Thursday, September 30, 2010

Busy busy busy

Just hopping on quickly, after a very late lunch. The countdown to maternity leave is now on - We leave Malawi exactly 2 weeks from now. So as you can imagine, things have been pretty busy with trying to get all my work done, pack up the house, and still do all my usual mama/wife/friend activities. Jorge recently started taking a few online classes too, so I have had to take on a lot of the child-caring and home-management responsibilities for him as well so that he has enough time to study.

I had a nice trip to Ethiopia, but unfortunately I was sick for most of. Apparently my immune system has decided it hates me, and I think I have not had more than 3 or 4 days in a row when I was not sick since the end of June. It's one thing after another - the never-ending cold, a bacterial infection last week, stomach troubles. I spend so much time at the doctor's office I should get a plaque on one of the chairs.

Oh, and I suppose I have not mentioned that my grandfather is very ill as well, and I am deeply concerned for him.

Some days I feel so overwhelmed I think I could just sit down and cry.

But alas, even if I had the time, I never was much of one for wallowing.

Jorge and I take it all day by day for now, squeezing in the last-minute dinners and visits with friends, sorting and packing and selling when we get time, studying and parenting together as much as we can, and I have become quite adept at saying "no."

We're not heading straight back to Seattle this time around - we've decided to break up the trip on the way home and stop in Paris for 6 days. As usual, we haven't planned a thing, but we figure we'll just book a hotel last-minute, then spend the week walking, eating, and going where the day takes us. I'm particularly excited about all the yummy cheese options awaiting me :-)

Then on October we will be back HOME, and when I say home I mean it, back to the house where I spent the first 18 years of my life, with its obstructed view of Mount Rainier and its big sloping backyard, perfect for energetic little boys to tumble around in. Only this time instead of one little baby, we will end up having a houseful of kids - Milo, his nearly-one year old cousin Oseia, and the soon to be born little sibling. Throw into the mix one mom on maternity leave and two stay-at-home dads, and it should really be an interesting time! My sister, our gracious host, is going to have her hands full.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

While I'm at it

Since I'm doing old photos this week...

Tomorrow I fly off to Ethiopia for 10 days. Nothing fun, just a work trip. I seem to be traveling quite a lot for work lately. Add that to the stress of trying to finish out a number of major projects before my maternity leave kicks in, and it's a pretty hectic time.

I wanted to go to Ethiopia years ago, after reading one random story in a National Geographic magazine about Lalibela, the famous town where, hundreds of years ago, the Ethiopians carved a labyrinth-like complex of churches and tunnels straight down into the rock.

So when I got my first overseas job, an internship in Eritrea, I took advantage of my connections in the UN to secure a spot on the UN cargo plane that flew in between Asmara and Addis Ababa - the only way to fly directly between the two countries.

My dad and his wife Joan met me there, and we spent two weeks traveling around the historic sites of the North, seeing the medieval-style churches of Gonder, the ancient, boggling stelae of Axum (no one nows how they ever erected these huge obelisks), and of course, the churches of Lalibela. It was a really wonderful trip, one I have never forgotten. So even though next week I will be spending all my time in a hotel conference room talking about how to design a child survival project and how to prevent chronic malnutrition, I will be remembering this trip. And eating lots and lots of shiro. Mmmmm.

The Blue Nile Falls


A royal castle in Gonder.



The most famous church in Lalibela - was it St. George's? I can't recall anymore. But it's stunning.



A view of the top of the church in Lalibela.


This priest in Lalibela spends so much time indoors, and has his photo taken so often, that he puts on sunglasses to guard against the flash! :-)


One of the incredible obelisks in Axum. Sorry for my dad's thumb in the photo...


Dad and me out for a walk in Axum


Monday, August 30, 2010

Has it really been 5 years?

And yet it feels like such a long time ago, when Jorge and I were heading off to go watch "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" despite the protests of my mother-in-law that we would surely be killed the moment we stepped out the door. We were hours away from the eye of Hurricane Katrina by then, though, among the very few New Orleans residents who decided, against general wisdom, to go East into Florida to evacuate ahead of the storm. I mean, when a hurricane's a-comin', who decides the safest place is FLORIDA? Everyone else is usually trying to get to sunny Texas, not the storm-magnet state. But there we were, the rain pelting down, the wind whipping around us, and the news showing the same old shots of frantic palm-branches in the wind and giant waves. So we figured, what the hell? Why not go to the movies?

It wasn't for another full week before the enormity of the situation finally dawned upon me. As we all did after the storm, Jorge and I spent much of our free time watching the cable news channels, trying to decipher what was really happening. And I said to Jorge, "So have you talked to work? When do they want you to be back?" And Jorge looked at me like I'd just grown another head and said "Baby? There IS no work." And it hit me that everything we knew and counted on - friends, jobs, homes, Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf Bar - all that was gone. At least for the time being. And back then, you never really knew if it would all come back. And finally I cried.

We counted ourselves among the lucky ones. We lived in a two-story apartment that only got a couple feet of flooding, meaning most of our home stayed dry. We had friends and family who happily took us in while the landlord gutted the place. Jorge's employer managed to accomodate the changing needs of the community, and suddenly he temporarily found himself in the tree-removing, blue-tarp-laying, mold-killing business. After a few weeks, we went home to a very desolate, lonely place. Where if you wanted to eat out, you had better plan ahead, because the few places still serving food shut down at 8 for the night. Where the shuttered coffeeshops seemed to have left their modems on, so that when the power came back, we could join the lines of people sitting on the sidewalks to catch up on e-mail.

Some of our friends were not so lucky; a couple of them lost their entire homes and everything in them. Some went away and never returned. We all coped with the scars of going off one day, feeling like we were just having a weekend holiday and waking up Monday with our city just disintegrated, all our friends gone. (What did I pack with me for the 6 weeks I spent evacuated? One miniskirt, one pair of shorts, a few shirts, and TWO bikinis. I'd be useless in a nuclear holocaust, I tell you.)

