All creatures great and small

by Jourdan Fairchild in ,


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After the adventures of yesterday, I felt ready for anything. But what I saw today and last night was mesmerizing. Why? Animals! So many African animals! Last night, we went on a night safari in the Liwonde National Park that overlooks a stretch of the Shire River. I felt like we’d been dropped into one of the nature shows my husband loves to watch.From our jeep, we spotted nocturnal animals like porcupines, plus more rare sightings of three bush creatures: a bush baby, bush pig, and bush buck. So many of these species were totally new to me, and we were seeing them in their natural habitat, rather than at a zoo. It was a beautiful thing. Did I mention the hippo mama and baby we saw just 20 feet from our car? That was enough to make Colleen and GoGo jump (hippos can be incredibly dangerous). The night ended with a bang when Amanda killed this poisonous baboon spider in our mosquito netting. She saved me!The fun continued the next morning as I dragged myself out of bed just after the sun rose for a private nature walk (with an armed guard to protect us from charging elephants and hippos). On the way, I was greeted my hungry warthogs and adorable veret monkeys. My guide, Duncan, filled my brain with dozens and dozens of facts about the trees, flowers, and animals—even elephant dung (which can be collected and used to make paper, among many things) along our path. How about this sausage tree, named for the fruit that hangs from it? Hilarious!The leaves and bark from certain trees are believed to help with fertility, strength, and a host of other health issues. One tree, the Moringa tree, is known as the Miracle tree, and you can even find Moringa powder in local pharmacies. After my walk, we took a boat safari along the river, spotting hippos, crocodiles, and fish eagles.And then Duncan spotted the most magnificent animal I’ve ever seen, the African elephant. He was in the bush, so Duncan cut the motor as we quietly floated closer. This park is home to more than 800 elephants, but you’re never guaranteed a sighting. We patiently waited for him to make a move, and when he did, all I can say is WOW. He moved so slowly, gracefully, and softly as he munched on grasses while a bird perched on his back. He knew we were watching him, and he gave us a great show.How do you follow up such an awesome experience? With another giant, beautiful natural creation! We didn’t plan on this one either. Our driver, Willie, had mentioned that on the way to Blantyre, there’s a tree with a root system that doesn’t end. We had to see it to believe it. It’s the only Banyan tree in Malawi, and it’s located on the campus of an Anglican school, so luckily, it’s protected. I couldn’t quite capture the tree’s size and beauty in photos, but it measures the length of two football fields. I can just imagine local children running through it, climbing, swinging, and exclaiming.

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Home at the Lake

by Jourdan Fairchild in ,


Each day I’m more and more amazed at the beauty of this country. After one final breakfast in Lilongwe, we hopped in the car to head down south to Lake Malawi. As you can see, it was stunning. Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 10.10.38 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-30 at 6.16.35 PMDoesn’t it look like an ocean? It’s longer and deeper than Lake Michigan (365 miles long compared to 307 miles, and in places, 2700 feet deep). It borders Mozambique and Tanzania, and its the southernmost lake in the East African Rift system. In the center of the first photo, you can see Bird Island, as well as a pair of men paddling the traditional canoe (you sit atop it rather than inside). The lake is filled with fish; the most common and popular is chambo (similar to tilapia). Many Malawian families vacation along the lake, and you can see why. On the way there, we stopped by at an orphanage with Watering Malawi-provided hand-washing stations and bathrooms. As soon as we pulled up, the car was surrounded with children. They were happy and appeared to be well cared for by the women working there. Besides Madonna (who used her power to bend the rules), international adoptions from this country aren't permitted. It's because Malawians deeply care for their own. Side note: We saw the ground where Madonna's school was supposed to be built. It's untouched.  Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 10.14.21 PMThis area also happens to be home for Colleen’s family. Her parents first moved to Malawi in 1962 as missionaries. They lived in a small village just steps from the water, where Colleen loved to swim as a kid. When we arrived at the village, we went to their church (here’s the story of what this church means to Colleen) and then spent the day with a childhood friend and his family. We snacked on local favorites like Fanta and cheese and tomato sandwiches.Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 10.14.05 PMWe also popped into a store in town where we picked out bright patterned fabric for custom dresses. This is the way many Malawi women fill their closets, working with a tailor to keep making new pieces throughout the year. A local man told me that men joke with their wives because, like American men, women are constantly ordering new outfits for celebrations and events. And even though it sounds extravagant, the price is totally affordable by our standards (we’re each paying $20 or less for fabric + tailor!). Where we shopped, tailors sit in front of the stores waiting for customers to buy fabric. We found one who was willing to make us each a dress (I asked for a top and a skirt), and because we’re leaving town tomorrow morning, he has to work fast. We drew pictures of the design we wanted, and then he measured each of us. We can’t wait to pick them up!Desktop

