Monday, February 23, 2009

Family Manifesto: 3

Nurture curiosity. Cultivate a sense of wonder.

Chitenge giveaway!

Remember a couple weeks ago when I mentioned a way to get your hands on some funky, colourful fabrics from here?

Ok, I’m ready. It’s time. I’ve gone to the market a couple times and gathered up a nice selection of blues and greens

that go well together. I’ve bundled together a kind of fat quarter (don’t quote me on dimensions, though you can trust they’re all pretty much the same size) of each colour, and tied it pretty into one bundle and have it ready to ride back to America (or Canada or Sweden—hi my dear friends) with Shira, our mule for the occasion.

Yep, you got it, I’m entering the world of blog giveaways! Why?

For fun. Spread the word! Share the love!

Bold, bright, jazzy, versatile and completely authentic. As funky as Amy Butler, but these aren’t fabrics you’ll find at Moda (and I love much of Moda and Amy Butler). These aren’t fabrics you’ll run into again in your BFF’s living room. These are the real deal. Used to carry babies on your back. Or to swaddle them. Or dry them off. Or to lay between your baby and the ground. Or to make into a cheerful skirt. Or just wrap around the skirt you’re already wearing to let people know you’re married. And that’s just what you could use them for if you were a Malawi woman!

Think quilts, rag rugs, funky skirts, cloth napkins, jammy pants, pennant garlands, couch or floor cushions…

How to get these delivered to your mailbox? Leave me a comment. By next Saturday, the 28th. Your time. Or my time. Somebody’s time. Do it before Sunday and it counts. One person will be the lucky winner; I’ll contact you for you snailmail addy, and Shira (bless her dear willing heart) will mail it to you when she gets back to Florida. (I’d do it from here—stamps are cool—but it’s a bit on the pricey side, and there’s no guarantee when or if it would actually arrive.)

FYI, the ladies I bought these from at the market:

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Unders

(A years-later edit: After looking over the stats of this blog for the first time in two years, I got freaked out by how many people are finding it looking for the words I just changed.)

Our friend Shira brought Scout 9 pairs of brand-new unders. What is a girl to do with so many unders? Why not wear them all at once?

Scout can tell you why not. That many unders are hard to take off when the moment comes. And then you have 9 pairs of brand-new-soiled unders.

(Unwilling to wait to wear them until laundry was done on the family schedule, Scout took her unders to the bathub, scrubbed and wrung them out herself, then pinned them to the line to dry. Then put them all on again while still damp. Pretty new unders! Who doesn't love 'em?)

A Trip to the Village

Some of our friends came to visit us from the States, and we took them to visit Matilda's village.

Finn was his usual cool king of the village.

Scout led the other kids in a round of "Do as I'm Doing."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Family Manifesto: 2

Give--and enjoy--the time it takes. Quality and quantity.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Family Manifesto: 1

Be encouraging. Be supportive.

(thanks Amanda for the inspiration.)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Picky about Protein part i

Whenever someone is about to tell me they live in Area 23, they preface it with, “Oh you won’t know where it is,” noting with their eyes the details of my affluence—glasses, shoes, car and all other obvious evidences of muzungu status.

I assure them of course I know where it is, like I drive the half hour on pitted dust roads (that’s Brit speak and I like it; roads are either dust or tarred, not dirt or paved) through high density villages all the time. Or every week, as Sister L and Sister F do for church. Sometimes Sister F will miss because she doesn’t have transport fare—400 kwacha round trip. It’s only 30 K to go to the first transfer, but 100 back and there’s one other 100 K transfer (and the 20 minute walk) to get to the church building from her house.

But I’m getting to know Kawali and Area 23 a little better after making an official Relief Society trip to Sister L’s home. Zione and I (second and first counselors respectively in our Relief Society) were on the errand of angels; President Ntholowa had asked us to fill a food order for Sister L. There was enough fast offering money to pay her 2000 K rent (2000 K=about 14 dollars) and 2000 K for food.

Bumping and lurching over potholes and swerving to miss the folks on bikes and aggressive combi drivers, we pulled up to the main T intersection. It was almost late afternoon, and the sun was hot, but I was grateful it wasn’t raining; I don’t think I could have managed the drive had the roads been slippery. Directly ahead of us was the market and lining the street in either direction were the stores, tin roofed square cement jobs stacked with a handful of simple goods behind floor-to-ceiling metal gates inside.

