Sunday afternoon found us at Bayana and Shingi’s house where we had a wonderfully relaxing time playing with their two girls, talking, and eating. Bayana, Omer, and Chris looked right at home putting together all of the donated sound equipment that we had carried over to Malawi. We played a game similar to Taboo and laughed a lot (Evelyn, Omer and Micah make a formidable team!) After dinner the youth and Evelyn returned to the hotel while the three married couples from our group stayed a bit longer for the regular Couple’s Group that Bayana runs out of his living room. Sharron will share her thoughts from that part of the evening.
Written by Sharron Thompson
Our Sunday evening ended with a couples meeting at the home of Bayana and Shingi Chunga. The three married couples from CUMC, Bayana & Shingi, plus four recently married professional couples met to share friendship and discuss experiences in our respective relationships.
Most couples have children so one topic was about spending time as a family by eating at the dinner table several times a week and sharing how each person’s
day had gone. Parents noticed a change in their children resulting in more respect shown.
We also talked about how each couple shared daily devotions and how that made our relationships stronger. Couples had a variety of responses, but all agreed that it was an important part of their relationship.
The evening ended with a potluck and time to talk individually. It was a successful event that showed that married couples living on different continents experienced similar issues and struggles in their relationships.
In mid afternoon we return to Queen Elizabeth Public Hospital where we’d visited the children patients two days earlier. The chill from the outside permeates through the open shutters into the long blue hallway. Large windows on either side look out on filled clotheslines and construction spoils. We suddenly stop short of the first ward awaiting further instruction. Down in a dark windowless section a woman stretches out alone on the cold cement floor, weeping loudly in resignation. One of our team’s translators explains her sobs, “He’s gone, he was my support, he was my everything, what am I going to do?”
Minutes pass in this uncomfortable, tragic sequence, and I notice her return to the ward. Moments later orderlies with a gurney rapidly approach, and we quickly move to the walls to allow a passage as the remains, wrapped entirely in white sheets pass by within a few feet of our view. Following is the woman, weeping even more forcefully and a contingent of family, friends, who knows. We know that death can breed destitution in many lands, but it seems particularly cruel in Malawi.
We proceed into the male wards, singing and offering prayers. We divide up into pairs with our Malawian team members and distribute petroleum jelly and big soap bars as gifts. I am paired with Gary, a genial medical student who translates for me when necessary and offers additional details on patients he knows from previous visits. I am struck by how cold it is for the 20 or so patients crowded into the same room, the presence of numerous IV poles, but only one with any medication hanging on it. The bare plastic mattresses lie on bed frames rusty enough to have inhibited the ability to raise their backs, had that ever existed. Call buttons? Not a one.
The men I visit all seem willing to chat. Their diseases: TB, malaria, HIV, seizures, are all what I read in the guidebooks as being particularly prevalent here. I shake each one’s hand and hold it, recalling how I craved this during my hospital stays, and not a one objected. The condition of public hospitals such as this one must be one reason behind the country’s poor life expectancy.
As many of you know, we got word from Bayana before we left that it would be nice if we could bring soccer equipment, toys and some tiny dolls for an orphanage- 150 to be exact. My mom, Ariel, had lots of extra fabric around and thought she could sew the dolls we needed. It was a lot of work, with a lot of help of fellow CUMC members and friends and we got them finished the day of departure! Lots of love and community went into their making.
So the dolls made the journey to Malawi and were ready to be distributed, but once we met with Bayana and went over a tentative schedule, I didn’t see an orphanage visit on the schedule. So I asked him where we should bring them, and he said that I should hold onto them, the schedule was subject to change and that God would show us an opportunity.
As you have seen in previous posts, we went to a pediatric ward at the hospital, but gave soap, Vaseline and pads of paper with colored pencils there. We went to an orphanage type place, but there were only 15 children and 14 of them were boys, so we gave out Kendamas (toys) there instead.
We finally decided we could bring the dolls to the hospital when we went back and a separate team would return to pediatrics and hand them out.
So the dolls were in the van when we entered the village of Lundu, a beautiful, colorful village. We immediately bonded with the children there and were welcomed into the homes of the people. The chief organized a traditional dance performance and we spent a lot of
time learning about and witnessing not only the community but the poverty of the village.
One girl that I bonded with especially was about 9 years old. I saw her when she was pumping water at the well. She ran over and curiously joined the smaller children. She was beautiful, sweet, and smart. We played a version of patty cake, we tickled each other and she held my hand or had her arm around my waist the whole time we toured the village. She said things to me in Chichewan that I couldn’t understand but got the feeling that they were sweet and kind things. I gave her a piggy back ride and she kissed my cheek and squeezed me tight. Everyone else in our group was forming similar bonds with the other children, where they warmed up to us completely and we shared nothing but love.
Just as I was thinking, I wish they could remember us somehow, Bayana asked if I had the dolls with me. I did and so we decided to give them to the village children. The boys and girls alike lined up for the dolls and lit up when they saw them.
After the dance performance, we gave the rest of the children dolls until we ran out.
I know this sounds like a lovely story, but like so much in Africa, beauty is accompanied by tragedy. The girl who I fell in love with, Judith, should have been in school. Our guide told us that they go to school if they are not needed in their households, so she clearly was needed to work around the house. That broke my heart. He also told me that girls might get married at 12 years old. The doll represented so much more to me then. I just wanted her to be able to be a child: to play patty cake and dolls and go to school.
