Friday, May 25, 2012

May 25, 2012 - One Week After!

Last blog from South Africa this time around. 

My Danish colleague and I hiked the table mountain yesterday and generally I can say that South Africa is quite amazing to visit, so that is officially on the list now.

We had a group dinner the other day and I was randomly seated with my Danish colleague from Dar and an East African man and a Nigerian man working outside Nigeria. We were all were in our 30s’ish (The Office) and all with children expect for the other Dane. Maybe because the Nigerian kept hitting on the waitress, we talked about marriage and affairs which ended up being almost too much to handle for the two Danes. A few highlights (WARNING: this is not for the fainthearted so stop now if you think you can’t handle it):

The problem is that you never know if the lady really loves you, she could just be with you because you have money, that is why it is better to marry someone from your own class.

If my wife was with another man that is the end of that marriage, and she knows that, but guys are adventurous and people accept that.

At my wedding my mother-in-law gave a toast where she told my wife: "Don’t think about what your husband does, that is his business, not yours. Focus on the things that are important. If he is out I wouldn’t worry as long as he has made sure that you have a good place to live and you have food and clothes. If a day comes where he is not taking care of you then we will start asking questions."

The girls I am having an affair with know that I am married, they know it is just for fun, they may try just to see if they can take it further but there is no obligation from my side – nothing is hidden. I don’t tell my wife but she knows what is going on. She just tells me before I am going away: “just be careful, there is HIV out there, there are other diseases – just be careful!’”

Women are just as bad as men, don’t give me that thing about their innocence, they chose us, they could choose not to get involved then. And do you know what happens if the lady finds out that you are firing blanks? Then to save your face [infertility among men in Africa is more embarrassing than impotence is in the west] she might sleep with another man and get pregnant with another man! Then you have to raise that kid even though it is not yours. Thank goodness we have DNA – then at least you can find out now.

After explaining the beauty of Ghanaian ladies we all agree that Ethiopian ladies are the most beautiful in Africa- easy call. But if you see one of these ladies are you not tempted? What holds you back? Why wouldn’t you pursue them? [almost saying, you’re not man enough] They keep pushing me and I say, "Well, of course I can recognize that a lady is beautiful," I explain, "but I feel if I eat of this cake over here [we’re having dessert] a slice will fall off the cake over here [referring to my own marriage]," Then there was dead silence – almost uncomfortably, as they may recognize that that could be a point. 

"But what do you do in church on Sunday morning?" I challenged them. 
God is forgiving – he understands. 
"What about the 10 commandments?" I try to talk about being faithful. 
You can’t change the path of a river. If a river wants to go here or there, there is no point in stopping it!  

Now just about to finish up for the night, my African colleague pulls my arm as he tells me, 
Do you know how long it took me to be with another lady after I got married? One week! 

The laughter crushes down like earthquake shaking down a small city as the two African men high five each other and let their heads back to let out the uncontrollable laughter. The other guys says
One week after...that means he was doing it all along!
Another high five reaffirms this statement as the laugher grows even higher and breathing now becomes difficult for the two men. 

The two of us now terrified Danes looked at each other in a “I want to go home!” kind of way. 


May 25, 2012 - One Officially

I'm still at the training in Cape Town with colleagues all over Africa. I had lunch with a senior staff (about +55) from South Sudan the other day and it turned out to be quite interesting. 

"We are the youngest nation in the world, only one year old, our country has no debt. A country without debt – hard to imagine these days!"

Then the conversation shifted when I asked him how many children he had.  "I have 10 children." 

10 children I thought to myself - WOW! I followed up with the "obvious" question in this part of the world: "how many wives then?"

"Well, one officially [there is a law against polygamy]," he said in a very calm voice while chewing his food, "and then three unofficially – so that is four in total." This, of course, tells you that this guy is well off. Let’s be honest here, who can afford four wives in today’s world?! I used to have the need to ask or hint towards this not being completely fair to the four wives, but I am way beyond that point now.  I accept that it will take a few generations before this sort of thing is of the past. 

Still asking him many questions; he continued: "The price [in cows of course] of the women in our culture is measured by many factors. Beauty is a factor, if she is educated – you have to settle on a higher price for her. If she is of good family that might influence the price, but the most important thing is the tallness.  It is the most important factor." 

