Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New pictures up

I have posted pictures on my .mac space instead of here because I had a lot I wanted to post.

The pictures from our last week in Kenya are here:

And the pictures from our travels so far in Malawi are...
... not anywhere yet because iPhoto shut down unexpectedly after transferring 32 of 40 pictures. Darn! Maybe I'll get them posted a few at a time here. Maybe I'll get a few up before my battery dies or Dave comes to meet me for lunch, whichever comes first!

Enjoy what's there so far!
~ Sarah

Visiting a village

I guess we’ve been quiet for a bit. We did enjoy our weekend not going anywhere, though on Sunday we made a trip to the village. There is a resident at Dave’s hospital who offered to take the students to his village to see life there. Well, it didn’t work out to go there, but he ended up taking us with another hospital staff person to her village. We borrowed a vehicle from the hospital, so we only had to pay the fuel and driver (which for Dave and I was about $25, still a lot for a day trip). It was about an hour on a main road (through Zomba, for those who know Malawi) and about an hour (20km) on a dirt road. It was slightly more interior than my village in Kenya (which is about 18 km), but the area was much less densely populated, so the services and goods available were much less. In that respect, it was more remote than my village.

As we got into the village, all the kids and a few adults started singing a welcome song and running/dancing alongside the car. They even pushed a bit from behind when it started getting stuck in the mud! To me it felt very funny, but it was also good to have this kind of experience, which other people talk about when visiting villages for a day.

When we got to Jane’s (I think, it sounded like gin) house in the village, they had set out chairs on the porch for us. We sat down and were introduced to several people in her family as well as to the chief. The children were all gathered around and the students decided it would be a good time to give them the candy, pencils and pens that we (actually, they) had brought. So with the help of the school teacher, all the kids lined up. It was a very nice line until they started passing things out. I told the teacher to tell them that there was no hurry – there was plenty for everyone.

I guess there was no harm in giving them the candy, and especially the pencils, which will help them in school, but I’m really not sure what to think of going to the village to see and give stuff away. This has been a difference in opinion between me and some of the other students. I see the possible unintended consequences and they see making a child happy for a day. After rethinking whether I was just being hard hearted or whether I had valid concerns, I decided that I held to my position that introducing things like that can make people dependent, make them feel like white people are superior, give them cavities (there aren’t always toothbrushes) and give them a taste for things from outside that aren’t locally available. But they did make me think through it again. I think going to the village and developing at least a bit of a relationship is better than just giving things to a random kid that you happen to pass on the street. Still, I felt a bit uncomfortable with the whole thing. (By the way, I wish you could hear about this all from the students’ perspective too – it would be a bit different and more animated.)

We were given a tour of the village, by the WHOLE village. I think they intended to take us in small groups, but the excitement of having so many visitors to the village was too much and it was more like a parade through the village. They showed us the well, some houses, the crops and the river. The bridge over the river had been washed away the previous day, and some of the men were working to rebuild it. There were also a couple boats pushed by poles that would take people across. The price varies from 20 to 50 kwacha depending on how big the river is at the time. For 100, they took several of us across and back so we could experience the boats. It was fun. I think Dave was too far from the bank to get a chance to go across, but he did have my camera, so he was able to take some nice pictures.

From the river, we went to the chief’s compound. They had a couple benches set up for us to sit on, but I asked the resident (Nedson) if I went and sat with the women. He told me it was fine, so I very happily sat with the women. I hate having special attention and would always prefer being with ordinary people. I also remembered all the times that I’ve heard that even though people give you a special seat, either as a white person or just as a visitor, they always love it when you ignore the seat and just sit with them. It’s expected that you be given honor, but it’s not always preferred. The chief said a few things to the group and the representative of the larger area also welcomed us. Nedson said that he was sure we would like to say something too, but asked us to wait until later. That really made me laugh inside because although Africans often all want to get up and make a speech on occasions like this, Americans almost never do.

We then had a chance to sit and discuss with the chief, the lady from the wider area and 3 older women about life in the village. We asked them questions and they asked us questions. They told us that the 3 older women were there because in the village in Malawi “mother is supreme.” The women do everything. If a child’s father dies but the mother is still alive, the child is not considered an orphan, because the mother can take care of him or her. A child is considered an orphan only when the mother dies. When a man gets married, he moves to his wife’s village. Their children belong to the mother and her family. If the wife dies, the husband goes back to his home because there is nothing left for him there.

