Karen's mileage tracker

Monday, September 1, 2014

Mathew in the U.S.A.

This post is long overdue, but better late than never!!  We wish to share about some of Mathew's experiences in addition to the 'events' of Educate Malawi.  It has been a learning process for all of us.  Stephen and I have each traveled to Malawi, have learned from our Malawian friends, but we were unprepared for how much more we would learn about ourselves and Malawi by having Mathew with us for this extended visit!!

Mathew rode the bike trail with me for a little distance.
Mathew said he had not been on a bicycle in a very long time, and there certainly are no bike paths in Malawi, thought many people ride as their means of transportation.   He seemed a little uncomfortable riding with me on the trail, so I rode ahead for a ways and then we met up a little while later.  He said that he enjoyed the ride and found people to be very friendly.  At first, he had been a little fearful that someone might jump out from the trees.  He was a little unsure how he might be treated here on the trail.  He stopped after riding for a little bit and lay down in the grass to rest; he kept his helmet on which may have prompted a fellow rider to ask if he was alright.  He said that was the point where he felt less concerned and more comfortable with this environment.  Someone was actually concerned about his well being and that made him pleasantly surprised and happy.

Mathew and the Kaira's

Mathew had met Leah Kaira before, when she traveled to her homeland of Malawi with Karen and Stephen in 2010.  The Kaira's have been very helpful to Educate Malawi in sharing their experience and knowledge about Malawi and the United States.  They have helped bring some cultural understanding and awareness that has been used in deciding how to proceed with projects in Malawi and they have also helped spread awareness about Malawi here in the United States.  We spent a few hours with Leah, Sam their children and Leah's parents, who were here visiting the United States for the first time.  It was noticeable to us that Mathew enjoyed speaking his native Chichewa language with the family during our dinner visit.  We had fish, which Mathew enjoyed very much.  It seems that the more bones there are in the fish, the better it is...or something.
At the Pequot Museum in Mashantucket, CT - Cultural Survival Bazaar
We attended the Cultural Survival Bazaar as a vendor, which Educate Malawi has done for a few years now, and Mathew was able to attend with us.  Above he is seen speaking with a customer about the organization and about Malawi.  He enjoyed the experience of working at the fair and being a part of the experience with the other vendors as well.  He found it challenging to try to convince someone to buy an item; it seemed that they had an idea what they wanted to buy when they came to the fair.
Mathew was able to walk through the museum and view some of the displays
After his experience at the Pequot museum, he said that he was a little surprised at some similarities he saw in the settings to his village at home in Malawi.  He identified the village as an example with the style of house and the necessity of community for survival.  He was moved by the history of the country as shown in these displays.

At the Foxwoods Casino
Mathew was overwhelmed by the casino with all the shops and restaurants.  We walked through the slots room and he asked if everyone there was gambling and if everyone was winning.  He wondered if that's why everyone kept staying, so we talked a bit about gambling.  He commented on the smokiness of the room; I was honestly surprised as well that there was a smoking area there.  We went to the buffet at the casino and that was another overwhelming experience.  As many Americans know, buffets are a place of indulgence and waste and that was not lost on Mathew.  It was disheartening and a bit embarrassing to share that aspect of our country...but, after all, that was part of the point of the visit.

Photos taken at the Crossgates Mall in Albany, NY

Mathew was able to see another part of the state of New York...again, he commented on the number of trees along our drive from Western MA to NY.   He really enjoyed the malls that we have here and wanted to spend more time there....it was challenging, Malls are not my favorite place to go, so we did not spend as much time there as he would have liked, I'm sure!

Educate Malawi bike-a-thon registration table
Our 6th bike-a-thon fundraiser was held in June.  Mathew was able to participate in the event from beginning to end.  It was a lower turnout than we have had in the past and he commented on the amount of time spent to hold these events and was appreciative of our efforts for Malawi.

