30 March 2012

Friday List.


  • First braids! 

  • The perfect shoes for a Kinshasa life.  I have worn these most every day I've been here and I still love them and will buy more for next year.  This is not true of the rest of my wardrobe. 

New shoes by HeatherMG, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  HeatherMG 

  • I'm a little behind in posting this (it was so 2 weeks ago), but it made me feel good to read it.  Like I'm not screwing up my kids too badly.

  • Starting a list of things to eat during Stateside summer vacation (my mom was asking...).  First? These.  Rolled oats, maple syrup, and weird, healthy flours are unknown in these parts.  Plus, I don't have a waffle maker.  One of those is totally coming back with us next year. There are plenty of Belgian waffle makers here, but they, like all electronics here, cost no less than $399.  Even the crappy unknown brands. 

 This food list might have to be an entire future post, come to think about it.  It's that exciting.
  • Amazing art by my daughter's namesake.  Do a search for "Congo."
Permission to post given by the artist, Mary Temple.

  • Attempting a side career in graphic design .  This, naturally, involves hassling Johan for "original art" + lots of Googling things like "how to make Photoshop do what I want it to do."


Whenever I have a pregnancy/baby/breastfeeding question, I ask Jill. Who usually directs me to KellyMom. Now I do Jill a favor and go straight there. I noticed this morning "Kelly" has a new redesign. It looks great and is more user friendly. This is bar none the BEST, most realistic information on all things baby.

This article reminds me of a legend that's been passed down to current Congo Moms. Apparently a little boy grew up in Congo, later went to medical school and one of his lab projects required him to test his own "immunities." This guy tested off the charts thanks to his extreme exposure to Congo germs. I think I believe it. My kids have each been to the doctor once due to illness.

Alternatively, this study on Aflatoxins makes us really think about what we ingest here. Stay tuned as Jill will be providing full coverage on the Aflatoxin scare.

Was just discussing Luanda this week. Turns out it's the most expensive city in the world. I'm glad to finally see consideration given to non-traditional capitals. Seems like most lists forget about us and rank cities like Oslo, Tokyo and NYC. You could easily substitute "Kinshasa" for "Luanda" in most details in this article. Except sounds like they have good public transportation. So basically it's Kinshasa with better transportation...so quit your complainin' Luanda expats.

What If? by pantranco_bus, on Flickr
Is it this good, Luanda?
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  pantranco_bus 

29 March 2012

Congolese Kid's TV

Sarah and I share this pretty fabulous French tutor.  We've mentioned him before.  He's the kind of French tutor who makes you feel like you speak French really well and only ever need the slightest adjustment to your already near-perfect grammar.

Which, randomly, makes me think of this clip (which I can't watch on our awesome internet connection but maybe you can):

Tchic is unique in that each French lesson is also a counseling, cultural, news, and gossip session.  This guy is amazing.  He is liberal in his views ("Women need autonomy and independence in Congo.  This is the only way to a secure future."), cultured (his French degree is from Paris), incredibly connected (he's a think tank extraordinaire), and super funny (just imagine our jovial conversation about the differences between sorcery and voodoo last week).
When Tchic heard about Mama Congo - he was all over it.  He immediately wanted in. "What do you want to talk about?" I asked (in flawless French, of course). "About my idea for a children's television program about the environment." he responded, matter-of-factly. Of course. We turned his request into a lesson.  I was to conduct an interview in the formal vous, take notes in French, and finally, turn out a product that would launch Tchic and his ideas all over the Internet.  As it turns out, Tchic and a small group of like-minded folks have a small NGO called Espace Vert Congolais or EVC.  Tchic rattled off the mission as this:
The protection and conservation of the general environment and the different ecosystems that exist in Congo.
As you can see, Tchic isn't easily intimidated.  He's hardly "beat down" by a lifetime (Tchic's no spring chicken) of "being Congolese."  He goes big or goes home. EVC stemmed off of a local think tank in which Tchic is also involved, called CREC (looking at my notes, I apparently forgot to ask what this stands for...).  The goal of this organization is "to develop Congo." Wowzers. Okay - back to the kids' television show.  The EVC decided that the best place to start with their mission was with children - commencement avec les enfants.  Tchic said that most of the major environmental issues and illnesses (typhoid, tuberculosis, asthma, and something awful and rashy-sounding, but unidentifiable to me, called mucose) mostly affect children's health.  It seemed logical to him that the ones most affected could also be the ones most effective.  Ils vont practique le protection de l'environment. In order to teach these kids how to protect the environment and therefore, their health, Tchic wants a television show (well - he admitted that he really wants an whole station dedicated to the environment, beamed into Congolese homes 24/7).  He estimates (based on what, I'm not sure...) that despite widespread. crushing poverty 2/3 of Kinshasa homes have a television. I'd believe it.  I've seen one-room, crumbling shacks that still proudly displayed a fine set.

