Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre
Citsiru cinaomba ng’oma ocenjera nabina ~ The fool beat the drum while the clever ones danced.
~ Malawian proverb
March 18, 2018
I gave up alcohol for lent, forgetting that the first year students would be starting clinical and the women’s group would be having their graduation and jewelry sale during that time. I’m really proud of my ability to find the calming effects of lemongrass tea, sipped while ripping my hair out. But we made it through the week without killing a patient (I think), and the graduation/ jewelry sale yesterday was a success. And it’s Sunday, which, doesn’t count toward lent so wine is on today’s menu.
We hadn’t really defined what “success” meant for our Saturday sale, but I based the description on the fact that it didn’t rain, people showed up, people bought stuff, the women were proud and happy, we got great feedback, and some offered us new ideas. That was plenty good for me. I’d had very low expectations for this project. If ten women learned a new skill, I figured it was worth the money I spent on supplies, artists’ stipends, and snacks. I was stressed about making certificates for the women. I couldn’t find anyone with a color copier, so made them from a template on my mac and printed them on yellow paper to look festive. They were a hit. Friday was our final class and a reporter from the Malawi News station and newspaper came to do a story about the women. Eneless suggested we display everything for the video (and possible TV story). That added an hour of running around Friday, but it turned out to be good prep for Saturday; we got some display kinks worked out. I do love displaying things and the class found that very entertaining. They watched me with fascination. I love Malawian crafts but display is not their strong suit. Everything is usually piled up in a heap and you have to paw through it all. The reporter made some videos of the women making jewelry, did some interviews, and supposedly it will be in the paper sometime this week. About three minutes after the class ended, the sky opened and buckets of rain came pouring down. Buckets. I had just finished moving all the jewelry back inside and moments later we had a river running through our yard where the jewelry had been hanging moments earlier. That didn’t help my anxiety level on Saturday morning. I didn’t know if a hundred people or five were coming and wasn’t sure how we’d fit everything in the house if it rained. Our living room would be very crowded with fifteen people, standing. But even though Saturday’s clouds looked exactly like they did on Friday, Chimemwe told me, “Oh, no. It will not rain today.” I asked, “Are you sure? The clouds look like they did yesterday.” He laughed and said, “No. I am sure. It will not rain.” And so I believed him and set up everything outside. And he was right. It did not rain. He is always right.
The women all came an hour early, dressed to the nines, carrying containers of food they’d made. I asked Peter (one of the artists) and Chimemwe to make a sign for the corner directing people to our house. They asked me what to write. I said, “Just write ‘jewelry sale’ with an arrow pointing down the road” and off they went with the paper and markers. A few minutes later they came to me and asked, “Is this okay?” and I looked at the colorful sign that said, “JUWEL SALE” and was about to tell them to make another one with the correct spelling, but stopped myself and said, “Sure. That’s fine.” The Malawians won’t care and the mzungus will laugh. It was fine. It was supposed to start at ten, but it was 10:30 before we were even ready and later before people started showing up. Our friend Daisy, who runs the cultural center here, arrived around eleven and said, “Sorry I didn’t make it in time for the ceremony.” I told her we hadn’t even done it yet, it was all a little loose. I think when people started buying stuff we didn’t want to interrupt them! Daisy told me one of her favorite words was the Greek, “Kairos” which means, the opportune moment. It’s my new favorite word. Finally at one point, Eneless came to me and said she thought we should do the ceremony. I really wanted her to be running the show, but we hadn’t even discussed what we’d do or how we’d do it, or who would say what. That was poor planning. It could have been more polished. Glad the TV crew wasn’t there. So we exchanged some phrases: Should I talk? Or you talk? You talk. Ok, will you translate? Yes, I’ll translate. After every sentence, or should I just talk? Just talk. (This took place while everyone was quietly watching us.) I had planned to organize my thoughts and prepare something, but got caught up in set up and running around and didn’t so I am a little disappointed I wasn’t more eloquent. Half the people couldn’t understand me anyway, but I felt like my little speech was weak. Giving out the certificates was fun, however (they do love certificates around here). Endless called their names and they came forward for a photo with their “mother”. Some people from an organization for single mothers were here and want to emulate what we did. They were taking notes. Daisy bought a bunch of stuff to put in the gift shop at the cultural center. Others bought stuff to bring home for gifts. It was really quite satisfying. Exhausting, but satisfying.
Now that I’ve had a night’s sleep and regrouped, I have some thoughts I want to share with the women. I could have done some of it yesterday, and wish I had, but they are all coming back this Friday to discuss what we’ll do with money earned from the sale and what the future of the group should be. We made about $130, which, is a lot of money in these parts. We got a few special orders and need to figure out how that money will get distributed. One of the biggest challenges, as I’ve mentioned before, is finding a market for their stuff. After guests left yesterday we had our celebration sodas and samosas, everyone packed up, cleaned up the displays, and the women left to walk home. I then walked to a local salon to get a six dollar pedicure, one of my guilty indulgences. For an hour and a half my feet get all the love they desire. It’s heaven. As I walked home, admiring my adorable pink toes, I thought the salons might be a good place for the women to sell their stuff. There are loads of hair places and a surprising number that do manicures and pedicures. On Friday I am going to discuss this with them. I am extremely pleased with all the women have accomplished in eight weeks but I don’t want to take this on as another job. Rather, I want them to find markets for their stuff and learn how to budget for materials and expenses. I’ve been supplying all their needs so far (thus the mother title), and want to be careful they don’t expect a gravy train with no end to the line. One option is to use what we made at the sale to buy more supplies and distribute it all equally. We’ll see how the discussion goes. The advice from today’s proverb is to give people credit for what they are capable of doing. I think I’ll practice saying it in Chichewa and wow them with it on Friday. Damn, I wish I’d done it for the speech yesterday.
In the other part of my life, I will be so glad when Good Friday comes. That means this clinical rotation will be over, we’ll be on the road to Mozambique for a ten day vacation on the Indian Ocean and I will no longer be living in fear of someone I am responsible for irreversibly harming a woman. I found students drawing up incorrect medications, holding the syringes by the needles, and documenting incorrect vital signs. It’s impossible to watch all of them all the time and they are being told to do things they haven’t learned yet. It is a miracle to me that anyone walks out of that hospital alive. I feel so guilty that I want this rotation to be over. I know this stuff will still be happening, but I don’t want to see it. I feel like a personal failure for being relieved when it’s time to leave. I did, however, see some students being very kind and tender to patients when they didn’t know I was watching. That got me through one morning.
One of the reasons I find such pleasure in this women’s art class is it’s such a contrast to the suffering I see so many women endure. It’s joyful to see women chatting with each other, laughing, and making something creative and beautiful. I am praying they pay it forward. Baby steps.
Love to all,