Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oh yeah, THIS is why we came here

Mango season is moving north.

Each of these women is a private contractor, and they arranged it so that each of them got part of the cut from our purchase. Those piles of yellow mangoes up front? Each one was 100 kwacha. 1 USD = 145 Kwacha = one very excited Joh in extreme-glean mode. We got enough to eat like mad, freeze, give away. Anyone have any good mango recipes? Please share!

Of course, we all had to try one right away, tearing the skin off with our teeth and squeezing pulpy gold mash under our fingernails and up to our elbows.

So these guys let us share their well to rinse off.

Also didn't want to drive the hour and a half back to Lilongwe with muddy feet.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Crazy orphaned baby weekend

First we went to check out a couple of little four-week old rescue pups. We’re thinking about dogs again; some friends’ place was robbed while they were out of town, so we’re upping our security measures a little.

Dogs are part of the security apparatus here, so there are lots of great big dogs that are just fed, kept kenneled or tied during the day, and expected to be alarm barkers at night. One of the hazards of being an outside alarm dog is poisoned meat that burglers throw over the compound walls.

There are no dog trainers in Lilongwe, though, and Annie, I’m serious, you would make a good living even just training basic “don’t jump on me; come when I call you; I know you’re happy, but don’t chew on me” commands. Really. We’ve talked to people about getting a group together to pay for your ticket here in exchange for some dog lessons. TiVo-ed copies of “The Dog Whisperer” get passed around here. Of course, unless you had more than two weeks to spend here, that would mean coming all the way to Malawi and then spending your time with out of control dogs. (What do you think? Wanna try?)

There’s a surprisingly active SPCA in Lilongwe, and with so many expats coming and going after short stays (shorter than the length of a dog’s life, anyway), I’m glad there’s some kind of organisation taking care of animals too. But it’s also just another one of those weird things about being in a developing country. On the one hand, its odd to see these muzungus (white foreigner) give food and protection and a place to live and care from the vet to these animals when there are children and other humans who don’t have that. On the other hand, you can’t have a place where people are taken care of and animals aren’t. Even though we value animal life lower than human life (ok, a whole ’nother bone to pick and chew together), you can’t isolate taking care of the one from the other. Certainly not when it comes to food, but even in the sense of developing a respectful, caring civilisation. (Is that what we have in the US?)

The pups were tiny, sweet, scabby on their heads where they'd been abused, and had little black muzzles. After hanging out with them for almost 40 minutes, the little girl warmed up enough to come play with my hand, chewed and flipped on her back, chewed and flipped, chewed and flipped. I had told Scout we were going to see some puppies, but she fell asleep in the hot car on the way, so I let the babes sleep on.


Later in the evening, one of Andy’s colleauges was having “a braai”—South African for a BBQ. A visiting NICU nurse had brought a tiny little girl to the party. Three months, orphaned, and poignantly, negative. The nurse had been volunteering at the Crisis Nursery when they got a call from a village an hour away about this baby. There was no formula, the dad couldn’t take care of it. The nurse had Zuone, the baby, at her home for the weekend, had a little tiny bottle to feed her, had made a bed for her in a basket on the floor (“I felt so weird putting her on the floor, and then I was like, ‘Oh yeah, she’s been sleeping on a dirt floor under a grass roof with goats until now’”) but ended up putting her in bed beside her. It's hard to resist sleeping in bed with a baby.

Orphan can be a misleading word here. Orphan can mean that the baby has no living immediate family members. Or it can mean that just the parents are dead. Or it can mean that just the mother is dead. Kids stay at the Crisis Nursery until they are weaned, about six months, and can then be sent back to their father or grandmother, who wasn’t able to come up with formula for them. Seems like most muzungu families that live here any length of time wind up adding a little Malawian baby to their family tree, and most often that little twig comes from the Crisis Nursery.

Adoption is not an easy process here though (“unless you’re Madonna,” is the required qualifier), and I’m pretty sure to adopt you have to live in the country for 18 months. That’s what everyone has said. Yes, I’ve looked into it.

Zuone is like something miniature. She maybe weighs six pounds, like a newborn, but she’s interactive and interested like a three-month-old. Her beautiful little head is fuzzy, and her eyes are huge and bright and like to look at faces. Her tiny fingers grip around your finger, and someone has already started training this baby to ride a woman’s back, because her legs instinctively spread and cling. She’s really really pretty and everybody wants to hold her. One woman whips out a massive-lense camera and starts snapping pictures with a flash in her face.

And that’s when my mama bear, who has been curled inwards snuffling the hairy offspring of my own belly, catches wind of something off. She rears on two legs. It is SHE, I, who should be holding this child. This baby needs a protector, and it should be me. Mama Bear is genuinely distressed. Sure, there’s a bunch of pediatricians at this party but who’s the one keeping the flash out of this baby’s face? Saying, “No, that’s enough passing around for now.” Telling all the good-intentioned women (who are maybe feeling a bit territorial as I am? Surely not.) to stop jiggling her so much, babies are ok just sitting still too. I have this biblical yearning to draw her to my bosom and nurse her. This baby doesn’t need a bunch of well-intentioned, muzungu professionals. She needs a mama bear.


Saturday Andy arranged to have a little premature baby moved from Kamuzu hospital to ABC Clinic, a privately run missionary clinic on the outskirts of town. There’s surprisingly little coordination between the different medical efforts here in Lilongwe.

