Tuesday 26 December 2017

As part of my work with HHA I made four trips to Malawi to teach homeopathy to a group of pastors and health care workers. This started as a way to spread knowledge of how to use Jeremy Sherr’s AIDS epidemic remedies which were so successful in Tanzania but grew and grew. The group we teach are pretty dedicated and diligently use all the information we give them. Because they are surrounded by people who don’t have much access to health care they end up treating serious illnesses. For instance they have had startling results with epilepsy.

For a homeopathic remedy to work well it must suit the individual it is prescribed for. One epilepsy remedy will not suit everyone with epilepsy and in some cases will not help the person at all. The students in Malawi only had one epilepsy remedy. With a certain portion of epilepsy cases they had great success but could not help others.

Last June we taught them other epilepsy remedies. This seems so simple, such a small act. It took me a week to write the booklet on epilepsy remedies and a week to teach it but the students in Malawi have turned it into incredibly real help for many people suffering from epilepsy.

Cicuta virosa is one of the remedies we taught. Even as I taught it some of the students recognised the symptom picture and knew of patients this remedy could help. One nurse in particular knew it was going to help the babies on her ward; babies with nervous systems so wired and sensitive that even a loud noise could set off a fit.

There is huge pleasure for me in putting this sort of knowledge into the hands of someone who knows where to use it. It is why I teach fever remedies to parents, labour remedies to midwives, it is why I teach.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

2017 teaching trip to malawi


It is the evening of our first day and we are still traveling, driving North in a car with no suspension which reacts with a sharp and violent crack to each pothole, releasing thick, red dust form the floor to fill the interior. But I am still lagging behind, my mind still snagged on the endless, sleepless flight and the interminable wait in the queue for visas when we arrived. Four queues actually; a queue to apply, a queue to pay, a queue to receive the actual visa and a queue to have it checked.

I sleep on and off in the back seat as Africa reels by; then the sky is tinged with orange in the West and lilac in the East and it is dark. We do have lights, more or less, but we can’t see much and the road is at its busiest now that people are walking home from work – each side of the road lined with quiet shadows in the dark.

When we arrive in the centre of the town most of our students are here to greet us. We climb out of the car and are surrounded by hugs and laughs and greetings. A sky full of strange stars and friends in the dark.


No Jane. I have plenty to teach and I get on with teaching, then walk back into town at lunchtime to see if she has arrived. No sign of her and I concentrate on being annoyed because the alternative is to worry that she is ok. I know that it is pointless to do either because here things happen in an approximate sort of way which generally turns out ok in the end. Our photocopied booklets all but one are missing page 13 and that one has no page 4. We traipse from copy shop to binding shop to try to trace the missing pages – each blames the other. Never mind.


Jane turns up before breakfast and all is well. She likes the booklet I have written on heart and epilepsy therapeutics and I am delighted as I have been pretty obsessed with writing it over the past few weeks. Our students see many cases of heart failure but up to now haven’t really known which remedies to use. They see many cases of epilepsy but only use one remedy – cuprem. I am hoping that by teaching a selection of heart remedies and more than one epilepsy remedy we will have the opportunity to teach the students how to choose which remedy will be best for each patient – how to tell the difference and match the patient to the remedy. Hopefully this skill of seeing the differences between remedies will be useful for all their other patients and all their other remedy choices.

I, in turn, am very glad of the organising work that Jane has done, getting this course together against the African odds. While I have had my head down writing she has been tearing her hair out in a minefield of expectations, egos and politics.

This year our classroom is on the main street and our days are coloured differently by being in this different place. The main street is busy with many people walking by all day long and open backed trucks carrying people from rural areas who have business in town – maybe something to buy, maybe something to sell. Luckily we are not bang in the centre where we would not be able to hear ourselves speak over the cacophony of business being done, many trucks parked waiting for the return journey, the return load of people and bundles, and music blaring with running comentary from enthusiastic, microphone weilding, preachers the sheer volume of whom is felt more in the bones than the ears – the normal range of hearing not being large enough to absorb such sound.

We miss the domestic intimacy of the road to last year’s classroom which made its way between people’s houses and was a fascinating walk every day. That tranquility is still there though, not fifty yards behind the street. We hear that there are new piglets to be seen and leave the main street to see them. We walk down a passage way between buildings and find peaceful houses and cooking and kitchens and hens and washing and children and the hype of the street seems miles away. The piglets are new, extremely pink and look a little bit like baby rats.


