Many months ago I posted a blog entitled Returning during a dark and challenging time personally. Today is my last official day as a GHSP nurse educator in Mzuzu Malawi.
The year has flown by. Many personal and professional successes AND challenges have graced my experience here and I am grateful for every one. I have transformed from the inside out in what I believe to be a miraculous and freeing transition. To use the metaphor of a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, though corny, would be accurate and not too overstated.
The freedom from old patterns, rigid beliefs, and confining ways of just being in the world is a lightening and brightening of my spirit that has been a lifetime in emerging.
During the last month or two of my service, I became acutely aware of how connected to and happy I am in this culture. Something about the people, the journey, the lightening of my spirit, the feeling of unfinished projects and plans begged me to reconsider my choice to complete my service without extending. I found myself frequently in tears wondering how I could detach and leave feeling so incomplete, having accomplished so much.
To that end, I requested, at the 11th hour, to extend and continue. Alas, it was not possible as the housing on campus is unavailable and had already been allocated to my replacement. During COS conference in Tanzania, the heavy hitters from Boston and DC were in attendance so I extended my plea for them to assist in solving the housing problem and allow me to stay.
So this blog, Returning 2, addresses my intention to return to Malawi and extend my service for another year. I have the full backing of PC and SEED and am waiting for DC to reinstate me after the new volunteers have been settled in their respective sites in country. At that time, they will find a house for me somewhere in Mzuzu.
Of course, my heart is still in complete angst about my lovely Zoey and the thought of leaving her behind for yet another year. Yet my heart is so intent upon returning that I cannot let go of that mission, knowing she is fully loved and cared for in VT and am still slightly considering bringing her with me to Malawi.
Secondly, I will be foregoing time at home to spend with my girls and mom. However, I will be flying home for 2+ months at end July to spend time with everyone and rest and rejuvenate, hoping to return to Malawi around October 1, if all the PC hoops can be negotiated.
Thank you all for your support and kind words of love and encouragement. It helped during the rough AND the good times. I do hope some of you will come and visit and partake of this lovely and warm heart of Africa.
My dogs have taught me very powerful lessons about life and living. I believe they come into my life to teach me, that they have a particular way of being and behaviors that exemplify lessons important for me to embrace, that contribute to my development in a very positive and powerful way.
Cabot, a black standard poodle, died 4 years ago. His guidance, while not necessarily relevant most of his life with me, exemplified a way of being that I actively examine and appreciate as I make decisions in my life today.
He was a very free spirit. Porcupines, deer and coyotes enticed him and he would take off and the chase would ensue. We lived on 85 acres of wild land in Vermont. When he returned from his little jaunts, he would often have quills deeply imbedded all over his head and facial structures, or proudly carry a deer leg in his mouth and drop it at my feet on arrival. I was beside myself with worry until he returned.
Once he disappeared at dusk and took Jackson, his younger brother , with him on a deer chase. They were gone overnight. In the morning I found them, having crossed a busy road, lying in the sun at 6am in a neighbor s driveway, about ½ mile as the crow flies. ARGGHHH!
Another fall evening at dusk, he disappeared for 45 minutes. Frantic, I had a strange prompting to get in the car and drive to the next farm, about ½ mile down the road. Sure enough, he had jumped into the bucket of the tractor parked in the driveway and was gorging himself on the deer entrails that were ready to be dumped in the field following the evening s activities during hunting season. GROSS!
Cabot taught me about freedom and choices…
Since my arrival in Malawi I have experienced extraordinary freedom on deep levels of my being. I was raised in a traditional WASP family in suburban America. As the eldest child of four, I was expected to tow the line , be the good girl, and conform to my parents principles which were narrow and unimaginative by today s standards. I don t fault them for this. I had a terrific childhood and chose to conform for their acceptance and praise rather than break out of the confines and risk criticism or rejection. On reflection, I lived much of my life in a self made straight jacket.
While living in Malawi, I have had the opportunity to emerge from the rigid confines with which I have held myself all my life. I have observed that the expats who choose to live here are, for the most part, extremely independent, almost defiantly autonomous, and deeply committed to living a free life. That is why they choose Malawi. The culture and the laissez faire government support complete freedom, unless of course you kill someone, well, and even that goes largely unpunished. I have made some choices that have released me from the bondage of tradition, responsibility, familiarity, comfort and expectations, and that is incredibly liberating.
Cabot taught me that while choosing freedom, others often suffer. The people that love you and rely on you may worry about your safety, your choices, and miss your physical presence.
The art of balance is the ability to choose freedom and to walk through the discomfort of knowing that others are suffering on some level as a result of that choice. To be able to set yourself free and live with the understanding that we can’t always make others happy with our choices. Not always an easy path
I am battling with myself and my choices today. On every level of my being I want to stay in Africa and continue the journey of discovery. My sense of responsibility and desire to take care of and be with family, friends, and Zoey compel me to return to the states. The desire to be free and the desire to please others are continually at odds with each other. Often the best choice for me may mean pain and discomfort for someone else. That is a tough life lesson to learn, how to navigate through the choice and the consequences.
The only way I know how to solve this is to pray, to surrender, to wait for the direction that will ultimately appear, but only after a lot of angst and internal distress.
I am heading to the ICU today to work with students. There is only one ventilator in the hospital for critically ill patients. Talk about choices! Mine seem miniscule and unimportant compared to the decision of who gets the ventilator to sustain a life.
Sindika has been asking me for months to visit his home village in the mountains north of Mzuzu. Malawians are proud of their home villages and have very strong connections there though they may be living long distances from home . Sindika works in my garden and does my laundry so is a VERY valued person in my life and I have become so fond of him and his endearing nature.
My friend Sara and I drove Saturday morning with Sindika north to Chitimba where we left my car and hired transport to ascend the mountain to Livingstonia, one of the most historical places in Sub-Sahara Africa. David Livingston, the British missionary/explorer, brought religion, healthcare, and community to an incredibly remote but spectacularly beautiful area in Malawi, in the late 1800s.
Willy, a friend and native S African, about 65 years old and crusty as they come, drove us up the zig zag, heavily rutted, rocky, craggy mountain road in his beater of a truck. The journey takes an hour, literally straight up the mountain, and is harrowing and bumpy; no guard rails, fences or safety nets for the hairpin turns overlooking steep cliffs. Many a vehicle has plunged off the road due to careless driving on this dangerous pass.
Willy gave us a complete historical account (an hour of non-stop talking) of David Livingston and the history of the area. We dropped our bags in Lukwe, the lodge we booked for the night, and I journeyed on to Livingstonia with Sindika and Willy. Picture we are miles and miles away from any paved road, up on the top of a mountain, traveling to a remote village, no electricity, running water, stores, shops, anything! Just people, houses, and crops.
Arrival in the village was uneventful, though I was met with the usual stares. Not too many white people venturing this far back into the wilderness. Sindika HAD to show me his primary school (he is now 42) and I suspect that was a silent plea for funds to repair the outrageous condition of the building. The children sit on the cold and broken up concrete floor. There are no light bulbs or window glass. No desks, no chalkboard/whiteboard. The faded, wrinkled lessons taped to the walls looked like they had been there for a year; a very sad and depressing classroom.
We then journeyed further a field in the truck to the village itself. Met by the 3 brothers I was escorted around the village for a tour of the maize bins, the crops, family homes, and cooking areas. The women were busy drying their potatoes, pulverizing the cassava, and drying cassava and maize on huge sheets of plastic. Dogs and chickens were everywhere.
Coffee, bananas, cassava, maize, okra, coffee, and sweet potatoes grow abundantly. Acres and acres of crops surround the village and a small bamboo hut sits atop the neighboring hill with an attendant to chase the monkeys away from the crops. I suggested scarecrows. They had heard of this practice and were amused, but not motivated!
The dramatic finale to the visit was meeting Sindika s father, the bwana, the chief of the whole area. I am guessing he is my age and has been ill. Greetings were exchanged and he held onto my hand for the entire visit, only to release it when I gave him the banana bread I had baked and toted around for 2 hours.
We exchanged pleasantries and I learned a lot about the role of chief: he looks after everyone, he mediates disputes, has people arrested for crimes, is fully in charge of parceling all the land to people who need or request it, is the highest form of government in the village and generally supercedes the police.
Dressed in a suit jacket, cotton button down shirt, brown trousers, and special head cover, he was not the chief I had imagined from the Lion King movie. Hard to believe that in the 21st century one acquires land by visiting with and gaining the respect and trust of the chief. Forget about the agents and the nightmare of 10 page contracts.
