Seriously Stressful

Anne has been insisting that I write my weekend experiences before I forget the little details because she thinks it would be a good read.  I’ve been reluctant because 1. I’m still recovering, 2.  It will be challenging to write it out in an appropriate way for all audiences, and 3. I have to be cautious about what I say since it involved our local armed authority and I don’t want to raise any red flags as we’ve been warned that communications can be monitored here in Kenya.  So, with that in mind here’s the g-rated version.  The real experience was one of the scariest, most stressful things I’ve ever experienced.   

Friday I leave in the centre van with a full agenda for the day:  Drop the kids at school, stop by the Criminal Investigations Department to pick up background checks on our new staff, rush to Nairobi to meet with an internal affairs officer for the final interview on some centre registration issues I’ve been working on for months, go across town to headquarters to pick up some checks for contractors, then hopefully make it back out to Thika by early afternoon if all goes well.  All does not go well.  The first stop is great, no problems, check it off the list.  Next stop, I park and walk about 20 min to the meeting place.  Meet with the guy, and spend 1/2 an hour in cagey dialogue that is headed in a direction I don’t want to go.  I manage to get out of there with all my money in my pocket (minus the cup of tea I bought him) and the process complete.  I’m feeling great; it went better than I thought.  Walking back to the car I met a man from Zimbabwe who has just come from immigration and been refused refugee status.  He and his family of 7 fled to Kenya to escape Robert Mugabe’s  government and they are all sick and haven’t eaten for 2 days. 

Now people come up and ask for help all the time here when they see a white guy in a suit but I usually answer them in Swahili and they leave me alone realizing I’m not fresh off the plane.  This guy did not understand Swahili, obviously not from around here, and I got a sense that he really was telling the truth and that I should help out a little.  I sometimes get a clear strong feeling that I should do something and have learned to listen to it and trust it (that’s how I ended up in Kenya actually).  I love these rare interactions with people where I almost immediately see something more.  More in their eyes, something very deep, something bigger than me and the other person standing there, something eternal, something important, something well worth my time and effort.   So we’re walking and talking and I swing into a store and buy him some basic food and medicines.  It cost me a whole $10 but it will sustain the seven of them for a week at least.  When we parted ways I followed the guy on the opposite side of the road for a while just to see what he did (I know that’s a little weird, I can be impulsive).   I left feeling grateful for the interaction and honestly, it was the best part of my day.  I’ll never know what impact this small gesture had, but I know I was supposed to do it. 

Next stop, headquarters, everything goes well and I’m set to head home.  I’m hungry and thirsty but I buy a piece of corn from a guy on the side of the road and decide to try and get home quick and call it a good day.  The centre needs cooking charcoal, I take another way home where I think I might find some.  I do, it’s cheap and good quality.  Sweet, I buy as much as can fit in the van and head for Thika road feeling great about the day so far, it’s around 2:30pm. 

I’m approaching the roundabout where I’ll turn towards home, its crazy busy but traffic’s moving.  There are thousands of people everywhere… I could reach out and touch the matatu next to me, but this is all normal.  Then, out of nowhere a man literally dives into the road and slams into the car.  The side mirror snaps off and flies in the window hitting my leg.  I’m thinking what was that?  Is this a scam to carjack me? Why do I have to be dressed so nice, and why do I have to have all these checks and important documents with me?  I pull over and immediately the guy starts screaming “hit and run” and trying to get the crowd which is now over a hundred to rally against me.  I calmly get out, take all the important stuff with me, lock the van, and use a life line… phone a friend. 

He advises the proper procedure is to take the guy to the hospital then to the police.  The guy is acting crazy, he has a bloody swollen lip, and is fighting mad.  Well, I am usually nice and calm, but I can also turn on a pretty fierce side when needed (this aggression is usually saved for bike races).  I fought back in a very loud and effective manner.  I convinced the crowd, to convince the guy to go along with the process and stop trying to scam me.    Great I win, but the next 4 1/2 hours that day,  and all day Saturday felt like I lost, bad.  I take the dude and his cousin to a hospital, he finally calms down, they release him after minor first aid.  Then I head to the police whom I had hoped never to have to have any type of official contact with, but since this is a company car we have to follow the proper process.  These guys (the “victim” & his cousin) do not want to go; they want me to pay them money and threaten that they will change the story and make all kinds of problems if we go.  I’m starting to have strong suspicions that these guys are doing a common scam here, stand in the road and wait for a mzungu then act like you’re hit and dig, dig, dig for money.  I become convinced that the minor injury this guy has to his lip was more likely caused by his cousin boxing him up a little rather than by the side mirror hitting him.  I go to the police, there is a lot a talk in local dialect so I can’t understand, the car gets impounded for investigation.  Great, by now it’s 5:30pm and I am stranded in a terrible station about a 45 min from home.  Still haven’t eaten or had a drink in a long time.  Lifeline # 2, phone another friend…..cell battery dies.  Now the stress starts to build. 