No wonder Sudanese are so unbelievably tall, I thought to myself. "Now, we have many many tribes in South Sudan and in some tribes they demand a very high price for their women – up to 300 cows [I, Kristoffer, laughed – that is ridiculous!]. Some men from that tribe travel north and marry women from my tribe where the price is significantly lower – around 10 cows. But then the women from the “high price tribe” complained and sent their leaders to my tribe to agree that the price in my tribe should be around 50 cows or the woman from the other tribe wouldn’t stand a chance."

And some more: "The issue with working for an international organization is that you can only claim one wife/dependent who would when receive medical insurance etc. The rest are not recognized. When choosing your wife, the father often won’t let you take her right away – even if you have the cows. In some areas you traditionally had to catch a lion ALIVE! To show commitment and bravery [Crazy Sudanese! I thought.]  I asked him, "Catch a lion alive? How do you do that?"   He told me, "It doesn’t matter how it is done – you just need to get it." 

I learned that in some places the man had to work without pay for two years at the father-in-law's farm to show that he could work hard and, again, his commitment. As the father of one daughter I personally appreciate the idea in this, but now am thinking – boy did I get off easy! [Thanks, Mike!]


May 25, 2012 - The Third Lane

This blog could alternately be titled "More Adventures in Driving".

Yesterday I ventured off the little peninsula we live on to find a "big" mall where I can stock up on some things at a lower price (like diapers and wipes...because our year's supply from the US is still sitting in our container, on the boat, off the port, etc.).  It was my first time driving there by myself and, I have to admit, I still have a bit of a "glowy" feel that I can do something like drive to the mall by know, after four years of being chauffered by Kristoffer or Charles.  So I popped in one of my favorite CDs from college and sang at the top of my lungs all the way to the mall.  It has been a long and tiring week (remember...we've got rats in the attic - now in the kitchen too! - and kids-who-wake-up-90-minutes-before-the-sun and Kristoffer doesn't get home until tonight) and this was very cathartic.

When driving from our house to the mall, there is really one main road with one very peculiar feature.  It has 3 lanes.  The two outer lanes are obvious - I was in the left lane going one way and the far lane to my right had cars going in the other direction.  But the middle lane. is just anyone's guess!  So while driving here is great compared to Nairobi because people actually follow traffic rules and even some traffic lights and matatus don't even exist...when it comes to this one lane, it feels very Kenyan.  Sometimes people going my way were driving in that lane.  Then they would notice a car coming towards them quickly in the very same lane and would swerve over to cut me off before getting smashed.  Other times it was used as a "turning" lane.  Still other times (note: I was only on the road for about 12 minutes) the lane was definitely for cars driving in the other direction.  I couldn't see any signs about how to use the middle lane.  Every now and then there would be an arrow painted on the road to show what direction traffic should be going in...but since the cars in that spot were heading in the opposite direction of the arrow, I didn't think it carried a lot of authority.

As for me, I just absolutely positively stayed the heck out of that middle lane. Best to altogether avoid a situation where I unknowingly break the law and have to keep policemen from getting into my car (although at least this time I have diplomatic license plates AND a Tanzanian driver's license).  


Thursday, May 24, 2012

May 24, 2012 - This is Not Africa - WAIT!

South Africa IS Africa – saying or thinking these four words is a mental exercise which tends to stretch most people’s level of comprehension. 

I’m attending a training in Cape Town, South Africa this week, which is a very desireable location although it is cold down here. Very cold in fact: 19 degrees on a sunny day is cold when you’re used to a humid 34 degrees (C).

We were picked up from a very modern airport on Sunday (that would be the opposite of Dar es Salaam's airport, by the way) and during the drive to town (in a Mercedes B S class) I noticed something that Lisa, friends and I have been talking about recently. 

Firstly, though, I have to talk about infrastructure.  The roads are fantastic, South Africa has Nuclear power, my colleague and I went to a shopping mall with 400 stores which would put most malls in Europe and the US to shame (of course, there are other issues in South Africa which I won’t cover in this blog). Internet is fast and everything seems efficient. To this overwhelming development many react with: “This is not Africa!” You would hear the same from people visiting Namibia, Angola and maybe Botswana. But the statement is so wrong.

Because this obviously IS Africa, but the modern development here conflicts with our perception of Africa as a poor and undeveloped continent. Our perception is wrong and there is a need to alter it because Africa is changing rapidly and has already changed in so many ways. If you're reading this and you've never been to Africa, it is very likely that your perception might already be way off - as I assure you mine (and Lisa's) was before we lived on the continent.

