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!