Life in Africa

Tips for Surviving the Heat

 
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It's that time of year. The season of shiid (pronounced like sheet) dresses, sports bras, and top buns. In the US many people are starting to thaw out from the winter snow or if you are from my part of the US, you may be nearing the infamous tornado season. So many days spent hunkering down in closets, sleeping with an emergency bag next to bed and always making sure I had a pair of running shoes ready to slip on. You may find this a little much, but once you actually survive a tornado and see your entire house, belongings, neighborhood, and school blown away by nature, then it's really not that crazy.

So what is Spring in our part of Africa? Well first off, Spring is nonexistent, and so is winter and fall. It's Summer all year round here and we have three seasons: hot, humid-hot, and dry-dusty hot. Depending on your preference for humidity there is a debate on whether the humid-hot or dry-dusty hot is worse. I HATE humidity, so I will also choose those months as the worst. So here's  a breakdown of the year:

January - March - hot, but totally bearable without a/c
March - May/June - hot and humid (imagine yourself living in a sauna or a hot yoga room)
June-August - hot and windy and dryish (imagine yourself living in the exhaust of an airplane)
September - aaaaaand back to humid (again sauna)
October-December - the humidity begins to fade into the more comfortable heat


So needless to say the transition in April is always a rough one. You have to drink more water, watch your hours outside in the sun, and check your attitude because heat makes us all a little cray-cray!

So here are my tips for surviving the heat both physically and mentally:

 

1. Hibiscus Tea

Did you know that hibiscus tea actually cools your body? Crazy right, but whatever works! But if you are pregnant, DO NOT drink this. So I make a big 'ol pitcher of it and leave it in the fridge. When I'm super hot or just come in from outside I grab a glass and drink away. Plus I used Starbucks for a little inspiration and made my own version of the Pink Drink:

1. Hibiscus Tea (whatever form you have, I've been using leftover via packets, but you can get the tea in tea bags at the store)
2. Brew or mix with water
3. Add coconut milk
4. Add a sweetener (unless it's a via packet because it's already in there)
5. Chill and drink!

 

2. Invest in some quick dry underwear

Yeah, I know sounds weird, but seriously the best thing my husband and I ever did. Before, I was changing underwear like 3-4 times a day (because wet underwear is gross y'all). And my husband had these amazing quick dry briefs from Exofficio and was totally good. So that summer, I ordered as many as I could find in my size on amazon. Plus you save on laundry.

 

 
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3. Get you some anti-chaffing techniques

So maybe this quote doesn't resonate with you, and that's fine, just skip this point. But if it does, here is my favorite trick—Balmex. Yep, diaper cream. But specifically this one. I just rub it between my legs and it stays on even in the sweatiest of days. And if it does come off, I carry a little travel size one around and apply as needed. I tried using biker short type things under my skirts but they would either roll up or roll down or just make me more hot, so a friend suggested Balmex and it has been the best thing so far. 

 

4. Get that top bun down & a good pair of earrings

Sounds dumb, but perfecting a good top bun is key. When I'm sweating in all the places I want my hair off my neck, but I also don't want to scare people with wild hair, so I finally figured out how to make the top bun work. I added a pair of my favorite earrings and voila! Maybe that top bun isn't your thing, but having a go to hairstyle that you can transition for a nice event and yet still sweat to death has been very helpful in so many situations here. For example, I got invited to a really nice Olympic committee dinner last year. I had a nice dress on, make-up, hair down,  I was so proud of myself. Then I show up and the whole thing is outside...in May! Woof. So bam, switch that hair to a top bun and I still look somewhat presentable. I just felt bad for the rest of the attendees because this was their first time in country and they had no idea what hit them...

My earrings of choice
My top bun method

 

5. Carry a towel

Nothing worse than sweat running off your nose and into everything. The other day I was at the market looking for a shiid dress and sweat kept falling onto their pretty fabrics, can we say embarrassing? So I now carry a small little towel that attaches to my bag and it's perfect for wiping away that pesky face sweat.

The REI mini towel is apparently no longer available but here are a few other similar options:
REI Towels
Amazon Towels

 

6. A mini fan that plugs into your phone

So I've only needed this a few times, but there have been a couple close calls for both Ezra and myself. The heat gets to be too much or we are inside an stuffy airport with no a/c and I whip this thing out to cool us both off. I actually picked it up at the Texas State Fair, but don't worry I found it on Amazon. 

 

7. Makes trips to the pool/beach

I mean who doesn't love a day in the water! While it's hot enough to swim year round here, we really try to save our pool visits for the later months. Pools can be very expensive here and the beaches for swimming require some crazy road navigating. Needless to say it's not as convenient  as when I was a child growing up with a pool in the backyard, but it is possible. So on those weekends when life is just too hot and you don't want to have a $1,000 electricity bills, we just go to the pool and cool off in the water.

 

 

 

 

8. Invest in your mental state

I have so many people ask me how I do it in the heat. Honestly, I hate being hot. I love the cold and will take a rainy day over sun every time. (Unless I'm in Hawaii) But, it's about getting your mental state in order. For me, I just think of it as the easiest diet ever. I know that I'll detox and loose weight by letting my body sweat and get rid of some of those toxins. It's only a couple months out of the year so I tell myself it's for a season and then we are usually traveling during the summer months anyways, so I know I can enjoy a few months in unlimited a/c and cooler conditions.

If you aren't in the physical condition to where you need to loose weight, then this may not work for you. And if that is the case, you have to really take extra caution in watching your calorie intake and how much time you spend exercising. Stay safe, drink water, and if you want to keep up your work-out routine, just run the a/c for a bit or do it first thing in the morning when your room is still nice and cool from the night of a/c. 

One of the most common things I've seen with people experiencing their first humid heat season is they are determined to keep doing their same routine, and get frustrated when it just doesn't happen at the same pace. Life will slow down. You will get tired faster and if you don't drink enough water and eat right you will get sick. People have had migraines, vomiting, stomach issues, etc. It's a real thing, don't pretend your special and exempt from it, but instead lean into it and expect a season of self-care and a slower pace. Take from the locals who have lived here most of their lives. They are slowing down and so should you. 

Okay, so for those who live in hot climates (or Texas) what are your tips for staying cool?

Getting My Life in Order: Part 1

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I wanted to do a follow-up blog about my day in the life with a one year old. But in this post I want to talk more in depth with how I organize my days. I’ve always been a fan of organization, I mean, I use to play office in lieu of the ever popular "house" as a kid. But over the years I’ve had to adapt to not just an organized way for life, but also an efficient way of life.

I’m a big fan of worker smarter,
not harder.

So here are a few of my tools and tricks that help me work full-time from home for a non-profit, take care of a one year old, and run a side-hustle business, all while navigating the waters of living overseas in Africa.

First off, you have to be dedicated.

These things won’t work unless you actually have the desire to get stuff done. And let’s be honest, most days I don’t! And for those really low days where I have absolutely no energy and no motivation...I just rest. Yep, sometimes that’s allowed. Because, when I am working, I work smart.

So what are my ways for working smart?

I'm going to try and break it down into a few steps. Then I'll expand on some of these things in separate blog posts. Today, I just want to give you an overview so you can get the basics of what I do for my life. 

1.     Organize your day on paper

Be specific! Write out each task that needs to happen and try to write at what time it will happen. Refer back to it everyday. 

2.     Dedicate specific times to work on emails

Be willing to reply back to those who need it, even if it’s only to say I got your email and I’m on it! (Read tomorrow's post for how I organize my email life and why I think it's important to answer quickly)

3.     Take time to rest.

Seems counter-intuitive right? But if you take a little time for yourself each day then you will actually be more productive during the time you do work. (Part three of this series will go in-depth on how I find time to rest daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly) 

4.     Limit social media during work times.

I actually only post to Instagram when I’m in bed for the night and everything else is done.  That’s when I take the time to comment, interact, and post, not just for my personal page, but for my business pages as well. I manage 4 Facebook pages and 2 Instagram accounts, so I schedule everything in advance, but in order to grow anything online you have to interact!

Since I was already using social media at night anyways, I just decided to be intentional about also interacting on the business accounts. (Part 4 of the series will go in depth on how I manage all the social media accounts, as well as my night-time routine for getting things done -- see next point)

sidenote: I also get on social media if I ever find myself in a lull at home or while I'm out waiting in a forever long line. But I don’t do social media why I’m trying to get things done; it never works out!

5.     Take advantage of the times of day that you are most active.

For me, I’m my best at night. Mornings are my enemy and it takes me forever to get going. But at night I get a second wind and it’s all I can do to stop working and go to sleep. For some people it may be that mornings are their best time, so wake up a couple hours before your kids or before you have to go work and use that time to get emails answered or books read or whatever it is. (Part 4 will cover how I use my nights to get the final things crossed of my to-do list and how I use that time for cracking down on my goals like social media, reading more, and listening to podcasts)

6.     Block out Distractions

We are focusing on working smarter, this means we have to limit all distractions. For me I know if I'm working in the same room with someone I will tend to just talk. So if I am in the same room with my husband working I usually put my headphones on and have an upbeat playlist going. This helps me block out the distraction to talk and it allows me to focus on the task at hand. Other times I’m simply working to beat of the clock, which is really my best motivater of all…

7. Use your tribe/village/community/whoever

Who are your people? Do you have any people? There have many many times in my life where I felt I didn't have people, but this season I have a whole team working behind me, many who don't even realize the importance they play in helping me accomplish all the things. And it's really the number one reason why I can do all of this. There have been seasons in my life where I didn't have a tribe and I didn't have the energy, so my workload was less and I just made up my mind to be okay with that. Remember you may not be accomplishing everything because you are in a season of something else! 

Last year after having Ezra I could only manage taking care of newborn, pumping exclusively, getting the bare minimum of my duties done for the non-profit, and figuring out how to live life overseas. That was it. No more. But it didn't last forever. Eventually I found my rhythm, I was no longer pumping, and I had people who came around me to help babysit and offer support. So lean into whatever season you are in and don't beat yourself up if you just can't get it all done. Maybe it's because you are actually getting the most important thing done—like taking care of yourself or your family! 

So what does my tribe do for me?
(Also, I'd do any of things for them in a heartbeat...let me make it clear it's not a one way street!!)

Well, These people are essential to me getting things done. I could not get everything done if it wasn’t for my house helper. I love that having a house helper here is normal and not just a luxury of the upper class. Our house helper is a friend who cleans, cooks, and watches Ezra during the mornings and three nights a week while Reed is at language class and I’m at practices.

I also could not do what I do without the most helpful husband. He changes diapers, cooks meals, gives baths, and basically anything I do he does just as much. We don’t see our jobs as defined by mommy or daddy. (Except when it comes to boogers…) But one person gets the bottle ready and the other helps with bath time. One day he cooks dinner, and another day it’s my turn. We alternate and lean on each other. We both work from home and so we have the luxury to be flexible in our schedules. It also means we have the luxury to pick up the slack when needed. I know that this is a unique aspect to our relationship, but I encourage stay at home mammas to find someone who can help you. Maybe it’s a nanny or a grandma or another mamma or a younger single bestie. It’s about finding your tribe and helping each other when times get tough. I also have a handful of people I know I could call here in Africa and would jump at any chance to help us out.

 

So I want to hear from you?

Is there a tool or trick that really helps you get things done or is there a question you have for me after reading this? Comment below and let's learn from each other! 

IRL: Dinner and a Baby

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Clean dishes. Hear baby cry. Look down. Baby has salt shaker from trash and now salt is all over the floor. Grab rag, clean, clean bottom of baby’s feet, baby grabs my hair and pulls on for his life. Scream. Finish cleaning salt, realize baby still has salt shaker and shaking it furiously. Groan. Give up. Start Bath. Get pitcher from bathroom. Walk in bedroom. Why does it smell like poop in here? Who pooped? We haven’t even been home today? I don’t understand. Grab pitcher. Go to water tower. Fill pitcher with filtered water for baby’s bath. Realize we are almost out of water and the rest will be used on bath water. Great.

Put small amount of water in kettle and wait. Baby sneaks up behind me. Step on baby. Baby falls. Baby cries. Mom feels bad. Pick up baby. Kiss baby. Soothe baby. Baby cries. Hug baby. Tell baby I’m sorry. Baby cries. Hold baby and finish bath water. Poor hot water into cold water for lukewarm bath water. Baby cries. Realize there are weird white flakes floating in bath water. Why?! Pour bathwater into another pitcher. Flakes still follow. Put baby down, baby cries. Get out strainer and strain bath water because it’s all the filtered water we have left in the house.

Baby stops crying. Yes. Baby grabs household cleaner and starts running. Grab baby. Take away cleaner. Baby cries. Ugh. Pick up baby.

Grab bottle of milk so it’s ready after bath. Realize all the milk in our country gives people the poops. Grab Formula. Scoop with left hand four scoops of powder into a small tiny hole of a bottle. Spill formula. Groan. Go to water tower to fill up with water. Remember I just used the last of the water for the bath. Groan.

Smile, because I also remembered that I saw two water bottles in the hallway. Frown, because said water bottle is empty, and the other water bottle was taken by husband to class. Smile again, because I still have some water in my thermos from today’s trip. Open with one hand and fill bottle.

Put bottle on changing table in bedroom. Realize I forgot to turn on the a/c during dinner. Go get remote. Where is remote? Wait, I saw baby with remote this morning. Then I saw daddy take remote from him. Where is remote? Look in drawers. Nope. Look in bedroom. Nope. Hmm, why is the office open? Look in office, on the bookshelf. Logical place…grab remote, turn on a/c, note time so in 2 hours I can turn off a/c.

Go to bathroom in bedroom. Ugh. It still smells like poop. Why? What the? Hold breath, put baby down. Baby grabs shaving cream…every.single.time. Clean baby. Forget towel. Grab towel. Get baby. Carry baby into bedroom.

Dry baby. Lotion baby. Brush baby’s teeth. Clothe baby. Brush baby’s hair. Wait. What is this? Why are there orange flecks in his hair? Where did it even come from? Pick out flecks. Kiss baby. Fill up diffuser. Turn on fan. Turn on sound machine. Place baby in crib with blanket and paci. Say good night. Walk out. No crying, yes!

Go to kitchen. Remember the salt incident. Moan. Grab broom. Sweep. Smell Chili. Yumm. Grab a spoon to taste. Realize the new chili powder has way more spice to it than the last one I bought. Spit out chili. Acknowledge chili is ruined and try not to cry. Grab a diet coke and google how to make chili less spicy.

UPDATE: Not but 30 minutes after writing this did I get a call from my husband. After learning of the chili dilemma he offered to go up the street to get us Kebabs. He called because our car died. Nothing, zilch. And he was parked on the street. Luckily, we have a spare car from our teammates parked in our driveway. But, Ezra is asleep and even if I woke him there would be no where for him to sit safely in the car. I would normally call our bosses and/or teammates, but they are all out of town. I would then call a friend to run over, but they don't have cars. So here we sit on the photo, figuring out how to get my husband home, and how to get our spare car back to the store so we can jump the car and bring it home...oh how life is never boring around here!

Life in Africa: Part 2

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Since posting the blog A Typical Day in Africa with a Baby, our little guy has grown a lot! He is now 16 months old and all over the place! And now that he is no longer an infant our schedule has opened up to do more in the community. So I thought I'd do another post on what our day/week looks like here in Africa.

7:30 - wake up and get going (In an effort to be vulnerable, I'm not a morning person, so it takes me fooooorever to get out of bed, but I aspire to get better and spend some quiet time during these 30 minutes instead of hitting the snooze button) *insert thumbs down emoji*

8:00 - Sometimes Ezra wakes up around this time, but he usually just plays in his crib until we come and get him. Then we change him, give him some milk, and get him in the high chair for breakfast. Sunday through Thursday our house helper arrives and she often takes over on days I have appointments in the morning.

9:00-12:00 - Mondays I spend my time in the home office or visiting the women at our Project House. I'm usually meeting with the jewelry group for Dreamer & Co or meeting with others as I leave this day open for appointments. On Tuesdays we have team meetings, and Wednesday through Thursday I have language lessons. Friday and Saturdays are the weekend here and on Sunday we get ready for chapel at the base.

10:00 - Ezra takes a nap (depending on the day) and Monday-Thursday our house helper is actually watching Ezra and getting him down for a nap so we can attend language class or work in the office. When he wakes up he has another 4 oz. of milk.

12:00-2:00 - Ezra is usually awake by now and we get ready to have lunch. Lunch is the main meal here so we usually have a big spread, pasta and bread, rice and beans, and other dishes prepared for us by our house helper. 

2:00 - 4:00 - Ezra goes down for a nap, sometimes we do as well :) Most places close down for "siesta" time and so we take this time to rest as well.

4:00 - Ezra has a snack, and depending on the day I leave for my next activity. Monday I attend Girl's Run 2 practice, Tuesdays I have women's volleyball, and Wednesday I have women's basketball on the French base. Reed has langugage class Monday-Wednesday so our house helper stays with Ezra. Thursdays and Sundays I use the afternoon to catch up on office work in the living room, while Ezra runs around playing. 

6:30 - We start preparing dinner. I return back from volleyball or girls' running. On Wednesdays I am actually leaving to go to basketball, so our house helper feeds Ezra dinner and put him down for bed.

7:30 - We eat dinner together. Ezra eats with us and we try to get him to eat whatever we are eating as well. But if he refuses it then we chop up some fruit and bread or make a smoothie for him. 

8:00 - Bath, bottle, bed for little man! He gets one more 4 oz. bottle of milk and then goes down for the night. 

9:00 - We watch tv, catch up on emails, and try to be in bed by 10:00pm, however most days it's really more like 12:00 am. But we are working on that, because getting in the morning is so much harder!

Below are a few answers to some common questions we get about raising a baby in Africa:


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1. What do you feed Ezra and does he still take bottles?

We have transitioned from bottles to sippy cups and we hope to eventually transition to milk only being drunk from the 360 cups. Right now Ezra is such a wiggle worm when we change his diaper, so we often use the sippy cup full of milk to keep him still. It's really the only way. As for food, we try to get him to eat whatever we are having, but there are a few foods that we eat consistently that we found do not bode well for his digestive system (i.e. beans). His favorite (outside of all fruit) is spaghetti and musil (a local dish made out of red lentils). We also make him grilled cheese sandwiches and left over rice pilafs for days when he won't touch our food. We can always count on cut up fruit, pureed fruit, and crackers to be a big hit. His other favorite is any kind of smoothie. In fact, if I make a smoothie for myself as soon as he hears the blender he starts whining for some. The good thing about our smoothies is that we use Juice + so we know he is getting a good dose of fruits and vegetables. 

2. What kind of milk do you use?

The milk here is actually a point of contention. A local company started producing milk, but it gives everyone bathroom issues (even the locals won't touch it). But the company refuses to fix the issue and they have stopped letting many companies import other brands. Sometimes we can find milk from France, but it comes in tiny bottles and is skim milk. We would go through four containers in one week! We finally decided to use the formula designed for babies 12-36 months. We can buy it in a large container and it last for a couple weeks, plus it has extra vitamins to help with growth. 

3. How do you keep Ezra cool in the hot climate?

From November to March the weather can range from upper 60s to upper 80s. While it's still warm inside the apartment we have found it's not too hot for sleeping. So Ezra will sleep in his crib in his own room during this months. We run the a/c for two hours before bedtime and then shut it off when he goes to sleep. We also keep his ceiling fan on high and have a tower fan blowing on his crib. So far, he hasn't woken up sweating, so we count is as success. During the hot months we will move him into our room with the a/c and he'll sleep in the pack-n-play. During the day we keep the fans running and if he's out in the stroller we have a portable fan that attaches to his tray and blows on him. It works wonders! During the hot months if it gets too hot inside then we run the a/c for a little bit and make sure he stays cool. 

4. How do you get clothes and other supplies for him as he transitions?

We plan ahead. We have yet to find a place that sells affordable baby clothes so we find it easier to bring several sizes with us. We have stocked up through size 2T and when we travel during the summer we will plan for the next year. We also have visitors that come from the US during the year and will ask them to bring us something if we find something breaks or we need something.  

5. How did you get Ezra to sleep through the night? 

When Ezra was four months old we read the book, 12 hours by 12 weeks. We started following the guidelines and with a lot of practice we got Ezra to sleep through the night. He would still wake up around 6 am, and sometimes have an occasional mid-night wake-up, but around 1 year he started sleeping 12 hours at night and waking up anywhere from 8am to 10am! He was also going to sleep at 9pm or later. That's the downside of sleeping in the same room, he can't fall asleep until we are quiet in bed and all the lights are off. 

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Who Runs The World?

Life is much easier with a one year old than a newborn. I am finally plugging into community here and able to be away from the house for more than a couple hours. One of the joys of my new schedule is getting to work with our running girls. Every Monday I drive out past wadis, camels, crazy drivers, and end up at a huge stadium with turf grass and an actual track. Underneath my sheet dress is my scandalous capri pants and t-shirt waiting to be seen by this group of teenage girls.

The girls start by warming up for 15 minutes around the track. Afterwards they do their stretches as a group and then for 30 minutes I work with them on strength training. It can be a challenge tailoring exercises for 9 year olds all the way to 17 year olds. We've done sprints, push ups, squats, stairs, resistance bands, and medicine balls.

A few weeks ago we had to break up a fight between two girls because the younger girl kept talking bad about the older girl. And their natural instinct is to start fighting, pulling hair, crying, the whole shebang. But how can you blame them when they have never been taught anything else? How do you teach respect? Well, first off, you model it.

We try to live our lives with respect for the culture, the people, and the customs in the country we are guests in. Second, these girls will have to endure lectures and be disciplined according, something they have never really seen before. Most of their discipline has been in the form of physical abuse. We want to show how one can love sternly but still gracefully. 

So this past week we began implementing discipline. The girls have started arriving late to practice, talking back, and refusing to do drills. It's frustrating to have to tell them to go home for bad attitudes or starting fights, but as I've discovered it's necessary to teach them respect and the importance of listening. So when they arrive more than 10 minutes late they now have to run extra and do push-ups. When they refused to listen, push-ups, when they talk back, push-ups. Yes, some girls began crying and faking push-ups, but others got down on their knees and did what had to be done. It's a slow process, but a necessary one. 

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The Sounds of Thanksgiving

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The smell of homemade pumpkin pie, sage, thyme, and turkey roasting in the oven—these are the smells I often associate with Thanksgiving. But since living in abroad over the years, I’ve learned to associate this holiday less with smells and more with sounds. While there may be an occasional familiar smell if some lucky American managed to pack a can of sweet potatoes or pumpkin puree in their suitcase, there are usually new smells that come along with each holiday—some good, some not so good—goat manure, sweat, sweet cake, whole wheat dinner rolls—you get my point.

But no matter where I’ve been on Thanksgiving one things remains the same—the sounds. Upbeat conversations about life and loss carry through the air harmonizing with the call to prayer. Children running around barefoot, laughing, playing, crying, and then snoring from the long-expected nap of a sugar crash.

Our Thanksgiving was nothing less than these familiar sounds. We celebrated on the rooftop of a friend’s house and 30 or so people came bringing their best dish cooked with local spices and whatever else they could find. And as it has become a tradition for our little group of expats, the Sunday after Thanksgiving we all gathered to play the annual baseball game. The kids who are away at boarding school return home and we have more than enough people for two teams.

Last year Ezra was only two months old and fell asleep on my lap as we watched Reed play his favorite sport. This year, Ezra ran around getting chased by local kids who loved his white skin and cute little stature. They tried to pick him up, help me when he was crying (because they were picking him up), and even play peek a boo with him. Hopefully one day soon he’ll actually understand all that’s happening, but for now he’s just taking it all in day by day…and tear by tear.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving we want to say thank you to those who follow along with us and remember us in your prayers. We really could not live here without you. On days when we find ourselves frustrated at the cost of living or crying in pain at the doctor’s office, or mourning the loss of a local friend, we think of you, and remember we are not alone in this journey.

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 Ezra with our teammate. These two have grown to love each other, mainly because he feeds Ezra all the things!

Ezra with our teammate. These two have grown to love each other, mainly because he feeds Ezra all the things!

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Lazy Man's Guide to DIY Christmas Decor

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This post has two purposes. For us, it's a post on how to decorate for Christmas in a country that has limited supplies and those supplies can either cost a pretty penny or be anything but pretty. The other purpose is for all of you who may want to decorate for Christmas on a budget. You really don't want to spend money on things only used for a month and Amazon and Target just don't get you as excited as say...myself. 

So here's my lazy man's guide to DIY Christmas decor. 

1. REUSE GLASS JARS

Where we live there is an amazing yogurt brand imported from France. It comes in little glass jars and over time you end up having tons of jars lying around the house. We've used them for mixing essential oils, heating up baby food, and now crafts. I actually got this idea from my friend Rebecca who did an amazing job at painting the jars and making them say "Give Thanks" and adding tea lights to them. The only paint I had laying around was a small bottle of chalkboard paint, so I painted a square on several of the jars, so after Christmas I can just change them to match the next season. On each square I then used a chalkboard marker to write "Joy To The World", one letter on each jar. Afterwards I added a string of battery operated lights I had and voila. 

2. BATTERY OPERATED LIGHTS

Obviously this isn't a DIY, but a good pair of lights will make any project look better, this is the lazy man's guide after all. Best part is that these lights are only $12 on Amazon and you get three strands! They are wire so you can bend them and shape them for anything. I used them for the glass jars above, hung one above our entry way in the living room, and the other one above our advent calendar. I actually got these lights for our play tent for Ezra, but they turned out to be the perfect Christmas decor, and if you live overseas and can't use Amazon, they are so small you could fit them in your pocket, the perfect thing for a friend or family member to stick in their luggage.

 

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3. FREE PRINTS

So this is my favorite hack. Again, lazy man guide. You can always make your own, but painting glass jars was about as much time as I have around here. Besides I always like other people's art much better than mine. So in looking for advent guides (see next number) I found Tasha's blog. She has some gorgeous FREE watercolor Christmas prints, and when you print them out on cardstock they look like you purchased them from your local art fair. Seriously, these things are beautiful. Check out her blog, sign up for emails and you'll get a download to all her free prints. I ended up having some cardstock lying around so I have no idea what kind it was, but I recommend getting the thickest you can find. And if you aren't lazy and want more DIY Christmas guides she has some amazing blogs. 
Free Printables: (I used her 2016 ones)

 

