Sunday Morning ~ White Privilege

Sunday Morning ~ White Privilege

October 14, 2018

White privilege. During my time living and working in various places around the world I have thought about this phenomenon. It’s so obvious when I am there. It’s easy to get swept up in the glaring problems and how one’s skills might help, but the end result or process isn’t so easy to evaluate. In Congo this was discussed a lot. Are we helping or hurting? Is saving someone’s life enough in the moment, or is it causing long term harm by perpetuating dependence? It’s one reason why I didn’t want to work with MSF again. When I found the SEED program, which would focus on educating medical professionals and build capacity for delivery of medical services in the local setting, it made much more sense to me. I believe in the program. I felt part of the team of Malawian colleagues who were working hard to improve midwifery education. I completely believe in the midwifery ward project and want to promote it any way I can. I also feel it is a model that could be used around the world, including in Maine, where the problems with delivering maternity care are similar, though not identical. 

All that was challenged this week. As I presented the midwifery ward project to a group on Friday, it was pointed out, very publicly, that I was full of white privilege and had no right to be presenting on this as I was not Malawian. Whoa. That was a show stopper. My slides were offensive and disrespectful I was told. This was nearly the same presentation we gave in Rotterdam, the major difference was that Ursula and I did it together there. I had never considered that I would be offending anyone. I believe this is a great project that could be duplicated in Maine, where women are also suffering in the system. This person took me down. I had to struggle to even continue, not sure if I should, or shut the projector off and walk away? Or open it up for discussion and bag the rest of the presentation? People had paid to attend this conference and I was madly trying to figure out what to do, standing in front of everyone, trying desperately not to faint as my vision got blurry and legs started giving out. But that’s all about me, of course.

White guilt, perpetuating colonialism, white privilege, white, white, white. 

In the late 80’s, we were deciding where to make our home and considered all we wanted out of a good life, including schools for our children, access to cultural events, proximity to natural beauty, affordability, etc. Maine was a good fit for us. The drawback was the lack of racial or cultural diversity as Maine is a very white state. We’d envisioned raising our kids amidst diversity. In lengthy discussions about it with friends, it was pointed out that Maine may not have much racial diversity, but it certainly has socioeconomic diversity. There is incredible wealth here and devastating poverty. I started looking at those parameters as another type of diversity. Working in the medical system, it is blatantly obvious. There are two standards of care. maybe more. So what is really helping those in dire poverty? Does our skin color matter when the poorest here are of the same tribe?

I get frustrated when some men I know deny or refuse to acknowledge male privilege. Do they really not see it? Do I know what they should do about it? Am I willing to make suggestions about how to be more cognizant of it, or should I plant my feet and tell them to figure it out themselves?  

In some ways I’m grateful for the public scolding because it has made me think a lot about the issue and how my actions feed into perpetuating white privilege. I also wonder if it was productive? Would it have made more sense to point it all out in the Q&A where we could have had a meaningful discussion and done some problem solving? It made the audience uncomfortable; it made me mortified; is that the most productive? As I did the eighteen mile training run today, I thought no discomfort I felt during that run could come close to what I felt during my presentation Friday. I’d been so focused on us being one group of midwives, working for the same cause, I hadn’t broken us down into black, white, hispanic, native american, or any other race. I just thought we were all midwives and who cares what color anyone is? I never could recover to make that point and I was too guarded about every subsequent word worrying I would set off another tirade. Watching the audience look at the floor for the remainder of the hour took some guts. I’ll give myself that much. Nothing is clear right now, but I still have the underlying conviction that we’ve got to come together for a common cause. It scares me to think of fractioning off like this, though I want to move forward with respect and intention. How that happens is unclear. I hope the fog lifts soon.

Sunday Morning~ Three Point Five

Sunday Morning ~ Three Point Five

Green Lake, Wisconsin

…long-term change never comes with submission, resignation, or despair about the inevitability and intractability of the status quo.  ~Erica Chenoweth

October 7, 2018

On Saturday morning, walking around Milwaukee, I came across this historical marker:

The Rescue of Joshua Glover

Joshua Glover was a runaway slave who sought freedom in Racine in 1852. In 1854, his Missouri owner used the Fugitive Slave Act to apprehend him. This 1850 law permitted slave catchers to cross state lines to capture escaped slaves. Glover was taken to Milwaukee and imprisoned. 

Word spread about Glover’s incarceration and a great crowd gathered around the jail demanding his release. They beat down the jail door and released Joshua Glover. He was eventually escorted to Canada and safety.

The Glover incident helped to galvanize abolitionist sentiment in Wisconsin. This case eventually led the state supreme court to defy the federal government by declaring the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.

State Historical Society of Wisconsin

Like most people I know, I’ve been in a dazed stupor trying to grasp what has become of our nation. Injustice is nothing new in this country. Our past makes the recent violation of human rights seem rather quaint. We’ve all got lists and lists of examples of it in the workplace, the athletic field, bedroom, wherever. We’ve been socialized to tolerate it. Every new travesty seems like a an unstoppable steamroller flattening a country I’d wanted to love.

Midwives have been tolerating this crap for generations trying to advocate for decent care for women. In the male dominated, money grubbing system, we fight, work, despair, and burn out. Witnessing abuse of the women we care for by those in power is just another day. I quit my job over it, did a TED talk about it, and scream about it almost every day of my life. But it goes on.

Several years ago the community hospital where I worked hired a male doctor to join the medical staff, one who would be part of the women’s health team. Until then, it was me and Mary, a family practice doctor, sharing the responsibility for women’s health and maternity care. When new-guy Mike came on board our cesarean section rate tripled. We complained. Not all of these surgeries were medically necessary! But he brought revenue to the hospital and wealth to himself, so who cared if women suffered for it? Mike blatantly sexually harassed nurses and patients while blatantly flaunting medical protocols. He altered medical records to support his actions, and administration refused to act on it. We provided evidence, we begged medical staff to support us, we went through all the standard processes of the sham they call peer review. He continued to practice abusing women in the name of medicine. Many on the medical staff knew it but refused to speak out. Mary spent years trying to get him removed from the staff and was crucified for it. It took a huge personal toll on her. I quit my job over it. This is the crap we’ve dealt with. A male physician is allowed to continue to practice having knowingly committed a felony (altering medical records), lying pathologically when confronted (including to administrators who acknowledged they were lies), and basically mutilating women for money. Ho hum. Just our medical system. He was finally fired when (oh surprise!) one of the older white males on staff finally spoke up, but that was probably more because he was worried the hospital would get sued than to advocate for the women he was harming. This reprehensible doctor was finally arrested for wife battering and his career finally ruined. Poor thing. And was there an apology from administration for not believing us and letting it go on as long as it did? That would be no. The powerful never admit they’ve made a mistake. 

So, yes, the socialization continues. We live with it until some undefined breaking point when the powerful go just a bit too far. I despair and try not to lose hope or energy thinking more about immigrating than fighting when I find inspiration in a historical marker.

Three. point. five. percent. Historically no regime has survived a resistance of more than 3.5% of it’s population. None. Not the worst dictators in the world. It’s possible. We’ve got eleven million people willing to rise up and resist, but it must be sustained and we can’t lose hope. What would that be in Maine to bring down Susan Collins (or whoever she is now)? Three hundred thousand or so? We can do this. No more begging her not to sell us out. No more throwing up in my mouth while thanking her for a rare vote that actually reflected a shred of humanity. Jesus.( As if preserving health care for her constituents shouldn’t have been a no-brainer.) I’m done wasting my time with her. No more begging and pleading to stand up for decency. I’ll focus my energy supporting those who will bring down these motherfuckers while we still have something left of our judicial system.

