Happy New Year! Remember… Nothing is Impossible

Most would agree that the New Year is the best time to sell salads and gym memberships and that by late January, most promises made over champagne in the early hours of January first are slowly chipped away to leave nothing but memories of what we hoped would be.

Like you, I have read many of those tips through the years like: write it down, tell a friend, find little ways to make yourself accountable, etc. But, when it comes down to it, it really isn’t a complicated formula.

In my house, we have a little way of reasoning which has often made my children wish that I had laryngitis. When a teenager enters the room with an excuse as to why they forgot their homework and couldn’t turn it in, or an elementary school aged child tries to explain how they didn’t have time to clean their room…. The response goes a little like this: “If the house was on fire and you had to clean the room before you could leave it to save yourself from burning… you’d have gotten it done.” Or, “if I had left a $100 bill on the table next to your homework and told you that you could only have it if your homework assignment was turned in to your English teacher on time; you would have turned it in.”

Needless to say my children cringe and wish I lived on a remote deserted island when I use this line of reasoning. But, I don’t feel too badly because I often use it on myself as well.

So, as we all ring in the New Year together this year, I won’t bother you with lists of ways to keep yourself on track or bore you motivational speeches on the merits of keeping your word to yourself because you are worth it. You know all of that already. You know the whys and how’s. As my son, R, says so often: “Nothing is impossible”.

What I’d like to do instead is share a few of the things I will be doing in 2015. Not things I hope to do, want to do or will try to do. Instead, things I will do. The biggest decision has been made already: These ARE things I find worth the sacrifice to make happen. So, they will happen.

1. Become fluent in a another language and attain a basic conversational level in 1 more
2. Unveil our exciting new project in late Spring 2015
3. Add a new cooperative to our Mama Afrika family
4. Choose healthy ingredients, amazing friends and always, always… choose joy, hope and love.

I’m excited to hear what great and exciting goals you have set for yourself this next year. I’d love to hear what places you are doing to visit, what ways you will walk out of this New Year better, healthier, more successful and more well-traveled than you are entered it.

Share. Then, we can meet throughout the year for you to tell me how much fun it is along the way!
I wish you all the happiest, healthiest and most prosperous New Year that you have ever had. And yet, I hope it is only the beginning of a bunch of even better years to come.

Blessings,
Mama

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Bloom Where You Are Planted

“Bloom where you are planted.” –Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622)

When I first read this quote, I had no idea that it was initially written by St. Francis de Sales.  In fact, it was a regular old day in the Paris metro, when I saw a sticker placed on the dreary grey walls of the underground tunnel leading from one metro station to the other.  It first caught my eye because it was written in English and was printed in cheerful, bright colors.  For some reason it has stuck with me all these years.

When thinking about what to write for today’s blog post, my mind kept coming back to all of those men and women who are living difficult lives and yet smiling through it.  We all know them, be they a grandmother, neighbor or friend.  We meet them on the street or in the market and we already know their circumstances: difficulty finding a job, family member battling a tough disease, suffering depression or just struggling daily to make ends meet because they make very little at the only job they could secure for themselves.  But somehow, they manage to smile when they greet us; they ask us how we are doing and seem genuinely concerned.  They are the kind of people who do what they can with what they have.   Then, instead of complaining about the missing parts, they look for solid solutions and opportunities to improve their lot.

I’d like to thank them all, wherever they may be and most of all; I’d like them to know how much they mean to me.  You see, perseverance is a form of encouragement.  Doing the right thing is a way of encouraging others to do the same.  When I see a friend or stranger who clearly lives by the principle “Bloom where you are planted”; I am inspired to try too to make the best of the conditions I have.

I don’t write this to say that it is wrong to feel discouraged.  I understand completely that there are times that we feel like we are spinning our wheels and getting absolutely nowhere.  I know what it’s like to work on a project only to see that it isn’t growing as fast as I know it needs to.  There are times that I wonder what kind of impact one person can make on issues as broad as poverty, human rights or showing others the infinite possibilities there are for a continent as rich in resources and talent as Africa is.

