Sunday Morning ~ Ntchisi Forest

Sunday Morning ~ Ntchisi Forest

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

~ Chewa proverb

July 7, 2024

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday was Independence Day here but the holiday is observed tomorrow so we have a three day weekend. I read that independence from British rule is the most celebrated holiday in the world––sixty-five countries. I spent the fourth, my own holiday, finally giving the speech I’d written two months ago for the midwifery celebration which had been postponed three times. The midwives role in preventing climate change has just been sitting here on my laptop waiting to be spoken. I wanted to begin and end with a Chewa proverb, so Gaily, one of my colleagues, helped me find two that could relate to the climate crisis. One I used for today’s blog. It can be applied to a good many aspects of life but seems especially poignant regarding saving the planet from our excesses. 

So this was my third International Day of the Midwife celebration in Malawi. The first two, 2017 and 2018 were held in Lilongwe and included a parade with a live band and a formal celebration and exhibit at a hotel. I was surprised to learn this one would be in Dedza, a beautiful town, but no formal setting or government presence. But, I love Dedza, so was happy to spend a couple of nights there. I booked a room at the Pottery Lodge for Wednesday night but they were fully booked on Thursday night, so I brought my tent and camped in a field adjacent to the rooms. It’s a great system here; most lodges will let you camp if they are full. For four dollars you get a safe space, bathrooms with showers, and access to the restaurant. It was cold, but no colder than camping in Maine, so I was fine. 

Thursday I got a ride to the venue, which was an open field in front of a village primary school––a pretty setting with mountains surrounding us, but not exactly a spot to bring national recognition. Nothing was set up. The parade was supposed to begin at 9 and there was no sign of anything organized, even by 9:30 people were just starting to set up chairs. It looked like this was the place for speeches not a parade. At ten, we drove down the main road to another primary school about a kilometer away. From there we got organized for the parade: placards were handed out, music blared  from a loudspeaker on a flatbed lorry, police stopped traffic in one lane of the M1, and we set off at 11:00. It is astonishing to me how things can go from abject disorganization to full blown party within minutes here. 

The parade was fun. I had nothing else to do that day so really didn’t care it was starting late. I had my speech in my pocket ready to read whenever that happened. We paraded along singing and dancing in the left lane of the main highway while eighteen wheelers went around us. Seemed a little dangerous to me but I trusted they knew what they were doing. We arrived at the village without any casualties at the original spot where the chairs and tents had been set. It was…rustic. I didn’t know if this was because the midwifery organization was out of money or what but it was much simpler than my last experience when the minister of health gave a speech before a formal luncheon.

The program began with a prayer by a local bishop followed by a few opening remarks. I was fifth on the program and while waiting, the MC came over and asked if I was doing my speech in English or Chichewa? Everything had been in Chichewa up to that point and I started thinking it shouldn’t be me giving this speech. I told him English, and he said, “Ok, well maybe someone can translate.” and walked away. The villagers are not fluent in English and the speech wasn’t written for this audience. My colleague Estnath was sitting next to me. I handed her a copy of the speech and asked if she would be willing to translate. She was running for president of the midwifery organization and I thought she might like the exposure, not that the villagers would be voting. She agreed and read it over while I looked around at the setting. Large mountains were in front of us. Local villagers were seated under one tent, midwives were under another (which had to be re-erected after a gust of wind blew the tarp off), and dignitaries and village chiefs were under another. My speech, which was scheduled for 10:00 began at 12:20. The microphone battery held out and when I finished (getting a laugh from my Chichewa proverb) Estnath summarized in Chichewa. I have no idea what she said, but she had no paper and was very animated and passionate and talked way longer than I did. She was cheered and we sat to enjoy the rest of the program. There were skits, dances, speeches from district authorities, and I assume it had to do with the theme of midwives and climate change but I understood almost none of it. The whole thing was supposed to end at 12:30 but it was 3 before we broke up and found a place for lunch. It was nearly dusk when I returned to the lodge to set up my tent. 

