Wednesday 21 September 2016

And So It Is Done...........

Last week at this time I was on a airplane flying over Africa on my way home. Tonight, I am sitting on my deck relfecting on all the things that happened and all that I did during my time in Malawi and how quickly life is different again in just a week.
Coming home, I had a few days to get myself settled back into the Canadian life before fully immersing myself into my optical duties.
That included, unpacking all my treasures I had hauled back for family and friends. First, stop was to my nieces, Cait and Kimmy, who had kept their promise not to give birth to their first babies until I arrived back. Although, I had said I was planning on bringing back shrunken head mobiles blessed by witch doctors, they instead got hand carved chief chairs and a Noah's Ark, with videos of him blessing these items for them and their children. It was delightful.
It was great to arrive at church on Sunday and be warmly welcomed home by the congregation. Assuring them that the rest of the team was doing great and would be home in just another week.
I also had to go and retrieve my beloved fuzzies from the Vanderkooy abode. When I arrived, Seamus and Molly were very excited to have their momma back and ready to cuddle in their favourite arms. Lulu was still sleeping....she's a good sleeper.
With extra hands and stories to catch up on, Karen, Emily, Miranda and I took the fluffy outside to the sunshine and set out to unbraid my hair.
Now, putting the braids in had been a last minute decision and it was the absolute best one. It made the trip so much easier not having to fuss with hair every day. And the women in Malawi LOVED it, complimented me on it regularly and were surprised that women in Canada did it to their hair. I did explain that it was unusual for a caucasion women. But it was a way to open the door to the community for me so that was another bonus for it.
But back in Canada, I needed to go back to my normal hair. Although, Kimmy, who is a hairdresser thought it would be great if I could get grey/silver extensions and then I would finally get the silver hair I am trying to get to grown in.....she might be on to something.
For now, out it needed to come and with extra hands it only took about an hour.
It looked so pastel rainbow and it was not staying that way. Glad I had booked a hair appointment weeks ago for the next day.

On Tuesday, I returned to work and it felt normal and strange all at the same time. First, there was no choir of women singing and dancing to celebrate my arrival. That was a little disappointing. But there were all sorts of options for each patient, as once again each order would be custom made and not just selected from glasses already made months in advance.

As I share with people my stories and experiences of Malawi, here are the things that stick with me:
1- In total, we assessed 948 people over 8 clinic days. Only about 12 of those didn't need glasses. A significant number needed 2, both distance and reading. What was amazing, was how many times we had exactly what we needed in both size and power. The research I had done in statistical refraction seemed to have paid off and for that, I am grateful.
2- People had come to the clinics, walking for kilometers, waiting for hours and wearing their very best clothes. It was SO wonderful that after all of that, we were able to dispense to them beautiful brand new glasses. They had taken the time to present their very best so it was only fitting that we give them the best in return. They were absolutely grateful for it as well.
3- I didn't do this myself. It was hard to be so lauded and praised for the work I was doing. Thanked by the people. I wish that we could have had a projector on the wall showing all the faces of the people who had donated and worked on glasses and helped me put this project together. I just wanted the patients to know that it wasn't just a few people that cared about them, but LOTS of people. I did my best to share the stories, to post Thanks on Facebook with those who had given and sent me.....because they needed to hear that from the people who were grateful.
4- I was reminded again and again, that as volunteers in a community, it is important to, as much as possible, integrate into that community. To understand them, to get their perspective, to build empathy, to become friends. To adapt to their customs, to eat their food, to use their transportation, to try and learn their language, to participate in their work and be with them not just drop in from above. To have grace.
5- It's been amazing that even this week, more people are still reading the stories and contacting me about how to get involved or how to help out. It will be interesting to see how these offers play out. I know how exciting it is to read the stories and say "I want to do that" but when faced with the financial and time sacrifices, sometimes it's a harder decision than people think. We have an open invitation from Silas to come back anytime.
6- That is a dilema. Do you go back? Do you go somewhere else? There is always a need. There are always people to help. Do I spend $5000 to go back to Malawi? OR  spend $1000 on 5 smaller trips like the Dominican Republic? What is the better choice? What helps best? 
7- When I was assessing the children, like I do in Canada, I always asked them how was school or what they wanted to be when they were done school. They had often missed school to wait in line for the opportunity to have their eyes checked and get glasses but they all had big dreams for their future. They wanted to be teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants......I was amazed at their hope, that their circumstances had not suffocated their dreams. I pray that by the time they are ready that there is an opportunity to fulfil these wishes. I think about the Canadian students that bemoan their debt but these kids don't even have the chance to borrow money to get an education....they would gladly take on that burden.
8- This project hasn't felt as satisfying as the DR did in 2014. Maybe because I had to leave so much undone. Maybe because there were still so many people waiting when we had to leave that last day. Maybe because there is only a little we could leave behind and not a full set up. It just feels incomplete. Like I didn't finish the job.
9- I am grateful that 936 people see more clearly in Malawi than did just a month ago. We did a good thing. But I will always be haunted by Pnanzi and the miracle he desparately waited for, and is still praying for, that he feels I robbed him of. I'm so sorry.