Sunflowers

Yet, it seems that each time I find my mind entertaining these thoughts which enter like a cloud blocking the sunlight; that little light pierces through in the form of a person who is doing it: blooming where they are planted.  And by means of their tenacity, they inspire me to do the same.  They also remind me that a field of flowers is made up of single blooms which happen to be in the same location.

So, as we work to help others, let us also remember to help each other along the way.  I know how much it has helped me to know good people like Geoff, Nigel, Freweini, Neritia and the many others who inspire me to do what I can do and understand that it might not be enough to “change the world”; but that it does have some impact, even if just to be one of the many flowers which make up a field that is in full bloom.

Blessings,

Mama

Lent: It’s Not What You Give Up

Photo source: CatholicFreePress.org

Photo source: Catholic Free Press

While talking to a friend of mine recently, he asked: “What is it that you say to people on Ash Wednesday? I mean, is it Happy Ash Wednesday? Nah, probably not, right?  After all, it’s when you have to give something up… probably not so happy.”  I found the question an interesting one as well as a great reminder of the Joy of the Lenten season.  You see, most people tend to focus on the sacrifice and absence of things that they give up.

If you aren’t Catholic or Orthodox Christian (Copt, Russian or Greek Orthodox, etc.); you might be interested in knowing that Lent is not just about sacrifice.  It is composed of 3 parts in essence: 1- sacrifice, 2- prayer and 3- charity.  Some could read this to mean: 1- quit eating chocolate and have fish sandwiches each Friday 2- go to church on Sundays and 3- drop a few dollars in a donation can for <fill in the blank> charity the next time you see one.  Those people couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I’ll skip over the obvious spiritual argument as to why that line of thinking leads you nowhere.  After all, I’m no religious scholar and each person’s faith is their own.  But, it is also clearly flawed logic for another reason: it does what I think we can agree is a silly mistake to make in life: missed opportunity.  Regardless of whom you are and what you believe: this is a 40 day long opportunity to be better and to help others live better in the process.  To dig down deep and do those things we say we’ll eventually get around to, you know?

So, I have been wondering a lot over the past couple of weeks how I could turn this Lenten season into something that benefits Africa.  You see, each year when my children are young, I explain to them that there are really two purposes to the Lenten season.  The first of these is a sense of preparing ourselves through cleansing, prayer and fasting for the great celebration of Easter.  But the second is a matter of using this wonderful opportunity to improve ourselves, our families and our world by creating new habits that we will ultimately make permanent.  Lent offers us an extra chance to create good habits while mutually supporting each other as we do so.  It is always easier to accomplish goals when others are routing for you.

Thus, let’s use this blog as a way to keep a dialog going.  Whether you are Buddhist, Jewish, Agnostic or Baptist… take up the 40 day challenge and let’s talk a bit each day about how we can (each at our own level and in our own way) help Africans live better lives.  I’ll pop in each day to give you a suggestion and to hear what ways you add to the list.  And you can do the same.  Let’s challenge each other, support each other and share our ideas as to what little (or big) things we can do each day… whether those be one-time ways to help or new habits to make… share them here!

After all, Lent isn’t about what you give up… it’s just about what you give, be it prayer, time or talent.  What will YOU give to Africa these 40 days?  What talent do you have that could be of use?  How will you use a few minutes of your time to change a life for the better?  How will you use your resources to bring focus to an area of Africa’s development, challenges or beauty?
I’m really looking forward to your ideas.  And, now that the first day is almost over… just 39 left to go!

Blessings,
Mama

Ooops, No End of The World…. (again!)

So, here we are, facing the end of the world (again).  What to do?

I will avoid the jokes about those who have stockpiled food, joined cults who convinced them that they were the only way to avoid sudden death, or those who hiked to far off mountain tops in France or Peru hoping to meet aliens who would sweep them off to a planet where all would be well… After all, I’m sure there are lots of people who have dedicated their entire day to making others laugh with punch lines they’ve worked long and hard on.

