Sunday Morning ~ Making Things Better

Sunday Morning ~ Making things better

Kangaonde Kakoma Andi mchere ~  It may be small, but it’s lovely when you add salt.

~ Chewa proverb

February 17, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Valentine’s Day was beautiful. The skies were sunny and the snow was soft and I had a good ski around a favorite loop. I passed a few couples on the trail, none of whom I recognized. I wondered if they were vacationing, celebrating Valentine’s Day in this romantic setting. I wondered if there was an open restaurant in town. I felt a little lonely and I felt bad for feeling that way. I mean, I have a love in my life, but he’s not around and seemed to have forgotten about the day. But that’s not such a big deal. I don’t even know if they have Valentine’s Day in Myanmar. They are just coming off of Chinese New Year. Maybe the day of love doesn’t even exist. And when there isn’t a lot of hype about it, I don’t think of it either. I’ve just been spending way too much time on Facebook lately. That’s a surefire way of feeling left out. But the sun was out and it wasn’t too cold, and I was free and healthy and able to do whenever I wanted so I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t shake the blue feeling.

Whenever I’m feeling down and can’t put my finger on why, I start going through the calendar trying to figure out if the date is triggering some painful memory.  Let’s see….February 4th was the day my divorce was final. That used to be a trigger but I sailed right though that one without a hint of sadness, so that wasn’t it. February 14th has had it’s share of bad memories and I went though them to see if one of those were the culprit. There was second grade when we’d spend a week passing out Valentines and I didn’t get any. That seemed a humiliation at the time, so much so, that I made two to give myself. The only envelopes I could find were business ones I took off my father’s desk. They looked a little silly, those a tiny little Valentines that come like a hundred to a box, in a business envelope, but it sufficed.  I signed them “from a friend”, tucked  the little hearts into the big envelopes, and wrote my name on them. When I got to school I put two of them in the construction-paper-heart folder hanging on the outside of the classroom door. As I recall, each classroom had one of these little Valentine mailboxes hanging there and tiny expressions of love could be hand delivered to any student you wanted. You just walked down the hall and placed your card in the appropriate folder hanging on the door of the classroom of your true love. Each day some kid’s job was to pass out the cards to the students in front of everyone, which I considered a public ritual of humiliation. (Who ever thought that would be a good idea? How many hours of therapy have resulted from that little tradition?) When the kid passing them out got to the large business envelopes with my name on them he said, “Wow, these are huge!” as he read my name. I demurely rose to receive the sentiments and my face was saved. By me. The teacher looked at me and smiled and I felt like she knew I’d given them to myself. I wonder if anyone else did. Now that I think back, it was rather savvy for a seven year old. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone I did that. I started taking care of myself at a tender age. Clever me!

Then there was the year I’d delivered a terribly deformed baby on Valentine’s Day. The baby lived only a few hours and it was incredibly sad. It was expected because of the ultrasound, but very sad and heartbreaking to see the grieving family. On the way home from the hospital I stopped at the candy store and bought little paper bags of candy for my kids. I was crying the whole time, imagining what it must be like to lose a child. Joe and I had planned a romantic evening after the kids went to bed and I was still thinking we could salvage some of that if I got home in time. We’d planned a nice dinner and a movie,  Casa Blanca, which I’d never seen. I was so distraught that I went to take a hot bath to calm down while Joe cooked. Cooking was not his strong suit. I’d planned steak (a treat back then), steamed asparagus (also a treat), and some chocolate dessert which I never ended up making. I sat in the tub and cried instead. Joe cooked the steak until it was nearly unchewable and the asparagus until it was one step away from a puree. I pulled myself together to eat the meal but must have made some comment about it and then he was mad. I cried all the way through the movie, not because I thought the movie was sad, but because I was.

I looked up the history of the holiday. Was it really a holiday? Or a hallmark holiday the same as Mother’s Day?  

What I found in my quick search was basically we’re celebrating two saints being decapitated on February 14th. How sweet. That calls for chocolate and flowers. The Roman Emperor Claudius executed two men named Valentine during the persecution of christians and they later became saints. There were several more men named Valentine to follow who were executed by subsequent emperors for practicing christianity or performing miracles. Wow, unlucky name. Who knew? I never looked into this before. So that’s where the Saint Valentines come from, but how it became the holiday for love seems a little sketchy if you ask me. One source I read claims it started when Chaucer wrote about birds mating in February. This started a tradition of love letters being sent during bird mating season. Obviously there wasn’t a lot going on and people were bizarrely tuned in to the mating rituals of birds. I wonder if binoculars existed then? Another source sites the pagan rituals of spring where women were paired off with men via a lottery. Actually, I like that one. With that system no one is left out unless there’s one extra. But then it would be just chance, not outright rejection.

I found a Whoopee Pie that had been buried in my freezer for about three years, ate that, painted myself a little heart on a teabag, and thought, yeah, a little salt makes everything better.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Somewhere over the Atlantic

Sunday Morning ~ Somewhere over the Atlantic

Ici n’chiani nkulinga mule awiri ~ You can ask what this is, provided there are two of you.

~ Chewa proverb

February 10, 2019

Hi Everyone,

It’s a long flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, seventeen hours, so plenty of time to write, but I find it a little awkward. It’s easier with pen and paper than balance the laptop on this tray table with it being a bit bouncy. We’ll see how it goes.

Ursula and I spent a lot of time writing this week. She sat at the desk adjacent to mine and we hammered away at the policies and procedures we needed for the midwifery ward. It was a big job, but we got a draft done. It needs editing, augmenting, and referencing, but it’s a good start and something we were able to present at our meeting on Thursday. Interjected into the writing sessions were discussions about the issues we’ll be facing. For instance: What are we going to do if we’ve got fifteen women in labor and only two available beds? How are we going to manage a staffing problem if someone doesn’t show up for work? How will we implement ongoing quality improvement? Could we really do a staff retreat? What kind of renovations are absolutely needed for us to open? Who actually does the renovation? There are so many layers to this and we’ve only begun peeling them away. It’s exciting and daunting. 

There is an election this year in Malawi and there is an underlying uneasiness about the political future. I asked Ursula about her thoughts on Kamuzu, the man who was president for life during my Peace Corps years here. The couple who own the cottage I stayed in spoke highly of him, but others don’t. Ursula told me Kamuzu did a lot of good for the country. She said she benefitted tremendously from his policies, and the only reason she has her PhD is because of Kamuzu. I realized I didn’t know much about how she got her education. I knew she’d gone to university in the states, and I think I assumed she came from a privileged family. She was dean of the midwifery school when I arrived, an effective leader, and a role model for me. We are close in age. She explained how she got to where she is and how Kamuzu’s policies played a part.