History today by FredR, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  FredR 

He wants research-based (the others on the EVC board are university professors and doctors) programming made accessible to children.   He wants to use technology to benefit public health.  He wants to wrangle media, globalization, and pop culture for the benefit of his country. Basically, Tchic wants Sesame Street for Congo.   Sesame Street was created as a TV "Head Start," revolving around the simple idea that "if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them." The origin, process, and evolution of Sesame Street is fascinating and utterly impressive.  Even to me, who can barely tolerate children's programming.  The newest character on the show?  Lily, a Muppet "7-year-old girl representing one of the 17 million American children that the Department of Agriculture estimates are 'food insecure,' meaning their access to food is limited or uncertain."    A good chunk of the current budget goes towards measuring the success of  literacy, health, and social education provided by Sesame Street to children in developing countries.

This is what Tchic is going for. Although, when I asked him if he wanted a "Congolese Rue Sesame" he scoffed at my ignorance.  His programming would be far more enlightened.

I pushed him for details.  Was he going for puppets?  Cartoons?  Zany real-life people who sang and danced?  He looked at me like I was mad. And then said, "I don't know.  I'm the ideas man. Other people can be creative.  Hey - aren't you creative, Jill?  Can you make a cartoon for me?" This was my turn to call him out for being ridiculous. It seems like such a funny idea.  But, then again, can you imagine the board room pitch for Yo Gabba Gabba, Dora the Explorer, or even Sesame Street itself?  "So, we're thinking that we'll dress this hyperactive grownup man  in a skin-tight orange jumpsuit and surround him with silly life-sized puppet and maybe throw Anthony Bordain into the mix as a doctor character.

That's absurd.  But, highly successful. And Sesame Street? "There will be this giant bird who's best friend is a kind of wooly mammoth and they live on a street in Brooklyn and teach kids how to READ!"
Pure insanity.  But super successful and beautiful and effective. So - I'm totally on board with Tchic.  This program is going to be amazing.  And ridiculous.  And fantastic.

Press-materals distributed by Gary E. Miller of Carl Byoir & Associates, Inc. for the Children's Television Workshop.

28 March 2012

For the Love of Duty Free.

What do a middle-aged Maintenance Manager from Alabama, an 8 year-old Congolese boy and I have in common? This watch. That’s right, the Timex Weekender. Kudos Timex for appealing to quite possibly the broadest audience imaginable. And of course it looks totally fabulous on all of us. (Updated: Turns out my father-in-law also has this watch.)
When I pointed out our shared watch to Mr. Maintenance he said in his best Alabama meets Congo accent, “Did ya get that on the airplane?” When my student pointed out he had the same watch as me, I totally ignored him--like all good, embarrassed teachers do.

Really the message here is the power of the Duty Free magazine on the plane. I swear they pump something in that oxygen to make you say, “Yes, of course I want those heart-shaped diamond cuff links!”

earring jewel by Gnilenkov Aleksey, on Flickr
Yes. Of course.
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Gnilenkov Aleksey

I can’t imagine how much money airlines make on duty free for their flights in and out of Congo. When you’re leaving Kinshasa it’s your first chance to shop on the way to your first world destination. And on the way back, it’s your last frantic opportunity to stock up on watches, Antonio Banderas cologne and those irresistible models of the plane you’re already in. I've actually seen a woman buy 8 of the same watch. This is a clear sign someone is coming to Congo for the long haul...or has been here way too long.

