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One More Post
pandastan
Well, it's a year later, and I don't know who's still stumbling across this thing. For anyone out there who happens to do so, this post is for you.

I discontinued this blog because I didn't really like giving updates of my personal life. It was a way to keep friends posted on the events of my life while I was hard to get ahold of, but that stopped being necessary.

The purpose of this post is to direct readers to my new web presence: www.pandastan.com. In addition to the home page, which is focused on my novel, Pandastan, this new website has pages devoted to all my creative projects: songs, videos, paintings, drawings, essays and more. I didn't want to continue interacting with the internet in a blog format, and this blog is really all about my Peace Corps experience anyway. I wanted to leave it like that and invite people to explore the website I created if they have a mind to. However, there is a blog portion of the new website which you can link to here: http://pandastan.com/blog-updates. This can be set up as an RSS feed and will guide you to a brief entry that links to new content as it becomes posted.

That's all. I intend to keep adding material to the new website as it's created, so if you have a soft spot in your heart for the things I say and create, add the link to your bookmarks and check in on it from time to time. Thanks everyone! Ta-Ta.

Final Blog Entry
pandastan
Hello all, as the title of the entry indicates, this will be my last. I don't really like keeping a blog, and this whole thing was conceived mainly as a way to keep people I know in America informed about my life, since communication is so difficult while I'm here. My COS date has been moved one day to July14, after which I'm going to spend a month traveling with some friends on my way back to the US. We'll hit up Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to get our Indian visas, proceed to Delhi from there, take in a few of the sites for a week and a half, then fly to Bangkok, figure out something to do there for another week and a half, then continue on to Portland. (We axed China from the itinerary to cut down on costs).

So, Portland people: I will be flying in to town on August 16! I plan to stay there for a week or two, so I would love to meet up with you all at that time. From there I'll be staying a few weeks with with my Dad in northeast Washington, and then a few weeks with some friends in Couer d'Alene, Idaho. I've got a wedding to go to in Montana in October, and would like to visit some friends in Moscow and Helena. By October or November at the latest I will hopefully have developed my plans for the future a little bit. I am leaning towards setting up shop in Portland again, and then... ? We'll see.

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March Madness
pandastan
Well, I was out of site the entire second half of March and I'm glad to be back at site and done traveling for a while. That ought to be the longest trip I have until I leave Malawi for good. Speaking of which, I have my COS (Close of Service) date now: July 15. My intake group had our COS conference in Mid-March, where we got our dates and started our logistical preparations for leaving Peace Corps. Seventeen out of twenty of us are still here, but only seven of us will stay all the way until July. The rest are leaving this month, because they are being replaced at their sites and the intake schedule was shifted by three months. Even though I have three and a half months left though, time is squeezing on me and I will be out of here before I know it.

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New Year
pandastan
It's been a while since I've updated this thing. I guess the longer I'm here, the harder it is for me to focus in on things that someone reading this blog might be interested or surprised to learn about life in Malawi. I've also been having internet troubles the last two months. I guess if there's still anything specific people are curious about they can ask me personally and that will probably lead to me remembering a lot of pertinent things. But as far as me making these updates, life in Malawi seems mostly regular and expected to me now, so most of my blog updates are bound to be about basic news and anything out of the ordinary I've done.

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Electricity!
pandastan
I finally got hooked up on Friday; it's been a long haul. I had been gone for the weekend when people told me ESCOM had come by with a meter for me, though they couldn't finish connecting it while I was gone because of some tests they had to make. So I had to wait until Wednesday when someone came, did the tests and completed the connection. But it turned out my main switch was broken. So I had to spend all day in Rumphi on Friday rounding up the only electrician who works for the District Health Office to come replace the switch. There's a fuel crisis again in Malawi right now, so we had to wait all day before we could get our ride back to Chitimba. The poor guy had to finish installing it around 7pm with flashlights and then find a ride back to Rumphi. But it's finished now, finally! I felt bad because there are a bunch of people in town who have been waiting for a meter longer than me, including my Peace Corps site-mate, who's been waiting since January. I had been calling the ESCOM boss about once a week, asking him when the meters would come in. I thought when they finally did, he would hook everyone up in town who was waiting for a meter. But I guess he decided to give one to just me because he was so annoyed by my phone calls.

Anyway, I bought an electric fan, which has been life-changing, and now I can watch movies and television on my computer! So far, I've been plowing through How I Met Your Mother again, but next week when I get back, (I'm in Lilongwe now for Thanksgiving) I have the entire series of Twin Peaks to watch that I got from a friend who lives nearby.

Also, good news on the guardian shelter. The foundation is finished, and the bricks are about to be burned. When I come back on Tuesday, I'll bring all the building supplies and construction of the super-structure can begin!

Rocky Horror Lingerie Drive!
pandastan
Hello! Plans are underway to host a Rocky Horror party for my birthday in 2 1/2 months. Costumes are mandatory, so we need to have plenty of fishnets, garter belts and corsetish-looking things on hand for paty-goers in need! These can be too expensive or otherwise hard to find here in Malawi. If anyone in America feels inclined to help, send any of these items or anything that looks vaguely lingerie-ish you can find at a local goodwill or thrift store and send to:

Raymond Thomson
PO Box 1
Chitimba
Rumphi District
Malawi

Packages usually take one to two months to arrive so if anyone wants to help, it would have to be within the next few weeks. Anyone who decides to send something, let me know! I guarantee your contributions will be highly appreciated. :)

More updates later . . .

