Sunday Morning ~ Sorting Visits

Sunday Morning ~  Sorting Visits

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

~ Chewa proverb

April 21, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

This week I met a woman with experience. 

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way

Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way. 

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

~ Chewa proverb

April 7, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excellent adventure. Ady and I bonded.

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Likoma Island for Easter

Sunday Morning ~ Likoma Island for Easter

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

~Chewa proverb

March 31, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter everyone.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Palm Sunday

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Palm Sunday

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

~ Chewa proverb

March 24. 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Mangochi

Sunday Morning ~ Mangochi

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

~ Chewa proverb

March 17, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Martyr’s Day~ Dedza

Sunday Morning ~ Martyr’s Day, Dedza

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

~ Chewa proverb

March 3, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Neighbors~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Our Neighbors ~ Blantyre

Njala ya mnzako ndi yako yomwe. ~ The hunger of your neighbor is also yours.

~ Chewa proverb

February 25, 2024

Hi Everyone,

Last year a friend from Belgium was visiting me in Maine and I told her I wanted her to meet my neighbors. We walked to the end of my road, a mile long, and started down their driveway. She looked at me and asked, “You call this your neighbor?” I laughed. I told her I do. The definition of neighbor reads “a person living next door or very near” but it seems like a good time to broaden that concept.

The past week seemed a month long. Every day was a week. The heat had a lot to do with that; it is so disturbing. The hot months here are normally October and November. When the rains come in December the humidity breaks, the clouds are always present, and the evening rains keep the air cool. At least that’s how it has been for the past several centuries. When the rains stop in April or May the air gets very cool, even cold at night, until September when the air starts to build with humidity, breaking again with the first rain in December. Malawians build their lives around this weather cycle. Most people here are still subsistence farmers and they depend on the rain for their maize crop. It is their entire income and food source. When the rains are unpredictable the crop is a disaster. Maize is planted when rain is expected. If the rain comes, the seeds germinate and start to grow. If the rain then stops, those young plants die. Irrigation is not an option. And since the seasons of rainy and dry are so distinct, it’s not possible to replant and have enough time for the crop to mature before the dry six months without any precipitation. This year rain has been unpredictable. The rain was fairly steady during December and January and the crops looked good (I thought). But just as the maize was ripening, February turned very dry and hot. It feels like November. It’s very humid with scorching sun and few clouds. It’s tiring just to get through the day. I have to force myself to do anything and could fall asleep in broad daylight. If there is no crop there is widespread hunger and starvation. Crime goes up when people are desperate. The lot of the poor is good for no one. People everywhere here are talking of climate change. The priest at mass talks about it. The faculty talks about it. It’s so unfair that those who contribute the least to this crisis are the ones who suffer the most. But in the end we will all pay. “The hunger of your neighbor is also yours.” That wasn’t written yesterday.

The students are back on campus and classes started this week. I’ll be teaching two groups: first year students newly graduated from secondary school, and second year students in midwifery. The first years are nursing and midwifery combined. That class is frightening. Two hundred and fifty six students, new to university, and English isn’t their first language. It’s going to take me most of the class just to take attendance! Last Monday was the introduction class, there are four of us sharing the topics, and we all went to introduce ourselves and give an overview of the class. I was overwhelmed and all I had to do was introduce myself. I couldn’t even see the back of the room. There is no way those students in the back will be able to see the slides. I don’t know how this is going to go. We will have use of a microphone, so that’s good, though, I’m told it often doesn’t work. If it were an amphitheater it could work, but in the flat classroom, I don’t know. My first lecture is this Wednesday and if it is raining on that metal roof no one will hear anything. I’ll have to be creative so I’ve got some planning to do. The other class is only fifty students, still double what I had before, but seems a breeze comparatively. I’m looking forward to that one. The students are wide eyed, attentive, and seemed receptive. They clearly survived their first year with its mob of a class size so I guess teaching two hundred and fifty is possible. The resilience never ceases to amaze me. It’s humbling.

