Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Njovu ziwiri zikamamenyana ndi udzu omwe umavutike~ When two elephants fight, it is the grass that is in trouble.    Malawian Proverb

June 25, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I’m getting a late start today because I decided to skip mass. I feel like I went to enough mass last week to last me for a bit. So, we got up late, had a nice breakfast of fried sweet potatoes and omelet with cheese and radish-greens. I thinned out the little radishes growing nicely from the seeds that Jordan brought, and gave some color to the meal. Now with a full tummy, Bach in the background, and birds chirping in the foreground I can sip my tea and write in great comfort. There are many aspects of life here that can’t be beat when you’ve got a job and food.

We don’t have a guard this morning, so we have the place to ourselves. That also feels nice. Chimwemwe is taking a course on Saturday (his day off) and Sunday (a work day, but we give him the morning off) to learn plumbing skills. He’s already a plumber, but is taking an advanced course. I guess this means he will leave us someday for a better paying job. I’m rather hoping he waits until we leave for that, a selfish desire on my part. I wish him well; he works so hard. I fantasize about what my garden would look like at home with a full time gardener.

We had five guests staying with us this week and the house was full and lively. They were fabulous guests and fun to be with. And having guests makes us see the country with fresh eyes; sights that we have become accustomed to get a new highlight. The house seems downright empty now, though that will fill with two others arriving this evening. With the bedrooms full this week, George and I set up our tent in the backyard and slept out there. Our guests protested, but I was ready with the counter argument and we prevailed. We could have slept on the couches in the living room, or had one of the guests stay there, but it would be hard to hang the mosquito net and it’s miserable to try and sleep without one. It’s also dangerous and not worth risking malaria. We’re up early and it is nice to not have someone in the living space or have to put the bedding away every morning. Plus we like sleeping in the tent. I mean, I have always loved sleeping in a tent and can’t believe I found someone else who loves it too. It was fun. (Joe used to argue with me when I suggested it: “We have a house! Why do you want to sleep in a tent?!”) The guards thought it was hilarious and worried we would be too cold. I think they believe we are very soft and delicate. And compared to them we are but, they were impressed with this new breed of mzungu. It also gave us an opportunity to work out a few kinks for the camping trip we plan to take next year through Namibia.

It’s overcast and cold. Well, cold for here. It’s probably 65 degrees, but it feels like I want to put on socks. I mentioned to my driver this week how surprised I was that there were still clouds since the rain has stopped. He told me this is what winter in Blantyre is like. Very cloudy and cold. Not until September will the clouds disappear and get very hot.

George leaves on Wednesday for Maine and a well-earned vacation. It’ll be an adjustment being here alone for a month. It’s funny how quickly I have reverted to being a pack animal. I have plenty of stuff to get done and don’t feel like I’ll be lonely. And I certainly don’t feel unsafe. But I’m making a list of all the chores that George does and realize I have to learn how to do a few of them. We buy our electricity in bundles, just like our phone time. There is a meter on the wall outside the kitchen and when the power runs out we have to buy another bundle which comes with a number. Then George punches the number somewhere (I have to find out where) on the meter which shows we paid, then the power comes back on. It’s a little more sophisticated than dropping coins into the slot for a warm shower, but the same idea. It’s actually quite efficient and the power company doesn’t have to supply power to those who don’t pay.

Speaking of electricity, I see that my Maine electric bill has exploded. It’s five times what it used to be. I know more power is being used than when I lived there alone, but, unless they are growing pot with grow lights, this seems a bit off. I need to check this out when I get home next month. I want to have the house looked at to see if I can go solar. It’s always been a dream of mine to be off the grid. With such a big house I don’t know if it’s possible, but I’m going to research it. Then I need to figure out a heating system where I don’t rely on propane or oil. I’m ready to invest. We’ve got to stop having power companies rule our lives and politics.  I enjoy electricity and a warm house as much as the next person, but there is a better way.

