The Wheel Turns Slowly

[Photo: Whaddaya mean, homely mug? Liwonde National Park, Malawi]

26 February 2017

This is a banner day! After 7+ months of working here as a full-time Honorary Lecturer I have a Contract (completed 1 month ago) and today I have been informed that if I show up at the Medical Library at half eleven the photographer will take my headshot and it will, soon, be turned into an ID card which I shall wear on a lanyard around my neck when working. All the medical students wear them. The interns wear them. The registrars wear them. All faculty wear them.  When I go onto a ward to do a consultation, guards and nursing staff will no longer look at me suspiciously, I’m hoping, an unidentified man come for no good purpose.

Things generally move slowly here, especially if it has to do with paperwork and forms and desks. Rather than gnash my teeth about it, I’ve decided to see it as a difference, not an evil, and seek out the good in it. Have I gone over to the Dark Side?  Given up? There are advantages to being able to slow down, not to race around frantically as Americans, at least urban Americans, generally do. In any case, I cannot turn the river around and swimming against the current is a futile, exhausting proposition. So maybe I’ll keep afloat and see where it takes me. Probably to living in a mud hut, eating nsima and mice on a stick!

It feels so wonderful when something actually happens, after so many trips to the Registrar, the Principal’s Secretary, the library—is the photographer really on salary? I’ve sought him out many times and he has never been there once. Ever. Oops, got to float with the current here.

This morning the water was streaming out of the hot water tap, rather than trickling. It actually came out of the shower, as well. So I turned the hot water heater back on after 3 weeks of tepid bucket baths. And the stove, which blew the main fuse breaker several times last week so we have been having one-dish meals cooked over the gas burner, went on this morning and didn’t blow the breaker. Are things repairing themselves? How can inanimate objects self-heal? Well, I don’t have to ponder it too much, as we’ll move to our new digs tomorrow. With newer appliances.

I am so glad that the medical students are software-fluent. While showing the video clips yesterday of each of them interviewing patients in clinic, the sound went off. We watched one of them without sound, able to comment on their posture, eye contact, hand gestures, positioning, etc. but couldn’t get their voice tone, pace, and volume. All the interviews were conducted in Chichewa so I wouldn’t have been able to comment on the content, in any case.  I asked one of the students to monkey with the situation—-the mute was off, the volume maximum, the cords all plugged in—on my laptop and he promptly fixed it. Using a different video player. Who knew? Not I.  There are often laptop-projector-speaker discordances at lectures and conferences—-whoever figures out a universal plug and play for all PowerPoint projectors coupled with all laptops will earn a fortune and prolong the lives of academics significantly (not to mention their hair-pulling).

One hour later……………………….

I spoke too ambitiously about my ability to ease into the Malawian current. I went to the photographer in the library at 11:30AM, at the time he suggested we meet for my ID photo. No photographer. Waited 10 minutes. Uh uh. Asked at the front desk. They were helpful and tried to call him but his phone is turned off. Did he know I’d be calling? Seething, just a bit. I am not a mellow person, as those who know me will vouch. I can fake it for so long, but as Woody Allen said, ”Then I just get rotten.” Others raised their eyebrows, shrugged their sympathy, sighed a familiar sigh. If I had been a pushy jerk or had been lazing around, I might feel some responsibility for causing this. But I work like a dog— perhaps as instinctually as a dog, it’s true—but work I do. And polite I am. Greeting everyone, which I like, as they greet me back with a smile. But, really.  No ID badge this time around. I only wasted about an hour, all told, today on it. Tomorrow is a new day [to waste]—is that how that saying goes? I do feel like breaking something—a nose or two. Violence has not been my stock in trade. Freely associating here. Maybe it’s a test which, if I pass, will allow me honorary membership in the Malawian Association of Stallers and Dodgers. I have to add, the great majority of Malawians I have met are upright, hard-working, thoughtful, honest, true-to-their word people. This crap exists everywhere.

One day later….

We moved with the help of our very gracious landlady, who lent her truck and her gardener to carry things the ¼ mile to our new place. Moving everything took 2 ½ hours and that included eating wonderful BLT’s she (Carole) brought for us. I should add that she took us out to supper the night before at a wonderful large home being transformed into a B&B by a friend of hers. We were the only diners, sitting on a porch on the downslope of a hill, bathed by the warm Blantyre evening. The food was very good. She also had the house completely painted inside and out in anticipation of our moving in. And it is remarkably nicely furnished, completely. She is Zimbabwean, her father was from UK and trained race horses on their farm, among other things. Her husband, 4 years deceased, started an electronics/computer business here that was very successful and eventually was bought by one of the two large telecom companies. She lives in a huge house on large, fenced grounds with 5 staff in Limbe, a large suburb of Blantyre.  Lots of interesting tales there, I’m sure. We’ll reciprocate her generosity.

The new house, about half the area of our old one, is cozy and we feel instantly comfortable here. The three drawbacks are: 1) the loo is separate from the bathroom and hasn’t its own sink; 2) the kitchen is tiny—think cooking on a 35’ sailboat; and 3) there is only one bathroom. But we each have an office cum guestroom and the grounds are wonderful with two mango trees, a lime, an avocado, and a guava. Plus,  it is exquisitely landscaped, thanks to our Day Guard/Gardener, Chimwemwe. He is a bright, helpful, energetic man who is a joy to have around. And there is a large, productive vegetable garden full of greens, herbs in pots, and a crop of sweet potatoes at the moment. It is actually closer to work for me, if that is possible, and about the same distance for Linda. This is full of promise.

I’ll seek out the photographer again tomorrow to try to get my ID badge. I can’t believe that I am concerning myself with this but it has become something of an obsession. I know once I have it that I’ll just wear it and forget about it. So fickle, so adaptable. Still, it has allowed us to inhabit the poles and the tropics, perhaps not such a wonderful thing for Mother Earth.

On the Trump scene, each day brings new and outrageous excesses.  It’s easy to see how Paul Ryan was elected as his high school class president one year and the next won the “Brown-noser” award at the high school. He and Senator McConnell are beyond disappointment. It’s ridiculous but where are the good old Republican Party days of lyin’ Richard Nixon (started the EPA, Clean Air Act) and stumblin’ Gerald Ford? Those who long for a return to the 1950’s clearly aren’t gay, women, or people of color. It is heartening to see how much energy is raised in opposition to these latter-day carpetbaggers, promising the world while they pull the rug out underneath those who are without (poor, immigrants, transgendered, those silly people who actually need health care but couldn’t afford it before ACA, and on and on.).

I email my Senators and Representative several times a week, encouraging them to separate themselves from what appears to me to be a ship headed for the rocks, drowning many with it. It takes courage, and conviction, to do so with a newly-elected president who has the full backing of the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House. How much easier their lives will be if they just go along.

The clouds have rolled in here and rain is pouring down to the score of the Goetterdamerung. A rainy, restful Sunday at home in Blantyre.

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