Entries Tagged 'Africa' ↓

Mourning Mandela

Imagine you are a 14 year old girl and you are suddenly flown from the U.S. to a small southern African country and dropped off at a foreign international school found far, far up on a hill without anyone but your little brother by your side. It’s 1987, you are wearing a stone-washed denim mini-skirt, far too much hairspray and you are terrified. That was me and that school was a place that shaped my soul in a way I never expected. While I quietly pouted about the outrage of it all, I marched onto the campus that first day, followed thWKe rest of the student body into an assembly hall, slid onto a bench with other 14 year olds and, with arms folded, I waited for something to happen. And it had better be good.

Something did happen.

And it started with assembly every week. Well, it may have even been twice a week, but it always started the same way. We sang the Swaziland national anthem and then we sang the African national anthem. Every student sang loudly and beautifully and with a shocking passion unlike anything I had ever, EVER seen. No one at my old school sang my national anthem this way. What is this?? What is going on? It was so beautiful that I swallowed back tears week after week, deeply overcome.

And then we were taught about what was really going on. You see, I was at a school where we were being taught literature and history and information about current events that may or may not have been banned at the schools less than an hour away to our west, across the border in South Africa. We talked regularly about Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment. Why he was there. What freedom really meant. Why children were shot and killed protesting their right to be taught in a language they understood. I was astonished. They were killed? Police shot students because of this??

I sat there and I listened. At first appalled. As if MY country would ever do such a thing. (Well. It had.) And then I accepted it. And then I absorbed it. And then I found my place in it. There was a fight for freedom happening around me. There was hope and anger and so much passion for change.

At every assembly, I sat and considered all of it. Equal rights were not given, they were a chance happening. A roulette table of skin pigment, culture and nationality. Oh look, she landed on “white girl from America!” So at the border crossing, SHE gets to go to the diplomatic line and get a friendly nod and a smile from the police man with the dog. My friend’s chance at luck got her “black South African,” and she went to the back of a very different line. And I waited and watched and the dog watched her and none of it made any sense. Madness. And never equal.

Nelson Mandela being released from prison was a far-fetched dream in my mind. I’m not sure I thought it would ever happen, let alone witness him become president or live a very very long life afterall. But let’s be real, I’m not sure I fully grasped all of it anyway. I was 15. And while it would be nice to say I was deeply engrossed in political conversation at every moment of every day while I lived in Africa, I was not. I was a privileged white American girl who got to escape to her lovely embassy-issue home after school and watch VHS tapes of MTV and Twin Peaks and drink soda and have sleep overs. I cared deeply, I really did. But… oh my God you guys, TWIN PEAKS. I was 15.

A couple years later, there were rumors. There was excitement and hope at school. Discussion, wonder, it could happen. I don’t know what the reason was but I was in Johannesburg with my family in February of 1990. I was in a fancy hotel downtown and our room was on the 30th floor. It was night, after dinner and I was probably willing my parents to evaporate on the spot while I lost myself in another Stephen King book. But suddenly it happened. The world exploded. I went to the window and looked out. With my forehead pressed flat against the cold, I peered down from my silent glass tower and watched the streets FILL entirely with joy and dancing and people, so many people. And then I could hear them through that thick, extra-paned, super fancy glass. I could hear them! It was true, Nelson Mandela had been released.

Sometime soon after that, Nelson Mandela came to our school. It was a surprise visit and I believe he came to see his grandson (a student there at the time). I secretly like to think he came to thank us for our writing, and learning, and singing so so loudly every week. I think he came on a Sunday. But guess what. I wasn’t there that day. Yep, back home, probably chomping on some newly shipped-over M&Ms and teasing my bangs and… oh my god you guys, TWIN PEAKS. Sigh. I cringe deeply now.

Nelson Mandela wasn’t my leader and he didn’t fight for me. The roulette wheel had spun and already offered me the privilege to chomp on M&Ms and watch TV without one damn care in the world. But he WAS my teacher. He snapped my hair-sprayed, peroxided little blond head to attention and taught me what I had and what others did not and that every single 14 year old girl had the right to NOT have one damn care in the world, no matter which way that roulette wheel turned. He taught me grace, humility and patience. He taught me the power of words. He taught me the power of faith and hope — his release was the first time I saw the truly impossible happen.

Nelson Mandela passed today. I deeply respect the enormous impact he played on this world, even on my humble little easy life in the midst of it all. I wrote a message on my art teacher’s Facebook page today (one of my all time favorite teachers now a world away, still back in Africa) and told her I wish I was there with her mourning this loss. She wrote back and said, “But you were there when he was released and we celebrated!”

I am proud that I witnessed such an important time of transition in southern Africa. I am so proud to have understood the enormous impact of Nelson Mandela’s release. And I am so proud to feel the pain of his loss today, even here in this little home, buried deep in Florida suburbia, so very far from the place where I was taught, the community that changed me and our teacher, Madiba, who has passed away today.

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika!

My Rock and Roll Cherrybomb

I was 9 years old and I had no idea it could do such a thing. Because at 9 years old, nothing had ever blown my hair back before or set my gut on fire with a scary, exciting rush. I was only 9 after all. But that’s exactly what happened on a dusty road in Mogadishu in front of my friend’s house.

I’m talking about music. All I knew about it up until that moment was Disco Mickey Mouse. And the Annie movie soundtrack. And some really good Frank Sinatra and jazz albums of my parents. All good. None of it, however, quite worthy of blowing my hair back. None of it quite made me want to jump around and scream and yell and sing until I was hoarse and ignited to the core the way this did. You know that kind of music when it hits you. And I’m afraid it puts daddy’s Frank Sinatra to shame.

So back to the story. We were hanging out in front of my friend’s house. It was a weekend I think because we had nowhere to be and lots of time to kill. There was a large community of Americans in Mogadishu in the very early 80s, and my family was part of it while my father was posted there. And so while we were in one of the most desolate and desperate parts of Africa, we were just kids making do and enjoying our weekend, no different from anywhere in the USA. Because there we were. In our dark blue Jordache jeans with skinny red belts, ringer t-shirts, wearing Lip Smacker lip gloss stolen off some sister’s dresser.

It was hot out and dust whipped our stringy hair around. We sad on old concrete blocks under a thorny Acacia tree. The Somali sun never retreated so we had. Goats ambled by, kicking up more red dust. There was nothing to do.

And then a car drove up. My friend’s older sister ran out of the house. She was only an 8th grader but she knew the really big kids who drove cars. We watched her bend in to say hi. A moment passed and doors opened up, they all stepped out. And then it happened. Music thundered from an old tape deck somewhere within.

We stared.

Do you know what song it was? The song that ripped into my heart and made me want to rock my head and smile and move and laugh? Cliche or not, it was Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.”

I was mind blown.

We froze where we were and listened. As soon as it was done, the song was rewound and played again. And again. Eventually we shuffled quietly over to the back of the car and sat up against its bumper, swaying, nodding our heads, mumbling the words when we knew them. The big kids never noticed or never cared. But we hung there. The whole afternoon. Listening to “I Love Rock n Roll” and “Crimson and Clover”. Over and over.

Joan Jett became a constant by the community pool and at evening social get togethers and at sleep overs and before community movie screenings. Joan Jett’s guitar riffs transplanted a small piece of the U.S. right into an extraordinarily foreign world. She brought some normal, on a loop, over and over.

So of course Joan Jett became my first rock and roll idol. Black leathers, black eyeliner, black shag haircut, bad ass guitar, and a chick-swagger like nothing I had ever seen before. She established in my soul what rock and roll should be, there amongst the Acacia trees and passing goats.

When I arrived home a year later, I snapped on MTV and discovered Cyndi Lauper, Annie Lenox, Toni Basil, Chrissy Hines, Ann and Nancy Wilson… and I got it. I knew it. I wasn’t afraid of it. I was moved and rocked and rolled by all of it. Without any reservation. How could I be, after Joan Jett popped my rock n roll cherry only a year before?

I watched “The Runaways” the other night. It was pretty good and about what I expected. The live show of “Cherrybomb” was sick. Awesome job. And my Joan Jett girl crush certainly never wavered. The 9 year old in Lip Smacker lip gloss lost inside came rushing back and rocked and got light-headed and wanted to scream, kind of.

“Saw him dancing there by the record machine…. knew he must have been about 17.”

OMG. Are you kidding me?

Swooning, feeling, nodding, singing, rocking, loving.

Blog Action Day: Remembering My Water Privileges

It’s Blog Action Day today. And this year’s topic?

Water.

I’ve written about water before. I wrote about living in Somalia and what it felt like to come back to the United States and be able to drink water directly out of a faucet again. I wrote how I understood what kind of privilege that was for me.

Interesting.

Water is a privilege?

Water is something we all have to have.

