Nets and Bugs and Shots

When I was getting ready to move to Kenya, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I’d been to different parts of Latin America, slept on the floor of a church an hour up a dirt road off of the pan-american highway, eaten guinea-pig from a roadside stand with classmates in a charter bus, and still I didn’t know what I was getting in to. 

I was most worried about the “bathroom” situation and the bugs. In my first week at training I had a massive GI bug, and so leapt the hurdle of pit latrines quickly and it simply became part of the landscape—really built up that quad strength.

But the bug thing. 

It was still a thing.

I’ve always been a sweet enticement to mosquitoes. 

One night while visiting family in Cocoa we went to go watch a launch at Cape Canaveral, standing on the side of the road looking across the Indian River, swatting the bugs that were pleased at the feast presented to them. The launch was scrubbed, for whatever reason, but my legs the next morning were a polka-dot compilation of pain and irritable scratchiness. My mom carefully put cream on each bite, counting as we went, and crossed fifty before we were done. 

Mosquitoes love me.

So of course, the Peace Corps medical machine sends me to sub-saharan africa, where mosquitoes seek out everyone every night. And these particular mosquitoes carry malaria with them. 

As we prepare to ship out in the midst of staging, every peace corps volunteer is given the baseline malaria prophylaxis. In 2006, when I began service, that medication was mefloquine, a noxious weekly medication that dropped my ability to sleep down to four hour segments on the first two nights after my dose, made me see things that weren’t there, and has a history of inciting suicidal ideation. This is the medication that was given to US military in malaria prone areas at the time as well. I don’t know current practices. It was cheap, and we’re volunteers. 

Every volunteer was also given a bug net for their homestay. Volunteers were hosted, in Kenya at least, in homes of host country nationals, because training is scheduled during the local school term, so the families who have children away at boarding school have a bedroom available for the forty or so volunteers in training at the time. (It’s a great idea, actually, drop your volunteers into a home and have them deal with culture shock in the middle of training, because then you still have friends around and staff that can help you navigate this wholly new thing.)

So during training I learned more about malaria. 

In South Georgia, mosquitoes are active all the time. It doesn’t matter when it is, you can get bitten. Sure, they might be happier and buzzier and swarmier at night, but any time of day is a good time of day for some tasty blood snacks. 

In Kenya, the mosquitoes that carry malaria are active at night. 

For volunteers, they are a nuisance. 

For the families we stayed with, and the families we later worked with, they are a danger. 

The denizens of Kenya, the refugees and the folks who live in the bush and the majority of all of the residents who call sub-saharan africa their home, don’t take a regular medication to prevent malaria. It’s a problem of access and longevity and cost and risk/benefit and a hundred other things. 

Instead, they sleep under nets. Everyone sleeps under a net, unless you are in a climate controlled building like a hotel or an embassy building or a movie theater. I can count on two hands the number of times I was in a climate controlled space in Kenya. 

Mothers and their children under five are given insecticide treated nets, where they share a bed and sleep, hoping there is not a new hole in the net and that the insecticide lasts long enough to stave off the next bite that could make them sick enough to threaten their life. 

Because that’s the thing, malaria for children age five and under can be deadly. Yes, there is a treatment medication that was brand new when I was in Kenya, fifteen years ago, but it’s in pill form and I don’t know about you but have you tried to get a kid to swallow a pill recently? And anyway, it’s only available at dispensaries and hospitals and its difficult to get to those quickly, or at all. 

In 2006 seven to nine hundred thousand people died from malaria, 90% of those in subsaharan africa, and two thirds of the people who died were five and under. That number was better this past year, dropping to half a million, but that’s still too many

And so, it was with great joy that I heard this week that a malaria vaccine was approved by the WHO. This is huge. It’s not perfect, requiring four injections over two years, and only 30-40% effective at preventing symptomatic disease…

Which, when one is traveling by motorbike with a cooler strapped to the seat behind you, hoping that the families that were there six months ago are there again and have their cards with them so that their vaccine schedule is up to date… it’s a lot. 