We’d been given the green light to get half a bag of maize, 500 ml cooking oil, two packets soap, a packet of salt, and a packet of sugar. When I had mentioned this to Sister L on Sunday and asked if there was anything else she might need, she had asked if she might possibly also get beans or carpenter fish—some kind of protein.

Zione and Sister L led the way into the market, looking for a good deal on maize flour. The ragged stalls providing shelter from the sun were full of women—old toothless ones and younger ones with babies, chatting and braiding hair, or bored and sullen, or just quiet and waiting for a customer. I keep twisting Finn back and forth to keep the most bold of the interested hands from touching him. Everyone likes a little personal space, you know? Wherever we walk together, people are calling out “muzungu!” and “hello mama” and “oh, mwana!” (child). One man leaps up from the stack of bagged cement powder he’s reclining on and gets in my face with a tirade that L translates a little embarrassedly: “He says he wants to be your maid.” Right. Talk about embarrassed. Noting the giant smiles and laughing as we pass through, Zione tells me (and I can’t tell if she intends the irony and is trying to be kind, or if she really thinks this), “Muzungus make people so happy!”

We walk in a line, stepping carefully down the “aisle” over the ubiquitous shreds of plastic that seem to be the national flower of undeveloped countries. Zione and Sister L are eyeing every stall we pass, while I watch the ground to keep my footing and avoid the smears of rotten lemon or avocado, and other suspicious moist spots in the hard-packed lumpy dirt.

No maize flour to be found. We’ll have to try looking in the stores. But my two sisters ahead of me have found a woman selling beans for the right price—a cupped handful’s worth for 50 K. They fill a small bag, and then a grocery size bag with firm tomatoes. For the branch’s record keeping, we’re supposed to make sure we get receipts for everything, but of course there are no cash registers spitting tongues of paper beside these careful mounds of veggies and grass baskets of beans. They ask for the woman to sign a paper as a receipt; she won’t or can’t, so Zione just writes her name beside the list she’s carrying around: tomatoes 100 K Mrs. Girety; beans 200 K Mrs. Girety.

I’m not sure what the price for flesh protein is (Mohammad has told me it’s jumped steeply in the past two years), but I’m acutely aware of it’s smell and I try to hold my face in neutral as we walk back through to get to the stores. I hate that these sellers know I’m not looking at their goods to buy. They don’t even attempt a pitch; two goats disassembled and piled in parts, their heads arranged to the side and cloudy eyes open—I’m not their market, and they know it. I don’t know why that bugs me. I’d like to be less predictable in my preferences maybe.

At any rate, I think I would have surprised Andy and the missionaries that evening when we were gathered around our own table, if they knew about the extra protein they were eating in their chicken soup.

It’s surprisingly hard to find whole grains here, but I had found some 500 g bags of pearled wheat at Shoprite. My plan was to throw it in the soup, though ordinarily I would have thrown it out once I noticed the little black bugs floating to the surface as I rinsed it in the pot. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it after shopping for L’s food order just earlier in the afternoon. Instead I rinsed and rinsed until no more bugs floated out three times in a row, then I cooked it in the soup and no one was the wiser.

Except me, I feel wiser.

ps: any food themed post is enough reason for me to put up these pics of Finn, who is serious about eating. "By his own," thank you very much.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

New Shoes

I picked out new shoes at the market today.

They're pure rubber,

burka approved,

and 100% kickin' Malawi style.

Monday, February 2, 2009

It was you, you put the fun in thirty funderful

I feel so spoiled! Thank you thank you each of you, for the birthday presents, you moondoggies too. I’ve been grinning like a hyena nonstop since the 29th. In fact, I’m so inspired, I have party favour gifts for each of you too:

Liz, a cashmere knitted cap (warm brown, with a pink stripe and a yellow one around the bottom) with a point at the top and and pompoms that hang off the cozy earflaps by your chin. And a matching one for that amazing Grace.

Heidi, three big clay pots, built from red soil and fired on the ground in a village a couple kilometers from the road. One is full of lumpy, ripe lemons, one holds smooth-skinned avocadoes, and the third I’ve filled with compost; it will sprout masala and basil in a few days. Do you have a sunny spot for it?

