Monday, October 22, 2012

Birth and a Pilgrimage

It was a hot December evening when I delivered my second child, Christopher in Nsanje, Malawi  where Steve and I were Peace Corps Volunteers.  The delivery table was hard like a ceramic kitchen table in two parts.  The stirrups were not what I remembered from my first delivery in a western hospital in Pittsburgh.  When it was time to deliver the bottom half of the table was pulled away so the baby could "drop."  Not so high tech.  It was the time of the flying ants.  They swarmed under the door attracted to the light of the delivery room, landed on my swollen belly.  The nurses were swept them off the floor, saved them to eat with tea.

Turns out Christopher's was my shortest labor and easiest deliver.

Turns out too that Christopher and his wife Laurie are Peace Corps volunteers now.  They are both teachers in Mozambique.   In Nsanje, Steve was the district medical officer and only doctor in the region.  I taught English in the high school.

Thirty years after his birth Christopher made a pilgrimage from Mozambique to his birthplace.  I always thought I would be there with him.  I never really thought it would happen.  Funny how life turns out.

Nsanje is not a big place on the map.  Chris and Laurie did not know how they would get there.  Not many other people knew either. First they had to negotiate crossing a third world border.  Then it took lots of hitchhiking, numerous rides on the back of pick-up trucks (several broke down) and even a ride on the back of a bicylce taxi.

But the made it!

Laurie says it best in their blog:

We walked in(to the hospital compound) that morning feeling a little apprehensive as we took pictures and treaded around the campus. This was a hospital after all where life or death really does occur so we didn’t want to interrupt anything or bother anybody. We almost left without speaking to anyone but Chris decided that he wanted to go into the administration building just to see if anyone remembered him or his father. We spoke to the secretary who greeting us with a huge smile after Chris explained why we were there, she happily said she’d like to take us on a tour and show us the maternity ward where he was born. We walked through the corridors, many expanded since Steve was a doctor there 30 years ago, and saw all the areas of the hospital including the very same maternity ward where Chris was born (**Side Note: Rock on Karen, for giving birth in a developing country! You’re awesome!) Throughout the tour we met people who had known Chris and his family back in the 80s and some who had worked with his father when he returned in 2007. 
One man, Catindica, said he remembers holding Chris as a baby and told us that Steve used to climb up the water tower with Chris on his back, which sounds a little crazy and exactly like something Steve would do! Then Catindica showed us that water tower, and even more amazingly, the house where Chris and his family lived for the three years they were in Malawi.  The picture I had seen of Chris thousands of times, as a two-year-old adorable child with blue overalls and his feet in the African sand was finally coming to life. It was an amazing thing to weave together a family portrait while standing on the other side of the world.  We left with huge smiles on our faces and feeling like we had a better understanding of the life of baby Chris. 

To read more about their trip check out their blog:

Laurie says it much better than I.  I can only be a ridiculously proud mom and mother-in-law and a little weepy.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Road Trip Part III: The Surprises

The best travel reveals the unexpected.  The unexpected inspires.

I have been across the Rio Grande river several times since I moved out west.  And I was dismayed each time to find a trickle at best....damn up stream?

So it was a surprise to find the Rio Grande Gorge State Park that offers hiking, and boating opportunities.   The view of the gorge from the second highest suspension bridge in the US was worth the side trip.

And I am inspired to go back for hiking, camping and boating adventures.  OK maybe there is a poem there too.

Hands down the most unexpected surprise on this road trip:  Earthship.  The concept speaks to my imagination(think writing, think making stuff out of trash and think recycling) .  

 These sustainable  green residential buildings are solar powered and made out of recycled and natural materials.  

Combine Gaudi in style and imagination with Pueblo building materials...mud and straw to begin with.    Add used tires and bottles....  

Earthships is an experiment in sustainable living:

Building with natural and recycled materials
Solar/thermal heating and cooling
Solar and wind electric power
Water harvesting
Contained sewage treatment
Food production.

I found what every writer looks for from every experience.   Inspiration and new material.  Something out there that I can put my passion behind, a new exploration  to delve into.  

Kids who will inherit this earth need to know about the possibilities.  The whimsical design of the buildings would make for eye-catching illustrations.  I can already see children designing their own Earthships.  

 Now I need to commit to the research and writing and rewriting....

Finally nature always surprises.  I learned that New Mexico has some of that Colorado gold this time of year with Aspens spread across the mountains like sunlight.

 And this as we drove back  into Chinle.  The sky in the west is always dramatic and surprising.   Could offer up a poem or more.

