After two more hours down dirt roads, passing straw-roofed huts and waving children, we arrive at the swamp. Chilwa Island Village and Health Center is a one hour canoe ride across the swamp, followed by 1.5 hours on foot. MOH staff will not cross the swamp, so the training is held on the side where we arrive. 17 Safe Motherhood Action Group (SMAG) members arrive for the training. The SMAGs will be in charge of outreach to community members – sensitizing women to misoprostol as well as other safe motherhood initiatives. I helped with setup and logistical details and then they organized for someone to take me across the swamp – I also convince Peter to join. Our escorts used a long bamboo stick to push off the bottom of the swamp and keep the canoe moving. While one of the boatmen was very shy, the other one was quick to tell me that there were snakes similar to anacondas in the swamp. Even though he had never seen one and could not report knowing anyone that had seen one – he promised they existed. I tried to explain the Loch Ness monster to him, but something was lost in translation.
Later on, he had two wives – one on each side of the river. I am not sure whether or not he was telling the truth, as he had a mischievous grin on his face as he explained how he spent one week on one side and one week on the other. Either way – when I gave him money at the end of the trip, I said in Bemba (after having Peter coach me) “Thank you for the ride. Give this to the madam – I mean madams-- and do not spend it all on beer”. He laughed for a good five minutes and I could tell that he told all of his friends when we arrived back at the village.
I arrived back at the village for the second half of the training – since it was conducted in Bemba, I was not much use, so I continued labeling misoprostol packets. The participants understood a great deal of English and so I introduced myself and explained the purpose of my visit – to check in on the work they would be doing in the next couple of months. They asked how I would collect the forms they were responsible for filling out. “Look at her”, the woman in charge of the health center said and pointed at my feet. (To get to the boat, I have to do some wading through mud and my feet and ankles were beyond filthy). “She is willing to cross the river and she is willing to come to Chilwa Island to check in on you”. Everyone just stared at my disgusting feet and smiled. Later, a man came up to and said that he was looking forward to my visit and that he lived 38 km from the shore where the canoe would drop me off.