Sunday Morning ~ Likoma Island for Easter

Sunday Morning ~ Likoma Island for Easter

Safunsa adadya phula. ~If you don’t ask for honey, you will only eat wax.

~Chewa proverb

March 31, 2024

Hi Everyone,

It’s early Easter morning and I’m sitting on the veranda of my little chalet watching the fishermen paddle out in their dugout canoes. The scene is framed by two huge baobabs. I face west so am not watching the Easter sunrise, but the pinks and blues over the lake are beautiful. I slept soundly last night and woke full of gratitude for the gifts life has given me. The only thing missing is a pot of tea, otherwise, complete bliss.

I mentioned last week how I’d always wanted to go out to Likoma Island and explore. I’ve read and heard about the big cathedral commissioned by Anglican missionaries and built from 1903 to 1911 and I wanted to see it. It’s the largest church in Malawi, the third largest in central Africa, and the size of Winchester Cathedral in UK. The sheer remoteness makes this place alluring, but to build this kind of church here is fascinatingly bizarre to me. I know a few people who have ventured out and their stories made the desire to get here even stronger. But most people say they’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t taken on the challenge. And getting here is a challenge. When my colleague Ursula asked me what I was doing over the Easter holiday I told her I was planning to go to Likoma Island and see the cathedral, she responded with what I hear from most people––– I’ve always wanted to go there. “You should come!” I said. Her response was, “No, I will never get on that boat.” I laughed, haha!, and told her I don’t like boats that much either but I really want to go. Little did I know. 

When we left Karonga on the very northern shore of this lake in 1981, we had a ten month old baby and a choice of small plane or the Ilala, the lake steamer, for transport. There was no road that went all the way south at the time and the Ilala made a journey up and down the lake once a week. We chose the boat, knowing it stopped at Likoma Island but we decided it would be too much to get off and stay there for the week with a baby and all our luggage. We saw the island from the deck of the Ilala and thought that was the closest we would ever get. But since I returned to Malawi in 2016, it’s been nagging at me. To spend three nights here it requires four days of travel. When I saw the four day Easter break this month it looked like I could tack a few days on each end and make it work. Which I did. Though I’m not home yet, so guess I should qualify “work”. 

The Ilala begins it’s journey at the southernmost tip of the lake at Monkey Bay. From Blantyre that’s a four and a half hour drive. It’s also possible to get the boat when it stops at Senga Bay heading north, also a four and a half hour drive from Blantyre. Since I’ll be going to Monkey Bay in May, I decided to go to Senga Bay. I booked a lodge for Thursday night planning to get the boat mid-day Friday, arriving on Likoma Island Saturday morning. The Ilala has a few cabins but they book quickly and friends have slept out on the deck and said it was lovely. That was my plan. Ady, a young American woman I’ve met, heard of my plans and asked if she could come along. I was happy to go alone but having company is nice too, so sure. She made her own reservations at the same lodges and Thursday afternoon we set off for Senga Bay. We arrived at a sweet little lodge called Cool Running, situated right on the lake (soon to be in the lake), a short walk down the beach to the boatyard where we’d catch the Ilala. 

The Ilala had been out for service for the prior month but was scheduled to make its first journey north on Friday. I woke feeling lucky. I’d slept well, had a gorgeous breakfast, and joined Ady to enjoy the onshore breeze and wait for our adventure to begin. We were so excited. 

The man who runs the lodge on Likoma sent us a message saying there were three others coming to Likoma on the Ilala and they were boarding in Monkey Bay. He’d heard from them that they were still doing the final inspection following the repairs and departure was delayed. He connected us so we’d hear from them when it left so we could gauge when it would be arriving at Senga Bay. There is no dock at Senga Bay. It was our understanding that they send a small boat to shore with debarking passengers, load up with goods and people and then return to the boat for departure north. So our 1 p.m. departure would be three or so. No problem, I thought. Beautiful day and gorgeous setting, and the boat trip was part of the adventure. So we waited…and waited,…and waited. As it got later and later we started doing the math and got a little anxious. Will we still board by nightfall? How much is this going to cut into our time on Likoma? We got occasional updates from the people waiting in Monkey Bay saying only they were still waiting. A little after three, when we should have already been on the boat for two hours, we heard the Ilala did not pass inspection and they were getting the Chilembwe, a smaller boat, ready to sail. They were planning to be off by five. The staff at Cool Running assured us the Chilembwe was fast! Very fast! It would be here by seven, or even six. We should be ready to board by six because it does not wait, just a quick drop of goods and people then off again. 

