Posts Tagged ‘Smells’

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?”  


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?”


“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.


Kid Honesty

Lucy will be 3 in a about 2 weeks.

She’s at the stage where everything she thinks comes out of her mouth (I guess some people never get out of that stage).

Today her winner comments both had to do with Esther our househelp.

The first, announced to the whole family when Esther come out of the bathroom:  “Esther went potty!  Look everyone, Esther went potty!”  Esther was a good sport and laughed it off.

The second announcement was in the car as I was going to pick Eli up from school and we were giving Esther a lift.

“Mom, Esther’s stinky!”   Ok, so yes, she has a particularly potent African odor to her, but I think that I am getting used to it and don’t notice it anymore.

No one commented.  I tried to pass it off and save embarassment for everyone by saying, “Oh, Lucy, I think you are the stinky one!”

She insisted that she wasn’t, kept on with the stinky comments, and then progressed I think to saying it “Smelt poopy” when I told her to stop the potty talk and we were finished with that!


Wrong Target

So, it looks like the stork that was stalking me had the wrong target.

The “real” stork made a real visit to Karibu Centre this last week though.

We welcomed our the first baby to one of our vulnerable young pregnant women this week, and what a week it was.

On Monday morning we were informed that the president was declaring Tuesday a holiday.  As in the next day.  National Census Day.   Hey, we’d take a day off!   We were lucky enough though to be informed by one of the nearby elders that our house would be first on the census roundup and to make tea for him at 7pm Monday night.   The census itself was pretty uneventful.  I was glad that we had our “house visit” at 7pm and not at 10pm like our neighbors.

 So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard a rap, rap, rap on my bedroom window at 5am in the morning on our holiday!  I climbed out of my securely zipped up net and peeked out my window to see both of our night security guards looking at me.  “One of the girls is sick” the younger guard mumbled out.  I threw on some clothes and walked over in the still dark morning to investigate.

A short investigation indicated that this girl probably wasn’t just sick, but experiencing some serious Braxton-Hicks, or in premature labor.  We were supposed to have another month or so to go here!  I loaded the girl and our house mother who had arrived one day prior into the car, and off we went to the Municipal Hospital.

Many visits and a day later, Karibu Centre had it’s first mother and son!  Baby and mother are doing fine, and we are busy getting them into all of the necessary appointments they need. 

Beyond that, the whole experience was such an eye opener.  It is something to experience the different foods, or social customs of a culture….and then entirely something different to go with a regular Kenyan to experience the whole hospital/labor/and newborn experience.   The Municipal Hospital here in Thika is the only one around for quite a ways, so it is our option for the pregnant women  here at the Centre. 

I am trying to think of something to compare it to in the States.  I’m not sure that I can.  I guess when you lack the infrastructure to have the necessary number of trained nurses and doctors, then you end up with 15 laboring women sitting in a hall on benches and the floor waiting for the 1 doctor or nurse on duty to make it around to them.  In this instance, it really appeared that the women in the most obvious pain got served first.  Fortunately, at 5am in the morning, with no one around,  a young nurse caved in to the pushiness of a white woman and our girl got seen.  I was pretty proud of myself for pushing her to the front of the line.  Unfortunately, the day nurse didn’t favor me so well, and I had to stay sight unseen in the afternoon after the nurse yelled out, “Who is with that mazungu?  You can wait!”  I’m thinking that the nurse might be bought off with a nice thank you card from Karibu Centre (for bringing the first Centre baby into the world….) and some chocolates.  That should make her a little more willing to like me, for the next mother’s sake.  Either that, or I’ll stay home and let our wonderful Kenyan house mom and social worker do the hospital drops!

For the next mothers, I have learned that the following needs to go into the hospital bag:  Bottle of bleach, cotton rolls, washing up basin, hot water thermos (for tea), and nappies and other clothes for the baby.  Silly me, I just packed clothes for the mother and baby this time.  Who woulda thought that one had to provide their own sterilizing solution, cotton and wash basin???  Good thing there was a nice little shop outside the hospital perimeter selling the necessities.  Quite handy!

The local hospital experience was sobering.  Too many patients, not enough staff.  No supplies.  Sanitation standards that we haven’t seen in the States in decades.  Wheel chairs without their wheels and foot rests.  Hospital beds leaning to one side (perhaps because they are sitting 3 people deep?).  And oh the smells emanating from those buildings.  They really don’t translate into type.

I am thankful that we have access ourselves to good medical care and that through the work of the Centre we are able to ensure better medical care for these women than they would ever be able to receive otherwise.

Until now, diapers seemed normal

You know how in the states you just assume that any kid who is NOT potty trained is pretty much in diapers or some type of equivalent?   Silly me for assuming that such would be the case here!

I guess in the program planning here we (or at least I) didn’t consider that there would be little kids wandering around letting nature take it’s course wherever and however….without diapers, or nappies, or underwear.

Let me paint a visual picture for you girlfriends there in Portland with young ones.  Imagine a Portland Public Parks, or Tualatin Hills Parks Play Gym day….with 50 little kids…..all without diapers or underwear!!!  And no experience using toilets.

So, it truly is a miracle that we have not been peed on or pooped on more than we have.  Megan takes the award for actually having a kid poop on her while sitting on her lap.  That whole wet, warm feeling when it shouldn’t be there!!!  I haven’t had the pleasure, just some piddle all over my pants.  I have had the not so awesome pleasure of having to clean up after some kiddos have stood in class and just let loose….wow…I don’t know about you, but I hardly enjoy cleaning up my own kids poo, let alone someone elses when it is all over their pants, their legs, all the way down to their socks and shoes.

