Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A long way from home

It's been too long. Too long since wrote, too long since I hugged my family, too long since I went to work and thought about the patients instead of broken medical equipment and voltage variability and DHCP leases, too long since I went on a vacation and actually vacationed. That was the story of last month.

After finally moving to Malawi more or less permanently almost one year ago, I have started moving around more often. In Malamulo, I have moved houses more times than I can remember. That was bearable since the faces (or muzzles) around me varied less often. Then came my time to leave the country. Immigration here in Malawi allows one to stay up to three months on a tourist visa, which strictly prohibits work. I have been trying to get an employment permit for several months, but paperwork moves so slowly it practically rots. That necessitated yet another departure from Malawi. The plan was a week trip to Victoria Falls. It would be my first vacation longer than an extended weekend since arriving in Africa and it would be a chance to see a natural wonder of the world.

The plan for a one week trip lasted until the second day of the trip, when I was asked to go to Yuka Adventist Hospital in western Zambia (about 65 km from Angola) and to return to work at Mwami Adventist Hospital in Chipata (about 5 km from Malawi).

Victoria Falls was all it was cracked up to be. Between soggy shoes, a rainforest in the middle of a savannah, and a backpackers lodge entirely to myself, it was precisely what I needed. Time to sit down when needed, sleep in as long as I could, meander about with no plan or direction or intention, and listen to the roar of millions of liters of angry hydrogen hydroxide. I even managed a trip to Chobe National Park in Botswana, where hippos cluttered the waters and elephants the beaches. Hordes of tusked behemoths stood in stark contrast to the solitary ones I had seen elsewhere. It would have been fascinating to spend some more time watching them, learning the personality of each one, and appreciating their potential.

The next stop was Yuka Hospital, in the west. Getting there wasn't trivial and required buses, taxis, and boats. This truly appeared to be the end of the world. I'm pretty sure Hades was on the next sand dune. Power and water exist, but you don't want to use either of them if possible. Some say that you haven't been an Adventist missionary until you have survived Yuka. I believe you might be immortal if you survive Yuka. It made me remember that no matter how bad things could be at home (wherever home is), they can always be worse.

The next stop was Lusaka, where I went shopping for contactors, pumps, motors, HDPE fittings, solar panels, power conditioners, and deep cycle batteries. If you had showed me pictures of Lusaka and Yuka beside each other, I would have commended you on your Photoshop skills. One is the end of the earth, the other is the worldliest place I have seen in Africa. Malls, rush hour, fast food, all the ills that prosperity has freely given so many Western nations. I think it was like the West anyway. It fit what I think the West is like, although I can't actually remember.

A few more days of traveling misery dropped me back at Malamulo, so glad for a bed. Although the thoughts began. Why am I not wanting to go some place like Yuka? What happened to my sense of adventure? Should "no" be in my vocabulary when given an opportunity to help? Why do I suddenly have an urge to go back to Zambia despite hating three of my four weeks? Is homelessness a poor economic status or a conscious decision to live everywhere and nowhere simultaneously? Is it dinner time? The answer, at least to the last one, is yes. I'm not sure about the others.


  1. Oh Arod, I'm glad you were able to take some T.O. Time, though you surely deserve more! I'm also glad that you use words like hydrogen hydroxide, because words like that make me happy. The potential of an individual elephant is a happy thought as well, especially when I imagine all the potential energy an elephant might possess. But I'm also grateful you prompted me to think about unanswerable questions, because I have too many that I have been ignoring for too long instead of searching for answers.

  2. I read very carefully your story, Alex. All about why you decided not going to Yuka. And after, you got repentant. With my husband, Helard Mangold, MD, were living at Yuka for a wonderful four years. I can't describe how nice and blessed were the experience we have had there. We used to call that place 'the paradise" specially when people from Lusaka Union were asking how was that. Today, I'm missing Yuka, because God was there, doing a lot of miracles and using both of us as a real missionaries. And... of course, we have survived Yuka.