Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Returned Peace Corps Volunteer – re integration

I'm back and already missing Malawi! I'm sorry that I did such a horrible job staying up to date with new blog posts. But it's easy to get distracted in Lilongwe.

It's been 5 weeks since I stepped off the plane and into "A-Mer-CA." I was determined not to let the woes of the current American population get me down. So much social change has happened since I had left. A changed White House, healthcare reform, a financial meltdown and to top it off my own family had a new life that I had to become re accustomed. So I landed on American soil and hit the ground running. Back in Malawi, I decided to prolong my travel plans and spend most of my time job hunting. I felt that I had spent 2 years educating villagers about the importance of forward thinking and planning, that it would be hypocritical for me to spend my readjustment allowance traveling the world with "over landers" that cared more about pictures of themselves than the countries' culture that they visited.

I have had interview after interview. Every interaction is met with, "wow, how are you doing with readjustment."


Should I be having a harder time?


The third goal of Peace Corps is in fact, hard. It's funny how the one aspect (among many others) that frustrated me the most about living in the village was my ambiguous relationships with people. But after this short time of being home (I'm learning fast,) my relationships with Americans are just as ambiguous as those that I had in Chichewa. I look back and think about PST and the conversations that were facilitated about, Cultural, universal and individual behaviors. These are the most ambiguous lines of all when it comes to social interaction. I thought that I might see things clearer on the other side but maybe not. It seems that we as Americans continue looking at stereotypes rather than circumstances.


For example: talking with a few folks, I was explaining common Malawian cultural dances. But the stereotype of all Africans living in the bush and being naked was compared to this dance. But when I show pictures of the dance…oh? (Confusion followed by a "sorry" and embarrassment is a common response.) Africans are further developed than many Americans are aware. I believe that might be a large reason for the continued financing of African based NGOs. Not everyone in Malawi is naked and dying contrary to the media and Madonna's portrayal. Thank you Raising Malawi!


"WOW. Did you see a lot of people dying?"

"So, does, like everyone have AIDS? And how did you avoid not contracting?"

"So, How was Africa?"


How do I answer these questions? It's hard having conversations without any frame of reference. But my pictures help. And I've already started a few of my friends on Bao. The most interesting and proactive conversations that I have had about Malawi was with a group of 2nd & 4th graders. And so I have found the most rewarding third goal activities with school groups and people interested to understand, not stereotype.


But at any rate…Im really trying to stay positive. I miss Malawi but my place is here in Chicago. I look forward to talking with more people about Peace Corps and I truly hope that I can encourage more to sign up for the toughest job they'll ever love.

Good luck to all my fellow volunteers. Thanks for the best years of my life!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tonga Land Christmas

The 2008 holidays are slowly coming to a close, but for once the holidays were a nice change a pace on this side of the world. Although, I did miss chezy Christmas songs, Santa hats and the smell of gingerbread houses this year, I did very much enjoy my time sharing Christmas culture in the village. Christmas here in my small village of Chigumukiri is not celebrated, at least not in the western style that we all enjoy year after year. Christianity is a popular practice along the lake shore villages where I am living and so the tradition of Christmas day mass and church community is celebrated much the same as every Sunday. Unfortunately, Christmas day becomes an excuse for many villagers to beg a little more and drink a little harder than they might have normally. None the less, it became a great opportunity for me to share a few bits from American culture. I thought at first that it might be a good idea for me to buy a whole pig and have “Kirk’s Christmas Extravaganza!,” but after consulting the advice of other volunteers, we decided that it might not be the best idea. I ended up buying three kgs of goat and making a stew. I used a combination of veggies that Malawians are not used to cooking with, so it was a great way to teach about eating a variety of foods, the health benefits of veggies like garlic and why not to use too much salt. Kitchen duties are very gender segregated, but for Christmas I tried to explain that Christmas in America means all the family gets together and enjoys each others company. In the end I ate with the men in the house while the women ate on the dirt floor outside in the smoky kitchen. Christmas was mellow but I’m glad I was able to share this time with some of the good friends that have been helping me with my new house and everyone was much honored to share a meal with their new "white celebrity" living in their community.
I’ve moved! Well…sort of….
I’m couch surfing right now on other volunteers’ floors. I bike everyday to my village. I’m working to integrate into the community and also working hard to organize the renovations of my house. This new community is great and although there have been a few speed bumps with finding & fixing a house; I am positive that future projects will move forward smooth. I have already planted a demonstration garden and will be working with agriculture extension agents, agroforesty and conservation agriculture practices are first on the education agenda. Plans for fruit tree nurseries, mushroom clubs and a business entrepreneurial clubs are all progress ideas already expressed by community members and I am excited to help facilitate such motivated people. I am still on a fast and steep learning curve of development in Malawi, but I have learned from my mistakes and hopefully I can help these people get their ideas off the ground.
Thanks everyone for the continued support and everyday I look forward to reading an email or receiving a phone call, I couldn’t do it with out all the amazing support from home. Happy Holidays and Have a GREAT New Years!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kuti Game Ranch Salima - Malawi