Take, for example, my last trip to Nairobi as the chaperone for a gaggle of high school girls. Waiting to board the plane in the N’djili lounge (I’m being very generous in calling this holding cell a “lounge”) every single girl had this purse. I felt very embarrassed I didn’t have this same purse, but then remembered I was in fact a good 12 years older than them, and maybe having the same purse would have been more embarrassing. Anyway, one looked at me, in that way that much younger, much cooler teenage girls do and said, “Duty Free. Air France. Spring Collection.”

P.S. After you land, never price compare on Amazon. You will have almost certainly spent more on your "duty free" purchase than the rest of the world does ordering online.

27 March 2012

The Reality of Maternity. (A Visit to the Clinic.)

Remember when we mentioned that we were planning a visit to a small maternity clinic outside of the city?

Well - we went.  We listened.  We talked.  We took pictures.  We watched.

Dr. Laure, a Kinshasa-trained OB/GYN, was our host.  She met us by the side of the road, her little daughter, Maleka,on her hip.  We piled into the blue Suzuki Jimny (gotta love that car) and rattled off down the dirt paths that form the outskirts of the city - near Lac de Ma Vallée.  Dr. Laure had to ask directions several times.  Because she never drives and always walks to work.  Getting there via road is a very different process than on foot.

Finally, Adam (our trusty driver), Sarah, Dr. Laure, baby Maleka, and myself unloaded ourselves here:

This is the little clinic. Just two Kinshasa-trained physicians work here. Dr. Laure is an OB/GYN but can hold her own in most any other field.  Dr. Maurice has trained in surgery and internal medicine. They make about 2,000 FC ($2.16) per month profit.  (Laure told me that a "fancy city doctor" makes about $1000/month in Kinshasa).  It serves the population living within 10km on all sides.  A lot of people.  It is a "charity" clinic.  Meaning - they will take those who the city hospitals turn away.  In Kinshasa, if you can't pay, you are often turned away.  Simple as that.  Doesn't matter if you are on death's doorstep, a small child, or a woman in labor.  There is no EMTALA in the Congo.

For example, we arrived at the clinic along with another car.  This tiny car, it's chassis hanging and scraping, parked next to us.  Two men extracted a broken, angry body from the back seat.  When we discussed it later, all of us had the same experience of looking at this injured person and having visceral knowledge that there was something horribly wrong but being unable to exactly identify the issue.  Later, it was clear that both of his legs were severely broken.  Bent.  Twisted grotesquely.

We learned that he had been in a motorcycle accident five days prior.  He was poor.  He didn't even try to go to another hospital.  Finally, after five days of broken dangling legs and pain, friends or family loaded him into a car and drove him to Dr. Laure and Dr. Maurice.  While we were there, both physicians regarded the x-rays.  They knew the solution:  surgery, a few pins and plates, and a long, but complete recovery.  They also knew that none of this was an option for this patient.  They didn't have equipment.  He didn't have money.  His reality was permanently unusable legs, loss of any prospect of future income, and chronic pain.

Dr. Laure explained the scene matter-of-factly and with genuine sadness.  She then ushered us into the tiny cement hospital for a tour.  We met Nurse Terese - who would work three, solo, 24-hour shifts before her replacement arrived.  She changed dressings, served as a surgery first-assist, held flashlights for procedures in the dark, and cleaned rooms. 

We spent a lot of time taking in the salle d'accouchement - or delivery room.

Now, Sarah and I have a little experience (i.e. one time) with Congolese clinic delivery rooms and we both agreed that, compared to the dank, unbearably hot, crowded city delivery space where we assisted in a delivery last Fall - we would give birth at this clinic any day.  Sure, it's plain.  The equipment is old.  The beds seem impossible for a laboring woman.  But, it's light and breezy and cool.  Everything is kept as clean as possible.  And the care is expert and calm. 

