Category Archives: Malawi

Why I Do Not Make a Good African Woman – Reason #1

And this is a big one!

In many parts of Africa there is a form of transportation called a “bike taxi”.

The bike taxi strikes fear into my heart.

Take a battered bicycle and put a “seat” on the back of it over the rear tire, and you have a bike taxi.

Like this one?

I wish.  No.

Like these ones.  (These have really good seats on them, by the way).

I recently went on another adventure to the African continent.  The trip in a nutshell went like this:

Fly to Dubai, meet up with Abner, hang out in Dubai for a bit waiting for our next flights, and sleep in the airport.  Fly to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania…me via Qatar, Abner direct.  Meet up with Abner again.  Spend night in DAR.  Take boat to Zanzibar.  Spend time in Zanzibar.  Take boat back to DAR.  Spend night in DAR.  Take buses and minibuses from DAR to Malawi.  Spend time in Malawi.  Take buses/minibuses to Mozambique.  Spend time in Mozambique.  Fly from Mozambique to South Africa.  Say good-bye to Abner as he heads to Lisbon.  Fly home.

This post is about the middle part of the trip.  The part where we meet up with friends in Sani/Nkhota Kota, Malawi.  There’s a lot of stories to tell up to this point, but this is as good a place as any to start.

In Malawi, especially in the rural “bush” areas, women wear skirts.  So, I was in a skirt.  And we were backpacking, so I had a big pack on my back, and a smaller one on my front.  And I’m not a young thing anymore…pushing 50 in fact.  And we’d been on the road for over two days, so I was tired and sore.

As we neared the place where our bus would drop us off to meet our Malawian friends, I began to wonder how, in the dead of night (it was after 10 PM) we would get from the roadside drop off point to Sam’s house (about 10 km) into the bush.  Is it too remote for a regular bush taxi?  Would we walk?  Or, please God, no, would he have arranged for bike taxis?

As you have probably guessed, it was the latter.  I took one look at those taxis and pictured myself trying to jump up onto the back to ride it sidesaddle with all my gear, and in a skirt, and I nearly died.  That was SO not going to happen.  “Fortunately”, once the “taxi drivers” saw the color of my skin, the previously agreed to price all of the sudden became seriously inflated.  I took that as my opportunity to encourage their immediate dismissal, opting instead to do the long walk.

Sam was quite amused.  African women have literally no problem with this form of transportation.  Even the very old ones with a parcel on their heads and one grandbaby in their laps with another one their backs.  And they are graceful while doing it.  Of course, they’ve been doing it their whole life.  This would have been my first time.

I seriously hate being a “problem” like that.  I try very hard to do the best I can to just quietly do what needs to be done.  And normally, I am extremely “game” in most travel circumstances.

But not this time.  I just couldn’t do it.  So we walked.  So I made all of us walk.  😦  And I was glad we did.  It was so very dark and the dirt road was bumpy and full of washed out areas, rocks, and potholes.  Even if I’d have gotten up there, I’m pretty sure at some point I would have fallen off, and possibly injured myself.  This is what I tell myself to make myself feel better about not doing it.

Perhaps the next time I find myself faced with a bike taxi I won’t be in a skirt, I won’t be loaded down, it won’t be dark, and there would be a step stool.  I’d give it a whirl if so.

But not this time.

In this particular case, I did not make a good African woman.


No Quality OR Quantity

“The moral progress of a nation and its greatness should be judged by the way it treats its animals.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

While I think that perhaps Gandhi had a point, I wonder if he ever imagined that we in the United States (and other western nations) would squander the amount of resources that we do on our pets.  I am sure he was including food animals in his statement as well, maybe even wild animals, and so I believe that if the United State’s greatness was judged by the way we treat our animals we’d probably not be considered so great.

But I don’t agree so much with Gandhi.  I think a country’s greatness should be measured by the quality and the quantity of its toilet paper.  America is truly the land of toilet paper milk and honey. 

Have you ever traveled internationally?  If you have, depending on where you went, you will probably be nodding your head in agreement with me when I say that the U.S. has the awesomest and most available toilet paper that the world has to offer.  How often in a foreign country is there no T.P. (let ALONE seat covers) in the airport?  Is there EVER T.P. in the bathroom at the gas station (if there IS a bathroom available for public use at the gas station)?  At restaurants where there often IS T.P., isn’t it often rough and oddly colored?  You know what I’m talkin’ about!  Do any of you, like *I* do, always have a roll of T.P. in a ziplock tucked in your backpack when traveling out of the country??  (And wet wipes, too).  The worst toilet paper I ever used was in St. Petersburg, Russia, about 10 years ago.  It was milky grayish purple, unevenly cut, and about a #180 grit.  More like crepe paper.  Pretty much like this, only change the color:

I had to look through most of the stalls to find even that.  And this was at a cultural and performing arts center!  The best non-American T.P. I have ever used was in Malawi, Africa.  Malawi aspires for greatness and realizes that without great T.P., this is a pipe dream.

