31 August 2012

Friday List!

Sarah's List

I remember nothing from my college graduation except this guy. His son graduated with me so he was there, being a dad. You want to see a bunch of kids who grew up in the 90s get excited, put Bill Nye in the audience. Who knew he could be such a controversial character? And no, he's not dead.

Do you believe this is ball point pen? I'm not sure I do.

Maybe if Todd Yoder was the artist...

Fascinating story about a Ghanaian returnee who chose to go back to what her parents fled. (As much as I love Congo, Ghana is my secret first love.)

Making Tetra boxes beautiful. It's about time.

Want a cookie? Don't want to make a whole batch? This is a very dangerous recipe. Good thing I don't have access to chocolate chips.

Chips by Gudlyf, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Gudlyf 

Would you ever sleep in a capsule hotel? Oh, those Japanese.

Research shows recess is good (duh). Chicago Public Schools bring back recess after 30 years of too much classroom time. I don't think the research brought it back, but rather John Searles who left Congo to be a recess coordinator in Chicago. Bravo, John. Keep those kids playing.

Jill's List:

I love Todd too! (Almost as much as Elias.)  His most recent work literally made me do a double-take.

This painting is of another Harrisonburg artist, Kurt.  Remember Kurt?

Our fellow-blogger, Matt, burst into my office this morning just to tell me about Chakalaka.  What?  You haven't heard about this South African awesomeness?  Neighbor James suggested dumping it over pasta for extra deliciousness.
 Enjoyed sharing Pete Seeger's banjo with my middle schoolers for a lesson on nonviolent communication and restorative justice.  We watched an old (meaning, 1960's) clip of "If I Had a Hammer."  They asked, "Ohmygosh!  Is this from, like, the 1990's?!?  It is SOOOO old, Ms. Jill!"

Totally trying this service out - maybe this weekend.  Chinese food delivered to my house in Kinshasa?!

Awesome.  Especially this:
9. Move.
Live in different houses. In different parts of the country. Travel. Make it so that you can look back and divide up your life into the years you spent in different cities, or different houses. If you're feeling stuck geographically or physically, you can confuse yourself into thinking you're stuck romantically. See your husband in different places, in different contexts, in different countries even. Try it. Take him to a mountaintop and give him another look. Pretty sexy. Take him to a new city and check out his profile. Along the same lines, don't be afraid to change personally, or let your wife change as a person. Don't worry about "growing apart." Be brave and evolve. Become completely different. Don't gather moss. Stagnation is unattractive.

I have a weird obsession.

My awesome hair is growing out.  Eeek! Do I attempt the self-trim?

Not me.  But, what my hair is looking like.  Instead of this.


29 August 2012

Thoughts on Worms

Last night, Johan said, "You have to read this" and shoved the computer in my face, (thank you, New York Times digital.)  Then, he said, "It really is a good thing that we live in the Congo."

And so, I read this opinion article on "Immune Disorders and Autism."

Autism isn't a topic that we discuss frequently at home.  But immune disorders are.  Well, semi-frequently.  Remember this?  I have what I referred to before as a "pesky post-baby Rheumatoid Arthritis issue."  Luckily, I'm on some heavy-duty, but miraculous, drugs and, right now, I can do ridiculous things like this without a problem.

So, this article focuses on the theory that immune dysfunction is behind autism.  Specifically, increased inflammation in the mother during pregnancy causing increased incidence of autism in the baby.  The numbers quoted in the article are shocking:  women with active Rheumatoid Arthritis have an 80% increased chance of having a baby with autism.  Women with Celiac Disease? A 350% increased chance.  Whew.

Remember my thoughts on having a third child?

The initial claims of the article, by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, made my head spin.  But, the proposed solution to the issue made me laugh.


