Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre ~ Elders
Akulu-akulu ndi m’dambo mozimira moto. ~ Elders are like moisture in the marsh where the fire goes out.
~ Chewa proverb
February 11, 2024
It’s refreshing to live in a place where elders are respected and revered. During my Peace Corps experience here in my early twenties I was drawn to their wisdom. I lived in Malawi when the fruits of colonialism were rotting and the median age was sixteen. There were few elders. When I was here in the late 70’s and early 80’s I was working as a public health nurse and spent lots of time in villages. Before doing anything for health care (immunizations, sanitation), the village chief, an elder, had to be consulted. I listened to the discussion, a fellow nurse translating what I didn’t understand. The village chiefs, the medical officers, the matrons, midwives, and priests all spoke with care and concern for their communities. I loved to sit and listen. I loved hearing their perspectives on life, their experiences, their views on what the future would hold. So many of their stories were of inconceivable hardships, told with a fascinating serenity. I prayed I could be like them someday. To grow old without bitterness seemed the most valuable blessing. Forty-five years later their example resonates even more. They were and are respected members of their communities. Is it possible to have such serenity without that respect?
I am rereading The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver’s book about a missionary family in the Belgian Congo. An eloquent passage about sickness, disease, and death of Congolese children was so apt and realistic I wondered if Kingsolver had lived there herself. One line in particular stood out: “If everyone lived to be old, then old age would not be such a treasure.” Given this moment in my own country’s history, I read that and thought, Is our problem that too many people live to be old? Is that why Americans have so little respect for the elderly? Why do we spend so much of our health care dollars in the last year of life prolonging suffering and delaying the inevitable. Is aged usefulness measured in dollars spent in institutions?
I’m disgusted with the media for the most recent episode of The Fear of Aging. It seems there is no bottom.
In other disturbing news, it hasn’t rained for several days. It’s making me a little nervous and I’m not the one depending on a maize crop for survival. We got a couple of cloudbursts last week, but they didn’t last long. It’s been hot in Blantyre, the kind of hot reserved for October and November before the rains come. Things are lush and green, so there has been some rain but it’s intermittent. I see clouds forming now so maybe we’ll see some today. I’m sitting on my veranda with my tea and wondering about walking to church. It’s about three miles and if it does rain, my umbrella will be useless. But I can duck in somewhere and call a taxi if I’m desperate, so I may go for it. I need to move.
One more week until students come for classes. This week we will discuss clinical sites and who will supervise where. This exercise of supervising students out in the far flung districts was the initial spark lighting the fuse for the Midwifery Ward project at the teaching hospital. Midwifery students get sent out as far as three hours away to smaller hospitals to get experience. When they arrive there, there is an added burden to the existing staff to mentor them. Often the students are treated like employees and have little supervision. The faculty is supposed to visit them once a week and spend a day teaching, but this never happens. There is often no transportation or no fuel. Meetings and other responsibilities take priority and sometimes students spend their entire five week rotation with only one visit. It’s not great. I met with the Chargé d’affaires from the U.S. embassy last Monday when she was in Blantyre and described our original project for addressing this problem and how it was derailed by the pandemic. She told me about a self-help grant through the embassy I could apply for which might resuscitate the project. She was great. She told me not to give up on it. Money always helps. I’ve put it out to my colleagues here and we are planning a time to meet and talk about how we should proceed. There is still a little flame.
My car is now my car. The title was switched into my name on Wednesday and the process was shockingly smooth. It helped greatly that the man selling me the car had experience and knew which impossible-to-find room to deliver the forms. I followed him hoping I’ll remember how to find it when I’ll need to resell this baby in December. Now that I own the car and have my own insurance, I’m more comfortable taking it farther afield. So yesterday I drove to Zomba with some new friends where we hiked along the plateau. This never gets old for me. The deforestation is tragic, yes, and there were many landslides during the cyclone last March, but there is a lot of reforestation work being done and I felt hopeful. We hired a guide as it’s nice to hear local stories and history and I like supporting them. He was active in the reforestation and took us to the nursery were they are propagating indigenous plants. There is plenty of pine and eucalyptus up there, not native, that has been stripped for lumber and firewood. He could identify the bird calls and vegetation, and knew exactly which trail would take four hours. We went to lunch and descended the escarpment a little later than we should have in order to get home before dark. Then we stopped several times to buy passion fruit, gooseberries, avocados, and the new potatoes that grow in the valley between two mountains. Women walk up one mountain and down another on a path they have named the Potato Path. When they cross under a waterfall on the plateau they stop to wash the potatoes, then continue several miles down into Zomba and the big market there. A few women stay along the road between hairpin turns and sell to those in the cars that pass, like us. Fruit and vegetables fresh off the trees and the earth and we don’t even need to get out of our car.
Love to all,