31 March 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

Adam and I are kicking our heels up, putting our winter boots on and leaving the kids behind for our Belgian adventure. While dear friend Sara Rich is away on her own vacation, we'll be staying in her apartment, visiting all her favorite places and wearing her clothes. That's not weird, right?

In true Sara Rich form, she sent us a personalized Google Map of Brussels. Has there ever been a greater hostess? Can't get enough of Sara Rich? (We obviously can't), check out her blog Beans & Rice for the Soul.

Eatin' waffles and takin' names. From here.

This past week a friend said in passing, "I'm headed to meet someone kind of famous. I can't remember the name. I think it's something like...Angelina Jolie?" True story. But it gets worse. This was an American friend. I had to cross reference. She was in fact here. Welcome Angelina, or whatever your name is...

Photo: rown Copyright/MOD. From here.

Check out this retro car seat and the fascinating evolution of other baby equipment here.

Image from here.

Oh man, how many times have you felt like this:

From thethingswesay.com.

We love blogs by mamas. Especially Mama's Minutia! Check out some really great posts by a fellow mama abroad. We especially loved this post last week which threw oh, around 1,000 extra views our way. Super pleased to rub elbows with such a superstar blogger.

Image from Mama's Minutia.

Jill's List:

I had this high school boyfriend who really knew how to crack a coconut.  He was seriously good at it. We could have used some tips today when Elias wanted to open the adorable coconuts which appeared in his Easter basket. (Hey, they were cheap and vaguely egg-shaped.)  I may have told him to "go bash them on some rocks or something."  And this is what he produced...not half bad:

That tips video (see above link) from the long-gone Gourmet Magazine makes me wistful.  Remember Domino magazine?  I still remember when I received the card in the mail "inviting me to explore Glamour" in place of my preferred, slightly bad-ass, Jane.  Seems like I'm not alone in my wistfulness for periodical days gone by.

Speaking of words in print...David Sedaris.  One of the best things that I did upon moving to the Congo was to purchase a digital subscription to the New Yorker.  Even though an edition takes like 50 hours to download, when it's complete, it means that I can read things like this in the jungle:
There was nothing that the authorities demanded that he couldn't locate:  our original birth certificates, a hank of his grandmother's hair, the shoes I wore when I was twelve.  People think it's easy to leave home and resettle in another country, but in fact it's exhausting and purposefully so.
The picture in my stolen [passport] wasn't half bad, but in the new one I look like a penis with an old person's face drawn on it.
Check out his new book, coming in April - thank goodness for my Kindle.

Image from Hachette Book Group.

Seeing this makes me want a career in event and space styling (who knew?).  This pair styled the Woodstock Foundry in CapeTown which thoroughly wooed me with it's beautifulness last Christmas...

The Foundry by Gather
Craig's best little hair shop - The Lobby + another lovely space style by "Gather." 

And.  Anxiously waiting for Atoms for Peace to finish Dropboxing it's way to me...though Sound Opinions was a little unsure...

Image from Atoms for Peace

Happy Easter Mama-Congo-kid-style!

I swear this was not posed.

28 March 2013

Two Babies: A Congo Birth Story

Mupwa has two babies now.

Remember Mupwa?

His two little girls were born on Monday:  Miriam and Katherine.

They look exactly alike, except that Katherine has a small mark on her left cheek.  I told Mupwa he was lucky - some parents of identical twins resort to toenail polish and color coded clothing.  For months, Mupwa believed he was going to have two boys.  He has known their names for months.  Three ultrasounds declared each time that his wife was growing " Les Deux Garçons."   So, when two tiny girls appeared, it was a shock.

The thing is, right now, those little babies are at one hospital while their mother is stuck in another.

Though their birth month was to have been March, these babies are so tiny.  Just under 2 kilograms, or 4ish pounds, each.  They needed special care and were immediately taken to a fancy downtown hospital, where a neonatologist practices.  Their mama is still sitting in the hospital where she gave birth, somewhat of a hostage. They simply won't let her leave until Mupwa coughs up $300.

That's a lot of money for a jardinier and this situation is very common at cash-strapped clinics and hospitals in developing countries. (Read about Loretta's story here.)

Lorette (Photo: Cindy Shiner)
Loretta.  From PRI's The World.

Sometimes, they let the mom go, but keep the baby until the bill is paid.  True story.

This afternoon, Mupwa's head was covered in flour.  He explained - a bit sheepishly - that Mama Vida, Mamitscho, and Mama YouYou threw flour on him to celebrate the babies being born.  They are happy for him - two babies!

