Monday, August 31, 2009

The Times and Life of Byron Emil Johnson (Junior) aka American Boy

So if you know me you know I like birthdays. Mine, my wife's, yours (yes even I'm talking to you 415). They're good opportunities for reflection and celebration. What did you do this year. We're rotating around on this ball of rock and water 365 times as it revolves around a ball of gas in an infinite sea of darkness. It actually rather absurd when you think of it. SO what did you do to make interesting, to make it pop and sizzle. For an adult that might be a hard question to answer. We get bogged down in the day to day but if you have a child in your life a year becomes a series of miracles, milestones and something else appropriate that starts with an “m” (insert your own, I can't hold your hand all night).

Last year I co-hosted BJPalooza. But a party is only a party if they're people to attend it. SO this year all I can do is give BJ the gift chronicling (a gift he won't appreciate till he is grown but c'est la vie ← LOOK FRENCH!) With that in mind I present the first two incredible years in what we hope will be an incredible life.

Since BJ's birth he has...

Been held before family and friends and dedicated to God.

Garnered more nicknames that should allowed by law (Mowgli, Captain Sugey, Mr. Kickums, Moon Man, Bam Bam, BJsquared, WeeJ, The People's Baby, Monkey, Lovebug, Ham and Cheese, Bub).

Traveled by plane, train and automobile to and through New York, Georgia, Virgina, and Maryland.

Become a patron of the arts: exploring D.C.'s Art-O-Matic, and the Brooklyn Museum.

Slept beneath the painted walls of his own muraled room.

Listened to Jazz at the Corcoran Gallery and the kalimba at the S. Dillon Ripley

Center at the Smithsonian Institute.

Shown that unlike his father and grandfather, his strength may be in music and performing arts instead of visual arts.

Hammed and Cheesed his way through his first Christmas performance

Learned all the notes (not so much the words) to Estelle's album Shine (She sings “American Boy” BJ's absolute favorite song in the entire world) and a host of other songs. I'm really most proud of his rendition of Bob Marley's Hammer. Its a simple and lesser known but BJ makes it fabulous

Been witness to the madness that is the Sakura Matsuri festival in Washington and the Maryland Renaissance Festival (next time he goes he'll be in full costume for both).

Run across the National Mall, America's front yard (and played with some strangers kite).

Decided definitely and declared definitively long before his first birthday No... I will not eat baby food any longer; has since gone on to eat truffles, escargot and most recently Lebanese olives with the pit.

Popped teeth out of his head in direct defiance to my threat that if he didn't get a tooth by the time he turned 1 he wasn't getting any cake (relax I would have given him the d@mn cake. I was just trying to inspire the boy and it worked. )

Been issued a passport at just 6 months old

Traveled to 4 countries on said passport (South Africa, France, Niger, and Benin)

Traveled to Africa (twice)

Always found kindness from strangers no matter where he traveled (more often than not in the form of some strange womens' laps)

Visited the National Zoo and the Zoo Parc in Cap Ferat, France

Proven zoos to be overrated as neither of them has allowed him
to pet Lions,
be followed by Zebras,
chase Giraffes and
splash in the Niger river a few meters downstream from 7 Hippos (all opportunities that Africa has afforded him)

Slept through a flat tire on a road parallel a game preserve

Stepped foot in the crystal clear Mediterranean sea

seen the Atlantic Ocean from BOTH sides

Watched the sun rise in Johannesburg

Watched a storm roll in over and out and watched the resulting rainbow atop the Eiffel Tower.

Strolled under the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees and eaten crepes in the shadow of the Notre Dame Cathedral

Ridden a double decker tour bus and a pirogue (dug out canoe)

Jumped into a pool (and his mother's arms) with reckless abandon laughing and squealing all the while

Trimmed a Christmas tree

Sat on a firetruck

Begun the arduous but rewarding path to becoming a polyglot.

learned to sing the ABC song

sing Old McDonald without the aid of a See and Say (having cats in the house, a chicken coop behind the house, dogs, goats and sheep outside the gate, and cows and horses down the street alleviate such trivial technolgical crutches).

