Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Day on the Ward

two days a week, I spend my day at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, here in Blantyre.  QECH is the largest referral hospital in Malawi, with approximently 1100 beds, spread out over a massive land area.  It is interesting, because, apparently, when they were designing this place, it must of thought it would be unwise to go "up" in building, so they just went a single story... so, it is perhaps the most sprawling hospital that I have ever been in.

Have I ever mentioned how much I am a big fan of public health care?  Think what you might, but I think that health is a human right~  not something that you should have to pay for.  and, that is why it thrills me that I get to be doing my  clinical rotation in a public hospital in Malawi.  I was even a patient there, during my week of explosive diarreah.  and, I when i was brought there, I was asked "Are you scared?"  um... no?

they do have qualified doctors and nurses, right? (yes)
they do have medications if needed, right? (sometimes.  Mostly yes.)
they do have ability to do diagnostic tests, right? (yes.  though it took 30 minutes to find a urine dipstick)
they do have sterile syringes and equipment, right? (yes)

am I scared?  nope.  Because despite the problems with public health care (especially in resource poor situations), I want to encourage it.  and, I trust in it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

one month down, three to go! A story of culture shock.

WOW...  1 month since I left Edmonton, too travel over the ocean to this strange and distant land.  To fufill something that frequently happens in my dreams. to do something that I have never done before.

And, you might think... you might think that I would have the time to update my blog and tell you all about everything that is going on here and the sights i see and the food i eat and the people i talk to. and, honestly, I probably do.  but, sometimes, it is hard to decipher what I want to write.  What is meaningful, both for myself, and for my readers. (if there are still any out there!)

so... where to start?  First off, to say, I guess, that I LOVE being here.  There is something that just settles so right inside of my being.  something that makes me have this deep rooted peace.  I don't know Malawi very well, and my time being here is SO different from every experience that I have had in any other African nation.  (on that note, don't forget to check out my Flickr Photostream)

So, thanks to facebook, shall we take a little life rewind to some of those other experiences?

Shall we rewind to South Africa and Liberia, when I was doing Segue on Mercy Ships from Sept 2005-March 2006? (yes.  I had just shaved off my beloved dreadlocks.)  

Or, perhaps to Cameroon in 2001 with Teen Missions?   The trip where I (amongst other things) broke my arm (despite it being covered with my "Tag"), and realized that my life would be a walk towards serving this continent?

Orrr.... even way back to Nampula, Mozambique in 1999? (yup, i loved that rowing canada hat), with Teen Missions again.  The trip where i wrestled with God, and thought that I would never step foot in africa again.  Because, you know... been there, done that.  There were other places in the world to explore. 
why yes.  we shall rewind to those times, for your viewing pleasure.  but, we shall also continue in the present...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My first real week in Big A Africa... oops, Malawi.

There is something about African sunsets that, in my opinion, are unmatched in the world.  Now, I have never been everywhere else in the world, but, one thing I do know... sunsets here kick any Canadian sunset.

I think it is probably how you can almost directly look at it and the sun is this radiant light, which, if you turn away (or blink) at the wrong moment, will suddenly disappear... when it nears that horizon... watch out.  it will disappear in seconds.    That magnificent reddy, orange, pink, purple, radiant circle of light.

Tonight, as I was sitting tonight reading my book, watching the sunset, I thought about big A Africa.  

you know the one.  the one where there is this continent of unknowns, and there are either wild animals running rampant, or civil wars where people are having their limbs lopped off with machetes, or people who are all the same, or disease is ravaging everyone, and every person is part of a "tribe" who wears lots of rings around their neck? 

yeah.  that big A Africa.

as I sat and watched the sunset, i thought about how that is probably the sole similarity between Malawi and Liberia (the last time i was in Africa).  In Liberia, we would go out for dinner, and sit... on a septic tank... to watch the sun go down.  Here... well, they have running water in Blantyre.  And guess what?  it's safe to drink out of the tap... it's been treated!

