Sunday Morning~ Boston
July 30, 2017
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.