Sunday Morning – Salima

Sunday Morning~ Salima

Hi Everyone!

“We help each other in sorrow, we help each other in happiness.” This is what Chifundo told us as she prepared us to live in the village for four days. It was her way of introducing communal life.

Our Malawian team of language instructors began our language and cross-cultural training with a series of skits depicting what they consider “strange” mzungu behavior. Mzungu is translated as “foreigner” but since the most easily identifiable foreigners are white, it’s very much associated with “white person”.

The skits were fabulous. The first started with Robin walking along and noticing the sun. He pointed to it like he had never seen the sun before, and said, “Ah! The sun!” and pulled his camera out and started taking photos of it. The other language instructors, acting as a group of children, see him and laugh hysterically and crowd around, jumping up and down posing in front of his camera, blocking the sun. That was the end of the skit and they turned to us, beaming, waiting to hear our response to their lesson. We were all laughing, not so much at the lesson we were to learn, but at the way they acted it out. They asked what we thought the skit was about? Answers started spewing out from our group, “Children want their pictures taken?”
“Be aware of your surroundings?” I tried, “You think it’s strange we take photos of nature?” Yes! They collapsed into fits of laughter. Then they explained, the sun is always there, we don’t understand why anyone would take a photo.

On to the next skit: Robin, again, walking along, pulls out a water bottle and takes a long swig. That was the end of the skit. The entire room was cracking up. Someone in our group asked, “You think it’s strange that we drink water?” They gently explained, “No, it is not that you drink water. We also drink water. It’s just that we don’t carry it with us. We know that if we need water, we can just go to a house and they will give it to us.”

Next skit: Robin is jogging, he stops to do a series of jumping jacks, then stretches, then starts jogging again. A short distance away, a crowd has to hold each other up, they are laughing so hard. Robin is oblivious. The end. The lesson: Why do you people run if nothing is chasing you? We get exercise by living.

The next one was more complicated: A woman receives a letter in the mail. She opens it and starts reading and a look of horror comes over her face. She puts the letter down and bursts into tears. A group of friends run over to her for support and they ask, “What has happened?” She pulls herself together, and sobbing, she says, “My sister just gave birth to healthy twins!” That was the end, but the actors were laughing so hard by then it took a moment for them to compose themselves. They then looked at us to tell them what we learned. I didn’t get it at first. Was twins a bad thing to them? No! You cry when you are happy! We don’t understand this!

And the last one took more effort: A woman was happily doing her laundry in a bucket. She squeezed the water from the clothing and hung it on a line. She picked up pieces of paper, which were cut-outs of underwear, and taped them on a string strung between two chairs. A village woman walking by sees the underwear on the line, recoils in horror, and takes off her chitenje (sarong) and covers the underwear with it. Lesson: It is culturally unacceptable to show your undergarments to the world, even if you are not wearing them at the time. We were all impressed with how realistic the paper cut-outs looked, which our language instructors found even more hilarious.

So that was the beginning of our cross-cultural training, interspersed with more lectures on safety and language and what to expect in the village. The traditional two-year Peace Corps volunteers spend two months training in the village staying with families, but the village stay for the SEED volunteers is a new thing. We had just four days there, but it was an excellent exercise in understanding the people we will be caring for.

Tuesday morning we packed up all our suitcases to be stored for the rest of the week, while we took only what was needed for our village stay. The village was near Kasungu about an hour and a half north of Lilongwe. We arrived there around 1 p.m. and the village had a welcoming ceremony for us which started with the women dancing and singing a song that said we were very welcome there. One of our group asked one of the language teachers if it would be appropriate if we joined in (only the women) and she said, “Sure!”, so one by one, we each joined the circle of beaming, singing, dancing women. There were four men drumming in the center and I think they did about four different songs with wild cheering between each one. Then we all went into a room in the brick one-story building for speeches. This started with a prayer, then an introduction by the Malawian Peace Corps staff, thanking the village profusely for giving us this opportunity. Then the village chiefs took turns giving speeches, welcoming us. After that, a family’s name was called then the name of the volunteer staying with them, followed by wild cheering as the threesome walked out hand in hand to the family house. I was not quite prepared for this. George and I were staying together, so as our names were called, our mother and father host stood as the crowd cheered, and they grabbed our packs and put them on their backs despite our motioning we could carry them. Absolutely not. They would carry our packs. Then the father took George’s hand, and the mother took my hand and out we walked, through the village, to their house. I was chuckling as I watched George hand in hand with the Bambo and wanted to take a picture so bad. That however, was not possible, as my hand was held tight by my host mother. I felt like we were going off to kindergarten. God, it was funny.