Friday, the Malawian Midwifery Association had their business meeting to hold elections for new officers and make a plan for the next year. It was scheduled for 8:30-12:30. I was leaving to drive to the Ntchisi Forest Lodge and GPS said it would be a three and a half hour drive. If I left as soon as the meeting ended I figured I’d make it in good time. I packed up my tent, went to the restaurant for breakfast, and headed to the venue at 8:25 to find only a few people  waiting outside…and waiting and waiting and waiting. At 11:30 they were just getting the projector set up and people were trickling in and I knew I wasn’t staying for the meeting. I figured I tried, and left. My biggest fear here is being on the road at night, and night comes early, so having another hour cushion was fine with me. I headed north. 

The Ntchisi Forest Lodge is situated in one of the last remaining indigenous forests in Malawi, now a protected area. Women are allowed to collect firewood on Saturdays but only dead wood already fallen. The lodge itself is an old colonial house, simple but well designed with a veranda that looks out to the lake in the distance, which, we can’t see it because of all the smoke from fires burning at this time of year. The drive here was slowed by road construction so driving was on a dusty dirt side track for most of the way. That took up time. Then the twenty-six kilometer dirt road up into the forest was more like a mountain trail way harder than I expected. I bottomed out once and worried I’d damaged my vehicle but it chugged along and made it here beautifully just before sunset. Thank God I’d left an hour earlier than planned. When I pulled in and poured myself out of the car, Hudson and Montfort came to greet me and carry my bags. There’s nothing quite like a Malawian welcome. I was so relieved to be here I handed them my unorganized belongings and followed them in. They showed me to my room, deposited my stuff, and I went directly to the veranda for the sunset and a gin and tonic. 

The lodge was originally a vacation home in colonial times, then became a government rest house after independence. I’m not sure what year, but at some point it was sold to a South African woman who continued to run it as a lodge. It has changed hands a few more times and currently a German couple own and run it, though I haven’t seen them. 

Yesterday I went for an eight mile hike though the rain forest, which, (and I know this is ridiculous) looked just like the exhibits in a botanical garden. Or I should say the exhibits I’ve seen are darn good representations. I boldly went without a guide as the guys here told me it was a trail well marked and easy to follow. They were right. It was shady and cool and a clear path that wound up and around the forest-covered mountain. I passed several women with large bundles of firewood on their heads, their weekly harvest. It’s sobering to think most of Malawi was once like this. I saw plenty of monkeys, no snakes, lots of birds, and loved it. My heart and legs felt it. There were plenty of very steep stretches. Switchbacks are not a thing here. 

I got back and spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool and chatting with other guests. This is a popular place despite the difficult road to get here. I can see why. The setting is gorgeous and the meals are fantastic. They grow most of their own food including the coffee. And guests support the forest preservation.

Guests here are all expats living and working in Lilongwe and one couple traveling and passing through. German, Dutch, Swiss, and British, all expressing concern about our election. The general sentiment was ––what’s wrong with Americans that they can vote for trump? I tell them I know it is hard to believe but propaganda is powerful and when that’s all you hear, you may believe it. I looked at the woman from Germany and said, “I’d expect you’d understand that, right?” She looked down and nodded. It’s a matter of educating the ignorant effectively. We’ve got to figure it out since the NY Times seems to be owned by the rapist himself. They asked me if I thought Biden should step down and I told them no. I know the calls for that are coming from fear of losing but it is not a guarantee democrats would win with a different opponent, though God knows we must do whatever possible to make sure the democrats win. The most likely alternative candidate is Kamala Harris and she is already on the ballot. I understand everyone’s concern. It’s the whole world that depends on us keeping our democracy. I told them I believe we won’t let them down. I have to believe that. Failure is not an option. Women will not let that happen.

Tomorrow I’ll go to Lilongwe, Tuesday I have a few meetings scheduled and will see about possible funding for our project. Wednesday it’ll be back to Blantyre. I’ll keep moving forward with faith in the overall good of humankind. Failure is not an option. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Holding Tight in Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Holding Tight in Blantyre

Gwira pali moyo. ~ Hold tight where the real life is.

~ Chewa proverb

June 30. 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’m crawling out of my hole after getting up at 3 am on Friday morning to watch the debate. My landlords, also political junkies, were planning to watch, have a big TV, and invited me to join. I went and watched, drinking cup after cup of hot water trying to calm my sick stomach. I had flashbacks to the 2016 morning after. Then I remembered the rapist’s debate with Hillary Clinton where he shit the bed and still won the election and I calmed down a little. I went home to my little house, crawled back under the covers, put the pillow over my head, and tried to calm my racing heart. It was a near panic attack. Breathe, I told myself. Breathe. There’s a problem, so we problem solve. I put a book on audible to distract me and dozed off. Two hours later I got up, dressed in my uniform, and set off for the practical exams for second year nursing students. I was shaky and tired and still hadn’t had tea but welcomed a day full of work. I needed perspective. And distraction.