So I’ve been researching the 3.5% rule. Here are some basic principles: 

  1. We can’t give up.
  2. We must show up and get others to show up.
  3. We must have a common cause and focus on it. Right now it is taking back the house and senate for the democrats, no matter how flawed you believe their tactics. We’ll hold their feet to the fire but we must get them in.
  4. We must persuade others to this cause.
  5. We must be willing to volunteer and utilize our strengths in different areas.
  6. We must not lose hope even when there are setbacks like this week.

Onward. Come with me. There is safety in numbers.

Sunday Morning~ I Believe Her

Sunday Morning ~ I Believe Her

September 30, 2018

I find myself looking for David and Goliath stories. Return of the Jedi. The Hobbit. Lord of the Rings. I play the loop where Gandalf says that Golum may yet play a part in all this.

When I’d originally heard Dr. Ford’s story had come out in couples therapy I automatically assumed she and her husband were having sexual problems. That isn’t uncommon with women who’ve had a sexual assault. I’d heard it a million times in my practice. But when I learned the issues were all about having a second door, I stopped short. I have a lot of doors in my house. I will never be locked in a room where I don’t have control over the lock. I don’t like elevators. I’ve never articulated why. I’ve never felt the need to explain as I felt it should be enough to express my desires and have them respected. I don’t want my exit blocked. Period. 

George is an analyst so is naturally curious about where my strong opinions, requests, or demands come from. He wants to understand when I get (what he considers) irrationally angry about something. The locked door is one of them. The first time we stayed at his brother’s house the door was locked from the inside and the key wasn’t in the door. I freaked. I went on and on about it being a fire hazard, a rationale that might be understandable and acceptable. After all, our house had burned and we were lucky everyone had gotten out safely. I never mentioned the experience of having my exit blocked with arms near my neck holding the door behind me shut as I tried to leave. Alcohol wasn’t involved. But an aggressor was planted in front of me, his arm at my neck, his hand holding the door which I was being held against, shut. 

“Stop it! You are scaring me!” 

“Shut up.”  

“I am leaving.” 

“No you’re not.” 

“Yes, I am.”

I put my arm up as if I were going to hug him, brought my elbow down onto his arm, opened the door, pivoted out. and ran from that place as fast as I could.  If the door had been locked I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I was scared, angry, and shaken, but in control and capable of leaving the premises and never going back. I never told anyone, not because I thought I’d deserved it or had done anything wrong, but because I felt sorry for him! How pathetic is that? I’d been socialized so well. Poor guy.

When we were building our house I wanted a door to the outside in every downstairs room. There were a few queries about whether it was really necessary, but no big fights about it. Was my desire for those doors a result of my experience? Maybe. I’d never thought of it before. But being able to get out saved me from a sexual assault. And since that time I am always careful to pay attention to where the exits are. Always. 

I fully admit to having a lot of pent up anger and make no apologies for it. Injustices make me angry. Abuse of power and privilege makes me angry. I have spent my career listening to story after story of women being raped, cheated, abused, diminished and I am so fucking tired of it. Over the years I have expressed my anger in different ways. I’ve yelled and screamed, I’ve gone underground, I’ve been passive aggressive. Is one better than another? I don’t know. I don’t know what kind of shit storm is going to be unleashed if this privileged petulant frat boy gets confirmed. Some women I know are boiling over with rage and are flailing. There is something inside me this time, though, that feels like he’s Golum. In the end, he may have an important role to play in bringing this regime down. I don’t feel powerless. I don’t feel the need to scream. I feel more like stalking, quietly, getting the lair ready for the feast that will surely come after this hunt. A lioness knows where her strength lies and how to use it. Is she successful every single time? No. But a single lioness can bring down an elephant. They know where the weak spot is and she strikes when the time is right. The knees buckle and she quickly goes for the neck. She and the cubs need to eat.

Sunday Morning ~ Unity, Maine

Sunday Morning ~ Unity, Maine ~ Common Ground Fair

September 23, 2018

Hi Everyone,

Unity, Maine. Common Ground Fair. They sound like names made up for a novel describing a utopia, which, is fitting for this time and place. The weekend does feel like a little utopia. The Health and Healing Tent is definitely in the coldest part of this fairground. Last year when it was 90 degrees and humid, it was nice here in the shade, but this morning I could do with a little sun on the tent as it was 34 degrees when we woke and the tent was dripping with condensation from our breath. Just a little different from last year. I laughingly, thought I’d get up before dawn and do my long run before the fair opened at 9. Ha ha ha, very funny. Toasty in my sleeping bag with the hood pulled tight around my head, I had to force myself out as the fairgrounds came to life and could barely get my tent down with my frozen fingers. I brought my electric kettle this year so had hot tea to warm me up a bit and once the tent was down and put away I walked the the fairgrounds to be in the sun and watch the place wake up. I just love it here. It makes me want to live on a farm, milk my own cows, make my own butter, and ride my own horse. These are a few of the childhood dreams I never did fulfill. I’ve tried to make a little homestead of my own, but it’s not like the real farm I dreamed of.  

Now from my seat at our table in the Health and Healing area I can hear laughing from the Reiki Tent. It sounds like they are promoting a certain energy over there. Next to me a group does Sahajayoga meditation. Across the tent is a table with information about medicinal cannabis which is next to the table of funeral consumers and green burials. Next to them they are doing reflexology. It’s a smattering, but any healthful way of living has a presence here. 

I spoke this morning about the cultural aspects of maternity care. The talk was at nine and the fair only opens then, so I was surprised that people actually made it. It usually takes a bit to walk from the parking lot to the fairgrounds and the nine o’clock talks may not be well attended. There are so many women who want to tell the story about abuse they endured within our system. They are frustrated and compromised. They get emotionally manipulated and many have post part depression. Then they are shamed for that, because after all, the baby is healthy and that’s all that matters. So their feelings are devalued and the pattern continues. The medical system rules. They have been “fired” from practices because they didn’t succumb to procedures they didn’t feel they needed. They had to drive hours to find a provider they trusted. They lost their jobs because they had to take time off work to travel for care. The abuse goes on and on. It makes me ponder how to tell their stories in a way that might change the system.

Jewelry I brought from the Tiyamike Women’s group is displayed on our table. I wish they could see people’s reaction to their creations. I’ll write to Ursula to tell them. I’ve shared their stories here and as I listen to local women’s stories, they aren’t far apart.  An old classmate of mine who is promoting local food sources, came to my talk this morning. I spoke about the cultural challenges with birth and midwifery education in Malawi and how it compares to the problems women face here with being marginalized in our system. She said, “We need to relocalize the birth movement the same way we are relocalizing the food movement.” She wants to work with me on this. Two young doulas from southern Maine came on Friday and told me the same thing. They want to work on this issue. It’s clearly time, so how do we go about it? I described the model midwifery ward we’re working on in Malawi, and someone said, “We need that here!” 

The sun is high now and the air is warming up. Hopefully the ideas we spawn here follow suit.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Re-entry

Sunday Morning ~ Re-entry

September 16, 2018

Hi Everyone,

There is a lot of attention given to culture shock when moving to a foreign country, especially a developing one. There is an expectation that there will be a period where you wish you’d never made the decision to go, the “what was I thinking?” moment when it all seems like a huge mistake. Then slowly you adjust to living in a fishbowl, substituting banana for potatoes, walking through trash by the riverside, and move on. But little attention is given to returning as it is assumed, apparently, that coming home is what we’ve all been waiting for: sleeping in our own comfortable beds, drinking water from the tap, being out after dark. Stuff we take for granted. I think we romanticize how efficient everything is at home while away tolerating power outages and food shortages, the lack of tonic water being the one that comes immediately to mind.

