Sunday Morning~ Blantyre to Mulanje

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre to Mulanje

Mwamuna mnzako ndi pa culu, n’kulinga utakwerapo. ~ Your fellow man is as on the anthill, you only find out once you have climbed that anthill. 

~ Chewa proverb

January 28, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’m resting my legs today after a climb up Mt Mulanje on Friday and down Saturday. It’s not an outing to be taken lightly and I’m feeling the consequences of a relatively sedentary month. I was invited to join the trip by a woman I knew here from before; someone I always found physically intimidating. Not her stature, she’s very petite, but she is a powerhouse in an iron-man sort of way. I’d never thought of hiking with her, fearing I’d be left in the dust. I initially refused the invitation, thinking I can’t take a day off so early in my job here, but Friday had nothing going on aside from a preceptor workshop which was a repeat of the one I’d gone to on Wednesday, so thought climbing Mulanje would be better than trying to look like I had something to do. I collected my sleeping bag, rain gear, food and wine for the evening at the top and stuffed it into a sack. I slept fitfully Thursday night, worried I’d die on the mountain trying to keep up. I am the tortoise plodding along, eventually making it to the destination, but never the winner of any race. I had no idea if the two others on this hike were in my league or hers.

Mulanje is a hard climb and just as hard coming down. It’s very steep for two thirds of it. You don’t need to use your arms like on Katahdin, but it’s a serious ascent. Obviously doable, but   it’s hot until you near the top and by then I’m usually almost delirious. At a steady pace it’s about a five and a half hour hike to the massive plateau. There are several huts up there spread across the huge landscape and it can be several hours hike between them. This recent outing was just an up and down, staying at only one hut. I think people have gone up and down in one day but I can’t imagine doing that. It’s not much faster going down. My legs were shaking even with a night’s rest between. But it is so gorgeous up there. So gorgeous. The tallest peak is called Sapitwa, the Chichewa translation of which is “Don’t go there”. We tried to summit it in 2018 but it was socked in and raining and we abandoned that goal without regret as it was too slippery and dangerous. I’m very happy to make it up to the plateau, get settled into a hut, bathe in a mountain stream and relax on the porch taking in the vista with a cup of tea. Glorious. In the past I’ve purified the stream water before drinking it, but this time I didn’t have anything with me to do that, so I’m hoping Giardia hasn’t made a home in my gut. There’s no other water source. Bathing is done downstream obviously. If asked, the guardian of the hut would collect water and heat it for a bath but it wasn’t too cold and I’m not that much of a sissy. I wouldn’t waste the firewood unless I was desperate. The cool stream felt good after the climb.

The deforestation is heartbreaking. The mountain has been stripped of trees, most significantly, the Mulanje Cedar. There is a reforestation program implemented, but it will take forty years for the saplings to grow. Fuel is a huge problem in this country, now so overpopulated, and trees have been harvested for charcoal. The cyclone last March created massive landslides on the mountain and many swaths of destroyed vegetation were visible. It’s shocking to see.

I’m gradually getting settled into my new place and trying to make it home. When I left my house Tuesday morning I asked the gardener if he could cut off the dead ferns outside my front door. Unless it is November in New England, dead plants really bother me. I thought my entrance would look nice with some tropical flowers as a border and would have been happy to do it myself, but would never without consulting the gardener. He is very sweet and told me he would ask Bwana, meaning the boss, which, is appropriate since this isn’t my property. When I got home the ferns were all ripped out and fresh plants were in place. It looks so much better. I smile every time I see the front door. I got home from the Mulanje trip to find my house spotlessly cleaned and my laundry done and put away. This is very, very nice. Now I just need to acquire a couple of comfortable chairs for my veranda and maybe a foot stool, figure out how to get money from my U.S. account into one in the UK to pay for my car and I’ll be in great shape. 

Getting fast internet at home has been really nice. The guy living next door set it all up and it’s great. I was able to do a zoom call on Thursday evening, a coordination of schedules between the U.S., Botswana, and Malawi. It was a good discussion on architectural designs of birthing units, about which I feel passionately opinionated. I’m hoping for input among multiple disciplines for the future success of the midwifery ward here. Things change in medicine continually and layouts of medical units in the west become obsolete within a few years. When I started my nursing career, a gallbladder removal required a two week hospital stay. Now people are home by lunchtime. Most medical procedures don’t require any overnight in a unit and that impacts the physical layout of a facility. Renovations are constantly needed. Maternity care could be different. Childbirth itself doesn’t change though the culture of it does. Protocols evolve depending on insurance reimbursement, but that’s all financially driven. Focusing on respectful care of women in normal childbirth we could design something appropriate for the culture, climate, and safety that could last a good long time. I find that aspect of this project fascinating and exciting. Poorly designed physical space can make a job more difficult, require more staff, and make people hate their jobs. Well designed space improves everything. I theorize that people who hate cooking would enjoy it more if their kitchen were designed well. 

I haven’t started teaching yet. Students come back on Monday, February 5th. We’re having a planning meeting on Friday this week to decide who teaches what. Last minute seems to be the order of the day. Hopefully I’ll be teaching something I’ve taught before. I’m feeling very zen about it, settling in to the way of life. It feels good.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Free of Charge

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Free of Charge

Kaufulu sikacepa. ~ Something free of charge is never too small.

~ Chewa proverb

January 21, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’ve moved into my new place and am getting settled. I feel more comfortable here and am loving this big covered porch with my own private garden. It makes up for the tiny kitchen, which isn’t really a kitchen but more of a corner of the living room. There are several staff people here, gardeners, cooks, cleaners, and it seems a very well run property. I met everyone yesterday but forget their names as they were coming one after the other. I think the guard is Hastings and he was very impressed I was going to church this morning. He sits and reads the bible while waiting to open the gate for someone. I definitely feel safe and secure here. The entire property is surrounded by an eight foot cement wall and I see there are five rows of electric wire above that. No messing around here with razor wire. I have a big frangipani tree in the center of the yard and several flowering hibiscus along the wall. There are also many succulents and other tropical plants and it’s beautifully maintained. There are at least two gardeners here, maybe more. The owner does a lot of bonsai but those are surrounding the entry of the big house. I’m in the “Frangipani Cottage”.  The key ring for this place is now the heaviest thing in my bag; I think there are nine keys on there. Combined with the keys to my office (five of them) they are heavier than my laptop. It is fun to use those big skeleton keys, but keeping them in a skirt pocket is out of the question. 

I started work on Tuesday and it has been really fun to see all the people I knew from before. I feel very welcomed. On Tuesday I sat with Ursula and Elizabeth, the faculty I worked most closely with in developing a plan for the midwifery ward. They asked what my goals were for the year and I told them I wanted to be the most help to them, whatever they saw that to be. But I told them I didn’t want to give up on getting that ward started at Queens. A recap: the plan was in full swing to get a midwifery ward established at the teaching hospital, Queens, when the pandemic struck and the ward allotted to the midwives was taken for a covid ward as it was the only place there was oxygen. They then moved the ward to the sister city, Limbe, about seven miles away. This was a huge disappointment as the Limbe health center was already run by midwives, it’s very small, and few students go there, which defeats the whole purpose of it being a teaching ward. But the choice was either to use the allowed funding for Limbe or forgo it altogether, so they almost apologetically told me they chose to go with Limbe. I felt badly because they acted like they were disappointing me. They knew how badly I wanted this to happen at Queens. Of course, I understood, and told them so. The ward at Limbe is now a model for better, more respectful care and there are staff there dedicated to mentoring the students who do go there, so there’s a big benefit. I want to see what kind of stats they’ve collected and see what we can put together for an argument for resurrecting the plan at Queens. Though, I am still sussing out what kind of enthusiasm there is for it. Elizabeth said, “If you are only here for one year, I don’t know…”. There is a possibility of opening a separate birth center in a private clinic owned by the University. We jumped in Elizabeth’s car to go see that at the very end of the day and there is potential. It’s not on site, but would have it’s own operating room so we could still eliminate the need for transferring if there is a problem, but we’ll see. 

Wednesday I was out at the second campus, Kameza, about twelve miles out of town in a gorgeous location surrounded by mountains. There we were sorting through supplies donated for the midwifery and pediatric wards. I found it incredibly depressing. A container full of supplies from the U.S. arrived and the boxes unloaded. It reinforced more dramatically why Doctors Without Borders does not accept material donations. Most of it consisted of disposable items, as if they need more trash here, and seemed randomly selected. I spent most of the time explaining what half of it was. Foam heel protectors, adult diapers, mouth swabs, each package was held up to me with confused expressions. They were hoping for instruments that could be sterilized and used over and over but it was plastic basins, unsterile drapes, opened boxes of gauze, half empty boxes of gloves, etc. I found it all rather insulting. Ursula said, “I know we are poor, but…” And, “I know we shouldn’t complain if it is free…but…” I told her I had no problem complaining. It’s dumping and we would have been better off getting the money they spent shipping the stuff here. Oh well. It’ll get used somehow then end up in an overflowing landfill. They’d hoped to keep the container and use it for a small clinic––workers here can cut doors and windows in the metal and transform that space–– but the container wasn’t part of the donation.

I got to church this morning for the first time since arriving. It’s far enough away I have to drive and it made me nostalgic for my early Sunday morning walks to the church I used to go to. It is the rainy season, though, and the days have been drizzly and cool. Walking wouldn’t have been super enjoyable, especially on the busy roads. I’m glad I went. I loved the mass. I loved listening to the choir sing songs from the folk masses of the 70’s. I loved the incense, and the sermon about interpreting the translated-from-Greek biblical passages. The priest’s interpretation was full of context and nuance. He took the word “repentance” and broke down the original Greek, illustrating all the different ways it could be translated. It was brilliant and poignant for this time when that book is hijacked and used as a tool to gain control and power.

I read somewhere “in a thousand years no one will know the difference between a butt dial and a booty call, and that is the problem with the bible”. I thought that was hilarious, but when I told my friends in England the joke they didn’t get it. They didn’t know what a booty call was. And that is the problem with the bible. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~Chilembwe Day

Sunday Morning ~ Chilembwe Day

Choipa ndi mnyanga ya njobvu. ~ Bad things stick out like the tusk of an elephant.

~ Chewa proverb

January 15, 2024

Hi Everyone,

Today the U.S. is celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malawi is celebrating John Chilembwe. Both men had similar character, courage, and vision. Both men were Baptist ministers. John Chilembwe, born in 1871, was sent to the U.S. by a Scottish missionary to study at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the ominous-sounding town of Lynchburg. He was ordained and returned to Malawi at the turn of the century. He opposed colonial rule and advocated for enslaved people working on the tea, tobacco, and sugar plantations here. He preached egalitarian ideology in the churches he organized and built. This philosophy was (predictably I assume) considered dangerous by Scottish missionaries and the colonial government. When the first world war broke out, Chilembwe spoke out against Africans working as porters for the British army fighting against the German colony, Tanzania, to the north. On January 23, 1915 Chilembwe’s followers launched an uprising against one of the most brutal plantations killing it’s violent manager. It didn’t go well; Chilembwe was shot as he tried to flee to Mozambique two weeks later. King and Chilembwe were both murdered. Chilmbwe’s uprising inspired anti-colonial efforts but it took thirty-nine more years for Nyasaland to become an independent Malawi. He is a national hero here and today is a holiday in his honor.

I was supposed to start work today but the holiday gives me a day to write. I was at the Majete Game reserve over the weekend and was too tired last night when we got back to compose anything coherent. I took a shower, read some, and slept soundly in the reasonable temperature at this elevation. Majete is in the Shire Valley and very hot. My tent was like a sweat lodge which was probably good for my pores but terrible for sleeping.

It was a productive week! 

I decided to move into the humble apartment across the street from where I was staying, not knowing how long it would take to find a house where I felt comfortable. The lodge was fine, but expensive. A week in this apartment cost less than one night at the lodge. It’s adequate. If I had to spend the year here I could, but there is little privacy and no place I’m comfortable sitting outside without being on display. I won’t even use my laptop out there. I don’t want to show that off. But it is clean enough and security seems to be solid. I paid the landlady (who lives on the property behind this set of apartments) for a month so I wouldn’t feel pressured to take something I wasn’t happy with and we left it that I could extend if I wanted. After one night here I knew I wasn’t extending. She didn’t put up the mosquito net I’d asked for, with the excuse that the power was out and they couldn’t drill holes in the bed frame for the net. Ok, that excuse was a little weak. I’ve never seen a Malawian need a power drill. But there are screens on some of the windows so I just waited. A huge tree on her property fell on the power lines and it was two days with the electric company and the Blantyre City workers here with chain saws and machetes clearing it away. So, at least twenty guys were looking in the windows randomly. I’d bought some fabric for a curtain and my first morning here I went to fill a bucket in the kitchen sink to wash it. I put the bucket under the faucet and it ripped the entire faucet off the wall. Water came shooting out all over the place. I ran outside calling to one of the workers to shut off the water. He then yelled for the guard who did not shut off the water, but came into the now flooded kitchen and shoved a rag and a plastic bag into the pipe, which, astoundingly, worked. Well, there was a steady drip but the firehose effect was minimized. I moved any stuff I had off the floor which by then had several inches of water on it. A couple of hours later a plumber arrived and attached a new faucet without shutting off the water. When he removed the plug and the water started shooting out again, he put his hand over it, shoved the pipe in and started screwing it on until the water stopped shooting out from all sides. I wanted to ask if it wouldn’t be easier to shut off the water first? But decided to just keep quiet and watch. In the meantime five guys were in here scooping the water off the floor and sweeping it out the door. The landlady came by to look at it. I told her I really didn’t use a lot of force putting the bucket there and I felt badly it broke off the wall. She said not to worry about it so I decided not to complain about the mosquito net. That was all before noon on my first day in the apartment.

That afternoon I went to look at a house for rent attached to a large estate. It was tiny, and I could have made do, but I didn’t love it. It was way out of town (the owner picked me up and drove me there) and incredibly isolated. Also, there was no where associated with the house that would have been my private garden space outside. It didn’t feel good. And the road there was terrible. I told her I was still looking and would let her know. It was a good little mother-in-law apartment and if I were their mother-in-law I could have seen it working, but I’m not. I would have had to use their outside space. And the kitchen was smaller than my bathroom.

The next day I met up with the guy I’m buying a car from. We took it for a spin; I was nervous driving here again, not used to driving on the left in the middle of the city where chaos rules the road. At least you can’t go fast and the other traffic reminds me which side to drive on. Whew. I passed that test and agreed to meet the next day at a shopping center where I would drive him home and take the car while he was in South Africa for two weeks. Then if I still want it I can buy it from him. It’s a 2004 Nissan X Trail, the same car I drove when we were here before. It has 54,000 miles on it and is in great shape from what I can see. At least I know the owner and know it wasn’t stolen. That way I can resell it when I leave. And it will be good for camping. George and I took ours on our great camping adventure through Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana and it was the perfect car. So that’s good. 

After that I went over to the college to meet up with my colleagues. That was fun. Even though I don’t start until tomorrow I wanted to go say hello. I got a lovely warm reception and we talked a little about where things stand with the midwifery ward. We’ll sit down this week and make some goals and figure out what I’ll be doing. It’s about an hour walk from where I’m staying now, but it’s not like I have anything else to do and walking is good. I just bought an umbrella, a very useful tool in the rainy season. Cloud bursts are common and come in from nowhere. 

On Thursday I walked the hour to the Ginnery Corner Chipiku grocery store, which has quadrupled in size since I was here last and has a huge parking lot. I met up with my friend, took a deep breath, and drove him to Limbe. Limbe is a sister city to Blantyre, less developed and utterly chaotic. It takes some guts to drive through there at certain times of the day. Mid-morning wasn’t bad and we got to the other side and his gorgeous house. I stayed to visit for awhile, getting all the instructions and manuals, etc., and then set off to go back to Blantyre, through Limbe at noon. That was trial by fire. Honestly, if you go more than five miles an hour you could kill dozens of people just going through town. Happy I made it through there and back to my abode, then walked back to town to shop for the camping trip the next day. I was in charge of two breakfasts and a lunch, so needed some fruits and vegetables, as well as some containers and bread. There is no way I would drive a car and park it in the city. Much easier to walk and carry thousands of pounds on your back. I don’t care how hot or how hard it’s raining. I’ll walk. 

That afternoon I had another appointment to see a house, which was also out of town but in a more convenient direction. It is between the two nursing campuses so might work out well. I did have to drive there, so after dropping groceries and supplies at my place, I set out back through town around three pm. Not bad. In fact, it was pretty easy. I navigated the roundabouts  while constantly repeating to myself, “give way to the right, give way to the right” and found the house with little problem. The road was a left hand turn off the main road, so that was easy. Nice road, I thought, as I drove toward the house––– quiet, lots of green, paved. The hosts met me just inside the gate and gave me the tour. I liked the place instantly. It’s a large old colonial house with three smaller houses attached. One of the smaller houses is pretty good sized and the owner’s daughter lives there. Then there is a medium sized house rented to a guy who was away on holiday. They tell me they love him. The third is the one available, and it is the smallest, a one bedroom with combined kitchen living area, but the best part is the two double doors opening onto a covered veranda and a private garden. I love it. I totally love it. It’s way smaller than where we lived before, but it’s just me, and I can sleep on the couch when friends visit. I sat with the owners for a long time talking and they assured me I could be as private or as social as I want. I told them I’d take it and will move in next Saturday, the 20th. Yay! A car and a house! I’m feeling pretty good! 

Leaving there was a different story at 5 pm. I had to turn right onto the main road, which, took about fifteen minutes. Getting through town again at that hour was a miserable nightmare. Note to self: plan travel time accordingly. I think I could walk to work in an hour or so from there. Maybe an hour fifteen. That might be the dry season plan. Turning left to the Kameza campus will be easy, so when I teach there I’ll be fine.

That evening was strange. I parked my car outside my little apartment where there is a space for it, prepped some food for the weekend, and went to bed at 8 pm. I was reading when I heard a knock on the door and the landlady calling my name. I got up and looked through the peephole, and it was her, so opened the door. She breezed in past me in my boxer shorts and tank top with no bra, and sat at the table telling me she was writing a receipt for the rent I paid her three days before. Then she asked if they put up the mosquito net and before I could answer she went into the bedroom to look. Stunned, I answered “No they did not.” It was so bizarre her breezing through here like that. She handed me the receipt and was about to write up some long term contract when I told her not to do that as I’d found another house and would be moving out in a week. I just wanted to go back to bed, not have some real estate meeting in my pajamas. “Oh!” she said, “Ok, well we won’t need this.” and she breezed back out into the night telling me to sleep well. I went back to bed and thought that was weird. I never see her during the day and 8:30 pm is pretty late around here. Pondering it the next morning I realized what she was doing. I think she saw the car and thought I had someone here. So, like a jealous boyfriend doing a bed check, she made a ruse to look in the bedroom. She hadn’t cared all week I had no net, but at 8:30 pm it was suddenly an issue? It does say in the house rules no overnight guests, but surprise inspections? As if the guards looking in the windows isn’t enough?

Friday was Majete adventure! I packed up my camping stuff, food, and water and drove over to the secondary school where I was meeting up with two teachers, one I knew from when I was here last. I’m so glad to re-connect with her! We loaded into her 4×4 Toyota beast and set off in time to arrive for some game viewing before sunset. I love that place. It’s not terribly far, about an hour and a half drive from Blantyre, straight down into the valley on a steep escarpment with gorgeous views of the valley. Her brakes were in good order and it was a pleasant ride. If your brakes ever went on that road it would be the end. I’ve only stayed in the lodge there; I haven’t camped before, but it was great. Cheap and comfortable, except for the heat. My companions rented one of the big canvas tents they provide with mattresses and linens, but I just used my backpacking tent and put it next to theirs, close enough to look like an appendage not a small, weak, vulnerable snack. There is a common area with a huge thatched roof and shared kitchen. The bathrooms are nice with showers. It’s great.  The campground was full so lots of people were sharing the kitchen, many were families with kids. Lots of kids. The lodge is really lux with a big water hole where you can sip your gin and tonic and watch the animals come to you, but this was an inexpensive alternative. I could see switching off if I go a lot. We saw loads of animals. They’ve introduced wild dogs and giraffes since I was here last and they are all thriving. They’ve instituted strict consequences for poaching and that is greatly reduced. The lions were very new when I was here last and they are reproducing and doing well. I hear the rhino are also doing ok, though we didn’t see any this time. We also didn’t see any leopard or cheetah. In the rainy season it is thick, lush vegetation and more difficult to spot some of the game but it’s so cool to see them in their natural habitat. I just love it. I love the park and the guides. I can’t wait to take my guests there and support sustainable tourism. It’s a great little weekend getaway and my tent held up well in the rain. I was totally dry whereas occupants of the big canvas tents complained of leakage around doors and windows. I worried my little tent would get swamped but she held up well. I was a happy camper.

Ok, I’ll have to go across the street and order a drink to use their internet to send this. More next week!

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Kukhala kwa eni n’kuomba m’manja. ~ To stay well at someone else’s place is to clap your hands.

~ Chewa proverb

January 7, 2024

Hi Everyone!

The tropical air and vegetation, the people, the mountains, the place–– it feels really good to be back in Malawi. 

I spent my final days in UK in Covent Garden smack in the heart of London where my friend was staying in an apartment extraordinaire. That was a rather fabulous way to wind up my holiday. It was great to walk downstairs and emerge amid all the iconic sights right there in the neighborhood. Even in the rain it was smashing. On Wednesday, I took an easy tube ride back to Heathrow where I paid the ransom and retrieved my bags with stuff for the year. It’s funny, checking those bags in at Logan airport I was embarrassed by how much I had. Checking in at Ethiopian Airlines at Heathrow? I felt like I was traveling light. Two fifty pound bags? Nothing. People all around me had twice that at least. All checked and securitized and I was overnight to Addis Ababa and a mere four hour layover there before being Malawi bound. 

Arrival at the airport in Blantyre was sweet. Even my sleep-deprived, head-cold riddled brain perked up at the arrival. I’d been instructed to get a thirty-day tourist visa then apply for a residency permit through the embassy, so that was simple. The lines were long and slow but it felt like initiation into life here. Collecting my bags was the anticipated mob scene; luggage is strewn over the floor with no room to move the trolley (or even get a trolley). For the price of a Fanta, however, a guy in a yellow vest grabbed my bags and helped me out to where my taxi driver, Hastings, was waiting. I’d sent Hastings a What’s App message from London asking if he still had a taxi and he said he’d be there to collect me. It’s not that I couldn’t have gotten a random taxi, but it’s a little nicer (and safer) to have one tried and true. The airport actually has wifi! That was a nice surprise since I hadn’t international service. I let him know I was there and would be coming. He said he’d already been there an hour waiting but his reply was “I am here. Take your time. Don’t worry.” We loaded my bags into his beaten up car, I ran to the ATM which actually produced some cash, and we were off. He has aged. I almost didn’t recognize him. I asked him how things were and he said it’s been hard. I noticed less traffic and many fewer cars. He said people can’t afford to drive. The Kwacha was devalued in November by forty four percent. My tired brain could not process what this meant. Does that mean things are cheaper or more expensive? I didn’t ask. I knew from his tone it was bad for him. Probably the opposite for those with dollars though. I’m still doing the calculating.

This is the first time I have ventured into an overseas work experience on my own without being part of a group. With Pearce Corps, SEED, and MSF, there was a structure to the arrival with being met at the airport, handed a visa, transported to a venue where there was an orientation. This is very much a solitary experience. Since this place is familiar to me I have an advantage. I had the number to a taxi driver I trusted, and roughly knew where the lodging was located (though, I am finding I have underestimated distances and have the blistered feet to prove it). The faculty is almost the same, though I haven’t met with them yet. They are still on holiday break until tomorrow, but at least I know them and they know me. My grant doesn’t start until the 15th but I will go over to see them tomorrow just to say hi, then continue my search for housing. I have a couple of options, neither of which are ideal but I can go month by month and see if something better comes along. 

I’ve booked four nights at this lodge knowing I can extend if I want. It’s definitely further from work than I recalled but I had planned to find someplace closer by the time I start working. When I mentioned to the receptionist I’d be looking for a place to live she said she knew a furnished apartment right across the street. I went over there to have a look and it is certainly adequate for one person, dirt cheap, and seems safe enough. I’m not sure what I am basing the safety issue on, perhaps the landlady’s assurance that it was “yes, yes, very safe.” It’s a bit close to the road, though, it is the end of a dirt road with little traffic. I’m trying to decide if that’s good or bad. But, it is right across from this lodge which has great wifi. I could come over and have a beer and do my sending and receiving. I’m considering that for a temporary solution. Having someone provide housing (ie. an NGO) was definitely a huge perk. We lucked out last time and loved our house and its location. I tried to get it again but the landlady sold it and it is not available. So, a new adventure. 

I looked at another apartment close to the hospital. It’s a new complex, directly behind the new mosque, and is sterile and soulless. Surrounded by cement parking areas, they are advertised as luxury apartments. They are enormous and so is the price. I’m not living there. Plus I don’t want a 4:30 am wake up call every morning. I’d rather take the distant one and walk a couple of miles to work. In fact, when I think of it, I used to get home from work, drop my things, and go for a walk. I may as well just walk home. Or I’ll give Hastings a job. Lots of options here. 

I am deciding about getting a car. I hate to have another car on the roads here but it is so hard to get around without one. Within the city it’s fairly easy if you don’t mind walking, but to go anywhere afield, which, I will want to do, one really must have a car. There are so many beautiful places to visit within a few hours and I’d like to spend weekends taking advantage of that. I was messaging my former landlady and she has a car she wants to sell. She said I could drive it while she’s away for three weeks and decide if I want it. So, I’ll review the left sided rules and take her up on that!

I set out to go to church this morning but by the time I got there the mass was over. Another little mis-remembering of distances. Well, I sort of remembered the distance, I did not remember how much time it would take to walk. So I set off in a different direction to a coffee date with a woman I knew from before and did make it there in time. She invited me to go camping next weekend at Majete, a game park in the Shire Valley, a place I adore. Yay! Now I am super motivated to move into a place by then. 

I got back to the lodge just as the dark clouds were thickening and an hour later the heavens opened. African rain is truly something to see. Even the most violent downpour at home does not compare. Absolute sheets of heavy rain hammer down for maybe fifteen minutes, then what we would consider a torrential heavy downpour for another fifteen minutes, then a steady rain lingers for a few hours or sometimes all night. I find it so thrilling. I stood in my doorway eating a ripe mango, watching and smiling. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Old Year-New Year, Old Friends-New Friends

Sunday Morning ~ Old Year-New Year, Old Friends-New Friends

Mlendo ndi mame ~ Guests are like dew.

~ Chewa proverb

January 1, 2023

Hi Everyone,

Has it really been only a week since I wrote? I’ve lost track of time and I feel like I’ve been gone from Maine for months. This trip involved a lot of moving parts, and I’ve met many new people. It feels so good to travel again. The mojo is coming back. 

I’m now with friends in Woking, not far from London, my second to last stop before heading south to Malawi and a different world. There’ll be sun for one thing.

The weather here is dreadful. Grey, grey, grey with rain off and on. It’s not too cold but very dreary. Ireland was more varied. It would be dark grey at times, then bursts of sun, then dramatic clouds, then driving rain, then rainbows. As I was warm and dry and observing all this through windows, I found it beautiful. In England it is more of a steady gloom, though, being with friends brightens it up. 

