Thursday, May 12, 2011

Twelve More Days!

Bathmophobia: fear of stairs or slopes.

I have a fear of falling. Mostly of falling from short distances. I’m not particularly afraid of heights, and indeed, I have no problem actually climbing up stairs or slopes, apart from the anxiety created by the anticipation of having to somehow come back down. And I’m not more than normally fearful about falling from great heights; I’ve been skydiving and bungee jumping and abseiling.

The closest I can come to a name for my fear is “bathmophobia,” a fear of stairs or slopes, although the term doesn’t entirely encapsulate my particular fear. I am afraid of going down stairs and slopes, but I’m also afraid of walking on unstable surfaces: ice, rocky or sandy paths, wet floors.

I’ve become more open about having this fear, although I’m still self-conscious about it in practice. It tends to make me appear rather unfit and weak. Which I am, but not nearly so much as I appear because of how slowly I take slopes and stairs and irregular surfaces because of my fear.

As you might imagine, this fear makes living in Africa all the more challenging. I’ve just spent the past four months living in a place where the nearest paved road is a 20-minute walk away. Getting to it requires navigating an uneven, rocky slope strewn with gravel. The lodge where I stayed is set into a hillside, with irregular stairs cut haphazardly out of the natural slope, made with whatever rocks and logs happened to be around. Even in Blantyre, my field sites generally required long walks along dusty roads with steep hills. (At least my research assistants quickly learned that I don’t do well on the “short-cuts” and stuck to the main roads.)

I’ve been having a nine-month-long anxiety attack.

So what do I do in my off time, when I don’t have to put myself through the hell of confronting this fear?

I volunteer to hike up Michiru Mountain as part of a fundraiser for one of the organizations where I did fieldwork. And I recruit two very fit and fearless people to hike with me. And I choose one of the longest and most challenging trails for us to hike.

I am stupid. Or masochistic. Or both.

The hike was beautiful (I’ll post pictures next time I have a decent Internet connection). And I enjoyed the company. But the descent was steep and slippery, and by the time we got back to flat land, my legs were shaking so badly I could barely stand.


Twelve days to go. Less than two weeks.

I’m cautiously optimistic that I’ve gotten some good information. I feel tentatively confident that I can write a dissertation from what I have.

At the moment, I’m constantly flitting between calling it quits and enjoying my last week-and-a-half in Malawi and trying to cram in a few last interviews, finding a few more stones to turn over.


Leaving this time feels very final. Even though I actually do hope that I’ll come back to Malawi in a few years. Just for a visit. Or a very short-term research project. Absolutely no more than two months. I am well and truly done with these long stays away from family and friends and my dog and my creature comforts.

But as excited as I am to be returning home to my family and friends and dog and hot showers and cheese and wine and margaritas and sushi and television and high-speed Internet and a comfy bed and a washing machine and . . . wait . . . Where was I?

Oh, yes. As excited as I am for all that and my car and a kitchen with an oven and refrigerator and take-out Chinese and glossy magazines and book stores and Starbucks . . .

Sorry. Back to my point.

Leaving is bittersweet. I have some good friends whom I’ll be very sad to leave. And living at the lake definitely had its nice moments: swimming and snorkeling and beers on the beach. And as frustrating and maddening and uncomfortable and strange as Malawi can be, it has also become a second home in a lot of ways.


Lest I end on a down note: My most recent Kindle purchase: Sweet Valley Confidential---Ten Years Later. Yep, I am a highly educated woman in my mid-thirties, and I cannot wait to read the latest installment in the lives of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield.

First I have to finish my current book: Skippy Dies, which I’m enjoying, although it’s a bit long. Admittedly, I might not be so concerned with the length if I wasn’t so anxious to finish it so I can pick up the new one.

I did finally, and with great effort of will, finish A Taste of Place. The book got great reviews, and a friend whose judgment in such things I respect recommended it. But I was disappointed. I thought the book was disorganized, redundant, superficial, poorly researched, and lacking in analytical rigour. It mostly made me want to reread The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which covers many of the same concepts but in a much more engaging and thoughtful way.


Twelve more days! My next blog post will likely be from Stateside. Woohoo!