One hundred and thirty-three students were tested in four skills and I was assigned to blood transfusion. They had eight minutes to demonstrate each skill with two instructors grading them. The skill is divided into thirty-two possible points and we mark each one as they demonstrate it, ie. hand hygiene, choose correct tubing, confirm blood type, etc.  I did a few mental calculations on how long this was going to take…133x8x4 is a lot of minutes. My stomach was in knots and the banana I’d forced down before leaving the house wasn’t sitting well. I marveled at the student’s determination and commitment though, and realized they probably hadn’t eaten all day either as they sat and waited their turn. They are familiar with this kind of testing but it’s still stressful. The final ones had waited ten hours. It was after 6 p.m. when we finished, a long day but I was glad for it. Glad to have meaningful work to do. Glad my colleagues had no idea there had been a debate at 3 a.m. so no one talked about it. Glad when tea was served. Glad the students did well. Glad I’m here doing this.

Last week I spent two days in Mangochi with my first year students as they finished their first clinical rotation. They were already doing blood transfusions though they hadn’t learned it in the classroom or skills lab. They were taught by second year students on the floor. It’s a lot and it overwhelms me. It also inspires me. I met with the sister-in-charge (head nurse) to do their clinical evaluations. She told me they were all eager to learn and very professional. I have no idea how she keeps track of them all but I passed her feedback on to the students when I met with them. I gave them their graded papers, their clinical evaluations, and their graded group project. I told them I was proud of them and knew it was hard to work with so few supplies and so little supervision and guidance. Worried the whole experience would put them off midwifery altogether, I asked if they still thought they’d gone into the right profession? They all produced huge smiles and emphatically cheered “Yes!” They said they felt very useful and liked the experience. I was a bit stunned. I thought they may have been traumatized, but they told me they were more committed than ever, and they loved what they were doing. I clapped my hands and cheered for them. Thank God. So interesting how we can perceive situations so differently. 

In addition to that, last week we managed to pull off a hastily organized day-long planning workshop with soon-to-expire architectural grant funding. We had three groups of midwives working in different aspects of the profession give thoughts on possible designs for a new midwifery-center building. If such a building can be funded, we want input from all the groups who’d work there. The idea of designing a space suitable for everyone is so exciting. I am fascinated by this process and am loving working with Chris and Deb, the architects.They are so knowledgable about health systems and synthesizing them with design that could promote healthier outcomes. Chris had a healthcare worker wear a fit bit and then traced the pattern of steps they made during the day. It was a powerful illustration of how inefficient many of our facilities are and why it’s so exhausting to work there.  

We had originally planned for a simple structure, accommodating six delivery beds and six post-natal beds. We thought it would be a dream to have a simple suite where we could get this project going. Costs would be achievable and we already have the land in a perfect location in the open space outside two large underutilized rooms. Two months ago we thought of raising $200,000 and building a one story structure with good materials including plumbing and electricity. Now we are thinking of adding a couple of zeros to that number and building a larger two story structure with offices. It’s very exciting and definitely more complex, but…here we go.

At the end of that busy week I was invited to spend the weekend at a lodge on a tea plantation near Mt. Mulanje. Last Sunday morning I started writing the blog while watching the sun come up over the huge massif but put it down to go to breakfast and I never got back to it. After breakfast we hiked up to a beautiful waterfall before making our way back to Blantyre and I couldn’t rally to continue writing. This weekend has been just at home re-grouping. I had a facial and pedicure yesterday and plan to take a long walk this afternoon. I’m trying to focus and not panic about factors beyond my control. 

I will drive up to Dedza this Wednesday where the thrice postponed International Day of the Midwife celebrations are to be held. I’ll be doing a speech on midwives’ role in climate change and am preparing for that–––I’m starting and ending with a Chichewa proverb so need to practice. Then I’ll spend next weekend at Ntchisi Forest Lodge north of Lilongwe, another on my list of places I’ve not visited yet. Next Monday I’ll hopefully meet with some people in the capitol who can give guidance on how to get our project funded. 

