Thursday, 21 March 2019

Change is positive

I don't know where to begin to document my last few months.
I enjoy change. I am a gypsy soul at heart but from a work and career perspective I thrive on improving processes, services and ultimately client outcomes.
These last few months have not been easy.

Living in a developing country such as Malawi, being a white female is met with the obvious challenges. Throw in some change management and you have yourself a recipe of confrontation, perspective, cultural acknowledgement and acceptance and a mix of emotions all thrown in to one.  However there has been glimpses of hope at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel that if negotiated appropriately over the next few years, could put Malawi's prosthetic services on a global scale.

Change does not come easy to everyone. There are those people that are quite comfortable with routine, same lunch, same job, same day to day basics and that is ok!  There is no problem with that as we are all different and if there was constant change that would not work as well.

However, when there is a service for people with disabilities and movement disorders at stake, one needs to acknowledge the bigger picture, the access to healthcare and the implications for a sustainable service. 

Whilst I can't go in to details here, the last few months have been a challenge both professionally and personally as I begin to re-establish my career direction, the role I play in both prosthetics and orthotics, management, international development and capacity building and what I as an individual supporting a service can physically do.  What is reality when you aren't quite part of the culture but through your historical involvement are somewhat part of the furniture.  Some days have literally felt like the below picture.  Is it Friday yet?!

It has been a lesson in patience (clearly my life lesson to learn), humility and understanding.  It has also been a lesson in how to get shit done in a less than optimal environment within a time frame.  Whilst I paint a somewhat challenging picture here the benefits have also crept in.

The change in staff as they are given responsibility is starting to shine.  The smile on a child's face when they walk for the first time after receiving their devices or an adult who hasn't walked for some years since their amputation to finally find their feet again and walk out of the clinic with their new prosthesis.  The win of getting the hospital to pay for some stock when they haven't since the time service opened its doors 10 years ago are all positive elements of change.

The last few months have been a time of reflection and being in the open spaces that Malawi has to offer also highlighted to me the incredible opportunity I have had to be part of something amazing.  The sunsets here have been nothing less than spectacular these last few months and I have been able to witness them in Lilongwe, Blantyre, Satemwa, Mangochi, Likoma and Mzuzu.  The colours are incredible and photos just don't do them justice.


I also see the struggle that people with a disability have here in Malawi. Throw in the floods and cyclones experienced down south my heart goes out to them.  The recent release of 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind' is a great tale of what life truly is like here.


The biggest reflection and change that my heart is overwhelmed with is the hug I received from beautiful Samson who has been a part of my life, as I have his, since 2009.  A break through moment that I thought may never have happened.  There is no other way to describe the moment other than truly blessed.


So as my time in Malawi comes to and end once again I am thankful for the challenges I have experienced here and the beauty that also comes from Malawi .  Each coin has 2 sides and I think like the coins we need to acknowledge that every country, society and workplace has those 2 sides and its how we manage those 2 sides to ensure we grow from the experience that counts to enable us to create the change we want to see in this world.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Being defined...

Why as society - regardless of what country - do we as humans need to define, pigeon-hole, judge or assume people's backgrounds and place in society?

Here in Malawi we are often asked 3 main questions.

  • What brings you here?
  • Are you married?
  • What church do you worship at?
But in answering these 3 questions, what I would like to point out is that these answers don't define who I am.

I am here because I enjoy working with disability, I enjoy grassroots project work and I like to work towards change.  It does not mean I am a missionary, nor does it mean I am brave, nor am I looking for praise but rather it is a path I have chosen to take because I love it. It empowers me to be a better person and enables those in need to receive devices to assist them in activities of daily living, integrating into society and in some cases reducing the impact and burden on family and community by giving them an opportunity to be independent.  If you are working in allied health on any level, within any society, we ideally are striving to assist in providing access to healthcare globally.  

Second question. No I am not married. No I am not a missionary.  No I do not want to marry you just because I smiled at you or spoke civilly to you.  No there is nothing wrong with me.  Yes I do realise I am 35 and that meeting people is the key to finding myself a husband. Yes I want children.  
Because I am not married I don't see myself as a failure but rather I am a strong independent woman, wanting a partner that compliments me in life.  I am still searching but I will not settle.  Next question??

It is safer here to say I grew up Catholic - which is true.  I attend church intermittently and believe there is a greater being.  But that is is open to interpretation.  Do I actually need to justify this?  My beliefs and connection are my own - no one elses.  I am content with that.

Whilst these 3 questions become repetitive and grate on ones patience, they do lead to a greater discovery of one's self.

