A Thousand Cups of Coffee

They told me that when I first began university that it was inevitable; I was doomed to be a coffee-drinker. “Accept your fate, Caitlin,” they would say. “You’re going to need that brown nectar to survive the next few years.”

But I resisted it for all it was worth. I didn’t like the way its bitter flavour would nip at my tongue or the way one tiny sip would pollute my mouth for upwards of an hour after.  I especially didn’t like the dependency that it plagued people with.

And I sure showed them. Coffee doesn’t get you through those long all-nighters and assignments that every college student seems to pull. You know what does? Time management. That’s right. I made it all the way through and maintained a bedtime of 10:30pm. This girl needs sleep, not coffee.

My very first cup of it was in Nice, France. My cousin and I were backpacking Europe, and we had woken up at 3:00 that morning to catch our flight from Amsterdam. When we arrived at our AirBnB far too early, our host was gracious to take us in, let her on her private verandah and provide us with a coffee and croissant. I didn’t want to reject her kindness, so I accepted the coffee.

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Documented evidence: my very first cup!

That was the moment my life changed forever.

Maybe it was the running through downtown Amsterdam at a terrifyingly early hour that did me in. Maybe it was the exhilaration of landing in a Mediterranean paradise that built me up. Maybe it was the fact that the coffee flowing in that white mug was truly and actually an elixir from another magical realm. Whatever it was, it was precious enough to convert me. I became one of them. I became a coffee-drinker.

With the ecstatic encouragement of my coffee-obsessed fiancé (now husband!), I learned to draw from the power of a good ‘cuppa joe’ and channel it’s cognitive-enhancing energy into productivity.

There’s a Bridgehead coffee shop right across the road from the apartment I recently moved from, and when I returned from my trip to Malawi and began my book, it quickly became part of my morning routine. My alarm would sing to me at 6:00am, and I’d be at the shop fifteen minutes later, notebook in one hand, coffee in the other. An hour and a half would cruise by before I had to scurry off to my job.

That creative hour was my favourite time of every day. I became a Bridgehead regular – I knew the baristas, I made friends with the other regular cafe visitors, I even earned my right to a free refill every so often. When I moved from the city, one of my morning Bridgehead coffee friends even gave me a going-away gift.

All the while, I managed to keep the coffee stains off my notebooks and pens. As the desire for that morning brain-brew grew, so my creative juices flowed.  I never thought that my book would contain an acknowledgement to coffee of all things, but alas, here we stand.

I must have had over a thousand cups between my trip to Malawi and all the pages of my book. Though I was resistant at first,  I humbly admit my error as I proudly say that coffee is one of the reasons I can announce that my book is finally complete!

It’s far from available to purchase (it must first stagger through the long road of publishing), but the sentences are down, the chapters are complete, and the stories are captured.

There’s so many things to be thankful for in this process, but I will be the first to say that coffee is certainly one of them.

As always,

Caitlin Arlene

The Series – Part 2/3

Life is eventful. It pulls at you, and it pushes at you, and it perpetually reminds you to remember what is important. The events of life most often cause you to sit down and dissect your values, your goals, and your intentions.

Various events in my recent life have more than once forced me to be still, reflecting on the path I want to be on, and the path I feel called towards in comparison to the trajectory I see my current situation taking me. I’ve seen things I wanted to uphold slip, and I’ve seen things that I value waiting on the sidelines. Yet I’ve found that those consuming events that frustratingly possess my time are actually a valuable tool to make clear what I do care about, and where I would rather my attention be focused.

But I digress. The point I’m really coming to is that this post, part two of the series, is long overdue, and the simple events of life take responsibility for that.

So here you have it: Part Two of the Humans of Ottawa series is finally coming to you! In case you missed Part One, you can find it here.


Makupes
Meet Mr and Mrs Makupe

“We were dating for three years before I convinced her to marry me. It was quite difficult at first. I was not financially stable or ready for marriage, but we persevered. When the Chief of Party visited our village, I became involved in what the program was doing. I became a Gender Committee Member, and I’m helping teach the villages about gender equality. One of the things we do is teach couples how to communicate and work together. it has helped out marriage improve too. We now work together and improve one another.” 


Evelyn
Meet Evelyn, 13 years old

“I want to be a Madam (teacher). I think I will be able to do it, but I have to stay focused. I come home from school to study every day. It’s fun for me. I like to cook on my own time though. My parents don’t mind when I am cooking, and it has become much better with the energy-efficient stove. Instead of using three rocks to prop up the pot, we have clay stoves instead. It saves a lot of firewood, and makes it much easier to cook.”


Fynes
Meet Fynes, Mother of 6

“I delayed going to the hospital because we didn’t have transportation. We were waiting for an oxcart, but it was taking too long. My child was born on the way to the hospital, but the people with me didn’t know what to do. They delayed cutting the umbilical cord. They didn’t know how to deliver the placenta too. I became unconscious, but by the time I woke up, the baby had died.”