The village was actually not unlike Shamwana, except that the people were happy and fed, and it was about a half mile from the busy main road. There was a small market that had some fish and a few vegetables. There were lots of children playing and they appeared healthy. Peace Corps gives the families some food supplies so they don’t have to bear the financial burden of feeding us. They also provided us each with a water filter and a solar light and charger. We each had a mattress, pillow, mosquito net and blanket. Other than that, you could barely tell us apart from the villagers. Oh, well, except we were all carrying water bottles.

Our family did not speak any English and we’d had all of two hours of Chichewa instruction. Oh man, that first day was long. They showed us to our room, which, was a separate little hut with a door and two small windows. The thatch had big gaps in it, but it’s the dry season, and they had a thin piece of plastic hung as a ceiling. It was made from unfired mud bricks, so the nails to hold up the mosquito net went in pretty easily. They had laid a bamboo mat on the floor of the small entry-room where we had our water filter, and it was actually quite pleasant. The walls were whitewashed with lime, so looked more finished, and the mud floor was painted black, which, kept it sort of clean. While we were setting up our net and giggling to each other, our mother was making our tea. We were called when it was ready, and the four of us sat in their hut on a bamboo mat and had tea with powdered milk (they were a little shocked we did not take sugar) and an entire loaf of white sliced bread was served to us. I wasn’t sure if this was the evening meal, even though it was only four o’clock. We hadn’t had lunch, and had become accustomed to being fed every two hours, so I was kinda hungry. I ate three pieces of the bread, which, was a lot of plain white bread, and it took some time with pats on the tummy to explain that I was full. George was doing pretty much the same thing; trying not to eat more bread. Even if that was supper, I couldn’t eat more plain white bread.

Dear sweet George, decided that he wanted to help our mother because she works so hard, and told her in English (with some hand gestures) that he wanted to help her carry the water from the bore hole. Fortunately for everyone involved, she didn’t understand a word of it. I freaked when he started saying this. I snarled at him through gritted teeth, “You will not be able to carry that water. Don’t even think of it.” I was imagining his good-hearted intentions ending with him being a laughing stock (best case scenario) or a broken neck and the end to this Peace Corps training (worst case scenario). He argued, “No! I really want to help! I can carry the water for her!” Ok, my tone wasn’t working. I changed to a more pleading note, “Sweetheart, I know you want to help, but we are guests here. Pleeeeze let’s observe things for a bit and see if it’s appropriate for you to do that (which it is not).” He reluctantly agreed, thank God. I’ve tried to lift one of their water buckets in the past and couldn’t even get it off the ground.

After tea, the four of us, hand in hand again, walked over to a field where the girls, barefoot and skirted, were playing a game called netball. It’s a version of basketball with no basket and no dribbling. There was a tire rim tied to the top of a cut-off tree and the teams would pass the ball to each other and shoot from just under the rim. It was brutal! The girls were perfect specimens of strong, agile bodies, and it was fascinating to watch. Most of the village was there, and every time they got a basket a group of little kids jumped onto the field chanting and wiggling their butts. It was great. On the other side of that game the boys were getting ready to play soccer. There was a goal made out of sticks with no net, on one end of the field, and the same thing just behind where the girls were playing net ball. This meant that when the boys kicked a goal, it went into the girls game. This seemed to bother no one. When the soccer ball intruded into the girls game, someone merely threw it back to the boys.

