Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Sorry, I got so busy I didn't finish updating on the survey. Well, we finished data collection in 6 days, but the last day we finished early, so we were close to our 5-day target. We continued to have transport snafus - ended up having to buy fuel on the black market. But it all worked out in the end.

We drove back up from Nsanje on Saturday, with only one near-death experience, when the driver fell asleep and drove into the wrong lane, then nearly drove us over the side of the ride and into a ditch before my screaming woke him up. Then I irritated him the rest of the trip to make sure he didn't do it again. Seriously, it was scary. There could have been a car coming the other way, or people walking by the side of the road. We were very lucky.

Unfortunately, the government staff who came in to help us with data entry took veeerrryyy long lunches, and only got a little bit done, so I spent my weekend doing data entry. But it is now done, and I am moving on to cleaning and analyzing the data!! Yay!!!

I am the biggest geek. I get excited about data analysis. I really do.

Jorge has asked me not to *try* not to work this weekend, though, so I will do my best. There are a lot of things that need to get done around the house anyway, so I guess I can divert my busybody energy. I look at myself lately and wonder what happened to the lazy little slob I used to be. It's like Jorge and I switched bodies, and now I am the one who can't stand a messy house and who works all the time.

Ah well, I hear a little boy waking up who wants his breakfast, then it's off to work.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Day 5

I can't believe it, but I think everything is going to work out.

My husband would say "of course it will work out!" but he has a lot more faith in me than I do.

So it's been an extremely challenging week, but it looks like, act of God notwithstanding, we will finish data collection tomorrow and be on our way home Saturday.

It was a little touch and go yesterday, when I got a call from one of our teams, at 8 o'clock at night, saying they were stuck in the mountains, the four-wheel drive wasn't working, and could we send a car to tow them out.

Oh, and they were three hours away, on the Mozambique border.

Unfortunately for them, we have a pretty strict policy about taking cars out after dark, so we told them they would have to go to the nearest village and try to find a place to stay. I was super stressed, because sending a car to tow them out the next day was going to set us back a full day of data collection.

Fortunately for the team, they happened to find the chief when they went to the village, who showed them an alternate route through Mozambique. They got in to town around 11:30 last night, much to my relief. The teams went out again as planned (we let the team that got lost last night rest a bit first. I'm not heartless) and they pulled through and visited lots of villages today. Tomorrow we have 8 villages to go to, but they are all close to town, and we should finish up well before dark.

Man, will I be happy to get out of this heat! It was about 100 degrees today, and the A/C kept going out. I am melting. I can only imagine what it was like for the poor suckers, oops, I mean survey enumerators, who were out wakling around collecting data in it!

And with that said, the last set uf suckers is here, which means I can go home before 8PM for the first time all week.

Just one more day!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Welcome to the Hotel Madalitso

Let’s just step away from the survey for a bit, shall we? Instead, let me give you a little tour of my new home away from home: The Hotel Madalitso.

The linens don’t match, and they are worn thin, but each night I come home to a new Harry Potter-themed pillowcase, which is a nice touch. The towel is rough and scratchy, but it’s clean. There’s no soap, but at least the toilet has a seat, which is an improvement over my last room at the Madalitso (I must have gotten a free upgrade. Lucky me!)

There is only one power outlet, forcing me to choose between my computer and the fan. But there’s a fan! And it works! A ceiling fan would be better, but really, who am I to complain? The power has only gone out once since I’ve been here, and if it does, the Madalitso has thoughtfully provided a candle (but no matches).

Ah yes, the Madalitso. It’s not so bad. I’m kind of fond of the place. I even brought Jorge here once. They did, after all, invent the signature breakfast dish Deep-Fried Egg. It comes with a side of chips. They are both cooked in the same oil. The egg is like a little pirate’s island – you dig and dig through the crusty, brown mess, and eventually, you find the buried treasure – a little gold edible egg yolk!

I think you are beginning to understand why, when I go on vacation, I like to stay at hotels with “Palace” in the name…

Monday, December 14, 2009

Day 2

Transport has become a problem.

The logistics of this survey are a nightmare. We have to visit 95 communities from throughout the district. We have 5 teams, and we optimistically hoped that each team could visit about 4 villages a day, finishing up in 5 days.

We’ve got five cars to do this: 3 decent, but not great, 4WD cars we hired in Lilongwe, 1 Land Cruiser that belongs to my organization, and the shoddy little pickup truck from the government I told you about yesterday. And we need every little set of wheels we’ve got.

Last night, I got a call at 9 PM from the office manager, saying he needed one of the cars to go to a meeting an hour away. I tried to explain that there really are no cars to spare, and he got very angry with me. We ended up giving him a lift to the meeting this morning, setting us back a couple hours.

Yesterday, one of the cars blew out a tire going up a hilly, rocky mountain road. It’s beyond repair, so that car is now out in the bush without a spare.

This morning, the government driver called in sick. It took 5 hours to find a replacement.

Our IT guy is here from the head office, and he needs to go to Blantyre (3 hours away) this week to buy computer supplies.

We are seriously one flat tire or busted shock away from this being a total disaster.

Only a few more days to go…only a few more days to go…only a few more days to go…

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 1

Today I got to the office at 6:30 AM (on a Sunday, yes). I checked all the questionnaires, made sure the bags were packed up right, and made my breakfast. One of the teams got out straight at 6:30, I was so proud of them. The others had to wait for cars to be fuelled, team members to show up, etc. Most everyone had left by 7:30 though, not too bad.

I went in to grab the backpack for my team, only to find someone else UNPACKING it! They had decided to switch their team's bag with mine. Argh! So there was a last-minute panic as I got things from their backpack that belonged to my team, etc. Then we hit the road at 8. And the driver THEN tells me he has no fuel. Then one of the team members wants to stop for water. Then we have to go to the hospital to pick up a height board because we were one short. So finally we were on the road at 8:30.

The Ministry of Health loaned us a pickup truck for data collection. It has to be pushed in order to start, and it's a single-cab, meaning that one of my data collectors had to ride in the bed. And there are no seatbelts.

Fortunately, there are no shocks either, so the driver can't go too fast. Anyway, it was an interesting drive.

We went to three communities today. The first stop is always the chief's house, where we get permission to do the survey, and have them help us map out the community so that we can sample the first house. Then it's time to walk. We go house to house, until we've found all the kids we need. This usually take about an hour and a half in each community, and a LOT of walking. And man, was it hot today. Like Dante's Inferno hot. I think I lost about three pounds in water weight. I drank 2 liters of water, but didn't pee for 10 hours. Yikes.

