Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Logistics

The logistics of moving a family of five halfway around the world are daunting, to say the least.  It requires months of lists and questions.  First, we worked on finding me a job, as I am the "weak link" of the two of us. David is an ID doctor with interest in HIV and TB coinfection, and I am a pediatrician, who has seen pediatric HIV twice.  Miraculously, I have been offered a position with the Texas Children's Hospital Pediatric Global Health Service Corps (say that ten times fast). Now, we are trying to find Dave work in Lilongwe. 
Financially, there are so many open questions to be answered that it is exremely frustrating trying to plan.  Will he find a job?  Will it be paid?  If so, how much?  What will our taxes be?  Will we be taxed at our current tax rate of nearly 40%?  How much does it cost to rent a house?  How much does it cost to send children to school (X three)?  How much does it cost to buy a car?  We have been told we may need 2!  How much does it cost to fly a family of five to Linlongwe, Malawi? (Answer to that one: About $10,000)
That's enough to keep me up nights, and then there's food...we are vegetarians, and live on veggie burgers and vegetarian chicken products and tofu and soymilk.  My middle child is a whisp of a thing, and here she has almost unlimited choice.  What in the world am I going to feed her?  I worry she will disappear, or that I will be reduced to submitting to her pleas for candy, in a desperate effort to get calories in her.  When we lived in Belize I made reasonable Seitan, and we were fortunate enough to have met Gomier, a tall, Bob-Marley-channeling gentleman from St. Lucia.  I was able to keep my kids from starving, but we ate an embarassing amount of Ramen soup.  Perhaps Lilongwe will have some magical vegetarian restaurant, but endless Google searches and hours pouring through guidebooks have not left me hopeful.
I have thought about trying to make soymilk, but I do not know if there are soybeans in Lilongwe.  I have begun to think like a refugee, overcome by my maternal drive to feed my children well. I find myself buying two of each of the items that we use every day that I do not  imagine we can survive without (quinoa, tvp), and mentally calculating how many pounds of high-protein whole wheat bread flour I can stuff into my 5 ft long duffle bag. The trouble is, we only get two bags, each weighing no more than 50 lbs, before we begin paying to bring things with us.  I have to admit, this fact has helped protect me from the fugue state that usually overtakes me the moment I walk into Target.  We already have way too much.
The shots we should be OK on, as we were vaccinated before we brought Malawi home from Ethiopia last year.  She has asthma, which seems to improve only when she takes Singulair, which has a $50 copay in the US, and I imagine is unavailable in Lilonwe.  So I am thinking of asking a drug rep to bring me a year's worth, or else I will be forced to take samples from our closet each week until we leave...
School for the children worries me. My kids are all at Montessori, which believes in "following the child", and working things out at "the peace table", and the schoolwide Spiral Dance, where everyone holds hands outside.  In Malawi it appears that we have two choices for international schools. One is a conservative Christian school.  It is regimented,  has required biblical courses, and (I'm pretty sure) lacks the Spiral Dance.  I have a very strong belief in God, but I am not Christian.  I really don't want to be the religious outcast in my own home, and I can't think of a more opposite approach to teaching from where he is now.   The second follows the Bristish curriculum (better, but definitely NOT Montessori), and is $10,000 per kid per year.  That is approximately my salary for the upcoming year. So we have considered homeschooling, but this is not realistic, as both of us will likely work full-time and more.
Another concern.  Here, I am part-time, and am available to tuck my kids into bed each night and bake chocolate-chip cookies and play Moose in the House (great game).  There I know I will feel compelled to work as much as possible, in order to do as much as I can.  And so I obsess that my children will suffer for our absence, alone in a  new and strange country.
So many worries, so little time...

The beginning (well, not really...)

And so I am beginning the process of telling our story.  Our story actually probably began about 15 years ago, when I first left the comfort of the Western world and travelled to India.  Anyone who knows me has heard me talk about the absolute hearbreak that I felt walking off the plane into the filth of Bombay airport, where I was greeted by a tiny boy, maybe 4 years old, alone and trying to sell me a newspaper at 4 am.  The bus ride into the city took my breath away.  I had never been so close to poverty.  Miles and miles of towns with houses made of cardboard or corrugated metal, groups of dirty children playing with old tires and mangy-looking dogs stretched on as far as I could see.  A seed was planted in my heart on that trip that has grown and developed into this need to try to make some difference, no matter how small.
Our year spent in Central America was an enlightening one.  Dave and I learned that our intentions were grandiose in the face of the reality of poverty.  The scope of what we were able to do was so pitifully small: buy groceries for one family, drive the baby with the anencephaly (missing brain) to the city and pay for the CT scan with our credit card, buy the coffin and transport the body of the toddler who had died of diarrhea.  I was often despondent, and felt so helpless and overwhelmed.
And here we are again, planning to go abroad to try to "help".  Mostly, I am afraid.
I am afraid of all that I will not be able to do.  I am afraid of looking into the eyes of another mama and telling her that I cannot  save her baby.  I am afraid of the anger and pain of the inequality that I will see, and of the gap that will grow between myself and my friends and family back home who are not faced daily with this inequity, and so do nothing. Having done this before, I harbor fewer illusions.
There is some excitement.  I love travel, and I am looking forward to exploring Malawi and the surrounding countries.  I love the challenge of trying to live without the "essentials" of home, and already walk around with long lists of things I need to start hoarding before we go (face cream, Melatonin, Reeses peanut butter cups).  I look forward to sharing more of this beautiful planet with my family, and to having the opportunity to plant the seed of service in their hearts. 
I will try to keep posts to let people know what we are seeing and feeling.  I hope that they are not depressing to people, but I hope that they are affecting.  I hope that more seeds will be planted, and I hope they grow.  Anyone can do what we are doing.  We are not special, just determined.