M’dziko umayenda, umaona agalu a micombo.~ When you walk in the land you see dogs with different navels.
~ Chewa proverb
I’m not sure humans were supposed to travel through so many time zones so quickly. Not that 36 hours is quick in this day and age, but it is very disorienting. Lack of sleep is a factor I suppose, but going between two different worlds so abruptly isn’t healthy. It helps to travel home slowly, making one’s way through different cultures and landscapes, slowly letting the travel fatigue set in, inching toward the land of excess, gradually.
When we drove from Mt. Mulanje back to Blantyre a few weeks ago, we took the long way through Thyolo so we could see the tea plantations. Miles and miles of green rolling hills covered in tea. The light green leaves are shiny and the mountains in the background frame the scene beautifully. These plantations employ thousands of Malawians. I don’t actually know what their working conditions are, though, they are paid at least minimum wage, and have housing on the plantations. This beautiful, rich, black tea can be purchased in any little shop, any market, any bottle store, in Malawi. It’s really good tea. Plain black tea. Drunk with milk, it is wonderful.
I’m in Savannah, and it’s Sunday morning. It’s the week of annual midwifery meetings, education sessions, networking, and sharing. There are around 2,000 of us here. These annual meetings are held in big convention centers, opulent and enormous. The hotels cost over $350 per night for a standard room that doesn’t include breakfast. When it was part of my employment benefits, I stayed in those rooms, sharing with my friend Kathy to reduce the cost. Being convenient to the meeting is helpful. It’s a jam packed week and getting to the sessions is a challenge if you stay away from the venue. Meetings start at seven (or earlier if you go to yoga) in the morning until ten or later in the evening. This year I’m footing the bill for this, and it wasn’t cheap to get here, so I got an AirB&B and am sharing that with another midwife. It’s in a run down neighborhood, and a good half hour walk to the ferry that takes us across the river to the convention center, but the whole week is costing less than one night in the hotel, so it’s worth it. (Well, I think so. Not sure my roomie does.) Anyway, when we finally got here I went to buy a few groceries to make supper and get some tea for breakfast. There is a health food store four blocks away and I dropped my bags and hurried over there, starving and tired and wanting to eat and go to sleep.
Going in a grocery store is always shocking on re-entry and even though I always prepare myself for it, it’s disorienting. The milk and bread choices always amuse me. This health food store was small but close by–– a neighborhood market the kind I like to support. I expected to pay a bit more and that was fine with me. But when I got to the tea section, I crumpled. I was overtired, yes. I wasn’t myself. I was hungry. School children have been shot again. Again. My country is on the brink of war it seems. We are creating enemies all around. People, men with blood stains all over their groins are protesting circumcision outside the convention hall. Everyone in this country seems to have gotten tattooed in the past two years. There were many things to cry about. But this time it was tea. In this store was a wall of tea––hundreds of types to choose from. My eyesight, blurred from progressive lenses and lack of sleep, couldn’t focus enough to read all the labels. I tried, but could not find any simple black tea. Just a plain black teabag. Anything! Even over packaged black tea disguised as a health food I would have paid for. I finally gave up looking through all the flowers and herbs and nuts that they make tea from now, and defeated, paid for my other purchases and left.
As I walked back to this apartment, I saw people sitting on their front steps. I greeted them and they returned the greeting, smiling and welcoming. A man on the bus offered me his seat. The cashier (tattooed beyond belief) was incredibly friendly and helpful. When I asked directions several people gathered around to concur they were accurate. People are good. All around, people are really good. My day was brightened with that because really, no one needs that many choices of tea. It’s just not right.
Mimba si kupha namwino ~ The pregnancy does not kill the midwife.
~ Chewa proverb
May 13, 2018
During the antenatal clinic this week a student came to ask me what to do with a woman who was three weeks past her due date. I followed the student into the exam area and greeted the woman. I asked if her first baby was late? She replied, “No. He is still alive.”I laughed, realizing that late here means dead. If someone is late for something they are referred to as “not keeping good time”. If you “keep good time” it means you arrive when you were supposed to.
It was my last clinical day with these students. I have dreaded these clinics for the past three weeks since it was their first rotation for antenatal and they were a bit green, as in didn’t know anything. On the first day the sister (nurse) in charge did a little orientation and that was the last anyone saw of her. Nine brand new students have been left alone to run a daily clinic for pregnant women. I’ve been there two days a week, but that was no where near adequate. I’d leave there in the depths of depression after watching women come and go without a real evaluation. The students weren’t even greeting the women! They were nervous, I know, but greetings are a big deal here. I shouldn’t have to teach them how to do that. The first day I said, “Ok, two of you can start getting weights on everyone.” figuring that would be easy. But none of the students knew how to use a scale. They had no idea how to balance it. I spent the morning going, “See? It’s already too heavy; you have to move the weights back this way until the arrow floats in the middle of this space.” pointing to the area on the scale that indicates it is indeed balanced. Looks of utter confusion adorned their faces. I looked at the hundreds of women waiting and my heart sunk. It took weighing two hundred women for them to get the hang of it. And this was just the weight. They were supposed to take their blood pressure, check their HIV status, screen for any complications, check the fundal height, the gestation, give whatever medications were needed, then schedule her next visit. The students show up and the staff leaves. That’s pretty much what happens at the clinics. The staff is supposed to be the ones doing the teaching. The lecturers (of which I am one) are supposed to go once a week to supervise, but often the students are on their own. But by this past Friday, when I went for the last time, I was amazed at how well they were doing. I’d given them all hand sanitizer since there is no place to wash their hands. The first week they’d “forgotten it” and I blew up. “I should not have to teach you to remember to bring the needed supplies! You have enough to learn here! Please do the things you are capable of, like bringing your hand sanitizer and your watch! And say hello to the women for goodness sake! You are capable of that!” These are the students I had last year in lecture and they were all so bright and eager. Now they seem like sullen teenagers. Not that I blame them for being discouraged. This particular health centeris a hell-hole in a disgusting slum of Blantyre. They arrive and are dumped with responsibilities they are no where near ready for. But on Friday when I arrived at 7:45 they had “kept good time” and were there. They divided themselves up for various tasks. They weighed the women appropriately and at least cursorily greeted them. Three of them checked blood pressures, one handed out iron tablets and antimalarial meds, and the others did exams. I was impressed! They were diagnosing breeches and twins, calculating due dates appropriately, and referring women who had problems. I never saw a staff person. When they had a question they’d come and get me so I went from room to room to be with each of the students, and I had a good time! It was a nice way to finish up for me. They still have two more weeks at this clinic, but we have a close of service meeting at the lake for three days this week, then I leave for the states for two weeks; one for my midwifery annual meeting in Savannah, and one to spend with the grandchildren. I’ll fly back to Malawi the first week of June to finish up. It’s mostly administrative stuff from now on. I finished my lecturing on Thursday, and my clinical on Friday. I expected it to be more of a relief than it was.
The week had been frenetic. Monday morning was spent with the women’s group and two of the speakers I’d scheduled didn’t show up. I was frantically calling the third, my neighbor Mona Lisa, who’d written the date down wrong and wasn’t planning to come, but she rearranged things and saved my day. She works for Save the Children and has good ideas about women in business. The women walk two hours to get to our house so I hated to have it be for nothing. Phew. We brainstormed about where to go with the group. They have continued to meet twice a week and brought a lot more jewelry they’d made and five new women have joined the group. They told me they want another teacher to help them expand their skills. There is a grant from the US Embassy I might apply for to see if I can do that. For now, we planned to have one more meeting in June before I leave. Mona Lisa said she’d ask someone from Save the Children who works with women’s cooperatives and see if she will help get them more organized to start a small business. I brought out the beads and supplies that my friend Ruth sent from the states and they fell on them like dogs on a meat wagon. I can’t wait to see what they create from it all.
At one o’clock we drove to the airport so our guest could catch her flight. We got stuck in a line of traffic lasting an hour as the president of Botswana was also flying out Monday afternoon. We luckily made it in time, said goodbye, and my son and I drove to Dedza, a three hour ride, two of which in heavy rain. Late rain. Not dead, just late as the rainy season ordinarily ends in April. I was happy to arrive at the lodge and have a drink and dinner for the last evening with my boy. Tuesday morning I was up early to continue to Lilongwe for a meeting with GIZ, a German NGO, about improving clinical teaching for nursing and midwifery students. I was hoping that they’d be interested in our model ward, but I learned they focus their efforts on only three districts in Malawi, and Blantyre is not one of them. Bummer. But it was a worthwhile meeting and I’m glad I went.
From there I had to get to the hotel to get ready for the Fabulous Women Party I’d been invited to at the American Ambassadors residence. This was a big deal. I was allowed to bring one invited guest, another “fabulous woman”, and I invited Ursula. I knew I wanted to ask someone from the faculty but didn’t know how to go about it. I hated to choose anyone over the others as they’d all hear about it. A few weeks ago I announced to them that I had been invited to this party and wanted to take one of them but didn’t want to be the one to choose. I asked them to decide among themselves who should go and they all chose Ursula. She was my choice too, so it was great, and no hard feelings.
