28 February 2013

Childhood Illness, Circa 1950.

Mid-year, LouLou and Charlotte were required to get "communication journals" so that Madame Sidonie could pass along Pré-Maternelle information in writing to well-meaning-but-linguistically-challenged parents such as myself.  My French is not horrible, but when processed through a bad phone line, I think I said, "Comment?" one too many times and Mme. Sidonie gave up on trying to talk to me in person.  So, we text or communicate via the journal (which has both a picture of a kitten and Barack Obama on the front).

Most days, there is a little note taped into the journal with information about sending fruit for fruit salad day or donating decorations for the classroom.  I admit that after the first week, I became a less attentive reader of these notes.  Bad mama.

So, yesterday, I decided to catch up and came across this message from Monday:

I felt baffled as I read this note.  I have been working as a nurse in the Congo for almost 2 years now.  I felt like I knew a lot of French health vocabulary.  Surely I should be aware of the name for the common, "very contagious" disease that was sweeping my daughter's school.

"Des oreillons."  Nope. Nope. No idea.

So, naturally, I asked Mama Vida and Mama YouYou, who began to clutch their ears and puff our their cheeks, moaning and miming what must be an awful disease.  They kept insisting that "des oreillons" happens all the time,"if one person in the house gets it, everyone does,"and "the cheeks get very swollen...you know!"  

They couldn't understand why I was being so dense.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  I could see their respect for my medical opinion sinking a couple of notches.

Finally, I conjured up a black-and-white image of a sick kid with a cloth tied around their ears.  Kind of like this:

Image from here.

Mumps.  A disease I have never had nor seen.  A childhood illness made rare in the United States by the MMR vaccine.  One of those nasty things that exists as part of normal life here in the Congo.

Hopefully, LouLou - having been fully vaccinated before we left for life in the third world - has a fairly low risk of getting this disease, even if it is rampant at her school.  But it's so strange for me to feel so uninformed about an illness that Mama YouYou described as "like a really bad flu with swollen cheeks - everybody gets it at some point."  

While I'm sure it appeared in my nursing textbooks, I think that my true knowledge base about mumps consists of having used the name to describe the MMR vaccine to parents right before I stuck a one-year-old in the thigh.  My "broad" medical knowledge is actually so specific.  So tailored to one, first-world, reality.  Sure, I now know how to pop out a Mango fly larvae and I can recognize, test, and treat malaria, but those are the flashy tropical diseases.  What about the mundane, everyday muck that Kinshasa Mamas must watch for in their babies.  I don't know much about those.

This is a whole new ballgame.  Better brush up on my childhood illnesses, circa 1950 America.  I'll start here:

Vintage book cover image from here.

27 February 2013

Mama Congo Goes to Kenya

It's an interesting week to be in Kenya. On Monday the nation holds elections and it's all anyone can talk about. If you'll remember Kenya's last election in 2007 turned violent. After disputed results around 1,300 were killed and 600,000 people were displaced. Fighting lasted for months.

As you can imagine, the nation is braced. After living through Congo's tense elections last year, I sympathize. Thankfully in Congo our tension was mostly before the election and over the uncertainty of if country would explode or not. It didn't. This is what Kenyans are hoping for this week.

Even Obama taped a message reminding Kenyans to have a peaceful election. Yesterday in the Daily Nation's Opinion Page, a commentator wrote how humiliating it felt to have the President of the United States take time out of his day to tell Kenyans not to kill each other, "As though we don't know it's good for us." The commentator said, "It's as though we are some wild animals out there in the jungle."

Image and video here.

On Monday night, 8 presidential candidates had their second and final debate. It was held at a local high school and very pretty. One of the sponsors was the Ford Foundation. I thought I'd  miss it because of my duties chaperoning 18 teenagers at the mall, but luckily I found a pharmacy with a TV and perched myself with the security guard. If excitement can be gauged by TV volume, he was very excited.

Coverage of the debate was quite Oscar-esque with candidates arriving in helicopters and limos. My personal favorite moment was when the only woman candidate proudly took her very well-coordinated purse with her onstage.

Image from here.

The candidates debated corruption, minimum wage and also noted with appreciation that they all had the same and equitable podium. Apparently during the last debate two of them were given "ugly brown" ones. A sure sign of bias.

Most people think voters will cast their ballots along tribal lines. My security guard friend agreed. He told me two candidates were from the same tribe. I asked if this was a good or bad thing. He said, "It's TERRIBLE. It will split the vote."