But it’s something. 

And it still means the nets are necessary, and it still means that people have to be careful and tuck their nets in and watch for holes and treat their nets once a year or more…

But 30-40% effective means that a few hundred thousand fewer children might die. 

And even though these are children that I might never meet, I still care. Black lives matter even if they are across the ocean. Every death is a tragedy, especially the preventable ones. 

So I hope this vaccine is funded, and fast. And distributed quickly. Because God knows there are too many preventable deaths happening daily right now. 

We have a 95% effective shot for another deadly pandemic right now… I’ll stand in line overnight if necessary for my kid to get it when it is approved. But I don’t have to, because we don’t have the same urgency or shared vision here. I kinda wish it was like the pesky mosquitoes, visible and irritating. We might be safer, then. 

But I’m still glad for this hope. 

The Sanctuary Dream

9/24/21 (this is a recurring dream space. Do you recognize it?)

The first thing you notice is that the carpet is red. 

The sanctuary is carpeted in the color of red that is a rich, deep, red, full of hints of russet, ruby, and roses. The crowning on the ceiling is golden, and you notice the balcony is low overhead, not quite close enough to be claustrophobic, but still, close. The supports are gilt carved ornate pieces, that glimmer as you walk past. The pews are wooden, with cushions in red to match the floor. 

Your steps are dampened by the plush of the carpet.

You enter from the back, a gallery that opens down into the space, where the chancel is sunken, so that even the back seats from the floor can see clearly down to the center. Looking up, the chancel is warmly stained wood, setting the entire space in a warm glow reflecting from the light flooding the space where you are going to speak.

But that is not what you are doing right now. Right now you have to get your kid squared away, and that is up a flight and a half to the children’s wing above the back of the balcony. The staircase at the top of the balcony is wide, in mirror image to the stair up tp the back of the bottom floor of the sanctuary, where the gleaming lights catch your eye every time you pass by.

Sometimes there are people walking up the stairs, sometimes the space is empty and quiet as a tomb.

Behind the balcony is a narrow stairwell, the walls whitewashed and the railing a black wrought iron. The colors are jarring each time you transition, because it seems an after thought, an extra, a bit that doesn’t receive the same honor as the sanctuary. 

And the children’s hall feels… like a hospital, a bit. The light, especially in contrast to the sanctuary is cold, barren, bright—blue, almost. Glass doors are spaced evenly down the hall, and as you pass by, you see the children playing behind them on primary colored block foam flooring. You can’t hear them, the spaces are soundproofed. 

The door for your child is next, and you can’t tell if the careworkers are there yet, you look in, and check your watch at the same time.

You’re late. 

You’ve got to go. 

You start to move, and decide to … well…

The dream splits. Sometimes you have left your child to play. She is happy, you are fine, mostly. 

Sometimes you have to keep walking with them back down the cold white steps and into the back of the sanctuary. The sacristy perhaps. 

And the jitters of performance start in. There is no calming it, only going through it. 

The first words are a push. 

The space is full.

You weren’t ready. Not really.

But you’re here. 

And it is time.

You begin. 

Good Days

Good days are not perfect ones

Good days have complications

Good days are mundane

Good days are relative

Good days hold tension

Good days can seem better upon reflection

Or worse, sometimes

Good days can be restful 

Good days are exhausting

Good days are all about perspective

Good days are about who you’re with

Good days feel like setups

Good days prepare you for what’s next

Good days are hard to schedule

Good days can be hard to find

Good days hold the sunrise and the sunset

Good days sleep in

Good days are a feast

Good days are leftovers for every meal

Good days give you a breath 

Or a stretch

Or a pause

Or a break

Or a rush

Good days remind you what is real

Good days are a cuddle and a dance

Good days are a race around the house

Good days are a theme park step count

Good days are a cozy book and a cup of cider

Good days are a celebration

Good days are a sigh of relief 

Good days are a spell of silence

Good days are full of noise

Good days are filled with crystalized moments

Good days pass in a blur

Good days last forever

Good days are over in a blink

Good days are full of family

Good days are when strangers become friends

Good days are brand new books

Good days are stories that are old friends

Good days are the change of seasons

Good days are the height of them all

Good days can never be repeated

Not exactly. Not at all

Good days can hold a rhythm

Good days can teach you something

Good days are lessons learned

Good days fall through your fingers

Good days hold you up

Good days.

