31 May 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

Anyone heard of the book The Sh!t No One Tells You: A Guide To Surviving Your Baby's First Year? Why didn't we think of this?! So many true chapters including: You'll Never Sleep Again, Having Pets Did Not Prepare You for This, and my personal favorite You'll Probably Want a Divorce.

Buy it here.
Here's an excerpt entitled "Breast-feeding is hell." I wholeheartedly agree. I just wish more moms would speak honestly so that when it happens we don't think we're a failure. Hmm, maybe there's a breast-feeding post in Mama Congo's future...
The only evidence that exists of me nursing. Well, in addition to about a million eye witnesses. Before you judge, read the comments in the original post for a disclaimer on why Jill isn't wearing gloves.

Have you seen these maps? Reproductive Rights Around the World.

Image from the article here.

We've been talking a lot about bug repellant lately. So much so that readers are giving us recommendations. Here's one. We even got a complimentary spray of it at an outdoor dinner this week. And I came home bite-free! I mean it has a map of Africa on the label, it must be legit.

Lifesystems Expedition. Get it here.

Check this out: Because Every Country is the Best at Something. Notice Congo is the best at "renewable energy." That's a fancy way of saying, we don't actually have real electricity...

Jill's List:

Johan was really worried because this photo arrived in his email inbox yesterday:

No, I have no explanations or excuses for why my hair looks like that.

Though it may appear that someone is holding me hostage, this photo is simply a fun part of buying trendy online prescription glasses.  That's right, it's only my pupillary distance being calculated with a little help from a standard credit card and a bad webcam.  I'm actually super impressed with the ingenuity of this trick.

And, the glasses I ordered:

BonLook's Flanagan Rose Gold.

were only $99 (prescription and shipping included).  Thanks, BonLook!

I'm really looking forward to getting back to a part of the world where video streaming is possible.  Mainly because of Mathnet.  Yeah, that's right.  I can't wait to show Elias old episodes of Mathnet on You Tube.
He'll probably hate it.  But, I'll have fun.

Speaking of birth control...(see above).  Ever wanted to know all about family planning help in the DRC?  (Sure you do!) Turns out, there is an incredible public health resource (with a beautiful website - a rarity in Congo) that brings together all of the many providers under one - digital - roof.  Check it out here.

Family Planning in the DRC
The site is more for professionals than patients, but is really fascinating.

Had an exciting first this week:  first magazine interview (and it was in French!)  I told Tchic, my French tutor, that he should be very proud that I only almost cried one time.  Look'In Magazine is pretty great, celebrating the inquisitive, hip, artistic side of Kinshasa.  They are the ones who had the article on tia foin - remember?  They wanted to chat about the Kima Mbangu 5K Run from earlier this month.  So excited!

Bali baby!  See? - traveling with kids really is totally worthwhile and doable. Just do it! Thanks for the gorgeous travelogue, Hither &Thither...

Beautiful photograph from the blog Hither & Thither.

This is interesting.  It begins:
“Welcome to the Congo”, said my driver, Emmanuel, as we walked to the car from the vaguely organised chaos of Kinshasa’s Ndjili airport. “This is not a place for beginners”, he continued, as I confessed that this was my first visit to Africa. 

Today was the Elementary Sidewalk sale.  There was cotton candy. And there was Elias, who's father gave him "enough money for TWO LARGE ONES!"  Wish me luck, folks.

A Dress is Born

I've been spoiled by tailors.  Or, rather, by one in particular.  My belle mere (isn't that a smart translation of "mother-in-law"? Literally, "beautiful mother.") is a tailor and I've missed the custom couture since we've been 6,000 miles apart.

So, I decided to do what everyone else in the country does: call a couturier.

Despite Congo's multiple wins as "worst-poorest-most downtrodden-etcetera place on earth," the people don't look shabby.  Most of the clothes people wear around here arrive to Africa squashed by the ton into a gigantic bale of cast-offs.  These are the Goodwill rejects.

