03 December 2012

Sometimes I hit a wall...

...and I run out of words for this blog.  This has been the case in recent weeks, as I keep thinking "I need to update the blog!  I have so much to share!" and then as soon as I log onto the site, my mind goes blank.  Then I got an idea from a blog I read occasionally (Domestic Serenity) for a format that I can use to beat the blanks!  So here we go!

In my life this week:     We had a really busy week of dinners with friends and supporters and potential supporters.  This slew of events happened to coincide with Wesley teething, but he was a trooper and an angel.  He dealt with the late nights really well.

In our work/ministry:     A Lahash team just took off for two weeks in Uganda to have a camp with the kids at Amazing Grace Children's Home, and my other two co-workers who are not on that trip are traveling with family, so I'm manning (woman-ing?) the Lahash house on my own for a few days this week.  Although it's quiet and lonely without Katie, Dan and Casey, I get a lot done when I'm not being distracted by all the silliness and collective brainstorming.  Since I work alone from home so much when I'm in Africa, it's nice to have co-workers, but on days like today, when I just need to bang out a number of things on my to-do list, it's good not to have distractions (aside from the standard distractions that happen in the mind of a perpetual multi-tasker.)  Fred has been working on a concept note for continuing the palliative care program in Shirati, a program he really cares about.  We've also been doing the difficult, but important work of raising support to enable us to continuing doing the work and ministry that we enjoy and are passionate about.  It's rewarding to meet up with so many people who care about us and are interested in our work, but I really struggle to bring the "Ask" to a friendly dinner meeting.  I need to get better at giving people the opportunity to partner with us financially.  (GIVE to the Otienos --Lahash Staff, Leisha (Adams) Otieno)

I'm being inspired by:     A ministry called She's My Sister which trains pastors and lay leaders in sub-saharan Africa to provide Scripture-based lay counseling to traumatized and/or grieving people.  The opportunity to work with She's My Sister has been building for some time as Fred was trained to train others to do the counseling work, then we got a chance to meet with the American leadership for the program when we first came to the States two months ago.  Since that time I've been talking with many people about the exciting opportunity we have to be involved with starting this ministry in Tanzania, on the side of the other work we're doing.  The initial meeting we had in Washington, DC was so encouraging and inspiring, and in many ways I see God using this ministry to open new chapters in my personal story.

My favorite thing this week was:     I could use this opportunity to say something soft like "the blessing of friendship" or "my adorable kiddo" or "my wonderful husband".  All of those things are true...I mean, look at these handsome guys!  However, me being me, I'm going to say that my favorite thing this week was the Captain Neon burger I had at McMenamin's.  Captain Neon burgers were a craving I had during my pregnancy, along with Burger King double cheeseburgers and mustard, so it was great to finally satisfy that year-long craving.  It helped that the burger was accompanied by lots of laughter with Seth and Rachel Reeser and Matt and Corrine Haning.

I've been thinking:     A year ago I blogged about thinking about Christmas and missing all the trappings of an American Christmas, but struggling at the same time to cling to the "reason for the season" as they say.  Now that I get to experience an American Christmas, I am torn between my idealistic self (Advent Conspiracy, Jesus-only celebration) and the undeniable urge to go get Wesley's picture taken on Santa Claus' lap.  I've actually found that in a disturbing number of areas the ideals I held as a slightly-self-righteous, slightly-superior single person have been sagging under a new found...pragmatism, shall we call it? Now that I have a husband and a child, I feel the appeal of a large, suburban, impeccably decorated home or a Pinterest-worthy Christmas tree with loads of presents underneath.  I find myself snatching the cheap Johnson's baby shampoo off the shelf while trying to stifle the voice in the back of my mind that says "didn't I read something about a terrible chemical in this stuff and how I should make my own baby shampoo?"  Ditto that message regarding baby food, formula, fast food, children's clothes and toys, etc.  Yet, despite that echo and despite access to so many resources to actually make all my own everything, I would rather watch The Voice than learn to knit socks for my family.  Sorry, idealistic 20-something Leisha, it turns out we get baby food in plastic containers at Walmart now, even though we feel terrible about it.

Things I'm working on:     I'm figuring out Christmas presents for husband, son, parents, brother, sister-in-law and niece.  Also, I'm apparently working on storing up fat for another two years of African hibernation.  (Gained 12 pounds in two months and counting!)

I'm reading:     Very atypically for me, I'm about one chapter into four different books.  I never, ever read like this, but for some reason my attention span has gone the way of my waistline.  So, the books I'm reading are: Respectfully Yours by Dr. Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs (a study on respecting my husband), Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin, Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot, and After the Funeral by Agatha Christie.  I'll give you one guess as to which book will be finished by the next time I make this list.  (Hint: it's the only work of fiction on that list.)

I'm grateful for:     I'm actually enjoying the cool, grey days of an Oregon autumn.  I do miss the sun, and I'm sure I'll be really happy to go back to warmer weather, but it's probably upward of 100°F in Shirati these days, so I don't mind the excuse to wear coats and fleece.  I realize most of you probably aren't quite busting out your mittens yet, but if your typical "cold day" were about 70°F, you'd be wearing wool coats, too.

01 November 2012

Highlights of October - Part One (with photos!)

Unfortunately it's been more than a month since I've posted here.  We're safe and sound and settled in Newberg with my parents, and it's past time for me to update!  Here is the first part of our month:

 1 October - Shirati to Rondo - a small town in Kenya, where we met Fred's grandmother, aunt, cousin and niece.  This was the first time I've seen Fred's family since our first, memorable meeting last year.  It was really nice to see them and they doted on Wesley.

3 October - Nairobi to Dubai - After a morning packed with last minute things, we took a taxi to the airport and boarded a plane to Dubai.  We were seated in the bulkhead row, which they had arranged to be family central.  There was a French family with a 2-year-old next to us and a Kenyan mom with an 18-month-old across the aisle.  I highly, highly recommend Emirates to anyone traveling with kids.  They treated us so well, and even took a Polaroid of our family for the "Baby's First Flight" page of our (non-existent) baby book.  Wesley did so well!