I do like getting out in the field, but I feel so nasty now - dirty, sweaty, hair all napped up from the wind. I am back in the office at 7, waiting for the other teams (who I think probably just went home without coming to the office first!) but what I am dreaming about is the nice, long, cooooold shower I am going to take tonight.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My first big survey

Tomorrow I am starting my first big survey. I say my first "big" survey, because I did a Master's research project years ago where I carried out a small survey in health facilities in Eritrea. But this survey is big. We are going to 95 communities throughout the district of Nsanje. I have created 8 separate questionnaires for collecting data. We have hired and trained 10 survey enumerators and 5 supervisors, rounded up the cars, printed, numbered, translated, tested, revised, ordered, packed....I have been living and breathing this survey for the last two weeks, and spent a ton of time on it in the months prior as well.

It's like planning a wedding - I have spent all this time, obsessed, nit-picked, changed my mind...and tomorrow I'm just walking down that aisle, no looking back. If anything goes wrong at this point (and I'm totally paranoid it well), we'll just have to deal with it.

Tomorrow I will go out in the field with one of the teams to make sure they know what they are doing, then good god, I hope I can spend the rest of the week here in the office just doing data entry. That would be so great and mindless. Anyway, I thought I'd try to post about it a bit, because my dad is always asking about my work and what exactly I am doing. And of course, I never really have much to say on that point. So this week, I will try to do better, dad.

Right now, however, I am sitting in the office at 7 at night, being attacked by mosquitoes, while I wait for the car to come back. We had to send it in search of my colleague, who left without leaving the office keys. I hope they find the guy - I really want to get back and take a cold shower (the only kind available at the Madalitso Lodge, I'm afraid).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My status

It took me a looong time before I *got* Facebook. I even meant to write a blog post about how inscrutable I found the whole phenomenon. Maybe I did write a blog post, it's hard to keep track after three years (!) of blogging from Malawi now.

Usually, when I get on Facebook, I can't think of anything to say in my status update. Everything I'm doing or thinking always seems too banal, attention-seeking, or private. And yes, I am aware of the irony of blogging about having nothing to say.

But today, I have so many status updates I could write! So instead of flooding your facebook home page with them, you can read them here:

  • Can't wait for the two loves of her life to get home tomorrow!
  • Is feeling really guilty and sad that, as one-third of the entire soprano section, she will not be able to sing in her choir's first performance Saturday.
  • Really does not want to write a proposal right now. Or even worse, draft the accompanying budget.
  • Will be spending most of the holiday season fighting off mosquitoes in Nsanje.
  • Is relieved that, slowly but surely, everything is getting worked out for the first big district-wide survey she is going to manage. Almost everything is ready now!
  • Still wants to throw her annual Christmas Dessert Buffet (Now With Cheese!!) party, but just can't think how it is even logistically possible at this point. And who would show up anyway, with their gas tanks all empty of Christmas cheer?
  • Wishes she could see Milo's reaction when he sees our Christmas tree tomorrow...:-)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Portugal photos

Blogger is being obnxious and ate my post. Which was generally about how I'm swamped and overwhelmed and the world is going to hell in a handbasket. So be grateful it's gone. Because, instead, you get pictures (which are not in order, because again, Blogger=Annoying):

This is in the gardens of the Palace Hotel of Bucaco, where we spent our last night.

Here's the entryway to the hotel. They don't call themselves the Palace Hotel out of vanity - the place was really built as a royal palace in 1885.

In Guimaraes, we were walking to the castle when we heard drums everywhere. It seems to be a Christmas tradition, with everyone, young and old, donning elf hats, and marching with their drums to the church, where the local shrine is taken out and paraded down the streets. It was a great little moment of sneaking in with the local people.

This is just a pretty little street in Obidos, which was my favorite place. It's an old, walled medieval city that just feels so removed from the real world. We liked it so much we stayed two nights.

Milo really likes lions. He's got a great roar. This was taken in the Monastery of St. Jerome in Lisbon. We tried to attend mass, but sorry, those lions were just too tempting.
This is the tower of Belem, which used to be on an island right in the middle of the river, but then the river moved (darn trickster!). Can you imagine how beautiful it must have been then, though? I found it to be unbelievably beautiful as it is. Those balconies were just screaming for a Juliet to stand on them.

A view of the old Moorish castle in Sintra, built in the 8th century. It made me think of the crusades. And Robin Hood. Let's just say I liked it, OK?
Ah, but the one problem with Portugal? No safety railings. I was this close to a heart attack the entire time. But Jorge and Milo didn't seem to be too worried.

Jorge still has the little camera, which has a lot of the more touristy shots of the places we went. So when he gets home, more pictures! Yay!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's like Thunderdome out there

I seem to have arrived back to a post-apocalyptic Malawi. It looked peaceful enough when I was driving down the bucolic country roads from the airport. Same old women working their fields, the same men sitting under their trees.

Then I hit the city. It's madness here. There has been a fuel shortage ever since we left, and every gas station is surrounded by seemingly abandoned cars along the side of the road, while the pumps are swarmed by throngs of people holding jerry cans, trying to get a bit of fuel before it all runs out. At the station near my office, the police had been called out to maintain order, and others stood around the fringes watching to see if fighting would break out. It's tense. No cage-fighting, though. Not yet, at least.

And the worst thing? I saw it coming. There was a diesel shortage just before we left, and I told my dear husband, you know, that man who always listens to everything I say, "Petrol is going to be next. Make sure you fill up the tank before you leave for the airport. You should probably fill a jerry can, too."

Do you think he did? Would I even write about it had he done as I asked? Good husbands make bad copy, you should know that by now. No, of course, he ignored me. I could be the one smug SOB driving around Lilongwe with a full tank of gas right now, but instead I have to ration out my little half-tank like everyone else, forgoing the A/C, combining shopping trips...

Of course, on top of the fuel shortage there is also a critical lack of foreign exchange, grinding the economy to a halt. And today I went to the ATM and they weren't working. More crowds of people hanging around waiting.

I tell you, the bread riots are coming, you just wait. And then, oh yes, then...the cage-fighting. Excellent.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

OK, trying with pictures today! This is my favorite shot of the trip. Yes, I look terrible and badly need a haircut, but I love the tile bench and the changing leaves behine us. This was taken by remote control at the castle in Tomar.

