Monday, 2 June 2014
I consequently left Mulanje Mission somewhat earlier than planned and returned to England. Although it did not seem appropriate to continue my blog at that time (this is the reason for the hiatus following my last post), I still have lots of interesting things to write about my time there. I'm quite aware that, hitherto, I haven't mentioned anything medical at all, despite that occupying a large majority of my time.
I expect to start writing some more posts in a few days' time now.
Monday, 28 April 2014
As is often the case, my great plans for catching up with my blogging over the last week went awry.
Much to my pain and displeasure I came down with a case of the local version of the Katmandu Quickstep (Mulanje Mimba?) and spend the latter part of the week... well, you get the picture.
Although blogging was obviously not at the forefront of my mind during those days, I'm now going to exude optimism and predict that I'll again have caught up by the end of this week.
Watch this space!
Wednesday, 23 April 2014
|Mulanje Massif, as seen from the tea plantations near Mulanje Mission|
A bunch of us decided that we would climb to the top of the Mount Mulanje plateau last weekend. Sadly, but perhaps fortunately, we didn't have sufficient time to attempt the Sapitwa peak, for which mere mortals must allocate a 3 day expedition.
|Setting off for the bottom of the trail in a trusty land rover.|
|The climbing party before starting out.|
|The task ahead.|
|The first river crossing.|
The first bit of the hike up to the plateau was gentle and fun, albeit with weather a bit too hot for my liking. It was punctuated by the crossing of a river (the first of many) which is tackled by a barefoot leap across a set of large boulders, while trying really hard not to wreck our cameras/become dinner for a crocodile by falling into the water below!
|Beware of the crocodiles.|
|The weather closes in.|
By this stage every one of us was soaked through with sweat and rain, and also caked in mud up to our ankles. Only a minority of us were wearing waterproof hiking boots, and those who weren't had soaking feet also.
|The CCAP hut, seen in the morning's good weather...|
|... and what passed for its latrine! Inside here is a rather uninviting hole in the ground.|
|The warden's accommodation. The warden's apparently work shifts, spending a fortnight high on the mountain at a time.|
After changing into clean clothes and drying our shoes and socks on the fireplace, I think we all began to feel a bit more human again. I certainly did. Alas, our peace was soon spoiled by the arrival of a party composed of a German and an American couple and about a million of their kids. The German woman promptly announced that, since she had booked essentially the whole hut and there were not enough beds for them and all their kids to have one each in addition to us, that we could not have booked (not true), that we were mistaken or lying about having booked (neither true), and that she did not intend to share (completely true), despite the fact that her kids could easily have doubled up on beds without any discomfort.
Fortunately, magnanimity was not in short supply on the British side. We kindly offered to give up several of our bunks so that her kids could have one each, with some of us doubling up (we luckily had a couple of couples amongst us) and the overspill sleeping on the floor.
Shortly thereafter, the German woman and her children invaded the sitting room and took it over. Wishing again to procure peace in our time, we agreed to let her annex the sitting room in addition to the bunks she wanted, and we beat a hasty retreat to the freezing cold, pitch black, mountain-top veranda. In return, we were promised the use of the cedarwood fire to heat up our food, but only once they had heated up their pasta. They spent the next three hours just boiling water.
Fortunately, the warden of the hut took pity on us, and helped us construct a cedarwood brazier on the veranda, despite (or more cynically, on account of its present occupants, because of) the obvious fire hazard: flaming embers were ejected from the brazier several times and had to be stamped out before they set his hut ablaze. Nonetheless, following the sage advice of the old scouts amongst us, we managed to heat up our food. We also found some chairs and blankets and had a jolly old time sitting around our brazier, telling tales and solving riddles produced by Tom's phone.
|The Mulanje Massif plateau, as seen from the back of our hut. It didn't seem nearly so flat when we were walking across it.|
Fortunately, the weather had improved dramatically overnight and we managed to get some really good views from high on the mountain on the way down. The fearsome slipperly sections proved not to be nearly so fearsome as I'd feared when setting off from the hut that morning, and very soon we were all down the mountain and relaxing over a Coca Cola and a pizza at the infamous Mulanje Pepper restaurant in Chitekale.
|On the road, once again.|
|Clouds on the mountain top.|
|A peak on the Mulanje Massif plateau.|
|The climbing party.|
|Yours truly, atop the Mulanje Massif.|
|The mountain plateau was above cloud level as we set out from the top, so rather than see the valley floor below, we had this fantastic vista of being on an island surrounded by a sea of clouds.|
|Samuel, our trusty guide for the climb.|
|Well on the way down, we're just peeping out the bottom of the clouds surrounding the mountain.|
Just to prove what a small world it actually is, who should I bump into right at that moment in Mulanje Pepper, but some of my friends from the Oxford medical school, who unbeknownst to be --- and by strange and happy coincidence --- had been on the mountain at the same time as us? They had gone up the day before us and made an attempt on Sapitwa peak, the same day that we made our ascent, but they had been caught by the same weather as us, and unluckily they had to abort their attempt. It was really nice to meet you, guys!