4 October - Dubai to Washington, DC - We flew in a half-empty plane from Dubai to Dulles airport, each lounging in our own row.  We sailed through customs, refreshed ourselves in the airport bathrooms and hopped into a taxi to the offices of She's My Sister, a program of American Bible Society.  A 45-minute scheduled meeting stretched into more than two hours.  Although we were just off of a 14-hour flight, it was one of those experiences that just seemed entirely directed by God.  I'll write more about what may develop out of that meeting another time, but it was a very encouraging time.  They paid for a taxi for us to our hotel, where we got food and fell into exhausted sleep.

5 October - Washington, DC - Super tourists!  We spent the morning going around national sights: White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, various war memorials, the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial (our favorite), and a tour of the U.S. Capitol building.  We enjoyed a late lunch with our friend Sarah, who has moved to DC for school; then we returned to our hotel and collapsed again.  Fred and Wesley had jet lag, which made them go to sleep for the night at 5pm.  I, on the other hand, wasn't falling asleep until past midnight.

6 October - Washington to Harrisburg, PA - My former Dodoma roommate, Leah, lives in Virginia, and she and a friend drove up and took us out to lunch.  That was such a great time of catching up, and ended with them dropping us off at Union Station to catch our train to Philadelphia.  After a short layover in Philadelphia, we caught a train to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to meet a friend who is connected to Shirati.

7 October - Harrisburg, PA - Out of the four families we interacted with on this day, three were cross-cultural couples: two white American men married to Tanzanian women and one Kenyan man married to a white American woman.  (The fourth was an unmarried American man who had lived in Shirati so long that if he had ever married, it probably would have been to a Tanzanian.)  We had a number of great, encouraging conversations and really enjoyed our time with them.

8 October - Harrisburg, PA to Portland, OR - We took a train from Harrisburg back to Philadelphia, and had four hours to kill before going to the airport.  We checked in with the senior citizens who run the "Traveler's Aid" desk at the Philadelphia train station, and they gave us the details for getting over to the historic district, where we wandered around looking at statues and the Liberty Bell.  Eventually we headed to the airport and boarded a plane to Denver.  The only empty seat on this expected-to-be-full flight was next to us!  We boarded a flight from Denver to Portland, during which our seatmate was an extremely kind man who didn't even mind when I changed Wesley's wet diaper in my lap while we taxied to the terminal.  My parents and grandparents were waiting with a balloon and hugs, and it just so happened that Wesley was wearing a shirt that matched his grandpa's shirt!  (I would post a photo, but I haven't tracked down my grandma's camera yet to get her photos.)

Coming soon...Highlights of October - Part Two and Adjusting to America

17 September 2012

Can we drive to America?

It's too bad we can't drive, because this guy is ready to go!
The past ten days or so have been pretty quiet on the Facebook/blog from our side because Fred and I were on the road, although going different directions.  We went the first leg together, then he headed off to Kigali, Rwanda for a follow-up training in trauma and grief counseling.  He was certified as a facilitator for counseling by the American Bible Society.  He went to the first part of this training back in February when we were waiting for our little guy to arrive, and this trip happened at Wesley's half-birthday.  We spent the day on the road to Dodoma, where Wesley and I were going to attend a Lahash retreat.
After a relaxing three days of Dodoma sun (and breeze--it's the cold time of year), good fellowship with the Angotes and Will Campbell, fabulous food, meditation on justice, mercy and hope, and afternoon naps, I feel energized and renewed for a new season of work.  Actually, the work started right away, as I had a meeting with Mama Askofu Muhagachi, the director of GHMD, about the ways that the Higher Education Program will benefit the students in her program.  Although more information will be coming in future months, one of the first candidates for a university scholarship from Lahash will be someone I have sponsored for the past five years, Baraka Kibiro.  He's starting his national exams, which are comparable to SATs in America, in a few weeks.
Wesley and I spent a couple of extra days in Dodoma for meetings, shopping and watching episodes of "New Girl" (It's Jess!) on Will's computer.  From Dodoma, we went on to the town of Shinyanga, which is the location of a potential new Lahash partner, Path of Hope.  I reviewed some exciting proposals with the director of Path of Hope, and Wesley exhibited the best of his charms and tricks for her.  The director, Mama Askofu Nyakyema, and I have a lot in common, although we're a generation apart, not least of which is that we're American women married to Luo men.  She's like a stand-in grandma, and Wesley had fun practicing eating grown-up food with her.
We all got home yesterday after good trips, and we are happy to be together again.  Wesley has been showing Fred how well and how much he can eat, how he "walks" (taking steps while being supported upright), how ticklish he's become, his almost-breaking-through tooth buds and how he's learning a little independence.  He doesn't have to be held every single moment and he has even become friendly with new people!  Fred and Wesley have been together almost every moment since we met up yesterday, making noises and faces at each other.
We are buying plane tickets this week, and hope to be arriving back in the States in 17 days!  Watch this blog for more information about our timeframe and events to hear about our work in East Africa.

04 September 2012

Family Doings

Wesley helping Fred check his Facebook
September finds us all shifting in high gear for the coming month, especially as we prepare to come to the States in October for a few months ($875 still to raise!).

Innocent - After a month of leave, Innocent is going back to school for his final term of kindergarten.  He's lucky (or unlucky, depending on one's perspective) to be at a private school, since Kenyan government teachers are on strike.  Since he loves school, he's glad his teachers are not on strike.  He'll also be turning seven this month!

Samuel Wesley - Our little man is coming up on six months old, and it seems like he's decided to skip crawling and try for walking.  He's not very interested in being on his stomach, but he loves to practice standing.  He only needs a little bit of help balancing, then he'll be trying to walk in no time!

Leisha - This weekend I'll be going to Dodoma for a Lahash staff retreat with the Angote family and Will C.  I'm excited to see my co-workers and to eat some pizza and Chinese food.  I also hear there's a new coffee shop in town that I haven't had a chance to check out yet.  I'll also stop in Shinyanga to visit some friends on my way back.  Then I'll be working on packing and ticking off the many items on our to-do list before leaving.

Fred - Fred continues his role of master traveler this month.  He will take Innocent back to school, then the next day take Wesley and me to Mwanza (halfway to Dodoma), and will spend all of next week in Kigali, Rwanda at a training for grief and trauma counseling.  He gets back to Shirati with 14 days to conduct a palliative care training and get all of his various programs to a good point for him to leave.

