Recession Mama

{September 27, 2009}   GUEST POST: Five weeks in Africa

By Stephanie Bowen (Stephanie wrote Thoughts from Uganda for Recession Mama awhile back.  By popular demand, she is back with an update and photos!)


I have been back from Africa for over a month now and parts of my trip feel like a distant memory, where others I know will stay with me for a very long time. It was a trip for work but I grew so much personally that I would’ve gone as a volunteer (don’t tell my boss)!

A little background: I work for the humanitarian aid organization International Medical Corps. We focus on health care and training with the ultimate goal of helping communities become self-reliant. Our work literally saves lives and builds healthy futures. I’m not just saying this as their PR person – I’ve seen it first-hand. First in Indonesia about two years after the tsunami, now in Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This was my first trip to Africa and as you may remember from my blog reflecting on my wanderings through Kampala, I was immediately struck by the warmth of the people. That warmth continued on into Kenya and the Congo. Bright colors and big smiles were everywhere. Children were always running up to our vehicle, chasing us while laughing and waving. At one point I was in the middle of a refugee settlement in southwest Uganda surrounded by children who couldn’t stop laughing and screaming, so excited that I was taking their photograph and even more intrigued when I showed them the digital images. It was so much fun for me that I didn’t want to leave. To see that much joy in a situation that quite frankly can be very joyless was quite intoxicating.


The reality of life in the refugee settlements I visited in Uganda and the internally displaced persons camps I visited in the Congo were tough. Women who had been raped and left alone and pregnant (, and children who were so malnourished it was a miracle they were still alive ( But there were also many stories that left me feeling very good.

I haven’t formally written about it yet, but we have an amazing program in Kenya that has made great strides in fighting HIV and helping those who are infected. It’s our Home-Based Counseling and Testing program. We started it in Suba, which is along the shores of Lake Victoria and the HIV/AIDS rate is very high – some say up to 30% — because many women there frequently trade sex for fish so they can feed their families. We reached 100% coverage in Suba and now have expanded to a neighboring community, Migori.


Marcy and Jessica are just two of the women who are participating in this program. Having met with a volunteer community mobilizer, Marcy, and her sister-in-law, Jessica, decided to get tested for HIV – they wanted to know their status. Marcy has a five-month-old baby with her husband, Jessica’s brother, and being able to get tested in their shared home made it convenient and confidential. After preparing the women for all the possibilities and educating them about HIV and AIDS – the difference between them, transmission methods, risk reduction, etc. – they took their tests, which only needed about 10 minutes to process. They chose to get their results separately and were both happy to learn that they were negative. If they had been positive, International Medical Corps would’ve been there to make sure they knew how to access treatment and counsel them through the process. International Medical Corps has 44 counselors who go door to door, administering HIV tests in this one area alone. We test 3,000 people a month!

This is one of our community educators in the Kyaka II refugee settlement. The t-shirt she is wearing is one means of conveying information.

This is one of our community educators in the Kyaka II refugee settlement. The t-shirt she is wearing is one means of conveying information.

I don’t want to get too bogged down in the details of the program, but what I observed with the several families I witnessed getting tested is that this program is not only helping people who are infected it is changing people’s views on the disease. Stereotypes are being broken down, treatment is being sought and prevention measures are becoming more and more acceptable. Change is taking place around AIDS in Africa, one person and one family at a time.


I think the biggest highlight for me was when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a stop by one of our programs in the Congo ( We of course knew she was going through Congo on her Africa tour but were thrilled to learn that she was going to visit our nutrition program at the Mugunga I camp for those displaced inside their own country due to the ongoing war. I was supposed to come home right after Kenya, but got diverted to Congo to help document her visit. Even though I had spent six years in Washington, DC working for CNN, it was so thrilling for me to see our field staff – 96% of whom are local – being recognized in this very big way. People asked me if I met her or got my photo taken with her and to be honest, it never occurred to me because it was all about them. They are the people who are doing the hard work day in and day out and I was so glad she took the time to SHAKE EVERYONE’S HAND!


