25 October 2014

Why We're Here - In Photos

Here's a look at some of the things we're doing here with Mennonite Central Committee Burkina Faso...

A few weeks ago we went to visit one of the projects we work with that among other great things, sends kids to school and makes sure they have awesome backpacks to carry their stuff. 


With no warning, Adam was called up to present certificates to all the participants. Of course this included pronouncing all their names on the spot. I almost died laughing (and so did the kids)...

...until it was my turn to call out their names and give them their backpacks. Clearly I messed up with this sweet girl.


They also get sacks of rice, which they have to help their mothers carry home. (Adjaratou and her mom.)

And help their mothers tie them to bicycles. (Proof adolescent boys, the world over, give their mothers attitude.)

Ani put her sunglasses on for a close-up, then this cherub stepped in.

We also work with farmers outside the city...


Me in a field, with head-to-toe sun protection. Pretty sure this was the moment Adam chose to tell me my SPF hat actually looks like a pith helmet. Risk melanoma for cultural sensitivity? Jury's still out.

This farmer, Gnini, is showing the difference between the sorghum planted from seeds MCC helped them get and their local seeds. (MCC seeds win.) He planted the fields with his 6 children over their school break. Since it was a thousand degrees outside, I asked him how his kids felt about helping. He said, "Well of course they grumble the whole time, but they have no choice if they want to go back to school."

Bigger and better beans than ever before.

These ladies really seemed to be having a fun gossip session in the fields. It almost made me wish I was part of it. Then Adam reminded me natural selection would have done me in generations ago. The gossip I can do, but hot, hard work in the sun? Carrying heavy loads on my head? These women are amazing. 

There's nothing quite like a community meeting under a tree.


Next up, moringa! Remember ages ago when Jill posted about the magic of moringa? It's here in Burkina too. I think this might be the next super food to sweep the western world. This stuff is incredible.

Leontine tending the moringa wonder-plant.

These tiny leaves have 7 times the Vitamin C of oranges, 4 times the Vitamin A of carrots, 4 times the calcium of milk, 3 times the potassium of bananas, and 2 times the protein of yogurt. (And even more than that in their dried form, which is how many eat it here.)

Sorghum, almost ready for harvest.

Adam loved this farmer, Rassmane, and thus begins his photo session...


I mean, c'mon. That smile.

'Twas a good year for beans.

Tinga told us how he started off only being able to afford this sorry excuse for a bicycle to take his harvest to the market to sell.

The next year, his crops were a success and he bought a motorcycle to go back and forth.

Now he's upgraded to this moto-cart to help with farm production. He can afford to pay tuition for all of his - wait for it - 16 children to go to school.

That's a lot of hard work.

And lastly, when we start to grumble about the heat, the dust, the patisseries on every corner. Well, we remember we're here working for people like this guy who started a project to help boys sentenced to prison.

When boys are convicted of petty crimes (bicycle theft, purse snatching) and sentenced to prison with more serious adult offenders, Pegue (above right) convinces the judicial system to let the boys serve part of their time with him. He matches them up with apprenticeships so they can learn a trade and make a living.

Pascal and his carpentry apprenticeship. (Contrary to the photo, he's also learned safety skills.)

Shameless plug: Are you or someone you know between the ages of 18 and 20-something? Do you know anything about welding, carpentry, auto-repair, plumbing, masonry, or something else you could teach these boys? Come work with us and Pegue and these kids! 

(More info here: MCC/SALT position.)

There you have it. That's just a few of our partners who keep us busy. It's great work, but somebody's gotta do it.

16 October 2014

I'm Never Leaving Burkina Faso...and not because I like it.

This is the third international move for Adam and me, and let me tell you, that does not make it easier. (Remember last month's jubilous declaration that we'd returned to blogging...and then no more posts until now. Transition is a royal pain in the rear.)

I wish we could have stepped off the plane, unpacked the suitcases and called it a day. But here we are, two months later, still arguing over where to hang the pictures. This is not a joke, I had to give myself a timeout last weekend after Adam spaced pictures on the wall in a way I would have never, ever approved. 

"No, Adam, they're fine. I'm just always going to look at that awkward space between them and grit my teeth, but whatever. It's fine. I'm letting go. I need to leave the room now."  

This, of course, if after he's cursed up a blue streak hammering concrete nails into the wall, which crumble the wall away if you're not careful. He was careful, but he still took out a good chunk of wall. You can't see it, but I know it's there, hidden behind the pictures that are spaced all wrong. 

