28 September 2013

Weekend List!

Sarah's List:

Though it may seem like a good idea, here's a piece on the Inadequacy of Donating Medical Devices to Africa. Otherwise known as, "Junk for Jesus." Ha. Did you know most of that stuff breaks down almost immediately? Or no one really knows how to use it. There's gotta be a better way.

Fetus Charlotte makes her grainy debut on Soviet Era ultrasound machine (Zambia, 2009.)

Are free yoga classes the answer? The Africa Yoga Project thinks so. Empowering communities through physical, emotional and mental wellness. Sounds just like what Kenya needs right now.

Practice Yoga, Be Healthy! {EXPLORED} by VinothChandar, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  VinothChandar 

Did you know two-thirds of Americans flush public toilets with their feet? (But more importantly, one-third uses their hands?!) Just another extremely important study.

Be sure you check out the link in the article for the quiz where you get to guess the location of each international toilet. Turns out, I'm really good at this. 10/10. No big deal. 

toilet by -{ thus }-, on Flickr
Hint: Look for the cultural clues...
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  -{ thus }- 

A wise person once told me that if I was going to die in Africa it wouldn't be from malaria or typhoid or fighting for your place in line (but sometimes I think that's a good possibly), but rather from a car accident. Here's a map to prove that's true.

I loved reading about this seasoned doctor's surprising fear when her son had minor surgery for ear tubes. (And it's good to know that even medical professional moms freak out a little.)

On the other side of a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy.

Did you catch this article this week? How to get flat abs, have amazing sex, and rule the world in 8 easy steps. My favorite message of the piece: "If you can read this, your life is pretty awesome."

Adam and I celebrated our anniversary this week. And I was reminded of my favorite quotes on marriage. One by Ben Affleck (yes, really) and the other from Nora Ephron: "Never marry a man you wouldn't want to be divorced from."

I've always thought you would be a really nice person to be divorced from, but way more awesome being married to. 
(Egyptian man on left is skeptical.)

(More great Nora Ephron marriage quotes. Including a genius one about what a baby does to marriage.)

Jill's List:

I just had a "crazy-busy" week.  Should I read this article for perspective?  Or am I young enough that it doesn't apply to me?

Muwah models what I feel like after this week.

When Elias was several days old, I proudly put him in my brand-new baby sling, put on his black, bad-ass baby hipster hat from Bootyland and went for a walk to Crave on Seattle's Capitol Hill.  After a block or so, a stranger stopped me and asked me if she could smell my baby's head.  I didn't really know what to say and so she took my silence as consent, yanked off his cap, and took a deep whiff.  Two babies later, I fully appreciate the deeply addictive quality of new baby smell.

Baby Eli around time of above story.  This was at a Pearl Jam concert.  He was three weeks old.  Wow.

Which is a nice segue into my next link, a Rolling Stone article about the new Pearl Jam album, due on October 15th.  Say what?  (Nice Every Mother Counts shirt, Eddie! Thanks for the sharp eye, Mary Hope.)

We fully appreciate the power of the vaccine, living in a country where death-by-preventable-disease is rampant.  And, before we moved to Congo, we were grateful for flexibility when we asked to space out the jabs.  Interesting perspective.

Loulou posing as if she had just had a shot so I would have a pic for this link.
Gratuitous Spiderman Band-Aids are never a bad thing.

Speaking of the friendly family doctor...  We love our doc.  He is a frequent traveler to resource-poor countries and issued only excitement and sound advice - no warnings of doom and danger -when we told him we were moving to Africa with our two young children.  We also think our Kinshasa family doctor is swell.  (Even though the first chapter of the newest David Sedaris reminded me exactly of this old-school Belgian MD.)  The experience of having a provider who understands the whole family is priceless.  Too bad family medicine is a "dying speciality."  Maybe we need to ease their burnout with mindfulness?

Mindfulness.  South Africa-style.

A difficult job, but one that is so important to families who experience infant loss.  I feel so privileged to have photographed some of these brief lives.  (Thanks, Leitzle.)

Big surprise: being poor makes your brain work poorly.  Oh! So, it isn't just a bootstraps problem after all...