Okay – enough about International Medical Corps! Some of the other highlights of my trip were visiting the Nairobi National Park where I saw giraffes, ostriches, zebras, a hippo and countless other animals roaming around in their natural habitat (with the Nairobi skyline in the background!), and floating along the Nile River at the point where it starts its 3-4 month journey to the Mediterranean. I also loved that everywhere I went the Coca-Cola was served in bottles that had been used hundreds if not thousands of times before and the power outlets had switches so you could turn them on when you were using them so you weren’t wasting energy when you weren’t.

I have written way too much already, so I will stop here. But I will just say this: if you get the opportunity to go to Africa just do it. I’ve traveled to many countries and cultures – modern and developing – but there is nothing comparable. I can’t wait to go back!


{May 20, 2009}   Whut I Lerned In $kool

–by Carla


I understand the purpose of an education, I really do. I went to college. I have a bachelor’s. I dig teachers. Honest. In fact, I am half teacher. My Dad has been teaching for almost 40 years and my step-daughter is a brand new teacher. I love ’em, I really do. WHAT I was taught all those years still does boggle my mind. I just don’t know how much of that stuff helped me out in real life, day to day tasks. You might be able to relate:

* Dissecting a frog: I have yet to put any of that to good use, but had I paid more attention, maybe I could have removed my own gall bladder three years ago.

* Diagramming a sentence: Noun, verb, got it. Why did that have to look like a math problem?


* Math problems: I never really saw them as problems, therefore I never really cared to solve them. I mean, it looks just fine to me. I’ll just leave it alone. Again, never had to do that in real life since college. Never.

But what I really could have used were classes on other, more useful things, like MONEY, for crying out loud:

* Aside from spending it, what are some options when it comes to income?
* Savings, checking. Ok, those are basics, but how can I make my money grow and work for me? 

And don’t get me wrong, I did have a few classes over the years that taught these things, but they were brief and we never lingered much on the topic. It was like your parents talking to you about sex or smoking. “Don’t smoke. Ok, we got that out of the way, let’s go out for pizza”. (Come to think of it, we never had that conversation in my family)

I do, however, know that there are other ways of teaching kids about money. Aside from my 2 boys, my Mom, my Dad and my brother, all of my family lives in Mexico City. Picture the people from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, then picture a bunch of Lebanese folks who speak Spanish, and that’s them…a big, bold, smokey family who are all up in each other’s business 24/7 (which I love, by the way). My aunts and uncles taught my cousins (all 20 gazillion of them) about business and money and working hard and saving up, and at very young ages, (teens, early 20s) most already had their own businesses. Granted, my relatives most likely loaned them a little starter money, but they all did something with it, other than blow it on junk like yours truly.

I hope to find a nice balance with my boys and be able to teach them the basics and beyond. As for me, I can’t dwell on what I didn’t learn all those years ago, I just need to pay attention to the crash course in economics that I’m living as a 30-something and learn as much as possible right now.

And at least I don’t have to buy any books. Whew…



BY: Heather

OK mamas and papas… popular guy magazine, Maxim, has revealed its annual “Hot 100 List.”

No surprise here, But I did not make the list AGAIN. (I’m so joking!)

For the clueless… here’s how the magazine describes itself: “covering sex, sports, beer, hot babes, gadgets, fitness, and other topics for men.”

The magazine’s “Hot 100 List” offers pictures and a brief description of really beautiful and often scantily clad girls. (but who cares unless you’re into that sort of thing, here’s the link if you are)

Anyway… the list made the wheels in my head start turning. I know it’s dangerous when this happens, but just put on your helmets because here we go.

I was thinking what if there were a “Hot 100 Recession List”?

Ok. So a tanking economy doesn’t seem very sexy… but we can pretend. Just for grins lets call it the “Super Sexy Recession List.” I personally don’t have time to think of 100. But here’s my top 5.

5. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

These two used to look so good that we could sop “em up with a biscuit. Houses and kisses for anyone that applied! They were so adorable that everyone wanted to pat ’em on the head and squeeze their rosy little cheeks. But they’ve gone from cute and cuddly to total embarrassing mess.

Star equivalent: The Olsen Twins

Ashley Olsen and Mary Kate Olsen

4. Bailout Bill-

This bad boy looked pretty good at first and had some of us begging for more. But his quick and dirty ways soon left us feeling a little used. Wham, bam thank you ma’am. Now we need a trip to the free clinic.

Star equivalent: Motley Crue drummer, Tommy Lee


lindsay lo's mug shot

lindsay lo's mug shot

3. Hedge Funds-

These hot little numbers were popping up like reality TV and wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country. They were everywhere and making LOTS of money. But now they’re all dried up like a bad bag of potpourri stuck in the back of grandma’s closet.

Star equivalent: Lindsay Lohan and the cast of The Hills

"The Hills" girls

"The Hills" girls

2. Bernie Madoff- (famed Ponzi schemer)

This guy wasn’t easy on the eyes… but he was dynamite with the money. How else could he have gotten into to bed with so many Hollywood types? Such a smooth talker too. Charities, retirees, friends and family handed their money over with glee… only to be knocked out cold later.

Star equivalent- Mike Tyson


Brit's back, bitches.

Brit's back, bitches.

1. Wall Street-

This little temptress has been claiming victims for years. But she really got around in 2008. Everything was perfect for a while. But now she’s more unpredictable than a guerrilla on anti-depressants. Get involved if you dare.

Star equivalent- Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

There you have it… the top 5 of the “Super Sexy Recession List.” I don’t know about you, but it’s made me “hot and bothered.”

“Hot” as in “mad” and “bothered” as in “worried.” How did we get here gang? And when will we get back to the peachy keen days?

I need star equivalent- Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart

Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart

Doris Day and Jimmy Stewart

{April 9, 2009}   Recession Proofing a Marriage


Today’s Oprah was all about recession-proofing marriage. Is that even possible? Now, I’m not married, but I am engaged. Since we all know that couples fight mostly about money and sex, my fiance and I have extensive discussions about finances. We’ve even gone to pre-marital counseling. Now, I’m a realist.  I’ve had to be, and although our financial picture has not changed that much recently, we are closer to each other now, more than ever, in this recession.

Before I worked freelance as a TV producer, I didn’t really know much about money. I racked up credit card debt in college, like a Freshman adding the inevitable 15 pounds. Looking back, I laugh because I think my best friend Ryan and I thought we were rich! We took cabs, instead of the subway. We ate out at nice restaurants a LOT. I mean we were going to Ye Waverly Inn before it became a celebrity hotspot with its own Vanity Fair blog! Now, I even worked my way through college with THREE jobs, so you’d think I learned something about the value of money. But it’s difficult when no one ever wants to even approach the subject.

So how did I learn? Well, essentially by getting laid off for the first time in 2002. I was a news anchor in D.C., and right before the country went to war, this company (which will not be named) laid off the entire news staff. But their questionable decision was my path to a new world — the world of television and entertainment. I loved it. My first job was on a style/fashion type show, and if you know me…that’s always been one of my passions! I know designers like a 6 year old boy knows Hot Wheels. After two years working on that show, the network decided to move it to New York City, and that’s when I began to realize the importance of networking. I also figured it was necessary to have some savings. Now, I was still living with my parents then, and they will always support me. But it was time for me to get my own financial situation under control.

My first step was to figure out how to get rid of my credit card debt. I transferred everything onto a 0% card, and I applied anything extra out of my paychecks towards paying this card off. I, eventually, even transferred my student loan onto a 0% card. I don’t know if that’s a wise move these days because financial experts always tell you not to move your money from secured debts to unsecured ones. However, this really helped me.

My brother also helped. He consolidated one of my student loans with his, paid it off, and I just paid him monthly (without interest). (My brother is really the financial guru in the family. I hope to be him one day.) Soon, after paying off all of my debts, I started saving, and I now have roughly a year’s worth of expenses saved up.

Now, here’s the dilemma. My fiance and I have been engaged for a year now. We wanted to get married this August. But with the recession, we’d like to have an even bigger emergency savings because my savings would only cover me. If we were both out of a job, it definitely wouldn’t cover him. Most of you are probably thinking this is a no-brainer. We should just wait to get married, right? Well, not so simple. A lot of wedding locations, florists, photographers, etc. are offering deals THIS YEAR. And I’m a sucker for a bargain. So, to get married or not to get married. That is the question. And…just in case you were wondering. The question is NOT to have a cheaper, lesser wedding. I’m all about getting the BEST for LESS. I just need some help. ~Katy

et cetera