Sunday Morning~ Blantyre to Mulanje

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre to Mulanje

Mwamuna mnzako ndi pa culu, n’kulinga utakwerapo. ~ Your fellow man is as on the anthill, you only find out once you have climbed that anthill. 

~ Chewa proverb

January 28, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’m resting my legs today after a climb up Mt Mulanje on Friday and down Saturday. It’s not an outing to be taken lightly and I’m feeling the consequences of a relatively sedentary month. I was invited to join the trip by a woman I knew here from before; someone I always found physically intimidating. Not her stature, she’s very petite, but she is a powerhouse in an iron-man sort of way. I’d never thought of hiking with her, fearing I’d be left in the dust. I initially refused the invitation, thinking I can’t take a day off so early in my job here, but Friday had nothing going on aside from a preceptor workshop which was a repeat of the one I’d gone to on Wednesday, so thought climbing Mulanje would be better than trying to look like I had something to do. I collected my sleeping bag, rain gear, food and wine for the evening at the top and stuffed it into a sack. I slept fitfully Thursday night, worried I’d die on the mountain trying to keep up. I am the tortoise plodding along, eventually making it to the destination, but never the winner of any race. I had no idea if the two others on this hike were in my league or hers.

Mulanje is a hard climb and just as hard coming down. It’s very steep for two thirds of it. You don’t need to use your arms like on Katahdin, but it’s a serious ascent. Obviously doable, but   it’s hot until you near the top and by then I’m usually almost delirious. At a steady pace it’s about a five and a half hour hike to the massive plateau. There are several huts up there spread across the huge landscape and it can be several hours hike between them. This recent outing was just an up and down, staying at only one hut. I think people have gone up and down in one day but I can’t imagine doing that. It’s not much faster going down. My legs were shaking even with a night’s rest between. But it is so gorgeous up there. So gorgeous. The tallest peak is called Sapitwa, the Chichewa translation of which is “Don’t go there”. We tried to summit it in 2018 but it was socked in and raining and we abandoned that goal without regret as it was too slippery and dangerous. I’m very happy to make it up to the plateau, get settled into a hut, bathe in a mountain stream and relax on the porch taking in the vista with a cup of tea. Glorious. In the past I’ve purified the stream water before drinking it, but this time I didn’t have anything with me to do that, so I’m hoping Giardia hasn’t made a home in my gut. There’s no other water source. Bathing is done downstream obviously. If asked, the guardian of the hut would collect water and heat it for a bath but it wasn’t too cold and I’m not that much of a sissy. I wouldn’t waste the firewood unless I was desperate. The cool stream felt good after the climb.

The deforestation is heartbreaking. The mountain has been stripped of trees, most significantly, the Mulanje Cedar. There is a reforestation program implemented, but it will take forty years for the saplings to grow. Fuel is a huge problem in this country, now so overpopulated, and trees have been harvested for charcoal. The cyclone last March created massive landslides on the mountain and many swaths of destroyed vegetation were visible. It’s shocking to see.

I’m gradually getting settled into my new place and trying to make it home. When I left my house Tuesday morning I asked the gardener if he could cut off the dead ferns outside my front door. Unless it is November in New England, dead plants really bother me. I thought my entrance would look nice with some tropical flowers as a border and would have been happy to do it myself, but would never without consulting the gardener. He is very sweet and told me he would ask Bwana, meaning the boss, which, is appropriate since this isn’t my property. When I got home the ferns were all ripped out and fresh plants were in place. It looks so much better. I smile every time I see the front door. I got home from the Mulanje trip to find my house spotlessly cleaned and my laundry done and put away. This is very, very nice. Now I just need to acquire a couple of comfortable chairs for my veranda and maybe a foot stool, figure out how to get money from my U.S. account into one in the UK to pay for my car and I’ll be in great shape. 

Getting fast internet at home has been really nice. The guy living next door set it all up and it’s great. I was able to do a zoom call on Thursday evening, a coordination of schedules between the U.S., Botswana, and Malawi. It was a good discussion on architectural designs of birthing units, about which I feel passionately opinionated. I’m hoping for input among multiple disciplines for the future success of the midwifery ward here. Things change in medicine continually and layouts of medical units in the west become obsolete within a few years. When I started my nursing career, a gallbladder removal required a two week hospital stay. Now people are home by lunchtime. Most medical procedures don’t require any overnight in a unit and that impacts the physical layout of a facility. Renovations are constantly needed. Maternity care could be different. Childbirth itself doesn’t change though the culture of it does. Protocols evolve depending on insurance reimbursement, but that’s all financially driven. Focusing on respectful care of women in normal childbirth we could design something appropriate for the culture, climate, and safety that could last a good long time. I find that aspect of this project fascinating and exciting. Poorly designed physical space can make a job more difficult, require more staff, and make people hate their jobs. Well designed space improves everything. I theorize that people who hate cooking would enjoy it more if their kitchen were designed well. 

I haven’t started teaching yet. Students come back on Monday, February 5th. We’re having a planning meeting on Friday this week to decide who teaches what. Last minute seems to be the order of the day. Hopefully I’ll be teaching something I’ve taught before. I’m feeling very zen about it, settling in to the way of life. It feels good.

Love to all,


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