Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

November 12, 2017

Anyani sasekana zikundu ~ Monkeys don’t laugh at one another’s behind.

~ Malawian proverb

Hi Everyone,

Before I left the states to come back here, the violence related to the bloodsucking had been reported on internationally. A lot of people asked if I was nervous about coming back–– if I felt safe enough?  I reassured them I did. Peace Corps always errs on the side of caution and we would not be staying in an unstable country. Exactly one week after arriving back in Blantyre, I was chatting with a woman from Zimbabwe and she told me her son would be going to college in America. I said, “Really? Wow! That’s great!” She said, “I know, it’s a great opportunity. I know I need to let him go, but I am worried. I heard they shoot black men for no reason.”

How do I respond to this?

The violence that occurred here regarding the myth and superstition around “bloodsuckers” was swiftly dealt with. Police and military were called in to areas where mobs and rumor were getting out of control. Someone told me there were over 400 people in one prison. Politicians went personally to the areas where it was happening and met with the village chiefs. Communities made plans to keep themselves safe as people were terrified. There have been no incidents in the past few weeks and there is a cautiously optimistic feeling that it’s over. Those who perpetrated the violence have been arrested and contained. Education is being done to reassure villagers that vampires don’t exist. The village system is set up in a way that allows people to be heard. They have a forum to voice their fears and concerns and if done well, can be a positive experience of educating. The violence won’t be tolerated. Police and military are arresting anyone that even is associated with the mobs. This strategy has worked, it seems.  We are still under a curfew. The area surrounding Mt Mulanje where the whole thing started will be off limits for at least another few months, I imagine. Even the nursing school pulled students from the district hospitals there, but the general sense is that those who have been tasked with protecting the public have done their jobs.

I couldn’t say the same for my own country. I couldn’t tell this woman not to worry. I couldn’t say there were a few isolated incidents but most of the time black men are perfectly safe in America. I couldn’t say our police, military, and politicians would never allow that to happen with any regularity. I couldn’t say the suppliers of weapons wouldn’t allow them to be used like that.

So, no. I was not worried about coming back here. When I am walking home from work and hear footsteps behind me, I don’t worry about who it is. I turn to them as they pass me and greet them and always get a polite greeting in return. I don’t walk around flaunting my privilege, though I suppose just being white makes that redundant. I don’t go near local bars at night. I don’t walk around flashing cash, in fact, I don’t carry much cash with me at all. I’m not stupid. I’m careful, but I don’t feel unsafe. I felt more uneasy driving alone in rural parts of the southern United States, passing randomly placed confederate flags, than I do here.

The only thing keeping me from despairing when I think about the violence at home is focusing on living a decent life and working to get sane people elected. I just can’t believe this is reality. This week’s election results helped.

I jumped right back into the routine here, arriving just in time to start the academic calendar. That was a random stroke of luck. I had taken my home leave to accommodate prior commitments and planned to just fill in wherever needed when I returned. The academic year starts at a different time each year, and no one seems to know when that will be until just before it happens. So when I left a the end of July, no one could tell me when the next term would start. Last year it was in October, so I thought I’d be missing the first couple of weeks. I went over to campus on Monday morning to find it was day one of the term and I was just in time for fourth year students orientation! How’s that for timing? It was incredibly touching. I opened the door to the classroom where the students were all spit and polished in their new uniforms and asked, “Am I late?” The faculty were at the front of the class and their faces lit up when they saw me. (I just love that.) One stood and said to the class, “Excuse me for a minute, I have to give this woman a hug.” Sweet. I wish I could bottle those smiles.

I’ve been assigned to supervise a group of ten students here at Queens since the curfew prohibits travel to any of the district hospitals. I’m relieved that I still am able to have clinical students, but dreaded going back into this teaching hospital. I still haven’t recovered from doing my orientation there a year ago. I spent two days there this week with students and it has gone from bad to worse. I come home so depressed it takes me all night to recover. I’m afraid someday I just won’t. I feel like women are being slaughtered. They are having c-sections for diagnoses like “big baby”. Even at home where there is ultrasound and highly experienced sonographers, the estimation of fetal weight is inaccurate. To just look at a woman’s belly and say “big baby” and pronounce that it won’t fit before we even give her a chance is making me crazy. They tell the woman during hard labor the baby won’t fit and she needs surgery. The women are scared and in pain. If I start to argue that we should give her some time to see if it will come on it’s own, the medical students and residents will eventually agree, but by then the woman has given up and just begs for surgery, so they wheel her away. I asked one resident as they were taking a woman away if they’d talked with her about having a tubal ligation? He told me she refused, but he’d gotten her to agree to it during a bad contraction. He laughed, apparently thinking this violation of her human right was funny. I was definitely not laughing when I told him, “That’s not informed consent when someone agrees to something while in terrible pain.” This is the first labor and delivery rotation for these students so they are incredibly passive and are witnessing intolerable behavior. I tell you, if anything is motivating me to get this model ward up and running, being assigned here for the next seven weeks will be it.

The first year students finished their orientation this week and their classes start tomorrow. I will be teaching the same course, so already have my lectures prepared. This is going to be so much less stressful. It is so much nicer having a little idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll be two days a week in lectures with the first years and two days a week on labor and delivery with the fourth years. One day I will do a skills lab, something I’m valuing more and more. I never thought teaching with a mannequin was very valuable but anything is better than using these women as guinea pigs. They are being tortured. I know similar stories of women being treated like this at home, too, so I’m not laughing at any other monkey’s behind.

It’ll be busy for the next seven weeks and it’ll go fast. It’s ironic, though, that now that we have less lecture prep and a nice car, we can’t go anywhere because of the curfew. I’m hoping it’ll be lifted (except for at Mulanje) by next week when we have a St. Andrews night party to go to. We’re doing some planning for our Christmas trip to the Nyika Plateau in the north of Malawi and maybe another trip around Easter to Mozambique.  With weekends of lying around we might as well read the guidebooks.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

November 12, 2017

Anyani sasekana zikundu ~ Monkeys don’t laugh at one another’s behind.

~ Malawian proverb

Hi Everyone,

Before I left the states to come back here, the violence related to the bloodsucking had been reported on internationally. A lot of people asked if I was nervous about coming back–– if I felt safe enough?  I reassured them I did. Peace Corps always errs on the side of caution and we would not be staying in an unstable country. Exactly one week after arriving back in Blantyre, I was chatting with a woman from Zimbabwe and she told me her son would be going to college in America. I said, “Really? Wow! That’s great!” She said, “I know, it’s a great opportunity. I know I need to let him go, but I am worried. I heard they shoot black men for no reason.”

How do I respond to this?

The violence that occurred here regarding the myth and superstition around “bloodsuckers” was swiftly dealt with. Police and military were called in to areas where mobs and rumor were getting out of control. Someone told me there were over 400 people in one prison. Politicians went personally to the areas where it was happening and met with the village chiefs. Communities made plans to keep themselves safe as people were terrified. There have been no incidents in the past few weeks and there is a cautiously optimistic feeling that it’s over. Those who perpetrated the violence have been arrested and contained. Education is being done to reassure villagers that vampires don’t exist. The village system is set up in a way that allows people to be heard. They have a forum to voice their fears and concerns and if done well, can be a positive experience of educating. The violence won’t be tolerated. Police and military are arresting anyone that even is associated with the mobs. This strategy has worked, it seems.  We are still under a curfew. The area surrounding Mt Mulanje where the whole thing started will be off limits for at least another few months, I imagine. Even the nursing school pulled students from the district hospitals there, but the general sense is that those who have been tasked with protecting the public have done their jobs.

I couldn’t say the same for my own country. I couldn’t tell this woman not to worry. I couldn’t say there were a few isolated incidents but most of the time black men are perfectly safe in America. I couldn’t say our police, military, and politicians would never allow that to happen with any regularity. I couldn’t say the suppliers of weapons wouldn’t allow them to be used like that.

So, no. I was not worried about coming back here. When I am walking home from work and hear footsteps behind me, I don’t worry about who it is. I turn to them as they pass me and greet them and always get a polite greeting in return. I don’t walk around flaunting my privilege, though I suppose just being white makes that redundant. I don’t go near local bars at night. I don’t walk around flashing cash, in fact, I don’t carry much cash with me at all. I’m not stupid. I’m careful, but I don’t feel unsafe. I felt more uneasy driving alone in rural parts of the southern United States, passing randomly placed confederate flags, than I do here.

The only thing keeping me from despairing when I think about the violence at home is focusing on living a decent life and working to get sane people elected. I just can’t believe this is reality. This week’s election results helped.

