Sunday Morning ~ Leaving

Sunday Morning ~ Leaving

Ukacoka usamatseka mwala, koma kutseka mayani. ~ When leaving do not block the exit with stones, but with leaves.

~ Chewa proverb

August 18, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’m sitting at the lake while Amelia plays around me. In and out of the water, never very deep, she’s careful. She’s made some friends and they are looking for frogs. I asked her where the friends come from as I heard them speaking a different language. She told me Connecticut, then asked, “Wait, what language do they speak in Connecticut?” 

The lifeguards have a hard job I think. It’s hard to pay that kind of attention to all the human activity buzzing around. I’m not a water person nor a strong swimmer. I’m grateful for lifeguards but don’t trust completely that they will notice every mishap or threatening situation. When my kids were little all I did at the beach was count. One-two-three-fourrrrr…five! Ok, all heads were above water. Then I’d start again. This past week I only had to count to two, but still did, over and over. All accounted for. Everyone safe. I always place our blanket near the lifeguard stand. I look back occasionally to make sure he or she is paying attention and I’m always a little surprised that they are. I think lifeguarding is a noble job. Guarding life. Let people have their fun: romp, splash, run, dive, all the while knowing that someone is there if you need them. Wouldn’t it be just so nice if they weren’t only at the beach?

The kids see me as their personal lifeguard. They expect me to protect them. This was obviously true when my own kids were small but I didn’t look at life from their perspective back then. I do now. How I always want to keep them safe. How I wish I could protect them, even as adults. I know this is not an original desire.

It’s terribly hard to know your child struggles, suffers, and hurts themselves and I know I share that angst with other mothers. It’s a constant for me that I go over what I did wrong and how a different reaction from me would have changed the course of their lives. A silly futile exercise that only upsets me more and I look for Rumi quotes and images of the Virgin Mary for comfort. I watch my little innocent granddaughter playing without a care and wish she could be this sprite forever.

I sat through Amy’s funeral this week and prayed for her mom. This could be me, I thought. I watched her mother, full of grace, with complete composure, and wondered how I would ever walk into the church, never mind greet people with a soft smile and gentle hug and genuine gratitude. Grace is the only way I can describe it.

So I’m conscious of leaving leaves behind and not stones. Who knows what kind of suffering is unspoken behind us and there may yet be a soft wind that blows the leaves away.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Speaking Out

Sunday Morning ~ Speaking out

Mbewa ya manyazi idafera ku dzeje. ~ The shy mouse died in his hole.

~ Chewa proverb

August 11, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I, like everyone else I know, am sick about people being shot at Walmart while they do their school shopping. Likewise, I’m sick that people are being shot at a nightclub. Oh, yes, and students trying to get through a school day. They are being shot there too. So I’m thinking about fear. I’m thinking of all those afraid of being targeted for who they are or where they are. And I’m thinking about the fear of speaking out. Yes, I’m thinking about that, too. I called all my congressional reps this week and asked them to speak out. I asked them to speak out publicly, as our leader, and say they will not stand for this. And not one of the three committed to do so. Angus King’s staffer said he was considering a response, Susan Collins had no response, and Jared Golden’s staffer said he was looking into studying the cause of gun violence. God help us. I told them as a constituent I want them to speak out before we die in our holes. Or words to that effect. 

I’m thinking about my little grandchildren and their innocence and glee and shudder the thought away of what is happening to kids sleeping alone and scared. I can’t imagine it. Well, I can imagine it and the thought horrifies me. Actually, “horrifies” seems so weak. I don’t even have a word to describe what it does to me, but it is so bad I don’t want to think about it. This is dangerous. I force myself to think about it. 

My grandchildren are with me for the week and I’m loving every minute. But the early mornings I thought I’d sneak out of our outside bed and get some writing done have not materialized, thus it’s Tuesday and this isn’t finished. The kids are afraid to be alone. They seem to have internal motion detectors as every time I move they check to see if I’m still there. So instead of some early morning alone time, we snuggle and talk about our dreams and the merits of an intact mosquito net. Sweet little angels. At six and three they are still making sense of the world and seeing who is friend or foe. So far spiders and flies are suspicious. Random dogs all seem to be in the friend category. Blood is a definite foe as the sight of it sends them into near hysteria, even it if is a little smear from a slapped mosquito. Blueberry picking near the water’s edge, a most idyllic Maine summer scene, has been marred by blood-curdling screams when the hint of blood appeared on a scratch from a thistle. I have patience with this in true grandmother fashion and have a bag full of bandaids I don’t mind wasting. I would never have been so indulgent with my kids, something my daughter reminds me of regularly.

I sleep on the porch in the summer under a mosquito net. It’s wonderful to feel the breezes and be surrounded by night air. The kids and I get ready for bed and head to the porch. They are scared of the dark and won’t leave my side. They won’t get into bed without me. They said they worry that birds will get us. I tell them the birds sleep at night. They said they’re scared about mosquitoes biting us and I tell them that’s what the net is for. James asks if the holes are too big? I tell him not for mosquitoes. They can’t fit through these holes. It’s a special net made just to keep mosquitoes out. We turn on the solar light and cuddle under the net. I read them Blueberries for Sal and we talk about how we picked blueberries at the lake that afternoon. (Funny they aren’t too worried about bears.) They relax as I read and I feel their little bodies soften even more. They sink into their pillows and I can feel the tension leave. They smile when I say something funny. They frown when they tell me what they are scared of and I’m fascinated by their thoughts and perceptions. They listen intensely as I explain why we’re so safe here. They believe me and I turn out the light. 

