Morning on Mount Motigo

You may have wondered what kind of leisure activities are available to us here in rural Kenya. Well, we're not exactly clubbers anyway, so most of the home activities, like playing games and watching movies, are still available to us. But, truth be told, though there are exotic locales within shot for a 3-day weekend, there isn't exactly an extensive city park system, for the rare Saturday morning off.

However, this morning, during one of Maggie's naps, we decided to take one of the few popular local sojourns: a quick hike up and down (2 hours) "Mount" Motigo (which is more of a hill, though the highest hill around. It started off well, by traversing the bridge over the Tenwek dam, which provides hydroelectric power for all of our homes and the hospital.

With some directional assistance from a few friends, we didn't have any trouble going up the dirt road, then off the road through the Motigo Secondary School grounds, to the grassy bald summit of Mt. Motigo. There are some great 360 degree views, including of the Tenwek village, and Rachel befriended a sheep at the top.

One the way down, we got a chance to again admire the tea fields that are scattered around here, Kenya being the 3rd largest tea-producing country in the world, after India and Sri Lanka. Recent interesting fact: a mature tea tree (which are about waist-high) gets its leaves picked every 17 days. Talk about prolific!

Our re-crossing of the waterfall bridge was slightly detained by a pack of quite stubborn donkeys that had to make their way across first. All in all, we made it back. Maggie was still sleeping, and the Cropseys (who were manning the baby monitor) never had to check in on her. Excellent. I'm sure we'll take this little jaunt again.


Cake, the First

Martha Stewart, I am not. However, sometimes I aspire to be on around the same level as a 1950s housewife, I think. June Cleaver, maybe, minus the vacuuming and lipstick and high heels. You know, homemade pie crusts and fresh baked bread and all that. Here in Kenya, without the option of mixes and bakeries and pre-made anything, I'm finding my chance. I'm moving on to at least a basic mastery of pie crusts, and yeast breads, and was quite successful at carmel sticky buns, if I do say so myself. So when I was asked to bake a birthday cake for a friend's birthday yesterday, I decided to take the plunge and try...a layer cake. Yes, yes. Quite adventurous.

Problem #1: I forgot about making said cake until 10pm the night before, as I was finishing entertaining 14 people at my house for dinner. Since I worked all day the next day (her birthday), it was 10pm at night or never, so I'd have enough time to assemble and frost the next day.

Problem #2: Is directly related to problem #1. I got out the Betty Crocker cookbook, which no 1950s housewife should be without (seriously, it's awesome), and assembled the ingredients for the standard chocolate cake (devil's food). Mixed it, greased and floured 2 8” cake pans, poured it in, popped it in the oven for, sigh, 30-35min. As soon as they came out of the oven, I decided to go to bed. Had I paid more attention to Betty's sage advice, I would have waited 10 minutes for the cakes to cool slightly, then removed them from the pans to continue cooling. Instead, I took them out the next afternoon. Unfortunately, that left about 1/3 of each cake stuck to the bottom of the pans. Argh!

Problem #3: Layer cakes can be pieced back together, but when you try to frost them, beware....I decided that even though a good portion of the cakes were still in the pans, I could scrape the mostly intact bottoms OUT of the pans and stick them back to the rest of the cake with lots and lots of frosting. Now, the frosting was by far the most successful part of the experience, as I altered a chocolate frosting recipe by adding liquid coffee instead of milk. Voila, mocha frosting! The first layer reassembled pretty well, but then when I tried to apply a layer of frosting, the crumbling started. Long story short, the key seems to be lots of frosting and minimal spreading.

The end result was a cake that has a definite top slope, and some crumbly chocolate cake showing through the frosting on the sides, but when I put some sprinkles and candles on top, I think the deficiencies could be overlooked. And in the end, it tasted great. I think the key here is to continue baking as many cakes as possible to gain experience. Many well frosted cakes. Yes....mmmm.....



Two little cruisers, having lots of fun...Good thing Maggie and Abi Fader seem to get along well, because they have to spend the next 18 years of their lives together. We hope. :) Incidentally, Abi was over for a visit because Heather just broke her foot and a physical therapist was teaching her how to climb stairs on crutches, which she'll need for the next six weeks. Pray for quick healing!

Waiting for the daddies...
And excited about the arrival!


My Rice Krispies Come From Egypt

As I described earlier, in a moment of laudable vulnerability, I have a weakness for the exotic, even when it's really only the perception of the exotic. Living in Kenya provides many indulgences for this. Kenya, compared to many other African nations, does quite a bit of manufacturing, but still they have a lot of imported goods. Thus, at any given time, in our kitchen, foods from all over the world can be found.

There is an interesting brand, called American Garden, manufactured in Florida, that makes a lot of American condiments, like ketchup, mustard, and a ripoff of Fruit Loops, but you'll never find them on American grocery shelves.