Except for women doing everything (which is true all around the world), all of this was the complete opposite of what I’ve seen in Kenya. In Kenya, an orphan is a child whose father has died. Women go to live with their husband’s family, and if he dies, God help her. He also has very much power over her because she has come to live with his family. I wonder how much it is a different culture with different traditions and how much it is economic. In the village that we saw, there is virtually no cash income (I asked about this). The main source of money comes from family members who are outside. People rely primarily on subsistence agriculture. While most people in the village in Kenya are farmers as well, there are definitely other ways to get money. There are some jobs in the village, people have shops, they keep animals and sell milk (livestock were notably absent in the Malawian village), they sell vegetables. So in Kenya, a child without a father is hard pressed because without a father, it is very difficult to get money. But in the Malawian village, a father can’t do much to earn money, so a child without a father is almost the same (economically) as a child with a father. But a child without a mother is much worse off in terms of food, clothes, water, everything. Anyone with more experience in Malawi have any insights?

After discussing with the chief, the children and a group of women both danced traditional dances for us. They would have done more, but it was raining. A group also did a play about the importance of sending children to school. It was very nice. Dave and I did have a bit of a conversation with the older women sitting by us, through another villager who knew a lot of English. Someone told him that he could have a few wives (I think perhaps as a compliment) and I told them that no, he could only have 1. Just me. He agreed that he didn’t want anyone else but me. They all thought he was a little crazy (why would a man want only 1 wife!?), but I think they appreciated it.

We had also brought some gifts to give to people in the village – flour, sugar, oil, salt, clothes, some dishes. They chose 8 families so that each student could give a bag of grocery items to one family. Most of them were the families of elderly people, who would probably need the help more than some others. In the car on the way home, one of the girls said that she was surprised by the way they had done it. She had expected that people would come and scoop bits of all the things we’d brought so that everyone could have some. I’m sure glad we didn’t do that. That sounds to me like a food relief line. It really think that the way we did it was okay. People typically seem to be okay with representation. If representatives of the village were given a gift, then the village as a whole was given a gift (especially if the ones given the food are usually supported by the rest of the community). But I’m sure there were still some people who felt left out and/or jealous. There’s no good way to do something like that.

Finally, we had a traditional lunch of nsima (maize porridge – a lot like grits, but no salt or butter), greens cooked with peanut flour, and beans. It was very tasty. We also tried a traditional maize drink, which was better than other things I’ve had, but which none of us cared for too much.

All in all it was an interesting day. We didn’t have any transportation troubles this time (a first!) unless you count 13 people smushed into a vehicle designed for 10.

This weekend, we’re hiring a vehicle and driving to Lake Malawi. It will just be Dave and I and I will be the driver. I don’t think I would trust Dave to stay on the left yet. He still panics every now and then to see cars on the “wrong” side of the road. I’ve been here long enough, though, that I’m used to being on the left, plus I’ve already driven a bit and am getting used to changing gears on the left side instead of the right. So, you can look forward to a report about the lake next week. I’ll keep working on Dave to write about his experiences at the hospital and you may even hear something from Dave’s parents, who are arriving Sunday (hurray!)

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Uses of Peanut Butter

At the house where we're staying, there is a British couple (Susan and Allistair) and another medical student from Scotland (Jacqueline). It's been interesting to see the differences.

Jacqueline, the one from Aberdeen, was telling us that to get to the medical college nearby, "there's a wee gate with a little man beside it," all in a Scottish accent. Dave and I both started chuckling, then since we were both laughing, we couldn't stop, picturing the “wee gate” and what must be a very little man beside it. Yesterday around dinnertime, Susan, the British lady, asked if someone could show her how to play Uno, so she could teach the kids on the ward. So we all 5 played - lots of fun. I can't imagine not knowing UNO.

Then last night we were discussing Dave's jaw surgery and his liquid diet and said something about the chocolate peanut butter milkshakes his mom made for him and all 3 of them were horrified! Susan reminded Allistair (her husband) of an American friend who used to put peanut butter and jam together on a sandwich and Dave and I just chuckled since peanut butter and jelly is such an American staple. We were later discussing what we needed from the supermarket and I asked them to get bread for us, and joked that we would put peanut butter and jam on it together! Then I asked whether they'd put peanut butter on carrots or apples and Susan said that they like peanut butter and cucumber. That sounded funny to me, but I guess it's not much different than peanut butter and celery, although I like cucumber better than celery so I may have to give it a try sometime. I think the consensus was that you can't put sweet and "savory" things together, at least on bread.