So this is the end of a 16 month project of purpose. Thank you everyone for the love and support and for helping the people of Malawi. We did a good thing. God Bless.

Friday 16 September 2016

The Journey Home

Bryan and I waited in the small departure area of the Blantyre airport. He directed me to the sitting area under the air conditioning. 100 feet and he was already going soft and wanting the creature comforts of the Western world life.
It was an uneventful short flight from there to Johanessburg. We landed with a 5 hour wait for the transfer to our flights from London. This is when we started to hit some glitches. We hadn't been able to check-in online in advance so we had to go get our boarding passes. Doing that we notice that my seat was in the worst possible position right by an engine and my medical restriction weren't noted on my file. Fanstastic. It took calls to supervisors and staff and they still weren't going to be able to move me to a better seating area. We even tried to switch my flight to the one Bryan was on and that wasn't any better. I was just going to have to drug up and pray that I was functional when I landed in London. My Ontario travel booking agent was going to be hearing about this. Bryan checks in and the agent confirms that his 2 bags are already checked all the way through to Toronto. His inside voice goes off and he only had one bag but he responds yes not to cause any problems. After we leave the counter, we check our baggage tags and realise that Blantyre had assigned my bags to Bryan and Bryan's to mine. We pray that they all arrive and that this works out at customs. In the meantime it's back through a security check where I get stopped for having liquids in my bag. WHAT? Both myself and the security guy have to go through the knapsack 3 times to finally find a mini can of Coke that was in a pocket by the padding. I'm not even sure when it was put there and how many security checks it had passed through already. Geesh.
We still had time so we checked out a beautiful shop called Out Of Africa for some last minute gift and mementos. I think I spent more there in 30mins than I did in 2.5 weeks in Malawi. When I went to pay, I was going to us USD. I asked what exchange rate they gave and it was less than the money exchange place just around the corner. I asked if they would match them and they said no. OK well hold my purchase, I'll go do an exchange and come back. I had the clerk write down exactly the amount of South African Rands and off I went. I know this may sound like a waste of time but it was going to save me close to $21USD and that is a big amount of money just to pay in fees. I was thankful that there was no line and that this wouldn't take much time. The women at the counter was very friendly and helpful and just as she was about to finish the transaction her computer crashed. Of course, it did! It took a few minutes for that to come back up and then I was back to the store to finish my purchses. Bryan was patiently waiting for me, although I was feeling a little flustered. We headed up to find our gates. My flight would be leaving first, his 2 hrs later. As we chatted and walked along we came up to those moving sidewalks and I saw Bryan step on and I stepped on to the one beside him. Something, immediately felt WRONG and I saw Bryan moving faster away from me and I felt like I was on a treadmill. WHOA! I had walked on the one going the opposite way. It was a miracle that I hadn't fallen flat on my face but was able to get myself oriented, turned around walked off and got on the right one. Bryan was laughing in disbelief. I think we should all just be proud I didn't end up sprawled all over the place with my luggage.
I boarded my flight and had a chance to speak to the flight crew about my condition and concerns about the flight. They were all very supportive and just open to help in any way they could. Also sitting in the aisle seat of my row was John. Turns out he is a physician from Hull, UK returning home. I fell calmer knowing I was surrounded by people watching out for me and who knew what to do. I basically waited for the meal to be served, drugged myself up, inserted my headphone and passed out for the flight. Landing in Heathrow at 4:45am, I was still kinda dopey with the meds but able to get through security and to the departure waiting area. I sent a message to Bryan explaining where to find me and found a comfortable spot to relax for the morning. I caught up on my blog, Facebook and strolled around stretching out my legs after sitting so long. 
Bryan arrived and we had scones with marmalade in a toast to Cathy who thinks that's just wrong. I have to agree with her, jam is better.
We had a long wait until our after flight to Toronto and it was going to be a long day as we gained back  the 6hours of time we lost a few weeks ago. On our flight back to Canada, we unfortunately had a group of young men from Finland who had too much to drink and were causing a rukus. The crew did their best to keep control of the situation but we were all ready to say good bye to them on landing.
Finally on the ground in Toronto, I immediately noticed how green everything was. It seemed so fresh and alive.
It was a smooth trip through customs and then the challenge of retrieving our luggage. I was over joyed when all 3 of our suitcases arrived. I have purposely not purchased common coloured luggage so that it is easy to find on these kind of trips. No black, tan, brown, green, blue or red. I like patterns but the last few have been purple. Apparently, purple has become the new black of luggage because there were over 15 purple suitcases that weren't mine.......bother.
As soon as I turned on my phone, there was a text from my friend Mike saying he was close and ready to pick me up. Text him when I had my luggage.
I did and I was so happy to see him pull up in Felix. Again, I am grateful to have a distinctive car that is easy to spot. It was funny that I automatically checked to find my keys when I saw my car!
Great friends know you well, and Mike greeted me with a welcome hug and said I have a cold Coke for you.
PERFECT! We loaded and hit the road, knowing that we needed patience for the rush hour traffic. It was wonderful to have the time to talk about the trip and debrief a bit and the drive didn't take that long. By 7pm, I was home again. I decided to unpack as I wanted to try to get switched over to Canada time. My clever packing had worked and all my lovely purchases had made it in one piece. The apartment feels a little quiet and empty without the ferrets but I will wait until Sunday to go and retrieve them. That will give me time to unpack, get organized and readjusted to life and to visit with the Vanderkooys when I do go. I really love that Geoff too the time to send me email updates on the fuzzies adventures while I was away. It assures me that they have been well loved in my absence.
Now that I am home, I have a lot to think about and process. There will be one more post in the next 2 days to wrap up this adventure.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Last Morning in Malawi