This is the bedtime I want for every child.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Mothers and Broken Hearts

Sunday Morning ~ Mothers and Broken Hearts

Wolira samugwira pakamwa. ~ A mourning person, they cannot count his words.

~ Chewa proverb

August 4, 2019

Were they young or old? Were they black, white, yellow, red, or brown? Are their mother’s still alive to bury them? I’m particularly curious about the last query.

I think my earliest memory of random killing is of Northern Ireland. I mean repetitive senseless killing where one group hated another so much they just killed them. It seemed different from the war in Vietnam. In my child’s mind the killing in the war was expected, but the killing in Northern Ireland was scary. It happened on the streets and in stores and churches, not in uniforms and jungles.  Vietnam’s the first war I remember coexisting with, but that was far away, and even though my brother was in there fighting, it seemed an unreal made for TV drama, just like the TV show Combat that my brother loved to watch. We’d fight about that. I never enjoyed being entertained by people getting killed or things getting blown up. I still don’t. I wonder what young children think of our country now. How does this all manifest in young minds and mindsets? How will it shape their psyche? Gandhi experienced violence so what was it that made him such a powerful non-violent activist? Wouldn’t it be so nice to know just the trick. I chuckle when people worry about me going to Africa and warn me that it’s dangerous. 

What is it like for family members to get the call? At his daughter’s funeral, a friend said, “I got the call that every parent has imagined, but no parent is prepared for.” A fun night out at a club or a concert, a shopping trip for toilet cleaner and paper towels––what is it like when that turns deadly?  Minding their own business, enjoying the show, maybe turning to their friend and sharing a joke or an observation or exclamation, and then…bang…lights out. How do mothers bear it? Well, they have to and that’s that. That’s what my mother would say. You strap your ankles and go out there and get through your day. That’s what she said when I asked her about growing up in the depression. I asked if she were hungry, She said, “Well, yes of course we were! We stood in line all day to get a potato or a loaf of bread.” Like, what a stupid question, were we hungry? But she wasn’t out there lobbying for transparency in banking or attending political rallies because she endured hunger. Her son was in active duty in the most senseless war, yet she wasn’t out protesting with students. She stayed home and cleaned the oven, starched and ironed shirts, made cream cheese and olive sandwiches, and burned the rubbish, but the war and her son must have been on her mind constantly. How did she cope? I wondered about this and thought, well if she isn’t worried, I’m not worried. I watched her, though. I thought I detected a hint of concern when she’d check the mail for a letter from him. It seemed to me like there were lots of letters from him, but she didn’t think so. She’d say under her breath, “Jeeze, couldn’t he just jot a couple of words?” I overheard her telling someone that he’d written how much he appreciated the Tang she’d sent, even though he’d had to mix it with muddy water. She and her friend had a little chuckle over that humorous remark. Hahaha, such a wit that boy. It never crossed my mind that he wouldn’t come home, but I was just a kid so what did I know? I never detected anxiety about him from either my mother or my father. But were they always looking out the window for the official car? A letter like that doesn’t come in the mail. 

My father fought in WW2 and it seemed rather romantic going though all the old photos of his navy ship crossing the equator and the risqué celebration that warranted. I think about that now and wonder, how fucking weird is that? The men all dressed up like women and had a party when they crossed the equator? During a WORLD WAR? But it was all very exotic back then, a kid, looking through black and white photos with white scalloped borders of men wearing coconut shell bras and wigs made from mops. What fun war must have been! No wonder they weren’t worried.  

Sure, plenty came home in body bags from Vietnam, but they didn’t affect us. Not my family. We were playing Monopoly at the kitchen table on a winter Sunday evening when the phone rang. It was a rare event that the family was all playing a game together, having fun, no fights, some laughter. My mother went to answer the phone and we heard her yell in a screechy sort of way, “You’re at Logan?!” And without a word we all ran from the table, threw coats over our pajamas, and ran to the car, my father already behind the wheel with the engine running. We drove to the airport and somehow found my brother waiting, spiffy in his uniform, standing on the curb. How we found him there I don’t know. Maybe in 1969 there was only one door. (How strange to think of how small and simple that airport was then.) Someone in the car yelled, “There he is!” We pulled over and my mother got out so my alive brother could slide into the middle of the front seat of our Chevrolet station wagon. A seat bigger than my living room sofa. Pulling away from the curb my father laid on the horn until my mother said, “Reno! Stop it!” and to this day, that is my happiest family memory. 

My brother came home from the war, my kids came home from school, my son came home from the rock concert, my husband came home from Walmart, I came home from church today. I guess I should be thankful that no one shot us.

Church today. The church was filled to the brim with the year-round community and lots of summer visitors. I always marvel that people on vacation go to church. Tanned families with small kids in flowery summer dresses and teenagers in clean shirts and khaki pants take up pews and pews. They go to communion and I watch the little ones with their arms crossed in front of them because they are too young to receive. They smile as they receive a blessing instead of a wafer. How I always believed that those blessings would protect my kids. I had to. It was how I controlled my anxiety when I couldn’t protect them myself. Mikail, the student living with me for the summer, studies opera and sang an aria during communion. His voice filled the church, bouncing off the windows and walls and seemed to form a bubble around everyone there. What a gift. We have a priest here for the summer, a biology professor, who’s sermons I love–– a hybrid of science and spirituality. He’s a gift. At the end of his sermon today he asked for prayers for a woman who grew up here, whose wedding we attended, and whose child I delivered. Just last Sunday I was chatting with her mother, Nancy, about raising kids and how we worry about them forever, and we wondered how anyone can have kids and not believe in God? I mean who else do you turn to when you are anxious for them and can’t do a thing about it?  We laughed and chatted and said we’d keep each other’s children in our prayers. They’ve all got stuff to deal with. Our kids grew up together. We care about all of them. That was last week when the world was different.  I wondered why Father Matt would ask for prayers for Amy? Was she sick? I saw her mom go up for communion and she looked ok, not grief-stricken or anything. Hmm, I thought, I’ll find out after mass. At coffee hour I found Nancy and asked, “What’s up with Amy? Everything ok?” Nancy looked at me and said, “She died on Monday.” as she choked back tears. 

