Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Women at Work

One of the things I really admire about Eileen is her determination to keep photographing until she finds the right angle, lighting and composition for each shot. Just before leaving for Malawi, she fell and hurt her knee but convinced the doctor to let her come ahead anyway. So here she is on the Fourth of July on the floor of a room being used to examine pregnant women during the monthly mobile clinic in the isolated village of Emazwini—30-plus kilometers away over dusty tracks from Embangweni.

Of course, Eileen is not the only person hard at work in this photo. Joyce Ngoma (in the dark blue headscarf) examined about 25 pregnant women that afternoon, checking for signs of anemia, swelling in the lower extremities, palpating abdomens to determine the position of the fetus, etc. Florence Mwandira (in pink) is recording the results in a large health register.

You can see the brace on Eileen’s right knee and the chitenje she wore over her jeans. A chitenje is basically a length of cloth that women in the villages wear over their skirts. It keeps the dust and dirt off their clothes.

Women wearing trousers—let alone jeans—is still a pretty uncommon sight in the villages. And we didn’t want to offend, so we wore chitenjes on the first mobile clinic. But several Malawians told us that times were changing and that at any rate, people understood that American women dress differently. So on the next mobile clinic both Eileen and I wore trousers.

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