Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Are we really doing this?

Ian here, sometimes I get a bit of inspiration and hop on here to share my thoughts.  Today I was woken up way too early by a text message from teacher Mercy and have spent the morning working with her to finalize a few things.  Why?  Because she has been frantically working to get everything ready to START Kiang’ombe school project in less than a week.  Is this really possible?  I find myself sitting here feeling pretty weird about it all.  Humbled, proud, and more than a bit overwhelmed by the responsibility as well as the support we have received.  In fact, Anne just got the mail and there are two new donations, both unsolicited support.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of the amazing people who have come around us to make Ameena Project come to life.  You give us the confidence to push ahead.

School supplies purchased – check

Feeding program supplies purchased – check

Registration complete – check

Staff hired – check

50 lucky kids ready to have the best year of their life – check.

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Big load of supplies heading to the Kiang'ombe

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Mercy and Hillary picking up the portable blackboard and misc. supplies

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Off site store room

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Mercy and Hillary unloading some supplies

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Working hard to inventory and organize the new supplies

It’s really coming together.  I am grateful to play a part.  Ian

Ameena

Today we celebrate one wonderful year of having Ameena in our lives.  

What a full year this last one has been. 

Being pregnant while living in Africa was interesting.  I felt healthy, but had more physical symptoms than with any of my other children.  Crazy high blood sugar that I monitored much less than I should have—seriously, you think they have glucose meters and testing strips there?  I think the chemist laughed me right out of his pharmacy when I asked about it.  About 4 months into the pregnancy my in-laws were kind enough to bring a meter and strips…and I rationed those babies out til almost a month before the baby was born.   I perfected a pretty good routine of walking a brisk path from our house to the Centre office, around the playground and back to the house…generally before I started dinner as darkness falls quickly and routinely every night there by 7pm.  On some evenings if my sugar was especially high I’d lay on the thin rug covering our concrete floor in the living room and do the “bicycle” like I was escaping town.  I’m sure it looked humorous, but it was pretty effectively in bringing the sugar levels down.

I also dealt with some horrid lower back pain which was in no way helped by the fact that we did all of the washing by hand until mid November.  Unlike our Kenyan househelp who would come twice a week and stoop to do the laundry, I happily seated myself on our little green plastic stool to dunk the clothes in and out of the bin.  The laundry (aka shower room) was my home for good parts of the day.  Sometimes I’d go to stand, and would cry out in pain……it seemed like the only relief would come from going into the child pose.  Many a Kenyan walked into our home in the evenings and found me there in the middle of the room practicing some good ol’ yoga.

I also suffered a great deal more nausea than usual.  This was not helped by the schizophrenic driving conditions we navigated on a daily basis.  One day, when driving with Megan into Nairobi I had to pull over to vomit on the side of the road.  We had just passed through a rural town and I carefully picked the pullover spot to ensure that it would be free from the usual roadside gawkers.  I got out of our car, crossed in front of the car to the side of the road and bent down to vomit.  Out of no where  a group of school kids appeared and in broken English began to ask questions like, “Why the muzungu vomit?”  “Muzungu vomit?!?”  “What wrong pretty lady?” as they pointed at me.  Megan yelled from the car for the kids to go away.  They were unphased.  I quickly signaled for her to take the wheel and climbed into the car hoping to escape their curious stares and prying questions.  A staff member at the Centre later informed me that Kenyan’s have all sorts of beliefs about white people:  1)  We never vomit   2) If we are in the sun too long, our skin might melt  3) We can get anyone into the US and so on.

Even my delivery with Ameena was interesting and so Kenyan.  I was pretty determined to not have to have an epidural during this delivery…I mean I was at a nice hospital, but crazy stuff happens in a 3rd world country and I didn’t want first hand experience.   Having had my first two babies in the US, I was used to nurses coming in and out, checking the vitals, seeing how “far along” things had progressed, bringing in ice chips, wiping down your forehead, fluffing the pillows, telling you what a great job you were doing.  Pretty high standards.  While I did get a visit from my doctor at 9 am, I had labored all morning mostly alone and had walked my room (not a delivery room) wondering when someone might come to check on me.  I parked myself on that labor ball and counted the floor tiles in my room.  There were a good 30 tiles that I could count through on every contraction.

Same position for about 5 hours….and all I could get on t.v. was the election of a new Prime Minister in England. Torture.

