The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

After finally deciding to take the Read The World challenge (I’m taking out the part where you do it in a year. Ain’t nobody – me- got time for that), I found that reading on my phone in downtimes was easiest and was able to download this gem!

If I had to describe the type of person most likely to connect with this book, I’d say someone with a curious mind and tinkering fingers. It’s a book that I hope to see my sons pull off the shelf one day, and I think that’s the highest praise I can give a book. It’s an easy read, appropriate for the youngest of avid readers, but the peek into Malawian culture is fantastic for any age group.

This story about William Kamkwamba really challenges any limitations that society and individuals have built around themselves from creating a better tomorrow. As a young man surviving famine and poverty with his family, Kamkwamba is determined to get the education he craves, and not just the education that test scores and money say he can handle. As someone who has been blessed with access to a good education, it definitely made me realize that I did school all wrong. Lack of resources, knowledge and money stacked up right next to the name-calling and jokes, but none of this slowed down Kamkwamba, and I’m all here for it. I love picturing this uneducated, skinny teenager out there wanting to learn how he can do something. So he does.

While the storytelling can be sort of dry in small sections as he describes his discoveries and innovations, the descriptions of traditional beliefs, the towns, trials, Malawian speech and other cultural aspects carry the story along in a way that kept me turning the pages. Well, swiping the pages really, but that’s irrelevant.

And let’s be honest – how many of you can tell me three facts about Malawi off the top of your head? Heck, how many of you knew that a country called Malawi even existed!? For me, finding out where in the world Malawi even is was a big pull to read the book.

If you haven’t yet, read this book and tell me your three favorite things about Malawi, and I’ll tell you mine (based off the book, of course, since I have no firsthand knowledge). Happy reading!

Don’t have time to read it? Fine. I’ll give you the cheat as well. But I’m telling you, it’s not as good as the book and you’re just going to be left confused and wondering how he got to this point. Then you’re going to have to read the book anyway! (Insert evil laugh here.) Remember that William Kamkwamba is a real man and this is a true story, so here is his first ever TED talk appearance in 2007. I think he was 19 at the time.

If you’d like to follow along and hear more about the books I recommend around the world, and other fun country activities and facts, just sign up below!

What Can We Learn From 20 Mom-Centered Birthing Traditions Around the World?

Any day now, I am going. To pop! And I could not be more excited to have another baby boy join the family soon! I actually had a moment this week while texting my husband about summer plans where I started to type, “Oh, the boys will love that.” And I just loved the way “the boys” sounded so much that I totally teared up. Really, what could be sweeter than two little brothers exploring and wrestling and growing up almost exactly two years apart?! Probably two sleeping brothers, is what you’re chuckling to yourselves right now, but I’ll get there when I get there.

In honor of the upcoming chaos, and to kick start today, I think I’m going to try to start a new trend of saying, “it takes a village to raise a mom.” Because, let’s be real, mom’s need lots of help to keep from going crazy most days. The more I’ve studied different cultures birthing traditions, the more reassured I stand in driving this movement for a new saying.

I really believe that having a better understanding of the variety of traditions that exist has helped me have a better vision of what a supported pregnancy and motherhood SHOULD be like. Not just for myself, but especially for others around me that I can do a better job of reaching out to. Whether you’re pregnant, a pregnant woman’s partner, hoping to get pregnant, a new mother, or just know someone that is expecting, you’re going to find ways you can better be a part of the “village” and really raise up the women around you. At least, that’s what I found.

Keep reading to learn about more traditions and why we can’t stop taking care of women once the baby comes!

What are some birthing traditions around the world?

I interviewed a few amazing women about what they have seen as midwifes, doulas, and childbirth educators, and many of these are traditions they introduced to me, mixed with a few I found or knew on my own.

Congo: “The woman from the Congo I worked with recently had virtually her whole family visit her in the hours following birth (despite it being a cesarean section), she was notably exhausted, but it was too culturally rude for her to tell people not to come.  She tied a woolen bracelet around her baby’s hand as her belief was that birth was an impure event and she shouldn’t be exposing herself or her baby to her loved ones without this band around the baby’s wrist to rid him of the impurities of birth.”  -Amy Vacarro

Philippines: “Another woman I worked with recently was from the Philippines. She had married an Australian man and didn’t want him at the birth as in the Philippines, birth is the realm of women and husbands aren’t allowed in.  He wasn’t particularly happy about this mind you!” -Amy Vacarro

Australia (Aboriginal Tribes):  “Traditionally Aboriginal Australian women have some interesting cultural ceremonies around birth, such as smoking the baby (passing the baby through smoke that is emanating from a fire with Eucalyptus branches and leaves) and burying the placenta within their traditional homelands so that baby always has a connection to country and knows where they belong. ” – Amy Vacarro

See the amazing aboriginal smoking ceremony and placenta burial in this video! For a more full explanation of birthing on country, check out https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/health/explainer/birthing-country

Native American Tribes (Navajo): Blessingways. “It is traditionally a Native American ceremony, particularly from the Navajo tribe. It is a sacred pre-birth ceremony celebrating a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood. It is steeped in rich culture and tradition for natives and is a glorious honoring of a woman. As Christians have used it, I have found it to also be a beautiful gift to the soon-to-be mother. Prayers and blessings offered, words of affirmation and encouragement, filling the mother-to-be’s cup with love and confidence. It is an intimate time of nurturing and caring for the woman while she awaits the impending birth of her child”. – Doula Nolleen

Bosnia:  “The mother-to-be can’t be cold. It is more of a superstition I feel like than a practice and more lived out by the older generation. But nonetheless, it doesn’t matter if it is 80 degrees and hot outside, they will put blankets on you, sweaters, slippers, and feed you hot soups and hot teas! Well, there’s typically no AC in Bosnia, so the last thing you want is more articles of clothing on you, but the elderly women get very concerned if you aren’t ‘warm’. ” – Doula Nolleen

Russia (Chukchi people): Pregnant women leave their house every morning after waking up, look at the rising sun, and then circle their home in the direction of the sun’s movement.

Russia (Nenets people): Because these people migrate multiple times a year across the Siberian Arctic, timing a pregnancy can be vital to their productivity and survival. While it’s not an exact science, husbands and wives certainly make this a conversation and goal to try to have babies at certain times of the year. Women are essential laborers in this type of community, and want to be as present as possible during seasons of heavier labor and herding. And in case you’re imagining cattle herds – you’re a little off. They migrate with their herds of REINDEER! How cool is that?!

PC: Thomas Debray at freeimages.com
Learn all about the exploration of Alegra Ally across the Yamal Peninsula with the Nenets women as they perform their migratory labors and give birth in some of the harshest living conditions! This project really is incredible! https://www.babble.com/parenting/alegra-ally-wild-born-project-pregnancy-birth-motherhood-indigenous-women/

**The following examples are taken from lecture notes of part of an amazing course taught in Phoenix by Matrescence, and focused more on traditions for healing and well-being during the fourth trimester, or post-partum period. You can learn more about Matrescence at https://www.4thtrimesterplan.com/ **

China: Zuo yuezi, or “to sit the month,” is a month of postpartum rest where mom’s only responsibility is to feed and be with her baby. One or more female relatives, usually mom or mother-in-law, take over all of the house chores for the time period.

Korea: Samchilil, which literally means “twenty-one days”, decrees a period of at least twenty-one days, and ideally thirty days, of specialized maternal care dedicated to keeping mom warm, snug and well-fed.

Vietnam – Nam lua, which has also been called “mother roasting”, is postpartum tradition of laying in a bed over hot coals, and giving new moms nourishing food, warmth, rest, and special care in order to fully recover from birth. Personally, this mother could go for a hot bed of coals and roasting right about now!

India: The new mother often returns to her parents’ home with her newborn for up to three months of focused care by family and the greater community. Ayurvedic postpartum care practice the five- thousand-year-old healing art of postpartum care over 42 days. It focuses specifically on balancing doshas. The vata dosha is characterized by dry, cold, light, minute, and movement, and childbirth is said to be a “vata-provoking experience (Sweet Blessings).”

Malaysia: Pantang protocol involves seclusion, hot stone massages, full-body exfoliation, herbal baths, and hot compresses to care for the life forces that are sourced in her womb.

Japan: Traditionally, the Ubugoya (the childbirth hut) was like a community of new and expecting mothers to live, learn and teach motherly skills together outside the village. The first-comers taught the later-comers how to take care of babies. In modern day, it is common practice for a woman to go back to her parents’ house before the birth and be cared for from one to three months.

The Japanese Gaki zôshi scrolls depict an aristocratic woman in her personal birth room, surrounded by women (family and attendants) while separated from the rest of the room. The scary creature waiting anxiously next to her is a demon-like being that feeds on death, and represents the potential dangers of childbirth. You can read more about this in the first part – “delivery and dangers” – of this essay.

Somalia – Afantanbah is another postpartum confinement tradition of giving mothers 40 days of nourishing food, warmth, rest, and special care in order to fully recover from birth.

Ivory Coast: Female relatives gather at the house right after birth and the mother is bathed in shea butter by her own mom while other relatives take over the chore of cooking. The shea butter bath is a rite loaded with healing properties.

Hmong culture (Australia): The first 30 days after birth a mom rests. Husbands and other family members take care of household chores and other work. If the mother needs to perform her own duties, or wants to work, she may do light chores after 10 days as long as they don’t include lifting things.

Germany: Wochenbett, or the “week’s bed.” to eat chicken soup and focus on recovering for the first two weeks. In the first 10 days after delivery, the midwife visits the new mother at home every day, then every 2-3 days until the end of the 8th postpartum week.

Native American tribes: 20 days of rest after birth culminates in ceremonies of ritualistic bathing, a baby-naming ceremony and going to a sweat lodge to boost circulation and help mom’s body eliminate any toxins.

Latin America: La cuarentena, which you’ll notice sounds like “quarantine”, is a forty-day period of rest and rehabilitation while family takes on household chores.

France: At two months postpartum, moms are prescribed 10 to 20 sessions of la rééducation périnéale, a kind of physical therapy designed to retrain the muscles of the pelvic floor, including the vagina, and is one of the cornerstones of French postnatal care.

“If you look at the entire population from age 20 to 100, 25% of women are going to have pelvic floor dysfunction.”
(1:30) The French started offering la reeducacion perineale for all women a long time ago, but it is something women can – and should – still be looking to do today. Physical Therapists and doctors around the world can help guide these easy techniques.

The Common Denominator?

So, what do most of these traditions have in common that we could learn from? I hope you caught it.

The mother receives ESSENTIAL social support.

Which brings us back to why I think we should start a new saying. Instead of clinging to “it takes a village to raise a child,” we ought to say that “it takes a village to raise a mom.”

I mean, come on. Babies are made cute so that adults will want to take care of them and get them everything they need. That’s scientifically proven (or it should be, if it hasn’t been yet). A baby can get all the love and support it needs from its mom. It’s the mother who needs raising and lifting up. She needs extreme physical, emotional, and every other type of support and coaching as she adapts to a hundred new roles for her baby.

Maybe one of the most interesting things that I read about birthing traditions around the world is a belief about women’s “golden opportunities”. These opportunities include the beginning of the menstrual cycle, post-partum, and menopause. It has long been believed by Chinese medicine that these milestones in a woman’s life can make or break her health until the next opportunity comes around. Beliefs go so far as to say that these are opportunities for allergies and other physical/medical problems to be lessened, or even reversed. This is why social support in these times is not just convenient, but essential! Part of an article on this topic from the Journal of Chinese Medicine can be easily found HERE.

Now, I know that “a village raising a child” has this important implication that parents don’t actually know everything and must rely on others to help their children with different struggles, skills and lessons. But I think that another social bonus of reaching out to mothers more is that those influential people in a child’s life will also happen to be mom’s friends. They won’t be someone a child only sees at school or extracurricular activities. These influencers might instead be there in the home with the family occasionally. After all, it’s the nearness and tight overlap of relationships that make villages so unique, isn’t it?

PC: Erik Dolle on freeimages.com

Midwives, Childbirth Educators, Doulas, and More!

Look for my posts about “How Women Around the World Decide Who Should Deliver Their Baby” and “How Can We Improve Women’s Healthcare During The Golden Opportunities” to learn about extraordinary professionals, who help women around the world have the best birthing experience possible, and to learn what other people have found for support in pregnancy and new-momhood. I honestly wouldn’t have discovered half of these particular traditions without so many people’s help and resources!

If you enjoyed this post, then follow me to learn about more traditions around the world! Subscribe below and also get access to my file of freebies to engage your kids in learning about different cultures and countries!

Easy-Peasy Russian Olivier/Olivye Recipe

I remember the first time I had Olivye in Samara, Russia with a woman who became a dear friend and tutor – Marina. She explained to my companion and I how she’d prepped it, and then mixed in some mayo with her bare hands in front of us. She had stored some of the food in buckets in her kitchen, and it was all so different than anything I was used to as far as hygiene and storage goes. Now, this may not be representative of the norm, but it also was not uncommon to see people store food in buckets. Sometimes dry foods in dry buckets (nothing weird to me there), but sometimes also wet foods in buckets of cold water. Like pickles. People also didn’t always have special utensils for every type of food, and if they did, it wasn’t always worth getting them dirty when you could just dig in with your hands. Mayonnaise and all. Luckily, I’m no germaphobe, but I had a few American companions who were less than comfortable with the cooking setup at times.

I LOVE the dachas and gardens that people had. It was my favorite to go out and pick our very own tea leaves or vegetables or flowers for different occasions with our always hospitable hosts. This picture was take the only time I ever met this lady and she proudly showed off the efforts of her hard work in the garden to us.

Living in Arizona today, I’m already starting to feel summer coming on strong and am thinking about barbecues and potlucks. And if you’re looking for a dish that your friends will love, you can’t go wrong with potato salad. But showing up with a potato salad doesn’t sound all that gourmet, right? Next time you BBQ with friends, why not try this Russian take on a potato salad and tell your friends that you’re serving some gourmet Olivier/Olivye (uh-liv-yay).

Olivye has evolved slightly over the years, and is most popular on holidays like Easter, Christmas, New Years, as well as at restaurants. And with those especially generous hosts/hostesses, like Marina below, you might even find yourself dished with a random Tuesday brunch of olivye as a house guest.

A Fun, Family Easter Dinner Idea

With Easter just next Sunday, what else could be better than trying a new dish with the family! And because it’s got hard boiled eggs, you can make a whole day’s worth of activities leading up to this meal! #savethehardboiledeggs Russians often dye their eggs in natural colors, like beets or red onions, and decorate them with flowers and leaves. I go into more detail in my post on Russian Easter celebration ideas. So, why not throw a Russian Easter party, and when you’re done dying eggs, you can shell them and cube them up for a more colorful olivye salat! Click here or the link below this image to check out the post about Easter traditions!

Click HERE to check out more Easter and egg ideas this week!

Personally, my husband and I agreed that a potato salad is just a side dish, but I only have patience to read through one new recipe at a time. So we served it up with some good ol’ BBQ chicken and corn, and it was delicious. But if you want to go all-out Russian, then there are tons of other easy recipes you could mix with this. I love pirozhki (with meat OR cabbage, carrots and onions OR potatoes), shi (a soup), and cabbage rolls. All of these are super easy recipes that you can find.

Cooking Tips:

I’m not very talented in many domestic tasks, especially in the kitchen. So here are a couple things I learned or changed when cooking this meal.

  1. I looked over four or five different recipes before I started cooking, and some suggest making it with chicken. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I ever ate it with chicken while I was in Russia. I always think of this dish as having ham or bologna. And I actually remember really liking it with bologna, which is usually not something I care for. But I didn’t really know how to buy good bologna, and I didn’t want to deal with ham, so I just went meatless in my mix this week.
  2. Don’t overcook the potatoes like I did! I decided to cube my potatoes BEFORE boiling them, and they cooked way faster than I expected, leaving me with something halfway to mashed potatoes, which is not the goal. But no worries if you mess up here, it still tasted great!
  3. Drain the pickle juice by squeezing it with paper towels, or leaving sliced pickles in a sieve overnight before cooking. This keeps the pickle flavor from overpowering the rest.
My end result! My potatoes were a little too soft, but it was a yummy mess still!

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb meat, cubed (optional)
  • 3 potatoes, cubed
  • 3 carrots, cubed
  • 6 eggs, cubed
  • 3 pickles, cubed
  • 1 sweet onion, cubed
  • 1 cup frozen fresh peas
  • 1/2 English cucumber, cubed
  • 1 cup mayo
  • dill to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp sugar

Instructions:

  1. I cubed my potatoes and carrots, then boiled them together. You want them to be just soft enough for the knife to easily poke through, but not so soft that you can easily mash them. With cubed potatoes and carrots, I should have checked them around 10 minutes, and I think they would have been perfect. If you choose not to cube the potatoes, it will take closer to 20-25 minutes, and you can add in the carrots halfway through.
  2. While those are boiling, find another small pot and cover your eggs with water. Allow them to boil for ten minutes as well.
  3. Steam your frozen peas according to packaging or freshness instructions.
  4. Cube the boiled eggs and anything else that has not yet been cubed.
  5. Combine all the ingredients and mix in the mayo gradually to your preferred taste. This can also depend on how chunky your ingredients are, as I just recently learned.
  6. Serve it hot or cold. It’ll stay good in the fridge for 2-3 days and serve about 10 people!

Let me know what you think of this recipe and what improvements you recommend! And if you like it, please don’t forget to share on social media! You can also look forward to more recipes from around the world by signing up for my monthly newsletter below.

Free Printable Easter Banner!

I love Easter. I love the bright colors. The bunnies. The flowers. The glitter, and baskets, and messes of fake grass, and special Sunday dresses, and everything else that I have been raised to correlate with the holiday. But my short time in Russia taught me a second version of how some people view Easter. A version that I have been impressed with and clinging to ever since.

When I think of Easter now, I tend to wonder how I can make it more meaningful than just bunnies, chicks, and cutesy baskets, and I always picture the Russian eggs among other things you can read about by clicking here. About mid-way through March this year, I realized it was time to take down the Valentine’s decor and think about whether I wanted to decorate for Easter. So I went to Pinterest. Aaand everything was covered in Easter bunnies, of course. Which I think is so fun and cute, by the way! For this holiday though, I just always want something…Russian!

So I sat down and tinkered with banner ideas until I made one for myself that felt like Russia. I have to say that I totally understand if you don’t think it’s as cute as some of the bright bunnies I saw on Pinterest. BUT. As soon as I started to see the first couple of pieces come together, I was so proud of this! It really just captured some of the beautiful traditions I saw on the single best holiday celebration I’ve ever been part of.

Maybe one day I’ll get a fancy camera to show off my creations and learn how to take a decent picture, but for now you can check out the flowery details on the banner and print it off for FREE by logging into my exclusive freebies folder. If you need access to that folder, just sign up below with your email, and the link will be sent to you. As a BONUS, you’ll get my monthly newsletters with all the fun updates, ideas, and even cultural tidbits I may not have shared on the blog 😉

How To More Fully Celebrate Easter: The Russian Way

“Воистину, Он воскрес.” As a Christian young woman, making my way down the streets of Saratov, Russia, I didn’t know that this traditional holiday greeting would stick with me and bring such joy every time I think of Easter. Or bunnies. Or kuliches. Or even Christmas! (Basically, anything that my mind connects back to Easter.) In translation, this saying means, “Indeed, He is risen.” And people would just pass by on the streets saying this to anyone! Usually we didn’t even get a free “hello” on a normal day, but here was a whole city that seemed to decide that in the name of their God and His religious holiday, they would step out of their comfort zone and say this to everyone! Talk about a beautiful show of unity and deep-rooted culture.

Now, to be more accurate about the tradition, it is a two-way greeting. The first person will simply say, “Christ is Risen.” And then the second can respond with the added, “Indeed, He is risen.”

Does that shatter your ideas of Russia? Have you thought Russians were these villainous, agnostic, bear-riding eskimos? Because I think some people are genuinely that confused about Russians based on propaganda and bad jokes they encounter.

