Sunday Morning~ Boston

Sunday Morning~ Boston

July 30, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I slept until actual morning! When I woke at 1 a.m. I didn’t think I’d get back to sleep, but later realized I’d had a few dreams, so the champagne must have worked. It’s 4:30 and still dark, though it’s summer on the east coast and I thought the sun would be up by now! What happened to the early sunrise? Is that just in Maine? And the steamy Boston summer nights? They’re gone too? I had to sleep under a quilt last night! Jeepers, you leave for a year and come back to a whole new country.

Last weekend in Mzuzu I was talking with a Malawian about my native climate. This inevitably follows the sentence: “I want you to take me to America”. I told him it is very cold where I live and he might not like it. He said, “I am used to living where it is cold.” thinking Mzuzu (and Blantyre), being at a high elevation, are “cold”. I told him, “Your cold season is the temperature of my hot season. It gets cold like inside the deep freeze where you keep cold packs.” People always look astonished when I say that and say, “No! Outside? You mean it is like that outside?!”  I tell them, “Yes. And for many months it’s difficult to stay warm.”  Usually the conversation goes from there to discussion of the rainy season. They don’t understand how it can just rain whenever it wants to without a special season. They’ll say, “You mean just any day it can rain? The whole year? You don’t know which days? How do you know when to plant your crops?” They find this absolutely incomprehensible. The two distinct seasons they live with never vary. In the rainy season it rains every day, in the dry season it never rains. Simple as that. I tell them we work more around a warm season and a cold season, and even though I describe how cold, they still think it’s just a matter of a sweater and an extra chitenje.

I managed to leave Blantyre feeling like I’d gotten goals accomplished. The grades  submitted, students wished well, fridge emptied, and souvenirs packed. It took me five stops to find a bottle of Malawi Gin to bring home for our Peace Corps reunion, but I persevered. We often can’t find tonic; that runs out regularly, but gin is always available. Always. I started to panic and was sorry I’d left that until the last minute. On Thursday I had to make three attempts at the ATM to withdraw enough cash to pay the guards and Catherine. This involved more than an hour of walking to different locations finding one that had cash in it. I walked another fifteen minutes to a grocery store known for it’s reliable gin availability, that was “closed for stocking”.  Another one I tried doesn’t carry any alcohol. Ugh. I went home and decided to walk down to the Kamba market where Aunt Dot’s Bottle Store was a safe bet. That’s a mere ten minute walk from our house and I pass Kenny, the tailor, where I had to collect a skirt he was making. It all seemed efficient. I got the skirt and kept on, down the dirt path to Aunt Dot’s. I don’t know if the one-eyed proprietor is actually Aunt Dot; I’ve never asked her name. She isn’t very effusive and often seems sullen. I wonder if her demeanor has anything to do with the bulging cataract that perpetually points left? The chicken wire screen that divides the merchandise from the customers makes it necessary to ask her to get the desired items off the shelf and hand them through the small opening at the bottom of the mesh. I saw there was only one bottle of gin on the shelf so after the usual greetings, I asked her for it. She took it down and showed me it was half full. She asked, “Did you want a full bottle?” I said, “Yes! Of course I want a full bottle!” She put it back on the shelf and said, “Sorry. Out of stock.” Ok, we say that a lot at the hospital when patients come for life-saving medications, but I have never heard anyone say that about Malawi Gin. I went to the bar next door and asked if I could buy a bottle of gin. The bartender took a half full bottle off the shelf, showed it to me and asked, “You want a full bottle? This is all I have.” This felt like the twilight zone! I left there and walked another ten minutes to a row of bars I would never ordinarily patronize, but I was getting desperate. I asked if they had a full bottle of gin I could buy. The bar tender rummaged around under the counter and finally pulled out a dusty bottle, but it was full and unopened and I didn’t care what it cost. I bought it, stuck it in my bag, raced home, wrapped it in a chithenje and put it in the suitcase. Jeepers!

I found myself a little nervous about going home. It probably had to do with anxiety about my bags being overweight and making all the connections and being too tired once I got home to be  functional. But I think it also had to do with how I’d bridge the two worlds. The two completely different mindsets don’t switch on and off easily. As a traditional Peace Corps volunteer, going home mid-service was considered a sign of weakness. It doesn’t seem that way now, but I wondered if it would be hard to return in three months. When I was saying goodbye to the faculty, I was asked more than once, “You are coming back aren’t you? You promise?”  I promised and accepted their prayers for a safe journey. I love the women I work with and don’t feel finished with my job there. I hope I still feel that way November first.

Our friend Peter spared me the taxi ride and collected me for the half hour drive to the Blantyre airport which is about the size of the one in Bar Harbor. The major difference is the airport in Bar Harbor accommodates planes that match it’s size. In Blantyre there are afternoon flights going to both Nairobi and Addis Ababa an hour apart. Big planes. Hundreds of people. All trying to get through security and immigration with their wits intact. There is no place to queue so everyone stands in a mob vying for the customs official’s attention. Then I had to be that annoying person whose bag was two kilos overweight. But you know what’s really nice? Traveling with a Peace Corps passport. I’m going to hate to give this up. All smiles and thank yous and breeze right through security with some pleasantries thrown in. Even when my suitcase was overweight they acted like it was a minor inconvenience. I don’t think the passengers behind me felt that way, mind you, but the Kenyan Airways staff couldn’t have been more patient while I whipped out a woodcarving and stuffed it into the other bag, which fortunately, was two kilos underweight.  In Nairobi, the same thing. My time at the desk was a fraction of the others. There must be some pre-clearance that goes along with the official passport; definitely worth all the rigamarole of applying.

Many people I’ve met in Malawi have said that they were either taught by a Peace Corps volunteer had their school fees paid by one. They say it changed their lives. That always feels good to hear and makes me believe in this organization even more. We recently got a message from the director in DC saying there has been a recommendation to congress to cut sixteen million dollars from the Peace Corps budget to pay for “the wall”. I slapped my head, yet again. I wanted to believe Peace Corps was sacred. It’s the least expensive segment of the state department. Where is this going to end?

After a three hour stay in Nairobi I had an easy overnight flight to Amsterdam where my friend Chris happened to be for business. My five-hour layover was taken up with an impromptu coffee and breakfast with my dear friend. Then the seven hour flight to Boston was on time and hugs and smiles from Ruth, who’d taken the train up from New York, were waiting at the terminal. Just outside was Rachael with my little loves and I wedged in between their car seats to hear Amelia using words like “creature” and “possibility” in perfectly constructed sentences. I think she is brilliant and I am not biased in any way. Homecoming was a blitz of show and tell before they dashed off to a family commitment of Kyle’s in New Hampshire and Ruth and I polished off a bottle of champagne before I crawled under the quilt and slept. I love my life.

Now the sun is up and I’m wide awake waiting for the kids to stir and give me some of that early morning cuddle time I’ve been craving. I’m glad to be home.

