And for once I was SuperMom

Monday, April 26, 2010

Water World

My sister in law just went to the Dominican Republic on a missions trip to bring clean water to a community. This got me thinking, most of the world doesn’t have clean drinkable water readilty available. Including myself.
When we got to Nairobi we asked a Kenyan friend of ours what does she does about water. Assuming that she would know the true risk and not have the reactive ‘it must be dirty because we’re not in America’ attitude. Her reponse:
“I boil it and then I filter it, I’ve had typhoid twice.” She then proceeds to tell us a story where a few years back the minister of water started pocketing the money to be used for purification and put chalk in the water instead. Many people got sick.
We chose to boil our water. It’s cheap and kills everything. I asked another one of my Kenyan friends if they boil or filter their water and the looked at each other and shrugged, the wife looked over her nine month pregnant belly and pronounced while pumping her arms up and down in a flexing pose,
“No, we have strong stomachs.” The husband then paused and said thoughtfully,
“Well there was that outbreak of cholera…” I chuckled under my breath, ain’t nobodies stomach stronger than cholera.
On our vacation in the states I was amazed at the ease of water. I didn’t have to think about it at all. I could fill up my water bottle from any sink in the house, rather than have to gauge how much boiled water we have left and then decide whether or not to throw another kettle on the stove. I felt like I was swimming in clean potable water, the luxury almost made me giddy. It struck me as odd as I watched people swill water out of plastic bottles. Why do you need to buy water when it comes clean right out of the sink?
Having a baby has made our water situation all the more tricky. She is still only nursing so I don’t need to worry about drinking water or clean water for formula or baby food. (I will soon) Where it gets tricky is with my pump. I work part time so I am away from Emma for about five hours each work day. I end up pumping once or twice a day. Now back in the states I would just pump, rinse out the mouthpiece with fresh clean water from the sink and throw it in the dishwasher whenever we ran it. We don’t have a dishwasher. We don’t have fresh clean water. So do I rinse the pump in the typhoid water and say a little prayer. Do I boil it every night? What do I do? So far I’ve been boiling water and rinsing it. Whenever we do dishes by hand it goes through. This may be clean enough, it may not, who knows. The baby hasn’t gotten sick yet.
Last week was spring break and Emma’s sleep schedule…well, what sleep schedule? My pump sat fallow for about a week. When I went to go use it and get a stock pile built up for the coming work week I unscrewed the mouthpiece from the bottle and a smell like a year old slimy sponge whipped out and slapped me across the face. Mildew. In my breastpump. How? Am I? Supposed? To clean this?
I unscrew everything and rinse it with precious boiled water. I took a Q-tip to it. I raise it tentatively to my nose, whap! Still smells like mildew. I bite and rip the cotton off the Q-tip and stick it back into all the little valves and crevices. Another sniff, whabam! Still won’t die. I relent and boil it, just throw it in a pot and let ‘er rip. I pull everything out with tongs. I rest in the knowledge that nothing lives through boiling, it still carries a nasty sponge smell and there is a little black fuzzy patch behind a valve. I see Emma’s baby Tylenol syringe, I have an idea. I grab the syringe and suck up still boiling hot water and holding the pump precariously in the tongs I start to syringe water back through all the little holes. I look up at Scott and say moodily,
“This is going to burn me.”
I am doing all of this in a dark kitchen because light in our kitchen blew and after three mis-purchased bulbs we finally got the right size only to have it not work. We are assuming the wiring is faulty. Or something like that…
I didn’t burn myself and eventually my pump started to smell like nothing. My kingdom, my kingdom for a dishwasher…

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Now we are three

This past Sunday afternoon found us, all three, lying on Scott’s and my bed. We had foregone church and had spent much of the day recovering from a multiple wake up night. We were all in various stages of undress. Scott shirtless, Emma only in a diaper, and me halfway between my pajamas and my workout clothes.
My head rested on Scott’s belly and Emma lie between us making a sweet triangle of our bodies. Mostly we were silent. Emma squirming and cooing, her parents watching her in awe. Occasionally I would lift my head, say something, and rest back down on my husband’s taut skin. All the while holding Emma’s foot in my hand, rhythmically pushing my thumb against the ball of her foot just to feel her toes flex.
Scott brought Emma to school today to have lunch and visit during my planning period. We ate lunch from the cafeteria and made jokes about what kind of meat was in the shepherd’s pie; can’t have a school lunch without mystery meat. Afterwards I held Emma up on the table while Scott made her giggle hysterically. As she gripped my neck, flapped her arms and my husband made her jump and laugh I found myself laughing right along. I had a sweet inoculation of baby cuddles in the middle of my day, buoying me and giving me energy to be more present with my students. My own little mini bring your daughter to work day. A little pure joy to last the last few hours of the day until I get home.
It is in these moments that I realize we have become our own family. Who do you lie around with on a Sunday afternoon unshowered and half-dressed? Only your own family. Now we can make our own family Sunday traditions. Do we eat a huge meal after church? Do we go for a hike or a stroll? Do we sit around and do nothing? These little windows where we are focused are quiet and satisfied. When we slow down and turn ourselves inside out to make Emma shriek and laugh. When she’s older we can tell her all the things we did to make her giggle when she was a baby. Some I’m sure will continue into her toddlerhood and she will remember. Maybe she will do them to her own child.
Four years ago I met this man with big blue eyes, but felt like I had known him deeply forever. Now this child laying here with those same big blue eyes has brought us inextricably together. Instead of two, now we are three. We are no longer a couple, we are a family. We are parents, two people responsible for the health and well being of another life. We have been given this little baby and now before where I never felt a lack I somehow feel more complete.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Leaving on a jet plane...

Last weekend my husband and I went out to Ethiopian food to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Emma was passed around the circle of about fifteen people or so. She giggled and flirted her way around each lap. One friend held her while I used my hands to eat the slippery shiro and sloppy doro wot. We laughed and made jokes that few would understand outside of our contexts. I connected with people that I hardly get to see but nonetheless find to be kindred spirits. So many amazing people and so little time.
We got in the car after we had eaten more than our fair share, the rest of the party left to go bowling, we happily took our little bug home to bed. As my rump hit the passenger seat hard, I let out a deep involuntary sigh.
“Yes?” my emotionally astute husband asks.
“All those people are just so cool, and we’re leaving in a month.” My heart has started that pattern of connecting with people that you like right before you leave. You fall in love with the possibility of the relationship. Email addresses are exchanged, Facebook friends are found, you tell yourself this person would be your best friend, if only you'd met a year ago. In this group, the question, ‘where are you going next?’ is asked. As you line your different geographic destinations, you think, maybe, just maybe…
This is the refrain of the last few years of my life. My mistake the first few years out of college was that I didn’t dive in and make friends, I lived with one foot out for two years. I learned my sad lesson of many nights of watching Sex in the City alone, and now in each new place I dive right in. I make fast friends, our social calendar is booked. My husband and I see social needs, people floating around, and we gather them up and put them in our lives. Then our requisite year or so is up and we leave. Saying the good-byes, knowing that we will most likely never see these people again, these people that have stood by us while we cried and thrashed the past two years.
Our belongings have already started disappearing of walls, floors and out of drawers. Every now and then I glance about and panic rises up in my throat as I realize that all this that is left has to go in seven bags. Eight if you count the one that a friend is muling home for us. We came out here with our life in five duffle bags and we go back, now a family of three, with seven. Or eight. You start thinking of the ‘worth’ of your crap. Are these gourds that I thought I had to have worth the cost of an extra bag? Will I use the shawl that I wear here, but isn't as stylish back home?
We sold off a lot of stuff at a Rosslyn wide junkyard sale this weekend. All the stuff we can live without for the next six weeks. Makes you think as you begin to whittle your stuff down; did I need this for the last two years? These things we bought when we got here or brought from the states. I never used the two table runners that I brought. We only ever used two of our wine glasses. But, oh, did we use those two...
...don't know when I'll be back again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Video Baby-Sitter

How much is too much?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wash and Wear