Although we didn't have to rush off to work, we still rose early for breakfast and to do a few more things before Bryan and I had to go to the airport.
My bags were packed and balanced and under weigh so I was good.  I did one last look around for essentials but I wasn't too worried as with the rest of the crew staying behind, they would find anything that was forgotten. I was also leaving a few things for them anyway, my travelling phone, granola bars, trail mix and drink mix. 
For Xander, I had a little care package, tools and supplies to reapir glasses. There were a lot of new glasses in the area and he had learned a lot in the last few weeks. It would be good to have some one who had what was needed to do simple maintenance. Also some treats, gummies, chocolate and spices that I didn't need to take home. Finally the Jenga game that he coudl practice and get good at.
We had about 2 hours before we had to leave for the airport and I still hadn't gotten fabric or rat on a stick. The team had a new mission. As I jumped into my co-pilot seat, I looked at Xander-clutch? gas? Get it, he said. As we drove off, his new glasses were hanging on the collar of his shirt. You know those things work better if they are on your eyes. He laughed and put them on.
The first stop was a fabric store that had a wonderful selection of textiles and I was thrill to find some to make great linens for myself and gifts and aprons. Then there was a coffee shop that had some crafts that the rest wanted to check out. They had some amazing things. 

We actually saw dolls that were very similar to the ones that the ladies from the church had made but not quite as well made. 
They were priced at 5000 Kwacha. That is more than what an America Girl doll would cost you in comparible dollars to income. Karen and I were pleased that next week the team would be giving such an extravangant gift to children that would remember it for the rest of their lives.
While we were shopping and browsing, Xander had headed to the market for my rat. Unfortunately, he came back empty handed. Apparently rat is not a breakfast food. I was going to have to let this one go. 
We got back to Canada House with Silas and Margret ready to escort us to the airport. It was also good news that while we out yesterday, he had people come to the house and re work the bikes properly. I didn't have time to test them out, but I trusted that he would ensure they were done properly and I look forward to the stories of their new homes.
Finally it was off to the airport. Silas knows all the authorities there so having him take us through made it much quicker and easier. While checking in though, Bryan's bag was over weight and so was my carry-on so we had to do some quick re-packing. Re-organized and checked in, Silas got us a special escort back out so that we could have a goodbye snack with the team. It was hugs all around and then into the airport. We were on our way back to Canada with 3 flights to get there.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

