Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pool Patinas

Concrete bench

The patinas studied here are the result of 48 years of use.  Patina's are defined as "accumulated changes in surface texture and colour that result from normal use of an object over time."  Lusaka's Olympic Pool was dedicated 9 months before Zambian independence (1964).  We are regular visitors to the pool, supporting it's maintenance 8,000 kwacha at a time.  The pool is used regularly by the Zambian amateur team (the Dolphins) and the Zambian National Team.  Typically when we swim, we are the only ones there and have the place entirely to ourselves.   While the facility is in obvious decay and the diving boards have long been abandonned, the pool itself is lovely....10 lanes wide, 50 meters long and crystal clear.  Seeing as March is our month of birthdays, I thought it fitting to celebrate the beauty and charm that can only come with age.  

Dressing room wall

Poolside table

Footbath tiles

Diving board

Poolside tables

Sunday, March 25, 2012

21 in Celsius!

Since we live in the wilds of Africa, (dusty roads, beautiful sunsets, noble People, blah, blah, blah) there is always the chance for an intimate animal encounter --- typically ants and frogs in Lusaka.  We live ON THE EDGE I tell you.  This year, Nana’s landmark birthday (this week she's turning 21...in celsius!) was charmed by an invasion of a different sort.  
The carefully constructed chocolate sheet cake with buttercream vanilla frosting (topped with crushed genuine Girl Scout Thin Mints hand carried from the mother land) attracted the attention of our friend Twiga.  We don’t know if Twiga had arrived at 23b after having found her way to the bottom of the amarula bottle or what.  The party started great, we had a few awkward introductions and social gaffaws....what DO YOU DO when a tipsy giraffe shows up uninvited??! There is no chapter in Emily Post about this.
Twiga carefully sampled the Thin Mint crust.  But slipped on a banana peel (how cliche) and eventually, well.....see for yourself.
 "mmmmmm. deliiiicshuuusss!" she mumbled, mouth full, as she dove HEAD FIRST into the cake. INTO the cake!  MMMMMM!  REALLY GOOD! 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NANA!  She shouted when she emerged, much to our relief, triumphant and with a mouth full of chocolate and icing!  Remember:  Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.

Indeed.  Happy Birthday to all our happy family March birthdays:  Bev, Jane, Todd.
Thanks for the great excuse to celebrate and eat MORE CAKE!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

World Storytelling Day

Oliver Twist.  The boy actually asked "Should I even HAVE breakfast this morning?"
Eeeesshhhhh, ACTORS!
TinTin, wondering "What was that?!!"

They boys have gotten into the school dress-up days this year. Maybe it's a by-product of having to wear a uniform every day?  It was not long ago that for wacky wednesday dress up day The Small One went totally crazy and went to school with one sock a little bit pushed down.  Whooaaa there, kiddo!

Today the school is celebrating "World Storytelling Day" and get to bring a special book from home to share and of course they can dress up as a favorite storybook character.  They have a 'drop everything and read' bell to ring all day and will spend the day sharing books and reading.

Years past the big guy (aka Hair Boy) has gone as Cat in the Hat and Harry Potter.  This year he chose Oliver Twist.  Not only is he reading the gigantic novel for literacy but he's been studying up all term for the big primary school production of Oliver Twist where he's playing the part of....Oliver Twist.  This was a good excuse to get a jump start on the search for costume bits.  Surprisingly, this only meant finding a hat.  In very very very atypical Lusaka fashion, we found about 8 hats that could do the trick in the first store we looked in.

The Small One wasted no time in choosing TinTin as his book character.  He's actually been dressing up as TinTin for a month and has been going to sleep every night with a different TinTin book on his pillow.  He claims to have not liked the movie but I think it's b/c we saw it in 3D.  (Yes, even Zambia has 3D movies at the theater.  Annoyingly so.  We all would prefer 2D.  Makes us nauseous).

The kids were so excited about their costumes.  It was very sweet. It's especially sweet that they put a lot of energy into researching their 'roles.'

We had to answer such questions as:  Does TinTin wear a watch?  On which arm?  Does Oliver Twist have shoes? Long hair? etc.  The Small One was especially concerned, as he always is (and which no one believes.  He is so far from the laid back, frat boy that everyone assumes him to be -- his parents included. His act is so convincing that we forget. But I digress).  He studied four different books (three we own and one he borrowed), checked pictures on the internet and was remembering different details from the movie.  He settled on the TinTin from "TinTin et Le Lac aux Requins."  In his 6 year old mind this means:  long sleeves with the sleeves NOT pushed up over the elbows, no overcoat, no watch, long pants (as opposed to knickers which is more typical), and DARK pants (as opposed to light which again is more typical), white socks, and brown shoes.  Thankfully for me I only needed to figure out the white shirt...he had the rest. As luck would have it, we went to 5 shops that ALWAYS have white shirts -- nearly every school-going boy in Lusaka needs a few for his school uniform --- no white shirts.  It's been hot too, so he came up with the solution of just a collar on his long sleeve blue shirt.  Brilliant.  So I sewed a white collar onto his shirt, helped him with the hair gel in the morning and off he went.

