Wednesday, October 31, 2007

There's no Halloween in Malawi

They've never heard of it. So today, I decided to bring the celebrations to the office. We finished work an hour early and had candy, soft drinks, and a special Halloween cake I brought from the U.S. (from a mix - cheating, I know).

I explained that in the U.S. on this day, children get dressed up in costumes and go to people's houses to ask for candy. I could not say why. My colleagues asked me:
  • "What kind of costumes" - I said "Scary, or silly. The boys like the scary costumes and the girls like to be princesses."
  • "Does everyone celebrate this holiday?" - "I don't think Jehovah's Witnesses observe it."
  • "What are these things in the cake?" - "They're chocolate sprinkles. The orange ones are for pumpkins, which we make lanterns out of, and the black ones are for...bats and witches." (This got some strange looks).
  • "Do you have any more holidays we can celebrate?" - "We can have a party for Thanksgiving next month!"
  • "What do you do for Thanksgiving?" - "Um, we eat. A lot." (It was agreed that this was a holiday worth celebrating).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jesus and Mary

No, this is not going to be a religious post. Jesus and Mary are my friends who just got married last month. Mary has been my closest friend since college, where we lived next door to each other. She was the one who always had enough good sense to keep me from getting into the trouble I naturally gravitated toward, but still shared my goofy tendencies - like giddy enthusiasm, a love of Christmas carols, and eating an entire box of crackers for dinner.

Mary met Jesus right around when we graduated, about 8 years ago, and I gave up asking "so when are you guys getting married?" about 3 years ago. so when Jesus finally popped the question, I was so happy to get to be a part of her big day.

So here are some pictures from her beautiful wedding in September.

All the American University alums, at the rehearsal dinner

Those buttons were a pain in the neck to get done.

Mary, looking beautiful.

Francisca, Mary's old college roommate, and still a good friend of mine

Mary, on realizing that her dad, who was supposed to accompany her to the church, already left!

Me in the limo.

Hot Bridesmaid

It's blurry, but I thought this photo of Mary and her dad was sweet.

Mary and Jesus, officially hitched in the eyes of the Catholic Church

Mr. and Mrs. Reyes

Mary and me at the reception.


(That's Dora Day)

So my husband and mother-in-law made it in safe and sound yesterday. It's Dora's first time in Africa and everything seems to be pretty novel and exciting for her. I think she was surprised by how brown and dry everything is right now. That's because we're just coming to the end of the dry season.

The very end, it looks like, as it's just finished raining. Today's rain was the first I've seen since April or May. There's always an exciting feeling in the air once the rain starts. The air smells like rich earth, and there's a sense of coolness and cleansing all around you.

Besides, the rain here is pretty dramatic. It starts with a ping on the roof, then more, like the sound of those first few kernels of popcorn exploding in your microwave. Then all of a sudden, the popcorn goes crazy, all the kernels popping at once. The water is pouring down, waves of it rushing down the sides of streets, and I'm always struck by a desire to run out into it, as I would have when I was young, and stomp around in the puddles.

Except now I know better and have a healthy fear of cholera.

I needed the sudden child-like excitement today, as work is beyond stressful. It feels like I'm responsible for everything now, and it all has to be done right now. And to top it all off, yet another one of my staff has resigned to take up a higher-paying job.

I think the problem is that my project is very high profile; the staff here work throughout the country, meeting with many different organizations. They get poached off by other NGOs who assume they must be doing something very well, since they are working on this big-shot national project. The thing is, the ones that leave - well, I'm not really so sorry to see them go. None of them were the most impressive of the bunch. But the organizations that go on to hire them never call us for a reference, so I guess they'll just end up figuring that out on their own.

Oy, I'm not supposed to use this blog as a platform to gripe about work!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Free wi-fi in Africa!

This just never happens! I have free internet access!

Nothing to write about though.

I am in Blantyre this week, the second-largest city in Malawi. I like Blantyre - it's an older city than Lilongwe, and has nice big old trees, and lots of hills. Like my hometown, Seattle. There are even plenty of pan-handlers, just like home! (The ones in Malawi are usually have horribly disfigured limbs, however).

I'm helping to lead a week-long training in nutrition. Along with the Ministry of Health, I am training 30 people from throughout the country to become national trainers in the community management of acute malnutrition, if that means anything to you.

