Thursday, December 18, 2008


I'm supposed to leave the office at 10:00 to go home and get ready to leave. It's 10:01. What am I doing blogging?

Just wanted to say we're off today! Got the visa, tickets, and passports, and we're pretty much all packed. We booked a hotel in London but otherwise we're flying by the seat of our pants once we get there!

Should be a pretty fun trip - about 8 friends (that we know of so far) are on the same flight to Nairobi, so we're all going to celebrate once we reach the airport there. The 7-hour layover will fly by!

OK, have to leave NOW!

Monday, December 15, 2008

At last our week of holiday madness is over. We hosted one dinner, two parties, a brunch, and attended two holiday parties. All in 6 days! We are beat now. But also feeling strangely smug and Martha Stewart-like.

On Friday we hosted the office Christmas party at our house. We had about 30 people – staff, their spouses, and their babies. It was great to have all the little kids running around. Fortunately we didn’t have to cook – caterers supplied the food – but the house was trashed afterwards.

The highlight for the day, for me at least, was the first annual staff awards ceremony. Our team came up with categories, then we all got to vote on our picks for such important awards as “Most Punctual” and “Best Laugh.”

And I won this:

As my acceptance speech, I would like to recognize all those who implied I was a bit dingy, perhaps even an airhead. And all those who made dumb blonde jokes while snickering pointedly in my direction. To my husband, who frequently accuses me of laziness (usually while slouching on the couch watching TV). To you, I say:

In your face.

I would also like to point out that you can learn a valuable lesson from this. If you want results from me, throw in some opportunity for financial gain. An incentive, if you will. Want me to remember your birthday? 20 bucks, please. Want me to clean the house? Give me a promotion. Want me to not lose your plane tickets? Promise me a place to live. Oh, dang it. Miriam did that, and I still lost her tickets. Sorry.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Almost everything is sorted now

There's this amazing thing that happens when I complain - the problem goes away! It's like when I'm having trouble with my computer for hours (or more often days) and then I finally give in and call IT, and the minute their car rolls in, the problem resolves itself. I should complain more often. Why haven't I figured this out before?

So yesterday I finally got a response from the man in Kenya who issues the airline tickets. We got the ticket numbers and had the Kenya Airways office here print us out the confirmation. Unfortunately all the bulkhead seats (with the bassinets for babies) are taken now, so it means we'll probably be crammed into some middle seats with a 20-pound child squeezed on top of us for the whole flight. What's really aggravating is that it's always some healthy, 30-something man sitting in the bulkhead seats. Yes, they might be tall, but I have an extra person. Who do you think needs the room more?

Jorge's visa came back quickly - just one week processing time - so perhaps my UK passport isn't useless after all.

Now we just need our passports.

Oh, did I not mention that we don't have our passports? My Malawian residency permit was finally approved a week ago, so I took our passports to the office so they could be processed at Immigration. However, our administrator has yet to travel to Blantyre to do this. But since everything else has worked out OK so far, I am just going to assume that, oh, a few hours before we depart Malawi, I'll finally have everything together for the trip. No use worrying, right?

In other news, Milo is officially crawling. His break-dancing days are over for now, sadly. He also stands up in his crib and screams to be taken out. Not a cute development. And this morning he decided to get up at 4:30. When we finally brought him to our bed at 5:30 out of exhaustion, he peed on our sheets. Jorge as been calling him "turd blossom" ever since.

Today is also our staff Christmas party. I offered to host it at my house. There will be about 30 people, and we already have 120 soft drinks and 50 chairs. That's a Malawian party for you. But I think it will be really fun; I'm sure I'll have stories for you next week.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nothing ever works here the way it is supposed to. Take buying a plane ticket, for example. You go to the website, find the flights you want, pay with a credit card, they take your money, and presto! E-ticket!

Well, in Africa, you go to the website, find the flights you want, pay with a credit card, they take your money, and….and….um, still waiting here….

Yeah, no tickets.

Even though our credit card was charged by Kenya Airways two weeks ago. Jorge has been to the Kenya Airways office 3 times, we have called the Lilongwe Airport, and we have even called the head office in Nairobi. The reservation is confirmed, but there are no tickets associated with it. I don’t quite understand this. And apparently the people at the Kenya Airways offices can’t do anything about it, because the ticket was bought online.

I really don’t need this stress right now.

Jorge thinks it’s no big deal. They took our money, we have the reservation, he says. They have to give us the tickets.

Only this is Africa. They don’t have to do anything.

Once, while traveling with my family, I did a really stupid, Gwynnie thing and lost my plane ticket from Kenya to the U.S. (And my sister’s. She shouldn’t have let me hold it in the first place). We got to the airport 12 hours before the flight was to leave, and started trying to get the ticket reissued. The British Airways person in Nairobi said this would be no problem at all. “I just need to get authorization from the head office.”

Fastforward 11 hours and we have no time left – we need to board the flight. No one in London had answered the phone in all that time. The British Airways person tells us sorry – she can see that we have tickets, and that we have reserved seats, but she can’t let us board the plane. My dad, bless his heart, finally had to whip out the Visa and buy us new tickets, so that we paid twice for the same seats. They eventually re-funded his money, but the lesson was learnt.

In Africa, just because they take your money, it doesn’t mean you get the tickets. We are a little stressed here, folks. Let’s hope it all works out.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Malawian funeral

I attended Jane’s funeral on Friday. I came in to work, soberly dressed, expecting to be out of the office for a few hours, then back in time to finish off a few things before the weekend.

I really should have known better.

About an hour before we were to leave I was given a little lesson on what to expect. First, I would need a chitenje, to wrap around my waist like a skirt. Also, I should expect it to take the whole day.

We headed to my house to collect the chitenje, then drove to Jane’s family home. I was told to stick close to the side of Lucy, the only other female staff going to the funeral from my office, and she would let me know what to do. I was very nervous at that point, afraid that I was going to commit some horrible gaffe that would shame the office.

When we arrived at 10 AM there was already a big crowd, and it just grew throughout the day. The men and women separated, and Lucy and I took seats on the floor inside the house, where women were singing, and several people were crying inconsolably. The music was lovely and sad.

We moved outside shortly after, to allow more room for close family members. Then we sat. And sat. And sat. For almost two hours I sat on the ground by the front patio, shifting to try and find a comfortable position. Finally, as though at some invidible sign, everyone stood. The body was brought into the house, and more keening and wailing erupted from inside. A woman kept yelling “Amayi, amayi” – woman, or mother, in Chichewa, as though she was yelling at Jane to come back. It was a bit startling sometimes, coming as I do from a tradition of quiet, respectful, stiff-upper-lip mourning.

At that point I snuck home to feed Milo. When I got back to the house, everyone had moved outside. I took a seat on the ground, and the Malawian women made space for me in the shade. We sat for another two hours. An MC was addressing the crowds – men on one side of the street, women on the other. He announced the names of every person who had donated money for the funeral, down to 15 cents. Then there were speakers, from the family, from our office, from the local political party.

Finally, the speeches were finished, and we made our way to the cemetery. We had only moved a few feet when we were accosted by a group of young men wanting a lift. We told them we are not allowed to transport people in the truck bed, but they all piled in the back anyway, shouting abuse.