You´ll just have to turn your head. I can´t figure out how to rotgate photos in Portuguese. This was taken at the Moorish Castle in Sintra, with the Pena Palace in the background.

This photo was taken at, yes, another old fortress castle. I like the things, OK? This is at the Belem Tower in Lisbon, with the river behind.

wow! A picture of me! There aren´t too many on this trip. This is also from the Belem tower.
OK, running out of internet time. I promise a full report with lots of photos as soon as I get home.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Crappy Thanksgiving

Oh, yesterday was a crap day. So bad, in fact, that I blogged a long post all about it - and then my session timed out JUST as a I hit "Publish" and the web ate my whole post. It was that bad.

Which I take as a sign that the Universe just wanted me to put it all behind me. Which I did today by spending a lot of money at H&M (although that was an ordeal too, with all of the ATM machines and credit card readers out of commission in the WHOLE TOWN. The Universe, apparently, also wants me to wear last season´s fashions).

But a little bit of advice, should you ever come to Portugal:
  • Make sure you get a map with details of the main cities. Trying to find your way around town when the city is the size of a potato bug on the map = not easy.
  • If you ever come to Coimbra, WALK. Do not drive.
  • When asking for restaurant recommendations at a tourist office, always ask for detailed directions. Do not settle for a scribbled note in a general region on a very crappy free tourist map.
  • If an alley looks really narrow, it is actually much smaller than you think. Turn around. Do not enter. Really, I mean it. Your ckutch will thank you.

Tonight we are in Porto, which I like MUCH better than Coimbra, even without a decent city map. I mean, there is even a mall here which stays open until 9 PM! Hallelujah!

So, I restored my spirits today with some retail therapy, and, I am not embarassed to admit - a McDonald´s Sundae. Do you know how long it has been since I had one of those? I have no idea what they are actually made of - although I´m certain it ain´t dairy - but when you have lived as long in foreign parts as I have, sometimes all you need to settle your soul is a little cholesterol-enriching American fast food. It´s better than meditation, yoga, or herbal tea combined.

Tomorrow we are hoping to find ourselves a nice little farm in the wine country to stay on for a couple days, to unwind. And then very soon it´s back to reality. Sigh. I´m not ready!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Not much time to write - it´s after my bedtime already, and I am slow on this keyboard because it´s all Portuguese and stuff, but just wanted to let you know we got both our ATM cards, and one of the PINs just in the nick of time. Disatser averted, yet again. So now we are in Lisbon, where we have rented an apartment nesr the castle. yesterday we had a lovely morning wandering around the old Moorish quarter, then it rained all of the rest of the day. That didn´t keep us home, it just meant we had a pretty cold, wet day.

Today we took the tram out to Belem where we went to mass at the Monastery do Jeronimos, which is beautiful. We had agreat weather - a good thing, because we had lift clothes out drying outside our balcony. For lunch we snacked on goodies from the local pastry shop - custard tarts are becoming an obsession - and then went to the Museum of the Orient. Milo wasn´t too into it.

Tomorrow we´ll catch the train to visit Sintra, which is supposed to be beautiful and romantic on aa Disney Princess Castle sort of scale. Judging from what I´ve seen so far, I am prepared to be very impressed. The architecture here is like something out of a fantasy movie - think the home of the empress in the Neverending Story.

Well, we´ve got an early start tomorrow. Sorry I forgot to bring in my memory card to update pics. I will try again in t afew days.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trips are never dull in the C. family

Well, here I am in brisk, but sunny Glasgow. It's actually quite a nice little city. I can walk from my hotel to our office here, mostly along pedestrian shopping malls with great industrial-age architecture. The weather is lovely today, and it isn't half as cold as I expected.

There are also a lot of great shopping bargains, thanks to the tanked economy. The bad news is that I don't have a way to shop. My husband, genius that he is, lost his wallet in Colombia. He canceled the credit and ATM cards, but since our mailing address is in the US, they went to my sister's house in Seattle. Yes it's our own fault for not having her mail them to us months ago, but it just didn't seem important at the time.

We do have two credit cards that still work, so we each took one - the American Express for me, and the Visa for him. I also brought some dollars to exchange. Then we asked my dad to Express mail me the ATM cards. Jorge was going to bring more cash as a backup. Seemed like a solid plan, right? Well...
  • Most of the shops here don't take American Express
  • Jorge wrote yesterday from the airport to say he FORGOT his wallet at home. Meaning no extra cash and no Visa. There's no way to express how deep in doo-doo he is going to be when I see him today.
  • Dad sent the ATM cards, but the PIN numbers haven't come in the mail. Cross your fingers they come soon. At the least I guess we can use them as debit cards.

So....we may be setting up Milo's travel cot (assuming I'm even able to buy one today) and sleeping in train stations for this vacation. Why can't we ever, ever have a stress-free, easy vacation? (OK, don't say it's because we're total airheads. That is not the answer I am looking for. Sympathy and support, people, sympathy and support...)

Friday, November 13, 2009

You can sleep soundly at night now

Because Super-Milo is here to save the day!

Look out, bad guys!

Smelling the chives, with his super-senses.
Taking a cookie break. Saving the world makes you hungry!

This one just makes me smile. Milo always fusses when we leave him at daycare. All the big kids came over to sing his little song (they sing "Baby Milo" to the tune of Frere Jacques) and cheer him up. The daycare owner told me yesterday that Milo is sort of considered the school mascot. :-)

And in case you were following our travel drama - good news! Jorge got his visa yesterday, a full week before they told him it would be ready! Those wacky Germans, they just love to keep you guessing!

So tomorrow night I leave for Scotland. Jorge and Milo will join me on Tuesday, then next Friday we fly to Lisbon. After that, we have NO IDEA what we are going to do. Anyone who has been to Portugal have suggestions for what we should do for the the week after we leave Lisbon?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maybe some good news???

So we are still totally in the lurch about our trip to Portugal, but have decided, as is always our way, to hope for the best and not worry too much.

Jorge went to the German Embassy yesterday (there is no Portuguese Embassy here, so the Germans process all the visas for Western Europe) to see if there was anything they could do to speed up the application. He even congratulated them on the fall of the Berlin Wall. But no, unfortunately there is nothing they can do, we were told. The whole process just has to run its course. They were very nice about it, so we couldn't even get annoyed at them and call them rude names afterwards. That sort of sucked the fun out of the experience. After all, who doesn't enjoy taking stabs at Germans?