There are very few real phones in Kenya, none of them happen to be in this police station and no one is willing to loan me theirs (that would cost $) and the only number I know by heart is Anne’s, and her phone does not have the contacts she would need to call someone with a big enough vehicle to collect me and all the charcoal.    No problem, I can figure this out… can’t I?  I do, I take my sim card out, borrow a phone from the guy I “hit” (he’s in front of the  cops and still trying to play victim so he goes along with it) and call Anne.  She says she’ll figure it out and she’ll send Tito and a contractor who just happened to be there (with a truck) to collect me.  I go outside to wait. 

As it starts to get dark, every vehicle that looks like it might turn in lifts my spirits a little but then dashes my hopes as I realize it is not coming for me.  The cops beat up a guy standing next to me.  A drunk matatu driver harasses me and I, well, I can’t say what I said to him in this blog.   Then another cop comes out and asks why I’m still here.  Then he says, “Lets go in and deal with this so you can leave.  Do you have some water in the van?  My throat is a little dusty.”   No, I don’t have water, in fact I can barely swallow since I haven’t had a drink myself  in 5 hours.   Did anyone get what was really going on here????

Let me explain the game.  It goes something like this:  if they have any opportunity to get to you the MO is:  stall, stall, stall, then  frustrate you  to the breaking point, then maybe swing the gun around a bit, make veiled threats of incarceration, and then get you to pay for the solution.   I’m not ready to break yet so I don’t play along. The guy wanting the water says, “OK, bye then, I’m going to control the Jam” and walks off with a smile and his machine gun.  He knows he has more patience when waiting for my money than I have watching my life clock tick away for no reason. 

The guy who has the van keys comes out and says “Oh you’re still here?  I don’t live here I want to go home.”  “Well” I say, “My ride is on the way so you’ll have to wait, I have to get this stuff back to the program and I will not leave it here, it doesn’t seem safe”.  Finally my rescue team arrives and they get me home at around 8pm.  I was happier than ever to be back at the centre, everyone came out to see how I was because they know how bad things can be with the local authority.   

Next morning (Saturday), I have to go back and try to figure out how to get the centre van home.  I spent another 4-5 hours there playing the game of veiled threat, stalling, frustrating, I got the full meal deal and was thoroughly exhausted by the end.  All the time watching the families of these public servants roll in and out in fancy cars and expensive clothes (mind you they officially make a very small salary, on the books).   It is amazing how one can feel happy and relieved once the game is done, even though you just got totally worked over.  So effective is their method of extortion that I really felt relieved for it just to be finished, like I just accomplished something important.  I suppose I did in getting my life back.  I left with the van, a much lighter wallet, and a first class education on why corruption sucks.  Now all I have to do is go buy their form from another dept and bring it in on Monday to get it filled out for the insurance.  They promise that will only take 20 minutes.  Wish me luck.

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Here in Kenya, if you use the term “land grabbing” pretty much anyone knows what you mean.  It’s the process of people taking land that isn’t theirs to sell.  They might represent themselves as real estate agents and sell you a land deed or title (that later turns out to be false), or it could be a person that just decides to put up a house on someone elses property etc.  You’ll see signs all over the place that read:

“This land is NOT FOR SALE!”

Warning people to not be tricked into buying a title or deed for the property from some enterprising individual a.k.a. criminal.

Well, I’m gonna do a little “blog-grabbing” from my Nairobi friend, Naoma.   Are you reading this right now?

I loved her most recent post on the life and sights of  Nairobi so much, and really….couldn’t top it if I tried, so I wanted to share it all with you.  She also brings a different perspective of life in Kenya that you all might enjoy….I know I do!

Go here, to check it out!

Thanks Naoma!!!

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A moment of true love.

Lucy was invited to attend school all week, all day with Eli as this is the last week before a 3 week  break between terms.  No mention of me paying the insane private school fees the school charges… I jumped on it.