After Christmas in Manchester, I flew to Ireland and spent three days in Pomroy, a small village an hour west of Belfast where I met more cousins of my future daughter-in-law than I could count. Every passing car was driven by an aunt or uncle, and we spent a good portion of the days visiting or being visited. On my last night, Uncle Aiden arranged an evening at the pub which was the most fun I’ve had in ages. God, they know how to enjoy themselves. Two young teenagers played Irish music with super-human fiddling. We all bought rounds. There was laughing and all kinds of conversation I couldn’t understand; this accent will take some getting used to. I understand Chichewa better than some of their English. And, I get to do this again in August! We visited the church and the castle where the wedding will be, imagining a fairy tale event and planning my outfits. It was fabulous. 

On Friday, family drove me back to the airport, refusing to let me take a bus. Holiday travelers were all heading home and the airport was a mob scene. I was grateful my flight to London was delayed or I would have missed it altogether; the security line was massive. I took comfort in the fact that I did not have a screaming child in tow, empathizing with those who did, and inched along. I was afraid I’d miss my train to Woking, already having bought the ticket. Needn’t have worried, though, as the tickets are interchangeable and there are trains all over the place. I just hopped on the next available, checked the app to see which platform, and sailed on to a big hug from a friend I haven’t seen since leaving Malawi in 2019. Yay for train infrastructure! I slipped into his waiting car (still going for the wrong door) and have been comfortably ensconced in their gorgeous home being fed and watered ever since. Luxury.

On Saturday we did a long muddy walk into nearby hills with beautiful views, ending at Shere, a sweet little village, and lunch at the pub. Sunday began with a lovely mass at a local Catholic Church, which my friends kindly attended even though they aren’t Catholic. The priest was great and connected with the congregation in a genuine way; he was funny. He talked about family, what it means, and how many of us have an unrealistic fantasy of the ideal. It was very meaningful to me as I let go of what I imagined my family would be at this stage of my life. It was a perfect gift to end the year. From there we met other friends from Malawi at the Wisley Botanical Gardens, meandered through winter landscapes and caught up on lives and travel. We had lunch at one of the restaurants then were treated to dramatic sky and glorious rainbow before heading home where New Years Eve dinner was planned. 

Guests arrived and the feast commenced with French 75s and canapés in front of the fire: very civilized with robust conversation. From there we moved to the dining room and a lovely french onion soup, followed by seared salmon with vegetables and potatoes. Wine flowed. I demonstrated ignorance of English table manners when it was pointed out I’d improperly placed my cutlery across my empty plate signaling I wanted more instead of being finished. I thought this was a joke and couldn’t possibly be true until I looked around to see everyone else had the fork and knife placed exactly the same on their plates. (Is this in the travel books?) I have lots of British friends and have not been told this before. Now I’m wondering how uncivilized I have appeared over the years visiting this country? Have people been too polite to point this out to me? After listening to stories of boarding school, however, I can understand how customs must be obeyed and adhered to. It seems like the placing of cutlery is the least traumatic thing they endured. 

After dinner we played a few games that brought us to midnight when we joined hands and sang Auld Lang Syne while fireworks boomed on the television. I congratulated myself on making it to the new year and planned to say goodnight when there was insistence on playing Pictionary “for just a little while”. What are these people made of? Incredible. Even in my college days I’d be in bed at twelve o one. It’s been years since I made it to midnight. I made it for one more hour before almost falling asleep on the couch and had to say goodnight. Which, broke up the party. I hated to be the first to quit but it was getting to be a life or death situation.

Now I’m off to London where I’ll spend two nights with my friend Ruth before heading to Malawi on Wednesday. I’ve shed most of the clothes I brought for UK travel, I’ve booked a temporary place to stay while I look for a house to rent, my taxi driver is still in business and he’ll pick me up at the airport, and I can’t wait to feel that tropical air on my skin. 

Happy New Year everyone. 

Love to all,

Linda