Sunday Morning~ Leaving Blantyre

Sunday Morning~  Blantyre

June 24, 2018

Ukacoka usamatseka mwala, koma kutseka mayani ~ When leaving do not block the exit with stones, but with leaves.

~Chewa proverb

Hi Everyone,

It’s that panicky time just before leaving. It’s when I kick myself for delaying packing to the last minute. Thinking I had two whole afternoons, I’d have ample time to pack, but ugh, the crap seems to multiply in the closet as I remove it. We’ve only been here two years! How did this much stuff accumulate? It’s little niggling stuff, small bottles of shampoo, hand lotion (which I never use), shower caps (really?) from hotels, old socks, pens, half bottles of ibuprofen and about ten bottles of bug spray I’ve never used. I hadn’t considered myself materialistic or sentimental even. I said that to my son today and he said incredulously, “Mum, you saved our placentas.”  

Lots of goodbyes this week. The midwifery faculty had a luncheon for me on Friday; it was at my house, but they all brought the food. It was really sweet, we all wore the T-shirts I brought from Savannah that say “MIDWIVES FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE”, bright purple with vibrant yellow lettering. The food was plentiful, the prayers sincere and heartfelt, and the speeches touching. I decided to read them an entry from my journal I made my first week on the job. I first met everyone at a faculty meeting before the first term started. I had come off Mulanje the day before and could hardly walk. I limped to the bus that’d been waiting for me and couldn’t get up the step. I had to hoist myself up hanging onto the railings and felt like I was making a terrible first impression. That night I’d written about it in my journal and described a few of them who were quite vocal at the meeting. Two years later, my impressions were pretty funny. They laughed hysterically. I had written that I didn’t know whether to call them by their first or last names, how I couldn’t figure out who was who and felt overwhelmed. They wanted me to write an epilog and describe each of them. Ursula said it gave her a better idea of what it was like to be a stranger here.

I’m sitting on the little rattan love seat on our porch and Catherine is sitting next to me watching me type. I read her the proverb above, but I don’t think she understood. She looked confused. Probably my pronunciation. Or maybe the translation isn’t right. But it’s uncomfortable to type with her staring at the screen as I write. I’m feeling crowded and I don’t like it. But she’s watching the words form across this screen like she’s watching a movie. This is awkward. Hopefully she’ll get bored soon.

Yesterday, my women’s group came for the last time. Last month we’d decided on the date knowing I was leaving right afterward. I worked hard to find someone to come and talk to them about business skills and where to take the group from here. My neighbor works at Catholic Relief Services (I had thought it was Save the Children, but I got that wrong) and she had a work colleague who works with groups developing business skills. He agreed to come and talk to the women, who, were supposed to be here at nine. It ended up being more like ten. No one turned a hair at this.

I’d also met a woman named Rachael last week interested in starting a women’s cooperative. She’d been considering how to get one going and was talking to a friend about it. Her friend directed her to me and it was a dream come true. She’s a scientist who studies bats and was looking for someone to make some jewelry with bat designs on it. I’d had anxiety about leaving this group and was eager to meet someone who had interest, time, and the skills to take it to a different level. She was all of that. She came to meet them yesterday and we had a little village meeting discussing where we’d go from here. I’ve been holding money from the jewelry sales and asked the women what to do with it. I told them it was their money but they hadn’t figured out how to open a bank account yet so didn’t want to take responsibility for it. I reminded them again, I am leaving. This money has to go somewhere. So it was decided that Rachael would hold onto it and they would work on getting an account open. They also want to hire another teacher to improve their skills and learn new ones. I am so proud of these women. They need to learn to work as a group but they are motivated and so grateful for the chance to learn something. James (the guy from Catholic Relief Services) was fantastic. He started by having them all close their eyes and imagine where they would be in 2022. Then he went around the group and had them share where they imagined their future taking them. It was quite moving. He asked them how they had been functioning since the formal lessons ended and there was a long discussion in Chichewa I didn’t understand. Then he pointed to one woman and said, “You. You are the arm.”  He pointed to another and said, “You are the knee.”  Another woman got singled out and he said, “You are the head.” He went around to everyone assigning them different parts of the body. At the end he said, “You all have to function as one body. An arm can’t go off on it’s own. The same with a knee.”  Then there was a bunch more Chichewa I didn’t understand, but the upshot of it was that we would have eight more weeks of lessons, a location was decided upon for the classes, the teachers identified, and I’m leaving designated money with Rachael for that. (This is separate from the money they’ve earned making jewelry.) I told them that after these eight weeks if they want more lessons they have to figure out how to pay the teacher themselves. James is going to meet with them every two weeks to help them form a cooperative and learn business and marketing skills. Nothing could have made my last week here end on a higher note. At the end of the meeting one of the women said a speech and James translated it. She said they were all very grateful to me and they felt like God had dropped me from heaven. Then they presented me with a chitenje  and one by one came up and hugged me. It was so sweet. This went so far beyond where I thought it would. I had a little sense of not wanting to let go of it but I know they will all benefit from new energy and vision. I am letting go of it for now.