Now I need to sit and do what writers do, turn these surprises and new experiences into something more, translate my enthusiasm into something creative that will capture my reader's imagination. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Road Trip Part II: The Favorites

(favorite restaurant)

Every adventure has some disappointments especially if you are willing to drive down dirt roads with high expectations and the knowledge that not everything works out as planned.

We went down this road:
And found this:

When we had hoped to see the ranch and the tree that inspired this:

The Lawrence Tree by Georgia O'Keeffe.

This trip had so many favorites it is difficult to list them all here and each one needs a separate blog.  We found Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch if not the DH Lawrence Ranch.  The tour did not disappoint and we saw the ranch and several of the exact  places where the artist painted.  

O'Keeffe said if she painted the Pedernal Mountain enough times, God would give it to her.  Her ashes were spread here.  This Mountain plays a part in Navajo creation stories as well.  
Always the connections I am looking for as a writer.

Taos was a little too much with less of the "real" feel.  Lots of people in town for an arts and crafts show and a colorful wool festival.  But a peek down some alley ways provided the ambiance I had expected.

Taos Pueblo was another favorite treat.  We arrived before the buses and for a few minutes we were in a real Pueblo village.   The people were friendly and generous in their sharing of information about culture and art.  I added to my growing collections of seed pots.  Note the "smoke cloud".

And what writer (or mother) could not resist these Story Teller Bears made from the same clay as the pot.  This clay mixed with mica sparkles when fired and is well known in this area.   

The story goes that mother bears often give birth during hibernation.  During this period the baby bears are silently taught all they need for the rest of their lives.

Touchstone Bed and Breakfast another favorite.  The right price included a two course breakfast.  Mable Dodge a wealthy patron of the arts who started a literary colony in the Taos area and was connected to O'Keeffe and Lawrence once owned this home.

 The art of the current owner is displayed in common areas of the inn and yes that ivy that climbs columns and beams throughout the eating space is real.

 We barely had time to explore the grounds which include a labyrinth and a tree house.

 Favorite restaurant?  The Love Apple which it turns out was just in front of the Touchstone B and B.

 The restaurant had blankets on chairs for outdoor seating in the cool autumn weather.  We were able to snuggle with ringside seats at the fire with wine while waiting for our table.  The food lived up to the magical ambience and was worth the wait.  But anyone who knows me and has eaten at my house knows the outside blankets and the fire were the real treat.

"I think that New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had.  It certainly changed me forever...the moment I saw the brilliant proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul" ....  D. H.  Lawrence

"I think that New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever ... The moment I saw the brilliant proud morning (sun) shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul." ~D.H. Lawrence
"I think that New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever ... The moment I saw the brilliant proud morning (shine high up o"I think that New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever ... The moment I saw the brilliant proud morning (sun) shine high up over the deserts of She deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul." ~D.H. Lawrence

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Road Trip Taos Part I: Are we still in the US?

Our trip began by fitting an upright vacuum cleaner into the small SUV along with luggage for three women who each needed clothing and shoes for warm or cool weather, shoes for all occasions, hiking to dining and in between.   Literally everything AND the vacume cleaner.

First stop?  Gallup, NM not on the itinerary.  When you live in Chinle you drive one and a half hours to get your vacuum repaired.  Luckily Gallup was on the way.

If travel is about learning I had already learned something new.  Now I know where to get my sewing machine repaired the next time I head out to Gallup.

In Santa Fe we found we had arrived in time for the Friday evening gallery walk.  I was introduced to a new favorite artist Dan Naminga.  His landscapes captured the big sky and mountains dotted with balls of cedar trees that we would pass through for the next few days.  Prices out of reach for this traveler but memories make the best souvenirs.

The trip really began for me as we headed out on the High Road to I had never explored.  Unexpected landscapes and culture felt like another country with villages more European than American.  The Spanish influence is authentic and refreshing.

Oops.  Forgot to mail that Net Flix movie before we left.

 Friendly shopkeepers were happy to share imformation about the place and the people, the artists in the communties.  The area is known for the distinctive black on black pottery style made popular by Marie Martinez.  I added to my seed pot collection.

Every village boasts an old Spanish chapel but Chimayo is the focal point of the area.  Chimayo and the surrounding area is known for Hispanic and Tewa Indian arts, pottery and weaving and for famous red and green chile.

Chimayo is also home to Santario de Chimayo known as a destination for pilgrimages through the ages and for miraculous healings.  The lovely grounds with many shops and chapels provide an unusual mix

(because I like rocks)


the sacred and the whimical.

And right around the corner?

  A cafe out of the countryside of Spain or Mexico or .....are we really in the US?