The truth is, that’s not the Russia I know. Nor is it the Russia I have studied. Sure, they have had their blips. I mean, there was that whole communist Russia thing, and some nasty leaders, a Cuban missile crisis, and some continuing problems with laws and sanctions, but politics aside they have some rich beliefs and the most big-hearted citizens ever.

Here is a post that actually popped up on my timeline this week that I think says well how I felt about this traditional greeting:

So, what else do their Easter celebrations tell us about their culture? How else do they celebrate Easter? I’m stoked that you asked. Through all the historical twists and turns of religious freedom and variety in Russia, these people have held strongly to some of the most deeply meaningful traditions of older generations, namely in the proveslavni (Russian Orthodox) church.

Here are a few old Russian traditions that you can try at home or participate in with your families this year!

Easter Sunday 2014 in Saratov, Russia. This was the stash of Easter gifts Olivia Clyde and I had poured across our kitchen table in the afternoon. People we hardly knew to dear friends had gifted us with eggs or kuliches on the street, and then we had turned and handed out a couple to others we met on the way. Aaand some of it we ate, of course. This is just what made it home.

Kulich/Кулич

First of all, you have to know about the sweet bread. Because EVERYONE gets some, and it’s really not all that good. It’s not bad, but it’s just not great for something so special and gift-wrapped.

I remember friends telling us that they’d spent every extra minute at home the past three days making kuliches, or that they’d slaved away on this recipe for so long. (I never did understand whether they meant that it took that long to make one batch, or if they were making enough for an army. But I feel like it might have been the latter.) It’s pretty impressive the effort that can be put into these. Most people though, just go down to the nearest church to buy some that have been pre-made and blessed by the priests. If they’ve made it themselves, they can take the homemade loaves to a priest to be blessed as well.

Most of the kuliches I received as gifts had raisins in them, but a few had other surprises (nuts and other dried or candied fruits are popular options). And the tops were always glazed in a bit of frosting, just like a snow-covered church building.

Two church buildings frosted by the winter snow in Ulyanovsk, Russia. As told to me by Maxim Bucanov, “I was there during the summer time and saw how it was being built by constructors in speedos. Eric Lewis and I almost died laughing.” Another random representation of why I love Russia and its people.

Eggs

Then there are the eggs. This seems like a pretty worldwide tradition. However, these aren’t plastic, pastel-colored eggs, stuffed with junk and candy. These are usually “boring”, hardboiled eggs, which are representative of life and nourishment. In the featured image on this post you can see some very ornate eggs, decorated to be lavish gifts, like something that some of the tsars used to exchange and buy, I think. However, Russian Easter eggs are most often dipped in a simple red dye and decorated with the prints of flowers and leaves. The red dye is to represent the blood of Jesus, who the majority worship, and His sacrifice. In some cases, people still use natural dyes like red onion or beets to dye the eggs. Other eggs are decorated with an “XB” for “Христос воскрес” (“Christ is Risen”). And others still are fun and simple. But as you can see from my Russian Easter collection (photographed above), most of these eggs carry lots of simple symbolism.

I wanted something similar in my home this Easter and decided to make my own banner decor. You can check it out in this post, or just sign up below to get the link to print it off for yourself from my free (and growing) library!

The Church Service

Russia is no different from America in terms of the boost of church attendance on Easter Sunday. However, the timing of the service’s daytime hours might be drastically different. The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox church has even begun to broadcast a main church service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Attendees and viewers can participate in a very long (I think 2 hours) service of scriptures, lighting candles, prayers, and worship songs/chants led by the patriarch. At midnight, he swings his incense and calls out the traditional greeting out to the crowd, “Christ is Risen” to which the crowd responds, “Indeed, He/Christ is Risen.” You can see a small sample of this late-night event in the Youtube video below!

So for Easter this year, I hope you try making some Easter eggs with flowers and leaves, or bake some kuliches, or even watch the Russian Easter service live on Youtube! And then share with me your thoughts and experiences!

What other things would you like to know about Russian Easter? Would you like to learn how to say the greeting? Follow my Facebook or Instagram to see more to come this month about Russia or comment below. And don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter to get some special Russian facts, freebies and lessons this month!

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