Sunday Morning~Blantyre

November 27, 2016

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Hi Everyone,

The rains have started in earnest and it’s cool this morning. Everything is greening up around here. In the front yard grass is growing where red clay was, the basil plant is burgeoning, and the avocados on the tree out back actually look like avocados now. It’ll be a few more weeks before those are ripe but mangos are in abundance. At least the landscape gives me hope.

It’s been a busy week. It’s been hot and tiring and emotionally exhausting trying to believe there is justice in this world. I find myself blocking out all but the most heinous headlines, still not wanting to believe there are so many people so filled with senseless hatred. As I find out about people I know who voted for this, my heart sinks deeper and deeper. Part of me is grateful to know what is in their minds, part of me doesn’t want to believe it. I feel like I did when I found out my husband was cheating on me. I knew I had to face it, but it was too hard and I had to let the reality sink in slowly. That’s how this feels. People I thought I knew. So, I surround myself with like-minded souls and am comforted, but worry I’ll be living in a fantasy world if I keep this up. For me, reaching out to the other side isn’t an option. We’re getting a divorce. Sorry. Bush was bad enough to swallow. This is poison.

Many of the volunteers in our group were off celebrating Thanksgiving together in exotic locations, but those of us that had to work didn’t plan much. At the last minute, we decided to have those people over for a simple supper. It seemed a way to lift our spirits. I figured I’d be home around three, and so did George. We thought we’d throw something together and have some wine and share a meal. One of the faculty members at the nursing school raises chickens, so I bought two of those which was very convenient since she delivered them to my office on Wednesday. I prayed we’d have electricity to roast them, but if not, I figured we could light a fire out back and stick them on the coals. No pressure. No one else had time to cook either.

On Thanksgiving day I traveled to the district hospital in Zomba where we were doing clinical exams on the students there finishing their postnatal rotation. These students have it hard I’ll tell you. They had to examine a newborn baby and it’s mother while two of us observed and scored them on every single detail. They were scored on history taking and teaching and every aspect of the physical exam. When they were done with the exam (which took over an hour each) they stood before us and answered our questions, for example, “What is the significance of checking the fontanels?” “When you check the baby’s eyes, what are you looking for?” and many more. We had score sheets and they got marks for everything, one hundred for the mother and one hundred for the baby. It took FOREVER. It took me forever just to do the math!

Well, around one o’clock I realized I wasn’t getting home until very late. The exams were taking way longer than I thought. I got a text from George at 3:30 saying he wouldn’t be home until after four. I texted back that I’d be lucky if I made it home before the guests arrived. I hadn’t eaten anything all day and was fried from these exams. All I wanted at that point was a glass of wine and my bed. I got home at 6:15 to find George, exhausted from his day, frantic in the well-lit kitchen (yay electricity!) having the two chickens all prepped with garlic and limes (he couldn’t find lemons) ready to pop in the oven. My fantasy of lovingly making a delicious meal for our friends turned into squabbling over what needed to be done RIGHT NOW, when the flying ants invaded the kitchen en mass. Since the rain started they swarm the lights, and I mean thousands of them. They are harmless, but huge, and they get in everything instantly. We had to shut the lights out. I threw the local sweet potatoes into the pan and asked George to make me a gin and tonic (thank god for gin) and took a quick shower. When I got out five minutes later the guests were here. I had a fleeting thought that we would all be very drunk by the time dinner was ready, but then thought, “Oh, who cares?” The gin was taking effect.

We ran around lighting candles since we couldn’t put the lights on without a Hitchcock-like scene resulting, so people settled in with their drinks in the candlelight and talked while the chickens roasted. It was all good. No one minded the wait.