We got over to the Peace Corps office at five to get transport to the residence. This was major security and bling let me tell you. I have never seen such makeup, stilettos, and secret service in my life. There were probably two hundred women there including the first and second lady, and the former first lady. (I mean the first lady of Malawi not Melania) It was awesome! It was like a high class hen party. Lots of members of parliament, business women, several Peace Corps volunteers, the Peace Corps director, the president of the nursing school, etc. all chatting, drinking, nibbling on the passed hors d’oeuvres, and chocolate fountain, and after the speeches there was a dance party in the dining room. Classy. A blast. The first lady didn’t stay for the dancing, but I did get to speak with her briefly as she worked the crowd. I love our ambassador, Virginia Palmer. She is a power-house and strong advocate for raising women up however possible. She speaks against child marriage and in support of keeping girls in school. She encouraged us all to support each other. She quoted Madeline Albright when she said, “There is a special place in hell for women who do not support other women.” She encouraged us to network and brainstorm with each other while sipping wine and eating the mushroom tarts. I loved it. I stuck to the sparking wine, but plenty of women were drinking wine glasses full of Amarula, a liquor much like Baily’s, which comes from the Amarula fruit. I love it, but can only drink a small amount. It’s rich. There were women drinking wine glasses full of the stuff and going back for more! I swear they went through 200 bottles. It was a hoot.
After that it was back to the hotel to crash as I had to be up early for the International Day of the Midwife celebration. It was similar to last year with a few twists. SEED, the organization I work for, was sponsoring a table and I was in charge of getting all the stuff there and setting it up. That was stressful as I had no information about where to do it. The itinerary said a march would start at the Area 18 health center and proceed to the Golden Peacock Hotel where the speeches and display tables would be. I drove to the hotel and left my car there with all the stuff in it, then Polly (fellow volunteer) and I decided to walk the march route backward to the health center, figuring we’’d run into them on the way. I figured it would start late like it did last year. We hoofed it the three and a half miles to the health center to find NO ONE. But we could hear music in the distance down a different road. We started running toward the music and asked a woman along the way if the midwifery parade had gone by. She affirmed it had and pointed in the direction of the music. About a mile and a half later we caught up to them. They’d changed the route. We gulped some water and joined the parade, which is a total kick. Everyone was dancing and singing with a big lorry with the “Health Education Band” (seriously that’s their name) following behind the marchers. It’s a blast. By the time we got back to the hotel, Polly and I had walked/run eight miles. Then there were photos outside with the minister of health and while that was happening, Polly and I ran in to set up the table. (Thank God she needed a ride back to Blantyre and stayed for this event.) My midwifery colleagues had a “special meeting” which I had not been informed about, so arrived at the last minute and took their seats.
Before the speeches began, the minster of health and his entourage toured the tables. We (I) had made a little display about the midwifery-led ward and to dress up the table I had brought some of the jewelry from the Tiyamike group. I got to explain to the health officialswhy we thought this ward was needed and the rationale behind starting this women’s group for women with no education. They listened. I’d had copies of the project summary printed and handed them each one. It’s not likely they will participate in the project, but it was good to have them informed and at least raise some awareness about the problems we face. I was happy.
Then the speeches started. Four hours of them. The president of the Malawi Midwives Association mentioned our project in her speech, though, so that was a high point. I feel like it’s gaining momentum. There was a lot of twitter about that. The last speaker was the minister himself whose voice is almost as beautiful as he is. Gorgeous man. When it all ended I’d hoped that people would come buy some of the jewelry, and some did, but lunch was supposed to be from 12 to 2 and it was 2:20 when the speeches ended so everyone ran, and I mean ran, to get food. So we packed up the table, put our lunches in a box and hit the road back to Blantyre, a five hour ride. The ride is stressful in the best of conditions, but after dark it is downright scary. You cannot see a thing and many cars don’t have head or tail lights. We got back to Blantyre in one piece at 7:30 and I was completely spent. The next day was clinic from 7:30 to noon and lecture from 1 to 5. I’m too old for this.
So now I sit on our veranda overlooking the lake at the Blue Zebra Lodge, a treat from George for the weekend. This is part of the National Park (the largest freshwater park in the world) and is run beautifully. It’s on an island in Senga Bay and we got here from Blantyre yesterday just in time to catch the boat. It’s been a chance for me to decompress from work, visitors, and extracurricular activities that both feed and frustrate me.
My son asked what I’d miss about Malawi. It was at the beginning of a stressful week and I was thinking more of the things I wouldn’t miss. We were driving the M-1, a narrow, curving, two-lane highway, with no shoulder, that runs north to south connecting the major cities. There is a lot of traffic on the road and passing is dangerous. The sides are strewn with bicyclists carrying huge loads and thousands of pedestrians. Goats randomly run onto the road. I see a near miss about every fifteen minutes. I will not miss the drive to Lilongwe, but I’ll miss the landscape. It is gorgeous. I will miss the people. I will miss the warm and genuine greetings. I’ll miss their smiles. I’ll miss being able to take a weekend and go someplace exotic and spectacular. I think to myself that some people save their entire lives to take a vacation like our weekends away that cost so little. I’ll miss the warmth but not the heat. I’ll miss having the opportunity to share another side of life with students and see their eyes light up with stories of how it is where I come from. I’ll miss sharing this adventure with George who, at his age, had courage enough to do something way outside his comfort zone.
We are in an idyllic setting with no WiFi so this won’t get posted until tomorrow. It’s Mother’s Day which I had totally forgotten about until before dawn this morning when George wished me a happy one with a sweet necklace and bracelet that Chimemwe had made with shells from our trip to Mozambique. I’m a lucky girl.
Pafupi ndi apo wafika ~ Nearby is the place which you have reached.
~ Chewa proverb
Thursday afternoon we received an email that the restricted travel in Mulanje district was lifted and we were free to climb the mountain. We were on the mountain by Friday afternoon. I had desperately wanted to bring Jordan and Paulina up there and we were just able to squeeze it in before they go back to Poland this week. The plan was to get up to the plateau by dark on Friday, climbSapitwa, the highest peak, on Saturday, then come down today. We packed up our gear, called the guide, and hit the road. I was so excited to show them the spectacular beauty of that place.
When we were packing, George asked if I was bringing my rain gear. “Nah,” I said. “It hasn’t rained in over a week. I think the rains have finished. There aren’t even any clouds around.” He said, “Really? You never know up there.” But I told him that friends had just done it and they said it was crystal clear. Beautiful weather on the mountain. So we loaded up two big backpacks with food and sleeping bags, and headed off. We picked up Sampson, our trusted guide and told him we wanted to climb Sapitwa. It is a strenuous hike up to the plateau, and Sapitwa (whose name literally means “don’t go there”) is an additional three hours up from there. We can’t do it in one day, so planned to sleep at the hut just at the base of the Sapitwa trail. It would take us six hours to reach the hut and we happily set off, sweating and puffing up the very steep trail. I’d say an hour into it we got cooled off when the heavens opened up and we were deluged with rain. That meant hiking on slippery, steep mud with a river running down it. Wasn’t easy. I imagined a mutiny and a very big I told you so in my future.But we slogged along, thankful we had porters to carry the heavy stuff and I kept thinking oh, this will let up and by the time we get to the hut all our stuff will be dry! Hah! We couldn’t see any views at all, in fact I could barely open my eyes wider than a squint for the rain running in to them, and it didn’t let up until we were almost there six hours later. The upside was we didn’t have to take our boots off to cross the rivers. That was a treat.
I couldn’t wait to get in that hut and get dry by a fire. There were four other people in there, who’d tried to summit Sapitwa and getting caught in the rain on slippery rocks. They had to hunker down under a rocky overhang for two hours waiting. They never made it to the top and couldn’t see a thing. Every thread we had brought with us was soaked. Sleeping bags, soaked. Change of clothes, soaked. It was getting dark and we were getting cold. We crowded around the fireplace and tried to get some clothes dry enough to be able to sleep. We warmed up, drank the mulled wine I’d brought, laid out some mattresses and some of the blankets they keep at the hut and were able to sleep way better than I thought we would in soggy clothes. It rained more during the night and when I heard that on the tin roof I whispered to George, “I don’t think we should try Sapitwa.”He said, “No. I already decided I wasn’t.” In the morning it wasn’t raining but all the surrounding peaks were socked in the clouds and everyone agreed to bag the idea. Sampson thought we made the right decision.
