Last week I had my first glimpse of Maganga- my home for the next two years. Transport to my village consisted of two minibuses and a bike taxi. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a minibus, they are large vans that have four rows of seats behind the driver. In Malawi, they all seem to be falling apart and struggle to climb the slightest hills. What’s more is that they are filled to the brim with sweaty, smelly people, luggage, chickens, fish, gasoline, pigs, baskets, screaming children- you name it. Having long legs and a bony butt sure didn’t help with comfort and by the end of a mere three hour trip, I was ready to get the hell out of there! Thankfully, (*note the sarcasm*) I then boarded a 45 minute bike taxi on a bumpy dirty road on which I straddled the back tire, sitting on a minimally padded wire rack with my full hiking backpack, tent, sleeping bag and shoulder bag strapped to my body. Compared to the other volunteers, I had a really short journey but it certainly didn’t feel that way. Some of my friends had to travel two full days to arrive at their site! Props to them. Anyway, my first impressions of Maganga were as follows:
Its very big! (Much, much larger than Chisazima)
There’s a lot more trees & greenery (yay!)
There are multiple stores and little stands selling food
Everyone travels by bike or on foot
Its hot as hell.
I spent my time meeting various important community members, including the TA (head chief of the entire area), the District Health Officer of Salima, my neighbors, my landlord, and the head teacher of the secondary school. Because my house was not yet ready, I spent the week with my supervisor, who was a great host and -BONUS- lived in a house with electricity! (Which meant ice cold water and freeze pops!) I didn’t realize that the region would be so hot, so being served cold water was a pleasant surprise. I seriously don’t know how I’m going to survive the hot season, especially since we’re approaching the cold season now and I was still sweating profusely. (It was ~80° at night).
The site visit was definitely helpful to see the area and start to assess what the community might need. One major problem that I observed firsthand was a complete lack of malaria medicine. About 40% of all hospital visits are due to malaria- a disease that can be fatal if left untreated. Therefore, this was a HUGE problem. Very sick patients were being turned away and told to look for meds elsewhere. However, due to financial constraints, the chances that they were able to afford the necessary transport to a private medical facility -let alone purchase meds- was very unlikely. While it may have been easy to accept this kind of situation as something that just happens in a country like Malawi, having lived with a family here for almost two months made it very hard to watch. My brother had malaria last week and didn’t receive treatment because there was a shortage of medicine at the nearby hospital. Luckily, he was able to get meds a couple days later, but I would have been a wreck if he had fallen victim to a preventable and treatable disease. Connecting this experience in my own family to what I observed in Maganga reminded me just how important teaching malaria prevention will be. I’m definitely nervous about the challenges associated with moving to a new village, but excited at the prospect of starting projects and getting to know the community.
So, even though I really enjoyed Maganga, one of the best parts about leaving… was coming home. I was only gone for a week or so but driving back into Chisazima and seeing my crazy siblings running and waving alongside the van made me so happy. Then, seeing my amayi jump up and down and hear her singing my name as I walked up to my house, sealed the deal. She told me that everyone in the village was awaiting our arrival and she was constantly asked when I would return. The immense feelings I had of gratitude, happiness and comfort upon my return to the village made it clear that Chisazima truly is my home now. I know I’m going to have a really hard time saying goodbye, but hope that I can feel the same way about my future village in Salima.