So Amy wasn’t shot, but a young woman with small children has died and her mother is heartbroken. I’m heartbroken for her. Could something we’d done have saved her? Probably not in her case. But for other mothers who got the call this week, yes. There is something we could have done. And their blood, as well as their mother’s broken hearts is on our hands.

Love to all with a prayer that we find a way to stop this madness,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Hope

Sunday Morning ~ Hope

Sunga khosi, mkanda uoneka. ~ Keep your neck, the pearl will come.

~ Chewa proverb

July 28, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’m not sure why but I’m feeling hopeful this week. There are lots of events that ordinarily would have been despairing in my estimation: UK’s election for one, the fact that our country is still under the same leadership as last week another, but as I sit on my porch this morning watching bees exploring my recently blossomed hydrangea, I’ve got an inside churning with optimism. Go figure. 

I saw the 80 year old Judy Collins on Friday night, standing in stiletto heels for an hour and a half singing the old songs, her voice cracking here and there but still sounding like Judy Collins. I’d not been a huge Judy Collins fan when she was top of the charts, but she was such an icon of my generation and here she was in our little renovated downtown theater, so how could I not go? I’d bought the ticket months ago and went alone but knew everyone sitting around me. Small town. To my right was a dear friend and we commented back and forth through the performance, and both laughed when she started singing Both Sides Now and the male half of three different couples in front of us slowly raised their arms and encircled the shoulders of their partners. It was so spontaneous, the song so obviously evoking sweet romantic memories, we laughed that they all had the same response to it. That song triggers some warm fuzzy memories of my own, but more of the potential of youth than any specific romantic interest. I was much more moved by her encore. She returned to the stage amid the standing ovation, took the microphone without her guitar, and sang Amazing Grace with only her pianist accompanying her. It was stunning. And it gave me hope. The wretch was saved.

When I got home from the concert I looked up the biography of Judy Collins. I realized as I watched her sing I knew nothing about her. She talked about her father and his radio and stage career (I had no idea who he was) and made references to her wilder days and alluded to drinking, but it was all a little vague and I didn’t have a clear picture of where she’d come from. I read about the origin of her songs, what a musical prodigy she was, her activism, her alcoholism, the suicide of her only son, and how she has come through all that. And at eighty  she could still stand in heels and perform for a sold-out audience and move people to hug their partners and stand up and cheer. It all gave me hope. 

At mass this morning we had a missionary guest, a Brother from Uganda who works with prison inmates and the homeless. Before he spoke he sang, a cappella, a hymn from Uganda that came straight from his bone marrow.  I was covered in goose bumps. He then described his childhood in a Ugandan village with an alcoholic father and desperate poverty. He said it is miraculous to him that he could be standing in the church here in Maine speaking to all of us. His story was remarkable and it gave me hope. 

It’s music festival week here and last evening the house was filled with talent and energy. We talked politics and someone asked if I really thought Betsy Sweet had a chance of beating Susan Collins? I said, “Well, sure if people vote for her she has a chance.” And all of a sudden it seemed so easy, so hopeful, that we can turn this around. So, yeah, keep your neck. The pearl is coming.

Love to all,

Linda 

Sunday Morning ~ Kindness

Sunday Morning ~ Kindness

Ufulu ubwezera ufulu. ~ Kindness calls for a return of kindness.

~ Chewa proverb

July 21, 2019

Hi Everyone,

Fifty years ago yesterday I was in a little general store in Montana with my father and siblings buying camping supplies. There was a small black and white television set on a shelf over the cash register tuned in to the lunar landing. I don’t know if it was timed for us to get our provisions at that time, if my father knew there’d be a TV in this little store, or if we even were aware of what time it was happening. We didn’t get news when we were camping. But there we were with every customer and employee huddled around the checkout counter watching a historical moment through this miracle of broadcast television. I was twelve years old, preoccupied with how to purchase sanitary pads in a discreet way so my brothers wouldn’t see them. Having a menses was somehow shameful in my adolescence. I remember being distraught seeing the holdup at the counter, wanting to get my necessities paid for and into a secure location. It was before I was allowed to use tampons and those boxes of pads were huge! It was my youngest brother’s birthday, and I think we were buying something a little special for his birthday supper. His head barely reached over the top of the counter. I think I used him as a human shield for the Kotex. Then we stood there, trapped, watching the grainy screen. 

I’d never cared too much about space travel, much the same way I never cared to see what was under the ocean. I was (and still am) happy to have my feet on the earth, but I’m glad to know others have interests I do not. I have an image from that day branded into my brain that I think about now and then. It wasn’t the enormity of what was happening on the moon, but instead was two healthy-looking teenage girls, sitting on the floor behind the counter looking up at the television. They worked in this store and they’d sat down to give the people on the other side of the counter a better view. I thought that was so considerate. They said something to each other, smiled and nodded, then reached out and held each other’s hands. It was really beautiful to me and I couldn’t stop staring at them. They looked like such good friends and such good people, tanned, with long ponytails and sensible clothing. I wondered if they were just that excited about watching someone land on the moon or if they were sharing some other happy secret? I’ve often wondered why the image of them recurs over the years. It was a small town in Montana but must have been near the National Park. I wondered if they wanted to be astronauts? Was this that exciting for them? Or had one of them just gotten a date with a boy she had a crush on? But they didn’t look like the kind of girls that had crushes (like me). They looked like they had much more control over situations. Like they were the ones that boys would have crushes on.  Now I wonder if they wanted to be lovers with each other? They looked full of self-confidence whereas I had none. I remember hoping I’d have a friendship like that when I got to be their age. I wonder what they are doing now and wonder if they have any idea that a young girl that day watched them and wanted to be just like them–– kind and thoughtful, employed and healthy, responsible, compassionate, happy and smiling?