When it started getting dark, we walked back to our new home and sat outside our house on a mat as one relative after another came to greet us. We shook hands with at least forty people and did the same greeting over and over. “Muli bwanji? Ndili bwino. Zikomo.” Over and over and over and over. But at least we knew how to say that. I was trying to remember some vocabulary from way back when, and would point to various things like a chicken and someone would say, “Nkuku!” Ah! Right! Nkuku! This killed another hour or so, and people finally started leaving. We were then escorted back into mom and dad’s hut and sat by ourselves on a mat for a long time not knowing what was happening. A while later, supper was served, and we had the ritual hand washing and the plate of nsima was uncovered. Ah, good old nsima, I have missed you. Nsima is a staple made from maize flour and water and I really like it. It’s super bland, but when you eat it with the “relish” (which is whatever they serve to go with it), it’s quite tasty. They had one little LED light in there, so it was really dark, but we each had our own plate and using our hands, scooped up our nsima and relish from the common plate. One eats nsima by pinching off a piece, poking a little dent in it, and pushing some relish in. That first night the relish was chinese cabbage greens with tomatoes and onions and lots of cooking oil and salt. It was delicious. As we ate, our hosts pointed to things and told us the Chichewa word, and we’d repeat it. Let me tell you, this gets tiring after awhile. I was so glad when we finished eating and could go to bed.

In between choruses of howling dogs (which I thought were hyenas), I slept pretty well in our little hut, tucked under our net. There were some critters in the roof, but the plastic kept them from dropping on us, and it was pretty cozy! Well before sunrise, I heard our mother get up to make a fire in the outside kitchen area. Then just as it was getting light, they knocked on our door, and we got up and went out. She had prepared baths for us, and showed us to the bathing area, which, was a little mud enclosure with a curtain for privacy. Inside were two large buckets of warm water with a plastic cup floating in each one. Ohh, his and her bucket baths! How nice! It was a hoot. The morning was cool and the warm water felt great as we were feeling really grubby from all the dancing and sitting in the dirt the day before. Then we scooted back to our hut to get dressed before we went back to their hut for tea and bread for breakfast. When we were done with that, our mother handed us fried dough she had prepared for us to take to our classes for morning tea time, and then they both took us by the hands again, to walk us to “school”, an empty building near the market.

Our classes continued while staying in the village. We met each day with our trainers and language teachers in a common building and would go home to our hosts for lunch. The first morning was pretty funny as we shared stories of our first night. When we asked each other how the night was, we got answers like, “Long. Humbling. Awkward.” Our language teachers and staff were great at helping us with our anxieties about making cultural faux pas. The whole thing was an incredible experience. We visited a health center and traditional healer and had many hours of language lessons. We could communicate better each day with our host families and they would help us practice. The evening ritual of family visits continued with everyone quizzing us on the day’s lessons. On the second evening, the grand daughter of our hosts came to greet us. She was a beautiful young woman with a young baby. She knew a few words of English and spent a half hour or so talking with us. Then she handed the baby to a friend, walked off, and came back a while later with a huge bucket of water on her head. George and I were awestruck at her gracefulness as she reached up and lowered it, first to her knees, then the ground without spilling a drop. Then she came over to our mat, put her baby on her back, shook our hands, and walked off with her friend. We were alone for the first time in the little courtyard, and George got up and said, “I want to see if I can lift that.” He went over to the bucket, squatted and tried to pick it up. Couldn’t even budge it. He looked at me, bug eyed, and said, “Holy shit! You were right! I couldn’t carry that!”

Friday was our last day there and in the afternoon the whole village gathered for more dances and farewell speeches. We’d gotten some gifts for the family and spent the evening taking photos and playing with the hoards of kids who’d taken quite a shine to George. It was sweet.