Wait a second!  Who's THAT!?  This is our new Head of School, Martin.  Clearly, he and FPFJ are in cahoots.  We're looking forward to seeing just how many TinTins are populating the school today! I can already name 2 others......PLUS Captain Haddock!

The kids friends came as TinTin (after a very sweet consultation with the Small One -- "it is OK if I dress as TinTin, too?"), Captain Haddock (TinTin's sidekick) and J came as the Rita Skeeter from the Daily Prophet.  The kids all looked fantastic.  (I missed seeing the parade but I saw the photos of all the costumes and they were awesome! All the TinTins got a cute photo together, very sweet.)  I think the primary principal came as Mr. Krup but no one had the nerve to snap their fingers...."Tra-la-laaaaaaaa!"  


What would we do without THESE characters in our lives? Twins Capt'n Haddock and TinTin and BigSista as Rita Skeeter (last year she was Beatrice Beauregard...she likes to pick powerful and slightly evil women....)  Smart AND beautiful, the whole lot of 'em.

Friday, March 9, 2012

ChaChaCha Salaula

Some folks lament that one reason for the loss of traditional dress in Africa is the availability of cheap textiles and clothes from Western countries.  Fair enough.

Some Western goods make it here thanks to a robust trade of second hand clothes.  Those funny Christmas socks you put in the "DONATION" bin?  Likely they come here, or a place like this, Salaula.

This is a new-old style Salaula that has sprung up on ChaChaCha Road since the new President through City Council, is allowing un-permited, informal vendors back on city streets.  More typical is a Salaula Market that is collection of hundreds of stalls set up which all sell used clothes.  This (above scene) is more a mish-mash of produce, dried fish, and other products.

Before you get upset that people are selling the stuff you donated, remember that it had to get here somehow.  Last I checked shipping a container full of anything costs...a lot.  Without knowing the details on what happened to that old Federal Way Little League t-shirt between the time you put it in the bin and the time I spotted at Mondevu, outside Lusaka, I'll carry on.

The ladies that sell these items purchase them in a gigantic bundle.  Big enough to barely fit in the backseat of a sedan, too big to fit in the trunk. The bundle is sealed and they buy either by the weight or just by the bundle.  They clean the items, as necessary, and every day haul their bundle out to sell.  Stuff that makes it to a hanger is more expensive than the stuff that hasn't hit the hanger yet.  A tee-shirt may cost $1-5, a dress $4-6. I don't believe the bundle-buyers get to know what is in their bundles -- they may have a whole load of socks and bras, a bunch of kids winter jackets, or old curtains.  They just buy the thing and dump it out on trading day.

In Lusaka, Salaula is moving out of the informal markets and into formal shops called "Green Shops."

And, because there is a demand, a couple of British ladies started hitting the shops and markets and are hand-picking your Ann Taylor and Marks and Spencer donations and fixing them up to sell at a nice mark-up to a captive audience of expat-wives/trailing spouses who come to an event (a wine tasting or concert, for example) with a drink in one hand, open wallet in the other.

 Street scene along ChaChaCha road 'in town.'

Gourock and getting noticed by missing the mark

This billboard ad (all over Zambia) falls into the ever-growing category of "so bad it's good."

And of course THABC's Mama Chicken -- for the Love, Pleasure and Tasty:

Ignore the fact that it's situated on Chachacha Road between to Mama Chicken's Comfortable and Affordable Guest House  and AgroVet.....and upstairs from Dr. Wang's Surgery.  Don't mind the three people passed out on the rickety spiral staircase on your way up.  They serve Chinese food if the chicken is not sounding good at this point.

And since we are talking chickens, how can I not mention THIS Beauty:

Sure, it's a chicken....but look at the photo below. It's not just any chicken, it's a GIANT CHICKEN, one of "Zambia's Finest Chicks." It stands in the middle of a traffic roundabout on the main road to/from the airport and it's so awsome that I can't even put it into words.  Oh how we wish we had seen this fine chick in transit when the drove it down to it's Great East Road roost from Ndola.  To Hybrid's credit, the chicken--while, uh, large (unbelievably large) and uh, a bit odd, it's quite well-made. And as far as logos and taglines go their's absolutely cannot be beat. HYBRID: Zambia's Finest Chicks.