Point out with sniper like accuracy anything that he knows the name of (he can spot “Elmo” on the side corner of a diaper box on the top shelf of the closet and a picture of a “baby” on the cubicle wall in a photograph of someone at their desk).

Give the sweetest hugs and kisses (and the “Slap and Dap”: Two handed high five, two handed low five, two handed terrorist fist pound, and a hug)

drink from a glass with out spilling (most of the time)

eat with a spoon (and a fork given the right meal)

say grace at every meal (even if his parents forget)

say please, thank you, bless you, excuse me

(just tonight on his very birthday) come out his mouth with “hey cat, get on the bed” complete with a pat on the mattress with his hand.

tell his mommy and daddy "I love you"

But for all he has done, what he can't do is see you. Send him pictures, post a video on Youtube or Facebook. His adventures are great, his travels are long but we want him to always remember the face and voices that nurtured him through the first ¾ of his life. He loves to point at pictures and ask us "huh-eh-dat" or "who is that" (Honestly, tonight when I asked him if he wanted to see the wedding photo album he giggled and jumped and ran behind me). The greatest thing you could give him is the gift of you. Within two or three weeks we should have our own internet connection that is strong enough and reliable enough for us to post pictures and videos and get back on Skype.

For his birthday weekend we started by going to a choir competition Friday night. The invite came with short notice and so I went inadequately prepared into that dark night without snack or water bottle the first. For my boy. We were only supposed to be gone 2 hours. 3 hours after leaving the house BJ found himself on the lap of a woman in one of the choirs eating vanilla cookies and drinking a sachet of water. A definite "bad dad" award moment. I had good intentions; the kid loves music. So I figured what better way to start his weekend off than what was sure to be a rocking good time. And minus my lack of preparation it was. He danced, he roamed, he walk up to the band area while they practiced and banged on the keyboard and the traditional drums. During the announcement of the winners he had wandered over to the drum set and was tapping away on it. This all going to be documented on a DVD that they will be selling that I may have to buy just so I can see how poorly I mask my desire for him to come sit down. The pastor told me on more than one occasion to let him be free and feel at home. I just wanted to tell him that he didn't know my boy and that given too much freedom he'd be standing in the middle of the presentation area ushering choirs on and of the floor, directing them and giving the grand prize to himself.

Saturday we started the day with banana pancakes, and continued with a fun ride around the grocery store followed by a 3 and a half hour nap that we both took that he went into kicking and screaming (we both needed to push the reset button on our lives). We spent the evening with our friends Liz and Vinnie, who were having an Indian potluck. With only Elmo and a dump truck he behaved himself impeccably. No meltdowns, nothing broken, and no one bothered. He was charming and polite and managed to parlay that into an unheard of 11 pm bed time.

We slept over till this morning where we had a nice leisurely 7:30 wake up, watched a few episodes of his favorite cartoon Caillou on the Mac, and spoke to his Mommy by phone. Cooked a nice breakfast for our hosts and then went swimming (well walking around the pool, jumping in and splashing around). We ended the evening back at home watching Elmo's Adventures in Grouchland for the first time in two weeks. Afterward he had a little bit of a meltdown when he realized that after two late nights he was going to have to get back on schedule and go to bed at his regular bedtime.

I'm going to keep writing till Thursday, edit and Post on Friday. Whatever I have up until that point is what you will get. I have to stop waiting for there to be a pause in a story that is constantly evolving. Right now Jacki is back in Benin for a few weeks so its as good a time as any to buckle down on this here writing thing.

Oh by the by, here's a reality Check. Tuesday is September that means its been 9 months since we first told you about the move and 6 months since Jacki started this position. ¼ of a two year contract. We'll keep telling you what's going on on this side you tell us whats happening on your end.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Up and Running (well walking) or "Its been a month why hasn't that B@$tard written us about BJ"

How are you doing? That’s what I’m wondering as I begin to compose the notes I have been jotting down for the past few days. How’s the new job? What’s your second month of married life like? Are you ready to move in with your brother and niece? How you handling those anger issues? Are you ready for Artscape? (woah that’s this F#©K!NG weekend! See how time flies, now it was last weekend). Is someone going to print this out for you so you can read it or will you check your e-mail? Why would you make that stupid post on “ugh” Facebook (I know awkward humor sir and that was in no way humorous)? Are you relieved your mother didn’t go on that trip? (I know I am). It’s only been two weeks (ok, it will be four weeks on Thursday) since I left but it already feels like so much time has past. I wonder how everyone is doing and I’m starting to feel the sting of isolation. On this side of the Atlantic there have already been high moments and low. I am dealing with the adjustments of not only a new country, culture and language but also the challenges of becoming a full time father and husband again. But its time to start getting back into the writing groove before life moves by so fast and this experience fades into my aging memory.

If we’ve met in the past three years then here’s a little background on what you about to get into. Live from Niamey is the highly anticipated (well I’ve been anticipating it) sequel to “Live from Monrovia” a series of E-mails, online photo albums and PowerPoint presentations that chronicled the Johnson’s first two years of marriage in a developing nation that had just ended a civil war. Sounds like a great start to a new union? Well it was. In addition to never have been married before, I had never lived outside of the country before and I used e-mail as way to keep myself connected to my friends and family at home. 5 years, 12 countries and a full passport later I find myself starting the process again. Only now I have webcams, Skype, a Youtube account, a blog, and “ugh” Facebook. The first Live from Monrovia was only a few pages; by the end I sent out a few that were 30 + pages in length. I’ve got a kid now so I am not sure what length or regularity I will produce but like “Monrovia” I will try to make “Niamey” enjoyable, informative, honest, and funny (in that weird “Byron” funny way =-/). I’m not a travel guide writer, a political theorist or historian. I don’t even really claim to be a writer. I’m just a guy with a great wife who takes him on adventures and a son who I am trying to raise to be better than his daddy. And if they do get long (like this paragraph is getting) suck it up and quit b!+©#!ng; they’re re worst things your @$$ could be doing than reading more.

But let’s start with general impressions first.


What’s black and white and Red all over?

Niamey! Ok, Well to be honest there is a lot of beige and green too but that’s not how the old riddle goes…

BLACK: So as my “ugh” Facebook status stated when first arrived I got here safe, mostly sound, and with most of my possessions. Air France lost one of my bags, I got it back a few days later. I lost my camera (yes, that camera)…I don’t even want to talk about it.

So while I’m waiting for my bag to come around on the luggage belt I start to take in my surroundings. Niamey’s airport is larger than Monrovia’s and with just that observation I started to see that see that Niger has things a bit more together than Liberia.

Another realization that I made was that almost everyone that arrived on this flight is Black. Now while that may not seem like a big deal let me give you a little perspective. When we lived in Liberia it was just months after the peaceful resolution of a civil war that between the established government and not one but two rebel groups. The president at the time was Charles Taylor who is currently on trial for war crimes in neighboring Sierra Leone. When you think Diamonds from Sierra Leone, Conflict Diamonds and Blood Diamonds, think of this guy. So Liberia had been the source of a lot of regional conflict and the UN was investing a sizeable amount of money to make sure that things were stabilized. There was also an increased need for International Non Governmental organizations (NGOs) to come in and rebuild skill sets and infrastructure. So what you had was this huge influx of internationals white (American and European), east Asian, Indian and other Africans and in turn there was a culture set up to serve this influx of foreigners.

Niger is still a developing nation, it too suffers from corruption and widespread poverty, it receives aid but despite all that my initial observation is that Nigeriens just have it together a bit more. I’ve been out almost every day since being here either in a car or walking and I don’t see the same foreign presence that I saw in Liberia. Nigeriens are shopping in the grocery store and eating in the restaurants and that’s a pretty simple but profound statement of things beings just a little bit more together (and after reviewing my statement I realized that I mean together in the totally “western, commerce is good, progress can be measured by access to material resources” kinda way. But at least I realize it and admit it.)

WHITE: The whole city looks like the natural extension of the desert. Most of the buildings are white, beige, and tan. The light colors reflect the light and heat from the sun. Construction techniques seem very similar to those in Monrovia. Most of the buildings are made of concrete, which is a very sturdy choice that is very resistant to the elements. Corrosive salt water in Monrovia and blistering heat and battering sand storms here in Niamey. Dotted amongst this palette of neutral colors are an assortment of small tin roof houses and businesses in a variety of bright explosive colors. Fuchsia and Aqua’s scream out and demand the attention of potential customers.

GREEN: I am sure that I will need to take pictures every couple of months to chronicle the changing foliage in this city. We live in the Sahel, an area just to the south of the Sahara desert. Its flat dry grasslands that is hot most of the year but I arrived just in time for the begging of the rainy season. In just two weeks I have seen sprouts pop up where there were only patches of dry earth. It’s not to say that the land was completely arid when I arrived but much of the vegetation was spotty and sporadic spaced. There are exceptions to this rule though. How can I put it? Where there is green there is green. In other words those who have the money to pay for gardeners plumbing and hoses can force life in to the dessert. The most lush and shady areas can be found near government buildings, NGO offices, and Embassies.

RED: The most important color by far (based totally on my opinion) is that of the ruddy red brown sand/soil. It’s every where. A film of it changes the color of everything you look at. Rain can’t really wash it off. It slides on down making a thicker layer on along the base of buildings and stationary objects. Wind can’t blow it off. It only swirls and shifts the grains so that where one leaves another takes its place. In fact, when it rains the sky turns orange as red dust and grey clouds converge. Imagine viewing the world with a sepia tinged filter.

I spy with my little eye...

Livestock... Animals, Animals everywhere and most of them to eat. Animal Husbandry is a large part of Niger's culture, history and economy. There are goats everywhere. Downtown, uptown, midtown, roundtown. Usually it’s just a small number but yesterday a herd was uh... herded into the street I was walking down so I ended up wading through dozens to continue on my way home. The interesting thing is that more often than not their owners are not readily apparent. Like when they are being herded you can see the front man and tail man but if they are just standing about, no one seems to be overly concerned with their well being. They just go about their way nibbling on what ever scraggly as traffic buzzes past them.

Far less prevalent, but more inspiring, are the herds of cows lining the roads in our neighborhood. Now these cows (not the cows of the whole nation I can only speak on what I've seen and that might even be wrong) are about the skinniest big animals I have ever seen. Like xylophone rib skinny. But all the meat we have been eating is local and we have been getting some good cuts of tender meat so maybe skinny is what a cow is supposed to look like without growth hormones and steroids.

Not to be outdone by my “Moses parting the goat Sea moment,” I've also seen cats, dogs, chickens, donkeys, sheep, geckos and lizards. There is a spot near our vegetable stand that sells a variety of animals including pigeons, “bigger than my son” geese, rabbits, ducks, a fox (that was pretty sad actually), and of all things 2 hawks. I wanted the hawks because 1. That’s just awesome to have your own hawk and 2. I could release them to the wild but I figured that by buying them, even with good intentions, I'd just succeed in making the “wouldn’t it be awesome to own __X__ wild animal” market even bigger.

Woah, I almost forgot Niamey's finest. Camels. Look, you may not be an animal person but there is something miraculous about seeing up close and personal and uncaged things you have only seen in books or movies. We take pets and some farm animals for granted. But when you see one of God’s creatures that’s foreign to your experience, outside of a zoo or a circus, it’s really fantastic. To go where they are, and not have them brought to you really drives home the thrill of travel. I can go to a French Restaurant in Eastern Market and a West African Cafe in Adams Morgan but there's no place I can go and see a camel carrying building materials down a city street. You've probably seen the pictures of BJ in South Africa with the lion cub and the Zebras in a parking lot. I never wrote about our trip through southern Africa but on a our second day in Zimbabwe while stopping for directions to the entrance to Victoria Falls, and a guy we were talking to nonchalantly said “Do you want to see an elephant?” We said “sure” thinking it was set up for some silly joke or hustle scheme. He simply pointed a finger and there less than a city block away was an elephant on the side of this paved road eating leaves. Get on a plane... Stop and admire the color purple.

Let's see any other animals? Oh... flies. More flies than I have ever had to deal with. Not everywhere either but a lot in our yard. I think it has a lot to do with the flowers in our garden. This is completely based on a strange flowering plant in our yard in NE that blooms every spring and attracts small swarms of flies. I know they're not just a problem for me because a new friend taught me the expression “Je deteste les mouches” or “I hate flies”.

Better Traffic management devices & worse traffic.

When we took our first trip out of Monrovia to Accra the simplest things amazed us. Like... street lamps. Well Niamey has them in spades. Street lamps and just as importantly traffic lights (and perhaps most importantly the power stations to keep them on and running). But despite these assets (or perhaps because of them) the traffic is Horrrrrrible. Not Traffic jam horrible just aggressive driver horrible. Few are innocent but the greatest offenders are the taxi drivers. My first Sunday in town there was a presidential convoy passing in front of us and the police brought traffic to a stand still. Instead of a first come first serve pattern where the first to stop at the intersection would be the first to leave motos (motorcycle) and taxi starting to make their own lanes in the middle of the road and on the sidewalk transforming the traffic stop to the starting line of an Indy 500 race. Like D.C. Niamey's design features a great number of traffic circle but the rules for navigating them are a bit different. Traffic entering the roundabout takes precedence over vehicles already in the circle. (Another example of how “first come first serve” is overshadowed by “me go now”). You've gotta get in tune with your inner New Yorker if you want to make it here. And so another catch phrase we often utter is “Be the Taxi”. (In addition to their aggressive driving practices few of these drivers have the courtesy to paint witty or poignant expressions on the back of their cabs like Monrovians. Where's the style? Where's the Panache?)


Hands down the most definitive sound is that of prayer. The vast majority of Niger’s citizens are Muslim so the sound of groups at prayer can be heard throughout the day.

You haven't had a strange morning until you get up for 5:30 am aerobics and stare bleary eyed in a mirror and suddenly become aware of the methodic hum of human voice coming through your bathroom window. Fridays are typically half days at Africare because its an important day for prayer (this doesn't mean Jacki lets herself get off but it does give her a relatively empty afternoon off in which she can work with far fewer interruptions).

Almost forgot. Every morning has a night and if our am soundtrack is that of prayer our pm soundtrack is one of partying. There is a small shop right across the road from us. It is essentially a small rectangular prism about as big a two average bathrooms. It seems to be a bit of a catch all like a mini 7 eleven. A little food and a host of household goods. Well, after dusk they flick on fluorescent lights and turn up the speakers on their radio and people gather around like it’s Cheers. It all club and pop music but in French and Arabic. Buts its not a club, it’s a shed with really really loud music. At home it would be a bit aggravating but here its one of innumerable things that are acceptable and in away charming.

Blissfully Disconnected

You know what I don't hear? Phones. At least not one that belongs to me. Well I have a phone but we can't find it. But when I do there will only be Job prospects calling me and my wife saying “take out x to cook” or “I'll be home late”. At home, the more phones became necessities the more I grew to hate them. My mother will tell you when I was in high school I stayed on the phone (often late into the night) not talking about $#!+. But about the time I got back together with Jacki after college I started to really dislike them (probably something to do with her philosophy at the time that a ringing phone MUST be answered). I cringe at the sound of a phone ringing and often have to breathe in to smile when I answer. And I didn't get a lot of telemarketers. Most of my calls were from people I love dearly. But I can't just sit and chat on the phone. Let's go out. Get some food, have a drink, do something. It's like the more smart our devices got, the more socially retarded we became. It wasn't till I gave up my PDA that I noticed how much time we spend looking down at these tiny screens, communicating with people elsewhere when we are not talking to people sitting right in front of us. I believe electronic communication is hampering our ability to be content in the moment. I dealt with cell phones in class while in Liberia and even here in my French class my Teacher and two of my classmates(3 now) have taken calls in the middle of the class and I am glad to be at least temporarily unplugged. I recognize the contradictory nature of sharing an anti-electronic rant via electronic media but if I could fly you all out here weekly for a Nigerbiere and brochettes, I wouldn’t even have to write this. Sorry I'll tuck my “old man” soapbox back under the bed.

P.S. I still have yet to be impressed by Facebook



Fresh air

Dirt roads after rain

Spicy stews and sauces cooking in the kitchen.


Open air sewage


Jacki and I are going to attempt to take weekly walk together with BJ on Saturday mornings. We've only had one morning to try it out and around the second mile I started to smell what seemed like a zoo. Now I told you there is all kinds of livestock walking around but one animal or hell 5 to 10 that are mobile and grazing don't create such a strong odor. About 5 minutes further we discovered the valid reason for the zooish odor. We live within a 15 minute walk of an equestrian center! Stables, a riding ring and dozens of horses of varying sizes and colors. Seem a little strange? Well keep in mind that horses have long been essential to life of desert nomads so that they still have a place here is not really surprising.


Food is so good here. Soooo good. Our housekeeper Antoinette cooks on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. Most of her dishes are a variation on a very simple them but d@mn it man simple themes are sometimes the best. A typical dish consists of a stew (or “sauce”) with a meat (fish, chicken, beef) served over some starch (rice, cous cous, pounded yams, pasta or “pat” (pronounced “pot”) a dish made of corn that looks like fu fu but is nothing like it. I was actually looking forward to fu fu but it seems like it is not regularly served here). It’s a similar formula across the region and I love it. Spicy, hot, and slow cooked and tender. Well the chicken is a little tough. And I’ll tell you secret tough chickens come from tough eggs. I cracked some open to make scrambled for the family last week had to work to get the yolks to mix in. So if you are all about egg white omelets this is the place for you.

Most our produce is fresh, local, delicious and small but the flavor is good. =-). Tomatoes, green peppers and potatoes are all petit. (I’ll take pictures.)

There is spinach and lettuce so I’ll get some greens and I’m looking to recreate my success in herb gardening so I planting cilantro, basil, mint and an assortment of other goodies for us in our dishes.


Grainy. Gritty, Sandy

I’ve got good shoes with good grip but they still can’t hold perfectly firm against the fine grains of sand that are inescapable. We’re supposed to be taking our shoes off every time we walk into the house but we haven’t been doing it with that much regularity so it hasn’t worked out well. So every day we are taking special care to wash our feet so that they don’t look like Bilbo Baggins’ when he “went there and back.” I’ve had sand in my teeth, in my hair in my shoes. Grainy, gritty and sandy. That’s all I gotta say on that matter.

Hmmmm so what else has been up?

Me, Her, Him, Them and where we all live

Me: over all I enjoying the experience thus far. I am sleeping better than I have in years. I am eating 3 meals a day and a snack which is something I never managed to do effectively at home. I am taking French classes with a Nigerien woman, two expatriate Africans whose primary language is Arabic and a pretty chatty Indian guy who in the same week can say class is not moving fast enough and turn around divert class for a 10 minutes to ask about Hausa expressions. He’s also good for giving suggestions on how class should run answering questions that the teacher has posed to other students and giving bits of information about how names and words used in Niger are very similar to words used in India. “In India we call that…”,”in India that word means…”. He’s a decent guy but they offer Hausa as a class and we’ve got 4 hours a week to pick up some French and everyone is coming from a different linguistic place so I need him put that stereotypical need to look extra intelligent in his pocket so we can all “parlons nous francais”. He really is just trying to be helpful and I get good vibes off of him when we converse after class. I’ll get it together because conversational French fluency is a big goal

Besides French, I am all about the Triads, Dyads and Solodads.