Dr. Laure and Terese were quick to point our the shortcomings of this place in which they work.  They asked to have their photo taken.  In preparation, the arranged all of the labor and delivery instruments, medicines, and equipment into a little pile on the table beside them.  They wanted you - the readers of this blog- to see that this was all they have:

  • 1 pair scissors.
  • 1 pick-up/tweezers.
  • 1 bulb syringe (for sucking out baby's mouth and nose).
  • 2 clamps (for the umbilical cord).
  • 1 syringe.
  • 1 needle.
  • 1 stainless canister (used with a little rubbing alcohol and fire for sterilization of equipment.)
  • 1 pack of matches.
  • 1 mostly-empty bottle of isopropyl alcohol.
  • 1 half-full bottle of Ketamine for emergency anesthesia.
  • 1 old vial of Lidocaine for numbing skin
Luckily, most babies can come into this world without much fuss.  They don't require much more than what Dr. Laure can offer at her clinic.  She brings skill and patience, and usually, this is sufficient for a safe delivery.  

However, every midwife or doctor knows that some basic strategies are needed when things don't go "perfectly".  We talked a lot about the common - theoretically easy-to-manage, complications of labor and delivery.   Pitocin, Methergine, or Cytotec for heavy bleeding after delivery are not usually available.  Dr. Laure knew all about the up-to-date uses of these drugs, but did not have them at her side.  A patient's family may make a trip to the pharmacy for medications - if they have enough money and enough time.  Dr. Laure said that the clinic frequently gives out their limited stock regardless of a patient's ability to pay.  But, the reality is that the clinic doesn't have any money either.

Some of you reading may be Labor & Delivery nurses.  My colleagues from Virginia and Washington.  Right now, you are horrified.  Right?  One syringe for eveyone!?  Matches and alcohol for "sterilization"?!

But - ask yourself.  What would you do?  Not suck out the mouth of a sputtering newborn with a dirty bulb?  Not administer lifesaving oxytocin with the dull, oft-used, needle?

For Dr. Laure, the answer is easy.  She knows full-well that her little clinic is sorely lacking.  She would accept donations of expired medications and equipment from fancy U.S. hospitals - where we throw out unused supplies in the name of quality control - with a joyful relief.  But, she's not begging.  She will continue to serve these women and their babies with or without the supplies. She won't turn anyone away.

Sarah talks with Dr. Laure in the salle d'accouchement

I had a funny telephone conversation with Dr. Laure last week.  The connection was bad.  The children were screaming.  My French is bad.  She was calling to see what day I would be available to help with next month's prenatal clinic.  I understood that much and responded with my strategy of using all of my French vocabulary at once in an effort to convey deep appreciation and excitement.  Hopefully, it was effective.

So, Sarah and I will trek out to the hospital again in April.  We'll take some blood pressures (I'm starting Sarah's medical training tout de suite), measure some bellies, and listen to some heartbeats (although, I'm not sure Dr. Laure owns a doppler...).  School nursing is lovely.  Truly.  But, I've been waiting for the chance to work with moms and babies again.  Waiting around for an opportunity.  And it seems, this is it.

What Dr. Laure and her hospital really need is a sustainability plan.  For this, she is in touch with an amazing new local organization (I wrote about it here), Fond pour les Femmes Congolaises.  They exist to help Congolese women help Congolese women.  Dr. Laure is a perfect candidate.  

Shout out to Martha Jefferson Hospital! While donations aren't the answer to all of Dr. Laure's needs, it's not like she wouldn't put an old Doppler or some just-expired oxytocin to good use...  What are our options?  Any chance MJH L&D unit could gather up a few supplies for Dr. Laure by summer?  I will deliver them personally when we return next Fall.  Contact me if you have any brainstorms...

25 March 2012

Friday List. (On Sunday. Oops.)


Well it's about that time. This happened to Charlotte as she started solid foods during papaya season. Poor little Ani's been hitting the sweet potatoes a little too hard. On babies turning orange.

Coups making a comeback? I feel like I've been a little too close for comfort to a few of these.

Coup by pittaya, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  pittaya 

Have a little French reader? Love this service.

I found out about this project after it was over...but still read every entry.

Thinking of Jon and Daniele today as they visit Congo's pride and joy, the Bonobos.

A lot of good points in this article.

Woke up grumpy this morning with no water. So started a fight with Adam for not having this ready for my shower.


