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.


Goodbye Berkeley, Hello Seattle

[Above photo:  Kitchens I have known. Safari Camp, Liwonde National Park, Malawi]

26 October 2018

As I walked and drove around Berkeley and Oakland during my visit I was astounded at the number of obviously emotionally disturbed people appearing homeless.  They were sitting on the sidewalks on Telegraph and Durant Avenues; they were walking and panhandling on Shattuck Avenue. There was a small collection of tents right at the ‘There’ sign between Berkeley and Oakland on Adeline. And while riding the BART to the Oakland Airport I saw huge tented and tarped encampments underneath the 880 freeway. All of those people, cast off and out. One measure of the success of a society is how well they care for their most vulnerable. Didn’t DT say that once? No.

I had such a good time visiting and dining and hiking with all manner of friends in the Bay Area, including some from 50 years ago. But the urban human decay left a very bad taste in my mouth. A bitter, guilty taste.  How have I escaped such a fate, why have they not?

Seattle, where I was born and lived until 12 years old and to which I returned for my internship and a year of medicine residency, looks sparkling and prosperous. Cranes are everywhere downtown, erecting tall buildings. The weather was gloriously sunny and bright for 4 days and has been drizzly for 2. Nothing like the rainy season from November through April in Blantyre, when the skies open at any moment each day and drop buckets down, drenching everything and everyone.

My nephew, David, and his wife, Kir, and their children, Maddy and Sebastian, have all welcomed and integrated me into their family. Maddy and 4 incredibly cute and geeky high school boys brought their robot to the basement to show me last evening. They all are just bursting with ideas and talk so rapidly it is sometimes hard to decipher. The robot is amazingly complex and can lift a ball off the ground, toss it into a scoop, drive wherever, and unload it. Little motors all over.  It was such fun to hear them chatter.

I get up at 6:30 or so with the family and marvel at their dance as they inhale breakfast and get ready for school and work. David works for Valve, an incredibly successful game company, whose founder just sold the most expensive car ever, a 1962 Ferrari, for $48 million. It is pristine, all original, and was raced by several legends.  Just one of his stable. To think that computers and software didn’t even exist commercially until, what, the ‘80’s? Kir has a busy interior design business. Maddy goes to college next year. Sebastian will start high school.

The buses here are amazing—clean, quick, efficient.  In the morning I walk one block alongside Volunteer Park, jump on a waiting #10, swipe the Orca card, and sit back for a quick ride to the Washington State Convention Center downtown.

I’ve really enjoyed myself at this conference. I feel like my brain is expanding exponentially. My presentation in a panel about starting Child Psychiatry programs in low-resourced countries went well. I even sat in and held my nose through a day of psychopharmacology review. I learned useful things, to my surprise. One of the presenters, however, talked as if his patients were just objects he fed pills to and then sat back to see how they responded. Wouldn’t you know, he’s at Harvard and smart in his way so he has a bully pulpit, what Big Pharma calls “a Key Opinion Leader”.  Workshops on aggression, autism, and systems of care were amazingly interesting at points. This evening I was at a working group on problem-based learning. I facilitated problem-based learning exercises in Malawi but hadn’t realized the extent to which it has taken over medical school curricula. Of course, active learning is so much more interesting and successful, stimulating curiosity and a habit of learning that should last a lifetime. Sitting in a lecture is so passive and unengaging, generally. All said, the AACAP annual meeting was of high quality.

The first two days I was a little late for the all-day symposia I’d signed up for. The ballrooms were packed with 350-400 people and I wandered a bit each day until I found an empty seat. The first day I unwittingly sat next to a guy I’d liked and worked with in Oakland; he moved to Seattle five years ago. We had lunch at a great Syrian place he knew and he told me about his cardiac arrest 4 years ago (at 45yo, fit and running half-marathons) on a plane just before take-off to Paris. Fortunately, his wife, into whose lap he fell, is an ED physician and she did CPR and defibrillated him. He now has a stent and a pacemaker and is back running half-marathons. The following day the free seat I slipped into was next to a young psychiatrist I’d also known and liked a lot in Berkeley. He also moved to Seattle where he is structuring an interesting life with a wife and 3 kids.

I had supper with my former sister-in-law two nights ago. She is a lovely person and we talked and talked. I’ll sup with her, her husband, and their daughter with her family on Saturday. All of those relationships were disrupted by my divorce and I’m glad to restore them, if on a more limited scale.

Now I’ve walked downtown to the Pan Pacific Hotel where my friend from Berkeley, Hans, is staying. He teaches couples therapy in Seattle for 3 days several times a year and in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well, and loves it. We’ll have supper. I feel like I now have friends throughout the world.  Maybe I always did, but I’m more aware of it now. It feels good in these times of global fear and feckless leadership.

Linda is in Boston, speaking at a conference tomorrow.  Sunday I’ll be on the 6AM flight for Portland, Maine and back in Bar Harbor by Monday.  I can’t wait to see her and the snow accumulate on the planter outside her kitchen window.

Note: I shall post a few more times here just to make a transition. I’ll put the same post on <apsychiatristinmyanmar.com> .

Awaiting Permission to Volunteer

17 October 2018

[Above photo:  Bathrooms I have known. Mvuu Lodge, Liwonde National Park, Malawi]

I received an email from the US Embassy in Yangon that they were hoping to find out today if the Ministry of Health approves my application to teach there for the coming academic year, starting December 1, 2018. When I read the email, it was 2:58AM in Myanmar, so I guess I won’t hear today. Perhaps tomorrow. It is a bit maddening, when I think how simple it is to look over my CV, do a security check, and make a decision.  Perhaps a psychiatrist is more threatening than an academic mathematician or clothing designer.  I should be accustomed to waiting after working for two years in Malawi and passing through so many customs checks.