It is the same with the white population in this region of Africa. “They are not really Africans,” you hear people say. Well they are as much Africans as Irish-Americans and African-Americans are Americans in the US. The white population has been here for generations (regardless of how or why), so they really are Africans. Keeping our perceptions in line is challenging as the African continent changes by the day. 

Try to allow yourself to think about Africa as a developed continent...some parts of it REALLY are, and the rest is catching up. 


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 22, 2012 - Line of the Year

Earlier today Grace and I read a book about dinosaurs.  Well, it is really a "look and find" book with pictures from the show "Dinosaur Train", but it also throws some dinosaur facts in there.  She got this book for Easter from my parents and loves it.  We hadn't read it in over a week so she was especially excited about it today.

Fast forward about 4 hours later... 

In a moment of desperation (as in: please don't make me do dinner and bedtime routine by myself again!), Rose and I took the kids to Dar's version of fast food: a fried chicken place (think KFC) that has a big playground.  I am not totally proud of this decision, but Kristoffer is still away until Friday night and I really needed a distraction from the usual routine on my own.  Much to my surprise, there was a "playgroup" of sorts already there with lots of kids and nannies from our usual Friday Happy Hour.  

Anyway, the four of us were sitting down eating fried chicken and french fries (again: not my finest parenting moment) and I said something to Rose like, "This is not normally something we would do with Kristoffer because he almost can't eat anything on the menu."

Then Grace says, "Far cannot eat here because he is a herbivore and eats plants and we are carnivores eating meat." 

I almost choked on a french fry!

It was a nice reminder of the wonders of reading to your kids.  I just wish I had the moment on video :)

p.s. Happy Birthday shout out to Sean O'Brien and Uncle Kevin!

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21, 2012 - Upstairs Neighbors

Have you ever lived in an apartment with really loud upstairs neighbors?
(or have you ever been a really loud upstairs neighbor?)

Well, it has been a long time since I lived in an apartment, but we do seem to have some loud "neighbors" living in our attic these days.  We don't know what kind of animal it is, although likely to be one or more rats, but we can hear it/them at night.  And Kristoffer is in South Africa for a conference this week so I am home "alone" (with Grace, Noah and Rose) for the first time here.  Last night the "neighbors" kept me up for hours!   I don't know how many of them there are or what exactly they were doing....but they were loud.  And it was annoying that I had nobody to complain to about it since Kristoffer wasn't home.  Argh.  The landlord is supposedly having them exterminated this week...but it didn't happen today so as I get ready for bed now I fear what I will soon hear.  And I am exhausted - from "rats" and children who decide to start their day at 4:45 am (yesterday it was Grace, today it was Noah...I really wish they would coordinate so that maybe just once they would both sleep until 6 am).

There are lots of great things about living in Dar, but animals - ants, mosquitos, geckos, grasshoppers, and mystery animals in the attic! - are not one of them so far.  GROSS!


Monday, May 14, 2012

May 14, 2012 - Settling in Update

We have all been here in Dar together for 2 1/2 months now and Kristoffer was here for a month before we joined him.  I think we've done a pretty good job on getting settled and each week we make more progress. Some updates:
  • We got our Tanzanian driving licenses on Friday.  That was a really good experience, actually.  The place was like a modern DMV in America.  Maybe even better, because as "diplomats" we were sort of fast-tracked because our paperwork had already been approved by the World Bank. They did regular biometrics and everything.  And the license is an actual plastic card.  This is compared to our Kenyan driving licenses which were little cardboard books, hand written and stamped.  Tanzania is definitely ahead of Kenya in that regard. 
  • We got our diplomatic license plates.  The day after our encounter with the police, of course.  And, I should note, that Kristoffer read my blog and couldn't believe it.  He said he was never worried the way I was and thought the police were nice.  We have different perceptions, for sure!  But maybe now that we have blue plates we won't have to deal with the cops again (assuming, we don't break the law again I guess).
  • We finally picked out curtains for our house (we're still using sheets to cover our windows).  The bad news is that we can't figure out how to buy them because the place doesn't take credit card or wire transfer.  CASH ONLY.  And we don't have access to large amounts of cash here because...
  • Banking in East Africa is decades behind the rest of the world (or at least feels that way).  We've been trying to get a Tanzanian bank account established for months.  We still don't have ATM cards, a check book or information on how to directly deposit some of Kristoffer's pay check.  Argh.  We are using our Danish bank account to withdraw cash from ATMs here every week.  To pay for everything.  It is really annoying.
And the really big news...
  • Our boat is here!  We can actually see the ship that is carrying our stuff from America.  All of our wedding gifts from almost 5 years ago! One year of diapers and wipes and laundry detergent and  shampoo and toothpaste and toilet bowl cleaner and sunblock etc!  Grace's bike and helmet!  Toys from Christmas and birthdays!  Books!  Of course, our ship is currently the last in a very long queue of ships waiting to get into port.  That will take another 2-4 weeks :(  And then it has to unload.  And then it has to clear customs.  And then it has to get delivered to us.  But THEN all of our stuff will be here.  In our house.  With us.  It will be Christmas in July!  (well, hopefully June...but that might be stretching it).  I actually dream about it.  The unpacking will know...unpacking...but we are so excited for our stuff to get here.  
I am hoping that by the end of July, we really feel done with "moving in".  Another sign of progress is that yesterday for the first time Grace told me, "Mama, I don't miss my old house anymore.  It is nice to be at our new house."  Even though I still miss our old house a little bit, it made me really happy to hear that she is feeling so good about being here.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

