Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Mtengo usamakoma pokwera pokha. ~ A tree should not only be good when climbing up.

~ Chewa proverb

June 16, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday something called a chiperone settled over Blantyre. It’s a cloud that descends and sits, without moving, between the mountains surrounding the city. I’d heard drizzle during the night, which I thought was unusual for this time of year, but went back to sleep thinking it would be clear in the morning. My bed faces a window with a view of the city, (twinkly at night) with mountains forming a backdrop. Yesterday morning though, all I saw was thick fog. It seriously could have been the coast of Maine. I couldn’t even see the garden. And the drizzle continued and it went on like that all day. I didn’t pack an umbrella or raincoat as it’s the dry season and I was not expecting a day of rain. It was so cold I had to shut the windows, something I rarely do, but I had on every long sleeved shirt I brought and was still cold. I spent the day painting on teabags, and wrapped up in a blanket on the couch reading. I think I drank fourteen cups of tea. I had planned to do a walkabout, which is my term for just rambling around by foot, but without a raincoat or umbrella it would have been just slipping in the mud and being cold and wet. I tucked in and did a lot of thinking about my work here, my relationship with George, possibilities for the future, and was actually a little bored. Cold and bored. At three in the afternoon the rain stopped and I went out to walk, happy there was electricity and a hot shower for when I got back. Then it was a nice dinner with friends who were equally bundled up. This morning is clear again but quite cold and my walk to church in a little while will be brisk.

It’s been quite a week and having some time to sit and reflect yesterday wasn’t a bad thing. I could never have imagined where the idea we had in the car ride to Lilongwe two years ago would take us. At that point in time I was so frustrated with the plight of women here and the challenges the faculty has with trying to provide a quality education for the students, I was ready to go home and say I tried and leave it at that. In that car Ursula, Elizabeth, and I complained about the way things are, beat our breasts about the unfairness of it, and kicked around this idea of having a separate ward where we could actually practice our profession in it’s true form. It seemed then like a fantasy. A hahaha-wouldn’t-that-be-nice daydream, like owning a brownstone in the East Village, or having Hillary Clinton as president. This week, two years after that car ride, the three of us were sitting in a room with twenty other people, laying out a five year plan for renovating, equipping, and instituting a midwifery-led ward here at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. I was nearly weeping for the beauty of it. It was so much more than we ever imagined we could accomplish. 

We’ve gone from hoping we could have a little corner of the existing maternity ward to being well on our way to establishing the first midwifery-led model ward in Malawi, with the support of SEED Global Health, the College of Nursing, Queens Hospital, the College of Medicine, and the Ministry of Health! All working together! To make women’s lives better! Woo hoo! It’s happening people!! 

Monday we laid out the five designs the students at Jefferson University created and went over the differences and the pros and cons of each design. My friend Chris, the architect, was there and offered to take the design we chose to get a rough estimate for the renovation. Since we don’t know what it will cost, we aren’t able to initiate a fundraising plan. Getting a ballpark figure will start that ball rolling and I never thought I would be so excited about fundraising. I actually look forward to it. Can’t wait. Then we began the long-term planning meeting which spread out over three days and we used every single minute of it and then some. I learned so much! I thought to myself several times during the three days that this would seem like the sort of activity that would drive me crazy, trying to come to consensus with this many people, but honestly, it was enlightening, and fun. As each point was brought forward, the discussion was pertinent and insightful and addressed issues we hadn’t thought of. The people in the room from administration were keen to understand our needs completely, from every angle. They said, “You have to describe this as you would describe every step of eating a meal. You can’t just say, ‘I took the food and ate it.’ You have to describe, opening the door to the dining room, selecting the plate and the fork, deciding whether you need a knife or spoon, every single aspect of this needs to be laid out in detail for us to make a plan for implementation.” It was miraculous to me. Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning? You think I’d ever be interested in that process? Well, now I am! It is fascinating when you really understand how it is applied to something you care about. We came to a consensus for the ultimate goal of the project, what our objectives are, what actions we need to take to meet the objectives, how we’ll measure the output and describe the outcomes. I’d sit back in my chair every so often just to take it all in. It was an honor just to be in the midst of the minds around that table. The incredible respect shown to one another, the way misunderstandings were clarified, the expression of pride and support for the chance to really make a difference in the lives of Malawian women, I tell you, it was something to behold. Every once in awhile Ursula, Elizabeth, and I would catch each other’s eye. Ursula would raise her right eyebrow just slightly, Elizabeth’s eyes would open a bit wider, as if the message “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS??!!!” was floating between us.

Friday afternoon the chief nursing officer from the Ministry of Health in Lilongwe joined us. She was taken on a tour of the existing ward and Ward 1-A which will become the midwifery-led ward. Her presence here was a big flipping deal. People curtseyed a little when they greeted her. She spoke about her support for this project and how she hopes it will become a model for the whole country. I nearly fell over in a swoon. Someone even dropped the first ladies name, saying she might be interested in supporting this. There’s still a ton of work to do, but it’s nice to hear people talking about this not as an idea, but as an existing entity. Now to create it step by step. 

It feels like we’ve gone up the tree, we’re just now planning how to get down.

Love to all,


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