Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Karonga/Chipita Trip in Short

The seven day survey trip was overwhelming and wonderful. And hard. Returning to Blantyre at 4am, in my sleepy state (and my eyeglasses off) I thought I was back in Scotland. That's how developed Blantyre is compared to the rest of the country, especially the far and remote North.

The trip was a success - we managed to track down at least five signing Deaf in Karonga and collect information. Chipita - we also found two children whose families invented sign language. We went into an actual African village to meet one family - we had to take a bike taxi there.

The M26 approximately between Karonga and Chipita is the absolute toughest road - the road to Embangweni School for the Deaf mentioned earlier in a post looks like a piece of cake. The 150 km trip took nearly five hours in the dirt and crossing or bypassing partially collapsed sections.

Lake Malawi is gorgeous. It's the size of Vermont, the 3rd largest lake in Africa and 11th in the world, I think. Many village livelihood depend on the Lake.

Tomorrow, I leave for the south - Mulanje - for MANAD Board training. Mulanje is also where southern Africa's largest mountain is. Woot!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Deaf in Development

With Project Adviser Euphrasia Mbewe back in Malawi in the second week of March, work began for me. Within the first week I saw how development worked from the coordination and activities to achieve goals/objectives of the project based on Annual Negotiation Meeting (ANM) as agreed between MANAD (Malawi National Association of the Deaf) and FAD (Finnish Association of the Deaf) from December 2008. Ms Mbewe and I poured through survey results as a project activity, to see what the prevalence of deafness, family and societal attitudes around them as a deaf person or with a hearing loss, education and employment barriers if any, their experiences visiting their doctors or hospitals, and other general living conditions they experience. In the survey forms, there is space provided asking what suggestions, priorities that MANAD should focus on (ie sign language instruction, improved access to higher education) and additional comments. They are now being compiled into a report format organized by city or district with recommendations based on United Nations’ Optional Protocol of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (The Optional Protocol is for countries that do not have sufficient resources to meet the Convention requirements to incorporate the rights into national legislation). The Articles that the recommendations are based on; Article 31’s Statistics and Data Collection and Article 4’s General Obligation. Article 31 contains three sections that describe the privacy of individuals the data is collected from, the legal safeguards (human rights) with intent to eliminate identified barriers, which the national government is to implement. Article 4’s General Obligations (for Disabled Persons Organizations DPOs to perform in consult capacity) to persuade the government to include DPOs, such as MANAD and FEDOMA as consultants to write policy to ensure the identified barriers are eliminated.

A little fewer than half the survey forms were filled out in English and the rest in either Chichewa or mixture of both English and Chichewa. I complied dozens of results into a format developed by Ms Mbewe grouping the data into year of birth, prevalence of deafness (i.e. at birth, from malaria), their communication experiences at schools, hospitals, place of employment and so on. Ms Mbewe is compiling the Chichewa language survey results to include them in the draft report. Some information we have are from the trips we made to Embangweni and Kasungu back in January. The next trip will be the far north of Malawi, Karonga and Chipita to meet deaf adults there and interview them.

Some mornings and afternoons when the new staff, Executive Director Byson and Administrative Secretary/Accountant Edna is present and available together, Ms Mbewe trains them how to operate an office, the hierarchical structure, how to comply with MANAD Constitution from 1993 and Plan of Action agreed from the ANM, job descriptions. For me, it brought many memories of training I’ve received at New York Society for the Deaf and FEGS back in New York City. Not all that different. Ms Mbewe allowed me to share input from my own experiences in office and management work.

Now that MANAD has an office, two full-time staff (with two vacancies left – Programme Officer and Accountant), the MANAD Board can focus more on governance and manage less. The Board has already approved the activities, budget and policies for this year. The MANAD office staff is to implement and carry out the activities outlined in the Plan of Action agreed between MANAD Board and FAD. Ms Mbewe used training materials from other African countries she was Project Advisor for but they are adjusted slightly according to a national NAD’s needs.