I recently watched “Sicko” for the first time.  I do not plan on dissecting all of the issues and problems in and about that movie.  Save one smallish little thing.  Michael Moore holds Cuba up as a bastion of excellence in socialized health care.  But what I want to know is, how can a country that runs out of toilet paper even begin to reeeeealllly be considered great in the health care arena???   The Cuban government slashed the amount of imports it’s allowing and has fallen short of the raw materials needed to keep its citizens in T.P.  These beleaguered Cuban citizens may not see it on the shelves of the local CommuMart again until NOVEMBER!!!  The government is encouraging people to use cigar wrappers as an alternative.  How hygienic can that possible be?  Oh, and in case you missed it, that also means they are encouraging smoking.  Just how many cigars do the parents of a family of four need to smoke in order to keep up with the toilet paper needs?  It’s too bad that Michael Moore wasn’t making his film during a T.P. shortage…perhaps his take on things might have been a little bit different.

Can a country who rations and runs out of T.P. really enjoy unlimited access to top-notch health care?  I somehow doubt it.  So let’s just stop comparing our health care to theirs.  And BTW (by the way), most of westernized and socialized europe doesn’t have such great T.P. either.

I’m just saying…


Tent Sweet Tent

I’d like to welcome you to my home!  This was it this past summer in Malawi.  Some nights I almost couldn’t wait to crawl inside it and curl up on my air mattress and soak in the night sounds.  In Zambia two years it ago, it was soooo cold at night that I dreaded “lights out”.  This year, despite being the neighbor to the east of Zambia, the Malawi nights were relatively warm.  Perhaps this was due to the proximity to Lake Malawi?

Home Sweet Malawi Home by you.

Despite its relatively small size, I was still able to often lose fairly important articles inside of it.  I lost my toothbrush once for almost a week.  You can’t just run down to the store to buy a new one, ya know?  I finally had the time to tear everything apart and find it, but by then the brush and interior of the case had mildewed.  Pretty gross.  So, what do you do?  You pop it into a pot of boiling hot water!  Good as new…almost.  (ew)

Even though I was very comfortable at night I often did not sleep much.  If I got five hours of sleep I felt pretty lucky (this from a 9 or 10 hour a night sleeper).  Since I didn’t have much time to myself during the days, I decided to embrace my sleeplessness and enjoy the nighttime “solitude” in my little home.  I would spend the hours thinking, remembering, planning, and praying.  It’s funny where one’s brain goes when one is lying awake on top of an air mattress and sleeping bag listening to the distant waves of a lake on the shore with the bright African moon illumunating brightly when one is in the uttermost part of the earth…I’d get flight of ideas and wonder…

…how well would I be sleeping if my cat was here with me…(and then I’d miss her)…

…will anyone puke tonight?…(and I’d pray not)…

…are the dogs in my “kitchen” again?…(and if they are, did I prepare well enough so they couldn’t rob me?)…

…are those REALLY waves I’m hearing?…

…if he has Aspberger’s…(or what?)…

…when the propane tank is going to run out, again…

…why the dusk malaria mosquitos are so small and the dawn dengue mosquitos SO HUGE…

…how much more food can I buy with the money I have left “in the food account”… and will there be anything more than sugar, tomatos, yams, oil, and eggs to be bought next time?…

…how it is possible that it’s going to be three years already since Connie died…(and then I’d miss her, too)

I would pray for whatever and whoever showed up in my mind and eventually I would drift off to sleep.  Occasionally I would dream.  But every morning, when I unzipped my tent and crawled out, I was met with the most brilliant skies reflecting off the lake and I’d forget how tired I was and I’d wrap myself in the beauty and wildness of it all.  And I’d wonder what I ever did to deserve this amazing life God had given to me…


Wagons Ho!!

Today (or maybe tomorrow, I’m not exactly sure!) my sister Whitney and her son Mitchell have packed up her truck and a U-Haul and will be heading out for Colorado to start their new life.

And my brother Phil has packed up his Suburban with his four kids and my sister Liz’ two kids and has hitched that U-Haul up and is heading out to take Whitney and Mitchell to Colorado. 

There’s a little part of me that feels bad that I miss so much of my family’s “happenings” because of my involvement with Teen Missions over the years.  Like I have missed nine of my mother’s birthdays, for example.  And I’ll miss having nearly all my family together in Colorado this summer while I’m gone.  BUT, sometime very late this evening my team will be leaving Boot Camp for Malawi, and what a blessing God has given me to be able to spend the summer with a group of teenagers who have given their summers up in order to minister to African children.  I’m glad that my family understands that I miss things not because I want to, but because the Lord has called me to do something else.

