Monday, May 12, 2014

“Azungu! Azungu! Azungu! AZUNGU!!!!”

Azungu means “white person” in Chichewa, the most commonly spoken native language in Malawi. Although I arrived here in Malawi on Friday, Sunday afternoon we finally arrived and the School of Agriculture for Family Independence, or SAFI, for short. Friday and Saturday were pretty easy, laid back days. We stayed at a really nice and fun hostel in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. We were able to meet some other Americans who are here on a mission trip and quite a few British families spending their holidays in Africa. It was easy to just sit back, explore Lilongwe, and feel mostly at home. We attended church at the local LDS branch in Lilongwe and it was beautiful. The people were so sincere and kind and the missionaries where really happy to see eight white girls… and me too. We had a nice lunch and then we headed for SAFI.

Our SAFI welcoming party
Arriving at SAFI has lead to the strangest mix of emotions. You want to throw me out of my element, just throw me in an environment full of children screaming out words I don’t understand in any language other than English or Spanish. It is not that I don’t like kids (my nephews and niece who is coming soon mean the world to me), but knowing that I am one of the first and only white people these kids have seen/will ever see makes me feel a little like a zoo animal. The song “One of these Things is not like the others” from Sesame Street keeps coming to mind.

Chichewa is a very complex and beautiful language and I can say some key phrases like “Muli Bwangi” (“How are you?”) and “Zikomo” (“Thank you”), but it took me essentially five years to speak Spanish (four years in school and then the entire first year I lived in Chile). Three months isn’t going to be near long enough to actually learn the language everyone speaks here. Luckily, all the staff here at SAFI speaks English and they can get me out of any translation problems I find myself in.

I guess I should explain SAFI a little. The SAFI is a school, funded by NuSkin, a company based out of Provo Utah. SAFI invites thirty families from villages around Malawi to come and learn better practices in many areas related to family independence including fishing, forestry, nutrition, agriculture, and livestock. After 10 months, the families return to their villages and teach the skills they learned to others. After a year, the families officially graduate. The hope is that by allowing the students to practice the skills here on campus, practice them in their homes, and teach others how to do them back in their villages, the families can be a source of change and improve the quality of life for themselves and those around them.

Students raise these chickens in class
My goal while here is to make sure that the students are getting the most out of the crops they grow. This is now starting to seem sort of daunting. Last year’s research, performed by some good friends of mine, revolved around the use of a solar dehydrator that a typical family or village could build. This work was really helpful in helping me plan a way to treat the vegetables grown by students here. Unfortunately, I arrived to find the large dehydrator very broken and the smaller, portable one, in a state that will require at least a day’s worth of work to prepare it for use. I have other ideas of preservation methods to use with the students but I need to actually sit down and discuss what they are currently doing to better understand how I can best fit their needs.  I am questioning if what I planned to do here is what the people here will actually need from me. I am looking for guidance from the other interns, from the staff, and I feel like I am constantly praying for inspiration… or to be struck by lightning. I guess both would be pretty welcome events right now.

A farmer learned how to increase his yields 10 fold
Some of the more fun and interesting adventures I had in the last twenty four hours include finding a frog in the toilet paper roll, teaching the children here how to “the Worm”, and washing nearly two weeks of laundry by hand. The children here play soccer and volleyball almost everyday and it is fun to jump in for a few minutes but I can’t tell if they are laughing because they are having fun or if I am just that white.

Most of this week is actually just to get our bearings here at SAFI. It is actually maize harvesting season so the classes that are normally taught at SAFI are put on hold so the families can harvest the corn, dry it, and move to the warehouse. Most of the interns and I are still just exploring the area and we will start some of our projects later this week once we are a little more familiar with the staff and know where we are most needed. Friday we will head to Lake Malawi and spend the day seeing the sights around there, then head to Lilongwe to spend the weekend there again. I am really excited. My first full day here really has been an adventure but I feel like I am learning more about myself and the amazing people of Malawi a little bit more every second.

No comments:

Post a Comment