Good news for a change

Today I made a visit to the Guardian’s Shelter at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital to inspect what has been consuming all Caroline’s time and emotional energy, as well as plenty of Chira Fund (https://www.chirafund.org/ ) money. I am obviously biased but I doubt anyone could fail to be impressed at the enormous transformation that has come about through a lot of hard work.
After the rains the retaining wall between the shelter and the neighbouring property collapsed and has now been rebuilt with two large diameter drainage holes – it was retaining the deluge of rainwater coursing down the main hospital road (Chipatala Avenue), through the neighbour’s property and damming up behind the inadequately drained wall. Now there is a well made gulley conducting the rainwater past the newly built pit latrines and on into the maize field at the bottom of the property. The pit latrines are to be used when there is no water and the normal water closets are out of action. The toilet facility in use at any time is clarified by only unlocking the gates to the one in use! Sadly the showers are still occasionally used as toilets – I suggested a large sign on the entrance to the showers:
Another new addition is a 6 bay washing up sink with two 1000 litre water tanks as backup for when the mains water fails (or is turned off due to non-payment of the bill by the hospital). This is used to wash pots used to prepare nsima (maize porridge which represents the staple diet of all Malawians), but the glutinous nsima residue will inevitably congeal and block the drains.
A cunning plan takes this effluent into a bucket trap to collect the solid matter which can be emptied into another pit to feed the crows and rats but hopefully more usefully to create compost fertiliser for the maize field.
Meanwhile in the hospital, we are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the oxygen plant, which left Cape Town en route to Blantyre on Monday – this will deliver 800 litres of oxygen per minute and enable us to provide the only help to Covid19 patients we have available here. Anything more advanced is just not feasible in a LMIC (low to middle income country) due to lack of equipment (ventilators), drugs (sedatives to enable ventilation) or trained staff. You could reasonably argue that anything more than oxygen is inappropriate even in a HIC, although culturally unacceptable, due to the very high mortality in patients requiring escalation to such care.
The oxygen generators are serious pieces of kit and have a new building ready to accommodate them:
How will the installation team get to Blantyre when there are no commercial flights? Illovo Sugar Company have offered to fly them here and back in their executive jet! The whole saga of payment for the oxygen plant, the overcoming of bureaucratic hurdles and the transport for the installation team is nothing short of a miracle in answer to prayer, and in no small measure a testament to the powers of diplomatic persuasion of Prof Stephen Gordon and his team from the MLW (Malawi Liverpool Welcome Trust Research Institute) who have put their research on hold to help address the Covid19 crisis.

COVID19 – Hindsight’s 2020

(Sorry to post again so quickly, but things are changing rapidly, albeit not so fast in Malawi).
One of the many blessings of our current world situation is the profusion of amazing videos trying to make sense of the crisis we are in – I tried to hint at this in my last post although the feedback I have had was that it was too obscure! So here are two amazing messages, the first explaining how we have got in this state/ got COVID19 (not devised in some Chinese laboratory):
See https://www.facebook.com/probablytomfoolery/videos/925284527912453/

“Tell me the one about the virus again, then I’ll go to bed”.
“But my boy you’re growing weary, sleepy thoughts about your head.”
“Please, that one’s my favorite, I promise, just once more”

“Okay. Snuggle down my boy, although I know you know full well
This story starts before then, in a world I once would dwell
It was a world of waste and wonder, of poverty and plenty
Back before we understood why hindsight’s 2020.

You see the people came up with companies to trade across all lands
But they swelled and got much bigger than we ever could have planned
We’d always had our wants, but now it got so quick
You could have anything you dreamed of, in a day and with a click.

We noticed families had stopped talking; that’s not to say they never spoke
But the meaning must have melted, and the work life balance broke
An d the children’s eyes grew squarer and every toddler had a phone
They filtered out the imperfections, but amidst the noise they felt alone.

And every day the skies grew thicker till you couldnt see the stars
So we flew in planes to find them while down below, we filled our cars
We’d drive around all day in circles: we’d forgotten how to run
We swapped the grass for tarmac, shrunk the parks till there were none.

We filled the sea with plastic because our waste was never capped
Until each day when you went fishing, you’d pull them out already wrapped
And while we drank, and smoked, and gambled, our leaders taught us why
It’s best not to upset the lobbies, more convenient to die.

But then in 2020, a new virus came our way
The governments reacted and told us all to hide away
But while we all were hidden, amidst the fear and all the while
The people dusted off their instincts. They remembered how to smile.

