Category Archives: Africa

Fundraiser for Malawian Women and Children – Donate and Win!

As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I think about my time in Malawi a lot. I don’t think anyone can have such an experience without it affecting them throughout the rest of their lives – which is one of the reasons I wrote my book Vuto, inspired by my experiences in the country known as the Warm Heart of Africa.

My intention with the novel has always been two-fold:

  1. To open readers up to a culture and a people they may have never known about before.
  2. To give back to the Malawian people.

It’s time to kick that second purpose into gear!

Current Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) are doing some fabulous work in-country right now, especially with initiatives aimed at youth and women. Two projects that particularly excite me are Go Girls! and Hope Kit:

Go Girls! Community Mobilization

According to PCV Tyler Walton, “HIV rates in Malawi are upwards of 10% of the population and the risk for contracting the virus is even higher among adolescent girls. These risks come from gender roles, gender-based violence, high dropout rates from school, economic inequalities, physiology of disease contraction, and many other factors. Go Girls! uses local youth groups to lead community mobilization meetings and facilitate community discussions on how to best address the issues in a locally appropriate manner. Our current project is targeting six villages and we hope to expand if our pilot project is successful.  With this pilot we have the opportunity to reduce vulnerability for over 500 adolescent girls, increase rates of those completing school and reduce overall HIV rates in the local community. Every 20 cents can change the life of one girl.”

Hope Kit Training

Hope Kit is an interactive training program that targets youth with HIV prevention messaging,” Walton explains. “We are hoping to do a training of trainers with two leaders from 10 different youth groups. These new trainers then go back to their communities and do out reaches with their youth groups, spreading valuable information about making healthy choices and avoiding contracting HIV. Peace Corps has already provided 10 Hope Kits for this training and we just need a small amount for additional supplies. This will be the second implementation of this project. In the first, eight other youth groups and two schools participated and in their community interventions they reached over 1,500 people! With 60,000 people in our catchment area, we know we can do more!”

I’m partnering with Tyler to make a difference. Today through July 4th, every dollar donated will earn the donor one entry to win a prize pack that contains an autographed copy of Vuto, a bookmark, tote bag, postcard and poster.

Not only that, but I will match every dollar donated as well.

Interested in participating? Send a donation to walkleyaj@gmail.com through PayPal today.

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Filed under Africa, AIDS, Social Justice, Vuto, Women, Writing

VUTO Book Trailer

I am so thrilled to report that the official Vuto book trailer is now live! A big thanks to the wonderful Kevin Beaty for his work on this project. I hope you enjoy:

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Filed under Africa, Books, Gender, Politics, Vuto, Women, Writing

A Malawian Birth

The following is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote after my return from Malawi, Africa, as a health volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps. This experience directly impacted my decision to write my novel Vuto. Enjoy!

***

I had been in Malawi, Africa, for just over two months. At the time, I had already seen a slew of images I had never so much as imagined before: coffin-making shops, one after the other, down a village street; barefooted children playing with plastic bags and hangers in the dirt; albino beggars littering the roads of the country’s capital.

But this day, in August of 2007, I was given the opportunity to experience a live birth in the middle of an African village.

I had never seen a child being born in the United States, let alone in a Third World country with the bare minimum of medical care. The nurse at the clinic was younger than I was at 23. The mother was even younger. At 17 she had already had one child before who had died within a week of being born. Her skin was dark and coarse from years of tending the soil, pumping endless buckets of water, and walking the hard dirt roads without shoes. She was already six hours into her labor when I showed up to observe.

“Will she mind that I’m watching?” I asked the nurse.

“You are white. She will think you are a doctor,” she told me.

“Where is her family?”

At this, the nurse laughed at me. “There is no family. She must do this alone.”

In Malawi, and other parts of Africa, the birthing process is a journey the mother must make by herself. It is a test of strength. Even though this woman – or girl, rather – was calling out for her mother, the nurse told me she did not really want anyone to come to her aid. If a blood relative was there, it would be a sign of weakness. Not even a friend was allowed at her side.

She squirmed and moaned on a makeshift gurney, a sarong the only thing covering her. Within another hour, the nurse told me she was ready to push.

My mouth fell open and I strained for a closer look. The crown of her baby’s head emerged from between her legs. Within minutes, the head was out, then the shoulders and, finally, the entirety of a brand new baby girl entered the world.

The umbilical cord was cut by the nurse with a rusty razor the mother had brought with her. The baby was swaddled in a sarong, also brought by the mother for this purpose.