Love to all,


ps. Wow. I had actually forgotten how fast the internet is here.

Sunday Morning~ Nkhata Bay

Sunday Morning~ Nkhata Bay

July 23, 2017

HI Everyone,

Everything in it’s own time. That’s what Fr. Richard said to me Friday when he asked about my kids. He told me he’d written to Matt and hadn’t heard back. I told him I wasn’t surprised, and was actually relieved Matt hadn’t responded with some vulgar message like the one I got. Richard said he considers Matt his baby since he baptized him and was with him so much his first year.  He said he’s sorry Matt struggles so much and prays for him every day. I told him I have been doing that for years. “Everything in it’s own time,” he said.

I had walked an hour to the Father’s house, on a hill outside of town in Mzuzu, a quick visit on Friday, knowing Saturday he’d be so busy we wouldn’t get to talk. Friday was frenetic too, and we only had a few minutes for tea before he drove me back to town. There were at least a hundred people constructing an outside altar for the ordination of the new priest. Richard said he expected between two and three thousand people to come. He was worried about his young coffee plants being trampled. There were little bamboo fences around each one with a sign on a piece of styrofoam saying, “Please Be Careful. COFFEE!” written in red and green. It looked like a Christmas card.

We sat in a little thatched sun shelter behind the guest house drinking our tea. Every few minutes someone came to ask him a question about logistics and supplies. I’d stayed in that guest house many times years ago when I was a new mother and we ventured from our remote site in Karonga to the big city of Mzuzu. Richard wasn’t there then, he was still in Karonga where we’d met. Other White Fathers lived there back then and most have passed on now. The place is familiar to me. I was glad the timing worked out for me to make it to the celebration. I’d been asked to consult on a course being taught on women’s health to sisters in training. Unfortunately I’ll be on home leave when the course is taught, but was happy to give some input to the content. I timed it to be there for the ordination, and Wednesday took the twelve hour bus ride from Blantyre to Mzuzu. I’m staying with Kat, one of our volunteers teaching pediatric nursing at St. John of God College. The affiliated hospital is a fantastic facility with a focus on mental health, a service desperately needed here. There is also an amazing vocational school where they teach landscaping, cooking, sewing, bricklaying, and carpentry. Kat’s house in on the campus there and it’s comfortable and convenient. It is, however, a good long walk to Fr. Richard’s place.

Yesterday, the mass was supposed to start at 9 a.m. I left the house at 7:30 and arrived at 8:45. Like I said, it’s a long walk. I figured the mass would take three hours so added two hours to that and told Kat I would meet her around 2 pm. Hah! When I arrived they were still decorating the altar. Only about two hundred people were seated and I took a spot near the front to wait. I made myself comfortable, sorry I hadn’t brought a sweater. It was breezy and cool and after sweating from my long walk, I was chilly. I saw the Bishop arrive, then priest after priest after priest. The area filled with hoards of people who obviously knew the mass had no intention of starting at nine. I was actually amazed at how ready they were by 9:30 considering what the place looked like at 8:45. Only a half hour late, the drums started and the whooping followed, then an incredible procession, lasting a full fifteen minutes, came down the center aisle led by the altar boys carrying the cross and candles. After them came Ngoni dancers dressed in animal pelts with spears and shields. Fabulous. Following them were eight little girls in First Communion dresses wearing neon-yellow one-size-fits-all polyester gloves, and plastic woven pastel Easter hats. They were dancing their hearts out. It was adorable. Behind them were eight little boys in dark pants and matching shirts made from the official chithenje of the day. They looked a little bored (or maybe scared) but their dance was cute. In between each set of steps they tapped each others ankles then started the next set. Cute. Then there were dozens of dancing women wearing the official chitenje, then dozens more altar servers, then the seminarians (about twenty of them), then about fifty priests from all over the world wearing beautiful stoles and vestments, and finally the Bishop with his side kick, also a priest (I think). It was great. The music and dancing went on forever. It was almost two hours just to get through the gospel. After that, Peter Nyirenda, the seminarian to be ordained, was escorted down the aisle with his parents on each arm with the Ngoni and family dancing around him. I was in tears. It was beautiful. The actual ordination took another hour, then each priest blessed him, two of them dressed him in vestments, each of the fifty priests filed by him and gave him a hug and a head bump and then the mass continued. I was impressed with how they orchestrated three thousand people getting communion! Not a hitch! Before the closing prayer, newly ordained Fr. Nyirenda sat in front of the altar with a woman next to him holding a huge basket. Then hundreds of people filed down the aisle with gifts. And I mean gifts. Mattresses, blankets, chickens, cases of drinking water, cabbages, money, oh it went on and on. The music was fabulous and they all danced down the aisle to the basket. I couldn’t see where they were putting all the stuff. There must have been someone up there putting it all away somewhere; they were going to need a lorry to transport it to wherever he was going. The finale was when Fr. Richard and his parish council came dancing down the aisle with a live goat, tied and carried by the hooves with a big ribbon around his belly. That was a classic.

So the mass ended around 2:45. A mere five hours. There was a reception following, to which I had been invited, but I knew it would be hours before that got started. There was a photo shoot  happening and I was already late meeting Kat so didn’t plan to stay. I mingled around chatting with the few people I knew and was introduced to a few more. Brother Michael, an Irish St. John of God Brother, is also a nurse and is the one I was working with on the course. He said, “Five hours! At home if you’re a half hour late you’ve missed mass!” He introduced me to an American Jesuit who is a surgeon teaching at the medical school. I asked him if one of the other mzungu priests there was a Fr. Fiacre, another Irish priest I knew from my Peace Corps days. When they processed in thought it might be him but since it’s been 38 years since I’d seen him, I wasn’t too sure. I knew he wouldn’t recognize me either, if he remembered me at all. I’d tried to find him when I was here in 2008, but he was on home leave then. Anyway, he pointed and said, “Yes, that’s him over there.” I went over and introduced myself. I said, “Hi, Fr. Fiacre, you probably don’t remember me, but I’m Linda Robinson, I knew you from Karonga when I was in Peace Corps there. He said, “Yes! I remember you are the one with the nice legs!”  I cracked up! I knew exactly what he was referring to. That was back in the days of Kamuzu, the president for life, who forbade women to show their legs or wear trousers. One time, I was at home wearing shorts in the house and Fiacre stopped over for a visit. I greeted him and he was shocked at the sight of my legs. He covered his eyes, saying, “Oh my! I am not used to seeing this!” (Nothing racier than that.) So anyway, we had a laugh and shared some quick updates on our lives. He said he’d heard I had come looking for him nine years ago. That was when I was traveling here from Congo and stopped at his parish. He wasn’t there but I spent some time with his colleague  who told him I’d come. It was fun to be remembered. He wasn’t staying for the reception and I asked if I could grab a ride into town with him. We could have talked for hours and I was a little disappointed to arrive at St John of God. I told him I’m leaving next week for three months, but will be sure to visit in December when we take another trip to the north. He said he’d be there and we’d stay in touch. That unexpected meeting made me very happy.

