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!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October 14, 2008 - Nesting

Well I am sure it will only continue and/or get worse, but this weekend Kristoffer and I really felt like we were getting ready for something! He did a bit more painting, we hung up some more pictures, I cleaned out our "office" (aka "room where things go to hide or die"), we rearranged furniture (more than once!) and bought a new rug for our downstairs living room. I think with just a few more weekends under our belt our house will be "done", except maybe for baby furniture.

We did look around at local baby stores to see what kind of things we could find here; the situation was looking pretty grim until we visited "Woolworths" (the British chain) with a large, high-quality baby section including some baby gear by the Graco company, which is very popular in America (a bouncy seat, a baby swing, a pack 'n play, etc.), and an organic baby clothing line (which Kristoffer loved). I had a really rough few minutes before we went to that store, but Woolworths saved the day! While we will still be looking to bring some things from home, it is a big relief that we know where we can get good stuff, even if it is a bit more expensive here. Phew! We have not yet found a baby crib that we feel confident is not a death-trap for our child, so we will continue that hunt and also consider having one made. We have not bought one baby item yet - no clothes or toys or anything (more out of not being quite ready to go there as opposed to being superstitious), but this was the first weekend I was really tempted and eager to shop!

I will be in my 20th week as of Thursday and we will have an ultrasound to mark the occasion, along with a doctor's appointment on Friday afternoonto go over the ultrasound an ask her a lot of questions! As I get bigger and our due date gets closer, there are definitely more things we want to know!

I am mostly feeling really well these days, although I would say there is usually one hour in the afternoon/evening where I am inexplicably grumpy, achy, and best left alone. Otherwise, we are growing and remaining overjoyed about all things baby. We are even training Simba to become a die-hard Red Sox fan, by watching post-season ALDS (before) and ALCS (now) games on ESPN during all hours of the early morning, and hoping that Simba gets a chance to hear the Red Sox win another World Series. The one thing I wish was that I could definitely feel him/her moving...these days I am still left wondering, "Is that Simba? Or is that my dinner?" when I feel something in my stomach. I really hope to be able to match a feeling with seeing Simba's movement at our ultrasound on Friday!

At our ultrasound, though, we are still committed to not finding out the sex of our baby even though this is the time they could tell us. Yesterday we had an amusing lunch with two colleagues (one Danish, one American) who tried really hard to convince us that finding out the baby's sex is better than not. We haven't quite figured out why they are so bothered by the element of surprise (especially since we are so eager for it!), but they were not successful in their attempts to change our minds. They will just have to wait along with us! March will certainly be here soon enough :)


Friday, October 10, 2008

October 10, 2008 - A Little Kenyan History

Today is a national holiday in Kenya - "Daniel Arap Moi Day". Moi was the second president of Kenya and is generally known to have been more of an authoritarian dictator than a democratic president. He used torture and intimidation to defeat his enemies and increase his own power, and he only allowed Kenya to become a multi-party system again (after of course he made it a single-party system) under extreme pressure from the US and other democratic countries. In the last two elections he "won" (1992 and 1997) there was substantial ethnic violence in the country (although not as much as this past election). It is strange to me that Kenyans still love and respect him so much, even though in 1999 Amnesty International and the UN determined that substantial human rights abuses were committed in Kenya under his leadership (1978-2002).

Anyway, the United Nations here does not recognize the holiday for good reason (the UN should generally not recognize holidays for despots) and even the Kenyan government is thinking of getting rid of it - except there is fear that people will be outraged (particularly people from Moi's tribe, the Kalenjin's) and will react strongly to ending the holiday (read "strongly" as "violently"). When I took a taxi to work this morning there were very few cars on the road and the UN compound is very quiet. It is also a Friday, which is always a lazy work day in Kenya, but I suspect that some UN-employed Kenyans took the day off of work given that everything else is shut down for the day! I mean...who hasn't been guilty of stealing a 3-day weekend at some point?

As I was home alone last night watching the global financial news in horror, I decided to start a new routine for the baby. I put my big headphones (usually used for internet chat) on my belly and pumped some music into my belly from the iPod. I am hoping that soon I will feel Simba move and I was thinking that if I gave him/her some good tunes to groove to that might speed up the process. So far I have not felt anything definite...during pregnancy women often feel all kinds of crazy things so it is difficult to know what is fetal movement and what is just gas or indigestion! As I said to my sister on skype, I sort of wonder what the acoustics are like in utero, but I imagine they are a bit echo-ey, so I was careful not to play anything too loud or crazy. We do want Simba to have good taste in music!

Kristoffer returns to me tonight. He was supposed to monitor schools again today but because of the holiday they are closed! It is at least an 8-hour drive from where he is (a place called West Pokot in northern Kenya near Uganda) and it is a beautiful day (at least in Nairobi) for his ride. I am glad he won't spend half his weekend driving back tomorrow! He said on the phone that his last two days of monitoring went very well, but yesterday the schools he visited were SO far away from any place that his team had to walk a few hours to get there and back because they were not accessible by roads. Let's hope he has some interesting pictures to share with us! This weekend I hope we will start tracking down stores that sell baby stuff so we can figure out what things we can and will get here, and what things we need to bring or import from home. I think I am starting to "nest" :)


Thursday, October 9, 2008

October 9, 2008 - POP!

I wasn't planning on posting another pregnancy picture for 2 more weeks when I am 20 full weeks pregnant, but yesterday at 18 full weeks I woke up with a much bigger baby belly than I had before! When I saw my neighbor last night she greeted me with, "Oh my! You've popped since I saw you on Saturday!" Of course I know I will only get bigger and that by the time March comes it will seem like there are 3 of me, but for right now waking up yesterday morning with a significant and noticeable belly was a bit of a shock. I didn't know it would happen overnight like that!

So here I am below at 18 weeks...taking my own picture while Kristoffer is away for work...and marvelling at the wonders of pregnancy. This week my skin is very slowly but surely getting better, my wake-me-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-leg-cramps are getting worse, and I seem to be better in the eating department since I haven't had a bad headache in more than 10 days. Simba is growing and we are so excited for our ultrasound next week to mark the halfway point of our pregnancy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

October 7, 2008 - Internet at Home!

Definitely the most exciting news for us - we finally had internet installed in our home yesterday! It is a big moment as we haven't had internet at home since we moved to our house in June. We had previously taken for granted our internet access and have really been missing it - especially with all of our guests who would have liked to use it! The company we are using is the third one we've tried in the house and they finally had success (and are actually cheaper than the other companies too!).

Now Kristoffer will blog more, hopefully, and we can finally SKYPE (!) and download itunes and pictures! Simple pleasures, right? It may not be the fastest internet on earth, but it is ours finally!

Kristoffer is leaving today for a field mission until Saturday so especially because I am home alone for the rest of the week I am happy to have some virtual company. A happy day in Nairobi, indeed :)


Monday, October 6, 2008

October 6, 2008 - Two Month Travel Countdown

Two months from today we arrive in Boston to begin our 5 week holiday vacation - 3 weeks in the US and 2 weeks in Denmark. Although we usually don't like to wish away time, we are really excited that this break seems to be coming quickly (although during our vacation we hope that time will really slow down!).

On Friday we had our first "pregnancy panic" which I suppose at 4 1/2 months was bound to happen. I had a cramp in the right side of my stomach for several hours; it wasn't so painful, felt more like a runner's cramp, but it just didn't go away for so long that I got really nervous because I'd never felt anything like it before. My doctor asked us to come in right away when I called and she confirmed that everything was fine. She did some tests, checked my blood pressure, and checked the baby's heart rate determining that the baby was in no danger at all. She suspected that I had a urinary tract infection, which turned out to be not true. So after ruling out everything bad that it could be, she said I had probably overdone it at the gym or needed more rest. So this weekend was pretty relaxing for us; by Saturday morning my cramp was gone and we were very relieved that it turned out to be nothing. First time parents, you know!

Our friend Karen went back to Denmark yesterday and we will have no more visitors (that we know of right now) until Simba is born. Before she left, however, we took her on a treasure hunt. In our foyer there is sort of an empty nook to the left of our stairs and we wanted to put some life into it! So we went hunting for the perfect plant and, because we have such high ceilings, we ended up buying a 10 ft. 10 inch TREE. So when you walk into our house now it takes a second to figure out if you are in a house or the rain forest! It takes a bit of getting used to, but we are really happy with it. We are sure our housekeeper will be in for a shock when she arrives this morning :)

Otherwise, all is well in Nairobi. The "short rains" have still surprises me a little that I live in a country with "short" and "long rains". But the rain is really good for Kenya because much of the country has been experience severe drought so rain means food, water, electricity (hydro power), employment, and money for the country. It is a very good thing...that is, until there is flooding in some places (not Nairobi, don't worry), which is a very bad thing. Kenya is very disaster-prone...can you tell?


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

October 1, 2008 - By Grace part 3

Back in July I wrote two blogs about an orphanage we visited in Nairobi called "By Grace", which Kristoffer knew of through work initially, but to which we have become personally attached. We have brought our visitors to see the orphanage and Kristoffer has been working to get more food aid to them for the 300 children who live and attend school there. The orphanage is in the process of buying land on which to build a proper school and dormitories (their current facilities are the worst imaginable). The people who operate this orphanage are very Christian and very grateful for all donations and support; the children have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS and, while their circumstances could be described as dire, they remain hopeful for their futures. Please see the blogs from July 23rd (By Grace) and July 27th (By Grace part 2) to find out more information. Below are some very belated pictures of our first visit with Kirsten and Hans. Thanks to Hans for taking such great pictures!

I would also like to add that it is a very humbling experience to be bringing a child into the world at the same time as we are getting involved with this orphanage. Our child will have access to good medical care and be well-fed, be sheltered in sanitary conditions and properly clothed, our child will be infinitely loved...he or she will essentially want for nothing. We have realized what an enormous responsibility this is and how important it is for our child to understand and appreciate his/her fortune and opportunities.


Two pictures below of one small classroom. During the day there could be over 20 children attending an early primary school class, and at night there will be the same amount of children sleeping in the room.

These are their (decrepit) mattresses, which are rolled up during the day so the rooms can be used for school.

These are some of the desks for the classrooms that are stored on the fire escape during the night time and on weekend when children are not in classes.

The chairs below are used for the older students. They store their personal belongings below during the daytime.

The following five pictures are of children outside at the "assembly" they held for us. There was dancing by the younger children and then singing by the older orphans. The white woman in the first pictures is an American volunteer affiliated with the orphanage; she is a university professor who spends all of her holidays at the orphanage and participates in significant fundraising activities for them.

Kristoffer, Kirsten, and I each had to speak to the orphans on our first visit. Here is Kristoffer's motivational speech.

The children were extremely sweet and well-behaved.