Selling cassava.  Kinshasa.  

I really did just yell at my child, "Loulou!  Put your shoes on!  The creeping eruption is going to get you!"  It's a real thing.  Ick.

And.  This.  Just this. (Thanks, Matt.)

25 September 2013

Alternate Nostril Breathing...

...and other activities you should definitely do with 4th graders.

Along with the usual school nurse duties (band-aids, eye screenings, maintaining that cot for the sick kids), I also get to teach.  Like really teach.  The kind that includes many hours a week in a room with multiple 11-14 year olds.  Prior to Kinshasa, I always saw myself as strictly a childbirth educator.  Certainly never a Middle School classroom teacher.  I had one unfortunate college experience with an education course called "Rhythmic Activities" I took in order to get an easy P.E. credit and swore off any sort of teacher-ly activities from there on out.

 But now I find myself writing lesson plans, getting all angsty about Bloom's Taxonomy, and preaching the good word of rubric-based assessments.  After two years of cold sweats before every lesson, I even kind of like it.

A scene from my classroom.  I swear this kid is doing research.  Really!

In addition to my regular gig in the middle school, I often get to pop into other classrooms for a little health lesson here and there.  For example, a couple of weeks ago, the 4th Grade teacher asked me to come do a guest spot on stress.  So, naturally, I got all stressed out trying to figure out how to talk about stress to nine and ten year olds.  I am at ease with my middle schoolers, but elementary students...they intimidate me.

After much deliberation on what to do, I began the lesson by turning out all the lights, putting on some Sigur Ros, and helping everyone take a 'mental vacation.'  While I think they enjoyed the old-school guided imagery, it was really an exercise for me.  I needed a moment.

Then we got down to business with a stick figure.

(I am not as talented as my dear spouse, who I frequently bribe to draw for me. Like this rendition of "Carrot Stick Man" I made him sketch for a poster I was modeling for a 'Create Your Own Superhero' project:)

We did debate the appropriateness of the carrot emblem on the t-shirt.
He said, "You're the one who made a fake superhero called 'Carrot Stick Man! Who does that?"

We talked about what stress looks like.  Students described stress and I drew accordingly. Our poor stick man quickly had sweat dripping from his hands, messed up hair, angry eyebrows, a racing heart, clumsy feet, and a "tickling" stomach.  He was a mess.  I could relate.

Then, we tried to fix his desperate, stressed-out state.  Kids suggested a warm bath for his tight neck muscles, yoga for his pounding heart, a nap for his headache, and - appropriately - a day on the Miami beach for, well, everything.

Soon thereafter, we started alternate nostril breathing.  

Backstory:  I found a really great instruction sheet on some basic stress relief techniques. (You rock, North Dakota State University.)  After reading it over, the kids split up into groups to teach each other the four techniques listed here:

The rest of this super resource can be found here.

After learning all of these techniques, we did a survey.  Shockingly, the most popular stress reducer demonstrated in class, by show of hands, was alternate nostril breathing.  I was sure this exercise would be the hardest sell: ridiculous to look at, confusing to learn, and difficult with the constantly dripping noses elementary students always seem to display.  Not only did they like it (with a straight face), many of them already knew all about it.

I asked them - trying not to appear incredulous - who they had seen doing alternate nostril breathing.  Apart from one kid who said that he once saw someone shooting snot rockets out of their nose using this technique on the playground, all of the other examples were legit: adults using alternate nostril breathing during times of stress.  I was speechless.  I mean, I like to think that I'm kind of an expert in breathing techniques after years of working with women in labor.  But, never, ever have I tried alternate nostril breathing.  It's too weird, too deliberate, too time-consuming, too...something.  But these kids have parents who are going around doing this on a regular basis?

"Breath-control" or Prânayâma.

One girl raised her hand and said, "I saw my dad doing that last weekend.  I asked him why he was doing that and he said that he was stressed because some really bad things had happened at a mall in Kenya.  He said he was really sad and breathing like that made him feel better."  The other kids nodded solemnly. 

Bravo, dad.  

