Friday, December 31, 2010

December 31, 2010 - A Family Interview

I preface this blog by saying that it is currently 5:13 am in Nairobi. I've been awake since 3:48 am...and so goes the last few weeks of pregnancy. In my attempt to do an interview with Kristoffer and Grace similar to the one I posted last year, I will interview them over breakfast when they wake up any minute.

To reflect for a moment on what I wrote about my hopes for 2010:

  • improved schedule of eating and sleeping for Grace: We've had our ups and downs, and it hasn't been easy. We did figure out that there is no medical reason for her lack of weight gain (at almost two she is just 20 lbs now) and we continue to try new strategies to improve her eating. She sleeps GREAT, but not LATE. Some mornings she wakes up before 5 am. One time this week she stayed in bed until 6:30, which she has never done before. In her entire life she has never slept 12 hours. BUT she is the world's greatest "go to sleeper" and doesn't wake up during the night, so that is a HUGE improvement from this time last year. We feel pretty lucky about her, in general, so we try not to complain about these minor issues. Overall, she's still our Amazing Grace!
  • find out sooner than later where we will move to next: I guess that will be a repeat wish for this year. We didn't end up moving this year - thankfully, given the pregnancy - but it might catch up to us this year. Where to?!

  • Kenya gets its act together: Eh. We aren't too impressed with Kenyan politics these days. Since the ICC announced the six names of high-profile Kenyans who the Hague might actually prosecute for crimes against humanity in relation to the 2008 post-election violence...well, let's just say that the MPs (members of parliament) have not shown their best faces to the world. More on that another time. Let's try to keep this blog cheery!

  • I learn something new – like how to play the drums we bought when we moved to Kenya – or that I do something incredible – like climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I am not na├»ve so I doubt I will accomplish both of those things, especially given Grace’s sleep issues, but I do hope to make something new and interesting happen for myself in the coming year: Took drum lessons for a couple of months - yes! Unfortunately, in my first trimester drumming made me throw up so we had to stop our lessons, and then we went to Denmark for a long time, and then we came back and life got a little bit complicated. So we haven't been drumming lately and no Kilimanjaro for me (again) this year, but by "something new and interesting" then yes - Rocky has been growing for much of the year and we just have to wait a short while longer to meet him/her!

For 2011, I mostly just can't wait to meet this baby, for Grace to become a big sister, to see what unfolds between my children and for all of us as a family of four. I also hope that I FINALLY get to the Kenyan Coast this year (4th year's the one!). I am really looking forward to having Kristoffer's mom and Hans here for 4 weeks and my parents here for 6 weeks after that. We've been craving some family/home loving for a few months now! I also look forward to traveling home to the US and to Denmark at some point in May or June. It will have been my longest stretch away from home (1 whole year - ah!) - too long for my taste! I've recently been doing some curriculum writing/consulting work and sort of hope that I get more opportunities to do that in this next year. In 2011, I hope to continue being grateful for all that I have, enjoying the small moments of joy we experience in our life, and loving that I am on this crazy journey with an incredible husband. Happy New Year to you! Now let's see what the other two have to say...

Talking to Grace at 5:50 am, sitting on the sofa with her cup of juice and her bunny, waiting for Far to come down for breakfast...

Mama: Grace, we're starting a new year tomorrow. What can you tell me about this past year?

Grace: Mornin', Mama! Mornin', Mama!

M: Good morning, Grace! Tomorrow we start a brand new year. What do you think of that?

G: I sit. Tickle, tickle, Mama.

M: (laughs) Do you have anything you want to say about last year?

G: I watch Bear and Ojo.

M: That's true. You did really like to watch "Bear in the Big Blue House" a lot this year (although not so much anymore). Do you have anything else you want to say about last year?

G: (drinking juice)

M: Anything at all?

G: Mama, cup to be washed.

M: That cup does need to be washed. Thank you for the reminder. Grace we're going to a party tonight to say Happy New Year! Can you say "Happy New Year!"?

G: (says something that sounds like Hallelujah!)

M: That's right! Happy New Year! And guess who is going to be at the party? Alvin!

G: We take turn.

M: That's right. When we play with Alvin we take turns.

G: Grace take turn. Alvin take turn. Not sad.

M: Right. Grace takes a turn, then Alvin takes a turn. And we don't get sad when Alvin plays with our toys. Anything else?

G: (runs into the other room - effectively ending her interview)

Interviewing Kristoffer in the morning before work turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. Let's try again a little later....

3:49 pm, just after Kristoffer got home from work and 1 hour before leaving for a Danish new year's party...

Lisa: Ok, honey, here I go was 2010 for you?!

Kristoffer: (long, quiet pause...thinking very hard) John Lennon once said something about "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans" or something. I feel a little bit like that. And I think this was the year I discovered the importance of a family. And the value of having children. Now Grace can do stuff and I really like that. She can clear the table and blow her own bubbles. So I have to do less (laughs). And I can say that I looked at the moon more this year than I have in my whole life.

L: Why is that?

K: Because of Grace. We look at the moon every night or morning. We love it!

L: And what are your hopes or plans for 2011?

K: That we will get a healthy baby who sleeps well. That I will be able to find a new job. That I will be number one on the squash ladder at the UN. And that I become better at appreciating and valuing all the little moments of happiness in my life.

L: You sound a little bit less excited than you did last year?

K: I'm tired! Maybe tommorrow I'll have more of a fresh perspective. It's exhausting to end a whole year.

L: Fair enough. And, just FYI, last year you said you wished to beat the German guy in squash and last month you finally did it! So congratulations on that.

K: Thanks (with a smile).

Happy New Year!

Kristoffer, Lisa & Grace

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 28, 2010 - The Reunion

I took about 10-15 minutes of very cute Grace video between the 24th and 25th, with Grace opening presents from Farmor, Hans and Oldemor in Denmark as well as from me, Kristoffer, and Santa Claus. She took interest in, played with and seemed to really enjoy all of her gifts, but really the video everyone's been waiting for is of Grace opening up Bamse, who Santa Claus (Julemand) magically found. Click on the link below for their first few minutes together!


Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27, 2010 - Our Christmas Lesson

We didn't take a lot of pictures this Christmas. Because we were only three, we were all actively engaged enjoying each moment together and didn't do much to capture them outside of our hearts and minds. We took a little video, which is too cute not to share at some point this week, but the 12 pictures below are pretty much what I took with our camera.

Honestly, I had spent the last several months being quite sad that we weren't going to be home in Boston with my family as we were intended to be before Rocky was a twinkle in our eyes. And, yes, we were sad to miss out on going to church with my family and playing flag football in the snow (well, Kristoffer was) and seeing my parents with all of their grandchildren and Grace playing with her cousins and joking around with my siblings...that was sad. But we didn't spend the majority of our weekend acting on our sadness; instead our quiet little family Christmas turned out to be quite special.

On the 24th we celebrated a Danish Christmas with candles lighting up our tree and singing while we danced around (never fails to make me cry - even when not pregnant!) and Grace opened her non-Santa-Claus gifts. When Grace went to bed Kristoffer and I had a non-traditional Christmas dinner of delicious bread, cheese, fruit, chocolate, and wine (thank you to Carrie for reminding me that Rocky has all of his/her fingers and toes at this point, and a big glass of delicious wine wouldn't hurt!). On the 25th we woke up to see if Santa Claus had visited our house, we drank mimosas and ate my mom's traditional breakfast casserole, and we found a new, wonderful church to go to where Grace was an angel-toddler during Mass.

I thought we would be lonely, but we weren't. I thought our $11 fake little Christmas tree from Nakumatt would be so ugly, but it wasn't. I thought I would feel a little bit empty, but I didn't. In fact, I don't think I could have felt more full.

We learned this Christmas that even though we love our extended families so much and love to celebrate holidays with them, we are our own family and enjoyed being "just us" for a holiday as well. It was a Christmas we won't forget for that reason, and we are so grateful to have learned this lesson. Just in time for our family to grow a little bit bigger.

Here is a taste of our Christmas girl...she was as sweet and cute as you could dream her to be. And she was certainly all the gift we needed.

Grace and Far were ready and excited to light the Christmas tree.
Grace played with one of her new games by the light of our fake, little, beautiful tree.
Grace knew just which stocking was hers!
And, Grace insisted that the cookies and milk for Santa (the carrot was for Rudolph, of course) actually be placed inside the fireplace. She was very curious whether he would drink the milk or not, and that was the first thing she checked in the morning.
Our African mantel looked lovely too.
WAAAYYY too warm for a fire, but the candles we could handle!
Did I mention that our ugly tree from Nakumatt turned out to be quite beautiful?!
She reminded us again, "Grace's sock!"
Christmas dinner!
When Grace woke up on Christmas morning, Santa's big surprise was that he "found" her lost Bamse (from 3 months ago when we were in Denmark). It was the reunion of a lifetime. Video to come, I hope. It was the best moment of my Christmas to see Grace reunited with her best friend. You could definitely feel the love - a true Christmas miracle!
Grace found Bamse wrapped inside a baby doll stroller that she now loves to push around. She calls it "Bamse's Stroller".
And after we went to church she was happy to play with Bamse some more! It is safe to say that they haven't spent much time apart since their reunion.
Our beautiful, Christmas girl!
Despite our tropical weather and lack of snow, the spirit of Christmas was alive and well in Nairobi this year. We are so thankful for that!

Friday, December 24, 2010

December 24, 2010 - Merry Merry

Merry Christmas to you! We are having a long and quiet holiday weekend. So far it has been very sweet. Even though we are sad not to be with our larger families or out of Nairobi for a bit, we are also really enjoying being together for this holiday as a family of three before Rocky arrives in one month from today. We are taking some traditions from each of our families and making up some new ones of our own as well, which is also very sweet.

We hope wherever you are, you take a moment to celebrate the people you love and to count all of the blessings in your life. That's how we're spending our holiday :)

And don't forget to smile...something like this little girl will do...
Lisa, Kristoffer & Grace

Friday, December 17, 2010

December 17, 2010 - Cooking Stones

It is evening in a simple home in Kenya. Four children have had light tea for breakfast and no lunch, but are now waiting for dinner, the only substantial meal they get in a day. Their father died of AIDS many years ago and they now live with their mother who is HIV-positive.

“Mum mum is the food ready soon?” they ask.

“In a little bit,” replies the mother as she adds more firewood under the boiling cooking pot. This was the fifth time she was asked about food being ready that evening. Her youngest child has already fallen asleep on an empty stomach. And sure enough, one by one they each fell asleep as they waited for the food to cook. The last question about dinner was from the oldest girl who eventually gave in and fell asleep too.

After having ensured that all of her children are sleeping, the mother puts out the fire, takes the lid off of the cooking pot, and removes the warm water and few stones she had put in there when the children were outside playing. There was never any food in the pot or in the house for that matter, but she has learned from experience that it is the easiest way for the family to cope with days like these; days without food.

