Wonderful Vacay!

IMG_2722

3 days late due to internet probs and travel…

A 10 day whirlwind vacation in the US! PHEW!! I am relaxing poolside in my very posh hotel in Johannesburg during a 2 day respite here before proceeding on to Victoria Falls and then on to a 4 day safari in Zambia with the graduate, Carrie.

Ready to leave for Johannesburg

Ready to leave for Johannesburg

All in all, it was a fabulous return to the US, except for the continuous swiping my credit card for hotels, dining, and of course the absolute necessities at Whole Foods and TJ Maxx! I came to the US with a 50 lb bag and a small carry on and return to Malawi with 2 50 lb bags and 2 carry ons. Yikes!

craving Kombucha and dragon rolls

craving Kombucha and dragon rolls

Re-integration was basically seamless. The only unsettling moment was getting in my rental car at the airport. I was afraid to exit for fear of driving on the wrong side of the road, and I am still unsure when g a car what side to enter. Fortunately the driving went fine and acclimated easily to the 4-5 lanes of traffic in Atlanta. No goats or chickens to avoid.

Passed my National Certification Exam for Emergency Nursing on Tuesday, yay, a huge milestone for me after months of studying. Continued on to Auburn AL for Carrie’s graduation on Thursday after picking Kate up in Atlanta. A small family reunion of sorts as Tina and Lauren were also there. Weather the whole time was beautiful and unseasonably warm, in the 70s with very little rain or cloudiness.

whole damn am

whole damn am

So proud of all the girls! Tina and Lauren are successful professionals and unbelievable parents. Lauren brought your youngest, Holt, who at 3 months is still nursing, and a doll. Kate is still entrenched happily in the DR and is a PC Volunteer Leader in the capital. She loves it and will finish in June when she will come to Africa to travel a bit with me, and some friends.

graduate and grand dog

graduate and grand dog

Carrie, well, she is the graduate after a rocky beginning; Very proud of her for returning and finishing with a 3.0 and a degree in Communications. She is ready to begin her new life in Austin TX with her stepsister Margaret, sharing an apartment together there.

One of the most enjoyable things about the trip was running in complete anonymity in shorts and a tank top, unthinkable in Malawi. No one stared at me or judged my running attire, at least not that I know of. Got a much needed haircut and highlights, pedicure, visited with my BFF from high school, Karen Trager, and spent hours wandering the aisles of Whole Foods.

The most memorable impression was just how many choices we have in the US. My first hour in Whole Foods I was gaping with amazement; overwhelming but delightful at the same time.

view out my window at 5 am

view out my window at 5 am

After leaving Alabama, Kate and I spent 3 days exploring Atlanta. What an incredible city! The restaurants were outstanding.  We toured the coke museum which was amazing.  We also took a 3+ hour bike tour of the city which was so interesting and fun. Atlanta is a city filled with urban landscape art, everywhere. The murals were astounding, check out these photos of 4-6 story murals; the scale evident by our teeny bodies at the bottom!

IMG_2653

IMG_2649

 

IMG_2667

Got very bad news this morning;  the Mzuzu University Library burned to the ground last night during the middle of the night. Don’t know the particulars yet but is a complete loss. Devastating for the university and the students.

IMG_2733

Off to enjoy another great meal in Joburg tonight and then flying to Victoria Falls where Roy will pick us up and take us around there and on safari for the next week, yahoo!

 

 

 

 

Mixed Emotions

As I sit cramped in my seat on Delta flight 201 from Johannesburg to Atlanta, I have many emotions as I approach my first holiday in the states since leaving in July. So eager to see my family, I wonder how I will feel when I arrive and am bombarded with western culture again.

IMG_1456

Mango season!

I had a flavor of this just prior to leaving as we had a Peace Corps training in the capitol for two days last week. We met with Peace Corps staff from Malawi and Washington as well as SEED Global Health staff to discuss our experiences so far, share stories, and learn some education and research tools which may assist us in doing special projects in our sites.

IMG_2490

Friday evening we congregated at the PC country director’s house for drinks and dinner. As we entered the spacious home, there was Christmas music playing and the lighted tree stood in the corner. Candles burned in the fireplace and a few stuffed Santas adorned the mantle and the buffet. This was shocking to me as other than the purple tinsel decorations at Shoprite, there is no evidence in Malawi of Christmas holiday season.

IMG_2528

Snowman decor in Malawi!

I have canvassed several students and faculty about how they spend the holiday and the answer is universal. The extended family congregates and has a special meal of chicken, rice, and vegetables. No gifts are exchanged. Decorations and trees are a western phenom and generally the day comes and goes without fanfare, and oh yes, there is church.

