26 June 2013

Congo Fruit at the Brooklyn Market

Sometimes, Sarah and I like to talk about how expensive it is to live in Kinshasa.  How a box of cereal and a pint of strawberries both cost around $27 each.  It is sort of shocking. 

So, I went to a fancy neighborhood market in Brooklyn and reminded myself of the flip side.  Such as:

See that tiny sack of sad, hard mangosteens?  We have a whole crisper full on any given day.  For pennies.  Elias loves them because the fruit is pretty much like eyeballs. 

And starfruit? We can pick them off of trees in our backyard.  (Remember when I found Mama Vida up a starfruit tree?) Those little spiky balls in the picture above - those are rambutans, and we have them as well.  For free!

The passion fruit!  So much passion fruit.  I confess that we had so many of these little suckers that I had to throw some out just before we left because they were moldy.  Forget "two for $5".

So as I indulge this summer in strawberries, blueberries, and nectarines as if they are precious exotic fruit, I'll comfort myself with the knowledge that my current "exotic" is much less expensive than everyone else's.

25 June 2013

NY List!

Jill's List (NY Edition):

I think I creeped out the folks at Fox & Fawn today when I confessed at the register that I had been "dreaming of you all year."  So, then, realizing that I sounded freakish, I had to throw in the magic "I-live-in-the-Congo" phrase to turn the situation around.  But I do literally dream of their amazingly edited clothes for 10 months of the year...

Preparing to indulge in something along the lines of these tomorrow.  Thank you, Alice.

Found a bag.  Not what I thought I wanted, but I did.  Especially at that discount.

Johan took a picture of me and my funky (their word, not mine) wine at Marlow & Sons.  It's so incredibly enjoyable to eat really good food.

Found some amazing photos of Haitian solidarity in 1970's Brooklyn stuffed into a basket in this shop.  While I was leafing through, I realized that many of the snapshots in the pile also featured a person who I'm pretty sure is Morgan Tsvangirai.  Haven't figured that one out yet.

However, after seeing one too many adorable parent/kid groupings today...I'm officially really missing my two babies, who are having some quality grandparent time this week while we hang out with family in Brooklyn.  Email from my mom today:
So, E & L are playing house, with Elias as the father and Lou as the daughter. Do you guys call E & L "honey" and "sweetie pie"? 

So cute and funny….

(We actually call them "Bubba" and "Lucy girl" or..."chicken" - which sounds so much sweeter as the French "ma poule".  I really need to add some culture to my baby nicknames.)

Photo that accompanied the email.  I think they are surviving.  Sniff.

And.  Johan and I on a pier with Manhattan in the background.  Lovely.

Finally, I'm thrilled that Sarah is driving up to the city for an extra-special Thursday morning brunch...

20 June 2013

The Lesser-Known Culture Shock

Lots has been said about culture shock. Everyone gets it. It's hard learning how to deal without water, electricity or Target. But a lesser known shock also deserves a mention. It's called returning home. Or "reverse culture shock" or having a "re-entry experience." But I don't think a term exists for what we do. We live abroad indefinitely, come home for a short period of time, but never really "re-enter" permanently. And then we up and go just as we get comfortable having Target around the corner.

I think the feeling is best described by the emotions of our children who spend most of the day in tears, tantrums or clinging to our legs for dear life. If it was socially acceptable for me to act out this way, I would. It can be tough. For example, here are some signs you're having a rough "re-entry experience."

#1. Your First World Fantasy is easily crushed.

For ten months out of the year we know the option of using a public restroom is non-existent. Only in extreme emergencies will you find me in an African "restroom" if they can be called that. More realistically, you will not find me anywhere near a public hole in the ground, if I can avoid it.

Comme Ça. Except this one looks pretty fancy with those extra accessories beside it. Obviously, this one is in Paris. Check it out here.

If we're going to be out and about, there's no consumption of liquids beforehand to avoid any bathroom-ing experience. No coffee on Sunday morning because there's literally no bathroom at our church. Unless you want to go behind the building, but I've never been back there because I plan accordingly. But that's okay because we live in the Congo and we know to expect it. When we visit the States there will be amazing public restrooms. This is what I look forward to. This is my first world fantasy.

