Wednesday, October 27, 2010

home sweet home

After nearly 34 hours of travel, Eleanor, Kean (my brother) and I arrived safely in Boston. It was a remarkably easy series of flights and thanks to the playrooms in both the Nairobi and Amsterdam airports I had a relatively happy child the whole way.

We are now in Western MA, in the Berkshires. I am reminded of why I love New England, especially in the fall. The leaves have shed their uniform green and are displaying the full spectrum of colors that make them who they are. The weather is remarkably warm, and there is no shortage of rocks, plants, seed pods, and blades of grass to entertain Eleanor's imagination. We are staying in a lovely old home with dear friends from college, taking long walks and bike rides, and drinking wine in front of the fire. Today's mission: buy 200 apples for welcome bags. Look out local apple orchards!

If it weren't for Tim's absence, it would be pretty much perfect. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Have I mentioned that it's dusty here? I have talked, yet, about the dirt? Have I described how it boils under the tires of moving vehicles, and can be so thick at times as to completely block your vision as you drive behind another car? Have I told you how, when the dogs come running to greet us in the morning, the dirt from the driveway billows behind them in clouds that come to settle on you as they jump and lick, which in turn creates more dust clouds which come to settle on you too? Have I told you that despite my love of the morning shower I have for the past 10 months been showering in the evening because I would SO MUCH rather get into bed with clean feet than go out in public with them?

Well, in case I haven't, it's all true. And I offer the following as proof:

 Tire tracks in the driveway.

Layers of dirt on coffee leaves, in the middle of the yard.

 My foot, 3 hours outside: 2 spent shopping (!), 1 in the yard.

Less than 24 hours since it's last cleaning, the floor in front of an open window.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

lies, damn lies, and statistics

What does it take to run a research project in the Simanjiro district in Tanzania? Let's see.

To date, 9.5 months in:
$23,000 spent on project-related expenses
10,000+ photos taken
1000+ meals, purchased and prepared
450 bottles of soda purchased and distributed
126 ground-truth points recorded
112 surveys completed, 144 outstanding
20 trips, 67 nights and 87 days spent in the field
58 group interviews
13 meetings with professionals
11 employees, plus a few other one-time hires for camp projects, etc.
5 Maasai ceremonies attended
1 man

Who is this man, you ask. Is he a superhero? Seems like he would have to be, doesn't it. Perhaps. Even if only in his own mind and ours.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

fashionless or fashionable

I know, and will be the first to admit, that I don't have the greatest fashion sense. In fact, I think Tim might tell you that at times it's downright embarrassing (I still wear wide-leg pants, gasp!). I have grown even less interested in what I look like over the last several months as the amount of dirt and dust that gathers on my clothes, within seconds of setting foot outside, makes "dressing" (which is to say putting together an outfit) virtually pointless. Friends, returning from home leave in the states, even brought me some fancy new threads, but I have refused to wear them for fear of permanently ruining them with dirty footprints or sticky fingers.

The same goes for Eleanor's clothes: I don't want to stop her from exploring the world around her, so there are some clothes which I just don't put her in first thing in the morning, when I know she'll be spending hours outside - in the dust. Generally I do the choosing of outfits, and she happily dons whatever I select.

This morning, however, Eleanor chose what she wanted to wear, and given my lack of fashion sense I just can't decide: it is totally fashionless or awesomely fashionable?

Eleanor's selected outfit (dots, stripes and florals)...

...and "how to mix patterns" examples from a fashion website.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Factory seconds

Yesterday afternoon I stopped at the "supermarket" at the end of our road for a short list of goodies which included diapers, pickles, and olives (don't ask). At the counter they bagged everything for me, and carried the bags to the car since my hands were full- trying to stop Eleanor from eating the piece of pickle she had just dropped on the floor. When I got home I went to take the bags from the car and one of the two caught my eye. "Interesting," I thought. "How did they get their hands on this?" And then I picked it up. Of course. God forbid anyone in America should have a bag like that!

 The bag.

The reason it's in Africa, not a GAP store near you.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

a surprise storm

One of the things I have come to miss about home are afternoon thundershowers. Don't get me wrong, we had our fair share of them back in February and March, but they have all since deserted us. The other day, as I sat at the computer updating figures for a manuscript, Tim sitting next to me working on his project's budget, the gray skies darkened the wind picked up. "What is this?" we wondered out loud. "Could it be?"