On Thursday we had another meeting for the midwifery ward. The language is not longer focused on whether this will happen or not, but when and how it will happen. Big shift. We formed sub committees and one of them was to plan the launching party so we’ve definitely taken it to another level. Tomorrow I need to write up the minutes for that meeting, write a final report for Peace Corps and finish packing. We leave for Lilongwe on Tuesday, have a few days there finishing up administrative things then hit the road for Zambia on Friday. Chris and Sarah will meet us in Lilongwe Thursday night and do the first week of our trip with us. The thought of having two months to explore is the sweetest of thoughts. Lifelong dream coming up.

Next Sunday we will be on our way to Victoria Falls and will be overnight in Lusaka, Zambia. I still plan to find internet on Sundays and send off a log. My son wanted to know how long he should go before worrying if he doesn’t see the blog. He said, “How long before we should worry about the vultures picking at your skeletons?”  I told him not to worry. We’ll carry lots of water. We’re not going to be stupid. Namibia is the least populated country in Africa and I hear you can go long distances without seeing anything, but we’ll be cautious and carry water and blankets. We hear the nights are cold.  Can’t wait!!

This is choppy and rushed, but I’ll fill in around the edges when I am a lady of leisure with long days of unstructured hours. 

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ Liwonde

Sunday Morning ~ Liwonde

June 17, 2018

Mwana wa mfulu sagona ndi njala ~ A child of a generous man does not go to sleep with an empty stomach.

~Malawian proverb

Hi Everyone,

I was four years old when we moved into the house on Pomciticut Ave. One of my first memories there was my mother spelling out the name of the street to people, “P-O-M” then a pause, “C-I” pause “T-I” pause, “C-U-T”.  I guess the pauses were to allow people to write it down, but at the time it sounded like a little song to me. My mother was three weeks away from giving birth to my youngest brother when we moved into that house. I remember my father painting the ceilings. I remember using the toilet for the first time and having to ask him to zip up my shorts because the zipper was in the back. Very chic for a four year old, but it was 1960. Elastic waistbands were futuristic back then. They were red shorts, I remember that. The one bathroom was upstairs and the stairs (thirteen of them, I counted) were steep. I have little snapshots of memories from the first years in that house. I remember my father’s mother visiting. She was ancient to me and didn’t speak English. She always wore a black print dress that buttoned up the front with a narrow belt at the waist. When we visited her in Pittsfield I hated going into her house. It smelled funny and was dark and cluttered. She always seemed angry and yelled at us in Italian. Maybe she wasn’t yelling but it seemed so to me. She didn’t like us to touch anything. I remember the five of us standing outside fighting about who was going to go in first. I remember my brother saying, “I went in first last time!” and my father yelling from inside, “Get in here and say hello to your grandmother!”  But that was at her house.

