RMT shares lessons from life in Malawi

Chilliwack's Christa Roby coming back to town from her new home in Africa, to hold fundraising event.

Christa Roby has been living full time in Nkhata Bay

Christa Roby has been living full time in Nkhata Bay

It’s been more than a year since Christa Roby set out on a spiritual and clinical journey. She moved permanently from Chilliwack to Ngata Bay, Malawi to help the people of that impoverished country learn health practices that would change their lives.

It’s not so surprising that it’s Roby whose life and outlook has changed in the process. She’s written eloquently and candidly about the entire process in a blog. It’s the level of change, the slowness of her realizations, and how she’s adapted her own conceptions of what “should be” to fit into a deeply different society.

Through a series of emails recently, Roby connected with The Progress to provide an update since we last wrote about her project, In Their Shoes. While she initially had no power for months (due to refusing to pay the obligatory bribe money), she has now settled into her home, started her therapeutic travelling clinic, and has had a chance to look back on how she’s grown.

“This year has stretched me beyond imagination,” she says. “There’s certain things in life where I feel like, ‘haven’t I learned enough; patience or perseverance or whatever other trait?’ Living here and going through the challenges has made me realize, nope, I haven’t learned enough and well, there’s likely still a long road to go.”

Her character is “constantly being challenged” she says. “And that is likely not something to change anytime soon.”

Roby had many reasons for moving to Malawi. Namely, Africa has always felt like home to her. And while her move there last year is one she considers permanent, she had already been mostly living there for the previous four years.

She chose Malawi because of its terrible health care. She knew she had the power to share her own knowledge as an RMT with people in small villages, so they could in turn care for themselves and each other.

But as she has learned, the layers of cultural differences can be barriers to doing that. Massage techniques don’t work between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law, for example, as they are not permitted to touch each other intimately. The most common social gatherings there are funerals, sometimes several in a week. No one person can sweep in and change a culture. And, Roby knows, nobody should.

“Though wrapped in good intention, intention is only a small piece of the big picture,” she says. “More and more, I need to let go of myself. My understanding, my choices, my desires. I have to move through their eyes, through their perspective and their understanding. This means a very slow process as I need to take the time to hear, see and learn.”

Roby has learned to take things slow, to not push herself too hard. She was forced to take it slow recently, after contracting malaria. Thankfully, she has access to a medical clinic close to her home, and the knowledge of self-care. But getting sick in a country with some of the worst health care standards helped open her eyes even more to what Malawians have faced for generations.

It’s understandable that people want to sweep in and save a community, she says, but it’s also important to invest long term in the problem.

“Often the instant change benefits a few people while many may not receive, but if I can slow down, in the long term more will gain,” she says. “It can be a hard theory to understand or even see but I’m here for the bigger picture. If I go for the instant help, I need to ask myself if it’s to build my savior complex. Is my goal for me to bring the change or to instill the community with the heart and mind to maintain a change which can last beyond myself?”

There have been other challenges, she says, and her in-depth blog offers even more insight into Malawi and her organization.

She does miss the small things, she says.

“I miss chocolate chips, Cheez Whiz and home delivery,” she says. “I miss the feeling of carpet between my toes, the feeling of being wrapped in a sweater on a cool night, of not worrying if the net over my bed has fully covered the corners each night and last, flat land for a nice long morning run (it is either up or down here!).”

Roby will be able to partake in all of those soon, as she’s heading back to Chilliwack this month. She will be talking about all of these issues and more at a special fundraising event being planned.

The Health for Malawi fundraiser is Dec. 4, from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Yarrow Community Hall. She will talk about the challenges of bringing health care to her patients, and host a fun Malawian dance competition. There will even be an African craft market, just in time for some ethical Christmas shopping.

Tickets are $15 (children under 12 are free) and available on her website at www.intheirshoesafrica.com.