Friday, September 27, 2013

September 27, 2013 - Pictures from Denmark

We were pretty rotten with the cameras on this trip to Denmark, but below are the few (not necessarily great) pictures we took.  Themes of this trip were:  Noah and Kristoffer = best friends, Grace wanting to be with her cousins ALL the time and posing as a super hero for every picture, their first visit to Legoland, and celebrating Farfar's (sorry, no pictures!) and Hans' 70th birthdays.  

Feeding the ducks with Farfar.

The Danes thought the weather was nice, but for playing outside these African kids were COLD!

Loved taking walks with the kids!


Reading time with Farmor. 

"Whatever you do, don't smile..."

Playing with Cousins!

Hans' 70th Birthday Party!

Despite going for a sad reason, the kids are at such a great age for travel and for spending time with their extended family that it must have been one of our best trips yet.  I wonder where in the world we'll travel next...?    


Thursday, September 26, 2013

September 26, 2013 - Life in Nairobi

Well, life in Nairobi has certainly changed this week.  For Kenyans, for expats.  For everyone.  Many people have written about the Westgate terrorist attack already, and many more will in the days, weeks, months, years to come.  I don't know that my voice adds anything particularly unique to the discussion...but I do have a perspective to share.

We lived in Nairobi for four years.  Google maps says that our house was 1.4 miles from the Westgate Mall. Surely if we still lived there now, we would have heard the sounds of gunfire and explosions and clearly seen the rising plumes of black smoke from our little garden.  

When we first moved to Nairobi, Westgate was still new-ish; many stores were still vacant or works in progress.  Its biggest attractions were the Nakumatt (large Walmart-like grocery store...I'm sure you remember my love-hate relationship with Nakumatt from previous blogs) and the book store/movie theater...but soon there was Art Cafe and dozens of other popular places.  I think at the time we left their best addition was a "Planet Yogurt" (DIY frozen yogurt bar).  Of all of the malls in Nairobi, maybe tied with the even larger Junction, it felt the most western and we went there all the time.  We bought our TV there - the one we still have.  We went out to eat there.  We took our visitors there.  Because it is truly something to take your visitors to a destitute Kenyan orphanage and then later that day take them to the Westgate mall.  Talk about a dichotomy.  Wow.  Both sides of Africa, in your face.

In our last year, however, we had curtailed most of our Westgate activity.  There was a general warning from the US government that all big malls where westerners tend to gather were targets, but we had  insider information that Westgate was specifically likely to be hit.  And of all the Nairobi malls, and yes there are quite a few, Westgate is partially Israeli owned (or at least Art Cafe is) and is one of the only places where you can just drive right by the front door.  You do have to go through some sort of "security" to get to the inside parking lot, but there is an open road right in front of the mall where a car can pull up and you could just pop out and run up the steps right into the it sounds like some of the terrorists did on Saturday.  How many times did Charles drop me off just like that?

We didn't write about this specific threat so much and we didn't talk about it a great deal, because we certainly hate to make our family and friends back home worry.  And it is sort of hard to explain how you get used to living in a place with that sort of constant terrorist threat.  But it was a concious decision of ours not to go there very much in our last few months.  No more movies.  No more dinners there.  Try to shop elsewhere.  Keep it to a bare minimum.

And I have one example of our mind-set to share, just because it tells you how worried we were.  There was a little shop at Westgate selling beautiful hand-made leather bags called "African Lily."  Amazing bags.  I always wanted one while we lived there but they aren't particularly baby-friendly so I never bought one.  And I decided that I wanted one as a present to myself before we moved. But I was told by one of the other branches of the shop that the specific bag I wanted was only at Westgate.  In hindsight, it is ridiculous that I wanted that bag.  But I did.  

So Kristoffer and I talked about it.  I was afraid of going by myself and getting blown up.  Leaving my family without a wife and mother.  We had a RATIONAL, ADULT conversation about this.  And we decided in the end that if our whole family went together - Kristoffer, Lisa, Grace, and little Baby Noah - then should there be a terrorist attack right at that very moment we would at least all die together.  Literally.  We said those words aloud to each other.  And then we went!  A Friday afternoon when he was off of work a little early.  Drove over to Westgate.  Parked.  Ran inside all of us together, bought the leather bag, and left.  And yes, I realize how absolutely insane that sounds.  And I realize that before this week I don't think I ever told anyone that story.

That's the last time we went there, two years ago this November.

In general, I feel I have a complicated relationship with Nairobi.  We were happy when we lived there, but we were ready to leave when we did.  I miss the friends I had there (and doctors) but there is not much more that I really miss.  I wouldn't say that it is a city I specifically love (not in the way that, for example, I love New York or Boston), but it is a city that occupies a very big piece of my heart.  We were newlyweds there.  Our children were born there. So many big moments and firsts for us and for me in that place. It was a significant period of my life. I am not Kenyan, and will never claim to completely understand or know Kenyans.  But in four years I learned so much about Kenyans and their country. We shared some serious ups and downs.  There is no denying it.  And I took a piece of it/them with me when we left...just as I left a piece of myself there.  I know that is true.  

So with all of that as a backdrop to the Westgate terrorist attack, it has been an emotional week.  Nairobi is now on the list of places I have lived before they were attacked.  That is not a nice list.  New York.  Boston. Nairobi.  On all three occasions, my first thought was "What about {name that friend}?"  Unlike on 9/11, this time around I was able to pretty quickly account for people through Facebook and I remain so grateful that nobody were knew personally was injured or killed.  Although of course, they are all traumatized and not all of their friends and colleauges are okay.  Just as with New York and Boston, my next thought - selfish I know - was how easily it could have been me or us.  I am glad we don't live in Nairobi, especially now.  I am glad I don't have to explain to Grace and Noah what happened or why or how.  There is a little bit of innocence, for all of us, that I can protect a little bit longer.

But I am still grieving.  My heart breaks for the people who lived through those four horrible days, and it mourns for those who did not survive.  I pray for Kenyans and Nairobi residents to somehow find healing and peace in the weeks and months to come, especially knowing that so many questions will remain unanswered.  I hope that Kenya's government, who, if I am being honest, I don't trust in the least, will for once put the needs of their people above their own agendas to help the country process and heal and move forward.  

I have read about and truly been touched by so many acts of kindness and goodness in response to the disaster...truly that is the nature of most people in Kenya and in the world. To come together in times of need and help others.  In the face of such hatred and terror, I hope Kenya and the world will cling to that.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September 24, 2013 - Saying Goodbye

We traveled to Denmark two weeks ago to visit with our family there, and specifically to spend time with Kristoffer's grandmother who was dying.  At 89 years old, she had battled cancer for many years - winning and winning time and again, until her body couldn't win anymore.  When we were in Denmark Kristoffer saw her 5 times, I saw her 4 times, the children saw her 3 times.  We had one particularly great visit with her where she was sitting up with us talking for an entire hour.  When she smiled and laughed, which she did, you couldn't tell how much pain she was in.  She even asked us to take pictures when we visited.  So we are very grateful for those moments with her and are so grateful that she knew we were there and had come home to say goodbye.  We are mostly grateful, though, that she is not suffering anymore.  She passed away yesterday with her son and daughter beside her, as she wanted to.  

In the nearly ten years that I knew Kristoffer's grandmother, I found her to be loving and witty, very curious and so devoted to her family.  She was incredibly proud of her children and grandchildren, and adored her great-grandchildren.  She was also so much fun!  She enjoyed playing games and drinking schnapps for breakfast on holidays!  She was always warm and welcoming to me, and was so generous making quilts and other handmade gifts for us.  It will always be special for us that she traveled to America in her 80s to come to our wedding, and also that Grace was born on her 85th birthday.  