The other tragedy was that as soon as we began to give the dolls to the big group, it was chaos. Mothers were holding their babies out to us, children were lying saying that they didn’t get one before, when we knew they had, mothers and grandmothers began yelling and begging that they had other kids at home and they needed the dolls too. It was a picture into their reality. Any opportunity that they had to get something, they had to try to get as much as they could.
In the end though, the children were very happy with their dolls, and hopefully will be reminded of a church that cares about them, as the dolls get passed through families. The sad truth was, however, that they were not food. The villagers are hungry, they don’t have many options for food if the crops don’t grow. They don’t have other income.
Like all of our adventures so far in Malawi, there is beauty and tragedy everywhere. My prayer is that we can all have an image of a village outside of Blantyre, where each child has a hand made doll, and that we do all that we can to help them, and the villages like them.
Every day is a mixture of gift, challenge, heartache and hope.
As Lisa has already shared, our group visited the hospital, accompanied by Bayana and some of his youth and young adult team. We visited several pediatric wards, where we offered words of encouragement and blessings, if desired, and distributed small gifts of soap, which the hospital seems to be unable to supply. We were welcomed by the parents and other relatives of the children, who are responsible for much of the hands-on patient care, so they are at the bedside much of the time. The hospital is too understaffed to provide much in the way of personal care, so the nurses must limit their care to the pressing medical issues.
As much as we had tried to prepare the team for the realities and conditions of a hospital in a very poor country, there is no way to truly describe the realities-one must personally witness them. Even those of us on the team who have medical experience and have traveled in developing countries were taken aback by much of what we witnessed in the pediatric ward. The most heartbreaking sight were the numerous children suffering from hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus (from Greek hydro-, meaning "water", and kephalos, meaning "head") is a medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain. This causes increased intracranial pressure inside the skull and may cause progressive enlargement of the head if it occurs in childhood, potentially causing convulsion, tunnel vision, and mental disability. It was once informally called “Water on the brain” (from Wikipedia) Even in well-developed healthcare systems, hydrocephalus can be difficult to treat and manage. The treatment often involves the surgical placement of a shunt (a flexible tube), to drain the excess CSF and relieve the pressure on the brain. Unfortunately, the tubes can become clogged and the swelling returns, requiring multiple surgical procedures. It is truly amazing that the surgeons and other medical staff are able to provide the care that they do, given the constant shortage of medications, equipment and other supplies that we take for granted.
When we visited the ward, we all swallowed hard-to get a sense of it, see the photos that Lisa posted. We share these images, knowing that they may be disturbing to view, but the thing you may find surprising is that the mothers wanted us to take the photos. I had brought a small portable photo printer with me, and I was able to instantly print out photos for the mothers. As soon as I printed one photo, all the mothers clamored to have a photo of themselves with their child. I printed photos for all the mothers in the ward, and then the hospital staff asked for photos as well, but by this time I had run out of paper. I suspect that most of the mothers have never seen a printed photo of themselves or their children.
We attended the English Worship Service at St. Michael’s and All The Angels Church in Blantyre. It is the oldest church in this city and is a beloved national monument. The service was full of music, scripture, prayer, and a sermon on walking like Jesus walked. After the service many people came up to us and wanted to know all about us – they definitely have a welcoming spirit!
This morning started out with breakfast at at hotel. Our youth were especially impressed. Made to order omelettes and sausage were a big hit. And the jam provided for the toast was “almost as good as Lois Murdoch’s.” They loved the juice that was labelled “tropical” and spent the rest of the day scouring advertisements and billboards trying to identify what this juice might look like on a store shelf so that they could buy some. Three of our group members have serious food allergies that cause more uncertainty in trying to order, but so far so good. Our hotel uses vegetable oil (not peanut oil) which allows our teammate with nut allergies more safe choices on the menu. Breakfast was easy and most comfortable of all of our meals so far because we could see the food before choosing it. It may seem strange to focus on the food for this blog entry, but when mealtimes are full of unknowns requiring courage and an adventurous spirit, it is a real cause for celebration when it works out as well as breakfast did.
After 36 hours of traveling with 12 people, 21 pieces of checked baggage, 12 carryon bags, 3 planes, 3 airport security screenings and 2 immigration checkpoints. We arrived in Blantyre, Malawi where we piled the luggage and people into vans and cars. We were able to hand Bayana bags and boxes containing donations to his ministries here from friends in the Bay Area (AV and soccer equipment mostly) and then get settled in our rooms. Shingi and Bayana provided us with an enthusiastic and warm welcome that made us all feel like family. Around the dinner table we shared some of the standout first impressions of today. Here are a couple:
The friendliness of everyone from airport personnel to people at the hotel.
The general sense of happiness of everyday people, even when they obviously have many struggles
How much faith is part of the language and culture of people here
How many different thing women carry here either on their heads or their backs: from charcoal to water, babies to building supplies
Here are some pictures from the last 36 hours.
We flew South African Airways. Since this was Cerue’s first trip on airplanes, South African Airlines gave her a couple of goody bags and announced her name over the loudspeaker!