Until this year when the public restroom association decided to ban paper towels. Seriously, what's going on? Everywhere we go paper towels have been replaced by those crazy dryers that invite me to "Feel the Power" and blow (no...jet propel) air at your hands until you think your skin is going to come off. All year-long I've been looking forward to pleasant public bathroom experiences and now I just have to beg my children to put their hands under the weird machine with the electric blue light beaming out of it, and promise them their skin won't come off. I really love saving the planet, but this is not what I had in mind.

Ordinarily this is not something to freak out about. But if you are having a rough "re-entry experience," hand dryers are a first world struggle.   

"Feel the Power" and dry your hands the All-American way.

#2. Second hand sweaters make you cry.

A few days after we got back Adam stopped short in a consignment shop when he found the perfect red sweater. "Would you just feel this sweater? It's the most beautiful sweater I've ever seen. It's the perfect J.Crew sweater. It gets cold sometimes in Kinshasa, right? I should get it." Adam, we live in the tropics. You cannot get that sweater.

Then right there in the middle of the store he started into a very sad and dramatic monologue about how at no time in the near future would he be in cold weather. And almost started crying over the dearth of "snuggly" clothes in his wardrobe.

Then the next day as we were riding in the car he broke the silence with, "Hey, do you remember that sweater from yesterday? That was really bittersweet." 

J. Crew red sweater photo from here.

#3. You're just one wrong number away from a meth lab.

A few years ago after gorging ourselves on The Wire, we realized when we were back in the States we could buy disposable phones, drug dealer-style. Thankfully, the US has somewhat caught on to SIM cards and now we just get "disposable" phone numbers. But then we got this gem of a text message:

Bonus Post: Here's how we were dealing with reverse culture shock this time last year. It seems the Costco samples were a lot more fun before our children were old enough to notice the difference between Congo and the States. And thus hadn't learned to take their stress out in the form of extreme stranger fear or epic tantrums. Those were the days...

18 June 2013

Hot Pink Business Card Swoon

Just a quick post to rave about our new business cards.  They are marvelous in every sense of the word.  With these hot pink edged babies in our pockets, we will quickly become annoying - pressing them into the palms of anyone who might care.  Consider yourselves warned.

The folks at The Mandate Press were brilliant to work with and their $95 deal was well-suited to our no-profit blogger status.


This just in! The Mandate Press has offered Mama Congo readers a discount on all your card purchases. Use the code: MAMACONGO and get 10% off your purchase!

15 June 2013

Friday List!

Jill's List:

The Look3 Festival of the Photograph is happening right down the road.  I'm itching to get to Charlottesville ASAP.

Image from here.

Still following the Turkish news with interest...and checking my children for signs of PTSD following our dinner with a side of tear gas in Istanbul this week.  Sounds dramatic, and it is.  We were awed at the energy emanating from absolutely everyone we talked to about the protests. (Special thanks to Yasmin, who will be featured in a later Mama Congo post.)  Even the mamas have gotten in on the action.  Check out their human chain:

This image from Facebook.

Also from Istanbul: My new shoes.  Stepped into the tiny Old Sandal shop near our hotel and fell in love with the blue leather oxfords.  Highly recommended.

Bourdain on Congo.  (I still need to watch the episode!)

And 60 Seconds of Congo.


I teach a lesson in a digital citizenship unit that has my middle schoolers explore what to do about the fact that "Happy Birthday" is totally copyrighted.  Not for much longer?  Check this out.

Image from the NYTimes.

"The Art of Being a Goal-Getter" from Oh Joy!

Image from Oh Joy!

Using this to study for the GREs.  Anyone tried it?  One month plan, here I go...

Two editions of Kinfolk were waiting for me upon arrival to the U.S.  Sigh.  They will be my reward between study sessions.

Image from here.

Sarah's List:

If only the view from our seats looked like this. Pilot Documents His Journeys from 35,000 Feet. Yowzers! (Thanks Joanna.) The one and only time I have been in the cockpit was to force an introduction between the school group I was traveling with and the two female Kenyan pilots flying our plane. A truly special moment. 

Find more amazing images at Karim Nafatni's photo website.