I have been couch-surfing in California. That sounds more collegiate and uncomfortable than it is. I have had a comfortable bedroom in each of three sets of good friends’ lovely homes. First I stayed at Ed and Robin’s; I’ve known Ed for 36 years and Robin for most of those. Next I was at Marie’s, whom I’ve known for 26 years. Finally, I am at Ellen’s, who I have known for 53 years; she is my medical school roommate’s younger sister. All of my hosts have been very fun, interesting, welcoming, and generous. And while at their houses, I have eaten and hiked and had coffee with numerous other friends, all of whom seem glad to see me. A party of all the neighbors last night at Martha and Richard’s home was all warmth and laughter.

It is amusing to shower at different people’s homes. Most have a wide variety of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash products. They are often labelled in very new-age ways, not actually saying “Shampoo” or “Conditioner” so without my glasses I cannot determine what in hell I’m putting on my scalp. Do I need a product for Dry Hair, Brittle Hair, Split Ends, Thick Hair, Thinning Hair (I’ll never admit it to myself.), or For Bald Scalps . You already guessed I made some of those up. A bar of soap I know. I’ve decided that it really doesn’t matter if it is conditioner, shampoo, or body wash. They are all quite similar and if I wash them out, my hair looks clean, as does my body. Occasionally I’ll come across a shower with three containers of conditioner, no shampoo or body wash and no bar of soap. Possibly a broken cap from a bottle of Head and Shoulders. The whole body then gets conditioned, which doesn’t sound so bad.

A little Malawi goes a long way, our wise Malawi Peace Corp director said. It is true. My friends all care a lot about me but, naturally, they have their lives and concerns and the depth and details of my experiences hold their interest only so far. It is a universal experience for those returning from working overseas in stressful circumstances, I think. I’ll have to look for my GHSP crew to really get down about this stuff. Or our friends from Malawi, if we can convince them to visit.

At Ellen’s I am in the middle of my old Berkeley neighborhood, across Claremont Avenue from the Elmwood District. There are so many reminders of our life here. Ellen’s house is on the regular route on which I walked Oscar daily for years. I walked by the place where one night I sprinted ahead, cutting left across the street and he ran between me and a tree. Our legs tangled and I ended up head first on Claremont Avenue at 11PM with my hands jammed in my puffy jacket pockets. I got a shiner out of that collision. My first thought after hitting the asphalt with my head was was, Jeez, I could have gotten in some good fights in high school and been the last guy standing. I had been worried then that I would get injured if I fought.  Then there is the hedge at Phil Spielman’s house. He was an analyst and a supervisor of mine. He and his wife, Sheila Ballantyne (Imaginary Crimes, Norma Jean the Termite Queen, and others) have passed on and their son, Stefan lives in the house. Stefan planted a number of spindly starters a few years ago. They have filled out to a lush, 6’ high, 2 foot thick hedge.

I go to restaurants I’ve liked in the past. I’ve been to Saul’s three times for their matzoh ball soup and half a pastrami sandwich. My favorite Japanese spot, Norikonoko, closed last December. I really liked Noriko and her husband and miss them in my life.  I’d lunch there at least once per week; for many years my office was just down the street from them.  I went to Top Dog on Durant for a hot link with mustard and sauerkraut. Somehow I got to chatting with two sisters who quietly paid for my link and told me they were there because their father had so liked Top Dog. They spent the morning in court where their stepsiblings were attempting to disenfranchise them of several million in inheritance. They were kind, smart women so I can only imagine what wretches the stepsiblings are. Passing your stuff on thoughtfully is important to do well, as it represents so much to the survivors. I have started a new Will with an attorney in Maine and will sew it up before I head to Myanmar.

I’ve tried to contact my son with no success so I must hope he is doing OK and settle for that. He is a 38yo man and certainly entitled to determine his company. My rescue fantasies die hard, though. My love doesn’t die.

I struggle a bit with the fact that Linda will visit but not accompany me to Myanmar. I know it makes sense, especially since I’ll be wrapped up in work and she has important other things to do, including 3 months in Malawi at her midwifery ward project. Still, I’m not getting younger and I wonder if, in my enthusiasm for the opportunity, novelty, and challenges ahead, I am ignoring a deeper emotional truth. About potential loneliness. Yet I make friends easily, Burma will be fascinating, and I’ll have enough work, writing, and play to keep me occupied. There is, also, FaceTime.

I have mostly wrapped up what I need to do here. I’ll hike in a bit, retracing my regular route in the hills with Oscar. That dog was so smart and I was so envious of him. I imagined extracting 10-20cc of his blood and injecting into my vein in hopes of acquiring a bit of his temperament. He was funny, playful, loyal, clever, and if ever two other dogs were getting into a scrap he’d run over to them. Being larger than most (115#), he’d just stick his nose in the middle and wag his tail and totally defuse the argument. When I crashed into Claremont Avenue, however, I wanted a little sympathy from him.  He just stood there impatiently, wanting me to get up and race him some more. I always imagined he’d protect me if I was attacked; we usually walked late at night. It is so easy to anthropomorphize a dog; they are supremely successful at training us to feed and love them, the best adapted mammal according to some zoologists. Certainly better adapted than humans, who have more money and stuff but, clearly, less daily fun.

A man walks into a bar. His friend asks, “Why didn’t you duck?” Ha!

A rabbi walks into a bar with a frog on his shoulder. The bartender asks, “Where did you get that?”  The frog replies, “In Brooklyn. They’re all over the place.”

I went to a great fundraiser for a terrific organization: Putnam Clubhouse. My friend Mary invited me; she also bid at the live auction, and leveraged her bid, raising a lot of money for the Clubhouse.  There are apparently 300 or so around the world and they serve as day treatment/vocational and academic support/get back on your feet programs for young people with serious mental illness. Twenty+ adults volunteered, in support of the organization, to participate in a dance contest at the fundraiser. They had lessons from professional choreographers. They were magnificent. It would have terrified me; I confided I’d rather have multiple sclerosis, which I know isn’t funny and I really wouldn’t  want it but that was my degree of anxiety about performing in front of the large audience. It did make me want to acquiesce to Linda’s suggestion that we take dancing lessons together, it appeared to be so much fun!