So far, the experience is a very positive one for me. This is even better than case studies back in the graduate classroom, taking it at face value. I am interacting with MANAD staff and Board, observing how they work; and how Ms Mbewe uses the information compiled from the survey, as part of the Organizational Capacity Training regarding living condition awareness of what’s out there and what to expect.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Zomba Plateau and Cutting Wood

I have had enough of Blantyre and MANAD planning that I needed to get out for couple days to have a change of scenery. Saturday afternoon on March 7, Annie one of the med students at Kabula Lodge and I travelled via minibus to Zomba town. There is a very limited coach bus run between Blantyre and Zomba so Annie and I opted for the minibus – for a 67 kilometer ride, it took us a little over an hour to get there. The minibus sped on the road so fast that clutching my rucksack from slipping, I actually got a little carsick. The seats are not 100 percent secured to the floor so whenever the seats rocked from sharp turns and jarred from potholes I’d be lurching to and fro. On the return trip to Blantyre, I was by the window; my head occasionally bumped the window.

Zomba town is a quiet and leafy town, the former capital of Malawi until 1975 when Banda, Malawi’s post-independent President moved the seat to Lilongwe. The Parliament still has a seat there. I did not see much of the town since Annie and I were concentrated on gathering provisions needed and trying to shake peddlers and taxi drivers off our tail (we averaged at most three yapping and arguing access for poor Annie’s ear). They’re more persistent in Zomba, compared to Blantyre and Lilongwe. The beggars are the same as elsewhere. They often beg at entrances and exits of food stores and I’ve long become accustomed to their presence. When Annie and I left the store, a beggar woman was chatting to another beggar woman. Once she realized our presence – she seemed to shift her identity. One moment she looked like she was gossiping, and the next moment she gave us her best pitiful face and begging motions. Anyways, after going nowhere being tailed by the peddlers we enlisted assistance from a police officer who was kind enough to find a taxi driver and escorted us to our hostel on the Plateau.

The road from Zomba town to the plateau of the mountain took quite some time, navigating the winding road both tarred and dirt. It was nearing 4pm and we observed many people walking up or down the road with wood piled on their head or high on their bikes (our hiking guide later explained to us that wood chopped and carried into town on a person will earn K500 (around $7) and those using bikes, K1500 ---?). A number of women and children carried produce and few children were finishing school. After a while, we reached the Trout Farm, an up and coming eco-tourist type of lodge that depends on breeding trout and attract tourists. The cabins and room did not contain electricity (as advertised) so we depended on candle light and campfire. Sorta like camping. Our room was large with wooden floor, a sofa and a plush arm chair, one table with a candleholder, two beds with bednets, and a large freezer (huh??). The ceiling is made of mats and simply tailored curtains covered the windows (and plastic sheeting too).

Since there was some daylight left, we opted to check out a local waterfall with the guide. Soon as we set out the rain poured by the sky but we trooped on (our clothes would not dry properly overnight) and checked it out best as we could see through the downpour. We were properly soaked to the bone and our sneakers were squishy. As I write this a week and half later, my toenails are slowly recovering from two days of wearing soaked sneakers. After changing into dry and warmer clothes, we prepared our dinner by candlelight – avocado mixed in with tomatoes, onion, and canned tuna. We bought some wood for fire (a “camp-boy” from the UK asked to share with him so he paid us some kwachas) and cooked baked beans and canned sausage in a pan. We ate the tuna salad after. It’s actually pretty delicious once the taste of tuna with vegetables is acuired. I’d prepare the same for next camping trip back home.

At dusk when we began the fire, it was pretty eerie. We were high up on the Plateau that the fog and clouds were moving through the Trout Farm. The misty fog created a very ghostly presence. Later during the night all the light sapped by the mist, Annie and “camp-boy” were a little skittish. I then looked where they were looking and saw a strange light flickering on one of the lodge windows. Eventually we figured out it was the reflection of our fire. Some moments later, Annie and Camp-boy jumped in fright and trained their torches (flashlight) in the direction of the source of their fright. It was some reddish light and it moved to reflect our guide’s torch and his heaving laughter. He obviously made some creepy noise and followed it with some torch-playing to have some fun with the two.

After a while, I hit the sack and Annie soon followed. Oh - before I went to bed, with the heavy fog, I basically had to feel my way to the bathroom – the flashlight was useless in the mist and I had the visibility of maybe two or three feet front of me. One time I nearly walked into one of the water farms. I made it to the bathroom and back without incident. Early the next day, after a breakfast of very powdery and sweet orange juice, crumbly bread (squashed from Annie’s rucksack) with peanut butter, we two and the guide set off to cover the highlights of the Plateau; the two viewing points, one of the lakes from dams, a waterfall, and through the woods. It did not rain this time, thank goodness.