Whitney and her son are going to take over taking care of Mew Ling from my Dad when they get to Colorado.  I’m sure my Dad will be glad about that!  🙂 

Please pray for my team as we “pack-out”, and embark on our 8,200 mile journey from Orlando to Lilongwe (Malawi), and beyond.  Please pray that all of us, and all of our luggage, arrive safely.

You can’t even imagine how excited we all are to get to Malawi and get to work…

(Posted in absentia) 


Immun-aiyaiyai-zations

This year I needed to update my immunizations for my trip to Malawi and Ethiopia.  My Polio, Typhoid, and Yellow Fever are outdated and I’ve never had Hepatitis A.

Today I met with Becky at Passport Health to discuss just what my travel needs were going to be.

The final list?  Here you go!

  1. Hepatitis A injection
  2. Polio injection
  3. Yellow Fever injection
  4. Oral Typhoid series

Still need to get:

  1. Tetanus booster
  2. TB skin test (last one was over a year ago, will be able to procur this at work)

Declined:

  1. Influenza vaccine (I never get this)
  2. Meningococcal meningitis vaccine (I’ve been exposed so many times to this I must have some sort of immunity)
  3. MMR (measles, mumps, rubella).  I have now had this vaccine three times and while I have converted on my mumps and rubella, my titers continually come back negligible for measles, so I’m figuring no additional attempts will work either.

Definitely don’t need for this trip:

  1. Japanese Encephalitis vaccine  🙂  TRUE! 

We also discussed malaria and dengue fever.  Since it is winter, the chances of getting these diseases are lower as the mosquitos are fewer and farther between, but, as history has proven to me, I can get malaria from that one mosquito.  The malaria carrying mosquito gets you at night, the dengue carrying mosquito gets you during the day.  When in Zambia I didn’t take malaria meds nor did I use insect repellent.  I will use repellent this year.  I’m still thinking about my options for meds.  The cheap option is doxycycline, but that often leads to an unpleasant other kind of infection.  The other “cheaper” options have given me night terrors and generally creepy feelings which make them very undesireable to take again.  The best option is MUY expensive.  Almost $9.00 a pill!  AND I’d need 60 pills.  I don’t even want to do the math on that.  We’ll just have to see!  For sure I buy some Arinate when I get to Africa.  I want that on hand whether or not I’m pre-treating.  That’s a miracle drug for malaria and I don’t want to be without it.

Then there’s avian (bird) flu and cholera.  Since I’m in control of food preparation and water sanitization, I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to avoid getting either of these.  Just gotta remember to keep “my kids” away from any chickens and not serve any eggs that aren’t fully cooked!

Lastly, I picked up a prescription for Cipro.  I can take that for traveler’s diarrhea or an upper respiratory infection.

I got the three injections today.  Praying they don’t make me sick.  The last time I got the Yellow Fever one I was sick (gastro stuff and fever) for days and my arm was useless and excrutiatingly painful to the touch for over a week.  That was years ago.  Maybe this time it won’t be so bad.  I’ll wait to see if these round of shots makes me sick before I tackle the week-long regimen of oral Typhoid vaccination.  That one can cause pretty good gastro side effects and I don’t want to pile that on anything else I might be feeling!

AND we (Becky-also a nurse-and I) talked about my working there in the future!  Just to fill-in for her, nothing major.  She took my info and seemed very delighted at the possibility of having someone who could help out there in a pinch, or for vacations, etc.!

This is the first time I have used a traveler’s health clinic.  Very convenient, very easy.  Always before I have had to call around and find this place or that place who could accommodate my needs.  When I showed up at Passport Health, Becky had already prepared a full packet of very useful information and recommendations.  Live in Colorado?  Ever need to discuss travel needs and get shots and scripts?  Consider Passport Health.  I guess it’s another Unpaid Service Endorsement from me!  🙂  It’s a pay up front business, so I need to look into filing a claim with my insurance to see what they might pick up.  Never done that before.  New skill to learn!  🙂

I haven’t been really great at posting lately, but if you don’t hear from me for awhile, you’ll know why!  (Because I’m curled up sick in my bed not far from a bathroom!)

Now, as I am expecting company in a few days, I’m off to clean my house, just in case I’m not feeling up to it later!

02/18/09, an update:

I should have updated this post long ago!  I had absolutely no side effects from any of my shots, not even any arm soreness.  I ended up choosing doxycycline for my malaria prophylaxis and was diligent about taking it as directed and diligent with my bug repellent.  Despite being chewed alive at dusk, I did not contract malaria (which was a great relief, having had it twice before).  I had only some minor gastro-intestinal side effects from the oral typhoid, but nothing hardly even to mention.  It could have even been coincidental.  The next time I travel to a place where meningitis is recommended, I will probably get that vaccine.  And, if it is available, I am considering getting the rabies series as well.  But as of this update, rabies is only available post-exposure as there is a shortage of it.

Bye for now!  And remember, traveling smart includes getting your vaccines!


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