I jumped right back into the routine here, arriving just in time to start the academic calendar. That was a random stroke of luck. I had taken my home leave to accommodate prior commitments and planned to just fill in wherever needed when I returned. The academic year starts at a different time each year, and no one seems to know when that will be until just before it happens. So when I left a the end of July, no one could tell me when the next term would start. Last year it was in October, so I thought I’d be missing the first couple of weeks. I went over to campus on Monday morning to find it was day one of the term and I was just in time for fourth year students orientation! How’s that for timing? It was incredibly touching. I opened the door to the classroom where the students were all spit and polished in their new uniforms and asked, “Am I late?” The faculty were at the front of the class and their faces lit up when they saw me. (I just love that.) One stood and said to the class, “Excuse me for a minute, I have to give this woman a hug.” Sweet. I wish I could bottle those smiles.

I’ve been assigned to supervise a group of ten students here at Queens since the curfew prohibits travel to any of the district hospitals. I’m relieved that I still am able to have clinical students, but dreaded going back into this teaching hospital. I still haven’t recovered from doing my orientation there a year ago. I spent two days there this week with students and it has gone from bad to worse. I come home so depressed it takes me all night to recover. I’m afraid someday I just won’t. I feel like women are being slaughtered. They are having c-sections for diagnoses like “big baby”. Even at home where there is ultrasound and highly experienced sonographers, the estimation of fetal weight is inaccurate. To just look at a woman’s belly and say “big baby” and pronounce that it won’t fit before we even give her a chance is making me crazy. They tell the woman during hard labor the baby won’t fit and she needs surgery. The women are scared and in pain. If I start to argue that we should give her some time to see if it will come on it’s own, the medical students and residents will eventually agree, but by then the woman has given up and just begs for surgery, so they wheel her away. I asked one resident as they were taking a woman away if they’d talked with her about having a tubal ligation? He told me she refused, but he’d gotten her to agree to it during a bad contraction. He laughed, apparently thinking this violation of her human right was funny. I was definitely not laughing when I told him, “That’s not informed consent when someone agrees to something while in terrible pain.” This is the first labor and delivery rotation for these students so they are incredibly passive and are witnessing intolerable behavior. I tell you, if anything is motivating me to get this model ward up and running, being assigned here for the next seven weeks will be it.

The first year students finished their orientation this week and their classes start tomorrow. I will be teaching the same course, so already have my lectures prepared. This is going to be so much less stressful. It is so much nicer having a little idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll be two days a week in lectures with the first years and two days a week on labor and delivery with the fourth years. One day I will do a skills lab, something I’m valuing more and more. I never thought teaching with a mannequin was very valuable but anything is better than using these women as guinea pigs. They are being tortured. I know similar stories of women being treated like this at home, too, so I’m not laughing at any other monkey’s behind.

It’ll be busy for the next seven weeks and it’ll go fast. It’s ironic, though, that now that we have less lecture prep and a nice car, we can’t go anywhere because of the curfew. I’m hoping it’ll be lifted (except for at Mulanje) by next week when we have a St. Andrews night party to go to. We’re doing some planning for our Christmas trip to the Nyika Plateau in the north of Malawi and maybe another trip around Easter to Mozambique.  With weekends of lying around we might as well read the guidebooks.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

November 12, 2017

Anyani sasekana zikundu ~ Monkeys don’t laugh at one another’s behind.

~ Malawian proverb

Hi Everyone,

Before I left the states to come back here, the violence related to the bloodsucking had been reported on internationally. A lot of people asked if I was nervous about coming back–– if I felt safe enough?  I reassured them I did. Peace Corps always errs on the side of caution and we would not be staying in an unstable country. Exactly one week after arriving back in Blantyre, I was chatting with a woman from Zimbabwe and she told me her son would be going to college in America. I said, “Really? Wow! That’s great!” She said, “I know, it’s a great opportunity. I know I need to let him go, but I am worried. I heard they shoot black men for no reason.”

How do I respond to this?

The violence that occurred here regarding the myth and superstition around “bloodsuckers” was swiftly dealt with. Police and military were called in to areas where mobs and rumor were getting out of control. Someone told me there were over 400 people in one prison. Politicians went personally to the areas where it was happening and met with the village chiefs. Communities made plans to keep themselves safe as people were terrified. There have been no incidents in the past few weeks and there is a cautiously optimistic feeling that it’s over. Those who perpetrated the violence have been arrested and contained. Education is being done to reassure villagers that vampires don’t exist. The village system is set up in a way that allows people to be heard. They have a forum to voice their fears and concerns and if done well, can be a positive experience of educating. The violence won’t be tolerated. Police and military are arresting anyone that even is associated with the mobs. This strategy has worked, it seems.  We are still under a curfew. The area surrounding Mt Mulanje where the whole thing started will be off limits for at least another few months, I imagine. Even the nursing school pulled students from the district hospitals there, but the general sense is that those who have been tasked with protecting the public have done their jobs.

I couldn’t say the same for my own country. I couldn’t tell this woman not to worry. I couldn’t say there were a few isolated incidents but most of the time black men are perfectly safe in America. I couldn’t say our police, military, and politicians would never allow that to happen with any regularity. I couldn’t say the suppliers of weapons wouldn’t allow them to be used like that.

So, no. I was not worried about coming back here. When I am walking home from work and hear footsteps behind me, I don’t worry about who it is. I turn to them as they pass me and greet them and always get a polite greeting in return. I don’t walk around flaunting my privilege, though I suppose just being white makes that redundant. I don’t go near local bars at night. I don’t walk around flashing cash, in fact, I don’t carry much cash with me at all. I’m not stupid. I’m careful, but I don’t feel unsafe. I felt more uneasy driving alone in rural parts of the southern United States, passing randomly placed confederate flags, than I do here.

The only thing keeping me from despairing when I think about the violence at home is focusing on living a decent life and working to get sane people elected. I just can’t believe this is reality. This week’s election results helped.

I jumped right back into the routine here, arriving just in time to start the academic calendar. That was a random stroke of luck. I had taken my home leave to accommodate prior commitments and planned to just fill in wherever needed when I returned. The academic year starts at a different time each year, and no one seems to know when that will be until just before it happens. So when I left a the end of July, no one could tell me when the next term would start. Last year it was in October, so I thought I’d be missing the first couple of weeks. I went over to campus on Monday morning to find it was day one of the term and I was just in time for fourth year students orientation! How’s that for timing? It was incredibly touching. I opened the door to the classroom where the students were all spit and polished in their new uniforms and asked, “Am I late?” The faculty were at the front of the class and their faces lit up when they saw me. (I just love that.) One stood and said to the class, “Excuse me for a minute, I have to give this woman a hug.” Sweet. I wish I could bottle those smiles.

I’ve been assigned to supervise a group of ten students here at Queens since the curfew prohibits travel to any of the district hospitals. I’m relieved that I still am able to have clinical students, but dreaded going back into this teaching hospital. I still haven’t recovered from doing my orientation there a year ago. I spent two days there this week with students and it has gone from bad to worse. I come home so depressed it takes me all night to recover. I’m afraid someday I just won’t. I feel like women are being slaughtered. They are having c-sections for diagnoses like “big baby”. Even at home where there is ultrasound and highly experienced sonographers, the estimation of fetal weight is inaccurate. To just look at a woman’s belly and say “big baby” and pronounce that it won’t fit before we even give her a chance is making me crazy. They tell the woman during hard labor the baby won’t fit and she needs surgery. The women are scared and in pain. If I start to argue that we should give her some time to see if it will come on it’s own, the medical students and residents will eventually agree, but by then the woman has given up and just begs for surgery, so they wheel her away. I asked one resident as they were taking a woman away if they’d talked with her about having a tubal ligation? He told me she refused, but he’d gotten her to agree to it during a bad contraction. He laughed, apparently thinking this violation of her human right was funny. I was definitely not laughing when I told him, “That’s not informed consent when someone agrees to something while in terrible pain.” This is the first labor and delivery rotation for these students so they are incredibly passive and are witnessing intolerable behavior. I tell you, if anything is motivating me to get this model ward up and running, being assigned here for the next seven weeks will be it.

The first year students finished their orientation this week and their classes start tomorrow. I will be teaching the same course, so already have my lectures prepared. This is going to be so much less stressful. It is so much nicer having a little idea of what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ll be two days a week in lectures with the first years and two days a week on labor and delivery with the fourth years. One day I will do a skills lab, something I’m valuing more and more. I never thought teaching with a mannequin was very valuable but anything is better than using these women as guinea pigs. They are being tortured. I know similar stories of women being treated like this at home, too, so I’m not laughing at any other monkey’s behind.

