Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Mtengo usamakoma pokwera pokha. ~ A tree should not only be good when climbing up.

~ Chewa proverb

June 16, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday something called a chiperone settled over Blantyre. It’s a cloud that descends and sits, without moving, between the mountains surrounding the city. I’d heard drizzle during the night, which I thought was unusual for this time of year, but went back to sleep thinking it would be clear in the morning. My bed faces a window with a view of the city, (twinkly at night) with mountains forming a backdrop. Yesterday morning though, all I saw was thick fog. It seriously could have been the coast of Maine. I couldn’t even see the garden. And the drizzle continued and it went on like that all day. I didn’t pack an umbrella or raincoat as it’s the dry season and I was not expecting a day of rain. It was so cold I had to shut the windows, something I rarely do, but I had on every long sleeved shirt I brought and was still cold. I spent the day painting on teabags, and wrapped up in a blanket on the couch reading. I think I drank fourteen cups of tea. I had planned to do a walkabout, which is my term for just rambling around by foot, but without a raincoat or umbrella it would have been just slipping in the mud and being cold and wet. I tucked in and did a lot of thinking about my work here, my relationship with George, possibilities for the future, and was actually a little bored. Cold and bored. At three in the afternoon the rain stopped and I went out to walk, happy there was electricity and a hot shower for when I got back. Then it was a nice dinner with friends who were equally bundled up. This morning is clear again but quite cold and my walk to church in a little while will be brisk.

It’s been quite a week and having some time to sit and reflect yesterday wasn’t a bad thing. I could never have imagined where the idea we had in the car ride to Lilongwe two years ago would take us. At that point in time I was so frustrated with the plight of women here and the challenges the faculty has with trying to provide a quality education for the students, I was ready to go home and say I tried and leave it at that. In that car Ursula, Elizabeth, and I complained about the way things are, beat our breasts about the unfairness of it, and kicked around this idea of having a separate ward where we could actually practice our profession in it’s true form. It seemed then like a fantasy. A hahaha-wouldn’t-that-be-nice daydream, like owning a brownstone in the East Village, or having Hillary Clinton as president. This week, two years after that car ride, the three of us were sitting in a room with twenty other people, laying out a five year plan for renovating, equipping, and instituting a midwifery-led ward here at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital. I was nearly weeping for the beauty of it. It was so much more than we ever imagined we could accomplish. 

We’ve gone from hoping we could have a little corner of the existing maternity ward to being well on our way to establishing the first midwifery-led model ward in Malawi, with the support of SEED Global Health, the College of Nursing, Queens Hospital, the College of Medicine, and the Ministry of Health! All working together! To make women’s lives better! Woo hoo! It’s happening people!! 

Monday we laid out the five designs the students at Jefferson University created and went over the differences and the pros and cons of each design. My friend Chris, the architect, was there and offered to take the design we chose to get a rough estimate for the renovation. Since we don’t know what it will cost, we aren’t able to initiate a fundraising plan. Getting a ballpark figure will start that ball rolling and I never thought I would be so excited about fundraising. I actually look forward to it. Can’t wait. Then we began the long-term planning meeting which spread out over three days and we used every single minute of it and then some. I learned so much! I thought to myself several times during the three days that this would seem like the sort of activity that would drive me crazy, trying to come to consensus with this many people, but honestly, it was enlightening, and fun. As each point was brought forward, the discussion was pertinent and insightful and addressed issues we hadn’t thought of. The people in the room from administration were keen to understand our needs completely, from every angle. They said, “You have to describe this as you would describe every step of eating a meal. You can’t just say, ‘I took the food and ate it.’ You have to describe, opening the door to the dining room, selecting the plate and the fork, deciding whether you need a knife or spoon, every single aspect of this needs to be laid out in detail for us to make a plan for implementation.” It was miraculous to me. Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning? You think I’d ever be interested in that process? Well, now I am! It is fascinating when you really understand how it is applied to something you care about. We came to a consensus for the ultimate goal of the project, what our objectives are, what actions we need to take to meet the objectives, how we’ll measure the output and describe the outcomes. I’d sit back in my chair every so often just to take it all in. It was an honor just to be in the midst of the minds around that table. The incredible respect shown to one another, the way misunderstandings were clarified, the expression of pride and support for the chance to really make a difference in the lives of Malawian women, I tell you, it was something to behold. Every once in awhile Ursula, Elizabeth, and I would catch each other’s eye. Ursula would raise her right eyebrow just slightly, Elizabeth’s eyes would open a bit wider, as if the message “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS??!!!” was floating between us.

Friday afternoon the chief nursing officer from the Ministry of Health in Lilongwe joined us. She was taken on a tour of the existing ward and Ward 1-A which will become the midwifery-led ward. Her presence here was a big flipping deal. People curtseyed a little when they greeted her. She spoke about her support for this project and how she hopes it will become a model for the whole country. I nearly fell over in a swoon. Someone even dropped the first ladies name, saying she might be interested in supporting this. There’s still a ton of work to do, but it’s nice to hear people talking about this not as an idea, but as an existing entity. Now to create it step by step. 

It feels like we’ve gone up the tree, we’re just now planning how to get down.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Kanthu ndi Khama ~ You can only achieve from persevering

~ Malawian proverb

June 9, 2019

Hi Everyone,

It feels good to be back, especially at this time of the year. June, July, and August are dry with warm days and cool nights. The rains are finished and were plentiful this year, too plentiful in some areas as the cyclone dumped record amounts and villages in the south were destroyed. Blantyre was spared though and everything is in bloom. It’s gorgeous. I’m sitting in the garden of my little rented cottage surrounded by poinsettias of three different colors and bougainvillea of at least five different shades. And those are just the show offs. There are calla lily, various cacti, trumpet vine, and loads of others I can’t name, all in bloom. Pretty sweet. I’m still adjusting to the time change and have been groggy in the morning, so got up just in time to walk the three miles to church and didn’t start writing until now, already after noon. 

