Thursday, May 28, 2009

SAA sucks

We are safe and sound in DC, and I've been attending the Global Health Council conference, learning a lot and making some interesting connections. 

The 18-hour flight with the baby was bad, but it could have been worse. He slept for about 8 hours, and only screamed a little. But when we arrived, wouldn't you know it, my bags didn't show up. Again. I freaking hate South African Airlines. They also lost Milo's carseat. When we pointed out that we couldn't exactly leave without a car seat, they loaned us one they had lying around (probably someone else's lost luggage). 

The we got to the car rental place and discovered that the carseat did not actually have any child restraint straps. So it was useless. We ended up renting a carseat from the car rental company, at basically the cost of buying a new one.

I have been wearing the same dress for three days. 

If you can avoid it, never fly through Johannesburg on South African. As soon as I have a spare minute, and angry complaint letter is headed their way.

Well, I've got another session to attend, so I'll check back in soon!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Last day on the job

Today is my last day at work in my current position. It's been a bit more rushed than I wanted as I had to stay home with Milo this morning until the babysitter could make it. But, all things considered, I'm pretty much ready to wrap up. I think I will actually leave the office on time today, which will be a first. Usually on my last day of work I am in the office until 8 at night, trying to get all my files backed up and cleaned off. That stuff's all done already - I just need to sit down with the woman covering for me and go over a few things, then I am outta here!

I have really enjoyed my job, and love the team that I work with - they're hard-working, creative, and take inititative for theri own tasks. I'm going to really miss the cooperative team spirit that we've built up over the last 3 years. But I feel I have done what I came to do - build the capacity of the team and get things moving so that they no longer need an international staff person helping out. Working myself out of a job, one position at a time...the aid worker's creed.

The last couple of days in Malawi have been interesting. It's been so calm, so civilized - not at all what you'd expect if you've been listening to the BBC airing condemnations of the election by the opposition candidate, John Tembo. Here in Lilongwe, everyone has accepted the election results very peacefully, and no one seems to doubt the fairness of the voting.

For the last few days, the radios all over the country have been on constantly, the monotonous drone of polling station results announced hour after hour. And now it's over - I've just listened to President Bingu's inauguration speech; he's already been sworn in, even though the polls just closed three days ago! Today I've seen a lot of people in Bingu chitenjes, or wearing t-shirts and buttons with the president's face emblazoned across the front. People seem to be more relaxed, and they are justifiably proud of their little country for pulling off a peaceful, seemingly fair, mostly harmonious election - that's about the extent of the excitement, though.

As for me, I'll relax once I'm resting at my brother-in-law's house in New Orleans, still more than a week away!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


It's voting day in Malawi! I've never seen Lilongwe quite so quiet - there are so few cars out on the road. It seems everyone is being very cautious, going to "voterani" then going straight home.

I ignored the advice of my office, and did not stay home today. Jorge and I went to the local polling station, where we asked for permission to take a few photos. After establishing that we were not media, official observers, or rabble-rousers, they said yes. I didn't stay long, as I didn't want to make people uncomfortable - after all, most African countries have had at least some experience with voter harassment. But here are some pictures from today's election:

The Polling Station

People waiting in line to vote
The man at the first table is being checked to make sure his identification matches the voter rolls. The woman at the second table is having her fingers dipped in ink to make sure she can't vote more than once.

Inky fingers and a voter registration card

Making his mark

Casting her ballot

Friday, May 15, 2009

Everything is Illuminated

So, the tickets are booked, the contract is signed…I can finally share with you our plans.

[Drum Roll]

Jorge, Milo and I are going to…

…stay put in Malawi!

Yep, I’ve taken another 2-year contract with my current employer. Instead of being the Health and Nutrition Advisor responsible for national nutrition policy and programs, I’ll be the Health and Nutrition Advisor responsible for maternal and child health programs.

OK, so it’s not such a glamorous, exciting move, but it’s a good solid one, for the following reasons:

1) Malawi is a good place to be for Jorge, Milo, and me. There are a lot of families with babies and small children, and pretty good resources such as music classes, baby groups, and decent daycare. It’s safe, stable, and we have friends here.
2) In the current economic climate, not having to job-hunt is a big bonus for me.
3) My employer has very family-friendly policies, which makes it possible for to both have a career I love and a good home life
4) I’ll be working in the technical area that I’m really most interested in, child survival, and I’ll be gaining very valuable experience in preventing maternal and neonatal deaths. It’s an opportunity to do work that I think is incredibly meaningful and important
5) I’m going to be gaining some great skills that will help me in the future, such as developing behavior-change strategies, and doing household health surveys

So, bottom line is, if you’ve been putting off that visit to the Warm Heart of Africa, you’ve got another chance to come and see us here in Malawi, starting July 1st.

