Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Two Weeks Until Malawi

My to-do lists have to-do lists. The shotgun microphone for recording interviews has arrived but not the mosquito net. Worst comes to worst, I suppose I can buy one in Lilongwe.

Two things I want to remember from a conversation I had with Pauline Peters earlier this month. The first has to do with the growing chasm between the very poor and every one else. The second has to do with the stress caused by too many visitors.

Peters is an anthropologist who teaches at Harvard’s Kennedy School. She has been following a group of 200 families in the Zomba region of southern Malawi for more than 20 years. None of the families is rich—even by Malawian standards.

When she began, the families at the top 25% of the economic ladder had three times more income than those in the bottom 25%. Ten years later, the gap had widened to an 11-fold difference. Today, she says, the gap is about 10-fold.

The gap between rich and poor is thousands of years old and is found all around the world. But the relative difference has remained fairly steady over all those generations. What has changed in our lifetimes is this extraordinary widening of the gap into a chasm—not just in Malawi but around the world.

And it’s not just economics. There’s a chasm opening up between the healthy and the unhealthy as well. There are huge differences in lifespan of folks who make it to adulthood. I suppose if you looked, you’d find that the gap between educated and uneducated groups is widening as well.

The other thing Peters talked about is how now that Malawi has been “discovered,” everyone seems to be going there. Even presumably beneficial offers of help can prove overwhelming. Government officials get mobbed by visitors. Program directors spend so much time dealing with the needs of visitors (who often have money), they have less time to spend on the program everyone supposedly cares so much about.

I took that as a word of warning—although I’m not sure Peters directed it specifically at me. I have wondered about that myself and will be mindful of my hosts while traveling in Malawi. Even though I believe reporting on the nursing crisis there will ultimately prove beneficial, I know I’m just part of the daily juggle.

Related posts:
At Work with Malawi's Nurses
How Big a Problem is the Brain Drain?


Anonymous said...

Hi Christine,
Your project sounds really interesting! Will you be updating while you are there, or will we have to wait for the print articles?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jimmy,
Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I will be blogging from Malawi as time and Internet connections allow. So keep checking back. And if you like what you see, let others know.

Christine Gorman said...

P.S. There will also be traditional print articles, narrated slide shows and other multi-media. Will post links when the time comes.