October 2010

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On walking and AWESOME

I love walking. I can’t believe I waited so long to start exercising! HImynameisTheresa and I am a moron.

The gym at work is intimidating. After months of diddling around, I finally got my paperwork in so that I can use it whenever I want. Two months and I’ve yet to darken its doorstep.

It may have something to do with the fact that I am utterly uninterested in packing any more activities into an already busy morning. Because every goddamn morning is secretly a “OMG THERESA WILL BE AT JOB #2 UNTIL 2PM WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM RIGHT NOW” catastrophe, by the time I get to work at 7:30, I’ve already done more than most people do all morning.

It may also be because I’m embarrassed about how desperately out of shape I am. The positive side of eating well and refusing to apologize for my shape and size is that I’m no long really embarrassed about being fat. The negative side is that I’ve become very conscious of how bad the situation has become in regards to fitness and my health.

But I’m going to stick to the “I don’t have time” story. ;)

Walking, compared to the gym, is a piece of cake. While physically exhausting, it doesn’t require any knowledge of equipment, is easily disguisable as “walking to go some place” as opposed to “fat lady exercising in public,” and fits into my daily schedule like it should have been there all along.

I walk before work. I walk at work. I walk after work. And I might just start taking a walk in the evenings. I haven’t spent any time walking for exercise this weekend, and I’m glad I took a few days off. My legs and bottom were SORE SORE SORE. I’m aiming for 10k steps a day, thanks to the handy-dandy pedometer my mom sent me from the States. It’s harder than it looks, but not as hard as I expected.

Why did I wait so long to start exercising again?

On flooding in Benin, and how to help

This year has been a rough one for Benin, and it’s not about to get any easier. ICC, the LEPI, and now catastrophic flooding are combining to make this fall one of the hardest since I’ve been here. The whole country has been affected, and to say that one region has it worse than another is to fundamentally misunderstand how Benin’s economy and social fabric work. Two thirds of the communes in Benin have flooded zones.

The rains stopped in the North several weeks ago, but that doesn’t mean that the flooding from the Niger river and other northern waterways has stopped. Karimama, Malanville, and any towns around major bodies of water have been affected.

The Ouemé-Plateau is now really just the Ouemé river. The river, Lac Nokoué, and other bodies of water have flooded the plain.

The Zou has also been heavily flooded.

The Mono-Kouffo, with the Mono river and its thousands of lakes and rivers is equally flooded.

And then there’s Cotonou. My neighborhood is OK. We’re on a hill that gently slopes down towards a swamp. Those who live on the border of or in the swamp have been affected, but to be honest, they’re affected every year. Other parts of the city have not been so lucky. Lac Nokoué and the lagune have risen by several inches, flooding whole neighborhoods.

There are parts of Cotonou that can only be reached by pirogue (canoe), including major roads. You know the back route between the Stadium and the old Peace Corps office? Where they used to make foosball tables, on the left there, over the small bridge? That’s been flooded out for weeks, as has the surrounding neighborhood. There’s a guard-vélo to keep an eye on your bike or moto while you take a pirogue to wherever you need to go and come back. Akpakpa is equally flooded.

There are hundreds of dead, thousands missing, and hundreds of thousands displaced. People don’t have lodging, jobs, food, clean water, or mosquito nets. All of Benin’s most fertile plains have been flooded. Nigeria, a crucial food supplier, is also flooded. Pineapples? Beans? Rice? Wheat? Corn? Tomatoes? Prices are already climbing, and this season’s harvest is going to be a disaster.

How can we help?

So people are homeless, kids aren’t going to school, and disease is rampant. What can we do from our armchairs? I checked with the USAID director and several other international donors to find out what they’re doing. The relief effort is being lead by Caritas, who works in partnership with the Beninese government to get supplies and support to areas affected by the flooding. The American mission is funneling funds through Catholic Relief Services (CRS), who in turn work with Caritas. Caritas has already begun distributing mosquito nets, food, and much needed medication. They have also helped to build temporary housing for thousands of people who have lost their homes.

Because we’re all smart development workers and activists, we know that sending in-kind goods is a terrible way to help populations in need. Donors on the ground have far better supply chains and know where they can source supplies locally. Donating to CRS will guarantee that the funds reach Caritas Benin.

Donate today.

On oversharing, undersharing, and plain-old sharing

A recent medical disaster in the Carpenter-Sondjo household prompted a great number of discussions in our small household about what we’re willing to share with the world, and what we feel should be strictly private. Blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking came up because we’re both avid communicators and users of social media. Where’s the line? What should we share? Who should we share it with? When can we share it? (more…)

Fried eggs over spinach and leeks

Fried eggs over spinach and leeks

Weekday breakfasts are hard. My standby is overnight oats. Mix rolled oats, milk, bananas, and brown sugar together the night before, throw a tupperware in my bag on the way out the door, and snack on delicious cold oatmeal around 9am when the hectic morning finally calms down.

Weekends, however, are another matter entirely.

Fried eggs over spinach and leeks

  1. Sauté a few leeks and garlic cloves with a very small amount of delicious butter in a non-stick pan.
  2. Throw in a couple of big handfuls of chopped spinach, cook until wilted.
  3. Dump pan out onto plate, making sure to arrange the greens artistically.
  4. Add another very small bit of butter to the pan before frying two eggs over easy. The yolks should be runny.
  5. Dump pan out onto previously plated greens.
  6. Break yolks.
  7. NOM NOM NOM.

250 calories. Life is delicious.

On health blogging, disordered eating, and @marieclaire

For those of you who know me offline, you definitely know that I’m smart, ambitious, organized, driven and riotously funny. You might know that I’m neurotic, grouchy, and a militant feminist. You probably don’t know that when I say I’m fat, I’m not using it as a derogatory word. You definitely don’t know that I’m in no way shape or form ashamed of the way I look, nor that I am desperately trying to work through the hang-ups that the patriarchy has given me in regards to fat women talking about being fat. And I’ve only told two people in the world that I’m freaked out about how easy it is to slide into disordered eating while trying to lose weight and live healthier.

I haven’t been blogging lately. Not because I haven’t been off plan, but because I can’t find my voice. For every post that goes up here, three or four are written, but languish indefinitely before I send them to “DO NOT POST” EverNote hell.

I’m conflicted.

And it’s not just the writing I’m conflicted about. I’m conflicted about how to lose weight without disordered eating.

  • How can I always forgive myself for overeating, but put mechanisms into place that make overeating unpleasant, without obsessing over food?
  • How can I rigorously limit calories and track everything that goes into my mouth, without obsessing over food?
  • How can I force myself to stick to my meal plan, without obsessing over food?
  • How can I reward myself for a job well done, without rewarding myself for disordered eating?
  • How can I severely cut calories after a binge to balance my intake, without sliding into disordered eating?
  • How can I balance integration into Beninese and Expat society here in Cotonou with this lifestyle change, without making a big public stinkin’ deal of my choices? Oh wait, I’m a blogger.

Here’s the thing: I know that I can’t write about losing weight without occasionally sounding like my eating is disordered. Here’s another thing: I don’t give a fuck. There are three ways to get thin and stay thin once you’ve become obese: fanatically pay attention to what you’re eating (whether you’re counting calories, carbs, going paleo, or something else), become a fitness nut, or both.

Guess which method’s the most successful?

Guess which method the “Big 6″ used?

Guess which method I’m using?

In this month’s Marie Claire, there’s an article that trashes the “Big 6” of healthy living blogging for promoting and encouraging eating disorders. Even worse, Marie Claire tears these women apart without a trace of irony. Readers can read about the horrors of food blogging eating disorders before flipping three pages to models that represent the extreme of the patriarchy’s idea of what the ideal woman looks like. Ouch.

The interesting conversation here isn’t about responsibility. It isn’t about being a role model. It isn’t even about what people choose to share in public spaces. It’s about a socieity that expects women to be thin and fit and beautiful, but doesn’t want to hear abut the ugly details of getting there. There’s a lot of blame, defensiveness, and anger going around, and rightfully so. Mairie Claire just told those strong and beautiful woman that all the sweat, blood, and tears that they’ve put into meeting an impossible ideal still isn’t good enough, because they didn’t do it the way Marie Claire wants them to.