One More Day to Get It All Done

After collaping in bed, surrounding my head in ice packs, the 5:30am alarm came very early. I was absolutely grateful that the rest and medication seems to have done it's job though. My head had settled down and the pain was gone. The after effects of the meds though were still present with cloudy thoughts and the feeling of a slight electrical charge going through your body with the numbing and tingling of fingers and toes. I knew those would subside through the day.
This was our last day of eye assessments and it was going to be full but all we could do was take one patient at a time and do our best.
I am extremely thankful for the support of my team through my migraine meltdown and the morning routine. They got everything together and check that I was good to go and we were ready to go when Xander arrived at 6:40am. Just as we pull out of the gate, the van stalled. A few feable chugs and I looked at Xander and inquired-Clutch? He sheepishly looked at me and replied "Gas" No way. The gass station was close so he had taken the chance on picking us up before getting some. He grabbed a container and ran down to get enough to get us to work. Karen and I took the opportunity to have a morning walk, choosing a route along our exit just so we didn't miss Xander coming back and hold the team up longer. It was a beautiful cool morning with clear skies and bright sun. We enjoyed being part of the early morning community heading to work and school. Several young children greeted us and the young girls often compliment me on my hair. We noted that this is what is different about our Western world. Not enough walking and knowing people in communities and a child would never walk up to a stranger, especially of a different race and engage them in a conversation.
We got back to the van and Xander arrived with gas- In an old cooking oil jug and used a cut off Coke bottle as a funnel, stuffing a rag in for a gas cap. We were ready for launch attempt number 2.
As the van crested the hill entering the village, I tried to capture this wonderful community that has welcomed us so.
Due to us being late, our line up was long and patiently waiting. As we climbed out, I greeted the people and sincerely apologized for the delay. Quickly, getting straight to work. Xander wasn't staying today as Cathy and Sara still had lots of errands and plans to get ready for the Timvane Centre and school so I would have a new translator switching out with Spencer throughout the day. This is John and he is studying to go into business and so he was quite excited to practice his English. First though we fitted him with this fantastic frame from Rachel Hill at Personal Optical. He was thrilled.
And with a deep breath and a big smiles, we opened the doors and started taking people in. I left Jessie in charge of our flow. She has become a fanstastic assistant and organizer and I trust her to know where everything is and to watch and judge our time. She is also good at crowd control. The guys from the community were trying to push to have people actually waiting in the assessment room but that got confusing and noisy so Jessie became door keeper making sure that only 1 person came in at a time. Every now and then though, they would open the door to check and Jess would have to shoo them out. I could see the frustration on her face and tried to lighten the situation. I chuckled and said "It's like nails on a chalk board for you when that door creaks open, isn't it?" YES she said. Do what you need to do, we will get through this! Our goal had been 130 people and we had until 1pm when Xander would be picking us up. I could focus on that number, I just had to focus on the eyes in front of me.
Like Blessing and her 4yr old daughter Mercy. Blessing needed glasses for distance and it seems like her eyes had changed during her pregnacy like they do for many women. Mercy had clear beautiful eyes and great vision. I hope that she keeps her good health.
This is 8yr old Alick. He needed glasses to see the board at school but once again there is a bigger concern with his left eye that is severely infected. He again has no way to get to the hospital in Blantyre or a way to pay for it. This could be serious enough for him to loose his sight so our team is going to try and get him looked at and cover the costs. This will happen after I leave so I will let you know as soon as I get an update.
When 67yr old Frank came through the door and greet me with a smile and a good day, I had a panic attack. He was just like Pnanzi from a few days ago with corneal scarring that was so severe that glasses were not going to be any assistance to him. I asked him the usual questions. What could he see now? How long had his sight been like this? Had he been to the doctors? What had they told him?
Similar to Pnanzi, he hadn't seen for a long time and the doctors had said they would have to do expensive surgery and he couldn't do that. He just wanted glasses so that he could read again.
I sighed and smiled and gently told him that unfortunately, I didn't think that glasses would bring any change but I would give him the best glasses I had and if they worked, he was welcome to them. Jessie found a +4.50 reader and he put them on. No, they didn't change anything. He handed the glasses back to me and and took my hand, Thanking me for trying and for coming and helping the other people in the village. I smiled and said it was my great pleasure. He smiled back and said "God bless you and your work" and left. It was a moment of grace I truly needed.
Jessie was panicking as there seemed to be more people coming. 
I said not to worry, we would take one at a time until the van arrived. Xander would call occassionally, giving us updates on our time and finally said to be ready to leave at 1:30pm. Jessie asked how many more I could do. I replied that I would just keep taking people one at a time until we saw the van pull up. She was in charge of packing up the room and being ready to load. I would take care of all the equipment.
Spencer and John traded off watching for the van, checking with Karen and Bryan and translating. Spencer then said the van was coming down the road. I did 3 more patients before Xander pulled up outside the window and Jessie was ready to load up. 
