Friday, November 30, 2007

El Hasho

So, one of the first things we did when we got to Lilongwe was join the Hash. Many of you are probably familiar with the Hash House Harriers, a running club that has almost 2,000 chapters all over the world. Its slogan is “drinkers with a running problem.” The basic gist of the hash is that course is set by a “hare,” and the “hounds try to find the correct path. At certain spots, the trail diverges, and there will be several options of paths to take. You send out the runners, and they look for markings that show whether the path is the correct one or a dead end.

So on most Mondays at 5 o’clock, you can find a pack of white people running through the fields of Malawi, Malawians staring after them, pointing and laughing.

Jorge is known as a “front-runner,” because he’s one of the faster, fitter runners in the group. He’s also known as Don Jorge the Colombian, for other reasons. A couple times in the past, he has been asked to “hare” or lead the run. Both times, it did not go well.

The first time, he helped set the course. Jorge created the run that he would like – very few stops, and nice long stretches of uninterrupted running. People hated it. Turns out they like the stops, the slackers.

The second time, he led the runners along a course that ended up at our friend Ali’s big overland truck. The runners were treated to a ride back to the start of the course, with drinks and festivities. Until the truck ran out of gas, and they all had to run back in the dark.

So the pressure was on when we agreed to host the hash at our house last week. The day before the run, Jorge went out and marked the trail in cake flour, putting in lots of stops and tricky checkpoints.

But that night, the rain finally decided to show up. It stormed for hours. All that remained of Jorge’s carefully laid course were occasional blobs of grey, sticky flour paste.

So back he went, diligent leader that he is, and re-set the course all over again. Fortunately it did not rain again that day. The runners all found their way, I led the walk, and we all ended up happily in our parking lot drinking beer (or diet coke in my case) and socializing with friends. We even managed to order up a spectacular sunset. Success at last.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My second-favorite souvenir from Thailand

OK, you already know my favorite souvenir. But here's a picture of him/her at 18 weeks, just in case you forgot (lord, I can't believe I'm actually putting this on the web):

But the very-next-best-thing in the whole world right now are my jellies. How do I love them? Let me count the ways:

  • They are oh-so-comfy and flexible
  • They go well with all colors: black, brown, navy, pink...
  • They have sparkles
  • They look great with both pants and skirts
  • They cost a whopping 3 dollars
  • You can walk straight through puddles in them without worrying about messing them up
I don't know why we ever let jelly shoes go out of style. Those Thai people are so smart. That's why they do better on math and science tests than us silly Americans.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

...and what I'm thankful for

I guess I just sort of blew by the whole Thankgiving theme, didn't I? OK, in the spirit of the season, here goes:

I am thankful:
  • That chemo did not destroy my fertility
  • That my husband is such a stud wonderful man
  • To have had parents who taught me all I really needed to know about being a loving human being
  • That I get paid in Euros, not dollars
  • To have a U.S. passport, which is kinda useful if you want to cross borders.
  • That I did not inherit my father's horrible eyesight
  • That everyone in my family gets along
  • To have seen so much of the world already
  • For all the wonderful people who invented so many kinds of delicious cheese

Happy Thanksgiving

I had a cute post laid out yesterday, but then realized that I forgot the pictures to attach. So you will just have to wait on that, and read this boring, newsy post instead.

Our entertaining season seems to be in full swing now. Last night we had friends over for gumbo and potato salad (with real andouille sausage brought all the way from LaPlace, Louisiana. Mmmm) followed by bananas foster. The ice cream here is very weird. I guess because of the African heat, they have come up with a way to magically make ice cream that never melts. It just turns into the consistency of whipping cream when you leave it out. Very strange and suspicious. In Ghana, they had chocolate that wouldn't melt. That's just not right either.

Anyway, on Saturday we're having our big turkey day. We learned from last year and bought two turkeys this time. Because having leftovers is one of the best parts of the holiday.

Then, next Monday, we are hosting our first hash. I'll tell you all about the hash next week. Anyway, it just means more work for me!

As for me, I'm heading off to the field again tomorrow. (Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, naturally). I will be in Chikwawa (about 6 hours South and fun to say!) until Saturday, when I have to race back for the Thanksgiving preparations. It will be nice to get out of the office, though.