This is not only a true story, but actually a coping strategy that some of our poorest beneficiaries have shared with us. This was often their reality prior to the food assistance that WFP provides to HIV/AIDS patients in Kenya. You don’t often hear these true stories, but it is important that they are told.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 16, 2010 - He Named Names*

Yesterday, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague announced the names of six Kenyans who he is seeking to indict for committing crimes against humanity in the violent aftermath of the December 2007 national elections. He claims that they not only instigated the violence, but in some cases had been planning for it for up to a year before the election took place; this violence left approximately 1,500 people dead and over 1/2 million people homeless (some of whom are STILL homeless). In a country where the elite are known to get away with just about anything, this is a big step towards ending the impunity they are used to. The Hague judges will now have to review the prosecutor's evidence to determine if he has a case; he also mentioned that there were many others involved in orchestrating the violence but there was not enough evidence to charge them at this time.

Of the six names, only one was a surprise to anyone. In regards to the other five, I haven't spoken to any Kenyan who didn't already think they were "thugs" or "crooks" of the worst kind, and in almost all of their cases they are in the middle of investigations for other crimes (such as fraud). So while it wasn't HUGE news, it was a HUGE day for Kenya...and when we woke up this morning there were no reports of any reactive violence happening in the predicted "hot spots" following the announcement. Maybe that is also a sign that Kenya is slowly but surely growing up.

The NY Times article about yesterday's announcement can be found here.


*note: blog title references the Seinfeld episode "The Race" from Season 6, when Elaine is dating a communist.

Friday, December 10, 2010

December 10, 2010 - D-Day's coming to Kenya

I was going to write some commentary about the political situation in Kenya right now, but another Nairobi blogger did such a good job that I'll just direct you to read what she wrote here:

I'll save my brilliant insight (cough, cough) for what happens after the 15th. Things could get interesting around here...just in time for Christmas! Reminds me of when we arrived 3 years ago!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Decembe 9, 2010 - The Old Masai Way

Yesterday, I was driven to a meeting outside of town by WFP Kenya’s oldest employee, a Masai called Stephen. I have driven with him before but I have to share the following with you.

Stephen must be well into his sixties; his father who is still alive had 8 wives, of which 4 have passed away. Between his 8 wives, the children numbered 20 girls and 30 boys. This year the whole family got together including the grandchildren: they were 320 people and ate an entire cow in one sitting.

As a boy Stephen left home after his circumcision. He didn’t want to follow the tradition and kill a lion; many Masai die doing this. He went to Tanzania and got a job with a white man and many years later got a job with WFP.

Stephen was reunited with his father many years ago, but only married one wife and also has a house. The Masai don’t normally buy houses and they normally marry many wives...or at least that is how it used to be.

Stephen’s father calls him a motorcycle, meaning that if one light fails he will be driving in the dark. This analogy refers to the fact that Stephen only took one wife which his father finds foolish.

Stephen has brought his mother to his house near Nairobi where she can easily get medical attention. She is 110 years old. As I have written earlier (maybe over a year ago now) Masai give children names after what happened the year they were born. You can be named after a big drought or flood or even “English” meaning that you were born when the British came to Kenya. One of Stephen’s mother’s names is “one shilling” because she was born when the British introduced the one shilling coin.

It is days like this - driving around with someone from a culture so different from mine - that I really appreciate what I learn from living in Kenya.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7, 2010 - 32 weeks

I had an interesting doctor's appointment today. We made all the plans for my January 24th c-section, including booking the operating room, anesthesiologist and pediatrician to be there for the surgery. The surgery will be at 7:45 am so Kristoffer and I will go to the hospital the night before just like we did with Grace. We also discussed that if I go into labor any time before that day, I will just go to the hospital immediately for an emergency c-section.'s really happening! Less than 7 weeks to go now!

Rocky was measuring right on track for how "old" s/he is and was moving a lot during my exam. We've also noticed at home that Rocky is MOST active at 7:30 pm...pretty much the minute big sister is asleep s/he wants our undivided attention! We are curious to see if 7:30 - 9 pm is also Rocky's active time after s/he is born. Rocky is not breech like Grace was - his/her head is already down - but the baby hasn't "dropped" yet and I am not showing any signs of being "ready", which is also good at this stage. I have a scan in two weeks and then continue seeing my doctor every two weeks until GO time! All of these plans have made me really excited - I can finally see the light on at the end of what has felt like a very long tunnel.

Today Grace has been saying something like, "Mama go doctor for baby" and has been giving my belly a lot of attention, which are good things. BUT she has started to be a lot more clingy to me and crying for me when Kristoffer gets home from work and even a little bit during the day. A friend of ours who just had a baby said their 3-year old was the same way in the month leading up to their baby's arrival. Just all about Mama! So, hopefully it is just a natural reaction as I get bigger and she realizes something is really about to change. After all, who can blame her!?
But, also hopefully, she will love our new addition when Rocky arrives!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

December 3, 2010 - 'Tis the Season (take 2)

Normally YouTube lets me get the code to embed a video in the blog so you can just watch it from the blog without doing anything else, but something having to do with our lately-slow internet connection is preventing that from being possible. I think that now if you just click on the link below it will take you to the video of Grace's Christmas Concert performance. Sorry for the inconvenience, but I promise it will bring you two guaranteed minutes of happiness.


December 3, 2010 - 'Tis the Season

At Grace's school yesterday there was a Christmas Concert (because today is the last day of school until January 11th). Each class "performed" a Christmas song and there was a full nativity play put on by the older children (5-6 years). Grace's school - and the tuition we pay for her to go there - supports a kindergarden in one of Nairobi's slums and those children also came to perform. It was 90 minutes of pure joy and happines; the teachers and staff did such a great job with the children. I don't know if I am allowed to say it was the cutest thing EVER, but it was certainly in the top 10.

