Saturday, October 6, 2012

Words, moments, and some news

            I have never known what it is like to be at an utter loss for words – those of you who know me may laugh; those of you who don’t know me – know it’s a highly accurate statement. I love words. I use words. I enjoy using words intentionally – to say exactly what I mean to say, nothing more and nothing less.

            Words carry power – perhaps more power than anything else in the entire world. After all, words are the driving force behind every battle, the catalyst to life-long loves, the quieter of anger, and the medium connecting past to present, and present to future dreams. Words give expression to our very existence, making us a part of our broader community, cementing our roll within that community, and alternatingly growing and damaging others and ourselves. Words carry power – power to heal, power to excite, power to destroy.

            And so I have spent a great portion of my mental energy over the course of my life understanding words – learning how to use them well, priding myself on my ability to articulate thoughts and feelings concisely, and enjoying the challenge of creatively using my words as I’ve developed my writing.

            But the past 3 months have brought me to a new place – a place where words have no longer been enough, where my vocabulary insults the depth of my emotion, where attempts at expressing the unexpressable only end up demeaning my true self and leaving those who have listened with only two options – trite answers or silence. Over the past months, words have failed me.

            A thing happens when words fail – ears begin to open. Ears of the heart and ears of the soul begin to open. When the mouth and mind fail, the heart and the soul expand. But be warned, the heart and  the soul will expand with whatever is in them – be it sadness, joy, mourning, hope, or overwhelming feelings of inadequacy. The mind and mouth are good at deceiving – especially good at deceiving themselves. But the heart and the soul never lie. So, when the words fail, and the mouth and mind stop fighting for coherence (whether it be out of weariness, or willingness to purely be), the soul and heart can finally be heard.

            I haven’t had a picturesque life, but I have had a beautiful one. I didn’t have a traditional childhood, but I would never trade the one I had. I won’t ever be made up of just one place, but I am increasingly comfortable with simply being made.

This year has…well, I’m at a loss for words. And when I let my mind and words rest, the heart and soul swell – and this is what they say:

I have known sadness – but now I know sorrow
I have known loss – but now I know grief
I have known pain – but now I know suffering
I have known impermanency – but now I know uncertainty
I have known the reality of my humanity – but now I have embodied it

I have known anticipation – but now I am learning hope
I have known belief – but now I am learning trust
I have known strength – but now I am learning courage
I have known patience – but now I am learning perseverance
I have known happiness – but now I am learning joy
I have known rest – but now I am learning peace

            There are feelings too deep to express. And I think they always contain an element of sadness, mourning, or loss. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, treasured things in her heart – things too deep to share; and I think they were beautiful things, but I think she treasured them with an element of sadness – knowing they were too beautiful to remain untouched by pain. When we experience feelings of elation or joy too deep to express, I think we still try. There’s no risk in trying – if others can’t fully understand, it doesn’t detract from our joy or elation. But if we attempt to express a deepness of pain and sorrow, and it is missed or mishandled by others – we are wounded more.

            And it is for this reason (plus many practical ones) that I’ve been mostly silent the past 3 months. But now, it is time to state the facts – and let the words do what they will.

            We’ll be moving back to the US before the end of this year. We’re not exactly sure when, though sometime before Christmas. We’re not exactly sure where, though we’ll start out in Sacramento and visit LA. We’re not exactly sure what we’ll do, though we are making progress on the job hunt. We’re not exactly sure why this year has gone so badly, though we do know it has gone so badly. But we are learning hope, we are learning trust, we are learning courage, we are learning perseverance, we are learning joy, we are learning peace.

            As I’ve allowed my heart and my soul to swell these past months (more out of exhaustion than bravery to face my self) I have been overwhelmed. I strive for purpose, for meaning, for my piece in the bigger picture – we’re constantly seeking to define ourselves, to find our reason for existence, our purpose in the future.   But I realized this – unless I live my moments with the deep belief that I was created exactly for this moment, I will never be satisfied.

            When my children are both screaming, and dinner is burning on the stove, and my husband is late walking home from work, and I know there have been armed robbers targeting commuting pedestrians – that is the moment I was created for. And, in that moment, created for only that moment. To have patience with my children, realistic expectations of myself, and trust in my God.

            When my friend calls in tears, and it happens to be during my only solitary hour of the day, when my list of things to do could easily take hours – that is the moment I was created for.  And, in that moment, created for only that moment. To let priorities re-align, to have ears to hear, and selflessness to support.

            When my husband comes home, needing a place of rest – and I’ve cried throughout the day – hidden in the bathroom away from tender and easily scared small eyes and hearts – that is the moment I was created for. And, in that moment, created for only that moment. To let sorrow and strength co-exist, to offer encouragement not out of my own largeness but out of my equal smallness and subsequent safety in my God.

            When series of small trials undergo a metamorphosis and emerge as a substantial problem, demanding some sort of substantial life change; and I realize I have no reserves left with which to make a decision, because I've spent all my strength on the small trials - that is the moment I'm created for. And, in that moment, created for only that moment. To allow God's strength to be perfect because I'm completely weak, to use the mind I've been given to consider the information I know, and to sacrifice the seemingly stable and reasonable for the truly important and valuable - despite the fear I may feel. 

            When my 7 hours in bed has been interrupted by 6 wake-ups from 2 children, and I almost literally collapse from the exhaustion, and that little 2 ½ yr old boy cries out for the 7th time – that is the moment I was created for. And, in that moment, created for only that moment. To have patience, to muster physical strength, to pray for rest, and to comfort little hearts that have no other comforts.

            When the thought of publicly sharing what can only hint at a year full of loss – loss of dreams, loss of ideals, loss of self-security, loss of being limitless  - makes me hide for weeks, and want to literally run away to the mountains – this is the moment I was created for. And, in this moment, created for only this moment. To face my own reality with dignity amidst brokenness. To share our uncertainties with confidence, because I know God has never left our sides.

            And when there are dozens of ‘good’ moments every day – moments full of beauty, full of love, full of grace - those are the moments I was created for. Little arms squeezed tight around my neck, little heads leaned peacefully against my chest, little squeals of delight filling apartment hallways, tender glances from a husband full of strength and courage, words of encouragement from friends near and far, Kenyan sunshine streaming across the parquet floor, warm breezes perfectly touching skin, smells of Kenyan summers in early October – and in every one of those moments, those are the moments I was created for. And, in those moments, created for only those moments. To savor, to breathe deeply, to feel joy, to celebrate with others, to heal from the painful moments.

            My last entry talked about how motherhood is all about living fully in the now, because the now is of paramount importance to the future. But I think this truth extends to all walks of life. Now is of paramount importance, now is why we were created. And if we live fully in the now, with acknowledgement of who we strive to be and where we’ve come from – we get closer to realizing our future, and minimize the chances of regretting our past. 

            During a commercial break in a show I was watching earlier this week, a notice popped up that read, “content will return shortly”.  On one level it seemed like a humorous parallel to my life  – content will return shortly. But, in reality, the content never stopped. Yes, the big picture is much less clear. But the content remains – in snippets and moments, many of them too deep for words. Moments I was created for.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Musings on Motherhood

I always aspired to be a stay at home mom - it looks awesome from a distance. Unlimited time to play with my kids, no schedule except what I set, flexibility to get involved in things that interest me, time to develop social relationships, time to invest in hobbies. And then I became a stay at home mom. And it is awesome. Sometimes. And sometimes it is far, far harder than anything else I have ever done.

Harder than leaving my family 10,000 miles away to start university in a country that was mostly foreign to me. Harder than juggling a part time job, 20 units, being an RA, and planning a wedding. Harder than working with severely emotionally disturbed kids - getting hit, cursed at, spit on - watching the kids I invested in make terrible decisions, be betrayed by the people they needed most, get arrested as minors...Motherhood is harder.

