“Do it like this”
Today was our first official day of training “volunteers” practical skills they can use to help their patients. Teaching simple physical therapy skills involved quite an orchestra of people. One of us either myself, Abby or Sarah would explain the skill one sentence at a time while it was translated into Chichewa. Then the skill would be demonstrated by the other two – as it was being demonstrated it was explained again in English followed by an explanation again in Chichewa. Once the task was thoroughly processed by the volunteers they would have a brief period of time to practice on their partner which always produced many giggles and whispers. Especially when Abby demonstrated stomach massage for patients with constipation! The volunteers listened so intently at every word we spoke and watched our every move! During our “tea break” which consisted of no tea, soda and cookies the volunteers never took a break but continued to read and re-read the skills we taught them. Once we had taught them one skill – let’s take for example sequencing of stair ascending with a single point cane, Alex (our interpreter who also was trained as a physio volunteer a few years ago) would watch each volunteer perform the task we taught them. He was BRUTAL! Sarah, Abby and I would be satisfied with their performance on a particular skill but Alex would point out that they may not have performed it EXACTLY like we had shown them originally. He gave NO room for interpretation or making a skill “ones own.” It was pretty hilarious. One time after a particular volunteer really impressed me I said “Mwakhoza!” which means “Congratulations” or “You were successful” or “Well done” and the volunteers shouted with adulation at me mind you not the volunteer because I had spoken a word in Chichewa correctly and in the right context! Hahaha!
Fireside chat by Abby: The most fantastic thing about teaching in Malawi is that whenever someone shares knowledge with the group, whether you are a teacher or a student, you get to choose how the class “shows appreciation”. There are many ways to show appreciation: for example you may ask the class to clap for you like a chief which involves cupping your hands and clapping slowly so that the sound created sounds like a drum…I notice many of the young men choose this one. Or you may ask for the rain one that starts out quiet and fast and then slowly builds to one deafening thunderclap at the end (exactly how the rain comes in Malawi). My personal favorite is clapping 3x fast while chanting “Mwakhoza”, then repeat, and then “Sure!” once at the end while pushing your hands in the air towards the person who is being appreciated.
A side note from Sarah: During my time here so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the sense of community among the Malawian people. Whether the three of us were visiting merchants in the village, strolling through enormous red dirt fields with the workers, or teaching to the volunteers and staff at St. Gabriel’s, it has always felt like a tight-knit family. I came to know this personally today when one of community health volunteers, Malita, greeted me and told me how her youngest daughter was also named Sarah! Being the youngest of three sisters myself, I was excited to make this connection with such a sweet woman. She told me she was my “Amayi wa Malawi” meaning “Malawian mother”. We shared a laugh together filled with joy that we now had a special bond with one another.