Sunday Morning ~ Singing in Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Singing in Blantyre

Gule ali yense akonda potsiriza. ~ Every dance is pleasing at the end.

~ Chewa proverb

May 19, 2024

Hi Everyone,

The Blantyre Music Society is a community group of amateur musicians, made up of both locals and expats, choir and orchestra. They perform concerts in December and May and last night I attended the May concert at a private primary school near me. I knew a few people in it and looked forward to an evening out. It was an earnest performance by people who like to make music. I took my seat in the school hall and read the program. It was short with an eclectic mix of classical, pop, and original music. I enjoy watching people perform, always a little envious of their talent and the fun they seem to be having. I saw the final number was Sing, an old Carpenters song that came out when I was a senior in high school, and I thought, hmmm…interesting choice.

In high school, I was part of a music group started by three young, artistic, energetic teachers who loved the performing arts, and Sing was our signature song. I was surprised at how emotional I became last night when the choir started singing it.  Hundreds of images paraded through my mind. Last night’s rendition was strained, to say the least, as they struggled to stay on key, but it still evoked images of myself in my little blue alto dress (sopranos wore red), dancing as we came on stage, singing Sing, feeling something close to joy. 

I wasn’t supposed to be in the group. I was a cheerleader and my father, tyrannically strict, told me I had a choice of being in this singing group or cheerleading. He would not allow me to do both. I loved being a cheerleader but desperately wanted to be in this singing group. All my friends were in it and I had a monstrous crush on the director. I didn’t spend long deciding what to do. I would do both and I’d sneak and lie to do so. It was just a matter of planning and plotting. I appealed to my mother, who was sorry for my plight, and she agreed not to turn me in. You may think it would have been more appropriate for her to confront my father and support me, but that’s because you didn’t know him. It was much easier to sneak. That way the whole family didn’t have to suffer. As I sat and listened to this song last night I thought of how hard I had to work for that experience. I thought of the times, returning from rehearsals, carefully opening the storm door, hold it until it clicked shut without a sound, tip toeing up the stairs skipping the second step because it squeaked. I felt not one iota of remorse for this at the time. Recalling it last evening I felt something like pride. It was an act of righteous rebellion, not for some greater good for the world, but for something that made me happy. Listening to the simple lyrics brought back a time in my life when I made choices about who I’d become and, still today, I think they were good choices. 

I wasn’t a performer. I was shy and insecure. But these three teachers exuded enthusiasm for the fun of it all and gave us a chance to experience it. They liked their job. They nurtured a confidence in us the bored band/ orchestra/ glee club director never could. Not that I was in the band or orchestra––I quit violin lessons in fifth grade when the class bully made fun of me––but glee club counted for a music credit and there were no tryouts. It was okay, but nothing like singing in the other group. That was pure, lighthearted, choreographed fun. Last night, listening to that simple song, watching the musicians struggle to stay on key, singing along to it, brought back moments of happiness in a confusing time of life. I felt successful. After our performance there was a photo in the newspaper and my disobedience was discovered, so I had to sit through a lecture about what a disappointment I was and was grounded. I can’t remember for how long, but I’m sure I snuck out. It wasn’t bad.

I’m grateful to those young teachers who bucked our crappy school system and made us feel like we meant something. It was so refreshing, especially since some of our male teachers made fun of girls in class then mocked us for crying. It was the 70’s. We knew what it was like to be considered less than the boys. We also learned what it felt like to have worth and which we preferred. We’re not going back.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Mwabvi Mothers’ Day

Sunday Morning ~ Mwabvi Mothers’ Day

Zengelezu adalinda kwaukwau ~ If we delay, the consequences will affect us.

~ Chewa proverb

May 13, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’m late with writing this week. I was camping over the weekend, away from all forms of communication and realized how peaceful and calm I felt. I got home yesterday afternoon and thought about pulling out my laptop to write but decided to linger in the unplugged world a bit longer. I had a bizarrely sleepless night last night so am up early and will write about my week(end) and post it today. I hate to break the streak I’ve got going. 

The Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi was founded in 1947. It was originally dedicated to protecting animals but over the years it has broadened its scope to environmental activism as well. It belongs to international conservation organizations and has many educational programs in the schools and community. They present a topic one Tuesday evening a month at the Blantyre Sports Club and I usually attend. It’s interesting and nice to have a drink and mingle. They organize several weekend trips to sites I wouldn’t go to on my own, and this past weekend I took advantage of the camping trip to the very south of the country, the only part of Malawi I hadn’t visited. I was a little nervous about making the three hour drive alone as I had no idea where I was going and I always feel a little safer with a companion, but everyone I asked was busy with something else so I decided to go solo. I knew I’d be meeting up with fourteen others and figured, carpe diem. 

The destination was Mwabvi Reserve, where large animals have vacated or been poached, but birdlife is abundant and interesting rock formations are scattered about. I’m not a birding enthusiast per se, but got more interested when George was here. He loved it and I love being around those who love it. Their excitement spotting and identifying is contagious. 

The plan was to meet there on Friday afternoon/evening then gather for a Ranger-led hike to a gorge on Saturday morning. I packed up my very basic camping equipment which consisted of my single person tent, piece of foam, a sheet, and a change of clothes. It’s hot there so I wouldn’t need much. I borrowed a cooler from my landlord and packed up some food, water, tonic and gin, boxes of matches (I had no stove), and set out at noon on Friday. It was a three hour drive and just in case I had a flat tire or something I wanted to be sure I had plenty of time before dark.

The organizer had sent very detailed directions describing a detour since the main road to the park had a bridge washed out. He sent a photo of the school where we should turn onto a dirt road and proceed through a village, turn at a T junction, then follow painted rock signs to the gate. It was seven kilometers on a rough road with two bridges that were the exact width of the vehicle. I would have been terrified doing that at night; it was scary enough during the day. I made it to the entrance, heaved a sigh of relief, paid my fee, then set off on the next two kilometers to the campground. I think I was expecting some type of open jamboree where we’d all camp in one big space. There are no amenities there, it’s real bush camping. I’d brought some extra food to share thinking we’d all be together, but they were individual campsites, very private, and remote. We chipped in to pay the rangers to slash the high grass so we could find the road and indeed the campsites. I had no idea where I was supposed to go. I thought others would already be there but when signing in I saw only one other person had arrived; I had no idea how to find him. I pulled into the first campsite I came to and got out of the car. Looking a the newly slashed grass I immediately thought of snakes and got back in the car. I changed into long pants and boots, left everything in the car, and went to walk around. It was easy to follow the slashed grass paths and I explored the other campsites. Not knowing if there was some plan for who slept where I didn’t want to set up my tent. I followed the road around a loop and saw a vehicle through the tall grass and hoped it was someone who knew what they were doing.

I met Phil, an older gentleman who definitely knew what he was doing. He was in the process of setting up his camp and, wow, I could have lived there comfortably for months. His tent was bigger than my living room. He had a table, chairs, cushions, stove, lanterns, air mattress, welcome mat, and piles of blankets. “Are you just here for the weekend?” I asked. He told me yes, he had been coming on this trip for years and he wanted to get there early so he could have his favorite campsite. He said he couldn’t do the hike anymore but still wanted to come. His wife died two years ago and he seemed very lonely, a bit frail, and frustrated with his aging body. He said his mind and body weren’t working in sync anymore. I could not believe he set that tent up by himself. I also couldn’t believe he made that drive alone, though he had a monster vehicle. I could have lived in that. I sat and chatted for awhile thinking, hmmm, chairs…hmm…, nice, and considered the rock I’d be dining on. He gave me the whole history of this outing, how he used to be the first one to the gorge, how he loved the place. He’s British but has lived in Malawi for thirty years. I asked if his late wife was also British and he said, “No. She was from Yorkshire.” I laughed. He just about smiled. Very British. I asked him if there were rules about who got which site and he said, “You got here first! Take whichever you want!” It sounded like an order so I left and decided to stay where I had first parked. It was small and fine for just me. I set up my little tent, then thinking of Phil’s nice little welcome mat at the door of his tent I took the floor mats out of my car and made myself one. There. Home.