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4. ADVENT CALENDAR

Okay, so believe it or not, this is the first year I've actually done an Advent Calendar. I have no idea why, I just don't think we really did them growing up so I was late to the game on this one. But I wanted it to be more than chocolate (because I can't eat it, stupid dairy, and it melts so it stats in the fridge and I forget, plus I want it to have more meaning on what Christmas really is) Sooooo...I had this great idea to make my own advent calendar and then I would use this guide that corresponds with the Jesus Storybook Bible and write that day's page to read on the back. But in my research I ended up finding some amazing advent calendars already made for me! Hello, yes! So I'm linking the one I've used, but you can always use Pinterest and find other ones. I already had this spot above our table where I usually hang a "gather" sign. I just took it down and tied a string from one end to the other, then used clothespins to hang the cards. This actually did take some work as I had to print them off and make sure I printed the backs correctly (failed the first time), then cut them out and punch holes, tie strings, and manuever behind my large table to hang them up. Still much easier than making one from scratch. 
Advent Calendar Free Printable

That's it! I mean besides the tree, but I don't have any special tricks for that one. So I would love to hear from you all. What your lazy man decor ideas for Christmas? 

Sunrise Service on the Beach

There's a stillness in the air that happens somewhere in the night—the wind stops, the waves die down, and the mosquitoes buzz. But it's there in the quiet when you realize just how big and vast the world really is.

On Easter weekend we traveled to a semi-secluded beach two hours outside the city, where your neighbors are foreign and local military, a couple of donkeys, and a camel. It’s a typical Horn of Africa scene, at least in our part, but it’s a safe spot where once a year the teams from our city come together and rest.

That evening as we warmed up chili over the fire, one by one we slowly sat in our folding camping chairs and watch the embers crack. A guitar started to strum and singing could be heard quietly over the roaring waves. “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds Thy hands have mad. I see the stars. I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”

Never did those words ring more true than they did that night under the darkness, lit only from the fire, the night sky, and the occasional flashlight. And as seamlessly as the music had started, the stories began. Surrounded by both young and old, everyone had a story, so we sat and cried and laughed and offered thanks to God for his protection and love.

The next morning we had an Easter service on the shore, then we celebrated by swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Reed, Ezra, and I also hiked across the little mountain and took photos of the sunset the day before. And while Ezra was sleeping peacefully in his pack-n-play (with adult supervision) we took the kayak out on the ocean and found a sandy beach around the mountain. And greeting us as we arrived was none other than a camel! Only in the Horn of Africa!

Meet Some Fearless Moms

It's my first mother's day as a mother. While last year I got to celebrate mother's day pregnant, this year I get to really understand the joys and struggles that come with being a mother. And I also understand how difficult this day can be for so many. So I'm not going to bombard with you photos my little guy (I'll save that for another day), but I am going to show you some of the mothers I've met over the past year here in Africa. 

Last year I did a blog post showcasing mothers I've met in the past 10 years of my travels, I loved reading your messages and comments about it and so I've decided to share a few more stories. I hope that for those of you who look at today and feel pain and longing that you will somehow feel peace. I pray that you can know that you are loved and thought of and that just because you may not be celebrating today that you still have purpose and life! 

Sadly, a month after visiting with these families we got word about one family who lost their son. He was the only child I didn't get a photo of that day and now I regret it so much. Their son was a teenager and suffered from brain damage, but was able to walk himself. However, he came down with diarrhea and died. It broke our heart to hear of child dying of something so easily prevented. So it's why we work here, training people about the dangers of dehydration, loving on them every chance we get, and giving them something to try and make their life just a little bit easier. 

Our NGO works with a local school run by a woman who has returned to the Horn of Africa after living for years in Canada. She decided to return to her home country and open a school for street children. Many of these children do not have parents and are lacking the proper papers to attend public schools. During her time at the school she also came in contact with several families of handicap children. Many of these children suffer from epilepsy and have severe deformities. They do not have access to wheelchairs to the mothers will carry around their children so they do not have to sit in the dirt all day long. 

Many times when we meet handicapped children in remote areas around the world they are not cared for or given much attention, but the amount of love that these moms (and some fathers) had for their kids was amazing. The moms would wipe of dried boogers or saliva before I took their photo and they would fix their hair and whisper in their ear to smile. 

The lady in the middle received a new wheelchair and her daughter came along with her.

Here they are with my mom, who got to be a part of giving them their new wheelchair and meet all the mother's above.

This mother I met briefly in February at a clinic in town. At first I thought she was the grandmother of this 17 day old baby but it turns out she was mother who had just given birth to this little sweet girl. She was at the hospital because her newborn needed to undergo some test to see if she was HIV+.