He said he wished he felt like celebrating.

However, the reality of crushing hospital bills, the confusion of a makeshift NICU, and knowing a little bit what it takes to raise two babies on a gardener's salary in Kinshasa sours the excitement.  As we talked in the afternoon sun, and I saw sweat caking the flour on his brow.

26 March 2013

We need to talk about bugs...and our marriage.

A few nights ago something happened. And it's taken me a while to be able to talk about it.

While asleep, I felt something on my back and tried to brush it off. It didn't budge so I had to yank it. Then it got stuck to my hand, which I immediately started flapping all over to shake the thing off. By this time I was making panicked grunts. Adam woke up when he heard this something finally fly off my hand and hit the wall. I turned on the light and there. it. was.

Okay, not this exact spider, but this is one from our house. Adam would say it wasn't this big, but he doesn't read Mama Congo, so I can say it was. And it felt 5x this big.

I assumed Adam would jump up to kill it. He didn't. Fighting my gag reflex, I told him he had to. He started making excuses about not having his glasses and said by the time he found them the spider would be gone. So there's no point in even trying. This is actually what he says to me. Adam, we need to talk about our marriage.

I have the babies, you kill the spiders. This is all I ask. In the middle of the night, after a seriously traumatic event, this turned into an actual, emotional conversation. And this is not the first time we've had this "You do bugs, I do babies" talk. I was still mad the next morning. 

Lots of people ask about the bug life in the Congo. My sister, for example, refuses to visit due to the existence of spiders alone. I explain that a human is approximately 3 times bigger than most bugs here, so it's mind over matter. Until there's, say for example, one stuck to your back.

Now children, go stand by the termite mound.

I like our Congo bugs in the proper context. We currently have 3 very large spiders on the outside of our porch. They've made a massive web that I will tolerate because I've convinced myself it catches a lot of mosquitoes. And birds and rodents if they get too close. Charlotte loves these spiders and counts them every morning. She matter-of-factly says, "1, 2, 3 spiders. Because I'm three-years-old." Obviously.

These bugs can also be beautiful. At night along the path behind our house, if you have your headlamp on just right, you can see tons of glitter in the grass. It's really amazing until you realize the glitter is spider eyes. I kid you not. It's the most beautifully disturbing phenomenon ever.

Once, long before the children came along, we were off on a camping trip in Congo. (Because who goes camping after you have children? Gross.) I stepped on a pile of army ants and they locked themselves into me. These are the same ants they use as sutures. It hurt like crazy. At the time I remember thinking, I wonder if child birth is worse than this?  Good thing I didn't know, I would have never had children.

Safari ants, literally.

Bugs really are a losing battle. We've completely given up on the millions of ants all over our house, it's indoor millipede season all year long, and we've only found a snake in our house one time. I can deal with these things.

Recently Charlotte started waking up in the middle of the night and crawling into our bed. This makes no sense. She's worlds best sleeping child. We were stumped. Until one night when Adam slept in her bed (probably because he was in trouble again over his bug duties) and figured out why she had been waking up. He found cockroaches crawling all over him. He actually caught a couple as evidence.

Charlotte's bed? No, just the very authentic cockroach exhibit in the "Africa" section of the Chicago Zoo.

That's some good parenting. We had been bribing her to stay in her bed all night with the promise of dinosaurs, stickers and fanfare the next morning. She didn't fall for it. Smart girl. Miserable nights all because she's not old enough to explain, "Excuse me dear parents, but there are cockroaches in my bed."

This is the type of stuff that will all come out in therapy or our children's memoirs someday. Listen kids, you seemed pretty happy when we regularly pulled half-chewed millipedes out of your mouth. See how much we love you?

P.S. I didn't even mention Mango Worms. Ya know, the kind you pull out of your skin.

22 March 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

I love the line from this article: "When I imagined my journalism career, I never pictured myself standing shirtless in a unisex bathroom in the White House." America, you're so, so, so behind when it comes to making it easier for mamas. Remember this?

Check out this beautiful and totally bizarre Namibian slide show/fashion show. Colonization at it's best. Or weirdest. You can get the book here.

Image from here and Jim Naughten/courtesy of Klompching Gallery, Brooklyn, N.Y.

JacksonPollock.org. Pretty sneaky and totally addicting.

Be sure to check out this new blog: How Babies Work: Emergent Thinking About Emergent Humans. At a party last night, I really resisted the temptation to bring up this post about animals as breast pumps.

Animals as breast pumps and vice versa. Photo by Paolo Cipriani/Hemera.

If you are between the ages of 25 to 35, I dare you not to smirk. So true, thank you Facebook. Obnoxious Friend Won't Stop Attaining Major Life Milestones.

Seriously, cool it with the achievements. From here.

Floor plans of all your fake friends' apartments.

From laughingsquid.com.

In the age of vanity sizing and internet shopping, this tool seems ridiculously practical. Find out What Size Am I according to each store.

Image from dollymix.tv.

Jill's List:

Swooning over these posters:

Buy poster here.

Haunting vintage photography.  I used to spend hours with dusty copies of my grandparents' ancient National Geographic...

Tuareg goatherds drink tea in their desert shelter at Hassi Izernene, August 1973.Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie, National Geographic
Image from NatGeoFound.

Still fascinated with ultra-humans.

Ultra-althlete, Kilian Jornet from the NYTimes.

Making plans for this year's Kima Mbangu 5K Run/Walk with friends from Les Fonds pour les Femmes Congolaises again this year.  Congolese women working for Congolese women.

Ten Years in Ten Numbers.

Image from Foreign Policy.

And if you like numbers...  Numbers on the DRC.

Pili-pili eggs by J. Humphrey.

Dreaming of Istanbul.  Layover Summer 2013, here we come.

Gorgeous photo from Adventures of a Good Man.

A dreamy blog talking about a dreamy skincare line.  Sigh.

Image from the gorgeous Roost blog.

And. Giving my family of four hope that one day we might be able to squeeze stylishly into a teeny-tiny apartment.

Apartment tour a la Cup of Jo.

Finally.  On repeat at my house:  Low & Lucinda Williams.  Both really, truly incredible new albums. Especially the Kitchen Tapes and all those tracks by Mimi.  Go listen right now.

Image part of Lucinda Williams album art by photographer James Minchin.  See his Mad Men stuff here.

19 March 2013


Last night, I surveyed the situation and found myself with a sick husband, two hungry kids, and an empty fridge.

After some rummaging, I found the following:

  • half a can of black beans
  • 1 small, forgotten green pepper
  • 3 good potatoes, 1 squishy potato
  • 2 limp, tiny leeks
  • 1 carrot
  • half of a cucumber
  • 36 eggs

That's right.  36 eggs.  We eat a lot of eggs and have them delivered by the flat-full every week.  They arrive covered in feathers and muck.  It's kind of great and kind of gross.

I wanted to prove that I was totally capable of single-handedly taking care of morning and evening routines at our house...even if the main cook was sequestered miserably in the back room.  I kept thinking about this radio program I used to listen to when we lived in Seattle. People would call in and report the pathetic contents of their "empty" refrigerators and a famous chef would calmly explain to them how to make a gourmet meal out of nothing.  I wanted that number.  If I emphasized that I was calling from the Congo, I would be sure to make the cut.

Image from here.

I decided there was one solution:  french fries.  When crisped up in some oil and salt, even a squishy potato can be reborn into something delicious, right?  I followed the Martha Stewart pre-soak process and got the fries going in the oven.*  I ignored the unbelievably annoying behavior that arises from post-homework, pre-dinner children.  I tried to figure out what goes with french fries.

Which brought me to the holy omelet.  A little fancier than scrambled eggs and a perfect hiding place for some slightly old cheese (hey, I cut off the moldy bits) and those two tiny leeks.  As I've repeatedly stressed, Johan is the cook in our house.  He is the one who knows things about eggs.  So, I turned to Cup of Jo for assistance.  This article, in fact.

And, now, I'm convinced that I am some sort of omelet savant.  The recipe was that good.

I mixed up the rest of the vegetable remnants from my house into some sort of black bean salad (using Smitten Kitchen - who else? - as a guide), set everything on the table, and lit some candles.  And by "candles," I mean "iPad" - on which we all watched Barbapapa.  Sometimes, it truly is okay to watch TV while you eat.  Last night being case and point.

Eating ethereal eggs + cheese + french fries while watching bizarre French cartoons with quiet, chewing children is an experience that every mother should have when her partner deserts her for a stomach virus.  I highly recommend it.

Image from here, here, and here**.

And this morning, I know three things:

  • I need to go grocery shopping.
  • I'm really happy Johan has rejoined the land of the living.
  • I make incredible omelets.

* I would like to note that nobody makes fries like Adam Sensamaust.  Nobody.  Even Martha Stewart.
**Read more about Barbapapa amazingness at the incredible blog, "Vintage Books My Kid Loves".

15 March 2013

The Mama-cation

I think there's something to be said for the mama-cation. As in the vacation that mamas take without their families. Jill and I both just got back from trips away from our families and we feel incredible.

Yes we were working, but honestly sometimes it feels oh-so-good to not be a mama. I don't think either of us would ever feel inspired to leave the country sans family, but when work requires it, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

Every year before I leave, it pretty much sucks. I hate every sentimental moment. That last night you put your kids to bed. Imagining all the new words Ani will say or the gymnastics moves Charlotte will show off. "Do you remember this one? Mama, how about this one?" And every year I swear I'm never leaving them again.

But then I board the plane and it takes off...and the landing gear goes up and...ahhhh.

I read this article last year about the motherhood vacation. Once a year this woman heads out on her own and does whatever. the. heck. she. wants. Genius. She even took a photo of her bed.

I remember in extreme detail the hotel bed I slept in the first time I left 8-month-old, up-all-night, non-stop nursing Annaïs. I fell in love. With sleep. I went to bed and didn't wake up until the next morning. I think this must be the second most happiest moment a mother experiences after that moment your baby is born.

I can say this next part because Adam doesn't read Mama Congo, but there is no way, no how that I would ever let him leave me alone with our two children. I desperately love them, but they are co-conspirators to a professional degree. I have no idea how he does it for so many minutes..so many hours..so many days while I'm gone. Alone.

Sometimes Adam will go outside to put chicken on the grill and when he comes back a few minutes later all 3 of us are crying. And I give him that look of: What took you so long? Don't you ever, EVER leave me alone with these children again. In my defense, I swear they keep all their crazy in until they're with just their mother. Surely other mothers have noticed this phenomenon...

The mama-cation re-teaches you about yourself too. For example, did you know it takes me 90% less time to get ready in the morning when I am alone? The first morning I asked for my wake-up call way too early and spent 45 minutes staring at the wall, waiting to leave, thinking, "Wow, how did I do that so fast?"

It's also incredibly fulfilling to talk to your family via Skype and then when the meltdowns begin you simply say, "What? I can't hear you anymore? Everyone's screaming too loud. Okay, bye!" Click, hang-up.

From cupofjo's Would you Ever Take a Vacation By Yourself

Again, I can say all this because #1 Adam doesn't read Mama Congo and #2 during this last trip while I was away I booked us a vacation to Europe in a few weeks. Alone. Well together, but sans children. He deserves some time away from our dear girls too and solo trips out to the grill just aren't cutting it anymore.

8 March 2013

Mama Vida's Batik

Mama Vida has this dress.  It's purple and obviously not made of Congolese pagne.  It's batik cloth from Ghana.  This dress is old - at least 15 years, since that's when Vida left Ghana for Congo.  It's worn.  It's been repaired often.

Yesterday, I went out to  buy Mama Vida some new batik for a new dress to remind her of Ghana.  This wasn't a plan.  The only request that I had from anyone for my trip to Ghana was "Shea Butter!"  Right before I left, Mamas Vida, NouNou, and YouYou all lobbied me to bring back as much of the stuff as possible, for everyone's beautification.  Mama Vida had obviously been extolling it's virtues.

Mama Vida said she didn't need anything.  So, I decided she needed some batik.  Which brings us to Esther.  Esther was a name of a Mama given to me as the person to go to for quality cloth.  So, a group of us in the workshop I'm attending (more on that later) called her up and she agreed to stay open late so that we could swing by after working all day.

Here I am with Mama Esther.  I obviously love having my photo taken.

The process of choosing a batik print (made by Esther) was difficult.  So, her son, Joe, helped out.  He  asked what shade and size Mama Vida was ("Is she a very fat Ghanaian? Very thin? Very short? Ah, middle sized!  Very dark? Or light?  I know this type.  You will need lots of cloth, then.") and helped me find two pieces of cloth that he said would be perfect.  We disagreed on the wild purple and green.  Agreed on the yellow.  And came to an understanding about the muted blue and red.  In the end, I chose two pieces:

We'll see which one she chooses.  Mama Esther and Joe both said they were "Nice, nice" in the same tone and cadence as Mama Vida uses when she compliments LouLou on a drawing or praises Elias for reading.  "So nice, nice."

We also hit up a little fair trade shop called Global Mamas before heading to sushi.  That's right.  Sushi.  I'm a happy person.  This trip has been mostly intense work, but the play has been quality.

But.  I'm really missing these folks:

And Johan too.  Very, very much.

Tomorrow, my plane will stop off in Togo, Nigeria, and Gabon after Ghana and before landing home in the DRCongo.  Can't wait to deliver the goods to Mama Vida and squeeze my family.

For now, I'm off to the market.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...