The walk to the viewing point on the road and through the forest was a long one. But interesting. Many people who lived nearby and at the base of the mountain were up there, cutting down and stacking wood to take into town and sell them. With the increased rolling blackouts in Malawi more and more residents are turning to firewood and charcoal for cooking and cleaning purposes. Since I’ve read so much in my graduate courses in development about cutting down wood not because of environment destruction ignorance, but for survival, I *had* to take pictures of men and women cutting and tying strands of wood to take to town. They were friendly with the guide engaging him in chitchat. The Trout Farm also grows and plants new trees to replace the cut down trees. It is a matter of how much the Farm can keep up with the deforestation.

The waterfall we visited, a man was sitting near the top watching women across the waterfall cutting and gathering wood. One of the women, possibly in her late teens was attempting to cross the stream (flowing through and over boulders) between two points where the water fell and the next falling water, with a strand of ten foot long wood balanced on her head. One hand held the wood on her head and another hand shielded her eyes to give her a better look at where the bottom of the stream to place her foot in (barefoot I must add). The man remained up there, watching. The woman looked very unsteady. The guide approached her closely as possible and talked her way through the water. As the woman stepped into the rushing water she nearly lost her footing (the water went up almost to middle of her shins) and in my mind’s eye I could see her abdomen core muscles working to maintain her balance. We thought she would actually fall over, be crushed and pinned down by the wood strand or be washed away downstream. After some tense moments, she fought to maintain her posture and righted herself. The ten-foot batch of woods balanced on her head did not fall or shift. Impressive. When the woman reached closer to us through the stream, the guide grabbed and held the end of the wood to help her out of the water. When it brushed by me it felt so heavy. The man waved at us as to thank us. Asshole. Another woman came by with the wood and the guide was able to talk her out of it and find another way.

That young woman the guide helped earlier could’ve been a typical causality of hard life. She could have had a fatal blow to her head from falling down or break many bones in her body if the rushing water carried her through another waterfall below us. In disability studies of developing countries some women became disabled or confined to wheelchair as a result from this type of work.

On the lighter side, we reached the two view points, the King Haile Strasse View (named after an Ethiopian King who visited and viewed at this very spot) and a smaller view point called Queen Elizabeth (no, not HER)view named after a famed mistress of President Banda’s who enjoyed the view from that viewing point. We were on the same level with the clouds – and Zomba sprawled below us and we could see as far as Mulanje Mountain (close to Mozambique border). Sometimes the clouds would pass through us and we’d see nothing but each other, the ground and the whiteness of the cloud. We were standing at an elevation much higher than Michuri (find out height). Then we walked around a small lake created by a dam and greeted hello to a young man fishing. Some of the trout bred by the Trout Farm is stacked there. We walked through the woods and passed men and boys cutting wood and stacking them in bundles or tied to bikes. Some men were all muscle, bone and tendon. Chopping and shaving wood with axes and machetes, sometimes using their bare feet (no I am not dramatizing the scene) to hold the wood as they chopped or shaved the bark off.

It was a very enlightening walk and good exertion of our bodies. The dirt road was slippery from the rains so we mostly kept our eyes down making sure we walked on grass, crumbly rocks for traction. There were several times when I slipped and danced to keep my balance. Annie – once, all 5’10 of her slipped, and all I saw was her arms pinwheeling as she danced to the side of the road. I was doubled over, my mouth covered by my hands – I was afraid that if I laughed, I’d fall down.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A visit to the ER in southern Africa

The day before I visited the deaf in Ndirane, I decided to go to the emergency room to get the itchy hives on my neck, shoulders and arms checked out. The Kabula Lodge recommended the Adventist Hospital catering to those who can afford medical care. The hospital is on the intersection of Michiru Road and Kabula Hill Road so it was only a 15 minute walk for me. I set out first thing in the morning hoping the wait would not be too long. In the US, the average wait can range from an hour to three hours depending how you are triaged. I once went to one in Bristol, UK for a case of nasty food poisoning. The visit at the Adventist Hospital is probably and my only shortest visit ever. I was out with prescription pills and creams within 50 minutes.