I’m writing this while sitting on the side of a cliff in Nkhata Bay. The sun is just coming up. Kat is still sleeping. Her birthday was yesterday and she wanted to celebrate at the lake so we hopped in a shared taxi and came down from Mzuzu late yesterday afternoon. She’s leaving next week for adventure travel before heading home to figure life out. We arrived at this funky backpackers lodge and enjoyed happy hour and a fish barbecue for her birthday.  Last year her birthday was the day we arrived in Malawi and she spent a good part of it in the crummy airport at Addis Ababa. This place is unique, I’ll say that. It’s a hodgepodge of simple chalets built right into the cliff overhanging the lake. Last night I worried about an earthquake. All this cement, stone, and brick would go sliding right into the lake. But here I am intact this morning, so that was wasted energy. Getting to and from the composting toilet is a challenge. It’s a steep hike up rocky steps. I was breathless when I got there. I can see why the clientele is young; you have to be in good shape to brush your teeth. The place has a reputation for being a backpacker’s party site. I’m shocked there haven’t been fatalities here. Drinking heavily in this place is dangerous but watching the sunrise while the fisherman make their way out in their dugout canoes is pretty darn nice right now.

So today we will hike around in the hills of Nkhata Bay and go back to Mzuzu late this afternoon. I might try to go up and see Richard again when we get back. I didn’t get to say goodbye to him yesterday. Tomorrow I take the 6 a.m. bus to Lilongwe to collect my passport and work permit. Then Tuesday back to Blantyre to tie up loose ends before I leave for home on Friday!

Next Sunday’s blog will be on daylight savings time!

Love to all,


PS. As I was walking to catch the bus to Mzuzu on Wednesday morning a man fell into step beside me. He asked why I was walking and not driving my car. I told him I don’t have a car. Surprised, he said he thought all mzungus had a car. I said, “Nope. I don’t. I walk like you do.” He said, “We have a proverb about that.” I thought, “Oh good! I need a proverb for this week’s blog. Perfect.” I asked him to tell me the proverb and he said, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” And then explained that since I am in Malawi I am walking like Malawians walk. I said, “Yes. I’ve heard that one before. We use it, too.”

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Tsamba likagwa manyazi amagwira mtengo ~   When a leaf falls to the ground, the tree is to blame.

~ Malawian Proverb

July 16, 2017

Hi Everyone,

Pop culture has never been my strong suit. I’ve always relied on friends to keep me minimally informed, even in high school. When the 80’s hit, I stopped trying altogether. I was either pregnant, supporting the family on minimum wage, or in graduate school. Some of that simultaneously. We didn’t have a TV and only listened to NPR and cassette tapes of John Denver and James Taylor. If it wasn’t referenced on Prairie Home Companion, I didn’t hear about it. What I knew of Madonna consisted of: 1. she posed nude somewhere or other, 2. she played Evita in the movie, and 3. she adopted some kids from Malawi (but wasn’t sure if it was Madonna or Angelina Jolie who did that.) I did know she is a singer but wouldn’t recognize a song of hers if she were singing it to me personally. But now I want to learn more about her.

The Mercy James Hospital For Pediatric Surgery opened this week. If you saw none of the surroundings outside a twenty foot radius of the place, you’d think it was uptown Manhattan. Ok, maybe Miami, given the palm trees. This is a hospital whose conception was a mere three years ago, when Eric Borgstein, the pediatric surgeon here, was looking for a space to create a pediatric ICU. Eric is Dutch, but has lived in Malawi since he was a child. His father was a surgeon here and his 92 year old mother is a pediatrician. She started the pediatric department at QECH. She retired only a few years ago and lives next to Eric and his wife Sophie, in a spectacular spot near the presidential palace. It was their house that we rode our bikes to in February, thinking we would die before arriving. Anyway, Eric met Madonna when she was here making a documentary film called I Am Because We Are, about the orphan crisis in Malawi following the AIDS epidemic. When they couldn’t find a suitable space or resources to form an intensive care unit for kids, Madonna was approached about funding one. What resulted was this state-of-the-art medical center and the opening ceremony was this past Tuesday.

Sophie Borgstein had come over to our house two weeks ago to learn how to make gnocchi. She brought a load of fresh turmeric and ginger from her garden and some fresh milk from her cows. They have an incredible forty-acre farm. We were chatting, and she mentioned the opening ceremony and I asked her if Madonna would be there. She said, “Oh yes. She’s coming. The president is, too.” Then I asked if anyone could attend this thing? (I do love ceremonies) But she said, no, they were keeping it small and it was invitation only. Madonna wanted to keep it to 100 people only and there would be lots of people from the ministry of health, etc. So I figured, ok, I guess I can go another few years without laying eyes on this generous superstar. Then Tuesday, Ursula, my dean, asked if I was planning to go to the opening of the hospital? I told her no, I thought it was invitation only. She said she heard that there was a section reserved for nursing faculty and was planning to go. So, I said, “Sure, I’ll go along.”  I’m happy to sit and listen to speeches as long as they are live and there are celebrities involved. I had to do some errands first, but we were supposed to meet at two to go over together.  When I got back to the office at 1:30 the group had already gone. Miriam, an older woman on the medical surgical faculty, was the one with the official invitation and someone told me she had just walked by. She’s quite elderly and walks slow, so I figured I could catch her.  I ran along the corridors to the outside walkway leading to the new hospital and didn’t see her. What I did see was a huge crowd singing and dancing in anticipation of the president’s arrival. I looked over their heads and saw Miriam across the street, just entering the gate to the ceremonial tent. I wormed my way through the crowd on one side of the street, crossed between policemen to another crowd on the opposite side, got through them, and ran up to the gate where they were turning people away. I heard one guard say, “No more entering here!”  and a bunch of people turned to leave which left me in front of the gate. I said, “Excuse me, I’m with my colleagues and they just went in.”  I could see Miriam not far inside. And they opened the gate and let me in! I thought, “Hmm, that was easy.”  I ran up to Miriam and asked where the others were? She told me, “They weren’t allowed in. They didn’t have an invitation.”  Uh oh. I said, “Neither do I. They just let me in.” Then I looked around and everyone there had a little plastic bracelet on their wrist. Their ticket. I covered my wrist so no one could see I didn’t have one, and Miriam said, “Just stay close to me.” So that’s how I got into this invitation-only event. I guess it helps to be wearing a uniform and have white skin. (Though another one of our volunteers just as white as me wasn’t allowed in.)