The placenta was pushed out and, five minutes later, Mom was up, cleaning herself of blood, amniotic fluid and feces. She was preparing herself to bring her daughter home.

Still in shock, I asked, “Why isn’t she happy?” I was the only one in the room with a grin on my face.

“Nobody knows how long she’ll live,” the nurse told me. “They will not name her for another week. If she dies before, the father will not consider her his child.”

The alienness of this world enveloped me then. A potential miracle turned tragedy to me was only reality to the Malawians.

**

Purchase Vuto today!

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Filed under Africa, Vuto

VUTO Endorsements

One of the many ways I prepared for the release of my third novel, Vuto, was to reach out to fellow authors, as well as readers to request endorsements for the book. I sent advanced review copies to anyone who was interested and, if they wanted to once they finished reading Vuto, they sent me back several sentences of recommendation for the book.

The following are the endorsements that have come in thus far for your consideration if you are still on the fence about reading it yourself:

Purchase Vuto now at Rocket Science Productions, Amazon.com or in the iBookstore.

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Filed under Africa, Vuto, Writing

VUTO Sneak Preview

Vuto is available for pre-sale before it’s official release on Monday, July 22nd!

You can pre-order the book at my publisher’s site HERE.

You can also find it in the iBookstore and on Amazon.com.

Vuto Banner

If you’re thinking about buying it, here’s a sneak peak of the first chapter to help you decide:

VUTO

*

I knew the pains in my belly and what they meant. I had already done this two times before. That did not make it easier.

“Mama! I want my mama!” I cried, knowing she was not there, knowing she would not come and knowing I should not be calling for her.

I whipped my head back and forth as another pain ripped through, staring for a moment at the white girl in the corner, looking at me as if I was some angel.

“Aaaaaagh!” I screamed and she flinched, but stayed just the same.

A familiar face was better than none.

I could hear her whispering in broken Chichewa, “What does she say?” to Nurse Leoni, who was helping me along.

“She is calling for her mother,” Leoni told her.

“Then we should go get her mom,” the girl replied. I would have laughed if I was not being torn apart from the inside out.

“She cannot. She must do this alone.”

I pushed hard, the chitenje I had wrapped around me came unfurled and fell to the ground. I lay, naked, for the world to see.

I felt the head between my legs and knew it was only moments before I would meet my baby.

“One more push, Vuto, just one more big push,” Leoni told me.

“Grrrrraaaghhh!”

I felt the pressure ease and heard a tiny wail.

No more words were spoken.

Leoni took my baby, cut her cord with rusty scissors and wrapped her up tight in two chitenje. After passing the placenta, I got up myself, the soreness something for me to overcome and not linger upon. I cleaned myself and took my baby, not even five minutes in the world, and looked over at the girl in the corner before leaving.

She had tears in her eyes and I could not understand why.

This was every day.

This was life.

This was Malawi.

This was Africa.

Did she not know that this child was not really alive yet? Did she not know it would take two weeks before I could name her and her father would acknowledge her?

*

Order Vuto today by clicking HERE.

Follow @AJWalkley on Twitter for updates about the Vuto release.

Like A.J. Walkley on Facebook for the latest endorsements and reviews as well.

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Filed under Africa, Vuto, Women

We Did It! Kickstarter Success!

This morning marked the end of my 30-day Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of my third novel, Vuto. The process from Day 1 to Day 30 has been incredible, from the stress and adrenaline of the first week and into the second, surpassing my initial funding goal in 9 days; to the 24-hour countdown in the last day of the project; to today, when it ended with this wonderful image:

I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it — I cannot fully express how unbelievably grateful and humbled I am from this experience, from the 197 backers who believed in me, and the countless other supporters who tweeted, Facebooked and blogged on behalf of this project and my novel. I am forever indebted to you all.

I am so excited to move on to the next phase of Kickstarter — fulfilling all rewards, and getting Vuto published and into my backers’ hands before getting it out into the world. There is still so much to come, so stay tuned!

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Filed under Africa, Vuto, Writing

Kickstarter Stretch Goals and Rewards

Hello to all of my wonderful Kickstarter backers and those to come!

We are doing so extremely well and I cannot thank you all enough. We have broken $4,200 as of this morning and I think $4,500 is in sight! If you recall, should we reach $4,500 by the May 9th deadline, I will film myself cooking a traditional Malawian meal and share it with all of my backers.

Image courtesy of paradiseintheworld.com.

Image courtesy of paradiseintheworld.com.