NB: I have purchased the domain name <apsychiatristinmyanmar> and this will be my last entry here. My weekly posts will be on the new site. You can sign up on the site to be notified when there is a new post.   <apsychiatristinmalawi is paid up for several months but I won’t post new entries on it.

I’m really preparing for Myanmar. I bought 5 short-sleeved shirts at the Goodwill. Long sleeves in that heat simply won’t cut it.

California Bound

[Above photo: Standing at the Tropic of Capricorn in the Namib. ]

7 October 2018

Linda ran 15 miles today and felt great. I ate two pastries and some fruit salad, had a cup of good coffee, and talked with my friend of 43 years, Jon Whalen, for four hours. I felt great. Is that fair? She can probably run two miles in the time it takes me to down two pastries!

Two weeks ago I came off the island and drove for the day to the Common Ground Fair in Unity, ME. It was a blast from the past with tall, wiry, quiet, full-bearded men in plaid shirts running horse-drawn manure spreaders and their partners/spouses in long calico dresses showing prize-winning vegetables and preserves. The Reiki tent next to where Linda ran the midwifery table sported a large man who would shift into full belly laughter every few minutes throughout the day, broadcasting out from the tent to attract those who were attracted by such. An academic psychologist in a previous life now sold gorgeous watercolors he printed onto coasters and trivets; he is self-taught. Another man with 80 acres at the foot of Mt. Katahdin roams his woods for discarded moose antlers (15 pounds/side) which he slices finely. He then makes wonderful drawings on them with permanent ink, modern day scrimshaw. And a lovely farmer’s market. Seed banks, flowers, food stalls, crafts, livestock, spinners and so forth. In the spirit of community, the composting outhouses on the way in had signs saying, “Do your part.” with lines of people determined to do just that.  It all was a wonderful spectacle put on by the Organic Farmers of Maine at their headquarters and test gardens.

The next day Ari and I went to the island and cooked a yummy supper together.   She is a very good cook. I am blessed by women in my life who love to cook and do it so well!   We played Scrabble. Lots of laughter and trash talk and she whipped me the first game but I was ahead the second when we got too drowsy and called it quits. Almost a tie. We put the house away the next day in short order—with her help more quickly and thoroughly than I’ve ever done it—and returned to the mainland, she to Blue Hill and me to Bar Harbor.

I spent the next night with Chas and Susan in Brunswick and flew to Oakland the next day. I was lucky, having delayed checking in well past the 24 hour limit; I still had a window seat to Baltimore and an aisle seat to Oakland.  I somehow didn’t account for the three hour EDT-PDT time difference and asked my friend Ed to get me at OAK at 7:50PM, not 4:50PM. He, being 9 years my senior, was sharper than me and let me know he would be working at 4:50PM. I located my Senior Clipper Card in my wallet and took the BART to Downtown Berkeley, walking to his office.

After enjoying 10 days of Ed and Robins’ hospitality, I said goodbye for now and moved to my friend Marie’s home this morning.

Is this boring to read!!

I’m having a lovely time seeing friends, realizing how much I can enjoy the pleasure of gradually relaxing into intimacy with people I have known for many years and have cared about. And they have cared about, and for, me. I keep thinking of more people who have touched me who I want to see.

We smelled smoke at Jon’s today and looking out the front window towards Mt. Diablo could see it thickly whirling about. Checking the internet we learned that two “small” fires started this morning in Sonoma and the smoke came from there. Jon said it has been like this all summer. As I drove home through it my eyes were smarting. Advantage: Maine—green, wet.

I won’t comment much on the Supreme Court confirmation. I’ve never heard so many friends talking about their assassination fantasies! Obviously best left to fantasy. We are in the grips of Fascism, truly, brownshirts and all. It sounds like the Ultraright is forming a nice little club—DT, Putin, Kim Jong Un, Roberto Duterte, and, soon in a theatre near you, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. He pushed a woman legislator and calls women “ignorant”.  Thomas Hobbes was right in 1651: “The life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The brutish and nasty stand out right now. Adding callous, arrogant, and ignorant would suffice to include our current leadership. It might not be so brutish if men weren’t so brutish. But then there is Susan Collins. She is no moderate, merely feigning that to keep her base engaged. I hope 2020 will provide a change for Maine.

However, I’m off to supper with two couples about whom I care. Some wine, some hugs, some catching up and good talk, skipping the topics of the prior paragraph. I hope the photo makes up a bit for the lack of spark in this post!


A Time of Solitude

22 September 2018

[Above photo:  Two giant quiver trees (aloe) at sunrise, Fish River Canyon Lodge, Namibia]

I skipped writing my blog last Sunday. I travel between the island and Bar Harbor so that takes some time. And I’ve completed writing up a curriculum for a 9 month course in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry which I’ll teach in Burma.  And myriad re-entry details to take care of, as well as some cabin maintenance. The real reason is that my external life is pretty mundane after two years of being quite exotic, if grim at times.

I am in flux inside myself, preparing to visit many dear friends in California and Seattle, readying to leave Linda for at least 10 months, getting to know my daughter after many years, and so forth. Maybe it was my 78th but I find myself reviewing my life a lot more than I usually do. And wincing a bit too much with some of the memories. We do the best we can, I believe, but certainly fall short of perfection and sometimes of adequate. I don’t want to air all this here, as it’s too personal for the airwaves. But I think a turn inwards has stifled my writing.

It was blowing like stink, as they say, from the north this morning. A northerly aims directly into the harbor so the two boats at moorings have no protection. Stella, our 28 foot heavy displacement diesel lobster-type boat was fine as long as her mooring held. But I couldn’t tell if our new speedy boat was riding correctly or not; the latter would suggest water in the bilge. There is an automatic bilge pump but it seems to work whimsically and we need to have it checked when we pull her for the winter. So I walked to the float, which was rocking and rolling, put on a life jacket, jumped in one of the skiffs, and bailed out the water. I then cast off, unluckily catching a wave at an angle that tossed me around—nip and tuck there. I wasn’t ready for a late September Penobscot Bay baptism and fortunately regained my balance. Rowing out was a real chore. The rowboat, and we have two identical because we like them so much, is totally seaworthy but the wind was howling and the sea had enough fetch that the breaking waves were hefty. Anyway, I got close to Speedy, let’s call her. [Because she rolled over shortly after we bought her, “Turtle”, as in “turning turtle”, seemed an apt name but has met with resistance.] She was riding nicely with her waterline well up so she wasn’t laden with water. I turned and rowed back. Walking up the dock I realized that my strength and balance aren’t what they used to be. It made me feel old, so I ran up the hill to the cabin to prove myself wrong. Ha!

