Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 28, 2010 - Bedrest Book Review

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


Friday, November 26, 2010

November 26, 2010 - Mama's Firsts

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 25, 2010 - Thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am, simply, thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 21, 2010 - Shoes

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

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


November 21, 2010 - Bedrest Book Reviews

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 20, 2010

November 20, 2010 - Getting Married

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 15, 2010

November 15, 2010 - Happy Birthday, Blog!

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

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

Happy Birthday, Life in Nairobi!

Friday, November 12, 2010

November 12, 2010 - Visual Aid

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 11, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friday, November 5, 2010

November 5, 2010 - Rose is a Rose

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4, 2010 - Counting to 10

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


November 4, 2010 - Bedrest Book Review

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

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


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3, 2010 - Andover Comes to Kenya

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

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

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

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

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