And for once I was SuperMom

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Failure to Bake

What you see here is failure to bake. I bought local Kenyan pears. The pears here have a texture that is bit more gritty and bit more mealy, the taste also has strong overtones of tree bark. One may ask, why would you buy those? I was hopeful and they were regrettably very cheap. I was shopping in a higher end green grocer and I thought, ‘surely these will taste better than the ones I’ve had before. Surely people don’t eat these tree pears on a regular basis, these must be better.’
I was wrong.
They sat dejected in our fruit bowl for a few days, and I finally had the time I decided to bake them into some kind of crisp. I had some leftover rhubarb from muffins that I had made and some fresh ginger. Flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks I found a recipe for ‘Pear Clafouti,’ a French dessert that is basically a pancake baked around fruit. Sounds good, right? While I was assembling the dessert for baking I was talking to Scott and re-counting a day that I could only describe as weird; a day that involved stomach upset, dizziness, angering emails, miscommunications, incomplete errands, successful conversations, and discovering that I truly am one size down in pants. A day so confusing that I wrote notes to explain everything that had happened to me. So there is a possibility that in baking while retelling this day I did something wrong. It can happen, I am easily distracted. I assembled it, told my story, listened to his stories of the day and popped it in the oven.
The ‘Pear Clafouti’ was supposed to bake for twenty minutes. I baked for an hour and half. Granted the power went off during this time. So who really knows how long it sat in my oven. My oven, that emits more heat to the outside than it does directly onto the food it’s supposed to be cooking. My oven, that regularly burns the tops of baked goods while leaving the insides mushy and frighteningly undone. Needless to say after I finally declared it done, meaning there was no liquid shimmering and sloshing in it’s insides, I pulled it out and realized that it was largely inedible. The ‘Pear Clafouti emitted a smell akin to rotten lemon juice mixed with vanilla extract. The pears had gone from mealy and gritty to mushy and gritty.
I sat at the table after dinner and in a haze of post-menstrual loss of eating common sense pulled it apart with my finger tips. At each piece of pear or pancake/flan-like mush that I popped into my mouth I questioned why I was eating it. I was hopeful. That it would get better. That I would not have just wasted money and good baking ingredients. I was wrong. Scott kept asking why I bought the pears. My guess is that they have more moisture in them than North American pears and it destroyed the rest of the dish. Combine that with the antics of a inconsistent oven and spotty voltage and you get gritty pears sitting in eggy mush.
The fork is Scott’s, as the pre-eminent wilderness guide in our relationship he seems to be more refined than me. As we picked he described a weave that he’s been seeing on the streets of Nairobi,
“So the front of the hair is plastered to the head. Then it sticks straight up and is like a fro, but not really and then about half way down it turns gold.” Cue the power outage. The lights blink on and off for a few moments which is new from the usual just cut into dead darkness. After the electricity decides to truly die,
“So it turns gold halfway down the head,” I urge him on.
“Yeah, and then it goes back to black.”
“Huh, weird, your headlamp is on the changing table. Where’s the other one?”
“I dunno, I give up.” Smartass.
The lights go back on. I stare down at my ‘Pear Clafouti.’
Then the lights go right back out.
Then they’re back on. ‘Pear Clafouti’ it’s time for you to meet the trash can…

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In a handbasket and I don't know why...

Earlier this week I threw away about twenty dollars worth of phone credit. Phones here are pay as you go, you go buy this many minutes, you get this many minutes. I like it, you pay for exactly what you get. The minutes are purchased in the form of lotto-like scratch cards. I scratched off the grey stuff in the car and had planned on entering the code at home where I wouldn't get car sick. When I got home I got distracted by feeding the baby and making dinner and cleaning up my now-disemboweled apartment. The next day I ran across the cards and thought they were trash and promptly put them in the trash. I realized the next morning what I had done.
I would never do something like that normally. We are moving. We have slowly started the process of packing. Day by day we deliver something that we have borrowed to its rightful owner. Or something that someone has bought. Slowly our closets are vomiting out their contents and being sold off or packed up. Slowly my carefully ordered universe is going to hell.
Not that it's really all that carefully ordered. Organization is a huge feat for me. When I was a child I lost my house keys almost daily. As a result I got very good at breaking into my own house. Eventually I got sick of that, I resolved to never lose my keys again. And I didn't. To this day I don't lose my keys. I don't lose my phone. I don't lose my ATM card. Until I make big cross continental moves or international moves. Then I revert to my 4th grade self. When I moved from Santa Barbara to Chicago I lost my ATM card and my phone. I feel like my brain gets put in one of those bags, or under one of those piles of crap to donate and I CAN'T FIND IT ANYMORE! This task of moving becomes no mean feat when you are packing up your fully loaded apartment of camping gear, baby stuff, two wardrobes of adult clothing...into eight fifty pound duffle bags that have to make from Nairobi to London, London to Denver intact is monumental and stressful at best. You have to ask are the gourds that I bought at market worth the potential overweight baggage fee? How attached am I to the clothes that I own? I think one thing that I have learned from moving overseas is that almost everything is replaceable...almost.
So here it begins or ends, another transition in my life. One of many that I have made and only one in many more to come.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mother's Day

So this last Sunday was my first official Mother's Day, with child. I think about where we were a year ago, and what our life was like...
I remember standing up in church that Sunday, tearfully with my hand resting my pregnant belly. We had just started telling people that I was pregnant and at the invitation of mother's to stand in church with the prodding of friends and husband I stood. I was still reeling a bit from the loss of our first pregnancy, from that promise of motherhood snatched from my heart. Somehow I had faith that this baby would be, this baby would come. I think that day a friend had confirmed that, she pulled me aside and said from her heart that I was not meant to suffer. Telling me what I knew.
All that this year has brought, a long labor, resulting in a healthy baby, a trip home, to all our homes. A re-assessment of what 'home' means. And knowing deeply that it may not be Kenya. A satisfactory year teaching middle school and high school. A year's worth of new lessons, new students, and lots of funny anecdotes.
We started our celebrations on Saturday and drove up to Brackenhurst on Saturday night with our friends the Dunnings (who are expecting their first). We shared a feast of fried American foods (a true treat here), and as Jessica stated definitely, 'didn't do ourselves any [nutritional] favors.' On Sunday we defected from our regular Kenyan church and went to the congregation that meets on Rosslyn's campus. We treated ourselves to the American traditions of childcare, and an hour long service. The worship was simple and sweet, and the message actually reached me. That night we went to dinner at a friends up in Tigoni. As we left early because our daughter was beginning to turn into a loud whiny pumpkin I wondered if our still un-childed friends felt bad for us that we had to leave early. But I didn't feel bad, I was happy to get to bed at a reasonable. I chuckled to myself as I realized how that works out; I used to pity my friends with kids that had truncated social lives, but now I know that they're so tired that an early retirement just sounds awesome.
Yes, my husband did his part, he brought me flowers earlier in the week and I have a belt that I want promised to me, when we can go together and make sure I like it.
I think more about this year and what becoming a mother has meant to me; a year of learning new dimensions of my personality that motherhood has unearthed. That I like teaching, but I want to be home more. That I am still pretty selfish, but am willing to put up with a lot for my baby. That I can function on a night of sleep that was interrupted six times. That children, especially your own bring, an indescribable joy and peace. A fulfillment and further understanding of why I am here on this earth. While I may never become the next modern day Van Gogh, I am a mother and have dome something that no one else can do, I had Emma.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Right Here

Scott and I have forged a friendship with a couple that he works with; their names are Steve and Lizzie. Steve works for Tanari and Lizzie is facilitator for a local camp. They had their first baby about three months after we had Emma. Last Sunday we had them over for lunch. We went to go pick up Lizzie in their neighborhood, Gachie. Gachie is a bedroom community for Nairobi, cheap rent close to the city. It’s also a hotbed for crime. Driving through their neighborhood is always stressful; knowing that there are carjackings quite frequently and also the road seems more for people walking and livestock and less for cars. I frequently gasp as Scott has to nail the brakes to avoid hitting a goat or a person that is not getting out of the way.
After we collected our friend from her house on the drive to our own home we talked about how she had not gotten out of the house yet with their new baby, except to go to the doctor. Although Steve and Lizzie are of a similar educational level to Scott and I because they are Kenyan and the Kenyan pay scale is so much lower to the American pay scale they cannot afford a car and many other luxuries that Americans consider necessities. We talked about riding a matatu with a baby, Lizzie said,
“I can’t even imagine trying to hold your baby and protect your purse at the same time.” I was relieved to hear her say this, because I spend most matatu rides with both arm tightly across my purse as it sits ‘safely’ in my lap. I turned around and said to her,
“You know when I was in Tanzania I wasn’t afraid. And when I first moved here I wasn’t afraid. But now I am afraid.” She nodded with her eyes wide and understanding.
When I got here I asked around to find out how safe it really is in Nairobi. I heard stories of US ambassadors wives getting shot during a carjackings, I heard countless tales of, ‘don’t go there at night.’ I soon learned that much of the western community just doesn’t go out at night. I thought this a little foolish and Scott and I decided to just live our lives and try not to think about it.
The corner of our neighborhood that reside in is flanked by two slums. We live in the ‘dangerous’ part. About two months into our stay here my friend Jill and I were coming home from a bible study, at nine at night, as we turned the corner near our compound there were cars lined up on the road and a police man stepped out in front of our car. Jill began to brake and pull off, I said, ‘Just keep driving this doesn’t concern us.’ The police man was waving us through, as we turned the corner we saw a body, twisted into an unnatural position, lying on the ground. Our hearts pounded in our ears, silencing all else for the last few moments of the drive home. When I walked into our apartment, Scott looked up at me with true relief across his expression. He had told me that about twenty minutes ago he had heard gun shots and was worried about my whereabouts. The next day we found that some thugs had tried to carjack a car right at that corner, but the car belonged to a minister of parliament, and her bodyguards won.
I know several of my students that have been carjacked on their way to school. I know someone who was kidnapped on his way to pick up his sick daughter at school. This is the most frightening part of all of this. You usually think of carjackings and kidnapping happening to negligent people, took a wrong turn into the south side of Chicago at night. But, no, these were fathers taking their daughters to school at seven in the morning. I also used to think of crime victims as that person over there on the nightly news. But, no, this is that girl in my fourth period class who speaks in an American accent at school, but switches to British inflected tones around her mother. This is that girl with long brown hair in Art Exploration class who’s best friend just brought her cupcakes in class for her birthday. These are the people that are the victims of these violent crimes, right next to me.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

My Chariot of Fire

People ask me what’s so difficult about living in Kenya. It’s hard to put a finger on the pulse of my frustration. We can get almost anything we want, as long as we are willing to pay for it (often we aren’t) or willing to drive for it. (Except English muffins, and I’d like to think that my mental health isn’t predicated on the availability of certain breakfast breads.) Often I think we hardly notice what we can’t buy. But what makes living here so wearing on my mental state?
I like to run. In fact I like to run a lot. When we got here I asked around to determine if I could continue my cardio addiction. I watched what Kenyan women were wearing to see what would be appropriate; I noticed that tightness of pants doesn’t really matter, but it seemed best to cover your thighs and shoulders. Erring on the side of modesty seemed a keen idea. On our second day here our friend took us running so I saw that it could be done. The locals were actually more distressed by the dog that we were running with than by me and my running capris.
So throughout the last two years I have kept up with my compulsion to pound my soles against the pavement, but at some risk to my mental health. It seems that no matter what level of modesty I uphold I am seen as a sexual object. Think of our media; any time an American actress bares herself to the camera that gets exported the world over. In all the Kenyan publications that I have seen any photograph of a scantily clad woman is white. So as I jog with thighs and shoulders covered, in the direct hot African heat, I get stared at, a lot. To the Kenyan men’s benefit I have never been grabbed. I have had a few ‘polite’ comments, but no wolf whistles. Just staring.
I also get stared at by the women and children. The children will often yell, ‘Mzungu.’ (Which is Swahili for white person.) This would be the equivalent of an African-American going for a jog and all the children she passes yelling, ‘Darky.’ It’s racist and it’s exhausting. This is also often followed by a mocking, ‘How are you?!” and then, ‘Give me money!’ Sometimes angry teenagers will hiss ‘mzungu’ at me, sometimes they’ll imitate me. Which I do respond to, it’s not pretty, but my response is appropriate.
Everyone stares at me; man, woman, and child. I don’t wave at the men, because I don’t need to make friends with strange men. I do wave at the women, and sometimes they smile and wave back, other times they just glare at me. I wave at the women wearing the hijab and wonder how they view me; loose and wanton or free and healthy. Mostly I just give up because it doesn’t matter what I do, I seem to be treated with ill regard.
I also walk a lot, and often with Emma. There are a group of women workers that keep the streets swept and the landscaping cared for, they have watched me walk and run for a year, they watched my belly grow and then shrink. If I walk with her in the mornings to help her nap they greet me and her, and they all know her name. This is sweet and touching and part of Kenya that I love, but one that I experience so rarely. Mostly I seem to get treated like a walking wallet, or with what I perceive as scorn.
On weekends our neighborhood streets are glutted with small children walking to a local church to receive their sponsorship money. Adults also gather; walking on their days off in between the two slums that are tucked back away from main roads. I can’t count the number of Saturdays I have gazed out our window and thought, ‘oh, I could go on a walk right now.’ And the very next thought is, ‘but I’ll get yelled at.’ I have given up running and walking on weekends. I no longer have the emotional energy, I just sigh and hope my cardiovascular health will maintain itself until I can get home and run in peace.