Malawi’s presidential election happened on May 21st and the results have been contentious. One party claims fraud while the incumbent slid very easily into reelection. I’m praying this is not what happens to us next year. The aftermath has been some rioting, plenty of demonstrating, and some protests which escalated into police throwing tear gas into crowds. One of these episodes happened last week where the American Ambassador was. I am unclear about her role there, I heard she was trying to negotiate with the losing party, but don’t quote me on that. She was evacuated, wrapped in a sheet to protect her from the tear gas. I think if I were part of Peace Corps now, I’d be restricted to my house. But I’m not so am freely moving about and feel quite safe here in Blantyre. All the protests are in Lilongwe. I had to fly into Lilongwe this time as the Blantyre airport has dug up its runway. A driver collected me for which I was extremely grateful having traveled for 32 hours with an unexpected stop in Lubumbashi in Congo! The driver said he’d been waiting for me for four hours as no one would say why the plane was late. I’d barely slept for two nights, so was very glad he’d waited. As we drove into the city and approached my hotel I could see a huge protest happening. The driver turned around to go an alternative route but we ended up being encompassed on that route as well. He pointed to the rocks and broken glass on the road and said, “See. It has turned violent.”  He rolled up the windows and locked the doors, but it all looked peaceful to me. Some people were in costume, some wrapped in bandages carrying knives (the driver silently pointed to them), many dancing and singing but I don’t know what the words were. We slowly rolled on without an incident.

SEED had booked a room for me at the Capitol Hotel, which used to be the swankiest place in town when we were Peace Corps volunteers in the late 70’s. Joe and I celebrated our second anniversary there in 1980 at the nice restaurant. I had Steak Diane, I still remember that. Matt was three months old and we’d left him with the nanny of one of the embassy families. So crazy to be staying there in 2019. It’s probably ten times the size it was when it was built, maybe more. There are several restaurants, stores, and a business center inside now, very much a corporate feel. I was too tired to utilize any of it, so just finalized the arrangements for my meeting the following morning, took a hot shower, and crawled between the crisp white sheets. It took about ten seconds to be unconscious and I stayed that way for twelve hours. It was glorious.

Wednesday was a holiday in Malawi but the nursing advisor who is now working for SEED met with me to get briefed on the midwifery ward project. We planned to talk from ten until noon when a driver was coming to drive me the five hours to Blantyre. That two hours passed in a flash. Wow. She is a powerhouse and is totally on board with this project. She has worked for WHO for many years and has had positions high up in the ministry of health. To say she is well-connected is an understatement. The SEED team is coming to Blantyre this week to discuss the plans for the future and while we were meeting she got a call from the chief nursing officer for the ministry and invited her to come to Blantyre and learn about this project. She hung up the phone and casually said, “She’ll be there.”  I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified. It is fantastic that there is involvement and support from many sectors but I also know this is going to complicate the process. Ultimately it will contribute to it’s success, though, (I hope) so here we go…

It’s easy to slip back into life here. The cottage I stayed in last time is occupied and the owners rushed to get the second one finished for my arrival. They ran into a few problems (I can sympathize) so I ended up staying my first night here in their big house. It was more than comfortable, and I was able to get into the cottage the following evening; it feels good to be unpacked and settled. My office on campus was waiting for me untouched, and my colleagues were there on Thursday when I arrived. We started making plans for the big three day meeting coming up and there was some confusion about who was responsible for the food: lunches and teas, etc. The team from Boston is coming as well as the Lilongwe team, so it was kicked up a notch. A menu was discussed and the idea of having it be extra special was outside the budget. I suggested we just use the caterer we’d used for our original meetings for the ward, who is a local man with simple but good food. It was very affordable. “Will that be suitable for the people from Boston?”, the dean asked. I replied, “Of course! We are in your country, we should eat your food.” She said, “Well, I don’t know if we should go by you. You are a Malawian.”  I was flattered.  And yesterday when I went shopping for food, some of the merchants at the Blantyre market saw me and remarked, “Ah sister! We haven’t seen you for a long time! Where have you been?” It feels nice.

I started another journal after having mine stolen in Hawaii. I’m trying to write something every day, even if it’s short. I used to write much more, but my phone distracts me now. It used to be when I was sitting and waiting for something I’d take out my journal and write, but now I look at emails or articles I’ve saved. I keep saying I’m not going to do that, but I keep doing it. On Friday I wrote the date June 7, 2019, and instead of writing about what was going on here, a cascade of memories started pouring from my pen. It was the date of Zack’s senior prom and the day Joe moved out of our  house. I wrote about squatting in the greenhouse painting girl’s toenails as Joe silently packed up the car with his things. There were gowns hanging all over the place, tuxedos over the backs of chairs as classmates and friends gathered to get ready for prom. It was all surreal. He never explained anything and never told the kids he was leaving. Aside from him leaving the family that day, the scene was everything we’d dreamed of creating: a place where our kids and their friends would gather and we could be supportive and involved. And here he was walking out without a word. I know I drank a lot during that time, trying to keep my panic under control. I’m pretty sure I didn’t start until evening, but I may have had something that afternoon to get me through it. I can’t remember now. I do remember being in a dream-like state, going through motions and pretending I was ok: taking photos, making french braids, and bobbie-pinning lily of the valley in the crease of a french twist. I remember those details with such clarity, but after the kids all left, it’s a complete blank. A big black hole of an evening, the lights probably extinguished by wine and denial. That was a long time ago now. Seventeen years. That’s a lifetime around here.