Luckily, the Mayans were right on one count: the world didn’t end today (—yes, most people miscalculated).  I am hoping though that instead of worrying ourselves silly about what the exact date is for the end of time; we will instead focus on what matters: HOW we are living each of those days that we wake up and have opportunity.

Look, none of us know when the world is going to end.  But, I suspect we’ll have a little better clue than a pretty, round calendar which even the Mayan people says doesn’t mean the end of the world; but the end of an era.  To be honest though, even as a Christian woman, I hope that the Mayan prediction is right.  I hope this will be a new era.  One in which we think of others before we think of ourselves.  One in which we think about the impact of our actions and choices before we decide even the simple things.  I hope that we have used this opportunity to think about the fact that anyone can die at any time.  For some, it is a tragic accident or disease that no one can cure.  But for others, it is ultimately poverty that causes their death.  Whether they cannot afford to eat healthy food, have access to clean water or pay for medications which would be readily available (and sometimes free) if they lived in another part of the world.  Some will die because they had the misfortune of being born a girl in a land where women aren’t respected.  Others will be killed for their religious beliefs, their desire to speak the truth or because they hold hands or kiss someone before they are married.  And yes, many will be killed before they are born because they have the misfortune of being a girl child in a nation or culture which has a preference for boys.  Still others will live, only to be denied the most basic of human rights.

Well, today you and I are given an opportunity, as we have been given every day thus far: We have the opportunity to make this day matter.  Whether by a gesture, a donation, or just the way that we choose what gift to offer to a friend, what food to feed our own children or what words we speak… we have a great opportunity to become the “New era” that people are talking about in the Mayan culture.  Ultimately you see, we are all people and we could all use a new era: One in which we put others before ourselves.  Not in that awkward “New Age” mumbo jumbo kind of way which implies we all have to dress like hippies or risk being called hate mongers.  But, rather in a concrete manner which creates, choice by choice, word by word, a new lifestyle.  One where we enjoy life every day and work toward helping others enjoy their lives too.

I’m not talking about religion or telling you to change your belief system.  I’m saying this: There were millions of people discussing this latest round of doomsday predictions.  Heck, I think that in 2011-2012, the world “ended” 20 or more times, right?  Well, I can’t help but think that if just half of those people talking about it decided to instead spend the same amount of time living as if it might actually be true every day of their lives… there would be a lot less suffering in the world.  At times like this, I keep coming back to the tune that so many of you already know:

Some of you might know that country song by Tim McGraw called “Live like you were dying”

I’m going to spend today like I spend most of my days: Living like I were dying… and like I am able to prevent someone else from dying through my choices.  I’m dropping off a couple of Christmas gifts to friends that are gift baskets full of organic and fair trade items that they can enjoy with their families.  I’ll touch base with the cooperatives that I work with and see if I can be of service to them today.  I’ll talk to a lady I know who is having a tough time this holiday season because she is alone.  I’ll drink another cup of fair trade coffee from Zimbabwe and pray for the farmer’s hands who picked the beans.  I’ll connect with friends on Twitter and Facebook and I’ll thank God that I’m here another day to do it all.  Then, tonight, I’ll hug my family members and tell them how grateful I am for their love and support.

Then, if the sky really is falling: I won’t care.  Because worse than death, is regret.  And I won’t have any of that to freak me out. I’m really far from perfect; but I’m trying to live a life based in love for others and appreciation for what blessings I have.

If you are celebrating Christmas soon, I wish you a very merry Christmas.  If you are instead Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist or of another faith… I wish you the very brightest and best New Year to come.  And I sure am happy to know that we have the opportunity to build a new era together.  I am sure we can do it, one kind gesture, one loving word and one responsible decision at a time.

Blessings,

Mama

100th Blog Post and Some Big News

I’m certainly no numerologist, but I do know that the number 100 has significance in many cultures. And even if I’m not a Korean mother preparing to celebrate her baby’s “100 days”, nor a biblical scholar counting the chapters in the Epistle of Paul; it has significance to me. Because this, my friends, is my 100th blog post!
I was tempted to do what you probably expect I would have done: become nostalgic and write about how much I’ve enjoyed blogging, been inspired by those who have joined me at Mama’s Round Table and loved getting to know my readers better through our contact via comments left on the blog or social media like Twitter or Facebook. Of course, I feel all of those things. But, I’m not going to write about them.
Instead, I’m using my 100th post to introduce an alter-ego of sorts: Mama Europa. This is where you’ll find me blogging about France, Italy and beyond…
Don’t think for a moment that it means I’ll be posting here less, because I won’t. Africa is my priority, and will always remain so. I am still absolutely dedicated to doing what I can to improve the lives of African women and children: from Ghana to Eritrea, from Tunisia to South Africa.
I wrote a few blogs last summer about a few of the connections between Europe and Africa. But, if you are a history buff, you already know that the ancient Greeks and Romans have strong ties to Northern Africa. If you love to cook, you know that spices and recipes have crossed the Mediterranean for ages and that the culinary influence between the two continents is strong.
The Roman Empire had a black African Caesar, Egypt’s strongest, wisest leader, Cleopatra was Greek… the historical connections are endless. And, they aren’t just about Europe colonizing Africa either. Yes, there are still negative effects of that terrible period. It is undoubtedly a subject worth covering; but I feel that the subject matter is already well covered.
I would like to focus on the positive connections without overlooking the negative effects. Not only because of dear friends like Tomás, clearly a European with a love and passion for Africa that is absolutely undeniable. But also because I think that all peoples have a story that is worth hearing.
We now live in a world where we are as likely to have a friend in Kenya as in Korea, where people travel across the planet for business or pleasure and where we can log onto our computers and talk to our grandmother or cousin nine time zones away while seeing their beautiful smile. I’m looking forward to the adventures ahead with my new blog; but I’m equally excited about the next 100 blog posts here at Mama Afrika’s World.  I’m working on a few really interesting posts and have some great interviews lined up, one of which is a follow-up with a guest many people have asked about, Nigel Mugamu. Thanks to everyone for your support and interest!
You know my mantra: “Dialog matters”.  So, I am really looking forward to continuing the dialog here while my new blog will be a place where I hope to begin many conversations with you about France, Italy and beyond…
Love,
Mama

Love is Not a Big Thing; It’s a Million Little Things

I’ve spent time on this blog talking about politics, sustainable development, women’s issues, AIDS and even recipes.  I’ve interviewed people I really respect like Freweini Ghebresadick and I’ve even interviewed world leaders like President Kagame of Rwanda.  But, today I want to talk about something simple, yet completely transformational: Love.  Without it, life can be a dark place to be.  With it, all things are possible.
Yesterday, I passed the day playing tourist with my family.  When I entered a little shop, I noticed that they sold lots of those little signs that you hang here or there which have sayings about life on them.  You know.  The ones like “Friends gather here”, “Live, laugh, love” and others like that.  But then I saw one which really caught my eye and made me think of Africa: “Love is not a big thing; it’s a million little things”.  Granted, I’m sure that the person who painted that little sign had something else in mind when they painted it; but life is about perspective, isn’t it?  And for me, it was the inspiration for this blog post.

