Friday, December 17, 2010

Kitu Kidogo

The hemorrhaging of diplomatic intrigue from the Wikileaks scandals has included some juicy bits from our part of the world.  Nothing all that revelatory for those who pay attention to Kenya, but there’s a lot of diplomats (including the US Ambassador) saying pretty unsavory thing about Kenyan politicians and ministers all the way up the chain.  Mainly, we’re talking here about corruption.
Kenya has the distinction of having one of the most brazen cultures of corruption in an already pretty crooked neighborhood.  From the ubiquitous petty bribes to in-your-face siphoning of public money into private Swiss bank accounts, Kenya has it all.  And efforts to tackle corruption end up as epic (and bestselling) tragedies of lone crusaders fighting the unbending Goliath of vested interests, and waiting – in vain – for a Hollywood ending of redemption and justice that doesn’t come.  I wouldn't at all be surprised if the KACC, (Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission) needs to also be greased along with other ministries to get any work done. 
OK.  That sounds pretty bleak.  But I actually haven’t had to deal with any of it directly as of yet.  I’ve successfully picked up a package from the post office without paying ransom and haven’t had to deal with any other civil servants or ministries yet. I'm hoping it stays this ... boring, but I'm not all that hopeful. 
But I do know from driving in matatus, that the drivers pay their “kitu kidogo” (little something) to the police at the checkpoints to feed their uniformly swelling bellies.  My neighbor is of one of the wealthier families in Busia. They have several cars, satellite TV and take planes to reach vacations destinations.  You might be thinking the head of household is a businessman, doctor or even minister.  No.  He’s the senior customs agent who works at the busy border post to Uganda.  Need I say more?  

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Edna's wedding

Whether it’s in cows, sheckles or diamond rings, one thing weddings around the world have in common is an ability to break the bank.  When I was in India years ago I attended several weddings which were always lavish crowded feasts in which people who normally worried about paying the rent saved up enough to hire 12 piece bands, horse-drawn processions and feed hundreds of their acquaintances.  It’s no different here in Kenya.   
A few weeks ago, we, along with the 200 person office we work in, were invited to attend a co-workers wedding.  Edna’s a delicately featured soft spoken and kind woman who met her husband to be, a Kenyan soldier on assignment to do peacekeeping in Sudan, in church.  She made a gorgeous bride.
In typical Kenyan fashion the church service, scheduled for 10 AM, started at noon, and the guest started arriving at the reception at around 4.  The reception was a vibrant mix of African and Western.  Guests presented their gifts  -- toasters wrapped in shiny paper along with goats -- to  bride and groom by queuing up and dancing up to the couple with their offering.  Traditional Luhya dancers were hired along with a DJ and MC.  An impressive white wedding cake was lavishly displayed in a tent of its own, and the guests dined on goat and ugali.  Suits and shiny bridesmaids’ dresses mixed with vibrant African prints and headdresses and fire red Kenyan military uniforms.  There were the familiar best man-type speeches but incongruously punctuated by ululating from the crowd. 
I used to go to events like these and lament the fact that they weren’t traditional enough.  I would grumble about the encroachment of Western culture on the purity of the indigenous traditions.  But I’ve learned now to appreciate the beauty, complexity and even occasional irony in the mix of cultures and know that it’s a pure representation of Kenyan culture as it is today.   
The lovely bride and groom
traditional Luhya dancers

Dancing up to the couple with wedding gifts

The beautiful bridal party

Party crashers

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Can I ask you a question?

The research projects here are run almost uniformly by economists, social scientists who see the world through the lenses of quantifiable data and predictive models.   They base their data points on questions like: How much money did you make, doing what and for how long?  And what did you spend it on? What was your child’s birth weight? How many times did you get sick and how much did you spend on it?  What price did you get for maize this month vs. last month?  They use these reams of data to explain whether or not an intervention had a “measurable impact” on lives and livelihood. 
They can thus say with a level of statistical confidence that the people in the group who got a treatment (a certain education intervention, access to credit etc…) are doing better than the group that didn’t along these dimensions: less likely to become sick, more income, greater harvest etc…  and can conclude that an intervention has been successful.
But there’s something missing in all of this, and even the economists acknowledge it.  It’s the why. 
Why is something working? Why are people deciding to open a bank account or not? Why do they choose to forgo fertilizer when it has benefited their neighbor? Why do they choose not to put water purification tablets in their water even when it’s free?  And until you know these answers, it’s difficult to say for certain that an intervention that works well in Kenya would also work well in Indonesia.   
This is where it’s helpful to have a sociologist’s perspective, that “softer social science” that I imagine normally evokes a bit of disdain from mathematically-minded economists.  That is, until they need to understand why something happens the way it does in a way that regression analyses and modeling don’t tell them. 
The researchers I’m working for now acknowledge the need to better understand the how and the why that hard data misses, and so one of my current tasks is to design and pre-test a qualitative survey asking people more directly why they make the decisions they do, what they fear and what they hope.  Of course, this is not as easy as it might seem and there are layers of cultural barriers to dismantle in order to collect information that best mirrors people’s reality.  But it’s a fascinating puzzle to solve.
Here’s an example:  When talking to people about saving for a goal we want to ask them to distinguish between their wants and needs.  We ask the question in the clearest possible language like “think of things that you are always happy to have when you have them, but that are not so necessary” without giving them actual examples.  But when we asked this question, our respondents were nearly uniformly baffled by the question.  They simply did not understand the distinction.  “If I buy something, it’s because I need it.”  Even if it looks like a “want” (like a trip to the salon), it doesn’t feel that way to me and I’ve expressed that by spending my meager income on it. 
But there’s also apparently less of a distinction between “need” and “want” linguistically, which may serve to further blur the distinction.  Yesterday, Colin was trying to tell Jane in Swahili “I need to go back to work” (nina hitaji ….) but instead said “I want to go back to work” (nina taka ….).  Being the self-appointed family Kiswahili coach, I corrected him and told him you mean “nina hitaji” (I need/must).  But Jane then duly corrected me and said “nina taka, ninahitaji.  They mean basically the same thing.”
We have another question asking respondents how likely they are to succeed at saving a specific amount of money.  (very likely, probably… all the way to doubtful)  Again, a seemingly straight-forward request.   But this assumes that the respondent has some sense of control over their future, has the confidence to make a prediction about it and is unafraid to tempt fate by voicing it.  So, we almost never got anyone to fit their answers into our neat little likely/probably/doubtful boxes.  Respondents simply said again and again, “I will try,” which really doesn’t answer the question. 
So the trick is to really disentangle what we want to know, unpackage the layers of cultural confusion and then ask it in a way that will provide a meaningful answer.  But the payoff of doing it right is finally understand the part of the story that fancy statistical analysis can’t quite capture.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Malaria Kidogo

On our way to the doctor, carrying a very sick little Caleb who had a scarily high fever and was heartbreakingly and uncharacteristically listless in my arms, we met a Kenyan friend.  We explained that we were on our way to the doctor to see what was going on with Caleb.  The response: “Oh, pole.  Probably malaria kidogo?”  (Sorry, probably a little malaria?)
The concept of “a little malaria” is just plain bizarre to folks in the US who tend to know the disease only by its exoticism and very real lethality.  In the US, you likely don’t know a soul who’s been sick with malaria, you’ll protect yourselves with prophylaxis when you travel to a malarial zone and you hear repeatedly about the millions of children who die from this disease every year.  What’s kidogo about that??
What you don’t hear is that with timely and proper treatment it’s basically like a bad flu that resolves itself remarkably quickly.  Almost everyone here has gotten malaria several times and some don’t bother to call out sick from work when they have it.  I don’t want to minimize how lethal it can be for those with weak immunity and no access to treatment, but the same holds true for the flu.  (Of course there are rarer forms of malaria, like cerebral malaria, that are a hell of a lot more serious than the flu.)
Luckily, Caleb has parents with means and a UN doctor a stone’s throw from his house.  He received an injection of drugs that morning and was transformed back into a giggling toddler by the afternoon.  It’s still no fun of course to watch your baby in pain, and we’ll do everything we can to avoid his getting malaria in the future.  Even malaria kidogo. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gift's graduation

We had a very full weekend last weekend starting with attending our neighbor Gift's graduation from Standard 5 (5th grade).  Gift is Caleb's closest friend and biggest fan.  She's like a big sister to him. So, we were thrilled to attend her graduation and Caleb, as usual, was a big hit.  When we walked in with Gift's mom, the school Director who was also acting as an MC said something about how wonderful the day was and how great it was to have people here from "all over the world." I waved to the audience in response. ; )

I imagine the children prepared for this ceremony for weeks and there were events spanning poetry recitations, dance performances, speeches and - yes - a fashion show.  In typical African style, the ceremony was scheduled to start at 10 AM, but by 11:30 had not yet begun.  The guest of honor, a Ministry of Education Official, arrived a few hours late and so the Director had the students repeat several of the performances for him.  We left before the whole thing was over at 2 PM because Caleb was pooped. 

But other than being simply long, it was actually a wonderful day.  The dances were great fun and the poems were sweet and it was nice to be among families celebrating their children.  Here are some pictures:

Caleb and Gift with her classmates

Gift's dance performance

The guest of honor arrives

Gift on the "catwalk"

Tiny graduates

Sunday, November 21, 2010

What do I mean by "research on development projects" anyway?

So I’ve explained that IPA does “research on development projects” to understand what kind of an impact they are making and why that is important to do.  But effectively what all this “research” means is that we hire people to go out into the surrounding villages and survey folks they find on just about anything – spending habits, planting habits, household income, attitudes about sex and gender, how often they/their family has been sick in the last month etc…   IPA then does an intervention (a discount for fertilizer, a savings account, installation of a chlorine dispenser) and then resurveys the households to see what how much has changed  among those who received the intervention compared to those that did not.  To grossly oversimplify. 
But the point is the surveys are often the crux of the research.  Most of IPAs 200 employees are surveyers or “enumerators” and the bulk of daily activities have to do with organizing trips to area villages, tracking down respondents and completing as many surveys as possible.  It’s a herculean task and most projects have thousands of respondents and dozens of enumerators.  With this much data if the project is having an effect, they should capture it. 
I’ve gone out into the field with a number of enumerators and I’m always amazed at the willingness of villagers to sit down – sometimes for up to three hours – and talk to virtual strangers about intimate details of their lives.  If the same surveryer came to a house in the US and asked if they could come in and talk about your savings, income and spending habits for around 2 hours, they’d get door slammed in their face about 90% of the time.  Maybe the odd lonely elderly person would acquiesce to a discussion, but that’s about it.  You simply couldn’t do this kind of research. 
But in Kenya, if you can find someone, they will talk to you.  I think this is largely a result of a culture of hospitality and maybe a bit of deference to a large and well known NGO.  Maybe the small gift (salt or soap) we give them for their time helps.  Maybe a visit from a stranger breaks up the monotony of farm life enough to be worth the time.  Who knows?  But the IPA researchers have the luxury of collecting a remarkably high percentage of respondent data they seek. 
The other thing that makes all this extensive surveying extraordinary is the sheer ability to track down the same people for a post-intervention survey round.  There are no street names (or streets really), few people have phone numbers and people are often known by different names than what they tell you.  So, enumerators often have notes like “Just after the Funyula market.  Down the hill from the church. Ask for the late Moses Okweta’s house” to find a respondent. Again, the generosity of perfect strangers is a huge help.  The enumerators can be fairly sure that if they make it to the right village someone they meet along the way will act as their guide to track down the respondent. 
But the enumerators themselves are also quite incredible.  They often remember the exact location of a shamba and stop along the road at the right place even though there are no obviously discernable landmarks.  And despite having interviewed several dozens of respondents throughout the project, they remember and greet their respondents with inquiries about particular family members.  Again, I can’t imagine this happening in the US.
I keep thinking about the recent US Census.  A total of about 10 questions taking under 10 minutes, which required an extensive publicity campaign to get Americans to buy into the importance of doing so and to reassure them that their privacy and security would be protected. 
So, despite the slow internet connection, unreliable power and byzantine government bureaucracy, it’s definitely also a luxury to do research in this context. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

What on earth we're doing

In case I've been giving you the impression that Colin and I moved the family to Western Kenya to give Caleb superstar status in a small town, I'll set the record straight.  Colin (and soon I) are working at an NGO called Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA).  My elevator speech to someone unfamiliar with international development is that "IPA does research on development projects -- anything from health to education to agriculture -- to see if the programs are actually accomplishing what they set out to do." 

If someone seems interested for more (though this is rare, maybe I need to spice up my elevator speech...), I'll explain that it's run by a bunch of hot shot economists (the kind who win MacArthur Genius grants) who run "randomized control trials," in which randomly selected participants get the interverntion (like a subsidy for fertilizer or a HIV education class) and another group does not. This way, whatever positive outcomes accrue to the treatment group and not to the control group one can attribute to the intervention and not some other external event. Kind of like drug trials. The actual studies are inevitably more complicated than this, but that's the basic idea.

If this sounds too wonky for you, the greater context is that international donors have become increasingly cynical about funding development projects and one of the reasons is because decades of aid have shown such poor results (for a host of complicated reasons).  Add to that the fact that rigorous evaluations are relatively new to the development field and almost no one is doing randomized controls to test which strategies are working best - or even at all. 

So, enter IPA.  Using incredibly rigorous research methodology they isolate what's working well and what's most cost effective and then use the information to sway policy makers and to also scale up successful interventions themselves. 

Their research has also helped to put some theoretical international development debates to rest. 

Here's one example: Thanks in large part to Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, inexpensive treated bed nets have been heralded as the most cost effective way of reducing malaria - one of the main causes of infant mortality and also major drain on productivity in Africa.  Lots of enthusiasm was generated for the idea that if a bed net were provided for everyone, we'd see child mortality drop and also a development boon.
But the devil is always in the details.  This enthusiasm led to a glutt of bed nets in some places that were, in one notrious example, used as fodder for wedding dresses instead of their intended purpose.  So, economists came in wagging their fingers talking about market distortions and inefficiencies of free distribution and recommended setting a price for bed nets so that those who needed them most would signal so by paying for them.  And those that paid for them would also be most likely to use them most consistently and thus most effectively. 

But others argued that for a public good such as malaria prevention, where reducing the liklihood of contracting the disedase for one person has spillover effects for their neighbors, the most important thing is to maximize coverage and, just as importantly, that even modest cost sharing would prevent some of the most vulnerable from getting protection.

Both sides make some sense in theory, but IPA did the research.

IPA researchers gave bed nets to pregnant women in Kenya, some for free and some for a range of subsidized prices and looked at what happened.  They found that cost-sharing did not necessarily increase how consistently or well the nets were used nor did in increase use by those most vulnerable to infection, as compared to free distribution.  They did a good old cost-effectiveness analysis and showed empirically that cost-sharing is at best marginally more cost-effective than free distribution, but free distribution leads to many more lives saved. 

So, while the work IPA does is soemtimes hard to explain and not as immediately "feel good-y" as providing health care or education or micro-loans, their work is crucial to ensure that the "do gooder" stuff is actually doing good and that the work doing the most good reaches the most people.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Where on earth we live

Our house lies on a busy-ish road, teeming with all manner and speed of human and animal traffic. Slow rusty bodas (bicycles fitted with a cushioned seat for paying passengers), motorbikes, minivan matatus busting at the seems with people and packages all compete with a steady stream of foot traffic and meandering herds of cows and goats. It's an interesting kind of chaos, but it's hardly picturesque. 

But it takes only a few minutes walk to enter some of the most astonishingly beautiful landscapes I've ever seen, rolling green hills dotted with small shambas growing a patchwork of crops.  Driving through the countryside literally takes my breath away and inspires all kinds of romantic notions of giving up modern life for what appears (I'm sure falsely) to be idyllic farm life. The land is literally overflowing with the most varied vegetation in all shades of green rooted in a rich copper earth. Looking at the scene, the words "lush" and "fertile" pop into your head, completely out of your control. 

Many places of natural beauty in the US are such due to their sheer dramatic expansiveness - monochromatic vistas of evergreen, large and imposing mountain ranges, and even oceans of corn fields.  But the scene here is an amalgam of all variety of tree, shrub, bush and farm all working in complex and beautiful harmony.  It's wild interspersed with tame, and the human footprint of shamba and storefront seems to coexist peacefully with the ancient and feral land.

