Missing Kenya #6: Equatorial Weather

This picture was taken in Nairobi, the day after we arrived in Kenya in December 2009. As you can see, the weather for that day was mild enough for t-shirts, but comfortable for long-sleeves for Maggie and long pants for everyone. In short, idyllic weather.

Pretty much everyday between then and now has been roughly the same. We do have seasons. There are the "long rains" and the "short rains". But I can't even remember when they are, because around Tenwek Hospital, the difference between the rains and "not the rains" are usual pretty unremarkable, with the exception of one dry spell earlier this year, which ended the night Ben was born, prompting the locals to want us to name him "Kiprop", which means "boy born during the rains".

We are at about 0.5 degrees south of the equator and about 6500 ft altitude. This means a few things:

1. The difference between sunset at the summer vs winter solstice is less than 30 minutes. In fact, I've never noticed any difference at all.
2. It never gets cold. I mean, Kenyans wear parkas at night, and maybe if I slept outside like many of them functionally do, I would sympathize more, but a sweater has always been the max need for me.
3. It never gets hot. This is surprising for most people, but shorts are culturally awkward here and this doesn't matter at all, from a comfort standpoint. It gets hot on the coast, but not at this altitude and not in Nairobi.
4. The temperature difference between a sunny lunch time and a rainy afternoon (the normal trend) is greater than any particular annual variation in climate.
5. We don't have a heater. We don't have AC. No big deal.

Overall, this is nice. There are some drawbacks, which largely come in various feelings of monotony. However, people consider this weather to be ideal for reasons which we can really relate to.


Mango Sticky Rice

Allow me just a blog minute to brag on my wife. She works very hard. She is taking care of two little kids, and she is the head of the OB department. She is coordinating a World Health Organization site for a big multi-country study. She lectures twice a month to the interns. She is apparently off preaching at a little village church even as we speak.

And yet, a couple weeks ago, she found out how to make Mango Sticky Rice, an awesome Thai dessert that we love, and hadn't had since leaving the US. She had gotten some really nice mangoes, and found the recipe online. Oh, coconut milk, you are so versatile! It was awesome. And so is she.


Missing Kenya #7: Walking to Work

We can get to the hospital in about 3-4 minutes, uphill all the way there, downhill all the way back. This has several implications:

1. Home Call: In residency, I was allowed to take home call to Chelsea Hospital. If I had to go in, I would field a phone call, get in my car and drive 35 minutes of highway to the little hospital, then arrive to do whatever work. Usually it was a larger amount of work, but here I can go up to the hospital, receive a newborn baby, ensure they're OK, and be back home before my precious ice cream melts (Though we would keep it in the freezer just in case. I mean, you never know how long it will take for sure, and ice cream is precious).

2. No Hospital Parking. Parking of UM was ridiculous. Parking at St. Joe's for Rachel still meant a longer walk to the hospital than we currently have from our home. Plus, it's free.

3. Little Driving in General. This is nice particularly given the nature of driving here. When your job and all your friends are within walking distances, and there is nothing else within short driving distance (schools, stores, church, etc.), you almost never have to drive. We leave the walking distance of our home maybe twice a month. This can lead to a bit of cabin fever, but usually it's nice, and a little bit of African travel will easily cure this sensation.

4. Close Medical Care. We can walk to all of Maggie and Ben's doctor visits in less than 5 minutes. We walked home with Ben when he was two hours old. But sometimes that's just too far, so we just go downstairs to talk to Alyssa, or next door to show John a red eye.

We're not expecting anything like this in the US, in fact we'll probably be in the car often. And though US roads sound awfully nice right about now, I'm sure there will be times when we miss never needing to get into the car.


Missing Kenya #8: Chai Time

Kenya has a British heritage that persists in various ways. They are also (behind India and Sri Lanka) the world's 3rd largest tea-growing nation. The result of this is that they are devout tea drinkers, any time being good, but mid-morning being necessary. I guess the Brits would refer to "tea time", whereas Kenyans have "chai time", using the Kiswahili word for tea, which is pretty fitting since "tea" may not really conjure up the image of what you get in "chai".

Kenyan chai is about 1/3 milk, boiled with 2/3 water, with lots of sugar added, and then just enough black tea leaves to turn the chai slightly brown, as seen in the cup above. It can be served straight or "masala", which is quite yummy with spices that make it taste more like what Americans think of as "chai tea", and it can be served "tangawizi", which is also very yummy and adds ginger or even fresh rosemary for extra flavour.

The hospital provides chai for all its employees, and there is a whole institution built up around it. The chai will come in "flasks", which Americans would call big, plastic thermoses. The chai will be "taken", instead of drunk. It will come at approximately 10:30, but a little later on Mondays and Fridays, when the kitchen staff attend devotions that usually run into that time. Chai is often accompanied by "mendazi", which are fried, doughnut like pastries that Americans always comment could really use a jelly filling, but are actually quite nice once you get used to them. You can take an "American cup" of chai, which is about 80% filled, or you can take a "Kenyan cup", which will near 100% filled, and will probably spill and burn your hand as you lift it to your mouth. There is no minimum age for a child to start taking chai. I mean, no minimum age.

