Home Sweet Home

12 November 2017

[Above photo: From top to bottom, a soldier, a lion, a goat. See below*.]

Our cottage has metal-framed casement-style windows without cranks, like most of the houses and buildings here. We keep the windows open always, although when Linda was gone I shut those in unused rooms to cut down on the dust. Each morning as we lie in bed and daylight creeps into our world, a friendly house sparrow perches on our bedroom window and sings and chatters. Our view of her is unobstructed and we can see how she opens her beak and bobs her tail each time she utters a message. It is darling and if she awakens before us, it’s the price we pay for wildlife at the window. Also, I’ve noticed that the extremely handsome white-browed robin chats (basically, robins dressed to party) are filling the niche that the pied wagtails did last Spring. They rule the yard, hopping about the lawn, flying into the bushes, bathing in the birdbath. I’ll be sad to see them go. Robins on our lawn, for me as a child, were a reliable symbol of normalcy and predictability in a pretty chaotic family.

The rains are beginning. We’ve had a few light ones but this morning an hour after Linda headed for church the heavens opened and emptied. It is intermittent; now we have thunder and lightening at 11AM. Thinking I’d keep her dry, I drove to the church, Catholic Institute, and texted her to let me know when the service ended. I watched people exit the church and awaited her reply for an hour, but finally I heard nothing and no one was exiting. I don’t know the times of the various services there, so I’ve returned home and am writing this, hoping she’ll get my text. [She didn’t until she came home but wasn’t soaked.]

She made an incredible supper for Stefan and Lucy (and us) last night. Our oven is out so she made a flatbread in the wok and served it with olive tapenade to accompany the gin and tonics. I grilled a filet mignon over charcoal and cooking briquettes. She made a fabulous salad, all from the garden—julienned beets, kohlrabi, and carrots on a bed of lettuce—, a pasta with a caramelized onion/sundried tomato sauce that makes me salivate when I think of it. and eggplant rolled in panko crumbs (made from an old loaf of homemade bread) and fried. For dessert, vanilla ice cream with a hot local ginger fritter and sliced mango. We then drank whiskey and ate dark chocolate until sated and staggering.

It is difficult for Stefan and Lucy to figure out their next move. Lucy, having worked for years in Cairo for Al Jazzera, would like to spend more time in the Middle East. She wants to go to Lebanon, but the current situation there appears unstable. Stefan wants to pursue a PhD in the UK to facilitate an academic/research career. However, because of Brexit, he couldn’t get a job in UK after 2019.  It is strange for me to think of him having the virtually unlimited freedom (and frustrations) of his current job as the Director of the Department of Mental Health at the only medical school in the country and then to think about him returning to fight his way up a crowded hierarchy, sharp elbows jabbing him, as an early-midcareer academic.

We are getting a good soaking as I write. Maybe the bloodsucker rumors will cease as people turn their attention to planting. Certainly they’ll want to resume sleeping indoors. We still have time (6PM) and location (urban Blantyre) curfews, which is getting old. A number of the new volunteers, who were permanently pulled from their sites after only being there 1 ½ months, have taken Interrupted Service: basically, an honorable discharge. I guess it wasn’t for them. It is easy to imagine, as they have neither electricity, internet, English-speaking peers, or an interesting diet in their little villages. It is a trying experience, being a basic 2 1/2year volunteer, learning a new language, trying to figure out how to be effective in a very different culture, surrounded by poverty and hunger, and isolated from peers at their age. Peace Corps labels it “The hardest job you’ll ever love.”

Seeing old photos of Linda in 1979-82, as a regular PC volunteer in northern Malawi , as a young bride, a young mother, and a young nurse, carrying her newborn on her back tied on with a chitenje or astride her Peace Corps-supplied motorcycle preparing to head out to a (even more) rural clinic, I am struck by her appearance of confidence and competence.  It was an early step in an amazing life trajectory, working to help women all over the world. Oh, to be young again, knowing what I do now!

*I saw the boy in clinic on Monday who had been intentionally castrated at 7yo. The above drawing suggests his mental state. The lion is angry because he is hungry. He’s hunting the goat. The goat is fearful and sad because he knows his life is about to end. And the soldier at the top, far from protecting the goat from the lion, also wants to kill the goat.  He is all of those—lion, goat, soldier—and more. We’ll proceed in metaphor for as long as the child wants. I won’t push him to explore the details of his amputations, letting him know by my attitudes that I am willing to listen, unafraid and uncritically, to anything he says. He is such a sweet and smart boy that I have hope for him. But I need to train others more directly to do psychotherapy with children, since my time here is limited.

I’ll begin a series of minilectures in our Wednesday morning clinic meeting, starting with child development and in what ways seeing a child in therapy is different than seeing an adult. It will help me to review it all, as well. Hopefully enough others will want to see children that the clinic will continue.

Time is flying! Taking vacation into consideration, we have less than 7 months of work left here. I have had a new thought. If I don’t get the Fulbright to SE Asia or if, for some reason, it doesn’t look like what I want, I can return here twice a year for 7 or 8 weeks to teach medical students and work in the clinics. I’m sure I could get housing, even if I have to shoulder the other expenses (flight, food). I have a car here and am sure I can store it easily.  I like the idea of keeping my hand in, especially the child mental health clinic and the child study group.

Working here is realizing a long-held dream of mine.  I am remarkably fortunate to be able to realize a number of my dreams.

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