20 August 2011

My Housegirl

I finally got a housegirl!  We've been kind of half looking for someone to help me with housework.  It's very commonly done here when the woman of the house has a job, like me.  I've been functioning okay...not great...at multi-tasking, but my housekeeping would not be up to typical standards of most African mamas.

I might tempted to feel badly about this.  After all, the banner example for a Godly wife is the Proverbs 31 woman, who took care of her home and her family, did business and made fancy clothes for her kids.  Her husband and kids respected her.  I heard a sermon from Pastor Mark Driscoll on this topic one time in which he pointed out that she had a lot of help to achieve all this.  He was talking to American women, so he pointed out the dishwasher, oven, washing machine, etc. that help them take care of all this business.  He wasn't saying that it's cake for American women, just that the Proverbs 31 woman wasn't perfect and didn't do it all on her own.

I have a slightly less help from appliances than my working-wife American counterparts.  I've been asked to take more photos, and I have my camera, the cable for it, power and a fair internet connection, so here are photos of (in clockwise order):  my pantry, my dishwasher, my garbage can, my dish cupboard and my stove.  It's super glamorous, so don't be too blown away.  The garbage can is the size of the kind someone might keep under their office desk.  It serves the entire house, but we only have to empty it every four or five days.  That's good, since all garbage here is burned in a pit behind the house.  Most of ours is organic, aside from the occasional bleach bottle.
Of course, clothes are also a big thing.  We had been having a teenage boy who lives with our bishop wash our clothes every Saturday for about $2.  Then Fred's favorite t-shirt went missing, only to be found a few weeks later being used a mop at the bishop's house because no one knew whose it was.  Fred saved it in time, and it's still in good condition, but that was the last straw.  I was about to have to take over all the clothes washing, where previously I had only been doing our underwear and some emergency items that couldn't wait for Saturday.  This is my washing machine and you can kind of see the dryer in the background by the goat.

Now, as of Friday morning, I have a new dishwasher, washing machine and general cleaning agent.  Her name is Stella.  Her first day she got right to work, doing all the things I hate: washing the floors and the pots and the rugs and the curtains.  This all took her about four hours, with a tea break.  It would have taken me at least a day, maybe two.  Today she came back for her regular shift of 8am to 1pm, but there's no water today, and hasn't been all week.  Nearly all our buckets are empty, so she folded the clothes she washed yesterday, swept and mopped the kitchen and living room again, did the dishes, then I put a movie on for her while I work, and she promptly fell asleep.
Actually, she's great.  She speaks Swahili, and is really patient communicating with me.  If she gets that I'm not understanding her question, she's show me what she wants by miming.  She works hard (when there's work to do), and is quiet and stays out of my way.  Really, I could ask for nothing better.  Right now she lives with a family nearby, but eventually she might come live with us, especially when it gets closer to the baby coming.  She's excited about the baby, and totally okay with washing dirty nappies (diapers).  All this for $25 per month!  We'll start paying her more as time goes by and she sticks with us.  We might also start giving her a chance to learn tailoring or some other trade, so that if/when she leaves us one day, she'll be better educated and trained than when she joined us.

Anyway, that's where we're at now.  I'm excited to not have to wash dishes and she's happy to have an easy job where she can take naps and watch movies.  Plus, you got the emotional rollercoaster of feeling sorry for me when you saw pictures of my kitchen, then of feeling jealous of me because I have an awesome house-girl.  It's a win-win-win!

15 August 2011

Sleepover Week!

Last week Fred had to travel to Nairobi for a few days.  It was a quick trip and we didn’t want to pay $50 for a Kenyan entrance visa for me, so I stayed home…alone…or not really.  Fred was a little nervous about leaving me home alone, so we invited our bishop’s two granddaughters to come stay with me.  Eva is 13 and Felista is about 9, and they love washing dishes.  Win!

Fred left on Sunday afternoon and the girls arrived shortly thereafter.  We had a good time, cooking special food and watching Toy Story 3 three times in three days.  Really, they were excellent house guests, and the only inconvenience of having them around was getting up at 5:45am to wake them up for school.  One evening when we didn’t have power, they used the dominoes to create a little home with designated dominoes representing people.  Eva told Felista a story using the dominoes, which seemed to be about the girls living with Fred and me permanently.  They love Fred, who lived in their home for several months, and, according to the many drawings they gave me signifying such, they love me too, probably because I made them hot chocolate and rice pudding.

Fred arrived home on Wednesday morning, and we expected the girls to go home after they returned from school…except they didn’t.  In fact, they brought their brother, Johnson, over to spend the afternoon.  As the afternoon passed to evening and they still made no signs of leaving, I scrambled to figure out what to feed them, since I had planned a meal for two.  That night, for the first time, Felista wet the bed, and shamefacedly confessed to Fred the next morning.  They packed their things and went home after school.  A few hours later, they were back, with their brother.  The next day was a big graduation ceremony at the nursing school (which is part of the diocese), and so many relatives and guests had come that the kids’ beds were occupied by visitors, so they came back to us. 

I could understand the predicament, and they would surely be better off sleeping in our spare beds than on the floor at their house.  Another morning up at 5:45am to wake them for school, then Fred and I spent most of the day at the graduation ceremony, which is a lot of speeches and choirs and really, really slow processionals.  We had decided to treat ourselves to a nice (for Shirati) dinner out that night, and I was looking forward to an actual date and some quiet time alone with my husband.  Alas, the kids showed up again right before we left for dinner, expecting to be fed and housed yet again.  We told them to go home for dinner, then return for sleep, and we went out.  (By the way, I should mention that their home is about 100 yards away from ours.)  We got home rather late, and found the kids all in bed, but Felista wasn’t sleeping because Eva was sick and Johnson had refused to take Felista home for dinner so she hadn’t eaten.  We scraped some food together for her, but eating and drinking right before bed was not her friend…again…and there was another nighttime accident which she didn’t admit to this time.

On Saturday Fred had to travel to a nearby town for about eight hours, and he assured me that the kids would head home as soon as they woke up.  They didn’t.  We fed them breakfast, then Fred left, and the kids spent the entire day just hanging around.  It was raining and no power, so I read a book and they took naps and otherwise amused themselves.  Their uncle, a university student, even braved the rain to come over to see what was going on, and ended up napping on our couch as well!  Eventually the rain stopped and the power came back on, so Johnson popped in a movie and they settled in for the duration.

Now, by this time, you may be wondering why I didn’t just send them home.  The main reason is that it is just not done in Africa.  Hospitality is so important that you never send a guest away, even if that guest is eating you out of house and home.  A good guest will finish their visit and leave at the appropriate time…these kids didn’t have a sense of that appropriate time.

Their uncle returned for them (“praise God!” thought I), and as they went the uncle was sure to say “They’ll be back in a little while.  Their grandfather just wants to see them for a bit.”  “Oh no, no, no, no…that’s not necessary,” protested I.  “Oh no, it’s okay.  They like it here,” returned the uncle.  “No, really, they should just stay home.  I need to…do…some…stuff,” I lamely finished.  The uncle just returned a confused, slightly offended look (maybe he’d been planning to come back and finish the movie with the kids) and left.  I breathed a sigh of relief, put in my own movie to watch, and waited for Fred...who returned with bad news.  He had to go back to Nairobi.

Yesterday, Sunday, he left for Nairobi again.  He asked if I wanted the kids, to which I replied an adamant “NO”, then tried to backpedal to legitimate reasons of establishing independence, getting ready for Innocent to come, etc, then I finally just confessed that I was tired of them!  He laughed and agreed, and explained to the bishop that he was traveling again, but that I would be fine without any house guests.  At least that’s what he said he told the bishop.  I don’t know what got lost in translation or where, but about three hours after Fred left, I went to the door to find all three kids with their backpacks on, ready to stay another week!  In desperation, I forgot all polite Swahili and just bluntly told them that I was staying alone and they should go home.  Looking confused and slightly offended, they turned and went home.

The argument could be made that I should have the kids around as much as possible to prepare for impending motherhood, but I would argue that there is a huge difference between having one’s own baby who grows into childhood with the boundaries and systems (and language) of his or her mother and having three visitors who are difficult to dislodge once established.  Plus, can’t I have these last few months to indulge the selfish whims, like sleeping in past 5:45am and watching whatever movie I want to, that will soon be a distant memory?  That's what I've been telling myself, anyway. 

03 August 2011


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we experience good news in our digital culture.  The fact that I live so far from so many of my friends and family means that I experience the vast majority of news, both good and bad, online while I’m sitting at my computer alone.  I imagine most of you reading this blog have similar experiences. 

Several weeks ago my sister had a baby, and my mom sent me an email to let me know.  It was exciting, of course, but I had no outlet for my excitement until Fred came home from work.  In contrast, when I randomly called my parents last week, I got to hear on the phone from both my parents that my sister-in-law had had an emergency C-section three weeks early because of her high blood pressure.  It was much more fun to share that moment with my parents on the phone and with Fred in the room, then a few minutes later talking to Lyndsey on the phone.
Now Fred and I have our own news to celebrate, and want to do it right.  I’ve thought long and hard about how to tell people back in the States our news, and I’ve sent emails to family members and a couple of groups of friends, asking them to tell others so that no one is alone to celebrate our good news.  However, that doesn’t cover many, many people who love Fred and I and would like to celebrate our joy, hence this blog post.  God has blessed Fred and me with a baby due in February! 
If time and distance were no object, I’d love to have dinners and coffees herbal teas with all of you to rejoice together.  Since that’s not possible, I’m asking you to celebrate with one another!  Please call someone, someone who knows me or even who doesn’t, and have a little celebration on my behalf.  Invite someone over for dinner, pop open a bottle of wine, and thank God for his blessing in our lives.  I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” (because I’m that cool), and I love the part of the song “L’Chaim” where they sing “God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.  How much more should we be joyful when there’s really something to be joyful for?”

So be joyful with us and for us.  Celebrate in some small or large way the blessings God heaps upon each of us every day!

P.S.  I have my own small, personal celebration: I got a toaster!  Actually, it’s not a toaster in the traditional sense, it’s a small appliance called a “sandwich maker.”  Fred’s aunt has one (the aunt who lives in an apartment in Nairobi with outlets and frequent electricity, not the aunt who lives in the village without outlets or electricity), and Fred bought me one as a surprise.  I don’t know how to describe it, except that I butter the outside of two pieces of bread and put something in the middle, like fried egg or peanut butter, then close the lid, and it makes a toast sandwich, a delicious toast sandwich…when the power happens to be on during meal or snack time.  I’m not sending out personalized notifications of this, because it’s just a toaster, and I’m perfectly capable of celebrating toast by myself, unless you want to make yourself some toast to celebrate this blessing with me as well.