Transitions

Last night as I was falling asleep that familiar feeling crept over me; I haven’t felt this in the last year in the states. It originates deep in my emotional core, an aching recognition of isolation and loneliness from living in a strange place on a continent 8000 miles from home. Washing over me for a minute or two it is enough to jolt me back into the reality of the choice I have made to depart from family, friends, security, and comfort to seek adventure, teach, and explore a new culture.

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Prudence, language and cultural trainer, note the UGGS and winter coat!

For a fragment of time, it gives me pause to doubt my choice yet somehow it passes and I can move forward….

I am featuring Zoey in this blog; she is with me every moment and I miss her every day.  She gave me the ultimate gift of complete freedom….and I am so grateful, but my heart still aches over the loss of her beautiful spirit.

Our abbreviated training in Swaziland started on the 15th after spending 10 days in DC in training. We have been immersed in language and cultural training, safety and security, Swazi nursing practice and education, and PC policy and procedures. Housed temporarily in a training site, dorm style, we were all anxious to move to our permanent housing and settle in where we can cook for ourselves and have some privacy.

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my kitchen

I have eaten enough fried chicken and fish now for a decade. Our meals have been prepared daily (wonderful luxury) and they are plentiful and overall pretty healthy. LOTS of veggies, rice, potatoes and usually chicken or fish for dinner, eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, and lunch a mix of things. We take our meals together and classes together so we are pretty tired of each other but all in all our group gets along well. Age range is 28-70 and there are 2 trailing spouses, 9 volunteer nurse educators.

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Sworn in !

Our housing is at University of Swaziland (UNISWA) though I work at Southern Africa Nazarene University, about a 10-15 minute drive.  There are 6 of us at this housing site which makes it nice as we can share transportation and play games at night.  No tv or wifi, but the wifi was installed yesterday and we are keeping our fingers crossed that it works tomorrow.  Using the phone as a hot spot works as long as there is 3G network, but very unpredictable.

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View of the Swazi mountains from campus

Swaziland, nestled in the northeast corner of South Africa, has a pretty good infrastructure in terms of roads, power, and water supply and is fairly modern compared to Malawi where I was for 2015-16. However, the country was devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and is still recovering. Here are a few statistics:

  • Population roughly 1.14 million
  • 17, 000 square km
  • 35-45% is HIV + (age and sex dependent)
  • new infections have decreased by 44%
  • average life span for female is 56, male 49
  • US gave $68 million in PEPFAR funding for HIV/AIDS in Swazi in 2017
  • Average annual income is $3135 (World Bank 2015)
  • 5% unemployment
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frig gone for repairs

With that background, the seemingly up to date infrastructure takes on a new meaning…..things are not what they seem. This country has one of the few remaining monarchies. King Mswati III was crowned at 18 and has been ruling ever since. He is 49 and has been King since 1986.

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Polygamy has been widely accepted on the African continent since the beginning of time. To that end, King Mswati has recently chosen his 16th wife and he has 32 children. The king is chosen on the death of the ruling king when he is the only son of one of the king’s wives, regardless of age.

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Time for dinner and more fried chicken! One of the bonuses here is returning home from a long day and picking up some chicken to go at a local BBQ stand. They call it chicken dust because of the dust collecting on the cooking chicken as it deposits from passing road traffic. Gotta have a sense of humor!!!

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kettles galore, tea is BIG here

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Full Out!

Like so many other things I pick up and then put down in my life, yoga seems to have disappeared from my practice in the last year. The relaxation, physical flexibility, and insights gained from regular practice are necessary for me to live more peacefully and with ease. I hadn’t acknowledged just how stressed, tense, and anxious I have been for the last three months until settling into my Kripalu retreat with Kate at this wonderful sanctuary. The center is dedicated to the spiritual practices of yoga, meditation, mindfulness and promotes principles of ayurvedic healing and food preparation.

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Kate at Kripalu

The food is MARVELOUS, and though we are staying in a “dorm” with 6 other women, it is quiet, the beds (bunk) are VERY comfy, and all the amenities are available. Breakfast is taken in silence and cell phones are prohibited in all public areas so it is magically quiet and serene.

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Carter, Jackson, and Holt

For the last several months I have been juggling several balls in the air, not knowing if, when, or where I was going with Peace Corps. This was frustrating to say the least after the rigors of medical and security clearance that also took months.  Though I had an inkling I would be assigned to Swaziland, it had not been officially confirmed and then we were notified that the funding had not been released so we were uncertain if the program would move forward.

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Suz and Bentley

I have been living out of suitcases and boxes for the last three years since I sold my home in Reading. Since my return from Malawi last July I have had 4 different addresses, living no more than 2-4 months in any one place. This has been a logistical nightmare in terms of receiving mail in a timely way as well as really never feeling “at home” anywhere. My nesting instincts have become increasingly acute though I have stripped my belongings down to the bare minimum, at least what I move around with. I still have over 4500 pounds in storage so I have not made as much progress in that department as I had hoped.

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Carrie in Boca

We received confirmation that the program had been fully funded a week ago, just in the nick of time. If delayed another week, they would have cancelled the program for the year due to logistics etc. While all the uncertainty had been building over the last few months, I was faced with the added challenge of choosing a path that was most in alignment with my highest good. That is a challenge on a normal day but the Universe had served up some additional distractions and opportunities that began confusing and tempting me.

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dearest Mom

In May, I met John…blind date, Denver. We have been inseparable ever since. How is it possible that I am offered this amazing man during a time of potential separation by 9775 miles? John is a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Brazil 1973) so he understands the desire, the service, the adventure. He has fully supported me, aligned with the spirit of the program, and has expressed his own desire and interest in joining me for much of the year and finding his own niche there.

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Me and Johnnie

The principle of aligning with our soul’s purpose and carrying that forward in the world has never been more present in my life. From a story in the Bhagavad Gita,

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Crested Butte, LOVE!

Considering your dharma, you should not vacillate,” Krishna instructed Arjuna. The vacillating mind is the split mind. The vacillating mind is the doubting mind—the mind at war with itself. “The ignorant, indecisive and lacking in faith, waste their lives,” says Krishna. “They can never be happy in this world or any other. Acting in unity with your purpose itself creates unification. Actions that consciously support dharma have the power to begin to gather our energy. These outward actions, step by step, shape us inwardly. Find your dharma and do it. And in the process of doing it, energy begins to gather itself into a laser beam of effectiveness.

Krishna quickly adds: Do not worry about the outcome. Success or failure are not your concern. It is better to fail at your own dharma than to succeed at the dharma of another. Your task is only to bring as much life force as you can muster to the execution of your dharma.”

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Biking in Colorado

The decision to depart, despite this loving partnership, has been agonizing to say the least.   In the end, I had to listen to my soul and make a choice from a place of the deepest loyalty to my self, my spirit, my heart and trust that the rest would align with that.

This month is filled with travel….Kripalu, Denver, Florida, VT and ultimately to DC on the 5th of September for a week of training before departing for Swaziland on the 14th. I am relying on the generosity of the Universe to line things up behind me in the swirling vortex of the unknown that will manifest as a result of this choice!

I will be engaging full out!!!

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This is who I want to be when I grow up

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl

 

https://kripalu.org/resources/second-pillar-do-it-full-out

 

 

Be Where My Feet Are

I have taken a long hiatus from writing and have been feeling the quivering in my gut signaling the time to renew my commitment to my blog, and reconnect with those of you who have asked me to continue writing.

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Visit with dear friend Martha in VA

Since my return to the states in August, I have led a vagabond life, feeling much of the time like a wandering and homeless soul. I have spent a few months with my sister Mary in Boca Raton, a few months in Woodstock in 3 different apartments (long story) and returned to Africa twice for 4 weeks at a time to travel and dismantle my life there.

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Morning commute in VT, March

Living out of suitcases and boxes, packing and repacking boxes and hauling stuff in and out of storage has become a way of life for me, and though not thrilled about it, I continue to desire and prioritize the freedom that transient lifestyle grants me.

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Reunion with Kate, DC

The devastating loss of my dear Zoey in November lingers and I miss her every day. I truly believe she knew and sensed my longing to return to Africa and she has given me that freedom by passing on. I also am living daily with the guilt and angst of knowing that I probably caused her pain and suffering that irreparably damaged her heart and spirit with my absence. I continue to breathe into and work through that.