They started clapping to say “Thank you”, and calling up their Mums
And while the car keys gathered dust, they would look forward to their runs.
And with the skies less full of voyagers, the earth began to breathe
and the beaches bore new wild life that scuttled off into the seas.

Some people started dancing, some were singing, some were baking
We’d grown so used to bad news but some good news was in the making
And so when we found the cure and were allowed to go outside
We all preferred the world we found to the one we’d left behind.

Old habits became extinct and they made way for the new
And every simple act of kindness was now given its due.”
“But why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?”
“Well, sometimes you’ve got to get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better

Now lie down and dream of tomorrow and all the things we can do
And who knows if you dream hard enough, maybe some of them will come true
We now call it the Great Realisation. And yes, since then there have been many
But that’s the story of how it started and why hindsight’s 2020”

The second message is a powerful message of hope in The Blessing UK (originally The Blessing in America):
See https://youtu.be/PUtll3mNj5U

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
And be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children, and their children

May His presence go before you
And behind you, and beside you
All around you, and within you
He is with you, He is with you

In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

This is TRUE – He is for YOU, turn to God.

Covid19 social distancing antonyms

We all now know how to resist the coronavirus: wash hands, social distancing and wear face masks. I have no problems with the hand washing although my colleagues have finally worked out that I have OCD when I enthused about spraying all surfaces with disinfectant, but social distancing is, I believe a misnomer. What we need is physical distancing as demonstrated by the Queens hospital staff yesterday when we all met on the fields around the Covid19 processing tents, as a social event and to all clap each other – the Malawian public, and certainly the politicians, are not going to clap us! So the antonyms for social distancing include socialisation, fraternisation, community, fellowship, camaraderie, friendship, companionship, brotherhood, mutuality and social intercourse. I recently came across a beautiful example of this in a video sent to me by my brother-in-law-in-law, Duncan Mclea. It was a video of Michél Croukamp (grade 11) and the Helpmekaar Kollege (Johannesburg) Orchestra led by Peter Mclea, where the orchestra played beautifully together, even though all physically distanced by the lock-down in South Africa. You can enjoy it too on their facebook page: https://facebook.com/watch/?v=872988369868482 – well done Helpmekaar Kollege Orchestra!
Our present situation calls to mind a novel by my favourite author, Isaac Asimov, written in the year of my birth 1957, the second in a “Robot Trilogy”, the Naked Sun, in which Elijah Baley, a detective from Earth pairs up with R Daneel Olivaaw (the R denotes a humanoid robot) from Aurora to investigate a puzzling murder of a prominent roboticist in Solaria; puzzling because the Solarians cannot tolerate the physical presence of another human being, and communicate remotely by “trimension,” wear covering over their bodies (including microfilters in their noses) when contact is unavoidable, and even procreate by laboratory fertilization. Elijah’s very first experience of (trimensional) viewing was when he interviewed the obvious suspect and the only person whose presence would have been tolerated by the roboticist, his wife, when she appeared straight out of the shower completely naked, and found Elijah’s embarrassment difficult to understand – “It’s only viewing”! Parallels for 2020 are clear as we shun the physical presence of others, and when unavoidable, wear nose (facemask) filters, communicating by n-dimensional viewing (aka WhatsApp / Zoom). It also reminds me of one of many Covid19/lock-down videos in which the subject of the video keeps a video diary, and on the day when she is at last allowed outside runs out only clothed on her top half – the part seen on Zoom calls.
Now all this talk of Naked Sun, social intercourse and semi-naked videos may render my blog suspect by the impropriety censors, but I want to end with showing a wonderful 2m high painting by Melita Gordon, rendered to celebrate the Easter Risen Son, who will see us through this crisis. As an aside the Chinese word for crisis is 危机 and is made of two characters 危 meaning danger and 机 (opportunity). Let us respond sensibly to the Danger with hand washing, physical distancing and face masks but take the Oppurtunity of encouraging Social Intercourse, albeit virtually. Let us also take note of the words of Martin Luther in Wittenberg during the 1527 Black Death plague when the wealthy would often flee to the countryside:
“I shall  ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons  where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict  and pollute others and so cause their death as a  result of my negligence. If God should wish to  take me, he will surely find me and I have done  what he has expected of me and so I am not  responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I  shall not avoid place or person but will go freely  as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

