Sunday Morning~ I Believe Her

Sunday Morning ~ I Believe Her

September 30, 2018

I find myself looking for David and Goliath stories. Return of the Jedi. The Hobbit. Lord of the Rings. I play the loop where Gandalf says that Golum may yet play a part in all this.

When I’d originally heard Dr. Ford’s story had come out in couples therapy I automatically assumed she and her husband were having sexual problems. That isn’t uncommon with women who’ve had a sexual assault. I’d heard it a million times in my practice. But when I learned the issues were all about having a second door, I stopped short. I have a lot of doors in my house. I will never be locked in a room where I don’t have control over the lock. I don’t like elevators. I’ve never articulated why. I’ve never felt the need to explain as I felt it should be enough to express my desires and have them respected. I don’t want my exit blocked. Period. 

George is an analyst so is naturally curious about where my strong opinions, requests, or demands come from. He wants to understand when I get (what he considers) irrationally angry about something. The locked door is one of them. The first time we stayed at his brother’s house the door was locked from the inside and the key wasn’t in the door. I freaked. I went on and on about it being a fire hazard, a rationale that might be understandable and acceptable. After all, our house had burned and we were lucky everyone had gotten out safely. I never mentioned the experience of having my exit blocked with arms near my neck holding the door behind me shut as I tried to leave. Alcohol wasn’t involved. But an aggressor was planted in front of me, his arm at my neck, his hand holding the door which I was being held against, shut. 

“Stop it! You are scaring me!” 

“Shut up.”  

“I am leaving.” 

“No you’re not.” 

“Yes, I am.”

I put my arm up as if I were going to hug him, brought my elbow down onto his arm, opened the door, pivoted out. and ran from that place as fast as I could.  If the door had been locked I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I was scared, angry, and shaken, but in control and capable of leaving the premises and never going back. I never told anyone, not because I thought I’d deserved it or had done anything wrong, but because I felt sorry for him! How pathetic is that? I’d been socialized so well. Poor guy.

When we were building our house I wanted a door to the outside in every downstairs room. There were a few queries about whether it was really necessary, but no big fights about it. Was my desire for those doors a result of my experience? Maybe. I’d never thought of it before. But being able to get out saved me from a sexual assault. And since that time I am always careful to pay attention to where the exits are. Always. 

I fully admit to having a lot of pent up anger and make no apologies for it. Injustices make me angry. Abuse of power and privilege makes me angry. I have spent my career listening to story after story of women being raped, cheated, abused, diminished and I am so fucking tired of it. Over the years I have expressed my anger in different ways. I’ve yelled and screamed, I’ve gone underground, I’ve been passive aggressive. Is one better than another? I don’t know. I don’t know what kind of shit storm is going to be unleashed if this privileged petulant frat boy gets confirmed. Some women I know are boiling over with rage and are flailing. There is something inside me this time, though, that feels like he’s Golum. In the end, he may have an important role to play in bringing this regime down. I don’t feel powerless. I don’t feel the need to scream. I feel more like stalking, quietly, getting the lair ready for the feast that will surely come after this hunt. A lioness knows where her strength lies and how to use it. Is she successful every single time? No. But a single lioness can bring down an elephant. They know where the weak spot is and she strikes when the time is right. The knees buckle and she quickly goes for the neck. She and the cubs need to eat.

Sunday Morning ~ Unity, Maine

Sunday Morning ~ Unity, Maine ~ Common Ground Fair

September 23, 2018

Hi Everyone,

Unity, Maine. Common Ground Fair. They sound like names made up for a novel describing a utopia, which, is fitting for this time and place. The weekend does feel like a little utopia. The Health and Healing Tent is definitely in the coldest part of this fairground. Last year when it was 90 degrees and humid, it was nice here in the shade, but this morning I could do with a little sun on the tent as it was 34 degrees when we woke and the tent was dripping with condensation from our breath. Just a little different from last year. I laughingly, thought I’d get up before dawn and do my long run before the fair opened at 9. Ha ha ha, very funny. Toasty in my sleeping bag with the hood pulled tight around my head, I had to force myself out as the fairgrounds came to life and could barely get my tent down with my frozen fingers. I brought my electric kettle this year so had hot tea to warm me up a bit and once the tent was down and put away I walked the the fairgrounds to be in the sun and watch the place wake up. I just love it here. It makes me want to live on a farm, milk my own cows, make my own butter, and ride my own horse. These are a few of the childhood dreams I never did fulfill. I’ve tried to make a little homestead of my own, but it’s not like the real farm I dreamed of.  

