Stars in Their Pies
In many ways, living in Malawi is not that dissimilar to living in Sheffield. Apart from the added 20°C, life is human. We get up, run around the house naked and shouting, find clothes, eat breakfast (toast for Lyra, omelet and chilli sauce for me). I go to work, come home for tea, chase Lyra wet from the bath and naked and shouting with pyjamas, and sometimes we see our friends.
What is different, is what happens when normal life is interrupted. If Bevan’s welfare state was a safety net big enough to catch the country, woven from the dreams of socialists, then the Tories welfare state is a slightly deflated old bouncy castle that smells of cat wee. With deformed and laughing gargoyles on the flaccid battlements. But either way, it is still a soft landing. Here, there is just a big canyon with lightning blasted twisted trees at the bottom. Yesterday, as I was watching the oven burn it occurred to me that if I couldn’t put it out then that was that, the house was going to explode. There is no fire-brigade or ambulance service here. Still, with my well thought out n1 trial, I have conclusively proved that the oven cannot reach the required temperature (warm, warm, warm, warm, on fire, wet) to bake bread.
Similarly, when we were at the Lake, I watched the local kids playing by the shore, swimming, diving splashing and laughing. It looked like a magical childhood. But look for a little longer and you notice that about 1 in 10 of them have swollen and distended abdomens, which can be a sign of being very unwell due to a high parasitic load. I don’t know why some people can keep their parasites under disciplined control and others develop organ damage, but most of the Lake kids will be fine. Some will not. And being western, and being a clinician, and being a bloody interfering liberal activist, I thought, shouldn’t we be doing something for them?
I investigated a little and In fact there are many good programs, both NGO and local, to try to combat Schistosomiasis and other charming parasites (don’t go there, don’t google it). But again the problem is systemic; we are never going to stop people swimming in the Lake, but without an overarching responsiblity for sewerage, without raising living standards enough to provide domestic washing and cooking facilities for families, without functioning primary care, we will never interrupt the life cycle of this flukey little trematode.
(You get there with good intentions, hot and dusty from the long drive, then you see this….. and figure, what’s peeing blood in two months compared to not going for a swim right now. Pass the Praziquantel.)
(The Lake of Stars Malawian Arts and Music Festival, photo’s by Lyra Pallotti)
So, finally, the Lake of Stars Festival, which was immense. Apart from a little tango with the police due to a slightly dented bumper, and an ‘excess of chocolate pancake’ induced Lyra vomiting incident whilst in the sling, it was a really relaxing weekend. There was some great Malawian music, I liked the all female soul-funk “Daughters Band”. There was a large Scottish contingent too (Stanley Odd and others) and I enjoyed eating breakfast on the beach listening to some proper Glaswegian accents debating the quality of the pies. I even saw some people I knew from Knockengorroch, but was too covered in vomit to say hello. There was children’s theatre and acrobatics, and best of all, the whole thing was on the beach. Swimming, music, a few beers and definitely no more chocolate pancakes ever. La Dolce Vita.
(Phoebe and Lyra watching some improv theatre at Lake of Stars. Wherever I go I cannot escape postmodernist self-expression. At least there was no one smashing a double bass and sobbing this time. Dave Murray-Rust, you know what you did.)