Friday, June 18, 2010

June 18, 2010 - Baby, It's COLD Outside

In a post that is likely to surprise you, I would like to report that we are VERY COLD in Nairobi right now! Our "winter" season isn't really supposed to start until July , but the cold has come a few weeks early and, for some reason, has caught us completely by surprised. Perhaps it's because we just came from nice, warm Boston or perhaps we have lived here so long that our blood is now thinner and, thus, more sensitive to slight drops in temperature. I don't know why it is...but I do know that I'm wearing layers. How cold is it, you ask? Well...I would say high 50s F/14 C in the morning and evening, but even during the day it hasn't been getting too warm. No higher than low 60s F. BRRRRR! Who could tell that we are Danes and New England-Americans!?!

Good thing Grace has a wonderfully warm sweater that Oldemor (her great-grandmother) made her to keep her warm!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June 16, 2010 - We'll Always Have Nairobi

One of the more difficult parts of being an expat is not only dealing with our own transient lifestyle, but also the transient lifestyle of the people we know. Most people are only "stationed" here for 3 years, on average, and given that we have now been here for 2 1/2 years, we are starting to know a lot of people who are packing up and moving on. Although a little strange to know such a fluid population, this isn't so much a problem when it is "acquaintances" who leave. Nobody we have been very close has left before...until today. The family across the street moved back to the US today and it almost goes without saying that this severely rocks our world.

Over the last two years that we have lived in our house, Jen (the wife/mom/professor/UN consultant) has probably become my closest friend in Nairobi. She was around through my whole pregnancy with Grace, was among the first people to meet Grace, and has been a big presence in Grace's entire life. She knows all the details that most people don't know about our life here (nope, not even you!). Her son Ben was my "pupil" when I tutored him all throughout the school year, and together we built a lot of trust that allowed him to really make academic progress. Mae is Kristoffer and Grace's best playmate in Kenya; she was with Grace when she sat up by herself for the first time and has spent countless hours playing, playing, playing at our house. Tsavo has inspired Grace's sincere love of dogs and "Tsavo" is probably the word Grace says the most everyday. next to "Mama". Almost every afternoon around 4 pm, you could find the group of us watching Mae's tae kwon do lesson (she is a black belt now!), or playing basketball in their driveway, or watching Grace and Tsavo fight over Grace's sunhat. Sam and Kristoffer, more often working during the week than playing in the driveway, also formed a friendship and most weekends would end with our two families sitting on our couch, eating pizza, and watching American Idol.

It has been the kind of family-friendship that you dream of: neighbors with an unlocked door, who will take the baby for a few minutes here or there if you need to get something done, who always have plenty of eggs and sugar and flour to borrow, who will jumpstart your car, and who celebrate birthdays in the family with great joy. It is certainly not the kind of friendship that either of us expected we would find here, of all places, which is why we had such a tearful goodbye today and why I am so, so sad that our dear family-friends are gone. It is one thing to explain our life to our family and friends at home, but it is quite another to have people close by who just "get it" and all the little quirks that we go through on a daily basis because they live through them too. I am so grateful for two years of increasingly special memories with this special American family and wish them all the best in their next adventure.

We know we will see them again at some time and in some place, but in the meantime...I guess we'll always have Nairobi.


Monday, June 14, 2010

June 14, 2010 - Big Week for Jikos

“Jiko” means “stove” in Kiswahili and it was one of the first words I learned in Kiswahili.

For WFP’s School Meals Programme (formerly School Feeding Programme) stoves are a big issue because they are needed to cook food with firewood. WFP provides food to the schools but there is no provision for firewood so the parents have to cover this cost of firewood themselves. The cost of firewood as gone up, especially since the government has acted on illegal logging. Nairobi schools spend up to $500 per month on firewood, which is an indirect and very high cost of sending children to school. Schools cook on the traditional three-stone open fire stove, which basically is three big stones and a large cooking pot on top and of course a fire underneath. There are 20,000 schools in Kenya and most of them use this method for cooking, which doesn’t really help Kenya’s problem with deforestation either.

Fortunately high quality institutional stoves are available in Kenya. They save between 40-70% of firewood, have a chimney that directs all smoke out of the kitchen and they are highly popular among schools but are also very expensive; between approximately 1,500 to 3,300 USD depending on the size. I visited a Nairobi school last week, which could report a 400% savings in firewood since they received the new 600L stove through the WFP stove programme. The 600 liter jiko can cook for the school’s 2,000 children. The school signed up for our programme and received the stove at no up front cost. Next month they will make their first of six payments, which will account for 50% of the cost of the stove. The school knows that the money it repays will not go back to WFP but will finance a stove for another school, that will then have to pay 50% and so on.