Eli has been REALLY genuinely excited to have Lucy with him at school.  He has been prepping on how to be a good brother to her at school.  It’s been almost a year since she has attended Imani, due to scheduling conflicts and tuition costs, so it was good to have a refresher course on what he might do to make her visit a little more enjoyable (for the sake of the whole family).

Don’t mind my crazy messy house, this is of course a picture from the 1st day when we were dealing with a new routine and trying to rush out the door!

All in all, I think the week of school has been good for Lucy, and more importantly, good for MOM!  I have had some much needed time to myself during the day which has been sorely lacking during our stay here in Africa.  I have even had the opportunity to chat with some of you at home in the states over Skype, which I have needed to fill my emotional reserves.  Come to  find out, it is a much different experience to live and work at the same location, especially when  the work serves people 24/7.   I thank all of you who do this kind of work day in and day out, for years on end!  It is something quite unique.

Anyhow, pray for our family as we adjust to a 3 week break from school for Eli…which means a change in our daily routine at home and in the Centre.  There are many things related to the Centre that draw my attention away from the kids daily and I  specifically hope that these weeks are a time of enjoyment for Eli and Lucy together rather than a time of bickering or chaos.   I am entering the last month and a  half of this pregnancy and we will ALL be thankful for some smooth sailing in our house!

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I’ve been hunting on etsy for the perfect diaper bag.

I had the same bag for both Eli and Lucy and sold it at  a resale event in Portland before coming to Africa.  I think my line of reasoning went somewhere along the lines of “if I have another baby, it won’t be in Africa, and having another baby will probably happen after we return to the States, so that could be a while, so I better sell this.”    If I remember, I didn’t do so bad either when I resold that Petunia Pickle Bottom bag.

I’ve found a few bags on etsy that I really like.  But then I chicken out and don’t buy them because I run through my mind how much shipping to Africa will add (no, I don’t have one of those sweet embassy postal boxes that get me past the custom taxes added to packages coming into the county) and how long it might take for the bag to get here….and so on.

Then, today, I found it!

A bag that is functional, yet has just enough funk to suit my fancy and not SCREAM “Diaper Bag”!

I found it at Amani Ya Juu (see the link over on the right of this blog).

Here is a picture of it:

Kakuma Bag

 There are quite a few enterprising individuals here in Kenya that have made various items including purses that repurpose old rice sacks, coffee sacks and so on.  This purse, is named after the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya where many refugees fight to survive and provide for their families.  They receive food from relief agencies, including grains and sugars.  The women of Amani have incorporated these empty sacks into their product lines:  thus my diaper bag that is lined and embellished on the outside with parts of a Saudi Sugar bag.  I love that the handles and entire lining are made of this waterproof plastic material, and that it adds durability to it.

The best part?  The price.  I paid $15 US for it, buying it on the spot, the same day I saw it, because in Kenyan if you see it once, you  might never ever see it again….so BUY, BUY, BUY!   Much cheaper than the Etsy bags I’d been eyeing, very Kenyan, and NO shipping or customs taxes! 

It made my day.  If I admit it, there is a tiny bit of American consumer left in me yet.  But not much.

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As I sit here getting ready to write my absolutely average thoughts….a mosquito buzzes my ear and I wave my hands in the air and jump up like a possessed woman being tasered.  Really, is there anything worse than that sound of a mosquito in your ear?  Perhaps the thought that it might HARBOR malaria and that I can’t take the medication cause I am preggo.  Or, backpacking into the Indian Heaven Wilderness area in Washington State in July when there are more mosquitos than I don’t know what….and those ones didn’t have the potential to inflict serious or lifelong dormant illness!  But then that backpacking adventure (the only one I have ever embarked on) is a story for another time.

What I was thinking of this evening is of my pregnancy adventures this week.  I had my 32 week check up with my OB/GYN in Nairobi, and everything is going fantastically.  We went from concern over a not growing uterus 2 weeks ago to a larger than expected uterus and a baby already weighing (by their estimates) 4 pounds.  I’m not to excited about it all cause there constantly seems to be  such a HUGE margin of error with these ultrasounds and much of what we consider modern technology.   My doctor kindly reminded me to keep off the sugar and to plug away at my diabetes diet. 

The funny part of the  appointment came when we were done with the physical examination and she felt the side of my belly and said, in a very serious & concerned tone,

“Have you been moisturizing???  Your skin seems quite dry!” 

