I’m It! Ten Random Facts About Myself.

I just got tagged by Sue Ann Bowling to tell 10 random facts about myself, tag 3 other people and link to their sites.

To preface the assignment, I have been trying hard to publicize my newly published book Free To Bloom about the adventures of a single woman learning to live alone in Costa Rica and around the world. While visiting She Writes, a very helpful and interesting site for women writers, I encountered a group called WordPress Bloggers and finally left a comment listing my blog. Lo and behold, I got tagged. I just haven’t got into the habit of PR: surfing sites, dropping comments, linking to others. It’s hard, maybe harder than writing the damn book. Now, according to Sue Ann this is going geometric. Watch out everyone. Here we go.

You’re It:

  • Stepping Into The Water – a socially relevant and inspiring  blog and book by my good friend Marisa, member of my writing group, and author of the book The Sharkman of Cortez.
  • In The Company of Gentle Heroes – my wonderful friend Sue who has written a memoir of her life as a miiltary wife and just started her blog..
  • M C Coolidge Reality On Line – a fellow writer, lively journalist in the Sarasota, FL area and author of the book Sideways in Sarasota, who will join me next Tues. Sept. 20 at Bookstore1Sarasota for a gathering and book signing for local self-published authors.

Ten Random Facts about Jill:

The Hippie Family
  1. Became a Hippie during the 70’s, sold everything to travel and live in a van with husband, kids and dogs with the ulterior motive of finding the best oral school for my deaf son.
  2. Taking full advantage of his disabilities, my son has become a psychic and my internet guru, making it possible for me to understand enough of the intricacies of an online world to publish an ebook.
  3. Thanks to my adventurous daughter whom I have followed all over the world, I now have a home in Costa Rica, the catalyst of my personal transformation.
  4. Need to be close to bodies of water–whether riding the surf, kayaking the rivers or jumping from waterfalls.p91204071-300x225-8535107
  5. Teaching is a part of my life– first with my son, then high school science, English as a 2nd language and continues as a volunteer.
  6. One of my best life experiences was volunteering in Africa and joining a safari.
  7. Champion saving the environment and its people– from bringing water and sanitation to the poor, shopping at thrift stores, cleaning up the beaches.
  8. Love to dance.
  9. Love my kids but realize that grandkids are way more fun. Without the responsibility of their upbringing I become the old lady scientist and bedtime story-teller.
  10. Reading  is a joy and necessity. It brought me to writing and ultimately to publishing my book Free To Bloom.
Malawi Africa

Please pass this exercise on. It really made my think about my life past, present and future.

Tales of Malawi – End of the Road



Liwonde National Park, which has the best game and bird viewing in Malawi lies on the southern end along the Shire River where it enters Lake Malawi, the second biggest lake in Africa. Back on the bus, this time Ivey from the main office of WFP comes with us and brings her two young girls for the adventure. They have never seen big wild animals before and are most excited about elephants and baboons.

We are diverted from the heat, acrid woodfire smoke, and our swollen ankles (almost everyone has them now), by more Malawian tales. We ask so many questions of the staff, yet they never tire of answering, and truly enjoy passing down stories in their oral tradition.

Kelly asks, “Ivey, what was your engagement like?”

In the big cities many of the Malawi traditions have been ‘Westernized’. After dating a short time without family intervention, Ivey and her fiancé decided to follow their families’ old tradition for the engagement. ‘We gathered both families together for an engagement party. I was presented with a hen and my fiance with a cock, which we traded, symbolizing our acceptance of each other in our union. The chickens are then ritually killed, cleaned, cooked and eaten in the midst of great celebration,” Ivey smiles remembering.

The story of Nelson’s engagement and marriage takes an even more exciting twist. He and his wife Vera were brought up in separate Chiksa villages. Nelson remembers, “Both my parents were dead so my guardian uncle was sent to Vera’s village to ask for her hand in marriage to me.” He was summarily turned down for being unknown within the village. But they were too in love to be kept apart. “I took matters into my own hands, and with my uncle’s help we snuck into village in the dead of night, tiptoed into her hut and successfully stole her away, of course with her consent.” For his audacity he was penalized an extra cow for her dowry and they live happily ever after with their two daughters.


We arrive at the notorious Hippo View Lodge, a sprawling concrete complex rife with gaudily painted sculptures of hippos and birds. We’re so glad to get out of the city we love it. The gorgeous mature plantings are flowering in mass profusion.

We have enough time that afternoon to take a spin through the park which is a bit disappointing for Cindi and I because of previous extraordinary safari, but as dusk sets in we see herds of elephants and bands of baboons, which we haven’t seen before, in a totally different tropical setting of tall palm trees swaying through the mist on the river shore.

