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!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October 26, 2010 - Car Wash

We F I N A L L Y bought a new car last week, after months of not really having a reliable car of our own. Our new Toyota Ipsum seats 7 people (a model made only in Japan; called a multi-purpose vehicle, it is a station wagon just shy of being a minivan), which will be perfect when Rocky arrives and we have visitors, and is an extremely smooth ride. We are very happy about it and Grace in particular still shouting "new car! new car!" every time she is in it.

Today she decided to help Charles wash the car with a little help from Rose too. It was so funny; they couldn't get over how seriously she was taking the job. She was following Charles around like a shadow, telling him, "wash the car, wash the car".
I guess it is never to early to start building a resume for summer employment opportunities in her teen years. Maybe she'll work at a car wash!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24, 2010 - Go Pats!

Happy Halloween! We celebrated a little bit early this year. My parents sent a package to us with a friend coming back to Kenya from the US. I say "us", but really the Halloween candy was intended for Grace. Bad Mama that I am, when she refused the first bite of a Pumpkin Peep I proceeded to devour the rest of it. Whoops!

Then today, one of the boys in Grace's class had a 2nd birthday party that was also a Halloween party. Kristoffer took Grace this afternoon dressed as the cutest Patriots' cheerleader ever. Thank you to Auntie Meghan and Joanna for supplying Grace's costume (a VERY long time ago!).
It may be a much smaller scale of Halloween at home and it might be all the celebrating we do, but our little cheerleader doesn't know that and I am glad she got the chance! She was very happy to wear her costume and told us many times: "pretty dress, pretty dress!"

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 23, 2010 - Minor Detail

I've recently received a few emails from people indicating some confusion about our life here: isn't Kristoffer's contract ending in November? aren't we moving? what is going on?

So it occurred to me that even though we've had a revised set of plans since the end of August, I never officially told the world. Sorry, world!

Kristoffer's contract at the UN World Food Programme in Kenya does end at the end of November. BUT he was offered a one-year extension to stay in Nairobi and continue his work, and a lack of other opportunities within WFP right now made us jump at the opportunity. Needless to say that it would not be convenient to be moving either to a brand new country or in with either of our families at 7+ months pregnant with a toddler in tow. So we are staying in Nairobi for now and hope that will allow for both the smoothest transition from "Family of 3" to "Family of 4" and the exploration of more and different career opportunities for Kristoffer. We are grateful that the Danish government (who for 3 years has footed our bill entirely) and WFP were able to reach a 50/50 agreement to allow us to stay for a 4th year, which is pretty unprecedented in the JPO world (JPO = Junior Professional Officer, the program that many governments have to recruit young professionals into international development organizations).

Sorry for not sharing that information sooner, and please consider this an invitation to come visit sometime in the next 13 months!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 21, 2010 - Bedrest Book Reviews

I have read three books in my first official week of taking it easy and, because I am a little bit on the bored side, I'll take advantage of my blog to write some book reviews. Don't worry, it will only last until Rocky arrives (if that long) and I'll try to keep my reviews somewhat brief. I don't have a system - 4 stars, 2 thumbs up, or anything like that - but I will be honest about what I thought of the book or what it did/didn't do for me.

Fiction. Recommended to me by one of my former students in New York City.
Takes place in Paterson, New Jersey and chronicles one family's history in the Dominican Republic under the rule of Dictator Rafael Trujillo. Different from anything else I've ever read. It gave me a lot of insight into Dominican culture, which was interesting after teaching a large population of Dominican students in New York, and also taught me a lot about Dominican history. It isn't a happy story, though. The main character, Oscar, is a tortured boy who doesn't fit the typical Dominican male stereotype of his homeland, but also doesn't fit in in Paterson either. He is overweight, has no "game" whatsoever, is obsessed with science-fiction and fantasy and writing, and is possibly the biggest romantic ever to live, all factors which conspire against him. I am sure some of the magic of this story was lost on me with a lot of Spanish in the book, a lot of slang, and a lot of cultural references that I didn't understand. To help non-Dominican or non-sci-fi-loving readers at least somewhat, the author filled the story with historical, cultural, and literary footnotes. The writing style is non-traditional, very modern, and sometimes it took me a few minutes of reading to figure out who the narrator was or what time period/setting we were in. I can't say that I loved it, but I did find it interesting and was eager to reach its conclusion.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2009)
Non-fiction. Recommended by Matt Weiss and Meghan Woo, who left the book here after their visit in the summer.
The story describes the experience of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath for an upper-middle-class Muslim-American family living in New Orleans. The blurred lines between the government's approach to addressing the city's problems while still fighting its war on terror on the home-front were news to me. It is an educational story filled with rage and fear and love and sorrow and politics and EVERYTHING. Dave Eggers, already an amazing writer, really outdid himself with this book, working with and receiving full cooperation from the family, who donate all proceeds of the book to their foundation to promote religious tolerance and help rebuild New Orleans. It is, by far, the most important piece of writing I have read in a very, very long time. It should be used in high school and college classrooms the world over to teach writing, religion, politics, and history. B-r-i-l-l-i-a-n-t.