And here's why - Western society sees the mother as a solitary figure. In the developing world, mothers are a central part of the community. They may be incredibly disrespected, they may bear the brunt of the financial responsibilities for the families, they may live in terrible conditions - but they are surrounded by a community of people who are part of raising their children. Dozens of arms ready to pick up injured babies, dozens of lips to kiss chubby cheeks,  dozens of mouths to scold rascally boys, and dozens of lives to instruct young girls.

But in the Western world, we toss around the phrase "it takes a village" and then go on living our solitary lives. Sure, there's support - offers to baby sit, offers of company, mommy play groups (let's be honest - these are mommy support groups...we just call them play groups). But the mindset of communal child-raising absolutely does not exist. We glance at eachother's children from a distance, and unless we are good friends with their parents, refrain from interacting - terrified of being the creepy stranger.

About a year and a half ago, my husband found himself at a playground with our son - a five year old girl was having a hard time on the monkey bars, starting to fall, and calling for help. No one came to help her - so he went to assist her, offered his help before reaching out to touch her, and she refused - terrified, and instead chose to fall to the ground. He felt stuck - help her anyway and risk the wrath of a mis-perceiving parent? Or let her fall?

What sort of society have we allowed to sneak in around us where children have to be afraid of any adult they don't know? And good-hearted adults fear reprisals for helping other's children? In Nairobi, I constantly consider threats to my children - crazy drivers, potential terrorist attacks, hijackings, diseases, rabid dogs. But I never worry about someone actively causing them harm (unless I was actually the target and my children unfortunate bystanders) - if I lose Kai in the grocery store, I don't panic...I know someone is with him and I'll find him soon. If a stranger approaches him and I'm at a distance, I don't worry about what that stranger is saying to him. If Mika is on the playground and I am 15 feet away helping Kai, only to turn around and find Mika in the arms of a stranger - I don't blink an eye. Kenyans, Africans, love children.

But in Western society, children are cute...and a bit of an inconvenience. I read an article recently in the Huffington Post about how childless hipsters are incredibly irritated with parent hipsters who bring their kids to hipster hangouts. There's absolutely no sense of broader community. Instead there's a sense of "listen, you were cool before you had kids but now...well, you got yourself into that mess. Call us when your kids aren't around, or are old enough to meet our current standards of 'hip'."

And so the stay at home mom is left with her identity stripped - society developed her to be a societal contributer via her career. And she bought into it - college debt, wardrobe, and all. Then evolution rears it's head and she reproduces. Society applauds and turns away. Children are an inconvenient, and hopefully not contagious, detour from real contributions- call us when you're doing something again. Feel free to come to hang out with us, without kids would be better - and not too many stories about your kids, ok? They're cute, but let's talk about something that matters - have you heard about the recent political scandal or trend in foreign aid?

So she spends months, years, maybe decades - quietly wiping runny noses, kissing scraped knees, washing husband's laundry, matching socks, planning meals, loading and unloading carseats, blogging about being a mom, dropping kids at sports games, cheering at kindergarten graduations, buying back to school supplies. All the while struggling to live deeply in the moment - knowing the absolute trust her infants have in her will fade quickly, knowing the chubby arms will quickly thin and fill with muscles - giving fewer hugs, knowing the rosy cheeks will soon fill with words that will sometimes sting, knowing that receiving minds will soon seek information elsewhere, knowing the crowded dinner table will empty seat by seat.

Society watches and some boldly criticize her abilities, the close few rally to support, and if she is an incredibly blessed mother - several will rejoice with her at the seemingly small triumphs, recognizing the smallest triumphs took the most of her strength, tears, and character. Small triumphs: the first day with no toilet accidents, the first step, the second night slept through (the first was just luck), the first broken arm not ending in utter disaster, the first night of homework, the first call into the principles office, the first time her child includes a social outcast, the first time her child takes a stand for themselves without her prompting...the unnoticed triumphs - the markers of motherhood.

We live our lives looking forward, aspiring to the next phase - like children always wondering what new accomplishment waits for us that day; an accomplishment we were destined to fulfill. And it's easy to view today as a holding tank - prepping us for some yet unachieved success. Waiting in anticipation for the next thing "we're looking forward to." And in almost every walk of life - this is reasonable...keep your sights always on the next step so you don't miss it.

But in motherhood, this doesn't work - because today is the next step. Today is the small triumph that no one but the mother will see. Today is the chance to speak the word, give the hug, extend the grace that will motivate the wise decision, kind word, or meaningful societal contribution in ten years from today.  And today, the stay at home mom must rally her strength, find her purpose, say a thousand prayers for patience, and live deeply in today.

Western society would do well to carve out more of a niche for the mother - to see the choice of putting a career aside as a sacrifice and not a cop out, and to treat it as such when the mother pursues re-entering the work force & when the mother engages in conversations regarding something besides her children. Western society would do well to love it's children - to protect them, to acknowledge that while youth are the next generation of leaders - children are the ones with minds being formed by the adults around them. As adults, today we don't shape the next generation (that's already been done, and they are now largely shaping themselves) - we shape the youngest generation.

I don't say this to give myself praise - it's more of a call to arms. A call for mothers to live in today contentedly - even without thanks, and a call for western society to acknowledge the mother as a societal contributor.  For that is what she is.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Then & Now

A lot of my blog readers have commented on how much they enjoy reading my blog because it's written about living in Nairobi as an adult when I also grew up here through my prepubescent and teenage years.

I thought I'd give you a snippet of Then & Now's - sort of a skim over Nairobi life through the ideas of a kid, and now through the eyes of an adult. Granted - these are my eyes. Yours would probably see this differently :) I'm also going to toss in an Interpretation - of either the external or internal catalyst behind my constantly changing eyesight.

Then: Everything in Nairobi is alive! Nothing is ever the same, people are always doing something interesting, and the probability I will see something hilarious (ie 50 live chickens strapped to the top of a car) or shocking (a dead person on the side of the road) is quite high. This makes my life awesome, and equally alive.

Now: Nairobi is full of the realities of life - life and death dance a delicate dance. Success and tragedy do the same. And now that I'm here, I'm part of this dance. And I affect other people's dance - if I actually look this reality square on, I must absorb a certain level of responsibility.

Interpretation: Part of this is just growing up. Part of this is because I know enough now to see causes behind results, not just results as definitive ends.

Then: My life is pretty great - I'm so lucky to be exposed to so many cultures, so many perspectives, so many ways of life. I'm so glad I don't live in a suburb with a white picket fence.

Now: I meet amazing people on a daily basis - who are doing amazing things for causes I whole heartedly support. I love how much I learn about culture, how many perspectives I hear a day, and how I am a piece of this intricate puzzle. However - I feel like I'm always looking for further self-definition, and recognize that due to the nature of expat life - most of these amazing people are leaving. Soon. The white picket fence doesn't sound so bad...some sort of stability doesn't sound so bad...but leaving some of this behind does.

Interpretation: Again, part of just growing up. I think it's also a difference between the missionary community versus the secular expat community. In general, it seems the missionary community attracts more longevity-inclined individuals. While I know 3-5 years isn't what "long-term missionary" used to mean, it sure beats the 6months-2years within the NGO/expat community. I also think the highly transient nature of Nairobi is increasingly the nature of the educated work force - whether it be because of the increasingly global economy, the rapid spread of information, the increased universality of certain skills, or something else. Ultimately, the educated work force doesn't stay put as long as it used to.

Then: There are so many products I wish were here from the US - shampoo, food, recent movies in movie theaters, etc.

Now: They are here! And many things in Nairobi now outdo aspects of life in places I would move back to in the US. Restaurant ambiance? Awesome. Thin crust pizza? Delicious. Cheap movie date nights? Way better here. Honey bunches of oats? Yup, it's is herbed goat cheese.

Interpretation: Nairobi is growing in so many positive ways. Each one of these little, seemingly superficial changes is evidence of a broader social change, of new jobs created, of more efficient systems in place. (I know, I know...efficiency and positive can't always be put in the same paragraph. I'm doing it anyway for this one.) There are now dozens of places that feel nothing like the Nairobi I grew up in, but more like the Western world I thought I was missing - you still have to drive through a gate, and have your car checked for explosives to get in, but the niceties are here. And they are enjoyed by some segment of every culture represented in this country. Which is also significant.