Anyway, after Jorge left, he got a very cryptic phone call from the embassy, which went something like this, according to Jorge's re-telling (Imagine Jorge telling the story with a very bad German accent, even though the caller was a Malawian desk clerk):

Clerk: "Mr Gorge? Have you changed your travel plans?"

Jorge: "No, not yet. Why?"

Clerk: "Don't change your travel plans yet....[garble garble garble, bad connection, garble]

Jorge: "Is the visa going to come in?"

Clerk: "You are traveling on the 20th, right?"

Jorge: "No, I'm traveling on Monday. The 16th."

Clerk: "OK, don't change your plans [garble garble garble] I will call you next week."

Jorge: "No, you don't understand - I am flying on Monday. I won't be here next week."

Clerk: "[garble garble garble] OK, I call you this week."

So they didn't actually say the visa would be ready, but we have decided to take this as a good sign that they are taking pity on us and will try to help. Cross your fingers!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Welcome to the world!

Hey everyone, I have a new baby nephew! My big sister Miriam had a little boy on Saturday morning. His name is Oseia, and both mom and baby are doing well now, even though they had a bit of a rough time of it at first.

So that makes grandson #4 for my dad! Joy's got two boys, I've got Milo, and now Miriam has a son of her own! My goodness, I can't even begin to imagine the family reunions...The noise! The rough-housing and senseless beatings with sticks! The scrapes and bruises! The paralyzing fear all us mothers will have to go through when our little boys try to find new and ever-more-impressive ways to off themselves!

Congratulations Miriam and Tampa! I can't wait to meet the newest addition to the family.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Remember I mentioned a few weeks back that my office was sending me to Scotland to present at a workshop? Well, that's next week. I fly out in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

We thought it would be a great opportunity for a little European vacation, so Jorge and Milo are flying out to meet me, then we're going to Portugal. We've got the tickets booked and everything.

Then something came up, and we had to travel out of town. We got back yesterday, finished all of Jorge's visa paperwork, then took it to the embassy today. And even though they previously told us they only need a week to process the visa, today they said "uh, no. We need 10 days. You're not going to get your visa in time."

Crap. Crappety-crap-crap.

So what do we do? Do we cross our fingers, bother them a lot, and hope they rush it through in time? The deck officer didn't seem too optimistic about that approach. Do we shell out the money to pay to change the flight, hoping they get the visa back at least in time for the trip to Lisbon?

Argh. I wish Jorge was just a US citizen already. That is the one drawback to not living in America, where he would have been eligible for citizenship years ago. The visa situation is so stressful. Cross your fingers for us that we didn't just blow a couple thousand bucks on a trip we'll just have to cancel...

Friday, October 30, 2009

Five years ago today...

I was doing this:

And I'm so glad I did. I'm pretty sure they're the best five years of my life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Crawling out of my hole

This last week sucked. Big time. It started with a few hours of aches and illness Thursday. Friday afternoon, the fever hit. Then came the barrage of every symptom of every tropical illness ever thought of, except Ebola. Where do I start?

Chest pain
Shortness of breath
Sore throat
And then, the worst – the headache to end all headaches. Even codeine only dulled it a bit. I thought my head was going to explode.

So I pretty much spent the entire weekend in bed, making it out for a few hours each evening. And this was really bad timing, because we had a really close friend visiting, and for once I actually was invited to a few social functions that didn’t involve bubble machines and jumpy castles.

Four doctor’s visits and 4 malaria tests later, I was diagnosed with a bacterial infection. Oh, thank God for antibiotics. I’m back at work today, finally, just trying to claw out of the huge pile of work that is building up. Which means this is going to be a short post. Because I am going back to work now. Bye.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lake weekend

Hi everyone! I'm back from a much-needed mini-vacation. Some friends let us borrow their little cottage by Lake Malawi in Senga Bay over the weekend. Last Thursday was a holiday (Mother's Day - you have to love Africans for their veneration of the mother - the whole country gets the day off to pamper or be pampered, depending on their maternal status. Myself, I was a Pamperee. Jorge and Milo were the Pampers. Er, Pamperers.)I took Friday off and we made a nice long weekend out of it.

Apart from the first night, when the housekeeper didn't set up a mosquito net for us and I got eaten alive (please oh please don't let me get malaria!!) and Milo screamed all night long, a nice time was had by all. Milo enjoyed swimming in the lake, I got to read a bit, and Jorge made some use of his favorite hammock. Not too shabby, eh?

Is it a little strange that one of the things I was most looking forward to was cooking for my family? We are so spoiled with Godfrey cooking for us, or at least prepping the meals, most nights, that it was kind of exciting for me to get to do all the work for a change. It was like I was slumming it with the common folks for a few days there. Happy to be back in my little marble palace, though.

Will try to post some photos later tonight, if I can remember!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

High Maintenance

So the other day I was driving to a friend’s house, Milo nestled into his carseat in the back. On Sunday, the roads in Lilongwe are pretty empty, so I was anticipating a short trip to the other side of town.

Instead, I got stuck in convoy traffic. Basically, convoy traffic is when the police close off all the roads that the President is going to travel on. In Lilongwe, there aren’t very many main roads, so you have a pretty good chance of getting caught in one of these jams every few months or so. You can tell that convoy traffic is going to happen sometime soon, because the city erects big white flagpoles, topped by the Malawian flag, around all the roundabouts on the roads. If you’re unfortunate enough to get stuck in convoy traffic, you will sit on the road for about 15-20 minutes, with impatient drivers occasionally driving up the sidewalks, only to get stopped again by the police once they get to the closest intersection. You might as well relax, turn the engine off, and try to get something done (thank goodness I had tweezers in my bag – my eyebrows were a bit of a mess, after all).

Finally, a virtual Macy’s Day Parade of police cars, black SUVs, and motorcycles whizzes past, sirens and lights a-blaring, and then you can get back on with your day. I counted 14 cars and at least as many motorcycles.

So I thought this was a fairly uncommon occurrence, reserved for official state visits and such, but I asked a friend who works at the embassy and she told me that no – EVERY time the President leaves his house, this is how he travels! Sheesh, talk about high maintenance! Is that how it is in the U.S., too? Isn’t that a little, you know, conspicuous?

And think of how long it would take to get your whole entourage organized every time you just wanted to pop round to the store for something? (“Sorry, Mr. President, you can’t go to dinner tonight – we haven’t erected the flagpoles”!) It’s hard enough getting me, Jorge, and Milo out of the house on time in the mornings. I swear, if I were president, I think I’d only leave my house about once a month. Crazy! I’m hoping my friend is wrong, because the whole logistics of it just boggles my mind.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Artistic tendencies

So, time for a weekend update. This last one just flew by. I got to work on Monday feeling like I never had a break at all.

