Rest little booklet, rest;
Bearing these honored names
And whenever we return, may we hear
We are glad they came.
— Jodee Taylor, Ian Mielke, Ann Taylor and Baboo of the Serengeti
For those female runners, I ran most mornings without any problems. I tried to go on roads with some people but not many cars. Beware of the dogs! If you like to swim, the Blantyre Sports Club is a nice place to do laps, especially when it is not crowded.
It is difficult to sum up my experiences here in Malawi into words. I arrived a bit apprehensively but leave very much thankful to have had such a wonderful, eye-opening, rewarding experience.
I am a somewhat new Emergency Medicine attending and spent most of my time helping out in the Pediatric A&E. What an extraordinary experience! So much pathology I had not yet experienced firsthand. At first the A&E just seemed like total chaos, but somehow it had to have some kind of order to be able to shuffle up to 400 sick sick sick children each da. I realized how spoiled I am by the nurses in the U.S. — I was forced to learn to start IV lines on infants, draw blood, improvise with what resources I had.
What I profound experience that I feel so fortunate to have had. In my time here, I not only worked with an underserved population, I learned a tremendous amount from the people of Malawi — about myself and the challenges faced across Africa.
Queens has been an eye-opening experience. Sensory overload for the first few weeks is how I can best describe it. Pathology unlike anything I have seen in the States, being abused by the smell found in every ward, patients in every bed and on the ground between every bed, OPD with links of sick, immunocompromised, malnourished people that may seem to lack hope at times but are still able to smile and laugh, never having enough, supplies or interns, no electricity in the burns unit.
I never thought I would learn to salsa in Africa.
I also will never forget the perpetual background sounds of Malawi: the explosion of chirping birds, the hum of the night creatures, the sway of the trees, the sound of children always playing in Terrie’s backyard and the cricket that wakes me up daily at 5:15 a.m.
I came here hoping to expose myself to what tropical medicine was in a developing country; I leave having been so many places, seen so many faces, learned so much about the wonderful people in Africa and, more importantly, grown as an individual.
Here are some of my best memories and the things that impacted me most while here:
- Early morning runs and all my new running partners that joined me over the miles.
- The crazy chirping that woke me up every morning at 5:15
- The walk to QECH and downtown Blantyre
- Bartering for produce and wood carvings all over Malawi. I became quite the shopper
- Monday nights with the Hash Harriers and the crazy routes we ran around Blantyre
- Tuesday night salsa lessons at Cappineros
- Wednesday night volleyball, where we may not have always won but had the best time plaing
- Amazing pathology on Peds Surgery and Peds Nursery, more than what I may ever see at home
- The first baby I saw die and the weeping of his mother
- The beautiful funeral songs of one family honoring their child
- Riding to Dedza along the Mozambican border to have the best cheesecake at Dedza Pottery
- The most amazing night sky on Mt. Mulanje where I saw the Southern Cross for the first time
- Day trip to Likhubula Pools: Trying to swim to the waterfall and making a train down the rapids
- Mvuu Camp: Falling asleep to the grunts of hippos, close encounters with crocodiles and getting caught in a rain storm while on the boat safari. Also the best sunsets in Malawi.
- The prevalence of HIV, TB, malaria and meningitis and how it seems to be accepted as just part of life
- Great attending physicians, especially Sally, Dr. Wilde and Prof. Borgstein
The Stanbic Bank billboard downtown proclaims “There’s no place like Africa” and after six weeks living under her skies, I know this to be true.
From the joyous buzz of crickets that wake you with the morning sun to the smiles of barefoot children as they wave and say hello, you know you’re in a different universe than the one that you call home.
The “zikomo” of an exhausted woman as you place her newborn child on her belly, the horrible wail of a mother who’s held her baby for the last time, the funeral songs in the hallway and the laughter in the wards. The sounds of Africa will ring within your heart.
