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  • Marilyn Saltzman

Sept. 20 – Pods of Hippos, Schools of Kids

This morning I met two inspiring people who exemplify generosity and loving kindness. On our boat ride were  DK, one of the lodge managers, and Linda, a South African native now living in Texas to care for her aging parents. The two are working to improve a school and hospital in northern Malawi. DK already had founded the village school closest to the lodge, and I asked if I could tag along on their tour. As with every Malawian I have met, DK was more than gracious in inviting me along, eager to share local life.

Abel, the school head teacher, proudly showed us the impressive library, filled with books donated from US Aid and other NGOs and charities. The school, with 1,083 students, has six male and three female teachers along with 12 student teachers. DK’s sister, Amy, is the eighth grade teacher and has 80 students in her class, who were sitting three to a bench desk doing fraction problems written on a black chalkboard in faint white chalk. While the classroom was hot, dark and a bit chaotic, (maybe because of the old white woman visiting), Amy was cool and calm.  I bought some recycled newspaper beads the students make to raise funds. The cost  was supposed to be 13 beads for 1, 000 kwache (about $1.25), but Ethel, the school secretary, was so pleased that I was willing to buy them before they had been varnished that she kept stuffing more into the well used baggie. I delighted – and was delighted by – the children in the playground who crowded around me to pose for pictures. We shook hands, high-fived and shared “zikomo” (thank you) as I showed them their photos on my digital screen.

At Linda’s request, we then headed down the bumpy, dusty road to the award-winning local clinic, where the administrator proudly showed us around. Linda “oohed”and “aahed” at how superior it was to the clinic she was helping up north. This one boasted a solar-paneled generator, so they could deliver babies at night, as well as a stocked delivery room (two 50’s vintage hospital beds, meds and the APGAR Baby Health Scale written in black marker on a poster board); a labor room; and a post-delivery room where mothers and babies slept together in narrow beds. I met two mothers, one 21, who just delivered her second child, and one, 35, who had just delivered her fifth.

AIDS is a huge problem in Malawi, though no one knows the true magnitude because people don’t get tested or share their results. The clinic attempts to test each pregnant woman, but some refuse because their husbands leave them if they are diagnosed as HIV positive. The clinic encourages both spouses to be tested if the mother is pregnant, and the newborns are tested immediately so drug treatment can begin. Babies have three chances to get HIV –in utero, during delivery or when breast feeding if the mother has open sores.

On the boat ride back to camp, we were rewarded with an up close view of hippos entering the water, their scarred bodies making a big splash. An afternoon game drive in the camp Jeep revealed more horn bills, bee eaters, lilac crested roller, fish eagles, giant hawks, owl, zebra, warthogs, impala and more. We also discovered the amusing “sausage” tree, with long phallic fruits that weigh up to 10 kilograms.

The brazen baboons and vervets were always hanging out near the cabins and dining area, and both Mal and Judy lost food to a fast-moving vervet – Judy sacrificing a dinner dessert and Mal a breakfast muffin, snatched off the table in the blink of an eye.

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