In Memoriam

[Above photo:  At the Robberg Nature and Marine Reserve on S. Africa’s Garden Route. ]

29 October 2017

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying. —John Masefield


It was so good to visit family in Cape Town. Everyone was warm and welcoming, despite the constant backdrop of Christopher’s death. He had idiopathic myocardial hypertrophy [not previously diagnosed], in addition to a pulmonary embolus, on autopsy in Dakar (previously I said Accra, as that is where I thought the plane landed). My niece orchestrated a wonderful party of celebration and remembrance of Christopher in their pretty backyard. Lots of good catered food, although the catering truck broke down en route and some things were delayed in arriving, like ice for the beer! Many people came and many had worked with Chris from the time he was working on his Ph.D. to the present. There was an outpouring of love, admiration, appreciation, and humor which greatly enriched my picture of who he was. I generally only saw him at our island, marinated—or marooned— in my family’s relations. To me he often didn’t seem to be  particularly happy on the island, which is often the case with spouses,  understandably.  However when he was relaxing with Deirdre, discovering things with their son, Jacob, trimming grass or felling trees, or riding the Velociraptor, a gaudy purple and yellow pontoon boat with a bicycle mounted on top, he relaxed into pleasure.  The Velociraptor’s bicycle chain drives a propeller, and it really does!  He, at 6’10”, perched and folded on top of the watercraft looked like a huge, exotic prehistoric waterfowl.

I came away feeling grateful that I was able to go and share this time with them.  My niece is so capable, has such a fine mind, and is so lacking in pretense. And Jacob is a fun, curious, multitalented boy who will miss his father terribly, and will be fine, I believe. He has many well-recognized features of resiliency, including being smart, hard-working, appealing, and very engaging, as well as having a devoted mother and a supportive extended family. Moira, their long-time housekeeper, is a kind, savvy, and loving woman.  My nephew, Rob, was, as always, steadily and effectively kind, generous, and helpful.  And my sister, bless her, is a treasure at times like these.

My return to Lilongwe from Cape Town promised to unroll like a Marx Brothers’ skit. My through-ticket was to return me to Blantyre, as I optimistically thought I’d return there within 10 days of being consolidated to Lilongwe. When Peace Corps insisted I return to Lilongwe, they graciously bought me a ticket for the Blan-LL leg. But since it was an add-on, I was assured by all Malawi Airline personnel in Joberg and Cape Town that I’d have to deplane, check through customs, go through security again, and re-board the same plane. And that there wouldn’t be enough time to do it all. I could see myself scuttling along, elbowing people out of the way—“Excuse me. Pepani. I have to get on that plane I just got off. Zicomo.”—and generally acting badly to go along with protocol. Thankfully, one of the flight attendants told me just to sit tight on the plane and she’d fix it. Which she did. Crisis averted. Bless Malawian flexibility, kindness, and accommodation. I believe that the violence in the south has settled and life is resuming its normal, hungry contours for the villagers. It would have been fun to sleep at home a night but it would have caused all manner of worry and problems for PC Admin and they have enough in their backpacks, what with 50+ regular (read 24yo, average age) volunteers consolidated in LL and trying to figure out what to do with them all. Many may not be able to go back to their sites and there aren’t nearly enough available other village sites in Malawi to settle them. Plus, they really can’t go to other countries as they haven’t had the cultural and language training (2-3 months) to prepare them for such a switch.

I’ve just finished the book I mentioned on the history of Malawi by the former Norwegian ambassador. It turns out that 100 years ago, later at independence, then at the end of Kamuzu Banda’s 30 year presidency, and currently Malawi has always had a lower per capita income than the surrounding countries, even though it ranks better than many on some other parameters. The population is too dense and getting more so, HIV has devastated so many families, transportation of exports is very expensive since we are landlocked, the soil is exhausted from years of planting maize only and from the loss of topsoil by erosion associated with deforestation, and so forth. Yet the people are so kind, sweet, and generous, if terrified and superstitious at times. Still, let’s recall that we entered Iraq on false pretenses and the UN and Johns Hopkins University estimated that we killed between 200,000 and 300,000 civilians, which puts 8+ innocents accused of bloodsucking [and later killed] into perspective. And they really were scared, if unnecessarily. We, however, had simply wanted Iraqi oil and another foothold in the Middle East.  And if African strongmen are corrupt and arrogant, what about our homegrown variety of the same?  It makes me feel bleak about our collective future, especially as Japan, S. Korea, Vietnam, etc. are all seriously considering developing nuclear missile capacity.

BLAM====I just hit the wall and will have to continue this tomorrow. I briefly fell asleep while typing!

I’ve been visiting the psychiatric facilities of St. John of God in LL while I am here.  I want to see how they do it. I was terribly impressed with their mental health services in Mzuzu.  Here it is new and spacious and pretty and the patients are getting excellent care from well-trained Clinical Officers. It goes to show that task shifting is a viable manpower approach in mental health care, as in many areas of medicine. The facility consists of a number of attractive one and two story brick buildings on a large plot of land with their signature landscaping. Some structures are in process, others fully functional. Eventually they will have acute and rehabilitation inpatient units for men and women, a rehabilitation workshop building and programs, a substance-abuse residential treatment facility, an outpatient clinic, and a program for learning disabled children and teens with vocational training programs. And probably more. But very comprehensive. Morning report began today with someone saying how Respect was a core value for them and others then contributing what Respect meant to them in that setting. It set a wonderful tone for the meeting that followed. There was an opening prayer and a closing prayer. Then the hand-over details of who had come in to hospital, who had left, and who absconded (No one. Why would anyone?) over the weekend.  I later sat in with a clinical officer as he saw patients and we discussed their diagnoses and management plans. It was refreshing and inspiring. Queens is a typical, poorly maintained big city/county-type hospital facility, crumbling. We do good work and good teaching and the medical students and registrars get an excellent mentored experience. It would be much nicer for all concerned—patients, students and staff—, however, if we had an attractive, functional building. Which may happen, as there are several plans for the same under consideration.

Linda has so many balls in the air right now I feel for her. Having her car break in NYC so that she must now retrieve it, repaired, two days before she flies to Malawi, just tipped her balance from a crowded agenda to a near-impossible one.

Speaking of impossible, let’s see what squeals and twists come from the White House, or whatever golf club he happens to be playing, as the indictments begin to arrive. He’s already trying to point his grabby  hands at Hillary, as if it were relevant to whatever his, or his family and associates’, misdeeds are. A childish technique of distraction.  I don’t know what laws either he or Hillary may have broken. Hers are hers, however, and his are his. I remember Bobby Spoon, in 4th grade, passing a loud fart and quickly pointing at the girl sitting in front of him, as if she were the culprit. Enough said, DT; and you wonder why people think of you as living in Romper Room?

When I think of Christopher, the word Integrity pops up. A fidelity to his values, as we heard repeatedly on Saturday at the celebration.  I suppose by that definition, DT has integrity; we can always count on him to be crude, boorish, uninformed, and selfish, employing dishonesty without remorse (or possibly even without recognition), to remain true to those values.


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