IMG_2505

Amber gets horsey soap in her care package from mom

As the dinner was served family style, enormous 1 pound juicy T-bone steaks were passed, green beans, carrots, mashed potatoes, mousakka, and vegetarian sausages. It was an absolute feast and it was only then that I realized how monotonous and simple my diet has been for the last 5 months. When I rounded the corner heading for the desert table I gaped in amazement at the mammoth piece of carrot cake Amanda held on her plate, grinning from ear to ear. I was struck by my reaction; I was staring for well over 30 seconds (a long time to stand still and stare at a plate of cake), my mouth wide open, in awe of this site! It was this reaction that served as a warning of potential challenges I may feel as I re-enter life in the US.

IMG_2518

Amber has 6 puppies, 1 week old, no am not taking one..

I expect the difficulty may be around having so much…food, choices, shopping, stimulus, afluence, in contrast to having simplicity and poverty in recent months. I am striving not to set expectations for my reactions and feelings but I am aware of the glaring contrasts as a result of attending a simple gathering at an “ex-pat’s” home in Malawi.

IMG_2488

The girls ready to celebrate the boys’ birthdays

What I loved about the evening was the sense of belonging and camaraderie. We played charades, shared stories, and just enjoyed the company of each other, freed from the stresses of our jobs and communities. It felt like home, like a haven, an oasis of friendship and comfort after 5 months of stress and adjustment.

IMG_2482

Reunited with Amanda, my awesome roommate for trainings!

Carrie “gave me permission” to accept this position and travel to Africa for a year as long as I promised to return in December to attend her long awaited graduation! Kate is home on leave from PC for a month so she will also attend as will Tina and Lauren and new baby grandson, Holt.   So it will be a family reunion of sorts, minus some of the grandchildren.

 

The most difficult adjustment for me may be the cold! I love the weather in Malawi. I look forward to running in anonymity, without being stared at, to understand the conversations around me without having to tune out the language I cannot comprehend, though maybe that is a blessing.

 

Blissfully unaware of the holiday season, I am bracing myself for what may be overstimulation….so here goes! Arriving at 7am in Atlanta!

 

 

 

 

Getting Out of Dodge

Getting out of dodge on the weekends has been a great way to reduce roommate stress and see more of this incredible country. The journey to Lake Malawi was hot, restful, and increased my awe at the beauty of this amazing country.

Bungalow

Bungalow

We journeyed to a private bungalow Friday night after work. Arriving at the sandy road leading to the beach, my little lemon bomb car was struggling. Another 3+ miles in towards the beach off the main road we went, almost getting stuck several times in the deep sand. Unsure which of the tiny roads led to the house, we were greeted by a band of village kids eager to stare at us and jeer, politely!

Chantel and "dumpster"

Chantel and “dumpster”

The leader emerged, a 12 year old girl named Chantel. She spoke nearly perfect English with a lilting Malawian accent and was wearing a ripped brown t-shirt with a horse on the front. Her skirt was up to her thighs, navy blue with grosgrain ribbon on the border, very well worn. She directed us to the house seated in her wet skirt (she had been swimming in her clothes) in the back seat.   Her command of English gave her the role of leader of the tribe so to speak as she directed the other children to mind their own business and stay clear.

Wildly colorful interior

Wildly colorful interior

Nestled in the mango trees heavily laden with fruit, the bungalow perched on the edge of the beach with a commanding view of the water.   The beach was white sand as far as one could see. Privacy on all sides, I was enthralled by the location and the aesthetics of the “cottage”.   The bungalow was built by Mike, an American living in Malawi now for 15 years, as a long term project to be used as a guesthouse and getaway for those wanting privacy and a self contained space. Mike’s own home, about 100 yards away, was also built by hand and is where he lives, alone. Can’t imagine living in such isolation for 12 years in this location but he is happy and a gem of a guy. We were welcomed by the cadre of beach dogs, and of course Chantel, who barely left my side the entire stay.

bunk room

bunk room

Chantel continued to disperse the group of kids who wanted to hang around and stare at the muzungu and did an effective job of it. The bungalow is enchanting. Built with native stone, the spaces in between are painted vibrant blues, yellows and greens which makes the stonework pop. The center of the one room structure is the bed, elevated on a concrete and stone platform. Living and dining areas complete the room. There is a private bath and shower as well as a separate bunk room.

Mike's house

Mike’s house

Mike prepared and served dinner at his home after we had a chance to relax in the hammocks in the sand under the front bamboo roof. It was HOT. Sand is so hot during the day you must wear flip flops or your feet will burn just going to the water for a swim. Mike prepared fresh whole chambo (a native fish) chicken, rice and green beans. It was delicious and we all ate together, yes, Chantel too! She lives next door to Mike with her mom and is one of 17 children. Her father had 6 wives; that’s a story for another day.