We ordered sandwiches because the Chilembwe has no restaurant, packed up our stuff and headed down the beach at 5:30. I thought it would be fun to sit there and watch it arrive and be ready to hop aboard. Ady was planning to camp at the lodge so she had quite a bit of luggage. She hired Tiger, a guy selling curios on the beach, to carry her stuff. His brother accompanied him and insisted on carrying mine. We followed them along the shore, through the village where fishermen were preparing their nets. The village was buzzing against a panorama of apricot sky. The sunset was showing off spectacularly. We arrived at the “boatyard” which was nothing more than part of the fishing village, where scores of people with baggage were sitting and waiting. It looked like there was going to be quite a competition to get on the smaller boat. Knowing this was “first come first serve” I wondered if they had a limit to the number of passengers allowed on? (This was before learning there are exactly zero safety regulations) It was almost six and we still hadn’t heard that the boat had left Monkey Bay. Ok, I thought, it might be between seven and eight we board so we’ll just eat our sandwich on the beach here. No problem. But Ady was getting nervous. She asked, “What will it be like to board this boat in the dark?” Yeah, I was a little worried about that myself. We saw a wooden fishing boat completely laden with bags of goods, baskets and luggage. We wondered where that was going? A man sat down next to us and asked if we wanted him to take our luggage, but we didn’t understand what he meant. To the Chilembwe? “Yes”, he said, “we take it to the boat for you.” But we thought why pay him when we will just get on the boat they send to shore? So we told him no thanks. But more and more people were putting stuff in that wooden boat. It definitely looked like they knew something we didn’t. It got dark. We finally got a message that the boat left Monkey Bay along with “No seats. The boat is full.” and I figured, ok, two hours at the most, but would they let us on? Eight o’clock came and went. Ady asked me when I thought we should call the whole thing off? It’s not like that hadn’t crossed my mind, but the boat was on its way! We at least knew that. But from the looks of all the stuff on the fishing boat, I couldn’t imagine everything fitting. But we had nothing to lose by waiting as the alternative was going back to sleep in the car. And Tiger was long gone. I texted the owner of the lodge on Likoma and asked him if there was a limit to the number of passengers allowed on the Chilembwe? I never got a response. 

I was trying to enjoy the deep orange moonrise. I was marveling at the scene and being part of it, as well as wishing we knew what was going on. Groups of people surrounded us eating, talking, smoking. Small kids were playing, some were crying. Nine o’clock came and went. The wind picked up and whitecaps were starting to form. Then, all at once, everyone got up and ran to board that fishing boat. They literally charged for it; kids were being tossed up, people were climbing the sides, older people were being carried on others’ shoulders, and this already overloaded boat now had about a hundred more people on it! There was no way I was getting on that boat!  We couldn’t see the Chilembwe coming but someone obviously got a message we didn’t. Then a guy named George came down to the beach and saw us, two mzungus (white people) standing there looking lost, and asked what we were doing? We told him we were waiting for the Chilembwe and he told us to get our stuff on that fishing boat, which, by now was completely overloaded. I told him we were planning to take the small boat sent by the Chilembwe. He said, “No no no, they won’t send that boat here with these waves. You need to pay him to go in that boat.” I really didn’t want to believe this. In my ear Ady said, “I don’t know about this. It looks so sketchy.” Couldn’t argue with that, but I hated to give up. I also didn’t want to be stupid and get us both drowned. I never heard any drowning stories associated with getting to Likoma aside from the Bishop who built the cathedral and was so anxious to get there he set out in a storm and drowned. That story went though my mind. I finally called the owner of Cool Running and asked if this was what we were supposed to do? You’d have thought someone would have told us! She said, “Yes, the wind is picking up and fisherman are coming in. You’ll need to get on that local boat.” Oh my God. My heart sank. A guy came up and asked for money to carry our bags out there. I said, okay, looked at Ady, and said, “She said we go with them”. In less than a minute he had our bags on the back of the boat just in front of the two outboard motors. I started to wade through the water, not sure how I’d climb aboard when he said, “No! I carry you!” I started to say that wouldn’t be necessary when he bent down behind me, stuck his head between my legs and stood up. I was on his shoulders trying not to scream when he just dumped me onto the boat. I thought, oh my God, those poor refugees trying to escape this way. Holy hell. Then turned around to see Ady being carried out. I thought, “If I don’t die by drowning she is going to kill me.” So with the last holdouts aboard, they untied the rope attaching us to the boat on shore and we were adrift, maybe a hundred people on a boat the size of a Boston Whaler. Then a guy whose legs were at my face level, tried to start one of the motors. He pulled the cord, oh I don’t know fifty, sixty times? Black smoke pouring out and nothing purring. We were just floating away! I looked around for oars, never mind life jackets. None. Not that I could see under all the stuff in the pitch dark with bodies everywhere. They uncovered the second motor and took off the cap. The cord on this one apparently was missing, so one of the guys took a piece of plastic twine (the kind that wraps a bale of hay) and wrapped it around the thing looking like a tire wheel. No idea what that part of the motor is called but it was metal with a big groove. He then pulled the twine to spin it and miraculously after three tries it worked! That motor sputtered to life and they then tried to steer us while they tried to get the other motor going. I kept looking at shore wondering if I could swim that far. Wouldn’t you think they’d check the motors before untying us?! The whole time people are yelling back and forth to each other, but no one seemed panicked. Which I was taking as a good sign. After another twenty or thirty tries on the first motor it actually started, which I took full responsibility for since I was praying to God to make that motor start. That motor, despite the billowing black smoke emanating from it seemed stronger than the other one and the boat actually started moving in the desired direction. The captain said in Chichewa that the reason the motors wouldn’t start was because of the mzungus on board and they should buy them a new motor. People laughed. I worried about being thrown overboard. 

Then howls went up as another overloaded boat, smaller than ours, passed us heading for the Chilembwe which was now approaching. Where did that boat even come from?! We headed straight for them as if we would bisect them but then turned somehow, I couldn’t see what was happening. My head was bowed and I was praying. It was a race to be first to board. I considered just staying on the boat and going back to shore, it all seemed too dangerous, but wasn’t going to leave Ady. But I was sure she was as freaked out as me. Maybe more.

I looked up to see us heading straight for the side of the Chilembwe towering over us, and a guy threw a rope up to someone on the deck who caught it as we slammed into the side. Before we even had even stopped people were scrambling up the side of the ship! I thought, please God don’t tell me we have to do that, when I heard Ady yell, “Linda, there is no ladder!” I yelled back, “I know!” at this point thinking I really can’t do this, when a guy appeared in front of me and said, “You pay me to help you.” I thought this was the same guy who carried us out to the boat and I said, “I already paid you!” But he had my bag and said, “Follow me. Get to the front.” Hah! There was a sea of humanity climbing up the side trying to get on an already full deck. I was shoved to an opening in the rail where it was easier to grab onto something and when I saw my bag go flying up I thought, Ok, I’m going. It was one of those situations when you think, failure is not an option. I don’t even know what I took hold of but grabbed on and got my legs up while others were fighting to do the same. I yelled, “I can’t leave my friend!” and he yelled back, “I’m getting her. Just go!” So I went. I got onto the deck, reached for my bag being trampled, when a guy with a recipt book yelled, “Where are you going?” I yelled, “Likoma” and he told me to pay eight thousand kwacha, which was way less than I expected to pay but couldn’t get into my backpack for my wallet in this crowd pushing me forward into the cabin. I was already stepping on people. I just moved forward with the wave and once inside I almost fainted. It was really hot and the rows of seats, like airport seats, were overflowing. A body was on every surface. I stepped between legs and around baggage carrying my bag to the front where I saw three empty seats. I looked behind and saw Ady had made it on, so I kept going. I saw the empty seats were wet. Something above them, maybe an air-conditioning unit, was leaking water onto the middle seat and splashing onto the others. The woman behind said that’s why no one was sitting there. I was like, fuck this, I’m sitting here. It was a hundred degrees in there so this was not a functioning air conditioner. I had an umbrella in my bag so got that out and wedged it into the middle seat so the water ran down the sides of it and stopped splashing on the outer seats. then I made a little tent with a chithenje that made sitting there not dry but tolerable. I was just so relieved to be on board and not in the dark waters of the lake, I didn’t care if I got wet; it was only going to be fifteen hours on this thing. At that point I just didn’t want to ruin my son’s wedding by dying before August. I sat close to the window and Ady got in the aisle seat. We just looked at each other with a “can you believe that?” look. Holy shit. God only knows what was going on behind us on deck but a while later it felt like we were moving. It was after midnight. The guy with the receipt book found me and asked for his 8,000 kwacha, which, I happily handed him then turned to Ady and said, “Bargain!” She sorta smiled.  