Saturday morning we loaded up the van and waved goodbye to our wonderful hosts and drove four hours to Salima, the village where I did my Peace Corps training (gulp) thirty-seven years ago. We visited a cultural center near there, then spent the night at a hotel on the lake; the one we used to bike to on Sundays way back when. It’s much bigger, and nicer, and has a new name, but was quite a walk down memory lane for me. The lake has receded a lot since the old days. There is a huge beach now, and we walked it as the sun set, then showered and sat together at the outside bar and had a couple of greens (beers) before dinner. I wanted a Malawi gin and tonic, but the luxury hotel had no tonic. Ah, some things never change.

I woke at 3:30 this morning when I heard waves on the lake and went and sat outside. It’s so beautiful here. There was a tiny crescent moon and the lake was rough and the lanterns in the fishing boats were bobbing, and I was happy. I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t, so an hour later, we made tea and went out to the beach to wait for sunrise. Just at six the big red globe rose out of the lake like it does every morning and I laughed at the idea of taking a photo.

We’re going to a nearby game reserve today, then back to Lilongwe for another ten days of training before heading to our sites. They are keeping us busy! So far it’s all fun.

Hopefully I’ll be able to connect to the sketchy internet at the hotel to post this. When we get to our site we hope to get something reliable.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Lilongwe


Hi Everyone!

Well, we are in Lilongwe, the capitol of Malawi. We arrived Friday afternoon and considering thirty of us left Washington with tons of luggage, the travel went amazingly smoothly.  The only problem was our original bus to the airport was an hour late as it was waiting at the wrong hotel. Funny that the only travel glitch was in D.C., but when it finally arrived, we loaded the thousands of pounds of luggage and set off for Dulles. Those of us going to Uganda, Tanzania, and Malawi were flying through Ethiopia and we traveled that far together. From Addis Ababa we went our separate ways; Malawi was another four hour flight.

Landing at Kamuzu airport, a sweet little welcoming committee awaited. Towela, the Malawian coordinator for Peace Corps was there. We’d met her in D.C. so she was a familiar face. Carol, the Peace Corps country director was also there as well as Robin, who is another Peace Corps employee. They stood on the tarmac as we descended the plane and warmly shook our hands welcoming us to Malawi. (The arrival could not have been more different from my arrival in Congo when all I could think of was how to get back on that plane to leave.) They guided us easily through customs and baggage claim, where all our luggage arrived intact. (That seemed a reason to celebrate, as I recalled none of my bags made it to Lubumbashi with me.) We gave a cheer and pushed our carts into the main entrance where a group of Peace Corps personnel and volunteers greeted us with banners and smiles. Smiling all over the place, we walked out into the balmy air to the waiting vans, where we were handed cool bottles of drinking water while the employees loaded all our bags into the vans. Sweet. So far, this has been anything but a hardship.

It was about 2:30 p.m. when we arrived at the hotel and there was a frenzy of activity getting the rooms assigned and unloading the vans of luggage. We were all exhausted and I thought we’d just go to our rooms and crash, but we had an orientation meeting from 3 to 5, so had to be back downstairs straightaway. There was a room set up for us with more bottled water and tea and “snacks” which were more substantial than many meals I’ve had. Chicken wings, egg rolls, scones, and “eggs mayonnaise” sandwiches were laid out on platters to go along with our tea. We had a safety session with practical information and lists of risks and what constituted appropriate behavior. It wasn’t really anything that we hadn’t already heard, except that walking  in the city at night is more than discouraged, it’s prohibited. It’s not that we can’t go out, but we have to take taxis, even if we are only going a few blocks. Apparently they have had a few incidents with theft and assaults, and it’s a good thing to cut down on theft and assault, so no problem complying with all that.

Carol outlined the situation in Malawi with food supply. I hadn’t known this, but there was flooding last year in the south followed by drought and consequently the food situation is dire. The prediction is that six million of the sixteen million people living here will experience famine this year. I looked over at the “snacks” and felt a little guilty. It’s expected that there will be more theft and unrest as the food situation worsens. Guess I’ll keep you posted on that one.

