Set?

18 June 2018

[Above photo: Carl Brousseau shows us a snake on Mulanje.]

I’m riding the train from Williamsburg, Virginia to DC. My pre-departure orientation for the Fulbright starts this afternoon. I am eager for it to begin. And, more so, the placement. But I have wonderful things in between, as well. Boy, you got to slow that Mustang down!

I had a wonderful visit with Pat, my sister-in-law, her husband Tom, and her three sons, Roger, Keith, and Gordon. The latter three are all such interesting, fun, and caring men, each true to their father’s legacy. My brother, Roger, really chose the best; he was discerning without being picky and Pat is the smartest, loveliest woman. Tom is struggling with the ravages of old age and lots of trauma in his life but I still find him very interesting in conversation. He is pretty frail, I think, and as he was leaving to go to bed last night he said, “Have a good rest of your life.” I won’t see him again for 18-24 months, since I’ll be in Burma starting December for a year. Death is so strange, like magic. A person is there, with all their history and baggage and habits, and then they aren’t there. In a wink, sometimes.

Anyway, it was great to visit and catch up and watch re-runs of the Tracy Ullman show and laugh with them. I was jet-lagged, getting about 5 hours of sleep each night,  and would drift off like a gomer in the evening when we watched TV together. I’m gradually settling into Eastern Daylight Time and in 4 days I’ll be 6 hours off, back in Blantyre. A whipsaw of my sleep-wake cycle.

Pat reads 3 books a week and is, thus, sharp as a tack. The boys each have passions, often related to work—lucky for them. Gordy has written a memoir of their shipwreck in the Atlantic when their father died; that and a novel are with his agent, being shopped around. He is starting on another book. Keith is effortlessly fluent with IT and is very successful with his contracts with the government. He helped me immensely with several IT issues that were beyond my ken—it doesn’t have to be much to exceed my abilities but his skills make him appear the magician! And Roger is knowledgeable about almost anything I ask; he is the consummate scientist and has an astounding breadth of knowledge, from turmeric-infused “Golden Milk” to mass spectroscopy to sorting massive volumes of data into useful bites. They all love to laugh and have a lot of life experience, as well.   I often find myself relating to them as the authorities, which is pretty darn nice, if you think about it.

In the past few weeks I omitted to talk about a wonderful trip I took up Mulanje. It was Sophie’s birthday and she celebrates it each year at their cabin on top of Mulanje. It’s the only privately-held hut there. They’ve invited me before but, because of the blood-suckers, I couldn’t go. Then I was sick with a cold and Linda went without me. This time I also was 3 days into a cold, with a runny nose and cough, but was not going to lie in bed and feel dumb and sorry for myself. Everyone went up Friday to spend two nights at the cabin. My farewell party was Friday night so I planned to go up Saturday and Sophie kindly volunteered to accompany me.

The walk was glorious, the prettiest yet for me up Mulanje. Tiny waterfalls in fern-crowded glens, strange-shaped rocks—one was a perfect skiff—, and views of all creation, which conveniently kept shifting. I struggled, being ill, but arrived at the top feeling pleased that I had and the others there were welcoming. Carl, an environmentalist, kept catching gorgeous non-venomous snakes to show us. We felt sorry for the large party we could see (barely) climbing Sapitwa to camp for the night. I feared I’d be cold, as it is winter and at elevation.  Why would I have brought my good sleeping bag to tropical Africa? Eric provided two extra bags and their dog, Ticky (?sp), curled up and slept next to me all night, a still, silent heater. Jill and Terie made wonderful food, cooked outside over an open fire, and Sophie and I destroyed the other two pairs at Scrabble. Sophie saw “debased” and we unloaded all our letters onto a triple word score box. Simple pleasures! I sometimes like games where you are encouraged to be mean to the others; croquet is a perfect example. Lots of laughter as you send the leader’s ball into the weeds.

Everyone I know loves train travel. This one is pretty slow, with long pauses, even backing up once to get on another track to let a freight pass. But I’m not in a hurry and it is so smooth and effortless. Our President is missing the boat (train) in trying to revive Old Coal and Weary Steel when we should be leading the world in alternative energy and preparing for the demise of the individual automobile by building a comprehensive rail system.

And children in cages. Jesus, it boggles the mind! His cruelty, stupidity, and short-sightedness know no bounds. Life is so difficult for impoverished people anyway. Add vicious gangs threatening and exploiting them. Then a cruel leader who thinks to use separating children from their parents as a deterrent. When the public is outraged, his Eminence tries to shake off his responsibility by lying about it. “It’s those nefarious Democrats.” I see the American Academy of Pediatrics came out strongly against it. While the president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a letter on the Academy website, I have not seen a strong position in the media taken by the organization. It makes me ashamed of being a part of it. Perhaps there was a vigorous but silent lobbying effort that I don’t know of, but I doubt it. AACAP has been a toothless organization for many years, unless biting the critics of Big Pharma. Time for me to give this post a rest, I think.

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