Wednesday, December 31, 2008

December 31, 2008 - Ringing in the New Year

Kristoffer and I successfully traveled to Denmark the evening after Christmas, and spent our first two days celebrating Christmas with Kristoffer's family on his father's side. I hadn't seen his father, step-mother, or brother's family since our wedding, and I hadn't seen his step-brothers in at least two years so it was really fun. Everyone liked the African goodies we brought with us and Simba was given many lovely gifts from them as well.

On the 29th we left his father's and went to another celebration - his grandmother's 85th birthday!

Even though her birthday isn't actually for a few months, she wanted to have her party while we were all home for the holidays so that everyone would be together. My big belly and Simba's 2-month old cousin, Claudia, were big hits at the party. It was a really fun day and allowed us to spend good time with Kristoffer's extended family. We were received so warmly after coming home to Denmark for the first time from Kenya and we hope that Mormor Karen enjoyed her early birthday celebration. Below are all of us together, except for Kristoffer's aunt, Kitte, who is taking the picture.

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Kristoffer's cousin Klaus and his girlfriend Mette, who are Baby Claudia's parents, also gave me a little bit of practice with their little one which I loved. It is hard to imagine that in 9 more weeks Baby Simba will be the one in my arms!

After the birthday party, we went home to Varde with Kirsten and Hans and have been enjoying a few days of relaxation with them. Tonight the four (and a half) of us will celebrate the end of 2008 together, certainly an exciting year that we will never forget, and will welcome 2009 with all of the joy it will bring us.

On Friday we head back to the little island where Kristoffer was born, Als, to spend a little more time with his father and brother's family, and then we will visit our friends in Copenhagen for a few days before ending our trip back here in Varde on January 10th.

What a wonderful way to end this year and start the next...five weeks of fun, family, and friends in our home countries! We hope 2009 brings you many blessings and look forward to sharing ours with you through this blog!

As we say in Denmark: Godt Nytar! Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

December 25, 2008 - A Merry Mueller Christmas!

Kristoffer and I have had a wonderful time these last three weeks visiting our family and friends in the northeast.

We spent Christmas Eve Day at my parents house...

before heading to my sister Meghan's in the hopes that Santa Claus would visit all 14 of the Mueller clan...

The kids had a wonderful time together and all seem eager to welcome Simba into their "cousin club" as soon as s/he arrives...

Kristoffer also enjoyed a pick up game of basketball with his brothers-in-law today...

Mostly, it was such a treat to be so relaxed and surrounded by our American loved ones. We leave tomorrow night for two weeks in Denmark and can't wait to see all of our favorite Danes!

Merry Christmas from our suitcase to yours!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

December 13, 2008 - 28 Weeks Pregnant for Simba's Shower

Today it felt like Christmas came a little early! At 28 full weeks pregnant, my family and friends gathered for a surprise baby shower. My mom's camera broke so I have to wait for other people to send me pictures to post them, but it was a wonderful day! Everyone brought a book to help Simba begin an early love for reading. We also received a lot of adorable baby clothes and other gear - many of them animal themed! My family and friends were extremely generous, and several people traveled by road or air to get here to celebrate with us. It was especially exciting to meet my friend Sarah's 3-month old son, Luke, to receive a beautiful hand-knit sweater, hat and blanket made by my Mom (Simba's NeNe), and to get two of Kristoffer's favorite children's books from Simba's Farmor (Kristoffer's mom) in Denmark. We are so grateful to have such amazing friends and relatives, and our baby is very lucky to already be so loved!

Our trip in the US has thus far been great. Other than being a bit jet-lagged and waking up every morning at 4:30am ready to eat (that is lunch time in Kenya!), I am feeling really well. Our trip here, while long, went very smoothly and we have enjoyed relaxing with my parents, playing with Meghan's kids, meeting Christine's boyfriend and meeting my friend Joanna's 10-week-old son, William. We have also made great strides towards helping the American economy by shopping, but today's party was definitely the highlight for me! Tomorrow we are driving to New York City for a few days to see my doctor and visit my NYC friends, and after that my brother's family arrives from Chicago for the week of Christmas. It is so much fun to be home!

It is hard to believe that Christmas is still two weeks away, though, because we feel like we already have absolutely everything we could ever want!


Friday, December 5, 2008

December 5, 2008 - Happy Kenyan Anniversary!

December 6th, 2007 was the day that Kristoffer and I arrived in Nairobi after leaving the US on December 1st and traveling to WFP Headquarters in Rome for a few days. If you'll recall, we also spent a random night in Doha, Qatar! The irony of this anniversary is that December 6th, 2008 (tomorrow!) is also the day we arrive back in the US to begin our 5-week vacation and surround ourselves with family, friends, and home style food ( = Dunkin Donuts at the international arrivals terminal at Logan Airport the minute after we find and hug my father).

On any big holiday or anniversary, I am prone to stop and reflect on what has changed about my situation or how I have changed since the last holiday or anniversary...but in regards to Kenya, I feel like I have actually spent the entire year - largely through this blog and emails with my friends and family - reflecting on what has changed and the person I am now. So I won't bore you with a list because there are over 100 blogs you could go back and read if you really wanted to do that!

What I can say is that I think the very best part of this year has been the relationship Kristoffer and I have developed. Of course we were already in love and best friends and married and all that when we got here, but at the time we moved here we had only been married and living together for 5 months so there were still some kinks to be worked out! Without any family or friends besides each other at first, we came to rely on each other in a totally new way. We have learned that not only do we love each other, but we really, really like each other too! We communicate even better than we did before, we make each other laugh (in my case, often when I am trying really hard not to), we can anticipate each other's fears and needs, and we are always looking out for each other over here. We literally went from being a couple who mostly only saw each other on weekends or holidays for four years, to a couple who spends almost all of our time together. We have really made the shift, and I think it is a special and spectacular part of this year's experience for us.

At our goodbye party at my parents home last year my Uncle Tom said to Kristoffer that maybe it was a blessing to be taking our marriage so far away so that we could really develop a healthy foundation for the rest of our marriage. We thought that was a thoughtful and interesting thing to say, but it hasn't been until now that we really agree with and appreciate what he meant! We especially feel that what we have learned about ourselves and each other in this last year will be very useful as we tackle the new challenge of being parents. I can only imagine that in a year from now I will be reflecting on how much our baby has changed our lives!

Now of course having said all that, it would be the understatement of the year to say that we are only excited to get out of Kenya for awhile and see our loved ones. We are nearly desperate for a change of pace! Our plane departs in 11 hours and we are ready to go!

I may not be blogging as often as usual in the next five weeks but I promise to throw you a bone every now and again :)

Happy Kenyan Anniversary!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December 2, 2008 - The Dislocated American

There is a very interesting article in the NY Times this week, "The Dislocated American" about Americans who become expats, and how the happiness of the spouse of the person with the overseas job can pretty much make or break such a big move. We were warned of this and have actively tried to make sure that both of us were happy with our decisions and activities. Kristoffer has been my biggest advocate over here since the beginning (to get work, meet other spouses, etc.) because he realized that he would be unhappy with his great new job if I didn't find a life here. The article points out that sometimes it is other expats who provide the most amount of comfort because they know what you are going through! Check it out if you care for a quick, interesting read that tells you a little bit about some of the things we have gone through in the last year...

And while I'm on the topic, I feel a bit like a "Dislocated American" myself right now! As desperately as we want to and are ready to come home (3 more days!), my work deadlines appear to be flying at me in hyper-speed this week. My work is very dependent on other people giving me information at certain times, and when they don't it makes it very hard for me to get my job done, which is the situation I am in right now. Last night I had what Kristoffer is calling my "first real pregnancy night" because I was overtired, stressed about work, unable to eat, unable and unwilling to be consoled, and a general emotional wreck. He survived the night pretty well but it was definitely a little touch and go for a few hours! After going to sleep at 8:30pm, I woke up at 4:38 am this morning with my mind completely wired with a million things to do. I think I'll be happy when we are on the plane!

So I shouldn't even be writing a blog right now but since I have been staring at spreadsheets for the last 5 hours straight I decided that a few minutes of "me time" while I try to eat a sandwich would be a good idea. In my 27th week of pregnancy I have decided that there are quite a few things about being pregnant that I am good at...

• Sleeping
• Talking to the baby
• Getting food on my belly
• Lying down when I’m at home
• Dealing with pregnancy symptoms well and not panicking or over-reacting
• Tripping (only actually fell once, used my knees and hands to protect my belly)
• Taking my vitamins
• Thinking of myself as and visualizing being a mother
• NOT using the pregnancy against Kristoffer to get what I want

There are also some things that I am not so good at regarding this whole pregnancy thing...

• Eating regularly or healthily...alright, let’s just say eating altogether
• Exercising more than regular walking
• Taking breaks from sitting at my desk at work to stretch
• Finding safe, high-quality, nice-looking, affordable baby furniture in Nairobi

The good news is that the first list is longer than the second :) We will soon see which list "travelling very long distances" falls under!


Saturday, November 29, 2008

November 29, 2008 - Turkey Hangover

I intended to write this yesterday, but a very busy day at work left no time for blogging.

