Saturday, January 30, 2010

January 30, 2010 - Jealousy

This past week Grace has experienced severe jealousy for the first time. We met with our play group two times and during both occasions I happened to pick up a couple of crying babies when their mom's were eating or in the bathroom. This did not go over well with Grace. Each time, she was playing by herself when she noticed that I was holding another baby. She dropped what she was doing, started crying with the saddest little face you've ever seen, and furiously wailed her way over to me at super-crawling-speed. At one point today I was even holding her and another crying baby at the same time. I am hoping that, like every other phase, this too shall pass.

Today Grace specifically liked crawling after some older siblings who were playing together...and here she watched them playing with play-dough for the first time. She preferred to throw the cookie-cutters around to actually playing with the dough (unlike her friend, Hayley, who was trying to eat it!).

We've known this group for about 9 months and it is really nice to see the babies interacting with each other now. We had a lot of fun today, and Grace was so exhausted that she fell asleep in the car on the way home while eating a carrot.

Oh, to be a baby.

Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29, 2010 - Cultural Differences

Since living in Kenya I have learned about and observed all kinds of cultural norms that are very different from my own, and, of course, I do believe that cultural differences should be appreciated whenever possible. Some things about Kenya that initially seemed strange to me have become "normal" and some aspects of this culture I even like. BUT there are many cultural differences that are impossible for me to accept in any way, let alone appreciate them.

I'm specifically referring to the treatment of girls and women in many Kenyan tribes. Yesterday there was an article in the paper about a 4-year-old girl who has already been "sold" (for 10 cows) for sex and marriage to a 27-year-old warrior from the Samburu tribe in a part of Kenya where Kristoffer was just visiting this week. A child right's activist who learned of this story has taken her into a group home, but there are many, many other children facing the same situation. The girl was scheduled for circumcision before her marriage (known as female genital mutilation - FMG - in the development world) and was given a beaded necklace to wear by the warrior (called a "moran" in Samburu), which marks her as his wife until he is able to pay her bride-price. If he were to pay her father the 10 cows tomorrow, they would be married and he would be able to have sex with her immediately.

The article goes on to describe that due to this cultural practice, there are many girls as young as 12-years-old who get pregnant, and many of them die during pregnancy or childbirth (along with their babies) because their bodies are not ready to give birth. November to January is considered to the be the "high season" for FGM and early-marriage, and so activists trying to rescue these young girls are very busy at this time, often at a great risk to their personal security.

It makes me really, really sick to know that practices such as FGM and early-marriage happen every day in Kenya and other parts of the world as well; just as sickening is that people believe these practices are good/meaningful/beneficial traditions that should continue. It is hard enough to deal with everyday gender bias (for example, because I am woman - and a Mzungu woman at that - Charles gets very upset if I know how to get somewhere in Nairobi that he doesn't know), but to say in any way at all, "let's chalk up FGM and early-marriage to just another cultural difference" is something I will never do. It is wrong to treat any human being like a piece of property and particularly for the pleasure/amusement/power of another person. I don't know how it will happen or when it will happen, but I do hope such practices are abandoned forever. I support and commend those individuals actively working to stop such injustices in Kenya.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

January 27, 2010 - Summer Days

Whether she is hiding under our bed...
...or blowing bubbles...
...or pointing at EVERYTHING...
...or saying hello to the dog across the street...
...or clapping for herself...
...or hoarding water bottles...
...or trying to get an out-of-reach iPod...
...Grace is surely enjoying these Nairobi summer days.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22, 2010 - Yay! Clapping!

Yesterday Grace started clapping! Even though that was something I've been "working on" for months, she finally decided that she was interested in doing it. She is a conservative clapper, though; she does not dole out applause liberally and, I would guess, will not be one of these people who gives a standing ovation to just ANY performance. She seems to enjoy clapping for herself the most. No self-confidence issues over here so far. She is doing G-R-E-A-T on her new schedule and we are working on sign language right now (I'm a little slow, but better late than never). She can do the sign for "milk" and definitely understands the sign for "water", even though she isn't doing that one yet. "Eat", "Please" and "Thank you" are the ones I'm tackling next. It is never too early to work on manners!

These are some cute shots from this week:

Bath's nice to air out in the evening.
Grace definitely thinks that one of the funniest things ever is watching Kristoffer do yoga. She gets REALLY close to him when he is doing it - like she wants to somehow be doing it too.
Per usual...

