Sunday Morning ~ Salima

Sunday Morning ~ Salima

February 11, 2018

Hi Everyone,

Since George had an appointment Monday morning in Lilongwe, we decided to spend the weekend at the lake. There are three lake resorts on our list to visit before we leave here and of the three, we’ve been to only one, Domwe Island. We thought this would be a good chance, since we’d be driving this way anyway, to stay at the Blue Zebra, which is only two hours from Lilongwe. George called to make a reservation, hoping we’d get a “green season special”, a rate reduction for the rainy season when it’s hard to get around and the lake isn’t as appealing.  The Blue Zebra, which came highly recommended with comments from friends like, “You HAVE to stay there” was closed for renovations. Bummer. So we could either bag the lake idea for the weekend and just drive up to Lilongwe on Sunday, or since we’d already set our little minds on a weekend lounging on the lake, we could stay at a resort that’s open. We chose the latter. There are loads of little lake resorts hardly inhabited–––we have no idea how they make a living. We asked around and got a recommendation for the place we are sitting at now, a secluded retreat tucked into a hillside easily within driving distance to Lilongwe. It’s not far from the Blue Zebra (we think, we actually have no idea where the Blue Zebra is or how to get there. It’s on an island somewhere around here and they have to come pick you up with a boat. We’ll figure that out when we stay there.) This place is sweet, the price includes all meals and a boat ride each day where yesterday we watched fish eagles come at us with laser precision to capture fish that the crew tossed into the water. It was a wilder version of Sea World, but really neat.  We’ve seen lots of fish eagles sitting in trees looking around and have always wanted to see one catch a fish, so for our eighty bucks a night, voila!

There is a hotel in Lilongwe with the proper name of Kumbali Lodge, but it is known to everyone as “the place where Madonna stays”. When I asked someone familiar with Lilongwe if they could suggested a place on the lake an easy drive to the city they said, “You know the place where Madonna stays? Well, they opened second place on the lake and it’s nice.” So we gave that one a shot, and they were right! It is nice! Simple, eco friendly (which means composting toilets, no electricity or wifi, water pumped up from the lake by solar panel, and cool showers), and nothing to do but read, write, paint, and walk a little. There is no trail up the hill for a bit of a hike and it’s thick with native vegetation, so a stroll through the nearby village was all the exercise we got yesterday. I read one entire book, finished another, and chatted with other guests. That was the all we did to earn the three excellent meals we ate. Good thing we’re only staying a weekend or none my clothes would fit by Wednesday.  It has been socked in and rainy (thus the special rates) but not being a sun bather, this is fine with me. I’m happy to sit under the thatched common area looking at the lake with the balmy breeze washing over me.  It’s amazing how waterproof this thick thatch is. There are bamboo curtains that can be rolled down if the rain gets heavy and sideways, which would make it quite dark in here, but that hasn’t been necessary.

There are five other guests staying here. The individual bungalows are hidden in the hillside, and though we see little stone steps going off here and there, we can’t see the other bungalows. They all have their own toilet and shower (separate enclosures outside the bamboo rooms) so we don’t bump into anyone unless we want to. When in our perch overlooking the lake surrounded by trees it feels like we are the only people here. It’s a hike to get down to the beach and dining room, but unlike Domwe, these paths are smooth and the decent is facilitated by stone steps. There are mason-jar solar lights placed about every twenty feet. It’s more polished. I feel ridiculously pampered. I feel like we are on a romantic honeymoon about every third week. How did I get so lucky? It comes down to about a day and two thirds here, but it feels exotic and indulgent. We think we deserve it. We want to support the tourism industry. I’m good at rationalization, and really, eighty bucks a night for this? That’s one dinner out at home!