Follow me down this corridor
Beneath the flickering fluorescent lights,
Between this man whose lame legs drag behind him —
The weight of his past is always present —
And that woman who deftly balances a basket of maize atop her head
While an infant’s eyes inquisitively peer at us through
The fantastical colors of her chitenja
Through this haze of cracked cement and peeling green paint
You will find them
In rows of beds unfit for prisoners:
Men and women sprawled out on old concrete floors —
A makeshift bed for the forlorn, the unseen,
Buried between illness and disease.
They will look lost to us;
So inhumanely thin their exoskeletons create shadows that will
Follow us forever.
Yet we will appear even stranger:
Pale skin, straight hair, pressed clothes;
We are observers.
Here for the interim; gone before we’ve left.
How will we forget them?
How will they remember us?
I still watch in amazement as I see a Malawian woman balancing a baby on her back and a massive maize basket on her head. I am inspired by the innocent children who stare at us with wonder. I see hope for the future in their beautiful eyes.
Suffering is no stranger to Malawi. It ravages the ill through the form of TB or HIV. It persists in the empty bellies of the starving. It is an all-too-familiar companion to the handicapped people of the streets.
Yet, the people are vivacious and kind. They greet you with a smile or a wave. They will try to sell you anything and everything. They will go out of their way to run or walk alongside you. Their perfect three-part harmonies of gospel songs reverberate through the halls of the hospital just barely drowning out the wailing of those mourning for a deceased loved one.
I always know whether or not I have truly enjoyed my travel experience — I am sad to leave. It seems that many things are left undone and that our time here was brief.
People often ask me, “What is your passion?” Through most of my life, I would say that I did not have any passions. But what I have come to realize is that people are my passion. It does not matter where I go — France, Spain, Tanzania — it is the people that make my travels exciting.
And so I will not tell you about Mt. Mulanje or Lake Malawi or the Zambian safari. But I will speak of some folks I met during my stay.
My 1st day on the IM ward — 4B Female — bad sights, bad smells. Some people are on the floor, others have the luxury of a broken-down cot. I saw the most beautiful face from the side, then the woman turned to face me and the other half of her face was scarred by Herpes Zoster.
Then there was Mike — the 50-year-old hypertensive gentleman. He was always excited to speak with me and give me thanks for treating him. Even though I did very little.
Be sure while you are here to take a minute and speak with the guards — Christopher, Simoni the cook, Charles the gardener, and others. It is through the people that you come to love and understand Malawi.
I feel privileged to have the opportunity to travel the world and come somewhere as great as Malawi. You can see this gorgeous landscape anywhere but what you can’t see is the beauty of the African culture …
- The initiation rituals that seem so foreign until you hear someone who has experienced it talk about it and all of a sudden it makes more sense.
- Or how in the world does that woman carry a baby on her front and back and a basket on her head with complete strength and poise.
- You find yourself wondering how does a roasted mouse really taste and almost curious enough to try it.
- You find how strong the human body is to fight disease in some cases and not in others and how fortunate you are to know at home you never run out of pens or gloves or soap.
- You realize that when someone smiles at you and says hello on the street they are truly just being friendly.
And you hope when you go back to your own country you are a little more tolerant, a little more patient, complain less and say hello to people you pass on the street.
There are plenty of times when you feel grateful for what you have, where you come from, and for the people around you; few of us in the U.S. can say that we aren’t privileged or lucky for all that we have, and most of us have experienced a place with less fortunate people and our hearts go out to them.
These experiences can be had, but still a truly life-changing experience like have here is a rare event. The pure love, joy, happiness and unselfishness of the Malawian people has touched me — and everyone I have met visiting — and made me think about what is important to me and simply how to live my life. I wish I could express this better and an experience like this is difficult to put into words.
To everyone who comes — be sure to make the most of your time. You will learn a lot at the hospital, but you will learn a lot — and a lot about yourself — by experiencing the country, seeing the people and putting yourself in new situations. Don’t just be a tourist, but try to go to Mulanje and look at the stars. Talk to your porters about what their hopes and dreams are. Go to the lake and eat dinner on the beach with the locals and learn about their village life instead of eating at the restaurant.
In the end, medicine is about people and by knowing them and their culture — as well as their diseases — you will be better suited for helping them and for appreciating your own place in the world.