HISTORY

MALAWI BIKE RIDE 2007

In May 2005, Rev Thain took part in a sponsored cycle ride to raise funds for Ekwendeni Hospital, Malawi.
In 2007, he returned to Malawi to raise funds for the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society and extended his trip to visit and forge links with several schools and hospitals in the country.

 

This is his 2007 report.

A gigantic thank you to all of you who supported my efforts for the Bike Ride in aid of Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society's (EMMS) support for Mulanje Mission Hospital and Tiyanjane Clinic, Blantyre.

My personal total so far is £17,091. This includes another great effort by the kids of Bankhead Primary School, Knightswood (where I am chaplain). They raised £2333 by all taking part in their Malawi challenge, simulating walking to school, carrying water, carrying fruit, gathering sticks, carrying a friend to hospital, picking cotton and dodging mosquitoes (giant ones hanging in the bike shed).

After seeing my 2005 photos, Mary's cousin Sarah Henderson (my mother in law's namesake), a midwife in Inverness, was one of the first to sign up for this year's ride. Now, Sarah is 33, fit, adventurous and well able to look after herself, but given how fond Mary's mum is of her youngest sister's youngest, I think perhaps I'd better keep an eye on her. Besides which, I might have to answer to Auntie Joyce who has about as much enthusiasm for this trip as my mum......

The big plan was that after the Bike Ride I'd use study leave to see the outreach clinic work from Mulanje Hospital & visit several primary and secondary schools run by the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) with a view to links with schools in west Glasgow. Sarah would extend her stay and learn about midwifery Mulanje style. To get around, John Challis (Raven Trust) offered a loan of his Toyota pick up, which we could collect in Lilongwe.

The week before leaving I repeat the quip about the second most dangerous creature in Malawi being the driver. (It has the world's highest rate of road deaths.)

Wednesday 9th May. St. David's' June newsletter comes out before I'm back at work, so I have to write a 'minister's letter' in advance! What I wrote included this:

"Well", you may be asking. "Did he make it? After all that talk, raising money and planning, did he make it to the end of the Malawi Bike Ride in Mulanje or did he get the upset tummy and fall over again? ..... Soon we will be hearing all the tales of blistering heat, creepy-crawlies, saddle sores, bats, bad driving, near misses, how many cyclists fell off, etc...."

 

It would be nice to be able to tell you in advance that there is a happy ending ...... What happens in the days ahead may not be at all what we hope for or expect, but it will be for our good and the advancing of Christ's kingdom. The outcome of all events is the glory of God and our eternal blessing in Him.

Saturday 12th May. Heathrow. 30 cyclists, including 3 revs, 8 docs & 3 nurses. Among 12 veterans of '05 are Evelyn (70ish) Frances (2 years her junior), my personal head examiner Mr. Phil Barlow, lively EMMS chairman Dr. Phil Brookes, giggling Dr. Janet Robertson and the superfit lan Campbell.

Sunday 13th May. Nairobi - Lusaka - Lilongwe. Wait at Lilongwe airport as only 19 bikes appear and we discuss drawing lots or giving 'carries'. Finally we have 35. At Lodge we're joined by another two dutch doctors from Mulanje: Roland (Medical Director) & Eva. I'm sharing a room with Phil Brookes and Sarah's with Janet. Good match!

 

Monday 14th. Driven into the hills south of Dedza for a fantastic afternoon's cycling in stunning scenery. The rapid descent into the rift valley results in one grazed chin and one bruised back (with smashed cycle helmet). I dawdle at the back taking lot of photos and video (loaned camera). Sarah, coasting along near the front, says "This bike's much better than mine. Mine's going in the bin when I get home!".

 

At Mua the men are in tents, 2 pitched beside each double chalet. 4 a.m. (2 hours before dawn) every cockerel in the area is letting rip and soon the noise of early morning chores is coming from the village. Sandra has been kept awake all night by 'something' running around on the roof and is so demented she's about to ask the guys if she can crawl in beside them. Sarah & Janet are being kept awake by their neighbours (whom we shall not name) singing choruses! 

  

Tuesday 15th. A long scorcher. The M10 from Mua toward Mangochi is wide but unmetalled and rougher as the morning wears on. Pass a man with handlebars laden with chickens. Almost collide with an ox cart of cassava which emerges from a field. Butterflies and dragonflies abound. The smoothest way is to look for the locals' tyre marks as they weave a path among ruts and pot holes. I sit close behind lan and trust him to find the path. Arrive at a shady spot where lunch is waiting. Sarah is going well in difficult conditions and arrives close behind. Before lunch we get a song of praise from some locals and I try a shot of a local bike, but when I pull on the brakes they fall off, not to the owners surprise. Over lunch I ask Roland who doctors make jokes about. "Orthopaedic surgeons", he replies, "They're just 'car mechanics' and 'carpenters'." I store this information meantime. Before we restart, some cyclists with more energy than sense play Malawi at 5 a side, in the road. Diplomatically, they loose 3-2.