Now from my seat at our table in the Health and Healing area I can hear laughing from the Reiki Tent. It sounds like they are promoting a certain energy over there. Next to me a group does Sahajayoga meditation. Across the tent is a table with information about medicinal cannabis which is next to the table of funeral consumers and green burials. Next to them they are doing reflexology. It’s a smattering, but any healthful way of living has a presence here. 

I spoke this morning about the cultural aspects of maternity care. The talk was at nine and the fair only opens then, so I was surprised that people actually made it. It usually takes a bit to walk from the parking lot to the fairgrounds and the nine o’clock talks may not be well attended. There are so many women who want to tell the story about abuse they endured within our system. They are frustrated and compromised. They get emotionally manipulated and many have post part depression. Then they are shamed for that, because after all, the baby is healthy and that’s all that matters. So their feelings are devalued and the pattern continues. The medical system rules. They have been “fired” from practices because they didn’t succumb to procedures they didn’t feel they needed. They had to drive hours to find a provider they trusted. They lost their jobs because they had to take time off work to travel for care. The abuse goes on and on. It makes me ponder how to tell their stories in a way that might change the system.

Jewelry I brought from the Tiyamike Women’s group is displayed on our table. I wish they could see people’s reaction to their creations. I’ll write to Ursula to tell them. I’ve shared their stories here and as I listen to local women’s stories, they aren’t far apart.  An old classmate of mine who is promoting local food sources, came to my talk this morning. I spoke about the cultural challenges with birth and midwifery education in Malawi and how it compares to the problems women face here with being marginalized in our system. She said, “We need to relocalize the birth movement the same way we are relocalizing the food movement.” She wants to work with me on this. Two young doulas from southern Maine came on Friday and told me the same thing. They want to work on this issue. It’s clearly time, so how do we go about it? I described the model midwifery ward we’re working on in Malawi, and someone said, “We need that here!” 

The sun is high now and the air is warming up. Hopefully the ideas we spawn here follow suit.

Love to all,


Sunday Morning~ Re-entry

Sunday Morning ~ Re-entry

September 16, 2018

Hi Everyone,

There is a lot of attention given to culture shock when moving to a foreign country, especially a developing one. There is an expectation that there will be a period where you wish you’d never made the decision to go, the “what was I thinking?” moment when it all seems like a huge mistake. Then slowly you adjust to living in a fishbowl, substituting banana for potatoes, walking through trash by the riverside, and move on. But little attention is given to returning as it is assumed, apparently, that coming home is what we’ve all been waiting for: sleeping in our own comfortable beds, drinking water from the tap, being out after dark. Stuff we take for granted. I think we romanticize how efficient everything is at home while away tolerating power outages and food shortages, the lack of tonic water being the one that comes immediately to mind.

I thought I was ready for it though I was apprehensive about 24/7 news of crazy town USA and prepared for that. It was a relief to be shielded from the harsh realities of our current state of affairs. Not that I wanted to be uninformed, but it was easy to get caught up with life in Malawi and forget for a while that I’m not returning to the country I left two years ago. 

I’d planned a day with my granddaughter before she started kindergarten. We took the train into town and visited a bookstore with a cafe. It was sweet sitting there having a muffin and tea and as we were getting ready to go, my darling had to pee. No worries. This is America! There are laws requiring establishments to have toilets! Not like in some places we traveled where I was told to go out in the bushes next to the gas station. No sir-ee. I asked the barista where the rest room was. “It’s out of order.” she replied. I thought I’d heard incorrectly. Out of order? This is America! How can the toilet not work?  We were in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard and MIT and the toilet didn’t work? We couldn’t very well go out and use one of the bushes, a perfectly rational suggestion in Malawi. “Sorry for the inconvenience.” was her reply. I was stunned. She told us we could go next door, apparently they had an arrangement with the adjacent business to accommodate this malady. But really. How could they not fix the toilet? Aren’t there plumbers on call? Or even an employee who knows how to use a plunger?

It makes me a little depressed and I can’t figure out why. I’m not sure if it’s having expectations that don’t mesh with reality or that the adventure is over, or what. I’m not sure. There is so much time spent in training about being culturally sensitive and adjusting to life abroad but when you leave you’re on your own and I have memories of being dropped at Girl Scout Camp and feeling set adrift. And this sounds whiny and irrelevant. First world problem. 

