Poke To Know [Title courtesy of nephew David]

26 July 2017

[Above photo: View from our porch of the Meadow, Farmhouse, and the Harbor]

I just submitted my Fulbright application, which contains a wish to teach Psychiatry somewhere in Asia, in the following preferential order: Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, India. I think of the last as having significantly more medical education infrastructure than the first three, and so hadn’t considered it until I saw positions possibly available.  When I was teaching part of a course in Vietnam in 2004, I was astounded at the low level of psychiatric education and practice. I suspect it is much better now, 13 years later. The people we met were bright and hardworking; they just didn’t have the training programs necessary to learn the discipline. At the National Institute of Mental Health Hospital in Hanoi, a young doctor showed us around. In one room a young woman lay on her bed curled in fetal position facing the wall, immobile. Her mother sat on the side of the bed, likewise silent and immobile, looking at the floor. I asked the doctor what was the diagnosis? He, too, wrung his hands, looked down sadly, and said, “ADHD”. I almost fell down. So, finding the culture, the history, the food, the novelty, and the people of SE Asia to my liking, I want to give it a try. The languages are another kettle of fish, however.

Completing the application had its challenges. The postal code at my home in Blantyre, Malawi is 3. The online application required a 9-digit zip code or I couldn’t submit it. Finally, I just put in my brother’s zip code from Brunswick, ME. I suspect the Fulbright folks, if they take my application seriously, will contact me by email, not snail mail. The subtext of that kerfuffle is that the scholarships are designed to be given to academics at institutions in the US, to which the grantee will return and where their experience will enrich their teaching. I hope to do the same at a college on Mount Desert Island, but I’m not based there at present, not yet having settled here. We’ll see if my application is successful.

The Wasp Chronicles continue. I was measuring my brother’s porch this evening so I could order some lumber tomorrow to replace the floor with him when he arrives on Saturday.  After measuring it all, I was aware of an all too familiar buzzing overhead. Sure enough, a huge nest was hanging from the rafters just above me. Luckily wasps cannot read minds, as I immediately realized I’d have to go back in the cold and dark, when they are cozied up together, and blast them. We’ll never be able to demolish and replace the floor if they are still there.

My cousin Jim is about 50yo, I’d guess. He began lobstering at 15yo and simultaneously knitting bait bags and lobster trap heads for himself and, later, commercially. It isnt his primary source of income as it pays very meagerly,  but it is meditative and satifying.  He demonstrated for me how he does it. The trap makers give him, say, 12 balls of heavy polydacron line. Jim has a setup with hooks and shuttles and a wooden guide around which to knit, which keeps everything even. He can only do it an hour a day or he gets carpal-tunnel syndrome.  After he uses up all the yarn, he returns to the trap company with the knit heads and they pay him by the number of balls of yarn he’s used. The heads can be machine-made but many lobstermen are willing to pay more to get hand-knits. Jim is quick, nimble, and exacting, which his size and demeanor belie. His mind is quick but he, in Maine fashion, doesn’t advertise it so it is pleasantly surprising to watch him put these together. Like hearing for the first time someone singing and realizing what a good voice they have. Old-time skills are preserved, thankfully, by such as him.

Bulletin from The Water Department: Turbidity Reigns.  I noticed that the well was gradually silting in and there were leaves lying on the bottom, as well. Nephew Rob agreed we should deepen it.  I planned to don my wet suit and booties and drop down into it with a bucket on a rope. He had other, far better plans.  I found him in the barn drilling holes in the handle of an old saucepan which he then screwed to the handle of a homemade canoe paddle. We took turns leaning over and scooping out sand, gravel, and leaves and lowered the floor of the well by 6 inches. We left it turbid and I put a note on the pump generator, optimistically saying not to pump for 3 hours to allow the turbidity to settle. Thirty hours later it was still turbid. Someone in our group of gaffers gathered at the well-head had the bright idea of pumping the water out of the well, spraying it into the bushes using a relief faucet, and letting it refill normally (crystalline). We did and it (was). Problem resolved. There must have been a lot of small particles of clay or dirt in there, like all the trashy small-minded self-serving agendas in our Congress. Wish we could just flush them out and start afresh. I’m waiting to see someone try to use the modified paddle in a kayak!

I just finished Mark Richard’s House of Prayer No. 2, which is a terrific read even if it makes me feel like my life is cautious and boring. It is solitary here now, with my sister and her son, Rob, gone; she’s returning to Cape Town to be with her daughter and family. We were having supper up the hill last night with Anadine and she had made my sister a birthday cake. 88yo. We sang to her and suddenly she was weeping and looked vulnerable, like a little girl, feeling loved and so wanting to feel that and surprised and slightly embarrassed by it. It was very touching for me, especially because it’s what all of us want if we are honest enough to risk knowing it. Even DT. Anyway, I was trying to say that now being alone for a bit is nice in many ways, not lonely, and food stretches. [Brother] Chas left two steaks when he was here over the 4th. I grilled them and one fed three of us a few nights ago. I’ve had two meals from the second and there are probably two meals left on it. But if I were eating in a restaurant, I would have eaten a whole steak at one sitting. Why, I wonder?

On a lighter note, I decided to hold a blind Scotch whiskey tasting after supper and birthday cake. Three of us were blind. I could see but needed to pour and joined in the tasting.  In one corner we have 12 year aged Bruichladdich (Est. 1881) Rocks, “an unpeated Islay single malt whiskey of elegance and sophistication. Bruichladdich alone uses water that has filtered through 1,800 million year old gneiss rocks—the oldest rocks in the whiskey world.” About $80/bottle at Liquor Barn.  In the other corner we have Scoresby, “Very Rare blended Scotch whiskey. This delightful blend of selected light-bodied whiskies possesses mellowness to please the exacting taste of the connoisseur. Aged for 30 months. Drink Responsibly”. About $8 a bottle wherever fine beverages are sold.  The outcome of the contest—-you guessed it. Scoresby was the winner, unanimously! It just shows—something. That Scots can market. That drinking either of them to excess can make you vomit. That both dull your sexual performance equally. That we are not a discriminating group of sippers. I wish I’d brought from Malawi for the contest a bottle of Harriers Scotch Whiskey, complete with an English setter romping across the bucolic label. Trouble is, nowhere on the bottle does it say where it is made or by whom distributed. At $6/bottle it costs 1/3 more than Malawi gin but you may go blind as well, accounting for the premium price. I’m actually not much of a drinker and sleep better without, despite your assumptions from the above discussion.

At her request, I’ve packed my ex-wife’s effects here in boxes and bags.  [I offered to buy out her interest in our cabin so we wouldn’t have to argue over the details of sharing it; she accepted.]  I’ve carried them all into the barn loft where they’ll be safe and dry and clean until I can no longer come here and she’ll return with the kids who shall inherit it. What a sadness this has been. The cabin is rife with ghosts.

The difficulty with a blog is that it is so public.  Sometimes I want to write very personal feelings that really aren’t appropriate for a public forum. Which is by way of saying I hope this isn’t too dull, because I’m aware I’m pulling my punches at times.

My life is set to improve manifold as Linda leaves Malawi in a day. She is soaring, with advancing projects there and speaking engagements here. She works hard and smart and is a poster child for the success that can accrue with loving industry.


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