Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

September 25, 2016

Hi Everyone,

Catharine, our guard, has four children. Her English consists of approximately thirty words, and that’s if you include our names. Our Chichewa is not much better, so communication is sometimes a challenge. She was able to communicate that her only son is named Joseph and he needed a notebook for school. George bought him a notebook and a pen but I insisted that Joseph come and collect it himself. He did and expressed his thanks and I figured he was all set for school. Then one day last week, after I left for the hospital, George was in bed reading on a day when Catharine was to clean our house. When I left, she asked where George was, and I told her he was still home and he would leave by eight okloko. (There are no Chichewa words for numbers over five. After five they use English words. Apparently, until colonialism, there was no need to count higher than five. There were either “many” or “few”. The same goes for distances; it’s either “near”, “far” or “very far”. They don’t really calculate the distance, and when they do, it’s not anywhere near accurate. And for things that didn’t exist before colonialism, like clocks, they have personalized the English, like kloko. But I digress… ) I figured she’d wait till George was gone to go in and start cleaning, but (I heard later) she walked into the house, into the bedroom and handed him a note from Joseph. George was mortified. He was in bed, covered to his waist with the blanket, but a bit of a vulnerable position to be in when your employee is handing you a written request. (I laughed hysterically when he told me this later in the day.) She showed me the note when I got home; George had told her he’d have to talk to me about it. At this time I didn’t know about the bedroom incident. I thought I was the first to see the note, which was written in lovely handwriting and very good English:

To: George and Linda

Date: 05th September 2016


I am writing this letter to you both with an aim of asking you to pay my school fees of which the school is demanding soon after the opening date of the academic year.

Due to the lost of my father, my mum cannot manage to pay my school fees. Therefore, I would love and happy if you take an action on my request and also me going on with my education. God bless you all, thank you.

I am Joseph Banda.

I thought it was a sweet note; Catharine has no qualms about asking for what she needs and clearly, she passed this trait on to her children. I was thinking of the asking-for-honey proverb and wanted to consider the request. When George got home I said, “Hey, wait till you see this.” At which point he launched into the bedroom story, fairly agitated about it. I found this endlessly amusing since George doesn’t get upset with people very easily and she obviously has his number. He’s far more generous than I am. I think she was disappointed she had to go through me. When I read the note I was thinking Joseph’s English was really good, so maybe we could pay his school fees and in return he could give us Chichewa lessons. I wanted him to have to do something for the money. I know people are hard up here, really hard up, and it kills me they have to pay for secondary school, but we can’t be paying for everyone. We are both becoming very fond of Catharine and we decided we would put one kid through school this year so why not have it be hers. George loved the idea of having him do something for the money, so I wrote a note back to him asking him to meet us on Saturday morning to talk about a plan. I gave the note to Catharine to pass on to Joseph.

On Saturday he was here an hour early, so we asked him in and sat down to chat. It took about two seconds to realize it was very unlikely he wrote that note. But his English is still way better than Catharine’s and we were able to get a little story out of him. He is almost fourteen and will be starting form three. I’m still confused about what grade that is, but it doesn’t matter. He told us the name of the school and the district. I asked him to show me on the map where it was. I don’t think he’d ever seen a map before; we didn’t get too far with that. George asked him what he wants to do with his education and he said he wants to be a doctor and help people. Ok, might have had a little coaching on that one since we are living in the College of Medicine housing, but that could have been sincere. Then George asked him ”What kind of doctor?” And he said, “I want to help people who are not right in the head.” Ok, I suppose that could be the biggest coincidence in the history of the world, but since until George arrived there was only one psychiatrist in the country, I think it unlikely he’s been exposed to that specialty, but of course I have no way of knowing that for sure. I could tell he was nervous and we had to repeat everything in very simple sentences, er, phrases, and I didn’t want him to think this was a test, but I also didn’t want to just hand over the equivalent of a month’s salary if he wasn’t seriously going to school. I brought up the idea of doing some work for the money. He had no idea what I was talking about. It was clear he wouldn’t be giving us Chichewa lessons. Scrap that plan. I asked if he thought he could volunteer at the school and do some work there. He stared at me blankly. I wasn’t getting anywhere with this so I said, “Ok, we will meet you at the school on Monday to talk with the headmaster about paying your fees.” I needed someone to translate. I thought the headmaster would love my plan of having him do some work there for his fees. George thought it was brilliant. I was pleased with myself. The next challenge was to find out where the school was because we needed to be there at 7:30 on Monday morning. It was too painful to have him try to explain where it was. He couldn’t read the map and I wanted to get on the road to Zomba. George said he’d ride over to that district on his bike on Sunday and find it so we’d know where we were going on Monday, and we’d meet him there. He seemed to understand that. I repeated the plan, “So we will meet you at the school on Monday morning at 7:30 to talk together with the headmaster.” He said, “OK.” and I considered the matter settled. I left for my weekend in Zomba.

George then realized he had to be in clinic on Monday morning, so I had to go to the school alone. He made good on his offer to look for the school on Sunday so I’d know where it was, but when I got home from Zomba, George told me he had ridden all over that district looking for the school and couldn’t find it. He asked everyone he saw where it was and no one knew. He looked for a website. He found nothing. We started thinking the whole thing was a scam. Maybe he wasn’t planning on going to school at all and just wanted money?  At any rate, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere in the morning until we talked with him again. I thought I’d give Catharine another note to give him. Turns out, that wasn’t necessary.

At exactly 5:50 a.m. on Monday, Catharine and Joseph were at the door. I was already up and rooting around doing stuff when I saw them. I realized that Joseph was there to escort me to the school. Apparently the pre-made plan wasn’t understood very well, but I was glad to see I wouldn’t have to be a no-show. I quickly got dressed and went out the door just after six. Catharine asked where the bike was? I told her we would walk. I couldn’t ride with him on the back of the bike! She said, “No. Too far.” I said, “Well, ok. We’ll take a minibus.” And she nodded and Joseph and I took off. And I mean TOOK OFF. I had to jog to keep up with him. I noted we were walking in the opposite direction of the district he told us the school was in. We walked far and fast and he kept turning toward the traffic looking for a bus to wave down. When one stopped to collect us, we quickly got in and he told the driver where we were going. I asked Joseph how much the bus would cost. “One hundred kwacha”, he said. “One hundred for you and one hundred for me?”, I asked. “Yes.” he said, and looked out the window. I thought, gee, if someone were going through this trouble to pay my school fees I might be a little chattier with them, but this might not have been his idea and he is a teenager.