American drywall, I miss you. Always have.

Remember this photo from the time I gave sage advice for How to settle after your move abroad? "All you need are concrete nails and a good attitude!" Yeah, easy for me to say during my 6th year in Congo. In retrospect, transition is a bit like childbirth. The only reason you think you're ready to do it again, is because you've forgotten the pain.
Sidenote, check out those beautifully spaced photos from the wall of our home in Kinshasa. These are the very ones that caused marital dispute #2,648 during our current transition. 

So somewhere between hanging pictures on crumbling concrete walls, scrubbing previous renters' filth from my bathroom so I can replace it with my own filth, and rearranging our furniture over and over and still not getting the feng shui right, I declared, "Welp, that's it. We can never leave Burkina Faso, cause I ain't doing all this again." No siree, this is it. We're never leaving.

I want a real life and a routine again. I don't want to have to leave work to micromanage the plumber because I'm convinced I know more about hooking up a washing machine than he does. 

We have become obsessive and compulsive expats in transition.

But we've been here before. I know the obsession over the tedium and the trivia is an attempt to control our lives because there's so much going on out there that we can't control. And by "out there" that I mean the culture out there. 

We are still at the cultural transition stage where it drives me absolutely nuts that I am expected to return greetings to each and every single person I pass on my bike on the way to work. I'm on a bike, for Pete's sake. In the seconds that I whiz by, I can't possibly answer how I'm doing and then also ask you how you're doing. And repeat that exchange dozens more times all the way down the street. I am a grumpy American in transition, leave me alone friendly people. 

And so, what we cannot control on the street, we attempt to control at home.

Exhibit A: We have two very lovely people who work at our house everyday. Anastasie takes wonderful, loving care of our children and Mamadou, bless his soul, cooks and cleans for us. Let me preface by saying, we are more grateful to these two than anyone else in this entire country.

However. Each morning when they arrive we are culturally obligated to engage in pleasantries answering and asking1. How our evening/weekend/time since we last saw them has been. 2. How our morning thus far has transpired. 3. A report on the state of our family here and at home. And 4. An inquiry about our own health. All in French, mind you.

Because we are ugly Americans in transition, we merely endure the exchange. Adam put his finger on it during breakfast last week, "They show up right when we've reached peak momentum getting the kids ready with the tooth brushing, the hair brushing, the potty routines. Then I have to stop and deliver a report. In a second language. I can't do culture before I've had coffee."

There's also handshaking involved and I can't touch anyone that early.

We thought of asking them to come a bit later, after the morning routine, just so we could preserve the momentum and respect the exchange afterward. But then Adam wouldn't get his breakfast baguette on time from Mamadou (bless his soul) who picks it up fresh on his way to work.

These are the serious dilemmas one has to work through when adapting to a new culture.

The solution to this completely imagined quandary - which would not bother us if we weren't crazy people right now - is to exert control where we can, for example in our own home over those within our impatient reach.

So Adam worked out a plan for the night guard to go get the baguette from the bakery each morning. He leaves it on our porch without looking us in the eye. Then Mamadou passes by the bakery, a bit later, on his way to work and pays for it. Done. Adam gets baguette, we manipulate, postpone and control the morning greeting routine. I tie the girls' pigtails up in peace. We don't have to touch, talk or be grumpy with anyone until we have finished doing those things with each other.

I promise we love it here. The people are helpful and understanding, despite our angst. We're slowly crawling out of hole of transition. I've started waving and smiling more on my way to work. And it's only partially because I imagine getting hit by a car and everyone standing around saying, "Serves her right, she's the white lady who never responded to ça va." 

We will soon release control over the little things. We will trust the plumber and gladly shake all the hands. For now we fight about hanging pictures and trust that the day we take them down we'll forget who knocked the hole in the wall behind them. (Except, not really. It was Adam.)

23 September 2014

Back-to-School (Back to Blogging)

Hello Mama Congo readers. We know. It's been a while. Who knew switching careers and countries would take up so much of our time? Funny that.

Jill and I would like to mark our semi-settlement in our new lives with a comparative look at back-to-school in New York City and in the New York City of Africa - Ouagadougou. (Ha!)

Our back to school journey in Ouaga began by translating and deciphering the school supply list. (Not all that different from the girls' crazy supply list in Congo. Remember that?) Here in Ouaga we just handed it over to the neighborhood Papeterie guy and he picked everything out for us.

Feigning excitement over pink notebook protectors. 

Les listes.

No need to go behind the counter. Mr. Papeterie is full service. 