Despite the blaring music, the crying babies, the stifling heat, and the drunk soldiers, I actually fell asleep. Maybe from sheer relief, but all the noise was less bothersome than a mosquito buzzing in my ear. I opened my eyes to see a hint of dawn out the window and gave thanks for making it through the night. I could only see water so had no idea where we were. I took a drink of some ginger beer from my bag and realized I had to pee. Knowing there were many more hours to go I had to find a toilet, expecting it to be indescribably filthy. But it wasn’t too far away so I only had to step on or around about fifty people lying in the aisle, over an outboard motor lying among them, and into a free loo that even had toilet paper!! I couldn’t believe it! I gave another in the series of prayers of thanks, and made my way back to my wet seat. My shirt was soaked but it kinda kept me cool. Not too bad. Ady woke up and seemed to be not speaking to me. I thought she either hates me for this or is not a morning person. I reminded myself she did ask to come. It wasn’t like I talked her into this. 

I could see Likoma Island way before I thought we should be there. I expected to arrive around 2 p.m. and it was only 8 in the morning! I was sure I was hallucinating. But there we were, and you’d think I’d been adrift at sea for months instead of on a lake for eight hours, I was so happy to see land. I checked my phone to see a message from the owner of the lodge saying he sent someone to help us get off the boat (thank you Jesus) and drive us to the lodge. His name, no lie, was K1. I won’t go into details of getting off that boat, but it made your worst airplane departure look like you were carried off on a palanquin. It was absolute bedlam, but K1 shouted to us from an opening to pass our bags to him. They went overhead person to person until they reached him and then disappeared. I didn’t even care if he was stealing them. A long time later we were outside being crushed in the crowd, but (thank you Jesus) we were on a cement dock and only had to walk a short plank. Words cannot express my relief at this tidbit. We looked back at the Chilembwe swarming with people getting on and Ady said, “Did you see the one lifeboat says maximum ten people!!!!” Yes, I had seen that. I’m also willing to bet there weren’t enough life jackets for 500 people. Oh well, we were here. They loaded us onto a Mitsubishi minicab and K1 drove us through the town to Ulisa Lodge on the opposite side of the island. Ady said she’s already dreading the ride back but I’m thinking I may never leave.

It really is paradise. And the cathedral is astonishing. We are going there for Easter service.

This has gotten very long so maybe I’ll save the story of Tuesday’s meeting until next week. It’s a good one and I am happy. I do love my life. I’m grateful.  

Happy Easter everyone.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Palm Sunday

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Palm Sunday

Madzi atupa ndi a m’njira. ~ The waters become plentiful because of all the side rivers.

