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News & Updates

Malawi Trip, Entry 2

› Posted July 22, 2010

July 7th | Lilongwe, Malawi

These past four days went by fast and featured both relaxing and somewhat tense moments. We left the audiology equipment in Lilongwe and drove to Ntchisi Boma with Janet Littlefield and her group following in the 8-passenger van she had just acquired from Sulemon. Once off the tarmac at Ntchisi Boma the road is rough and dusty so she had to go slowly to avoid damage.

We arrived about 12:30, with the trip lasting about 2 ½ hours and, with exception of Clarice and I, everyone got their first view of the Lodge with Lake Malawi far below, and to the east. After lunch, we went to visit the elderly lady for whom prior bioengineering students had designed boots with memory foam to fit around her stub foot—severely injured when she fell into a cooking fire as an infant. The devices had been delivered the year before but we had not seen her since the interview in 2006. This lady was glad to see us and became animated while she described how her boots and cane allowed her to move about more freely. More than once she said that others ask where she got the shoes, a natural point of interest amongst those in a village where most do not have shoes. We ended our visit with an unplanned opportunity to witness a church choir practice that included dancing. We learned that this woman was the “choir mistress” and both her voice and dancing demonstrated a significant change from when we had interviewed her.

We saw one of the boys for whom an exercise device had been produced to counter effects of cerebral palsy on one arm. The boy had no visible change and when I asked if he was doing the exercise he said the device was being kept by Mr. Banda, who is the village school headmaster. For some reason, and perhaps a misunderstanding, the boy did not have the device available so I went to Mr. Banda to request it and have him continue with the exercise.

We took the morning of our one full day on Ntchisi Mountain to hike the trail that leads around the top and through the rain forest. The group was somewhat noisy so we did not get to see much of any wildlife but the scenes were beautiful. Along the trail, we saw an old poaching pit that was partially filled in with debris but it gave the others an idea of the method by which some of the local people took game.

We wanted to see the local midwife to ask questions about birthing. A few of us, along with Harrison to act as a translator, took the Land Cruiser to the village birthing facility where we found her. There was no birthing activity going on and she was willing to share information although it was not possible to tell if it was entirely accurate. When we started the questioning, she asked why we asked and I told her about one of our projects that involves development of birthing centers made from modified 40 foot shipping containers. I also explained that, through doctors from the US, we would like to provide training to stop maternal hemorrhaging, which is a main cause of death for mothers giving birth in Malawi. We wanted to know if she would like to receive that training and she said she would. When asked about deaths of babies born in her facility, she said that about 2 a year die but that no mothers had died. Although seemingly impressive, we later thought that she might not have provided a truthful response. Two of Janet Littlefield’s group, who were present, told us that they have heard other such reports that never indicate maternal deaths at like birthing centers.

She showed the birthing room, which was not very clean although it was obvious that she made an effort to keep it swept. We took photos of the facility and then visited a family involved with a poultry project that Lone and Craig had started. The chickens were clearly healthy and larger than typical village chickens but had to be fed grain rather than survive by scavenging for food. Seeing them reminded me of the need to visit people at the agriculture college to discuss the Kuroiler chicken project.

James joined us and asked that we come to his house to see his family. As it turned out, the road to his house was quite steep down a long grade and he thought we would have to walk but the Land Cruiser performed well. James and his wife had lost their 4 year-old-son to a mysterious illness this past year and were told that it was due to the poor water quality. They do not have fresh water in their location and must use collected rain water or haul it from a pipe located up the steep road in the next village area. According to James, several members of his family became ill and his one son died. They believed it was due to poor water and he wanted us to purchase 800 meters of water pipe. This request represents a significant amount of money—Craig later told me that water pipe cost MK 5000/ 3 meter section—and we would have to find donations but I also had to wonder if by tapping the upper pipe there would be too much drain on the current system. This issue is one the Malawian government needs to deal with but I thought it would be good to look into the problem.

James also asked for assistance in paying for his daughter’s schooling. The school is located some distance away, so she boards there, and they must pay MK 20,000 for each term (3 terms/school year). James has addressed this issue before and we feel confident that he is, in fact, using the money to have his daughter attend school. So we provided MK 5000 with a promise to send another MK 15,000 but it will be necessary to find someone, or group, in the US to help James and his family to keep his daughter in school. We have known James since 2004 and our willingness to help through provision of money represents a rarity as we do not typically do that. A similar situation exists at Nkhata Bay and we have had successful results.

We drove up the long steep grade, using the compound 4×4 low range for the first time in the Land Cruiser, and stopped by the church we had funded to build in 2007. The choir was practicing so we went inside to listen. It may be that the choir practice was staged to draw our attention—while there we learned that they needed a car battery to power the keyboard—but it was enjoyable regardless. No question that we feel privileged to be able to come and go within the villages as we do.

During our stay at the Lodge, Janet, Clarice and I met with Craig and Lone to discuss the potential acquisition of the property. We made arrangements for the investor to come in August however Craig and Lone would be in Europe to meet with another potential buyer. Meanwhile, her parents would be there to run the Lodge and they were the original investors behind the refurbishing process. We left Ntchisi Forest Lodge after an enjoyable 1½ days and headed down the mountain back to Lilongwe. Once there, we quickly unloaded luggage and packed the action packers on top so we would have the equipment for hearing tests in Blantyre. Not wanting to travel in the dark, and knowing the drive would take at least 4 hours, we quickly prepared for our continuation of the drive south.

Along the way we experienced traffic and rough roads as the highway, M1, is the main north/south route through the Country. We arrive in Blantyre at dusk but had difficulty locating the place where we had arranged to stay. When we did locate it, with some confusion due to misguided sources of direction by many, we found the place to be overpriced and poorly managed. So we left and found a much better accommodation close to the center of city center. After a quick (by Malawian standards) dinner we went to bed.

The next day was spent at the SOS Clinic for Malawians with disabilities, which is located just north of the City. Directions to the place were confusing so it took longer than expected to get there and only then after being escorted by the Clinic’s audiology technician who spotted us along the way—a good argument for not having a white Land Cruiser like every other NGO.

The day went well and the audiology team performed well and remained busy with many children and adults who came for the testing. Meanwhile, I was kept busy in making arrangements to have our top carrier repaired since it had buckled under the weight of the Action Packers filled with equipment plus our luggage. As a result, I was not able to perform any interviews of people with disabilities. We returned to our hotel in the night; once again having to drive the Malawian roads at a time when it becomes even more dangerous due to vehicles with no lights and hoards of people walking along, and crossing, the roads.

Another late dinner and then quickly to bed.