In honor of the city we love, our second home, here are some photos from that time:

Just another beach weekend, right?


Jorge got home early, before any of the really basic clean-up could be done. There were power lines and trees down everywhere. And still a few bodies on the streets.


Cleaning out the apartment. Notice the bath-tub ring of mold.



Dora watching over all our ruined junk. The city looked like this for months, discarded refrigerators and ripped out carpet everywhere.



Our apartment after being gutted.

Our friend Jonathan's neighborhood was one of the worst-hit. This photo was taken six months after the hurricane.



Jorge had the unfortunate job of searching for Jonathan's passport in this mess. What you see all over the floor is sodden insulation from the ceiling.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ineptitude

Everyone who lives in Africa for very long accumulates a nice trove of stories around ineptitude - there's the friend of mine who, for example, picked her car up from the mechanic, only to find that they had sliced her entire car engine clear in half. Or another friend who followed up with a supplier on the school supplies he'd been told had been ordered 6 months earlier, only to find that the order was never placed. The person-I-shall-not-name who tried to clean our car with steel wool. Things like that happen regularly in Malawi.

But Jorge had a very interesting experience of ineptitude while walking through a busy shopping area of Lilongwe last week. He was going to meet a friend, when a very tiny Malawian man walked up to him and said "Give me the money."

"What?" Said Jorge, a little surprised. We're used to small children yelling out "Givah me a-mon-ee!" as we walk past, but it's unusual for adults to be so bold.

"Give me the money!" He repeated. Again, Jorge was just totally confused, and said again, "What?!"

Finally, the little man pulled from his pocket a small, blunt kitchen knife, about 3 inches in length, and repeated his demand. At this point Jorge was still a wee bit puzzled, and amused at the size of the knife, but was starting to realize that the poor guy was trying to rob him. So Jorge just said "No." The little Malawian seemed to be stumped at that point, unable to figure out what his next move should be.

At that point Jorge saw the friend he was meeting, waved, and then gently took the would-be-robber's hand and held it out of his way as he walked the few feet to talk to his friend. The foiled robber just continued to stand there plaintively nearby,I suppose still hoping for some money, as the crowds all milled around them. And then Jorge walked off and went on with his day.

It makes me very grateful indeed that Malawi is still at the point where most people haven't even figured how to be criminal very well.

Monday, August 23, 2010

OK. OK. I get it.

Yeah, so I know I have been AWOL. It hasn’t been an easy couple of months. But that’s no excuse – when has my life ever been easy? I think I deliberately prevent it from becoming so…

But then I checked Facebook the other day and saw this:

"Chris J. is wondering if his favorite sister-in-law-in-Malawi will ever blog again..."

Alright, alright. I hear you people ( all 5 of you who still read this blog). You want posts. So post I shall.

(But nuts…what should I say?) I guess I can start by saying why I haven’t been on much. And it’s not just that I haven’t been writing – I haven’t read any blogs in ages either. At work I’m usually too swamped, and at home…well, at home I’m swamped too. That’s life as a working mama.

And it isn’t just that – I just have felt lately that the only things that come to my mind to write about are so….negative. For example, there’s the growing number of articles in the Malawi newspapers blaming women who are raped, because their short skirts and exposed thighs “force” men into assaulting them. How about the government up and changing the flag (which I thought was very nice) in a dramatic show of government will ignoring the opinions of the people? And I’m increasingly depressed by the poverty wages paid to hard-working Malawians – our housekeeper was recently offered 6,000 Malawi Kwacha ($40) per month for full time employment at another house (he declined, naturally). Aid workers hardly pay much more, despite supposedly being here to ‘help’ the people.

The US is no better a topic for discussion – the percentage of Americans who believe that Obama is Muslim nearly doubled in the past few months, and Republicans STILL have the balls to suggest that the way out of financial crisis is to lower taxes and bankrupt the federal government (seriously, haven't we learned?). It’s all too depressing for words sometimes, so I just keep quiet.

Then of course I have my own work frustrations, for example a horrendous trip to Uganda last month, the rapidly rising cost of living in Malawi (it’s WAY more expensive in Africa than people think) and my shrinking wages as the Euro tanks, working hard every day for little recognition or reward.

I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person. After all, I went through chemo and radiation with hardly a peep of protest. It pains me to complain on this blog. A central value of my childhood was “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” So again, I just keep quiet.

But it’s not all doom and gloom around here. After all, I do have just about the best family any woman could ask for. How many women, after 6 years of marriage, still get two dozen roses on a Tuesday afternoon from their husband, for no reason at all? And even though Milo is fully TWO in all of its glory (and being potty trained on top of all that), he still charms me every day with his tremendous capacity for love and unsuppressed joy. And there’s even more reason for happiness around the C. household now, as our little family will grow to 4 soon, sometime at the end of this year.

(You like how I snuck that in there?)

But I have heard the people, and I will respond to their little plaintive pleas. I may need some help on coming up with topics, though. So, anyone want to suggest what you would like to hear more about? Got questions for me? Post them in the comments, and I’ll try to start writing more. After all, this is a two-way street folks – you want blog posts? I need validation. Comments. Lots of ‘em.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Doh.

When I have nothing to blog about, the local newspaper always gives me plenty of material. I've been storing up some shocking headlines, lately, but here's a recent story that gave me hope, then made me chuckle, and then made me sad.

The headline read: "Opposition Leader Refuses Government Car"

My first thought was - "well, gee, isn't that something! An African leader denying expensive, unnecessary benefits, to save money for the people!" I seriously thought that the opposition was trying to make a statement about the misuse of public funds on things like expensive Mercedes Benz cars for high-level politicians.

Then I read further, and this is what I learned instead:

"He says the car is too old."

::Sigh::

Yes, you saw my naievete right away, didn't you? He didn't refuse the car on the grounds that it was a waste of money. He refused it because it wasn't expensive enough. I mean, how could he be seen driving around in a 2005 vehicle?!

Sometimes you just start to feel things are never going to change.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Just the latest around here

I think it goes without saying that I've been awfully busy lately. The last few days have been a wee bit quieter because Jorge is off at the lake with his sisters, Milo, and nieces. I had too much work to be able to take another day off, though. Which means that for the 2nd year in a row, I did not spend my husband's birthday with him. Even though he's the one who told me not to bother making the drive to the lake, I'm sure I'll be subject to guilt-trips and recriminations over this one for at least the rest of the year.

To make up for it, we're celebrating tonight instead. To start, we'll have a selection of yummy antipasti and homemade spreads, then dinner will be roasted beef tenderloin with potatoes au gratin, individual eggplant parmesan stacks, and a beet salad with pecans and blue cheese. And for dessert, lemon cheesecake made with real Philadelphia cream cheese, a luxury item of extreme value and rarity in Africa. We'll even crack open one of our treasured bottles of wine from Solm's Delta in South Africa - the Africana Reserve, no less. So it should be a nice night!

Alicia and the girls are here for a few more days, but on Tuesday I'm flying off to Uganda for a week, where I'm helping the Ministry of Health with a pavilion they've mounted to highlight nutrition work in Malawi, for the African Union Heads of State Summit. This is a political event, so very much different from the technical workshops and conferences I'm used to attending. I'm hoping it will be interesting, but I really don't know what to expect.

Well, I'd better get back to my cooking!

Friday, July 9, 2010

And a few more minutes...

...so here are a few more photos. We are on our way out the door for another weekend trip. This weekend we are going to Mount Mulanje, the third highest race in Africa. Every year they have a race there, where the porters - you know, the guys you pay to carry your bags up the hill for you? - race up the mountain, across it, then come flying down the side, often barefoot. Every year a few crazy foreigners also run (usually coming in a few hours after the porters) and Jorge is running again this year.

Also, I'm turning 33 on Sunday. ::shudder::

So we've rented a nice house on a tea estate, and will spend the weekend with another family who are friends of ours.

Anyway, here are some more pictures from Zambia:








Thursday, July 8, 2010

I have 5 minutes...

And I will fill it by posting photos from our safari trip to South Luangwa, in Zambia, last weekend. three of my favorite people are here in Malawi visiting us - my sister-in-law Alicia and her two beautiful and rambunctious daughters. We pulled out all the stops for them - we managed to see two leopards, 3 hyenas, countless buffalo, elephant, zebra, giraffe, and an entire pride of lions.






Alas, I have now used up my entire laptop battery, and there are sleeping children in the office where the power cord lives. So I will have to leave you now with these teasers and hopefully get more up tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

You think YOUR DMV is bad?

It's been an interesting couple of weeks since I got back home from my holiday. First, I'm all on my own for a while, as Jorge has traveled home to the States and is visiting his family. I've done the single mom thing before, but only for a couple nights at a time. It actually hasn't been bad, after the first tear- and recrimination-filled night. (My tears, mostly). Milo's been a doll - I mean, how did I get such a great kid? - and we've had a lot of fun just hanging out and going for walks and stuff.

Also, it's World Cup time again, and Malawi is soccer-crazy like the rest of Africa. I've even been infected by the spirit, and in the afternoons I go to my neighbor's and watch the match while Milo plays with their two boys. Tonight I'm multi-tasking - watching a DVD, blogging, and checking in on the FIFA website with my i-pod to see if South Africa has scored.

Also, there has just been a lot to do. For example, I realized last week that my driver's license is about to expire. Since I couldn't renew it online, that meant one thing...time to finally get a Malawi driver's license. I've avoided this unpleasant task for as long as I could, but now there was no getting around it.

So off to the Road Traffic Office I go...expecting the worst.

Day 1 wasn't too bad. I used my obvious foreignness and cheerful disposition to ask anyone official-looking if they could help me. Mostly their 'help' went like this: "You need to go to Room 2," then in Room 2 I was told "You can pick up the application in HB." HB didn't seem to exist, so I asked again, and was sent back to Room 2. At that point I called it Bureaucracy 1, Gwyneth 0, and went back to my office to make photocopies instead.

Day 2 I tried a different approach. My office offered to send a driver with me, someone who had a friend who worked in the Road Traffic Office. That seemed promising - I saved at least an hour while the driver's friend entered my application information. Then I spent several more hours having my photo and fingerprints taken. I gave up again at 4 o'clock when the line for the cashier stretched so far out the door that there was a guard to keep people out.

Day 3 my sunny disposition was finally starting to fade. I started where I left off, the cashier's office. Only there was no cashier - she was replacing the printer ink cartridge, which apparently takes half an hour in a government building. I finally got to the front of the line, only after several Malawian men literally muscled their way in front of me, only to be told, "you need to go to Room 2." Room 2 told me, "You need to go to the cashier's office."

Another 30 minute wait in line, only to be told "You have to take your photos." I explained that I had already done that. Wellllll...they got lost. So BACK to the photo room, for yet another photo and round of fingerprints (and you can imagine what my passport photo is going to look like at this point - definitely not my best shot). Then back AGAIN to the cashier's office, where they at last took my money.

At that point I thought I was free and clear. But no. Instead I was sent back to the dreaded Room 2, where they had no idea what to do with me. So rather than take the effort to find out, the man I spoke to directed me to the office for the driving examiner. Crap. I've been driving for 16 years, but there's no way I could pass a Malawi driving exam - they still require you to use hand signals.

But at last, some good news. On my way to the road test room, a man I had spoken to on the first day of my ordeal saw me and asked "What are you still doing here? Haven't you got your license yet?" I explained my predicament, and he took pity on me. "Here," he said, "just go see the big boss. The RTO will sort it out for you," and then he showed me into a plush, carpeted office, where the receptionist took my papers and disappeared behind a big wooden door. A few minutes later she reappeared...and then uttered those fateful words...

"You need to go to Room 2."

But, seeing my look of panic, she instead escorted me there myself, where I found, after three days and many frustrating hours, fresh off the printer, my new temporary Malawi driver's license.

Now I can only wonder how much trouble it will be to collect my real license once it's finally minted.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Back home

I'm back in Malawi, and as busy as ever. As much as I love to travel, I always feel such a deep sense of relief and calm once I finally get off the plane, make it through immigration and customs, and get on the road home. It's all so familiar to me now, so comforting. I know just where on the road there will be pumpkins for sale, or to watch out for the intersection where minibuses clog traffic. "Ah!" I was pleased to note while on my way home, "Mice are back in season!" After coming from a big city, the expanses of land where you see nothing bit scrubby grass and bushes for miles just soothes me.

Of course, then I get home, and there's a dead car battery to deal with, a shady dealership that doesn't want to honor its warranties, post office employees who fail to show up for work...all the usual African nonsense. Still, it's good to be home.

I'm still working on getting the next round of trip photos up, but in the meanwhile, I thought I'd share our very typical exchange from this afternoon's commute home:

Jorge: "Did you see the new embassy that just opened right around our house?"

Me: "Nooo....which one?"

Jorge: "Don't you see the sign?"

Me, looking up and reading the sign above my head: "Ah, yes. The Christ Embassy. That will be useful." [Note: I am not making the name up. Most likely it's a new storefront church.]

::Long pause::

Me: "Do you think their consular office is open? I want to get a visa for heaven."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Thy people doth protest too much!

One of the things we have found interesting in Argentina is the total culture of protest. There seems to be a march, or a protest, or a rally, or just random people chanting everywhere we go. On our second day in Buenos Aires, we went down to the city center and visited the building that is the seat of the national government. In front is a famous square where many protests and rallies have been held over the last century. I took one look around and said ¨they must have had one heck of a protest here yesterday,¨because of all the trash and flyers scattered all over the square. What was particularly striking was that there were many, many empty trash cans in the park, but apparently, rather than walk 15 feet, everyone seems to have tossed their soda bottles on the ground instead.

We walked further into the city and noticed that all the turn-of-the century buildings were covered in graffiti with political slogans. I go tthe strong sense that the point of protest was as an excuse for hooliganism, not to actually improve conditions in the country. It left a very bad impression for both of us.

Then, the other day, we were watching the news. Three young men in their twenties had had sex with a 14-year old girl, videotaped it, and were scummy enough to show it around. Fortunately, they have been arrested and will face charges of statutory rape, and possibly child pornography as well.

And what was the response from the community? Why a protest, naturally. But not for who you think - it was a rally of women protesting for the release of the three men. Yes, they were marching to show their indignation at the arrest of three scumbags who had broken the law. Their reason? Because the girl was known to be promiscuous. I can only imagine how horrible it must be for the poor young woman and her family, having to see her community on the news, marching through the streets, no doubt chanting something classy like ¨Let them go, she´s a ho.¨ It goes to show just how far things still need to move for women in the country, I suppose.

Personally, I think they should all pack up their banners, put away their spray paint, and do something that will really make a difference - go to work, perhaps? Vote? Throw away your trash in a grabage can, even?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It can´t all be smooth sailing

So overall, we have had a pretty straightforward, easy trip in Argentina. This is a big surprise, as those of you who have followed our other trips on this blog should know, because when we travel something ALWAYS goes wrong. Visas are incomplete, reservations are cancelled randomly, backs are thrown out, whatever. It´s always something.

Anyway, I wanted to stay true to the spirit of the blog and reassure you that we´ve had our share of flubs on this trip, but they´re pretty minor compared to usual. So here are some of our misadventures so far:

1) One of the most common search terms that leads people to my blog is ¨South African Airlines sucks¨. Every month this is in the top ten, along with ¨Gwyneth Malawi¨ and ¨Coolest pet ever¨. There is a reason for this, and it is my total disdain at the incompetence and occasionally outright ineptitude of SAA. For example, when we boarded our flight to Johannesburg from Lilongwe, and finally got a moment to look at our seating assignments, we discovered, to our great dismay, that the ticketing agent had seated us in three very separate, very far-flung seats. Lucky little Milo got a seat all by himself 15 rows behind me, and Jorge and I were seated nowhere near each other. It´s not like they didn´t know we had a child - Milo was standing on the countertop babbling away the whole time we were checking in.

But fine, we figured the flight attendant would sort it out. She went back to the row where Milo was seated, explained the situation, and asked the two people seated around Milo if they would switch with us. And would you get this - one of them wouldn´t move! Are you kidding me? He won´t move to let a parent sit with their baby? What sort of special level of a-hole-ness is that?

So of course, I´m ticked. I take Milo to the seat and say ¨so you´re the guy who wants to help look after my child, then?¨And he smiles, totally vapidly, and says ¨I don´t mind! I have a little one myself too.¨ To be fair the guy seemed more clueless than obstinate, and three minutes seated next to Milo, who kept trying to claw his way over the man´s lap while yelling ¨Daddy! Daddy!¨did the trick. As if it was his idea, the man turns to me and says ¨Hey, why don´t I switch seats with your husband?¨ Well, yeah, how´s that for an idea! So it ended up being fine in the end.

2) In Salta, we rented a car, and asked for a car seat. To save a bit of money, we decided to pick up the car on the second day, before heading off on the road. Before leaving the airport, we asked about the office hours. ¨We open at 9 and close at 9¨ they told us.

The next day, we go to the EuropCar office to collect the car seat. Only to find they´ve closed for lunch. That´s reasonable, I suppose. Then we notice - it´s a FOUR HOUR lunch break! What kind of lazy people take lunch from 1 to 5 PM?

We ended up calling the staff on their cell phone and getting them to come back to give us the car seat, but it meant sitting in our car with a tired, fussy toddler for two hours. No fun.

3) A few days ago, we arrived at the airport to check in for our flight from Salta to Buenos Aires. Only the ticket agent couldn´t find our reservation. A few minutes later, we discovered the problem: our reservations were for the following night! Jorge had booked the tickets for the wrong day, and neither of us had noticed the mistake. Fortunately, though, the ticket agent was able to change our tickets, and didn´t even charge us anything.