Bravo for sharing your feelings and explaining them to your daughter.  Bravo for being willing to show her the bizarre - but pretty excellent - ways you deal with stress.  Now, she - and an entire class of 4th graders - know what to try when life feels overwhelming.  They don't just think deep breathing is some weird public service announcement brought to them by their friendly school nurse, they believe it is a normal thing to do when the going gets tough.  Thanks for unknowingly teaching my lesson better than I ever could.

On Monday, Sarah summarized the tangle of thoughts and feelings that emerge in the midst of tragedy.  Just like that dad, many have been struggling with the list of horrendous events that seemed to define this week.  

Life is shit sometimes.  Sometimes the only way to respond is as simply as possible.  I often tell people who are very scared, very painful, or very sick that "all you have to do right now is breathe."  Reducing everything to a single breath slows the world down enough to be manageable for at least a moment.  It's at that moment where we all need a ridiculous, but effective, technique like alternate nostril breathing.  Go ahead.  Try it.  

23 September 2013

Normal People Doing Normal Things: Processing Westgate

Shootings and horrible violence happen every day. All over the world. Ordinarily those places only exist within the context of the news report you’re reading. And that’s how we cope with what’s happening around us. Oh, I’ve never been there before. Or, I would never go to that country so that couldn’t happen to me. 

I tend to forget that normal people were just doing normal things before it gets very, very bad. Like Iraqis going to a funeral on Saturday and then 60 of them are killed. Or on Sunday how people were just sitting in church in Pakistan when 80 were killed. Because it’s all so foreign and far away. And don’t they know their lives were at risk anyway? Living in those crazy countries and doing things like going to church and funerals when there are terrorists around?!

And then on Saturday these guys took over Westgate Mall in Nairobi. If you read the news articles, Westgate is described as this elite mall rising above the slums of Nairobi with a giant bull’s eye on it. There had been threats from terrorists before. And it’s owned by Israelis after all, so didn’t those upscale Kenyans and expats know what kind of risk they were taking by shopping there? That’s how I would read the news. Mostly so I can process the violence and convince myself it would never happen to me. And continue my normal day. 

But I’ve been to Westgate many, many times. There are other similar malls in Nairobi with movie theaters and food courts. You do not feel as though Westgate is special and you have achieved some elite status once you walk inside. You can see each floor and size-up all the stores from the underwhelming main entrance. You aren't made aware that it's owned by Israelis or there have been terror threats in the past. I certainly never knew it was anyone’s bull’s eye.  

I’ve shopped there on many occasions. Mostly when I’ve chaperoned groups of high schoolers from here in Kinshasa when we go to a conference in Nairobi. The mall is close to our hotel, so they beg to spend their evenings there cruising around and feeling like normal teenagers. I go to supervise so they don’t get in trouble, and I stay far away from them so they don’t get embarrassed. 

Basically I sit in a café near the main entrance and people-watch. Now that spot is famous for being littered with dead bodies. But before that, I know there were people hanging out doing very normal things. 

Once I watched a little Indian boy have his first encounter with an escalator. He was petrified to put his foot onto the moving steps. His mom yelled at him as she glided up and up further away, “Just get on! Just step on!” He was so scared and then finally made the jump. They both doubled over laughing in relief.

Normal people doing normal things.

Another time I saw a woman who I assumed was American and about my age. She looked like she was getting in her R&R after spending who-knows-how-long out in the bush working for some organization. She came over to me, probably because I looked just like her, and sheepishly whispered, “Do you know where I can find some medicine for a yeast infection?”  
Normal people doing normal things. 

I sympathetically pointed her in the direction of one of my favorite pharmacies. Remember when I wrote about watching the Kenyan presidential debate at a mall pharmacy with a kind security guard who pitied me for living in DRC? That was at Westgate. 

Normal people doing normal things. 

On another night as it reached curfew time, I met up with my high school group at our designated spot in front of the supermarket. A few of them smirked. Then giggled uncontrollably. When they could no longer contain themselves, they came clean. The girls had pierced their noses and some of the boys pierced their ears. A chaperone’s worst fear. My eyes doubled in size as I imagined their parent’s reactions. (I hope none of them read Mama Congo.)

Normal people doing normal things.  

