Monday, June 30, 2008

June 30, 2008 - Couches, camels, and crashes! (actually only one crash)

Kristoffer and I are never short on adventure here in Nairobi. This weekend we had the goal of falling in love with some furniture...but as you can imagine, it is very difficult to plan falling in love! Our Saturday started with the door-to-door paying of some bills and led us to our hunt for the perfect couch (sofa) for our upstairs living room where we have our television. One couch that we liked a lot turned out to be too large for the space and the only other couch that we liked had been sold to someone else during the week. No! I was very frustrated, but Kristoffer kept hope alive even though we had already gone to every place we knew of that sells furniture. Luckily, there was an advertisement posted on a bulletin board at one of our malls with pictures of nice looking furniture. When he called the number, Kristoffer talked to a guy named Michael, who planned to meet with us about making some high quality furniture (as opposed to the furniture we bought when we were first lived here which is very poor quality).

Before meeting him though, he directed us to an up-scale interior design store to which he supplies the furniture they sell. At the store, we really did love several couches and other pieces of furniture, which had all been made by his company. They were simple, modern, comfortable, attractive, and not tacky (the biggest problem with most furniture here!) but at the store the price tags were very high. When we met with Michael later in the day we were able to custom design the couch for our living room and cut the price tag nearly in half by dealing with him directly instead of ordering from the store. How great! They started making the couch today - a large off-white sectional sofa that will fit beautifully in our cozy room (sorry to my friend Marcie who does not approve of sectional couches) - and it should be done in about 3 weeks. Once we get that and are happy with it, we will proceed to design more furniture with him for our downstairs living room and maybe some other spaces too. It started off as a frustrating day but turned out to be better than we even expected!

As we were driving around Nairobi hunting for couches, we came across the strangest sight. If only we had a camera with us (we keep saying we should keep one in the car at all times, but then we forget!) we would post the picture of 3 camels walking around Nairobi. Camels! Now Kristoffer has seen camels in eastern Kenya on the border of Somalia where they are very common and necessary to the way of life there, but here in the city?! It was totally bizarre, and they were definitely causing traffic!

Speaking of traffic...Kenya, and Nairobi in particular, is known for horrible traffic and a very high number of RTAs...random traffic accidents. Well last night, we were in our first traffic accident here, and actually Kristoffer's first accident ever. Don't get worried, we are totally fine and our car is fine too - it was just a very crazy incident. We were driving home from the mall in the late afternoon and we were on the main road where we had the right of way. We approached a T-stop intersection where we were turning right. Kristoffer had signaled and slowed down as he should have, but there was a car at the intersection turning right onto the main road and he basically didn't wait for us to complete our turn before he advanced through the intersection. The reason it was so bizarre is because he was there waiting, waiting, and waiting to turn as we approached but he just didn't wait long enough and ended up hitting us! Because our car is so big and high up, he just hit our back right tire and there was no damage to our vehicle, but the front left side of his car was mildly crunched. At that intersection there are all of these guys who wear bright yellow vests and sit by the side of the road and we always wonder what they are doing there. Well it turns out they sit there to observe the traffic and witness accidents - or at least that was their function last night. They immediately came over to us when our accident stopped traffic and spoke to Kristoffer as well as the Kenyan driver. It was obviously the other guy's fault which they said repeatedly; the guy didn't want to call any authorities because either he didn't have a license (which is very common here) or he didn't want the accident to count against his license, as it definitely would have. So Kristoffer agreed that our car was fine and this guy agreed that it was his fault, and we both went on our way. The whole ride home we were like, "Did that just happen?! He waited and waited until we were right there and THEN he pulled out?!" We were reminded that even when you are doing everything right here, you can't really trust other people to do the right thing because people seem to follow their own rules. It was just so bizarre. But now we have survived an RTA in Kenya and we hope there are no more to come, or at least that future accidents are as minimal as that one.

Yesterday was also the day that we interviewed Mary to be our housekeeper and cook. The interview wasn't horrible, but it didn't go that well. I think basically we didn't do enough research or talk to enough people about how these things usually go, so she had a little too much control over the situation. I am sure she would be a good cook and would keep our house very clean and orderly, but she wanted to live with us along with her 3 year old daughter and a girl who would live there to take care of the daughter while Mary was doing the housework. We are not quite ready to have 3 people living with us at this stage, and she wanted more money than we expected given that we would pay for all of her food and provide her with mattresses, uniforms, and a stove to cook on (apparently domestic staff would not cook their own food in our kitchen). So instead of hiring Mary, we are trying to hire a different woman who has worked for a Danish friend for a long time. The friend is getting ready to move back to Denmark though, so we are basically trying to hijack his help before someone else snaps her up! If it works out, she will come once a week until September, and then will come 3 days a week to clean, do laundry and ironing, and cook dinner on those days. She doesn't want to live with us, which is okay by us. We are really hoping this works out and think it is a good way to see how we like having staff first before ramping up to hire someone full time in the future. There are only two of us, after all, and we aren't THAT messy!

The only other interesting, although sad, news is that a Danish woman we know who is in Kristoffer's program with the World Health Organization was the victim of domestic violence last week. She had been living with her boyfriend, a Ugandan-born Kenyan resident who played basketball at the University of Notre Dame in the US during his college years. We aren't sure of the timeline, but essentially she broke up with him and afterwards he attacked her and tried to strangle her to death. She fought back, apparently biting his finger until he let go of her, and managed to escape. As horrible as this is, the worst part is that before she had a chance to report this to the police, he went and bribed the local and diplomatic police officers and pressed charges against her for biting him. So the police, to date, won't help her because the guy paid them off and in fact they are threatening her with jail time because she bit him. It is a horribly screwed up system! The Danish Embassy, much to Kristoffer's dismay, was not very helpful and did not really want to get involved. Luckily, our Danish friends who are close to her have gotten her legal help within the UN system and they should get everything sorted out soon, but needless to say it was an extremely sad and scary incident. We heard today that her sister came from Denmark to be with her through this ordeal and she is staying with our friends indefinitely.

As I started with, there is always something bizarre happening here! On Thursday I will start working on and off for the next month and will then be full time in August. Even though my contract at UNICEF won't be official for a few more weeks, my boss said I could start counting my days now for which I will be paid retroactively. I still have a crazy sleeping problem but last night I drank almost a whole bottle of wine before bed and yes, I did sleep very well for the first time in a long time. I don't think I should make that too much of a habit...but we'll see. Otherwise, I am feeling well and am eager to have things to do both for work and with Kristoffer's mom when she visits. It is a beautiful, sunny, warm winter's afternoon (it is at least 75 F) here in Nairobi and so I think I will go for a walk at the gym.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

June 29, 2008 - 5 Years!

So...Kristoffer and I met five years ago today. Maybe it is a silly anniversary to remember, except that we have changed so much since we met! Last night we played a game as we were falling asleep (well, Kristoffer was falling asleep and I was just getting ready for my night of resting but not sleeping) to list all of the things that are different about the other person since we met. Our lists were so long! When we met I hadn't moved to NYC or started teaching yet, Kristoffer hadn't finished his master's degrees, we were both eating meat, and both of us weighed more than we do now! Those are only small things of course, but it is fun to think back on the last 5 years and how we got to where we are in Nairobi, Kenya now. I can remember one of our first conversations when Kristoffer told me that he always hoped to someday live and work in Africa. He did a great job making that dream come true!

Just a quick stop at the UN today but now we are off to go interview our housekeeper. More stories on furniture and camels to follow in the next blog...


Thursday, June 26, 2008

June 26, 2008 - Expats

There are some really great things about living in our house. For me, I love that we can walk on our street. It is very quiet with compounds of houses only (no apartments) and so much security. Our security guards call Kristoffer "Mr. Kris" (which he can't decide if he likes or not) and they are more strict about letting people into the compound than at our old apartment (which is a good thing). Christine said that it was like "Fort Knox" getting in to our house the first time she came. The compound is very secluded and quiet. We have already gone on two nice long walks, and Kristoffer has even gone for a morning run! Another thing I love is that our compound has a generator because, even though we lose power just as often as we did in the apartment, the generator kicks in right away and power is restored immediately. It feels like a luxury here but I am loving it! I will not miss 8 hour power outages for sure!

Speaking of luxury...we are finally caving in to the pressures of living in a developing country and are going to hire "staff". Our house comes with "SQ" (or servant's quarters) for two people, but I think we will only hire one - and we haven't decided if that one will live with us or not (depends on the person we hire I think). We are interviewing a woman named Mary on Sunday to be our housekeeper and cook. Isn't that SO crazy?!?! If you had ever asked me when I could imagine myself hiring a housekeeper/cook before living in Kenya, I would have cooly answered, "Well...the year after never of course!" And now here I am, imagining how nice it will be not to spend half of every weekend cleaning our big house and food shopping, and half of every night cooking dinner and cleaning it up. Mary supposedly has a license from a catering school and knows several styles of cooking (we'll have to see if one of them is "vegetarian"). If not her, than we'll find someone else. In Kenya, hiring domestic help is a big part of the economy and there is no shortage of (inexpensive) labor. We've also found a driver, named Justice, to use consistently instead of a taxi because he is a little cheaper, and Kristoffer will occasionally employ the compound's gardener to help with our backyard (rent includes maintenance of the greens in the front of our house only). Did I mention that our house has rose bushes?! There are at least 5 of them, in all different colors, and I think they will be really beautiful once we learn how to take care of them. When Kirsten and Hans are here we plan to ask for their help - they are great gardeners!

