Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Into Chipagala

It's certainly different at night in the city of Blantyre. We are staying at Canada House, a guest house owned by the Presbyterian church. Unlike the peacfulness of the mountains of Zomba, we now have all the sounds of the neighbourhood babies and animals calling out in the night. Including the pet cat of Janet, the young girl staying at the guest host, who was none too happy about being locked into our quaters for the night. Bryan has lost his affection for felines.
It was an early start as we left the house for the village of Chipagala at 7:30am so that we could start our first eye assessment clinic there by 8am. 
Cathy had warned us that the road up to the village was really just a rocky goat path and could take over 45mins for just a few kms. But Xander brought good news that there had been a new paved road constructed so it was smooth sailing...until we got into the village. That was so rough I couldn't even take photos. I'll try tomorrow.
The clinic was being hosted at the local church and waiting to greet us with song and dance was the ladies choir. There was then a formal welcome with the pastor and the chief of the village. It was like the ceremony of visiting dignitaries. Once the formalities were finished, Bryan and I were ready to get started and set up in wonderful rooms in the Sunday school building with our assistants Jessie and Karen by our sides again.
I was given the honour of doing the first assessment of the day on the village chief and fit her with some lovely glasses.
It wasn't long before there were over 100 people registered for the day so a cut off was made and names taken for the next day. Another thing I notice was that all the people had come dressed up in their very best clothes for their assessments. It was such an honour to be given such respect and for them to place a great importance on this clinic.
Here are some of the great people I had the honour serving today.
This is Rafael. He is studying in college which is being sponsored. I was proud to fit him with these great frames from my colleague Rachelle Hill of Personal Optical in Niagara Falls. He thought they were amazing!
I am so grateful to have our repair tools finally. It's wonderful to do small touch ups and Xander is watching carefully so this might be a new skill that he takes away from the time he spends with me.
With the joys, comes the heartbreaks. This is 17yr old Chisomo. She has severe scaring on the corneas of both eyes. She doesn't remember how long her eyes have been like this or if anything specific happened. I couldn't get a reading on the auto-refractor through the scars so I did a manuel fit. The best vision we could do was 20/100 with a -4.25 -1.50 X180. 
It was at least in this beautiful frame from my colleague, Deborah Perry in Saskatoon, SK who had kindly put in high index 1.67 lenses. It was the best I could do and they are wonderful glasses but it doesn't seem like enough.
This is 66 yr old Augusto from Mozambique. He was gifted with an artifical eye last year but didn't tell me how he lost his right eye to begin with. He actually had great distance vision in his right eye and just needed a good pair of readers to keep an excellent quality of life!
69 yr old Barthalomew wasn't so lucky. Last year he got the bacterial infection acanthameoba in his right cornea. Unable to afford the 48hr emergency antibiotic treatment that would have resolved this, he went untreated and now has lost sight in this eye due to the corneal scarring. His only option would be a corneal transplant which is not even possible to consider financially or availability. I was able to fit him with glasses to get 20/20 vision with his left eye but some how that doesn't seen to be enough.
This is 53yr old Stivenson. He has never worn glasses and couldn't see to do well in school. He loves to learn and has people read books to him. He came to see us today hoping to get a pair of glasses to be able to read himself. He needed a -6.00 -1.75 X180 for distance and -4.25 -1.75 X180 to read. He saw the world clearly for the first time today. He was so grateful to receive not just 1 but 2 pairs of glasses."This is a luxury I thought I would never have." He hurried home to start looking at all the books he had been missing. Sight should not be a luxury.
This is 13 yr old Martha. She is working hard in school to learn so that she can become a doctor. She got these beautiful glasses from Deborah Perry so that school doesn't have to be so hard this year.
This is 5month old Kumbakahi. His mother, Louise needed glasses so that she can keep an eye on him but he has good reflexes and movement so it looks like he has a healthy start but I told her she needs to have a doctors check him regularly.
Angela is 9 yrs old. Today she had had new glasses made and donated by Paul Fabish and Plastics Plus to wear to her first day of school.
This is Florence. She is a 35yr old office assistant and miracle. She has never worn glasses. When the refractor started reading at a -14.00 I thought it was broken. I ask her if she had graduated from school. She said yes. I asked her if she could see me and she squinted and said yes. But with the eye chart she saw nothing. Sure enough these glasses give her 20/25 vision for the first time in her life. When Deborah Perry sent me this pair of glasses with a -13.00/-11.00, I thought what a lovely frame but I doubt I will find someone with this RX. But this delightful pair of glasses gave her 20/25 vision for the first time in her life!
I also had a really complicated communication situation today. Patient came in who could speak Portugese and another local tribe language but not the main one Chechewa that my interpreter did. Good news, I had travelled in Portugal so I knew some basic words to great him and introduce myself but not to do the assessment. More good news! One of the ladies from the choir that greeted us spoke this other tribal language and Chechewa...but not English. SO we formed a language chain. Patient to local lady to interpreter to me to interpreter to local lady to patient. It wasn't fast but surprisingly it was very acurate and he had 20/20 vision in a fantastic pair of glasses before he left!
By the end of the day, we had assessed 128 people with another 111 ready for us tomorrow. Considering that we started late, had a lunch break and some complicated situations and were ending on time, I'm counting this as evidence we are coming together as a team to really serve these people well.
Xander was ready for us with the van to get us home. When all back together, we heard of an incident with the van, Cathy and Sara. Apparently, Xander took them shopping earlier and when he ran into the store and left them in the back, he fail to put the parking brake on. The van started rolling backward with 2 panicked church ladies banging on the window and Xander ran back, jumped in and got it stopped. I looked at him and said "This is why you need a co-pilot" He laughed.
On the way home, we needed to get some groceries again. I decided to skip that ordeal and we dropped off the crew while I did other errands with Xander.
He is a good source of information. I asked him how old you had to be to drive in Malawi. He shrugged and said 18 but since no one has birth certificates you can just go to the office and say you are 18 and they will believe you. I asked him if you have to do a test. He shrugged and smiled. You can but a license is just a piece of paper and anything can be bought. Got it. I was curious about if I was driving whether the police would pull me over and want to see my license. He said you are white. They don't care if you have a license. I thought that through for a moment. I asked, they are just going to want money from me, aren't they? Xander laughed. Yes and in US dollars. Got it!
We retrieved the crew from the store. They decided they wanted pizza with dinner which is NOT fast food in Malawi. I TRIED to convince them that the Dr Oetkur frozen from the store would taste just as good and be much faster but they really want it fresh. How do you tell them that there is no such thing as "fresh" pizza in Malawi? It is just going to be all the processed stuff put together at another place. Sometimes you have to let people figure these things out themselves. Sure enough, 45mins of waiting and that is what they got. Sigh.
It was late when we got home, so after dinner was just prep time for the crafts with the children and the second clinic with 111 patients already waiting. We pre-wrote the registration cards to make it easier. Once again, I have a quiet evening as the rest of the team has retired to bed. Half way through writing this blog, we had a power black out. The first one of our time here at Canada House. It was a good reminder to keep equipment charged and to have light sources close by.
Time is going quickly. Tomorrow is the 1 week count down to heading home and there is still so much to do.

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