Yesterday when speaking at the memorial for the Washington Navy Yard shooting, Obama said, "I fear there's a creeping resignation that this is somehow the new normal. It ought to obsess us, it ought to lead to some sort of transformation."   

So for now I find myself obsessing about all those people doing normal things before something very bad happened. Yes, it's politics and terrorism and other complicated issues that scholars are already analyzing. But mostly it's someone's mother or father or child going about their normal day. Violence is not normal. For anyone. Anywhere.

*We know that many of you have also been to Westgate or know someone who was there. Or maybe you're amid violence in another place. Please share your thoughts.

21 September 2013

Weekend List!

Sarah's List:

When a Congolese woman is at a loss about how to describe another they just say, "Elle est compliquée!" Or "she's complicated." I love this. It's not a bad thing and it's not a good thing. But you get the point that there's a lot to her story.

Apparently writers are making this great character less complicated and "more likeable." How is that even possible? So I totally agree that we're... 

"...missing out on an opportunity to usher in 
a new era of sitcoms: 
the era of the complicated woman."

I've never had a baby in the NICU, but the sentiment here in Dear NICU Nurse hit home. There's nothing like the gratitude you feel towards someone who cares for your baby and knows them sometimes better than you do. 

Are you a double-is-er? The thing is is I didn't even know this was a thing. (See how that works?)

Okay. If you're in the slight margin of people who missed this this week (Ah! I'm a double-this-er), check out Dear Parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents. And holy comments section!

Ce(un)real by pawpaw67, on Flickr
C'mon, this cereal is just asking for a meltdown.
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  pawpaw67 

The option of universal pre-school!? Slow clap D.C., slow clap.

Unless this is how you feel about pre-school... Find the story here.

We made this ice cream this week. It's 1-Minute Ice Cream. Seriously, ice cream in one minute. Life changed.

1 minute later.

Jill's List:

How one person in Congo is changing the world.

Image from UNHCR, by B. Sokol 

One of our many book stacks.

Have a layover in Paris?  Brush up on which iconic, reasonably-priced, fabulous French pharmacy products to buy...  (Or you can order a bunch of them from here.)

Some of my favorites...

Trader Joe's gets smart with expired food.  Novel.  People have been smartly ignoring expiration dates in Kinshasa for ages.

Some amazing work in Haiti.  Long live the midwife!  Thanks to Jessica at EMC.

Note:  The following three links were all gifts from Alice Proujansky, who always, always finds the best reads. I couldn't resist stealing sharing these gems this week, but must give credit where credit is due. If you like photography, birth, and world issues, please check out Alice on Twitter and her blog where she draws attention to the most deserved projects and writing out there.

Doulas doing what (I personally feel) they should be doing: providing support to the mothers that need it most (and can't afford to pay for it).

Check out this Brooklyn program here.

Although a very different scenario, this piece by a war correspondent mom reminded me of my own worries and questions as we choose to live in a "questionable" location with small children.
Talking to Anna Blundy (author, journalist and daughter of foreign correspondant, David Blundy) was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. There I was, about to go to Syria on a clandestine mission, and I decided to interview the adult version of my own child, who basically told me I had no business being a conflict journalist.

I love the title of this article:  Everyday Nigeria - Not Idealized, Not Debased.  (I feel like that's what Sarah and I aim for with Mama Congo.)  The photos are out of this world.

This is my own photo of Kinshasa transport and is not a part of the series.
Go here to see iPhone photos in Africa at their very best.

18 September 2013

Guest Post: Afro au Congo

When our friend and colleague, Channing, arrived to teach in the Congo, her hair was the last reason she expected to feel like an outsider. 

Before I arrived in Kinshasa, I was warned that African Americans in Congo can experience difficult transitions for two main reasons:  #1: They are often the only, or one of a very few, African American staff members where they work and #2: They arrive expecting to be automatically accepted by the Congolese people. 

I wasn’t too worried about being the only African-American around for various reasons, including: 
  • I attended a small private school in South Georgia for 5th - 12th grades. I was the only African American student in my classes for the majority of my experience there.
  • Upon graduation, I matriculated at Duke University. Though it likes to boast a 20% minority population, it is still a very white school.
  • At the time of my interview for Congo, I was the only African-American working at my school, though there had been three of us my first year there.