Ian finally arrived back from breakfast (it’s never an easy trip in Kenya) at about 10am and after one good look at me went for a nurse.  She came back and decided we better MOVE!  We barely got into that Labor and Delivery room, had me on the ball and in a position to see a good 30 tiles when DANG that pain ramped up.  I started to panic and asked if we might put that sweet bathtub to use.  I’d always wanted to try it during labor.  True to Kenya again, the nurse indicated that it would take a while to get some hot water into it. I was willing to wait.

 
My body wasn’t.  My water popped like a good summer water balloon.  Ian and I later cringed over the thought of that birthing ball rolling over to the corner of the room without a second look from staff.  Gross.
 
I really started to panic.  No hot bath.  Was there anything else I could have?!?  PLEASE?  You know that moment.
 
The nurse started babbling about laughing gas, but that we would need a fetal heart rate first.  She got me up onto the delivery table, strapped that monitor on my belly and started to fiddle with the machine.
 
At that moment, I went a little CRAZY.  The pain was insane.  I starting that horrible writhing around and ripped the belt off of me.  The nurse (Yes, only one) was a little taken aback by my behavior and decided to check me.  “Just 7 cm” she pronounced.  I wanted to kill her.  7 freaking centimeters?  Was she high?
 
She proceeded to get on her cell phone (nope, no landlines, not even in the hospital) to call my doctor on over…..and as she did, I think I made some vulgar comment about either having a major bodily function happen or I was having this baby. 
 
“NO!” everyone (ok the nurse and Ian) yelled.
 
“Whatever” I thought….and you know what?  I pushed that freaking (sorry Ameena) baby out as that darn nurse about had a stroke (trying to hold the phone and put on her dang gloves) while yelling out into the hall and Ian jumped to keep this surprise from dropping on the floor.  The nurse  recovered, and quickly grabbed her goo basin to put at the end of the table and took over for Ian in holding Ameena.  Poor Ian slumped and an additional nurse who had just walked in grabbed his arm and a paper bag for him to breathe into.  Poor  guy.  Too much blood, too much gross, too much baby–all way too fast.
 
Not enough doctor.  She sauntered in 10 minutes later to check everything out.   All I could think was, “Man, I still have to pay her delivery fee and she didn’t even deliver the baby!  But then again, it’s a good thing we don’t pay them for how long they “attend” or some of us would have some ridiculous bills!
 
With all that said, it has been quite a ride Ms. Ameena.  The first 3 months of your life in Kenya have made these last 9 months in the US pale in drama, but I wouldn’t trade a second of it.  You are everything God intended you to be for our family.  Without a doubt I can say that we all adore you and are thankful for the gift that you are to all of us. 
 
Baby, you were worth the wait.
 

Farewell

Goodbyes are a big deal in Kenya.

Through out the 15 months that we were in Kenya our family was able to learn about the importance of a proper farewell to Kenyans.

Of course we’re talking about a going away aka tea party.

Of course there will be presents.

Of course a ridiculous amount of photographs will be taken.

That’s normal even for Americans.

But what was new and an adjustment for our family was:

The flood of unexpected visitors to our home throughout the day and evening the  entire week before our departure.

The unexpected amount of gifts ranging from bunches of fresh bananas cut from the tree to hand knit baby sweaters for Ameena and offers of a goat to take home with us (declined of course because we were traveling by air not a matatu!)–mostly given by people with barely enough to eat themselves.

The ways in which staff began to pull back from us emotionally in preparation for our departure.

Allowing for (and planning/paying for) an airport escort by 38 staff, residents and friends because you’re not a true Kenyan if you don’t escort someone fully to either the bus, the train, the airplane etc.   I guess the 2 vanloads (yes 38+ people) of Kenyans at the airport made an impression because a fellow airplane passenger I met in Dubai said he thought we had the whole town saying goodbye to us when he saw us all at the Nairobi airport.  Perhaps not a town, but a whole Centre community!

And hopefully tomorrow, pictures of the event……

A how to lesson

I’ve posted in the past about my love of kangas & how Kenyans use them to tie babies on their backs. 

Because some of you asked to see what it looked like to balance the baby on the back, I took a few pictures about a week before we were due to come back home to the states. 

Lillian, one of the house-mothers in the abandoned infant care center was kind enough to demonstrate with Ameena. 

Moving Ameena onto her back

Positioning Ameena on her back with the elbow up to catch her if she slips

 

Balancing Ameena as she readies the kanga to pull over her

 

Adjusting the kanga up under the bum

  

Finished, with a kanga as a baby carrier

I’ve tried this a few times now, always with someone there to catch Ameena as I’m not the most comfortable in my ability to balance her on my back.  Ameena has lasted on my back for about 5 minutes, breaking out into a squawk before long.  I got some interesting stares walking down my street in Portland, Oregon with her on my back.  You’d think this hippy town would be used to this kind of thing by now!

I am not lost

Habari ya siku mingi!  Do you remember me posting in the past of the Kenyan saying, “You’ve been lost” when you haven’t visited someone for a long time?

Well, I know that I haven’t visited my blog much in the last few weeks, but rest assured, I am not lost from it.

Life has been chaotic.

Moving three kids under 5 years half way across the world, quite literally, took a lot out of this momma & poor Ian who had his back go out just as he sat down on the plane for our awesome 16 HOUR flight from Dubai to San Fran.   Can you imagine anything more torturous?  How bout the fact that the airline seated us separately, so Ian had both kids while I was seated alone with the baby.  Not ideal for either of us.

Saying a difficult goodbye to my dear Kenyan friends whom I have seen day, after day, after day was and still is hard.  While the work was hard, I still do miss that knock on our door at 9pm, the girls coming to beg some sweets from Ian, seeing Ruben love on my flower garden, having Patrick give me a hearty wave to say Habari Asubuhi, and all of the rest of the sweet ways the staff and residents loved on our family.

Moving back home to a crazy, rushed and chaotic world is taxing on the system and the soul.  Poor Ian had to soothe himself with some rice and beans right away.  Eli says Asante Sana to the checker at New Seasons and wonders why she doesn’t appreciate that he’s thanked her for the sticker she gave him, Lucy tries to navigate coming  into what pretty much is a 2nd culture for her…..we left for Kenya when she was just TWO years old!  Poor thing can’t figure why we aren’t paying the police, putting trash in pits in the yard or waiting for the water to heat before it comes out of the tap.

And then there is sweet baby Ameena.  My wonderful Kenyan gift.  A daily reminder of our amazing midlife adventure.

I’ll post soon.  I have so many thoughts swirling in my mind.  So many things I want to share.

I’m processing.

Recuperating.

Recharging.

Mourning.

Rejoicing.

Breathing.

Praying that I’ll have the faith and wisdom  to listen to what God has in store for our family, and that I’ll be obedient in my answer.

My grand idea

Most of you who knew me back home know that I love a good deal.

Garage sales make me happy.  Especially when you score the ones where the people just want to get rid of things…for crazy prices.

We’ve collected a LOT of things while here in Kenya.   Some of it basic household items, some of it frivolous, some of it brought with us from home and too worn to bother taking back.

Usually when local Kenyans hear that a mazungu is going home they are sad, and say, “You can’t leave.”  When you assure them that you are & that the ticket has already been purchased, quite often the next phrase might be, “Oh, well then, what are you planning to do with ____________.”   And fill in the blank.

Since we know that this will happen & that we have a great many things we don’t want to take home (extra tea bags, used writing pens, worn out kids clothes etc, etc) I have decided to hold my own garage sale.

Today Ian printed up some fake money.  Ten dollar bills.  Each staff member will be given one hundred dollars.  I’m going to have everything set out & priced the day ahead so they can “pre-sale”.  This was at staff request, “Can I see ahead of time what you have so that I might go home and think carefully about what I need?”

Hmmm.  Good idea!

We’re having the shopping right after the going away party we’re half hosting for ourselves.  Again, why should the staff use their hard earned money for tea and biscuits when we can use a little of our own money to have a sweet catered lunch?  Right, good food it is.  And, what better way to make sure that the party ends of time then to have the carrot of shopping hanging out in front of everyone???

And lest you think that the men won’t like shopping.  I’ve got those night guards asking for my kerosene lamp, my patio chairs, and some of my pirated action DVD’s.

Oh, I simply can’t wait for this fun!  It’s gonna provide some sweet people watching and a nice sociological experiment.  Who buys for themselves, who buys for their kids, who gives up some of their own money so their friend can buy something that costs more than $100?

Can’t wait to show you pictures and tell you how it all goes down & what the HOT selling item turns out to be.  Rest assured it will be something random like Megan found when she cleaned out her room & gave out things to the girls.  An almost empty bottle of nail polish remover almost caused a riot!

The morgue

If you’re a facebooker and follow the Karibu Centre posts or see my status updates then you will know that on Monday we got the devastating news that one of our vulnerable pregnant moms had a nonviable baby.

She was 40 weeks when she got the diagnosis, a day away from her estimated due date.  She had felt the baby moving just 2 days previous and had pains like her body was preparing for labor.

After 2 full days of being poked, prodded, and taking a variety of medications to induce labor, she delivered a baby boy this morning.  Stillborn. 

The doctor called our house and let us know.

