Sunday Morning ~ Nankoma Island

Sunday Morning ~ Nankoma Island

Chibale ndifupa sichiwola. ~ Brotherhood is a bone that never rots.

~ Chewa proverb

April 28, 2024

Hi Everyone,

My first impulse is to say I feel guilty about the life of luxury I’m living at the moment, but in reality, I feel I’ve earned it. I’m loving sitting on this veranda, the lake lapping at the pilings, the branches of the Baobab tree shading us, belly full of delicious breakfast, thinking about what to do with the rest of the day. It has taken me a long time to outgrow the feeling of not deserving good things but I’m getting there. We’ve had such a great week! It’s so much fun traveling with a friend who appreciates the beauty of this place. 

A bit of background: Stacy and I are friends by marriage. Our husbands grew up together, then as young newlyweds, we all grew up together. I went to graduate school where Stacy’s husband, Patrick, was studying medicine. We lived a block from each other. We graduated on the same day. We had combined parties. When I went into labor with the twins, Stacy came over in the middle of the night to stay with the other kids. They are godparents to Rachael, we are godparents to their kids. It’s a deep bond. It was awkward and sad when Joe left me, then sad again when Patrick died during the pandemic. We’ve done a lot of celebrating and grieving together, now here we are single, comfortable, and open to adventure. I like this stage of life. 

Stacy’s visit coincided with mid-term break, a fortunate unplanned coincidence. She’d sent me a list of some sights she might want to visit and I planned a road trip. After getting acclimated in my tiny house for a night, we set off for the Shire Valley and two nights at Majete Game Reserve. There are two ways to experience that place, basic and lux. We went lux. We were greeted with cool towels, ushered to our tent, then perched on the veranda to watch animals drink and mingle…it’s rather nice. It’s hot there but our physical activity was little to none. We were taken on game drives at sunrise and sunset and served three luscious meals a day. Aside from brushing our teeth, we barely lifted a finger. It was lovely. We saw four out of the big five: elephant, rhinoceros, water buffalo, and seven lions lounging around with full bellies. We didn’t see a leopard, but we did see two hyenas which are particularly elusive in my experience. I’ll call that a win. A female elephant chased us away when she thought we were too close to the babies. That was impressive. I kept glancing at the driver to see if he was still smiling; it looked like those tusks could have flipped our vehicle. Well after dark and safe at the lodge we were greeted with warm towels and warm smiles. Great life.

Thursday we drove out of the valley, back through Blantyre to the Zomba Plateau where the KuChawe Hotel sits overlooking the town and mountains. I’ve always wanted to stay there but never splurged on a room just for me when Blantyre was only an hour away. So this was a treat. We arrived early afternoon and had time for a hike to the waterfalls through indigenous forest before dinner. Baboons have taken charge of the balconies and we were told not to leave our bedroom windows open. Baboons come in and take the packets of sugar on the tea trays––– a consequence of their  destroyed habitat. The area is preserved now and reforestation is happening after most of the trees were taken for firewood. Not such a great life for baboons.

After a luxurious (well, nice) stay there we made the four hour drive to Dedza to see the rock art. We checked in to the Pottery Lodge and asked the receptionist to book a guide while we got settled and had a cup of tea. Then off we went for a three hour tour that would get us back just at dusk. We thought we’d timed it perfectly. But the guide (who was adorable and great) was long winded, we hiked to sites I hadn’t seen before (which were amazing but far), and the sun was already on its way down before we left the area and started down the long rutted dirt road. It was dark by the time we reached the tarmac and we had twelve kilometers to the lodge. I have a rule of not driving at night here but there was no choice. The dark road offers extremes of blinding oncoming headlights and absent head or brake lights. It is harrowing. Hundreds of people walk the edge while bicycles with wide loads take up half your lane. It’s impossible to see them even with good headlights. I drove so slowly I’m sure those behind were cursing me, but Stacy had to lean forward to identify any pedestrians and warn me. It was stressful. I was so relieved when we turned onto the dirt road back to the lodge, which was also a nightmare, but less of one than the main road. We made it intact without a motorcycle collision for which a huge relief sigh was emitted. We dropped our bags in the room and could not get to the bar fast enough to order drinks, which we consumed expediently. When the waitress asked if we wanted another we both said, “Yes!” emphatically and simultaneously. She laughed. We didn’t.

