“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.” – Aristophanes

We decided to get out of town and spent a few days in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. When you’re in a place that boasts of great wine and beautiful scenery, you just have to drop the more serious touristic pursuits and pick up the bottle. Perhaps I don’t become more clever with wine drinking but it sure as hell makes life a little more fun. Plus being a tourist can start to feel a little dull.IMG_1149 IMG_1136IMG_1128 IMG_1082IMG_1064 IMG_1050 IMG_1027Stellenbosch was a great historical University town and a foodies delight.IMG_1503 IMG_1490I’ll pass on this…


and have this instead!
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We did a couple wine tasting then spent a few nights in Franschhoek, a very walkable little town. Which was fortunate because forgetting our driver’s license meant we were at the mercy of public transportation or tours. We stayed in a tiny little bungalow surrounded by fruit and poplar trees.


Being in nature I felt like I could catch a deep breath. I’ve realized this is where I want to be, in nature, and it’s become increasingly more difficult to wait for what we refer to as our “cabin in the woods” experience.IMG_1168IMG_1202 IMG_1193

We joined a trolly-driven wine tour and it was pretty funny being carted around, and also very convenient. I think we were about 20 years younger than the overall median age.


This picture is for my grandpa, who loves anything tractor.IMG_1384IMG_1398 IMG_1406IMG_1411IMG_1263

I know I sort of joked about buying property here. But seriously, its affordable and look at this place! I don’t have any money so if someone else could go ahead and buy a little place I’ll come help you tend the gardens!IMG_1239 IMG_1227 IMG_1214


cape town + the penninsula

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” – Mandela

We were a little bummed when we realized we wouldn’t be able to go to Mozambique. Visa and transportation issues just didn’t make all the effort seems worthwhile, especially after our recent marathon travel to Lake Malawi. So with about 2 weeks we were deciding what to do. Looking at flights, they all seemed to stop in South Africa and so our choice was made. Call me crazy but I’ve never been drawn to S. Africa. I know many people who’ve been and raved about it, but it just never had an appeal for me.

So we flew into Cape Town and to be honest my first impression was not great. I suppose our first day out was a Sunday and many shops and restaurants were closed. Being cold and rainy also didn’t help. It gradually improved but it just sort of felt like any big city. Albeit a big city with a really cool mountain as the backdrop.


We quickly realized we were staying in an inconvenient neighborhood but we checked out the City Bowl, Bo-Kaap and the District Six Museum that spoke of the community removed during apartheid. It was difficult to wrap my head around the disparity I was seeing between the classes and races. It was bothersome. It had a completely different flavor than other African cities I’d been to. Which was nice being a white tourist but also made me feel a little icky.


We took the train out to the Winelands (which I will talk more about in my next post) and after imbibing our fair share we headed back to Cape Town, but this time we headed towards the Waterfront. And what a difference it made.


It was a great area to venture out. We spent a day driving to the Cape of Good Hope and little fishing towns. We saw gorgeous flowers and vistas of the coast.

IMG_1592IMG_1608IMG_1617IMG_1659IMG_1848IMG_1831IMG_1798IMG_1795IMG_1757IMG_1711IMG_1860IMG_1914 IMG_1902 IMG_1872IMG_1703    We saw cute little penguins and ostriches and the Kirstenbosch Botanical garden.

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The Western Peninsula was absolutely lovely. It has everything. It reminded me a lot of the Pacific Northwest. Just spoiled with natural beauty and an abundance of activities. We even started scheming that we should buy some property in the Winelands. Don’t worry mom, no plans in the near future. But what a change from my first impression just one week before.


Channeling his inner explorer – Ezra was born in the wrong era.IMG_2417One of the last things we did was head out to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent many of his years in prison. This was one of the activities we sort of felt like we had to do but also sort of didn’t feel like doing. The boat trip over had pretty great views and once on the island it felt pretty depressing and desolate.IMG_2204IMG_2227IMG_2232IMG_2236Nelson Mandela’s cell and the quarry where he worked.


It pains me to say it, but this was perhaps the worst tour we’ve ever been on. To be fair, I think it may have just been our guide. There were so many people being hearded around, and we couldn’t understand what was happening or what was being said, and this was an expensive tour. I thought Ezra, who is normally so patient and calm, was going to lose it. These pictures just make me want to laugh.


The 10 days here felt like a tease. Hopefully there will be a next time, and we can rent a car and scout out more of the area. I will also be reading more about the history so I better understand this country.

How many countries can boast this array of signage?




mulanje, majete + likoma

“Each day is one step further from birth, one moment closer to dismissal. How we travel this path is our own decision.” -Frederick A Babb

Every month we were given a four day break. Our first adventure was to Mt. Mulanje. We considered doing what many people do and actually climb it, but instead we found a nice little hotel with a great view. Rows of tea and mountains across the border in Mozambique were our backdrop.


We listened to the calls of the monkeys and toucans and just sort of recouped some energy. There was cool weather and rain – things I forgot existed. We took a nice stroll thru the field and sipped a few cups of good tea.