His mother died a day or two after he was born, of some kind of cancer, but little tiny one-kilo Dickens, born at 28 weeks, made it somehow, ten days in the village before his grandmother brought him in to the clinic. He’s negative, but of course, HIV would have been the least of his challenges right now. I’ve asked Andy why go to great lengths for this one? There are relatively a lot of resources being devoted to this child. Not only that, but there’s a black-hole part of me (it’s gotten kind of bigger since we arrived here) that occasionally tries to suck the life out of living, that asks, “wouldn’t it just be better to let the kid die?” His prediction: Dickens will still die, despite going the the little building with warming beds and nurses, called the NICU. And also, “But this kid’s a fighter. He made it ten days in the village, so you’ve got to try, right?”

Dickens has no one but a grandmother who can’t care for him. We’re debating bringing him home to our house, if he does live. I’m not sure how long he can stay in the NICU at ABC. Andy warns of two things if we bring him home: 1. He would require full time care; we’d basically have to hire two people to take care of him. 2. He may still die anyway, and we would be attached, and we’d have to explain it to Scout. (Scout is already learning about death; it started this spring with bugs, and continued this summer with her great grandmother. She sort of gets it, sort of doesn’t. She told me yesterday, “I’m dead. Look, my legs aren’t moving. I died.” This after stomping on an expiring locust whose legs were still twitching.)

For now, tiny, delicate Dickens remains at ABC. Wide-eyed little Zuone is at the Crisis Nursery. Word from the SPCA lady is that those two tiny puppies have been deemed well enough to be vaccinated; things are ok right now for the orphaned babies in our lives.


Dickens is still alive, and looks like maybe his family will be interested in taking him back when he’s weaned after all.

The Lilongwe SPCA has had a devastating blow: two of the puppies they adopted out last week have rabies. Had rabies when they adopted them out. Andy made me make some frantic phone calls to find out about the ones that were mouthing me. Looks like I'm safe, but I doubt those canine babies will be coming home here.

***more update***

So, candor isn't always the best policy, see? So I've changed some names and deleted stuff and hopefully made this a less critical post.

Also, I forgot to point this out: check out the way Finn and I are doing the same wierd thing with our mouths in the picture. Awww!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Freedom from fear

Andy couldn’t sleep last night—was nervous and excited. While I bed hopped with children, he hopped back and forth between the couch and bed, knowing he would have to go to work today and keep fighting off this nasty cold that has left him voiceless. Larygitis on election day didn’t stop us from voting of course; in fact, we voted weeks ago like all the other absentees.

I drove Andy’s ballot to the American embassy where I picked up my own too. Two guards stopped me before the parking lot, made me turn off my car and pop open the hood. Then they walked around looking under the car with a big mirror on the end of a pole. When they were through, they closed the hood, I started the car, and they opened the gate. Once I’d parked and gone inside, I have to show my passport, sign my name and address and phone number, have my stuff scanned, turn off my cell phone and leave it there. Then I go to a different building to cast my vote and give it back to mail in the diplomatic pouch.

But when Finn and I woke up this morning at five, we rushed out to the living room ten minutes before they announced a winner. And though I couldn’t help letting out some whoops and joyful strains of “God bless America, my home sweet home,” it was when John McCain gave his concession speech that the tears started flowing.

What a gift he gives to his country to gracefully accept defeat and to pledge his support to “the man who was my former opponent and will be my president.” Watching the news here in Malawi, where so much of the continental political news is about rulers unwilling to part with power except through violence, I was deeply moved by it, by what my brother Martin calls the genius of the American system: that there’s a campaign, there’s voting, and then we all get up and have breakfast the next day, just the same. (Mart, I got the jist of what you said, yeah? I was running with babes in arms to the gate to meet the carpool when you said that part).

We didn’t have TV for the first presidential debate that happened while were here, but Andy managed to solicit an invitation from a Baylor administrator who works here, to watch it live at 3am in his living room. We were new to the country, to the socioeconomic caste system here. We invited Mohammad, our housekeeper, to come too. It was an awkward mistake, we learned.

But one we repeated willingly this morning just before the Obamas walked onstage. Unbolting the door, Andy ran out on the condi shouting for Mohammad, who at six thirty, was already working around the yard, moving the hose, whacking the hard red dirt with a homemade hoe.

“Do you want to see Obama?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Come and watch. He’s about to speak.”

Mohammad moved to the windows, so he could get a good view of the TV from outside the house.

“No, come inside,” we urge him, and he comes to the living room and stands to the side, behind our furniture.

“Please sit,” we tell him, clearing off pillows and shushing him at the same time because president elect Obama has walked out and is starting to speak. And I love this man who has inspired us, and the Malawian man daring to watch him beside us. Tears stream down our cheeks again because we feel in our hearts the truth he is speaking:

“And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world - our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

“And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

“For that is the true genius of America - that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

Americans and America can change; the whole world can change. Social caste systems can change. Malawi and the rest of Africa can change too, I want to believe. Even Mohammad can determine his own future, have a chance at liberty and opportunity and unyielding hope, I want to believe.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Equal Time for Finn

In response to complaints from friends and family alike, here is our lovely ball of butter Finn.


I was a fairy butterfly for Halloween.

I like to play on the front porch, but in Malawi I call it the condi.

A fairy butterfly's best friend

Sometimes fairy butterflies forget the basics.