I sat closer to the stage than I do to the altar at church.  I recognized Madonna when she and her kids went up to rehearse the program. Not like I wasn’t expecting that to be her, but I did recognize her, whereas Miriam did not. I felt rather hip having seen the trailer for Evita. They made an announcement early on that there were to be no photographs taken if you were not a member of the press. I probably could have sneaked one, but I didn’t want to do anything to call attention to myself. I sat demurely with one hand over my wrist, except for when I put it over my heart for the national anthem.

It was pretty cool. Eric Borgstein spoke first, very beautiful speech. Then Madonna spoke, also a great speech, which included her story about growing up without a mother, and how she fell in love with the first two Malawian babies she adopted. The first is a boy named David and that adoption went fairly smoothly. The second, Mercy James, for whom the hospital is named, not so much. She had been recently divorced and the Malawian courts wouldn’t allow a single mother to adopt a child. Apparently this didn’t go over well with Madonna and, also apparently, she isn’t used to being told “No.” She hired a team of lawyers and it took three and a half years, but she finally adopted this girl, who is now a beautiful young woman. The main point of her speech was persist and do not give up. I am all on-board with that and liked the spirit, enthusiasm, and success story. I’m sure it helped to be a bazillionaire, but her heart is in the right place. Mercy then went up on stage and did a short speech of her own. I leaned over to Miriam and said, “Can you imagine going from a local orphanage to Madonna’s house? Talk about two different worlds.”  Madonna recently adopted young twin girls but she didn’t talk about them. Her son David has done a bunch of the art work in the new hospital and he performed with a dance group from one of the orphanages, a really impressive dance. And I’m not sure, but the music they danced to might have been Madonna singing. I didn’t recognize the recording, but it was a female singer and I thought it might be her. Don’t quote me on that one though. She did not personally sing at this event. After that the minister of health spoke and that was a little anti-climactic. Then the president spoke and that was even more anti-climactic and hard to listen to. He mumbled a lot and I couldn’t understand anything he said. Thankfully it was short. Then a Malawian band played traditional music and Madonna got up and danced with the first lady. Everyone loved that. Since all eyes were on her and it was nearing the end of the ceremony I almost dared take a photo, but thought better not. I’ll check, I think they might be on the Raising Malawi webpage. With the size of all the lenses on the cameras there, I figured I could find a photo that would be a lot better than anything I could take.

And then it was over. I didn’t get an invitation for dinner with her or anything so I didn’t get to ask  if she’d throw a few bucks toward the model ward in maternity. To my knowledge, there was no fraternizing with her afterward. She travels with an entourage bigger than the president’s. She must have had seventy-five people surrounding her, body guards and I don’t know who else. They all had little earpieces like secret service, though. I did get close enough to see those. So that was my big news of the week. When I got back to the office Ursula asked, “How did you get it without a wrist band?! We saw you inside!” I said, “I told them I was with you and they let me in and then I found out they didn’t let you in!”  We had a good laugh, and then she told me the Malawian take on Madonna’s adoption stories. She said there was a lot of controversy since Mercy’s father was still alive and he didn’t understand what he was signing away.  But people thought that girl would have so many more opportunities than if she stayed in the orphanage since her father couldn’t care for her, and now with this big beautiful facility I guess the ruffled feathers have been smoothed. And they all come back to Malawi frequently so the kids will know their homeland. Amazing what you can do if you’re white and have tons of money.

The proverb this week has to do with the Malawians’ belief that everything a child does reflects on their parents. So you must behave well in order not to shame your parents. This line of thinking never went very far with my own kids, but it’s well-adhered to here. I put that in today because I was just thinking about mothers and kids. No big connection to anything else.

In two weeks I’ll be home! I’ve gotten through about half the grading I have to do and am tying up some loose ends. While home I’ll be applying for a grant to get this model ward off the ground, so got some preliminary stuff done for that. I’m going up to Mzuzu this week to consult on a women’s health course that will be given in August, and have to stop in Lilongwe to get my passport and work permit. Then it’ll be less than one week till I hug my own babies! Can’t wait.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

July 9, 2017

“Ukakwera pa msana wa njobvu usati pansi palibe mame” ~ When you are on an elephant’s back, do not say there is no dew on the grass.

~ Malawian proverb

Hi Everyone,

If ever there was a proverb that described the insane lack of compassion in our country’s leadership right now, this is it. If the grass had any motivation, it wouldn’t have anything to complain about. I love the way Malawians pull these out appropriately and seamlessly insert them into casual conversation. It’s a skill I aspire to.  Since I’m traveling so much these days for Community Health, I have a bit of time for political discussions with the drivers when we hear snippets of world news on the radio. This proverb came up when we were talking about the U.S. health care situation and I tried to explain the political ramifications of our current plight. I tell you, if you ever want to find our predicament more ludicrous than it is, try describing it to someone in a developing country.

I was asked to say the closing prayer at our meeting on Friday, and I choked. To be fair, I had been up sick most of the night and was not at the top of my game. Bertha, had done the opening prayer and it went on for several minutes with nary a pause for breath. Flowed out of her like she were reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. These prayers are all ad lib. It’s not like we say the “Our Father”. I could have done that (and probably should have). The one leading the meeting usually calls on one of the attendees to say the prayer and the chosen never falters. There is always an opening and closing prayer. I’ve only been asked once before, and I somehow pulled it off reasonably but couldn’t manage to be that quick on Friday. Usually the prayers sound as if we were asking administration for better working conditions. The requests are quite literal. The students before an exam will ask God “for the correct answers.” But there are often lots of thanks thrown in there for a good balance. I had been sitting for the previous hour wanting to go home and back to bed. I had a chithenje wrapped around my shoulders with my feet in front of the small space heater fortuitously located at my end of the table. I couldn’t get warm. That was Friday, and by far the coldest day we’ve had here. It was in the 50’s during the day and cooler at night. Anyway, we had gotten through the exam vetting and were finished with the model ward proposal and other agenda items, and I was congratulating myself for making it through the entire thing without falling asleep. I planned to work at home for the rest of the afternoon and get the proposal edited and sent. Well, that’s what I planned to do. What I knew I would do was go home, lie down on the couch and go to sleep. Anyway, when the meeting was finally done, Elizabeth said, “Linda, would you do the closing prayer?” I think I audibly groaned. Then, knowing I couldn’t refuse, sat up and said some lame stuff about being grateful to be able to work with these women and help improve things, or something like that. Then I realized I hadn’t said “God” yet, so threw that in somehow and I think I ended by saying, “That’s it. Amen.” It was short. It didn’t flow with the divine spirit that Bertha showed. I went home and felt bad about it before I fell asleep.