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One weekend a bunch of us hopped in the truck to Majete Wildlife Reserve and had a quick little safari and camped out.


It was not the most spectacular in terms of animal sightings, but we had fun nonetheless. We went on a night drive where we saw one of the few lions in the park, zebras, hippos, elephants and crocs.

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In the early morning there was a bush walk that was nice, but we mainly viewed antelope, animal tracks and termite mounds. 


My favorite though was the boat ride. We had a dodgy few minutes when we got stuck on a rock but we made it back in one piece.

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Our last break we took a few extra days and went up to Lake Malawi. After a crazy bus ride, another bus ride which broken down in the middle of the night, switching buses again, and finally we made it to Nkhata Bay.


We only stayed a couple nights before taking an overnight boat to Likoma, which is a beautiful little island in the middle of the lake with lots of baobab trees.

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After all the travel to get there we were happy it was such a beautiful place. In hind sight I’m not sure it was worth all the travel.

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But we swam and lounged on the beach and took lots of naps. Getting up at 4:30 is not an easy habit to break and by about 9:00 each night I was passed out asleep.


Cute kids and interestingly named barber shops abound.


Do this trip in reverse and we were back at base for a couple last weeks of volunteering.

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doing well in malawi

“And at the end of the day your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.” – Shanti

We’re coming up on two-and-a-half months in Malawi. As we were driving back to base today I was sitting in the back of the truck with the warm African sun on my face, covered in mud, surrounded by new friends, which feel like old, and feeling the sensation of happy exhaustion. These past months have been such a good experience but it’s hard to find the right words to sum it up neatly. Instead I will try to describe what a day here is like.


At 4:30 am I’m aroused by either my alarm, the groundskeeper Kawmindo sweeping the leaves, or one of the many animals on base, which include: cows, guinea fowl, chickens, dogs, a cat or donkeys (that sometimes pound at the front gate). At first it felt like a massive feat each morning to untangle myself from the mosquito net at this early hour, but it is now routine to wake before the sun. After a quick breakfast and coffee (if there’s time) we quickly load up for the day. The drive to work is simply beautiful. Watching the sun rise over the mountains and shine it’s golden light on the fields brings me a sense of peace and calm each morning.


We bump our way along the dirt road while winding thru guinea fowl, oxen, goats, pigs and bicycles carrying huge sacks of maize. I feel grateful that we are no longer cycling to work on this tortuous road as we were the first weeks. Every day was a guaranteed adventure as our bikes consistently broke down and we got stuck in the sand.


Malawi is known as the golden heart of Africa and you quickly learn why. Kids cry Azungu (foreigners/whites) so excitedly that at times you are baffled at how they’ve maintained their excitement to see you after so many weeks. But their enthusiasm is contagious and you arrive to work having smiled and waved to more people than I normally would have in a month were I back home. This has got to be good for the spirit and for my fascial muscles as well.



Monday morning meeting

We park under our favorite mango tree at Chinyanje, the farming scheme I work on (Mukumba being the other), and start our morning at one of the chitsime (wells). I’ve worked at Mkumba but Chinyange is my home. I know the people here and feel invested in their future. As we trapse thru the maize and bananas to start our morning we call out to our friends, some of whom have pretty unique names. Mwadzuka bwanji (good morning) Promise, Trouble, Nowadays, Texan, Black Bonnet, Christmas and even a guy they call Two Meter (real name is unknown).


We start work by first pumping the madzi (water) out of the wells so we can excavate. Sometimes while trying to simultaneously keep the pumps going (before they break or clog which requires troubleshooting one of a dozen problems), sweating in the sun (which is my body’s new favorite activity) and practicing the local language Chichewa – I stop and take stock of what my current life is and just sort of laugh.


My vocabulary is fairly useless in travel situations, but on site I can ask for the doha, fosholo and chingwe (bucket, shovel and rope). And I can compliment the woman who carries a treadle pump on her head for over a mile (with her malaria-ill baby on her back) as wamphamvu (strong).


For the most part we work with teams on the most challenging wells and joke that every well is a “hell well.”


There’s usually too much water, or it’s too dry, too smelly, or has cave-ins. The process start-to-finish is never dull. We are few in number but try to keep their spirits up. They are usually better at this than we and will break out in song and dance.


The women love to give us girls a hard time and teach us to be more ladylike. Crossing legs, sitting properly, baby and husband status are all important conversations while pulling up bucket after bucket of mud. They greet us warmly each morning and there are multiple rounds of zikomo as they graciously thank us for the help. Sometimes they let us know they are hungry or have malaria or a toothache. Your heart goes out to them but then just as quickly they’ll switch the subject to what your marriage status is. One of the more colorful characters Christina will tell me that Ezra is amunanga (her husband). We have this interaction down like a science. She jokes and pretends to claim Ezra and I act mad and run after her while shaking my fist. Then we laugh and hug and I know we’ll repeat this interaction about 1-3x next week. We joke that she has arms like Madonna and so it’s quite comical that I run after her with my fist in the air. A pathetic little muzungu.