I think I'm going to start volunteering on the children's ward with Susan next week at the CURE hospital (the one where we're staying.) It's an orthopedic mission hospital. They have paying adult patients who help subsidize the free treatment for the children. I had been planning to work half the day on my research things and find somewhere to volunteer the other half or at least a few days a week, but I hadn't yet, so this will be a good opportunity. I may also be able to do that with Dave’s mom the last 2 weeks (they’re coming in a week to work at the hospital). Susan said that they definitely need the help and it's very convenient for me, since it's just across the parking lot from the house. There is an orphanage too where I thought about trying to volunteer, but it would be a 30-40 minute walk across town. I'd still like to visit at some point, but I think it would be far to go and still get anything done in a day to volunteer there regularly.

We decided not to go anywhere this weekend. We were thinking of going to Lake Malawi this weekend and then being here next weekend when Dave's parents arrive (Sunday afternoon), but we realized we needed some time to chill out and that it would be a little crazy to get the arrangements together in time, like decide whether to go by minibus, hire a car and driver or just hire a car and drive ourselves (on the left side of the road). So we're here this weekend and we'll go next weekend instead. The last weekend here, we'll go to Mt. Mulanje, which is not too far away in southern Malawi with the rest of the students. So tonight, we're planning to watch a movie and make popcorn(!!) and who knows what we’ll do the rest of the weekend. Maybe explore Blantyre a bit. We’ll have to get our Lonely Planet book out and see what’s around.

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Trip to Zambia

We had a wonderful trip to Zambia this past weekend, with only a few travel delays. We took an express coach from Blantyre to Lilongwe (about 5 hours). It cost about $20, but they did gove us snacks and soda on the bus. There was supposed to be a video, but the video player was broken so we had “soft music” instead, so we heard the same tape 5 or 6 times (I still have a song stuck in my head!) About halfway there, the bus “boiled” and then when they fixed that, they found that an air pipe had burst (probably all related), so we sat on the side of the road for about an hour and half. But, if you had to pick a spot to break down, we had a nice one. It was right next to a village, so there were lots of women getting water from the borehole and lots of children playing. If I’d had more language, I would have gone to talk to the women, but I felt silly not being able to say anything besides hi, how are you in their language. I did talk to several other passengers and found a 2 year old friend.

We met our guide, Mick, in Lilongwe and he took us to his house for lunch before setting off. It was another 5 hours to the park in Zambia. When we were about 10km from the camp, we realized the right reat tire was completely flat. We (we being Mick, of course, but the rest of held flashlights for him) tried to remove the tire, but he someone else had taken the right tool out of the car, so he improvised to get all the lugnuts off. One was completely stuck and he bent a metal tool in half trying to get it off. He finally poured brake fluid over it which gave it just enough lubrication to get it off. When we got to the camp, he realized that the left rear tire was flat too. The next day, as we were driving in the park, there was another puncture to the left rear tire. So that made 3 flats in less than 12 hours! But, Mick said that it still wasn’t up to his record in one trip.

Mick is a British Malawian, I guess. He and both his parents were born in Malawi and grew up there, but they are originally from Britain. He has lived in Malawi all of his life, except for the 6 years he spent in Britain in school (which he hated). So I guess I would call him Malawian, except a white Malawian and not a black Malawian, which is very different. He has dual citizenship, I believe. He was an amazing guide. He knows the park, he knows so much about the animals and he really loves the animals. He knows them almost personally. We had an amazing time and saw so many different kinds of animals: baboons, hippos, monkeys, mongoose, impala, bushbucks, waterbucks, zebra, elephants, monitor lizards, buffalo, giraffe, warthogs, lions, hyenas, crocodiles and even a leopard! The leopard just walked right across the road in front of us, twice! On the last evening, we stayed in the park after dark to do a night drive and saw two female lions out hunting. I’ve been on safari before, several times, and each time has been amazing. On the first day, we were headed from the park back to the camp and just outside the entrance to the camp, there were about 14 elephants on and around the road. One young curious elephant came right up to the front of our Land Rover and started wrapping his trunk around the front fender. Unfortunately, the only on who thought to take a picture of it was Liam in the front seat with a powerful zoom lens on his camera, so he was too close. The memory was great, though, even without a picture.

On the way home, we didn’t have any mechanical delays, but when we arrived at the bus station at 3:30 for our 4:30 bus, they told us that the bus schedule had changed and it wouldn’t actually leave until 6:00. She said they were supposed to tell us that in Blantyre when we bought the tickets. They must not have known. Anyway, we made it home safely and Dr. Taylor met us all at the bus station to bring us home.

So, overall we had a WONDERFUL weekend and if anyone ever happens to be in Malawi and wants to go on safari to Zambia (we went to South Luangwa National Park), let me know and I’ll get Mick’s contact info to you.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dave the Criminal?

