Sunday Morning ~ Martyr’s Day~ Dedza

Sunday Morning ~ Martyr’s Day, Dedza

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

~ Chewa proverb

March 3, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Neighbors~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Our Neighbors ~ Blantyre

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

~ Chewa proverb

February 25, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ The Way The Snake Moves

Sunday Morning ~ The Way The Snake Moves

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

~ Chewa proverb

February 18, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre~ Elders

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre ~ Elders  

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

~ Chewa proverb

February 11, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, White Privilege

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre ~ White Privilege

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

~ Chewa proverb

February 4, 2024

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre to Mulanje

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre to Mulanje

Mwamuna mnzako ndi pa culu, n’kulinga utakwerapo. ~ Your fellow man is as on the anthill, you only find out once you have climbed that anthill. 

~ Chewa proverb

January 28, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’m resting my legs today after a climb up Mt Mulanje on Friday and down Saturday. It’s not an outing to be taken lightly and I’m feeling the consequences of a relatively sedentary month. I was invited to join the trip by a woman I knew here from before; someone I always found physically intimidating. Not her stature, she’s very petite, but she is a powerhouse in an iron-man sort of way. I’d never thought of hiking with her, fearing I’d be left in the dust. I initially refused the invitation, thinking I can’t take a day off so early in my job here, but Friday had nothing going on aside from a preceptor workshop which was a repeat of the one I’d gone to on Wednesday, so thought climbing Mulanje would be better than trying to look like I had something to do. I collected my sleeping bag, rain gear, food and wine for the evening at the top and stuffed it into a sack. I slept fitfully Thursday night, worried I’d die on the mountain trying to keep up. I am the tortoise plodding along, eventually making it to the destination, but never the winner of any race. I had no idea if the two others on this hike were in my league or hers.

Mulanje is a hard climb and just as hard coming down. It’s very steep for two thirds of it. You don’t need to use your arms like on Katahdin, but it’s a serious ascent. Obviously doable, but   it’s hot until you near the top and by then I’m usually almost delirious. At a steady pace it’s about a five and a half hour hike to the massive plateau. There are several huts up there spread across the huge landscape and it can be several hours hike between them. This recent outing was just an up and down, staying at only one hut. I think people have gone up and down in one day but I can’t imagine doing that. It’s not much faster going down. My legs were shaking even with a night’s rest between. But it is so gorgeous up there. So gorgeous. The tallest peak is called Sapitwa, the Chichewa translation of which is “Don’t go there”. We tried to summit it in 2018 but it was socked in and raining and we abandoned that goal without regret as it was too slippery and dangerous. I’m very happy to make it up to the plateau, get settled into a hut, bathe in a mountain stream and relax on the porch taking in the vista with a cup of tea. Glorious. In the past I’ve purified the stream water before drinking it, but this time I didn’t have anything with me to do that, so I’m hoping Giardia hasn’t made a home in my gut. There’s no other water source. Bathing is done downstream obviously. If asked, the guardian of the hut would collect water and heat it for a bath but it wasn’t too cold and I’m not that much of a sissy. I wouldn’t waste the firewood unless I was desperate. The cool stream felt good after the climb.

The deforestation is heartbreaking. The mountain has been stripped of trees, most significantly, the Mulanje Cedar. There is a reforestation program implemented, but it will take forty years for the saplings to grow. Fuel is a huge problem in this country, now so overpopulated, and trees have been harvested for charcoal. The cyclone last March created massive landslides on the mountain and many swaths of destroyed vegetation were visible. It’s shocking to see.

I’m gradually getting settled into my new place and trying to make it home. When I left my house Tuesday morning I asked the gardener if he could cut off the dead ferns outside my front door. Unless it is November in New England, dead plants really bother me. I thought my entrance would look nice with some tropical flowers as a border and would have been happy to do it myself, but would never without consulting the gardener. He is very sweet and told me he would ask Bwana, meaning the boss, which, is appropriate since this isn’t my property. When I got home the ferns were all ripped out and fresh plants were in place. It looks so much better. I smile every time I see the front door. I got home from the Mulanje trip to find my house spotlessly cleaned and my laundry done and put away. This is very, very nice. Now I just need to acquire a couple of comfortable chairs for my veranda and maybe a foot stool, figure out how to get money from my U.S. account into one in the UK to pay for my car and I’ll be in great shape. 

Getting fast internet at home has been really nice. The guy living next door set it all up and it’s great. I was able to do a zoom call on Thursday evening, a coordination of schedules between the U.S., Botswana, and Malawi. It was a good discussion on architectural designs of birthing units, about which I feel passionately opinionated. I’m hoping for input among multiple disciplines for the future success of the midwifery ward here. Things change in medicine continually and layouts of medical units in the west become obsolete within a few years. When I started my nursing career, a gallbladder removal required a two week hospital stay. Now people are home by lunchtime. Most medical procedures don’t require any overnight in a unit and that impacts the physical layout of a facility. Renovations are constantly needed. Maternity care could be different. Childbirth itself doesn’t change though the culture of it does. Protocols evolve depending on insurance reimbursement, but that’s all financially driven. Focusing on respectful care of women in normal childbirth we could design something appropriate for the culture, climate, and safety that could last a good long time. I find that aspect of this project fascinating and exciting. Poorly designed physical space can make a job more difficult, require more staff, and make people hate their jobs. Well designed space improves everything. I theorize that people who hate cooking would enjoy it more if their kitchen were designed well. 

I haven’t started teaching yet. Students come back on Monday, February 5th. We’re having a planning meeting on Friday this week to decide who teaches what. Last minute seems to be the order of the day. Hopefully I’ll be teaching something I’ve taught before. I’m feeling very zen about it, settling in to the way of life. It feels good.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Free of Charge

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre, Free of Charge

Kaufulu sikacepa. ~ Something free of charge is never too small.

~ Chewa proverb

January 21, 2024

Hi Everyone,

I’ve moved into my new place and am getting settled. I feel more comfortable here and am loving this big covered porch with my own private garden. It makes up for the tiny kitchen, which isn’t really a kitchen but more of a corner of the living room. There are several staff people here, gardeners, cooks, cleaners, and it seems a very well run property. I met everyone yesterday but forget their names as they were coming one after the other. I think the guard is Hastings and he was very impressed I was going to church this morning. He sits and reads the bible while waiting to open the gate for someone. I definitely feel safe and secure here. The entire property is surrounded by an eight foot cement wall and I see there are five rows of electric wire above that. No messing around here with razor wire. I have a big frangipani tree in the center of the yard and several flowering hibiscus along the wall. There are also many succulents and other tropical plants and it’s beautifully maintained. There are at least two gardeners here, maybe more. The owner does a lot of bonsai but those are surrounding the entry of the big house. I’m in the “Frangipani Cottage”.  The key ring for this place is now the heaviest thing in my bag; I think there are nine keys on there. Combined with the keys to my office (five of them) they are heavier than my laptop. It is fun to use those big skeleton keys, but keeping them in a skirt pocket is out of the question. 

I started work on Tuesday and it has been really fun to see all the people I knew from before. I feel very welcomed. On Tuesday I sat with Ursula and Elizabeth, the faculty I worked most closely with in developing a plan for the midwifery ward. They asked what my goals were for the year and I told them I wanted to be the most help to them, whatever they saw that to be. But I told them I didn’t want to give up on getting that ward started at Queens. A recap: the plan was in full swing to get a midwifery ward established at the teaching hospital, Queens, when the pandemic struck and the ward allotted to the midwives was taken for a covid ward as it was the only place there was oxygen. They then moved the ward to the sister city, Limbe, about seven miles away. This was a huge disappointment as the Limbe health center was already run by midwives, it’s very small, and few students go there, which defeats the whole purpose of it being a teaching ward. But the choice was either to use the allowed funding for Limbe or forgo it altogether, so they almost apologetically told me they chose to go with Limbe. I felt badly because they acted like they were disappointing me. They knew how badly I wanted this to happen at Queens. Of course, I understood, and told them so. The ward at Limbe is now a model for better, more respectful care and there are staff there dedicated to mentoring the students who do go there, so there’s a big benefit. I want to see what kind of stats they’ve collected and see what we can put together for an argument for resurrecting the plan at Queens. Though, I am still sussing out what kind of enthusiasm there is for it. Elizabeth said, “If you are only here for one year, I don’t know…”. There is a possibility of opening a separate birth center in a private clinic owned by the University. We jumped in Elizabeth’s car to go see that at the very end of the day and there is potential. It’s not on site, but would have it’s own operating room so we could still eliminate the need for transferring if there is a problem, but we’ll see. 

Wednesday I was out at the second campus, Kameza, about twelve miles out of town in a gorgeous location surrounded by mountains. There we were sorting through supplies donated for the midwifery and pediatric wards. I found it incredibly depressing. A container full of supplies from the U.S. arrived and the boxes unloaded. It reinforced more dramatically why Doctors Without Borders does not accept material donations. Most of it consisted of disposable items, as if they need more trash here, and seemed randomly selected. I spent most of the time explaining what half of it was. Foam heel protectors, adult diapers, mouth swabs, each package was held up to me with confused expressions. They were hoping for instruments that could be sterilized and used over and over but it was plastic basins, unsterile drapes, opened boxes of gauze, half empty boxes of gloves, etc. I found it all rather insulting. Ursula said, “I know we are poor, but…” And, “I know we shouldn’t complain if it is free…but…” I told her I had no problem complaining. It’s dumping and we would have been better off getting the money they spent shipping the stuff here. Oh well. It’ll get used somehow then end up in an overflowing landfill. They’d hoped to keep the container and use it for a small clinic––workers here can cut doors and windows in the metal and transform that space–– but the container wasn’t part of the donation.

I got to church this morning for the first time since arriving. It’s far enough away I have to drive and it made me nostalgic for my early Sunday morning walks to the church I used to go to. It is the rainy season, though, and the days have been drizzly and cool. Walking wouldn’t have been super enjoyable, especially on the busy roads. I’m glad I went. I loved the mass. I loved listening to the choir sing songs from the folk masses of the 70’s. I loved the incense, and the sermon about interpreting the translated-from-Greek biblical passages. The priest’s interpretation was full of context and nuance. He took the word “repentance” and broke down the original Greek, illustrating all the different ways it could be translated. It was brilliant and poignant for this time when that book is hijacked and used as a tool to gain control and power.

I read somewhere “in a thousand years no one will know the difference between a butt dial and a booty call, and that is the problem with the bible”. I thought that was hilarious, but when I told my friends in England the joke they didn’t get it. They didn’t know what a booty call was. And that is the problem with the bible. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~Chilembwe Day

Sunday Morning ~ Chilembwe Day

Choipa ndi mnyanga ya njobvu. ~ Bad things stick out like the tusk of an elephant.

~ Chewa proverb

January 15, 2024

Hi Everyone,

Today the U.S. is celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malawi is celebrating John Chilembwe. Both men had similar character, courage, and vision. Both men were Baptist ministers. John Chilembwe, born in 1871, was sent to the U.S. by a Scottish missionary to study at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the ominous-sounding town of Lynchburg. He was ordained and returned to Malawi at the turn of the century. He opposed colonial rule and advocated for enslaved people working on the tea, tobacco, and sugar plantations here. He preached egalitarian ideology in the churches he organized and built. This philosophy was (predictably I assume) considered dangerous by Scottish missionaries and the colonial government. When the first world war broke out, Chilembwe spoke out against Africans working as porters for the British army fighting against the German colony, Tanzania, to the north. On January 23, 1915 Chilembwe’s followers launched an uprising against one of the most brutal plantations killing it’s violent manager. It didn’t go well; Chilembwe was shot as he tried to flee to Mozambique two weeks later. King and Chilembwe were both murdered. Chilmbwe’s uprising inspired anti-colonial efforts but it took thirty-nine more years for Nyasaland to become an independent Malawi. He is a national hero here and today is a holiday in his honor.

I was supposed to start work today but the holiday gives me a day to write. I was at the Majete Game reserve over the weekend and was too tired last night when we got back to compose anything coherent. I took a shower, read some, and slept soundly in the reasonable temperature at this elevation. Majete is in the Shire Valley and very hot. My tent was like a sweat lodge which was probably good for my pores but terrible for sleeping.

It was a productive week! 

I decided to move into the humble apartment across the street from where I was staying, not knowing how long it would take to find a house where I felt comfortable. The lodge was fine, but expensive. A week in this apartment cost less than one night at the lodge. It’s adequate. If I had to spend the year here I could, but there is little privacy and no place I’m comfortable sitting outside without being on display. I won’t even use my laptop out there. I don’t want to show that off. But it is clean enough and security seems to be solid. I paid the landlady (who lives on the property behind this set of apartments) for a month so I wouldn’t feel pressured to take something I wasn’t happy with and we left it that I could extend if I wanted. After one night here I knew I wasn’t extending. She didn’t put up the mosquito net I’d asked for, with the excuse that the power was out and they couldn’t drill holes in the bed frame for the net. Ok, that excuse was a little weak. I’ve never seen a Malawian need a power drill. But there are screens on some of the windows so I just waited. A huge tree on her property fell on the power lines and it was two days with the electric company and the Blantyre City workers here with chain saws and machetes clearing it away. So, at least twenty guys were looking in the windows randomly. I’d bought some fabric for a curtain and my first morning here I went to fill a bucket in the kitchen sink to wash it. I put the bucket under the faucet and it ripped the entire faucet off the wall. Water came shooting out all over the place. I ran outside calling to one of the workers to shut off the water. He then yelled for the guard who did not shut off the water, but came into the now flooded kitchen and shoved a rag and a plastic bag into the pipe, which, astoundingly, worked. Well, there was a steady drip but the firehose effect was minimized. I moved any stuff I had off the floor which by then had several inches of water on it. A couple of hours later a plumber arrived and attached a new faucet without shutting off the water. When he removed the plug and the water started shooting out again, he put his hand over it, shoved the pipe in and started screwing it on until the water stopped shooting out from all sides. I wanted to ask if it wouldn’t be easier to shut off the water first? But decided to just keep quiet and watch. In the meantime five guys were in here scooping the water off the floor and sweeping it out the door. The landlady came by to look at it. I told her I really didn’t use a lot of force putting the bucket there and I felt badly it broke off the wall. She said not to worry about it so I decided not to complain about the mosquito net. That was all before noon on my first day in the apartment.

That afternoon I went to look at a house for rent attached to a large estate. It was tiny, and I could have made do, but I didn’t love it. It was way out of town (the owner picked me up and drove me there) and incredibly isolated. Also, there was no where associated with the house that would have been my private garden space outside. It didn’t feel good. And the road there was terrible. I told her I was still looking and would let her know. It was a good little mother-in-law apartment and if I were their mother-in-law I could have seen it working, but I’m not. I would have had to use their outside space. And the kitchen was smaller than my bathroom.

The next day I met up with the guy I’m buying a car from. We took it for a spin; I was nervous driving here again, not used to driving on the left in the middle of the city where chaos rules the road. At least you can’t go fast and the other traffic reminds me which side to drive on. Whew. I passed that test and agreed to meet the next day at a shopping center where I would drive him home and take the car while he was in South Africa for two weeks. Then if I still want it I can buy it from him. It’s a 2004 Nissan X Trail, the same car I drove when we were here before. It has 54,000 miles on it and is in great shape from what I can see. At least I know the owner and know it wasn’t stolen. That way I can resell it when I leave. And it will be good for camping. George and I took ours on our great camping adventure through Zambia, Namibia, and Botswana and it was the perfect car. So that’s good. 

After that I went over to the college to meet up with my colleagues. That was fun. Even though I don’t start until tomorrow I wanted to go say hello. I got a lovely warm reception and we talked a little about where things stand with the midwifery ward. We’ll sit down this week and make some goals and figure out what I’ll be doing. It’s about an hour walk from where I’m staying now, but it’s not like I have anything else to do and walking is good. I just bought an umbrella, a very useful tool in the rainy season. Cloud bursts are common and come in from nowhere. 