Now, I know there might be environmental impacts that my lyrical musings miss, and I don't want to over romanticize what I'm sure is an arduous farming existence.  But I love that I can stare out a window or walk through shamba path and drink in the natural beauty that hasn't been conquered or controlled by and even seems to flourish alongside and as a part of human activity. This is not something I often experienced in the US.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tantrum trauma

While Caleb is not yet two, he's firmly in the "terrible toddler" stage and can already throw a mean tantrum.  Now, a powerful tantrum is not easy to deal with in any context, but when you're in another culture that doesn't necessarily see children and child rearing in the same way, you can add self consciousness to your frayed nerves during these outbursts. 

Maybe I'm missing something but I've never seen a Kenyan child throw a tantrum approaching the duration and fierceness of Caleb's, or a tantrum at all for that matter.  So, while we already attract an inordinate amount of attention simply because of our skin color, when Caleb is being ornery there's an even brighter spotlight on us.  Usually Kenyans are incredibly gracious and forgiving of his little outbursts.  When I apologize or try to make light of his behavior, I get: "It's normal" or "It's only this age," and surprisingly most Kenyans will just urge me to give in to whatever he's whining about.  "Oh, just give him the cookie" and even "Don't harass the child. Let him have the soda." 

All this indulgence comes as kind of a surprise as all my experience with children in Africa led me to believe that parents generally dealt with them rather harshly.  Maybe this comes at an older age or maybe they're making an exception for someone else's kid, or a mzungu in particular. But I've been led to believe that the seeming uncomplaining and obedient behavior among Kenyan children is the direct result of a healthy fear of a thwacking at home. Though I know from teaching in a Liberian school that this obediency unravels as soon as that threat is removed.

In any event, last night Caleb and I had dinner at a Kenyan friend's house, during which time Caleb threw a record amount of tantrums culminating in our early departure.  The only time he wasn't whining or complaining about something or telling a well meaning Kenyan adult "NO!!" as they tried to engage him was when he had nipple in his mouth.  To be fair, the poor kid was exhausted from an epically bad night and in no mood to socialize. But amid my attempts to quiet him and redirect his tantrums, it finally came.  This comment: "Is it true that in the US, people don't spank their children?"

So, I get it.  The implication being that if I simply "laid down the law" once in a while I'd have a much better behaved child on my hands.  Who knows? Maybe that's even true, but it's not the kind of relationship I want to have with my son or the lesson I want to teach him.  Coming from a culture that supports that decision and provides all kinds of advice and validation to one that seems to question it is disorienting to say the least.

And I'm really not judging the occasional thwacking. Hey, my own folks spanked us and we turned out pretty well adjusted.  And I'm sure there are plenty of American child rearing practices that probably seem cruel to Kenyans - like sleeping alone, letting them cry themselves to sleep or forcing them into a schedule.

To be fair, I'm not even sure if my main supposition is even true.  Maybe Kenyan toddlers misbehave just as much as Caleb - especially when they, like he is now, are sleeping badly and living in a new environment, and maybe I'm just not seeing it. 

I guess this whole experience is forcing me to finally, at the end of the day, tune out what everyone else might think about think about how I raise my little boy and trust my instincts.  That's a truly invaluable lesson.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Slowing down (or trying to)

As I was explaining to my sister what a typical day as a stay at home mom in Busia consists of (much like the last post), she listened patiently and then asked, "But what do you do when he's playing?"  That's a really good question!  I suppose my life is more Caleb-centered than it's been since maternity leave and I hadn't really stopped to think about my life here as independent from Caleb's. 

To answer her question: What I do is patiently watch him play, try to befriend any nearby adults, and practice some Swahili with the kids.  I take a photo here and there.  I come and go when I want.  I pretty much let Caleb and the weather set the schedule.