Our Thanksgiving turned into a much more festive affair than we anticipated! First we worked the whole day and both found ourselves extremely busy as we get closer to taking our leave. Then we went to our friend/neighbor's house (Mike and Caroline) to join them and their friends for Thanksgiving dinner. They have a great friend who often travels through Nairobi for his work and also happens to be an incredible chef. He made a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, the works! The rest of us brought salads and desserts and it was a fantastic dinner party! It might be the most food I have eaten at once in my whole pregnancy - it was so good I couldn't stop! And when I woke up yesterday morning, the baby was not moving around nearly as much as usual in the morning and we decided that s/he probably had a bit of a turkey hangover. Too much tryptophan for Simba!

Even nicer than the incredible food was the wonderful company! We met another pregnant American woman who works for the NY Times, along with her husband here (but he was covering a story in Rwanda at the time), and we agreed to be mommy buddies next year! I met an American acupuncturist who was so friendly and knowledgeable(and for those who know my history with acupuncture - I would actually trust her as much as Ted!) and who we hope to see more of along with her husband. Everyone else was great too! It was a fun night of getting to know new people, laughing a lot, and, even though it had been a hot, sunny day and didn't quite feel like Thanksgiving without any family nearby, we had a really great holiday!

We are close to having all of our bills paid and other such business sorted out before we leave for 5 weeks, and we will both even do a little work this weekend to ensure that everything gets wrapped up at our jobs before we go. I am 26 full weeks pregnant today - only 14 more weeks to go! Simba is definitely growing, my balance is a little off these days so I actually have to waddle a bit to make sure that I don't fall over (I do have freakishly small feet), and with the hot "summer" season getting started my feet and hands are more swollen than they used to be (although thankfully the itchiness has gotten better!).

One more week and we'll be on our way home!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 27, 2008 - Giving Thanks, Asante Sana

As I sit here eating my breakfast and watching CNN's covereage of these horrible terrorist attacks in Mumbai (6:45 am our time), I am overwhelmed by all of the things Kristoffer and I have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. We are safe, we are healthy, we have a stable income from work we like doing, we are bringing new life into the world, we are able to travel to two other continents to spend time with our loved ones very soon, and the list goes on. Even though our Thanksgiving holiday might be spent somewhat differently this year than in the past - working all day, but having some kind of Thanksgiving dinner with friends tonight - it has certainly not escaped us how fortunate we are.

This past Sunday morning, we had the pleasure of joining some visiting Americans for breakfast at their hotel in Nairobi. A few of these visitors are from my home town of Andover, MA and with a group of west-coasters came to Kenya to spend this week building a much-needed well for an orphanage in the western Kenya city of Kisii. It was inspirational to meet the Kenyan woman who started this orphanage, and to hear the excitement in her visitors' voices about how they would be spending their Thanksgiving week. We were impressed by their act of selfless charity, as well as their plans to remain involved in the orphanage in the future when they return home to their regular lives. In a world where the news reports bomb blasts, terrorist attacks, financial crises, and health scares around the world all day everyday, it is important to also remember that really good people are doing really good things for other people everyday too!

It makes me less likely to complain about our TV and internet being broken (although both were finally fixed yesterday) and about crazy restaurants when I stop to reflect on all of the amazing blessings in my life. Kristoffer and I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Make sure to tell someone else: Asante Sana (thank you very much, in Swahili)!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 22, 2008 - Kitchen's Closed

Kristoffer and I had a nice day out in the sun today, shopping at an outdoor bazarre and laying by the pool. It was a really hot day here - Africa hot even! Around 5:45 pm we went to a new restaurant in Nairobi that we discovered last weekend for an early dinner. They have EXCELLENT chocolate milkshakes, which I really craved after all the sun. So we arrived, were given food and drink menus, and ordered our drinks. When the waitress brought our drinks, she put them down and started to walk away. Kristoffer said, "Can we order our food now?" She replied, "Food?" We replied, "Yes." She then said, "Oh, the kitchen is closed since 5:30 pm." So Kristoffer said, "Then why did you give us the food menu?" to which she simply said, "Oh, sorry," and we asked for our check.

We have had plenty of experiences at restaurants here where they didn't have some of the food on the menu, but to actually not even be open and still be giving people the menu was a little crazy! As Kristoffer said when the waitress walked away, "That was a new one."

Am I allowed to start an official countdown until we leave for our holiday? If so, we're at 13 days. Oh yeah...and only 15 weeks left until Simba roars for the first time!


Friday, November 21, 2008

November 21, 2008 - TGIF!

Kristoffer and I leave for the US two weeks from tonight...and even though we are SO happy it is Friday today because we've had sort of long week, we wish it was the Friday we were leaving.

You know when something small annoys you about someone, and then all of the sudden EVERYTHING about that person drives you crazy and they can absolutely do nothing right by you? Well...that is sort of how we feel about Kenya these days. This week our cable broke, our telephone line at home broke, our housekeeper shrunk some stuff in the wash, someone at work screwed up my paycheck, etc. On the scale of "no a big deal" to "life's serious problems" these are definitely no big deal...but they are all just making it that much more difficult for us to wait for our holiday. We know that when we come back in January we will feel refreshed and will be able to appreciate, once again, all the things we like about Kenya and Kenyans...but in the mean time, enough already!

As we wind down in these last two weeks we are both very busy at work: I am finishing up my current contract so I have a lot of work "due" to my boss and Kristoffer has to take care of a lot in preparation for being gone from his job for five weeks (we still can't believe they allowed him to take so much time off - we are VERY lucky!). At 25 weeks in utero, the baby is also growing and moving constantly - which is a fun distraction except when I want to sleep. It is hard to fall asleep when someone is constantly nudging at your insides!

Last night we watched the Abba movie musical Mamma Mia on DVD, which we "locally" purchased after it never ended up coming to the movie theaters here. I loved it, of course, and the baby was moving around a lot so I assume s/he loves Abba too. I think Kristoffer thought it was cheesy and predictable (although he didn't say so in those words) but seemed happy that I was not complaining about anything for two hours while watching the movie.

This weekend we start shopping for our trip home and hope, hope, hope to place an order for baby furniture to be made while we are away.

Thank Goodness It's Friday!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 19, 2008 - World Toilet Day

When you work at UNICEF, you sometimes get emails like this....

Dear Colleagues,

You may not be aware, but today is World Toilet Day. November 19 was declared as "World Toilet Day" in 2001 and this is now being celebrated all over the world. The purpose is to increase awareness and generate local action for better sanitation practices.

In Kenya, with 38 Million population, we need to increase available toilet facilities by over 50% to meet the demands of our growing population. Lets applaud the WASH section who are working with GoK and partners to achieve this goal.

Remember, always wash your hands with soap, after every critical moment, please be an advocate and remind others! Why? Imagine, Over 70% of care-givers do not wash their hands at critical moments , Hand washing with soap alone, will reduce child death caused by diarrhoea by 20%!! AMAZING.......We can do this together, Yes we can......

So, Happy World Toilet Day to you...I hope you make it a good one!

Monday, November 17, 2008

November 17, 2008 - Bizarro World

Today both Kristoffer and I felt like we were living in a strange, strange world - not necessarily for bad reasons, but we both thought that strange things were happening!

For Kristoffer, he had a very important, serious meeting this morning with officials from the Ministry of Education (a meeting which he was responsible for facilitating). It all went well and a few hours later, he found himself at a production plant for CSB (corn soy blend: a nutrient-fortified product WFP provides to schools for pre-primary school children to have morning porridge) walking around wearing a hair net as he learned about their manufacturing processes. He thought that was really strange!

For me, I was really busy at work but was distracted by strange noises coming from under and near some shelves in my office (which I share with 3 other people). After being convinced there was some kind of animal in our office, we notified the appropriate people and waited, waited, waited for them to come do something about it! Finally, it was so distracting that my colleague decided to hunt the animal herself. I was convinced it was a group of mice or a snake so I went out into the hallway, and when she started poking around a big black cat darted out towards her and jumped out the window! Phew - mystery solved - there was a cat in our office! We get back to work and within a few minutes hear more of the same scratching. So she decides to keep poking around and, sure enough, she finds an empty box with 3 very new kittens (their eyes were just opened so about 2 weeks old). Either the cat had the kittens in our office and we didn't know it this whole time, or she somehow dragged them in through the window when we weren't there at night or over the weekend. Now we have 3 kittens and no mama cat...we hope she comes back in through the window tonight to get them so that they don't die. We didn't want to put them outside or they would most likely be eaten by the family of 12 monkeys that hang around in the trees outside our window. Bizarro!

Finally, when we were driving home from work today we noticed that a lot of cars/drivers were behaving so strangely. They were all driving according to their own rules - cutting people off, driving on the wrong side of the road, etc. - and we saw several near-accidents. We couldn't quite get over it - even for Nairobi people were driving crazy! But then we got stuck in a horrible traffic jam shortly after noticing this and had to pull a bizarro u-turn of our own to go home a different way. You know what they say...when in Rome!

Nothing new on the pregnancy pregnancy was the most normal part of the day!


p.s. To add to the bizarro-ness of the day, Kristoffer and I have been sitting next to each other on our couch for the last two hours, on two different laptops, each working on a project for our respective jobs, without TV, music, or talking to each other. Believe me when I say this is VERY bizarre for us!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 15, 2008 - 24 Weeks Pregnant

Today I am 24 full weeks pregnant. Yesterday we had our usual check up with the doctor (no ultrasound) and everything went very well.

Actually before we met with the doctor, we went to check out the "Pavilion" maternity wing at the hospital where I will be giving birth to our baby. The nurse who gave us the "tour" was so nice. We saw a "standard room" - your basic private hospital room with a bathroom, TV, mini-fridge, very similar to those I've experienced in America, not bad at all; then we saw an "executive suite" - which has a more spacious hospital room, an upgraded bathroom with both a shower and a separate bath tub, and a private living room (with couch, chairs, and TV) connected by a sound-proof wall for visitors to be in there with the baby and/or Kristoffer while I could be sleeping! Both types of room have a bed for Kristoffer to stay over night with us which is great, but we will definitely be going with the suite. We also saw the nursery and asked the appropriate security questions, and we saw the labor-delivery-recovery room where we will be until after the baby is born and we are both all cleaned up and moved to our suite. Overall, we feel really good about the hospital. It was clean, the staff was very friendly, and it made us feel really good to visualize where the big show will take place.

Then we went to see my doctor. We like her so much! We think that she likes us too because we probably show more emotion than most Kenyans do(sometimes we are practically giddy!) and because we probably ask more questions than most of her patients. Kenyans are typically more diminutive in the face of doctors, lawyers, and other people of authority. Anyway, everything went well at the appointment. I gained 3 kilos in the last 4 weeks which is really good news because up until now I haven't gained too much - probably 8 or 9 lbs in total. My heart rate (a little higher than usual) and blood pressure (low but normal for me) were both fine and consistent with previous appointments. The baby's heart was also normal at 164 bpms, especially because s/he was moving around a lot yesterday. The baby is located in the right place and measuring perfectly for 24 weeks. All good news! We talked to the doctor about interviewing pediatricians, which we will do when we get back to Kenya in January, as well as scheduling our child birth class, again something we can't do until we get back in January. She confirmed that my swollen, itchy feet and my late-night calf cramps are totally normal in pregnancy. The one thing I need to continue working on is trying to eat more. Kristoffer ratted me out and told her that I eat less now than when I wasn't pregnant - but it is not for lack of wanting to eat! I honestly can't eat more than I do - it is very bizarre!

Finally, we talked a lot about our upcoming travel plans. We have 6 flights total and 4 of them are pretty long; I have to make sure to sit on the aisle and in a row with as much leg room as possible, I have to drink a lot of fluids, take small walks and stretch my legs often, and try to get a lot of rest in between flights. Nothing surprising really and most things that all people should do on long flights anyway; I just have to be more careful as a pregnant woman so that I don't get blood clots. She predicted that coming back east will be harder than going west (which is usually the case for me!) and she thought it was probably a good idea that I will not be working between our trip and my due date so that I can just get a lot of rest and be as ready for delivery as possible!

We always leave these doctor's appointments so happy and excited; unfortunately it was temporary because the food I ate for lunch yesterday made me really, really sick last night. I had horrible stomach pains for a few hours - if I didn't know better I would have thought I was having contractions! Finally I was violently ill and felt much better once my system was clean and empty. Kristoffer was so wonderful, holding my hair back and rubbing my back as needed. When I was sick early on in the prgenancy it was much quicker, not painful, less dramatic. This is the second time that I have been sick in this way in the last month and I hope it is the last time! Today I am feeling better, although a little weak and sore in the stomach, so we will take it easy this weekend.

This is what we look like these days, Simba and I. We arrive in Boston 3 weeks from today and I am sure I will look even bigger by then! (photo taken in our backyard)


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

November 11, 2008 - Simba's First "Game"

Last night Kristoffer went to watch a squash tournament (squash the sport, not squash the vegetable - K is all about squash these days) with our friend Mike and the chocolate chip cookies I made him, and I stayed home to lay on the couch and watch my favorite Australian soap opera. Shortly after lying down, the baby kicked and these days his/her kicks can be also seen by watching my belly. I decided to poke the little one back in the same spot, and within 2 or 3 seconds s/he kicked (or maybe punched!) again. I poked back, then the baby kicked, I poked back, then the baby kicked. We went back and forth at least 10 times before we both got tired of this game. I was so bummed to be alone because I wondered if anyone would actually believe that Simba and I played our first mother-child game! It was so fun! Perhaps some might say this was just a coincidence and that Simba was not responding to me directly, but I say BOO to that! It sure felt like s/he was responding to me! And it was totally awesome. It made me really excited to play real games like "peek a boo" with our baby in the future.

My latest pregnancy symptoms include strong cravings for milk and very, very, very itchy feet (like around my arches and weird!). I am also pretty tired these days - almost in a first trimester sort of way - which I think is attributed to that fact that the baby is growing so fast. We have a 24 week doctor's appointment on Friday and will bombard her with questions about our upcoming travel, dealing with jet-lag, and scheduling our child-birth classes. We will also take a tour of the hospital pavillion where the baby will be born.

March 7th definitely seems closer everyday!


Monday, November 10, 2008

November 10, 2008 - Keeping the Pace

There was a news story released yesterday saying that many headphones for iPods and other MP3 players can cause cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators to go a little crazy.

Because I have already received a few emails from people asking me about this, I thought I would post that I never talk on my cell phone on the left side of my body (pacemaker side) for the same reason, and I don't ever have my iPod headphones close to my heart. I should be OK in terms of this new concern. People who are more pacemaker-dependent than I am (like really old people or people with stronger arrhythmias than mine) are at greater risk of such a thing causing a problem than I am.

I use my pacemaker a small percentage of the time, although it will be very interesting when I see my cardiac surgeon in NYC next month for a 6-month post-op check-up to find out if I have been using my pacemaker more during my pregnancy than I used to. It is likely for women to become more susceptible to heart rate drops, low blood pressure or blood sugar, and fainting spells when they are pregnant; this is why I am very grateful that I had my surgery and got a brand new pacemaker before I became pregnant. It is an added insurance policy for sure!


November 10, 2008 - Kenya's Contradiction

The front page of today's newspaper tells us a lot about Kenya I think. At the top of the paper is a big headline which reads: Free Obama Calendar Only in the Nation. And sure enough, when you flip to the middle of the paper, there is a large one-page calendar from November 4th, 2008 to November 4th, 2009 and an enormous picture of Barack Obama. There are still quite a few articles and op-eds about Obama's big win and what it means for the US, the world, and Kenya specifically (as my father asked, "Has the boat arrived to bring all of the Kenyans to America yet?").

And then, on the same front page of today's paper, the bottom article is titled: Villagers lynch 11 robbery suspects. The article proceeds to describe, in detail, how a village near the oast was being tormented by gangsters and didn't feel the police were doing enough about it so a group of villagers captured the gangsters themselves and publicly lynched them to death...and then had a party to celebrate.

This dichotomy on the front page of the paper in which you have an extreme symbol of freedom and justice alongside images of extreme cruelty and lawlessness is the ultimate problem in Kenya. Kenya is a country that so desperately wants to uphold democratic values and ideals and wants to be a shining example for other developing nations, in Africa especially. And yet, throughout the country, Kenyans are still overwhelmed by acts of corruption, violence, and tribalism. The Kenyans celebrating Obama and wanting to claim rights to all that he has become are the same Kenyans celebrating the practice of lynching which goes against the very core of everything Obama is and represents today.

It makes me happy that Kenya is so happy these days about Obama's win and the possibilities of hope they have for the future because of him, but it makes me sad that Kenyans can't see that they are not on the same path as him and that they have a long way to go to get there.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

November 8, 2008 - Pregnant at the Post Office

It has been an interesting week here for us. A few big nights of staying up late, coupled with some busy days at work and one new adventure to the post office! We even tried to go to a late show of the new James Bond movie which premiered here yesterday, but 10:30 was a bit TOO late for me (by 9pm I was very grateful that we weren't going to the movies...although we did stay up to watch Obama's press conference) so we'll be going to the 6:45 show tonight.

Today I am 23 full weeks pregnant. I have to say that other than my fatigue and the occasional waddling from lower back pain, I am feeling great. I am definitely growing bigger, and apparently people around me are noticing! At the election party we went to there were two different people who asked me if (a) I am having twins and (b) if I am due in December! I am not THAT big, but maybe because I am normally so petite I look further along than I am? I hope I was not too snippy in my reply: "Just one baby, first week of March!" There was also a funny scene at the party in which a complete stranger started to rub my belly. I have heard of this happening to pregnant women, who are entitled to react in a variety of ways. It didn't bother me that much and mostly I just thought it was funny that it was actually happening, but soon she realized that maybe she crossed a boundary and completely freaked out! "I'm so sorry! I can't believe I just did that, that is so gross! I didn't even ask! I hated when people did that to me when I was pregnant! I'm so sorry!" Her realization made it a much bigger incident than it would have been; I assured her that it was no problem and Kristoffer and I had a good laugh.

But about that trip to the post office...if you read some of our blogs last year you'll know that going to the Central Post Office to pick up a package (when it is bigger than an envelope it has to go through "customs" which means you have to open it in front of a postal worker) has the potential to ruin even the best of days. It is something we have to plan very carefully: we can only go on Fridays because it closes at 5pm and we would never make it there in time from the UN on a regular work-day. Fridays we are off from work early and still we need to brave weekend traffic through the city's center.

The reason we went to the post office yesterday is because my friend Joanna sent me a birthday present back in July to arrive in August. We received a "yellow slip" notification of the package the first week of August...and then we accidentally lost that slip of paper. When at the post-office to pick up some other packages in August, we asked them what we should do about this and they said we could just give them the tracking number...but we didn't tell Joanna to save the tracking number for us so we didn't have that information. Then they said they would send us another "yellow slip" within 2 weeks time. we decided to wait for that.

Well it is now November and we still never got another "yellow slip" and I have been getting increasingly frustrated and sad that the post office is holding my birthday present hostage! Yesterday I begged Kristoffer to take me to the post office so I could further investigate and hopefully get them to help us find the package without the magical "yellow slip" or a tracking number. I was prepared to tell them that there was an autographed picture of Barack Obama in the box if I had to!

The first funny part of our trip was that the two guys who are generally responsible for retrieving packages remembered us from August. They didn't even really need to see our identification! The only package that they could come up with was one from Denmark that we had gotten from Kristoffer's mom already. To my credit, I did not freak out. I have learned that raising my voice to a Kenyan is not helpful - they just do not respond to that at all. So I spoke slowly, clearly, and with the patience of Job. We were told to go to a back room of the post office and were handed off to another lady who tried to make the situation seem hopeless, especially because I didn't know the size of the package we were picking up. After she kept saying that there was nothing we could do without that damned "yellow slip" or the tracking number, and I kept saying that there had to be something we could do to find the package because we know they have it...she said, "Well...if you have the patience, you can go through all of our books of "yellow slip" receipts from July and August to find the one you are looking for." She was definitely expecting us to say "No way!", but clearly she didn't know me. I was like, "Yes! Please let us!" She brought us a stack of about 15 books of "yellow slip" receipts and we started reading through them. I had a general idea of when the package arrived (end of July) so I started with that book and sure enough within 3 minutes I had found the yellow slip addressed to me for a package from the USA!

It took a few more minutes for this lady to get her act together, but she did issue us another "yellow slip", which we took back to our two friends at the package window and who very quickly found my package from Joanna! We had to open the box in front of the customs ladies...who were talking to Kristoffer about Barack Obama of course, were happy that I was American, and were VERY surprised that we persisted enough to find the package! When we opened it we found my birthday gift - an ORANGE maternity t-shirt - and a baby gift - the book "Goodnight Boston" and a Patriots football blanket! One customs lady said, "Are those for the baby?" and the other one said, "What baby?" and we said together pointing at my belly, "The baby in there!" It was our first baby gift and it was very exciting...especially because I'd been waiting since August just knowing that the box was there. I wonder how many people never get their "yellow slips" and just leave their packages in the large, non-digital abyss of the Kenyan post office.

We were so happy that we didn't even mind all of the traffic we had to sit through to get home. And we realized that once our driver starts working for us next year, we can send him to the post office to pick up our packages for us! So cool! And the lesson we have all learned is this: we appreciate gifts and love getting them, but please make sure you send us the tracking number if you ever send us a package so that we can ensure the post office doesn't keep the package from us for months!


p.s. Thank you to Joanna and Dave for actually sending my birthday/baby package...I am so glad it was not in vain!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

November 5, 2008 - One of those Key Moments in Life

"Oh God, this is one of those key moments in life, when it's possible you can be genuinely cool -- and I'm just going to fail a hundred percent.” (from the movie Notting Hill)

I would really like to write something brilliant and momentous about Barack Obama's big win last night, but I also fear that whatever I write will be inadequate.

I could write about how all of Kenya is celebrating today, and will officially celebrate again tomorrow as November 6th has been declared a national holiday in honor of Obama. Kenya's President said in today's news, "This is a momentous day not only in the history of the United States of America, but also for us in Kenya. The victory of Senator Obama is our own victory because of his roots here in Kenya. As a country, we are full of pride for his success."

I could write about how Kristoffer and I stayed up most of the night (we snuck in about 4 ½ hours of sleep) and watched the election results as well as Obama's acceptance speech with our American neighbors across the street, who threw a "Kwaheri Bush!" party (Kwaheri = Goodbye, in Swahili).

I could write about the tears Kristoffer and I both shed when it was announced that Barack Obama won the election and when he addressed the country.

I could write about my memories of learning about the Civil War and watching "the Blue and the Gray" (an epic mini-series on the Civil War) in Mr. Heidenrich's 8th grade history class, thinking to my naive self that there would probably never be a non-white President in America.

Fast forward eleven years and I could write about being an American History teacher in NYC, teaching my diverse population of students about the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, reading Huck Finn with them, trying desperately to convince them to stop using the "n word", and hearing their frustrations at feeling like political doors would never honestly be open to them.

I could write about how much I wish I was in my NYC classroom today.

I could write about the fact that regardless of for whom you voted, with what political party you are aligned, or what you think of Barack Obama as a person or politician, you must be made of stone if you are not incredibly moved by the fact that America elected a person of color to the highest office in the country for the first time.

Finally, I could write about being an expectant American mother, knowing that my American-Danish child will be born in the country of his/her President's father and will never quite understand that color was once an extreme barrier in achieving both the greatest and smallest successes imaginable.

But again…all of that seems so small compared to the magnitude of this moment in America and around the world. I am neither a die-hard liberal nor an extreme conservative, and I am not naive about the promises of political campaigns. Of all the things that I could write today, this is what I will write:

Barack Obama is not a perfect man or a perfect politician, and he will not be a perfect President. But…he has inspired and motivated more Americans to engage in our political process than ever before; he has redefined the vision and hope that many Americans have for our future; and he almost instantly regained the respect and support that nations around the world have for America. So regardless of how perfect he isn’t, he is our new President and it is only in the best interests of our country and the entire world to unite behind him.

I am very proud to be an American and I am hopeful that Obama will actually help bring the change for which my country voted yesterday.


Monday, November 3, 2008

November 3, 2008 - Kenya's OBAMAmania

The election is not until tomorrow and Barack Obama has not yet won the presidency, but Kenyans don't seem to care! The whole country is getting ready for the election, in a way that makes it seem like Kenyans can actually vote in it. For example, since last week there have been so many "Barack Obama" ads in the newspaper...including a full-page spread of his picture! We read in the newspaper yesterday that the village that Obama's father comes from has already chosen which bull they will slaughter if Obama wins, and the village is planning to be shut down for a full day's celebration on Wednesday. The biggest paper in Kenya, "the Daily Nation", has a policy of not endorsing any political candidate as they reminded readers in yesterday's Sunday paper, and yet the editor wrote an entire column on why he really, really, really think Obama should and is going to win. He is definitely Kenya's favorite half-son.

The icing on the cake, so to speak, is that a small, young theater company here in Nairobi has written and began performing "Obama the Musical", a theatrical production showcasing the life and times of Barack Obama through song and dance. I am not kidding you! It was first performed at the national theater yesterday and will be showing all week. Obama the Musical! And in case you think I am making this stuff up, here is a link to a BBC story about it:

So yes, the whole country is on edge! The cartoon in the paper yesterday even joked that there would be more post-election violence in the country if Obama loses. Let's seriously hope not!

In other news, I am in my 23rd week of pregnancy and still amazed at how often and quickly my body is changing. My acid reflux has been better for the last few days and possibly my acne (although the last time I wrote that my acne was better it came back with a vengeance). I have become so used to waking up in the night with painful cramps in my calves (each time it is like the worst "charlie horse" ever!), that I don't even remember them happening anymore. Unfortunately, Kristoffer does! On Friday and Saturday nights I woke up screaming with a cramp, he woke up terrified that something awful was happening with the baby, proceeded to massage my cramp until I fell back to sleep, and then lay there totally awake with his heart beating out of his chest. Both mornings I had no memory of these incidents happening! Sorry Kristoffer!

We had a very relaxing weekend other than the cramps. A particular highlight was intervewing a woman (the third we have interviewed) to be our live-in housekeeper/cook/ayah (ayah means nanny or babysitter in Swahili). Ida came highly recommended from an American friend of a friend who used to live here and employed her for several years before leaving the country. She was friendly, professional, provided proper documentation of all her skills and training, and we thought she was very easy to talk to and get along with. She was a better fit for us than the others we interviewed. We plan to offer her the job this week and hope that she will accept; if so, when we return from our vacation in January she will move in to our "staff quarters" (we have 2 rooms and bathroom facilities in our house for staff) and begin making us the laziest people on earth. She used to work for vegetarians so Kristoffer is very excited about that, she is first-aid trained so I am very excited about that, and she seems to understand that because I will not be working full-time when the baby comes (if at all) her duties will be more housekeeper/cook centered than nanny. But, it will be really nice for us to have regular help that we trust for when we do want to go out without the baby or if I am working at home. We have also arranged to hire a driver starting in the new year so that Kristoffer can be driven to work and I can still have a way to get around (since I still refuse to drive here). I would say that by April, we will be so spoiled and used to the expat way of life that it will be hard for us to ever return to the real lives of people in America or Denmark! AH!

Anyway, off to start another Monday. I mailed in my vote for president over a month ago so I don't get to go to a voting booth tomorrow...but like the rest of Kenya I do remain on the edge of my seat!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

November 2, 2008 - Carbon Credits in Kampala

If you read all of our blogs and have a good memory you may recall that earlier this year I took some consultants from a company called EcoSecurities around Kenya to do what they call a feasibility study. We had a great trip, were stopped by elephants in the middle of the road and met with some local rural woman to whom I still owe a water borehole.

Anyway, last week was the follow up workshop/training in Kampala, Uganda. As the carbon focal point for the Kenya Country Office of WFP, I went to Kampala assisted by my Kenyan colleague Bernhard from our emergency operation.

The flight itself was great. I had a window seat and the sun was setting during the 1 hour flight. I could see Mount Kenya most of the way there, quite interesting how you normally look down at things from an airplane but Mount Kenya stood stall and was almost at the same altitude as the plane. Lake Victoria is beautiful with many small islands and when I walked down the stairs from the plane I was greeted with hot humid air and a view if the sun setting over the lake.

We stayed at a nice hotel in the city and the workshop was prepared and executed by a professional team from EcoSecurities; the company has officers around the world but these guys were from Oxford, England. I was very active in the workshop which was quite dense in content: this carbon credit business is fairly complicated. I presented for my group and it was the first time in my life that I wasn’t nervous before giving a presentation. My exposure to things like this is just so common to me now that I haven gotten used to it: Great!

So what is it all about? In 1995, developed countries agree to reduce their emissions (pollution) and sign an agreement in the city of Kyoto in Japan: hence the name The Kyoto Protocol. The countries that ratified the protocol have to lower their emissions a bit below their 1990 levels. If the country finds it more cost-effective, it can choose to lower emissions in another country. Say Denmark can’t meet its target, we can then buy credit from, say, Germany which has lower emissions or we can install solar panels or plant trees in Germany to meet our targets. The Green house effect doesn’t discriminate so it doesn’t matter where you off set the emissions. But there is another mechanism, the so-called Clean Development Mechanism, which allows a country which has ratified the Kyoto Protocol to buy the credits from a less-developed country. That is where the World Food Programme comes in. If we can prove that we will off-set emissions we would then be eligible for Carbon Credits (Money). So if we plant trees or install energy-saving stoves through our programmes, we can apply for these credits. But the process is expensive, very technical and long term. In most cases the credits would only amount to 10-20% of the investment (for us) and you have to off-set the carbon before you are reimbursed, so there are many challenges. However, there is no doubt that this will be big in the future and I’m sure we will do it eventually, and since I am the focal point it is my responsibility that it is carried out, or at least in initiated, in Kenya. I’ll present to the heads of all of our units this coming week.

Hopefully the USA will ratify Kyoto soon, as it would be a huge boost for the market and the fight against global warming. At the last global meeting in Bali, the USA was told to either cooperate or GET OUT OF THE WAY! Which is now a famous quote from that meeting. Europe is now the world leader on the carbon front, and even the farmers in Kenya have noticed that the climate is changing. The rain patterns have changed and are not as reliable as they used to be. So come on America, this is affecting us all! I sometimes wonder if Baby Simba will ever forgive us for the mess we are creating on our planet right now.

And to the no-climate change believers: go to school, because you must clearly be illiterate. Yet another massive study was released this week, confirming that climate change is man-made. However, having read both the Danish and American news for quite some time now, I must say that those studies rarely make it to the US media.

What can you do? To quote Nicolas Stern, when he was asked this question at a presentation I attended at the World Bank two years ago: “The most effective thing an individual can do is to become a vegetarian!” Nicolas Stern is a former vice president of the World Bank who released a massive study for the UK government under Tony Blair a few years ago.

Ok…I’ll get off my soap-box now!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October 29, 2008 - Trouble in the Region

You have probably heard on or read in the news that today has been a tough day in East Africa. First, fighting has intensified and the humanitarian situation is worsening drastically in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Non-essential UN staff are being evacuated, I believe, and the UN troops in the country are spread very thin. We are not close to DRC and will not be affected by this crisis, although the situation is extremely sad and scary. The western part of Uganda will receive refugees from DRC and will have to deal with the humanitarian consequences of this war.

Next, a UN compound in Somalia was bombed this morning, along with the presidential palace and the Ethiopian Embassy. There were 5 distinct car bombs which were detonated by suicide bombers within 10 minutes or so of one another. The bombs were in northern Somalia - called Somaliland - which is typically more secure than southern Somalia. Northern Somalia is not close to Kenya, it is above Ethiopia and next to Djibouti (a small country on the horn of Africa). It is believed that the bombings happened today because regional African leaders were meeting here in Nairobi regarding peace efforts in Somalia. One militant Islamic group, which was not invited to the talks in Nairobi, is believed to be responsible for the bombs (although they have not claimed responsibility yet) because they have been pushing for the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia and the Ethiopian Embassy was clearly targeted. The UN compound that was targeted housed the UN's Development Programme offices for Somalia, and the official number of deaths and casualties have not been reported as yet. UN staff and other aid workers were evacuated to Djibouti immediately.

Again, we are not close to where the bombings happened today, but you can be sure that both military and UN security in Kenya have been increased significantly since this morning. There have been no threats against Kenya to our knowledge, but tomorrow I will work from home just to be extra safe until Kristoffer comes home from Uganda tomorrow night. I am sure things will calm down in the next few days. I am comforted that security on our UN compound reacted so quickly today to ensure our safety. We are well taken care of!

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those in Somalia and DRC struggling with violence, loss, displacement, and general insecurity.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 28, 2008 - Happy Diwali

Today is a major Indian holiday, Diwali, and because there are so, so, so many Indians in Nairobi it is a big holiday in these parts. Granted, I don't know that much about the holiday but from what I understand it is a "festival of lights" and has a lot to do with giving to other people as a result of goodness triumphing over evil (please excuse my extreme over simplification).

We live across the street from a really nice American family with whom we are becoming increasingly friendly. They have a 9-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter who go to the International School of Kenya (the American school where I was almost a teacher). I am sure they learned a bit about the holiday at school today, and this evening they came ringing my door bell bearing gifts! On Diwali you are supposed to give sweets to others, so they brought me one rice krispies treat, and you are also supposed to give other gifts as well, so they brought me a bouquet of flowers!

It was the sweetest thing, and they did it because they knew that Kristoffer is traveling in Uganda this week and I am home alone (and probably because their mom sent them over...but still). I keep telling them that they are going to be my "mommy's helpers" when the baby comes and what good role models they will be!

So Happy Diwali to you...give someone a rice krispies treat today!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

October 26, 2008 - Big Kick for Daddy!

This afternoon we were home lying on our couch and watching a movie (Out of Africa, actually...we felt like after a year of living here we should REALLY see the movie); we were feeling tired after going to a late party last night and working out at the gym today (we should note that we were home by midnight and the party continued for hours longer...but that was definitely the latest Lisa has been awake throughout her whole pregnancy!). Lisa has been feeling the baby move a lot more the last few days and commented to Kristoffer that she could really feel Simba a lot right then.

So Kristoffer put his hand on Lisa's belly just hoping to feel the baby, even though the books say that is not likely to happen for a few more weeks. Just then, Simba gave a HUGE kick...the biggest one Lisa has felt to date, and Kristoffer could distinctly feel it!

Needless to say, it was an amazing moment that left both of us in tears and hoping for more kicks...but Simba seemed to have exhausted him/herself because the movements became much smaller and eventually stopped when we assume s/he went to sleep.

Kristoffer is convinced that Simba knew he was right there waiting to feel some movement, and so s/he gave a big kick for Daddy right on time! We already have a child aiming to please cool is that?!


Saturday, October 25, 2008

October 25, 2008 - The Pokot People

Warning: This blog may include content that may not be suitable for children or people who wear clothes.

On one of our long drives during my mission to Pokot, the educational officer told a story about a tribe/community in Pokot. I find this story very interesting and amusing so I want to share it with you despite…well you’re about to find out anyway. I’ll try to tell the story as I remember it.

I'll call the people of Pokot "the Pokots,even though there are other tribes in that region. The Pokots are pastoralists, as opposed to farmers. The have their sheep, goats and cows, and even though the soil in some parts of their land is very fertile they don’t tend to plant anything. As the educational officer put it: “It is the issue of bending over, they don’t believe in that”. Bending over, as in reaching to the ground with your hands to cultivate and plant the field, is not something that they will do. Pastoralists are used to standing around (not doing anything) and watching their livestock grazing. Some would say that the men are a bit lazy.

Anyway, the story I want to tell starts like this: The Pokots don’t believe in clothes. The men especially walk around naked and they don’t really own any clothes. Now and again they have to walk into town to the market to sell and buy what they might need. The town in this case is not inhabited by the original Pokots. They are business men, civil servants and small-scale farmers who are dressed normally and actually believe in clothes. Now, the men of Pokot are known for their exceptionally large organs, so things are kind of moving around down there when they walk around conducting their business. The chief of the town found that to be disgusting and unacceptable. The Pokots have a lot of respect and fear of the town chief. He called a meeting with them and dared any of them to walk around naked in town one more time; so they agreed that they have to wear pants when they go to town.

On their way back to the village from this meeting, the Pokots bought one pair of pants. They decided to hang them on a tree on their way into the village. Every time a man had to go into town, he would then take the pants from the branch and walk into town, conduct his business and return the pants at the tree so that the next man could go in without being arrested by the chief. The system worked for awhile. However, the Pokots are unfortunately not all the same height. Some are tall, some are short. And after a little while, the chief started to wonder: one Pokot man is wearing black pants far too long for his short legs and a few hours later another Pokot man is wearing black pants again, but this time only reaching his knees.

The chief started asking questions and learned about the pants on the tree business. He found it unacceptable, left town, found the tree and the black pair of pants, and confiscated them. The next day the Pokots couldn’t go into town! What should they do? They decided to send in a woman, who already wore a bit of clothes, to buy a new pair of pants. The woman agreed but came back with a pair of short ladies pants. The men were excited and unaware of any potential problems that this might cause.

The first Pokot man made his way into town wearing these ladies pants. To his surprise he got an unprecedented amount of attention, which was a surprise to him because he was wearing pants! Here we get back to the issue of the large organs. Because he was of course not wearing underwear, so the short pants were not able to fully cover the full length of his reproductive appendage, so to speak. The chief saw him and was absolutely furious, and the man had to flee town unable to conduct his business.

The end.

Later on and to this day, the Pokots bought more pairs of pants and use the same technique, but they hide the pants way into the bushes out of the reach of the chief.


Friday, October 24, 2008

October 24, 2008 - Our 100th Blog!

If we were a TV show, we would have special guests and show you bloopers or our best moments. But since we aren’t a TV show, we would like to just share some other interesting numbers with you since we started writing 100 blogs ago…

• 76,984: number of words we have written to date (not including this blog)
• 778: average number of words written per blog (sorry I’m so verbose!)
• 106: number of pictures we have successfully posted on the blog
• 89: number of blogs Lisa has written
• 34: number of times we wrote the word “giraffe” or “giraffes” in our blogs
• 12: number of blogs written about holidays or special occasions
• 9: average number of blogs we wrote each month (not counting the first blog written in November 2007 before we moved here)
• 6: number of blogs Kristoffer has written
• 5: number of blogs Kristoffer and Lisa wrote together (not including this one)
• 4: number of safaris that we have blogged about
• 4: number of field missions Kristoffer has been on for the WFP and blogged about
• 3: number of blogs we’ve written about the By Grace Orphanage in Nairobi

Thank you for reading however many of these last 100 blogs that you’ve read. We are so grateful that people remain interested in our life here, but even if people weren’t still interested, we would probably continue to blog as a way of documenting for ourselves this exciting time in our marriage. We hope the next 100 blogs will continue to provide insight into our life in Kenya, will show off our baby once s/he arrives, and will, most importantly, help us to remain close to our loved ones from so far away.

Happy 100 Blogs!


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October 22, 2008 - Conducting School Surveys in Pokot, Kenya

Every five years the World Food Programme conducts surveys in all the countries with WFP School Feeding Programmes. As we in Kenya are ending our five year strategy for our development programmes (as opposed to refugee and emergency operations) we were asked to conduct this mandatory survey so that our Head Quarters in Rome can analyse the benefits and challenges with school feeding. In my job description, I am supporting our monitoring and evaluation unit so I was given the task a few weeks ago to oversee our survey group in West Pokot, which is close to the border of Uganda and Mt. Elgon (a very turbulent part of the country).

The team, three enumerators (staff conducting the survey), one driver and 8 soldiers (as security in the Pokot region is a bit unstable) had been there for two weeks when I joined them. Our country director was travelling so I had the pleasure of getting his driver for this mission. The driver, Steven, a Masai, has been driving for WFP for more than 25 years and I think he is the oldest employee we have at the moment and the one with the most energy and most positive attitude. He does not know his exact age but I think he is well over 60. Back in the days, the Masai had an interesting way of gauging time. When the British came they would name a newborn child “British” When the big drought hit Kenya in the 1970s: “big drought” and when Kenyatta became the first Kenyan president, a child would be named Kenyatta.

So we drove to West Pokot which is an 8-hour drive. Steven eagerly showed and explained to me everything we passed on our way, including many burned down houses and unfarmed land as a result of the post election crisis earlier this year. We spent the night in a place called Kitale and met up with the team the following morning, proceeding to the school we were monitoring that day. West Pokot is a region of breathtaking green mountains where farmers have insisted on growing maize on the sometime very steep lands (Nepal style) where people have a small pot and well-built hatched, mud huts. In reward for the tough living conditions, God has given them one of the most beautiful views I have come across.

The database in Rome had unknowingly selected a school on top of a high mountain. Fortunately a road (by their standards) had been constructed some years back with the help of WFP. It took our Toyota Landcruisers several hours to climb the mountain and the abrupt end of the road side increased the value of the view and also any fear of heights one might have. Suddenly near the top of the mountain sat a large school in the most beautiful setting imaginable. The school had never been visited by WFP and even the local Education Officer had never been there.

Unfortunately the head teacher was down town (literally) for a training but the deputy head teacher (a woman) was very accommodating. A teacher walked me around the school’s open green fields. He had engaged in tree planting which I was very excited about. They had fresh water from the mountain and tried to protect a little forest further up the mountain to ensure water in the future. Note: without trees the mountain will produce very little water.

The school had bought a cow and we were served the best Kenyan tea (milk, tea, sugar, no water) I have ever tasted with fresh milk from the cow. As part of the survey we interviewed the students and it was a bit surprising to me that these children where so aware of exactly what they don’t have. When we asked them, they would like solar panels for lighting, better latrines, better classrooms, better soccer field, more teachers, WFP food delivered on time (our food as been very, very late this school term due to many reasons which I’ll elaborate on in another blog) to the school. Currently all children in 4th grade and above will take one day off each term to collect the food further down the mountain.

It was a great visit, we even spoke to some parents and the enumerators did a great job. While reviewing the school, Steven (my driver) sat on a bench on the mountain side drinking his tea, which I’m sure had been order with a specific request of sugar to milk ratio and a joke on the side. As we were leaving, the teachers begged us to stay as they had slaughtered two chickens in our honor, but unfortunately we had to leave. Did I mention that some of the children had never seen a white person (mzungu) before? As we slowly drove down the mountain, about 20-15 children were running behind the cars yelling “Mzungu”, laughing and giving us their special greetings. After about 30 minutes of running we had to tell them to stop running downhill as it would be quite the climb for them going back. “Enda nyumbani,” my colleague told the last boys who reluctantly stopped (that means “Go Home!”).

On our way back we stopped at the zonal education office where 25 head teachers were trained; the zonal officer recognized me from a big workshop we had in Nairobi and insisted that I address the head teachers. Fortunately I had a lot to tell them about our school feeding programme, delayed food, sustainability and how they can help us to improve the programme. I took a few further questions and then we continued back to the hotel, which, by the way, cost 4 US dollars a night.

Our group had two schools on the data list which they were told were very hard to reach, even by foot. One of them was a 5-hour walk away from the nearest road so there was no chance we could reach that one. We were told that the others were only 1-3(?) hours walk from the nearest road, given that you had to climb a mountain. I wanted to establish how far it really was, but people from this region are very fast walkers and not everybody in the group was fit. So the next morning we had a serious discussion with the district educational officer and we established that the school was one hour away from the nearest road so we figured we could reach the school in less than two. We split the group into two. A young woman (Magdelyne) who grew up in a rural area where she walked a lot every day came with me while the other two enumerators went to a different easy-access school. Because of security, Magdelyne and I we were joined by 4 soldiers and a local educational officer who knew the track. I was a little nervous about my own fitness for a second or two, but I turned out to be more than fine. We had to cross a river two times (taking our shoes off!) and also climbed a big hill, but not quite a mountain (I mean…I did climb Kilimanjaro, right?). We walked fast along the mountain range on a good track as we didn’t know how far it was exactly. According to UN security code we have to be back at the hotel before 6pm when the sun sets, so that was why we had to “keep time” as they say in Kenya. Magdalyne did very well but I decided to walk in front with the educational officer so I didn’t put too much pressure on her as she was the slowest after all (if you have met me, you know that I really don’t weight a lot so I’m good at climbing mountains). The mountains were beautiful and I couldn’t believe I was actually being paid for hiking in the green mountains and crossing rivers as they are some of my favourite things to do.

After 1 hour and 40 minutes we reached the school, which was almost on the river side. It was empty! Completely! After 5 minutes one teacher came and it turned out that the whole school was hiding, as they had seen us coming from afar with soldiers and got scared. The soldiers took a rest as we carried out the questionnaire. Interviews with the teachers and the children (conducted separately) indicated that low enrolment and school drop-outs were fuelled by early marriage (even as young as at 9 years of age), female genital mutilation (sadly, practised here in many tribes), and complete lack of support by the parents. In Pokot, parents view children who go to school as the government’s property, as they are of no added value to the parents because they can’t work. But the children want to go to school.

We walked back even faster as it was down hill, crossed the rivers to be embraced by Steven, who had been a bit worried for us and also insisted that we “keep time”. He radioed back to the other group that we had made it back safely and apparently a woman, Lorna, who is actually my officemate in Nairobi, had been very relieved. As we where driving down the mountain we were met with a constant “Muuuuzunguuuuuu” (white man) to such a degree that made us all burst into laughter as the Educational Officer reminded us that most people in this area (especially children) had never seen a white man before; thank God I had remembered to shave in the morning! I wouldn’t want to misrepresent my race :) Kenyans (I believe) generally think white skin is a bit funny, the way it gets pink when it is exposed to sun light, how we have to wear the sun block, etc. which makes me feel a little bit embarrassed by my white skin. It is just not practical to have here.

Anyway, the educational officer also had time to tell us about how this valley (the one we had just walked in for at least three hours) was known around the world for its large variety of rare and very poisons snakes. Yikes (he definitely didn’t know that I am not a huge fan of snakes…but they normally don’t come out during the day)!

We left him (the officer) on the side of the road which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. In my rush to get out of the office in Nairobi I had accidentally bought 6 litres of carbonated water, instilled of still water. He had run out of water on the mountain and I had given him one litre trying to explain that it was fine to drink. He must have built up a taste for it as he now asked me if he could have 1.5 litres to share with his family. Sure!

We came back in good time and I had an extra large plate of Ugali (maize flour boiled into a firm paste) with mboga (vegetables). At night I reviewed all of the team’s surveys, gave them feedback, and then Steven and I left then very early the next morning. A perfect trip for me. On our way back we eagerly spotted all of the trucks that have implemented the new 3-rear-axle rule that had just been enforced in Kenya to spare all of the new roads that are being built from too much weight. Before, 4 axles were allowed, which then allowed for very heavy cargo. All trucks had to comply to this law, which has been given us (WFP) severe headaches this school term and is one of the reasons why 40 % of our schools have not yet received food for half of this term!

I have a hard time relaxing even as I write this blog because we have 4.5 weeks left of the school term and we have not yet reached all of our schools with food. WFP has just taken over all of the primary transportation of food (from the Port of Mombasa) from the Ministry of Education as they could not meet the additional cost demanded by the transporters as a result of the 3-axle law. What does that mean for me? Revise our allocation plans, coordinate with logistics, write memos to our Country Director, letters to the Ministry and answer the increasing daily calls from angry District Educational Officers (the highest ranking educational official on a district level) who wants to know where their chakula (food) is.

There are still a lot of improvements to be made on distribution system, which we will review in the next few weeks. My goal is that all schools will have food by January first when the first school term starts.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October 21, 2008 - Kilimanjaro: the Top of Africa

Four good Danish friends came to Kenya for a visit in September. Two of them, Morten and Elsebeth climbed Mt. Longonot, a huge volcanic crater one hour from Nairobi. But the other Morten, Karen and I had planned to try for Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, on the Kenyan border: Africa’s tallest mountain and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Its actual height is 5,895 meters (approx. 17,865 feet).

So we booked a trip and drove down there in my car. The ride was long, 6-7 hours, and the road of changing quality, but I was happy to see that great effort is being made to improve it. In regards to the roads generally, things are really changing in Kenya. The three of us made our way into Tanzania after the anticipated bureaucracy at the border. We had to drive around the mountain to find our hotel for the night which was a long drive, but the scenery changed quite drastically after crossing the border, with very, very dry lands inhabited by pastoralists from the Masai tribe. We saw their many mud huts all over and I think Morten spotted an animal or two. We knew we were so close to the mountain and yet we couldn’t see it as it was covered by a huge cloud the whole day. We made it to Moshi, our destination, where we had a good meal and were briefed about our trip by a guide.

Day 1
The gear was packed and we rented a few items: thick gloves, hats etc. We met our guide for the trip and drove to the foot of the mountain. They do not allow you to climb Kili without guides. At the entrance to the Kilimanjaro National Park we realized that not only had we booked two guides but 7 porters to carry our equipment and food for the whole trip. Quite the expedition! We started the climb through the rain forest and 4 hours later we had made it to the camp (2,700 meters, almost as tall as the highest mountain in Norway). My friend Karen is a fast walker so our pace was high. After our arrival, we made a 15-minute walk to a nearby crater. Karen had just landed the day before in Nairobi and had not yet acclimatized to the altitude. We drove up the mountain and ascended an additional meter that day. On our way to the crater we saw a lot of monkeys in the trees doing all kinds of things. Unfortunately Karen got a bit sick and had to skip dinner, which was well-prepared by our chef.

Day 2
We woke up to a beautiful sunrise! Karen was 100% and we continued our climb for about 6 hours. Rain forest became forest and forest became bushes as we made our way up the mountain at the slowest pace possible to avoid altitude sickness. We were somewhat successful but it was difficult for all of us to walk that slowly. We were reminded of the dangers of climbing Kili when a crowd of porters came running down the track wheeling a one-wheeled stretcher carrying a young woman packed in warm clothes. Her husband was walking behind worried: altitude sickness! We walked a bit slower and made it to a much cooler and rockier camp site but still with running water and toilets (3,700 meters). (Remember whenever you ascend 100m the temperature falls by 0.5 degrees Celsius. Only God knows what that is in feet and Fahrenheit!). On our way up we saw some heaps of small but fresh branches. Our guide told us that a porter died on the spot of every heap. Before regulations were established a few years ago, there were no limits as to how much each porter was allowed to carry. Therefore many died climbing the mountain (most likely from the cold weather when taking a rest)!

We saw the sun set and had a stunning view of a huge mountain next to Kili. People apparently die climbing that one so we were happy with our choice of mountain.

Day 3
The next morning we started the ascent. After 10 minutes I had to run back to the camp to return the key to our little wooden hut, but Morten and Karen waited for me so that was nice of them. At this point we had noticed that our guides were not the greatest communicators when it came to the English language. They were able to express themselves but if we had further questions they gave very strange answers, so we basically stopped asking too many questions. I tried to speak Swahili which they found amusing and they had a great laugh when I told them in Swahili that my wife was preparing a child. I don’t know the word for pregnant in Swahili and normally it is taboo to talk about pregnancy. For the African woman a child is not always a blessing (I think Lisa has already written about this).

Anyway we made it to the first stop, and it was cold! The bushes that had been getting smaller and smaller had now completely disappeared; we reached the so called “alpine desert”. Karen became a bit quiet and did not eat at our first stop. On our way to the lunch point she got sick – actually quite sick and she needed to rest a bit. The guides were not a great help but after a short break they told us to move on: “slowly slowly” which is English for the common Swahili term “pole pole”! Karen, who was obviously sick from the altitude, continued. She got sick again but continued: VERY IMPRESSIVE! We reached the lunch point. Morten and I (me especially!) had our eyes on lunch but Karen had no appetite and just wanted to rest/sleep at this point; she was reluctant towards our many suggestions that she eat and drink. I admire her for not killing us right on the spot because there is nothing more annoying than encouragement when you are more than half way up a mountain and feeling very, very sick. The guides were still telling her to “continue slowly, slowly” after a little rest. I felt bad for Karen, whose lips were now completely blue, and was now feeling sick and very, very tired. I had altitude sickness when I climbed Mt. Blanc in France many years ago, but nothing like the way Karen was feeling. It is worth noting here that Morten and I had spent a lot of time in Nairobi (obviously I live there and Morten had been around for 2 weeks) and were used to that altitude, whereas Karen came directly from an island in Denmark 2m above sea level. Normally you take a day off and do not ascend further on the third day just to acclimatize – but we didn’t do that. Having been in Africa for a while it all made sense to me. The guides have no interest in turning around and they actually receive extra money if you have to be transported down the mountain so there is no incentive for them not to push you. The guides were unable to make a decision so Morten and I made the difficult decision to have Karen walk back down the mountain with one of our guides. Karen was unable to really make the decision on her own, as she was half asleep and really wanted to move on but at the same time realized that she was very sick and continuing could be dangerous and possibly threaten her life.

So Karen left with our one guide. She had to walk at least 8 km back feeling so sick!

Morten and I continued and soon realized that the track became steeper and the walk to the next camp site was further than anticipated (4,700 meters, almost the same height as the tallest mountain in Europe). We knew we had made the right decision, Karen wouldn’t have made it, and either way she would never had been ready for the final midnight ascent.

Day 4
We were woken up at 11pm after a few hours sleep in a primitive camp sleeping with ten other people. We put on our best equipment and met our guide armed with headlamps and camel bags of water. The walk was very, very, very, very long and very, very, very, very, very steep. We zig-zagged for more than 4 hours, trying to get our breath in the very thin air. The night was beautiful and an almost full moon made the headlamps unnecessary and the walk beautifully lit up. Never in my life have I walked so slowly, but the limited oxygen and the steepness of the hill called for it. The top, Gillman’s Point (5,681 meters), was visible to us. Kili is a “table mountain” and Gillman’s point is at one end of the table with the official top on the other side a 1.5 hours walk, the difference in altitude only about 200 meters. When we were about 1 hour from Gillman’s point we thought it was 15 minutes away: it looked so close! It was getting colder and colder, an indicator of which was my glove. Some water had been dripping from my nose and I had wiped it off with my glove. Ten minutes later I did the same thing, only to find that the water had turned into ice! I was moving my toes and fingers vigorously to keep them from going numb from frost. Fifteen minutes from the top we stopped to put on all the clothes we had brought. It helped to some degree, but it might have been too late because we were already very, very cold. We saw a woman sitting down shaking from the cold and her guide telling her to continue as we passed them. Morten and I reached the top of Gillman’s point. It was pitch black but we took a few pictures. I was eager to continue to the top (the other end of the “table” that was 200 meters higher) but Morten was very cold, had a headache and felt dizzy. With only one guide left for the two of us we had to make a common decision and decided to stop at Gillman’s Point and not take an unnecessary risk. As we descended, the sun rose to award us with one of the most beautiful sunrises my eyes have ever seen.