~ Chewa proverb

March 24. 2024

Hi Everyone,

It’s Palm Sunday and since I wasn’t at mass last week I didn’t get the memo about today’s extravaganza. I showed up a little early as I wanted a good parking spot. I’d been invited to lunch afterward and didn’t want to get stuck in the exodus. I thought it was odd that there were so few cars, usually the parking lot is packed. I asked the parking attendant if I missed mass? Maybe they had it earlier today? He looked at me blankly, clearly did not speak English. I simplified, “Mass? Eight o’clock?” He smiled and nodded. Ok, strange as I was only fifteen minutes early. Usually the choir is singing, people are saying the rosary, beautifully dressed children are streaming in. There was none of that. I went in and found maybe five people in the whole church. I walked to the front and took a seat and figured I’d spend some introspective time and wait for an hour. If no one else came, I’d leave, though that would make me very early for lunch. The keyboard player started setting up so I knew something was going to happen. A few traditionally dressed women came in holding huge palm branches that looked like they had just cut them off their own trees. From a distance I heard a crowd chanting and singing and I figured there was a procession starting at least a mile away from the sounds of it. The gathering clearly began at some other designated location, which, I’m sure was announced last week, and they were processing to the church. As it got closer I could tell there were many more people than usually attend the English mass. I watched through the open door as at least a thousand, maybe more, danced and sang down the main road waving palm branches. The choir came in first dancing and singing and hoards followed doing the same. It was beautiful. It was well after nine when the mass finally started. It was after ten by the time we got through the passion. It was almost eleven before all the gifts were presented, among them a live chicken. Then I started worrying about being late for lunch. Since they had combined the English and Chichewa mass everything was repeated in both languages. I knew communion was going to be forever and then announcements take at least a half hour. I never do this, but I left after communion. I still had to drive on the worst road in southern Malawi to get to the house for lunch and was nervous about going there alone. I felt sorta guilty for leaving but not guilty enough to stay. When I walked out of the church I saw at least a hundred people standing at the entrance attending mass from there. Either they gave out palms at the beginning of the parade or it was bring your own. At any rate, I left without. 

Friends had invited me to their mountaintop farm outside of Blantyre for lunch and getting there is an adventure. Halfway there I remembered I’d told myself I’d never go there again. It’s beautiful once you arrive, but it is up and down steep rutted dirt roads, across rickety bridges, and through dry riverbeds. They are expats but have lived in Malawi most of their lives. They built this amazing home and farm before the president’s palace was built nearby. There is a lovely road going through the palace grounds but only the owners of this farm are allowed to use it. Visitors must scale the rutted mountain road. I decided if it started raining I was just going to stay there. The first time I went there in 2016 with George we were on bicycle and I thought we’d never be heard from again. In some ways on bicycle is easier, but walking the five miles is the way to go. You’d just have to plan on the entire day. Anyway, I made it and once there it really is lovely. They’d prepared a gorgeous meal from their gardens and gave me a basketful of fresh ginger, turmeric, chili peppers, chard, lemons, and guava. I also took two liters of their fresh milk and peanut oil they’d pressed. Almost worth the drive. Fortunately the wine served at lunch dulled my dread of returning on that “road”. I made it home without a problem. I love my car so much. 

Speaking of my car, I finished paying for it this week when I got some dollars from my friend in Mangochi. Transferring enough money for a car has been a huge challenge. PayPal was taking fees on both ends and I could only pay in small amounts. It ended up easier to exchange dollars for a much better rate and pay in cash. So Friday I needed to get to the foreign exchange office before it closed. It is downtown, the traffic is hellish between four and six and I was worried about being seen leaving that office. I didn’t want to have to walk a long way to the car as I know two people who’ve been mugged here recently. I’d planned to go earlier in the day but learned that morning I was supposed to be in the skills lab all day. So I dashed out with a half hour to spare, drove to town, parked in a gas station two blocks from the office, then got nervous as a guy was following me asking for money. He didn’t come into the office but I told them when I entered I was uncomfortable. Immediately, one of the women in there got up and closed the door. I told them I didn’t know how I’d walk back to my car. She stuck her head out the door and a second later a very well-built man came in and sat down. She turned to me and said, “He’ll escort you.” Well, well. Some things work very well here. He was dressed more like a bouncer than a guard and I felt totally safe with him. He walked with me to the car, I got in, locked the doors, wedged my way into traffic, made it home to hand off the money, and the car is paid for. Whew! 