It is so sweet to get up in the chill of morning, before sunrise, as I don’t sleep well without Linda for some reason. I light a fire in the Jotul 602 and, as it is catching, put on the kettle for tea. Soon the room is toasty, I have my tea, and I can check my emails. My dear friend, Ed—Oh,tenacious one—, asked me to look over the article he is readying for publication. His crusade, of which I’ve been a part on and off, for transparency and honesty in the Psychopharmaceutical Key Opinion Leader Physician Give-Away Debacle is unrelenting even in the face of massive resistance by Organized Psychiatry, Key Opinion Leaders, and Big Pharma.  This is yet another very interesting paper. It is just such integrity that we lack in DC—DT is the swamp, he cannot possibly drain it or even want to. I realize how my blood boils thinking about this. And how nice it was to have boiling blood in Africa, given the corruption and inequity there, and not have to concern myself with the crap at home.  I suppose it has always been this way, power corrupting and the opportunity of power attracting the easily, or already, corrupted.

If I were serious about my reading of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, I would be living only in this moment of putting my fingers on keys to express my thoughts and not be so easily riled up about what I can’t control and what is not in my immediate presence.  Can this old dog learn a new trick—Mindfulness? Nick the Greek is taking bets.

I did get the snazziest little electronic gadget—a tiny, powerful, portable LED powerpoint projector with a great sound system. ViewSonic. 5 Stars.  It justifiably has won design awards. So, if the power goes out in my lecture—or there is no power—I can still proceed. It is great for streaming movies, too (Who ever has good enough internet in Blantyre or Yangon for that?!). Even watching Stephen Colbert. Why buy a huge flat-panel TV when you can hang a sheet on the wall for a fraction of the price, electricity use, and clutter.

I think that the Burma gig will be my last full-timer. I would like to return there, I think, for a month or two at a time to keep things going.  But I like it here, I like working with my hands, I like seeing friends and family, I like this weather. I’ll find a nice piece of property and build a small house—have it built—when I return. Make it really nice, especially the kitchen, so Linda will want to hang out there some, hopefully a lot.

I realize that I’ll never be a real guitar player and I’m fine with that. It’s a little late. Also, I don’t want to spend the time needed to develop competency. I do like to plunk around, however, and howl at the moon.

Linda and I were at Blue Zebra, an upscale island retreat in Lake Malawi, in May and on the front of our chalet were two hanging chairs from Heavenly Hammocks in Joberg. The long and the short is that my tenacity has paid off. I had four of them shipped to my niece in Cape Town, minus the poles and foam. When I visited her I brought them back to Blantyre and they have accompanied me to the cabin. I fashioned poles and bought and cut foam to the right dimensions and have hung three of them on the screened porch, looking down the meadow. I’ll ditch the awful chairs we have—take up too much room, uncomfortable—and luxuriate in the hammock-chairs. I’d consider having them in the living room of my house—when I get a house. Just heavenly!

So this sort of rambling is what happens to me when I am alone for a long time. Solitude isn’t unpleasant for me. In ways it is much easier than working on a relationship. Eat, sleep, read, write, exercise, strum the guitar when you want. But it does have a hollow ring, for me at least.  There is a sense of meaning I get when Linda and I are working on Us together. I’m not sure why, as in the Grand Scheme it doesn’t alter the Earth’s orbit a whit. It could be Nature, that I’m just wired for relationship. We are wired to reproduce but I’ll leave that to Pablo and Charlie (fathering children in their 80’s).

I’ll rise before first light and take Stella to Bucks Harbor. Then I’ll drive to Unity, Maine where Linda has a booth at the Common Ground Fair. I want to see her and I want to see it. Then Ari and I will return to the island on Monday to close up the cabin for the winter, returning to shore on Tuesday. I’ll spend Wednesday night with my brother and his wife in Brunswick and Thursday fly to California.  Time’s flying, as well!

‘I Sing the Body Electric’ from “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman

[Above photo: This morning’s sunrise from my front porch.]

9 September 2018

At 78, it is very rarely 220v. Occasionally 110v. More often 12v or 6v. Sometimes a dead battery but it recharges easily and everything starts to work again.

I decided to paddle to South Brooksville (6.5mi) to buy the Sunday NY Times and have a cup of coffee. It was a rash decision, as I haven’t been in a kayak for over a year and there are stretches of open water between here and there. And there and here, on return. I had a northerly headwind, with corresponding oppositional tidal currents and confused waves, on the inbound trip so it took 3 hours and a lot of effort. Returning the wind, waves, and current were all on my beam, sweeping me out to sea and I had to compensate for it but I took only 2 hours. I consequently feel pretty beat. I had some moments of anxiety since after Labor Day there are few boats on the Bay and if I went in I’d probably have a 50-50 chance of surviving/dying of exposure. But the kayak, which I built 20 years ago from a Chesapeake Light Craft kit, is so well designed that I never had a moment when I was near capsize. In fact, I found myself leading a meditation exercise, which I used to do for the group at Seneca Center, and just humming along nicely.

Penobscot Bay is so lovely, dotted with small, spruce-covered, rock-bound islands. The water is particularly clear this year. And the smell of the water—it is so clean and, well, elevating. Inspirational, actually. I saw two pair of Osprey, one on Hogg Island and one on the approach to Bucks Harbor. I much prefer them to Bald Eagles. The Osprey are nimble; they hover, and fish for a living. (Perhaps as someone who was on the small side, formerly nimble, and a hard worker I identify with them.) An Eagle often will harass an Osprey, forcing the latter to drop a fish it has caught so the Eagle can eat it. The Eagle may be a more realistic symbol of American aims and deeds but I could wish our national bird were more industrious, like an Osprey or a Hummingbird. Magnificence, like size, is overrated: to wit, DT.  As I paddled along a lobsterman was pulling his traps and waved to me. It is Sunday; neither of us seem to have grasped that day of rest idea. Nor has Linda, who is on a 13 mile training run today for her marathon.

