Monday, August 30, 2010

August 30, 2010 - A Kikuyu, a Luo, a Borana and a Mzungu

Sometimes a WFP vehicle has a good mixture of culture and diversity. On my last trip to Garissa we stopped in Kamba land (Kenyan tribe located between Nairobi and the Coast) for lunch and received some odd looks from the other guests at the restaurant and people on the street. It was then that I realized what a strange mix the four of us were. A guy from Western Province, a guy from Central Province, a guy from Northern Kenya and then me, the Mzungu.

We picked up our security escort two hours before Garissa and the landscape changed significantly. Trees were reduced to bushes, houses to huts, and grass to sand. Camels and goats, the most drought resistant animals, where now seen in increasing numbers. The ride was quite smooth and the security concerns I remember having two years ago were gone. It is safe here as long as we travel with a security escort. It is normally the UN vehicle that can be a target, a highly valued commodity, which I actually like too. Not fancy at all, but it seems to have been built for this terrain.

This was the first time since my very first field trip with WFP that I would go back to Garissa, which I wrote a blog about over two years ago. This time around I was facilitating a workshop with a senior staff from the Ministry of Education, a person with whom, I must say, I have established a good working relationship over the years. And we made a good pair, a young guy from WFP and a senior representative from the Ministry. It was a one-day workshop and then we used the opportunity to stay around Garissa district to monitor something called mobile schools. It is a fairly new concept, which our School Meals Programme has yet to fully embrace. That was the plan.

The workshop went fine: 13 districts were represented and the Provincial Educational Officer, so we were talking to the people in charge of education in the whole region.

The following days we were carrying out an assessment on mobile schools. The question was whether WFP should target mobile school under the School Meals Programme.

The School Meals Programme has been operational in Garissa district for more than two decades, during which time it has successfully increased school enrolment and stabilized attendance. Currently the enrolment is approximately 30 percent in Garissa, which shows that 70 percent of school-going aged children are not enrolled in school.

The rural communities in Garissa district are nomadic. They move to find water and pasture for their animals. The nature of this living pattern makes it virtually impossible for the children to enrol in school. The mobile school concept was introduced in Garissa in 2006 with support from the Ministry of Education and Unicef. The idea of the mobile school is to target nomadic communities by allowing one teacher to live and move with the community while teaching children from the Early Childhood Development Centre (from age 3-5) to Standard (class) three. After Standard three the children can then transition to a nearby boarding school. In 2006 the first mobile schools were established in Kenya and over the last two years many more have been established. Some schools are currently receiving school meals through a mother school while others operate without direct food support.

This mission was very different from other monitor missions I have been on. Normally we go to schools and never really meet the communities. As the mobile schools are operating in the community we went really far out this time. All the communities we visited were virtually illiterate. I remember one visit very clearly. We were trying to establish why these communities are interested in having a mobile school: after all these years why do they now want to learn how to read and write? There are many reasons for this, one of which is that this community has had someone within the locality who went to school and is now doing very, very well many years later. Anyway, so we are at this school talking to the oldest man, I think, in the community. See a picture of him further down. He has a six-year old son who has attended classes at the mobile school. Through translation (he doesn’t speak Kiswahili or English) he told us about drought, animals, water scarcity and education. We are unclear whether any teaching has been going on so we ask the son to write numbers 1-10 in the sand. The son does that. We ask him to write his name in the sand. He spells O S MA (N) and after the A I say “Osman” and the farther watching closely can see that we could say his son’s name by reading what he wrote in the sand. We smiled and clapped, well done, well done. I tell you, I have never seen a father so proud of his son. The father didn’t say anything but you could just tell how proud his was. It was an amazing experience. GO educationJ

We came to another mobile school, or so we thought. The community must have left just a few days earlier. There where clear signs of a school and a community living there and it was obvious why they had left. The water pan next to the school had dried up. They had moved in search of a new water point and so we could not find them.

A water pan is not a lake, a spring or a river it is a lower area where water is collected when it rains.

So Kenya is changing…in every corner….slowly by slowly. The people we met were very interesting. They wanted education. “We want a permanent school,” said some adult community members, who were also attending classes at night (at the mobile school).

And, by the way, WFP probably can't provide school meals to mobile schools at this time, because there is not sufficient food storage or accountability for the food, but we do hope that some new systems can be devised to change this in the future.

