Monday, July 06, 2009

More About Africa, To Soothe Your Impatient Souls

Your impatience warms my heart, and I actually mean that in complete sincerity. See, the fact that you all commented about your impatience (or just excitement, for the more patient among you) to hear more about my trip means that you care about me and my life at least enough to click "comment" and deal with that annoying word verification. Which may not be a ton, or it may be a ton, but in either case it was more than I was expecting. So thank you.

Okay, I got you just to our safe arrival and then left you in suspense, huh? Wow, I am a jerk. Okay, let me just give you an itinerary first, and then I'll move on to some details and - of course! - photos. Here's the trip in rapid-fire form:

- Friday, 6/5: Arrive in Malawi.
- Saturday, 6/6: Hang out and BBQ with local youth group. (Also, try to defeat the jet lag.)
- Sunday, 6/7: Church in the morning, visit Malawi Children's Mission (MCM) in the afternoon.
- Monday, 6/8: Visit Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in the morning, work at Malawi Children's Mission in the afternoon.
- Tuesday, 6/9: Visit local high school (HHI) in the morning, work at MCM in the afternoon.
- Wednesday, 6/10: Visit Malawi radio broadcasting station and local village in the morning, work at MCM in the afternoon.
- Thursday, 6/11: Shop for curios at local street fair in the morning, work at MCM, then visit Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in the afternoon. (Then, if you're me, go to the hospital at night, but we'll get to that.)
- Friday, 6/12: Drive to Lake Malawi for our weekend "retreat," lunch and relax.
- Saturday, 6/13: Enjoy Lake Malawi.
- Sunday, 6/14: Drive back from Lake Malawi, stopping for lunch in Zomba.
- Monday, 6/15: Visit local high school (SE) in the morning, work at MCM in the afternoon.
- Tuesday, 6/16:

(Okay, time out. I just now - like literally JUST THIS VERY SECOND AS I WAS WRITING THIS POST - realized that I missed my blogiversary. Totally forgot it. June 26 officially marked three years of blogging here at Life: The Ongoing Education. It never even crossed my mind until just this moment. I wonder what that means for me and the role blogging has come to hold in my life. Kind of sad, I guess.

Sorry, that's what you get for following a crazy girl like me - stream-of-consciousness blogging. I won't continue to berate myself for forgetting though, I promise. Back to our itinerary.)

- Tuesday, 6/16: MY BIRTHDAY! Most people work at MCM all day, but I get to be the special helper baking cupcakes (for the kids at MCM) and doing laundry (for our team) before joining folks at MCM in the afternoon.
- Wednesday, 6/17: Work at MCM all day.
- Thursday, 6/18: Work at MCM all day, say goodbye to the kids. (--> Sad face! <--)
- Friday, 6/19: Begin the journey home.
- Saturday, 6/20: Arrive home in S.F.

Okay, there's a lot in there to talk about, so let's get to it, shall we? I won't give a detailed play-by-play of everything we did, but I think you'll get a good sense of the trip from what I do choose to highlight. First, I'd like to share something I journaled after our trip to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital on Monday morning:
Today we went to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, the main state hospital for the southern region of Malawi. There really aren't words to describe the experience. I know there aren't words, because plenty of folks used words to describe it to me ahead of time, to warn me of what I would see, and none of those descriptions were adequate in comparison to reality.

Bleak, somber faces with wide eyes - lost souls waiting to see where the hand of Death will strike next.

Open wounds running with puss, and children with huge tumors pushing through their eyes, their neck, their skull.

One nurse for every 50 people. Maybe.

The smell of urine, blood, sweat, and bleach, mixed with something else... Fear? Hopelessness? Death? What do these things smell like?

The white male doctors. Maybe five of them throughout the hospital, and these only because they volunteer their lives to the service of others whom they can never actually save.

Mothers sitting beside the beds in which their babies sleep, or cry, or gasp for air. Some of these babies aren't even being treated. They are just waiting to die.

