Hunger

Re-Namaste Nepal!

sun doors After the rather cold, gray monotony of China’s cities, going to Nepal was like stumbling out into a blaze of riotous sunshine.storefrontI was pretty cranky that I didn’t get to make my planned trip to Tibet (no way is China giving a visa to a western blogger), but it’s hard to hold onto a grudge in Kathmandu. doorBecause of its decades of tourism with trekkers, Kathmandu can seem almost western in its food, shopping and pursuits of pleasure, but right outside the city (and even inside) the essential Nepal comes clearly into view. street lifeFrom the indomitable women who have been working Heifer International programs for the last 25 years and bringing entire communities of powerless wives into economic security…new water buffaloTo the caste system of untouchables who are likewise being included in Heifer projects and given a chance to succeed…

Beautiful Chepang girl, from an untouchable caste.

Beautiful Chepang girl, from an untouchable caste.

To the Hindu temples where cremations take place along the river (with biers divided along caste lines– even after death)..

A fancy sandalwood bier for the Brahmin class

A fancy sandalwood bier for the Brahmin class only.

..and milk is poured down in sacrifice to one of the 44,000 gods.milkNepal boasts all the majesty and mystery of the Himalayans hovering in the distance…

Yup, that's Everest!

Yup, that’s Everest!

…but still struggles with poverty, hunger, a chaotic communist regime, and a highly stratified society. Chepang childAnd yet, Nepal is one of the most lovely, likeable, unforgettable countries I visited.fish pond

A Heifer veterinarian

A Heifer veterinarian

beauty2

Rice fieldI want to go back: to walk the Annapurna circuit, to meet more of the women who so inspired me…

A woman in the cooperative at Shaktikor.

A woman in the cooperative at Shatkikohr.

…and to see more of the work Heifer is doing in this intriguing country.

That's some heifer!

That’s some heifer!

Plus, there are a few folks I need to say Namaste to. covered smileFor more Nepal & more Namaste, click on the posts below:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/29/a-new-namaste/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/26/what-i-ate-in-nepal/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/24/she-works-hard-for-the-money-less/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/21/caste-ing-a-stone-against-prejudice/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/18/goat-ed-into-greatness/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/16/divine-peaks-intransigent-maoists-or-welcome-to-nepal/

Categories: Animals, Heifer International, Hunger, Nepal, Philanthropy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

China Re-mix.

man w pig2 Having dutifully swallowed all the negative publicity we’ve been served up in this country about China (and added some of my own piquant paranoia) — it began to seem like a place I would never want to go. Solemn Little Beauty

But once I got to China, on my fourth month of traveling for Heifer International, I found it was much like any other place on the planet: filled with beautiful people working hard to make their lives and the lives of their children a little bit easier, sweeter, and more secure.

little princess I spent my time in Sichuan province, in the western part of China. It is a place of big, impersonal cities and lovely contemplative country-sides– but no, I didn’t stop to see any pandas (sigh).landscape

However, I did experience the incredible ethnic groups of the Yi people (the women are intensely fabulous, with headdresses right out of the Witches of Eastwick)…Yi hat

… And I met the kindest, most gentle AIDS mother making a living with her Heifer pigs for her three young children …

Waqi Wunin, my personal heroine

Waqi Wunin, my personal heroine

…and I visited a small village making a big comeback from the terrible earthquake of 2010, despite it being populated almost solely by women my age (probably a good bit younger).

The women of Fuxing & me.

The intrepid women of Fuxing Village & me.

And of course, I was served some totally amazing food – and ate my wimpy vegetarian share of it.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn China, I had the unique opportunity to sit down and talk to ordinary rural Chinese people who were struggling to cope with life outside the megalopolis–and whose stories turned out to be riveting.

A circle of trust (and roasted potatoes)

A circle of trust (and roasted potatoes)

I also realized that I wasn’t the only one who was perhaps a little skeptical of the foreigner. skepticalBut more than anything, I had the same epiphany I had in every Heifer country I visited last year — Leader

… that the poverty we don’t see around us is still there … Grand-daughter

… that animals are beautiful and full of potent power to change the trajectory of a family’s life .. that pig

… and there is literally nothing more universally beautiful than a smile.daughterTo follow me through the pages of yesteryear (in China) click on a story:

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/30/first-impressions-of-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/02/high-but-not-dry-in-yi-country-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/04/not-exactly-a-tiger-mom/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/07/a-scaredy-cat-taste-of-china/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/09/a-beautiful-life/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/05/14/farewell-my-lovely/

Categories: Animals, Children, China, Farming, Heifer International, Hunger, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

What I cooked in Malawi!

tastingMy hands-down favorite day in Malawi – and one I will never forget — is the day we visited Chimuti village in Mchinji District and the women dragged me into the “kitchen” to cook the national dish of nsima, a white, corn-powder concoction that looks like grits-on-steroids and tastes blandly divine.

