DC Soccer practice for Tots

Ok. Let’s get serious. When did soccer practice mean parents paying to corral toddlers to play soccer?

I mean, what.is.this?!

Lessons Learned from Toddler Soccer Practice:

  1. You are paying to corral your kid. And if you have two, you are paying to keep those little people on the field goshdarnit because we are paying for this.
  2. Hold up. How DO you learn to play soccer? Because this cone-on-your-head action is beyond me.
  3. My biggest success so far is my two year old son tries to touch his toes. I still don’t know how it relates to soccer, but this is a definite WIN. Oh and my daughter runs the four laps at the beginning of the session like a champ. Another win.
  4. Passing–which is soccer code for SHARING–is obviously not a popular concept at this age. Let’s have a serious conversation about when this concept can realistically be learned. Because it is painfully obvious that it is not now. I will sign my kids up when passing is actually feasible. Without it, it just the fastest kid gets the ball. If your kid isn’t the fastest, tough luck.
  5. Decide if it’s better to let the money go. I am battling going back or not. I paid for this! But it’s been four weeks of two back-to-back one hour sessions (two kids) trying to keep them on the field. Seriously. Not worth the $.
  6. Soccer practice doesn’t compete with the playground (which is right next door) when 1) you don’t touch the ball; 2) your jersey is to your knees; and 3) you’re being asked to run with the cone on your head.
  7. It DOES make a difference if your kids are the younger ones of the group. I have a two year old in the 2-3 age group and the 4 year old in the 4-5 year old age group. At this stage in life that mere year and even a few months makes a big difference. The best part of soccer is touching the ball. I am not setting my kids up to succeed. I can only tell them so many times that it is just important to keep running.

Bottom line: I may need to pull back right now. It’s too much at too stressful a time at too high a price. Actually the price of the class was reasonable so I am thankful I don’t feel like I am throwing (too much) money away. I am glad I tried this at least. And my son can touch his toes. Enough said.


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Running away from my kids on date night

Their screams got louder and louder as we neared the door. The closer we got, the higher the pitch. We’d given them 73 kisses, 24 hugs, said “te quiero” 19 times, and told them “one more minuto and then I’m leaving” 15 times.

None of this mattered. Mami and Papa were leaving and the world was ending. My idea of a good evening was just a happy thought I was naive enough to entertain. I heard maniacal laughter in the background. No wait, that was coming from my children.

I saw my husband walk out the door with his shoes and socks in hand. What a brilliant exit strategy! Just finish getting dressed outside! I grabbed my stuff too and ran out, crying, “los quiero, los amo, je vous aime!” When I opened the door, their cries filled our neighborhood street. I shut the door and hurried down the stairs, pretending not to notice the small hand reaching out of the mail slot. 

I didn’t stop until I was hidden behind our front yard plants. I brushed the dirt and dead leaves off my bare feet. I put on my shoes and almost gave up tying them. I couldn’t see a thing through the tears. I could still hear them crying. When did making time for your sanity, I mean, going on a date become so gut wrenching?!

I walked off. I didn’t know if my husband was with me or not. I just took off up the street.

Date night had begun.


When we walked back up our stairs (and this time together), our house was quiet. Our babysitter came down and told us about the games and discussions she had with the two kids. As we prepared for bed, we peered in on our kids. Remy was sleeping in his pillow, his little body being the exact size of his pillow. Eli was on her top bunk bed wrapped in her favorite blanket. They were breathing deeply and soundly. 

At 6:10am the next morning, I heard the sound of little feet running into our room. The soft tapping of their chubby hands let me know the day was starting. When I turned to look at them both, their faces were three inches from mine. Their smiles told me that the world had not ended. Instead it was a new day. They were excited to see me. And I was too. 

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I enjoyed taking in the “movement” of one participant’s reaction to a presentation today. While we were sitting I wanted to capture the weight and movement of the seating. It’s not perfect but mannit was fun to do during that session!

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A five day training and this Pepsi can is my take-away.

I call these “Les Petit Pois”. My kids love eating frozen green peas for a snack. They get home and ask for them. I act like it’s a bit deal but I give in and prepare their little bowls of petit pois. They are thrilled and hug each other and wait in anticipation for them. Eli asks for “14 mama? Or maybe 28 petit poids?” I give her 53. She’s estatic. They make me so happy.


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Developing who I am as an artist

I’m jumping back into it. I’ve decided to take a drawing class this fall. It has taken me a year to figure that out. I got overwhelmed by all I still need to learn: color theory, paint, oils, perspective, water color, the human form…digital painting! In my Google search for how to become an artist, well let’s just say the internet is overwhelming. All of a sudden I had thousands of YouTube videos I could watch but no time! 

Then it hit me: I love charcoal. I love drawing dark intense lines and shading. And I just need to start. Go back and learn…keep learning and growing. 

So this summer I just started. I responded to the urge I felt to put down my emotions on paper. I used a picture I snapped of my kids and just started again. 

Then I found a class at Washington Art Studio. This past weekend they offered an open house and I went. 

20 minute pose.

30 minute pose.

So that is that. I look forward to posting my sketches and progress as I go through this. 


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The Personal Cabbage

My colleague here invited me over to his house for a night of delicious tacos. I was grateful. With all the prep for the mediation workshop and revision of slides (how do you say “brainstorming negotiation options” in french again?) I haven’t been eating too well.

The first night I said I would and I confidently ordered a lamb stew.  Unfortunately, I swallowed a bone. I have been quite wary about eating since then. The food is good here. I just haven’t had the time to find a good place to sit and eat. Anyway, all of that to say the taco invitation was most welcome.

While in his kitchen preparing the food, he mentioned that we may need to run to market to get an onion and some fruit. I gasped with delight, “Yes! I will go! I need to get a cabbage.”

“A cabbage?” My colleague asked intrigued. “Why do you want a cabbage?”

I, unwilling to delve into the details, held back. “Oh well you know, cause I want a cabbage.”

Not satisfied with that answer, he cleverly replied, “So is this a facilitation cabbage or a personal cabbage?”

“A personal cabbage.” Though his eyes widen he didn’t keep pressing me. He would have accepted a facilitation cabbage: a prop for one of my training activities. But a personal cabbage? Who knows what that means! I promised him that next time I visited I would share. Over a beer.

You my friends, don’t need to wait. Aren’t you so lucky? Well actually a beer sounds good right about now too. My own personal cabbage: what could that mean? It’s really not that sexy:

Did you know cabbage has natural properties to help reduce engorgement when your breast milk comes in? Cabbage leaves have been used by many (including myself!) to prevent swelling during those first crazy idealic days after the birth. If you want to continue breastfeeding it is encouraged not to use the leaves for more than a few hours a day, for only one or two days. But if you are like me and you are weaning, well bring on the cabbage!

When I shared this information with Philippe over Facetime, my daughter chimed in and asked about “my leches“. Yes, that is how she refers to my breasts. The Leches (the Milks). I was telling Philippe all about the cabbage and using my hands to point to my chest and whatnot. Eliana asked: “Those are your leches?”

“Si, son mis leches.” I decided then I should explain to her that there will be no more milk. “Pero no hay leche Eliana – there is no more milk.”

“Wwwwwwwwhy?” Eliana replied, in what is now her favorite, I repeat, favorite word to use for everything.

“Well, I came to Mali and my leche is now gone. We will have to tell Remy this but he is going to cry and be very triste.”

“Remy!” Eliana turned to her brother, “There is no leche. No leche Remy.”

Remy started to fuss, not because he knew what was going on but because he had finished is plate and wanted more. However, Eliana took that as a cue about just how big this step is going to be for him. So she intervened:

“Mama, maybe you can have one leche, just uno?”

My sweet daughter. I was grateful to not physically be there right then because I would have given in and agreed with that option. It was a great idea on Eliana’s part.

But I literally can’t be there. Since I am here. So for now it is just me and my personal cabbage.




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Her name is Boubilou

Customs officer: Madame, avez-vous une facture pour ces deux ordinateurs? Pour rentrer ici, il faut l’avoir. Sinon, vous pouvez me donner 100,000 CFA et je vous donnerai une facture pour les ordinateurs.

Wait…did I hear him right? I need to show the receipt for these two computers or else I won’t be let in? And did he say that if I don’t have it, I need to give him 100,000 CFA (which I at the moment I have no idea how much that is) so that he can give me a receipt?

Welcome to my thought process at 9pm at night in the hot customs office in the Bamako airport of Mali. I am here to support the startup of one of our new conflict management programs and I am excited to get this chance to work with the team. That is, if I get to meet the team. That is, if I can get past the airport door.

It dawns on me right away that a huge reason I am here is to lead a negotiation and mediation workshop. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the mediation trainer can’t negotiate her way out of the airport? The pressure is on.

My first move is to make sure I heard him right. After some back and forth I confirm that 1) they indeed are keeping my bag and 2) I will need to pay money. I then consider my state of mind: I had just spent 25 hours getting to Mali, and while it was smooth, I am quite tired. I want to get to the hotel so I could pump and get at least 6 hours before the very busy days ahead of me.

My next move is to be honest: “I don’t have any money right now. And I am unclear on what I need to do.” They are silent at first and then repeat the need for the receipt.

Ok ok. I tell them I have a colleague here who is outside and can help me with this. They wave me away and say, “Sure go find him” and of course I have to leave my bag in their office. My sneaky move to walk out with my bag in hand is not so sneaky. Sigh. I tell the security guard at the exit I need to get a friend outside so he could help me with my bag. He says no problem. I walk out to the warm air and think “This will be quick.” But 15 minutes later, after telling the 10th young man that no I don’t want a taxi and no I don’t want to buy cellphone credit but merci I appreciate the offer, I am still unable to find the driver who was there to meet me.

It was at that moment when I realize I don’t have his number written down. It is somewhere in one of my emails. I can’t be able to access them. This experience is going to be added to my rapporteur of airport arrivals entitled “Leslie’s airport arrivals missing vital information”. In particular my Yemen and Egypt arrivals are quite notable. I promise to write about those. But for now, I am a little bummed and distressed that I arrived at that point when I had no way of contacting someone to help the situation.

Ok, so actually that is not true. Based on what I learned from the young men who came up to me I do know I could call someone if I had credit and money to do so. So I go back into the airport and find the ATM machine. I see the quick money options and think 20,000 CFA sounds about right. I get my money and then ask a female guard if she had a phone. I have the number of our country director. She dials, speaks to someone and then hands me the phone. I apologize for bothering her and let her know I am stuck at the airport. She asks whether they want 1,000 or 100,000 CFA because “if it is the first, that is less than $2 but if it’s the latter that is a bigger story”. Immediately I did a quick calculation in my head and realize I just spent the $3.50 bank fee to take out a whopping total of $34. Way to go Les. Way to go.

I tell her I will check and get back to her. The amount confused me before so when I return to the custom guards they clarify that it is 100,000 (about $200). I reply, “You are sure it’s not 1,000?” The man isn’t amused and asks for my passport. I hesitate and then give it to him. He looks at it and says “American…Obama…American…you just need to give me money so I can give you the receipt”. Again, I really don’t have a response. My $34 isn’t going to cut it. Before I have the chance to say anything again, he asks me if I understand French. I tell him emphatically, OUI! It is however my first time to Mali so….as I was about to go into a whole discussion on accents, he interrupts me by exclaiming ”Oh so this is your first time?  So what will be your Malian name?” At this I am intrigued. I tell him that this is indeed my first time here and I am excited to get to know a new place. He and his colleague confer and say I am either “Fatma or Boubilou”.




It takes me awhile to get it. Somehow the number of ‘b’s and ‘o’s throw me off. He loses his patience and says, “Take your bag and go.” I grab it right away. Yet I then turn back to him to confirm my new Malian name when he shakes his head and points towards the door. Message received.

I walk out free…for two seconds before getting stuck behind the next person with their bag open and being checked. Eventually I pick up my bag and haul it over the mix of clothes, deodorants and cd players and hurry along before the guards retract their decision. I walk out the door to the parking lot. I did it. I did it! And no I don’t need cellphone credit. And no, I don’t need a taxi I say confidently. Merci merci.

Then all lights go out. It is pitch black. All I can see are the lights from the taxi drivers’ cigarettes. I think to myself that it may not be so quick to find my driver. But at least I know who I am. I negotiated out of this my own way.

Love from Mali,


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