Friday, 14 September 2012


In a very lazy blog post, Sara, who arrived at the same time as me and is my partner in crime, has been uploading videos to you tube. Check them out HERE to get an idea of what Malawi and Mzuzu look like!


Learning bao on the beach from Happiness
So far, I have learnt Bao from a guy called Happiness, drank beer with a guy called Sunshine. We’ve had a serious discussion about the fact that there are two guys called Cheese on Toast (I sh!t you not) in Malawi (one based in Lilongwe and one based in Cape McClear in case you were wondering) and we’ve also moaned the fact that there is a guy named Jacket Potato who lives in Mzuzu that I have yet to meet. Fear not, Jacket Potato is currently visiting his parents. 

Now to explain the names, most of these guys are rastas/ artists in town or on the lake and so they pick their Rasta name. As far as we can see their real names are Jimmy!

Life in Africa

Well, it’s a little different from Ireland. Having previously lived in Australia, I can categorically say that this is a whole other ball game. In Oz, home comforts were available, cheese could be bought and power outages were not a frequent occurance. It’s taking some adaptation, ok a LOT, of adaptation, I shower with a bucket for Christ’s sake!
However the biggest issue I have is the concept of “Africa time”.
In the developed world time is a linear thing. A project has to be completed by a certain date, a number of things need to be done before the project can be completed and so these things get done side by side to ensure things finish on time. However here, time is circular, one aspect is not started until the previous is finished. And if the project doesn’t get finished on time, pepani! It’s extremely frustrating when you want to get something done. For instance, I arrived on a holiday visa and was to apply for a temporary employment permit when I arrived that the university would organise as I was their employee. However it took nearly a month to get the forms that we had to fill in, (a holiday visa is for 30 days), which necessitated a run to immigration to extend my holiday visa. The simplest things involve at least four visits to someone’s office. It is something I don’t think I will ever get used to, “You are sitting there, why can you not stamp this form for me?”, “Well you see the official stamper is out of his office, no we don’t know when he’ll be back.”

Never leave home without it!
Home comforts. Now, I haven’t been away for long enough to really start missing anything but I can picture myself in a few months having some moments of home sickness moments! Now like any good Irish person, I brought a freezer bag full of Lyon’s tea with me which I am carefully rationing for evenings when nothing but a good mug of tea will do, however simple things are what I know I will miss. Cheese on crackers, good chocolate, salt and vinegar crisps, meanies, home made soda bread, Mammy Lawless’ rhubarb tarts, buying a new top from Penney’s. These are things that give me a little pep in my step and the things I will miss (apart from people obviously, I’m not completely heartless).

Running water. As I write the water has been off for over 24 hours. Having spent the weekend at the lake, all I wanted to do when I got home was have a warm shower. No such luck. I did however have my shower bucket full and managed to have a cold shower this morning before work. Never did I think that I would obsess about water so much but I currently have my ear strained to hear the cistern of the toilet filling up so I can do my dishes!

Being able to buy simple things: hair ties, make up, a magazine. These things are readily available in  Lilongwe but very rarely make the journey north!

But it’s not all bad. Seeing the veg that are available makes me more aware of eating only in season. The veg is delicious. I’ve never seen avocadoes as big or eaten tomatoes that taste as “tomato-ey”. Papayas here are the size of your head. My veg tends to go off quite quickly which I suppose is a testament to the lack of chemicals used.
I have a great circle of friends here. I can go to the Zoo on my own and be guaranteed that there will be someone I have met once or twice there to chat to. While the environment here is very different to home, I think it causes stronger bonds. When you bitch and moan about the fact that there has been no water for over 24 hours and how all you want is to wash your hair, or when you’re dancing like mad as the only white people in the nightclub, it’s a unique experience that you are sharing.
You really start to evaluate your life back home. People here are so friendly and thankful for everything despite them being a resident of one of the poorest countries in the world.They don't call Malawi "The Warm Heart of Africa" for nothing. It makes me question what I need to be happy. As the saying goes “If you have a roof over your head, food in the fridge, and money in the bank you are among the richest 95% of the world”. What more could we want, if we are surrounded by people who we love and who love us in return, why do we feel the constant need for stuff. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to throw out all my personal belongings (sorry Deirdre, I’m not giving up my wardrobe that easily), but it does make me wonder.
Now this post has got a little soppy but fear not people, I will not return a hippy. They say travel changes you, who knows what changes I’ll see in myself at the end of this year. 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Lecturing in Mzuni

So lecturing eh? Well despite me having no experience in lecturing, I can pretty much guarantee that there is teaching blood running through my veins. At last count, there are eight of my extended family involved in teaching in one form or another. Was I ever tempted into teaching? As my mother said “You don’t have the patience for it”. Hence lecturing, the students, for the most part, want to learn.

So, what is lecturing in Africa like? Well, the students want to learn. They are very proud of the fact that they are studying optometry and that they are going to be some of the first optometrists in Malawi. As a result, attendance for classes is 100% pretty much all the time. Classes start at 7:45 and continue until 4:45 with an hour for lunch from 11:45. However when we are in the hospital for clinics, it’s very unusual to finish before 5:30!

I currently lecture Physiological Optics to the 2nd years, I share Practical Ophthalmic Workshop with Elaine for the 2nd years also and spend 28 hours supervising hospital clinics for both second and third years. However tomorrow week this will change. The third years are currently sitting their final exams and in an attempt to normalise the academic calendar, they will be starting fourth year on the 10th of Sept. When this happens, I will still be lecturing the 2nd years but I will be teaching Geriatric Optometry, sharing Clinical Case Analysis with Sara, sharing Occupational and Environmental Optometry with Elaine and sharing Practise Management with Sanchia. Now all I need to do is relearn all that I learnt in college!

Then comes the fun of setting exams and grading them. In secondary school, it seems like the students were given everything to learn off, like a lot of schools and as a result they have trouble applying their theory in clinical situations. Also during exams they give a basic answer and don’t elaborate on it. If you don’t spell out EXACTLY what you want in an answer, it is likely that they will give you the correct information but not how to apply it clinically, or what use the test has. Needless to say it can be frustrating.

All in all, I am really enjoying lecturing. Those of you who know me personally knew I was bored in commercial optometry. While I think optometry is a fantastic job, in Ireland it is just not challenging. I felt like I hadn’t used my brain since shortly after I started work but now, I am constantly having to think on my feet, I am constantly learning and I am enjoying it. I’m not saying I will never go back to commercial optometry but the system in Ireland needs to change to give optoms a wider scope of practise that is more in touch with what we learn in college. Until that point, a lot of younger optoms will feel unchallenged and a bit disillusioned by their job which, a lot of the time, just involves “one or two”.