COVID19 update

Things are horrendous here in Malawi, not due to the virus itself (17 positives so far) but the anticipation of it:
1) The juniors are on strike/sit-in and the nurses have joined them at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital – Monday will see a nationwide nurses strike and Queens has now closed to all new admissions and we are discharging inpatients as soon as even slightly safe to do so – we have skeleton nursing cover and Consultant only medical cover. The demands are a) PPE (entirely reasonable and something we are working hard to provide)

In true Malawi style DIY face-masks are very colorful

b) Danger money (they currently get 1800MK ~ $2 per month risk allowance!) c) Accommodation to stop spreading the virus to family homes (easy – the student halls are all vacant – we sent them all home) d) Transport to work (easy – especially if they are in the student halls). All is soluble except the usual problem (pay) which is out of our hands and in the hands of government (their representatives just shake their heads – maybe that is why they are headless – and say they don’t know what to do)

Mulungu Tithandiza – God help us!

2) Lock-down in Malawi is slated for tonight, but has been ruled illegal by the High Court and there is rioting (burning tyres and throwing rocks) in the streets at the prospect – how can you have a lock-down in a society where the vast majority live hand to mouth on a daily basis? Apparently the same is happening in Mozambique. Many believe that lock-down is not for LMIC Africa – and anyway what is the point of flattening the curve to make the demands on hospital care easier to handle when there is no hospital care, and certainly no ventilator capacity? This spreadsheet speaks volumes about the different approaches to the pandemic: China – draconian control of people movement and “invasion of privacy”, Germany – excellent preparedness and obedience to civil control together with a well funded health systems, UK – refusal to prepare and insisting on going it alone without Europe, USA – “What virus, it is fake news”. For me it is a toss up between Germany and China!

COVID19 responses

We all know now that the most effective measures to limit the COVID19 pandemic are regular hand washing and social distancing (>2m). Having had a holiday to South Africa thwarted by the lock-down there, we decided to visit our favorite game park (Mvuu Camp in Liwonde) last week. The domestic staff and game rangers were all wearing face masks, but this group of felines did not think much of social distancing, and as for these vultures, they were more concerned with extracting meat from a hapless porcupine. Of course a close friend of this animal is the subject of the worst illegal trade in bush meat from Malawi to China, of another omnivore and threatened species, the Pangolin. We are hoping that this COVID19 pandemic may lead to a cessation of this trade the virus possibly having made a species jump from Pangolins to Humans, maybe via bats.
There are other silver linings to this pandemic, with a record fall in CO2 emissions of 5% in the past 3 months, (although it seems that methane emission may have somehow risen – attributed to the petroleum industry and farming), birds able to make themselves heard without coughing and choking on fumes and in the absence of aircraft noise.
Another major benefit is that with social distancing and even isolation, we are much closer than ever to many friends – virtually. Zoom, WhatsApp and the Internet Service Providers are thriving as we spend hours communicating – we have three times now had a four way call with all the children and this virus is bringing us closer and more connected. When we were younger we occasionally attended church twice on Sundays, but now we can attend our Blantyre church, followed by our Woking home church service and then even join in with our son’s service from St Mary’s Southampton, all from the comfort of our sitting room. We are amazed at the ingenuity and inventiveness as people put together an engaging service. I loved the children’s drama from the Christ Church Woking, with an interview with the donkey (from his retirement home) who was co-opted to bear Jesus on his triumphal entry to Jerusalem, even if some of the script was risque in parts: Donkey “I had to take Him to the Mount of Olives, and I don’t even like Olives” – no problem there, but “JESUS, you’re heavy” (???).
One thing we have learnt about COVID19 is that male health workers over the age of 60 are at the highest risk from the disease, so Caroline is very anxious that I take every reasonable measure to limit my risk and is working hard to procure face masks not only for Medical Staff at Queens but also for patient’s guardians and even for patients, through the Chira Fund charity (https://www.chirafund.org/) she is managing, as well as sourcing scrubs for the medical staff to wear – I am very pleased to say that one of my wonderful younger colleagues has volunteered to do my very high risk HDRU (High Dependency Respiratory Unit) on call for me – fortunately I am the only >60 year old in the Unit. This is really important as the nurses and now even the junior staff are very worried about being expected to undertake what they see as a suicide mission without adequate PPE. Back home we have water and soap at the door to wash and I have to strip and put clothes in the washing machine before taking a shower every day on return from work. Our trusty Man Friday (Peterson) has been banished from the house and we have to do our own washing up and cleaning (shame!).
So I can sing along with Brian at this Easter time: “Always look on the bright side of Life, For life is quite absurd, And death’s the final word. You must always face the curtain with a bow!”
EXCEPT that as the disciples found at Easter time, Life is not absurd and Death does not have the final word, and the disciples met a Risen Jesus on the Road to Emmaus – one who could materialize and de-materialize but was also able to eat fish and whose nail holes in his hands and feet were very palpable.