At 8:30 am, the waiting room was already packed by those waiting for appointments and others, like me, needing treatments as a walk-in. Several long and navy blue banners trimmed with white or silver, hung from the ceiling with verses from the Isaiah book of the Bible. Something about God is watching over you. A South African morning news show played on the television. The majority of the people, judging from the way they looked and dressed (not all women had chitengas) were working class and upper, and there were a couple of elderly white men among the people.
Portraits of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, hung in each room (as in every other public place in Malawi, including banks) and another portrait, nearly equaled in number was a woman to direct complaints to. I recognized her when she came to the cashier’s office – she made a point to wave at me that all is well, although I was being shuttled from one place to next with efficiency.

At the reception, I wrote a brief note signifying my deafness and purpose of visit. Someone handed me a form with clipboard (how familiar is that?). I filled out the necessary information such as origin of place, my name, date of birth, purpose of visit and so on. A form was made available for me to sign promising to pay for services rendered (I gulped, hoping that 2,000 Kwachas I had on me was enough). A document, very much like a HIPAA back in the States promised me confidentiality of my visit. Several minutes after I handed in the completed form, a staff escorted me to a cashier’s office and I paid 800 kwachas for consultation fee, then directed to a different waiting area. Not a minute a nurse took me to a room to take my vital signs. I couldn’t see what my BP was and it was the first time I read my weight in kilograms instead of pounds. A thermometer was inserted in my armpit, not my mouth. It was awkward, not moving my arm out of fear dropping the thermometer. She took a look at my hives and wrote a note in my file. The nurse instructed me to wait until a doctor is available to see me.

Five or ten minutes passed after discreetly sitting away from a young woman looking feverish and coughing, a doctor beckoned me to come in. She appeared to be Indian. I wrote down when the hives first appeared and I’d been scratching non stop at night since Friday. The doctor gave me a look over and diagnosed that I had an allergic reaction to something. She told me she will write a few scripts and give them to the pharmacist. I went back to the waiting room. Some minutes passed and I was told to go to the cashier’s office and to pay 600 kwachas for three different medications (one oral and two topical). The total dollar I paid amounted to around 12 dollars. Shocking. Lastly, I was told to go to a third waiting room where people were waiting for their medication to be dispensed to take home. I did not wait long to receive mine.

“Is there a place I should go to next, or am I done?” I asked the pharmacist desk. He told me I’m done and can go home now. I think my deafness and as a foreigner contributed to the speedy visit. It’s been said that many hospitals and clinics (well, probably those that catered to the poor) that treated Deaf Malawians, would put them off until the end of the day, or asked to return the next day. The Adventist probably wanted me to get treatment quickly and be done with.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Deaf in Ndirane

On March 3, Martyr’s Day in Malawi (a national holiday to commemorate the sacrifices the Malawian nationals made against the British rule in 1914 and in 1959), MANAD Chair Juliana and I visited Ndirane, a northeast Blantyre suburb where many Blantyre deaf people resided. It’s one of the poorer areas where corrupt politicians thrive by buying votes from the suburban population via cash giveaways, gifts, and other ways to win over the people. I found this out when I noticed a dozen small children following Juliana and I through the neighborhood, I commented about it and Juliana replied that they are expecting me to give them money. Later, during the meet up with the Ndirane deaf, I made the allusion to the group of children and Juliana brought it up as a point to the deaf gathering that they must work and not rely on handouts like the children outside.

We found our destination, a small apartment squeezed in behind a store. It was apparent that the room was prepared for our arrival and anticipating the size of the gathering, the straw mats were laid out on the floor and chairs set back against the wall. In a short time, less than two dozen deaf people and children squeezed inside the tiny room. Some were late deafened and six children ranging from age 3 to mid teens and one elderly man, are learning sign language from one of MANAD members. The member found them throughout the suburb and is providing sign language instruction for two hours a week. A handful of deaf adults in attendance were employed, carpentry, tailors, a go-to-guy (who is fortunate to have many hearing friends who constantly referred business to him), a woman who counted medicine pills for an Indian manufacturer, and a man who worked for a disabled office constructing and attaching mobility assistive devices together.

