Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Narrative in Malawi

Today I met Lucy, the owner of Ndi Moyo, the sole HIV palliative care clinic in Malawi ( She met us at the hotel at breakfast and we began the day hearing about how Lucy and her husband started the clinic after moving back to Malawi for retirement. They had been living in the UK, Lucy a nurse and her husband, a forester. Initially, they planned to retire at their place on Lake Malawi, yet because of the intense HIV situation in Malawi and because there was currently no palliative care in Malawi for people with HIV, they opened the clinic as volunteers. Currently funded by a UK non-profit, the clinic provides medications not currently available in hospitals, as well as psychological and spiritual support. “We meet people where they are at”, Lucy stated, explaining that all religions (i.e. Muslim and Christian, predominant in the area) are supported. “If a person is psychologically or spiritually ill, it can affect their physical health, and those deeper issues need to be addressed, and we do all of this at the clinic”, Lucy said. The clinic serves 20-30 people at a time and is a day clinic where people may receive an examination or pick up medications. As we would spend the day there, we would see the large medicinal garden, modest clinic and administrative buildings and an impressive geodesic dome.

We left for the clinic, piling newly returned suitcases on the roof of the van, tied down by a single rope woven through the 7 or 8 suitcases. George, our driver, secured them convincingly; perhaps knowing the roads would have some bumps along the way. In 20 minutes, we arrived at the gate of the clinic. I immediately noticed that the property felt very cared for, with lush gardens circling a dome shaped building we would later learn was intended to provide shade for group activities in the community. Inside the small building, our group snapped photos and took video at every corner, looking inside the three small rooms, including the treatment room where a community member was receiving medication for his terminal illness. We ducked into the room and said hello, as a patient smiled out from behind the curtain (I have to chuckle as I write this!). We also snapped a few photos of a makeshift wheel chair fitted with a plastic garden chair donated by an NGO. The tour then took us to the medicinal plant garden. Lucy explained their goal to plant as many medicinal plants as possible, and described in detail plants used for Malaria and HIV. Cannabis would be excellent if she were allowed to grow it. We later sipped on lemon grass tea, dried from the garden, and learned of its many health benefits besides being delicious. Our tour ended with a discussion in the administration office with Lucy’s husband, a forester by trade who she had met in Scotland. Lucy, a Malawian, and her husband, a Brit, had met in Scotland. Together they had lived in UK and Uganda, before moving to Malawi to retire.
We spoke about the forestry situation in Malawi – two main points stand out in my mind, the first that as forests had been heavily logged, a national and expensive reforestation program was initiated. This program resulted in many “pretty photos” of Malawian women planting trees however was mismanaged because the trees were not watered beyond the initial planting so were not making it. The second point was that local Malawians were actually doing a better job of caring for trees in their own yards, as this provides a type of long-term security, though many of these projects were going unnoticed by the government. While education is good, those who tend the land already know how to look beyond 5 or 10 years. I felt both hope and challenge in these words.

For the next part of the day, our group offered services to support the clinic including legacy interviews and energy healing treatments and trainings. The legacy interviews were intended to provide the loved ones of those at the clinic with a photo and a written legacy of life story, special memories, family lineage events, and anything else they wanted to tangibly share with their children and family. Three members of our group, Kari, Mary and Sue interviewed three women in the shade of the dome. In two cases, nurses and staff members translated. The day was warm yet breezy and the sky softly clouded. Jill recorded the interviews in video. Karen initiated Lucy into Reiki, and when the interviews were completed, the three women were offered Reiki by Karen and Megan or Healing Touch by Judith and Cynthia. For the latter part of the afternoon, we offered Reiki and Healing touch to the volunteers and workers at the clinic (there were about 7) and also to George. We discovered that energy work generally was new to just about everyone there. By the end of the day, the doctor asked to be initiated into Reiki and the administrator asked where he could find more information. I had given some energy healing to a volunteer at the clinic who was also ill; she and I personally connected as well as she explained what she felt happening in her body during the treatment and I described my perceptions as well. I can still feel the quality of our hug. Judith gave 2 or 3 weeks worth of acetaminophen (they go through about 5,000 per month). The nurses and volunteers commented on how good they felt, and we left the clinic an hour later than planned (about 5:30pm) on a high. I wondered if I would return there, feeling the pull.

We then headed south to Mua Mission (, our next resting stop where we will stay for 4 nights. The heart of our journey begins here, as we will meet with 8 Malawian women who will join us in 4 days of writing workshops. The women participating in this workshop are leaders in their own fields, whether working for the United Nations in public health communications or opening schools for the deaf (not common in Malawi). I can feel the excitement bubbling. The Mission is incredible, every space decorated with traditional masks, sculptures, and carvings, paying homage to various mythical figures. There is a soft drumming noise heard in the distance as dancers party and prepare for the festival tomorrow (we will see all of the traditional dances of Malawi), and also a wedding.

As no blog was posted yesterday I’ll briefly mention that we visited Lake Malawi at night, under full moon for a first taste of Masankho’s InterPlay (, where we danced and moved to the stories told through our bodies, on the beach. You guessed it, pretty incredible. Earlier in the day, we had breakfast with three women who received an award for their essays. We learned much about their lives, inspirations, we also wrote blessings for them, gave a piece of jewelry from home, and their grant. Their maturity (two were 19 and 23 years old), personal pride, and confidence inspired many in our group. There were many tears and laughs. One woman brought samples of the jewelry she plans to sell because of the grant; another plans to open up a shop that sells jewelry among other things! One woman said, “because someone has recognized my writing out of over 100 entries, I feel that others will also like my writing and I will write more” (my words).

It’s 10pm, and the toads are calling out from the small marsh at Mua Mission. The air is cool and the sky is very dark, nearly black. Energy in the air is palpable as drumming softly continues in the distance. I aim for a full night sleep tonight. Giggling with Mary capped off my evening, it’s amazing what gets spilled when the sisterhood (plus Masankho who is well versed in traveling with groups of women) comes together. Oh, and to finish, this is what Masankho has learned about women from traveling with groups of them: 1) he has to listen more when women speak than when men speak (because women need to be listened to in a detailed way), and 2) just because a women says something one day doesn’t mean she will feel the same about it the next day! (half our group wanted to send their partners to a Masankho workshop for men!).

Signing off, Carissa

1 comment:

  1. Dear Carrisa, I just read your info regarding your terrific experience with everyone in Milawai and I am completely blown away!! What a truly magnificient way to come together with all those beautiful people there. I will follow your journey as you continue. My love and compassion! Joy De Mattia