Wednesday, July 27, 2011

One more day...

So I feel more peaceful about our decision every day. Although it has been a tumultuous week with some of the hardest moments of my professional career, I have been surrounded by great people here at Baylor, and have been comforted by messages of support and love from friends and family. I've had several more conversations with people who have families and who either live in Lilongwe already or are planning a move imminently. I know I am feeling more settled, because I have started worrying again about whether or not to bring the trampoline, and how to make homemade soy milk.
Things on the ground in Malawi continue to be peaceful, although the turmoil will likely bring more suffering to the poorest people in the country. Disruptions in transportation during demonstrations and the withholding of aid money from countries dismayed by the government's decision to fire live ammunition and tear gas at the demonstrators will likely result in interruptions in access to medications. When sick children can't get their meds, they die. Life is likely to get harder in Malawi unless things change.
So how do I feel? I feel scared, excited, anxious to live in a home that is not the Residence Inn in Houston, dreading the two days of flying with the children, grateful that I have my
husband by my side as we set out on this journey together. I know it will be hard. I know I will watch babies die every day, for no other reason than because we have too much, and they do not have enough. I know I will miss home, and that people will be worrying about me and my children from thousands of miles away. I do not have high hopes for changing the course of the world. I know that I will have to find success in small accomplishments, and learn to live with the heartache of inequity. If I cannot save lives (and I pray that I can), then I hope that I can bring some comfort to the dying and peace to the grieving. I hope that my kids learn and grow, and remain unharmed and happy, but with a more
realistic view of the world and the miracle that is our life here in the States.
It is bizarre to be huddled in bed in a hotel room, waiting to leave and knowing that I will come back a changed person. The next time I write it will be from our new home.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


So Malawi is the only option. It is the job I was hired for, and is where the need is greatest. I met with members of the administration, and was told that, although they respect my concerns, and recognize that the situation on the ground is uncertain, that they do not believe we will be put in harm's way (except, of course, for the inherent risks associated with moving to the developing world). I was urged to call and speak to people on the ground in Malawi, especially those with children, and was given the cell phone number of the medical director of the hospital in Lilongwe, who spoke kindly and at length with me about his thoughts and opinions.
Dave and I spent most of yesterday sequestered in our hotel room, crying and incredulous, on the phone with the administrators at Baylor and with friends in Global Health while the children sat outside watching cartoons and rapidly losing IQ points. We had a long conversation with a doctor who works for Partners in Hope, the organization that will be employing Dave. He has three children, ages 6, 3, and 4 months. He said that, while we may be deterred by the prospect of daily life in Lilongwe, with it's power outages and poverty, that he would definitely not let the events that have transpired in the last few days be our deciding factor. He told us that, driving home from the clinic, which is in a very poor and
overpopulated area, he did have rocks thrown at his car, but that when he arrived at his home
his kids were outside climbing trees and people were walking freely in the neighborhood. He said that his 6 year old had heard the gunshots, and asked him if "the people were still fighting", but that neither the children nor his wife felt afraid or threatened.
I feel physically sick. I am nauseous, and I feel like my body is humming. I cannot imagine that my choices are either to go into a place that seems suddenly so politically unstable, or go home. Actually, my home is rented out, so we would be both jobless and homeless, and have to start all over. We chose Malawi because it has historically been so safe. How did it go so wrong, so fast?
A some point yesterday, and maybe it was the Xanex, I began to feel peace. I have felt from
the beginning that this was what we were meant to do, and the worries that I have had along the way (money, nanny, health insurance) have largely sorted themselves out almost despite my obsessive ruminating. Maybe the reason that this is the only path that I am being given is because it is the one that I am meant to take. Then again, maybe not. Maybe this is
empirically the stupidest decision we will ever make. That's the problem with faith.
So on Monday I will meet with the people at Baylor, and I will ask them to help us hire a driver for the first month (or longer, if necessary), so that we are able to get the lay of the land and feel that we are in good hands should there be more demonstrations or riots. I will ask what the criteria are for pulling docs out of the country ( they have had to do this before, and are reputedly conservative compared to other organizations). And I will remember that this is the reality of life for most of the world: disease, political unrest, and poverty. I will try to integrate this tremendous new uncertainty into my view of life in
Malawi, and try to take precautions to ensure the safety of my family, as we do with vaccines and malaria prophylaxis. I will try to count on the fact that, as foreigners, we are usually spared from the true hardships and dangers of life in the developing world. I will scour
the news for developments and register with the embassy right away. I will pray to the god that I have historically had such ambivalence about. I will try to have faith. And, if I ever feel that I or my family is threatened in any way, I will leave.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Man plans, and God laughs...

So, for those of you who are not scouring the news like I am for information about one of the world's smallest and most impoverished countries, Malawi has descended into civil unrest in the last 24 to 48 hours.  Typical of the American news media, it is only through frequent and fervent Google searches for "Malawi riots" that I have been able to obtain any kind of information about the political and social turmoil that has apparently erupted in the place to which I am due to bring my family in 8 days.  I can, of course, find out all about Casey Anthony's new haircut and post-prison plans.
Oh. My. God.  So much work, so much planning, and so many worries.  According to the news reports I have found, 12 people have been killed, the army has been deployed to the major cities, and looting is rampant.  The president has banned journalists from reporting, and there have been witnesses who said that the police have beaten them on the streets.  One report, which I have not seen repeated, said that tear gas was released in the hospital in Lilongwe.  We are supposed to leave next Friday.
The organization that I am working for, the Texas Children's Hospital Global Health Corps, has been phenomenal and reassuring, and I think would be supportive of any decision we make.  I feel certain that I cannot, at this point, bring my family into a country that appears to be trending toward chaos, especially in light of the belligerent response the President has had to the oppositioon party, and in the context of the violence that has taken place in northern Africa in the last few months.
So what are our options?
1. Stay in the States and see if Malawi improves.  Not my favorite idea, as we have spent $6000ish on tickets for Africa for next week, we are packed, and we are as ready as we will ever be.  Plus, it's really hot in Houston.
2. Go to another area where the program works and wait a few months to see if this passes.  Reasonable, except that the kids need to start school and Dave needs to work (both mentally so he doesn't engage in child abuse, and financially, as we cannot live on my salary alone).  And we really need to settle and nest before beginning this work.
3. Decide that this is unlikely to resolve in any kind of short term, and try to move to a different country for the next year.  This would involve disappointing all of the doctors in Malawi who have been waiting for relief from the new physicians, losing the $9000 we have paid ahead for our apartment, and choosing, almost at random, from among the other sites available.  We would, however, use our tickets, and be able to settle in sooner.
My priority has to be keeping my family safe.  It is so ironic that all of the planning and obsessing and lamenting over every detail of life in Malawi may be rendered moot 8 days before departure.  I will keep you posted.