In other news: We thought we finally had all our immigration documents in proper order for all of our family members.  This wasn't an easy task: Tanzanian residence permits for all three of us, Kenyan and American passports for the baby, Kenyan residence permit for me and American visa for Fred meant dealing with three different governments, each with different rules and different levels of efficiency.  Anyway, we thought we were all legal and finally done with paying for visas and permits and passports, when the Tanzanian government decided to invalidate all residence permits for foreigners.  At first we thought we have to pay the $550 fee for my permit again (after just paying it in April), but a friend in the Tanzanian immigration department assured us that we just have to do the paperwork, as long as it is done before December 31st.  Of course this means we have had to get our resumes, letters of recommendation, passport photos and applications all together and submitted ASAP so that we get the permits before we leave for the States.

Literally days after finding out that we have to reapply for the Tanzanian permits, I was refused entry to Kenya on my spouse's permit.  Apparently the Kenyan government had passed a new immigration law which requires me to have an additional pass in addition to my spouse's permit.  It didn't cost much, but required Fred going up to Nairobi to get it for me.  It also disrupted our plans to go see Fred's grandmother and aunt, so they still haven't had a chance to meet Wesley, which was disappointing to all of us.  We're trying to arrange travel plans so that we can see them on our way to the airport in October.  Ah, Africa!  You don't make anything easy, do you?

22 August 2012

Bring me (and my parents) to America

I got my U.S. passport today, which means I'm ready to throw some diapers in a bag and come to America to visit! 
$1500 pledged, $2000 still to go.  Donate at www.lahash.org/give.

01 August 2012

"You kids get off my lawn!"

My brother and I used to tease our mom about being the "mean" neighborhood lady.  She would get really annoyed about things that seemed so petty to Roy and I, like our neighbors' friends parking in front of our house or the neighbors flicking their cigarette butts into the overgrown wilderness behind the house.  She simply couldn't explain to our satisfaction why it mattered where our neighbor's dog pooped.

Mom, I owe you an apology.  I understand now.

I've written before about my frustrations with Shirati townspeople violating the sanctity of our home environment, but lately I've become convinced that people here are determined to drive me out of town.  In the past two weeks (two weeks only), all of these things have happened:
          - People pasturing their cows, goats and chickens in our yard
          - Neighbor kids stealing our garbage
          - A mentally ill man stole out of our garbage
          - Local grade schoolers  and neighbor kids sneaking into our backyard to steal fruit, breaking limbs off the trees to get to it.  The neighbor kids know they're not supposed to take fruit off the trees, and their grandmother knows we don't want them taking fruit, but when Fred went over to reiterate with her after chasing the kids off for the umpteenth time, he found her eating our fruit.
          - Two little girls snuck away from a church program to use our trees as a toilet
          - A man used the bushes between our house and the road as a toilet
          - A woman brought her small child to use our back yard as a toilet (sensing any themes?)
          - An old man, who has been warned seven or eight times, returned to steal more wood from our fence.  Every time he gets caught, he says "forgive me, forgive me" while he continues to pull posts out of the ground or break boards.
          - Eight high schoolers used the gap in our fence to come through to where I was sitting on the back porch with the baby, and they proceeded to make fun of the baby, thinking I couldn't understand them.
           - Actually, every time I go outside, foot traffic on the road slows as every child walking by shouts "mzungu" hoping to get my attention. (Seriously?  I've lived here for more than a year.  Get over it!)

Now this week, the straw that breaks the camel's back...

The local church, which is across the road from our house, is having a women's conference this week.  They're having it under tarps in the field, and they started the week by cutting down every dead or semi-dead or "expendable" tree in the compound, including at our house.  (This has been done several times over the years without replanting at all, so a compound that was one full of lovely mature fruit trees is now relatively barren.)  Yesterday the conference opened, and it suddenly occurred to the pastor that the kitchen staff would need a place to sleep if they were to stay for night prayers and have tea ready in the morning, so he asked Fred if all the kitchen staff could stay at our house.  Aside from the inconvience of housing and expense of providing bath water to a bunch of women we don't know, bringing a whole bunch more women around to advise me on how to care for my son was not an appealing prospect.  Then the conference kicked off last evening with "night prayers" which started around 7pm and lasted until after 10pm.  As with most of the African church services I've attended, they crank the sound system to maximum volume.  There are no noise pollution laws, so the pastors take that as the Lord's invitation into as many homes and businesses as subwoofers can reach.  Since ours is the second-closest house, we are getting the full effect of the services resonating through our house, including the extensive prayer times.  (For all the Swahili speakers out there: "TOKA katika JINA la JESU!!!  MOTO, MOTO, MOTO!!!")

Even worse, though, was that these night prayers are an excuse for every adolescent with nothing better to do (aka all of them) to gather.  Around 9:30pm last night I was in our bedroom trying to get the baby to sleep when I heard a big group pass by on the road.  Our room is about a dozen feet from the road, so I distinctly heard another kid run through under our window and jump out to scare the group on the road.  Then they set off some kind of firecracker or something, which caused me to jump and the baby to cry.  Fred went out the front door, but didn't see anyone.  Then I saw a couple of young men in the back yard, so Fred went around to the back and chased them away.  The whole encounter was brief, but unsettling for me, especially since the conference is lasting until Sunday and Fred is leaving on a trip tomorrow.

In every single one of these events, when we have confronted someone to stop their behavior (or theft) they look at us completely unperturbed.  The general attitude seems to be that we are the unreasonable ones for not wanting animal and human feces in our yard.  We are un-African for having a fence and not wanting strangers to steal it for firewood.  We are ungenerous for not allowing random strangers to break limbs off of the trees for the unripe fruit at the top or to rummage in our garbage.  We are inhospitable for not opening our doors to a group of strangers on two hours' notice.  (Okay, I'll give them that one.)  People have told Fred that we are considered "mean."  I haven't been the "mean girl" since I ostracized Stacey Springstead for no good reason in 6th grade.  (I still feel bad about that, Stacey!)  This all makes me feel like a bad person and a bad Christian and a bad "missionary" (although I'm not really a missionary).

Part of the difference in perception is cultural, but I've run some of these things past Africans and long-term white people, and they agree that we're not totally unreasonable.  These events all coming together at once have made me really, really ready for a visit to the States.  Thank you to those who have already pledged or contributed for our airfare fund!  Now, I'm off to change an extremely pungent diaper before that problem starts to spread. 

26 July 2012

Don't be a Bystander

I have so many thoughts swirling around in my head, so many blog posts I've been planning to write, although with a little guy who requires a lot of my time, energy and nutrients, typing anything requires more attention (and fingers) than I usually have available.  At present there is one thing really pressing on my mind.

I recently read the book The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, and it sparked a lot of thoughts, but one concept was particularly intriguing to me: the bystander problem.  As explained in the book, studies have shown that the more people who are aware of a problem, the less likely it is that any one person will act.  For example, in one study, a person staged an epilptic seizure inside a room.  When one person was outside the door and heard the sounds, that person rushed to help 85% of the time, but when the listener thought there were four others also listening, the person responded only 31% of the time.  If someone else is aware of the need, one assumes that person will respond if the need is really great.  I suspect that the internet enhances the bystander problem, since we become aware of so much more need and grief and trauma in the world and the potential audience is virtually infinite, so there are many other people we assume will respond instead.

So, to apply this concept in the life of my family...
I know there are many, many people who read this blog and who really appreciate the work that Fred and I are involved in.  Many of you have been so generous over the years, in your attention, prayers, gifts and finances, and God has used that generosity to bring us through every difficulty.  At the moment we are facing a financial hurdle we need your help to overcome.  We are planning a trip back to the States for visiting and fundraising, but we need help paying for the plane tickets.  We're hoping to visit from the end of September through the end of January

We will be most grateful to anyone who can help us out.  The total we need to raise for two round-trip tickets is $3800.  There are two ways you can give:
               - through Lahash (www.lahash.org/give - tax-deductible), mentioning Leisha Adams
              - by getting a check made out to Leisha Adams to my parents (4800 SW Griffith Dr Ste 104, Beaverton, OR 97005 - not tax-deductible)

Our plans include time in
      Washington, DC  (late Sept and late Jan)
           Fayetteville, NC  (late Sept)
                Philadelphia, PA  (early Oct)
                     Portland, OR   (Oct-Jan)
                          Astoria, OR  (Oct)
                               Seattle, WA  (Nov or Dec)
                                    Spokane, WA  (Nov or Dec)
                                         Whitefish, MT  (Nov or Dec)
                                               and other cities are possible if we get - invites and finances permitting.

If you are reading this, please don't be a bystander.  We'd really like to come back to the States for a rest and for everyone to meet the baby and in order to do some fundraising for causes that we are involved in here.  If you can give some money or are willing to do a fundraiser for us, please do so.  Please don't assume that someone else will take care of it.  We greatly appreciate it!

12 July 2012

Travelling to and fro - Photos + BIG NEWS!

In the weeks since I last posted, we have done some travelling that you might be interested in:

19-22 June - Shinyanga, Tanzania - Sam and me
This was our first trip without Fred.  We stayed at home and at others' homes without Fred, but this was our first time traveling without him.  He went with us to Musoma, which is about 1/3rd of the way, and put us on the bus.  We had two seats for the eight hour bus ride, because there are really no good options for a seatmate who is not your husband when one has to breastfeed a squirmy, fussy infant. 
          Option 1: An older male - These guys usually spread their legs as wide as possible because of the tiny amount of legroom in the Chinese-made buses, and elbow the baby in the head because this 24" little guy needs some stretching space when he's eating.
          Option 2: A younger male - I've not yet sat directly next to a young man, but I've been ogled across aisles and rows by enough of these guys to not want one trying to look down my nursing hood.
          Option 3: An older woman - Older ladies are usually pretty "hippy" and have 95 bags and sometimes a chicken with them.  Regardless of which language they speak, they always make it clear to me their opinions on what I should or should not be doing for my son.
          Option 4: A younger woman - These girls are not too bad, and if I could be sure of having one for a seatmate, I'd be okay with it.  They're usually really interested in playing with or holding the baby.  Worst case scenario they have their own kid (or two or three), and want to squeeze everyone in together.
Hence, I took up two seats, one for me and one for the diaper bag.  I had to defend my extra seat a couple of times, but it was totally worth it.

The conference in Shinyanga was for a potential new Lahash partner called Path of Hope.  It is a children's program similar to Grace and Healing Mnistry, but spread out at several small, remote churches in the area.  The head of the program is Jeanette Nyakyema, an American married to a Luo (just like me and Fred, although her husband is a Mennonite bishop and they are old enough to be our parents).  The conference was to introduce Path of Hope personnel to Lahash's structure and to train them in some key areas.  The Angotes and Will met us there, and together we did several presentations.  We got to meet some of the kids who may be joining Lahash sponsorship in the coming months, and we were all inspired by their drive and passion.

All in all, the trip went well, with one exception.  Reporting time for our return bus was 5:30am, and Bishop Nyakyema kindly picked us up at our guest house and took us to the stage.  Thank the Lord he was helping me because I had three bags and a huge thing of diapers, plus a weed eater and a child's bike which Edwin brought from Dodoma.  After waiting for the bus, which was 20 minutes late, there was a panicked rush to load everyone on the bus.  The bishop was holding some of my bags and loaded the big things under the bus, then boarded to hand me my other bags, and the bus pulled out!  He got me my bags, then got off at the earliest opportunity and had to walk back to his car at 6am!  I have rarely been so humbly served, and I have no idea how I would have made it without him. 

3-7 July - Nairobi, Kenya - Whole family
Confession: Fred and I are child smugglers.  Basically, since we didn't have time to wait around for Sam's birth certificate before returning to Tanzania, and he was sleeping in the car when we passed through the borders, so there was no record of him on the Kenyan side of the border, where they tend to be a little bit pickier than your usual African border point for some reason.  Anyway, Tanzania didn't care about our infant, but when we tried to pass through the Kenya side on our way to Nairobi, the guy kind of freaked out on me.  Long story short: He kept shooing Fred out of the office, even though we kept saying we were together, and after a long time of explaining that we were going to Nairobi to get the baby's legal paperwork and passport, he finally asked where the baby's father was.  I said "HERE" and motioned to Fred.  He asked for Fred's passport and saw it was a Kenyan passport.  "Why didn't you tell me that the father is a Kenyan?" he blustered.  Frustrated, we responded "you didn't ask!"  It turns out he was trying to figure out how to issue a visa to an American infant without a passport, but as a Kenyan, the baby could freely re-enter his home country, apparently. 