I walked down a trail toward the river but it was getting toward dusk, which lasts only a moment, so didn’t go too far (snakes). One other family arrived and set up camp next to me. I went over to meet them and could tell it wasn’t their first rodeo either. Man, these people camp in comfort. I don’t have that much cooking stuff in my kitchen! It was getting dark and I didn’t want to walk through that grass at night (snakes) so said goodnight and went back to my site. We were supposed to meet at 6:30 am for the hike. I was tired. I ate my pasta salad, and decided not to have much to drink so I wouldn’t have to get up during the night to pee (snakes). I got in my tent to read. It was bliss. I didn’t need the rain fly and being open to the star-filled sky was magnificent. The night noises are a lullaby. I read for awhile and could hear other cars arriving and setting up camp in the pitch dark. Man, they are brave. When I could tell human activity had ceased, I dozed off and slept like a baby. 

It was just getting light when I woke. I sat up and could see the sunrise from my tent. I got up to light a fire for tea and laughed that I had brought two boxes of matches. It took one match. Everything is dry and the water was boiling within three minutes. I drank my tea, ate my hard boiled eggs, avocado, and bread, and set off to find the group. It was all beautifully organized. We piled into three 4 x 4’s, collected the ranger, and drove about a half hour to the trailhead. We got a few instructions then fell into line and followed the ranger who carried a large rifle. The rock formations were spectacular! Sandstone that is carved by I don’t know what. Wind? Water? But incredible shapes and textures. I’ll put some photos on facebook. We plodded along stopping for photos along the way, then came out to a gorge that took my breath away. I had no idea it would be that grand or unique. Sensuous curves along the walls with shallow water flowing through. Almost everyone stripped to their bathing suits (I didn’t get that memo) and got in the water. The Malawian family, the ranger, and I were the only ones who didn’t go swimming. I went in up to my knees just to see down the gorge, but wow. It was worth the hike. There is no other way to get there. We stayed there for about an hour, had snacks, chatted, then packed up to hike back to camp. Even though we had tree cover for most of it, that part was really hot. 

Later in the afternoon everyone met up on what they call “Sunset Rock”, a huge outcropping of sandstone with a view of miles and miles. Everyone brought their sundowner drinks. I made my gin and tonic in a water bottle and it carried very nicely. It was lovely sitting, chatting, sipping, snacking. We stayed until very dark and I was worried about Phil making it back to camp. A few of us surrounded him with headlamps and it was sad how he complained about needing help. I thought it was amazing he made it there at all. Back at camp Marc, the organizer, made a campfire and chairs and coolers were placed around for seats. We paid him for the ranger fees and people were settling in for the evening but I was ready to be horizontal so didn’t stay very long. Plus, it was bloody hot and the campfire was not as inviting as it might have been. Phil called it bush television. By then I was less worried about snakes, walked back to my campsite, had a nightcap, and tucked in. 

Yesterday (Sunday) I went back out to sunset rock to watch the sunrise, then back to make breakfast and pack up. I took a long walk down to the river bed but when it started getting really hot I walked back and got ready to leave. The ride home was easy, I was less worried about the road, and I had plenty of daylight to unpack, clean up, and get ready for work today…which I need to get to. So I’ll wrap this up. 

Today is an office day, so just working on the grant writing and my speech. I’ve been asked to speak at the Day of the Midwife celebration in Lilongwe in June, so I’ll need to prepare. Someone read my blog post last week and asked if I’d speak on midwives’ role in climate change. I asked a colleague if she knew of any Chewa proverbs that would relate to climate change. I thought I’d include it in the speech. She gave me the one above, and it’s perfect. I’ll practice saying it in Chichewa. I thought a lot this weekend about how little we need really. I used hardly any water all weekend to cook, wash, and drink. It’s one of the things I love about camping, being close to the earth and using only what you need. It took only a few sticks and dry grass to boil water, I could brush my teeth with a cupful or less, and it only took maybe a liter to wash off. The shower did feel good when I got home, though. 