Additionally, I never expected the Congolese to welcome me without question for two simple but very important reasons:   I don’t speak the language and I am not Congolese.

Thus, when I boarded the plane from Valdosta, GA to the DRC in August of 2011, I had no presumptions or expectations of what I was getting myself into. I was just thankful to be an independent twenty-something adult with a job and health insurance.

What I truly was not expecting was that my main difference from the Congolese was not my American accent, or even my Westernized clothing.
It was, and still is, my hair.

Walking the streets of Kinshasa, I would find people staring at me, hard.  They sometimes even gave me a double-take.  I thought, “What is going on?”  “Do I have food on my shirt? Is something on my face? I haven’t even spoken a word yet, but you are staring me down like I just walked out of my house naked." What was happening?

After a few months of these stare downs, I finally asked a Congolese colleague of mine what the deal was.  I mean, I don’t look that much different from everyone else around me.  So, what was up?

“It’s your hair,” she told me. “You wear it natural.”
“So?” I replied defensively.  “Is that a bad thing here or what?”
“No. It’s just different.”

(Record scratch)

Different? My hair is different?  From African women?
Mind officially blown.

How is it possible that my hair…which is natural and free from any harsh chemicals, weaves, etc., could be so different from women in DR Congo? I mean we are in AFRICA for crying out loud! Didn’t the whole black power movement that spurred on the iconic afro have a slogan of “Back to Africa”? Didn’t the majority of natural styles originate in Africa? Bantu Knots, Twists, Braids, you name it…didn’t it all come from this “Motherland”?

I began to pay attention to the women around me… nobody… absolutely NOBODY wore their hair out natural. I have seen a plethora of bad weaves, beautiful sew-ins, braids and twist extensions. Only twice in three years have I seen a Congolese woman in Kinshasa sporting her natural, un-relaxed hair, and I found myself staring at her just as many others had stared at me when I first arrived.

So I was curious. Why is it that we in America have this notion that on some level, going natural is a way of “getting back to our roots” both literally and figuratively, when women in DR Congo seem to be running away from their natural beauty?

Thus I asked a few of my colleagues and friends more questions. Their responses included:
  •  “Natural hair is considered to look poor, or like you are from the village. They are probably staring at you because no one would necessarily be proud to wear their hair like that.”
  •  “Men, including my colleagues, made fun of me when I wore my hair natural very briefly.”
  •  “How many Afros have you seen walking down the street? It’s just not the style here.”
  • “It’s just too much work.”

These comments were so interesting to me because:  1.) The same people who were giving me this information are among the many who tell me how beautiful my hair is, and how “brave” I am to wear it out.  2.)  I didn’t realize until that moment that I maintained a stereotype of Congolese and all other women from African countries as persons who would, naturally, be proud of their roots. The last thing I ever expected anyone to notice was my hair because all in all, I expected these women to be proud of showing off their beautiful hair follicles, with the variety of shapes, sizes, textures and even colors.

But here, in Kinshasa, that is just not the case. People rock their various weaves, wigs, and extensions, and get them rotated with record timing! Everyone has to keep up with the new trends and styles, and women would not be caught dead without a fresh hairdo at least once a month, but usually once every two weeks.

So here I am, in all of my natural glory, in an African country where the people have little to no appreciation for natural hair. And while that baffles me to some extent, it has never discouraged me or made me feel like I needed to change my own style. As I mentioned before, a lot of women, upon getting to know me, compliment me on my style choices; many admit that they would try the same thing if they felt that they would be accepted or encouraged throughout the process of becoming and/or being natural.  And while I always want to stand on my soapbox and give all of the reasons of why they should feel beautiful in their most natural state, I feel that the best I can give them is just being comfortable with my own style and demonstrating how proud I am to be a natural beauty.

I think my expressions and mannerisms have had some positive impact. Several of my Congolese students have come to me and asked me questions about my hair: how it feels, how I take care of it, why I don’t regularly use weaves, extensions or relaxers.  One even went so far as to cut her hair into a short Afro, but weaved in braids as soon as her hair was long enough. 