4) Yesterday we headed out of town to spend a few days on a country estate. We had arranged to catch the 10:30 bus, and at 9:30 were ready to leave for the bus station. However, Jorge just needed to pop across the street to buy some diapers for Milo. Half an hour later, bearing a complicated tale of woe involving a security guard and multiple exits, my frazzled husband returned. We grabbed a taxi, but as we sat in traffic, it became increasingly obvious that we were never going to make it in time. Finally, we arrive close to the station, 10 minutes late - only to see that the street, a random side street at that, has been closed for a protest! The buses were unable to pick up the passengers, so they were late. We had time to collect our tickets then walk a few blocks away where the buses were waiting for us. Saved again!

So you see, it´s not that we haven´t had our share of mishaps, it´s just that apparently South America is a little more laid back when it comes to screw-ups like us, as opposed to, say, the inflexible Cambodians or the quarrelsome Egyptians!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ahhhhhh....

Hear that? That is the sound of all my pent up stress starting to slowly leak out of my pores, like a over-inflated inner tube finally starting to release pressure.

Tonight we are here: http://www.altalaluna.com/en/ and it is every bit as nice as the pictures suggest. Even better, in fact, as I just dicovered they have a spa, and have booked a facial and full body exfoliation for myself tomorrow evening. They even have a room completely dedicated just to relaxation. with big lounge chairs looking out at the vine-covered hillside. There is nothing around, just mountains and vineyards, and we hear the dinner (which is included, making this an incredible bargain on top of everything else) is also fabulous. Now, if I didn´t have a demanding two-year old to contend with, I think I would be just as about as relaxed as I have been in years.

I could so get used to this.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Photos from Argentina

In front of the central courtyard in the ´Casa Rosada´- Argentina´s White (well, pink) House, which is open for tours on teh weekends.



Milo playing with the wildlife at the Buenos Aires Zoo. They pretty much let you feed everything except the lions and bears!




A particularly lovely tomb at the Recoleta Cemetary



Jorge and Milo playing soccer in La Boca, the neighborhood famous for its soccer team and rabid fans.



Milo and me in front of a beautiful old home in Colonia, Uruguay



This is the police car in Colonia. I am not making this up.



Milo in Colonia



Tango



Standing at the top of the ¨Devil´s Throat¨ waterfall at Iguazu falls



Just a few of the many waterfalls making up Iguazu Falls

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hola!

Well, hello from Argentina. We arrived in Buenos Aires on Friday, April 30th, but we stayed in an apartment with no wi-fi, so no blogging for me. Honestly, there hasn´t been much free time until today either.

Had a nice time in Buenos Aires - there are so many parks and playgrounds for Milo to run around in, such a change from Malawi. We took a day trip to beautifully preserved Colonia, Uruguay, and managed to take in a few of the museums - the museum of Latin American art, which was wonderful, as well as the Museo do Bellas Artes, which had a few stunning 19th century pieces I loved. We also went to the Evita Museum, which left us with more questions than answers. Trying to get a handloe on the history of this country has been very frustrating, everything we read is infuriatingly vague. I´m often struck here, as I am in many of the African countries that I´ve visited, that a dark history passed only very recently, and yet now the country seems so calm and modern. I always wonder in places like this what toll the political instability and violence has really taken on the culture and psyche of the people - it´s something the people themselves always seem to want to gloss over. Hence the vague historical descriptions in museums, you see.

Anyway, I am digressing into the philosophical, and I haven´t even eaten breakfast yet, not a good combination.

Milo is managing well, although restaurants don´t open until 8PM, meaning he has had quite a few late nights. We´ve tried to go back to the hotel to let him get an afternoon nap, but that´s worked only a few times. Also, he now refuses pretty much all food, and asks for juice about 350 times a day. Sigh, That´s what long international flights with free juice will do.

This past Friday, we left Buenos Aires and flew to the very northeastern tip of the country, where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay meet, to see Iguazu Falls. I believe these are the 2nd largest falls in the world, after Victoria Falls, but having seen both, I have to say Iguazu is more beatiful, the way the water comes pouring out of the jungle everywhere you look. I can only imagine what those early explorers must have thought when they first came across this gorgeous place.

Alas, the USB port on this computer does not seem to work, so I will have to try from another computer.

No idea what we will do today. Jorge is sick with a cold, and since he is a man, he is on the verge of death, naturally. I´m hoping for a chill-out day, then tomorrow we fly to Salta, in the Northwest.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Vamanos!

Or is it vamonos? Even Google seems to be unsure, and Jorge is off watching football with a friend, so I have no reference...

Ah well - you get the point....We're off! To South America! Don't get too excited folks, it's just a holiday, we'll be back at the end of the month. Tomorrow we fly to Johannesburg for the night, then on Friday we catch the non-stop flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We plan to spend a week in Buenos Aires, then we will travel to Iguazu Falls in the north for a bit of jungle time, then it's off to the northwest, where I'm hoping to see lots of beautiful landscapes and picturesque little towns, and maybe pick up a few good bottles of Malbec...

Then we have another week that we haven't figured out what to do with, but hey, we'll get it sorted. At least we're not planning our itinerary on the flight there, like we did for Portugal.

So ciao for now - I'll try to post with photos as I get the chance.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The party of the year

It was a big weekend around these parts. Construction crews have been working at a frantic pace for weeks to get the city ready. There were dignitaries, convoys, road closures, speeches, lengthy news coverage, and work crews everywhere trying for a bit of last-minute spiffying. Robert Mugabe (or Uncle Bob as he’s affectionately known around these parts) flew in from Zimbabwe with his wife. The former presidents of Mozambique and Zambia came too, along with Prime Ministers and dignitaries from across Southern Africa.

So what happened here this weekend you ask? Well, Milo’s birthday party of course!

Oh, and the president got married. Yeah, there was THAT.