Welcome to Kuti Game Ranch! Our diverse woodland savanna, open grassy plains and wetland environments offer the perfect location to spend the day viewing wildlife. Our 3000ha. protected area offers facilities for the outdoor camper or the indoor relaxer. Take advantage of a scenic walk through the native landscapes of the Salima district in central Malawi enjoying the diverse bird populations and the beautiful sunsets of the Kuti wetlands along the way. Support the local community and take advantage of a scenic game drive with one of our skilled local guides. Enjoy a week or spend the day, Kuti graciously welcomes your visit and will work hard to ensure your stay will never be forgotten.
Our Strong Community Conservation spirit…
Kuti is a Community Conservation Area (CCA), co-managed between boarder communities and private membership based organizations. The Kuti project is an effort to instill ownership, while managing income generation from the available natural resources. The Wildlife Producers and Hunters of Malawi (WPHM) and Wildlife Environment Society of Malawi (WESM) have been assisting with co-management since 1999 when the land use was converted from a government cattle ranch. The goals of our project diverts from traditional government preservation to the conservation and management of available lands. In practice, Kuti management allows local communities ownership and empowerment of their own natural resources. 50% of your contributions to Kuti find there way back into the community, through extension awareness and infrastructure maintenances in the villages bordering the park.


1. The speed limit throughout the park is 40km/h
2. Animals always have right of way
3. Strictly no Guns, catapults or other weapons are permitted within the southern unit of the park
4. Although there are no large predators in Kuti, remember that the animals are wild so please keep your distance to avoid upsetting them.
5. Please leave your pets at home and out of the park
6. All flora and fauna within Kuti is protected. Please do not remove plant life.
7. For safety reasons, no fires will be permitted outside the designated areas of Sanga camp
8. Respect other visitors stay by keeping loud noises to a minimum. Please do not honk car horns
9. Please do not feed any of the animals.

Zikomo Kwambiri

GAME VIEWING : Visitors are welcome to drive or walk along the designated roads within park but knowledgeable guides are also available. Ask for assistance at Sanga Camp.

CAMPING : Sanga camp offers toilet facilities, hot showers, braase, firewood and cold drinks. Ask for assistance at Sanga Camp.

ACOMMODATION : A-frame chalets are available with 5 single beds in each. Please make reservations in advance.

Facilities to host workshops and education program are available

Questions, Comments, Concerns?
Diverson 265 8 780 274

For further information about this project or other protected area management projects visit:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Protected Area Management through Community Conservation

Many people have been asking how to assist me with development projects that I am working on in my village. I can not begin to tell you how greatful I am for any assistance that people can help with. Even if you can not help financially, a letter in the mail goes a long way! The first three months at my site have been spent trying to understand the needs of the community. Therefore, no real projects have materialized to date. groups have expressed needs and concerns for a more diversified selection of fruits and vegetables, which I am extremely excited. Mainly in my own backyard, I personally am supporting food security through income generation. In addition to income generation in my village, I am collaborating with the Danish Hunters Association & WildLife Environment Society of Malawi in an effort to support community conservation of customary lands. I am working to support Community trainings, along with the development of such CCA (Community Conservation Areas.)

Community conservation is an effort to empower the public to play an active role in the sustainable management of resident natural resources. In addition to protected area management, the roles of the organized Community Based Organization and others land stewards should be to integrate community involvement. Community training is an opportunity to expand community involvement in conservation, while assisting with the lacking civic education efforts. As role of facilitator, my hope is to organize community trainings for villages near Kuti Community Wild Park and the purposed Mpatsanjoka CCA. The trainings will be held haft day at the NRC educational center in Kuti Community Wildlife Park. Class topic will range from income generation to environmental education, but the focus will be to assist the needs and dificulties that the communities are currently expressing. The purposed training should run bi-monthly and should be an expense sustained by the CCA (community conservation area) in an effort to promote more community involvement.
The topics to be discussed will be those pertaining to the current problems addressed by the community. Currently in Malawi much of the environmental pressure on protected areas is due to financial concerns felt in the villages. In addition to financial anxiety, local community members feel a lack of ownership in a “restricted area.” Topics discussed should address these issues.

Example Topics:
Food-Security – Crop diversification
Sustainable/Conservation agriculture
Irrigation schemes
Soap Making
Jam Making
Charcoal Making (from Corn Husks)
Environmental Education: Wildlife protection, community conservation

The overlying goal of this project is sustainability. With sustainability in mind, it is my hope to train motivated patrons from the communities to deliver topics. This not only provides jobs to the community, but will assist in community members having ownership in the conservation project.

Initial assistance that friends and family back home can assist with would be educational resources to be presented during seminars. The additional financial logistics are still being discussed (paying the trainers and feeding people who attend). Thank you all for your help and please do not hesitate to write if you need any additional information or have questions on current or future projects.

CHEKOKI (my Yao name is evolving)
Kirk Longstein, Peace Corps
Box 284


You have good days and you have bad days as a Volunteer that is just the reality of the work. I have been in my village for three months now and the good and the bad go hand in hand. I have been trying to write more.
I wrote this after walking home frustrated. I waited all day for my group to show up to a meeting I had scheduled, but no one showed. Walking home I met with a few of the women in the group. They were the ones who were frustrated, that I didn’t provide enough money for our jam making project.

***No call, no show! It’s so hard to find good workers. If you want to find a job and keep your job, half the responsibility is showing up. I find myself scratching my head over this same phenomenon here in a rural village. Is it culture or an individual’s drive to accomplish that task which cannot be achieved without sweat? Work hurts! It challenges the mind and it hurts the back. I feel overwhelmed with a sense of pride, that I was raised not to fear work. The pride that I take in my work allows me to achieve the unattainable. In addition to empowering men and women in my village, I hope to leave this place a spirit of self directed work. Empowerment by no means will make people rich, but it could very well improve their daily subsistence, which proves to be a day to day struggle to survive. Are people lazy, uneducated, or educated into habitual laziness? I constantly debate this idea.
“Here in Malawi, we are poor, that’s our problem”
- A continued response when surveying village problems.
A lazy man observes the problem, and the successful man solves the problem. This is true in the states and even here in Malawi. Americans seem to be successful at the development of conveniences, but in times of economic or social hardship the ones who thrive are those who show up to work on time with the solutions to the problem. Poverty in developing nations might be political but the problem is not cultural. To help alleviate the pressures of poverty, the efforts should be redirected to the successful empowerment of the entrepreneurial work ethic within each individual.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Traditional Dances

Traditional dances of Malawi are my favorite part of Malawian culture. Within the Chichewa culture there are traditional dances known as the Gule Wamkulu, shown here in my pictures. An amazing display of complete raw emotion and passions of the dancers.Learn more about Chewa

People living in my village and many villages near my house are never short on reasons for dancing. Living along the south Lake shore and more specific with in the Salima district, the culture is predominately Muslim. Many Malawians living in my village belong to the Yao tribe. Malawian culture is amazing and diverse experience. With many frustrations and success, I am learning more and more everyday. When I finally get a Camera I hope to share more of my experiences and pictures living with Yao culture.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hello all….sorry it’s been along time since I’ve had a chance to update this blog business but bloging from Malawi is proving to be more of a hassle then anything. Things couldn’t be better! Malawian culture is so welcoming; it’s hard not to have a 2 hour conversation with someone off the street about the house and the family. Chichewa is proving a little difficult but I am able to communicate either enough to help or just enough to get me in trouble. All and all Malawi has a number of surprising conveniences that is making life easy. The two things that I am lacking that would be nice to have and make work easier would be a car and a computer. I’ve adjusted nicely to “Malawian Time,” which is a complex formula of adding 1-2 hours onto whatever time someone tell you to meet and then adding about another 1-2 hours once you’ve arrived at the meeting location. A one hour meeting takes up the entire day. “Malawian Time” nice and slow, it’s a nice change from “The City,” but is proving frustrating with getting things done.

The Village

My village could not be more excited to have me living with them. I’m living next to the chief (Group Village Headman) and in the middle of my village. I am constantly having community members visit me, which at first was frustrating due to the constant inundation of individuals who not only speak fast in Chichewa, let alone ChiYaio. At the present it has proved to be an asset living in the middle of the village because everyone is so excited and motivated to work with me. Some projects that I am working on at the present are teaching income generating activities with groups of women. Some of the project groups that I have organized at the present are; beekeepers, selling honey, Soap makers, and women selling different vegetables that I’m trying to introduce. I also have dug a community garden at the school with vegetables for the children who attend school.
Crop diversification & Food security are the problems that people have identified in their village at the present, so I hope to encourage more vegetable farming. Also food preservation through solar drying and selling added value products from the crops that are already present.

The possibilities are endless in my village because all the needs that the community is expressing. Im staying busy and time is flying by hopefully that keeps up! Love you all
Give me a call or drop me an email…I should be here about once a month. Keeps the packages coming…I just opened a package with all products from WholeFoods…a great surprise!! Hint Hint

Love you folks