Willy drove me back to Lukwe, I crashed in bed at 8:00 after a delightful al fresco meal overlooking the valley. The arduous journey home began in the morning after a luscious meal at Mushroom Farm, a backpacker s lodge on the mountain. We waited there for our transport for about 3 hours (it s Malawi). We were not expecting to share the ride with 30+ boisterous men and women going to a soccer game in a flatbed truck packed to the gills. I couldn t look going down for fear we would plummet over the edge, packed like sardines in the truck bed (will not discuss this with Hector, our PC security).
The hour ride down was painful, but we made it and walked another ½ hour to the car, another 2 hour drive home to Mzuzu.
All in all, another incredible memory and cultural experience. Loving Malawi!
Close your eyes and imagine what the process would look like for a teenage girl choosing a bathing suit for her debut at the beach, first time ever .
I imagine it like this .3-4 different stores, at least 20 suits to try on, first alone, then with friends to narrow it down. Gawking, preening, my body s not this, my body s not that , this one is over my $75 budget. Probably hours and hours before the momentous decision. Am I right women and mothers of teenage girls?
Things are different in Malawi. Sister Martha and I planned a day at Lake Malawi for the girls. These are orphan teen girls that the nuns at the convent mentor and I see in a group once a week as well. All but 1 had NEVER seen the lake or gone swimming, do not own or ever worn a bathing suit. How was this going to work, and of course there is no money for any of this.
The used clothing market in Mzuzu is AWESOME, but it is becoming winter here and temps are often 50 on awakening so would they even have bathing costumes as they are called here? Friday was D-day and Sister Martha headed for the market to do other shopping and briefly scouted the clothes. She found a vendor with TONS of suits and immediately picked and bought 10, for 500MK each or roughly 70 cents each, SCORE!
Ok, so we have a nun picking out the suits? Imagine that back home! She met with the girls in the afternoon and doled them out as the girls sat eagerly waiting, politely and with no fuss over who was getting which suit. If the suit fit, they kept it, if not, they traded. Everyone was thrilled and eagerly awaiting the 2 hour car ride in the morning.
We made it to the beach by 9:45, overcast, very windy and cool enough for a sweater but it did not deter them. After a vigorous game of kickball where they all ignored the rules, we were sweating and ready for a dip. Since no one really knew how to swim, they were instructed on safety and chose a buddy to stick with. 11 girls, 2 nuns, and ME!
They clamored for the water and crashed, plunged, dove, ducked, dipped for 2 hours before we had to haul them out and take a quick break before lunch. The water was delightfully warm, thank you Africa, and they couldn t get enough of it. What teenage girl brings her washing to the beach? Alinafe
Sister Jane was celebrating her 33rd birthday so we sang Happy Birthday, about 25 times, and gorged on birthday cake, yes from Shoprite. They also did an impromptu choir rehearsal in preparation for tomorrow s service.
I hit the shower and all the girls headed for the lake for another swim. When I emerged from the shower area, the girls AND the nuns were all lathered up from head to toe, shampoo and body soap and were bathing in the lake, mostly tops down, bottoms covered. Yikes! The security guard chastised them for the lathering, not the nudity, and directed them to the changing area but they all ignored his directions and continued their ritual, oblivious to men, women and children walking nearby.
Does any of this matter? You bet .I was in awe of everything about this day; the beauty of the lake, the humility and grace of these girls who so lovingly accepted their used and ill-fitting bathing suits without a blink, the bond of friendships we share in such a short time, the contrasts between teen girls in Malawi and the US, the simplicity with which we can do life, their smiles and laughter .all of it pushes my heart open wider and wider.
I am able to pause here in Malawi, to clear the decks of things to do , of time to keep; to take in and appreciate the little things, the joys, the laughter, the heartache behind the silence and simplicity. It is bittersweet for me now as I count down the days to completion of my service here.
But is it complete? I have been drawn into this culture like a moth to a flame, like steel to a magnet, and I am not done. I don t know how, when or what will bring me back but I am returning because I am having too much fun and this is just too darn interesting, deep, and meaningful to let go of completely.
The longer I continue my service in Malawi, the more I realize the journey and the learning have less to do with my actual job than the lessons I am learning about faith, and my relationship with God.
Last week I received news that Zoey, my beloved dog and 24/7 companion for the last 12 years, had become very ill. After a few days of watching and waiting for tests, I decided to make the trip home as the vet said she was most likely suffering from advanced cancer, somewhere.
Peace Corps quickly gave me permission to travel and use my last vacation days plus some without stipend to make the 7000+ mile trip home. For some, this seems absurd, but those of you who are animal people get it. I arrived home to a thin, weak animal who couldn t even get up to greet me or wag her tail. I was sad and scared but grateful I had returned. I had prayed the whole way home that she would hang on til I arrived.
We spent the 9 days with my dear friend Deborah and her 2 dogs, Dexter and Akeelah. Between continuing tests, checking on mom, caring for Zoey, and taking care of myself, it was a pretty stressful and emotionally exhausting experience. After multiple blood tests, chest and abdominal xrays, abdominal ultrasound, tick titers, Coombs test, urine tests, trials of antibiotics, and IV fluids we still have no answer or diagnosis.
My team of healers went to work quickly. Marcia, Martha, Deborah and I were pretty much talking, consulting, and trying different homeopathic remedies from 7 in the morning til 10 at night. Zoey continued to run very high fevers of 104-105 pretty much all day and night and nothing seemed to work. She was anorexic and would eat only tiny amounts at a time from my hand (chicken sausage or ground beef) Her kidney function was good and she was able to drink enough to keep herself hydrated.
We all believe (well except for the vets) this mess was caused by a severe reaction to a vaccine she received earlier in the month. There is just no other explanation. Regardless, I was faced with the possibility of putting her down after my caregivers backed out and would not take her back. Who wants to care for a dog that is sick and could die on your watch?
Everyday I prayed for guidance, for direction, for an answer to the dilemma. Committed to finishing my contract in Malawi, I did not see staying home with her as an option. She was not strong enough to make the trip nor would a vet sign off on a health certificate to bring her to Malawi with me. No answers or people were presenting themselves, we still had no diagnosis, and I was becoming panicked and discouraged.
Yesterday I scheduled the appointment to have Zoey euthanized. I had run out of options and she continued to run the high fever but was comfortable and eating a little. I had arranged for her to be buried on my farm in Reading (that I recently sold but they agreed that she could be buried there with the other dogs and cat and rooster) My neighbor Bill was planning to dig the hole this morning with his backhoe. The vet was coming at 2 pm to euthanize her right there in the field, LOVE VERMONT
This morning I was guided to take a walk in my sanctuary, Mt Tom, with Zoey. When I looked into her eyes, she was bright, alert and clearly not ready to depart this life. I just could not bear the thought of making this choice to end her life when she still appeared to want to stay, with a pretty strong vital force.
I stopped at the market to get a scone (craving baked goods) and ran into a dear friend. When doing the woe is me, no caregiver routine, she suggested the name of a mutual friend. Perfect, I thought, and drove the 2 miles to where she was orchestrating the Saturday Farmer s Market.
After a brief reunion, I reviewed the situation and asked her if she was at all interested or willing and she said YES! Now bear in mind, this is 4 hours from the scheduled appointment time with the vet in the field. Needless to say, after introducing her to Zoey who was with me in the car, she confirmed that she would take it on. I just broke down and wept with relief and joy at the miracle that had just occurred.
I say miracle because I truly believe God intervened on our behalf, and at the 11th hour. The timing, the synchronicity, the circumstances, the solution, is indeed a miracle. I am learning the lesson of patience, of waiting, of faith. Never did I expect this outcome to occur as it did. I could not have planned or orchestrated everything any better. Yet, I was hanging on by a thread, impatient, discouraged, frustrated.
I got to see that the answers and the solution will not come one minute before we are ready, before the highest good of all is determined. I am learning to trust that this time of patience and frustration and discouragement is the ripening and cultivation of faith. It happens with more and more frequency, the more I practice, trust, and the closer I stay to my higher power.
Tomorrow I head back to Malawi to complete my service that ends on the 30th of June. I am eager to get back and finish some important projects and reconnect with my peeps. In the meantime, I have to trust that whatever happens with Anne and Zoey will be as it should be, and I have done all I can to support Zoey and her healing, and keep my commitments in Malawi.
When I visited Maui in 2007 I was so touched by the Haleakala volcano and the energy of the island that I cried when my plane took off to return home. Today I am filled with a similar experience of sadness, wonder, and anticipation as I depart the most beautiful city on earth, Cape Town, South Africa.
My 11 days in this magical place have completely captivated my spirit and nourished my soul. Everywhere I look I see beauty, majesty; nature in its rawness and splendor. My sadness in leaving is about my journey back to Malawi, my home for now, but a place of suffering, poverty, and blandness. Though my life there is enriched by my relationships and friendships, I have craved civilization as I know it.
For 11 days I savored fresh croissants, juicy burgers, gelato, fresh salads, and calamari direct from the sea. I slept with the windows unlocked and open, under a down duvet, listening to the Indian Ocean waves crashing in the distance. I delighted in running along the ocean in tight fitting Nike shorts with a tank top, my bare legs showing for the first time in 9 months and no one was staring. Well, maybe they were but not in the same way .I attended 2 AA meetings, my first since leaving the US in July, which I desperately longed for and thoroughly enjoyed. Wi-fi, cell service, and a rental car that didn t rattle over every bump in the road. Wait, there were no bumps or pot holes!
Hiking alone up Table Mountain was challenging, invigorating, inspiring. The views from the top were unbelievably beautiful and impressive, overlooking the city as well as strands of white sand and turquoise water. I also fulfilled a life long dream of surfing, albeit short, as I crashed and burned on my first wave, suffering an open dislocation of my index finger requiring an ER visit.
I reconnected with Roy, a native Cape Towner who so graciously chauffeured me around, viewing Cape Town through the eyes of a native. He also served as my ambulance and braiied for me in the quaint cottage I rented by the beach. The 2 large ridgeback dogs and the elderly cat at the cottage provided me with the cuddling and connection with the animal world I am craving. We even stopped to take in the course walk at a 3 day event (equestrian) being staged in Noordhoek.
We journeyed up the wild coast , mesmerized by the landscape. Endless rolling hayfields undulating into the jagged mountains reaching skyward on all sides, their peaks encased in white fluffs of clouds under a deep blue sky. Cage diving with the great white sharks was thrilling and frigidly cold, even in a wet suit. Robben s Island moved me to tears as I listened to the experiences of those housed with Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners during their quest for freedom from apartheid.
From the moment I arrived in this magical land, I was enthralled with the energy, the vibe, the beauty. I have felt my soul nourished and my spirit renewed. It was an experience of complete and utter joy!
For years I have prayed to be led to a place that feels like this. But really? 7850 miles from my home and family? It is a challenge for me now to return to Malawi and keep my wits about me, completing the service to my program and my students with dedication and the commitment they deserve. But I am ready ready to investigate with all my heart, the opportunity to live and breathe in this energy, at least for an extended time, at some point in the near future.
As many of you know, I am impulsive by nature and practice. As a result, I have prayed a lot over the last few days for a sign that this desire, this longing that I feel is somehow right for me. Yesterday as I was returning from Robben Island I toured around the waterfront area, eating, shopping and just taking in the sights and sounds.
From a distance I noticed 2 massive red poodle sculptures lining the waterside. I smiled and commented to myself that Cabot and Jackson had decided to join me in Cape Town. I got the chills. Of course it was orchestrated by Hooper. It didn t occur to me until today that perhaps that was the sign I was looking for. That my beloved poodles were there waiting for me!
Tomorrow I will return to my site in Mzuzu; to the hand laundering, boring food, gaping wounds, and yes, the sweetest of friends. I will be launching a very big project at the hospital to improve pain management so will be busily engaged in work and service. But not too busy to begin my investigation of what may be the next phase calling me.
My plan is still to return to Vermont in July after Kate and I travel for a few weeks following completion of both our PC service. While in VT I will have a chance to breathe, walk in the woods, visit with family and friends, and love all over Zoey. I also look forward to visiting Carrie in Austin and Tina, Lauren and the grandchildren. In Denver and Chicago.
I look forward to that time of discernment and I will do all I can to approach it with an open mind and heart. But really, I want to continue on to the next adventure, wherever that will take me. And I really hope it is back to Africa.
My optimism for assimilating the African languages was dashed early on in my service here. Having always felt I had an affinity for language, I was in for a rude awakening when attempting to seriously study Chichewa. Malawi s official languages are English and Chichewa but there are at least a dozen other dialects and languages spoken throughout the country, particularly in rural villages along borders with Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique. At times even the students are unable to translate for me when we have patients that speak Swahili or other rarely heard dialects.
That said, one of the most important features of Malawi culture is greeting people. So my efforts in language acquisition have focused on mastering the greetings. Further complicating the issue is that one never knows which language to greet in! If I am in Lilongwe, I can be pretty certain that Chichewa will work. In Mzuzu where I live, most people speak Tumbuka, but also speak Chichewa. The locals get frustrated if you speak Chichewa and want you to greet in Tumbuka!
On weekends, I often go to Nkhata Bay on Lake Malawi where they speak Tonga. So do I offend by offering my greeting in Chichewa? Or Tumbuka? When in Rome, do as the Romans .so I have been striving to at least learn the basics and actually now, feel pretty confident that I have mastered the essentials.
I have been so fortunate to be living in Mzuzu, the largest city in northern Malawi. It is cooler here, less congestion, more trees, and generally safer, though overall Malawi is a pretty safe country. Directly outside the rear gate to the campus is the most beautiful dirt road that has given me the opportunity to run through the villages and farmland in the very early morning hours.
It took me about a month to summon the courage to step outside the back gate, alone, and explore this road that was beckoning me to continue my lifelong passion for running solo in nature. I am much more content experiencing the endorphins and the calorie busting this activity provides.
Day by day, I would advance my distance just a bit once I felt safe to continue, that no one would jump out of the bushes or maize fields to accost me. I know this sounds paranoid, but really, running alone on an isolated dirt road in the middle of Africa seemed a daunting prospect for me.
Now, I am happy to report I can run for 30 minutes out and 30 minutes returning back to home on campus. The boogy men have stayed away and the villagers have become quite accustomed to the azungu woman running by in the early hours. I begin at 5:45 mostly because it is light enough, cool enough, and there are fewer people out to stare at me.
The road is traveled by some walking to work, while others carry water from the bore hole, and often entire families will carry their hoes on their way to the fields. Already by this hour, many men and women are tending their crops with their hoes.
The children walk to school in small groups, carrying their thin, fragile, blue plastic bags holding their snacks and their plastic cup for water during the day. They all wear uniforms in varying degrees of cleanliness and repair. Many are sucking on mangos or sugar cane as they shuffle on to school which is at least 1-2 KM from home. Most are largely unimpressed with my activity and are so shy they will not even acknowledge me when I greet them or make eye contact, but others will shout at me from their homes calling, Azungu, azungu!
By now, I am a curious but well-established sight in the morning. Most probably wonder what the hell would inspire me to run up and down the steep and dusty hills, unaccompanied. Of course, I have been well advised to run in loosely fitting capris, and a full T-shirt so as not to horrify the locals by having too much skin exposed. The challenge for me is what language to use when greeting the people along the way. Do I use Tumbuka, Chichewa, or English. I have played with the variations, not wanting to offend anyone and by now am able to discriminate and choose a language accordingly.
Here s a sample of morning greeting in Tumbuka:
Me: Mauka uli
Them: Ndauka makola, kwal imwe
Me: Ndauka makola, towanga chomene
Them: Yewo, yewo
To further complicate my language processing, I have intermittently studied Afrikaans. Though challenging, I actually enjoy learning this one and find it a bit easier than the tribal languages which are largely incomprehensible to me when someone is speaking fast. I am heading to Cape Town in a week so am hoping to practice my Afrikaans while in South Africa.
Two days after my last post, I received emails from both my sisters regarding mom s failing health, and an email from my brother about Zoey s well being. The night before I had some very vivid dreams, one of which was a hawk resting on a branch with his back and tail feathers facing me. Two white horizontal stripes emblazoned the tail, representing my 2 choices.
When I awoke, my decision was clear. All of this information seemed to descend upon me as messages that indeed, it is time to return home. A feeling of calm certainty washed over me and I felt for the first time, very strong and clear about the decision. This seems like a miracle to me, that after wrestling and struggling with it for weeks, all of a sudden I had clarity and relief. Truly I believe it could not have come a moment sooner, and I thank God for patience and guidance during this time of transition and discernment.
After emailing PC, SEED, and the Nursing Department about my decision, I felt a huge sense of relief. For the next few days it was difficult to make it through the morning at the hospital, and when returning home at noon, I had to lie down. I went to bed at 8 pm for the next three nights, so exhausted, yet peaceful.
Clearly, my body and spirit were so traumatized by this decision process and now I have such a sense of relief, and excitement about returning home. We have decided to move mom to Florida where my sister Mary lives so someone will be able to visit with her every week. After facetiming with Zoey for the first time in 8 months, I can visualize the reunion we will have, reducing me to a sobbing mess.