And now, here I sit in this beautiful garden, grateful for all who helped me through that time, propping me up and letting me cry. I’m shaking my head at where my life has gone since then. I’ve often said I would not have chosen to have my family break apart like that, but can only control my own behavior, not someone else’s. You can’t make someone love you when they don’t. (Isn’t that a song lyric? Pretty sure I’ve heard it before.) I’ve played the hand I was dealt and it has brought me here, happy with my life as it is and working on something I completely believe in. Whatever force in life taught me to persevere, it’s what I am most grateful for.

I walked back from church this morning with Ursula. When we got to her house she invited me in and made tea. We sat and talked about the election and it’s aftermath. We made plans for the upcoming week. We both have the same vision for this project and both want it to succeed. We talked about being realistic. When I said I should be going, she walked with me through the maize field to the College of Medicine gate. We said goodbye and she said, “No, we must remember that things move slowly. We will succeed.” We embraced and I walked home.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Speaking Life

Sunday Morning ~Speaking Life

Moyo wanga ndi mbiya, n’sunga ndekha. ~   My life is like a clay pot, I take care of it myself.

~ Chewa proverb

June 2, 2019

On my way again. I sit here, tucked away on a stone staircase, out of the way, with budding shrubs and a few purple blossoms strewn around. It’s warm, finally; I took my jacket off. I’m packed for the month. I’ve got some science books, some kids clothes, and some beads to donate. I’ve got the architectural plans, my clothes for the month, and a citrus squeezer for a gift. I was one short last time. I’ve got my passport, some cash for the visa, two books to read, and an empty travel mug. I’ve finally downloaded an app that will get me to the airport at an early hour ––– earlier than I can ask my kids to drive me. My house is in good hands with friends visiting for the month. I’ve had some quality time with the grandkids while their parents spent last night away to celebrate my youngest’s birthdays. My twins turned thirty-three yesterday. What a completely different life it was then. I thought about that this morning, trying to make breakfast and walk the dog with the two little ones clamoring. How did I have five and still finish graduate school? Well, I was thirty-three years younger, but still. Tonight is Amelia’s ballet recital. I didn’t want to miss it so I’m glad the timing worked out. 

I have no idea what will happen with my travels after this trip back to Malawi. I’ve got the month of June to work on getting this ward established and then Kathy will arrive in July and take the baton. She sent me a list this morning. It’s a list of Quaker Advices, one of which was “Let your life speak.” I love them all, but especially this one. I often think this is not what I imagined my life to be like at this age; sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it gets me down. Today I find this advice reassuring and comforting: Let your life speak. I’ll leave it at that. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Small things

Sunday Morning ~ Small things

Mbaliwali idabutsa chimoto. ~ A spark caused a great fire.

~ Chewa proverb

May 26, 2019

Zack and I went out to explore a bog yesterday in a part of the state I’d never been to. We packed up some sandwiches, plenty of water, two travel mugs of tea, two expensive pastries I had in the freezer, and set off for the Maine woods. The bog was a challenge to get to and I was amazed Zack was able to even find it, but he’s explored these parts for many years and was familiar with the natural landmarks. We traveled unmarked dirt roads, past idyllic ponds and lakes, and camping areas available to anyone willing to venture in to these parts. It’s state land and the campsites provide a safe sleeping spot for those appreciating this part of the Maine wilderness. You can canoe down the river making a loop connecting five lakes, the campsites situated so there’s always a place to sleep. I took it all in and decided to put a kayak trip here on my list of future adventures. It was a beautiful warm, sunny day and the smell of the woods brought back happy memories of good times in the woodsy warmth. We made our way through dense vegetation to the bog and I was glad I’d worn long pants with the brush scraping against our legs. The sun and warmth usually brings out the shorts in me. Zack said he wouldn’t have let me wear shorts ––– he’s been there before. It wasn’t long before our feet were wet and not long after that a few black flies buzzed around our heads. I wasn’t too bothered by them, taken up with the scene around us, and a few waves of the hand in front of my face cleared them away. Well, that seemed a red flag to a bull. A few minutes later it was full on attack and it was hard to open our eyes. Huge swarms covered us. I had to take my sunglasses off as the black flies were underneath and getting in my eyes. They filled my ears. The only visible part of my wrist between my shirt and gloves had thousands of them on it. It was like a horror movie. I could see why animals have to bury themselves in the mud or jump off a cliff!  I thought they were bad in our backyard in June. This was another experience altogether. I think they all hatched the moment we got out there. So the fantasy of finding a dry spot and eating our picnic dissolved quickly into, ok, had enough of this, let’s get out of here. It was a mile or so walk (trudge) back to the car and probably the most miserable time I’ve ever spent in the woods. Not to overuse superlatives, but it was bad. I had a T-shirt underneath my long sleeved shirt, thinking as I walked I’d remove a layer in the warm sun. There was no way I could expose any more of my skin, so quickly got my T-shirt off, put the long sleeved one back on, then wrapped my T-shirt around my head to keep the bugs out of my ears. That helped a little, but then they all just covered my face. Holy cow, it was unbearable. My right eye is swollen shut this morning and my right ear is twice the size of the left. It was a gorgeous area, and I do want to go back, but maybe in September or October. Give me freezing nights anytime. 

