Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Leaving maggots are once again crawling and squirming through the flesh of my toes, burrowing under dirt and nailbed and wriggling pulsing up down the arches of my feet and dancing their way into my heels. 

This is the song of a reluctant traveler.  Of a humanitarian baby.  Of a person stepping across the ocean one bare foot in the spring mud and ice, the other in the burning sand of the Sahel.  Of a heart torn.

I got it.  And I didn't know it would feel like this.

I officially work for MSF.  Approx. May 15-Nov.15 I will be working in a pediatric project in Koutiala, Mali.  I will be the nurse on the SMC project - Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention - a very exciting continuation of a pilot program started in Tchad and Mali that have shown stunning decreases in inpatient hospitalizations and reported cases of malaria in the target population that received preventative anti-malarial medications at intervals during the rainy season. 

I am over the moon [and howled under it] , under the sun, have danced in the kitchen [jerky shaky bluegrass hops], laughed on the beach, scrawled furiously and depressingly in my journal, started unfinished "Mali, bring" lists, and have struggled through my job description/project description documents that are in French.

How does it feel to have everything you have ever wanted? 

I'll get back to you on that. 

What is it like to have achieved the ultimate dream?

Pure terror. 

Celebration a couple shots in crumbles to anxiety and what what no, yes, no I just got back here. 

Back to the land of blowing snow and ice shards in my extra tuffs and trying to dig the car out with a broom on back mountain driveway.

Back to slowing down for moose bopping scrawn and brown in the other lane, to jogging and driving in a clear crystalline paradise, blue ocean and white mountains leaning into aqua and harbor and sunshine and peacock sunsets, catching your breath with invisible rawhide nets and forming a thousand throaty plumes into wild grey clouds. 

Back to cars breaking down and the friends that  never leave you stranded and offer whiskey and beach walks and steaming home cooking as a precursor to more sane solutions. 

Back to conversations that go like this (in regards to a birthday dinner), 

"Well, we could have it at our house but we don't have electricity and the mattress takes up most of the room and with 2 dogs...."

"Or it could be at my house, but I'm out of water and honestly I don't feel like doing all those dishes and I don't want to haul all that water up in the sled..."

"I guess it could be at mine, but I don't have a kitchen or a stove...."

"Then your house is the only option, but its at the end of the road on the top of a mountain and its a little too far for all of us to come."

Back to friends such as these, struggling and toiling and loving and working and stoking the woodstoves and leaving to work on boats or at hatcheries or buying land or moving back or growing garden starts and feeling the creeping mania of summer light floating in to permeate it all. 

Back to smelling deeply that fresh ground coffee in the morning and standing on the deck surrounded by silent falling snow and wooded stillness, odd snaps from moving animal feet and heaps of languid snow on the deck and in my heart. 

Coming back was everything I knew it would be and more.  Homer is in my heart like a plague, like a disease of beauty and knowing that has taken firm residence.  It was hard to leave and go to Europe, as I said in earlier blogs.  And its even harder for me to think about going to Mali.

Of course I want to go.  Duh.   Of course I'm excited and dreamy and filled with anticipation jitters and solemn personal promises of high quality performance.  But really, on the daily, I just want to be here.  I crave it.  I am slowing down and enjoying it.  I am living as much as possible in the moment.

I guess that is the strategy.  To this month just be here.  For the next few weeks I won't think about Mali if I can help it.  I won't research the country, the stats, the projects, the political situation, and I won't even study French.  I am instead going to ground myself by sinking into Alaska.  By breaking my bare feet in and jamming my toes into hard dirt until I feel dug in.  I am going to walk on the beach and listen to my breath and the crashing of the waves.  I am going to marvel when I see eagles and continue my wild breathless love affair with the far off mountains and their ever changing backdrop of sky.  I am going to cook slowly the most beautiful food I can find, peppers green red and yellow, purple onions and potatoes, orange yams and sizzling yellow eggs.  I am going to make bubbling curries and berry smoothies and slice creamy dust green avocadoes.  I am going to laugh with my friends and work as little as possible and read books I've been meaning to get to and call the people that bounce like shadows in the back of my heart. 

And maybe, once I've found my spiritual rock, maybe then I will stand on it.  And stand taller.  And square my shoulders.  And take a deep breath.  And then I will power forward with courage and intention and do the physical and mental preparation required to be gone another 6 months. 

I am so grateful I get this amazing opportunity.  I intend to do my absolute best.  I know that I will come back a stronger and more well-rounded woman, rougher and more polished, a better French speaker and a better nurse and with eyes that have seen and hands that have felt and a heart that may either be redeemed or sink further into stone. 

I think I have an understandable mental reticence because this is frankly going to be very hard.  I am starting from the bottom in a new organization.  I don't have the faintest idea what to expect really.  I can barely decipher the French documents.  I will be working in French completely (which is what I wanted.....!!!).  I will have to hit the ground running.  And I will have to bring it.  And no one has the slightest sympathy for me because they think I can do it.  And I do too.  But I am acutely aware that the stakes are so much higher.  I am working for the best and I need to be the best.  There isn't a wide margin of error or a cushion when I fall down.  I am there to do a job that I have stated I am capable of.  I am there at the end of the day because I believe that kids shouldn't die if they don't have to.  I am there because I want to fight the beast of malaria and I know that when I am in that space I will be able to access and channel my passion for it again. 

But right now, the light is streaming white gold through my window, my second cup of coffee is calling me, music is grooving out the radio, the cat is purring and snuggling with the damnest tenacity and the ice is slowly melting from the porch.  I'm reading Love in the Time of Cholera, studying for PALS provider course online under fake names (characters such as Fermina Daza), had homemade pancakes with apple butter for breakfast and am wearing pants with singing bells when I climb into bed.  I am happy.  And here and only here is where I want to be right now. 

Blessings to each of you from the end of the road. 

Love, Alaska.

***My blog will continue (haphazardly) until I leave and then my hope is to switch it to an MSF blog as I will have to go through that channel to write about the project. 

The beautiful Rachael at sunset, Bishops Beach

Back porch stillness

Cloudy day walkabout

that time of night

Happy Birthday to Nalani