Burmese Haze

[Above photo: Why is this woman smiling as she strides along at Mile 24 of the NY Marathon? ]

11 November 2018

As winter sets in, with cold mornings, shortening days, and snow flurries yesterday, I am still awaiting permission to apply for my visa to Myanmar. I can see Burma vaguely in my future. Whatever obscure reasons are hindering approval, the process is shrouded and nowhere transparent.

The weather in Yangon yesterday was: temperature 87/76 F, humidity 90%, and thundershowers. The advice is “Don’t bring a rain jacket, as it will be too humid to wear it.” Blantyre was 82/58, 27% humidity, and sunny; the rainy season hasn’t begun. Since it is at 3000 feet, it is a milder clime.   I’ll be happy to be in Myanmar, no matter the weather.

Our country breathed a sigh of relief after the elections. Not that a liberal agenda can be moved forward with the current Tweeter-in-Chief, the Supremes (So many offers of new, younger ribs for Ruth!), and the Mitch lining up his Yes-Men, but at least investigations of corruption can advance and perhaps the most egregious of His Ploys can be foiled. Now is the time for smart Dems to show their strategic chops. I’m a terrible chess player and cannot think 6 moves ahead but I know there are plenty of people out there who can.

Linda and I canvased to get out the vote on Election Day, first in Hancock County and in the afternoon in Southwest Harbor. What a contrast! Single and double-wides in the former, except for very large and fancy houses on waterfront, and lovely old salt boxes and federalists in the latter. The poverty of rural Maine is something I’ve largely encountered only while driving past it or at the Goodwill store in Ellsworth, when I am buying throwaway clothes to wear in Myanmar.  At the end of a muddy, rutted road in the woods I knocked on the door of a trailer. An elderly man wearing a gray union suit, with a large hole at the right elbow, answered. I thought, has he a shotgun in there? To my surprise, he was friendly and chatty and on the kind and benevolent side of the great divide in this election. We talked for a bit and his understanding of our current predicament was bell-clear. Next, at the end of another muddy road with many pickups parked outside and people laughing inside, was a double-wide. A 30ish woman came out and shut the door behind her, tensely saying that her mother, after whom I’d asked, wouldn’t be coming out to speak with me. She was totally wired and it was disconcerting to see her continuously flipping her dentures with her tongue in 360’s as she nervously responded to my inquiry. Having a speed party inside, I’d guess. Likely they’ve given up on the election process as a way to secure help. Next Linda went to a small house with a disabled ramp to find a 50yo amputee and her 70yo mother with their caretaker. Linda, it turns out, had delivered the caretaker’s first child.  The younger resident claimed they had applied for absentee ballots and hadn’t received them. We drove to the polling place and used the phone to discover: 1) the older woman hadn’t applied for her absentee ballot; 2) the younger woman’s ballot had been sent to the correct address—likely it got buried in the chaos of the household; and, 3) we were unable to secure  handicap transport for either of them.  They couldn’t vote.

In the afternoon we went from comfortable house to elegant home in Southwest Harbor. Linda knew a number of the residents and they all had voted. The streets were paved and, as the rain poured, we wearied of the task.  We didn’t anyone who was ambivalent about voting or needed a ride, so we packed it in for the day. Overall it was a very good experience for me to be busy in a constructive-feeling way rather than just fretting about the outcome of the election, which would only become clear 24 hours later. It also was fun talking with different people, bringing a neutral agenda—just offering them encouragement and help to vote.

Time is in reverse in this note. Linda (see above photo) ran the NY Marathon, all 26.2 miles, last weekend. It was glorious for her and, if a bit exhausting for me to follow her on the subway, a fully engaging and exhilarating experience. Kind of presaging the election results, I think. I’ll do more systematic training on cheering and subway riding before her next one. I was able to see her in three spots, at mile 4, mile 18, and mile 24. She felt, and looked like she felt, terrific. There was so much cheering along the way and so many funny signs: “I’m more tired than you just from holding this sign up.” “You are running faster than a Supreme Court justice to an open bar.” “Pain is just bread in French.” And on and on. The runners could only exit Central Park, after finishing the run at Columbus Circle (59th), at 76th Street, and LInda then had to walk to her friend, Ruth’s, at 57th. After celebratory photos, champagne, tapas, and cake at Ruth’s, we walked to Harold and Connie’s at 81st and fell into bed.  I thought, well she’s got the madness out of her now. Oh, no. It was such fun she is thinking about another marquee marathon next year. “I think I’m built for long distance running.” Obviously.  Warsaw, Berlin, Paris (Do they have a marathon in the City of Light?). Reno Orsi, her Italian immigrant father, was a powerhouse who realized himself in his older daughter, not that he was moved to give her credit commensurate with her accomplishments.

I’m finishing the detailed curriculum for the course I’ll teach in Myanmar. It’s a lot of work, or at least I make it so, to assemble and teach it the first time. The second year would be simple.  In Malawi there was only a week of Child Psychiatry, for medical students, taught twice per year and I shared the teaching with others.  I suppose the unknowns in this situation make it more daunting: will I get a visa and be able to go? If so, when? How much time each week will I be given to teach? How many students will I have? Facilities don’t matter so much to me, as I can do it anywhere with a roof.

Two couples, old friends for Linda and newish for me, will come from UK for Thanksgiving, along with between 2 and 4 of Linda’s children and two grandkids. It will be such fun! Laughter, good food, fires, hikes, stories to hear and tell, watching another year pass. What a miraculous gift it is to be living, even with the progressive indignities and privations of old age.

And we took back the House! I want to see his tax returns.


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