After the Vineyard, I went to Boston and stayed with Rachael, Linda’s daughter, and her family. Amelia (starting kindergarten) and James (2+) are as cute as possible. They had a cake with a single candle in it and sang me “Happy Birthday”, which was very sweet. Oh, to start over at 1, knowing what I now know!

I picked up Linda at Logan the next night; she had an epic tale to tell about schlepping her many bags, trains being cancelled, helpful strangers, and so forth. Then I visited my brother and his wife, Charles and Susan, in Brunswick and got their family news and grilled salmon, which I have been craving. Finally, I arrived in Bangor where Ariane, my daughter, met me and I turned in the rental car. We chatted away; I haven’t seen her in 3 ½ years. She was very friendly and seems happy to have settled in Maine.

It does feel a bit strange that Linda is in her house in Bar Harbor and I am on the Island. But I understand, since we both have a need to settle into our own nests before resuming cohabitation. She, of course, has a lot of friends here to catch up with whereas mine are mostly elsewhere. In any case, the Island is lovely in both fresh and familiar ways. Ari will bring a friend here for a night next week and I’ll go to Linda’s for a few nights after that.

The beauty here seems timeless. I guess that’s an advantage of being on a small, family-owned summer island; growth can be controlled and it is used so lightly that our footprint is minimal. I have to see how the mussels and chanterelles are doing this year. Apparently the wild strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries on the island were over the top. I hope they don’t know something we don’t. “Let’s reproduce like crazy because the world is about to suffer mightily.” Well, Judge Kavanaugh does seem likely to be slipped through. Has anyone ever revealed less of himself in more words? We pretty much know what he’s hiding.

My attention is now turning to Burma. I’m in touch with a Child Psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins who, with his Child Psychiatrist wife, has been going to Yangon several times since 2013 to work with the medical schools.  And I am now in touch with the Head of Mental Health at Medical University Number 1, Dr. Tin Oo.  He is eager for training in Child and Adolescent Mental Health, for himself, for other psychiatry faculty, and for psychiatric nurses. I cannot believe my good fortune in having this opportunity. I can only wish I were in my early 60’s, a callow youth!

All of which is to say that I’ll try to get the domain name <apsychiatristinburma.com> on WordPress and shift my Sunday writing efforts over there. I’ll let you know when and if.

A cold, outdoor shower seems to have recharged me.

Chimwemwe and Home

2 September 2018

[Above photo: “Want to see how fast I can close it?” ” Yes, those are leeches in my mouth. They add the taste of licorice to a meal.” A large croc on the Zambezi.]

This is the season I like the least in Blantyre—and Malawi. From August through early November it grows increasingly hot, very dusty and very smoky. The numerous streams running through the town are sluggish and fetid. The smoke is from the terrible practice of burning leaves, maize stalks, plastic bags, and any refuse at the roadside. Composting, anyone? Plus, inhaling the plastic fumes gives this lung cancer survivor pause. There is dust everywhere these few months. At last, in mid-November, the rains come, the air clears, the maize grows, and everyone relaxes, assuming that famine will be averted.

As I walked to Queens this morning to explore neuro-rehabilitation options for Chimwemwe, I passed a man standing silently at the roadside. There was a small plastic bowl on the ground across the road from him with stones keeping a few bills from being blown away. Then I noticed about ten potholes he had filled with crumbled bricks and dirt. He’s trying to do something constructive to stay alive. I turned and put some money in his bowl, thinking, ‘And the government doesn’t fix the roads but the legislators and their retinue ride around in shiny, new black uber-SUV’s.’ A bit further on I saw a younger man, with a beard, running into traffic and intentionally bouncing off the cars, slapping them as they passed. He was drunk, I think. I might have gone to try to “save” him but he was big and pretty belligerent. So I trudged on, holding my breath through the thick smoke from the fires, across the College of Medicine campus to Queens and the Louis Marchesi Center, a physiotherapy training site. Lines of people were waiting so, feeling pressed for time, I plunged ahead of them and got enough information to let Chimwemwe’s family know how to obtain services.

Ian Pennington, whose house we assumed when he returned to UK 1 ½ years ago, and I drove to the village of Chamusa, where we parked.  We then walked up a steep and rutted dirt path through a village, passing women who were washing clothing in the disgusting water of a stream.  We arrived at Chimwemwe’s parents’ compound where his father, in clean pressed slacks and shirt, welcomed us in perfect English. When we entered the house, I greeted his mother, sister, wife, and two cousins, and we sat down. Chimwemwe was largely silent but recognized me, I believe. I got him to speak a little. He can move his right arm and leg slightly but cannot elevate his arm, grasp anything, or stand. This bright, fit, creative, hard-working man has been so reduced by his injury. He had a large healing scar on his occiput.

We talked some, I gave his mother some money, and I gave them instructions about frequently exercising his speech and muscles. ‘No, TV is may be entertaining but it won’t really help him.’ Ian suggested they sing together, which I thought was a great idea.  His sister will go to the Marchesi Center Friday to book an assessment for him. I had to stop myself from bursting into tears on numerous occasions, seeing the shell of the man I knew. He tired easily and we left after about an hour. The family is so sweet, appreciative, and gracious it just breaks my heart. I think of all the little people in the world, those with little power, and then of the greedy few with vast power. How are we constructed so stupidly? Of course, relatively, I am one of the rich and shall leave for my rich country in less than 24 hours.

