Food and Friends

[Above photo: The drawing made last year by my then-13yo patient describing his attack by a woman with a panga knife, giving him a subdural hematoma, large lacerations on the scalp, left arm, left thorax, and left tibia, fracturing the latter.  A neighbor rescued him from being killed.  Note the minimal facial details: that is, emotional expression.]

1 October 2017

It has been a busy week and that continues this weekend. I’ve been out to supper with friends every night except Monday, when I had a pre-supper orgy of donuts at the Blantyre Child Study Group meeting. Anna, the school counselor and PE teacher at St. Andrews International Secondary School where we hold our meetings, is an active member of the group and generously arranges for us to all have snack food [samosas/ egg rolls/cookies] and tea supplied for our meetings every two weeks. Oh, I gave a slide presentation on Wednesday for the Malawi Mountain Club members about some of our hikes, walks, and strolls in S. Africa last Christmas, which was preceded by supper at the venue.  The other presenter told a tale of a truly harrowing climb, with ropes and crampons and ice axes and 2 guides and 4 porters, up a 16,000+ foot peak in western Uganda. Wet, dangerous, cold, people die there every year—-I no longer have that need!  Friday night was a very moving concert of Yom Kippur music, performed by four musicians. The violinist, a Family Medicine physician here for many years, is Jewish and put it together. The minor scale is so beautifully evocative of the suffering Jews have endured throughout history, especially in Russia and [eastern] Europe.

I’m having two dinner parties for friends this weekend: one last night and one tonight.  How Linda does this entertaining thing, enjoys it, and makes it look effortless, I’ll never know. Plus, she’s a great cook. I spent yesterday morning in the Blantyre Central Market, getting vegetables and fruit; then I biked to Shoprite at the other end of town to get the rest. Cooked much of the afternoon, when I wasn’t cleaning the house, since Catherine is now banished to being a guard and doing laundry only. She was not a skilled house cleaner, to say the least. Linda thinks it is because no one has taught her. I think it’s because she doesn’t care or pay much attention to where the broom actually goes. I’ve gotten so bad that I’ll see a dead bug or small scrap of paper on the floor, note it in my mind, and see if it is gone after she “cleans”. Never disturbed. Plus, she was making popcorn, spilling it all over and not cleaning it up, and used about a quarter of a bottle of our olive oil.

Last night we had brie with (my) homemade sweet potato chips for appetizer, two roast chickens stuffed with lemons and covered with olive oil, salt, lemon zest and garlic. Roasted tiny potatoes, with thyme and garlic. And a huge salad with all sorts of vegetables, mainly from the garden. And brownies with fresh strawberries and yoghurt, brought by the Carolines, for dessert. Everything, I mean all of it, was eaten. Graham and Caroline brought a friend from UK, Andy, who was “passing through”. Actually, Andy has been on the road for 14 months, cycling from London to Cape Town on a mountain bike. Fit and with a corresponding 6000 cal/day appetite. We had a great time.

Tonight I’ll make a risotto with bacon and mushrooms with a big salad and more strawberries. The uncertainty factor is that I cannot find Arborio rice anywhere. The closest I can get is sushi rice, which is sweet and sticky and I think may work. I thought to mix it with regular long grain rice but they may have differential cooking times which would be problematic. Maybe I’ll rise to make some bread (no pun intended). And, as a finale, dark chocolate while sipping whiskey. Take your choice, Harriers or Conquistador (although I cleverly poured the latter into the empty Strathisla 12yo Single Malt bottle to distract people before the blind tasting I’ve planned.) It is lunchtime, which may account for my focus on food—sounds like a cooking show.

I’m laughing my way through Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. Next up is Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain by George Masood. He and a friend start at Land’s End in Cornwall in Union Jack boxer shorts only (no shoes, no $), planning to get to John 0’ Groats at the northern tip of Scotland in 3 weeks.  Not sure why these funny and preposterous tales appeal, but they do.

I presented at the first PACHA conference, an all-Malawi organization for anyone working with kids. It was a 3 day affair at a fancy Chinese hotel in Lilongwe. It was a lot of fun and I have great hopes for the organization if they can be truly multidisciplinary and not collapse into hierarchy with physicians at the top. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is very much a guild organization, which I think is short-sighted and stupid.

I finally got my Certificate of Fitness from Road Traffic and am driving around. I use my bike always, unless it is dark or I’m going a long way and need to be not sweaty at the end because it’s a party and there will be others there.

I’ll try not to rant about DT, though it is difficult for me: the plundering, the lies, the pathetic appointments of ultrawealthy guys and their trophy wives who feel, painfully, the sacrifices they are making for the country and how the latter entitle them to very expensive perks. It is disgusting. I do enjoy the fairly frequent editorials that contrast DT’s quotations on the campaign trail and now, seeing how he has had no intention, really, of helping anyone but himself. Ever. Those who see a clever, larger, more generous intelligence operating behind his lying bluster are sadly wrong.

I am awaiting news from the Fulbright folks about my application to go to SE Asia January 2019. Even as I do, I feel more attached to Malawi and to the new friends I’m making and to our sweet little house and everything. Even though Malawi’s trajectory in the long run appears hopeless to me. The Pediatric Mental Health Clinic expands to two rooms as of tomorrow and there will be medical students in one room and a registrar (resident) in the other, both of whom I’ll mentor.  Also, the three psychiatric nurses from Room 6 will rotate through.  Since they all have raised their own children and are smart, I expect that in 9 months they can oversee a credible quality of service there. Sustainability is everything here

The past 2 weeks have seen major concerns around a rural area southeast of here about people sneaking into villages at night and “bloodsucking”. So much so that a Belgian couple were beaten and 3 Malawians, on another occasion, killed and burned. People are sleeping in the open, forming protection committees in the villages, and even attacking the police, who they think are in cahoots with the “bloodsuckers”.  Peace Corps has evacuated all of their volunteers from the area for now.  It feels a little like Deliverance to me: rural, uneducated, superstitious, frightened, violent. I think as the economy continues to spiral downward in the next 10 years, we’ll see an increase in this sort of thing.

I saw the boy 3 days ago in clinic who made the drawing at the top of this post. He was attacked a year ago by a woman with a panga knife. His mother has gotten him into a private boarding school where he is doing very well. Saved him, she did, demonstrating a mother’s tenacity. They are poor as churchmice, so she must have found a scholarship.

I’m heading up Mulanje with friends next weekend to stay at their cabin. It is, I believe, the only privately-owned cabin on top of the massif. The woman is an acupuncture therapist who is the Child Protection worker in a local private primary school; her husband is the head of Pediatric Surgery at the College of Medicine. Both his parents were physicians here, luminaries really, and he and his siblings were all born here. Sort of medical royalty. They are both fun and smart and generous and I look forward to the trip, wishing Linda were here to join us.

I think it is time to eat and do a bit more shopping for tonight’s supper. People are very kind and look out for me, in Linda’s absence, thinking that I’ll be heating up a can of beans or some such. This morning I had a custard apple, two cups of tea, a fabulous omelet with cheese, chives and chard (from the garden), and a toasted slice of my homemade bread with S African apricot jam. I do OK.


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