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Friday, November 18, 2011

Good news from Malawi!

"No hurry in Africa"

I saw this painted on a piece of wood attached to the back of a truck during one of my trips to Africa when I was with World Vision. And it's really true. Almost nothing moves quickly there. But in the last few months, there has been some really exciting progress with Chawezi.

The key thing: her surgery is complete and she's back at home!

Here's the full update I received via email from staff in Malawi:

Dear friends
We are glad to inform you that Chawezi's situation has improved so greatly
that the doctors certified that she could be discharged from the hospital.

Yes she is much better and the artificial legs were fixed temporarily so
more durable ones will still be needed. Right now she is back at Manyamula.
As advised by the doctors, she needs to be taking more nourishing food
stuffs in order to get the wounds completely healed. My prior request of a
GN was to help the family meet the special  food expenses. So sponsor can
be sending a GN of US$ 100 after every three months atleast for one year.
The ADP can also help in some situations, as it has been  doing currently.

But surely the GN will be  appreciated greatly.

As for the artificial legs, let sponsor continue fund-raising. The ones she
is using currently are indeed heavy and can wear out sooner. We will check
with the hospital how much better legs may cost. As soon as that is done,
we will let you know.

Warm regards

World Vision Malawi

(A 'GN', as referred to in this email, is a Gift Notification, and refers to a monetary donation for specific use in regards to a sposnored child above and beyond the monthly pledge. In this case, they're asking for us to send $100 every three months to pay for additional food supplies to help her continued healing and maximize the effectiveness of some of the meds she's on.)

This is all great news. Aimee and I will be sending a check soon for about six month's worth of the requested donation for extra food supplies. And we're continuing to wait and see what the cost of the new lighter, more durable artificial legs will be.

Thanks for walking this journey with us.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Update on Chawezi, and what's next

It's been a couple of months since I lasted update this blog with what's been happening with Chawezi. I thought it was time to lay out what's been going on, and what is next. (If you haven't read this blog up to this point, the best place is to start at the beginning.)

1. After returning from Africa, I started by waiting to hear back from World Vision Malwai on what the doctors were missing in order to do her surgery to repair the infected wounds on her backside. Finally they got back to me and told me they needed a 'vat drain', whatever that was.
2. I spent a couple of weeks researching what a 'vat drain' was, with no luck.
3. I went back to World Vision, and asked them to find out how much it would cost to move Chawezi to a private hospital, where I knew they not only had all the supplies they need, but she'd be a LOT more comfortable.
4. After several weeks, they got back to me and let me know that there was no need to move Chawei to a private hospital, as the doctors at her hospital had been able to perform the needed surgery, and that Chawezi was now recovering. (Amazing how they hadn't had the right supplies for nearly two years until a foreigner came along and showed interest in a patient, then all of the sudden they do? Sad, very sad.)
5. They also said that they could use about an additional $500 to help cover food and other necessary items for her care (and her aunt - don't forget that dear woman that's spent all these months there with her).

So, here are the next steps:
1. We plan to send the $500 to World Vision for Chawezi by the end of this week.
2. We'll ask how much it will cost to get Chawezi some real, durable prosthetic legs.
3. We'll plan another visit to check on her progress, probably some time in January or February.

And finally, if you reading this want to help, here's how you can: My wife and I can cover the $500 that's needed right now. But I'm anticipating the prosthetic legs costing at least $1000. The last pair was only $400, but they broke pretty quickly. We need to get a pair that will last her for years. And a trip to Malawi, including airfare, lodging, transportation, etc, will cost about $4000 (for one person). While the trip to check on her progress might seem outside the scope of nessecity, I know from experience that it's not. Take , for example, the fact that the hospital she's in suddenly got what they needed for her after I visited. She'd been there for nine months with no progress. After I was there, things moved within weeks. Squeaky wheel gets the grease, I guess.

We'll cover as much of these costs as we can, but if anyone wants to help, we welcome that.
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Observations of Africa, some funny, some not


Smoke from burning garbage hangs over a city market
 So for those who have never been to Africa before, some of these may be interesting to you.
  • Before my first trip to Africa, a colleague told me, "It smells like B.O., burning garbage, and shit." Well, that's often (mostly) true. People don't bathe nearly as often as we do (especially the men), and they don't use deodorant. Get in a larger group of people, and it definitely has a distinct aroma. Cities and villages also do smell like burning garbage, as there's not much in the way of garbage pickup. As for the last one, only in the villages where toilets only consist of outhouses.
  • I had the pleasure of hearing the Ethiopian Airways safety announcement video four times in the space of 13 hours, and three times in the space of four hours. And because they said everything twice, once in Ethiopian (Amharic, I think) and once in English, it was twice as long as normal.
  • Although there are a lot of cars on the roads, there are a lot more bicycles and pedestrians. And while we give pedestrians right of way (by law) here in the U.S., it's not really that way in Africa.
  • There are typically two kinds of taxis (other than at the airports). Short distance taxis are bicycles where the person riding it takes a passenger on the back. Longer distance taxis are either a version of a minivan PACKED with people, or pickup trucks with passengers crammed in the back.
  • I'm not sure what the cultural driver for this is, exactly, but I was never allowed to carry my own bags. Not even my laptop bag. No matter where I went, someone insisted on carrying all my stuff for me. I'm not typically prone to 'white guilt', but having Africans carrying all my stuff for me all the time was really uncomfortable.
  • Malawi is one of a number of countries where they drive on the left side of the road instead of the right. Which nearly contributed to me getting run over because I wasn't aware enough of traffic on my side (was looking the wrong way).
  • I saw hundreds of people in the hospital in Blantyre. But I only saw two other white people, and they were both doctors. That meant I got a lot of stares from the people in the hospital, since I clearly wasn't a doctor.
  • Society as a whole is more formal there than here. People typically dress more formally and speak more formally.
  • Street vendors probably learn one English phrase before any other: "I give you good price." Every single person selling something on the street said this to me while gesturing towards their wares as I passed.
I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting, but I thought I'd share a few of these observations with you.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Saying good-bye

It's Thursday afternoon in Malawi. Tomorrow I start the long journey home. It's hot and muggy, worse than any other day I've been here  so far (and remember, it's winter here). I am filled with mixed emotions.

I am glad to be heading home to Aimee and Rowan. I miss them. I am sad about leaving because it feels like my work here isn't done. I'm ready to sleep in my own bed and eat more normal food. I'm impatient about making progress towards my final goal as it relates to Chawezi: healing, new artificial legs, and the means to provide for herself.


Had a great third visit with her yesterday, plus had the added bonus of speaking with another doctor, this one actually directly in charge of treating her. Discovered that he wants/needs to do a skin graft, but can't because of a lack of supplies. And here's the kicker: the hospital has been out of these things for TWO YEARS. This hospital is government-run, and has very limited resources (remember how they have to provide their own food and wash their own clothes?), unlike a nearby private hospital. THEY have all the supplies needed, but won't share with the public hospital, not even if patients are willing to purchase the needed supplies from them. There's probably a very good reason for this, but in my biased state right now, I'm not seeing what it is.

So after the visit, we made the long drive back to Lilongwe, arriving here about 6 or 7 pm. (Side note, my body clock has never adjusted, and I've been falling asleep at about 4 or 5 every day, and waking up at about 2 or 3 in the morning. I've only eaten dinner once since I arrived. Of course, I fell asleep within minutes of arriving at the hotel last night. Let's see if I make it to dinner tonight.) Today was spent in a meeting with World Vision Malawi staff, and then a little sightseeing. I also bought an African drum with animals carved in the side for Rowan. She likes the one I bought in Uganda  a few years ago, so I got her one of her very own.