Friday we got an official notice that because of the several recent accidents involving minibuses the police were cracking down on their overloading. They had to limit the number of passengers and couldn’t carry bags of freight anymore. Lots of these busses had the hatch just tied down because the back was so overloaded. That makes them unsteady and easily flip when they have to veer to avoid something. It’s been an issue causing many deaths. So the drivers went on strike to protest this new enforcement of the existing laws. This made absolutely no sense to me. What they hoped to gain by striking, I do not know. Maybe the police would be so inconvenienced by the paucity of bribes that day, they’d stop enforcing the law? I’m not sure. Anyway, Friday there were no minibuses and it was rather nice to be on the roads. But that was the day I was supposed to go out to the orphanage to start the permagarden project.  A traditional Peace Corps volunteer named Noah, has experience with it and he was going to take the minibus to meet me and help with the project. Around 9 o’clock I got a message from him that he was having a hard time getting transportation because of the strike. At 10 he sent a message saying he got a ride on a cement truck, then found a minibus that was breaking the strike and he was on his way. We were supposed to meet at 11. He told me he’d keep me posted. At 10:17 I got a call from him saying he was turning around and going back to his site. The minibuses that were breaking the strike were getting teargassed. It was unclear to me who was throwing the teargas, the police or the other drivers, but I had to cancel our afternoon of gardening at the orphanage. So the elephants were fighting and the grass was suffering. We’ll do it Friday this week. By yesterday afternoon, some agreement had been made, or the drivers realized they would make no money while on strike, or something, because all was back to normal and they were careening through the city just like before.

Have a good week everyone. I’m getting excited about being in Maine in a month!

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Blantyre

June 18, 2017

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Hi Everyone,

The feast of Corpus Christi was today; a Catholic celebration of the body of Christ in the form of the Eucharist and I never think about it until that Sunday when I am reminded at mass. There isn’t a big procession at home, though I know in Europe it is still a big deal. I found out this morning, that in Malawi, it is a really big deal. Malawians are very good at celebrations.

I woke up late this morning. I am usually up by five and read or look at emails or Facebook for a bit, then am out of bed by six to write for an hour before I leave for mass at 7:30. Today I was barely out the door by 7:40 for the half hour walk to eight o’clock mass. I figured I’d sit in the back since I’d be late and duck out before the announcements which take about a half hour at the end. I had a lot to do today and Amelia, a fellow volunteer, is arriving from Mzuzu this afternoon and I need to meet her at the bus. There is dinner to plan and blog to write and the usual Sunday stuff, so even though mass usually takes a few hours with walking there and back, today I thought I’d shave off an hour of that, starting late and everything. So off I go on this gorgeous morning, cool and breezy, for the really nice walk to church with Soche Mountain in the background.  When I turned onto the dirt road to the church I was surprised to see no cars. Then I realized I didn’t see the people from the six o’clock Chichewa mass leaving. Hmm. I got to the church and the door was closed. Clearly I had missed a memo. Not being in church last Sunday, there must have been some announcement. I walked around and found two older women sitting inside praying. They greeted me and I asked them what happened to the mass? They said today was Corpus Christi and there would be a procession from Jumba over to the church and it would start at 8:30. Oh! So I wasn’t late after all! Ok, I thought, I’ll go join the procession and come over here for mass. I thought that might be fun. But I had no idea where Jumba was. Not to worry, for as I was walking out of the church yard, a guy in a car stopped and asked if I was going over to the procession? I said, “Yes”, and he told me to wait for him. Perfect, I thought. He’ll show me the way. You know, whatever you need comes to you. So he parked his car and joined me and we walked up to the main road. I asked how far away it was. “About a kilometer” he said, “we’ll take a minibus.” Then a woman in a van stopped and said something, and he told me to get in her car with a bunch of other people obviously going to the same place. I wedged my way into her car and she drove way more than a kilometer. More like three miles. They don’t estimate distance very well. But, no problem, I was just thinking it’d be a nice walk in the procession with (I’m sure) good music, and I didn’t need to stay for the whole mass. I’d be home by eleven.

