31 December 2014

Remember the Otienos!

We're quickly drawing to the end of the year, and many of you will be thinking about your year-end giving.  No doubt you're getting emails and Facebook and snail mail reminders from every cause you've ever supported asking for your check or online donation as 2014 closes.  Well, here's my pitch for why your year-end giving should support the Otienos:

1.  We're involved with really important work which is impacting lives.

We work with Lahash International, facilitating holistic care for vulnerable children.  We work with the Tanzania Mennonite Church, doing all kinds of things like building housing for widows, installing rainwater cisterns for palliative care clients and supporting illiterate pastors in caring for their congregations.  We work on Mama Maisha, a project we started earlier this year with our good friends, the Grahams.  This is a project which is literally saving lives.  Here is the photo of baby Grace, who was born just last week in Shirati Hospital after her mother had complications in delivery.  Six months ago, before Mama Maisha's Maternal Health Advocates started their educational outreach, the mother and baby probably would have died like so many others before them.

2.  We're dependent on your support.

All of the projects we work on, from Mama Maisha to Lahash International to gender-based violence are dependent upon the generosity of donors like you.  100% of our financial support comes from donations, either directly to our personal support fund through Lahash International or through donations to the projects we work on.  God has called us to a ministry and a life which requires us to raise money almost constantly.  Many times this feels burdensome and unpleasant (asking friends and family for money is often uncomfortable and nearly always awkward!), but in order to do the work that we are called to, we need your support in prayer, fellowship and funding.

3.  We love you and want you to be part of our work.

We love what we do and we want to share the satisfaction and joy that we receive from showing God's love and care for people in vulnerable situations.  We want you to share that satisfaction, to feel ownership for work which is dramatically impacting the lives of the poor and suffering in rural Tanzania.

How can you be part of our ministry?

Give to support our family's personal and travel expenses.

 Give for the Otieno Family

Give to support the organizations we work with.
(Click the photo to give to that project.  Mama Maisha funds are raised through Village Life Outreach Project, a non-profit that we have a great relationship with.  Just be sure to mention Mama Maisha when you give or send me an email to let me know about your gift so that we can make sure it's credited to Mama Maisha's account.)

 Sponsor a Child through Lahash International

Attend our presentation on January 9th to find out more and ask questions.

Otieno Family Presentation - Come hear about our ministry in rural Tanzania!9 January 2014, 6:30-8pm814 E 1st St, Newberg, OR(Ben Jaquith American Family Insurance office)

Thank you for your love and care.  Happy New Year!

19 December 2014

Some Amazing Ladies...Brief and Exciting News from Mama Maisha

These ladies are all members of the brand new Mama Maisha village groups!  I cannot tell you how excited all the Mama Maisha staff and founders are to see more than 100 women getting involved within the first month of the Maternal Health Advocates starting up.  These groups are a place for women to be educated and discuss matters about healthy pregnancy, safe delivery and family planning.  My favorite thing is how many pregnant bellies and tiny babies are in these photos.  As nice as it is to be in the States right now, I'm itching to get back to Tanzania and meet them in person!

11 December 2014

The Amazing America

We're having a great time in America, but, sadly, the crazy pace of standard American life has caused me to neglect the blog.  Here's a brief update:

Fred's work - Mostly on hold until we get back.  The end of the year is usually the end of the budget cycle for his projects, and December is often a month when everyone takes leave.  Sadly, we've heard that some of the people Fred has been working with are being laid off because their projects aren't re-funding.  Please pray especially for Stephen, who I mentioned in our last email, because he doesn't have the formal education to get a similar job at another organization, so he'll being going back to volunteering and farming.

Leisha's work - Mama Maisha has had a little pause while both our coordinator and I have been traveling and while our quarterly funds have been pretty tight because of the expensive training in October.  Grace, our coordinator, is back in Shirati and getting things back on track.  We just got word that we didn't get a grant we were hoping for that would have provided safe delivery kits for moms and traditional birth attendants, but we're talking to a lot of people about Mama Maisha and hope to get some sustainable, grassroots funding in place.

The kiddos - The kids are loving America, especially the family and many, many friends we've met.  The last ten days we've been driving through California and southern Oregon, meeting up with so many friends, nearly all of whom have kids the same age range as our kids.  Inno's writing journal is full of city names followed by the names of the new friends he's met and cool things he's done. It basically looks like this, but in barely legible grade schooler handwriting.
              Brookings, OR - Blake, lighthouses
              Santa Rosa, CA - Nick and Jaclyn, redwoods, drove through tree
              San Francisco, CA - Scott, playground
              Pasadena, CA - Baby Gideon and Sofia
              San Diego, CA - Jasmine and Hannah, beach, church play
              Modesto, CA - Bear
              Medford, OR - Grant, ice skating, church
              Albany, OR - Reagan

We're home again now, transitioning into Christmas celebrations and a series of dinners with friends.  Hopefully our kids will keep up their excellent behavior and pretty good health and patient acceptance of so many new things.  Thanks to all of you for reading, for praying, and for inviting us into your homes and churches.  We're really enjoying this time of fellowship and fun as a family and the opportunity to share our work with all of you!

22 September 2014

Bummed Out and Burnt Out

I haven't been updating this blog very often since we started our monthly emails (you can sign up on the form at the top right of this website to get them), because a lot of my updates, photos and (limited) creativity have been going into those emails.  Now, however, I find myself mid-month and a little bit desperate.

I rarely talk about money here, but money has been consuming my waking hours of late.  Fred gets a salary from his projects which covers most of our monthly expenses, but I have to raise 100% of my salary and expenses for working for Lahash.  Over the past five and a half years that I've been raising support, I've always seen God provide for our needs, albeit on God's timing, not mine.  This is always stretching, but not particularly welcome.

Last week we found out that we need a letter from the Children's Court of the High Court of Kenya to prove that we have the permission of the court to travel out of the country with Innocent.  This is one of those government policies which I understand the purpose behind (to prevent child trafficking), but which make our life much harder.  Fred had to rush up to Nairobi yesterday to meet with a lawyer about this letter, and found out that it will cost us roughly $1,600 for lawyer fees, plus more for travel and hotel and food.  We emptied our accounts to pay the lawyer so that we can move forward, but it means that we have no money to pay for our family to travel to Nairobi next week for Fred and Innocent's visa appointments and Gretchen's passport appointment.

I don't know where the money will come from.  I feel like my faith for when/where money will come from is stretched to capacity, because we have this small, immediate need plus our airfare, which is coming in slowly but surely, and then money for travel and expenses once we reach the States.  I confess a little bitterness in my heart from stories of other friends living overseas who have had their total airfare raised by friends without their even asking or whose organization pays for their travel.  I'm so happy for those very deserving families to get to visit home, but I'm also pretty envious.  Sometimes raising money is just so hard, and I don't know what to do except come here, express a need, and ask for help.  I hate to feel like all I'm doing is begging for help, but we'd really like to come back to visit America for some much-needed rest and time with family and friends.

If you pray, please lift us up.  We need prayer for our finances, our continuing trust in God the Provider, and all the work that we're trying to wrap up in the next seven weeks before we are scheduled to fly out.

If you can give, please give.  You can visit our new fundraising page for these travel expenses, http://org.grouprev.com/otieno-trip, to give and to promote this cause.

This week, as Fred is in court on Innocent's behalf and I'm out in the villages for Mama Maisha, money is the last thing we want to be stressed about, so we just have to take a deep breath and cast our concerns on the One who cares for us.

13 August 2014

We're Coming to America!

WHEW!!  After a crazy month of hosting a team of medical students and other visitors to Shirati, launching Mama Maisha, visiting multiple villages for various projects, preparing for and attending the Lahash East Africa Conference, traveling to Lahash project sites with Lahash staff members and much, much more.  I got home on Monday evening, spent Tuesday catching up on emails, and finally, today, got around to something I've been needing to do for months: asking for your help.

Every two years we try to get back to the States for Christmas to visit family and friends, check in at the Lahash office, and do presentations to expose people to the work we're part of in East Africa.  This year we are super excited about coming with our whole family; Innocent and Gretchen for their very first visit and Wesley for the first visit he might possibly remember bits of.  We found a fabulous deal on airfare for mid-November, so that immediately after Innocent closes school for the year, we will dash off to Nairobi and fly into JFK in New York City.  A week-long visit to a Mennonite church near Toronto will start off our trip, then Thanksgiving in Oregon, then a two week road trip through southern Oregon and all the way down to San Diego and back again.  In January we'll go up to central and eastern Washington, then leave at the end of January to get Innocent back into school only a few weeks late.  In order to do all that, we need to raise $8,000.  Can you help? 

You can write a check to Lahash International for the Otieno Travel Fund or go to our secure online giving.  We're hoping to be able to purchase airfare in the next month, so please don't wait.  So many people read this blog and get our letters and emails, so if everyone could contribute something, we can do it in no time!

Please also pray that Fred and Innocent will get their American and Canadian visas.  They're going in for those interviews in a few weeks, and it would be so disappointing if they didn't get their visas.

Thank you all for reading this, for caring about us, and (in advance) for contributing to our travel expenses.

02 July 2014

Photos from the Past Month

Delivering furniture to village Vulnerable Children Councils

Wesley with driver Kennedy

Wesley sharing his soda with some new friends

Wesley's favorite food: Fish and ugali

Mexican Feast

02 June 2014

The Terrible...errr...*cough* Terrific! Two-Year-Old

Wesley wearing Adera's shoes, a too-small
Christmas vest as a...scarf?, and a fabric box for a hat.
There are two things about parenting my mom told me that I remind myself of nowadays: the first was that little boys reach an age when they start pushing back on their mothers, like little dogs trying to establish dominance.  I think of it as the little Napoleon stage, as my charming, delightful son suddenly turns on me and begins attacking with fists and feet and fury, often while I'm nursing.  He's never mean to Gretchen or Daddy, just Mama and sometimes faux-mama, Adera.  The second thing my mom said was that there were times she just held my kicking, screaming little brother, rocking and praying.  I've certainly had those moments also.

Perfectly standard for both of them
We've noticed that Tired and Hungry are the things that trigger "The Hulk" so we try to stay on top of those things.  I also read a thing on Pinterest about interpreting what makes a child cry based on their personality type (apparently it's from a book called The Child Whisperer, which I have not read).  According to that theory, Wesley is a "Determined Child" and needs to move fast and have adventures to stay happy.  That makes perfect sense, but is, unfortunately, not the easiest thing for a work-from-home mom with an infant.  I am very reliant on Adera, our house help, especially while Fred is travelling.

Another classy outfit: Shoes, socks, shirt,
stocking cap.  What's missing?
I certainly don't want to sound like I am complaining, because I love all three of my kids dearly.  However, I know I have a lot of friends and readers who are mothers.  Some are mothers of little ones now and other mothers of little ones who have grown up long ago.  There are single mothers, mothers whose husbands travel a lot, mothers living cross-culturally, and mothers who work outside the home.  Although every parent has unique circumstances and challenges, I think we can all agree that this is tough stuff!  If you have any story or advice or tidbit that worked for you, please post it in the comments to encourage me and all the other moms out there!

 P.S.  I'm letting you all see how not-perfect I am as a mother and as a housekeeper.  Please don't look at these photos too closely, or you'll see all the household debris that a professional blogger would have photoshopped out (or cleaned up in advance).

P.P.S.  Our first monthly e-newsletter is going out tomorrow!  Send me your email address or fill out the form on the upper, right-hand of the blog site.
The poop-out stage of tantrum!  (notice the foot poised mid-kick)

22 May 2014

A Video, A Website, A Postcard and Two Emails

Thanks for your great responses to last week's email about Mama Maisha, the maternal mortality program we're launching.  Several people have already had some awesome creative ideas on how you can support and be a part of Mama Maisha.  Remember to sign up for our email list to get updates starting in July.

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This week I want to remind you about the child sponsorship program I work for, Lahash International, which just put out a great new video about a visit our director, Dan Holcomb, paid to the home of his sponsored child, Arod.  The video shows the reality of life for the vulnerable kids we are serving in Tanzania and Uganda.  I highly recommend it.

Better Together - Arod's Story from Lahash International on Vimeo.

Lahash has come up with a great, new website for sponsorship which presents the kids who need sponsors in a way that highlights their individuality while still protecting their privacy.  The Lahash sponsorship program is fantastic, so check out the new, improved website and think about child sponsorship!

If you are on our physical mailing list, you should get a postcard this week with an adorable photo of our kids on the front.  Since I joined the staff of Lahash in 2009, I've been sending out letters about every other month with updates on our work and life here in Tanzania.  In order to simplify the management of our communications with our supporters, we're changing over to postcards.  If you'd like to get these brief mailed updates that are perfect for sticking on your fridge to remember us, send us your mailing address.

Finally, if you'd like to get the monthly email with more photos, stories and news, sign up below!  As always, thanks for thinking of us and praying for us!

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16 May 2014

Mama Maisha - Mother Life

I've been hinting at this for months now, but here's a rundown of the project we've been preparing for the past year and we're finally ready to launch!

Maternal mortality is a huge problem in the developing world. In some countries, like South Sudan, child birth is the leading cause of death for women of child-bearing age, which is basically between 14 and 50. This is such a huge problem that it has been targeted as one of the Millennium Development Goals. Goal number 5 is to improve maternal health through reducing maternal mortality by 75% from 1990 levels and achieving universal access to reproductive health.  Tanzania is one of the countries lagging behind in making progress on this goal.

I didn't know any of the stats on this stuff before I met Dr. Reta Graham last July.  It actually sounds very formal to say it that way, because what happened was that the Grahams were visiting Shirati doing some work in the hospital and clinics in the area.  They brought their kids, and their son and Inno totally hit it off.  While they played Orc-hunting (which Inno didn't understand but still loved) and climbed trees, Reta and I talked about her observations as an obstetric surgeon in the Shirati Hospital, where women regularly come in during the final, tragic moments of a labor that has been going on for 36 hours to have a dead baby cut out before it kills its mother.  Women pull up to the gates on the back of a bicycle with blood pouring from between their legs with every contraction.  This doesn't happen every day, but it happens.  It shouldn't.

This issue would have mattered to me on a cerebral level had I known about it, but now that I have been pregnant and delivered twice here, it matters to me on a visceral level.  I certainly could have been on that operating table in poorly lit, no-running-water Shirati Hospital, not with the amazing Dr. Reta, but a less-educated, less-experienced surgeon.  It's not really exaggerating to say that every woman in rural Tanzania knows a woman who died in child birth, and the terrible roads, distance to health facilities, no ambulances, and lack of education about family planning, prenatal care and delivery options all contribute to that terrible status quo staying the same.

Fred and I, with our background in community development and cultural knowledge (Fred more than me, of course), have partnered with Reta and her husband, Jeff, a family practitioner with a master's in public health,  to come up with an innovative program which will help save the lives of the women in our area.  There are a bunch of aspects to the program, which I won't go into right now, but we're optimistic that we can make a difference here.  A medical non-profit that Reta and Jeff are connected with is helping us institute the program, which is called Mama Maisha, which means Mother Life in Swahili.  Village Life has already helped connect us with some great people to help, including a donor who has given us seed money of $10,000 to get started.  We also applied for a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which we'll hear about in August.  It feels great to be doing something like this, and I wouldn't have this opportunity if you great people hadn't been supporting our life and work here in East Africa, so you're part of it, too!

(This isn't fundraising, but if you are interested in getting updates on this as we go along, send me an email leishlin at gmail and when we get an email update system going, we'll add you.)

09 May 2014

We're baaaack!

Taken by a new Canadian friend
During my maternity leave I also gave myself a little break from all work-ish stuff, including the blog, to get used to having the littlest one with us.  It was a great time to just do some parenting and let new ideas develop "organically".  It was pretty brilliant, especially during the weeks that Innocent was home from school, to not have any tasks except hanging out with my kids.  When Wesley was born, we were on a bus to a Lahash conference two weeks later.  Fortunately, I haven't gone anywhere since Gretchen was born, which has been a huge relief.  We've had plenty of visitors to Shirati from America, Canada, The Netherlands, etc.  Among them was a friend we made last year, Dr. Jeff Graham, who was here with his wife, Reta, and two their kids last July.  Reta is an obstetric surgeon and Jeff is a family practice doctor with a master's in public health, and their medical background combined with Fred's and my community development experience has given birth to a program we've designed to reduce maternal mortality in the villages around Shirati.  Since being pregnant with and delivering two kids in East Africa, this topic has become so important to me.  I'll write more about the details of the program at another time, but it has the potential to become a big deal.  It's very exciting!

Double Duty
Fred tried to reign in his crazy work/travel schedule while the baby was new, but now the chaos is starting again.  He has a bunch of projects all going on simultaneously, but he's making a big effort to be around to help with the kids.  He's a super daddy, and little feet always race to the door when his voice is heard.  Wesley continues to be a daddy's boy, even staying up until midnight the other night to "watch" an English Premiere League football (soccer) match with daddy.  Fred has bemoaned not having another fan to watch matches with (I'm happy to watch football, but only at reasonable hours), so I think he might be training up a comrade-in-sport.

An extra pair of helping hands!

Innocent is now officially our kid, although not yet formally adopted.  We were granted official legal custody of Innocent.  This involved get his mother's death certificate, then Inno's birth certificate, then affidavits showing that Fred is his uncle and has provided a good environment for Inno.  Once we got formal custody, we got his passport issued, much to his delight.  He continues to thrive in school, finishing last term at the top of his class again.  His language scores, English and Swahili, are so high that lower scores in Christian Religious Education and Mathematics ("the tests were hard, Auntie!") didn't drag him down.

Swaddle practice on Menomena, his teddy bear
Wesley is adjusting well to big brotherhood, for the most part.  It just so happened that little sister came along right about the same time that Terrible Toddler-dom struck.  (It's perfectly misleading to call it the "Terrible Twos" when it starts around 18 months and lasts until...what...age six?)  Although I've had lots of help from Fred and Adera, there have certainly been some times when there are three people home and all three of us are crying from frustration.  Still, there are delightful times as we watch him grow up before our very eyes.  He's super active and super social, with a huge vocabulary branching into his third language (although of course he doesn't know it's a new language) and a terrific memory for faces and names.  Random motorcycle drivers and shop assistants stop Fred to tell him what a smart son he has, because Wesley has met them in the course of running errands with Adera.

Gretchen has been an amazingly simple baby, all things considered.  She doesn't sleep through the night yet, but she only wakes up to nurse briefly, then back to sleep, hardly disturbing me at all.  She's gaining weight much faster than her brother did, and beams at all of us when we peek our faces over her nest in the arm chair.  (No bassinets, swings, boppy pillows, etc. here, so we make do.)  She has started rolling onto her left side frequently, and I'm sure I'll find her going all the way over onto her tummy any day now.  She "talks" a bit, and sounds like a baby Wookie.  We were looking at some of my baby pictures the other day, and there is certainly a resemblance between Gretchen and I!  Even Adera said that, aside from coloring, Wesley is a miniature Fred and Gretchen is a miniature me.

Wesley telling stories to Daddy
The sweetest time of day - coinciding naps

Proud, big brother in his Buzz Lightyear pajamas

09 March 2014

Life Around Here - Photos of the Kids

Wesley accompanied Fred to the dedication of a water project in Rwanyegi village.

We got a visit from Wesley's friends, Kaleb and Daphne (and their moms!).

Wesley's first selfie

We had a birthday party for Wesley's 2nd birthday (pizza and cupcakes and sparkling cider).

Gretchen got dressed up for the birthday party, then slept through the whole thing.

Wesley serving cupcakes to his friend Rosie.

Family photo, but missing Innocent!

26 February 2014

A Tribute to Aunt Peggy

I have to start this blog post with a tribute.  My great aunt Peggy Bue died on Saturday morning.  She was an elderly lady, and had been sick for some months, but the news is, of course, saddening.  Peggy was my paternal grandfather's youngest sister and a great friend of my grandmother's.  In fact, when they were just teenage girls working together in Astoria's fish canneries, Peggy introduced my grandparents.  She married her sweetheart, Allan, around the same time my grandparents married, and my grandmother and Peggy had their first-born sons near the same time as well.

Growing up, my interactions with Aunt Peggy were primarily around the holidays.  We would go up to Astoria to share Thanksgiving and Christmas Days with my grandparents, and some years we would pop over to the Bues' house to see all my dad's cousins and all their kids.  My brother, sister and I being the only grandkids in the Adams family, the ruckus of the large Bue family was both daunting and appealing.  I had such a hard time keeping the names of all the kids and grandkids straight as they rushed around cooking the meal and checking on the cooking and getting in the way of the cooking, but there was always a haven of peace wherever Aunt Peggy happened to be.

When I was in college, my grandfather's Alzheimer's became much more pronounced.  He had made it very clear that he wanted to be in his own home as long and as much as possible, and my grandmother made a lot of sacrifices to make that happen for him.  As his mind continued to deteriorate, he forgot more and more people, he couldn't go into public, and he couldn't be left alone at home for any period of time.  In order to free my grandmother to get out of the house from time to time, Peggy would come to sit with him or he would go to her home.  Her familiar face, shared childhood memories and peace-filled smile were a comfort to him and to my grandmother in his final years.

After my grandfather passed on from advanced Alzheimer's, I continued to see Aunt Peggy, and when I started traveling to Africa, she was always very interested in my blog posts, photos and stories.  She was a devout Lutheran and very involved in her church's women's group, where she arranged for me to speak after I decided to move to Tanzania.  When I came home on my first visit at the end of 2010, Aunt Peggy was in the midst of a tough battle with cancer, but her indomitable spirit and gracious smile were still there.  She beat the cancer and was on hand when Fred and I brought our son, Wesley, to Astoria on our next visit to the States.  I was delighted to find her so strong, although some signs of mental wandering were there.  She arranged again for us to present to her women's group, so we came back to Astoria a few weeks later.  We had such a pleasant time with her, and our love and affection for this Godly woman grew even more.

Aunt Peggy developed Alzheimer's, which, over the past few months, had become debilitating.  When the end came last Saturday, she was exactly where she would have wanted to be: in her home, which had been the location of so much love and family history, and she was surrounded by her beloved children and grandchildren.

In today's society, we celebrate women who do great or noteworthy things, who have a very public profile, who push to the front or the top.  These women often deserve the attention and praise they receive, but what of the women like Peggy?  She lived a long life quietly and lovingly serving her husband, her many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  She was a vital member of her church and she loved her Lord Jesus. Hollywood may not be lining up to make a movie about Aunt Peggy's life, but she set an example of devotion, humility, joy and peace that is worthy of emulation.  Her life was no smaller or less important because it was lived on a smaller stage.  She was a beautiful and kind woman, a wonderful great-aunt, and someone I will certainly miss having in my life.

16 February 2014

Baby Otieno 2 (with photos!)

When last we spoke, I was 39 weeks and two days pregnant with our little daughter.  In the past two weeks, just like almost exactly two years ago, we crossed the same border, took the same bus ride to the same city, where we stayed in the same hotel, ate in the same restaurant, took the same car ride to the same hostel by the same hospital and commenced the same waiting game.  It would have been deja vu, except that we were accompanied by 23-month-old Wesley and our 20-something-year-old house girl, Adera.  
Here's the recap of the adventure in all its gritty, sometimes hilarious, sometimes grimace-inducing detail: 
Tuesday, 4th February 
We had intended to set out for Kenya on Sunday morning, but Fred had been at a conference for the week prior and his bus coming back hit five cows on the highway, putting him about eight hours behind his intended arrival.  After sleeping on the bus on the side of the road Friday night, he got home late Saturday night, and we decided it would be best to delay so that he could rest before we got back on a bus.  Our goal was to leave at 7am Tuesday morning, but what with one thing and another (including the fact that Adera apparently didn't understand that she was going with us, so she hadn't packed at all and had to run home to throw clothes into a bag) we didn't leave until after 8am.  We barely, barely made it onto one of the last buses from the border after I got stuck in the immigration line behind eight Canadian senior citizens.  (Wesley, who has become fascinated with his Grandpa and Grandma who are white people kept asking "Grandpa?")  We had a very reasonable bus ride, arrived in the evening and went to the same hotel where Fred and I had stayed when we were on our way to Kijabe for Wesley's birth.
Wednesday, 5th February
Fred had some errands to run for work, so after breakfast he took off to do those things.  We checked out of our hotel room at 10am and moved our luggage to the lobby to wait for Fred.  Two hours of Wesley screaming and crying and making me cry later, Fred checked in on us.  We decided to split the errands, so Adera and Wesley and I walked to the supermarket, then we rushed off to Kijabe, a community about 30km away, where the African Inland Church-operated Kijabe Hospital is.  We checked into rooms at the guest house...and waited.
Thursday, 6th February
More waiting.
Friday, 7th February
Fred went back to Nairobi for some more work stuff while I had a checkup at the hospital.  Then, we waited.
Saturday, 8th February
Due date comes and goes while we wait.  
Sunday, 9th February
Fred had been issued five days leave for work, meaning he had to check in on Monday or Tuesday.  Since it seemed more likely that the baby would come on Wednesday than on Sunday, Fred left to go back to Shirati.  This involves an hour to Nairobi, then eight hours to the border, then 90 minutes to Shirati.  Fred made it to the border that night, while we waited.
Monday, 10th February
Fred rushed around putting out fires at the office, and we waited.
Tuesday, 11th February
We waited all day, anticipating Fred's arrival as the day progressed, only to find out that he had been delayed in Shirati for most of the day and had only reached the border that evening.  Shortly after that disappointing conversation, I started to feel...uneasy.  Although it wasn't painful or uncomfortable, I had a feeling I should probably go to the hospital.  At 9.30pm, with Adera and Wesley in his pajamas, I walked down to the maternity ward to be checked.  I asked them if I was okay to go back and sleep for a while, but they said no, I was already 4cm dilated and needed to be admitted.  Adera and Wesley went back to the guest house, and I settled into a bed in the labor ward.  My contractions were not very strong, even though I was well dilated, so I think they decided to give me "something" to strengthen contractions, which definitely made labor progress.  
Wednesday, 12th February
By 2am I was in terrible pain with every contraction, and so tired that I would fall asleep between the contractions, only to awake 2 minutes later screaming.  Around 2:30am they took me to delivery to start pushing, but I was so exhausted and in so much pain I could hardly listen to them.  When I was giving birth to Wesley, and I reached the "I can't do it!" point, I was motivated by the thought of the baby on his way.  With this baby, I was motivated by the thought "If only I can push her out, I can go to sleep!"  That seemed to work, and a couple of big pushes later, our tiny Gretchen Charlotte was born, long and skinny at 7 lbs flat and 20 inches long at 2:50am.  (By funny coincidence, our good friends, my boss and his wife, had their second baby, later the same day, so our daughters share a birthday!)
I spent the rest of the morning snuggling and napping with the baby, watching other women labor, and waiting for Fred.  Adera brought Wesley for a visit, and he got meet baby "Grishon" for the first time.  After a few more hours in the labor ward, they had to move me to the general ward.  A general maternity ward is a large room with 25-30 beds in it, each holding a woman either on her way to or from delivering a baby.  Visiting people in the hospital is a very important part of local culture, and every one of the women in general ward had at least one visitor...except me.  I felt like a stranger walking into an Old West bar, because all conversation seemed to stop when I walked in with my little bundle of white baby.  Eventually the high buzz returned, but every time I moved off my bed to use the disgusting shared toilet (if you drop anything, just throw it away...that's all I'll say) or fill my water bottle, every eye in the room turned to me.  Fortunately, all we wanted to do was sleep, which got boring for most of the people.  Fred arrived around 5pm with Adera and Wesley in tow, and pushed all the final details for them to release me to go "home" to the guest house.  Wesley got to snuggle his baby sister a little bit before bedtime.

Thursday, 13th February
We checked out of the guest house in the morning and went back to Nairobi, where we checked into my favorite, favorite hotel: Kahama Hotel.  I love the environment and the restaurant and the super comfortable rooms.  I ate a hamburger for lunch, then Adera, Wesley, Gretchen and I went out to visit our friends, the Daggetts, who are teachers at Rosslyn Academy.  Amanda Daggett is a midwife back in Oregon, and has always been very generous with advice and encouragement via chat and SMS.  We had a bit of a hellish evening, because by the time we got back to the hotel and organized ourselves and ordered dinner and actually received our food, it was 10pm, and both kids were done.  After some (understandable) crying and demands for attention, we finally got them both settled into bed.
Friday, 14th February
Our intention was to leave Nairobi by 11am, but in Africa travel (and everything else) starts later and takes longer than you hope or expect.  We did get on the road before noon, and were really comfortable in the private car we'd hired to take us to the border...until Rongo.  We were less than 100km from the border when we encountered a road block set up by striking university students.  I have no idea what they were striking over, but we had to turn back and take the bumpy, rutted sugar cane farm roads around, adding about 30-40 minutes onto our trip.  We reached the border at 7:20pm, which is just after dark here.  Both of our kids, who had been angels for the whole trip, started fussing immediately when we reached the border, at literally the worst possible time.  We tried to speed through Kenyan immigration while our favorite local taxi transferred our bags, but then we couldn't exit, because at dusk they lock the gate between Kenya and "no man's land."  They did let us through (probably just feeling sorry for us), then we found ourselves locked out of Tanzania.  We walked across to Immigration, where, by a true miracle, we found our friend, Emmanuel, who had arrived back from Dar that very day.  He sped us through Immigration and tracked down the one guy with the gate key to come let our car through.  Bouncing off to Shirati, we finally reached home around 9:30pm.
Now we're well-established at home, catching up on sleep as much as possible.  We got our first official baby visitors this morning: our Dutch friends, Pim and Yvonne and their daughter, Daphne.  Wesley got to show off his little sister to the only other little girl he knows.  (He loves asking "Where Daphne?" every single day, then answering himself "Home.")  They are the Dutch doctors who have been so helpful and kind throughout my pregnancy, and they brought us some of Daphne's hand-me-downs.  Gretchen sleeps a lot still, and Wesley loves her so much and is trying to remember to "be gentle" and "be careful" not to jump on her in his enthusiasm.  We're so happy to have this precious little girl with us, and really grateful for Wesley's good transition to big brother!  In a few weeks we'll go back to Kenya to do paperwork and to introduce Inno to his baby sister.  
Thank you all for your prayers and support!

03 February 2014

Why We Have House Help

Over on Facebook some friends requested a little more information (or shall I say justification?) about why we have house help.  I totally understand what it sounds like: privileged American goes overseas and hires some uneducated woman to do all the things she doesn't want to do while friends and family back home work their butts off to help support said American in her "work."  Especially difficult to understand might be that 90% of the time I'm working from part-time from home, which, in theory, should mean I have plenty of time to keep house, care for my kids and get my work done.

First of all, I should start by saying that pretty much every woman I know, whether American or African, either has house help or is actively looking for good house help.  The nature of housekeeping here is such that if you can't dedicate most of your time every day to keeping on top of things, you find yourself in the weeds very quickly.  Here's why:

1. Washing clothes

All clothes washing is done by hand.  If you're well-organized and a good planner, you remember to soak the clothes the night before to loosen the dirt.  We're a relatively easy family to wash clothes for because Fred doesn't do much manual labor, so he rarely has packed on mud from farm work or walking muddy roads.  Still, with two adults and a toddler, she washes about every five days, by hand using powdered soap.  Wesley likes to "help" which means getting as wet as possible, combining bath time with laundry.  You can imagine the bending over is not comfortable, especially for a 39-1/2 week pregnant woman, although washing clothes is my least favorite thing ever.  I do have to wash underwear every few weeks (I have a lot of underwear because I hate washing it), because it's not very polite to ask someone else, even your paid help, to wash your "personals."  She does wash Wesley's, though, which is awesome, since he's kind-of, sort-of potty training, and every now and then poops in his underwear.  After washing, she'll hang the clothes and sheets on the clotheslines, then later bring them in to fold.  She has to keep one eye on the weather, because if a quick rain blows in off the lake, she has to race outside to collect the clothes before all her work is undone.

2. Collecting water
We are blessed and fortunate to have an indoor tap for water, although the city water isn't on all day, every day, so we have to stockpile water.  It wasn't too long ago that the city water wasn't working at all, so we had to buy water from a vendor - a guy on a bicycle with six jerrycans (those big yellow cans) of lake water.  It cost about 2,500 Tanzanian shillings, ~$1.50, for 30 gallons of water, which would last us about a week.  Now the city water is running, when the power is on and no one has broken or stolen any of the pipes, pump, or generator, and costs us 10,000 TSH (~$6.50) per month.  Each of those five gallon buckets has to be hauled into the bathroom, filled, then carried back to the "water room."  The buckets weigh about 40 pounds when full, and the basins, which probably hold 2.5 gallons, weigh about 20 pounds each.  We have about 15 buckets and eight basins, so a fully stocked supply weighs about 760 pounds.  I'm sure I don't need to mention how hard (and unwise) that is for a pregnant woman to carry.

3. Washing dishes
Speaking of carrying buckets and basins around, all dish washing is also done by hand, naturally.  Adera washes dishes twice a day, usually.  Once for breakfast and lunch dishes in the afternoon, and once for dinner dishes the following morning.  That red basin and white spigot container serve as our kitchen sink.  Fred designed that piece of furniture, which is our only counter top, and our dry goods storage is the second shelf.  The plastic tubs hold sugar, maize flour for ugali, wheat flour for baking and chapatis, rice, a couple different kinds of beans and oil.  The plastic tubs keep ants out of the sugar and cockroaches out of everything else, but unfortunately mites are pretty impossible to fight off, so if a bag of beans or flour sits too long, we get little tiny black bugs in it.  By the way, I made those curtains.

4.  Cooking
All of our cooking is done on that two burner gas stove top.  On the bottom shelf you can see two of the three indispensable additions to a typical African kitchen: the Coleman camp stove, which allows me to bake cookies, cakes and casseroles, and a quality pressure cooker for making beans in less than twelve hours.  The third indispensable item is a nonstick skillet.  Unfortunately the art of using a nonstick skillet (i.e. not using metal implements in it) is apparently a learning process, since our one-year-old skillet is starting to look pretty abused.  Still, it's really nice to not be standing over two open flames three times a day in 90 degree heat.  Adera usually boils water for tea for breakfast and sometimes makes crepes, makes uji (maize porridge) for the afternoon snack, and cooks fish and ugali for (Fred and Wesley's) dinner.  Sometimes she makes chapatis (flat bread) or fresh juice or chips (french fries).  Pregnancy has made the prospect of nightly fish rather unappealing, so I usually cook myself a vegetable skillet with rice.  It's indispensable to have her help with cooking, though, especially since my most productive time of day is late afternoon when Wesley is napping and playing.

 5. Shopping
This photo is of our "pantry" and refrigerator (the major purchase of 2013).  Adera does all our food shopping.  Aside from the dry goods I mentioned earlier, which we usually buy quantities of when we travel to nearby cities, most everything else is fresh and local.  Adera goes to market day every Monday to stock up on our essentials: tomatoes, onions, carrots, green peppers, potatoes and some seasonal things like eggplant or fruit.  About three to four times a week she buys fish.  A whole tilapia fresh from the lake, with scales, eyeballs and all.  It takes her a little less than an hour to clean and butcher the fish, then clean up all the "debris" (i.e. scales and guts).  She also makes a daily trip to the shops close by to buy milk, which comes in un-refrigerated packets like juice boxes, cold soda, and/or boxed juice.  Wesley loves going on these trips, often involving multiple stops for various items.  The major benefit to me is that I don't get the stares and whispers that accompany a pregnant white woman virtually everywhere here.  A side benefit is that I don't pay white people prices.

6. Various other cleaning
There are many other cleaning tasks that she does.  I didn't take a picture of the ratty pink towel that is our mop, but she mops three or four times a week, bent over at the waist, pushing the pink towel around the house, rinsing it out in a basin of soapy water.  She dusts daily, since houses here are not sealed in any way, so we get road dust through the windows and filtering down through holes in our ceiling boards.  She cleans the bathroom, which isn't a pleasant task in any home, but at least we have a Western toilet and toilet brush instead of a squat toilet and twig brush.

7. Caring for Wesley
Adera has been indispensable in helping with Wesley, especially since our solid little chunk of boy has become increasingly difficult for me to carry or hold.  Aside from a rare "play date" with his friends Daphne or Kaleb, Wesley interacts primarily with Adera and myself.  There are no preschools or "Mommy and Me" or toddler swim classes or parks or story time at the local library (or libraries period) or grandparents to take him for the afternoon or babysitters.  One of the biggest things is that she took over bath time when I got to about 35 weeks pregnant.  Now she's the one who heats water on the stove, fills his bathtub from a 40lb jerrycan, regulates the temperature with boiling water carried from the kitchen, wrestles him into the bath and gets splashed copiously, then takes him out, dries and dresses him, and empties the gallons of dirty bath water into the toilet tank.

Obviously, being pregnant, all these are tremendously important and helpful things, but even not being pregnant, the house help system gives women who haven't opportunities for education and career a chance to make money and support their families (or give them options besides an early marriage) while allowing women who have the resources for a career to do that.  It's very much not a perfect system for gender equality or breaking any kind of glass ceiling, but in a very imperfect system, it helps!

Okay, now I'm off to have a baby!  (Not right this moment, but hopefully in the next 4-10 days!)  Catch you on the flip side!