 

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It takes a village

by Jourdan Fairchild in ,


As we pull into the small village, the women surround the car, dancing and singing and making the most gloriously joyful noise. We step out of the car and join in the celebration, and I feel so purely happy that I start to cry. The feeling is overwhelming and surreal (watch it here).Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 9.09.18 PMThat moment today will be seared in my memory forever. We spent the day with a group of local leaders connected to MATAMA, first meeting the director of public health at a district hospital who explained that, among many things, he’s seen a vast improvement in access to HIV/AIDS medicine in the area. We broke from meetings to indulge in a traditional lunch of nsima (a cornmeal and water mixture akin to grits) roasted chicken, beef and vegetables—all of which we ate with our hands. Our driver Willie showed me how it's done. It was messy, but surprisingly tasty. Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 9.12.35 PMFollowing lunch, we headed to a remote village for a celebration. What was the occasion? We were praising the fact that 10 villages had successfully completed training to make their villages free of open defecation. How’s that for perspective?!! This meant that the chiefs of 10 villages were willing to adopt clean water hygiene and sanitation practices to help make their people healthier. They instructed the men in their villages to build toilets and women to help them teach the children how to use the toilets and wash their hands in clean water. Amongst the 200-ish people present, men and women who had led their villages were presented with certificates of achievement. They were dressed in their best clothes, and they beamed with pride upon receiving their certificates. To us, a simple piece of paper can be just that. I can’t count the number of certificates I received in grade school. To them, it was a great honor, as it should be. They'd cleaned their homes from top to bottom in anticipation of our arrival, and you'd be amazed at how beautiful it looked given they're resources. Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 9.08.11 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-29 at 9.07.35 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-29 at 9.07.17 PMThe women performed songs that told the stories of what they’d learned, and they stepped and swayed to the leader’s beat in perfect syncopation—intermixed with some seriously awesome twerking (see above). I could’ve watched them perform all day long. And the children were most mesmerized by our cameras. I took photos and showed them to the children. They couldn’t get enough, and swarmed around me to keep snapping more and more.Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 9.08.50 PMPS: Have I mentioned the sunsets here? Cause they're kinda gorgeous.Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 9.28.42 PM

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Discovering Lilongwe

by Jourdan Fairchild in ,


After a long night’s rest under mosquito netting—which felt magical and odd all at once—we awoke with warm(ish) showers and a spread of delicious breakfast food. Our first meeting was held at the national headquarters of World Vision Malawi. We met with a woman named Lucy, head of MWASH, which stands for Malawi Water Sanitation Hygiene. Since 2006, Watering Malawi has been partnering with the organization to access clean water and sanitation—everything from toilets and hand-washing stations to fish ponds. MWASH is large-scale, long-term program with many organizations involved, but as Lucy explained with a deep sense of gratitude, “Colleen, you brought MWASH to Malawi.” It was a touching moment to witness (no doubt many, many more will follow).Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 11.26.44 PMTalk turned to a new program that World Vision is launching in other countries called Strong Women, Strong World.  It is currently in Mali, Niger, and Rwanda. Watering Malawi is interested in furthering a conversation with World Vision Malawi about how to leverage the work we are already doing to empower young girls.  Lucy had copies of new reading materials they were distributing. What’s the connection to water? It is hard to teach water and sanitation hygiene to people who don’t have a basic education. The concepts around the importance of healthcare are too complicated to grasp. So we discussed the development of literacy programs with young girls (exciting!), and we compared a Watering Malawi-designed coloring book with primary school pamphlets designed by World Vision. Before we left, we laughed about a wrap Colleen wore on her last visit. Lucy remembered her wearing it because it was a very dated print. Yes ladies, fashion is everywhere! New Malawian prints come in and out of style.  Just like us, Malawian women love color and design in their fabric.

So with fashion on the brain, we set out to discover a little place with a brilliant name: Smart Lady Boutique, run by a strong woman (notice a theme here?) named Rwinda. We practiced our bargaining skills at the local markets, then filled up on fried chicken and fries from Chicken Land (Malawi’s Chick-fil-A) before heading to our next meeting with another organization on the forefront of water education.Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 11.14.12 PMAt MATAMA (Mineral and Appropriate Technology Applicable in Malawi), we met the executive director, Mr. Mapulanga, who took us to a school in the city.  Watering Malawi has partnered with MATAMA to put new bathroom and hand washing stations there. This statistics from this school are staggering, so prepare yourself. This school has 8,725 students (almost three times the size of my college!), 108 teachers, 32 toilets, 2 hand-washing stations, and 1 spigot for gathering fresh water. Yes, 1. Each classroom is about 20’ x 25,’ and on average, 400 students cram into the space. To handle the growing population, they’re building additional classrooms. But space will forever be an issue as over-crowding in the city remains a problem to be addressed on many levels. The toilets contained urinals, both for boys and for girls. Girls and urinals? (I asked). Girls squat to go to the bathroom (and they aren’t familiar with commodes), so urinals ensure that the run-off is collected somewhere sanitary. Wow.Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 11.13.41 PMAs we gathered under an acacia tree with school board members, advisors, and head teachers, we listened to each person express their thanks for the work of MATAMA sponsored by Watering Malawi. But as Colleen explained, we weren’t the ones to thank. It is the gifts raised by young girls and boys from Boston to Hawaii who’ve made it possible.Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 12.27.42 AMWhen the time came to leave the school, children ran up in packs, cheesing for photos and goofing off as they do. It was a wonderful reminder that children are children, no matter where they live. What separates us is merely a matter of where we’re born.Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 10.52.13 PM