Chinteche

Chinteche

Saturday we headed to Chinteche, further south on the Lake and stayed at Chinteche Inn.   Great restaurant, pool, beautiful grounds, very relaxing. We were the only guests. Rooms were stiflingly HOT. Even with my own personal fan which I travel with everywhere now, and a ceiling fan, it was HOT. NO AC of course. I spent most of Saturday reading, swimming, and preparing test questions for the final exams. I also met Lorin, a very interesting 30ish year old from Alberta, Canada who has been in Malawi for 5 years doing re-foresting of trees for an NGO. Fascinating young woman, dedicated to her work who has lots of plans to see the world. I meet people like this everyday in Malawi and it is so interesting, and easy to develop relationships.

Sunrise at Chinteche

Sunrise at Chinteche

Sunday we headed back to Nkhata Bay and sat on the deck at Butterfly Lodge well into the evening. Met some more stimulating and fascinating world travelers and we ate together on a huge deck on the Lake, by candlelight (no power) under a rising moon. Doesn’t get much better.

 

By morning I regretted my laziness in not applying bug repellent as I was furiously bitten on my legs and face either on the deck or during the night (no mosquito net there).   Hopefully my antimalarials are working….

 

Just another routine getaway in Malawi. Hope you are enjoying traveling with me!

Malawi Safari

Out of Africa remains one of my all time favorite movies, and this weekend I got to channel Meryl Streep on safari! Only thing missing, Robert Redford, but I had my own version! Though not the Serengeti, Nyika Plateau is a stunning and unforgettable experience, 4 hours from home in Mzuzu.

IMG_7815

Hippo yawning at Vwaza

We began our 4 day adventure in Vwaza Marsh, known for its hippo population and sometime elephant sightings during the dry season ie now, just before rainy season.

Four huts with hot and cold running water, no electricity; wonderful shelter for al fresco dining while viewing the animals grazing in front of us.   We brought our own food ie steak, chicken, rice, veggies, eggs, bacon, coffee. The camp guides prepared and served our meals.

IMG_7831 (1)

warthogs grazing with antelope

Friday evening we went for a quick game drive at dusk, not too much time before dark and watched a colorful and blazing sunset, enjoying the hippo antics. SO hot, even at dusk.

IMG_7828

brilliant sunset

Saturday morning I went on a 2 hour guided walk with the ranger armed with an automatic rifle of sorts, in case of elephants that can easily charge and kill you! Unfortunately no elephants but tons of ENORMOUS hippos lolling around in the water, groaning.

IMG_7838

Ranger Felix

Many groups of warthogs with their new babies and kudus abounded. No rain here for 6-8 months and the earth near the water looks like the moon; dry, gray mud, splitting with cracks, imbedded with giant elephant prints.

IMG_7844

Moon prints

Saturday morning we headed for Nyika Plateau, Malawi’s largest national park, over 1250 square miles of diverse vegetation and indigenous wildlife. A very dusty and bumpy ride over rutted dirt roads, impassible except with a 4×4 vehicle.

IMG_7925

Nyika terrain

Once in the preserve, the terrain struck me as something out of England, rolling hills with open plains, dotted with huge boulders and occasional trees.

IMG_7916

Pair of Zebras

Animals were grazing everywhere and the camera came out for some beautiful shots of zebras, antelope, and deer.

IMG_7906 (1)

Roan antelope

Arriving at Chelinda Camp, we settled into our room complete with fireplace, hot and cold running water and huge shower. Nestled in the pines, the only sound in the camp was the wind blowing in the pines. Cooler temperatures made for wonderful game drives during the early morning hours with sightings of zebra, antelope, eland, and multiple types of deer.

IMG_7945 (1)

Antelope bucks playing

Meals were prepared by the staff, with Roy’s help,  and served in the main lodge where a roaring fire burned in the evening.   No electricity except from 6-9 pm when the generator whirred in the background. Awakening at 5 am Monday morning I prepared for my second run in the bush and this time I planned to take a flatter, more isolated route. At 7000 ft, I was hurting the day before on the steep hills.

IMG_7806

Irredescent glossy starling

As the sound of nearby hyenas filtered into the camp, I had second thoughts about going out alone for a run but had been assured that I would be safe. Right!!!  No gun, no guide and I am crazy enough to go out for an hour run by myself but it was so cool and beautiful I couldn’t resist.

IMG_7915

Mom and baby

About 2 km into the run, I came upon the hyenas in the grass off the path, chewing on their kill intently. They scattered for a minute and eyed me as I jogged past; very excited that I had seen them up close and personal for the first time. Ungainly in their running because of their short hind legs, their large black ears and comical faces made me chuckle, but I admit that I kept looking behind me as I continued.

IMG_7957

Red winged francolin

Armed with a large pointed stick on the way back, no worries as they had dispersed on the return home.

IMG_7855

Hippo taking the plunge

The rest of the daytime hours were spent napping, reading, meditating, eating….a complete vacation and rest.   Our final night Roy prepared a campfire dinner at Chelinda Campsite complete with huge campfire, steak, potatoes and zucchini. Having forgotten the silver ware, we ate with our hands by the light of the campfire as it was dark by the time we feasted.

IMG_7932 (1)

Chosi view

Monday we returned to Mzuzu, every inch of us covered in the fine red dust accumulated on the 4 hour drive home. Water was off when I returned and I was unable to shower before my language lesson at 2:30, sorry Wezzie!

IMG_7935

Me and Roy

Breathtaking scenery, stunning animals, great company….grateful for the opportunity to experience another side of Malawi.

 

 

 

 

Village Journey

Village girl

Village girl

It’s hard to understand the feelings that suddenly wash over me and bring tears on such short notice. As I wrote in one of my earlier blogs, I am generally not a crier, but this seems to be changing. I believe it is related to that experience of being broken open on a deep level.

The experience of fully opening my heart to ALL the profound mysteries, vulnerability, and levels of experience available to us if we show up and feel and listen with all of our senses and awareness.

Girls at the well

Girls at the well

This morning we journeyed by truck into a remote village, Yesayo Moyo, set up for us by Florence, a woman of great leadership in her village. She rides her bike 90 minutes to and from Wells For Zoe, an NGO building wells in remote communities here. She has great influence with the chiefs and set up the meeting for Carol and Steve who want to do a Christmas project for some needy families.

Florence

Florence

The journey required 4 wheel drive over a deeply rutted and dusty road. The village people greeted us with enthusiasm and the usual formal greetings and handshakes. Malawi custom dictates a certain handshake to show respect, as demonstrated by Ambassador Palmer in the photo below.  Florence also bowed when addressing the chief at any time as is the custom in the villages.

Handshake

Handshake, left hand on right forearm

Tidy, orderly and modest would describe the scene on arrival. Malawians are obsessed with sweeping the ground to clear it of debris. The 30 or so children gathered and stared at us, enjoying the change in their routine. After a trip to the well so Steve could diagnose the problem we had the introductions and were seated before the village chief and his deputies as well as the women leaders. As I looked before me, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be experiencing this kind of coming together of such vastly different cultures and worlds.

Village women leaders

Village women leaders

In typical fashion, the pow wow began with a prayer, and that is when I came undone, privately. Bowing my head, I listened to the prayer in a language I could not understand but was completely overwhelmed with the intimacy and grace of the moment. That these people had welcomed us into their humble world so lovingly. But mostly I felt this overwhelming presence of spirit, of community, of humility.

Chief (right) and his deputy

Chief (right) and his deputy

None of the children were wearing shoes, their clothes were completely filthy and tattered. Yet all were smiling and on their best behavior. The men were seated apart from the group as if observing and monitoring. Their clothing also in shreds and several had no shoes. One woman in particular caught my attention, seated in front of me on a doorstep. She just emanated a sense of composure, beauty and grace that attracted me to her.

Beauty and grace

Beauty and grace

The prayer called to the innermost part of me by reminding me of the faith that people rely on that have nothing. In comparison, I worry about what new skirt I will have made or whether I will put on makeup today; what type of meat I will have for dinner and what I will order from Amazon. The juxtaposition of these two worlds is both humiliating and infuriating at the same time, if that makes sense.

Kids in the village

Kids in the village

The kids cannot go to school as it is too far to walk. There are no vehicles for transportation. Most do not get medical or dental care at all. When seeing this overwhelming need and then multiplying by the thousands of others that are in the same state, I just don’t know where to turn with this. I came home and took a nap. Sometimes it’s the only way to cope.

Chicken coop envy

Chicken coop envy

The chief and the surrounding village women will organize the 25 most needy families to receive Christmas baskets. How do you stop at 25?

My reality for the rest of the day is I am going to a Halloween party and dressing up in costume. This seems completely oppositional to my morning but it is reality and for now, I accept it.

Contentment

IMG_1275

At 62, I have had months, years, decades even, of this yearning, restlessness and seeking. Can’t explain it, can’t control it, just is what it is. In the last few days, particularly as I gaze at the photo of me and my students, I have the awareness of this feeling I will call contentment.