Not saying that there aren't similarities, or that the things i mentioned earlier aren't true for parts (or historical moments in time) of this Continent.  But, did you know that the USA can fit into the continent of Africa about 3 times?  So, expecting that Malawi would be the same experience as Liberia is like saying that an experience in Texas would be the same as an experience in the Canadian north  (HA!).

Monday, September 5, 2011

the art of being uncomfortable

Ohhhhhh… where to begin?! 

I guess it is with the thought that being comfortable in “Africa” doesn’t necessarily feel comfortable to me.  And, I will get more to that in a bit.  I arrived in Blantyre (Malawi… if you haven’t read my recent posts) on Friday night.  School “officially” started last Thursday.  In those two days, I managed to register with the nurses council of Malawi and get my research proposal together to submission to the College of Medicine ethics review board.  And drive to Blantyre.  And. That. Is. All.

One of the common things that people talk about when being in Africa, is the different concepts of time.  Time doesn’t necessarily run the same way here, but sometimes it does.  And, so, I tend to take the outlook of “be ready on time, but prepare to wait.”   Pretty much, that way of thought gets you by, and you are consistently reminded to be patient. 

Moving to a new city is hard.  No matter where you are.  It is always going to be big and confusing and lonely.  And, I am not even going to say that it is especially hard because I am in Africa… but, it is definitely challenging.   You feel a long way away from the things you know in your everyday.

 When I arrived, I was put up in the College of Medicine guest house.  Which is not a terrible option for people… who have money.  Which… is something that I do not have.  7000 Malawi Kwatcha translates into just over 40USD a night… which, times 30 is just over 1300$/month (which includes a small breakfast).  Which, obviously, I cannot afford.  Um… I pay 350$/month accommodation in Montreal!!!  Not being happy with this (or… the fact that it was lonely, or that it was in a very upper class part of town, or that I would have someone come in and make my bed every day…)  It gets back to the comfort thing.  In Lilongwe, at “The titanic off shore lodge…”  in Blantyre at the COM guest house… it can be comfortable.  It can be easy. 

But, that kinda (and, when I say kinda, I mean really) makes me uncomfortable.  To me, there is something very uncomfortable to me to stay in a place that is so far out of touch of the communities that surround me.  To me, there is something very uncomfortable about “being a rich white girl” in Africa.

So, I prayed.  And then… I walked.  And then... I prayed while I walked.

I explored Blantyre by foot and I jumped on the mini busses and turned corners that I didn’t know where they led and opened doors to new places and peaked over walls where I heard laughter and spoke to people who looked like they might be able to help and bought food from vendors that I would see. 

And, through this prayer and exploration, I was able to find (um… be provided with?!?!) a more suitable accommodation.  I was able to have intelligent conversations with people who weren’t just asking for money.  I was able to discover where I was supposed to go for school.  I was able to laugh. I was able to wave.  I was able to take photographs.  I was told by the people who “are responsible for me” that they are amazed with how independent I am.  I was able to start being reminded why I love to be on this continent.

Every day, when I was starting to feel a little “meh” something would happen that would remind me… about how my heart beats for this continent.

And… now I am uncomfortable.  I am uncomfortable in the way that I should be.  I am uncomfortable in the way that will make me slow down and be reminded of the things that are important.  I am uncomfortable in the way that I don’t have internet, and when I do (to quote a PhD student I am sharing an office with), “It’s a nightmare.”  I am uncomfortable in the way that will make me eat food that I normally would pass up on (um hullo meatballs for dinner)… but, since it is what the people around me are eating (and frankly, that is all there is.  Well, at least for now), and what I have been provided with, then it is great.  I am uncomfortable in the way that makes me look around to see what people are doing, to make sure I am not just offending the world with my actions or words.  I am uncomfortable in the way that could lead to me having an amazing, self-directed research project.  I am uncomfortable in the way that I know the next 3.5 months are going to change my life.

It will take time for me to find a groove.  And that time finding a groove will probably prove to be to be really challenging.  But that’s ok.  Cause the groove will come.  I am in high anticipation of it.
With love from Malawi…