The best example I experienced of my impact was when I took a trip out to the Kimbondo orphanage. With over 300 orphaned children and teenagers, it can be quite an overwhelming place to visit, especially if you don’t speak the language. When I arrived, several teenage girls grabbed my hands and took me over to their rooms. They looked and pointed at my hair excitedly, and one pulled out a comb, motioning for permission to play in my hair.

As I sat to let the girls go wild with my curly locks, one young girl who spoke a little bit of broken English said to me:

“You American?” she asked pointedly.
“Yes, I am American,” I responded in my broken French.
“But your hair, it’s like mine.”
“Yes. It’s just like yours.”
(Gingerly touching my hair) “It’s beautiful.”
“No. You are beautiful. And thank you so much for braiding my hair.”

She smiled, touched her own hair, and continued her furious braiding of my natural locs.

Such a brief conversation, but I will never forget the bright smile of that young girl who never imagined that someone from a world away, would ever think that she (and her hair) was absolutely beautiful. 

Text by Channing Mathews.  Photos by Jill Humphrey.

17 September 2013

Cooking with the Mamas: Congo Cakes

Before we returned to Congo this year, I did some deep thinking. We're entering our 8th year abroad. What have I learned? What's the one rule that applies to every place we've lived and every place we've visited? All I came up with was one profound truth: Don't eat the cake.

I get tripped up by this every. single. time. I've had most of my international cake experiences in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They look nice, but really they're always dense, dry and covered in shortening pretending to be icing. Once in Thailand, we tucked into the most delicious looking cake and soon realized the icing was just butter with a hint of food coloring. This is a typical cake experience abroad.

So my resolution for Year 8 was don't get fooled by the foreign cakes. Unless the cake is served at an American embassy function and the baker can confirm that a.) it was his/her grandmother's recipe or b.) it came from a box, I'm out.

And then Mama Youyou started a cake-baking business from our house. Remember Mama Youyou's surgery? It cost about 1/3 of her yearly salary. All out of pocket because obviously there's no such thing as health insurance. So she asked us if she could use our oven to bake cakes. Correction: She asked Adam if she could use his oven. (This is a true statement in our house because as our 3-year-old said this morning, "Boys cook. Womens do not cook." My job is done.)

Several times a week Mama Youyou makes a ton of cakes and gives them to a woman in her neighborhood to sell to school children during their recess. Each cake costs 200 francs, or about 20 cents USD. They share the profits. Here is her recipe:

Mama Youyou's Cakes 

3 kilos flour
1 cup powdered milk
5 eggs
4 cups sugar
75 cl. oil
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix together. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Makes one giant, plastic tub's worth.

Unless you too want to feed an entire school of hungry children, I've scaled-down the recipe:

5 cups of flour
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 large egg
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup oil
pinch of salt

Honestly, they're not bad. I quite like them. I've broken my Year 8 resolution more than once for these cakes. I asked her why she calls them "cakes" (which she pronounces "kek") and not the French word for cake, gâteau. She said she thinks it's because they're more like American cakes than French gâteaux. Well, that's not true. They're nothing like American cakes nor French gâteaux. They taste like Congolese cakes for school children. And I love that. 

I asked Mama Youyou how much she profits off each giant batch and she says she hasn't done the math, but guesses around $10. I did the math, it's less than that.

Sometimes friends will pass by our house and smell a batch of cakes fresh from the oven. I charge them at least double the going rate for local school children. Mama Youyou thinks that's unethical. I explained sliding scales. Or really, the value in ripping off your rich, white friends.

P.S. Rich friends: Please stop by our place for a good old-fashioned ripping off. Well worth the warm cake and the closest feeling you'll get to being a Congolese school kid.

Other recipes in the Cooking With the Mamas series:

Pili-Pili Sauce

14 September 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

A few Congo friends tipped me off this week to this blog post: When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called Hitler. Yeah. Just let that sit with you for a little while.

Part of the problem is that the situation in Congo is so confusing and too overwhelming to even begin to understand. One suggestion. Start with this excellent kids book:

Buy it here.

And work your way up to this one:

Buy it here.