Image from here.

So good luck to Kenya on Monday. I offer a word of encouragement, as my security guard friend said, "At least we're not DRC."

*Note:  Want to read more about East African politics?  Check out this brand new blog written by several of our favorite experts.

22 February 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

This weekend I leave for my yearly pilgrimage to Nairobi with 18 Model United Nations teens in tow. I sort of have an issue with this article because there is absolutely no way I'm not reclining my seat. Especially if there's a high schooler behind me.

I've done a lot of flying while pregnant and on one such flight the man behind me asked the flight attendant to tell me to put my seat up. The flight attendant replied, "That woman is hugely pregnant, I'm not going that." Just one more reason to love them.

Image from slate.com
Relatedly, have you ever heard of this? The Knee Defender. It's an actual product that keeps the person in front of you from reclining their seat. A while back This American Life profiled someone who used it in an episode called, "Getting Away With It." The best moment is when he hands the person in front of him the "courtesy card" that comes with the Knee Defender informing them they wouldn't be able to recline their seat. Bold.

Airport Trend We like: Play Areas. On my trip alone to the States with Annaïs I immediately found the play area in Paris and slept with one eye slightly open while a 4 year-old Lebanese boy fed Ani cookies. Don't judge me. He looked very responsible for his age.

Image from mamafilter.com.

The Candy Wrapper Archive. I can instantly pick out the '80s version of each of these wrappers. Not because I was allowed to eat them, but because they were right at eye level in the supermarket. That's mostly what I was doing in the 1980s. Drooling over candy bars. How many do you remember?

Snickers Bar circa 1983. From here.

Speaking of old food, last week I grabbed a bottle of water and 2 people literally threw themselves in front of me to warn me it had expired in 2007. They were right, but I was thirsty. Six year old water is just vintage. Why does water even have an expiration date?

 It's Girl Scout Cookie time! Some recipes using Girl Scout cookies as the main ingredient. Really, is sitting down and eating the whole box of cookies in their natural state not good enough?

Thin Mint Popcorn. Recipe and image here.

Jill's List:

Norwegians are a very focused people.  I should know.  I'm married to one (sort of).

Add caption

But, a 12-hour TV special on firewood?  Wow.

Image from NYTimes.

This is obviously a picture of my house in Africa:

Beautiful Nairobi home here.
No.  Not really.  But I wish....  Check out the entire house here.

The Oscar Pistorius story has brought up a lot of thoughts on the issue South African violence.  Are the fears real or imagined? What is the role of paranoia?  All I know, is that in the several weeks I've spent there, I became very friendly with the Chubb security guys.  All due to the fact that I am simply not handy with deactivating a home alarm system.  Those men in black show up really fast and really armed when alarms are unintentionally set off.

Gun sculpture outside a mall in Cape Town.  Image from this article.

Really looking forward to this cookbook.  But.  Is it even worth trying my own version of the Spanish Armada?

Photo from here.

I'm a sucker for a good fashion-night-in.  Check out some suggestions here.
FNO products
Photo and reviews here.

Bon Weekend!

20 February 2013

BCG Revisited

Last week we did some shameless self promotion and showed off some of our favorite Mama Congo moments. As we looked through old posts, I noticed a strange phenomenon of readers finding us by searching "BCG vaccine" or "BCG baby scar" or "baby arm shot scar" or my personal favorite "le BCG."

It seems we've found a strange niche readership of people looking for images of what their child's BCG scar will look like. And strangely not a lot of moms are posting photos of their kid's vaccine scars. Weird, right?

I feel a sort of obligation, or blogligation if you will, to post an update of my children's scar progress. Hey, I've gotta give the readers what they want...

Remember this? 3 months after vaccine. I can not even begin to tell you what came out of that child's arm a week after this photo:

And today, one year later:

(Please note the hair progress and exceptional double fisted hand-mouth coordination.)

*And a special bonus scar photo. Charlotte 3+ years after BCG:

Coincidentally, last week the Lancet released a study conducted in Western Cape, Sough Africa -the exact source of my children's vaccines- saying BCG does nothing to prevent TB. Excellent. So we just have some really gnarly sister scars.

15 February 2013

Friday List!

 Jill's List:

Someone was just telling me about Brodeos.  I don't really know what a Brodeo is, but I imagine it to be something along the lines of this event, which included quotes such as:

He crushed putts and celebrated like, "What now, you lumpish boar-pig?"