If you're still in Kinshasa, check out the Jazz Festival. Many great memories have been made here. And many Bralima glasses may/may not have been stolen...

You said it right, New York Times: In Brussels, Frites are More than Just Fries. And to prove our daughter has been thoroughly Belgianized via Congo frites, when we're served fries Stateside she screams, "But where's the mayonnaise?!"

A very good recipe for Pommes Frites with Mayonnaise.

Are you getting married this summer? Here's something to read regarding your guests and photography. Nothing sends me into deep breathing exercises faster than sitting behind someone at an event who's using their iPad or other oversized i-Thingy to record it. Put the screens down people, and watch the moment as it happens. And if you can't, please stand to the side so I don't have to watch the event via the large screen you're holding in the air. Okay, deep breaths...

From Corey Ann photography and here.

 Bill Clinton on Chelsea's birth story. Father of the Year indeed. 

Chelsea and Bill. From here.

 Expat Culture Shock. It's a thing people. Here's my favorite tip:

You’ll need to prepare a three-sentence answer to the question:
"Oh, you lived in [fill in the blank]. What was that like?” or “How did you like it?" Your answer to this question should take no more than three minutes. 
Most people lose interest after that amount of time.

 ...unless you live in the Congo. In that case, it's best to stick to 30 seconds or not mention it at all.

This year I've been dealing with expat culture shock by spending way too many hours -okay, days- searching online for the perfect leather bag. Won't you help my readjustment and tell me where to find one? Suggestions welcome.

12 June 2013

We're on World Moms Blog!

We're taking a mini blogging break as we commence our summer vacations and reorient to all things American (read: eating lots of food).

But have no fear. Check out Mama Congo's inaugural post today on World Moms Blog. What? Never heard of World Moms Blog? Maybe you missed their recent "Must Read" mention in the New York Times. Or the Forbes List of Top Websites for Women. No big deal.


But seriously, it's a great community of mamas doing their international thing. And we're thrilled to be included. Go world moms!

8 June 2013

Friday List!

Sarah's List:

Mama Congo Success! Remember when we started an all-out campaign to get Anthony Bourdain to come to Congo (Tony, COME TO MAMA)? Well it worked! Okay, who are we kidding? It was a total coincidence that he came, but still...

Here he talks about the: "Most terrifying, stressful, physically difficult shoot of his life."

Speaking of terrifying things in Congo, could the Lord's Resistance Army get any worse? I guess so, it turns out they're funded by elephant poaching. That's real classy, Kony.

Is specialization the secret to a happy marriage, home and children? Maybe so. Read all about: The Retro Housewife: Feminists who say they're having it all--by choosing to stay at home. And The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss.

“In the morning, I’ve got kid duty; Amy doesn’t even see the kids,” says Isabelle Dikland. “She does pickup and makes dinner every night.” (Gail Albert Halaban). Image from TheAtlantic here.

If you're reading this, there's a good chance we're somewhere over the Atlantic struggling with two little children. Remember Whac-a-Mole with Wings? One strategy we'll be using is car seats. Moms have tipped us off to taking your kid's car seat on the plane and it's kind of amazing. Your kids can't move and they're safe. The Car Seat Lady agrees.

You'll wish you were flying with an infant once you start flying with toddlers.

It only took 5 years, but we finally saw President Kabila. In our backyard. (Okay, he was here for an event, but it was basically our yard.) Jill and I really wished we had our Mama Congo business cards so we could slip him one. Whatever Joseph, we know you're already a fan.

And you go girls. TheGirlEffect.org.

Jill's List:

Spending today Googling "best pro-biotics for babies and their fathers" after Johan and Loulou both were told by our Belgian doc to get some to "restore stomach health."  (It's so funny how it's totally normal to get a script for Arnica, pro-biotics, or St. John's Wort from this doctor - he's not exactly crunchy.  Turns out it just more the Euro-norm.  Unfortunately, he hasn't quite realized that the pharmacies in Congo don't carry many of these lovely things.)  At least they've been thoroughly checked out by a guy who knows his way around a parasite or amoeba infestation.  I had nightmares that after returning to the States next week and saying, "Yeah, my kid's been vomiting off and on for a week...and we live in the Congo," the CDC Special Investigation Team would be called in for a simple virus.