Or have you heard of the eBook website BookBub? Tell them what kinds of books you like and they'll let you know when they're on sale or even free!

A savvy reader tipped me off to egyptianstreets.com. Find everything you want to know about what's happening in Egypt and Syria and everywhere in between.

Two guys sleeping in a mosque. Photo Credit: me.

Thanks so much for the great responses this week to The Picture That Did Me In. Especially to Elizabeth over at Something Slightly Resembling Gumption.

Relatedly, the thing I've been thinking about most is that Congolese life expectancy rate: 48 years. But think about it within the context of all the life saving interventions one has over a lifetime made possible by access. Here's a great series of reader responses to why they're still alive.

Landing in DRC. One of the many, many times.

Finally, need a laugh? Just click. Seriously.

Jill's List:

All about Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies.  (I'm not admitting to how much of this applies to me.) Thanks, Anna!

The cake I made Sarah when we all celebrated her "unusual wonderfulness". 

Mothers and grad school.  There's a baby penalty?!  And, there's this, of course.

Just an unfair blur?

Word on the Kinshasa streets is that some folks in the local government had the chance to meet the Pope recently.  He's been all sorts of busy: cold-calling regular people, banishing limousines, and driving himself around in a 1984 Renault Economy.  I'm so curious to know what they talked about...

Image from Wikipedia.

Movember is coming soon-ish.  For some reason, it's historically been a popular pastime here at The American School of Kinshasa. Thanks for the memories, Ellie!  Exhibit A:

Made this apple crisp last night with some of the precious rolled oats we painstakingly packed and brought 7,000 miles with us this year.  Totally worth it.

And.  Holy Kinshasa artists!  National Geographic ran an amazing piece that was extremely reminiscent of our visit to Aicha's studio a few months ago.

That painting?  Hanging in our hallway.

12 September 2013


The other day, we were bribing treating our children to some ice cream during a particularly long Saturday of grocery shopping.

Food selection is really not bad at all here.  I eat higher quality cheese and charcuterie in Kinshasa than I ever did in the U.S.  There are the exotic fruits which I buy in bulk and at prices Brooklyners only can dream of paying.  And, there is ice cream.  If you want Ben & Jerry's, you'll have to fork over $30 for a pint and settle for frostbitten cookie dough.  If you can stand to forgo the refrozen taste of America, there is N'ice Cream. (Please don't forget the apostrophe.)

Image from here.

N'ice Cream ice cream is really, truly great.  And not in a "great...for Kinshasa" sort of way.  The two locations in town are modeled after the quintessential European gelato bar, complete with man-sized plaster cone out front. Droves of teens who can afford the luxury, sit at tall tables, licking away.

Back to our family outing.

After surveying the glass case, Elias exclaimed loudly that today, he wanted "Obama" instead of his regular vanilla.  I laughed nervously.  But, there it was:  Obama.

The Obama flavor turned out to be chocolate chocolate chunk or some variation on that theme. We asked for it to be added to the styrofoam take-home box next to the vanilla and strawberry already selected, making a sort of Obamapolitan blend.  I tried asking "Why 'Obama'?", in an I'm-friendly-and-curious sort of way.  The woman shrugged and said, "It's just a flavor."


Sarah later (gently) informed me that I'm an idiot.  The Obama flavor been there every time I have gone to N'ice Cream for the last two years.  According to Sensamaust lore, N'ice Cream opened during the 2008 election and the Obama flavor arrived soon thereafter.  Sarah remembers wondering what they were going to do if he lost.

Six years on, Obama's presence floats around this city, popping up here and there: his face printed on grocery store plastic sacks, a random image peaking out from a pagne skirt, an ice cream flavor.  For our kids, it's really the only way they have experienced the American president.

One of Elias' favorite stories is about when he once made the paper for attending an Obama rally in Virginia as a two year old, high up on Johan's shoulders.

Little Eli at the Obama Rally.  2008.

It's a terribly exotic and unbelievable story for him.  Much more normal is his current reality, which involves sitting caked in the dry season dust of a Kinshasa evening, licking Obama flavored ice cream drops from a N'ice Cream treat.

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