It’ll be busy for the next seven weeks and it’ll go fast. It’s ironic, though, that now that we have less lecture prep and a nice car, we can’t go anywhere because of the curfew. I’m hoping it’ll be lifted (except for at Mulanje) by next week when we have a St. Andrews night party to go to. We’re doing some planning for our Christmas trip to the Nyika Plateau in the north of Malawi and maybe another trip around Easter to Mozambique.  With weekends of lying around we might as well read the guidebooks.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning~  Blantyre

Mwamuna aliense ndi mwana wamfumu ku chipinda kwake~ Every man is a prince in his own bed.  ~ Malawian Proverb

November 5, 2017

Hi Everyone,

Well, the temperature is perfect, there is a soft breeze, canaries are flitting about, there isn’t a cloud in the sky, the mangos hanging off the tree are getting bigger before my eyes, and I’m sitting on my front porch taking it all in. I thought it would be hotter–– it usually is right before the rains–– but it’s delightful. I’m a little out of sorts, maybe a touch of jet lag, maybe because I didn’t go to mass this morning, maybe the readjustment to cohabitating is difficult, I’m not sure. Maybe some of each.

The last week has seemed like a month. Leaving Bar Harbor was a blitz: dropping the car in Portland, meeting up with Joe and Alan to transport me and my stuff to Massachusetts, Zack collecting me at Alan’s mother’s house with George’s car, dropping Zack at his house, getting over to Rachael’s to spend a little time with them before meeting my high school friends for the evening as a huge storm blew in from the tropics, driving ten miles back to Rachael’s that night in hurricane force winds and flooding roads––and that was just Sunday! Monday, I got prepped for the noon talk at a Rotary club near Boston, borrowed Mike’s car to get into Harvard Square to get my new glasses readjusted, met up with Julie from the Boston office of my organization and collected packages to bring back to Malawi, found the building at Tufts where I was giving a talk at 4:30, then rushed to return the car to Mike, grabbed the red line train to South Station, and ran with five minutes to spare to catch the 7 o’clock Chinatown bus to New York. I made it just before seven to find there is no seven o’clock bus on weekdays. Next one was at 8:30. This was hard to accept. I looked down at the sole of my shoe now flapping in the breeze as I’d tripped running up the steps, trying not to cry. I reminded myself I only had to wait an hour and a half! In Malawi it would have been twenty-four! How quickly I get spoiled. I checked out other options, but couldn’t get any transportation to New York sooner than an hour and a half. Honestly, that’s not that much time. So, I bought my ticket and used the  time to collect my wits, find some free wifi, and send a few messages. That helped to keep my anxiety down as I contemplated how late I’d be getting into New York. I was also really tired. I’d stayed up late with my friends the night before, the howling wind and falling branches kept me awake most of the night, and my mind running a mile a minute trying to figure out how I’d get everything accomplished and organized to have a graceful departure on Wednesday didn’t make for a restful night. The car trouble really messed up my vision of a relaxing four last days of home leave. I called Ruth to see when the last metro train ran so I could get up to her place in mid-town. She didn’t know what I was talking about. “What do you mean, when is the last train? This is the city that never sleeps!” So that was good. I’d be able to catch the D no matter when I arrived. Then I only had to worry about my lack of sleep as I drove four hours back to Boston. I couldn’t find the zen. The bus, however, was on time and the driver went like a bat out of hell and I was on the deserted streets of Chinatown by 12:20 a.m.! That felt like a little gift. I wasn’t expecting to arrive until one! A half hour later I was sitting at Ruth’s kitchen counter drinking good wine and feasting on Mediterranean chicken and couscous. I love my friends.

Later Tuesday morning than I’d planned, I packed up the pounds of beads that Ruth had collected for my women’s cooperative project and, with her help, lugged it all down to the subway. A hug goodbye and two hours later, I was at my stop in Brooklyn. I did only minor damage to my shoulders carrying the beads two blocks to the car repair shop. There I unloaded a healthy portion of my checking account into their cash register and retrieved my little mini who looked great after her week at the spa. The new timing chain and rear brakes agreed with her and she looked years younger! Purred like a kitten. She even had a bath. If anyone wants a recommendation for a garage that works on foreign cars near the city, let me know. They were great. My GPS wasn’t working since I no longer had a phone plan with data, so the owner gave me detailed directions on how to get out of the side street and onto the highway. That seemed like a forgotten art, and with the Brooklyn accent it was theater, really.

The late start meant that I missed rush hour traffic so the drive back to Boston was cake. I unloaded the car’s six week’s contents and stashed what wasn’t coming back here with me into a corner (a big corner) of the upstairs room at Rachael’s. I felt a little like a teenager leaving crap at her parent’s house. Then it was a fun evening of trick or treating with Wonder Woman and Chewbaka as an American finale. Wednesday was goodbye to the grandkids as they rushed off to daycare, and kids as they rushed off to work. I had kind of hoped we could meet somewhere in Europe in February so it wouldn’t be such a long span until I saw them again, but that idea was met with more skepticism than excitement, so not sure if that’s going to happen. It’ll probably be a ten month plan, which really, I guess isn’t that long. It was a relief to have most of the day to get organized and figure a way to keep my two suitcases under fifty pounds each. I think I had fifty pounds of beads and another fifty of textbooks. That didn’t leave much room for anything else. Well, there was plenty of room, but no more weight allowance. I had to arrange my carry-on with most of the heavy stuff, which made changing gates and loading the overhead bin fairly unpleasant.  Overnight to Amsterdam and I had a twelve hour layover there, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. My friend Chris works part time in Amsterdam, and the timing worked perfectly, allowing us to spend the day together in that beautiful city. We walked a million miles, had lunch, took a boat trip on the canals and were back at the airport in time to collect my luggage from the storage locker, drink a Heineken, share a goodby hug, and make it through security with an hour to spare. By then I was nearly sleepwalking.

I was really looking forward to getting home. It’s funny how much this feels like home right now. I was looking forward to seeing George, but getting a little nervous that he wasn’t answering any of my emails and texts. I knew they’d been allowed back to Blantyre and knew he’d arrived but my little updates along the way were not met with the enthusiasm I was expecting. I thought maybe he was busy getting the house ready for me, but that wouldn’t stop him from answering a text. I thought maybe he was outside picking flowers? Hahaha. Why do I always do that to myself? Why? Does this fantasy of the perfect reunion ever get more realistic? Why don’t I ever learn? It’s so self-destructive. By the time I got to Nairobi at six Friday morning I was worried he’d forgotten I was coming back, or didn’t want me to come back. I got onto the airport wifi, sent off an email, a text, and a What’s App message frantically worried that something had happened. He replied that he’d thought he had replied to my other correspondence, but apparently didn’t, which is bullshit since you can see when the message is sent. So that seemed a little cruel to me, but by then my sleep deprivation had given way to paranoia. By the time my flight left for Malawi, most of my excitement had evaporated. I could see we were in for an “adjustment” to being back together. I braced myself.

When I got off the plane he was waving from the baggage claim. I wondered how he’d gotten in there since you have to go through security? He just walked through (so he says). Not sure if he had to spin a tale or not. But it was lovely and smooth and all my luggage arrived and we went out to the parking lot and got into his new car and it was all luxurious and comfortable. We seemed a bit like strangers, though. It was weird. Something’s off. He got defensive when I harped on the fact he hadn’t responded to my messages, which, I told myself flying over Lilongwe not to do, but then again, that’s never stopped me before.

I will say, the guards seemed happy to see me. I love the way their faces light up. It made me feel loved and welcomed. Catherine is now the night guard and she arrived just before six while we were sitting on the porch having tea. I ran to the gate to let her in and she whooped and picked me up and swung me around. It was hilarious. And touching. I felt loved.

The tension inside the house escalated when I walked around putting things back where I’d had them before I left. George had locked himself out of the house while I was gone, so has an elaborate system now of leaving keys in certain places so he won’t forget them again. I messed that up when I put a basket (containing his keys) on a different shelf, not understanding the strategic placement. I also opened every door and window. Those of you who know me, know I like doors and windows open. In fact, I like most things open. George thought closing everything up would keep the dust of the dry season down. I’d rather dust every day (and since he banished Catherine from the house, I’ll have to). So it’s tense. It’s hard living alone then having someone invade your space, I get that. When we were all starry-eyed in love it was different, but that phase is over. Now we just seem to annoy each other. We’ll figure it out, hopefully without a knock down drag out fight, but it is a bit of a downer. I’m not living in a house with closed windows. In the tropics. No.