Christina on the left



Calvin with a Green Bay Packers tee

We take breaks and they thank us with what they have, which are cups of a sweet maize drink called thobwa and with “mango time.” Everyone has gone mango crazy. Locals walk with large sticks to knock the juicy gems from the branches, kids skip school, and people will either wander off (or not show up at all) so they can collect bucket after bucket of the ripened fruit. Mango fever has officially taken over. Because this is my favorite fruit, it all seems quite reasonable to me. I’m all about stopping and kupuma (resting) for mango time.


Considering the floods earlier this year changed the course of the river, and their water supply, you can see how eating takes priority. They have high hopes for these wells. Instead of one harvest a year, now they hope for two or even three. These pictures show what wells and irrigation do for lead farmer, Joseph’s, land.


They’ll be able to sell their veggies at the market and some even hope to the bigger stores in Blantyre. One of the first bricked wells is already being used for irrigation which is really exciting. However, all this extra digging just further fuels their hunger.


Most of the family representatives are teenagers, women with babies, or a quite elderly bunch. The men work in the sugar cane factory and so we are a rag tag bunch. It would be comical (ok sometimes it is) if it weren’t so sad. Hopefully this will give them extra security both for food and livelihood. Each well has a team lead and we gave them an All Hands t-shirt. They were so happy they clapped, multiple times, and wear them proudly. It’s the sweetest thing. I wish desperately that I spoke Chichewa. They are a hilarious bunch. If only I could understand what they were saying!


It’s pure excitement when the 4×3 meter wells are finally excavated (each takes a few week to complete) and it’s time for the masons and their apprentices to start bricking (they’ve started an apprenticeship program). Sometimes we need to pump like mad with four treadle pumps to keep the water out so they can lay the first footings. We’ve enlisted two older gentlemen, Stanford and another man with a club foot whom we call Machete Man (I think you can figure that one out on your own) to guard our cement until the masons are ready for it. Cement is a very expensive commodity around these parts. Think $14 a bag! 


We work with the local farmers and its been a been a balancing act of trying to share our collective experience while learning their local knowledge. I am new to wells and development work and so I try to keep my ears and eyes open. I’m finding that consistent and clear communication is our greatest tool while their knowledge of the terrain in indispensable. We are the coordinators and schedulers and donors and helpful diggers. But they are the ones with the skin in the game. Every time we think we know something I do a quick mental rundown of how often we’ve thought we’ve known but they’ve known better. I’m learning just how tricky development work can be.


The afternoon lunch hour is spent under one of a few favorite mango trees and we while away an hour with our peanut butter sandwich and snacks and whack down a mango or two.   IMG_9187 IMG_7828IMG_7712IMG_7946

Another couple hours are spent in the field with just us volunteers and it can be challenging to stay motivated and hydrated in the blazing afternoon sun. Sometimes kids follow us around and help us with wheelbarrows and bricks.


Quitting time!


We watch out for snakes in the field (including the dreaded mambas – both black and green) but fortunately there’ve only been a few sightings. I’ve personally only caught the tail end of one before it slithered back into the bananas.


the remnants of a mamba

Once back at base we have a few precious hours to sit on our front porch or hit up the local “bar” over a Coke or Carlsberg (known here as a Green).


The best part of the day is taking off my boots and being rewarded with an outdoor shower while trying and failing to scrub my hands and feet completely clean. Keeping them clean is a completely different feat. I pray there’ll be power in the ever expanding cuts so I can sit in front of my fan. I’m having a love affair with my fan. It seems that most days the electricity is off more-often-than on so we use a generator at dinner, or candles, and I pray to the Malawian power gods that we’ll be graced by those magical sparks during the night. Mostly we are rewarded with at least a few hours and I will savor each gust from my whirring machine.

Celebrating our first anniversary.


On Thursdays there is a small market, otherwise we wait excitedly for dinner.


It’s a great night when its potatoes or rice. Although the local dish nsima (a dense maize based porridge) is definitely not my preferred choice, I have become a master of choosing an array of condiments to spice up even the most boring of foods. The boiled egg, beans, rice and nsima seem repetitive, but I don’t take a mouthful for granted. How could you when others are hungry. Our lunch of a peanut butter sandwich, nuts and crackers is an absolute treat that our staff travels 3 hours to the main town of Blantyre to buy (6 hours if going by local bus). This is the case for all supplies such as toilet paper, buckets and any other necessary tools. This is a remote part of Malawi. 


After dinner we retire to our rooms or occasionally frequent the World-Famous-Matlawi Bar named after Matt, one of the originals here. He dug the fire pit, we made the benches and that’s all there is to it- a bar was born. Sundays we have off and now are adding Saturday to the mix as we continue to get more and more tired and the sun continues to get more and more hot. We made a trip to the river and saw the effects of the flooding earlier in the year. It is a pretty desolate stretch of land and there is hopes to help rebuild schools next year after the rainy season.


Otherwise we sit on base and literally watch as the cows come home thru the front gate every evening. Or we listen to the chickens, guinea fowl, dogs, donkeys and goats all create their racket.

Then it’s to bed by 8:30 and wash-rinse-repeat tomorrow.

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A special thank you to all those who donated in our fundraising efforts!