Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31, 2009 - Happy Halloween!

Greetings from Nairobi.

Grace and I arrived in Kenya a little over two days ago: Wednesday night Kenyan time. Our trip back was as "easy" as any day-long international travel alone with an infant can be (and to spare you a very long story I can just say that the trip back was much easier than the trip there). An infant who, by the way, had a fever and cut her second tooth during our 8 1/2 hour flight from London to Nairobi - and without too much fuss thankfully!

I was yet again surprised (maybe for the 2nd or 3rd time?) that it was actually really nice to return to Nairobi. This is where I live, where my husband is, the only home my baby has known. It may be in Africa, but it is my home right now and it has been nice to be in my own house and sleeping in my own bed the last two nights. Despite some miserable jet-lag, Grace has also been so happy to be here. She was reunited with some long-lost toys that she has enjoyed playing with the last few days, she has laughed harder in the last two days than she did the whole month because nobody makes her laugh quite like her Far, and maybe she can sense that there is a light on at the end of this jet-lag tunnel called "routine" and she is eagerly heading towards it. For myself, I can only say that I missed Kristoffer in a different way that I ever missed him when we were usually apart for the 4 years of our pre-marital relationship. It wasn't just that I missed the love of my life, but I felt his pain being away from Grace and seeing all the beautiful moments of his daughter's life that he didn't get to see this month.

But we did have a good trip! Specifically, it was wonderful to have so much quality time with my parents. She might not have remembered them when we arrived in Boston, but she knew them well by the time we left. Even in the last two days, she smiles when she hears their voices on Skype :) It was wonderful to be there for my sister Christine's wedding, to spend some quiet time with my sister Meghan in the last month of her pregnancy, and to party a little bit with my brother. I was reminded of how much I love my parents and siblings, as well as my nephews and niece: Matthew and Nathan are so big now but I so easily can remember spending time with them when they were Grace's age. They were so cute with her, "GEW" as they call her!, and I loved watching her cousins entertain her. Michael, Sean and Molly were so sweet with "Baby Grace" too, which I think is a wonderful sign of how they will be with their new brother or sister in the coming days.

I was happy to reconnect with almost all of my close girlfriends and have them get to know my sweet little baby a bit more. Of course time is always scarce, but I am grateful for the precious moments Grace and I had with these women.

I enjoyed doing a little bit of driving for a change (okay, not really until my last week did I fight my fear and drive again!) and slowly walking the aisles of Target with Grace happily in a shopping cart. I spent very little time on the internet, which was a nice break, and didn't even watch very much American TV! I enjoyed being with my parents and greatly, greatly appreciate everything (big and small) they did to make it a good month for me and Grace.

The only bad part is that I also took a break from taking pictures! Kristoffer had our "good" camera for a field mission he went on and I just never got used to taking pictures with our video camera (also sometimes the battery died or I just plain forgot to bring it wherever I was!). There were not many to choose from, but here are a few highlights from our trip.

The day after we arrived, Brooke and Dave came to visit over night. Despite our jet-lag, Grace and I really enjoyed their visit. Thank you for coming, guys!

On our way to the wedding in Baltimore, we stopped to visit my mother's aunt, Sister Irene Murphy. She is my Nana's only living sibling and the last relative I have of that generation. She will soon be 90 but has not lost her touch with children; she instantly fell in love with Grace and it seemed to be mutual from the start.

Four generations of "Murphy" women.

When we got to Baltimore, Grace met her Uncle Mark, Aunt Carrie and cousins Matthew and Nathan for the first time. Carrie, I am sorry I didn't get you in a picture with her!

Then came Christine and Kevin's big day! I didn't take any photos at all, but someone else captured this sweet moment of their first dance. Could my sister look any happier?

The morning after the wedding Grace hung out with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins at breakfast. Here she is already trying to get away with her Godfather's baseball hat!

The first time Grace met my cousin John was the day before the wedding. She was a bit overwhelmed and cried, which devastated him because babies normally really love him! The father of three hadn't lost his touch though; she spent quite a bit of time in his loving arms on Sunday morning. This picture was taken right before she fell asleep on his lap!

A week after the wedding, Grace hung out with my friends Kate and Julie for a bit before bedtime. Julie said, "Lis! I can't believe this baby is yours!" Tell me about it, Jules!

Michael was practicing holding Grace for when the next baby O'Brien (lovingly called "the X factor") arrives any day! Grace always smiled for him.

When I had a night out in Boston with the Fun Factor (my college girlfriends) for my friend Marcie's bachelorette party, Nene and Pops took great care of Grace for the night. They even got her to take a bottle for the first time! Good girl, Gracie!

Throughout the month, we were trying to get Grace ready for her first Halloween. Here is one of her reject costumes (it was way too big). It was my original idea for her to be Simba for Halloween...
but how could I deny this cute little giraffe?!

Sean and Molly even got dressed up in their Halloween costumes to teach Grace how to "trick or treat"!

I wish I had a picture to show you Grace's face when she saw her Far for the first time at the airport on Wednesday night. Two words will convey the moment: instant smile.

And now it is Halloween. I will try to get some sleep now and we will take Grace to a Halloween party with our neighbors in the afternoon. I'm sure I'll be back to my regular photo-taking self and can share more of our day with you.

It was a really nice trip, but it feels just right to be back.

Monday, October 26, 2009

October 26, 2009 - 8 months old

Dear Everyone,

My mom and I have been in the US for almost one whole month. It was really fun to spend so much time with Nene and Pops and to meet more of my family and Mom's friends.

  • had a fun sleepover with Brooke and Dave
  • loved the Baltimore aquarium with Uncle Mark, Aunt Carrie, Matthew and Nathan
  • am happy that Auntie Christine got married to Uncle Kevin
  • am sad that Auntie Meghan didn't have her baby in time for me to meet my new cousin
  • love Nene and Pops' doggy Belle and Auntie Meghan's doggy Homer
  • did way too much shopping with my mom
  • did not sleep very much
  • fell in love with Cheerios
  • drank from a bottle for the first time
  • learned how to wave hello and goodbye (for real)
  • repeatedly stole Pops' glasses from him
  • got to see all but one of mom's closest girlfriends (sorry, Abs!)
  • did not get any new teeth
  • started to say "Mama" when my mom enters or leaves the room
  • dressed up for Halloween with Michael, Sean, and Molly
  • laughed and played with Nene and Pops every day!
  • pushed myself all around on my belly, but did not start to crawl on all fours
  • spent one night away from my mom for the first time (and we both survived without too many tears)
  • and most of all I REALLY REALLY REALLY missed my Far and cannot wait to see him when I get back to Kenya on Wednesday night

On top of all that, today I turned 8 months old!

Mom says to tell you that she will post some pictures from our month (she barely took any though...can you believe it?!) and tell you more about our trip in a few days when we are settled back in Nairobi.
Wish us an easy-with-lots-of-sleeping trip back to Kenya. We leave tomorrow night!
Love, Grace

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 20, 2009 - 6-13

This blog was written a few days ago!

THE RAINS HAVE COME! This week I was monitoring schools in the districts around Mt. Kenya together with the head of the school feeding unit at the Ministry of Education. The clouds were building up the whole week and we talked about clouds, wind and El nino more than anything. We would constantly look at a new cloud trying to interpret what that cloud could tell us about the arrival of the rains. Thursday night we stayed at a town called Embu not far from Mt. Kenya. The sky was darkening, clouds were building up and then it rained. Light at first but then long heavy showers blessed Embu town. I remember waking up at around 2 am listening to the rains for more than an hour.

The next day after breakfast we went to monitor schools in the rural lands. It was raining when we got into the car. As we got out of town we could see people planting. Families had prepared their small pieces of land long before the rains had come for planting. Entire families were in the fields with their bums in the air planting maize; we saw old mamas carefully putting every seed into the wet soil. We were greeted with “Poa” from a young family on the dirt road. Nobody would have said “poa” earlier that week. Poa means “cool” in Kiswahili and in this case I found some hope because everybody knew that the drought was over. It was emotional for me, very emotional in fact. Now, in Kenya a man can’t cry - even from happiness - so I stayed quiet for a while in the car and sucked it up. But what a relief: Rain!

My Kenyan WFP driver Nicholas (in his late fifties) was also excited. Over our high frequency radio he reported that “Mobile 195” (a license plate) had seen rain in Mbeere district; he called his wife to hear if there was rain in his home. It had rained there and he was instructed by his wife to buy seeds. “I better buy before I get home or I’ll be in trouble with my wife,” he told me (half joking half serious!). I have to buy “6-13” maize seeds. Look, they are planting over there he told me as he pointed to a farm we drove by. I hope they are using 6-13. 6-13 is the best. 6-13, I have to try and get it today.” Now 6-13 is what is called a hybrid seed. It matures in only 3 months (the normal is 4), it is shorter so that the wind is less likely to lay it down and it is more resistant to drought. 6-13 is recommend by the Kenyan Ministry of Agruculture and promoted by Kofi Anan. 6-13 is perfect for the short rainswhich started yesterday and will end in December. I hope Nicholas managed to get 6-13 before he returned to his home. I didn’t know about 6-13 (the maize seed number) before this trip with Nicolas.

Now Kenya is unfortunately not out of the woods just yet. The rains has to continue throughout the season and if there is a break of more than 2-3 weeks farms with no access to irrigation will lose their crops, although with 6-13 they might hold out a few days longer. In one month farmers who plant tomatoes, kale or peas will be able to harvest but it takes 3 months for the maize which is the bulk of the harvest. For the pastoralists (Masai and others communities only relying on animals) the next few weeks will be crucial. It will take about 1-2 weeks before the grass sprouts and is long enough for the cows to eat it. The rains will bring cold weather and many cows are likely to die of pneumonia. After the long dry season the cows’ stomachs can’t cope with the fresh new grass and they will have diarrhea for a week or two. It’s tough and many will not make it. I have seen them; they are too weak. Sheep (the dumbest of all farm animals) might be okay. Goats and camels are so so tough and will make it for sure. Goats are very intelligent animals and will recognize their own individual names as cows and camels also can (as a vegetarian I am proud to know this J).

The monitoring this week went well; all schools had food, children were happy to see a white man, we saw many schools and Mt. Kenya (from all sides) and many wild animals on our way including giraffes, elephants and rhinos. We have a big meeting with the World Bank next week but I’ll let you know about that one in another blog. This week’s conversations with my driver are also material for a blog of their own!

It’s Friday night in Nairobi, I have played a game of squash and eaten some food and am tired from 6 days in the field. It’s Lisa’s sister Christine’s wedding tomorrow and I wish her all the best on her wedding day. Enjoy your weekend.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October 14, 2009 - Home to Machakos

Machakos is a big town and a district about one hour drive from Nairobi. Our driver Charles was born there and his family still lives there. He has invited me there several times and the Saturday morning after Lisa & Grace left Kenya we went there together. It was a pleasant drive and Machakos turned out to be much hillier than I had envisioned.

Charles was overly excited and told me that of all the white people he had worked for I was the first to come to his house.

Charles had told me that he was building a small stone house for his family and the construction had been going on for quite some time, interrupted by lack of funds for cement. So when we got to Machakos town I told him I would buy him 5 bags of cement (I thought more would ruin the car’s suspension). After that purchase he was so grateful and we went to the supermarket, as his wife had given him a list of things to buy in town (see, wives are the same all over the world!). In the supermarket, he had to make a tough decision as he had promised his son a soccer ball but the good ones turned out to be very expensive. I told him to get the good one and some extra food and baby stuff and then I would pay for it. We proceeded from town into a more rural area and up the mountain as our route took us on a small dirt road. Charles drove slower and slower and started greeting almost everybody on our way. He told me that now that he had been seen driving a car with a white person he would never have a problem borrowing money from those people or paying them late as they now would assume he had money. He also told me that white people were seen as being closer to God, maybe because Jesus was white or because of the missionaries.

He eventually stopped the car and I learned that his house/plot of land was on a beautiful steep hillside right off the road. We parked the car on the road since it wouldn’t disturb any traffic; only about 15 cars would pass there every day. Now Charles was the boss! A few boys on the street were told to carry up the heavy cement bags to the house and Charles could walk up the hill with me without carrying much. We were greeted by his uncle, sister, niece, nephew, wife, son + baby girl, and his mother. They all seemed very excited to meet me, almost like they couldn’t believe it. But they were so relaxed and we joked, played some football and Charles showed me the small house he was building. He was very proud. I walked down and saw from where they fetched water, we talked about the rains, the drought, the baby, the teaching course his wife wants to take, the son, the local fruits I tasted, the price of maize, one day having enough money to buy a car, the church, water pumps and education. Then we drove around the area in my car, Charles driving with his son on his lap and his uncle and niece in the back seat. They greeted everybody who we met and I saw their church, the little local marked, amazing views and the niece’s high school. I tried to talk about gender and how unfair I thought it was that only women fetch/carry water. That didn’t help the mood so I changed to a lower gear again (baby steps).

Earlier this year an American woman visited us in Nairobi for a few nights, she was the cousin of the one who hurt her shoulder. Anyway, she accidentally left a pair of shoes, which I donated to Charles’ niece who is in the last year of high school. She got very excited. We went back to the house and just enjoyed the day together and ate some ugali and spinach. I brought my camera and took a lot of family photos, which I can print for them later.

There was no tv or radio running so we were just chatting and enjoying the time together. I was joking and trying to speak Kiswahili to everybody’s amusement. I was looking at the 3 month-old baby who was wrapped in several thick blankets on a hot day. The sweat was running from her forehead, but that is how they do it in Kenya.

After about 7 hours I drove back to Nairobi after a great day. Surely I’ll take Lisa and Grace there when they come back to Kenya.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

October 1, 2009 - Farvel Far

Grace and I leave tonight for a month in Boston. While we are very excited to see my family and friends, the mood in our house the past few days has been a bit sullen. Kristoffer and I used to be so good at doing "long distance", but now the Grace factor will make it harder than ever.

Kristoffer, we will miss you very much. I will do my best to keep Grace from doing anything too cute while we are gone :)

Far, Jeg elsker dig.