A Travellerspoint blog

Sweet Potatoes into Brownies

More adventures in cooking, and work keeps on rolling.

sunny 28 °C


Hey ya'll!

Thought I would get a short post in since it has been a couple of weeks. Between my last post and now, work has continued to progress on the project. The foundation is complete and we are wrapping up the prep work to pour the slab. Is it weird/nerdy that I am giddy to get the concrete poured? Maybe. But it is a significant milestone for the project and means that we are just days away from laying blocks and forming walls. Finally getting this thing above grade will help tremendously in visualizing the final product. This will be especially helpful to visitors to the site, that until this point have seemed rather unimpressed with holes in the dirt and the concrete that filled those holes.


The last picture shows quarry stones that are used to infill around the pit latrines. It is also broken up by hand and used as aggregate in concrete. It looks like really nice counter tops could be made out of it.

I have continued my cooking and baking experiments. Between the last two weekends I made a banana cake and brownies. Unfortunately I don't have pictures of them because, umm, I start eating right away. That's part of the problem with making "healthy" desserts. There is a lot less guilt in eating them and therefore they tend to disappear much more quickly. I thought the banana cake wasn't going to firm up because the mix was very moist, but it turned out pretty well. I could have used a bit less liquid, or more flour, but for only using 3 of the 5 eggs it called for and adding in coconut milk, it was a success. The brownies were made from sweet potatoes. Did people know this was a thing? Baking with sweet potatoes, not just a baked sweet potato. Maybe if you're all paleo diet you some knew this was possible. I certainly did not. I ended up finding too many recipes, including one for chocolate cake, versus brownies, and tried to blend them together. In the end they didn't rise like I was hoping they might, so they were more dense then expected. The great part was they stayed incredibly moist and worked great with a slab of peanut butter as a filling snack.

My other culinary adventure this week included fish. Whole fish. Lake Malawi is known for chombo, which we would call tilapia, and our housemate John had three in the freezer. After letting them defrost, I scaled and cleaned them. I stopped there and decided to cook them whole. I stuffed them with some veggies that were mixed with some seasonings and lemon juice. Into the oven they went. While there were a few run-ins with bones, the meat typically separated easily and was pretty tasty. Overall, a success for such a last minute endeavor.


The weather has been increasingly dry and hot recently. As a result, whether controlled or not, there have been a lot of fires recently making the sky incredibly hazy at times. I don't know about you, but fire is absolutely captivating to me. It is simultaneously dangerous and peaceful. It can destroy, while also allowing for new life. And it is beautiful.


Until next time, Cheers!


Posted by tylerwein 23:20 Archived in Malawi Tagged sunset malawi fire construction cfc neno pih dambe sweet_potato_brownies chombo Comments (3)

Oh, the Views!

Strong progress on the construction site and a few outstanding views highlight the last two weeks.

overcast 23 °C


The southern half of Malawi is like a peninsula of land, extending deep into Mozambique. Think Florida, surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. A mining company is even building a railroad from Mozambique, through Malawi, back to Mozambique, in order to have more direct access from the inland portion of the country to shipping ports. There are no stops within Malawi. On the western edge of Malawi, the Neno district gains in elevation from the Shire River in the east, until reaching a high ridge in the west. Along this road sits a road, with views stretching far back over Malawi, and further beyond into Mozambique. To whom this road belongs, I'm not sure. Maps may show it criss-crossing its way back and forth over the official border. Locally, it is a buffer zone, separating the two countries that, physically, transition seamlessly from one to the other. There are no fences. No border patrol. At points, villages appear to be split in half. At points on the road, earth slopes downward on either side, into both countries, providing unobstructed views. Fighting the sun to stare deep into Mozambique, there is nothing but hills of green and brown, with sporadic plumes of smoke from various small fires. Below, in Malawi, lies the ever growing Neno district, the view extending to the Great Rift Valley beyond.


We have driven this road a couple of times since being in Malawi, but it has not been clear until yesterday. Wow. Unfortunately it was a work related trip, and I did not want to ask to stop because it could delay the efforts of locating a past patient. Luckily, when we did stop, I was able to capture a couple of pictures looking into Mozambique. Technically I was a metre or two into the country. One of the men we were with informed me I could likely travel up to 50km into the country without having to worry about authorities. I was forced to try and get a shot looking into Malawi from the car, something I try not to do.


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Since I last wrote, we have started building. Boy does it feel good to actually be constructing something skyward, instead of digging into the ground. We spent three of the last four days on the jobsite overseeing the work. Yesterday I decided I needed to get in on the fun and helped with laying part of the foundation wall. To me, it's really enjoyable getting my hands dirty. It also helps to pass the time a bit quicker. One of the coolest things on site is the red dirt trench walls, which have been splattered with concrete. Maybe it is just the closest thing to Crimson and Grey I've seen in awhile.

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Last weekend, was one of a couple farewells as both Steve and Alex finished their time working with PIH. Friday night was Steve's last in Neno. We decided to start a game of Settlers around 1am, which finally gave me my first win, and called it a night around 3. Another crazy Neno night. Saturday was moving day for me, as I took Steve's room, putting Marco and I in the same house. Sunday we went on a hike to a spot locally known as Pride Rock. If you've read my posts in the past and seen any of the sunset pictures, it is the prominent rock feature in many, possibly all, of them. It included a river forging and hiring a local guide to help us navigate the bush wacking that was needed to reach the top. It was the best local view I had seen, until our drive yesterday. I mounted my camera in a free so that we could attempt to take jumping pictures on the edge of a cliff. Alex took off to Lisungwi Monday morning, and this weekend is beginning a month long adventure. After bussing to Joburg, he is riding a motorcycle south, around the cape, and up into Namibia before returning to Joburg. I'm excited to hear about it when he returns to Neno at the end of it to pick up some belongings he left behind.

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Posted by tylerwein 06:27 Archived in Malawi Tagged hiking malawi cfc pih Comments (8)

A Taste of Home

Another week in Neno and work is moving forward on the clinic site. Oh, and I got a package in the mail!

overcast 19 °C


After a week of warm weather that made me certain the hot, dry weather of October was coming quickly, I woke up to a pleasant and cool Seattle style fall day this morning. There is even a cool breeze. It feels fantastic!

This week, Marco and I made two trips to the site to check on progress and to verify that everything was accurate. On Tuesday, Steve Mtewa, the head of infrastructure for PIH, accompanied us. It was his first time to see the site since we broke ground and he was surprised with the progress that had been made so far. It's early, but I think that is a good sign.



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Thursday we returned to the site to find the majority of the excavation done and the workers had started to make cement blocks that will form the foundation of the clinic. It is amazing to see all of the hard work that has gone into this project, and it has only been a little over a week since we broke ground. We brought a crate of Cokes for the workers. It was a hot day and we felt they deserved it.




Logistically, there are a few items to get sorted out before concrete begins, but my next post should show footings in the ground and the start of the building!

By now I have settled into life here in Neno, and the most exciting part of my day, not work related, is usually going for a run, doing a workout, or playing football. I apologize for the lack of thrilling events, but such is life.

Friday was an emotional roller coaster. I woke up at 4 am in order to listen to the Coug game via a radio app on my phone. That's enough of that topic, and anybody that knows me, knows where on the roller coaster I was when I went to the office at the end of the game. Some frustrating email later, and the coaster hadn't started back up yet. I spent the rest of the morning playing around with photo editing. While I love taking photos, I don't know hardly anything about digital editing, so I figured it was worth my time. I decided to play with creating a partial black and white from a shot I took on site the other day.


In the afternoon, the car of the coaster continued to climb after a productive phone call. Email can be great, but it is so much easier to be clear over the phone. The rollercoaster hit a peak and leveled off for the rest of the day when I went to the post office to pick up a package. It was from Mom! It had some essentials (socks, sperrys, a shirt) and a bunch of goodies. There was also a 12 flag, Go 'Hawks!, that I have a strong feeling is thanks to Gramma Julie and here cousin Sylvia. Thanks! The Seahawks had a part in raising funds for this project, so I am excited to take it on site with me.


I'm curious to see how long any of it lasts. I also baked a pumpkin pie this morning, so there are sweets galore. Lucky the pie is on the healthy end with barely any added sugar in it. I know, why did decide on making a pie? There was a pumpkin here, it was still good, and I decided it needed to be used.

Last night had a riveting game of Settlers of Catan, followed by a long game of Spades. I don't know if I have ever played Settlers in the States, but it has been a staple of being abroad, in both India and now here in Malawi.

I leave you with another bug, they're starting to show up more and more, two "matching" trucks, and the sunset.



Posted by tylerwein 02:58 Archived in Malawi Tagged sunset malawi seahawks cfc Comments (4)

And... We're off!

Work has begun.

sunny 27 °C

These are my neighbors. They're awesome and super friendly. We say hi everyday, but I still need to learn their names.

And just like that, it looks like a construction site. We started to mobilize at the beginning of last week and by yesterday, the major site work was complete and the majority of the building was laid out.

I'll let the pictures do most of the talking this week. I've been told my ramblings help from time to time, but I might lose some of you with technical jargon since most of this post centers on the construction project.

Marco and I spent every other day on site with Victor, our contractor. Tuesday we did the general layout in order to give the excavator reference points on where to clear the land, what needed to be cut, and where fill material was needed.
When we returned on Thursday there was a relatively level piece of dirt, ready to be built upon. We marked the corners of the building, which would allow the assistant foreman, Jeffery, to do the full layout the next day. We also marked where outbuildings would be located and wholes needed to be dug.
We returned yesterday to find the main structure laid out and while we were there they started to with the waiting area and entry.
It is pretty exciting to see progress being made. This week, masonry blocks will be formed and then it should be full speed ahead!


Whenever we are on site, and especially with the excavator there, a crowd gathers to see what's going on.


Being able to get to site multiple days this week, helped move things along and limited my down time. I played football 3 evenings and have been trying to stay as active as possible to counteract the increased number of carbs that have worked into my diet. Last night we had a braai (barbecue) with goat, chicken, and roasted veggies. We ate as it came off the grill, which meant I ate way too much. It was similar to fondue. You eat so little at a time, that you feel like you can just keep eating. And at the end you try not to think about how much food was actually consumed. It also didn't help that Margot and Jessica brought over homemade brownies and cookies. Hard to complain about having a sweet treat, or two, or five, though.

And what's a Malawi post without a couple of good sunsets.


Oh, and the bugs have started to show up...

Posted by tylerwein 01:00 Archived in Malawi Tagged malawi construction braai excavation cfc pih dambe Comments (2)

Utilizing Downtime

Sending letters, reading books, and cooking with new ingredients.

semi-overcast 22 °C

Hello again! Hopefully this latest blog finds everyone doing well and enjoying summer, assuming you're in the Northern Hemisphere.


The biggest news here is that we have a floor plan approved and next week we will be recruiting local workers to begin forming masonry blocks and prepping the site for construction. This also means that next week could see a dramatic increase in my work load. I'm looking forward to it. Last week we had a productive meeting on-site with community leaders, the contractor, estimator, and architect. We even got treated with sugar cane. I was also informed that eating eat helps the clean your teeth... If this is somehow true, can someone please confirm so I don't feel bad about eating it.


Based upon the conversations that we've had with the contractor, starting prep work next week will allow us to complete the clinic before our scheduled flights back to the States. The rainy season here can start anywhere from mid-November to mid-December from what I've told. If you're a praying person, and even if you're not, pray that the rains come on the later end for us. With steep, bumpy, dirt roads, our site access will be greatly affected by the cooperation of Mother Nature.

In other big news, the price of postage went up last week and I finished a book yesterday. Don't worry, if you gave me your address, you should still be receiving a card at some point saying hello. And if you didn't, and you want to, said it over and I'll add you to think list. So far I've gotten 14 cards out and am about half way through my list. I wonder how long it is going to take for them to reach the proper mailboxes? On the literary front, the book I most recently finished was The System. It investigates the intricacies of NCAA football and was really interesting for a big fan of the game. At one point, the author did say that WSU played a football game at Safeco Field. Outside of that, it seemed really well researched. Last week, I finished And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini. If you've read The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I haven't, you can probably guess it was extremely well written. I've now finished five books so far and already have my next one ready to go. Not having a TV is really good for my brain.

Oh, I've also fully embraced local food. I don't just mean eating it. For example, at the beginning of the week I saw a cow at the butcher shop. Still mooing. A day later I bought a pound of said cow, and by dinner time it was cooking in a skillet with green beans and carrots. From mooing to plate in just over 24 hours or so. I also experimented with making beans for the first time. This batch was pinto beans but there are also kidney beans and a few other varieties. Lastly, I currently have a loaf of banana bread in the oven using groundnut meal and maize flour. I'll be sure and let you know how that turns out. One of the most frustrating parts of being at the market is not knowing the types of leafy green vegetables. I am almost certain one of them is mustard greens. None of the locals seem to know English names for any of them though. Another was Chinese something, and looked like what I thought was mustard greens. Today I saw another kind in which the leaf looked slightly different, but still was on a stock. Sometimes I just buy them, start cooking, and see what happens. They're dark, green, and leafy. They have to be healthy. Right?


If anyone knows what either of these vegetables are, can you please let me know.

I tried to catch the super moon here, but there was too much cloud cover on the horizon to capture it rising. Instead I watched a football game and obliged in taking pictures of the kids a few times. At the end they asked for a team picture.


Zikomo, ndapita!

P.S. The banana bread just came out of the oven. Pretty tasty. I think I might need to spread some peanut butter on it.


Posted by tylerwein 06:47 Archived in Malawi Tagged malawi reading veggies cfc banana_bread Comments (4)