The Alchemist by Paola Coelho (1988)
Fiction. Recommended by lots of people in the world.
This was a book I've had on my "read" list for years, but I've just never gotten around to it before now and BOY WAS I MISSING OUT. Written in 1988 by the Brazilian Coelho, the story is spiritual and religious, it is "new age" and traditional, it is magical and down-to-earth. Telling the tale of one boy's journey towards his "Personal Legend", Coelho pushes the idea that if you want to achieve or accomplish something, all the universe will conspire to help you do it. The story teaches of love and courage and free-will. It is a simple story - a fable, actually - that reminded me of The Little Prince (I know I'm not the only one...); it was also a nice reminder that something so simple could be so profound. Kristoffer read it a long time ago and when I finished it last night, we ended up having a really important discussion about it and our lives for the rest of the evening. It also made me itch a bit to get into the classroom...from the minute I finished it my brain was coming up with ideas for teaching the text to my students! What fun that would have been!

Stay tuned for next week's reviews...and happy reading of your own in the meantime! Also, if you have suggestions for what I should be reading and reviewing, please let me know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20, 2010 - Yard Work

While I was in the hospital, Kristoffer and Grace took care of some "yard" work at home. She learned the tricks of the trade while helping Hans and Farmor in Denmark and proved to be an equally useful companion for Kristoffer.
It wasn't all work and no play though! Grace enjoyed playing in her new playhouse/sandbox and on her swingset.

The two of them have become quite attached to each other in the last week. Grace no longer needs Mama to do a lot of things she used to need Mama to do, because Far does them in a much funnier way! Last night Kristoffer explained it this way: "I like to think of my sidekick!" What a pair!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 17, 2010 - Bedrest Blog

Last week ended with a little bit of baby-drama for us. In the middle of the day on Thursday I began to bleed and was admitted to the hospital for 48 hours. It was one of the scariest experiences Kristoffer and I can recall my 25th week of pregnancy, we certainly feared that the worst outcome was coming true and that we would lose Rocky. Luckily for all of us, God had other plans.

My doctor instantly found a strong heartbeat and throughout the whole ordeal the baby never stopped moving around. An ultrasound confirmed no signs of bleeding and that the baby was very active, very healthy, and was developing perfectly on schedule. So despite our worst fears, we were never losing the baby. Maybe we were just getting a BIG WARNING from Rocky and from God: "Hey Mom! SLOOOOW DOWN!"

Because there were no signs of where the bleeding came from or why it happened, and thankfully it stopped pretty quickly, my doctor and her colleagues seem to feel that perhaps the placenta started to detach just the tiniest bit, which caused the bleeding. If it had been completely detaching, then I would have felt extreme pain, instead of a few minor cramps, and it would have shown up in the ultrasound. There was no evidence of it being detached at all, so it had to have been just a tiny tear. As a precautionary measure, I was given a dose of steroids to accelerate the baby's lung development; just in case something would happen that would result in premature delivery, it gives the baby the best chance of survival on the outside.

In the last few weeks since we let our housekeeper go, I have been going non-stop doing even more than I was doing when I wasn't pregnant: all the cooking, all the laundry and cleaning, my regular shopping plus a little bit of extra "nesting" shopping, hunting for cars, having playgrounds and furniture made, visiting schools for Grace, and the usual running around after Grace. We are hoping this was just a BIG RED FLAG that I need to not be doing ANY of that for the remainder of the pregnancy to give this baby and my body some rest.

So I am home from the hospital now. Luckily on Thursday we were trying out a new housekeeper, Rose, who we liked and will now also have to be a nanny to Grace since I am supposed to be off of my feet for the long haul. So much for part-time, she'll be full time starting tomorrow. I've been given permission to do a little bit of walking around the house every 2 hours to avoid getting blood clots, and I am allowed to slowly walk up/down the stairs no more than 2 times a day. No more carrying Grace, or anything else for that matter. I will see my doctor again on Friday for a check-up and we'll go from there. I am following every direction she gives me, even though it is already boring and I feel completely useless in my own home!

I am fortunate to have the greatest husband ever. He has been doing everything since Thursday - and he and Grace have forged quite a bond, spending more time together (2 nights alone!) than ever before. It is actually very sweet to observe and to know that our family unit is strong. Grace was terrified to see me in the hospital; on her first visit it took her an hour before she would talk to me or touch me or anything. But by the time they picked me up yesterday she was comfortable in my hospital room, but very ready for Mama to come home.

As we adjust to the reality of the next few months, we appreciate all of the support and love and prayers of our friends and family. I think we will ALL be very glad come the end of January* when Rocky arrives, safe and healthy and as cute as his/her big sister!

*the decision has officially been made that I will have another c-section at the end of my pregnancy, most likely a week or 10 days before my due date. This will make ALLLLL of us feel better about avoiding any potential risks or complications bringing Rocky into the world.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13, 2010 - Monkeying Around

Grace started "Monkeynastix" two weeks ago and today was her third class. It is a 30-minute gymnastics/healthy lifestyle class for kids over the age of 1 once a week for ten weeks. "Monkeynastix" is an international program and an expat here owns a franchise that she runs in most of the international schools and in several home playgroups (with 3-4 trained Kenyan teachers on staff).

Our Tuesday morning class is supposed to have 4 kids in it: the first week there were 8 or 9 kids with 2 teachers (then they made 2 smaller classes), the second week it was 3 kids with 3 teachers, and today Grace was the only one who showed up! So she had 2 teachers all to herself for a really fun 30 minutes. I happily took some pictures while she was on the go. It was hard to capture everything she did because the whole point is for them to be moving a lot.

They start off doing stretches to music (she can do 2 of the 3 stretches by herself now) and then do a little bit of running. Each week there are then different props for activities like a trampoline, exercise ball, hula hoops, bean bags, tunnel, steps, etc. They work on jumping, rolling in different ways, throwing, balancing, etc. Grace has a special t-shirt and at the end of each class gets a sticker, which is by far her favorite part! For the rest of the day she showed me at least 50 times her sticker - she was so proud!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12, 2010 - 24

I'm 24 weeks pregnant today. Other than being completely exhausted because life is very busy these days, I am feeling well. Maybe I have a serious sciatic nerve problem on my right side and maybe everything I eat gives me indigestion. But I keep reminding myself how worthwhile these pings and pangs will be when Rocky comes into the world in only 16 more weeks (preferably 13 or 14 more weeks, I'll be honest). Rocky is kicking often; s/he seems to be more of an active night owl than a day bird, so we'll see how that translates to life on the outside. We have decided for sure on a girl's name and I did have a dream last week that Rocky is a girl (in my first baby dream, though, Rocky was a boy. And the same pattern happened when I was pregnant with Grace. Coincidence? We'll find out). A boy's name is still quite the debate in this household with no clear winner yet.

I am nesting A LOT. In addition to trying to get Grace's life and schedule settled, we've planned a vacation for the first week of November (our first week-long family trip that doesn't involve visiting our families in the US or Denmark AND my first trip to the Kenyan Coast! Mombasa, here we come!); we have had a playground built in our small backyard; we are in the process of buying a nice, spacious car that we can fit 2 children and visitors in; I have been interviewing housekeepers on the phone and in person; and, I am tidying up/organizing/re-decorating/purging everything possible. Will Rocky ever appreciate all these efforts? Probably not. But I will appreciate having a tidy life, if that is possible, when Rocky arrives.

Here's what 24 weeks looks like...and, yes, I am sure that there is only ONE Rocky in there.

