The scorpion that bit Betty Oldanie in her bedroom during her stay on a Malawi preserve was a startling reminder that she wasn't in Seminole anymore. But while differences abound between life in the developing country and home in America, she discovered that some habits transcend geographic and cultural boundaries.
Days after her return home, she recalled the elderly woman who rushed to tidy the front of her tiny, mud-brick house as she saw Oldanie and a visiting nurse approach. Later she disappeared indoors to primp when she discovered she would be photographed.
The woman's actions caused Oldanie to smile knowingly, but the next stop across a dirt field brought home the reason for her visit to Malawi, one of the world's least-developed countries. The next house was that of the chief — head of 21 villages — and his wife, an AIDS patient. Oldanie said Betty Pwetekanib, the nurse she was accompanying, had convinced the chief to be tested, but he never revealed the results. Malawi's high mortality from AIDS has meant other problems for the country's people.
Oldanie, her husband, Chuck, and daughter Laura recently returned from a private, fact-finding visit to Malawi. They want to improve housing, preschool education and end-of-life and medical care in the southern African country.
"Each one had our own special area of interest and it just seemed to work out,'' said Betty Oldanie, vice president of planning for the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast and a registered nurse.
Chuck Oldanie, a real estate agent and 15-year Habitat for Humanity volunteer, spent two weeks in the country, where he met with Rotary clubs and discussed establishing a partnership with U.S. Rotarians to build houses for the poor. He hopes the program can begin in late 2009 or 2010.
Daughter Laura, an Eckerd College graduate who is program director for the nonprofit Committee for Economic Development, in Washington, D.C., and a Peace Corps veteran, is interested in preschool education. She spoke of its importance during a meeting at a large sugar company. Officials from Save the Children also arranged for her to meet with leaders from 21 villages to discuss the subject.
The Oldanies' visit was inspired by friends, the former youth minister at Christ Presbyterian Church in Largo, the Rev. Stephen Heinzel-Nelson, and his wife, Liz, who moved to Malawi with their children for a temporary ministry. Betty Oldanie and her daughter were in Malawi for eight days and were often reminded how difficult life is for the average Malawian.
"Yet our friend Liz helped me to see they have riches we seem to have lost along life's way,'' she said.
"Their families are strong and devoted to one another. Their pace of life is slower, which allows them to laugh and sing and dance, which they did freely. The stresses of the developed world are not felt there. The worries they have are of life and death.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.