Friday, September 30, 2011

September 30, 2011 - Unusual Allergy and other stories

Two weeks ago Charles was sick with a cough and some wheezing when he breathed.  We sent him to a doctor at a clinic that he likes to go to, who apparently said that Charles was allergic to the cold.

Me: "I'm sorry, you're allergic to coal?"

Charles: "He says I am allergic to the COLD.  He gave me three medicines to take and I have to go back to see him next week.  If I am not better I have to get a chest x-ray to see if I have asthma."

Allergic to the cold.  Chest x-ray to diagnose asthma.  These are things I've never heard of before.  It is hard to know whether that is what the doctor really said, or just what Charles heard.  Honestly.

Charles' cough stopped right away and he said he was feeling better, although not quite acting like himself. He went to the doctor last week who told him that he was better but not completely fine, and he should take one more week of medication, get a chest x-ray because he might have a serious condition of asthma, and then come back.  I have to admit, in these situations with Charles I have to try really hard to keep a straight face.  Further conversation revealed that he is really afraid of having asthma. I don't know where the fear came from or if he even knows what asthma is!  I tried to explain to him the things I know about asthma and how it is diagnosed ("Maybe it is different in Kenya but in our country asthma is not usually diagnosed with a chest x-ray."), and that I'm sure that's not it because he is already so much better since taking the cough medicine.

But still, he was really worried and went for the chest x-ray, which revealed that he has pneumonitis (which is some inflammation in his lungs, but is not actual pneumonia).  The story gets murky after that because he told me that the doctor said he needed two weeks of (very expensive) antibiotics.  After discussing it with Kristoffer, I told him that we thought that was extreme considering that his symptoms were gone.  I said one week of antibiotics is something we would consider, but that we were not going to buy two weeks of antibiotics for a not-that-serious condition.  Then he came back and said, "Actually, the doctor said one more week of cough medicine and THEN a week of antibiotics," which of course makes absolutely no sense.  I told him, "Let's just see how you are next week."

Please don't think I'm just really mean - Kenyans and Kenyan doctors are known for over-medicating.  They believe antibiotics will cure everything when, as we learned when I was very sick and was incorrectly given antibiotics in the ER, that is not the case.

So this week.  Charles tells me that he has pains in his chest when he breathes.  

Me: "Do you want to go back to the doctor so he can check you out and see if it is related to the pneumonitis."

Charles:  "Yes. I think it's because you didn't buy me that other medicine."

He then goes back to that quack doctor who supposedly tells him, "if you still have pains tomorrow come back and I'll know exactly what medicines to give you".  Note that for some reason the doctor didn't charge him for the visit and that what he supposedly said makes absolutely no sense (Kristoffer wonders if Charles was really taking care of "other business" during working hours with our car). Charles goes the next day and is given one week of (very expensive) antibiotics and one week of painkillers.  

This bizarre medical drama coupled with the collapse of Charles' stove business, means Charles is sort of in the dog house of our minds right now.  That stove story goes like this:

Charles told me, the same day as going to the doctor, that he had given his nephew, Steve, a lot of cash (about $150) to take to the bank to deposit for the purchase of more stoves to sell.  This money came from the other stoves he sold (which we bought we our "seed" money).  He said he was very excited to purchase more stoves.   

A few hours later he tells me: "I haven't heard from Steve and can't get in touch with him.  I hope everything is OK."

Then yesterday he tells Kristoffer that Steve was robbed of all of that cash and his cell phone when he was on his way to deposit the money at the bank.


We think there are 2 possible scenarios here.

Scenario A:  It is a true story, and a terrible coincidence.

Scenario B: It is not a true story.

Sadly, we are leaning towards Scenario B.  We suspect - as Kristoffer started to suspect a few weeks ago, actually - that Charles used his stove funds to help his mother pay for the land she wanted to buy with the money from the tree that that other guy chopped down, or for some other non-stove-related reason.  We also suspect that Charles wants us to reimburse him that money to continue his stove business, which we will absolutely not do.  It was his responsibility to save (and/or guard) the money and reinvest it into the business; regardless of how that money is now gone, we are not a bottomless well.

Last night we were really sad about it, because it was a fantastic opportunity for him and his family and we really wanted it to work out for them.  But they'll have to find another way now. 

I'm hoping next week is a better week for us with Charles.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 28, 2011 - Dadaab

Two weeks ago I went to the Dadaab Refugee Camp on the border of Somalia. The Dadaab Refugee camp is the largest in the world, with more than 450,000 refugees. From May to July this year we experienced the most extreme influx of refugees to date: up to about 1,400 new arrivals per day. A few years ago I remember colleagues raising their eyebrows when we reached 200 per day.

During my recent trip I spent three days there and although it is still an emergency situation of course, everything seems calmer now, and things are under control with about 400 refugees per day and the numbers seem to be coming down.

I think this was my fourth time to Dadaab Camp since it is not a part of my usual responsibilities. But I am responsible for climate change activities in WFP Kenya and over the years have specialized in energy-saving stoves, which I know a lot about now.