At the cemetery, there was more sitting in the dirt. By then I had figured out that the chitenje was for keeping your clothes clean, not modesty. First, there were prayers, then the men began covering the coffin. It was quite moving – each man would work for a short while, and then another man would come and take over, each of them taking their turn. The MC then called individual family members to come and pay their respects. There were a few dozen staff members from my organization, and we all came together to lay roses on Jane’s grave, which ended up completely covered in flowers. It was a touching farewell to a much-loved member of staff.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It just keeps coming

Bad news, that is. Yesterday one of my colleagues, the Transport Manager, died. She was in her late 30s and had been ill for some time with a severe respiratory infection. We will all go to the funeral tomorrow.

This has been a bad couple of months for the organization I work for. First, our former Assistant Country Director died in a car accident. A few weeks after that, our new Assistant Country Director developed a brain hemhorrage and had to be flown to South Africa. He is recovering, thankfully, but still has a long way to go. Shortly after that, the Country Director of the Zambia program died of a heart attack.

Then it got even worse - the brother of my colleague (and friend, and former boss) was killed in a fire-bombing attack in South Africa, more of the violence that has been occuring against immigrants in that country. The wife died a few days later from the burns, leaving a young daughter orphaned.

And of course Jorge did his damnedest to continue the trend, but luckily for me, he is made of Teflon.

Very sad, indeed. I hope things start to turn around in the next year.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lots of random things

We had a nice Thansgiving weekend. Of course, I had to work on Thanksgiving, and out of town to boot, but I made it back to Lilongwe in time to go to a friend's for dinner. Then on Saturday we made dinner ourselves - two turkeys, plenty of stuffing, and 5 desserts. For about 18 people. We were stuffed.

Our holiday plans are finally set! We are going to Jolly Olde England! Well, at least Milo and I are. Jorge has to see if his visa comes through in time.

The visa application for the U.K. is ridiculous and insane. I have British citizenship, through my dad, and Jorge is a permanent resident of the U.S. So you would think it would be pretty straightforward for him to travel to England, right? No way. We had to fill out a 20-PAGE application and submitted even more pages of supporting documents. Dang limeys.

Jorge is doing OK. His back is hurting him more and more lately, so this week he is off to see an orthopedic specialist.

I volunteered my house today for the annual work Christmas party. I'm not sure what I was thinking.

Milo demonstrated a new talent this weekend. After he woke from him afternoon nap, we found him in his crib, naked, his diaper pulled off and lying beside him. I guess he takes after his mama - I was a nudist baby too.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We had a wonderful weekend. It was almost as if we had a life again.

We finally found a babysitter – the next-door neighbor’s housekeeper – and she comes over in the afternoons a couple days a week. It gives Jorge a chance to go off and run errands or check his e-mail without worrying about what to do with Milo.

The great thing is that she will also stay over at night, so that we can now go out on dates again! Before this weekend, my husband and I had only been out on one date since Milo was born. On Friday night the babysitter came over, and Jorge and I went out for a lovely dinner at a romantic little Italian place. After that, we drove over to the international school, which was hosting an art fair – they had assembled works, good and bad, from artists and craftsmen throughout Malawi. I bought this (it looks more muted in person):

Then, not content to go quietly into the night, we went to a friend's birthday party at Kumbali Lodge (where Madonna stays when she's in town. What, namedropping, me?) After that we finally went to bed, and I didn’t even have to get up to feed Milo!

On Saturday morning we went to breakfast at a friend’s house. Jorge normally runs with a group on Saturday mornings, and afterwards they have breakfast. This Saturday, however, there was no run, so we just got to eat instead. Our friend Marcel has an amazing home, complete with a crocodile pen. Jorge couldn’t resist dangling Milo over the enclosure, but I got video, so I can show Jorge’s mom. I can hear her now: “Jorge, Nooooooo!! Noooooo, por Dios!!”

That evening we had dinner at Cassandra’s. Her brother is a professional chef. Tasty.

On Sunday morning, Jorge ran in the annual Lilongwe Half-marathon, and I manned a water station. I was nervous about Jorge running so soon after his accident, and he planned to take it easy, walking some of the way. But once he got going, he just decided to run the whole way. He was a bit slower than usual, and a bit more sore afterward, but I think it was probably good for him, in the end.

After the run, our friend Ann hosted brunch, with homemade bagels. Mmmm.

And last night, I became an official member of the Lilongwe Photo Club, a group of camera geeks that gets together monthly to view photos, provide constructive criticism, and eat. The eating part seems to be taken the most seriously. I was a bit intimidated because everyone else has these cool artsy photos...and I have pictures of my baby. At least he's cute. See?:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

There are more stories to tell about Jorge and his friends, but I think I need a break from all of that. All you need to know for now is that they are home, and can see “OK” on the distant horizon. They’ll all get there soon enough.

Instead, I think we need something more fun around here for a change. So let’s talk clothes. I like clothes.

Not my clothes, of course – Malawian clothes. Oh, they are the best. Have you seen the recent fashion spreads promoting the “ethnic bohemian chic” trend, with frighteningly thin women standing awkwardly in some rural, vaguely African setting? Those just make me laugh. Real African fashion is basically whatever people can get their hands on from the bins of second hand clothing sold in the market. I have read somewhere that this is where all those unwanted clothes sent to U.S. charities ends up. They are bagged up, bought in bulk, and shipped overseas.

People here dress much more conservatively than in the U.S. – you rarely see bared shoulders or skirts above the knees. Men generally wear slacks and button-down shirts if they work in an office, and pants and short-sleeved shirts – whatever they can afford – if they don’t. You see old t-shirts from every possible event or institution. Our office cleaner, an older man with 4 children, used to wear a t-shirt celebrating the “Party like it’s 1999!” prom from a U.S. high school.

Here are some of my favorite sartorial Malawi moments:

  • Yesterday I saw a man wearing a big red, floppy women’s hat. Can’t blame him - it’s hot out!
  • A teenage girl, her black hair in braids, walked past me once wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words: “Blondes do it better.” Hey, thanks! I’ve always thought so!
  • Jorge once saw a little girl on her way to school in Snow White’s dress. It was a Halloween costume for us, but just a pretty dress for her.
  • I’ve seen many men wearing skinny little t-shirts. My suspicions about these shirts were confirmed when I read on the back of one of them: “Michelle – Varsity Cheer Squad”
  • A few weeks ago one of our drivers came to work in a snazzy brown double-breasted suit from the 80s. Smmooooth. There was no occasion or anything. He was just proud of his new acquisition.
  • Of course there was the diver from the Lilongwe Bridge, wearing a much-too-snug women’s bathing suit, to Jorge’s horrified amusement. May he rest in peace.
  • My favorite, however, was the day I saw a man wearing an honest-to-goodness Star Trek uniform shirt. May he live long and prosper, because he is my hero.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Thanks everyone for your kind messages. Jorge and his friends are doing OK. They will be back today, accessorized with bandages, neck braces, and the lot, but home safe and sound nonetheless.

My friend Cassandra's office sent a car to collect them. I had their location wrong earlier - they were 9 hours from the Malawi border, so they have been traveling back since yesterday.

Jorge sounded pretty exhausted and drained over the weekend, but when I spoke to him last night, he seemed to be getting back to his usual pain-in-the-neck self (lucky me.)

