Ilivetolearn's Blog

July 31, 2013

a whirlwind tour of post-Africa, August 2012 to August 2013

Filed under: crossword puzzles,food/groceries,semi-retirement — ilivetolearn @ 11:32 pm

Highlights of the fall and winter of 2012-3 include:

A canning party in Yardley, during which we put up preserved lemons, tomato chutney, and preserved figs, all in huge quantities:

canningA fun evening at the Watershed Fest:

4 at fest

The seventeenth (!) not-quite-annual wreathmaking party:

wreathAnd a reunion of my freshman-year roommates, forty-whatever years later (part of a huge mini-reunion of the class of “75)


I made my usual sojourn to the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in March, and as usual had a great time but was somewhat bummed out to do worse than last year (oh well, we can’t always improve). This was mitigated by my entry into a local tournament sponsored by Marbles (the Brain Store) in April, at which I came in third and had a chance to do the final puzzle on the board up in front  of everyone. I won’t say how many contestants there were, but it was more than four.


We also added two new pets to the family: another little guinea pig, finally named Chipotle:

chipotleAnd a chinchilla, just now named Godzilla:


So far, the summer has been spent enjoying friends and family at Mattituck, making nine flavors of jam, driving the girls to and from their jobs (Handy Pantry and King Kullen), and doing lots and lots of reading. What could be better?

May 31, 2013

finishing up Africa

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 11:58 pm

sylvia straightAfter our stay at Benguerra, we reunited with the kids and drove south to do one more beach day, at Zavora Dive Center. The above was the view from our lodgings. Once again, we had the beach almost to ourselves, though there were a few others. We swam, snorkeled, collected shells, and Elliot kite-boarded. Good restaurant, hot water–all the perks of a real resort and far superior to Sylvia Shoals. Then off to drive back to Maputo and spend a few days in Elliot’s apartment. Here’s a view of it from outside the walls of the compound:

el aptI guess if you have to live with security gates you might as well have petunias growing all over them. We spent the days doing laundry, watching the Olympics, having a dinner party to meet some of Elliot’s friends and colleagues, and planning the rest of our trip. Then off we went to Jackalberry Lodge, a charming little place very close to Kruger, where we stayed in a nice little cottage

jackalberryate fantastic meals whipped up by the Swiss proprietor, had close encounters with hippos wandering the grounds after dark, and discovered that the only other guests were from…3 miles down the canal path in Yardley. Small world department. From there we went to Kruger for a long day of self-guided game viewing, and had the luck to see a leopard with its catch–at very close range–as well as the usual elephants, hippos, giraffes, rhinos, etc.

Then, a long drive to Springbok Lodge, in a whole different part of the country (near Ladysmith; far inland and high up and very cold). The accommodations were tents, but by far the most luxurious tents I had ever seen, with bathtubs and bed heaters and all the amenities. We went for two game drives a day (sunrise and sunset) with our guide Nicole–another Swiss expat–who was extremely knowledgable and personable. Here we are posing on the vehicle we spent so much time in:

springbokThe last day we visited a cheetah rescue center, and got to get up close and personal with leopards, cheetahs, caracals, serval cats, etc. I think we all liked the baby meerkat best:

meerkatThe very end of our trip was a few days in Swaziland, where of course we went to another game park. The rhinos were the big attraction there (and I purposely didn’t crop out Elliot’s rear-view mirror so as to show how close they were):

rhinosAnd of course everyone goes to Swaziland to shop, as it’s the best place to buy what Elliot calls Afro-crap:

swaziAnd then, laden with candles, soap, textiles, carvings, etc., we got on a plane to fly home. Phew!

April 30, 2013

the best resort in Mozambique

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 7:21 pm


After arriving and being greeted in song, Bill and I were ushered to our own private casita. It was totally charming, secluded, and luxurious. Here’s the interior:

benguerra lodge

The doors on the right led out to our own patio, plunge pool, and steps away, the beach. The second photo is Bill being served a meal by Gilario, our own private butler, at our table under a canopy. Halfway between the casita and the water, our own little beach hut with more lounge chairs (third photo):

benguerra exterior

bill and gilario

benguerra beach view

Pretty nice view, including lovely sunsets:

benguerra sunset

And of course, picturesque fishing boats gliding back and forth all day. A cruise on one was included. We also had massages (and the masseuse mentioned several times that she had recently had the pleasure of working on Mr. Harrison Ford, a guest whose stay unfortunately did not coincide with ours), took a hike along the beach to another resort nearby, swam, did lots of birdwatching, and generally enjoyed living in the lap of luxury. This is a Mozambique that not many people get to see. I somehow doubt that anything we experience while visiting Elliot at his next post (Mexico City) will compare in terms of sheer exoticism, fantastic food, and amazing pampering. (*sigh*)

March 1, 2013

our post-Habitat Africa sojourn

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 12:55 am

Even though the days we spent with Angelica and her family and neighbors and Habitat employees were just a small percentage of our trip, they felt like the most important part. I’m glad they were near the beginning of our weeks, so we got a taste of life in the REAL Mozambique, where most people are truly subsistence farmers, without electricity and running water, and the simple tasks of everyday life take most of the day.

From Xai Xai we drove north, stopping overnight at a totally deserted beach resort called Sylvia Shoals. Elliot had booked it online because he didn’t want to drive all the way to Vilankulo in one day, and thought it would be a treat since it looked slightly more deluxe than Honeypot, where we had stayed during the build. Looked good at first–our cabana, with the kids’ cabana (and Elliot’s car) just visible in the left rear:

sylvia shoals

It was just about dark when we pulled in, and the one employee we scared up told us they were full even though it was obvious we were the only people there. When Elliot convinced him we had a reservation, he fired up the generator so we had lights. Unfortunately there was no running water, but he brought a huge plastic gerry can to the kids’ cabana and we proceeded to warm up some dinner. Margo amused herself swatting mosquitoes with an electric zapper, and we had a hilarious time trying to decant the water into usable jugs, during which process the very old plastic (probably WWII vintage) gave way in two different places and an entire room got soaked; at least half the water disappeared down the bathroom drain.

In the morning we all took a walk on the beach:

sylvia shoals beach

Not another person in sight. Some great shells to be had. Everyone swam but Elliot. Then back for cold dribbly showers (they had fixed a leak so there was some running water), paying of bill, loading of car, and off to Vilankulo for the next adventure.

Elliot had bought a two-night stay at a VERY fancy resort at a fundraising auction and so Bill and I got to live in the lap of luxury while the kids hung out at a kind of hippy-dippy place in Vilankulo. We flew to Benguerra Island on a tiny plane, looking down on this:

view from plane

And were greeted by the staff of the lodge, singing us welcome:

benguerra staff dance

It was sweet but not quite as spirited as the ladies singing at the Habitat build. We were in a very different sector of Mozambiquan society. To be continued…

December 31, 2012

The Last Day

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 1:56 pm

It’s about time I finished up writing about the build so I can go on and do some posts on the other 2 1/2 weeks we spent in South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland. And then — who knows? — maybe even do some chronicling about the 4 months since we’ve been home!
Our fifth and final day was short but sweet. Actually, this day we got the absolute dirtiest, despite having worn somewhat nicer clothing for all the inevitable photos, many of which turned up later on the Mozambique Habitat website. The messiness was due to a little machine designed to spew liquid-y mortar onto the exterior of the house, giving it a textured finish. Here are three wielders of said machine–Oracio, 8, who is one of Angelica’s children and will live in the house, a friend of his, and Bill (getting the high places the kids can’t reach):

oracio flocking bill flocking

The rest of us, meanwhile, were inside one of the two rooms of the house flinging great gobs of mortar onto the walls, which were then smoothed down to a nice finish. It was so unwieldy to do this with gloves on that we all went bare-handed. So we were not only getting ourselves filthy, but a rain of the stuff from the above machines was flying in the windows, only one of which had a plastic sheet stretched over it. It was pretty hilarious.