We as a society, particularly Western society, place so much essence on career.  I have a degree, that whilst not globally recognised, has opened doors.  Doors that I have actively searched for and opened. I love that each of us can create our own destiny .  Sometimes we forget that and get caught up in the progression that is 'normal' for our careers.  But what is normal in global population that exceeds 7 billion?!

Secondly it is normal to want affection, life long connections and a partner that walks through life with you.  Whilst one craves for that and now that Prince Harry is off the market, it might be a longer journey for me, this isn't helped by individuals pointing out that 35 is an age where the biological clock ticks - thank you - I am aware of the lifespan of womanhood!  

What I have however realised is that I crave conversation, intellectual stimulation and like minded people in my life.  I look at my closest friends, many of which are miles away, but every time I see them our conversation goes through a range of tangents that stimulate my soul.  I struggle with superficial conversation and whilst necessary sometimes to get to the next level, why should we surround ourselves with people that don't feed our soul on all levels? It is for this reason that I cherish these conversations with dear friends and family regardless of the frequency and acknowledge that whilst single in an essence, I am for want of a better word blessed, with a variety of like minded souls.  Gratefulness is too easily forgotten sometimes.

Finally my search for a greater being is just that my search.  I don't ask you what your connection is to your God, nor do I try to convert you.  Your journey is your journey.  

In summary I am not defined.  I am me.  Like you are you.  I am here because I want to be,

We are all on this crazy journey yet different pathways, but in the words of Nelson Mandela, 'As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same'.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

All the ... small things ...

I'm not going to lie.  Whilst I love Malawi it frustrates me on a number of levels. 

Whilst not a perfectionist, I like procedures and processes and things to run somewhat smoothly.  I have over time (that time is continuing as a life lesson) learnt to accept that things don't happen on time and that 'Malawi Time' like 'Islander Time' is a thing and just needs to be accepted.  Those that know me, know that I am by no means a patient person,  I continue to work on this.  Thank goodness for essential oils (frankincense particularly), deep breathing/meditation and calls from home and afar of my nearest and dearest to keep me going.

What I get frustrated at (and now humbly pay my respects and adoration for all mothers and parents out there) is having to say the same thing over and over again with no result.  Changing the language I use, demonstrating the impact , handing over ownership, reducing incentives, introducing incentives - I am nothing but innovative and resourceful. 

But many of these issues (i.e. littering, not cleaning, not seeing the wood for the trees, blind as bat - all of the possible cliches, sayings etc as well as the insane driving and no adherence to the law or rules is making me the next rally driver for sure - take on a minibus any day) are part of a culture, a way of life that has been around for years and supported and some what encouraged by Western ways. 

I am not going to get on my soap box, political rant or how 'we white people can change the world' but it has inspired me to utilise and encourage, particularly my staff, to use a wide range of communication skills to work towards small daily goals - much more achievable! A small win (e.g. the plinths are wiped down, I am told that stock is low before there is no stock etc etc) allow for small celebrations. 

These frustrations have also encouraged me to reflect on the impact I have had in the last 5 weeks.  Those that know me, know that I am not one to accept compliments or pat myself on the back, but change is change and change management is what I am in the thick of .  Combine that with language and cultural misunderstandings we are moving forward in a way that is reshaping the workplace to somewhat of its former glory.

I have however found myself saying however that I love being here and love being immersed within the culture once more and why I so emphatically enjoy this type of work.  I have reflected on why I can wholeheartedly say this despite the frustrations.

Driving to a number of places over the last couple of weeks I have taken time to breathe and to see the small things (or big things) that have kept me coming back to the 'Warm Heart of Africa' for almost 10 years.  There have been so many occasions where I wish I had pulled out my camera to capture these moments...

  • Women walking along the road, laden with wood on their head for the home, bags full of shopping and children strapped to their backs
  • Men huddled around a pool table or board game in the middle of the village
  • Children playing with hand made kites, balls and games made out of shopping bags and string
  • Goats huddled together out of the rain
  • People of all ages bathing and washing on the shores of the lake
  • A mother fish eagle teaching its young to hunt
  • Market places where the buzz of trade, colour a plenty with the women's clothing and cloth and general hustle & bustle present itself
  • Sunsets that go for miles
  • Being part of a conversation and being able to respond in Chichewa
The most humbling however that bring me back time and time again are the children , adults and families we see with disability.  Their ability to survive in a tough environment and society.  The icing on the cake is seeing their faces smile as you step out of the car straight to them to give them the traditional Malawian welcome before any one else in the community.

Malawi whilst you bring me to tears some days, some days they are tears of joy.

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and baby

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Returning to the scene.....