She was born in a village in Kasungu, just north of Lilongwe, the third child of her parents. They lived so deep in the bush that she couldn’t go to school because of wild animal attacks. Leopards were so plentiful that the danger of them eating small schoolchildren walking miles back home at the end of the day was real. She said her father said he’d rather have living children than lose all in search of education. Only her eldest siblings went to school. They lived as subsistence farmers and were very poor. When she was ten years old, her mother needed to go to the hospital to have her seventh baby, and her father chose Ursula as the one to accompany her as guardian. She and her mother traveled together to the hospital and Ursula went to sleep with the other guardians in the shelter. In the morning a nurse called her to come and hold her baby brother. Ursula said she was so happy sitting and holding this infant, then looked up to see her father and siblings coming toward her crying. She asked why they were crying? They should be happy they had a new baby! Then her father told her that her mother had died while giving birth. They buried her mother and her father asked his sister to care for the baby. His sister told him she would take the baby, but she needed to keep Ursula also, to help her care for the infant. So Ursula stayed with her aunt as well. She told me, “That is when the family split.” A year later, the baby died of malaria, and after burying the last connection to her mother, Ursula started school for the first time. She did very well and when she had finished form two (which would be our sophomore year of high school) the president was starting Kamuzu academy to give Malawian children a chance for a quality education. At the time there were a few private schools but they were expensive and only white children and those from rich Malawian families could attend. Kamuzu Academy was meant to provide a quality education for Malawian students. They took two children from each district, a boy and a girl for each class. Ursula was the girl chosen from her district to start form three (junior year of high school). Some local nuns gave her the needed supplies: underwear, clothes, and other necessities. The uniforms and school supplies were provided at Kamuzu Academy for all students. She went and excelled. After graduating, she was supported by a group of Catholic sisters to go to the U.S. to attend nursing school. She got her nursing degree and masters in midwifery before returning to Malawi. Later she went back to the states to get her PhD.

I was speechless.

Know what I was doing when I was ten years old? Playing jumprope. Lying on a blanket in the back yard, listening to Red Sox games on a transistor radio. Sitting by my friend Beth’s pool reading Little House on the Prairie books. Skiing on winter Sundays.  Watching Wild Kingdom on T.V. on Saturday nights, fascinated by the animals and the African landscape. I was riveted, amazed at how they could film a lion take down a zebra, or a leopard feeding on an impala. I didn’t know the leopards were also eating children on their way home from school. Or that a ten year old girl somewhere on that continent sat holding her baby brother as her mother died in the next room.

I asked Ursula if I could share her story in my blog? She plans to write about her life and I don’t want to misrepresent any of it. But I told her this is such an incredible illustration of how risky childbirth is in this country, how young girls have to care for younger siblings, and how random the opportunity for education is. At home, we take all this for granted. When I showed her what I’d written, she had to clarify some of it, and I realized I missed some details as I listened to her story. I was imagining being that ten year old girl holding the baby. I hadn’t heard whether it was a boy or girl. I thought of how lonely and frightened I might be, sleeping in that guardian shelter with strangers. I thought of my own mother going to the hospital when I was ten for back surgery. I hated that she was gone for several weeks. I remember my father dropping us at church and realizing before I walked in that I wasn’t wearing a hat. I didn’t know what to do. My brother told me I couldn’t go in, but I couldn’t stand outside. My father had already driven away so I had no choice but to go in. I went to one of the nuns and told her my mother was in the hospital and I didn’t have a hat. I asked her what I should do? She took a tissue out of her pocket, folded it in thirds, took a bobbie pin off her veil, and pinned the tissue to my hair. She told me to go kneel down and pray. I did, for my mother. I left the tissue on my head until my brother and I had walked all the way home. I had always thought of that as a traumatic childhood experience. When we went to visit my mother in the hospital that afternoon  the first thing I told her was about the hat. She laughed and then it didn’t seem so serious. I can’t imagine if we’d gotten to the hospital and they’d told me she was gone. 

There were so many moments that made me hopeful and optimistic this past week. We had our big meeting Thursday morning with the country director for SEED Global Health, the administration for the nursing school, faculty members, and the chief nursing officer from the hospital maternity department. There were a few conflicting meetings so some of the key players were missing, but it was still really productive.  Some days I’m overly optimistic about what this ward will accomplish: we’ll set a new standard of care for women, we’ll bring down maternal mortality, we’ll turn out superior students, etc. etc. etc., and other days I’m thinking this is never going to happen. I’m afraid to let the latter thought take form as I don’t want it to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. When we all sit down together and I hear people supporting it and coming up with ideas of how to make it happen, it fills me with energy. This is what I want to be doing right now. I so believe in this. Ursula gave a short history of the project and I gave a report of progress to date. These things made me feel like we’ve come a long way in a relatively short amount of time. But when we begin discussing next steps I start thinking, “Holy smokes. This is huge. How are we going to do this?” and then I start fantasizing about a donor just handing us zillions of dollars to do whatever we want, then I reel that one in and start imagining going door to door asking for some Kelly clamps, emesis basins, and an autoclave. Nothing I hate more than asking for money. I still have PTSD from doing that for the Women’s Health Center, though, I’ve got to say, it seems easier in Malawi than in the states. People ask for things all the time there and it doesn’t have the same stigma I attach to it here. 

The architect students sent a floor plan they designed and Ursula and I looked it over before the conference call with them to discuss it. It is gorgeous. It is a dream. I wanted to live on this drawing. One of those movie scenes played in my head where the whole fantasy rolls out in technicolor with dreamy lighting where smiling mothers were holding perfectly delivered babies. Guardians chatted with each other in an airy garden and midwives floated between beds offering massages and support. Students washed their hands in a clean sink with water that actually came out of the faucet. And soap. There was soap. The maids did their jobs between a dirty AND clean utility room. Oh, it was so beautiful. All the while a gentle breeze blew through the open windows providing natural light. At night, the solar energy provided light when and where we needed it. Staffing wasn’t a problem! Midwives begged to work there! No one called in sick, and if they did, no one minded working a double shift. Oh it was heaven. Then the little ding signaled that the email had come and I woke up and we connected to the Zoom meeting in Philadelphia. I’ve gotta say, that is a cool technology that zoom. We could be part of the class and we could ask and answer questions. It was amazing! I was sure the internet would be too slow for it to work, but see? If that worked, there’s no reason we won’t get this ward established. We might have to start with something a little less dreamy than the drawing we reviewed, though. At this point the running water would make me happy. At the end of this month we’ll have five different drawings to use as we wish, and it’s another step in the process. We’ve got our lists of things to accomplished and it looks like I’ll go back in June. We’ve got a target to open on October 1 of this year but a lot has to happen before then. 

On top of all that, I met with the women’s group on Monday. One of the women lives near my old house and I went with her to the village where they now meet. I would never have found this place by myself. There are eight women who still meet twice a week and I was bowled over by the mountain of jewelry they’ve made. The quality has improved a lot and they’ve come up with some new designs. I was thrilled to see this. I asked where they were selling it, and they told me they aren’t. They are just making it. Ok, seems they need some help with that. They told me that Rachael, the woman I’d left it all to, hasn’t come since last August or September. And the guy from Catholic Relief Services, who was supposed to teach them some business skills, didn’t show either. And Chimemwe, who was supposed to be their teacher, got hit by a car a month after I left and has a debilitating brain injury. Given all that, I was so proud of them for still meeting! And making cool stuff! They have hired another man from the village to teach them to make the wire designs. He was there working on some bracelets. I asked if he were teaching them or just doing it himself? They said he was teaching them. Ok, great. It seems there has been some confusion about what to do with money and buying supplies, much of which I didn’t understand, and knew I would not be able to sort that out. I only had a short time with them. I love some of the new stuff they’ve made, though, and bought some and told them I’d order more to pick up when I come back. Irene, the woman emerging as a leader of the group, explained this to them and took note of some quality issues I pointed out. I explained that to sell these they have to be really good quality. I told them about the farmers market on the first Saturday of the month, but that will require paying for a table and I think they’ll need some help getting that set up. I decided to try to find the guy who’d agreed to help them. I also sent several messages to Rachael to find out what the hell happened to her. Then Irene took me to see Chimemwe in his village. 