A few months ago we received some seed funding (less than USD 100,000) and I decided to run a larger pilot for a new type of energy-saving stove in the camp. The stoves use firewood but reduce the consumption by around 50% and provide for more complete combustion, which means a cleaner air for the cook. For the last 20 years a mud stove production in the refugee camps has provided good quality stoves to the refugees. The stove technology has improved immensely over the last 10 years and it is time to try to introduce a new type of stove; not everyone agrees with me on this, but I have fought for it and due to the famine emergency and the lack of stoves in the camp, there is now willingness to accept new stoves.

We plan to purchase and distribute about 6,000 stoves over the next few months. Acceptance by the Somali ladies is key; they might choose to sell the stoves or not use them because they are something completely new to them. Luckily I have found a great NGO to extensively train all of the beneficiaries on how to use the stoves and understand their benefits. If we succeed we will have taken a big leap in the right direction.

We have more funding if the pilot proves itself successful so wish me luck.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

September 27, 2011 - Hummingbird

Wangari Maathai died on Sunday.  She was a true hero in Kenya and around the world - an environmentalist and passionate advocate for women's rights, who faced many personal hardships fighting for both causes and won a Nobel Peace Prize.  You can read more about her here or, even better, you can read her autobiography, Unbowed.  

This video gives us just a small glimpse of the person she was - 
it is well worth the two minutes it takes to watch the whole thing:
She was a hummingbird, and she can rest now.

Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 2011 - 50 lbs of "Home"

On Friday we received a 50 lb box from my parents in the US.  I had requested some "groceries" and they bought them at BJ's (a wholesale warehouse where everything comes in bulk), so everything was huge!  We got:
  • 2 1/2 lb box of Cheerios (a few years ago we could find them here, but they were not plain cheerios and were very sweet)
  • 4 boxes of various size ziplock bags
  • 2 large jars of Welch's Concord Grape Jelly (have never seen grape jelly outside of the US)
  • 2 large jars (that's 5 lbs!) of JIF peanut butter (of course we can get PB, and sometimes even Skippy PB, but never JIF...and I wanted it to go with the grape jelly!)
  • 24 boxes of Kraft Mac 'n Cheese (sometimes we can get it here, but it is almost $5 a box)
  • 4 different kinds of Gerber baby snacks
  • 3 bags of mini-marshmallows (there is a type of marshmallow here, but they're disgusting)
  • 5 lb bag of Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chips
  • 1 enormous bag of Chex Mix (like almost 3 lbs)
  • 4 lb box of Goldfish
Additionally, they threw in a few extra treats:
  • 10 sleeves of Oreo cookies (we can get them here sometimes, but they are not produced in the US and have a funny taste)
  • 2 bags of Swedish Fish
  • 2 bags of Halloween candy corn
  • 2 bags of Dark Chocolate Flipz (that's chocolate covered pretzels)
  • Halloween presents for the kids: a new Dora DVD and stickers; a Halloween onesie and teething book
It was a joy to open this box with Grace; she kept saying, "This is for me!" and wanted the Cheerios and marshmallows right away.  I planned to take a picture of everything unpacked, but then we just started eating and I never got around to it.  The Cheerios, PB & J, mac 'n cheese, and marshmallows have been opened and the Flipz are long gone!  Noah picked up and fed himself Cheerios for the first time on Saturday.  

Now you have an idea of the crazy things that expats miss from the US.  And, just to clarify that we do not have the world's worst diet, we do get and eat a lot of healthy food here (fruit, veggies, brown rice, etc.) so it is really just the junk from home that we especially miss (and by "we", I mean ME).  The two healthy foods that we can't get here and greatly miss are edamame and portobello mushrooms.  If someone can find a way to ship us some of those, we'll have it made!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

September 25, 2011 - Tillykke Med Fødselsdagen, Far!

So far it has been a great day to celebrate Kristoffer's (34th) birthday!
We went to the Windsor Country Club for swimming in the morning - it was Noah's first time! - and a nice lunch before taking two sleepy kids home.

Kristoffer will play squash late this afternoon and we'll get Ethiopian for dinner (one of his favorites!).  Thanks to Nairobi for warming up for a nice summer Sunday!

Happy birthday, Kristoffer - we really love you!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

September 24, 2011 - A Nairobi Birthday Party

We went to a third birthday party for one of Grace's friends and classmates today.  It was really lovely and we were happy to celebrate Jesse, who is a really nice little boy.  

There was face painting (birthday boy, Jesse, on the left).

There was a puppet show.
 (for some reason Grace wanted to stand for the puppet show!)

There was girls against boys tug of war (with a little help from some parents...).

There was a bouncy castle. 
These two shots are my favorites - even though they are blurry - because they show Grace with her "best friend" Andrew (who had a birthday party two weeks ago, but we forgot the camera!).

Grace was very well-behaved at the party and seemed much more comfortable than she has been at parties in the past.  After a somewhat challenging week with her, it was really nice to see her play and socialize and be happy.  Kristoffer captured some sweet shots when she was in the bouncy castle by herself.

