Saturday, January 17, 2009

Teaching and life at the Malawi Children's Village

I have just finished my first week of teaching and what an interesting experience; it is peculiar to be on the other end of it for once. I am teaching freshman and sophomore physical science, as well as sophomore mathematics. My first lecture experience was met by a classroom of blank stares. I was attempting to explain the scientific method to my freshman physical science class, which is difficult considering it was their first week of classes in English (English lectures are only required in secondary school). I was told later that most teachers skip the scientific method and start with more hands on topics (we are now learning about force quite successfully). I was, however, amazed by one of the student responses. We were trying to test the hypothesis of whether increased sunlight leads to increased maize growth. One student stands up and in broken English says, “Plant 30 maize stocks in middle field, plant 30 maize stocks under trees.” Needless to say I was impressed. My second class was mathematics and, with a few lecture style alterations on my part, went quite well. After a day or two I have gotten into the swing of things and students really seem to be getting it. Today I had freshman physical science again and after several demonstrations, a few games of tug of war, and lots of diagramming I think most of the students understand the basics of force. The teaching load is very reasonable, most teachers only teach about 2-3 hours a day. This leaves plenty of time for prep work and socializing. It has been fun getting to know all the other teachers. They are helping me learn chechewa, albeit slowly. At lunch the cooks bring huge bowls of nsima (corn mush) and beans into the teachers room and we all eat together. One of the teachers, Andrea, is going to take us into town tomorrow to get more supplies.
Most essentials we can get within a 30 minute walk. I found a stand by the road which sells tomatoes, onions, and fish (although nothing larger than an inch long). Down the road a ways there is a farm where you can buy chickens. I went by today for the first time and said I wanted khuku (Chichewa for chicken). The woman started leading me toward the chicken coop then paused and said, “oh do you want them dead?” I said that was preferable and thankfully there were several frozen ones. If you hang around on the road long enough there inevitably passes the most wonderful thing on this earth, a man with a bicycle full of mangos. I discovered this several days ago and have since scared several mango men half do death by running after them yelling Mango? Mango? Mango? The mangos can be had for about 7 cents and there is nothing quite like a fresh mango. I have been eating about three a day, one at breakfast, one at lunch, and one at a time after school and before dinner which has been termed “mango time.” If we happen to have beer (which is unlikely) it is called “beer and mango time.”
My diet, aside from being rather heavy on the mangos, could be described as that of the average Malawian. This means that I eat nothing but corn mush and beans, with the occasional side of minnows or vegetables. Well, I hope that I have been eating only nsima and beans; when we were cooking dinner last night we noticed tiny holes in all of our food sacks, accompanied by wee little rat turds. Jes gave me a, “I told you so” look, since she had been insisting that she heard rats in the cupboard while I had maintained it was all in her head and that she should stop waking me up.
A few days ago Jes and I walked a kilometer or so down the road to a resort that was rumored to have a beach where it was safe to swim. The lake has parasites and crocodiles, so unless the beach is clear of reeds, you run the risk of being eating from the inside or outside, or both. The resort was a local destination and was apparently quite popular at one point. Now, however, the place looked a bit like a ghost town, with cracking sidewalks and not a soul to be found. The beach was as advertised though, and after a cursory check for crocodiles, I exuberantly dove in; by which I mean I rushed in while simultaneously being careful to avoid getting water in my ears, eyes, nose, or mouth. The water was so warm I was unsure whether I was actually swimming. Apparently there is a place an hour away where you can rent snorkel equipment, although I will have to wait for that until I become more proficient with matolas (trucks that go up and down the road offering rides).
That is all for now, I will keep everyone informed as to how Jes and I are fairing. So far we love Malawi and are having a great time. I loved getting your emails last week, so long for now.

If you want to send mail to us (no packages please, at least not yet) the address is as follows

Jesse Fitzpatrick
Malawi Children’s Village
Private bag 21
Mangochi, Malawi
The pictures are: Jes in front of our house, Jes is our kitchen, Jesse in bed, The school, and my physical science class.