We designed this project** and the schools in Nairobi have really embraced it. It has actually been a big part of my job for the last year. On top of other things I am responsible for at work, this is the cream of the crop. In March 2010 we received USD 1 million for this project. We are now taking the project to the rural schools and it will be interesting to see if the rural schools are willing to share 50% of the cost. I am going to Masai land this coming week to meet with 80 head teachers and try to get their “buy in” for the programme. Wish me good luck.


**Publisher's Note: "We designed this project" should really be "I mostly designed this project" because it is Kristoffer's "baby". It is a project that has incredibly positive environmental impacts for Kenya and is the first of its kind being done within WFP (worldwide). Kristoffer may not like to brag himself because he is Danish, but I am happy to brag about him because I am American! ~LMW

Also a Note from Grace: Tillykke med fodselsdagen til Farmor! Jeg elsker dig!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 12, 2010 - Cold Turkey

Surgeon General's Warning: this blog is about breastfeeding, which I know is of very little interest to most people who pass through this blog looking for updates on our life and would fall into the category of TMI [too much information] for many readers too. I am mostly documenting it here for my sake and for Grace's sake someday in the future, so I am not the least bit offended if you choose to say goodbye for now and check back another day for a less intimate blog about how our housekeeper may or may not be stealing from us.

When I was pregnant with Grace, it was my sincere desire to breastfeed my baby when he or she was born and also my sincere hope that I would like breastfeeding. This was before knowing anything about the actual baby, who wonderfully turned out to be Grace, or knowing anything about actual breastfeeding. I had read a list of things you should and shouldn't do to help breastfeeding go well and, while I had heard a few positive "breastfeeding was easy" stories, most of the stories I had heard were full of challenges and tears and mastitis and stress and dislike so I went into the whole experience with two things: high hopes and low expectations. I didn't want to have my heart too broken if it didn't work out well for us so I set two small goals for myself and hoped hoped hoped to reach them both: I will breastfeed the baby within an hour of giving birth (because I had read that is the best thing to do) and I will breastfeed the baby for three months, just three months, please let us get to three months.

And then Grace was born. I was lying under the lights praying praying praying when we heard "It's a girl!" and they swept away my blue baby (how did that cord get around her neck anyway?!) to be cleared out and cleaned up and weighed and bathed and swaddled and proudly planted in an incubator clinging to her Far's finger. I saw her sweet little face, I declared her beautiful name, I said "I love you", and then she was gone and I didn't see her for two more hours while I went through the rest of the surgery and pretend-yelled in the recovery room, "Where's my baby? I want to see my baby! I have to feed my baby!" So my first goal was not even close to accomplished which made me nervous about the reality of my second goal.

When Grace and I were finally reunited, she latched on instantly and could suckle very well. The problem was that I didn't have any colostrum or milk yet. So days went by with me drinking lots of hot liquids (tea and hot chocolate are believed, in Kenya at least, to help bring your milk), and Grace happily latching on to me but not actually getting anything to eat. I was worried that she would starve, but was reminded that she came out pretty full from all the good stuff she had on the inside and that she didn't need to eat that much just yet; and at one point the nurses gave her a thimble or two of formula that sustained her until things started working from my end.

Three full days after she was born, my increasing fears were assuaged when my milk finally came in and I could nurse her. Then it turned out that I was one of the lucky ones, for which I am still extremely grateful. Grace was a clock-like pro, eating pretty much every two hours on the dot. My anesthesiologist (surprisingly) spent five minutes giving me some "try this" tips for nursing, which was very helpful and the only professional advice I got. I had a small amount of discomfort that is expected when you start nursing but was never in actual pain, never got mastitis, never had a problem. I was equally thrilled and surprised because I had really expected a much more difficult experience and actually my three month goal came and went quite easily. Soon the next goal was to nurse her exclusively for six months and then reevaluate, which also went by with a breeze. Particularly for our travel-inclined lifestyle, nursing was perfect for several long flights in Grace's early life. It seemed that Grace could be comforted through any fussiness or discomfort by breastfeeding, which was truly a relief to all three of us (and probably hundreds of other people on various international flights).

When Grace started eating solid foods a few days shy of six months, we were happy to have reached the World Health Organization's recommendation for nursing and Grace naturally started to nurse a little bit less often, although still many times a day. I read in a few different books that breastfeeding for as long as possible is especially good for future-vegetarians and we decided to continue. Soon we were at nine months and then a year: it was still easy, it was still "working" and Grace showed no indication of wanting to stop. It is hard to say what role breastfeeding has played in Grace's inability to gain the normal amount of weight since she was six months old. Both doctors we have seen indicate that some babies just loving breastfeeding so much that they aren't that interested in solid foods, which could very well be the case with Grace. At thirteen months I stopped nursing her during the day - which she was not happy about - and kept it up only first thing in the morning and before bed (admittedly, this rule was broken during air travel and sickness). This didn't produce any big changes in her solid food consumption though, and as our trip in Boston came to an end the doctor we met with said, "You've gotta stop nursing her now. Cold Turkey. It will be a week of pure hell, but eventually she will be hungry enough to eat and drink other things." For the last several months, however, it was obvious that nursing was definitely more for ritual and comfort than actual nourishment because I had a pretty low supply of milk for such a growing girl, so who knows about how hungry she was even then. But I knew the doctor was right and so last Friday morning I nursed Grace for the last time. Fifteen months and nine days after she was born, I stopped breastfeeding. Not bad for a mom who was hoping to get to make it to three months, even if I didn't start in her first hour of life.