That night after a scrumptious dinner of fresh chambo, a succulent fresh water fish, and local favorites, pumpkin greens with nsima, something similar to grits but better, we hear, “Hippo! Hippo on the grounds!” I get my flashlight, follow one of the waiters and almost jump out of my skin when my bright LED light flashes on the huge hippo, jaws calmly masticating the flowers, grass and bushes on the lawn, and he’s only ten feet away. The staff tells us not to worry, “This is their evening ritual.” Once we return to the safety of the bar, the bartender disagrees with his cohorts. “Even though these big boys are somewhat tame, hippos are one of the most dangerous and aggressive animals around. Thank God you didn’t disturb them,” he laughs and shrugs.


In the morning we take a boat trip on the Shire amidst the fishermen throwing their nets from quaint dug out fishing canoes and skiffs. All around us the hippos emerge spouting loudly, sucking in air, pink iridescent ears flapping gaily, then quickly submerging.

All that’s left is reminiscing on the way back to Blantyre to start the 24-hour trip back home. Traveling with a group is a new experience for me. I’ve always shied away from tours, but this was different. We were thrown together for the common good of helping one of the most destitute countries and its people receive the basic essentials of life. We were united in that goal and became very close watching the bravery and optimism displayed especially by the women as they struggled to feed and care for their sick hungry children. There was no room for petty arguments, complaints, not so perfect accommodations. We were living like kings in comparison, coming home every evening disease free, to a toilet, hot shower, good food.

We leave each other with email addresses, phone numbers and promises to keep in touch. I resolve to check into joining WFP in Nicaragua, right next to my second home in Costa Rica. They have finished the initial stages of surveying and needs assessment and desperately need bilingual volunteers.

And that’s the end of Jill and Cindi’s Excellent African Adventure. Thank you for your comments. Watch for Chapter Two – Nicaragua. In the meantime, check in on more Slices and Crumbs of my life. Keep  in touch.

Jill and Cindi

Malawian Village Life

Chikwawa District – Kampomo Village

We meet the local Water for People (WFP) staff for orientation. Elias, Joseph and Ephrone welcome us and give us our schedule for the week. First we’ll be visiting two villages approved for a well and sanitation, but not yet installed.

A few numbers:

100% – Target of WFP water and sanitation facilities in 50 villages (out of 500) in the Chikwawa District – Achieved – 50%

400,000 – Population of the largest city, Blantyre

13,000,000 – Population of Malawi

$176 (US) – GNP per capita

43 – Life Expectancy (half the pop. is under 15)

11 per 1000 – Maternal mortality (highest in world)

15% of pop. – Adult prevalence of HIV AIDS

25% of pop. – Malaria

50% of pop. – die before reaching 40



We drive out of the city into the dry barren bush. Malawi is in the middle of a long drought and the air is thick with acrid smoke from the constant outdoor cooking fires. Soon off the paved road, a swirl of dust mixes with smoke, making us close the windows. Now we have a choice of  breathing or sweltering in the 90+ degree heat. We watch the steady trek of people and animals up and down the road, mostly on foot, an occasional bike-rider, few cars. We don’t complain. Women in colorful cloths carry heavy loads on their heads held high, necks straight, posture perfect, most with babies wrapped on their backs.



After a couple hours the road ends. We get out and start walking. In the distance we see a gathering of women and children bending over a muddy trickle. They are either filling bright plastic containers with water or washing and spreading raggedy clothing over the dry brush. The children rush over to see these strange white people with funny hats and little silver boxes in front of their faces. They want to touch our wispy hair and mottled veiny skin. They don’t speak English though it’s the official language. Joseph translates, “You can take photos here.” The women and especially the children have rarely if ever seen white foreigners with cameras, and are amazed at the miracle of seeing themselves on screen.



We follow them for another kilometer as they carry the full containers on their heads (sometimes ten to twenty times a day), past the few skinny cows and cowherd standing in the very same bit of water, to the remote village of Kampomo. A welcoming committee waits under the only shade tree, surrounded by huts of mud and straw. We tour the village: thirsty gardens, women cooking, one remudding her hut, the arbor loos (non-eco latrines) – just holes in the ground surrounded by thatch. Joseph explains, “the children are afraid to use the loos, especially during the rainy season. Sometimes they slide in, sometimes they die.”



The drums begin and a crowd gathers quickly on the natural incline of a huge old termite nest that surrounds the tree. There are very few elders or men because of high mortality rates and strong gender inequality. Joseph speaks in English then Chichiwa. “These are the people who will bring you clean water.” The chiefs greet us with, “Mulli bwangi? (How are you?) and thank us for the coming project.

The people cheer when we answer their greeting in Chichiwa, “Diri Bweno.” (Very good). We are given chairs (the only ones in the village) to watch the celebration. The young male drummers set the beat as the women with babies tied to their backs, dance and sing. Children weave in and out of the circle. They’ve forgotten their empty bloated stomachs, mangy heads, infected mouths, crippled legs. They’ve forgotten for a moment that life is about getting enough food and water to survive the day.