Kristoffer, Rose, Charles and I all went to the show. Grace's class, the youngest in the school, was one of the first to perform and they did a "dance" to the song "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town". She seemed totally shocked when she saw the large audience of parents and friends, even though she could do the "dance" at home when I sang the song. We had no idea she would be in costume! It was hard to get really good pictures because we didn't get there early enough for seats up front, but I think you'll get the idea from these, and you can find Grace because she is the smallest and the only girl (so the only one wearing a dress):
(the Japanese woman is the headmistress of her school
and the Kenyan woman is her teacher, Miss Mbata)

Grace also loved the bouquet of flowers we brought her to celebrate her first performance:

I am working on putting the video of the song up but our internet has not been itself the last few weeks and is currently not letting me upload the video. Keep checking back if you want to see it!

And a few more notes:
1. No need to ask - I did cry throughout a significant portion of the show. Hormonal pregnant mothers should not be allowed to attend such events! My heart just melted :)

2. After her performance Grace proceeded to fall asleep on her teacher's lap for the rest of the show. It is a lot to ask a little one to sit quietly and watch a stage for almost 90 minutes!

3. You know you are at an international school when the part of Mary in the nativity is played by an African girl and the part of Joseph is played by a Japanese boy. It was wonderful to see such diversity in the student population. We are so happy with our decision for Grace to go to this school, and we were so proud of her today!

Merry Christmas already!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

December 2, 2010 - Kitu Kidogo

Today in the car driving Grace to school Charles said to me, "Madame...I don't think corruption in Kenya will ever end." Now if that isn't a sad way to start the day, I don't know what is!

Where did his statement come from?

Yesterday Charles went to the post office for me to pick up a package from my mother. It turns out that most postal workers were on strike for the second day of trying to pressure the government to increase their wages. It also turns out that there were a few postal workers still actually working, but in order for them to do their work they were demanding bribes from customers. In Swahili, "kitu kidogo" means "a little something" and if someone asks for "kitu kidogo" they are asking for a bribe. So when Charles requested my package they told him that they couldn't get it without "kitu kidogo." He called me with an update and I confirmed that under no circumstances should he pay them anything, he could just come home and try again another day. Well, Charles had other plans.

He basically staged a protest during which he stood there for 3 hours and told them that he wasn't leaving without the package or without speaking to the very head manager. So he just stood there and waited and waited and waited. He said they couldn't believe that he wouldn't just pay them something small to find his package. Eventually they caved and decided to just make him happy so he would go away, but by the time they found out where the package was he had to leave to run two more errands for me before picking up Kristoffer from work (reminder from blogs past: once they locate your package you still have to go through several levels of bureaucracy for stamps and signatures as well as make a trip to the bank to pay duty, so it could have taken up to another hour before he could actually leave with the package).

So he at least got documentation of where the package was located so that he can easily go back today or tomorrow to pick it up. And he didn't pay "kitu kidogo." It is discouraging to live in a country where that happens at every level of society on a daily basis. After he told me that he thinks corruption will never end, I asked him if it was at least any better than it used to be? And he said that yes, in fact, there is less corruption than in the past but still too much. So I suggested that maybe it is just a very long process and with time time time it will continue to disappear. I also congratulated him for standing up against corruption yesterday (literally, for over 3 hours). We hope that it is Kenyans like him who will change the status quo.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 28, 2010 - Bedrest Book Review

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2009).
Fiction. Recommended by my friend Karen.
Karen described this book to me as, "Sort of like the movie Crash. You know, where everyone is somehow connected but you don't totally get it until the end." After reading it I would say that is a pretty fitting description. The event that centers the book happened in August of 1974 for real: a man named Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers in New York City. The rest of the story is made up of fictional characters whose lives unexpectedly connect each to the other based on what happened that day. In all but one case, I thought the author did a nice job of weaving their stories and connections together and I really enjoyed reading the book. I was surprised when the book ended (reading on a Kindle has a different effect than reading an actual book when you know how many pages are left) and as much as I liked the stories, I had a lot of questions about the characters and some of the details that I would have liked the author to include. In the end I think it was a book about how people deal with real life and with tragedy, how they carve their place in the world, how they find or do not find love. It was well-written and thoughtful and at some moments actually quite a beautiful story to read. I would definitely recommend it - would make a great book club book! If you are a New Yorker or a New York lover, the book will mean something even more to you. A tribute to the Towers and all of their power and promise when they were young in the early 70s, the book is also a reminder of how they brought the people of New York together both at the beginning and the end of their existence.


Friday, November 26, 2010

November 26, 2010 - Mama's Firsts

This week I had two "firsts" as a Mama.

On Wednesday, I went out to lunch with my friend in the middle of the day. Without Grace. For more than 2 hours. Let me say that again: I left her at home with Rose in the middle of the day so that I could do more than make a quick shopping trip to the grocery store in under an hour. Wow! She is 21 months old today and it was the first time I had ever done that. Had I gone out to lunch before? Yes! But I always brought her with me! And as much as I love my daughter, am I allowed to say how nice it was to have a lunch out without her?! Particularly after weeks of pretty much only being at home! Grace was more than happy to stay home and play with Rose and go down for her nap. Awesome.

Then yesterday, for Thanksgiving, we were invited to a dinner party that started at 5:30 pm (Grace's dinner time). Kristoffer is still in Senegal so I went alone and for the first time in Kenya since she was born, someone other than me and Kristoffer (or her grandparents) gave Grace dinner and a bath and put her to bed. I had gone through everything with Rose before and she was here twice to see our routine, and still I wrote her out a big list of what to do/when to do it/just how Grace is used to. She said, "Madam, I think we'll be fine..." and I was like, "Oh Rose, this is so not about you! This is about me!" I made a big deal of saying goodbye to Grace, thinking that she might be stressed or sad that I was leaving, and she ran to me with a big hug and just said, "Bye, bye, Mama!" and then proceeded to go find Rose. So I had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and trimmings and enjoyed celebrating with some new and old friends without worrying about Grace. And Grace ate a great dinner with Rose, asked for me only once or twice, never cried, and happily went to bed as scheduled (also happily woke up at 5 am this morning as scheduled). Awesome.

So as an addendum to my blog yesterday, I would like to add that I am so thankful for ROSE! I know that Grace is in great hands with her and last night when I came home Rose said, "Madam, I really love Grace." What more could you hope for from someone taking care of your child in your absence? I feel like we finally have a little bit more freedom than we've had since Grace was born because we finally have someone we trust here. When you don't live near your family, that is huge! At least for the next 2 months until Rocky comes along, it feels really good!

And, on three totally separate notes:
1. 400 blogs as of yesterday! Wow!
2. Happy 44th wedding anniversary to my parents! What role models you are for us all!
3. TGIF AKWBHT: thank goodness it's Friday and Kristoffer will be home tomorrow!


Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 25, 2010 - Thankful

Thanksgiving is a North American holiday, and while North Americans all over the world will go out of their way to find ways to celebrate today, the people of our host countries understandably don't get it or don't really care (note: the Pilgrims didn't exactly come to Kenya).

In many ways, this makes me sad. Kristoffer would be at work if he were even in the country (that said, he is definitely at work outside of the country) and so it is not like we would be gathered around a large table with my family or hunkered down in front of the TV to watch (or, in my case, pretend to watch) football. But in another way, because I am not caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day I am forced to really think about for what it is that I am thankful. This year, that is a pretty easy blank to fill in.

You see, I had lunch with one of my (few) good friends in Nairobi today. She is five weeks more pregnant than me and we had a nice chance to catch up with each other before she soon flies off to her home country to have her third baby. We talked about our kids and pregnancies and husbands and careers and living abroad and we let out our emotions and venting and it was wonderful - just what I needed after weeks of essentially being a social hermit. But she also told me a heartbreaking story that she had just heard which immediately put my life into perspective.

A lovely woman who used to live in Nairobi that we both know, her intimately and me casually, just had her third baby. He was delivered 7 weeks early because she has terminal cancer and her doctors want to start chemotherapy as soon as possible to give her the greatest amount of time possible. It is not the first time she has had cancer, and she found out that she was no longer in remission shortly after becoming pregnant with #3. So now she and her husband are in their home country with three children under the age of 4, and she is dying.

When my friend told me this story, we stared at each with tear-filled eyes. We were silent for a few minutes. We were devastated. And then we were both really, really grateful.

I complain about a lot of things: some scares in my pregnancy and about some hospital stays and about infections and about being on partial bed-rest and about my husband being out of the country and about being far away from my family and friends and about being exhausted and homesick and about my annoying neighbors who only talk in shouts and about all the things that drive me crazy about Kenya and about the fact that Grace wakes up way too early and about about about about. But...

I am generally healthy and Rocky, on the inside, is healthy. I am not wondering who will help my husband raise my children or if they will remember me. I am not dying. And also...I don't live in fear of violence or persecution for any reason. I don't wonder when my next meal will be or how I will manage to provide it for my family. I don't live without shelter or clothing or sanitation. I have not been a victim of a terrible disaster or war or domestic violence. I am well educated. My child is healthy and beautiful and smart and safe and loved. With a loving and supportive husband, a close family, and many wonderful friends, I am not alone in this world.

So this year I am thankful for all of my complaints, because in the big picture they are so small. In the big picture my life is so good. Today I say one prayer of thanksgiving for all that God has blessed me with and another prayer for those who have not been so fortunate.

I am, simply, thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 21, 2010 - Shoes

Today Grace put on a little show for me. She paraded out of my closet and into our living room carrying four different pairs of my shoes. After trying on and walking in each pair, she grouped them all together. Note that I didn't start this activity or help her in any way, and I can't decide if she actually knew that each pair matched her onesie in some way (pinks, red, white) or if that was just a lucky coincidence. I was able to get a picture of her in 3 of the 4 pairs of shoes before she quickly took them off. When she is a teenager I am sure she will appreciate that her love for shoes started at a very young age.

And my love for her...well, even Imelda Marcos' shoe collection is way smaller than that!


November 21, 2010 - Bedrest Book Reviews

I'm a little behind on my book reviews, but the reality is I've only read two books in the last three weeks. I've slowed down on the reading because I'm actually working on a project for a former professor of mine at Syracuse University (for which I'm being paid! Wow! That feels good!) and while Grace is at school every morning I use those hours to work....because, you know, I cannot sacrifice my afternoon nap when she is napping!

In addition to the two books that I've read below, I started two others that I haven't been able to focus on getting through. We'll see how much reading I get done this week while Kristoffer is in Senegal for 6 days.

Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins (2004)
Nonfiction. Recommended by our friend Mike here in Nairobi and my cousin Jonathan. I bought this book for Kristoffer's birthday 2 years ago and he never got around to reading it.
In this book, Perkins claims to have worked as an "economic hitman" for a private firm with strong ties to the American government and intelligence community with the purpose of persuading developing countries to borrow money from the US (all of which would be invested in US firms for the expansion of infrastructure and social services) that they would never be able to pay back without granting the US access to their most prized natural resources (i.e. oil). A controversial narrative, the story reads really well and certainly gets one thinking about what is going on in the world of global finance and international development. Perkins wrote about several world events that I didn't know that much about (both before and during my lifetime), which was interesting for me, and made many connections between events from the last several decades with extremely current events (at least up through 9/11 and the starts of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). A critical reader should be careful not to swallow everything Perkins writes as gospel, but could use the book as a jumping off point for thinking seriously about world economies and the US's role in their development. I thought it was well worth the read.

A Mercy by Toni Morrison (2009)
Fiction. Not recommended by anyone; I bought it when it was first published because I own and have read all of her other works, started it a few times, never got into it, and finally dedicated myself to reading it.
I don't know if it is enough to say that this book is "typically Morrison", but that is nevertheless my opinion. Morrison's books touch upon issues related to slavery and its aftermath, specifically for women, and this story is no different. Taking place at the end of the 17th century, the book profiles four different women and their connection to one man trying to make it as a farmer in the "new world" (America) while also dabbling in the importing of rum from the Caribbean. One of the women is his wife (an arranged marriage that brought her to Maryland from London) and the other three are their servants: a Native American woman and two distinctly different African American girls. The story describes unique elements of the slave trade, the effects of smallpox, and the significant role of religion in that time period. Without having "studied" the book too much, I liked that it offered new elements to her repertoire, such as the intersection of Native Americans and African slaves at that time. Like many of her books, it is often hard to tell in whose voice she is writing (which alternates each chapter) and requires a bit of re-reading as you go through it to understand their voices and perspectives. I can't say that I loved it - because of course it is pretty sad and heavy - but I did think she did a good job developing the characters of the four women and I didn't dislike it. I think that if you usually like her work that you should read this one too.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

November 20, 2010 - Getting Married

Our driver Charles has been with his “wife” Janet for many years now. They have two children and Janet lives with Charles’ mother and nephew in his family’s rural home in Machakos (where he visits one or two times a month and whenever he has holidays from work with us). This what is known here as “an African marriage” as they are not legally/officially married and Charles has never paid the dowry to Janet’s parents. This is, however, not Charles’ fault. Janet’s parents have been in an African marriage for 30 years now as her father never paid the dowry to her mother’s parents, and according to the tradition Charles cannot pay Janet’s dowry until his father has paid her mother’s dowry.

Something is happening now though…apparently, the father has managed to pay his wife’s dowry, which gives Charles and Janet the chance to get married. They had set a date for August 2010 and then cancelled it, and then they set it for December this year but something came in the way. Normally the dowry is paid over many, many years because, as the Kenyans say, “it is not like you are buying a goat”. The dowry is mostly courtesy and a gift to the parents to help them get over the “loss” of their daughter, as she then will live with the husbands family (in this case, even though that has been happening for years already).

Charles had spoken to Janet’s family and they agreed that he didn’t have to pay anything right away and they could just figure it out over the years. This happens more and more often in some tribes now. However, when December started to come closer the old men from Janet’s village disagreed with Janet’s parents’ decision and demanded that Charles would come and see them to negotiate with them. Apparently, they want a lot up front even though they have no direct connection with Janet.

This obviously embarrassed Janet’s parent and you can’t really get married without the blessing from the old men. Janet was furious, she told Charles that she didn’t even wanted to get married now and that they should stay together forever without the approval of the wazees (the old men). Charles remained calm but they did cancel the wedding (this was all communication over the phone as Janet’s parents live over 200 miles from Charles’ rural home, but they are the still from the same tribe), which we think was a big disappointment to Charles.

On a completely separate note, Lisa and I have been thinking for a long time that we should contribute to Janet’s education as a primary school teacher. Janet has amazing grades from high school and wants to be a teacher so badly, but for reasons I have never completely understood Charles priority has been to build a new house and do some other things before he would save up money for his wife’s two-year education. Her education will allow her to earn considerably more money than him and secure their family financially. Anyway, we really like Janet and think she is a very smart lady, and we also strongly believe that supporting women – and teachers - is the way to help developing countries the most. So, we’ve made an arrangement with Charles’ family and will now pay everything up front for Janet's education and he will pay off half of the costs in small increments, which will be deduced from his salary. Janet will start the 3rd of January and she, Charles and his mother are profoundly happy. Charles said one morning: “I don’t think she sleeps much these days” (out of excitement).

They haven’t told Janet’s parents yet and it is perfect timing. They will tell them when Janet enrolls in January and Charles is replaying the future conversation over and over in his head; he laughs out loud as he tells me how the conversation will go… something like this: “So Janet is going to be a teacher as I have enrolled her in a private teachers college.” The parents would then be sooo happy and say “REALLY, Charles! How much are you paying?” Charles shall then reply: “ONLY USD 2,000 (KES 160,000)!” He wants to tell people that he is richer than he is and will likely leave out our involvement in helping her attain her education. But that will give them a very good reason for why they are not getting married now: Janet is very busy getting an education!


Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15, 2010 - Happy Birthday, Blog!

Our blog is three years old today and to celebrate I've decided to change up its appearance. It might take a little tweaking here and there to get it just right, but otherwise maybe it is a nice surprise for you to find a new look on our page.

Wow...three years...that means we are quickly approaching the end of our third year in Kenya. We didn't know we'd be here this long...we didn't know we'd be staying even longer...we didn't know life would bring us the most Amazing Grace with her sibling on the way...there was SOOOOOOOOO much we didn't know. But three years later we are very grateful for all we've been through - the good and the challenging have taught us so much - and for the life we have.

Happy Birthday, Life in Nairobi!

Friday, November 12, 2010

November 12, 2010 - Visual Aid

Now you can see what 28 weeks pregnant with Rocky looks like. The question is:

What kind of "rock star" do you think we are having?

Is it a "Rocky Balboa" type fighter? or
Do we have a "Radio City Music Hall Rockette" kicking around in there?

You have until January 4th, when I am 36 weeks pregnant, to decide. Please vote in the poll to the left!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11, 2010 - 28 weeks (and 2 days)

For a minute when I was typing the title of this blog I wrote "38 Weeks"...because that is how I look and feel! But alas, we are just starting our third trimester now and this kid still has a lot of time left in the oven before s/he is fully cooked.

I was officially 28 weeks along on Tuesday. To celebrate, I was admitted to the hospital AGAIN. Oh, the drama. Grace had been a little bit sick over the weekend with some kind of stomach bug - probably that she picked up at school - and on Monday night the same bug attacked me. Only my immune system is not very strong and it attacked me a lot more seriously than it attacked Grace. Completely dehydrated and having serious abdominal cramps, my doctor was quite nervous that those conditions can lead to pre-term labor and so I was admitted to the hospital to get re-hydrated. Coincidentally, they found a separate bacterial infection that was just beginning as well and so I was put on antibiotics. Luckily, pre-term labor did not start and Rocky remains on the inside with a strong heartbeat the whole time. Crisis averted, again!

Poor Grace, who has to get used to her mother being absent for these medical mishaps, did great without me. Unfortunately, the symptom that overtakes her the most during any kind of change or routine-disruption is that she stops eating, which is also the one thing that her little under-weight self cannot afford to do! So she hasn't been eating well but has otherwise been great for Rose, who took her to and from school in my absence and tried very hard to feed her and played played played with her a lot. Again, if all of this had happened before Rose we would have been really stressed, but luckily I could rest easily in the hospital knowing that between Rose and Kristoffer Grace was in good hands (Kristoffer also got hit with the bug Tuesday night, but seemed to recover much more quickly).

So now I am back home, in bed, tidying up my life and trying to fight off thoughts of "What's next?" between now and the end of January. I think that given the trauma we had at the start of our pregnancy, my weeks of bronchitis and pneumonia at the end of my 1st trimester and beginning of my 2nd trimester, my 25th week scare, and these infections to kick off trimester 3...well, I just think that we should be granted a bit of smooth sailing from now on. I told the nurses on my way out, some of whom know me pretty well by now, that I refused to see them again until there was an actual baby being born!

My monthly picture at 28 weeks has not yet been taken - believe me, it would have broken the camera on Tuesday - but I'll get Kristoffer to take one tonight or tomorrow so you can see how large and in charge I am. Then perhaps we'll play a little guessing game...what kind of baby do you think is kicking around in there?!


Friday, November 5, 2010

November 5, 2010 - Rose is a Rose

So I am about to write something that anyone who has been reading this blog for the last few years would never expect me to write: I love our housekeeper. My battle against having Kenyan staff has finally come to a close as I now finally realize what many other people living abroad have discovered: if you find the right person it is amazing to have help in your home!

Since I have been forced to rest for the last few weeks, Rose has not only cleaned places that I know not one other housekeeper ever cleaned in two+ years of living in this house, but she has also earned Grace's trust and love, and brought a true sense of calm and orderliness to our home. Rose is easy to communicate with, she is genuinely concerned about what/how I'm doing and if there is anything else she can do to help me, and she clearly loves Grace. So now I really do get it! If Rose had been with us since we moved here I would have had a VERY different perception of having staff and of Kenyans who are domestic workers in general. Rose is professional and polite; she always does things the way I ask her to even if her way is different (if I even feel like I need to ask her, which is rare); we have really nice and interesting conversations. I especially love that she is always teaching Grace when they play. Whatever they are doing, she is counting or saying the alphabet, practicing days of the week or colors, and singing songs. It is truly a pleasure to have her here; since I can't be the one pushing Grace on the swing every afternoon, I am glad it is Rose.

For awhile, when I was trying to work things out with our former housekeepers, I was worried that maybe I am a crazed, neurotic (dare I say a word that rhymes with witchy) woman who doesn't want anyone else to be with my child and will never be able to trust anybody who isn't related to us. I feared, for better or worse, that the problem was really with ME and not them. But having Rose here has taught me that NO! It wasn't ME! It was THEM! They were not right for our house, our family, our child. My maternal instincts didn't trust them because they weren't trustworthy. I trust and appreciate and am comfortable with Rose in our house and with Grace because she instills and provokes those feelings and because she is the right fit for us. PHEW! What a relief to finally not be stressed in my own home. Particularly given the pregnancy drama we've had with Rocky and the fact that we have no family or extremely close friends here in Nairobi since the family across the street moved, it is just nice to feel like we have a little bit of backup should we need it.

I am so grateful that we found her when we did. Her name says it all :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4, 2010 - Counting to 10

Grace has been learning to count and whenever Rose is pushing Grace on her swing, she is counting! Her pronunciation isn't perfect, of course, but it's also not too bad. We can't figure out what she has against the number 8 - she won't say it and always does 9 two times. Still pretty cute!


November 4, 2010 - Bedrest Book Review

This week I finished one book and am slowly working my way through another. The book I read is....

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)
Fiction. Recommended by my friends Amy and Joanna, read it with my friend Victoria, and Oprah's most recent book club pick.
So...I was really disappointed in this book. I have never read Jonathan Franzen before, although he is critically acclaimed. There has been a lot of hype about his latest work of fiction and, really, I just didn't get it. I thought it was often long-winded and boring; often trying way too hard, and my overarching feeling is that the book couldn't decide what it was about, or rather Franzen couldn't decide what he wanted the book to be about: freedom, environmentalism, war politics, family dysfunction, depression, love, feminism, religion, overpopulation, capitalism, and on and on. By choosing to comment on so many issues, I felt he actually didn't tackle any of them in a meaningful way. I didn't find any of his characters to be sympathetic, and really only liked 1, maybe 2, of them even a little bit (and they were the most minor characters!). His writing is definitely intellectual and even though I don't consider myself to be anti-intellectual, I just couldn't stand it. The book is quite long and I read it quickly in two days because I just wanted it to be over so badly. I actually wouldn't recommend this book, except perhaps to people who already love Franzen because maybe they get him in a way that I don't.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3, 2010 - Andover Comes to Kenya

It is always a little strange for me when my different lives collide in any way. Last night it happened here in Kenya and was very cool.

I received an email a few weeks ago from a great guy named David who is not only from my hometown of Andover, Massachusetts but also went to Syracuse and was an intern working with me at the High School for Leadership and Public Service in 2006 and was writing to let me know that he was coming to Kenya. I'm not exactly sure that I can call him my stalker - but there are very few people (if anyone else) who have overlapped into so many of my worlds!

David came to Kenya with Bill Fahey from Andover Youth Services and his fellow musicians in the band, Grimis, to record some performances of a choir from a rural school in Kisii, Kenya; hopefully they will make a CD from their recordings and be able to sell the music to raise funds for the school. The school became connected with Andover Youth Services two years ago when another Andover woman came to volunteer at the school with her family over Thanksgiving.

So last night Kristoffer and I headed out to a big Nairobi restaurant to meet the group at the end of their trip. They had a successful and interesting visit to Kisii and checked out the Masai Mara as well. Half of the group was headed back to Boston last night but David and his bandmates (Pete and Andy) stayed over with us before heading to Mombasa today.

Bill Fahey has been the director of Andover Youth Services since 1994 and in his first summer in that position I participated in a teen camp of sorts in the summer between 8th and 9th grades. I haven't seen Bill since graduating from high school and it was really weird to see him in Nairobi last night (with his 15-year old daughter in tow)! My worlds colliding! But, again, it was very cool :) Any taste of home is greatly appreciated these days so while I sported a maternity Red Sox tshirt (thanks, Mom!) I was very happy to be surrounded by Boston accents for an hour.
Bill, me (+Rocky), and David

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 28, 2010 - Bedrest Book Review

This week I only managed to read one book, not necessarily for lack of wanting to read more, but this particular read was one that required a little more time and attention than anticipated. Note, this review is a long one.

Chosen for a "book club" that Kristoffer and I have started with each other; he is also reading it. Recommended by several friends in Nairobi.

I am not 100% a fan of Michela Wrong's style of writing; I think she often uses 20 words when she really only needs 10 and unnecessarily peppers her writing with dramatic cliches and proverbs. That aside, this was a very interesting and useful book to read and I learned a lot about the country I have lived in for almost 3 years now.

Wrong tells the story of John Githongo, a Kenyan man who, in his role as the government's anti-corruption czar beginning in 2003, uncovered an expansive corruption scheme within the government that robbed Kenyan taxpayers of over $1 billion (the scandal is known as Anglo-Leasing). The book recounts a lot of Kenyan history, much of which I didn't know, and specifically explores the roots of corruption at all levels of society. It provides an indepth look at the history of Kenya's tribalism - the good, the bad, and the very very ugly - and how corruption was more than just an extraneous factor in causing the post-election violence of 2007/2008. Wrong uses Kenya as one example to explore different opinions about what can be done to actually improve the biggest factor impeding Africa's development. She presents a balanced view of the strengths and flaws of Githongo - not ever completely glorifying him as a hero, to my surprise - and she does not hold back in describing in detail the conclusions to which his evidence pointed. It is a pretty scathing picture - true, no doubt - of the Kenyan government (past and present, equally) and the elite of Kenyan society, while also questioning the intentions and actions of the larger donor community and their actual commitment to ending corruption.

The last two chapters of the book cover the time period when we arrived in Kenya and what happened in the 2007 election. Reading this journalist's experience of our first days and weeks in the country was sort of a WOW moment for me. I can't believe we were here for that! Honestly, if I had read this book before our move, I am not sure that we would have ever made it...because those were extremely dark days for the country, and now I realize that they were much, much darker than we ever knew at the time. But, of course, John Githongo's story gives hope - not that corruption in Kenya is going to end any time soon, but that if more and more individuals stand up against corruption - regardless of the personal risk to themselves and even if only in very small ways - several generations down the line might have a chance of knowing a different Kenya.

If you are interested in learning more about "real" Kenya - not the cozy, expat, safari-on-the-weekend, easy-Africa Kenya that Kristoffer and I live in, but - the real Kenyan's Kenya, you should read this book (unless you're my mother. Then don't read it. Ever.).
*Note: almost every bookstore in Kenya refuses to sell the book out of fear of retribution from the government, so it is only sold at the UN and on the black market. That tells you something!