Well, surprise, surprise I have another story about water. One that reminds me daily, on a more personal but practical level, about the importance of water conservation. So here I go again…

I spent my high school years in Swaziland. And for a country in Africa, it was faring pretty well at the time. The level of hunger and poverty no where near matched what I had seen in Somalia as a child. Anyway, I went to an international school and in my last  year there, I lived on campus as a boarding student.

During that particular winter, Swaziland experienced the kind of drought that stops everything in its tracks. It’s hills were dirt-bone dry, the sun shone down day after day, cows lay dead along the sides of the road and homes everywhere were cut off from any direct water supply.

Our school’s water supply depended on our own reservoir found just up the hill from campus, but it was dwindling quickly. So water was rationed. And that meant very limited water for everything – which most certainly included showers. Until the drought was over, our school allowed students to shower only twice a week. And on a shower day, the entire dormitory wing had no more than 10 minutes to make it happen. That meant we had to take shifts – while one of us stepped aside to shampoo, another jumped in to rinse off. It was a quick, efficient, almost military-like operation. And for the other shower-less five days out of the week, we had to get used to either not being as clean or suck it up and have a “basin bath” (which used only one sinkful of water and a bucket to stand in).

(Think back to your narcissistic high school ways. Imagine how this might affect a typical high schooler. And that was just too bad. Because our showers were not more important than drinking water.)

Other water conserving restrictions were put in place too. Toilets had a strict “If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down” rule.

Lead by school administrators, groups of us hiked up the side of the mountain near our reservoir and pulled plants called Wattle trees. They were not indigenous to Swaziland (read: weeds) but they used a large supply of water to grow. The rumor was 1 Wattle tree = 1 shower. I’m not sure how scientifically accurate that was but we pulled the plants out regardless.

I don’t remember how long the drought lasted. A few months, maybe more. But I will never forget being made so very aware of every drop of water I used. Every single drop mattered. And every drop I used I knew someone else was without.

Water is a right but it remains a privilege. Think about that every single time you turn on a faucet, run the hot water over dishes, or lounge under the shower shaving your legs.

  • Nearly 1 billion people don’t have safe water to drink.
  • A child dies every 15 seconds from a lack of clean water.
  • 1 in 4 children who die before age 5 worldwide, die of a water related disease.
  • Children often walk miles every day to collect dirty water to drink.

(Statistics taken from The Water Project.)

Back to School in Mogadishu

While looking for some old toys for my kids to play with up in the attic of my family’s Cape cottage, I found a fantastic back to school treasure. I found my old third grade book bag. But what makes this bag so unique? Well it’s a book bag from the American School of Mogadishu. As in Mogadishu, Somalia – which is where I lived for almost two years as a child.

I bet its one of the only one of its kind left.

And I would bet the school where I spent so much time is no longer standing either.

My father laughed when he saw it. It’s a crazy thing to look at now. The American School of Mogadishu. As if it was the most normal thing in the whole world. And to me, as an eight year old, it was. I told my father I actually missed Somalia and would love to go back someday. He looked at me like I was insane. And I looked at him like he was insane – HE is the one that brought my family over there in the first place. But nevertheless, Somalia was my adopted home for two years of my childhood.

Like any school, we had a playground. There were swings and big iron monkey bars where I spent most recesses, preferably hanging upside down, gazing out at the orange sand covering the grounds and the dry brush and acacia trees beyond that.

My classroom was like any classroom but with a cement floor and glass louvered windows on one wall. I practiced cursive, learned fractions and read about the nomads in social studies.

Our library was a cool reprieve. We were read “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” during circle time. And I would sneak off to read on my own. It was there where I learned to love to read. I think I must have checked out every donated Nancy Drew book they had at least twice.

I brought my lunch to school along with my water – which had been boiled and filtered to make it safe enough to drink. And like any other American kid, I brought peanut butter and jelly to school too. Granted that was easy to ship over and store. Our house had an entire air conditioned store room filled with canned, jarred and powdered foods. And all the Christmas candy was hidden far up on a distant shelf. My brother and I considered sneaking it down on many occasions. So we didn’t care how stale it was once we found it buried at the bottom of our stockings months later.

I thought it was cool that I didn’t have to walk to school. But I didn’t think it was cool that I went to school Tuesday through Saturday. Who goes to school Saturday? The traditional American schedule was changed to match the Islamic calendar. And we also went to school from 7am – 1pm. Because it was too damn hot to be out and about after 1pm.

I didn’t use the bathroom that often. I had a bad experience with a wasp hive nested under the toilet seat. I got away unscathed but my best friend ran out of there screaming once when a rat swam up the toilet to say hello. So I preferred to just hold it.

Once the sun had a set a bit, my brother and I would climb up the wall around our house and sit. We would watch herds of goats and sometimes camels go by. We waved at the kids. My brother knew some Arabic. I did not. Sometimes we would jump off the wall and run down the dusty road to find a local tea house. We’d duck inside and be given sweet, creamy tea made by a Somali child’s mother. It was delicious. Or other times we would jump off the wall and head towards my friend’s house who had lots of Barbie stuff. She also had a Dik-dik in her yard – which was very cool.

We heard the call to prayer five times a day. It was extraordinarily comforting. In the distance. Like a song. The world would stop. And we would watch. And wait.

I had a wallet with Mecca on it, I thought it was so cool, I felt so grown-up using it. I found that in the attic too this summer.

I also discovered rock music in Somalia. An unlikely place it would seem. But thanks to a crew of totally rad 8th graders and a tape deck left next to a pool at the local American compound, Joan Jett declared that she, indeed, loved Rock and Roll. And she sung also about Crimson and Clover. Over and over. So I decided I loved Rock and Roll too. And Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Poolside. In Mogadishu. Nothing better.

A few times my mother would take me to the market for fresh food. We would have to look carefully. We never went to the meat section. I saw the carpet of flies before it lifted to reveal what meat they had. Apart from fish, we stayed vegetarian most of the time. But I still managed to catch a decent case of dysentery. I think most kids did.

I didn’t have a concept of how safe we were – or not. Somalia was at war with Ethiopia at the time. I remember hiding under the stairs when mortars would fly into town. It never felt close. I was never too worried. But the Somali people I knew protected and cared for me. So tall, beautiful, flashing smiles, kind and patient.

Once in a village far from Mogadishu, I was surrounded by so many children touching my hair. I didn’t understand. The translator said they had never seen blond hair before. Oh. Cool. No big deal.

As my father says, “Those were the good days of Mogadishu”. Good days. Even at eight I understood the depth of poverty there. Of all the places we lived, I never saw anything like what I saw in Somalia. Distended bellies, hunger, disease, flies, drought, muddy wells, nothing.

A woman tried to pass her baby through our car window once. She thought he would have a better life with us. With a house and electricity and an air conditioned store room filled with food, and clean, filtered water – he would have. My mother never forgot that little boy and used to wonder if she should have taken him. She also wondered if he was still alive.

So my children are heading back to school now. I am packing up their Target bought book bags and sending them to school with sandwiches, cheese-its and juice boxes. Their daily routine is as normal for them as mine was in third grade. Relatively speaking, and in the mind of a child, neither seems more extraordinary than the other.

A Poetic Social Mission for Global Water Conservation

waterSo do you ever think about water? And I mean really think about it. You turn on your tap and clean, clear water flows right out. An endless supply. To do whatever with. It never doesn’t turn on. It’s just always there.

When I was 9 years old, I lived in Somalia. My father worked with the State Department and for two years we were stationed in Mogadishu. During a trip back to the U.S., I remember taking a bath and saying to my mother “You mean, I could DRINK the water coming out of the tap right now? Actually drink it and it won’t make me sick?? WOW!” It was a Richie Rich moment, but instead of swimming in coins I was lounging in real, clean, drinkable water.

Of course, I was a privileged American child who was able to live in an actual house with running water in the first place. Who cares if it wasn’t drinkable, it came out of the tap so that we could bathe, and wash dishes and then boil it and strain it and treat it and then maybe, fingers crossed, drink it. (Of course, I still managed to catch a whopping bout of dysentery while I was there anyway. And I was lucky I only had it once.)

But the other Somali children who walked by my house everyday didn’t have such a privilege. And, of course, dysentery was far more common place – and deadly – in their families. I have vivid memories of visiting villages where women and children walked miles and miles with jugs and cartons to get their fill of family water at a well. I remember camels and goats and people gathered and surrounding those wells, pulling buckets upon buckets up and out of a muddy hole. If the water was at all clear, it was a good day. But who knew if it was at all potable. And women and children would balance those buckets and jugs on their heads and carry them back to their homes. Miles and miles. Everyday.

Water. It’s kind of a big deal.

So when I was asked by some social media folks who work for the One Drop Foundation if I would like to be a part of an enormous event this week which will help promote awareness about clean water, I jumped at the chance. Here’s whats happening.

