Sunday Morning~ Lilongwe
Mlandu suola ~ A court case doesn’t rot
~ Malawian proverb
It’s Kamuzu Day today so tomorrow is another public holiday. We didn’t plan out these public holidays in a manner that allows us to add them to our vacation and extend our time off. Very poor planning on our part. For instance, if I were taking this week off instead of next, I’d only have to use four vacation days. But I didn’t learn about the holiday until last week, so only myself to blame for not reading the travel book through to the end of the “General Information” section. They’ve added many public holidays since I was here last. Oh well.
It’s a little before dawn and I am sitting in the empty restaurant at the Korean Garden Lodge hoping to get a cup of tea soon. We are heading back to Blantyre in an hour after spending a few days at the lakeshore where we had our close of service retreat. We got to Lilongwe yesterday, too late to get the bus back to Blantyre. Our one-year contract ends in June but some of the volunteers were leaving early in order to start fellowships, so I guess that’s why they had the closing retreat in May. Anyway, it was held in a nice(ish) hotel, right on the beach, the same hotel my eleven cohorts of 38 years ago used to bike to on Sundays when we were in Peace Corps training in nearby Salima. The hotel has gone corporate and quadrupled in size and the waiters don’t serve you drinks in the water like they used to. That may be because no one goes in the water anymore, not a lapse in customer service. It’s also a much longer walk to the water. When we were here in the late 70’s the level of the lake was much higher and the beach non existent. But this time we had reliable wifi (Hah! Didn’t even exist back then!) and a television in every room, and for the first time in my life I couldn’t stop watching CNN, an activity previously reserved for airports. Holy shit! Every time I think things can’t get any crazier! Even the Malawians have stopped complaining about their own corrupt government. We were looking at our national staff and saying, “Uh, I think we’ve got you beat.” But, mlandu suola, a court case doesn’t rot, and there is a belief that justice comes sooner or later. I’m hoping for sooner.
The retreat was good. We spent the first day taking turns (ten minutes each) talking about our year and describing “successes”. I found myself getting a little depressed during that part as it sounded like everyone else accomplished way more than I did. Or if not accomplished, at least figured out a way to be more helpful. There was a nice slide show put to music, a fair amount of re-entry advice, lots of logistics about getting home, safety, paperwork and handover stuff. Administrative necessities that could have been boring, but I actually thought it was all a little interesting. I was enjoying being passive and not having to make any decisions except for…hmm, gin and tonic or wine? I ran on the beach in the evenings, watched the sunrise in the mornings, and appreciated the other volunteers’ humor and insights during the day. I think my favorite part was that we had to draw names and describe (in a positive way) the person whose name we picked. It was surprisingly moving and even those who’s personalities didn’t jive with our own were seen in a new light. There were lots of unexpected tears, maybe because with all the frustrations and uncertainties about whether we’ve been doing any good, the relationships we’ve developed have been valuable. I have a new appreciation for the challenges that kindergarteners have being thrown into one room and forced to get along.
It was fun to hear people’s travel plans. Some are taking a month or more to get home, some going straightaway, some just a few days in various cities en route. Those of us extending for a year get a ticket to our home of record for leave and don’t get the travel option. When we end our contract we can either take a ticket or the cash equivalent and make our own plans. That’s what we’ll do next June. This year, since we’ve decided to commit to another year, we get a three week home leave with some travel per diem. It’s a good deal. George will leave here the end of June and come back mid August when the medical students start again. I will stay through the end of July to finish the rotation with my fourth year students and then stay home for three months. I told them I already had commitments for those months and the only way I could extend was to be home during that time. They said, “Okay” so I’ll come back here in November and stay until next June. Hopefully that will give enough time to really get this model ward started.
Jordan arrives this week on Thursday. I’ll take next week off to travel around the country with him and show him some of our favorite spots and some I’ve been wanting to get to. I’m renting a car so we don’t have to spend most of the time on minibuses. He’s worried about snakes. That seems to be a common theme with would-be visitors. We’ve yet to see a live one here, though. There was a dead baby mamba on our back doorstep a few weeks ago. I opened the back door and startled the mongoose we have living in our yard and he dropped the snake and took off. The mongoose is a gorgeous animal, very sleek, and they apparently eat snakes! Anyway, mambas can hear people walking like 50 feet away and stay clear. They don’t want to bite you!
The rains should be finished by now, but we’re still getting some showers and lots of clouds. It’s late in the season for this. No one seems too worried, though. It’s not flooding and there is definitely no drought this year. Hopefully that means enough food. The markets certainly are overflowing with tomatoes and pumpkins and on the bus on the way here we passed a truck that had to have ten thousand cabbages on it. Seriously.
Well, off to get a taxi to the bus and then the haul back to Blantyre. I’m not sure where I’ll be next Sunday. Someplace pretty with my baby.
Happy mother’s day to all the moms, and love to all,