By Dale Perks
We have been here already 3 weeks and I have had the opportunity to listen, observe, engage, and collaborate with various individuals from this village and nearby villages. Sometimes these experiences have left me feeling happy and enriched, as well as sad, discouraged and even overwhelmed.
Previously, I thought that perhaps I would be more immune to culture shock, due to my ‘mature’ age and my exposure to large amount of suffering from having practiced 27 years in the field of nursing….but I I realized that I could not have been more wrong! Culture shock is something that is very real and I am not “immune”. During the first weeks I enjoyed the bliss of the honeymoon stage and bathed in all the interesting sounds and sights, and I experienced feelings of awe and joy. Regardless of some of the difficult situations that I was observing, being among the people of this village, especially the children and women, made me feel so renewed and inspired. I also found myself acting in the role of “the nurse”, as I would be back home, and started caring for those who showed up on my door step in need. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t have to pull out my first aid kit, or go into my stash of over-the –counter medicines, or pull out my stethoscope, or listen to someone story about their health issues. The villagers had figured out that I was a “nurse” and suddenly I became the “go to” person” for all kinds of health issues, which ranged from cold symptoms, stomach aches, arthritis, tooth aches, swelling of the eyes, minor cuts and scrapes, blisters, and sprains. Unfortunately, my role here, is not as the acting nurse for the villagers nor the neighboring villages. I think part of my falling into this nurse role was facilitated by my eagerness to relieve suffering of those around me and instinctively providing care for others…something I do so naturally back home and without a thought, and which gives me a sense of making a difference in this world. In reflecting about all of this, and after having some discussions with Dr. Stonebanks and Dr. Sheerin, I realized that I needed to take a step back. Making a difference here is all about putting in place practices that are meaningful to the people and which are sustainable. This kind of approach is in line with Praxis Malawi, which is different to most NGO approaches, and which is an important realization. I will still continue to be “mama Dale” to the students, but as hard as it is for me to step back from the nurse role in the village, I must redirect my energy to the goals of this important project.
Another realization is that I sometimes feel that I am bouncing back and forth between various stages of culture shock, namely disintegration and reintegration, and this can be frustrating at times. With our last road trip to Zambia, I experienced an array of emotions. It also triggered many thoughts and comparisons between the people of Makupo, or my ‘home away from home’ and the Zambians working in Zikomo lodge. Fortunately, I am surrounded by some very bright leaders and students, and with sharing of ideas and observations, this helps to anchor me and renew my faith in our work. As an aside, the experience in Zambia was truly amazing, especially seeing all of the wild animals, including zebras, elephants, giraffes, and many others, in such close proximity and within their natural habitats.
On a final note, as a health care professional, being present in a region where there are so many health needs and competing priorities, is rather challenging. However, I try to keep in mind that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality, and with this in mind I can keep moving forward, regardless of the challenges. I know the road may be rocky and not so straight, but I am not afraid to take the path. Also, working with some exceptional and creative students, along with brilliant and dedicated professors who have a clear vision, has also helped me to move forward.
I look forward to the remaining weeks, whereby our health team and co-learners will be collaborating on several health initiatives, including the distribution of village first aid kits, providing a workshop to villagers regarding family planning and STI’s (sexually transmitted infections), facilitating the creation of an inter-village health committee, and work related to some education around disabilities and inclusion.
Furthermore, some dialogue has begun about the future health clinic, which will eventually be built within the campus, and will play an important role in providing healthcare and health promotion for villagers in the Chilanga region. I look forward to sharing all of the news about these projects to all of my family and friends back home who are also supporting Praxis Malawi at a distance. Your support is really important to all of us!