Lovely 21-year-old Maud has come home from school, needing a few trillion hours sleep and all her sheets cleaned but no worse for the wear after her third year of college.
Right away, she has to go to a barbecue with her boyfriend. She has to go to a friend’s 21st birthday party at a club in New York. She has to entertain a college friend, and have dinner with a high school friend. She has to help her mother weed the garden. The baby carrots need thinning.
The potatoes need de-Phragmite-ing. The reeds rear up through the loamy soil no matter how we pull them or attack them with shears. They don’t get it. Go back to your marsh! We don’t want you among the tomatoes!
So Maud is going to help me eradicate them. Then off she has to go again…
To Malawi. In just a few days she will go to help build a school in a little town neither you nor I has ever heard of.
I’m trying to remember what I was doing the summer I was 21. Sleeping on someone’s floor on 112th Street. Reading Anais Nin. Putting poetic scrawls in a notebook. A stupid job in a busy bakery (Zaro’s, in Grand Central Station, still exists), barely going to bed before I had to get up in the dark to go to work. Juggling boyfriends. Nothing really of note.
Maud’s going to Malawi with an organization she runs at Columbia called buildOn, whose mission is to build schools all over the world in underresourced communities. Eight other students will go too. Girls, she says, especially benefit from the work they’ll accomplish, because one mandate of buildOn is that female students must have equal access to the educational resources it makes available.
That’s really unusual in a traditional culture like that of Malawi. (Funds are still being raised for the trip.)
Last year, when Maud came back from a similar school-building trip to La Cruz, Nicaragua, she had dirt under her nails and mud ingrained in her clothes from pouring a concrete foundation. She loved the beans and rice for every meal and the friends she made in the village, especially this little sprite.
When Maud’s my age, she’ll remember more about her 21-year-old summer than serving up bagels.