Hang in there everyone. We’ve got work to do. Failure is not an option.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Mangochi, Majete, Maternity

Sunday Morning ~ Mangochi, Majete, and Maternity

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

~ Chewa proverb

June 16, 2024

Hi Everyone,

The vice president of Malawi died in a plane crash last Monday. He was on his way to the funeral of a lawyer who was found dead in his hotel room a week before. People are upset and a bit worried as the vice president was well liked and thought of as a hope for the future of this country. I’m not in on most of the conversations in Chichewa amongst my colleagues, but I know they are disturbed. I heard elsewhere there was some question of foul play. I guess that’s inevitable. To my knowledge there has been no official report, but it was a small plane and the weather was bad. They were unable to land in the northern city of Mzuzu so turned around and crashed on their way back to Lilongwe in the Chikangawa forest. It was nearly twenty-four hours before the plane was located and none of the ten people on board were found alive. This is also raising questions as there was a village nearby and the crash happened mid-morning. The “forest” has been devastatingly deforested to the point where there are hardly any trees left, so there are questions about why it took so long to find them. The VP’s funeral is tomorrow and it’s been declared a national holiday. So our Monday workshop will be held on Tuesday. It never ceases to amaze me how things get shifted last minute and happen anyway. So, day off on Monday. 

I spent an overnight in Mangochi this past week, supervising the students there. I went with my colleague Esthnath; she has one group and I have another. The protocol is to request university transport for the travel but Mangochi is a good three hour drive and there has been a problem with petrol supply. So what often happens is transport is booked then canceled and we are sitting in our uniforms with our overnight bag packed and wait all day to go nowhere. I offered to drive my own car and not have the uncertainty of going or not, and that’s what we did the last two weeks. That meant we left on time at 8 a.m. got there before noon, and spent the whole afternoon and following morning with students. We stayed the night in a local lodge, which is safe and convenient, but I wouldn’t put it on the itinerary if you are planning to visit. The sheets were clean and there was a mosquito net, my two requirements, so it was ok. There was no hot water, spotty electricity, and it’s a bit loud from the bars, but it cost ten bucks a night and that includes breakfast so I’m not expecting the Ritz. Breakfast was two slices of white bread, a hard boiled egg, and fried potatoes. I’m fine with that. Tea was included, but there was no milk, with which, I am not fine. I can not drink my tea without milk. So, I gave the security guard some money and he ran to the market and bought me two packets of dried milk and was back within five minutes. Problem solved. He’d also washed my car during the night, so I tipped him for that, too. 

These poor students, it is astonishing what they endure. They are first year students and we have just finished their didactic, which is fourteen weeks of lectures with a few days in the skills lab learning the basics. Remember there are 258 of them. Then they get split up and sent all over the southern region to do their clinical rotation, which, is supposed to be the basics, like vital signs, bed making, and emptying catheter bags. Remember, they are just out of secondary school. Because of the distance of their clinical sites, we don’t get to spend much time with them there. It’s a big problem. So, when we arrived at the hospital we found them not only doing the basics, but hanging blood, starting IVs, giving meds, changing horrible wound dressings–––all with hardly any supplies. It’s overwhelming. I’d done a pep talk for them before they left emphasizing all the things they do know how to do, like be nice to people, ask them their stories, show up on time, have a clean uniform (a challenge when you see their living conditions, I don’t know how they manage), carry a pen and paper, have your stethoscope, etc. There’s a Malawian proverb, You don’t go to the field without a hoe, that I said in English not Chichewa but they laughed anyway. And then they arrive on site and are thrown into high skills situations almost immediately. I mean, I’d been a nurse for a few years before I started an IV, the “IV team” did that, and these kids are doing it on their first day!  Anyway, they were both traumatized and beaming with pride when we arrived, and very grateful for the support. That was satisfying. But when only popping in to the site for these short periods I don’t have time to get adjusted to the conditions and it’s so stressful. I’m continually murmuring to myself, “Oh My God. Oh My God.” Seriously ill women: strokes, lethal infections, septic abortions, late stage gynecological cancers, gangrenous limbs, all crammed into an overcrowded ward, side by side with maybe twelve inches between beds. At least none were on the floor, but I’m sure that could change. So we teach what we can with what they have, like no bandages to dress a wound so they just cover it with cotton roll; all the sterile technique we taught is pretty much moot. And handwashing? One needs water for that, though I did see that some of the sinks were working. No soap, though. I handed the bathroom soap I took from the lodge to the student leader and told her to share with her friends. 