(This was written by Dave with Sarah’s comments added in parenthesis.)

This past weekend, we traveled to Dedza, a small town a few hours northwest of Blantyre. The town is well-known for a pottery factory on the outskirts of town. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook, the shop sells “garishly kitsch ceramic products aimed squarely at the expat and tourist market.” Some things were as Lonely Planet described them, but some of it was cute and most of it was nice. We planned to go for the day, browse the pottery and return home that evening.

But, it was travel in Africa as usual. (Nothing ever goes as planned and I should have known better than trying to go so far - over 200km - and come back by public means in one day. With the express bus, though, in the morning and afternoon, it sounded possible. Knowing how it could be, though, we took a few essentials in case we spent the night.)

The first mishap of the day was missing the so-called express bus at 7:00 am that morning. It filled up before we or the other students traveling with us arrived at the bus station. So, we had to take the slower, later bus. We didn’t leave until 8:00. That in itself made it unlikely that we would be returning to Blantyre the same day.

I enjoyed getting out of the hospital and seeing a bit more of Malawi than the road between the guesthouse and the hospital. The bus traveled through the outskirts of Blantyre on its way north, and we were able to see the change in housing from the rich suburbs to the ‘more densely populated areas.’ (When I asked Dr. Taylor last week if there were slums in Blantyre, she said that there were more densely populated urban areas. It was definitely that..)

Soon enough, however, we were traveling through the Malawian countryside and enjoying the views of lush green maize fields up and down the hillsides. And then we came to the major stop in the trip.

We crossed a river and then pulled aside for what seemed at first a pit-stop for the driver and anyone else who wanted to risk getting off the bus and not getting back on before it decided to leave. When the bus stopped, there was some commotion near the door of the bus (which was a little way from where we were sitting) but as it was all in Chichewa, we couldn’t understand what was going on. After a little bit, nearly everyone had started to leave the bus. The other students decided to get off as well, but as I didn’t need a break, I stayed on the bus to watch the bags the others were leaving behind (I told him to stay, since several of the girls left all their stuff on the bus – a bit risky). As far as I knew, no one had to get off the bus. (After getting off, we asked someone who said that it was a security check and everyone had to get off, but while two of us went to the restroom, no one went back to tell Dave to get off the bus.) So, after a few minutes of diligently watching the bags, I suddenly notice that besides the police officer now on the bus, I was the only adult on the bus. When his partner got on and saw me, he immediately demanded to know where I was from and then to see my passport. As I’ve never traveled within a country with my passport before, and no one had warned us to do so, I hadn’t thought to bring it with me when we packed in the morning. Since I didn’t have it, this officer was out to prove that I was in Malawi illegally and said I was to be detained indefinitely until my passport arrived (in those words). He asked who I was with, and, not wanting to involve the other students if necessary, I simply said “my wife.” So he looked out the window and promptly called one of the other students on board and demanded her passport. Then he called a few others on board, only two of the four or five of us there had a passport.

They asked us all to get off the bus and escorted us over to the police station. (I was outside coming back to the bus, and saw Dave being escorted off the bus by the police and heard them discussing with the police officer. I went over to ask and see if I could help, and they found out that I too didn’t have my passport). At this point we were calling our prof in Blantyre and asking for help. At the same time, one of the students began fervently negotiating with the officer in charge. She had a passport, said that we were working at Queen Elizabeth in Blantyre. With that information we were all let off based on her passport and story. And, as we looked out the window, we saw the bus pulling away without us on it. (I was inside the station with her – there it was like it was no big deal. The officer in charge didn’t say much, but when she explained what we were doing, he told us we could go. I did overhear a bit of the other officer talking with the professor on the phone. When she told him that she had lived in Malawi for 20 years and had NEVER heard of such a thing, he told her to “check the Malawi consitution” in a rather rude way. He was actually the only not nice person we’ve met so far, so don’t get bad ideas about Malawians.)

We were forced to wait for another bus and pay another fare to get to Dedza. This was probably an even slower bus, and we had to stand in the aisle most of the rest of the way. So, everyone was a bit on edge when we arrived in Dedza, at about the time we had originally planned to be leaving Dedza (5 of us had planned to come back; 3 were planning to stay the night).

In all, the trip was nice. (It was a fabulous adventure!) We did end up enjoying our time in Dedza. The food they had was very good (VERY good, including cheesecake and fabulous coffee). They were able to take many forms of currency, so despite leaving without much kwacha (the local currency – isn’t it a great name?), we were still able to pay for our late lunch, dinner, room for the night, and the pottery that we shipped from there back home. On Sunday morning we went for a hike in the rain with three of the other students. It was lots of fun and we got a great view of the surrounding small villages and farms. (It was GORGEOUS – if I find a place where I can upload online, I’ll post a picture or two.)