I’m often asked why I have dedicated so many years of my life to Africa.  I have a decent education and could have done a lot of other jobs that pay a pretty good salary after all, right?  I speak a couple of languages, have traveled to a few countries and have been offered a job or two along the way.  But, why do I continue to work for virtually nothing in order to help children, most of whom I’ve never met in person?  Why have I been up burning the midnight oil worried about sales, working on new projects, creating new partnerships or praying for families in Rwanda, Ghana or Lesotho?
In short, what gives me such a deep love of Africa?  Well, love is not a big thing; it’s a million little things.  It’s the smiling faces of women and children like Janet and her son in Kampala.  It’s the pain in the hearts and voices of our cooperative members in Lesotho who have lost so many family members and friends over the years to AIDS.  It’s reading a letter from girls in Rwanda whose lives have been changed so much because their adoptive mothers could put food on the table… and knowing how much a little thing like selling a pack of their greeting cards changes for them after losing everyone in the genocide years ago.  Love is hundreds of sales made to hundreds of people who wanted to do their part after hearing about the weavers, carvers, farmers and other cooperative members we work with.
Love is Cori doing her shopping for her nieces and nephews each Christmas to help them feel tied to their father’s native country of Ghana.  It’s not a giant check for $10,000; but it is the million times she talks about fair trade with her friends and family, sips a cup of our Red Bush Tea or is sincerely excited to see what kind of Christmas ornaments our cooperative in Uganda created this year.  You see, Cori’s million little things are what will change Africa’s future.  Each seemingly small gest adds up to what matters: Love.
I used to love the saying: Love is a verb.  I still do I guess.  But, now that I’ve heard this new quote, I think I prefer it even more.  After all, how is a great romance lived if not through a million little memories which total up to a big love?  How do you raise children, except through a million little conversations, gestures, meals and acts of kindness?  In the end, they total a big experience called parenthood.  Friendships, the kinds that really matter to us, are made up of millions of small cups of tea shared and all of those many moments lost in laughter, tears, support and concern.  It isn’t because she bought you a giant gift at Hanukkah or because she lent you a lot of money when you really needed it.  Sure, those things are helpful and even memorable.  But, real friendships are built on a million little things.  Just as we look back on those little things when we reach the end of our life; just as we can’t make bread without that little pinch of salt… life is made of the small things.
I don’t love my children simply because I gave birth to them.  I love each of them because of their own “million little things”: the way #1 works so hard, yet plays so hard; the way #2 reminds me of old African storytellers and has the beauty of a Roman goddess; the way #3 is talented beyond measure and the way that little #4 has courage and strength way beyond her very young age.  I could go on listing for hours.  My love for Africa is no different.
I love Africa because of the deserts crossed regularly by the Tuareg families headed by people like Boubacar, who taught me so much about the art of leather-work and jewelry we occasionally carry.  I love Africa for because of the beauty of Zulu women like Elizabeth, when her eyes light up as she laughs. My love for Africa comes from knowing how eloquent the Ghanaian’s like Dominic are when they speak.  The style is absolutely charming every time and often makes me think of the great orators of history.  None of that rushed, hurried, get-to-the-point kind of conversation had in the West; but instead, almost prose inspired ways of saying “How are you Sister, since we last spoke?” in a way that only someone from Ghana can.  I love Africa for the incredible history in places like Lalibela, Ethiopia and the breathtaking beauty of its ancient Coptic churches. I love Africa for its diversity: of ethnicity, of cultures, of religions, of geography of foods, of people.  I love Africa for the ancient empires like that of the Great Zimbabwe as much as for the modern day Zimbabweans who grow those delicious beans in my daily cup of coffee.

Carved out of rock, then hollowed out to form a beautiful Coptic Orthodox church, Lalibela Ethiopia is one of many reasons I love Africa.

Even if there might be some “big ones” that others site, I love Africa for a million little reasons.  What are a couple of your million little reasons to love Africa?  I’d love to hear them!

Love, Mama

Via Sir Nigel: Operation of Hope offers free cleft surgeries-29 July

I’m sure that many of you know how much I like stopping over at Nigel’s blog to see what he’s up to in Zimbabwe.  Here is something I just had to share with you.  If you know anyone who could benefit from the good work that Operation of Hope will be doing in Harare this summer… be sure to spread the word!

 

Dear Friends:

Please help us get the word out to anyone (regardless of age) that is in need of free cleft surgery-

Cleft palate: hole in the roof of the mouth
Cleft lip: slit at the lip

Operation of Hope is a 23 year old foundation and has performed more than 3,000 free surgeries in people in need. Consisting of all volunteers, this surgical team has been in Zimbabwe since 2006 and has performed more than 550 free surgeries at NO cost to the patient and their families.

If you know of someone in need of cleft surgery, please bring have them bring all pertaining medical records on Screening Day, Sunday, July 29th, 2012 by 8:30 am to Harare Central Hospital- (paeds ward)
Please contact Jennifer Trubenbach, President of Operation of Hope if you have questions and/or concerns.

Warmest regards,
Jennifer

http://www.operationofhope.org

 

Nige, thanks again for always taking the time to share good news with us.

And to the folks at Operation of Hope: THANK you for your good works in Africa!

Love,

Mama

(We’re) All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day, a day to celebrate all of those saints, both known and unknown.  Regardless of whether you are celebrating the holiday today or not though; there is certainly something to be learned from it.  You see, saints are those who have shown the way.  They are ordinary people who came into the world in the same way that you or I did.  Some were born rich, others poor.  Some were particularly gifted; others had great physical deformities which made their lives particularly difficult.

But, all of them have one thing I common: they overcame obstacles while walking the on the high road.  You see, it isn’t some angel that comes down from heaven and makes you a saint by decree.  These people were just that: people.

What makes us different in the end? It certainly isn’t our potential because we all have that.  I’d argue that it’s our choices. Let’s face it, it isn’t easy to act with patience or kindness when the person we have facing us is particularly difficult, crass or disrespectful.  We know the “right thing to do”; but we tend to be focused on our own goals, our own pride, our own needs and those daily struggles which seem to sometimes remove our ability to see the much greater picture.  It is part of being human after all.

Let me be very clear: I am not writing this in an attempt to convert you to a different religion or to burden you with guilt. What I want you to know though is that the reason that saints are so wonderfully important to me is that they show me what can be done… because they have done it.

Superheroes in their capes are great fun.  But because they are fictional characters, they are only that: fun.  We can dress up to look like them; but it doesn’t make us able to fly or shoot spider webs from our hands.

Saints though have done those things that we strive to do and they’ve done it under the harshest of circumstances.  The one thing they all have in common is that they didn’t let go of their belief of what is right.  So, whether you believe in literal saints or not and regardless of how or to whom you pray; isn’t this something that we can all agree on: Miracles are possible and regular people are the tools that make it happen.

Many of you have worked to improve the lives of others, some of whom you will never meet.  To those people, you were saints. Perhaps you (like me!) wouldn’t want people to know all of the errors you’ve committed in life. You might not want to have your mistakes printed in the local newspaper.  The thing is that is why you are human.  I know I’d never come close to passing even the most rudimentary stages of the scrutiny involved in attaining sainthood! But, I can say that I look to the perfect example of how to be and it inspires me to know that even I can be a concrete tool for the creation of good things in the life of someone else.

When I imagine myself throwing a dinner party for a group of saints, I think of whom I’d like to have next to me for interesting dinner conversation and many of you would be invited. Among my guest list would be a few friends like Geoff, Nigel, Kathleen, Tomas, Ida, Paul, Dominic, Freweini… Hmm, now that I think about it: It would have to be a really large dinner table!

There are hundreds of people whose paths have crossed mine over the years who have made me strive to work harder, smarter and more faithfully to improve the lives of African women and children.  There are those who simply stopped to encourage me along my own journey.  Many others skipped one of life’s little pleasures in order to make a small donation to our cause.  I’ve met women who decided to offer their own child one less gift for their birthday or at Hanukkah or Christmas in order to donate so that one of our coop members could see her child receive a present or school supplies.  We have received orders for multiple gift baskets with a note that says that someone is committing to only offering fair and ethically traded gifts to their friends and family.  Some businesses decide to throw an office party using our larger gift baskets instead of offering small individual gifts to their employees.

Then there are those who pray for our women, fundraise for them or invite me to come speak so that we can spread the word about concrete and efficient ways to help. Every single person who acts is a piece of the puzzle. Every individual is a saint to us.

Happy All Saints Day everyone and thanks so much for each act, each purchase and each voice… we’d be nowhere without them!