 

 

A Hand-Maid’s Tale

A response to post apocalyptic population collapse:

Ritual rape inseminating future generations;
Rachel assists Commander in Bilhah’s Ceremony.

God fearing? Gender traitor fearing,
Hanging on the wall.
Gender based violence and summary execution,
Women reading the word of God punished by digital amputation.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.
Gilead trump’s democracy: dystopia, desecration;
Twittering scornful post-truth inanity.
Wake up America before this is your future.
May the LORD open
Not Wombs but Eyes to see the danger

Retreat to Advance

Caroline and I recently joined friends at a silent retreat on the Zomba plateau. On the way we met again with the dynamic Widge and Andrew mentioned in the previous blog to discuss spreading the use of the menstrual cup to women and girls on the mainland, with the backing of Widge’s Ufulu organisation (www.ufulu.org). They seemed intrigued by the concept of a silent retreat – as indeed we were and even sent me a WhatsApp wishing us well in this weird pastime and introducing me to an emoticon I was unfamiliar with.
In fact it was an amazing experience ably led by Melita; on arrival we were treated with a glorious rainbow as a promise of good things to come. As an ice breaker we started by choosing a post card from the many strewn around the room and explaining why it had picked us – silently of course – just kidding. My choice was a painting by Sieger Köder (1925-2015) called “After the fire came a gentle, quiet whisper“, which I initially chose because I had it on its side and found it hard to decipher, but once I had it the correct way up it was clearly a representation of Elijah on the Mountain of Horeb where God caused a wind strong enough to break rocks, an earthquake and then a fire (which reminded me of the horrendous fires in Australia) but his voice was only to be found in the gentle whisper of a falling leaf. The image also recalled to my mind the hymn by Rev Augustus Toplady (a man! with a name like that? An early Mrs Pankhurst!) “Rock of ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee” as Elijah hides in the same rock cleft for Moses to carve the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. I should not listen to the storms and turmoil around but rather to that gentle quiet whisper saying “This is the way, walk in it”. Before entering into silence, we also did an Ignatian meditation: Ignatius of Loyola taught a form of reflective prayer, that invites you to use your mind and imagination to engage in prayerful conversation with God and to recognize his presence in the scriptures. We looked at the passage of the Journey of the Magi.  I couldn’t help photo-shopping Melita’s painting and annotating it:
A hot coming we had of it
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey
The ways deep and the weather sharp
The very heat of summer
and the bicycles cranky, squeaky, refractory
(With apologies to TS Eliot). I was particularly struck by the fact that the Magi found not a baby in a manger but a toddler Jesus – the creator of the Universe confined in human toddler form, and this idea was picked up also by Dr Jane Bates who penned this wonderful poem:
Matthew 2:1-12 – What will I bring Him?
The child plays near the door of the house
Mary watching from a distance.
Sand and pebbles fly around
As the child Jesus plays.
A group of dusty Travelers arrive
Stepping down from their camels.
They look tired but strangely radiant
As a creeping joy begins to envelope the space.
Mary rushes inside to bring them water
To wash and to refresh their dry palates.
By the time she returns they are on their knees
Robes in the dust, heads to the ground.
These strange weary travelers overcome with joy
Have open boxes in front of Jesus,
Who is filling them with sand
Mary moves forward to apologize and pick him up.
But The Travelers gently signal for her to step back
As Jesus sees something glinting. The travelers beam
As he moves his grubby fingers over the gold, pausing over its strange cold feel
Before adding another fistful of sand to the box
Mary is downcast but the travelers are unperturbed
Opening two more boxes in front of the child
An exotic fragrance drifts across the dusty courtyard
Black sticky incense resin is revealed
This scene unimaginable
This joy uncontrollable
These gifts unforgettable
What do I bring to my king?
My second postcard was yet again a painting by Sieger Köder, and again of Elijah as he shelters under a broom bush and despairs of his journey ahead across the wilderness for 40 days and nights to take him to Mount Horeb, as God provided bread and water to sustain him for the journey. I recently found the track recording of the GPS he used indicating a 420 km journey with no food or water… What journey are we being called out on?