 And it makes me think of what each of us can contribute during this time of flux in our country. A very few can walk on the moon, some brilliant minds can make that possible, many work at less glamorous jobs that make our societies functional, some can donate, and some can run for office. But all of us can reach out, smile, and hold a hand. We really don’t know how far that will reach but it doesn’t matter. Some young kid somewhere might see it and want to do the same. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Acting

Sunday Morning ~ Acting

Mubvi woyang’anira ulowa m’cikope. ~ The arrow you just look at hits your eye.

~ Chewa Proverb

July 14, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I’ve had a full week, starting in Boston meeting new educators and participating in their orientation, and ending on this island holding a candle in the park, praying for a humane way to help those seeking asylum. 

We stood along the edge of the park holding candles. Some held signs: CLOSE THE CAMPS, SEEKING ASYLUM IS LEGAL, HUMANITY, DIGNITY, FAMILY, and DON’T LOOK AWAY. The harbor was thick with fog and only a few tall masts were visible. Some tourists walking by stopped, took a candle, and stood with us for awhile. Others drove by and honked in support. One elderly man in a red jacket walked unsteadily down the sidewalk across the street. He stopped and raised his right hand with his middle finger up. He shook his arm to emphasize his epithet. Someone near him urged him along. He lumbered down the hill turning to give us the finger again yelling some profanity. A group behind him turned to us and yelled, “We are with you!” And raised fists in support, close enough to him to show they weren’t afraid of his large lumbering body or his slur. I found it surreal. Why could a group of silent protestors of government-sanctioned child abuse possibly threaten someone? 

It’s complicated. My mind is often confused, searching for the right path. I want to convince others what (I believe) is right and just and honorable. But how do I know what others should believe? Why do they believe what they do and what brought them to their belief? When people have profited by a system then vote to burn that bridge for others, where is the hope? Where should one’s energy be best spent? I’m trying to understand. My son reminded me of a lesson from The Art of War:  If you know yourself and not your enemy you will lose half the time. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy you will lose every time. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the outcome. Where did Sun Tzu acquire his wisdom? I will take that book down from the shelf and read it again. I can’t just stand and watch the arrows. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ What Happened to My Country

Sunday Morning ~ What Happened to My Country?

Mwana wa mnzanko ngwako yemwe. ~ The child of your neighbor is your child too.

~ Chewa Proverb

July 7, 2019

Hi Everyone,

I was happy to be home for Fourth of July in Bar Harbor. It’s such a great holiday in this small town: pancake breakfast, parade, town band concert, craft fair, lobster, fireworks, and happy people. In between all those activities there’s swimming, hiking, and walking in a beautiful landscape. It’s everything you could want in a celebration of what our country stands for. Or what I thought it stood for. It was always a day I could drum up some patriotism and look past the egregious failings on our part as a superpower. I had a hard time doing that this year. Though the crowds billowed out in puffs along the parade route, appearing to be bigger than ever, I felt an undertone of sadness and shame. Even the Shriners in their mini tractor trailers seemed low energy. Maybe I was projecting.

My grandchildren were here for the holiday week and it was such a joy to be with them and see their excitement about all the Independence Day activities. They had their faces painted, dove for candy at the parade, screamed in fear at the clowns, and then painted peace flags, an activity to raise awareness for all the children suffering on our southern border as they are detained away from their parents. I watched my little angels dip their brushes in bright colors and concentrate on the design they were creating on the piece of fabric that will fly with others in prayer for decency and humanity. I can’t imagine what I’d do, how I’d breathe, if these two loves of mine were ripped apart from their parents and isolated in squalor. It’s unthinkable. Yet it’s happening. Here. In the home of the free and land of the brave. Amelia, who learned “You’re a Grand Ol’ Flag”  sang those words happily from her car seat on the drive to Bar Harbor.  I felt the same foreboding I felt that horrible day in 2016 when the election results became a hellish reality. 

I’ll occasionally be reassured by being with like-minded people and reminding myself it is only a third of people (ignorant people I tell myself) supporting this travesty. I tell myself it’s only uneducated, greedy, ignorant people but I know this isn’t accurate. I’m continually shocked, mortified, and frightened to learn I know people I used to respect who voted for this. When my bother puts a comment on Facebook saying the children should not be invading our country if they don’t want to be detained, I’m in 1984. Speechless, mortified, I remove his comment (thank God I can do this) and wonder how someone with an eduction can think this? He has grandchildren he loves and would protect them no matter what. So what the hell? Since the Regan era we’ve avoided political discussions in my family, always wondering what my father’s abuse had done to the two of his offspring who are as conservative as he was. (Talk about identifying with the oppressor!) But this is crazy shit talk and it scares me. So what do I do? Protest. Don’t engage in discussion with people that aren’t reachable. I stopped trying to make them see my point. It’s hopeless and a waste of time. Focus on those who are listening and I’ll live my truth. Remember that no dictator survives more than 3.5% of the population who peacefully protest. Work for candidates who can turn this around (please God don’t let it be too late). I’m hopeful for Betsy Sweet’s campaign to unseat Susan Collins and hope the 2018 midterm result is a sign of what is to come. I know the time might be dark right now but it always turns around. I just hope it is sooner rather than later. I’ll participate in the orientation for new volunteers this week in Boston, then back to work in my garden and participate in the resistance. Watching a plant grow from a tiny seed always gives me hope. In fact, right now, that and the smiles of my grand babies are the only things that do.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Almost Home

Sunday Morning ~ Almost Home

June 30, 2019

Wafulumiza kumeza kutafuna kukadakoma. ~ You were too fast in swallowing while the chewing was still good.

