Sunday Morning~ Blantyre
November 12, 2017
Anyani sasekana zikundu ~ Monkeys don’t laugh at one another’s behind.
~ Malawian proverb
Before I left the states to come back here, the violence related to the bloodsucking had been reported on internationally. A lot of people asked if I was nervous about coming back–– if I felt safe enough? I reassured them I did. Peace Corps always errs on the side of caution and we would not be staying in an unstable country. Exactly one week after arriving back in Blantyre, I was chatting with a woman from Zimbabwe and she told me her son would be going to college in America. I said, “Really? Wow! That’s great!” She said, “I know, it’s a great opportunity. I know I need to let him go, but I am worried. I heard they shoot black men for no reason.”
How do I respond to this?
The violence that occurred here regarding the myth and superstition around “bloodsuckers” was swiftly dealt with. Police and military were called in to areas where mobs and rumor were getting out of control. Someone told me there were over 400 people in one prison. Politicians went personally to the areas where it was happening and met with the village chiefs. Communities made plans to keep themselves safe as people were terrified. There have been no incidents in the past few weeks and there is a cautiously optimistic feeling that it’s over. Those who perpetrated the violence have been arrested and contained. Education is being done to reassure villagers that vampires don’t exist. The village system is set up in a way that allows people to be heard. They have a forum to voice their fears and concerns and if done well, can be a positive experience of educating. The violence won’t be tolerated. Police and military are arresting anyone that even is associated with the mobs. This strategy has worked, it seems. We are still under a curfew. The area surrounding Mt Mulanje where the whole thing started will be off limits for at least another few months, I imagine. Even the nursing school pulled students from the district hospitals there, but the general sense is that those who have been tasked with protecting the public have done their jobs.
I couldn’t say the same for my own country. I couldn’t tell this woman not to worry. I couldn’t say there were a few isolated incidents but most of the time black men are perfectly safe in America. I couldn’t say our police, military, and politicians would never allow that to happen with any regularity. I couldn’t say the suppliers of weapons wouldn’t allow them to be used like that.
So, no. I was not worried about coming back here. When I am walking home from work and hear footsteps behind me, I don’t worry about who it is. I turn to them as they pass me and greet them and always get a polite greeting in return. I don’t walk around flaunting my privilege, though I suppose just being white makes that redundant. I don’t go near local bars at night. I don’t walk around flashing cash, in fact, I don’t carry much cash with me at all. I’m not stupid. I’m careful, but I don’t feel unsafe. I felt more uneasy driving alone in rural parts of the southern United States, passing randomly placed confederate flags, than I do here.
The only thing keeping me from despairing when I think about the violence at home is focusing on living a decent life and working to get sane people elected. I just can’t believe this is reality. This week’s election results helped.
I jumped right back into the routine here, arriving just in time to start the academic calendar. That was a random stroke of luck. I had taken my home leave to accommodate prior commitments and planned to just fill in wherever needed when I returned. The academic year starts at a different time each year, and no one seems to know when that will be until just before it happens. So when I left a the end of July, no one could tell me when the next term would start. Last year it was in October, so I thought I’d be missing the first couple of weeks. I went over to campus on Monday morning to find it was day one of the term and I was just in time for fourth year students orientation! How’s that for timing? It was incredibly touching. I opened the door to the classroom where the students were all spit and polished in their new uniforms and asked, “Am I late?” The faculty were at the front of the class and their faces lit up when they saw me. (I just love that.) One stood and said to the class, “Excuse me for a minute, I have to give this woman a hug.” Sweet. I wish I could bottle those smiles.
I’ve been assigned to supervise a group of ten students here at Queens since the curfew prohibits travel to any of the district hospitals. I’m relieved that I still am able to have clinical students, but dreaded going back into this teaching hospital. I still haven’t recovered from doing my orientation there a year ago. I spent two days there this week with students and it has gone from bad to worse. I come home so depressed it takes me all night to recover. I’m afraid someday I just won’t. I feel like women are being slaughtered. They are having c-sections for diagnoses like “big baby”. Even at home where there is ultrasound and highly experienced sonographers, the estimation of fetal weight is inaccurate. To just look at a woman’s belly and say “big baby” and pronounce that it won’t fit before we even give her a chance is making me crazy. They tell the woman during hard labor the baby won’t fit and she needs surgery. The women are scared and in pain. If I start to argue that we should give her some time to see if it will come on it’s own, the medical students and residents will eventually agree, but by then the woman has given up and just begs for surgery, so they wheel her away. I asked one resident as they were taking a woman away if they’d talked with her about having a tubal ligation? He told me she refused, but he’d gotten her to agree to it during a bad contraction. He laughed, apparently thinking this violation of her human right was funny. I was definitely not laughing when I told him, “That’s not informed consent when someone agrees to something while in terrible pain.” This is the first labor and delivery rotation for these students so they are incredibly passive and are witnessing intolerable behavior. I tell you, if anything is motivating me to get this model ward up and running, being assigned here for the next seven weeks will be it.
The first year students finished their orientation this week and their classes start tomorrow. I will be teaching the same course, so already have my lectures prepared. This is going to be so much less stressful. It is so much nicer having a little idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll be two days a week in lectures with the first years and two days a week on labor and delivery with the fourth years. One day I will do a skills lab, something I’m valuing more and more. I never thought teaching with a mannequin was very valuable but anything is better than using these women as guinea pigs. They are being tortured. I know similar stories of women being treated like this at home, too, so I’m not laughing at any other monkey’s behind.
It’ll be busy for the next seven weeks and it’ll go fast. It’s ironic, though, that now that we have less lecture prep and a nice car, we can’t go anywhere because of the curfew. I’m hoping it’ll be lifted (except for at Mulanje) by next week when we have a St. Andrews night party to go to. We’re doing some planning for our Christmas trip to the Nyika Plateau in the north of Malawi and maybe another trip around Easter to Mozambique. With weekends of lying around we might as well read the guidebooks.
Love to all,