Grey crowned crane seen in the field

Grey crowned crane seen in the field

This is epic, earth shattering, a break through for me. I cannot recall any time in my adult life that I felt the contentment. I have been seeking the perfect job, relationship, place to live, set of friends, horse, garden, it just goes on and on.

Garden

Garden

Smiling, smirking I think, did it really take going 7680 miles from home, selling my house and possessions (except the 8000 pounds in storage!) leaving my kids, mom, dog, friends, to accept a new job, in a strange land to arrive at contentment? Well, I guess so. How does this happen?
All I can say is that I have accepted life here as it is and I am happy. Did I really say that? Do I miss people, things about home?   Absolutely, painfully so. Yet I am learning so much about medicine, culture, people, communication, relationships. It just fills my days and my heart. Generally, Malawians are warm, welcoming and friendly which has helped a great deal. I feel safe. Yet I would like to exercise, walk in the market, shop in the grocery store without all eyes ON me.

My social life here is certainly better than home. I have made friends from Malawi, Holland, England, US, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. We are a small community of mazungu (white people) here in Mzuzu as compared to other locations in Malawi, ranging in age from 30ish to 65ish. We congregate at local restaurants, bars, and hostels and talk about Malawi, traveling, our families, jobs, our experiences.

We are in the process of planning an American Thanksgiving, so looking forward to that. So the sense of community I feel here is pretty awesome!  Because there is no TV, movies, limited internet and basically nothing else to do, we talk, eat and just get to know each other.

This is not to say I have not developed friendships with Malawians. I have, but we do not socialize as I would with my mazungu friends; more through work and casual conversation.

Putting aside my OCD tendency towards perfection, things that would drive me crazy at home, are just fine here. Here are a few examples:

missing hubcaps!

missing hubcaps!

My car has 2 out of 4 hubcaps. This makes it look more Malawian which makes me happy!

The electrical panel has had the cover off since we got here

Electrical panel, yikes!

Electrical panel, yikes!

The shower curtain is pink, old and ugly, hanging from a frayed pink string attached to a nail in the wall

Shower curtain on a nail

Shower curtain on a nail

There is old paint stuck to the sink and faucets

The kitchen hot water spigot is not over the sink and turned sideways aimed to hit the right place

Sideways faucet

Sideways faucet

The huge water heater is located in the ceiling of the kitchen in a gaping hole in the ceiling and has nothing covering it, truly ugly

IMG_2143

The crawl space in the ceiling is open, no cover, mice and bugs running around

Curtains hanging by a thread

ripped and saggy curtains

ripped and saggy curtains

This is progress! Perhaps it is because it is temporary, and I am able to let it go. No matter.

I made the commitment to myself on Jan 1 2015 to meditate and pray daily. I have kept that agreement and am choosing to believe that it is God’s grace that has assisted me in arriving both in Africa, and at this place of contentment.

Today I celebrate 16 years of abstinence from alcohol and chemicals. So it is with immense gratitude that I feel this sense of contentment, for however long it lasts. I truly believe that without this passage, I would not have this opportunity here in Malawi, nor the peace and contentment I feel at this time.  The path of sobriety has offered me the most intense, challenging, and beautiful journey and I am grateful for every moment.

Happier Days

Brenda, Grace, Veronica, Caroline and George, missing Chimwemwe

Brenda, Grace, Veronica, Caroline and George, missing Chimwemwe

When I look at this photo I realize how far this group has come in 5 weeks, and how attached I have become.   They make me laugh, challenge my thinking, and warm my heart.  I am happy to be engaged in the work now, both lecturing and the clinical teaching.

Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to drive during their service, but I got lucky.   They have recently revised the policy for Peace Corps Response Volunteers, the short timers like me, so that we are able to drive. Initially I didn’t think I wanted or needed a car and was completely freaked out about the idea of driving here, but as time progressed, I wanted the freedom and the convenience of my own vehicle.

My car!

My car!

Last week the “yellow banana” arrived in my life! Keeps reminding me of that male strip joint in Revere, MA called the Golden Banana. I have named her nthochi, banana in Chichewa.

Road view from the car

Road view from the car

Yes, a 2004 Mazda Demio with 80,000 miles became mine. Buying a car in Malawi is like buying a car in Harlem or something. Most of the cars are real beaters and are not well maintained. So I was hesitant to even start the process. Many cars are imported through Tanzania by a huge shipping conglomerate from Japan, like mine, that arrived in Malawi 7 months ago.

bike transport

bike transport

One of my colleagues in the capital here found the car for me. We looked at it, had it checked by a mechanic then negotiated with him to drive it the 4 hours north to my site. You know how everyone in the US detests going to the Motor Vehicle Department? Well, the same applies here but the wait is generally 2-3 days versus a few hours in the US. I waited for 3 hours (short by Malawi standards) for the paperwork to sign over the title, get a Malawi traffic card and pay all the associated fees. Thanks to  Roy, it only took 3 hours, as he was pushy and made things happen. Otherwise we would have to come back the next day.