Juliana gave a speech about the intent of MANAD, its mission to collect and advocate for the rights of the deaf to the Malawian government. She also announced the new head office and its location and encouraged them to visit. During the visit we collected some comments and feedback from those in attendance, they desired for better access to medical facilities and communication with its personnel and secondly, it seems the hot topic is that they felt they are in the middle. The disabled community sees the deaf as able bodied, able to do many things physically. However, the hearing community view the deaf as incapable to have jobs and do tasks. One interesting fact I learned is the Muslims in Malawi, in accordance to their religion and beliefs celebrate Ramadan and other holidays by giving gifts and money to the disabled community (including the deaf) as a cause. However, the average disabled group or individual would receive K1,000 (around USD 6 or 7) more than the deaf because many local Muslims felt that the deaf are more capable.

It was the first time for me to interact with the deaf community that does not revolve around school. Many deaf persons there reflected the rest of the hearing (and able bodied) poor and working class Malawians I’ve observed around town and in the newspapers; they own few articles of clothes and often wear their best shirt and trouser/skirt – their only pair – each day, travel long distance to work, have at least one meal a day mainly to save money, and rely on a well for drinking and washing clothes. The “well” is a single faucet at the top of a two or three foot pipe jutting up from the ground. In the outskirts of Blantyre I see two dozen women waiting for their turn at the faucet. I asked someone how long she waited for her turn but she only replied “we get very little water each time”. There is much for MANAD to do.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Feasting on American blood

Upon the eve of my two month stay in Africa, the mosquitoes, spiders and whathaveyou feasted on me. I woke up in the morning with bites and rash on my shoulders, top shoulder area under the back of my neck, arms and some on my feet. Some of them itched like a son of the bitch. Unfortunately the more I scratched, it spread. It’s not too bad during the day but at night – I’d be awake for an hour in the middle of night, furiously scratching my elbow, knee, ankle or right hand until it burned lulling me back to sleep. Yesterday, I took the sheets, pillow case, and blankets off and deposited them in the laundry room. I lay the foam mattress upright on the wall, sprayed it and the pillow with bug spray, and the bed net as well. They were left like that for the majority of the day. Before going to bed, I made sure the ends of the bed net were tucked in securely under the mattress. But the opening remains a problem since the mosquito can crawl around the net until it finds the opening. The first month l lived here in Kabula they weren’t really a problem and I would let the bed net hang loosely around the bed. But no more.

With the increasing summer rains, the mosquitoes are plentiful. They also frequent the showers and bathroom that doesn’t have outside vent. If I’m lucky I’m able to shoo them out the door before doing my business. In the showers, they’re a menace. There are half dozen squashed mosquito carcasses on the bathroom wall from me and others. Some are bloodied. Nice. When I slapped one against the wall it burst into blood (hopefully mine) and I quickly washed my hand and splashed some water on the wall.

Since there is no malaria in the US, I have no immune system against malaria like the local Africans do. I remember the doctor’s lecture during SLI training week, talking about malaria – he swept his hand towards me and two Scots saying that if we didn’t take anti-malaria meds we can die or suffer from cerebral malaria after returning home. I can tell some locals have recurring bouts of malaria – the way they bend down with their head on their arm or lap waiting for it to pass. I take Doxy, an antibiotic each day and if I’m not careful with what I eat and how much I eat prior to taking it, the nausea from the med can really, really make you feel sick and want to keel over. Consuming dairy less than two hours before and after can cancel out the effectiveness for Doxy to work. For me it usually lasts half an hour or so and if I’m at home I can sleep it off. But if I’m around town all I can do is to find a place to sit, drink soda and wait for it to pass. As of few weeks ago, I began to master in making breakfast that doesn’t require dairy. Oatmeal without using milk and butter, a piece of bread with peanut butter, tea with sugar or honey, fruit and vegetables if I have any left in the morning, and orange juice. Yesterday I had an engagement in the morning and I didn’t eat early enough for it to pass, so on my way into town I bought a block of bread from a vendor. Last week I made the mistake eating a meat pie so I could take the med while about town. I got a mild food poisoning from the meat pie AND nausea as a side effect from Doxy. It was awful. Meat pie is a gamble in Malawi – one can be good while the other will make you sick. As someone I know put it as “a recipe for disaster!” Before the two hours expired I filled myself up with bread and took the Doxy. No nausea came. The label says to either consume a full glass of water or eat snacks with Doxy, it does not work for me. I need to have a full breakfast before taking it. Like my program adviser, Dr Wilson says, better to be alive!