There was also yummy food and cupcakes, nice friends, great weather, and lots of cute kids. It was a great afternoon!   


Friday, September 23, 2011

September 23, 2011 - Reminder: Followers for Food

We started September with 16 followers of our blog and are now up to 66: great job!  

Kristoffer doesn't think we can get to 100 followers in the next week, but I am still hopeful.  If you, or someone you know who likes our blog, have not yet become an official follower, now is your chance!  For every new follower we have by the end of September we will donate $1 towards WFP's famine relief here in East Africa.  

AND...if we hit the magic number of 100 followers, we'll donate $2 each!! 

So, either click on the word Follow in the upper left corner of the screen OR click to the right where it says Join this Site. 

Help us make a difference, today!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22, 2011 - Eight is Enough

Last night, Noah had his BEST NIGHT OF SLEEP in his entire life.  The previous three nights included about two hours of crying each because we are trying to teach him that when he wakes up at night he can put himself back to sleep without nursing.  Our struggle paid off last night when he slept for 9 straight hours, from 7 pm to 4 am.  I nursed him then and he slept two more hours.  A huge success for us and while I think it comes about 2 months late: better late than never.  We had had some success sleep-training Noah around 6 months old but when he got really sick his sleep patterns were disrupted, of course, and we have not had much success training him again before now (some of that due to our own inconsistency).  But for two nights in a row he put himself to sleep at bed time with no crying at all, and then last night he just slept and slept and slept!  

I wonder if it is because he is now eight months old?!  At Noah's check up this morning, Dr. Nesbitt was very pleased with his overall health and development.  

  • Weight: 8.26 kg/18.2 lb = 25th percentile
  • Height: 71 cm/27.9 in = just above 50th percentile
  • Head Circumference: 45.1 cm/17.75 in =  almost 75th percentile
While we thought he might weigh even more, the important thing is that he has been on the same weight curve for a few months and has gained back the weight he lost when he was sick (and then some).  If he turns out to be tall and slim, we'll know where he gets it!

Noah is crawling all over the place.  He can pull up to his knees and is trying to pull up to standing but doesn't quite have the strength yet.  He loves to hold our fingers and walk around.  Of great frustration to Grace is the fact that he wants to be near her and playing with her at all times.  He still loves things that make music or noise.  He seems more interested in reading books than he used to be (although can't sit still for long!).  He loves the song "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands..."  He is a bit shy with strangers, but continues to love his girlfriend Rose.  He is curious about what he sees and hears, and continues to experience the world by putting everything possible in his mouth.  He eats solid food 4-5 times a day - seems to love bananas right now, but new foods in the last few weeks have been white fish, spinach and prunes.  He makes a lot of noise, but nothing "official" like "mama" just yet (working on that!).  While he is usually happy sitting at the table with us, for the last two days he HATES being put into his chair.  He contorts his body in all kinds of ways to prevent us from sitting him down!  Kristoffer maintains that Noah is an old soul; he seems to pick up on our moods and adapt to us; he seems to be sweet and somehow "in the know" quite often.  He loves it when we are having a dance party :)

Did I mention that he slept for 9 hours straight last night?

Noah is at an age where he is growing so rapidly, expanding his skills and understanding everyday.  He is almost always happy or happy-ish.  It is pretty rare for him to be crying during the day, unless he is somehow injured (have you read about the bully in our house?).  He has the most charming belly laugh and still smiles with his whole face.  I think he is at a sweet, cute, fun age (although increasingly high maintenance because: WOW he can move fast now!) and I would be OK if we froze time a bit so we could enjoy it a little longer.  Let's hope nine months takes awhile to get here (because this past month went by way too fast)!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September 20, 2011 - Not Fast Enough

Many Kenyans walk to and from work, some for more than one hour each way. Pick-up trucks or other open vehicles are kind of a wild card. If Kenyans are walking and a pick up truck passes them in slow traffic, many will use the opportunity to jump in the back and get a quick, free ride home.

Today I saw two men walking while we were driving in slow traffic behind a pick-up. The two men started running for it. Five or six guys who were already sitting in the back of the truck were cheering them on. The younger of the two men managed to run up and jump in…but the other guy was maybe in this late forties…and he ran all the way until just a few feet behind the truck…but as he got closer we reached a hill and the traffic picked up….tough.  


Sunday, September 18, 2011

September 18, 2011 - There's a New Bully in Town

Yesterday was "Family Fun Day" at Grace's school, which included playing some games together and an international potluck lunch.  It was nice to socialize with the families that we know and to meet some new families as well.  The camera battery died, so I don't have any good pictures :(  But it was a really lovely little event.

The most interesting part of the day was talking to Grace's teacher, who informed me that Grace is now HITTING OTHER CHILDREN in her class and sat in "time out" on Friday for the first time.    Ugh.  Just a few months after she was nervous to go to school because there was a boy picking on her, she is now the bully!

I was not surprised to hear this news, because she is really challenging us at home these days: disobeying us, hitting Noah, stealing Noah's toys, purposely going "pee pee" when she is put in "time out", and the like.  The hitting actually started when Noah was born (doesn't take a psychologist to figure that one out) and got better for quite a few months, but seems to have flared up again lately.  We thought: as long as it is just at home, then we know why and will continue to deal with it (using time outs, rewards, etc.).  But now the hitting has spread, and so on our "date night" last night we spent some time discussing strategies for improving her behavior (don't worry, we talked about non-child-related things too).  

We also made a big deal of talking to the parents of her friend who she was hitting on Friday (she seems to confess her crimes so even though at school they've only seen her hit one child, I'm pretty sure there have been others).  Luckily, they are friends of ours and have a much older daughter too, so they aren't freaking out about it.  But, I remember from when Grace was being hit and pushed that I was disappointed that his mother never reacted when the teacher told her what happened, and never let us know that they were addressing the issue at home.  So we DEFINITELY wanted our friends to know that we're taking the issue seriously.

Some degree of hitting is normal in toddlers and a lot of Grace's behavior might be standard two-year-old stuff - or at least the books and websites I'm reading say so - but of course we don't want her to be a hitter!  What concerns us is that a lot of children hit because they don't have the words to express themselves, which is definitely not the case with Grace.  She has a lot of words and expressions - in two languages!  So now we're trying to focus on positive reinforcement, pre-empting the hitting when we see it coming, and making sure we are consistent with her consequences for bad behavior.  We're also trying to get away from teaching her to just "say sorry" because we're finding that she does it without really meaning it or without changing her behavior.

When I put Grace to bed tonight I asked her what she was going to do at school tomorrow and she said, "Ride a horse." (that's true, they do that on Mondays) Then I asked her if she was going to play nice and she said, "I will hit Isa." (which, of course, led to a much longer conversation!) AHHHHHH!  Looks like we're in for an interesting week!


Friday, September 16, 2011

September 16, 2011 - Yay for DK!

Out with the old and in with the new!  Congratulations to Denmark on a fantastic and historic election!  A female Prime Minister - woo hoo !  Kristoffer is still away but I just KNOW that he is beaming :)

Read about it here!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

September 15, 2011 - A Story of Hope

Nicholas D. Kristof is a New York Times journalist who recently visited Kenya, I think primarily to report on the Dadaab Refugee Camp (where Kristoffer is right now, actually).  It is the largest refugee camp in the world and receives hundreds of Somalis everyday.  But today his column is about the challenges faced by Kenyan women (and probably many other African women, as well) and the story of one woman's way out of poverty.  It is an inspiring story.

Kenya has been in the news a lot lately, for two very sad reasons as I wrote about before, so it is nice to find a story of hope in the mix as well.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

September 14, 2011 - Little Drummer Boy


Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum, on my drum?


Then he smiles at me, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.


p.s. Now he can take this show on the road; he crawled forward last night for the first time, while on Skype with Farmor and Hans!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 13, 2011 - Sad News in Nairobi

We woke up this morning to several emails checking on our safety.  Thank you so much - we and everyone we know are fine.  The fire in Nairobi which you've heard about in the international news was caused by a leaking fuel pipeline; hundreds of people rushed to the leak with jerricans to collect free fuel and it is unknown whether a flicked cigarette or embers from burning trash caused the explosion.  Over a hundred people died with just as many severly injured.  You can read more about it here if you are interested.  Since we have lived here this is the second time a major oil fire took place; in 2009 an oil tanker overturned, which again brought hundreds of people to collect the fuel.  The truck then exploded, killing 113 people.

Kenya also took a hit on Sunday when a boat full of Somali boatmen kidnapped a British couple from the luxury resort on the coast just south of the Somali border.  The man was killed and the woman was kidnapped; unfortunately, she has not been found yet.  

All of this amidst the worst drought in the last 60 years in Northern Kenya and Somalia.  I think the country is ready for a break.


September 13, 2011 - Not Noah's Ark

Kristoffer (and theory) built this big Lego ship over the weekend.  Then Grace filled it with all of her Lego animals, many of which are in duplicate (so two cats, two dogs, two penguins, two baby polar bears, etc.).  When I said something like, "Oh look! You built Noah's Ark!"  I was immediately corrected, "This is NOT Noah's Ark!"  I tried to remind her of the Noah's Ark story, which we have read often, and that I didn't mean the ark belonged to her brother (God forbid!).  Still she insisted, "This is NOT Noah's Ark!"

But you see the resemblance, don't you?  Although maybe she is right...I don't think the original ark was built with a giant cupholder for "special milk."


Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 2011 - Remembering a Hungry Childhood

This opinion piece, reposted below from The New York Times, is written by a Kenyan man who comes from Charles' tribe and his region of Kenya.  It is a reminder to us of how serious things are in this part of Africa right now.  It is a reminder that we all must do what we can to stop hunger, what Kimeu calls the "unforgiveable disease".    LMW


Remembering a Hungry Childhood

Peter Kimeu is a small-scale farmer in Machakos, Kenya, and a technical adviser for Catholic Relief Services, a humanitarian organization.
Machakos, Kenya
DROUGHTS are cyclical in Kenya. Before, they came every 10 years, but now they seem to be hitting us more often and for longer periods of time. My community remembers events and birthdays by times of hunger. We give the droughts names: “longoza” was the drought when many animals died; there was the drought of the “planes” because food was dropped from the air by planes, and one particularly bad drought was called “man who dies with money in his fist,” because, even if there was money, there was simply no food to purchase.
I was born in 1951 in Machakos. From what my mother tells me, that year there was a serious drought. My sister was born in 1961, and I clearly remember the terrible weather and the prevailing hunger throughout the region. I can’t tell you how many times I went to bed without eating. “I slept like that,” is how we described it, which means we went to bed with nothing to eat. I can’t count the number of days when “I slept like that,” or describe the feeling of going to sleep hungry knowing I’d wake up and there would still be no food for breakfast.
Hunger is an unforgivable disease because it is the easiest one to cure. It is devastating to wake up in the morning and look east, west, south and north and see that there is nothing green that you can chew. During a drought everything goes yellow and dry. I would walk the roads and search the ground to see if someone had spat out a bit of chewed-up sugar cane. I am not ashamed to say that I would re-chew what I would find.
Hunger is dehumanizing. It gets to a level where you do not know how you will survive and you will do anything for a simple kernel of corn.
The thing about drought is that it does not just affect farmers and their crops; it affects everyone. If you think about it, during harvest time farmers hire local farmhands to help with their crops. But when there are no crops to harvest, not only does the farmer lose his or her income, so do the laborers the farmer would have hired. There is a ripple effect that affects the whole community. Few have food and even fewer have money to buy food.
My parents did everything they could to feed us. My father would leave early in the morning carrying a little basket to beg for food or ask for food on credit. Each night he would return home around 10 p.m. My mother, after a fruitless day attempting to find food, would try to encourage us by telling me to keep the water in our pot boiling so that when my father arrived we could quickly cook any food he brought in the already prepared water.
I would keep the fire burning and the water boiling. As the hours passed I would watch the water level slowly go down, along with the hopes that we would eat that night. More often than not, however, my father would arrive frustrated and empty-handed. And I would sleep like that.
It is a traumatizing situation as a young child to be without food. You see the fear in the faces of your mother and father, despairing that they cannot feed their children. You feel afraid, too, because your parents can’t provide for you. Your stomach is so empty that even when you are thirsty and you take water it makes you dizzy. You get so nauseated your body wants to vomit, but you haven’t eaten. I think about this now as East Africa faces another drought. I think about all the children who are suffering as I did. We see terrible images of hunger, but I fear that we have not yet seen the worst.
We are experiencing really serious stress. At the moment, the magnitude of the hunger facing Kenya is not well known.
It is incumbent on all of us to band together and fight this very curable disease. No child on earth should ever have to sleep like that.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2011 - 14 Cows for America

I have been thinking for a couple of days about what I wanted to write on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  I kept coming up blank because really, what could I possibly say that would be significant enough?  I have the same emotions of sadness and fear and loss that most other people have about that day; I worked next to Ground Zero for four years, walked by it every day, looked down into it from my classroom.  But everyone has a story or connection to that day, so what could I share that would be meaningful at all?

Then just as I was about to shut down the laptop tonight and go to sleep, a former colleague of mine posted this story on her facebook, about a young Masai man from Kenya who desperately felt that he wanted to do something for America after 9/11, because of all that America had done for him. And he did find a way to gift America what the Masai value most: a cow.  

Because I live in Kenya, because I feel at least a little bit close to the Masai (because Rose is Masai), and because today is 9/11... I think it is the perfect story to share.

It is a long article to read, but very worthwhile.  Especially on a day when you really want to find all the goodness you can in this world; there is goodness here.  The first quote you see on that website reads: 

"Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort."  


Friday, September 9, 2011

September 9, 2011 - Staff Stories

I haven’t written about our staff in a long time; that is a good thing because it means I have nothing to complain about, right? 

Things with Charles have been good, although because of the drought and rising food prices, he has not had very much business for his stoves.  Some of Kristoffer’s colleagues have bought stoves from him, but mostly times are tough and Kenyans are not buying non-essential items.  There was an incident at his home when one of his neighbors cut down a huge tree that Charles’ father (who is deceased) had planted many years ago.  When Charles found out about it he brought the issue to the elders of his tribe and there was a hearing with the Chief.  Everyone agreed that the tree belonged to Charles’ family and so the man had to pay Charles’ mother for the tree (equal to about $500).   That was a significant amount of money for her to receive and she really wanted to buy a piece of land.  So now Charles’ family has new land on which they can grow food.  His wife is back at school for the last term of 2011 and his son is waiting for the teacher’s strike in the country to end so he can go back to school as well.  He seems happy and yesterday Grace told him, “I want to talk to you, Charles! Don’t go away!”  That really made his day.

Rose is wonderful and I like to call her Noah’s Girlfriend because he really loves her.  He is at an age where he is a bit awkward with other people – separation anxiety and all that – but he is almost always happy when he is with Rose.  She had a death in her family a little while ago, her uncle passed away, and just this week her cousin committed suicide after finding out he was HIV+.  Of course we are sorry for her at these times, but she continues to work hard at our house and we can’t remember what we ever did without her here.