George had seen Chimemwe right after his accident when he was just regaining consciousness. George said he left weeping. I was preparing myself for what I was about to see, but I was blown away by how much progress he’s made in his recovery! He is walking without help, a little unsteady, but he says that’s because he can’t see. His vision comes and goes. His language was perfect though and his mind sharp. For that I was so incredibly grateful. I asked if he notices improvement with his vision over time and he said he does, but it is slow. He’s frustrated that it is taking so long. I said, “It’s only been six months! Six months ago no one was sure if you’d survive!”  He said six months seems like a very long time and he wants to go back to work. His father, a very well spoken gentleman, came to greet me. His English is perfect and he said, “Your husband told us you would come, and now you have.” We chatted awhile and as he left he told me they are all very grateful to George who left them a good amount of money to live on until (hopefully) Chimemwe could work again; he was the family support. Before I left I gave Chimemwe some money and tried to be reassuring. I told him he still has a lot to offer and maybe he could teach the women a little English until his sight improves. That didn’t go over too well.

On Wednesday I went over to the Catholic Relief Services office to find the guy, David, who was supposed to meet with the women and didn’t. I wish I’d had a camera in my hand when he opened his office door. That was a classic. You’d have thought I was Jacob Marley. He actually screamed when he saw me. Then we both started laughing. To his considerable credit, he took total responsibility. I asked if there was confusion on the women’s part? He said, no, it was him. He just never went. I appreciated him being honest. He said he commits to too many things (I can relate) and was very sorry. I told him about my visit with the women and asked if he knew of any business courses or anyone else that could help them. I’d be willing to pay for Irene to do a short business course. He said, “No. You have inspired me. I will do this. I will make good on my promise and make a plan to meet with them.” I told him about Irene and how it would be best to go directly to her. He told me he’d meet with her on Friday and make a plan with her to meet the women. And he did. So that was a success.

I never did meet up with Rachael though. I’ll track her down the next time. 

Whew. This is getting long so I think I will wrap it up. I’ll be too tired to drive home when I land in Boston, so will probably just vegetate on the couch at my daughter’s, hug my grand babies, and drive home early Monday. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

Banja ndi gombe, silicedwa kugumuka ~ Relationship is like a riverbank, it can be ruined any time.

February 3, 2019

Hi Everyone,

As I was walking to the college this week from my sweet bungalow on a hill overlooking the city, I was thinking about my role here and thought maybe I had become one of the consultants I always hated. In the times I’ve worked overseas I’d see consultants come in for their five day stint, all peppy, full of energy and ideas, putting forth ways to do it better/faster/brighter and it always made me want to smack them. I laughed at my eagerness to get this project off the ground and wondered how I appear to the people here in the trenches just trying to get through the day. I also laughed when people walking by smiled so brightly when I greeted them. The guards told my landlord here that my Chichewa is very good. That also makes me laugh. I can greet people very well, I will admit that. If they ask me a follow up question, though, I’m usually stumped unless I can recognize a word, like “work” or “home” and I say something about either of those two things, like “Yes, I am going to work” (a sentence I am very proficient at), or “My home is good” (equally fluent). Those often don’t answer the question asked, but the people walking by keep going. I only get into trouble when it’s someone who knows me and stops for a more in-depth follow up. Then I am stumped and it shows. Then follows uproarious laughter and knee slapping all around, hand shaking, and follow up conversation in English. I’m having fun.

I arrived last Sunday after a long flight. My friends, Peter and Caroline, greeted me at the airport and delivered me to this gorgeous property where I’m renting a newly built cottage. Holy smokes, I had no idea this place existed within this city. It’s spectacular! It has to be at least five acres with stupendous gardens, a brick walkway that circles the entire property (my hostess tells me it is half a kilometer but seems bigger) through tropical plants surrounding and overhanging the path. There is a pool in front of the main house where the owners live, but I don’t feel comfortable going over there. I’m not a big swimmer anyway and I’m quite content tucked into this hillside in my hexagonal cottage with a view.  It is a mile from campus, but a nice walk and so far I’ve been lucky with the rain. I heard they had two weeks of constant rain before I arrived and the gardens are using that as an excuse to show off. Blossoms are exploding everywhere, surrounded by stunning greens of every shade. I feel like I am living in a terrarium. Lots of oxygen and soothing shapes.  Since I’ve been here it has rained two afternoons but not during commuting times. 

In many ways it feels like I never left. I’ve only been six months away, so there aren’t a lot of changes here. That wouldn’t even be evident in six years, but it’s interesting to slide into the same routine, meet the same friends, and walk the familiar paths. My office remained untouched. Everything was as I left it including my pens and sticky notes. My dean handed me the keys and I was back at my desk as If I’d just been on a short holiday. That’s been nice. What has changed is my role.  I’m no longer just part of the faculty with lectures to give and students to supervise around the district. I’m left out of meetings and student check-offs. That feels weird. I’m here to hopefully give this project a booster shot and set a timeline to get the ward open. I’ve been instructed to be realistic by SEED, and I’m trying really hard at that, but it’s challenging for me when I want something this badly. One of the drivers saw me through the window sitting at my desk and he came to my office to greet me. He said, “You are back! Please tell me you are here to stay.” I told him that was so sweet for him to say, but I was only here for a short time. I hope to come back but it is still uncertain. I really can’t come here to do a job that a Malawian can do. He said, “Ah! But you are a Malawian!” Which, made my day.

I had an ambitious list of things to accomplish in these two weeks and after the first discouraging day, I’m cautiously optimistic. The first day was basically spent greeting people, handing out the small gifts I’d brought and trying to get a local SIM card for the phone. There was no power at campus (had been out for two weeks) no internet, and the place I’m staying doesn’t provide that either. I walked over to the store to buy the SIM card, walked back to campus, and spent an hour trying to get it to work. Went to the IT office to ask for help. Oh, he had gone to a funeral. His assistant tried to get the number working then told me I had to go back to the store to register the phone. This is new. Every cell phone now has to be registered. Why, I don’t know, but it’s the new rule. I walked the mile back to the store where the woman smiled and said, “I told you when you bought that you had to register it.” If she did say that I had no idea what she was talking about so ignored it. Either that or I didn’t hear it, but here I was, waiting in another line to get it registered. That required digging out my passport and all kinds of computer input by the guy behind the desk. I just handed him the phone and asked, “Can you just do this all for me? Set the number up, get the data, sign me up for What’s App, everything?” I knew it would take me forever to figure it out and was running out of steam, still a bit jet lagged and frustrated that the day was almost gone and I’d gotten nothing done. Very kindly, since there was no one in line behind me, he set it all up, so I was communicado again. It’s insane how reliant I am on that phone! But the dean had been sending me messages asking where I was, and the landlady at the house had been trying to call me, so I felt better being trackable. By then it was about the end of the day, but I did meet up with two of my colleagues to discuss a plan for the week. So that was it for day one.  When I got back to my cottage I dropped my things and turned around to see one of the guards at my door with a little handwritten note on handmade paper in a little handmade envelope. It was from the owners, asking if I’d had a nice day and inviting me to tea. Now, how sweet was that? She’d been trying to figure out how to contact me and did it by a hand-delivered, hand-written note. How eighteenth century! I loved it.

