Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cats and Dogs

It is raining, by which I mean RAINING. This is a very good thing, as we've had three very dry years, water courses are drying up and farmers have had bad yields. The rains have come early and hard, and hopefully they'll last a full 3 to 4 months. The importance of the rainy season can't be over-estimated. 85% of the population are dependent on agriculture, in most cases subsistence agriculture and also in most cases with no irrigation. So the timing and quantity of rainfall is critical. Last year the rains came late, so the first lot of seeds sown were lost, and stayed late, so that the cassava in some places couldn't be dried. Most rural families go through a hungry period for a month or two before the new harvest comes in, when they eat one basic meal a day. This year it's likely to be worse. Imagine trying to grow all your food for a year on the basis of three months of rainfall. Using a small hoe and a machete and all the members of your family (children included). And then imagine the rains not coming, or stopping too soon, or too late. It's a disaster. So let's hope this is a good wet year.

On the other hand, Paulo left my car windows open last night, so I have a wet bum and a very steamy car. Thanks, hun.

The m-word

Sebastian has just had malaria. I had very mch hoped never to write those words on the blog, but unfortunately it is the case. He is, however, pretty much fully recovered. Fortunately, he had a very mild attack: just a fever (38.5C, not very high), lack of appetite and general unhappiness. He could have had serious vomiting, diarrhea and a very high fever, which would have been dangerous in such a small child. We have been lucky, and are both slightly shaken and very thankful. We have redoubled our already considerable efforts to keep the mozzies out, dipping our nets in insecticide and spraying the house.

Alongside my sense that we have failed our child to some extent in our basic duty to protect him from dangerous diseases (although of course I know that it is impossible to do this 100%), I also feel ashamed of my previous rather superior attitude towards other people whose children have had malaria. I have often thought – though never said – “Well what do you expect, when they don’t cover them up/spray them/sleep with mosquito nets. Look at Joaquim, he’s never had it.” I am eating humble pie and it’s good to be reminded that we are all fallible, although I’d rather the lesson didn’t involve my 7 month-old baby and a potentially fatal disease.

After I wrote that, Joaquim came down with malaria, same symptoms. Not a good week, but they are both absolutely fine now. I re-counted my blessings when a friend of mine told me her worker’s 10-year-old daughter had died of malaria that morning. It’s no joke.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Oh yes!

Now here's a bit of good news for a change. We've all heard that eating chocolate is good for your state of mind (and surely anyone could tell you that) and it has been suggested that women who eat chocolate during pregnancy have happier babies (must be why mine are so very smiley), but the latest report in the Guardian goes a step further. Apparently, medical research suggests consuming that a few squares of dark chocolate a day halves the risk of heart attacks in some men and women, having a similar effect to aspirin in reducing blood clotting. Yipee! (Maman, I hope you're reading this.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Big blue

Another week-end spent mostly on the beach, two beaches to be exact, making the most of the lovely warm water and beautiful weather (poor us, hard life), so nothing very dramatic to report, but here’s another summary of general Phillips-Marques activity:

Joaquim continues to try to swim, and he’s actually making progress, kicking his feet and starting to doggy paddle. He’s very proud of himself. I’m quite sure my father will do his best to have him swimming without arm bands at Christmas, and he might just succeed. He’s also quite proud of his new cap, found at the local market and decorated with a number of cartoon animals, which I am delighted about as it is almost impossible to get him to wear a hat and he’s running the risk of serious sunburn at this time of year. Looks cute too.

Sebastian, who long ago mastered sitting and is now trying very hard to get up on his hands and knees, is not so sure about the water. He got a bit scared by the splashing and movement – although mild – at Chuiba (one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever had the pleasure to spend time on, and where we have invested in a large tract of beachfront land) and I didn’t take him in again when we moved to a quieter spot inside the Bay, too sunny by then. I reckon he’ll love it too eventually, just needs to get used to it. He’s also starting to clap his hands.

Rebecca is still trying to stay awake, and is having less success in her chosen task than her two boys in theirs. Sebastian has a cold and is waking up every one and half hours or so, at which point he expects me to put him back to sleep – he hasn’t mastered going to sleep on his own yet. I have no such trouble in dozing off at any given opportunity, on my own or in company.

Paulo is considering starting to apply for some NGO or similar positions, getting a little tired of the vagarities of the international commodities market, which seem very rarely to work in our favour. A regular salary is starting to look attractive, although he would not give up the trading altogether, and certainly not the cashew processing.

Work on the house is paused, our truck being busy on other assignments, but we have the foundation trenches dug, and large piles of sand and stone to go into them. Hoping to resume building activities very shortly.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Single-minded? Not my son

Here is a glimpse into Joaquim’s character:

On Sunday, Joaquim and I were painting, and as usual he asked me to paint a plane, then the stairs and the people boarding (he identified them: Joaquim, Daddy). “With their bags,” he says, so I paint them in too. “Joaquim wants to get on a plane.” He gets up and fetches his gardening bag, complete with a few tools for building sandcastles. “Joaquim has his bag. Put shoes on.” I duly put his sandals on (him). “Joaquim is going to get on a plane.” He goes into the house and asks Paulo for a shirt, Paulo obliges. He comes out. “Joaquim is ready. Joaquim is going to get on a plane. Let’s go to the airport!” He gets into the car. “Let’s go to the airport!”

Despite our repeated attempts to persuade him that he wasn’t actually getting on a plane, he then spent the next fifteen minutes – at least – in the car, repeating his mantra very patiently and good-naturedly. His good friend Milan arrived to play with him (Milan is a year older than Joaquim and is his hero). Still he wouldn’t get out of the car. To Milan’s pleas that he come and play, he merely replied – what else? – “Joaquim is going to get on a plane”, and continued to sit in the car for at least another 20 minutes, alone. Finally, who knows why, he realised that perhaps he wasn’t going to get on a plane after all and came out to play, not mentioning it again for the rest of the day. He is two and a half; I take it it’s not going to get any better. God help us when he decides he wants a motorcycle/naked lady tattoo/pet tarantula.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

You've been mangoed!

The mango season is upon us and it’s a cause for celebration. I feel I need to rectify the bad press I’ve been giving mangoes with my reports of mango flies. Let me clarify: mango flies are not related to mangoes in any way. They are known as mango flies because they appear at the same time of year as the mango trees flower. That’s all. So, back to the good stuff, the mangoes themselves.

This year, alas, appears to be a poor year for mangoes: many trees have none at all, others have few. Last year was a bumper crop – I’ve never seen so many mangoes, they rained down on excited children like, well, like ripe mangoes from a laden tree. Despite the poor show this year, I will still be eating as many as possible. Mangoes come but once a year, get your fill during November and December or you’ll regret it later.

I love mangoes. I love the small pink ones that come at the start of the season, a bit stringy but oh so sweet. I love the big green ones, with their firm, plentiful, dark orange flesh, great for eating and for jam too. Best of all I love the round yellow ones, fragrant and tart. I’ll eat all the others too: long, round, flat, small, large, stringy, fleshy, whatever, you give me a mango, I won’t refuse it. All of them are juicy, delicious, sensual, irrisistable, best eaten warm from the tree, with juice running down your arms and chin, or else mixed into a luscious salad with papaya from the tree in the garden, passion fruit from the vine over the bathroom, and the ubiquitous banana, seasoned with a squeeze of sweet green lime. (Can you taste it?)

And in case you were wondering...

... we have been internet-less for almost a week. Likewise the mobile phone network was all but non-existent for over 48 hours. It was a bit as if there had been a coup, but without the tanks in the street. (There has been no coup. Let me just make that clear.)