Trip to Malawi: Village Life

February 27, 2012 § 6 Comments

This post is (quite) a bit later than I anticipated but it’s much too important not to share it. I spent the first week and a half of February visiting my friend Elizabeth in a small, rural village in Malawi. Elizabeth is in the Peace Corps and visited us in Zambia in December (see HERE). I went to Malawi because I wanted to spend some more time with her and explore what village life is like. Here is a summary of our adventures in the field!

Elizabeth and I

The adventure started out in a typical African way. The night before I was supposed to leave, I realized that Ben’s temporary work permit expired while I was to be gone and we needed an extension (we haven’t gotten the permanent work permit yet because the immigration office is out of the official booklets…but that’s another story). I had originally planned on catching the 6am bus to Chipata, Zambia where I would meet Elizabeth and spend the night before crossing the border to Malawi. With the immigration issue finally settled, Ben dropped me off at the bus depot and I got on the bus to leave for Chipata at 9am (the ticket counter said they would probably leave at 10:30). Perfect timing, I thought! By the time it was 11am…12pm…1pm I was starting to be anxious about when we would leave. Then, I heard the gentleman in front of me calling to complain to the bus company that this 6am bus that he was on still had not left yet! So typical of African culture…there was no “set departure” time. The bus would leave when it was full (or almost full). I had an offer from my sweet husband to take me home for the night but I decided to tough it out knowing that the same scenario could occur if I attempted the trip the next day. Instead, I camped out on the bus, ate vendor food (boiled eggs, popcorn, bananas, biscuits, etc.), and got through a good portion of my book (when I wasn’t interrupted by vendors wanting to sell to or talk to the only mzungu on the bus). After waiting all day, we left at 530pm and Elizabeth and I had a late but very welcome greeting in Chipata that night!

Preaching on 1 Peter

The next day, we had an interesting day in transportation. From our lodge, we took a taxi to the border, crossed the border, got a taxi on the other side, changed to a mini bus, stopped in town for lunch and groceries, got back on a mini bus, got in a matola (transport truck), switched to a different truck, and were preparing to take bicycle taxis into the village before we found out that the truck was going directly there. Lucky us!

Some highlights for the week were preaching in one of the local churches. I’ve been studying my Bible and when they asked me to share for the weekend message I had something ready to share (I preached on 1 Peter 1:3-10 about the hope we have in suffering). It’s particularly relevant to Malawi as inflation is very high, transportation is difficult because of the fuel shortage (there’s over a 48 hour wait in some places for fuel) and the crops may not be very good this year because of low rainfall.

My midwife tutor

I also spent time in the labor and delivery ward of the local clinic. You should know that this is a rural clinic in all senses of the word. They have no running water, no electricity, and only a little medical equipment. All of the mothers are required to bring their own bedding and plastic sheet (i.e. large grocery bag) for the birth as well as most of the supplies that are needed. At night, babies are delivered by candlelight and it is not uncommon to run out of drugs, gloves, or other basic supplies.

The first baby I caught - Baby Rola

I worked with the local midwife assisting her with the clinic work and regular checkups (prenatal, postnatal, etc.) as well as assisting with deliveries. I even delivered my first baby – a cute little girl that is my namesake. Well, sort of my namesake. Africans often have difficulty pronouncing my name because of the L’s and R’s. So the little girl is actually named “Rola.” Close enough. She’ll have story when people ask her about her name, “Well, I was the 6th of 6 girls and my mom was out of names so she named me after the mzungu that delivered me…”

Working at the clinic

Little breech baby

Another birth I was able to help with wasn’t supposed to happen at the clinic but the mother couldn’t get transportation because the ambulance didn’t have fuel so this little one was born frank breech at the clinic. The midwife I was working with was nervous about the birth and rightly so. I assisted the midwife and all of my emergency obstetric training came back to me in a flash and I was able to assist this little girl with her entry into the world. She also needed quite a bit with breathing for the first time. In true midwife terms, I had to work that baby hard. After a decent amount of resuscitation, we were able to relax and get mom and baby settled. It was amazing to actually assist with a breech vaginal birth, something most practitioners in the West never get the chance to do in their careers.

A true African woman sweeping

Cooking n'shima over the stove

Life in the village is very different than our western style of living in Lusaka. I enjoyed the change and it felt good to work hard. We cooked over a small outdoor stove, did laundry by hand, bathed with a cup and bucket, and enjoyed great community with Elizabeth’s neighbors and friends. I absolutely loved it and after only a week in the village, it was a bit of a shock to get back to flushing toilets, stoves, TV, and everything else modern.

Traveling back to the big city of Lilongwe

My trip home was long but luckily uneventful – 15.5 hrs on a bus and more bus food but osadandaula (no worries) I made it home to my husband who picked me up and had a home cooked dinner waiting for me. I am a blessed woman. I love living in Africa.

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