The frangipani trees are in leaf and bloom-ready and another tree, a marula, which I don’t think I’ve noticed before, is in full, fragrant flower. It is a large tree; the blossoms look like small lilies and are white on some trees and streaky pink on others. Magenta bougainvillea and abundant deep golden-orange flowers on green vines tumble over a number of the brick walls, softening the razor wire, broken glass, or electric fencing on top. I’ll miss the huge, old jacaranda blooming purple in the tea fields in Thyolo and around Mt. Mulanje and the flame trees on Kamuzu Highway by the Polytechnic.  Nature does its best to soften the harshness but the fact remains, I’m ready for home with all its imperfections.

I was anxious for several days about getting everything home, including several beautiful wood carvings which weigh mightily. Hastings drove me to Chileka Airport and waited, lest I needed him to return anything that couldn’t accompany my flight. I weight about 140#. I think the airlines should give us a “total” weight allowance, not the same for each passenger, since others weigh considerably more.

I had the 3 suitcases wrapped in industrial-strength saran wrap to prevent thievery and since the latches on the largest suitcase were all broken. At the check-in a woman behind me in line greeted someone behind the counter and moved in front of me. I was initially irritated and thought about saying something to her but restrained myself. What if it was her brother or boy-friend, eager to demonstrate their care for her by exerting a little harmless power on her behalf? As it happened, my restraint was followed by good humor when I got to the counter. All my bags were well over the weight limit. And I couldn’t bring Linda’s wooden carving as a carry-on. I was looking at $670 of excess baggage charges but a kind supervisor came by, eyed me up and down, told the checker to let two of the bags pass, suggested I have the carving bound to the third bag with wrap, and was exceedingly and ingeniously helpful. My excess baggage charge was $280.

On the flight from Addis to Toronto, the long leg, a very nervous woman sat next to me. She was from Cameroon, going to visit her engineer daughter in Calgary, her first time on a plane. She didn’t speak French (Cameroon is Francophone), having dropped out of school in 4th grade when both her parents died. I reassured her that I would help her make her connecting flight, whereupon she calmed considerably. I walked with her after we landed in Toronto, feeling good-samaritanish and seeking more good karma.

It happened to come back at me quickly, as all three heavy bags emerged promptly at the baggage carousel and Priscilla and Tim, the manager at Alamo Car Rentals at Logan Airport, knocked themselves out to get me a car although I didn’t have a credit card nor the PIN to use for my debit card. Tim even chased around and got me a luggage cart!  Life would have been considerably more complicated for me if they hadn’t done both. They were tickled when I gave them each some kwatcha notes.

Launched toward Woods Hole in a new minivan, all bags aboard, I fretted initially about not having a phone but figured my luck would hold. It did. On the shuttle from the steamship parking lot to the ferry dock, I loudly asked if anyone would let me call my friend on the Vineyard for a 1000 Malawi kwatcha note? Bobby, sitting next to me smelling of cigarettes with tatoos crawling up his neck and down his arms and legs, was the only one who responded, saying, “Sure.” and in a moment I arranged for Jeff to pick me up at the terminal at Oak Bluffs.  Bobby, who is a gas line installer and extremely rough around the edges, was garrulous, “These fuckin’ people on this island are such snobs.” And, “What is the world comin’ to? You punch someone in the face and it’s a felony and you’ll do time.” Etc. He said his wife would “really like me”. Why? “Because you talked to me. These fuckin’…”. It almost made me cry. I could see he would be a hard sell for most of the upper middle to upper class folks vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard, yet I liked him, despite his roughness, especially for how thrilled he was to show me pictures of his 18 month old son and how excited he was to see him after a 3 day absence. “I needed to work; we need the money.”

It is wonderful to be home, even if everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. The Vineyard is lush, over-ripe with greenery. Jeff’s home is large and quiet and I got to meet his son, Michael, of whom Jeff is justifiably proud and his calm, intelligent, pretty girlfriend, Lacy. Tonight we’ll go out for Japanese and a film. If only Linda and Bonnie, Jeff’s wife, were here and I was certain that both my kids were ok, it would be perfect.

Sadness Tinged with Giardia

27 August 2018

[Above photo: White-fronted Bee-Eaters, bank-nesters, on the Zambezi River]

We booked into a lovely lodge, Toka Leya (the name of the local tribe), 11km outside of Livingston so we could see Vic Falls from the Zambian side. Which we did and it was, again, amazing. I screwed up my courage and accepted Linda’s generous birthday gift of an ultralight flight over the Falls. It was like sitting on a plastic chair in a school gym for a PTA meeting, only with a lap belt. Except that we were 1500 feet up in the air. We looped back and forth over the Falls and cataracts. Exhilaration punctuated by brief moments of terror, sensibly I think.  It was really fun and finally almost put to rest my fantasy of having an ultralight on Beach Island to circle Penobscot Bay early in the mornings when it is glassy calm. To do it safely would require a level of constant focus, maintenance, and time demands to which I don’t want to devote myself.

I’d love to have a dog, but I don’t even want the responsibility of that, and they just require food, petting, and walks to function remarkably well, given the breed.  An airplane, however small and enticing, is out of the question. If you fall down with your dog, as I did once with Oscar when getting tangled in his legs on a run, you get a black eye from hitting Claremont Avenue with your hands thrust into your puffy jacket. If you fall down with your airplane, well, you are reduced to a smudge.  But maybe I could find a time-share. My fantasies die hard. Anyway, the flight was terrific.  They are amazingly capable little craft.  And I’ve done it.

Instead of going on game drives at Toka Leya, which sits right on the mighty Zambezi with rocks, cataracts, and islands —-and hippos and crocodiles— in front of our chalet, we took two sunset river trips. One was primarily birding, nosing around the islands in the middle of the river. It was a transcendent moment for me to watch perhaps 30 White-fronted Bee Eaters zipping into and out of their little caves in the bank, presumably delivering insects to young. And massive Marabou Storks.