Either the road is getting worse or we're getting tired. Every shade is welcome. After the next water stop I ride on with Rev. Dave who's a geologist and can explain the origins of these peculiar granite shapes which dot the landscape. He also notices the variety of birds (which I don't) and can name some of the fascinating trees. At Sun & Sand Resort Eric asks "Where can I die". Poor Helen G has sunstroke and is leaning out of the bus vomiting. Sarah is tired but elated. I'm pleased and admit that I've been keeping an eye on her. She asks if this at her mother's request. I mumble something about other important women in my life also having an interest.

Wednesday 16th. Rise for sunrise on the lake at 5;50. but by breakfast my stomach feels peculiar. Janet's tucking into sausage egg and chips. No thanks. On the tarmac road toward Mangochi I fall back trying to capture things on film; People washing clothes in a river, men making bricks, monkeys. Try carrying video camera in one hand while cycling along. Get a shot of Sarah and Kath just before they're overtaken by a man in flip flops carrying a woman and baby on his bike!

After lunch I emerge from the bushes to find almost everyone setting off and bike mechanic Bruce replacing Sarah's broken pedal. S, Janet & I set off last. Behind us are Discover Adventure's medic Joe Stych and no. 2 mechanic Jackie (who just happens to be a doctor) with two support vehicles, one with enough medical kit for minor operations and the other with spare bikes and parts. We pass Mairi plodding. I stay with her for a few miles but she encourages me to go on, which I do. What happened next was a hairsbreadth from tragedy.

Joe Cooney, riding a bit behind Sarah, saw a truck overtaking another truck, coming towards her. She got on the verge but thought "This is going to hurt". It did. Probably an overhanging load struck her right arm, which was broken. Bike helmet did it's job, breaking into several bits. Drs Joe & Jackie arrive quickly, get her neck in a collar, anaesthetise her and strap up her arm. She can feel everything but her neck is sore. (It transpires vertebrae C4 & C5 are broken). In a little less pain, Sarah eyes me with a wicked look and asks, "What's Joyce going to say?"

Mairi (nurse) goes with her to nearest hospital. I'll see the afternoon out but weight in my stomach is heavier. Very sober water stop. Tuck in behind Janet and let her break the wind for the last 25 km to Hippo View Lodge, Liwonde.

 

(Yes, I did see two hippos, in the distance.) After getting cleaned up Sarah is off to Blantyre (2 hours away). I'm to stay at Hippo View. As planned lead devotions on 2 Cor. 4... "treasure in jars of clay ... carrying in our body the dying of Jesus", which we do every day, surrendering our cherished plans for Jesus' sake.

Thursday 17th. Don't sleep much. Rise to the news of the vertebrae. So we're going to Johannesburg ASAP. Lemon takes me to Blantyre (1 1/2 hours). His driving is average Malawian - heavy on the throttle and the horn. "You did this with Sarah last night.... in the dark?" The mind boggles. Phone Mary. Sarah and I discuss what to tell her mum. Medics arrive from South Africa. The 'ambulance' to the airport is a glorified Land Rover and Sarah's feet stick out the back as it bumps through the road works, the nurse holding the door as tight as possible. The air ambulance has one narrow door. Getting through it gives Sarah "the worst 30 seconds" of her life. On board isn't much better. Two hours of discomfort. At Olivedale Hospital in Jo'burg a sign asks that all firearms are left at reception! I'm in a guest house 5 minutes away but the owner collects me and warns me not to walk it.

Meanwhile the gang all survived the climb to Zomba and a long day on the dirt road to Mulanje where they had a big welcome and a hospital tour on Saturday.

The next four days. Hospital and house are all I see of Jo'burg. Sarah has a 'halo' fitted in surgery to keep her in traction for 6 weeks? She tells orthopaedic surgeon he can always get a job as a barber! Mary calls friends with friends in Jo'burg, who visit and give great help. Sunday we phone and wish Matthew happy 17th birthday. Dour Afrikaans nurses claim they can't sing! By Monday S is propped up a fraction, can see the telly and feed herself. She probably also has a broken rib, but is relaxed and her 'mechanic' says she's making good progress. Boyfriend Alan plans to come soon. To honour the preparations made by colleagues and schools in Malawi I decide, reluctantly, to go back there. Book flight to Lilongwe. Say "See you in Nairn" and swallow hard.

Wednesday Sarah had op to put metalwork in arm. Alan arrived Friday. Following week she can walk with the halo attached to a frame, but at first is warned not to go outside the ward in case people are scared. When she can they are. But the vertebrae won't sit in place so an op on Monday 4th June fuses them together with another piece of metalwork (resulting in a permanent loss of 15% neck movement). By Sunday 10th she is on a plane home. Back at mum's in Wick with neck brace 24/7 for at least 2 months. Right arm is swollen but pain diminishing. Concern over left arm which she can't raise very high (probably nerve damage) but is improving slightly with physio. Insurance wont pay for broken tooth. Normal smile and hair will be restored ASAP.