The school teacher and his tent.

Osman's father.
The mobile school.

One of the ways children learn to read and write.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

August 29, 2010 - Weekend Fun

This weekend Grace has had great fun. On Friday evening, her cousins Nikoline and Josefine came to visit, so on Friday morning she and Farmor had to bake some cupcakes to get ready. Farmor says that Grace is the youngest baker she has had helping her in the kitchen and that she actually IS helpful and doesn't make the work more difficult! I say, at least she looks the part!
After dinner with the girls on Friday Grace tried out the running bicycle that Farmor and Hans have (something like this) with Nikoline.
Don't forget your helmet!
Yesterday we visited a small zoo nearby. It was the perfect combination of "petting zoo" with small domestic animals along with some wild animals from far away. We several African friends, and some new faces too. Grace really liked to walk around and to feed carrots to many animals, like the ponies.
This morning, before going to the swimming hall with Farmor and the girls, Grace had fun playing dress up with lots of jewelry. Despite the subliminal messages Far gives her in her sleep, I think she is going to be a girly-girl!
It is so fun to have cousins to play with!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August 26, 2010 - Turning 18 (Months)!

Since Grace was very small, one of the nicknames Kristoffer and I use for her - mostly to each other - is "the baby babe".
What did the baby babe do today?
Is the baby babe asleep?
Have you seen the baby babe playing?
It's time for the baby babe's bath!

It occurred to me last week, as I watched her do so many little girl things, that our baby babe isn't really a baby babe anymore and we might need to start calling her "the girly girl", because she is really a little girl now. I'm sure I've said this many times in the last 18 months, but she is at the cutest age right now. Everyday she can say and do so many new things. It is a joy to: see the world through her eyes as her curiousity leads to new discovery upon new discovery, feel every emotion as she feels them newly or experiments with them, and explore language and meaning as she tries to say - often with great success! - new words in both English and Danish. She is eating well (yes! our Grace!), sleeping well and is just so much fun that, not for the first time, I would love to freeze time and hold on to her just like this for as long as possible. But I realize that before I know it my daughter will be writing her own blog about turning 30 and giving me a crisis of a whole new kind!

In the meantime, here are some of Grace's most recent moments that we have enjoyed so much.
Grace, you have given us the best 18 months full of
joy and pride and love.
Happy Half Birthday to you, baby babe!
(If you'll let us, I think we'll keep the nickname for just a little longer...)


Monday, August 23, 2010

August 23, 2010 - Grace's Sing-a-Long

One of Grace's new favorite things to do is to sit with Farmor and go through an old Danish songbook with Farmor singing all the songs to her. Yesterday morning she wanted to do this after she ate breakfast, but the rest of us were still eating. We encouraged her to sit down and go through the book by herself. This video is the last minute or so of what was a very long concert because she literally sang us the entire book, page by page.

For non-Danish speakers, when Grace gets to the end of the book she says, "Slut!" (pronounced "sloot" in English) which means "Finished!" It was the first time that I have heard her say it without being prompted.

Do you think she could be the next American...or Danish...or East African Idol!?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

August 22, 2010 - R.I.P.

On Friday the 13th, I laid my 20s to rest...begrudgingly.

I have had a lot of people remind me that 30 is still young and to just get over it. But it is hard to get over when I vividly remember for so many years (those "teen" years, you know) legitimately thinking that 30 WAS, in fact, quite old! It never occurred to me that my mother was 36 when I was born and that I still don't consider her to be that old (you know what I mean, right Mom?).

But when I turned 20 and my brother turned 30 (we share a birthday separated by 10 years), because I have considered him to be my peer since I was about 2 years old, I thought, "Poor guy. He's 30!" And I'm sorry to say that it did make me feel a lot better this year to think, "Well at least I'm not 40!" (seriously, Mark, no offense...***)

The truth is that I am very happy with "where I am" in my life at this age and have nothing to complain about, but I also really, really, really loved my 20s. I had academic, professional and personal successes beyond what I ever imagined and, despite a few medical bumps along the road*, think that my 20s will be a hard decade to beat. But of course I have to beat it because I am way too young to have already lived the best decade of my life, right?!

*If you add up all of those medical bumps my body's actual age might be something closer to 82, which should give me a much bigger complex than the little old number 30!