~ Chewa Proverb 

Hi Everyone,

I’m one short flight away from Boston, then a five hour drive home. Not sure if I’ll be up for that. It’s going on 35 hours since I left Malawi yesterday and though I got some sleep on the plane, I feel myself starting to fade. I may just curl up with the grands tonight and head to Maine in the morning. 

I knew the month would fly even though I spent a good part of it waiting. Waiting is so much a part of African life. Don’t go there if you are not willing to wait. I did get four books read during that time though and reduced the bedside table pile considerably.  I finished knitting a sock, wrote diligently in my journal, shopped a bit for stuff I love like macadamia nuts and Malawian tea. I also bought some cool stuff some women’s groups made at the farmers market in Lilongwe yesterday. My carry on bag, which contains a pottery sink for Jordan, is over the weight limit by about a ton, but fortunately no one weighed it. I tried to look nonchalant when I hoisted it into the over head bin then waited to see if the bin sagged at all. It didn’t, so it’s all good.

My women’s group! I am so excited to report they are alive and well and thriving! I told them when I saw them in February that if they improved the quality I would buy three hundred pieces from them, but only if it was real quality, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sell it at home. I’d sold quite a bit of the stuff they’d made and took that money to reinvest in them, but wasn’t sure what I would find. I’d been so busy with the ward stuff I hadn’t figured out how to meet up with them, but this week I got a call from Irene, the leader, who asked me to come talk. I went to her house and asked how they were doing. She told me they were still meeting, had made all the jewelry I’d asked for and wanted me to meet with them. I said, “Really? You’ve all made three hundred pieces?” She smiled and said, “Yes. All done.” I asked if the quality was good, quickly calculating how many times I’d have to go to the ATM to get enough cash to pay them for all of it. She said, “You can come and check and only take what you think is good.” I thought that relayed a good amount of confidence so we made a plan to meet the next morning at nine and take a minibus to the village. Before I left to go to campus she said, “Wait. I want to measure you. The women want to make you a dress.” So I stood with my arms out while she measured my waist and hips and bust. Asked how long I wanted the sleeves and how long I wanted the skirt and made those measurements as well. She wrote them all in a little notebook and said, “Ok. See you tomorrow!” The next morning when I was deciding what to wear I factored in the minibus ride as it’s not good to wear anything that exposes your flesh. The seats are all broken and filthy and people are sitting on top of each other. So I chose a cotton ankle length skirt a tank top and cardigan. It’s still cold in the mornings. I went to the office first to drop my laptop and thermos of tea then headed over to Irene’s. When I got there, she handed me the dress and said, “Here, you can go put  it on in my bedroom.” She had already made the dress! I thought it would be something I took home with me, but I was to wear it to the village. If I had known that I think I would have asked for a longer skirt, but I went into the bedroom, took off my clothes, shoved them in my bag, and put on the dress. It’s cute! I love the fabric and it fits me perfectly! I can’t believe it; I wouldn’t have chosen this fabric for me as I don’t wear prints much, but it was a great color and I love the pattern. She beamed when I came out of the bedroom and said, “Ok. Let’s go.”

When traveling by minibus it is so much easier to go with a Malawian. The busses are so confusing and go in all different directions and I have gotten on a bus thought to be heading where I wanted to go and ended up hours longer than I needed to be. That happened Monday evening on the way to dinner with friends and I didn’t think I’d get out of it alive. It was a luxury to be with Irene to explain in Chichewa where we wanted to go. The only problem for me was the skirt didn’t cover the backs of my legs when I sat so the trip had an unsanitary feel to it, to say the least. But the reaction of the women when we arrived in the village was so worth it! They were gathered under a tree, sitting on old pieces of tarpaulin, working on some beading when we got there. They all cheered when they saw me, yakking away in Chichewa about the dress. It was great. They gathered up all the stuff and we moved into one of the houses, I think because they feel it is more formal for a guest, but it’s really nicer under the tree. But in we went. They unloaded piles and piles of jewelry they’d made and I was blown away! It is really good! They all beamed at my reaction as I went over each piece and remarked on the different beading patterns they’ve come up with. I kept saying, “I am so proud of you!”  I counted out two hundred necklaces, a hundred each of two different types, and then started looking at the bracelets. They were also very good, but they’d left the dangling parts too long. I told them that these would get caught on things and needed to be shortened. I figured I would collect them a day or two later, but no, they started at once, dividing them up into piles and setting about making them exactly as I wanted them. It took about an hour for them to fix them all, lighted candles fixed to the arms of the chairs to melt the twine that holds the beads.  They worked and chatted with each other, not paying any attention to me. I loved it. When they were all done, I packed it all away and told them we needed to discuss money. There were 318 pieces and I would pay them 1,000 kwacha each. That’s 318,000 kwacha! They broke into applause, shaking each other’s hands. (This was going to be at least four trips to the ATM) I asked what they wanted me to do with the money? Without a single pause or discussion, they said, “Give it to Irene.” I asked then what? They said she would keep it and use it for more supplies and for emergencies. I didn’t get into what emergencies, but I’ve decided to stay out of this part of it. They can develop a system that works for them and I will leave them to it. I was tempted to suggest it pay for some school fees for some girls, but backed off from that and just reveled in the fact that they still meet, are improving tremendously, and are making future plans. We had photos together, farewells until we meet agains, and then Irene took me to visit Chimwemwe who lives near there. He must have gotten word I was coming because he was expecting me and presented me with a pair of earrings he’d made for me. I was so excited to see he’d improved to the point of being able to do that! He said his sight and balance was getting better, still not perfect but he sees improvement. He was happy I’d come and so was I. He called his mother to come greet me, and said, “I am happy today because Linda has come.” I told him I wasn’t sure when I’d be back, but will keep him in my prayers along with his growing family. His wife gave birth to a son four months ago. Chimemwe named him Chimemwe, and he’s fat and happy and thriving. I left them with some money and Irene and I headed off.