The church crew help us navigate through the crowd that was going to be left behind and I couldn't look away from the faces that I knew we were disappointing but there was nothing we could do.
It was 1:45pm and in the van, Karen, Bryan Jessie and I finally had a chance to have lunch. We weren't actually done for the day. We had another stop at the Titsirani Centre for the Disabled which our friend Gibson co-ordinates the programs. This had been booked weeks ago. 
As we drove down the road, it was like we where in missionary villa with compounds and out reach centres from several different denominations. I was really curious about why they were so concentrated in this area.
We arrived at the centre which was like a large gym/community hall and after a few minutes of set up, we were officially welcomed. Much like the dancing and ceremonies at the villages, the people here wanted to officially greet us. They sang a song of welcome then made a procession up to shake each of our hands to welcome and bless us. It was terrific!
We then went to work to assess them before they closed at 4:30pm.
As we worked, it was starting to be a struggle to find glasses in the powers and sizes that we needed. I suddenly felt bad that we had done this group last. With no intention but without thought, we had left it so that we were giving them the left overs. Much like they often receive in life. I left terrible. I wish we had realised this would be the situation and had given them first pick.
But there was nothing we could do at this time and so again, we just needed to give them the best we had.
This is Ernest. He needed a distance correction and a +2.00 reading as well. I knew that those powers were in short supply but I asked Jessie what we had. As I rummaged through the bag, I found this FT bifocal that had been donated by one of my patients in Canada. Her husband had died a month after purchasing them from me and knowing about my trip, she hoped that I could use them. I wasn't going to be taking bifocals as they don't usually wear them here but I hadn't wanted to turn down her offer so I accepted. Sure enough, this pair was exactly what I needed and fit. A bifocal was also good for Ernest as with his mobility, switching glasses is very difficult. Some things are meant to be.
This little boy has Downs Syndrome. We weren't allowed to assess him but he was very curious about our equipment and Jessie did a great job of occupying him so he didn't take off with any of it.
This is 17yr old Yuzor. He is suffering from the after effects of having malaria as a child. He wasn't able to respondwhen we tried to assess with the eye chart, as he is minimally verbal and I was getting mixed readings on the auto refractor but it seemed to be that he was definitely very near sighted. He did know his colours so I decided just to take a reasonable reading and one of the great high index glasses we had gotten from Deborah Perry. I stood infront of him and we asked when he could see my face and the colour on my shirt. When they went out of focus, I fit him with a -7.00. I don't know exactly what the difference was for him but his face lit up and a smile came to his face and he was pointing to all sorts of stuff around the room. I stood back about 25ft and we ask if he could see my face and the colours on my shirt. He came running over and gave me a hug. I think that was a YES!
The Titsrani Centre gave us some of the most challenging cases and some of the most rewarding. By the time they closed, we were able to see everyone. Our final clinic and no one was left behind.
After, we made a stop over to Hamilton's wood working shop. He is a talented carver making delightful objects from ebony, africosa and other native woods. I am very excited to be bringing home some of his work.
It was time to pile in the van and head back to our last night in Canada house. With our extra passengers, we were starting to look like one of the local transport vans.
It was the last in Malawi as a team. Bryan and I were leaving for Canada in the morning, Cathy, Sara, Karen and Jessie would stay behind to finish the work, organizing and errands to update the Timvane Centre and help get the new school started. I suddenly realised that, in the 2 weeks that I had been there, I hadn't had a chance to see the Timvane Centre our church had funded and build. Xander graciously said "No problem, I will send you a picture" Fantastic! For 2 weeks I have been 2 blocks away and when I fly to the other side of the world I will get a photo. Also.......I still hadn't gotten my rat on a stick.
Tonight we would have a team dinner at a lovely restaurant Cathy had made reservations they serve rat? You can ask, she said while rolling her eyes.
The restaurant had set us up in a private room and it was nice to reflect on our time together and memories. As we all tried to decide on our dinner, most decided to try Chomba a very Malawian fish that is suspose to be better than tilapia. Rat wasn't an option so I went with goat. Since it had been a daily sighting, I knew it had to be fresh.
When the food arrive, most had ordered the fish breaded but Bryan opted for grilled so it came whole with the head and everything. This freaked out most of the others but I just turned to Cathy with great hope....Do you think my goat will come with it's head on too? You're terrible, she scoffed. But I was hopeful.
It didn't. I did offer to share so that the others could at least say they tried one took me up on it. Janet and Xander were shocked that Bryan didn't want to finish the fish by eating the whole head. That's the best part! He decline but they helped themselves to it.
After dinner, it was serious packing and organizing for me. I realised that although I would have room for everything, I had pottery that needed to be protected and a lot of space to fill. While keeping my weigh balance. So how do you fill space without adding weight? AIR. There was lots of bubble wrap and ziplock bags from glasses so I lined my suitcases with them usuing my clothes around the edges.I hope it works.
I was ready for my last night in a bed for a while and my last night under the African sky.