Esthnath and I drove back to Blantyre talking about how frustrating this is and how it’s more evidence we need this teaching ward! I got home and soaked in a bath feeling guilty about my cushy life, then  joined a zoom call with Deb and Chris (the architects) to plan for the workshop on Tuesday. That, plus two glasses of wine, helped my spirits. 

Lest I spend the weekend wallowing in despair, I joined the Wildlife Association’s annual Majete walk and camping trip. It was fabulous. I mean the extremes I experience here are really remarkable. This event is organized by the competent leader of this organization and all I have to do is show up and pay the fee. It’s glorious. We drove down into the Shire Valley to the game park late afternoon Friday and camped in the park campground. Then early Saturday morning, we met the rangers who would accompany us on a ten kilometer walk/hike along the river to a designated campsite where we spent the night. It was so exciting! This is in the park where I’ve been in vehicles looking for animals (the big five are here!) but this was on foot, with an armed ranger in the front and armed ranger in the back. I’m told they know what they are doing and know how to keep us safe without having to kill anything. So I trusted them. We had a security briefing before setting out, which included the instruction: “Do not run. The only thing that runs here is food.” And off we went, twelve in the group. It was gorgeous. The drives through the park are gorgeous but doing it on foot was really special. The Shire River is a magnificent natural wonder teeming with hippos, crocodiles, and birdlife. There were many birders in the group and we had plenty of rest periods while they identified and documented various species. Hippos lined up in the water to watch us pass and we were assured they would not get out of the water and charge us. They are most dangerous when they are on land during the night looking for food. The rangers were always listening and watching and it was an honor to be part of the group. 

We reached the site for camping where a pit latrine with grass enclosure had been dug. There were also two grass enclosures for bucket showers. Luxury! We all chose a spot and pitched our tents, then relaxed and chatted. There was even a small tributary we visited without crocodiles where we could get wet or float a bit. It was too shallow for swimming, not that I would have swum, but it was nice to dunk and get washed off. Then the rangers built a fire and everyone cooked their supper on it while we chatted some more. I was in my tent early, read a bit, then slept soundly with occasional wakings from hyena howls. Others said they heard lions, but I must have slept though that. In the morning I watched the sunrise from my tent, boiled water for my tea on the fire the rangers had built, and we packed up like little nomads and hiked back to the park entrance. It was fabulous.

I realized when I got back and connected that it was Father’s Day, so Happy Father’s Day to all the good dads out there. We are looking at designing a maternity ward able to accommodate the fathers. It’s a relatively new concept to have fathers present at birth here. As Deb pointed out in her presentation about privacy and the proximity of beds, women want to have their husbands at their birth but they don’t want their neighbors husband at their birth. We’ve got some work to do. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~Mumbo Island-Making Progress

Sunday Morning ~Mumbo Island ~ Making Progress

Musamaumirire mtunda wopanda madzi. ~ Do not keep on staying in an area without water.

~ Chewa proverb

June 9, 2024

Hi Everyone,

This seems so weird…I’m sitting at my table wearing leggings, a wool shirt, and fleece. I am wrapped in a blanket and I’m still cold. True, this is the cold season but this seems extreme. It’s usually warm during the day, like 70’s, then into the 50’s at night but today it’s low 60’s at noon and windy. It’s overcast, a storm off the coast of Mozambique the cause, and feels more like Scotland than Malawi. It’s supposed to be cold all week. 

Last week was gorgeous, both the weather and the company. Deb, the architect from Botswana, was here and we accomplished a lot and had a ton of fun around the edges. I think we talked for ten consecutive hours at one point. Deb did a presentation at the hospital about her research on birth unit designs and the response was excellent. It sparked more enthusiasm for our midwifery-center project and by the end of the Q&A period we had agreed to hold a workshop where all parties can have input on ideas for the design (we are now referring to it as a midwifery center instead of ward as the vision grows). Faculty, hospital midwives, administrators, doctors, and students agreed to gather for a day to discuss the design and components to be included. No matter what happens, this process is exciting. I fretted about finding the money and a time to schedule this, but by the end of Deb’s visit we found some grant money that could be allocated to this and our friend Chris, an architect from Philadelphia who happens to be here for a month, can facilitate. Within a week we had a date, venue, caterer, and facilitator. Woo hoo. Moving along. 

