Monday, August 27, 2007

It's been a week since I've been back, a week of inarticulateness and resting, hearing about the death of a friend's lover, too young, from cancer, slowly unpacking, hanging out with C, with my roommates, easing back into this comfortable, foreign life.

My Dad wants me to send around an email about Malawi, something he can forward to his friends. I myself promised I would write about it. Of course I would write about it. I write about everything. Definitely I will write about it.

As soon as I figure out what the hell to say.

"Going to Africa" had always been on my list, that famous list of things you want to do before you die, a list I cajoled C into writing last night after yet another newspaper article extolled the virtues of setting such goals and then keeping them.

Ever since I was a child I drank in the stories of medical missionaries, brave doctors who brought medicines and vitamins to isolated peasants in far-off lands. There was a Dr. Dooley--is that right? Was that his name? Tom Dooley, I think, who brought medical care to Vietnam, back in the 50s--and others. Albert Schweitzer. In our own times, of my very own exact generation, Paul Farmer in Haiti.

So I wanted to go, and in the back of my mind, I think I imagined I'd find something useful to do with myself there. Feed orphans. Help somehow.

Although I love what I do, although teaching poetry and essay and memoir are worthwhile, good endeavors, and my writing and publishing are likewise worthwhile and make me feel Important to boot, I have questioned, these last years, how much I am really giving. If I were to die tomorrow I would feel I had not given enough away, not done enough to alleviate suffering in any way I could.

Being a writer has some aspects to it that are selfish. I like my private time, my down time, and my obsession time. I got precious little of any of those things on the trip; they are luxuries not found in African villages or large touring groups. I spend money on books and movies and entry fees to poetry contests--lots and lots of money, too much money, on those things. (I also buy too many clothes and eat too much junk food, but that's another story.)

I give to charity yes--a little. Not sacrificial giving--I don't give to the point where I am depriving myself of something I want. And I live in an uneasy kind of peace with all that, a fat American peace that is not really peace.

Then: Malawi. Busses with patched tires, patches on patches, tires that blew out every thirty miles. Kids with no shoes or with ragged shoes. Clay huts with thatched roofs, women nursing their babies on the beach where they wash, fish, and conduct their lives, asking my friend for kwatchas when she took their pictures. Beautiful women.

I came, I saw, I took notes, other people took pictures. We left. And now what?

I'll give more money to kudo, but money isn't it. I would like to be in some relationship to this other world, and not sure how yet.

Meanwhile, I'm preparing to teach at Esalen in a week and a half, I revised an essay called "Bad Words" which I think Shambhala Sun will publish, I fixed a flat tire on my car, with help from C and the nice people at Big O. It's so conveneint here. You get a flat, you drive to Big O, you whip out your credit card and magic! New tire!

I keep sleeping, but still feel tired and logey and my head hurts. Life is still a little out-of-focus, a little blurry. I feel 10,000 leagues under the sea. I just learned that a member of our party was hospitalized after she got home, with a lung infection.

I'm grateful to C for his kindness, for still being happy to hang out with me although I don't feel scintillating or fun this week.

I'm sad for my friend who died of cancer.

I'm wondering about the villagers we left in Malawi--what will become of them in the next decade, as development nibbles at the shore of Lake Malawi, then bites down hard. Will they get electricity and phone service, roofs that don't leak in the rain, decent education for the kids, and a good hospital? And will that bring with it trash and television and alienation?

I wanted to count myself as a global citizen, and I do. I want to be able to participate in these conversations, between over-developed (technologically) places, and poor countries, only the more I see the less I can summon anything resembling an opinion.

C and I talked last night about our relationship, how we want it to help both of us evolve. I need to develop myself, but how? Right now, my head aches terribly and I know that the only journey for me to take at this moment is an inward one, into silence.


lizzie said...

Hey Ali! How about in addition to making a "bucket list" - what you do before "kicking the bucket" - make a list of things you have done!?

I am wondering about what it means to be in privilege ... a person of privilege. My co-worker from Peru talks to me about 4 classes of people in Peru. Wealthy, Middle Class, Poor and the Miserable. We don't know Misery here like in other countries. It is so far away from our experience that when we see it, it hits us smack in our amygdala - then it vibrates like a bowl of jello for days ... weeks ... bet yours is still shaking!!!!!

mermaid said...

I hear the questions, and the suffering in asking those questions.

"Who do I want to be? How do I want to give?"

Alison, you are a writer. You teach writing, right? Do you know that writing is one of the most cathartic, therapeutic forms of healing? You teach that. I'm not sure if you specifically set that as a goal for your students, but it's almost impossible to write solely for entertainment purposes.

As a paid family physician, I often question my selfishness in choosing not to volunteer or offer my time elsewhere. But I realized the awareness of health I offer to my patients in conjunction with insights into their own individual path to healing must be invaluable.

I hope that you will indeed take the journey inward. Let us know what you find.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog! Even though I'm a man, I too want to walk around wearing bright cloth around my waist. In parts of the Pacific islands they call it a "lungi".

NB: plural of "bus" is "buses". "Busses" with a double ess speaks of "buss", as in "to kiss".