They experienced the best and worst of human nature through this ordeal. The worst was that people started stealing from them the minute the car stopped moving, even as they were lying there hurt. I would wish pain and suffering upon these thieves, but then I remember it's rural Africa - they've probably already had more than their fair share.

But they were also shown great kindness. People gave them rides, took them to the hospital, took them into their home. A pastor came and spent the day with them, helping them to navigate the process of getting the car towed and reported. It turned out that the organization I work for has an office in Nampula, so they helped Jorge and his friends get good care at a private clinic - that seemed to have helped them out a lot. And I'm not sure how, but Jorge says they were able to recover most of the stolen goods.

So for now the tally sheet seems to still have humankind in the good column, not evil.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More bad news

Jorge called late last night from Mozambique. He told me there had been an accident. I listened for a minute or two, then decided he was pulling my leg. He does that. Frequently. I said "You're messing with me." "No, I'm not," he replied. I waited another minute and said again, "you're messing with me."

"I wish I was." Was all he said.

So this time, Jorge is the boy he cried wolf, and the wolf was real. Jorge and our friends had a pretty serious accident on the road to Mozambique. First off, Jorge says he is fine, just some cuts and bruises. Cassandra, our closest friend in Malawi, is also OK. Her boyfriend and brother apparently had more serious injuries, and were taken to a hospital in Nampula, about three hours from the Malawi border. One of them seems to have a broken rib, and the other is pretty banged up, but Jorge thinks they should be OK.

He is obviously very shaken up, and worried about his friends. They have been shown great kindness by the Mozambicans they have met, who took them to the hospital, gave them a place to stay, and are taking Jorge and Cassandra to the car to file a police report and recover what they can.

The car was totaled, so they are figuring out how to get back to Malawi, or whether the two who were hurt need to be med-evaced. I want my husband home, and I can hear in his voice that he wants nothing more than to be safe back with us again as well. But I am not sure when our friends will be able to travel, so they expect to be in Nampula at least another night.

I know Jorge would not want me to be writing about this here - he will not want people to worry. But I am selfish. If I am worried, I want supportive people worrying and praying along with me. I will post an update when I get a chance, but probably not until Monday.

But really, Jorge would say, I don't want you to worry - everything will be just fine.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Preemptive redemption

My 4th day of being a single mom. I think I've got it down. I've been working from home in the mornings, where I'm surprisingly productive even with an ankle-biter doing the worm to get close to me so that he can literally bite my ankles. (Or gum my feet, close enough).

~~Did I mention already that my son has a future as a b-boy? He can't crawl yet, but his worm moves are awesome. ~~

Anyway, between, Godfrey, the part-time nanny, and me, Milo is not lacking for attention and care. And he doesn't seem to even notice that Jorge is gone. So ha! I am winning the favorite parent race!

Anyway, I realize in my last post I complained about my husband just a wee bit (again) and lest you think that I really attached myself to a deadbeat loser, I thought I should tell you about our anniversary.

On Oct. 30th it was our 4th anniversary. Such a short time, yet it feels like forever. I mean, for-eeee-verrrr. I was working out in the field and didn't get home until almost 6. And you know what my husband had done for me? Well, apart from supervising Godfrey making me a delicious dinner of roast chicken, Jorge made me homemade chocolate eclairs. You could really taste the love. And love is yummy.

Do you see now why I married him?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Woman's work

This week I get to experience the thrill of single motherhood. I say this with a voice full of irony.

My dear husband, worn out from his “wife management” duties (his self-described job), has gone off on a holiday to recharge. He will be climbing up Mt. Mulanje starting today, then on Thursday will drive with friends to the Mozambican coast for swimming, diving, and copious consumption of rum-based drinks served in coconut shells. It’s a hard life.

One of the conditions of his release was that he arrange for childcare for Milo while he was away. And he did. Sort of. He found a woman to come Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, in the afternoons. Hmph. Not exactly what I meant by “find a nanny or else.” So poor Godfrey is watching Milo the rest of the time, while also taking care of the household chores.

To make it easier on Godfrey, I am doing as much of the housework as I can – that meant ironing for 3 hours over the weekend, doing the laundry, the diapers, the dishes…(Just like a common person!)

I know, I am not getting much sympathy from my fellow moms. Poor Gwyneth, she only has a part-time nanny and the housekeeper is so busy that she has to help out!

But it is tiring. I work hard all day, and even when Jorge is here, all the parenting falls to me once I get home. I appreciate that child care is a real job, so I understand why Jorge wants a break after 8 hours of being a full-time stay-at-home dad. But I work full-time too! And there’s no break for me. I work 24-7.

This seems to be the way for all the mothers I know, working or not. It always seems that the fathers get to take the evenings off, while the mothers never stop working. I read a study that backed this up once. It showed that working mothers, rather than getting to ease back on their household work, just added their office-work onto their existing workload. Whereas men spent about the same amount of time working and parenting whether or not they had a job outside the home.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my husband, and have nothing but appreciation for the hard work he does looking after Milo day after day. But I just wonder – when do I get my holiday?

Finally, Lex asked about the African reaction to Obama’s victory. I think that’s a whole other post, but the quick version is that people here were very happy with the result. The prevailing theme was that everyone was so impressed with American democracy, and McCain’s gracious concession of the election. The trend here is to dispute an election loss, loudly and vociferously, until you are at least granted a seat at the negotiating table. I think Africans took new hope in democracy this last week, and are particularly hopeful that Obama will institute favorable policies and aid toward Africa.

However, Jorge thinks many Malawians actually believe that Obama was born and raised in an African village, and that they are mostly just hopeful for their own presidential prospects.

If you want to see some photos and stories about how the expats in Malawi celebrated the election, check out my friends Emily and Amy’s blogs.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why I voted for Obama

Normally, I think that what you do in the voting booth (or with your mail-in ballot) is your own personal business, but this year, I feel compelled to discuss my voting decisions.

So yes, I mailed in my ballot several weeks ago, and I voted for Barack Obama. Those of you who know me will not be at all surprised by this, but for those of you who may be on the fence, or are waffling about voting at all, here are my main reasons:

Health care. I am a cancer survivor, and it is near impossible to find health insurance, unless I work for an employer that provides it. We have searched for individual insurance in the past, and the best rate we were quoted was $3,000 dollars a month. I feel strongly that any health care reform needs to include protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Obama’s plan does; McCain’s doesn’t. McCain’s solution to the health care crisis? Another tax credit. Thanks, John. I can afford to be insured for one and a half months under your plan. And keep in mind that the people who are most crippled by rising healthcare premiums (which have hit most people a whole lot more than the piddly rise in oil prices) would not receive the full $5,000 credit he is proposing.

Taxes. I have had enough of wealthy people getting loads of deductions, credits, and tax cuts, while those who can least afford it bear such a high burden of taxes. And what’s so wrong with paying taxes anyway? Certainly, I want my government to be accountable and spend my tax money wisely, but I accept that in order to have a functioning government and a prosperous country, the government needs be sufficient revenue. I fully support Obama’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Character and qualifications. I have often complained that many Americans seem to vote for president as though they were voting for homecoming king. But I have to admit, I like Obama. He seems to be a sensible, rational man capable of gathering the most relevant information and making a reasoned, intelligent decision based on the facts.