I find myself back in Malawi, the warm heart of Africa, working again for 500 miles (

My heart is happy as I walk through the door to familiar faces, clients anticipating the new sense of freedom and independence that orthotics and prosthetics bring to the individual, their families and the wider community.

This time being here is different.  So many changes yet so many things the same.  The opportunity for me to enhance the service delivery and build capacity is overwhelming yet it feels like home.  These types of roles is where I am meant to be .  Creating change, impacting the lives of those less fortunate but immersing myself within the culture, all be it minimally.  There is a long way to go and determining what can be achieved and sustained within a short time frame will be challenging.  But I am up for it!

My Chichewa is rusty but slowly coming back.  New phrases and the linguistics of it all rolling over my tongue bring me closer to being able to understand culturally and individually the necessities both for those within the clinic, staff and the wider community.  Friends and colleagues teaching me new phrases that at some point I will use correctly! Grass roots is where it is at!

But it's not all work and no play.  Within a few days of being in the country I managed to attend amazing feasts cooked by friends of old, fundraisers for Dzaleka refugee camp (where I also won a mini break to Likoma Island), mini trip south and have caught up with mentors and life long friends ensuring that the work life balance is almost complete.

There are new places, new infrastructure yet poverty and lack of amenities are still so prevalent.  My saving grace is that I only appear to have power cuts 2 nights a week - this I can plan for!  A structured powercut week means some planning has been established - small wins!  I am slowly becoming a whiz at one pot dishes with my 'cute' kitchen providing me with the basics required for wholesome cooking. 

The next few weeks ahead have a multitude of work challenges yet in between is a mini break at the beloved Lake Malawi in Senga Bay. 

Stay tuned for more stories!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Malawi to Zanzibar

From Malawi to Zanzibar my cultural senses are being put into overdrive. Another slice of Africa to explore!
I've taken 5 days out to see another part of Africa and to 'write my thesis'.  I hear you all laugh but I have been semi productive so far! 3 more days to go so time will tell!

I write this first bit sitting in an 'office' in the heart of Stone Town, Zanzibar. A predominantly Muslim community with a mix of indigenous Africans , Arab and middle eastern / Indian influence. It's like something out of the movies. Sitting in an office with rickety old chairs. Dust piled high. Men of importance wheeling and dealing inside and out of the office. A hive of conversation. None of which I understand. Do I need to understand?! The mix of languages and culture on an island of its own cultural significance makes my heart swell with excitement as well as nervousness. Very different level of 'angst' compared to my last  18 months.

Eventually my tour driver turns up and escorts me to a van parked under a wooden window shutter that had 2 sparrow like birds sitting on it. Totally Cinderella!

We then drove (at speeds not quite legal or safe) to pick up other people for the tour and our tour guide Muhammad. We traveled up the only hill on this side of the island to the spice farms. Honestly the best thing I've done in ages. A meander through the jungle to come across fresh turmeric, cardamon, ginger, pepper, cinnamon, vanilla, oranges, grapefruit, star fruit and many more. All of which we could eat fresh. Amazing! The tour was finished off with spiced rice, tomato and coconut Veges and local spinach. So full of flavour - I am going to experiment with my rice!

I returned back to town via local bus as I was only doing the half day. I recouped and headed into the township to wander through the streets and find some happy pants. I was absconded by an older man who wanted me to see his spice shop. I said I'm shopping so he showed me the streets and then I went to his spice shop. Love the back alleys and the finds!! I need another suitcase so I reigned it in and kept to the schedule!

Back to the hotel and told myself I have to write for an hour so I did. Shower had and headed to find seafood! Amazing! Fish, prawns & fresh calamari with masala spices and vege! Taste bud explosion!
Finished off my taste explosion with a Nutella Zanzibar pizza at the night markets!

Back to the room to read. Drink fresh mint tea and dream of tomorrow’s adventures!  

I woke the next morning with excitement of the Stone Town tour that was to ensue!

My brain hurts from cultural overflow. I did a 3hr walking tour this morning that went through the history of the island, the slave trade, the various sultans & cultural nuances specific to Zanzibar.

We meandered through the local food market where I saw the largest bananas I have ever seen. No that is not a euphamism! Seriously these things were as long as watermelons and fat like giant courgettes (zucchinis).  We then went through the fish market where the stench wasn't as bad as the meat section. I would've become a vegetarian if I had to go through there!

We wandered through various streets, soaking in the various characters of Stone Town. The mix of women and men of Muslim faith as well as the children coming back from Madrassa was a hive of activity and I felt so very white! Watching the children with their small change bartering for sweets was like something out of a an Arab movie. I keep waiting for action to occur. I am so stereotypical and have watched too much Homeland or something!