Syprose is another story.  She is a good cook (despite the Kenyan way of using way too much oil in her food) and we appreciate the arrangement we have where she comes one day a week to make 6 meals that we can freeze and eat throughout the week.  Aside from this, though, she drives us kind of crazy.  She is extremely loud and we often think the things she says to Grace and Noah are inappropriate.  She is also very slow.  One day when Rose was gone for her uncle’s funeral, Syprose finished all her work almost 3 hours earlier than other days because she is talking to Rose so much.  But alas, it is time consuming to cook and wash dishes here, so I am grateful for her help.

This week there was a conflict between Syprose and Rose and, of course, I’ve heard 3 different versions of the story. 

Rose’s version: She was in her room having her break when Syprose came screaming at her accusing her of turning off the oven and ruining the food and threatening to tell “Madame” (that’s me).  Rose showed her that she hadn’t touched the oven and that Syrpose had just forgotten to turn the knob all the way to be on.  Syprose apologized, but Rose was somewhat devastated (she had also just found out about her cousin) and cried for a long time. 

Charles’ version:  He had to calm both ladies down because they were so worked up.  He says that they joke around too much and this is what happens; one day, somebody doesn’t think the joke is funny and maybe Syprose was a little mean to Rose, who is a person who never wants to do the wrong thing and takes her job very seriously. He said Rose was sobbing and he had never seen her so upset.

Syprose’s version: She was just kidding around with Rose, never yelled or screamed, and didn’t understand why Rose was so upset.  But she apologized to her a lot because Rose got her the job with us (and I have since gotten her several other jobs) and was very helpful when Syprose’s mother died and so she was sorry that she got Rose so upset.  But still she was just kidding and Rose shouldn’t have taken it so seriously.

In the end, Rose’s happiness working here means more to us than Syprose’s cooking, so should another incident occur that makes Rose uncomfortable we would let Syprose go.  Without saying that exactly, I told Syprose that I think she should be more careful with Rose’s feelings and that we are cautious about the way we talk to each other in our house because it is very important for everyone to feel comfortable.  I told her I was disappointed to hear about what happened, and she did apologize to me saying that she would not do anything like that again and that she would apologize to Rose again because she is a very good friend.

It was an awkward conversation to have with Syprose, but I’m happy I did it.  Add another notch to my belt of managing staff at home. And hopefully Rose feels okay about it when she is back on Monday.  When it comes to our staff, I definitely prefer “no news is good news”!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 8, 2011 - Comfort Items

When Kristoffer read my "Phases" blog, we started talking and laughing about Grace's comfort items that she keeps in her bed pretty much at all times. She can always tell you exactly which of these items is missing, if any.  She is very particular about these items, but we can't quite figure out her selection criteria or why some things make the cut and others don't.   In her bed right now are:
  • 2 taggies
  • a book about the sun and moon that came with her night-lite
  • the instructional manual for setting the clock on her night-lite
  • Dr. Seuss' mini-ABC book
  • her family book (with pictures of everyone in our family)
  • 4 individual pages of animal pictures from a book that she destroyed a long time ago
  • 2 pillows
  • 1 blanket that my mom made her
  • 1 duvet
  • her Dora beanie baby doll
  • her baby doll from when she was newborn (a beanie baby doll named Simba)
  • her lamb stuffed animal
  • a musical stuffed cloud (from Tina; technically Noah's)
  • 2 Lego sheep
  • 6 spoons
  • one pair of tiny, pink baby shoes from when she was a baby
  • 1 sippy cup of water
I think soon we'll need to get her a bigger bed!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 7, 2011 - Followers for Food

In an effort to enhance my status as a blogger, as well as the possibility of pursuing external writing opportunities in the future, I am asking something of YOU, person-reading-the-blog-right-now:

If you like Life in Nairobi enough to read it somewhat regularly, would you please be so kind as to officially become a Follower of this blog?

All you have to do is click to the right where it says Join This Site.  You need to have a Google, Twitter or Yahoo account to do it...but you have that, right?  It will give you these options:

I would appreciate it if you would publicly follow the blog - that's like telling the world: this blog is not lame and I am not ashamed to read it! - but if you would prefer to keep it to yourself, it's OK to follow us privately too.  I don't think there is any pain, cost or annoying harrassment related to being a Follower, so please do it! an extra incentive...for every new Follower the blog has by the end of September we will make a donation to WFP for famine relief in the Horn of Africa*.  So you can follow our blog AND do something good for the world.  Get to it!

Also stay tuned for some new elements coming to the blog as I try to update and improve it!

Thank you for your readership!

*there are currently 16 followers, so anything over that will add to the donation we give WFP.  We will hope to donate at least $1 per follower.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September 6, 2011 - Back to School

This little girl went back to school today for her second year at Kyuna Kindergarten.  