This week we picked out a paint color and Kristoffer painted one of the walls in our upstairs living room the other night. It is a creamy/orangey/yellowy color - very warm and friendly. It looks great on one wall but might be too strong for much more than that so we will pick out one shade lighter and have some other rooms painted in that (rest of the living room, hallway and entryway, kitchen). I think it will take us awhile to furnish and decorate the house entirely, so right now we are just focusing on key rooms where we spend most of our time. This weekend our hunt for furniture will continue.

As for me, I have come in to the UN three times now. I have to "check out" as a volunteer before starting a consultant's contract; "checking out" means walking around to have all kinds of people who never even knew that I was a volunteer sign off on a piece of paper that I have returned everything I never borrowed from their department (technology stuff, finance stuff, etc.). It actually takes awhile to do this and most people are like "Who are you?" when I ask if they will clear me as a departing volunteer! Sometimes they will give me a little speech about how the UN needs good people and do I really want to check out? That is when I say that I am waiting for my consultant's contract to be processed so the UN isn't losing me, but that I am rather happy to expect a pay check in the near future.

But about that seems that it had been approved while I was away but that in the last few weeks there has been a salary adjustment, and I will now be getting paid at a higher rate. Because of the new salary, though, the contract has to go through the entire process of being approved again which will take between 2 and 3 more weeks. When it is finally approved, Kristoffer and I expect to be travelling a bit with his mom and Hans. Ideally, I will start working part time next week "off the books" and will then pick up full time "on the books" when Kirsten and Hans leave. It is sort of confusing, but hopefully will work out for the best. I am lucky that UNICEF has been very patient with me and that my boss is still giving me a contract. She is on leave for the next several weeks anyway and I will be working for an Italian woman who is in charge of the education emergency now; from what I understand I will mostly be organizing, analyzing and finding meaningful ways to report data that people have been collecting for months but haven't really done anything with.

Finally, today Kristoffer and I realized that we actually know a lot of people here! This is sort of a surprising revelation to me because I have been gone for awhile and because I still think of us as being new here. During lunch in the UN cafeteria though, a few women I know came over to say hello. Kristoffer had also seen a few people he knew and I found out later today that some of my UNICEF colleagues were watching us eat but I didn't notice them. Kristoffer and I are now sort of having a contest to see which one of us is more popular. As we were leaving we saw two of WFP Danish guys talking to one UNICEF American women and were like, "How do they know each other?!" We joined them briefly and then as we walked away from all of this Kristoffer said, "It is a really small world here, isn't it?" because eventually all expatriates (expats) know all of the other expats!

Before I sign off, I'll just add that I think it is great that Kristoffer has blogged a bit more. He has the great fortune with his job to be able to see parts of Kenya that average tourists and international business people do not see. His views of "real Kenya", as opposed to the happy little expat bubble we live in, are very valuable and I am always grateful when he shares these stories. I also hope to eventually acquire a few stories of my own when I am working more!


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

25 June, 2008 - One Woman

Most of my responsibilities at work have been centred around the School Feeding Programme. However, WFP’s Kenya Country Program also supports people living with HIV/AIDS in the Western part of Kenya and in the slums of Nairobi.

Many of the people living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya receive free anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). The medicine is given by the government and international donors to help HIV/AIDS-infected beneficiaries live longer. Research has still shown, however, that Kenyans on ARVs cannot fully sustain their livelihood as they are too weak to work. Their ability to farm or otherwise support their families depends on a high-nutrient diet and an overall food intake well above the recommended daily amount. Without proper food, ARVs are ineffective. This is where the WFP comes in. We provide take home rations for about 60,000 poor people living with HIV/AIDS. When given our food and their ARVs, a sick and bedridden AIDS-infected person will be able to recover his/her energy in three months; thereafter the person will be able to take on labour-intensive work. Because of the strong family traditions in Kenya, where everything is shared among family members, we feed the whole families of HIV/AIDS-infected people; if we didn’t, the sick person would only consume a small portion of what we give them and the rest of the food would be shared. Often the beneficiaries are too poor to be self-sufficient even after the three months; therefore, WFP, through our implementing partners, provides different kinds of training to the beneficiaries such as: food security, agriculture methods, bee-keeping, fruit tree planting, knitting, craft making, etc. which all can be combined with micro financing/lending. After 6-12 months the beneficiaries are supposed to graduate from the program and then they are on their own. Not everybody graduates though but our graduates tend to be successful.

Last week (after Lisa came home), I went on a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mission to the city of Kisumu and the town of Busia in Western Kenyan. I didn’t travel alone, but rather joined Hamai, our Japanese JPO (same contract as mine, just supported by the Japanese Government instead of the Danish), as well as our head of M&E, Grace, a Kenyan woman about whom I will write a blog another time. Kisumu is on Lake Victoria and Busia is right next to the Ugandan border. Kisumu may sound familiar from the news or Lisa’s past blogs because the post-election violence hit that area very hard. We flew to Kisumu in a nice jet-plane and landed almost on the water. The weather was just perfect: 27 degrees Celsius, much nicer than our “winter” weather (19C) in Nairobi. The next day we drove for just a few hours to stop at the non-profit REEP, one of our implementing partners that distributes WFP food. The REEP centre is in a small community not too far from Busia and does many things other than distribute food to people living with HIV/AIDS. They do gender awareness in schools and other community settings, and they help girls or boys who have been the victims of rape. In the tribe native to Busia and surrounding towns, men who don’t beat their wives are looked down upon, so abuse and rape are both quite common. Surprisingly, Kenya has very strict laws to protect women from such crimes, but in these rural settings women are often afraid to speak out and, if they do, the matter is often settled between families with some cows or bags of maize.

The head of the REEP centre is Mary. We were supposed to spend most of the short visit evaluating our partnership but the visit was not short because Mary insisted on telling us, the white men (yes, in Kenya they consider Asian people to be “white”), every detail about her centre. Even though she was longwinded, we learned so much from her.

About 75 girls and boys are raped every year in this small community; more than one per week. Mary has made it her mission in life to create awareness about this problem, to educate children (mainly female) about their rights, to enforce the rule of law by prosecuting the male perpetrators and to help people living with HIV/AIDS. The centre has many counselors, including male counsellors, who almost looked like strong police men (and I soon learned why).

Mary told us a lot about cases of rape: not just one case, not just five cases, not just 20 cases. She talked and talked and talked and, even though I did hope she would stop at some point, she kept talking! Generally, Mary is feared by the men in the community, which has lead to many death threats made against her. Girls from rich families who have been raped will come to her and she will help them, with the leaders of their families thanking her deeply. But when poor 13-year-old (or often much younger) orphan girls come to her because a professor or priest had taken advantage of them, the leaders will try to quiet everything down and settle the problem with a few cows. But Mary would go straight to the media and force the law to prosecute the men, which has sometimes resulted in jail sentences up to 40 years. The media would ask her: “Are you happy now, Mary?” to which she would reply: “I am not happy before he is hung!” When the family of an old man who just died in prison came to her to make her feel guilty for putting him in prison in the first place, she would say: “I’m sure the girls of the community will be much safer now”.

I can’t bring myself to write in this blog all that we learned about the crimes committed against the victims Mary helps, but I personally have never heard such cruelty as in the stories she told us. During our visit, quite suddenly the door opened and in came a 14-year-old girl with a baby on her arm. The girl’s parents were very good friends with a Kenyan professor; when her parents died the professor began raping her, got her pregnant, infected her with AIDS and made her too ashamed to even go to school. Mary introduced us to her and explained to us everything that happened to her while she was standing right in front of us. She told us that the girl has decided to come out with her story, is now employed by the centre and her case is being handled. She wasn’t the only child Mary wanted us to hear about and meet…but at 14 she was the oldest, if you can imagine. If I had a lot of extra money I would sponsor this girl and the centre. Mary wants a full-time lawyer, a rescue centre and money to build more awareness.

On another note, many Kenyan NGOs have tried to hike up the local salaries of their staff to benefit from large donations. Mary, on the other hand, hired four people for the one-person’s salary we provided her. Most of her staff are people living with HIV/ADIS. We bought some fresh honey from the centre, made by the beneficiaries of the programme I described earlier, and were about to leave when Mary came up to me, pointed to small pickup truck and said: “After you leave we will take the guy inside that car to the police station. He raped a girl last night…do you want to see him?” Trust me, I had no desire!

The rest of the trip went well. We saw a distribution site, one of our largest warehouses, and interviewed more implementing partners… but none of Mary’s calibre: she is one in a million! It’s amazing what one woman can do!

Since my trip last week, I have set up a meeting with some key people at the Danish Embassy for next week. This is my first attempt to use my citizenship to attract resources for WFP programs. I was lucky to get some help from a close friend of mine, but I am sure it will be a long process. I will keep you posted.


Monday, June 23, 2008

23 June, 2008 - Kristoffer’s Carbon Credits Mission

Sometimes I feel it’s almost impossible for me to get a better job than working for WFP. However, I initially missed some linkages between my job and the environment. So when the WFP Kenya Country Office wanted a focal point for carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol, my hand went straight up. In short, industrialized countries can purchase carbon credits to offset their pollution through investing in environmental improvements in less developed countries.

One month later WFP had three visitors from a company called EcoSecurities (UK). The company buys/seeks carbon credit-eligible projects in less developed countries. I was in charge of the visit and the four of us (excluding a driver and a field monitor) went to the slums of Nairobi to look at energy-saving stoves under the school feeding program. International Paper (a company) donated 68 energy saving stoves to schools under the school feeding program a few years ago. The stoves help schools save on firewood (up to 70%), which is a great cost that can be more than $150 per month, and help the environment, including deforestation. The mission (one American, one German and one South African) was excited about the stoves and saw great potential for carbon financing, and of course all the cute kids helped to make it a great day. Lorna (our field monitor and my friend) took us to some of our best schools and I saw with my own eyes how a poor school can be turned around when a proactive head-teacher and the community work together.

The next day we visited the Ministry of Environment and then we drove for 5 hours towards Mombasa, the country’s second largest city and the biggest port in East Africa. Security regulation does not allow the UN to travel at night in Kenya and we were caught by darkness so we stayed overnight in Kibwezi in quite primitive rooms. Kyle, the American, was excited to try some local food (the only option) and they all took it very well. The next day we drove to Taveta on the Tanzanian boarder and right next to Mt. Kilimanjaro (sadly, we couldn’t see the mountain which was covered in clouds all day L). In Taiveta we met the heads of the local school district and I had to get used to facilitating the visit, explaining why we where there to the heads of all the departments in Taiveta district. We saw a large irrigation project which was made possible by WFP’s Food for Asset (FFA) program. FFA is a program where the community identifies a project and then community members work 12 days a month and are paid in food by WFP. The work has to be labour intensive and WFP only funds projects in food-insecure areas to help the people become food secure. FFA projects are mostly funded through our emergency operations, unlike most of our programs which are free handouts. The irrigation project was impressive and, by collecting water from a mid-sized river, maize was growing high and the project earned food for thousands of people.

The sad part is that the irrigation system could easily be extended but WFP stopped funding the project and, for some reason, the community didn’t come together to make the last extension by themselves. I think the reason is what an economist would call “low social capital”. People don’t trust each other, even within the same community. And if I was not sure that my family would benefit from my hard labour maybe I would not do it….but come on… that maize was almost reaching the sky!

We drove back to a town called Voi; a few elephants blocked the road and we had to wait for them to pass. The elephants were huge and even our Kenyan driver felt a bit intimidated because they were quite upset and had a little baby elephant. Their ears where flapping as we passed them in the UN Toyota Land Cruiser and the driver showed me once again that you can drive 100 km per hour on a hard unpaved road. The country-side was beautiful.

Then we reached Voi, a tourist town without tourists - post-election crisis! We stayed overnight in a high-end lodge with nice rooms, big windows overlooking the savannah, and a pond with a hippo and where elephants (20) and other wild animal came for a drink. With two swimming pools and an excellent kitchen, we enjoyed the 150-bedroom lodge which we had all to ourselves. This lodge had a swim up savannah with the swimming pool 30 meters from the pond with all the animals; it was quite amazing and Kyle and Sabina (German woman) were ecstatic.

The next morning we slept in and left for Mombasa. The EU-sponsored road was great and we were there in no time at the beach hotel. But Mombasa was unseasonably cold and windy so my first time in the Indian Ocean was postponed. We watched some Euro Football and went to sleep.

We spent the next day in Kwale district, which was beautiful but many of its crops were failing because the long rains didn’t happen in parts of the district (in Kenya they say “the rains failed”). We saw a family running for their lives as we approached a village; later the field monitor told us that the children were afraid we were coming to vaccinate them.

Later I saw something that almost brought tears to my eyes. The school feeding program provides lunch to the primary school children in this area and fortified porridge for children under five (pre-school). We were driving and it was a little after 1pm. Children in their school uniforms (British system) were walking by the road. They were around 4-7 years old and they were all carrying a plate of WFP food from their school. Instead of eating the meal at the school they were carrying the plate home to share it with the rest of their family… just one plate. An important reminder of why my work is so vital in this country.

In Kwale we saw some great schools where the communities had come together to plant maize and trees on the school compounds. The schools in Kenya often have quite a bit of land, the biggest up to 10 acres. Unfortunately, the scale of the tree planting was too little to be feasible for carbon credits.

After that we went to a presentation site where World Vision (an international non-profit) is training mainly woman in drought-resistant agricultural methods. In many Kenyan tribes, after marriage the women do all the hard labor (good thing for Lisa she is not from a Kenyan tribe!)! World Vision had a great agricultural presentation site which I am sure will make a difference for these women and their families. Our field monitor translated as the 12 women wanted to talk to us. It was their first time having visitors and they were very happy. They thanked us for the program and then the oldest woman said: “We need water. We need water for our crops and for our households.” Then it was obvious that we were supposed to reply, it was so formal. We were standing under a tree in the middle of nowhere, but not too far from Mombasa road (the major highway from Nairobi). So I spoke to them, encouraged them to motivate their husbands to work. It was important for us to see the project but we couldn’t deal with their lack of water right away because water falls under UNICEF programming and WFP doesn’t have the mandate to fund boreholes. Depending on the depth, a borehole costs around 50,000 USD. After the talk the old woman came to me, took my hand with both of hers and said: “Remember me! Remember me!”

So now I feel I owe a $50,000 borehole to an old woman in Kwale. She surely needs it; the long rains (April-June) also failed in this part of the district.

We drove 100 km back to Mombasa to spend the night and it rained and rained. Driving back to Nairobi the next day I was eager to see how far inland the rain had reached. Normally it just rains 5-10 km inland. After an hour’s drive we passed the road to the old lady’s village. The soil by the road was darker and I saw a large pothole with water in it. The old lady had gotten rain that night.

We made it back to Nairobi in one piece. Our driver for the week, Francis, had been great and our visitors seemed happy with what they saw, although the energy-saving stove project was probably the only one with carbon credit potential. The rules under the Kyoto protocol are fairly complex but I learned so much and the mission told me about the Adaptation Fund which has a wider approach. All in all, it was a great, great week. To top it all off my beloved wife came home from her extended “vacation” in the US. I never thought I could miss her so much.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

June 21, 2008 - Still Jet Lagged! AH!

So...the night before I wrote on the blog last I had a good night's sleep. The two nights since then have not been so good, and so I am left absolutely exhausted all over again. My body cannot seem to figure out what it is supposed to do! Either I can't fall asleep for hours, and then only sleep a little bit before I should be getting up for the day OR I fall asleep quickly but only stay asleep briefly and am then awake awake awake. I just want to not feel tired!

The good news is that Kristoffer came home last night and we are happy to have the whole weekend together. It seems like forever since that was the case (or the last weekend we had together I was post-op and so it was not that fun). Christine and I had a nice day yesterday which involved her buying some Kenyan souvenirs and me buying Kristoffer a surprise for our upcoming wedding anniversary. When we were shopping we ran into Officer Kirimi, the Diplomatic Police Officer who was handling our stolen sim card case, and he was so happy to hear of T-Mobile's debt forgiveness. He was really nice and said we could come see him at any time; it is nice for us to feel that we have a law enforcement ally over here. Also, when we were shopping around the Masaai market (with local, Kenyan items) I realized that I have lived here awhile because many of the vendors know me (some even by name!)! I got Christine a great deal on some things she wanted because I knew the lady selling them.

The last bit of news is that The UN Environmental Program has expressed interest in hiring me for 6 months. While I don't think I will pursue the position because it doesn't have anything to do with education (and in fact it is in the HR department which is not really my interest), it was flattering to know that my resume, which they received from the spouse office, was of interest to them.

We are off to look for furniture and paint now...still no internet at home, but hoping, hoping, hoping it will come soon!


Thursday, June 19, 2008

June 19, 2008 - Back in Nairobi

Jambo! Greetings from Kenya!

I arrived here on Saturday night. My trip was long and uncomfortable, to be honest. British Airways was not particularly accommodating (and, in fact, tried to charge me additional fare for having changed my plane ticket even though I was assured that a hospitalization relieved me of that expense) but I did make it here in one piece. Kristoffer picked me up at the airport and I can honestly say I have never been so happy to see anyone!

Our house is amazing. It is big and bright and well made, as opposed to our apartment which showed no quality craftsmanship whatsoever. We visited with our neighbors on Sunday, a guy who I worked with at UNICEF and his wife, and it is nice to know that we will have friends close by. All we need now is furniture! We are going to upgrade some of the things we had made already and will buy some new stuff too - we have a lot of rooms to furnish. Four bedrooms and two living rooms! Of course we don't actually need all of that space, but it is nice to be in a cozy home and we have plenty of room for visitors. The UN also subsidizes part of our rent, so it isn't costing us much more to live in this house as opposed to our apartment.