I thought I was ready for it though I was apprehensive about 24/7 news of crazy town USA and prepared for that. It was a relief to be shielded from the harsh realities of our current state of affairs. Not that I wanted to be uninformed, but it was easy to get caught up with life in Malawi and forget for a while that I’m not returning to the country I left two years ago. 

I’d planned a day with my granddaughter before she started kindergarten. We took the train into town and visited a bookstore with a cafe. It was sweet sitting there having a muffin and tea and as we were getting ready to go, my darling had to pee. No worries. This is America! There are laws requiring establishments to have toilets! Not like in some places we traveled where I was told to go out in the bushes next to the gas station. No sir-ee. I asked the barista where the rest room was. “It’s out of order.” she replied. I thought I’d heard incorrectly. Out of order? This is America! How can the toilet not work?  We were in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard and MIT and the toilet didn’t work? We couldn’t very well go out and use one of the bushes, a perfectly rational suggestion in Malawi. “Sorry for the inconvenience.” was her reply. I was stunned. She told us we could go next door, apparently they had an arrangement with the adjacent business to accommodate this malady. But really. How could they not fix the toilet? Aren’t there plumbers on call? Or even an employee who knows how to use a plunger?

It makes me a little depressed and I can’t figure out why. I’m not sure if it’s having expectations that don’t mesh with reality or that the adventure is over, or what. I’m not sure. There is so much time spent in training about being culturally sensitive and adjusting to life abroad but when you leave you’re on your own and I have memories of being dropped at Girl Scout Camp and feeling set adrift. And this sounds whiny and irrelevant. First world problem. 

This week as I rooted around getting my belongings back in place, a friend dropped by with bounty from her garden because she thought I looked sad the night before. She had plenty to share, she said, and knew how much I loved my garden, which is derelict at the moment. Such incredible kindness. I gobbled up the lettuce, beans, and beets and put the basil and parsley in vases on the counter. I feel so fortunate to live here, to be able to run on the carriage roads, have neighbors that drop by, generous friends, and a solid home that welcomes me back, so the nagging sadness is out of place and confusing. George has another adventure in store and I’m thinking that was good planning. I’m waiting for a plan to emerge out of the fog on my horizon. 

Sunday Morning ~ Home

Sunday Morning ~ Home

September 9, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I’m back in my house and slowly making it mine again, a process I am finding both tedious and sweet. It feels so good to be here. I started with the kitchen and realized how ingrained the motions are that constitute my routines. It took me awhile to get wooden spoons and knives back in the spots that accommodate my reach, like props on a stage. Yesterday I focused on my desk. It’s a good exercise to examine everything you own once in awhile. Replacing all my items after two years away makes me look at them with a different eye. Do I really need a paperback thesaurus taking up space in a desk drawer? But it seems so quaint that I hate to part with it. I went through all the correspondence I’d thrown in a box and stuck in the attic in my frenzy to depart. Putting them back in the desk unexamined seemed irresponsible. I didn’t even know what was in there. There was a pile of photos I meant to send to the subjects years ago. I found a few love letters that were really well written. Probably why I saved them. There were some Christmas cards, some tags from flowers I’d received over the years, my official time from my first marathon, and my mother’s death certificate. It was quite a hodgepodge. There’s a photo of me laughing, stroking Rachael’s hair as she leans back into my lap. Joe is across the table pointing a finger at someone and also laughing. There is a vase full of lupine on the table and half filled glasses of wine. It must have been Matt’s high school graduation weekend and family were here visiting. It’s a good photo of us and Joe blew it up and mounted it as a gift for me. When I found out he was having an affair I threw it out the bedroom window but a few weeks later I found it face down on the greenhouse roof. I decided to keep it for some reason. I felt like the fact that it hadn’t blown away or the rain hadn’t ruined it was some kind of symbol. 

Today is my fortieth wedding anniversary. When Joe’s parents had their fortieth, we had a dinner party for them at Mark and Gael’s house with a formal dining room. We dressed up and kids weren’t invited. We all had small children and this was to be a more civilized event minus the usual chaos when all the grandkids were around. Joe’s brother Scott, recently graduated from the Culinary Institute, was the chef. Mark wrote a poem for the occasion. I wore a dress I’d made, burgundy velvet with big puffy sleeves and a low back, a Laura Ashley design. It was the 80’s. We had five small kids and Joe was still in graduate school. I was working in a busy practice and rent and babysitter consumed three weeks of my monthly salary. My mother watched the kids that night. It was a happy family event, this sixty year-old couple surrounded by seven of their eight children, their second daughter having died on Christmas Eve fifteen years prior. I remember thinking forty years was an eternity. What would it be like to be with someone every day of forty years? I always assumed I’d find out. I thought of our five little kids and wondered if they’d have a party for us? It falls on a weekend and everything.

I feel old. It was a long time ago that twenty-one year old girl was planning the outdoor reception. The day was sunny but really windy and she was fretting about the wind and the cloths blowing off the tables. The tent was shaking with the gusts and eventually blew down completely while she was in the church vowing to stay forever. After the ceremony she didn’t care about the tent anymore. Guests moved the tables inside; the collapsed tent became one of the funny wedding stories and a sign of what great friends they had. She was so in love and so happy nothing could have ruined that day. And now it seems everything she loved that day has soured. Her husband, her church, her country, all gone crazy. 

I’ve unpacked most of what I shlepped through Europe. It’s laid out waiting for permanent resting places. Some are gifts and some will need wall space. I need to decide who will give up their spots. Chithenjes need to be washed. They are lying in a pile near the washing machine. I think of Catherine bent over at the outside faucet on Monday evenings doing our laundry and wonder what happened to her. Catherine disappeared after we left Blantyre. She just stopped showing up for work, even though the landlady was going to keep all the guards employed there. Then Chimemwe was hit by a car while walking on the roadside at night. He survived, but was in a coma for a few weeks and can not walk or talk. George went to visit him when he went to Blantyre and said it was heartbreaking. This vibrant strong talented man cannot move his arms or legs and is at the mercy of his impoverished family for care. George thought he recognized his voice as his facial expression changed and he tried to speak. His family said he was improving, so we are not giving up hope that he’ll recover somewhat, but whether he’ll be able to support everyone as he had before is very questionable. George left money for the family to care for him. His wife, who’d been part of the women’s group, gave George a bunch of jewelry they’d made with Chimemwe’s guidance and George gave her money for that as well. Everything changes in an instant. None of it is fair.

My cat has taken up residence at the neighbors. I picked her up to bring her home last evening and she resisted. She seems fatter. I put her food outside on the porch and hope she’ll forgive me for going away. I hope the squirrels don’t consider it a welcome home feast. I see they have moved in to the greenhouse. 

I’ll get settled this week, get taxes done, and see what I can do to help with the election in November. All hands on deck as the ship is sinking. 

From where I am sitting I see the flowering dogwood I gave Joe for Father’s Day the year we moved in to this house. It’s grown a lot over the years but never blossomed. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Whitney

Sunday Morning ~ Whitney, Oxfordshire

September 2, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I thought taking a train to London would be easier than the one hour flight. No getting to the airport early, no security check, no overweight anxiety, no number of bags limit, just show up on the platform and get on the train. How simple is that? And if I were traveling with no luggage this fiction might have been realistic.