The peaceful nature of this island doesn't begin to describe it. I'm less fearful here even compared to Malawi which is strange.

The old slave market threw me a little bit. To see where people were captured and held and to hear of their ‘worth’ with it only ceasing in 1873 sent shivers down my spine. This David Livingstone was a bloody legend! He was like the Nelson Mandela of his time only white and Scottish!

We went to a variety of buildings that were owned by Arabs and decorated in interesting architecture . I was absorbing every inch! Around every corner there was something else to absorb. Walking tours are underrated and given I had a private one just me and Muhummid he earnt his pay and then some!

After 3hrs or so I had a quick bite to eat before being collected by my driver and taken to Matemwe on the far north east coast to Azanzi Beach Hotel. Paradise! The room I'm staying in is decadent. I am completely in another world! White sandy beaches, cocktails, Maasai men on the grass - I have entered another time. Another cultural haven. Perfect writing environment.

Another hour or so of writing was completed and now lying on the sand soaking up the wind , ready for the next few hours of dinner and more writing.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Malawi adventure slowly coming to an end....

My time in Malawi for this extended period is slowly coming to an end. 6 weeks to go and time is becoming precious.  I know I will be back in Malawi (the place is addictive) but when and how I don't know.

What an amazing experience these last 18 months have been.  How does one sum up the experiences, the emotions and everything in between?

Someone asked me the other day what would I miss most about my time here. It most definitely will be the clients we have helped. Their smiles, their gratitude, their humbleness.

My favourite days are outreach days.  Post rainy season driving through the maize fields, looking at the tabacco hanging in the rafters of the huts are some of my favourite images.  The villages come alive during this period.  The dust has settled and life can be 'okay' during this time.  This is 'my Malawi'.  Waiting to assess each client that comes through the door.  What condition will they have?  Will be able to help? What will be the outcome?  They are exciting days.

Home will always be Brisbane but Malawi will always hold a special place and shape who I am today.  Life will be very different in 2 months time when this adventure is over and I start to look for the next one.  Returning to western society will be interesting and a different challenge all on its own.  Whether I'm there for a short period, pending the next job, life will certainly be different come June!

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Must sees in Malawi

My time in Malawi is slowly coming to an end with only 11 working weeks to go and a lot is still needing to be done and a lot more to see.

The rains are slowly coming and Malawi becomes beautiful and green again.  Those that come during the middle of the year will never appreciate Malawi’s true beauty.  With the lake and it’s abundance of activities to the greenery of the mountains, the maize and other crops growing aplenty.  Still not at its produce optimum but definitely looking a lot better than November last year.

This weekend a group of friends and I took the 5hr journey from Lilongwe to Kande beach which is situated in the northern region above Nkhotakota right on the lake.   We booked a ride on the horses stationed there and I did 2 hours through the bush and then down onto the beach where we ‘swam’ with the horses.  An absolutely amazing experience and should be put on the bucket list for Malawi.  My love for horses increased when I cantered somewhat properly (true horsey people may beg to differ) for a considerable distance (for me anyway) and the adrenalin rush was amazing. To feel what it’s like to do it ‘properly’ without bouncing all over the place and also staying on! High 5 to me!  I can see why it’s addictive! Mum and Dad a horse for my birthday?!

It’s experiences like these that show the other side of Malawi.  In the north there are many places that I have not been to and I need to put Nyika on the list.  Unfortunately it might have to be for my return trip.  Other top places are the rubber plantation (truly spectacular), Nkhata Bay where the water is so blue and of course Mzuzu the coffee capital and the best Italian choc/coconut pana cotta I’ve ever tasted!

In the southern region there is the beautiful and stunning Cape Maclear where there is the best sun sets in Malawi.  The Zomba plateau with amazing views and another great horse riding place with views of old colonial cottages.

In the central region we have the local Senga Bay at the lake, Namitete Dam and Dedza mountain. 
The point of this blog is that Malawi has some amazing spots and there is so much more of the country to be explored.

Unfortunately tourism is decreasing due to the new introduction of the tourist visa payment and now the “wise” decision of the president to drill for oil will potentially destroy some of the most picturesque spots Malawi has to offer.  A country where the value of their Kwacha continues to fall daily, poverty increases and whilst the rains are here we need so much more in order for poverty and hunger to be kept at bay.
So if you’re thinking Africa for your next destination have a little think about the crystal blue waters of Nkhata Bay, or the mountains such as Mulanje that need to be climbed and the sunsets of Cape Mac that need to be seen.