Love,

Mama

The Root Causes of Famine

Regularly, there they are… those same images.  Sure the faces change and occasionally, so do the names of the countries affected.  But at the end of the day, it’s the same story: millions of people starving to death.  As someone who has been working to alleviate poverty for years now; I can tell you that many of the root causes are the same.

This is the first time that the international community has used the term “famine” since almost a million Ethiopians died of starvation in 1984.  And, as with that situation, we could see the lead-up and it was clearly predictable.

One issue is rarely discussed during the “panic stage” of the immediate crisis is bad land policy and goodness knows there is enough to talk about where that subject is concerned!  With better land policy, many governments could avoid facing the cyclical problem of starvation, food aid, starvation…  Instead, so many are content to defend the redistribution (forcibly) of the land of small family-owned farms giving millions of acres to foreign governments instead of investing in local farmers who will produce food not only for their own families; but for the nation at large.

The biggest losers in this continually bad decision making process are women and children.  Women produce 80% to 90% of Africa’s food and that means that no one eats if African women aren’t given the tools that they need to be successful.  Land is the most basic of those needs.  Unfortunately, only 5% of all titled land belongs to women in Africa and the same percentage applies to women in training and extended services.  So, the numbers are simply turned on their heads: 90% of food production by women; yet more than 90% of the time, they are not who governments look to help.  This is bad math, plain and simple.

So, understanding that women are the backbone of domestic food production, one wonders why there is little or no technical support for these women farmers.  It is even more worrisome once you learn that in places where women are targeted through even small pilot programs which encourage (and train) women to have small plots of land called “city gardens”; food production increases.  This is a huge benefit for their children who then have access to more nutrition.  Many of us who work in development in Africa can tell you that investing in women produces real and lasting results.  It is a sad shame that so many international organizations and government don’t seem to get the point!

I’m certainly not an expert on the subject; but I think that the most important things to address if we really want to solve the problem in the long-term are these:

  • Women must have independent access to land if we want to eradicate poverty.  With ownership, they will gain the ability to make decisions and get loans among other things.
  • Lack of human rights, women’s rights among them, is an issue that might not come to mind immediately when thinking about famine; but it is certainly a relevant topic.  Consider the following:
    • Currently, even amid one of the worst famines in decades, the Islamist group, Al-Shabaab of Somalia is refusing to allow food to be delivered to the starving, considering aid agencies as “infidels”.  Many governmental organizations (in the U.S. and elsewhere) are concerned (legitimately, in my view)
    • Flashback to the past:  This problem isn’t anything new or original.  Using the poor as a weapon is done more often than you may know.  During the terrible famine in the Horn of Africa, the Ethiopian government refused to allow aid through to Eritrea (before Eritrea got independence.) arguing that it could fall into the hands of “the enemy”.
    • Acts such as burning trees, crops, etc. in order to prevent people from supporting rebel or government forces is an all too common “weapon” used during conflicts.  Act such as these can even cause or exacerbate famine, even more so if there is a drought.
  • It is simply not possible to have food security without general security.  How can we expect crop returns to matter in areas where people are fleeing from conflict or being chased out of their homes and villages? The lists of countries is a long one; but one need look no further than the Horn of Africa for starters.  But the same has been true in many parts of the continent.
  • The lack of long-term planning creates strong, powerful “aid” agencies.  But, who is ultimately being aided?  It seems a fair assessment to state that the creation of hundreds of high-paying jobs in the humanitarian sector is not what will aid the development of Africa and improve the lives of women or their families.
  • Rural credit access must be available to women as well as training and information concerning markets, etc.
  • High global food prices are making (and will continue to make) buying food aid even more difficult.  We keep hearing about this; but isn’t it even more important to ask ourselves why on earth food aid is being brought in from countries like the United States when there are African countries able to export food instead?  It seems like a pretty common sense solution after all: Let the women of one African nation provide food for others who need it.  Even in urgent situations where food aid is needed; why aren’t international organizations supporting regional African farmers so that they can further prevent poverty for Africans?
  • Development policies which consider the specific needs of women (versus men).  Policies crafted around men’s needs are not always the most efficient or helpful for women; so why aren’t women being consulted at local, national and international levels when policy is being developed?

 

This is an old problem and we are in need of new thinking.  We must stop repeating the errors of the past and expected new results.  That is after all, the very definition of insanity, right?

OK, so now is the most important part: Tell me YOUR viewpoint!  As I always say: “Everyone has something to add to the discussion! Let us talk, then, get to work on the long-term solutions”
Love,

Mama

10 Steps to a Great Cup of Coffee

Many of my friends already know how much I love coffee, African coffee in particular.  The thing is: I used to like coffee; but only a little.  I always thought coffee was OK and I never really felt that “kick” that many people drink it for.  So, it was a beverage like any other.  Honestly, it didn’t even rank in the top 3 for me.  I was never able to understand when people spoke of how dreary their day was because they hadn’t had their morning cup of Joe. I used to meet friends at the local (or large chain) coffee shop and sit and sip a latté.  But it was the experience, not the drink that made me truly happy.  I didn’t need the caffeine and could even have a cup immediately before going to bed with no real effect.  I had purchased those expensive whole bean coffees, bought an espresso machine, dealt with cleaning the blasted thing and still I couldn’t identify with those “coffee snobs” who talked about what was in their cup the way some people describe wine or expensive Cuban cigars (No, I’m not recommending you start smoking!). Terms like: bold, fruity, notes of chocolate… Frankly, they meant nothing to me.  Man, have times changed!

You see, ever since I starting selling fair trade (and often organic) African coffees… I fell in love. I had no earthly idea what I was missing all of those years! Once I learned “the basics” from my coffee roaster, my life was changed.  I’m talking night and day here!  I still remember that first shipment of freshly roasted African coffee: I didn’t even have to open the box to smell it: incredible to the senses!  I ground a batch immediately and put it into my regular old Mr. Coffee, adjusting the setting to “strong”.  With those few little bits of advice from our roaster… my life transformed.

I still don’t feel that “eyes wide open” feeling that many of you get from coffee.  But, I smile a little bit less in the morning when I don’t have my “cup of Africa” as we call it in my house.  You see, I am in love with African coffees now.  In love with the deep rich flavor that comes with freshly ground beans that wree roasted just days before.  I’m going to share with you the tips that I’ve learned over the years.  Some seem elementary; but if you are used to that “other stuff”; many of these steps aren’t worth the time they take.  After all, if you are using coffee that was ground months ago… the type of water might not make much difference!  Try these steps though… all of them… and you might just find out what I did: Coffee is magical. It’s a way to enjoy travel: Every morning, I feel like I’m sitting with a dear friend in Ethiopia, Kenya, Zambia or Zimbabwe and drinking in the sounds and sights of Africa while sipping that simple pleasure called coffee.  Join me!

10 Steps to a Great Cup of Coffee

  1. Believe it or not, you really don’t need an expensive espresso machine to make a great cup of coffee.
  2. Always use freshly roasted beans.  Coffee loses flavor over time; so freshly roasted beans are always your best bet.
  3. Clean your grinder and coffee brewer regularly to prevent build-up of oils which can alter the flavor of your coffee and eventually give it a rancid flavor.
  4. Grind your coffee beans immediately before brewing. Exposure to air slowly makes coffee grounds taste stale.
  5. Use the right setting on your grinder (depending on your brew method).
  6. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: start with 2 tablespoons of coffee per 6 ounces of water.  Adjust based on your personal taste.
  7. The higher the quality of the water, the better the quality of your coffee.
  8. When making drip coffee, it is best to stir or swirl the pot when finished to thoroughly mix the coffee because the coffee toward the bottom will be stronger since it was brewed first.
  9. If you are making your coffee in advance; don’t leave your coffee on the burner or warmer or it can scorch and change the flavor.  Use a thermos instead.
  10. If you want to remember only one phrase I’ve written, make it this one: Freshly roasted, freshly ground, freshly brewed… and fair trade of course! 😉