A little secret about Grace is that she is actually very shy when she isn't at home with just us.  So she was totally silent and stone-faced when we got to her new classroom with her new teacher, Mrs. Wanyaga (from now on called Mrs. W), and even when she saw many familiar faces from her class last year (Look, there's Isa! Andrew! Matias! Jesse! Hawi! Patrick! Yama! Emmanuel!).  Eventually she gave her "old friends" some high fives but she didn't really relax until I suggested we go back to her old classroom to give Ms. Mbata a big hug.  You could see the tension drain from her body when she walked into her old room.  She was so happy to hug Ms. Mbata and Miss Lucy and told them, "I'm wearing big girl underwear!"  Ms. Mbata told Grace she looked forward to seeing her outside for play time and I think that really made Grace's day.  When we went to her new classroom again she told her new assistant, Miss Alice, that she had to go pee-pee on the potty and happily went off to the toilet with her.  She didn't even cry when I hugged her goodbye (and, surprisingly, neither did I!).

Grace woke up at 5:15 today so I warned Mrs. W that she might be a little sleepy during their whole-school assembly this morning.  But here's hoping she has a great day back to school with her new teacher and many friends, both old and new.

And when Grace is at school in the mornings now, I hope to get a little more one-on-one time with this guy (Unless he's napping, of course, in which case I guess I'll have to have some time for myself.  Twist my arm!):


Monday, September 5, 2011

September 5, 2011 - Phases

All kids go through different phases at different times and, because they are unpredictable, it is an interesting part of parenthood to see what/when those phases are.

For instance, right now Grace is in a "spoons" phase, where she likes to carry around many different baby spoons at the same time.  She finds ways to use them in her play, gives Noah lectures on why he can't use them, and sleeps with them in her bed.  Today she brought 4 spoons with us to the store to buy more potty-training-reward-chocolate and bird seed for our feeder.  She is now taking a nap - thank God (she's been up since 5 am) - with 6 spoons.

For the last few weeks Noah is stuck in the "almost crawling" phase, which seems increasingly frustrating for him.  He can do everything except move his arms the right way and isn't happy about it.  He is also in a "who wants to sleep through the night?" phase, of which I am not particularly a fan. 

Not quite a phase, but definitely new to Noah, is sign language.  Sometime before Grace was one she had mastered about 5 or 6 signs for communicating with us (I was never committed enough to do more than that, although I think it's wonderful, and because she could talk early I didn't feel like she needed more than that). I can't remember if she could do any of them this early, but they were all done, more, water, milk, eat, thank you/tak for mad.  

We realized yesterday that Noah had started to do the sign for "milk" (usually when nursing or eating solid food).  So now I've upped my game and am trying to use all of those other signs more regularly so he can learn them sooner.  

As I said, these phases are a pretty great part of parenting and I look forward to seeing what phases come next for each of them.  Fingers crossed for a "sleeping longer than 2 1/2 hour stretches at night" phase for Noah and a "I'm no longer going to scare Mama half-to-death during the night by standing next to her bed staring at her until she wakes up" phase for Grace.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

September 4, 2011 - The Pomegranate Incident of 2011

This blog could also be titled, "My Love/Hate Relationship with Nakumatt".  

In case you don't know, Nakumatt is the largest supermarket chain in Kenya.  It sells everything from groceries to appliances to cosmetics to books to furniture and more.  It is basically like a Kenyan Walmart, except it is an expensive store, catering to middle class and wealthy Kenyans, as well as the expat community.  And really, the "love" part of my relationship with Nakumatt is that it does, in fact, have a lot of things that I need or want to buy, including imported goods like Bisquick (pancake mix) and (as you will read below) pomegranate.  The "hate" part of my relationship stems from a number of "incidents" regarding their policies and procedures or staff.  I can't think of any expat I know who completely loves Nakumatt, because if you shop there regularly (or maybe even once!) you are bound to be frustrated by something or someone at some point.  Rose even told me that her previous employer said that the thing she would miss the least about Kenya was Nakumatt!  So anyway...

