Smiling Through the Mud

In my position with the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Malawi, I focus on how we can make sure that HIV-exposed infants are quickly and accurately diagnosed and, if necessary, initiated on treatment – a process known as Early Infant Diagnosis (EID). That doesn’t sound too hard, eh? Unfortunately, it’s a very complicated process with many steps, but that’s a topic for another blog post. Instead, I’m going to touch on something that a lot of the fellows have mentioned in their blogs: field work.

My work with EID lends itself to as much field work as one could ever want, as does the work of many of our fellows. And I’d be willing to bet that fellows find themselves spending hours on bumpy dirt roads and sleeping in dingy hotels in rural areas more often than the average aid worker. After all, we’re young, resilient, and up for an adventure; when our organizations need someone to go out to a rural clinic 400 kilometers down a dirt road, they can rely on their GHC fellow to do it with a smile.

But, after eight days in the field in December spent visiting with health centers who had been failing to test HIV-exposed infants for the disease, I found myself dragging and eager to return to Lilongwe. The reasons the clinics were providing for not testing were beginning to blur together into something that seemed closer to excuses.

While Lilongwe had once seemed like an odd, stretched-out, muddy town, it now felt like a haven full of delicious food and friends. The annoying antics of the dog I’ve adopted from the local shelter seemed charming. I was happy to trade in the rocking and rolling of the front seat of a truck for the daily grind at my desk. And best of all, I felt better connected to the task I’ve been working on at that desk for six months: connecting babies with the medicine that will extend their lives.

Sometimes it takes leaving home to realize how good you’ve got it.