Back to Chawezi... So, in summary, here's the plan as we know it right now:
  1. Try to get all needed supplies for a skin graft, which will help heal the pressure sores on her backside.
  2. Obtain new, stronger and lighter artificial legs.
  3. Upon her return to Manyamula (her home village), provide some type of adult literacy course so that she'll be able to use the tailoring skills she obtained, and will actually be able to provide her own income.
The first two items are sure to cost money, but I don't know how much yet. The third one may get provided through government services, but if those aren't available, we may have to hire a tutor.

Before I wrap this up for today, I need to mention a few other people. First, Chawezi has an elderly aunt staying with her, and she's been with Chweazi now for months. The hospital has very little room, so any 'guardians' or relatives staying with patients have to sleep on the floor. So basically, this woman has given up her life to sleep on an overcrowded concrete floor since some time last year, and with no known end in sight. Yeah, and sometimes I think my life is hard.

I also need to mention Alfred and Raymond, my drivers/interpreters from World Vision Malawi. They've both been GREAT (like Tony the Tiger would say... can you tell my sleep's all messed up?). Very helpful, very gracious, and very supportive. Alfred in particular has put in a lot of work and how pledged to continue to do so.

Well, that's it from Africa. By the time I post again, I should be home. But although my travels will be finished, helping Chawezi is really just getting started.

Chawezi's aunt

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Meeting Chawezi


So yesterday (earlier today, Seattle time) I finally got to meet with Chawezi. This was after roughly 30 hours of flight travel (including layovers and connections), and a 5 hour drive from Lilongwe. My two World Vision escorts/interpretors and I got to spend a few hours with her at the hospital.

Arriving at the hospital, I felt a mixture of nerves (why was I nervous?) and some degree of surprise at the condition of the hospital. I mean, I kind of expected it, but this was one of the two best hospitals in the country, but it definitely was not any where NEAR a standard that would be acceptable in an industrial country. The quality of the care is probably fine, but the condition of the building (and the number of people crammed into the wards) was, well, less than superior.

After abriefly checking in with the head nurse, we went to see Chawezi in the ward where her bed was located (with about 20-25 other people). She knew I was coming, so she met us at the door. First impressions? I had forgotten how SMALL she is. She also has a huge, sweet smile, and was very shy at first. So there would be room for all of us to talk, we went outside to a small grassy courtyard to chat with her and an aunt who had come to stay with her during her stay at the hospital. She kept covering her face with her hands, which was really endearing. I had puchased a backpack for her and put some stuff in it (I'd been asked that I bring lotion and soap, so I did, plus a hairbrush, washcloth, granola bars and some hard candy). She was overjoyed to receive it.

While I was there I also got to meet with two doctors who are helping with her care. Mostly they told me what I already knew, plus their plan for treating her. A skin graft to help some of her sores heal, and new artificial legs (the ones she received last year were too heavy for her, and one of the feet got broken anyway). Getting her upright and off of her backside is critial to keeping those wounds/sores healed.

I also learned that the tailoring classes she took a couple of years ago couldn't do her much good until she learned to read and write, so we began to explore options for her to learn. She told me that once she learned, she'd send me a letter to prove her new knowledge.

Finally, I learned to that at least some extent, patients had to provide their ow food (???). So we asked them what food items they needed, and during lunch, I went to the local supermarket and got them some groceries (enough to last them a couple of weeks, most likely). Also got them laundry soap and a washbin for them to wash their clothes. (Yep, they have to wash their own clothes, and by hand.) We went back and brought them their supplies,spent a little more time with them, and left for the day.

All in all, it was a fantastic visit. I'm getting ready to head to breakfast, and check out of the hotel. Then we'll go back for another visit before making the long drive back to Lilongwe. I wish I could stay longer. I mean, after taking from Friday night until Tuesday morning to get from my home in WA to the hospital in Blantyre, it'd be nice to spend more than 3-4 hours total visiting, but that's how it goes.

Now, let's see if this photo will load...