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Florence Nightingale Wasn’t a Nun

A Market, a Hospital, a School, a Seaside. Malawi 23 January 1996
Our thirteenth day in Malawi. This follows on from To Mzuzu on the Bus. We visit Lady Margaret, then a school, then the market, then a hospital, and finally the seaside where I succeed in upsetting Lead Fart again.
First today we drive from John and Gillian’s house up the hill to visit Lady Margaret Roseveare. Lady Margaret is the second wife of Sir Martin Roseveare, who helped to establish the education system in Malawi after independence. There is comment on how the fruits of his work have unfortunately not been upheld on Dereliction Express. Martin Roseveare died in 1985 aged 87, Margaret was somewhat younger, in 1996 when we visited still only 83. She has stayed-on in Malawi as something of a grand dame.
Lady Margaret is attended by three servants or ‘houseboys’ named Watson, Godwin and Boyson. Watson has been with the Roseveares for decades, Godwin and Boyson are brothers. Godwin works for Lady Margaret, Boyson his brother is currently is seconded to John and Gillian. Boyson is paid the going rate by John and Gillian, Watson and Godwin much less, as Lady Margaret’s rates are of a bygone age. Boyson is concerned because his brother says he will kill him for being paid more, and in that way putting his brother down so. But is Godwin really being paid less? It seems that Lady Margaret’s accounts are not necessarily reflecting the true state of things, or so we are told later. High intrigue!
We see Lady Margaret’s garden, her no-longer-functioning swimming pool. We ooh and aah over her pretty flowers (or at least some us do).
Next we visit Lady Margaret’s school, a fee-paying school which will be used by better-off Malawians. We meet the head. ‘You are most welcome’, he says. We see the nursery children who sing for us, songs taught to them by Gillian: ‘De wheels of de bus go round, round, round’.
Malawian children learn everything by rote so when you are shown into a class all the children stand up and say: ‘Good morning, how are you. I’m fine thank you, how are you?’ in unison.
Then we go to Mzuzu market with Gillian. Buy red bananas and chilli bombs. See the piles of stinking fish, the piles of Oxfam-reject clothes, the charcoal sellers, the African doctor. We visit a couple of Indian stores piled high with all sorts of stuff from frilly underpants to gaudy ghetto-blasters.
The reason why John is not with us is that he has gone to the hospital. John is a retired GP from Capel near Dorking who is doing his bit of good for the world before finally hanging up his prescription pad and has come to Malawi in order to do that social duty. Gillian, like Penny, is related to the Roseveares. Today John’s job is to perform a surgical operation on a man who has a beetle lodged in his ear. John is somewhat apprehensive about this as well he might be. We are to meet him at the hospital late morning.
We go to meet John at the hospital. We see the wards with people lying, mostly dressed, on grubby bedclothes. We see children dying of malaria. Nurses washing-out rubber gloves for re-use – and hanging them out to dry. People on traction made of metal bars and improvised weights. This is one of Malawi’s better hospitals. People pay to come here.
People are sitting around on benches looking miserable. They might be hungry. Food is provided by relatives.
Posters show a picture of the pope with the message: ‘Put Your Faith in Christ’.
The hospital is run by the Medical Mission of Mary; Irish nuns. They are trying to hand control over to a committee of local trustees as they are finding it difficult to recruit sufficient novices for missionary work and they need to concentrate on smaller clinic ventures.
John cleaned out the man’s ear and thinks the operation went quite well. We go to find the man to see how he is doing. But he has left, gone home.
As we are leaving the hospital a white man asks for the psychiatric unit for his friend. John tells him it is next door. Off he shambles with his friend. The friend doen’t look too bad but the man himself is pasty white. Junkies maybe.
After lunch we all pile into John’s Land Rover, donated by a patient in Surrey, to drive to the beach.
The road passes through rubber plantations and we pass villagers selling bananas of yellow, red and green. We buy some small ones for seven kwatcha (30p), too many for us to eat, probably.
To Sambani Beach where we get a chalet. The electric socket is off the wall in a big way, the sellotape that used to hold it in place has rotted. Otherwise it’s all right, if a bit worrying that the fusebox is in the shower room. We’ll be careful.
We have a flurry of drama getting deckchairs onto the beach in a way that sufficiently pleases Lead Fart. We have a swim in the lake.
We eat a dinner of chambo and chips that could have been worse in the circumstances. I was talking to John at one point about nursing having developed in Europe from the work of nuns and how perhaps this is relevant to the way in which Malawi might be evolving with regard to hospitals and medicine and the like when Lead Fart interjected: ‘Florence Nightingale wasn’t a nun!’, she exploded indignantly. On this occasion, and not least because it was his professional subject area, John backed me up in pointing out to Lead Fart that Florence Nightingale was a pioneer of modern nursing, not the first person ever to nurse. Lead Fart didn’t listen of course, and as the conversation continues she persists in grumbling that Florence Nightingale wasn’t a nun, repeating it periodically to prove that she was right.
A hot and sticky night under the mosquito net.
The story continues with I Used to be a Cisterns Analyst.


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