The trip home was uneventful except in that we started waiting for the Blantyre-bound bus at about 1:45 and it showed at about 3:30. That bit of time was stressful because we had very little assurance that any of our information was correct about when and if another bus was coming that day. (This is where having been in Africa for a while was helpful – I knew something would come and that we’d all get home.) The bus that did come was the same one we had left Blantyre on the other day. (When we got on, the conductor asked us how the rest of the previous day had been. I explained how we had gotten there and how we had to pay twice. I started to ask if we could give us a discount for the return trip since we’d already paid once and only used a fraction, but another student cut in while he was considering it and said that it was silly, so he didn’t have a chance to give it to us. That’s actually happened several times, but that’s another story.) It was fairly obvious to identify. It is the only bus I’ve ever seen where the front is a semi-truck and the trailer is the portion that is the bus. It was an odd thing to ride in, but the driver was good and safe (especially after dark – I always pay close attention to how the drivers drive.)

So, Sarah’s going to add some comments later, and then post this bear of a story… Otherwise, the rotation is going well; in terms of structure and responsibility, it is very similar to a rotation in the US. In terms of diseases it is very different.

I’m all done now and going to bed.

So far in Malawi

After arriving safely in Malawi, we’ve had a great time so far. When we arrived, I felt like I’d come to America. Blantyre is a very green city (at least in the rainy season) and there’s so much available. The market has just about anything you could want. We have a kitchen with a stove and a counter and a cutting board and a fridge with a freezer. We have electricity, so when it starts getting dark, I can just turn on a light! We have running water, warm showers and a flushing toilet that you can sit on. It’s great! What I don’t have is people I can talk to in their own language. I’m learning a few phrases in Chichewa, but I definitely miss being able to use Swahili.

When we first arrived, it was raining all day every day. If it wasn’t full out raining, it was a heavy misty rain that drenched you in minutes. We were told that it was raining that way because they had planted maize and it needed to rain for the maize. I think it’s probably the other way around (they plant maize now because it rains), but at least we knew it was temporary, Now it is nice and sunny most of the day punctuated by very heavy downpours that usually last less than an hour. Monday felt like July and August – HOT – but it’s been feeling a bit like early September the last couple days – warm but not too hot. Right now it’s very pleasant.

We live in the guest house of the CURE hospital, which is a mission hospital that does mainly orthopedics. They have paying adult patients which covers the children whom they treat free. It looks very nice and clean. Maybe when Dave’s parents come in a few weeks to work there we can take a tour with them. The house has 4 bedrooms. There is an older couple from Britain who are here for 3 weeks at the CURE hospital. There is also another student from Scotland who is also working at the government hospital like Dave (Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital). She’ll be here for 7 weeks. It’s been fun.

I’ll have Dave write more about the hospital (Queens, for short), but I can say a few things from what I’ve seen. The other students all talk about how horrible the conditions are, but I think they see some good things too. Coming from the village, I marvel at how big the hospital is and how many types of services they can provide. There are definitely some (big) problems, like nurses sleeping on the job, lack of basic supplies and medicines, and much, much more, but for all it’s lacking, it seems pretty good to me. I still wouldn’t want to be treated there, but it’s not that bad. But, I’m not there day in, day out and seeing it all up close. The girls in pediatrics talked about watching babies die in front of them because they didn’t have the medicine to give them or the right machines to use. That’s incredibly difficult. The medical system here is definitely very different to that in the U.S. Often they’ll give you a prescription and the family members have to go find it themselves. The family members also have to bring food for the patients, wash the dishes, wash the clothes and bedding and do just about everything a nurse would do in a U.S. hospital. But, nurses here are much more valuable. In the village, a nurse can run a whole clinic and is often referred to as doctor. So they have lots of medical things to do. So as you walk through the hospital, you see hundreds of women who are the caregivers for the patients. Most of them have babies on their back. As I was leaving the hospital the other day, I started to wonder about them. They were just sitting around outside. Some were sleeping on the grass. I wonder what they do all day when they’re not cooking or washing. I think I would die of boredom. I know they talk to each other. It may not be that different than home, if they come from the village, except that there’s probably a ton less work to do. I wondered how many of them were there with sick children, or with sick siblings, cousins or parents, and then how many are there with sick husbands who brough them HIV. For all of those, they’ll probably take care of their sick husband who got them sick until he dies then there will be no one left to care for them. One of our housemates who’s also at the hospital said it looked like about half the patients were HIV positive from the records she’d seen. Wow.