Whatever illness had come over me the evening before was short lived, thank goodness. It hit me like a ton of bricks about 8 pm and I felt feverish and nauseated. I thought it might be the onset of malaria, though that’s unlikely since I’m under the net so early I hardly ever even get a mosquito bite. Plus I’m bundled up in long pants and fleece under a blanket as soon as it’s dark, so I didn’t think that was it. I couldn’t get warm, couldn’t throw up, though I wanted to, and just rolled around in the bed moaning. Finally after a few antacids, the stomach pain let up enough for me to fall asleep for a little while, and I felt better in the morning, but still have no appetite. Not sure what it was, but it’s going away. I didn’t eat anything weird. At least I don’t have to worry about George catching it. Our water was off for awhile this week and when it came back on it might have had some bacteria in it. I’m thinking that might be the problem (especially after our tour of the water board). We filter our drinking water, but I wash vegetables from the tap, so who knows. Anyway. I had made a bunch of good food and it’s sitting there uneaten. I’ll give it to the guards if it doesn’t appeal to me today.

My first year students finished up their community health rotation this week. Our two field trips included a rural and urban village, and the assignment was to talk to villagers about living situations and health care choices and write up a report about it. Monday we went to Mpemba, the rural village. The students were required to wear their white uniforms and caps, which seemed impractical to me, but it’s expected, so they all brought a chithenje to wrap around themselves to keep the white white. A Health Surveillance Assistant (HSA), a villager trained in basic health and sanitation, showed us to the chief’s house. The views were spectacular. It’s a  village situated about fifteen kilometers from Blantyre, on a hillside overlooking the escarpment to the Shire Valley. Stunning setting. Gorgeous views. I wanted to live there. I instantly noticed the difference in the student’s demeanor compared to when they are working in the wards. Their interactions with the villagers were so much more fluid and natural, despite the fact that we were in uniforms and they were in rags. The ease of the students’ questions, the follow-ups to the responses, the HSA’s comfort and posture all struck me as so much healthier than the behavior I see at the health centers. The women were thoughtful and eager to share. Some of us sat on rocks, others spread zithenje and sat on the ground. At one house a woman brought out a bamboo mat for us to sit on and placed it on a steep hillside. I kept sliding down the hill and had to struggle to stay on the mat while staying decent in my uniform skirt. The older women sat in front, most wearing headscarfs and old blazers. There were some younger women with short sleeves and bare arms and I shivered looking at them. I had on a sweater and was still chilly. The younger women didn’t say much; the elders did the talking. Some had babies bundled up in several layers of zitenje and blankets. When they breastfed it was a chore to get the kid close enough to the breast to get it into their mouths. The students asked about pit latrines and refuse pits, about water supply and proximity, how far they had to walk to the nearest clinic, how they fed their families. I was struck by how polite and respectful the students were in this setting. At the clinics many students take on an air of superiority and don’t speak to the women with such reverence. I’m not surprised that women don’t want to go to the health centers. After we talked with several groups, we walked around the market area to see what vegetables and grains cost and compare it with what the villagers earned in a month which, for some, was zero. On the bus back to campus I asked if the students felt they were learning anything from the experience?  All twenty replied in singsong unison, “Yes Madam”.  “Like what?” I asked. They said they hadn’t realized that five families shared one pit latrine, there were no refuse pits, the trash and garbage just got tossed in the bushes. Most families don’t make enough to buy food at the market. I started a follow up to that but they were squealing and laughing and eating the sugar cane they got at a bargain, and I didn’t know what points I wanted to make, so chatted with Lily for the ride home.

Tuesday I was with fourth year students in Bvumbwe, attending another home visit and dreading handing them back their case studies. I always hate being there when they see their grades and then I have to deal with their response. I know it’s part of the job, and I do it, but I don’t like it. I find it exhausting. I’m lenient with grading and I still get complaints! Well, they really shouldn’t be considered complaints, though that’s how the faculty sees it. It’s really just being forced to rationalize why they didn’t get credit for something. Most of the time my response is, “Because it was absent. You didn’t include that. As I wrote in the comment section.” and then they begrudgingly accept the deduction. I feel bad though, because they aren’t taught strong writing skills and having to express themselves in writing is a challenge for them. They sometimes think they’ve included something that is totally different from what was asked for. They didn’t understand because it’s in English not Chichewa and they get penalized. Next year I want to work more on this with the first years. I won’t be seeing the fourth years again after I go on home leave and I’m going to miss them. Well, some of them. When we are done with the group discussion at the end of the day, and I ask if anyone else has something they want to say, the class leader always says, “I’d like to thank you for coming. We have learned a lot today.”  I’m not sure if this is sincere or not but it never fails to humble me.  Of course, there are a few others who are looking at their phones and acting bored, but when the day is through, I see the ones still looking at me and it makes me want to go back. This week is their last week there and Thursday afternoon their assignment is to meet with the health center staff, report on their experience, and give recommendations for improving care there. That should be interesting. I didn’t make up these assignments, so I’m hoping the staff takes it well. I told the students they should be respectful. I’m sure they will be but I’ve seen the staff get defensive and since I’ll be there on my own without another faculty member, I just hope it’s not confrontational.

Wednesday, with the first years (the term freshman is never used here. they say ‘first years, second years’, etc.) was an outing to an urban village, one I’d passed many times on the way to Zomba and didn’t know existed. It’s like a cliff dwelling behind a busy market on the main road. Fascinating. Had no idea it was there. It was very different from Mpemba with the sweeping lush views. This was cheek to jowl, filthy, collapsing dwellings, with narrow paths between. One latrine for eight to ten families, though they do have water taps in a central squares dotted throughout.  It is steep though, and carrying the water on their heads, even though they don’t have to walk as far, looked superhuman. They do their laundry at the base of the steep hill in a disgusting polluted river. Awful. We stood while the students talked to villagers; there is no place I would have sat in this place. Most of the families worked at the market, so had more money to buy food, but the living conditions were way worse. Pigs were raised right alongside the children. There were crude pig pens five feet away from kitchens, which I suppose, made it convenient to toss them some scraps. In the center was a nursery school for orphans. There were two hundred kids, ages three to five. Adorable and amazingly healthy looking. A group of women volunteers run it, with some funding from an NGO. A “kitchen” where they cook nsima and beans every day is located just outside the door, and that is all the kids get to eat. Lily asked if they ever get a vegetable? Nope, never. I looked around at the rock-hard clay and wondered if we could do a permagarden there? The more I read about permagardens, the more I want to start them in challenging areas. The classroom was one big bunker with the alphabet written on the dark cement walls in colored chalk. There was not a stick of furniture or toy or anything else. Just a big empty cement room with two hundred kids along the perimeter. Benito, our class leader, was a teacher before he started university and jumped right in and led the kids in song. It was beautiful. He is a sight to behold. Everyone loves Benito. When there was a pause in the activity, Lily asked if I wanted to address the kids? Ugh! I hate that! I am not as quick on my feet as they are! I said, “I don’t know what to say!” She said, “It doesn’t matter. Just say something.”  Apparently, a mzungu is a rare sighting in this village. When we were walking through some narrow passageway, I heard some kids saying something and Benito, behind me, started laughing. I asked what they said, and he told me, ”One child said, ‘I saw an mzungu! And the other replied, ‘Yes! I know! I saw it too!’” Anyway, it was another time this week I felt like I did a crappy job of public speaking. I said, “I want to tell you I’m happy to be here and see how healthy and smart you all are.” It was stupid and trite but they all clapped when Benito translated it. Like she said, it didn’t matter, but I wish she’d given me a heads up.  I’ve got to get a few prayers and stump speeches prepared. This feels too awkward.