Nan, a potty-trained little bushbaby; generally she will enjoy just hanging out on your shoulder with her big eyes closed, though just for kicks, you should try taking her out at night and shining a flashlight on her;

Willisfam, a garland of pink species tulips to drape on your porch railing or over your kitchen entrance. I gave them a good big drink before I strung them, so don’t worry about them wilting—they’ve got a good two weeks in them;

Mum, an installation art piece for your living room: a round skylight kaleidoscope that throws geometric rainbows of light and colour all over your furniture when you spin it;

Jeanne, a pair of round steampunk sunglasses, dark, with metal frames yeah just like those ones! And a stunning red, printed head scarf to wear with it, just for contrast;

Martin, a great big ant farm with some of these crazy huge ant families here—the kind of ant farm sandwiched between two layers of glass, but a really big one. And it lets you see the interaction between ant species. Actually, can we share this?;

Sage&butter, a couple bushels of apple drops, rich and juicy and only slightly bruised, from that orchard near the bottom of Mink Creek. If you bring them by my place, I’ll transform them into cider and tuck them into the back of your car in green glass jugs to swig down in February when the days are getting longer;

Fig, a tall pair of soft black leather boots—just below or just above your knees? You decide—with a good sized stack of chunky heel in back and a rounded bit of patent toe up front. That stitching and detail work? Yes, the same pattern as on the entrance to that little mosque in Morrocco;

Melissa, a book contract—of your own!—and a studded union jack pen to sign it with;

Daffodil, sparkly mood lipstick (non-toxic of course. And nonstaining, Becca);

Edie, a flying carpet—soft and plush, with a cozy cushion on one end should you choose to just hover somewhere and read. If fact, if you lift the pillow, you’ll find a couple excellent books you’ve never even heard of before;

Soren, an overnight in a treehouse—but better bring your stuff in a backpack, because it’s really high and you have to climb a rope ladder. Which you then pull up behind you for total privacy! And don’t be worried about being too high to see anything interesting; there’s a big chest of bird whistles and slide whistles you can use to call them (and whatever else) to you once you get settled up there;

Becca, a stack of 1/2-yard pieces of local chitenje fabrics in a rainbow of colors and all woven from or printed on linen. With some silk pieces and velvet pieces thrown in too. Why not?

Andy wished me comfortable bedtimes and nighttime nursing, when I came home and discovered he had had this rocking chair made and delivered all without me suspecting a thing. It’s delightful and the details are perfect: wide enough seat, low enough arms, high enough back rest for my head too.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I finally finished binding (and signing!) this little quilt I started for Finn last April with mum.

(None of the fabrics are from here, but if you've a fabric habit as I do, stay tuned for an upcoming post about getting your hands on some chitenje fabric, or "colourful utility blankets" as Andy calls them.)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Of Sleeping Toddlers and Autmoatic Weapons

The President

The Accomplice "Miss Lovely"

The sergeant and I were of similar minds. Two trips around the presidential circle would be quite enough.

Scout often struggles taking a mid-day nap; refuses would be a more exact phrase. And yesterday was no different. Our usual approach is to bring her on an errand with the hopes she falls asleep in the car, a not uncommon trick for many desperate American parents. But by Saturday afternoon, we had run all of our errands. Yet she was recalcitrant, beyond sleep.

We live close to the Malawi President’s mansion. It is at the end of a long beautiful tarmac road without a hint of pothole. In fact it is the nicest road in Malawi. Best of all, the five kilometers is bookended by two round-a-bouts. One takes you into town. The other is a semi-circle directly in front of the President’s gate. You can keep going and going. There is no braking; it really is the perfect sleep road. But yesterday, one loop wasn’t enough for Miss Lovely.

On my second advance to the mansion, I decided I would return home with a completely awake Scout. If sleep couldn’t win after two loops, it never would. She would be victorious yet again. But as I cornered the President’s circle, Scout finally knocked off. Suddenly, three camouflaged bodyguards from the Malawi Defense Force’s Presidential Security Detail stopped me cold with their automatic rifles directed at the tires.

Pointing to the back of the Hilux, I did the universal sign for sleep. The sergeant approached our car and in clipped English started interrogating me about why I had driven to the mansion, not once, but twice. I quickly shssed him, again pointing to the sleeping devil in back. Warm heart of Africa, he was not.

The others’ rifles were now raised to the windshield. I was desperate that the sergeant didn’t wake Scout and contemplated making a run for it when he wouldn’t lower his voice despite my desperate shssing.

When he finally recognized Scout asleep in the back, he raised his voice even louder. I think that for him the bigger offense was, not driving so close to the mansion, but cruising my daughter to sleep in an air-conditioned SUV listening to new age lullabies while living in the 3rd poorest nation on earth during a diesel shortage. What could be more repulsively excessive, base and shelfish?

The standoff continued for about 5 minutes before the sergeant bored of me. Finally, he took my address and sent me home.

They have not come to find us today so I think we are safe. Scout, of course, slept through the whole affair.