My companion, whose name I have forgotten, is someone big on the parish council. He was a big guy with an air of authority. I followed him and did as I was told. He said we had seats at the front. Seats? What seats? I thought this was a procession? Oh well, I thought maybe there were some prayers and blessings before we started. The singing and dancing was already in progress when we got there. At least a thousand people were already there under three separate tents. The altar, set for mass, was under a fourth tent. “This was where John Paul Two said mass”, he said, now a sacred spot apparently. He led me to the front of these thousand people where one empty chair sat, for him. He told me to sit, and I protested, not wanting to take his seat, (and also not wanting to sit in front) but he said, “Sit!” so I did. Then someone handed him another chair which he placed next to me for himself. Of the two hundred rows of seats, ours was the only row in the sun. That’s how far in the front we were, the only row not under the tent. But, at 8:30 this morning, it was still cool. I was wearing a light sweater, in fact.  I thought I should just enjoy the good seat and the show. A large group of girls in matching dresses were in the open area in the middle of the tents dancing to the music. The combined choirs, probably consisting of a hundred people, were singing their hearts out. It was lovely.

I thought of my friend Donna, a converted Catholic, very devout, who passed away this week. I thought she probably never forgot Corpus Christi Sunday. I’ll bet she knew the complete history of the celebration; converts are always better informed. They learn about the faith because they want to, not because they had to. I’m sure it was part one of my Sunday School curriculum but couldn’t tell you much about it. As a kid, it probably meant a longer mass and incense, which made me sick on my empty stomach, since we couldn’t eat before communion in those days. Which reminded me I didn’t have time to eat before I left his morning. And then, come to think of it, I hadn’t eaten supper last night either. I evaluated my situation. I’m a little hungry already. I’m in the front row of this huge celebration, which means, most likely I’ll be staying for the whole thing. The altar is set for mass, which means the mass is probably here, then we’ll do the procession. It’s all three masses combined, which means this may go on for three hours. Don’t panic. I looked up at the sun and it was clear skies for the next several hours. I was going to fry.

The front row of plastic chairs was about four inches from a short cement curb, which meant I had to either kneel on the cement or squeeze my knees between the curb and the chair, a little more comfortable since it was grass, but we kneel a lot here, much more than at home, and it was getting hard to hold myself up. The music, like I said, was lovely, for the first two hours anyway. After that the repetitive lyrics and beat were starting to get on my nerves. I thought about Donna again, and how she would have liked to hear about this, how she said “Shalom” instead “Peace”, how sincerely reverent she was, how I wonder why she left us without warning. How a week ago she said she was looking forward to seeing me in August.