It was a good day.

Irene and I took the bus ride back to the campus and I asked her to accompany me to the ATM. I’d taken out some of the cash the day before, but there’s a limit to how much you can withdraw so it can’t all be done in one day. I managed, with three transactions, to get enough cash to pay them and we walked to my office as I didn’t want to hand over that much in broad daylight on a crowded street. I asked her if she would consider opening a bank account and she agreed it was time to do that. This is too much cash to leave around and they still have some from the original sale we had. Irene is capable of managing this and I’ll leave her to it. If I find more markets for them and it gets much bigger we’re going to have to formalize our transactions a bit more I think. I might need a receipt or something! For now this is very much seat-of-the-pants entrepreneurship for dummies, but it’s working. I’m sure a business person would die at my methods here, but it still seems small enough I’m ok. When filling out the customs form on arrival in the states, though, I realized if it gets much bigger I’m going to need advice.

So we made progress on lots of fronts this visit. I’ll have a discussion next week in Boston with the SEED people about how my skills fit into the future of the project. I met with a contractor to get an estimate for renovations for the ward and will work some on that when I’m stateside. I know I’ll go back, just not sure in what capacity or when it will be. Staying open.

Ok, still an hour before boarding so I think I’ll go walk off some of my swollen feet.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Zomba

Sunday Morning ~ Zomba

June 23, 2019

Mau n’poyamba potsiriza n’mang’ombe (nkhani). ~ The real words come first, after that is the singing of a chorus, just small talk.

~ Chewa proverb

Hi Everyone,

I’ve just woken up from an uncomfortable dream. I dreamt I found thousands of dollars in small and large bills, rolled up and hidden in a box someone gave me. It was a box of odds and ends: half-used tape rolls, old aspirin tins, half eaten zip locked bags of dried fruits, film containers, a metal roll of athletic tape, the kind where the inside roll snaps into the outer covering. All these things were stuffed with dollar bills. It was U.S. dollars, all of it. I don’t know who gave it to me the person was kind of fuzzy, but the box was something they didn’t want. I took it as a favor, really, not sure how I would pack it with what I was carrying. But as I pawed through the stuff I started discovering all this money and I didn’t know what to do with it. This is the uncomfortable part… I tucked it all back where I found it and pretended it wasn’t there. I didn’t go back to the person and tell them, I didn’t ask if they knew about it, I thought, “Well I don’t know what to do so I won’t do anything.” but in the dream I was upset about it. It felt like a huge responsibility and one I didn’t want. I woke up from the dream, sweating under this huge down comforter I’m wrapped up in. I laid awake pondering what it meant and tried to relate it to what’s going on in my life. I’m perplexed. I looked out the window and saw the sky getting a little lighter, so decided to light a candle, get the laptop out, and start writing. 

I’m staying for the weekend in the Zomba Forestry Lodge, a place I’d wanted to visit the whole time we were living in Blantyre and just never got here. I don’t know why we never came, it’s fantastic and only a little over an hour away. I planned to take a minibus after work on Friday, but there was transport going to Zomba from the college early in the morning, so decided to catch a ride with them and extend my lifespan by a few years. I brought the laptop so I could work here instead of in my office. I arrived in Zomba town way earlier than I’d expected and still needed to get up the plateau but they weren’t expecting me until much later and I thought I should get some work done first. I went to the African Heritage Center where they have electricity and good coffee and sat there working for awhile before deciding how to get up to the lodge, ten kilometers up the plateau. They sent me detailed directions and I considered walking up but got a little worried I’d get lost, so hired a taxi to drive me. Half the journey is on the paved road and half on a narrow dirt road which is carved into the side of the plateau. It was ten bucks for the taxi and supporting a local business, so it seemed money well spent. But it is very straightforward so I’ll enjoy walking back down later this morning to catch a bus back to Blantyre. It was cold and so beautiful when I arrived Friday afternoon. I walked the last remaining section of indigenous forest on the plateau, then came back to the lodge and curled up in a blanket and read The Tyranny of Experts, a book Jordan sent me,about the history of international development and it’s original goal of keeping countries dependent on the west as colonialism’s future was dying. It’s interesting and an important read, I think, as I decide what I want to do with my life from here on out. It also makes me think of the woman that took such offense to my presentation about the midwifery ward project and how she was relating what I was doing to perpetuating colonialism. It’s making me think. 