At my house, on Pomiciticut Ave, I remember her there exactly once. Maybe it was for the christening of my baby brother the week after he was born. (My poor mother. How did she do that?) I remember there was no carpet on the stairs and my sister, age one and a half, slipped and tumbled down the entire flight of uncarpeted, steep, thirteen stairs. I remember watching her from the top, her limbs flailing and her head of curly black hair flopping like a rag doll as she bumped it on each step. She was an adorable baby. Everyone loved her curly hair and big brown eyes. No one ever commented on my stringy brown hair but it seemed everyone reached out to her head and said, “Oh! That hair!” She looked like a doll and acted like one too, even falling down the stairs. I remember watching her fall thinking, “Wow, she looks just like a doll.”  I also remember my grandmother standing helpless at the bottom of the stairs, with her hands over her mouth as you would when you are watching something terrible that you can’t stop. She was old. I don’t even think she could get up the stairs herself. This was from my four-year-old mind. She was probably younger than I am now but that black dress with the little white print made her look old. That, and the hair net.  But I also remember thinking that she looked concerned. Like she would have done something to help if she were physically capable. I remember thinking, “Hmm, maybe she is nice.” or some four year-old version of that concept.  My father came running from the kitchen and picked up my sister, and I thought, “Hmm, maybe he is nice.” She wasn’t hurt and I’m sure a few minutes later we were again unsupervised and doing something dangerous, but, like I said, it was 1960. I don’t even think safety gates were invented yet.

Another early memory I have of that house is going to bed in the room at the top of the stairs while my father was painting the ceiling in the hallway. The light was harsh––the lighting of a newly inhabited home, un-nested. No lampshade kind of light. He was on a wooden step ladder with the little ledge for the paint can. It might have been before the stair incident, I’m not sure. I just remember having to go to bed without saying goodnight to my mother. She was down in the kitchen. I remember getting into bed and my father closing the door so he could paint the ceiling in peace. I remember lying in that bed crying because I didn’t say goodnight to my mother and wasn’t sure where she was. I was unhinged. I was safe, in a comfortable bed, with sheets and blankets, in a new house with my family. I think my sister was in a crib in that room, too, sleeping nicely, like a doll. But I couldn’t settle down. I couldn’t stop crying, but being afraid of my father’s reaction, wouldn’t go back into that hallway. I just laid there and cried. At one point, I have no idea how long later, my father barged into the room and yelled, “WHAT IS THE MATTER?” I cowered and said, “I” sob “didn’t” sob “say” gasp “goodnight” sob “to” sob “mum” sob “meeee.” taking so long to choke out my message that he was getting impatient. Then my mother dashed into the room (and this is what makes me think it was after my brother was born, she couldn’t have dashed like that being so pregnant) and it was like Mother Mary herself walked in. All my troubles were over. She said, “What’s the matter?!” but said it very nicely, like she really cared that I was upset, and my father, said disgustedly (and I can understand now, as an adult, having a dripping paintbrush and a job to finish, this might be annoying, but he shouldn’t have cut corners on the bedtime routine in the first place) “Ah, she wants you.” and went back up his ladder with contempt for the sentimentality of it all. My mother said a lovely, sympathetic goodnight as she hugged me and all my anxiety and stress disappeared. I laid down and fell asleep. I remember that vividly. Instant relief. All was well. I’d gotten my bedtime hug. 

I’ve been reliving that scenario this week. I can’t get it out of my mind. I am so deeply disturbed by what is happening in my country. Children are being ripped apart from their parents. In a strange land. Fleeing hardship and violence. I can’t fathom how this can be happening in my lifetime. How my country can be doing this and getting away with it? As a mother, I start to imagine my child being taken from me and the thought is so horrifying I can’t even go there. So I go to this childhood memory of basic human need for love and security. 

I’m camping this weekend at Liwonde National Park. George is in the states for his Fulbright orientation. Our friends Chris and Sarah arrived from UK to work on a project in Kasungu for two weeks and I met them here for the weekend. As I was setting up my tent yesterday, I thought of how much I love camping. I owe that to my father. Picking the spot, laying out the tent, opening up the sleeping bag, it’s all comforting to me. Even though our camping trips as kids were difficult and fraught with, what would now be considered downright abuse, I learned a lot. (It was the ’60’s) I got the bug for adventure and skill for resourcefulness. I’m incredibly grateful for that. 