Puppies for sale

Puppies for sale

Driving is an experience here, but I live in the north in Mzuzu which is less densely populated, and fewer cars. The most challenging thing about driving is that everything is backwards, driving on the left, console on the left, blinker on the right, wipers on the left, lights on the right! To say nothing of trying to navigate through all the round abouts here.

Yes, really

Yes, really

EVERYONE walks or rides a bike, sometimes 3 or 4 to a bike with a baby strapped on the back. Bikes carry goats, chickens, furniture, mattresses, lumber, rice, firewood, and just about anything else you can strap on. The bikes are old, heavy and in poor condition. No fancy gears or cushy seats. The bike taxis have a long padded flat seat behind over the rear wheel for transporting merchandise or people.

Goat hazards

Goat hazards

My fear about driving is that I am more likely to hit a goat or a stray child than another car. People seem to have no sense of traffic. Walking in the road instead of the path along side is common, and occasionally a ball or child darts out unexpectedly which is unnerving. The goats and chickens graze right up to the pavement, unfazed by the cars whizzing by. A quick honk with the horn scatters them away from traffic, as well as the children or meandering peeps.

View from escarpment overlooking Chitimba

View from escarpment overlooking Chitimba

Friday I drove my longest distance, 2 hours, to Chitimba Beach on Lake Malawi. There was only 1 road block where I stopped briefly to exchange pleasantries with the officer. The drive was beautiful, through valleys and eventually across a VERY large peak, descending on hair-pin turns with the Lake in view. I had to pinch myself during times like this, like oh my GOD, I am driving my own vehicle in f***ing Africa!

baboons on the road to Chitimba

baboons on the road to Chitimba

Halfway down this precipitous drive, I was greeted by a large band of huge monkeys or baboons more likely. As I slowed down to observe them and take a picture, they quickly approached the car, awaiting a hand out. Some were so large it was a bit scary, running towards the car, so I took the photo and sped on, sure they would jump into the window if encouraged!

Road to Chitimba Beach

Road to Chitimba Beach

Around 8 pm, there was a sudden insurgence of trillions of little bugs, lake flies they call them. When the lake is calm, they swarm by the bagillions and are attracted to the smallest amount of light. We had to turn off all the lights (power was off anyway) and stow the phones and computers as they would be covered with these tiny bugs. In about an hour, they passed. The locals take nets and catch them, making cakes and other delicacies with them, ugh!

Chitimba beach

Chitimba beach

Yes, pinching myself as I sit outdoors under the large thatched pavilion, drinking my soda water, listening to the surf, enjoying the 80 degrees temp at dusk. Rough life here in Malawi….

This is what makes me the happiest…

My crazy students

My crazy students

Building Community

Sunset in Nhkata Bay

Sunset in Nhkata Bay

I had a break down of sorts this afternoon, always a sign that I need to sit and write. Happily and openly weeping under the beautiful tree in our backyard, I am overcome by emotion.  Our tree stretches her jagged branches skyward. She provides shade, roosting for owls and songbirds, and a cozy canopy for my meditation and yoga practice.   My heart overflows with thanks and gratitude for revelations I am experiencing during mediation today.  The power of my emotions breaks me open, and I sob with heartfelt joy at the depth of experience revealed in the journey inward.  Strange, weird, crazy?  This journey continues to astound and mystify me.

Backyard tree, looking upward

Backyard tree, looking upward

Today I have become aware of how expansive and vulnerable I am in offering my whole heart to people who reach out, engage with me, and offer theirs. What a joyful awareness! Just in the last week there is a handful, or two, individuals who I have become fond of, laugh with, embrace, and greet with the typical Malawian handshakes. Their friendship, warmth and kindness opens my heart.

Very tempting!

Very tempting!

Initially, the nurses on the surgical unit, where I supervise students, were remote, uninterested, aloof. I made an effort to write down their names and KNOW them, opening some doors. As the old adage goes, the way to the heart is through the stomach. Baking is the key! Once a week on the day that my favs are working, I arrive with a coffee cake or banana bread for them to share during their tea break. Catapulted into stardom by this simple gesture, they now yell across the unit when I arrive, with or without baked items, just to say hello. This warms my heart and we high five each other with laughter.

