Feet First

“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Sunday, December 08, 2002
    Chuen-Yen sends her latest update from Malawi:


    Another Malawian week has elapsed. I now have a bad haircut, compliments of my houseboy Gift. And with this coif, I will appear on Television Malawi tonight.

    My folly was to seek a local coiffure in the open-air market, not an expatriate salon. I enlisted Gift to take me to �the place where black people go.� He said it was �close, very close.� The half hour short cut passed by Gift�s house, which he shares with two brothers. The house is a room, about 8 feet by 8 feet, divided in half by dismantled cardboard boxes suspended from the roof. Magazine images of ideal White people plaster the walls. On one side of the cardboard divide is the boys� bed, a bamboo mat sans linens. On the other side is an all-purpose crate / table and a line on which their wardrobe hangs. The kitchen, communal with two adjoining one-room abodes, is an even smaller, unventilated room. When I visited, it contained a bucket of water and a fire. Suffocating smoke was wafting into every living space, obviating the source of many people's scents. A typical heap of garbage, waiting to be incinerated, loomed over two short rows of immature maize plants. The brothers, feeling luxuriant in their domicile, are expecting another sibling to move in soon.

    From the house, we traversed a steep dirt trail, darted across a major two-lane thoroughfare and descended into the dusty Mbayani Market. Gift promptly warned me, �White people (I am considered White as the only other option is Black) never come here.� We slid down several rocky paths, passing innumerable rickety wooden stands, piles of waste and hordes of languid people, to the heart of Mbayani Market where a cluster of hair-cutting stands summoned. Stylist after stylist refused my business. Most stated that my hair was �too soft.� I also heard, �I cannot cut White people hair.� And, �My tools will not work on your kind.� Back at home, Gift cut my hair.

    Later in the week, the TV Malawi people called to inform me that we would be shooting our Children�s Broadcasting Day show in less than 24 hours at some local school. When the time came, the pupils were suddenly unavailable. So, we opted to use my stuffy little exam room as our backdrop. And I borrowed a seven year old from the hallway. Due to the changes, we discarded the intended script and brain-stormed up some health questions. A cursory search for props ensued. Then I looked into the camera and answered our queries with whatever came to mind. After this, we demonstrated how to wrap an ankle and sling an injured arm. No second takes. I think the finished product will be worse than a home video.

    I�m glad none of you can get TV Malawi.




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