Book List

Because so many of my recent awesome reads are stuck on my sweet little Kindle, I can only share our favorite titles.  This is the HUGE drawback of the Kindle, not being able to share books. Here is the list (in no particular order):

Alone: A polar classic adventure
Theodor Seuss Geisel (Biography)
The Scarlet Letter
The Warmth of Other Suns
The Paris Wife
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Apothecary's Daughter
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
The Unheard: A memoir of deafness and Africa
Killing Pablo
Log from the Sea of Cortez
Omnivore's Dilemna
Nurture Shock
The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS
The Quiet American

The kids' favorites remain the "Mysterious Benedict Society" series (the prequel to which is out in April), the Percy Jackson Series, Harry Potter (of course), and all of FPFJ's magic key adventure books.  They loved "The Enormous Egg" and a few other chapter books we picked up that were published in the 50s.  (Thank you Powell's Book store.)

I have dug out some old picture books that we are appreciating for the artwork, the rhymes, etc.  Many are 'baby books' that we have read to the kids a thousand times (Antonia, far away.  The Lightship, Lobsterman, The Brute Family) but it's nice that the kids can enjoy them on a new level -- by being able to read them instead of needing to be read to. We have a few "Alvin" books, illustrated by a favorite artist of mine, Satoshi Kitamura.

Recently, we purchased a handful of books published in the UK for a little tiny friend and have had to 'pre-read' them to make sure the books were good enough for gifting. The favorites from this bunch are:

The Best Jumper (Garner/Gill),
Lost Little Cowboys (Puttock and Church)
Conker and Nudge (Meserve)
Where's the Bus? (Browne/Croft)

On mud huts and dusty roads

N'gombe girls, Lusaka, Zambia 2010

How to write about Africa:  some tips: sunsets and starvation are good
 Author: Binyavanga Wainaina

Always use the word 'Africa' or 'Darkness' or 'Safari' in your title. Subtitles may include the words 'Zanzibar', 'Masai', 'Zulu', 'Zambezi', 'Congo', 'Nile', 'Big', 'Sky', 'Shadow', 'Drum', 'Sun' or 'Bygone'. Also useful are words such as 'Guerrillas', 'Timeless', 'Primordial' and 'Tribal'. Note that 'People' means Africans who are not black, while 'The People' means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.
In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don't get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: fifty-four countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book. The continent is full of deserts, jungles, highlands, savannahs and many other things, but your reader doesn't care about all that, so keep your descriptions romantic and evocative and unparticular.

Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat. Do not mention rice and beef and wheat; monkey-brain is an African's cuisine of choice, along with goat, snake, worms and grubs and all manner of game meat. Make sure you show that you are able to eat such food without flinching, and describe how you learn to enjoy it—because you care.

Taboo subjects: ordinary domestic scenes, love between Africans (unless a death is involved), references to African writers or intellectuals, mention of school-going children who are not suffering from yaws or Ebola fever or female genital mutilation.

Throughout the book, adopt a sotto voice, in conspiracy with the reader, and a sad I-expected-so-much tone. Establish early on that your liberalism is impeccable, and mention near the beginning how much you love Africa, how you fell in love with the place and can't live without her. Africa is the only continent you can love—take advantage of this. If you are a man, thrust yourself into her warm virgin forests. If you are a woman, treat Africa as a man who wears a bush jacket and disappears off into the sunset. Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated. Whichever angle you take, be sure to leave the strong impression that without your intervention and your important book, Africa is doomed.

Oops...happy, healthy, smiling youth, posing for me at their school. Surely they are starving? Doomed? Child soldiers? Nope. Just happy, smiling healthy kids. 
Your African characters may include naked warriors, loyal servants, diviners and seers, ancient wise men living in hermitic splendour. Or corrupt politicians, inept polygamous travel-guides, and prostitutes you have slept with. The Loyal Servant always behaves like a seven-year-old and needs a firm hand; he is scared of snakes, good with children, and always involving you in his complex domestic dramas. The Ancient Wise Man always comes from a noble tribe (not the money-grubbing tribes like the Gikuyu, the Igbo or the Shona). He has rheumy eyes and is close to the Earth. The Modern African is a fat man who steals and works in the visa office, refusing to give work permits to qualified Westerners who really care about Africa. He is an enemy of development, always using his government job to make it difficult for pragmatic and good-hearted expats to set up NGOs or Legal Conservation Areas. Or he is an Oxford-educated intellectual turned serial-killing politician in a Savile Row suit. He is a cannibal who likes Cristal champagne, and his mother is a rich witch-doctor who really runs the country.

Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering. Also be sure to include a warm and motherly woman who has a rolling laugh and who is concerned for your well-being. Just call her Mama. Her children are all delinquent. These characters should buzz around your main hero, making him look good. Your hero can teach them, bathe them, feed them; he carries lots of babies and has seen Death. Your hero is you (if reportage), or a beautiful, tragic international celebrity/aristocrat who now cares for animals (if fiction).