Despite this, most folks in the city never appear crumpled and in fact, usually look pretty fabulous.  You know why?  Tailors.  There are couturier - or tailors - everywhere and despite significant income restrictions, Kinois prioritize the power of the cloth nip and tuck.  Pants are perfectly skinny.  Dresses fit like a glove.  Skirts are penciled to highlight the best curves.  Even if you are a housekeeper and make a relative pittance, you know somebody who can work the necessary magic on your wardrobe.  Or, more likely, you are also a gifted seamstress and you do it yourself.

Which is where Landrine comes in.

Oh yeah.  She's also incredibly gorgeous.  

Landrine works on campus cleaning houses and word got out that she could sew.  It was a pair of shorts that started it.  Last year, she made a pair of pleated shorts out of pagne for another teacher and we were all sold.  Let me say that again.  Pleated shorts.  Somehow, she made pleated shorts in a shockingly loud pattern something extremely desirable.  That is serious talent.

So, I asked her if she would make me a dress like this:

Buy this version here.

Something sweet and short and fun to go with this fabric I bought while in Ghana last March:

So, we got to work.  First, with the measurements:

I love notebooks.  Isn't this great?

And, then, Landrine disappeared for several days with a copy of the dress example, her notebook, and the cloth from Ghana.  

She returned with this:

Super lovely.  Super fast.  Super inexpensive.

The fact that this custom dress (with three fittings along the way) only cost a few dollars is a little tough.  The fabric alone would cost more in the U.S than I paid for the entire experience.  Am I ripping off Landrine by paying her so little?  Taking advantage?  It's one of those questions that comes up when you suddenly find yourself a fantastically rich (compared to everyone around you) expat living in a developing nation.  But, what if I did pay her the same as my American mother-in-law might charge a customer for the same process and labor?  It would be strange to pay a month's salary for one simple dress.  And what would a price hike mean for everyone else that wants a new dress?  What about that general dedication to neatness, style, and fit that can only be achieved for normal people in Congo with a little help from the likes of Landrine?

So, I paid.  And she was pleased.  And so was I.

But, I haven't quite been brave enough for the pleated shorts yet.  Maybe next year.

28 May 2013

Exciting News!!

We have barely been able to contain ourselves. A few months ago Mama Congo got an email from Joanna Goddard. You heard that right.

If you are in the slight margin of people who have yet to discover her blog, A Cup of Jo, please check it out. She is our blogoddess, if you will. We've spent the last few years referring to her as if she is our friend. "Did you see what Jo's talking about today?" has started many-a conversation. I'm pretty sure I read her blog more than I read Mama Congo, so you can only imagine our excitement when her email popped up in our inbox.

Beautiful blog header from here.  She just put up a post on pretend shopping.  We are officially kindred spirits.

Her good friend/assistant for the series wrote to say that she and Jo "could not stop reading" Mama Congo.

We could barely breathe.

You see, a few months ago Joanna put up a post looking for parents abroad. Some of our loyal readers forwarded it to us (as if we would have missed it!) and we replied.

Since then, Jill and I have been emailing back and forth with them working on our very own Mama Congo post which will appear on A Cup of Jo sometime in the near future.

We've reached the point where our husbands can no longer pretend to be excited, so we wanted to share the news with you.

And please help us become a real blog by following us. Over there, in the upper right-hand corner. We recently discovered the concept of "followers" at a BBQ when someone asked us how many followers we have. And we said, "Huh, wha? Oh, tons!" Then we looked it up and saw only our parents "follow" us. So we've put it on our homepage to make it easier for you to find! 

**Update: So it seems a lot of you follow us anonymously. That's cool too. You don't have to admit it. 

26 May 2013

Friday List!

Jill's List:

These are on my list for "To Buy in the United States."  We have a serious Lego explosion problem. Thanks, Swissmiss.

Modern midwifery offered as a service for ALL mamas.  (Photo essay by Alice Proujansky.)

Midwife Jennie Jones from Commonsense Childbirth in Florida.  Photo from Alice Proujansky's series, here.

This is how Johan and I are acclimating ourselves to American culture and reducing stress all at the same time.  Highly recommended - though I was very resistant at first.  (Johan still won't admit in public that he likes the show.  So I thought I'd post about on my blog.)

Image from here.

The other day, Loulou was running around the house yelling, "America is going to buy me a t-shirt!"  I asked "What? Who told you that?", and she responded, "Elias."  Obviously, my children are already experiencing significant confusion as a result of our lifestyle.  One day, they will enjoy this Tumblr, I suppose.

From the entry: "When you meet someone who has never been to Europe."
Tried to contact the author - but couldn't find an address.  Any ideas?

African travels and gobsmackingly expressive photography on this blog.  More from him on The Getaway.

Incredible images.  You must see more of Anton Crone's work here.

Badouin Muoanda captures dreams from the Republic of Congo (across the river from us).  Check out images from his new work, "Le Rêve."
For this particular project, Baudouin asked women to wear a white wedding gown in a variety of locations to explore the idea of beauty in unlikely places. He would position the women in front of his camera in a whole host of colourful, contradictory surroundings and ask them, "Now that you are wearing this wedding gown, what's your dream?"
Image from here.

Sarah's List:

Another year is coming to a close. And it's another year made possible by the mamas. Makes me think of this great award acceptance speech when Amy Peohler thanked her nannies:

"...on behalf of every sister and mother and person who stands in your kitchen and helps you love your child, 
I say thank you and I celebrate you tonight."

1.2 years. That's how long Neanderthals breast-fed their babies. Fascinating. I wonder if they still judged each other

Field Museum, Chicago. Image from here.

Researchers have concluded, from the tooth of one Neanderthal child, that the infant was weaned off of its mother’s milk earlier than primates and a vast majority of modern humans.

Two things that made us laugh this week: The 39 Most Brooklyn Things Ever and 50 Things Only '80s Kids Can Understand. Seriously, after Baby Jessica, my childhood was spent staying at least 10 feet away from any well. 

One Man. Every Country. No Flights. Here's the only guy to do it. And here are his experiences in our part of the world. Bonus: An incredibly exhaustive review of all the world's flags. (Thanks Justin for the link!)

"Here’s another flag that changes every five minutes. The use of blue and yellow is never going to have me flinging out accolades like sweets from a parade, and there’s nothing particularly exciting going on here. I mean it’s not dreadful… it’s just not very good. Score: 3/10" Image from his website here.
I recently wrote about my pick for best bug repellant. But you might want to add a little DEET to that. In fact, when we arrived the handed-down rule was, "Wear nothing with less than 20% DEET." Here's a good run-down comparing DEET vs. the alternatives.

Or you can just not wear any bug lotion and drink lots of Gin and Tonics. Because the Tonic Water has quinine in it. Right? Right? That's always been my theory. Looks like that might not be so accurate. I'm pretending I never read this

Lining up for their quinine. (École des réugiés d'Asie mineure et de Macédoine où se fait une distribution de quinine août 1916.) Source found here.

Most important link of the week: 

Josh, Ashley and Leo are dear friends of everyone in the Mama Congo family. Go to their page, read about their sweet boy and think about how you can help.

22 May 2013

Toe Paint

 An early childhood education expert once told me that toenail painting is a great activity for toddlers.  Like with real polish.

"It's excellent for fine motor skills!" she said.

I was still hesitant to actually let Loulou hold the brush.  "It's so not worth it," I thought.  I had too many visions of white couches spattered in Mezmerised or Moon Rendezvous.

Until the other day.  Which is when I walked into the living room and saw this:

Or rather, this:

Just the right amount of helping hand.

Mama Vida was letting, or more accurately, encouraging my just-three year old paint her toes a perfect purple all by herself - on the white chairs.

And the sky did not fall.

In fact, she did a pretty great job and was supremely pleased with herself.

Sarah told me one time that she often asks herself, "What would Mama YouYou do?"  I realize that I do the same.  What would Mama Vida do?

She would climb a starfruit tree after leaving work - even if she is a fifty-something woman.  She would take 3 hour long adventure walks through the rainforest with little children still unsteady on their feet.  She would read gigantic piles of books with babies despite imperfect literacy skills.  She would let them eat Nutella. She would give lots of hugs.

The other Mama in the house made me realize that I need to chill out and give my kid some credit.  All that with just a little Flirt by Revlon.

*Pssst.  This is post #200.  Wahoo!*

20 May 2013

5 Congolese Myths*

*Or truths. Who am I to judge?

After living in Congo for a while, there are certain cultural understandings that are well, hard to understand from a Western perspective. And I'm not even talking about banishing your child to the streets for suspected witchcraft. Which does happen.

Of course not all Congolese believe in the following, but many do...and that's what keeps our lives interesting.

1. Cold water kills. Okay, it doesn't kill, but drinking it will definitely make you sick. Not long after we moved to Congo a friend had a sneezing, eye-watering cold and I offered my condolences. Then he said, "Yeah, I got it from the cold water you served me at your house." I now have a tepid water only policy for my Congolese guests. I was reminded of this a few days ago when a friend filled up her ice-filled bottle with water. I commented on how refreshing it looked and she whispered, "It's so bad for my health, but I let myself indulge every once in a while."  

A guilty pleasure. Image from here.

2. Air conditioning is just as bad. I'm starting to believe this one is true. Every time I go to the doctor, his first prescription is: Turn off your AC, you will feel better. And it works. Many Congolese have a strict no AC rule. I think it mostly comes from not wanting to spend you day in an air conditioned office, then return to your home, baked in tropical heat, with no electricity. It's a shock to the senses. I can completely understand preventing your body from being conditioned by air conditioning. But I still can't convince Nurse Jill it's making me sick. I swear, it is!

You try turning off the AC when this is your life. Image from here.

3. Pink eye came from the moon. A few weeks ago Charlotte got pink eye. The mamas hovered and said, "Oh, she has Apollo!" She has what? Well, did you know the astronauts brought pink eye back from the moon? I personally, did not know this. It turns out pink eye showed up in Africa about the same time as the moon landing. Hence the name. Funny how astronaut heroes got blamed for conjunctivitis rather than clueless American backpackers, or other literal foreign bodies. But really, who am I to say Neil Armstrong didn't come back from the moon with gunky eyes?

"That's one small step for man, pink eye for mankind." P.S. Now we know why they covered their eyes. Image from here.

4. Baby girls wear earrings. No exceptions. We have two girls. This is a fact. But it is not obvious. Since birth we've had to explain they're girls because they don't wear earrings. I guess it's a bit like dressing your baby boy in a pink, floral pattern in the States. We look for those cultural markers to indicate gender. Charlotte was quick to grow hair, so it became clear. Ani, on the other hand is still lacking in the hair department. Proper Congolese baby girls have their ears pierced after delivery and get beaded extensions soon after if they can't grow hair. Or some particularly desperate parents have to break down and buy the knitted fake-baby-hair-hat. Because a bald, un-jeweled baby is just embarrassing.

Desperate times call for desperate baby hats.

A group of ladies from a local sewing school regularly bring clothing they've made for our children. Charlotte gets a beautiful dress. Ani gets a pants suit because she is a boy. This has gone on since she was born. We were too embarrassed to correct them. (And after all it is our fault for not piercing her ears.) So we continued to refer to her using the gender neutral "le bébé" in front of them instead of using her name. Then recently they overheard someone call her Annaïs and the jig was up. "But we've always made her boy clothes," they said. "Well, we thought she was an awfully girly-looking boy." And then like clockwork: "But why didn't you just pierce her ears?!"

Charlotte in her dress and little boy Ani in half of her pants suit. (We just couldn't bear to put her in the button down shirt and reinforce the belief of Palm Sunday church-goers that she's a boy.)

5. Fever = Malaria. If you have a fever, you feel like you might be getting a fever, or your friend has a fever. You most certainly have malaria. Then you start taking self-prescribed antibiotics immediately. Or your doctor says you have malaria, when you don't or they don't really know, but they just want to cover all the bases. There's a whole phenomenon of over-treating and over-diagnosing malaria.

When our children get a fever, the mamas rally and ask/demand I give medicine immediately. At first I tried to explain that I wanted to wait and watch, and let a low grade fever do its job. This caused far too much anxiety among the mamas. "What if she has malaria? You must give her medicine." So now I give a little Gripe Water "medicine," pay close attention to the fever, and everyone's happy.

Source of anxiety, real and imagined. Image from here.

I get it. Where I'm from, people get sick and then they get better. In Congo people get sick and they don't get better. Thankfully, my kids just keep recovering. They must be witches.

17 May 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

We're about to make that flight across the Atlantic in a few weeks. So it's about this time of year when we allow ourselves to get itchy for the things we miss. Jill says the things she misses change from year to year. Mine stays the same. Which has been confirmed since my three-year-old told me at breakfast this morning that I have "beaucoup eyebrows."

Alternatively, here's what Adam dreams of. Seriously. I swear if he could sit around all summer and do one thing, it's watch people get hit in the crotch on America's Funniest Home Videos. Someone actually made a list in descending order of all the ways this happens. Adam thinks it's genius. And this is where our understanding of each other goes in very different directions.

From here.

Did you know the word "mama" is universal? Here's a fascinating explanation. Except for my child who has decided to call me "Mamas." No, no Ani, "Say, Mama. No 's.' Not plural." Okay, nevermind. You're right. There are lots of Mamas.

Here's another one of those, if-you-read-just-one-thing-this-week articles. On examining adoption ethics. First families, first.

From here.

I needed a therapeutic laugh this week, so I went to my favorite speech of all time. I still remember the first time I read it in my tiny office at my terrible summer job. There was no hiding I wasn't working when I went into one of those embarrassing laugh/cries. Luckily these days I work with this saint and he pretends not to notice the laugh/cries...and real cries.

I love blogger Mama Minutia's intro to this piece, "I have a maid. It can get messy. (And I'm not talking about the house.)" Talking about help.

From Mama's Minutia.

Jill's List:

Hoping to finish strong tomorrow.  And I'm not even running.  How did I become a race coordinator, again?  Read more about how the Kima Mbangu (Run Fast) 5K came to be here.  If you are in Kinshasa and want to run and support an amazing local organization (Les Fonds Pour les Femmes Congolaises) - be at the TASOK campus at 8:30am!

Red carpet pregnancy.

Image from NYTimes.

Johan is obsessed with our microbiomes.  He's trying to get us all pumped up about kimchi and buttermilk.  He's obviously been reading way too much from this guy.  I gently reminded him that we live in the Congo and our children frequent eat dirt.  Germs are certainly our friends.

Yeah, something like that.  Image from here.

We lived in Guatemala City for three months soon after we got married.  Yeah, super romantic.  Rios Montt was hoping to run for president again and his face was plastered everywhere.  For many, his image was a disturbing, repeated reminder of unspeakable atrocities.  Last week, people spoke, and he became the first head of state to be tried and convicted of genocide in a domestic court Nunca Más .

Image by James Rodriguez for Mimundo.org  At the trial of Rios Montt.

I love this space.  (And such a beautiful blog, too.)

Image from Le Dans La.

Busy parousing You Tube for dessins animes for upcoming plane and airport hours.  Best score yet?  
1967  L'Araignée  - the original series - in French. 

Last minute add-in because it's quite the read for anyone and everyone living and working in a developing country.  Foreigners "trying to do good."
And here is what they don’t know: These houses? We could never afford them back home. These houses we have because they don’t. We have a job because they are poor. And because their poverty is extreme, because the country they were born in is hot, dusty, stormy, messy and perilous, we are paid well.
Image from the cover of Jonathan Katz's book "The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster."

If you are in need of amazingly curated suggestions for kid's books, apps, movies, and websites, check out Tinybop, Inc.  It's pretty flawless.  Sure fire sign that they are good:  they include most everything that William Steig has ever written.

Tiny Bop
Image from here.

Bon weekend!

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