I usually enjoy training, but this one has been exhausting. I am pretty fastidious in keeping to my schedules, but it turns out my staff, who are supposed to be expert trainers, are not. So for most of the sessions I was leading, I had prepared material according to the schedule, then invariably had an hour less time to work with, because other presenters went over time. It is incredibly stressful trying to cram an hour's worth of discussion, activities, and material into 20 minutes!

Tomorrow is the last day, and mostly I will be sitting back as the participants present their group-work. Then on Saturday I make the four-hour trip to Lilongwe, squeezed with 6 others into the back of a Land Rover. Jorge is back on Monday (hooray!) along with his mother.

I'm thinking that the arrival of my mother-in-law, who will be staying for 2 months, is going to turn this blog into one long, madcap episode of "Three's Company goes to Africa." So watch this space...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

And I thought my husband was trouble

Here's an excerpt from today's newspaper:
Woman in for Stabbing Husband

A quarrel over food shortage in a Blantyre-based family ended tragically when the wife allegedly drove a screwdriver into the husband's ribs.

Police in Blantyre say the deceased met his fate on Saturday night after returning home from a three-day drinking spree. The wife allegedly accused the man of neglecting the family.

"When he returned home at around 9 PM on Saturday, his wife bitterly complained to him that he left them to starve...because he did not leave any money to cater for them. The woman then asked the man to provide for that night's supper," said Blantyre Police spokesperson Elizabeth Divala.

She said a fight ensued between the man and his wife, and in the process he is said to have produced the screwdriver with which he allegedly threatened to stab his wife.

"Because the man was too drunk, the woman overpowered him and grabbed the screwdriver and stabbed him with it in the ribs," alleged Divala.

Funny, I have a hard time feeling sorry for the guy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

And I'm back!

So I had two weeks of fast internet connection access, and did I put it to good use? No. Instead, I wait until I'm back on African internet to post an update. But really, I was busy:

Jorge and I flew to New York and drove to Pennsylvania for the wedding of my closest friend Mary. I got to see some old college friends, and Mary looked beautiful. It was a really lovely wedding. Long, but lovely. It was a Catholic ceremony and I felt like the only heathen protestant in the church, though. Pictures to come!

After the wedding we spent a couple days with Jorge's best friend Daniel and his girlfriend Lisa in New York. We had pizza at Grimaldi's, which is supposedly the best in New York. When we got there, there was a line halfway down the block, but they really pack them in the place, and we were seated in 40 minutes. The pizza was worth the wait. We also got to have lunch at Artisanal, one of my favorite restaurants. It was a total cheese-fest: Cheese plate, followed by cheese fondue, rounded out with a Croque Monsieur (basically a fancy grilled ham and cheese sandwich). I'm not sure I have really explained here the depth of my love for cheese, but if you've seen "Sideways," I am the cheese-head equivalent of the wine nerds in that film.

We then flew to Los Angeles, where my sister Joy and my grandparents live. The rest of my family flew in to see us for the weekend: my dad and his wife, my sister Miriam and her boyfriend, and my Aunt Alanna. It was a full reunion, and we had a great time. I also got to spend time with my boy-genius nephew. How many 2-year olds do you know whose vocabulary includes "concrete," "beard," and "combine harvester"? We got a free day at Disneyland thanks to my sister's hook-up, and made it to a Dodger's game as well.

Our last stop was New Orleans, where the main activity was eating. Lunch at Commander's Palace, obscenely large and gooey Po'boys from the Verti Marte, Colombian food, and my sister-in-law's delicious shrimp fettucini. Then dinners at Dick and Jenny's, an amazing little local place, and Clancy's, the good old boys' favorite.

Didn't get to see as much music as I'd have liked, owing to the fact that I'm now a namby-pamby old lady who likes to be in bed by 10, but we did make it to Rebirth at the Maple Leaf. It was a poignant show, because the brother of the tuba player had died only days before. The night before the show, two of the band members were actually arrested for disturbing the peace when they dared to hold a second-line parade in his honor, without a permit. The police showed up and told all the marchers and musicians to go home, and of course the mourners just kept on playing and dancing for their fallen brother. I love New Orleans.

And now I'm back in Malawi, where the heat has kicked up, and the trees are miraculously green again, despite the fact that there has been no rain since May. Even my garden is starting to grow!