On the drive home I was thinking about how something so tiny can make something so much bigger so miserable. How they could, with their numbers, win the day. I liked the metaphor, searching as I am after every newscast for some hope in the midst of the insanity. I thought about how to be like a black fly. Get in their ears and eyes, under their shirt and up their pants. Six hours later Zack said, “I literally just coughed up dead black flies.” I said, “I just blew some out my nose.”  So yeah, let’s be impossible to ignore.

Sunday Morning~ Midwives!

Sunday Morning ~ Midwives!

Nnzimbe saidyra kutalika koma kutsemekera. ~ The sugar cane is not eaten because it is long, but because it is sweet.

~ Chewa proverb 

May 19, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’m at my national midwifery meeting, this year in Washington D.C. and am preparing my talk for tomorrow. Well, I didn’t wait until this last minute to prepare it, but I am refining it. I’m nervous, in part because of the public lashing I took at the last conference, and partly because there is so much talent and energy at this conference it’s hard not to compare yourself. It’s humbling. I am trying very hard to be conscious of all the ways this can be interpreted as white privilege, what I should say to acknowledge that, how much of an introduction I should give into my sexual preferences, gender identity, and race? How do I gauge how much time each slide will take? What if no one asks questions? How do I present all the information within the time allowed and not have it sound like a shopping list? All of this kept me awake last night and resulted in oversleeping this morning. I missed early yoga. I’m now in a rush to get showered and get to my first education session, then to the exhibit hall to set up the table to recruit midwives for SEED.  It’s a bit frenetic on top of being in conditioned air and having only carbs available to eat. Funny that we should have a conference focused on making women healthier in such an environment. Six fifty for a bottle of water? Really? 

Tomorrow we go to Capitol Hill to lobby our congress people on issues affecting women and midwives; there’s lots to do there in the twenty minutes we’re given, so I need to review the facts about bills introduced and needing sponsors and figure out how to be brief.  We go on busses, over 500 of us, to make our presence known and hopefully get someone to listen and understand what we do and how we strive for reproductive justice. 

So, short and sweet and full of stuff to make us strong. Here we go.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Mother’s Day

Sunday Morning ~ Mother’s Day

May 12, 2019

Mwana wa ng’ombe upeza akudya udzu anaonera make kudya udzu. ~ You find a calf eating grass because it has seen it’s mother eating grass.

~ Chewa proverb 

Hi Everyone,

All we learn from our mothers: eating grass, stroking kittens, knitting sweaters, making fudge on Sunday afternoons, going to college, voting, cherishing girlfriends, sewing Barbie clothes, and on and on. I miss my mother often, as many of us do. When she was dying, my siblings and I sat around her bed, holding her hand, talking to her, wetting her lips, turning her, and waiting. I’d taken boxes of papers from her apartment and when my mother slept we went through them. We found old Mother’s Day cards we’d made. We laughed at our spelling and primitive artwork and the bizarre messages we chose. She’d purged most of her belongings before she became infirm and the boxes were few; we didn’t have an abundance to sort. But the Mother’s Day cards from us were there, which meant something. I found one I’d made when I was twelve. I hadn’t had money to buy her a gift so made her a list of ten promises. They were for things she complained about, like leaving my shoes under the stool in the kitchen or only using my towel once before throwing it in the wash. I numbered each of them and wrote them out in my loopy curly cursive. 1. I promise to use my towel twice before throwing it in the wash. 2. I promise to chew my food more slowly. 3. I promise to clean the bathroom without being told. Up to… 10. I promise to love you forever. I looked at the card and though, “Well, that was kinda sweet. Wouldn’t have minded getting one of these myself.” but I don’t remember her making a fuss about the card. She didn’t make fusses. But there it was and that was fuss enough. She’d kept it. I remember bringing her breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. I have no idea what we made, probably cold coffee and some horrible dried out toast and eggs or something. She acted  happy and surprised and we busted with pride. She didn’t have it easy. She was very strong, though, I didn’t recognize it then. I saw her cry exactly two times in my life, once when I was three and my brother cut off all my hair (I remember that vividly), and once when my oldest brother left for Vietnam. (Guess that says something about my golden curls) She may have cried other times but these were the only ones I saw. I definitely did not learn to refrain from crying from my mother. I cry a lot. I used to cry reading Winnie the Pooh books to the kids. I’d sob uncontrollably when reading the book Love You Forever. The first time I was unable to get through it, Zack (age five) asked, “Are you crying because no one ever gave you a book before?” which made me laugh, and ever after I had to think of that line to be able to finish reading the book with a huge lump in my throat.

My kids don’t make a lot of Mother’s Day. It used to bother me (well, ok, it still might) but their logic makes sense. It’s a Hallmark holiday and apparently they boycott the commercialism. I can go along with that (as if I have a choice). As I read about the history of the day I learned that even the woman who lobbied to have the second Sunday of May recognized as Mother’s Day (Anna Jarvis) after a while boycotted it because it became so commercialized. I get it. 

Twenty years ago I was at a funeral service for a local boy who was murdered. It was a shocking horror, he was shot at point blank range, a talented and much loved young man. It was December and the church was filled with white poinsettias. It was snowing outside. The church was heaving with mourners, white poinsettias, and sorrow. I will never forget the look on his mother’s face as she walked out of the church: the picture of grief. Her expression has been branded on my heart ever since. 

During the service his brother read a letter written by the boy, sent to his mother the year before he died. I think it was an actual letter, written on paper and sent by post, but I could be making that up because I like that idea. It may have been before email was even possible. It was a beautiful letter from her son and I’m picturing her reading it after collecting the mail that day, maybe in a sunlit kitchen where the boy used to do his homework when he was in school. I imagine how her heart must have swelled with love and pride, smiling as she read his words. Then it was being read at his funeral. He wrote something about Mother’s Day and not remembering if it was this week or last week.  A rumble of chuckles rolled through the church. He went on to say that Mother’s Day should, it seemed to him, be like Earth Day, something we should celebrate every day, not just once a year. I was standing at the back, as the pews were overflowing by the time I’d arrived, crying along with most others there. There were many other beautiful and wise sentiments expressed in that letter that showed what a wonderful human being he was, but what has stuck with me, and I think of it every year, was that he forgot which day was Mother’s Day because it really didn’t matter. We should honor mothers every day. I love that.

Happy Mother’s Day all you wonderful, hard working, loving mothers.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ International Day of the Midwife

Sunday Morning ~ International Day of the Midwife

Mimba si kupha namwino. ~ The pregnancy does not kill the midwife.

~ Chewa proverb

May 5, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Today is International Day of the Midwife. The date was set at the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) conference in 1987, established to highlight the work midwives do around the world and acknowledge their contributions to the lives and well being of mothers and babies. We barely hear about it in the states, but in Malawi, it was a huge celebration. We marched through the streets of the capital with a band leading the way atop a lorry covered in banners with the slogan chosen for the year.  This year the slogan is “Midwives: Defenders of Women’s Rights”. I loved being there. I loved dancing down the streets of Lilongwe with my colleagues. I’m proud to be part of this profession and share the ICM vision that every woman has the right to midwifery care. We need more of us. There is an ICM conference held every three years. I have never been to the conference but I’m told it is a sight to behold. Midwives from all over the world enter the opening ceremony in their national dress. Some Malawian midwives who’d been told me they’ve never been the same since. They said nothing compares to it and once you go you will want to go forever. The last one was in 2017 in Toronto. It figures that the one time I lived close enough to drive and could have attended, I was in Malawi. In 2020 the conference will be held in Bali and I’m going if it’s the last thing I do. Bucket list won’t wait. I chatted with my Malawian colleagues Friday preparing to return there in June. They were getting ready for today’s celebration and it made me miss them and miss Blantyre. Even with all the frustration and uphill battles, it feels good to be part of a powerful group of women with the same vision. 

I’ve been spring cleaning and going through stuff stashed in the attic, hurriedly stored before my departure for Congo then Malawi. I found an assortment of emails from the kids I’d printed out. Many of them were poems that Matt had written, others described travels, and some were the painful processing of what happened to our family. I’d forgotten these things were expressed at all and seeing them so eloquently described rather took my breath away. I found drawings the kids had done when they were little. I found some notebooks with stories they had written, lists of clues as if they were solving a mystery. Some were primitive journals and misspelled documentaries of our family life. I sat and gratefully read it all, but was lonely and mournful of how much time I missed with my kids. Often I was at the hospital for days at a time. I knew that’s what the job would involve, many hours away, unpredictable, often underpaid and borderline abusive. (Scratch the borderline) I had a husband then who was totally supportive and I loved seeing how the kids’ relationship with him deepened since they spent so much time together without me there. When I’d finally arrive home, sleep deprived and weary, he took care of everything so I could just be with the kids. We were such a good team. My work supported us and he supported me. I’d lie on the couch with the kids piled all around me looking at books or telling stories, grateful for all their soft little bodies curled up around mine. Joe would cook supper or attend to some chore he couldn’t get done with the kids around. We were happy. We definitely were a happy family. I loved and believed in my work and loved that he made it possible for me to do it.

As I went through pile after pile of letters, cards, poems, and stories, I felt myself slipping into a pool of self-pity wondering where and how it all went wrong. Maybe it’s the season. Maybe it’s seeing photos on Facebook of kids I delivered graduating from college with their loving intact families all around them. Except for Rachael’s, I was the only parent at my kids’ college graduations and I reacquaint myself with the struggle to understand how it came to this. I think it was reading Matt’s poetry that send me down this path of inquisition. The poems are beautiful and I want to print them all here. It’s been almost two years since I’ve heard from him and I wonder if he still writes. He was not so angry back when these were written. He hosted poetry readings at his house once a week. Smart, talented, funny, and strong, I depended on him. As I went about the spring chores this week I recalled how many renovations he and I did together here. I never foresaw where we would all end up. Good thing I guess. Otherwise the good times would be tainted. I remind myself that those times were real and genuine. We were happy and I am grateful for all the richness of those early years as a family, and for the years after the divorce when the kids and I made the best of it. We traveled, we had adventures, we stuck to our principles, though if I had it to do over, I might make some different decisions. Hind sight, blah blah blah.  

Then I think after all those years of fighting for women’s rights and the toll it took, here we are, same old shit. I’m tired. I’m tired of the fight for basic respectful care for women. It’s been three years this month since my TED talk. It seemed at the time there was potential to really make a difference. I felt like the time was right, and there’d be a snowball effect. Then the election happened and it seems the dark side has grown like a black blob in a science fiction movie, obliterating rights and services, and we, with sticks and stones, are struggling to keep it at bay long enough to even breath. I have worked with some amazing doctors who I felt supported by and were true colleagues. I’ve worked with others who have sabotaged the gains midwives have made in promoting fair safe treatment of women and it’s hard to keep the spirit up. When we make money for the institution they love us. When reimbursement changes and there is competition for the health care dollars, we’re out on the street. It’s no wonder I’m drawn back to Africa over and over. The struggle there feels more organic, less a David and Goliath story. And though I’m not giving up, sometimes I need to complain that it’s hard. There’s a cost and a huge toll on families.  If there were more of us it wouldn’t have to be this way.