I went first thing in the morning with Naomi, our housemother who watches after the girls.  Our girl was sitting on a  bed with another women and her baby, in the room where women go after delivering.

Can you imagine?  You’ve just finally delivered a stilborn baby after 48 hours of finding out, and then you are expected to “recover” in a room of about 15 women and their newborns.  Torture.

I asked the mom if she had a chance to  see or hold the baby.  She replied, “No, I was too scared” which isn’t surprising considering that in most hospitals in Kenya a woman labors alone and is told very little of what is going on.

I asked if she might like to  see the baby, if we were with her.  “Yes,” she replied.

The housemother and I went to the nursing staff (4 employees sitting at a desk in the hall chatting like it was happy hour at a bar) and inquired if we might see the baby.  “It’s in the nursery” they asked.  “Uh, no……it’s dead,” I replied.  Seriously, I have to say these kinds of things????  Thank God the mom wasn’t standing there with us.   They looked back at me with this look on their face that read CRAZY WOMAN and said, “You want to SEE it?”  

“YES!” 

Now I guess that it might seem strange to someone, but my reasoning was twofold.  One, you never know what goes on in these kinds of places and I wanted to see with my own two eyes the condition of the baby and that it was actually deceased.  Two, this mother had carried this baby for 40 weeks and it seemed pretty reasonable that she might hold it or at least look at it if she chose.  That whole bit about acknowledging grief and what an incredible loss this had been for her.

We (myself, housemother and mother of the baby) went to locate the morgue where they said the baby had been taken.  We were stopped by the man in charge who indicated that it was much too busy currently with people picking up bodies for funerals.  I thought, “Really?  She can’t take a minute to say goodbye to her baby?”  

I really didn’t understand what was going on, although I should have read between the lines.  The housemother walked the mother and I back towards the maternity ward and we left the mother to go check on another girl that we had brought to the clinic for her well-baby check up.   The housemother and I walked towards the van, but then she veered off on the entrance road like she was leaving the hospital.

She looked back at me as I was going towards the van and the well-baby clinic and motioned for me to come with her.   “What are you doing,”  I asked.   “The doctor is meeting us” she replied, and proceeded to walk outside of the hospital grounds to one of the main roads.  We walked a short distance on the dirt shoulder of the road, passing  the line of matatus that were waiting to pick passengers up.  And then I realized we were going to the public entrance of the morgue.  We came to an opening in the hedge, and the opening to the morgue, and there I saw a huge gathering of people.  All waiting to view and possibly pick up their deceased for burial.  It was quite a sight.  I imagine for them too.  When have they ever seen a white chick at the morgue with her tiny baby strapped onto her chest Kenyan style?

The housemother and I went inside and she said a few words to the man we had seen earlier who had said it was “too busy” for us.  Ahhhh, I thought.  I got it then.  He didn’t want the mother with us.  The man proceeded to speak to the housemother in Swahili, speaking fast enough and with difficult enough words that I couldn’t understand what he was saying….but his tone and body language sad enough.  He was annoyed and mad that we were bothering him.

The housemother came out and told me that we couldn’t see the baby because it was piled together with other ones in a bag.  I shrank back from her in horror.  “In a bag?”   “Who put them all in a bag?”   The housemother didn’t know and so I said we were going back in there to ask.

We went back into the “office” of the morgue where there was barely room for 4 people to stand.  The man must have heard me and understood me because he said, “Ask your question.”   I didn’t hear him at first, or realize that he was speaking to me so he repeated himself, quite forcefully.

I asked who had put the babies all together in a bag?  The doctors?  Nurses?  Him?

Now that I think about it, he didn’t really answer that question but just said, “You can dig through and find the baby.”  I thought he meant right then, so I started to follow him into the next room where I assumed the bodies were, and he turned around, pointed at me and yelled, “Not with her!”

Ok, he had a point.

I went outside and waited with the 30 or so Kenyans and took Ameena off of me in preparation for going inside.  I handed her to our housemom Naomi with the awareness that everyone was watching me as I did so.

And then the man opened the door to the office, and the double louvered blue doors to the morgue “room” and the people formed a line and walked through  the office door, through the morgue room and back out.  They didn’t pause or look at anything that I could tell, they just passed through and were done.

One wooden coffin was brought out by a funeral company and placed in a van.  I’m not sure what happens with the other bodies…if they remain or if they are collected later.

And then the man closed the double louvered doors to the morgue room.  A few seconds later he appeared at the open door to the office and yelled in my direction.  I assumed that meant I should go in.  It did.

He led me into that morgue room which must have been about 10×10 feet in size with a medium table in the middle, a cabinet against the wall, a dirty bucket of water on a much dirtier floor.  There was an adult body under the sheet behind me on a stretcher and another in the corner uncovered that I didn’t linger on.

Then the man went to a bright yellow plastic bag (about a 30 gallon one) and told me to look for the baby. 

“That’s full of babies?”

“Yes.”

“How many babies?”

He shrugged.  He was so nonchalant I almost couldn’t handle it.  But then again, this was his job, and this was everyday for him.  “Maybe twenty,” he responded after a moment.

Suddenly another man appeared, and he opened the bag and started bringing babies out.  My eyes welled up with tears and I covered my nose to avoid the smell that was permeating the entire room.

The babies were each wrapped in the lassos or kangas that the mothers had brought with them to the hospital.  The kangas are used before delivery as a cover-up for the mother, at delivery to wrap the baby, and afterwards as a cover for the mother when they are going to shower or nurse.   In this case, they remained with the baby after delivery.   Each baby was swaddled completely in the kanga, and was labeled on their torso and on the wrap with a piece of tape indicating the name of the mother, the date of delivery, and where the delivery had occurred. 

I asked if all of these babies were from the hospital today.  The men replied no, that they were kept together for disposal.  I cringe even typing that word, but that is the word I heard over, and over, and over today.

The 2nd man continued to pull babies from the bag.  Tiny, tiny babies and also what appeared to be full term babies.  One label read “home delivery”.  I began to cry over the sight of each of those babies all stacked on each other in a bag as they were.  Would we really find the baby?  We were nearing the bottom of the bag and I was getting pretty nervous when the man finally pulled a little bundle out labeled with the name of  our mother.

“That’s it” I told him.

He read the name to confirm.  “Yes, that’s it.”  I asked if he could open up the wrap so I could see the baby.  He looked at me as if to say, “Really?”   I nodded.

He opened the wrap and there inside was a little boy.  Perfectly formed.  Tiny, tiny, his face a miniature version of his mother. Still covered in lanugo and blood from birth.  I asked the man to wash the baby off as I wanted to take a picture in the event that the mother wanted to see what the baby looked like.   There was no way we could possibly bring her into this place to experience this.  I wouldn’t and won’t tell her what it was like.

The man washed the baby with water from the bucket I had seen against the wall.  I wanted to tell him to be gentle, but I didn’t.  I wanted to  take that dirty cloth from his hand and bathe the baby myself.  But I didn’t.  I couldn’t do anything. 

 I took 2 pictures.   

He asked if they should preserve the baby.   I said, “Yes.”  

And that was it.  We walked out of the morgue, and then I realized that Naomi had been with me, inside that room, without Ameena.  I had a frantic moment where I was searching for who she might have given Ameena to, and then I saw an old woman sitting on the cement edge of a large flower bed, holding Ameena covered in the kanga I had used earlier as a sling to hold her in.   I went to the woman, collected Ameena,  and then Naomi and I left the dirt lot of the morgue and walked back to the hospital.

I then proceeded to collect the birth notice which indicated that the baby was born dead.  Fortunately I knew exactly the form  to get as I spent 2 full weeks fussing for Ameena’s birth notice in order to get her Kenyan birth certificate that was needed for US documents.   The birth notice would be required of us  in order to obtain a burial plot from the municipal council.

We returned to the young mother and told her that we had seen the baby and all discussed arrangements.  Almost everyone here seems to prefer she forget about it, leave the baby at the hospital for disposal, and pretty much sweep the whole experience under the rug.  She would have been pushed to do just that by everyone involved and likely discouraged from anything we consider normal grieving.  I have demanded that we allow her to make the choice about what to do.  I have made certain that she understands we will arrange for whatever she wants so that she can be allowed a healthy grieving process.  She wishes to bury the baby.   The young mother indicated that she couldn’t bear to think of her baby being “thrown away in the trash.”   I don’t disagree with her choice one bit.  I’m proud of this young mother’s strength and thankful that we can help her voice be heard and wishes respected. 

I’m thankful that I was the one who went to the morgue, and saw that sight of the babies in the bag, and not this mother.  I’m thankful that when and if she sees her little boy, he will be clean and wrapped neatly in a beautiful soft blanket inside a beautiful coffin.  That her first and last visual memory of him will be him resting  peacefully…just as I know his soul is.

I am thankful that we have been here at Karibu Centre and that we have helped so many women have safe and successful pregnancies.  I am thankful that this young mother will have a funeral for her baby surrounded by loving staff and fellow young mothers.  I am thankful for the prayers of comfort and peace that have been prayed for us all this week.