I even tried some art (apologies to my school art teacher who clearly got nowhere with me) as I meditated on the green hill faraway outside the city wall, entering by a narrow gate to find my dear LORD nailed to the cross not by nails but by love, at whose feet I can lay my six deadly sins (sloth not being tolerated by dynamo Mrs Finch) and who can release me to love God and the Kosmos (both human and created – John 3:16), including the wonderful field of Gloriosa superba I found behind the disused stable block.

Livingstone’s Lake II: Life in Paradise, Likoma

Our Ilala journey and arrival at Likoma Island was greatly eased by meeting a very friendly man called Andrew Came on the boat – he was clearly an old hand and held our new hands through every stage of the journey. How to get off the ship? Andrew contacted our hosts at our lodge Kaya Mawa (“Perhaps Tomorrow”) who sent a boat to receive us ashore and a car to drive us to the lodge. It turned out that Andrew was the first white person to stay on the island for 50 years when Andrew Came (sic!), was accepted by the local chief and built the high end Kaya Mawa. He later moved on to build a backpackers establishment, Mango Drift, and is now building a tree house.
Kaya Mawa proved to be an idyllic barefoot paradise: because of our late booking, we were assigned a standard room for the first night – more than perfectly comfortable and splendid but then we had to move to another room.

Thanks to a cancellation we were upgraded to a premium room!

Caroline described it as the best room she has ever stayed in, with large bedroom, bathroom, separate toilet, lounge, bar and infinity pool. Our hosts, Ollie and Allie, were absolutely wonderful and superbly attentive and the food was divine: au-delà haute cuisine.
The next day we cycled to St Peters Anglican Cathedral, built in 1911 and said to be the same size as Winchester Cathedral, where we joined a lively packed out service (men on the right, women on the left), with the three en-robed celebrants carefully arranged in height order. The bells and incense was a poignant reminder of our time at the Church of the Ascension Bulawayo in the early ’70s, but even more so of our experience in Pietermaritzburg in 1979 where at the appropriate point in the service a loud extractor fan burst into action to remove the smell of incense, or maybe to speed its ascension to heaven: Bells, Smells and Fan! A torrential downpour on the way home diverted us to Andrew’s tree-house, quirky and great fun, where we met Widge Woolsey, a lovely vivacious person who has established a charity called Ufulu (www.ufulu.org) with the aim of “Ending Period Poverty”. In rural Africa, most women use cloth rags, newspaper or bits of blanket at the time of their periods. Sanitary pads or tampons are not readily available and are prohibitively expensive, and young girls often/usually miss school once a month. Moon (Ruby) cups are reusable, made from medical grade silicone and last for up to 10 years. Widge distributes the cups, a recycled tin to boil the cup to sterilize them, a carry bag and antiseptic soap to wash hands with. She also enthusiastically educates and demonstrates insertion and removal, the miming actions greatly facilitated by her wearing hot pants.
Much of the decor and bed linen in Kaya Mawa is a attributable to Suzie Lightfoot who founded Katundu (www.katundu.com) in 2006. We took a short stroll to visit the workshop where beautiful furnishings are “handmade by single mothers and orphan carers with love”. As an example wine and beer bottles are carefully cut into small pieces, sanded in a homemade glass-tumbler to smooth the edges and painstakingly assembled into marvelous chandeliers, and old bicycle cranksets are welded into amphoric shaped light fittings. Sadly we did not meet any of the ladies displayed (disported may be more accurate) on their website.