Image from BioGaia website.  Anyone every tried these?  The packaging sure is cute!

Okay.  I also somehow managed to find this incredible bag during my exhaustive search in the name of my family's health:

Beautiful Besace bag "for the well-traveled woman" from Clair Vivier.

Four or so years ago, we hosted a dinner party at our home in Harrisonburg to spread the word and garner support for an idea.  That idea has been up and going strong for two years now.  Congrats, Friendly City Food Co-op!

Image from here.

This has been making the rounds like crazy - but it is so interesting.  (I say "Crawdad" - why?!  It doesn't match!)

united states dialect map  language

Extremely excited for Istanbul this weekend.  What a week to visit!  The most interesting thing for us?  Everyone we've chatted with in Istanbul says that this is an "unprecedented" time in Turkish history and our family is super lucky to get a glimpse.  Absolutely no one has acted worried or concerned that we would be planning a little family va-cay in the middle of a monumental demonstration.  We are hoping to meet up with a friend of a friend (for coffee, of course) on Tuesday so that she can fill us in on everything.

Image from BBC.

Craving Paneer Saag by John and Rama.  Hopefully, I will have eaten at least 5 servings before the next Friday List.

indian american cafe sign
Image from our friends at I Love My Burg.

Babies in boxes = public health is awesome. (Imagine the possibilities...)

Image from BBC.com

And.  A sweet blog I've been looking through this week.

Finally, we know some weirdos who do this here in Kinshasa...
The oddball club got its start 75 years ago in prewar Malaysia and now has nearly 2,000 chapters spanning all seven continents. It began with a group of British colonial officers and expats looking for ways to ease their weekend hangovers. The name came from their billet, often referred to as the Hash House, where they'd eat their monotonous corned-beef dinners, and the pastime they came up with was a wilder version of a British paper chase.
Kinshasa Hash House Harriers picture from here.

***many apologies for the lack of a pink arrow this week...we're between computers***

6 June 2013

Raising the Bar

The other day, Mama Youyou came to get Mama Vida so they could walk out together at the end of the day.  These nannies obviously work with the right families:  Mama Youyou is timely, arriving precisely at 5:30 or so, and she usually waits politely for a bit, until it's necessary to hollar through the bathroom door at Mama Vida, "Vida!  Viiiiddddaaa!"  Mama Vida shouts back, "Na zoya!" (I'm coming! in Lingala) several times until she eventually emerges. This closely mirrors the Humphrey/Grimsrud & Sensamaust relationships with time.

While we were waiting for Mama Vida to get ready, I asked Mama Youyou if I could take her picture because she looked so dang good.  I mean, who looks this put together on their way to travel an hour on insane public transportation after an entire day wrangling multiple toddlers?

A Congolese woman.  That's who.

For example, this was taken last year at Elias' final day of Kindergarten.  We were just having a little gathering in the classroom, no biggie.  Yet, this is how the other mothers were dressed:

I wrote to Chantal (the beautiful mother above) to ask if I could use this random picture that I took of her for a little post about stylish Congolese women and she said something like, "Oh! I like that picture, but it wasn't anything special."  Really?  Those heels!  That purse!  That dress.  I'm pretty sure I was wearing jeans that day.

And today, the last day of 1st grade for our kiddos - this is what she was wearing:

Again with those heels!


In an effort to unlock more fashion secrets, I asked Landrine to come over yesterday for a little photo shoot.  She said she would bring wardrobe changes.

She started out with the "modern" woman.  A smart outfit for a business occasion.

Then, she brought out a design of her own.  I told her it looked like something from a Vlisco bilboard. (You'll want to click on that link.) Amazing.

The bar has officially been raised.  Moms aren't often seen in sweatpants around here.  If Mama Youyou can look better than I have ever looked at 5:30pm on a Thursday and Chantal can show up at Kindergarten looking like a million bucks and Landrine can sew herself a dress with haute couture shoulders during the few hours she has electricity every week...then I can at least graduate from jeans.

These mamas are fully aware that a little pride goes a long way.  I'm taking notes.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...