Yesterday I went back to Zomba to hike. It’s cooler up on the plateau but it was still hot. I went with the midwife who is working here with Seed, the organization I worked with before. While we were on the plateau we looked out at a huge bank of clouds coming toward us. We could see over to Mt. Mulanje engulfed in clouds and clearly raining. I even thought it looked like a tornado touching down in the distance. Aubrey, our guide, told us we should walk steadily down before the rain reached us as that would make the descent very slippery. I also didn’t want to drive down that escarpment, with it’s tight hairpin turns and steep drop off, in the rain. It’s interesting how the rain can be so welcome and so scary. We rushed the final half hour back to the car, bought some raspberries and blackberries from locals, and headed down the steep road reaching the town before the rain started. It didn’t take long to drive out of it and the trip back to Blantyre was easy. I could see the rain had passed through and the air was more clear. It’s such a relief. I arrived home to learn a cousin of mine has died of Covid. He was the best of men, devoted to his wife and family, and kindness personified. It’s hard to be far away at times like this, wanting to be together with family to grieve. And then I think of all of those separated in Gaza or Ukraine–– all our neighbors and all hungry and grieving. 

This morning I walked the three miles to church and on the way back the clouds started gathering again, so hopefully we are getting back into a normal pattern for this season. When I got home my landlord said he was worried about me since my car was there, knowing I usually go to church. I told him I’d walked. He shook his head and said, “I don’t know whether I should admire you or be afraid of you.” I laughed. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Way The Snake Moves

Sunday Morning ~ The Way The Snake Moves

Khote-khote wa njoka, utsata kumene kwaloza mutu. ~ Crooked is the way the snake moves, but you just follow where the head points.

~ Chewa proverb

February 18, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’m in a bit of a fog this morning. After a lazy Saturday doing some painting and going for a walk with a friend, I followed up with a lazy evening. It was after nine when I felt like going to bed, a little late for me, and read until I was sleepy. I turned off the light and fell into a glorious deep sleep that lasted two hours before a buzzing around my ear woke me up. A mosquito had gotten into the net and I spent the next hour slapping myself in the head, half asleep, trying to kill it. The buzzing would stop and I’d think I’d succeeded, then just as I was fading into repose, again the buzzing would start. It was like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I was trying so hard  not to wake up entirely, knowing I’d have a hard time getting back to sleep, but I finally looked at the clock and at 12:35 a.m., defeated, turned on the light and got up. I stood on the bed chasing it around the net, slapping, missing, slapping, missing, until it landed on the wall side and I was able to squish it against the wall. Blood covered my hand. Dammit, I thought, if it had already sucked my blood why was it still buzzing me? Then I heard another one. I saw it and was not going to stop until I had eliminated that parasite-carrying pest as well. I chased it futilely and, now wide awake, decided to read with the light on until it landed on me again, which it did about ten minutes later. I waited until it was well situated on my thigh, got my left hand into a good position and nailed it. There, I thought. Peaceful sleep. But by then I was intrigued by my book and read for another hour, just to be sure I was alone under that net. Considering how many bites I had on my legs, I thought there had to be more mosquitos in there. But nothing. I turned off the light around three and started drifting off. I may have even achieved sleep when bzzzzzzz started again around my ears which led me to more slapping of my own head thinking the harder I slapped the more likely I was to be successful. I must have hit something because the buzzing stopped long enough for me to fall asleep only to be awoken by some kid of alarm nearby. I wasn’t worried that this property was being vandalized, it was a bit further off than that, but it went on and on and on. I eventually fell into a fitful sleep for a little while. When the sun came through my bedroom window I got up. This is all to say I’m tired today. 

We had no electricity all day yesterday, so the beef I defrosted did not get cooked. That is a priority today though it’s hot and I’m not very hungry. I have a list of things to get done but so far this draft is the sole achievement. This may be it until tomorrow after I have (please God) slept. 