Really digging this hot pink polish. Perfect for making me feel almost okay about my constantly Kinshasa-dirty feet. I've decided that I'm a strong advocate for the pedicure.

Maybe Birchbox will send a sample soon?  We're allowed one, small package per family each month here in Kinshasa.  Both Sarah and I have prioritized this great self-indulgence for our precious shipping allowance.

Thinking a little too much about APA style.  Are you up on all of the more recent, 6th Edition, changes?  We've had several animated dinner time conversations with friends recently about the non-indented paragraph, the capitalization of "Googled," and the death of the hyphen.  Keep up to date here.

Important interview this past week on maternal mortality in the United States (we use some of our precious bandwidth to download Democracy Now, BBC Newshour, and Sound Opinions...).  It's an 'obvious' issue here in Africa, but did you realize that the U.S. has it's own issues?

Dreaming of Kampala...(and planning a next Fall meet-up with friends.)

So impressed with my sweet friend Emily's new shop and amazing line of sustainable London lingerie.

Still thinking of our recent heated conversation round the dinner table about the definition of country music.  I learned that Johan should not be provoked regarding this subject.  So, have at it! What is your definition of country music???

Someone we can all agree on?  Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Look Magazine Photograph Collection, card number lmc1998005787/PP

22 March 2012

this bloated past.

At the risk of appearing quite like my grandparents (who used to subscribe to the wholesome magazine called Reminisce), I want to show you all two more links to amazing photographs of Kinshasa's crazy past.

It's fascinating to me.  Almost distorted and disgusting.  This bloated past.  But beautiful and enticing all the same.

First, is this masterpiece of a research blog, Kinshasa: Then & Now.  Last night, I spent hours pouring over the photos.  So many buildings that are barely recognizable but still standing in some sense of the word.

And second.  This retrospective by photographer Jean Depara (1928-1997).
In Leopoldville, later known as Kinshasa, this is taken for the "American way of life", it's cars and fashionable Bills in cowboy outfits, the electric guitars, sax and the music that takes the merengue, the cha cha cha, and above all, the rumba, into a mad dance known word-wide as "Zairian music". The bands of young Kinshasans, each with their own distinctive attire and their female muses, attend frequently the inumerable bars/dancing halls, support a music band here: Franco's "Ok Jazz", another one there: Joseph Kabasele's "African Jazz".  Athletes, proud of their bodies, parade before their admirers at the pool of the Funa sports complex.

20 March 2012


The puckered, lovely maracuja or passion fruit.

The above photo is (really) my computer desktop photo image.  Just because I want to be reminded regularly of this weird little fruit.

The other day, I heard a commotion in my backyard.  I went outside and saw a group of atelier workers yelling (semi-jokingly) at Mupwa.  I asked Mama Vida to tell me the scoop and she gladly ranted on about how Mupwa had promised all the workers a thriving maracuja vine.  Mupwa prides himself on his vast knowledge (according to him) of all things medicinal and traditional in the Congo.  He had been pumping everyone up with stories of all of the amazing health benefits of maracuja and now, the people were demanding their product.

The passion fruit grows along the fence by our pool here at TASOK.  Occasionally, if you are very lucky, you can pluck one from the vines for yourself.  Most often, I suspect Mupwa gets there first.

Mupwa isn't the only one to sing the praises of this "super fruit."  You do a search for passion fruit online and phrases like "phytonutrients", "colon protector", "destroys pro-inflammatory free radicals" start popping up.  Nice.  I mean, who doesn't want to do all of those things?

Generally, we eat them because they taste INCREDIBLE.  The smell is downright...passionate.  They are sweet and tart and smooth and crunchy all at the same moment.

We scoop the little seeds straight out of the rind.  Or put them into a bowl:

And mix it with yogurt.  And put it in smoothies.  And even make salad dressing.

Lou isn't yet convinced.  But, Elias?  Certainly:

Theoretically, this taste affinity is a very good thing for my energetic oldest child.  Apparently...
"2 glasses of juice will naturally calm down the most hyperactive child, and for this reason it is highly valued by Brazilian mothers."
 Sounds good to me...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...