Then: The only way to get around in Nairobi is by landmarks....don't try to know names of roads or cardinal directions. Just landmarks.

Now: Google maps is relatively correct for getting directions in Nairobi. Amazing. AND - lots of roads have obvious names, and more and more roads go in a straight direction. Amazing.

Interpretation: This is good. It does leave behind a segment of society - the dukas where we used to get lunch are now replaced by bulldozers, backhoes, and construction hats. A recent article in the Daily Nation discussed how the new highways did not consider cart drivers who pull their immensely heavy loads between point A and B - and how now the very people who make their living by the literal sweat of their back are forced to pull their carts along some of the fastest and most dangerous roads in Nairobi. This is the reality of progress: thousands of hours saved for driving commuters a week, and undocumented numbers of lives lost among the poorest.

Then: kids who grow up overseas have it really hard.

Now: all kids have it really hard. Are my kids ok?

Interpretation: I'm a mom.

Then: Teacher strike? Wish our teachers would strike - I'd love to have a day off.

Now: When will fairer systems be implemented for the backbones of this country?

Interpretation: I don't claim to be an expert on the Kenyan political system - but I would comment on the significance of a situation where thousands of educated individuals risk receiving no pay until their requests of raises of between 100%-300% are met. In a country with an increasingly educated population (university degrees) and 51% unemployment something has gone massively wrong for this current scenario to occur...either the pay is SO low, or the effectiveness of strikes has resulted in too much power for the worker. I'm not advocating for either, and it may be something different. Nevertheless-there's my interpretation.

Then: it's 8:30pm? Can I go to bed? I love sleep.

Now: It's 8:30 pm? Is Kai asleep yet? Has my time finally arrived to do what I want?

Interpretation: See #5

Then: There's nothing to do in Nairobi - no good places to hang out...just the same old, same old every weekend.

Now: There is SO much to do in Nairobi - great restaurants, good bars, good theaters, bowling, casinos, blankets & wine events in outdoor spaces, reggae festivals, friends to go see PLUS all the stuff outside of Nairobi. No way we can fit it all in.

Interpretation: Nairobi has grown, I am no longer a disgruntled/non-mobile teenager, and the internet happened/is happening. Makes the spread of information possible, and subsequently, I am more aware of what is actually going on around me. All good things, I think.

Then: Nairobi is divided into pockets by culture - certain cultures live here, certain cultures live there...some people are so discriminatory.

Now: Oh, every major city is like that. Nairobi is actually a lot less divided on cultural lines than LA was.

Interpretation: We are creatures of habit. Culture breeds habit. Habits lend to familiarity, and familiarity to comfort. There is nothing wrong with seeking comfort in our places of residence. Only when they become walls of exclusion rather than patterns of familiarity do they become dangerous.

Then: Nairobi is changing, but I can keep up - it's still familiar.

Now: Nairobi is changing, and I don't know if I can keep up. The pace of change, and the size of the city make it almost impossible.

Interpretation: Nairobi is in a critical stage of launching from being a 'developing city' to a 'developed city'. This rate of growth will slow down in 10-15 years - but for now, it is a wild, wild ride. Think New York City circa 1910. (I think).

There you go - a little glimpse into the then and now. Remember, these are just my interpretations, and I'm open for discussion. As I continue to open my eyes to my daily life in Nairobi, I see many beautiful parts of the city that I haven't seen for the past several months. I see the current successes, and the promises of more to come. That's not to say there isn't massive disparity, poverty, injustice and struggle - but Nairobi is evolving, and it is exciting to see. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Um....this looks different...

So, I've revamped the blog. AGAIN. Sorry.

Since we moved to Nairobi, I've had a hard time knowing exactly what the purpose of this blog was - it turned into part journal, part mommy-blog, part public display of existential crises. SO - in an effort to make it more enjoyable for us all, I decided to compartmentalize the blog just a little bit.

My kitchen is available for your viewing. Ok, not literally the kitchen itself, but some of the recipes that come out of it. I'd love to put up a new recipe a week - but we'll see if that happens. If you want to request a specific recipe, feel free to leave a comment on Allsarahsrecipes and I'll do my best to acquiesce your request.

Now, my kids are available for your compartmentalized viewing as well. I think many of my readers come to my blog hoping for pics and updates of the little dears, so now you can just go to The Ultimate Mommy Blog (sarcastically named, of course) for your viewing pleasure. May my children bring you as much laughter and joy as they do me - and not nearly as many tears and pain :)

Allsarahdoes will remain, but it is now a place where I'll recount what we've been up to and where I put my contemplative, note-worthy thoughts. Ok, you can decide if they are note-worthy; but you get the idea of the intended content. If I'm able to keep up with the mommy blog, and feel like I'm also generating enough content on Allsarahdoes, I'll organize it a bit further too. That remains to be seen.

I'd love your feedback - if you love or hate the new look, if you'd like something more or less featured.

Thanks for all your patience with the recent blog turbulence - clear skies ahead. Happy reading.

Monday, September 3, 2012

What did you just say??

My children continue to surprise me. Mika less than Kai - as is to be expected with child number 2 versus child number 1. Mika is making wonderfully on time progress - walking, starting to say a few words, communicating likes & dislikes, imitating...she's entering the incredibly fun phase that starts at 1, and if Kai is any indication, has no end in sight.

Mika does have an immense amount of sass. She bites. Then pretends to be sorry, then smirks, giggles, and bites again. She growls. At everything and everyone - it's a happy growl, but nevetheless she growls. She says the word 'hi' with more breathy enthusiasm than anyone I've ever met (or ever hope to). She thinks every animal is an elephant, and makes an amazing elephant noise - at every animal she sees. She adores her big brother, and is irritated by all of the amazingness he can accomplish that she just can't. She adores her daddy, and cries almost every morning when he leaves for work. She is completely comfortable with strangers, and will literally go to anyone without a second thought. She eats 2%veggies, 2% fruit, 2% protein, 4% dairy, and 90% do I, so I'm not holding it against her, though I do hope it's a phase (for both of us).

Kai...well, Kai is another story. The amount of sass that comes out of that boys mouth is amazing. He's incredibly intelligent, A LOT of fun, and generally a good kid. But sassy. And manipulative. I anticipated this out of my teenage Mika, but not toddler Kai. I'm learning every day how to be a better parent, usually through a series of tears, being flabbergasted, and experimentation...I think we're making progress. But, for your sake, and for the hope that the things causing so many tears and frustration can bring joy to others - here are some Kai anecdotes.

Conversation almost every time I tell him no:
Me: "Kai, I'm sorry, you can't do that. The answer is no."
Kai: "No, mama. De ansah is yesdt."(this is said in a variety of pitches, postures, and repetitions depending on the severity of the perceived loss)

Nap time battle:
Me: "Kai, it's nap time. During nap time - we sleep. This is not time for anything else. Just sleeping. Now, you need to march your little behind back to your room, get in bed, and take a nap. It is nap time, and during nap time we nap."
Kai: eye-rolling that lands on me with an obvious attempt at apathy and disinterest
Me: "Kai Michael, what did I just say to you?"
Kai: "um, plobably, you say dat it's time tdo wate up and no mo nap time"
Me: "Kai, you heard me. Now, it's your choice - do you want a nap or a spanking?"
Kai: (same eye-rolling, exasperated sigh, lip pursing) "um, plolly....plolly...a nap."

