Closed Doors and Closed Borders
I munched mindlessly on banana chips and a marshmallow. I should eat dinner. I knew better than to eat this junk food at all. But this was emotional eating. I wanted something sweet and crunchy. The borders closed again today. I mean, land borders closed a year ago and never really re-opened, but anyone could still get in by air. And two weeks ago, they closed he airports to visitors, officially at least, but some people were still trickling in. Two days ago the airport released a memo and today the tourism industry posted a notice, so now it is reinforced. My sister was planning on flying out to see us in a week, a trip we have been planning for over a year. I know that travel plans are difficult everywhere, but this one just hit really close to home. I’m not excited about the potential to be closed off again, no mail, no visitors, no trips out for the foreseeable future. Last time Malawi was isolated for about six months, it was difficult not to feel panicked about embracing that prospect again. I tried to look on the positive side, that I might have more days to relax without having visitors during that time. But it’s still disappointing, feeling distant from family, the death of a dream. But we knew this could happen. Times are hard for everyone.
Maybe they can come another month, another year. I know that I am loved and supported, no matter how far away family might be. But for a time, I want a time to process and grieve the hope that has been, yet again, deferred. To acknowledge that things were so close to working out, preparations so carefully made now put aside. It would have been so encouraging to have family visit, to have my little nieces around the house, to have my sister see our life here. I take naps, I read books, I take long baths and long runs, I drink tea. I try to build myself up with life-giving activities. There’s still a bit of emptiness in my house and my heart and my schedule, but I trust it will fill up soon.
We took a trip back to our Nkhoma house this week. I wanted to bring back plants and fish from our old house. When we left, we thought someone would move in quickly, but now the property has been vacant for months. The fish pond is covered with leaves and plants. Any remaining fish would have suffocated or starved. Mosquito larva have been thriving, however. Surely this pond could supply enough malaria to keep the peds ward in business for months. We drained the pond and try to take a few clippings from the remaining plants, but almost everything died from lack of water, or maybe lack of care. In a way, this place is another visual of hope deferred, gardens planted that came only minimally to fruition. A few rose bushes survive for now, but at this point they haven’t bloomed in years. I’ve been told recently that the soil here isn’t good for the things I was hoping to grow. Maybe I can plan better, be wiser, do more with the garden in our new house.
There were some bright points of the trip – friends visited, laughs over lunchtime, sighs of relief at struggles no longer mine. We bring a friend back for a weekend visit and we go out to Greg’s favorite place for dinner. Just before our food comes, a message arrives. We won the big, 5-year HRSA grant my colleague and I applied for earlier this year. We have the opportunity, even the obligation, to establish a training program for specialized doctors in Preventive Medicine and Maternal Health outcomes in California. I’m excited about this opportunity, and committed up to 8-10 hours a week working from a distance helping to build logistics, quality assurance and mentorship components of the program. I’m excited about this opportunity. This might be one of the biggest awards I’ve earned in my life. A potential beginning of a new way of helping and teaching within an easy context. I’m excited. I jump up and down and chatter away throughout the night, throughout the weekend. There’s still a tickle in the back of my heart, a reminder that I wish I was preparing for my sister right now, that I was about to go on travels and adventures and share life and ministry with my family. But the good news came at a good time, the newly open door right when I needed fresh energy from disappointed hopes and closed-border stagnation. I know times will get busy again soon. I will need to have disciplined balance and intentionality with the different tasks I want to undertake. I need to transition from one type of mentorship to another, from program planning on this continent to program design back home. I think I’m ready to rise to the challenge. Maybe after one more relaxing bath and cup of tea. Or maybe a nap. I will surely need my energy in the days to come.