Saturday morning we rose early, packed, had breakfast, and headed for the lake and the paradise we now inhabit. Dedza is high and the lake is low. We descended hairpin turns on a good paved road I’d never been on through gorgeous rolling hills, clearly denuded of trees but green with vegetation–––a stunning landscape with hardly another motorist. It was lovely, the temperature rising with the descent. We made our way to the lake and the site where we’d get the boat to Blue Zebra, the lodge on the National Park Island of Nankoma. The fifteen minute motor boat ride was exhilarating–––very different from getting to Likoma. There is nothing on this island but the lodge and hiking trails, 300 bird species, migrating butterflies, and indigenous forest scattered with Boabab. I stayed here in 2018 but it looks very different now. The structures are the same but the beach is totally gone and the pool is almost in the lake. Two chalets and the spa are in the water, unusable. If our chalet was at ground level it would be in the lake, too, but because the front is on pilings, the lake laps underneath. This is the highest the lake has been in forty years. 

Tomorrow the boat will zip us to the car at Senga Bay and we’ll drive back to Blantyre. This has been a sweet little break without news so we’re bracing ourselves for updates on the state of the world, then a day of grant writing before Stacy leaves. I’ve said many times this week, I love my life. My prayer for the world is everyone can say that.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Sorting Visits

Sunday Morning ~  Sorting Visits

Phiri siliyedera mkhwere. ~ The hill doesn’t not pay a visit to the monkey.

~ Chewa proverb

April 21, 2024

Hi Everyone,

There is a mountain in Mozambique near the southern tip of Malawi called Mt. Chiperone. Occasionally a cloud pattern forms there which forces a weather pattern in the highlands of Malawi called the Chiperoni. It is a period of grey drizzly weather with a strong south east wind. It can last for a few days or a few weeks. People have died on Mt. Mulanje when caught in the Chiperoni. Over the past two weeks we spent ten days locked in cloud cover with periods of steady rain, different from rainy season rain which is heavier and shorter lived, so it seemed the Chiperoni had arrived. I pulled out my long sleeves and saw many in fur-trimmed jackets. The low clouds made me feel tired, like I want to curl up with a book or movie in the middle of the day. I don’t know if it was the Chiperoni, the eclipse, or mercury in retrograde that caused the emotional slump I’ve been in, but the clouds have cleared (physically and metaphorically), and it’s sunny again with a slight coolness to the breeze reminding me that winter is coming. It’s just gorgeous. The poinsettias have all burst as well. I’m perking up.

I went to church this morning thinking I was a few minutes late. Turns out I was forty minutes early. Apparently, the visiting priest who did the early mass was expected to stay and say the later masses but he didn’t know that so there was a scramble to find another priest. The choir entertained us, which was lovely, but I started wondering how long I would wait. My four cups of morning tea were going to be a problem. I looked around and no one seemed impatient. I marvel at the tolerance I see on a daily basis. On Wednesday morning, I did the 7:30-9:30 lecture for our first year students, then went to my office to work on the exam questions. The students have a half-hour tea break before another lecture starts. At 11:30 I realized I needed more data for my phone and walked out to buy some at the table on the road. A student approached me and asked, “Madam, are you coming back to class?”  I said, “No! I was only supposed to teach the first lecture. Didn’t another lecturer come at ten?” She told me no one had come, so the 256 students had been sitting there waiting for an hour and a half. I felt awful. She said, “Ok, I will go cook lunch.” without seeming upset about a wasted morning. 

On Thursday these same students had a midterm exam. I was asked to invigilate (“proctor” in American) the exam with another faculty member. (I swear my nursing boards were not this crowded when every new grad in the state sat for them at once.) Exams are taken very seriously here. Students are to be silently seated, the lined paper and answer sheets are distributed individually, followed by the exams. Now, for this many students gathered in one huge hall, you’d think it would more efficient to have them pick up their papers on the way in. No. Not ok. They are not trusted with that task. They all take a seat under orders to be silent and then the invigilators walk around handing out four sheets of lined paper to each of them. After that we handed out one answer sheet. When it was confirmed they all had those items, we then passed out the exam questions. This literally took forty-five minutes. I think I walked two miles just handing out papers. When the exam started they were not allowed to get up from their seat. They must raise their hand and an invigilator walks to them, hears their whispered request, then deals with it. There were surprisingly few requests and they were simple. One girl dropped her pen and was afraid to pick it up. Maybe seven asked to use the toilet. A few asked for another sheet of paper because they’d made a mistake. It seemed so stressful. When the allotted two hours were up, they had to raise their hand to be allowed to come and hand in their tests. We had to staple the papers together and have them sign a sheet. This took another two hours. A two hour test took five hours. I ran out of staples twice. 

In between lectures and exams I’ve been looking for ways to get our midwifery-ward project funded. I’m finding it rather exciting–––very unusual for me who hates asking for money, but this is different from approaching rich people and asking for a donation for a building that should be paid for with public funds. I’d prefer wealthy people pay what they owe in taxes so there would be money enough for libraries and health centers, but that’s just me. I find grant funding easier. Turns out there are lots of organizations who allocate funds for projects like ours. I have no problem selling the project to someone whose job it is to fund projects. This I enjoy, though I realize other people in those organizations call rich people to ask for that money. What a system.  