One of the most interesting things for me has been watching the other students discover Africa. When we got back to Dr. Taylor’s house after our trip to Dedza (See: Dave the Criminal?), she asked how the trip was and they unanimously exclaimed that they would never take a bus again. I thought it wasn’t bad at all. It was just travel by public means in Africa. Well, maybe the police thing was a little much, but to me it really wasn’t a big deal. Another big thing is how we see prices. To me, everything seems very expensive, but they all marvel at how cheap things are. Maybe that’s why some of them keep jumping in when I’m trying to bargain for things telling me that I’m being silly. They feel like we have the money so we should just pay it. I feel like bargaining is the culturally appropriate thing to do and, by golly, if I can get a better price on something I will. It’s not like by paying the high price people will be grateful – they just think they suckered you and oh, what a foolish white person. That’s why people are always trying to take advantage of white people and charge them higher prices. Besides, we don’t have a ton of money, so any money I save on one thing will help with another. Maybe they still just feel bad asking for a lower price. I don’t know. But on several occasions, I was in the middle of bargaining something and someone else jumped in, told me I was being silly and ruined it. Very frustrating. But it’s fun to watch them marvel at the huts in the village and it helps me see the slums, poverty and lack of supplies and opportunity with fresh eyes.

Okay, lastly for food. If you’ve been with me on the blog for a while, you know how important (or how much of a struggle) food was been. I’m so happy to be cooking for myself now and deciding what to eat. My body is very happy to have enough fruits, vegetables and proteins and not so many carbs. I’m happy to have a market to buy fresh produce and a supermarket where I got olive oil, cereal, coconut milk, cumin and other goodies. One night last week, Dave and I made eggplant parmesan, which was superb. It was so good. Last night, I made Mexican like I said I would – all but the salsa. If we’d had a good way to make tortilla chips, I would have made it, but we didn’t have any corn flour so I couldn’t make corn tortillas. So, from scratch, I made taco meat, refried beans, tortillas and guacamole. It all turned out really well. I spent about 3 hours in the kitchen, but it will be dinner for tonight too. When Alistair and Susan (the British couple) each came home, they asked if I was STILL in the kitchen and said that it must be some feast I was cooking. It was. Oh my goodness, it was so good. I’m still looking forward to the Mexican restaurant near us in Michigan and their wonderful chips and salsa, but last night was really good.

This weekend we’re going on safari to Zambia, so you can look forward to a report plus something from Dave about his time so far at the hospital. There, if I tell you that, he’ll have to write it!

Have a great weekend,

From Kenya to Malawi

The night before we left Kenya, we were packing until 2:30 am because we had gone visiting that day. If it were anybody else, I just wouldn’t have gone, but we were going to visit my pastor and they had been waiting for Dave since 2002. We went to church in the morning and had arranged with Pastor Kepher (kay’-fuh) to take us home in the minibus to collect our bags and then take us to the airport in Kisumu. Our time at home was VERY short because we were racing the rain. Once it starts, it is very difficult to get back up the road from our house and we would have been pushing a minibus uphill with 102kg of luggage inside if we’d gotten stuck. Fortunately, we just had to throw a few things from the morning in our bags and we were ready, but I hadn’t said goodbye to everyone yet. I said very quick goodbyes to all my family, but the problem was my little boys. I had explained to them for about two weeks that after David came, I would be leaving for a long time but that later I would be back. When it came time to go, though, I think only Brian (the oldest one) could tell that this wasn’t a goodbye like usual. I had said goodbye to the other two already and was crying and he really looked at me wondering. It was just too fast. So much different than I had wanted. Even now, I’m crying writing this. When I talked to Rachel (my host mom) that night from Nairobi, she said that the boys couldn’t eat dinner, that they were just crying and asking where I was. I felt like I had abanadoned them. It just broke my heart. Usually, when I leave, I put a lock on the door. In fact, once someone told Brian that I had gone somewhere, but he said, “No, she’s here. There’s no lock on the door.” But what they found this time was just an open empty room with no Sarah.

