Reflections - Malawi

I have been reflecting on the circumstances of the women we have been meeting during the Malawi workshops, on how they live and how they cope with the changes in their lives in the context of HIV and AIDS. The more women we meet the more I see the vulnerability, fluidity and discontinuity of their lives but also how the traditional assigned roles gives them the tools and the courage to reconstruct their lives especially after divorce or when their husbands die. Almost every woman who attends the workshops talks about the disruption of her life by HIV and AIDS but they also share stories of rebellion (crossing the line) and coming to terms with defying the cultural norms. I admire the way they learn to adapt and improvise in a hostile cultural environment, how they combine multiple commitment, how they recreate time beyond the 24 hrs we are used to, and how they manufacture the energy to engage in a mosaic of various survival strategies, (even with failing health) resolving conflicting demands on their time, discovering new herbs for this and that opportunistic disease and coping with the new challenges created by ‘dislocation’. Most have re-tooled their skills to survive in new circumstances. The young women, who experienced sex for the first time, at the age of 16-18, got infected but somehow brought all the fragments together, recomposed their lives and reinvented another story for themselves. This Malawi experience has shown me gaps in our education system which does not prepare us for coping with unexpected possible shifts in our lives. We tend to assume that once we define our goals we live happily thereafter!