Deb and I then spent the weekend on Mumbo Island, an ecolodge on a small island a few miles off the coast of Cape Maclear, at the southern part of the lake. It’s another spot I’d not visited so when Deb suggested the destination, I jumped. It was perfect. 

We left Blantyre late Friday morning arriving in Zomba for lunch. There is a restaurant/lodge  there, Casa Rosa, run by an Italian family who have lived in Malawi for a long time. I’d not eaten there before but many people claim it is the best meal they’ve eaten in Malawi, so it was worth stopping for a taste. It did not disappoint. We had fresh squeezed tangerine juice, salad, and homemade pasta sitting on the veranda surrounded by tropical forest. Lovely. From there we continued on to Cape Maclear, should have been another three hour drive but was more like four. Though we watched a gorgeous sunset en-route it meant driving the last bit in the dark, something I try to avoid. At least we were off the main road by then but the road over the mountain to the cape is windy, narrow, and potholed with steep shoulders. I stopped for gas at the start of that road and we watched a big lorry, horn blaring, speed down the road seemingly out of control. Deb and I looked at each other. I said, “Can you imagine if that came at us on the road? Stopping for gas may have saved our lives.” Then nearly dark, we turned onto the road and began to navigate the mountain pass. At least the first few miles of it are paved now (unlike when I did it with Pat and Stacy in 2017 sliding sideways in the mud). The oncoming vehicles were mostly motorcycles and most had lights so it wasn’t too hard to share the road, but we did encounter a jackknifed lorry going up a steep hill. Fortunately, there was enough room to get onto the hillside and go around it, and I got back onto the road (big lip there) without a problem. I love my car. Whew! We got to the lodge, dropped our bags in our thatched room, and headed to the bar for a double gin and tonic. These night drives require a medicated arrival. As we sipped our drinks by––what used to be–– the beach we noticed the fellow lodgers were young enough to be Deb’s kids and my grandkids, students maybe? We didn’t get their stories before catching the boat to Mumbo Island the next morning. 

The chalets on Mumbo are built into the rocks with natural materials so they are barely visible. There are only six of them, not luxurious but completely blissful. They have composting toilets and the showers are buckets with spouts on the bottom, strung up with a pulley. At our requested time someone comes and fills the bucket with warm water for our shower. It’s like Gilligan’s Island! At dawn they leave a tray of coffee and tea on the balcony hanging over the water. The meals were simple but delicious. We kayaked around the island each day; the rock formations were fantastic. We hiked the four mile trail along the shore, up and down the terrain, sharing the rocks with monitor lizards. The first one made me scream as I turned and saw it coming toward us while we were sitting and enjoying the view. Those things are prehistoric––the size of baby alligators.  We talked…and talked…and talked, never getting bored and never running out of things to say. It was a great weekend. I’ll put some photos on facebook and may even figure out how to put some on instagram. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Keeping Water…building a reservoir?

Sunday Morning ~ Keeping Water…building a reservoir?

Mtsinje wopanda miyala sasunga madzi. ~ A stream without stones does not keep water.

~ Chewa proverb

May 26, 2024

HI Everyone,

An architect is coming this week and I’ve been trying to set up a time for her to give a presentation about birthing unit designs. My hope is to get the ball rolling for our new ward. When I sent out an email asking for availability, the head of the obstetrics department pointed out we have a new hospital administration since we got approval for this project in 2018 so we should  approach the new director before going any further. This frightened me a bit, so we urgently scheduled a meeting with the hospital director for Thursday morning. Three of us went to make our case to him. The Malawi president was in Blantyre that day, so traffic around town was horrendous. My fifteen minute ride to campus took over forty and I was worried about being late for this critical meeting. I managed to arrive on time, as did my colleagues, but the director didn’t. He called to say he’d be an hour late. We decided to wait. If we rescheduled who knew when we’d get our next chance. So we sat in his waiting room making the secretary uncomfortable. She kept asking if she could call us when he got there? We all preferred to wait, knowing something else could come up and our chance would be lost. He arrived, polite and all apologies, and shepherded us into his office.