There has been no violence here associated with the bloodsucking incidents for the past two weeks. Because of that the Blantyre volunteers were allowed to come back, but we still have a curfew. We have to be in our house by 6 p.m. and can’t go anywhere outside the city during the day. That’s a drag, especially now that we have a car. Yesterday we went to an art/poetry exhibit about Mount Mulanje at the cultural center and it made me long to climb that mountain again. It’s currently off limits so I hope the curfew is lifted soon. I was remarking about this to my friend Sophie and she said, “Don’t worry. The rainy season is coming. No one fights in the rainy season. They are all too busy planting.”

The garden is overflowing! There are new lemons on the tree, peaches (which I didn’t even know grew here) covering the peach tree, avocados forming, and mangoes everywhere. The flame trees are in bloom, the beets, kohlrabi, fennel, chard, and carrots are all ready; we will not be lacking vitamins. I was telling Chimemwe how lucky I feel to have a full time gardener. He asked if I have one at home? I said, “No, it’s mostly wealthy people who have gardeners at home.” He just looked at me, confused. I said, “I know we seem wealthy to you, but at home we are not.”  He wanted to know if gardeners in the U.S. were well paid? I told him I have friends who are gardeners and they make a good living, but the season is short. It doesn’t last the whole year. He said, “Oh, I see.” and went back to his work as if that plan was foiled.

Despite my lack of sleep I managed to stay up talking with George late enough to get onto a local schedule. I go back to work tomorrow and am looking forward to seeing everyone and getting back into a routine. I won’t be able to go out to the district hospitals while the curfew is in effect, so will try to make myself useful here. Maybe focus on getting the model ward going. Early this morning we got out the travel guides and started planning our Christmas trip which, seems a little ridiculous since I just got back, but hey, Christmas is coming whether I just got back or not. And there is so much of this continent we haven’t seen yet! Hard to fit it all in to one lifetime.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Bar Harbor

Sunday Morning~ Bar Harbor

October 29, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I know for sure that this island is home. I will leave here today and be gone for the next year, but this is my permanent address. I felt the clarity as I drove across the Trenton Bridge.

When my kids were little and we were living in Connecticut we started thinking about where we would settle for our happily ever after. Joe was in graduate school, I was working in a busy practice in New Haven (a temporary haven). I value my experience there and am grateful for the friends I made, but we knew we didn’t want to raise our kids in that frenetic environment. I had to cross four lanes of traffic for my exit to the Madison office! I wasn’t doing that forever.

We were good at talking about our dreams and making big plans for life. We mapped it out in ten year blocks. After we married and spent a two month honeymoon biking around Europe, we joined the Peace Corps. We had our children young and incorporated them into the adventure. They were portable, we reasoned. We were living fist to mouth for many years and during the years in Connecticut our date-nights consisted of putting the kids to bed and making ourselves a nice meal to eat in peace. On one of those evenings we talked about the second ten-year plan. We’d had our family, we were finishing graduate school and had the potential for satisfying careers. We had no savings and didn’t know where we wanted to settle down, but we were sure it was somewhere in New England. We’d tested out the midwest, we’d traveled through Europe and Africa, we’d spent time out west, and nothing felt as right as the north east. So we started there. We went through each New England state and talked about it’s pros and cons; I wanted mountains, Joe wanted ocean. I’d always wanted to live in Vermont. I loved to ski and had a fantasy of living on a farm. We wanted good schools and a sense of community. The only thing missing was the ocean. So Maine was an obvious choice. It had George Mitchell, a National Park, mountains, ocean, skiing, and farms. We decided to spent the following year exploring, hoping to find the perfect spot to sprout some roots.

My salary at that time was so pathetic that three weeks of my pay went to rent and the babysitter.  Food, gas, and utilities consumed the fourth week. I started taking on sewing jobs to make extra money and most evenings after we got the kids to bed I’d pull out the sewing machine and set up the ironing board in the kitchen. Joe called it the sweat shop. He’d help sometimes, pressing seams as I sewed. One weekend each month we went to Maine.

We started in the south, working our way north along the coast seeing what the communities looked and felt like. Sometimes we brought the kids, sometimes we left them with my mother (bless her soul). We’d go to the library, look at houses, get a beer in the local bar. It was like a research project we conducted over the span of a year. It’s funny, we never once looked at jobs. We didn’t want the job to determine where we lived. We wanted to choose a community we liked and figured we’d find jobs there. I didn’t want to have the kind of life where I was always looking forward to a vacation in order to be where I wanted to be. I wanted to live where I wanted to be. For several months we ruled out coastal communities for one reason or another: too touristy, schools aren’t what we want, too far to commute to a hospital, etc. As we got further north we had to plan more than a weekend since the drive took almost a whole day. We planned a week for Mount Desert Island and made reservations to stay in the National Park. It was a seven hour drive here from our home in Connecticut and that was without stopping. We packed up the van with camping gear, food, and kids and drove north. We had our old-fashioned map, made out of paper, well-loved, and dog eared. I had it on my lap as we crossed the Trenton Bridge. Before we’d arrived on the opposite side, I said, “Oh wow. This feels good. I feel like I coming home.”  It wasn’t just the spectacular scenery––we’d seen lots of that, it was an energy I’d never felt before.  We didn’t even have to discuss it anymore after that week. We knew this is where we wanted to live. We spent the following year looking for a piece of land to build on. The sweat shop went into overtime and we saved enough money to buy three acres in the woods on a new road.

It was a few more years before we actually lived on that land. We went abroad again for two years. We knew living in Maine the kids would be living in a racially homogeneous community. We wanted them to experience diversity and understand what it’s like to be a minority. We lived in American Samoa for two years where they went to a local school, the only palangis. There they certainly learned what it was like to be an outsider, and we sometimes worried they were being traumatized. As adults, they’ve got various takes on that experience, but at the time our reasoning was sound. We were able to save enough money there to return to Maine and build a small house. We lived in a tent on the land and all seven of us worked on that place. At six years old, the twins were mostly running around picking up dropped nails in a bucket, but they did their part! We lived in that little house while we built the bigger one, and my heart and soul is still there.

It’s been thirty years of living and working in this community and reaping all the benefits it has offered. The music teachers, the athletic coaches, the museum, the research lab, all played huge roles in forming the people my kids have become. I had a spare hour this week while waiting for the mail and had time to hike Acadia Mountain. I thought, where else can you do that? Hike a mountain when you’ve got a spare hour? There was a time after Joe left that I thought, “What am I doing here? I wanted to live in Vermont!” I took my bike and went to Vermont for a week, riding around and seeing if the place felt as much like home to me. It wasn’t exactly a fair trial since I was heartbroken and insane. Nothing felt good at that time. And when I drove back onto the island I got that same sense of peace and belonging. That it’s hours from a major airport the only downside here.

I had breakfast this week with my friend Ann. We walked in the rain over to Morning Glory, the sweet local bakery in an old house in town. We ordered our food, took our coffee and sat at one of the small tables. Ann was one of the women who started the Women’s Health Center, and we’d spent hours together drawing up forms for health histories, fundraising, commiserating, celebrating, and doing a really good job of taking care of women. It was grassroots health care at the time and we were proud of what we created. We talked about how hard it was to see what was becoming of all that work. Our health system seems to be crumbling. I told her about my plans for the next year. I told her I was looking forward to going back to Malawi next week, to working on the projects I care about there, and the travel we plan when we finish next June. But I told her I knew for sure I’d be back, that this was home. I told her about the feeling I had when I drove across the bridge. She said, “I know, right? It’s like that feeling you get when you crawl into your warm bed at night. Ah, I’m safe.” I laughed and said, “Exactly! That’s exactly the feeling!”

I thought of that feeling of safety. In my travels over the past month I’ve thought about how it feels to be alone in a strange place, especially as a woman. It’s something I’ve taken for granted, that I have to be extra careful as a woman traveling alone. And then I think, why should that be? Why should I be at particular risk just because of my gender? Why have I accepted this?

So I’m grateful for this clarity. I know where I feel safe. I’ve got a little more insight into work I need to focus on for gender equality and fairness. I’ve been blessed by the invitations I’ve had to present my experiences and energized by people’s reactions. I leave here today to head south for a few more talks and time with the kids, grandkids, and old friends. I’ll collect my car in New York, drive it back to Littleton, then Wednesday board a plane headed back to Malawi. The violence has subsided so I’m hoping I’ll be back in Blantyre by the end of the week. Three months flew! This will be my last post for awhile with reliable internet!

