Somebody’s got to do it.

Malawian landscape south of Blantyre

Malawian landscape south of Blantyre

Friday night in Blantyre, Rob took us to a genuine braai (bbq), with many other ex-pat volunteers from the UK and Australia. They were mostly medics and the talk was often of the difficult and basic conditions in the hospitals and the relative lack of concern of some staff. We discussed the figures which the Medical Registrar at the Council offices gave us – that there are 200 Malawian doctors registered compared to 2000 international doctors registered in Malawi. We decided this must be how many international doctors have registered historically, as although most would agree that there at least as many ex-pats doctors as Malawian doctors currently working, the 10:1 ratio seems unbelievable. We know the medical school has just increased its intake to 40-60 students per year. They will do a full medical degree, as opposed to the Clinical Officers who do a three-year medical degree and are expected to carry out many medical duties due to the scarcity of doctors. A single such Psychiatric Clinical Officer, Mr. Phiri, has been the only clinician at Zomba Mental Hospital for the five years before Dr. Felix Kauye arrived in 2004. ZMH is expecting a further four clinical officers shortly, so in a matter of a few weeks the clinical staff at the hospital has increased from one medical officer and one psychiatrist (mostly doing research though), to four psychiatrists and four clinical officers.

.

.

Saturday Rob recommends we drive down south from Blantyre, to a small enclosed park where one can see Malawi’s only giraffes – specially placed there as they do not apparently live here naturally. Six of us from the braai last night go. Driving south from Blantyre, one tips off the escarpment down into bushveld which looks much like the highveld of South Africa. Tiny villages pass by, with mud huts and reed roofs, mingling with small groves of banana trees. We stop for herds of cattle to cross, and slow down as we pass goats grazing at the side of the road. Kids walk with watering cans on their heads following women carrying bundles of sticks.
The park is excellent, though small and easy to drive all around in an hour or two.

Non-native giraffe

Non-native giraffe

The animals were quite unperturbed by the two little 4×4’s, and we drove up fairly close to the giraffes, zebra, nyala buck. Come lunch time we head for the Illovo Sugar Estate on the banks of the Shire River. (The Shire River drains Lake Malawi to the south, and eventually joins the Zambezi.)  This is apparently the largest single employer in Malawi, and is impressive in it’s size and facilities. It also supplies Sainsbury’s with all it’s Fairtrade sugars. After signing through the gates one drives down relatively good roads, with decorative plants at the sides, for miles through fields of sugar cane, past the refinery, the school, the estate village and houses. Going on, the surroundings become plusher and more colonial, passing old brick houses with well established gardens and roses and green lawns. Everything is irrigated, including the sugar cane as one drives by, with water taken from the Shire.

Parking lot at the Ilovo Sugar Estate

Parking lot at the Ilovo Sugar Estate

As we near the golf course we pass a neat utterly superfluous and extremely English water fountain spraying into the air. The club house is a refined colonial place, with a hefty entrance fee for non-members. Inside all is civilised and genteel, tables spread on the grass under canopies, the waistcoated barman waiting patiently to serve at the trestle bar at the end of the swimming pool. Some Malawian kids are swimming and showing off in the sparkling water. It is hot and sunny with blue skies, and we find a place to sit under the shade of a tree, overlooking the Shire River. There are five or six hippopotami in the river about a two hundred meters away, mostly submerged but occasionally standing up, snorting or yawning slowly. Later we see a single crocodile who flusters the hippos. Photos are taken at leisure – including one below through binoculars, a trick shown to me by Charl Oettle in Worcester.

Hippos through the binoculars

Hippos through the binoculars

View over Shire River

View over Shire River

Crocs bite colonialists

Crocs bite colonialists

Before lunch arrives we swim a while to cool off. The relentless relaxation has made us hungry, and lunch is delicious. We have another swim, and sit in the sun and chat some more. We argue about what the fruits are so abundantly hanging from the trees overhead. Eventually we agree that they are mangoes, which will be in season and sweet and juicy in a month or two, and will virtually be given away.

It’s a tough job saving lives in Africa, but somebody’s got to do it.

.

Sainsbury's Fairtrade sugars

On Sunday Rob and I went to Game, the large South African department store in Blantyre. It’s fantastic, and stocks everything (at least, compared to anything I’ve seen in Malawi before) and my job was to buy some basic things for the house. Proper cutlery which doesn’t break, plates, a frying pan, a lamp or two, a small oven with hotplates, and so on. Approaching the till with my trolley piled full, I asked the lady if they took credit card. No, they don’t, only cash or cheque. This is weird, and I won’t have enough cash to pay for it all. I leave the trolley in the shop and rush out to the cash machines. I draw 20000 kwacha (about £80) from each of my two UK accounts, and I can’t remember the PIN for my SA account. I shove one thick wad of K500 notes in my back pocket to join some notes already there, and another thick wad in a front pocket. My jeans are stretched by the extra girth. Going back into the shop, I see Rob patiently waiting for me at the entrance. I explain the problem to him and he helpfully fishes in his own pockets and withdraws another massive wad of notes, folded and rolled and held in place by various elastic bands. It’s ridiculous that they don’t have higher denomination bills, I say. I shove Rob’s notes into my other front pocket and waddle back into the store to my trolley and till. The lady rings all the stuff through patiently, and it comes to just over 72000 kwacha. This is actually a lot of money, in any currency. I slowly haul out my first wad of notes and count them out clumsily. Halfway through I forget that I am counting 500’s and become muddled, and have to start again. Another customer arrives behind me in his trolley, and the till lady just shakes her head at him. She lazily reaches underneath the till to fish out the TILL CLOSED sign and slides it in front of the growing mountain of notes, smiling wryly at me while she does so. The guy doesn’t get the message, and she has to tell him, “This till is closed sir.” Meanwhile I am still counting the second wad of bills. Finishing that, I feel like I’m sweating and dig for Rob’s notes. I can’t get the elastic off them it is stretched so tightly, and the till lady has to help me. More flicking through notes. Eventually I finish, and it is her turn to count them. I watch her flick through all 145 notes with practiced ease, and she sighs satisfied when they are confirmed correct. I have never had so much money in my pockets before. Why don’t they use credit cards? Why don’t they have higher denomination bills? Rob and I go for lunch afterwards.

.

.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: