Wednesday, May 30, 2012

events of the uneventful

Thing 1 doesn't want to let go of this birthday girl thing and I guess technically she can't because I'm going to bust my tail for the next three days to throw a spectacular birthday party this weekend.  She tried to milk it all day long; asking for candy, claiming she didn't have to share her new toys with her sister, demanding lunch at 1PM instead of noon with the rest of us.  That's my diva girl!

Thing 2 is killing me with this turning 3 transitioning out of a nap phase.  If she doesn't nap she's up all night screaming for God-knows-what waking us all up and the last thing I need is to wake up IN BETWEEN the times the baby is nursing.  Bella slept between 2 and 4:30PM today which was a relief but also a concern because then she won't go to bed at 7PM and my evening time gets cut into and that blows.  The one good thing is that she should sleep soundly tonight.

Thing 3 is cutting a tooth.  I think? I hope! Sheesh, she's 7.5 months with no teeth and that's not super weird because Bella cut her first tooth at 9 months, but Ashlynn has seriously been teething since she was 3 months old and with zero payoff it totally sucks.  She's fussy and drooling and refusing a spoon in her mouth.  This girl never misses a meal so there better be a little white nugget erupting soon!  The crawling has set in motion a series of "Oh crap" moments. Like today when she pulled herself up on the wiggly granite fireplace and almost wobbled her face into the stone or when she crawled to a black spot on the carpet and picked the tiny thing up with her superpower fine motor skills and luckily I was watching because that black spot was a dead fly I had swatted earlier.

On to the uneventful stuff.

We have to bleach our eggs in Addis Ababa (along with everything else really).  They come in plastic bags and are generally spotted with chicken dookie.  I also "float" the eggs.  Basically while they are soaking any floaters are tossed.  Gas is created in bad eggs that causes them to float and it's a pretty simple way of avoiding food poisoning via bad egg.  Especially since my homemade ice cream has raw eggs in it (gasp!) and I make an awesome pasta carbonara (double gasp!).  I never made these things in the States but here I am taking my chances on the eggs here in Ethiopia.  Maybe the dookie makes them seem fresher. Right out of the chicken butt fresh!  Anyway, floating the eggs makes me feel better.

I never thought I'd be saying this but the locally grown fresh strawberries in Addis Ababa are pretty slammin.   I get about a half pound for $1.50.  I always leave gorgeous bowls of fresh strawberries out for the girls when they get hungry and need a snack.  I almost never sit down and eat some myself because I play that I-should-save-that-lovely-healthy-fruit-for-my-growing-offspring-game.  Not today!  I threw all the really dark sweet ones down my gullet before the kids even saw the bowl. HA!

The house is filling up with roses for our upcoming birthday extravaganza.  At 1 birr per rose I am getting 200 roses which is about $10.  Ridiculously awesome and cheaper than balloons and streamers!

Here is Bella when she woke up from her juicy two and half hour nap.  Sometimes she only half wakes up (well-most of the time) and screams and kicks and whines and scratches herself for a good 30 minutes.  Lucky Me!

 There was mozarella at the store today.  Boo yeah!  The girls and I had pizza for dinner WITHOUT the obligatory side veggie I usually make to feel better about serving pizza.  Tonight it was, "No, you can't have a treat until you finish all those bits of olives and cheese on your plate".

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Adelaide Rose turns 5

My eldest daughter knows how to be a birthday girl.  She is perfectly happy being in the center of attention at home.  She relished today even more because it's tough to be supportive of your little sister having her birthday first every year.  Today was Addie's turn and she loved all the pampering and extra love!

Justin made her favorite chocolate chip pancakes this morning.  Chocolate chips in the shape of a number 5-super cool Dad! (When I asked her this evening what her favorite part of the day was-number 5 pancakes was immediately her answer).  She opened up presents from us and had a movie afternoon which is pretty special.  I let her choose our dinner for tonight and her request was fish, cous cous, and corn (at 5 I think I would have chosen french toast or something).  I was pretty impressed with her decision.  I surprised her with a brownie sundae and we sang "Happy Birthday".  I was really touched with how loud and sincere Arabella sang "Happy Birthday" to her sister. It was darling. All in all it was a pretty great day.  

It's amazing how grown up Adelaide seems in certain moments.  She's responsible enough that I leave her in charge of watching her baby sister for short moments when I need to step out of the room.  She feeds the dog, calms down Arabella when she's upset, plays fairly with her sister and her friends, and has very mature self awareness.  She's a bit of a worrier.  She's perceptive about other people's feelings. If I asked her who her favorite pancake maker was she'd want to say Daddy but she's probably add something at the end of her sentence about loving my pancakes too so as to not hurt my feelings.  She's a graceful strong girl who will make an excellent athlete when she gets older if I can just expose her to some team sports for girls.  She has a rocket for a throwing arm and really good aim so I'm thinking she might make a good short stop some day.  Adelaide mostly warms my heart with her tenderness and love for her two younger sisters.  They idolize her and I have no doubt she will be a wonderful example for them.  
I love pictures of Addie where she's just a little girl, acting like a little girl.
I love how excited Addie is about math.  I love that she asks a million questions about everything.  She's a curious smart girl and I hope we can encourage her to work hard at math and science and whatever else she loves.  She's passionate about art and the process of making something.  I love watching her create things with her hands.

She's a bit of a head turner already.  Justin and I watched a little boy at the playground the other day completely mesmerized by her.  She ran around playing and doing her thing while he followed her like a puppy just staring, trying to do something that she'd notice.  That's why I love photos of my little girl like this one...
Because she has no problem giving me a photo like these ones...I'm thinking we need to slow down this growing up process somehow.
Tonight when I was tucking her in to bed she was asking me a question about the movie Annie.  It was one of her birthday gifts she received today and I told her briefly what the story was about earlier. She brought it back up laying in bed by asking me how I knew about Annie finding a Daddy in the story.  I told her that it was one of my favorite movies as a little girl and that's how I knew.  "So now you told me and I'm going to tell my girls and they are going to tell their girls and then they will tell their girls on and on... right Mommy?"   Sometimes she's wise beyond her years.  Luckily after that she cuddled up with her lovie and turned over to go to sleep and I could still see the baby in her, even if it's just for a few seconds.

Addie turns 1, 2, 3, 4


Ashlynn's crawling

At seven and a half months, Ashlynn Olivia is the youngest of my three girls to crawl.  She's definitely trying to keep up with her big sisters.  I'm waiting for one of her signature downward facing dog yoga poses to turn inadvertently into a somersault!  She does more of a crab walk than a traditional crawl right now.  I'm in for some serious heart attacks now that she's moving.  I've pulled three stickers out of her mouth along with a few other too-small toys.  We also have to watch her like a hawk around the stairs!

Monday, May 28, 2012

mad about Alice

More party preparations were completed this weekend.  I'm trying to get a jump start on things for Adelaide's unbirthday party this coming weekend.  Today is her real birthday so we are celebrating at home with a few gifts from Mom and Dad (wrapped ultra ghetto style in Christmas wrap), chocolate chip pancakes courtesy of Daddy, and maybe some homemade cookies and cream ice cream!  Oh to be five again!

Using red and white bakers twine, I strung up these awesome Alice in Wonderland playing cards with vintage pictures.  It's perfect for the Queen of hearts part of the party!  What do you think?  I LOVE the pictures and the quotes! "Twinkle twinkle little bat".  "We're all a little mad here!"

Friday, May 25, 2012

suck it Martha

For the record, I like Martha.  I subscribe to her magazine because the photography is excellent , the recipes are good and her party ideas are slammin (albeit a bit too perfect).  But I am not Martha, nor am I her food critic, food stylist, or the chef that makes those beautiful concoctions in the photos.  I wonder if those photos are supposed to make one's self esteem disappear completely when you try the recipe and by God it doesn't even remotely look like Martha's version?