For three days leading up to our grand finale, I had been telling her all kinds of things to prepare her for the event because, if you have spent any amount of time with Grace you know that, she understands absolutely everything you say (or very nearly that). So I started telling her these things:
  • You are a big girl now, Grace. Soon you have to drink other milk because Mama almost doesn't have any more milk.
  • Mama's milk is almost gone now, Grace. In two more days you can't have any more of Mama's milk.
  • Grace, after tomorrow Mama won't have any more milk.
  • Tomorrow morning is your last time to have Mama's milk because you are a big girl now.
You probably think I sounded crazy, but she definitely understood what I was saying. The night before our last feeding she was really, really sad and wouldn't go to bed easily with her usual routine. I cried a little bit the two days leading up to this event because to physically feed a child for nine months inside your body and then fifteen months out in the real world...was an enormous and emotional commitment! But the day we ended I was in a good place and was happy about the decision and, frankly, my upcoming freedom.

The next few days were a little bit of a roller coaster with brief morning and evening temper tantrums when she would scream "Ma-Moo! Ma-Moo! Ma-Moo!" while making her sign for "milk" repeatedly. She hit me, threw my glasses, and tried to bite me, which provoked a few more tears (from me); but, ultimately going "cold turkey" was not nearly as hellish as anticipated and I am proud of Grace for mostly being over the whole thing by now. She seems to only ask for "Ma-Moo!" every couple of days and, while she is not drinking any other kind of milk yet, we hope that will come with a little more time.

I have been asked if I regret having nursed her for so long; perhaps after reading this you can predict that my answer is no, because since breastfeeding worked for us it was the healthiest way to start her life and, while it is still not the norm to nurse for so long in the US, throughout the rest of the world it is completely mainstream. The only thing I regret is not having introduced a bottle of breast milk to Grace at the appropriate 6-10 week marker because I think that would have given me a bit more freedom, involved Kristoffer in her early days a bit more, and would have made transitioning to other liquids much easier down the line, particularly when she wasn't gaining weight and we wanted to give her formula (which she never ended up taking). So that lesson has been learned for whenever it is that we are blessed with another baby, but I am proud of what I have been able to give our daughter and of the bond we have because of it. Who knows if a future baby will even be as good at or interested in breastfeeding; I am sure that it will be a whole new ball game when the time comes. I'll know what I'm doing, of course, but I think I'll stick to my two initial goals and go from there. It seemed to work pretty well this time around.

To begin with, there was lot I didn't know about breastfeeding, including my own feelings on the topic, and I could not have predicted how much we would both love it and what a big part of our lives it would become. To end with, even though I nursed her for a long time it seems impossible to me that that part of Grace's life is over.

Grace, you are a sweet, sweet girl and I love you very much.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

June 9, 2010 - Trot Trot to Boston (and back again)

One week ago we arrived back in Kenya after three wonderful weeks away (all of them in the US for me and Grace, two of them in France for Kristoffer before he joined us). It has been a very busy month for us so please pardon my longest absence from blogging! Sadly, I was also not the best picture-taker on this trip, missing out on catching Grace in some wonderful moments with our loved ones...but I've been realizing that sometimes it is more important to just live in and enjoy the moment than to worry too much about photographing it for the future. Apologies to anyone who was left out of our photos; please know that it is not a reflection of how much we love you...and trust me, family and friends, we love you a lot!

Grace changed a lot during this trip. She went from being a crawler who could walk, to a walker who occasionally still crawls. She began "performing" in front of other people: dancing in circles, screaming and "singing", playing hide-and-seek, and many other fun acts. She started using even more words AND she even started eating better towards the end of our trip! Now can she put two and occasionally three words together to say, for exampe, "More cheese" or "No more cheese". Usually she puts "bye bye" with names she can say or "no", so we are hearing a lot of "bye bye balls, bye bye Elmo, bye bye Tsavo" and "No, no Tsavo! No, no Mama! No, no door!" Finally, Grace met and I should say fell in love with ELMO when we were in the US. It is a sweet love affair that travelled all the way back to Kenya with us. But lets go back to the beginning of trip...

