Thursday, December 01, 2011

Laundry Day photos

Hi Mom and others with no Facebook profile. Here are some more pictures of Maria :o)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Fall Photos

Ok, ok, I really am going to finish my 10 days of Congo before the end of the year :o) But for now, more Facebook photos. Here's an album from Maria's 8th month of life and another of Thanksgiving dinner chez l'Ambassadeur. Enjoy!

Maria is now 9 months old, crawling all over the place, and growing her 7th tooth!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Facebook Photos

Hi! Here I am catching up with pics from August and September. Enjoy!

Friday, October 07, 2011

Congo Culture Day 4

It’s midnight and I just remembered I needed to blog! So today’s entry will be short and sweet and mundane. I would like to talk about honking. [Pictured: Brazzaville Taxi]

In the US the car horn is used with much restraint. With the phenomenon of road rage, I think we’re actually afraid to honk at this point. Not in Congo. Restrained is the opposite of how the horn is employed. Liberally and loudly the horn is used. Really, the more the better. You honk at pedestrians and at other cars to warn them you’re coming through. You honk when other guys cut you off. You honk when you’re stuck in traffic. You honk when the light turns green (not because the person in front of you fails to move, just right when it changes everybody in the line-up honks!). And let’s not forget the taxis that run a set route like a bus who continually honk their horn the ENTIRE time to let people know they’re available.

In America I’ve tried to give just a friendly honk to someone in front of me when they don’t go on green and they get very grumpy about it! From that I’ve discerned that the horn should only be employed in emergency situations. I wish that we could all just find a happy medium between the excessive honking of Congo and the no honking rule of the US!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Congo Culture Day 3

Day 3: The Exteeeeeended Family
(happy 8 month birthday to Maria!)

Here in Congo relationships are often measured in family terms. You refer to friends as either big or little brothers and sisters…as in “this is my little sister” when introducing a girl who is younger than you. The word for an older sibling is “yaya” and you can place this in front of a name…as in “Ya Espérance” if you are speaking to your older brother/sister. There isn’t a way to use a younger sibling’s name with a title, but you can just call them “petit”…as in “Petit, comment ça va?” You refer to people your parents’ age or older as “mama” and “papa/tata,” sometimes placing their first or last name afterwards…as in “Mama Jessica” or “Tata Kouka”. This is also the polite way to refer to any adult or stranger even if they’re not old enough to be your parents.

When Congolese people use family terms, it also implies certain rights and responsibilities that apply to that relationship. For example, in Congolese culture my nephew and niece are considered to be my own children and they would refer to me as being their mother. This implies that I have the responsibilities of a mom towards them, making sure they have what they need. It also means I have the right to discipline them or otherwise intervene in their lives like a mom would.

The use of family terms has recently turned into a joke with Espérance because I pointed out that he doesn’t actually have any “friends.” He only has brothers and sisters! I’ve seriously never heard him refer to anyone here as “friend”. If he were to do so, I imagine he would mean that the person was just an acquaintance. He’s always saying things like, “He is my brother. He’s REALLY a brother!” and by that he means they knew each other growing up or had some experiences together or they just really like each other…basically it means they’re friends in American English. But to him it’s much more than that and to refer to someone as a friend just doesn’t express the affection he has for the person.

This brings me to muse about the whole Sapir/Whorf hypothesis, that the structure of a language determines the way its speakers conceptualize their world…Does language influence our culture or does culture influence our language? Is it the kind of relationships that Congolese people build with each other that leads them to use family terms, whereas we in the US are more distant and individualistic so we don’t? Would it change my perspective on people, or the way that I treat them, if I were to refer to them using family terms? Or do we all in the end have the same kind of relationships and just speak of them differently?

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Congo Culture Day 2

Day 2 Being Bossy

Here in Congo it’s a lot easier to tell other people what to do or to give them advice. You just say it matter of fact. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that there is a definite age hierarchy. You must respect anyone who is older than you, and from the time you’re able to talk you’re allowed to boss around anyone who is younger. You don’t have to couch what you say with phrases like, “I was wondering if maybe you could possibly think about picking up some bread at the store for me?” No, no, just say, “Hey you, go buy bread.” If you’re really nice, you say “please.” And the same goes for giving advice; just give it to them directly, no beating around the bush.

I think that one of the reasons they are able to tell others what to do so bluntly is that it’s considered a loving act and not rude. Giving advice is a way of showing someone that you care. This makes it really easy to exhort someone from the Scriptures, although whether or not they actually take it to heart is another matter.

It can be a bit frustrating for me when I go out with Maria. They like to bundle their babies up here, so people are always yelling at me, “You need to cover your child well!” “Why didn’t you put a hat on her?” (Note that we’re living on the Equator, not the North Pole.) I need to remember that people say such things to be helpful, not critical (at least that’s a nice way of looking at it whether or not it’s a culturally accurate observation!).

There are the perks, although it’s hard for me to really feel comfortable bossing around people who are younger than me. I’m just now getting used to it a bit, sending Espérance’s “younger brothers” on errands and such, but I still have a tendency to prefer to do something myself rather than to ask someone else to do it for me. About the time I’ll get the hang of it I’ll move back to the US and get blank stares from insolent little American children who are not used to being told what to do!