Choosing Curious

One of the most helpful tools I’ve had over the past month is curiosity. I know that it can be off-putting to say “why” all the time, but even if I don’t say “why” I’m still in the position of: what can I learn? What can I discover? What is the story that is hiding in this exchange? What is the true thing that is yet to be found here in this conversation? 

I know that I am smart. That I have had a whole lot of education and reading and learning and that I am fairly good at teaching and preaching and facilitation. And I also know that I do not know the details of this community. 

I’m working on it. I’m spending a lot of time in conversation. Curiosity is the position from which I am aiming to have all of my conversations. 

People really are interesting. Like. Really. And I’ve spent so much time in the recent past not being able to talk to new people. Or really any people. And so I’m getting a lot of people time in. 

It’s making this introvert learn some new limits. And finding new places for spending spoons. And dropping things that were spending ones that I didn’t realize I had to spare. 

But in this all, I’m staying curious. 

I mean, sure, soon I’m going to have to jump off the deep end of creating a project and writing seventy pages of theological ground work. (Maybe eighty, I’m not sure). 

One of the things that I find really curious about being this kind of curious—is that the way that someone tells you a story—tells you nearly as much about the storyteller as it does about the story. 

I’ve got a story I’ve heard seven times, and I have heard at least seven different versions of it. Sometimes even the same narrator will have a different narrative the next time around. 

I’d have missed it if I wasn’t so curious. 

I’m working at braiding all these stories together, so that I can see the picture as widely as possible. Of course, my own perspective will also have a bearing on how I hear and interpret the story, but that is one of the great things about being a storyteller… I get to tell the story anew, a new way, and shape the telling of it the next time around. 

And even then, I need to remember to be curious to hearing the way that the listener reflects the story back to me, so that I can keep learning. 

Curious. Even.  

Generating Nostalgia

Every so often I will listen to the radio so I can find new music. I usually listen in times of transition or in the summer, which is its own transition, or when I’m feeling impatient or hopeful.

And so this summer, as we moved and I’m driving the not-kid car, which doesn’t have a way to connect to my phone, I’m listening to the radio, because I want to hear something I can dance to. 

And this year, I was not disappointed. Sure, there are some songs on pop radio right now that are downright depressing in how they consider relationships and usefulness. But then there were two songs that caught me. I heard them at least a week apart. And then I realized, after looking up the second, that the first was from the same artist, from the same album, as well. I love finding songs this way.

This is how it happens. I listen to a song, and then I through listen the entire album (facilitated now by spotify), and the whole time I’m just grinning, listening to songs that are wholly new and hilarious and wonderful. And now I’ve got my favorite five songs, the theme music for the summer. 

Now any time I want to remember this summer—this time we moved to this house that we bought, this room I painted in cerulean blue, this time of beginning work after five years of caring for the kids, this time when I finally started my full connection work, this new new new feeling of being in the right place at the right time—I will be able to listen to these songs and know exactly how I felt right now. 

I am generating nostalgia in the moment.

I love new music for this.

I like the songs I’ve learned before, the songs I know by heart, but I also love learning new songs. Songs that surprise, that use elements of the past and sound wholly new and fill me with joy when I hear them. 

Give me new music every time. 

And the old. 

And let me hear them together, the new, the old, the familiar, the novel, the surprising, all of it.

Let me dance and sway and discover a new beat.

Because that’s what I want to do, is dance. Dance and find a rhythm in my body that echoes the beating of my heart and the pumping of my blood and lets me clap and stomp and move so I can remember I am alive. 

For the curious, these are the songs… Way Less Sad and Bang by AJR.