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ My Daughter’s House

Sunday Morning~ My Daughter’s House

October 22, 2017

Hi Everyone,

My time in the states is closing in. In ten days I’ll go back to Malawi, a country rather shaken up right now with bizarre violence. George and all the volunteers in the southern region have been evacuated to Lilongwe until the situation calms down. He said he didn’t feel unsafe, and no one was targeting him, but there was a lot of surreal tension in the air and Peace Corps felt it prudent to remove all the volunteers. In the rural areas belief in witchcraft is prevalent and it gets blamed for a lot of misfortune. They sometimes believe that people die because an evil spell was cast on them. Many well educated people are also superstitious though they don’t act out like this. I’m only getting snatches of information about how this came to become so severe, but angry mobs are killing people suspected of vampirism. They call them bloodsuckers. When there is a phenomenon they don’t understand they’ll blame it on evil spirits, not unlike the witch trials of 1692 in our country. There are more immediate consequences in Malawi, however as they don’t wait for a formal trial to execute someone suspect. It’s terrible and it’s unclear who will be the next victim. A mob attacked a doctor on his way home from doing surgery because they thought his stethoscope was a bloodsucking instrument.   An epileptic man was killed because he was thought to be possessed. I’m waiting for more information from George, but I know it’s been in the international news so I’ve gotten a couple of calls from worried family members. I’m still scheduled to go back on time. If I can’t go directly to Blantyre, I can work in Lilongwe at the campus there until things settle. There are many research projects going on in Malawi and many require collecting blood (HIV research for example). This may be where the bloodsucking fear came from, but that’s just speculation. I’m anxious to get back there and see what’s happening and talk with my Malawian colleagues. I hope my students are ok.

I’m still on the road and have worked my way up to the Boston area, grateful for the time I’ve had with family, friends, and nature. I’m without my car at the moment and therefore  most of my belongings. The timing chain went so it’s undriveable. It’s in a repair shop in Brooklyn, New York with guys who seem like they care about mini coopers, so that’s good. When I limped in there Friday the sound it was making made everyone look up and grimace. I knew that was a bad omen. Then they looked in the back window and said, “Running away from home?”  I told them I’d been living out of my car for the past two months and was hoping they could fix whatever was wrong by the next day. They just shook their heads and said, “Doubt it by the way it sounds.” I told them to go ahead and fix it; I’ll figure out a way to go pick it up next week. I’m incredibly grateful it waited until I got to and from my talk in Harlem and didn’t leave me stranded on some forsaken highway. The travel goddesses were with me. I made my way to Chinatown yesterday to get the cheap bus to Boston, an adventure since the subways weren’t running on the line I needed. Thank God Jake was with me or I’d still be wandering around the tunnels of Manhattan.

I spent more time than ever the past two weeks next to the ocean, someplace I’m not always comfortable. I took longs walks every morning on the beach, miles and miles of them where I saw very few people. I tried to get that feeling of serenity and peace that others describe when they are on the beach but it just isn’t there for me. It stirs me up and evokes some kind of anxiety. I paid more attention to it this time and stopped trying to fight it. I’m intrigued by those who love to swim and are drawn to the water. In the whole two weeks by the warm waters of the southern states I never went in over my knees, and that was only when a wave caught me by surprise. My ankles were as deep as I wanted to get. I appreciate the beauty and the power of the ocean, but I am most at peace in the mountains and woods.

The eastern shores along the mid atlantic states are beautiful in a way I never realized however, and I am grateful to have spent time there. I drove from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, up through Delaware, then took a ferry to Cape May, New Jersey and drove to New York from there. It was so much prettier than I imagined. I honestly didn’t know there was that much undeveloped land in the east. The cotton fields I passed in North Carolina somehow took me by surprised and as pretty as they were, they gave me a sick feeling in my gut. I love fabric and love cotton, but when I see the fields I think of the broken lives that industry was built on and am shamed by our history of barbarism. The confederate flags I saw flying in various places were disturbing and added a feeling of dread. I’m scared of where we may be heading. That said, in the past month of traveling I’ve met warm, friendly, helpful people, proud of their communities, compassionate, and caring. In Virginia I pulled off the highway when my oil light went on and pulled into a service station. I was thumbing through the manual trying to find the oil gauge when a young man came over and asked if I needed help. He didn’t need the manual. When it was obvious the car needed oil, he waited until I went to buy some, put it in, then made sure everything was ok before I took off again. I offered to buy him coffee. He refused and told me to be safe. I told him I’d pay his kindness forward. He waved as he walked away and said, “Mah wife never checks the oil either. Have a safe trip.” He got into his monstrous truck and drove off. There are so many good people out there.

Tomorrow I’ll drive back to Maine for the week and pack up for the next year. Friends have lent me their unneeded car so I’m mobile again. Wednesday night I’ll drive to Portland to give a talk at the Trinity Episcopal Church. I got this invitation to speak a year and a half ago and I planned my whole home leave around it. I have so much I want to say in one hour. I need to spend some time in the next two days honing.

The leaves are beautiful, the air is warm, the grandkids are flipping adorable, and I’m grateful.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Hatteras Island

Sunday Morning~ Hatteras Island

October 15, 2017

Hi Everyone,

I am on the porch of a little pine cabin in a campground on Pamlico Sound. There’s no water view from here but I can hear the waves. I’m desperate for a cup of coffee but the camp store isn’t open yet and I don’t have anything with me to make hot water. I don’t have a pillow either, which, has made sleeping the last four nights a little uncomfortable. I spent two nights in my tent at the National Park campground in Ocracoke but the past two days were cloudy, windy, and drizzly, so sprang for a cute little cabin. I’m leaving in a couple of hours to head north and I hate packing up a wet tent. It was definitely worth it.

I left Tybee Island last Monday planning to make it to Beaufort, North Carolina that night, but the going was slower than I expected and once it was dark and I was still twenty miles from Beaufort I decided I didn’t want to continue on the small roads (or big ones for that matter) and got a motel room. I was in Beaufort early on Tuesday and walked around Fort Macon then boarded a boat to Shackleford Banks to see the wild horses. It was really hot. There were only a few of us on board; apparently tourism is way down in October. I’m not sure if it’s because of hurricane season or school starting, but I’ve had the place to myself practically. As soon as we landed, I jumped onto the beach and hightailed it across the point to the ocean side and walked as fast as I could. I needed some exercise and I thought getting away from the boat landing would increase my chances of seeing the horses. I decided to walk for half an hour then turn around. I figured I couldn’t get lost; it’s just a straight shot down the nine miles of beach, all deserted. I’d thought of camping out there (it’s free) but I can only take the isolation thing so far. I’m sure I could survive, but camping on an island inhabited only by wild horses without amenities seemed like it’d be more fun with a willing companion. There’s no way off until the boat comes back the next day. I saw neither footprints nor wild horses. I started wondering what I’d do if I did see them? Are wild horses dangerous? No warnings were given out on the boat. I didn’t hear reports of campers being trampled. I worried about missing the boat back. I had nothing with me to spend the night and the boat captain seemed quite cavalier about leaving people there. If you miss it, you are shit out of luck until the next day. After walking a couple of miles I saw a trail that cut across to the bay side so thought I’d take that and walk in the direction the boat was coming. The island had gotten much wider; I hadn’t figured that into this plan. The path across was a lot longer than I expected. I couldn’t even see the water! But I knew it had to be there somewhere if I kept walking. It was sandy dunes and slow going, but then I saw in a valley, a herd of the horses. They were nibbling away at the grass and minding their own business.  Yup. There they were. Horses. They seemed quite oblivious and didn’t care that I was walking through their dunes. Just kept munching away. I kept walking as I watched them eat, which they did just like tamed horses. I guess the only way I would be able to tell they were wild would be if someone tried to catch one. They even looked fairly well groomed. It was somehow romantic. I’m glad I went.