It's my own fault, I get a little too crafty when it comes to my kids birthdays.  Today is the day Addie gets to celebrate her birthday at school.  I was required to bake something for her classmates.  I declined on the 60 cupcakes because that's a ton of cupcakes.  My initial thought was cookies but then I saw this photo on the cover of the June issue of Martha Stewart Living and right then and there Addie and I decided that was the cake I was going to make for her to bring to school.  It was perfect!  We can get strawberries and whipping cream here.  The cake looked simple enough...
This is not what my cake looked like.  Not even close!

Boy was I wrong.  The cake is an angel food type cake with a trillion and a half eggs that rose and puffed beautifully in the oven and then within 30 minutes of cooling completely collapsed into a wrinkly mess.  This is even after I adjusted the recipe for baking at high altitude.  This high altitude thing is really cramping my baking style!  Anyway, I decided to cut the two 9 inch wrinkly cakes so there would be four layers and try to disguise the wrinkles with whip cream.

I assembled the cake before school today and oh man-it did not go so well.  The cake was supposed to be light and airy and my wrinkly fallen mess WAS NOT.  The strawberries in the middle were fine but the whip cream just squished out the sides of the layers and the entire four layer cake had slid apart twice before I just popped the portable cake carrier's lid on and put it in the back of the car with a note that said "I failed.  I hope it tastes better than it looks!"

I was in tears in the kitchen apologizing to Adelaide.  "I'm so sorry honey.  Mommy was trying to make a beautiful cake for you to bring to school!"  She came and gave me a hug and  said "I love you, I don't mind a silly looking cake".  "It was wrinkly and now it's falling, it's ok".  Bless her heart.  She's such a sweet girl.

Anyway, I hate failing at cakes.  I'm a stay at home Mom. I've known about having to bring a cake today for weeks now and so the idea that I failed at it is depressing.  Seriously?!  I could't have just made a batch of brownies or a boxed sheet cake? That's where I failed completely.  I got a little too crafty and it backfired.  I'm sure the kids won't mind their scoop of cake today. No doubt it will taste delicious but I should have just sent her to school with a box of cookies like everyone else!

UGH! Martha and her beautiful cakes!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

the bomb chocolate chip cookies

Everyone has their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Lord knows I've tried many.  Can you honestly say you make the very best chocolate chip cookies possible?  I can! Believe me, it's not my baking skills, it's this recipe I found!  Finally, a chocolate chip cookie recipe I can settle on and make a million times because I know without a doubt, it's the best damn chocolate chip cookie recipe on Earth.

While we were in the U.S. all the Borders book stores closed and it became a family hobby to head to the closest Borders and pillage the shelves during the sales. We are total book geeks. Everything was so cheap we felt like we were stealing books.  Justin and I picked up stacks of great books, puzzles, games and movies for the kids all for a fraction of the original cost.  I ended up with this cookbook for $3 that I have used a ton.  The Hunka Chunka Chewy Chocolate Cookie recipe makes the most amazing cookie I have ever tasted.  I'm telling you.  You must try it!

The other day I made these cookies and I added 1 1/3 cups Heath Bar pieces and 1 2/3 cup chocolate chips instead of the all chocolate chips the recipe calls for.  They were the BOMB!  The cookies spread and flattened more here at our high altitude but they tasted amazing!  Anyway, since I altered the recipe a tad with the Heath, I figured this version needed a new name.  I can't possibly take credit for the original recipe in the book.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

party planning

We have another birthday party coming up that we are preparing for.  Adelaide turns 5 on May 29 and we are having a Mad Hatters Tea Party for her un-birthday on June 2!  We're all pretty excited since Alice in Wonderland has to be the coolest party theme ever.  I'm especially in love with all the vintage Alice in Wonderland drawings and prints from the books.  We have pink flamingos and spiky balls for the Queen of Hearts' game of croquet and we're going to paint white roses red!  It's going to be a pretty slammin tea party with all her little friends at school.

The girls helped me with these invitations.  We brewed strong coffee and they painted the paper with it so it would look old (coffee scented too).  I was the one who burned the corners with matches.  Addie helped me with the stamps!  


HA! I bet you thought you were going to see one of the girls' adorably cute bottom in the bath or something.  Sorry, not those kind of buns!

America is the only place you can buy decent hamburger buns.  In Manila we spent three years complaining about the tiny sweet flimsy hamburger buns we could buy there.  You can't even buy anything close to a burger bun in Ethiopia.

So I made some last night.  We ordered a ton of beef and chicken patties from Kenya in the last meat order through the embassy.  ("Meat order" kind of tickles my funny bone-HA!) Anyway, we had all these patties and no buns and I figured I could make some pretty decent hamburger buns as long as I found a recipe.

I was right.  Homemade hamburger buns are way better than the store bought kind in the U.S. I'm not sure why I never thought about making them while in Manila.  It was super easy and they were extremely tasty.  I highly recommend continuing to buy buns in the States because, well it's a million times easier to grab a bag of buns at Safeway. I'm not going to begin to pretend that I would make homemade burger buns if I were living in America.  Just like I wouldn't be making homemade bagels, tomato sauce, and chicken broth.  If I were in America I'd be buying these things.  No doubt.

But I'm not living in America and some things are done out of necessity.  So if you are overseas like us or you just want to impress whoever you are cooking cheeseburgers for, make your buns.  They are way yummy!

So this is the recipe I started with.  I made some changes because I hate tough rolls.  Bread making is about not adding too much flour and not over kneading.

I warmed the liquids, butter, sugar and salt in a microwave bowl and let it cool to lukewarm.  In my KitchenAide mixer (with dough hook attachment) I put 3 cups of flour and the instant try yeast (2 1/4 tsps is how much is in one packet).  I added the liquid mixture to the dry and slowly mixed it together.  I then added the flour cup by cup until the dough  was no longer pooling at the bottom and had completely pulled away from the sides of the bowl.  I think in the end it was a total of 4 1/2 cups of flour (not the 51/2 cups of flour the recipe calls for).  Basically the dough had all adhered to the hook and was spinning around attached to it.  I then let the dough mix slowly on the dough hook for a few minutes (maybe 3 minutes not 8).  I then followed the recipe and let the dough rest for about and hour until it had risen and doubled it's original size.  Cut into twelve pieces and formed them into round bun shaped balls and let it rise again.  Egg washed them and baked the buns at 400 degrees for about 11 minutes.  They were fluffy and tender and moist.

Chinese food in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The Chinese have staked their claim in Ethiopia with investments as they are doing in the rest of the world right now. Shoddy Chinese built roads are going up everywhere which begs the question; Are shoddy roads in Addis Ababa better than no roads?  That's besides the point, because what I'm trying to say is that I'm grateful for the Chinese presence here if the only truly good thing they bring to Addis is their food.

Chinese take-out is pretty good ("Addis good" is what we call it-mediocre tasting if we were in America but since we aren't; it's pretty tasty).  We've found a place close to the house where lots of Chinese people eat.  It's a nice reprieve from cooking every night.  The past two weekends I've braced myself to feel tummy troubles a few days after eating this Chinese.  Luckily I haven't felt crummy yet so that's a good thing.  It will be nice to live in a country some day when indigestion can just be indigestion and not make me worry about the beginnings of some nasty parasite.

Our Asian babies love it our new Chinese take-out meal!

freezing our tails off

I made the executive decision that we were  going to the pool on Sunday. It's gorgeous and sunny here but the pool at the embassy is freezing.  The girls lasted short bursts of swimming in the pool before their lips turned purple.  Ashlynn was the only one without purple lips from all the extra layers she's carrying!  

Friday, May 18, 2012

sunshine and...

lots of flies.  The short rainy season is over.  The heat is back and the flies are disgusting right now.  I guess the flies hatch and invade Ethiopia for about a month until rainy season hits.  I'm the fly hunter in the house.  All our Economist issues are rolled up and covered in fly guts right now because I don't know about you, but I cannot handle flies hanging around the dinner table.