According to Velasquez-Manoff, we are too clean.  Our immune systems are designed to be held in check by coexistent critters.  Since parts of the world have become increasingly developed, we have successfully kicked out most the little buddies that traditionally (and evolutionarily) cozied-up in our guts.  These worms, in turns out, may actually be more friend than foe.

About the same time as we have cleaned ourselves out, the incidence of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders has risen.  And the incidence of autism has skyrocketed - especially in urban centers with real nice, sophisticated waste management systems.  
Many epidemiologists state that this increase is due to higher rates of diagnosis vs. actual existence.  But, some look to the near-nonexistence of autism in the developing world and wonder...

...is it the worms?

There is some anecdotal evidence that whipworm infestations help autistic children.  A real-live clinical trial is underway right now testing whether purposely infecting autistic adults with a super-sophisticated-medicalized (really) parasite will prove beneficial.

After I finished reading, Johan seriously said, "So, where can we find you some worms?"  He seemed hopeful that a little therapeutic infestation of some of Congo's famous micro-creatures could reorganize my dysfunctional immune system.

I'm getting my own filtered water from now on...

Many experts remain skeptical at theories such as Velasquez-Manoff's. I am on-board however, with the idea that living in Congo is great for my family - even from a health perspective.  Before we left, folks begged us to reconsider...asking us to "think of the children!"  The malaria!  The yellow fever!  The dysentery!  We take plenty of precautions, for certain, but I like knowing that living in a far-from-sterile environment isn't all scary...it might actually be helpful.

There is a oft-told story that floats around missionary and international aid worker circles:  A child, born in the U.S., grows up in Africa.  He decides to be a doctor and goes back to America for med school. In an immunology course, all the students had to give their own blood to be tested for antibodies - just for curiosity and comparison.  The young man who grew up in Africa had immunities beyond belief.  His professors were gobsmacked.  Everyone is amazed at the power of African dirt.

Maybe it's just lore.  Maybe I latch on to such stories to reassure myself that my decision to live in Kinshasa is a good one for my kids.  But, maybe it's true.  Maybe our immune systems - even my messed-up one - are a little better off for a few worms. 

27 August 2012

When it's Harder to Care for Your Diapers Than Your Children

When we started to consider having a baby, my first thought was there was no way we could afford diapers in Kinshasa. In those days, a pack cost $80-$100. And thus our child would have to forgo college because they were diapered in Congo. I then, however, discovered the world of cloth diapering.

I say "world" because there is an overwhelming number of cloth diaper brands. Once you've chosen your brand or should I say "system" (and god only knows how you make that decision) you have to choose between pocket liners or inserts: stay-dry, organic or disposable. Velcro, snap or Snappi. One-size or sized. And then battle terms like "Hybrid Diaper System" while your diapers come in as many versions as your computer from 1.0 and 4.0.

Once you have invested in a diaper system, you have to figure out how to take care of them. I am willing to bet there's more information on the internet about how to care for your diapers than about how to care for your children.

So when we returned to Congo with newborn Charlotte I conducted, what felt like, endless training sessions with Mamicho not about how to take care of our baby, but rather how to take care of our diapers.

Rinse them immediately, but never with soap. Never let the Velcro fasteners touch the diaper itself, only the tab made for holding them in place. We don't want pilling on our diapers! Wash them on this cycle, with this special, fragrance-free, gentle, organic detergent. Never put them in the dryer. Only line dry. But you can't line dry them outside, because they will get Mango Worm larvae in them and then we'll be hatching worms out of our baby's precious skin. 

As recommended by the manufacturer, we dry our diapers outdoors. 
The mosquito net shields them from Mango Worm larvae. 
We did this exactly one time before realizing how ridiculous it was.
And it went on and on like this. Poor ole Mamicho. She smartly and quickly followed very few of these ridiculous instructions. It didn't take long for our diapers to be washed in the worst, cheapest Chinese laundry detergent, which is probably just granulated carcinogens. It's been years since those Velcro tabs have been secured in place before washing. Our diapers go through the dryer everyday. And thanks to power surges, I'm sure our dryer heats them at temperatures similar to the surface of the sun. Oh, and we wash them in Congo water. "Congo" in this case means "four shades of dirty brown."

