READY?

[Above photo: The Room 6 Crew: (L to R) Charles, Joyce, Millie, Linly, and me. ]

10 June 2018

I missed a week again! I am racing around, tying up the many loose ends. I returned this afternoon from Cape Town (8 hours in planes and airports), where I visited my sister (89yo this summer), her daughter, Deirdre, and Jacob, D.’s 11yo son. My sister, Nan, had an episode of confusion and weakness recently and was hospitalized for a few days. It seems her serum sodium level was very low, which will certainly cause the above symptoms, but is completely reversible with water restriction. She is back to where she was when I visited them in October. Deirdre is amazing, with many sophisticated and ambitious projects to improve S. Africa’s oceanographic capabilities and Jacob is a whiz. They are clearly thriving in Cape Town in a way that would be difficult in the much more expensive arena of Bethesda from whence they came. Jacob is a Scout (always coed in S Africa), plays cricket and soccer, excels in school, won a nationwide contest in his age group for robotics, does Tai Kwando, can solve very complex Rubix cubes in a jiffy {with effort and luck I can solve one face of the very basic cube!), is learning Afrikaans, and has lots of friends and is a great guy.  Their house has a swimming pool, is a block from a park and 2 blocks from Jacob’s school, and has  a convenient guest house on the property. To cope with the drought in Cape Town, they installed, underground, two large tanks to collect rainwater off the roof along with a system to manage it. They also are very close, but out of earshot, to a major train station. Just goes to show—-some important principle which escapes me at this minute!

I head for DC in 3 days to visit family in Williamsburg and then to the PDO (pre-departure orientation) for the Fulbright.  It is doing strange things to me to feel so rootless. I said goodbye to the Cape Towners, knowing I won’t see them for 1 ½ or 2 years. Linda will join me for some of it but, basically, I’ll be on my own, meeting new people for my social needs and interests, and working in a novel terrain, although in a field I know quite well. It is just such a dramatic change from being part of a couple, a nuclear family, an extended family, a network of close friends and colleagues, etc. for most of my adult life. Part of me dreads it, fearing I’ll be too lonely and lose my bearings, part of me looks forward to it with excitement and a sense of adventure. My sister asked, “Why are you doing this?” I replied, “Because it seems exciting to me and possibly of value to others.” I think she was asking why I was leaving the familiar, including family, behind. (Of course, she moved to Africa with her daughter and grandson a few years ago, as I pointed out to her!) A difficulty at my (or her) age, especially, is that the likelihood of it being the last time we meet is somewhat increased. That saddens me but it isn’t a reason to desist what is interesting and exciting to any of us.

There was a Farewell party for Stefan last week at Bombay Palace, including the Clinic Nurses, the Clinic Clerk, the Mental Health Users and Carers Volunteer, the Registrars, the three graduated Malawian psychiatrists, members of the department, some prominent researchers in Mental Health, and others. It was very sweet and it wasn’t until the giving of gifts that I realized it was for me, as well. We got new chitenjes, and modelled them for the crowd. This has been an incredible experience for me and Stefan has been a huge part of it. We’ve been together in the trenches and if we’ve irritated each other at times, overall we’ve developed a friendship borne of joint struggle and shortages and too many complex and ill patients. The evening was sweet and the food excellent Indian. At the end the organizer ran out of Kwatcha, so Stefan and I ponied up the difference. Then those of us with cars took the others home. My charge lived in a tiny village outside of the town proper, down a long, very rough dirt track. At night it was a bit dicey, as there are no streetlights. It does bring home, again, how low the pay is for healthcare (and most government) workers in Malawi and how modestly they must live.

Catherine, our guard, asked me for 65 cents for minibus fare for her and her eldest daughter, Ruth, whom she said had malaria and was very sick. This was Wednesday evening. She was going to take her to the hospital in the morning. I sent her home from work and made her promise to take her daughter to the hospital that evening. The next morning, as I was preparing to head to the airport (for CT), Catherine came by on her way to visit her daughter who had been admitted to hospital the previous evening. She must have been pretty ill and I’m glad to have pressed for it.

Linda just returned from the US where she’s been for 2 weeks and from E. London, S. Africa where she went with two Malawian colleagues to visit a model midwifery ward. The long and short of it is that they were treated very well, accomplished what she wanted and then some (activating the other faculty about pushing forward the model midwifery ward for Queens), and was very taken with the level of knowledge, organization, and graciousness of her hosts and the quality of the facility. If they come to visit Queens, they will have a shock, given the rats, the lack of sheets, food, staff, etc. for patients, and pretty much everything else. This is a poor, poor country.

I’m wearing out and have left a lot of the past 2 weeks out but need to sleep. I’ll attempt to be more assiduous with my postings—I know, promises, promises. I suppose I’ll get a new domain name for the Burma letter.

 

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