This week as I rooted around getting my belongings back in place, a friend dropped by with bounty from her garden because she thought I looked sad the night before. She had plenty to share, she said, and knew how much I loved my garden, which is derelict at the moment. Such incredible kindness. I gobbled up the lettuce, beans, and beets and put the basil and parsley in vases on the counter. I feel so fortunate to live here, to be able to run on the carriage roads, have neighbors that drop by, generous friends, and a solid home that welcomes me back, so the nagging sadness is out of place and confusing. George has another adventure in store and I’m thinking that was good planning. I’m waiting for a plan to emerge out of the fog on my horizon. 

Sunday Morning ~ Home

Sunday Morning ~ Home

September 9, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I’m back in my house and slowly making it mine again, a process I am finding both tedious and sweet. It feels so good to be here. I started with the kitchen and realized how ingrained the motions are that constitute my routines. It took me awhile to get wooden spoons and knives back in the spots that accommodate my reach, like props on a stage. Yesterday I focused on my desk. It’s a good exercise to examine everything you own once in awhile. Replacing all my items after two years away makes me look at them with a different eye. Do I really need a paperback thesaurus taking up space in a desk drawer? But it seems so quaint that I hate to part with it. I went through all the correspondence I’d thrown in a box and stuck in the attic in my frenzy to depart. Putting them back in the desk unexamined seemed irresponsible. I didn’t even know what was in there. There was a pile of photos I meant to send to the subjects years ago. I found a few love letters that were really well written. Probably why I saved them. There were some Christmas cards, some tags from flowers I’d received over the years, my official time from my first marathon, and my mother’s death certificate. It was quite a hodgepodge. There’s a photo of me laughing, stroking Rachael’s hair as she leans back into my lap. Joe is across the table pointing a finger at someone and also laughing. There is a vase full of lupine on the table and half filled glasses of wine. It must have been Matt’s high school graduation weekend and family were here visiting. It’s a good photo of us and Joe blew it up and mounted it as a gift for me. When I found out he was having an affair I threw it out the bedroom window but a few weeks later I found it face down on the greenhouse roof. I decided to keep it for some reason. I felt like the fact that it hadn’t blown away or the rain hadn’t ruined it was some kind of symbol. 

Today is my fortieth wedding anniversary. When Joe’s parents had their fortieth, we had a dinner party for them at Mark and Gael’s house with a formal dining room. We dressed up and kids weren’t invited. We all had small children and this was to be a more civilized event minus the usual chaos when all the grandkids were around. Joe’s brother Scott, recently graduated from the Culinary Institute, was the chef. Mark wrote a poem for the occasion. I wore a dress I’d made, burgundy velvet with big puffy sleeves and a low back, a Laura Ashley design. It was the 80’s. We had five small kids and Joe was still in graduate school. I was working in a busy practice and rent and babysitter consumed three weeks of my monthly salary. My mother watched the kids that night. It was a happy family event, this sixty year-old couple surrounded by seven of their eight children, their second daughter having died on Christmas Eve fifteen years prior. I remember thinking forty years was an eternity. What would it be like to be with someone every day of forty years? I always assumed I’d find out. I thought of our five little kids and wondered if they’d have a party for us? It falls on a weekend and everything.

I feel old. It was a long time ago that twenty-one year old girl was planning the outdoor reception. The day was sunny but really windy and she was fretting about the wind and the cloths blowing off the tables. The tent was shaking with the gusts and eventually blew down completely while she was in the church vowing to stay forever. After the ceremony she didn’t care about the tent anymore. Guests moved the tables inside; the collapsed tent became one of the funny wedding stories and a sign of what great friends they had. She was so in love and so happy nothing could have ruined that day. And now it seems everything she loved that day has soured. Her husband, her church, her country, all gone crazy. 

I’ve unpacked most of what I shlepped through Europe. It’s laid out waiting for permanent resting places. Some are gifts and some will need wall space. I need to decide who will give up their spots. Chithenjes need to be washed. They are lying in a pile near the washing machine. I think of Catherine bent over at the outside faucet on Monday evenings doing our laundry and wonder what happened to her. Catherine disappeared after we left Blantyre. She just stopped showing up for work, even though the landlady was going to keep all the guards employed there. Then Chimemwe was hit by a car while walking on the roadside at night. He survived, but was in a coma for a few weeks and can not walk or talk. George went to visit him when he went to Blantyre and said it was heartbreaking. This vibrant strong talented man cannot move his arms or legs and is at the mercy of his impoverished family for care. George thought he recognized his voice as his facial expression changed and he tried to speak. His family said he was improving, so we are not giving up hope that he’ll recover somewhat, but whether he’ll be able to support everyone as he had before is very questionable. George left money for the family to care for him. His wife, who’d been part of the women’s group, gave George a bunch of jewelry they’d made with Chimemwe’s guidance and George gave her money for that as well. Everything changes in an instant. None of it is fair.