Chimuti lies right near the border of Malawi and Zambia, and it’s a town so full of dazzling women and healthy cows, it’s like the poster child of what Heifer can accomplish.mom, baby & heifer

Before 2011, nobody in Chimuti raised dairy cows, but once they witnessed the prosperity brought about by cows in a neighboring town, they were all in.heifer

As we strode up to the house of Sophia Chimala, the women all began to clap and sing, and we saw her original heifer Shine, and the twins Shine had given birth to (after her first offspring was passed along to another needy family).sophia & heifer

Sophia is 45, beautiful, and spunky as all get-out. It was she who led me into the smoke-filled kitchen (that had me crying my eyes out after a minute or two) and told me to get to work with my two sous-chefs, Miss C & Miss P.

Miss C & Miss P - they're shy but powerful (in their Heifer wraps)

Miss C & Miss P – they’re shy but powerful (in their Heifer wraps)

And so I did get right down to work.

Me and Miss C, getting our cooking on...

Me and Miss C, getting our cooking on… (all photos of me taken by the fabulous Patti Ross)

Here’s what we made.

First, the beautiful vegetable dish:stirring vegs

Cut up leaves of the bean plant. Cook for ten minutes with some salted water in the pot. Add 3 cut-up tomatoes. Add ¾ of a dish of pounding nutsground peanuts (pounding them by hand and then sifting through basket weave requires a whole set of skills that I don’t possess – but my attempts sure amused everyone.) Cook the vegetables and nuts another minute and salt to taste. Don’t make Miss P. roll her eyes by requesting a hot pad to pick up the scalding pot cover … they never use them but somehow don’t get burned.

For Nsima:

Bring 3-4 cups of water almost to a boil. Sift in corn flour. Stir.

Me wimpily stirring...

Me wimpily stirring my nsima (with a lot of oversight)…

If lumpy, make a roux of water and flour in separate bowl and add back to the mix. Add about 5 cups of the corn flour. Stir very, very, very vigorously with a paddle – up and down, over and under, until you’re about ready to drop. Don’t mind if Miss C strongly urges you to stir a lot harder.

How it's really done by a pro...

A professional shows how it’s really done…

When it’s thickened, using a special spoon, dip in water then ladle out a mango-sized scoop of the mix, and plop it onto the plate, then dip the ladle in water again and use the back to carefully smooth the top into a big egg-like mound. Don’t forget to dip in water between every scoop or you will make Miss P very unhappy. Arrange the identical mounds of nsima carefully and make the plate look pretty.

making nsima

Wash all the dishes you will be using (and don’t forget to rinse thoroughly).  Clean pots with a bamboo branch and pretend you are not vastly entertaining every village child in sight.washing up

Serve the women and children outside, and serve the men inside. (And keep your mouth shut about that arrangement.) Be grateful that the children pretend that this is the best nsima they have ever eaten. my nsima!

Pretend you also fixed the fall-off-the-bone tender, mouth-watering chicken that Misses C & P made this morning.chicken

Stanch the river of tears still pouring out of your eyes from the kitchen fire smoke.tears

Eat one of the best meals of your life…lunch

…with some amazing, beautiful women (who were allowed to eat indoors), including the lovely Miss Sophia….  sophia1

…and Heifer’s project manager, aptly named Grace, who after lunch took us to visit some more beautiful cows and farmers in the village.

Heifer's Grace, walking through Mchinji village.

Heifer’s Grace Gopani Phiri, walking through Chimuti village.

See new tin roofs going up, cement floors being poured, healthy children, and the prosperity that these big Friesian heifers from Heifer have brought to Mchinji. mom & baby

Then visit Heifer’s BUA milk collection center that will allow 200 families from multiple villages to aggregate their milk and sell it commercially — a whole new income stream!collecting milk

Finally, thank God (and Heifer’s Victor Mhango, who master-minded my cooking initiation) for this amazing Mchinji day!! Farewell, beautiful Malawi …..girls2smiling boyheifer w girlsbaby heifersophia & hubbyFrangipani

Categories: Animals, Food, Heifer International, Hunger, Inspiration, Malawi, Photography, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

2 goats for Janet.

Whenever I’m running off my mouth, thinking that my life is stressful, I hope I can remember Janet Dzonzi from Msendaluzi village in Malawi. And just stand in total gratitude for the life I’ve been blessed with.

Janet is 42 and a widow. She has 6 children; the oldest is 25, has finished secondary school and is living in Lilongwe (he doesn’t’ visit home much) and the youngest is 3 year-old Stella.

Janet’s 23-year old daughter lives next door and helps out a lot, but since her husband died, Janet has been struggling to farm her 3 acres of land and plant the soybeans, ground nuts and maize that will feed her family and provide a tiny income ($150 for the year).

Last October, Janet received 2 meat goats as part of Heifer’s Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Project that will reach 1,600 families around Kasungu. One of those goats is pregnant and the other will be bred soon – she’ll pass along those baby kids, and then hopefully have more of her own.

Fred, his mom Janet, and Abigail with their goats & beautiful shed.

These goats mean a great deal to Janet and the future of her family, and they’ve sacrificed to get the animals. The materials to build the goats’ shed cost $17 and Janet had to save up to buy every 5-cent nail. (“That was a hardship,” she says ruefully – and I’m thinking, I will never use that word again.) But when I asked her if it was difficult to raise and breed her goats, she said no, it was actually a “light job.” She’s learned a lot from the Heifer trainings and she’s determined to succeed.

