Monday, January 12, 2009

January 12, 2009 - A Full Recap of our Holiday Trip

Today is my first day home alone in Nairobi as Kristoffer has gone back to work and I am left to nest and rest after five weeks of jam-packed holiday fun. At 32 weeks and 2 days pregnant, I look something like this (photo taken yesterday):

Here is a super long blog with more details on what we've been up to...feel free to skim it or skip it altogether. The bottom line is that we had a great trip and are happy to be back in Nairobi to wait for Simba's big entrance into the world.

Three Weeks in the United States

Kristoffer was very happy that shortly after we arrived in Boston, it was already snowing! And it snowed several times, which was really fun for him to play outside with Michael, Sean, Molly, Matthew and Nathan, but definitely threw a wrench in several of our plans to visit with family and friends. While in the US, we took the US's economic situation into our own hands and spent our well-saved dollars on a few big ticket items that we want to have for a long time, such as a new camera (perfect for photographing Simba) and a new laptop. We also stocked up on basic items, like clothes and shoes, that we find WAY too expensive to purchase in Nairobi. Lastly, we baby-shopped, baby-shopped, and then baby-shopped some more!

I was so lucky to have been given a lovely baby shower at my mother's house with almost all of my friends and local family attending. They showered me and Simba with so much love, and so many generous gifts, that we ended up being able to bring even more baby stuff back to Nairobi than anticipated (and when I say "we", I mean me and Kristoffer, of course, but also my parents who are coming the week I am due and bringing a big load of baby gear!).

At home in the US, we enjoyed driving on the right side of the road and were amused to be constantly walking into people in stores when we were staying to the left and they were, obviously, staying to the right. Kristoffer loved watching American football...and I was surprised how little American TV I watched! There was just no time!

Our trip to NYC, albeit brief, was really fun. We spent one night in New Jersey with our friends Omar, Domenica, and Luke and two nights with Jean in Manhattan. The visit with my cardiologist went well, although he was actually stuck in surgery and I had to see a different doctor than him. Basically, my pacemaker is working well and operating at 3% of the time, which is 2.5% more than when I wasn't pregnant. This means it is very good that I got a new, fully-working pacemaker, even if the process was slightly dramatic. In NY, we also visited the school I used to work at and had a really fun evening with most of my close friends from working there. It was a great trip! We were even able to have a wonderful breakfast with my roommate from freshman year at Syracuse, Nasheema. On our way back to my parents in Massachusetts, we stopped for a night in Connecticut and had a great visit with Brooke and Dave before Christmas.

As my previous blogged mentioned, Christmas was a great time with my family. In the days leading up to the holiday we were able to visit with some aunts and uncles and cousins in the area, although one large family party was cancelled because of really bad winter weather and we didn't quite get to see everyone we would have seen there. Kristoffer and I were thrilled to have so many great days with all of my siblings who were with us for the holiday.

It was a little bit hard to say goodbye, especially to my siblings, knowing that such a big life event will occur before we see most people again, but at least my parents will be here in just 7 more weeks!

Below is a slide show of some of our moments in the US...unfortunately, we didn't take pictures of everything we did or everyone we saw, but we do have a sampling here:

Two Weeks in Denmark

In Denmark a little bit of jet-lag, as well as the season's cold, grey weather and lack of sunlight, made me a bit more tired than I had been in the US. We spent several great days with each of Kristoffer's parents and had four different occasions to spend time with his brother's family as well. After seeing all of his family at his grandmother's birthday, we were able to also see many of Kristoffer's friends - including all of the guys who were in our wedding. I got to meet some of his friends from college who I had never met before. It was really fun! We spent two days in Copenhagen walking around and around in the freezing cold to see all these different people...not necessarily what I thought I would be doing at this stage of my pregnancy, but it worked out really well.

New Years Eve with Kirsten and Hans was very fun...we ate well, played cards, and watched an incredible fireworks display from the top of a hill behind their house at midnight. Danes are CRAZY about their new year's fireworks! In Denmark we didn't do that much shopping, although Kristoffer was able to find two suits for work (American suits don't fit him so well!), ordered some new glasses, and we even found a cradle to bring home for the baby (which Kristoffer promptly put together the minute we got home). We did do a lot of eating (a theme carried over from the US) and, while in the US we met two new baby boys (children of my friends Joanna and Sarah), we got to meet two new baby girls in Denmark (children of Kristoffer's cousin Klaus and our friends Lars and Barbara). Those experiences definitely made us eager for our own baby's arrival in less than 8 weeks.

In Denmark we also did things like walk on the beach and play in the forest - both very Danish things to do despite the cold weather. We ended our trip at Kirsten's and Hans drove us back to Hamburg this past Friday where we spent a night at the airport's Marriott hotel so that we could be at the airport bright and early for our day of travel.

Again, we don't have too many great pictures of all of the people we saw (we really have to get better at taking pictures now that we have a new great camera!), but here are a few pictures of our visit in Denmark:

Our overall assessment of our trip is that we didn't get to see very many people for a long period of time, but we did get to see a lot of people for a short period of time and that was really nice.

Back in Nairobi

We arrived in Kenya late Saturday night after a long day of travel. I thankfully did not go into labor on the plane (did you read that story recently about the woman flying from Europe to Boston?!) and despite some backaches and general discomfort, it was a good and easy trip. One of the first things we noticed is that some roads have really been improved since we have been gone. We also quickly learned that Kenya hasn't had ANY rain since we left, which means the harvest did not yield a sufficient crop, and the country has declared a state of emergency due to severe food shortages. Of course, it is not only due to the lack of rain. Because of last year's post-election violence (oh my goodness, remember what we were going through at this time last year?!?!) fewer crops were planted and alternately many planted crops were burned. In July, the country had an opportunity to buy a lot of maize from Tanzania to prepare for food shortages at this time, but the Minister of Agriculture insisted that there would not be a food crisis (note: we are not big fans of the Minister of Agriculture). And here we are now with over 10 million Kenyans in danger of starvation. We will be watching to see how the government handles this situation...Kristoffer does not work in emergency operations at WFP but we do know that WFP is being pressured to increase its food assistance.

The weather here is like paradise...very warm/hot and sunny during the day, cooler at night, no humidity. Of course, after the freezing cold of New England and Denmark, this has been a bit of a shock to our systems! Our jet-lag is not so bad right now because Denmark is only 2 hours behind Kenya, but our adjustment to the altitude can definitely be felt. Yesterday I generally felt pretty yucky and so I am taking it very easy. It was a surprise to me, I will admit, how nice it was to walk into my own house and sleep in my own bed the last two nights. We loved our five weeks of vacation and had a wonderful time, but there was certainly an element of exhaustion to all of our travel and now I am grateful not to have to go anywhere...except to the hospital to deliver this baby!

We have touched base with both of our neighbors who we are friends with here - one of them gave us a jump yesterday when our car wouldn't start and the other is extremely grateful that we let him use our house for his family reunion while we were away - and so it feels like we are in a strange way back where we belong. I never thought I would say that a year ago!

General Pregnancy Update

As for my pregnancy...I have increased third trimester symptoms for sure: more leg cramps at night (although I am doing exercises, thanks to Kristoffer's step-sister Marianne, to prevent these and it seems to be working in the last week), increased swelling in my feet, ankles and hands, some braxton hicks (early practice) contractions, lower back discomfort, constantly going to the bathroom, some more nausea similar to my first trimester, and general lethargy as a result of my enormous and ever-growing belly. I am having an ultrasound on Wednesday and will see my doctor on Friday afternoon; we are also waiting to get a schedule of childbirth classes we can take sometime in the next month. I have gained about 25 lbs to date, so my worries from earlier in the pregnancy when I wasn't gaining weight have been allayed.

Finally, our new staff begin working tomorrow (live-in housekeeper/cook and non-live-in driver) which I anticipate being an interesting experience for all of us. I will definitely report back on that in the coming days too. For now, I am ready to get up and stretch and finish unpacking!



Joanna said...

Welcome home! (Can you say that if you don't live where "home" is? I think so.)

Ke said...

Why aren't you guys fans of william Ruto? I will say that his name was mentioned in the human rights report as one of the people who organized the violence. The kalenjins have been killing Kikuyu's in the rift valley for 15 years (they started in 1992). What happened in this last election was absolutely not spontaneous. They'd had 15 years of practice and Kibaki should have listened to the intelligence reports that warned him about it.

There is no reason why 50% of kenyans should be starving in this day and age. The country is blessed with rivers, lakes and an entire ocean. However, continued failure by successive governments to invest money (they'd rather steal it!) in more modern farming practices will result in this kind of unforgivable hunger.

I for one, do not understand what the WFP has been doing in Africa all these years. Does your husband ever wonder whether he is actually making a difference? I mean, if the WFP has been working in africa for 50 years, why are people still starving? Why are people in Kenya going hungry in a country that is not at war?

At some point, African countries will need to stop wasting money on these young American or European expatriates, who, while well intentioned, simply have no clue how the complex tribal politics affect the economics.

Kristoffer & Lisa said...

Dear Ke,

Thank you for writing on our blog.

I have the following comments to your questions/reflections:

Ruto: I don’t know the details about the triple background. But the reason I am a bit disappointed with Mr. Ruto is that about half a year ago Kenya had the opportunity to purchase 2 million bags of maize from neighboring countries. Mr. Ruto assured the public that that was not necessary because Kenya had enough maize, and so nothing was procured. In hindsight that is a bit upsetting because 2 million bags of maize would certainly be an enormous help to the country right now. I also know of other practices of Mr. Ruto that I unfortunately can’t share on this blog.

No there is no reason why Kenyans should be starving, I believe deforestation especially is a long term problem for Kenya. The rivers in Meru, for example, are retreating. The water catchment areas (forests) are disappearing.

WFP in Africa: WFP is primarily an emergency organization. But you are right there is a dependency issue here. But how does one solve the dependency issue in Turkana? It is very complicated. WFP is currently giving some of the food assistance through the so-called Food for Assets program where the communities are engaged in making water pans and other long term sustainability activities all chosen and carried out by the communities themselves.

As far as my job goes, I work on the school feeding programme in Kenya which has support of all actors. School feeding increases enrolment, attendance rates, performance by increase in children’s attention spans, and prevents short-term hunger among other things.

As far as sustainability goes, the Kenyan government is paying for 50% of the transport cost, and just took over around 250,000 children through a new school feeding system. WFP hopes that the Government will take over the program completely in about 5-10 years like it has happened in over 20 other countries in the world where WFP has had school feeding.

Yes, governance is an issue in Kenya, I agree.

You wrote: “African countries will need to stop wasting money on these young American or European expatriates”. Reply: My position is 100% funded by the Danish government. WFP is funded through international donors. So I don’t see how Kenyans are spending resources on WFP. You wrote at the same time that the government has failed. With a failing government do you believe the international community should withdraw from Kenya?

I can only speak for school feeding. I believe the Ministry of Education has good intentions and qualified staff, but unfortunately they are severely understaffed and under-resourced. Kenyans would not have had the same school feeding programme without WFP, that seems very clear to me.

Because of rising food prices we are pulling out of some districts because of lack of funding. The government has not been able to take over in all of them and I receive calls from these District Educational officers who are absolutely devastated. Without WFP we would talk about thousands and thousands of children in that situation.

Unfortunately we can’t email you directly because your email address doesn’t show up on our blog, but hopefully my response gives you some insight.


ke said...

Thanks very much for a very good answer. I found your blog while googling some stuff on Kenya and I am always curious to see what impressions westerners have about my country.

I did not know that the WFP was an agency primarily concerned with emergency food relife. I'd always assumed that they were also focused on finding long-term solutions to the food insecurity issues that countries like Kenya are experiencing. Why is an organization like the WFP running out funding? that is quite surprising, even under these difficult economic times.

I am now very curious about what other things ruto has been doing that you do not like. Please email them to me privately @: Ruto is a very dangerous man and the violence in the rift valley that displaced half a million people has contributed to the countries deteriorating food crisis (not entirely, but it is a major cause of it). Actually, I'd say that the 15 years of continuous, (ethnic targeted) violence in the RV, has pushed out thousands of Kikuyu's who previously, had been very productive farmers.

There is plenty of food in Kenya (as you can see when you go to stores like Nakumatt) -- the problem is, too many people don't have the cash to purchase it and I suppose this is a problem of under employment. The country is simply not producing enough non-farming jobs and without jobs, people literally have no money.

I will discuss the food problems of Turkana and northern kenya at a later time. In the meantime, I look forward to receiving that email on Ruto.


Bean said...

Lisa! You forgot to mention that you bumped into me on the train!!!!
I was bragging to everyone! i was so excited!
Next time you are in nyc you MUST let us knw!!!!
and if you and Kris want to do something, i call dibbs on being Grace's babysitter!!!! =]
give her a big kiss for me!
take care!