Friday, October 8, 2010

October 8, 2010 - Day 3

Grace did great on Wednesday, day 2 of going to pre-school. She went right to her teacher in the morning to play and didn't notice that I slipped out. When I picked her up she was extremely happy and the teacher said had a great day.

Today, I suspected we might be in for a different story - but it didn't go the way I thought. Grace has not been on a good nap schedule this week and is still waking up too early in the morning (between 5 and 5:30). She used to go back to sleep for awhile, and even did so on Tuesday morning until 6:45!!! But since then she won't go back to sleep so she is pretty tired in the mornings. This morning was no exception and she was yawning as we got to her classroom. Today was the first day she didn't want me to leave and was saying "No more school". When her teacher distracted her with play-doh I slipped out of the room and hoped for the best. As Kristoffer says, some days he doesn't want to go to work either so it is to be expected.

I arrived to pick her up at 12:15 - my first day not going in to her classroom to get her but meeting her outside with the rest of the kids. Out parades the littlest class in the school following behind Miss, two, three, four, five, six little boys...but no Grace! Seeing the look of panic on my face, her teacher quickly told me "She's asleep in the classroom!" Apparently Grace was so exhausted that about 15 minutes before lunch was to be served, she lay herself down and fell asleep on the classroom rug. Oh, sweet thing. I had anticipated some crying and expected a tantrum today...but an actual nap? Didn't see that coming.

Her teacher said that is common for the little ones in the first couple of weeks of school. I am sure it would help if we could get her to sleep later in the mornings and take a nap at the same time every day (as opposed to her current hodge podge schedule of napping whenever she just completely wipes out). Any suggestions on making this work would be appreciated!

Miss Mbata said Grace did cry a little when she realized I had left this morning, but was easily and happily distracted by the books from "library day" and picked out a special book to bring home (which, of course, was one of her favorites that we already have!). She said she had a lot of fun before passing at least she didn't go to sleep because she was so miserable.

Kristoffer is headed to "Parent Day" at school this afternoon. Kids aren't allowed to go so Grace and I will hang out at home while Far checks out her school and meets her teacher for the first time. I saw a sneak peek of some artwork that she did for the occasion...I don't think anything is cuter than kids at this age!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October 6, 2010 - "Life" Meets "Lees"

About a year ago, I noticed that there was another blogger following my blog. She was an American woman who has lived all over the world and had just moved to Nairobi with her husband, who is with the Foreign Service, and her two sons. She was reading my blog to learn about life in Nairobi, and I began reading her blog to learn more from a more experienced expat mom. One of the great things about reading Lees on the Go is that I often hear a voice who understands what I am going through and can identify with some of the harder-for-others-to-understand aspects of living in Nairobi. Trust me, there have been days when my sanity has been very grateful to have her blog to read.

So here we have been, living separately in the same world and reading about each other's lives, but not "actually" knowing each other. Until yesterday, that is! As Grace and I were waiting to buy some bread at the bakery, I got a little tap on my shoulder and there was my blogger friend standing in front of me! It was lovely to chat for awhile, and she even had her camera with her to take a picture (see the above link). It was one of the nicest surprises I've had while shopping in Nairobi and it really made my day :)


Monday, October 4, 2010

October 4, 2010 - First Day

Our morning started out kind of rough, I will admit. Grace woke up at 5 am and didn't ever completely go back to sleep, so that she was pretty whiny and grumpy between 7 and 8. Oh boy. Then she normally has a messy diaper right after eating breakfast, but today it never happened. I waited and waited and waited to bring her to school - still nothing. So finally I decided to pack her up and leave and she seemed pretty happy...
...only to discover that our rental car's battery was dead! HA! I couldn't make this up if I tried. So we waited to get jumped by a neighbor and made it to school just in the nick of time (although really in her class the time doesn't matter all that much).

When we got to school Grace seemed tentative. She was acting shy with her teacher until a little boy brought over a book about puppies. She squealed, "Doggies!" and never looked back.
Yes, I took pictures. I am sure I wasn't supposed to and I certainly didn't ask permission to, but this first-time-mom-who-has-never-left-my-child-with-anyone-but-her-grandparents-for-more-than-one-hour needed to.