This week Grace also learned that there is a new baby in town (and by "town" I mean: back in Massachusetts) because Joanna, Dave & Will welcomed baby Fintan last weekend (congratulations!). In lieu of being able to meet Fintan just yet, Grace cozied up to another newbie: Baby Naia, who is our friend Rachael's 6-week old little girl:

Adorable, teeny-tiny newborn meets
adorable, not-s0-teeny-tiny (nearly) 11 month old!

Life is good - cheers for the weekend!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19, 2010 - Getting Big

Yesterday Grace had three firsts.

The first first was standing up in her crib. Yikes! I'm glad we did her hardcore sleep training (remember, 3 hours of crying in the middle of the night last week?) before she could stand up in her crib or else it might have gone a lot worse. Kristoffer said to me this morning, "she is standing up in her crib...she looks so tall!" It's true: this little baby of ours is slowly but surely becoming a little girl.

Another very "little girl" thing Grace did yesterday was have her first temper tantrum in the grocery store. The long and the short of it is that Grace was in the shopping cart and started taking apart a package of mushrooms that apparently she wanted to eat right then. When I took them away from her (assuming that she prefers her mushrooms cooked and knowing that they needed to be washed) and hid the package under some other groceries, she started furiously pointing behind her to where I hid the mushrooms and SCREAMING. A guy buying bananas nearby yelled down the aisle, "I think she wants those!" Yeah...I got that, thanks. I tried to distract her with other items in the cart that she couldn't tear open, but to no avail. She did stop crying eventually, but remained grumpy until we got home. I showed her the package of mushrooms, took one out, washed it, and gave it to her to eat. She smiled this crazy smile as if to say, "See Mom...if you had done that an hour ago all of this could have been avoided." She took one big bite out of the mushroom and promptly spit it out. Bite two, spit it out. Bite three, spit it out. No more bites. In addition to her first tantrum, I think Grace also had her first "I hate it when my mother is right" moment.

My friend Jen's theory is that all public temper tantrums start in the grocery store and in that moment yesterday, I had a flash back to the summer of 2004 when Kristoffer and I babysat my brother's kids for a week while he and his wife were celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. We were doing a little grocery shopping one day and my oldest nephew, Matthew (age 6 at the time, almost age 13 now!), had a serious temper tantrum about a kind of cereal he wanted that we wouldn't buy him. The end result was that Kristoffer carried him sideways out of the grocery store screaming at the top of his lungs, if I recall correctly, that he hated me. Knowing that yesterday with Grace was only the start of many future temper tantrums to come, I fondly remembered the days of 8 short months ago when she would sleep in her car seat for 2 hours and I could go to the store, do all of my shopping, stop for a croissant and tea break before coming home, unload all of the groceries and check my email before she woke up.
Those days are LONG gone. She is definitely getting big.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

January 17, 2010 - Help for Haiti

There are no words to appropriately or sufficiently describe the situation in Haiti right now, and goodness knows there is enough media out there trying anyway. Besides crying at every word I read and every image I see, there are only two things that I know how to do for Haiti: the first is to pray and the second is to lend whatever financial support I can muster.

If you haven't donated to a charitable organization of your choice yet and you are looking for an organization through which you can make a donation, please consider the World Food Programme:

WFP is the largest humanitarian organization in the world and is among the top agencies on providing emergency disaster relief. No amount is too small. Donate once if you can, and please keep praying.


Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15, 2010 - Housebound

This week Grace and I have been housebound.

At first it was self-imposed. I have been training her to eat and sleep on a very specific schedule, and I didn't want to start making exceptions to the schedule until she had it down. I can happily report that she is making great strides in both the eating and the sleeping departments. We have eliminated all night-time feedings, understanding that Grace's desire to nurse back to sleep when she wakes up during the night is more related to comfort than hunger. The first two nights she cried for a few hours during the night (Kristoffer was responsible for periodic soothing, while not picking her up), the third night she slept almost 9 hours straight without making a peep (Hallelujah!) and last night she cried two times but easily went back to sleep went Kristoffer went in to say goodnight. This is wonder-progress as far as I am concerned. I have been forcing her to nap at specific times and she almost doesn't cry for that anymore either. This week I have gotten more sleep than I have gotten since she was born, without a doubt.

In the feeding department, she is nursing less and at more specific intervals and she is sitting at the table 5 times a day for small meals (at 9, 11, 1, 3:45, and 6). There will usually be 1 or 2 "meals" a day where she doesn't eat that much, but I think her body is adjusting to the schedule and if I tally up how much she is eating overall, it is definitely more than before this new schedule. So overall I am REALLY happy, even though it has been an exhausting week to coordinate. I skipped book club and we skipped playgroup (which is really poorly timed, now that she has an official "nap time"), but I think they were good sacrifices to make.

Yesterday, though, I was ready to get out of the house and had some grocery shopping that I really needed to do. Unfortunately, our car has been with the mechanic for 3 days - Wednesday, Thursday and still today! - and so Grace and I are still housebound, but no longer by choice! When Charles took the car to the mechanic he didn't take the carseat out, so I couldn't bring her anywhere in a cab even I wanted to. Luckily, our friends lent me their driver and car this morning so I could go to the store to buy some necessities: bread and diapers! If the car is not back in time to get Kristoffer from work today, I will be one very unhappy mama!

So what have we been doing in the meantime? Well, Grace is up to all kinds of new tricks.

She has done some helpful "new year" cleaning in her room.
She has eaten many apples, which is no surprise given that for at least 6 months of my pregnancy I ate up to 6 apples a day. What's funny is that since Kristoffer gave her an apple to eat like an adult last weekend, as opposed to cut up in baby-sized pieces, she almost refuses to eat apples any other way.
She drank out of a non-sippy cup by herself for the first time! She has always preferred regular cups to sippy cups, but this time she just grabbed it and started drinking without any help. It was just lucky that the camera was nearby.
And, as usual, she has been reading. At any given moment in our house you are likely to find Grace in one of the two following scenes:
If she does not turn out to be a librarian, author or illustrator...I will be surprised!

Grace has been trying to climb things a lot more lately, especially stairs. She pulled herself up to standing using our coffee table for the first time this week too. She wants to "walk" all the time and always knows exactly where she wants to go: across the street to visit her favorite creature on Earth, Tsavo (the golden retriever). It is so sweet how much she loves Tsavo; every morning after breakfast she is dying to walk over and visit him. When she hears him barking at any time of the day, she echoes by saying, "woof woof". It is not unrequited love either; Tsavo gets all excited and pants when he sees her coming and hears her babbling, giggling and squeals of delight. Finally, Grace started to say "bye" yesterday. She said it to my mom a few times when we were getting off of skype, then she said it to our neighbors last night after an evening visit to see Tsavo, and this morning she was sitting up in our bed waving to the door and saying "bye". Sometimes it sounds like "bah", sometimes it is very clearly "bye", and it is almost always accompanied by a wave. Is it very cute? Oh yeah.

I am also happy to report that Grace is finally growing some hair in the back. It is light for sure, but you can actually see it now!

It is not so fun to be stuck at home for a week but if I have to be housebound,
she's not the worst (and is possibly the cutest) company to be in.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

January 10, 2010 - Wagon Walking

For the first time tonight Grace walked by herself using her Brio wagon that she got from Farmor and Hans for Christmas. She did it a number of times (even on skype so Farmor and Hans could see!) and, as you can see below, was very proud of herself for giving her elephant a ride.

Ok, ok...we are proud too, but just realized that we are even closer to that really big day when she can do it by herself withOUT the wagon. Proud? Yes! Ready for Grace to be an actual pedestrian? Not yet!


Friday, January 8, 2010

January 8, 2010 - Suspicion

Yesterday Grace and I went swimming at the private school with our neighbors and afterwards we met Kristoffer at the UN for lunch. While we were driving from the school to the UN, a very strange thing happened.

We were stopped at an intersection behind about 5 cars and there were 2 cars behind us. A woman was walking on the side of the road and approached our car. The passenger window was partially down and she started to speak to Charles in Swahili. She greeted him and he said, "sema", which means "tell me" or "speak". Then she said something, he replied, she gave him a dirty look and said something else and then continued to walk. Then this:

Lisa: Ehat was that all about?
Charles: She asked me for a lift, but I don't even know her.
Lisa: That's strange.
Charles: Yes, that is very strange.

Note that the woman didn't ask any other car for a ride and when I looked back after we drove away she was getting into a matatu.