On Thursday I walked the hour to the Ginnery Corner Chipiku grocery store, which has quadrupled in size since I was here last and has a huge parking lot. I met up with my friend, took a deep breath, and drove him to Limbe. Limbe is a sister city to Blantyre, less developed and utterly chaotic. It takes some guts to drive through there at certain times of the day. Mid-morning wasn’t bad and we got to the other side and his gorgeous house. I stayed to visit for awhile, getting all the instructions and manuals, etc., and then set off to go back to Blantyre, through Limbe at noon. That was trial by fire. Honestly, if you go more than five miles an hour you could kill dozens of people just going through town. Happy I made it through there and back to my abode, then walked back to town to shop for the camping trip the next day. I was in charge of two breakfasts and a lunch, so needed some fruits and vegetables, as well as some containers and bread. There is no way I would drive a car and park it in the city. Much easier to walk and carry thousands of pounds on your back. I don’t care how hot or how hard it’s raining. I’ll walk. 

That afternoon I had another appointment to see a house, which was also out of town but in a more convenient direction. It is between the two nursing campuses so might work out well. I did have to drive there, so after dropping groceries and supplies at my place, I set out back through town around three pm. Not bad. In fact, it was pretty easy. I navigated the roundabouts  while constantly repeating to myself, “give way to the right, give way to the right” and found the house with little problem. The road was a left hand turn off the main road, so that was easy. Nice road, I thought, as I drove toward the house––– quiet, lots of green, paved. The hosts met me just inside the gate and gave me the tour. I liked the place instantly. It’s a large old colonial house with three smaller houses attached. One of the smaller houses is pretty good sized and the owner’s daughter lives there. Then there is a medium sized house rented to a guy who was away on holiday. They tell me they love him. The third is the one available, and it is the smallest, a one bedroom with combined kitchen living area, but the best part is the two double doors opening onto a covered veranda and a private garden. I love it. I totally love it. It’s way smaller than where we lived before, but it’s just me, and I can sleep on the couch when friends visit. I sat with the owners for a long time talking and they assured me I could be as private or as social as I want. I told them I’d take it and will move in next Saturday, the 20th. Yay! A car and a house! I’m feeling pretty good! 

Leaving there was a different story at 5 pm. I had to turn right onto the main road, which, took about fifteen minutes. Getting through town again at that hour was a miserable nightmare. Note to self: plan travel time accordingly. I think I could walk to work in an hour or so from there. Maybe an hour fifteen. That might be the dry season plan. Turning left to the Kameza campus will be easy, so when I teach there I’ll be fine.

That evening was strange. I parked my car outside my little apartment where there is a space for it, prepped some food for the weekend, and went to bed at 8 pm. I was reading when I heard a knock on the door and the landlady calling my name. I got up and looked through the peephole, and it was her, so opened the door. She breezed in past me in my boxer shorts and tank top with no bra, and sat at the table telling me she was writing a receipt for the rent I paid her three days before. Then she asked if they put up the mosquito net and before I could answer she went into the bedroom to look. Stunned, I answered “No they did not.” It was so bizarre her breezing through here like that. She handed me the receipt and was about to write up some long term contract when I told her not to do that as I’d found another house and would be moving out in a week. I just wanted to go back to bed, not have some real estate meeting in my pajamas. “Oh!” she said, “Ok, well we won’t need this.” and she breezed back out into the night telling me to sleep well. I went back to bed and thought that was weird. I never see her during the day and 8:30 pm is pretty late around here. Pondering it the next morning I realized what she was doing. I think she saw the car and thought I had someone here. So, like a jealous boyfriend doing a bed check, she made a ruse to look in the bedroom. She hadn’t cared all week I had no net, but at 8:30 pm it was suddenly an issue? It does say in the house rules no overnight guests, but surprise inspections? As if the guards looking in the windows isn’t enough?