The sermon, was at least a half hour long. Malawians are wonderful orators and I was intrigued by how lyrical and comfortable the pastor was. I go to the English mass, and they speak English very well, but there is such a difference to hear one speaking their native tongue. It was fun to listen to…for a while. Then I started thinking, “What on earth can he possibly be saying for this amount of time?!” People laughed here and there and he was certainly animated, but honestly, I wondered if everyone there but me was prepared to stay for the entire day? Wouldn’t you know it was the one time I didn’t bring my water bottle. My nose was starting to burn. I put my hand over my nose to protect it, but that was not comfortable. I took off my sweater and held it over my face. Other women in the front were holding their prayer books up to shade their faces. There were parts to this mass I did not recognize. There was more music, more dancing, more speeches. Hours were going by. When we finally had communion, which took about a half hour with all the people, I considered slipping out, but I didn’t know what to say to the man who so kindly placed me next to him. After communion there were at least six songs. I thought of my mother who complained that the Easter Vigil in Bar Harbor was too long. I would have had to take her out of here on a stretcher! By now it wasn’t cool anymore and my arm was sunburned and I was worried about my nose. I leaned forward with my foot up on the curb, with my elbow on my knees and held my hand over my face to block the sun. One of the little girl dancers left the group, came over, and squatted in front of me. I leaned forward to hear what she wanted to tell me. “Sit properly” she said. I was startled! I said, “What?” She repeated, “Sit properly.” I put my feet under my chair, and sat bolt upright. My companion leaned over to me and asked, “What did she say?” I told him, “She said to sit properly.” He nodded like he agreed with her. So I had the NEXT hour to obsess about how I was sitting improperly? My skirt was to my knees; I didn’t think that was the problem. Other people had their feet on the curb. Granted the other women had a chithenje over their legs and my shins were bare, but that’s the only thing I could think of. That and I was leaning forward on my elbow, but I wasn’t aware that was a cultural faux pas. And for a seven year old girl to come reprimand me was really strange. I would think I’d really have to be doing something inappropriate. I took my sweater and draped it over my knees to hide my shins. I wanted to go home. I was ecstatic when they finished the ten songs after communion. I hoped the procession would start. But, no. The announcements started. Hundreds of them. I was no longer feeling warm and fuzzy about sharing this ancient tradition with kindred souls. This was feeling more like penance. All I could think of was, “Get me out of here!” When the announcements mercifully ended, the priest got up to say what I thought would be the final blessing. “Finally”, I thought, then the procession would start and I would get lost in the crowd and bee line it for home. No such luck. He talked for another ten minutes about something before the final blessing. I saw them bring in the canopy for the procession and I thought at last we would move. Oh, thank God. But. Nope. Everyone knelt and started saying the rosary! I think the last time I did that was my mother’s wake. By this point my companion, Mr. Parish Council was up kneeling in front of the altar. I thought I couldn’t slink out without saying goodbye to him, so sat through the rosary. Then some other group prayers that I did not recognize started, and I said uncle. I risked appearing rude, got up, walked in front of all the bowed heads, up the aisle and off the sacred field.

Then I didn’t know where I was. Crammed into the car that delivered me there I couldn’t see where we went. I didn’t know how to get back to the church. I asked a woman on the road the direction to the church, she pointed the way and I started on the hour’s walk home.

So, now I’m wondering what I would have written about today if I had decided not to go to church?

We’ve got to go meet Amelia.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Majete Wildlife Reserve

Sunday Morning~ Majete Wildlife Reserve

June 11, 2017

HI Everyone,

I’m sitting outside our tent watching a lone elephant drinking at the waterhole. Jimmy, our guide for the weekend, tells us it’s only males that are solitary, banished from the herd for bad behavior. I asked him what they would have to do to be considered “bad” by other elephants? Fighting, mostly, he tells us. He taught us how to tell if an elephant is right or left handed. (I think I’d probably have used the word “dominant”, but we got what he meant.) One tusk is always smaller than the other; the smaller one is used with more force when pushing down trees, so is on their dominant side. After he taught us that, every time we saw an elephant he asked us, “Is he left or right handed?”

George and I got the luxury tent this time. We were only supposed to stay here Friday night, then leave Saturday morning on a walking safari across the game park with a group from the wildlife society; an annual camping trip with armed scouts. The group was supposed to camp in a remote part of the park but sadly, that adventure was cancelled because a rogue elephant has been misbehaving. He killed someone and overturned a car. Bad boy. The elephants apparently haven’t gotten the memo that tourism will save them. You like those uneven tusks of yours? Well, behave buddy. We’ve only come to gaze at your beautiful ivory, not kill you and steal it.