George is in Maine and sounds so happy. As I sit here on my porch, listening to the birds and local sounds it seems strange to go home in the middle of a stint like this. I find it hard to bridge the two worlds. I’m looking forward to my trip and seeing my family and friends but it is so different from this existence and requires a mental adjustment. George said, “I can’t believe how easy everything is here!” I remember that feeling. Need something? Just go buy it. When was the last time a grocery store ran out of tonic water? It happens regularly here. Which is why we buy it whenever we see it. But you adjust your activity and mindset and get along just fine. Getting somewhere seems so simple at home. Gas stations don’t run out of petrol. Banks usually have money. If a restaurant has something on the menu, it’s usually something they can serve you. You can even go to church and have some time left of your Sunday to do something else! My house is rented, so I’ll have time to wander around once George comes back here in August. I’m actually looking forward to being homeless and not having to go to work!  I’ve got a tent and friends and family and I am so fortunate. I could never have imagined the turn my life has taken since that foggy morning in Berkeley waiting for the train. I’m sitting on an elephant’s back and I don’t take it for granted.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

July 2, 2017

Tsache latsopano limasesa bwino~ A new broom sweeps well.

~Malawian Proverb

Hi Everyone,

When am I ever going to learn to stop looking at Facebook unless I want to get depressed? This is like a bad cops and robbers movie that has gone on way too long. And I am not even looking at the posts I don’t agree with. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the argument about getting to know your enemy. I read The Art of War. I embrace the notion that once you truly know and understand the enemy, there will be no war. I try to understand where people are coming from, but this extremism …I don’t know where to go with it. It’s too painful for me to see people I know actually think this way. What does one do when all avenues of reason have been exhausted? Even Nelson Mandela got to the point when he believed armed resistance was the only answer. I pray to God we don’t come to that. Surely in this day and age there can be a more civilized answer. I mean, as adults we know when a child is having a temper tantrum because he can’t have ice cream for supper, we don’t give in. It’s uncomfortable, yes. It’s hard to reason and stand your ground, yes. Is it easier to just give him the fucking ice cream? Of course! Do we want our kid to die of malnutrition if we only feed him ice cream? No! Isn’t ice cream for dessert enough, for God’s sake? When are the uber-rich going to be satisfied? When they have eaten the entire earth? My aunt Ulca’s raspy voice is ringing in my ears, “How many steaks can you eat?!” (That was back in the day when steak was considered a treat.)

So, my state is shut down because of a temper tantrum and avenues of reason are littered with landmines. In grade school, when learning about past wars, I don’t recall learning what led up to them. I feel like we’re heading toward one now and it terrifies me. My recollection is the teacher saying a whole war was started when one guy stepped off a curb at the wrong time. It all seemed like fiction to me. Even though I devoured The Diary of Anne Frank and was horrified by the events, I felt like it was of a time I could, or would, never be part of. That somehow those people weren’t as intelligent as we are now, or something like that. I liked to think I would be brave enough to hide them in my house, never assuming I would be the one persecuted, of course. I always placed myself in the savior role. Best supporting actress. I remember the story of the woman who played a certain song on the piano to warn the Jews to get to their hiding places and be quiet. Her courage thrilled me. It made me want to learn to play the piano. I used to wonder what I would do in that situation? I wondered if I would be that brave? Would I have hidden slaves on the underground railroad? I always thought I would. I thought I would make a quilt to hang on the line to show them the way. But that was all when it was hypothetical. Now I feel like this is really happening, and what will I do?

George left this week for his home leave. The nursing school and the medical school are not coordinated one bit, so his schedule and mine do not jive at all. His classes have been finished for several weeks and start again late August, so he’s back in Maine until then. The nursing school doesn’t really have a break, not for the faculty anyway. Since there are so many students, they have to be staggered, so they go year-round. So I now have a group of fourth year students in clinical in one place, second year students in another, and I found out two weeks ago I was supposed to be co-teaching the community health class for the first year students. I found this out after the class had already started. “Didn’t anyone tell you you were teaching this with me?” Lily kindly asked one afternoon when I was already feeling overwhelmed with case studies. “I am?” I asked, surprised and sure she was mistaken. And then she pulled out a sheet I’d never seen before with my name and hers in the slot for Community Health. She claims it was emailed to us a while ago. I never saw it.  So my little calendar is a mess of scratched out names of health centers I’m supposed to go to. I have to keep rearranging the days of the week to accommodate all the different schedules. It’s confusing and I don’t feel like I’m doing a very good job.

Monday of the past week was a holiday. I found that out on Friday. It was Eid Mubarak celebrating the end of Ramadan, a national holiday not found on any calendar. So that meant I had to rearrange the trip to the health center I’d planned to go to that day, but it gave me a chance to hang out with Jill, our visitor from the states who was leaving that day. She and I spent the morning walking all over Blantyre looking for easily-packable souvenirs for her to take home and getting some exercise while seeing the sights.

Tuesday morning I walked the forty-five minutes to the Zingwangwa clinic to supervise the students there. I’ve found it’s quicker than walking to campus and waiting for a driver to take me. Plus, I get some exercise and have a chance to get mentally prepared to be depressed about the deplorable care women receive. But, I enjoy the walk and I get to watch a slice of life here I find fascinating. The market I walk through is rough and gritty and looks straight out of Dickens. Guys are making hoe blades with a makeshift forge of charcoal on the side of the road, next to another guy pounding tin into watering cans. We’re in the dead of winter and mornings and evenings are cold, in the 50’s. It warms up to the 60’s or low 70’s during the day, but it’s rather brisk now and walking is very pleasant. Zingwangwa is in the foothills of Soche Mountain and it’s even chillier there.