So the big midwifery ward meeting for Tuesday was postponed when one of the major players had a conflict. I was very disappointed. Since plans are already being discussed for use of the ward I put it out there we really need to meet soon even if everyone can’t make it. This could be delayed indefinitely otherwise and I can’t apply for any grants until we have an actual plan. It’s rescheduled for this Tuesday. Fingers crossed. 

My classes were also a bit frustrating this week as I could see many of the students using their phones during the lecture. I asked several times that they put them away but the class is so huge I can’t really tell. When I broke them into groups to do case studies (a madhouse) I saw lots of them again on phones as I walked from group to group. On Friday I asked the other faculty what they do when they see kids on phones. I was told to take the phone away, put the student’s name on it, and they will get it back at the end of the course. I thought surely I misunderstood. “The end of the course or the end of the class?” I asked. “The end of the course. Fourteen weeks.”, was the answer. Wow. I guess that would be a deterrent. 

Next week is Easter and we have both Friday and Monday off. I am taking a little excursion to Likoma Island, an island in the northern part of the lake on the Mozambique side. There is a boat that transports people and goods up and down the lake making a stop at Likoma. It takes some logistics to get there but I have always wanted to visit that place and I decided to just do it. It’s a four and a half hour drive to the lake where I’ll spend the night on Thursday. Then I’ll get the boat Friday and be overnight to Likoma. It gets there at four Saturday morning and I’ll have the weekend there before boarding it again late Monday night on its way south. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Mangochi

Sunday Morning ~ Mangochi

Mbewa ya manyazi idafera ku dzenje. ~ The fearful mouse died in its hole.

~ Chewa proverb

March 17, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I have a gorgeous perch to write at this morning. It’s just getting light. The lake is before me with the mountains of Mozambique framing the opposite shore about fifteen miles away. The lake is high. They tell me they haven’t had excessive rains here but the northern part of the country has and the water is rising everywhere. The grounds and gardens at this lodge are almost completely submerged. The walkways are still above the waterline, but many of the small buildings have a moat. When I checked-in Friday I was told other lodges on the lake had to close because of the flooding. They said they were very lucky here at the Kingfisher. I wonder for how long. No one seems too upset, though.

I left my little thatched rondavel while it was still dark as there was not much to do in there once I woke at 4:30. I hadn’t packed a flashlight or candles and the power went out sometime during the night. This became evident when the fan stopped and the air got thick and heavy. I laid there for awhile but got restless and decided to walk out and watch the sun come up. There’s no human life stirring yet though the birds are quite vocal. I was hoping for a cup of tea but I haven’t seen a soul aside from a razor thin guard who was sleeping in the bar when I walked down here. It’s breezy and the waves on the lake are just about to mingle with the pool. I wonder if chlorine kills bilharzia? There are all kinds of birdlife enjoying the new watery landscape. I’ve seen at least a dozen different kinds in the time I’ve been sitting here. I’m not great at identifying them, but I do know there is a fish eagle sitting in the tree above me.

I came to the Mangochi to visit Anna, a former Seed volunteer who was in my cohort in 2016. She is a family doctor and has returned to Mangochi every year for the past nine years. She spends four months here teaching medical students and residents as part of an exchange program with her hospital in Washington state. This year she is back with her partner and baby. They feel like family. It’s comfortable and easy. 

I left Blantyre Friday around noon and headed out of the city. The ride is not too difficult; the road is paved, but narrow with loads of potholes. Once descended from the Zomba mountains the terrain flattens out and the last hour is delightful––open savannah, baobab and acacia trees, few cars, and smooth pavement. I love the Mangochi road. As long as it’s daylight, avoiding goats and bicyclists is manageable. 