Since I have a great feeling that $4,500 is possible, I am adding yet another stretch goal as well —

If we hit $5,000 by Thursday, May 9th at 8:16am MST, I will publish an eBook that my backers will receive for free with poetry and short stories I have written over the years.

Image courtesy of ebooknobrasil.blogspot.com.

Image courtesy of ebooknobrasil.blogspot.com.

And don’t forget – all backers who increase their pledges by $7 will get a tote bag along with the rest of their rewards. Let’s make the next 3 days count!

Thanks, everyone! Or as they say in Malawi – Zikomo kwambiri!

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Filed under Africa, Vuto, Writing

Kickstarter Rewards En Route!

Great news for all of my current Kickstarter backers and those to come – the postcards, bookmarks and posters that are available to donors of various levels are being printed and will soon be en route to me to send to you! Here’s a sneak peek:

Kickstarter Rewards for VUTO

Kickstarter Rewards for VUTO

There’s still plenty of time left to donate and get some great rewards, including the above! Check it out HERE.

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Filed under Africa, Vuto, Writing

NaNoWriMo Meets Blog 2007: The Witch Trials Aren’t Over

Today, November 15, back in 2007, I posted on my original blog, Peaceful Ponderings, about certain traditions in Africa that are antiquated and leading to the torture and death of hundreds, if not thousands. It only seems fitting to post this now as I take on WEEK THREE of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and my own Africa-based novel takes off.

Take a gander:

Most of us have heard about the Salem witch trials, or the drownings and burnings that took place in Europe centuries ago. In the Western world, we understand that this phenomenon was catalyzed by superstition and the inability to explain certain illnesses and weather, among other factors. But there are still places on this planet in 2007 where witchcraft is considered rampant, and innocent people, including children, are paying the price.

A New York Times article today entitled “African Crucible” by Sharon LaFraniere discusses the hundreds of children killed or cast out of their homes and communities under suspicion of being witches. Considering that the vast majority of Africa is considered to be the Third World, it is not hard to believe that there would still be misunderstandings akin to those prevalent in Massachusetts circa 1692. When cattle die, it is not because of a bovine epidemic, drought or lack of food, it is because a neighbor put a hex on them. When two parents perish at the hands of a mysterious illness, it is not HIV/AIDS, it is their child using magic because he is a witch.

LaFraniere writes, “In parts of Angola, Congo and the Congo Republic, a surprising number of children are accuses of being witches, and then are beaten, abused or abandoned.” She goes on to state that by casting these children out of the community, there is less pressure to provide for them, allowing other family members to eat more; a definite bonus when you are in a situation akin to near starvation. It may be difficult to believe that a family would actually fabricate a witchcraft accusation against a son or daughter just so they could have a little more food for themselves at the dinner table, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.

In my opinion and, I’m sure, in yours as well, the measures that have and are being taken in these regions of the world are beyond desperate – they are horrific. LaFraniere reports on the actions of “a Luanda mother [who] blinded her 14-year-old daughter with bleach to try to rid her of evil visions. In August, a father injected battery acid into his 12-year-old son’s stomach because he feared the boy was a witch…” It is incomprehensible to me how anyone could take such actions against anyone, let alone their own children. Such accounts go to show just how ingrained superstitions are in these cultures.

These three nations are not the only ones where these beliefs are rampant. Indeed, when I was living in Malawi I heard of similar circumstances as well. At a dance by the Guli Wam Kulu, an animistic religion native to the area, I witnessed a mentally-disturbed man who was attempting to entertain the audience. It was obvious to us Westerners that he must have had a mental disability, but when I asked a Malawian the answer was usually that the man was possessed, or a witch. Nobody got to close to this man, and when he tried to take money from the dancers, he was quickly chased away. Nobody wanted anything to do with them. They simply ignored him until he became enough of a nuisance to take action. Certainly, nobody wanted to help him.

An interesting aspect of African witchcraft, at least in Malawi, is that it cannot be used against blood relatives. Obviously, considering familial cast outs, maimings and killings described in Angola and Congo, this is not true everywhere. It is near impossible to change these beliefs when even national officials, professionals and medical personnel are believers. If a person cannot get the medical assistance they desire at a health facility, they will turn to traditional medicine – witch doctors. If a hex is suspected on themselves or a family member, for instance, the doctor will put a hex on their enemy who will, in turn, come to the doctor to hex them back. Fairly ludicrous to us, but downright understandable to many places in Africa. In Angola, healer João Ginga, 30, casts bad spirits out of people inside a narrow, mud-walled room. “”If someone has a bad spirit, I can tell […] We treat more than a thousand cases a year.”” The man’s business is definitely lucrative with clients paying in cash, candles and perfume among other items they can come up with. Some of the methods are questionable at best. Here are some examples:

– Poultice plant inserted into the anus

– Head shaving

– Two weeks of sequestering

– Upside-down suspension for a night

Is it any wonder why a child would confess to a crime they did not commit after going through such torture? Unfortunately, even if they do and even if a healer like Ginga treats a patient, a family is not always content, casting them out nonetheless.