Friday I was doing the same exams with a different group of students at a district hospital two hours from here, so we left at seven in the morning for another long day. Machinga is on the Shire River and it’s much hotter there. The hospital is rather nice by Malawian standards, but the exam room was tiny, literally the size of my bathroom. There was one small window, an exam bed with the foam popping through the tears in the covering, a baby cot, and two stools for the faculty. It was a bit cramped once the student, patient, and baby came in. It was also over 100 degrees in there. We entered that room at 9:10 a.m. and exited at 3:45 p.m. OMG. My uniform was soaking wet. I’d finished drinking the water I’d brought by noon. But I found myself overwhelmed with admiration for these students, for the dedicated faculty who want them to be safe practitioners, and for these beautiful mothers and babies who survive against the harshest circumstances. When the students were finished with the baby’s exam and turned to the mother’s, I held the infant in one arm while scoring the student with the other, swaying as I always do when a baby is in my arms. At the end of the exam the students had to assist the mother with breastfeeding while we watched. I marveled at how easily these tiny babies latched. The nipples were large and the mouths were tiny, but none of them struggled. Many of them were first time mothers–––teenagers. The students emphasized the need for exclusive breastfeeding and proper attachment. They did really well. And I thought desperately, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Is The Hand That Rules The World.

More than ever, I want to be teaching this now. I don’t care how hot it gets.

Blessings to all who are struggling, and we seem to be many.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Lilongwe

November 20, 2016

Sunday Morning~ Lilongwe

Hi Everyone,

I really wanted to go to church this morning. I thought since we were in Lilongwe we’d be able to get over to the church we went to during training, but we are at a lodge several miles out of town and it doesn’t seem likely we can get there from here in reasonable time. We are at a required weekend for our program where we reunite with everyone from the different sites, evaluate our jobs and situations, refine our support systems, and do some personal reflection.

We were looking forward to getting away for the weekend, a bit disappointed that we were going back to Lilongwe and not someplace new, but happy to see people we’d trained with who were sent to sites far from Blantyre. The description of the lodge sounded lovely and there are some benefits to being in the capitol city, so Friday morning we boarded the early bus from Blantyre for the five hour ride to the weekend reunion with hopeful attitudes.

Let’s just say the lodge is a bit past it’s heyday. I can see that it was lovely at one time, and can picture the festive ambiance with the poolside bar and cute round cottages for rooms. But the grounds have been sorely neglected; there are weeds growing through the clay tiles in the walkways; there is no electricity or internet, and most of the rooms have no hot water. The ones that do have no way to regulate the scalding water with the cold, making it necessary to turn off the hot altogether. So everyone has cold showers. None of us brought shampoo thinking it was a nice hotel, but none is provided, so someone had to run out to a bush store yesterday to buy two bottles for us to share. It seems strangely prophetic.

There are twenty-one of us in the group and we are the only ones staying here. The conference room where we sit all day for the workshops is dark and depressing. We adore the team who planned this, and we are happy to be together and are making the most out of it, but I found myself thinking yesterday it would be a good site for an Agatha Christy murder mystery. It’s a deserted old lodge with hardly any staff for this large place. No one cleans the rooms and the locks on the doors are broken. During one of the afternoon sessions yesterday I started wondering how long it would take before we noticed someone was missing? Most of us were earnestly participating, but the facilitator said several times, “The energy in this room is so low.” Well, sure, I thought. Is it possible she hasn’t heard the news in several weeks? We haven’t talked too much about the election aside from relating our reactions when we heard the news. Many cried but I still haven’t been able to. We wonder what will happen to this program. It feels all wrong. We were supposed to be happy about the future but it feels like we are at a family wake.

It’s early morning and I’m sitting on our sad little verandah with half a bottle of leftover water to drink and dead bougainvillea draped over a broken arbor in front of me. It took hours to get a cup of tea yesterday and I’m hoping it’s not the same this morning. I think they have gas in the kitchen to make hot water. I’m pretty sure they didn’t build a fire. I had imagined there’d be faster internet here but there isn’t any at all. For the past week I’ve been glued to it when we had power, curious to see what was left of people’s spirits, but maybe it’s good to take a break from the news. I might have to post this when we get home tomorrow. We’ll see what I can find around here.

Yesterday, we did a segment on “Emotional Intelligence”. I’d never heard this term before, but it’s defined as the ability to be aware of one’s own emotions, to control and express these emotions to others, and handle interpersonal relationships empathetically. Apparently there are studies showing this quality as distinguishing outstanding leaders from those who are merely adequate. Interesting and apropos, I’d say. I want to read more about the term when I have access to internet; I’m curious to see what kind of studies have been done. Taking this at face value in our little workshop, I clung to the idea as a ray of hope. It’s teachable, apparently. I’ve been wondering how one teaches empathy. Model it?

Out at Chriadzulu this week with the fourth year students I struggled with this. We went over hand skills, practiced suturing, and reviewed the mechanism of birth, but I thought, this stuff is easy to teach. I said to the students, “You can learn hand skills like you can learn to make a basket. But can you learn to be nice to someone? Can you learn to support someone emotionally? That’s just as important as these hand skills.” It just kills me to see the women writhing in pain with no one helping them. I do see the students being more attentive to the women when I’m around and that makes me glad. I try to give them a rationale for it other than being a decent human being. “It reassures her and reduces her fear. That then reduces the pain.” They nod. I nod. I pray this is doing some good. Spreading kindness right now is the only thing I can think of.

It’s Thanksgiving this week and we have no plans. One of the other volunteers who teaches nursing in Mzuzu in the north of the country is coming to Blantyre to stay with us for a few days. We’ll probably make a dinner on Thursday but doubtfully turkey. George and I are both teaching that day and I don’t have it in me to plan a big meal. I will make a point to be mindful of our blessings and give thanks for whatever we have to eat. I know that even as depressed as I am about the current threats to our freedom and human rights, I still have an abundance of gifts to be thankful for and I am. It’s just hard to be so close to others who don’t have a fraction of it, knowing things may get much worse.

So Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I’ll brace myself and try to find a way to connect and see what’s the latest shocking appointment.

Much love,

Sunday Morning~Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

November 13, 2016

Hi Everyone,

I grew up with a father who referred to women as “dumb broads”.  He had two daughters and three sons.  He treated my mother as his personal servant and for the life of me, I cannot recall one kind word he ever uttered to her in our presence.  I grew up thinking that was normal. I grew up thinking she was dumb. She thought she was dumb.

It was the 60’s. The women’s movement was in full swing and I listened to my father denigrate “these women’s libbers” as if they were ax murderers. My father was a powerful man. He could be charming and flattering and funny. He was incredibly intelligent and articulate. My ex-husband referred to him as a walking thesaurus. English was his second language, and he used it beautifully. He had control of the room, no matter who was present. Control. He HAD to have control. He’d go crazy otherwise. He used all sorts of tactics to control us. Of course, when we were small, it was physical. We were all afraid of him, even, I believe, my oldest brother, whom I worshipped. Seven years my elder, he was handsome and strong. He was my protector and I would have walked through fire for him (and it wasn’t a stretch to think he may have asked me to). He was the strongest person I knew, but I could smell his fear when my father was around.

As we got older, my father controlled us with money. We lived with the threat of being kicked out of the house if we did not comply with whatever the rule of the day was. “You’ll be out on that street before you can blink an eye!” he would yell. His tone was menacing and you knew he fucking meant it. It was just so much easier to comply, but I didn’t always. There were times when I thought I’d die if I complied. I’d weigh the risks and decide how important something was, and then I’d calculate how to go about it. Options included: 1. Sneak (risky and possibly fatal if caught),or 2. Fight (often successful but the price was high). If I chose option two the entire family would groan and usually run for cover. My mother often said to me with disgust, “You just had to fight with him, didn’t you?” And I would answer, “Yes. I did. I just had to.” Like I said, the price was often high.

I am the third child, the first girl. The brother two years older than me is very smart. He got all As in school. My father loved that. All As. The teachers loved that. I did not get all As, in fact I got very few As. When people saw my last name they always asked if I was Richard’s sister. The next question was always the same: “Are you as smart as he is?” It got to the point where I’d just give my name, flatly state that yes, I was Richard’s sister, and no, I’m not as smart as he is. I hated it. But I kept trying to get all As, because I really, really wanted my father to like me as much as he liked Richard. I could just never do it. Never.

But I could fight and Richard couldn’t. I had that on him. Needless to say, we all grew up a little angry. We may have expressed it in our own ways, but, yeah, angry.

I went off to Boston College, a Jesuit university, where the professor for my required Philosophy course was a bisexual, Jewish, lawyer PhD student named Gary Orgel. He terrified me while challenging everything I was taught about a woman’s place in the world. I had thought that since I fought the beast, I was somehow liberated. Yet, I carried with me, not the notion that I was dumb (or broad) but that I should follow orders. Obey the rules. It’s easier that way. People suffer otherwise. Family suffers. Get an A. Just do what he tells me, because I need an A. Well, to even pass that Philosophy course, Gary made me question everything about everything I ever believed in. I would go back to my apartment crying about this course. My roommates were worried about me. They wondered if they should call someone at the school. They thought he was overstepping his boundaries as a teacher to upset my beliefs to this extent. I reverted to my default setting: fighting. I fought with Gary! I used to challenge him. And he listened to me! He actually listened to me! I was a college freshman, from a crummy mill town known for it’s poor school system, sheltered and oppressed, and regurgitating ridiculous dogma as if it were scientific fact, to a bisexual Jewish lawyer from New York City. And he listened to me! He didn’t agree with any of the bullshit, but he listened and then calmly argued back as if I were his equal. There are no words to express how valuable that experience was or how grateful I am to that man. I had so many walls built around myself. I think I started constructing them at birth, understandably; I needed protection. But Philosophy 101 with Gary Orgel was when they started coming down. It is terrifying to question what you’ve been led to believe is true. To think that your whole belief system, the world as you know it, is wrong? It’s hard. I fought it tooth and nail, but slowly, cracks began to appear in the walls, and through them I could see a brighter light. And I went toward it.

Didn’t go over well with dad. My newfound perspective on equality wasn’t met with pride and wonder at what I was learning at college. There were threats of stopping tuition payments if I “ever, EVER, talk like that in his house again.” I tried to understand where he was coming from. I tried to forgive him, after all, he was abused and discriminated against. He was an immigrant and had suffered. God almighty help anyone who uttered a racial slur in his presence. I thought I understood.

When I was a junior in college, bussing to integrate the Boston schools was happening and the air was filled with controversy and discussion. Sitting with a group of friends, I was recounting an exchange I’d had with my father about it. He’d gone off on me for something I’d said, which he’d misheard and misinterpreted, and started in my face yelling, “Do you know what it’s like to be called a WOP? Do you? DO YOU?” I sat quietly at the kitchen table as he lunged across with his finger a millimeter from my nose. “No.” I said.  “NO! Of course you don’t!” he said, sitting back down (a clear sign that I had given the correct answer). So, I was telling this story, and the guy who would become my brother-in-law said, “Did you ask him if he knows what it feels like to be a woman?” And I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “No. I didn’t.” And then started thinking, I have grown up thinking it is normal to berate women but not minorities. I internalized that. I always believed my father was an asshole, and an abusive control freak, but I always thought he was a champion for the underdog because of his reaction when someone would make a disparaging comment about a minority. That was not okay. But to trash women? Always open season. And it never occurred to me that was discrimination. How fucked up is that?

I chose a profession that has been traditionally female. I chose a career as a woman’s advocate and have been dedicated to it with my whole being. I’m frustrated when women act in their own worst interests, but I understand it. I hate it, but I understand it. It’s survival.

On Tuesday of this week I was jumping out of my skin with anxiety and excitement. I’d been seeing the posts on Facebook about women who were beyond words with pride at voting for our first woman president. I realized it was the sixth anniversary of my mother’s death and thought she’d be smiling down on the day from heaven. She always worked the polls. I wished I was home to be with my friends to celebrate this momentous event together. In Malawi, the time difference is seven hours later than the east coast, ten from the west, so I knew there would be no results until Wednesday morning and I went about my day. I traveled to a district hospital 21 kilometers from Blantyre to teach fourth-year students in labor and delivery. On the way I told the driver about my anxiety about the election. He said, “Oh, Hillary Clinton will win, I know she will. I don’t know how I know it, but I do.” And I was comforted as if he were Jesus Christ himself talking.

