Subscribe to "Liz in Mali" to receive it via e-mail:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Monday, May 14, 2012

Liz in Mal(aw)i on Mother's Day

And so it begins again.

More than a year has passed since I left you all somewhere between goats, Haribo candies, and mosquito nets. My life has moved forward and progressed – I graduated from my MPH program, found myself a solid international development job working for one of the biggest USAID contractors in D.C., traveled to Uganda, Mozambique, back to Mali, and now to Malawi, and (let’s not forget) debuted my back-up singing career in the release of Mageez’s first album.

 From the balcony of my hotel in Kampala, Uganda recruiting proposal staff for a program to 
increase nutrition through investment in livelihoods and access to agriculture inputs.

Poolside strategy session in Mozambique, thinking through teaming options for a project to 
increase Portuguese reading capacity among 2nd and 3rd graders.

Oh Mali, how I still love you...despite your sub-Saharn lands
 covered in black plastic "flowers."
Over this same period of time, on the other hand, Mali has significantly digressed – in the past 3 months, extremist Muslim groups have taken over the northern region, tearing apart the gem that is Timbuktu and initiating Sharia law; President Toure has been overthrown by junta soldiers upset with his response to the situation in the north, only giving more power to those northern rebels and throwing the country in further disarray, a country who prior to 2012 had enjoyed peace for over 50 years.

Lush Malawian mango trees
But that’s neither here nor there, as today I am 
writing from sleepy Malawi, a small yet populous country sitting in southern Africa, sandwiched by Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique along the beautiful Lake Malawi.

While the main purpose of my 10-day trip is to provide technical assistance to the multi-million dollar malaria prevention project I’ve been supporting from the home office back in Washington, you may be wondering why am I really here? How did I begin down this path of international development, hopping among what you laymen would call “third world countries,” travelling to neglected corners of the world where there are open sewers, tropical vector-borne diseases, and where Westerners are advised to even brush teeth with bottled water??

Let’s wind the clock back to 2008, when I realized at the approach of summer that I would not have the luxury of a junior-year abroad due to my commitments to competitive college volleyball. Coach would not simply let me ditch our prestigious Green Wave team for 4 months to go “find myself” in Europe or Australia. However, this same coach would not be able to tell me no to a volunteer (could we go so far as to imply, mission?) trip to India. I was excited to receive the go-ahead from Coach, and even more excited to receive a traveling stipend from the Newcomb College of Tulane – but this excitement was quickly drowned away by the tears of my darling mother, Penny McGehee: “Lizzy, I want to help the children.”

My dad will tell you this story differently. He will illustrate, with his fictitious words, an intense father-daughter moment where he tells me, “Princess, do you really think I’d let my only daughter, my ‘Hope Diamond,’ fly to INDIA by herself? Your mom or I are coming with you, and that’s that.”

He will then follow his description of that make-believe moment with another one of Jim McGehee’s infamous one-liners, “She chose her mother!”

Don’t let this story fool you, though, it is not the accurate depiction of what really happened. Sweet Penny had a “calling” and could not ignore this inner pull she felt to follow her daughter to the far-East. Sweet Penny came to me with her big, Lebanese eyes and begged me to allow her to “help the children of India” alongside her precious angel baby.

And there were more tears – when this hodunk Louisiana mother-daughter team were denied access to board their very first flight to their very first developing country because of this little thing called a “visa”? And even more tears – when, while lying under a mosquito net in rural India, trying to take a nap after having handed out food and delivering first aid to homeless Indian street kids, mothers, and young drug-addicted men from 6-11AM, the electricity cut off. Penny’s precious fans stopped working in the middle of the hottest time of the day during the hottest time of the year in the hottest place she had ever been.
Sweat bib alert! 2008
But, in only the way my award-winning real-estate agent, million dollar personality mother can, she started laughing at herself: “Did I really have a CALLING to come do this with you?!” She turned it around, inventing the oh-so-creative game “Sweaty Scrabble” (can you guess the difference between that and the original?), and going out to buy us a cantaloupe to celebrate another blackout – nevermind the fact that the cantaloupe turned out to be a pumpkin.   Around this same time, when she finally started seeing the beauty in her ever-present sweat bib, the beauty in what mystery vegetable could result in the English-Bengali language barrier, and recognizing the beauty in being in this foreign new land with her beautiful daughter, Mom also discovered the beauty in the ever-available 22-Karat gold, legal only in India, baby!!!

It was gold-hunting from that point on. After our early morning first-aid and breakfast shifts, and before we devoted our evenings teaching English to Calcutta’s slum children, Penny would drag me around town like we were following the new gold rush East. We were treating ourselves to gold after treating leprosy patients, wrapping bug-infested train-related injuries, hand-delivering white bread and boiled eggs to hungry, broken families. And our Indian patients and gold salesmen alike loved Penny for the better because of it, “giving back” to the Indian people and economy with her skillset, warm personality, and wad of cash.

Looking back, was the delivery of first aid and handing out food willy-nilly at train stations, followed by purchasing locally-mined precious minerals, a good model for sustainable international development? Is it what catapulted me into this unwieldy professional field? I’ll answer that with a simple: no.

Did I get SUCH a high from answering Penny’s “calling,” working with the children of India in the mornings and hunting for gold in the afternoons alongside the woman who gave me birth, that I’ve been trying to get back to that same high with each additional country that I visit? Absolutely not.

So, what I DID take home from this roller-coaster trip – what is now referred to as the blessed “mother-daughter bonding trip” in the aisles of grocery stores throughout Lafayette, Louisiana – is that wherever you go and whoever you’re with, you can just do you. My mom was her definitive self, across the world on the outskirts of Calcutta, India, fraternizing with anyone she could talk to. Flashing her smile and sweat bib to anyone she came across, playing her favorite game, Scrabble, during monsoon season, and not being ashamed of treating herself to some nice 22K gold after opening her heart to street kids and drug addicts each morning and night. Penny was drinking tea in the back alleys of Sealdah train station and in generator-produced airconditioning of gold parlors the same way she drinks coffee with clients back home, whether they’re buying a $40,000 townhouse or $4M home. And everyone loved her for it.

My mother embodies the mantra that: wherever you go and whoever you’re with, you can just be yourself and do what you love. In Hindu India, Muslim Mali, Christian Malawi, or any new culturally rich, economically poor country I travel through – I can just be myself and do ma thang (public health, for those of you who haven't caught on). In any setting, I know I’m not going to lose who I am, and that’s because of my momma.

In thanks, here is the beginning of a new set of blogs. Because, for whatever reason, Mom seems to like these stupid things as much as she likes that 22K gold!

Happy Mother’s Day to the best Mom gold, or anything else, can buy! 

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post Lizzie! Your Mom reminds me of Papa Duke. She's one in a Zillion. Thank you for putting a gold leaf on our family tree. You're the GREATEST! Cheech


About Me

My photo
These blogs are written on personal accounts and opinions of my near and far away adventures, so far. They do not in any way reflect the thoughts and opinions of the organizations with which I work.

Number of Active Subscribers: