Sunday, August 10, 2008

Linking the Local and the International Perspective

8 August

Arrived in Blantyre this morning. Spent this afternoon talking with Tulipoka Soko, the chief nursing officer at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, and some of her colleagues.

I had tried to make arrangements from the U.S. to talk with nursing staff at QECH but hadn’t gotten anywhere. But when I showed up on Tuesday to set up the interview for today, Mrs. Soko was quite open and willing to talk. Some things you just can’t plan ahead.

This brings up another point. I have tried not to rely too much on expatriates in doing my reporting in Malawi. It’s not that I have anything against expatriates and indeed you have to talk to some international folks to get a good picture. But you can’t leave out the people who are working locally, in government, in hospitals, in local civic organizations. And even within Malawi, you certainly don’t want to talk only to people at the highest levels.

This is often harder than you might think. For one thing, expatriates often come at things from familiar perspectives, so it’s usually easier to get a good grasp on what they are saying. And expatriates are often easier to contact from the U.S. So there’s a built-in bias towards folks who have more access to international communications.

But by being here in Malawi, and spending nearly three months here, I have been able to meet lots of people—like Mrs. Soko—who are quite open about their experience, the joys and challenges of where they work.

That doesn’t mean you have a magic crystal ball and everything suddenly becomes clear. (Would love to spend more time at QECH to delve deeper into the daily experience of patients and ward nurses, for example.) But it certainly gives a better picture than if you limit yourself entirely to those with an international perspective and status.

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