Each day before school Mamadou (our house-helper extraordinaire) delivers the fresh, morning baguette. I consider my greatest accomplishment in Burkina thus far to be never trying the morning baguette.  I once tried stale, evening baguette, which confirmed my suspicion that one bite of fresh baguette would be my gateway drug to a habit of 5 whole loaves a day.

Best torn. Not sliced. 

Some time during breakfast, Anastasie, our new nanny arrives.

A note about Anastasie: Although she is our new "Mama" so to speak, mentions and memories of Mamicho and Mama Youyou bubble up each day. More often than not, those are accompanied by sentimental tears - on my part, but I run away and hide before anyone notices. Because the key to successful transitioning is hiding emotion, right?

After breakfast, the girls travel just a few blocks on a mostly washed out dirt road to maternelle.

Charlotte's teacher, who speaks beautiful French and makes fun of Adam's. Love her already.

This is the look of discovering we have bought the wrong-sized notebook. 1/2 inch too narrow.
Back to the Papeterie we go. 

After sorting the rejected school supplies from the approved ones, Adam and I waited around until the girls felt comfortable. They never got comfortable, so we left and they wailed. Charlotte tried to hold back her tears, but then made a last minute decision to run screaming for the door. Luckily her teacher clotheslined her and snatched her up. Good work teacher. It'll be a great year.

Per Loulou's request, a close-up of Char. (Taken before her tragic abandonment at school.) 

Stay tuned for a look at Jill's back-to-school routine in NYC. Which is sure to include better roads, but the jury's still out on their baguette.

13 July 2014

We'll be back.

Hello Dear Readers - 

We're taking a short hiatus. A break. A breather, if you will. Did you notice?

Once we're settled in our new lives -in New York and Ouagadougou- you'll be the first to know.

For now, it's play time in Virginia.

Hidden Meadow Farm. Photo credit: Jill Humphrey.

1 June 2014

Weekend List!

Sarah's List:

Guess what! Good news! Reproducing might not destroy the planet. (As long as you raise your kids right.)

And let your kids play. They probably won't kill nature either.

Photo credit: Jill Humphrey

This. This is exactly what I needed to read at this precise moment in my life. This is the last week of the only life we've known for quite some time.  And it's the pits. Can it just be the future already? Or I'll settle for a week from now when I twist off the cap on a mini bottle of Air France wine.

Speaking of airplane perks, The Ultimate List of Airlines That Serve Free Alcohol.

Ever been on the beach and wondered what's across the way?

Adam and I were Stayers (expats left behind) for a long time. I agree with this article, that sometimes it's harder than leaving. Take away: It hurts because it is good.

We're doing lots of packing, ditching and giving away. The only consolation is it feels so, so good to fit our lives in 8 suitcases. But check out these minimalists.

Using Parentology to raise your kids. This guy's got all the answers.

And the strangest thing happened this week. Mama Youyou came to work wearing this shirt, which I swear is an old shirt of mine from high school. I remember buying it because I thought it looked so cool and "African." I guess Mama Youyou thought the same when she found it at the marche. It's completely possible this is my actual shirt.

P.S. These dogs after a bath.

Jill's List:

Always researching ways to feel beautiful on an airplane. (Insert laughter.)

Sapeurs.  The endlessly fascinating dandies of Central Africa. Thanks, Alice!

These people will put together your Ikea furniture for you.  Interesting.

I've been attempting a hipster top knot again recently and it freaking hurts my hair.  Sarah and Johan are really sick of my detailed descriptions of scalp pain.  This is an interesting explanation, but really, I do wash my hair!

Wish I had her hair.  Like everyone else.  At least we can now copy her beauty routine.

Speaking of hipsters.  This article is blistering:
Gentrifiers focus on aesthetics, not people. Because people, to them, are aesthetics
For all of you expats who aren't packing up.  Moving's hard, but so is staying behind.

Once again, the Onion cuts to the chase.
At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past five years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”
When Sandy Hook happened, Elias was also in 1st grade, the same age as the children who were shot and killed. I was so thankful my family was "safe in Africa".  I am actually more anxious thinking about my kids' safety in the U.S. than in the Congo.  My fear is insane, yet legitimate, thanks to this idea that unless everyone has a right to an automatic weapon, our freedom is threatened.  Like the father of Christopher Michael Martinez said, "What about [my kid's] right to live?"  Not one more. 

Image from Moms Demand Action.  Let's get to work.

And.  Kids and their guns.
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