A Busy Day, End With A Crash

After a few days off, the team was ready to head back to the village of Chipagala for a full day of eye assessments and dispensing. We knew it was going to busy as they had announced at the church service that there would only be 2 more days to see Bryan and myself.
I don't think we were completely prepared for the level of demand that sarcity would create.
As we pulled up to the church, we were amazed at the line up of people that snaked out of the building and around the church. There had to be a 100 people waiting and it was only 8am.

There was nothing to do but take a deep breath, smile and take it one person at a time. When I arrive, I always take the time to greet the people waiting with smiles, hello's, good morning's and thank you for waiting's. It is always returned with a cheery response even though they have already walked and waited for hours. The resiliance and patient of the people impresses me.
Jessie and Xander were quick to set up and I would have Spencer as my translater that day. He is the treasurer of the church and a smart kind young man. Later that day, I would assess his mother and dispense her glasse discovering that we are the same age. I'm getting old!
But first we tried to do the ones that needed to get to school or work first.
This is Dorica. She works in an office in Blantyre. I was able to fit her with a pair of my favourite OWP frames. I have loved this frame with it's pressed tin look and bright red interior and received many compliments on it over the years. It was time to pass it on and Dorica loved it too.
Regina loved all the colours of this former frame of mine which was what I had loved about it too. When I was fitting her with it, Jessie asked if it was a real Prada. Yes, yes it was and Rignas looked beautiful in it.
Grace will be heading to college in this Koali frame. This was the frame that I wore to one of my National Exams to become an optician. I hope it brings her much academic success too.
She came with here friend Chimemwe. Ya, try and say that one. It has been very important to me that I treat all of the people just as I would my patients in Canada so I always introduce myself and ask their name. I've been pretty good but after my third attempt and several laughs at my terrible language skills she finally let me off the hook by saying that it meant "Happiness" in English. I sighed in relief, now that I can say.
This is 11yr old Kumbukani. When our team saw here in the line, they were really concerned about her sight. Her mother brought her to the clinic(it is very rare for parents to be with children) and just said she had been born this way. But this is where we were too quick to judge by appearances. Kumbukani had normal eye movements and responses under the lids and with a +2.00 correction she could see 20/20. I asked her what she wants to be when she is done school and she said a nurse. I hope she does it.
We didn't have much time for many photos. Jessie kept saying that the line never changed.
And it was true. It seemed that as the day continued, more and more people just joined the line hoping they would have a chance to have their eyes checked. All we could do is serve one at a time until Xander showed up with the van to pick us up.
This is 32 yr old Francis. He didn't speak English but I didn't need a translator this time. Framcis has been deaf since having malaria as a child but uses American sign to communicate. I don't know a lot of sign but do know enough to do a dispense and he really appreciated being able to communicate directly with me. 
Jessie asked what time we were going to stop and I kept looking at all the people and couldn't face turning them away. So I said I would let her make that call. I would just keep taking 1 more until she was packed up so let me know when she was done. It was just after 4:30 when Xander pulled up and about 20mins later Spencer was gathering up registration cards of those left, promising they would be seen the next day. Now last week we had pre-registered 60 people for Tuesday so when Spencer  came back saying he had 62 cards, it was a bit of a shock. That meant there were 120 people promised to be seen on a day when we were only going to be there 4 hours. I talked to the Abusa Jonas and asked if it was possible for us to come earlier than 8 the next day. He said people came at 6am anyway so yes. I said if he could have people there to unlock at 7am, we would be there. He smilled and said no problem. There was immediate grumbling about not being able to do it and how there were too many people today and the venting continued while we drove to pick up Cathy and Sara and then head to Silas's house for dinner. I silently sat beside Xander up front, listening to all the concerns coming from the tired crew in the back, thinking-" We can do this" and coming up with a strategy.