So we did a three hour hike across the plateau to a different hut, dried out all our gear, and waited for a view of the spectacular sunset …which was completely obscured by clouds. Saw nothing. I was disappointed again. I wanted to show the place off! The show was cancelled. We went back in the hut, closed the door, and ate a nice meal of pasta and pesto, chocolate cheesecake with macadamia nut crust, and hot chocolate with brandy. We chatted by the fire, happy to be dry but I was pouting. Then we slept like the dead. I went to sleep thinking , oh well, it’ll be clear by morning and we’ll have a gorgeous view all the way down. Today we descended in thick clouds with almost no view. I don’t mind hiking when the weather isn’t perfect. I like the ethereal feel of being shrouded by clouds with a peak occasionally peeking through. But when I want to show off a place I know is majestically spectacular and have an image in my mind of how my guests will LOVE it, picturing the satisfied smile on my face that says, “See! Didn’t I tell you this hike would be worth it?” I am so bummed out! It’s always beautiful up there, no matter what, but still, it’s a physical challenge even when conditions are perfect, and when the view is just a big white puffball, I can’t help but be a little disappointed. They were certainly appreciative, but still.And I had really wanted to summit Saptiwa before I leave and that was probably my last chance. When we got to the bottom, Sampson said he was grateful no one got hurt. I’d never heard him say that before. Ok, so I am too, but still…
The proverb’s meaning is: “There must be a limit to one’s ambition, one must one day accept that one has gone far enough.” So we reached the place nearby. It’ll have be good enough.
M’pote-pote poyamba potsiriza n’cingwe ~ At first it is only a spinning thread, at the end it is a big string.
April 29, 2018
I’m straddling a thin line. One side is zen: don’t sweat the small stuff. The other side is not giving a shit. I plan and fret about preparing lectures that are cancelled or postponed, I get to clinical sites when the clinic starts, only to wait hours for students to arrive, I write and rewrite a proposal for our midwifery ward only to have changes given to me three days after they were due. I’m downshifting to self-preservation mode.
I got aggravated with my class on Thursday when they were poorly prepared. They’d gotten two free hours the day before because a lecturer from Lilongwe asked to take my two hours of lecture time then didn’t show up. The class sat for two hours, my two hours, and claimed they used it to study. I then had to cram all my content into Thursday lecture time, which, though I complained about it, was not a problem since I was looking for stuff to fill the seven hours anyway. We had group presentations and group number two did a crap job. It wasn’t just a crappy job, though, it was almost as if they were mocking me. That’s how bad it was. I’m a bit softer than the other lecturers and I felt taken advantage of. I was tired and didn’t take it well. I found myself trying to humiliate the students in group two for the rest of the day. Every time a question came up I asked, “Maybe someone in group two could answer that? Yes? Anyone? Wasn’t this what you were supposed to report on? Can you please enlighten the class on this topic?” and they slouched further into their seats and I sunk further into self-loathing. When I got home, flopped on the couch, and told Jordan about my day he said, “Sounds like someone needs a little Amarula in her morning coffee.”
Friday there were big political demonstrations protesting some mismanagement of money by the political party in power. I do not understand the details, but this has happened before and in 2011 twenty-one people were killed. There were a lot of warnings and high anxiety about what would transpire Friday and I was a nervous wreck because we had to get to the airport to collect Paulina, Jordan’s girlfriend who was flying in from Poland. We had to cross the protesters route to get there and weren’t sure if we’d make it. We’d been warned to stay home from work and not go out. Some businesses closed and many schools cancelled. We were on pins and needles waiting to see what unfolded. We were supposed to head directly to the game park after the airport, which meant coming back through town and crossing the demonstrators again. We kept checking in with people who had driven that route to get to the hospital, and all morning the reports came in that the crowd was peaceful. Fortunately, the demonstration did not turn violent anywhere, the letter of demands from the people were peacefully delivered to parliament in all the major cities, and by noon Chimemwe told us it was over. He’d been listening on a radio to the reports and told us it was safe to travel. I’ll be interested in learning what the peaceful protest achieved. We were able to get to the airport along eerily quiet roads to collect Paulina, get back through Blantyre without incident, and down to Majete Game Park before dark. It doesn’t make for as good a story as if we had to brave some smoke bombs and bottle rockets, but I was hugely relieved.
Now I’m sitting with my tea watching a Nyala couple with their baby walk by on their way to the water hole and I can barely remember my stress. At the water the Nyala don’t seem to mind the elephant splashing himself, the wart hogs drinking along the edges, the baboons running around, or the hot sun. Everyone is getting along fine. As it should be in Eden. Sitting here, lectures, clinics, pain, suffering, and incompetence don’t exist. We saw several male Impala fighting on our early game drive but no one seemed to be getting hurt. One had lost an antler; it was the first time we’d seen that, but since we didn’t see a lion (the only disappointment of the weekend) the male dominance spectacle was the major excitement. It’s been wonderful. Staying here makes me want to start a new career in wildlife management or some environmental preservation. I want a job where I get up every day and spend time in the wild beauty of places like this. I never get tired of this landscape. Even if we didn’t see a single animal on the game drive, I’d still be happy just driving around looking at the incredible trees and dry riverbeds. The fact that we saw waterbuck, Kudu, Eagles, and Bee eaters, is gravy.
No internet here, so no news, which also has a calming effect on my nerves. I’m worried that time is getting short and I’ll have to trade my Malawian professional frustrations for American ones and I’m not sure I like the options. (Now a wet elephant is walling straight toward me…I need to take a photo…)
Friday George got word that his Fulbright is confirmed so he will be going to Myanmar in January. I need to decide where I fit into that picture. I won’t have a job there, so won’t go for the year. I will visit, for sure, but for how long is undecided. I am still hoping to come back here and work for a three month period, but only if the model ward gets established. I am looking for funding for that. My book is being translated into Polish and that is almost done, so we will see what happens with that. It’d be fun to go there and travel around for awhile but not sure if that would be this coming year or the next. Alot depends on publishing details. It’s a little unsettling to not know what I’ll be doing, but that’s another line I’m straddling: believing it will all work out and needing to know NOW! George has finished with medical students. His schedule is so much more civilized. Now he just has to work in the clinic but his teaching responsibilities are done. He’ll be going to the states for an orientation in June for his next adventure, so he’s on auto pilot now. Tomorrow he’s going with Jordan and Paulina to Domwe Island for a few days of camping, then to Mua Mission, then back to Blantyre and we’ll spend next weekend all together hiking someplace beautiful. I’ve got a few more weeks before I’m done with lecturing, then a few after that before I’m done with clinical, so I’ll stay and work this week and join them for the weekend.
Jordan told me today he was grateful he had a really cool mom. Finally the spinning thread becomes a big string.
Mlendo ndi mame, sakala kucoka (kukamuka) ~ A visitor is like dew, he does not take time to leave.
~ Chewa proverb
April 22, 2018
The class I am teaching now has seventy-nine students instead of the twenty I had last term, so the lectures take on a different vibe. It’s long hours with the same group of students sitting in a huge classroom, and by long hours I mean 7:30 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon with a half hour tea break in the morning and an hour for lunch. It’s ridiculous. And it is at the other campus a half hour’s drive from home so it’s like actually going to a job. I taught the same module last year and was much more stressed about it then. I’ve got most of the lectures already prepared and now have a car so I don’t have to sit and wait for the driver to collect me which added an hour to the day on each end. Five hour lectures are just inhumane. I try to be creative. I give the students writing exercises and make them do role plays. No one does role play better than Malawians. They will cry real tears when pretending to be in pain.You’ve got to see it to believe it. My friends who are drama coaches would think they’d died and gone to heaven. Give a Malawian ten minutes and they’ll recite monologues, sing arias, create costumes, and without a shred of self-consciousness act like they went to drama school. It’s something I’m not capable of so I’m always in awe of this. And it kills a good bit of time.
Sometimes I break them into groups and have them teach the information I just gave them in the lecture. I was a bit disappointed, however, when I gave the students an assignment to demonstrate how they’d teach the menstrual cycle to women without a formal education. The first two groups presented almost the same lecture I had done, which I thought displayed flagrant laziness. I asked them if they thought someone with no education would know what it meant for the uterine lining to slough off? The final group was more creative. The spokesperson said, “Your body is like a mango tree. Each month a mango falls from the tree and starts to rot, so a farmer sends in someone to sweep the area clean to get ready for the next mango to fall and if that one rots they will clean it out again.”He gave the lesson with his arms up and out to the side with his fingers wavering like fallopian tubes. It was good entertainment.
Jordan arrived yesterday for a two week visit and I was hoping I could arrange my lectures around a reasonable schedule for the time he’d be here. I loaded up the first two weeks of the class hoping to have a few free days to spend with him during his visit. We’ve got weekend tripsplanned but I was hoping to finagle a few more days. I had managed to arrange both weeks with Mondays and Tuesdays free. Hooray. But two days ago I found out I would have ten students starting a clinical rotation starting tomorrow. That blows my Mondays and Tuesdays. It would be oh so nice to know the schedule ahead of time, but that’s not how they roll here. I have no idea how people function like this.
Jordan arrived yesterday and it’s good to have him back. His friend will arrive next Friday and we’ll take off for a weekend at Majete Game Park. It’ll be our last visit there, maybe forever. George will take some time off to take them to Domwe Island and I’ll join them for a three day hiking finale the following weekend. Time’s getting short.
