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....