On the OB, medical, and paediatric services where we spend our days, chai time is often a moment for our team of doctors to catch their breath, discuss necessary matters, and do some brief teaching about a medical topic. Just as American attendings often show up with bagels for early rounds, we often feel the need to supply our team with mendazi or chapati (which do not come free from the hospital). It does certainly confound daily tasks, when everyone stops what they are doing halfway between arrival and lunch, but we maintain that it is also a great way to break up the day and force ourselves to get a much needed moment of rest and companionship.
Enjoying a cup on Paeds ward.
Flasks of chair, and a mendazi at the bottom left.
Note the juxtaposition of bling and faith on the two flasks.


Rafting the river Nile

The Nile River is the world's longest, running from Lake Victoria in Southern Uganda up to the Mediterranean in Egypt. (There are some rivers, starting in Rwanda and Burundi, that feed Lake Victoria and are thus arguably the true source of the Nile.) It's impact on history and civilization is legendary, and, near it's major source in Uganda, it also boasts some awesome whitewater.

We had wanted to get down to raft for some time, but were thwarted several times. We finally decided that I (Eric) would go alone, since traveling with Ben and Maggie would be challenging, and scope it out for future family vacations. So, last week, I drove 4 Canadian Samaritan's Purse interns across the Ugandan border to the town of Jinja.

We stayed at a place called Adrift, which was the first company to ever raft the whitewater at the source of the White Nile (the Blue Nile originates in Ethiopia and joins the White Nile in Khartoum, Sudan, to the form the Nile proper). Their base camp sits up on a bluff, just a few miles from Lake Victoria, overlooking the river.
They had a nice open-air restaurant area, adorned with random collectibles as well as some very fun-looking monkeys, who were, thankfully, less aggressive than some baboons that I've encountered lately.
This little guy is perched on top of a kayak that made it's way from Lake Victoria all the way to the Mediterranean, and is now enshrined in the rafters of the restaurant.
The next day, I joined our 4 Canadians and 5 Brits to go rafting. It's often joked that Americans should sew a maple leaf on their pack to be thought Canadian when traveling (especially in Europe), in order to garner favor (or "favour" as it might then be). Let me say from experience that it's much easier to be mistaken for a Canadian if you just travel with 4 other Canadians.

What to say about rafting the Nile? My major comparison is to the Ocoee, which I've rafted several times in Tennessee. When I heard there were only 8 rapids and only 1 Class Five, I was disappointed. But, apparently I don't totally get the class system, since every last one of these rapids was on par or bigger than the biggest of the Ocoee rapids. Our raft flipped twice, and I had the exhilaration of swimming some big waves after flipping in the last rapid. There was a lot more flat water in between rapids, but that was also a nice chance to take in some more of the scenery, as well as to take some swimming breaks in the very temperate water.

After one such swimming break, I realized that I had lost my wedding ring. Many of you probably know that I lost the first one in 2007, playing volleyball in a lake in Michigan. So we made sure this 2nd one was as small as possible. It was generally very hard (and painful) to get off my finger, but somehow the water of the Nile combined with the greasiness of sunscreen and our lunchtime chapatis to work a little unfortunate magic. Alas. I'm glad Rachel still loves me. Here's the picture we bought of our raft heading down a nice little waterfall on the first rapid. We didn't flip on that one.
I'm sure we'll be back someday.


Working Mommy

Long before I became a wife or a mother, I knew God was calling me to be a doctor...specifically, a missionary doctor. I was only 16 years old, and had no idea what I was committing to, but there you have it. For many years, although I wanted a family of my own, I thought maybe God was calling me to be single. Guys weren't beating down my door, and studying kept me pretty busy, so I figured this was one way of keeping me focused on my calling. And then when I was 24 I met Eric, and it soon became clear to me that God was calling me to be a missionary, a doctor, and a wife. But perhaps we wouldn't be blessed with children? Not so. At the age of 30, I added mother to the above list (and x2 at the age of 32!). And I need to remind myself that I am who I am because that is who God called me to be...He might have chosen not to bless me with a husband or children, and He might have called me to a different career, but He didn't. I need to remember because of the days when it seems impossible to do all four of these things.

It has seemed very impossible lately. The transition from one to two kids was surprisingly difficult, despite Ben being a great baby. Just when I was getting in the swing of things it was time to go back to work. My mom was here for the first 4 wks, but she sadly left the first weekend of July and now here I am. I have struggled a lot with feeling inadequate to the task at hand. I feel like I am failing at work, at being a mom, at keeping a home, at being a wife. I can only give so much of me to each role and there is always more that can be given. When I'm at work, I want to be at home with my kids. When I'm home, I think about all the good I could be doing at work. I feel guilty. I feel like I should spend more quality time with my kids on the days I AM at home. And at night I fall in to bed, exhausted, hoping that just one night I can get a solid eight hours of sleep.