Tuesday 22nd. Arrive Lilongwe 12:45. Collect John's pick-up at the airport. Will meet Mathias Huaya, Synod Education Secretary, in Blantyre (300 kms away) tonight. I enjoy the first couple of hours on the open road south, but soon realise it's going to be dark about 1 hour before I get there. John and all available advice said don't drive in the dark, and with good reason. Apart from the difficulty of seeing the road, there's the half lit vehicles, unlit ox carts, almost invisible bikes (with wide loads) or walkers and the kids standing out on the road trying to sell their roast mice on sticks. I stay about 100m behind another vehicle with bright tail lights, reckoning that he'll hit any ox cart or swerve past any bike. By the time I reach Blantyre my gritted teeth and clenched hands are aching.

Wednesday 23rd - Friday 25th. Mathias conducts tour of 6 primaries and 4 secondaries. My already fragile emotions are taxed. I concentrate hard through my schedule of questions aimed at sketching out a profile of each school, visit a few classes and after a couple of hours in each place, wave a humble good bye.

Repeated tale of crumbling buildings, unfinished buildings, few teachers houses, broken windows, no windows, cut off water, pit latrines, few text books, no exercise books, desks for seniors only, no games equipment, families' subsistence farming, hungry and sick children, street children, orphans, little clothes, no soap, huge class sizes, etc. Now I know what a class of 200 P2s looks like! In every place people smile and laugh. Many have faith, hope and love.

Some kids work at home and don't start school till as old as 10. Others repeat years or the leaving certificate, so primaries 1-8 have kids from 6 to 18. Only a minority are selected for secondary schools which struggle to provide places. Many can't offer science facilities. Obvious differences to our primary curriculum: No computing, compulsory agriculture. I learn a little about orchards and fish ponds. 12 year old girls listen in horror to a science lesson on STDs. If they don't get into secondary school they will probably opt for the main career choice of motherhood and the dream of security with a man (who might be HIV+), swelling the ranks of 16 year old mothers and the 46% population who are under 15.

Wonderful memories: spontaneous roadside singing, those 200 singing about a hare, four girls staying behind after school to study the Bible and singing a gentle song about Jesus in Gesthemane, penetrating questions in S2, songs of welcome in my honour, [one with a verse telling that the school has many problems but that they are proud of their school (loud applause)], simple hospitality & dedicated teachers.

Tuesday 22nd. Arrive Lilongwe 12:45. Collect John's pick-up at the airport. Will meet Mathias Huaya, Synod Education Secretary, in Blantyre (300 kms away) tonight. I enjoy the first couple of hours on the open road south, but soon realise it's going to be dark about 1 hour before I get there. John and all available advice said don't drive in the dark, and with good reason. Apart from the difficulty of seeing the road, there's the half lit vehicles, unlit ox carts, almost invisible bikes (with wide loads) or walkers and the kids standing out on the road trying to sell their roast mice on sticks. I stay about 100m behind another vehicle with bright tail lights, reckoning that he'll hit any ox cart or swerve past any bike. By the time I reach Blantyre my gritted teeth and clenched hands are aching.

Wednesday 23rd - Friday 25th. Mathias conducts tour of 6 primaries and 4 secondaries. My already fragile emotions are taxed. I concentrate hard through my schedule of questions aimed at sketching out a profile of each school, visit a few classes and after a couple of hours in each place, wave a humble good bye.

Repeated tale of crumbling buildings, unfinished buildings, few teachers houses, broken windows, no windows, cut off water, pit latrines, few text books, no exercise books, desks for seniors only, no games equipment, families' subsistence farming, hungry and sick children, street children, orphans, little clothes, no soap, huge class sizes, etc. Now I know what a class of 200 P2s looks like! In every place people smile and laugh. Many have faith, hope and love.

Some kids work at home and don't start school till as old as 10. Others repeat years or the leaving certificate, so primaries 1-8 have kids from 6 to 18. Only a minority are selected for secondary schools which struggle to provide places. Many can't offer science facilities. Obvious differences to our primary curriculum: No computing, compulsory agriculture. I learn a little about orchards and fish ponds. 12 year old girls listen in horror to a science lesson on STDs. If they don't get into secondary school they will probably opt for the main career choice of motherhood and the dream of security with a man (who might be HIV+), swelling the ranks of 16 year old mothers and the 46% population who are under 15.

Wonderful memories: spontaneous roadside singing, those 200 singing about a hare, four girls staying behind after school to study the Bible and singing a gentle song about Jesus in Gesthemane, penetrating questions in S2, songs of welcome in my honour, [one with a verse telling that the school has many problems but that they are proud of their school (loud applause)], simple hospitality & dedicated teachers. See video below.

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