I’m sitting up in one of the outlooks as the sun comes up. Birds are singing all over the place but George isn’t here to identify their songs. So I just listen. It doesn’t matter to me that I don’t know the composer of music I like. I hear stirrings in the camp. People are getting ready to go on a game drive but I’ll pass today. I’ll finish this and grade mid-term exams until my friends return. I’ve only got a short time left here.

So, good news this week: 

Malawi banned plastic bags this week.

Our midwifery ward is approved. 

I may get to come back for three months next year. 

Our South Africa visit was written up in the East London newspaper and it lent huge credibility to our project.

 I met someone who wants to work on promoting a women’s cooperative and she’s happy to take the Tiyamike group to the next level. 

A couple will move into our house in September and keep our guards so they won’t lose their jobs when we leave.

There are good things happening in this world. I’m trying to focus on that.

I’ve got one more week of work at the nursing school and then one in Lilongwe finishing up administrative stuff. In twelve days we’ll be off on our camping trip through Namibia. 

Thanks Dad.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Kwa eni uyenda umaweteka ~ At somebody else’s place you walk gently and humbly.

~ Malawian proverb

June 10, 2018

Hi Everyone,

Oh so much has happened. I feel like I’ve been around the whole world––from sweet dance recital in New England to benchmarking visit in East London, South Africa––within a few days. I spent two consecutive nights on airplanes and in airports and returned back to public toilets I have to flush myself. I’ll say it again, I don’t think we were meant to change worlds so quickly, though coming this way it’s a little easier. 

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything about my work in Malawi. I have been so desperately hoping we could get this model ward established in my lifetime.  My time here is getting so short and I am under no illusion that it’s be done in the next three weeks, but I have been hoping for at least a commitment to get it underway.  We are getting closer to that. An MOU by the end of June is a possibility. Several great gifts have fallen upon us that might make it happen. 

In the process of writing the proposal for the project, one of my fellow volunteers forwarded an article she found about a similar ward started in South Africa. As I read it, I was struck by the similarities in our settings. Frere Hospital in East London, South Africa launched a project to create a midwifery-led ward within the tertiary care hospital. The article was an audit of the project a few years after it’s inception. It was a template for us and evidence that it was possible to create this in our region. I wrote to the lead author asking if they would be willing to share their protocols and process of getting the ward implemented, explaining we wanted to do the same thing in Malawi. That email led to a correspondence with the midwife who was instrumental in getting the ward established. She told me initially that since it was an international inquiry, I had to be referred to the department of international affairs at the ministry of health. I figured the whole thing would stop there and I’d never hear from anyone again. But I did hear back that they were very interested in our inquiry and wanted to know if we’d be able to visit there to see the ward for ourselves. This was several months ago and I think I assumed that wasn’t going to happen as I’d never get funding for a trip like that. I considered just going myself and paying for it out of my own money, but this cannot be my project alone to implement and would only be fruitful if my Malawian colleagues could go as well. I had applied for a grant to cover the cost of the initial start-up of the ward and received a little money just to provide tea and refreshments at our meetings. When the idea of visiting the site in South Africa came up I asked SEED if they would consider funding the trip for three of us to go. The timing was poor for that request as the organization was trying to regroup after acknowledging that the partnership between them and Peace Corps was ending. 

A little background into what’s happening there: The PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) funding for the GHSP program I’ve been working with is ending. It’s tragic, really, as it was the major funder for the program. PEPFAR was established under George W (to his credit) but now the state department is in such a sad condition it’s relationships with other countries are being destroyed. This was a great program that I completely believed in with long term potential. The partnership with Peace Corps, which was a good marriage, was ending as well. It’s all so discouraging. So the request for the site visit to South Africa wasn’t granted. 

In the meantime, I continued to correspond with the contacts I’d made in South Africa, both the midwife and the representative from the ministry. They were so eager to have us come, that I again thought I’d just go myself on my own dime. Then at our close of service meeting in Salima, just before I left for the states, we all had to do a little presentation about what we’d accomplished this year and someone from the SEED office in Boston was there. I explained the rationale for this ward and how far we’d come to date. I explained about the ward in South Africa and how helpful it would be for us to visit there. Well, after my presentation, Julie, from Boston suggested I put together a quick budget for three of us to do a benchmarking visit and she’d see if she could facilitate making it happen. It was a total whirlwind the day before I was taking a thirty-five hour flight to the states, but the trip got approved! I frantically (with crappy internet) contacted my colleagues in Blantyre to get their shit together and choose two midwives to make the trip which was going to be tacked on to my trip to the states. So instead of flying directly back to Malawi I got off the plane in Johannesburg and took another flight to East London, where our hosts had arranged to collect us and transport us around for the visit. 