Who knows – I hope the mosquito that passes my blood to a local person, perhaps my Obama fervor will make a difference for them to vote peacefully and inspiring for May 19 presidential and parliamentary elections. My jadedness seems to be replaced by corniness since I began living here. Vey’s mir!

Update: I've been reminded that the rash and itching may be a result of bugs laying eggs in my clothes while they hang to dry. Evidently one is supposed to iron clothes after drying. Ack. Now I appreciate the drying machine back home!

Kabula and its people, foreigners and local

Kabula, a suburb in close proximity to Blantyre’s city centre, Kabula has an interesting mix of residents varying from wealthy and the celebrity (no idea who), some hostels catering to both foreigners and local, Indian business owners, some whites, several NGO offices including a FICA Small Loans, a Muslim private school, a couple orphanages, and many peasants in the outer reaches of Kabula by the Michiru mountain. On the way back to the hostel from the Michiru Mountain I glimpsed a great vegetable market down Michiru road but quite a walk and I’ve yet to do so. They contain more variety than the supermarket, and cheaper. On Kabula Hill Road there is Chez Maky, a 1930s house that serves a rather boring menu, but delicious food. Their crepes and French pressed coffee are out of this world. I love their crepe filled with chocolate cake and ice cream – sinful. There is a swimming pool at the charge of K500 (a little less than $4) if you do not order their food. I’ve used it and it’s very pleasant. If I have some money and decide to treat myself, that’s where I head to. Additionally, their wi-fi is superfast compared to Kabula Lodge.

Walking on the road towards the city centre, people continue to gawk at me even though I’m not the only white foreigner living in the area, but possibly the regulars have figured out that I don’t hear at all or they just like to look at me. Sometimes children would try to test me out but what can I do, really? Smile at them and wear invisible horse blinds, and proceed. That is part of my deafness that I’m unable to communicate with them with some reservation. Mine is all the way up, especially men who try to talk to me (one tried to sell carved wooden figures after initiating a conversation with me) and sometimes children who beg. It’s not worth my energy. Several times, I walked with a couple other hostel guest and they engage in easy conversation with locals. It’s reassuring for me but I cannot afford to let my wariness down.

Part of the road adjoining Kabula Hill Road is pretty narrow due to some deterioration of the road, with little room for two lanes. At the corner there are some vendors selling bananas and phone charge cards (I’ve bought these from them frequently – so convenient on the way home), pine or ground nuts, cigarettes, and sometimes maize. Automobiles speed by (no speed regulation) and I think my neck has thickened from constantly craning and twisting my neck to check because if the car speeds up I can’t hear the engine. If it’s slow I don’t hear it until its right alongside me. Hearing aids make a little difference. Also they pop up from nowhere, seconds after I’ve noticed. More than once there are inches between me and the car. Once, the speeding SUV was so close that I could feel the engine’s heat. Last week or so, I had the umbrella up (very hot and sun was hard) and someone grabbed it. I looked up and a minibus sped by and the driver shook his fist at me. I retorted by slapping my ears with a “nothing” sign. The driver gave me an apologetic wave. I’ve noticed Africans, yes hearing, in both Zambia and Malawi have some gestures for communication purposes – most commonly, “nothing” and numbers like ten. They are also incorporated in both Zambian and Malawian Sign Languages. It’s been helpful in many situations.

The area is not vulnerable to water shortages (I’m told to blame the Water Board) and electrical blackouts, they can overlap or occasionally happen at the same time that borders on annoying. During the outages, meals consist of munching on available cold vegetables and fruit, bread, other snacks that doesn’t require water or stove to cook. The locals probably have a laugh on our expense – we’re only supplied an electrical kitchen with running water, stove and oven, and appliances. When we have blackouts that interfere with our meals (lunch or dinner) we don’t have access to firewood and charcoal to build a small fire out of a small pot with a tri legged stand and a grate on top. Oh well. I recently saw a blurb in the paper that a local hip hop celebrity put his name to run for the commissioner of the Kabula suburb because of the “old infrastructure” (I have to assume water and electricity), that it’s a shame due to its being so close to the city centre. Two weeks was possibly the worst with water being out for three days, and an hour or two shy of the restoration of water, the electricity went off. The rest of the week, it seemed that the water and electricity took turns to be shut off. It was maddening and I’d lost a few, thankfully a few items in the fridge that I had to throw out. I spent money on dining out if I couldn’t abide another cold meal or one consisted of snacking. If it’s during the day, I would eat out and hope that the power and/or water are restored by dinner time. I have a couple tuna fish cans handy for such dinner outages. The newspapers warned that the blackouts will continue more frequently due to summer rains and the continuing corruption of ESCOM (electrical company) and the Water Board.