And baby is still doing well. Likes to kick. I am halfway through the pregnancy now, and I'll be going for an ultrasound in one hour. Maybe then we'll know if it's going to be a Tonka or a Tonkette!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Africa Hot

The worst time of the year for Jorge, back when we lived in New Orleans, was the summer. Despite the fact that he was raised in a place where the temperatures rarely dip below 80 degrees, the poor boy cannot stand the heat. He stays out of the kitchen, unless it's air conditioned.

So in New Orleans, where he worked outdoors all day, summer was misery. I would call him during the day to ask how he was doing and all he would say was "It's hot. Africa hot."

Turns out, when he actually got to Africa, he learned that it's not really so bad here - it's much hotter in New Orleans. But today, in Malawi, it's hot. New Orleans hot. I got into the car to go to the store at lunch time and the steering wheel was searing - I could only dance around on it with my fingertips. We finally got a fan in my office yesterday and I've had it blowing straight at my face all day.

It won't last though - any time now the rains will start, which usually means hot humidity for a few hours, then long breaks of cool, cloudy, wet weather.

Jorge and his mother spent the last few days in Liwonde National Park, a few hours South of Lilongwe, where they saw lots of "los bambis," as my mother-in-law calls antelope. There was one exciting moment where they were briefly charged by elephants, which Jorge said nearly made him soil himelf (of course, he didn't quite put it in those words...).

Tomorrow I will drive down South for the weekend to meet them in Zomba, where we have wrangled our connections into booking us into the U.S. ambassador's cottage. Luxury all 'round, folks, just like I like it. And nice cool mountain breezes to get me out of this heat...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Coming Clean

I have to be honest with you. I have been keeping something from my dear readers.

I picked up a little more than a tan and some pottery when I was in Thailand. I got a very special little souvenir. One that will be running my life for the next 18 years at least.

Yes, I am in the family way.

Because, "Hey," we said to ourselves, "our lives are getting a little boring. What can we do to really spice things up? How about raising a baby in sub-Saharan Africa? That sounds fun!"

Actually, we are thrilled. Yes, a little freaked out about how we will manage on a contract-based career, but I was raised in hippie-Seattle in the 70s, where what didn't kill a kid only made him stronger. Like running around the streets naked (they've got plenty of that here), playing with matches unsupervised, and chewing on lead-paint toys. If I survived all that, I'm sure this baby will do just fine. That's what malaria nets are for.

So, details, you ask? Well, I'm due in mid-April, we have no idea if it's a boy or a girl, but it's big and healthy so far, and we're hoping to have the baby in the U.S., insurance permitting. I get a generous six months of maternity leave, then we will probably return to Malawi for another year, although that's not fully decided yet.

If it's a boy, Jorge wants to name it Tonka. I said no. He nixed my suggestion of Aramis (the bookish, sensitive Musketeer, in case you're not a Dumas fan), so we are at an impasse. If you know my husband and me, you will know that coming to an agreement on anything is usually a long battle of wills, so this should really be an interesting few months.

I think my greatest success so far is keeping my mother-in-law from rubbing oil on my stomach every night. South Americans have no sense of boundaries. ;-)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Big, bold adventurers

We are back from safari. Yes, another safari. It's like going to the zoo for us.

We took Jorge's mother off to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia for her very first African wildlife adventure. Her sentiments?

"This road is horrible! Why didn't we fly?"
"Oh, no, I can't sit in the sun, I will get sick!"
"Oy, the insects! Horrible!"
"No, no, no...the elephants...too close...!"
"Ay, Jorge, not the lions! How scary!"
"Please, I want to go home now."

Really, it wasn't so bad. I think she even liked it in the end. I am sure she will go back to Colombia and regale all her gal pals with how daring she was, and how close she got to the lions.

To be fair, safaris in South Luangwa aren't for the faint of heart. Most of the cars are open, meaning that there is no hard metal wall between you and the animals. The drivers tend to go off-road a lot, to get you even closer to the big scaries. And it's the only National Park I know of that allows game drives at night within park grounds.

On our first night, we did a terrific night drive. Within 15 minutes of darkness falling, we saw a leopard, a genet, and a female lion on the hunt, all within about 30 feet of the car. Needless to say, Dora was freaking out. Every time the car slowed down, she leaned forward to say to the driver: "Please to go home!" If we stopped alongside another car, she would chant "Go! Go!" over the drivers' conversation. So that by the time we saw our second leopard of the night, we just cruised right past it!

Not surprisingly, she passed on the night drive on the second night. Ironically, we didn't see much, and got back early that night.

Pictures to follow soon!