They are a lovely couple whose families originated from India, but he was born in Malawi and she was born in Uganda. Their house is something to see, let me tell you. Gorgeous sprawling brick structure with a huge veranda furnished with plush wicker chairs and sofas.  Chai tea was served on a coffee table the size of my bathroom. He’s a retired businessman and built these two cottages to rent to keep himself busy. He’s also an amateur landscape designer and has gone bananas with the landscaping of this place. It’s reminiscent of the botanical gardens on the big island of Hawaii! 

From Tuesday on, the week became very productive. It is so heartening for me to see how positive people are about this becoming a reality. From both the college side and the hospital side, there is tremendous support. I have been clear that the enthusiasm is great, but we need to translate that into some action. No one is going to fund a project that doesn’t have a clear path to sustainability. I wouldn’t support that either. I mentioned that maybe we should look at a year from now as a start date? I asked if that would be realistic? The response was unanimous that we can’t wait that long. We have to show that it is moving forward. I was like, “Ok then! Let’s get to it!” (Refer to the first sentence in this blog) Ursula and I have been hammering away at the policies and procedures that need to be in place. It’s not a job I enjoy, but I am thrilled that we’re making progress and now believe we’ll have a draft done before I leave. Yay. One task will be checked off. We’ll be having a conference call with the architecture students this week to hear/see what plans they’ve come up with for the renovation. The consensus here is we should start with what we’ve got, just to get going and show we are doing something, then to expand as we get funds. That needs to be a discussion, which we’ll have this week when the SEED country director comes on Thursday to meet with us. We’ll have a discussion about how they can support this (including having me come back hopefully) with resources to get this established. In the meantime, the faculty is going to solicit funds to buy equipment from the local businesses, and I will look into development grants that focus on improving maternity care. I’m leery of having a grant that funds salaries because historically as soon as that money dries up so does the position, so there’d have to be some kind of commitment that the salary would be taken over by the college in however many years. I’ll have to do some work on that one, but I am finding this exciting. To see how everyone believes in this is good for my soul. I really believe this is the right path, which feels good, even if there are inevitable setbacks.

There is a new farmer’s market in Blantyre which takes place on each first Saturday. I went yesterday to see if it’s a possible venue for the Tiyamike women’s group to sell their jewelry. There were loads of people there and I think it is a possibility if the quality of their products has improved. I heard from Ursula they are still meeting, but they are floundering. They now meet in a village at one of the women’s houses, so tomorrow I will meet up with one of the group who lives near my old house and we’ll take a minibus, then walk into the village. I contacted the artist who originally was teaching them to see if she’d go with me but she is two hours away and I’m not sure if she’ll make it. I’ll need a translator and she knows them and maybe could help with a plan to get them some guidance, but if she doesn’t show I’ll wing it. Apparently, the plan I left them with fell apart, so I don’t know what it’ll be like, but I’ll see what’s up when I get there. Afterward I am going to try to visit Chimemwe, who still isn’t able to return to any kind of work. I heard he can walk with assistance, but the brain damage is severe. It’s a miracle he’s alive. That man is so strong and I miss him. I’m preparing myself for what I’ll see. He was such a help and support to us and I really care for him so much. If he’d had half the privilege I’d had in life, I can only imagine what he’d have accomplished.

After the farmers market I took a minibus to Zomba, about 70 kilometers away to visit friends who’d rented a house there for the weekend. When I wedged myself into the already overfull bus, the guy collecting money told me it’d be 250 kwacha for the first leg of the trip. I only had a 2,000 kwacha note and passed it forward. Other passengers were handing him various sized notes and he collected them all, then one by one started handing back change to everyone. It is astounding to me how they can hustle and remember who gave what and who got what change. Every single person received their correct change, handed back through the bus, person to person. I thought how remarkable they are and how they have developed these systems that work. Yes, the minibuses are sometimes unsafe and they are overcrowded and some, but not all, of the drivers take risks. But in general it is a very efficient means of mass transportation. The fellow passengers are friendly and polite and I find it all very entertaining. I got there safely and had a great visit in a beautiful setting where we swapped travel stories and caught up on life. I’m blessed. Mindful of caring for the riverbanks.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Johannesburg

Sunday Morning ~ Johannesburg

January 27, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’m back in Africa and it feels good. Even after fifteen hours in the air from Atlanta. Even after having my flight cancelled from Bar Harbor and having to jump in the car and race to Boston, catching my flight there with seven minutes to spare. Even after being cramped into the middle seat, the trip always seems so worth it. I haven’t gotten to Malawi yet as the plane arrived too late yesterday in Johannesburg to make the Malawi connection, which meant a night to adjust to this time zone and hemisphere and get my blog written. All good so far. Now I’ll just have to deal with the internet or lack thereof. We landed here yesterday amid a show of lightening, thunder, and pouring rain. I caught the shuttle to my hotel and immediately went to the gym to run on a treadmill hoping to alleviate the bloating that goes along with having my feet dangling for a whole day. I watched the storm spectacle out the gym window on the fourth floor, a perfect location with the hazy city lights below it all.

The trip came together well, though the approval was only two weeks before and the departure date dependent on a talk I was doing at our library in Bar Harbor.  The original flight had me leaving Bar Harbor Thursday but I said I couldn’t because of this talk which had been planned, advertised, and set for Thursday night. The weather in Maine that day was dramatic: pouring rain that turned icy and 60 mph winds that made me ever so glad those trees had been taken down at my house. I was sure no one would venture out that night to hear my talk, but then I thought if only two people came that’d be fine with me; I’ll tell this story to anyone who will listen. But a lot of people came! I was stunned as I saw people enter dressed in full foul weather gear having walked through that tempest! Wow! That’s dedication! 

I was actually a little nervous when I started, something I haven’t felt in a long time. I knew most, if not all, of the people there, and was a little worried my message wouldn’t be engaging enough, given all that’s going on in our country right now. The women’s march we’d had on Saturday put forth so many critical issues, I was hoping this would live up to that kind of urgency. In the end it all melded together. Women’s plights around the world are not all that much different. And though I could only refer to three of them, Malawi, Congo, and the USA, there are lots of similarities.

At the end of our contracts in June we had a close of service physical exam. Any health issues resulting from our service are the responsibility of Peace Corps so they are identified before we leave. I’d been very healthy for the two years aside from the diarrheal episodes that are expected and transient. But at the exam in June, they found some blood in my urine that wasn’t associated with any infection. A month later it was still there and it was mildly concerning, cancer being the potential creepy monster, but a parasite being more likely. I took the treatment for the parasite, and was given a voucher to have it followed up when I got home. In September, it was still there. Damn! I was sure the treatment for Schistosomiasis would have taken care of it. So then I got a little more nervous, not because I thought I was going to die from bladder cancer, but because if that’s what it was, I’d probably need surgery. I got a referral for a urology consult. I waited a month for them to call me with an appointment but never heard from them. I followed up and they finally scheduled me to see the urologist three months later. Three months. I thought, ok, I guess they aren’t too worried that this might be cancer. I was distracted with training for the marathon anyway and went into denial. I felt fine. I felt great, in fact. George was worried about going away in case it was something serious, but I really wasn’t. That said, I did want cancer ruled out, again, not because I was worried about dying, but didn’t relish the thought of having an organ removed and a bag attached. Not how I saw myself. I always said I’d never do chemo but started wondering if that opinion would change if I were really faced with it.

