Sunday Morning~ My Daughter’s House
October 22, 2017
My time in the states is closing in. In ten days I’ll go back to Malawi, a country rather shaken up right now with bizarre violence. George and all the volunteers in the southern region have been evacuated to Lilongwe until the situation calms down. He said he didn’t feel unsafe, and no one was targeting him, but there was a lot of surreal tension in the air and Peace Corps felt it prudent to remove all the volunteers. In the rural areas belief in witchcraft is prevalent and it gets blamed for a lot of misfortune. They sometimes believe that people die because an evil spell was cast on them. Many well educated people are also superstitious though they don’t act out like this. I’m only getting snatches of information about how this came to become so severe, but angry mobs are killing people suspected of vampirism. They call them bloodsuckers. When there is a phenomenon they don’t understand they’ll blame it on evil spirits, not unlike the witch trials of 1692 in our country. There are more immediate consequences in Malawi, however as they don’t wait for a formal trial to execute someone suspect. It’s terrible and it’s unclear who will be the next victim. A mob attacked a doctor on his way home from doing surgery because they thought his stethoscope was a bloodsucking instrument. An epileptic man was killed because he was thought to be possessed. I’m waiting for more information from George, but I know it’s been in the international news so I’ve gotten a couple of calls from worried family members. I’m still scheduled to go back on time. If I can’t go directly to Blantyre, I can work in Lilongwe at the campus there until things settle. There are many research projects going on in Malawi and many require collecting blood (HIV research for example). This may be where the bloodsucking fear came from, but that’s just speculation. I’m anxious to get back there and see what’s happening and talk with my Malawian colleagues. I hope my students are ok.
I’m still on the road and have worked my way up to the Boston area, grateful for the time I’ve had with family, friends, and nature. I’m without my car at the moment and therefore most of my belongings. The timing chain went so it’s undriveable. It’s in a repair shop in Brooklyn, New York with guys who seem like they care about mini coopers, so that’s good. When I limped in there Friday the sound it was making made everyone look up and grimace. I knew that was a bad omen. Then they looked in the back window and said, “Running away from home?” I told them I’d been living out of my car for the past two months and was hoping they could fix whatever was wrong by the next day. They just shook their heads and said, “Doubt it by the way it sounds.” I told them to go ahead and fix it; I’ll figure out a way to go pick it up next week. I’m incredibly grateful it waited until I got to and from my talk in Harlem and didn’t leave me stranded on some forsaken highway. The travel goddesses were with me. I made my way to Chinatown yesterday to get the cheap bus to Boston, an adventure since the subways weren’t running on the line I needed. Thank God Jake was with me or I’d still be wandering around the tunnels of Manhattan.
I spent more time than ever the past two weeks next to the ocean, someplace I’m not always comfortable. I took longs walks every morning on the beach, miles and miles of them where I saw very few people. I tried to get that feeling of serenity and peace that others describe when they are on the beach but it just isn’t there for me. It stirs me up and evokes some kind of anxiety. I paid more attention to it this time and stopped trying to fight it. I’m intrigued by those who love to swim and are drawn to the water. In the whole two weeks by the warm waters of the southern states I never went in over my knees, and that was only when a wave caught me by surprise. My ankles were as deep as I wanted to get. I appreciate the beauty and the power of the ocean, but I am most at peace in the mountains and woods.
The eastern shores along the mid atlantic states are beautiful in a way I never realized however, and I am grateful to have spent time there. I drove from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, up through Delaware, then took a ferry to Cape May, New Jersey and drove to New York from there. It was so much prettier than I imagined. I honestly didn’t know there was that much undeveloped land in the east. The cotton fields I passed in North Carolina somehow took me by surprised and as pretty as they were, they gave me a sick feeling in my gut. I love fabric and love cotton, but when I see the fields I think of the broken lives that industry was built on and am shamed by our history of barbarism. The confederate flags I saw flying in various places were disturbing and added a feeling of dread. I’m scared of where we may be heading. That said, in the past month of traveling I’ve met warm, friendly, helpful people, proud of their communities, compassionate, and caring. In Virginia I pulled off the highway when my oil light went on and pulled into a service station. I was thumbing through the manual trying to find the oil gauge when a young man came over and asked if I needed help. He didn’t need the manual. When it was obvious the car needed oil, he waited until I went to buy some, put it in, then made sure everything was ok before I took off again. I offered to buy him coffee. He refused and told me to be safe. I told him I’d pay his kindness forward. He waved as he walked away and said, “Mah wife never checks the oil either. Have a safe trip.” He got into his monstrous truck and drove off. There are so many good people out there.
Tomorrow I’ll drive back to Maine for the week and pack up for the next year. Friends have lent me their unneeded car so I’m mobile again. Wednesday night I’ll drive to Portland to give a talk at the Trinity Episcopal Church. I got this invitation to speak a year and a half ago and I planned my whole home leave around it. I have so much I want to say in one hour. I need to spend some time in the next two days honing.
The leaves are beautiful, the air is warm, the grandkids are flipping adorable, and I’m grateful.
Love to all,