Ending on a bright note, yesterday a package arrived in the mail that contained my wallet! A wonderful man named Bruce, from Washington state, contacted me and said his wife had found the wallet near the aquarium, which, was nowhere near where it was stolen.The cash was gone, but everything else was there, a lot of personal stuff which was important to me. My friend Nancy wondered if it was taken by a tourist who took their kids to the aquarium with the cash then threw the wallet away. All the credit cards and been canceled, but they were all there. My drivers license, my nursing license, my little envelope of receipts to get 10% off a purchase at the health food store, and lots more in the faded cloth wallet that looked like it’d spent a few days in the sun. It’s a relief to have it back. It has restored my faith in humanity. 

The sun is peeking out, the church was full of people this morning, the music was uplifting and on key, and the rhubarb is coming up. The ebb will start to flow. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Spring in Maine

Sunday Morning ~ Spring in Maine

Ukakwatira mphezi, usaope kung’anima. ~  If you get married to the thunderbolt, you should not be afraid of the lightning.

~ Chewa proverb

April 28, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’m back in Maine for the remainder of what the calendar says is spring. Snowbanks remain on the road and their dirty little caps looked sad. Or maybe it’s my mood. It’s almost May and my pond is still frozen. I feel embarrassed about my Hawaii tan. In a spring many years ago we had a day at the Women’s Health Center filled with patients who’d been to some warm place for the end of winter. At the end of the day Ann said, “If one more person comes in this office with a frigging tan I’m going to scream.” Ann could always make something funny. I miss those days.

The most spring-like event this week was a strange thunder storm during the night on Friday. After raining all day it seemed a dramatic flair, as if the gods were rubbing our noses in it. I just got back from two weeks in Hawaii and I certainly have no right to complain about lack of sun and I won’t whine about the time change either. I enjoy a good thunder storm and lay awake wondering why we say “thunder and lightning” instead of “lightning and thunder”? After all, it’s the lightning that comes first. Is it just more lyrical? I finally fell asleep around 6 a.m. and dreamt I had a huge lump in my breast and was waiting at a medical office to have it evaluated. I thought I could take care of it myself so squeezed my breast and this huge mass came out, covered in green leaves resembling an artichoke. I’m always intrigued by what dreams reveal about our mind and the work we do while we sleep. I calculated the time since my last mammogram, and not worried about breast cancer, thought maybe it’s time for a cleanse.

I’ve often described spring in new England as the season that lies to you. I never understood why so many people say they love spring. I love the idea of spring and the occasional spring-like day we get here, but most of the time it’s cold and dreary, muddy and slippery, or (the real deception) sunny but cold and windy. Those days are the worst. You look out the window and think, “Oh, wow! A gorgeous day!” And then open the door in your lightweight jacket to be hit with a 2×4 of cold air. I feel deceived. I admit, I am sensitive to being deceived. It’s happened plenty of times in my gullible life and spring is only an annual reminder. I want to believe what I see or hear is actual reality, then I am disappointed when I realize it isn’t true. That’s spring to me, unkept promises. This makes me think of promises I didn’t keep and wonder what effects were rendered. I’m sure my kids have a list. I try to be conscious of following through, though I know sometimes I didn’t. Yikes! This is dark!

I went to the climate change march yesterday and there was plenty of talk about the weather. It was cold and rainy, apparently the 15th day out of 17 like that. Oh, wait, I think four of those were snow days. Anyway, the seasons are shifting and waters are warming and storms are intensifying. There was talk of hope being a passive stance. Action is what’s needed. The talks were inspiring, and motivated me to consider actions I can take. I recycle, I rarely buy packaged foods or use straws. I turn the lights out. I could ride my bike more, but the roads here are hard without shoulders and many potholes. That’s an excuse, I know. It’s cold and I don’t like riding my bike in the cold. I’m a wimp that way. Solar panels. I could look into those again. I don’t need this big house, but if I left it, it would still exist. So that’s not changing anything. 

Those of us who choose to live here year round have some choices. If we have the means we can go away during the bleakest times, for some that is winter, for me it is spring. We could move away and leave this inconsistent lover. We could go where the sun shines every day and birds are always singing. (I haven’t heard one bird or peeper yet). But then I’d feel like a weakling. A quitter. What would you even do with your time if you didn’t have to fix rotting roofs or moldy ceilings? And complaining about the weather? That’s an ancient tradition and one we hold dear. Spring knows we’d never leave. Because when summer does come, and we thumb our noses at the season we were abused by, we wonder how we could have ever complained? What was the problem anyway? What’s a little mud? It’s just so beautiful and the hard times make it all the more so. That’s spring in Maine. If we are going to marry the thunder we have to appreciate the lightning. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Kaneohe, Oahu

Sunday Morning ~ Kaneohe, Oahu

Malawa-lawa anapha milomo; citoletole cinaphetsa manja. ~ The one who tastes too much damaged his lips; the one who stole too much damaged his hands.

~Chewa proverb

April 21, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Getting a cheap flight here meant staying until Tuesday. Since I’ve got friends to stay with, this did not seem a hardship. It’s early morning and six hours earlier than the east coast so Easter is well on it’s way there. I’m missing my little grandkids. It’s been an interesting vacation with some challenges resulting from poor planning and outright stupidity on my part. 