I thought the obvious choice for a representative from the college of nursing would be Ursula since she is the one who has been instrumental in pushing this project forward, but she wisely said that she wanted buy-in from everyone, so encouraged someone else to go. So it was decided that Elizabeth Chodzaza, who’d been the head of clinical studies, make the trip. Since we had three slots, one of the matrons (nursing supervisors) from the hospital was chosen as well. This would give representation from the hospital who we really need as a stakeholder. It’s always amazing to me to see how they can pull something together so quickly. They had a week to find coverage and leave for a four day trip to another country. We all met up at the airport in Johannesburg, them arriving from Blantyre, a ninety minute flight, and me from Boston via Dubai, a thirty hour voyage. I was a little tired by the time I met up with them for our one hour flight from Johannesburg to East London, in the Eastern Cape province on the Indian Ocean. 

We walked out of the arrival area to see a man holding a handwritten sign saying, “Malawian Delegation, Frere Hospital” which obviously was our ride! I had been nervous about all the pieces coming together: changing my flight to Blantyre, meeting up with the others, getting transport to a hotel in a strange city, finding the hospital, etc. but every step of the way I just focused on the next step. So, okay, we had a ride to the hotel. The driver dropped us there and told us someone would pick us up in the morning at 7:45 to take us to the hospital. Phew. Ok, next step taken care of. I desperately wanted a shower and sleep, so was happy with that. Then after we booked in we turned around at the reception desk and there was a man introducing himself as the representative from the international affairs office and wanted to welcome us. He introduced us to his colleague accompanying him and they ushered us to a sitting area so we could go over the agenda for the next day. They handed us each a copy of a printed agenda laid out in fifteen minute blocks. I noticed with alarm, that the Malawian group was scheduled to give a presentation outlining their objectives for the visit at 9 a.m. I was rather blown away by this (#1 blown away). I was expecting to show up at the labor and delivery ward, meet the midwives and sit around shooting the shit about how they got the place started. Clearly I had not thought this far ahead. They got up to leave and, after bidding them goodnight, we looked at each other in shock. “Can you believe this?”  “I have never been welcomed like this before!”  “Oh my God they are organized!”  “What are we going to do for a presentation?”  It was now Wednesday evening. I’d been up since Monday morning. Elizabeth said, “Linda, can you put together a power point presentation?” I sighed. I said I’d see what I could do and went to bed. 

I set my alarm for 5:30, got up, and put together the lamest little presentation imaginable, but it was better than nothing. I already knew what we wanted to learn from them, it was basically putting it into a formal format. Not my forte but I’m getting better at it. I work well under pressure.

They collected us right on time and off we went through the city to Frere Hospital, a tertiary care hospital established in 1881. It is affiliated with a university and a nursing school and has about 1,000 beds. The size and university affiliation is something they have in common with our Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre but that’s about where the similarities ended. Their CEO, Dr Wagner, met us at the entrance to the hospital and escorted us to the room where at least twenty-five people were gathered to spend the day with us. Blown away #2. (Our CEO took six months to meet with us about our proposal and only then after we sat in the waiting room and refused to leave until he did.) The program started with  introductions, which, given the number of people in the room, took some time. Then it was our turn to do our presentation. Until this point, all of our correspondence had been about logistics and none about content, so they were very happy to understand more about what our goals were and what we hoped to learn from them. I started off the presentation then my colleagues described their specialty and perspectives. Our hosts clapped and cheered and acted like we had given them some huge gift. Blown away #3. 

