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


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