The poinsettias are blooming and the rain is less and less frequent. The temperature is dropping and the breeze has a bit of a chill in the morning. I had to wear a sweater this morning. We can see stars at night now. It’s interesting to feel such an attachment to a place while separating yourself from it. I wonder if I’ll be back? I feel quite uncertain about what shape my future will take, but for some reason, I’m ok with that right now. Something about having my child nearby makes everything all right.
Ukayenda pa njira usamagulula mano, udzasowa chodyera nyama~ If you go somewhere, do not take out your teeth, you will not be able to eat meat.~ Chewa Proverb
April 15, 2018
Ok, where were we? I believe we had just gotten to Chocas and settled into our seaside bungalow just behind the dune dotted with coconut palms. The pristine beach was a twenty foot walk over the dune. The water was shallow, warm, and salty. I know it was the ocean, but it seemed salty even for the ocean. I was drawn to it and was swimming at dawn. That’s remarkable for me. Facing India, the sun rises out of the water and was incredibly dramatic with the clouds changing by the minute. I sat there each morning watching it come through the clouds. When we arrived at this lodge several local men were trying to get us to agree to a boat trip to an island where the snorkeling was supposed to be great. We told them we couldn’t do anything until we found some gasoline for our car. One of them, named John, assured us he knew where to find some, only two kilometers away. Given how remote we were that seemed doubtful, but there were lots of motorcycles around and some of the boats had outboard motors, so we knew they must have been getting gas somewhere. We spent the first afternoon relaxing in the hammock, and the evening dining on the most exquisite prawns I have ever ingested. Both of us were groaning in delight through the entire meal. I didn’t want it to end. These shrimp are huge, about the size of a small Maine lobster, and grilled with garlic it was so fantastic. And they had Portuguese Vino Verde and excellent Mozambican beer! We nearly didn’t care about the gas anymore! The restaurant was very basic and we had our doubts when we realized it was the only place to eat, but whoa, it was fantastic. And not expensive. Tuesday morning, after our sunrise swim, John showed up at our bungalow wanting us to confirm the boat trip. He offered to accompany George to the village to get gas. George went off with John to find petrol while I sat in the hammock reading. The plan was to go to breakfast when they returned and then go out in John’s friend’s boat (a little unclear on those details) for a ride and a snorkel. I figured they’d be gone a half hour at the most. Turns out I got quite a bit of reading done. Every time I heard a vehicle I thought, “Ah. There they are.” and then the sound slowly disappeared into the distance. I was getting nervous. I started thinking of terrible scenarios. What if they kidnapped him? What if they ran out of gas and couldn’t find any more? Maybe they were stuck in the mud and waiting for someone to dig them out? We didn’t get SIM cards for our phones so couldn’t be in touch (won’t do that again; refer to above proverb) and my imagination was running away with me. Two hours had passed. Even with all the imagined scenarios (aside from the kidnapping) he should have been back by then. I should have gone with him! I should have known better than to let hm go off by himself! Then I thought, knowing George, he’s probably in some village with a family having a meal and yukking it up. I was trying to suppress my growing panic. Another half hour went by and finally the car pulled in with George not looking as happy as I hoped. Which, made me think he was not sporting a full tank of gas, but at least he was alive. I asked, “What happened?!” He said, “Well I learned a lot about the local economy here. I’ll tell you about it at breakfast.” So we walked over to the restaurant part of the beach while he told me the story of driving around stopping at local houses where they sell petrol by the Fanta bottle. Turns out when there is a delivery at the gas station in Mouserril, enterprising villagers go buy a bunch of it and fill up small plastic bottles then sell them at a little profit when the station runs out. George drove around buying a liter here, a liter there until he had sixteen liters in the tank and figured that would be enough to get us to the main road, sixty kilometers away. He looked exhausted. I asked, “You are sure it is gasoline?” He said the car was running ok, so he assumed so. He said, “You know all those tables we pass with bottles full of what we thought was cooking oil? It’s all gasoline or diesel.” Who knew? All that anxiety for nothing.
The guys with the boat were sitting in front of the restaurant waiting for us to finish our shrimp omelet to make their money for the week, taking us out in the baking sun to snorkel around while they sit and watch. It was a little awkward. For our $70 they also offered free snorkeling gear and a fresh coconut which John said he’d open for us as part of the deal. It was a bit of a fly-by-night operation, but he did find the petrol as promised in a round about way, so we figured he’d saved us a bunch of money not having to take a bigger boat out of there to find gas. We waded out to the heavy-looking, old-looking, wooden boat, which did not have any life preservers among the fetid water and trash lying at the bottom. I mumbled, “No life jackets.” to which George replied, “It’s a wooden boat. If it capsizes, it will float.” Why did I not find that reassuring? And then I started thinking, why would anyone make a boat out of a material that doesn’t float? Like I’m supposed to appreciate it is wood and wood floats?But once we got going I felt like the boat was sturdy and we were never out of sight of land. It felt ok and they seemed to know what they were doing. The sun was baking hot, so hot I even put on sunscreen. When we got out to a coral reef they stopped the boat and George and I jumped in with the snorkel gear they’d given us. I think I mentioned before I don’t like putting that mouthpiece in with someone else’s teethmarks in it, but it was so hot I let it slide. I could only snorkel for so long before I needed to look up and make sure they hadn’t sailed away. George seemed right at home and was enthralled with the underwater scenery. A half hour with my face in the water was about as much as I could take. And I felt awkward with them in the boat, baking in the sun waiting for us. I swam around for awhile until George was satisfied that he’d seen all he wanted and then we paddled back to the boat. Trying to get back in the boat was ridiculous! Here’s George, 77 years old, recovering from pneumonia, grabs the side and hauls himself out of the water and into the boat in one swift motion. I thought, ok, that looks easy. Hah! I could not even get my abdomen above the water. Two of them had to grab my arms and haul me into the boat. It was not graceful and I did not like it. I felt like a dog. We weren’t that far from the Island of Seven Trees (obviously named a while ago before the other two hundred grew) and I almost said I’d just swim to shore, but I managed to compose myself and we headed to the island.They are supposedly building a new hotel on this island, and something resembling a building site was there but it sure looks like construction has come to a standstill. A few guys were sitting around the piles of materials under one of the seven (maybe) original trees, and I could see it could be an incredibly beautiful spot when it’s finished, but not sure where that stands. We walked along the beach there for awhile watching the tide come in then went back to the boat to head back to our place. On the boat ride back John opened a coconut for each of us with a stone and we had a nice drink. The outing was very basic but had a certain charm. John told us there was a five star resort about three kilometers from our lodge and later that afternoon we thought we’d walk along the beach to find it and maybe have a drink there. We walked along with thousands of sand crabs running all over the place, for over an hour but never came to the resort. It turns out it was a little further than three kilometers, probably more like three miles. It was starting to get dark so we turned around. We’d walked by some groups of fishermen, not exactly friendly, and were a little uncomfortable going by again in the dusk, so we went up to the road and started walking back that way. We came to a sign for Namahamande Lodge which was not the name of our lodge. We thought there was only one place to stay in Chocas and we were staying at it (the five star place doesn’t count). Curious, I wanted to check the place out and see about having a beer there.
What a cute funky place!It’s brand new though looks like it’s been there for ages, built into the landscape, an incredibly simple structure that looks like it could have been the set for a Gilligan’s Island episode. It was empty except for a couple of staff who were eager to accommodate us. We each ordered a beer and took a seat in the thatched dining area that had woven bamboo beds lining the waist-high bamboo walls. I wondered if that’s where people slept? If so, it was definitely a backpackers, young-crowd type of place. We drank our beer while watching the sunset on one side with the moon rising on the other.We weren’t too far from our lodge but weren’t familiar with the road so decided we’d go back down to the beach and walk back that way. It seemed safer in the dark. As we were leaving, the owner of the place came around a corner with a huge dog and we started chatting. He’s an American from North Carolina, looks exactly like my friend Steve, also from North Carolina, and they have the same last name. I must find out if they are related, though I’d have thought Steve would have told me if he had a cousin living so close to us. Anyway, his name is Kent Powell and has an interesting story: he went to Mozambique for a six month project building an orphanage and is still there fifteen years later. Now owning a piece of this incredible coast with his Brazilian wife, the local government required him to do something with it that involved tourism. So he started this lodge. I think he said they had their first reservation in December so quickly had to make a restaurant so the guests would have somewhere to eat. I was thinking what irony that the government was requiring him to do something about tourism when it seemed to me the major problem with getting tourists there was the road!Anyway, fun chat with interesting characters. I love that part of traveling.
We walked back to our bungalow and got dressed to go to supperand by that I mean we took our bathing suits off. I wanted to try the lobster but it was no where near as good as the prawns. It was huge, so there was plenty of meat, but it was a bit tough and dry and I was sorry I didn’t get the prawns again. George had squid and was also a little disappointed. There was just no comparison for those prawns. My mouth waters as I write this.