So far so good. Early morning on the third day and we have had our organizational dramas. One of our best students Angelina waiting in her home town in the North of Malawi with no money to travel. She arrived late last night when we explained to Lameck just how badly we needed her here. Lameck, our generous host, friend, organiser and bane of our lives doesn’t have the same priorities as we do. He sees the success of the course in terms of raising the profile of homeopathy and his profile in the town. But what we want is to teach Angelina and other gifted students who Lameck also failed to get here on time or at all. We know that every remedy we manage to teach translates into relief from suffering for people on the ground. And it is a pleasure to teach students like Angelina who pay attention, learn and have success in using the remedies. People in her community are depending on her.

As I write it is very early morning, not yet light. The dogs are barking and howling all around the town near and far. Something has set them off and the news is carried in relays repeated and repeated again. Many canine voices. I presume that others lie awake as I do, listening to the distance, woken by our local dogs who bark the loudest. But there is not a word from any human. The dogs have the night.

This time we brought with us six laptops only three of which were actually working by the end of our journey. Davy spent his day in and out of the internet station today, speaking to Eduard in Holland, dodging power cuts and wrangling with operating systems and software which have to be sorted again from scratch. It is, as always, extremely useful having him here. Yesterday the photocopying was his task – he is familiar with the town now and roams about on his own and I’d say that the town is familiar with him. Only one long haired white boy in this town. Actually only one white boy.

I am always very aware when I am here of the people back home who have paid for this course and I have a burning need to see every generously donated euro count. Each year, wherever we teach, patients turn up and wait outside our classroom. Word always spreads that we are here. This year the students take the cases and Jane and I chip in when it comes to discussion of the possible remedies. It is utterly heartening to see that all of the students are capable of taking a good case and choosing a good remedy. 


Sunday – day of rest. Just before first light people are outside our room yelling and laughing greetings to one another and having loud, shouted conversations. It is the same every morning and really it is the end of sleep. I get up and set to making a set of the new remedies for each student. At half past eight, job done, we are sitting at breakfast and it feels as if the morning has gone. By the middle of the day we have finished writing the exam and a Sunday stretches ahead of us – empty. We walk to the top of the hill outside town where our classroom was last year and remember our last three visits to Mzimba, all running together now. The classroom has been at a different place each time but we always stay at the Gappa Rest House. Davy and I have always been in the same room and this Sunday it feels as if we have never been away from here, that our lives in the North are nothing but fantasy and that we will be here forever.

 trip by pick up to see the clinic the Mzimba group are building


Veronica Ngulube, one of our students who is an experienced senior nurse misses a day of teaching because she is called back to the hospital for a 
C section. At the end of the day I catch her up, going through the heart and epilepsy remedies we have been studying. She is easy to teach because she has an immediate understanding of the physical conditions the remedies relate to. When we come to cicuta virosa which is a remedy for people with a nervous system keyed to the limit such that even a loud voice or the shutting of a door can send them into a renewed convulsion, Veronica recognises the irritability of the nervous system and the type of convulsion with arching back and stiff neck from babies she sees at the hospital. It is a moment of epiphany for both of us – she now knows she has a remedy that can help those little babies and I know that traveling here, bringing this remedy and this information has been worth every moment of effort and expense.


Sitting with Fulgensio’s family in the dark interior of his home. We sit for a long time and talk and talk while the sun gradually sinks low enough to find its way in and light the room – now I can see where we are. Our conversation is long and many turned, and I hear what it is like for a family trying to live in this town where there have been food shortages and run away inflation during the year. Fulgensio’s wife has a market stall outside their house and people call out when they want to buy one of the piles of tomatoes she has for sale. They also have a pig and two hens. For a family with three bright daughters the cost of secondary school is a big worry. Secondary education which begins at 17, happens far from home and costs an arm and a leg. Fulgensio’s own schooling was cut short when his sponsor died. He had hoped to become a lawyer but had to stop school when there was no money. Law’s loss is homeopathy’s gain.

Discussing cases during class today Fulgensio stood to read the case of one of his patients who came for a return visit yesterday. He had given her a remedy to help her with horrendous piles and difficult asthma. She came back to report no piles, no asthma and the fibroids which had her on a list in the hospital for surgery now a 1/4 of the size and no longer a problem.

Fulgensio is tired now having been up until one am last night preparing for today’s exam (his result 91% - the highest in the class). He rubs his face as he translates for his daughter who needs a remedy for abdominal pain. Alinafi, his eldest daughter, is 15 and wants to be a teacher.