This week I met a woman with experience. 

Ruthie is from UK who lost her only child, a doctor, and decided to create a non-profit in his memory. The organization funds many different community projects but she heavily focuses on health. She funded a maternity center in one of the Blantyre districts and is currently working on getting another one funded. She’s not a medical person so is interested in what I can offer–– like fostering a liaison with the University for mentoring staff. This relationship has potential. 

We met for lunch and she showed me the floor plan for the proposed unit and I about fell off my seat. We would die for that unit at the teaching hospital. “This is exactly what we dream of!” I said and asked how she got funding for something on this scale. She listed several organizations who fund these types of projects and gave me lots of suggestions. She showed me the grant she is currently working on. It was a bit intimidating. I realize this isn’t something I can whip up in an afternoon. I’m going to need a floor plan, an estimate of building costs, equipment list, and some proof the hospital is on board with it all. It’s all doable, it’s just a matter of doing it. I’ve got to budget office time to write and collect information. I see why people make a living writing grants. Each organization has different requirements so that alone will take some figuring out. One suggestion she had, which I had never thought about was Rotary International. There is actually an active Rotary Club here (who knew?). She said she’d get us on the agenda to make a presentation to them in July. The hill isn’t coming to the monkey, but I am encouraged.

Students finished exams on Friday and this week is mid-term break. The timing is perfect since my friend Stacy arrives tomorrow and I’ve got a little road trip planned. We’ll start off at Majete and hopefully see the big five, then Zomba, Dedza, and a little luxury at the Blue Zebra lodge on the lake. I can’t wait to share places and people I love so much.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way. 

Kufunsa ndi kudziwa njira. ~ To ask is to know the way.

~ Chewa proverb

April 7, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I love my life here but I am having serious FOMO with things happening back home. A solar eclipse going right through my home! I’m bummed about missing that as well as my fiftieth (yikes) class reunion. Of course, the election I’ll miss is giving me anxiety attacks. I need to make sure my absentee ballot is in as soon as possible. I’ll have to find a support group here. I’ve got PTSD from 2016. 

The days on Likoma were so lovely I believe the trip was worth it, though I’m not planning to repeat that journey. I loved the coastal walks and quiet roads and would love to go back on the bigger boat with a more civilized boarding system and a first class ticket. But it feels good to have ticked another bucket list item. 

On Easter Sunday we walked a mile to services at the cathedral. The dog living at our lodge followed us and we couldn’t keep him out of the church. Many Malawians are afraid of dogs for good reason. They are often feral and very aggressive. They are great guard dogs but I’ve heard horror stories of packs tearing people apart. The dog that followed us was sweet, but the congregation didn’t know that and kids were screaming with fright. We didn’t want people to think we brought the dog on purpose and we kept trying to make it go away. But it would not leave our side so we took turns staying outside with him. Ady sat with him first then a half hour later I went out. I tried sitting by the door so I could listen to the music, but I couldn’t bear seeing the kids frightened so moved over to the cloister, sat, and contemplated. After an hour Ady came out but I didn’t feel like going back in. The service was five hours long. We decided to walk into the village, mill around there for awhile, then go back to the lodge. 

In the afternoon I took a long walk along the cliffs then had a swim before dinner. The lake is so inviting on Likoma: no crocodiles, no hippos, no snails, so (hopefully) no bilharzia. I watched the sunset while bobbing in the waves. It was idyllic as was the fresh Chambo (lake fish) we had for dinner every night. On Monday we hired Pablo to guide us around the island for the day. We started at the northernmost point to see “bell rock”, a curved rock amongst the pile of boulders that made a metallic clanging sound when struck. That was pretty cool as was the Baobab forest we walked through to get there. We walked into the village where we saw a hollowed out tree (also pretty cool) and a museum, which was nothing more than some framed photos of the past presidents, clay pots, and a few spears. After that visit, three of our foursome were tired and took a motorbike taxi back to the lodge, but I was in the mood to keep walking. There is a women’s cooperative I wanted to see so told Pablo I was good for a few more miles. He seemed a little disappointed but I guess figured he’d get a decent tip so we walked and chatted and it wasn’t long before he asked if I had a husband, a question I get asked a lot. I usually say I do but left him at home, It’s just simpler. But Pablo had just told me how his wife had run off with another man so I told the truth, “Yeah, my husband did that to me, too.” That’s when the offers started and I realized my mistake. I should have known better but he was just a kid! I wish I could say it was flattering but it wasn’t. I said, “Pablo, be serious, you are younger than my children!” He assured me that was not an issue in his culture. I said, “Well, it’s a big problem in mine. Plus, I’m not interested in casual sex even if you were my age.” For the next six miles he exhibited remarkable persistence. He told me he felt very close to me and could confide in me, to which I burst out laughing, “You don’t even know me!” Then asked if there were some international book that men have with similar lines? Then he pivoted, “Ok, if you don’t want a relationship, then maybe we could be friends with feelings.” I think he meant “friends with benefits” which also made me laugh. He assured me he was circumcised, which was tmi but since HIV affects more than half the population, I guess he thought that might be what I was worried about. Writing this makes it sound more creepy than it was; I never felt unsafe or even uncomfortable. It’s the same way I get asked for money, but in this case it was sex. It’s easy enough to just say, no. I was thinking of last week’s proverb: If you don’t ask for honey you will only eat wax. That plays out a lot here.  