Fav patient heading home with his wife

Fav patient heading home with his wife

Brenda, one of my students, approached me sheepishly just before I left the unit today. She wanted to make sure I knew that the patient she had been caring for last week had died. She had put forth great effort to create comfort, cleanliness, and better nutrition in an effort to provide the very best care, but he died on Sunday, just before she got to the hospital. When I asked her how she felt about this, her eyes welled up. It was her first experience losing a patient. I took her into a private area and put my arms around her and she sobbed on my shoulder. All I could do was acknowledge her feelings, reassuring her this is normal and healthy, and thanked her for her willingness to share so openly with me.

Happy baby boy in his dress!

Happy baby boy in his dress!

Vitumbiko, a fav nurse listens to music with one earbud as she struts around the unit. She asked me today where I go to church as she lives near me. We then talked about church music as I have wondered how to get the music they sing and dance to at my church. I played it for her on my phone. Thirty minutes later, she scurried up to me, dragging Felix with her. I had met Felix at the church celebration weeks before. She gleefully said, “I went to Labor and Delivery to get Felix because he knows where to get the music.” Sure enough, he listened to my brief recording and is bringing in the CD for me tomorrow.

Kwame

Kwame

Kwame is an 11 year old boy with the worst burn wound and necrotizing infection I have ever seen. I observed his surgery a few weeks ago, sure he would lose his leg. He has been recovering on pediatrics, and I have “adopted” him and mom, Sekai, who also has an 8 month old. She has no food unless a friend brings it, generally nsima that is basically maize flour and water. I visit Kwame daily, sometimes bringing a toy car, ball, or lollipop. He needs protein so I bring him eggs, chicken, rice, peanuts, which he inhales. He just lights up when he sees me coming. Mom has shared her phone number and invited me to her home in the village to visit.

Wheelchair, really?

Wheelchair, really?

Then of course there is Veronica who brought little Mindy and her husband over to visit for tea on Sunday. Dad is a policeman in a town about 60 miles away. He humbly and continually expressed his gratitude for my presence at the birth.  Veronica was back on the unit today, facing dismissal if she misses 2 weeks of clinical.  So much for the 3 month maternity leave.

Veronica, little Mindy and hubby

Veronica, little Mindy and hubby

I am confident that this is my higher power working with me, in me, to be open and willing to engage fully in these experiences and connections. The result is a feeling of ease, belonging, connection, of spiritual presence.   I am both humbled and encouraged by this new awareness of acceptance and community developing and am looking forward to this expansion unfolding in ways I cannot possibly imagine.

Way to Start a Weekend

Dug out canoe on the lake

Dug out canoe on the lake

This has been an intense week, beginning with the birth of my little namesake!  Tuesday I began the worst case of laryngitis and URI, bad enough that I stayed home from work Wednesday, unable to vocalize at all: so much for teaching! Though better today, I am still struggling with a bad cough but have more energy and overall it was a very good week with students.  Yet when I stop and watch a local woman grind her rice so the husks fall off so they can eat it, I am slapped back into reality.

Local woman grinding rice

Local woman grinding rice

Last weekend I escaped to Nkhata Bay for R&R by myself, well almost. I rented an incredible chalet on Lake Malawi in a cozy hostel type resort built right into the hillside, $25/night.

My chalet at the lake, yes the whole thing

My chalet at the lake, yes the whole thing

Frequented by travelers from all over the world, all age groups, I met people from LA to Malaysia, Netherlands to Poland. This made for very interesting conversations about their travels and adventures, complete with buffet BBQ for $7.

My en suite bathroom!

My en suite bathroom!

Unfortunately, the power quit around 9 pm and didn’t return until around 7 the next evening. Close to 90 during the day, it was stifling with no power/water for showering or fans but luckily the lake provided relief and cleansing. Water didn’t return until midnight the next day. I took advantage of the time alone and did yoga, got a one hour massage ($8), swam, ate, slept and read.

Yoga on the deck

Yoga on the deck

After a week of sickness, stressing about lectures and clinical supervision offsite next week, some “other” emotional turmoil,  sadness and grossness at the hospital, this weekend begins with momentous events!  I’m struck by what excites me these days….

Colorful lizards at the lake

Colorful lizards at the lake

First, I have the house to myself for the weekend. Nenita and I are together almost 24/7 so for both of us, time away is necessary and healthy. She has gone to the same chalet in the same hostel that I retreated to last week, equipped with her yoga mat and lots of extra water!

View from dining area

View from dining area

Next, I received the most amazing package from my beautiful friend Catherine Taylor. OOOOOHHHHH! So many goodies and surprises arriving after three weeks, straight from Eugene Oregon, 9805 miles! Have you looked at that on the map? What a treat to start the weekend, and I am not sharing.