Afternoon washing dishes - Kai comes running in, naked
Me: "hey - where are you clothes?"
Kai: "oh, um, de are tumming. Um, mama, tan I please have tidodo (kidogo - swahili for a little bit) chai?"
Me: "yeah, kidogo, after you put your clothes on"
Kai: running out of the room, then running back in "Oh, and mama, tidodo chai for papa, too." (every time he says kidogo, he holds his thumb and forefinger up indicating just a little bit. Every time.)
Me: "ok, I'll make a cup for papa too."
Kai: runs out of the room, and immediately back in "Oh, and mama. Um....papa wants some sweeties."
Me: "Really? Sweeties? What kind of sweeties?"
Kai "Oh, um, plobably banana bread. And chips."
Me: "ok, I'll check with papa"

*** the conversation Kai THEN had with Chris (they had apparently never discussed snacks previous to this)
Kai: "Oh, hey papa, dess what? Mama is mating me tidodo chai!"
Chris "Oh wow, that's awesome, buddy!"
Kai: "yeah, and mama is also mating us some sweeties...bananas and chips"

I digress....

My son is a sassy pants. He's also many more wonderful things, and even the sass is wonderful - we're just working on pointing it in the right direction. So for now, while I stumble my way through parenting these high spirited little people, I'll try and share more of their stories with you...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


It's been a while since I've written - the Handsome Man's parents have been here visiting and we've subsequently been much more busy doing all the wonderful, touristy things we live so near but don't do nearly enough. It's been incredibly wonderful to get out of Nairobi, to enjoy more of the beauty and space Kenya has to offer and to experience more of the warmth (both literal and figurative) exuding from various places we've been.

I've had so many questions and thoughts running through my mind lately, and haven't had a hope of putting them down succinctly - so here's my stab at it. I've been going through Nairobi rather numb lately, in some senses not taking my own advice from my previous entry: The Things I've Said.

It takes a certain degree of strength to continually face poverty, corruption, bitterness, hopelessness, and seemingly unbreakable cycles of all these. And I think, after living here for 9 months, and fighting to live with eyes fully open (because it is incredibly tempting, even if only for some self-preservation, to close my eyes and seek respite more often than I should) that the heroes of this world are not presidents, are not superior athletes, are not soldiers, are not famous actors/musicians/poets - nor are they mothers, fathers, pastors, doctors, firefighters - the heroes of this world are those of our species who can live consistently with open eyes, and not drown in the sadness.  I think they've found the ability to take in the beautiful and the ugly at the same time, and value them both equally...more on this thought at a later date.

Admittedly, though not proudly, I've allowed numbness to creep in...the women sitting on the side of the road hoping for work become one more segment of the congested roads and one more piece of the obstacle I face in driving anywhere (how many times have I been forced to think: "risk the pedestrian or the head on collision? Neither is not an option...") The man begging on the side of the road becomes an embodiment of a system which can't support its' own people in need - and I am angry, frustrated, and helpless. So I close my eyes. The children (and a surprising number of adults) constantly calling out "mzungu!" (white person/foreigner) when I pass by, turn into a reminder of the massive disparities within this society which make it somehow appropriate to identify a person publicly by their skin color; and what delights tourists instead turns into a shout that grates on me - reminding me I am not from here, and even though I grew up here, I am still a "mzungu". The incompetence of the repairmen coming to fix our apartment (evidenced by breaking a window they were supposed to repair, and not answering my calls nor returning to fix it) is no longer funny, but instead underlines the massive lack of training offered to those most in need of work - and again, instead of being heartbroken or compassionate, I am angry. The potholes in the road, the water shortages, the fear of police through most of the population - all serve as indicators of the deep corruption plaguing this nation. So I close my eyes.

And when I close them, suddenly my world is much smaller - suddenly it is just me. Suddenly my life starts to spiral. The good starts to look dingy, the bad starts to look worse, and the worst becomes almost unbearable. And I could suffocate, I could lose my humanity, I could lose my sense of smallness as I become so big in this dark world with my eyes shut tighter than tight - blocking out the pain of the rest of the world only to find the depth of my own becomes unbearable. A loss of perspective, a loss of reasonable impact, a loss of control, a loss of my ability to bring about change, to bring hope, to show compassion, to give love. I cannot love myself, I cannot bring hope to myself, I cannot show compassion to myself - egocentrism has never wrought beauty. Has never wrought a bettering of the bigger sphere.

So I open my eyes, peeling back the lids of my soul to see what I know will be painful - and it is. The man following me on the beach attempting to sell his crude carvings is no longer an inconvenience - I open my ears and listen - I hear his story about how his entire family was killed in the post election violence in 2008, how he moved away from his home, remarried, and now has a baby on the way. I hear the hope and the joy, and I can't help but hear the undercurrent of injustice, corruption, heartbreak, loss, anger, and loneliness.  The women standing on the street corner at night, smiling too openly at my headlights, are no longer obstacles to be considered in this rally race called Nairobi driving - I open my eyes and they become individual faces - representatives of what I am sure are many more small mouths to feed, representatives of a society where women are not valued but continue to use whatever means necessary to protect their children in whatever way they know how.  The trash in the street, the holes in the road, the newspapers shouting of food, water shortages, and war no longer only shout the realities of corruption but also, when I open my mind to the past I have seen, shout distinctly quieter than they used to - for they are fewer, and cleanliness, smooth roads, and comfortable living continue to hush them.

Closing my eyes makes my world disproportionately big, opening my eyes wide makes my world disproportionately small. I think, as I'm sure millions have thought before me, I must go through periods of sleep and periods of wakefulness - I must find that balance where I close my eyes and the world comes to a peaceful lull in my mind, so the pain doesn't overwhelm the senses into numbness. That balance where I open my eyes just before my world becomes inaccurately big - reminding myself I am not the only one to experience injustice, I am not the only one who has experienced pain, loss, or hopelessness. I must find that balance, delicately aware of my own abilities to impact and courageously looking the painful in the face - and having compassion on it.

I don't have this perfected. And there are many things I look at in my own life, feel immense anger towards, and frantically open my eyes to see the world, to gain perspective and to find peace; only to find more lives experiencing the same situation as mine. The harsh reality comes - there are many miseries for which company and empathy bring little relief. Miseries that when multiplied only bring about greater anger, disbelief, and hopelessness - because I am helpless and powerless to change them. But these, I think, are not the miseries to look at - in my own life or in the life of others. To be aware of? absolutely. To invest in? To try and change? To be defeated by? no.

I was struck by a thought during some reading a few days ago: what is my motivation? I started applying the question to various situations - when Kai pushes me past my patience limit and I still need to discipline him with grace and patience, when I disagree with someone, when I feel mistreated by someone, when I am irritated, when the things that were meant to be accomplished lie unfinished/unfolded/unwashed/unanswered around the house...I ask myself "what is my motivation?" When I see the pain around me and I must choose whether I see it with soul and mind open or shut: what is my motivation?

It's different almost every time. But a common thread runs through. And when I re-find that thread, for I must rediscover it every day, I can (at least for that moment) find that balance between a life lived with open eyes or shut.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Kai-isms

Hi faithful blog readers -

Well, if you're here, you've been selected as part of the exclusive "allsarahdoes" blogership...ok, I have no idea what that means. Basically, my blog was creatin' a bit of a stir in a way I didn't desire - so for the time being, this will stay 'invite only' - it will be the same content, same ramblings, etc...and I"ll let you know when it goes public again.

We've had another eventful couple of weeks that ended in the fantastic event of the Handsome Man's parents arriving! We're so excited to have them here, and have quite a few fun 'vacation within vacations' planned. Tomorrow, we're headed off to Kenya's tropical beach to enjoy a week of lounging in the sun (I have high hopes, and low expectations, of avoiding an oh so painful sunburn). It will be Mika's first real time to see an ocean, and Kai's first time to an ocean that doesn't have overwhelmingly large waves (Pacific Ocean waves are pretty big to an 18" tall person!) It will be lovely to have a vacation away from Nairobi for longer than a weekend, as we haven't had that since we moved here...this is much past due. We'll be in Nairobi again for a week after, and then head out to the Maasai Mara where we'll visit some old family friends (the Salepus) and spend a couple days doing the safari thing - again, high hopes: but this time of seeing a leopard and/or a kill...(I'll post pics. Promise).

Mama, please stop making me take these pictures...

Speaking of promises, a while ago, I promised I would do a post on "Kai-isms" - I may even start doing a Kai-ism of the day or week...he is full of them right now. Before I give you snippets of Kai's best phrases, let me give you an immediate glance into Kai - he is full of life, constantly distracted, incredibly physically able to do things a 2 1/2 year old probably shouldn't do (climbing over high things, through tight things in high places, balancing on narrow things in high places - lots of activities in high places), fairly crafty (example to come), increasingly emotionally unstable (I'm told the major melt downs at the literal drop of a hat are normal and will pass - in the meantime, they provide never-ending & challenging entertainment). Due to his high exposure to Kenyans and subsequently the Kenyan accent, he frequently speaks with Kenyan intonation, and occasionally says words with a Kenyan accent or pronunciation (example to come). He has also developed an immense amount of attitude, lots of sighing, 'no's!' and eye rolling. His eye rolling usually ends with his chin down, head cocked to the side, and his eyes rolled up - peering out me out of the tippy tops of his eye sockets, attempting to furrow his brow (we call these "the eyes" - and he will do it on command).

So, with that little glimpse into Kai - here are some of my favorite "Kai-isms":

1. At the grocery store a man reached down to help Kai who was putting a bag of milk up on the check out line. Kai, who has uncovered the secret of "anybody, nobody, somebody, everybody"and subsequently refers to everyone as "bodies", looked at me and said, very seriously - "mama, dat body no touch mah milt." Or, as we are driving down the street, he often says "mama, whats dat body doing?" or "mama, I like dat body!"

2. One night at dinner, the Handsome Man finally used a stern voice after Kai's repeated refusals to listen to directions. The Handsome Man almost never uses a stern voice. Kai, rather than being scared or chastised, instead gave the Handsome Man 'the eyes' and said (peering up out of the top of his little eye sockets) "Soooo, papa, why you wanna be seah-weh-yus now?"

3. Frequently, Kai will ask for something he can't have (we all do, don't we?). When I say any variation of "No", Kai will often say "no, mama, no. Dee an-suh is yets"

4. While reading a book, Kai asked what color a certain animated monkey was. I replied "it's turquoise"; to which I received a very abrupt and angry "No, mama, no - stop it. You don't say dat to me. What coloh is dat montey?" "It's blue-green, baby, like a turquoise." To which I received an much louder, and much more emphatic "No! No, mama, you don't say dat to me. You don't say dat two-coize. What coloh is dat montey?" Thankfully, the Handsome Man walked in and I encouraged Kai to ask him...the Handsome Man replied "Hmmm...looks like turquoise", to which Kai nodded, 'hmmmd', and said "oh, yah, dat montey is two-coize."

5. After putting on his backpack, Kai announced proudly "Mama, I hab uh house batc".  'You have a house back, honey?" "Ya, like a toih-tus (tortoise) - uh house batc." "Yes, my honey, you do."

6. I use a lot of pet names with Kai, I'm one of those's started to come back to me. One day, while working in the kitchen I suddenly realized a little voice behind me was calling repeatedly "Hey, love? Hey, love? Um, mommy love, ex-tuse me, love?"

7. Kai is fantastic with Mika, and after listening in on them one day as Mika had just woken up from her nap, I overheard "well hello der, swee-hart, hello. Oh my, you is bee-u-di-ful!"

8. While singing with Scola, who due to her linguistic background, pronounces l's as r's - "I like tomorrow, and yesterday! but today is my pab-o-lite day". Later, I ask "Kai, is today your favorite day"...."No, mama, today is my pab-o-lite day"

9. Kai and his Mama (Handsome Man's mom) were playing hide-n-seek. Kai was counting, but was standing behind a sheer curtain, watching Mama through the curtain. When told he should close his eyes so Mama could hide, he said (from behind the sheer) "No, I no do dat. I is standing heya, and toun-ting, and watching tso I tan see where Mama is...Den I fin' hehr"

10. One day, while sitting working on my computer, Kai came in and said "um, ex-tuse me, mama?", taking his little finger and thumb right up next to his face like he was about to pinch his own cheek "would you like a lid-dle bit o coffee?" "um, sure honey...thanks" Kai hurries over to the kitchen where I hear him say "stola, mama wants a tup o toffee" "Oh really, Kai? does she?" I went to the kitchen to let Scola know I could make my own coffee, thinking she had told Kai to ask me if I wanted some coffee, which she apparently hadn't. I made myself a cup of coffee and told Kai thank you. Then, looking at me with great big eyes and the most innocent look he could muster, he said "now, mama, you hab a liddle bit o toffee...maybe Tai can hab a liddle bit o chai?....pwease?" and just blinked his little eyes...

So, there's a little glimpse into my little man. I hope you enjoyed :) And just so she's not forgotten - here's my little looker in the art corner!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A recounting of an event

It's been a while since I wrote about any little reflections on living in Kenya - the challenges we've faced have made it difficult to separate out the causes for our heightened stress level and subsequently, it's been a challenge to differentiate how difficult Nairobi is vs how difficult other aspects of life are. It feels as if there is some change on the horizon, as the hecticness abates and we've given pause for reflection. This morning, as I was sitting in the back of a taxi holding my two babies (since our car, with carseats inside, is in the shop again; and there are no laws requiring children to be in seatbelts - absurd in a country where I've been told road accidents are the leading cause of death - above poverty, illness, and crime {doubly absurd if you consider 51% unemployment, one of the highest rates of malaria in the world, and security checks at the entrance to any major public place}), I looked out the window and thought  "oh, there's the Kenya I fell in love with as a child."

The sun was shining through the clouds, the air seemed fresher than usual, and people walked unassumingly past on their way to work, to home, to school, to nothing...I met a friend for a cup of delicious coffee at a coffee house with an amazing playground, and enjoyed the indie rock music playing in the background. Sometimes, Kenya is incredibly comfortable. Sometimes, Kenya is incredibly challenging. Always - Kenya surprises.

As I mentioned, the Handsome Man had surgery about a week ago. And I must recount our day at the hospital. Important foreward: we went to one of the less developed hospitals in the country for one reason: it is the hospital where the majority of American surgeons visit for weeks - months at a time. Subsequently, while the hospital services and staffing are not the best we could find, the quality of surgeons is much more reliable (and largely much more comfortable for us as Americans). While the human body is largely the same from culture to culture - communication styles and cultural norms differ just as widely in daily life as they do in approach to medicine. For example, we visited one orthopedic surgeon who looked at the Handsome Man's scans and said "this is massive...I mean, a lot of small problems which make this a massive problem", and then proposed to do surgery immediately, as in, within an hour. We spoke with a visiting American doctor who said "this isn't as bad as I expected, I can do surgery in two days so you just know it's taken care of - why don't you take a day and call me back, just let me know what you want to do. Can I take some more time and talk to you about your different options?" Never underestimate the importance of cultural competency in medicine.

Anyway - we arrived at the hospital early in the morning, before the staff had finished their devotions and the clouds were still clinging to the side of the mountain we were on. We arrived 20 min later than we had been told to, due to massive traffic, and surprisingly (in a culture where things often run more slowly) were chastised for being late. In less than 15 mins, the Handsome Man was rushed back to "theater" and I was left holding his shoes and wedding ring. I went to wait with a friend for the 1 hour surgery...45 min later I was asked to shuttle his x-rays from the waiting room to the surgery unit. I was then sent to admissions to pay a deposit for his operation.