I didn’t really know how to respond at first.  When has my OB/GYN or midwife (that’s what I’ve always had in the past) ever been so worried about A) stretch marks and B) the quantity of moisture present in my baby bump?  I finally  fumbled out some answer of how I had been using the special belly cream she so kindly prescribed in our first days of meeting, but that I simply hadn’t minded to moisturize that morning. 

And then I added, “I guess it doesn’t feel so dry to me, I’m used to it like this.”  And honestly folks, this skin is not dry!  But, I guess I’ll be one of those pregnant women who adds “moisturize” to the things that must be done before going in to an appointment/examination or labor. 

Come on, you women know what I’m talking about.  You are the same ones (like myself) who make sure you’ve got a pretty pedicure the week before your due date and gosh knows all of the other things we might get done in an attempt to “beautify” the process of birthing or examining or whatever.  Why else do people endure Brazilians??  Don’t answer that.  That too is another story, better left untold.

In other pregnant news, I was informed by the gate security at a popular Nairobi mall that I had been absent for some time.  This is while I waited in my car for them to check the boot (trunk) for explosives and my undercarriage for similar.  One looked at my preggo belly and said, “You’ve been gone a long time!”  Another added, “Your husband has been busy” and then the first added, “You are most definitely having twins!”.  Stop Already!  I  must consistently remind Kenyans in general that while I may look big compared to the average Kenyan with child,  compared to most Americans (and myself in previous pregnancies) I am small and proudly so!  I just smiled at the 2 security guards, assured them  it was not twins, but a lovely little girl and proceeded to the parking garage.

And so my pregnant week has gone.  Pretty darn good I’d say actually.

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Last week Ian was able to tag along on a climbing trip up Mt. Kenya. This is one of those things he has hoped to do while we are here, so we both agreed that it wasn’t an opportunity he should pass up. 

It meant that he would be gone for a total of 4 days. The most he’s been gone while we have lived here in Kenya is overnight. I’m pretty ok being by myself here in Kenya now, but the thought of managing house and the work of the Centre was a bit overwhelming. 

The running of the Centre and family proved to be quite manageable, with the help of Megan who is the Volunteer Coordinator at the Centre. She took over a great number of tasks that Ian might generally do, and watched the kids when there were meetings etc. that I needed to be in. 

Just as I was about to pat myself on the back for a job well done on the final night 3 alone of Ian’s trip……drama occurred. 

Drama isn’t unusual in our house though. Especially when it comes in the variety produced by 3 and 4 year olds. 

It started with Eli and Lucy in the shower, taking baths. This is what our shower looks like: 

Lately, bath time has turned into Eli and Lucy crawling around on the tile floor, barking like dogs and taking turns passing under the cold water spigot. It’s a thrilling and cheap experience for them. Kind of like a water park without the park.

Well, Lucy comes out of the shower room yelling and screaming that she slipped and bonked her head. I did a brief inspection of her head, and couldn’t come up with a bump or any redness so I told her to stop her fussing so we could get ready for bed. I think I might have also told both kids to knock off all of the craziness, that bath time was OVER! and to go and get their pajamas to put on. 

I did the regular night time routine, brushing teeth, filled water cups, necessary blankies, books, baby dolls, hugs, kisses, about 20 random questions answered, zipped nets and the whole deal. 

About an hour after falling asleep, Lucy woke up screaming that her head hurt. I gave her some kids Tylenol and laid her back down. She proceeded to wake up every 20 minutes or so for the next 2 hours until I finally decided to lay her down in my bed with me at 10:30 pm. 

Just as I laid her down and opened my AWESOME “Baby and Child A to Z Medical Handbook” courtesy of Paula Smith to head injury and reminded myself of the symptoms…..well….then she proceeded to grace me with the symptoms of vomiting. Everywhere. All over my bed. 

Thus the frantic search for her pediatrician’s phone number (he has like 6 numbers, of which 1 might work at any given time). I made multiple calls, and finally received a call back instructing me to immediately take her into the emergency room of the Children’s Hospital in Nairobi. 

Does anyone recall how long that drive to Nairobi is?? I am certain I have talked in length about the perils of driving the Thika Road highway (yes, Erika, I know you can hardly describe it as a highway or freeway) and how awful it is. And, to mention that we rarely drive at night because of safety issues.  