I found the students in their respectful areas but not doing a whole lot. I get frustrated with this, but can’t say it’s their fault. There is no one to guide them. There were a hundred (or more) women waiting for the the antenatal clinic to start. A health worker was doing a health talk and the students were just hanging around. I didn’t interrupt to ask why they weren’t the ones doing the health talk, just went in to see what was happening in labor and delivery. There, I found all three beds occupied with moaning women and the three students standing at one bedside talking to each other. None of them could tell me what was going on, so I got the “chart”, a piece of paper with a labor graph on it which was only partially filled in. There was no staff person to be found anywhere. These are second year nursing students with no obstetrical experience, managing three active labor patients alone. It was cold. I had on a long sleeved shirt and leggings under my uniform and a sweater on and I was still cold. The windows were open and cold air was blowing into the room. The laboring women were lying on wet zithenje covered only with another chithenje, curled up, shivering. Moaning. One woman sounded like she was pushing, so I pointed this out to the students and told them to get a delivery pack ready. They told me they had no delivery supplies; they were all finished. What?! “Well, get something!” I said. I had gloves in my pocket (I never go anywhere without gloves in my pocket) and put them on, and yes, indeed, the baby was coming. The students collected a piece of cotton pulled off a roll that was supposed to be sterile but was lying on a dirty table, two plastic cord clamps, and a syringe with oxytocin in it. They placed these items in an empty glove box. (Note the adjective: empty) I asked how they were expecting to cut the cord? Oh right. We’ve got to cut the cord…. In Chichewa they asked the woman if she’d brought a razor blade? Well, between pushes, she responded, yes she had, it was in the basin with her zithenje. We found the tiny Bic razor and got it out of the basin just before she vomited into it. I used my foot to move, the now full, basin under the bed and she collapsed onto her side. I lifted her leg and said, “Ok, the baby is right here.” One student said, “Madam, she should get onto her back.” I said, “No, she doesn’t have to move. She can stay like this. Watch.” Then did the delivery with her on her side over an intact perineum, placed the squalling baby between her breasts to keep the kid warm, and had to ask for one of them to give me a chithenje to cover him! Jeepers! It was freezing in there! The students were not impressed with me. They seemed put out. As I was telling them to get a dry chithenje to cover this baby with, the woman in the adjacent bed screamed, “A MAI!” and I pushed back the curtain with the back of my bloody glove to see a baby fly out of her vagina like being shot out of a canon, into a pool of water that I was hoping was still body temperature as the cold wind blew in the window above her head. Babies die here because they get cold. They die. I took my gloves off and fumbled for another pair in my pocket and got them on and got the baby onto her chest and covered with one of her chitenje when a staff member came running in and took over. I went back to the first woman and looked at the students and said, “Do you see why I tell you not to leave the women alone? Ever?” They said, “Yes.” and nothing else. “Do you think she got good care?” I asked. No answer to that and I didn’t push it as we still needed to finish with the placenta and everything. I was running out of gloves in my pocket. The mother was smiling and happy, though, so that was something. It’s so hard to teach anything here because it’s always such a mess. I feel like I’m just continually telling the students what they are doing wrong. I shouldn’t have to prod them to cover a cold baby! But they show up at these sites and the staff isn’t there and there is no one to teach them (Though, that is pretty damn basic and they learned it in lecture. The ones that weren’t asleep anyway.) Ugh.

So I finished up in there and went over to the antenatal clinic. The four students there were all in one exam room doing the visits themselves, no staff. I went in, greeted everyone, and asked them to explain to the patient who I was and tell me about her. They explained who I was then… silence. So I started, “How old is she?”  They have to look at her health passport to find the answer. “What number baby is this?” They have to look again. “When is she due?” The answer to this is always, “She doesn’t know.”  So I asked, “Then how do you expect to take care of her if you don’t know any of this?” Silence.

“What is her blood pressure?”

“We didn’t take it.”

“Why not?”

“The blood pressure cuff is low on battery. They told us to only take a blood pressure if she has symptoms.”

At this point I was refraining from banging my head against the wall. I pulled a manual cuff out of my bag and said, “Take it now.”  I taught this group of students in lecture and spent ten hours teaching them the components of an antenatal visit. Then they get to the clinical site and there are no resources and no clinical preceptors and it all goes to hell. It is so depressing. However, I told them that day, “Talk is free! Ask her! At least act like you care! That’s worth something!” But it was eleven a.m. and they hadn’t eaten and they were hungry and couldn’t focus and it’s just so depressing. (Ok, I think I have used that word enough) Most of these students don’t want to do obstetrics and it shows. This is a required rotation. This particular patient had a two year old with her, and I watched the child eat rice from a plastic container while her mother was examined. The child did not spill one grain of rice. Every single morsel made it into her mouth methodically. I couldn’t stop watching her. I thought it was a rather advanced fine motor skill for a two year old. It’s amazing how little gets wasted when there is true need. I thought of all the meals our dog ate off the floor when our two-year olds ate rice.

When I left there I walked an hour to a lovely little restaurant where I met a guy who is here on a Fulbright, teaching architecture at the Polytechnic Institute. He’s interested in helping design this model ward I am desperate to get going. Days like that were a perfect preamble for my argument. I unloaded all my frustrations over a coca cola (a real coke in a glass bottle, with real cane sugar, so delicious). I told him the likelihood of this being a new building with solar power and rain water collection systems is close to zero. As much as that pipe dream would be fabulous, the reality is going to start in a corner of the existing ward. I’m just hoping to have a steady water supply and blood pressure cuffs (some of which have been donated and I’m guarding with my life). But we need a place where students can see what decent care is, and I don’t mean loads of supplies, though, having a way to keep what we do have clean would be nice. Respecting women, showing compassion, allowing them to labor and deliver in whatever position they want, all of this is free. I don’t want to build the Mayo Clinic. So I had a great time with him (his name is Chris) and he is supportive and amenable and eager to do whatever he can. That felt good. And then I walked home where I thought George and I would have a nice dinner and evening for his last night here. Well, that was a bust. He was totally stressed and preoccupied with finishing up loose ends before leaving here for seven weeks. I was exhausted and stupidly laid on the couch looking at Facebook, freaking out about my country. We’ve had better evenings.

Wednesday was the day I had to go with the first year students to the Blantyre Water Board and the Sewerage Treatment Plant as part of their Community Health course. George’s flight was at 3:40 so the taxi was coming at one. I told him I’d be home for lunch to say goodbye. Lily and I and the twenty students loaded the bus for the Water Treatment Plant. The students had prepared questions and we were all in uniform and looking smart. I was looking forward to this! A field trip where all I had to do was learn something! It wasn’t very far, and when we arrived, Lily told the students to wait while we went in and announced ourselves. The receptionist had no idea we were coming and didn’t know where to direct us. Lily gave her the name of the woman she contacted and we were directed to her office. We walked though the office building, down a maze of corridors out to another building where we found Brenda sitting at her empty desk. Well, it wasn’t completely empty. There was a phone and a laptop, but those occupied one  twentieth of the desk. It looked empty. Lily introduced us while Brenda shook her head sadly. “We didn’t know you were coming”, she said. “You were supposed to book ahead.”

Lily said, “Yes, you knew we were coming. I sent a letter and the secretary followed up yesterday with a call.”

“I never got a call. You can’t tour today. You have to book ahead.”

Lily said, “But the students are all on the bus and we did book ahead. I didn’t call myself but I know the secretary said she called yesterday.”

“I never got a call. You need permission from the director and it’s too late for that” said Brenda without having the slightest sympathy. It was like she had a thing against Lily. It was very weird.