I really thought I had given most of my stuff away. I thought I’d be traveling with a manageable amount of stuff, even after being away for two years. We hadn’t accumulated that much, I thought. I was so wrong. Getting to Rotterdam was relatively easy. I’d dragged the stuff into the airport in Lilongwe, checked the two heavy bags (each just under the 50 pound weight limit) and carried the other bags (plenty heavy) onto the plane. Not much problem. Then when I got to Amsterdam, I met up with six colleagues who helped shlep the stuff onto the train to Rotterdam and then to the hotel. Easy. Leaving Rotterdam…not so easy. 

The conference was excellent. Nurses from fifty seven countries advancing the profession and fostering leadership skills. There were presentations of inspirational accomplishments and overcoming obstacles. It was a huge booster shot. Our presentation was on the first day, which meant we could relax for the reminder of the week. Tea was served in glass cups packed with fresh mint alongside bowls of fresh croissants. Lunch for 1,500 comprised of piles of gorgeous sandwiches next to glasses of cherry and pear juice, milk or buttermilk. Imagine!

There was not a whole lot of time to sight see, but I managed to get in a few early morning runs through the city which had been completely destroyed in WWII. It was rebuilt efficiently and the traffic flow, including bike and pedestrian, was a sight in itself. Beautiful city. Running routes of various lengths are laid out along the waterways. The conference ended Wednesday and Thursday morning I set out laden with my luggage to walk to Central Station, a mile away. It wasn’t too bad. The sidewalks were smooth so dragging a hundred pounds with another forty on my back was doable and a good cardiac workout. I had my ticket, plenty of time to find my platform, plenty of time to make my connection, and getting through the turnstile was my only concern. Until I looked at the board and saw my train was cancelled. My ticket was for a direct train to Brussels; there I had to switch to the Eurostar to London. It should have been simple. I never considered the train might be cancelled. Since when do they cancel trains in Europe? I had completely romanticized how everything works efficiently everywhere in the world except East Africa.

I panicky dragged all my stuff to the information center where I had to take a number. I thought that was rather unfair for people who were about to miss a connection. I waited, looking at the numbers popping up above the counters, getting irritated at the employees who didn’t seem to be moving fast enough or looking with concern at the growing crowd. No, they acted like this was just another Thursday. When my number was finally called, I dragged my stuff to the counter to be told I could take a different train, which was leaving in four minutes, to a different station, then had five minutes to change platforms and catch the train to Brussels. No way I was going to make that with all this stuff, which I was getting less and less attached to by the minute.  I told the man I had a lot of luggage and would never make that train. He suggested I wait another hour when the direct train to Brussels would come. He assured me I’d have enough time there to make the train to London. I believed him. He printed out a new ticket (which took ages to my surprise), and I went to sit and people-watch, eating one of the sandwiches I’d taken from the conference. There was no way I could maneuver all this stuff into a line for food. Glad I’d thought ahead when I saw all those extras.

When I went to check what platform my new train was on, I saw it also had been cancelled. Now real panic set in and I pushed all my stuff back into the information center, thinking there must be others here in the same predicament! No one looked very frazzled or impatient, and I still had to take a number. A bunch of garbled announcements I couldn’t understand were being made in Dutch but I heard the word “Brussels” and looked around for anyone else paying attention. Two smartly dressed guys, obviously together, were looking at their numbers and perked up at the announcement. They headed toward the counter and I asked if they were going to Brussels. I was happy to see they looked frazzled as well. I told them I didn’t know what to do as my train was cancelled for the second time and they said they were in the same predicament, and they were Dutch, so went up and got the scoop in the employees first language, which I always find reassuring. The only way to get to Brussels was the train I thought I’d never manage an hour ago. Leaves in four minutes with five minutes to switch platforms to get the connecting train. This time I had no choice and started dragging toward the turnstiles. I never got the names of those two men, but they were angels. Angels. They are both angels. Hurrying, each one took one of my bags and ran with me to the platform on the second level. If I were alone, the escalator would have been the end of me. These bags are heavy and awkward. When we got on, I stood by the doors with all the luggage and they took seats saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll be back to help you transfer. We won’t abandon you.” Angels.  The next station required a descent from the train, only one step, but tricky with all this, a steep descent down a flight of stairs, a walk along a narrow corridor, and an ascent up another flight of stairs to the next platform, all within four minutes. These trains don’t care if you are only halfway up the stairs. They leave!  But with the help of these two angels, I made the connection! Woo hoo! Thought I was home free. This train was crowded with everyone who had been rerouted from the direct to Brussels. Then they made a garbled announcement as we moved along, and again, I understood the word “Brussels” and saw all manner of distraught expressions on people who immediately identified themselves as flemish speakers. Nope this train was not going to Brussels either. The lucky ones going to Brussels had to change at another station and wait for another connecting train.  I looked at my new BFFs and they said, “You are going to miss your train to London.”  At this point I didn’t even know if we were in Holland or Belgium. 

I won’t drag you through every transfer, but it took four train changes through stations that must have been built in 1809 or something because the stairs would never pass building codes. Up and down and every time I would consider the contents of my bags and think, “Who on earth needs that?” My arms are killing me. When I made it to Brussels, my friends ran off to the meeting they were now late for and I dragged my life to queue to change my ticket to London, my train long gone, along with thousands of other people. Seems like lots of folks were going to London! And you still have to go through immigration and security! But where the Dutch angels left off the British swooped in. I cannot believe how fantastically kind people were. Without a blink people were assisting me on MORE stairs I’d never have been able to negotiate myself without doing it in two or more trips. I’d never really noticed how trains are all either up or down stairs! My motto is usually not to travel with more luggage than I can carry for five miles. Anyway, when I finally got on to the Eurostar and parked my bags in the luggage rack I was sorta hoping the train would never arrive in London. I was dreading getting off. The train is super comfy with great wifi. That was the image I had in my mind when booking these tickets. Didn’t consider the other elements of that trip. I arrived in St. Pancras station and then only needed to board one train for Jane’s house in London. She assured me she lived two minutes from the station. Very kind transit employees in orange blaze vests carried my bags down (more!) stairs to the correct platform, one waited with me to make sure I got on the Sutton train, and help load my bags onto the car. Really! When I arrived at Tulse Hill, not sure I was still in London, two more kind people, not together, each carried a bag down the stairs (steep) and when I discovered there were two exits and got confused about which to take, the woman who’d carried a bag walked me to Jane’s road! It was like being in some children film about how to be kind to strangers. I was totally overwhelmed. This world is full of very good people. 

Jane had worked with George and had a lovely dinner party with another volunteer who’d been to Malawi, some interesting neighbors who’d lived in Zambia, and two psychiatrists who’d volunteered in Myanmar! Jane also had been there, not knowing George was going there for a year. I was wishing he were there. He’d have loved it. Aside from my aching arms, it was a great evening. 

Only two trains on Friday to get to the station where dear Chris was collecting me. I had told him to look for someone overloaded with luggage so he was confused when I came strolling out of the turnstile with only three bags, a fellow passenger behind me with the fourth. Another kind stranger. They are everywhere.

My weekend in Witney has been a family affair for the christening of my new godchild Joseph. There was the usual eating, drinking, storytelling, laughing, and reminiscing with old friends and their growing families. I’m so blessed to be a part of it. It feels like a second home. 

