November 20, 2016
Sunday Morning~ Lilongwe
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.