Last Sunday after our blog writing and breakfast, George and I set out on a four hour hike from a remote spot on the coastal road on the western side of Maui (mile 15.5 to be exact; that’s what went on the police report). We found the trailhead and left the car for the four mile hike up into the mountains there: great views, perfect weather, interesting and dramatic landscape. We descended and approached the car, talking about whether we’d go to lunch or the beach, when I noticed a lot of broken glass on the ground. Glass I hadn’t noticed when we parked. Then saw, with horror, that someone had smashed the driver’s side window and taken the bag that was on the floor behind the drivers seat. My trusty LLBean bag that was packed for our day trip with my bathing suit, journal I’d been keeping for a year with all our travel stories, my watercolor paints, and stupidly my wallet. We’d been to the grocery store and I’d taken it out of my pack to buy some groceries, threw it into the bag with the food and left it there in the car. So dumb. I never do that! I always make sure I’ve got my wallet with me. I was somehow distracted I guess and didn’t think to take it out of that bag. I freaked about that. It had all my credit cards, ATM card, license, checkbook. All the stuff I should not have been carrying around. I figured this was still the United States. I didn’t need to change to a travel wallet like I usually do when traveling overseas. Dumb dumb dumb. George was clearing the glass off the driver’s seat so I could drive (the only one authorized to drive the rental) when a pickup truck with four people and four dogs pulled up and watched us clearing the glass away. They never said a word, just watched us. That was creepy. When we got in the car to leave, they drove off and George took a photo of the truck. As I was pulling out, they pulled in next to us and said, “We saw you take a photo of this truck. Delete it now.”  It had a bit of a threatening tone to the demand. I said, we thought they might have some idea who did this and could help when we made the police report. They said they had no idea, but that it happens all the time to tourists and that we should be more careful. (They had a point there) I asked where the closest police station was, they said Lahaina, so we drove back to our condo so I could cancel all my cards, then we went to the police. They were very nice but I don’t have much hope anything will get recovered. Then we headed back to the airport to get a different car. Fortunately they had a copy of my license and that along with the police report is sufficient to drive here. It seems they have experience with this. 

The car was a thief magnet. When I was reserving a car I put in for the usual compact, cheapest thing they had. But then I saw that a convertible was only slightly more expensive ($3) so thought, what the heck? We’ll be on sunny Maui, why not treat ourselves and ride around in style? Top down, sunglasses on, hair blowing in the breeze, smiles on our tanned faces as we enjoy our romantic reunion. Well, that was a total bust. Another dumb idea. George burns easily and it was too much sun. And we looked like privileged tourists who are stupid enough to leave a bag visible while hiking in a remote place. Ugh. Live and learn. We didn’t leave the car again unless it was in a crowded place.

So there was that. The people at the rental car place were very nice though.

The wedding was beautiful. Picture perfect, loving, and fun. It was a beachy crowd who’d been surfing and snorkeling and taking advantage of the surroundings. People were in good moods and enjoying themselves. After the morning-after brunch people were setting off for their individual plans. We were going camping. We love to camp and the photos of the place with tents on the beach looked perfect. I found it on booking.com so didn’t have a doubt that it was legitimate. Well, I was wrong again. No such place exists, and they’d already charged my (now defunct) credit card. We spent several hours trying to find the place and contact the property when the address seemed wrong. Finally we had to admit it was a scam after inquiring at neighboring places. They told us nothing like this exists. So it was a sheepish call to my Samoan friends asking if we could come back there for a couple of nights. Everything else was full. They were wonderful and gracious and it was fun to be with them. A minor shift in expectations was all it took to salvage what was left of the trip together. We started driving with them up to the Haleakala Crater with bikes in the back of the truck. A really cool thing to do is drive up and ride bikes down (36 miles). Tour companies charge loads of bucks to do this, but here we were with friends arranging it for us for free! Then the truck overheated and we couldn’t make it up the road to the top. We spent the next few hours getting the truck back down to their house, reorganizing and shifting plans for a hike instead of a ride and went back up in the rental car. We were starting to feel like people should avoid us as we were jinxing everything we came in touch with. Fortunately the wedding was not affected through there was a rain shower that might not have happened if we weren’t there. 

Being here has made me think about American colonialism. These islands are so dramatically beautiful and rich but so much of the landscape is scarred with condos and strip malls and traffic. It depresses me.  I feel like we’ve destroyed this place. Parts are protected, thank God, but it does seem smothered by greed and a disappearing ecosystem. Getting robbed seems to have darkened my mood though part of me feels it was justified somehow. There’s a huge glaring line between the haves and have nots. I wish I had my journal back though. I’m imagining it held the best stories ever written. I wonder if anyone is reading it or if they just threw it all away and took the cash. I had about ten more pages to fill and thought I’d do that on this trip. Oh well. 

Never a cross without a resurrection. That’s what Irene, the woman I worked for in the tailor shop in Maynard used to say whenever anything bad happened. She was the most positive person I’ve ever met and one who’d suffered many crosses. As a high school student I loved this optimistic view she had. I’d used it as a mantra in life when things went wrong. It was rather zen in her Catholic way. 

Happy Easter.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Napili, Maui

Sunday Morning ~ Napili, Maui

Caona mwana tola; ukulu nkuona kako. ~ What the child has seen, pick it up. Being mature is to find your own.

~ Chewa proverb

April 14, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I left snowy Maine on a day well into spring, when the forsythia should have been on the brink of blooming. Instead, I was thankful I hadn’t had my snow tires removed. The timing fell into place for this trip: friends needed a place to stay while their house renovation finished and my cat needed to be fed. So that worked. Also, a friend from Maynard, my hometown, lost his mother and the wake was the evening before I left from Boston. It meant seeing him after thirty five years. It also meant I could see Kathy, who was flying in from Tennessee, as well as other high school friends I’ve stayed connected with, a few from the group we’ve named “Bar Harbor Girls” stemming from the annual reunions at my house. 