Mchengas
Meet Mr and Mrs Mchenga, Parents of 5 children

“We met on the road one day, and three months later we were married. Our first days of marriage were nice, but now, 15 years later, it is even nicer. We went to a marriage counsellor who taught us some etiquette tips for our marriage, like communication and how to manage our money. now we help other young couples to persevere in their marriages.”


Kevin
Meet Kevin, 15 years old

“It’s really nice at home; it’s different. We never had the capacity or understanding of the importance of proper hygiene. We would eat food and not wash our hands first, things like that. But now there is no cholera. No other diseases either. I have seen a lot of changes in my mother because of it. I want to become a doctor someday – I like the way that the doctors work, and I want to be just like them. I feel that I can achieve these things if I work hard enough, and with the help of God.”


Check out the Humans of Ottawa pages for more:

Stay tuned for the final part! I promise this time you won’t have to wait as long.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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The Series – Part 1/3

Remember when I said that I was partnering with Humans of Ottawa to share some stories that I’ve collected?  Well, the series is officially complete, and if you’ve been following their social media, you’ll see that it was an exciting success!

For the purposes of longevity and for those who haven’t yet seen, below is Part One of the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Malawi (Humans of Ottawa) series.


Partima
Meet Partima, 21 years old

“I went to the doctor who confirmed that I was two months pregnant. It was so difficult to eat food, I felt sick the entire time. When the labour started, I spent all day and night in pain before they transferred me to the hospital. They had to cut me to make more room for the baby to come. I was there for a very long time afterwards. My wish for her is to weigh more. I want her to keep growing.”


MAc
Meet Mac, Senior Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA)

“It is a good feeling when you help someone. My job is to rotate through the 62 villages here, making sure that everything is working like it should. I make sure that the care groups are providing proper training and that the families are receiving the right amount of medications. Transportation is an issue though. It would be very helpful if they gave us a motorcycle to help us get to each village, but I don’t know if they have made that a priority.”


Maria
Meet Maria, whose child died at 10 months old.

“We think it might have been malaria because she only had a fever. It was a Sunday, and the hospital only takes emergencies on Sundays. I didn’t know this was an emergency, so I was waiting to take her in the next day if the fever was still there. I never expected my child to die. But the fever started at 5am, and she was gone by 2pm. After that experience, I never wait to take my kids to the hospital.”


Bachali
Meet Bachali, Mother of three

“My first child only weighed 12 kilograms when he was 5 years old. He was a very ill child, even after they treated him for malnutrition. He would be losing weight instead of gaining it. My second child was the same way. But I know so much more about nutrition now. I learned to frequently breastfeed and to only breastfeed until they reach a certain age. And I have learned about the food groups. Peanuts are a substitute for protein. My third child is much healthier than the first two were. You can tell because of his appearance.”


Let me tell you something.

These stories are genuine. The full stories are both heartbreaking and full of hope. For all the hardships that they go through as a consequence of poor maternal health, each and every one of the people listed above, are part of a journey that is carrying them to a healthier life and a happier joy.

I love going through these posts, looking at the faces of the people I spoke to and re-reading their stories.  I can’t wait to share their full stories with you.

I promise, there’s so much more where these came from.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Partima and I

“I went to the doctor who confirmed that I was two months pregnant. It was so difficult to eat food, I felt sick the entire time. When the labor started, I spent all day and night in pain before they transferred me to the hospital. They had to cut me to make more room for the baby to come. I was there for a very long time afterward. My wish for her is to weigh more. I want her to keep growing.”

I remember what it was like when I realized this young mother and I were the same age. Partima held her little daughter close, shifting to breastfeed her when she became a little too restless. She blushed and turned her head when I mentioned we shared the same birth year.

It was a revealing moment for me – in a different timeline, this young woman and I could have grown up together. We could have known each other our whole lives. Yet we share such different stories.

Every element of our lives is separate from each other; our languages, our cultures, our childhoods, our futures. At twenty-one, Partima has lived a story that I couldn’t begin to imagine myself living. She’s endured an incredibly painful childbirth. She’s had to drop out of school to take care of her little one. She’s married much younger than she anticipated. She’s had to let go of some of her dreams for her future.

And she absolutely adores her young daughter. The love that this mama has for the little one on her lap is something that I don’t have the experience to describe. Though her own life was turned upside down when she discovered she was pregnant, Partima made it clear that she was going to let nothing hurt or hinder her little girl.

Partima’s story is one that I hold close to me. When I left her village that evening, I carried her words at the front of my mind, and have ever since.

Her story is important. Her story is painful. Her story has hope.

Her story is why I’m doing what I’m doing.