I also like that he seems able to relate to the world that I grew up in so much better than most politicians I see. I get the sense that he understands the real problems that affect normal Americans, and won’t force us to become little pawns in an unrealistic, ideologically based world (think abstinence-only education, people).

I have had to hire many people over the years and what I look for most is not how many years of experience they have in doing specific tasks, but for their intelligence, motivation, educational qualifications, and personality. I want someone who will make the right calls, and work hard to achieve his goals. I believe Barack Obama is the best choice for America.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

African sunsets

This was a long and tiring week. I have had a bad cold all week, and sniffled, sneezed, and coughed my way through the national training that I was leading. The training went well, but I was wrecked, with a throbbing head, on most evenings when I finally made it home.

On Thursday, as I drove back to Lilongwe, it sprinkled a bit, and there was that wonderful first rain smell. It's impossible to describe. It smells a bit like concentrated dust, but there's a freshness behind it as well. It's all the smoke and dust and grime just being washed from the sky. All I can say about the moment the rains finally arrive in Africa is that it is magical, even if you have been here your whole life.

The other thing that never gets old for me is the sunsets. I looked out the car window Thursday and saw the most luminescent, fiery, orange sun you've ever seen, hovering over the acacia trees and maize fields, glowing through the mist of the rain. The sunsets here are a total Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen cliche, and I love them. They make me feel I should be sitting in front of a big canvas safari tent, looking out over the savanna while sipping a G&T. They remind me of the wonder I felt when I first arrived in Africa - in Zimbabwe in 2001 - and rode along roads lined with women carrying baskets on their heads and babies on their backs. Even though I am so often tired now, and disheartened, there are times when I fall in love all over again with Africa. Watching that sunset was one of them.

As for the family, we are still sick but doing a bit better. Despite spending all that money on a halloween costume for Milo, we did nothing yesterday to celebrate. There was a party a the U.S. embassy yesterday, but Jorge thought you needed to have an invitation to attend. When we found out that anyone was welcome, Milo was already fast asleep.

Milo is growing so fast. He rocks back and forth on his hands and knees now, as if at any moment he's waiting for the starting whistle so he can take off crawling. He eats all types of mushy, soft pureed foods, which look disgusting to me. And just this last week he has had two teeth poke through. Poor me, driver's ed is just around the corner....

Friday, October 31, 2008

Pics from our last safari

What, you say? Another safari? Why yes! And just look what I spotted - A baby giraffe!

Yay! I caught it! I'm taking this one home!

Uh-oh, he doesn't look too happy about that plan.

Give it time, kid. You'll warm up to me.

See! I'll be a great giraffe-mommy, I promise! I'll give you lots of leaves to eat, and put you in nice fuzzy turtleneck sweaters when it's cold.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

The training looks like it's finally going to happen, so next week I'll be up North, out of the office. Because I'm breastfeeding, I'll be commuting - an hour each way - instead of staying at the training venue. It's going to be a long week, I can tell you.

Unfortunately, today I seem to have come down with a cold, so that is going to make training a bit more difficult. Milo has also been sick, and not sleeping well as a result. So it's been pretty tiring around here lately.

I do have some good news though - success on the cake front! My first chocolate cake attempt, last weekend, didn't work out. The cake tasted good, but it just fell to pieces when I tried to cut it. But this weekend I made a strawberry cake with fresh strawberries. Nummers. So I'm 2 for 3 so far. Next up: red velvet cake. I love my new hobby.

Also, I managed to get out of the house last night and go to a party. Had too much wine, stayed up too late, and sang very loudly. So really, a great night. I'm paying for it today though!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hello everyone. I’m still not at that training. Who knows when it will happen now. Ah well.

One of the things about living in a developing country is all the aid vehicles. If you’re in a conflict or disaster setting, you see UN cars everywhere – big landrovers with UN plastered across the side. In a nice peaceful country like Malawi, it’s trucks with aid organization logos. Out of every ten cars I drive past on the road, it seems like 1 or 2 is an aid car.

So the other day I noticed a new one: a nice shiny white truck with “Jehovah’s Witnesses” printed on the side. It reminded me of a story Jorge told me when we first moved out here.

At the time, Jorge was volunteering up in the refugee camp about an hour north of Lilongwe. His job was basically to keep a group of teenagers out of trouble during the school holidays. They watched movies, talked about girls, hung out in the market…

One day Jorge saw two Jehovah’s Witnesses ride by on bikes. He asked the kids “Are there more of them around here?” They said, yes, these people were frequently in the camp.
“They always wear white shirts and ties, don’t they?” He asked.
“Yes!” they responded, surprised that Jorge knew this.
“And they ride bicycles?” “Yes.”
“And they come and knock on your door, and you try to hide from them, right?”
“How do you know these things?” The kids asked in wonderment.

Jorge just smiled mysteriously, basking in his omniscience.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A little lesson in inequality

Every year, almost 10 million children around the world die before the age of 5. Do you know why most of them die?

If you don’t, you are not alone. If you think it’s HIV or Malaria, you agree with the majority of Americans. And you are wrong. Sixty percent of Americans incorrectly identified these illnesses as the leading causes of death for children. In actuality, malaria and HIV only account for 11%.

What is really killing kids? The simplest of things: pneumonia – 36% of child deaths; malnutrition – directly or indirectly leads to 35% of deaths, and diarrhea – 18% of deaths. Every year some two million babies die within their first month of life. That’s equivalent to all the babies born in the U.S. in a year.

The saddest thing is that most of these deaths – about 6 million each year – can be prevented through simple, cost-effective interventions like rehydration salts and antibiotics. This seems like something we as Americans should do something about, wouldn’t you say? I mean, who can argue against saving kids?

Well, do me a favor and tell that to your congressman, OK? About 4 billion dollars a year are spent on child health programs worldwide, but 12 billion dollars a year is needed if those 6 million kids are to be saved. For its part, the U.S. appropriated 450 million dollars for child health programs last year, but funding has generally stayed flat for the last 10 years.

I guess that sounds like a lot of money in these troubled times. But consider this: the U.S. government spends five billion dollars a year on HIV programs alone, and HIV only accounts for 2 million annual deaths worldwide. We have the money folks. We’re just spending it elsewhere. I read today that the Bush administration has spent a billion dollars on abstinence education despite no evidence that it works. Doubling our child survival funding each year would only cost an extra $1.50 per American resident. Imagine what we could do with an extra five dollars, or ten dollars.

I’ve seen too many sick kids in Africa, and I hate knowing that they die for such stupid reasons. Can you imagine an American kid dying of diarrhea? So I am appealing to all of you, start getting active on this issue. The U.S. Coalition for Child Survival is a great place to start for information on how to help. And there are many great organizations out there that you can donate to.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Halloween must be getting near...

Well, some good news today: My heart is in good working order. I tested it.

I just went to the ladies room at my office. Used the facilities, went to wach my hands. No soap. Grr. Went to turn on the water anyway - a little rinse is better than nothing - and stopped myself just in time. Because there was a TARANTULA IN THE SINK DRAIN. (I know, it sounds like the sequel to "Snakes on a Plane")

Sorry, no camera on hand. You'll just have to believe me that it was the size of Shelob and was staring out at me over its horrible hairy pincers [shudder].