The day was exhausting and upsetting. A baby was born in distress and as we were doing the resuscitation the power in the hospital went out and we had no oxygen. The baby later died. His sixteen year old mother had a postpartum hemorrhage. I watched women wailing in agony, alone, waiting to go to the operating room for obstructed labor. They’d run out of sterile equipment and couldn’t do surgery. There are no options for pain relief aside from human contact. I told the students to get over there and comfort her.

We went to bed that night before any results were in. We had friends bringing breakfast over at 5:30 so we could have a celebration before going to work. I was giving a lecture at 7:30 a.m. I barely slept. The foreboding started when George opened his computer and the “Oh my God!” he yelled was not in a happy tone. I immediately got sick to my stomach. No. It can’t be. Results were just beginning to come in. It wasn’t good.

Our friends came over and began cooking. I watched the computer screen as if taking my eyes away would be harmful to her chances. Someone put a plate in front of me and I ignored it. I thought I’d never eat again. “This cannot be happening”, I thought. And then went into denial. It was too painful. I could not accept that the most brilliant qualified candidate in history was going to lose to a man who treated women worse than my father. Not in 2016. Not after all we’ve been through. No.

I had to leave for work before it was over. I did not want to go. I couldn’t function, surely. I kept repeating to myself, “Get up. Dress up. Show up.” the mantra that got me through my divorce. I still was holding out hope, but knew in my heart it was lost. I felt like I was wading through water to get to campus. It’s a short walk. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. I did not know how I would get through a class. I had no idea if I could even talk. There has been only one other day in my life when I so desperately wanted to believe something was not true, and that was the day Hannah Shaw died.

The students were all seated and looking at me when I walked in. I wondered if they knew? I began, “I need to tell you that my heart is very heavy and I am very upset. You need to know why I am not acting like I usually do today.  I am upset about the election in my country. I had believed that we would have our first woman president, a woman who deserved to be president and would have worked to improve women’s lives everywhere in the world including here. But it appears she may lose.” I felt energy as I said that and continued, “I spent yesterday with fourth-year students at Chiradzulu and I watched women suffer. You students in front of me are the only thing giving me hope right now. I didn’t think I could come and give this lecture, that’s how upset I am, but you are making me see that you are the hope for the future. You have the responsibility to complete your education and work hard as midwives to improve the lives of women in this world. You are the generation who can do this. So let’s go. We’ve got work to do.” I was shaking.

I begin each class with a writing exercise, which is not something they are accustomed to. I told them to take out a paper and pen. I told them we would all write for seven minutes on this topic: What I saw on my way to class. This is what I wrote:

What I saw on my way to class this morning were white petals on the ground. The frangipani trees that I have watched bloom over the past weeks had given me hope. I thought the future was bright, but this morning when I saw them on the ground it seemed to me like the tree was crying for the world; it’s flowers were falling like tears. I saw a man smoking a cigarette. I had never seen this before on my walk to campus. He was standing off to the side of the road and smoking and I didn’t like it. I wanted to tell him smoking is bad for you; it will hurt your lungs. It’s like the world went black and white and evil. I walked by looking at the petals on the ground. The road is the same, the gate into campus is the same. I see the faces of the students and they give me hope for the future. I wonder how to stay positive. I think of all the women who need us. I want to believe we can make a difference and that sometime in my lifetime women will get the respect and treatment they deserve. My key got stuck in the door to my office. I thought nothing is working, the world has stopped working, and I realized I was shaking. The door finally opened.

I got through that day the way many of us did, in shock and denial. I thought I’d have to hide. I couldn’t imagine what this would mean for the world. I couldn’t fathom how the country I came from could elect a person with a platform of such hatred. I was terrified. Truly, terrified. I’m terrified about what this means for our world, but also for how deep the hatred of women goes. Like my father, my country is more sexist than racist. This is so hard for me to accept, but it’s like that day in my college dorm when Mark asked, “Did you ask him if he knows what it’s like to be a woman?” I knew it existed, but to this extent? I just didn’t believe it.

So, what to do now? I keep waiting to cry and I can’t understand why the tears won’t come. I choked when watching her concession speech, but haven’t really cried. It’s one of those times when I may be afraid if I start I wont be able to stop. I need to cry for all the women who suffer now and will suffer needlessly because of what my country has done.

I felt better on Thursday when I heard she won the popular vote. The majority voted for her. I keep thinking, she won. She won. Even with all the tactics to prevent minorities and the elderly from voting, she got more votes. I repeat that to myself and others like a prayer.

There’s so much I have to face and it has to come in spurts. It’s too painful otherwise. I didn’t want to believe it, but women, white, educated women voted for a candidate who mocked them. And for some inexplicable reason, I am not angry at those women. I used to be angry at my mother for not protecting us, but over time I came to understand that she was trying to survive herself. She had no where near the resources I had as a married woman.  As she said to me when she was divorcing him, “Linda, when someone tells you you are stupid for thirty-six years, you believe it. You just survive the day.”

I feel my depression about this election turning to anger. But it’s not really anger. It’s rage. I feel rage starting to bubble in me. It feels like when you try to keep yourself from vomiting. Keep swallowing until you get to a place when you can let it out; don’t puke in bed. I read angry comments from the right: “Get over it. The pussies and bitches voted for him.” That’s a quote I read. An actual quote in response to someone’s frustrations about the outcome, and I think, no. Not yet. Don’t let it out yet. It’s as if my rage is a finite source of air to breathe and I must use it wisely, carefully, strategically, collaboratively. I must find a way to plant it in fertile soil where it will grow in a healthy way. I read these hateful, vengeful comments and think, no, that’s not who I want to be. I tell myself, “Don’t fight back that way. It’s a waste of your precious air.”

I was estranged from my father for many years. Six years ago his second wife called me at work to tell me he had ridden his bike to the library where he died of a heart attack. She was distraught and I felt genuinely sorry for her. When I got home an hour later, I found a letter from my father in my mailbox. Freaky. He had written it two days prior and it arrived in my mailbox on the day he died. He wrote as if he were still married to my mother. He wrote about how sorry he was about her death and what a remarkable woman she was. He wrote that he was proud of what I’d accomplished in life and how much respect he had for me for being such a fighter. He came as close as he was capable of to an apology.

I will not “get over it”. I will not “get over” the abuse heaped so heavily on one of the most brilliant women of our time. She is Joan of Arc as far as I’m concerned and I will fight back. I promise this with every cell in my body. I will fight for my mother and my sister and my daughter and granddaughter. I will fight for every woman who has been abused. I will fight for every woman in this world, especially those who voted against themselves.

I want to show those women what the world is like on the other side of the wall.

Sunday Morning~ Majete

Sunday Morning~ Majete

Thwale Camp

November 6, 2016

Hi Everyone,

Well, one way to make Blantyre seem cooler was to come to the Lower Shire Valley for the weekend. On Friday we filled a day pack and set out to walk a couple miles, in the heat of the day, to catch a minibus to Chikwawa. It’s the same road we took to church a couple of weeks ago but this time went all the way down the escarpment to sea level and a steamy 42 degrees. That’s about 108 American degrees, ten degrees hotter than Blantyre. We were heading to a splurge weekend at Majete National Park where we had a tent chalet booked for two nights and four activities planned and paid for, the first a game drive at 4 p.m. Chikwawa is only an hour’s drive from Blantyre where the road turns off toward the game park. There is no public transport to the park, but we thought we’d get a taxi to take us. Chikwawa is a bustling place, but not prosperous, and we learned there are no taxis. At least car taxis. There were plenty of bicycle taxis transporting people short distances, but the gate to the park was 17 kilometers and at 3 p.m. in the baking sun, the thought of going 17 kilometers on the back of a bike, even if we weren’t the ones peddling, sounding risky. We asked a few how much to take us there, and none of them jumped at the chance to make money. That was a statement, let me tell you. George called the camp about getting a ride and they looked for someone to come get us. This was not part of the package. Apparently most people visiting this place have their own cars. While George was fretting and arranging for transport, I visited the market across the street and came away with three chithenjes.  I couldn’t resist. The lodge finally located a guy with a car and he found us outside the Triangle Hardware Store under an overhang desperately seeking shade. After unloading large quantities of our cash into our taxi driver’s hands, he took us the long hot dusty dirt road to the park. We were desperate. We had to pay. But we made it in time for our evening game drive and Osmond, our guide, was all smiles and welcomes. Life can be so sweet here.