The mosquito story, as annoying as it was, made me chuckle. Back in my Peace Corps days the head of the WHO in Malawi was a Korean doctor named Dr. Yun. During training he came to talk to those of us in health care and told funny story after funny story. When giving us some realistic advice about how much can be accomplished and how frustrating efforts can be, he described sleeping under a mosquito net. “Ah, the net is protecting you! You feel sure that little insect cannot get in. But does the mosquito give up? No! He keeps looking and looking over and over until he finds that one tiny hole to get in and bite you. We must be like the mosquito.” Then he laughed and laughed. It was impossible not to love him. I think of that every time I feel like giving up on something. The proverb reminded me of this, too. It’s a long and winding road, but if we keep the end in sight, we might eventually get there.

We had two “scouting” trips this week to Balaka and Chriadzulu. (This is for those of you who follow along on google maps.) This process would probably be accomplished with a phone call at home, but that is not culturally appropriate here. Scouting a clinical site involves meeting with administrators, the head nurses (matrons), and preceptors. We cannot arrive without snacks for the meeting, so to prevent another cancellation like last week, I offered to buy the snacks and get reimbursed later. A colleague and I went to the grocery store and filled two carts, one with drinks and one with packages of biscuits. I know it was my impatience that led me to offer this and I’m not sure how appropriate it was, but everyone was grateful we could continue on our business having secured the time, transport, and treats. The students start tomorrow and it would be very difficult to go after that. And clinical placements cannot proceed until this formality is accomplished. It’s a real cultural lesson. I was just a passive observer and didn’t need to be there, but I like being part of the team and I’d never been to Balaka. And while we were in the grocery store some guy fixed a dent in my front bumper for the equivalent of $1.50. Some aspects of life here are so easy. 

The scouting visit begins with the head matron’s office where she takes us on a tour. Then we go into a room where seats are arranged in a circle. Staff filters in. When all the seats are occupied, someone is asked to say a prayer. Then one of our faculty leads the discussion. She asks if they have had any problems with our students in the past? This goes on for awhile with what seemed like minor complaints. It’s good feedback. They talked about how hard it is for the students to find housing, and how they want us to come more often to supervise them. Very valid. The use of “gadgets” (meaning their phones) was a big issue. Both sites had a policy of confiscation if a student uses his or her phone during a clinical rotation. The phone is kept in the head matron’s office until the end of the rotation. (I thought this was a bit harsh). She described sobbing students pleading stories of family problems and urgent communication. But the staff has seen students post photos of patients on social media and they don’t budge on this rule. Then our administrator brought up student complaints. He explained how important it was for the staff to model good care. “Students learn from the nurses and midwives”, he said, “and if they are not dressed properly or give disrespectful care, what what, this is not acceptable.” I held my breath expecting an argument or defensiveness. None. Several of the staff admitted they could do a better job and they would take note. I exhaled. He ended his remarks by saying “Remember, these are the nurses and midwives who will be caring for us as we get older. We want them to have a good education.” Everyone nodded. It was remarkable. When the topic of liability came up he described a scenario to get everyone thinking: “Supposed a student repairs an episiotomy and closes the woman up entirely. If I am her husband and I cannot find the hole, who am I to blame? The student or the one who was not supervising them?” I was the only one who’s head snapped up in absolute shock, but the discussion continued as it he were talking about an ingrown toenail. Honestly, it’s amazingly productive. Then we went through the MOU line by line while someone passed out the drinks and biscuits. The discussion doesn’t move on until everyone is satisfied and agreement has been reached. This is a society where everyone has a say and others listen respectfully. 

I looked out the windows at the huge mountain behind the hospital, grateful for these lessons. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre~ Elders

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre ~ Elders  

Akulu-akulu ndi m’dambo mozimira moto. ~ Elders are like moisture in the marsh where the fire goes out.