I swear, my heart just about stopped, but I managed to survive.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For Miriam

My sister Miriam, bless her heart, requested recent photos of Milo, and who am I to say no? So I brought some in today to post. But first you have to sit through one my life updates...

Well, the office is back up and running. There are still a few problems; the fridge is kaput, which is a problem because I keep Milo's milk in there. But otherwise I am impressed with how quickly the Ministry of Health got everything fixed.

You may also notice that I am posting when I said I would not. The training I was meant to facilitate this week had to be postponed until next week. Really, the reason is government bureaucracy, but don't tell my colleagues I said that. So I'm here in Lilongwe for the week. Tomorrow is a holiday (Mother's Day) so I get to stay home. And here's the exciting bit - Milo turns 6 months tomorrow, and I'm finally going to let him have a bit of solid food! Deep down I'm kind of hoping he rejects it, and looks at me as if to say, "But mommy, your milk is so much better than this crap!"

Everyone we know went away over the weekend - there was a big music festival, the Lake of Stars, out at the lake. It's one big weekend-long party with lots of music and camping and beer. The kind of thing that is a lot more fun without an infant who goes to sleep at 7. (Milo's such a party pooper). So we stayed home like the squares that we now are.

In other news, I have a new ambition: To become an expert cake-baker. I already hold the titles for Best Brownies in Malawi and Most Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies. Really, there have been multiple challengers, but none have even come close. But some occasions just call for a nice cake, and I have never really excelled at cake-making. So this weekend I started with a basic butter cake with buttercream frosting. Yum. Next week I'll do a chocolate cake. Maybe someday I'll try a jelly roll or sacher torte, but let's not get too crazy here folks. But I am open to suggestions! What do you think I should learn to bake?

And this brings me to my other project, which is in direct conflict with the great cake bake-off: Losing the rest of the baby weight. I have just ONE POUND to lose before I get back to where I was before I got pregnant! Then I suppose I will have to get rid of the insulation pounds I put on in preparation for pregnancy (Gotta have that cushioning for the baby, you know. It's what all the super-moms are doing.) But still, Yay!

OK, onto the pics:

So here's Milo, almost 6 months old. And still no hair.
Seriously, is he not just the cutest child ever? How on Earth did I create such a being?
Already excited about soccer.
But more excited about chewing.
He likes to knock over the blocks, if only he can reach them

Thursday, October 9, 2008

You know it's bad when the printer is smoking

We had an exciting day yesterday at the office. I was working on a project with the Program Manager when we heard a strange humming noise and looked up. It seemed to be coming from the phone switchboard. Suddenly, the switchboard started crackling and popping loudly. It sounded like it was going to explode. I briefly considered ducking for cover. Then, with one last loud BANG, all the power went out.

At first I thought, "Oh crap, we are so getting kicked out of this office." You see, we are in a priveleged position - technically, my team is employed by an NGO (that's non-governmental organization for those of you not in the development loop), but because our project is jointly run with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry has provided us with government offices to use. For a moment I thought all our fancy NGO technology had burned out the rest of the office.

But then I heard a lot of commotion in the hall. Everyone was going around to see the damage. It turns out the office equipment throughout the building had gone through the same demon possession. Our printer was smoking. The surge protection unit had left scorch marks on the floor.

Apparently a few power wires had gotten knocked loose and let out a major power surge, blowing most of the electronics in the building. My laptop was spared, but the power cable is fried, so I'm running on borrowed battery time here. The power is still out at my office so I am working from a colleague's office.

The electric company came out yesterday and said they couldn't do anything about it. Even though they supply the power that killed our appliances, they did not, as it so happens, erect the power poles and string the lines. The Malawi government did that (which probably explains the shoddy workmanship). So it could be weeks before they correct the problem. And then, of course, there is all that equipment to replace. It will be an interesting month.

I'll be away next week anyway - I'm helping to facilitate a national nutrition training - so probably won't post again until around the 20th. Think of Milo on the 15th - he will be 6 months old!

Monday, October 6, 2008

More photos

Thanks everyone for your kind thoughts and prayers for Godfrey and his family. He and his family traveled down to Mulanje for the burial this weekend, and he is returning this week. I don't know yet what the plans are for the children, but I'm hoping the littlest can come to our house during the day because she's just so darn cute. Jorge spoke with Godfrey on Saturday and said he sounds a bit better. To lose your spouse when they are still quite young is not an unusual thing here, unfortunately, and he's coping as well as he can with the support of friends.

Since I have them here in the office, I am taking the easy blog option and posting some pictures from our last week in Seattle. Jorge's brother came to visit, and one day we drove off to Deception Pass, on Whidbey Island. It's a beloved place where I spent many summer vacations camping as a child.

Don't you just love Milo's outfit?

Milo napping with his Uncle Ed

Yep, that's Milo being stoned. Just a few second before he decided to roll over and try to eat the rocks. We're good parents.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Very sad day

We got very bad news last night. Matthew, the son of our housekeeper Godfrey, called and told Jorge that his mother had died. Then the phones cut out.

When we were able to get a hold of Godfrey, we heard the story. His wife had been complaining of headaches and backaches, and suddenly started feeling much worse. They went to the hospital, but apparently were told that it was nothing serious. On their way home from the hospital, she died.

We were able to help him get her taken to the morgue, and he is hoping to transfer her body to their family home in Mulanje, 6 hours south of here, for the funeral. I wish I could go to the funeral, but we still don't have a car, so it doesn't look likely.

I am mourning mostly for her four children. Godfrey has three lovely daughters and a wonderful, bright son. The youngest is 5, and the oldest is 17.

Sometimes I just hate Africa. The life expectancy in Malawi is only 38 years. 38 years! It's so unfair, and so heartbreaking. If you are the praying type, please keep Godfrey, and his children Christina, Matthew, Ethel , and Deborah in your prayers.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You may have noticed that there have not been many photos lately. I apologize for that. The reason is that (as I may have mentioned before) I forgot to pack my computer cable when I left the U.S., so haven't been able to edit my photos.

Today I decided to bring in the memory card so I could at least post a few of the more recent photos. I know, of course, that there are certain of my readers - I'm not naming names but they're probably doting grandparents - who read my usual posts and think "Enough about you! We want to hear about Milo!"

So here's your Milo update:

Everyone here is surprised by what a laid-back little baby Milo is. He'll flirt with anyone, and rarely fusses. Don't worry, we know how lucky we are, and that it probably won't last. He's happy enough playing on his own for good stretches. He's pretty stable sitting up, but every once in a while still wobbles over. He also likes to knock over piles of blocks. And of course chewing things still provides hours of entertainment.

He likes to chatter away now. Mostly ba's and ma's. A few stuttering wuh-wuhs. And he does this odd little fish-out-of-water think where he opens and shuts his mouth in an exaggerated way, just for kicks. No teeth yet. No locomotion either. He tries to push his little butt up to crawl, but ends up just moving himself around in circles.

Today's his first doctor's appointment here in Malawi. We're hoping to find out what we need to do about malaria, as that's really my main concern. In preparation for the rainy season we'll be having the house fumigated soon, and the window screens repaired, and our bed-nets re-treated.