And here I was staring down the fact that I was alone, with a pretty sick kid, 8 months pregnant, at 10:45 at night getting ready to drive frantically to the hospital in Nairobi a minimum of an hour away. 

I put on my calm hat. 

Called Megan and asked her to come over and stay with Eli (who of course slept through all of the commotion) and changed Lucy into some clean clothes. 

I load her into the car, and get in, and then realize I can’t find my phone. 

As I’m hunting for the phone, I hear Lucy moan from the back of the car, and then she has vomited all over herself and the back seat. 

So out of the car we go again. I stripped her down on the patio, and Megan helped me dress her again. Baby doll, blankie, and her crocs get left because, well, they’re covered in puke. 

I make the drive to Nairobi without any hassle other than a 30 minute traffic jam just outside of town. We arrive to the hospital a bit after midnight, with just one more incident of car puking. A great smell when your closed in, but not that bad when compared to the usual smells of Africa I must admit. 

We were quickly ushered through emergency (we didn’t even have to sit down on a chair), Lucy went through triage, and then the doctor was in to see her within a few minutes with the diagnosis of a concussion and the need for admittance into the hospital for observation for 12-24 hours. 

Then we sat for a while. The typical ER room sit. A good 1 – 1 1/2 hour sit. Then we were checked into a room in the Felicity Ward (which was decorated with a walking purple grape that had eyes and antenna and bright green and purple paint) where I promptly crawled into bed. Lucy refused the “crib” because it was for babies, and crawled in next to me. Food service came in and asked if I wanted dinner. I thought, “Uh, no, it’s 2 am! LET ME SLEEP!” But I politely declined until morning. 

Lucy or perhaps the nurses woke us up at 6 am, and thus our long day of sitting in an empty room on the children’s ward began. For Africa, the hospital was quite nice, but by about 9am, with a restless 3 year old, I was really beginning to question how they couldn’t have a single child’s toy or activity available. It was a children’s hospital after all. I finally scrounged 5 crayons and a piece of paper which bought a good 30 minutes of nap time on my part. I reminded myself that this was how sleep goes with a newborn baby, so this experience was just a good dress rehearsal. 

By 10:30am I broke down and called in emergency reserves and begged a friend who was working clear across town (probably an hour drive) to bring me a coffee. I made sure to call a friend who has trouble saying no. We’ve all got those friends (Eve Stoughton) and love them in moments like these. He kindly obliged and then told me about the cafeteria downstairs in the hospital after he arrived. Whoops on my part, but please, cafeteria coffee (ie a packet of Nescafe) can never compare to real brewed coffee. 

Lucy and I stayed in the hospital the rest of the day and then after a lovely 2 hour discharge process and payment to all of the involved parties, took ourselves on the hour drive home, after stopping off for a celebratory milkshake of course. Who stays in the hospital and doesn’t get an ice cream for goodness sakes? I cheated on my diabetes diet and had one too. I told myself I deserved it. Sorry baby May. I’ll try not to make it a habit. 

And so, my week without Ian ended with a bang, but it was manageable and everyone made it through it, albeit with a few dents and a little puke later. 


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I love babies.  Mine and other peoples.  Ian’s brother and his wife had their 3rd child, a baby girl, born this weekend.  In honor of that, here is a picture their baby girl, Aliyah (you might need to click on it to see it larger, I copied it from his facebook page), and a few of my other favorite baby pics.

Here are some of my favorite other baby pictures:

Lucy with her baby carried Kenyan style. I can't wait to try this t!echnique myself

Eli at about 7 months

Lucy at 4-5 months old

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Eli’s newest deal is to threaten me with things like,

“You won’t be my mom any more.”  ”

I won’t love you, if you don’t…” and so on. 

I don’t generally respond to his threats except to shrug my shoulders and say something like, “That’s too bad”.

Tonight, he again said that I was no longer his mom.  I said, “Ok.”  He then informed me that Megan was his new mom.  Megan is our Volunteer Coordinator at Karibu Centre, also from Portland, Oregon.

I responded with, “Great, then you can go wake Megan up at 6:30 everry morning.”

“No” replied Eli, “I’ll still wake you up, you’re the househelp.”

Of course I love that  I’ve just been demoted by a 4 year old.   My only question is, if I’m currently the mom, then where in the world is MY househelp that is supposedly getting up currently with the kids at 6:30 am every day???  Cause as far as I know, and I’ve been here since May, I haven’t had househelp that hang out with my kids at 6:30 am so I can sleep….

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