30 January 2009

Happy, Happy Hippo

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If I had a kid, I’d decorate its room with this cheerful hippo motif. (Click the photo to see it larger.) For the time being, I don’t really need a quilt from Centre Artisanal de Musaga, but I want one. They hand paint and stamp fabrics with Burundian motifs and other African designs. They sew quilts, garments, and handbags. They sell lengths of painted fabrics. If they don’t have exactly what you want in stock, they’ll make it for you, from custom-painting the fabric to sewing the item. They are, essentially, awesome. If you like that sort of thing. I’m thinking of commissioning some fabric for curtains in my office. That way I can feed the fabric-shopping beast without adding to my overflowing stash at home while supporting and advertising a local business.

29 January 2009

Yay for Yulia!

My love of politics, satire, and fashion comes together in the awesome Princess Sparkle Pony blog. I've been reading for a couple years now. I've followed the rise and fall of the glamour girls of international politics Condoleeza Rice and Ursula Plassnik.

When I recently saw Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on TV during the Ukraine-Russia gas thing, I wondered if she was going to become the next Pony All-Star. And yes she is! I know I shouldn't be watching gas crises just for the hairdos, but the fashion certainly helps. I'm learning so much about international affairs by starting with the fashion and picking up on the politics as I go along.

"Help me Obi Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."

27 January 2009

Full House

It's been fun playing host to our cyclists. We've offered up the best accomodations they've had so far and they don't seem in a huge hurry to get back on the road (except that they're a tad behind schedule, but isn't everyone in Africa?). Beds. Peanut butter. A washing machine that's not only free, but our housekeeper will do the laundry too. All this could be yours, too, if you visited us in Buj.

I was mistaken in my previous post when I said two of them were school teachers. Their organization works with schools, but the folks on the road are not professional teachers. The organization puts education grad students in the inner-city Chicago classrooms to help teach the students and the teachers how to use the computer and internet resources with the information the bikers send back through their website. It's a training program for the students, the teachers, and the student teachers. Everyone learns something! The more I learn about the program, the cooler it sounds.

However, I'm tired from all the socializing. Whenever new people are in town, everyone pounces and you have endless drinks and dinners. I've skipped working out two days in a row and I really have to get back on my feet. Nothing fancy for me tonight. I asked our cook to make pesto and I really hope he does. I just want pasta and water and a quiet movie at home so I can get up and run tomorrow morning.

26 January 2009

Reach the World -- Bike Africa

Something to break up the monotony this week -- we have houseguests! Mike and I are hosting two of the four cyclists from the Reach the World Bike Africa program as they pass through Bujumbura. Two of the cyclists are elementary school teachers in Chicago and they're sending reports back their classes as they bike from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt. Due to an accident in Tanzania, they're taking a slight detour through Burundi and Rwanda. (All the riders are fine, but one of the bikes was run over by a truck.) Luckily there's a bike workshop at our house and Mike was able to get the bike moving again.

You can check out their website (geared for elementary-aged children) here: http://www.reachtheworld.org/journey/bikeafrica

Please share it with the kids you know! As word spreads, many classrooms across the U.S. are checking in on the cyclists.

20 January 2009

vegetable ivory and biodiesel

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A few days ago I went to a shop that sells jewelry made from vegetable ivory beads. I’d never heard of vegetable ivory until my mom sent me an article about button identification and preservation a few weeks ago. Vegetable ivory is the way to go, if you want all the fun of real ivory without harming elephants.

Here in Burundi, vegetable ivory comes from the nut or seed of a locally found palm tree. I got to see the whole production process, from sawing open the nut, to dying with curry powder or other plant-based dyes, to polishing and carving, and finally stringing the beads into beautiful necklaces. The retail shop is on a compound where all the work takes place, too.

At the compound, folks are also experimenting with oil from jatropha plants. Its seeds have a high yield of highly usable oil. It can be adapted for diesel engines, lamp fuel, cooking oil, and even made into soap and candles

As an added bonus, the compound also has some fearsome guard geese, stupid turkeys, a friendly monkey, huge toads, and an owl that was sleeping. I love how everyone’s yard here is basically a petting zoo. (Clicking on the photo will take you to flickr, where there are more photos of the beads and the animals.)


My dream of Grendel-printed fabric may come true soon! All I need is some computer elves to help make my photos the correct dpi.


16 January 2009

Junior Nature Scout

As a kid watching nature programs on tv, it never occurred to me that some day I’d see all those animals outside of a zoo. This is a blue-headed agama lizard. (Click the photo to go to the full-size on flickr.) I’m not sure if I’ve seen two different ones on our wall, or the same one who changed colors. The agama in the second sighting was brighter and had more of a turquoise head. They have brilliant coloring, ranging from light blue to bright purple. There’s also a red-headed variety, but I haven’t seen one here; they’re common to East Africa but I don’t know if they are found specifically in Burundi.

Other lizards I’ve seen here include the geckos and skinks that are found all over the place, inside and out. We saw a number of overweight geckos that we eventually deduced to actually be pregnant, due to the recent population explosion of teeny, tiny geckos.

I saw what I think is a monitor lizard one day on the lake shore. It definitely was not a small crocodile, and monitor lizard is the only creature I can think of that’s appropriate.

I saw a chameleon on our garden wall one afternoon. I happened to look up while it was moving. By the time I grabbed the binoculars it had changed color to match the stone and the shadows, but I could make out its curled tail and large face. It was so cool! (I also saw a smushed chameleon on the side of the road the other day. That was sad, but still a little cool to be able to see the body close-up.)

15 January 2009

Small change in programming

Today I posted at What I Eat. I know, it's been awhile. I've been collecting food thoughts since we arrived here and I've finally put them into coherent sentences.

14 January 2009

I’m going to look so cool summiting Kilimanjaro with my new sunglasses on:
They are “regular” sunglasses with prescription lens inserts. I don’t want the hassle of contacts on the mountain. I'm going to need suitable eyewear to protect me from the sun's harmful rays while I'm that close to it.

This seriously has to be the last thing I buy for the trip.

(Adidas Soulsta from ADS Eyewear)

13 January 2009

Merry, merry

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I don’t think I mentioned the toy drive here on my blog! The big distribution. I’ve bombarded most people with my flickr photos, so this is my last mention for a while, I promise.

It was a lot of fun. There were some confused, but overall quite happy, children. (Note the ramen noodles in the corner. I don't want to talk about it.) These kids are so sweet. It breaks my heart that I can’t bring them all home with me.

Some of the “children” at the orphanages are actually older teenagers. There are also some adult residents who are physically and mentally handicapped and thus unable to find jobs. (I believe they were wards of the orphanages as children, then allowed to stay there as adults if they’re unable to work.) After my first trip to the orphanages I was concerned that we were collecting too many toys and not enough gifts for older kids and adults. Some people donated money which we used to buy sneakers and messenger bags. I’m glad we did that! They seemed to be much appreciated.

Click on the photo if you haven’t seen the pictures yet to go to flickr.

09 January 2009

The Mental Challenge

We are just over four weeks away from starting our Kilimanjaro climb. I am so sick of getting out of bed every morning and reaching for my hiking boots or running shoes (in all honesty, this has been one of the worst weeks for getting out of bed and I haven't done it nearly as often as I should have).

Today I actually felt good on my run, but when I Google Mapped it later, the distance was just a smidge over 2 miles. Mike was certain we’d done 2.5 and I thought it would be at least 2.25.

We suck.

We need to change up our hiking route. I’ve been doing the same route twice a week for over a month and I now hate it a little bit. It’s gotten boring. Adding weight to my pack has only made it harder, not more fun.

As I was plodding along this morning it occurred to me that I’ve been thinking of this Kili climb for almost a year. Those cold trail runs in Virginia in February and the humid runs along the river in Georgetown in July. In the back of my mind they were all supposed to be leading me up to this point.

Since the trip and the plane tickets are all paid for, I can’t stop now. And I don’t want to stop. I want to start climbing tomorrow, not in one month. I’m tired of reading inspirational articles and essays. I’m too anxious for my own experience, not someone else’s. I’m tired of thinking over the gear list. There’s so much stuff! Surely people successfully climbed mountains long before Gore-tex.

Part of me wants to lounge about in the mornings drinking coffee for an hour before I go to work rather than put on smelly shoes and sweat for an hour before work. But part of me is already wondering what the next goal will be, after Kili.

08 January 2009

One thing I miss: Great restaurants

We had a gala event here in Bujumbura! Sort of. We went to the grand opening of an internationally renowned restaurant on Monday night. In Kampala and Kigali there are Khazana Indian restaurants and they are rumored to be among the best in the region. And they’ve now opened in Bujumbura!

Mike has been to the Kigali restaurant and raved about it, so we were pretty excited when we heard they were opening here. And it’s right down the street from our house. You can’t understand what a luxury the proximity is. We were thrilled to see the sign on the walk home from tennis lessons last weekend.

In true Bujumbura fashion the service was pretty bad. We’re used to wait staff speaking French and understanding a bit of English when it comes to food and drink, but we can’t figure out what language these waiters spoke or understood, except that it wasn’t French, English, or the local Kirundi. We’re guessing Swahili, which is used throughout the region. But the only Swahili we know is jambo and hakuna matata. (And do you know it only recently occurred to me that I knew hakuna matata? I didn’t realize it was Swahili and until Monday I hadn’t actually heard anyone say it outside of The Lion King. Thanks Disney movies!) And restaurant service is painfully slow here, which we've begrudgingly become accustomed to. (It wouldn't be so bad if they kept serving drinks while you waited, but in empty restaurants the waiters just disappear into thin air for ages. You'd think they'd want you to keep drinking pricey drinks.) There’s hope for this place to be a bit faster once they work out the opening-night kinks.

Mike commented on how the d├ęcor was exactly the same as the Kigali location. And you know what? The Kigali restaurant recently closed down for tax evasion. We suspect they just packed up and moved the whole restaurant down here, to the land of no foreseeable tax laws. We think that if they moved all the staff, too, that could account for the lack of speaking French and the waiter not knowing what Fruito was, when it’s pretty much the national drink here.

Since they served a limited tasting menu on Monday, I think we’re going back this weekend now that they’re serving the full menu. I’m jonsin’ for some paneer.