It was a full weekend. On Saturday we went to a friend's beautiful home for breakfast, where Milo splashed in the pool and chased chickens. In the afternoon we drove out to the village to visit our housekeeper Godfrey and his family. Milo is a total celebrity in the village. He just smiles and waves to the crowds of adoring women and children, while they fight over who gets to hold him next. I think it's beginning to go to his head, really.

Our babysitter came back with us, and Jorge and I went out on a much-needed date alone. We went to the one Ethiopian restaurant in town, my favorite, and then after that went to the newly opened "jazz club" for a musical performance by a world music duo from France. It was a really lovely night out, and I looked forward to more nice dates with live music, until I found out that the "jazz club's" owner is only going to have live music once every 2 months (to keep the excitement and interest up, you know.) This led me to speculate that I should call my house a restaurant and start charging people. After all, I cook dinner for others at least once every two months. Seriously, only in Lilongwe. Also, did I mention that pretty much EVERYone I know was also at the concert? Not much new happens here in Malawi, that's all I have to say.

Then on Sunday we went to church, and decided to stick around for the picnic afterwards, even though this meant Milo would have a late nap. Whoa, big mistake. Milo got home, slept for thirty minutes, then wanted to party. We left him in his room a bit, hoping he'd go back to sleep. Instead, he took off his diaper, took a crap on the bed, and proceeded to fingerpaint.

(Just an aside here - when I was pregnant, I said once that it is really never OK to talk about your kid's bowel movements in regular conversation. Seriously, no one wants to know how many times your kid poops (or doesn't poop) in a day. But I am making an exception in this case, as the circumstances are rather extreme. I promise, I will try not to let it happen again.)

Needless to say, it was kind of a mess. I spent my Sunday afternoon cleaning the crib, the sheets, the stuffed animals, the boy, the floor, the mosquito netting...Ah, the joys of motherhood.

And also, Milo now has a new nickname in our house: Poopy Pollock.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Another picture post

Because, seriously, is there anything cuter than a naked baby in a bucket?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Something to keep the grand-folks happy

Alright, so after my Debbie Downer post last week, let's have something happy. How about pictures of my adorable offspring?

Oy, those dimples. They kill me.

After Jorge doused him under the garden tap
At a friend's birthday party last weekend
Then he got car-jacked by the birthday boy. I had to put this in to show off the super-cute baby tux and that gorgeous hair.

Finger-painting! Awesome, mom!

OK, now that you're smiling, go call your lawmaker, and tell them you are serious about health care reform!!

Friday, September 25, 2009

A day in the life

After my post about healthcare in Malawi, I got a few responses that basically said “we are so lucky in the U.S. to have good health care!”

I didn’t want you guys to get to feel so smug. Yes, a slim majority of people in the U.S., if even that, are lucky enough to have quality, affordable healthcare. The rest of them either go broke, or get “indigent” care services, which is the government’s fancy euphemism for poor people.

I was indigent once. I got cancer. This is what a typical day is like when you are poor and sick. This is all true. Everything I’m writing here actually happened personally to me. I know this post is long, but it is close to my heart, so I thank you if you get all the way through.


I wake up at 6AM. I scarf down a quick breakfast, then Jorge drops me off at Charity Hospital, in New Orleans, for my bi-weekly oncology appointment. My first stop is the registration office. Although it is only 7 o’clock in the morning, the room is already full. The oncology unit doesn’t schedule appointment times, just days, so the optimistic belief is that if you’re the first to arrive, you will be the first to be treated.

I took a number. There were no seats available, so I hoisted myself up onto a table top and waited. 45 minutes later, my number was called. I go to my assigned booth, where a surly clerk does not say hello, smile, or look at me. She asks the usual questions, name, illness, age, marital status, then chastisingly tells me that I need to go to the accounts department to verify my income. I am intimidated by this woman, so I don’t tell her that no one has ever told me this before. I just acquiesce and hope she will say that my registration is OK. When you’re getting free healthcare, you keep your head down and hope that no one takes any special notice of you, always afraid someone is going to say “woops, we made a mistake! You owe us $53,752!”.

The clerk tells me to pick up my registration card, a little blue plastic card with my name and patient number. I have a huge collection of these by now. It is now 8, and I make my way down the hall to Oncology. Already, the waiting room is filling up. Although appointments are supposed to start at 8, there are rumors that none of the doctors have even arrived. At 9, the first patients begin to be called.

There never seems to be any order to the names called. One day you can come late and get right in. But usually for me, I come early, and I wait. For hours. So does almost everyone else. I hold my pee, because I’m afraid my name will be called while I’m in the bathroom and I’ll be skipped.

I don’t fit in here. I’m young, for one, and almost everyone else is old. I still have my hair. And of course, I’m white, definitely the minority here. Seated in the row across from me is a man in a yellow Orleans Parish Prison jumpsuit, literally in leg irons. I feel bad for him. I chat with the woman next to me. Her husband and son both died in the last year, and now she has breast cancer. The chemo has been very hard on her; she is feeling like she just can’t do it anymore.

Finally, just after 11, my name is called. The nurse is nice to me, she remembers me. But although I have seen the same doctor many times by now, my doctor never remembers me. I spend the first 5 minutes of every appointment telling her about my case.For all that wait, the appointment is short. After a curt 15 minutes, the doctor races off to another patient.

Today I am scheduled for CT scans. First I have to get bloodwork. I don’t mind the bloodwork so much, because the women who take my blood are always very friendly, and they stick my vein on the first try every time. Of course, there’s another 30 minute wait, but it doesn’t seem so long in comparison.

Then I travel to the basement for my scans. On the elevator, I bump into an old grad school classmate, who is studying to be a doctor. We used to be friends, but now she seems extremely uncomfortable by my presence as a patient. We are both relieved when the elevator doors open and she leaves.

The radiology department looks like it was last decorated in 1932. It’s grim and dark, but with jazzy art deco tile reliefs. It’s 12:30 once I get there, and I haven’t eaten or drunk anything since morning, as this is forbidden before the CT scans.

There seems to be some problem today, as the wait is even longer than usual. Hours pass. It turns out that only one scanner is functional, because in the early hours of the morning, a man bled to death on the other, and it needed to be cleaned. I can’t stop thinking about this man. I hear sad stories every time I come to Charity, and they all lodge inside me, this private club of tragic figures that keep me company for all my medical care. They make me feel heavy inside.