I think within Kristoffer's family there is great relief that she is not suffering anymore, because truly in her last few weeks she suffered quite a lot. I know Kristoffer's Mormor was of an older generation of Danes who were more religious than Danes tend to be these days, so given that, I think she wouldn't mind if I shared this Bible passage, which I find very fitting right now. We all loved her very much, and pray that she can now rest in peace.  

"God shall wipe all tears from their eyes;  and there shall be no more death, nor crying, 
neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." 
Revelation 21

Karen Gunhild Pedersen
February 26,  1924 - September 23, 2013


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2013 - Remembering

It is hard to believe that 9/11 was twelve years ago.  I can still so vividly feel the emotions of that day.  And so it is with my nephew Kyle's death.  In both cases, I think it is really important to remember everything that happened on "the day" and to honor the lives that ended too soon.  

In the case of 9/11 I think there are many different ways people pay tribute every year.  The names are read, flags are hung, people share their stories of what they were doing.  It is important for us to do this, individually, with our friends and families, and as a nation.

For Kyle, I think it is important to do something too.  So on October 7th, the anniversary of his death, I will be lighting a candle for 27 minutes to honor the 27 days of Kyle's like.  If you would like to do the same thing, please share with me a picture of your candle (emailed to  I have this feeling that it might somehow might make Christine and Kevin feel a little better knowing that on that day there have been so many beautiful little lights shining all over the place to remember their beautiful son. 

Please read more here and feel free to share with anyone you know who was affected by Kyle's life and death.

Many thanks, and never forget.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 10, 2013

"Never been lonely, never been lied to, never had to scuffle in fear, nothing denied to. Born at the instant, the church bells chime, the whole world whispering, born at the right time." - Paul Simon

Today we remember the joyous day that my nephew, Kyle Michael, was born, which I blogged about here a year ago.  

My grief over Kyle's death comes in very strong waves, frequently.  It is not something that I am "over" or ever expect to be.  It is a part of who I am. And in 27 days when it is the anniversary of his death, I know that I will feel that grief just as strongly as I did the moment I watched him pass away.  Of that, I have no doubt.  But I also know this:  today, September 10th, will not be a day of grief for me. I will try my hardest now and every year on this day to feel grateful.  

Grateful that Kyle was born. Grateful that his mother and father and grandparents and several other family and friends were able to hold him or see his sweet face. Grateful that his big sister had him at home with her for a short time. Grateful that I was able to meet him, if only just. Grateful that he was welcomed into this world with all of the love and hope and promise that every sweet baby deserves, and that when he left this world he was surrounded by that same love and grace.

I might feel grief every other day, but today is his birthday, and regardless of how short it was, Kyle’s life was a gift to be celebrated and will not be forgotten.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September 4, 2013 - Spontaneous

We are not particularly spontaneous people, definitely more the making-plans-and-sticking-to-them types.  But on Saturday night we did buy plane tickets to go to Denmark this coming Thursday for a couple of weeks.  That's about as spontaneous as we get!

The reality is that Kristoffer's grandmother, Grace and Noah's sweet Oldemor, is very sick and probably doesn't have so much time left.  We have been thinking that we would go to Denmark for her funeral when she passes away, but decided that we would actually rather see her again and spend some more time with her instead.  So off we go, and of course it will be a sad trip in many ways.  But there will also be things to celebrate, like Hans turning 70 years old and Josefine and Nikoline having a joint birthday party while we are there.  Legoland is still open this month so we've promised a fun day there for Grace and Noah as well.  It won't be all sad, at least.  And I would say we are all ready for a healthy dose of time off the continent. I think it will be good for all of us.

Grace and Noah have been packing since we told them on Sunday, and Noah keeps saying that we are MOVING to Denmark.  Hope he doesn't get too disappointed when we come back to Dar :)  

Wish us safe and easy international travel on Thursday night, and I'm sure I'll be blogging on the other side.