My cat has taken up residence at the neighbors. I picked her up to bring her home last evening and she resisted. She seems fatter. I put her food outside on the porch and hope she’ll forgive me for going away. I hope the squirrels don’t consider it a welcome home feast. I see they have moved in to the greenhouse. 

I’ll get settled this week, get taxes done, and see what I can do to help with the election in November. All hands on deck as the ship is sinking. 

From where I am sitting I see the flowering dogwood I gave Joe for Father’s Day the year we moved in to this house. It’s grown a lot over the years but never blossomed. 

Love to all,


Sunday Morning ~ Whitney

Sunday Morning ~ Whitney, Oxfordshire

September 2, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I thought taking a train to London would be easier than the one hour flight. No getting to the airport early, no security check, no overweight anxiety, no number of bags limit, just show up on the platform and get on the train. How simple is that? And if I were traveling with no luggage this fiction might have been realistic.

I really thought I had given most of my stuff away. I thought I’d be traveling with a manageable amount of stuff, even after being away for two years. We hadn’t accumulated that much, I thought. I was so wrong. Getting to Rotterdam was relatively easy. I’d dragged the stuff into the airport in Lilongwe, checked the two heavy bags (each just under the 50 pound weight limit) and carried the other bags (plenty heavy) onto the plane. Not much problem. Then when I got to Amsterdam, I met up with six colleagues who helped shlep the stuff onto the train to Rotterdam and then to the hotel. Easy. Leaving Rotterdam…not so easy. 

The conference was excellent. Nurses from fifty seven countries advancing the profession and fostering leadership skills. There were presentations of inspirational accomplishments and overcoming obstacles. It was a huge booster shot. Our presentation was on the first day, which meant we could relax for the reminder of the week. Tea was served in glass cups packed with fresh mint alongside bowls of fresh croissants. Lunch for 1,500 comprised of piles of gorgeous sandwiches next to glasses of cherry and pear juice, milk or buttermilk. Imagine!

There was not a whole lot of time to sight see, but I managed to get in a few early morning runs through the city which had been completely destroyed in WWII. It was rebuilt efficiently and the traffic flow, including bike and pedestrian, was a sight in itself. Beautiful city. Running routes of various lengths are laid out along the waterways. The conference ended Wednesday and Thursday morning I set out laden with my luggage to walk to Central Station, a mile away. It wasn’t too bad. The sidewalks were smooth so dragging a hundred pounds with another forty on my back was doable and a good cardiac workout. I had my ticket, plenty of time to find my platform, plenty of time to make my connection, and getting through the turnstile was my only concern. Until I looked at the board and saw my train was cancelled. My ticket was for a direct train to Brussels; there I had to switch to the Eurostar to London. It should have been simple. I never considered the train might be cancelled. Since when do they cancel trains in Europe? I had completely romanticized how everything works efficiently everywhere in the world except East Africa.

I panicky dragged all my stuff to the information center where I had to take a number. I thought that was rather unfair for people who were about to miss a connection. I waited, looking at the numbers popping up above the counters, getting irritated at the employees who didn’t seem to be moving fast enough or looking with concern at the growing crowd. No, they acted like this was just another Thursday. When my number was finally called, I dragged my stuff to the counter to be told I could take a different train, which was leaving in four minutes, to a different station, then had five minutes to change platforms and catch the train to Brussels. No way I was going to make that with all this stuff, which I was getting less and less attached to by the minute.  I told the man I had a lot of luggage and would never make that train. He suggested I wait another hour when the direct train to Brussels would come. He assured me I’d have enough time there to make the train to London. I believed him. He printed out a new ticket (which took ages to my surprise), and I went to sit and people-watch, eating one of the sandwiches I’d taken from the conference. There was no way I could maneuver all this stuff into a line for food. Glad I’d thought ahead when I saw all those extras.