Well, we did beat the rain, but just barely. If we had been just a few minutes later, literally, we would have gotten stuck. So goodbyes had to be fast. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time. We discovered there, though, that we were only allowed 20kg of luggage each (44lbs) instead of the 40 we expected. We knew at 40kg each, we’d still be over. So imagine my surprise when they told us that we’d have to pay for 62kg of extra luggage PLUS again in Nairobi! So, of course after 4 hours of sleep, I just started to cry and he told me to go talk to the one who handles the payments. So I made sure to cry again (it would have come anyway) and explained in Swahili that we thought we were allowed 40kg each and that we’d have to pay so much here and then again the next day in Nairobi because they couldn’t check the bags all the way through. So he agreed for me to pay for 30kg just once, since our bags were late getting to Kisumu the week before from Nairobi. So I forked over $90, grateful that it wasn’t 4 times that and we reached Nairobi without any trouble.

We stayed at my friend Lucy’s house one last time and took a taxi early the next morning back to the airport. After checking our bags in, I realized that the counter attendant had only checked our bags to Dar es Salaam instead of all the way to Blantyre. We only had 50 minutes in Dar and knew that we wouldn’t have enough time to get our bags and recheck them again. So I begged him to help us and he printed out new luggage tags and went to track down our luggage in the back. This is also when Dave realized that the wide-angle lens (in a case) that was attached to his camera bag was not there anymore.

We got on the plane and waited a long time for it to take off. It ended up leaving about 35 minutes late, so we had about 20 minutes in Dar between flights. But the beauty of Africa is that time depends on people rather than people depending on time. We were late leaving Nairobi because we were waiting for passengers. We knew that they would probably wait for is in Dar as well. So, we went to the transfer desk where they gave us boarding passes and charged us another $160 for overweight luggage (we were switching from Kenya Airways to Air Malawi), we identified our luggage and were taken to the plane. Whew.

So we arrived in Blantyre with no trouble. All our bags arrived. We had no trouble with customs. Dr. Taylor and her husband were waiting for us at the airport.

Reuniting with Dave

I’m really glad I went to meet Dave in Nairobi. It was great to see him and hug him, though the excitement wore off a bit after waiting at the airport for over an hour. We did a lot of visiting after arriving in the village. Dave did great and people were happy to see him, especially my family, research assistants and churches. They’ve all been hearing about him since 2002 and my research assistants had been hearing how many days (in fractions even) for the last 2 weeks. This time, we did tell people we were coming, so we ate a TON, including yummy bananas, cocoa (which was great because I was very tired of tea!), fresh roasted maize and peanuts, chapatis and much more. Yum.

We also went to visit an old mission hospital that is just reopening after being shut down for a while due to mismanagement and pilfering. It used to be the best hospital in western Kenya and it was sad to hear it all in the past tense. Getting there was certainly an adventure. The day before, it rained very hard (it was so muddy that we couldn’t even push the bicycle home down the road.) So when we woke up in the morning to more rain, we weren’t sure we would make it – the road to the hospital gets VERY muddy as well. But we did. The person taking us is very determined and we knew it was our only chance to go. It was somewhere between 7 and 10km each way with heavy, muddy shoes. We were definitely tired at the end of the day (I couldn’t lift my legs without hurting) but it was worth it. I’m glad Dave was able to see it and I was glad to see it again myself. They definitely don’t need a surgeon yet, but maybe in a few years :) We’ll see.

Knowing that we wouldn’t be able to visit everyone, we decided to have a come meet David and wish Sarah farewell party. At ever step in the planning, it kept getting farther and farther from what I originally envisioned and I began to think that it wasn’t worth it, but when the time came, I was so glad that we had it. I originally envisioned a kind of open house where people mill about and get food from big bowls (popcorn, peanuts, tea, etc.) and we all have a chance to talk and visit. Then my family starts talking about how I need to buy meat and chicken and cook ugali and rice. I absolutely refused that one. We decided to have soda (it’s easier and cheaper than tea for so many people), peanuts, popcorn and mandazi (a fried doughnut like thing), but they said that I had to serve food on individual plates because if we put it in bowls some people would understand but others would eat everything before everyone else arrived. Then we started discussing the program and we had to have introductions, a word from the Bible, speeches and then food. Speeches! Ack! But it turned out okay. When everyone was introducing themselves, we asked them to say how they knew me, which ended up being like mini-speeches, so that when my host dad (the emcee) asked if anyone had a short word to say, they all felt like they’d said it. Whew. That’s the part of weddings, funerals and any other community event that makes it all day instead of a few hours. It was nice. We ended up putting food in bowls on each table instead of on individual plates, which was a mistake. People ate a lot and then all of a sudden plastic bags started coming out of nowhere and anything that wasn’t eaten was carried away. So there were people in our family that went hungry because all the food was carried away. I was shocked. In some ways, that’s just the way people are – especially the old women, but even others from my family was frustrated, so it wasn’t just me and a cultural difference. Other than that, the party was great and I’m glad we did it. I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to get the peanuts and soda because of the aforementioned mud, but my great neighbor Mukabane braved the mud on his bicycle and got them all.