Some of the "incidents" I've had at (or issues I've had with) Nakumatt are:
  • you pay a deposit on your 20 liter plastic water bottles and when you return the bottles, they give you store credit.  BUT they won't let you use your store credit for anything other than more 20 liter water bottles AND the water bottles have to be the SAME BRAND that you bought before.  So if you don't ever want to buy more water bottles they won't let you spend your credit AND if the water bottles you bought before are currently out of stock THEY WILL NOT LET YOU use your store credit to buy a different brand of water!  I have argued with various staff about this policy many, many times. I can feel my blood boiling just writing about it.  IT IS STORE CREDIT! JUST MONEY!  DOESN'T MATTER WHAT I USE IT FOR! IT'S ALL THE SAME TO YOU! The last time I fought this battle was two days before Noah was born, when I pretty much threatened the manager that I would give birth in the checkout aisle if they didn't let me use my credit for diapers.  It was not pretty (and Charles was waiting to take the shopping cart to the car and was SOOOO embarrassed I'm sure to be seen with the crazy, pregnant, mzungu Mama who was yelling at everyone).
  • they price their cheese at the deli per 100 grams but they will almost never let you actually buy 100 grams of cheese!  I have had more than one fight with people who work at the deli when I've wanted to buy 100 grams of a particular cheese and they will say, "I can't cut it that small..." or "it's already cut and priced at 200 grams..."  Ok, that's fine: BUT THEN DON'T PRICE IT PER 100 GRAMS!  I can't even tell you how annoyed it makes me that they want me to buy more than I need, particularly because imported cheese is sooooo expensive in the first place, which my father learned when...
  • one day he asked for a few slices of turkey at the deli. They gave it to him.  He came home.  I discovered, when I went to make a turkey sandwich, that they had put someone else's price sticker for (more than 100 grams of) imported cheese on his turkey package because he paid the equivalent of $20 for his turkey.  Lucky for the person who went home paying about $3 for their huge block of cheese!
  • the people who are "experts" in a particular section almost never actually know what is in their section, where it is in their section, or what the heck you are looking for.  I know Kristoffer's mom has been sent on a wild goose chase for something that they didn't even sell in the store, because people kept telling her it was in a different section.
Lately, though, I've been a pretty efficient Nakumatt shopper and aside from the occasional cheese fight have not had anything new to complain about.  Until today.

Grace and Noah fell asleep on our way to run some errands, but Kristoffer and I managed to get what we needed at Nakumatt pretty quickly (Noah in his car seat, Grace in Kristoffer's arms), which included one pomegranate.  Pomegranates are imported here but have been "out of season" or something because we haven't seen any in about half a year.  Today we saw some!  And because we like them a lot and Grace is excellent at getting out those delicious little seeds, we bought one (even though they are pricey).

When the cashier had scanned everything, I noticed that the pomegranate was even more expensive than I expected. I mentioned the price to Kristoffer, who said it shouldn't be that much.  Sure enough, the sticker on the pomegranate was less than the price in the computer.  The cashier at first didn't understand my polite question:  "Shouldn't the pomegranate be Ksh 265 instead of Ksh 318?" He seemed puzzled and then mentioned something about it not being his fault.  Riiiiight, I don't care whose fault it is, I just want the price on the pomegranate.  So he had to call someone else to go back to the produce section and check the price.  That guy came back saying the Ksh. 265 price was right.  The register guy didn't know how to fix it because the computer is in charge and said the price was Ksh 318. So he had to call someone from the produce section to come look at the computer.  She also said that the Ksh price was correct but nobody knew what to do or how to fix the problem.  The register guy mentioned that it wasn't his fault, it was produce's fault that the price was scanning incorrectly.  Again, I didn't really care about the blame - I just wanted to buy the pomegranate (and yes, all of this over 53-freaking-shillings).  

So I asked him something like: "Can't you override it and manually put in the correct price?"  
To which he replied: "No, I can't fix it."  
My next question: "So, I can either pay too much for the pomegranate or not buy it at all?"
Him: "Yes."
Me: "Paying the actual correct price of the pomegranate is not an option?"
Him: "Right."
Me: "Wow, that's a great way to lose a lot of business."

During this time, Grace woke up and needed to go to the bathroom, Kristoffer took the other groceries to the car, and the Dutch guy behind me in line was encouraging me to just steal the damn pomegranate.  I ended up asking the register guy to just take the pomegranate off my bill because my 2-year-old needed to go pee-pee on the potty.  He had to get a manager to do it, OF COURSE, so we were still waiting; when Kristoffer came back I left him to pay for the other groceries while I took Grace to the potty (and, sadly, she had an accident just before we got there, thank you very much, stupid register guy).  And I wonder how much money Nakumatt makes when stuff like that happens and people aren't watching carefully as their items go through the scanner.  Seems like a gold-mine to me! 

We came home without a pomegranate, sigh, but with another reason why, like Rose's previous boss, I too will probably not miss Nakumatt in our next life.  


Friday, September 2, 2011

September 2, 2011 - Overheard

Monday afternoon.  4:45 pm.  I'm getting dinner.  Kristoffer is on his way home.  Grace and Noah are playing with Rose in the living room.  This is what I hear from the kitchen.

Grace:  Here, Noah.  This is a toy for you.  Do you want to play with it?

Noah: ---

Grace:  I'm asking, do you want to play with this toy?

Noah: ---

Grace: Noah, you have to say "yes" or "no".

Noah: ---

Grace:  Or do you want me to play with it?

Noah: ---

Grace: I'll count to five.  One - Two - Three - Four - Five.  Okay, I think this toy is for me.

Rose:  Grace, what happens when Noah can talk?

Grace: --- --- --- I think he can want to share his toys with me.

I can't even tell you how much I look forward to hearing more conversations between these two.  Especially, when they aren't so one-sided!


Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1, 2011 - Happy Birth-day!

Welcome to the world
Zoe Elizabeth Phelps!
August 31, 2011 11:38 am
8 lbs 11 oz
21 3/4 inches

Congratulations to Christine and Kevin!
We can't wait to meet Zoe!
Auntie Lisa, Uncle Kristoffer, Grace & Noah