The range of emotions experienced this past 2 weeks in our site can only be described as vast, deep, diverse, stretching my emotional elasticity to the limit. It takes every ounce of strength and perseverance to make it through some days, not all, but some, and those of course are the really tough ones.
Witnessing the suffering, the chaos, the complete lack of quality services and medical care here is painful and an excruciating reminder of how spoiled and privileged we are to have what we have in the US.
Malawians seem to have a calmness, an absence of drama, acceptance of what is. At times I view this as complete complacency, or is it absolute acceptance of circumstances that are completely beyond their control. What astounds me is the children. There is no crying, fussing, carrying on, temper tantrums, obnoxious or hyperactive behavior so prevalent in our society. There is a peacefulness as they ride comfortably strapped onto their mother’s back often until they are 4 or 5 years old. Women casually and unabashedly walk around tending to business, babe to the completely exposed breast.
When I have a bad day here it is because I am homesick, fatigued from the rigors of doing my laundry by hand, heating water to wash dishes, soaking my vegetables and fruit in the Clorox solution, acclimating to the stangeness of a different culture, wondering what the hell I am doing here! I have to poke myself and acknowledge it is not because I have 4 children I cannot feed, the HIV/AIDS which is active and worsening, a sick husband who cannot work, children who have no shoes or more than one shirt, no wood to make a fire to cook with. Yet my struggles are my struggles. It’s just that they look so ridiculous here.
On the down days I feel helpless, that the problems here are so vast there is no way I will possibly make a difference. I have to dig VERY deep to make it through these days, like yesterday….
Our hospital orientation is 4 weeks long as mandated by the Malawi Nurses Council. This means that we are not providing patient care and are not officially responsible for supervising students. We are there to observe and learn routines, protocol, what makes the place function. And that is frightening! Function is not a word I would use to describe what goes on, perhaps dysfunction. It has also at times been, as we say, mind numbingly or poke your eye out boring.
The nurses here are now on strike; they have not been paid since the end of May. Many of the per diem and regular nurses are refusing to work until they are paid, legitimate complaint! This means there may be one RN for 30 patients, and 10-15 nursing students with no supervisor to guide and assist them. The patients are getting their care from untrained 1st and 2nd year students. So far we are the ones giving the students direction and guidance, because we can and it makes it fun and more interesting. Many of them are from 2 other schools in Mzuzu, they are not even our students, but we feel compelled to help them, and the patients.
On returning home, I began laundering my sheets, long overdue and of course the water quit during the soaking phase, immersed in the soapy plastic tub in our bathtub. Then the shelf holding my clothes in the closet collapsed, all the nails pulling out, clothes everywhere. Hammer in hand, I attacked the closet, that is, I fixed it, ate dinner, and finished my laundry when the water returned, around 8pm. This meant hanging my sheets out to dry using my headlamp. Not that big a deal since Vermonters are relatively accustomed to dealing with power/water outages.
Today is better, it’s Friday and I just discovered they serve soft serve ice cream at SHOPRITE! Oh it just made my day, and my suffering is over!!! For those who know me, all I need now is a bag of M&Ms, which by the way they sell here, and I am on the high end of the emotional roller coaster.