I didn't know how many Bryan had done but I knew that before lunch Jessie, Spencer and I had done over 50. With a bit more time, we could do 10-20 more and Bryan was probably doing about the same....that seemed very close to 132 that were promised. But now, when everyone was tired, hungry and frustrated was not the time to make decisions.
My head was spinning and after picking up Cathy and Sara, we creeped through rush hour traffic to the home of Silas and Margaret. However, our journey wasn't that smooth. Something was up with Xander and the van as he started and stalled several times. I saw the frustration on his face and watched his foot movements and thought, Dammit, his clutch is blown. Which was confirmed a few minutes later when Janet called from the back asking in Chechewa what was going on and the only word I understood in his response was "clutch". He nursed the van all the way to the house only to have it complete give out half way to the gate. Not a disaster. We piled out and were welcome to this lovely home. Xander still needed some help though as he wanted to ge the van fixed that night but couldn't get out on his own. He was able to get it into reverse, Bryan and pushed him down the drive to the road, which was thankfully downhill and gave him the momentum he needed to get started again and he was off. Silas greeted me with a warm hug and I thanked him saying the team needed some love and prayer tonight. I also noticed the "Beware of Dog" as a big German Shepard came running over. But he just nuzzled up to Silas and then licked my hand wanting to be petted.
Silas and Margret gave us the grand tour of their beautiful house. They have built and designed it as if it was a traditional Malawian hut. Round with a central living area and all the rooms around the edges of that like a pie and a domed ceiling with incredible acoustics
On the ground is this, their original home on the property with a mango tree in front.
And an avacado tree.
As you walk between there is this Halloween display that Susan Pigott would envy. Except those are REAL spiders! and they are there all year!
Think about how big they are compared to the leaves
We had traditional Malawi food for dinner like nsema, upia fish, pumpkin greens, roasted pork hock. It was yummy. We also had a chance to discuss the day on full stomach and with surrounded with support. We only had the morning available to be in Chipagal as we were commited to being at the Titsrani center for the disabled in the afternoon as that was the ONLY day we could see them. It had been discussed to do some personal stops in between earlier but Cathy and Sara had graciously done some of those today. Only the fabric shop was left. I then said that the best option was to start at 7am.  An extra hour would make all the difference and I would not go to the fabric shop so we could go directly to the Titsrani centre. Yes, it would be a really early morning but it was just one. We could do it. All I could think about was all those people getting up much earlier than us to walk there by 6 am, we could get up and drive there by 7. The team agreed and I was proud of them. We then had a chance to visit and hear about Silas and Margaret's story and life in and out of Malawi. Xander returned and joined us with a repaired van. As it started getting later, I could feel the start of a migraine building and unfortunately I didn't have my meds with me. It was coming on fast and there was just no way to excuse myself or get home. I was grateful when someone else suggested we needed to leave as I was afraid I was going to start throwing up and that it was going to past the point where the meds would help. 
As I reached for the door to go to the van, Xander held his hand up and said" Stop, there is a German Shepard out there." Ya, we already met and I'm not his flavour. Xander laughed and opened the door and said" Well then, ladies first." Fine, let's just get home.
The drive home was torture. Every bump was like a sledge hammer hitting me, every headlight like a knife cutting my skull open, taking deep breaths so that I didn't loose the wonderful dinner that I had just enjoyed. Xander asked if I was OK. No...but I just needed to get home. 
I got out of the van, made a beeline for my room, only stopping to get my ice packs from the fridge. I downed my meds, set my alarm for 5:30am......praying that everything came together and I would be functioning for the busy day I needed to do in 8hours.

