Published: December 12th 2007December 12th 2007
Here in Malawi, I have already given up on asking people what their real names are. I met Cruiser, Mr B, Coffee & Phonics this weekend in Cape Maclear. Our cook is called Computer. Our driver is called Gift. A colleague of mine is called Massage. It’s true what they say - Malawians ARE the friendliest people. I have been made to feel so welcome my first week here. I have already had several invites to join people for Kuche Kuche (beer) and Shake Shake (a local beer that looks like porridge and comes in large milk cartons).
My first impressions? My work, my location, and the people I am with are all making me think this is going to be great. My journey from Lilongwe airport to Monkey Bay took 4 hours. It was in the obligatory Toyota minibus (Africa’s vehicle of choice) with the obligatory smashed front windscreen. A bar across the roof fell off during the journey and I found myself holding it up for several hours. “Bumpy” does not even begin to describe the roads here. To put it into perspective, it takes one hour to reach Cape Maclear, which is 15km from us. I arrived
at the volunteer house (where I am currently living with just 2 other volunteers) to be greeted by a selection of large and colorful insects, which included some that looked like they would be more at home in Lake Malawi (lobsters, crabs etc).
I woke up the next morning feeling pretty battered and bruised from the journey and also highly satisfied with myself and my mosquito net when I saw the number of insects attached to the outside of it. I also woke up to scorching temperatures (all the locals have tartan umbrellas to shade themselves from these) and an absolutely beautiful view of Lake Malawi. Our house is right on the beach. The scenery here is absolutely stunning. The roads curve through the hills, all the way down to white, sandy villages by the lake.
This weekend we went to Cape Maclear. Our mode of transportation this time was a ‘matola’, a.k.a. pick-up truck. I found myself in a comfortable ‘seat’ next to a bucket of dried fish and with someone elses baby in my lap.
Over the weekend we snorkeled in the lake (amongst the cichlids that it is famous for), ate freshly bbq’d chambo,
kampango and tigerfish, listened to bands that were using their own home-made instruments (and singing songs such as ‘how are you? I’m fine’), and saw incredibly clear shooting stars. Lake Malawi has been called ‘lake of the stars’. The African sky in general is amazing.
As far as work goes, I am really enjoying it so far. I am working at Monkey Bay hospital. It’s condition is not good but a bit better than I expected (thanks to funding from an Icelandic organization). There is a big shortage of staff. This may have something to do with the fact that doctors are paid around 25 pounds/month. For this reason, I am being trained up to help out in a lot of areas. I have already been in the lab, collecting specimens and performing TB, Malaria and Blood Count tests. I have also been trained to measure blood pressure (to be able to go round the wards). I have been assisting with outreach clinics - weighing babies, giving polio drops and preparing some of the vaccines. Tomorrow I am to be trained to give the vaccines myself. I have also been helping out in the dressings room (where I have
seen some pretty nasty wounds due in part to the fact that no one wears shoes, everyone works with sharp hoes and machetes, and the road safety leaves a lot to be desired). Finally, I have been working in the ARV clinic, which sees up to 400 HIV pos. people per month. I feel like I have learned so much and am happy that I am able to help out already. The sheer number of patients is overwhelming.
I am at the hospital from 8-1 each day. At 3 o’ clock I have been going to football training! Fellow volunteer Steve has gathered together some of the local kids and has been doing some coaching. They were in need of a ball (Steve provided their first ‘real’ one), and also some soap (they informed us they couldn’t come to their 3rd football practice as they had no soap to wash their clothes). Other than that, regardless of whether or not they are wearing shoes, one shoe, or barefoot, they are amazing.
I’d better go for now. Sorry it has been so long. I am 50km away from internet access plus it is slow so this is going to
be hard. I’ll do my best though. To anyone who has emailed me on yahoo recently, I will try and email you back on Saturday. Hope everyone is well. I’m looking forward to Christmas in Malawi!
Almost forgot to say - thanks again to the people who have been donating money. Although the hospital is in better condition than I expected, they are still in need of a lot of things. I will be having a meeting with some of the staff to decide on the equipment/supplies which they think are most needed. I will keep you posted.