~ Chewa proverb

February 11, 2024

Hi Everyone,

It’s refreshing to live in a place where elders are respected and revered. During my Peace Corps experience here in my early twenties I was drawn to their wisdom. I lived in Malawi when the fruits of colonialism were rotting and the median age was sixteen. There were few elders. When I was here in the late 70’s and early 80’s I was working as a public health nurse and spent lots of time in villages. Before doing anything for health care (immunizations, sanitation), the village chief, an elder, had to be consulted. I listened to the discussion, a fellow nurse translating what I didn’t understand. The village chiefs, the medical officers, the matrons, midwives, and priests all spoke with care and concern for their communities. I loved to sit and listen. I loved hearing their perspectives on life, their experiences, their views on what the future would hold. So many of their stories were of inconceivable hardships, told with a fascinating serenity. I prayed I could be like them someday. To grow old without bitterness seemed the most valuable blessing. Forty-five years later their example resonates even more. They were and are respected members of their communities. Is it possible to have such serenity without that respect? 

I am rereading The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver’s book about a missionary family in the Belgian Congo. An eloquent passage about sickness, disease, and death of Congolese children was so apt and realistic I wondered if Kingsolver had lived there herself. One line in particular stood out: “If everyone lived to be old, then old age would not be such a treasure.”  Given this moment in my own country’s history, I read that and thought, Is our problem that too many people live to be old? Is that why Americans have so little respect for the elderly? Why do we spend so much of our health care dollars in the last year of life prolonging suffering and delaying the inevitable. Is aged usefulness measured in dollars spent in institutions? 

I’m disgusted with the media for the most recent episode of The Fear of Aging. It seems there is no bottom.

In other disturbing news, it hasn’t rained for several days. It’s making me a little nervous and I’m not the one depending on a maize crop for survival. We got a couple of cloudbursts last week, but they didn’t last long. It’s been hot in Blantyre, the kind of hot reserved for October and November before the rains come. Things are lush and green, so there has been some rain but it’s intermittent. I see clouds forming now so maybe we’ll see some today. I’m sitting on my veranda with my tea and wondering about walking to church. It’s about three miles and if it does rain, my umbrella will be useless. But I can duck in somewhere and call a taxi if I’m desperate, so I may go for it. I need to move.

One more week until students come for classes. This week we will discuss clinical sites and who will supervise where. This exercise of supervising students out in the far flung districts was the initial spark lighting the fuse for the Midwifery Ward project at the teaching hospital. Midwifery students get sent out as far as three hours away to smaller hospitals to get experience. When they arrive there, there is an added burden to the existing staff to mentor them. Often the students are treated like employees and have little supervision. The faculty is supposed to visit them once a week and spend a day teaching, but this never happens. There is often no transportation or no fuel. Meetings and other responsibilities take priority and sometimes students spend their entire five week rotation with only one visit. It’s not great. I met with the Chargé d’affaires from the U.S. embassy last Monday when she was in Blantyre and described our original project for addressing this problem and how it was derailed by the pandemic. She told me about a self-help grant through the embassy I could apply for which might resuscitate the project. She was great. She told me not to give up on it. Money always helps. I’ve put it out to my colleagues here and we are planning a time to meet and talk about how we should proceed. There is still a little flame. 

My car is now my car. The title was switched into my name on Wednesday and the process was shockingly smooth. It helped greatly that the man selling me the car had experience and knew which impossible-to-find room to deliver the forms. I followed him hoping I’ll remember how to find it when I’ll need to resell this baby in December. Now that I own the car and have my own insurance, I’m more comfortable taking it farther afield. So yesterday I drove to Zomba with some new friends where we hiked along the plateau. This never gets old for me. The deforestation is tragic, yes, and there were many landslides during the cyclone last March, but there is a lot of reforestation work being done and I felt hopeful. We hired a guide as it’s nice to hear local stories and history and I like supporting them. He was active in the reforestation and took us to the nursery were they are propagating indigenous plants. There is plenty of pine and eucalyptus up there, not native, that has been stripped for lumber and firewood. He could identify the bird calls and vegetation, and knew exactly which trail would take four hours. We went to lunch and descended the escarpment a little later than we should have in order to get home  before dark. Then we stopped several times to buy passion fruit, gooseberries, avocados, and the new potatoes that grow in the valley between two mountains. Women walk up one mountain and down another on a path they have named the Potato Path. When they cross under a waterfall on the plateau they stop to wash the potatoes, then continue several miles down into Zomba and the big market there. A few women stay along the road between hairpin turns and sell to those in the cars that pass, like us. Fruit and vegetables fresh off the trees and the earth and we don’t even need to get out of our car.   