You’ll be able to read the whole thing once Mama comes out!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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P.S! Don’t forget to follow my @humans.of.ottawa for some additional sneak peeks to my stories.

 

 

Sharing stories – collaboration announcement!

I absolutely love stories.

I could spend all day listening to people share their tales and their adventures and their heartaches and their experiences. Stories are what makes each of us unique, they are the individual brushstrokes on the canvas of who we are. You can understand so much about someone by listening to their stories.

That’s why I love the concept of this book so much. I’m gathering stories from mothers, couples, children, midwives, and nurses, each of them with their own heartbreaking and hopeful stories to tell. It’s providing a deeper worldview and a glimpse into a culture that I hadn’t considered before.

And sharing these stories to the world is my number one goal.

That’s why I am overjoyed to announce my collaboration with Humans Of Ottawa.

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Humans of Ottawa is a photo-blog with over 10.9k followers, used to share stories from people all over Canada’s capital city. Inspired by Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York, the purpose of the blog is to capture the stories of complete strangers throughout the city, adding an inspiring dynamic and personality to the faces we pass by each day. As a hobby, my friend spends time listening to the stories these strangers have to share and publishing them (with permission) for the city to see.

Now, the blog is extending its reach from the borders of Ottawa and into the small village of Bimbi, Malawi. Snippets of stories I’m collecting in my journey here are being published by Humans of Ottawa, and I couldn’t be more excited.

The more stories we share, the more connected this world becomes. I’m thankful that we can open up these stories and share the issue of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Malawi to an amazing audience.

Don’t miss a post! Links below:

I can’t wait to see what else is in store!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Happy Mothers Day, Malawi!

In a convenient turn of events that was entirely unexpected and happily accepted, I was present for the celebration of mother’s day here in Malawi.

Because Malawi has sanctioned mother’s day to be a national holiday, (Can we make this a thing in Canada too?) I spent the day relaxing, writing, and collecting my thoughts about the many mothers I’ve met already since I began my venture here. The day off was actually quite convenient for me, allowing for an additional day on top of the weekend to process the mountain of stories I’ve collected so far.

Mothers in Malawi have a tough job. As the primary caregivers to their children, they are often also tasked with the provision of food, of health care, of education and the overall wellbeing of their children. Though the majority of mamas here courageously take on these many responsibilities, I think it’s important to acknowledge the additional challenges that are brought on through the poverty of the country.

Because of this, I spent some extra time this week going through project reports, discovering some statistics that contribute to the Maternal Mortality Rate, and other hardships that women have in Malawi.

“Poverty, coupled with culture with high undertones of gender stereotypes largely influence women’s ability to access and utilize healthcare services.”

PROMISE Annual Report, Year 2

According to the same report quoted above, Malawi is reported to have one of the highest Maternal Mortality Rates in the world, with a current estimate of 439 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. This rate has actually gone down from 2010, which was 675 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Neonatal deaths are even higher – 25 out of 1,000 live births result in death.

Mothers in Malawi have the most challenges when it comes to providing their children with enough nutrients. As a result, Malawian children have the highest rate of stunted growth in sub-Saharan Africa, recording 37% of children to be severely stunted, underweight and malnourished.

But don’t despair – there’s hope! Projects like the one I am following are offering countless programs to combat these statistics.

And it is working.

I’m seeing firsthand the incredible work that is going into saving these women, their children, and the entire communities they live in. Women are telling me almost every day how significant the impact that these programs have on their lives. Mothers are able to protect their children in ways they never have been able to before.

I feel uniquely blessed to be writing this book and collecting these stories surrounding Malawian mother’s day. In a way, its offered new perspectives and weight to the stories that I share.

It’s inspiring. It’s empowering. But mostly, it’s humbling.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Introducing Gladys

Everybody, meet Gladys.

Her weathered hands have raised nine children, the youngest of which is three years old.

Though she’s been a mother for nearly 30 years, Gladys told me she’s learned more about raising healthy children in the past three years than she had in the 27 prior.

Why?

Because of the Maternal Health project that has been introduced to her village.

The project is multi-faceted and complex, but one significant element is the introduction of backyard gardens. Gladys showed me hers, full and flourishing with various types of fruits and vegetables. The growth of her garden saves money while ensuring that her children don’t go a day without proper nourishment.

“Before, my children were malnourished and very weak. But I’ve learned ways to make sure that my children are properly fed and strong. Now they are able to stay in school!” -Gladys

The impact that a simple garden has on a family and its community is incredible to see. For Gladys, it has meant that she can be confident in her children and their future.

“I want my children to be healthy. And I want them to be wise,” she told me, smiling with confidence. Her hope is contagious; her story is inspiring.

I can’t wait to share more about Gladys and other women like her soon! Stay tuned!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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