Care package from Catherine

Care package from Catherine

Finally, the best gift of all; a new toilet seat!  Yes, folks, only 4 weeks after our original request, it arrived this afternoon after probably 5 or 6 visits to the maintenance office, 4 different gents. We contemplated taking it off and carrying it into the office to demonstrate just how painful it has become, but restrained ourselves.

Yes!  OLD seat, note the cracks....

OLD seat, note the cracks….

Blessings installing our toilet seat!

Blessings installing our toilet seat!

I can now begin my weekend luxuriating in solitude, some music, tending my garden, a run if I feel up to it, and perhaps a bike ride if we have the right pumps and tires to prevent the mishap of last weekend.

Sara changing the tire

Sara changing the tire

Feeling grateful today, for the little things, toilet seats and solitude, and for the huge blessings; friendships, a healthy body (almost), namesakes, food, safety, opportunity, and so much more….

Little Mindy!

Little Mindy!

Guardian for a Day

Every now and then, God throws me a bone, so to speak, and today was one of those days!

walk to work

walk to work

When a patient enters the hospital he/she is usually accompanied by a “guardian”.   The guardian is responsible for bringing the food, clothing, linen and supplies for the patient and stays with them for their hospitalization. They sleep, eat, and cook in a central pavilion adjacent to the hospital, otherwise staying at the patient’s bedside for their stay. A guardian can be a family member, a friend, a relative. The patient without one is helpless.   Guardians wash the linens, clothes, and assist with bathing and at times other patient procedures.

Guardian pavilion

Guardian pavilion with hordes outside, wash hanging

My first official day of clinical teaching began today now that the tedious process of orientation is complete. Five of my six students showed up and were so excited to receive the goody bags I had prepared for them; a pair of scissors, a hand towel, a highlighter, and some candy. Included in the bag was the list of expectations of their clinical performance that we read together before they were able to dive into the bag and enjoy it!

One of my students, Veronica, was due to have her baby yesterday but appeared for clinical today, not feeling great. She admitted to me she was having contractions so I sent her over to Labor and Delivery for an exam. Her student escort returned without her so I went to check on her. In very active labor, she had been admitted and was 4 cm dilated (out of 10).

The labor room is a 40 x20 foot room with mattresses on the floor and about 8 beds lined up against a poorly painted and faded gray wall, very grim. There is no privacy for the patients in active labor. It is all hanging out so to speak with guardians in attendance to help and some students to take vital signs and monitor progress. They have an initial exam and then are examined 4 hours later, really?  There is no pain medication, no epidural, no cozy shower or tub to lounge in. No TV, no distraction, no husbands present.

Stripped down to her chitenje (the long piece of fabric they wear everywhere) Veronica lay on her cot, clearly having contractions about 90 seconds apart. I offered to stay with her as the guardian was not at the hospital yet. She quickly accepted and I assisted her by rubbing her back during contractions. She was in agony and asking for medication. I continued to stay with her, encouraging her.   I prayed for her and the baby, very important here as even the surgeries start with a prayer.

The concept of coaching, deep breathing, visualization is simply not done. Not even timing of contractions. They listen to the fetal heart beat through a horn shaped instrument on the abdomen, no fetal monitoring.

Long story short, she went very fast, 2 hours to be exact, and I got to go all the way with her. The delivery bed is a plastic massage type table covered in clear plastic (cleaned after each delivery, recycling at it’s best). The patient brings their own trash bag that is cut open and spread on the table over which a chitenje is laid.

baby just after birth

baby girl just after birth

She got her IV, pushed twice and baby girl was born, 3 kgs, beautiful! What a gift to be trusted with that level of intimacy from an almost complete stranger.   I was the only one in the room crying!

Proud grandma and baby

Proud grandma and baby

Later after things had calmed down and she was cleaned up and baby brought to breast I went to the University to get mom and grandma some food. Grandma had arrived 10 minutes after the birth, the guardian with no food! Returning with 2 heaping plates of food, both mom and baby were doing well, though tired.

When I asked the name of the baby, she looked at me and said, “I have named her Mindy, after you, because you helped me so much”

Veronica and baby

Veronica and baby

Needless to say, I lost it and was a weeping mess for the next 10 minutes. Yup! Mindy Trinity Mpuma

Little Mindy!

Little Mindy!

After work I went shopping and bought her some outfits, a blanket, and some booties. Tonight I baked a banana bread and will bring that and some hard-boiled eggs for their breakfast as I don’t think they have anything to eat for morning.

Today I have the amazing gift of a namesake in Malawi, a baby girl that I had the privilege of tending to at her birth, from a woman I have known for only hours.   I am humbled and grateful, and God is good, all the time.