The next morning we considered what to do with the rest of our days. It hadn’t rained so we knew the road out wouldn’t be worse than it was when we came in, we had some gas, and we’d heard about an eco lodge just north of Nacala which was about three hours drive from where we were. We’d heard Nacala Bay was beautiful and knowing we might not get back to Mozambique any time soon, wanted to see a little more of it. So we had breakfast and set off. On our way we stopped to see Nossa Senhora dos Remedies (Our Lady of the Remedies), the oldest actively used church in sub-Saharan Africa. It was built in 1579 for the Dominicans who had a convent on Mozambique Island, and I guess had a boat to cross over.It was only a couple of kilometers from where we were staying, completely isolated on this gorgeous piece of land by the water. It had a very european altarpiece and was in remarkable condition, I thought. The caretaker was there and George was communicating with him in Spanish. He gave us a little of the history and said they’d had an Easter mass there. That would have been an event to attend. Sorry I missed that! The only reason we knew about this church was that a couple we spoke with at dinner the night before mentioned it. It wasn’t in our guidebook, but was an incredible gem.
The road out wasn’t nearly as bad as it was driving in. It was still muddy, but nothing like the standing water we went through a couple of days earlier. We made it to the main road, then to the highway where we filled up the gas tank, vowing never to let it go below a half tank again. And off we went to a luxury lodge to splurge a little for the next three nights.
We never made it. Armed with a false sense of security with that full tank of gas and having navigated what we thought was the worst road we’d ever be on, we went forty kilometers, following the signs, toward Nuarro Lodge. Even thought each turnoff was marked by a sign, there was no distance on the sign and we were going by someone telling us it took them four hours from Mozambique Island. We were an hour closer than that, so we figured three hours, then add another one for good measure, and were sure we’d be there by early afternoon. Did that four-hour-person say be prepared with chains and a tow truck? No, she did not. We drove and drove and drove, never worried about getting stuck, but worried about puncturing something with the rocks and absence of parts of the actual road where it had been washed away. Every time we got through a rough patch we’d say, “Ok, there. We’re almost there. We must be close now. Yup! I can feel it! We’re almost there!” We’d say this based on nothing. No actual facts. Just a “feeling” which turns out was way more wishful thinking that an intuitive sense of where the destination was. It was getting late. We were glad we were staying for three nights as it would give us a chance to recover from this drive! Through villages and long stretches of nothingness, we asked a few people how much further and got vague responses or just an arm pointing. At four o’clock (it gets dark at 5:15) we got to a section of “road” that was completely impassible. The mud was about a meter deep and two guys were having a hard time pushing a motorcycle through it, and they were up off the road in a cornfield. People were trying to walk through it and couldn’t. George stopped driving and said, “We can’t make it through this.” I thought we had to be close enough to walk from there. We’d gone twenty kilometers past where we thought it would be. I thought if it was only another two kilometers we could walk it and leave the car there. George asked a couple guys how far to the lodge. They said between twenty and thirty kilometers! Walking was out of the question. We were defeated. We had no way to call the lodge, no way to get out if we got stuck, no food in the car, and no more optimism. (Refer to above proverb) George got back in the car and miraculously got it turned around. Here I’d been thinking I didn’t want to drive that road again for at least three days and now we had to do it immediately, mostly in the dark. Not good.
George is reading a book called Venture to the Interior, by Laurens Van Der Post. In it, the author talks about how colonialism has affected the people of various countries. The British didn’t care so much about Malawi. There was no port and no valuable natural resources, so there wasn’t much to exploit. He speculates that is why Malawians are so friendly and welcoming. Mozambique, on the other hand, got the shit kicked out of it by the Portuguese. Second only to Zanzibar, it was the major site for the brutal slave market. They’ve had a civil war in their recent past and the difficulty and expense of getting a visa has all made for a decline in tourism. The people weren’t exactly unfriendly, but it didn’t feel especially welcoming. We didn’t speak the language and it just didn’t feel as safe as in Malawi. We did not want to get stuck in a remote village being unable to communicate and felt a bit vulnerable. Everyone we had asked for directions had demanded money, not a common behavior in Malawi. We were focused on getting back to the main road, forty kilometers away, without incident. It took three hours, two in the pitch dark. Fortunately our car has great lights, including ones on the roof rack, so I’m sure we looked like a space ship going through these villages. We made it back to the incredibly busy port of Nacala by eight o’clock, desperate to find a place to stay. The traffic was ridiculous! Cars cutting us off, the road pocked with huge potholes, a few traffic lights which no one stopped at. We weren’t even sure what the road rules were! Huge trucks were taking up most of the narrow roads and we were tired and wanted to find shelter. George was still driving, having all he could do to see the road, so I was watching for a sign indicating a lodge, which I finally saw, and we turned out of the worst of the traffic. Another ten kilometers and I saw another sign that pointed to a dirt road which said, Libulula Lodge 2.1 kilometers. Finally! A sign that actually tells you something! And two point one kilometers later I had another JP2 moment when we arrived safely. It was a backpackers lodge, with an open restaurant and an available room for a reasonable rate, though, they could have named their price at that point. George said, “Let’s stay here three nights.” I said, “Let’s eat and sleep and make that decision in the morning when we can see what it looks like here.”
In the morning there was a huge tanker sitting outside our “ocean view” room and we took that as a sign to move on. They did have good wifi there, though, and I went online and found another eco lodge on a marine reserve only fifteen kilometers away! Perfect! We decided tohave breakfast and set off. Do you think we could find the road to the eco lodge? No we could not. We spent two hours driving up and down the main road looking for the turnoff, asking everyone we could if they knew where the road was; no one had heard of the lodge. A bus driver sent us to a different lodge, where we asked at reception for the directions to the lodge we wanted (awkward). They didn’t know. We were about to give up. I thought maybe God did not want us to stay at a luxury lodge. We were arguing. George said that if we were going to argue why don’t we do it at a cheaper place and just spend the night where we were last night? I had to admit there was logic to that but wasn’t speaking to him so didn’t answer. We’d passed a sign for a restaurant/bar called the Thirsty Whale. I have a friend in Bar Harbor who owns a restaurant/bar by that same name, and I wanted to take a photo of it. Being lunch time at this point, we decided to go there, have lunch, regroup, and see if we could find someone who knew of Ossimba, the eco lodge, which I was starting to doubt existed.
The owner of the Thirsty Whale was a Zimbabwean (spoke English!) who was welcoming and personable and friendly as can be. He said, “You are welcome to stay here!” (awkward) as they had rooms as well and no one to occupy them. Tourism is really way down. Wow. But I told him we’d already made a reservation at this other place, and when I told him the name, knew exactly where it was. He said he’d been there that morning on a 17 kilometer run. (He was fit as well as friendly.) He drew us a detailed map as the road is completely unmarked through a village. Now, does that make sense? It didn’t to me. Why would you have a tourist destination that no one could find? Well, we learned most of the people staying at this place get picked up at the local airport and driven there. This wasn’t a place for travelers on a budget. We decided if we couldn’t find it within a half hour we’d go back to cheapville with oil tankers.But his map was perfect and we drove fifteen kilometers through more water, forded streams with washed-away bridges, and arrived at the most glorious luxury lodge imaginable. They were not expecting us. They hadn’t checked their email. But, there was no way I was getting back in that car. I didn’t care if we slept on the beach. But it was no problem, they ran around getting us tea, finding the proprietor who’d had a recent knee replacement and was recuperating, but very welcoming. We sipped tea, looking out at the ocean while they got our room ready and it was sublime. Ten exclusive bungalows were situated between mangroves, each with their own isolated beach facing out to India (I think). Oh my God, it was beautiful. And the room! We walked in and George said, “Ok. We are going to stop arguing.”it was glorious. Gorgeous snorkeling right outside our bungalow, attentive but not intrusive staff, all solar powered and built from natural materials, outdoor showers, plush cotton robes, the works. It also had a lovely bar and sitting/dining area with comfy couches and good wine. Kevin, the guy who built and owns it, is South African and was formerly a businessman in the wine industry. The wine was good. It was a fabulous way to end the trip and I’m glad we ended up there. We watched incredible storm clouds come in which made for a spectacular sunsets and we could see it raining right over the peninsula where Nuarro Lodge was located. If we had made it in there we would never have gotten out.
So, we’ve learned a few lessons and will not take our teeth out when traveling in Africa. We’ve got a new list of staples to keep in the car on our next road trip.
It’s been a busy week but it’s getting late and I think I’ll save those stories for next week.
It’s early and I know I won’t have time to write all I want about this trip before we have to be on the road back to Malawi, but I’ll get started and finish it next week. We drove three hours yesterday to get as far as Nampula so we’d only have ten hours to go today. It’s been a great trip and I have a little feeling of dread about getting home tonight and facing the next few weeks. I keep wondering if I could just make a career out of travel writing, but then I guess that would take some of the fun out of it. We have had few anxiety-provoking adventures, as always, but we really do travel well together and are a good team. Every time we take a trip we get more reinforcement of that.