I collected Kathy at the airport in Boston and we headed for our hometown, stopping for lunch  at The 99, a restaurant located where the only Chinese restaurant used to be when we were kids. We used to go there with her older sister after riding around for no purpose I can recall. We’d share a Pu Pu Platter–– a variety of appetizers covered in sweet and sour sauce. Those outings seemed dangerous and exciting. I always had to sneak to go and lie about it afterward. I never brought my chopsticks home. Sometimes her sister would pay, sometimes I’d chip in from my babysitting or paper route money. If I said I had no money and couldn’t go, they paid for me. I think I owe them. Kathy and I sat in our booth being silly, our white hair disappearing in the memories. We were the two young girls sitting in the same spot over half a century ago. It’s a nice feeling to think you stayed friends forever, just like you promised each other at eleven years old. Good for us! That’s follow through. That’s commitment. 

We went from there to Maynard where the wake was being held at a funeral home just down the street from the childhood home of the bereaved. On our way through town we drove by Kathy’s old house. I’d loved going over there. I loved her parents. They were funny. Well, the whole family was funny and I marveled at this. They spent a lot of time laughing. That didn’t happen in my house. Not much was funny in my house, in fact one time when my sister and I were laughing in the kitchen we got punished for disturbing some ballgame on TV. Kathy’s family were kind to each other. They treated me like one of them.  All that came flooding back as we drove by. We went up the hill and turned right which brought us to Waltham street and the house I moved into when I was three weeks old. Kathy hadn’t known I lived there. Yup, the first house my parents rented in Maynard. I lived there until a few months before my fourth birthday. Russo’s restaurant was a few doors down and the head chef and his wife Mary lived across the street. It is a busy street (for Maynard) and I remember standing outside my house yelling, “MAAREEE!” so that Mary would come outside and tell me it was ok to cross. Then I’d go to her house where she would pay attention to me and give me treats. I have no recollection of telling my mother where I was going and don’t know if she even looked for me. I was three. The restaurant is gone now, large apartment buildings have grown in the empty spot and Kathy gasped when she saw this. We recalled that the mom we were going to pay respects to worked at that restaurant for years. I remember Christmas caroling as kids and going there to sing for the patrons. This lovely woman somehow got us all in to sit in booths together. We were served hot chocolate and sandwiches and didn’t have to pay! (I was always worried about paying.) I don’t know if a customer paid the bill, Joey’s mom did, or the restaurant just comped it, but it is a sweet childhood memory. We drove across town to my old house, passing the junior high school where Kathy and I became best friends. (When Beth, my bestie from the dawn of friendship, moved to Sudbury I was crushed and needed someone to fill the void.) We passed the spot we considered halfway where we’d meet to execute our plans. It was a sacred spot and used in any kind of emergency. If we had something important to tell, like so and so liked so and so, we’d call and say, “Meetcha halfway.” and that was it. Hang up the phone and run to the streetlight. No questions asked. 

The driveway at my old house looks so small. I thought it was huge as a kid when we had to shovel it. In reality, it’s smaller than my front walk at my current house. The street looks so small, just six houses and a dead end. A very sweet tree-lined street that looks like a park. I’ve always been sorry my mother sold that house (for nothing) but none of us wanted to live there, and it was her decision to make. Her children weren’t around to help her care for it. Now it makes sense, but it was a nice house with good bones and is probably worth a fortune now. Yes, there are a lot of unhappy memories there but there are happy ones, too, and just the familiarity of it was comforting.

 I was nervous as we approached the funeral home. “What if I don’t recognize anyone?” I asked Kathy. She said Joey was worried about the same thing with people coming through the receiving line. She said she’d have to be like the guy on VEEP, whispering into the ear of the VP names of people she’s about to greet. Then I thought, “What if no one recognizes me?” and at that very instant, the older gentleman directing us in the parking lot asked who we were. I held out my hand and said, “Linda Robinson, I used to be Linda Orsi?” I said it like a question. He instantly recognized the former name and said, “Oh yeah! Richard’s sister?” then the addendum, “Pete, too. Didn’t you have a brother Pete?” Yup, that’s me, some things never change. My existence in this town identified by my brothers or my father, a big reason I wanted to get away. We entered and recognized no one but the family, who are beautiful and gracious and what I am describing as “just the same only older”. Of course there are wrinkles and grey in the hair, but the same. Really, the smiles, the dimples, the voices, it was all like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Friends from my youth arrived and I always felt they saved me. In reality, there were many saviors along the way and at the bar later in the evening we sat around the high top identifying our personal Jesus. We talked about ways we were valued by some, traumatized by others, and how if we judged our school by today’s standard, half the teachers would be instantly fired or arrested. Yet, we all sat there, responsible and successful adults, grateful for the bond we shared and knowing it was special and unique. Many of us had to grow up too soon; there was loads of family dysfunction, which again, by today’s standards would have us in foster care, but somehow we came through it. I didn’t want to leave them. I had an early flight, needed to be up by three and still had a drive to get to Zack’s. I felt the sleepless night before a twenty four hour trip would be worth it, I was so grateful to be there. Grateful for the small town that is so much part of me. Grateful for the friends I made there and the bond we share from experiencing that existence together. 

And now I sit on this balcony facing the Pacific Ocean with George typing beside me about his own experiences. We’re on Maui for a reunion with each other and the wedding of my nephew (Rich’s son). We met up with them when we arrived and I told Rich about the comments in the parking lot. He laughed. His wife laughed. I laughed. We walked the beach together. We hiked  an old trail up one of the mountains then lunched together before George and I took off in our VW convertible for a few days alone before the wedding. Rich has done well as everyone expected, but so have I. We’ve matured and found our own.

Love to all,

Linda