After the safety talk, we had two hours to ourselves before dinner. I hadn’t intended to eat dinner at all since we did nothing but sit on our butts for the previous twenty hours being fed carbohydrates and drinks at regular intervals. But, they went to all that trouble and it was fun getting to know each other in our smaller group and it was exciting just getting here and being together in the hotel, so we straggled down after a rest to a rather nice dinner in the dining room.  The hotel is very simple but very comfortable. The meals are served buffet style in chafing dishes and have several choices including chicken and beef, a bit like conference food. We’d been warned not to eat fresh salad, but I ate it anyway, thinking I might as well get started on the inevitable diarrhea and get it over with.

Note: They don’t serve beer or wine at this hotel. Must plan ahead.

At dinner someone asked how George and I met and we had a riveted audience as we told the train station story. (Note: Must write that up to send to Amtrak. People seem interested.) A few of them are still talking about it today and two have a movie all laid out. We thought that was cute.

We slept like the dead that night, and I woke up the next morning all readjusted and more rested than I was in D.C.  I could not sleep there. I think the air-conditioning in that hotel had some mold in it, or the rug did or something, because I had a hard time breathing at night and my legs became covered in a weird itchy rash. I also got laryngitis! I haven’t had that since college! Now that I’m away from Washington, my throat is clear, my rash is going away, and my only remaining disabilities are the broken toe from a woman stepping on it at breakfast, (and I mean crushed it with her heel), and a bruise on my upper arm from a tumbling suitcase coming off the bus. Other than that, I’m tippy-top again!

The first morning (yesterday) started with a buffet breakfast, followed by forms to be filled out for our bank accounts. This was brilliant. We had all the forms placed in front of us, of which there were many, and a power point presentation was given on how to fill them out step by step. As each new slide went up, we filled in that page. I marveled at the efficiency of this. When we were done, they were collected to take to the bank for our accounts to be opened for us. I shuddered to think what it would have been like to go to the bank to do that ourselves. It would have taken days. A health talk (much of which we’d heard in D.C.) came next, and then a field trip to the phone store where we could buy sims cards for our phones.  Ok, this is where they started losing me. Here we go with the technology.

I didn’t realize that in order to have a sims card work in your phone, you need to get your phone unlocked.  When I cancelled my phone service (since I wouldn’t be needing it this year), I figured the phone itself was mine to do what I wanted with it. But no, silly me, that’s not how this works. Others, apparently knew this, but I missed that memo. So after waiting in line, getting the card, paying for the data or time or something (I’m not sure exactly what we were paying for; I just went along with what everyone else was doing), cutting the card to fit, sanding the edges with the emery board I happened to have in my purse, rejoicing when it fit, it turns out I can’t use my phone with it because my phone is locked.  “Well, unlock it”, you say! Hah! Silly you. That takes years of training and high speed internet and a birth certificate dated after 1986! The younger crowd tried to help, looking on with pity. George’s phone also wouldn’t work, even though he did send in a request for the AT&T gods to unlock his phone five weeks ago. But when we finally got connected to the internet and looked up his unlock request, it was recorded as “in progress”.  That’s from five weeks ago. Then I wanted to know why we even needed a phone if we had internet and could email. I told everyone my iPhone works fine with my own sims card. I had texted my daughter, I told them! It went through just fine! One of the kind young nurses looked at me and said, “You mean you i messaged?” I asked, “Isn’t that the same as a text?”  Well, no apparently it’s not. I give up. I plan to buy a cheap phone here (Peace Corps requires we have a phone) and use the new sims card in it and leave mine incarcerated. God. Last time I was here we had no way to communicate and it seemed fine. I don’t know what all the hoo ha is about.

After all that, we had medical meetings, then free time for the evening.  George and I walked up to the Lilongwe Hotel where I had stayed when arriving in Malawi in 1979.  It’s still there, though bought by a big company and upgraded. Walking is not pleasant here in Lilongwe.  The traffic is merciless and crossing the street is dangerous. We didn’t have long before nightfall so we quickly walked over to another restaurant to meet up with everyone else for drinks and dinner.