May 10, 2012 - On why you should always lock your car doors...

Last night Kristoffer and I drove into town (the city - downtown Dar) to go out to dinner with two American guys from my cousin's church in Florida who are here on mission.  One of them is her Pastor and the other is a financial planner/missionary.  We were looking forward to the dinner and ended up having a really nice time with them.  It was really interesting to hear about their projects here.

But first...

Before leaving for dinner our house was crazy.  The newly-fixed washing machine had died and the fundi (repair guy) decided to come at 6:30pm without telling me.  While I was putting Grace to bed, Noah (already in bed) started freaking out because he had somehow dislodged his mosquito net from the ceiling and was completely smothered by it.  So after dealing with the fundi, Kristoffer had to hang up Noah's net and I got both kids settled in bed.  Anyway, we left just a little late but were definitely frazzled.

We got into the city without traffic, which is great, but it was night time and we hadn't driven in the city at night (at least I hadn't...I don't think Kristoffer had either).  The Garmin was giving us directions to our destination and when turning down one street, we somehow missed the very odd "do not enter - one way street" sign ("Jill" from the Garmin does not know one-way streets in Tanzania, FYI).  We looked at it later and still couldn't quite decipher the picture (no words) and also it was not lit up at all, but regardless we went the wrong way down a one-way street. 

And we were pulled over by the police.

Who were mad at us.

And tried to get into our car.

*Imagine that here I have uploaded a picture me nearly having a heart attack.*

You do not want police in your car.  If police get into your car, as they tried to do, they might demand a significant amount of money from you before they will get out of your car.  Thankfully, the doors were locked (always for safety...lots of robberies and car jackings happen because of unlocked doors) so they couldn't enter on their own. They tried and told us to let them in.  Kristoffer - super fast thinker that my wonderful husband is - rolled down the windows to show them the two car seats in the back in, "look, there is nowhere for you to sit."  So we managed to escape their car invasion and just had to pull over.  I was almost too scared to talk - I am a really big wimp in situations like these - but Kristoffer was super calm and smart.  He had to get out of the car so he locked me in while talking to the two officers (and I silently prayed that nothing would go wrong out there).  There was a lot of talking and A LOT of Kristoffer playing dumb.  I heard him say things like, "I am so sorry! I have never seen a sign like that in my life!  I did not know what that sign meant!  We are just trying to get down the street to dinner.  I've only lived here a couple of months. I am so sorry!"  

In the end they let us go without giving us a ticket or taking us to a police station.  One officer asked for some money to buy a coke.  Normally we don't do this - we are definitely against paying bribes, don't get me wrong - but it was dark.  We were in town.  We had technically broken the law.  We gave him the equivalent of $1.25 to buy a coke.  We just couldn't risk anything else going wrong!  

C R A Z Y.

When they were both trying to open the car doors and get in...well, that was one of my worst moments in Africa to date.  I am sure nothing too bad would have happened...but really, you just never know.

Luckily the dinner that followed was lovely.  But you can be sure this weekend we'll be studying up on traffic signs in Tanzania.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May 9, 2012 - Give Up the Funk

This week I am in a funk.  Kids are sleeping at night but waking up before 5 am (and not going back to sleep).  My trip to Zanzibar with my friends from Nairobi got postponed until September, which is a big bummer.  We have a mosquito problem in our house that we can't seem to solve.  My Macbook has a black screen unless I operate it in "safe mode".  Grace had one marathon-record-would-be-really-awesome-birth-control-for-anyone-considering-having-kids temper tantrum the other day.  I thought I was over it, but since I'm writing about it here I guess I am not.  And...I stopped nursing Noah.