Not so surprisingly, 2 1/2 years later our diapers are still in great shape. (Bum Genius, you are welcome to contact me for an endorsement deal.) However, they have started to smell. Okay, they started smelling about 2 years ago, but whatever.

This weekend, I ventured down that rabbit hole of Googling about cloth diapers and discovered something quite traumatizing. In order to get rid of the smell you have to "strip" your diapers. And did you know that you are doomed to a lifetime of smelly diapers if you don't have access to Original Formula Blue Dawn Liquid Dish Soap?! There are literally hundreds of blogs, websites and diaper Q & A forums telling me Dawn is the only thing to remove the smell.

One poor British woman was brave enough to ask what she should do if she couldn't find this specific formula of Dawn in the UK. Is there a substitute? No there is not, American women answered her. They suggested she buy it by the case on Amazon or move to the US. Thanks, community of Mommies, that's helpful.

I thought for sure I could find an international version of Original Formula Blue Dawn Liquid Dish Soap. But turns out when you use the word "international" to Google Blue Dawn, you get a bunch of websites telling you how this soap is the ONLY thing the "International" Bird Rescue Research Center uses to clean animals after oil spills. Really?! How was the world ever clean before Dawn was invented? (Dawn, you may now also contact me for an endorsement deal.)

So I did the next best thing to Googling about how to clean my diapers, I asked Johan.

 The resident expert on cloth diapering. He suggested without access to Blue Dawn I use vinegar. "But Johan, that will void the warranty!" (Yes, diapers now have warranties.) And then he said, "Did you know they use that Blue Dawn to get oil off birds?!" Yes. Yes, I did know that.

Gulf-Oil-Spill-Washing-Brown-Pelican-06- by IBRRC, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  IBRRC 

So until I can get my hands on a large quantity of white vinegar, which in Congo is sometimes as hard as finding Blue Dawn, our diapers are still smelly. But they are diapers, right? And it's a good system to weed out friends who really like us from those who aren't willing to brave the smell of our children.

The icing on the saga of cloth diapering in Congo came late last year as I watched Mamicho rinse out a diaper. Not only was she using soap (gasp!) she was using a bar of my face soap. When I explained that was soap I use on my face, she laughed and said she had been doing that every day for 2 years.

And thus for 2 years I've been washing my face with dirty diapers. Does Dawn make face wash?

26 August 2012

24 August 2012

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

I love in-flight magazines! Remember this? Here's an article about how in-flight magazines trick their captive audiences into visiting war-torn countries. It's so true. We flew a lot this summer within the US and one of these magazines totally had me convinced that I must, MUST! visit Arkansas. I feel so deceived.

Compliments of Egypt Air.

Thinking about umbrellas and really, really wishing the rainy season would just start already. This dust is killer. How did we live in Egypt for two years?

i’ll take you away, turn this place into by linh.ngan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  linh.ngan 

My favorite corner of the world, in watercolor. Find your favorite corner in watercolor too...

Can you guess where this is?

From Time Magazine this week: "Documenting the Democratic Republic of Congo with an iPhone". Or as I'd like to call it "Taking photos of Coltan miners so they can make your phone so you can take pictures of Coltan miners. Repeat."

I'm sorry, a recipe for ice cubes? Totally ridiculous. But check out the ratings and reviews.

Update: I know, I know you've seen the ice cube recipe a million times already. But with Jill as my witness, I had the recipe on the draft of this list 48 hours before it went viral. And Jill had already found such a beautiful ice cube picture...

A taste of the reviews: "This recipe is horrible! Maybe I should have left them in longer than two minutes (the recipe doesn't say how long to leave them in the freezer so I just kind of guessed) but mine came out all watery. I won't be making these again."