It was a small restaurant with tiled floors and walls, and a big veranda close to the road with outside tables under a tin roof. The sun sets quickly here; there is no dusk, and just as we were all seated, the darkness fell. And it really falls. It takes about fifteen minutes for it to go from day to night. Three candles were brought to the long table the sixteen of us occupied and it was balmy and exotic and worth all the effort of the past months. We talked about where we’d come from and shared stories of other adventures. We drank and ate, and as I watched all the eager faces in the candlelight, I thought of how glad I was to be doing this again. We’re being cared for. We can communicate in English. The experience seems cushier than the last but still exciting and, hopefully, meaningful.

More orientation today and tomorrow, then Tuesday we go to Kasungu village to stay with families there for four days. We’ll do language training in the village as well as cross cultural lessons. This is a new aspect of Peace Corps training since my experience decades ago and I am looking forward to it! I’m struggling to remember some Chichewa. A few words and phrases are coming back to me, but it’s a been a long time and I wasn’t very fluent way back when.

I hadn’t thought I had much to write about, but feel eager to share all the details, even if they seem mundane. This coming week should have more interesting experiences, though I’m not quite sure how next weekend will unfold. The schedule says we spend time at a resort in Salima where I did training with my original Peace Corps group. There was certainly no resort there back then, so I’m eager to see what changes have been made in that village. Then we spend a day at a game reserve near there that must be new as well.

We have met our language teachers. Mine is named Deidrick and showed up for class in a full tuxedo with pleated shirt and black tie. No tails. I feel a little underdressed. Off we go! More next week!

Love to all,


It's still technically Sunday….

This is ridiculous. I didn’t think I’d have this much trouble getting internet connection before I even left the country. This is going to be very brief.

Training is so far above and beyond our expectations we’re reeling a bit! It’s like getting a whole tropical medicine course in one week. I keep looking over at George to see if he’s apoplectic with the parasite photos. They really were quite enough to make one compliant with the cooking protocols. And we’re as likely to wade in standing water as we are to drink lighter fluid. They made their point quite well. It’s been fabulous. We’ve had incredible lectures on cultural diversity and sensitivity. We’ve done exercises on effective teaching methods. We’re learning how to improvise. We are doing this with others of similar energy and values. We’re sharing stories of previous adventures and coping mechanisms. We’ve got something to share and we want to use it for the good of humankind. I love it.

We’re with the sixty others embarking on this adventure. There are a wide span of ages and experience, all with great energy and enthusiasm.  It’s thrilling to be together with them.   Twenty-four are going to Malawi, eight of us will be in Blantyre, all in different specialties. A group  going off to Tanzania discovered there is a half marathon there on the 7th of February near Kilimanjaro and we giddily agreed to meet there to run it. There is a mixture of excitement and anxiety present at any given moment. My worries swirl mostly around technology, others vary from snakes to setting limits.

There are several couples going together besides us. I’ve heard the comment several times that it must be nice to be doing this with someone else. I agree it can be very nice, but I also have worries that if one of us is having a great time and the other not, that could be a downer. If our swings are opposite each other’s, we could be miserable all the time. Risky. If you are alone, at least no one else has to be subjected to your moods. We’ve already run into that this week.  It’s a lot to take in and it’s hot here and we’ve been a little testy with each other. We even had an all-out fight that surpassed argument within about three seconds. That was an interesting experience, but the tension had been building and something had to give and, oh boy, it did. I, of course, love a good fight, but George isn’t much of a fan. It must be an acquired taste. When things simmered down and we were taking it out he said, “You know when you take a sip of a good scotch, and it burns and startles you a bit, and then as you start to absorb it, the flavors spread and you taste the smokiness and the fruit and the sweetness? That’s what it’s like being with you.”

I liked that.

That’s all I can muster and it’s after midnight so I missed Sunday for the first time in a long time! Busy three days ahead then Ethiopian Air to Addis then Lilongwe. We’ll see how the connection is there next Sunday!