This is what I have to look forward to: supporting my daughter, Kate, on her return from the DR after 3 years of PC service. Visiting with daughter, Carrie, and sharing her excitement about her job and new life in Austin. Spending time with mom. Walking in the woods and cuddling with Zoey. Visiting my 5 grand children. Catching up with friends. Figuring out where to live! Perhaps going to graduate school. How lucky am I!
For now, I am going to enjoy and savor every moment and opportunity in Malawi. I am aware on some level of the beginning of the process of detaching, and want to be careful not to withdraw my heart and my spirit as a protection from the pain and sorrow I will feel on leaving. I have many opportunities to continue to immerse myself and engage in fellowship with the peeps here.
Today I sat in church for 3 hours listening to the entire service in Chichewa, though Father Kamanga was kind enough to welcome me in English at the beginning, the only white person there.
Wednesday afternoon I met with my girls group , a group of orphaned teenage girls, to discuss sex, HIV, and dating. Wednesday evening I attended the 50th anniversary celebration of Brother Michael s commitment to the St John of God Brothers, a beautiful tribute to a wonderful and kind friend who has loved and supported me here. Thursday evening 25 or so of us mzungu partied at Macondo Camp and listened to a band perform folk and county music, guitars and mandolin! Friday evening I treated my Level 2 clinical students to a feast to celebrate the end of our rotation together. We talked at the table for 3 hours.
Saturday, a student visited with me for an hour to discuss her choice not to have sex with her boyfriend of 4 months. She feels pressure from her friends to sleep with him though she is not ready and feels alienated from her girlfriends as a result. So these are the real and tender moments that still grace my every day life.
Thanks to Harvey Blatt, I now have a terabyte drive filled with movies to watch as evening diversion if needed, and popcorn I can make on the stove (no microwave). I have recently just completed Season 2 of Breaking Bad, WOW! Riveting .and at times necessary!
This week I travel 4 hours north to Chitipa and Karonga to supervise students in the district hospitals. This is stressful as it is a new environment, hotels are strange and gross, and the food is meager and boring. Another chance for adventure and new experiences! Stay tuned
Indecisive, fickle, on the fence, wavering, waffling, of two minds, vacillating, unclear, tentative .all words that describe my current state of mind. Yikes! The decisions later in life become more complex and burdened with pros and cons that can be examined from more than one point of view.
Faced with the decision of extending my service here in Malawi has become one of the most challenging choices in the last 10 years! Initially I believed that 1 year was more than enough to be away from home, family and friends. Now, there is a longing in the pit of my gut to stay for another year.
This seems like an insane proposition. I am in a country that is imploding. The Malawi kwacha (currency) is propelling itself towards outrageously low stakes against the dollar. The government continues to put more in its pocket than it gives to the people. Throughout the country, families are struggling daily to put food in their mouths. Theft, corruption, disease are rampant.
On a daily basis, someone comes to ask for food, a job, or money for school. I am approached in the parking lot, the hospital, my front door, on the street. I witness intense suffering in the hospital every minute I am there. Wounds are ghastly, infections are aggressive, poverty is everywhere. People are dirty, smelly and bugs crawl out of wounds.
Yet, living in this country opens my heart and inspires me to focus on something outside myself. I forget about the minutia of whether I will have a chai or a latte at Starbucks. Whether I will prepare the $20/pound swordfish or the tenderloin. Whether to buy the new shoes I have been coveting at Macy s. Life becomes simple and beloved.
I believe it is this simplicity and tenderness that have embraced me here in Malawi. The people are gentle, uncomplicated, kind, warm and have completely opened their hearts to me. There is great humility here, in every positive sense of the word. Living in Africa is mysterious, challenging, alluring, and seductive and that appeals to my sense of adventure.
Returning to the US during the election process does not appeal to my apathetic political spirit. I would rather remain in the bush with the zebras. It is far more soothing to my soul than getting myself riled up over some political debate. AND OH BY THE WAY, it is -20 in Vermont tonight!
Severing my attachment to this environment would be difficult. My brain and spirit are like sponges now, sucking up every morsel of information and experience, incorporating them into my soul. There are days I cry, and days I am at such peace with the simplicity of my life here. I am leading a project at the hospital to improve pain management ie there is very little. The objective is less patient suffering. I would hate to leave with this unfinished. I adore my students. The teaching is invigorating, challenging but joyful.
