Thursday, January 11, 2007

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,

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