My much anticipated consultation arrived on a snowy day in December and George and I trekked up to Bangor for the appointment. I’d received a lengthy questionnaire in the mail about my health history and had sent that back immediately, thinking someone would have actually read it by the time I arrived. After all, they’d had nine weeks to do that. I checked in at the reception desk and was asked to sign a black pad on the outside of the window, consenting to care. Just a blank black pad. I said, “Excuse me, what am I signing here?” The receptionist replied, “A consent to care.” as if I should have already known that. I asked if I could see what I was signing and she turned the computer screen toward me and it had a signature page with a sentence at the top I couldn’t read and for some reason I was afraid to ask for a closer look. She seemed annoyed I was asking. I asked, “Am I the only one who asks to see that?” She didn’t answer and I signed the black pad even though I didn’t want to. I thought, how strange this is. I am a health professional and I am afraid to question a practice here because I’m afraid to be labeled a problem patient before I even get seen. I let it go. Well, not really, but I went and sat down to read a TIME magazine.

I was called in and my vital signs were taken by a medical assistant who was looking at a computer screen while she asked me my name and date of birth and if I had any allergies. Then she told me the chair was going to rise up to get my weight. I was wearing boots and layers of weather-appropriate clothes, was holding my jacket with keys in the pocket, and was being weighed? With all that? I asked if I was supposed to wear all the same clothes when I came back for my follow up visit? She didn’t laugh. I’m not even sure she got my point. I thought of my students in Malawi and how I emphasized getting an accurate weight on patients. I thought of how appalled I was when midwives there didn’t take an accurate weight seriously. And then I thought, I waited three months for this.

Well, it turns out the specialist, who I waited three months to see, was in surgery that day and I would see her nurse practitioner, who was very nice. She asked me all the same questions I had answered on the questionnaire I’d filled out nine weeks before, and because she was so nice, I didn’t ask sarcastically if she’d read it. I kept thinking, “Three months for this.” Then she nicely told me she’d have to ask the doctor about my case and since she wasn’t in the office that day, she’d ask her the next day and get back to me. I said,”You are kidding me! I waited three months for this appointment and my own nurse practitioner at home could have done the same thing. She could have called the doctor and asked what the next step was!” This, of course, flustered her and she told me she’d call me right away and I’d be first on a cancellation list to get in to see the elusive specialist. I said, “I’ve already been on that list and I waited three months and I thought I was seeing her!” By the way the blood was still there and I asked about the possibility of cancer. She wasn’t sure, but told me if it was cancer, this particular doctor doesn’t care for cancer patients and I’d have to be referred to someone down the hall. This, I thought incredulously, is our great, expensive medical system? The system that is always worried about getting sued and blames patients for that? Medical providers need to be patients once in awhile just to experience this.

I left, steaming, and thought I would never go back to that office. I’d call my friends and get a decent referral, then I realized this was demonstrating incredible privilege. I know people who work in various specialties and could get some strings pulled and I was ashamed that I was actually thinking of using it. 

The urologist called me the next day, obviously having been briefed about my discontent, and was incredibly defensive and condescending. She told me there was no control over the amount of time I had to wait for the appointment (fair, maybe) and she was the most qualified person to care for me. I said that was fine, but she wasn’t caring for me was she? I hadn’t seen her. I had two approved visits and one was already spent and I was no further along in the process of diagnosing the problem. She softened a tad. She declared that because I’d been living overseas it was most likely a parasitic problem (which I’d told her I’d already treated), and I’d need a CT scan and a cystoscopy. I already figured that, standard, and could have done those months ago. I said I could get the CT scan done at my own hospital, and she said she wasn’t comfortable with that. I asked, “Why?” She said it was because she wanted to see very specific findings and was more comfortable with me having it done at her facility. She’d get me in within a few weeks. I said, “No. I will have it done in Bar Harbor. They are quite capable of doing the procedure and sending you the results.” She reluctantly agreed to that, with a “Now. Are you going to cooperate? Should we proceed with this?” Scolding tone. Bitch. 

Why is this so difficult? I may have gone in there with an attitude, but I can’t tolerate the idea that women don’t deserve respect or even consideration, that women should be grateful anyone is even giving her time for their very expensive care, that they should put up and shut up, that if they question anything that seems a bit off, well how dare they? 

It was another three months before I could get an appointment for the cystoscopy with this arrogant provider. I would have gone to someone else, but found out it would not have been covered under the previously approved agreement with Peace Corps. So much for choices. (I tell you, if I hear anyone criticize universal health care because of how long you have to wait to see a specialist, I will lose my shit.) I sucked it up and subjected myself to more attitude. I tried to be open about it and evaluated whether my own attitude was the problem. And I guess it is if I am to be  critical of expensive care that is demeaning and inappropriate. The problem is that most women don’t speak up. Those who do are a problem. It’s another form of suppression and control of a vulnerable population. If you are worried you have cancer, you are being silly since the great and powerful specialist (who hasn’t even seen you) doesn’t think so. And in some perverted way, I found that reassuring.

There was a cancellation and I got in this past week for the cystoscopy. Again I was asked to sign the black pad. This time I asked for a printed copy of what I was signing. It was a two page document with tiny writing. I thought of the paper in Malawi that women are asked to sign before surgery that says, “I give permission for the doctor to do an operation on my body.” and how shocking I thought that was. How it gives permission for about anything and is a farce. And I looked at the consent form in front of me that most people sign and never see, that requires at least a secondary school education or higher to understand, and think, there is no difference here.

A very sweet medical assistant explained the procedure to me very thoroughly. She then handed me a consent form to sign saying the procedure had been explained to me. There was a blank for the name of the person explaining the procedure. I started to fill in her name. She said, “No, the doctor will put her name there.” I said, “But you are the one who explained the procedure to me.” and continued to sign my name. Well. The doctor came in, not pleased with me, took the form, crossed out the medical assistant’s name and asked me to initial where she crossed it out. She looked at me, very 1984ish, and said, “I am the one explaining the procedure.” I said, “Fine.” and then she continued on without explaining anything. Whoa. That was creepy. She filled in I don’t know what on the computer screen, put on non-sterile gloves, picked up the scope and started to proceed. I said, “Wait, isn’t that supposed to be sterile?” And with exasperation looked at me and said, “Look, you know, I don’t HAVE to do this.” I said, “I know you don’t, but I need it done and I have the right to ask.” I felt like asking her infection rate, but honestly, just wanted to get it done and out of there and was tired of being treated like a fly to be swatted. This is such crap. I thought of all the times patients of mine related stories like this one. I always told them to write a letter. Providers get away with this kind of behavior because they don’t get called on it. But few women do write. They don’t want to anger a provider they may depend on for care, so tolerate being treated badly. And, yes, it does seem futile, but still, if I’m going to encourage women to speak up, then I have to do the same. But it is intimidating. I am intimidated. And I was not in pain and I know what my rights are, and still, I felt bullied into accepting to be treated in a disrespectful way. Not ok. I’m starting by writing here, but it will go to some administrator as soon as I can find one. I’ll be curious to see if I get a satisfaction survey from that office.