There are steps being taken slowly in countries like Angola where the atrocities have been escalating. “The Angolan city of Mbanza Congo, just 50 miles from the border with Congo, has blazed a trail. After a child accused of witchcraft was stabbed to death in 2000, provincial officials and Save the Children, the global charitable organization, rounded up 432 street children and reunited 380 of them with relatives, the witchcraft report stated” (LaFraniere). After such actions took place, the prevalence of child outcasts has definitely dropped. In Uige, a city 100 miles north, however, the opposite trend is occurring; child persecution is rising.

As long as these beliefs remain ingrained in people’s heads, it is unlikely significant change will occur any time soon. It is nearly impossible to make alterations when you are battling against culture, and that is what is happening; not just in terms of witchcraft, but female genital mutilation, AIDS and wife inheritance as well. The grassroots campaigns against these phenomena educating people on the ground are truly what is going to make a difference. Let’s hope that one less child dies today so a hundred less can die a month from now.

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Filed under Africa, AIDS, Politics, Social Justice

This Day in 2007

From my first blog, Peaceful Ponderings, on October 25, 2007:

What has been your path in life? If you’re anything like me, you went to school, K-12, then spent four years in college and are now moving on into the working world. This is what we have been told is “life” by our elders and very few of us appear to question it or take a different route.

I feel like I am one of the few, except for my own hesitations to stick to the status quo. Believe me, I tried to go off on my own, all the way to Africa, in fact – only to learn that I had a limit in such remote circumstances. Fair. I have no regrets. Now back in the States, however, I’m feeling that itch again. I want to travel. I want more experiences than sitting behind a desk, staring at a screen for 7 or 8 hours a day.

What is so difficult about finding your own direction? For me, it’s not so much the expectations of my parents, my family (although those are there as well, trust me). It’s more that I don’t want to worry them by going off into the unknown, trying a variety of different lifestyles and cultures. When it comes down to it, the ambitions and wishes I have for my life would give my parents – or at least my mother – a heart attack before she’s due for one.

Still, I read about more and more young people like myself going off and going just what I want to do. We are traveling the globe more than ever, taking one, two, five years off between college and a 9-5 to see more, experience more and soul-search more than past generations.

In a global economy like our current one, it is much easier and accessible. The world is calling to be experienced. I want nothing more than to be able to buy a one-way ticket anywhere and make my way around the world, taking odd-jobs when I need to and writing about my adventures the entire way.

I have been doing a lot of research, looking for low-paying jobs, volunteer placements or internships that could act as my starting point. The problem is that the vast majority require some payment for placement, or travel, or something that prohibits a lot of open-minded, caring individuals from helping where they are needed most. Literally, I’ve been surfing the net for two months now in search of the perfect opportunity and through the hundreds of sites I’ve seen, not even ONE has free assignments overseas. Even those that will pay you for your teaching skills, for instance, require a down-payment and independent travel.

I guess I shouldn’t be expecting too much from these non-profits, as most of them are; but I figure that if I am willing to give my time and energy, along with sacrificing comfort in most scenarios, the least these organizations can do is cut down the expense.

Just type “gap year” into Google (or Blackle, the more energy-efficient version of the search engine) and you will get 25,800,000 results. Exxciting, until you peruse further. Take http://www.gapyear.com, for example. If you’re looking to volunteer at an orphanage in Asia, you better be willing to drop at least $1,000 – and that could just be for a week. Outrageous, no?
Luckily, just today I found a wonderful site: http://www.findagapjob.com. This site has a plethora of opportunities abroad that are mostly paid and only require you to pay for your flight – which, depending on your length of stay, should be reimbursed by the time you leave. It has an extensive list of jobs everywhere. Your only dilemma might be getting the appropriate visa and papers to allow you to work in a specific country.
Just be wary of the site you choose. I have found great deals and offers only to realize the site only accepts applications from UK residents, for instance.
Thus, the search continues to find the perfect, inexpensive prospect abroad, because – come on – at 22 I’m much too young to settle into the status quo!

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Filed under Africa, General Updates