4 weeks since returning to Canada. Its been an interesting ride for sure, but mostly an alright one. I’ve done this kind of thing before so I have at least some semblance of a general idea of what to expect. (See: Stan in Brazil, 2006)
But now its reflection time and before I dive head first into the wonderful and only a little ridiculous world of fourth year nursing lets take a detached/big picture look at the past 4 months.
And then We were done.
The last week of Malawi-de-brief-travel-more-de-brief-more-travel was a blur. I barely remember the last days, just a mess of noise and discussions and reflective regurgitation of the frameworks and projects I created while in Dowa.
The less than gentle reminder that we were here for work so what did you do Stan? What did you do?
I have been getting a suprisingly large amount of “How was Africa!?” since getting back. Its a very reasonable question. Considering that four months away is a heck of a long time for anyone to try and broach the subject of. Nobody knows where to start, so we start at the top.
So how the heck was Africa?
Dusty, cold, frustrating, but ultimatly and overall intensely fullfilling.
But I am happy to be back home. Canada is beautiful. Even the collapsed industrial city I call home has a charm which I can’t really define but makes me feel good about being home.
Maybe I am excited about the work I will be doing with the AIDS Committee here in town, or the fact that I get to restart all my friendships and see my girlfriend again. Either way, I never really bought into the fantastical world/concept of “Africa”. Yes, I met some great people and I love the country and the culture, but Dowa is not a very pleasant place to be, its cold and isolated and in the rainy season nobody can go anywhere since the roads get washed out. People are living in sub-human conditions, and they know it, and so does the government and the people with the power to demand fullfillment of basic human rights for the populations they serve.
But that isn’t happening, or it is but not at any reasonable rate, or not to the standard I am used to as a fast-paced westerner. As much as I was told that things go slower in Africa, I still can’t wrap my head around the lack of upward critisism of projects and programs. And when things don’t happen, or happen too slowly, people suffer and die.
I finally got money reimbursed for the cash I fronted for my training program. I received this cash a few hours before I left Malawi and I was short about 10,000MK, about half of the money I was owed.
“Why?” I asked,”is this money still missing? its not like the budget was inflated or missing anything, I included everything that should have been and got it checked over by at least three different people in the office”
What I was told is that the District Health Officer, The District Environmental Health Officer and the Account Clerk wrote themselves into the budget for a total of 5 days worth of overnight allowances, totaling 10,000MK (about 70 dollars, or one fifth of the average years wage of the country).
“Huh” I said, “But they weren’t involved in the project at all, in fact they did more to kaibosh the implementation than anything else, why are we paying them the same amount as we are paying our facilitators who busted their asses helping me realize this project”
Apparently the higher us get written into budgets for things they had no part of all the time and then take home a fat bonus for doing nothing. It isn’t not so much the corruption that gets to me, I got used to that the first 4 times the bus driver bribed the cops to let a bus full of refugees get to and from the capital, but it was the sense of helplessness I felt coming from my coworker who was explaining this all to me. It is easy for me, as an outsider, to yell and kick and scream about the injustice, but when you rely on this broken system for bread and water it is a different story and your motivation to speak up about theft and corruption diminishes.
So what do you do? How long will it take for the people in power to actually give enough of a shit to change THEIR behavior so the people they are supposed to represent get the life they deserve.
Big questions which I don’t have answers for which are born out of my own anger and frustration with a broken system which relies on the assistance of governments and donors to survive.
I am hopeful though, there is a lot of work that needs to be done on all fronts, but I know that eventually things will change.
Slowly though, too slowly to keep graveyards empty and that is a tough pill to swallow.
Malawi was incredible, life changing, eye opening, mostly just challenging. There is so much that can change for the better and I hope one day I will return and join in the fight again. Until then I am fighting an incurable virus in a depressed south western Ontario city and that will keep me pretty busy.
Take Care of Yourselves Folks! Thanks For Reading! I will continue to update this blog, about once a month or so so Stay Tuned!!!
CHALLENGE QUESTION!!!! (yeah! not done with these!)
What do you think the biggest challenge you would have coming home after 4 months out of your comfort zone? ow would you cope? What would you miss the most?