Ah! I managed to avoid Facebook for Mother’s Day. So, I wish mothers everywhere all the love and respect you deserve. It’s hard work having your heart outside your body all the time. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ International Day of the Midwife

Sunday Morning ~ International Day of the Midwife

Mimba si kupha namwino. ~ The pregnancy does not kill the midwife.

~ Chewa proverb

May 5, 2024

Hi Everyone,

In 1922 the International Confederation of Midwives declared May 5th as International Day of the Midwife. It was an effort to raise awareness of the role midwives play in caring for woman around the world. I’m not sure that goal has been met, but there is a celebration in many countries and Malawi is one of them. This year the parade has been postponed for a few weeks but it will happen in Lilongwe, the capitol city, where bands, parade, dances, and speeches make up the celebration. I love it. In many countries, the entire health care system is dependent on midwives. 

There are many fewer midwives where I come from and we make up a fraction of the health care system. For my twenty-three years at the hospital in Bar Harbor I was the only midwife. I always felt valued and appreciated and did not need, nor expect, a parade.  However, recognition of the profession at the national level would go a long way toward improving women’s lives, especially with the human rights abuses happening now. So often in the states, midwives are seen as a fringe alternative instead of the experts in physiological birth and women’s health care that we are. It’s exhausting to be continually fighting the constant attacks on women’s rights. Unless we make profits for the medical system (which healthy bodies don’t do) we’re nearly invisible. 

I went online to see what was being said about today. I found a write up on the United Nations Population Fund website and started paraphrasing, but I liked all of it so just decided to include the whole thing. Here it is: 

Midwives are the heroes of millions of stories.

As providers of culturally sensitive health care, leaders in their communities and emergency responders in times of crisis, they are courageous and indispensable.

When disasters such as climate events or conflict strike, midwives are most often the first responders for women, representing the single-most effective way to avoid preventable maternal deaths.

The climate crisis in particular carries specific threats for women and girls: Research shows that hotter temperatures can lead to pregnancy complications and can cause or worsen maternal-health issues including premature births and miscarriages.

But midwives are not only first responders in the climate crisis. As providers of safe and environmentally sustainable services, they also represent a vital climate solution for the future. For instance, they can contribute to decreasing climate emissions by supporting breastfeeding rather than formula, which must be packaged and shipped.

With that in mind, the theme of the International Day of the Midwife this year is “Midwives: a vital climate solution.”

Many of the countries most at risk of climate change are also where women and girls are the most vulnerable to preventable maternal deaths, child marriage and gender-based violence. Climate disasters can disrupt access to family planning, safe births and other vital services. Midwives are instrumental in ensuring that health services are more mobile and can urgently reach women.

Yet a global shortage of nearly one million midwives and a lack of international commitment to invest in their training, development and support limits their reach – and endangers the women and girls who rely on them for care.

Midwives deserve our recognition and respect. Instead, they are forced to confront challenging work conditions, low pay and a lack of career opportunities – all factors driving the global shortage. Too often, this majority-female workforce also faces gender discrimination and sexual harassment while on the job.

The world must urgently invest in creating an environment that enables midwives to do their important work, by establishing pathways to quality education, providing necessary resources and empowering them to act as full partners across health systems everywhere.

In more than 125 countries, UNFPA advances midwifery by strengthening quality education, regulations and workforce policies, and building strong national associations of midwives. To date, UNFPA has supported the education and training of close to half a million midwives worldwide, trained more than 100,000 midwifery faculty members and invested in more than 1,600 midwifery schools.

In collaboration with the International Confederation of Midwives, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and a host of global partners and donors, UNFPA is developing a Global Midwifery Acceleration Roadmap, which will be launched at the World Health Summit in October 2024.

“In a world where every two minutes a woman or girl dies during pregnancy, childbirth or its aftermath – as our latest data attest – the midwife is always the hero of the story,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem has said. “Think of a midwife: what comes to mind? Excellent teamwork, competence, good judgment and caring. Hallmarks of the profession – traits that underpin the best of humanity, that will surely help create the peace we seek.”

That’s what I wanted to say. 

Love to all, 

Linda