The Majete Wildlife Reserve covers 70,000 hectares and was established in 1955. In the 80’s and 90’s the poaching increased to the point where most of the large species had been exterminated completely, including elephants. In 2003, the organization African Parks took over the responsibility for the reserve and rehabilitated it magnificently. It is the only park in Malawi where you have a chance of seeing the “big five”––– elephants, rhino, cape buffalo, lions, and leopards. We’ve only gotten to see two of those five, but we still have a few hours left here, so we’ll see if we get lucky. We’ve seen loads of other animals though, and are happy this place is so close to where we live.  I was never much of a birder, but I’ll say, it’s been fascinating to see how many species there are here, to hear the symphony of birdsong at all hours of the day, but especially the early morning, and see how Osmond could identify them hundreds of meters away.

The Thwale Camp, where we are staying, has six ensuite tents and one family chalet. It’s rustic but luxurious compared to where we stayed in Liwonde. The tents are all separated by trees and shrubs and have a private veranda facing a waterhole where we watch various animals come to bathe and drink at all hours of the day. The tents are about fifty meters back from the waterhole and our presence does not seem to bother the animals. We are not allowed to leave our tent after dark without a “scout” accompanying us. Dinner is served in the open thatch-roofed dining area, and they come to escort us at seven when dinner is served. We can walk from our tent during the day, but only on the path to the dining area. We can’t walk around the reserve alone, not that I would consider that given what we’ve seen here. It’s incredible to watch all these different animals living harmoniously. This morning we stood outside as the sun was rising and warthogs, nyala, baboons, impala, guinea fowl, and water buck all strolled around each other, in and out of the water, as hundreds of birds flitted in and out of the trees. George said, “It looks like Eden! Everyone all living harmoniously.” A lion would have disrupted that notion, but none of those visited the water hole this morning.

Yesterday morning we did a walk with Osmond and a scout named Damiano who had an automatic weapon slung over his shoulder. We were warned not to make sudden moves or talk loudly and to follow instructions when either Damiano or Osmond raised their hands. If we saw something we wanted to point out, we were to snap our fingers. It was a bit thrilling. I asked Damiano if the gun contained tranquilizers or bullets, and he laughed and said, “Oh, no tranquilizers; only real bullets.”  I couldn’t decide if I was reassured by that or not. I wondered if he was a sharp shooter if a lion came charging at us, but George said later, “You don’t have to be a sharp shooter with that gun. It’s an uzi and will kill anything in front of you.” Not being too fond of automatic weapons, I wasn’t aware of this tidbit.

I love the game drives in the open classic Land Cruiser scouting for the big animals, but I also love the walks. We see fewer animals, but I love learning about the plants and seeds and insects. It’s fascinating and finding tracks of the large animals is fun too. I love how the guides can tell so much by their tracks: which direction they were moving, how long ago they were there, how many of them. Osmond pointed out a gorgeous Chestnut tree, with smooth soft yellow bark. He had us feel the bark to see that it was covered in a fine powder. “Even the baboons cannot climb this tree,” he said.  “No, no, if a lion comes for you do not try to climb this tree, you will not make it.”  I wondered if the thorn-covered Acacia trees surrounding it would be any easier.