At about 11 we all stopped for a special lunch (the scrawniest chicken I’ve ever seen, chopped into many many pieces so everyone got some) and then we had the closing ceremony. Many speeches were made and translated, many songs sung, everyone danced, and finally Bill (representing our family) and Angelica and her children went into the house, lighted a candle, and prayed. We had explained that in our (Quaker) tradition we pray silently, so they all sat in the main room while everyone else stood outside with hands on the walls, symbolically showing community support for the family and household.

holding up walls

After a while Margo and I, at one of the windows, decided the silence had gone on long enough. She tried to sneeze the words “say amen” in to Bill, who was oblivious. But eventually the ceremony ended and many group photos were taken:

everyone at very end of build

And then we left, feeling extremely proud of what we had accomplished and amazed by what Habitat can do for so many families in Mozambique.

final with candle

September 30, 2012

day four of the build

Filed under: food/groceries,on the road — ilivetolearn @ 9:55 pm

Day Four was somehow less satisfying than the first three. There wasn’t quite so much dramatic progress, and there was a lot of re-doing of things we had already done. When we got there, the pros were cutting notches at the tops of the walls and sliding in beams to hold up the roof (Bill hopped right up on the scaffolding to help them sister two beams together to make one long enough):

Then they put the zinc panels up:

And then we worked on the window and door openings so the wooden frames could go in. Notice that the window openings look pretty square and neat in the above photos. Well, to cram the frames in, the workers proceeded to chip out concrete, in some cases knocking holes so big we had to slather on pounds of mortar to fill them. This was how they looked when we had redone them after the frames were inserted:

And then James made them all square and beautiful again:

We amused ourselves checking out other houses in the neighborhood, like this cute old-fashioned one behind Angelica’s:

and we watched the next-door neighbors chop down a huge mango tree, and we found this banana tree nearby:

The bananas are full-sized (6-7″) and the weird purple flower hanging below them is enormous! We bought bananas almost every day from a woman on the main road near the build site. It’s amazing how much shopping you can do here without leaving your car. One day we had just stopped–barely off the road, looking for a store–and the minute one of the boys said, “I wish we had a bottle of cold water” an 8-year-old appeared at the passenger-side window with…a huge bottle of cold water.

September 6, 2012

day 3 of the build

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 10:12 am

Today the Habitat professionals–Lucas, James, and Vasco–worked on framing out the windows and building the slanted walls at the sides of the house. We got some grunt work–removing nails from (and scraping dried cement off) the boards that were used for yesterday’s concrete course:

so that these boards could be used again. Mostly they became parts of the scaffolding. They were transported, or course, on female heads:

We also got to build up the back wall of the house

and take many wheelbarrows full of dirt into the house for the subfloor

Notice Evan wearing winter clothing–he started off each day (when it was probably 50 or 55 degrees F) in sweater, scarf, and hat while the rest of us made do with T-shirts and lighter coverings. He’s acclimated to the REAL tropics in Burkina Faso and claims to be cold all the time.  Notice also Bill napping under our mango tree in the background. And to the left of Margo’s shoulder is the cooking area, where this is the daily scene:

The mountain of shima for lunch. Some of the bushes that make up the hedge (and also serve as a drying rack for laundry and a place to hang various pots) are piri-piri plants, so we get freshly-picked hot peppers to smash into the bland shima. It’s starting to feel like home here.

And the house is starting to look homey, too: end of Day Three:

August 24, 2012

Day Two on the build

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 8:47 am

We had been told that the second day on the build would be short, but we ended up being there almost as long as we were on the first day. The first task was to wire lengths of rebar together:

These reinforcing squares (and one triangle for the top on the interior wall) were put in place at the top of the walls we completed yesterday, where the professional builders had rigged up boards. We filled cracks with the same paper bags we had used yesterday to smooth the exterior

then dampened the boards before pouring prodigious amounts of mortar into the trough:

This was about all we could do, since this new course of concrete at the tops of the door and windows had to dry before the next layers were erected. The women had cooked a big lunch, with some fish as well as the ubiquitous shima (a version of polenta that took literally all morning to prepare) and some greens. We all had some:

sitting in the shade under our favorite mango tree.  Here are the baby mangoes, about the size of olives:

As we left, this is how the house looked. The builders are about to make the front stoop with the remains of the concrete we had mixed but not used:

Because we had ended slightly early, we got to go for a sunset jaunt to the beach at Xai Xai (note abandoned hotel, empty since the Portuguese left in 1975):

Only Bill ventured into the water. It is, as Elliot keeps reminding us, winter in the southern hemisphere. We also bought some oysters and the bumpiest lemons I’ve ever seen from a local guy:

The lemons were delicious. The oysters, not so much. Pretty, though.

August 21, 2012

the building process — Day One

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 5:04 pm

As we drove around Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa in the weeks after our Habitat stint, I checked out the architecture. The categories I used: 1) more complex than the house we built, and 2) less complex than the house we built. I tended to walk up to concrete block walls, check out the mortaring and flocking, and make the Africans wonder what the crazy Mulungu (white person) was doing. Here are the construction steps as we learned them:

First, move dozens of concrete blocks into convenient positions around the foundation:

As we used up the blocks already piled in the yard, the ladies took many trips to a nearby lot to carry more. On their heads, of course. Angelica carried a block or two on her head while her baby slept on her back. I decided to try it myself:

Even though the blocks were not that heavy (and in fact, were of such poor quality that some of them literally fell apart in your hands as you moved them) it was very difficult! I had to hold onto it, sometimes with both hands, or risk having it land (and self-destruct) on my foot. Notice how Angelica is barely touching hers. I was told later by a Zimbabwean woman, “You have the wrong head.”

Here’s a shot of the first couple of layers. The pros did the corners and strung up lines to keep the walls straight, and they trusted us to put the blocks along the less complicated parts.

As we used up mortar, more was continually being mixed. This involved digging up “dirt” (actually sand) from a hole that grew larger and larger as the week went on. Bill is 6’4″ so you can see its dimensions by Day Four; Elliot speculated that it could be the next latrine, though the one we used (visible on right in first photo) was very recently dug:

The dirt/sand was put into a pile and shoveled around with cement mix from a bag, then water was added in a wheelbarrow. Of course, no running water onsite. This was also brought on the heads of the women and girls, from a tap many meters distant. They used huge jerry cans, like this one that once held hydrochloric acid, carried by Misteria, Angelica’s teenaged daughter–again, barely touching the jug:

When the mortar reached the right consistency, it was carried in buckets to the workers. Again, the women did this step:

Here we are filling in the gaps between blocks:

By the end of the first day, a moveable scaffold had been erected:

And the spaces for the doors and windows blocked out. This was the final shot as we left at about 3:30:

Bill is “sanding” (or at least smoothing) the surface with a crumpled-up paper bag that had held cement mix. Lucas, the master builder (center) is finishing up the one interior wall.

It was very satisfying to see a house standing where none had been before.  Days Two through Five will have to wait for future posts.

August 6, 2012

more about our Habitat week

Filed under: on the road — ilivetolearn @ 4:34 am

Actually, more about our habitat. We stayed a few kilometers north of the build site at a place called Honey Pot, in cabin #15:


It was pretty deluxe, with two bedrooms and a 4-bed loft, a shower with near-firehose pressure, and its own screened-in braai area (S. African word for barbeque) where we grilled massive amounts of meat, purchased at an amazing butcher shop in Komatipoort, near Kruger, last week. When we asked for a match to light the charcoal we had brought, the management sent a guy with a shovelful of burning coals.

The screens (and obligatory bednets) were necessary because of mosquitoes; the owner, a South African of course, put up some Burma-Shave-style signage:

So far we have not been plagued by mozzys.

The people staying in smaller cabins, or camping in their own tents, had to shower here:

When not at Honey Pot (where really the only disconcerting thing was the guards wandering around with sketchy-looking machine guns slung from their shoulders on lengths of twine) we hung out at Xai Xai beach and ate local oysters purchased from a man who opened one for us with his trusty machete. Photos of that will have to wait until Internet connection is better.



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