Sunday Morning~Departure Day!

I’ve often said when asked about Peace Corps experience, that if you can get through the application process, you can do the two years. I’ve also advised young people to do it as soon as you can. Don’t wait until you’ve got a house. Leaving a house for a year or more is such a pain in the butt. Leaving loved ones is sad, but leaving your house is a lot of work. Especially when you’ve created a monster like I did.

This week started with the Fourth of July parade which is a hometown deal, but is so much fun. I don’t even mind the traffic and parking challenge. There is some smug satisfaction of knowing the side streets and back way into town. We have strategic picnic breakfasts, and enjoy the quirky fundraisers. The community spirit and good cheer are better than Christmas. It’s the same with the fireworks. Thousands of people funnel toward the harbor and a prime viewing spot and it’s fun in a stealth sort of way. Someone gets there super early and lays the blanket, strangers are friendly to random children, there seems to be no worries about stepping on someone else blanket; kids all seem free and loose; ice cream, polar fleece, plastic dinosaurs, are  shared with common goals of celebration and camaraderie.

The series of goodbyes peppered the holiday. We arrived late to the pre-parade barbecue after stealing an hour in the afternoon to clean Racheal’s multiple boxes out of the attic. The boxes of notebooks, tiaras, beanie babies, and books, were efficiently repacked and crammed into her little car to find a new home in her own attic. She marveled at the number of books and said, “Wow, I read a lot when I was young!” I replied, “You sure did. No TV. You’re welcome.” It was such a satisfying moment.  I am grateful for many things in my life and one of them is that we raised children without television before computers. That lead to six heavy boxes of dog-eared books loaded into a compact car between two car seats. Those soft yellowed pages and memories of curled-up family-reading time are precious.

Our plan had been to get to town very early before the fireworks for prime parking and efficient get-away home. But we lingered at the barbecue, talking with old friends and new, saying goodbye and and explaining how it could be I would leave these two adorable grandchildren, and made it to the blanket on the harbor only 40 minutes before sunset. Ice cream had been promised all afternoon, however, and I took the baby and Rachael made her way through the throngs to procure the treat. She said she’d be right back. It was late evening and bedtime, and I was holding the sleepy, overstimulated four month old, and watching the over-sugared three year old looking for anyone near her size to play with.  That innocence of asking any child in earshot, “Do you want to play with me?” melts my heart every time. I love the energy of children unharnessed. I love to watch them wordlessly join other kids. Amid the gorgeous sunset on the harbor I watched this idyllic scene while rocking my grandson when Amelia seemed to think she was jumping on a bed not the ground, and the face-first dive didn’t pan out the way she’d imagined. I saw it coming.  I saw the gleeful tag they were playing. I saw her delight in this sweet boy, three years her elder, happily playing with this adoring three year-old. He dove onto the blanket so she did the same. Let’s just say the landing wasn’t a ten. Her face hit the ground and her head bounced back and the anguish on her face proceeded the howl that ensued. Six adult arms reached out to her as Kathleen, in one fluid movement, was at my side saying, “I’ve got the baby” and the handoff went as if we’d rehearsed it in a disaster drill. The injury was more surprise and disappointment than actual medical event and the treatment was cuddles, kisses, and ice cream that arrived a few long moments later. The frolicking resumed and I was, again, filled with gratitude for this connection we share as community, friends, and caring people.  These experiences help me through this week of terrible violence and I so want to believe that we are mostly good human beings. There is no other way to bear it.

The rest of the week was filled with goodbyes peppered between stressful chores and details and hope that everything works well till I’m home to deal with it. Then there was moving the chickens to Massachusetts. Why did that seem like a good idea a few months ago? On top of getting through cleaning out corners and dealing with all the STUFF and meeting friends for dinners every night and eating too much and drinking too much, I vow (again) to live without so much STUFF.

Mass this morning, then brunch with the family, then finish the coop, then to the airport where we sit at Gate B19. Bags are checked, and we’ll be boarding momentarily so it’s sign off time.