In the afternoon we went on boat ride on a different part of the Shire River from Liwonde, and let’s say this was a bit more basic. The boat had an African Queen feel to it, minus a few cases of gin. Since it was so much smaller that the last boat we were in, we were able to get close to the shore and frighteningly close to some crocodiles. I turned to Osmond with his hand on the outboard motor and asked if they could leap? He laughed, “Oh no! They can not get in the boat, but if you swim in this river you will not get five meters without being eaten. But the hippos, no. They will just bite you in half and leave you for a party for the crocodiles.”  We were so close to the hippos I feared a big splash would dump us into their little gathering of friends. Osmond was getting a kick out of my anxiety, laughing, “Oh no no, you are quite safe. They will not tip us.” He seemed to know what he was doing and I assumed he didn’t want to die either, so tried to put a lid on it. We puttered upstream and about a quarter mile away, Osmond said he saw elephants crossing the river. He sped up a bit and we got close to this group of elephants submerged halfway across the river. It was a group of mothers and babies. When they heard us they turned and went back to the island they started from. As we passed, maybe ten meters from them, the mothers turned to the river, spread their ears and stomped their front legs. They looked like they would charge at us and could have capsized our little boat with a tiny fleck of their trunk. But they didn’t go any further than the sandy riverbank. Osmond just sat smiling. I asked if they would come after us? He said, “Oh no. They are just trying to scare us because of the babies.” I told him they were doing a good job and maybe we shouldn’t upset them. Oh, he reassured me it was fine, just go ahead and take pictures. I took a video of the two mother elephants, their full tits hanging down between their front legs. There were four babies so there were two more mothers around somewhere, but the way they protected them was exciting to watch. It’s so thrilling to see these animals in their native habitat. I was worried we upset them and I felt badly we disturbed their river crossing, but really watching those moms pacing in front of the babes, flinging their trunks and flapping their ears, I wanted to cheer them on. I can’t imagine anything messing with them, holy smokes.

We lolled upstream a little more and when we turned around to head downstream we could see about twenty elephants crossing the river. We slowed to give them plenty of space and watched this amazing process. The mothers completely surround the babies and in one mass, cross over and all help each other up onto the riverbank. It was spectacular. As they climbed and walked into the jungle the mother at the rear turned to look at us, totally nonplussed, lifted her back leg to scratch the other one, and lumbered off with the group. I turned to George and said, “Can you believe we just get to sit and watch this?”  And then we motored slowly downstream as the sun was sinking, that beautiful soft red. It’s just so gorgeous.

I’m now sitting in the dining area facing the waterhole and watching an elephant who sauntered in all alone. It’s a male and he doesn’t seem bothered by any of the antelope down there, but he swats at a warthog. Osmond told us the males don’t hang around the females and babies because there is nothing for them to do. The females rule the herds and the males just come in for mating. There’s an interesting community model. And, he tells us, “The females choose which males.” Even better.

I find it amusing to hear Malawians complain about the heat; and they all do. I guess it’s like New Englanders complaining about the cold. You’d think you’d get used to it. But, believe me, it’s hot here. It got as high as 45 degrees (113 Fahrenheit) and it’s oven-like. Everything we touch is hot. I sat on the bed in the tent and it felt like an electric blanket was on. The cold water in the shower was lukewarm. I decided to air-dry, hoping to cool off a bit, and the breeze on our veranda felt like a blow dryer set to the hot setting. I feel logy and drowsy and it’s even hard to read. This laptop is almost too hot to touch. The packed minibus should be pleasant later on.  We’ll leave here after lunch.

I have said before that I believe the only thing that will save this country is ecotourism and I am so grateful this organization has put the resources into places like this. We can stay here very comfortably (aside from the heat at this time of year), with minimal environmental impact and give jobs to locals and boost the economy. The park employs about 125 people, many of them scouts to keep track of the animals which are all thriving except for the Hartebeests, (though we did get to see some babies this morning). Every day scouts track the rhinos, the most valuable animals and the most vulnerable to poachers. We saw some of their tracks but didn’t get to see any. Anyway, I still say, depending on tourism dollars will keep a country peaceful and motivate them to protect the environment. Only ten million tourists a year visit this continent. When I think that almost five million a year visit MDI, a tiny island off the coast of Maine, I think there is so much potential.

So this has been a good way to avoid thinking about this Tuesday. I can’t wait to stop worrying about what is happening to my country. I am praying that sensibility prevails and we’ll wake up Wednesday to hear of our first female president. Otherwise, we are thinking about staying here.

Love to all,