Playing with Dad's soda
Anyway, we made it to Nairobi with the intention of getting the baby's birth certificate and U.S. passport.  I had carefully researched all the paperwork needed and made an appointment.  All we needed was the birth certificate.  Fred picked it up, and we realized that the US embassy requires a certified birth certificate, but you can only get a birth certificate certified by using it in a government office.  So, in lieu of the US passport, we decided to start the process for his Kenyan passport.  The thing is that where the US passport process is super clearly defined on their website, you can't even find out the Kenyan passport process if you physically present yourself at their office.  In the end, as we stood outside the gates scratching our heads over the confusing paperwork, we were approached by one of the immigration "professionals" who have a cottage industry of figuring out the right process and making connections inside to fast-track the paperwork.  This guy was the same tribe as Fred (tribe is king in Kenya), and he worked the whole thing for us.  Within 24 hours we had a certified birth certificate and a Kenyan passport, but we couldn't reschedule our US passport appointment for several days.  We decided to return to Nairobi in two weeks when we could schedule appointments for the baby and Fred both.  (Fred is applying for a tourist visa to the States.) 
          High points: Hot showers, cold imported beer, cheeseburgers, tartar sauce, a Turkish gyro and not getting stared at in public
          Low points: Not getting to see the Daggetts (friends who live in Nairobi) and Fred getting his pocket picked of the $300 US dollars we had saved for the baby's passport fees - of course I was told of my very first trip to Africa that Nairobi has "tuff teeves"  (tough thieves)

18-20 July - Nairobi, Kenya - Whole family
So we have to return to Nairobi for appointments for both Fred and the baby on 19 July.  Fortunately it works out well to meet up with John D and Will, Lahash travelers who are good friends from my home church.  They're coming to visit us for a few days in Shirati, but it's way too complicated for non-locals to make it out here, so we'll be escorting them.

September 2012-January 2013 - USA - Whole family
We're trying to plan a trip back to the States to visit family and friends in various places.  Unfortunately, we are facing some financial constraints and are struggling to fund this planned trip.  We don't usually ask for financial assistance for ourselves, but if you could help us raise money for this trip home, we would sure appreciate it.  You can give to our support fund (Leisha Adams) through Lahash at http://lahash.org/give/.  We'd love to introduce you to this little brooder.

19 June 2012

An End to Criticalness?

I've been realizing that my last several posts have had a little negative spin to them.  To be sure, sarcastic observation is kind of the trademark of my generation, but I've been convicted that my complaining is not really giving you all an accurate picture of life here.  Thus, I've been trying to see the bright side of various things that are not my favorite.  For example:

When I get frustrated by...  
...I think about...

Neighbor kids digging through my garbage, prying open
dirty diapers to see what's inside...
...the same kids standing on the road watching
a bird in a tree in complete fascination.

Roosters crowing outside the window, waking up our
napping baby...
...every time I eat chicken or eggs I know that they
are locally grown, cageless and organic.

Sneezing my head off from allergies...
...that we live in a beautiful green environment.

 A baby who wants to eat all the time, day and night...
...how healthy and strong our son is and that he
has never had a problem with latching or nursing.

Innocent's constant interest in what I'm doing, from
changing diapers to cooking to working on the computer...
...how we have a bright, inquisitive boy who values
relationship over tv or toys.

Strangers asking to hold our baby everytime I walk
outside (and sometimes coming to the door to ask)...
...that we live in a community oriented culture, where
people are so happy for us to have a beautiful, healthy son.

Bleach spots on my clothes...
...that I don't have to wash my own clothes, and can
instead help support a kind, young widow and her kids.

Feeling lonely for friends...
...how my husband and I are truly best friends, and
spend our free time and energy on our marriage and family.

Fred traveling alot and being called at all
hours on all days...
...my husband having a job that uses his skills and
allows him to help poor and hurting people.

So all in all, life here, though not easy, is full of wonderful things (even when I'm typing one-handed with a nursing baby in the other arm and being interrupted to spell words for the letter Innocent is writing to his grandmother).  We really do have a blessed life here.

14 June 2012

Measles, Medics and Mayhem

I've been quiet this week because it's been rather chaotic around our house.  Last Tuesday we got word that Innocent (our nephew, who we take care of) was admitted to the hospital by his boarding school because of malaria.  After two days he was released and taken back to school, and Fred went to see him on Friday, which, incidentally was also Parents' Day for this term.  Fred was intending to go on to his hometown to check on his grandmother, but instead I got a text message that he was returning home and bringing Innocent with him.  He had found Innocent still very sick, feverish and lethargic, and decided that Inno should come to our house where we could keep an eye on him.  The matron in charge of Inno hadn't been giving the boy his medicine for malaria properly and Fred was concerned.

When they arrived Friday night, Inno was beginning to show a rash and by Saturday it was full-blown all over his body...clearly measles.  We heard that there had been an outbreak of measles on the Kenyan side of the border (where Inno's school is), so we figure he must have been exposed to a measles case either in the hospital or at school.  Because the measles followed so closely on the heels of malaria, Inno's immune system wasn't so much up to the challenge.  He couldn't keep anything in his stomach, so by Sunday afternoon we were worried about dehydration and Fred took him to the hospital here for admission.

Oh my word.  We definitely, definitely made the right decision not to give birth here.  First of all, Fred comes in with a sick, measles-covered little boy, and the admitting nurse's first and most insistent question is "Where do you live?"  Now, obviously they want to avoid an outbreak here in town, but shouldn't patient care come first?  Fred requested a private room, rather than the dormitory style general ward, and they insisted that the private room is reserved for staff use only.  Fortunately, we are friends with the hospital administrator, so Fred made a phone call along the lines of "Hello Mr. Magati, is this how you run your hospital?" and the admitting nurse quickly changed her tune.

Fred had requested a private room so that Innocent wouldn't be staying alone, since no one checks on non-emergency patients during the night.  Pretty scary situation for a six-year-old and his parents.  Also, the hospital doesn't provide food or water (for drinking, bathing or flushing purposes), so we had to bring food, drinking water, a blanket, a basin for Inno to vomit into (apparently he was just supposed to puke on himself) and several other things.  One thing that you really wouldn't anticipate having to provide to the hospital is something to clean the site of the needle for the IV!  Innocent stopped the nurse from putting the needle in, asking if they were going to wipe his hand first, and the answer was no, they weren't planning on it, so we brought baby wipes (which we conveniently happen to have around) and antiseptic hand wash for the nurses to use.

We were so frustrated over the two days that Innocent was admitted.  He was improving consistently, but the hospital staff were both rude and inept.  Fred has worked in a hospital before, and understands quite a lot about what medicines should be given and what dose for how long, and it's a good thing.  One medicine that was finished in two doses within 24 hours they tried to start him on again on the second day and again on the morning of the third day.  We have some friends who are nursing students who work at the hospital, and they got in trouble for coming to check on Innocent outside of the set times for rounds.  Every time a "doctor" (there are no actual medical doctors who work here, just "clinical officers" who call themselves doctors) came to see Innocent, they asked for the umpteenth time where the boy lives before inquiring about anything else, and telling the American medical students that are visiting that the parent is uncooperative, apparently assuming that Fred doesn't speak any English. 

Fred brought Inno home between his morning and evening treatments to eat and rest and watch TV, because otherwise he'd be spending the twelve hours between treatments alone staring at the ceiling of his hospital room. That way I could watch him while Fred got some work done at the office. Yesterday Innocent was released, he's looking heaps better and almost 100% recovered, except for a little nagging cough. We're really grateful that Innocent and Samuel are both healthy and strong.

They have a slogan in many of the hospitals and nursing schools here: "We treat, God heals."  I'm beginning to think that slogan isn't such a good idea to drum into the medical professionals' minds, because it almost seems to become an excuse for poor patient care.  Any kind of customer service or attention to patients' rights is non-existent, and the only people who seem to care if a patient dies are the family members of the patient.  Those family members who have nothing explained to them about what medicines or treatment the patient is undergoing, who are required to provide the patient's food and amenities, but only during certain strictly-enforced visiting hours, who are insulted or ignored by the "doctors," and who have zero recourse for complaint unless they happen to know someone important.  If the patient dies, it must have been God's will and have nothing to do with the standard of care the patient received.

All I know is that next time one of our boys is sick enough to need a hospital, we're hiring a car and going to one of the good hospitals in Kenya where they believe that God heals, but He sometimes uses doctors along the way.

22 May 2012

Another Living-In-Shirati Moment

This Living-In-Shirati moment was apparently brought to you by the African equivalent of Mad Dog 20-20.

I don't know if you can quite make it out, but this is the fence separating our backyard from the road, and those are the legs of a man lying on his back in the grass.  This man, who was utterly drunk at 2:30pm, came stumbling through our backyard calling "hodi!" (which is like "Anyone home?") and Fred went outside to see what he wanted.  Fortunately Fred was home on his lunch break to deal with this guy.  The man had a bag of small fish, like sardines, and a tomato which people had given him and which he was hoping to cook for dinner, but he was in need of a little bit of cooking oil.  (Possibly he intended to take part of our fence home to use as fuel for his cooking fire...it's happened before on a number of occasions.)  Fred told the guy we didn't have any cooking oil--the kind of obvious lie that you can only tell to a drunk person--and told him to be on his way.  A few minutes later I watched him struggling to climb back over the fence to the road, but apparently the effort was too much for him, because twenty minutes after that I saw him passed out on the other side of the fence.  Ah, Shirati.

11 May 2012

Random Observations From Two Months’ Leave

Over the past two months that I’ve been taking maternity leave, I’ve not been updating this blog (aside from the birth story) and as a result I have so many random, disconnected thoughts from life to share with you. 

Family Items:
      - Since Inno and I can now communicate almost fluently, he asks questions all day long, especially when we watch TV. “Are there black people in America?” “Is that a policeman?” “Do men shave their heads in America?” “Are there yellow people in America?” (He isn’t being racist about Asian people…we were watching The Simpsons.) His most common question is “What is that?” and the answer is usually some kind of animal, since he loves nature shows. How do you explain, in super simple English, how a seal is different from a krill from a whale? I just said they’re all kinds of fish.
      - I’m a little nervous that his perception of America is developing based on COPS. He loves it, and once he understood that I'm from Portland, which appears occasionally, he started asking me every new scene “Is this your Sindo?” (Sindo is his hometown, so I had explained that Portland is my Sindo.) He also, jokingly, asks if the people are my friends or parents. We have not seen anyone I know (yet), but seeing them bust pot dealers on the Waterfront or Burnside is almost like seeing friends.
      - Four paragraphs and I haven’t mentioned the baby yet?! This must be amended immediately! For the purposes of the blog, I’ll call the baby Sam, although we call him Wesley at home. We’re adjusting to each other quite well, and my frustrated cries of “I don’t know what you want, baby!” are becoming fewer and fewer. Inno and I call him Baby Penguin, since he’s black and white and little, and the Planet Earth episode we saw this week was about penguins.
      - Sam is what some child experts call “high needs.” (Not special needs.) Basically, he insists on being held almost always. Even if he’s not eating, he likes comfort feeding or sucking on fingers, mine or his, but he is not a fan of pacifiers. He’s started smiling socially (not because of gas) much more and scowling much less. For the first few weeks he only scowled and looked like a cute little old man, but he’s pretty sunny nowadays.
      - We don’t have house help, so a lot of work falls on Fred. He’s been a trooper: getting up early to wash clothes and diapers, going to work, checking in with us a couple of times during the day, going to the market, washing dishes, cooking dinner, helping Inno bathe, etc. He’s a super husband and father.

Shirati Items:
      - I feel odd about the amount of stuff I see our neighbor’s grandkids salvage out of our garbage pit. Should I be finding additional uses for plastic bread bags? Do those rotten vegetables have a little more life in them? They’re not so poor that they need to eat out the trash, but these are the same kids who poop in the grassy area between their house and ours, even though they have a toilet.
      - We have all this grass around our house (used as toilet paper for the neighbor kids) which we pay to have cut for us. There are a few people with cows who like to bring them here to graze. We don’t like this, since we’re trying to keep strangers away from our windows and piles of cow manure off our yard. For some reason, though, these same people keep coming back to tie their cows around our house when they know Fred is traveling. If they asked, it might be okay, but they know we don’t want their cows and they keep coming back! I could write a whole post about how this is an example of the tension of cross-cultural living, but for now just let me say it’s infuriating.
     - We have new friends! After a whole year, we’re finally getting to know the American doctor and her Luo husband who live about 200 yards away from us. They have kids almost our age, so it’s like hanging out with parents, which is a very welcome stand-in for family right now when we feel particularly far away.