Other than that, we are enjoying the sunshine.  Adelaide seems to have moved past her separation anxiety stage.  Drop offs at school are sans tears finally and her handwriting is amazing! Arabella is rocking her new bangs and in general acting more like a big girl now that SHE has decided it's cool to do so.  Ashlynn is on the move.  She's on the verge of the crawling breakthrough which means my life is about to get a lot more chaotic!

But seriously, all three of my daughters are pretty darn sensational.

It's just a short walk

I am so touched by all the comments people have left on the blog, emailed, or sent me on Facebook about the post I wrote a few days ago.  Especially when the entire blog was about me being brutally honest and uncovering some not-so-nice things about myself.  I'm certain Ethiopia has lots of these experiences in store for me if I open my heart and mind to them. Everyone's encouragement has been so heart warming.

I did a little more growing yesterday and got my shoes muddy once more.  This time my girls were the ones pushing me to open my heart.  Adelaide drew a beautiful picture of the "Ethiopian baby next door" (this is how she refers to him).  The picture was of the little baby boy and his mother under a rainbow with flowers.  She threw out eight initial drawings because she couldn't get the baby's sleeping eyes right.  The moment she was finished drawing the final picture she jumped up and announced she was ready to go across the street to meet the baby and present her drawing.  I hesitated.  Did I want to bring her?  Should we go over unannounced?  The little mud hut and the people living in it had become sort of surreal after all my internal contemplation.  To Adelaide it was simply a short walk across the street.

Of course Arabella wanted to go too so I decided we would pack up some homemade bagels I had made earlier and bring them as well.  Arabella grabbed a little tiny stuffed puppy to give to the baby.  I was still feeling unsure of schlepping the girls with me across the street when suddenly we were crossing the pavement and Tecklu was helping Addie navigate the mud path.  Arabella was in my arms giggling as I jumped over puddles and cow poo.

Addie hesitated a bit when we reached the opening to the shelter.  A smiling woman welcomed us all inside and insisted we leave our shoes on when clearly everyone else had left their's on the little mat at the threshold.  We learned that the mother was out at the market but the baby boy was lying on the bed behind the hanging sheet.  Addie gave the woman her artwork and the bagels.  The woman lifted the baby boy who was awake but wasn't making a peep.  I was immensely pleased to see he was gaining a healthy amount of weight.  His little feet were hanging out of the blankets and his lips were plump and adorable.  His cheeks were filling out and he looked healthy, albeit a little quiet.  My perspective could be skewed on that because all three of my babies have been loud, never letting anyone ignore their presence.  Both Addie and Bella loved seeing the baby boy.  We learned his name was Marcos (precious!).  Bella gave the little stuffed puppy to the woman (who I was surprised spoke decent English).  She invited us to sit down but we politely declined and said our goodbyes.  We said we'd be back again soon.  Tecklu helped us all back to the house and all three of us removed our muddy shoes at our door.  I asked the girls what they thought about the baby.

And here is where my girls have so much to teach me.  Children don't have preconceived notions of how things should be. They believe what they see and accept things as they are without much fuss.  Both girls piped up saying Marcos was "good", "cute" and that going to his house was "fine".  Then they changed the subject to something like "now, can we get on with making dinner and playing our jumping game with the couch cushions!"  How illuminating.  Marcos is a baby they met and he lives next door and that was that.  The simplicity of the experience for them really made me think about how much thinking I've been doing.  It took two seconds for Addie to decide to draw a picture and deliver it to the baby. It took me weeks of examination on the topic, coming up with some pretty hefty questions; leaving me unsure of how to move forward.

Going across the street with the girls made Marcos and his mother real people.  I morphed the first experience with them into a self absorbed look at how the whole thing made ME feel.  A pretty typical white privileged American thing to do!  I will definitely continue to reflect honestly about myself.  But the perspective my children have given me helps alleviate the paralysis I was feeling about what to do.  Instead of thinking about it, we should DO.  Make a picture, deliver bagels, say hello, gaze at a sweet baby, and see our neighbors as real people.  Maybe a simple visit where I can look our neighbors in the eyes is the most effective way to break down the vast differences between the sides of our street.

Something about having Arabella in my arms and Addie cooing at Marcos the way they interact with Ashlynn made me realize that at the very basic level of humanity the Mother and I are exactly the same.   We are both caring for our children, living day by day, feeding our families and trying to be the best we can be.  Similarities in our human experience level out  the differences a bit.

I expect to get questions from Adelaide.  She tends to experience things and then let it simmer awhile before she starts formulating opinions and questions.  She's like her mama in that way.  This morning she asked "Why is Marcos' house so small?" and  "Where is his real house?"  I told her the house we saw is his real house.  "Hmmm" was her response. Which just means she's thinking about it all.  Which is a good thing.

I might just let the girls come up with the next idea for our visit.  They turned a tough question into a very simple answer yesterday.  Kids are good at doing that aren't they?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

love tokens

The girls are always presenting me with sweet little buds they pick from the garden.  Bella runs inside, flower in hand, and throws it behind her back the moment after she gets my attention.  "I have a furprise for you!" she says.  Then she dramatically brings the flower out from hiding and presents me with it proudly.  I of course gush with gratitude every single time.  It's so darn sweet but most of the time the little flowers get tossed aside as quickly as they are picked.  Not anymore.  This bud vase should keep all my pretty furprises for us to enjoy.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Brutally honest

A few weeks back I was playing with Ashlynn upstairs and heard commotion across the street.  I look out the windows to find the bamboo fences and bamboo and mud shelters in the squatters community being torn down and burned.  There were a few trucks collecting the corrugated metal roofing that was being torn off the homes.   Women and children were standing back watching their shelters being destroyed.   What I later found out from my driver and my guard was that the government owned land had allowed a squatters community to live on the property for some time.  Apparently there was an agreement that no more building would take place.  If this deal was kept the squatters could live there.  "Moon houses" were being built (when people come at night and build by the light of the moon to evade government noticing the new housing).  Officials got word and came to tear down some of the homes and give notice to the rest of the community that they had three months to find a new area to live before the government took the land back.  The idea that squatters land could be at any point reclaimed by the Ethiopian government is not news to the Ethiopian people.  They try to build quietly and hide their villages with grass and tree covered bamboo fences.  It disguises the size of the communities.  I've seen my fair share of poverty stricken squatters villages.  Our entire experience overseas thus far has been in a poor SE Asian country and now an even poorer African country.

I managed to live in Manila, Philippines for three years, spouting off the term "third world country" more than I'd like to admit (mostly blaming anything I didn't like on Manila's third-worldness) without ever really understanding what being characterized a third-world country really meant.  It was easy to escape Manila's third-worldness. If I felt glum about the poor barrios next door I'd drown my sorrows in a Krispy Kreme doughnut and the sale racks at Zara in Power Plant or Greenbelt or Glorietta or any of the other gazillion shopping malls in Manila.  If I wanted to, I could ignore the things about our home that made it a third world country.  To be quite honest, ignoring Manila became much of how I got through my three years in the Philippines, now that I think about it.

Now we are settling in to life in Ethiopia.  I'm struggling a bit since I'm hitting that low point about 6 months in to our tour.  I'm struggling partly because Addis Ababa, Ethiopia doesn't let me ignore that it's truly a third world country.  Manila might have prepared me for life overseas in a poor country but it did not prepare me for the true third-worldness that I'm experiencing here.  There are no shopping malls.  There are no areas of town you can drive to and feel like you've escaped the poverty.  There is just plain and simple, no escaping it.  It is impossible to ignore the desperation and hunger in the people's faces as we pass in our car.  Deformities, malnutrition, blindness, elephantiasis, amputees, and homeless begging people of all ages line the streets and make it very difficult to look away.  The hardest for me are the nursing mothers and women with small children living on the streets. The children have bugs in their hair and green oozing from their noses. When it rains some of the women have a large shawl or piece of fabric that allows them to cover their infants from the elements.  It's heartbreaking and unnerving at the same time.

So I looked up what it meant to be a third world. The explanation below describes the Philippines and Ethiopia.  What I am learning is that there is very different levels of third-worldness.  Some third world countries have Louis Vitton boutiques and others don't even come close.

"the concept of the third world serves to identify countries that suffer from high infant mortality, low economic development, high levels of poverty, low utilization of natural resources, and heavy dependence on industrialized nations.These are the developing and technologically less advanced nations of Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Latin America. Third world nations tend to have economies dependent on the developed countries and are generally characterized as poor with unstable governments and having high rates of population growth, illiteracy, and disease. A key factor is the lack of a middle class—with impoverished millions in a vast lower economic class and a very small elite upper class controlling the country’s wealth and resources. Most third world nations also have a very large foreign debt." (What makes a nation third world? from Encyclopedia of World Geography)

I spent most of that day looking out our second and third floor balcony windows, which provided me now an unobstructed view of this tiny little village of huts across the street (thanks to the men who tore down the makeshift fence). Dark thunder clouds rolled in and soon heavy rains poured down on the bruised village. I came in for shelter and watched the village get soaked and muddy from rain. Sadness and a complicated mixture of anger and relief washed over me periodically.  After dinner the girls and I spent the last hour before bath time playing outside, sitting in the grass and talking to Teklu.  He explained to me that the government officials had gone through and torn down some of the unauthorized housing but left one where a single young woman and her two day old baby were living.  They were warned that they needed to move but it seems even the sternest Ethiopian officials had hearts enough not to throw this poor girl out of her shelter two days postpartum.

I couldn't see straight after hearing this news.  Two days ago, not 40 paces from my front door, a young woman gave birth in a bamboo mud hut. I waited until the black spots on the periphery of my vision disappeared and then went into a frenzy grabbing stacks of newborn clothing I had set aside for donation, cloth diapers, my nursing shirts and bras, baby blankets, newborn hats and socks, and some of my comfortable old clothing for the mother.  I stuffed it all in a few bags and asked Tecklu if he knew how to located the mother and the newborn.  He knew exactly where to find them.

Justin came home from work, I passed Ashlynn to her Daddy and took off; bags in hand following Tecklu across the street and then through a short muddy path that led to the shelter.  I gingerly tiptoed through muddy branches and leftover bamboo support beams from the torn down fences and homes.  Within a few short steps we reached the opening of one small hut with an open space for the door.  It was evening and the sky was dark with clouds. There was no electricity of course so the inside of the hut was dark.  Tecklu introduced me to the women and children inside.  The space was about the size of our large bathroom and housed three or four women with toddlers.  On the right side of the space was a sheet draped from the ceiling.  We explained that the bags were full of warm clothing, diapers and blankets for the baby and mother.  The older woman directed my attention to the hanging sheet.  The new mother carefully sat up and peered out to say thank you.  She was young and glowing from new motherhood but with weary tired eyes.  She picked up a tiny bundle of blankets and presented me her newborn.  It was a tiny baby boy.  A beautiful little sleeping face. So tiny and perfect.  I didn't want to intrude on their privacy any longer so Tecklu and I said our goodbyes as the women thanked me profusely for the gifts.  As quick as we had entered this other world, we exited and walked back through the mud and grass, across the street and through the door at our gate.  Tecklu thanked me as if the child was his own.  I walked straight to our laundry room and removed my muddy shoes and unsuccessfully held back the tears that had been welling in my eyes.  I walked inside our house and could hear the bath and bedtime routine starting.  The bath water running, the girls giggling and Justin helping everyone get ready for bed.

The idea that the woman had given birth in the tiny damp dirty hut had me bawling.  So many things were running through my head as I cried. The realization that the only thing that separates my world from the woman and infant in the mud hut is a bit of pavement and a dirt path.  We're neighbors but we might as well be living on different planets (different planes of existence may be more accurate).  Happiness knowing the infant could be wrapped in warm blankets during the rainy cold nights.   A baby was born just a few hundred feet from my children's world of abundance yet he will experience none of the same in his own life.  It all seemed so unfair and made me immediately feel guilty. The bags of clothing felt insignificant.  I cried for the baby boy and the mother.  I cried for my ignorance.  I cried out of thanks for the comfortable life my family and I have been blessed with.

Seeing my damp read eyes, Justin inquired if I was alright.  I lied and said I was.  I scooped Ashlynn in my arms and snuggled her soft warm body, breathing in her sweet scent.  I herded the girls in to the bathroom and gave them warm baths one by one.  Suddenly I saw the warm water as a gift, their soft warm towels and pajamas all extravagances and at the same time basic necessities.  Their toothbrushes and night light; everything seemed so big, bright and clean.  I nursed Ashlynn in her bedroom and put her to sleep in her own warm dry bed and went downstairs to finish Addie and Bella's bed time routine.  I looked out the window towards the mud hut where the tiny infant lie.  I felt like I had floated through the bedtime routine viewing it from the eyes of the young Ethiopian mother.  I was embarrassed and shocked. We have so much.  We have so many things that we take for granted.  Across the street the mother and baby were most likely sleeping since it was dark outside. I felt terrible for complaining about the smelly exhaust fumes from our generator that runs when our electricity goes out.  I hated having to flip the breaker for the hot water heater in the girls' bathroom every day. We have running water!  My complaints seemed beyond ridiculous at this point.

Over the past few weeks I've thought a lot about that evening I met the new baby across the street.  It's the moment when I faced Ethiopia with my eyes open.  It was the first time I'd seen Ethiopia and I'd allowed myself to recognize the poverty that is occurring everywhere here. My neighbors are struggling.  Ethiopia's third worldness is knocking on my front door.  It's not something I can escape from and I can't ignore it.  Sometimes I see some of the women washing their clothing across the street in the grass as we pull out our drive way.  I wave and they wave back with big smiles on their faces.  I see the baby clothing hanging to dry and it makes me happy to know they are using some of the things I gave them.  I mostly think about the baby boy and if he's thriving and nursing well.  I hope the mother is healing quickly and getting enough nutrition.

Mulling over this experience has been challenging for me.  It's forced me to face my feelings honestly and ask myself how far would I go to help?  What am I willing to do?  Now I have a personal reference to the disgusting disparity between my family and the struggling Ethiopian families all over this country.  It's not pleasant to view oneself with brutal honesty. The faults that arise aren't very nice to admit.  As much as I feel miserable about  the poverty I saw, I am every bit as much relieved that it isn't my family living in a bamboo mud hut.  I feel frightened and my protective mothering instincts kick in.  I want to shield my children from what is happening in third world countries.  I want to shelter their eyes from the sick and malformed.  I loath my honest feelings about the raw humanity that poverty exposes and what that ultimately says about me as a human.

If I'm being completely and utterly honest with myself, I don't entirely like what I see.  I feel guilty and gluttonous.  The mixed emotions of feeling, but not wanting to feel superior is an ugly mental place to be.  A part of me wishes I could take back the knowledge and the visceral experience of feeling the damp hut, hearing the small children whimpering, and smelling coals burning under the small pot of tea that was inside.  My senses won't forget.  Poverty is such a foreign concept for most of us. It was for me. It's easy to give money to charity to help end world hunger and another thing entirely to live next door to it.

What am I willing to do?  How much would I give?  How close will I allow poverty to touch me and my family?  I don't have answers to these questions yet. I'm feeling paralyzed with how to even begin tackling these questions. But it has opened up the conversation.  The people we have working for us in our home need our help too.  We chose to help those closest to us in the Philippines and we'll do the same here as well.  I can't save everyone but I can help a few.

Small things can change someone's life in significant ways.  I know that's what happened to me that rainy evening a few weeks ago when my shoes got muddy and my heart and head got a little muddled.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day outtakes

It was a nice simple Mother's Day in our house.  Addie made me a sweet homemade book full of pictures of why she loves me.  My favorite one is "she makes my hair pretty" with a picture of a braid and hair clips.  Adorable.  I love treasures like this book.  I asked for a picture with me and my girls for Mother's Day.  We tried!