Sunday 11 September 2016

A Sunday of Celebration and Preparation

Most of us had recovered from the drive by morning, except Bryan who's head decided that a migraine was in order. Understanding the effect of that condition and hoping he could be ready to be back to work the next day, he made the wise decision to stay home and drug and sleep it off for the day. It is always a good call to look after yourself.
The rest of us loaded into the van and headed to church and our official welcome service at the Chikondi congregation in Chipagala. This is the same church that we are using it's back building for our eye care assessments. 
Greeting us this time was the church bell. Where availability meets necessity, it is made from an olde tire rim and has a great sound to it!
Instead of just being in the congregation, we would be seated with the clergy and the elders at the front so we started at the vestry meeting before heading into the sanctuary.
We also took time to visit the Sunday school classes that were meeting in the rooms where Bryan and I do our assessments and dispenses.
Yes, all of these children in one room patiently learning and listening.
As we entered for worship, we looked out to over 800 people who were there for worship. This is their regular attendance.
The team did the same skit of The Good Samaritan for the Children.
I did my reading, sans Pig Latin. And once again we were proud to present a hand made banner for the church to hang in memory of our visit. Also, Jonas, the abusa stated during his introduction of us that we are giving the community great care and an opportunity that they may not have again. He emphasized the dangers of buying glasses at the market(these are often used or donated glasses that have been stolen and get resold or cheap readers) but instead encouraged them to do everything possible to come and get assessed and get glasses if needed. This is like a community leader standing up and saying "You don't have to buy your glasses on the internet. You have the opportunity to get good care"
After church, we participated in a meeting with plans for the updates for the Timvane center including painting the building and playground equipment. Also they are going to go ahead with what needs to be done to update the Sunday school building to be a official primary school. All of this will be funding by the support we raised for this trip. It is so exciting to see these projects in the works and moving forward.
After the meeting, Sara, Cathy and Jessie stayed to work with the youth for the afternoon while Karen and I went back to Canada House to reorganize the glasses and supplies to start the clinics again on Monday morning.
When we got there, we were so happy to see the front door open and Bryan up and around. Rest and meds had done there job and he was functioning again. So much so that he was seeing some patients that afternoon! Janet's mom had been having some problems and had gotten glasse but still hadn't been able to see properly. Bryan had check with the auto refractor and gotten a reading 1- That was way different than the glasses she had just bought 2- showed a big difference in RX between her eyes. He asked if I could check with the other machine to see what I got. Sure enough, I got close to the same reading. I said the only thing we could do was to start trial lensing her and see what we could get. Sure enough, our readings were close but we didn't have a pair of glasses that had a low minus in one eye and a really high one in the other. While we had been doing this, Karen had started the job of sorting out the glasses from the mess that had been made over the last few clinics. Suddenly, it occured to me that we had groups of similiar frames donated and purchased just in case we had this problem. I asked Bryan what frame the -5.25 was in and what size. Karen and I then started hunting for a -0.50 in the same....No luck. When we did find something close, it wasn't close enough to give clear sight. I thought we had lost the battle but then I noticed we had a -0.25 in the same frame but a larger size. I asked Bryan if he could find the larger size in a -5.25? He found a -5.00 and we decided to give it a try. Bryan switched the lenses. 
and Fatima looked at the chart and finally got 20/20 vision! We were proud and happy to find a solution to a complicated problema and she was thrilled to see clearly for the first time in a long time!
Xander had been sitting waiting for the time to go back to collect the rest of the team and aksed when it was finally going to be his turn. I laughed and said right now. I got my refractor and checked the results. UMMMMM -1.50 and -2.25.....FYI not legal to drive without glasses. I looked at him and said "Dude, you need glasses!" Now he has been translating for me for a few days and has started to understand what some of the numbers mean so he asked to see the results. When he looked at the RX he said "NO WAY! Do it again!" I'm not doing it again. That is probably right. It's not like I entered it in myself! Ok he said but get me nice ones from Deborah or Rachel! I laugh and said OK.
Yes, Deborah Perry came through again
And she had sent a pair of sunglasses with the same RX so Xander got a bonus. Sure enough when he put them on and looked at the eye chart and said"Wow, clear."
He's going to be wearing his glasses from now on. Lesson learned. Test your driver's eyes first.
Xander left to get the other half while Bryan, Karen and I finished the sorting, organzing and prep to start another clinic tomorrow.
Dinner was ready when the team was together again. After dinner it was just a typical quiet Sunday evening with some people reading/journaling some people catching up online and I switched out the beads in my hair that had become quite disgusting with the special type fo grime that only builds up on the back roads of Malawi and doesn't come out with soap.
Tomorrow will be a full long day at the clinic and I think we are ready. So far we have done over 600 assessments with almost all of them needing glasses. Our last full day, we fit 164 people and that was with me going into the community for almost 2hrs and changing assistants and translators. Tomorrow we have full team all day and everyone has a good flow and routine. Bryan thinks we will see 130 people tomorrow but I'm optomistic. We've done more each day so I think we can hit 170-180. Aim high.