A little after 3, I am called to have an IV line put in. I ask to be able to put on my robe first. Apparently the nurses have never thought out the logistics of trying to remove one’s bra with an IV needle lodged in your elbow. I can tell you: it is very challenging. Always put on your robe first.

The nurse has trouble finding my tiny, dehydrated vein. It’s been 9 hours since I last ate. I’m tired. As the woman pokes and prods with the needle, I start to feel dizzy from the pain. The next thing I know, I wake up in the arms of a lab tech who caught me as I fainted. Fortunately they’d gotten the IV in, though, so a bit of glucose later, I’m fine and finally ready for my scan.

I’m old hat at the scans by now. I know when to expect the hot flash of contrast fluid being pumped into my veins. I can hold my breath and be as still as if I’m dead, sliding into the crematorium-like tunnel.

Jorge picks me up at 4. I get into the truck, then crumple. I’ve been strong all day, not a complaint, but now it’s too much. I sob from exhaustion, from hunger; I cry for all the sad stories I’m now carrying, but mostly I cry out of humiliation. I want to be a person again, not a patient. My husband strokes my head, promises to take me for pizza, and I reassemble myself. After all, what choice do I have?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hello from the Deep South

The south of Malawi, that is. This week I am in the southern-most district of Malawi supporting one of our field offices.

It's hot down here, but not as hot as it will get once summer kicks into full swing here. Even the enormous mosquitoes aren't such a problem this time.

Today I went out to visit a remote health facility. It was 90 minute drive, with the last 30 minutes being a dramatic, nearly vertical climb up a rocky mountain-face. We ended up at the top, in the beautiful, wooded little hillsides of Lulwe. When we arrived at the health center, which is run by the Catholic church, not the Malawi government, no one was there except one sole mother with her sick child.

It turns out the staff hadn't been paid, so they had all gone to town to get loans. One Medical Assistant was left to man the center, and he was at home "charging his phone". We rousted the slacker out of his house while the government health representative with us tried to convince me that all the patients must have already been seen this morning (a simple question to the poor mother waiting there told us that this wasn't true. As of 10AM, not one person had showed up for work yet).

I honestly think the Medical Assistant would have gone back home after talking to us had I not pointed out that there was a patient who had been waiting several hours. Of course, I'm not sure how much help she ended up getting - the other health staff had taken the keys to the pharmacy with them, so there were no drugs available!

Sigh. Still, I had a nice day. I always like getting out to the field. I never tire of the way children run to the roadside, beaming and waving, their little chests puffed out. Seeing a white person in their village is about as exciting to them as it was to Jorge the time he spotted a Delorean parked by the side of the road in cozy little Bozeman, Montana. In the more rural areas like the one we were in today, even the grown men and women smile and wave. I felt a bit like Queen Elizabeth in her birthday parade.

We had visitors from another district with us, so we drove out to a viewpoint, where on a clear day you can see the Zambezi River flowing through Mozambique (today was not a clear day, alas. It's burning season.) We also stopped by the border with Mozambique, one little bar across the road and a shabby little immigration shack. All in all, it was a fun little tour of Malawi dysfunction.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So, I have a whole companion piece to my last post all ready in my head, but I literally have no time to write it. This last week I was in the office all of 5 hours, and, hard as this may be to believe, I actually had to work during all that time.

So today I'm here on a Sunday trying to catch up with e-mails, but I have promised my husband not to vanish for the whole day. So again, that post is just going to have to wait.

On Tuesday I'm traveling to the Deep South of Malawi - Nsanje. I will be there all the way up until Saturday afternoon. I'm hopnig after that things will start to ease up just a wee bit.

It's been a fun weekend so far, though. A friend dropped by yesterday with freshly baked goodies for us, then last night we went to a party, where we were asked to dress as our musical heroes. Jorge was Jimmy Buffet - we didn't have a parrot, so he taped a raccoon to his shoulder (oddly enough, everyone still knew who he was supposed to be!)

And I was Pat Benetar. My costume was AWESOME. I looked just like this:

I have pictures to prove it. Unfortunately for you, though, we left the camera cable in New Orleans, and so cannot upload any photos. So you will just have to believe that I was the hardest-rockin' 80's rocker chick at the party.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Let me paint a little scenario for you:

Your little one is sick. He has a fever, and a cough. You know from your friends, the websites you frequent, your parenting magazines, that a fever that lasts several days should be checked up by a health professional.

So off you go, off to the clinic. Unfortunately, however, you live in a rural area, so it is an hour-long drive to the clinic. You go early, because they don’t take appointments. When you arrive at 7:30, which is when the clinic is supposed to open, there is no one there apart from a rather surly security guard. He writes your name on a list, so that you can go in the order you arrived.

All the other chairs are already taken up by other moms and babies, so you find a seat on the floor. Then you wait. And wait. Around 9:00 AM, the clinic staff start to show up. They dither around for another 30 minutes, chatting amongst themselves, shuffling papers, hardly even noticing the presence of the patients.

Finally, patients begin to be called. Half the time, though, the patient list isn’t followed. Instead, the nurse lets in whoever manages to be closest to the door. So you shuffle, you scoot, you hustle your way ever closer to the nurse’s office every time the door opens.

Even though the little boy next to you looks almost comatose, and is clearly in need of emergency health services, the boy isn’t noticed, and his mother is not called in until it is ‘her turn.’ You hope that the baby doesn’t die while you’re waiting. Will that mean you have to wait even longer?

Almost four hours after you arrived, you are finally called into the nurse’s office. The nurse doesn’t greet you, or smile and say hello. She just motions you to sit down, and begins asking questions. What is wrong with this child? Why didn’t you come earlier? Don’t you know that fever is very serious?, she chastises you. You feel ashamed, but because she is a little scary, you don’t say anything. Then, without ever looking you in the face, the nurse hands you two pills from a jar on her desk, and tells you to give them to the child, and to come back if your daughter gets worse. You are not told what illness the child has, or how to prevent it. You are not told what the pills are. You are excused.

The next time your child gets sick, what will you do? Will you make that hour-long drive to the clinic? Or will you just go to the drugstore, get some children’s Tylenol, and hope that your daughter gets better?

