A space for the special

I've never been a fan of living in the city, so Eric and I have tried to make our home into a bit of a sanctuary, even if we only get a quarter of an acre to work with.  We use the little space we have to retreat from the Kampala crazy and I like to pretend our home is a cottage in the middle of a tropical jungle.  With this in mind, and through the inspiration of Swahili chic decor, we combined form and function on the roof of our staff quarters to make a jungalow rooftop lounge, complete with a view of a tiny slice of Lake Victoria.

We had to work around our water tank, but we still managed to make a space that we use for the Special.  This year, we've used this small, calming space to host friends for sundowners or brunch, to throw a birthing blessingway, and mostly for my morning yoga and contemplation.  With a child in the house, it's a treat to step away, even if it is in the back yard, to re-fuel for a bit.  It's a simple set-up, but it's much-loved.  This space for the special brings sunbirds who drink water from the vine's flowers and lets me watch the hawks and ibis as they glide into the treetops at my height.

Hope to host you here soon.  It will be special to have you.

A baby in the house

When a woman becomes pregnant in our culture, she's soon told of all the "stuff" that is required to buy for her baby-to-be.  It's inevitable, we're told, that our home will become a mess, cluttered with baby gear, toys, and all the necessities our new tiny human must need.  Swings, pack-and-plays, and wipes warmers are all seen as "musts" for this coming babe.

But I live in Uganda and although I certainly could have all that "stuff" if I wanted it, I have learned from Ugandan mothers that babies actually need very little and the "musts" are much fewer than my American consumer culture insists upon.  After all, raising a baby is a practice that is literally as old as humankind and most of these gadgets have only be introduced in our generation.  Raising a baby in Uganda has given me the gift of insight into the beauty of simplicity, but even I feel like I've overdone it sometimes.  In one example, we transformed our guest room into a room for the coming baby months before his arrival, complete with a crib (you must have a crib, right?).  But a separate room for a baby is nearly unheard of in Uganda and now I know why.  It truly is not a "must." Our crib remains practically untouched, since Leo continues to sleep between the two of us, so we mainly use his room for diaper changes and storing his clothes and toys, which still feels excessive sometimes.  Even so, I had fun decorating it!

I chose carefully what I would bring into our lives when Leo arrived.  I didn't want much, and what we did choose to add, I wanted to be beautiful and practical.  I dread clutter and love my home's aesthetic, so I wanted products that would add to the decor in my home.  I couldn't always find what I wanted, which is one reason I started my own small business called Baby Lionheart, which sources beautiful handmade baby products from Uganda, all made from natural and locally-sourced materials.  Like other products in my life, I also wanted to know where they came from, what they are made from, and who made them.

Below are photos of the products I have carefully chosen to have in Leo's life and in our home.

Bassinet stand made by a local carpenter and Moses basket woven in western Uganda.  Both are available at Baby Lionheart.
Sheepskin rug from Ecowool.

Moses basket woven in western Uganda and swaddle blanket handwoven from Ugandan cotton.  Both are available at Baby Lionheart.
Sheepskin rug from Ecowool.

Toy baskets bought locally. Wooden blocks from Baby Lionheart.  Wooden puzzle from Manzanita Kids.

Activity gym handmade in Uganda, available at Baby Lionheart.  Sheepskin from Ecowool.

Crib, changing table, and rocking chair all made locally and bought second-hand.  Mudcloth wall hanging from  Mazmoon's Treasures.   Rug bought on a  trip to Jordan.

Crib, changing table, and rocking chair all made locally and bought second-hand.  Mudcloth wall hanging from Mazmoon's Treasures.  Rug bought on a trip to Jordan.

Diaper basket woven in Uganda from palm leaves.  Pure shea butter made in Uganda and available at Baby Lionheart.

Mudcloth wall hanging imported from West Africa by Mazmoon's Treasures.

Lion photo from Sherry McKelvie Wildlife Photography.  Stool hand-carved in DR Congo.

Mobile made in Uganda, bought at Banana Boat.

Quilt made by my second cousin.  Stuffed animals gifts from Leo's 2 aunts.

Photo by Sherry McKelvie Wildlife Photography.  Caricature drawing by local artist Johnmary Mukisa.  Basket from Rwanda.

Geometric toy cars and stuffed bunny from Baby Lionheart.  Bird stacking blocks from Manzanita Kids.  Other toy cars handmade and bought on my trip to Vermont.

Beads given to me by women at my birthing blessingway. Basket made locally.  Stuffed monkey was Eric's when he was a baby.

Carved pregnant belly handmade in DR Congo.

Swahili architecture and decor

The Swahili coast offers a lot to brag about - from the white sand beaches and warm ocean waves to the eclectic mix of cultures, that part of our world has undoubtedly won my admiration.  I've been lucky enough to snag 2 visits to the Swahili coast in the last few months - one to Zanzibar, Tanzania and another to Lamu, Kenya, both old towns with much history and culture to offer; but one of my favorite aspects of Swahili culture remains the style and decor of their buildings and living spaces.

Swahili chic style has become my favorite inspiration for my own home. The Swahili style combines several cultures, bringing together influences from Arab, Indian, and African styles.  In Swahili buildings, the indoor and outdoor flow into one another, with the ocean breeze wafting through it all.  The Swahili people use natural and local materials for construction and decor, and incorporate fine detail in just the right places.  But best of all, Swahili style represents how beauty is found in simplicity.

Here are a few pictures from my time in Zanzibar and Lamu to show you what I mean.