Another evening we went fishing for Tigerfish. They are too bony to be a first-line entrée but they fight like the dickens.  So it is catch and release, with care, as they are called Tigerfish for their dentition.  Our group—-Linda, the guide Donald, and I—caught two and had a number of strikes. Ok, Donald caught two. But it didn’t matter to us. Linda eventually sat back with a gin and tonic while Donald moved the boat around and I meditatively spin-cast as the African sun, once again (Funny, it seems to do it almost every day.), set, leaving the characteristic calm and spectrum of pink, red, purple, mauve, taupe, sarcoline, coquelicot, smaragdine…rein it in here, George! (It is so tempting to show off when, really, Google is The One.)  Not catching a fish on a fishing trip didn’t bother me a whit, the setting was so lovely.

We drove to Lusaka over the awful road which is being repaired and is better than I remembered it 7 weeks ago, staying with Harry and Geke, a Dutch couple, in their baronial home on the outskirts. They fed us and let us dry out in their sheltered camping spot when we were getting soaked on Nyika last Christmas. Such interesting and generous people we’ve met. We arrived at 5 on a Wednesday, their social night at the Lusaka Sports and Country Club, where his son had played polocrosse (lacrosse on horseback). We went with them and met more interesting people. I ate ribs, getting giardia. I should have had the fish and chips, like Linda, Harry, and Geke. I’ve had ribs at Corky’s in Memphis and Everett and Jones (and many other sites) in Oakland so why am I thinking that ribs at the Lusaka Sports and Country Club in Zambia will satisfy? Perhaps if I wish hard enough. Anyway, lots of sulphurous belching at night followed by—I guess you don’t really want to know. I caught giardia once in Moscow from, I think, drinking water from one of the public dispensers on the streets outside the Kremlin—hm, is there a connection here with Mr. Mueller’s investigation? And I got it in the Sierras, in the backwoods at Yosemite, hiking with my friend, Andy. He was going off the rails, with TMJ splints to take the pressure off his spinal nerves (all caused by eating refined foods, you know) and other magical nostrums. He wanted to try a few on me and I thought, ‘What am I doing in the backwoods, sick as a dog, and depending on this maniac?’ He was a dentist at the Neighborhood Health Center where we worked.  Anyway, almost enough of giardia. I’ve felt pretty awful and, unfortunately, while Flagyl makes my gut better it makes me nauseous and gives me heartburn. All will improve soon and I’ll be glad, as will my fellow passengers on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 502 to from Addis to Toronto, leaving in two days.

We got to Lilongwe after 1+ hours driving in the dark on awful Malawi roads with no street signs or streetlights, people and cars and animals and bicycles and trucks in Brownian movement.  Linda, exhausted after driving all day through Zambia, skillfully negotiated us around all obstacles and into the courtyard of Korea Garden where they had one large (needing to sort and pack her stuff) room left. I went to bed. She went to eat and drink. More correctly, to drink and eat.

Goodbyes to people we love at Peace Corps Malawi headquarters the next day and she taxied with Nixon (my main man in LL) to the airport and I navigated the M-1 south to Blantyre, arriving, gratefully, at dusk.

I’ve sold the car. Linda likes to poke fun at me but I really like that little car and I sold it (her) to a really nice guy, Marc Henrion, who is a biostatistician from Luxemburg, working at the Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust labs here. He also is a hero, having broken 3 hours this year in the Mt. Mulanje Porter’s Race.

I have gone to our little house, which looks so dead and empty without Linda and her decorations and cooking smells. Malawi looks very beaten and poor to me, which it is. The trash, to which I seemed to have adjusted, really bothers me as a sign that people feel hopeless. With good reason. And one of our cab drivers has a growth he showed me on his conjunctiva which obscures his vision. The “Eye Care” center gave him a pair of glasses. Apparently squamous cell carcinoma of the conjunctiva is frequently associated (80%+) with HIV reactivity in Equatorial Africa, so I have to persuade him to: 1) get HIV testing and, if positive, get on ARV’s and, 2) see a proper ophthalmologist. I have a referral for him. Chimwemwe, our gardener who suffered a severe head injury with coma when a reckless driver hit him as he was walking to visit a friend in the hospital, can say ‘Hi.’, seems to recognize people, and is beginning to be able to move. I’m trying to see what neurorehabilitation resources might be available for him here, if any. It all feels terribly sad, the politicians continue to bloviate and, I assume, line their pockets.  They don’t seem to be doing much else. The president recently gave a speech, warning the opposition not to attack him: “I am going to break a tonne of bricks on your heads.” Sound familiar? A little vision would go a long way here.

I drove the challenging road to Eric and Sophie’s last night to have a final supper with them on their wonderful farm. They are really the best. His mother, 6 of whose 7 sons are physicians, recently died at 92 on the farm in the old family home. They had a huge funeral with 400 people from the village, all the family from all over the world, and many friends and colleagues from Blantyre. She worked as a Pediatrician until 88yo, having started the Department of Pediatrics at Queens and building the inpatient wing. His father, a charismatic surgeon, died on Mulanje at 52yo with a coronary.

We walked the farm and up to the top of their hill, with a view of all the Shire Valley 3500 feet down on one side and Blantyre on the other, and chatted, watching the sunset and moonrise for my last time (on this trip) in Africa. Theirs is a rich and interesting life, with kids in Colorado (consulting to Africa), Borneo, and Burma. They are both warm and accomplished people and I shall miss them a lot, as will Linda.

Enough sadness. It is curious to me how I can feel so much when I am getting ready to leave somewhere I have invested myself, and yet I have not been fully aware of the intensity of my attachment to it.  I’m going to treat myself to lunch at Flavors now for a last time—curry chicken, 2500MWK.  Without a bike or car, I’ll hoof it.

North to Chobe

19 August 2018

[Above photo: Flamingos at dusk in Nata Bird Sanctuary, Ntwetwe Pan, Botswana. ]

We are wrapping up our trip, and our whole African adventure, this week. I’ll put Linda on a plane in Lilongwe for Rotterdam and the International Midwifery Association conference in 5 days. I’ll attempt not to get killed driving the 4 ½ hours down the M-1 from Lilongwe to Blantyre, prepare the car for sale, pack my stuff, and fly to Boston in 10 days. More reflections as they arise but what an amazing time this has been.