It was dead calm when I arrived at the Kingfisher Inn, and very hot and humid. I couldn’t wait to drop my stuff and get in the pool. I’m usually happy to just sit and look at the water, but after four hours sweating in the car, the pool looked inviting. Though the lodge is situated right on the lake it’s not possible to swim in it. Hippos and crocodiles inhabit these parts and even villagers aren’t in the lake unless in their boats. The pool is built into a cement deck and I’m told there used to be a beach separating it from the lake. Now the lake laps at the edge of the pool. I’m wondering how long it will be before this whole place is underwater. There is a thatched bar originally built on the shore but now sort of in the lake. It’s still functioning with a 2×6 piece of wood stretched out over the surrounding water to access it. A more permanent bridge with a handrail would look as if it were an exotic design. The volleyball net is in the middle of a pond now and I doubt anything could make that look planned. Despite the heat and rising water, it’s peaceful and beautiful and I’m loving being here for the weekend. There are not many people staying here and the bar was empty last evening when I crossed the plank to get a gin and tonic. While waiting for my drink I saw a Bao board and asked the bartender if he’d give me a refresher on how to play. “You want to play Bao?” he asked surprised. I told him I have played it many years ago but have forgotten. He was eager to give me a lesson and it started coming back to me as he moved the stones around the board. Malawians are incredible at this game, counting the stones at lightening speed and knowing where they will land. He let me win the first two games and when we started on the third the cook called from the empty dining area that my supper was ready. I got up to go, thinking I’d come back to finish the game after eating, but Vincent put the whole thing away and said, “We can finish tomorrow.” I think he was bored. It was like teaching a child. I was very slow. 

The past week of classes went well. I’m getting more comfortable with the huge class and am continuously grateful for the students’ resiliency. It’s college effort multiplied by ten. For a side hustle I had a meeting with a few of the midwives involved with the initiation of the midwifery ward back in 2016. We are evaluating the feasibility of resurrecting our vision. On my way to the meeting I walked by the original site, reallocated as the pandemic swelled to accommodate Covid patients–––the only ward with oxygen. I sighed. We were so close. The ward is now empty and there are rumblings about a plan for its use. A seat at that table had better be for midwives. One of the matrons (the equivalent of our nursing supervisor) was on our South African trip to see the model midwifery ward in 2018 and has been promoted to a prominent position, on level with the head of the obstetrics department. I asked her if she believes it’s possible to initiate the midwifery ward as we’d originally planned or should we put the effort somewhere else? She said it was indeed possible and it is a legacy she’d love to leave. I was thrilled with that answer and asked what next? Who do we involve in a first meeting? We brainstormed for a while and came up with a plan. So, Tuesday at 2 pm we will have a meeting with the heads of departments of the hospital and College of Medicine. We will lay out our vision (again). The pandemic is controlled. The ward is empty. We have the same problem we had eight years ago with clinical teaching for students. Can we pick up where we left off? Can  this midwifery ward get established in the teaching hospital? Please!!

My job was to draft the invitation. Ursula’s job was to edit and send it, Christina’s was to secure the room. I offered to provide the refreshments. Within an hour we had a plan. Invitation was written and sent and we were smiling. It felt good to be doing something aside from bemoaning the fact we had been so close and not made it to the finish line. It feels like beginning again but from a new starting line. We have to figure out a budget and get funding but I’m working on that. Grant writing is not my idea of fun but I’ll do it. There are many out there, we just need to mold them into a fit for our project or vice versa. I so hope this works. As my college leadership professor said, “Enthusiasm is contagious. So is fear. Choose wisely.” I’m excited about this, fearful of falling short again, but glad to be in motion.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Martyr’s Day~ Dedza

Sunday Morning ~ Martyr’s Day, Dedza

Kukula mphuno sikudziwa kumina. ~ Having a big nose does not mean you know how to blow it clean.

~ Chewa proverb

March 3, 2024

Hi Everyone,

When we applied for Peace Corps shortly after getting married in 1978 my husband and I were offered positions in Malawi, a country we’d never heard of. We walked to my hometown library in Maynard, Massachusetts, and pulled an encyclopedia off the shelf. Under M, we found a paragraph describing the country as a former British colony led by President for Life, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda. It described the government as a one party democracy having gained independence from the British in 1964. It gave the location and the square mileage saying it was roughly the size of Pennsylvania. It described Lake Malawi as its defining feature. It may have said something about the great rift valley through which the country runs and its mountainous topography. It had one sentence declaring it the Switzerland of Africa, but that was about it. We looked in other encyclopedias as there were several sets to chose from. They said almost exactly the same thing. We didn’t learn more about this country until we arrived a few months later in Blantyre and moved with our eleven co-volunteers to Salima for three months of training. I went on Wikipedia this morning to see what was there and there is quite a lot. I laugh to think of how hard it was to find information in my youth. This morning, I barely needed to get out of bed.