When I went to check what platform my new train was on, I saw it also had been cancelled. Now real panic set in and I pushed all my stuff back into the information center, thinking there must be others here in the same predicament! No one looked very frazzled or impatient, and I still had to take a number. A bunch of garbled announcements I couldn’t understand were being made in Dutch but I heard the word “Brussels” and looked around for anyone else paying attention. Two smartly dressed guys, obviously together, were looking at their numbers and perked up at the announcement. They headed toward the counter and I asked if they were going to Brussels. I was happy to see they looked frazzled as well. I told them I didn’t know what to do as my train was cancelled for the second time and they said they were in the same predicament, and they were Dutch, so went up and got the scoop in the employees first language, which I always find reassuring. The only way to get to Brussels was the train I thought I’d never manage an hour ago. Leaves in four minutes with five minutes to switch platforms to get the connecting train. This time I had no choice and started dragging toward the turnstiles. I never got the names of those two men, but they were angels. Angels. They are both angels. Hurrying, each one took one of my bags and ran with me to the platform on the second level. If I were alone, the escalator would have been the end of me. These bags are heavy and awkward. When we got on, I stood by the doors with all the luggage and they took seats saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll be back to help you transfer. We won’t abandon you.” Angels.  The next station required a descent from the train, only one step, but tricky with all this, a steep descent down a flight of stairs, a walk along a narrow corridor, and an ascent up another flight of stairs to the next platform, all within four minutes. These trains don’t care if you are only halfway up the stairs. They leave!  But with the help of these two angels, I made the connection! Woo hoo! Thought I was home free. This train was crowded with everyone who had been rerouted from the direct to Brussels. Then they made a garbled announcement as we moved along, and again, I understood the word “Brussels” and saw all manner of distraught expressions on people who immediately identified themselves as flemish speakers. Nope this train was not going to Brussels either. The lucky ones going to Brussels had to change at another station and wait for another connecting train.  I looked at my new BFFs and they said, “You are going to miss your train to London.”  At this point I didn’t even know if we were in Holland or Belgium. 

I won’t drag you through every transfer, but it took four train changes through stations that must have been built in 1809 or something because the stairs would never pass building codes. Up and down and every time I would consider the contents of my bags and think, “Who on earth needs that?” My arms are killing me. When I made it to Brussels, my friends ran off to the meeting they were now late for and I dragged my life to queue to change my ticket to London, my train long gone, along with thousands of other people. Seems like lots of folks were going to London! And you still have to go through immigration and security! But where the Dutch angels left off the British swooped in. I cannot believe how fantastically kind people were. Without a blink people were assisting me on MORE stairs I’d never have been able to negotiate myself without doing it in two or more trips. I’d never really noticed how trains are all either up or down stairs! My motto is usually not to travel with more luggage than I can carry for five miles. Anyway, when I finally got on to the Eurostar and parked my bags in the luggage rack I was sorta hoping the train would never arrive in London. I was dreading getting off. The train is super comfy with great wifi. That was the image I had in my mind when booking these tickets. Didn’t consider the other elements of that trip. I arrived in St. Pancras station and then only needed to board one train for Jane’s house in London. She assured me she lived two minutes from the station. Very kind transit employees in orange blaze vests carried my bags down (more!) stairs to the correct platform, one waited with me to make sure I got on the Sutton train, and help load my bags onto the car. Really! When I arrived at Tulse Hill, not sure I was still in London, two more kind people, not together, each carried a bag down the stairs (steep) and when I discovered there were two exits and got confused about which to take, the woman who’d carried a bag walked me to Jane’s road! It was like being in some children film about how to be kind to strangers. I was totally overwhelmed. This world is full of very good people. 

Jane had worked with George and had a lovely dinner party with another volunteer who’d been to Malawi, some interesting neighbors who’d lived in Zambia, and two psychiatrists who’d volunteered in Myanmar! Jane also had been there, not knowing George was going there for a year. I was wishing he were there. He’d have loved it. Aside from my aching arms, it was a great evening. 

Only two trains on Friday to get to the station where dear Chris was collecting me. I had told him to look for someone overloaded with luggage so he was confused when I came strolling out of the turnstile with only three bags, a fellow passenger behind me with the fourth. Another kind stranger. They are everywhere.

My weekend in Witney has been a family affair for the christening of my new godchild Joseph. There was the usual eating, drinking, storytelling, laughing, and reminiscing with old friends and their growing families. I’m so blessed to be a part of it. It feels like a second home. 

Ok, only one bus, a plane, and then cuddles with my little ones. Can’t wait.

Love to all,