And we end with a bang. A crowd of patients, a chaos of case taking with much discussion over and back.

Today it is Davy’s turn to teach all the technical stuff the students need to know about their new laptops (all six working now after a hectic week). He works steadily through all the questions with one group at a time while Jane and I answer questions on how to navigate Complete Dynamics (the homeopathy software program generously donated by Roger van Zandvoort and Eduard van Grinsven).

The students new to the computers are painfully slow, one finger at a time and it reminds me of last year when we spent much longer on teaching the computer program but left wondering was anybody going to be able to persevere and master it. Our answer is clear as day in front of us now as we watch the students who have had a computer for a year; their fingers fly across the keys, they know exactly the questions they need to ask and instantly assimilate the answers. These are also the students who have progressed the most in their understanding of homeopathy and remedies. Complete Dynamics comes with nineteen books and they have been reading them!

One of our students who was so bright and buoyant last year and came top of the class is very silent this year and I worry about how vulnerable she might be as she is young and female but in truth all of them are vulnerable. The men who we teach who are pastors are obviously more confident in dealing with people and grab themselves a patient from the queue outside and get to work while the two younger women hang back but Davy spots them and the last I see before the chaos overtakes me is the three of them sitting outside under a tree leaning over the computer. He makes sure they set passwords that no-one knows but them. We all want them to hang onto those computers and the chance to learn so much more. We do not want their computers commandeered by someone who, mistakenly, feels more entitled.

We work on until the last patient has been seen and the battery on the last computer has died. Home to the rest house, a game of cards as we wait for our dinner of chips and goat, pack and bed.


Seven am and we stand beside the main road to Lilongwe. A taxi has brought us out of town so we can catch the Lilongwe bus going by from Mzuzu. The shadows are long and it is cold while we wait. Lameck has accompanied us because he believes we would not be safe out here on a lonely road through the bush.

The bus is luxury and only takes four hours. And I cannot write any more. Our flight is tomorrow and all we have to do is wait. Will we come again next year? I always hope that I will never have to come to Africa again but I am pulled viscerally by the students who I want to see succeed. I want them to be able to help the people around them; the boy who tried to stand up at the end of the football match he had been watching and found that his legs no longer worked, the young woman with epilepsy whose life cannot start because no-one will marry her, the couple who have been together for ten years living with the grief of no children, all the HIV people who have come to the end of conventional treatment and have nothing now but homeopathy.

But, also, I want to see the students grow in confidence. I want to see them able to make money so that they and their families are safeguarded from hunger and poverty. They are valuable to me. They are valuable to their communities. All lives are valuable and death is unremarkable in Africa.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

I made an episode of my radio programme "Another Way" from recordings I made in Malawi. It took up the whole of my horizon from one end to the other end of the week for two weeks when I first arrived home. It takes me a while to wind down and get my feet back on the ground here and I feel a bit sheepish about that but I think, perhaps, I just need to admit to myself that going to Africa and teaching is, in a small way, a big deal.


The Malawi episode is just called Malawi.  

Monday 30 May 2016

Many people supported our trip to Malawi. People gave us money and all sorts of different help we needed to get us on our way. I have been writing all these posts for you so that you will have some idea of what you have paid for.

Starting with possibly our weakest student; you have helped Blessings. Lameck describes Blessings as vulnerable because he doesn't really have a secure place or secure work. He has been to both our previous courses but didn't do brilliantly and hasn't been using homoeopathy. He went away from the last course without even getting a book – I am not sure why that was; possibly he was supposed to share but people disappear to far places where they might get work or a better chance and the book went too. All Blessings wanted from this course was the book. He got the book. But he also got two weeks of food and friendship and computer training. In the random way that chances come and go in this place that may stand to him.

The other students are using homoeopathy in their communities so you have helped communities spread across Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Most of the students are treating serious cases because the serious cases are there and no-one else can help them. They are making a difference to the lives of people with epilepsy, paralysis, HIV/AIDS, asthma (a crippling disease if you don't have access to inhalers) and others. After this two weeks they understand a little more about the people they have not yet been able to help. You have provided them with more resources; books, repertory on computer or phone and remedies to fill the gaps that have grown in their remedy kits. They leave with renewed energy to learn this difficult but so rewarding therapy and help more people thanks to you.