So, that trip cancelled, we spent two nights instead of one with our dear friends from UK, who are back in Malawi for the first time in thirty-seven years. They let us have the “luxury” tent because they are so polite, but when they saw what “luxury” meant, they were grateful for their good breeding. It’s basically the same tent as everyone else, except that our bathroom is outside, as in, no roof and no walls. It looks like a set from either Gilligan’s Island or The Flintstones. When the staff proudly showed us the sunken tub (poured concrete between some boulders), I asked if the animals ever thought this was another waterhole? He laughed. The toilet sat open to the view as if it were waiting to be installed. But, no, all installed, and rather exposed to the big-five wandering around, we were afraid to go out there during the night, and a little leery in the morning as well. But now, two days later, it’s feeling like home. I spent a fair amount of time today trying to figure out how to make one just like it.

I look out at the water hole now and the elephant is gone. Five zebra are slowly making their way past our tent sauntering toward the water hole. I wonder if they’ve been back in the bush waiting for the elephant to leave?

The last time we were here in October, it was stiflingly hot and we could barely move. I remember trying to write the blog and being worried the sweat pouring down my wrists was going to ruin my laptop. This time it’s been a little cool! I felt terrible that I didn’t tell our guests to bring a warmer sweater. On the evening game drive Friday night we were shivering and huddling together. Winter in the Shire Valley is cooler than I thought it’d be! Either that or my blood has gotten very thin. It’s still warmer than summer in Maine, though.

It’s late morning now and we’ll go back to Blantyre after lunch. Our friends have hired a car and driver, so we’ll just wait to be collected and transported without stress. We’ve had to check out of our tents, so I’m sitting on the wicker settee under the thatched roof of the dining area, laptop on my lap. The others are a few steps down off the platform in the canvas seats facing the water hole: George and Paul discussing bird life and cataloging all the species we saw this weekend, Sarah writing letters, Penny reading. Chris has just made more coffee. Everyone seems content. There’s an air of peacefulness and camaraderie. I feel blessed. I’m happy to have these friends, happy to have this partner, happy to share this place I love so much.

Friday, we arrived here at three in time to get our tents settled and have tea before our four o’clock game drive. We piled into the LandCruiser with Jimmy, the guide, driving and Kenny the scout, riding shotgun holding an actual shotgun. We saw the usual impala, waterbuck, warthog, etc. and were particularly focusing on birds as Paul is an enthusiast. At five-thirty we were standing on the riverbank drinking a beer and eating peanuts and sausages, as we watched the dusky peach sunset, when Jimmy said in a loud whisper, “A rhino!” and pointed to a black rhinoceros about fifty meters downstream on the same bank. Everyone grabbed their camera. Jimmy said he hadn’t seen one in five months.  From what seemed like a safe distance, we took pictures until, as the rhino started walking directly at us, Jimmy said, “I think everyone needs to get back in the vehicle.”  We all jumped in and Jimmy started the engine and drove toward this beast! I thought we’d go in the other direction! He pulled alongside, about ten meters away. I thought it was exceedingly close, and man, that horn! That is one serious protection device. He turned and started walking toward us and Jimmy started the engine, which made the rhino stop. It was way closer than what I thought was safe. He was approximately the same size as the vehicle! He looked at us with tiny, little bitty eyes (Those eyes are so small compared to that body!) until I guess he decided we weren’t a threat and then turned and lumbered away. It was thrilling.

Tomorrow our friends will take off to explore the rest of the country and the places they knew when we were here together in 1979. I’ll go off to the office to write exam questions and grade case studies. I’ll meet with a woman named Endless about starting a women’s class for basic skills and English. I’m not sure what her role is here but I’ve heard she works for a women’s organization and she’s brilliant and a good resource. I need someone to give me an idea of what is possible. I’ve been vacillating between the big picture and the tiny one. This weekend we looked at Baobab trees almost 2,000 years old and I thought what a tiny blip we are on this big earth screen. I think of flipping the binoculars and looking through the wrong end so everything seems small and more manageable. It’s a strange comfort.

.George leaves for home in three weeks; I’ll go in seven. The year has been a blip.