I haven't done much since I got back. Kristoffer is travelling for work and Christine is here until tomorrow. Today I am at the mall at an internet cafe because we don't have internet at our house yet; this is my biggest outing of the week. I don't have serious pain anymore, but I have had the worst jet lag ever and that has made my aches even more achey. I hadn't slept for 2 days before getting a really good night's sleep last night (after some wine and some tylenol PM). The good part of my insomnia is that I was wide awake to watch the last game of the NBA Finals (from 4 am to 6:30 am) and was overjoyed for the Celtics' win. I think my body was already screwed up from the surgeries/anesthesia/blood transfusion and that losing 7 hours just screwed it up even more. Hopefully after last night (and no more daytime napping) I will be back to a regular sleeping schedule.

I should be meeting with my boss and colleagues at UNICEF tomorrow to look at my new (paid!) contract and figure out what my work schedule will be. I think for a little while I will work part time, also because I want to spend time with Kristoffer's Mom and Hans when they are here for 3 weeks in July, and perhaps when (if!) we get internet at home I can work from there as well. UNICEF has been very supportive and patient so I am sure we will work something out that pleases all of us.

I will say that it is a big adjustment to be away from my parents, especially my mother who was with me everyday. We were almost inseparable for 6 weeks and now I really miss them! It is strange that even as a grown woman, my mother can bring me a sort of comfort and care that nobody else can. Kristoffer is pretty amazing, though, and I am certainly happy to be home with him again.

That's all for now; I will write again soon.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

June 10, 2008 - I am not 80-years-old...

...but I did have a very good visit with my pacemaker surgeron yesterday. Dr. Grossi, who is the Chief of Cardiothorasic Surgery at NYU (which I was too out of it to appreciate a few weeks ago, but it is really no small title!), says that I am healing well and that my pacemaker is working perfectly. It has already prevented me from fainting 6 times, which is a good reminder that I really do need it! He said I am allowed to lift my arm up now, but still can't exercise for 6 more weeks. The best news of all is that I am allowed to travel back to Kenya!

I will leave this Friday night and arrive Saturday night to see Kristoffer and our new house, as well as my sister Christine who is once again in Kenya for work. I may not start working full time right away, but at least I can get back to my life. My parents have been so amazing the last few weeks, but when my father commented that I was living the life of a 63-year-old more than of a 27-year-old my eagerness to get back to Nairobi only grew!
You know how web-based email providers like yahoo, gmail, and hotmail scan emails for key words to provide targeted advertising? Well, for the last two weeks gmail has scanned words such as "pacemaker" and "surgery" pretty frequently in my emails so that all of my advertising is for senior citizen life insurance, AARP membership and discounts, and assisted living facilities! So annoying! I look forward to emailing from Nairobi where I get ads for safaris and African merchandise - they are a little bit more my speed!
I hope to quickly get back to providing details and insight on unexpected events in Nairobi and the differences I notice living there. Maybe I will even post pictures of our new house! As soon as Kristoffer gets the internet up and running I will be sure to let you know :)