I asked for a copy of the consent form I signed. They gave it to me, but warily. I can feel them on the defensive. I wondered how bullied the staff there feels? If she treats her patients this way, how does she treat her employees? 

Ok, my rant is done. I’m off to catch my flight to Malawi.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Home Ec Lessons

Sunday Morning ~  Home Ec Lessons

January 20, 2019

It was junior high and home ec was not optional. The boys took shop and the girls took home ec with Mrs. Burke. She wore boring skirts and sweaters and seemed to have very little job satisfaction. We started in September with cooking and we learned to measure exact volumes of ingredients resulting in uninspiring products. I remember the day we learned to bake a potato (seriously!) and Kathy forgot to turn the oven on. We went to test for doneness and found the potato still hard as a rock. By then class was over so we didn’t get to eat it and I remember being mad at Kathy thinking it would certainly affect our grade. This is the problem with working in groups. I think I overreacted. It may have been our first fight. 

In the spring we moved on to sewing. I’d been sewing Barbie clothes as well as my own for a few years before I got to seventh grade and didn’t like having to go back to basics. Measuring out darts and making aprons bored me and I wanted to show off how much I could already do. I wanted to get it done quickly and I was reprimanded for not following the appropriate sequence of steps. It was excruciating. And, adding insult to injury, my showmanship was punished with a poor grade and I couldn’t even blame Kathy for that. Instead, I blamed Mrs Burke for being so unreasonable. I’d heard my aunt tell my mother that I was going to do well in home ec because I already knew how to sew! I remember being proud and was looking forward to finally being good at something. Well, I didn’t do well in home ec. I hated measuring stuff and hated pinning darts. I had my own system and Burke was cramping my style. She told us we were the worst class she’d ever had, the same praise she heaped on other classes. Honestly, how any of us came away with any shred of creativity after that was miraculous. The gym bag we made was too small for our gym stuff. Poor design, though the lime green and pink print I’d picked out was pretty. I wonder what ever happened to that bag? It’d probably be quite trendy now, for a lunch or something. Not for the big sneakers, white socks, and kelly green jumpsuit we had to wear for gym. Good God. The crosses we had to bear. And all that was before the sexual harassment and discrimination to come! This was intro to Inferiority Complex 101. 

My school chums and I spent a lot of time talking about all this over the past few days. It’s our annual school girls reunion weekend, our tenth. That means our classmate Mike has been gone for ten years. Hard to believe. We appreciate how he brought us together and toast to him each year. You’d think we’d run out of things to talk about after ten years, but there’s no end to the reminiscing. Each year brings new stories and revelations and now that our memories are fading we can tell them over and over and still find them hilarious! We just crack ourselves up.  

On Saturday we made signs for the women’s march in Bar Harbor, (a bit slapdash since we were rushed after lingering over coffee and more storytelling), then stomped our feet with others in solidarity on the village green. Young and not-so-young women inspired us before we came home to thaw out and eat again before we got down to chores. Three volunteered for kitchen clean up and five of us ventured into the woods to get branches for kindling and fill the wood boxes. A storm was coming and we wanted to be sure we had enough firewood for a full day of cozying. We all work so well together. I turned from the load of wood I’d just deposited and saw everyone hauling and stacking and working together like a well oiled machine. I remarked about how seamless this all seemed and wondered if it was because we all took home ec together? I remarked that maybe we should consider living together in a small village when we are old, infirm widows. We could share chores and keep each other company. We do it so well. There were exclamations of “Yes! I’ve always thought that would be neat!” Then one said with the utmost sincerity, “As long as everyone knows I can do pee and poop but not blood or broken bones.” 

By Sunday morning it was snowing hard and though I had every intention of getting this blog done by afternoon, the Prosecco we drank at brunch and the two coffee and Bailey’s that followed sent that intention down the freezing drain. The snow and ice kept up all day and the fire we lit at seven in the morning burned until midnight and we never even got dressed. We looked though old photos of escapades that we would have forbade our children to even consider and shivered as we considered what could have happened. We are so lucky to be alive. We went through the yearbook and wondered what happened to classmates and teachers. We wondered how different our lives would be if we had computers and iPhones back then. What if bullying wasn’t tolerated? What if those who got pregnant weren’t sent away? Would we be sitting here, cherishing our friendship, filling in missing details of weddings and boyfriends, singing our alma mater and marveling that we remember the words? We acknowledged all we were grateful for: decent wine, micro fibers, warm pajamas, jewelry we love, forgiveness for dumb things we did that hurt each other. We could put off shoveling until we felt like it, we could meet next year in Puerto Rico, we could dance to oldies if we wanted, and we did. We drank lemon water and tea all afternoon and remarked how this must be some sign of getting old. In years past that would have been a sign of weakness. The girls remarked that I’d furnished the bathrooms with better quality toilet paper than usual and though I could have taken credit for that, I had to admit it was George who’s upgraded that department and stocked up before he left. Some of them had even brought their own, knowing what their previous experience was here. Such sweethearts. I love these women. We’ve held each other up, kept each other safe, held each other’s hands while we laughed, cried into strong shoulders over a cheating boyfriend or husband, been there when our parents died, or husbands, or classmates. We’ve believed in each other and celebrated our various talents, which, despite our high school experience, managed to stay lit until there was enough oxygen to fan the flame. 

Sunday Morning ~ Boosts

Sunday Morning ~ Boosts

January 13, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’ve kind of put my life on hold for the year hoping to be able to go back to Malawi to push this midwifery ward a little further toward the goal post. I believe in this. I have a fantasy that it will take hold and be a model for all over the world. I said exactly that when I was presenting it to a class of interior design students at Jefferson University in Philadelphia this week. I started out saying it is a model that could easily be replicated, and someone asked, “Where? Africa?” I said, “The World!” at which point there was a little twittering about my delusion of grandeur. But it could! It should!

I’ve been waiting to hear about returning to Blantyre and was getting very discouraged about it’s chances of becoming reality. It seems our country’s plight right now is overshadowing everything that could be done to improve life on a global stage. I was starting to lose hope and steam. As I was driving to the University with my friend on Friday morning I said, “I woke up this morning thinking, ‘What the fuck am I doing?’ I’m not getting a salary running around the country pitching this. I’m having fun, but at some point I need to get a little compensation to pay my bills and see something tangible come out of it. I was starting to think I should just go find a job and say I tried. I was also feeling like the energy surrounding the book had run it’s course and maybe I should think of some other place to set my focus. 

Then I had a conference call that was productive and encouraging. I AM going back to Blantyre for two weeks and will see what we can get accomplished as far as writing up policies and procedures, finding a project manager who will be responsible for making the wheels turn, and set some goals for the rest of the year. It was a little booster shot. Then I met with the students and got a huge injection of boost. Their response to the project about picked me up out of my seat. It’s thrilling for me to see a new generation of responsible citizens who want to use their talents and energy for the good of mankind. I felt totally energized again. I am going to give this everything I’ve got and reevaluate after this trip. Two weeks away! Yikes! It’s so often like this, wait wait wait, then hurry up and go!