On Wednesday I took a ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke. I hadn’t realized how the North Carolina coast is made up of so many islands. It was only fifteen bucks for the ferry! I thought that was a huge deal! I was expecting it to be like $100 or something. I decided to buy myself a pair of earrings from a local artist with what I saved. While standing outside my car waiting to board, a guy came over to chat. He used the Maine plates as a jumping off point to get the conversation going. “Wow! You’re a long way from home!” He was handsome, about my age, seemed to be alone, and extremely sure of himself. As the cars started their engines he turned to go back to his car (which was towing a boat) and said, “I’ll see you on board.” quite assuredly.  It was a two and a half hour ferry ride and I get seasick so usually sit outside at the front of the boat. Mr. Full of Confidence swaggered over to chat again. He asked my name and said his was Chip, or Biff, or Skip (some one-syllable name that isn’t a real name).  He told me he was heading to Hatteras to go fishing on his boat (emphasis on boat). This cracked me up. Only lighting up a cigarette could be more of a turnoff for me. I feigned admiration, “Oh wow, how nice!” but failed to add, “I hate boats” as I would have twenty years ago. I’m mellowing with age. He told me he’s never been to Maine, but “always wanted to go.” I asked, “Then why didn’t you?” You’d think someone who can own a boat can go to whatever state he “always wanted to go to.” He said, “I just never got there.”  There was no shade and it was baking hot so I didn’t last long outside and went into the air conditioned cabin. I’ve always said I hated air-conditioning, but I am humbled; the heat and humidity together with the wind is really breaking me down. Anyway, I was minding my own business, reading Hillary’s book What Happened, when Chip or Biff or Skip came up behind me and asked, “Who is she blaming on that page?”  So that, of course, pissed me off, but I decided to mess with him a little. I smiled, “Oh, you’ve read it?” “Uh, no”, he said, “but I’m sure she’s blaming someone.”  I said, “It’s funny, every person who has said something negative to me about this book hasn’t read it! I find that interesting.”  He just looked at me. I asked what he did for a living?  He said he was an investment banker. I said, “Oh really? So what do you think of what’s happening in the stock market? I just heard a report that it can’t sustain this level.” Oh, he assured me it could, as long as the new tax plan gets passed. Then he said, “By the way, I met the Clintons once when I was on business in Arkansas.” I said, “Really? When?”  He said in the early ’90’s he was in a local diner in Little Rock when in came a woman wearing a cowboy hat and boots with three young guys on her arms. She was messing with them and kissing them and really acting inappropriate. He said, “She was beautiful! So I asked someone who she was and they told me ‘Hillary Clinton’.” Then he asked me, “Can you believe that? The governor’s wife behaving that way?” I said, “No, actually. I can’t.” The sarcasm went right over his head, which I thought at first was funny, but then sort of scary. “Then”, he tells me, “A few minutes later, Bill Clinton came into the diner with three young women all over him. He was kissing them and groping them. I couldn’t believe it!” I said (as if I were confused), “Now wait, was this the early 90’s when he was running for president? Or was it after he was already president?”  Then Skip looked confused. I said, “Because he was elected president in 1992, right? So was this while he was on the campaign trail they were behaving this way, or when they were in the White House and just visiting a diner in Little Rock? Were secret service with them?” He looked confused and thought for a second and said, “Well, maybe it was a little earlier than that. But, I’ll tell you, she was beautiful.”  I laughed and said, “Now, that part I believe.” Again, over his head. THEN (this is good) he said seriously, “I tell you, we have to do something about getting rid of Obamacare because I want to retire but can’t because I’d have to pay $6,000 a month for health insurance!”  I said, “Wait. Retire? Are you 65? Really? You don’t look that old!” He said, “No, I’m 57 but I’d like to retire.” I said, “You mean you don’t want to work? But want benefits? Hah! Get in line buddy.”  He looked confused. I think he was trying to figure out what I was saying. Then I continued, “Why do you want to leave your job as an investment banker if the stock market is so great right now? Are you saying we should lower the retirement age for everyone to age 57? That would be interesting. What bank do you worked for?”  It wasn’t quite disgust he regarded me with, it was more of a hybrid of disgust and embarrassment.  He did have beautiful blue eyes, like Paul Newman eyes, but clearly wanted to get away from me. He got up and said, “We’re not as far apart as you’d think.” and he walked away. I’m telling you, if that’s who is in charge of our investments, I’m even more scared than I was about our economy.  He didn’t even wave as he and his boat drove off the ferry in front of me.

Ocracoke Island is beautiful. It’s much less developed than I thought and many of the businesses were closed. I’d expected crowds. Off season is earlier here than it is at home! The campground, which is right on the beach, was nearly empty. I had my choice of about a hundred sites, found one I liked, set up my tent and realized I was downwind from the dumpster. I was too lazy to move it all though and just hoped the wind would shift. I walked along the beach every morning watching the sunrise. Miles of empty beaches. The ocean was rough with a strong undertow and I had no desire to go in further than my ankles. I walked around the little village, walked to the lighthouse, and then had had enough as the weather started getting worse on Friday.

I drove north and caught the free ferry to Hatteras Island. I guess it’s cheaper to run that ferry every half hour than to build a bridge. This island is one long sandbar and on the stretches of road not protected by National Park are huge three story houses, one after the other on both sides of the road. I wonder how long the road will last, never mind those houses, which look fairly new. I can’t imagine how they got building permits! I’d recently heard a story on NPR about the outer banks and how in ten years they may not exist. So I thought, maybe, since I was in the neighborhood, I should see it before it’s gone.

The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is impressive, the tallest lighthouse in America and second tallest in the world. They moved it in 1999 as it was about to be taken over by the sea. Also impressive. That must have been a sight to see. At every historical site I visit three quarters of the information is about some war: the revolutionary war, the civil war, WWII; it is depressing. Hundreds of shipwrecks, cemeteries filled with unidentified soldiers washed up on shore, forts, and artillery. It seems we just never learn.

I’ll go to mass today at a sweet little church I passed on the water, then up to Roanoke to see the lost colony and end up in Duck with George’s nephews and sister in law. I enjoy traveling alone, but realized I don’t do it in this country much. I also realized, as much as I love to camp, I’ve never slept alone in a tent before. That was a new experience. I felt safe enough, but did wake up at every sound. I’d have to do for awhile to get used to it. I also came to the sad realization that I feel less safe traveling in this country than I do elsewhere. Now, how odd is that? I often wonder why anyone would visit this country when you listen to our news. It sounds like the scariest place on earth.

Well, on that sour note, I’ll go get coffee, pack up, and hit the road.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~Tybee Island

Sunday Morning~ Tybee Island

October 8, 2017

Hi Everyone,

Another sublime spot to write. I’m on the balcony of a huge house we’ve rented for a long weekend on Tybee Island outside of Savannah. The sand dunes and ocean are in front of me and it is so hot we are sitting inside with air-conditioning. Even I am on-board with that. It’s the annual reunion of the original twelve who went to Malawi in 1979 as traditional Peace Corps volunteers. It’s a unique group, family really. I wrote about us last year when we all met in Carmel Valley or Pacific Grove (are they the same place?) when we had so much fun we decided to meet again this year. We have money now. Some of us are retired. We value our relationships and can travel. It’s a fine life.

Joe, my ex, was one of the twelve. He is the only one not invited and after two mimosas I’m wondering if that’s a good thing? He’d never come, of course, but I wonder if someone should invite him?  Last year George was able to be with us, and he was welcomed with open arms. Everyone was so happy for me that I’d found someone like George. He fit right in.  He’s back in Malawi now and wasn’t able to be here this year, but we toasted him last night and I thought about what it would be like to have the two of them here together. Awkward at best, buzz kill surely, and the whole thing might turn into a therapy session and who needs that when you’re on vacation? Nah. Plus, Joe is not the same person he used to be. The rest of us though are remarkably the same. A little heavier, a little grayer, wiser for sure, more perspective, but essentially the same. There is something very comforting about that. Ten of the original twelve made it, the eleventh, Jeff,  got sick at the last minute and couldn’t drive from Waco, Texas. Bummer.

When Joe left me sixteen years ago, to say I had a hard time accepting it was an understatement of epic proportion. I was completely broken. It was not only my sense of failure, but the destruction of our family I could not accept. There were many people, angels really, who swooped in to help me through it. One evening, my friend Carl called to talk to me and I was crying so hard he told me he was taking me out to his island for a couple of days. He has a place on Gott’s Island where I could really get away from my routine of looking at the house we’d built together and falling apart. He collected me with his boat at the Bass Harbor dock and I sat in my depressed stupor for two days while he cooked for me. He left peppermint patties on my pillow at night. He invited a couple for dinner who were summer residents, professors at Princeton. One was a sociologist who had written a book on the history of the family. I borrowed it. It was immensely helpful for me to read about how our notion of “family” in the genetic sense, is a relatively modern concept. Throughout history the concept of family has taken on various forms. For instance, in medieval times, “family” was whomever happen to be living in the court at the time. That book made me reframe my idea of what “family” meant. I considered what I could control and what I couldn’t. I couldn’t make Joe stay and be the person he used to be. I couldn’t keep our family intact. I could, however, reconfigure what I embraced as a “happy family”. I thought how grateful I was to Carl for encouraging me to go out to Gott’s, for even calling me in the first place to see if I was okay. I looked at other friends in my life and how they supported me and cared about me. I started looking at “family” with a broader lens.