Ok, only one bus, a plane, and then cuddles with my little ones. Can’t wait.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Rotterdam

Sunday Morning ~ Rotterdam

August 26, 2018

Hi Everyone,

The travel goddesses had been so good to us. We went over 12,000 kilometers with hardly a problem. We had two slow leaks in tires that got repaired before they became flats, and that was it. We were so lucky considering some of the gravel roads we traveled for miles on end.  And aside from the expected bureaucracy at borders, we really didn’t have many hassles, until we got back to the Malawian border post, later than we’d wanted on Thursday afternoon.  

We always plan an hour at the border, never knowing exactly how long the lines will be or what forms and fees will have to be paid. We’d driven from Lusaka, Zambia where we stayed with friends on Wednesday night. It took an hour getting through the city when we set off and since we had 700 kilometers to cover we were hoping our luck held. The road was good and we made it to the border in nine hours. George wasn’t feeling well, we think having something to do with the ribs he ate the night before, so I did all the driving that day. We figured since we were reentering Malawi, it might be smooth and we’d be through in thirty minutes or so, but when I handed over my passport, I was told my visa had expired and I needed a new one. For some reason, a mistake was made with my work permit, which is supposed to be good for two months after the contract is finished. George’s was good until August 30th, but mine expired on June 30th. I never even gave it a thought. I told them I was only going back into the country in order to fly out again, but they didn’t care. They let me get a transient visa for $50 instead of the 30 day one for $75, but that took some time. Then George discovered when he was clearing the car to cross into Malawi that they changed the rules about the temporary export permit you have to get in order to bring a car out of the country. When George got the original permit it was for 90 days, but they changed it to 30 days while we were gone. That meant we had to pay a fine, which also took some time. No amount of making the point that the rule was not in existence when we left made any difference to the woman behind the counter.  She didn’t give a shit about what the rules were then. This is what they are now and we had to pay if we wanted to cross. I had a plane to catch the next day, George was sick, I was tired from driving, it was getting dark, we just wanted to get to Lilongwe, so we paid the bloody fine. It was expensive coming back.

And the road! For two months we’d been driving on vacant roads. Many were rough, and some had huge potholes, but they were people-less. The minute we got back into Malawi we remembered how difficult it is to drive with hundreds of people all over the roads, many carrying huge loads on the back of bikes. Swerving around them is dangerous as the roads are narrow with no shoulder and there is constant oncoming traffic. It’s stressful. And it was getting dark. I glanced at the last of my African sunsets in the side mirror as we drove due east, wishing I was sitting and savoring instead of trying not to get killed. We were another 100 kilometers to Lilongwe and it felt like 1,000 as I passed pedestrians and bicyclists with a millimeter to spare.  Oncoming headlights appearing to be in our lane did not make it easier.  We finally made it to the city and could not see a thing and didn’t know what road we were on. We passed signs but couldn’t read them in the pitch dark. By sheer luck we ended up on the road to our hotel. It was a miracle. 

We checked in and George went straight to bed feeling sicker and sicker. I went straight to the bar and ordered a gin and tonic.  “Ah, sorry, we have no tonic water”, was the waiter’s reply. Yup. We were back. I ordered a salad. “Ah, sorry, we have no lettuce”, was the response. I just started laughing and said, “Ok, let’s save some time here and just tell me what you do have.”  Cider and noodle soup was it and then a sleepless night of worrying about fitting everything into my bags.

My flight on Friday was at 2 p.m. so it seemed like there was time to pack in the morning and collect the stuff I’d left at the Peace Corps office. George left the hotel to walk to the office as he had some errands to do on the way. I packed up what I needed and drove over to the office. We’d planned to go through the stuff in the car and organize what we were giving away and what George would take home in his luggage. We had a couple of hours to do this before I headed to the airport and he headed back to Blantyre to sell the car. I pulled into a parking space and didn’t see the cement culvert that I rammed into, cracking the gear box (I think that’s what it was) that leaked all the transmission fluid out and prevented me from shifting the car into reverse. I freaked as I watched this stuff pouring out from underneath the car.  I must say, George took it well. This car is his baby and I expected him to have a conniption, thinking this was totaled or something. The Peace Corps mechanic reassured me it was repairable and by the time I’d gotten my bags out of the car, they already had it up on blocks discussing how to fix it. I couldn’t watch. I reorganized my stuff, left a bunch of stuff I couldn’t fit, and got a taxi to the airport. And after being together 24/7 for the past two months I barely got to say goodbye to George as he was running around buying stuff to fix the car. I felt terrible. Plus I was leaving him with a mess. We’d been living out of the car and there was a lot to clean out. I left the car full of dirty camping equipment, maps, dirty clothes, empty water bottles, and other stuff I didn’t even want to look at, up on blocks with fluid leaking and engine parts strewn about. I should have taken a photo but couldn’t even look at it. George, still not feeling well, had to deal with it then drive five more hours to Blantyre. The taxi came, I got dropped at the airport, and I boarded a plane for Addis Ababa then Amsterdam. 

So here I am in a comfy hotel in Rotterdam getting ready to present tomorrow about the midwifery ward at the International Confederation for Nurses in Advanced Practice. It’s a mental shift. Ursula is here as well and we’ve managed to get a night’s sleep, revise the presentation, practice it, and register for the meeting. The internet works, the toilets flush, the showers have hot water, and the entire population of this country look like the picture of health. I did a ten mile run this morning and must have passed a hundred tall skinny people running rings around me. 

The car is fixed and will be handed over tomorrow to it’s new owner. A new chapter is beginning.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Kasane, Botswana

Sunday Morning ~ Kasane, Botswana

August 19, 2018

Hi Everyone,

When George and I first got together three years ago, every time he sneezed he asked me, “Did that bother you?” This puzzled me, because I’d think, why would it bother me if he sneezed? I’d reply, “Of course not! Why?” He told me his ex-wife hated the way he sneezed. She thought it was too loud. Then I started paying attention to it, and thought, well, yes, he does sneeze louder than most, but it really didn’t bother me. Plenty of other things did, but not the way he sneezed. It finally started irritating me that he kept asking if it bothered me. I said, “How many times do I have to tell you it doesn’t bother me?! The fact that you keep asking me is bothering me!” And he finally let that go. Tuck this tidbit away for later.

Back to last Sunday at Chitabe Camp in the Okavango Delta. We were heading out for our early morning game drive, and it was cold before we even started and driving in an open vehicle, even if it’s not going fast, is really cold. We’d dressed with all the warm stuff we had, but I was still a little worried about freezing before the sun came up. We were in the vehicles by 6:30 a.m. after tea and a light breakfast buffet. The sky was just starting to get light with that rosy glow on the horizon I’ve come to love almost as much as the sunsets. Our new BFFs from Scotland, Alistair, Laura, and their son Angus were in our vehicle. We’d been sharing the five hour morning drives, the three hour evening drives, and all meals and drinks by the campfire for four whole days. It was bonding. We were about to pile into the Land Rover when Ebs, our guide, handed us each a poncho. This was not just any poncho. This was a heavy poncho. A hard to lift it was so heavy poncho. It was flannel lined, oiled canvas and there was one for each of us. Glorious. It was like having a personal tent around you. As we were getting them on and settling into our seats, having negotiated who would sit where, Ebs handed each of us a flannel-covered hot water bottle to put under the poncho. Did I say they do tourism well here? I decided the minute we returned to camp I would see if I could get a job there. I never wanted to leave.

