Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 30, 2009 - Play Play Play

Grace loves goggles.
Grace is a happy girl playing with her ball.

Grace loves when Far does "stand training" by smooshing her between the couch, the ottoman, and several pillows.
(Note: If anyone is lacking cheeks, Grace has some to spare!)


Monday, September 28, 2009

September 28, 2009 - Updates

Lisa & Kristoffer: We had a nice dinner out for Kristoffer's birthday on Friday while our friend Stephanie stayed at home with a sleeping Grace. We are starting to get a little bit sad about our month-long separation. We used to be really good at that but that was before we were married, doing everything together all the time, and had a baby! Now it just seems a bit cruel that he will miss out on a month of his daughter's life, but he will be busy at work and can play as much squash as he can fit in while we are away.

Grace: Maybe the last two nights have been slightly better than the previous three nights, but she continues to be very tired and to sleep very poorly at night (not to mention she remains a mediocre-at-best napper during the day). For weeks she was doing great at going to sleep on her own in her crib after her bedtime routine, but now she insists on falling asleep while nursing and refuses to be woken up at that time. Then she wakes up anywhere from 3 to 5 hours later and she will literally cry for over 2 hours (even after you've made sure she has a clean diaper, is burped, etc.). Once she has woken up, she will continue to do so every hour or 90 minutes (after going back to sleep). She just wants to be picked up and held - not that I can blame her - but she has completely forgotten all the progress we previously made. I am blaming the pediatrician a little bit because he said that I should still be nursing her when she wakes up at night, so now if she wakes up she is expecting it all over again. Sigh. I am not investing too much energy at this point in sleep training her, because as of Friday she will have jet-lag anyway and I would rather try to get her on THAT sleeping schedule for the next month. We'll just try to survive the rest of this week.

She is getting better at waving in the last two days. Kristoffer said to me last night, "Do you know that the best thing about having a baby is?" To which I replied, " cute she is?" and he said, "No. That every day she can do something new!" He was referring to her new interest in grabbing things from the bathroom counter during her bath. When she is reaching and gets it, if you clap for her and cheer her on she gets the BIGGEST smile on her face. She is very proud of each new accomplishment.

Kristoffer's mom, thank you Farmor!, suggested we give Grace a carrot to chew on for teething and that kept her very happy for much of the day yesterday. Her second tooth looks like it is just under the surface of her gum but has been that way for over a week and has not broken through yet.

Ida: After I refused to communicate with her, she reached out to Kristoffer. She tried to call him and then sent him a text message saying that I was the one who stole from her because I didn't pay her enough money. She also said that we forced her to work longer hours than we had agreed to. Kristoffer's reaction was brilliant. He called her and went with the "kill her with kindness" approach. He told her that we didn't fire her for stealing but that we have since suspected that she was. She protested and he explained about the very low prices at the market; she didn't have a good reply. She complained that she worked more than 40 hours a week and we didn't pay her enough. Kristoffer said that while that may have been true on occasion, we hired her to work Saturdays which she never did AND she had 7 weeks of paid vacation in 8 months - so if you do the math, the hours she worked averaged to be less than 40 hours a week. She got quiet on that point. She said we owed her 3 months of severance pay and he reminded her that we payed her a dfair severance for how long she had worked for us. He told her that we were not actively trying to keep her from getting a job but that we didn't feel we could put up an advertisement for her given that we have doubts about her honesty. He told her that we hoped she got a job and that we would pray for her. After 15 minutes, he says the conversation ended well AND we haven't heard from her again. I confess that two times I have had dreams about her where she comes to our house ranting and raving and making a big scene. I am hoping to be over those soon now that the situation seems to be settled.

Jonipher: Our new housekeeper seems very nice so far. After her first 2 days last week the house was cleaner than it had been in months. She made us dinner one night last week that was very good. I asked her to hold Grace this morning for the first time while I showered and they did very well together for 20 minutes. I love that she comes at 9 am, does her work, and leaves at 6 pm. I love that she is not here more days than she is here, and that she has other Americans she works for during the week. There seems to be no hidden agenda. I don't dread seeing her in the morning and I don't worry about what she's going to do next. My stress level has decreased exponentially in the last week. Of course, we are still in the honeymoon stage but I have great expectations that this one will work out much better. I also like that I am still doing some work in the house (I collect and start the laundry before she arrives so that she can hang it up to dry when she gets in, and I do some dishes and cooking on the other days) and I like that I don't fear giving Grace to her. What a relief!

Charles: He is good and looking forward to one month off from work to be home with his family. Grace recognizes him now and when he puts her car-seat in the car or brings it in the house she smiles and babbles to him and he seems to really love that. He even told Kristoffer, "Grace knows me!" His own daughter is now almost 2 months old and he can't wait to be home with her for a month.

Internet/Electricity: Because of our power cuts three days a week our internet company has been having a lot of trouble with new equipment on our compound for our internet use. That is why last week we had 2 days of no internet. I have no doubt that we are way too dependent on the internet, but living so far away I really do feel it is our lifeline to family, friends, and the rest of the world so it drives me absolutely CRAZY when we don't have it to use on the days when we do have power. I find that even when we do have power I am trying harder to conserve it, but I am definitely looking forward to my time in the US where power is not an issue.

About the fiber-optic cable that arrived in Kenya for greater bandwidth on the internet: We have friends who can now watch YouTube videos and upload pictures and websites, etc. so quickly! They are loving the "like home" speed of the internet. They use a different provider, however, and our company says we are hooked up and should have faster speeds BUT we don't. There has been no change at all in what we can do or how fast we can do it. I don't have the energy to fight them on it before leaving on Thursday night, but when I get back we will switch to another provider if they don't get their act together.

Kenya: Conditions are not improving. The country is dealing with a drought whilst getting ready for potential El Nino floods. My hairdresser says that if El Nino comes it will be here for months and it will include days with 6 hours of torrential rain (like raining many inches in an hour). Roads will be ruined and people will die. It will stop for a few days a time and be sunny and nice, but will then be really bad for a few weeks. It could go on for months.

My boss from UNICEF came over to visit yesterday and brought with her news of corruption and fraud in the education sector in Kenya. I would like to say that I'm surprised, but that would be a bold-faced lie. The World Bank is now freezing funds to Kenya as they investigate the disappearance of large sums of their money from key education projects in the Kenya Education Sector Support Programme (KESSP - for which I attended some meetings and did a little work when I was at UNICEF). Project management from within the government is suspected of stealing the money - sigh - and so the World Bank will suspend further lending until they understand the situation better. This is where it is obvious to me that Kenya is its own worst enemy. At a time when people are really suffering and the country is lucky to have any funding it can get, it now puts future donor support in complete jeopardy and continues to confirm everyone's doubts about a country that can't appropriately regulate its own government.

Never a dull moment over here. That's all folks!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

September 26, 2009 - Seven Months Old

What the sign doesn't say, is that I haven't actually slept in the last 3 nights (thank you teething - this 2nd tooth is killing me!)! So even though I am still very cute, my parents look like this:

At 7 months old, I like to put EVERYTHING in my mouth...including this birthday card that Far got yesterday:I still like to put my feet in my mouth and yesterday I actually bit my own toe (and cried! my tooth is sharp!). Sometimes I can wave bye-bye, sometimes I look like I am about to crawl, sometimes I like to stand and pretend I can walk. I am a good eater but pears are definitely my favorite food. I am not a great napper during the day unless I am in the car and my parents really miss the 8 or 9 hour stretches of sleep at night that I was doing a week ago. I talk all the time and like to play with other babies. Sometimes when I meet new people I get a little scared and cry, but usually I smile at everyone and am very cute.

Most people think I look very Scandinavian and a lot like my father, but sometimes when I make certain facial expressions it is clear that I am my mommy's daughter too:

In five more days, I will go on two big airplanes (again!) to visit my Nene and Pops in Boston and I will get to see all my American aunties, uncles and cousins at Auntie Christine's wedding in Baltimore. Here's hoping I get my act together with this sleeping business before our 24-hour trip home.

It is 9 am and I have been up and about for 4 hours already (before that these parents tried to keep me in bed...but I wasn't sleeping!). I think it might be time to take a nap, or at least I should play quietly in my crib for a few minutes so that my parents have a moment to rest.

Happy 7 months to me!

Friday, September 25, 2009

September 25, 2009 - Tillykke med Fodselsdagen, Far!

Grace & I would like to wish Kristoffer a very happy (32nd) birthday!

We haven't had any internet in 2 days and I have several other things to write about, but Kristoffer and I are actually going on a date (our 2nd since G was born! our friend Stephanie is coming over to stay with her!) so all the other things will have to wait for the weekend.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

September 22, 2009 - This Blog Has No Title

This Blog Has No Title because I couldn't think of anything interesting, appropriate, funny, cute, blah.

We had a really nice long weekend here because Kristoffer had Monday off of work for the Eid holiday to celebrate the end of Ramadan. Our weekend included swimming at the UN Rec Center (summer is back in full force), hanging out with some old and new friends for a lovely brunch at our neighbor's house, and buying a used umbrella stroller for my trip home next Thursday night.

Yesterday morning Grace did the backwards wave (like she is waving to herself) two times in a row and has repeated once but refuses to do it for any kind of camera! At least Kristoffer witnessed that when we waved to her she waved back. It was very cute and will hopefully become a habit soon. She seems to be teething much more now which includes being very fussy, not sleeping as well as she did last week, rocking back and forth in her high chair, and pulling her ears. We think the one next to her current tooth is coming in and I am really hoping that she gets some relief (read: that I get some relief too) tomorrow.

We have hired a new housekeeper who starts tomorrow and will come 2 days a week through October and then 3 days a week in November if all goes well. He name is "Jonipher", which she seems to pronounce like "Jennifer"; she is 47 years old, has 5 children and 5 grandchildren, worked for an American family for a long time before they moved and now works for an American couple (no kids) two days a week not very far from our house. She will clean, do laundry and ironing, some light cooking; she knows that she is not our nanny but she will watch Grace while I am in the house tutoring a few afternoons a week. When we interviewed her, she brought us a "Certificate of Conduct" issued by the police department which certifies that she has never committed a crime (and is required by the US Embassy to be hired by any of their staff). The first four times she comes (this week and next) I will "train her" differently than I trained Ida and will hope that the situation turns out better.

Speaking of Ida. She started calling me this morning and when I didn't answer she began texting me. It turned into an all day affair. I swore that I was going to be polite and not engage or antagonize her in any way, but she got pretty nasty in her text messages and in my 4th/last message to her I told her that if she contacted me one more time I would report her to the diplomatic police. Of course, she wrote me AGAIN after that. She incriminated herself even more by accusing our driver of more crimes (and therefore let us know that she was also stealing food, not just money) and she accused me of being a heartless mother who enjoys seeing people suffer. This was in the same message where she begged me to get her another job. Sigh. I tried to be more mature, but I think my last message to her was honestly pretty catty. You can call me a lot of things, but heartless mother I am not. Kristoffer will notify our security guy at WFP (with whom we brunched on Sunday) to make sure he knows that she is a bit crazy, knows where we live, etc. We reminded our guards today not to let her on the compound should she come by.

We are little hyper about security these days because, unfortunately, life is hard in Kenya right now. Drought/poverty/food crisis/unemployment = desperate people who do desperate things. Crime has sky-rocketed in the last few weeks and has even affected a very good friend of ours who was assaulted by three would-be muggers. Lucky for her they weren't carrying weapons when they realized she had nothing to give them; unlucky for them she had taken martial arts and defended herself well when they began to beat her up (she ended up bruised and traumatized, but not seriously injured).

The bottom line is this: I will miss Kristoffer very much during the month that I am in the US with Grace and feel bad that she will be away from him for so long, but I am eager to get away from here for a few weeks and I will not miss Kenya one bit. On the bright side, I enjoy the group Grace and I go to every Tuesday (especially since we have no electricity from 10 to 5 on Tuesdays) and I really like having some women with whom I am becoming increasingly friendly, particularly one Kiwi (from New Zealand) and one Aussie. Today we discussed starting a "mommy & me swim group" if we can find a hotel with a heated pool that won't charge us too much for one hour a week (great idea, Jean!). That will be something else to look forward to when I come back to Kenya at the end of October.


Friday, September 18, 2009

September 18, 2009 - Some Kids Need a Fishbowl

When I was in graduate school I once had an instructor who advised me and my classmates that, "some kids need a fishbowl." She made this crazy statement in reference to the fact that all kids are different, they don't all learn the same way, what works for some doesn't work for others, and you have to keep trying to figure out how to reach a student until you succeed. Otherwise called "differentiated instruction", she told us the story of a student she taught in Alaska who she had a really hard time reaching until she discovered somehow that if he looked at her (and the world) through a fishbowl, he could focus and learn and do well. Hence the phrase, "some kids need a fish bowl." (Joanna, this one's for you.)

This brings me to my story about Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps because of her teething, Grace is very clingy these days and wants me to hold her all the time. She is doing great sleeping at night (a 6-7 hour stretch followed by a 2 or 3 hour stretch and then another 2 hour stretch) but is not napping well during the day, and all of this makes it hard to get anything done. So on Wednesday afternoon I was particularly frustrated because she was particularly fussy; I was trying all kinds of different things to get her to calm down and play by herself near me but without me holding her. Even the Baby Bjorn wasn't working, which you know is a bad sign because she loves the Bjorn! I tried chairs and seats and pillows and cushions and a variety of combinations of toys and songs and dances...all to no avail.

Then I spotted the empty laundry basket - really a bucket - and remembered that Kristoffer put her in there one time as a joke and she really liked it. I brought the bucket into the kitchen, plopped her into it with some tupperware to play with, and low and behold it worked. For 20 minutes she was very happy and I was able to start cooking dinner. Kristoffer came home at the exact moment she started to fuss again and, as usual, she was thrilled to see her father and laughed with/at him for the next 20 minutes.

In the same way that "some kids need a fishbowl" I guess "some babies need a bucket."

Yesterday Kristoffer took the day off from work because it was Christian's last day in Kenya. We went to one of our favorite places for lunch - it felt like a Saturday for sure! We put Grace in her stroller sitting up like a big girl (usually she is still in her car seat) and chomping on a baby biscuit for the first time (it was great for her teething!).

Last night Christian went back to Denmark after a great almost-month here. He went to the Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Mombasa, and most impressively he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Congratulations, Christian! We are so proud of you and had a wonderful visit while you were here! I hope you don't mind that I will now show off some of your amazing pictures from the top of the world:


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September 16, 2009 - Fire (Drill)

Grace and I had an eventful morning here in Nairobi.

I was at the big grocery store, Nakumatt, with Grace asleep in her stroller around 9 am. I was comparing the labels on two different products when all of the sudden everyone around me starts screaming loudly and running towards the exit. I actually saw two people get pushed over (literally!) and I was seriously bumped into by two other people during this mass panic. A VERY nice man who worked at the store came and said to me, "You have to evacuate, there's a fire. I'll help you." So as people were bumping and pushing and whirling by us, he tried to clear the way for me and the stroller, helped me out of the mall and down the stairs, and safely across the street.

I then called Charles who was parked in the basement garage and he said the car was already out of the building and he would find me. My nice Nakumatt-guy came over to check on me, which was very thoughtful, and I asked him, "Where's the fire? I didn't smell anything or see smoke?" He said, "'s just a drill. But I knew that you would get trampeled if I didn't help you." In Kenya there have recently been a few fires that killed a lot of people and so I think it is very good that they do drills here. But I have never experienced such panic before! And he also told me that there had been an announcement over the loud speaker in the store but it almost impossible to ever understand what they are saying (and it is usually in Swahili) so I wasn't listening at all. I guess I will start paying attention to those announcements from now on.

Two fire trucks arrived within 5 minutes, which was VERY impressive given that there is only one firehouse in the entire city (yes, that's right, a city of about 3.2 million people has one firehouse). When Charles found me we waited for them to re-open the mall - I had planned to just go home but the roads were blocked and once I knew it was a drill I still wanted to pick up a few things! - but before they would open up the doors, someone from the fire department went on a megaphone from the fire truck to make a big announcement. It sounded something like this:

"God sent Abraham here to save you but you have to help yourselves too. God and Abraham can't do everything. You were supposed to be out in 2 1/2 minutes and it took you over 4 minutes to get out. You have to get out faster or next time some of you will die. God and Abraham won't save you next time. Next time it won't be an exercise. Next time you will die."

Now I have nothing against God or Abraham...but I couldn't quite understand what they had to do with the fire drill. And he also talked for over 5 minutes - it was like we were all getting a lecture! As Kristoffer said tonight, this guy didn't say anything about remaining calm in an emergency situation or looking out for one another (and the mzungu with the baby!). It was just "get out faster!!!" or else.

In reflection, the worst part about this crazy experience was that when the screaming and running started, I initially assumed it was a terrorist attack. How terrible is that?! Would I have thought the same thing if a similar incident happened at home? Or was it just because I am in Kenya (a country suspected to be home to a lot of terrorists)?

Also, I was talking to my friend about it this afternoon and she suggested that next time I should take Grace out of the stroller and run with her. But when I really think about that situation, Grace was much safer buckled into her car seat with all these people pushing and shoving than she would ever have been in my small arms!

Finally, there were two goods things in all of this. One, that Nakumatt-guy was so nice and restored my faith that there are good Kenyans here who are not only trying to take advantage of expats. He didn't have to help me, but he did. Then, my favorite part of the day was when we were driving back home. Charles said to me, "Madam, I was so happy when you called me to hear your voice and know that you were OK." That was a very nice way for Charles to let me know that he cares about our family, and it made me feel so good that we employ him.

All of this happened before 10 am. I was ready for a nap but of course when it was all over Grace was just waking up!


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 15, 2009 - Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Beautiful, beautiful roses from our very own rose bushes!

Nairobi is warm and sunny once again (sadly, no rain yet) and we are really enjoying this beautiful weather!


Oh yeah...we are enjoying this beauty too:

Grace would like to wish her cousin Josefine a very happy birthday!
Tillykke med fodelsdagen, Josefine!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

September 12, 2009 - Toothy Grin

Grace cut her first tooth today!

It is pretty tough to see - almost looks like it is still under the gum - but when you put a finger in her mouth and she chomps down, you can definitely feel that the tooth is sharp and above the gum. I actually called my mom to ask her if it counts as since it is hard to see. She confirmed that, indeed, it counts. And so I wonder: when did this baby get to be so big?!

I think it surprised me that the tooth came in unaccompanied by painful screaming, fever, or ear pulling. She hasn't been sleeping well this week which might be related to the teething , and the last two days she has been a little bit clingy and fussy, but certainly nothing that a little bit of Mom-and-Far-acting-like-goofballs couldn't assuage. I expected much more drama with her first tooth! We'll see how she does the tooth comes in more I don't know whether to expect more or fewer symptoms? In either case, we are excited for this milestone!

This is what Grace looks like today....maybe with a microscope you can see the tooth (Grace's bottom left side)?


Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 10, 2009 - Six Month Checkup

Grace visited Dr. Nesbitt this morning for her 6 month check up. The best part of having the first appointment of the day is not having to wait forever to see the doc! The worst part about having the first appointment of the day is that when your baby has been awake since 5 am, 9:30 is when she wants to go back to sleep and when she gets woken up to be measured and weighed, she isn't too happy :(

Waking her up aside, Grace had a great trip to the doctor's and loved it even more since she didn't need any shots this time. She weighed in at 7 kg/15.4 lbs and is 66 cm/26 in long (a little under 50% percentile). On the 6-month developmental check-list, Grace scored nearly perfect. She is not able to get into crawling position yet (and shows no interest in doing so, which is OK by me!) which is the only thing on the list she can't do, and the doctor says that most babies can't get into crawling position at 6 months either. We'll hope she gets there for her 8 month check up in November.

We had a good discussion about Grace's eating habits: she is doing well and gaining weight at an average pace which means we can keep on doing what we are doing. She now eats 3 "solid" meals a day combining fruit, veggies and cereals, and will continue on mostly smooth (pureed) foods until closer to 8 months. We also discussed the sleep issues we are having with Grace. She is still great at going to sleep but after 5 or 6 hours she is not staying asleep (which means she wakes up between 12 and 1 am); once she wakes up that first time she continues to wake up frequently. I have not been feeding her until she hits the 9 hour mark (so around 4 am) but he thinks this is a bad idea. His suggestion is that when she wakes up at 1 am I should feed her for a fixed amount of time - say 10 or 15 minutes. Every time she wakes up stick to that time. The next night lower it to 8 minutes, and then the next night 6 minutes, etc. He says he has had a lot of experience with this method working - including with at least one of his two kids. So I guess we'll try it tonight and see if that helps.

I admit that in the last four days I am more tired than I have been in awhile. She has not been sleeping well and, for example, was wide awake for the day starting at 5 am. She is also a terrible napper right now and will only sleep in the car or for 10-20 minutes at a time two or three times a day. This means that I can't nap either and don't have a lot of time to myself to get things done around the house. Welcome to the real world, Lisa! I think my biggest concern is just that she isn't getting enough sleep, but the doctor didn't seem concerned. We also discussed fluoride because there are no bottled waters in Kenya with the right amount of fluoride for a baby so when I go to the US in October I will get some fluoride drops to add to the bottled water that doesn't have enough. She also needs to be taking Vitamin D but you can't get a great baby vitamin here so I will get that when I go home too.

He was very pleased and liked how much she was babbling. I think she gets her talkative side from me?

Grace is a happy, active baby and we are very proud of well she is doing.

In this picture, taken yesterday, she couldn't look more like a red head or more like an old woman with osteoporosis and pants up to her armpits.
In the last week I have had 6 different women tell me that Grace looks "so Scandinavian" and two of them didn't even know that she is Danish! She looks much more blond in person than in pictures but I am hoping that the strawberry blond color of her hair sticks because it is so cute!

And writing this blog has been a real treat because it is mid-day on a Thursday and we shouldn't have electricity but for some reason we do! So before Grace's current nap (thank you) ends I should go get some other stuff done.

Cheers to having a healthy six month old!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September 8, 2009 - And so it goes

Charles tells Kristoffer things that he won't tell me, because he is the man of the household. Annoying but true. When he picked Kristoffer up from work yesterday, K said to him something like, "So I heard you went shopping today..." to initiate a discussion about Ida's potential theft. Charles told him that when Ida would go shopping she would have a list on a piece of paper where she recorded what she spent. When she would get into the car to go home she would ask him to wait a few minutes and she would then transfer the list to the notebook I gave her and re-record the prices...except increase them! It does no good to pester Charles about why he didn't tell us - telling on someone is a sin in Kenya...nobody will do it! that is partly why corruption goes on and on...Kenyan's will never blow the whistle! - but it does explain why she tried to get him in trouble before she left: she obviously thought that he did tell on her, leading to her getting fired. An eye for an eye, I guess - even though it wasn't true! And she is supposedly a leader in her church.

We have not posted something for Ida at the UN, and will not at this point, and we've decided that if she calls me again I will tell her that I hope she saved the money that she stole from us to help her son go to college in Tanzania next month. If she asks whether we posted the ad for her, I will not lie.

And I'm sorry to keep writing about this - you must be bored with reading about it by now... but it turns out I'm a little bit obsessed with the situation because normally I consider myself to be a good judge of character. This whole time she was just lying to my face (when I asked her to record prices she actually said, "but I would never steal from you!") and manipulating me and I don't like feeling betrayed.

The drought conditions in Kenya are getting worse. Kristoffer had three reports at work last week of children dying supposedly from hunger, although I don't know if that that has been confirmed. My friend's husband is the East African correspondent for the NY Times and published this article in today's paper. It discusses WFP as well and does not paint a pretty picture of life in Kenya right now.

At the UN today, an email was circulated discussing measures taken to reduce water consumption on the UN compound because even their boreholes are running low. They will be drilling even deeper boreholes and are doing things like: adjusting the amount of water used to flush in toilets, recycling water for irrigation, using disposable cutlery in the cafeteria (although not a long term solution because of other environmental outcomes of this), using hand sanitizers in the bathrooms instead of soap and water, among others.

At home, even though we have a borehole here and have not been given restrictions, we are more conscious than ever of not showering too long, of not doing extra loads of laundry, and of conservatively using water during the day for cleaning (which is easy since Ida is not here now!). As the NY Times article points out, this drought is horrible but in October it have been forecast that we might get El Nino conditions which will lead to the opposite problem: horrible flooding, and all that goes with it (roads destroyed, crops ruined, etc.). If only there could be a happy medium.


Monday, September 7, 2009

September 7, 2009 - The Plot Thickens

We made a new arrangement with Charles that for a small increase in his salary he will go to the market to do the fruit and vegetable shopping for us now that Ida is gone and we haven't quite gotten ourselves ready to hire someone new. The reason I don't go is because they hike the prices up so much for white people and it is much easier to haggle in Swahili (also it can take a really long time!).

Today was his first day doing this so I gave him the list of what I wanted for the next few days. He asked me to write down the prices I thought he should be paying so that he didn't get ripped off. Now when Ida was doing the shopping she often complained about the prices going up all the time, so at one point I asked her to start recording everything she bought and how much she paid in a little notebook so I could see the price changes. I previously noted that when I asked her to start recording prices, she stopped complaining about them going and they seemed to stay the same. I went to the notebook today and wrote down the most recent prices Ida had recorded for everything. Charles took the list with him and then recorded what he paid for each item. He paid less than the prices Ida recorded in all but 3 cases and sometimes he paid half or two-thirds of what she wrote down. When he came home with all the food he said, "Madame...I am so sorry to tell you this but I think that Ida was stealing from you. Most of the food was a lot cheaper than she told you it was." The total bill he paid was exactly half of the money I gave him to spend. Hmmmm....

I suppose after how crazy she got last week I am not really that surprised...except I do wonder how we are supposed to trust anyone in this country when even people who come highly recommended to you turn out to be dishonest. Of course, maybe Ida was just bad at haggling or they give higher prices to women than to men at that market...I don't know. But the icky feeling in my stomach tells me that Ida really took advantage of our trust and generosity. Sigh.

Another funny addition to the story is that we found out from Charles that the guards on our compound call Ida "Ida Odinga"...this is funny because Odinga is the Prime Minister and she is from the same tribe as him. Both are reputed (we now know) to act superior to others :)


Sunday, September 6, 2009

September 6, 2009 - Poolside

We took Grace for a swim in our pool today for the first time. It was a hot afternoon - which is really nice since mornings and evenings are still pretty chilly here - so we were ready for it, but unfortunately the pool water was still a bit too chilly (our pool is not heated) for the little one.

Grace was ready to do laps with her goggles...
Sitting by the pool with Far was okay...
but when he started to get her wet she was not the happiest of campers. She loves taking her bath so much, though, that I am sure if we get her into a pool with warm water she will be a happy girl.
After the chilly water, Grace was happy to cuddle with her mama...

and then when we went home she watched some Danish soccer (last night's match against Portugal) with Far.
It was a nice way to end a relaxing weekend (albeit without electricity all day Saturday). We are hoping to have a better week this week - as in, no drama with our staff, no internet problems, and maybe Tuesday, Thursday and next Saturday will somehow escape our regularly scheduled power cuts. Here's hoping :)


Thursday, September 3, 2009

September 3, 2009 - WFP on BBC

BBC article about School Feeding during the drought here. Kristoffer's work is so important!

And I am happy to say that it is raining in Nairobi today :) Every little bit helps!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September 2, 2009 - Daytime Drama

Caution: This is a really long story – especially because we haven’t heard Internet working in three days - which I wrote more for myself than anyone else. If you want all the gory details, literally, then read the Long Version, but I am not offended in the least if you just read the Short Version and move on with your day.

Short Version
Last week we had two incidents with Ida that helped us decide finally to let her go. First she asked us for a lot of money (again) and then she used poor judgment while watching Grace for a few minutes. We let her go on Monday morning; initially she took the news somewhat well (whatever that means) but then a very strange series of events occurred in which she started a huge fight with Charles to try and get him fired; she tried to take a lot of our stuff with her and actually succeeded in taking a few things (luckily, I was able to get them back from her). It was stressful and awkward and bizarre and, thank God, is now over. Even though we feel bad about letting her go, she was not a good fit for us and we feel really relieved not to have to deal with her anymore, especially after seeing that side of her yesterday. Our instincts to not trust her with Grace were spot on. And, since we’ve let her go, we’ve heard from two of our neighbors that their staff reported that Ida will not be missed because she was very rude and snobby to everyone on the compound.

Long Version
If you’ve been reading this blog for the last few months, you already know that Kristoffer and I have been struggling with our housekeeper, Ida. Being an African woman – a single mother at that – is probably one of the most difficult things to be in the world and we have tried to be empathetic in that regard, but still we have had a hard time communicating with her, an even harder time trusting her, and have generally been stressed out by her. I say the word “we” lightly, because Kristoffer has not had that much to do with her and mostly these issues are mine.

Last Thursday was a particularly tough day for us. Ida first asked me for a Ksh. 60,000 loan, which is about US$800. This was upsetting because when we had a big meeting before our summer travel I specifically told her not to ask us for more money. To date she still hadn’t paid off the much smaller loan we gave her and we told both of our employees not to ask us for any more loans. When I reminded her of this, sounding like a rich, white b@#$! to a Kenyan I’m sure, she said she thought this was different because she really needs the money and she cried a lot and tried to make me feel very guilty (which worked to some extent). I told her we would definitely not give her a loan for that amount but that I would talk to Kristoffer and see if we could come up with some smaller amount, although I tried to stress that she shouldn’t count on it. We have to pay our rent 3 months at a time (due this week!) and so money is a little tight right now.

That was Episode 1. Episode 2 happened later that day. I was scheduled to tutor the boy across the street for just 30 minutes. I left Grace – freshly napped – in our house with Ida. I am across the street tutoring and 15 minutes into it I hear a cry outside. I assumed it wasn’t Grace because it was not a familiar cry and there is another baby on our compound. A few minutes later the boy’ sister comes running upstairs screaming “Lisa! Your baby needs you!” The cry was in fact Grace and by the time I got downstairs and outside Ida was at the door with Grace: bright red, screaming like she has never screamed before, hyperventilating, and shaking all over. It took me several minutes to calm her down enough to feed her and then another 25 minutes before she stopped shaking and returned to her normal breathing. What happened?!

Ida had taken Grace to another neighbor’s house to visit their housekeeper – who I will call J; Ida had done the same thing last week and J scared Grace because she talks really loudly (unusual for a Kenyan) and Grace doesn’t like loud noises. But Ida gave Grace to J on Thursday again and J started dancing around and singing loudly while holding Grace. Grace got so scared that she started screaming in fear, etc. I asked Ida why she would bring Grace to J if Grace was scared of her the last time and she said she didn’t really know. I told her that from now on she should not leave the house or our yard with Grace, which was very upsetting to Ida. This incident bothered me more than usual because I have never seen Grace in such a state and Ida clearly showed poor judgment.

Kristoffer came home and was really sad to hear both of these stories from me. We decided – after much discussion – that we would let Ida go. We have been debating it for months and I think these two were the straws that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Given all of the problems we have had, the only reason NOT to fire Ida would be because it will be awkward and uncomfortable. We decided not to wait any longer and to let her go on Monday.

I didn’t sleep much Sunday night because I had the biggest knot in my stomach. It doesn’t feel good to know you are going to turn someone’s life and stability upside down, especially a Kenyan whose life is difficult already. I could never be in a position to fire people on a regular basis! Kristoffer stayed home later than usual on Monday morning and when Ida came in we asked her to sit down with us. We had planned what we were going to say ahead of time and I started by telling her that we appreciated the work she had done for us, we think she is a nice woman, and we wished nothing but the best for her and her family BUT we have decided not to employ a full-time housekeeper anymore and so she would no longer be working for us.

She took the news much better than I expected her to – she is often crying about something and so I expected tears right away, but they didn’t come. She asked if there was anything specific she should know that she did wrong and we honestly told her that we truly believe there is a family out there that will be a better fit for her and that we just aren’t cut out for having full time help. I was just not going to get into every complaint we had about her because at that point it didn’t really matter. She also apologized for asking for the loan last week – suspecting that is why we were letting her go – but I thought it was interesting that it didn’t occur to her that the incident with Grace was a factor too (and the biggest factor at that!). We explained to her the severance pay we would give her and also told her that we will put up something at the UN bulletin board to help her get another job. That all seemed to go fine. She told us that she worked harder for us than any other family she ever worked for and that she has no regrets and leaves feeling good because she knows she did a great job. Maybe we disagreed, but what could we say? We said thank you. She said she believes that when one door closes another one will open which had better be true because how else will she pay her rent and feed her children? We said that we believed and hoped for the same thing.

Then Ida says, “There is one thing I need to tell you…” and proceeds to say that our driver, Charles, has been verbally abusing her for months. That he calls her bad names, makes fun of her, puts her down, has a very bad temper and gets angry with her. We were shocked. We had specifically told her when we hired her that if she ever had a problem with Charles, to tell us right away so we could sort it out (and we told him the same thing). She said she was afraid of losing her job if she told us but that we should know for the future if we hire someone else that he is abusive. That was really weird!

We told her to pack up her personal belongings and when Charles got back from taking Kristoffer to work, he would drive her home. Kristoffer told Charles that Ida was getting another job (trying to be diplomatic b/c we weren’t really sure about her accusations) and to be very nice to her today. Ok.

After a little while I heard so much noise coming from Ida’s quarters and wondered what she was doing. I went outside and realized that she was planning to take EVERYTHING with her: all of the furniture we bought for her rooms was taken apart (table, chairs, bed, mattress, shelves), all of the dishes we bought for her to use, all of the food, the stove and even the gas cylinder. I told her that we bought those things for her to use but that they didn’t belong to her. Then she started to cry. GREAT – now I am even more evil than I already was! I also asked her for both sets of keys to her rooms and she gave me one set saying the other set was in the house. I told her that I didn’t see the other set anywhere.

Charles came back and Ida started loading her things into the car. Then she came running in the house hysterically crying saying “Charles threatened me! He said that the next time he sees me I will be picking up his children’s trash and that I am worthless. Do something!” Ok. This was more than I bargained for. I went outside and said, “Charles, Ida says you aren’t speaking very nicely to her,” to which he replied, “Madame, she said something to me. She barked at me to open up the car for her but she knows how to do it.” Ida then started yelling and crying with more accusations against Charles, including that he told her he is the one who got us to fire her (which would be a silly thing for Charles to tell her since it is not true). He tried to defend himself, “Ida, why are you telling these lies to Madame?” She just kept saying the same things over and over again and crying.

In my great wisdom (not) I decided that Charles could not drive Ida home for the next hour because who knows what would go down. I called a taxi driver we know and he came right away to take her home. I gave Ida her severance and all of the documents she had given us when we hired her (certificates of courses, letters of recommendation, etc.). She said she was grateful for the kitchen class we gave her, the water filter we bought her family, and the opportunity to work for her. She said she really didn’t like being a housekeeper (no kidding!) and that she would prefer to be an ayah (nanny) so she hoped we could find someone to hire her. The missing set of keys mysteriously appeared on the kitchen counter – was she planning to take them?!?! I checked her room to see that she hadn’t taken anything; I asked about the food and she said that she and Charles split it in half. Grace started to cry a lot and needed to eat so I didn’t check the rooms that carefully; I paid the taxi driver, gave her a hug (weird!) and she left.

After Ida left I went back to check the rooms again now that Grace wasn’t crying and realized she did take the rug, the curtains and some of our pots. I called her and said, “Ida, did you take….?” She said she forgot to put them back and would send them back with the taxi. Ok. Then Charles asks if he can talk to me. He said he was very upset about what happened in the morning, that he really thought that he and Ida were friends, and that he definitely never spoke to her in a mean way. They ate lunch together and laughed together every day and until that morning he could never say a bad thing about her. But after their fight and before Ida left, Charles admitted that he asked her again, “Ida, why are you doing this?” He claims that she replied, “Just wait, even you…they will put you out next week. You’ll be next.” And, she lied to me about the staff food because she took all of it and left nothing for Charles.

My theory of all this situation is that yes, she was angry about losing her job and yes, she feels desperate about her situation, but even more so I think she knew all along that the two of them made the same salary and she felt like Charles didn’t do as much as work as she did and so that was unfair. I think that misery loves company and if she was going down she wanted to bring him with her. Sigh. Kristoffer says that we can never be truly sure who is telling the truth but our instinct is to believe Charles, who we have known longer than Ida and who has never given us reason to distrust him. Charles also thanked me for sending her home in a taxi because he was nervous about taking her home alone and having her “call her people to do some mischief”, which means he was afraid she was going to have people ‘jack the car or beat him up. All of her strange behavior that morning really affirmed our decision to fire her; we know for sure that she was not the right help for us.

All of this was EXHAUSTING and stressful, I assure you. Now that I am a real housewife – not just a stay at home mom! – I need to plan for how to get things done like laundry, dish washing, cleaning, and cooking with a baby who demands a lot of attention! We are thinking of hiring someone part time – like 4 days a week/not-live-in to help around the house and provide a few hours of babysitting when I tutor. We have learned a lot from this experience with Ida and next time, I assure you, we will be more careful about who we hire as well as what expectations, boundaries and precedents we set for them from the beginning.

AND...since we let Ida go on Monday we have now heard from two of our neighbors that their personnel gave less than flattering accounts of Ida’s time here. The driver across the street reported that Ida treated Charles terribly the whole time she worked for us, that she refused to say hello or anything to other staff or the guards on the compound, and that she generally carried herself as if she thought she was better than everyone else. Another staff person told her boss that Ida came from a family that had some money and earlier in her life she drank a lot and was very promiscuous so her family abandoned her. She was not raised to work hard, didn’t know how to work hard, and had no intention of working hard. In fact, this person said that Ida told her, “I don’t want to cook for them, I don’t want to clean for them, I just want to hold their baby.” Sheesh! It really appears that we were bamboozled…or at least it took us way to long to really listen to our instincts.

The guards on our compound have been instructed not to let her back on the premises should she show up and we have decided that in good conscience we can not recommend her to anyone else for employment. Let’s hope the situatin is over at last.


p.s. We have not had working internet for 3 days which is why this blog is soo long...I've been writing it and adding to it since Monday morning!