March third is Martyr’s Day here, a national holiday commemorating the death of peaceful protesters demanding independence from the British. In 1959 the colonial governor declared a state of emergency because of growing resentment and organizing over colonial rule. African Congress leaders in the movement were arrested, including Banda. On the third of March there were peaceful protests by Malawian (then Nyasaland) citizens and over fifty were killed by British troops. This event was a link in the chain leading to independence five years later. Today is the day Malawi mourns for those who died. It is a solemn day not a celebratory one. It is believed there can only be a celebration for those souls after the bodies are recovered and families receive compensation––or an apology at the very least––for their deaths. They were unarmed civilians shot by armed militia and they never received a proper burial. In the days of Kamuzu Banda, the day was so solemn no one was allowed outside. It was for quiet mourning and the streets were silent. Things have loosened up since those dictatorial days and people may spend the day as they wish but there are no public events.  

I’m spending it in Dedza, 140 miles north of Blantyre, about a four hour drive. The road is narrow, littered with pot holes and large trucks, and the going is slow. That didn’t stop me from getting a speeding ticket, however, on a straight unmarked stretch of road where I was going 70km/hour. That’s not very fast. The police officer told me it was a 50km/hour zone. I asked him where it said that? He told me the sign was before the bridge we crossed a kilometer ago and asked for 20,000 kwacha. I didn’t even argue, just gave him the money, he gave me a receipt, and we went on our way. It’s the equivalent of about twelve dollars and I’m just chalking it up to the price of travel here. 

Dedza is beautiful. It’s situated at about 5,000 feet elevation with taller mountains surrounding the town. It’s cool here even in the hot months. It’s the location of rock art dating back 10,000 years for the Pygmy art, and 2,000 years for the Bantu. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.  Hiking to see the rock art is spectacular, though, I’m happy just to walk along the dirt paths at the base of these mountains. The friend I came with has an injured ankle so we couldn’t do a vigorous hike, but it has been fun nonetheless and we did get to some sites on easier trails. We’ll head back to Blantyre tomorrow and get psyched up for the next week of classes. 

I survived my first week with the class of 256 students. I wasn’t worried about the content of the lectures but I was nervous about logistics. On Wednesday morning I was there bright and early to be on time for my 7:30 a.m. start. The students had rearranged the room slightly moving desks closer together so the people in the back could move forward. There were not enough chairs for everyone so they pushed two seats together and three people sat there. At the back of the room students sat on desks, which, is uncomfortable for hours at a time but at least they were elevated and could see the slide screen. The projector worked. The microphone worked. The students were attentive and responsive and were polite and respectful to each other. They asked appropriate questions. I really enjoyed it actually. The class is four and a half hours long, ridiculous really, especially when the room was as crowded and hot as it was. My blouse was soaked with sweat. They had a half hour tea break at 9:30 and we picked up again and went until noon. Just before wrapping up I told them I was glad to be there, I understood how uncomfortable it was to be so crowded, and I appreciated how attentive they were. I told them I’d be doing the next day’s lecture as well, and would see them tomorrow. And they cheered! It was so sweet. I left exhausted but smiling.

The next day wasn’t as great. The class was from ten until noon, and since they start at 7:30, they were already tired when I got there. The microphone did not work and I had to yell for two hours. They were more fidgety and I had to keep stopping to ask them to be quiet especially when one of the students was speaking. It’s impossible with a class that big to do creative activities like role playing, which, Malawians love. Their acting skills are beyond belief and I’ve seen students cry real tears when acting out a role. I still ended the class by thanking them for being there and staying engaged as best they could. I left exhausted and not smiling. 

My head is spinning from all the political news at home. I found today’s proverb quite apropos.

Love to all,

Linda