In the meantime, US of A, here we come! I’m taking a break in between contracts to go home, have CT scans, attend a conference, go to a wedding. Lotsa fun stuff. Here are our plans:

May 26 – 29 we’ll be in Washington DC. I’ll be attending the Global Health Council conference, but hopefully can at least get out for a dinner or two.

May 30 to June 16 we’ll be in New Orleans, eating every unfortunate little shrimp, crab, and beignet (and crab beignet!) that gets in our way.

June 17 – June 23 (ish) we’re going to New York for Daniel and Lisa’s wedding! Daniel was Jorge’s best man, and Jorge will be repaying the favor. He also plans to get drunk and naked, just like Daniel did at our wedding.

June 24 – 27 I have a few more days in New Orleans to shop and pack. Jorge is staying on until July 7th, so you’ve got even more chances to see him and Milo if you’re nearby.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Election Fever

As if it wasn’t bad enough being in the US during the whole Democratic Primary maelstrom, I returned to Malawi just in time for election season here.

Elections are next week on Tuesday, and everyone is a little on edge. Of course, when you ask, everyone says they think things will be fine, calm. But there’s a touchiness to everything right now. On my way to work, a man started laying on his horn less than a second after the light turned green. As I tried to get out of my car, another wacko starts beating on the trunk…Jorge asked me today if we should take our money out of the bank, just in case things break down and we need to bribe people.

My office has issued a memo saying Tuesday will be a working day like any other. Still, I plan to work from home, as do my other colleagues with laptops, just to avoid potential traffic snarls related to rallies and marches (crusades, they call them here). It’s not election day that’s worrisome, really – it’s 2 or 3 days later, when the results are announced that I’m a bit tense about.

Most people in the city here are calling it for Bingu, the current president, but ever since the two opposition parties joined ranks, the incumbent's victory is not such a sure thing. If the election is very close, or large amounts of people disagree with the outcome, then there’s the potential for problems. Most Malawians I know think of themselves as very peaceful, non-violent people, but the violence following the Kenyan elections 2 years ago really shook them up, as it planted those fears that the same thing could happen here. I sure hope it doesn’t.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My happy boy

So Milo has been walking for some time now. I just never got around to mentioning it. Or taking photos, or video. You see, I am raising my child the way I, the third daughter, was raised. That way once I have another that kid won't feel less loved when he grows up only to look at an empty baby book and a photo album with only pictures from Christmas, Easter, and (sometimes) birthdays. That's right, neglect them all right from the start, that's my approach.

Anyway, I finally snapped a pic of Milo walking. Look how happy he is!

And here's Milo falling down. Mwahaha.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ah, sorry, no update in a while.

You see, I am finishing my job in 2 ½ weeks. So I am sort of in crunch mode now. Not much time to blog. Those last couple of weeks are always the worst, when you start remembering all sorts of long-forgotten tasks that must be finished before you go. And then the writing of the handover notes (and mine are always incredibly comprehensive. It’s a compulsion to leave things neater than I found them). Then, the thing that always seems to keep me in the office fours after closing time on my last day – clearing off my computer files and cleaning out my desk.

Over the weekend, Jorge went with friends to Mt. Mulanje where he hiked up to the plateau, then did a 30-mile run between all the mountain huts up there. It was a challenge finding a Malawian who would consent to be their guide, and then apparently there was lots of grumbling and complaints from the poor guide that it was hot and he was tired. But they had a nice time, and Jorge is now finished with the long runs that he has been doing in preparation for the Comrades race in Durban, a ludicrous 56 miles. (I always like to point out the fate of Phidippides, the first marathon runner, when Jorge starts planning another ridiculously long race. What happened to him, you ask? He ran to Marathon, delivered his message, then keeled over, dead. That’s a good enough cautionary tale for me.)

Also, don’t ask me what happens in 2 ½ weeks. There are plans afoot, but I am not at liberty to discuss yet. All shall be revealed when the time is right.

Anyway, back to the weekend. Jorge committed a major marriage sin – leaving me to deal with the car problems. There is one chore I hate most in the world, and it’s car maintenance. One, I hate being patronized by men who think they know better than me (even when it’s true), and two, I hate being at the mercy of mechanics, who can pretty much tell you anything they want. What, am I going to rip out the engine and say “but look, the seal on the crank shaft drive is just fine!”?

However, I got it all fixed, spent the weekend on my own with Milo without my brain melting, and even managed to get a significant chunk of cleaning and photo editing done. I am Supermom. And I am considering free-lancing as a life coach. Any takers?