Friday, February 25, 2011

Welcome Home!!!

We’ve been in Malawi less than 24 hours, and it’s good to be home.

We arrived at 2:00 PM yesterday, Thursday, February 17, 20 minutes early. A good start. All our bags arrived. Another very good start! This was the first time all our bags had made the transfer in Addis Ababa on these flights. The new Ethiopian Airways schedule with a slightly longer layover in Addis is working. Napoleon and Gracian were awaiting us. Also very good. It is so good to see them again. Welcome home!

A few hours after arrival we thought of supper but were told that the propane tank was empty. We had failed to blow out the pilots before we left (a mental note for next time), but after several meals on the plane we weren’t too hungry. We not uncommonly eat cold cereal in the evening, and there was some left and waiting, along with liters of long-shelf-life juice and soy milk. It was all good. We found some gas in the tank at the guest house, and swapped out the tanks for the moment. The first run to town would have to include a bottle of propane. Welcome home!

As we headed for bed, we discovered that the electricity had gone out in the back half of the house, at least most of the electricity. Beth had turned on the bedroom water heater and left it longer than usual. We found all the plugs in the bedroom and all the lights that are switched in that room out. One light, switched in the adjacent family room only, was still working. I tried the circuit breakers, and one, when turned off and back on restored the current. But sparks flew when I switched it either way. We left the breaker off, hauled out a transformer and a long extension cord and rigged up 110 from the front of the house into the bedroom. The fan and C-PAP worked fine. (I’ve used C-PAP effectively every night for the last—well, nearly 20 years—to counter sleep apnea.) We could sleep. Welcome home!

We took melatonin at bedtime around 9:30, at the suggestion of fellow-travelers (where do doctors get their continuing education?) confirmed by Beth’s pediatrician brother. It’s apparently great for helping kids and international travelers get their days and nights straightened out. At some time between 2 and 5 AM I awakened, took two or three long, deep breaths through the CPAP mask and dozed off again, only to reawaken almost immediately and repeat the process several times. Finally I was awake enough to realize that the electricity had gone off—all of it, all over the house. The C-PAP mask was now doing more harm than good, so off it came. But the melatonin and fatigue danced well together and after shedding the mask we woke up much refreshed at 8:30—11 hours sleep. Welcome home!

It’s rainy season, and despite the roof patching done in December just before we left, wet spots are still appearing in the ceiling of the bedroom—not as bad as it was, mind you, and not coming through on the bed; just keeping us alert to the unlikely possibility. It’s been this way for years, leaving stains throughout the house, and black mold penetrating the ceiling in a few. We hope to change the ceiling, once we get the leaking under control, when we get the leaking under control. But the bedroom still leaks. Then at mid-morning it really started to rain, a gully-womper. The wind wasn’t that high, but suddenly, water was gushing down the inside of the front wall and window, soaking the curtains and the floor. It did this one day last year when we had first moved here. I knew the patching of nail holes through the zinc sheets wasn’t going to handle it, and it hasn’t. We’ll have to look at that design problem in the attic where the roof meets the porch overhang and rethink this once more. Hmmmm. Welcome home!

The electricity in the back of the house is out again, and a closer look with the campus electrician reveals a wire too small going into a circuit breaker. The breaker didn’t fail primarily, but where the inadequate wire was burned at entry to the breaker, the breaker is also burned, ruined. A new one will be necessary. Welcome home!

We needed to let Wes know we had arrived safely and well. There is no internet access at the house today. At the airport the signal strength is uncharacteristically weak. But Beth got on and the message is sent. We are well. Welcome home!

There was a quarter tank of diesel in the car when we checked. Napoleon had told us there was a severe diesel and gasoline shortage. We’d read about it in the States. A demonstration had even been planned for the 14th, but it had been thwarted by the police who’d picked up the organizers at the meeting site. Now we needed diesel. Napoleon instructed us: “If you wait on the diesel, you will never find it. If you go looking for it, you may not find it. But you have a quarter tank. You can go to town and back twice, if you don’t drive too much in town.” Welcome home!

We went to town, and asked at the first station—“No diesel or petrol.” Two semis waited at the second station for a delivery at some time in the future. A few trucks and buses were taking on fuel at the third station, but they denied us service; limited supplies were only for their big corporate customer. At the fourth we tried there was none. “Try the total at Maula.” As we neared, the line was evident, so we lined up, about ten or twelve cars back. One truck carried a very large tank on the back, several hundred gallons. Would there be any left when we got to the pump? Harold (the hospital administrator) walked off to take care of his business in a nearby part of town, and returned. We were next, and then we filled up--both tanks, enough for possibly two to three weeks if we are careful. Welcome home!

As we waited in the line for diesel, a European whose pick-up was in front of us walked back to chat. He was a Dutchman. He had driven from Rhumpi in the far north of Malawi that morning to attend a meeting scheduled for 4:00. He had found no diesel between Rhumpi and Lilongwe. Would he get through the line in time to make his meeting? We learned that he is a doctor, having worked as a medical missionary in Malawi for about 17 years, including one stint on an HIV-related public health project. All medicine in Malawi is HIV-related, but he is now attending in the public hospital in Rhumpi. “Churches are not doing near what they should be doing to combat HIV,” he noted, blessing our plans. He told us of a bi-annual meeting in Kenya hosted by the American Christian Medical Society, two weeks long, granting enough CME credits for two years’ requirements. It will be held in February 2012. We exchange contact information. Welcome home!

Out of propane. There's an extra bottle at the guest house.

Electricity problems. Our electrician friend is on campus.

The roof leaks. But less than before, and only rarely reaching our feet (or even our heads!)

Internet hard to get. But it will be better with a latte at the hotel (and it was!).

Vehicle fuel shortage. Two full tanks after only an hours’ wait—and a new colleague and encourager to boot!

Within a few hours’ time we are reminded why we looked forward to an “escape” to the States. But the reasons we were ready to return--the things we missed about Malawi--are still here, most of all the dear friends we made during the past year. And so we wander from here to there, thankfully never completely satisfied until we reach the home prepared for us and hear the words of the one who guides us from here to there: “Welcome home!”

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