Gotta love Bill Murray. He should come to the Brodeo.

Bill Murray, one swag-bellied apple-john of a man.
Image from BuzzFeed.

Someone sent me this article and suggested that I use it in my sex-ed class.  It's going to be the best Current Events discussion ever.

Image from BBC.

Joanna and Alex do it.  So do Sarah and Adam.  And Johan and I are totally into it.  For us, right now, it's all about Homeland.  Read about "it" here.

Image from the Independent UK.

My dress is made with Kofi Annan's brains?  Yeah, that's right.  

Images from here and here.

Are these students living with a lot or a little?  It's a matter of perspective.

Image from Grist.org.

This and this are both books along the same lines. Plus, everything you own - in one photo. Super fascinating.

Image from Material World:  A Global Family Portrait.

Image from What I Eat:  Around the World in 80 Diets.
Which reminds me of these incredible children's books:

Image from Children Just Like Me.

And saw this expat essay linked by a friend. 

Finally, the virtues of olive oil beauty by this South Sudanese DJ:

Mari Malek
Image from Into the Gloss.

Sarah's List: 

A friend passed along these maps with special attention to #9. You guessed it, Congo is big. I know Congo is enormous, but really, this big? 

Image from here.
To mark the release of this book, the follow-up to Bringing Up Bébé, here are a few links to other demi-Francophone Mom bloggers. And an early review of Bébé Day by Day.

Image from here.

Un:  Mommy du Jour: Raising Culturally Competent Kids
Deux: Femme au Foyer 
Trois: La Mom

Almost, almost as beautiful as Vlisco pagne, are the Cosby Sweaters. There really are some similarities, no? Here's Cosby himself reflecting on those sweaters

Images from here and here.

I really love this woman and this article was a little hard to read because I had to accept the fact that she's not actually Tami Taylor in real life. But is she really a "late bloomer?" Is 45 old? Evidence that is it not. I love how she says, "My life just got awesome five years ago."

Connie Britton. Image from here

P.S. We really love it when you send us ideas for links. Keep 'em coming small army of Mama Congo researchers.

14 February 2013

Mama Congo Turns One!

Mama Congo is One Year Old Today!

To celebrate, here's a walk down memory lane.

Sarah's Top 5: 

#1.  The day Mama Congo launched, I was juggling a bunch of teenagers in Kenya and trying to keep myself from leaking. And thus, my first post: Milk Share: UN Style.

#2.  I really love the image Jill describes here when she found Mama Vida and Mama YouYou raiding the star fruit tree. Role Mamas, indeed. You will never catch me up a tree, which is why I employ someone braver than I.

#3.  Ah yes. Remember that extended breastfeeding debate? It's fun to look back on this post and remember a time when nursing Ani was Mama approved. These days Mama YouYou shakes her head at Ani when she whines to nurse and says, "Tu n'as pas pas honte?!" or "Have you no shame?!" By Congolese standards she's now too old. And really, by this age she should be helping to fetch water and carrying small things on her head.

#4.  I really think these posts by Jill need to go viral. Since baby wearing is all the rage, why not follow this DIY and use just one simple piece of fabric. And, of course, I love the baby model. The photos are so great, one even made our Christmas card. Wear Your Baby: Part 1 and Part Deux: The Front Sling.

#5.  With over 1,000 views, this might be our most viewed and searched-for post. I'm re-posting it here in hopes that Woodward's will see it again and become an official Mama Congo sponsor. (Hey, they commented, which pretty much made our week.) Gripe Water or How We've Kept our Sanity.

Jill's Top 5:

#1.  Here's my first post.  Five months into our Congo tenure, I was still grappling with the fact that being "mama" wasn't so unique anymore.

#2.  Sarah's simple story of some bridesmaid dresses received a primetime-worthy twist when the Congolese military got involved:

#3.  This post got a lot of attention - and rightfully so.  It was the beginning of Mama Congo's adventures in Congolese childbirth:

#4.  I remember laughing until I cried while adding photos to Sarah's Whac-A-Mole post.  Best line ever:
That was some expert parenting you just witnessed. Did you see those moves about 7 hours in when these kids were seconds away from simultaneous meltdowns and we balanced 4 meal trays, 2 babies and 5 petit sachets of French cheese on our laps?"

#5.  And, for my last pick, I'm having a really hard time deciding between two radically different posts: Nude Pumps or How to Be Devastated.  I'm going to go with the depressing one, though.  Working on that piece felt like therapy and evolved into one of the best little essays I've ever written.  I'm wondering if I can somehow use it for grad school applications...  