Bad Western characters may include children of Tory cabinet ministers, Afrikaners, employees of the World Bank. When talking about exploitation by foreigners mention the Chinese and Indian traders. Blame the West for Africa's situation. But do not be too specific.
Broad brushstrokes throughout are good. Avoid having the African characters laugh, or struggle to educate their kids, or just make do in mundane circumstances. Have them illuminate something about Europe or America in Africa. African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.

Describe, in detail, naked breasts (young, old, conservative, recently raped, big, small) or mutilated genitals, or enhanced genitals. Or any kind of genitals. And dead bodies. Or, better, naked dead bodies. And especially rotting naked dead bodies. Remember, any work you submit in which people look filthy and miserable will be referred to as the 'real Africa', and you want that on your dust jacket. Do not feel queasy about this: you are trying to help them to get aid from the West. The biggest taboo in writing about Africa is to describe or show dead or suffering white people.

Animals, on the other hand, must be treated as well rounded, complex characters. They speak (or grunt while tossing their manes proudly) and have names, ambitions and desires. They also have family values: see how lions teach their children? Elephants are caring, and are good feminists or dignified patriarchs. So are gorillas. Never, ever say anything negative about an elephant or a gorilla. Elephants may attack people's property, destroy their crops, and even kill them. Always take the side of the elephant. Big cats have public-school accents. Hyenas are fair game and have vaguely Middle Eastern accents. Any short Africans who live in the jungle or desert may be portrayed with good humour (unless they are in conflict with an elephant or chimpanzee or gorilla, in which case they are pure evil).

After celebrity activists and aid workers, conservationists are Africa's most important people. Do not offend them. You need them to invite you to their 30,000-acre game ranch or 'conservation area', and this is the only way you will get to interview the celebrity activist. Often a book cover with a heroic-looking conservationist on it works magic for sales. Anybody white, tanned and wearing khaki who once had a pet antelope or a farm is a conservationist, one who is preserving Africa's rich heritage. When interviewing him or her, do not ask how much funding they have; do not ask how much money they make off their game. Never ask how much they pay their employees.

Readers will be put off if you don't mention the light in Africa. And sunsets, the African sunset is a must. It is always big and red. There is always a big sky. Wide empty spaces and game are critical—Africa is the Land of Wide Empty Spaces. When writing about the plight of flora and fauna, make sure you mention that Africa is overpopulated. When your main character is in a desert or jungle living with indigenous peoples (anybody short) it is okay to mention that Africa has been severely depopulated by Aids and War (use caps).
You'll also need a nightclub called Tropicana, where mercenaries, evil nouveau riche Africans and prostitutes and guerrillas and expats hang out.

Always end your book with Nelson Mandela saying something about rainbows or renaissances. Because you care.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Pretty Little Things

Thanks to our friends who lug around boxes and packets of pretty little things that we 'need' this side of the world.  In this case it wasn't a design magazine, a pile of little boy shoes (a frequently requested item), Theo Chocolates, or computer parts -- it was a packet of beautiful business cards.  I ordered a good amount through MOO.com (they have a UK printer and a US printer) and shipping this weight wasn't practical.

I am forever designing double-sided cards for clients and decided it was time for me to order my very own.  I couldn't be happier.  The great thing with this particular company is that I was able to print the cards with 25 different images.   I did not anticipate that clients would want the whole collection....

Monday, March 5, 2012

Tin Tin and Softie

Someone wants to get a Tin Tin haircut.   Gee.  Who could that be?  
(with Softie, standing in for Snowy)

And because he's becoming so darn handsome, one more:

Birthday Birds and Birthday Cakes

Family tradition dictates that not only to member of the family have a birthday bird, but also a birthday cake.  TJs bird is the kingfisher, mine is the oystercatcher, O's is the lilac breasted roller, FPFJ's has yet to be determined.  It'll come to him...maybe it already has.  You don't really get to choose your birthday bird.  It kinda chooses you.  (FPFJ's could be the coucal. I'll have to check.)

Now, birthday cake? Well, that's a different story.  Mine is a chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and TJ's is a blueberry sour cream coffee cake. Papa's is the amazing torte marguerite.  Owen and Finn are still experimenting....baked alaska with 6 kitties skiing down? that was the last one.  You don't have to have the same cake every year but eventually you find that every year you request the same cake. And that is your birthday cake.

Today is the big guys' birthday and I could put together so few ingredients from the actual recipe that I had to abandon the birthday cake.  All missing from the list of ingredients?  Blueberries for starters. brown sugar (boo, no struesel topping), no pecans (double BOO), no unsalted butter, and of course no sour cream.  (We have sour milk!  but no sour cream.)


So, instead of substituting the whole essence of the recipe away, he ended up with a dimply plum cake with cardamom.  And an orange glaze.  Super-yum.  Some one will have to do a make up cake in July.

In the meantime, here is your piece: