Wednesday, February 25, 2009

February 25, 2009 - Movin' On Up

My C-section has been bumped up to 7:45 tomorrow morning instead of in the afternoon. This is good because when you are the first surgery of the day there are no delays and all the doctors will be there (not caught up in other emergencies). It means that by tomorrow afternoon I will be encouraged to walk around, which is a good thing after spinal anesthesia. It also means that we have to check in to the hospital at 9 pm tonight and spend the night there (that's in 5 hours, by the way) because they want to do some tests on my heart/pacemaker and all my bloodwork tonight. I guess technically Kristoffer doesn't HAVE to spend the night with me, but he is going to anyway - we are in this together! So the countdown now is even more of a countdown!

Last night we went to our last lamaze class, which was actually helpful because it was about taking care of the baby and of me after birth/delivery! Our class was very supportive of my C-section tomorrow and the mid-wife who taught us promised to check on how everything goes.

Today is also Ash Wednesday, and for Lent I've decided to give up being pregnant. Effective tomorrow.
(come on...that is a funny joke!)

All joking aside, before I went to mass today to begin the Lenten season and say some prayers for tomorrow, I met with the anesthesiologist who will be in my surgery. It was great. She asked a lot of questions about my medical history, heart condition, pacemaker, pregnancy, etc. Then she explained to me step by step what will happen from the time I check in to the hospital tonight until the day after the surgery. It was very helpful. I thought she was very professional and she definitely understood my concerns about the spinal anesthesia and addressed those concerns. I think it is going to go so well!

We appreciate all of your thoughts, wishes and prayers. Time Zone Check: the surgery is at 7:45 AM Kenya time, 11:45 PM (tonight) East Coast US time, and 5:45 AM Danish time. We are so, so excited and can't wait to tell you all about our baby!

Happy Almost Birthday to Simba and Mormor Karen!

Love, The Almost Mommy

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

February 24, 2009 - Simba's Birth-date

No no, I haven't had the baby yet! But after a big day yesterday with two different doctors (my regular doctor and the ultrasound doctor) we came to the conclusion that a scheduled C-section is the safest way for Simba to enter the world.

My doctor was really nervous that the baby hasn't flipped yet because as we get closer to my due date the risks increase should I go into natural labor. She wanted us to schedule the c-section right away but we asked for another ultrasound first. When I had the ultrasound yesterday the doctor found that Simba has gained 2 lbs in the last 3 weeks, has almost no room left in utero to move around, and that there is very little amniotic fluid left to help facilitate the flip. In other words, it is very, very unlikely (especially given everything we've tried) that Simba will flip. This baby is staying breech! And like my regular doc, the ultrasound doc recommended that we have the surgery before the end of this week because the risks will only increase as we get into my 40th week.

I had a minor emotional breakdown that sounded something like, "I don't want to have surgery in Kenya!" But after talking to my childbirth-experienced sister, my parents, and most of all Kristoffer, I realized that it is not worth it to wait until next week to hope for a very unlikely flip and increase the chances of having a very dramatic or traumatic childbirth experience. Especially because we are in Kenya - where we are happy and confident in the medical care I've received so far but are still nervous about having an emergency here - scheduling the surgery makes much more sense than leaving the situation to chance. Kristoffer and I also had our first moments of parental guilt yesterday. All of the crazy efforts we were trying to flip the baby - and believe me, some of them were CRAZY - did yield a lot of baby movement; Simba was probably trying to flip like we wanted him/her to do but given the accommodations in there just couldn't do it! We hope we didn't cause our baby too much stress and spent last night apologizing to the belly repeatedly. Needless to say, all flipping efforts have ceased.

My c-section has been scheduled for this Thursday February 26th at 3pm (Kenya time).
The doctor couldn't get an operating room on Friday or Saturday and didn't want to wait any longer than that. We think this is a pretty special date to have a baby because it is Kristoffer's grandmother's (Mormor Karen's) 85th birthday and what a gift we can give her! Tomorrow morning I am meeting with my doctor and the anesthesiologist to sort of prep for Thursday. We go into the hospital at 8:30am on Thursday morning for pre-op blood work and all that jazz, and then the baby will be born. I've heard that it takes 15 minutes to get the little one out :)

Since we adjusted to the idea that this is really happening, we have both been giddy with excitement. I could barely sleep last night and when I did sleep I was having surgical dreams. Kristoffer had a very hard time getting himself to work this morning. It is funny to be planning and waiting and planning and waiting, and then to all of the sudden know the exact hour when we will actually have our baby with us in the world.

My parents will be joining us in Kenya on Monday night; I was already very grateful that they were coming, but especially having the c-section I am glad that they will be around to help me and Simba recover and adjust to our new life. Kristoffer will be off from work through next week and will save the rest of his paternity leave for our trips home to Denmark and the US in June.

Again, this is not exactly the way I pictured the whole thing going and having surgery in Kenya has never been on my to do list ("But you're so good at having surgery!" Kristoffer told me), but I have gotten good at rolling with the punches and Simba's health and well-being is the most important thing in the world to both of us. So we will have this surgery and will soon have ourselves a healthy baby on our hands.

The next big surprise will be: lion or lioness?!


Monday, February 23, 2009

February 23, 2009 - Aid to Africa take 2

So after I wrote my previous blog this morning, Kristoffer and I talked about the article. He is pretty strongly opposed to the opinions expressed by Dambisa Moyo, the author of the book "Dead Aid", particularly to her argument about China. He asks the question about what kind of infrastructure would exist in Africa at all without foreign aid. He is totally right there and, again, I do not entirely agree with her. But I do think that she has a point and think that the truth lies somewhere inbetween her extreme opinion and his. It is obviously a complicated issue with a complicated history, but I like that it is being openly addressed in mainstream media at the very least.

Actually, the part of the Times piece that I liked the most, which I forgot to even write about because I got so caught up in Ida and Brian's saga, is the part about micro-financing or micro-lending.

She mentioned the website, which is a fantastic way to give loans to small business owners in Africa. Kristoffer has been lending to several women in Kenya through a generous Christmas gift from my parents for the last two years. When they pay back the loan he gave them, he asks my parents to reinvest the money in someone else. We believe strongly that this is one non-corrupt way that Western money can really help and empower people in developing countries and we would encourage others - if they feel they want to give towards development in some way - to go through this or a similar website.

OK, I'll be done for today now.

February 23, 2009 - Aid to Africa

There is a very interesting article in the NY Times; thanks to my friend Amy for sending it to me because I hadn't seen it on my own.

It is actually an interview with a global economist, Dambisa Moyo, who is Zambian and has written a book "Dead Aid" criticizing foreign aid to Africa because of the dependence and corruption it creates, along with alienating African citizens. The article in the Times is definitely worth a read - especially to determine if you want to read her book - and I have to admit since living in Africa I can clearly see the point she makes. I am not yet sure if I agree with it completely, but certainly to some degree I can see how she is right.

As a microcosm of the same issue she is discussing, Kristoffer and I are dealing with a situation with our housekeeper, Ida. Ida has three children, the oldest of which is a son, Brian, who just finished high school. He is waiting for his final exam scores and really wants to go to college because his whole life she has told him that they only want to get their family out of poverty is through education. Originally, their plans were for him to go to school in Kampala, Uganda because it is less expensive than going to school in Kenya. Brian is apparently a very good rugby player and, through some friends, talked to the rugby coach at a very good private university here in Nairobi last week. The coach told him that they want Brian to play at their school and he would get an athletic scholarship. Brian and Ida both assumed that meant it was a done deal and celebrated immediately; Brian now refuses to even entertain going to Uganda. Unfortunately, neither of them knew how much the school costs - it is very expensive by Kenyan standards - and the administration and the coach are telling them different numbers regarding what Brian's scholarship would be so the celebration has turned into sadness between them. The bottom line appears to be that Ida cannot afford him to send him to this school, even with the scholarship.

So where do we fit in? Well, we are pretty sure that Ida and Brian would like us to offer to pay for his education. It is not uncommon here for expats to pay school fees for their staff members' children to go to primary and secondary school and we know that Ida's two previous American employers paid public school fees for her other two children and private school fees for Brian (even public education here in Kenya is anything but free). Ida hasn't actually asked us for the money but we know she would happily accept if we offered, and after meeting Brian last week I could tell that he hopes we will pay based on what he said and the way he said it; from his perspective, his mother's employers have always paid for his education so why wouldn't we do it now?

My feelings on this are mixed. If Ida needed $100- or some other small amount - to make up the difference between what she could pay and what the school wants, we could give her or a loan or work something out. But to just give her a few thousand dollars a year is another thing. I had Brian come to the house last week to talk to him about the program he wants to study, what information he still needs to get from the school, and how to look for scholarships. Banks won't give educational loans in Kenya so Ida can't take a loan to pay for school. Brian had no idea how rigorous the school was and the program he wants to study for hospitality and tourism (a good degree to get in this country!) is really well-structured, including four years of a foreign language. He was instantly asking if he could get the degree in two years instead of four, which he can't, and if there were other programs that were easier. My impression is that Brian is really only interested in playing rugby, has very average grades (Cs) and is not necessarily ready to work really hard for the degree. I don't think he had any idea of what the academic life at the school would be and, in my best role as guidance counselor (a role I have played before for sure), I gave him a pretty stern lecture about being committed to the degree, what it could help provide for his family once he gets it, and how he has to get involved looking for scholarships if he wants to make it happen.

I think when he left our house he probably didn't like me too much, but I didn't think it would do him any favors to just tell him what he wanted to hear. I realize that this connects to the book the economist wrote, because Brian is used to getting a handout (I think - even if his mother really appreciates the assistance she has received, I am not sure that he does) and therefore has no idea what is really involved in "working hard for the money". He is justified, of course, in being unhappy with his poverty, but he has been enabled to not realize what it takes to get out of that poverty without the financial help of others. While Kristoffer and I are not able to afford paying for his college education anyway (certainly not while paying off our own educational debt and saving for our own baby's education), I am not sure that we would just give him the money even if we could. I offered him help writing applications for scholarships, I gave him a list of steps to take and questions to get answered, and I gave Ida the afternoon on Thursday to go with Brian to the school to meet with the coach and the administration and figure out the best package they can give him if they really want him to play there. My fear, however, is that Ida will kill herself to pay for this school and Brian will not make the most of the academic opportunity he has. I suppose that is a very negative attitude though, and I really hope I am misjudging the situation.

So we will see what happens. It is a tricky position to be in because, probably from their perspective, we could easily give them the money, but I am not convinced that that would be the right way for Brian to make his way in the world. Until it is all sorted out, Ida is a bit sad because her son blames her for not being able to afford this school and, because she didn't go to college and he thinks she is "old" (Ida is about 38 or 39, mind you,) he won't listen to a thing she says. I mean, he is a typical teenager and she is a typical mother with few economic resources who works very hard to put food on the table for her children. It is a difficult, but typical, situation for sure.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 21, 2009 - Flipping Efforts

Here is a list of things we have done today to try and get Simba to flip - all of which were recommended by a midwife, other mothers who have had breech babies, my doctor, my acupuncturist, or the internet:

1. Acupressure points in my toes
2. Swimming laps
3. Doing handstands in the pool
4. Acupressure points in my toes whilst floating in the pool
5. Lying on a mattress that is elevated at the feet to relieve pressure/gravity on my pelvis (Kristoffer created quite the setup for me to comfortably lie in this tilted position)
6. Acupressure points in my toes whilst lying on the mattress in the elevated position (see #5)
7. Belly massage

The being on "all fours" position has not worked for me yet either and I am particularly uncomfortable in this position so I have sort of given up on it. But, tonight we will also do the moxa heat therapy and maybe try something recommended that involves my iPod and a flashlight.

IF Simba doesn't flip, nobody can say we didn't try everything!


Friday, February 20, 2009

February 20, 2009 - Friday Update

Yesterday I had a great day. First I had the wives club and it was the biggest turnout I'd ever seen at a meeting; there were even some younger faces in the crowd which was nice. We had a guest speaker on homeopathy (sadly there is no homeopathic cure for a breech baby!) and a nutritionist who was interesting as well. Then I had book club and for the first time since I have been trying to do book club (this is the fourth book I've tried!) I had more than one person come! There were five of us in total and we had an absolutely lovely conversation about how much we absolutely despised the book we read, "The Almost Moon" by Alice Sebold. Another woman picked a new book for next month, we set a date and a time for the meeting (which I may or may not make it too depending on the baby) and everyone there at least committed to reading the book. Finally, a success!

Then I had a lovely lunch with my new American friend, Courtney, who is pregnant and due in May. It was really nice to sit with another woman for 90 minutes and talk about nothing but being pregnant in Nairobi, all of the different medical research we have done here, pediatricians in Nairobi, etc. It was wonderful! And we both agreed that while you always have to be in your own advocate, even in America, in Kenya it is even more important to ask questions that you might take for granted at home. Even though our babies will be a few months apart, I truly hope that we remain mommy-friends because yesterday I felt like she was a really great outlet for me, and vice versa.

My doctor called me yesterday to see how the big treatment went the night before. She is hopeful that the moxa treatment will flip the baby too because she know how much I would prefer to delivery naturally. We moved my appointment from this afternoon to Monday to give the baby the weekend to flip and then next week she'll decide if I should have another ultrasound to monitor my levels of amniotic fluid, how the placenta is functioning (placenta's stop working as well the closer you are to term or beyond term, which is why overdue babies are induced usually 1-2 weeks after their due date), and to make sure that the placenta isn't preventing the baby from flipping or wrapped around the baby in any dangerous way.

Kristoffer did the moxa treatment on me last night and so our entire house smells like pot (the burning of this particular Chinese herb is freakishly similar to marijuana...I wonder what the neighbors think!). The baby didn't flip yet but did move around a lot while he was doing the treatment. We are very hopeful that in the next two days of the treatment s/he will figure out what to do.

The weather is really great in Kenya these days and Kristoffer and I are trying to enjoy our last days together as a couple without kids. It is really hard to do that though when pretty much all we talk about is our breech baby, labor and delivery!


Thursday, February 19, 2009

February 19, 2009 - The Heat is On

Last night's treatment to get Simba to flip was interesting. First my acupuncturist, Ketan, went over some really helpful suggestions for pain relief and comfort from her experience helping laboring women, both here and in the US. She explained that at this stage of my pregnancy (just about 2 weeks left until my due date) she couldn't actually do acupuncture on me because that would be very likely to induce labor...which is not something we want to happen until AFTER the baby has definitely flipped. Instead, she did a moxibustion treatment on me. Moxa is a Chinese herb that is heated and put on or near certain acupressure points to stimulate circulation in certain parts of the body (for a little bit on moxa you can go to: The points for encouraging the baby to flip are on the sides of my pinky toes.

Simba did not flip during the actual treatment, but s/he did move around quite a lot during and since then (actually is moving right now!). Ketan says that it usually takes a few days and she taught Kristoffer how to do the treatment on me for 10 minutes every day until Simba flips. I am really hoping that the baby flips before my doctor's appointment, but as long as it happens before I go into labor than that is OK by me. She has had great luck with this treatment before and said that it almost never happens instantly. She is really great and gave us lots of great tips on labor and delivery in general.

Yesterday was the first day that I did absolutely nothing - literally, I gave myself a day of bed rest and didn't run errands or anything until my 6 pm treatment with Ketan. I hadn't slept well the night before so I slept a lot during the day and read a book. It was very relaxing and got me all ready for a busier day today. I have a "wives club" meeting (although there is now one husband among us!), a book club meeting after that (supposedly 3 other people read the book I picked this time!), and am having lunch with a young American woman who I am becoming friendly with; she and her husband work for the NY Times and are also expecting a baby a few months after Simba is due.

Simba would also like to wish his/her Auntie Meghan a happy birthday today!


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

February 18, 2009 - Scary Movie

Last night our Lamaze class was a little bit traumatic, I have to admit.

My logical, sensible reaction to seeing a World Health Organization video of a live c-section birth is that tons of women (including many I know!) have the surgery which is considered to be relatively routine in the US and Denmark. I also know in my head that I won't see the surgery and will not be able to feel the surgery, should I need to have the surgery. However, on an emotional level: I did not like watching the video of the c-section at all, I thought it was so gross and scary, it made me more certain than I was before that I do not want to have a c-section, and really it is now very clear to me why I am not a doctor. I have had four surgeries in my life before and I was not awake for any of them...and apparently at least one of my last two heart surgeries was pretty gruesome. I just don't think regular, non-doctor people should see what is being done to their bodies in a surgery like that! Oh no! No offense to women reading this who have had c-sections...there is nothing wrong with them at all! I just don't want one!

So anyway, tonight is the night that we try the acupuncture for getting Simba to flip. I have recently given Simba two small lectures about doing the right thing and how s/he really doesn't want to come into the world "grounded" for disobeying us already. I mean, that would be a really sad baby if s/he couldn't play with his/her toys or hang out with the other babies on the block. I used my sternest teacher voice and then I also used my most loving maternal voice, but neither lecture seemed to work. Hopefully the needles will do the trick tonight and hopefully I get better at giving lectures before Simba is a teenager!


p.s. Last night wasn't all bad. We also watched a useful breast-feeding video, learned about our drug options and other medical procedures/interventions that can be used during labor and delivery, and took a tour of the maternity wing (the second tour for us). There were two brand new babies in the nursery last night and when we peaked our heads in Kristoffer and I both got SOOOO excited that soon we will have one of our own!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 17, 2009 - A Ready Nest

Nesting is officially complete today as we finally have a changing table pad, complete with custom-fitted covers that make it a lot less ugly than it was in its original (and expensive) state. was the only normal changing table pad in all of Nairobi (literally, I went to every single possible baby store. No joke.)! And of course I mean that nesting is complete...but maybe only until my parents arrive in two weeks with 3 boxes/suitcases of baby gear from my shower in December for us to unpack and organize. It will be like having my shower all over again to re-get all of Simba's cool gear and all of the books that s/he was so generously given. We also bought a new-to-us, used-in-great-shape refrigerator last night because our previous one was too small (in addition to the new stove/oven we bought last week), so we are really, really ready for the baby and my parents to arrive and live in our home!

We (read that: I) will not buy one more thing until we either run out of the teeny-tiny baby diapers I already bought or until we realize that for some reason they don't fit our baby! In terms of our house, there is still a perfect piece of artwork or two that we that we are hoping to discover for some of our walls, but really Simba can live without them and looking at our bank account I think we can too for awhile.

Yesterday I discovered on a Skype call with my parents that our Skype connection is much better now on our new computer than it was on our old one. In efforts to cut back on our international phone bill (which I am sure will be assisted greatly when my parents are actually in Kenya and I am not calling them after every doctor's appointment!) we would like to try skype-ing more! The Skype username we use most is "robolisa" and if you have or get a Skype account, we will be happy to add you as a contact on there. When Simba comes, we can pump his or her cries all the way to a live studio audience right in your very own home in whatever country it is that you live. Unfortunately, video connection doesn't last very long because the bandwidth here is so slow, but of course we can always try that out too so that you can get a glimpse of the baby. If you don't already have a Skype account - go get one! If you have one that we don't know about it - tell me! We only turn on our Skype when we were are actually able to talk - remember that we are 8 hours ahead of the East Coast in the US and 2 hours ahead of Denmark.

Tonight is our 5th Lamaze class (only one more to go next week!); we are pretty psyched that Simba has made it this far. AND...the best news of all is that tomorrow evening I have an acupuncture treatment to facilitate Simba's flipping out...I mean, flipping over to the correct "exit this way" position. I am sure it will be a great and interesting experience; the acupuncturist is also going to teach Kristoffer some ways he can use acupuncture and massage to alleviate my discomfort (read that: excruciating pain) during the natural delivery I am hoping to have. Will definitely keep you posted!


Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 14, 2009 - Happy Valentine's Day!

Kristoffer and I are having a pretty low-key Valentine's Day: we had a lovely brunch this morning and are going out to dinner and a movie tonight. We also managed to buy some new plants today to replace a few that have recently died (read: we have or our staff has killed via over-watering). Last night, however, was a big night out for us. Our neighbors/friends, Mike and Caroline, took us out to dinner to say thank you for lending them our house for their family reunion when we were in the US and Denmark over the holidays. They took us to what many consider to be the best restaurant in Nairobi, which we had not been to before. It was incredible! Kristoffer found good vegetarian food and the rest of us enjoyed fresh seafood that was absolutely amazing. We had a lovely, lovely evening and look forward to taking our next guests there (Mom and Dad!) because it was definitely the best food we have eaten in Nairobi.

This morning we also had an interesting meeting. Earlier this week we wrote a letter to our landlord to complain about the sketchy practices of our caretaker, Hillary. She was very glad to get our letter and came for a meeting with us and him. Actually, he received a "warning letter" about his job from her yesterday and then came to talk to us directly. He continued to be sketchy making up excuses that didn't make sense and begging us not to tell that he owed us money (too late! that was in the letter! but at least he did pay us back, finally!). He was clearly terrified of getting fired, which we can understand because as it turns out he has FOUR WIVES to support. Even sketchier! Anyway, we were very polite but clear and honest, letting him know that his performance is not acceptable to us and that if we didn't complain to his boss we were sure nothing would ever change. She really appreciated the direct correspondence and seemed very proactive about changing some policies on the compound that will decrease his sketchiness. We think he will give us no more trouble as long as we live here (except for probably harboring deep resentment towards us) and we are really happy that we know our landlord now and can go directly to her with our concerns (instead of going through the property management company). She even said she wanted to meet the baby! All in all, we are very satisfied with the outcome of writing that letter.

Finally, as you can see from the poll, voting has closed and most voters believe that Simba is a boy. I am not yet convinced that we don't have a little girl with a big attitude on our hands but, with only three weeks left to go, we will certainly find out soon enough.


Friday, February 13, 2009

February 13, 2009 - Breech Baby

Another Friday doctor's appointment, and Simba is still breech. My doctor was very happy that the antibiotics cured me of my parasite and that I am feeling better, and in fact she said that had I not been pregnant I may not have had any symptoms of the parasite at all. Many people apparently have or get giardia and don't know about it, but pregnant women's immune systems are more vulnerable, which explains why I was generally feeling so crappy.

Anyway, she confirmed last week's news from the ultrasound that the baby is measuring on the small side of normal for weight, there is plenty of fluid to help facilitate the baby's movement, and that the placenta is still highly functioning! Basically, everything is GREAT except for Simba's position.

We had to have the discussion "what if Simba remains breech", which resulted in our consensus that if Simba is still breech when my water breaks or my contractions start, that I will have a c-section because it is the safest procedure they can do here (which is a no-brainer). After reading up on acupuncture treatments, which I proposed at our appointment two weeks ago, she encouraged me to try it this week to see if that will facilitate Simba's gymnastics. And I should apparently be spending most of my time on all fours if possible, because that encourages the baby to flip when there is no pressure on the pelvis or something technical like that. We will see my doctor again in one more week.

Simba, if you can "hear" me as I write this: This is your mother speaking and I love you, but I am also telling you to get your act together and flip yourself over right this minute!


February 13, 2009 - Professional Development

When you employ staff in Kenya, it is not exactly expected of you to provide for them in ways beyond their regular salary, but it is certainly not uncommon. One of the things we are doing is helping our staff develop their skills to help them be even more employable and, therefore, make more money for their families after they work for us.

For Ida, we are sending her to a well-respected cooking school beginning next week. She'll go two days a week for 3 hours each day; the first class is 5 or 6 weeks long and is basic kitchen management and hygiene. She has taken a similar class from the US Embassy in the past, but this class is more comprehensive and so we decided it would be a good idea for her to take it. After that, because she already has basic cooking skills, she'll take an advanced cooking class for an additional 5 or 6 weeks where she'll learn several new menus and types of food to cook. She will receive a certificate of completion when the classes are over. We will benefit from her new cooking skills and she will benefit because such a certificate means she can expect to be paid more in the future for her work.

For Charles, we are helping him learn about computers. This week I set up an account for him on one of our old laptops and I gave him a quick tutorial on how to get started. He had never used a computer before so he didn't know ANYTHING about them...I'm talking what the mouse is or how to turn it on! Of course he had heard a lot about the internet, but he had never seen it and had no concept of what it is. I have to admit - the internet is a very hard thing to explain to someone! So when Kristoffer and I don't have any work or driving for him to do, Charles can putter around the internet (he was particularly fascinated by "google") and is going through the help tutorial on Microsoft Word and Excel. This weekend we will get him some "how to" books (like "PCs for Dummies") that he can use to systematically teach himself the programs. This will also help him because he can write a resume for the first time and have more skills that will help him get future work. The cool thing about Charles is that he has a near-photographic memory and never forgets something he has seen, been told, or learned once.

We are certainly not saving the world by providing for our staff in these ways, but we are hopefully helping them improve their socioeconomic standing in the long run and that makes us feel good. There is that saying about giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish, right?


Thursday, February 12, 2009

February 12, 2009 - Refugees in Kenya

Among the challenges Kenya faces politically and economically, an ongoing issue that the country has been dealing with for quite awhile is the humanitarian issue of hosting refugees from other war-torn African countries, namely Sudan and Somalia.

"Dadaab" is referred to as one camp, but is actually three refugee camps in the northeastern part of Kenya on the border of Somalia, created in 1991 to assist refugees fleeing Somalia. The camp was designed to host 90,000 refugees and currently has almost 250,000. Estimates are that in the last several months, 10,000 refugees from Somalia have been coming into the country every month, which is really not sustainable. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is an agency that oversees the camp with assistance from NGOs like CARE and other UN agencies like UNICEF (for nutrition, water and sanitation, and child protection services mostly) and WFP (for food provision). UNHCR has recently promised to expand Dadaab's facilities because they are completely overburdened and in some cases are not safe or sanitary. Local drought and flooding conditions make life harder in Dadaab as well, in addition to violence that spreads from Somalia into that part of Kenya. Facilities for the local community, such as schools and hospitals, are also overburdened because of the refugees and so UNHCR will be investing in improving those facilities as well. In addition, at least 50,000 refugees will be transported to the other major refugee camp in Kenya, Kakuma.

Kakuma is the refugee camp in the northwestern part of Kenya that has housed 70,000 predominantly Sudanese refugees since 1992 (notably, "the Lost Boys of Sudan" were hosted at this camp until they were resettled to the United States). Kakuma is known to have "good" education services and is it has also been noted that the people who live in the camp are less poor than the Kenyans who live in the area surrounding the camp. Interestingly, Sudanese refugees are being repatriated to Sudan more readily than Somalian refugees, who really can't go back to Somalia due to the ongoing violence. Because of this, refugees from Dadaab will be moved to Kakuma and, eventually, it is anticipated that both camps will host more Somalians than refugees from any other African countries (there are pockets of refugees from Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, etc.).

Given UNHCR's commitment to improve conditions in Dadaab, I thought it was an interesting time to share this information on life in Kenya. At the end of March, Kristoffer will be monitoring schools for WFP up near Kakuma and hopes to get a look at the camp; he has already been to Dadaab once before. It is so interesting to me that even though I think Kenya is all screwed up in so many ways (corruption, etc.), it is still a "model" country compared to places like Sudan and Somalia and refugees would rather live a permanently tough life in a camp in Kenya (many of them have been here for more than a decade!) than stay in their unstable homelands.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

February 11, 2009 - No News Yet! 24 days to go

Not too much new and exciting to report in Nairobi this week. The last two days I have had a lot more energy than I had last week which initially made me wonder if that meant the baby was coming (because supposedly you get a burst of energy before you start labor), but my sister reminded me that perhaps my boost of energy is because I am not being drained by a nasty parasite anymore! I have one more day of antibiotics and am definitely feeling better. I see my doctor this coming Friday afternoon as well.

Last night we had our fourth Lamaze class. This time it was a lot about newborns/infants and their different states of activity and sleep, how to bond with them, etc. We also practiced more breathing techniques and talked about pushing during delivery. The mid-wife gave me some exercises to facilitate Simba flipping over (s/he is still breech!) but when I tried them last night at home I found that they are SOOOO uncomfortable because I am so big. I will keep trying, but am not sure that at this stage I can do them for a sustained amount of time which might render them useless. Let's hope not!

Assuming we make it to next week's class, we will learn about breastfeeding, we will discuss medical interventions (C-section, epidural, vacuuming, etc.), and we will take a tour of the hospital's labor/delivery facilities (which Kristoffer and I have already done but it can't hurt to look at it all again). There is another couple in the class due a few weeks after us and when we walked to class last night they were like, "Hey! You're still here!" Everyone must be wondering if we will make it for the next two classes!


Sunday, February 8, 2009

February 8, 2009 - 36 weeks pregnant

Here are pictures taken yesterday at 36 full weeks pregnant with 28 days left until my due date. Parasite and all, I guess I don't look too shabby. I am also happy to report that after 24 hours of antibiotics my symptoms have already improved. Phew! And, my parents arrive in Nairobi three weeks from tomorrow (Monday) night - the big question is if Simba will wait for them or not!

p.s. only 5 days left to vote for Simba's sex if you haven't done so already! So far, I've had one "it's a boy" dream and one "it's a girl dream" :)


Saturday, February 7, 2009

February 7, 2009 - Classically Kenyan

In addition to dealing with parasites and having guests this week, we also had a problem with our car and a problem at our house!

The car story is sort of amusing: the key got stuck in the ignition because of something faulty in the steering wheel (car still turned on and off fine, we just couldn't take the key out) and as Charles was taking it from one car place to another to get it fixed, something else caused our exhaust pipe to crack or break or fall off or all of the above (clearly, I am no mechanic). When Charles got to the right car place they could easily fix the key-stuck-in-the-ignition problem, but they wouldn't have the time to fix the exhaust pipe until the next day. I don't know if you have ever heard or had a car without a functioning exhaust pipe, but let's just say it is REALLY loud! Our car sounded like 12 motorcycles! It wasn't driving that well, which we could handle for a day, but the sound was so loud and awkward and embarrassing! We were stared at (more than usual) everywhere we drove and, unfortunately, we did have to actually drive places - like to our baby class and then for my test at the hospital and to the UN and back! Oh my...we must have sounded like teenagers trying to show off in our tricked-out car! Luckily, on Wednesday Charles took it to be fixed and all is well now.

The next day, Thursday, came a phone call from from the Kenyan Power Company - actually the employee was visiting our compound and called me from the security gate at the top of our hill (we live at the bottom) to tell me that we owed money to the company and our electricity would be shut off. Say what?! First of all, we haven't got an electric bill since the middle of November, which I have asked our caretaker about two times with no luck. The bills are in our landlord's name and he gives them to us through the caretaker - he denied ever getting our bills (yeah right). Second of all, I put a lot of money on our account when we went away for 5 weeks so that there wouldn't be a problem. And finally, the amount of money we did end up owing was like $12 - way too little to shut off power for people who have never paid a bill late.

I asked the guy on the phone to come down to my house with our caretaker, whose name is Hilary, to talk to me about this and he wouldn't, saying that I had to go to the power company to deal with the problem. So Hilary comes down and tells me to just give him the money and he'll pay the bill and we won't lose our power. I don't think so! We tried to pay a bill through him that way when we first moved in to the house and he stole our money without ever paying the bill. He is always trying to get us to give him cash for bills or other things and is generally a very, very shady character who we do not trust at all. We have complained about his sketchiness to the property management company before but they say he is employed by the landlord directly and when they have complained about him the landlord has done nothing. So there is definitely something fishy going on there.

I got extremely angry with Hilary because it is his fault that we haven't received a bill in two months and I am not one for paying bills without an invoice/documentation (even though you can get your balance over text-message, I don't pay bills that way!). In fact, I got so angry that he didn't let them turn off our power and on Friday morning I went to the power company to pay the chump change that we owed and also got copies of our missing bills. No more Mrs. Nice Guy - I am writing to our landlord directly about how sketchy Hilary is and am encouraging our neighbors to do the same. The situation was much worse for them actually because they had the same problem but nobody was home to put up a fight so their power was actually shut off for 24 hours. So frustrating!

The Kenya power company was not the real villain, though, and they were very nice when I went to handle the bill. Actually, when I got to the power company I was treated very nicely by the askari (askari = security guard). He let me cut the line of 40 people who were already waiting because it was incredibly hot and he didn't want me to have to stand in line for so long. That was a VERY nice Kenyan to respect my pregnancy that way!

Soon I will send Charles to handle such matters on our behalf (he has sort of been in training for errands like that and collecting packages at the post office)...I am certainly not dragging Simba around to deal with classically Kenyan business matters if I can help it, that is for sure!

My 36 weeks picture is coming soon...I have to go wake Kristoffer up from his nap so that he can take it!


Friday, February 6, 2009

February 6, 2009 - Getting Crowded in Here

Today I had a great morning running all kinds of errands with Charles and checking off quite a few "nesting" things from my list, including picking up the custom-made mattresses for Simba's cradle and crib and ordering sheets to be made to fit them. Successful errands in Nairobi are not a given, so that was really a good day! I even had a good experience at the post office picking up a package from Kristoffer's mom! And after this great day, Kristoffer and I went for my ultrasound.

As predicted, Simba is still breech. The ultrasound doc confirmed that the placenta is still fully functioning, there is plenty of amniotic fluid to facilitate Simba's turn, and that there is also still a little bit of room in there. The baby's heart rate was normal at 150 and s/he is weighing in at just over 5 lbs. Life is good in there...we just need this little one to FLIP already! The doctor suggested giving him/her time to do the right thing and then checking back in 3 weeks when I am 39 weeks pregnant to see the status. If Simba has not flipped by then, which we are confident that s/he will, we will talk about what our other options are (including acupuncture, massage, etc....I am really trying to avoid a c-section here!).

So far a great day, right? Well, as it also turns out I have not been feeling so great the last week or so, with some digestive troubles that have been unpleasant and persistent. So earlier this week my doctor ordered a test, and I got the test results today. My doc was at a conference outside of Nairobi today so I called her nurse to get the test results. Basically, she said: "Lisa, your test results indicate that you have worms." To which I naturally replied, "Come again?"

After several moments of feeling more disgusting than I have ever felt in my life and freaking out more than a little bit, I called my doctor on her cell phone. She didn't pick up and so I sent her a text message that read something like, "Your nurse just told me I have worms. Help!" While waiting for her to hopefully get back to me late on a Friday afternoon, Kristoffer took me to the pharmacy where I begged the pharmacist (here, called a "chemist") to de-worm me. She said that unfortunately de-worming medication cannot be given to pregnant women and I would have to wait it out until after delivering. This was bad news because if worms are untreated they just get worse with each "episode/attack", indicating that I would just be getting sicker for the next 4 weeks until I deliver. NO!

My doc shortly called me back - she is GREAT! She said she was on her way back to Nairobi and she would call the lab to get more specific results than just "worms" as her nurse had told me. Then we would figure out what to do. OK - that was reasonable. She called me about 3 hours later to tell me that I do not have worms, but that I do have the very specific parasite called "giardia". It is an intestinal parasite that is very common in developing countries and among travelers. Luckily, it can be treated with medication that is safe for pregnant women and babies in utero. I will start this medication tomorrow and she said I should see an improvement very quickly.

The symptoms of giardia (explained at this comprehensive website: affect pregnant women and young children more than others. This explains my lack of weight gain in the last few weeks (I most likely got the parasite right when we got back to Kenya because it usually takes about 2 weeks for symptoms to present), my general feelings of lethargy and yuckiness, and a few other symptoms I have attributed to late-term pregnancy. The lab results also showed that I have a yeast infection, but she said at this stage of pregnancy there is nothing I can take for that so we will follow up with that post-delivery.

The good news is that I am not TOTALLY disgusting with worms and that giardia can be treated. The bad news is that maybe my immune system is a little bit weakened and I have to take it really easy to get through the next four weeks before Simba arrives as healthy as possible.

My doctor is really great - she has texted me twice in the last hour to check on me and said I can call her any time this weekend if I have new symptoms or if anything gets worse. I have an appointment to see her next week anyway and hopefully I am feeling much better by then!

Never a dull moment over here...but me and my baby and my parasite (it's getting crowded in here!) are quite tired now so I think we will all go to sleep.


Thursday, February 5, 2009

February 5, 2009 - 30 days to go?

So the countdown on the blog says that there are 30 days left until Simba is due. In some ways this makes sense, given that I have already been pregnant for 9 calendar months as of Saturday** and that I am increasingly filled with joy and tears when I think about finally delivering Simba into the world. In other ways, it seems like, "What?! Holy shit?! Only 30 days left in my life to not be a parent?! How will I ever fit in everything I ever wanted to do before having children into only 30 days?!"

In honor of this moment, I've decided to make two lists.

First, here are some of the things that I have really liked about being pregnant:

1. Experiencing the baby growing and feeling the baby move - hands down my favorite! It is a cliche for a reason - pregnancy is a true miracle!

2. Not feeling self-conscious about my body because I am supposed to be big! I have even liked wearing a two piece bathing suit for the first time in my life b/c it looks awesome with a big belly that is supposed to be there!

3. Talking to/emailing with other women about their pregnancy and delivery experiences - I will be standing on the shoulders of giants when i join the "club". Also, making friends with other pregnant women (online and here in Nairobi) has been great.

4. Making plans with Kristoffer for all the things we want to do and be as parents, our hopes and expectations for our child, the values we want him/her to know from day 1, etc.

5. Writing letters to Simba for him/her to read way in the future.

6. Planning and organizing for the baby to come.

7. Closely examining our own parents and how they raised us, plus how we see other friends and family raising their kids. This is not to judge at all, but rather to see what tips and strategies we want to pick up and definitely use in raising Simba or what things we think won't work so well for us.

8. Having an excuse not to lift things or bend over or go up and down the stairs a million times or sit in the back seat of the car.

9. Reading pregnancy/parenting books.

10. Feeling overly protective of and unconditional love for a person I have never even met yet!

11. Counting time in weeks :)

Next, here is a list of some things that I will not really miss when I am no longer pregnant:

1. Skin acne.

2. Having to go to the bathroom every hour or even more frequently than that!

3. Receiving unsolicited opinions and advice from strangers on everything from how I look to what I should eat to how I should deliver, etc.

4. Acid reflux.

5. Having a finicky/unpredictable/terrible appetite and not enjoying eating food almost at all in addition to having several foods that I used to like ruined for me forever (except for dessert foods like ice cream and chocolate chip cake...those things were never ruined for me - phew. But avocados? Forget about it.).

6. Waddling (although Kristoffer insists that I waddled long before i was pregnant).

7. Kristoffer singing, "I like big bellies and I cannot other brother's can't deny..." (instead of "I like big butts and I cannot lie..." from the hip-hop song "Baby Got Back").

8. Being more forgetful than usual and a little bit more moody/sensitive than usual too.

I would attempt to make a list of all those things that I wanted to do in my life before becoming a parent, except I can't think of that many! Most of the ones I can think of - like climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, for example - are things that I can still accomplish at some point later in life or are things that I really do need to accomplish before the baby gets here, like find a gosh-darn changing table pad!

At our Lamaze class on Tuesday night, we practiced all kinds of coping mechanisms for labor including using a birthing ball (just one of this big inflatable exercise balls), a stool for squatting, massage, breathing techniques, etc. This was useful...assuming we remember any of it during the actual labor experience, which is questionable. We also watched "THE video" of a few live births. They were really graphic! As I told my mother, I am sure that we will think our baby is beautiful and incredible and an amazing miracle when s/he comes out, but boy did those other babies look gross!

On Tuesday night after the Lamaze class when I went to sleep, I dreamed about my labor and delivery and in this dream (as opposed to a dream I had around Christmas when we were in the US), Simba was most definitely a girl! She had a thick head of dark hair and she was plump and pink and beautiful and we even named her something different than the girl's name we have chosen (which might cause us to rethink if the baby is really a girl!). Kristoffer says that the dream doesn't mean anything because in the first dream I ever had about the baby Simba was a boy and so that is the dream that counts. We'll see, Kristoffer...

When I am 36 full weeks on Saturday I will have Kristoffer take the usual monthly picture and post it. I haven't gained much (or any?) weight in the last few weeks but I do look a little bigger I think. According to books and websites, Simba will not get any longer in this last month but should continue to put on fat. We have an ultrasound tomorrow afternoon to check if Simba is still breech or has assumed the correct position yet...I can tell you right now that s/he is still breech but maybe by tomorrow s/he will move. And if not, s/he still has 30 days!


**36 weeks = 9 calendar months but only 8 pregnancy months because pregnancy months are calculated by the baby's development. I have found this to be very annoying for the entire pregnancy...40 weeks clearly does not divide evenly by 3 trimesters or 9 months and I would have much preferred to have pregnancy "quarters" instead of "trimesters" anyway. The bottom line is that pregnancy is 10 months if you go to full term and I am sure that any woman who has been pregnant for 40 weeks knows this all too well.**

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

February 3, 2009 - Baby Doctor Round 3...and the winner is...

Dr. Nesbitt, the 4th pediatrician I saw today, is our guy!

I definitely had the "you're the one" moment during our meeting. He was very well-prepared with information for me about his clinic, he is the first doctor who asked me questions about my pregnancy, about our birth plan, about myself and Kristoffer generally. Even though his clinic is not at the hospital where I am delivering Simba, it is located in the local Children's Hospital here which has a good reputation. And, he receives babies at our hospital all the time so unless he has another emergency or is receiving another baby at the same time, he will be with us to receive and check out Simba at birth. He is Kenyan, but educated in Ireland and the UK and had a very easy, calm, knowledgeable manner about him. I can see now why every expat mother I know at the UN uses him for their kids! His was the most American-like office of the offices I went to and, whether or not that actually matters, it did make me feel really good.

He even has a website, should you be as interested in our baby's health care as we are (which I doubt...come on, you must have better things to do with your time than check out my pediatrician's website), and here it is:

So Simba has not arrived yet, but does have a doctor...whose phone numbers have already been saved into my cell phone :)


Monday, February 2, 2009

February 2, 2009 - Kenya's Cans of Worms

Well it has been an eventful few days over here. First of all, the good news is that I don't have a urinary tract infection and that my recent general feeling of yuckiness is just very normal end-of-pregnancy stuff. Simba is in good shape and, despite how I sometimes feel these days, so am I!

We received a new American visitor on Friday night, Jeanne, who ended up getting in one day late and without her baggage. But she was in very good spirits to start a 7-week tour of Africa and Saturday had a great day hanging out with us and our Danish guests too. Yesterday, Kristoffer, the guys, and Jeanne went to Hell's Gate National Park to climb around the gorges and, even though it is not difficult hiking or climbing and even though Jeanne has experience climbing, something went wrong and she dislocated her shoulder. OUCH to say the very least! It is an excruciatingly painful experience to dislocate one's shoulder (from what we could all tell), although luckily her shoulder seemed to pop back in on its own without any outside medical intervention. Kristoffer and the guys took her to a small, local hospital in Naivasha but unfortunately they couldn't really provide her proper care or treatment (no working xray and the doctor didn't even have a pair of scissors to cut medical tape with! He actually asked Kristoffer to assist with his Swiss Army knife!). She had to bear the bad roads all the way back to our very good hospital in Nairobi where she was rushed to the head of the emergency room line (most likely because she was white, in all honesty) and received xrays, saw doctors, and most importantly got drugs. Her cousin arrived late last night, as they are starting their safari in Tanzania tomorrow, and so we hope it is a comfort for her to have some family around to help take care of her as they begin their adventure. She is supposed to be climbing Kilimanjaro next week and hopes her pain is under control by then; at least she will have porters to carry everything for her. The world's highest bungee jump, which she has scheduled for the end of her trip in South Africa, may just have to be postponed for another trip. Such drama! Jeanne is keeping her own blog at if you care to check in on her adventures. In the meantime, our Danish guys left to climb Mt. Kenya this morning and will be back with us for Thursday night and Friday. Hotel Welsien has certainly been booked!

As Jeanne's shoulder was popping in and out, there was a second major fire yesterday afternoon - in the town of Molo in the Rift Valley. This time, an oil tanker had overturned on the highway and many, many Kenyans began coming from all over to collect oil in jerry cans as it leaked out of the truck. These looters became aggressive as the police were trying to keep them away; allegedly, one looter who was angry at being pushed away by the police struck a match and threw it into the gasoline, causing the truck to explode. The death toll is currently at about 113 people with an additional 200 people seriously injured or burned (and it is expected that the death toll will increase). There are complaints in the media today that in the case of this fire and the fire at the Nakumatt in Nairobi last week, the emergency response from local agencies was too slow. These two incidents have really exposed some serious flaws in the infrastructure of this country for sure.

As if that wasn't enough, an article in the NY Times on Saturday has opened up a post-election violence can of worms once again. I will summarize, but should you want more specifics and details (because it is a really juicy article) you should read it in full at:

Basically, the International Republican Institute (aka I.R.I., an American NGO that my sister Christine happened to work for for many years in the past) was a primary organization conducting exit polls for the US government after Kenya's presidential elections in December 2007 (just after we got here...remember that fun time?). The article implies that the results of IRI's exit polls favored Raila Odinga, the opposition leader and Kenya's current Prime Minister, but the institute has never released its results. The article also implies that the US Ambassador and the US State Department put pressure on IRI to not release the results fearing that it would cause more trauma given that Mwai Kibaki was announced to be the winner. The article is pretty critical of the US Ambassador and the State Department, insinuating that it was in their best interests to support the incumbent President and not to release the results in order to promote stability in the country (as opposed to promoting democracy globally). Of course IRI claimed at the time, and until recently, that they didn't release their results because they did not have confidence in their accuracy...but there was also a gag order on the guy in charge of the project and he couldn't talk about it for at least 6 months. Essentially, the article hints that had IRI and the US government released and supported the results of their poll (which was heavily monitored, evaluated, and may be the most legitimate polling conducted) the violence could have been lessened and a peace agreement could have been reached earlier with fewer lives lost. Seriously...this is a BIG deal and an insider told us that today at the US Embassy there was likely a lot of damage control going on. We wonder what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to say about all of this and if there will be any fall-out.

The final political news here is that at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, Prime Minister Raila Odinga indicated that despite missing the the end-January deadline to establish a local tribunal court for the alleged post-election violence organizers, the country has made significant progress to that end and would still be able to avoid having the ICC conduct the trial at the Hague. Maybe he will rethink or has rethought his position after reading the above mentioned article?

We continue to live here and learn here and to really like it here, despite the latest cans of worms that have been opened!