Arrival in Africa

Arrival in Africa

by Sr. Mary Doonan, MMM    Ireland   04.01.2022airstrip 2021

The Gospel reading for Mass for Thursday 4 January 1980 was “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor” (Lk4).  That day,  I was about to embark on my maiden mission voyage to Malawi.

I was assigned to our mission in Mzuzu, Malawi in early 1979 and I could not wait to finish my training and head off. My belated Christmas gift arrived when two Sisters arrived at my family home on 26th December, where I had spent Christmas.  The Sisters told me my visa for Malawi had arrived. I was booked to travel on 4 January 1980 with Sr. Rene Duignan, who was returning to Mzuzu, Malawi from home leave.  I recall my great excitement during the following week.  It was only some years later I realised whilst I was about to embark on my dream how different it felt for my family.  Being the eldest of three, I was the first to leave home.  I was now leaving for a distant, unknown land. It would be challenging for the family to communicate with me, and this left them feeling lonely. But they rejoiced with me!

It was my first time to leave Ireland and so my first time to fly!  And here I was about to travel from Thursday to Saturday before reaching Malawi.

I recall landing in Nairobi, Kenya, where we would stay overnight.  Coming off the flight was like walking into the heat from a hair drier!  I still remember the Sister that met us in Nairobi, where we would stay until Saturday morning, bringing along a bag of oranges with green skin.  My amazement and relief at how sweet these green oranges tasted. That evening, after some rest, Sr. Brenda Swan, missioned in Kenya, took Sr. Rene and I into Nairobi.  For me this was a sheer wonderland of colour noises and activity. It was incredible!

Saturday morning, bright and early, we departed for Blantyre, Malawi.  Here we would then get a small flight to Mzuzu.  I was so grateful to have Sr. Rene travel with me and enjoy all as we navigated the various countries and airports.  Mzuzu airport was then very small with one small airstrip with red parched ground around it.

Sr. Julie McLoughlin was there to meet us and take us to our house. Opposite our house was St. John’s General and Maternity Hospital where I would work in the laboratory.  It was exciting to meet the Sisters I would live and work with for the next ten happy years.  Naturally they were anxious to hear all the news from Ireland and, of course, receive some mail which we had carried.  I soon discovered we had a mini-United Nations on the compound as some of the local people came to welcome us and also all of our lay volunteers from many parts of the world. At Christmas 1980, my first Christmas in Malawi, we were fourteen nationalities in our house for Christmas dinner.

After supper Dr. Louise C. asked me if I would like to go up to the laboratory with her as she needed to perform a test for a patient. Was I thrilled!  It was fun too to see the staff peeping out trying to get a look at “the new Sister”!  I also realised that once darkness fell, the mosquitos were quick to make their presence felt!

Next morning, Sunday, across the compound, I joined the congregation for Mass – what a celebration!  The singing, the beat of the drums, the dancing and the colourful dress, made the celebration like none I had ever been part of before. The next days were spent meeting the staff, other missionaries and finding my way around the hospital and nursing school.  Afterwards I worked down country in Lilongwe, in a very different setting.  It was different but also a happy ministry. From time to time I was able to return to visit Mzuzu.
I hope and pray I did bring and share Good News and healing with all just as each one in Malawi did with me.