Friday, ten of us arrived on Tybee throughout the day from various locations. Ralph lives in Savannah and came after work. Ken flew in from Portland Maine. Donna and her family flew from Wisconsin to Atlanta, visited family there, then drove here. Lynn rearranged a trip to Hawaii because she didn’t want to miss this and flew from Las Vegas. I drove from Tennessee. As we each arrived, the welcoming chorus grew louder and the conversation more animated. Steve and his wife had driven from Pennsylvania with a cooler filled with beer. He handed one to each new arrival. We sat and talked. I thought, “This is family.”

We were thrown together as young volunteers into a country where Peace Corps had been previously expelled. We were warned to behave. We were young. Ray was the oldest of the twelve and he was only twenty-nine! I was the youngest at twenty-two. We lived together in training for three months then were assigned to our various sites. We communicated with each other by writing letters…on paper…with a pen. We visited occasionally, but travel was difficult so it wasn’t often. When Matt was born there they all treated him as their nephew. Several made the long trip to Karonga to see him.

Last night we cooked together rather seamlessly. There was toasting and story telling. I’d scanned old slides and we looked at ourselves forty years younger. We laughed enough to add a few years to our lives.

 

We started making plans to do this again next year. Maine was one location tossed around. Ken and Margo just bought a place in Belfast so that makes two of us in Maine. We’re gaining on California. Suzanne thought we could combine the reunion with a wedding between me and George, but I told her that was very unlikely. She insisted it would be perfect. I emailed George to tell him. He said fine for Maine reunion, not fine for wedding. A little later the venue’d been changed to Wisconsin at Donna and Larry’s lake house. Suzanne was disappointed that the wedding’d been cancelled. This led us to a discussion about how everyone had found the perfect spouse. When we all met I was the only one married. Now, I’m the only one not. (No pressure, honey.)

I told them how things had changed in Malawi since our time there. The mountains are mostly treeless. There is trash everywhere. The population has more than tripled. But the people are the same: loving, friendly, and welcoming. The game parks are fantastic; the landscape is still stunning. Birth control is legal! People actually go on strike and protest!  Lots of people have cars. There are traffic jams. There is mass communication and everyone has a cell phone. There was a collective feeling of nostalgia for the way it was way back when, but where has it stayed the same for forty years? There are houses cheek to jowl on this beach where I sit right now. I’ll bet there are some who see this and get nostalgic for the good old days when the dunes covered the island and you could see the beach from the road, if there was one.

I’ve got an unscheduled week ahead of me, which I find enticing. By checkout time tomorrow I’ll have to figure out someplace to go. For now, I’ll head back downstairs and see what’s so funny.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~Tampa

Sunday Morning~ Tampa

October 1, 2017

Hi Everyone,

Zack had the greatest group of friends growing up. All cut from the same cloth: smart, funny, athletic, polite; they’ve been friends since we moved to Bar Harbor when Zack was starting third grade. They all spent a good part of their growing up years at our house and I loved it. I loved cooking for them, rooting for them at track meets, hearing about their social lives, girlfriends, colleges, jobs, and now wives. We’re all in Tampa for Brian’s wedding, the fourth of the guys to get married. Derrick marries Kristen in two weeks. After that, Zack will be the last bachelor among them. We were anxiously waiting a couple of weeks ago to see if Tampa would be destroyed by the hurricane, but the city appears to have been spared. All the trees have foliage and all the houses have roofs.

I left Maine last Sunday afternoon and hit the road for Albany where my brother lives. It was the start of my month-long road trip and I thought I’d get the New England leg under my belt right off. I had a quick stop to collect a crib for James and Zack’s best-man suit and then headed west. All the stuff others didn’t want to schlep on the airplane went into the car. After a seven hour drive and weekend traffic, I made it to Albany.

Monday: Albany to Washington. The most direct route on map quest said six and a half hours. But crossing the George Washington bridge and the New Jersey turnpike didn’t appeal to me, been there done that, so went west through Pennsylvania and Maryland. All was well, no problems, but the extra miles dumped me into Washington at six pm and that meant an hour and a half to go ten miles. Pretty sunset though. The red taillights blended nicely.

Tuesday: Capitol Hill. I drove into town with the friend I stayed with in Alexandria. She has the morning commute thing all figured out and we beat the traffic. I met up with Nora the Peace Corps congressional liaison and we headed to the Hill for the constituents coffee with Susan Collins. The timing was great as it would save me the time of sending her a thank-you email for utilizing the last remaining shred of decency in the republican party and voting no on the health care death sentence for poor americans. I really didn’t expect to meet her personally, the aide said she hoped the senator would have a few minutes to speak to me, but I figured she would be a dishrag by the time her colleagues got through with her, so wasn’t really expecting a face to face.

I love going to Capitol Hill. I’ve done it several times with the midwives from Maine to lobby for some bill or another to provide some basic services to women. Stuff it seemed should be a no-brainer but still was a huge effort. I heard a great line once: there are two things you should never watch being made, one is sausages, the other is the law. Boy is that ever true. It is, however, a great exercise as an American to have access to our representatives. You just make an appointment and show up. At least some aides will meet with you and you can speak your mind. In the past when I’ve gone there with a group of midwives it was a little intimidating. We had specific bills we were asking them to support and were worried about having all the facts straight and organizing who was going to say what. We had folders of information to leave with them and were schooled on the proper lobbying behavior and dress code. So with all that experience under my belt, I dug the simple black dress out of my canvas bag, pulled the black pumps I bought for the TED talk (and have not worn since) out from under the drivers’ seat in the car, threw a scarf around my neck and headed to Collins’s office with some confidence. I wasn’t quite clear on what message I was delivering. I guess I thought Nora would be facilitating the meeting. I didn’t ask. Funny now when I think about it. I guess I was so focused on just getting there I wasn’t worried about performance.

A few times a year Collins has a constituents coffee from 9-10 a.m. It’s like a cocktail party but with coffee and donuts. My timing was fortuitous as it fell on the morning of my visit. We arrived to find about fifty people swarmed around the senator. I was stunned to see she was actually there. I thought she’d be taping herself back together after the major coup she delivered to the old boys. I was introduced to her foreign affairs aide, (who looked to me like a high school student) and we started chatting about the Peace Corps program in sound-bite phrases that always has me hitting “refresh” on the brain browser. That kind of interaction makes me feel jumbled and unclear. I should have practiced a little more. While focusing intently on trying to sound intelligent, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned, and it was Susan Collins! Like two inches away. Not expecting that. I was not ready. I impulsively grabbed her hand and said, “Thank you so much for standing up! Be strong. All the women of Maine are rooting for you and willing you our strength.” She said, “Thanks, I need it.” Just as cool as a cucumber. She looked great. I couldn’t stop saying that to myself. “Jeepers, she looks great.” Then she said, “I read your bio and am so impressed with what you are doing.” Then I thought, “She read my bio? Are you kidding me? With all she has on her plate to stop the insanity in her party?” Then stuff started pouring out of my mouth about what’s happening to women around the world and in Maine. It was a crazy blur and I couldn’t believe it was happening, but she seemed in no rush and was incredibly present and listening. I was stunned. She gave me several minutes. I mean minutes. She asked follow-up questions about some things I said. I brought up what is happening in Maine and all rural areas in the country for health care for women. She said she was in total support of nurse-midwives as a solution, the same for nurse-anesthetists.  She actually seemed really well informed. I repeat, I was stunned. She was talking to me like we were girlfriends. Like she had all the time in the world. No canned responses. Genuine interest. I was wondering if I looked as stunned as I felt. Someone came to her and started pulling her away and she said, “Wait, lets get a photo.” Then the aide said to me, “Take your name tag off. I’ll hold your coffee.” It was a little surreal. Then the smiling photo was taken with the flag in the background, so that was staged, but it was all more than I expected. I thanked her again and said, “I’ll be in touch.” Then thought to myself, “Why did I say that? As if we were going to go for a walk or something?” I have no idea why that came out of my mouth, but it did. She smiled and turned to the others waiting to talk to her. We sat with her aide for another ten minutes or so in a quieter room. She explained that the coffee is supposed to be for constituents and they require that there are actual constituents there, not just lobbyists. So maybe Susan seemed eager to talk to me because I was the only constituent or something, I don’t know. But it was really cool.