Janet is painfully thin, but she says the family has enough to eat for now. (But I’m worried because runaway inflation in Malawi has caused the price of food to double in the past few months.) The family eats beans twice a month, meat once a month, and their other meals consist of nsima (the national farina-like dish made of corn flour), porridge, paw-paws and mangos. Plus tea.

Janet can’t wait to show me the new energy stove she made with Heifer’s guidance –it cooks twice as fast and uses half the firewood, so now instead of collecting firewood for hours on end, she says the stove has made her a “free woman.”

Janet’s so proud of her energy stove, you can see it!

Janet dreams of having a flock of 20 goats, and with the compounding beauty of reproduction, in a few years that is totally possible. Each goat will sell for about $36, so these animals are money in the bank –as well as food — for this family.

“If I had 10 goats, I’d remove the straw thatch from my house and get a tin roof and put in a cement floor,” Janet says longingly. “And I’d have no problem paying my children’s school fees of $45/year.”

What she’s saving for …

Such modest goals, really. A roof that won’t leak. Money to educate her children. And enough food to keep from being hungry. All possible through the gift of two goats.

Not to put too fine a point on it (okay, I’m going to make the point with no subtlety whatsoever), but at this time of year when buying gifts is what consumes us, here’s a way to turn consumption into a beautiful circle of giving. Give the Heifer gift of a goat, sheep, or yes, a heifer to someone you love and you’ve not only avoided the mall, you’ve honored that person in a really beautiful way.

One big-hearted boy…

I just bought a flock of Heifer chicks for my grandnephew Kieren who at the tender age of 9 has a real heart for the less fortunate. That purchase  made me feel so good, I can’t tell you.

Because I remember Janet. And I remember how as we were leaving, she pulled me in to look at the new baby that had just been born to the young woman next door. Everyone was so excited to welcome this child into the world! He was an utterly perfect little fellow, but it was hard not to wonder if he too would grow up in such difficulty and want.

…helping one brand new boy.

I’m putting my money on a better outcome. Join me???

Categories: Africa, Animals, Children, Heifer International, Hunger, Malawi, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Muli Bwanji, Malawi!

Dancing at a pre-wedding roadside celebration (ladies only!)

Before I got to Malawi, a flurry of well-traveled friends informed me that it was sure to be my favorite country ever. Being a bit of a contrarian (to be honest, a total hard-head), I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be … couldn’t possibly be after all the intense love affairs with other countries that I’ve had this year. But once I arrived in this desperately poor, achingly sweet country, I can clearly see why it’s called The Warm Heart of Africa.

At 45,000 square miles, Malawi is home to a densely-packed 14 million people, 85% of them smallholder farmers. Bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia, Malawi is one of the least developed countries in Africa, with no wealth of natural resources (although promising oil and mineral exploration could change that in a hurry), and only 6% of its people have access to electricity.

Malawi’s biggest crop is tobacco, which it exports primarily to China– but with climate change inexorably increasing droughts, a long history of government corruption, and almost a 50% currency devaluation this year, it’s fair to say the Malawi economy is in shambles. And of course, the poor always suffer disproportionately in bad times: 46% of Malawi’s children suffer from stunted growth and the average consumption of meat is about 10 pounds/person a year.

New president Joyce Banda is giving people hope of a better future, but she has a long, tough road before her. Granted, we were there in the end of the dry season when everything looks particularly parched, but life seemed very hard.

Despite all those challenges, we met a lot of highly joyful people –which is the conundrum I always feel in Africa. You want development to lift the people out of poverty and hunger, but you also know that with industrialization and urbanization come a lot of side effects that aren’t so beneficial. (Which is one reason I love the Heifer model so much, with its emphasis on improving smallholder farmer productivity, environmental integrity, and community solidarity.) 

Malawi got its great reputation because of its people, I’m quite sure. They are quiet, peaceful and polite (“If somebody is arguing and causing a ruckus, they are probably from Zimbabwe,” a proud Malawian confided to me.)

Malawians have a gift for music and dance and like most people in developing countries, they somehow manage to smile and be cheerful despite the quite crushing amount of work they do every day.

In the north (where we didn’t visit) the people are obsessed with education and the literacy rate is almost 95%, but the southern part of the country (where Heifer works) has a more laissez-faire approach and it’s not infrequent for girls to be pulled out of school and married in their teens – which drove me and my friend Pattie Ross totally nuts. (Pattie is Vice President of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and my outrageously fun travel companion on this trip).

Pattie & some new friends.

Heifer is relatively new to Malawi – with 5 projects in 3 districts since its introduction here in 2008—but it’s already established good working partnerships with organizations like CARE, the Norwegian government, and local community groups that are working together to help empower Malawians to feed and educate themselves, conserve their land, and develop their great potential. Once you’ve fallen head over heels in love with the beautiful people of Malawi (and it’s impossible not to), you know that can’t happen soon enough.

Categories: Africa, Farming, Heifer International, Hunger, Malawi, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

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