How I ended up in Malawi
I wanted to work internationally, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa with a focus on maternal health. I was led to Malawi through my PhD advisor and my husband. I met my husband Ellis in 2012, the first year of my PhD program at Michigan State University. Through Ellis, I got to know a lot more about Malawi. He had already visited the country for some pre-dissertation work, and was planning on going back for his final dissertation data collection. All the while I had not the slightest hint or inclination that my research will take me the same site as my husband’s.
In 2013, I began working under a new PhD advisor, Dr. Barbara Smith, who was interested in international research and therefore wanted to mentor me towards that route. She had well established contacts and collaborators in Kenya and Malawi, giving me the option of choosing between the two countries. At first thought, I leaned more towards the Kenya option. However, before I could make any concrete decisions, the Principal (Dean) of the Kamuzu College of Nursing at the University of Malawi, Dr. Address Malata, visited the MSU College of Nursing. My advisor arranged for me to meet with her and discuss the possibility of working with her in Malawi. After a series of conversations with this accomplished, successful, and influential woman, Kenya was no longer in the picture. From then onwards, my work in Malawi began.
Malawi is known as ‘the warm heart of Africa’ because its people are friendly and very welcoming. It is a small country in the Southeastern part of Africa. The country is divided into three regions: north, central, and south Malawi. The capital city of Malawi is Lilongwe, located in the Central Region. Even though Chichewa is the most common language spoken by the people in Malawi, there are also other languages. English is however the official language. You may visit http://www.malawi.gov.mw/, the official site of the Malawi Government for more information and country profile. Malawi has many attractions including beautiful landscapes, national parks and wildlife reserves, and the famous Lake Malawi. More on tourism and attractions can be found on http://www.malawitourism.com/.
Indeed, the Warm Heart of Africa
I had the privilege of visiting Malawi for the first time in August 2014. As we touched down in Lilongwe on a Kenyan Airways Flight, I was filled with excitement. Ellis came to the airport with his friend, Chawezi, who was gracious enough to come pick me up with his old Jeep Cherokee. He was very friendly and made the ride to my new home comfortable although I barely saw anything in the pitch dark and moonless night.
The next day, I met my host family, a couple who rented to me their guest apartment. Indeed, they made sure I was comfortable throughout my stay. I could not have had a better living arrangement. I spent a lot of time at the Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN). I was pleased to see what beautiful building the College of nursing had. Dr. Malata introduced me to her staff and faculty, and made arrangements for a faculty member to help me get around. The faculty at KCN were of such great assistance. Throughout my time at KCN, I met many people, and made friends. When I visited the Lilongwe District Office, I received a warm welcome from the District Health Officer, who embraced my research ideas, offered suggestions, answered numerous questions, and ensured that I received all the documents that I needed from his office before I had to leave Malawi. Everyone I met or came in contact with treated me with kindness and offered the assistance I needed: the administrative staff and midwives at the various health facilities I visited, the people I interviewed, the people I encountered each day, the taxi driver Mr. Brown who took me around, the people I met in church…..everyone. Indeed, the people of Malawi are warm-hearted.
My friends at KCN ensured that I learned some Chichewa before I left. By the time I was leaving, I could at least greet in Chichewa and say thank you. I had heard of ‘chambo’ the famous Malawian fish even before I got to Malawi, and could not wait to eat it. When I finally tried it, it was one of my happiest moments, indeed delicious. From then on, most of my restaurant orders were chambo (if they had it) with rice or chips (fries). My other favorite meal was chicken with peri-peri spice and chips from the fast-food restaurant called Galitos. The commonest dish in Malawi is Nsima, made from cornmeal. It is quite similar to TZ (TuoZaafi), a meal from Northern Ghana. I did not eat a lot of Nsima while I was in Malawi, but truth is, my husband and I have come to like it and actually make it in our home sometimes, of course, with a little Ghanaian touch :). I loved and enjoyed the fresh vegetables in Malawi. It was certainly not difficult to cook healthy meals (corn, peas, tomatoes, spinach, kale, carrots, green beans, okra, and many many more). My visit to Lake Malawi in Salima was fun. Ellis and I spent the day with Dr. Address Malata and her family. It was nice to take a break and walk along the beach. The restaurant on the beach had an awesome buffet lunch served….so delicious. I also visited the Lilongwe Sanctuary and Wildlife Center. The three-week stay was so much fun but Malawi has so many more attractions that I could not visit.. I hope to visit many more places when I go again.
Zikomo! (Thank you)