Livingstone’s Lake: The Drama of the MV. Ilala

$4000 without flights!  We decided to take a post Christmas short break and were investigating Ethiopia as a destination but the quote we received was hard to swallow so turned our attention to one of the parts of Malawi we had failed to reach so far: Likoma Island.  A stones throw  from Mozambique, and therefore logically in Lago Niassa but technically in Lake Malawi, two thirds up the 565 km long lake, and 426 km from Blantyre as the crow flies. Not being crows, we investigated flying in a light aircraft from Blantyre: $1600 (not even returning to BLZ as they were only stopping in Lilongwe); as a friend sardonically observed, we only want to buy a seat, not the whole plane!  It was thus with trepidation we turned our attention to the Ilala, a ferry boat that has being plying up and down the lake once a week since 1951.  Built in Scotland in 1949, the ship was dismantled and transported to Malawi in pieces, first by ship to Mozambique and then by rail and road from Beira to Chipoka.
“MV. ILALA owned by the Malawi Shipping Company. Length 52m, Breadth 9.3m, Gross Tonnage 620 Tons, Diesel fuel 6 Tons. Crew 40, Passengers 460”
There is a published schedule but having been warned it was only approximate, we arrived at Senga Bay by car an hour before the appointed ETA.  There we waited peering out over the lake for 4 hours, wondering if we had missed the boat until at last it hove to on the horizon.  We eventually departed some 6 hours after the ETD, having secured a position on the upper deck, reserved for first class passengers.  The economy class passengers were kept below among the cargo (fish and livestock included, a real olfactory experience) by a fiercely guarded gate.  There being no free cabins available, we established our starlight/open air sleeping quarters.  Fortunately the rain held off overnight.  I had previously enquired what happens if it rains and was told “the captain takes evasive action” – a likely story! We found out in the morning when the rain started and we all crowded around the covered bar area. I was reminded of the BBC Attenborough film on Emperor Penguins huddling together (for warmth) and as one of the penguins on the outside of the huddle, wondered if the regulation re-shuffle would take place!
After a delightful, if rather wet, sojourn on Likoma Island (a story for another blog perhaps) we again caught the Ilala now on its southern bound journey.  We were anticipating an ETA of 10:30 but the ship was sighted 5 hours early and there followed a mad dash to hurry up and wait, worrying we might have to chase after the ship (which had maintained a constant 9 knots, 16km/h) and getting aboard as the third and last horn sounded.  We then waited another 2 hours before departing!
This time we were blessed with the luxury of cabin number 3 – not en-suite but with a basin, and nearby toilet and shower and a strict “Standing order to our valued customers: For the sake of cleanliness and good hygiene, pests (sic, presumably pets) and fowls shall not be allowed in the cabin class. With due respect, this order should be strictly observed at all times”.  The pests clearly couldn’t read as we had to dispatch several cockroaches, but otherwise spent a blissful New Years Eve slumbering through the celebrations on the deck above with the help of ear plugs.  Fortunately the ear plugs failed to exclude the horn announcing our arrival back at Senga Bay at 5am, 5 hours ahead of schedule, whereupon followed an un-ladylike disembarkation from the ship’s lighter for Caroline, to keep her feet dry.  Rather like a horse bolting for home, I suspect the crew were keen to get home as soon as possible with scant regard for timetables. The moral of the story is the ETA and ETD times are to be taken with a pinch of salt, and as long as you actually get aboard, sit back and go with the flow: there is plenty of time for sunbathing, drinking at the bar, eating in the saloon and educational games

The Power of Three

We have just returned from a marvellous two weeks in Mauritius celebrating the wedding of our eldest son Alex and Poonam – the delightful daughter of Dev and Anita and sister to Robin. To borrow from my speech at the third wedding (!): “a miraculous change has come over Alex with regular contact and friendly phone calls and we later realised this was a result of him meeting Poonam. Her name means Full Moon and we really appreciate the gentle fun loving brightness, not burning midday sun but gentle moonlight she has brought into Alex’s life”. I went on to say “We have only been married for 42 years and I remember clearly what the priest who married us, Michael Baughen, said: Two’s company, Three‘s a crowd, unless the third person is God. Deux est compagnie, Trois est foule, à moins que la troisième personne soit Dieu. Three is an important number, both in Hinduism, with the Trimurti, a threefold expression of God as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and in Christianity with the Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit. The Christian teaching is that God is love and we pray that that third person of love would bind you together as you create your own family.”
I was especially touched by what Alex said in his speech talking about his upbringing, and quoting from CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy where someone was talking about his regrets about the past which he could never experience again because it has gone, to which the answer was “No, you only began to see it when it first happened and now you are beginning to see it as it really is, but you will only really understand the things that event meant to you when your life is over”.
There were also three wedding events – the Sangeet (a pre wedding celebration), a Nuptial ceremony and a Wedding reception, all requiring different outfits, not to mention the official wedding in front of the Registrar, the Haldi ceremony etc. It was a blast – a great chance to get to know Poonam’s family and friends better and a delight to see how happy they are together.

We have both struggled to come back down to earth here in Malawi with only a few days until Christmas which we will spend with some friends here – it all seems an anti-climax! We are back to torrential rain storms (100mm of rain in 2 hours) which have trashed our access road and washed tons of rubble across the newly built but completely inadequately drained highway.
And in two weeks we have a new decade to enter – what a change we have experienced in the past decade, and what new challenges lie ahead in the next decade?