Mozambique Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s much smaller than I expected, about a mile long and a quarter mile wide. It was the capital of Mozambique for a couple of centuries under Portuguese rule but moved to Maputo when the trade routes changed. The governor’s mansion still has it’s original furnishings and is the most European building I’ve seen on this continent. I felt like I was in a museum in Portugal. The island is crowded; there is very little space that does not have a building on it and most of those are crumbling. Many have been renovated, but most of the small alleyways look as if they are condemned. The southern half is sunken because that’s where they took all the stones to build the fort at the northern tip of the island. The poor people live in the sunken area called Makuti Town, in thatched roofed houses made of mud. The nicer section is called Stonetown where all the buildings are made from stone taken from Makuti. We were told when they had heavy rains a few years ago all of Makuti was under water. They installed major drainage ditches in the sunken narrow streets to keep the houses above water. It looks like you’d lose several children a week in them, but I guess there is no traffic down there, so there’s a trade off. There used to be five thousand people on the island but during the civil war another fifteen thousand found refuge there and stayed. It’s a bit overcrowded. The beaches are used for ablutions so swimming there is out of the question. Do not go there for a beach holiday. We discovered it is 98% muslim, probably why Easter wasn’t a big deal. I mean when the Catholic church doesn’t even have a mass on Easter, that’s saying something. It was blisteringly hot and George was recovering from a nasty virus that turned into pneumonia, so we didn’t push ourselves too much. We walked the fort, toured the museum, and strolled the streets. The food was fabulous. Oh my God, the best seafood ever, cooked to perfection. The bread was amazing, and wine was good too. Thank you Portugal; I must visit you sometime. We sort of ate our way through the city. But after three nights we’d had enough there so decided to say goodbye to our hosts, Bruno and Judith, and head for Chocas where we’d heard there was a gorgeous beach and more good food. Bruno had advised us to take a boat over from the Island. Chocas is on the coast of the mainland and only a few miles across the bay from the Island so we considered sailing over for a day or two but then if we wanted to move on, which we thought we might, we wanted to have our car there. Bruno said the road was a dirt one and might be bad but we told him the road we live on was dirt and pretty bad, so we weren’t worried. We were basing this erroneous assumption on the condition of the main roads we’d been on. Silly us.
We left the Island on Monday but first visited the Memorial Garden where the slaves were warehoused before being boarded onto ships to sail for whenever they were to be enslaved. Harrowing. Mozambique Island was a center for slave trade. There was not a lot of signage or description of events, and the upkeep was lacking, but the horror of that part of history was evident. Awful.
Sobered, we headed off the island and around the bay to Chocas. We needed gas and passed a few stations on the way to our turnoff, but none had any petrol. We had a quarter of a tank and sixty kilometers to go, so thought we’d have enough to make it there and felt surely there would be some petrol near there since it was such a tourist destination (you might see where this is going). We found the turnoff, no problem (I was driving) and started on the forty kilometers of dirt road which had just been saturated with about seven inches of rain. Ponds. We had to drive through ponds. Many of them had edges of the road showing, so I could keep a couple of wheels on what we knew was earth and slowly make it through, but three of them were just ponds. No idea how deep. We were in four wheel drive the whole time which was eating up the gas, but it was totally impossible to turn around. I was thinking just go steady, keep up the momentum, and every tough patch we got through seemed a huge accomplishment. A pickup truck was coming toward us and stopped to talk to us. He asked if we were going to Chocas as he’d just come from there. He said, “I’m just telling you, the road gets really bad.” I’m like, “What do you mean ‘get’s really bad? Worse than this?” “Oh”, he said, “Much worse than this. If you have four wheel drive you might make it.” It was twenty more kilometers and it had taken him an hour. We asked if he passed any gas stations? He asked his passenger if there was gas in any of the villages we were passing. She said, there was, in Mousseril, about another ten kilometers. Ok, that was good news since we were almost on empty at that point. And he was right. The road got really bad. Some parts of it were washed away, but the car was great and managed to get through mud and water and parts of the bush where the road was gone. I was thinking there was no way I was doing this road again in the near future. I was considering just moving to Chocas. And he was also right that there was a gas station in Mousseril, but that station also had no gas. The rule of thumb when traveling in Africa is to fill your tank every time you pass a gas station. We are now more aware of abiding by that rule. We had ten kilometers to go, I was exhausted from gripping the wheel and being anxious about running out of gas. Walking through that mud was not an appealing thought. And then what would we do? We started brainstorming. George said he’d pay someone to take a motorcycle to find some. Then I thought maybe we could take a boat back to Mozambique Island and find some there, but we just wanted to concentrate on getting to Chocas, which we finally did in one piece and with a few fumes to spare in the tank. We found the lodge with sweet little bungalows on a beautiful beach and I felt like doing, what I call, a JP2 move––getting prostrate and kissing the ground.
We’ve got to get going so I will finish this later…
…and now it’s fourteen hours later, we’re home safe, no problems, but George didn’t pay the internet bill before we left (he could barely get out of bed) so we don’t have internet. He’s going to try to connect with a hotspot from his phone, but I’m not sure this will get posted. The story is on hold until next week. I got What’s App message saying the course I was supposed to start teaching this week actually started last Tuesday. I have no idea where that stands and can’t get on-line to email anyone to ask. Ugh. And so it begins. The women’s group is supposed to come here tomorrow morning and a local news program was supposed to come and do a little story about them. I don’t know where that stands either. We have been totally incommunicado so have no idea what’s going on in the world. Living in the dark for a week was quite nice time to face reality…
Bruno and his wife Judith are our proprietors at the Jardim dos Aloes, a bed and breakfast in Stonetown on the tiny Ilha Moçambique off the mainland of Mozambique. We eat breakfast together along with the other guests, outside under a huge, what I think is fig, tree. It’s shady and cool. Yesterday we were talking about how difficult the process of getting a visa to this country is. Bruno, who is from Italy but has lived here for forty years, said, “Yes, the good thing about having visitors here is, if you travel to northern Mozambique, you REALLY want to come here. We don’t get any whiners.”
Getting a visa took the better part of one day and the small part of a second. It’s possible to get a visa at the border, but we’d heard that could take hours and there isn’t a place to stay near there so it’d hard to make it all the way to Macuba before dark. We decided not to chance it, even though it was said to be cheaper at the border. I thought it couldn’t be that much cheaper, so decided to bite the bullet and go to the Mozambique consulate to obtain one. We were leaving after noontime and that meant getting to the border around three, and if we got held up it might be dangerous getting the 180 kilometers to Macuba where there was accomodation. To get a visa you must have in your possession, a bank statement, a reservation for three nights lodging, a passport, and money. I went on Tuesday morning, telling my colleagues I’d be about an hour before being back on campus. Ha ha ha. Very funny. One said, “Oh, you think you are back in the states!” I’d heard they were rude at the consulate, but really didn’t understand the scope of the inconvenience. I had all my papers in order, my checkbook, and a book to read. I was prepared. I arrived when it opened at 8 and waited to be let in the locked door, a minor hurdle, was first in line and ready for surly attitudes with a smile. After all! I was going on vacation! I handed over all the required papers and was told to have a seat. I wondered why, since there was no one else there, but did as I was told. Another woman came in and handed in all her documents, clearly had done this before as she had them all in a tidy bag ready to relinquish. She then took a seat beside me. I read, she sent messages on her phone, for a long time. At nine, my companion went to the window and asked how much longer it would be since she had an appointment at 9:30. They told her to take her seat. She came back and said, “They aren’t doing anything! They are just sitting there!” About fifteen minutes later they called me and I jumped up, ready to pay my money, take my visa and leave, but no. They handed me a deposit slip. I then had to go to one specific bank, about three miles away, deposit the money and bring the slip back, then proceed with the visa application. I thought, you are kidding! But these people are not to be argued with. I looked at the other woman, she nodded, yup, that’s what you have to do, then told me, “Don’t worry. It’s worth it.” I went t the bank. I waited in line. I handed them my check and the deposit slip, to be told that it is not the correct deposit slip for a check. It was a deposit slip only for cash. I got out of the line, found the correct deposit slip, filled it out in duplicate, waited in another line, and when I got to the window, easily made the deposit and got my receipt. Then I went back to the consulate, waited again at the locked door to be let in and relieved I was through the ordeal of banking (an unpleasant experience in Malawi) handed over my deposit slip. The woman looked at it in horror. “Where is the one I gave you? I gave you a slip for cash. This is a check deposit slip.” she said as if I had taken her money and spent it. I told her I didn’t have that much cash so had to write a check. She said, “We only allow cash.” My patience had run out at that point and I asked her what’s the difference? The money will go into this account. She just handed me the slip back and said, “Only cash.” I said, “What am I supposed to do? They already have my check and it’s not my bank. Can’t you just call my bank to confirm the money is in there?” No, apparently she couldn’t. So I went three miles back to the bank, found a guy controlling the crowd who worked there, told him my story and asked if he could somehow get the check back. I was trying not to wait in the line again and he was very nice and said he’d be right back. He had to talk to the manager. Quickly, and by that I mean about fifteen minutes later, he came back and said, we can give it back but we need the slip we gave you, which I had just left at the consulate in case I couldn’t get my check back. Ugh. I walked another mile to my bank, got cash, went back to the other bank, deposited the cash in the consulate’s account, got the slip, went back to the consulate, gave it to the woman (who was all smiles that I had done it correctly), gave me my other slip back, went back to the bank, found the nice man who helped me, and gave him the slip. A mere five minutes later he came back with my check, I gushed thanks, and off I went, soaking with sweat to work. I STILL had to go back to the consulate the next day to collect the visa, because apparently, even though they can do it immediately at the border, they take two days to do it in the air conditioned plush office with several staff sitting and talking to each other. Other than that it was a breeze.