Monday, June 2, 2008

June 2, 2008 - Recovering + 10 Flights of Stairs

Well I haven't written a blog in a really long time, but I promise I have good reason. My last post announced that I would be having surgery to get a new pacemaker, and what an ordeal that turned out to be.
Kristoffer, my mom and I headed down to NYC for my surgery, scheduled for Tuesday, May 20th. The doctors planned to extract my pacemaker and the two leads (or wires that plug the device into my heart) and then implant a whole new system. When all went well, it was expected that I would be out of the hospital on the 21st.
Sadly, that was not exactly the way it all went down. My surgery took place in the cardiac catherization lab at NYU Medical Center with 3 doctors and several nurses, which is common for non-open-heart cardiac procedures. There were two problems, however. First, because I was only 19 when I got my pacemaker, doctors at Children's Hospital in Boston buried it deep in my pectoral muscle so that I wouldn't have a bump sticking out of my chest like a 90-year-old (no offense to any 90-year-olds reading this). When the NYC doctors went to remove the pacemaker I lost a significant amount of blood because the pacemaker was so deep. Problem number two was that the leads were very close to one of my veins and if the doctors had nicked the vein in trying to remove the leads, that would have lead to further bleeding that they could not have controlled because they were not in an operating room. I was told that proceeding at that point could have actually been fatal.
So, after getting the pacemaker out the doctors closed me up to recover a bit and then they scheduled a second surgery for the next day with a specialized cardiovascular surgical team. My new surgeon had done about 4,000 lead extractions before, which are much riskier and less common than pacemaker implantations or battery replacements; we were very happy to have an old pro on the job. None of us (us = me, my family, or my cardiologist) realized how tricky this process was going to be and we are very grateful that they stopped the first surgery when they realized they were in over their heads. After the first surgery didn't go too well, my father joined my mom and Kristoffer in NYC. They were all an amazing support to me, but it is clear to me now how scary it must have been for them when the doctor explained what went wrong.
Day 2 brought surgery #2, in the operating room, with a lot of doctors and nurses supporting my primary surgeon. For the first surgery I was heavily sedated and knocked out for the whole thing, but for the second surgery I was under general anesthesia and was not breathing on my own (that means I was on a ventilator) so that the surgeon had ultimate control over what was happening. When they began the procedure, they realized that I had lost too much blood the first time around for them to continue and so first they gave me a blood transfusion. Then they successfully removed the old leads without nicking my vein, and implanted two new leads and a new pacemaker. The new leads are positioned differently than the old ones to avoid some of the problems I had with them, and the pacemaker is not buried as deeply in my muscle as the first one was. This means that the next time I need a new battery (8-10 years, give or take a few) the procedure should not be as complicated. It also means that I do have a slight bump on my chest - so while I don't exactly look 90 the site is not as flat as it has been the last 8 years. The surgeon was not sure that he was going to be able to keep the pacemaker on the left side of my body and there was a chance he would have had to open my right side and implant the new pacemaker there, which would have made my recovery much more difficult. The very good news is that he was able to keep the new one on the left side and I am extremely grateful to not have symmetrical incisions.
Once the surgery was done, it took two more days for me to have the strength to be discharged. The first time I got out of bed to try and walk around I quickly fainted - not because of my heart but because I hadn't eaten or had anything to drink in over 48 hours! I also had significant pain and my blood count was kind of funny so they had to make sure I wasn't bleeding internally before they discharged me. Finally, on the evening of Friday, May 23rd at 5:30pm they dismissed me to "enjoy" my Memorial Day Weekend. My parents, Kristoffer, and I took a taxi uptown to my friend Jean's, our "home base" in NYC, for the night and when we arrived we encountered a new problem. For the first time in 5 years, all 3 of the elevators in her building were broken. No joke. All of them. Broken.
We went to a diner for dinner, stocked up on some post-op supplies at the nearest drug store and hoped that the elevators would be fixed quickly...but our hopes were to no avail. I was tired, in severe pain, and wanted to go back to the hospital where there was a wheelchair! After debating about getting a hotel (where? how much? what a hassle!) or leaving instantly to drive back to Massachusetts (in Memorial Day Weekend Friday night traffic?! no thanks!), the only practical option we had was to walk up 10 flights of stairs to Jean's apartment. After 2 heart surgeries, 1 blood transfusion, and 2 hours out of the hospital, that is exactly what I did. Kristoffer sort of held me from behind so that I didn't fall and we just took it very slow, but we did climb up those damn stairs.
At 5:45 in the morning we woke up to drive back to my parents' house in Plymouth and, sure enough, the elevators were still not working! So we had to walk back down the freakin' stairs! I kid you not. My mom and I decided that even an author or screenwriter wouldn't be so mean as to write such a story! Once we got down the stairs, though, we had an easy ride home and I have since been recovering. Kristoffer was able to stay two more days before heading back to Nairobi and my parents have been seriously pampering since he left.
Currently, I am no longer medicating. The doctors really wanted me to deal with my pain and not rely on drugs so much - so I weaned down to only taking pills before bed and now to not taking them at all. The only times I have serious pain now are at night when I am really tired - it is mostly aches and constant soreness. I have increased mobility but can't lift my left arm for about 4 more weeks. I don't sleep through the night, but wake up a lot to try and get comfortable, and I do get tired very easily so I take a lot of small naps. I am eating well though and my parents walk me and their dog regularly for exercise. I will see my surgeon and cardiologist next Monday and will hope for the "all clear" to travel back to Kenya.
Kristoffer and I had been looking to move out of our apartment for a little while and before my surgeries he had found both a house and an apartment for me to check out when I got back. Well, needless to say I haven't gotten back yet and Kristoffer had to make a decision without me. He chose the house and moved into it this weekend. He brought me a video of the house and it looks perfect for us - only a few years old, clean, bright, and pretty big. It is on a compound with 9 other houses in the very best and most desired neighborhood among UN staff, and we even know a couple who live there already. So, including my consultancy at UNICEF, I have a lot to look forward to when I get back to Nairobi!
Hopefully when I get back to my real life and my husband, I will get back to updating the blog on a weekly basis at least. Thank you to everyone who has corresponded with me, sent flowers, visited, emailed and kept me in their thoughts and prayers. Believe me when I say that every little bit helps!
Happy June,