The week had been administratively busy. I am definitely not cut out to sit in an office all day. I can’t stand it. But I was applying for a grant to get the model ward off the ground and grants have deadlines so I bit the bullet and sat down to fill in the blanks. It probably would have been more efficient to do it in the evening at home, but since I get frustrated with George for woking at home all the time I vowed to complete it in the office. We are still waiting for the final approval from the hospital director, who told us he saw no problem with the idea but wanted to talk to a few of the doctors before he gave his final consent. I swallowed my disgust at that comment and, since we had already talked with the head of the department at the College of Medicine who loved the idea, hoped that closed meeting wouldn’t sabotage the whole thing. I am very leery of anyone meeting without the people who know about the project since if they have questions we aren’t there to respond and they can make up all kinds of problems, but we had to nod politely and accept this. We were told we’d be informed the following Thursday. On that Thursday, (ten days ago) I tried to find the matron who was invited to the meeting to find out if it was a go. Couldn’t find her anywhere. Called her phone, went to her office, she was nowhere to be found. Friday, late afternoon, I found her getting ready to leave for the weekend. I asked her what had transpired? She told me they hadn’t met yet, that it was postponed until the following Tuesday. Ok, glad it wasn’t a no, but a call would have been nice. I explained that I was writing a grant for seed money for the project and it was due on Thursday the 8th, so I really needed the information by Tuesday and asked if she’d call me as soon as the meeting was over so I could proceed. She agreed, we shared phone numbers, I called her cell phone as I stood there to make sure it worked, all set.  Tuesday came and went, no call. Wednesday came and went, no call. In the meantime, I’d finished writing the grant, met with my colleagues to make out the budget and I sent it off a full twenty-six hours before it was due. I went with the no news is good news theory. Thursday (grant due day) at five p.m. I got a call from the matron saying they had met, but still needed to discuss it with us further and we would be included in the next meeting. In the meantime I should not send in the grant application as they needed to be involved with writing the grant. I said, well, it was due today and I hadn’t heard from you so I sent it in. But please let me know when the next meeting is, we would love to be there. And I hung up and got ready for my women’s class on Friday. Not even giving that another thought. Not going to get frustrated. Nope. Not me.The grant is in. They didn’t call. I’ll figure out how to finesse that if we get the grant.

I can really see why so many people start their own projects here. It’s so much easier to just do it than jump through all the ever-moving hoops. I could see raising money to start our own maternity center and set our own protocols and manage it the way we wanted, and we’d all live happily ever after. There are hundreds if not thousands of little projects around the country like that. It’s really quite easy to just build your own hospital. If you’ve got the money, no one cares what you do. It’s even easier if you toss a little to the local chiefs. But that’s not sustainable and I have no desire to go that route.

One of the guests staying here is a consultant for UK AID and has tons of experience with NGOs and work in developing countries. He’s from London and we’ve had a great time talking with him this weekend. In the course of our conversations, the getting to know each others where are you froms, etc. he said, “Oh, you’re from Maine. I’ve been to Maine.”  And the conversation continued, etc etc etc, later in a lull I asked what had brought him to Maine, and Bethel at that? He said he had a good friend who lives outside of Boston, British but married to an American teaching in a small town high school. They’d gone up to Bethel to ski. I asked which town outside of Boston? Always curious when someone says “outside of Boston”. He said, “It’s a tiny place, maybe you’ve not heard of it, it’s called Maynard.”  Ok, I laughed for several reasons, not only because that’s where I grew up, but because his prelude was how I always describe the town…you’ve probably never heard of it….Then I asked, “Have you actually been there?” And he said, “Oh, yes. Many times. He lives on Bent Ave.”  Which happens to be two streets down from my little dead end street. Bent Ave was on my paper route. I can’t wait to ask my friends who are still there if they know him. What a hoot.

So that was the excitement for the weekend. Fish Eagles swooping around us and meeting someone who’s been to Maynard Massachusetts. In a little while we’ll head up to Lilongwe, I’ll meet up with some students in the morning, do some business at the Peace Corps office, then the five hour drive back to Blantyre. The women’s group will meet without me tomorrow morning, but it’s gotten into a comfortable routine and I left Chimemwe with all the instructions to set it up. I feel like pretty soon he’ll be teaching the class himself.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~  Blantyre

February 4, 2018

Ukaipa nkhope, dziwa nyimbo ~  If you get an ugly face, learn how to sing.

~ Chewa Proverb

Hi Everyone,

We’ve had four classes now for this women’s group and I am impressed with them! They’ve made some cool jewelry and are learning some more complicated techniques for woven bracelets. These are good because they can get the materials locally, they are lightweight, and easy to sell because people––both men and women–– wear several of them at a time. They still need practice and refining, but I am happy to see their determination. Eneless spent time on Friday teaching entrepreneurial skills and they were attentively taking notes. She taught them how to open a bank account and how to figure out how to price things in order to make a profit. It made me see the other side to bargaining for a better price when I’m in a craft market.  It was pretty basic, but a start, and I’ve shown some of their creations to my friends and colleagues to promote the craft fair we are going to have at the graduation. I’m pretty sure we can make enough money to buy them some supplies to do this on their own. We might need another eight weeks to refine their skills if we are to send the stuff to free trade markets outside this country, but we’ll see. I’m pleasantly shocked at how fast they are learning. Chimwemwe, the gardener, sat in on Friday’s class. He was making bracelets like mad and was helping the women who were struggling with the knots.  He said he would love to sell these but doesn’t think he could make enough money to feed his family. I asked him why it was that mostly men made the crafts here? Most of the tailors are men, all the jewelry makers are men, and there are so few tourists that the market is very small to make a living out of it. The only way women without education can make a living, and a meager one at that, is to be a maid. And to do that she has to leave her children alone, with the older ones taking care of the younger ones. That means the girls can’t go to school. So if the women could learn to do these crafts, they can do it at home and they don’t have to leave the young children. That means the school aged girls can attend school. He listened. He said he had never thought of it that way. I told him I was happy for him to sit in on the class, but my goal here is to help the women learn a way to support themselves. “Yes, yes!” he agreed, but I had a little sense that there was some jealousy there. It’s a struggle for everyone, I know.