It was a long trip to get to Boston initially. Kristoffer travelled with us as far as Amsterdam (an 8 hour overnight flight from Nairobi) and was with us for 1/2 of our 9-hour layover before flying to France. Then Grace and I got caught up in a bit of volcanic ash drama and were stuck on our plane with the doors closed for an extra three hours before the flight was cleared to take off, which made 11.5 hours alone with her on the second plane. We both did as well as could be expected under the circumstances, but Grace did have some pretty fussy moments (who could blame her?!) and I did have a near meltdown when a nice woman said to me, "You're doing great, honey. Only 7 hours to go!" Door to door from our house to my parents house was 32 hours of travel. But we survived!

And when we arrived in Boston, Nene and Pops were there to very happily pick us up and we spent our first day at Auntie Meghan's house with Auntie Meghan, Uncle Tim, Michael, Sean, Molly and Baby Nora - who we were very excited to meet for the first time! They even had a little belated-birthday party for Grace and she was excited to get more legos and a baby doll among other gifts.

In our first week, Grace enjoyed some quality time with Auntie Meghan, Nene and Pops...
Grace's friend Brady and his daddy, Mark (my friend from college), came over one day to play at the beach. It was really nice to visit and we are hoping that next time the little ones will be even more interactive!

Then we travelled to New York City to visit with Bibi and Jen and Mrs. Duffy and for Grace to meet my friends! Grace walked around a bit of Central Park on her first visit to NYC.
Several of my former students, who are seniors in college or newly-post-grads, came to meet us in Central Park, along with an old friend from graduate school and a friend I used to teach with. It was a great way to enjoy the only good weather we had while in New York.
Grace also got to spend a lot of time at Bibi's apartment playing with her new puzzle and all of Bibi's beanie babies. Bibi threw a nice party for many of my friends to come and meet Grace for the first time. I have to say, Grace's new personality emerged during this visit. Suddenly she became a little star, standing in the middle of a circle of people and dancing and laughing and running around. It was so funny!
After our great (albeit quick) trip to NYC, we stopped in Connecticut to visit with Brooke and Dave and their new puppy Callie! Grace thought that the big new pillow in Brooke's living room was pretty awesome...
...but then realized that it was Callie's bed for napping! Have you ever seen such a cute puppy?!
It was nice to take a picture together with our two babies :)
Back in Boston, we got to spend time with Grace's Godfather (my cousin) Reid. And throughout our trip home Grace became pretty close to her nearly-life-sized Simba lion. Coincidence? I think not.
Grace visited Chuck E. Cheese for the first time for her cousin Sean's 7th birthday. She did pretty well considering it was the loudest, brightest place she has ever been in her life. No breakdowns until Chuck E. Cheese himself approached her to say hello at which point she yelled in his face, "No no!"
Another big part of our trip was to get Grace checked out at Children's Hospital and to get some more answers regarding her continued lack of weight gain. We met with a wonderful doctor who quickly gained my trust and assured me that while she is small Grace is healthy. She did want to do some more tests before we left for Kenya, so Grace underwent an endoscopy a few days before our departure. Kristoffer and I were nervous to put her under general anesthesia, but we also felt it was the best place to do it and that we really needed some answers. Grace was an amazing trooper and recovered well from the procedure with lots of balloons from Auntie Meghan and an Elmo balloon from her Far.
The good news is that Grace's endoscopy showed that she does not have celiac disease or any parasite or any other digestive disorder which is causing her to not gain weight. In the end, the doctor called Grace a "diva" and said we just have to keep trying to get her to take in more calories. She even prescribed a medication to make her REALLY hungry before meals. Finally, she said it was time to cut Grace off from breastfeeding because that might also have been holding her back from eating enough solid foods. We noticed before leaving the US that Grace was starting to eat better already and even now back in Kenya she is doing great without the medication. She is not nursing anymore (and that's the subject for another blog altogether) and is finally over her jet-lag so all seems to be pretty well in Grace's world. I am going to stop having her weighed for a few months to give us a little break from the stress. Now that we know she is perfectly healthy, albeit still underweight, we will just keep doing our best and know that she will be just fine.

But back to our trip...following Grace's hospital adventure, Kristoffer went to his first Red Sox game at Fenway Park with my Dad (bummer they lost!) and then we had a fabulous final weekend with all of my immediate family. We had not all been together since Grace, Kevin and Nora joined the Mueller gang so it was long overdue and really fun.

Grace and Nora enjoyed swinging together...
...Kristoffer enjoyed playing basketball with his brothers-in-law and my cousins... parents enjoyed all seven of their grandchildren...
...and we all had a wonderful weekend together. It is times like these that I am reminded of how wonderful it is to have a large, loving family. Even though we don't see each other that often, when we do it is sure to be a good time!

Thank you to everyone who went out of your way to see us in Plymouth or NYC, and there are quite a few of you I know, and thank you to my parents especially for making three wonderful weeks at home for us.