After that the CEO described the hospital services offered at Frere, which, along with their value system, are impressive. She emphasized that no one succeeds unless there is buy in from everyone. If there is success in one arena it is because there were support staff helping to make that possible. No one’s achievements get celebrated alone. (Here here!) Then Dr. Hofmeyer, (the lead author of the article I originally responded to) described the establishment of the Midwifery Birthing Unit (MBU) complete with stats on how it has improved outcomes and care overall. He waxed poetic about respectful care of women and how WHO has new guidelines for that. I wanted to kiss him. After that Thozeka, the midwife with whom I’ve been corresponding, described the services provided in the MBU, holding my hand throughout the entire presentation.  She was praised by everyone in the room, all the administrators and support staff were cheering her for bringing the Malawians to Frere. “You put us on the map!”, they exclaimed. She beamed and gazed at me. Then an overview of the HIV and TB services was given by the director of that program, a Congolese man who’d been in South Africa for nine years. All this transpired before our tea break.  

After tea the entire entourage walked through the intensive care units on our way across the street to the midwifery ward. We spent quite a bit of time there learning how it functions, how it is staffed, and how the record keeping is done. While that was happening the three of us from Malawi got pulled out into the hallway to be interviewed by a reporter from the East London newspaper. This entire tour was led by the CEO, who: greeted every staff person, explained the funding for each unit (including exact amounts received from donors), stopped to give directions to patients, held and soothed a crying baby in the nursery, explained the nuances of their electronic medical records system, and stooped to pick up pieces of trash and deposited them in the nearest waste bin. Blown away #4, 5, and 6. I felt like I was watching a movie! I kept pinching myself. I whispered to Elizabeth, “Is she for real?”  Elizabeth whispered back, “I know. Can you imagine this?”

At one point while touring the pediatric cancer treatment ward, Dr Wagner told a story about an employee who went to the newspaper to report on an incident that wasn’t handled well. Instead of getting angry at him, she said it was a sign that something was systemically wrong and they should address it. She said, “It was upsetting, but in reality I had to acknowledge he was advocating for the patients. I took it as an opportunity to look at what was wrong and try to do better. It would have been better if he’d come to us first, but getting angry wasn’t going to help the situation.”  They then worked together to address the issue. I thought back on all the times we’d tried to address problems in our department at MDI hospital and were scolded for actually bringing it up at a meeting. When I finally wrote about it in my blog they acted like I was a traitor. I kept thinking, “How can we clone this woman? It is possible to have a CEO who is smart, compassionate as well as passionate, reasonable, and a problem solver! Who knew?” I felt like we’d been given a glimpse inside the pearly gates.

I started panicking about the possibility of them coming to Blantyre for a site visit. This is going to be a tough act to follow.

Included in the entourage was the director of the nursing school associated with the hospital. She told us she was hoping to have time with us the following day and since that day (Friday) was left open, we agreed to meet with her in the following morning. As we walked from department to department she fell into step with us asking questions about how we handled students in different situations, how we could collaborate long-term, how possible would it be for them to visit Malawi?

There were several times Dr. Wagner began an introduction with, “Like your hospital…” because on paper they do appear similar. She’d done a good amount of research about our hospital and knew the number of beds, services offered, and population served. However, like I said, that was on paper. The only part of our hospital that comes even close to theirs is our new pediatric surgical unit built with Madonna’s money. The rest, no. Not even close. Dr. Wagner told a story in hushed tones about a terrible incident where they had cockroaches in one of the postnatal wards. She explained that some patients were bringing in food and the result was a cockroach infestation. So they closed the ward and moved all the patients to a temporary ward so they could fumigate the area. Then they took the opportunity to paint it since the ward was empty. Blown away #7. I stood there listening to her tell me this story and made murmurings of acknowledgement of her feelings and efforts. I was contemplating telling her about the rats in our maternity ward and the complaint lodged by a family when the rats had eaten part of their stillborn child who was left lying on a counter in the utility room. And you know what was done about that? Nothing. Nothing was done about it even after it was reported in the newspaper. But I didn’t feel like it was appropriate to one-up the cockroach story, so I praised their efforts in addressing the problem and told her we had a lot to learn from them.