New Song and No New News
pandastan
Like the title of this page reads, there is no new news. I'm still waiting on the community to get started on the foundation of this guardian shelter project. But I did write a new song if it interests you, dear reader. It's called Try To Let It Go. I don't think I need to explain anything about it. As always, lyrics are available on my facebook posting of it. Here's the link: http://www.ziddu.com/viewfile/12260464/RaymondThomson-2010-TryToLetItGo.mp3.html

Trip to Tanzania
pandastan
Last month, I took my first vacation outside of the country since I first came to Malawi. My Dad and a friend of his came to visit and met me in Lilongwe, then we flew to Dar Es Salaam, flying to the Selous game reserve in the morning. It was the first time I had ever been in a very small airplane, and although I was excited at first, my excitement quickly turned to dread. I felt so vulnerable and nervous in that tiny aircraft without even a co-pilot. I would just stare at the empty co-pilot's seat and the automated steering wheel, moving back and forth like it was possessed. Then, every time there was a gust of wind, the whole plane would lurch abruptly, as would my insides. I soon broke into a cold sweat. It wasn't long before we reached the game park though, but then I was in for another surprise - the landing strip wasn't a landing strip, but an open field! I had had no idea you could land planes that way. I had images of loose pieces of gravel, dirt clods, shrubs and bumps that in my mind were liable to flip the whole plane over at any given moment. I just kept telling myself that they wouldn't be doing this if it didn't work, which of course, they wouldn't. But I wasn't happy until we got off the plane and on to solid ground.

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New Songs!
pandastan
Not much else to report aside from the two new songs I wrote. One of them is called "Bwana." In Malawi, "Bwana" means "Boss." I think it might originally be a Swahili word. The word is also applied to anyone who has a lot of money or is basically a big shot of some kind. In Peace Corps we also use it as an adverb, as in "I think I'll be bwana today and order some pizza. In the context of this song, it refers to the prototype of a useless corrupt person working as a government or NGO bureaucrat. A friend of mine recently had a run-in with an NGO that snookered a group he was working with into buying $4000 of equipment that was useless to them and they couldn't afford, at %15 interest. As soon as they default, the NGO will just repossess the equipment and "sell" it to some other sucker. The word "Bungwe" is a Tumbuka word for "organization" and here refers to any government or NGO service program that is run by some bwanas who don't do a thing except take bribes. Here's the link: http://www.ziddu.com/viewfile/11584876/RaymondThomson-2010-Bwana.mp3.html

I won't post my other song here because it contains profanity. It turns out that I'm still sophomoric enough to write an entire song premised entirely around the repeated use of such uncouth language. If that's the kind of thing that doesn't offend you, you can find a link to it on my Facebook profile.

Camp GLOW
pandastan
I recently just returned from Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) and was deeply moved by what I saw there. I came there to perform three activities: to perform a song I wrote for the girls called "This Is My Time," to teach a class on Universal Human Rights, and to perform the role of Shakira in drag in a Peace Corps production of her song "Waka, Waka, This Time For Africa" to break down conceptions of gender roles and barriers. In my last year of teaching, I haven't been able to get a girl in my class to say a single word. At camp GLOW, one of my own students was there to speak up right from the beginning in the Human Rights class, and I was flooded by girls raising their hands, offering their opinions and ideas about rights and their own lives. It was so gratifying and inspiring - girls from the village where they are browbeaten into submissiveness were here all of the sudden: eager and energized. Soaking up the message of self-empowerment with enthusiasm and energy that was like nothing I've seen in Malawi so far.
It made me wish I'd been able to achieve something comparable at my own site. I was able to contribute to Camp GLOW in my own way, and I hope it made the experience a little richer for the girls, but I have little talent for the motivation and organization of masses of teenagers and I was awed by the display of ability I saw by the Peace Corps volunteers in charge and by the spirit and fire of girls in attendance themselves. Far and away, Camp GLOW has been the best thing I've seen in Peace Corps so far and I believe the future success of Malawi will be paved by the young girls who are so eager and ready to taste the unknown and carve a new future, if only the institutions that hold the keys to the gates will allow them entry.
In other news, I was very happy to guide the new Peace Corps trainees as they approach their swearing in date in a couple of weeks. I accompanied a few of them up north in their first major hitching experience, but it turned out that i was the one who was in trouble, not them! I unwittingly walked into the open door of a semi parked on the side of the road in Kasungu and gashed open my head, wondering what had happened. After a few minutes of distressing blood gushing from my head, the wound clotted up and we hiked a few kilometres to the highway to pick up the next hitch, dripping bits of peanut butter on some bread to keep us going. I struggled to stay awake, in case I'd gotten a concussion, having been told that sleeping after such an event can induce a coma or permanent brain damage. Everything is fine, there is no brain damage as far as I know, and I returned home to my adorable kittens a few days later. They are now running and jumping and attacking everything: wrestling with each other and crouching in baskets and doing other wonderful things. They are quite a joy and I would be happy keep them all if they only stayed so cute and didn't cost me so much money to feed. I have two people lined up to take them so far and maybe a third. Meanwhile, I'm still waiting on the money to come through for my guardian shelter project and school is still out, so for now, I'm a full-time kitten mom while I wait.

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