Last Sunday I ended up with a stitch in my hamstring from bending over in our shower hand washing all our underwear. How did I find myself like this on a Sunday? On our day of rest? Our houseworker was coming the next day and we needed to wash right then because she would need the buckets the next day; to wash the rest of our laundry. We think it gross to make another person wash our underwear. I don’t think you have known commitment in a relationship until you have hand washed all the other person’s unmentionables.
One of my professors in graduate school made the joke that you knew it was time to go on furlough from Africa when the elastic in your underwear was shot. Something that is a constant plague for those of us here is the ‘shape’ of our clothes. One might think that because they are being hand washed here, a treatment saved for our delicates in the states, that our clothes would last longer. Oh, no. Not so. The twisting and squeezing that they go through pulls them out of shape. The line drying, another treatment for delicates, also proves to be detrimental as well. At first my houseworker was hanging our shirts from the shoulders. One of my t-shirts was so pulled that I could have slipped the padding for an American football player underneath the shoulders. So now she hangs them from the bottom. So all our shirts have pulled stretch marks at the bottom. Like an angry ex-girlfriend has gone through all her boyfriend’s shirts and tried to rip them from the bottom but gave up when she realized she didn’t have the strength.
I look down at the shirt I wearing now, not only is the bottom pulled by an angry ex-lover it is two shades lighter than what it started as when we got here. It went from a bright sunny aqua to a subdued sea blue color. The front is stretched out, because it just is. I still wear it, because it’s what I have. Omo, the laundry soap of Kenyans, is strong so that it can deal with the invasive red dirt it also removes the dye from your clothes. But still manages to leave the crust that got the shirt thrown into the the laundry in the first place. And white clothes must find all that dye, because they soon cease to be white and turn into a dingy grey.
Every time I throw an item of clothing into the laundry bin here I wish it well, good luck little friend, I hope you come out on the other side okay. The same color, without being stretched beyond recognition. So long little one, you’ve served me well….

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ducks in a Row

When I was younger I kept think that one day I would become this ‘adult.’ One day my hair would become straight and sleek and beautiful. One day I would be classy, poised, tactful, able to keep my mouth shut. One day my clothes would be perfect, well-matched, well-fitting, I would look ‘expensive.’ One day I would be organized, on time, all my ducks would be in that row that exists that you put them in, that row I can never seem to find.
As I’ve gotten older life has brought harbingers of adulthood. I’m married. I know what a pork tenderloin is. And I know how to use it. I have gone shopping and bought things only for other people. And the last nail in the coffin of adulthood: I have a child. By all cultures and nations definitions I am an adult. And you know what: my ducks are still all over the damn place.
I don’t even know what I want to be when I grow up. And I’m grown up! Artist? Writer? Teacher? Coffee-shop owner? Baker? Butcher? Candlestick maker? Scott started teasing me because I had four blogs open on word the other day. He stopped when I shrieked, ‘that’s because I haven’t been able to complete a thought in four days!’
Taking on certain roles has made me have to be more organized, and in my own scattered way I have made some systems so that I don’t go crazy. Every Saturday, or Sunday, or sometime near the end of the week I look through the food we have in the pantry and freezer, ask Scott what he wants for dinner, make a meal plan, and then buy groceries. If what is on the list does not get bought snakes spontaneously sprout from my head and everything I look at turns to stone.
I have come up with ways to organize Emma’s stuff and get us out of the house in under ten minutes. All that stuff that we were given and assured was necessary for having a baby has a place where it is ‘away.’ Yes, the activity mat DOES go in the middle of the living room floor. I have ways to organize my classroom and lesson plans. Yes, the scribbled notes on the margins do count as planning. Yes, there’s that pile of papers in the corner, and I know exactly what’s in it. There may even be a pile in each corner.
I have noticed that having a baby has turned my inner monologue into scrambled eggs. I have also noticed that my mental word processor is now broken. I can think of what I want to say, but I can’t necessarily get it out of my mouth. I now know why mom’s often just over extend themselves to do it all on their own. Explaining things to someone who is trying to help you takes way too much effort. (That thing up there on the shelf, you know the thing in the cornery part!) The times where I have had to reel the snakes back into my skull and take a deep breath to explain something to my poor, deer caught in the headlights, what did they do to my wife, husband rather than exploding, and doing it myself are almost infinite.
My painting class is working on a project inspired by Marc Chagall. Consequently I have posters of his work up on half of my bulletin board. On the other half I have their completed work from a project based on Georgia O’Keefe. I have stalled out a few times on doing critiques because I haven’t known how to do them with high schoolers in a way that makes them talk about their art, think about their art, and keeps their wobbly little egos intact. I was making up a questionnaire for the O’Keefe project, occasionally I would glance up at the board as I thought through the questions. I finished printed them out and made ten copies. Then noticed I had proudly, in my signature font, entitled it Self Critique/Marc Chagall Project. A duck is out of line.
Now that I am an ‘adult’ I am still the person I have always been. I am still the 4th grader who loses her house keys every day and has to break in the house. (Consequently I always know where my keys are and am really good at breaking in houses.) I am still the high schooler who is unsure that the white jeans she bought were really a good choice. I am still the college student arriving two minutes late to class. My hair is still a curly uncontrollable mass. I think my clothes fit better than they used to, I have developed ways of keeping myself ‘organized.’ Maybe it’s time I just learned to accept it all….quack.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Well-Rounded Figure

Thoughts on body after baby and how the media completely contradicts it:

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Have you ever considered the bookmark? I mean really these scraps of paper that we use to keep our places in books so that we don’t have to. There are racks of them in book stores, little artworks ready for you to use your hard earned cash to purchase. An entire industry relying on the hope that you don’t have scraps of paper in your home or that refuse to fold the page over. I’ve had people make them for me, with scraps of fabric and beads. In times of desperation I have glanced at the page number and actually remembered what page I was on. I had a kid, I can’t do that anymore.
I am a devourer of books, I have about three going at any time (presently I am America and So Can You, The Sunday Philosophy Club, and Culturemakers). I also live by the motto, ‘life is too short to read bad literature,’ I’ve tossed aside quite a few novels if they didn’t prove to be quickly promising. Some may think this a moral failing. I used to make myself read everything I started and then once I didn’t and it was all over.
Back to the bookmarks…how many times have I started one of these books and had to stop reading only to glance wildly about looking desperately for something to save my place. Book jackets are received with relief and joy in these moments. It’s quite amazing what scraps have made their way in between the pages of my books. The last one that I took time to notice was the voicemail directions from the Fuller Seminary Guest House. In my poor suspicious mind I felt that this little piece of paper that had faithfully journeyed with me all the way from Pasadena to Nairobi was proof that we would be moving to Pasadena. Alas, I think I put too much stock in little scraps of paper.
Another one that I had stuck in the pages of a cookbook (yes, I read cookbooks for fun) was a flash card that I had made for learning Swahili. A language I have tried twice to learn, I was more successful the first time. The second attempt a bitter reminder of the dashed hope these two years has brought.
Scott has been using the same bookmark for almost three years, it’s my stepmother’s business card that proclaims that she is a friend of the Rancho Santa Margarita Library. How has he managed to keep this 2” x 3 1/2” piece of paper since they visited us in Colorado last Christmas, I don’t know. This little business card is a testament to the endurance of small objects. Maybe it’s a testament to the connections in our lives; we only see my stepmom a few times a year, but here is her little business card to prove that she is in our lives.
Sometimes I wonder at these little artifacts in our lives, these little things that show how we are and where we’ve been. This sweet junk that finds it’s way into our purses and pockets. I’ve always wondered if someone where to find my purse what would they think? Would they be able to tell who I really am? What I do for a living? What I love? Who I love? My Nalgene bottle that is from Deerfoot Lodge, has an In n’ Out sticker and a sticker from the Simple Lodge in Salida, Co, the random pacifier, my Leatherman (a gift from my brother), four lip glosses, a sketchbook, receipts, two driver’s licenses from very different places…

