Mondays never go quite the way you expect….

I started the day with just a little feeling of lightheadedness. I had breakfast (my routine choice since arriving in Malawi, scrambled eggs, toast and “Coffey”) and set out for the day.

I walked to the WUSC office to run some errands. I had borrowed some reference material and wanted to return one and renew another. The one I kept was a very useful piece prepared by VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas) on AIDS advocacy. I wanted to find out if I could get a copy for COWLHA’s ongoing reference. I also wanted to check-in with Jacob Mapemba (who is the Director of the WUSC office in Malawi) on what Daphne and I had developed for my workplan.

The visit to the WUSC office was very helpful and Jacob and I had a good conversation about the workplan. Jacob provided the loan of a cell phone so that Patricia and I could have a way of contacting people/being contacted, as needed. I had asked about the loan of the phone in the context of our weekend plans and offered to pick it up on Friday. Jacob insisted I take it now….and this became very fortuitous.

I also asked about the VSO office in Malawi and was pleased to find it was very nearby. I dropped in to VSO but found that the offices were locked, so decided to come back later in the day.

My ride into Old Town on the mini-bus held a bit of a surprise as we were taking an unfamiliar route….I started to worry I’d grabbed the wrong one! I was assured we were headed into Old Town and, sure enough, that’s where we ended-up.

I stopped into the bank on the way to the office to get some more money. Most people use their VISA to obtain a cash advance…..but I’ve hit a big snag. They want me to have a PIN number on my card and I don’t have one. (I am feeling a bit cranky about this as I called VISA well in advance of my departure and received no counseling on this point.) I had used the card successfully in China and Japan when I traveled there….so this is a bit frustrating.

I headed to the COWLHA office for work. It’s just a 5 minute walk from where I get off the mini-bus and the bank. When I arrived, Lawrence (a consultant) was there working on plans for the next phases of the “Stepping Stones Plus” program that COWLHA is implementing in the regions. This is an up-date of a program developed through the Strategies for Hope Trust, with financial support from UNICEF, the German Institute for Medical Mission (DIFAEM), CAFOD and Plan. The program is designed to activate discussions about HIV and AIDS at the local level.

To quote the author, Alice Welbourn, a victim of AIDs herself who (as of 2006) was 19 years into a life with HIV/AIDs and doing well with the help of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs):

I hope that these new exercises and sessions, designed to supplement the original training package, will provide additional support to communities in understanding how HIV breeds and flourishes on these root inequities and injustices in our lives, and our collective reluctance to look at or challenge them. I hope it will also enable us together to have the courage to stamp out these many injustices – and, in doing so, also halt the spread of HIV.

As I am learning through my work with COWLHA, gender discrimination and attitudes about the roles of men and women in Malawian (and many other African countries) are key factors in the “root inequities and injustices” limiting the ability to address the challenges of HIV/AIDs. This is why COWLHA has been created – to ensure that the issues of women facing the threat and reality of HIV/AIDs are highlighted and addressed.

I talked with Daphne about Jacob’s suggestions for the workplan and we came to an agreement about it, making the changes Jacob suggested. I will be completing an up-date of their advocacy workplan so that it is ‘up to the minute’ and aligns with the COWLHA strategic plan. We will also run a workshop on the “how” of advocacy. (Jacob explained that while many organizations have advocacy plans they struggle with exactly how to put them into action.)

I started to work immediately on the advocacy workplan and began the materials for the workshop presentation. I made some fairly good progress….and met a few more people who came by the office. Among them was a man named Wisdom who used to work in advocacy for MANET+ (a Malawian AIDS-related NGO) but now works for a rubber plantation in the north of Malawi. He was hired because there were problems with bush fires in the communities neighbouring the rubber plantation and the owners of the rubber company wanted to do some outreach to see what could be done to eliminate the fires. Wisdom has been with this work for about a year now and advises that the fires have reduced by 70%. He also explained that he has built a better understanding in the community about how the rubber plantation is a benefit to its schools, roads and other infrastructure.

A driver used by COWLHA and one of Daphne’s nephews also dropped into the office. I also met Daphne’s youngest daughter, Tamara. James dropped by, too. (He is the other consultant COWLHA uses.)

With Daphne’s agreement, I left around 2:00 p.m. so I could drop into the VSO office about the copy of the publication I was looking to obtain for COWLHA and so I could go onto the internet. As I made my way, I started to feel unwell.

I completed my errands at VSO (…not looking good to get another copy of the publications…) and I did a few emails via wireless connection in the lobby of the Capital hotel. By the time I got back to the Country Garden Lodge, I could tell I was battling a high fever.

I got into bed after taking some ibuprofen and tried to sleep. Other than the fever, I had no other symptoms – no vomiting or diarrhea. At dinner time, Ruth – the woman who looks after the operations at the Lodge – came by my room to see if I planned on having any supper. She saw my state and got me an extra blanket and offered to bring me something to drink. Later Patricia came by and, with her help, we used the cell phone that we had received from WUSC in the morning to call Jacob. Both Ruth and Jacob were concerned that I had malaria.

Jacob stayed in touch by phone. I started vomiting. Jacob called to say that he had found a 24-hour clinic that was open and had a doctor available and that he sent a WUSC driver to come for me. Ruth kindly offered to accompany me….her presence was a great comfort. Off we went. The clinic was in Old Town and they took me right away. The nurses and doctor were very kind – Hilda, Anne and Azeem. Even with the ibuprofen (which I had continued to take at appropriate intervals over the evening), my fever was still quite high. They were able to determine that I did not have malaria but I did have an infection. Antibiotics were prescribed. I was also given some other medication to deal with any further vomiting and also some pain killers to address the aching that had set in as the evening wore on. Interestingly, the visit to the clinic cost 3,300 kwatcha (about $25 Canadian), including the prescriptions.

As soon as I got back to the Lodge, I took the antibiotics, called Jacob to let him know the outcome of my visit to the clinic, and then tucked into bed. By morning, the fever was gone…but the diarrhea started. (…perhaps, too much information??!!) Thankfully, I had brought medication for this from home! Jacob and Lawrence from the WUSC office came by to have a look at me and get assurance that I was on the mend. Jacob agreed to let Daphne know what was happening with me. I will not go to the office today (Tuesday) but will plan on going in tomorrow.

As I write this, it is about 2:30 pm on Tuesday. I am still a bit achy but otherwise feeling much, much better. I haven’t eaten too much, but I will see what I can do to get something into me over the day.

Meanwhile, I’ll nap a bit and also work on my COWLHA writing this afternoon/evening so that I can continue to make progress within the limited time available.

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