At lunch I told Kristoffer what happened and we agreed that now we have an actual reason for thinking that Charles is giving people rides in our car. I mean, why else would a Kenyan approach a random UN car and ask for a ride?

When we sat down to dinner last night, Kristoffer opened our conversation with: "Well, Charles is definitely up to something." Apparently when he picked Kristoffer up from work Charles told Kristoffer about the incident. Kristoffer pretended I hadn't told him and Charles said something like, "I didn't even know her so I don't know why she was asking me." Kristoffer said he sounded like someone who got caught and was trying to get out of it.

When we were in Denmark we ordered a GPS tracking device for our car that will allow us to use Google maps to see where the vehicle is at all times. Kirsten and Hans will bring it in February and we will be eager to determine if our suspicions are true. Of course, I reminded Kristoffer that Charles might only be driving people along his exact route from our house to the UN...but soon we will be able to see for ourselves. And then again, if we confirm our suspicions, what should we do about it anyway?

Oh, Kenya. You never cease to amaze me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

January 7, 2010 - Stampede

A horrible tragedy happened on Monday, when an elephant stampeded an American family and killed the wife/mother and 1-year-old baby. The woman and her husband work at the International School of Kenya, which is the school where I was offered a job when we moved here. The surviving husband/father is actually the teacher of the boy across the street who I tutor. The family was on a walking safari with a guide outside of their lodge near Mt. Kenya and apparently it was raining so the elephant didn't hear them approaching. I heard that they turned a corner and scared the elephant, who charged. We have done similar walking safaris on the Masai Mara and near Lake Naivasha, actually. The news has devastated the international community in Nairobi and even made world headlines. It is a sad way to start the new year and a reminder that when you are on safari you are not actually watching National Geographic even though it might seem that way. There are dangers and accidents do happen. As Kristoffer said at lunch today: guess we won't be doing that again!


Monday, January 4, 2010

January 4, 2010 - A Kenyan Homecoming

We had such a wonderful visit to Denmark and were blessed to have a very easy and pleasant trip back to Kenya. Grace was the perfect traveler: from 3:15 am when we woke up to 9:15 pm when our luggage came out of the baggage claim, she didn't cry at all. Maybe 3 or 4 whines, but no crying! She crawled around the plane, waving to other passengers and speaking her favorite words: dook-a-dook-a-dook-a-dook. She has learned to pop her own ears without any help from us or without nursing so she was literally an angel on take off and landing. Grace even took a 2 1/2 hour nap during the day, which is rare for her under even the best of circumstances. I actually watched a movie and was THRILLED when the KLM flight attendants walked around offering an afternoon snack of chocolate ice cream! Have you ever heard of such a delightful airline surprise? When we arrived in Nairobi, Charles was waiting to pick us up with our car and there was no traffic getting home. It was all just perfect.


We got home and couldn't open our front door. It turns out that Jonipher, our housekeeper who had come this past Friday to clean the house before our arrival, had left a key in the front door inside the house so we couldn't open it from the outside. And we didn't have a back door key with us. Sheesh! She insisted on the phone that we had left the key in the front door, but that is impossible since we locked the front door from the outside when we left. Of course it was a mistake that anyone could make and we really weren't mad, just SOOO tired and wanted to go to sleep so it was unusually bad timing! Luckily we have nice neighbor-friends who let us come in to use the bathroom and sit down. We were in our house by 10:45 pm which wasn't too bad; luckily Jonipher doesn't live too far away.

We learned from Charles on our drive home last night that all of the matatus in Kenya are on strike for the next 3 days. The traffic police apparently make them pay exorbitant bribes which causes them to increase passenger fares. As a result, the countrywide strike started last night and matatu drivers are hoping the government will intervene with the traffic police on their behalf. When we were out this morning it was totally weird to be driving around Nairobi with no matatus. It almost didn't feel like Nairobi at all. We saw scores of Kenyans walking, walking, walking without "public transportation". It would take Jonipher a couple hours to walk to our house this morning so I called her to find out how/if she would come to work. This is how our conversation went at 8:30 (she is due to work at 9):

Lisa: Jonipher, are you going to be able to come to work today?
Jonipher: Well I am waiting for a matatu now.
Lisa: But isn't there a strike? I don't think any matatus will come.
Jonipher: Exactly.

I imagine if I didn't call her she just wouldn't have showed up. Instead, I sent Charles to pick her up. Then Grace and I ran off to do some errands. First we went to the bank to pick up new ATM cards. Ours expired in December and they don't mail you a new card, you have to get it at the bank. At the bank I waited for the specific "ATM card" woman. She keeps all the new cards alphabetized in a file box. She quickly found Kristoffer's card but searched and searched for mine. Our conversation went like this:

Lisa: Shouldn't my card be right after my husband's card if they are alphabetized?
ATM Lady: No.
Lisa: Why not?
ATM Lady: Because your name doesn't start with K.
Lisa: Oh. You alphabetize by first name, not last?
ATM Lady: Yes.

And where did my ATM card turn up? Under the letter M because they didn't print my first name on the ATM card and it just says "M Welsien". I told her that I want a new card with my first name on it and this caused a bit of confusion. She told me that I just got a new card and it is good until 2014. Why would I want another one? At that question a movie popped into my head of me at the grocery store. It is the only place that takes an ATM card as a debit card here and I often pay for groceries with my card. When you pay with the card you have to show ID and I could picture the confusion on the checkout guy's face when my ATM card says "M Welsien" and my ID says "Lisa M Welsien". The movie in my mind showed me going home without my groceries so I insisted on a new ATM card, which will take 2-4 weeks to issue.

On to the grocery store we went, where Grace napped as I shopped. When we came out of the mall, Charles pulled out of his parking spot to drive up and pick us up. I watched him try to get around a double-parked vehicle and accidentally reverse into a huge concrete beam in the parking garage. Whoops! Luckily there was no damage to the car except for a loose reflector on our bumper, but he was SOOOO embarrassed that he almost couldn't talk. He quickly said "sorry" and looked the other way, completely blushing. I think an American or European would have laughed it off and made a joke, but he was serious and upset. I felt bad for him I started asking him questions about his family as a distraction. That seemed to ease the tension until we got home. Then he was still so flustered that he dropped a bag of groceries, cracking 2 glass bottles of ginger ale and he knocked over 2 clothes racks of drying clothes in the driveway. The poor guy is mortified and hiding out in the staff rooms at the back of our house.

Grace is up to her usual tricks, namely playing with/reading her books and crawling like a super hero. She seems happy to be back in her house with all of her new toys from Christmas. She is also up to some new tricks: she crawls for the stairs a lot (it's like she knows that we can't seem to fix the gate and that it is the one place we really don't want her to go!), crawled under our bed and got stuck there, and discovered that my closet is full of shoes. We are getting back to our regular life. Every now and then Grace looks around as if she can't find something. I think it is actually someone she is looking for. Is it Farmor? Hans? Or Far? Or all three! Poor baby has to get used to it just being the two of us again!

We have only been in the country for 18 hours, but they certainly have been eventful. That was quite the Kenyan homecoming.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

January 2, 2010 - Ringing in the New Year

Happy New Year!

Before going to a New Year's Eve party Grace and her father both caught up on some work on their respective laptops.
We went to a party with our close friends in Copenhagen and Grace thoroughly enjoyed the decorations. When not chasing balloons around the living room, she was eagerly trying to eat confetti.

Last family photo of 2009! Grace was obviously picking her nose.
Of course this little light was a small celebration compared to the loud fireworks outside (which amazingly did not wake Grace up!). This was my 4th New Year's Eve in Denmark and I do think it is the only place to be for real fireworks on New Year's Eve!
On New Year's Day before heading back to Varde we stopped to visit Tina, Thomas, Anton and their new baby. He has not yet been named so we are calling him "#7" right now (Kirsten and Hans' 7th grandchild). We hope his mom doesn't mind us posting this beautiful picture of the newest baby in our family.

Today is our last day in Denmark and we celebrated by going to the beach! This is a very Danish thing to do and I have never been to Denmark - in any season! - without going to the beach so I would have been really sad if we didn't do it. Granted we didn't stay out that long because it was SOOOO cold, but it was wonderful to breathe in that fresh, Danish sea air before heading south of the equator tomorrow morning.

You'll notice all 4 of Grace's teeth and how much fun she had playing with the ice cream menu while we ate lunch at a cafe.

Cheers to a wonderful holiday trip, to the new 2010, and to an easy trip back to Nairobi tomorrow.