With all of that said, these little kids are making amazing progress….in just a few weeks time they have gone from being clueless over how to to use a squat toilet and running wild all messy to being able to walk single file in a cute little duckie type line to the bathroom where they are able to potty and wash appropriately.  That is a great life skill!

So, if you have any grand ideas on how we can move (a whole group of children from the slums whose parents can’t afford diapers, let alone a single nappie or plastic pants) to something more hygienic for all of us, let us know!  We thankfully have some extra baby/toddler clothes on hand here at the center, so we can change them into something clean and dry.  You are all welcome to always send over any used clothes 6months – 4 years on over, they are always put to good use.

Mission: Denied.

Last week Ian got to leave mid day for a meeting in Nairobi and then hopefully to pick up Megan from the airport.

Since her plane was delayed, so was  he, and he just hadto spend the night in Nairobi at the home of friends.   He called me that night to check in on me and the kids.  He was calling from the middle of a movie where he was on a “Man Date”.   Cruel.  Simply.  Not only was he alone without the rugrats in the metropolis of Nairobi, but, he had free time and was watching big screen entertainment!   I wished him well and knew that some day my turn would come.

My turn came yesterday.  We got word that it was time to visit the Nyayo House to complete paperwork for Megan’s alien card.  Sweet!   We tacked on some errands for the Centre that needed to be completed in Nairobi and were off!

Nyayo House is not an exciting place to visit in itself. Thanks to expathousewifeinNairobi you can see that it  looks like this on the outside:

and the inside is dark, and gloomy and filled with the smell of way to many bodies in desperate need of a shower.  There are long lines (longer yet if you don’t bring an extra copy of your passport and you have to go hunting around town for a copy machine),  lots of sitting here and there, and the final signal to the end of the process:  undergoing fingerprinting like you are being booked in the county jail.

Anyhow, along with the work errands that needed to be run, Megan and I decided to pop into a beauty salon I’d been tipped off to in the first week of my arrival to see if they might happen to be able to squeeze us in.

They were.

And it was pure heaven.  I haven’t enjoyed a pedicure in a while, and this one was especially sweet and necessary.  This Kenyan dust and dirt is doing some serious damage to  my poor feet….which my pedicurist reiterated time and time again throughout her multiple bouts of rubbing an enormously large pumice stone over my foot.  She went on to prescribe that I no longer wear flip flops and switch to tennis shoes or closed shoes.  I’ll opt for the closed shoes.   Shoes are pretty cheap and cute here any how, and if I’m being told that I am doing permanent damage to my feet by not having proper shoes, well then the only responsible thing for me to do is to do some serious shoe shopping.

For the health of my feet of course.

Anyhow, this story ends with us waking early, driving into downtown Nairobi, chatting with our immigration liaison and deciding to meet at the amazing Java House for coffee.

It’s not this one, but this is what they generally look like outside.  A bit like Starbucks actually but with red umbrellas and logos.

I had a cafe latte, Megan had a green tea.  And then we waited patiently for our  immigration expert to arrive.

We waited a long time, and had 2 unanswered phone calls.  We were about ready to give up when I received an odd call saying the woman who we had just talked to, and who was on her way to meet us, had taken very ill, could not walk, and was being taken to the hospital.

Guess that means we won’t be doing immigration today?

I called Ian to tell him and his response was, “That’s Kenya.”

We’ll give it a go another day.  In the meantime, Megan better behave, cause she’s not really a legal alien yet.

Sniff, sniff

In talking with my twin brother Andy and his wife Kori last night
, Ian and I realized that we have not done a post of the “smells” of Kenya. There are some things here that after a week or two, you just start to take it for granted and you forget how unique or different it is.

That is the amazing ability of the mind….to filter out routine or non-threatening stimuli so that your mind can remain alert for new and possibly threatening stimuli. I started an amazing book before I left that talks about this: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dogby Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz The book talks about the effects of trauma on children (and people for that matter) giving true life case studies. It has a bit of everything….neurology, psychology, funny, sad.

Anyhow, back to the topic of smells. Everything here smells stronger. Whether it is the pollution, or trash being burnt (that’s how most people get rid of their trash…remember my horror of Lucy’s burning diapers wafting in my window), or the trash just sitting by the side of the road,

OuterRing Road Nairobi
or Jikos cooking lunch/dinner (a  jiko is a ceramic container held in a metal frame that utilizes charcoal, or another heat source for cooking), or body odor (yes, American are obsessed with smelling clean compared to anywhere else in the world), or the smell of raw sewage (we are SOO lucky to have the city sewer line run right through our property) when the main pipeline gets backed up, or the many smells that emminate from a herd of cows or goats walking down the highway by your car Just goats...,

or untreated industrial waste water, or chemicals used on fields.

There is a constant barrage of smells coming at one here, and after a while, the mind tunes them out and you stop smelling them.

We discovered that this was happening when Ian noticed that he was having to wear about 5 sprays of cologne every day rather than the usual 1 spritz it would take at home. He has to use that much just to compete with all of the other smells that are assaulting the nose on a regular basis here.

We had to laugh at the fact.

That and the fact that if a Kenyan (Ok, not every Kenyan, but most) rides in the car with us the smell of B.O. lingers for a LONG time. But geez, you can’t blame them…most of them hardly have enough money to make ends meet let alone worry about buying and applying deodorant.

Ian says he kind of likes the smell of B.O. here. Figures. If you know Ian, it wouldn’t surprise you that he says that! It just gives him the opportunity to try “something new” and go on another deodorant fast.

Chris Livingston: no cancer from deodorant aluminum for Ian.