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Living with Poverty

I live in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Nairobi. We landed here because it's the closest neighborhood to my school. Rosslyn did not plan this, when it was founded they were surrounded by coffee fields. Now with the addition of the US Embassy, the UN and a mall it's become quite a wealthy area. One would think that living up here I wouldn't see that much poverty. Hidden in the corners of this neighborhood are two 'informal settlements.' Where the houseworkers and guards and drivers live that work for the people in these multi-million dollar houses.
Last week I was pulling out of our compound and I had to unlock and open out gate and pull my car through and then get back out and close the gate. As I was doing this I saw a little boy walking in front of our gate. His clothes were ragged and he was not in school on a school day. The second he saw me I knew what was going to happen. He started begging, even though I made no eye contact and was just quickly getting in and out of my car. As I jumped back in amidst his please I scanned our center console. We usually keep change here for giving to beggars and tipping the gaurds who take our grocery carts. It was empty. I had no cash in my purse. I lifted my hands in a helpless gesture and said, 'I have nothing,' and drove away feeling like a hypocrite. Who am i to tell this child that I, in my car, with my house, have nothing.
But this goes deeper than that. People beg from us all the time. Packs of these children wonder through our streets daily, unattended and loose. They are told if they get hit by a car they will get money. The other day as I was driving I saw a little girl push another little boy, who I would guess was about three years old, in front of my car and when he made it to the other side before I ran him over she turned and started making hand to mouth motions that is a question for money or food. That's the second time that has happened to me.
What I am supposed to do with this? Kenya has the ability to feed it's own people but because of corruption many go hungry. There is this dynamic that the west will give and solve your problems. As a white face I represent the west.
Do I just give blindly and teach that this is true? Do I give to a child who will just take the money and spend it on sweets? What if that child takes it home and their mom saves it for food or school fees? How do I know?
Yet, we are called to give. We are not made of stone. These children are hungry or at least locked into a system that does not allow them to rise above.
I think this is the hardest part of coming to Kenya. Realizing that this problem of the poor is so much bigger than me. Is so much more complicated than just putting food in the mouths of the hungry. I can't fix it. I can't solve it. And I am beginning to wonder more and more if it is even my place...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Butterfly Effect?

Rosslyn rents cars out to their teachers. Most teachers live on campus (we don’t) and the school provides these cars for transportation. Initially when we didn’t have a car and getting back and forth to school was a huge source of stress, these rentable cars saved us many a time. Now that we own a car these rentals have come in handy on the many occasions when our Subaru turns up smoking. A few weeks ago we were hosting two of our friends from South Africa. Scott had driven across town early in the morning to pick them up from where they were staying on the way back the car started smoking right in front of the road that leads to Rosslyn. They were slated to climb Mt. Longonot that day, needless to say they did not.
As with all things, there is a hierarchy of cars, ones which are cheaper or nicer or bigger. After our Subaru was pushed to safety and turned into our mechanic Scott went to go check out a car. There was a station wagon available, they grabbed the keys and loaded up their suitcases happily feeling saved. A staff member came out and saw this; she was on her way to the bank. There was another car available, a small pocket-sized hatchback. (the station wagon is a much nicer ride, the hatchback’s shocks have been obliterated) Unbeknownst to Scott the station wagon is reserved for office use. This staff member pointed this out, Scott said he didn’t know that and couldn’t he just take it? The staff member insisted that everyone knows that and that she needed it at that moment. Scott and his guests unloaded their suitcases and gear and looked at the hatchback. It wasn’t all going to fit. They loaded half of it up and stored the other half in our broken car. Then walked over to the nearest grocery store and bought gifts to take back to their family. Unbeknownst to them as well the staff member that insisted on using the station wagon was going to the same complex. Maybe could’ve given them a ride.
Later that day one of our guests, De La, wrenched his back, Scott and the two of them ended up spending five hours in the emergency room waiting for a doctor to give him a shot and muscle relaxants. Meanwhile Emma I had let Emma cry for ten minutes because I couldn’t get her to nap and didn’t know what to do with her. This is when I learned that my baby can’t really cry it out, and she let me know at top volume inconsolably for two and a half hours. I called a friend and between the two of us we cooked dinner and held the baby while she let the world know everything that was wrong. So my poor husband is trying to navigate the Kenyan medical system, get his friend taken care of, and is listening to his child scream and his wife cry on the phone…and then on the way home they have to run an extra errand, to pick up the rest of our guests stuff, because the car we had to rent, because someone insisted that they get a certain car, was too small to carry it all….which if you think even farther De La, who is a big man, was jammed into a little car with no shocks with a thrown out back…
This whole incident made me think when have I insisted on a rule or been selfish and didn’t want to be inconvenienced and caused someone a lot of undue stress or actually even pain. If that staff member had thought, “hey, they already have the car loaded we can use the hatchback for a day, no big deal,” our lives would have been that much easier for a day. But she didn’t. Things like that keep happening to me lately. A teacher used up all my glue bottles and threw them out, these are glue bottles that we ship in from the states. So now we have no glue for the rest of the year and we have to buy new bottles.
With the anger and frustration I feel each time something like this happens there is a sinking feeling that my actions have that kind of effect. When have I stuck to a rule and made one of student’s lives awful? When have I slacked and made one of my friend’s lives more difficult because I didn’t do what I said? What kind of butterfly effect do I have?