Friday was Majete adventure! I packed up my camping stuff, food, and water and drove over to the secondary school where I was meeting up with two teachers, one I knew from when I was here last. I’m so glad to re-connect with her! We loaded into her 4×4 Toyota beast and set off in time to arrive for some game viewing before sunset. I love that place. It’s not terribly far, about an hour and a half drive from Blantyre, straight down into the valley on a steep escarpment with gorgeous views of the valley. Her brakes were in good order and it was a pleasant ride. If your brakes ever went on that road it would be the end. I’ve only stayed in the lodge there; I haven’t camped before, but it was great. Cheap and comfortable, except for the heat. My companions rented one of the big canvas tents they provide with mattresses and linens, but I just used my backpacking tent and put it next to theirs, close enough to look like an appendage not a small, weak, vulnerable snack. There is a common area with a huge thatched roof and shared kitchen. The bathrooms are nice with showers. It’s great.  The campground was full so lots of people were sharing the kitchen, many were families with kids. Lots of kids. The lodge is really lux with a big water hole where you can sip your gin and tonic and watch the animals come to you, but this was an inexpensive alternative. I could see switching off if I go a lot. We saw loads of animals. They’ve introduced wild dogs and giraffes since I was here last and they are all thriving. They’ve instituted strict consequences for poaching and that is greatly reduced. The lions were very new when I was here last and they are reproducing and doing well. I hear the rhino are also doing ok, though we didn’t see any this time. We also didn’t see any leopard or cheetah. In the rainy season it is thick, lush vegetation and more difficult to spot some of the game but it’s so cool to see them in their natural habitat. I just love it. I love the park and the guides. I can’t wait to take my guests there and support sustainable tourism. It’s a great little weekend getaway and my tent held up well in the rain. I was totally dry whereas occupants of the big canvas tents complained of leakage around doors and windows. I worried my little tent would get swamped but she held up well. I was a happy camper.

Ok, I’ll have to go across the street and order a drink to use their internet to send this. More next week!

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Kukhala kwa eni n’kuomba m’manja. ~ To stay well at someone else’s place is to clap your hands.

~ Chewa proverb

January 7, 2024

Hi Everyone!

The tropical air and vegetation, the people, the mountains, the place–– it feels really good to be back in Malawi. 

I spent my final days in UK in Covent Garden smack in the heart of London where my friend was staying in an apartment extraordinaire. That was a rather fabulous way to wind up my holiday. It was great to walk downstairs and emerge amid all the iconic sights right there in the neighborhood. Even in the rain it was smashing. On Wednesday, I took an easy tube ride back to Heathrow where I paid the ransom and retrieved my bags with stuff for the year. It’s funny, checking those bags in at Logan airport I was embarrassed by how much I had. Checking in at Ethiopian Airlines at Heathrow? I felt like I was traveling light. Two fifty pound bags? Nothing. People all around me had twice that at least. All checked and securitized and I was overnight to Addis Ababa and a mere four hour layover there before being Malawi bound. 

Arrival at the airport in Blantyre was sweet. Even my sleep-deprived, head-cold riddled brain perked up at the arrival. I’d been instructed to get a thirty-day tourist visa then apply for a residency permit through the embassy, so that was simple. The lines were long and slow but it felt like initiation into life here. Collecting my bags was the anticipated mob scene; luggage is strewn over the floor with no room to move the trolley (or even get a trolley). For the price of a Fanta, however, a guy in a yellow vest grabbed my bags and helped me out to where my taxi driver, Hastings, was waiting. I’d sent Hastings a What’s App message from London asking if he still had a taxi and he said he’d be there to collect me. It’s not that I couldn’t have gotten a random taxi, but it’s a little nicer (and safer) to have one tried and true. The airport actually has wifi! That was a nice surprise since I hadn’t international service. I let him know I was there and would be coming. He said he’d already been there an hour waiting but his reply was “I am here. Take your time. Don’t worry.” We loaded my bags into his beaten up car, I ran to the ATM which actually produced some cash, and we were off. He has aged. I almost didn’t recognize him. I asked him how things were and he said it’s been hard. I noticed less traffic and many fewer cars. He said people can’t afford to drive. The Kwacha was devalued in November by forty four percent. My tired brain could not process what this meant. Does that mean things are cheaper or more expensive? I didn’t ask. I knew from his tone it was bad for him. Probably the opposite for those with dollars though. I’m still doing the calculating.