The bus dropped us off and I handed the guy 200 kwacha. He took 100 of it and gave it to back Joseph. I pointed to the money and Joseph pointed to another bus. Oh! Ok, we are changing lines here on the dirt road and are getting on another bus, was my thought. But I was wrong. We went on a hike through parts of this city I had no idea existed. It looked like some desert cliff dwelling in what I imagined the middle east to be like. And man that kid walks fast. I was thinking, “Jeepers. What time did he have to leave home to get to my house to get me here?” I asked him if the school was near his house. He said, “Yes.” and kept walking. We never got on another bus. We walked on dirt paths mostly downhill until we came to a narrow dirt road with buildings on both sides. He stopped in front of one and pointed to the sign. It said, ST KELMON (pvt) Secondary School in very faded letters.  I laughed at the idea of George ever finding this place without a guide! Joseph disappeared up the path next to the building that was just wide enough to accommodate a single person. I followed him, winding around to the building above and behind and had to walk in a drainage ditch, then up some steep stairs around another corner where some boys were perched on a porch hanging onto the hill. I saw Joseph with them and he pointed to the door. So I climbed up onto the porch and looked in the room. I turned to him and asked, “Is this the headmaster?” He nodded. I thought, “You are kidding me!” when the snazzily-clad headmaster said, “Come in. You are most welcome.” So I went in.

The room was small and dark and, honestly, looked like it had been bombed. There were big holes in the walls and hunks of cement missing. There were small couches, in terrible condition, along each wall and a desk in the center. Every available seat was taken with students and parents and the headmaster was explaining the philosophy and rules of the school. Two people moved enough to provide a spot for me to sit, so I did, then quickly realized there was moisture seeping into my skirt. The couch was wet. I’m not sure I concealed my grimace. The headmaster was a youngish man dressed in a blue buttoned down shirt with brown pin striped pants and snow white shoes with pointed toes. He looked dapper. He asked if he could help me. I said, “Joseph has asked me to pay his school fees so I came to understand the school better.” He smiled and said, “Ah. You are most welcomed.” and then continued on with his orientation. He passed out an application sheet containing the rules and regulations. He read each one out loud. I was so, so sorry George had not come. It was really a sight to behold.

The list included:

  • Student must put on school uniform and uniform must be tucked in.
  • Once fees is paid it is nonrefundable.
  • The following are intolerable: strange style of haircut, leggings, huts,  lipstick, drunkards, blasphemy, drugs, fighting, vandalism, radios, phones, hair pelting, entertaining visitors in class.
  • Tantalizing/ tormenting/ bullying are illegal.
  • The degree of punishment shall be taken upon backbiters and scandal mongers.
  • Students must participate in one or some of school activities.
  • School should be told if student has a mental problem.

There were more, but those are the highlights. Then there was information about the fees which could be paid in two installments. Then, my very favorite, the school motto at the bottom was

~work like a slave to live like a king~

I thought Joseph should be in the room to hear all this, so I stood and stepped over people to the porch to call him in. I also wanted to get off the wet couch. The headmaster asked him what level he was and Joseph said, “Form three.” The headmaster asked where he went to primary school and if he had brought his grades with him. Joseph told him the school, but said he didn’t bring the grades.  I think I rolled my eyes here. The headmaster said, “Oh, sorry. If you had brought your grades you could just go to class. Now you have to take the entrance exam. I looked up, “Now? Right now?”  The headmaster nodded. I asked how long that takes? He said an hour. I thought, “I’m not sitting on that wet couch for an hour!”  but wasn’t going to pay if he didn’t pass the exam and didn’t get in, so I said, “Ok. I’ll wait.” Then Joseph asked me if I had a pen, and really, I had to stop myself from lighting into him about being prepared. I reached in my bag and handed him a pen. He went off to another dark room to take the exam with a few other kids. This freed up a dry seat so I settled in to wait. It was quite an experience sitting there for an hour. I watched as parents came with their kids, handing over clumps of bills that had been wrapped in a knot in a chithenje to pay for their kids education. I thought, “God bless these people, please.” The kids seemed bright and eager and certainly respectful. My initial reaction was that this was some fly-by-night operation, but I gradually realized it was a school with hardly any resources in a very poor part of the city. When the room had cleared out I asked the headmaster about having Joseph do some volunteer work for the school. He looked at me like I had three heads.  He said, “I don’t know what you mean.” Okaaaay, I guess that idea wasn’t as brilliant as I thought. I said, “Never mind. I’ll have him do some work with my husband.” (Side note: George is not my husband, but I sometimes refer to him as such because it’s more convenient.) I thought George could have him do some volunteer work at the orphanage he’s involved with. I’d deal with that later. I was also thinking I would drag George’s ass in here to see this!

So, I sat and watched and waited. Finally, Joseph came back in and some other guy (I think he was the assistant headmaster) started grading his essay, which was titled “An Unforgettable Day”. I stood to watch the grading process which, didn’t take long. He read the essay and wrote 13/30 in red pen on the side. I looked at the headmaster, and asked, “Is that passing?” He replied, “Oh, sure sure! It’s just that that he didn’t make paragraphs.” I quickly noted that the handwriting was nothing like the one on the note we were given. I picked up the essay and read it while Joseph stood in the doorway. His unforgettable day was about a boy named Brian who witnessed ten men attacking another man. Brian had to run away to escape the men, who then came after him. He finally escaped, which made the day so unforgettable. It took my breath away. I looked at the tiny, tight, perfect handwriting and asked the headmaster if I could take it home to show my husband. He was a bit skeptical but I told him I’d bring it back the next day along with my husband. He agreed, and I handed the registration form to Joseph to fill out and got out my wallet to pay for the registration fee, and half the tuition since it didn’t need to be paid all at once. Then realized he needed a uniform, so paid for that. I asked the headmaster if we could come in a month or so to see how he was doing, and he agreed that would be fine. I don’t think they have parent/ teacher conferences in this place. When Joseph handed the registration form in I saw on the line that said Parent or Guardian, Joseph had written “George and Linda”. I got a little choked up. Then the headmaster said, “Ok, you can go to class.” and Joseph walked out. I was pleased that we were doing this. I bade the headmaster goodbye and said I’d be back in the morning to bring back the essay; I was pretty sure I could find the place again and was dying to show George this school. When I got down to the street, Joseph was standing there and said goodbye to me.  I asked him, “Why aren’t you in class?”  He said, “I’m going home.” I said, “What? I just paid for you to go to school! Why are you going home?” And he replied, “To get my notebook.” Mind you, school had already been in session for two hours by now. I said, “Can’t you do without your notebook until tomorrow?” He said, “No.” and started to walk off. I saw a group of boys up the road looking at us and thought he might be going off with them. I said, “Ok. I’ll go with you to your home.” He nodded and started walking. Twenty minutes later, drenched in sweat, and out of breath from trying to keep up, I thought I may have made a poor decision. We went through neighborhoods so desperate I nearly gawked. We crossed dangerously rickety bridges over water that would gag a maggot. We climbed paths so steep I had to use my hands to get up. I kept asking, “Is it far?” He didn’t answer, just pointed ahead. He could have been taking me anywhere. There was no way I could have found my way out of there and had no choice at that point but to keep going. Finally, he pointed up a hill and said, “There.” I asked, “That? That’s your house?” and to myself saying, “Please God let that be his house.” We scrambled up another hill and came to a level area that had three tiny houses on it. He pointed to one and said, “My house.” and went in. There was a small child sitting in the dirt and a young girl washing clothes who didn’t greet me, which is very unusual. She was probably wondering what the hell I was doing there. I greeted her and she ignored me. I was overwhelmed by how far Catharine has to come to work everyday. She must leave before sunup. Joseph has a hefty walk to school as well. It took us over thirty minutes to walk there from the school. I heard him rummaging around in this one-room house which couldn’t have been more than ten feet by fifteen. I wondered how many people lived in there. Compared to the rest of the area, this little compound was well kept but dirt poor. There were small little gardens planted with vegetables around the houses. I wondered if the girl was his sister. After about ten minutes, Joseph emerged with the notebook we had given him and a pile of other papers. He walked, business-like by me, and said, “We go to the school.” and I started following him back, down the hill and through the ghetto. I was so glad to get back there. I’d had the equivalent of two day’s exercise on an empty stomach and wanted to walk at my normal pace. When we got to the school I said, “You still have my 100 kwacha for the bus.” He said, “Yes.” and nothing else. I thought he’d forgotten about it and would hand it back to me since we never took the second bus but he made no move. I asked, “Are you keeping it?”  He said, “Yes.” I asked, “Why?” And he said, “For lunch.”  I just laughed at that point and said, “Fine. Good luck at school.” and walked up the hill a long way back to the main road. While finding my way out I looked for landmarks to guide me back the next day. I saw a pole that had a sign on it that said, “Dish Installer” with a phone number. I made a mental note to turn left at the sign that said “Dish Installer”.

When I got back to the main road a man started walking beside me and we started chatting. He asked where I was from and why I was in Malawi. I told him where I was from, where I’d been and what I’d done (we had a long way to walk; there was plenty of time for story telling) and he just said, “God bless you for doing this. You Americans are very kind.” That made me feel like this was all worth it. I had started feeling guilty for not trusting Joseph, but then realized I wouldn’t have had that adventure otherwise, and it really was worth it. I had a whole new level of respect for Catharine. I wondered if the young girl was having a chance to get an education or they had to choose between them. She looked primary school age but certainly wasn’t heading to school that day.

Catharine was waiting anxiously for me. I told her he was in school and it was all good. She started beaming. “Oh, thank you! God bless you!” she said, and pulled me into a big bear hug. I left again to go to the college to find out what I was supposed to do next as far as an actual job was concerned, but couldn’t find a soul. Every office was empty. I went into another building and found a secretary who told me everyone in my department was away at a meeting in Lilongwe. I decided to take the rest the day off and do errands. I went to the market and bought two hard boiled eggs and a coke and sat on a bench to eat that. I needed strength in order to go to the bank and wait in line for two hours.

That evening, after regaling George with stories about my morning adventure, he informed me my plan to bring him there the next day was not well thought out, as he had to be in clinic in the morning. Me bad. I tried to convince him we’d be there and back before clinic! I was sure I could find the school no problem, and if we rode our bikes on the main road as far as the dirt road it would be about a two hour expedition. We could leave at six and be back by eight! But I actually couldn’t guarantee that, therefore couldn’t sell the idea, so the next morning I set off on my bike, alone, to bring back the essay. Good thing he didn’t come. I could not find the school and he would not have made it back to clinic in time and I would have had to eat major crow. Where I turned left at the post that had “dish installer” on it (sure I was on the right path), none of it looked familiar. Another half a mile on dirt paths pushing my bike uphill (I was sure I was supposed to be going down) I came to another post with a sign, “dish installer”, and then another, and another, and finally realized that almost every post everywhere has a sign that says “dish installer” on it. By then I was hopelessly lost and started asking people where the school was. No one had heard of it. Finally, I found two little kids who said they knew where it was and I followed them, down then up again, on tiny dirt paths, pushing my bike trying to keep up with them. I thought, “It could be worse. George could be with me.” They deposited me at the school a half hour later, where I ran up the path to the headmaster’s office. The secretary greeted me and asked, “Where is your husband?” I just said, “He had to work. I’ll bring him another time.” and put the essay on the desk and left. By this time I was quite late getting over to the college. Good thing there wasn’t much going on that day.

I met with my counterpart, Esthnath who is a lecturer in midwifery and had gotten back from Lilongwe. She is a lovely woman, very gentle and soft-spoken. She gave me the outline for modules that need to be taught this year and the list of who is teaching what. She said they had no one to teach Fundamentals of Midwifery to the first year students and I told her I was happy to do that. It’s 160 hours of lecture and 200 hours of practical, so it’s going to be a full time job to teach that course. I feel much better knowing what I’ll be doing for the next eighteen weeks. Second semester gets figured out later. I received the keys to my office, which, is the size of one of our bathrooms and I share it with another faculty member.  It has windows on two sides and a nice breeze so I was happy with that. The view is of the hospital laundry clothesline, but it isn’t bad. I can see blankets with “stolen from pediatric ward” printed on them flapping in the breeze. The office fits two desks and nothing else, not even a bookshelf so I guess I won’t be bringing students in there to conference, but it is adequate to do my office work.

I am extremely fortunate that the entire midwifery department from both the Blantyre and Lilongwe campuses were meeting together this past week to plan for the academic year. The timing couldn’t have been better as I was done with orientation and could spend the week with them. There were eighteen midwives in all and it was fabulous. We met each day at the new campus for the nursing school, which, isn’t finished or opened yet. It’s about a half hour drive from the old campus, in an open space surrounded by mountains. It’s beautiful. I can just picture the campus swarming with eager students. I’m not sure if we’ll be moved one there in my time here, and the commute would be an issue, but it was a very nice week.  Each morning at 7:30 the Blantyre faculty met at the local campus and a van took us over to the new campus. Even the ride over was fun with these women. There was chat of recipes and hair styles and power outages and just girl talk. When we arrived the first day and met the Lilongwe midwives, there was hugging and kissing and whooping for a while before everyone settled down to business. Each morning started with a prayer (everything starts with a prayer here, including bus rides). There was an ambitious agenda for the week and I was impressed with the zeal that persisted for getting through the agenda. Each business topic was prefaced with an inspiring oratory from one of the members about how we have a calling to this profession and though we have many obstacles and too much work for too few midwives that we mustn’t forget the women who depend on us. There was an opportunity to discuss problem students and how we could help them. One midwife said, “We must consider them like our own children and love them like that!”  There were more orations about helping and supporting each other and keeping up enthusiasm for our jobs. One midwife said, “Excuse me, does Kamuzu College of Nursing (KCN) have a policy that we can not resign? No! Therefore if we decide to stay in this profession we must agree to maintain our passion! We must support each other in this! I make this plea to you.”  There was so much respect for each other. Although everyone introduced themselves to me by their first names, during the meeting they referred to each other by title and surname. (This was very confusing for me just trying to figure out who everyone was.) Every woman who spoke started with, “Thank you madam chairwoman.” or “Thank you madam dean.” or “Thank you madam chair of the department.” I loved being part of it. I loved watching the love and respect they had for each other and for this profession. I was so proud to be part of them. They included me and made me feel welcome. They thanked me for anything I had to offer. They said they needed to do more professional writing and try to publish. They asked if I could help with that. I’m excited about working with them. It was a great week.

Whew, I feel like I’d better wrap this up as it’s going on and on. We’re adjusting more and more to the power outages and can work our lives around them. The whole country is experiencing this now.  There was a big fire in Lilongwe on Friday and the fire department didn’t have enough water to put it out. Apparently much of the central market was destroyed. I can’t even imagine how devastating that is to the poor people who make a meager living there. It’s interesting living among such hardship, I find myself relishing the beautiful aspects of living here. I can see the suffering and abject poverty and the destruction of the environment. That is evident every day. But the beauty is also highlighted. I’m consumed with the gorgeous jacaranda trees in bloom everywhere. I had no idea that’s what they were, but last week all these trees just exploded with purple blossoms. They are everywhere! They line the main roads and drape over the market. Their blossoms fall to make the most beautiful carpet. I don’t think they have a fragrance, not that I can smell anyway, but the way they have transformed the landscape is stunning. I love walking home at dusk, the street full of pedestrians chatting, moving toward home in the soft orange light, now with a purple tinge. It’s where I want to be right now.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Mulanje

Sunday Morning~ Mulanje

September 18, 2016

Journal entry, September 17, 2016:

Thirty-seven years ago I climbed this mountain, pregnant with my first child. I was just barely pregnant, not even sure of it yet, and we had to walk eleven kilometers to get to the trail because we couldn’t find a ride. After that walk we started the climb, a grueling ascent, making it to a hut before dark. It was just a few days after my twenty-third birthday. I could never have imagined this is where I’d be to celebrate my sixtieth. What has transpired during that time could fill volumes, but here I am, in the midst of an incredible and majestic landscape (not a famous one, though it should be), sitting on the porch of a cedar hut watching the sun lower itself behind a peak. 

That’s about as far as I got! I thought I’d write all the details of the three day hike while on the mountain, but didn’t get much further than that. So I’ll try to fill in the story, though we have no power and I’m not sure how long the battery will last on this laptop. It’s Sunday evening and I’m tired, sick with a cold, and a little tipsy from the gin and tonic we’re calling supper, but I’ll give it a go…

I hadn’t really planned ahead for a celebration for my sixtieth. I did for my fiftieth, but I was just pulling my life back together then and it seemed a monumental milestone. I wanted to mark this decade somehow, but figured just being back in Malawi was pretty special, so had low expectations for actually marking the day. But it turned out to be one of the best birthdays I’ve had. It has been spectacular. I’m so happy (but tired and sick)…

Climbing Mt. Mulanje takes some preparation. It is actually a mountain range, not one singular peak, with a massive plateau in the center. There are ten huts scattered around the plateau and many trails connecting them. None of these trails are marked. Neither are the ones that come up from the base; I have no idea how many there are. It is necessary to hire a guide and if you are smart, a porter. The huts all have a fireplace, a water source, and a caretaker, so carrying a stove and water isn’t necessary, but all your food must be brought in. If you belong to the mountain club (which we now do) you get a key to the storage room, which has mattresses and cooking supplies like pots, pans, plates and cups. We took Friday off and planned to climb up to the plateau on Friday, spend that night in one hut, then walk across the plateau Saturday and spend that night in another hut, then down Sunday and back to Blantyre. It’s much easier if you have a car to get to Mulanje but we don’t so public transportation just added to the adventure.

George had gotten the name of a guide from a friend, and he called him last week to book this trek. Sampson is his name, and he agreed to arrange for the porter and plan the route. We didn’t really care which route we took up, it’s all beautiful. We left home at dawn on Friday with our supplies and food in a big (heavy) backpack, and we each had a daypack as well. We took a minibus to Limbe, a city near Blantyre, where we got another bus to Mulanje. That all went very well and we made it there in good time, about two hours for a fifty mile journey. Not too bad! Sampson was there to meet us in the town of Mulanje, which is still several miles from the base of the mountain. He’d said he’d arrange for a car to bring us to the trail, but when we got there he told us that he talked to the caretaker at the hut we were supposed to stay at and there was going to be a big party of seventeen people staying there, so he was changing the route. That was fine with us, but that would require getting back on the minibus to go around the base of the mountain range to a different starting point and taking motorcycles in to the trail. We told him we aren’t allowed to ride on motorcycles. His face fell and he said, “Ok, one minute.” Then got on his phone and made a call. He told us he could get us a ride in a truck, but it would be twelve thousand kwacha each way. He asked if that was ok with us. We looked at each other and said, “We don’t really have a choice at this point, so sure”. We thought we had enough money between us for this unexpected expense and I had no desire to begin this hike with an eleven mile pre-test. Just the minibus was enough to start the day. So the three of us got back on the crowded minibus, which is a twelve-seater van with twenty people in it. Several miles later we were dropped onto a dirt road where a rusty pickup truck with a broken windshield was waiting for us. Sampson threw the big pack in the back and we hopped in. A few miles into the ride I thought the twelve thousand kwacha was a bargain. We stopped in a village to pick up the porter, Clement, who ran from his house and jumped in the back in what seemed like one motion. Then we continued for miles through an enormous tea plantation on a punishing dusty dirt road with the massive peaks in front of us, and jacaranda trees in full purple bloom dotting the foreground. It was gorgeous.

When we finally reached our starting point it was nearly ten-thirty and hot. We arranged all we were to carry and started off, a gradual ascent through sadly deforested acres of foothills. It was hot and seeing what used to be thick forest absolutely barren, made me heartsick. Stump upon stump poked out reminding us of what had been there before. Now the landscape was terraced maize and cassava fields. It is a heavily populated area and people need to eat.

It took us about an hour to get to the steep part and, boy, is it steep. It’s a hard ascent and having so few trees made it very hot. Sampson guided us to a spot where the river made a pool and we were able to cool off for a bit. George actually stripped down and went for a quick swim, but the temperature change nearly killed him! The water was cold! I just got my legs wet. Sampson went swimming as well, a gorgeous specimen of a human body. He told us we were the first clients he was taking up the mountain “in our age group”. He said, “You are old ones, but you are very fit.” I had him pegged for about fifty. He’s missing all of his front teeth. But he told us he was thirty-six, the age of my oldest child. He was born very near the mountain. His father had been a caretaker in one of the huts and he grew up learning every trail. It felt good to be in his presence. I felt safe with him. I felt kinda guilty watching Clement carrying our heavy pack, but remembered that hiring porters and guides promotes an ecotourism and if it could grow into an industry that supported people, there would be an alternative to this terrible deforestation. Plus, Clement actually looked like he was enjoying it. Smiling the whole way.

As we continued up we had to step aside every once in awhile for men carrying huge cedar beams on their heads. They looked superhuman, some barefoot, some in flip flops, some in torn sneakers held together with twine. It was stupefying to watch them glide down this steep path with grace, their sweat-covered bodies the only sign that it was a difficult feat. They greeted us as they passed. If one of those beams fell on me it would kill me.

We slowly made our way up and the air got cooler and the views got more magnificent. By four o’clock we were at Madzeka hut, a sweet cedar building with a tin roof and covered porch. The caretaker greeted us and showed us inside. There was a stone fireplace, wooden table and benches, and a storage room where we found a chest with blankets and all the cooking utensils we needed. Sampson showed us the river where there were pools to bathe in and further upstream a good place to collect drinking water. It was heaven. We were drenched in sweat, so went to bathe before it got too cool. The whole setting was tucked into a grove of trees and both George and I couldn’t stop saying how beautiful it was. What a perfect spot. We had the place to ourselves. Sampson did good!

After we were clean and changed we sat on the porch and watched the sunset with a cup of wine. The caretaker lit a fire for us and we heated up the goat stew I’d made and had a feast by candle light. I felt like I could have stayed there forever. Not a whole lot later we put the mattresses in front of the fireplace, pulled out our sheets and got the blankets out of the chest. And then I spent most of the night coughing as the cold that was brewing decided to strike. Oh well. It was a nearly perfect scene.

Saturday morning we made our breakfast and set off about eight for a five hour trek to the next hut. This was not a grueling day as we were traversing the plateau, but it was just as spectacular. The swaths that hadn’t been burned by hunters were covered in wildflowers and the massive plateau is surrounded by rounded peaks. I loved watching how Sampson knew the landscape so well. There is no way we could have ever done this ourselves. No way. At one point when we stopped for a rest, he said, “This is very enjoyable for me. You are very good clients. You don’t complain. You don’t say, ‘Sampson, when can we rest? Where is there more water? Can you get me more water?’ You just keep going and you are not too slow. Yes, you are the old ones, but you look very young. I say that this woman is old but looks young. She wears short pants and seems like she was born in the mountains.”  Well. I kept laughing every time he referred to me as “the old one” but I must say, I thought this was a very nice birthday present. It is not insulting here to refer to someone’s age. Age is respected and honored. Their lives are so physically hard that their bodies are worn down early in life compared to ours. I couldn’t imagine a better place to be to celebrate this birthday. And the way Sampson talked, George may very well be the oldest person ever to climb that mountain. “Seventy-six!” Sampson would say, then shake his head in amazement. It felt pretty good.

We were heading to Chinzama hut where we would take lunch, then we were going to continue on to Minunu hut to spend the night, but when we got to a spot that had cell reception Clement called a friend who told him that Minunu hut had been robbed and there were no supplies there. That was terrible news. Not just because it messed up our plan, but it’s such a disappointment for their livelihood. Apparently the caretaker there had broken his leg and there was no one guarding the place. We decided to just stay the night at Chinzama hut and leave really early Sunday to finish the hike.  After a five hour walk to get there it was a nice relaxing afternoon in another spectacular setting.

Chinzama hut is situated dramatically different from the first hut. This was up on a bluff, open and exposed, but with a huge vista. It was the kind of landscape that makes you feel very small. It was a little larger than Madzeka, with two rooms each with their own fireplace, and a bigger storeroom. All the blankets had been stolen though, so we had to make do with what we’d brought for warmth. We spent the afternoon reading and writing and dozing. Around 4 p.m. the caretaker brought water he’d heated to the bathing area and we had warm bucket baths. Heaven. It was much cooler there and I had little desire to bathe in the river. Then it was a gorgeous sunset while sipping wine and talking about how lucky we were to be able to do this. We talked about how simple life would be to live like that where all our energy would be put into just surviving. There would be so much less to argue about. The simpler life is, the less to disagree about, yet we thought we’d miss the life we left. It was just lazy conversation in a beautiful place, alone except for the guide, porter, and caretaker who kept to themselves in their own cabin. I did remark that living like that was really nice when you have three servants working for you.  When it was dark we cooked on the fire, savored our meal like you do when you feel like you’ve earned it. Then we made up the bed in front of the fire and I made hot chocolate and added a generous shot of “Best Whiskey” which I’d found at the local market. For the equivalent of $1.50 it wasn’t too bad! In fact, mixed in my concoction of cocoa, powdered milk, sugar, cinnamon, and cayenne, it was downright delicious. I’ll have to go back to Aunt Dot’s Bottle Store for more.

Unfortunately, it didn’t help me sleep much; I was up coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose. I can’t believe I caught a cold like this. I never get sick and I have no patience with it. We needed to be on the trail by six this morning in order to get down off the mountain and back to Blantyre by dark, so we ate some rice and eggs, drank some tea, and started off across the plateau much of which had been burned by hunters looking for game. The vegetation will grow back, but it did seem tragic to see so many acres charred. After passing that, the trail went through what seemed like square miles of grass and wildflowers. We stopped to check on the hut that had been robbed and took inventory of all that was missing. I’m not sure if the forestry department or the mountain club replaces it, but what a sweet setting that was! There is a peach and apple tree nearby and a cultivated garden with Irish potatoes. Hopefully we’ll get back up and be able to stay there. I’d like to go sometime during the rainy season when all the orchids (170 varieties!) are in bloom.The trail from there took us down through thick rainforest and was shady most of the way. Good thing, too, because it got hotter and hotter as we descended and it was steep. Our legs were shaking. There were monkeys above us in the trees and all kinds of birdsong. We passed hidden waterfalls and it felt exotic and wild and I loved it. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my birthday.

We ended the hike at the hydroelectric plant that fuels the tea estate. It’s not operating now as it’s toward the end of the dry season and there isn’t enough water in the river. The plan is for operation to start in November when the rains come. We sat under a frangipani tree and waited for the pickup truck to come and collect us there. When it did we had the same long ride through the tea plantation and we were deposited on the side of the main road. Sampson stayed with us until we flagged down a minibus and he negotiated a good price for us for the ride back to Blantyre. Great hike.

The ride back was good theater as George put it. At one of the roadblocks the police asked us for passports, which was the first time that’s happened. I had a copy of mine, but George hadn’t brought his. When the policeman saw the Peace Corps passport he said, “Oh, ok. No problem.”  George said, “I’m with her.” and that was the end of it. Maybe he thought we were coming in from Mozambique.

So we made it home just before dark, tired and grubby, but happy. Just as I started writing this the power went out and hasn’t come back on yet and it’s Monday evening! It was making me so anxious last night to not be able to post this. It’s the first one I’ve missed in a long time. Hated to break the streak. Oh well. We are without power more than with it now.

I’m not going to be able to wait up much longer to see if it comes back on. This cold is knocking me out. I may have to get up in the middle of the night to do it if it comes back on. That seems to be the only time we get power these days.

I have a long story that happened last Monday but I don’t have the energy to put it down here so will save that for next week.

Thanks for all the birthday wishes! I feel loved.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Zomba


If you never ask for honey, you will only eat wax. ~ Malawian Proverb

Hi Everyone,

George said he’d have to spend the entire weekend preparing lectures for next week, so I decided to go to Zomba for an overnight. I finished my orientation on Friday and felt like celebrating with a little trip. He wasn’t super pleased about me going off alone, but I reminded him I’d been doing that for years before I met him. But he didn’t know me then and therefore wasn’t worried about my safety. I find this to be both a blessing and a curse. For years I’d go off on solo adventures and think, “Gee, no one would even know if I fell off this cliff, or got crushed in this crowded bus.” And it was a little lonely. I sometimes wished I had someone to worry about me. But yesterday morning when I was leaving, his concern annoyed me. I thought, “I don’t have to ask permission to go! Why should I have to worry about someone else’s anxieties about my activities? I didn’t sign up for this!” And, I might add, when we were talking about getting into a relationship, I did say I wanted to maintain my independence and he wholeheartedly agreed. That’s what I signed up for. Need to find some balance with this one. On the list to work on.

We had words. I went anyway. It’s gorgeous here. I’m sitting under a thatched roof in the soft light of the foothills of the Zomba plateau, a beautiful alpine forest at 7,000 feet. I thought I might stay up on the plateau, but by the time I arrived here by bus from Blantyre I thought I shouldn’t chance getting up there without a reservation. (See! I’m not foolhardy!) I walked the town and found a lodge but it was $40 a night, certainly not expensive by US standards, but that’s a third of our monthly allowance and I didn’t want to splurge that much just to sleep. I found this neat backpackers lodge for $10/night and aside from the critter (I think it was a mouse) running up and down my mosquito net during the night, it’s perfect. It has a bar and simple restaurant and the most beautiful setting. I’m in a dorm room, but they provide sheets, blanket and (thank God) mosquito net and I’m the only one in there. Couldn’t be better. They have wifi, but it’s broken, so I’ll have to figure out how I’m going to send this later. For now I’ll just write.

Once I found this place and dropped my stuff, I walked to find the Cathedral and seminary. I had the name of a priest who is teaching there and wanted to see if I could find him. I asked someone how far away it was and he said, “Ah, very far. At least one kilometer!” And I thought, that’s not very far, I’ll walk. And I walked, and walked, and walked. Miles later I saw the cathedral and thought I’d just bag trying to find the seminary. I heard a choir practicing and needed to sit in the shade and drink some water. I thought I’d just listen to them and rest a bit. One sweet woman named Mass, came to talk with me. I told her about myself and she wanted me to meet the entire choir. She made them all state their name and greet me. I thought this was a little awkward, but believe me, there is nothing Malawians love more than greeting each other. It’s very important. After that she walked me up to see the secondary school, even though I told her I’d been walking a long time and was a bit tired and still had to walk back. She thought it was something I should see because, “It is very beautiful.” Which, I will agree, was true. The campus was lovely. Bougainvillea dripping everywhere with the backdrop of this high plateau. Stunning. When she walked me back to the road, I saw the seminary right across the street, so I went over. The priest I was looking for wasn’t there, but I met another one, Fr. Cosmos and he welcomed me warmly. He showed me around the (again) beautiful campus and we sat and had a Coke. I was parched and relished that cool Coke in that perfect glass bottle. Ah, simple pleasures. Coke here is so good, not so sweet. Fr Ignatius, who I had hoped to meet, was due to arrive that evening. He’s been on holiday in Ireland. I explained to Fr Cosmos where I was staying and that I planned to do a hike up to the plateau in the morning before getting the bus back to Blantyre, but he would have nothing of that! He would collect me after he was finished saying mass at around one and drive me up the plateau. He insisted. I accepted. I’ll go to mass at a church near here in a bit and then come back and wait for him.

The week. My final week of orientation was spent in the postpartum ward. I vacillate between wishing I could become hardened off to the women’s suffering and hoping that never happens. Monday mornings are difficult for me in a new ward. I have to wait awkwardly for the sister in charge to greet me and take me around the ward, something she has no time for. She does this anyway and then leaves me standing in the bleak, dark  hallway looking for something to do or someone to follow around. I watched the health education talk, which a student midwife delivers while walking up and down the ward with six women seated on each bed. It’s a big open room with metal beds lined up next to each other. There are 56 beds and 76 patients. Some of the women take the mattress off the bed and sleep on the floor. It’s scary for them to be so high; they’re not used to it. Others, are either in the bed with their babies, or in the bed with another mother and her baby. They bring their own chithenje to cover the bed and it is very colorful in there. It reminds me of a scene from a civil war hospital with the beds lined up like that, except that there aren’t bandaged heads and limbs, but color on the beds and bottles of Fanta near each one.

After the health education talk, the women are given their charts and they line up on a hard bench in the dark hallway to wait to be evaluated. And wait and wait and wait. When it is finally her turn, she takes her baby into the one exam room and the baby gets weighed, has it’s cord cleaned with “spirits”, and it’s temperature taken. If mother is more than 12 hours postpartum, she goes home if everything is ok. If not, she goes back to the ward. It takes hours. A woman came in without her baby and the midwife asked, “Mwana ali kuti?” (Where is the baby?) The mother explains that the baby died that morning and she starts to cry. The midwife says, “Pepani, pepani.” (Sorry, sorry) and then tells her to get on the table and spread her legs so she can check the episiotomy. It seems so cruel. I feel so helpless. I feel stupid as I stand there, an observer of this. The examination ends and the sad mother wraps her chitenje around her waist and goes  without her baby. I ask the midwife what will happen, will the family take the baby for a burial? She calls after the woman to ask her the question I have posed. I’m horrified. The midwife turns back to me and matter-of-factly says, “Yes. They will take the body home for burial.” And the next woman comes in.

On Tuesday morning I was standing in the hallway trying to glom onto someone to follow around for the day. The sister in charge walked toward us and told the staff that we’ve just had another maternal death, then she turned and walked away. It was another half hour before the wailing started. Eerie, haunting wailing. It echoed through the hallways into the open rooms filled with beds of women and babies. It got louder and I wondered if they were coming toward us. It was piercing. Everyone, of course, knows what it means. I wanted to ask why she died, but there was no one to ask. The medical intern was going bed to bed pushing a cart with a box of gloves on top. He was checking on all the women who have had a c-section and there are a lot of them. He didn’t seem to notice the wailing, but of course he did. He continued as if it didn’t exist, looking at his watch between each patient. The ward was silent otherwise. Occasionally a baby cried, oblivious to the mourning going on. The women looked down, the guardians tended to babies, no one spoke to each other. Women quietly answered the intern’s questions. The wailing continued. I had a thought of the telltale heart; there was no stopping it. I looked out the window and noticed it was very windy. I hadn’t noticed that before. Leaves were blowing off the trees. The wind just kept on blowing as if this family wasn’t wailing and wailing. Every once in a while a scream would punctuate the wailing. I wondered if each new scream was another family member finding out, but there was no one to ask, and I wouldn’t have anyway. I watched as the midwives went about their work as if it were a group of church ladies singing.

She was thirty two years old and had a postpartum hemorrhage. I found this out later that day. Second baby. She’d gotten a pint of blood, but needed more and there was none in the blood bank. She later had a seizure and they couldn’t revive her. They opened her abdomen post mortem to find she was bleeding internally. I don’t know if the family took the  baby when they took the mother home for burial.

I went over to the nursery to check on the orphaned twins and their family had come. I was happy to see this. They had buried their mother and came to discuss taking the twins home. When I got there the family was in a meeting with the social worker. Until that moment I didn’t even know we had a social worker, but I could see them talking together in a room with huge windows. The midwife said the social worker would evaluate them to make sure they would care for the babies, otherwise they would go to the orphanage. When I went back to the nursery on Friday, I found that the family had taken them home.

Now that I am done with my orientation I will start at the college of nursing. I am looking forward to having a role and preparing for classes which start in November. I’m not exactly sure how my days will unfold from here, but I guess I’ll find out. We will be taking next Friday off and going to Mt. Mulanje for a long weekend. I will turn sixty next Sunday and decided I wanted to spend my birthday hiking, which always makes me happy. There are huts on the mountain we can stay in, and since we joined the mountain club, will have access to the sleeping mats and cooking utensils. George has taken care of all the arrangements: hiring the guide and porter, joining the club, arranging for transport to the mountain, and collecting the key to the storage rooms. We’ll climb up on Friday and stay at one of the huts, then walk across the plateau on Saturday and stay at a different hut, then back down on Sunday. The huts all have their own caretaker and provide water and firewood for us. We’ll do our own cooking. I think the guides and porters cook for themselves. Next week’s blog might not get posted until Monday since we usually don’t have power on Sunday nights. I’m beginning to see a pattern with the blackouts.

…I just got back from mass. I’d gone to the closest Catholic church about a half mile from here. The sign said mass was at eight and I got there just before and waited outside until the previous mass was finished. When the people poured out, a woman came over to me and said the next mass is not for some time. I told her that the sign said eight. She acknowledged that but said that on this Sunday it wouldn’t start until later, something about a procession. She said she’d drive me to St. Mary’s secondary school for girls where there was a mass starting just then. I said, “Are you sure? I don’t want to trouble you.” She said, “It’s Sunday; there is nothing else to do!” So I got in her big black SUV and she drove me a few miles to the school where there was a little chapel. Her name was Mary, and she had retired to Zomba because she liked it there. She’d worked as a police officer for many years. At the chapel she bade me good day and I went in. The singing had already begun. The mass was beautiful. The chapel was full to the gills with healthy girls and nuns of varying ages, three girls were playing drums and they were all singing and dancing their hearts out. I thought, hooray for girls’ education! I didn’t want to leave. I imagined teaching at this school someday.

I can’t keep my mind from fantasizing about different roles I might try on.

Turning sixty has a lot to do with that, I guess. It’s not that I feel old, aside from struggling with technology here and there.  These age milestones are interesting. Fifty was the last time I took stock like this and I’ve had an incredible decade, really. I’ve been on some great adventures and have more blessings than I can count. I’m not sure what the next decade will hold, but I’ve eaten my share of wax in life and I might ask for honey a little more often now.

Ok, now to find a place with internet…

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Blantyre

Hi Everyone,

I wrote this in my journal this week:

A twenty-one year old woman had a c-section for twins. The first twin was breech and that was the apparent reason for the surgery, though the report didn’t say she was in labor at the time. This was very unclear at morning report. The matron asked why it was done. The midwife didn’t know. The chart said, “c-section for multiple gestation”.

The twins are here in the nursery, where I sit. They are together in a wooden cot––a girl and a boy. There is a heater attached underneath and the cot is warm. There is a piece of surgical tape on the rim of the box. On the tape is written “Orphans”. Their mother died after she was taken back to the operating room a few hours after they were born. Her abdomen had swelled and the residents thought she was bleeding internally. Apparently there was no bleeding but some fluid from her liver. The nurse at report said they thought she died from some liver disease, maybe hepatitis.

On the babies’ charts, in the section titled “Problems With The Mother”, all the circles were around the “No” column. She’d apparently had no prenatal problems and had gotten regular prenatal care. The twins are almost equal in size; she is 2200 grams and he is 2300 grams. A boy and girl, so they were most likely in separate sacs. I read a doctors note saying they were hungry and crying so he wrote a prescription that said, “Supplement with Lactogen Formula 16 ml every 2 hrs.” I assume that was written before their mother died. It won’t be a “supplement” now, will it?

So I fed them. She took ten milliliters and he took twenty. The pediatrician came to evaluate them. She didn’t know their mother had died. I asked her what would happen to them now? She said the family would have to discuss it. She said, “The mother was married, so hopefully the husband will come to pick them up. It’s up to the family.” She told me they usually keep orphans in the nursery for a week and hope someone comes to get them. She thought they were big enough to get twenty-four milliliters every three hours, so changed the orders that the last doctor wrote. I told her the girl only took ten, but she didn’t seem to care. She wrote the order and said, “Very sad.” and moved on to the next baby.