Two wart hogs now run behind the zebra, who stand in the water as if their feet haven’t had a good long soak in forever. They look in separate directions like they’re not speaking to each other for some reason. They are just standing in the water, not drinking, not bathing, not moving. I never get tired of looking at them. Each one with it’s own fingerprint of stripes on a hide securing a skeleton too fragile to support a man or pack. That’s why they’ve never been domesticated.

It’s now the most glorious temperature. The morning clouds, that hid the setting moon, have burned off and the air is dry, breezy, and soothing. Yesterday morning, I watched the full moon set from where I sat on the toilet. No lie. Elephants and Kudu strolled by under the full moon while I sat and peed on a porcelain toilet. I could have thrown a pebble and hit them. When we came here in October we vowed to come often to support the place. I’m not sure if our friends hadn’t come, we’d have made it back. How did we slip back into the working lifestyle routine where we forget we live in exoticville? Getting a car might change that (I hope!). God forbid we become boring.

In an hour we’ll have lunch, another meal whose calories we have not earned. Since this camp is inside the park, we can’t walk around, and we all feel overfed, though that doesn’t stop us from ingesting the next plate placed before us. We speculate we may have burned some calories being jostled around the Land Cruiser, and if heart palpitations burn any, then seeing that rhinoceros turn and walk slowly toward us may have used up a few.

A toad just hopped off the pillow behind my head and plopped next to my elbow. That startled me a bit! He’s tiny. Now he’s leaped onto the bottom shelf of the coffee table in front of me. He’s staring at me. I’ve clearly disturbed him. Yesterday afternoon I was reading on our verandah outside the tent, and a very large colorful caterpillar crawled along the top of the settee. I only saw him because I shifted position. He seemed friendly and harmless, but at least four inches long and hairy, and I was not inclined to let him crawl around on my seat. I brushed him off to the ground, and was a little more attentive next time I used the bathroom.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere for me and I wish I could nail it down. Something about all getting along and living side by side with different species, shapes, and sizes. Something about protecting ourselves and respecting each other. Something about sharing the water, sticking together and being alert. It’s all swirling around as I feel dozy and start to nod off before lunch.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

June 4, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I just saw an article that rates the ten poorest countries in the world according to GDP, and Malawi is number one. Meaning, it’s the poorest country in the world. It is peaceful and the people warm and friendly and loving. But I wonder if things do get worse economically, will that change? Suffering and poverty can do that.

There are few natural resources here, aside from the lake and the beauty of the landscape. It’s overpopulated but peaceful, so tourism could and should be a major source of income, but there’s a bit of work to be done along those lines. I live here and find it hard to get around. It’s difficult to take advantage of what the country has to offer, which, is a lot. But I maintain, tourism is the only thing that will turn this economic status around. If more people made a living out of tourism there would be incentive to keep the environment clean and keep the government stable. People don’t like to travel to countries at war.