When I arrived, the admissions clerk sent me to the cashier. The cashier asked how much I would pay for my deposit - confused, I said "well, don't you have a standard amount or a percentage of the estimated total cost?" He sent me back to admissions - the admissions clerk began throwing out numbers, close to $1000 (note - this would have to be paid in cash). Looking around me, it was immediately apparent I was the only white person in sight and that the majority of those in the room were working class or rural Kenyans. The fact that it was within the realm of reason for me to have that much cash on hand was brutally offensive - and I was offended by the lackadaisical manner in which the clerk threw out obscenely large numbers: "why don't you just pay a $1500 deposit? No? Ok, how about $1200? No, ok, how about $1000?" - as if health care was a bargaining event. In a not so shining moment of non-glory, I drew attention to my skin color and requested I be approached like everyone around me. He was offended, and after receiving a mini-lecture on "there being no discrimination in this place", I was allowed to pay a deposit half the amount of his proposed figures...I returned to waiting.

 2 hours later I had been told nothing. 3 hours later I just happened to encounter the doctor coming out of surgery, telling me all had gone well, my husband had never been put under general anesthesia, and should be able to go home in 1-2 hours.  1 1/2 hours later, when I inquired again, I was told my husband was just waking up and would need another hour to recover. I was also told I couldn't see him. An hour later, after inquiring again, I was sent to pay the remaining amount for his bill - I was told sit and wait for my name to be called.

While I was waiting, reading on a bench with ample space around me, an old woman came and sat down next to me. And by next to me, I mean, practically in my lap. Her weight leaned against me, and her arm rested on top of mine. She stared unabashedly at my book, then at my face, then at my book, then at my face. Still not satisfied, she gave me a once over - head to toe. And another. I refused to flinch. In a room of over 60 people, all watching (literally, because there was nothing else to do...), I refused to flinch, to look more different than I already was. Here's a truth of life - racism (defined in this context as "an assumption about a person based on their skin color") goes every direction - up, down, backwards, forwards, and inside out. And at that moment the room was full of it - and much of it was directed at me - it felt as is every person in the room was internally wondering "will she flinch? will she lose her temper? will she move away? she's gonna react - white people don't sit that close to each other." After about 5 minutes of scrutiny, my bench partner decided she was satisfied and settled back into her seat - about 1/2 an inch away from me.

25 minutes later, I went to the counter to inquire into my husband's bill. I had attempted waiting patiently, as I was told, trusting the system would work....the clerk found my husband's paperwork siting haphazardly in a nondescript corner; discarded by someone who decided it shouldn't have been where it was and moved it to where it shouldn't have been. After some quick calculations, I was told my balance -  it was less than $5. I paid. I was then sent to the opposite end of the hospital to collect an itemized receipt. The woman behind the counter practically glared at me (please keep in mind I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with my husband out of surgery but not allowed to see him, having endured the most difficult 6 months of my life which were culminating the most difficult 3 weeks of my life, which appeared to be culminating in one of the most emotionally difficult moments of my life), took the papers given to me by the cashier, and told me to wait. 20 min later, I approached the counter to inquire about my receipt - it was sitting on the counter and she hadn't called me....there were only 3 other people in the room. Amazed by the insurmountable passive aggressiveness I was facing, I collected my receipt and returned to the collect my husband from surgery (as I had been directed to do). The nurses questioned my paperwork, then accepted it.

I waited. In a room full of people reminding me how much I had to be grateful for - babies with breathing tubes down their preciously small noses, being clutched to their father's chest by an arm crippled by polio; a young man with a bandaged stump in place of a foot, followed by a line of relatives who looked so much like funeral mourners it forced the realization this man would no longer be able to provide for his family through the manual labor they all relied on; dozens of people crowding around, the sick and the well blurring together and the smell of the reality of the human race permeating the room. I counted my many eases in life repeatedly, and thought thanks.

After 15 minutes, the nurses told me my paper work was unacceptable and sent me back to the cashier, but assured me my husband would be ready "for collection" upon my return. I did as I was told and returned with the new paperwork. A brusque nurse informed me my husband was not ready. When I asked why, she told me was not recovering well and had begun vomiting (which I was later told by him was not true) - I could hear his voice down the hall but was not allowed to go see him. When I questioned whether he'd been given anything to eat or drink, she told me "you can do that when I release him" - I suggested he may feel ill because he hadn't eaten of drank anything since the night before. She assured me that wasn't the case...and stared me down. I questioned whether he was still connected to an IV, she assured me he was (which I was later told by the Handsome Man was not true)...and stared me down harder. I asked how long I should wait, in the room filled with heartache and silent faces, she told me 30 minutes. I wanted to demand to see my husband, to demand she give him something to eat or drink. And I knew if I demanded she would keep him longer, in this absurd power play I had no hope of winning.

So I fled. I admit it, I did. I walked out of the hospital as fast I could - past the hundreds of people. Waiting people. With little to do but watch the freckled, red-cheeked white woman hurry past - chin as high in the air as it could go, searching for anywhere to cry. Kenyans don't cry in public. Almost ever. I state this with confidence and 18 years of experience living here. And they don't know what to do when I do. So I fled. And I hid. And I cried. And I cried. And I cried. It was as if that nurse, in all her blatant aggression and lack of sympathy, embodied everything that has slowly beaten me to the ground over the past 6 months. The false information I'd been given, the desire to just take care of those I love in the way I thought best blocked by immoveable forces, the lack of response when I asked questions, the assumption I was being impertinent when I asked questions, and the bottom line of "you can fix it when we release it to you."

Waiting is perhaps the most difficult thing to do - it starts the minute we're born. We're hungry, we aren't fed, we have to wait, and we immediately begin screaming. And it continues through the rest of our adult lives - though most of us learn how to quiet the external screaming.

After a 20 minute cry I returned. My husband was released to me, almost falling over from being so faint and nauseous. Pale as a sheet. After 5 minutes and 2 glasses of water his color came back and the nausea left. We drove away from the hospital, satisfied with the quality of surgery, but starkly reminded of the fact we weren't anywhere close to Pasadena, CA, graham crackers, health insurance, or recovery rooms.

The Handsome Man is mending, and we feel encouraged things are on the edge of improving. I share this story mostly just to share it, because it seems like a good glimpse and another "moment worth sharing." What I walked away with was the reminder that I have options (defined here as "the ability to control external circumstances contributing to or detracting from one's quality of life") - and that is a humbling thought, and a privilege I don't think should be taken lightly. Of course, there are always aspects of life where we have no choice, but for many of us there are options (basically, if you're reading this you have access to a computer, know how to use the internet, and are literate - you have options). I was reminded I have options to health care, I have options to where I live, I have the option to work or to stay home with my babies, I have the option to eat out, I have the option to choose what I want for dinner, I have the option to vacation, I have the option to read, to go back to school - all of the things about Nairobi that are difficult? I have the option to leave - not that it would be the best or most mature option, but it's an option. The millions and millions of people in refugee camps? No option. The millions and millions of people living below the poverty line? Very few options. Kids with terrible parents? Almost no options. I have options.

So, while waiting is difficult, and while something about life will always be out of my control, and something (many things) will always be difficult - I have options. And, because I have the option to choose my response - I choose to be grateful, to see others suffering as a reminder to be grateful for my eases and to formulate a response to the inevitable presence of suffering - in my life and in the lives of others.

Happy choosing.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A photo journal

Oh my goodness! Sarah is actually blogging twice within a 7 day period? Yes, I am...and as promised, here are some pictures. I'm just going to stick in some captions, but hopefully these pictures give you a glimpse of what we've been doing, how much my little cherubs are growing, and what our life is like on a day in and out basis. Enjoy!

A few months ago, we took the kids to the Giraffe center where Kai was able to feed (and actually, now that I think about it, see) giraffes for the first time. He wasn't even scared! Now, whenever we see a gifaffe, he says "mama, I want ta smagck it. I want ta smagch da gewaff"

Our only outside space is our front porch, so we spend a lot of time out there reading, coloring, and watching rainstorms. That's our car in front center!

Kai helping papa get ready for "wort" with his "toffee, pooter, and chews"

Kai loves disguises, dressing up, and practicing his facial expressions in the mirror - especially whiny faces, he finds them hilarious

Ndemi, Kai's playmate who lives in the apartment above us - the boys play together almost every afternoon and weekend.