People always ask us if he sleeps through the night. We just laugh. In the last week we've made real progress though. He wakes twice a night, instead of every 3 hours. He still wakes up at 11PM and 4AM, but Jorge and I trade off on those, so I do manage to get about 6-7 hours in a row now. It's enough.

Also, Milo is an authentic little African baby now. My coworkers came over last week and gave me a chitenje to carry him around in. I love it. It's way more comfortable than a crappy Baby Bjorn, and only costs a couple dollars!

If you're wondering why Milo is all red-faced, it's because Jorge got bored and played Rambo with him during the day. The red is from a red marker. It's meant to be blood from Milo being pretend-shot in the face.

I'm losing hope of Milo being a sensitive, bookish child.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Whee, look at me! I'm a regular blogger again!

We're getting settled back into normal life here. Friends have come to visit over the last couple of evenings, tonight I have a birthday party to go to, and tomorrow a friend is throwing us a welcome-back cocktail party at her home. I no longer feel like a disheveled and friendless new mom.

Over the weekend we went out to the Lilongwe Sailing Club. There was no wind, and the hippo was out, so no one sailed. Instead we just barbecued and chatted with friends. Our friend Sonia shared with us a funny story, but first you need some background:

Malawians have a very difficult time differentiating the "L" and "R" sounds. They can't really hear the difference, and frequently interchange the letters in their writing. For example, the newspaper today described a man as being "raid to rest."
So over the summer, during all the political turmoil in Zimbabwe, Sonia got daily updates from the staff, all of whom were following the situation closely.

"The erections are being manipulated," they told her,

and, (my favorite),

"Mugabe is fiddling with the erections."


Monday, September 22, 2008

My morning commute

When we left Malawi in February, we sold our car (which we affectionately dubbed “the Wanker.” Had Mitsubishi done better market research, it would have learned that the car name “Pajero” means just that in Colombia.) We were sad to let it go, but didn’t think it was going to work as a baby-mobile.

Since we’re without wheels, I’ve been walking to work. It’s about 20 minutes there, and 25 minutes back (thanks to the long-@$$ hill we live at the top of.) I like the walk most in the morning. Everything has that unique African smell - a mixture of dust, sweat, smoke from burning crops, and the odd whiff of decaying garbage – and it brings back memories of long walks I’ve taken in many other African countries. It’s the dry season here and the air is so arid that it dries you out all the way up deep into your head. I feel like I’m getting a mummy brain.

My first few blocks are relatively quiet, then I join the throng of people walking along the main commercial street through town. I’m an object of curiosity most of the time, and people stare at me quite openly. Malawian women, many of whom are out walking in high heels, always check out my outfit. Sometimes men compliment me, sometimes they say derisive-sounding things in Chichewa. I give those ones cold glares.

The dust gets everywhere – into my toes, up my pant legs, coating my bag. I like walking across the bridge over the Lilongwe River. So full when we left, it’s now almost a trickle, and men and women huddle around the edges to wash laundry amidst the swirling trash. What I least enjoy about walking is crossing the streets – no one waits for pedestrians here. If it can damage, maim, or kill you, it has right-of-way. Every time I step out into traffic, despite checking both ways obsessively, I feel a shot of adrenaline, then relief once I’ve reached the other side.

I think I’ll continue walking, even after we get a car. I like being a part of the crowd, not looking out at it from within my air-conditioned bubble. And heaven knows I need the exercise.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sad news

On my first day back at work, I learned that a colleague that worked with me here in Malawi died in a car accident Tuesday night, in Sierra Leone.

You worry about all the scary diseases that are out here - malaria, HIV, tuberculosis - and the crime, and the insecurity, but all too often it's just something as mundane as another car that gets you. When I was in Ghana, we had to halt work three times in three months for fatal car accidents that took the lives of nurses that I worked with.

My heart goes out to his wife and their young daughter. Such a tragedy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

And we're back!

Well, here I am, back in Malawi. This blog’s title is once again relevant. Let mishaps and mayhem ensue!

So, we survived the seemingly endless trip to Africa. Our journey started last Friday morning at 4 AM, when we awoke to head to the airport. From Seattle we flew to New York, and Milo was charming and sweet throughout the whole trip. We then transferred to our flight to South Africa. I had to go mama bear on a bunch of travelers who tried to move ahead of me in the security line when I stopped for a couple seconds to adjust the brake on the stroller. One couple made it past me, and the others behind them made a dash for it, even though we were already trying to move ahead again. I had to block the throng with Milo’s stroller and yell, “We’re in line here, people!” They didn’t even have the decency to look ashamed. Freaking Europeans.

The 17 hour flight to Johannesburg (yes, you read that right) was not so bad. Milo slept for most of the trip, and although we only were able to use the airplane bassinet for a couple hours because of turbulence, we managed to rest a bit.

On Sunday evening, we stayed overnight at a hotel in Johannesburg. As we were landing, congratulating ourselves on how smoothly everything had gone, I suddenly realized I had a much greater challenge to contend with: baby jet lag.

Why has no one warned me about the hell that is trying to get a baby to sleep 9 time zones away from his usual home? While Jorge and I were ready for a full night’s rest, Milo thought he was just taking a nap. He decided to play all night, and by 6 AM I was sobbing with exhaustion, having had little sleep for 3 nights in a row.

We’re all still a little off since then. Milo wakes up even more often than usual during the (last night he was a twitchy little ball of energy from about 1:00 to 4:00,) and he’s more tired and cranky than usual during the day. Things are slowly improving, though, and he’s at least napping regularly again. I haven’t managed to stay awake later than 7:30 since we got to Lilongwe.

Today I am back at work, but I don’t have much to do yet, because most of my colleagues are out of the office, so I don’t know what’s needed. There’s been a lot of positive change and progress since I left, so I am excited about getting back to work.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How can it be so much?

How is it that my belongings magically multiply right before I leave for a new destination? I alwaus start packing early. The bags get half-full. I think "hey, it's all going to fit just fine!"

And then, suddenly, just when it's getting late in the game, it's like little elves sneak in and fill up all my bags with things I didn't realize I need.

It's always stressful every time I switch continents, but the baby has made it so much more complicated. So far we have packed 4 bags almost to 50 pounds each. Then we get an extra bag of 20 pounds for Milo. And then, of course, there is our carry-on bag. Add to that Milo's diaper bag, and two "personal carry-on items" (a backpack and purse). Oh, and a stroller and carseat.

We are not sure it will all fit into the car on Saturday morning, and we're dreading picking it up on the other end, when we won't have helpful family members to help drag, push, or carry our various personal effects.

But, this time next week, I'll be back in the land of cheap avocadoes, cryptic bumper stickers, lazy chameleons, and miles and miles of corn!

Monday, September 1, 2008


In less than two weeks, Jorge and I will be flying back to Malawi. Over the last six months we have had many wonderful visits from friends and family, and several great trips out of town as well. By my reckoning, in Milo's first 5 months of life, we have spent less than two of those just relaxing at home without guests.

So, even though we love spending time with our guests, it has been a bit exhausting. My grandmother used to be fond of saying that houseguests are a bit like fish. After three days, they really start to stink.

But sometimes it's even worse. Sometimes they also punch holes in your bathroom wall.