|Oxford unexpectedly invades Mulanje Pepper|
|Relaxing over pizza and Coca Cola at the Mulanje Pepper restaurant in Chitekale, after our descent.|
Thursday, 10 April 2014
The presidential rally was probably the most worrisome, especially given the recent history of violence at such events. The rumour is that at the Thyolo event, the police ran out of tear gas while trying to deal with a riotous audience, and therefore saw fit to resort to live ammunition. That decision surely ranks highly on the Hillsborough scale for effective police crowd control.
|The president's election rally. The people on the field are her supporters. The people sitting in front of me, on my side of the road, it is fair to say probably were not.|
|Despite claims to the contrary, I somehow doubt this is the express coach Mulanje Mission to Old Trafford.|
Saturday, 5 April 2014
Firstly, one of our staff members is getting married, a long planned event with a big party that by some accounts has been the talk of Mulanje for weeks.
Then it was announced that Malawian President Joyce Banda will be visiting Mulanje Mission on Saturday---the day of the wedding party---to hold an election rally. This is already proving disruptive to wedding preparations and should the election rally spark any kind of trouble, like it did last time, then the hospital will likely have to pick up the pieces. Unfortunately, Mulanje is opposition heartland so trouble is a distinct possibility.
Then it was announced that the Indian Ocean had begotten a tropical cyclone, since named Hellen, and that this was headed our way. Malawi is far inland so this storm will have weakened to heavy rainfall if and when it reaches us, but unfortunately the weather proved insufficient to dissuade President Banda from making her visit, and so now the wedding will have to contend with both.
Watch this space.
Thursday, 3 April 2014
|Dinky the Magnificent|
The subsequent flight was mostly long and boring and the connection in Addis Ababa airport revealed it to be a foul place. It stank of stale cigarette smoke and was more like a souk than an airport. I didn't take many photos there because it was so grim. However, I didn't have to tolerate it for long before I was off again, and in daylight this time. Several hours of this:
|Africa from 40,000 feet|
were then followed by this:
|Lake Malawi, as seen from the stratosphere. The country looks tiny on a map of Africa, but in fact it's not at all: it's still 750 miles from here to my destination.|
|Blantyre district, viewed from the air. It's quite hilly. The aeroplane was weaving about the hills coming in. The geography looked amazing but it was impossible for the camera to capture it all.|
I then landed at Chikewa Airport, which serves Blantyre, Malawi's main commercial city and the largest town in the south of the country, on the 33rd anniversary of my birthday. The airport is a cratered runway accompanied by a concrete shed. The hospital had kindly arranged for one of their drivers to pick me up, who I met in the shed, and I was soon on my way to Mulanje.
|Seen from the car on the road from the airport to Mulanje|
|The road from the airport to Mulanje|
|The famous Mulanje Massif, with the peak of Sapitwa (3002m) hidden in clouds to the left, which I fully intend to climb. Taken from the road from the airport.|
The abrupt change in language and weather were the most immediate culture shocks when coming in from abroad, as they often are. I was particularly awestruck by the scenery which is obviously very different from England. The camera on my phone barely does it justice.
The driver helped me pick a few things up in Blantyre and then took me straight to my accommodation near the hospital. It was dark by the time I got there, but there was another elective student from the UK who had arrived a few days before me there to greet me.
Very soon, a welcome party of three of the four doctors at the hospital, all British, and a volunteer carpenter from Scotland, turned up and helped me settle in by cooking dinner.
Everybody---the welcome party, and the locals---were so overwhelmingly kind and helpful and friendly that I'm sure I will have a great time here.
Tuesday, 25 March 2014
This time next week, with a whole lot of luck and a bit of tarmac to soften my landing, I will be in Malawi. Specifically, near the town of Mulanje at the Mulanje Mission Hospital.
I'm not entirely sure what to expect.
I mean, I've prepared how I can by reading the guide books and learning a bit of the local dialect. The hospital staff have been very kind and helpful so far and I've no doubt they'll help me to settle in just fine. Everyone says the locals are friendly and the photographs I've seen of the nearby geography are nothing short of stunning.
However, we're talking about a country whose every metric for economic and healthcare provision ranks in the bottom 5 per cent of the entire world. The clinical situation I'm consequently expecting inspires abject terror at approximately the same level as this. Hope I'm up to the job!
Anyway, I will let you know all about it next week, because I've decided to succumb to la mode du jour and "blog" my elective.
I very briefly considered claiming some deep literary inspiration for this decision from the time-honoured tradition of travel writing. Perhaps from this guy, or this, or maybe him. The truth of the matter, however, is that a friend of mine did it for his a few weeks ago and now I've copied him.
Hope you enjoy.