25 April 2015

Mama Youyou's asking for our help. Who's in?

Over the years we've heard from readers asking how they can contribute to help with some of the issues we've talked about. We've directed you to organizations doing related work, including great groups supporting Congolese women. It's kind of amazing how many times we've gotten unsolicited offers to give something. Here's another option...

Remember Mama Youyou? We've written a lot about her.

She climbs trees with her best friend.

She talks honestly about finding love and growing old in the Congo.

She finds skinny people shameful.

She learned how to swim.

She taught me the greatest lesson I've ever learned about the lottery of life.

And she's an all around better mother than I'll ever hope to be. I still take my mama cues from her.

She's one of the main reasons we started this blog in the first place. We wanted to tell stories about her and other African women just like her. She's brave, she's smart, she's funny, she bosses her husband around. All my favorite qualities in a woman.

Lately, school fees have been going up and she lives in the poorest country in the world, so yeah. Times are tough. But unsurprisingly, she has an excellent plan.

She wants to start a chicken and egg farm. 

This, I know she can do. She's raised chickens since before we knew her. She's good at it. She's got the space at her house and she wants to turn it into something sustainable.

So she approached a friend, who set her up with one of those newfangled websites to help raise money. Here it is. Give $5. Give $15. Give more. You don't get charged unless she reaches her goal. Consider it. I cannot think of a more direct and effective way to support a Congolese woman.

If you're still not convinced, this idea of direct cash giving is quickly becoming one of the most studied and chosen solutions to global poverty.  Read more about it here. Or look up one of the hundreds of scholarly articles supporting giving cash directly.

P.S. Hey, Sister-of-mine, remember when she made all your bridesmaid's dresses from J Crew pictures (and battled the Congolese police on your behalf)? You are especially obligated.

Here's that website again: Mama Youyou's Chicken and Egg Farm in DRCongo.

29 March 2015

An Operation Christmas Child Dilemma

You know around November when everyone's in the Christmas spirit and collecting and donating presents for children in Africa? Well they finally got here. It's almost April. And nothing says Palm Sunday like an Operation Christmas Child gift distribution.

Just look at the excitement.

Our church handed out their loot this morning. And boy were the kids excited. I mean, our kids were not so excited because we told them about 5 times the presents weren't for them. Because remember back at Christmas when you got presents? Well it's not Christmas and they're not for you. But isn't it exciting watching all the other kids!? No, it's not exciting? Well lots of Americans worked hard to pack these boxes, so you need to sit and watch and be happy for everybody. Or go outside and play with rocks and dirt. (They chose the latter option.)

Photo Credit: Jessica Weixler-Landis. Check our her blog here.

Then as we got up to leave, a friend at the church stopped us because we were leaving before our girls got their gift. Adam was horrified. We're not letting our kids take one of these presents. 

"But your girls go to this church. Why wouldn't they get one?" 

"Um, well. They... Oh well okay, only if there are some leftover."

"Leftover!? Their names were on the list from the beginning. There are two presents just for them."

Then a Canadian friend leaned over and said, "I tried to refuse every year when my kids were little, just take 'em." 

And so our girls proudly left church with their Operation Christmas Child presents while Adam yelled at them to hurry and jump in the car before the whole neighborhood got the wrong idea. 

On the ride home, we discussed the ethical dilemma at great length. Adam remained horrified. 

But their names were on the list, Adam. There's a whole system. We can't mess up the system.

But just think of those sweet old ladies packing those boxes for poor African children. They didn't do it for our kids. It's cheating. 

Oh relax, I think the sweet old ladies would feel just fine about it.

He still made me take a vow to never tell anyone we were on the receiving end of Operation Christmas Child. 

But it's too good not to tell. And the presents were dearly loved by our "poor" African children.

The boxes had crayons, a jump rope, toothbrush, toothpaste, Ivory soap and Mardi Gras beads, Sharpie markers, a teddy bear and an ethnic Barbie (!). And lots and lots of Post-It notes. Because nothing says third world deprivation like a lack of Post-it notes.  

Of course the girls put every hair clip and bobbie pin directly in their hair and they've been crunching on Smarties all day. They're currently fighting over the 1 pair of purple scissors because the Girl Scout troop of Cumming, Georgia did not think to put in two equal pairs. Most likely because they didn't anticipate their present would end up in the hands of ungrateful American sisters. 

But more excitingly, Charlotte got her first pair of gloves. This is the first time she has ever seen them in real life. She has only seen gloves in winter pictures and in Frozen, so the expectation was pretty high. She tried to put all of her fingers in one hole like Loulou's mittens.

Operation Christmas Jazz Hands: She wore them inside.

She wore them outside.

Also. Incredible hand knit booties. Jill thinks we accidentally got the shipment meant for Eastern Europe.

Now before you pass too much judgment or word gets back to North Lanier Baptist Church, the girls packed right back up most of the goods to give to Anastasie's daughter who's about their age. But they're keeping the gloves and the booties. And of course the ethnic Barbie. Thanks Girl Scouts. Thanks Georgia. We're already counting down the days until next Christmas. Next April. 

Anyone know these folks? Please tell them merci from Burkina Faso.

7 February 2015

On African Women: A clarification

Jill and I set up this blog several years ago with the original intent to share our stories about being mamas in Africa and about African mamas. Their stories. Their greatness. Their complexity.

