitenje, drawings, and maps. When I walk to the market kids call Meganey, Meganey, instead of Azungu, Azungu! Village kids come over when I want to play with them and leave when I ask. I figured out how to get my laundry clean in a bucket, and have mastered the art of fire starting. My Chitonga is conversational, and I can have meaningful interactions with people. My dog is mostly house trained and is more loved in the village than I am. My projects are gaining momentum, and I feel like I finally have a handle on Malawian life, or at least I’m getting comfortable with not being in control.
I’m making more of an effort to photograph my every day life, instead of just events that seem significant. Here are some images that I’ve taken over the last few weeks.
Hitching back from Mzuzu, the nearest city where I go to the bank and shop, I got a ride in the back of a pickup. We were speeding through the Kondole Mountains when the driver pulled over for a preacher on the side of the road. After a ten second conversation, the preacher whistled and a dozen kids came running. They piled in, and after about ten minutes of giggling they all jumped out, and we went on our way.
On that same day I was traveling with my friend Corey, who was coming to stay with me for a few days. Our first hitch dropped us off in Mpamba, but set us up with some people driving a matola heading all the way south who could drop us off at my village. So we had a about an hour to kill in the trading center. Corey walked over to some old men playing bao and jumped right in.
Bao is a traditional game in Malawi. The rules are complicated and vary between different districts and tribes. I don’t understand how to play, but I really want to learn.
Our next hitch was shared with roughly three tons of reed matts, ten people, a moterbike and a goat. Somewhere in this time my phone was stolen, and I had to repeat this journey to Mzuzu and back the next morning to buy a new one.
My puppy, Chipaipai (PoPo for short, both are Chitonga words for Papaya) is getting so big! She follows me everywhere, to work, the borehole, the chimbuzi, and sits with me while I cook. This is my outdoor kitchen, where I cook on a firewood baula. I’ve reached arsonist level fire starting ability.
A large proportion of my friends in the village are iwes. Martin is one of the good ones, he collects my firewood in return for lollipops and plays with my dog. Here he is keeping me company when PoPo and I walked to the market to buy eggs.
Chimwemwe is one of my only real friends in the village. We’re the same age, both unmarried, and she speaks excellent English. She’s one of the few people I can actually relax and be myself around. Hiking the three kilometers to the beach and swimming has always been my favorite pastime in the village, and it’s a lot more fun with company.
It’s nice to finally feel like I belong to my site, to have it feel like home. All the crazy things that happen to me are beginning to feel mundane. It takes a little extra effort to appreciate things every day, and see my experience through fresh eyes. But I think that’s a good thing.