It was an exciting and affirming day. Mrs. H and Mrs. K were retiring from their work at Nkhoma Mission Hospital. Both worked as hospital cleaners, both worked in medical ward, where I spent most of my time last year, and both had worked longer than 11 out of 12 other people who retired this year. Mrs. H worked for 28 years. She had the biggest, most welcoming smile. And she always helped me when I wanted to serve tea to the staff on medical ward, and helped me clean up the cups and my office afterward. Mrs. K worked for 33 years. She woke up before dawn and walked in the dark with a few other women to arrive by 6 am. She participated in our ward trip to the beach last December. It was her first time seeing lake Malawi, and when we turned the corner and beheld the water, her face lit up ecstatically. She didn’t have a bathing suit, so I loaned her my shirt as she later splashed in the waves. Toplessness wasn’t a problem for most village women, but with Mrs. H’s son taking pictures to commemorate the trip, I figured it was better to have everything covered. I think Mrs. Msosa, the medical ward charge nurse, was especially happy that the lake trip happened before Mrs. K retired. After all her years of hard work, she was able to have a great memory from her last year.
Both women earned about $2 per day and were more comfortable speaking Chichewa than English. Our team tea parties might have been one of the first times that they were invited to sit at the same table with doctors and nurses, patient attendants and visiting students. At first they were shy and hesitant, but towards the end of they year, they were the first ones in the room, rightfully claiming the bigger pink cups that matched their uniforms.
On their final day, we held a celebration on Medical Ward. Mrs. Msosa collected funds the month before, enough to buy a beautiful new bolt of cloth for each woman. She wrapped these up along with pretty pink teacups from my office. I told the ladies that I wanted them to have a piece of us as they left, and we would miss them as we saw the tea cups gone from the set. We printed some pictures into a card which all members of the ward signed, and took more pictures that final morning. Mrs. Msosa helped me prepare gold-rimmed certificates thanking them for their service to Medical Ward. She made sure the wording was perfect, which took me a couple extra printing attempts. Those certificates were created following the same format which I used to print a thank you commemoration for Hon Rev Dr Chakwera who visited a few months ago and made a donation to our COVID disaster preparedness. I wonder what those women would think if they knew their certificates matched the one we gave to the nation’s current president. There is a chance they couldn’t be happier with their official-looking certificates even if they knew.
After the Medical Ward ceremony, we took the women back to my office for a final tea party. They chose pictures from my computer to print and laminate and take home to remember their times with the ward team. They even tried to help clean up, but we wouldn’t let them. As they headed off to the hospital retirement ceremony, they beamed about how they would receive a 3rd certificate there, in addition to the golden certificate and the photo collage they had just received from us. The hospital gifted them a large mattress as well, and there was singing and dancing to celebrate their contribution. It was an exciting day, a nice opportunity to honor two women who had given so much – two unsung heroes who kept things clean and sanitized at Nkhoma Mission Hospital for decades. We appreciated them so much, and were blessed to be able to honor their faithful work. These days, it seems like I spent the larger part of my time here encouraging and affirming my fellow workers, with barely any time treating and curing individual patients. It might seem like a surprising balance for a missionary doctor, but if each co-worker I encourage and equip goes on to encourage a dozen of their colleagues, and bless hundreds of patients, then I think there’s no bigger impact I could aim for.