This is the first time I have ventured into an overseas work experience on my own without being part of a group. With Pearce Corps, SEED, and MSF, there was a structure to the arrival with being met at the airport, handed a visa, transported to a venue where there was an orientation. This is very much a solitary experience. Since this place is familiar to me I have an advantage. I had the number to a taxi driver I trusted, and roughly knew where the lodging was located (though, I am finding I have underestimated distances and have the blistered feet to prove it). The faculty is almost the same, though I haven’t met with them yet. They are still on holiday break until tomorrow, but at least I know them and they know me. My grant doesn’t start until the 15th but I will go over to see them tomorrow just to say hi, then continue my search for housing. I have a couple of options, neither of which are ideal but I can go month by month and see if something better comes along. 

I’ve booked four nights at this lodge knowing I can extend if I want. It’s definitely further from work than I recalled but I had planned to find someplace closer by the time I start working. When I mentioned to the receptionist I’d be looking for a place to live she said she knew a furnished apartment right across the street. I went over there to have a look and it is certainly adequate for one person, dirt cheap, and seems safe enough. I’m not sure what I am basing the safety issue on, perhaps the landlady’s assurance that it was “yes, yes, very safe.” It’s a bit close to the road, though, it is the end of a dirt road with little traffic. I’m trying to decide if that’s good or bad. But, it is right across from this lodge which has great wifi. I could come over and have a beer and do my sending and receiving. I’m considering that for a temporary solution. Having someone provide housing (ie. an NGO) was definitely a huge perk. We lucked out last time and loved our house and its location. I tried to get it again but the landlady sold it and it is not available. So, a new adventure. 

I looked at another apartment close to the hospital. It’s a new complex, directly behind the new mosque, and is sterile and soulless. Surrounded by cement parking areas, they are advertised as luxury apartments. They are enormous and so is the price. I’m not living there. Plus I don’t want a 4:30 am wake up call every morning. I’d rather take the distant one and walk a couple of miles to work. In fact, when I think of it, I used to get home from work, drop my things, and go for a walk. I may as well just walk home. Or I’ll give Hastings a job. Lots of options here. 

I am deciding about getting a car. I hate to have another car on the roads here but it is so hard to get around without one. Within the city it’s fairly easy if you don’t mind walking, but to go anywhere afield, which, I will want to do, one really must have a car. There are so many beautiful places to visit within a few hours and I’d like to spend weekends taking advantage of that. I was messaging my former landlady and she has a car she wants to sell. She said I could drive it while she’s away for three weeks and decide if I want it. So, I’ll review the left sided rules and take her up on that!

I set out to go to church this morning but by the time I got there the mass was over. Another little mis-remembering of distances. Well, I sort of remembered the distance, I did not remember how much time it would take to walk. So I set off in a different direction to a coffee date with a woman I knew from before and did make it there in time. She invited me to go camping next weekend at Majete, a game park in the Shire Valley, a place I adore. Yay! Now I am super motivated to move into a place by then. 

I got back to the lodge just as the dark clouds were thickening and an hour later the heavens opened. African rain is truly something to see. Even the most violent downpour at home does not compare. Absolute sheets of heavy rain hammer down for maybe fifteen minutes, then what we would consider a torrential heavy downpour for another fifteen minutes, then a steady rain lingers for a few hours or sometimes all night. I find it so thrilling. I stood in my doorway eating a ripe mango, watching and smiling. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Old Year-New Year, Old Friends-New Friends

Sunday Morning ~ Old Year-New Year, Old Friends-New Friends

Mlendo ndi mame ~ Guests are like dew.

~ Chewa proverb

January 1, 2023

Hi Everyone,

Has it really been only a week since I wrote? I’ve lost track of time and I feel like I’ve been gone from Maine for months. This trip involved a lot of moving parts, and I’ve met many new people. It feels so good to travel again. The mojo is coming back. 

I’m now with friends in Woking, not far from London, my second to last stop before heading south to Malawi and a different world. There’ll be sun for one thing.