Kai continues to be our little acrobat, climbing, balancing, jumping, and perching in places we didn't know possible. This is one of his favorite front porch perches.

Kai's Red Flyer tricycle has proved to be one of the best items we brought over from the US. He rides it everywhere - even to take himself down the hallway to go potty in his bathroom...adorable. Mika will need one soon, too!

The Handsome Man travels quite a bit, so Kai sends his bunny Babs with papa whenever he travels. Then, we can skype with Babs, see pics of his travels, and know papa isn't alone (this seriously helps Kai feel so much better, and I highly recommend it for all you with little ones and traveling parents). This is a picture of Babs on his way to Canada via Dubai.

Babs driving the bus to Canada...

Kai "checkin mah email"

Babs visiting Mamaa and Papaa in Canda

I've been doing a fair bit of crafting, sewing, re-doing furniture, baking, etc (I'll try and do a blog soon with pics of all the things I've made/done) but for now, here is your sneak preview of a pair of Elmo pajamas I made for was my first attempt, and no pattern, thus the neck looks a little more 'lounge-ish' than I intended. Nevertheless, he loves them! (I even made the buttons with Elmo on them! My 80s and 90s were spent in Kenya, so I didn't get to enjoy Shrinky Dinks at summer camp like some of you...I'm enjoying it now)

There she is!! Pretty little Mika, Mikita, mi Mikita bonita, Mikaela, Mikachoo, Meekster....she has a million nicknames, and a million smiles to match. Such a great sleeper, and so contented most of the time, she's a bright, bright spot in every day. She's just started free-standing and walks easily holding loosely onto someone with one hand. She is also a pro at riding on the back of Kai's tricycle while he pedals the two of them around; and a master at getting up a flight of stairs in less than a minute flat.


We took an afternoon and drove about an hour out of the city, stopped at a little campground spot, had some lunch, Kai fell in the pool (which meant the Handsome Man got to spend the drive home wet), and played around in the open air. So lovely (except for the pool bit)!

There they are - little chariot races...Kai's training for Tour de France, and Mika for her future in wakeboarding.

Father's Day with my parents - they're a consistent Kenya highlight! The kids and I spend at least one day a week at their house, working in our garden (pictures to come), playing in their yard, exploring all the bugs and worms, and playing the piano....wonderful to have grandparents so close by!

We try to get out of town every so often, and usually go down to Lake Naivasha. A few weekends ago, we also went for a walk at a place called Crescent Island where plains animals (and apparently boa constrictors?) roam freely. Kai had a great time, though my shoulders were killin at the end of the day from carrying him around all day. The Handsome Man broke his shoulder, and has a long recovery ahead, so I'm literally carrying more weight :) Great weight to carry, though, and great place to carry it.

Kai and the Handsome Man sauntering through the savanna - in the background are impala, wildebeast, Grants gazelles, zebra, and buffalo (the dark blob near the lake in the upper left quarter of the picture). So fun!

Mika spent her walk asleep on her Koko's back (Koko means 'grandmother' in Maasai, the tribe my parents have worked with for 25 years)

The Handsome Man, me, and Kai on the top of a hill overlooking Lake Naivasha - so nice to get out of town!!

And just to give a little flashback to where we were one year ago - there we are holding our new niece Jennifer who just turned 1 yesterday!! And that little bump pushing through my hospital gown - it's Mika!!! Crazy where we go from one year to the next....

So - there you go - just a bit of an update via photos from this side of the world. We actually haven't done nearly as much as we should've in terms of traveling/enjoying Kenya over the past 3-4 months. The Handsome Man has been really busy, and we haven't prioritized traveling like we should. But, the Handsome Man's parents get here in two weeks and we have a couple fun vacations planned. Look for more entries coming soon! x - Sarah

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Worth Sharing has been  a pathetically long time since I last posted. There are several reasons for this - my days seem to slip away from me, I have very few uninterrupted moments where I could feasibly compose something worth sharing, and mostly because I feel that the last six weeks have held very few 'moments, activities, and thoughts worth sharing".

I try to keep my blog entries somewhat humorous, somewhat entertaining, somewhat thought-provoking - and I haven't had the energy to keep up that level of writing over the past six weeks. The past six weeks have held immense challenges: the Handsome Man's job continues to suck the life out of my usually exuberant husband, the same job's salary & rising costs of living in Nairobi make the little niceties, or shall I say "little sanities" of life virtually impossible, and we face the ever-increasing reality that the core of our social support we've created here in Nairobi will be gone within 5 months times.

To top it all off, the Handsome Man dislocated his shoulder, damaging the humeral head and partially tearing a portion of his rotator cuff. This injury fell in the middle of a month long period where our car visited several mechanics a total of 5 times, had multiple issues, and occasionally threatened to cost thousands of dollars to fix (the end result was much less painful, thank the Lord). Additionally, the part time teaching gig I had been doing on the side ended terribly amidst a dysfunctional marriage and dysfunctional parenting - this led to a significant portion of time spent trying to finalize details without being offended by the heightened accusatory language directed at me for a situation I knew I was in no way responsible.

Until this past weekend, I hadn't left Nairobi since January. Until his injury, the Handsome Man hadn't taken a day off of work that was spent in Nairobi or with me & the kids. Until this past week, the Handsome man hadn't spent more than a weekend with us. Until the past two weeks, we haven't been together as a family for 2 consecutive weeks in more than 2 and 1/2 months, and all the times apart have been a minimum of 4 days, some up to 6. Within the past 6 weeks, there have been several bomb attacks in Kenya, we've received multiple "state security warnings", and life is continually sprinkled with reminders we live in a much more volatile city than the Nairobi I grew up in, and a much more exhausting one. Until this week, the literal sun hadn't shone for weeks.

I may sound like I'm whining. I kind of am. But more than that, I'm letting you, my faithful blog readers, know the past 6 weeks have been a record low. I wrote a while ago in an entry entitled An Invincible Summer about another difficult period after we'd first arrived in January. If I'm completely honest, it seems as if not much has changed since then; if anything, much of it has gotten worse. Instead, I've hunkered down, held back the tears, and attempted to put on a semblance of normalcy for my children and those around me - because most of those around me are new friends who don't know my 'I'm in trouble' signals, and I'm too tired and too vulnerable to just toss it out there to see who responds. It's not the greatest way to live, I'll admit, but what's my alternative? The things making my life difficult are entirely out of my control - because the reality is that the commitments I've made in my life tie me to these people, to this place, to this income, to my husband's organization, and subsequently to all of these stressors.

Someone told me they enjoyed reading blogs that were written 'by real people' and encouraged me to write about the hard stuff, and not in a funny way. This is fairly real, I think. I haven't written in a long time also because I was told by a couple individuals employed by the organization employing the Handsome Man that any slander here against his organization could result in failure of the program the Handsome Man is working on - after 6 months of being here and seeing the organization from a bit of a distance (aka - disgruntled housewife), I've concluded they don't need my help either propping up the program through false accolades nor will I destroy it through disgruntled assessments of long hours, work ethics, program management, or politics in place of professionalism (though I appreciate the assumption my blog is so popular).

So, with that being said, and with this being the 21st digital century that it is, I choose to let this blog be where I continue to write "moments, activities, and thoughts worth sharing" - I won't sling mud, smear names, or anything else low but I will also not hide the difficulties I face - both from being linked to the Handsome Man's current employer,  from living in this city, or from anything else for that matter (because I think they are worth sharing in the hopes they offer some encouragement, perspective, or solidarity with the wider struggling population).

I will also continue to share my bright spots - and they are absolutely, consistently my children. As I write, Kai is curled up in my lap smelling of sweet after baby bath, reaching up to give me kisses. There is no earthly thing deeper or purer than the love of a child. Both Kai and Mika continue to thrive, a testament to the fact I'm not failing at my biggest task. They both are kind to others, love one another and me and the Handsome Man, and perpetually surprise me with their abilities, questions, and consideration. I'll do a blog entry soon of 'Kai-isms' and I promise, promise I will post pictures.