Not long after we set off we saw a mother rhino and her baby with blunt, shortened horns. They had cut the horns off to try to prevent them from being poached. What’s happening to the rhinos is tragic. They are being wiped out for a supposed Chinese aphrodisiac and the money that brings in is astronomical. The risks and the money put into saving them is also astronomical. The poachers are armed with AK47s, they helicopter in, kill the rhino and remove the horn in less than five minutes. It’s insane. In Malawi they were wiped out all together, but there is an effort to enforce stricter penalties for poaching. Since the rhinos were reintroduced a tremendous amount of money is put into protecting them. In Namibia, there is a shoot to kill policy for poaching and it has made a difference. No trial, no questions asked, if you are caught poaching or even being off the main road, the rangers can shoot you. One of our guides told us a tourist was killed a while ago. He ventured off the road and, bam. There are signs everywhere telling you to stay on the main roads in the park. And not to get out of your car for that matter. Cutting the horn off the rhino makes it less attractive for the poachers, but sometimes they will kill the rhino anyway because they don’t want to spend time tracking an animal they can’t use. The horns will grow back and there is a lot of controversy about the practice. They are such incredible animals. We saw one in Malawi and one in Etosha, but to see this one with a baby was great. We then went back to see the lions munching away on the zebra. Ebs told us he wasn’t sure if it’d still be there because hyenas may have came during the night and chase the lions away. They would finish off that carcass in no time. I said, “Really? A hyena can chase away a lion?” Ebs said, “No. Not one hyena. But they can come in large packs and thirty hyenas can take down a lion. And these lions are protecting their cubs, so if hyenas came, the lions would leave.” I never knew all this. So many metaphors, so little time.

The lions were still there so we watched them for awhile, then drove around and stopped for coffee in some beautiful spot where we watched herds of zebra and wildebeests. The sun was up and it had gotten much warmer, so we put the ponchos away and tucked the hot water bottles into the seat pockets. The landscape: open savannah and marshy grasses where all kinds of birds were congregating. Just gorgeous. We came to one spot and really, I thought it was too beautiful to even take a photo. I just wanted to hold the vision of that calm, pristine pond with the acacia trees in the background, and elephants milling around on the other side. I couldn’t stop sighing at the sight. We were coming around a corner of the sandy track and we asked Ebs to stop so we could take it in. As he brought the vehicle to a stop we heard people singing and around a copse of trees was the entire staff from the camp, with a long table set for brunch with colorful napkins and tablecloths. The chef was barbecuing meat, and a staff person was holding a tray of Campari and sodas, handing us each one as we descended from the vehicle. Did I already say I never wanted to leave? It was out of one of those magazines where you say, “Ya right, like this really happens.” Just a gourmet brunch out in the wilderness with cheerful staff and amicable companions. There was a camp toilet set up an appropriate distance away with a standing screen and basin and pitcher for hand washing. We had a little wait for the other group from the second vehicle, so that made enough time for three Campari and sodas, which, went down easy was indulgent at noon on a Sunday. Especially since I had to run six miles that afternoon. I suffered through it. Oh, and the food was amazing, too. I asked how often they surprise their guests with this impromptu wilderness brunch? They only do it when no guests are coming or leaving, so another lucky break for us. And right in the spot where I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! Eden. That’s all I have to say.

Since I am now in full training mode for the marathon, I needed to run six miles that day. That’s the longest run for me in about three years. We weren’t allowed to walk at all in the camp with all the predators and elephants roaming around so I thought I was going to have to run in place in our chalet. That was going to be unpleasant. Alistair, who has run several marathons including New York, suggested I ask if there was a treadmill at the sister camp which was a bit more upscale than the one we were at. I did and there was, so after we returned from our bush brunch I got driven 100 meters to the other camp and got on the treadmill for seventy minutes. It was a slog. The three Campari and sodas didn’t help. But I did it and finished in time for an outdoor shower and high tea. I hydrated myself with water and a glass of wine before the evening drive. 

The evening drive was a different from all the others in that we saw the wild dogs. Ebs got a message on the radio from another guide who’d seen them leaving their den for a hunt, so we zoomed through the bush hanging onto the bars to stay in our seats (that ride itself was worth it) to follow them as they set off. I didn’t even realize wild dogs existed but they are flourishing there and are fascinating to watch. They looked to me like a soccer team fanning out and looking for prey. A part of me thought it would be neat to see them catch something, but in reality, the gruesomeness of that would have been traumatic, and I was happy just to see how they work together. When lions or leopards hunt they kill their prey instantly, but we heard that the wild dogs are eating it before it’s even dead and it’s a disturbing sight. They eat all of it then go back to their den to regurgitate it for the pups. They do this twice a day. We followed them for an hour or so before Ebs said we should not stress them and we left for sundowners even though the sun had already set. 

We’d wanted to spend three nights at that camp, but when we booked there were only two available, so we prepared to leave on Monday. When we got back to camp for cocktails before another gourmet meal, we asked the manager if there was a possibility of staying a third night. Had anyone cancelled per chance? He said he would work on it. Monday morning we were wakened for the morning drive so we thought maybe we scored and could stay, and though they had to move us to a different chalet, a third night was arranged for us. We have been so lucky! I would have been happy to sleep on the floor in the common area, but with a little shuffling of gear, we were in another equally comfortable chalet. The Scottish family wanted to do a walking safari so asked if we could do that Tuesday morning. A special “walking-trained guide” has to be available for that, so that got investigated, and Phinley was booked to take the five of us on a walk early Tuesday morning before our afternoon flight out. He was a bit more serious than Ebs. At first he seemed like he didn’t want to do the walk and that made me skeptical. We’d seen so many lions and two leopards and I didn’t want our stay there to end badly (obviously they don’t either). They are very careful about the rules. He didn’t say anything about panicking, but he did remind us to do exactly what he says, stay in single file, talk in low voices, and don’t make any quick movements. We drove away from the camp a few kilometers and he parked the vehicle. We got out and watched him prepare his rifle, reminding us again of the rules. Then he stopped and said, “Hear that?” We could hear all kinds of noises, the birds, baboons, elephants in the distance, so I wasn’t sure which sound he was talking about. Then again, he said, “Hear that? That’s a lion and it is very near.” We all reached for the rails of the vehicle at the same time and were in it in less than a second. We drove to another location and I was about to say, “You know, I don’t really need to take a walk here. I’m fine to drive.” but didn’t want to seem like a wuss. I found out later everyone else was thinking the same thing.  Well, I’m not sure what Phinley was thinking. He just drove to another spot and got his gun out again. 

The new spot was deemed safe enough to get out and walk, so we did for over an hour and it was thrilling. We saw a few giraffe close up but mostly we looked at footprints and vegetation and learned about the changing landscape there. Phinley was incredibly knowledgable and though his manner was a little gruff, it was a great experience. I was relieved when we all made it back to the vehicle though. When we got there another vehicle was going by and told us about a pride of lions feasting on a giraffe, so on our way back to the lodge we swung around to see that. The giraffe was a healthy female that had fallen when she was crossing a marsh the day before. Phinley told us he saw her in the morning struggling to get up. I asked if he couldn’t help pull her out? He said no, that would either kill him or destroy the vehicle and fatally injure her. The only thing to do was to wait until she had drown. When a giraffe falls down it can’t get up. Another thing I didn’t know. So Phinley and some other guides waited until she died, then got a tractor and pulled her out so her carcass wouldn’t contaminate the water. He said he knew it would not be long before either lions or hyena took care of her. Wow. The harsh side of nature. When we got there a pride of nine lions had done quite a number on the huge animal. They were lying around guarding the remains as loads of vultures circled around. We watched for awhile as some of the lions surrounded the animal and others sauntered over to a shady spot under a tree. Phinley moved the vehicle closer to the ones under the tree and we parked there, no more than fifteen feet from these incredible animals. I mean, they are enormous! It’s astonishing how close you can get if you are in a vehicle as long as no one stands up. They all had their eyes focused on the vultures and were looking around for anything else that might come to share the giraffe…and then…George sneezed. One of his really loud sneezes. The ones that don’t usually bother me, but I will admit, that sneeze made me think, “What the fuck?” He was sitting on the lion side, and I was next to him. The male lion closest to us turned his massive head and looked at George with a curiosity that, frankly, I found terrifying. I whispered, “George, he’s looking right at you.” Those big amber eyes did not move from little George sitting fifteen (or was it twelve? maybe ten) feet away. It seemed a lot closer now. George was looking down at the seat between us and said, “I know. Is he still?” I said, “Yup. Do not move.” And I started nervous-laughing, and was having a hard time controlling it. I looked back at the lion but that stare was scary. I stopped laughing. He wasn’t Aslan. I sat motionless looking at my phone wanting to take a photo but afraid to move. Phinley, never taking his eyes off the lion said quietly, “No movement in the vehicle.” That scared me more. We were all frozen, and George whispered into the seat between us, the funniest thing he has ever said, “If he gets me, take a picture of it.” I have holes in my tongue from biting it. And all I could think of was, “Jeepers. What a satisfying end for the ex-wife. Killed by a lion for sneezing.”  After about five frozen minutes the lion turned his gaze back to the vultures, Phinley turned on the engine and slowly drove away. Holy Shit. What an ending to our stay there.

Later that afternoon, Phinley took us to the airstrip and we said goodby to that magical place. We had to drive up and down the airstrip to clear it of giraffes and kudu. As the plane approached, the giraffe started coming near again and Phinley got out of the vehicle and started chasing them on foot. They finally turned and ran into the bush. The plane landed and a group of eight Americans got off and into the vehicle to take them to what I thought of as my personal camp. I really loved it there. We got on their plane and took off for Maun where we spent the night trying to decide what to do with our last week of this odyssey. I felt like nothing could top that and was prepared for everything being downhill from there.

We needed to head north to Zambia and the most direct route was through Savuti in Chobe National Park, but we’d heard the road was deep sand and I had no desire to get stuck for God knows how long. The other option was to drive 300 kilometers to Nata, then another 300 north to Kasane, and that’s what we decided to do. 

Wednesday we drove to a place called Planet Baobab, a campground on the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pans and National Park. Again, we were warned it was deep sand into the park, so opted to stay outside the park and take an organized trip in a proper safari vehicle the next morning. About three minutes into the drive I was saying, “Thank God we didn’t try this ourselves.” Our car is great but the clearance isn’t super and we would have been anxious at best and marooned at worst. Plus all the roads were unmarked and looked alike and we would have been hopelessly lost. Our skeletons would have been found years later. The safari took us into the largest salt pan in the world, which extends for miles. You wouldn’t think a flat endless white landscape would be impressive, but it was breath-taking. You cannot see the end of it anywhere. These pans are the remnants of a huge inland lake that existed a half a million years ago. It’s possible to camp there in the middle of this vastness, but I don’t think I’d do that without a group and someone who knows the place. Though I guess people do. The night sky must be amazing.

From there we went another 100 kilometers on Thursday to a place called Nata, where there is another pan filled with water where there is a huge flamingo and pelican population. We camped in the community campsite, run by the local village, and were the only ones there. Horses and wildebeest walked around our tent at night. We drove down to the pan in the morning with a guide and watched the astonishing number of birds in the lagoons and in the pan. The flamingos were only visible with binoculars, but there were thousands of them. Joy, our guide, told us when other places dry out, there are sometimes half a million flamingos there. At sunset they fly in groups to a closer lagoon. We decided on the spot to stay another night and be there for sunset. It was nice that afternoon lolling about at the campsite. We’d been on the go so much we haven’t had as much unscheduled time as I thought we would. It is definitely getting hotter and I needed to do a run and was trying to figure out how to go about that. There were no predators there, so I could run on the hard salt road and incredible flat landscape. There were only grazers around and zillions of birds, but it was baking sun and too hot during the day so we read. A little before five we drove the seven kilometers down to the pan and I decided to do a run from there and be back to the spot where George was before the sun went down. There was a loop around one of the lagoons and it’s so flat it’s easy to see the way back. That scenery was so spectacular. The setting sun in the background with huge flocks of flamingoes taking off and coming toward us. I just run out of superlatives. I’m sure in George’s blog he has a list of all the different species of birds, but I’m not capable of listing them all. Maybe I’ll just add a link to his blog (after I read it). I always find it interesting to see how he describes the same things I do or what he decides to write about. It’s often different from me. 

Yesterday we arrived in Kasane, the gateway to Chobe National Park and got a campsite at one of the nice lodges here. I just love traveling in on this continent! For ten dollars a night we get a campsite with a fireplace and power source, on the river, and we can use all the amenities at the lodge! It’s fabulous! Right now I’m sitting at the campsite bar overlooking the river and herds of elephant are walking by. Last night we watched two lions stalk a buffalo. They were at a bit of a distance, maybe fifty meters, on the riverbank. We’d seen the buffalo all alone about an hour before and the guide told us he was old and kicked out of the herd. Again, nature can be so cruel. He was facing the lions who were on each side of him and I thought, “Oh my God, we are going to see a kill.” which, seems like it would be a cool thing to see, but I really don’t want to see it. Anyway, the buffalo charged at the lion, and she turned around and sat down again, still watching him. He stood still for awhile, then slowly turned and walked about twenty yards before he started running. The lions just watched. They can smell fear the guides say. They let him go.

Tomorrow we head north into Zambia and spend two nights on the Zambian side of Victoria Falls, then Wednesday to Lusaka, then Thursday to Lilongwe. Friday I fly to Rotterdam. I have a little sadness about the trip coming to an end, but mostly am so incredibly grateful to have been able to do this.

Next week from Rotterdam then back to real life…

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Chitabe Camp, Botswana

Sunday Morning ~ Chitabe Camp, Botswana 

August 12, 2018

Hi Everyone,

“Don’t panic until I do.” That’s what our guide Stuart told us as we set off on a walking safari on Wednesday. His English wasn’t that great and he seemed a little low on energy, so I was a little apprehensive as we started off. This was part of our mokoro camping trip into the Okavango Delta. We’ve been camping all along at campgrounds where there is running water and fireplaces. This was sort of a sub-camping trip where we had to carry all our stuff on a mokoro and make camp on a little deserted island with absolutely no amenities. A mokoro is a small boat that looks like a dug-out canoe but is made of fiberglass. It’s a bit tippy. The poler, who was also our guide, stands at the back with a big pole he uses to move us along the waterway. It’s like punting with crocodiles. After we got to the island where we set up camp, we took the mokoro to a bigger island for our safari. That’s where we got the instructions to stay in single file, speak in quiet voices, and don’t panic until Stuart does. 

Getting to Botswana was simple from Windhoek. Crossing the border was cake, and the only thing we had to watch out for was cattle on the road. They are everywhere. We got to Maun and found a place to camp right on the river at a backpackers lodge where they can arrange all sorts of activities. On a chalkboard behind the bar was a list of prices for mokoro trips and it was really cheap! We thought that would be a good start to seeing some of the inner delta.  Certainly no problem with availability; you sign up, pay your money, and a forty-five minute speed boat ride takes you to a village where the mokoro station is. There, you put all your camping equipment, food, and anything else you need for the trip into one of these little boats and your poler/guide takes you along peaceful, spectacular waterways another hour and a half to a camping spot. You are completely at his mercy as he poles along the crocodile-laden waters humming to himself. Not being such a big boat person, I thought I was heroic by not flipping out about this. His instructions as we got into this thin craft with all our gear was, “Act like a sack of potatoes and don’t move.”  The water isn’t deep or cold so I wasn’t worried about drowning this time, but I was not eager to lose a limb to Charlie the croc if we tipped over. I murmured to George, “Did you hear that? Don’t move!”  I was worried he’d try to stand up or something to try to take a picture.

Stuart’s job was to get us there, keep us alive, and get us back to the village where the speed boat would collect us on Friday. It was up to us to cook for ourselves and look after our stuff, etc. Another couple from UK was camping near us with a different guide who was a bit livelier. Stuart seemed a little depressed. The other guide dug a hole which was to be our toilet for the three days then showed us some necklaces he’d made, took out his guitar, and sang. Stuart asked us if we’d brought toilet paper. We said we had and his only response was, “good”. He was making me nervous. He didn’t have a tent with him so ended up sleeping in the other guide’s tiny tent. He also didn’t bring any food. We weren’t supposed to have to feed him, but we ended up sharing some of what we’d brought because he looked hungry and it was awkward to eat with him sitting there. Like I said, this little activity was cheap. It ended up being really wonderful though, and by the end of the three days, I was quite fond of Stuart. He would pole us over to these other islands and we’d walk for hours seeing various antelope and zebra in the distance. There are supposedly lions around there but we didn’t come across any, for which I was grateful in this circumstance. Especially after his “don’t panic until I do” comment.  We’d get up at six, pole over to another island and walk for two or three hours, go back to camp and have several hours to read, paint, or talk, then around five we’d go off in the mokoro again to watch the hippos while the sun set. It was so peaceful and laid back and since we’ve been moving so much, it felt good to sit for awhile and just take it all in. 

My focus had been on Namibia but George had really wanted to spend some time in the Okavango, so we planned the route back to Malawi through Botswana. I’m not sure I even knew what a delta was. I certainly didn’t have a good picture of this place in my mind, but had heard raves from people who’d been here. I’d heard prince Harry loved it and brought Megan camping here before he proposed. I asked the couple (Tom and Anna) from UK if they knew where the royal couple had camped? Tom said, “No, Harry and I don’t talk much anymore since he met Megan.”  Tom was not a big fan of the royals and said his idea was to sell them to the Americans and use the money to pay off the national debt. I found Tom endlessly amusing. 

Botswana, like Namibia, does a fantastic job with tourism and the Okavango is a very popular destination. Since we’d not made advanced plans we weren’t sure what we’d do. Everyone told us we’d have to make reservations at least a year in advance to get into one of the remote lodges you have to fly into, but knowing they are super expensive, we weren’t planning on staying at one anyway. We thought we might take one of the hour-long scenic flights. But then we started talking about it and thought, hey, we’re probably never going to be here again, so lets just check it out. So the day before we left on the mokoro trip we went into the office in Maun that manages the lodges run by a company called Wilderness Safaris. We thought we’d just see if there was a chance there was an opening for a couple of nights. We didn’t care which camp it was. Well, it turns out that not only was there an opening, but since we’d worked in Africa we got a very reduced rate (like a third of the standard rate) so we signed up. The price included the flight, all the activities, and even drinks!  Woohoo! So knowing we were booked for some luxury, we went off with Stuart and enjoyed, what we now know was, the other extreme.

By the time we got back to Maun on Friday we had layers of sunscreen, bug repellent, sweat, and dirt, about an inch thick over just about all of us. I thought I might just throw my clothes away instead of trying to wash them. But it was a good kind of dirty. A satisfying dirty. The kind of dirty that makes showering a religious experience. 

Saturday morning we were up bright and early to break down the tent and pack up for our ten o’clock flight. Every time I think this trip can’t get any better, we stay at a place that makes me pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. I see why Harry loves it here. I mean, really. Oh Em Gee.

We left the car at the Wilderness Safaris office and crossed the street to the tiny airport where we boarded the tiny plane that flies fortunate people like us into these camps. The camps are scattered throughout the delta which covers an area the size of Denmark. Our flight was short, only twenty minutes, and we were the only people on it. We landed on the dusty airstrip with a giraffe standing by the windsock and as we taxied toward the waiting land rover an ostrich ran in front of us. This was really cool.  We thanked our young pilot and got into the waiting vehicle with a driver, named Tank, who greeted us like we were long lost relatives. We hadn’t even left the airstrip and I already thought it was worth the price of the trip. It took about thirty five minutes to drive from there to the camp and the animals we saw on the way were phenomenal! Herds of impala, elephants, zebra, birds, all over the place. It was unbelievable! We pull up to the camp and five staff members are at the entrance singing a welcome to us. They helped us down from the vehicle as they introduced themselves and shook our hands. They didn’t let us carry a thing. We followed them into the main thatched room where an gorgeous brunch was laid out. We got ourselves a plate of food and the manager got one for himself and sat and ate with us while he explained how everything works and what the schedule would be. After lunch we would be free until 3:30 when they served high tea. Then we would leave for the evening game drive and return around seven for dinner. After brunch he walked us to our chalet and gave us an orientation. He explained the in and outdoor showers, that they prefer we use their eco-friendly products for bathing, showed us how the lights work, where to leave any laundry we want washed, etc. etc. then left us to rest until tea. We both burst out laughing thinking a few days before our guide made sure we’d brought our own toilet paper.

I went onto the porch to soak my feet (which were still dirty after the holy shower) and read while George sat inside at the desk to write. I heard some rustling of branches, looked up and hissed, “George! Get out here! Look at this!” and George comes out of the chalet with his binoculars around his neck. I said, “Uh, you won’t need those.”  Ten feet from the edge of the porch was a mother and baby elephant browsing away on the tree next to us. They didn’t pay any attention to us, munched for awhile, and moved on. We kept saying, “Oh my God, we just got here!”

I was still full from lunch but that didn’t stop me from eating some of the savory pastries at tea before we got into a safari vehicle with a Scottish family to head out for the evening game drive. Before we left, Ebs, our guide for the duration of our stay, asked what I’d like to drink for sundowners. I told him I’d have red wine since it was rather chilly, and he asked (I swear to God) “Would you like a full bodied or medium bodied?” Since I’ve gotten used to a Malawian waiter asking, “Red? Uh, let me check if we have any.” And if they do, it comes out of a box. I couldn’t stop laughing.

The amount of game here is staggering! Seriously! A herd of five hundred buffalo! But the most exciting thing we saw last night was two lionesses and six cubs dining on a zebra. I am very glad I didn’t see the actual kill which had happened the night before, as I love zebra. But to see these powerful creatures eating and guarding their food with their cubs was amazing. The cubs would nurse, then frolick, then lick the zebra meat or pull at it. The lionesses would eat some, then lie down and sleep while the cubs suckled. It was incredible. We watched that for quite a while before finding a place to stop for wine and the gorgeous red sunset I never get tired of. We saw more animals on the way back to camp as it got colder and colder, and as we arrived in the dark and descended from the vehicle, a staff person was there to hand us a warm washcloth for our hands and face. I’m like, are you kidding? Then we walk into the dining area where we were handed a glass of sparkling wine to sip while we waited for dinner to be served.

I never want to leave this place. 

…to be continued….

Love to all,

Linda