I hid in the back of the classroom for 45 minutes and watched Grace play. She liked the slide and was happy to play with the boys as they raced cars and trucks and trains down the slide as well.
When morning play time was over, the teachers sang a little song about "tidying up" and all of the children put the toys away. Grace was a very good listener and cleaned up just what the teacher told her to. I got a kick out of when she started to reorganize the bookshelf as well! Then there was another song about picking up your chair and putting it on the carpet. All of the little boys grabbed a chair and made a line in front of the teacher. When Grace saw what they were doing she tried as well, but she is a bit smaller than the others and couldn't quite get it there on her own. With a little help, she found a good spot and was extremely attentive to the songs the teacher sang. The boys were doing hand motions, but Grace was just taking it all in.
Then it was storytime. The planets must have been aligned for us today because the morning's story was one of Grace's all time favorites, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, and she actually jumped out of her seat when the teacher started the story. The little boy next to her told her she had to sit down and she did, and as I snuck out of the room I could see that she was completely enthralled.
Of course when I left our rental car battery was dead again and we had to wait for another jump. I spent my hours away from Grace dealing with getting the owner of the car to come with a mechanic to replace the battery! When I picked Grace up a couple of hours later, the principal told me that during horse riding and "music and movement" Grace was not interested in participating but carefully watched the activities. She said that she didn't cry at all and followed directions very well. She was just finishing up eating her lunch when the teacher asked me to come in; I watched Grace washing her own hands at the little sink and using her own wash-cloth to dry her hands. When she saw me I got a HUGE smile and running hug and "Mama!" Her teacher said she was completely impressed; Grace is the only one in the class who didn't cry at all on her first day (you show those boys, Grace!). She said she didn't eat her snack but ate a good lunch and was very happy all morning.

Wow! I guess a mom couldn't hope for a better report than that. I thought she might fall asleep in the car, but it really took an hour of winding down at home before she was ready for her nap.

Congratulations to me for not crying this morning (maybe the car drama helped); I really feel so proud of Grace for having a good morning and it is really nice to have confirmation that we made the right decision.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

October 3, 2010 - 'Twas the Night Before School Starts...

That's right. Grace starts "preschool" tomorrow morning. She is enrolled in a kindergarten that is 5 minutes from our house (after much research, our pick was also the closest to home!) and will be the youngest student in the school. Grace will spend three mornings a week in a class with six boys between 18 months and 2 1/2 years old. There are two teachers in the class and when we visited two times she seemed to like them and their classroom.

Our decision to enroll Grace so early comes from our desire for her to be exposed to more and to socialize more than our life in Nairobi has allowed so far. As her Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule is now she will get to do horse riding, music and movement, physical education and have library time in addition to regular play time outside and her classroom "theme" activities (this term the theme is "farm animals"). It is a Christian school so she'll also get some "Christian Education", where they talk about love and forgiveness and patience and respect through Bible stories and songs. We know many other expats - UN staff specifically - who send their children to this kindergarten and are very happy with it.

This has been a very difficult decision for me to come to terms with, even though I know that it is truly the right thing to do so that Grace is challenged and learns to play/share with other children. I can definitely feel that she has moments of boredom at home alone with me now and I hope this will help her develop even more (note: we are also having a small playground built in our teeny-tiny garden this week so that she can be outside more when we are at home). The educator in me knows this is the right thing for Grace, but the mama in me is sad that my baby is starting to leave the nest already! We also strongly believe that it will help Grace's adjustment to having a sibling if she has a bit of her own "schedule" and routine before Rocky's arrival. And, it will give me some scheduled time alone with Rocky which I am sure we will both appreciate when the time comes. But again, as I was packing Grace's bag for school last night, I was sobbing!

So her school bag is packed and hanging by the front door...
and this might be our little girl now, at the ripe old age of 19+ months...
(sporting new "special occasion" pajamas for the night before school!)

...but all is I can see when I look at her is this tiny little baby who I absolutely never want to let go.

There is no doubt in my mind that Grace will have a great day at "school" tomorrow, and I certainly hope for that. I, on the other hand, might need a stiff drink...scratch that, a pint of Ben and Jerry's, to wait out the three hours until I can pick her up again!

I promise to report on how we both do...

p.s. Happy happy birthday to my mom (yesterday) and Kristoffer's dad (today) and our niece Nikoline (also today)! Nikoline is the big 1-0 today - we hope you had a great time turning double digits!