We arrived at the cooperative, a workshop for single mothers and widows. They take non-recyclable glass bottles from the lodges, break them into small pieces and sand down the edges in long PVC pipes filled with sand. A small motor rotates the pipes for two days using a bicycle wheel. It all comes out looking like sea glass, then they make chandeliers, shower curtains, and art with it. I don’t know who started it, but I loved it. 

From there we walked along a coastal path for another couple of miles back to the lodge, and I was glad Pablo was with me. I would have had a hard time following the trail with the long grass and villages to maneuver. At one point we passed an old woman, hunched over and leaning on a walking stick. I said, “See her? She is probably younger than me.” To which he replied emphatically, “Yes, and her husband is twenty-seven! He drives a motorcycle taxi!” I laughed. He said, “It’s true. Age doesn’t matter here.” and walked on.

The next morning the Chilembwe arrived at 7 a.m. on it’s southward journey. We were on the dock and ready to board along with a few hundred others. We could walk on from the dock, but the pushing and shoving was scary. I thought we’d all be trampled. Soldiers were trying to keep everyone orderly but even they were having a hard time. I was relieved to get aboard, climb to the upper deck which was already full, find a little spot, and tuck myself in for the ride. No way was I going back inside. I had covering to shield from the sun, some water and food and I wasn’t budging. Next to me was a huge basket of dried fish which didn’t smell too bad and I could lean against it. Soon, the smell of marijuana overpowered the fish. It was a twelve hour journey back to Senga Bay so it was dark by the time we had to lower ourselves into that fishing boat, but going down was much easier than climbing up and the lake was calm. A guy held onto my ankles as I hung down from the deck and it wasn’t too scary. This boat had an engine that worked so that was nice. We hovered until everyone had paid before heading into shore and then it was back on someone’s shoulders to the beach. There we found a young guy to carry Ady’s suitcase and guide us back to the lodge. It was too late to try to drive back to Blantyre so we glamped for the night and hit the road before sunup. 

Excellent adventure. Ady and I bonded.

So, back to business and teaching when I got back. The week before Easter we finally met and made some decisions about this midwifery ward project. In their formal and respectful manner we had a discussion about whether this vision was still viable. Everyone present agreed we should pursue it but the original location wasn’t going to work anymore. The hospital is government run so all health care there is free to the public but they want to offer a paid service where it is less crowded (and supposedly better care) to bring in some revenue. We decided it wouldn’t work to share the space with a paying ward and it’s not big enough for both. I asked if it were possible, if funding could be found, to build our own space? It had been exciting to be given an existing space six years ago, but if what if we could design something that really worked? Wouldn’t that be better? I fully expected this to be denied because it seemed too good to be possible, but easy as pie, the head of the obstetrics department said, “Yes, there is other space you could use.” She described two areas in the maternity unit she thought was wasted space and we quickly got up to do a tour.  

In the antenatal wing there are two big rooms currently being used for storage of crap; rusted beds, torn mattresses, broken shelves. It wasn’t really enough space for what we needed but any port in a storm, I thought. We walked over to postnatal ward. There are two rooms there, clean, empty, and adjacent to a bathroom (plumbing!), that looked very attractive. It could be a perfect spot IF we could add on to it. There is a nice open space on the outside of the wall I could envision an addition for everything we needed. We returned to the meeting room to discuss a plan. As we walked by the labor and delivery unit, the Ob pointed to the hallway lined with women laboring on the floor and said, “See?”  I said, “Oh yes, I’ve been in there. That’s why I feel so strongly about this project. It could improve everything. Absolutely everything.” 

So, we all agree it’s a good project. The hospital will give permission. We just need money. So, Melinda Gates, if you are reading this, could you get in touch? I’m looking into grants. We’re excited and hopeful, again.

Love to all,

Linda