Ok, ok, ok...enough of my 30-year-crisis. Despite my unwillingness to age, I was celebrated very well by family and friends in Denmark and ended up having a lovely birthday.

To start with my husband bought me a reminder that he doesn't think my life is over yet.
Then when we were on Als (the Danish island where Kristoffer was born), Johannes and Marianne got me my first "kage mand" (cake man) to celebrate my birthday with them.
Back in Varde, Kirsten and Hans also got me a second "kage mand" to celebrate my birthday!
Watch out fire department, there were even 30 lit candles on my cake!
The Danish flag was hanging in their garden (not really blowing that day) in my honor...
...and Grace led her own little parade to celebrate her Mama.
The table was laid in fine china...
...and many foods that I love were served...including my biggest pregnancy craving:
McDonald's chicken nuggets!
We may be the first people ever to eat McDonald's chicken nuggets on fine china.
It was an incredible meal and both Rocky and I were very satisfied!
Then Kristoffer and I were off to Bornholm for Morten and Elsebeth's wedding.
They kicked off their weekend by presenting with me with my third and fourth "kage kvinder" (cake women). I was so honored that they celebrated me during their big weekend and was reminded that Kristoffer's best friends, over the years, have become my friends too.
Kristoffer has assured me that no Dane has ever gotten FOUR "kage mand" (can you believe it?!) for his or her birthday and that I should feel very special to have accomplished a new record for my new decade.

So thank you to my Danish family who celebrated me and also to my family and friends at home who sent cards and gifts and emails...nobody seemed to get the message that I didn't
want to turn 30 but, since I had to do it, thank you for making me feel so special!


***To be fair to my brother, Mark is a very young, very cool 40 and still manages a pretty good jump shot when playing ball with his soon-to-be-33-year-old-brother-in-law:

Saturday, August 21, 2010

August 21, 2010 - Faces and Places (take 2)

Since I last blogged about our trip to Denmark, we had even more vistors and also ventured away from Varde (where Kirsten and Hans live) to visit family and friends in other places. Grace, as usual, did very well through all of the disruptions in her routine and we enjoyed seeing a lot of family and some good friends too.

Martin and Grace blew bubbles in the garden.
Kirsten and Hans hosted a lovely lunch with Oldemor, Gert, Kitte, Marianne and also Martin and Simone (not pictured).
Grace tried to get used to her cousin Mads (son of Kristoffer's cousin Aja), but when I was feeding him a bottle she made it very clear that she was not happy about it. Here she is giving him her most sinister look!
But later that day she realized he wasn't too much of a threat given that he seemed like to bubbles as much as she does.
We went Flemsburg, Germany to celebrate the wedding/we had a baby/we built a house/Tommy is 40! for Hans' son Tommy and his wife Mirja. Leander also just turned 1 this past week.
Marianne, Martin and Simone reminded everyone at the party that "All You Need is Love"!
And we got to see Tina, Thomas and baby Louis too!
The happy couple and their "first dance"!
After partying all night long we went to stay with Farfar and Marianne in Nordborg for a few days. Grace liked the view from up high!
She also really liked to feed the ducks by Farfar's house with Far, Farfar and Marianne.
Then we went to Tandslet for a few days with Rasmus, Jytte, Nikoline and Josefine. Grace and I taught the girls and their friend Emma how to play "wonderball"!
And the girls enjoyed a photoshoot with Kristoffer...
while Uncle Rasmus was chasing Grace around the garden!
She loved that game, but eventually took a rest to blow bubbles with Josefine.
Finally, Kristoffer and I dropped Grace back in Varde with Farmor and Hans headed off by ourselves to Bornholm, a Danish island on the other side of Sweden, to celebrate the wedding of our dear friends Morten & Elsebeth. It was the first time we spent a weekend away from Grace and it turns that we had a great time without her and she had a great time without us!

Here, Kristoffer is giving some marital advice to the groom.
They made a beautiful bride and handsome groom on the beach; we enjoyed celebrating with old and new friends and were so happy to be here for their special day.
Tillykke, Morten og Elsebeth!

Then, just like that, two weeks went by and Kristoffer headed back to Nairobi this past Monday without us. Grace and I are having a good time (good time = restful for me and playful for her!) with Farmor and Hans. We miss him and will be happy to see him in a couple more weeks when he comes back for us. In the meantime we are enjoying Danish life. I wonder what other faces and places we will explore while we are here?!