I spent this orientation week in the nursery. It’s an intensive care nursery. There is no other nursery; all babies without problems stay with their mother. It’s hot in the nursery. It’s a new wing of the maternity ward, named after someone who must have donated the money for it. It’s well-lit, and very clean. There are twelve warmers like we have at home, with oxygen tanks. There are approximately twenty eight babies in the twelve warmers. Many of them premature, some of them with congenital defects, some have recently had surgery for those, mostly spina bifida. In another section of the large room are thirty wooden boxes on legs with a piece of plexiglass on a hinge that rests over half the top of the box. On some of these, are lights treating babies for jaundice. The lights are in a wooden frame and rest on top of the plexiglass. It can easily be moved away to open the lid and get to the babies. Most of these boxes had two, unrelated, babies in them. Every three hours the mothers from the postnatal ward come and feed and care for their babies. They bring clean chithenjes to wrap them in. Very few wear diapers, they mostly have a small piece of cloth around their behinds which soaks through everything when they pee. The mothers then put another clean cloth around them and wrap them in a fresh chithenje. In the week I was there, no one came to change the twins. The midwives have a small stash of disposable diapers and they put one on each of the twins. They were probably a size for one year olds and they covered almost the whole body of these little four pound babies. But they absorbed a lot so only needed to be changed once a day.

Formula gets mixed up in the morning and sits out on the counter in a plastic pitcher. When someone needs it for one of the babies, they go pour it into one of the small cups and sit and and dribble it into the kids’ mouths. Most of the mothers, however, pump their breastmilk and feed it to their child in the cup. These are the babies that are too small to suck. Some are only two pounds. Many of these women have had c-sections for these tiny babies. It’s making me crazy.

For three days I fed the twins every three hours with a little cup of formula. I held them and watched them sleep. I wonder what will happen to them? They are perfect little beings who made facial expressions when they slept like someone just told them an amusing joke. Or they looked old and wise, appearing to be quietly listening to a story about their birth and how their mother always protected them from heaven. That was a little fantasy I had. That they’d have long, happy, productive lives and they’d feel blessed that they had this angel always looking out for them. I amused myself for awhile with these fantasies, but as the week went on and no one came to see them or bring them a clean chithenje, I asked the midwives what they thought would happen. They said, “Often no one comes to get them. Formula is expensive. Most families can’t afford to buy it. So sometimes they just feed the baby cows milk and they get sick and die. Sometimes they put the babies in the coffin with the mother because their chance of surviving is so small.” They shake their heads and say they don’t know why the mother needed the surgery. Mostly the midwives ignore me but they are polite when I ask them questions. They have no time for me. They seem glad I have something to do when I feed the twins. It takes some time to feed them with the cup. I can only give them a few drops at a time. I sat among the mothers who were holding their own babies and they smiled at me. They talked a lot among themselves and some spoke to me in English. They look at the twins and shake their heads.

On Thursday I went to the maternal mortality report at the medical school. I was interested to compare the reports of this particular death. The one I heard at the morning report the day she died was from the nurses. The residents presented the case, what transpired, and what they thought was the cause of death. There was quite a difference between the two reports but this could only be noticed by the nurses at both meetings. The medical residents don’t come to the nursing report. They said the cause of death was probably viral hepatitis. Someone asked if they’d taken a liver biopsy when they had her open. They said they did not. No one asked whether they thought the surgery was needed in the first place.

On Friday there were a lot of student nurses in the nursery and they fed the babies. I felt a little left out.

One of our group of volunteers is an OB/GYN from Vermont. She is stationed about three hours from here at a district hospital in Mangochi, but she’s in Blantyre for six weeks for orientation here. She is staying with George and me and knew how upset I was about this maternal death. She defended the residents’ decision because the first twin was breech. I argued that the woman wasn’t in labor and the babies were tiny. They could have turned. And why can’t they deliver a breech anyway? Why isn’t anyone teaching them that? “It’s just not done anymore” seems to be a viable excuse for condemning women to life-risking surgery. I just refuse to accept this. It’s like the worst of western medicine has been imported here.

I have one more week of orientation. This week will be in the postnatal ward and the postnatal clinic. I think I’ll go check on those babies every day, though.

On the home front, the gardener, Simon, has resurfaced. I’d felt guilty that I’d ruined his life by giving him the money for seeds. I asked Catherine (our guard) if she’d seen him. She said “Yes. Simon. He not serious.” And she made a drinking motion with her hand. I said, “I know. But I gave him money and I want to talk to him.” She found him at a neighbor’s house and dragged him out to the road to talk to me.

He greeted me, “Morning madam.”

I said, “Good morning Simon. I gave you money for seeds. Did you buy seeds?”

He said, “Yes, but I need 850 more kwacha.”

I laughed (in a scoffing sort of way), and said, “I will not give you more money. You have taken my money but I have no seeds. And you have not come back to make my garden. I will have to talk to your boss at the college of medicine. This makes me very sad.”

“Ah, no madam! I will be coming tomorrow to make your garden.”

“Ok, I will wait to see if you come tomorrow to make my garden.”

And as I was leaving to walk to the hospital, Catherine took my hand and said, “I walk with you.” So we held hands as we walked down the road and she said again, “Simon. He not serious.” I told her, “I will not give him more money. Don’t worry. I know he drinks. But he took my money so I want him to do the work.” She said, “Ah. Chabwino.” (Ok)

The next day I came home from the hospital to see flowers planted along the side of the house, lovely little beds made out back with seed packets on sticks marking what was planted where, and everything nicely watered. After a depressing day in the nursery, I felt much better. I told Simon I was very happy. George said, “Jesus, you are good. I would have given him the 850 more kwacha then felt like crap.”

Last night we had our first little dinner party to celebrate George’s birthday. George managed to get a case of beer (20 bottles) here on his bike. He had to take the seat off and tie it on the rack with bungie cords. It was impressive. I bought 4kg of pork shoulder at the “Lord Is My Shepard Pork Butchery” at our local market. The butcher hacked it off with a machete. I made that man very happy. I made a mole rub, wrapped it up tight with foil, and put it in the oven for as long as we had power. Having a dinner party is hard when you don’t know which hours you’ll have power! I managed to get most of the stuff made before the power went off at 3 p.m. We put candles around the house and finished things up on the propane burner on the kitchen floor. Our neighbor was bringing rice and he showed up early, saying he only needed ten more minutes of power to finish cooking it! Almost made it! I told him I could finish it on the propane, then asked if he remembered to bring the silverware I’d asked to borrow. He said, “Oh sure! Here.” Then reached in his sports coat inside pocket, as if he were taking out theater tickets, and handed me a bunch of knives, spoons, and forks. “It’s all I had.” he said. Someone else was bringing plates. I cut off the bottom of the empty tonic bottles to make cups for drinks, and we had a rollicking good time. Every bottle of wine that got emptied gave us another candle holder. Anneka made a delicious carrot cake on Friday so as not to have to bring over batter on Saturday if we didn’t have power. Polly made passion fruit ice cream and brought it in a knapsack on her bike. It was all warm and loving and fun. The power came on around 10 p.m., just as everyone was leaving.

The pork was fabulous. There is a little left over and I’m going to take some over to the butcher for him to taste. He told me he’d give me a very good price next time because he can tell I’m a good customer. I guess he doesn’t often sell 4kg all at once.

I think I’ll try the “Everyone’s Got Problems” goat butcher this week.