The afternoon in Senator King’s office was very different. There we met with four of his staff, two for international affairs and two for health. It was a sit-around-the-table type of meeting and I wasn’t sure what points to emphasize. They asked a few questions but mostly I rambled on about the program and tied it in to rural women’s health care and what’s happening in Maine. They were all a little poker faced and I wasn’t sure how I was coming across. Then when I said I believed that Peace Corps is the only foreign policy that really works and so many Malawians have told me their lives were changed by a Peace Corps volunteer and they tell me that they love Americans because “we’re always helping people” one of the international affairs aides lit up and said, “Really? They say that?” I told her, “Yes!” She put her hands together and said, “Oh thank God.” That was the high point of that encounter.

I left D.C. the next morning a little later than I wanted but thought since I’d be heading out of the city, traffic wouldn’t be too bad. I was wrong. Eager to get off the highway, I went into Shenandoah National Park and started south on Skyline Drive, where I was the only car. It’s a 109 mile drive but at 35 mph through the mountains, it takes a few hours. It was a nice change from the 80mph highway crowd though and I was enjoying it. I was starving and planned to stop at the lodge at mile 51 for breakfast (more like brunch) and walk around a bit. I saw two black bears on the side of the road, just hanging and frolicking in the grass. About fifty feet further, there was a guy waving me down. I thought he was in trouble and trying to get away from the bears. When I stopped he ran to the car obviously thinking I stopped to give him a ride. I have never picked up a hitchhiker. I didn’t realize he was hitchhiking. I thought he was in trouble. My little mini was packed to the gills including the front seat so there wasn’t really anywhere for him to sit, but I was thinking there are two bears right behind us so he’d better get in. I threw a bunch of stuff in the back and he crammed himself into the front seat with his backpack wedged between him and the dashboard. Turns out he hadn’t even seen he bears, he was just looking for a ride to the lodge for breakfast. He’d been on the Appalachian Trail for a week and was looking for a good meal. He seemed harmless enough, so I said, sure. I was going there anyway. We ended up having a totally delightful time. He’s a retired school superintendent who’d started out to through-hike the AT a few years ago but his dad got deathly ill so he had to stop. Now he does sections of it for a few weeks at a time. He said he’d seen several bears on the trail, but they hadn’t bothered him. I wondered if I’d be brave enough to do that hike alone. I was worried enough about seeing a docile moose. The bears had startled me and I was in a car! What would I do if I saw them while I was on foot? Hmm. I need to think about whether that’s a fear I want to face head on. I don’t hear stories about AT hikers attacked by bears so I guess it’s not a huge threat. Anyway, moot for now, but I do look forward to hiking in that park someday. It was beautiful. Not dramatic, but beautiful. What a spectacular country this is. Having left D.C. talking about the merits of the Peace Corps and then driving through all the natural beauty we have here, this trip has been a good therapy session.

I stopped for the night outside of Columbia, South Carolina at a cheap chain travel motel. I always think I’ll find someplace with more character and local flavor, but the reality is, it’s not worth it. I’d have to plan that ahead of time and I’m never sure how far I am going to get and don’t want to be restricted to a set destination. I ended up driving a little further that I’d planned, mostly to avoid having to go through the city at rush hour in the morning. But when I checked in I was sort of comforted by the woman at the desk, her familiarity with her job, and the predictability of the accommodation. I like the anonymity of it. The same with breakfast. Being a food snob, on the surface the free breakfast appears inedible. But a closer look reveals it’s not that bad, just packaged in poor clothing. Raisin Bran? I eat that. Hard boiled eggs? Love them. Ok, the shrink wrapped apples are unappealing, but dressed for travel? Yes. I threw one of those in my bag. The Tetley tea is now beneath my fresh Malawian tea standard, but will do in a pinch and that went into the travel mug. Oh, and yogurt. Little individual yogurts. I’ve seen the very same on expensive breakfast buffets. And the attendant actually talked to me when I asked which way to turn to get onto Route 20 west. “Oh, it’s right here”, she said, pointing out the window. Then, “Wait, is that east or west right there? I’m not sure. I go by it every day, but I never noticed if it’s east or west.” I could totally relate. I pulled out my large-print triple A road atlas. She pulled out her phone. Siri confirmed that the first entrance was indeed west. Off I went.

I arrived in Tampa at exactly 5 pm. How do I always do that? It seems no matter how I plan I arrive in major cities at rush hour. I’ve not been a big fan of Florida since they gave the election to W, but I must say, now that I’ve had some time to explore, the city is actually rather nice. I’m pleasantly surprised and glad I made the push to spend a couple of days here instead of cruising in just in time for the wedding.

It’s hot, but about what I’m used to in Blantyre during the hot season. Friday night the big gang met at a bar for Karaoke and last night was the wedding. I love seeing these guys still such good friends. Zack’s best man speech was sweet and he managed to get through it without sobbing, unlike the one he delivered at Ben’s wedding. When we were getting dressed I mentioned to Rachael that I was a little nervous and not sure why. She said, “Maybe because your favorite child is getting married.”  No rivalry there.

Hitting the road now for Tennessee! Ten hours. I didn’t drink too much last night so might make it  all the way today!

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Common Ground

Sunday Morning~ Unity, Maine

Common Ground Fair

September 24, 2017

Hi Everyone,

In a continuation of life is good…I’m sitting in the health and healing tent watching the fairgrounds wake up. Other artisans and exhibitors are coming out of their tents sipping coffee or brushing their teeth, shadowy in the grey light. I love being here. From the moment I arrive on Thursday to set up, I have optimism about the world. This fair started forty years ago, an agricultural fair by the Maine Organic Farmers Association. It’s a 200 acre piece of land in Unity Maine and over the three days hosts about 70,000 people. It is so incredibly organized and efficient and I envision a whole world like this. Unrealistic, I know, but for three days I can pretend. It’s good for my soul.

Maine Midwives have a table here and I love being part of the family. Over the years participation has varied. Sometimes ten midwives are involved, speaking in the speakers tent and educating passers by. Sometime we raffle a quilt, and try to sell T-shirts, a perennial activity since we always order way more than we can sell. (The price has dropped this year if anyone is looking for a bargain.) In my defense, I argued against doing T-shirts again. I’ve sat behind a stack of them for too many yeas. But I digress… This year it is just two of us, my friend Kathy and me and we’re having a blast. Kathy packed a cooler full of good food and we take turns walking around, watching the demonstrations of woodcarving, pottery making, sheep herding, spinning, weaving, all things I love. There are lectures on organic grass care, permagardening, how to sharpen knives, homeopathy, thyroid disease, reflexology, and green funerals. Every hour there are at least thirty lectures to choose from in various areas. At five every afternoon there is a contra dance. I could spend hours in the chicken coop demonstration area alone. The creativity here is phenomenal.

We’ve made friends with our fellow exhibitors over the years and this morning we’re getting reflexology treatments. A few years ago they banned the sale of bottled water and installed water bottle refilling stations. Wildly successful. There are recycling stations and periodically throughout the day a guy on a bicycle empties the bins onto a trailer he transports by bike. I love it. I see people pushing each other in homemade wheelbarrows. There are huge test gardens with rows of picture perfect beets, onions the size of grapefruits, carrots that have obviously been photographed for seed catalogs. I thought those were all photo shopped. Apparently not.

It’s fun to have old friends and acquaintances walking through the tent and surprised to see us. We’re constantly jumping up for hugs and conversation. Others have come over to talk about their own Peace Corps experience or their birth, or their wish for a midwife in their area. Friday, Kathy gave a lecture about birth; yesterday, I spoke about what’s happening to women’s health services in rural America. Maine, being a victim of this phenomenon, there was a lot of interest.  Another small community hospital in rural Maine stopped providing maternity services this month. Another community of women who will have to travel two or more hours to get care, then the same in labor. Its ridiculous. I compared what’s happening here to what happens to women in Malawi. Everyone is horrified when I tell Malawian stories, but don’t realize the same thing happens here, only in different disguise.

Being here makes me feel balanced and happy. Seventy thousand people! I have no idea how the organizers figure out how many rolls of toilet paper they need in the portable toilets, but the rolls are always full and the toilets clean. I fantasize about what people from other countries would think of us if they only saw this snapshot of Americana. Smiling, polite, friendly, involved, recycling, composting. We’d look pretty good.

Love to all,

Linda