Congo Culture Day 1

I’m sorry to anyone out there who is actually still reading my blog…sorry for the inexcusable distance between posts and for the fact that all I have to talk about these days is the photos of my infant daughter.

In an act of blogging contrition, I bring you “Ten Days of Congo Culture.” The challenge to myself is to blog every day for the next week and a half and to share with you some interesting aspects of Congolese life. I don’t even think to write about many intriguing things because I forget that they are fascinating; they’ve become ordinary to me after having lived here for nearly 6 years!

Day 1 Mermaids
Congolese people believe in mermaids. Yes, the creatures that live in the sea. I’m not talking about something cute like Ariel, the Little Mermaid, however. These are spiritual beings, evil spirits that live in the water. From a Christian perspective, I would say they are demons. To Congolese people, even the Christian ones, mermaids are very much a reality.

It’s not as big of a deal here in Brazzaville, although there are spirits in the rivers; but in the port city Pointe Noire, it’s a very real and present danger. The spirits in the water beckon people and if you cede, you become enslaved to them. There are both physical dangers, such as drowning, and a spiritual danger of bondage and deception.

Some people are married to a water spirit. Every night, as if in your dreams, you go under the water and interact with the beings there. At first it may be like a choice to you, but after a while it’s an obligation. People in this situation must receive deliverance ministry to be set free.

There’s no point in telling a Congolese person that mermaids don’t exist. It would be like saying there’s no such thing as the wind. They will recount numerous stories of people they know who have been affected by this phenomenon.

In French the word is siren. An English dictionary definition of the word refers to classical mythology, sea nymphs who were part human and lured mariners to their destruction by their beautiful singing. I wonder why in our days we have Disneyfied the concept and turned them into creatures suitable for children to play with? With my Congo cultural influence, I’m not sure I’ll be able to let Maria enjoy The Little Mermaid as I once did.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My real doll

Photos of Baby doll Maria

It's fun to see kids interact with Maria here in Congo. From a very young age they already know how to take care of babies. Maria has a lot of fun with her friends.

Friday, September 09, 2011

New Favorite photo

This might be my favorite photo of all time. It's killing me. This is a little boy that was found abandoned last year and taken to the orphanage. Esperance named him Schekinah. Maria looks like she's about to go to Jazzercize!

photos from summer 2011 Congo

Hi! Here are a few pics from late july/early august and some of Maria's 6 month birthday party on Aug. 5. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Interesting article on phones and internet in Africa

This is a fascinating article called Digital Africa. Just thought I would share it with you. It is truly amazing how in the past 6 months everyone here is suddenly accessing the Internet on their phones and using Facebook. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

First pics in Congo

Here are some photos of Maria's first few weeks in Congo! They include a lot of other firsts for her, such as eating, drinking, and growing teeth! There are also some from our favorite annual Independence Day bash at the American Embassy. That wasn't a first for Maria because she attended last year in utero :o)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Diaperless Baby

Have you heard of diaperless babies? Infant potty training? Elimination Communication? These are all terms referring to a wonderful method I am beginning to discover by which you teach your baby to go to the bathroom when prompted rather than passively in a diaper. I had heard that in some places this is a traditional wisdom that has been passed down through the years. In China for example babies wear split pants, so the mom can just open them up when the baby needs to go. They make a sound like “psssss” which signals to the baby that it’s time. I first heard about Americans practicing this from a missionary here in Congo who did it with her baby. She piqued my interest with the words, “By 10 months she never went poo anywhere but the toilet. She still had occasional potty accidents, but she didn’t need a diaper, just underwear.” Fascinating!

I looked it up online while I was still in the US and tried it out a little when Maria was just 3 months old. The first try was very encouraging! I took her to the bathroom just after she’d eaten, which is a typical time they need to pee. I held her over the sink and a few seconds later she pooed! That was a lucky break which gave me courage and interest to continue. I would occasionally take her to the bathroom after she’d eaten and she would usually potty, but beyond that I didn’t know how to catch when she needed to go.

So I’m here in Congo now and with the tile floors feel like it’s a good place to try out the practice more thoroughly :o) But I still haven’t been quite sure how to get started. Today Espérance noticed that Maria’s buns were a little raw. That would be my fault because I’m becoming more and more stingy with changing her disposable diapers in anticipation of running out and needing to make the painful change to cloth diapers and all the fun that entails. So I spontaneously said, “Well, just leave her diaper off so she can air out a bit and we’ll see about this whole diaperless thing.” You don’t really have to go diaperless because you can just remove the diaper when they need to go, but so long as she’s wearing one I’m not sure when she’s actually going. I need to learn approximately when she goes and how she indicates that she’s about to go and also be able to make the sound while she’s going so she’ll learn to associate it. It’s called “Elimination Communication” because you learn to recognize your babies’ signals about her need to eliminate and she learns to recognize your signal for her to go.