I left Philadelphia and headed toward Reading, Pennsylvania where a book group consisting of four couples read my book and invited me to come to their discussion. Another booster shot was waiting for me there! It makes me so happy to hear someone say, “I felt like I knew all these people by the end of your book. I cared about what happened to them.” That is the absolute pinnacle of what I’d hoped for. The book group consisted of people in all walks of life, varied professions, both male and female, and had similar feelings about reading it. A couple of them said they could see it as a movie, which, of course, I’ve already mentally cast. I’ve got my dress picked out for the academy awards (the author gets a ticket, right?), and I’ll finally meet Meryl Streep when she plays me!  Ok, let me reel this in a bit, and think of a few more ways to get book groups to read it and recommend it to others. Back to earth.

My hosts were over the top with hospitality: introducing me to people, showing me the surroundings, taking me on two hikes and one run, a wine tasting, dancing, dinner in a castle, and great conversations. I’m exhausted! For me there is much more reward in all this than money or fame…but I’d still like Oprah to get her chops into it.

Now I’ve got to get my shit together to be ready to head out in two weeks. Packing should be pretty simple, hopefully the weather cooperates so my little plane leaves Bar Harbor on time, then back to a place that pulls at me, though I have some trepidation about “you can’t go home again” syndrome. I’ll try to be realistic, try to achieve some goals, try to help midwifery take one more step up the mountain, and pray that women’s lives improve because of it. I’m giving it a try. It feels right. Plus, I can’t wait to see my colleagues again! I love those women!

And in the meantime, I’ve got lots of women friend energy coming my way this week and I’m going to soak up every bit of it. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Epiphany

Sunday Morning ~ Epiphany Sunday

January 6, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Epiphany. Revelation. Twelfth night. I love the way that sounds. Shakespearean. Another holiday, a celebration, a remembrance of three kings arriving across a desert to honor a hopeful future and promise of redemption. I think of the story in a literal sense and acknowledge this probably did not happen exactly as the story is told, but I love the symbolism. I love the idea that a star guided people of means on an honorable mission. They brought gold as the symbol of majesty, frankincense for spirituality, and myrrh as it was used in embalming the dead–– probably a useful gift at the time.

Epiphany Sunday for me is the day to take down the tree and put away most of the decorations. I scrolled around the internet to see what special customs were common around the world for this day and I came across one I rather like. In Ireland, Epiphany Sunday is known as “Women’s Christmas” where women get the day off and men do all the housework and cooking. They might gather together in a pub and have a meal with friends and drink wine. (Ok, for lots of us that’s like…Thursday, but I like it being official.) I’m not sure how old this tradition is or how it started, but it seems very fitting this week.

Women’s Christmas strikes a chord as this week feels so much like the best Christmas ever. Our first woman governor was sworn into office at a ceremony that took my breath away. I sat at my kitchen table, painting my Christmas cards, focused on chickadees and pine boughs, listening to the event on the radio. As the announcers were describing the scene I started trembling and had to see it. I ran for my phone and figured out how to watch it live (such a modern miracle!). I liked listening to the radio description, so muted the video and listened to them describe what I was watching. (I thought of my father who used to do this with the Celtics games because he hated the TV announcers.) My heart was racing with, what can only be described as, joy.  Alone in my kitchen, I actually stood up and cheered. I squelched the feelings of envy I had for those who’d been invited to the event, but felt a wonderful bond with those who were posting about watching at home and expressing the same emotions I felt. This is Maine! A fairly homogenous state, and the celebration seemed as diverse and inclusive as possible! I was overwhelmed with pride and excitement. My state! Hooray! It gives me such pleasure to be proud of my state again. Eight years of apologizing for our governor is behind us! Hope for the future! This light seems even brighter because the eight-year tunnel we’ve been living in was so dark. Please God let this be a sign of the future for the country. Two young immigrant girls sang to the absolute heavens “This Girl is on Fire”. It just doesn’t get better than that. 

My women’s writing group met here yesterday. I feel like the house is being rechristened with their energy. It felt wonderful, like a Women’s Christmas. The living room was a bit crowded, especially with the tree still up, but I wanted to leave it, the hot colorful bulbs warm up the room and make it feel even cozier. Dear George made sure all the firewood was split before he left so I have ample atmosphere and as we sat, and wrote, and read aloud, I reflected on the bond I have with these women. We’ve gotten to know each other mostly through our writing and reading. Some of it raw and painful, much of it funny, lots of it full of simple detail that comes out as poetry when read aloud. One of the group had been invited to the governor’s inaugural celebration the previous night. I was green with envy, hanging on her every word. She wrote of the event and the feeling of being part of such a joyful celebration. She described the outfits, the music, the smile on Janet Mill’s face, the dancing, the camaraderie. I feel like we’re entering the age of reason and we all have a chance to be a part of it. It feels like a lingering sickness is starting to resolve: the cough is diminishing, the breaths are a little easier to take, and the fever is gone. It’s like when you know you’re still sick, but have turned the corner and can see now you really are going to get better. You couldn’t see it before, but as you improve each day you get more and more sure you’ll be right as rain again. Patience. Good food, plenty of fluids, moderate exercise, and soon you’ll be running again. That’s what this feels like. 

So, Happy Women’s Christmas, everyone! The Irish really have so many good ideas!

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Goodbyes

Sunday Morning ~ Goodbyes

December 30, 2018

The house is very quiet. For many years I lived alone in this house and silence and solitude were normal. Now, I have to adjust to it again. There’s a big difference between being alone and being lonely. I’ve tried to explain that to George, who was the first big goodbye of the week. As he put it, “We’ve been breathing each other’s air for over two years. This is going to be so strange.” In the end, the goodbye was more tinged with excitement and pragmatism than sorrow and longing. He walked into terminal B excited, and I drove off excited for him (goodbye George!).

On Christmas Eve, my son and I cut down four little spindly trees (goodbye crowded clump!) and wired them together to make a full Christmas tree that fits perfectly in the corner of the living room. We hauled decorations out of the attic and started hanging the lights, plugging them in as we hung them. The bulbs were too hot to handle. These lights hail from my childhood with translucent multicolored bulbs. They smelled faintly of burning electronics, like a toaster about to burn out. Or my sixty year-old waffle iron, that actually did burn out a couple of weeks ago (goodbye waffle iron!). I wondered if we should use the lights. My son said, “Uh mum, let’s not leave the house while these are on.” I put on John Denver and the Muppets Christmas music and pretended I didn’t notice (goodbye anxiety!). I thought maybe this will be the last year we’ll use these and next year we’ll bring the tree up to code. It was Christmas Eve. We weren’t going out to buy new lights. It’s five days later and they work fine and the smell is gone, so we’ll put a hold on that farewell for now (goodbye goodbye!)

It got warm and rained so the snow is gone (goodbye skiing!). Then it got cold again (goodbye warm toilet seat!). 

Christmas was quiet with candles and fires (in the fireplace, not the tree). We had simple meals and early bedtimes: jet lag and winter fatigue. No apologies, no explanations (goodbye guilt!). The grandkids arrived and filled the house with their energy and hilarity. I gave up thinking I’d work on my cards (goodbye illusions!). We had a big dinner with good friends, good food, good conversation and good cheer (goodbye any thoughts of loneliness!). The next day the four huge maple trees surrounding the house came down. These were trees we carefully guarded as we built this place. We made sure they were well marked as the land was cleared, we piled stones around their bases as the backfill was completed, appreciated the shade and the color, and tapped them each spring for sap. But they’d gotten so huge they were scraping the house and with every storm I worried about my roof (goodbye trees! Goodbye lots of money to have them taken down! Goodbye looking for firewood for the next five years!) 