Anyway, here I am in this simple, remote lodge, tucked into the side of the plateau, in the midst of a gorgeous section of forest, surrounded by hundreds of birds, being served tea and delicious meals in front of a fire, while others in the village huddle to keep warm. I recognize what privilege I have. The lodge employs a lot of the local villagers, and that is a good thing. When the couple leased this place seven years ago to turn it into a profitable business, the first thing they did was take out the vegetable garden. I asked them why, thinking growing all the vegetables you serve would be an attractive thing for a lodge (it’s certainly my fantasy), and they said they would rather buy all their produce from the village and give them a reason to grow a diverse selection of vegetables. Interesting and smart. The idea of supporting responsible tourism alleviates some of the guilt I have about being able to be here in the first place. 

I just opened the windows because there was steam on them. It made me think it might be warmer outside than in and I was right. Now I can hear all kinds of different birdsong in the vegetation just outside the window. I can also hear the staff rumbling around in the kitchen, which means there will be a pot of tea and warm muffins shortly.There’s no electricity here, so as soon as the battery dies on this laptop I’ll be putting this away but it’s still got some life so I’ll keep at it…

Yesterday morning I left the lodge after breakfast and walked seven kilometers up the plateau to the top. The trail was the old road to the top and easy to follow so I was confident I wouldn’t get lost. I passed about fifty women and girls carrying huge loads of wood on their heads, coming down. Some of the wood was dead branches gathered from fallen trees others were dead branches they cut off living trees. There are huge swaths of the plateau that are now pine plantations, replacing what was once a very varied mix of rainforest vegetation. When we came here in 1979 the plateau was covered with one huge rainforest. Much of it is bare now. There are small protected sections like the one where I’m staying, and there is a huge effort by the forestry department to replant, partly in trees that can be used for lumber, like the pine. They grow fast and can be used for building and their harvest is managed by the government.

There are horseback riding stables at the top of the plateau and I’d made arrangements to go riding yesterday afternoon. I got up there early enough that I had a few hours to kill, so thought a two hour walk to some waterfalls would be a nice way to pass the time. There is a big curio market near the hotel at the top and milling around there are guides looking for work. It’s always good for me to go with a guide (refer back to statement about getting lost) and Rodrick was quick to show me an official guide association card so I negotiated a price with him and we set off, leaving behind about twenty other guides with sour faces. It’s not hard hiking up there, not like on Mt. Mulanje, and there are trails, all unmarked, that go in all directions. I guess if I lived up there I’d be a little more comfortables with wandering on my own, but I was glad I had Rodrick with me. I asked if he were a carver and made the curios as well as guided people on walks? He told me no, he could not call himself a carver, because he only did the sanding and finish work. His father was a carver. He said, “I am a finisher and seller.” I told him I have a photo of me, taken in 1979, under a waterfall on the Zomba plateau. I don’t have any recollection of getting to that waterfall, but I remember swimming in the pool it created and standing under it washing my hair. Rodrick said he knew where it would be. We wound our way along the stream on an overgrown, poorly maintained trail and came to a dirt road that we followed for about a mile. Then we turned down another path, steep but more obvious, to Williams Falls, and I said, yup, that’s it. He said, “Let me take your photo here so you can compare.” I did not get in the water this time, but stood in front of the falls while he snapped my picture. I’ll have to spend some time when I get home, looking for the slide of a skinny twenty-two year old washing her dark hair under those falls.

When we got back to the curio market, I went to pay him and realized I didn’t have the correct change for the 5,000 kwacha fee. I gave him six thousand and asked him to give me something from his shop worth one thousand. He tried to get me to spend a little more, but I didn’t want to carry anything heavy, so he chose a small, crudely carved giraffe, handed it to me with an air of disappointment, and pointed me in the direction of the stables.

I walked about another mile (I walked sixteen miles yesterday!) to the stables and found Anne, the young German girl, getting my horse Duchess ready for the ride. Anne spent many of her growing up years in Malawi as her father worked for a German NGO and she became good friends with the couple who started the riding stables on the plateau. In Germany she took riding lessons so is very comfortable around horses. It seems like the dream job for a young woman, taking people on rides around a gorgeous landscape. It was always my fantasy anyway. I was the only one riding yesterday so she said we could do whatever I wanted. She wanted to know what my skill level was. The choices were: Beginner––never ridden a horse before; Novice––comfortable walking on a horse; or Competent––able to walk, trot, and gallop. I took an unreasonable amount of time deciding which category I fell into. I’m not a beginner, but I also didn’t want to be a novice, after all I went on a camping trip in the Andes on a horse up mountain trails, but we weren’t galloping. Then I thought of the time in Iceland when my horse bolted on the way back to the stables and Margie was screaming “Make him stop!” and I couldn’t and we all almost died, and I thought, maybe I shouldn’t check the competent box. Then Ann asked me if I were more comfortable with English or Western riding and I didn’t know the difference. I checked “Novice”. I explained my dilemma to her and told her the stories of past rides. She said we could suit it to what I wanted: nothing crazy, but also not a hand-led walk. She handed me a riding hat then one of the stable hands brought Duchess to the step where I got on. One little lesson about holding the reigns and we were off. It was a blast! I can’t believe I hadn’t been there to do that before! We went for two hours around trails all over the plateau, chatting and meandering as the clouds lifted and we could see Mt Mulanje in the distance. What a great afternoon. I loved it. When we got back to the stables a little before five a taxi was waiting for me. It wouldn’t be possible to walk down in the dark, so Tom, the proprietor of the lodge had arranged for a taxi to collect me and deliver me back to this sweet refuge. God, I love it here. My butt is a bit sore though.

In a bit I’ll get up and have breakfast then walk the ten kilometers down to the town and catch a minibus back to Blantyre to head into my last week here for awhile. The past week was productive, not quite as exciting as the previous week, but we still made some headway.