In addition to this and a number of Kenyan products, India, the UK, and the Middle East have a strong manufacturing presence. So, our breakfast cereals are Egyptian, our pasta is Iranian, our dates are from Saudi Arabia, our lentils from India, our rice from Thailand, and Maggie's new favorite snack is British digestive biscuits. Sadly Nutella is about the same price as in the states, thus it continues to be a luxury item.

And on that note, let me publicly express my new love for Weetabix Fruit & Nut cereal.


Birthday Party Fun

With all the little munchkins running around here at Tenwek, we have been to quite a few first birthday parties so far. Maggie is still waiting patiently for her turn at the chocolate cake...only 7 weeks to go until I am the mother of a one year old (wow!). But in the meantime, we hosted a birthday for Liam Banks last week. His parents are the ones who graciously prepared a gourmet birthday dinner for me, and we also went to Masai Mara with them in February. Logan and Julie are here for five months as part of an international family practice fellowship, and it's been great getting to know them. Their apartment is on the edge of the Tenwek compound, so we volunteered to have the party here, a more central location for people to pop by.

Maggie enjoying her party hat prior to the guests arriving
There were probably around 30 people in our rather small living room, over half of which were kids. Julie organized an impromptu game of hot potato, and Eric provided the music on his snoozle (melodica).
Julie amazes me with her hostessing skills. She fashioned a giraffe cake out of several 9x13 cakes and decorated it with orange and chocolate frosting. The kids were totally enthralled.
And here's Liam, the birthday boy...not sure how to blow out the candles yet, but plenty of volunteers to help. Happy birthday, little man!


How Kenya Pronounces 'McLaughlin'

We have known for some time that even Americans can have a hard time with our last name (seen above in a recent art project of ours), but its a special struggle for many ethnic groups. In residency, I just encouraged all my Latino patients not to try, and just call me Eric. However, in a formal culture such as Kenya, such informalities have no place, so people are ardent in their attempts to wrap their tongues around "McLaughlin". Two such attempts:

1. Eric in the ICU.
Kenyan nurse: "Daktari, I'm sorry, but how do you pronounce your last name?"
Eric: "Mick-lof-lin"
Kenyan nurse: "(something definitely not the same)"
Eric: "Um, that's close..."
Another Kenyan nurse: "It sounds like 'hemoglobin'. I'll just call you Dr. Hemoglobin."

2. Rachel with her OB team.
Team of interns to Rachel: "We have decided your name is to hard to pronounce, and so we are giving you a new name. Dr. McCheka."
Rachel: "McCheka?"
Team: "Yes, -cheka is the Kiswahili word for laugh."
Rachel: "Aha..."


"Maggie Smile"

This picture was from a while ago, but Phil Uttz, my sister's father-in-law, who took it, just sent it to us, and we love it and wanted to share it. It was Brian Beise who said that Maggie smiles like a muppet, i.e. straight open-mouth. Sometimes it looks a lot more like a smile than this, but it's still very cute. Here's a tribute to the Maggie Smile by various members of the McLaughlin family just last month, on the other side of the world.


Rachel's Birthday

Today my lovely wife celebrates her birthday. I look forward to many more years with her. Here's how some friends helped us make it special in the middle of rural Kenya.


5-Star Airlines

I became curious about airline rankings after John Cropsey boasted about taking Qatar airlines to Nepal. So, today I looked up the star-ranking system. Here's the link to the list.

Interesting facts:
1. The six 5-star airlines in the world are located in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Qatar, and India.
2. The highest a US airline gets is a 3-star ranking (in fact they are all 3-star) with the surprising exception of JetBlue.
3. The world's only 1-star airline is Koryo, based out of exotic Pyongyang, North Korea.


Parasite #1, and then Cute Maggie Pictures

It's official. After almost three months of living in the developing world, the McLaughlin family has acquired their first parasite (that we know of)! Sort of gross, like all parasites, but better than intestinal worms, or worms that live in your skin, or . . . well, I could go on but I'm feeling nauseated. Yup, we've got the scabies. First noticed it on Maggie: she developed a slight rash just under her chin, which became worse and started spreading around her neck, and then onto her hands. Then I started thinking about how I've been really itchy lately, and suddenly all the pieces came together. For those of you who don't know, scabies are like lice, only on the skin instead of in the hair, and they're difficult to see. We've been undergoing treatment, which involved applying this lotion stuff (pronounced SKAYB-kill, not SCAB-kill) overnight for two nights, and washing every last piece of clothing and bedding in super hot water. Yuck. All part and parcel of living here and working in the hospital, though. So we're hoping the lotion does the trick, and we don't have to repeat the steps, since Mags was NOT a fan.

On a happier note, in honor of her 10 month birthday, we're posting a few gratuitously cute pictures. The Magster has been cruising the furniture in a big way lately. Watch out world!

Friendly hug...or captive prisoner? Approximately 5 sec after the picture was taken, Mags started screaming. Apparently she decided on the latter.