Yes, dear old Bingu got hitched on Saturday, in a big ceremony officiated by the archbishop, with a reception (or was it two?) for some 4,000 of his closest guests (and those intrepid Malawians who were able to get a spot in the Lilongwe stadium).

The former first lady passed away several years ago, so, after waiting a respectable length of time, the president has chosen a new bride, Callista, who, while no spring chicken herself, is still a good 30 or 40 years younger than the old man.

Ah, but that wasn’t really the big event, though, was it? While the president and his entourage celebrated his recent nuptials, an even more momentous and exciting engagement was underway just a few miles away.

Yes, my little guy is TWO. And showing his age, I must say. We had a terrific party at our friend Marisol’s house on Saturday (celebrating her daughter’s 4th birthday as well), complete with two cakes, lots of food, a bouncy castle, two kiddie pools, goodie bags, and the most awesome home-made robot piƱata you have ever seen, whipped together in 15 minutes by my dear husband (who failed to leave an opening through which we could tie the thing to a tree. It was OK, though, all it needed was a little robot brain surgery). Basically, it was heaven for toddlers. Milo had a great time, and he and his friends are still singing “Happy Birthday dear Milo!” all this week.

So I think I made the right choice in terms of social activities this week. I bet Bingu didn’t have a bubble machine at his party. Or the cutest, sweetest little two-year old you ever did see.

Monday, April 5, 2010

E.S.L.

My husband says the darndest things. The other day over dinner, he looks at me with a puzzled expression, and asks me: "What do you call whale fat in English?"

"You mean blubber?"

"Yeah. That's weird." Then he starts singing the tune from one of the songs from Milo's favorite music CD. Only the words don't sound quite right: "Blubber, blubber, in the trees..."

Umm, no, honey...the song is about bluebirds, not blubber!

I am just adding this to a long list of wonderful song misinterpretations. Some of my other favorites are when he sings "Let it Be." For years he thought the song was actually called "Letter 'B'" and was some sort of odd homage to Sesame Street. He still prefers his version, even after I corrected his mistake.

And just the other day, I had "Rockin' the Casbah" stuck in my head. I hollered out "Sharif don't like it!" and Jorge responded with "Rocking the cash bar! Rocking the cash bar!"

::Swooning with joy over my choice in a mate::

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Somebody call America's Next Top Model

I've got their next big winner right here:




Sorry for the hit and run, there are actual many weird and not-so-wonderful things afoot here in Malawi, but until next Monday, I will have both by feet firmly planted in proposal-writing land, not blogger world.

And also, what's up with the spam lately? I get all excited that I have comments, and it ends up being people trying to sell me weight-loss pills. Grrr. So I have to come on and pander for comments with photos of my amazing little boy (who will be 2 in THREE WEEKS!)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Weird things you'd never think about

So, it might come as a surprise to you that the world wide web is not, in fact, the same worldwide.

In fact, when you live in a place like Malawi, it can be quite different. While you are probably seeing ads for drugs claiming they will finally quell your Irritable Bowel Syndrome, the ads on my computer screen are frequently in Arabic.

But here is something I see almost every day when I log in:



I mean, come on - I have been through the US immigration process, I've seen it up close. You mean there are suckers here in Africa that think getting a green card is like winning some sort of Powerball game? I have no idea what happens if you are silly enough to try to "win," I have no intention of ever clicking on one of those virus bombs myself.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Just popping on to say hello before I leave for dinner tonight. This has been another typically full week at the house. On Monday we went to a terrific Hash walk through the Lilongwe Wildlife Sanctuary. Milo was enraptured by the huge hyena pacing back and forth behind the fence, taunting it by yelling "doggie! doggie!" The hyena did not seem amused. We also got a close-up view of Bella, the stunted and half-blind lion, rescued from an Armenian circus.

Yesterday my wonderful husband took me on a death march around our neighborhood for an hour and a half. That's what I get for enlisting him in trying to help me get out and moving. Then it was off to choir practice.

Tonight it's off to dinner for a friend's birthday, tomorrow we are hosting a going-away party for our dear friend Lillian, Friday we have tickets for a St. Patrick's Day concert of traditional Irish music, then Saturday we are planning to head off for a lake weekend. Whew!

But by far the most exciting thing about this week is that one of our favorite people, Cassandra, arrives tomorrow for a 10-day visit! HOORAY! I can't wait for the girl talk to start...

Milo is getting so verbal lately. When Jorge picked me up from work Milo just yelled "Hello mama!" Like a real person! He also tried to pee in his potty today, that was pretty exciting. He missed of course. Then 30 minutes crawled into my lap so he could pee all over my legs. Sigh.

Well, that's the news from Lilongwe.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Stuck in the mud

First of all, you may have noticed a few changes around here. After many years, I finally decided to give this blog a little overhaul. One, I was just tired of the old layout, and two, we are thinking about the possibility of moving on from Malawi some day - not any time soon, but still, the idea is out there - so it felt like I ought to transition to a style and name that would work somewhere else, not just here. Anyway, I hope you like the new look.

Last week I went up to one of my favorite places, Nkhotakota, again. I have written before about how crazy things always happen when I drive up there, and this trip was no exception.

The usual road, which runs along Lake Malawi, got washed out by heavy rains the day before we were to leave for Nkhotakota, so we had to take an alternative route, up north on the main highway, then cutting across the country through the Nkhotakota Game Reserve, a national park.

I've never been through the game reserve before, and it was a beautiful drive. Unfortunately, we didn't get to enjoy it much, though, because we were all hanging on for dear life as the car slipped and slid through the mud. We got to a very nasty patch about halfway into the park, where three trucks were blockign the road, bogged down in the muck. Unwisely, we decided to try to go around the side of the stranded trucks...and got stuck in the mud ourselves.

Here are the menfolk (mostly occupants from other abandoned trucks) discussing what to do:


And then we ladies decided to take matters into our own hands:


Finally, just before dark, a construction vehicle showed up and pulled us out! Hooray!


Seriously, there's never a dull moment around here!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

And now for something totally banal

Well, things haven't gotten any easier over here in Lilongwe, as you can probably tell from my conspicuous absence. I worked both Saturday and Sunday this week, and even though tomorrow is a public holiday - Martyr's Day (Or 'Marty's Day' as the HR announcement at work erroneously called it, brightening my day immensely. I feel like I should watch 'Back to the Future' tomorrow to celebrate) - you guessed it, I will be working again. Tonight was running, followed by choir. Tomorrow I'll cook breakfast for some friends, go to work, then there's a barbecue. Thursday is ladies night. Friday, I sleep.

But instead of whining again, I thought I would write about something totally mundane, but which seems to have been on a lot of people's minds lately - the weather. Yes, I have become that dull - when there is nothing else to say, one can always talk about the weather.

But seriously, though - the weather is a really big deal in a country like Malawi, where about 90% of the population relies on tiny little rain-fed farms for their food and income. Every year as December looms, the speculation on what sort of year it will be begins. People read much into the occasional sprinkles that occur in November (the "little rains"), trying to figure out whether the rains will fail. When the first real storm hits, everyone gets excited, no matter how old they are, how many rainy seasons they have seen.

This year has been a strange one for the weather, and everyone is a little worried about what that will mean come harvest-time. Until about 2 weeks ago, it hardly rained at all. Now it seems to do nothing but. The problem with this is that many people planted their maize back in December, only to have their crops die during the long dry spell. Those who can afford it replant. Those who can't will depend on the generosity of aid next year when their food stocks run out.

So far, it looks like we have avoided a full-scale crop failure. Still, I worry that there will be many homes with not enough food when the hungry season comes around next year. I hope that we have learned enough from the last two food crises in Malawi (8 years ago and 4 years ago) to be ready to help them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Stretched

Normally, I think of myself as someone who really doesn't complain much. I like to think that I can cope with a lot. But lately, I just feel every day like I'm this close to completely snapping.

I barely keep my head above water at work. I had to complain yesterday, because everyone else's work is being given to me, simply because they know I'll do it well and on time - qualities apparently not in abundance in my office.

I'm overscheduled - Mondays it's the Hash, Tuesdays choir, Wednesday knitting lessons, Thursday Ultimate Frisbee, Saturday I spend the day looking after Milo while my husband runs, and bikes, and relaxes. Then Sunday there's church, then jorge's frisbee match in the afternoon. On top of that, add all the social engagements. This week it was a dinner, a luncheon, and tonight we are hosting a big Mardi Gras party.

Of course, I don't make it any easier on myself. I take on too much. I don't have time for all this. This year, I decided I need to finally get in shape. So on top of everything, I work out 5 times a week. Those con artists who tell you exercising improves your health and relieves stress are full of baloney. When they tell you "you don't have time not to exercise" they are pushing lies! I don't have time to exercise, yet I do it anyway. In return, I am tired, stressed, and I'm getting sick again, even though it's only been a month since my last cold. When you are as immunologically challenged as I am, exercise is basically just obesity prevention, no more no less.

I used to get massages once a month to help me relax. Until the economy took a dive in Ireland and I was informed I'll be taking a 20% pay cut this year.

And then, of course, there's the whole working mom thing. The first time I have any time at all to myself in the day, it's 8 at night. And that's assuming my dear husband will let me have any break at all. I am being a bad mom right now and have stuck Milo in front of an episode of "the Muppet Show" just so I can type this. And I'm typing fast, believe me. The other day, Jorge and I cooked a nice Valentine's Day meal. I thought it would be nice to go put on a pretty dress, maybe put my hair up for dinner...I was literally out of my husband's sight for two minutes before the plaintive cries started:

"Gwyneth!"
"What?"
"...Gwyneth!"
"WHAT?"
[long pause]
"Gwyneth!"

So there you go. The reason I don't blog. The reasons my jaw is constantly clenched, my shoulders are ever hunched, and my heart is always racing.

Sorry, no time to spell check this. I've got a pitcher of cocktails to make, a little boy to entertain, two king cakes to decorate, and a shower to take, all before Jorge gets home from his run.

Happy Mardi Gras, y'all.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ready for the game

Neither Jorge nor I is a native New Orleanian, but we met there, wooed there, and wed there, and we hold the city close in our hearts. Even though we have been away for almost 4 years now, we still consider New Orleans home. There is no place in America with such a unique but cohesive sense of self. When you live there it seems everyone knows the same jokes, listens to the same local radio shows, loves the same restaurants (although which are the best is cause for very long debates). And when good times come around - and hard times, too - it's amazing how everyone pulls together.

That is why we are so nostalgic for home today. There is no place in the world we'd rather be right now than parading through the streets of New Orleans, cheering for our Saints.


Instead, we're supporting from afar. The house has been blaring Rebirth Brass Band all day, and we've got our gear on.


Jorge's Saints jersey was a lucky find. We were out walking one day, lamenting how he had no Saints paraphernalia to wear for the game, when a few minutes later we walked past a Malawian wearing a Saints jersey. "You have to buy his shirt!" I told Jorge. But...we had no money! What to do? No problem, this is Africa. The barter economy is alive and well. So Jorge literally gave the man the shirt off his back , and we walked home with Jorge in the sweaty, smelly jersey. I think both men went home feeling like they had gotten the better end of the trade.


So, we are ready. Unfortunately, the game comes on here at 1 AM in the morning. And I have a big donor meeting tomorrow, so there will be no all-nighter for me. Instead, after I go to bed tonight, I will be off the grid. No e-mail, no Facebook, no BBC World News...not until tomorrow night when I can watch the pre-recorded game for myself.

So, New Orleans friends and family, no matter how excited you get, no calling at 6 AM cheering over the Saints' glorious win...I want to experience it myself!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Yup, he's a butt man.