As we prepare to leave, two little girls who have been following Cindi and I, latch onto our hands to walk us back to the bus. We could just lift them into the bus and take them home with us. Instead we wave, “good bye Salima, good bye Fanny,” and watch these beautiful people disappear.

Jill and Cindi’s Excellent African Adventure – Malawi


With Water for People in Malawi

Water for People, an NGO (non-governmental organization, for you non-bureaucrats like me), helps people in developing countries improve their quality of life by supporting the development of locally sustainable drinking water resources, sanitation facilities and health education programs.

I’d done a little googling on Malawi, and the top spot is reserved for Madonna who adopted her latest child here and stayed at the same Malawi Sun Hotel where our group arrives en masse. We are nine staff, volunteers and water company prize winners, the latter having won the trip by either writing the best essay or donating the most money to the cause.

We spend our first weekend getting oriented to the country, the people and the plan. Malawi is a small landlocked country known as the warm heart of Africa, yet it has one of the highest population densities and its friendly people are some of the poorest in all of Africa. And that’s why WFP is here. We will spend the next four days visiting proposed and existing sites both in the Chikwawa rural program and the Blantyre peri-urban program. The sites will include installations of bore holes with simple pumps (wells), water kiosks (covered wells), and eco-sanitation (latrines). The villagers and the local WFP staff have been apprised of our visit and will be welcoming us with celebrations and meetings.


From the airport, after driving through the expected poverty, the modern accommodations and city center of Blantyre are shocking. We drive three blocks to the high-rise banking district with one of the local WFP staff, Ivey, to change money. She cautions us not to walk around alone, though the curfew isn’t until 9:00 pm. We look too prosperous and white.

Since shopping is known to be the number one American sport, our driver for the week, Nelson asks, “You want to visit the curio market?”

To a resounding “Yes!” Ivey offers her services. “I can tell you if something is over-priced, but bargaining is expected. Nelson and I will keep an eye on things.” We pile into our pink minivan with no idea what’s ahead. The outdoor market takes up one side of the street and includes three tiers of tables and floor cloths covered with every African curio possible; each space from one to two meters square, with at least two sellers per location. Not being a true shopper, I’m totally overwhelmed by the crowd, the jockeying for position, the loud voices – “Best deal, best price!” “Come here!” “Look at mine, first!” I escape across the street. So this is what shopping in a group tourist situation is like. Though I feel compassion for the multitude of poor sellers, I’m too put off to buy or even look.


We return to the hotel to relax, have dinner and get to know our fellow travelers. Ordering drinks, we discover we’re in a Muslim hotel and no alcohol is served. We won’t relax that way. Maybe the food will be exceptional instead. These Muslims are Indian so most of us order curry, which they’re out of. We settle for whatever and while I’m eating some strange pizza, I remember a quote from the hotel’s website with its hilarious English translations: “In its designer decadence, the cook continues to play freely with Chinese, Indian and Continental specialties with a dash of deviation.”

We’re exhausted and fall early into our mosquito-net-enshrouded beds. Tomorrow we will meet the poor people of Malawi.

Jill and Cindi’s Excellent African Adventure

p9110453-300x225-3974186Cindi on Umlani Safari, Kruger, So.Africa                    Jill in Kampomo Village, Malawi


In the fall of 2008, my dear friend Cindi and I were planning a trip to Europe together. I had not been there since my childhood when I had lived in France, and both of us wanted to travel in Italy, too.

But the trip was not to be. Cindi received life-threatening news. I remember the debilitating fear upon learning the news that she had breast cancer. I pledged to help and be with her any way I could through her surgery and its aftermath, not knowing then that the ordeal would include three surgeries, radiation, anti-cancer drugs, warring doctors, varying opinions, and finally a clean bill of health and remission.

Her relief was complete and for the first time in months she began to look to a future she had given up on. “Remember that trip we were planning?”

“Yup, seems like eons ago,” I wondered what she was getting at.

“Well, are you still interested?”

“Of course! You know my Sagittarian travel impulses. Do you think you’re up to it?”

“I’m not only up to it, I’d like to make a few changes.”

“Like what?” I raised my eyebrows.

“How about Africa instead?”

“Africa?!” I was stunned.

“This whole cancer ordeal has changed my life. I realize how short it is. I need an adventure to blast the past right out of me.”

“Wow! I’m in.”

Cindi plans the whole thing while I’m in Costa Rica. Through her connection with a non-profit group called Water for People, http://www.waterforpeople.org she finds a week country tour of Malawi, a landlocked impoverished place in southeast Africa, that will monitor and report on progress of installing bore holes (wells) and eco-sanitation (latrines) in out-lying villages and urban areas. Although this should be experience enough, it will probably be sad and emotionally draining. She sends me an email, “How about a safari first? Let’s start with some excitement.”

“All right! Never thought I’d do such a thing, but why not.” And thus our African adventure begins.