Last week was slow in terms of work, still working on arrangements for site visits, but the rest of my time here looks like it will be packed with traveling. So by the time Thursday rolled around and my new Bestie, Rachael, invited me to her village for the weekend, I didn’t hesitate to back my bags and head off. We took public transportation (minibuses here are about the size of vans back home and just cram people, standing and sitting) from Lilongwe North for about 30 minutes until we were on a highway. From there we hitched a ride the rest of the way North on the paved highway. It’s very common to hitch rides here since minibuses are not reliable or on a schedule and for asungus (foreigners) living here as volunteers it’s just not in the budget to do otherwise. Rachael tells me her average wait time is about 10 minutes to be picked up and it’s generally safe to do so. We weren’t having much luck after 15 minutes so I decided to step back and leave her to herself. As soon as I stepped away someone stopped and we had a ride! The gentleman was a local post-doc commuting for work and dropped us about another hour North where we needed to head west on dirt roads. We took a 45-minute minibus ride West to the first main village where there was electricity and impressive school buildings. There were two other peace corps volunteers stationed here as teachers but Rachael’s village was another 30 minute bicycle ride deeper west. She leaves her bicycle at her friend’s house in the first village when she heads to town. I borrowed a bicycle and was quickly reminded how long it has been since I’ve been on one. It was not an easy road navigating the uneven surface, cows, goats, and children but we made it, Rachael not phased at all, and me, well, I was soaked through with sweat.
Last Friday I joined up with my classmate, Julie, and her group for another safari. This time we were heading to Zambia for their famous South Luangwa Game Park, reportedly one of the best Africa has to offer. I met with their group Friday morning and we were off for the daylong journey West across Malawi, then across the border with Zambia and North West to the park.
Since coming back from Safari, I’ve been hard at work trying to wade through the mess that is healthcare data in Malawi. There are so many gaps and inconsistencies with healthcare indicator reporting it can be frustrating if one were to arrive with inaccurate expectations. Luckily, I was told before I came that it would be a shit show. Based on that and the chuckles I received when people knowledgeable of the project stateside heard what I was going to attempt, I set the bar nice and low. No, better yet, I arrived with no expectations. It’s slow going: getting a simple list of CEmONC (Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Newborn Care) facilities is not at all straightforward. Many things require speaking to someone in person, which slows things down quite a bit – not having immediate access to information electronically.
I left early Saturday morning for a nice drive down to Liwonde National Park for my first African safari.
General Disclaimer: If you look at the blog and think to yourself an entry seems unfinished or unorganized...it very well may be. I save while I'm working on it because the power and internet go out so frequently at the house that I lose the work.
It's already Friday afternoon, I guess time flies as fast here as it does back home. It's been a productive week at the office. Yesterday I was able to make contact with some key people at the Malawi Ministry of Health and the World Bank to obtain some health data they have. If they come through it would be bitter sweet because it would save a lot of trouble but then I may miss out on traveling all over the country to collect the data myself. I'm hoping I still get to travel for the data and can find some excuse for it. Nerdy aside: I also used my first excel macro and it worked! I avoided Visual Basic for so many years and of all time now I break down and use it.
I also took a couple pictures of the beautiful home I am staying in with a wonderful family and the two sons:
Today was my first full day in the office. Got settled, did some actual work, which was exciting. We're figuring out which hospitals I will randomly sample/visit around the country.
I took a couple pictures of the offices:
I arrived early this afternoon in Lilongwe (capital of Malawi) after a full 24 hours of travel from Boston to JFK to JoBerg (I'm a cool local now) to Lilongwe. South Africa Air is great.
I'm here to work for the summer for MaiKhanda (translates to "mother and baby" in Chichewa, the official language along with English). They are full funded by The Health Foundation (UK) and also partners with The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (US), Women and Children First (UK), Cincinnati Children's Hospital (US), and University College London (UK).
MaiKhanda has been working since 2006 here to improve maternal health and infant mortality by rolling out quality improvement initiatives all over the country. The results are promising but it's also proving to be quite a challenge here, more so than it's been in other places, making them look harder at complicating factors and paradoxes in healthcare delivery and results that appear here.
They have a central office not too far from the airport where I will spend most of my time. Malawi is divided into 3 regions (North, Central, South), each of which is divided into districts. I'm staying with one of the staff here who has graciously welcomed me into his family's beautiful home also in Lilongwe. I'll be taking field trips to various hospitals around the country during my stay as well as government organizations in order to achieve my goal: gather relevant health data so that MaiKhanda can have a comparison group and measure the effect they've had on maternal health and infant mortality here in Malawi.
My first impression as I landed is that it's a beautiful country, very green right now. I can't tell from what I've seen so far in the capital (not the largest city and really more of a suburb) that this is one of the poorest countries in the world with a majority living on less than $1 a day. I couldn't believe it when I learned the life expectancy is hovering around 36 years! This is mainly due to it's status as one of the highest HIV prevalent areas in the world. Everyone has been extremely nice and peaceful.