One morning, as I started to handwash some clothes some water faucets slowly drained out. It had a domino effect on other sinks and toilets until just after lunch, no running water. In the early evening the electricity went off – fortunately it lasted couple hours – the electricity came back on with running water. We were overjoyed. Now, it’s a daily occurrence either the water or electricity shut off – it’s a good day if it’s only one shut off that lasts couple hours. Candles come cheaply – less awkward and expensive than flashlight batteries when you’re in the bedroom reading, or trying to conjure a meal in the kitchen without cooking and using water. Candles and matches are sold in batches in the stores. I never realized that lighted candles can produce some heat when you’re using two on the table you’re working at. Can get a little hot sitting by the candles. Window and the door are opened in my room to tempt in the evening breeze. The summer daylights hours are very different from the US, even in the height of the season. Sun comes up around 5am and dusk is at 630pm – if the sunlight continued until 8 or 9pm as it is back in the Northeast, it’d be tad easier. So far, the longest and strangest daylight hours I’ve experienced are in Ireland since it’s pretty far up north. 10pm, the dusk time. I can imagine my friends up in Finland will scoff and say so what – I think they’re the same latitude with Alaska containing few hours (or less) of nighttime. Poisonwood Bible, one of the few novels about Africa I read prior to coming here, one of its main characters described that daylight begins and end in the Congo (where the story took place) at 6am and 6pm no matter what season. Possibly Malawi is close enough to the equator to have almost even number of day and night times.

The people I live with and are exposed to daily – cheap rooms, communal bathrooms and showers, and sharing a kitchen to cook in, aren’t the NGOs I hoped to mix in with. There are NGO folks that come and go, they don’t stick around much most of the day. One day, I saw a JICA truck (a very well-known Japanese development agency) but its people were hardly nonexistent and I’ve had a glimpse or two of them. The folks that I live and share the kitchen with are the younger sorts from the UK, Australia, and continental Europe coming in for several weeks or two months to volunteer at orphanages. That is approximately one half. The other half are medical students usually from the UK – a new one from Holland arrived the other day. And there’s the German one. They come here to do rotations, or research on tropical diseases and HIV, or explore practicing medicine in other countries. One of them, a brave one, works with children. She sees dead children – or those that come to die - nearly every day. I don’t know how I can stomach that (and I told her so). This week, she treated children ill from cholera (she said they smell like fish). There are some Malawian interns (doctors) that are staying in more expensive rooms and receive meals at the government’s expense. The child doctor grumbled to me that all that money could go to supplying medicine, not to pay for housing. I opined to her that it’s probably an incentive to tamp down the flight of skilled medical personnel to other countries such as South Africa. For orphanages I’ve heard there are both good and bad ones. I’ve not gotten around to (though I’d plenty of opportunities) visiting them.

Earlier in my stay, I befriended a speech therapist – out of all people. Her task in Malawi is to train rehabilitation staff to work with stroke victims to regain speech. She recently expanded to schools that have students with disabilities. I saw her today briefly after she returned from a two week stint at SOS Village School (the very same that I visited in Lilongwe to meet and screen teachers for the deaf for SLI training). The speech therapist was very frustrated how some teachers and speech therapists treated deaf children and children with disabilities. She asked me for some resources to “inform” them; for instance, a child with severe cerebral palsy unable to speak the staff would WAIT to determine whether the child is deaf or not. My friend told them it didn’t matter – find a way to communicate, even sign language, must be utilized to avoid development delay and affect cognitive abilities. They looked at her as if she came from another planet. It is too bad she doesn’t have much say in training these staff. There are few organizations that come to mind that specializes in training these staff for child development intervention but I need to flip through my resources to give her specific information. I’m glad that I might be of use for her. I can’t imagine her seeing that everyday for two weeks.