At the beginning of the day I was only able to anticipate the obvious times—just after eating and upon waking from a nap. I would take her to the bathroom and set her over the sink and say “Ts ts tssssss” a few times, wait, and say it again when she would actually go. A few times I also saw her going while she was lying on top of a cloth diaper and was able to make the sound while she went. Much to my great astonishment, by the end of the afternoon I was able to take her to the bathroom a few times when I just thought maybe she might need to go and made the sound and she instantly went! The things I read did not indicate how long it would take to learn, so I had no idea that it would only take one day of this practice for her to already associate the sound and be able to choose to go!

It makes me marvel at my little baby, realizing she’s probably capable of much more than I give her credit for. It also makes me wonder why we either spend a ton of money on disposable diapers or else a ton of work dealing with cloth ones?? Even if I only do this part-time, it could still cut in half the number of diapers I either throw away or have to wash. Plus, if a baby is capable of this, why would I want to stifle that? It makes both her and me more aware and less passive, and I feel like it’s creating a special bond between us already.

I confess it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. It does take a lot of attentiveness and some trial and error. There were a few mishaps today (including some pee on the couch…), but overall it was an exhilarating debut to our diaperless endeavor.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cute pictures

Here are some really cute pics of Maria that my friend Crystal took just a couple days before we left for Congo. She is still in the editing process, so these are mostly rough ones, but they're already adorable!

Maria is now 5 months old (had to think twice when someone pointed out she's almost half a year already...crazy!). They grow fast at this age, so even just in the two weeks we've been in Congo it seems like she's changed so much. She can now put her pacifier in her mouth by herself (sure, it's a little hit or miss...). Whenever you stand her up on your lap she immediately starts bouncing, which expends an unbelievable amount of energy....the person holding her gets tired before she does though! Thankfully we brought a jumper seat that hangs in the doorway, so sometimes she can get her energy out all by herself. She has now eaten avocado and started drinking apple juice (I was going to wait until 6 months at least to give her anything besides mama's milk, but she's not pooing anymore and the doctor said to increase her liquids because of the climate change). Surmounting the time change wasn't as painful as it could have been; I was imagining her going to bed at 6am (10pm Oregon time), but usually by midnight we've been able to settle in for the night. Just in the past couple days she seems to be showing some preference for mom over other people. Of course it's been great the way she'll just go to any old person and smile at them, but it's also kind of sweet to know she likes me especially :o)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Current pics

OK, here are the pictures from April and May in my Facebook album.

Maria is growing by leaps and bounds! In the past week she has started to be able to grasp toys. She'll be 4 months old in a few days.

I've been gearing up with swimming supplies for our return to Congo. My mental health contingency plan is to go to the pool every weekend :o) We've got a baby bathing suit, a floatie tube for Maria to sit in, a foam noodle, and baby sunglasses!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My Maria

Hey everybody! Sorry, sitting at the computer isn't a luxery I get much these days! Maria is now over 3 months old! I've posted some more pics on Facebook:
March 2011
These are from her second month of life, but I'll get some recent ones up soon.

It's really fun being a mom. I enjoy seeing Maria develop new capacities on a weekly, even daily basis. She can smile now, look at the pictures in a book, and bat at toys hanging above her. Such fun!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More Maria

Hi! Here are some more pics of Maria's Weeks 2 and 3. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

For more photos of Maria see our FB album

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Some pregnancy pics and advice

Here I am at 39 1/2 weeks.

We've been steadily getting ready for a home birth and setting up all the stuff for baby. I can heartily endorse the store Once Upon a Child and other "gently used" children's clothing and accessory stores. Babies don't wear out their clothes before they out grow them, so you can get lots of stuff in great condition for a fraction of the price you buy it new. If the items are on clearance you can get nice stuff for $1 or less. I also recommend registering at Target because you get a whole bag of coupons and even a $20 gift card for photo products on Shutterfly.

I also highly recommend the following books:
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
The Sears Birth Book
Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way

These books are full of great information for helping you prepare for a positive birth experience (regardless of whether you choose a home or hospital birth, a natural or a medicated one). There are so many things we can do to prepare physically and mentally. I definitely feel like a home birth is the easiest path to having a good experience, but everyone planning a hospital birth just needs to work twice as hard to get educated about your choices and make a plan for the doctors to follow. There are many interventions for which there is not informed consent, so you have to know what they plan to do before they do it if you what to decline (For example, a lady in Salem was shocked the other day to receive her baby into her arms and see that a monitoring device had been inserted into its scalp. No one had told her about internal fetal monitoring and she was appalled!).

I've come to see that my health and the health of my baby is my responsibility and I should never give myself unquestioningly into someone else's care. There are sooooo many options for birth that I had never even thought of before. Did you know that at the hospital (at least at mine) they wash your baby by holding it under a stream of water and scrubbing it with a brush? You can opt to not bathe your baby until you go home, leaving its protective coating on and avoiding the risk of staff infection (you KNOW how common those are these days!). That's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of choices and risks which need to be investigated so that you can make the best plan possible.

I know a lot of pregnant women, so I just thought I would share some of these resources because I want everyone to have their very best experience!

Friday, January 07, 2011

Christmas Tree pics

Here's an album of photos of Esperance's very first adventure in Oregon--hunting for a Christmas tree!