On my walk to work Monday I passed a house surrounded by a wall, like they almost all are. As I walked past the gate by the driveway I heard a man and woman arguing on the other side. I slowed my pace and then stopped not sure what to do. The argument was escalating and sounded like it was becoming violent. It was all in Chichewa, so I don’t know what was being said, but I definitely heard a slap and more yelling. A well-dressed man ahead of me also stopped walking and stood listening. He said, “They are arguing.” I said, “I know. I don’t know what to do.” He walked over to the gate and called to some other men walking by. It sounded like the woman was being taken into the house and it definitely sounded like she was going against her will. The well-dressed man said something to them through the gate and there was no response. I watched as he and the other men from the street went in through the gate which was unlocked and I walked on, hoping they would help the situation, whatever it was. I liked the good samaritan sense I got from the well dressed man. He looked like he knew what to do. Or maybe it just alleviated my sense of helplessness. I wondered what I would have done if I’d heard that happening at home.

Later that day a group of us met on the Ward 1-A, the future home of the midwifery ward, to look at the space and show the Boston team what we had to work with. Ursula and I walked together from the college campus through the covered corridors of the hospital. Looking ahead, Ursula noted they were transporting a dead body to the morgue and coming toward us. Student nurses, gloved and masked, guided the gurney carrying the shrouded deceased while the family followed behind, some wailing, others silent. Two were supporting an elder as she wept and stumbled along. As they approached, mothers grabbed children out of the way, housekeepers stopped mopping the floor, guardians held their bundles aside to make way. We all stood in silence and respectfully bowed our heads. Ursula and I stood in the overhang of the laundry area to give them room to pass. When the final family member went by, we resumed our walk and I thought, “People at home can go an entire lifetime and never encounter a dead body. Here, there is rarely a day when we don’t.” 

I’d brought the architectural plans but there wasn’t really an opportunity to show them to the gathered group. Several of us had already looked at them but I’d hoped we could go over them again to get a sense of what was possible. Individuals made comments about how they envisioned it set up with little or no renovation. There is a bit of a sense of urgency that we can’t wait for the space to be upgraded in a real way. I’ve cautioned against that, fearing working in a compromised way reduces the chances of long term success of the place, but ultimately it won’t be my decision. My friend Chris, the architect, met us there and I asked him to answer questions anyone had about what a renovation would involve. I explained that one of the plans had been given to a construction company to get a rough estimate of having it exactly as we’d like, but that would just be a rough number. After that we will have a sense of how much can be accomplished and what the timeframe would be. The breakdown of tasks leading to the completion of this has stopped at discussion only, but we have to start somewhere. This was an informal meeting as seeing the physical space is helpful envisioning the final goal. I keep picturing myself working there. After a quick walk through and a few questions the matrons went back to their responsibilities, the midwives on the existing ward resumed their tasks, Ursula had a class to teach, and part of the Boston team went back to their meeting.  Kelly is the program manager from Boston and before Ursula left for her class, she told her an MOU between the hospital and the nursing school is probably the most important first task to accomplish to get this renovation started. Ursula agreed and walked back down the long corridor to the campus. Chris and Kelly and I stood outside the ward looking at the exterior and discussing a possible new entrance. I really like that idea as it would allow women to enter the ward without coming down the congested corridors. Just after I was explaining my thoughts on this, we heard more wailing coming toward us. Kelly asked, “What’s that?” I said, “It’s a death. This procession is a common occurrence as they transport them to the morgue.” She said quietly, “Oh my God.” Chris then said, “Yeah, you know, at home hospitals are hermetically sealed. All this is shielded from view. Here, the corridors are these throbbing living landscapes.” I love that description. It’s so true that there is such and ebb and flow of humanity pulsing around you at all times. 

Tuesday on my way to work I took the short cut through the College of Medicine campus and ran into a man named Chiwoza who George worked with here. He is a psychologist and teaches at the college, has his own private clients, writes a weekly article for the newspaper, and I don’t know what else. He is a bit of a celebrity around here and highly respected. He’s written three books about mental health and I recently saw them for sale here and bought all three. He greeted me and asked about George. I told him he was doing really well, happily teaching in Myanmar, and as far as I could tell, was loving his work. He asked me to pass on that the child study group that George started was thriving. He said he’d been with the group the previous evening and wanted George to know it was ongoing and really helpful. (I think George already knows this from other members of the group he stays in touch with.) I’d also seen one of the psych nurses who asked me to tell George that the child psychiatric clinic he started was still going, run by the nurses, and they were all grateful to him. When George first started here he noted how the children brought to the psych clinic were being traumatized just by being in the waiting area with some of the sicker adults. He started a weekly child clinic in a separate building where the environment wasn’t as threatening or scary. It’s nice to hear these things and know that even though it seems our contributions are tiny in the great scheme of things, sometimes something’s helpful and sticks. I hope the midwifery ward is one of them.

Well, it’s broad daylight now and looks like the cloud has lifted. It’s not windy and it’s warmer than it’s been in days. It was 44 degrees when I got up here Friday but feels at least ten degrees warmer than that now. It’s chilly when you didn’t bring winter clothes. The owners of the house where I am staying in Blantyre are away for a month and I’m hoping they left their router on so I can go near the house and post this when I get back. I noticed a drastic reduction in the number of gardeners and guards around since they left. The five big dogs are still there to greet me though. They surround me like body guards as soon as I come through the gate. They do bark a lot at night though. 

Well, I wrote all this and still didn’t figure out the dream. Oh well.

Home next Sunday. It’s flown.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning~ Blantyre

Sunday Morning ~ Blantyre

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

~ Chewa proverb

June 16, 2019

Hi Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all,

Linda