The Seasons Turn

[Above photo: At play in the fields of the lord. Impala and wart hogs on the bank of the Shire River, Majete]

10 September 2017

Everything is beginning to blossom here. An immense tree in a neighbor’s yard, the identity of which I couldn’t tell, has declared itself: a jacaranda. It is exploding in purple, filling our front living room window. Days are starting to heat up and it will soon be impossible, or at least unwise, to wear a shirt 3-4 times between washings.  A magnificent—-not sure if she or he knows that—-skink was cruising the back wall yesterday. About 8″ long with a pointy skink nose, black body with dramatic longitudinal orange stripes, and a long irridescent blue tail, it seemed relatively unafraid of me. Our mango trees are blooming like crazy so I’m hoping for a good harvest which is kind of silly, given that Linda bought 45 for about $1.25 at the peak last year. Our stove has a defrosting mode with very low heat and a fan, so I’ll try to dry some when they arrive. BTW, the beef stew of the prior week was serviceable.  My thanks to Alan and Joe for a new, no doubt improved, recipe! I made a mountain of naan and discovered it is fabulous for grilled cheese sandwiches, adding a little hot Indian mango pickle inside.

Last weekend I packed my camping gear and rode in Peter and Caroline’s luxurious Prado to Majete.  We kept our day packs with lunch and water and two volunteers drove the heavy stuff across the park to where we’d camp. Then we hiked there in two groups of ten or so, each led by an armed park guard.  It was a walk, really, about 4-5 hours at a leisurely pace, along the Shire River. In addition to enjoying the cool breeze, we saw a fair bit of game, especially nyala, impala, warthogs, baboons, waterbucks, crocs, and hippos, along the way. It was pleasant to start to know an entirely new group of fun and interesting people in the outdoors. After we arrived at our campsite and set up our tents, we rode on a roof rack for 15 minutes to a tributary, shallow enough to discourage crocodiles.  We couldn’t actually swim, more wading and soaking in the 2′ deep channel and pools, a lovely, refreshing antidote to the dusty hike. We cooked supper over a fire and chatted, generally in three groups—the elders of the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi, the youngsters here after college to do some NGO work or vacation, and my group, 50+ (in my case, +++) folks living and working here. Nothing profound, a bit of concern about Brexit and about Trump, some travel stories (trekking for 2 months in Nepal), and general sizing each other up in a friendly way.  The hike out the next day was easy, punctuated by viewing several kudu carcasses of varied age, the results of lion or leopard kills, skirting a pride of lions with a cub, and sidestepping a single bull elephant who was stomping around. Alone the latter are worriesome, feeling more vulnerable and, thus, more aggressive.

I was invited to a braai (barbecue) last night by Caroline and Graham, whom I met on the Majete Walk. They are volunteers for about 6 months with Beehive, a large social enterprise, religious, and educational NGO (Beehive) from UK with all manner of amazing programs. The founder and main support is a telecom entrepreneur from UK.  What a vision he has had and what has been accomplished in only 10 years!

So yesterday afternoon I set out for Namiwawa on my bike. (I’d bought a used Nissan 4WD x-trail the day before but the paperwork wasn’t complete and I had no insurance so it sits in the driveway.) As I biked through the boma, downtown Blantyre, I heard a lot of loud and drunken shouting from crowds all in the street. Thinking that there was a fight or a demonstration I prepared to hightail it but quickly realized that the Bullets had won in overtime.  Soccer (football) has an enthsiastic fan base here! Getting to the Puma station 15 minutes early, I prepared to text or call Caroline who was going to pick me up. Then I realized I didn’t have her phone #. So I sent an email. No response. [As I carefully re-read our correspondence, we were simply to meet at 5:15, no calls needed. Aak!]  I thought, I’ll just find their home and headed down the road to Chilomoni. Asking pedestrians, minibus drivers, etc., as the kilometers added up I gradually got warmer and warmer until, on a very rough dirt track I found the headquarters of Beehive. One of the gate guards knew Graham and offered to show me the way. Let me say, especially as dusk was falling by then, I would never, ever, have found them on my own. Down dirt tracks so rough we often had to walk—“This is a shortcut”.—we finally arrived at a bucholic compound of small houses, workshops, dormitories, a swimming pool, and a large house for communal eating, all set in a gorgeous, sloped park. Their vegetable gardens are not so successful as the baboons eat everything! And the aquaculture ponds are not being used currently, their champion having decamped.

We gathered, Caroline, Graham, myself and 6 others from Beehive and drank and ate barbecue, and fraternized until late. When it was time to go, I reflected to myself on what interesting tales everyone had. One of the wonderful things about volunteering for an NGO is that they usually feed and house you and living expenses are minimal.  When you return home, not only are you richer for your experiences, your pension has been accumulating and you are wealthier, as well, than when you left.

Capitalism, with its infinite need for growth and consumption, is clearly an incredibly powerful economic engine but, ultimately, because it is indifferent to people and the environment and so difficult to control, it is going to end our stay on this sweet planet. [I’m listening to Yo Yo Ma play a sad and lovely piece by Gabriel Faure, which accentuates my fatalistic outlook at the moment.]

In Pediatric Mental Health Clinic three days ago I saw a 15yo girl from a village who has been passing urine without control for 2 years, leaving her smelling ammoniacal and unable to be in school. Three hospitalizations for investigations have yielded no cause, although one pelvic examination noted that her hymen was not intact. I asked her mother if she had ever wondered if her daughter had been sexually molested. She had wondered that, and someone in a private clinic had told her she had been “spiritually raped”, likely by her grandmother. Strangely, a traditional healer they visited agreed. Asking about family relations, she said that her father loved her the best of all 5 children. My blood ran cold and I referred her to One Stop Center, where she can be evaluated and have counselling for sexual abuse. For two years she has been trying to tell someone in her own way. It is a pretty good protection from unwanted sexual advances. There is apparantly a great need among those who have evaluated her to not think she may have been raped. Why we want to assume that feelings are puny and relatively unimportant in our physical functioning is beyond me. It’s the same in much of the US.

Our path forward with North Korea has been so land-mined by DT it is difficult to know how to proceed. Perceived intention is such an important part of diplomacy, which is just another way of saying human relationships. His bullying, dishonest, and bragging utterances close the door to mutual, thoughtful discussion and highlight how very insecure—and, thus, dangerous—he is. Where is the vengeful god of the Israelites when we need him! A little smiting here, please!





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