It is good news for us really - he is almost 16 months old (nursed about 9 days longer than his big sister) and does not need breast milk for any kind of nutrition at this stage of the game.  He happily drinks other milk or formula ("special milk" we call it in our house).   Since we moved to Dar I've weaned him down to 3 times a day then to 2 times and he has been nursing only once a day for a couple of weeks now.  The problem has become that that one time a day is consistently at 4 am.  And really?  I am TIRED!  So we decided to cut him off.  That sounds cold when really I don't think it is.  He just has to get used to a new scheduled that doesn't involve feeding at 4 am.  And during the day today he has been extra cuddly with me - I am sure he is looking for that physical bond we have that he missed this morning.  And all of that is fine and normal and I don't think we're scarring him in any way by stopping now.  I am a proud Mama for having nursed my kids the way I have and for as long as I have.  I am grateful for the ease and ability I had to do it...for the way they were always so good at it.  For never having had mastitis or anything like that.  Really, I am grateful.  And I am happy to stop now - mostly.  It is bittersweet, though, because I don't think we'll be having any more children, and so it is really the end of a significant/important/special part of my life.  I feel hormonal about it.  I feel sad about it, even though I am happy about it.

And now I have over shared.  

Anyway, that is my explanation for why I haven't been blogging much (refer to the Macbook issue above, primarily) and why I feel like I am in a grumpy mood.  I am hoping it turns around soon - maybe at the Happy Hour Playgroup tomorrow afternoon? - because the week after next Kristoffer is travelling for 6 days/5 nights to South Africa for a workshop.  I will need all my positive thoughts and parenting strategies and happy feelings to get through my first week here in Dar without him.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

May 8, 2012 - Little Picasso

Grace has become quite the artist lately. The other day she found a book that someone gave us (thanks Mae and Ben) with step by step directions and pictures to draw certain animals. She now loves this book and is repeatedly drawing each animal. If you observe her from afar, you will see her point to the step she is on and "read" aloud what she is doing, then she will do it. When the animal is done she will tell me that she was really good at following the directions. Her very first attempt is below (which is actually her most accurate to date....she was just so focused that first time):

I am not saying she is brilliant or destined to be an artist (Kristoffer thinks I brag too much...I promise I am not trying to brag here), but I am saying that it was really fascinating to me that developmentally she could do this.  The picture actually does resemble a lion (and she was named Simba in utero).  She also signed her name at the bottom...sometimes she can accurately make a "C" which she didn't do here, but the "E" at the end has the appropriate number of horizontal lines so that is pretty awesome.  I am keeping this one for her memory book because I think it is adorable.  We are trying to focus on the process with her, instead of the outcome so much, because we've read good things about that parenting approach:  "Good job concentrating!  Was it fun drawing that lion?   I like the way you followed the directions."

Let me know if you would like to commission a picture from the artist :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

May 2, 2012 - This Boy

For the last two days, Noah has been wearing his "back pack" a lot.  I don't know what made him become interested in it, but he likes it a lot.  He walks around in it, plays in it, looks out the window as if he is eager to bust out of jail.  Do you think he is trying to tell us something?

(He looks sweet and innocent...but can also be a tough guy!  Watch out!)

We did convince him to take the bag off to eat at the table...and luckily it didn't bother him too much.

Our super sweet boy is changing everday.  He is eating well, sleeping well (sometimes wakes up once at night and still rises early, but is overall doing great) and is on a much better schedule than we ever managed to get Grace on at the same age.   He is fun and funny...making all kinds of sounds and sporting some adorable dance moves.  He never used to like books, but in the past few weeks he has really started to enjoy them.  He will sit and "read" them, play with them, bring them to me.  Sometimes he tries to eat them, but we're working on that :)  

Where did our little baby go?!  Love this boy!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May 1, 2012 - Chasing Pavements

As I shared on my Facebook a few days ago, I overheard Grace singing the song "Chasing Pavements" by Adele the other day.  She interpreted this lyric:

...Should I give up or should I just keep chasing pavements...

to be

...Should I give up or should I just keep making bacon...

which of course made me laugh really hard.  It was too cute.  She has since stopped singing the bacon version and is trying to go with Adele's original lyrics.  I don't know why she likes the song so much, but she does.  She even requested to listen to it while she ate her lunch today.  So here is her performance (it is too long...I uploaded the unedited version by accident, and it takes too long to redo it.  Sorry!).

I like her passion!