We did a community assessment a few weeks ago where we went out and talked to local mothers in Malawi, and this is basically what they told us. They walk miles, wait for hours, then get treated harshly, sometimes even abusively. All for a couple pills. And yet they still go! This is the miracle of healthcare in Africa – that people even turn up at health facilities at all!

Almost every day I hear government officials and aid workers complain of the peoples’ ignorance, their apathy. ‘We tell them what they should do, why don’t they do it?’ they ask. What we should be doing is asking ourselves why we expect poor African mothers to consent to a standard treatment that we would never accept ourselves. Because they are poor? Because they don’t know any better? Because they should just be happy with the scraps they get? As you in America are debating the need to reform the healthcare system, please don’t forget that inequity is unacceptable, in rich and poor countries alike. All people have the right to quality healthcare.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Milo's first haircut

Milo was born a bit of a baldy. Well, actually, he was born with hair, then two weeks later most of it fell out, leaving just a Michael Bolton-esque fringe around his neck.

This was disturbing to his Colombian family - where is his hair? why doesn't it grow in? what is wrong with this boy? After all, your typical Colombian child bounces out of the womb, cushioned by a glorious afro of thick black hair.

No, Milo got my hair. Thin, light-colored, and nary a kink or a curl. We put off cutting his hair for such a long time, because it seemed sort of pointless to go to the trouble just to remove a few errant wisps from around his ears.

While we were in New Orleans, we thought it would be fun to go someplace nice and have it cut. So Jorge went to Aidan Gill, an upscale men's barber, to ask if they cut children's hair.

Yes, indeed, they do. In fact, they have a special 'first haircut' package for babies. Jorge asked how much it cost. And then stood there, dumbfounded for a few minutes, jaw literally dropping: $500 dollars. Yes, you read that right. 5 big'uns. Or maybe it was even more than that, I can't fully remember. The haircut comes with a framed print by a professional photographer. They had samples of the photos, some 30 of them, in the salon. Jorge couldn't speak for a while because he was too busy counting the pictures and trying to figure out what kind of sucker would spend that much for a picture of a child being groomed.

That was before Milo went to Colombia. By the time he got back, he was getting a bit of a mullet. I suspect Dora, my mother-in-law, was putting the same nasty herbal tonic on his head that she tried to get me to use after my hair fell out from chemo. Jorge did say that Milo smelled kind of funny. So we finally took him to get his hair cut on Saturday, at the same barber shop Jorge goes to. Milo was very well-behaved, I got some photos, and the whole thing set us back 300 Kwacha - about 2 dollars.

Before the haircut. Milo liked getting sprayed with water.

Although Milo was very good overall, he wanted to look around. The barber resorted to this vise grip to get him to hold still. I love Africa!

And here's the finished product! Isn't my boy handsome?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

News in small, digestible chunks

Here are today's tidbits:

  • I'm sick
  • I'm working way too much
  • I might get to go to Scotland for work in a couple months!
  • I feel guilty for being away from my family so much of the time
  • In the past week, we hosted the Saturday run (and breakfast), hosted the weekly Hash, and tonight I'm cooking dinner for 6 co-workers. Sunday is Gumbo night for friends. We do too much.
  • I lost my cell phone
  • I can't remember my own husband's phone number to call and ask for a ride
  • Milo is on a food strike
  • But he knows his feet, gives plenty of kisses, and enjoys dancing to reggaeton.
  • I haven't photographed my son in almost 6 weeks. But for Auntie Miriam, here is a picture from when we were in New Orleans:

For those of you who are wondering, here is the account of how I finally resolved my money dilemma, taken from an e-mail to my dad:

I did end up managing, but it was a hellish day. First, I made an hour-long
walk to the other ATM I knew of. It also would not take my card. So I called
Jorge (who hadn't been home before) to get my account number and I went into the
branch to try to do a withdrawal. But they wouldn't allow me to withdraw from
a checking account without an actual check.

The teller directed me to another nearby branch. I walked there. The branch was closed. I walked further toward another bank. Each Malawian I asked told me "no, it's not far." but Malawians are not very good at giving directions, so I got lost. Finally I called a taxi, which I couldn't pay for, but I was being hopeful. He drove me to ANOTHER bank, one with the other banks had told me would take my card. They were wrong. Finally, I threw myself on the mercy of their customer service rep, who took pity on me and allowed me to make a withdrawal from my checking account. I mean, really, couldn't they have done that in the first place?

All in all, I walked for 3 hours. My poor feet.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I know, I know

So I have had several complaints about my lack of blogging of late. Honestly, I just don't have the time these days. In the last month I spent a week in Dowa district, 3 days in our Lilongwe project office, traveled up to Nkhotakota, and am now spending a week in Blantyre. In between that I thre a going-away dinner for a friend (meaning my whole weekend was taken up with cooking, and am still trying to occasionally spend time with my son and husband. I'm wiped out.

Also, to add to the bad news - our bank changed it's ATM cards. While some ATMs still took the old card in Lilongwe, the central bank here in Blantyre doesn't. So I can't get money, and I'm running low. I'm planning to take a looooong walk to another ATM after leaving this internet cafe, I sure hope they take the cards there, otherwise I am screwed.

Interesting morning though - I had breakfast with two majors from the Zimbabwe army! How many people do you know who can say that? There is a whole contingent of officers staying at my hotel - they are studing at the military college in Zimbabwe and are doing a study tour in Malawi. One of the men tried to bait me into a discussion of U.S. foreign policy, but I wasn't going for it, and switched the topic to their own country. It was interesting to hear their perspective on the situation in Zimbabwe (which they assured me is really fine now. I remain skeptical) and their thoughts in Malawi.

And then the Major asked me out dancing . That hasn't happened in a long time. I told him I am too old and too married for the nightclub scene (not exactly true, but I've always found that the modest, prudish response is usually the most effective in deterring would-be African suitors. As in "Excure me, but in MY country, men just don't talk to women like that!" Hahaha.)

Well, I'm running low on cash, so I guess I best start walking now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One big family again

Jorge and Milo got in yesterday. Hooray! Milo is getting so big and grown up, it was all I could do to keep from crying in the airport.

And good news: Milo still loves me. In fact, if I try to go anywhere away from him, he runs over and clings to my leg, apparently afraid I’m going to leave for another month. He is still the happiest, most smiley baby on the block, too. I’ll be walking around with him perched on my hip, and I’ll look down to see the little imp just grinning up at me. He cracks me up, that boy.