Now everyone is gone. Goodbye to the familiar presence of those who know the rhythm of the place, the idiosyncrasies of the doors, the cool (cold) bedrooms, crazy quilts, coffee percolator, and unfinished projects lying around. And soon it will be goodbye to 2018.

The last two New Years Eves we spent in exotic locations. 2016 was the waterfront in Capetown where we watched fireworks over the peninsula after visiting Robbin Island, returning as the sun set on the old year. Exotic. Romantic. We held hands as we strolled along listening to music, eating street food, weaving through crowds. 2017 we sat on a chair swing as we watched the moon rise over lake Malawi on a bluff in Livingstonia. We ordered dinner on the veranda perched on the cliff. We ate food grown at the lodge, served by smiling gracious, graceful people. We slept under mosquito nets in a treehouse. And on New Years Day we made it safely down the escarpment without an argument! It’s going to be hard to top that (goodbye exotic New Years Eve!) 

I’m hopeful about this coming year. I’m constantly reminded of how truly good most people are. It won’t be without struggle but I do sense that we’re coming out of a dark period (goodbye despair!). An elderly woman fainted today in church. There were visitors there who helped without a thought, someone called an ambulance, the priest sat and waited while we sat with her until they came and brought her to the hospital. We said a Hail Mary for her before continuing with the mass. It all overwhelmed me in a good way. I felt like the world will really be ok. 

A Happy New Year wish for you all, filled with peaceful thoughts, actions, and intentions. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Boston

Sunday Morning ~ Boston

December 23, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I just dropped George at the airport and am back in the hotel a mile away. It’s the time of year when loved ones are coming home, but a particular one of mine is boarding a plane heading in the opposite direction. His flight left early and we didn’t want to spend our last night together worrying about having to wake in the middle of it (hard in the summer, cruel in the winter) to get there in time. So we got a hotel near the airport, slept well, and got there with time to spare. So easy. It seemed a good use of a hundred bucks before twenty four hours in the air. Now I sit and look out the window as the sun comes up and can see planes taking off over three bridges and a windmill in the distance. The foreground consists of rectangular uninteresting buildings, and cars passing on Route 1A. I don’t usually see the city from this angle.

George is setting out on his next adventure to Myanmar. He’ll be teaching at the medical school in Yangon for a year. I could have gone with him. I would have been what’s called a “trailing partner”. I would have had no responsibilities, except to maybe feed him, and could have had the year to do whatever I wanted while he worked. I’m sitting here now wondering what was it about that picture I didn’t want? I didn’t want to be away from home for another year, I didn’t want to be ignored while he worked, I didn’t want to feel stuck in an apartment trying to find something to do, and I didn’t want to feel like I wasn’t doing something meaningful. When the decision was being made, that all seemed very undesirable. Right now I’m wondering would it really have been so bad? I’m proud of him for doing this and will be excited to visit when he gets his schedule figured out. I’ve never been to Asia and this will be an incredible opportunity. But I hope to return to Malawi to work on the model ward for some weeks in 2019. I put my heart and soul into that, believe in it completely, and don’t want to abandon it for a year. January 3rd I should know if that gets approved. In the meantime, I’m loving being back in my house, loving having kids home for visits, loving my community, and loving hearing from old friends. I’m not fretting about getting my cards out before Christmas. I’m loving making them and want to be undisturbed while writing to friends in my cozy room by the fire. I’m committing to low stress holidays.

It’s still early, but in a bit, I’ll drive to Dorchester and hopefully find my friend Jack saying mass there. It’s such luxury to have an unstructured day in the city. Later, I’ll collect my son in Portland and we’ll go to the Botanical Garden in Boothbay to see the Garden’s Aglow exhibit on our way back to Bar Harbor. Tomorrow we’ll cut a tree and decorate it, and not worry about any presents underneath. We’ve got all we need.

Merry Christmas Everyone. Peace to You,

and love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ White Christmas

Sunday Morning ~ White Christmas

December 16, 2018

Hi Everyone,

I live in a place that is mostly white: white skin, white snow, white lights on the houses at Christmas. We knew this before we moved here; there is little racial diversity in Maine, though since 1989 it’s slowly changing. There is plenty of socio-economic diversity, but racially, it’s quite white. On this island the racial diversity comes mostly from international scientists at the research lab. We took this into consideration before we moved here. We wanted our children to understand what it is like to be a minority, so after we bought our land but before building our house we went off to live and work in Samoa for two years. We wanted the kids to attend the local school a) because it was free and b) we thought it would be a good cross cultural experience. We were firm in this belief, though it became difficult when our oldest said he was scared and didn’t want to go to school. After being reassured he wasn’t being hurt (at least physically) we forced him to work it out, somehow believing he would have more compassion for kids who were being discriminated against. Who knows if this was the right thing to do, but it is the decision we made at the time. It was hard for our kids to fit in because they were small (Samoans are large people), white, and didn’t speak the language. I didn’t feel super welcome either when nurses would talk in Samoan, say my name, then all burst out laughing. The kids all managed to find their niche and did well, but years later we overheard them telling a guest who’d also lived in Samoa how difficult it was for them in school. They were threatened, hit, and mocked. They said they never told us about it because we were so sure it was a good experience for them. They didn’t want to burst our little bubbles. I wonder what decision I’d make now, knowing all this. Give up the vacation and send them to the private school? Can’t go back and do it over.

I grew up in a little mill town in Massachusetts, also mostly white: skin, snow, and first communion dresses. I think there was even less diversity there as almost everyone I knew was Catholic. There were protestants in town, of course, and I know of maybe three Jewish families. Only one family was African American. But I don’t remember any slurs or acts of discrimination. Were they present but I didn’t see it? Our neighbor, Bernie, was Jewish. I adored him. He was funny and generous and loved kids. We walked with him, we sat on his front step while he did card tricks and told stories. He taught us songs. His Jewishness was a curiosity to me, nothing else.

After writing last week about being afraid of my grandmother, I’ve been thinking about this. What was it I was afraid of? She didn’t speak English? My mother’s mother spoke French and she was totally senile with her clothes on backwards and rotting food in the refrigerator. But I wasn’t afraid of her! She smiled sort of idiotically as my mother changed her clothes and threw out all the rotten food, but that wasn’t a bad memory. Did I pick up on my mother’s casual attitude? 

I’m thinking of this now because a friend’s daughter had a bad experience this week because of the color of her skin. I think of the boy in my class who had polio and walked with heavy metal braces. He often sat alone at lunchtime. I never thought to go sit with him or to reach out in any way. I wonder what he told his mother about his day at school. I find myself wanting to find him and apologize. I wonder how all the rejection he endured shaped his life. I looked at everyone in church today to see what their skin looked like as they went to communion. There was a little diversity, Asian, and Jamaican. I wondered if they felt as welcome there as I do. I hope so, but I really don’t know. I wonder what a child in grade school has experienced that she would tell another they can’t participate because their skin is brown. What cascade of events do our actions trigger? 

Love to all,

Linda