So.  Happy Day, Mama Congo!  Hip Hip Hooray!
Long live the Pink Arrow.

11 February 2013

Snow Tragic.

Johan's aunt and uncle sent us a photo of their New York backyard yesterday.  Taunting us:

Meanwhile, this is the view of our backyard:

Yes.  That would be a banana tree herb (Thanks, Sara).

My children haven't seen snow since early 2011.  They probably won't see snow again until they have firmly forgotten what true cold feels like.  Lou thinks that socks are a novelty.  She has one pair and knows they are for decoration only.

The picture of snow, glorious snow, prompted my kid to dig out a photograph we brought with us to Kinshasa.  It's Elias, age 4.  Standing angrily near the entrance to the L on Metropolitan in Brooklyn.  He is enveloped in a black puff coat.  Furiously frozen.

I remember the whiny misery of that walk.  The coat was not warm enough.  The mittens were itchy.  The snot was running down his sulky face.  He wanted to be carried.  I did not want to carry him.  It was so New York cold.  

Terribly romantic, now that I think about it.

But, now, two years removed from snow, this picture is the stuff of dreams and miracles.  He stared lovingly at this former him for a long time. I think I even saw him gently touching the glossy paper.  Then, he looked up and demanded, "Where is that coat?  I need that coat."

I didn't have the heart to launch into an explanation of how the coat was probably already too small now and would definitely be too small by the time he needed anything heavier than long-sleeves rolled up to the elbow.  I also didn't tell him that the coat has either been passed on to someone else or is deep in the dusty corner of our storage space - I can't remember.  I didn't say how awful the cold can be.  How numbing to a day at the park.  I didn't show him Charlotte's wind-chapped cheeks.  And I didn't remind him that he lives in a constant sauna on the equator where a puffy coat hasn't ever needed to make an appearance.

Vintage image from here.

Instead, I said, "Oh yeah you do.  You totally need that coat."

For the time being, he's happy to be placated.  But, someday soon, I think we'll need to find some snow.

10 February 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

To nudge the Boy Scouts along a little here's a great photo essay: States of Union. Normal people doing normal things.

Image from www.statesofunion.com.

Hilliary Clinton's resignation letter to President Obama. It's nice and all, but Hillary, can we talk about the typeface, the old fashioned indents and two spaces after each period.

Image from here.

OMG Africa is "adorbs." Instagramming Africa for the OMG Crowd.

Image from here.

Anne of Green Gables gets a makeover. Oh no, no, no, no, no.

--Just showed this photo to Adam who said, "Oh god. That really makes me want to watch it!" Sorry, Adam this is the cover for the book. Anne of Green Gables is foremost a book. And then 5 minutes later he dares to say, "Wait...didn't she have red hair?"

Cover photo of the new edition of Anne of Green Gables from here.

This was my idea for dinner last night. Vetoed by Adam. I guess somebody's gotta be the voice of reason against feeding our kids popcorn for dinner. But it looks so good...

Image from here.

And 46 Reasons My Three Year Old Might Be Freaking Out. So true, so true.

Jill's List:

Enabling my slightly delusional thought process regarding both Le Creuset and aging.

Image from Oh Joy!

It's that time of the year again: sex ed  for my Middle Schoolers.  Loving the anonymous Question Box and practicing saying the word "puberty" without pain with 6th graders.  I'm using a new curriculum for the unit this year.  The same one that New York City public schools use post-"yes, you have to teach about birth control!"- mandate.  So far, so good.

Image from ETR.

These images look like a photojournalist ventured into the slums of Kinshasa.  Yet, it's 1980's America.

Image from American Pictures found here.

When Mama YouYou saw that I had bought a selection of sifting baskets from a departing missionary, she rolled her eyes and asked me exactly what I planned on doing with these things in my house.  Well.  I admit that at the moment, they are serving as Lego storage containers.  Neither classy decorations proving my casual worldliness nor anywhere close to their intended purpose.

So, I've been searching for alternative ideas.  Like this:

Image from here.

Sarah and I really want Mama Congo business cards.  These are inspirational (and appropriate):

And, I'm missing maple syrup this morning.  Candico just doesn't do it for me.

Here's to hoping for a deliciously slow week allowing for luxurious blogging and self-enrichment through Business Statistics.  All that, plus a few hundred games of Spot It! with a certain 6-year old I know...

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