This morning I spotted the mother pig with her ten piglets which had grown three times as big since I last saw them. A little girl ran along with me for almost half a mile coughing part of the way.The sun, a glowing red ball, hovered over the roof tops promising to bring us a searing hot day today.
A couple of kilometers from Nsanje District Hospital on the M1 Highway is a sign pointing in the direction to Chididi. It is one of the dirt roads I often run on and once ran as far as the top of a hill. But Chididi is 14 km from the tarmac road high up on the slope of the mountains miles from where I ran to and could be reached after driving over many stretches of winding, rocky, gully-filled roads. It is even harder to get to than Lulwe and Mozambique again looms close by. The slopes showed ravages of the fires set randomly, charred and scorched grass, bushes and lower branches of tall trees and clumped of ashes here and there.
Chididi Health Center is run by the African Evangelical Church and the patients pay a fee to be seen. It is right across from a primary school where a group of Jacaranda trees showed off their lovely purple small trumpet flowers. A large crowd of children milled around us. The health center has a cluster of three buildings: OPD, dispensary and a public health office in one building, the male ward, the HIV Clinic and testing center in another and the last one is the ubiquitous maternity unit, the postnatal unit also serves as a female ward. A large group of women congregated on the veranda while a health worker was giving a talk.
Today was not a HIV clinic day so we looked at the Early Infant Diagnosis (EID) register and many of the mothers and infants failed to show because they were from Mozambique. Happily many of the infants were tested negative for HIV by PCR-DNA thanks to the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission Program (PMTCT) although many of the results were not forthcoming despite months and a few of them after a year of the samples being submitted.
On a bench I found a youngster curled up sick and feverish, he turned out to have malaria. He was left there by his father who went to fetch his medicines. Fortuitously because of our inquiry we found out that the dispenser had given the father an adult dose of malaria medications thinking mistakenly that the father was the patient.
The HIV testing center ran out of testing kits.I was told that I could get signal at a certain point up the hill as I tried to make a call to have the next team coming up to Chididi in the afternoon to bring some kits.Up there a man was making a call on his cell phone and he relinquished his spot for me.I never did get a signal, he had Airtel and I had TNM.
On our way down a steep road, a couple struggled to control a bundle of firewood loaded on a bicycle; the man holding the handle and bundle while the woman pulled the bike to prevent it from tumbling down the slope. Mchacha, the nurse traveling with me commented that when they reached home, the man would go to rest or take a nap while the woman would go to fetch water, cook him a meal and if she had time, sell the firewood to get some money for food. A woman’s work is indeed never done but some of the men’s work here is not even from sun to sun like in the quotation, it is whatever they please to do or not to do. The responsibilities seem to rest squarely on the women’s shoulders.
I asked her how she was sure that would happen, she replied, “I live in a village, my father was like that and many men are still like that.”
“Why would the women want to get married then?”
“They want a partner.”
There is a bright ray of hope here; Mchacha and James the driver try to have an equal partnership with their spouses.
It is hard for me to imagine walking the many kilometers to the Boma with heavy loads to sell and then to lug the bundle of food up the steep roads for hours to feed the family, repeating this many times a week; the sheer physical labor in this heat would defeat even the fittest.
As the heat builds up in Nsanje, black-outs are becoming more and more common, so no respite from the heat using either fan or air-conditioning. This afternoon Peter in our office was lamenting the fact that the crocodiles were not willing to share the Shire River with us humans. I bet the crocodiles with their crocodiles’ tears welling up in their eyes would simply reply, “Oh, cry me a river!”