This is a challenging time in Malawi. The Malawi kwacha (currency) is in deep trouble, recently falling to an all time low this week of 720MK/1 USD. When I arrived in July it was 480. This time of year is very difficult for Malawians as the rains have come but the new crops are growing and not ready for harvest. Most people have run out of food and are hungry. You see it reflected in their faces, their sluggish pace. It wasn t until just recently that people were begging or asking for jobs or $$ both on campus and in the parking lot at Shoprite.
For the first time in my cushy life I am witnessing firsthand people going hungry daily, begging for food and money. People are desperate. There were riots in Kasungu 3 days ago because there was no maize AT ALL for nsima, the local staple food. People were demonstrating and impatient waiting in line for the government to deliver maize to the location so there would be food for those without. Of course, everyone was afraid they would not get their allotment.
As we traveled home from the northernmost region I was struck by the number of children standing on the side of the road with buckets full of mushrooms, mangos, and cassava for sale. They sit or stand in small groups by the side of the road all afternoon, waving for you to stop to buy their food, a heartbreaking sight.
Imagine the folly of encouraging students to teach their patients about protein diets for wound healing! Patients receive 1 meal per day from the hospital consisting of nsima and beans. Other nourishment must be provided by the family or guardian. When a patient suffers from severe burns or an infected leg wound, we educate them on the importance of eating protein. These people cannot even afford to buy powdered milk, never mind cheese, eggs, beans or chicken. Generally, the caregivers provide some kind of disgusting liquid porridge; it is brown, liquid and is made with flour, sugar and water; no protein and very few nutrients. If you are willing to eat it, it fills the stomach. At times they are able to afford an egg or maybe some small fish for 50 MK, about 7 cents. Otherwise, they go hungry.
I have smuggled food into the units for my favorite patients but this is dangerous as it alienates them from the others, gives me a bad rep, and isn t really fair. But I do the best I can to control my desire to feed everyone. I have learned that I can t give everyone something; the beggars, the children, the women, even the students ask for things on a daily basis. It causes such internal conflict and moral dilemma. How does one choose? I have my own moral compass and I just do the best I can .
Meanwhile, I am living the life in my own little world. I have an incredible 3 bedroom house to myself, a beautiful fenced and private back yard, a part-time gardener/clothes washer, and my own vehicle. It is hard to make eye contact with the laborers that swarm outside my house daily. It is the gathering place for the landscapers and security personnel during shift change. What they must think of this azungu and her lifestyle. I feel guilty and helpless most of the time when faced with this. However, I am thoroughly enjoying my experience and building my community day by day so I go inside close the door, enjoy myself, and forget about it; the only way to survive. And sometimes I help someone.
Traveled to Lilongwe, the capitol, this weekend for beautification and a weekend with girl friends. What a stark contrast to the average Malawian s life. The last Friday of the month and everyone has been paid so lines are tortuous and long at banks and supermarkets as people are replenishing their stores and have cash to spend.
Thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Lilongwe with friends at the farmer s market, largely attended by mazungu (expats, white people) but jovial and interesting nonetheless. I bought Haloumi and parmesan cheese, fresh lemon grass, earrings, homemade tortillas, and ginger peanut butter.
Had long and engaging conversations with my friends Emese, Amber, and Megan, and Linnea. Able to get haircut, color, pedicure, and eyebrows waxed! Watched 2 episodes of Breaking Bad with Emese. Chinese one night, Nepalese the next, and homemade ice cream to die for! Also bought a blender and more glass brewing containers for my Kombucha! Ready to head home and make pesto and smoothies with my new toy!!!
Grateful to be here with a job, food, and friends
2 thoughts on “CONTRASTING LIFESTYLES”
I Love You !
I shared your story with a friend of mine this morning. She is our age and gradually going blind. She is in a school in Denver to learn how to live as a sight challenged person. Interestingly, she is experiencing many of the mental challenges you had when you first arrived in Africa. She has been at school for 4 weeks. I ve forwarded your blog to her and hopefully she will read it and feel some connection to some of the challenges you have faces, are facing. Both very different, but a learning experience that changes our lives.
Her name I s Marlene McAllister.