Got a few bored minutes? Check this out.

Jill's List:

Trying to find potting soil in Kinshasa.  Shoprite?  Brought back some herbs to try thisMupwa doesn't think it will work...

It can't be that hard to start an NGO...  Does Congo even need another NGO?  Are NGOs a good thing?

Neil the maintenance guy (among other titles) tells me that I might be able to get my hands on some extra shipping pallets left over from the summer work on campus.  New porch furniture!

 My kind of sewing.  And Mama Vida & Mama NouNou.  They never use patterns.  Here's my favorite top/tunic/dress

Because we love to write about hairFor all of you who did not chop off all of your hair this summer:

At the Jack Bell gallery in London.  Kinshasa's own, Bandoma.

23 August 2012

Running the Wall

All summer, I read about running.

It started with a New Yorker article about Sammy Wanjiru, the troubled-yet-brilliant Kenyan distance runner.  I had a huge stack of back issues to catch up on but May 21, 2012 edition was my favorite. The descriptions of slow twitch muscles, VO2max, and lactate thresholds were strangely fascinating.  Almost as riveting as the human story that was Wanjiru's.

Sammy Wanjiru.  Image from WikiCommons. FaceMePLS from The Hague, The Netherlands

In Virginia, I mentioned this new literary obsession to Mama Congo Guest Blogger and everyone's favorite ultramarathoner, Andrew Jenner.  He said, "Here, read this" and handed me the thick 116th Boston Marathon program.  He promised me hours of fun.  It was.

Then, I came back to Kinshasa.  I told another teacher (particularly adept at book suggestions as well as a runner) that I wanted to read about running.  She threw this at me, saying, "The hipsters really like it, but he lost me at the point where he professed his love for the Walkman."

Before this book, I purposefully repeated the mantra that I was not a runner, I just liked reading about running.  However, my hipster tendencies took over and somewhere between passages like:

When I'm running I don't have to talk to anybody and don't have to listen to anybody. This is a part of my day I can't do without.
You end up exhausted and spent, but later, in retrospect, you realize what it all was for. The parts fall into place, and you can see the whole picture and finally understand the role each individual part plays. The dawn comes, the sky grows light, and the colors and shapes of the roofs of houses, which you could only glimpse vaguely before, come into focus.

I started to get curious about what it would be like to run.

I have run before, but not really.  I've always been that person who says, "Well, I hate running," just like my middle schoolers on run-the-mile day.  Plus, it felt hard to run with two little ones at home.  There was a brief time where I would cheat-run by making Elias go with me.  It usually started off strong and ended with me dragging and/or carrying him most of the way.  Who goes running with a 5 year old?

So, I decided the NHS should get involved.  And I downloaded a free podcast where an extraordinarily pleasant British woman tells me I am doing-a-good-job-and-now-it's-time-for-your-90-second-recovery-walk. Inspirational British pop fills in the spaces.

So, now I am running the wall three mornings a week thanks to Haruki Murakami and the NHS.

The wall?

This is the wall:

This concrete-barbed-wire-leafy-forest-path forms the periphery of our compound.  Once around is a little over 1 mile.  It's pretty great.  I ignore Johan when he tells me how fast he ran around four times.  And if I see Sarah also running the wall, I go the other direction, knowing we would both hate to have a running partner.

The wall at 5:45am is loud.  People are up and shouting for transport, children are crying, and sometimes I hear a rooster.  I can't see any of these things beyond the wall, but I hear them -even through my earbuds - and they remind me that I am thankfully not at a gym.

And it's true what Murakami says.  I don't have to talk or listen to anyone.  Except that awkward, breathless, "Bonjour!" - twice - as I run past the guard house. 

