Tuesday marked the 31st day on the road and culminated in the end of our training. The US Ambassador, Virginia Palmer, hosted our swearing in ceremony at her incredible home. We felt VERY official with the podium decorated with the US Department of State logo. Raising my right hand as Madame Ambassador administered our oath brought a tear to my eye and slightly choked me up. I feel truly blessed to have this opportunity to serve our country and call myself an American.
Wednesday morning we bid farewell to our colleagues that are staying in Lilongwe and Blantyre. Heading north in a minibus with our nursing counterparts who traveled to be part of our closing trainings, we anticipated a bumpy, dusty, long drive on the only major paved road going north/south: about 5-6 hours. We stopped frequently to purchase potatoes, water and the most delectable roasted baby birds on a skewer (ughhh) you get 4-5 birds for 150 kwacha, about 30 cents. They are tiny and still have the feet and legs attached. I can only imagine the crunch, kind of like eating a soft shell crab? Thankfully they saved them for consumption at their homes for dinner.
We had so much luggage, bedding, water jugs and filters, PPE (personal protective equipment), bikes, mosquito nets, printer and such that PC followed us with another truck full in addition to the minibus we travelled in. It’s a bit embarrassing bringing this much stuff but after all there are 4 of us, and for one year. Conscious about roadside bathroom stops I purposely limited my liquid intake to avoid the need to stop and venture into the bush alone! Wow, I made it 5+ hours without a bathroom stop, that is a record!
Travelling north I was stunned by the bleakness of the landscape; brown, flat, dusty. All the leaves that remain on the trees are shriveled and brown. Stumps of trees remain after the men have hacked them down for firewood or building materials. Homemade red clay bricks lay in heaps to dry. Every mile or so we passed a village with roadside stands where the women sell primarily tomatoes, potatoes, beans and maize flour. The maize dries on large white tarps spread on the ground by the road. Women amble slowly along the road with bundles on their head, a child often strapped on the back. Goats and cattle graze along the road unattended, occasionally meandering across the road into traffic.
Three to four hours into the drive, the landscape begins to change; greener, taller trees and more dense shrubs. Mammoth stone mountains dot the plains. There is not a person in sight. The treetops flatten and lay like a canopy over the dense grass and shrubs beneath them. Once in Mzuzu, hundreds of people wander through the town market where vegetables, baskets and maize flower lay neatly stacked in piles, the vendors taking great pains to present an orderly, attractive heap. The air is thick with hazy smoke from controlled grass burns, and trash piles.
Mzuzu University is a gated campus. All roads on campus are red clay, very dusty. Hmmmm, wonder how that’s going to look/feel during the rainy season. We could hardly stand the time it takes to enter the front door and bask in the feeling of finally reaching our “home” for the next year; spacious, light and freshly painted butter yellow inside. Reasonably clean, we began the tedious task of unpacking, discovering broken items (hot water heater and tap not functioning) and securing our windows and belongings. All the windows have screens, bars, locks. At times it can feel like a jail, as every door has a lock and key.
It has been almost 48 hours since moved in and we have accomplished a lot! Every inch of the house has been swept, mopped with Chlorox, and all kitchen items bleached and washed. We are filtering our water and boiling it. This morning I channeled my dear mother and started scraping and washing the windows. Privacy curtains are available for the nighttime hours and all in all we feel safe and secure. Students are not yet on campus so it is quiet and serene.
Doing laundry by hand is another matter….my hands are sore from scrubbing and wringing and the soap is harsh but everything is hanging in the sun to dry. The hell with the fly eggs, dry season is here and not an issue right now. Thankfully my roommate Nenita is as OCD as I am and we have both worked our butts off to make our place clean and homey.
The maintenance man, Blessings (love it) is so kind I just want to hug him (probably a no-no in here as we are so far “strangers”) and has fixed our water heater, gotten us spare keys and is ordering a new toilet seat. We have plenty of furniture, a few grass mats and have made trips to the store for towels, food and other kitchen supplies. Our frig is new with a huge freezer and the stove and oven both work!
After my noon meal of roasted carrots and onions and peanut butter on crackers, I will settle in for an afternoon nap as work officially begins Monday….