A week ago Jordan and I were in Dedza to see the UNESCO World Heritage site of ancient rock art. There are paintings by the Chewa people that are 2,000 years old, and some by Pygmies that are 10,000 years old! I would think people would come to Malawi just to see those! Well, we had good directions, a car, a grasp of the local language (enough to ask directions), and it took us hours to find it. The guide book said to “take the first dirt road after the third crossing of the Linthipe River, approximately 500 meters on the left”. We passed about ten dirt roads, took the one we estimated to be about 500 meters, which turned into more of a walking trail than a road, so I asked a nice old man where the village of Mphunzi was? He explained in rapid Chichewa (I guess thinking I spoke it better than I do) that we had to go back near the bridge after the minibus stop and turn there. It took me a bit to get that straight. That was not 500 meters from the bridge; it was more like 50 meters. Jordan and I had a little discussion about whether it was a typo in the book or if we were on the wrong road again. But as it turns out, the old man was more accurate than the guide book, and we were on the correct “road” only navigable because our car had decent clearance. We found the mission church, left the car there, and walked, surrounded by goats, another 500 meters toward where we thought the site was. It said in the book these paintings were the easiest to find of all of them. We thought there might be a sign. Where the road ended, lay a rock where a guy named Lenton sat. He jumped up and asked if we wanted to see the rock art? We said, “Yes!” thrilled to find someone there had heard of it. We followed him up to a little brick room where he unlocked the door and told us to wait outside. He emerged with the sign describing the site and leaned it against the wall for us to read, then asked if we wanted him to take us to see the eight sites. We affirmed we did and he told us it was customary to give him a tip of ten thousand kwacha, a third of our guards’ monthly salary. I asked if he got paid to guard the site, and he confirmed he did get a monthly salary, but still, he thought a tip would be appropriate. And, if I didn’t want to pay ten thousand, I could give him eight. I told him we paid two thousand to see the archeological site in Karonga. He said, “But that’s only one site! There are eight here!” Which, I admit, was true. I was most impressed that he knew that fact. I said, “Let’s go. We’ll talk about the tip later.”  I was a little annoyed that he was milking us, but the further we got into the hike, the bigger his tip was getting. We would NEVER have found it without him. We could have wandered around that mountain for months before we found any of it. He earned his tip. He knew his shit. I was impressed. There are several caves on that small mountain and protected from rain and sun these primitive paintings were astounding to behold. I can’t believe more people aren’t coming to see them! There certainly wasn’t a line to get in. Lenton said he had some visitors the day before but he only gets a few a week. I told him I’d be back. I want to explore some of the other sites hidden away in the Chongoni Forest. I asked him to promise he wouldn’t spend the tip money on Chibuku (a local millet beer), but would use it for his family. He laughed and told me about all the things he would buy, but fell short of an actual promise. I would have rather given the money to his wife (studies show families here do better if women manage the money) but hoped for the best for him. I’m happy to support the local economy and pay someone to guide us, as long as they aren’t drinking the tips. It took us so long to find “the easiest site to access” that it was late and we headed back to Blantyre, a four hour drive. I’ll have to explore another time.

We get a monthly volunteer salary, which is about what I’d make in a day at home. For George, it’d be about two hours pay. We live very comfortably on that. I can have Kenny, the local tailor, make me a new dress whenever I want, we eat plenty of good food, have a nice house and can travel when we want (though we do that frugally). There is a local salon where I can get my haircut for $6, an amazing pedicure for $6, or a manicure for $4. I feel spoiled and privileged. I buy some local crafts because I’d rather they sell me something than beg for money. They prefer that as well. No one here wants to beg, but there are few jobs. Half the graduate nurses are volunteering in the hospitals because the government won’t hire them even though there is a huge shortage of health care workers. They say at least they are keeping their skills up and getting experience while they are waiting for a job.

Friday morning I went for an early run at the medical school sports complex near us. When I got home, Catherine (our former guard) was sitting on the porch waiting for me. She was distraught and handed me a note, (that I’m sure her son wrote):

Hie Mum

How are you this time I hope you are fine to gather with Dad.

I am Cathy Mum I write this letter to Inform you that at my work there was a crisis almost twelve girls has been suspended at work including me. Rite now am at home nothing to do.

And I write this letter to tell you that if it is possible please invite me to start working in your house because I have nothing to do now.

Lastly I will be glad of my will meet your favorable consideration please help me.

yours Daughter


She worked for the College of Medicine six days a week guarding one of the dorms. She earned $30/ month. When we left our old house (owned by the college) she transferred to guarding a dorm but apparently there are cutbacks, and twelve of the women guards got laid off. She is 35 years old, the sole support of her four kids, and was barely holding it together on her salary, which has just ended. At our old house we paid her an additional $20/ month to clean and do laundry, but when we moved she had to give that up. I felt really bad for her.