I'm not yet brave enough to be a runner runner.  But for those of you who are: Kinshasa actually has a lot of options.  There are these crazy people - many of whom I know and love.  And this club.  And then, there's the many folks who go out every Sunday for an energetic, national-fitness kind of communal run:

When we had our Kima Mbangu (Run Fast) 5K last year (which I, randomly, organized), Mamas Vida, NouNou, and YouYou ALL came to run.  And they actually ran it.  It was seriously impressive. 

Maybe this year, I'll be running with them.

**More running in Congo here.

21 August 2012

Okay, when do I go for my laser boob treatments?

Last week Jill sent me this article Sorry -- You Can't Guilt Trip Me About Bottle Feeding My Kids and it sparked quite the conversation. One thing this mom goes on and on about is how miserable those first few days of nursing are. And it's true. It can be quite painful...okay very painful. This reminded me of a very foggy memory I have of the first few days after Charlotte was born.

Charlotte's birth in Cape Town taught me that South Africans believe in the healing powers of water and light. The doctor who delivered her had one recommendation after her birth, "If you want to heal, go swim in the sea and lie in the sun." This may work for hardened South Africans, but that water was so cold I would have needed a wet suit. And there was no way I was wearing a wet suit 2 days post partpartum. Oh, and a man had just been eaten by a "dinosaur-sized" shark at the beach in front of our rental house. (Read about it here if you never want to swim again.) I didn't want to heal that bad.

Charlotte turned 50 shades of yellow after she was born.

The type of yellow that sends babies back to the hospital for the biliblanket in the States. I know this because Annaïs, born in the US, was not nearly as yellow as her older sister, but the American doctors pulled out all the stops to combat her jaundice.

But for Charlotte in South Africa, "Just put her in the sun!" But she's REALLY REALLY yellow and I've been Googling. I need medical intervention, I thought. "Just put her in the sun!" All the doctors said. And it worked.

So when it comes to preparing you to breastfeed your child, South Africans really depend on light. Infrared light. The day after Charlotte was born I started my infrared laser light nipple treatments. That's right, folks. I know, I know, so weird. Actually, in retrospect it's so bizarre there's a 1% chance I dreamed it.

Instead of visits from a lactation consultant to teach me how to breastfeed my baby, I was taken to a light clinic for infrared laser treatments. The theory is that light toughens up your nipples and makes nursing less painful. They told me I especially needed the lights because of how "incredibly pale" I am.

I had no idea what was standard post-birth hospital practice, so I was game. In fact, I was never asked if I wanted to do it, that's just what you do after you have a baby.

So a couple times a day a cute, teenage South African boy showed up at my room to wheel me to the light clinic. I swear they were paid per woman wheeled to the other side of the hospital, because we flew like the wind! Proof that teenage boys have no idea the fragility of a woman after giving birth.

And there a person with a laser gun type-thing shone lights on me. They wore funny goggles. I wore funny goggles. It was truly weird. Maybe it was actually a dream. I just remember thinking, "There is no way my American insurance is going to pay for something this ridiculous."

After I was discharged my doctor gave me firm instructions to sit topless in the sun everyday. Fine. But I'm not going to the beach to do it.

At the time, I had no idea if any of this light therapy worked, but nursing wasn't that painful. After baby #2, I'm fairly certain it did work. I was not properly toughened up and I missed my laser lights. Or maybe I just missed sitting topless wearing goggles while a stranger pointed a laser gun at my boobs.

When I told Jill about all this after Ani was born, she laughed at the thought of me asking her co-nurses on the labor and delivery floor, "Okay, when do I go for my laser boob treatments?"

Maybe we should introduce this in the States. It really was wonderful to be toughened up a bit before nursing. And it was also quite nice to feel like the medical establishment understood breastfeeding could be killer, so they do everything they can to get your body ready.

Often people forget to mention how horribly painful nursing can be those first few days. Women think they're doing something wrong. You're not. It can definitely suck (pun intended). And I am very pro-anything that can make it better. Including laser boob treatments.

P.S. My insurance did pay. Suckers.
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