a trip to Malawi
I am back from my travels. The trip was a success with a couple of misfortunes. My suitcase was lost again. This time not only with my clothes but also a pile of teaching materials. I was optimistic when I boarded the Ethiopia bound plan on Sunday evening in Heathrow because my newly acquired AirTag localised to the same gate as my plane. I relaxed into my seat, enjoying the new to me luxury of business class travel. Dr C, would you like a glass of champagne? Hell yes!
In Addis Ababa, chaos prevailed but not unpleasant, just busy in an energetic kind of way. What a difference to the chaos in Heathrow, which is an airport I loathe. I made the mistake to check where my AirTag was. Yes, you guessed right, in Heathrow. There was nothing I could do but travel on to Blantyre. I was wiser this time round and packed a change of clothes in my backpack so at least did not have to wash my knickers straight away.
I was met by my colleague and friend Jane, who dropped me off at my guest house, which is a wonderful place set in a large green garden, complete with two tiny (wild) deer. That was on Monday afternoon. I settled in, enjoyed the views of the garden and the thunderstorm from the comfort of a bay window arm chair.
On Tuesday I had an 8 am start, with attending a training day for internal medicine registrars and trainees. The trainee who gave a case presentation was absolutely blasted. To be fair, it was pretty poor but I was surprised at the directness of criticism. I rather like that, being germanic at heart but it did make me anxious because I was scheduled to teach for three hours after the chastised trainee. Alas, all went well. I only got positive comments and lots of questions. I spent the early afternoon visiting the teaching lab and discussing the microscopy training planned. Of course my microscopy slides and books were still in my suitcase but I felt confident all would be well as the AirTag had finally made it to Addis Ababa. After a brief stopover in Ndoma (Zambia) it arrived in Blantyre later in the afternoon. We got to the airport just in time before it closed for the day and I was reunited with my lugagge. Imagine, an airport that closes at 4 pm. On the way back, we stopped at a coffee roasting place. The smell! Divine. Jane insisted I buy 3 kg of medium roast local coffee beans to take home.
On Wednesday I spent some time doing what I do when I work at home. I missed the early morning handover at the clinic because I had a terrible headache. Later I visited labs and met people. The energy was infectious, so much great research. Later in the day I explored the neighbourhood on foot. The plan was to walk to the business district and find a cash machine. I was joined by the hotel kitchen worker Andrew who was on his way home. He walks to work daily, 90 minutes one way. We spent a pleasurable time chatting while walking, learning about each other's life. He was surprised to hear I do my own cooking. Women of my standing in Malawi have domestic workers. I must mention this to my husband.
On Thursday morning, I was invited to join the morning ward round in the hospital with Jane. It was a humbling experience that I will remember for a long time. The ward was the size of a tennis court with six bays coming off a central aisle. In each bay there were 10 patients, which just enough space for a foot stool between each bed for relatives to sit on. The relatives provide food and help with patient care. The bedding was the patients own. The ward is an internal medicine ward, so lots of different ailments, from cryptococcal meningitis to advanced cancer. The clinical skills of the doctors is amazing, having to rely on clinical judgement more often than a battery of tests. It was all very no-nonsense and I loved it but felt sad for some patients because they had to be discharged into the loving tender care of family to die. Patients present late in these settings, sometimes too late to offer anything else than palliative care. I am glad I am a PhD not a medical doctor. I don't think I'd have the confidence to practice medicine in a setting so different from what we have here in the UK.
|Thin blood film with African trypanosomes (causing African sleeping sickness)|
The rest of the day and all of Friday was spent in the lab, supporting students learning to use a microscope with confidence. I was exhausted by Friday evening. This was the main purpose of my visit and I am glad I could help with my expertise. We had 22 students, most local but some had travelled from Zambia and Somalia.
With the working week out of the day, the serious business of being a tourist could start. For Saturday, we had a visit to a game reserve planned, followed by a meal on Jane's farm. Unfortunately, Jane had to attend a funeral after a relative died suddenly on Friday morning. People get buried quickly! Instead I made my way to a more local safari park, which is home to game animals. I went for a 90 minute walk with a guide. We saw all sorts of creatures, from guinea fowl to a giraffe and I felt it was a good replacement activity although the safari park does not have what might be considered dangerous game animals, such as elephants and big cats. On the other hand, I got to explore on foot, which was really nice. I also got sunburnt which was less fun.
I had a driver for the day as I didn't have my own transport. The poor guy agreed to take me to the market for a spot of fabric shopping. I had received two length of African wax fabric from Jane but I was keen to visit at least one fabric shop. That was some experience! He (the driver) was horrified to think that I was planning to go to the market on my own. He said it is full of thieves. I can imagine that, it was extremely busy. The fabric I chose is beautiful. The driver bought fabric for his wife, too. So not a complete loss of time. I spent the rest of Saturday chilling out in my room, enjoying the beautiful garden.
Sunday came and it was time to leave. I was sad to go, would have been happy to spend much more time in Malawi. I hope to go back sometime soon. Maybe for a bit longer this time.
The journey home was uneventful and Richard had remembered to bring a winter coat to the airport. All was good and I think the kids were pleased enough to see me. Now, I just need to get over the traveller's diarrhoea that continues to plague me.
My next trip for work will be to Edinburgh. Not as exotic as Malawi but I take it. I was asked to go to Kuala Lumpur to do what I did in Blantyre but I couldn't face two long distance trips within three weeks.
Thanks for visiting 😊