Circumstances at home compel me to re-examine my choice. Mom is slowly failing, I haven t seen her in 8 months. Carrie has moved to Austin, started an exciting new life, new job. Kate is returning home after 3 years in the PC herself, requiring tremendous adjustment. My precious 24 hour companion, Zoey, continues to search for me, but is in good health. They all evoke feelings of guilt, desire, responsibility, and a deep longing to come home. It feels highly indulgent and self-centered to stay.
Most days I am unwilling to let anyone in on the state of my decision. It is a moving target. I have approximately 10 days before it will be too late to change my mind. My decision must stand. In the meantime I have done Ben Franklins, prayed, meditated and sought the advice of friends, family and colleagues. I am still torn. In the end, it is up to me and I have to trust that there is no wrong decision; I will be supported in whatever I chose.
This is a challenging time in Malawi. The Malawi kwacha (currency) is in deep trouble, recently falling to an all time low this week of 720MK/1 USD. When I arrived in July it was 480. This time of year is very difficult for Malawians as the rains have come but the new crops are growing and not ready for harvest. Most people have run out of food and are hungry. You see it reflected in their faces, their sluggish pace. It wasn t until just recently that people were begging or asking for jobs or $$ both on campus and in the parking lot at Shoprite.
For the first time in my cushy life I am witnessing firsthand people going hungry daily, begging for food and money. People are desperate. There were riots in Kasungu 3 days ago because there was no maize AT ALL for nsima, the local staple food. People were demonstrating and impatient waiting in line for the government to deliver maize to the location so there would be food for those without. Of course, everyone was afraid they would not get their allotment.
As we traveled home from the northernmost region I was struck by the number of children standing on the side of the road with buckets full of mushrooms, mangos, and cassava for sale. They sit or stand in small groups by the side of the road all afternoon, waving for you to stop to buy their food, a heartbreaking sight.
Imagine the folly of encouraging students to teach their patients about protein diets for wound healing! Patients receive 1 meal per day from the hospital consisting of nsima and beans. Other nourishment must be provided by the family or guardian. When a patient suffers from severe burns or an infected leg wound, we educate them on the importance of eating protein. These people cannot even afford to buy powdered milk, never mind cheese, eggs, beans or chicken. Generally, the caregivers provide some kind of disgusting liquid porridge; it is brown, liquid and is made with flour, sugar and water; no protein and very few nutrients. If you are willing to eat it, it fills the stomach. At times they are able to afford an egg or maybe some small fish for 50 MK, about 7 cents. Otherwise, they go hungry.
I have smuggled food into the units for my favorite patients but this is dangerous as it alienates them from the others, gives me a bad rep, and isn t really fair. But I do the best I can to control my desire to feed everyone. I have learned that I can t give everyone something; the beggars, the children, the women, even the students ask for things on a daily basis. It causes such internal conflict and moral dilemma. How does one choose? I have my own moral compass and I just do the best I can .
Meanwhile, I am living the life in my own little world. I have an incredible 3 bedroom house to myself, a beautiful fenced and private back yard, a part-time gardener/clothes washer, and my own vehicle. It is hard to make eye contact with the laborers that swarm outside my house daily. It is the gathering place for the landscapers and security personnel during shift change. What they must think of this azungu and her lifestyle. I feel guilty and helpless most of the time when faced with this. However, I am thoroughly enjoying my experience and building my community day by day so I go inside close the door, enjoy myself, and forget about it; the only way to survive. And sometimes I help someone.
Traveled to Lilongwe, the capitol, this weekend for beautification and a weekend with girl friends. What a stark contrast to the average Malawian s life. The last Friday of the month and everyone has been paid so lines are tortuous and long at banks and supermarkets as people are replenishing their stores and have cash to spend.
Thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in Lilongwe with friends at the farmer s market, largely attended by mazungu (expats, white people) but jovial and interesting nonetheless. I bought Haloumi and parmesan cheese, fresh lemon grass, earrings, homemade tortillas, and ginger peanut butter.
Had long and engaging conversations with my friends Emese, Amber, and Megan, and Linnea. Able to get haircut, color, pedicure, and eyebrows waxed! Watched 2 episodes of Breaking Bad with Emese. Chinese one night, Nepalese the next, and homemade ice cream to die for! Also bought a blender and more glass brewing containers for my Kombucha! Ready to head home and make pesto and smoothies with my new toy!!!