A Thousand Cups of Coffee

They told me that when I first began university that it was inevitable; I was doomed to be a coffee-drinker. “Accept your fate, Caitlin,” they would say. “You’re going to need that brown nectar to survive the next few years.”

But I resisted it for all it was worth. I didn’t like the way its bitter flavour would nip at my tongue or the way one tiny sip would pollute my mouth for upwards of an hour after.  I especially didn’t like the dependency that it plagued people with.

And I sure showed them. Coffee doesn’t get you through those long all-nighters and assignments that every college student seems to pull. You know what does? Time management. That’s right. I made it all the way through and maintained a bedtime of 10:30pm. This girl needs sleep, not coffee.

My very first cup of it was in Nice, France. My cousin and I were backpacking Europe, and we had woken up at 3:00 that morning to catch our flight from Amsterdam. When we arrived at our AirBnB far too early, our host was gracious to take us in, let her on her private verandah and provide us with a coffee and croissant. I didn’t want to reject her kindness, so I accepted the coffee.

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Documented evidence: my very first cup!

That was the moment my life changed forever.

Maybe it was the running through downtown Amsterdam at a terrifyingly early hour that did me in. Maybe it was the exhilaration of landing in a Mediterranean paradise that built me up. Maybe it was the fact that the coffee flowing in that white mug was truly and actually an elixir from another magical realm. Whatever it was, it was precious enough to convert me. I became one of them. I became a coffee-drinker.

With the ecstatic encouragement of my coffee-obsessed fiancé (now husband!), I learned to draw from the power of a good ‘cuppa joe’ and channel it’s cognitive-enhancing energy into productivity.

There’s a Bridgehead coffee shop right across the road from the apartment I recently moved from, and when I returned from my trip to Malawi and began my book, it quickly became part of my morning routine. My alarm would sing to me at 6:00am, and I’d be at the shop fifteen minutes later, notebook in one hand, coffee in the other. An hour and a half would cruise by before I had to scurry off to my job.

That creative hour was my favourite time of every day. I became a Bridgehead regular – I knew the baristas, I made friends with the other regular cafe visitors, I even earned my right to a free refill every so often. When I moved from the city, one of my morning Bridgehead coffee friends even gave me a going-away gift.

All the while, I managed to keep the coffee stains off my notebooks and pens. As the desire for that morning brain-brew grew, so my creative juices flowed.  I never thought that my book would contain an acknowledgement to coffee of all things, but alas, here we stand.

I must have had over a thousand cups between my trip to Malawi and all the pages of my book. Though I was resistant at first,  I humbly admit my error as I proudly say that coffee is one of the reasons I can announce that my book is finally complete!

It’s far from available to purchase (it must first stagger through the long road of publishing), but the sentences are down, the chapters are complete, and the stories are captured.

There’s so many things to be thankful for in this process, but I will be the first to say that coffee is certainly one of them.

As always,

Caitlin Arlene

Happy Mothers Day, Malawi!

In a convenient turn of events that was entirely unexpected and happily accepted, I was present for the celebration of mother’s day here in Malawi.

Because Malawi has sanctioned mother’s day to be a national holiday, (Can we make this a thing in Canada too?) I spent the day relaxing, writing, and collecting my thoughts about the many mothers I’ve met already since I began my venture here. The day off was actually quite convenient for me, allowing for an additional day on top of the weekend to process the mountain of stories I’ve collected so far.

Mothers in Malawi have a tough job. As the primary caregivers to their children, they are often also tasked with the provision of food, of health care, of education and the overall wellbeing of their children. Though the majority of mamas here courageously take on these many responsibilities, I think it’s important to acknowledge the additional challenges that are brought on through the poverty of the country.

Because of this, I spent some extra time this week going through project reports, discovering some statistics that contribute to the Maternal Mortality Rate, and other hardships that women have in Malawi.

“Poverty, coupled with culture with high undertones of gender stereotypes largely influence women’s ability to access and utilize healthcare services.”

PROMISE Annual Report, Year 2

According to the same report quoted above, Malawi is reported to have one of the highest Maternal Mortality Rates in the world, with a current estimate of 439 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. This rate has actually gone down from 2010, which was 675 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Neonatal deaths are even higher – 25 out of 1,000 live births result in death.

Mothers in Malawi have the most challenges when it comes to providing their children with enough nutrients. As a result, Malawian children have the highest rate of stunted growth in sub-Saharan Africa, recording 37% of children to be severely stunted, underweight and malnourished.

But don’t despair – there’s hope! Projects like the one I am following are offering countless programs to combat these statistics.

And it is working.

I’m seeing firsthand the incredible work that is going into saving these women, their children, and the entire communities they live in. Women are telling me almost every day how significant the impact that these programs have on their lives. Mothers are able to protect their children in ways they never have been able to before.

I feel uniquely blessed to be writing this book and collecting these stories surrounding Malawian mother’s day. In a way, its offered new perspectives and weight to the stories that I share.

It’s inspiring. It’s empowering. But mostly, it’s humbling.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Introducing Gladys

Everybody, meet Gladys.

Her weathered hands have raised nine children, the youngest of which is three years old.

Though she’s been a mother for nearly 30 years, Gladys told me she’s learned more about raising healthy children in the past three years than she had in the 27 prior.

Why?

Because of the Maternal Health project that has been introduced to her village.

The project is multi-faceted and complex, but one significant element is the introduction of backyard gardens. Gladys showed me hers, full and flourishing with various types of fruits and vegetables. The growth of her garden saves money while ensuring that her children don’t go a day without proper nourishment.

“Before, my children were malnourished and very weak. But I’ve learned ways to make sure that my children are properly fed and strong. Now they are able to stay in school!” -Gladys

The impact that a simple garden has on a family and its community is incredible to see. For Gladys, it has meant that she can be confident in her children and their future.

“I want my children to be healthy. And I want them to be wise,” she told me, smiling with confidence. Her hope is contagious; her story is inspiring.

I can’t wait to share more about Gladys and other women like her soon! Stay tuned!

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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Where the story starts

I have so many stories to share.

Every day, my mind swirls with new words, new poems, new thoughts.

The inspiration is the people. The happy ones, the hurting ones, the ones who are everything in between. Those whose stories I can only imagine, and those whose stories I can barely fathom. They are the lifeblood of every single letter and every single line.

I believe that every story is important.

I believe that there are painful stories in this world that are silenced by anonymity and poverty and injustice. I believe that there are joyful stories that are overlooked by activity and prosperity and lack of time to care.

But I care. And I think that a lot of others would care too, if only they could hear the stories.

The story starts with us. The story starts with me. The story starts with this world.

The story starts here.

As always, 

Caitlin Arlene

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