I feel like I want to make these letters again.

Love to all,



Sunday Morning~Getting Ready

I don’t believe the next adventure will be anything like the last one, aside from it being an adventure. As I prepare to leave again, I’m wondering how on earth I did it last time?  Life was more complicated then. I had kids living at home then. Their stuff was all over the house. I was in charge of a major fundraising event and working full time.  How did I do it?

When I was cleaning out the shed a few weeks ago I got a bit of insight.  I found stuff in there I threw in at the last minute when I was going away last time.  I’d taken everything I didn’t know what to do with and threw it in the shed. I looked at it and thought,  if I really haven’t needed this stuff over the last eight years, do I need it now? I forgot I even had it! Out it goes and it feels good. I want to live a simpler life less dominated by clutter and stuff.

So this will be my last blog post from my summer desk with the view of my garden. I look up and see the Peonies are finished, the last of their heavy heads laying on the ground after the pouring rain of yesterday morning. The Salvia are still strong with their purple spikes punctuating the chartreuse Lady’s Mantle. I had not planned to do any gardening this year.  I was leaving and didn’t have the time. I thought the house may lay fallow for the year and I could deal with it when I got back next summer, but an angel appeared, just when I needed her, and this place will be filled with the loving respect it deserves. It looks as if the Clematis  will sing it’s seasonal song as a farewell ballad, and the Hollyhocks will chime in behind with a welcoming aria. I’ve warned the Nettles and the Jerusalem Artichokes to behave lest they be dealt with harshly next year.

The weeks are filled with good-bye dinners and farewell hikes. This assignment is not a dangerous one and there’s less anxiety about me leaving. My mother is looking down from above this time, not staring me in the face with her eyes filled with fear for my safety. It makes it easier. When I left last time, her subtle remarks made clear her feelings (“What if I die while you’re gone? Why do you have to do these things?”) and I tried to reconcile my need to go with my need to care for her. Always considerate, she lived until I returned and took pride in the weekly letters that she and her friends read with anticipation. My mother was so tied in to the stories of Shamwana. I tried to explain to Beatrice and Geraldine how my mother was waiting for me to return. So many Congolese have lost family in horrific ways that there was no basis for understanding missing someone who is still alive and has food to eat. They’ve been misplaced, hunted, tortured, and starved.”But you will see her again, right? She is still alive?”, they asked.  “Yes”, I said, “I will see her again.” She was sitting in her favorite chair, reading my stories of those who will never know such comfort.

I am excited. I can finally relax about the house, knowing it will be occupied and cared for. I am excited about meeting the others who will share this adventure. We’ll have ten days in Washington together, then the seventy-two of us will venture off to five different countries and share what we have to offer. We’ll learn from our hosts and share those lessons when we return.

This week I will pack away the last of my personal items, and make lists of the quirks of this house for those who will stay here. I’ll fill my bags with essentials for the year. I look forward to telling weekly stories. I look forward to meeting new people. I look forward to seeing future midwives blossom in their profession.

As the summer unfolds here I realize there are things I will miss, but a year is such a blip on the screen. My sweet grandchildren are the most difficult to leave, but we will work at staying connected. It’s so much easier now than when we went to Malawi the first time. Letters took three weeks to arrive back then. If there was an urgent message, we sent a telegram and paid by the word. I think we did that twice. Once when a friend died, and once when our baby was born. This year we’ll probably Face Time on a regular basis.

Now it is evening and I’m still pecking away at this. I had high hopes of getting it finished before the little ones awoke this morning, knowing the day would be full and I would have a hard time breaking away. We went to church, then the beach, then a beautiful concert on the ocean. I watched as those with seats around us sported worried glances as we sat with a three year old and a four month old. But the pianist and baritone serenaded us and the whispered comments between pieces impressed the mostly white-haired audience, and they found there was hope for the future.

There is a sweetness in taking off for a year. The everyday parts of life are highlighted and seem more meaningful. I highly recommend it.