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, White Privilege

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre ~ White Privilege

“Lero lomwe” anadetsa nthengu. ~ Today, today made the little bird black.

~ Chewa proverb

February 4, 2024

Hi Everyone,

Schedules are fluid here and this week I ended up with two suddenly open days. I decided to bite the bullet and register, insure, and pay for my car. You’d think within two full days I could accomplish this. You’d be wrong. This has been way more complicated than I anticipated. The largest bank note here is 5,000 Kwacha, worth less than three American dollars. Paying for a car in three dollar bills would require several hours at the ATM. I thought I could just transfer money from my bank account at home, but OH, not so simple. I brought some cash with me and got a very nice exchange rate for it, so paid for almost half the car that way. I’m still working on the second half. PayPal has a few bugs. And fees. I may have a date with every ATM in town. The sellers are being very patient.

I learned I can’t switch over the car registration until I registered myself as a driver at the Road and Traffic Safety Office. I dreaded this. When our trip to Mangochi to supervise students got canceled because there was no fuel, I braced myself and ventured to the equivalent of a registry of motor vehicles. I walked through the gate into the parking lot/waiting area. My heart sank. Hundreds of people were sitting on benches in front of four unlabeled service windows. I knew not what they were waiting for, if each window provided a different service, or where the line started or ended. I stared. Should I get in line? If so, where? I walked up closer to the windows to see if I could get a sense of what to do. I looked around for someone official looking and didn’t see anyone in a uniform. I stuck my head into an alleyway and saw two men in blue shirts looking at phones. I approached one of them and greeted him: “Muli Bwanji, I must register as a driver to buy a car. Where do I go?” Barely looking up, he answered, “Second window.” There were four windows. Second window from which side? “Second window” was different depending on which side you counted from. I looked for a number on the windows and saw none, though there were so many papers taped to them it may have been hidden. I wedged my way through the crowd in front of all the windows to see if there was a number. Couldn’t see any. I went back to the man in the blue shirt. “Which is the second window?” He reluctantly accompanied me and pointed. Ok, this was progress. I now knew the right window. I waited in the line in front of that window, which was short. Only two people were standing as opposed to the fifty who were seated in front of the window. No idea what they were waiting for but it seemed the standing ones were the line. When my turn came I told the man behind the window I needed to register to buy a car and he handed me a form to fill out. I joined the fifty seated people and thought this might not be too bad! Only one page! Unfortunately it required my passport not my license, and I didn’t have that with me. I folded up the paper, tucked it in my bag and left, dreading the thought of coming back but relieved to leave, thinking I’d be better prepared mentally upon return. Note to self: bring a snack. And a book. 