So last week when a producer at HuffPo asked me if I wanted to talk about these things, I said sure, why not. Actually I really didn't have much information about what I'd be talking about, but it's easy to agree to stuff like this when you don't know much. And have no idea what HuffPostLive is. Does this have something to do with the Huffington Post?

I did the interview late at night, alone in our empty office (where the internet is good) to a blank screen. There was some sort of technical problem so I couldn't see anything. I could hear the woman asking questions, but that's all. (Sidenote: This is why I'm looking all over the place when I'm talking. I had no focal point.)

Even though I was hyper aware to not say anything racist, sexist or otherwise incriminating, I still got backed into a corner to talk about sharing breast milk when it became obvious the host had done a little research on my sordid past.

I don't remember how it came up, but then I talked about women reaching down my shirt to help me nurse.

HuffPo decided to pull this bit out, The Country Where People Literally Reach Out to Help Moms Breastfeed in Public and throw it around. Presumably because they know how hopped-up everyone gets about breastfeeding.

So there you have it. My message to the world about African women that gets the most traction is my portrayal of them as boob grabbers.

Just pick a focal point! 

I made Jill help me dissect the comments on their Facebook page that came afterward. Do these women love me or hate me? Why are they so fired up? We settled on neither/nor. It's not about me. Breastfeeding is just a contentious issue, even when it's not.  

A bit of clarification, the time this "nursing assistance" happened to me was in Congo one afternoon after church. We stopped on the way home for groceries and Charlotte was fussing all through the store. She wasn't hungry. She was bored and hot. I knew this, I'm her mother. But as I walked past women they told me, "Just feed her. She's hungry." But I didn't because I knew she wasn't hungry. Well I don't know. Maybe she was. But I wasn't letting those mamas boss me around. Until one of them, ahem, helped me along.

This wasn't all that surprising. I know other expat moms who say they've been "helped" in the same way. If you ask me, I think it was more: Hey, I wonder what an awkward white lady nursing looks like. Than: We are in unity with you lactating sister-friend, you are invited to nurse in our communal presence. Because African women are complex. And they don't have the same cultural baggage when it comes to breastfeeding. So messing with a white lady is not a statement. It's just something funny to do.

When I think back to my memories of breastfeeding in Africa, I remember the ridiculous faces Mamicho and Mama Youyou would give me when I used a Boppy. C'mon this is not something that needs special equipment. Nor comfort. Give those upper arms a workout for Pete's sake, they said with their eyes. Or maybe they weren't thinking this at all. Maybe that's just my cultural baggage. Come to think of it, they kind of always had those judgmental looks on their faces.

I do know that Mama Youyou bullied Ani into weaning. In the sweetest way possible, of course. Ani nursed into the days when she was old enough to help fetch water, had she been one of Mama Youyou's daughters. And Mama Youyou made that very clear to her. I blame her for all of Ani's upcoming issues.

So again, Africa isn't really the anything goes breastfeeding utopia HuffPo and I led you to believe.

In sum, African women are complex, but they do not have a complex relationship with nursing. They do not grab boobs with any sort of motive. They like to mess with me. Put me in my place. Make me feel terribly underdressed and under-accessorized for all occasions. They keep me from over thinking this motherhood thing. And feel empowered enough to stick their hands down my shirt. They're pretty darn cool.      

11 January 2015

Adam's Piment or the "Best the Village's Ever Had"

It seems everywhere we go there's some local spicy condiment that everyone swears by.

In Congo it's pilli pilli. In Rwanda it's Akabanga. Thailand's got sriracha. Here in Burkina it's piment. A few months ago Adam went on a trip to Bobo-Dioulasso, a little over 5 hours from where we live in Ouagadougou.

When he returned all he could talk about was the piment he had there at a friend's house.

So over the holidays we passed through Bobo-Dioulasso and made a mandatory stop to ask for the recipe. Clare, the keeper of the recipe, explained the details directly to me. Because surely I would be the one preparing the piment for my helpless husband.

Back in Ouaga Adam asked his favorite roadside vegetable vendor lady for an oversize bag of yellow peppers. Now veggie lady is already pretty amused that Adam's the household grocery shopper and chef, so when he explained he was making piment, she lost it. So much so that he promised to bring some back to her to prove it.

Adam was obligated to teach Anastasie because she took a sample of his first batch back to her village, and delivered the message back to him that it was "the best piment they've ever had."

I claim classic buttering up of the foreigner, but Adam's convinced he's the piment king of the village.

Forthwith the proof and the recipe for Adam's Piment Jaune Écrasé (a variation of the original from Clare):


1 bowl of small hot peppers (seeds removed) - these are locally grown Ojemmas, similar to Habaneros
1 green pepper
8 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp coarse salt 
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp mustard

Add yellow and green peppers, garlic, parsley and coarse salt.


Woman's work, Adam. Step aside.


Resent lack of attention. (Side note: Does anyone else's kid insist on the one shoulder look?)

Keep pounding until it looks like so.

Don't forget to wipe spicy shrapnel from the wall.

Spoon into jars.

Add oil, vinegar and mustard. Shake.

Voila. Adam adds a spoonful to his morning egg in a basket. And really, on top of everything else he eats too.

Deliver sample to veggie lady.

Just changing cultural constructs one jar of piment at a time.

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