But in these valleys of life, God is whispering to me in His still small voice. Eric and I are working through a discipleship course called Sonship and it has been the perfect thing at the perfect time in my faith. At the end of lesson 2, our mentor said to me, "Satan is the accuser. He is believable because he tells the truth...half of it, at least. He says to you, 'you're not the wife you ought to be. You're not the mother you ought to be. You're not the Christian you ought to me.' And he's right, you're not. But Jesus IS all the things you ought to be, and you are joined with Him because of His sacrifice." Wow. That was a word into my heart. Yes, I fail. All the time. But Christ doesn't, and I am joined with him.

God has also brought to mind a talk I heard years ago, before I was a mother, at the Global Health conference in KY every year. A doc/mom/missionary named Suzie Snyder was giving a lecture on being a mom, and a wife, and a doctor, and a missionary. She was nice enough to send me her notes recently so I could remember some things. Some of the most important points to me were:

What God has helped you to attain, he will help you to maintain.
You can't give all of yourself to all of your roles all of the time
Life comes in seasons

In the end, I have only 2 more months of being a working mom...for now. It's harder than I dreamed it would be. But God has called me to it. God is faithful. He will help. And He has blessed me with a great husband and a fantastic community of people who help with my kids (as well as two sweet Kenyan ladies).


Missing Kenya #9: Sodas in Glass Bottles

I remember as a kid thinking that drinking out of glass bottles was way cooler than cans or plastic bottles. Even now I enjoy it, maybe because it has become so rare in the US. But here in Kenya, it's actually much easier to find sodas in glass bottles than in any other form. Once a month or so we head up to the dukas (shops) and trade in our old glass bottles for some new ones (full of soda, of course). They are about 30 cents apiece. One never knows what varieties will be in stock at the dukas, either, making every experience unique.

Perhaps even more fun than drinking from the bottles (which, by the way, Kenyans find quite strange...they prefer to use a straw or pour the soda into a glass instead of swigging right from the ol' bottle) are the flavors that have been available to us here. There are the standard flavors of Coke, Sprite, and orange Fanta, all available in the States. But our favorites are, instead, Krest Bitter Lemon, like Squirt but not as sweet, Stoney Tangawizi, the most intense ginger ale you'll ever try (brings tears to my eyes and an overwhelming urge to sneeze with every sip), and Black Currant Fanta. That one is hard to describe, maybe sort of like a Dr. Pepper but more fruity. There are also Pineapple and Citrus varieties of Fanta as well, which are fun for a try, at least.

When we come home, I'm sure it will be great to be able to drink things like Root Beer and Cherry Coke again, but we sure will miss the Kenyan flavors (most of which, sadly, are not available in Burundi). One thing we will be looking forward to, though, is the great American tradition of free refills!


Swift and Piercing Terrible

I wrote and recorded this song several months ago, but I've been feeling this way a lot again lately, so I figured I'd put it up here for your perusal.

Swift and Piercing Terrible

Could this be your hand?
Swift and piercing terrible
Cause it would break me

Remember when I said,
"Do everything that you want to do"
Well, I thought I meant it

Staring into the dark for the longest time
Longing to turn my head for the longest time

Would you choose this face?
Could I find you even here?
And would you expect me to?

I don't know what you're doing
I don't know what I'm saying
But I fear that I would fight you
Try to feebly stand against you

I could never hold you off
But I fear that you might just let me
Do not let me


...And Family Fun at Lake Naivasha

A few days after we enjoyed Lake Nakuru, we headed in to Nairobi via Lake Naivasha, and Crescent Island. We were last here in October with Eric's parents (see here). An amazing place where you take a boat through exotic bird and hippo-filled marshes and arrive on an island full of giraffes, zebras, water buck, and wildebeest, and wander around at will. We were excited to get the chance to return. It ended up being a lot of walking, but the kiddos were troopers and we had lots of fun.

Maggie's lifejacket, while still quite large, fit better than last time.
The highlight was being able to get so close to some beautiful giraffes...maybe about 20 of them or so.
You can see how close we got!
A large herd just hanging out.
We forgot a knife for making PB sandwiches for lunch, so improvised with carrot sticks.
There was a 4 day old baby giraffe on the island, which was awesome to see! How big is a baby giraffe, you ask? About 6 feet tall. We took this pic of the baby and its mommy running, so you can see the size difference.
Maggie was doing Daddy's hair here.
Also saw a few baby zebras (baby on the right), as well as a couple baby wildebeest (but they weren't cute enough for a photo).
Walking, walking, walking.
A fun and beautiful day!