Mystic Aquarium
Mathew enjoyed some tourist fun in Mystic, CT...we saw the sealion show and all the displays.  He attempted to touch the stingrays, but was very nervous about it...understandably.

The Ciclids
This was an especially exciting display!!  These fish are widely studied and a breed of fish that is native to Lake Malawi, which Mathew's village is on the shore of.  Shannon and I snorkeled/swam with these fish during our time there in 2007 and it was an amazing experience!  I was very happy that we were able to see this display here, in Mystic.

Stonington, CT - seeing the Atlantic for the first time up close
Aside from landing in NY, JFK airport, this was Mathew's first visit to the Atlantic ocean while here in the states.  He was able to see the Atlantic in 4 different states during his time here!  NY, CT., MA., and ME.  It was fun...He loved the ocean and commented that it made him feel like home.  Lake Malawi is very large, the size of VT. and the vastness is similar to an ocean.


Mathew at Mt. Sugarloaf, Carrabbassett Valley, Maine
This was one of our first outings after moving to Maine.  Mathew loved this stone wall...we visited a few different locations that had stonework and he was drawn to them each time.  I think he also liked saying "Sugarloaf"....as he said it many times after our visit.  It was almost as though he was reminiscing about the beauty of it.
My friend Michelle sent him a t-shirt from her neck of the woods

Hummingbirds on our porch...he loved and was intrigued by these birds 

Tim, Shannon and Mathew at the beginning of hike up Bald Mountain

Mathew at Cascade Gorge in Rangeley, ME

Mathew and Stephen at the top of the tower of Bald Mountain
Mathew proved repeatedly to be very brave!  First, this was his first time flying in an
airplane...anyone who has ever flown (AND who has traveled this distance) knows what a huge deal that is.  We climbed the mountain and though he was afraid of the height of this tower, he was the first one to the top!  Proud of himself, he said, "there were small children who were doing it and I didn't want to look scared.  Also, I came all this way and I had to go to the top".

Mathew at the completion of the GoMalawi 5K in Rockland, ME...displaying his completion medal

Fried dough at the fair...a U.S. tradition

Going up Ira mountain in Kingfield, ME

At a lookout on Ira mountain
Mathew also loved saying "Ira mountain"...he repeated it many times after being at the top.  He loved the views and the trees of some of the spots we visited.

Guess where??!!

ski trails in the summer....
This was our second trip to Sugarloaf...this time, we were going to zipline!!  Yet another testament to Mathew's bravery....he was not alone!  Most of us had not done this before; we too wanted to appear brave for our visitor and friend...mission accomplished!

Going up the ski lift...

Mathew was the first to go from the first of five platforms


At the completion of the tour...a proud Malawian for sure!

We explored a bit north of Sugarloaf and found this cool site.

The morning of Mathew's departure
Don't be fooled by the smiles...it was a difficult goodbye!  I had started working a new job, which was a bit overwhelming, and so these last 2 weeks were filled with emotion for us all.  Stephen was working on the house and Mathew helped some...again, this is life in America.  We struggled some with not 'entertaining' much these last few weeks, but reminded ourselves that it was part of the goal.

On the night before Mathew left, we all shared some thoughts of the time we spent together here.  It was a time I don't think any of us will forget.  Mathew shared that he believed that he was returning to Malawi with a new perspective on our country and his.  We had several discussions about goals and plans to reach those goals.  We talked about culture, and even struggled with that term and its relevance or necessity in some of the situations we encountered.  Mathew expressed gratitude for the opportunity to come to the U.S., something few will experience of those friends and family of his in Malawi.  This experience was more enlightening than I would have expected and I learned more about Malawi AND the U.S., by having Mathew here with us.  I shared with Mathew the experience I had about returning to my country after visiting his, and pointed out that he may have some similar challenges returning home.  It was a challenge for me returning here and I think that I thought it would 'end' but am realizing that it simply changed my life and that new awareness continues.

Educate Malawi, Inc. is in a transition phase; partly due to the geographical move of 2 of the founders and partly as a result of this time spent with Mathew.  It was a powerful experience and the information learned by all will require some time for personal processing and settling.

We are grateful to have been able to enable Mathew to have this experience and believe it will strengthen our efforts going forward.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Day 5 in the U.S.

Mathew at Walmart....
Since Mathew arrived about 5 days ago, we have been out to a few stores, including Walmart.  People have many things to say about Walmart and may have some things to say about us bringing him to Walmart, and that's ok....We went and shopped some and he certainly saw some things and had some thoughts about the experience.  He noticed that there were a lot of 'old people' shopping there (which he defined as 50 or older; I let it slide...figured he was probably just jet-lagged)....In addition, he noticed that the store was open 24 hours...and he wondered why that would be necessary to have a store open so much, what would people need to shop in the middle of the night?  I speculated that maybe toilet paper might be a necessity, he agreed.  Maybe  cigarettes?
We went for a walk on Saturday and Mathew made some observations about what he saw.  He wondered why there were no families out in their yards; he saw (again) some older people, but no young families with their children.  He noticed that the garages were mostly open and wondered about items possibly being stolen from people.  Along that same line, he observed that in Malawi, in a suburb, most of the houses would have fences around them for safety.  He interpreted that it must be safe here or maybe there is low crime or people feel safe by not having the fences.  As we were discussing this, we walked past a house with a big dog barking in a window.  I pointed out that many of the houses we walked past had dogs; and said that sometimes people have dogs for protection, in addition to companionship.  I asked if he thought as a burglar he might be willing to go into a house with a dog versus without one...he got the idea.  I also pointed out that some people have home security systems...and also that some people do have their homes broken into!

Mathew in his Sunday Best...
We do not attend church, but it is very important to Mathew.  We found a few options for him and he chose a church close to us to attend at least for this first week...He is ready, as you can see in the photo above.
Wafupi Bag party; new bags on display and for sale!
On this past Sunday, we held a Wafupi bag party, displaying and selling some great new bags that Mathew brought with him...they truly get better with every shipment we get delivered!!  We sold some bags, then held a Meet and Greet with Mathew!  It was fun to talk with people about Malawi and The U.S. and learning about each other.  We had a real nice afternoon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mathew in America!

It has been almost exactly 8 months since I last wrote any entry on this blog...guess I need some practice at maintaining it, huh?  Actually, I did initially create this blog for the purpose of Karen's Ride, and have done that every year, so...I have maintained that!

So, I am then ahead of the game by writing this post at this time!  Mathew Kasonjola, a young man from Malawi, has arrived today in America for a visit with Educate Malawi and some of our good friends and generous sponsors and those who support us!  Shannon and I met Mathew on our first trip to Malawi in 2007, and we have remained in contact and built a friendship and relationship ever since.  He has assisted us by teaching us about his Country and helping facilitate the projects and programs we have completed in Malawi.

After many trips by Shannon, Stephen and I to Malawi, Mathew has come to Malawi to learn about Educate Malawi in America and what it means to fundraise to accomplish what we have in these passed 6 years.  Today, Mathew arrived at JFK to spend 2 months with us....my goal is to share his thoughts and experiences about his time here, with you.

AT JFK....
DAY 1....with Stephen getting ready to leave the parking lot at JFK

In addition to some fundraising events and experiences, and learning about America and teaching us more about Malawi, Mathew brought more BAGS with him!!  

Our first WAFUPI BAG party is this Sunday, June 15 from 1 - 3 p.m. at 342 Southwick Road, A-6, Westfield, MA...and then we are holding a MEET AND GREET with Mathew from 3 - 5 p.m.!  Below are a couple of the new bags he brought with him...they are wonderful!!  Come enjoy some fun, refreshments and the first chance to attend a Wafupi Bag party!

These bags are made from recycled materials...they look a little like patchwork, and they are each unique!  They have a quilted feel to them and a flat bottom for added space.  

There are a variety of colors, sizes and styles to choose from.