I asked if she could call the director and ask because we really did try to book ahead. Sorry for the miscommunication. This seemed to make Lily mad. She said, “No! We did book ahead! They are just showing their muscle! They can take us!” Well, it looked to me like we had to get by Brenda and she wasn’t budging. I didn’t know if Lily’s tactic was going to be effective. I’d never seen Malawians act like this before. I shut my mouth. Then Brenda made a great show of picking up the landline and calling the director. The conversation was all in Chichewa, but she put the receiver down and said definitively, “No sorry. Not today. You have to book ahead.”

Lily said, “But that’s because of how you asked him! You didn’t tell him I sent a letter a week ago!” And with disgust she told me to get up, we were leaving. And we walked out. I asked her what Brenda had said to the director? She said, “She told him she only saw the letter yesterday and we didn’t confirm and we just showed up!” then walked ahead of me to the reception area. I stopped at the desk and asked if we could talk to the director. I turned to Lily, “Maybe we can explain ourselves to him.” The receptionist told us we couldn’t see him, but directed us to a lovely woman in charge of PR and there we described our situation. She was completely sympathetic. “Oh! The students are sitting out there on the bus? Of course you can have a tour! Let me find someone!” But we’d left out the Brenda part. This lovely woman bopped back into the office saying she’d gotten permission and would just go over to Brenda’s office to find someone to take us on the tour. She told us to go ahead and bring the students in. Uh oh. I was kinda hoping we wouldn’t see Brenda again. Lily was impressed, though. She said, “Wow! I would have just given up. I’m glad you persevered.”  I said, “Let’s get the students in quick before she talks to Brenda.”  So we got the kids off the bus and all twenty in the reception area looking at the blackboard with the water quality data. A few minutes later, Lovely and Brenda, both stone faced, marched through the group to another office and closed the door. I said, “I think there’s a disagreement.” They were in there a long time. When they finally emerged, Lily and I were told to come into a different office where Lovely wasn’t so happy with us. Brenda stood behind her like an executioner. Lovely said, “You will be allowed to tour today. But in the future, you are required to book ahead and receive a confirmation before you bring anyone here. There are safety issues.” I said, “Oh, of course. I’m so sorry about the miscommunication. We’ll come in person next time to make sure it is confirmed and not rely on telephone. What time are you here in the mornings?”

“Seven thirty.” No smile.

I said, “Ok! Thank you!” Lily looked furious. Brenda stomped out saying she would go find someone to take us on the tour. I told Lily, “At least the morning isn’t wasted. I’m so used to kissing ass to get things done. It’s just like this at home.” That seemed to soften her mood and we went out to wait for someone, whom I hoped would be nice to us, to show us the plant. We explained to the students that finally someone was coming. This whole thing had taken two hours. Well, it was Brenda. She couldn’t find anyone else, so had to take us herself. I thought, oh this is not going to be good so decided to try to warm her up a bit. I walked next to her and asked questions like: how long she’d worked there?, what was her background?, did she find the work interesting? and it worked. She turned out to be quite chatty and nice and very informative. I’m not sure what the earlier dynamic was, but some kind of power struggle I didn’t understand. We walked out to the reservoir and then through the treatment plant. I was impressed, though the equipment looked beaten up and corroded, it seemed the process worked. On the blackboard it said the fecal coliform bacteria count was zero, so it looked to me like they were doing their job. The tour was cut a little short since we wasted the first two hours, but it was worth it. We thanked her profusely, the student leader did a lovely speech of gratitude, and we left. I made it home to say goodbye.

That afternoon was another field trip to the sewerage treatment plant and Lordy it was disgusting. We wore face masks but the smell was overpowering and when I saw the (untested) water flowing into the river I was nearly gagging. Then we saw kids washing their legs in the sewerage and I did gag. The guys doing the tour would not stop complaining about their jobs. They said they don’t have the money to fix the equipment when it breaks down. They have to sell vegetables at the market to raise money to fix the machinery. I looked toward the river and saw what looked like a gorgeous vegetable garden. I’m sure it was well fertilized. I won’t be buying vegetables at that market.

I came home that evening to an empty house and felt strange. I lived alone for many years and loved having the time and place to myself but it is an adjustment. I’ve become used to having someone around. I’m acclimatizing; I’m not uncomfortable and don’t feel unsafe alone. I thought this would be wind down and finish up loose ends time. I thought I’d get lots of craft time in. But being out at clinical sites three days a week chews up a lot of time and I find myself behind with administrative and grading stuff. I’ve still got case studies to grade and sixteen projects I’m starting to wish I never assigned.

Thursday I was out with the fourth year students and went on two home visits with them for their postnatal project. That was fun. I love community health. I love going to people’s homes. These were long walks from the health center, an hour each way, but as I told the students when they complained, the women have to walk this in labor! They both did a good job and were sensitive and caring and thorough. I was impressed and relieved after Tuesday. Maybe something is getting through. The conditions in the village are pretty shocking, though. It’s incredible to see how people live with next to nothing. They had mosquito nets, but not much else. Still, the babies, both a week old, were warm and thriving. The mothers both complained that they had pelvic and back pain, but were still walking a half mile to the bore hole and carrying heavy water back on their heads. I suggested that maybe they rest for a week and have someone else carry the water. They are asking quite a lot of their bodies. Finding someone else to do it is another thing, however. I asked the students if the village women don’t help each other after childbirth? Can’t they form some kind of coop for getting water when someone is fresh postpartum? Maybe we could introduce that idea. A new idea like a new broom. Sometimes everyone can see that it works well.

Friday, I met Noah, a young Peace Corps volunteer who is going to help with the permagarden at the orphanage. We met for lunch to discuss our plan then took a minibus out to meet Godknows. But he wasn’t there. I called him and he hadn’t realized we were coming, another in a series of miscommunications, so suggested we talk to one of the older kids; he’d catch up with us another time. Noah, having lived here for over a year, was totally nonplussed. We found Sandra, a twenty year old university student who described herself as “one of the kids”. She showed us where they currently grow some vegetables and gave us as much information as she could, but we’ll have to go back another time when Godknows is there. It wasn’t a waste though. We took photos and measured the space and got an idea of what we had to work with. I hadn’t needed to carry the ten pounds of seeds around all day, however. But that will just make me stronger. Noah and I made a follow-up plan, said goodbye, and I walked home the ten kilometers to sink into a Friday evening beer and bed. Wiped out but satisfied.

Whew! That was a lot to tell!

I’ve got another busy week coming up and I can see my final month before home leave will fly. I’m determined to eat what’s left in the house before I go so I can unplug the fridge while we’re away. Just a little personal challenge I like to give myself. I will not however, be able to drink all the beer and gin our friends left! It’ll be something George doesn’t have to shop for during his two solo months.

Ok, now to make turmeric tea with the fresh turmeric a friend just brought and then break my no-work Sunday rule and finish these case studies….

Love to all,