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Living a more adventurous life

by Jourdan Fairchild in


In the wake of last week, I've decided that the only way to move forward is to do just that: by saying yes to adventures (both literal and more figuratively) that lie ahead rather than focusing on the past. So when a last-minute weekend press trip came my way, I accepted with excitement. This one was for a "girls' adventure weekend" at the five-star resort in Kohler, Wisconsin. Led by author/chef/Girl Hunter Georgia Pelligrini, the experience was filled with both creatures (hunting, fishing) and comforts (delicious meals, luxe hotel rooms with heated bathroom floors). The women participating came from a range of hometowns, backgrounds, and ages (late '20s to 69), but they shared one characteristic: fearlessness. Inspired by their willingness to try anything, I stepped right up to learn how to shoot a shotgun. Was it pretty? Heck no. Did I accidentally fire into the ground and startle myself sick? Yes. It was embarrassing to say the least. But this was an accepting group who pushed each other to keep trying, even though they'd only known each other briefly.

While they hunted pheasants in the field, I did my part to snap photos and gather switchgrass for a pretty bouquet. And when they cleaned the birds, I immediately grimaced before reminding myself of the importance of knowing where our food comes from. I buy meat in the grocery store that I don't know much about, but this meat was fresh and natural. Georgia explained how to use the entire bird (feathers, bones for stock, etc), and we all listened in amazement. The weekend was inspiring, informational, and the perfect reminder that some of life's greatest lessons come when you least expect it.DSC_0774DSC_0794DSC_0829DSC_0812DSC_0839

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The most beautiful use of old windows I've ever seen

by Jourdan Fairchild in ,


My girlfriend Sara and I have a thing for discarded windows. They're practical but also pretty, in a rough-around-the-edges-kind-of way. They hint at past lives where they hung in other people's homes, where children and adults and pets all stared through the same panes of glass at the world beyond. When I see one propped up at a tag sale or discarded in the trash, I can't help but picture its story. In this video, a couple share how they collected old windows to create an entire wall for the cabin they built in the West Virginia woods. They saw a window of opportunity (well, a ton of windows), and they took it. Take a look.Screen Shot 2013-08-21 at 9.51.09 AM

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Milwaukee musings

by Jourdan Fairchild in


Where has the past week gone?! It was delusional of me to think I'd have time to post over the past few days. It's been a whirlwind of boxes and paint, but by the time it's all done, I'll have several cool projects to share! In the meantime, I wanted to share some photos I took on our anniversary...in Milwaukee. Why Milwaukee, you say? It may seem random, but here was our thought process: 1) We could go to a fancy dinner in Chicago and spend all of our money OR we could use that money for an entire day of meals and fun activities. 2) It boasts a fantastic art museum and loads of breweries. 2) It's an hour and a half north of Chicago. And let me tell you, it was one of the most perfect days from start to finish. We kicked things off with a delicious brunch at Blue's Egg.DSC_0589A major highlight of the trip was our visit to the Milwaukee Art Museum. We were inspired by so many paintings and sculptures, as well as the building itself designed by by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.

DSC_0602DSC_0597DSC_0598 DSC_0599But our favorite exhibit, titled 20 Americans, featured the work of famous, often controversial African-American artists such as Kehinde Wiley, Kara Walker, and more. It was thought-provoking to say the least.DSC_0600Like Chicago, Milwaukee sits on the edge of Lake Michigan, but unlike Chicago, its beaches are far less crowded. We strolled along the beach, pausing to watch sand soccer games and sand castle competitions. DSC_0606 DSC_0603We spent the late afternoon at the city's Bastille Day Festival, which featured French food, local beers (and wine) and a mini Eiffel Tower.DSC_0620We finished the day off by listening to live music on the patio at the The Iron Horse Hotel, while drinking beers and noshing on delicious appetizers. Oh, and we exchanged cards that were almost identical. Pretty serendipitous, right?DSC_0614

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