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Return to VT in March? What was I thinking

Happily, I have reapplied and been accepted to return to Africa and serve again as a nurse educator in the same program, Global Health Service Partnership within Peace Corps. My desire to experience a different culture activated my request to serve in a different country this time around. My placement is in Manzini, Swaziland at South African Nazarene University.

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Me and sister Mary

All was sailing along smoothly with the security and medical clearance (with the exception of 30 days of lost passport and fingerprints via USPS) until a few weeks ago when they announced that our program was on hold until the finances had been cleared and deposited. WHAT????

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yard saling with Deborah

Yes, 4 weeks ago we were told, “Well just hang on! We will let you know if this program will all happen or not in about 6 weeks time. “ Really? We are supposed to begin training in DC on July 17th and depart for Africa on the 27th! We have quit jobs, rented our homes out, put stuff in storage, sold vehicles, planned family reunions in anticipation of a one year absence!

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My little town, Woodstock

Putting life on hold for 6 weeks is challenging, gut wrenching, stressful, demoralizing, and scary. Most days I am able to roll with it. I show up for work at the hospital and benefit from the endorphins circulating after a long run. And oh, savoring spring in Vermont; the most colorful and vibrant I can remember, but also the most chilly and gray.

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Visit with Jackson, Carter, and Holt in Denver

Fortunately I am a month to month tenant, work a per diem job, and have no other commitments, except that I also recently applied to graduate school, another bee in my bonnet.

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camping with Zoey

And then into the midst of this tornado walks John…provoking even more mystery, distraction, elation, choices, and conflicting emotions. Read McDreamy, long distance, my prince. Really? Now?

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Barn ladies night out

All of this mandates that I be in the moment, every breath, where my feet are, right here, right now. No projections, no dreaming, no pretending. The most beautiful part of this journey is my ability to walk in with an open heart, fiercely committed to living my dream, my passion, my vision for what I believe my soul’s purpose to be. I feel the Universe supporting me and loving me through this.

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Shanti, my charge on returning to VT in late Feb

More will be revealed….I am grateful today for all that I have, all that I am.

 

Namaste

Returning 2

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.

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Two RPCVs in 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.

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Team Malawi

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.

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Tanzania sunrise

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.

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Sadly returning my PC supplies

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.

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Me and Bodmas, Level 2 student

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.

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Level 2 clinical students

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.

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selfie at Mayoka

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.

Namaste

Lessons from a Dog

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.

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Cabot

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.

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Dogs rule

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.

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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!

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Jack

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!

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Cabot

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.

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My grand dog Twister

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.

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Carrie and Cabot

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.

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Cabot, lap dog

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…

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The trio Cabot, Jackson, Zoey

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.

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Jack and Cabot

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.

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Big road trip to Florida with Zo

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.

 

Visit with the Chief

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.

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Sindika with the eggplant from my garden

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.

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Chalet at Lukwe

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.

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Homemade bricks ready for firing by wood fire in the holes below

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.

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Village kids

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.

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Village classroom for elementary kids

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.

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Woman pulverizing cassava

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!

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Cassava drying

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.

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Typical village home

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.

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Sindika displaying the coffee plants

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.

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Stoking the cooking fire

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.

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Our mountain transport, yikes

All in all, another incredible memory and cultural experience. Loving Malawi!

 

 

BEACH DAY

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….

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First time at the beach!

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?

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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.

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So much happiness here!

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!

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Sister Martha going for it!

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.

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Kande Beach

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!

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Falless, Jenna, and Ruth

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…

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Alinafe washing her clothes

Most have never been to a restaurant. We had lunch prepared for us and all sat at a communal table in the café: chicken, rice, greens, okra and of course Fanta and Coke. They inhaled lunch and followed with a craft project donated by Carol, my site-mate and colleague. They thoroughly enjoyed this and got all glammed up with the jewelry they made.

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First restaurant meal

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.

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Unimaginable beauty

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.

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Girls are girls everywhere!

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.

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Clowning around with Sr Martha

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.

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Grace

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.

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Loving the lake