The weather here is dreadful. Grey, grey, grey with rain off and on. It’s not too cold but very dreary. Ireland was more varied. It would be dark grey at times, then bursts of sun, then dramatic clouds, then driving rain, then rainbows. As I was warm and dry and observing all this through windows, I found it beautiful. In England it is more of a steady gloom, though, being with friends brightens it up. 

After Christmas in Manchester, I flew to Ireland and spent three days in Pomroy, a small village an hour west of Belfast where I met more cousins of my future daughter-in-law than I could count. Every passing car was driven by an aunt or uncle, and we spent a good portion of the days visiting or being visited. On my last night, Uncle Aiden arranged an evening at the pub which was the most fun I’ve had in ages. God, they know how to enjoy themselves. Two young teenagers played Irish music with super-human fiddling. We all bought rounds. There was laughing and all kinds of conversation I couldn’t understand; this accent will take some getting used to. I understand Chichewa better than some of their English. And, I get to do this again in August! We visited the church and the castle where the wedding will be, imagining a fairy tale event and planning my outfits. It was fabulous. 

On Friday, family drove me back to the airport, refusing to let me take a bus. Holiday travelers were all heading home and the airport was a mob scene. I was grateful my flight to London was delayed or I would have missed it altogether; the security line was massive. I took comfort in the fact that I did not have a screaming child in tow, empathizing with those who did, and inched along. I was afraid I’d miss my train to Woking, already having bought the ticket. Needn’t have worried, though, as the tickets are interchangeable and there are trains all over the place. I just hopped on the next available, checked the app to see which platform, and sailed on to a big hug from a friend I haven’t seen since leaving Malawi in 2019. Yay for train infrastructure! I slipped into his waiting car (still going for the wrong door) and have been comfortably ensconced in their gorgeous home being fed and watered ever since. Luxury.

On Saturday we did a long muddy walk into nearby hills with beautiful views, ending at Shere, a sweet little village, and lunch at the pub. Sunday began with a lovely mass at a local Catholic Church, which my friends kindly attended even though they aren’t Catholic. The priest was great and connected with the congregation in a genuine way; he was funny. He talked about family, what it means, and how many of us have an unrealistic fantasy of the ideal. It was very meaningful to me as I let go of what I imagined my family would be at this stage of my life. It was a perfect gift to end the year. From there we met other friends from Malawi at the Wisley Botanical Gardens, meandered through winter landscapes and caught up on lives and travel. We had lunch at one of the restaurants then were treated to dramatic sky and glorious rainbow before heading home where New Years Eve dinner was planned. 

Guests arrived and the feast commenced with French 75s and canapés in front of the fire: very civilized with robust conversation. From there we moved to the dining room and a lovely french onion soup, followed by seared salmon with vegetables and potatoes. Wine flowed. I demonstrated ignorance of English table manners when it was pointed out I’d improperly placed my cutlery across my empty plate signaling I wanted more instead of being finished. I thought this was a joke and couldn’t possibly be true until I looked around to see everyone else had the fork and knife placed exactly the same on their plates. (Is this in the travel books?) I have lots of British friends and have not been told this before. Now I’m wondering how uncivilized I have appeared over the years visiting this country? Have people been too polite to point this out to me? After listening to stories of boarding school, however, I can understand how customs must be obeyed and adhered to. It seems like the placing of cutlery is the least traumatic thing they endured. 

After dinner we played a few games that brought us to midnight when we joined hands and sang Auld Lang Syne while fireworks boomed on the television. I congratulated myself on making it to the new year and planned to say goodnight when there was insistence on playing Pictionary “for just a little while”. What are these people made of? Incredible. Even in my college days I’d be in bed at twelve o one. It’s been years since I made it to midnight. I made it for one more hour before almost falling asleep on the couch and had to say goodnight. Which, broke up the party. I hated to be the first to quit but it was getting to be a life or death situation.

Now I’m off to London where I’ll spend two nights with my friend Ruth before heading to Malawi on Wednesday. I’ve shed most of the clothes I brought for UK travel, I’ve booked a temporary place to stay while I look for a house to rent, my taxi driver is still in business and he’ll pick me up at the airport, and I can’t wait to feel that tropical air on my skin. 

Happy New Year everyone. 

Love to all,

Linda