We have been cleaning our own house and doing our own laundry, and it’s not that big of a deal, but I felt like I needed to give her some work. George was in the house waiting for me to get back from my run, a bit annoyed that she’d just walked in the house when he was eating his breakfast. (She does have a few boundary issues.) We both like Catherine a lot, but we’ve been enjoying the privacy. I told her we could hire her two days a week to clean and do the laundry and looked at George to make sure he was ok with that. He nodded. She asked for three days but I told her two was all we needed. I’ll pay her what she would have gotten for three days. I had to have Chimwemwe translate all this. Her English is worse than my Chichewa and I wanted to make sure she understood. I also told her we’d ask around to see if anyone else needed a maid or a guard. In the meantime, I’m annoyed that our night guards often don’t show up for a couple of nights after payday. They make twice what she does and I feel like firing them. George thinks we should give them another chance with the threat of being fired if they no-show again, which they did last night. I’d rather give her the night job and their pay, but women don’t do night guard duty. I wonder if we should break that barrier? She’s tough and I can’t imagine anyone messing with her.

We pay for her son to attend secondary school and he is doing well. She came over with him to meet Jordan when he was here and we had an awkward little visit, very formal, just before we were leaving on our road trip. The car I had rented was sitting next to our porch and I had the thought they may never ride in a car their whole lives. Joseph wants to be a doctor. We want to support him through that process as long as he continues to do well. Maybe he’ll be able to help support his mother someday. I’m thinking of starting a women’s class here where Catherine and her friends can learn English and maybe a skill like making jewelry from local materials. I’m thinking about how to go about that. She’s never been to school and though many students in secondary school are much older, in their 20’s and 30’s, I can’t imagine someone 35 years old going to primary school. I want to see if we can do something here. She was so relieved to have some work she ran in the house to grab our laundry. Later that day, I met some friends for coffee and as I paid, realized the price of that coffee is what she earns in a day cleaning for me. It’s all so unfair.

Last Sunday, after dropping Jordan at the airport, we took the car back to the orphanage we rented it from. Godknows gave us a tour of the place and it both broke and warmed my heart. Godknows was a street kid who managed to get an education and he and his wife have devoted themselves to giving back. They house 64 children, all either abandoned or orphaned. The  youngest, a baby of one year, was heard crying in a pit latrine where her mother had thrown her. They dismantled the latrine, rescued the baby and brought her to Godknows. He’s very proud that she lived and looked like the picture of health. The second youngest, a two year old, was found abandoned on a riverbank at age three months and brought to him by the police. The older kids care for the younger. They raise chickens for food and eggs. All of the kids get an eduction. They have a nursery school for the children of domestic workers who live in the neighborhood. He started that when he found those kids were alone all day while their parents worked for those better off. He told me the money I gave him for the car was going to pay school fees for the older kids. He does all the mechanical work to keep the cars running. It was really inspiring. I asked if the kids learn a vocation there and he said he discourages it because as soon as they do, they drop out of school to earn money. He wants them to stay in school. As we were leaving, a volunteer was arriving to give keyboard lessons. He values the arts. Inspiring.

Peace Corps has a permagarden program and have kits available for volunteers to get gardens started in their communities. I asked if I could get one and go over to the orphanage to help them start a garden. I figured with all that chicken manure they could have a pretty good little vegetable plot. Godknows was thrilled about that, so I’ll try to get some volunteers together to help the kids learn to grow vegetables.

I needed to do something about the environment this week. Just one thing. I refuse to believe we can’t turn this madness around. I’ll keep you posted on that.

In our garden we now have lettuce run amok. The cucumbers and tomatoes are being a little fussy, and it seems the birds are getting a lot of those. That’s a bit of a bummer. The basil, which Jordan has described in the past as a “whiny little bitch” has surpassed all expectations and is now just showing off. I made a fabulous pesto last night with basil, avocado, and macadamia nuts and it was a winner. We didn’t grow the nuts, but they are local and very good. We’re certainly not starving here.  I’ve got pork roasting now as our friends from England arrive on Tuesday! Can’t wait! Love sharing this place!

Love to all,