Sunday mornings I write before church then come home and finish what I started. St Pious is the church I go to, a half hour walk into a rather poor section of Blantyre.  It’d be a blue collar neighborhood if they were identified by collar colors. It’s a simple church; the pews have no backs and the windows are plain louvers with rebar for security. The parishioners are segregated, women on one side, men on the other. The walk there is hazardous in some spots as the dirt path on the side of the road is washed away and the road is very narrow and minibuses take up all the space. But I like the church. I love the setting once you get inside the wall, a sprawling area with several school buildings and community hall in addition to the church. Soche Mountain looms up in the background. I like the music. There is something spiritually comforting there. The sermons are similar to ones I hear in other churches but the setting is what I like. My biggest complaint there is that the primitive paintings on the church walls all depict a white Jesus and apostles. Mary is pretty pale as well. I go to the English mass at eight o’clock and the sermons are understandable but take some effort. Their accent is difficult sometimes.  But the people are welcoming and I feel comfortable there. There is no social time afterward, everyone leaves right after mass, though it takes some time getting out of the church, it’s usually that crowded. People talk as they are leaving. The youth groups sometimes sell things outside to raise money; last week it was pineapples. I got four of them for about $1.50.

I go almost every week when we’re home and I don’t think we’ve had the same priest two weeks in a row. I’m not sure if they are all stationed there or if they have a lot of visiting priests, but last week was memorable. First of all the priest was quite tall, much taller than average Malawians. He was strikingly handsome with wire rimmed glasses and chiseled features. His voice was beautiful, a deep bass that would have been easy to listen to if he were reading a telephone book. His English was perfect and the accent very easy to understand. I immediately assumed he was educated in some English speaking country. I can’t decide if his sermon was really exceptional, if it was just what I wanted to hear, or if it was just his voice or his looks, but it was riveting. The sermon was about how not to lose hope. I guess that’s poignant in these times but there was something about the way he delivered this message that was striking. He made hanging in there sound like it was a fun thing not a chore.  Again, I could have just been looking for someone to say this to me in a certain way, but it went right to my marrow. I’d been getting discouraged with the lack of progress with the model ward, not sure what the outcome of this women’s class would be, and worrying so much about the type of country my grandchildren will inherit, I wanted someone  to tell me it’s all going to be alright. In a way I could believe it. I was attentive to hearing about the suffering people have endured and where they found the strength to get through it without giving up. I listened to every word instead of thinking about what I needed to do during the week. It’s rare for me to be focused on a sermon like that.  When he was finished, he stood silently at the lectern, in what I thought was a moment of reflection, and then started singing in the most beautiful clear low voice, “This little light of mine…” and when he finished that line he stopped and waited and the congregation sang back, “I’m gonna let it shine…” then they were silent.  He waited, then repeated, “This little light of mine…”  they sang back, “I’m gonna let it shine..” and we went through the whole song that way. I was covered in goosebumps, which was refreshing since it was a million degrees in there, and thought, “Aha! So this is how a cult works.” Really. I felt like I would have followed him anywhere. It was inspiring.

So maybe it was the positive attitude I gleaned from that, not sure, but the hospital director FINALLY met with us on Monday and was positive about our idea of the model ward. He said he didn’t see any problems with it but still needed to talk with a few others like the deputy director (who is a nurse and sympathetic to us), so we are hopeful this will get a lift off the ground now. I’m finishing writing a grant to get some seed money for it. It’s given me a little injection of energy and vision for the project again. So, thank you Fr. Handsome with the beautiful voice.

Today at the end of mass we sang Kumbaya, a song I hadn’t heard at mass since 1975. At first I chuckled, since the only time I have heard that word in the past several decades is for people to use it to mock “touchy feely” gatherings and I guess I’ve sort of bought into the negative connotation. I wondered what the word actually meant, so looked it up when I got home. Come by here. It’s a pretty song. I like it.

Love to all,

Linda