I try to be ready for disappointment, almost expecting to be told “No”, so I had data ready to show how this project would improve care, reduce maternal mortality, and improve student performance. I was forming a backup plan for when he refused us. After all, it took us ten years in Bar Harbor to get approval for a new Women’s Health Center even though everyone agreed we needed more space. Ten years! Then, after getting a yes, it was another three years to raise the money and get the place built. So, I wasn’t expecting this to be easy. 

The hospital director is a physician and quite young. Once we were seated in his office, Christina, the head of midwifery at the hospital, explained our original project and goals and how it nearly came to fruition when the pandemic struck and our designated ward got taken for covid patients. She continued, “Now Linda is back and she wants us to re-introduced the project.” Ok, this is not what I wanted her to say. I’ve made very clear this is not my project. I believe in it and am willing to work hard for it, but it is not my project. With sinking heart I smiled and stayed silent.  Ursula, former dean for midwifery at the university, went next and I prayed she did not mention me. She provided a more academic angle, emphasizing the educational component and adding we have the support of the head of obstetrics. The director then looked at me, asking if I had anything to add. I hadn’t intended to speak, but it seemed I should say something, otherwise why was I there? I explained about my history in Malawi as a Peace Corps volunteer forty-five years ago. He looked up and said, “Forty-five years?!” Everyone laughed. I’m sure it was well before he was born. I said I became a midwife because of the role models I had in Malawi. I was fortunate to come back as faculty in the midwifery program and really believe this can be a model for the rest of the world, including the United States. Then we outlined what we hoped for: an addition built onto the postnatal unit where we could have a delivery suite to care for uncomplicated maternity cases and a clinical site for students. He paused for moment and I braced myself for the no. He described his experience in medical school and what he learned from midwives. He said he believes we should think bigger. “Why have just a small unit that would not allow growth? I think we should build a Center for Excellence for Midwifery. We should plan a bigger building where there could be a library, a conference room, room for teaching, as well as a comfortable place for women to receive care.” The following thoughts went through my mind simultaneously: 1) Am I dreaming? 2) Wow, this man’s mother did a fantastic job. 3) Sit still. Do not jump up and scream for joy. 4) Why are Ursula and Christina not hugging each other? 5) It is culturally unacceptable for women to touch men. Do not go hug him while jumping up and down. 6) Breathe. This is good. 

Those were just my initial thoughts. My heart was thumping out of my body. This can be so amazing! Ok, so it will take some money. It will take some time. But what took us ten years to accomplish at home took a matter of minutes! (plus the hour wait). Hospital administration saying yes to this means we can get plans drawn and get some quotes. We’ll need all that to apply for grants. The hospital director actually asked how he could help. (I pinched myself) He said he would speak to the Department of Health. He asked to be included in the architect’s presentation this week. I mean, if I wrote the perfect script for how I wanted that meeting to go this would have been it in fantasy land. 

“Can you believe this?” I whispered excitedly as we were walking out. They both turned to me and smiled. They don’t hyper-react like I do so I tried to tone it down. It was a struggle. 

This is so much more than we thought possible and we have to re-imagine a plan. Late Friday afternoon the midwives got together to brainstorm. I was still bubbling over and gushing about the meeting to the ones who weren’t there. They don’t understand my excitement about that Thursday meeting. I had to explain that, getting approval and this kind of support from administration is harder than finding funding in my experience. No one is going to give us money unless the hospital administration agrees this is a good project. Finding funding will be a job for sure, but it’s all a job. They looked at me, amused. I said, “You can’t grasp how hard this would be in the U.S.. Midwifery isn’t valued like it is here. I cannot fathom a hospital administrator saying yeah, let’s build a Center for Excellence for Midwifery on campus. That would be science fiction at home. In Malawi midwives are the largest workforce in the health system. It’s not like this where I live.” We started making a wish list, a real plan for what would work for women, students, and staff. In a way, it’s absurd to feel like a facility that meets all these needs should be such a gift, but that’s where we are. Let’s see where this goes.

Love to all,

Linda

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

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