Crowds of women and children - and very occasionally an old man - sitting in the grass between wings, waiting for the hospital to have room for them. A hospital that has already placed multiple children in each "bed" (wooden crates on table legs) and some directly on the floor.

The woman standing in the hallway wailing - groaning through her hands, crying to the heavens for the man just dead. And the line of women on either side of the hallway singing their song of mourning. And we walked right through them, heads down, unsure what else to do.

Yet in the midst of all this, there were giggles and grins. We sang to them, we waged, we hugged, we smiled. They don't need our tears, our pity, our hopeless looks. So we put on a bright face, for their sake, and we loved it - that was our whole purpose. And they felt it.

I prayed with two mothers and their two young sons. I don't think they knew a word I said, except for "Amen," and possibly "Jesus" (whom they call "Yesu"). But I put one arm strong around the mother, and my other hand gently on the child's head, and I know that both women knew someone was praying for them. And they bowed their heads and listened to my rambling, stumbling attempt at meaningful prayer in the face of indescribable suffering, and when I said, "Amen," they said, "Amen." And they thanked me when I hugged them. I did almost nothing, and yet they thanked me.

But the hardest part for me was when we sang to the children and their mothers in the first ward:

"How great is our God
Sing with me - how great is our God
And all will see how great
How great is our God"

And I wondered if He really was.

I know that it's not the happiest of things to share, but it was strongly on my heart that night, and if you want an accurate picture of what Africa did for me, you've got to take the good with the bad. I have no photos from the hospital, because cameras weren't allowed; the government is smart enough to know that, politically-speaking, it is not in their best interest for outsiders to see exactly how bad it is in there. We went back a second time, on Thursday of that week, and I felt a little more prepared at least, but it was still so hard, knowing there was really nothing we could do.

This has been a largely text-based post, and I know I'm not going to be able to write much more before I have to leave you (yet again) with nothing but a promise that more will come soon. So for now, I'll give a pictorial description of our village visit.

Here are some of the sights on the way to the village:

They greeted us with singing, as did almost every Malawian, everywhere we went:

They watched us with fascination, but no negative judgment:

And we gave gifts of sugar, soap, and Vaseline:

It was incredibly sad that we could not give gifts to everyone there. We knew that ahead of time - the chiefs had pre-appointed 100 families (the neediest) to receive the gifts, and that was what we had prepared for, knowing we could not serve them all. But to be there, face-to-face with people in need, knowing that most of us had, in our home pantries and kitchen cabinets, food enough to feed them for months, yet unable to get it for them... It really hurt our hearts. Never before have I so wished to have a Safeway or Albertson's nearby, so I could just swipe my ATM card and feed these hungry families. But I couldn't.

Then we headed off to tour some of the nearest homes of the village:

And we got to see a lady making beer!

(Don't worry, we didn't let the kids drink any. We're good chaperones.)

And on that savory note, I will have to leave you yet again. While I realize I STILL have not told you the almost-malaria story, I think we should all take a moment to appreciate the fact that summer + recent Africa trip = more frequent posting. It's almost like I'm a real blogger again.

(Note: this is where you raise one eyebrow dubiously. Go ahead.)

More to come soon...


franz the mouse said...

Fascinating. Thanks for sharing. I tried to write a real comment, but the issues are too complex: it was turning into an essay.

Monique said...

I can't even begin to imagine what an impact this trip had on you ... and you are the second person I've known of that went to Africa this year and the second to have a near-malaria experience!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for inviting us into your journey. I'm looking forward to reading more.

DC said...

I'm glad you're blogging again, and this trip you're taking us on is looking interesting. Thanks for sharing! :)

BetteJo said...

. . . and beer! You didn't say if the chaperones drank any! :) It really does look like a life-changing experience. Most of us turn the channel when those sad faces turn to us in commercials looking for assistance. Sad.

(but did you happen to run into Madonna?) Oh - sorry, inappropriate.

tpiglette said...

Still love that photo of you guys walking in a line toward the village!

(Btw, my word verification for this comment is "squirac". HA.)