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Health at home (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Health at home (part 2)

The home of Mwandida Bayisoni and her grandmother stands in stark contrast to the windowless, cramped hut where they had lived for years in John
Village, Malawi. ©Habitat for Humanity/Chris Mattle


Hilda Bayisoni (left) cooks a Malawi staple called nsima outside their Habitat home. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Chris Mattle


‘It is a great improvement’

Now using a more effective anti-retroviral medication, Mwandida appears healthier than she has in a long time. She goes to school consistently, in a green-and-yellow dress that Hilda washes almost every day. Her relatives know that the future is not promised. Still, they are happy that Mwandida is smiling once more and that her quality of life has improved so dramatically.

“When we compare to before, it is a great improvement,” Mary says of her niece’s health. “She looked very small before. She has filled out now. Here, she doesn’t get ill, and the malaria is gone now because they have nets to sleep under.”

Mwandida is usually strong enough to walk the two kilometers required to fetch water each day. On this foray to the river, she skips past picked-over, dried corn stalks, arriving at a shallow river that locals call “The Water Sucker.” In the rainy season, you can’t cross it. When the rain ends, the water dries up quicker than seems possible.

Today, it is about a foot deep. Perfect for splashing around in with friends, as Mwandida does before she gets to her task of collecting water from nearby boreholes in the ground.

As Mwandida plays, women on the opposite sandbar stand astride holes they have dug down through the sand to get fresher water underground. Bent over at 90-degree angles from their waists, they fill their plastic buckets with as much water as they can hold. Once she is finished playing, Mwandida fills her own bucket.

Upon arriving home, she sets the water down near her grandmother Hilda, who is shelling corn — a daily routine when corn is available. Rural Malawians use the kernels as flour in the country’s staple dish: nsima.

Hilda sits with her legs stretched out straight in front of her. She holds a cob with one hand, peels the ends first, and then moves quickly down the cob horizontally, almost like strumming a guitar. There’s no rush to her pace, but there’s no letup either, even as she works her way through some 30 cobs.

‘We are fortunate’

Mary and Hilda and a few other relatives have come to contribute food and help with the day’s cooking. Some string the outer layers from pumpkin leaves to mix with ground nuts and Hilda’s corn flour. Mwandida helps sift the corn while Hilda begins boiling water in a pot balanced over six blackened bricks.

Finally, Hilda begins grinding the corn with a three-foot-long, wooden, smoothed and clearly time-tested club. She pours the corn flour into the boiling water to create the nsima. She adds flour gradually, in small doses, and keeps stirring it to prevent the mixture from getting lumpy.

When she’s in rhythm, Hilda’s circular strokes sound like a heartbeat, as the wooden club stirs through air pockets that pop as they are expanded by the stirring. Old corncobs are thrown under the pot to supplement the wood, keeping the fire burning.

That night, enough family and neighbors have gathered for dinner at the house to prompt a spontaneous dance party, complete with beats hammered out of a cow-skin drum. Hilda and Mwandida both smile often at each other, dancing in an ever-growing circle of family and friends.

“It isn’t an easy life,” Hilda says later. “But we are fortunate to have a strong place to live. We are thankful for this.”

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