I feel very guilty about the next part of this story. The all-day planning meeting scheduled for Wednesday got cancelled when the faculty from the Lilongwe campus “failed to arrive”. So I had another free day. I took a deep breath, passport in hand, and knowing what to expect, went back to Road and Traffic Safety Office. It was even more crowded. Where should I drop the form? Second window again? There was a very long line. I saw people, lots of them, waiting in a different line and saw they had the same form as me. I asked one if this was the line to register? One person said yes, the one next to her said no, and pointed to the longer line a few feet away. I got in that line, but still wasn’t sure if I was in the right line. A blue shirted person with badges on the sleeves walked by and I said, “Excuse me, is this the line to register as a driver?” and showed him my form. He said, “Yes, come with me.” I followed him along the line into a room with two stations. He pointed to a chair in front of a desk with a window barrier. When the person in that chair got up, the blue shirted man told me to go next. I said, “Oh no! I don’t want to go before these people waiting!” (This was both true and false. I desperately wanted to go before those people waiting. I also didn’t want to look like I was going before those  people waiting.) He said, “Yes. Go. You are over sixty aren’t you?” I was simultaneously insulted and relieved. I’m always surprised to be reminded of how old I am because I don’t feel that old and I guess wanted him to think I was much younger, but I was relieved that it might be my age and not my skin color allowing me to jump the line. It may have been both but it was privilege nonetheless. I turned to the fifty or so young people in line and said, “I’m so sorry.” and turned away from their looks of disappointment. Or was it disgust? I told myself, “They do revere old people here.”  I handed over my form, my passport, my license, and noted that the expression of the guy behind the window was not reverence. I said, “I’m sorry”meaning I never would have asked to go first. I just wanted to be sure I was in the right line, I swear,  but don’t think he was in the mood to make me feel better about my white privilege guilt. His expression did not change. I got fingerprinted, photographed (which took several tries because my white shirt, white hair, white skin, and white background made me invisible on the photo. He had to take several shots and he wasn’t happy. He stamped my form and gave me instructions which I could not understand but I did not want to take up any more time after cutting the line, so ran out to find another blue shirted person to ask for the next step.

I was told to go back to the window that gave me the form in the first place. I slipped my form through the opening and took a seat. A while later a young girl in front of me said “They are calling you.” Seriously? How did she hear that? I was listening for it and heard nothing. I went up to the window, where the blue shirted woman asked for my passport. I handed it over and refused to leave while she had it. This I did not feel bad about. I stood there until she did whatever she was doing with it, and I got fingerprinted again. She handed back my stuff with more instructions I couldn’t understand. “Did you say go to the bank?” She pointed to the left, done with me, and went on to her next task. I looked for another guy in a blue shirt to ask what I was to do next. I’d lost all shame for needing assistance. There was no way I could have figured this out. Around the corner there was an actual bank and I was instructed to go there. I went into the bank, paid some money, took the receipt, and got more instructions I couldn’t understand. The bank was less crowded so I felt comfortable asking her to repeat the instructions until I understood I was to go next door with the receipt and do something. That part was fuzzy but at least I knew where to go. I went into the adjacent building and waited in line. No special old lady treatment there. No hairy eyeballs either, thank God. It was only about a fifteen minute wait, the line moving pretty fast. I got up to the window, handed all the papers and receipts over. She handed them back and said, “We have no cards. Just use the receipt.” Which, I guess was why the line was moving fast. Seems like that could have been noted at the door. I don’t know what I was supposed to “use” the receipt for, but I asked if this was the last step, she said yes, I found the nearest exit, walked a mile to a cafe, and ordered a beer. It was one o’clock. This was all just so I can buy the car and register it. I have no idea what’s next in this series of bureaucracies but in the meantime, I’m still driving their car.  

I thought the students were starting classes tomorrow but now it is not until the 19th. Friday we chose which courses to teach. I’ll have time to prepare and recover from the shock of learning the class will not be twenty students like in 2016, 17, 18, and 19 but a mere 260 students since midwifery and nursing will be combined. It will be in a bigger room they assure me. A year suddenly feels very small. A month is already gone. I always think I’m doing well managing expectations but then let my imagination run wild with what we COULD do and get frustrated and disappointed with what actually comes of it. I need to reel it in. Two hundred and sixty students. Yikes.

There is a Fulbright student in Blantyre and we met for breakfast this morning. On a blackboard at the entrance of the cafe was written: Slow progress is better than no progress. Stay positive and never give up. The proverb is about this. It doesn’t have to be today. Rushing spoils things.  Reminding me again of my privilege. 

Love to all,

Linda