Thursday, January 26, 2006

So, you've been told you stink on American Idol?

Why not try out Ethiopian Idol?

And have you heard the news about Teflon? Seems there's a chemical in it that (surprise, surprise) casues cancer. Will you be tossing out your pots and pans?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mystery Solved

Remember months ago the troubles with our consumables shipment?

It was sent to Chennai, India, to the consul general there named David T. Hopper. The State Department sent a replacement shipment tous by air, which arrived here soon thereafter.
But the question remained, what happened to all those foods and supplies that landed in India? An answer came a couple weeks ago when Lisa F. e-mailed me after seeing a post I’d written on a message board for Foreign Service types (on the board, folks typically sign with the list of countries they’ve served in), and asked if I knew a David Hopper in Togo.
In fact, I do.
Lisa is currently in Chennai and wanted us to know our consumables were sold (at great prices apparently) to the American community there. Some food was also donated. And a dessert was named for Ian. Lisa had a larger than expected number of guests for Christmas dinner, but not enough dessert, so a big bowl of vanilla pudding and bowls of toppings (we had marshmallows, chocolate chips, etc in our boxes) were put out for all.
We're just glad it all found happy homes.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Transformational Diplomacy

On the 18th, Secretary Rice announced her plan for the future of the State Department, which involves shifting hundreds of Foreign Service officers from positions in Europe and Washington to more critical areas in the Middle East, Asia and other zones.

The full fact sheet can be found at the State Department site.

The Washington Post reported as well.

A mandatory Iraq tour for all Foreign Service personnel is also being considered, but would not come into play until 2008. Officers volunteering for the positions have dropped dramatically over the past year.

More Malaria fighting news

There's a drug, Artemisinin, with a 95% malaria cure rate, but it must be combined with other drugs to entirely wipe out the disease. Unfortunately, because Artemisinin is such a rapid and nearly thorough cure, it's not being prescribed properly to avoid malaria adapting and becoming resistant.

There is hope, of course. While new drugs are years off, an inventor in South Africa has developed an anti-malaria wristwatch. Although the impetus behind the wristwatch development is a little frustrating ("Lubbe was approached by a major mining company to develop the device after it found high levels of malaria among workers in Africa was hurting productivity") the idea is amazing: monitoring the blood of those who wear it and sounding an alarm when the parasite is detected...It picks up the parasite and destroys it so early that the possibility of dying is absolutely zero and you don't even feel the early cold symptoms...

Now that's an invention.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Why yes, it is 3something in the morning.

I'm not supposed to be awake. In fact, I went to bed shortly after 10 in order to avoid being awake right now, and in my own small way to help the Redskins win their playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Obviously, I'm awake now and I didn't go to bed early enough because the 'skins lost their game anyway. I'm sorry. I'm bad luck for the Washington team.

But this isn't about a football team and the losing vibes I spread to them no matter where I am on the planet. It's about a short-lived adventure right in our very own backyard.
For Christmas, one of the kid group gifts was a 3-man tent. Three adults = approximately 4 kids right? Ian and I set it up in the living room this afternoon then after dark moved it to the yard. Set-up with sleeping bags, pillows and all the necessary stuffed creatures (live pets not allowed), they crashed around 9 p.m. At 10 I checked and all was fine, but Ian and I waited for the first bail-out. It didn't take long. Around 10:30 a thoroughly drenched (with sweat) Nicholas was done. I tucked him under his covers and went to bed myself. Sometime after the game ended (all I know is Ian was already asleep), Jonathon stood by the bed and said he was done sleeping outside.
With the extra room I rather figured the girls would finish out the night. Five minutes later Rebecca announced she couldn't sleep outside and I guessed Katherine wouldn't make it long on her lonesome. At 3 a.m. I checked on all the kids. Imagine my surprise to see both boys in their beds yet not a girl to be found.
I slipped on a pair of Ian's shoes and went outside one last time to check on the tent inhabitants. Rebecca was back with her sister but awoke the instant I unzippered the door. My plan had been simply to open the 2 windows to allow the cooler night air inside, but by then Katherine was awake too and it was agreed they would both return to their beds and air conditioning.
I can't really blame any of them. Somehow mosquitoes were still getting in which is annoying as well as a health-hazard. Someone (*cough* Rebecca? *cough*) kept zippering the windows closed, making it extremely warm inside with four bodies emitting heat. The hotel next door was having its regular weekend party complete with loud music. When we said goodnight, the kids were being serenaded by Amazing Grace. The dog was snuffling around, periodically getting herself stuck in the pool enclosure, requiring her to bark her fool head off to be released. And the bats were out in force, which doesn't mean they were swooping into people's hair or anything, but they are loud with their batty chirping.
I won't give up hope yet, but maybe for a while the tent will remain a daytime adventure.

I'm sure we mentioned this at some point...

The author really isn't making it up.

I'm sure Ian mentioned this issue at some point, within the consular office in Manila, in politics and especially at the visa window.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Today is a "holiday"

Only, the kids aren't off school, and Ian is doing work stuff, so it's just me and chicken pox girl at home again.

Warning: History lesson ahead.
Today is Friday, 13 January. Bad enough it's Friday 13th, right? But the 13 January is a national holiday here because it's the day the previous president came to power, not be be confused with being elected.
In 1960, Togo received complete independence from France. In its first election that year, the country chose Sylvanus Olympio.
Unfortunately, on the 13th January 1963, President Olympio was killed by army non-commissioned officers (the story has it, led by Gnassingbe Eyadema) as he scrambled over his compound wall into the adjoining American Embassy compound in search of asylum. A guy named Grunitzky came to power, but on 13 January 1967, he was ousted in a bloodless coup, by Eyadema who in April of that year became President.
Over the next 30 years Eyadema was in charge until his death this past February. To complement his position, he has a few national holidays of his very own, the 13th of January being one of them.
So, that bring us to today, the first 13 January sans Eyadema but with his son, Faure as President. Mass this morning, a parade, garden party, general joyfulness throughout the country was organized. Ian was asked to attend the first two functions and last I heard the the parade involved horses, the King of Kings cantata and a rendition of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
I think he'll need the rest of the weekend to recover :)
Tomorrow we're going to a BBQ and the kids want to camp outside in their new tent overnight. We'll see if the dog doesn't worry the tent to shreds. :)
Monday is a holiday for Ian (a real one) but not the kids. Rebecca will be back in school, finally, so Ian and I will occupy ourselves.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Is this thing on?

To be expected, this entry begins a recap of all the little odds and ends that have happened over the past few weeks.