Lastly you have helped Flyness and Angelina, our two most brilliant students – secretly and quietly the most brilliant. In a class full of loud and confident pastors these two 22 year old women have the brains, the discipline to study and the ability to listen. They have more knowledge but less confidence than the others who hold positions of power in society and who are going to turn around one of these days and find themselves far out stripped. In every class there will be tortoises and hares but their patients, the people no longer in pain, whose CD4 counts are going up, who have one epileptic convulsion a month instead of 30 are not going to care if they are treated by a tortoise or a hare. All the students share a compassion for their patients and a desire to help.

Everyone has worked hard these two weeks. We have a graduation ceremony and hold together for the last few hours as a happy little band before we go our separate ways. That is what you have given, that classroom where magic happened for two weeks, where all of us learnt something and renewed our drive to help other people, where we worked together before scattering, where we found wealth in the poverty; you have held that in your hands. Thank You.

I have been home for a week and Africa has not faded from my imagination yet as I know it will do. I feel it in the breach when I try to explain to people I meet, people who don't get it and I know that in another few weeks that will be my reality too. Africa is very far away and this is my last Malawi post for now. Thank you for reading

Sunday 15 May 2016

The patients come in many varieties;

There are the broken ones, survivors of horrific crashes who have been heroically repaired by the surgeons, sport enormous scars and have been in continuous pain since their accident – for one man that has been 16 years. No prescription pain killers here. I give arnica or rhus tox, wishing they could have had these remedies years ago.

There are the women who have back pain and waist pain from carrying heavy loads over long distances every day. I find it hard to believe that a remedy is going to help when the carrying must continue with no chance to rest and mend, but I know from past experiences that a remedy that helps the woman to deal with her anger about her situation or her sense of injustice or hopelessness, is going to help the pain.

Epilepsy; no medication, just have your fits. We see patients who have already been given homoeopathic remedies by the student homoeopaths here in Mzimba. Patients who are having fits once a month now instead of every day. If you have epilepsy here you cannot get married, you will have no life. A mother brings a child who has recently started to have epileptic convulsions and her grief is palpable, she knows that as of now her little girl has no future. Why does homoeopathy work so well here? I have no idea but I am continually blown away seeing people's new lives emerging from the chaos of their illness.

Babies; I only saw one baby on this visit, Desire. Ten months old and bright as a button. I had a long conversation with her, delighted to discover that baby Tombuka is the same language as baby English which is a language I speak, I even got some smiles. Desire was born at 8 months gestation weighing only 3 lbs, she is healthy and the doctors say there is nothing wrong with her but she cannot sit up. She is fat and soft and she has no strength in her core muscles to hold her upright. Desire's mother sits Desire facing her on her lap, holds her two hands, looks in her eyes and says “stand Desire, stand” and Desire, eyes locked on her mother's in absolute trust and hope, uses every ounce of her obstinate determination to slowly, slowly, slowly pull herself to standing. I give her calc carb and hope to hear that she getting on well when she comes back for her follow up visit next month.

HIV/AIDS, always there in the back ground, mostly unspoken of. I have a long conversation on a break one day, sitting in the shade, with a man who speaks English. He talks at length about the cost of living, inflation – food costing more in the market each week, the price of rent, cars, houses, funerals, how to make money and how to make money. He is voluble and friendly, chatting openly until I ask him about HIV/AIDS but now he is upset. When he was nine his father died. He does not know if it was HIV/AIDS but his mother died soon after. When his father died his father's family came and took all of his father's possessions. They took everything including the chance for this man and his three sisters to go to school, get an education and have any kind of future.

We have patients who know they are HIV positive and are on ARV drugs, patients who know but cannot tell anybody because of the enormous, life stopping stigma and patients who don't know. The beauty of homoeopathy is that you treat the person not the disease so we don't actually have to have a diagnosis of HIV to give someone a homoeopathic remedy that is really going to help them but the atmosphere in the room when we have a patient who hasn't dared to go to the hospital yet is pretty grim.

After a day of seeing patients the overall feeling is one of endless, enduring, suffering. If I was here for a month I wouldn't write about it until I could see the good results but I am on my way home today – we will hear next month when Fulgensio, Flyness and Lameck do the follow up visits. I would like to stay forever to do this work but I cannot. Hopefully teaching twelve other people will have a better result.