The mother was already HIV+ and so now the long wait of finding out if you passed it on to your daughter. I couldn't imagine what she must feel, having a baby only a few weeks old and having to find out if she has a life-threatening disease.

She was sad, and it broke my heart, because usually women will at least smile for me or find pride in showing off their kids, but you could tell she was hurting, tired, and alone. So pray for mothers like her, pray for their children, and pray for the doctors that one day they will find a cure for these heart-breaking diseases. 

Some mothers and their children I met back in February at a distribution where we gave out food, clothing, and blankets. You can read their stories here: Life in a Volcanic Desert

Life in a Volcanic Dessert

As we bumped along the dirt road to what looked like the middle of nowhere, we suddenly pulled in view of what appeared to be a brand new center. It’s off-white buildings perfectly constructed. Even the ground had been covered in rocks to give the compound a feeling of wealth—but that was just an illusion.

Now all that remained was an abandoned center, cut off from funds, full of women, children, and older men inhabiting the rooms, once meant for classrooms. We were hours outside the city and with a minority people group living there, the government overlooked the needs. Others had come to help, but they also had given up, as seen by the classrooms now used as makeshift homes.

When our trucks pulled up with food, clothes, and blankets for this small community, it didn’t take long for word to spread. Soon children and women swarmed the vehicles. We quickly realized that what we thought would be a small gathering of village elders, had turned into a community event. Later that day, we learned that another organization was also planning a distribution that day, which may have led to the community already on alert for distribution of aid.

Mira stood out in her bright blue hijab, the colors bouncing off the background of brown dust. She had a baby slung on her hip and one of her daughters following her around as small children often do. Though she had another child, he was out playing with his friends. Mira isn’t sure what age her children are, as age isn’t something often kept in their community. Instead, she was more concerned with what they would eat and if they are safe.

Asna appeared quiet and uncomfortable, she nestled her little girl in her lap, and after few questions began to smile. She was pregnant. Joy came across her face as she told us, and one could see that having children out here was no small feat. Later when we were eating with the village elders, we learned that many women do not have access to a hospital. If there is an emergency they will go by ambulance to a town several hours away, but for the majority, having a baby is something done at home.

Agnus reminded me of myself. She had a gold nose ring similar to mine, she was tall and sturdy like me, and even had a 4-month-old boy just as I did. It’s funny, seeing yourself in someone, yet living completely different lives. I can’t imagine the hardships that Agnus faces. While we were blessed with a beautiful windy day, there are many months out of the year that their home is considered one of the hottest habitable places on earth. Temperatures sore above 100 degrees, and when you only receive water once every 10 days, surviving becomes that much harder.

Several of the women who received rice and beans at the distribution

 Asna pictured with her daughter

Asna pictured with her daughter

Agnus pictured with her children

Mira pictured with her daughter

We asked the elders how we could help relieve their strain for fresh water. Living in the middle of a volcanic desert doesn’t provide much access to clean water, or even dirty water for that matter. There is a water source 30 minutes away by foot, but it’s not much help, when there is no irrigation system for the water to reach the village. When asked what would happen if the water trucks do not come, Muhammed* replied matter of factly, “We would die.”

In our line of work there are often two things that help people get out of the poverty cycle—nutrition (provided through water and food) and education. But here, in a small village, of forgotten minorities, there is neither. The children do not have a school to go to, though they live in abandoned classrooms. Muhammed said that the older children are becoming restless and starting to cause trouble. The lack of basic needs is why these people feel helpless. Though they keep on having babies and caring for their young, they yearn for more—a place where they can send their children to school and not have to limit their intake of a water, a luxury we so often take for granted.

But since we now live in the country, we have the opportunity to keep helping, to keep loving, and to keep going to the hard and forgotten places. So it's our hope that we can soon send some teachers into this community and begin educating these kids, because we really believe that one of the biggest helps in getting out of the poverty trap is education. 

We feasted on goat meat and more

The fed us enough for days

Ya know, when you get a flat, and it takes 5 gives and two goats to get it done...

Because it's not a trip unless you come back with a goat. Don't worry by the time we were done we had one more goat in the back. Yet, sadly these goats will be dinner soon. :)

I am still amazed at to how they get up there!

Baby toes and the most colorful meal I've ever seen!

The boys hanging out.

Ezra was not into this flat tire thing...
 

This beautiful girl and her father live in a hut on the side of the road that takes us to our destination. We stopped and gave them some of the food we had for our distribution.

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