Africa: a medical day

August 20th

I will never say I *need* anything ever again.

“I need milk.”
“I need a new skirt.”
“I need a vacation.”

I’m sure I will want these things over and over again in my lifetime. But I don’t really *need* them. Not after what I’ve seen today.

Today was a medical day.  We had one nurse on our team, which was helpful, but I wasn’t certain how I could be used. We picked up a few Malawian doctors and their staff along the way. Then we drove an hour and a half on dusty dirt roads to the village of Chimwang’ombe.

(Oh I’m sorry, were you looking for a pronunciation?)

I was asked to work  in the “pharmacy.”  No PhD in Pharmacy here. Just a regular ol’ degree in Music Education makes me the perfect gal for the job. I counted pills and prepared them for distribution. And when we ran out of little baggies to put them in, we made our own containers out of paper. (I knew that Fine Arts degree would come in handy somewhere).

Jana, the Pharmacist

After I finished packaging the prescriptions, I wandered through the center. Other members of our team were taking peoples’ temperature, weight & blood pressure. The Malawian people waited so patiently in line as they moved from station to station. The nurse on our team was pricking fingers and doing a simple blood test for Malaria. Most of the 74 people tested that day were children. Of the 74, only 2 were positive. That’s a good sign, but I couldn’t help but wonder how accurate the test was.

My teammate John, testing for Malaria

The “medical center” was actually a multi-purpose center where they also taught children and fed them. It smelled like a barn. Animals, like wild dogs and chickens, roamed around freely. The adults smelled of horrible body odor as I leaned over to weigh them. Deodorant is not a priority and they don’t wash their clothes with the same frequency as we do. These clothes were so badly torn, but I noticed that many of them were dressed in their best. Men in old suit jackets several sizes too large. Sandals that were also too large, but that had been cut to fit their feet. Most with no shoes at all. I was here. Serving the most vulnerable of God’s people. I felt guilty for feeling any discomfort at all, so I reminded myself to love them through it. To offer each one a smile, a pat on the back and a “zikomo” (thank you) as they handed me their medical card.

Many of the adults weighed in the vicinity of 100 lbs. As we were weighing them, we had to be sure to check the young ladies for a baby on their back. Babies are always carried in a wrap on someone’s back and they are *very* unhappy when they come off.  I was happy to see that the nursing mothers were a more reasonable weight. And so were most babies. As they fed their little ones, I knew they were getting the best nourishment in the village.

After our work was finished, a woman from the MoH treated us to a homemade Malawian lunch.  I wanted to be respectful and partake in the meal, but at the same time I was nervous. I saw them washing plastic dishes from a cooler of cold well water. Water I knew I was not supposed to drink. As the dripping plate passed my way, I received it, said a quiet prayer and filled my plate with small morsels of food: goat, beans, cabbage and Nsima (corn flour mixed with water and formed into a patty, similar to grits). I looked to my right and then to my left. There were no utensils. I watched my new Malawian friend as she ate. She dipped her fingers, like a spoon, into the Nsima and then again into the beans. I followed suit… but then my hands were dirty. I scanned the table for napkins. None. How did they do all of this so gracefully?

LUNCH: beans, nsima, cabbage & goat

This lovely lady made our lunch.

After lunch, we walked to the well where children were getting water. Behind the school center was a garden – papaya trees & cabbage were growing there. Beautiful colors were rising up from the brown landscape. 

Cabbage grows well here.

We made cross necklaces with the children, which appeared to be a treasured gift;  for the adults as well. One woman was even collecting the broken plastic beads. These silly plastic beads that I buy at the dollar store by the thousands and vacuum up in angst. These beads are her treasure.  I’m sure she would find a use for them. They seem to find a use for everything.

Look at that gorgeous new necklace!



I have one more thing to tell you. Are you sitting down?

It was a wonderfully fulfilling day of serving and fellowship. But it wasn’t over yet. I knew there was one more thing I needed to do before I got back on that bus, for the hour and a half drive on bumpy roads back to Lilongwe.

I needed to use the bathroom.

the restroom

And friends, I did it. As classy as it sounds, I peed in a hole.  Nothing, I mean nothing, had prepared me for that experience. I guess that’s all I have to say about that.

We returned home to our guest house and soon after, the power was shut down. This would become a pretty nightly occurrence. We ate dinner by candlelight and then called it a night. We’d have another busy day tomorrow.


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