Continued Learning

How do you keep your brain fresh? I’ve heard that continued learning courses are a popular way. I found several I’ve wanted to do: PaintingArt JournalPhotography, Doula or Midwife courses with a focus on developing world, and Montessori homeschooling. I probably add a new one to my list every month or so. 




Recently, though, I realized that I’m constantly adapting and learning. My continued learning courses are varied, and brain stretching. They include:

  1. How to pull weeds much more efficiently…using a flat putty knife type thingamajig…see above
  2. How to wrap a sarong and keep it from unwrapping while doing active things like pulling weeds.
  3. How to carry my two year old around on my back, with a sarong.
  4. How to gut a fish without pulling out its eyeballs on accident, and ripping its flesh all up.
  5. How to cut vegetables without a cutting board (did you know that the way we cut our vegetables is a culture thing? Here my friends shake their heads when they see me cutting veggies towards myself with my thumb out to stop the blade. They cut away from themselves with their pointer finger to stop the blade)
  6. How to open noodle wrappers with a knife. I’m usually reduced to using my teeth.
  7. How to cook with only a few ingredients, quickly, and make it seem like there is some variety.
  8. How to plant corn. How to plant lemongrass. How to plant green onions. How to plant beans. How to plant basil. And so on. All without opening a packet of seeds and following the directions.
  9. How to make a compost pile.
  10. How to communicate in my third language. Hey I may only be able to communicate “come eat”, but it’s a start.
  11. What dogs can eat and like to eat. Its harder then just buying dog food….turns out they really like shrimp flavored bouillon mixed with their rice. Oh and raw eggs.
  12. What chickens like to eat and can eat. Easier than dogs, they’ll eat most anything.
  13. How to wash clothes by hand. I’m starting to get the right dipping, and wringing, and scrubbing technique down.
  14. How to make rice. First buy the right kind of rice…there are so many…at least 5 at the market…more in bigger towns. Second winnow it in the special basket…that sure takes a practiced hand. Third pick out the stones. Fourth rinse it and rinse it and rinse it. Fifth put the right amount of water in (the water should be over the first knuckle just a little bit). Sixth cook it.
  15. How to make a fire and cook rice over it (first the fire has to be hot to boil the water, and then it needs to be made low to steam the rice, so it doesn’t burn).
  16. How to make local coffee. Put one almost full tablespoon of coffee and one and a quarter tablespoons of sugar in a mug, pour boiling water over it, give it a good stir, and let it sit until the grounds have settled. Drink up.
  17. How to grind my shallots and garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle.
  18. And so many many many more that my brain feels stretched out sometimes.

A long look at our day


Sometimes I wonder why everything takes so much time. But then I remember convenience stores, and I know why I feel like I can’t get much done in a day, even though I’m working hard.

Here’s how our first Sunday in our new home looked:

Wake up at 5:20 to J climbing into our bed. He squirms instead of calmly cuddling so Mike gets up with him and begins the day. I decide to get up too because I have a hard time sleeping if I can hear them. I try to decide what to have for breakfast…we’ve had different incarnations of eggs for the last three days…because even though I knew we needed it, at the last minute I forgot to buy oatmeal. So it will be another 2 weeks before we get to the bigger town to buy oatmeal. And I never bought baking powder because we didn’t make it to the store that sold baking powder before we left…so no pancakes. And we are all a little tired of rice for breakfast.

I vow that I will be much more prepared next time we come up here.

Then I remember the couscous that I still had miraculously stashed in our stuff from a care package. Couscous on to cook. Raisins, powdered milk, and honey unburied from the mound of un-packed but still un-arranged stuff. Glad I at least have that. Water on to boil for coffee and for drinking water. I’m happy to have my gas burner again (kerosene is a lot more time consuming), even though it is still stacked on top of two totes.

Eat breakfast with the boys while perched on stacks of wood in our living room.

Get ready for church. I can’t find my black shirt to go with my skirt so I decide its time to take our clothes out of our suitcases and stack them in the armoir (we don’t have enough hangars to hang them)…spend about an hour doing that, while getting distracted, and dealing with the cranky boys.

Michael is told by the family living next door that they want to have a short church service and that we should come and read to them. So he sits and thinks about what he will say.

The boys are still cranky and now Michael and I are too.

In come four neighbor girls to hang out. I feel like screaming for the first time since we arrive. I invite them to sit on the porch. Then I run in to get something for Ju….they follow me in again. I remember something I need from the kitchen…they follow me in there. I decide its to much for me so I tell them we are heading to church and that I need to lock up. I lock up. We sit in the house for awhile. I feel better. We decide its time to head over for “church.” We walk in and sit on the cement floor and wonder what we should do since the majority of the audience doesn’t speak the national language. Our friend tells us to start sharing. So Michael shares.

Really good stuff.

He finishes and then the kids all play with my wash machine box that I had brought over the day before because I noticed most of the people were sleeping right on the cold cement floor.

I decide its time to go start lunch. I clean the fish. I’m still not that great at cleaning fish so their eyeballs end up all ripped out…sorry fair reader. And their skin all jagged. But they look decent after frying them in coconut oil. At the same time a neighbor girl and I cut up carrots and potatoes for a soup. I walk around distractedly trying to remember where I stashed the bouillon, where the noodles are, what I was walking over to the fridge for…Finally the fish are fried, the soup is mostly made, and the rice is on to cook in the rice cooker so we make the fresh salsa like thing. We chop up the garlic, shallots, peppers and tomatoes and squeeze in a little lime juice. We set out a stack of plates and spoons. We pour the water that I’d boiled earlier into a pitcher. And then we call everyone to come eat. I forget how many people eat…we’ve had something like 10 every day. I wish I knew how to invite the family that looks very malnourished. But I’m reliant on others since they don’t speak the national language, and others aren’t inviting. Maybe they aren’t sure if we can feed everyone. We probably can’t.

I ask one of the neighbor girls to wash the dishes. But she can’t get any water from the newly hooked up sink. Its not the sink’s fault…without a water pump we are susceptible to water pressure. The sink is a steepish climb for the water so we lose it if the pressure isn’t great. So the neighbor girl hauls water inside from the faucet outside…at least its not all the way from the river.

Michael starts the laundry. We’ve been washing laundry by hand for the last couple of days, and it is a real work out. But Michael just got the wash machine set up so he decides to try it. I think most times I forget that wash machines need three things: electricity, water, and a drain. We ran an extension cord from one of the two outlets in the kitchen to the wash machine. Electricity, check. We ran a hose from the faucet outside, through the open window, to the wash machine to get water. I just have to run outside to turn it off and on. Water, check. We tried to run the drain out the same window, no dice, water doesn’t run uphill. Then we let the water drain into a bucket. Drain, check-ish. We will still have to play with it. I’d love a faucet inside that just gives water at the flip of a handle. I’d love to run the drain hose into a hole in the floor and then never think of it again. But at least I can wash my clothes, sort of. Michael finishes the laundry, and we hang it out together.

I tell everyone that the kids are going to rest so thankfully they get the hint and all evaporate. Michael and the boys nap. The power goes out so they sweat through their nap. I start a project of tidying something or other up. Maybe it was organizing something. Finally I decide to sit and chill and read. Michael wakes up. And wakes G up. They decide to take the car to the river to wash it. They can’t wake Jude up so I sit in the peace and write. It’s lovely.

They come back from the river. J wakes up. They are all hungry. I re-heat the bean soup from yesterday. G doesn’t want it. It is super duper salty, oops. So I mix it with the leftover couscous…then G REALLY REALLY doesn’t want it. I feed J a little bit.

A guy stops by. Michael is bathing so I talk with him for awhile. Then I get the coffee ready. They talk. I entertain the boys and the people out on the porch. J falls asleep on the couch. Then the guy leaves. So we go in. I decide I’m not hungry. G and Michael eat. It’s 8 pm.

We put G to bed. G wakes J so I lay with them while Michael finishes the dishes. I almost zonk with the boys so, I bathe, and talk slurrily to Mike, and then lay down in my own bed and fall mostly right asleep.

Wake up at 11, J is crying. Wake up again some other time. Sleep.

Then Monday starts. And Monday is market. Monday is processing vegetables and fish from market. Monday is a myriad of other tasks.

How to know…

we are living with our national friends…

  1. I find myself talking to myself in the national language…and myself talks back in the national language.
  2. We eat rice four times a day. I mean…three times a day.
  3. I’m learning how to cook on a karosene burner.
  4. J says gong-gong for the sound a dog makes.
  5. G has stopped drinking juice for breakfast, and only drinks tea.
  6. I’m beginning to get into the plots of the local soap operas, and find myself comparing them to Shakespeare. I mean doesn’t this just sound like Shakespeare…the poor girl makes money driving a bus, but because she is getting teased by all the young men, she dresses up as a guy. On the way to the salon to buy her guy wig, she gets almost hit by a boy that she saw in her dreams. The rich boys’ car breaks down. When the poor girl comes out of the salon and gets back into her bus, the rich boy flags her down (shes now disguised as a guy) and asks her to take him and his rich mother to the train station. At the train station station they meet with the rich girl who he is betrothed to. Somewhere along the line the rich girl who the rich boy is betrothed to falls in love with the female bus driver dressed up as a man. So she breaks off her betrothment. The rich boy doesn’t know what to do. The rich girls gets her heart broke. But the rich boy and poor girl get to be together at last. 
  7. The boys get to play with dogs and chickens and goats and ducks. Don’t ask which ones are eaten.