Posted by: rhoban | March 3, 2009

Day 2 – getting to Malawi Children’s Village

Welcome to Malawi Children’s Village

The first place I’m headed to is called Malawi Children’s Village. But first, I had to get there!!!  If you think Malawi is far, then try getting to MCV… it’s really, really remote.

Roads in Malawi are mostly two lane kidney-crunchers, filled with potholes and crumbling at the edges, heavily traveled by trucks, goats and bicycles, oh… and people.  Turn off the main road and you’re on compacted dirt, sometimes the main road is compacted dirt.

The morning after I arrived in Malawi, I got up at 5 AM (still jet lagged!) to ride three and a half hours to Mangochi, on the southwestern shore of Lake Malawi, a whopping 100 or so miles away.  The last 12 miles was a dirt washboard that created clouds of dust as we crawled forward.  Everyone I’ve talked to says the rains haven’t come yet.  And when they do, everyone tells me this road will be a mud hole.  I hope it doesn’t start raining before I leave!

For all the difficulty of travel (25+ hours on planes – Atlanta to Senegal to South Africa to Malawi, then the road trip), Raleigh residents Tom and Eve Vitaglione make this trip almost every year. And they’re in their 60s!

Tom and Frances Vitaglione take a breather in the shade of a tree at MCV.

Tom and Eve first came to Malawi as Peace Corps volunteers in the 60s.  It’s how they met.  They came home to the US, got married, raised kids, had careers and weren’t particularly involved with Malawi until the mid-1990s when they started hearing from old friends about the many orphans being created in the wake of AIDS.  To date, close to a million Malawian children have lost one or both their parents – that in a country of about 13 million people.

In case you missed that, 1 in 13 Malawians is an AIDS orphan.  Stop reading for a moment and let that sink in.

OK, now back to the narrative…

The Vitagliones got involved with Malawi Children’s Village as they neared retirement.  Tom’s a long time children’s health expert who was long-time employee of state government working in public health.  Now he works part time as a children’s health advocate.  Eve worked as a science educator at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

They come to Malawi for close to a month each year.  While here, Tom gathers data about the health of the kids and prevention activities, and consults with the director on crafting programs. Eve has helped set up the library and spends time in the infant feeding center. In the US, they raise funds from their friends and from their church, St Marks Episcopal in Raleigh.

Stay tuned, WUNC will run a story about the project – Malawi Children’s Village later this week.

Going to church

This year, Tom and Eve, also brought a present from their church – St Mark’s in Raleigh – for the church they attend here – St. Michael’s and All Angels.  It’s a hand sewn banner made by women in North Carolina, and a gift of money raised by people at St Mark’s.

The altar at St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, with the banner made by people in Raleigh on the table.

The altar at St. Michael’s and All Angels Church, with the banner made by people in Raleigh on the table.

I was able to attend church with Tom and Eve on the day I got to Mangoche.  The minister gave a long sermon in Chichewa that sounded as if it had lots of fire and brimstone.  The congregation um hm-ed and amen-ed in response.

I was duly introduced as Tom and Eve’s friend, the radio reporter… this gave me license to roam around the church during services, primarily recording the exuberant singing – filled with tight harmonies, percussion and ululations.

The choir from St. Michael’s and All Angel’s Church.

The choir from St. Michael’s and All Angel’s Church.

I tried to be discrete, but it’s hard to hide a strange woman wearing a microphone and headphones.  A couple of kids broke into tears when they saw me!!  Their parents were less frightened, albeit just as curious!

I hung out after the services as the choir sang me four more hymns that I was able to burn to a CD later that day and present to them before I left (I love flash recorders and computers!)  I also had my hand shaken by about 30 people at the end of the service – everyone wanted to meet me!!

Take a listen here to one of their songs…

Relief from the heat

Sunday afternoon, I got to swim in a Great Rift Valley Lake – Lake Malawi, several hundred meters from Tom and Eve’s house.  It’s Africa’s third largest lake, surrounded by mountains.

Oops.  I also learned it’s full of schistosomiasis (bilharziosis), a type of parasite that’s endemic in the area – in other words, everyone has it, and it’s a primary cause of illness in the area.  Don’t worry, I’m getting checked…

African kingfishers were plentiful near the lake

African kingfishers were plentiful near the lake

Later, sitting with Tom and Eve on the beach, we saw a hippo in the water, about 30 meters offshore… no one told me they hung around the area.  Eve didn’t mention until then either that crocodiles are frequently seen there too!!!  In addition to big critters there were some great birds – African kingfishers, fish eagles and storks – just hanging around the lake shore.

The possibility of parasites aside, I was glad for the short break – it was the first time I’d stopped moving since leaving North Carolina close to five days earlier.

I got up early on Monday morning and took some photos of the lake before we went off to see MCV.

Sunrise on Lake Malawi, looking east to mountains in Mozambique

Sunrise on Lake Malawi, looking east to mountains in Mozambique

Local fishermen return from a night of fishing on the lake.  Lake Malawi is known colloquially as the Lake of a Thousand Stars – from the many torch lights used by fishermen at night.

Local fishermen return from a night of fishing on the lake. Lake Malawi is known colloquially as the Lake of a Thousand Stars – from the many torch lights used by fishermen at night.

Comments? Send them to ncvoices@wunc.org

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