The “Real Thing” or What happened between June 5th and August 26th, 2017?

This is it. All previous posts have been based on events leading up to my departure to Malawi with the Peace Corps. I am currently sitting in my new bed, in my new place near my new school writing this post. This is the first time in three months that I have a semi-reliable internet connection and certainly the first time I have access to my computer. And I actually have TIME. But let me back up just a little bit.

I left Cedar City for Philadelphia on June 5th, 2017. In Philly, all 65 of us (Peace Corps Trainees in the sectors of Education, Health, and Environment; first group ever to be combined. We have literally been guinea pigs in more than one way) stayed in a hotel for 1.5 nights for initial training. I say 1.5 nights, because we left the hotel half way through the second night, 2am to be exact, for the airport to NYC. We boarded a plane to Johannisburg, South Africa (15 hours) and continued to Lilongwe, Malawi for another 2.5 hours. Peace Corps directors, volunteers, trainers, and drivers picked us up with a whole fleet of vehicles and took us to a large hotel for our first week of training. Even so the hotel and food were excellent we got a first glimpse into the rigorous training awaiting us.

In hindsight I must admire the gradual immersion into this new country PC provided for all of us rookies. So many things had to be learned and needed adjusting to. And as much as we were being protected from too much too soon exposure, the villagers around Hotel “Linde” were also being protected from this possible invasion of ignorant, eager, and mostly young, very large group of “azungu” (white people).

Every stage of adjusting was just long enough to be excited about up to the point of us being completely ready for the next phase.

Next step was shopping at a local market in preparation for us to move to our training village. Most of us were a bit anxious about staying with a host family, literally strangers with strange customs and a strange language. And so it happened, again, 65 of us descended on Njombwa, a larger village in the heart of Kasungu district. To our surprise we were welcomed by many people from the village with music and dance and one by one, we were publicly greeted by our host parents.

The expectations for the coming 11 weeks were to listen, prepare, study, adjust, do chores, integrate into the family and community, study harder with no time and do more chores…For most of us our days started around 4:30 or 5am with chores like sweeping the courtyards, lighting fires, washing dishes from the night before. School started 7:30a sharp, which caused, I am now 100% sure, a lot of anxiety and the need for adjustment for our host families as well. Villagers in Malawi just don’t live by the clock. It is unheard of that one would leave without eating breakfast just because a class starts at 7:30 am and chores have not completed yet…

Over the course of our training we had classes in local language, policies, safety/security, culture and customs, technical skills as they applied to our different sectors, technical language instruction, teaching methods, a two week teaching practicum at a local school, presentations, community development, medial issues and how to say healthy, the use of water filters, how not to go crazy and how to provide self-care for oneself, reporting procedures, sustainability concerns in developing nations,community needs assessments, food security, permagardens, healthy cooking, HIV/AIDS prevention, Malaria prevention, youth integration, gender issues, transportation and how to get around safely in Malawi, how to shop, bargain and bank, how to teach literacy with only one book for a classroom of 80-100 students, how to hold meetings in Chichewa and follow the proper protocol, how to address issues of violence, school drop-out rates, particularly for girls etc, etc. In the end we had to pass several very serious exams like the “readiness to serve” (5 hour written test), round-table assessments, presentations, and the dreaded LPI, a standardized language proficiency test, in which a certain level of proficiency had to be reached in order to be let loose on our prospective communities.

Training was tough, geared towards us being 100% prepared since we will be on our own. But perhaps also to weed out anybody who might not be serious enough to embark on this journey. All the while all PC staff was highly professional, passionate, knowledgeable, hard-working, and committed.

And now this chapter is also closed. We are all (except one, who left about 8 weeks into training) at our permanent sites waiting for life as a PC Volunteer to begin.

 

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