Other bright spots include the beauty of this country, the hilarious cultural blunders/conversations I have every day, friends who love us and call us, or bring us dinner, or watch our babies, having my parents close by, having a garden that's starting to produce yummy vegetables, finding peace in our home, great coffee, gorgeous crazy-cheap flowers for sale at every corner, delicious food, the humility and joy of our househelp (having her here is seriously more like having a good friend here than an employee), and of course, for the time, being able to be home with my babies.

In An Invincible Summer, I finished with a quote from Albert Camus "In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer". While I still agree, my invincible summer has almost turned more into a scorching resilience ready to slowly parch anything in it's path. I'm realizing I must focus on the external beauty and bright spots of every day to create a sustainable and gentle internal invincible summer. While the invincible summer may be within me, it's source is surely from noticing the beauty around me - even if it's masked in pain, disappointment, anger, or helplessness.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Kid Lessons

I spend a large portion of every day instructing my children on what and what not to do. This isn't my favorite part of being a mother, but I am finding it to be incredibly challenging in a 'rise to the occasion' sort of way. Instructing littles on what and what not to do has made me realize how much of my knowledge base I take for granted:
*computer chargers are not to be sucked on
*millipedes are not to be eaten
*cars can kill me
*brownies are not a food group

The list could go on. This daily task has also made me realize how many of life's lessons are actually taught at an incredibly young age. A quick glance around me has made me realize the lessons I teach my children are not practiced by many, sometimes including myself...and has made me realize that truly almost everything we need to know about interactions with others can be/is/should be taught by the time one reaches 3.

1. Share - but not with everyone, not too much, not too little, and not all the time. Oh, and don't expect anyone else to share with you - they probably won't.

2. No matter how nicely you ask, how much you deserve it, or how many times you ask - the answer is just sometimes an irrevocable and resounding 'no'.

3. Mean people exist. Sorry. Try not to be one of them.

4. Throwing a fit only embarrasses you...and rarely produces lasting results.

5. Going to the bathroom should be done in the bathroom...that's why we have a bathroom...seriously.

6. You can hurt things, and people - please don't. But things and people are going to hurt you - when it happens, know it will be over soon, if it isn't already, and be strong.

7. You have the immense capacity to bring joy to others - a simple smile and hello can revolutionize a day.

8. Passing gas is funny. Always. Even if your mother constantly tells you it's not.

9. Use your words - no one can help you, understand you, or be proud of you if you don't. Nice words go a long way, too. A really long way.

10. Grabbing is never nice - don't grab things, don't grab people. Just don't grab.

11. If a good song is playing, be quiet and listen to it. If a bad song is playing, skip it or talk louder. 

and a bonus:

12. Music should always be danced to, you should always wake up to see special people or amazing things, sleep is important, and laughter makes everything feel better.

I think if we were honest with ourselves, we live by the assumption that many of these basic rules of life aren't true - that mean people don't actually exist, that if we ask nice enough or try hard enough it works out in the end, that if we are good - people or life won't hurt us, that we can't make much of a difference, that no one will listen if we use our words (which may be true).  But life isn't as gentle as we're originally taught, and we are not invincible or impervious to harm, nor will our mother always be there to mend it when things go wrong.

But there is always the laughter, and the music, and the joy we can bring to others - which means there is joy others can bring to us. It's all there, as always - the joy and the pain, the tragedy and the triumph. The fulness of soul breathing deeply.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Remember

Things that remind me I live in Nairobi:

1. Kai speaking Swahili – he does this semi-regularly, and rarely spontaneously. But when that little voice responds to my direction with a “ati – what?” – I remember I live in Nairobi

2. I notice nice toilet paper – the cheapest toilet paper here, which we get, feels like something between a piece of graph paper and cotton – not terrible, but not great either. When I’m at someone’s house who spends more money on toilet paper – I notice the nice toilet paper. And when I have to refrain from taking some home in my pocket for use when the amoebas get the best of me – I remember I live in Nairobi

3. I get emails from people alerting me to new traffic laws,  and they look something like this: “Overlapping, driving on pavement or through a petrol station to avoid traffic- You risk a fine of Ksh 30,000  or 3 months imprisonment or BOTH” And when I realize I do this all the time, and then realize I thought I was supposed to drive on the pavement, and then realize pavement actually means sidewalk – I remember I live in Nairobi

4. The local US Embassy sends out a warning just before Easter “Remember – it’s a holiday weekend, people might want to kill you more than usual – make sure not to go anywhere fun or religiously affiliated. Happy Easter!” (paraphrase mine) And when I still go to church, and out for lunch with friends, because we resist fear by living – I remember I live in Nairobi

5. I need my 4 wheel drive vehicle to take a friend home (5 min away from my house) if it’s raining; and sometimes, even if it’s not.  And when I pull up literally as close as I can to my pregnant friend’s door, and can’t get out because I’d be knee deep in water (she was only ankle deep) – I remember I live in Nairobi

6. Every movie I rent starts with the screen “This video is not for sale or rental outside the United States of America.” And when I still rent them, because their quality is better than the boot-leg copies sold on the street, and because I need a taste of ‘home’ – I remember I live in Nairobi

7. Some, though not all, complete strangers stare at me, sometimes with what seems to be intense anger. I can only guess why – and none of those reasons are actually my doing…but guilt by association is de facto, and subsequently, I am guilty of my wealth, my vehicle, and my skin color.  And when I look back at them, my mind and heart completely unsure how to respond to the inequalities and prejudices I see around me – I remember I live in Nairobi

8. I see animals walking down the side of the road each day – cows, donkeys, camels, baboons, tortoises, the occasional monkey.  I stop politely behind the Lexus and Mercedes in front of me, while we all wait for the animals to move.  And when my passenger window holds a view of a Maasai herdsman with his cattle, and my driver side window holds a view of a 5 story ritzy mall containing shops like Armani and Apple – I remember I live in Nairobi

9. If I go to the right place, it is cheaper, healthier, and more filling to eat out than to eat in. So we do…and when I pay less than $10 for a meal that will feed us at least 3x that week – I remember I live in Nairobi; and I remember all the starving people who live here, too.

10. Restaurant ambiance is unparalleled – everywhere we go to eat has either nice outdoor seating, beautiful balconies, couches for lounging, or something similar. Going out here is absolutely lovely – and the food is incredible.  And when I get a chance to relax with my friends, and momentarily close our minds to the harsh realities around us – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when the grocery store employee tells me he spends 16hrs a day on his feet, and he still lives in a slum – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when I watch perfect strangers stop what they are doing to help push a car out of the mud, because the town car and the road during rainy season are entirely incompatible– I remember I live in Nairobi

And when people rob my friend on Easter, dislocating her shoulder, and I speak to those people on the phone because they answered when I called – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when those same people return her documents because they saw her Bible and “didn’t mean to rob a Christian” – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when I need more than one hand to count the number of our friends who are permanently moving away this year, and everyone asks us when we're going to leave this new home we've barely established – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when the Rice Chex I find at the grocery store in May costs $8 a box, and is decorated with snowflakes – I remember I live in Nairobi

And when I postpone my trip to a government building, due to heightened security threats, because my husband is traveling and I want my children to have a back-up parent in town should something go terribly wrong – I remember I live in Nairobi

Life just continues in a lot of places, and I have had periods of my life where it is possible to go for weeks without really thinking about where I live and what is happening around me. But in Nairobi, it’s just not possible. Every day, in small or large ways, in humorous or sad, I am reminded – I live in Nairobi.  And if after 6 months, these every day occurrences still stand out to me, I wonder if they always will. In a way, I hope they do, because these are the things that remind me how full life is – these are the things that force my soul to breathe deeply, and savor the fullness of life. When life’s fleeting nature, and fate’s apparent disregard for the individual, are daily in front of my eyes – my life is filled, and my soul breathes deeply, because I have the eyes to see it. Life with eyes wide open is a  lived life.

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