The One Drop Foundation is actually an initiative lead by Cirque du Soleil and it’s founder Guy Laliberte. Now who is their founder exactly? You may have heard about him. He is currently orbiting our earth. He has been described as a “Space tourist and circus entrepreneur” – he’s the astronaut wearing the clown nose you’ve seen on TV. And while he is currently fulfilling a dream of his to venture into space, he is also there to raise awareness about the One Drop Foundation.

So how is he going to do that?

Guy describes this as his Poetic Social Mission in space. On October 9th, he will connect from space with 14 cities around the world and reach out to such celebrities and influencing personalities as Al Gore, Peter Gabriel, Matthew McConaughey, U2 and Shakira.

And on October 9th, U2 will be playing here in Tampa. Thanks to the folks at Cirque Du Soleil, my husband and I will be there to cover this incredible event at the U2 concert. We will have the opportunity not only to watch an amazing band who have influenced music and social awareness worldwide, but we will be able to witness the Poetic Social Mission from space for ourselves.

This whole thing, this whole global event, this connection to space and the dream and Poetic Social Mission of a circus founder turned astronaut is all about one single resource our entire planet can not live with out: Water. Because if there is any way to make water a more equitable resource, one that a Somali child has as much access to as an American child, we will finally have some chance at offering a healthy future for every member of our global community.

Stay posted for more information about local efforts to manage water conservation as well as further updates about this amazing event coming up on Friday.

(And for Twitter users, you can change your avatar to raise awareness about the One Drop campaign here.)

The Pope Suggests Abstinence, I Suggest a Reality Check

aidspicThis picture of an AIDS poster was taken by me in Mozambique, ’92.

No disrespect to my Catholic peeps, truly. I have been hesitant to publish this post because offending any one’s religious beliefs just isn’t my thing. But I read this article from the BBC. And then my husband forwarded another article to me. And it got me angry. So to hell with it (literally), I just have to say something about this.

Breathe.

The Pope has arrived in Africa. And he is suggesting – no – he is urging African citizens not to use condoms to prevent AIDS. He has flown to Africa to let folks there know that abstinence is the only answer to the AIDS epidemic.

He says that to the people of Africa.

A continent where it is projected that by 2025, 80 million people (10% of the continent) will die from AIDS (BBC).

And lets take the wonderful country of Swaziland for instance, where I spent 5 years growing up. Currently, almost 30% of the adult population in Swaziland has HIV or AIDS (honestly, I have heard from folks living there that this rate is as high as 50% but will report what I have found). Children are raising children on the streets, with no way of knowing how to sustain themselves or care for the babies on their hips. Why? Because their parents are dead. The fabric of this wonderful country has been forever changed because of the human void it is suffering with right now. People are simply just dead.

Why? Because they had unprotected sex with an infected partner.

This is a crises of epic, massive, earth shifting proportions. And the Pope says just stop having sex? That we really just have to keep our morals in check here? You know, go to church, stop having sex and all our problems will be solved?

Um, Mr. Pope (which I say with utmost honest respect), did you know the King of Swaziland has multiple wives? Its tradition there, no disrespect to the King, but multiple wives happens in Swaziland. Or did you know young girls are being raped and infected because it is rumored that having sex with a virgin “cures” AIDS? Did you know that until recently many people weren’t convinced AIDS even existed at all? We need birth control and education – not empty promises of God’s salvation if we simply keep our legs shut.

Reality check: Sex happens. And will continue to happen. No matter how hard you pray it away, sex will happen (as it does in all over the world), with multiple partners. Often. Even after heartfelt promises of church going and abstinence are declared publicly, sex will keep on keeping on.

Oh and people having sex aren’t bad people by the way. Just for the record.

So what is the only shot we’ve got at curbing the spread of AIDS in Africa? Education and CONDOMS. (Along with access to HIV medications.)

But really, I am just afraid that there will be only two responses to the Pope’s suggestion of picking abstinence over condoms. 1) He will either be laughed at (which isn’t doing the Pope or the Catholic church and its mission any good at all anyway) or (2) condoms will be thrown aside because “the pope said so” – and then all that we have left is their blood on the Pope’s hands.

My hope is that the Pope’s trip to Africa will be eye-opening. I hope he can bring back to the Catholic church some first hand accounts about whats really happening there. Clearly I am not Catholic but I am forever the optimist. So I can hope.

And then I do have comfort knowing that he’ll certainly do one thing constructively. He’ll join the rest of the world as we pray for the souls of each person threatened by this horrible virus.

But Mr. Pope? Sir? Let’s just try to actually save some of them too, ok?

Toms Shoes: A Review and a Give-away

shoes3

By now you should know that I won’t do a review on Morningside Mom unless there is something about that product that truly impresses me. Well, I have another one for you. Toms Shoes approached me and asked that I review a pair of shoes for them. But these aren’t just a pair of shoes. In case you don’t know about Toms Shoes, I am going to tell you what makes this specific shoe company so very special.

shoe4The Toms Shoes company was started by Blake Mycoskie after he visited Argentina and noticed how many children did not have any shoes. His dream for this company was to create a shoe that he could sell and give away. Let me explain further. He wanted his company to make it possible to donate one pair of shoes to a child in need with every one purchased. That’s right. And he did. After one year, he and his family and friends were ready to donate over 10,000 shoes to children in Argentina. Next stop was South Africa where he and his crew dropped off 50,000 shoes. And in 2008 it was planned that they donate over 200,000 shoes worldwide.

Ok, now watch this.


Pretty amazing, right?

Ok, so lets get down to the shoes themselves. What did I think?

shoes1

Well, in terms of style, I was a liiiittle nervous. I’ll admit, I was worried they’d be kind of like grandma shoes. I am just being honest here. I wasn’t sure they’d really be my style. So I looked through all the various patterns available online and went for a fun “Element” shoe style. At least I knew these shoes wouldn’t look anything like what Grandma would wear.

shoes2But here’s the thing. When I got them, they actually looked a lot cooler than I expected. I was pleasantly surprised. And my favorite part about the shoes? When I slipped them on, I didn’t want to take them off. Because, my friend, they’re like butta. So dang comfy. Granted, they don’t have a ton of support – these are flat shoes made of canvas. But they are well made and I really, truly never want to take them off. (Maybe I should get Grandma a pair, I think she wouldn’t take them off either.)

Now down to the fun part.

It’s giveaway time!

I have the DVD of their award winning documentary about their first shoe drop in Argentina and a coupon code worth $50 in Tom’s Shoes to give away to a Morningside Mom reader.

How do you enter? Leave a comment below about a time you’ve given back to your community or something you would like to do for your community. Real answers please, don’t just respond with some general Ms. America “I want to save the world” comment. Think about it for the sake of making change happen – like Toms Shoes has.

I will pick a winner at random on Monday March 16th.

Thanks and good luck!

**UPDATE: WE HAVE A WINNER!!**

Ilinap from Dirt and Noise was picked at random and has won the Toms Shoes giveaway! Congrats Ilinap!

shoe5

Get Yer Superhero Cape (and other cool stuff) Here.

Hat in hand -and I don’t even wear a hat, unless its a red sox hat, go sox, even though they lost, but I digress… Hat in hand, eyes on the floor, head bowed – I step before my wonderful readers to officially apologize for being a slow poster these days. (Shaking my head at myself.) My last two posts have had days in between them! Not good, not good at all. But I promise you, I have had a good excuse! I will officially give you the scoop once I am officially official and officially up and running. ;)

 

However! I do have some good stuff to share with you right now. See, I love supporting moms who are getting it done on their own – starting businesses from nothing, following a passion, bringing home the bacon while raising their sprouts. I want to get up on soapboxes for these women and give them a WOOT WOOT! So, being the blogger that I am, I will scramble up on top of this post to declare my support for a few moms trying to get some momentum with their terrific businesses.

(And full-disclosure, I haven’t gotten any freebies for promoting them either. I just think their stuff is cool.)

Moms Rock On: Cute Mommy t-shirts

A whole bunch of my playgroup and music class moms wear T-shirts from this local Tampa mommy. She sells T-shirts with such great sayings as: “Veggie Enforcer” or “Sleep Deprived” or “I make a mean PG&J”. Please check them out. And hurry to order! They are offering free shipping in October!

Baby Pop: Get a personalized super hero cape! (See them in picture above.)
Ilinap from Dirt and Noise recently bought a personalized cape and mask from this site for her son. How adorable are these ideas? This mom uses high quality environmentally friendly materials too.

Hippoes Toes: Inspired by Africa!

This mom brings us a line of clothing inspired by South Africa, using South African materials. She believes in supporting fair trade and the Bug Zoo clothing line employs moms in South Africa to make high quality products. Please check out her site and products! (You know anything supporting South Africa always gets my attention.)

Your Baby for President!

Do you think your son or daughter has what it takes to run for President some day? Get them their own personalized presidential tee or onesie at this site.

My Punchbowl– The better option over Evite.

A friend forwarded this site to me recently telling me someone from our college works for this company and I should really try using is over Evite. While it looks like a bunch of guys (not moms) on the management team, they could be dads, right? And this is certainly a new product just starting up so I am giving it my props here. I really do like it and love the design options over Evite. Check it out!

Well, that’s about all I have up my sleeve… for now. More later. And I am also going to try not to get all political all the time around these parts. I used to consider this blog a nice combination of various mommy topics – politics included. Now it seems more of a political blog with some various mommy topics included. I suppose its a sign of these times but I would like more balance in my life and my blog. I swear, I will reclaim my sanity… on November 5th.

Cheers everyone!

When Good Gators Go Bad.

Well, it’s happened again. There was another highly publicized alligator attack here in Florida. A teen swimming in a Melbourne canal was grabbed by an alligator. He survived but lost his arm. He did, however, get a spot on the Today Show this morning discussing his attack. I am very happy to hear that he survived. And while he made some very good points about alligator over-population in Florida, he obviously did not have a perfect understanding of the potential harm these animals can bring or else he might have both arms today. But, once again, the country watched his report, wide eyed, and the notion of savage, blood thirsty gators hunting down Florida residents lives on.

I have lived in Florida for 3 years now. And as you might remember, I lived in Africa for a good portion of my life growing up. If there was one lesson I learned in Africa about animals, it was to remain humble about wildlife. We are only another animal in the grand scheme of it all. While we, as humans, have the capacity to remain separated and safe from animal attacks, if we are not well educated or respectful of the animals living in our environment, we can easily slip into our spot on the food chain and potentially be harmed. I have carried that lesson with me here. And Florida has certainly impressed me with its vast amount of wild life, just look in my own backyard. Even as I was writing this post and took a break to feed my kids lunch, I happened to see a gator swim across our back pond. This alligator is about 4 feet long and seems to have established this pond as its territory. Alligators are a very real part of our lives here and, it seems crazy to admit, seeing one is not quite the novel sight it used to be.

However, attacks can happen and so we hear of another on the news today. But, honestly, I’m just annoyed. These stories and fanciful national headlines very rarely give the viewer any sense of perspective. There is no information offered about the enormous mistreatment of alligators and our struggles to co-exist with an animal that has been going about its business in this state for hundreds of years. With the gory gator stories and all the misinformation out there, the masses just assume they want to eat us and that’s that. Even the victim had to make the comment “They’re out for blood.” Are you kidding me? 

Do you know why alligators usually attack us? They aren’t afraid of us. And why would an alligator go against its natural instincts and move towards us, rather than away? Because unfortunately, it’s been fed by humans. It happens all the time. Even down the road, there was a group of baby alligators that would swim up to a fence along the sidewalk when humans walked by. That’s insane. No, they weren’t born smacking their baby gator jaws, hungry for people blood. They wanted the scraps people threw to them. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen those alligators for some time now so, obviously, a call was made to the local “Alligator Hotline” (yup, that’s for real) and they were removed – and destroyed.

Do you want another reason why an alligator would attack us? Human stupidity. If we swim into its territory (um, teen from Melbourne, FL – this is you, buddy) or dangle our toes in a fresh water pond while we fish or let our dogs play in the water while we stand by – I’m sorry, you’re asking for it. Bottom line. Alligators do hunt by nature and will come after a mammal proportionate to its size if its right in front of its nose.

I have 4 separate bodies of water out back and no fence (they’re bloody expensive and don’t do that much to deter gators, but maybe someday). As you know, I also have two sons. And, as I’ve mentioned, we certainly have gators in that water out back. But have we had a scare with an alligator? Nope. Why not? My children are taught to be as afraid of any local fresh body of water as they are of the road. They don’t go near it. As a family, we are respectful of the alligators territory. If we do see a gator, we watch inside the perpetually locked back porch with our binoculars and talk about it. If my husband or I happen to walk out on the grass to get a better look from afar, the alligator immediately disappears, maybe emerging on the far end as it crawls out and into an even further pond. I promise you, alligators don’t want to be around us.

And this brings up the final unfortunate issue. Teen from Melbourne, FL., you’re right. There are too many of us and too many of them. And while Alligators don’t want to be around us, they are. Potentially, there may be more than one alligator in every fresh body of water in Florida. And, as we all move down here, set up shop, slap on our flip flops and sun glasses and park our booties under these lovely palm trees, the alligators are getting encroached upon. And while I don’t see the influx of humans changing anytime soon, unfortunately, the gator population needs to be controlled. This is a serious issue in any animal park or reserve where one species doesn’t have any natural predators – there are too many and it affects the natural balance of an eco-system. So while I am not a big hunting fan, I do support any humane destruction or relocation programs for alligators. It sucks for the gators, but we are really not responsible enough to live this close to this many of them for much longer.

Now before I start getting any comments about what a bad mom I am for raising my kids so close to alligators (um, did you read this post?), you should be aware of a few facts. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, between the years of 1948 and 2004, there have only been 15 reported fatal alligator attacks. That’s nothing when you consider how many of them there really are around here. In fact, the FWC receives 15,000 calls about nuisance alligators annually and then removes about 5,000 of the gators they are called about. These beasts certainly show up everywhere: in front door atriums, under cars, in a ditch, anywhere. But to have only 15 fatalities occur in 56 years? They really don’t deserve the man-eater rap they have been assigned. Like I said, they don’t like us and would be quite happy to just be left alone.

So that’s my public service announcement about Florida Alligators. I hope you’ve learned something. And I promise you that if my gators start getting frisky or deciding that they want to make my backyard their favorite sunning spot, I’ll be calling the alligator hotline asap. Maybe you’re wondering what they do with the removed alligators that are destroyed? Well, they sell it to make alligator meat OF COURSE. Do you think I’m kidding? A neighbor a few doors down had a nuisance gator removed… and guess what was for dinner? I kid you not. Gator BBQ. Gotta love Florida.

Sweet sixteen and never been exiled.

Last night, snuggled into bed, I watched part of MTV’s “The Hills”finale. What? So it’s the most vapid, horrifyingly shallow, “un”reality show ever. Of course, I am well aware that I am almost 35 and this admission may have pushed me a couple notches lower on the “grounded, has a clue, feminist” scale. But, whatever, I’m coming out of my MTV closet. I was watching it. And while hurling insults at that horrid human, Spencer, I saw a commercial for a new “reality” show. My Super Sweet Sixteen – EXILED.

Oh, mother of pearl. My prayers have been answered.

I may have mentioned before my visceral distaste for the show My Super Sweet Sixteen.It stands for everything that is wrong with parenting today. The expectations it sets for tweens everywhere absolutely fill me with horror. For real. It’s televised p*rn for the self centered, materialistic teenaged masses. Hell yeah, I’m getting a Escalade for my birthday. Hell yeah, I’ll fly to Paris to buy four dresses for one party. Hell yeah!! And you suck if you don’t!

Ugh, I am just not sure what to say. Except… gag me with a spoon. I’m 35, ok? As I often do while watching MTV, I am connecting with the permed out 80s teenager still living inside of me.

So anyway, MTV has now decided to take the stars of these shows (I can hardly stomach the fact that there have been 61 episodes to date of this trash) and plop them in the middle of a third world country. And as I watched this trailer, I found myself sitting up in bed, madly snickering and clapping with glee. Oooooh, they’re gonna GET theirs now…

But I have to add in a sidebar here. These parents need some exiling themselves. How could they have EVER gone along with “My Super Sweet Sixteen” in the first place? What part of showering their teen aged children with money, cars, and live performers – and then taping it all for a national television show – was ever a good idea? While their kids are getting schooled in Peru, India and Kenya, I hope someone, anyone (Super Nanny, where are you?) is setting them straight while shredding every credit card in sight.

And I also feel for the families who are hosting these girls. UGH. I suppose our status as the “Ugly Americans” can’t get much worse these days (thanks, Dubya) but I know I will cringe seeing these families react to their horrid, self serving behavior. Please, wonderful people of our earth, ALL AMERICANS DON’T SUCK THIS BAD!

But here is the irony. Back in 1987, I went through my own little teenaged exile. I wasn’t 16, I was 14. And it wasn’t Kenya, it was Swaziland. I may have had my reasons back then, but there can be no denying it – I was a very unreasonable 14 year old. And in the summer of ’87, kicking, “UH-MUH-GAWD”ing and screaming, my parents dropped me in Africa. So there.  And was I schooled? Oh, you bet.

So why do I take such glee watching these privileged brats get such a drastic slap in the face? Is it my own issues of wanting to see other kids go through what I did? No, I don’t think so. Or is it the fact that at 35, I am painfully aware of how much excess we American have – and EXPECT to have? Do I shudder at how little we Americans understand about humanity on a global scale? Do I feel heaps of shame when my fellow Americans don’t even WANT to learn more about cultures other than their own? HELL YEAH. And guess what sweet sixteeners… you suck if you don’t.

My brother and myself. Still new to Africa. Getting a clue.