[Above photo: “Goat shit and corn husks for fertilizer. If you like the size of the Blue Lake beans and English peas, you should see the tomatoes!” ]
13 May 2018
We’re both sitting on the balcony of our tented chalet, just above the water of Lake Malawi at Blue Zebra Lodge on Nakoma Island. I won’t attempt to describe it, yet another beautiful setting in which we are cared for by gracious people. The rainbow skinks are everywhere; I cannot help thinking their mothers must be so proud to have such handsome offspring. Orange and black stripes and iridescent blue tails.
We are headed in two days to our Close of Service with Peace Corps, a final gathering of the GHSP volunteers in Malawi. We’ll share our experiences and learn to do all the things we should do to leave properly: electricity and water paid, no outstanding debts, close our bank accounts, get Medical and Dental exams, write our final exit reports, and on and on. I was impatient with the 5 pages of checklist but Linda pointed out how handy it was to have so we can actually finalize our departures. The two years seem to have passed in a trice, although at times when the work was really heavy they appeared to be endless.
It is inevitable to wonder, in these circumstances, if you have made a difference in any lasting way. And wonder I do. I did what I could and, while I can imagine doing some of it better, mostly I feel OK about my effort. Whether it was substantive or mutative is another matter.
I took Linda’s son and girlfriend to camp on Domwe Island, where we had an excellent time hiking (surprised a snake, must have been a mamba!), snorkeling (although her son finished before his girlfriend and I did and for about 10 minutes we couldn’t find him, with rising panic), eating (fresh-caught chambo, grilled and smoky), playing bao (like mancala), and laughing.
We went to the Kungoni (Mua) Cultural Center for a night to see the masks and other artifacts and to chat with Father Claude Boucher Chisala, a priest-anthropologist-artist who, over the past 50 years, has assembled a magnificent cultural history of the tribes of Malawi. Then home for a night and we set off early for Mulanje.
Meeting Samson and our 4 porters at the Mulanje boma, we drove the 28 km around the massif to Thuchila Lodge trailhead so we could ascent the Suicide Trail. It being latish to start up, we wanted to go swiftly to arrive at Chisepo Hut before dark. An hour into it, we were deluged for 3 hours from above and hiked, clambered, waded, and crawled up, up, up. It was pretty maximally taxing. Everything in our packs got soaked, all clothing, sleeping bags, etc. We dried clothing and sleeping bags in front of the fireplace, ate sumptuously, and concluded the day with Linda’s hot chocolate which includes cayenne and cheap whisky. Linda and I, at her suggestion, dragged mattresses onto the porch, found some old blankets, and snuggled in for the night. I was sure we’d awaken at 2, freezing, and have to move inside. Not so, and we slept nicely in fresh air, separate from the 8 other people sleeping inside in two rooms. It was a good choice on her part and not one I would have made.
The next day was damp but not drenching and instead of attempting to climb Sapitwa (literally “Don’t go there.” in Chichewa), the highest peak on the massif, we coasted to Thuchila Hut for the next night. Hiking up Mulanje is a great filter and almost everyone you meet is fun, interesting, and has a story to tell. Like the Canadian high school graduate who is spending a year bouncing around Africa. Or his current travel companion, a college student from Berkeley who did an elective in Uganda and now is adventuring. And on and on. Despite the difficulty of the climb, the ferocious storm, and our thorough soaking, it was a wonderful and memorable outing. Maybe because of the hardships. There is something satisfying about laughing down adversity.
Descending the Elephant Head, another of the very steep and slippery Mulanje trails, the fog lifted a minute to reveal a striking waterfall. I quoted the above from Keats and Paulina, instantly and without knowing the poem, responded. I loved it. For of course it is nonsense, although since Keats died at 20yo (?) we can forgive him overlooking the complexity of Truth(s).
Linda pointed out how I minimized my excitement re. the Fulbright in my last post. I am thrilled. I’ll go to Washington DC for orientation in about a month, then to Burma in January 2019. I’ll do it smarter than I did here, insofar as not taking on a large clinical load, if any. The opportunity is to teach, to learn, and to establish ties with colleagues in Mental Health. One year is a short time in this business; two years, I’m learning, is short. I’m not teaching a circumscribed procedure, like bedside ultrasound or reading an EKG, for which a shorter stay might be adequate. I loved Burma when I visited for a month some years ago and expect to again.
We talked with an Australian at Blue Zebra with his wife and 3 daughters who completed much of the first part of our trip to Namibia in 2 ½ weeks a couple of years ago. He has some good tips for us for several of the areas, especially that a 2 hour fly-over of the Okavango Delta is not to be missed. His description of a pride of lions, frustrated in their pursuit of a zebra, walking past their parked open safari vehicle, rubbing on the fenders—-“Don’t move! Don’t put your hand out!”—was chastening. And watching a leopard kill an antelope and drag it up into a tree (keeping the lions and hyenas away) suggests the possibility of a wonderfully raw experience.
Again, how lucky can I be, unfettered enough to take off to parts foreign and bring something useful? And to get a Fulbright at this late stage in my career? Just sitting on this balcony on an island in a sweet resort overlooking Lake Malawi and the Dedza Hills is pretty amazing. We’ll hike to the top of the island to watch the sunset this evening.
[This morning as we hiked the crest of the island, a sweet little duiker (think very small deer), was nosing and marking the path. We froze and for the next 15 minutes we moved very slowly and stopped at intervals. It turned and approached to within 3 feet of Linda. A good omen, I choose to think.]