Our friend Jonathan, who visited in July, generously offered to help my sister with a re-wiring project she had planned for her guest bathroom. Unfortunately, the project turned out to be a bit more complicated than planned. He punched one hole. Miriam left for the evening, reassured that it would be patched up before the night was over. Instead she came home to this:

Apparently he made the mistake of asking Miriam's boyfriend for help. He turns out to have a great enthusiasm for punching holes. When Tampa showed up with a crowbar and a sledgehammer, Jorge had the sense to put on the brakes. Poor Jonathan couldn't enjoy the rest of his vacation until it was fixed, though. He promised to fix the holes. First he patched them:

Then he smoothed the wall over (with help).

Finally, Miriam painted and added a new mirror. Here's the finished product:

So sometimes houseguests aren't so bad after all!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dude, where's my car?

About 10 years ago, I was staying with my friend Mary in Washington D.C. Her boyfriend came over one night after having a couple drinks with his friends. He'd left something in his car, so I went out with him to get it. After wandering around a bit, I realized who was looking a bit perplexed. "Dude, did you forget where you parked your car?" I asked.

"No, I parked it here...I'm sure...I'm pretty sure..."

"Dude, you are so drunk. I can't believe you lost your car."

Well, as it turned out, in the 15 minutes he had been at Mary's apartment, his car had been stolen. I felt badly for mocking him.

So today, when my sister's boyfriend called and asked why my dad's car, which he generously loaned us for the summer, wasn't parked outside, we chuckled. It must be out there, he must have missed it somehow. We went out to check. No, not there. Not in the garage either...

So of course my sister and I then looked to Jorge. "Dude, seriously, what did you do with the car?" When it finally sunk in that this was not one of Jorge's pranks, we realized that my dad's car was indeed stolen from in front of our house last night. Crap.

This has not improved Jorge's impression of Seattle, naturally.

And the worst part? Tonight is our long-anticipated date night. Argh.

Oh, actually, the really worst part is that my dad was going to give the car to my sister after Jorge and I leave, because her boyfriend Tampa's car isn't working and they need it more than dad. Just three weeks more and she'd be the one getting that insurance payout, not him. Poor Miriam!

No wait, how about this: yesterday Jorge got the oil changed and filled up the tank! And Tampa just got a $35 parking ticket on the car, which he still has to pay...

Oy vey.

More piccies!

OK, I'm home and have had a chance to organize and edit my photos. It's late and I'm pooped, so you won't get too many editorial comments, I'm afraid.

This is one of the bridges through the forest canopy. It was a very nice hike.
We started our trip at Volcan Arenal, an active volcano. Unfortunately we didn't see the lava, but there was nice hiking in the forest there.
Here's one of the bridges that has been constructed in the forest for hiking. Long way up there!We spent a lovely afternoon lazing around at the Eco Thermales hot springs, which is a small reservations-only place. Milo loved the warm water.
After Arenal, we drove down notoriously bumpy roads to Monteverde, site of a very ecologically diverse cloud forest. Here we are hiking in the forest reserve. Milo was a little bored, I guess.
These little creatures hung around our hotel each morning, looking for handouts from the kitchen.
Jorge taking Milo for a dip in the ocean.
My little beach boys.And here they are in their matching outfits, tired after a long day.

Here's one of those pesky monkeys at Manuel Antonio beach.
Tired little baby!
We saw this sloth on the side of the road, trying to cross. He was slothful, indeed. It took about five minutes to move five feet, and we were concerned for the little guy's safety.
Fortunately, a Costa Rican guy working at a nearby restaurant had no qualms about picking up the wildlife and giving it a lift across the road.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pics from Costa Rica

OK, so due to technical difficulties, I cannot find a way to resize my photos on the computer I'm working on, and I hate uploading big files. Instead of dealing with the hassles right now, I am posting a teaser of Milo surfing, and promise to post more tomorrow or the next day:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Well, we've left Costa Rica, and are in Ft. Lauderdale again for the day. Milo's cousin Makayla is a beautiful, tiny little thing, and we're happy to have the chance to get the two babies together. It's amazing to see how much much Milo has grown in the last 3 months. Jorge stuck him on the luggage scale at the airport yesterday (classy, I know) and our litle chunk clocked in at almost 16 pounds.

Speaking of Milo, he was a big hit in Costa Rica. Everyone fussed over him and wanted to hold him - hotel staff, waitresses, flight attendants. It doesn't seem to have gone to his head just yet. Many of them commented on how big he is, and called him Gordito.

As for me, I managed to find another way to screw up a vacation. All the Baby-Bjorn wearing took a toll, and I threw my back out on Thursday. I spent Friday trying not to move at all, then Saturday we got come nice strong pain medications from the pharmacy, and I was able to walk again. Sunday, I thought I was doing much better, so I made the big step of going to the beach. The waves were a bit strong, and as one hit me hard, pushing me sideways, I felt something in my back snap and was wracked with pain all over again. I tried to lay in the sand and let the muscle spasms relax, but got surrounded by (I am not making this up) a pack of hungry monkeys. And a raccoon who kept trying to walk right over my towel.

Only in Gwynnie-land.

OK, I'm going to go grab photos and post some right away.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Eight now we're in Tamarindo, a beach town on the Pacific coast that the Lonely Planet guidebook describes as being heinously full of unimaginative American sun-worshipers, packed together like "beached whales." I take offense to being called a whale, and find their description totally at odds with what we've found here. Yep, it's becoming over-developed, but it's a beach town - what do you expect to find? Lots of locals fishing? Because I have been to plenty of "unspoiled" towns like that in Africa, and trust me, you don't want to go there on vacation unless you enjoy the smell of rotting fish.

Mostly there have been surfers and young couples here. It has rained every afternoon, so we get in a little beach and pool time in the morning, then watch Olympics on a staticky TV while Milo naps. Today I'm getting a treat and going for a massage, though, because my back is killing me from carrying Milo around.

Last night we had dinner at a very nice little place where there was just one waiter, who happened to be the boyfriend of the chef, who also worked as a hostess somehow. They are expecting a baby in November and we were so excited for them. Funny how you get so much more happy about babies once you have one yourself and know how great they are.

Just a few more days of vacation, then we are in the home stretch for heading back to Malawi!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hi from Costa Rica

Just a quick post from an internet cafe. Right now we´re in Monteverde, thae aforementioned cloud forest. Although every guide book we´ve looked at said it isn´t possible to get here in a regular car during the rainy season, we scoffed (Hah!) and did it anyway. OK, we anxiously crawled along the crappy gravel road, hoping not to get a flat. But let me tell the guidebooks now - Hah! You think these roads are bad? Try driving the road from Mchinji to Luangwa in the rainy season, dude. You don´t even need to think about putting the car into 4WD on these roads here, let alone play chicken slalom while driving through a lake of mud.

Today I did the goofy zipline tour through the rainforest. As I went across a really long cable that stretched hundreds of feet over the forest, I felt the line bounce, and looked at the man waiting to meet me at the end. He was frantically waving his arms. Not a good sign. And I wasn´t slowing down, despite being told that I didn´t need to brake at all on this line. I grasped the line at the last moment with all my might, but still flew toward the platform at an alarming speed, where the man there threw himself at me to try to stop me, and I rammed against the tree holding the line with my feet. Thank goodness I was OK - the man had accidentally let go of the rope he uses to catch people at the end. Hey, great, Selvatura Canopy Tour. Can you please get your security $%& together before you let the new mom on?

We´re being rained on, but still having a good time. Tomorrow Jorge gets to do the canopy tour. (I hope he does not fall to his death.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Yeah, I guess it would be blog-worthy... mention that I am traveling again. We're in Ft. Lauderdale today, visiting Jorge's cousin Javier, who just had a baby girl two weeks ago. She is so tiny and delicate! It's hard to believe that Milo was ever that small. He looks like a monster in comparison.

Tomorrow we fly to Costa Rica. Yeah, it was sort of last-minute. Jorge really wanted to go somewhere before we head back to Malawi. We considered Alaska, Colombia, and Canada, but Jorge decided he wanted to go to Costa Rica. So I said fine, as long as he does the planning this time.

So I'm not even all that sure what we're doing. There's a couple days in the "cloud forest," which sounds cool, and several days at the beach, but otherwise I'm just along for the ride. If there's decent internet access I'll try to post updates.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

No wonder Americans suck at geography

I'm watching the Olympics this morning. I love the Olympics. I get excited about 6 months before they even start, then I try to watch as many obscure sports as I can, always chering for the underdog.

Right now I'm watching badminton. Cheering for the woman from Mauritius, naturally, as I always support African players when they are up.

And if I have to hear MSNBC call Africa a nation one more time, I am going to scream. Hello, major news service? Perhaps someone should inform you that Africa is actually a continent. With more than 50 separate countries, and vastly differing cultures and communities.

So I guess the news really is getting dumber and dumber each year. I guess that explains the election coverage.

Of all the rotten, lousy luck

Remember those opera tickets I was so excited about? Well, the performance was this week. The Seattle Opera, which I used to go to pretty often as a kid, is playing Aida right now, an opera by Verdi (my favorite - he's big on the tragic, murder-suicide endings. Classic.)

I went with Mary, one of my closest friends, who came out for a few days from D.C. to see me and meet the munchkin. I was a bit apprehensive, because I developed a bit of a cough earlier this week.

Well, as it turned out, it was really more like tuberculosis or whooping cough. I made it through the overture and about three minutes of singing, and I was racked by heaving, shuddering coughs. I think the people around me must have thought I was getting a little into the 18th century opera mode, what with having consumption and all.

So I made everyone in the row get up to let me out, and I went out to the lobby where I think I literally coughed up a piece of lung. As I settled down to watch the opera on a tiny TV screen, an usher took pity on me and came over to help me out.

"If you think your cough might last a while, I could take you to the quiet room." Oh heck yeah. So I spent the entire 3 and a half hours, minus intermission, hacking away behind a wall of plexiglass, with the opera piped in over a speaker. I bobbed my head up, trying to see over the heads of the audience in front me, then back down to read the translation over the stage, which was blocked by the window frame. Not exactly the experience I paid a small fortune for, but at least now I know how it ends.

Mary headed back to D.C. tonight, so Jorge and I have a couple days free before our trip.

Oh, didn't I mention? We're going to Costa Rica on Wednesday. Never a rest, I swear...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Women warriors

My favorite author is a woman named Anne Lamott. She writes the sort of funny, honest, and meaningful essays that make me feel like she really gets it, how challenging, ridiculous, and ultimately, how magical this world is. If I could have anyone over for dinner, it would be her.

In Traveling Mercies, she writes of visiting a beautiful church, I think maybe it was the Rothko chapel in Houston. In the beauty and presence of God that she feels there, she is surprised to feel overwhelmed by immense sadness. As she breaks down, she realizes that what she is feeling is grief and longing for her father, dead some ten years. Although she had believed that she had come to terms with his death, she finds that the shock of loss is just as fresh on that day as it had been many years earlier, and what she wishes for most is to just be with him once again.

I read this book a year after my mother died, and even though I cried through much of the book, it helped me tremendously. It was a weight lifted, being able to accept that I would always miss my mother, but that I could also come to a place, emotionally and spiritually, where I could feel whole again, when the anger and grief would loosen its grip on me and only emerge from time to time.

Ten years ago today, I saw mom for the last time, and I feel the weight of it again. After three years of amazing strength and inspiring courage, she finally succumbed to Leukemia. She never complained to us girls, even through everything that she suffered, and I believe that she came to a place of peace and acceptance before she died, but I know that she would have loved to stay. She told me once that her greatest sadness was that she wouldn't get to see how her three girls would turn out, never get to meet her grandchildren. That is my greatest sadness too. She would have been the best grandmother.

I had thought to have a contemplative quiet day, perhaps visit the ocean and go to a special place we went as a family. But instead, I will go to the boat races in Seattle, and celebrate with the throngs, and eat and drink and play with my beautiful baby boy. I think Anne Lamott would approve. And I think it's what mom, who truly appreciated how short and marvelous this life is, would want me to do.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Milo and his grandparents

I'm hopelessly behind, and I apologize. We've been keeping the same hectic pace here as ever, and are enjoying spending time with Jorge's family. Milo's charming them as he does everyone. He now can roll from back to front as well as stomach to back. His interests include squealing, trying to blow raspberries, and grabbing toys to put in his mouth. Doesn't sound like much, I know, but it's progress.
Tomorrow Milo will be baptized. The poor little guy is going to wear a traditional long christening gown from Colombia that his friends will forever mock him for once they get old enough to realize it made him look like a girl. Oh, the fun you can have with babies when they are too malleable to put up a good defense.

I wanted to share a couple pictures from L.A., though, where Milo met his great-grandparents for the first time. My grandpa, or Paga, as we call him, is turning 93 this year, and he is a treasure. You couldn't ask for a more generous, caring, or fun-loving grandfather.

Grandma, whose age I will not reveal, is still looking glamorous and beautiful. My sister told me a funny story about her last week. She was having dinner with our grandparents in one of those restaurants where they put up photos of famous patrons that had come to dine. As they walked along the hall, commenting on the different pictures, they passed a photo of Ike and Tina Turner. Grandma just said "Hmph. They were horrible neighbors," and moved on as if living next door to Tina Turner was the most normal thing in the world.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How much fun is Photoshop?


(Jorge's 'stache is real (and thankfully long gone), Milo's isn't.)

We are under another full-scale invasion. This time it's Jorge's mom, sister, and two nieces. So it's a bit of a mad-house here. Two of Jorge's friends just left earlier this week, and they did many blog-worthy, life-endangering things that I will try to write about soon.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Happy Birthday to me!

So, I am writing this a day late, but it's my birthday post! 31 years. What a nice, round, prime number.

It was a good day. Two of Jorge's friends just arrived for a visit. We went out for breakfast, then in the afternoon I went to the pool with my sister. Milo wasn't too sure about the water at first, then splashed around like a little tadpole.

In the evening we had a barbecue. I went out with my friend Nicole to pick up something from her car, and when I got out front I spotted a very nice car in my driveway. "What's that doing there?" I thought.

Nope, it was not a birthday gift. That would have been cool, but no. My dad got a convertible! Apparently he got it two weeks ago but just didn't deign to tell us. "It's a bit of a chick magnet," he admitted to my sister. "Don't tell Joan."

Here are some pictures from the party:

Jorge with his friends Jonathan and Daniel, who are visiting for a week.