We were ushered to a conference room where lunch was laid out for us, a very simple lunch where platters of samosas, tuna tarts, and meat pies were shared. It was simple but completely wonderful. After we ate, Dr Wagner wanted to go around the table to have everyone share their thoughts about our meeting and what we’d learned from each other. The Malawian contingent was to go last. I have to say, I was overwhelmed by this gesture. Blown away # 8. It was incredible. Several people from different community departments said how grateful they were that we’d come since they’d never toured the hospital before and what a great opportunity it was for them. They kept telling us how much we’d brought to them. The nursing school director told us she felt like our visit was a gift from God. Thozeka, the midwife who started the midwifery ward went on and on about how grateful she was for what we were trying to do for women, then, I swear to God, broke into song like…we are talking Ella Fitzgerald. I have never seen anything like this. Everyone joined in singing, holding hands, swaying, laughing, oh my God. The entire trip was worth that. Blown away #9, 10, 11. I had to take a video, I just had to. I thought no one would believe me.  Then I was thinking…we have to follow that?! Are you kidding me? Our turn was next. 

Elizabeth was the first to go from our group. She started, “I would just like to say that in Malawi people think South Africans are lazy.” I looked up in horror! What was she saying?! She continued, “It’s because a lot of Malawians go to South Africa to find work, so people think that South Africans must not want to work. I realize now that I have visited for the first time, how hard working and wonderful you are. It has been such an honor to be here. I will go back and explain what I have learned.”  The room broke out in cheers. I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  Then there was much discussion about them hiring a bus and traveling to Malawi together. “How far is it? Can we do it in twenty four hours on the bus? We all should go!” 

I am telling you, the only hope we have for world peace is to travel. The only hope.

My own bed tonight. More next week.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning ~ Extending Sanity

Sunday Morning ~ Boston

June 3, 2018

Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters of bone. But how far away that future may be there is no way of knowing. It might be a thousand years. At present nothing is possible except to extend the area of sanity little by little. 

~George Orwell

I’m reading Nineteen Eighty-Four. My bookmark is a photo of my granddaughter dressed in her ballet recital costume, hands on her hips, ankles crossed, smiling hard. I read the above passage and looked at the bookmark. I read it a few more times, then checked again to see when the book was published. Copyright 1949. It’s fiction, of course.

On the way back from Savannah I stay a few days in New York. Jake and I walked a million miles around Brooklyn, talking about various topics. The Little Prince came up. He asked me what it really was about? Why do people get obsessed with that book? The illustrations are cute and lots of people love it, was my contribution to that discussion. I’d read it in my French  class with Mr. Chibaro in 1973. I fancied myself quite the scholar at age seventeen reading a book in French. I understood the vocabulary, but philosophically, I didn’t get it. All I remembered about the book was the Baobabs and Boa Constrictors. I don’t even remember being curious about what it all meant. I was focused on impressing my French teacher and figured I’d do that with definitions and pronunciation, I guess. Then during my psych rotation in nursing school, we were assigned to read The Little Prince. I’d decided, rather arrogantly, that I’d already read it in it’s original French so didn’t need to re-read it in English. When I think back on that I am astounded at my effrontery. So I found myself wishing I knew more about it. I’d gotten so discouraged listening to the news since being in the states that I thought the book might unlock some secret to a sane universe. I decided to read it in English. Orwell was scaring me. I thought Saint-Exupéry might make me feel better.

When I got back to my daughter’s house I was looking for a book to read to the kids and found The Little Prince on the shelf. I thought I could read it to them and kill two birds with one stone! But at age four and two, it didn’t move fast enough and they wanted something with a little more zip and a little less text. It’s not really a kid’s book. It’s an adult book with kid’s illustrations. So later that night I took it to bed and read it to myself. I felt badly about not reading it when I did my psych nursing. Not because I would have done better in the class, but because looking back, I was being an idiot. I thought I could fake it. 

When I finished the book last night, which only took an hour (really, would it have killed me to read it for my psych class?) I thought I’d be able to text Jake some pithy comment about what the real meaning of the book was. I haven’t done that because I still don’t know after reading it. Acceptance of peoples’ differences? Sensitivity to other’s ways of viewing the world? Those are the obvious lessons. It’s fiction, of course.