Triads. I’m playing Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars which features the Chinese mafia or Triads. So this is my first ever GTA game and its fun and all but it’s a clear sign that the end is nigh for our culture when stealing cars indiscriminately and mowing down passerbys not only counts as entertainment but also merits a half dozen sequels.

Dyads: In the 5 and a half yeas since Jacki and I have been married there have only been two really tough periods. The last was after BJ was born and we had no idea what to do as parents. The first was after we were first married and we were adjusting to what that meant for who we were. It was during that period that we were introduced to the term dyad, a coupling of two people whose combined efforts yields greater results than what each could generate separately. We’ve pretty much taken that term and used it as our motto for our marriage. Its how we run our house, raise our child, plan our parties, take our vacations. Each of us using our strengths to fill in for the other’s short comings.

For the past 4 months our dyad has been separated by an ocean, several time zones and a host of activities that we had to do as individuals related to closing out our old life and setting up our new. As an only child I don’t have a big problem with being alone in a house but I have to be honest in that my lifestyle choices are exceptionally more healthy when Jacki is there with me. For example most of the time I enjoy cooking but the longer I was alone the less and less I did of it. When I had BJ throughout March I was doing well but after he left my trips to the grocery store became further and further apart. The last week and a half after my departure was delayed had to be the worst culinary experiences of my life. I ate more McDonalds/Buger King/Carryout/ West Indian/Prince George’s Plaza Food Court Bourbon Chicken than the law should allow. If I cooked I had to wash dishes. Of course with all that fast food now I had trash to take out and the trash cans are soooooo far from the kitchen door. So cooking, housework, exercise, even socializing to a degree fell by the way side. But since reuniting with my wife and child I am all slicing and dicing and grilling like its all good.

Solodads… Has… uh absolutely no relevance whatsoever. I’m not even a big Soledad O’Brien fan more of a “Robin Meade in the Morning” guy. I just needed something to go with Triads and Dyads.

Her: Happy to have both her BJs together again. She’s been pretty much just using the bedroom and kitchen so now that I am here I’ve been helping her spread out and use the rest of our new abode.

She’s happy to have parenting assistance cause single parenthood is for the birds. If you’re doing it and its working for you, God Bless you and may you earn a prize or and award or extra tax break. I did for most of March and Jacki did it for most of April May and June and we are both in agreement that when they made the Peace Corps slogan “the toughest job you’d ever love” they hadn’t tried having a toddler day in and day out by one’s self.

I came just in time as she’s just hit a deep pocket at work and needs to stay at the office a little longer than normal. I can catch up with the time I missed while we were separated and when I get a little tired of him saying "Da-De, Da-De, Da-Deeeeeeeeeeee" I just remember that I had some pretty crappy hours when I was fighting to get the yearbook out on time. Only difference is she’s fighting to get improved agricultural technologies to 96 communities (and that’s just one of the things she’s working on now) and I was trying to get a memory book to 46 hardheaded children who should have been doing the bulk of the work themselves so I can put in some extra toddler time to make sure she gets her job done.

Him: BJ is good. I don’t feel like I lost too much time. Since he was with me at the end of march . but 3 months is a long time in a toddler’s life. He has a mouth full of teeth (two more coming in since I started writing) and his vocabulary is improving. He understands a lot more than he can say. Ask him to go to any room in the house, go see “x”, pick up “y”, take “z” somewhere and he will do it readily. He can say ‘ca va’ and ‘d’accord’ and a handful of other French expressions. He loves simple words like ‘ball’, ‘cheese’ and ‘Juice’ but also pull out a few surprising choices like ‘Dinosaur’. His third favorite word is ‘Elmo’. He can eyeball the tiniest image of Elmo on a box of diapers a cross the room. Elmo came after my sesame street experience so I have never been fond of him. I limit his watching of the red demigods movie to once per week. BJ would watch it multiple times a day if he knew how to get it down form on high and work the DVD player.

His second favorite word right now is ‘cat’. The first day they arrived he was scared to touch them. The second day he was petting them softly. The next day he was actively seeking them out, now he is trying to pick them up we frown on that). His ability to pick Elmo out is totally eclipsed by his ability to point out cats: on television, in the room, on a can of cat food, at the vegetable market in a book, drawn realistically or rendered cartoonishly. And he always says it as a declaration interrogative. “Cat!?”

But his favorite word right now by far is “No.” At times its cute, his little voice declaring his growing independence. But other times like at 5:30 in the morning when mom and dad are trying to do exercise DVDs, and he wants to hold his cup of milk, and the glass bottle it came from, and drink neither because he still has his pacifier in his mouth, and screams at the suggestion that any of the three be removed… well those are the times when “No” is not cute. Not cute at all.

BJ’s in a half day care program on MWF during the summer. He spends his afternoon with me and Antoinette our housekeeper/ nanny. Its great spending so much time with him but I often find myself at a loss for things to fill the hours. We’ve tried painting, blocks, counting , crayons, etc, etc, etc. but so far he is most interested in throwing rocks.

Them: Honey and Whisper are doing well too in their second overseas jaunt. Regulations have changed and they were not allowed to have a sedative so they were a bit frazzled. But they have adapted well and now lounge on the furniture and the cool (well coolish) tiles as if they had been here forever. They barely do their sibling rivalry fighting which is cool because I listened to them fight over my head for the last few weeks before we all left. Word spread quickly once they arrived because according to Jacki gecko regularly came inside before they came but I have only seen 2 in the house this month.. They know what’s up!

Le nouvelle maison de Johnson.

The new house of the Johnsons

Our home is huge not mansion huge but two adults and a toddler huge. We have three bedrooms, an office, three full bathrooms and 1 half bath. For those of you that visit don’t judge us by our living room furniture. White cushions folks. White cushions in a city built on red soil. Someone needs to be slapped and it’s not the Johnsons. The living room and dining room are one big connected in one big L shaped space. In a weird design choice the dining room table sits 2 steps about the living room floor (I’ll have to post pictures). The fridge is in the dining room because its not efficient and if it were to be placed in the Kitchen which is the hottest room of the house it would probably burn out in a days time.

Our yard is like a little oasis with a small plot of grass, several trees, flowers, climbing vines, and potted plants. In the back there are two trees that are the perfect distance for my Mexican hammock that I’ve been waiting two years to break out. Outside we have empty pool (it may or may not be filled), a terrace that looks out onto our street and has a huge satellite dish on it that I’d like to see it gone. There is also a garage, a chicken cp(with four chickensscratch that there’s only one now) and a storage room (attached to the house). Directly behind the house is a separate structure which was probably designed to house help. There is a 4th bathroom (kinda barebones) and two rooms with fans (one which will be used as my work room). The most interesting feature of the house is the entire garden space. It has windows on all sides facing into the house (Again, I’ll have to post pictures), a dirt floor with newly sprouted plants that have resurfaced due to the rain, a single scraggly palm tree and what looks like it could have been a fountain. It’s a space with a lot of potential and I am really looking forward to transforming it over time.

Ok I started writing this over two weeks ago. When BJ is home I feel kinda lousy sitting around and typing and by the time Jacki get s home I want to spend time with her so I’ve been making notes on our experiences but haven’t had time to expand on them all. I think I will aim for shorter more regular posts because if I wait for an entry to be perfect and complete as I envision it they’d be semi annual at this pace. I think I’ve given you a good sense of my initial impressions. Next time I’ll tell you what we’ve actually been doing. There’s bats and giraffes, sparklers, Fanta spitting, Goat punching (and no its not related to Donkey Punching. And if you don’t know what a Donkey punch is do your self a favor and DON’T look it up. Of course I know half of you now will) and finally I’ll tell you about BJ’s training as a junior member of COBRA, an evil terrorist organization bent on ruling the world. As for right now I am going to hand it over to my editor and get it posted on my blog. It's totally bare bones right now as I have not had the time, inclination or bandwidth to see how to trick it out. Pictures will be coming soon (I promise) We’ll see how blogging goes. The 'writer' and the 'traveler' said I’d enjoy it. Of course every one said the same thing about Facebook.