But that woman was right, it was so worth it. The border crossing on Thursday was relatively smooth, but still took an hour. We have to pay for the car, get special insurance, fill out forms that have been copied so many times they are unreadable. It didn’t appear anyone read them anyway, so I needn’t have worried about doing them correctly. For some reason the building made me think of Cuba. It could have been the berets on the policemen with the machine guns in their hands. I must have seen pictures of that or something. After we’d done all we thought we had to, we got in the car to see if someone would open the gate to let us pass. Only thirty five minutes! Hah! Who said it takes an hour? But no one came to open the gate. Then, at my window, was a slight man in a white coat wanting to talk to us. I greeted him in English. I know no Portuguese and don’t even know what the local language is. Very few people speak English we’ve found. He was asking something about yellow fever and I though he was asking if we’d been to a yellow fever country so I said, “No. No yellow fever.” Uh oh. This was a problem. George, in the meantime and pulled out his yellow fever card and the guy brightened up. Oh! He wanted the card! I have that. He motioned to us to get out of the car to follow him to a one-room cement building with no window where he had a desk with a huge log book. He recorded us in there then said to come near so he could take our temperature! George had been sick all week, but was feeling much better, thank God, but I was hoping he wouldn’t start coughing. I was afraid they wouldn’t let anyone sick in. But our temperatures were normal. Ok! Finally! We can get on our way! Nope. Next is the police room, another cement one-room place, next door. But they had a hanging purple curtain diving the room, maybe for interrogation or something. Not sure. More recording in log books, close passport scrutiny, a few questions about what we do in Blantyre. The whole while George was trying to speak Spanish and make jolly. While that did make them smile, I thought it was holding up the process. They are not good at multitasking. We passed that test and asked, “Any more? Are we ok to go?” They nodded. We got back in the car and edged toward the gate. Another guy came to the window with another log book in his hand. “Passport”, he said, not unkindly. At this point I was sick of putting it away and taking it out again. I thought I should just leave it out but worry I’ll forget where it is. He wrote down a bunch of our information in another log book, handed the passports back, and opened the gate. We were free. It took an hour. Everyone was right. I can’t imagine what it would be like to get the visa there, though it is $30 cheaper.
But it was so worth it! The road was smooth, no traffic, scenery spectacular, and our car has air-conditioning. It is really hot and it made the drive so much nicer. We got to Macuba after dark however and finding a place to stay was tricky. After asking a few people in George’s Spanish, we managed to get a clean room that seemed safe and slept pretty well. We didn’t bother with supper. Turns out we didn’t bother with breakfast on Friday either. No place to eat, so we just got in the car and drove. It was Good Friday and we were supposed to be fasting anyway. Which we pretty much did, until we got to the Island, or Ilha as they say here. None of the police understood us when they asked where we were going and we said, “Mozambique Island”. George had to say ‘Ilha’ and then they’d nod and let us go. We crossed the three and a half kilometer one-lane bridge, maneuvered through through the tiny streets and could not find our accommodation. We stopped to ask at a few places and a young man heard George asking directions, said he knew of it and offered to get in the car. I was a little leery of that, but it seemed like we had no choice. Turns out, we would never have found this place without him. It was not accessible by car so he instructed us to leave the car in a central square and follow him down two alleys (it was daylight, so this wasn’t as frightening as it might have been), where he safely delivered us to the door of this delightful haven. Behind the stone wall is a world of it’s own, exotic and welcoming, with smiling gregarious hosts and a glass of fresh pear juice to sip while Bruno explained all the places to visit and eat.
Yesterday we spent the morning in the museum, walked the fort in brutal heat, walked the length of the island and back, then sipped fresh lemonade while we watched the sunset. We are gorging on fresh fabulous seafood and making a plan for the rest of the week. I got up early today to go to mass, but the church is closed up tight. Bruno told me at breakfast he’d call the priest and ask when mass is, but then thought better of it as he might then be expected to go to mass. I decided I’d get the travelers dispensation and sat down to breakfast of poached pears, quiche with homemade ricotta, Portuguese ham, homemade easter bread and strong tea, all communal at the heavy table on Portuguese china, under the tree. Life is good.
Zinapangana zinaulukira pamodzi ~ They agreed amongst one another and flew away together.
~ Malawian proverb
March 25, 2018
I am reading a book called A Heart for the Work, Journeys through an African Medical School by Claire Wendland. She worked in Malawi as a medical student, then came back several years later as an anthropologist. In the prologue she reflects on what it must be like to be a medical student here without having experience in the land of a million resources. She writes: “Would they, like me, at one moment want to stay forever and the next count the days until they could leave, while feeling guilty for counting?” I read that sentence many times. It’s a dichotomy I struggle with often.
Week three of clinical rotation is finished and the coming week will be a short one because of the Easter holiday, for which I want to get on my knees and thank God. I’ve had to leave the ward several times because I could not bear to watch what they were doing to women there. They clean open gaping wounds with “spirits” which is just plain alcohol. You know when you get a little alcohol on a razor cut when shaving, or on your finger when you’ve got a paper cut, and it hurts like hell? Well, they scrub out open abdominal wounds with this stuff and I swear it’s like being in Guantanamo. The protocol is to medicate them a half hour before but often the medication is “out of stock” and they just rip the bandage off and do this while the women cry and scream. It’s ghastly. I can’t teach this. I can’t tell the students this is how to clean a wound, so I found myself retreating down the corridor with my head hanging and feeling like a complete and utter failure. I met with the students every afternoon last week from three to five in our clean(ish) classroom, as far away from the ward as I could get, to discuss this and let them vent. They hate doing it too, but will be tested and graded on how well they perform this task. I was honest that I don’t believe this is the way to treat wounds but I know it is the protocol they must follow, but also that they have the capacity to change things when they graduate. It felt like a cop out. Here’s my colleague having a discussion about whether they should scrub in a circular motion or in a linear one and the students burst out laughing at the expression on my face. Horror. It’s one of those moments when I feel like I’ve got to get out of here. Thursday afternoon we’ll be on the road to Mozambique and I hope to come back from that ten day break with an attitude adjustment.
On Friday the Tiyamike women came to discuss plans for the future and what to do with the money earned. I was totally stressed at work and had to be on campus for an 8 a.m. exam vetting meeting. I was clear I had to leave by nine to meet with these women and wanted the meeting to start on time. It was 8:40 by the time everyone arrived and I was irritated. I left shortly after nine even though it was not finished, only to get home and wait until almost ten for the women to arrive. I should have known. Then Eneless sent a message that she couldn’t come, but “good luck!” I then had a panic attack because if Peter, the other teacher didn’t come the whole thing would be a bust since the women don’t speak English and my Chichewa just isn’t that good. Fortunately, he came though and was able to translate, as I had a lot I wanted to say to them. As soon as everyone was seated under the mango tree I started by telling them how proud I was that they were so dedicated to the class and how impressed I was by how fast they learned a new skill. I told them I wanted them to have a discussion about how to move forward but wanted them to understand what everything cost. I laid out all the materials and told them what I paid for it all. I also explained how much time I spent searching the market in Limbe for the supplies. If they wanted to continue, it would now be their job to do that. I wanted to give them the skills to continue on their own. I shared some ideas I had for selling their creations in the salons and guest houses. I asked them to think of new ways to market their products (Don’t do it the same way as all the men). I asked if they wanted to continue as one group or form smaller groups closer to their homes. They all said they wanted to continue as one group but would meet in a more central location. They might search for a community space or church to use but wanted to avoid paying rent. (This all seemed incredibly well thought out.) They said they wanted to meet once a month at my house to show their goods and maybe get another lesson. All this was great. Then money talk got complicated.
We made a total of 104,500 Kwacha at the sale. We needed to decide what to do with the money. That conversation didn’t go as smoothly as the where-to-meet one did. Several of the women wanted to buy more supplies and open a bank account. There was long discussion about that but it two women didn’t agree. One thought the money should just be divided up equally among the group and that’s it; everyone goes off with 10,000 Kwacha. Lots of animated Chichewa was flying around, clearly in disagreement. They have a distinctive scolding tone when someone is behaving, in what they consider, to be inappropriate. One member was crunched up in a corner, pouting. She was being scolded. I asked Peter to tell me what was going on. He said there was disagreement and the discussion wasn’t moving toward resolution so there would be a vote. I said, “Ah, ok. That seems fair.” Then the vote happened and it was eight to one in favor of buying supplies and opening a bank account. I thought, Well then. There. That’s settled…But no. That’s not how this works. If everyone doesn’t agree then it’s not settled. Lots more discussion. Lots more. Lots more scolding. Exasperation. Angry words. I asked Peter to translate again as I watched the pouter turn further into herself. Peter pointed to her and said, “This one does not agree to save some of the money. She wants her full share.” That got my back up a little. I said, “Really? Her full share? When the others want to buy supplies and put some in the bank?” I told Peter I’d like to say something and wanted him to translate. One of the women had taken a tailoring course. I asked her to tell the group how much she paid for the course. She said it was 70,000 Kwacha for the year but they have shorter ones for 15,000 Kwacha. I looked at the women and said, “So she had to pay to learn a new skill, right? I have given you this class as a gift. I did not ask you to pay. I have paid the teachers and bought the supplies. It was my gift to you. I did not expect that we would make this much money, so now we have the chance to receive another gift. You can save some and create a business together so you can have an income. That will give you more money in the future than if you take it and spend it all now.” Most of the women were nodding in agreement. Lots of affirmation murmuring. The pouter took her arms away from her face and nodded in agreement. Peter turned to me and said, “Now she understands.” So they figured out how much it would cost to buy more varnish, glue, twine, and other needed supplies like scissors. It came to 30,000 Kwacha. That would be enough for them to make a lot more jewelry. I suggested they put the same amount into a bank account and split what was left over for their transportation costs. That was all met with hearty agreement. So they all took 5,000 Kwacha (about $6.50, and the equivalent of a week’s salary) for their personal use, they chose three women to go shopping for supplies, and two to go to the bank to open an account. We agreed to meet again on April 9th. Then one of the women asked if we could hold hands and pray. We formed a circle and held hands while she said a lengthy prayer of thanks. It was very moving for me. No matter what happens, this has been worth it.
I have to scramble to find someone to come talk to them about handling the business side of this. It is way more than I can handle right now. I asked our Peace Corps liaison if there were a traditional volunteer around who was working on forming women’s cooperatives. Waiting to hear back on that one.
In addition to all this, there was a half page story in the Malawi newspaper about the group and I heard there was a story on the television as well! I don’t have a TV so I am hoping there is a tape of it somewhere. The newspaper link is: https://www.times.mw/women-get-art-skills/ and I’ll work on finding the video. Enelless just sent me a screen shot of my face on the television.
Next week from the coast of the Indian Ocean! Can. Not. Wait.
Citsiru cinaomba ng’oma ocenjera nabina ~ The fool beat the drum while the clever ones danced.
~ Malawian proverb
March 18, 2018
I gave up alcohol for lent, forgetting that the first year students would be starting clinical and the women’s group would be having their graduation and jewelry sale during that time. I’m really proud of my ability to find the calming effects of lemongrass tea, sipped while ripping my hair out. But we made it through the week without killing a patient (I think), and the graduation/ jewelry sale yesterday was a success. And it’s Sunday, which, doesn’t count toward lent so wine is on today’s menu.
We hadn’t really defined what “success” meant for our Saturday sale, but I based the description on the fact that it didn’t rain, people showed up, people bought stuff, the women were proud and happy, we got great feedback, and some offered us new ideas. That was plenty good for me. I’d had very low expectations for this project. If ten women learned a new skill, I figured it was worth the money I spent on supplies, artists’ stipends, and snacks. I was stressed about making certificates for the women. I couldn’t find anyone with a color copier, so made them from a template on my mac and printed them on yellow paper to look festive. They were a hit. Friday was our final class and a reporter from the Malawi News station and newspaper came to do a story about the women. Eneless suggested we display everything for the video (and possible TV story). That added an hour of running around Friday, but it turned out to be good prep for Saturday; we got some display kinks worked out. I do love displaying things and the class found that very entertaining. They watched me with fascination. I love Malawian crafts but display is not their strong suit. Everything is usually piled up in a heap and you have to paw through it all. The reporter made some videos of the women making jewelry, did some interviews, and supposedly it will be in the paper sometime this week. About three minutes after the class ended, the sky opened and buckets of rain came pouring down. Buckets. I had just finished moving all the jewelry back inside and moments later we had a river running through our yard where the jewelry had been hanging moments earlier. That didn’t help my anxiety level on Saturday morning. I didn’t know if a hundred people or five were coming and wasn’t sure how we’d fit everything in the house if it rained. Our living room would be very crowded with fifteen people, standing. But even though Saturday’s clouds looked exactly like they did on Friday, Chimemwe told me, “Oh, no. It will not rain today.” I asked, “Are you sure? The clouds look like they did yesterday.” He laughed and said, “No. I am sure. It will not rain.” And so I believed him and set up everything outside. And he was right. It did not rain. He is always right.
The women all came an hour early, dressed to the nines, carrying containers of food they’d made. I asked Peter (one of the artists) and Chimemwe to make a sign for the corner directing people to our house. They asked me what to write. I said, “Just write ‘jewelry sale’ with an arrow pointing down the road” and off they went with the paper and markers. A few minutes later they came to me and asked, “Is this okay?” and I looked at the colorful sign that said, “JUWEL SALE” and was about to tell them to make another one with the correct spelling, but stopped myself and said, “Sure. That’s fine.” The Malawians won’t care and the mzungus will laugh. It was fine. It was supposed to start at ten, but it was 10:30 before we were even ready and later before people started showing up. Our friend Daisy, who runs the cultural center here, arrived around eleven and said, “Sorry I didn’t make it in time for the ceremony.” I told her we hadn’t even done it yet, it was all a little loose. I think when people started buying stuff we didn’t want to interrupt them! Daisy told me one of her favorite words was the Greek, “Kairos” which means, the opportune moment. It’s my new favorite word. Finally at one point, Eneless came to me and said she thought we should do the ceremony. I really wanted her to be running the show, but we hadn’t even discussed what we’d do or how we’d do it, or who would say what. That was poor planning. It could have been more polished. Glad the TV crew wasn’t there. So we exchanged some phrases: Should I talk? Or you talk? You talk. Ok, will you translate? Yes, I’ll translate. After every sentence, or should I just talk? Just talk. (This took place while everyone was quietly watching us.) I had planned to organize my thoughts and prepare something, but got caught up in set up and running around and didn’t so I am a little disappointed I wasn’t more eloquent. Half the people couldn’t understand me anyway, but I felt like my little speech was weak. Giving out the certificates was fun, however (they do love certificates around here). Endless called their names and they came forward for a photo with their “mother”. Some people from an organization for single mothers were here and want to emulate what we did. They were taking notes. Daisy bought a bunch of stuff to put in the gift shop at the cultural center. Others bought stuff to bring home for gifts. It was really quite satisfying. Exhausting, but satisfying.
Now that I’ve had a night’s sleep and regrouped, I have some thoughts I want to share with the women. I could have done some of it yesterday, and wish I had, but they are all coming back this Friday to discuss what we’ll do with money earned from the sale and what the future of the group should be. We made about $130, which, is a lot of money in these parts. We got a few special orders and need to figure out how that money will get distributed. One of the biggest challenges, as I’ve mentioned before, is finding a market for their stuff. After guests left yesterday we had our celebration sodas and samosas, everyone packed up, cleaned up the displays, and the women left to walk home. I then walked to a local salon to get a six dollar pedicure, one of my guilty indulgences. For an hour and a half my feet get all the love they desire. It’s heaven. As I walked home, admiring my adorable pink toes, I thought the salons might be a good place for the women to sell their stuff. There are loads of hair places and a surprising number that do manicures and pedicures. On Friday I am going to discuss this with them. I am extremely pleased with all the women have accomplished in eight weeks but I don’t want to take this on as another job. Rather, I want them to find markets for their stuff and learn how to budget for materials and expenses. I’ve been supplying all their needs so far (thus the mother title), and want to be careful they don’t expect a gravy train with no end to the line. One option is to use what we made at the sale to buy more supplies and distribute it all equally. We’ll see how the discussion goes. The advice from today’s proverb is to give people credit for what they are capable of doing. I think I’ll practice saying it in Chichewa and wow them with it on Friday. Damn, I wish I’d done it for the speech yesterday.
In the other part of my life, I will be so glad when Good Friday comes. That means this clinical rotation will be over, we’ll be on the road to Mozambique for a ten day vacation on the Indian Ocean and I will no longer be living in fear of someone I am responsible for irreversibly harming a woman. I found students drawing up incorrect medications, holding the syringes by the needles, and documenting incorrect vital signs. It’s impossible to watch all of them all the time and they are being told to do things they haven’t learned yet. It is a miracle to me that anyone walks out of that hospital alive. I feel so guilty that I want this rotation to be over. I know this stuff will still be happening, but I don’t want to see it. I feel like a personal failure for being relieved when it’s time to leave. I did, however, see some students being very kind and tender to patients when they didn’t know I was watching. That got me through one morning.
One of the reasons I find such pleasure in this women’s art class is it’s such a contrast to the suffering I see so many women endure. It’s joyful to see women chatting with each other, laughing, and making something creative and beautiful. I am praying they pay it forward. Baby steps.