Many hours later we met up with Karen, who was doing well, and we walked even further down with her that day leaving Morten and I completely exhausted at the end of the day.

Day 5
We descended the remaining two hours and drove home to reach Nairobi at sunset.

We were all a bit disappointed not to have made it to the tip-top of the mountain, but the trip had been wonderful and reminded me what a great way hiking is to spend time with fiends and family: it is a really great way to spend the time we are given on our small planet.

About a week later, we learned that the news in America reported that an American man in his 40s had died climbing Kilimanjaro during the same week as us. So we didn’t reach the top of the top, but my two good friends are still alive…and I think I’ll try again next year :)


Sunday, October 19, 2008

October 19, 2008 - Halftime Show!

20 weeks and 1 day pregnant!

This week we had a great ultrasound and doctor’s appointment. The first interesting piece of news is that either we had an initial misunderstanding with my doctor, or we calculated wrong from the beginning, but she claims that my due date has always been March 7th, instead of March 11th. Granted, four days does not make such a difference at that point in the game, but it does mean that as of yesterday I am already 20 full weeks – or halfway through the pregnancy! And here is your halftime show…

First we had the ultrasound on Thursday. We got to see it on a big, fancy machine with 3D-4D features so we could see some really cool images of Simba. The ultrasound doctor (who is different than my regular obstetrician) was pleased with everything he saw, and he saw almost everything! He measured the baby’s brain, spine, heart (with all four chambers developed properly), various other bones, and the placenta as well. Everything was developing on time, in the correct proportions, and most body parts were surprisingly easy for us to identify on our own. We saw the baby’s hands with all five fingers, and profiles of his or her little feet (I especially loved those parts!). The heartbeat was healthy at 149 beats per minute, and the baby was moving for the entire ultrasound, which was at least 20 minutes. We could easily see Simba’s knees and elbows moving, which are motions I am starting to feel with more regularity. We asked not to find out the baby’s sex, so it still remains a mystery, but we both definitely have the feeling at this point that we are having a boy. We are still brainstorming girl’s names, though, because we really won’t know until March!

The only possibly-unusual things that caught the doctor’s eye during the ultrasound were some very clear calcium deposits in one of the chambers of Simba’s heart. He said that unless there was some abnormality to accompany them, however, that they are nothing to worry about. My sister Meghan also confirmed that two of her children had the same deposits in utero and had no heart problems at all. He said it is just something we’ll keep an eye on at the next ultrasound. This ultrasound was an incredible experience for us to share because Kristoffer missed the last one when Simba waved. We were both so enthralled with the magic of technology and the miracle of our growing child. I told him that I swear I would have an ultrasound every day if I could…I would love to just watch the baby moving around the whole day long!

On Friday we went to visit my doctor, who then discussed the ultrasound report with us, examined me, and answered a long list of questions that I had been saving up for a few weeks. She began the appointment by telling us not to worry about the calcium deposits; because of my heart condition she anticipated that we might be worried and we thought she was so great for addressing that issue right away. We went over all 14 of the pictures we got from the ultrasound; none of them were great full body shots but were mostly zoomed in on specific (and adorable) body parts. Upon examination, Simba’s heart rate was a little bit slower on Friday (only 136 bpm), but she said that if the baby was moving a lot during the ultrasound that would explain why. I hadn’t gained any weight in the last two weeks according to her scale, but I am not so sure I believe it because I look like I’ve gained quite a bit and our scale at home shows different numbers. She said we don’t have to worry too much about weight gain until the third trimester anyway. My blood pressure is in a normal range for me, which is also a healthy range for Simba. The baby is positioned where it should be at 20 weeks and so she was very pleased with the examination.

Next we moved on to start talking about “game day” details. I asked her, “So…when my water breaks do we just call you?” and she responded, “Well yes call me, but also go to the hospital.” Ok! It is probably my biggest fear that, given Nairobi’s well-established history of horrible, horrible traffic, we will get stuck in traffic on the way to the hospital and Kristoffer will have to deliver the baby in our car. He assures me, however, that we will practice several different routes to take to get there so that we have options in a variety of traffic situations. Should be interesting!

Anyway, we learned that our hospital has one regular maternity wing and a newer pavilion, with modern, private rooms and bathrooms (“hotel-like” we’ve heard from other couples). We also learned that we can choose to be a “regular” hospital patient and be delivered by a mid-wife, with assistance from a doctor only if there is a problem, or to be a “private” patient who has her own doctor deliver the baby with the help of a mid-wife. In both cases, we’ll take option B. I strongly feel that this is no time to scrimp on the details and so we will deliver in the pavilion, with my doctor and a mid-wife. We want full-service, absolutely!

We talked about other things like childbirth classes and our next ultrasound in mid-January. I started to tell her that in terms of pain control, I think I really want the drugs! She said that was fine, but also that we could have a deeper conversation about it after we get all the information at the childbirth classes. Kristoffer and I continue to be impressed by her bed-side manner and patience. Even though she was running 30 minutes late for our appointment and had a waiting room full of other women to see after me (at 5:30 pm on a Friday!), she did not make us feel rushed at all and we spent a good 30 minutes with her.

So that’s the halftime report and we’ll see the doctor again in 4 more weeks. Below are some pictures of Simba’s body parts from the ultrasound at 19 weeks and 5 days in utero.

Simba's well-developed sacrum, spine and neck.
Simba's hand and all five fingers are clear almost looks like s/he is sucking on his/her thumb!

Simba's paw (aka his/her ankle and foot)! I hope s/he has not inherited my super small feet!

20 weeks down…only 20 more to go!


Thursday, October 16, 2008

October 16, 2008 - Simba's Got Moves!

So this morning we got to work very early (after all, we were up at 4 am to watch the final presidential debate) and I am locked out of my office, so I am sitting in Kristoffer's office borrowing his office mate's computer to check my email. While writing an email to my friend Gina about 30 minutes ago, I definitely definitely DEFINITELY felt Simba move for the first time. It did feel a bit like butterflies, as they say it will, but even more like two little nudges or pokes against my body. I was so excited that my eyes instantly started to water as I told Kristoffer, "I feel it! I feel it! The baby! The baby!" He was giggling with happiness as well, because all week I have been hoping for that moment. About 15 minutes later, this time reading some news, I felt Simba again! The same little "one two punch" came through!

Our ultrasound is later this morning so soon we'll have a new picture to post, but I just couldn't wait to share the news that Simba's got moves!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 15, 2008 - An American Visa

Last night I had a very funny phone call around 7pm. It was from an offical from the Ministry of Education who Kristoffer and I both deal with in our respective positions at the UN (for school feeding and post-election emergency). He did have a piece of work-related news to tell me, yes, but the main purpose of his phone call was to share a personal story. You see, a few months ago he had applied for a visa to go to America and visit some of his family. The US Embassy has been taking forever to process it, and he basically anticipated being altogether denied. This is a Kenyan man from the Somali tribe (there are half a million Kenyan-Somalis) with an obviously Muslim name, and in the US there is a problem of Somalis going into the country with false names, out-staying their visas, etc. So he was at least understanding as to why the US Embassy might take a long time, or deny him , and he was in relatively good spirits about the situation considering that he really wants to go to the US.

So, when I get this phone call last night he told me that US Embassy informed him that he could pick up his passport and that he was granted a visa to the US for one year! Now that is almost unheard of! One month is the typical length of a visa, but he happens to be friendly with the director of the Peace Corp over here who gave him a glowing recommendation and, I assume, helped get him such a long visa.

He thanked ME many times on the phone, because he says I am his favorite American and apparently by affiliation he feels like I somehow helped him get this visa. When I asked him if he was going for the whole year (because we have a lot of work to do over here and he is a big player in getting things accomplished!) he said that he would be going for just a few weeks in November to get married in Minneapolis.

I said, "Oh Congratulations!" and he said, "Yes...I am taking a second wife, and when that business is finished I will come back. But then I can at least travel back and forth a few times in the next year to see her. It is very good."

Whoah! I mean, after thinking about it and recognizing that he is a Somali, Muslim man I am not surprised to hear that he is taking a second wife, but in that moment on the phone with him I was a little thrown off. This young American woman is not used to hearing that everyday (nor do I really with it, either)! I actually felt a bit like the conversation was taking place in a parallel universe, where this man was thanking me for helping him get a visa to America so that he can take a second wife. Crazy!


p.s. I bet you didn't know that today is the first-ever Global Handwashing Day, which is sponsored largely by UNICEF! To quote the official website,, "The guiding vision of Global Handwashing Day is a local and global culture of handwashing with soap. Although people around the world wash their hands with water, very few wash their hands with soap at the critical occasions." Make sure you always wash your hands with soap - to be able to do so is a privilege that many people don't have (approximately 120 million children worldwide) and one that could save many, many lives each year!