Let's start with books. Anyone have recommendations? Sure, I have stacks and shelves waiting to be thumbed, but I'm always up for suggestions. Katherine and I read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. It was good enough to purchase the second installation, Inkspell, for her birthday. I also picked up the first Artemis Fowl and found both Inkheart and Artemis Fowl nice deviations from the standard fairy tale.
Beyond youth fiction, I finally completed King Leopold’s Ghost, the true story of the conquest of central Africa. It’s a distressing read and I’m taking time off before starting Continent for the Taking. Reading the destruction of the Congo exhausted me, I think the entire continent might lead to counseling.
During my break I switched from African tribe to Jewish genocide in The Pianist. Not exactly light reading, but it’s short and I already knew the story from the movie. Now, I’m rereading To Kill a Mockingbird, a classic Ian hasn’t attempted though I assured him it’s a great read. After this, either The Science of Harry Potter or Holy Blood, Holy Grail will grace the floor next to my nightstand.
New books are popular Christmas gifts and this year was no exception. Katherine was introduced to a new series, The Magic Attic Club, not unlike American Girls, while Rebecca received the completed set of wizard Step Into Reading books. Nicholas now has plenty to keep him busy with additional Now I’m Reading sets, particularly attractive for its sticker rewards. Jonathon’s assortment included a castle cutout book with glimpses into the different areas of castle life.
For Ian and myself, my parents bought us a comprehensive Larousse dictionary and a French review and practice book. I think the absolute most helpful items are the children’s “magazines” they brought from Paris. I say “magazines” because they are compilations of short stories in sturdy book form, issues that will last years on a bookshelf. One entitled “Petites Histoire” is rated 18mo and up. The other “Histoires pour les Petites” is for 3yrs and up. The latter will have to wait for now, but I’ve already got Ian’s OK to order a subscription to the former.
This afternoon I looked up the words I didn’t know so I could translate correctly, and tonight at bedtime we read the first short rhyming story about Kokola the koala who doesn’t want to do anything. With repetition common to all young children’s books, and the familiarity between so many French and English words, the kids picked up the storyline and remembered words from one page to the next. They all enjoyed it, which is saying a great deal. At the end, Rebecca stated she learned more from this first story than from any of her French classes.
The Larousse has earned its place next to where ever I happen to be.
To feed off this intense desire to become comfortable in this language, and to instill confidence in the kids, Rebecca (during her current chickenpox quarantine) and I are sticking labels to everything in the house. We’ll make a memory game. We’ll cover new vocabulary over dinner. The Rosetta Stone computer program is available to all the kids. Katherine plunged in over the weekend and is soaking up the lessons. And we’ll continue reading stories in French each evening. After 13 years in French speaking countries as a kid, I should be fluent in a second language but I’m not and I’m going to try my best to make French part of our everyday life. Ian can help too.
Christmas wasn’t all about literacy and learning, of course. A Barbie carriage, jewelry box, matchbox cars, glowing Spiderman head and more packed the floor under our tree. The best gift couldn’t be wrapped though. On December 29th we made a special trip to pick up the biggest surprise. My parents arrived in Lomé for a weeklong visit. We didn’t tell the kids where we were going (Katherine already knew, I had to enlist her help to get the house picked up without too many complaints). For as many airports as we’ve been in, you’d think they’d figure it out quick, but even after Rebecca commented the building looked rather like an airport she still thought we were going to a party. She’s usually the quick one.
We ate out quite a bit, Coco Beach, L’Okavango (which I’ve discovered is the name of a river in Botswana), Marox, and Le Nuit D’Orient. All the food was excellent, of course. One thing the expat community has done well here is provide awesome dining experiences. At home, after having fresh baguettes from Coin Chaud with our lunchtime meals, the kids and my parents swam loads in the pool and we created a new game, marine Quiddich. In house teams, we vied for the snitch, a small hard rubber bouncy ball that became notoriously difficult to spot amidst splashes and flailing arms. New Year’s Eve we enjoyed the first night swim resulting in some eerie photos and fun memories. Ian and I went to the DCMs NYE party and were home well before midnight in order to ring in the new year with our family, but not before meeting Nigel, the drama teacher at the British School. More on that in another post.
At home, there were hours spent with legos, magnetix and matchbox cars. A road with border crossings at each end became the beach road right here in Lomé, populated with dozens of lego people both from the new airport set, and Nicholas’s favorite gift, the lego chess set. Speaking of chess, I’ve (almost) sworn off playing Jonathon. Yesterday he checkmated me in less than 15 moves.
Today I vindicated myself. In more than 15 moves. He’d promised this time he’d go easy on me.
I think he was distracted by Bugs Bunny on TV.

Saturday, January 7, 2006

It'll be a little while longer

I don't know when I'll have a chance to post again soon. Seems Rebecca has the pox, the chicken pox that is.

Friday, January 6, 2006

Just like that...

My parents arrived home in Virginia a few hours ago. The week disappeared amidst dining out and hours in the pool.

More later, when it's not 1:30 in the morning.