Jorge managed the flight alright as well. Milo was apparently very good, and did not cry or scream at all, and even slept pretty well. Jorge got in trouble with the flight attendants a few times for leaving Milo sitting on the floor of the airplane, but other than that, smooth sailing. (Our bags even showed up this time! We’re two for two in the last month!)

The poor bug, though – I can’t take pictures of him for a good while. Jorge was playing with him a few days ago and Milo bit it and fell down the porch stairs (“You mean you let him fall?!!” I said), taking a little bit off the end of his nose. It’s all scabby and red now. He’s still pretty, though, don’t worry.

I spent all last week out in the field, which accounts for the quietness on the blog. Power outages, cold showers, greasy French fries for breakfast…Ah, I love the rustic life. This is why, when I travel with my own money, I go for the luxury resorts.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Happy birthday to Jorge!

My dear husband turns 30 years old today. 30 years! I guess that makes him a grown-up now.

Someone once asked me, “So, how did he win you over?” I thought for a moment, and then responded, with no irony whatsoever: “Well, he just wouldn't go away.”

Yes, that’s the secret of our love: dogged perseverance. For Jorge’s part, although I don’t think he’ll admit it, he had his mind made up early on. Whereas I took some winning over at first. But I think I sealed my fate on our first date, when, standing on a romantic balcony in the French Quarter, the subject of marriage came up. In an abstract sense, of course; not “so, when do you want to get married?”, but just thoughts on marriage in general, friends getting married, and so on. But of course, to most men, the M-word is terrifying coming out of a first date’s mouth. So, to reassure him, I said, very emphatically:

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to marry you.”

Famous last words.

Fast-forward 8 years – has it really been that long? – and I’m even happier now than I was in that first flush of romance. My husband has become my best friend, the man who nursed me through my rough days of cancer, cooks me pizza when I’ve had a bad day, who plays our wedding song sometimes for no reason and asks me to dance, the man who still tries to protect me from the ugliness in the world, even after all I’ve seen. He is loyal, genuine, funny, and determined at everything he sets his mind to. He is playful, adventurous, and a terrific travel partner. And, of course, to put it in his own words, he is 'ridiculously good-looking'.

It has been a rough couple of days. Milo has been sick, and I have been even sicker with worry. (He is much better now, don't worry). Every maternal instinct inside me was screaming out to be able to hold and nurture my son, but I’m thousands of miles away. But then I remember that Jorge is with him; Jorge, who has become such a capable, caring father, and who loves my little boy like no one else in the world. Apparently he has been such a devoted caretaker that all the nurses have developed crushes on him.

Well, hands off ladies. He’s mine.

Happy birthday, baby. I love you.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Happy birthday to me!

It's my birthday! Yay for me being born! Thank God my parents weren't so fastidious with the birth control, ya know what I mean? (My mom, bless her heart for thinking I'd actually be concerned about this sort of thing, once told me: "You weren't an accident, honey. You were a pleasant surprise")

So what are the plans, you ask? Well, a few days ago I realized that my birthday was coming up, and fast, and I had a bit of a meltdown. For one thing, Jorge and Milo are still away, and I have spent every birthday with my husband for the last 7 years. But even worse, I suddenly realized I have almost no friend left here.

This has been the year of the friend diaspora. They're dropping like flies. First Cassandra - that was a blow - then Ann, Christine, Alisha, Emily...Each departure takes a little bit out of me. Then last week I got the news that Amy is leaving soon, too, and I just about lost it. While it's cool to have 'couple friends' and all that, I really need my girlfriends - people who know me as me, on my own, not as a mom or half of a married couple.

I was a bit lost - I sure didn't want to spend my birthday alone, but I didn't exaclty wan tto have to throw myself a party. That seems laml. And wouldn't you know it - my girls pulled through for me, with dinner, drinks, and hopefully dancing (there's a Michael Jackson tribute party tonight). And we've decided to suck in a few ladies that I don't know all that well, but who seem cool. The plan is to start rebuilding the ranks. So tonight is ladies night, people, and I plan to live it up. Hope you all have a fun weekend as well.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I arrived back in Malawi last Tuesday, no worse for wear after the 2-day trip. I am back in my big townhouse, which is cold and lonely, not just because of the absence of my son’s happy squeals and babbles, but also because it is really, literally, cold. July and August are winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and typically the only two months of the year I ever get to wear a sweater.

So Jorge has absconded with my precious little Milo, and it’s very sad being here on my own. To fill the time, I have occupied myself with Projects. Projects used to be my life before I had a baby. My wedding was a Project. Photography and travel are Projects. I like binders and daily targets and color-coding. My current Projects are: 1) getting my butt in shape after consuming an average of 1,000 excess calories a day in New Orleans, 2) finally finishing “War and Peace”, and 3) finishing up editing the 1,000 or so of my mother’s slides that I scanned last summer in Seattle.

I’m making good progress on all three so far. I reckon I have about 250 more slides to edit, then of course I have to figure out in which order they should go, which will not be an easy task. Right now I’m working on the photos my mom took when we took our trip to Europe in 1987, our Grand Tour so to speak. Most of my childhood vacations were spent in the back on the Plymouth Volare (see photo) or in tents, and this was our big trip. Dad saved up money and vacation days for years, and mom took on her own major Project of planning the trip. I remember she mailed off to tourism offices and received hundreds of glossy brochures in the mail, which she would spread out all around her, finding hotels, plotting itineraries.

(The Volare - no doubt it had overheated again and that's why I'm sitting on the ground in the cold.)

It paid off – I still have such wonderful memories of that trip, and I believe it was the only 2-month stretch of my childhood where I did not bite, hit, or scream at my sisters. We were having too much fun to fight.

Now when I look back at those pictures, though, what strikes me is just how much love went into planning that trip, taking those photos, organizing them all into slide shows… The same way my love for my son seems to channel through my camera lens, I bet my mom was thinking that she loved us when she took these photos:

(Dad on a gondola in Venice)

(I put this one in just so you could mock my sister's outfit with me. Check out those shorts! And she accessorized it with a snazzy necklace! Mwahaha!)

(Me on my 10th birthday, in front of the Matterhorn)
Granted, there are a lot of duds in the slides, too. Mom was fond of landscapes, what we called her "Rocks, Trees, and Water" photos. What was she thinking when she snapped this one, for example?

But I scan, and edit, and restore all of them. It is my way of saying “Mom, I trust your judgment. If you thought this picture was worth taking, then I think it’s worth saving.” As I remove each speck of dust and brighten each color, it’s a long-delayed way for me to get to say “I love you too.”