September 16, 2013: First Day of Work

Without one good aerobic workout since arriving to Africa, I woke up at 5am excited to go on my first run.  Although we were told not to walk to town by ourselves, I found a short loop on a dirt road just outside the gate of the Kabula lodge where I thought I would not attract a lot of attention, especially this early in the morning.  It was actually pretty funny to see the face of the two guards at the gate of our lodge when I emerged at dawn in my running gear.  They probably aren’t used to see someone up wanting to go out of the compound at sunrise and I did opt for shorts given how hot it already was.  Since the loop isn’t very long, I had to go around 25 times to keep my heart rate up just over an hour.  It was the perfect running experience.  Watching the bright red rays of the sunrise through the purple flowers of the Jacaranda trees lining the road every time I would come around one section of the loop was totally mesmerizing.  Throughout the run I could hear roosters waking up the neighborhood and as Malawians started lighting up fires for breakfast, the smell of charbon started to spread the air – a total sensory overload!  Daily life in Africa does start much earlier than in the northern hemisphere to take advantage of the early morning cooler temperature.  So it was fun to meet Malawians walking to work and children making the trek to school.  Every time I would come around the short section of my running loop that merged into a well-travelled road, many waved at me and those who spoke English were anxious to show off their language skills with a “good morning” as I passed them by.  Given that this was my first time out and about by myself, I tried to be very aware of my surroundings, and within a few loops I felt myself relax as my instincts confirmed that this was a safe environment.  So my plan for the next two weeks is to repeat the run every other day and do some exercises on a patio of the lodge on the other days.  This exercise routine will then be replaced by going up Mt. Mulanje with a fully loaded pack during my last week here.

A driver picked us up right after 8pm to take us to the WFP office located in the center of Blantyre.  I found WFP’s office space here to be so much better than the stuffy space we crammed in during my last assignment in Rwanda.  We spent the morning meeting the staff of the local WFP office and getting debriefed on their various programming efforts and our assignment.  The key members of the WFP staff we’ll be working with are Ephrone, the Program Manager for the country’s peri-urban water supply and sanitation programs; Muthi, WFP’s local Grant Manager and Logistics Officer for our assignment; and Ivy, the office’s Administrative Assistant who we were told is the ideal person to help Steve and I with our travel plans for our post-assignment adventures.  I was immediately impressed by the energy and knowledge of the local staff.  Their passion and motivation for their work and their desire to improve the lives of Malawians in low-income areas is abundantly clear.  Just seeing how grateful the staff was for our willingness to travel around the world to help them out totally reinforced once again why leveraging my skills in the developing world is so important to me … not that I need any additional motivation.  Continuing to support the critical work of WFP is something I’m passionate about and I am incredibly grateful that MWH has committed to support that passion by sponsoring my future annual volunteer assignments.

Ephrone and Muthi went over the scope of our assignment in our morning meeting, which will involve the survey of over 800 communal water points, 850 households and all public institutions (public schools and medial clinics) spread over 21 low income areas around peri-urban Blantyre.  This is pretty ambitious so there may be a need for us to work during the upcoming weekend.  Members of the partner organizations that will help us out with those surveys joined us late morning.  They include representatives from 10 Water Users Associations, the Blantyre City Council, and two local NGOs.  We all re-assembled after lunch and the best part of the day was when we played a signing game to divide up everyone into 5 teams, each to be led by a World Water Corps volunteer.  We had to pick a name and slogan for our team.  My team is named “Ukhondo,” which means health or hygiene in Chichewa, and our slogan is “Building a Better Future for Generations to Come.”  Attached to this post are photos of members of my team – Patti (board member of one the Water Users Associations), Chicco (with the NGO Hygiene Village Project), Andrew (on the Blantyre City Council) and Jimmy (with the NGO Association for Rural Community Development).  Only Jimmy has taken part in similar WFP surveys in the past so it will probably take a few days for our team to be functioning at full speed.  We were assigned 3 low-income areas – Bangwe/Namiyang (population of 42,000), Basiyolo (population of 23,800) and Mzedi (population of 16,400).  We spent the rest of the afternoon training all team members on the Android phone technology used to collect all surveys.  Three of the four members of my team had never used a touched screen before so it was fun to see them discover how it worked.  Our day at the WFP office ended just after 5:30pm.  On our way back to the lodge we made a few stops to pick up cash, beer and cortisone cream (for bug bites).

Speaking of bug bites, mine don’t seem to be increasing in number but they sure are starting to hitch pretty badly – thus the need for the cortisone cream.  My new strategy at night is to sleep in pants and a long sleeve shirt.  A little though given how hot it is but sure better than waking up with an exponential increase in red dotes on my skin.  When we finally got back just before 7pm, the lodge was pitch dark.  We were told by other ex-pats staying at the lodge that it was either due to a rolling power outages or simply the lodge owner not paying her bills.  The good thing about cooking on a charbon fire is that the lodge staff was still able to serve us a warm meal with candle light on the outdoor patio.   

Well-fed and still not able to line up more than 4 hours of sleep since our arrival, I couldn’t stay up much past 8:30pm.  I just had enough energy to do some laundry and hang my wet cloths on a cord I installed across my room before I cocooned myself under my mosquito net


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