And sure enough, within minutes we were greeted by the sounds of rain drops on the window ledge outside. It was a glorious hour of light rain, which was all to short in my opinion.

 the wind and the rain, outside.

 heading for cover.

ready for the elements.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Screen Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends zero screen time for children under 2 years. None. Zero. Zilch. Greater screen time is associated with reduced time spent in physical activity, a higher likelihood for requesting advertised products, poorer school performance, increased behavioral problems, and increased risk for "at risk for overweight" and overweight (which are the official terms used for overweight and obesity in children).

Up until a few months ago I wouldn't have thought twice about there needing to be a recommendation for this- we don't have a television in our home and don't own childrens' videos or have portable DVD players or a Playstation or X-Box or Nintedo or an Atari (remember Atari?!) or whatever it is that children have these days.  But then I found the airplane video which I used one day in a desperate attempt to keep Eleanor entertained long enough to get dinner on the table while Tim was out in the field, and since then she has continued to ask for more. 

I realize that I am on a slippery slope here, especially by giving in to her requests, but I also recognize that NO SCREEN TIME, particularly as she gets older, is not realistic (imagine the fun we'd miss experiencing films like Wall-E or UP with our children) and could ultimately have lasting and unintended consequences. Do I really want to completely deny my children the ability to participate in a thoughtful discussion about Seinfeld or The Simpsons as major social forces in the late 20th Century or the opportunity to laugh (for the 100th time) at Arrested Development. No. I do not.

So while I still cringe each time I start up the computer, I...scratch that...we are making a concerted effort to set limits to Eleanor's screen time, which thankfully is very easy to do. At least for now. She is allowed one of two things: "For the Birds" from Pixar or something from Sesame Street. And I have to admit, even Tim and I can't get enough of this Sesame Street video/song called What I Am. I actually look forward to singing along, with Eleanor dancing on my lap. 

[NOTE: For those interested, Dr. David Walsh provides excellent information and running commentary on the effect of screen time on childrens' physical and mental well being. You can find his blog here.]

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

in a previous life

This morning I received a gchat from a friend in Arusha asking me to please "explain how seasonal eating works" here in Tanzania where, for many things, there are no seasons. That is to say that we can seemingly get our hands on a plethera of foods (i.e. lettuce, tomatoes [no, not heirloom], squashes, beans...) that are grown all year round. Now, there are some foods that I have noticed have a "season": when we first arrived the mangoes were FABULOUS and we consumed something like 4 every day-- each of us. But generally, are we still eating seasonally if there are no real seasons? If we eat cauliflower coming from Kenya, is that still considered eating seasonally? Is Kenya local? Is it like buying an apple from Virgina when we live in North Carolina (because it's a bordering state) or more akin to buying an apple from New Zealand (because it's a different country)?

This got me thinking about the fact that in a previous life, Tim and I were "locavores." Does anyone out there remember that? Tim kept a pretty fantastic blog about that experience. "It's funny," he often comments, "We spend a year eating locally and I [Tim] write about it, and then we spend a year living in Africa and you [Kiyah] write about it." Hm. Funny.

We fared pretty well our first local meal (in Maine). After that it was a lot of pork and ice cream. I mean A LOT of pork and ice cream.

Monday, October 4, 2010

1 little monkey

"One little monkey jumping on the bed..."

Much to her mother's pleasure, she did not fall off. Or bump her head. She did look rather sheepish after doing it though, which reminds me of another song...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

my African experience

The other day Tim and I were discussing my Kiswahili skills (or lack thereof) and Tim said "You just don't have to speak it. You live in 'White Africa'."

I have thought a lot about this statement. Although the term makes me a little uncomfortable, the sentiment is true. If I wanted to, I could go the whole day without interacting with a Tanzania who wasn't one of the house employees, without using more than standard Swahili greetings. I have ex-pat friends, we go to grocery stores where the Wahindi owners speak English, I attend playgroups at ex-pat restaurants or the International School where English is the language of instruction, my nanny speaks English, my landladies are British...shall I continue?

But everyday that I leave the property, I come face to face with "black" Africa and the dichotomy does not escape me. I am acutely aware of my good fortune, and of the fact that so many here do not share it; that my opportunities set me so far apart from the average Tanzanian that even making the comparison is somewhat silly. Sometimes I think this serves to make the "black" (real?) African experience all the more visceral. If I were out "there" in it, everyday, wouldn't I grow somewhat accustomed? Hardened?

It might be a "white" experience, but it still is an African experience. And it is my experience. And as the time draws nearer to it [that experience] being over I have decided that, even if it is "white", it is no less real.

 Pristine. Educational. Advantaged?

 Gritty. Dusty. Personal?

Peaceful. Relaxed. Isolated?

Stimulating. Coarse. Lively?

 Diverse. Welcoming. Deceitful?

Deprived. Dusty. Honest?