After our luxurious sojourn in the Delta we slept in a large, crummy hotel in a cramped room smelling of disinfectant. How dirty was it that they needed to use disinfectant? I don’t use it at home. We drove east to Planet Beobab, a camper’s retreat in the northern Kalahari. One night there and one drive into the Magadigadi Pan system was enough to impress and suffice.

We then drove a few hours to Nata, near the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana. There was a bird sanctuary and since I’ve been (foolishly) trying to learn to identify the massive number of different birds wherever we find ourselves, Linda thought I’d enjoy it. She was right. We stayed two nights, one of them the only campers within the huge sanctuary. Snufflings and hoof-beats near our tent provided late-night entertainment. In the morning, two horses were at the ablutions block, trying to find water in the sinks! Horses I know and am not frightened of; wildebeest, not so much familiarity.

The Nata Bird Sanctuary is 230 sq km of rolling dry grassland and a huge salt pan, at this time filled with salty water and pink brine shrimp and surrounded by similarly-equipped marshes. Pink? Brine shrimp?  Yep, the largest migration of flamingos in Southern Africa, hundreds of thousands at a time, come here. Since it has been a wet year, many stayed home and didn’t need to join the jamboree at these wetlands but there were tens of thousands of Lesser Flamingos and hundreds of White Pelicans. Plus, Red-billed Teal, Greenshank, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Stilts, Pied Avocets, and more. During the day, the flamingos gather a few kilometers away,  looking like a long, low spit of land extending into the salty pan. When you focus your binoculars on them, the individual and group melee  becomes obvious.  At twilight many take flight, joining long lines, and they land in the marshes near our viewpoint. The birds were wondrous to behold, the pink of their feathers exaggerated by the red of the setting sun. Linda ran 3 miles fast on the dirt tracks in the sanctuary while I slapped bugs and took pictures of the birds. [She is now a week into her NY Marathon training schedule. She’s running 8 miles today, Sunday, the day of rest. I am a slug, drinking a cappuccino, typing this blog entry, and enjoying the view of the elephants from the terrace.]

We next drove to Chobe National Park in the north, up against the border with Zambia, in preparation for our brief stay at Vic Falls on the Zambian side (Will I take that Ultralite flight over the Falls or not?!), camping for $10/person/night at a gorgeous lodge on the Chobe River bank. We signed up yesterday for a late afternoon game drive today and a riverboat sunset cruise totomorrow with a jaded sense of “We’ve really seen it all already.”.

Always the African surprise! As we drove in the park along the riverfront, there were a plethora of elephants, giraffe, waterbuck, impala (ever the impala!), and all manner of smaller beasties (a Slender Mongoose, a Two-banded Sand Grouse—an Endangered Specie), as well as wonderful water birds, including the Yellow-billed Stork and the Glossy Ibis. An old Cape Buffalo bull was lying down, all alone, by the riverside. “When they get too old to be of use (Protection? Sperm donor?) they are extruded from the herd.” What about just being kind and good-natured, not gossiping, staying out of other’s hair? Not exactly Cape Buffalo traits, I realize.

After we’d reached the end point of our drive we turned around to work our way back. 8 river boats and as many safari vehicles were all shoulder to shoulder. Must be something exciting. Indeed, two 5 year old lions, brother and sister, were lying down, intently eyeing the buffalo who, after a display of his remaining ferocity, turned tail and trotted off. The lions must have reconsidered. Youthfully exuberant male, “Looks like a great meal, sis.” Ever the realist, protector of the family, she replied, “Yep, but still too fierce and hefty for the two of us. Let’s look for a zebra.” Disappointed, “O.K. Still, we could have eaten for three days straight if the hyenas didn’t drive us off.”  Massive, terror-inspiring predators, exquisitely designed to hunt.  Bone-chillingly efficient. Like the more cunning of the Mafia hit-men. No troubling hesitancy, no pesky conscience. Certainly not sentimental. No anthropomorphizing the antelope before supper.

We’ve been reasonably adventurous, albeit avoiding deep sandy off-roads with our aversion to getting stuck and ripping out the exhaust system. We have had a longer vacation than most. But today, we chatted with the fellow in the adacent campsite. We’d admired his older (27yo), diesel Land Rover Defender, outfitted for extreme travel (roof tent, several spare tires, jerry cans of diesel fuel and water).  He and his wife live in Queensland, Australia where he teaches diesel mechanics at various mines. They are 14 months into circling Africa, starting in UK, through France and Spain and down the west coast to Cape Town, then across South Africa, north into Mozambique and working their way back to Egypt, zig-zagging into the center of the continent so as to visit it all. Too long on the road for me, I confess. Although the sweet Bushbuck family—Dad, Moms (2), and Junior/Missy— and three young warthogs that wandered into our campsite, browsing on the unbelievably thorny bushes, reminded me of our bounty of wonderful surprises during our travels.

I’m enjoying this but am ready for it to end, ready for a different sort of surprise. Still, our road trip has been a fitting coda to the incredible journey of working in Malawi for two years. To think, 10 years ago this month I was mid-way into my first course of chemotherapy for my lung cancer.  I thought I’d never hike into the Sierras again, let alone do all this. I do wonder why—or, rather, how—I shook off that carnivore. The size of an orange, wrapped around my subclavian vein. My son certainly applied himself to studying cancer and alternative treatments, since the conventional ones had such dismal outcomes.  A study of one is just that—not really generalizable—but I would do the whole, complex regimen again if necessary.

It’s time in this post for my loose associations. I think we need our elected officials to have a track record of knowing history and travelling, both in the US and internationally, and not just from Sheraton to Ritz Carleton to Rockefeller Resorts.  To call countries with low GDPs “shitholes” is so flaccidly ignorant. If GWB had ever read about the Middle East or  owned a passport and used it, he might have had some sense that our invasion force in Iraq would not have been greeted with the joyful outpourings and flowers he anticipated. Ditto for our current Narcissist-in-Chief, using his “gut” and “shoot-from-the-hip-in-near-total-ignorance” style of decision-making.