Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hello from the Deep South

The south of Malawi, that is. This week I am in the southern-most district of Malawi supporting one of our field offices.

It's hot down here, but not as hot as it will get once summer kicks into full swing here. Even the enormous mosquitoes aren't such a problem this time.

Today I went out to visit a remote health facility. It was 90 minute drive, with the last 30 minutes being a dramatic, nearly vertical climb up a rocky mountain-face. We ended up at the top, in the beautiful, wooded little hillsides of Lulwe. When we arrived at the health center, which is run by the Catholic church, not the Malawi government, no one was there except one sole mother with her sick child.

It turns out the staff hadn't been paid, so they had all gone to town to get loans. One Medical Assistant was left to man the center, and he was at home "charging his phone". We rousted the slacker out of his house while the government health representative with us tried to convince me that all the patients must have already been seen this morning (a simple question to the poor mother waiting there told us that this wasn't true. As of 10AM, not one person had showed up for work yet).

I honestly think the Medical Assistant would have gone back home after talking to us had I not pointed out that there was a patient who had been waiting several hours. Of course, I'm not sure how much help she ended up getting - the other health staff had taken the keys to the pharmacy with them, so there were no drugs available!

Sigh. Still, I had a nice day. I always like getting out to the field. I never tire of the way children run to the roadside, beaming and waving, their little chests puffed out. Seeing a white person in their village is about as exciting to them as it was to Jorge the time he spotted a Delorean parked by the side of the road in cozy little Bozeman, Montana. In the more rural areas like the one we were in today, even the grown men and women smile and wave. I felt a bit like Queen Elizabeth in her birthday parade.

We had visitors from another district with us, so we drove out to a viewpoint, where on a clear day you can see the Zambezi River flowing through Mozambique (today was not a clear day, alas. It's burning season.) We also stopped by the border with Mozambique, one little bar across the road and a shabby little immigration shack. All in all, it was a fun little tour of Malawi dysfunction.