P.S. Update from yesterday: One of the cow owners came to tie his cows in the grassy no-man's-land/toilet, and dug through our garbage pit until he found some bread I'd tossed because it was a bit moldy.  Apparently it wasn't too moldy for him to eat on the spot.  Ew.

15 March 2012

The Birth Story (the long version)

Over the past several years, I have become increasingly interested in natural birth, and, being from Oregon, I have a number of friends who either did or tried for a natural birth process.  I’d been pretty well convinced that natural birth (someday) was for me when I moved to Africa and got to see and hear about the conditions that a laboring woman experiences in the hospitals of East Africa.  After some consideration, we decided to give birth in a hospital, but to go up to Kenya to do it, since the private hospitals in the Nairobi area have pretty good reputations.

You may have been wondering why we would travel 12 hours away for delivery when there’s a hospital and nursing school literally in our back yard.  Aside from our nervousness about the conditions at this hospital, it quickly became apparent that I couldn’t even go to the hospital to weigh myself without an audience of several nursing students.  Add that to the fact that the nursing students are required to observe a certain number of births and there aren’t enough that take place at Shirati Hospital for all the students to get their numbers in, so whenever a birth happens, a huge number of students are in the room watching (and that’s just for some random woman from the village, not mentioning the additional draw of the white woman who lives on the other side of the fence).

So, we did our research and settled on Kijabe Hospital, which is about one hour outside of Nairobi.  A number of people we consulted recommended it, but a major selling point was the inexpensive, but nice, guest house 100 yards from the hospital.  From the beginning, we felt like God was really blessing our plans.  We got a ride up to Nairobi from some American doctors, including an OB/GYN, making what would have been a difficult trip immensely easier (and giving my family much peace of mind).  We got a chance to visit with the American midwife I’d met in Newberg right before we came back last year, Amanda Daggett.  She can’t actually deliver babies in Kenya yet, but she gave us some books and DVDs to prep ourselves with, and we made arrangements for her to come out when labor started to coach me.  (Not to spoil the ending, but even though she couldn't make it to the actual birth, her counsel and encouragement were so important.  She was totally my hero, and her advice prepped me really well for labor.)

When we got to Kijabe guest house, we almost didn’t get a room.  Thank God that there was a no-show, and we settled into what would be our home until the baby came.  We visited the hospital again and got a tour of the maternity ward.  Unfortunately, we were disappointed to learn that the two private rooms in the maternity ward (a major draw for us) were being renovated.  There were some other options, but we couldn’t be assured a private room, especially not knowing exactly when the baby would come.  So that you know the contrast, the general maternity ward is about thirty metal cots with a small nightstand next to the bed, curtains for walls, and a shared bathroom at the end of a drafty hallway.  One can hear every noise from every “room” and the lights stay on continuously.  Appealing, no?
My due date of 14 February came and went without a baby.  I fully expected to be late, but as days passed, I grew very tired of being pregnant.  Finally, I started feeling contractions on the afternoon of the 17th.  They weren’t very painful, just intense and regular.  We called Amanda and she headed our way.  The contractions continued through the night, and in the morning we decided it was time to go to the hospital.  Upon examination in the hospital, however, it was discovered that I was barely dilated.  Soon after that, contractions stopped, so we went back to the guest house to wait again and eventually Amanda headed back to her kids as we resigned ourselves to the fact that it had been a very disappointing false alarm.

I will condense the next week into these two words: waiting and walking.  At this point, let me pause the story to say a few words about due dates and “post-term” babies (aka get on my soap box).  First of all, due dates are calculated based on 40 weeks of pregnancy, but most women carry past that due date, especially with the first-born.  Second, I have to wonder how billions of women for thousands of years have delivered perfectly safely without having any idea of their “due date” or the potential harm they were doing to their babies by going past that date (of which they have no knowledge).  However, in modern medicine, many hospitals and doctors will not allow their patients to carry a pregnancy past somewhere between 41 and 42 weeks.  In fact, the European doctor who discharged me after the contractions stopped told us to return at 41-1/2 weeks for induction.  Induction is usually an IV drip of the synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin, which starts contractions.  However, if the woman’s body (I’ll skip the anatomical jargon here) is not prepared to deliver, the contractions create a situation something like trying to pound a watermelon through a keyhole.  It can be extremely painful, and often leads to women opting for an epidural, which then makes it difficult to push, since she can’t feel the contractions.  She has to be hooked up to a monitor that tells the doctor when to tell the woman to push.  If that doesn’t work after some time, they become concerned that the baby is distressed (no doubt, after such a forcible eviction), and many times turn to Caesarean section to quickly deliver the baby.  Because of the pain medication and consequent major surgery, both the mom and the baby are woozy and may have trouble connecting during those first moments of life.  All of this is what I did not want for myself and our baby.

It just so happened that the day we were instructed to return for induction was the day before Fred had to fly to an unavoidable work conference in Rwanda for 10 days.  We really struggled and debated with the difficult decision of whether we should induce, knowing that it could escalate into a C-section or that it might take long and Fred would be leaving in the midst of very difficult labor, but if we didn’t induce, Fred could miss the birth entirely, and I would be trying to recover and care for a newborn alone in a motel.  In the end we decided to trust that God had a plan for us and our baby, and that He would fulfill it in perfect timing.  I won’t pretend that this was a remotely easy decision, but we were reassured by the strong fetal heartbeat and continuous activity that our baby was safe and strong and healthy.  So Fred left, and I spent six more days walking and waiting.  On the seventh day Amanda returned to try natural induction, using herbal tinctures to prepare the *ahem* birth canal and castor oil to start the contractions.  These extremely unpleasant concoctions had the effect of…nothing, except another set of soft contractions that faded after several hours.  We concluded that the baby (or I) was determined to wait for his dad, and agreed that we would go for induction at the hospital at 43 weeks, the day that Fred returned.

So it was that on 6th March Fred returned around noon, after I spent the morning in yet another set of soft, fading contractions, and we took a nap, then went to the hospital.  The European doctor was *not* pleased to see that I was still pregnant at 43 weeks, and began to reprimand me for waiting so long.  I cut her off, saying that I knew what I was doing and that I had made the decision to wait in spite of the small chance I could be “causing harm” to the baby.  I knew, in all my burgeoning maternal instincts, that I had made the right choice in waiting, so her annoyance didn’t bother me.  She prescribed the induction drugs with a little huff, and we were pleasantly surprised to be admitted as one of the very first patients in the newly remodeled private rooms!  The baby had waited long enough for us to get a room with a hospital bed, a private bathroom with shower, a couch long enough even for Fred to sleep on, and a television on which to watch the Arsenal match that night.

We settled in happily to wait for the drugs and the match and the baby (in roughly that order).  Hours passed, however, with no one appearing to administer the drugs.  At 10pm Fred went in search of someone to help us, and after several frustrating conversations, was informed that they wouldn’t be administering them until morning because there were so many women already in labor that the labor room was full.  (The labor room is a room with 12 beds where they take women to be monitored when they go into active labor.  Additionally, there is the delivery room with two delivery beds where they do all exams and deliveries.)  We were pretty outraged that they had admitted us for the whole night (which we’d have to pay for) when we could have been told to just come back in the morning.  Fred demanded to see a doctor and be discharged and refunded any bills they said we had incurred.   While we were waiting for the doctor, watching Arsenal beat AC Milan 3-0, I suddenly had a strong contraction.  I went to the bathroom to discover that I had some blood showing (a good thing).  Around midnight a doctor arrived, we explained our frustration and complaint, then I said “But the situation has changed now.  I think I just started labor for real.”  He said they would monitor me, and we tried to get some sleep between contractions.

Over the next several hours, I had painful contractions in increasing intervals, and was found to be dilating, but slowly.  At 7:30am a bed in the labor room opened up, so they moved me to the labor room, broke my amniotic fluid, and taped a fetal heart monitor and a contraction monitor to my stomach, essentially leashing me to the bed.  Before the contractions had been bearable because I could move around, walk, squat, or get on my hands and knees to ease the pain.  Once I was in bed, though, I couldn’t even turn from one side to the other.  A student nurse named Glory was assigned to me, to rub my back, urge me to breathe, and give me water, juice and some food in between contractions.  She had Fred running to the shops for “More juice!  More water!  Food!” to keep my strength up.  Meanwhile, with each contraction, she would massage my lower back like she was kneading dough.  It was the only pain alleviation I had, and it felt…maybe not wonderful, but it definitely helped.

Finally, after the machines taped to my stomach measured three “strong” contractions and a still stable fetal heart rate, Glory convinced the doctor to let me get up and walk around to help the baby settle lower and also to help with the pain.  Our private room was at the other end of the hallway from the labor room, so we set a certain pace that got me to my room for a contraction, then to the labor room for the next one, and so on.  I was getting a lot of stares, especially from the guests of the other women in labor and especially when I didn’t quite make it to one room or the other and had to squat and groan in the hallway until the contraction passed.  Very ladylike, as you can imagine.

At something like 11am I was determined to be 8cm dilated, meaning roughly two more hours of labor if the baby kept descending.  We returned to walking, but by 12:15pm or so, I was “feeling pushy” as they say, and the contractions were so close together that I wouldn’t even try walking the hallway.  I parked myself in a little alcove outside the delivery room, determined to stay there until the baby came.  There was a kind of railing all along the wall, so during a contraction I would squat, balancing against the railing, then I’d drink some water, stand up and simulate walking.  The hospital midwives were thoroughly interested in my progress.  After all, they’d be waiting for this delivery for more than three weeks also, since the first time we stopped by.  They complimented Fred on my agility (in squatting!) and that I wasn't a screamer.  Eventually, in spite of the nervous commands from the student nurse not to push, I started pushing with each contraction.  Both the delivery beds were full, and she was terrified she’d have to catch the baby in the dirty hallway alcove.

About this time, a bed opened up in delivery and I pulled the railing in the alcove clean off the wall (unrelated incidences, except that they happened approximately the same time).  I scooted across to the delivery room doorway for my next contraction, and then Glory asked if I could walk to the bed.  Absolutely I could!  I hustled in there and up onto the delivery bed ready to push that baby right out…except…by this time I’d been in labor nearly 13 hours, and I was exhausted.  I probably could have done it faster squatting in the hallway, but hospitals like their elevated, specially designed delivery beds, so I lay there pushing without the benefit of gravity for ten minutes.  As a contraction would come, they’d tell me “pushpushpushpush” and “don’t breathe, just push!”  After the contraction, Glory would literally pour juice down my throat for an energy boost.  Fred stood by my head, stroking my hair and pouring juice.

Finally, as I was losing confidence and strength in equal proportions, and fearing that they would give me an episiotomy soon to just cut the baby out, I snuck my hand down and touched the top of the baby’s head, which I was surprised to discover was covered with long, thick hair.  The midwife pushed my hand away, but I had what I needed.  The next contraction came, and I pushpushpushpushed the baby right out.  They put him on my stomach while clamping the umbilical cord, and I could touch his slimy, meconium-covered back all I wanted.  He started screaming right away, and didn’t stop as I delivered the placenta, got a couple of stitches, returned to the labor room for recovery and still I could hear him.  Eventually they brought him to me to nurse, and that settled him down.

I was pretty weak and my blood pressure was low, so they didn’t want to release me to go back to my room at first, but Fred advocated that I could get my IV fluids and rest better away from the strangers who kept popping their heads around the curtains to see our little guy.  We returned to our room, Fred helped me shower, and we got as much rest as we could with frequent nurses checking on the baby and I and a laboring woman in the hallway literally screaming like an extra in a horror movie every time she had a contraction (very unusual for African women, who tend to belong to the "silence is strength" school of labor).

We were discharged the next day, spent one last night in the guest house, of which I was thoroughly tired, then we went to Nairobi.  Fred treated me to a "babymoon" at a beautiful hotel that served actual brewed coffee and...wait for it...chocolate croissants.  We pressed on home to Shirati on Saturday, which was a long and brutal and hot ride, but we all made it in one piece.  So happy to be home and resting and getting to know our beautiful little man.

Samuel Wesley Otieno, six days old