After Dave came, I felt like he was just there and that the 6 months hadn’t been so hard after all. Kind of like when my parents came – I felt like they’d always been there. It made it a bit more cramped in my small room and I think my family felt that I was a little more distant, but I think it was okay. The kids all had a great time with him (all of them, but especially the three little ones!) All but one of the family’s 8 kids were home, so it was a bit crazy. By the end of the week, Dave definitely appreciated the challenges in which I had been working for four and a half months.

We’re still getting to know each other again in some ways. I feel like there’s a lot I missed in the last 6 months. Mostly hearing about what happened every day and what he thought about it. There was a lot he did on his own, with me a bit from a distance – studying for and taking boards, deciding where to apply for internship and residency, debating between surgery and orthopedics at the last minute, living with his parents for a month. I just got bits and pieces. He got more from me, since I was blogging in addition to emailing and talking on the phone, but there’s just so much we each missed over 6 months. I feel like we haven’t had that much chance yet to really talk as much as I’d like since he came. In Kenya we were so busy with so many people. In Malawi, we’ve been so tired by the end of the day that we haven’t really talked much before just falling asleep. We’re trying to be more intentional now, though. Talking is a big part of what helps me feel connected to people. It’s also different to live with 3 other people and to be traveling with 6 other students most weekends. Anyway, it’s been great to have Dave back, but it is a bit of an adjustment.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Back to blogging

Well, we finally discovered that I can use my computer in the library of the Malaria Project offices, so I can have internet access now without going into town and paying a lot for it. While we were in Kenya the last week, I had no time to write anything (even for myself) and have had very little internet access up to now. But, now that I have a place, as well as electricity at home, I should be able to catch up a bit. I've posted about Christmas in Kenya (with a Jan 5 date, which is when I wrote it), and have half a post written about reuniting with Dave and leaving the village. Look for it soon. We also have a lot to say about coming to Malawi and our first week and a half here (including Dave being dragged off the bus by the police, but you'll have to wait for that!) So, it's all coming. But for now, I need to go home and get some lunch. Then I'm planning to make Mexican food for dinner. I'll let you know how it comes out. At some point, too, I really need to get going again on my work. I made a long list of things to do yesterday, the first of which being make a list of things to do, so that I could at least cross something off. So, more to come, hopefully tomorrow! And hopefully not too many of you have left me in the drought. Love you all,

Christmas Trees

Well, I was trying to post pictures of our Christmas trees (the family Christmas tree and mine so that you can see them, but on the hospital server, I think you're not allowed to upload anything on the web. We'll see. Maybe later you can get some pictures.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Quickie teaser

Once again, I only have like 2 minutes, so this is just to say that we're in Malawi, having a great time and more is coming soon, hopefully this week, about Christmas in Kenya, reuniting with Dave, leaving Kenya and our first week in Malawi, hopefully from Dave too about the hospital. Love you all,

Friday, January 05, 2007

Christmas in Kenya

Christmas was interesting. It didn’t feel at all like Christmas, although I tried to remind myself that Christmas is not just about feelings and traditions. It’s about Jesus.

The week before Christmas, we cut down a cyprusy/piney tree for firewood, so I snagged soma branches to make a “Christmas tree” and a wreath. I was proud of the wreath, and every time I came into the room, it smelled like Christmas. Hurray!

On Christmas Eve, we sat as a family (after spaghetti dinner cooked by yours truly by request), sang a few Christmas carols and read the Christmas story. My host dad asked me to read something from the Bible and comment on it, so I read what we usually read at home and made a few comments. Nobody seemed too interested.

On Christmas day, we went to church for about 3 hours with the family. The preacher seemed entertaining (people were cracking up), but Dave and didn’t understand anything and I only understood about half.

Jessica, my peace corps friend, came for lunch, which was really fun, especially since I knew it was the last time I’d see her before I left. I bought shortbread to have as a Christmas treat and Dave brought candy canes. For lunch, we had ugali, chicken, chapatis, rice and ugali. (Which I think is a bit ironic – all 3 types of grains, but NO vegetables!)

I feel like I missed Christmas. I think I’ll be ready for it when we get home in February, but it won’t come again for about 10 months. Too bad.

So, I’m not sure what to think of Christmas. It was nice to see how people in another culture celebrate it, but I think I was too ready to go to fully enjoy it. Christmas in Kenya didn’t have all the build-up that it has in America, so I feel like it came and went without me noticing and the day itself didn’t seem much out of the ordinary.