Here it is, my first posting from Malawi! I can’t believe I left only one week ago yesterday…part of that is because of the unplanned 2-day layover in Johannesburg (who knew Air Malawi stopped flying in October?). So, I arrived in Blantyre on Saturday via South African Airways. Still awaiting word on two pieces of luggage that didn’t show up in Johannesburg. They were there, I’m sure, but who knows exactly where.
After my arrival and quick stop by the grocery store for essentials (TP, milk, top ramen, canned tuna, coffee and beer), Aysha greeted me and took me “big grocery shopping!” I was thrilled to have her guidance—and the ride so I could really load up. Her welcome itinerary also included attending a large party to wish an expecting couple well prior to the soon-to-be mother’s journey to the UK (better healthcare). A small dinner party at her house followed this and the full day was a great way to acclimatize to Malawi.
Everyone from the luggage handlers to the taxi drivers (especially the one named “Rightfoot”) to the air-time agent (internet) has been extremely helpful and generous with their time (and patience)! Malawian patience is one of the biggest cultural differences I have noticed. As an example, I was at the bank yesterday at closing time (inadvertently—3pm—who knew?) and was 8th in the line for deposits. The two being served had enormous amounts of cash to deposit—bags filled with “bricks” of 500 kwacha notes. I was told the bricks were each 1,000,000 kwacha, and the one person must have stacked 8 bricks on the counter ($1=165kwacha). Each brick has 10 rubber-banded bundles of 100,000 kwacha. Well, the teller has to unbundle each and put the stack into the cash counter and then rebundle the brick very neatly. I don’t think the line moved for 30 minutes. I suggested to my Malawian colleague who brought me, that it might be better for me to come back tomorrow. Her reply was, “but you are so close!” When I finally got to the teller to deposit my rent money into an account, I was told politely that I had filled out the deposit slip incorrectly. He did not have any forms for me to fill out, so he corrected mine (“let me show you how we fill out the deposit form”), made the deposit for me, and told me to go fill out the form again and come to him directly to have the form stamped indicating proof of deposit. I finished my banking in only 90 minutes!
The weather is fantastic. It is hot in the sun (80s and humid) and each day thunderstorms have rolled through. Some carry umbrellas, but no one wears a rain jacket. I haven’t been caught in the rain, but it’s inevitable.
I am looking forward to classes starting Monday. This week the students are on holiday so my schedule includes some meetings and time to prepare for classes. On Friday I will lead a workshop on clinical instruction to assist the clinicians as they prepare for the 2nd year students to begin their first clinical experiences.
My housing is very nice—I have rented a 2 bedroom guesthouse on a property within walking distance of the College of Medicine. Utilities are included, as are housekeeping, security guards, and a gardener. I think this is fairly typical in Blantyre—people either live in a house where people work or they work in a house where people live. Most homes have “servants” quarters as well. This is where the housekeeper lives. The guards rotate so there is 24 hour coverage, but live off site, as does the gardener.
As I write this, the sun has come up, the birds have awakened, and thunder is rolling in the distance. I will post it a bit later in the day, as there is “too much traffic on the internet” to maintain connectivity in the morning and evening. This has wreaked havoc on my plans to audio skype (either Malawi’s asleep or the US is asleep when the internet is accessible), so for now Richard and I are chatting briefly on the phone every day or two. If you need to get in touch, email me or let Richard know! I’m still working to send/receive international texts….
That’s it for now! I’m safe and getting situated and looking forward to classes starting!
Dr. Peterson will periodically post guest blogs. To follow her full blog visit malawinotmaui (Learning and teaching physical therapy students in Malawi).
By Dr. Cathy Peterson