Sunday, October 16, 2011

Island in the sky: Part 2

Ahhhh… so, those moments in time where all of a sudden, time stands still.  I am sitting on the top deck of the Ilala Ferry, somewhere on the southern part of Lake Malawi, with Mozambique to the starboard side, and Malawi to the port.  It is HOT out, and the boy I like love is sitting beside me. Life is good. 

So, I finally get to hit back on the second and third days of hiking the island in the sky, mt mulanje.  And, it seems like it was ages ago… but, still oh so good.  The second day of hiking was, physically, less challenging than the first day up boma trail.  We were heading from Libuhka hut, to Chisepo hut, which is at the base of Sawipta peak, the highest peak of Mulanje.  It was kinda cloudy, and definitely questionable as to if we would be able to succeed getting to the top of the mountain.  The distance between the two huts was approx 10km, and it took us about 4 hours.  We went down, and then up up up again.  But, just as the day before, the vistas and the scenary were stunning. We were pretty stoked that we had gotten hiking early (wake up: 5am… that’s just what you do when you go by the sun), so that we could make it to chisepo with lots of time left in the day to 1) eat a good lunch, and 2) attempt to summit.

After lunch (we also realized that we… um, I… forgot some of our food at the last hut.  Eeps!) and dropping our bags at the hut, we had a look up the mountain, and thought this is the time to go, if ever.  so, we started up.  Now, I’m saying… the favourite thing about this trail was that the arrows that distinguished the trail, which were painted onto the rocks, often just pointed straight up into the sky.  And, that is what it felt like.  We were just going straight up.  This trail would give the grouse grind a run for its money, any day of the week.  After about 30 minutes of hiking, Ryan had to turn back, because it was too challenging for him. But, I surged forward, with Lawrance.  And, we hit it quickly, because it was not great weather.  It started to mist (yep, not so bad, we were in a cloud), then it started to rain a bit. Then, it started to rain harder.  It started to get quite slick with “little rivers” (as Lawrance would say) forming down and between the rocks.  I think that because the Malawians at Mulanje who work as guides and porters will not stop unless the muzugu says so, I had to say to him: “so.  Do you think it is too dangerous?  Should we stop? Should we turn around?  What do you think?”  and, yes.  

He agreed. 

So, we abandoned the attempt.

I was quite sad about that, but, it was a good idea.  Especially because in 5 minutes… it started to hail.  

Yes.  Hail.  ARGH.  We headed down, and we were soaking wet, despite what you can see in this photo

Needless to say, we made it back to the hut, and were more than happy to take off the wet clothes, wrap up in blankets and just sit by the fire.  And… oh man.  I think that afternoon at the hut was just as good as the hiking.  Despite being in the middle of the dry season, we watched this thunderstorm roll in and up the valley.  Ryan and I sat on the porch wrapped up tight in two blankets, and just drank tea, had conversation about the world, watched nature in its amazing-ness, and just did nothing.  It was great.  That night, Lawarance and Sanderson offered for us to eat with them.  So, the four of us gathered around some candles, and ate the last chicken (“you can have the head if you want.”  “um, no thanks. I think I’ll pass… I’ll have a wing.”)   This night was the same as the last, but colder.  Up early in the morning, to head down skyline trail, and back down into Malawi.'

The hike down was fairly un-eventful, except for the fact that I think I have a harder time going down than going up.  And, I certainly knew that I would be feeling it in my legs in the next few days.  It got increasingly hot and hot as we got lower in elevation.  We saw more people on this day than we have on any other day.  People in bare feet hauling logs down the mountain.   White people in groups huffing and puffing up the mountain.  Malawians carrying cupboards up the mountain (“it is surveying equipment!”  um, right.). The strength of Malawians is consistently amazing to me.  And, no.  that is not gym muscle.  We finished the hike off with a nice dip in a pool close to the bottom of the trail.  Got a little cliff jumping in, and a more-than refreshing swim.

Then, we were off.  With a little stop in Sanderson and Lawarence’s village.  And, that is where it hit us that we were, in fact, in Malawi.  They introduced us to their sister-in-law, whom… as you can see from this photo, has a goiter the size of her head.  It has been growing for 2 years, and since the local hospital is a private one, they have not been able to get the proper care for it. 

Of course, with my public health training that I have received in the past year, and nursing theories in my head, I start trying to think about what all the possible solutions to this.  Ryan, being within 3 months of graduating medical school had one:  she needs surgery.  And, he is right, she needs surgery.  But, how can we enable that?  what are the roles of advocate in this scenario?  Who do we talk to?  If we had to get finances, how do we do it without just “giving money?”  lots of different things in a large picture.

And, these things are being answered, and will be followed up on.  One thing I struggle with is the fact that I know that there are SO many people with medical conditions that are not being treated in Malawi.  How do I justify reaching out and helping this one individual, if I can’t help more?  However, if I don’t reach out and help this one individual, then I am not doing something that I possibly can.  The solution is not easy.  But.  As someone said to me the other day… this woman was put in my path.  Not someone else.  And, because she was put in my path, that should be a good enough reason to reach out and help… because I can.

There will be a follow up story to this one, I know.  There will be results from this encounter.  But, for now… we don’t know yet.

We finished off the hike with wood fired pizza in Mulanje town, and hit a mini-bus back to Blantyre.  We were tired, we were dirty, but we were oh so happy.   I couldn’t have asked for a better 3 days.  I heart mountains.  I heart Africa.  So, of course I am going to heart mountains in Africa.  It was indeed an island in the sky.  And, it was kinda like an island paradise. 

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