So I haven't given a Milo update in a while, I guess. My little guy has been growing up so fast. He's communicating so much more now, and says a lot of words in both Spanish and English. He's very definite in his wants, and pretty adamant about getting them across to us, but he still doesn't say a whole lot, so it can be frustrating for all of us.

He's a pro at pointing out body parts, though, in two languages:

"Milo, where are your eyes?"

Milo

"Where is your head?"

Milo

"Donde estan las orejas?"
Milo

Physically, he's also developing fast. He can jump, is great at puzzles, can go up and down the stairs unassisted, and has a pretty awesome throwing arm already. If only Lilongwe had a t-ball league. Also, he can climb out of his crib in about 3 seconds flat now, so every morning, I go into his room to find this sight:

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Yes, he's quite good at opening drawers, too.

Like most toddlers, he's into imitation, but it's more often than not the housekeeper and his nanny that Milo likes to copy. One of his favorite activities is playing "laundry". Like the pile of clothes above, he'll stack and unstack his clothes over and over again. It can keep him occupied for ages. He also likes to "hang" the laundry on his own pretend clothesline, the mosquito net frame:

Photobucket

For some reason, he's deeply fascinated with those purple undies. Today we found him wearing them:

Photobucket

Reassuringly, though, he is showing plenty of alpha male traits, too. I recently ordered a swimsuit, and it came with a catalog. Without fail, Milo always opens this catalogue to a close-up shot of a woman's rear end in a thong bikini bottom. Then he says over and over, "Mama - booby! Booby!"

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Best intentions

I really planned to write a blog post this weekend. Honestly. For one, my sister has been hounding me about it, and I don't want to face her without having written something at least. And besides, there really has been a lot going on here. We've traveled, Malawi got knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations, the Haiti earthquake brought back all kinds of memories of emergency relief work in Darfur, I got sick, and I made some serious progress on my New Year's resolutions. All those things were blog posts waiting to happen.

And then this weekend came along. This fun weekend, where the power went out for 2 whole days. Which made me have to cancel the very fun ladies night I had planned at my house tonight with my girlfriends. :-( It only just came back on, so my guilty conscience forced me here to my blog to explain my absence. Our groceries are still in a neighbor's fridge.

The worst thing about a long power outage for me is the midnight paranoia. Crime is relatively uncommon in Malawi, but home break-ins are known to happen, and they usually happen at night, while you are home, sleeping peacefully in your bed. A good break-in would involve someone just prying open a window and fishing the closest things of value out. A bad break-in involves panga knives. Those are the ones that keep me up at night.

So last night, I wake in a panic around 1 AM, realizing that a pitch dark neighborhood is a fertile breeding ground for break-ins. Every creak, rustle and clank for the rest of the night had me peering out the window, scanning the grounds with my flashlight. I finally dozed off on the couch with a book and the flashlight pointed at a window to let any would-be burglar know I was there. Fortunately nothing happened, and by 9 tonight the work crews had finally fixed whatever problem had shut us down in the first place, but MAN, am I tired. And it is past my bedtime, so all those other blog posts will just have to wait for the next rare spontaneous instance that I have a few minutes to spare.

Night-night.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Malawi woyee!! Flames woyee!!

Big, BIG news from Malawi, today, which will probably never make it to your corner of the world.

But the Malawi Flames, the lowest ranked team in the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, beat Algeria three to one in their opening game. WOO-HOO! Seriously, people, this is BIG here. The Africa Cup of Nations is like the regional World Cup for African football (soccer) teams. From around 3 o'clock this afternoon, the city has been filled with cheers, honking horns, and and people waving at strangers, just sharing in the happiness. Jorge drove around to all the minibus depots for a while, blaring the horn, just because he could get away with it.

We went for a walk after work, and many of the men we saw were still carrying their little battery-operated radios around with them, listening to the commentary and highlights. Then on the drive home, we passed several revelers who had taken big, leafy branches from the trees and covered their bodies with them, an impromptu traditional costume.

We are very proud of our guys! Go Flames!!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Nkhotakota dance par-tay!

Well, here I am in Nkhotakota, at the Sungu Motel. It meets my benchmark for hotel standards – there is a towel, soap, a mosquito net, and a fan that works. In fact, this place is rather four-star by Malawian standards – there’s a TV and what looks like a cable box, although they don't actually work, and I've been provided with sandals for the shower. However, I am not sure that wearing sandals that have been worn by countless other guests is really any better than standing on a shower floor.

Something in here smells like urine, though, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t me.



So our big event was tonight. I naively arrived on time, then waited an hour and half before everyone else showed up and we were ready to start. (Still, I just know that the one day I decide to show up late, everyone else will get there on time. So every time, I wait.)

I made my speech, and I think it went pretty well. It was mostly coherent, and I tried to not talk so fast. I always figure with public speaking, if you talk loud, clear, and slow, you’re halfway there.

Anyway, for once the speeches weren’t the main event here. Unbeknownst to me, this was not your typical NGO-government formal-schmormal talking heads evening. No, this was a shin-dig. A hootenanny, if you will. Open bar, DJ, and people drunk before the party even started – it almost felt like I was in New Orleans again.

As soon as the speeches were over, it was announced by the MC that I should take the floor with the District Environmental Health Officer, along with three other assigned couples made up of the bigwigs of the night, for the first dance. Now, I might seem like a pretty outgoing person, but dancing in front of a room full of people – ummm, not really my thing. But I did it, because this is my job.


And actually, I had a really great time. The other Malawians eventually took the floor, and the men, once they’ve had a few drinks, dance with such joyous abandon that you can’t help but get sucked in. The women are a bit more reserved, but even they get in on the action. So there I was, getting jiggy with the top brass of Nkhotakota district. A few guys even asked for my number (I politely declined). Seriously, it was like I was in New Orleans again, only with lots of termites flying around and me wearing a suit. Good times, man, good times.


Oh, and eventually I will get the pictures of me and my "first dance" off or our Communications Officer and post them here. But I have seem them already, and I can assure you, I look like a tool. I think a long career of looking awkward at official functions awaits me.