Saturday 14 May 2016

And suddenly it's over. The Zambian's have 14 day visas, Malawian airlines decide that Jane's flight will leave a day early, we teach for one last day, have our graduation ceremony, pile back into the kindly provided car and Sidney, who is an APPALLING driver drives us at TERRIFYING speed and danger the 300 km to Lilongwe in the dark and the freezing cold. We left in hot sunshine at five, our warmer clothes are in the boot, Sidney must have the window open because he did not sleep last night and he is having trouble staying awake and none of us want to prolong this horror by asking him to stop to get our cardigans. Each time I leave Malawi I say never again.

All of us have given too much. The widows, two great women who have done all the cooking and cleaning and food buying and budgeting have been underpaid by Lameck who does not value them. He thinks of them as charity cases and although he has been given money to pay them he feels that as charity cases we will also give them charity so he does not have to pay them the full amount. This is as plain as day to him and he sets them up to beg from us. We have no way of understanding the situation, we don't feel that if you have no money you should not be paid and we are angry at Lameck which is ridiculous. He in turn is confused and baffled by us. And hurt.

Lameck himself has given too much, he has been so busy wheeling and dealing that he has missed many of the classes and he does not do as well as he might have done in the exam. He is distraught yet he had to wheel and deal, he had to make money out of the kudos of having us here, where else will money come from? There are layers and ramifications beyond our comprehension.

Jane and I have given too much; our students tell us we have been provided by God, which is the nicest and highest compliment they could possibly have given us and probably true! But our Western souls have been slogging it out and working at an intense pace as our personal contribution to students we believe in. We didn't realise it was God's contribution. We come from a culture where you choose to make a huge effort like this, where effort is valued and has some chance of success, and we are faced with a culture where everybody works incredibly hard all the time but only luck can bring you money to feed your family.

The students have given too much. They have given the studying their all but we have covered too may difficult concepts and in too short a time. We have wrecked their heads. They go away feeling they know less than when they came. They were at the end of learning acute prescribing and they were confident in it, they are now at the beginning of learning chronic prescribing, a much bigger thing. It is like reaching the top of a steep hill, glorying in the king of the castle view and then looking round and seeing the mountain. It will fall into place for them over the next few months, they have a great spirit for learning and knowing more will help them to help many more people which is what is driving them but for the moment they are drained. And all of us are facing long journeys now we are turned for home.

In my next blog I will write about the patients which is, somehow, too big a subject to talk about but the reason we are all here.

I have a new prayer or mantra or thought that goes constantly through my head “we have everything we need”. I don't know what has bought on this feeling of benevolence unless it is that we are in a place of invention, a place where everything is used. This is a clean place; every front yard of bare earth is swept every day, every floor is washed and every hand before every meal. There is rubbish on the road walked into the dust but only in small pieces, a last desiccation of bits too small to be turned into tools or rugs or water containers or string.

It is a great frame of mind to be in and makes me look at every problem in a new light. For instance at home if I don't have a remedy that someone needs I buy it, here we must work with the remedies that we brought over for the students on this trip and on or last two trips. If someone needs an unusual remedy there is nothing we can do, we have to work out of this smaller remedy kit. But it is very good for us to know what it is like to prescribe from a smaller range of remedies – we need to put ourselves in our student's shoes.

And we need the forty minute walk to our classroom every morning and the walk home again in the evening. We could go by taxi but that would be an expense and we need the walk. This is our pace, our count of days and time, our preparation for a full on day and our chance to release the adrenalin in the evening before we crash into sleep at eight thirty (nearly three hours after dark in a country that gets up at 5am – not an unreasonable time to go to bed).

Yesterday we saw quite a few patients after teaching so it got dark as we were walking down the hill. The first stretch of our walk from the classroom is through fields on the high plain above the town, up here there is a lot of sky and, to the North, we can see the mountains in the distance. The most built up area starts when the road turns down the hill and for most of our walk is lined with houses and full of traffic, more traffic as darkness falls and rush hour begins. We join the weave of foot traffic spread across the road, stepping aside when we hear the rattle of a bicycle behind us or when we are lit from behind by the dancing lights of a car.

The road is made of baked mud and has deep, dry gullies on either side, cut by the past rain, it has the constant sound of feet, many conversations and calling voices. During the day the children shout to us “wazungu, wazungu!” delighted to have seen such a sight as three wazungu walking down their road but in the darkness no-one can see how strange we are. The cars and bicycles come and go with their rattling and beeping, pushing everyone aside but the constant is the walking people giving an age old, footstep beat stringing through the random chaos. We have everything we need.