This attitude might seem totally type-B and carefree of me, but, trust me, it very much goes against my nature. I like having a schedule, detest feeling unproductive and am happiest when I'm busy.  But I'm slowly learning to go with the grain here.  I've had (and failed to keep) a New Year's resolution to "stop and smell the flowers" or live more "in the moment" almost every year, and this is the perfect opportunity to cultivate that ability.

And it's actually a lot easier to do here where the prevailing pace of life is just slower.

I just came back from a visit to the tailor who lives right around the corner. She was sitting on the stoop outside her shop with her children and nieces, much like I imagine people once did in small town America of the 1950s, just waiving to passersby who occasionally stopped to visit.  She's become a friend of mine and I joined her for a while and we watched Caleb play with the children.  There was a lot of silence, but none of it uncomfortable.  This too is a first for me.  The conversation was easy and free and I imagine we both just enjoyed taking in the scene, feeling the cool breeze and the delicious feeling of stopping for a while.  You know, smelling the flowers.  I might even get used to it for a while.

Busia playdate

Some shots of Caleb playing with his age-mate/BFF Isaac.
Caleb actually shares his things. But on his terms.

playing with the curtains at Msafiri

Caleb and Isaac attract another friend

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mama Caleb

Mama Caleb. That's what people call me.  Not only because they think my name, Kim, is weird (which they do) but because this is what's done in East African culture. You call a mother by the name of her first born.  I learned this the last time I was in Kenya, at age 20, and I remember thinking that this was just a sad, subjugating, anti-woman thing to do.  It stripped the woman of her identity and replaced it with something that put her squarely in a domestic role, defining her importance only in relation to her progeny. 

But now that I am "mama Caleb" I have to admit kind of loving it.

Coming from the US, where I felt my role as mother did not elevate me, but instead kept me from engaging fully in the activities - mainly work and the like - that seem to count most in society's eyes.  As much as folks will tell you that motherhood, like teaching and nursing, is among the most noble and  important roles, it seems like just a bunch of lip service at the end of the day.  There's little recognition for the intellectual and organizational skills and sheer intestinal fortitude the role requires.  No one's impressed at dinner parties when you say you're a mother, and the more children you have the less intellectual ambition you're assumed to possess. 

So, I guess I like that a spotlight is thrown on my role as a mother here.  Hell, the best and hardest thing I've ever done is to take care of Caleb, and I like that it's so inextricably linked to my identity here.  Maybe my 20 year old self would shake her head at that remark.  But what does she know anyway.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Typical day

Waking up with a long but empty day ahead of you, an active and temperamental toddler and in a foreign town where you know no one is daunting to say the least. So, I've been eager to settle into some kind of a routine. After only a week here, we've actually found a bit of schedule. It goes like this:

6:00 AM - (though this is often pushed back to 5:00 AM depending when the little monster starts crying) We wake, nurse, dress, have breakfast, play with trains and read books. At 7 AM I'm amazed to learn it's not actually 10 AM.

7:30/8:00 AM: We walk papa to work at IPA. We do the rounds of hellos. Caleb is usually pretty intimidated by the office staff and I sheepishly apologize for all his "No!"s when they and interact with him. But as soon as we leave the office, he lights up. He runs up to say "hi" to the security guards and tries to get them to play ball with him. Then we go to play with his little friend Isaac whose parents own a duka (shop) right around the corner from IPA. He's almost exactly Caleb's age, and it's a joy to see them follow each other around, and imitate one another.

9:30 AM: We head over to the one and only Busia daycare for an hour of playtime with some other little friends. The children range from ages 6 months - 4 years old. The kids his age play inside in a tiny room with almost no toys, but the older kids (3-4) have their outdoor play by the time we arrive and he usually joins with them. They indulge him and all seem to enjoy the novelty of a giggling white child stumbling after them as they run relay races, but I'm not sure how long this will last, or if it should. After outdoor time, he joins them for a snack of porridge (ugi) and biscuits, and then we make our departure.

This daycare situation is a bit tricky. I'm paying them 1/2 the months fee for our one hour visits. I'm trying to give him some social interaction, which he acutely craves, but I don't want to leave him there all day since I'm actually home all day. But I also don't want to reinforce the idea that he's special or different by making all kinds of exceptions for him. So, it's not perfect, but I'm trying to balance a lot.

Daycare is a new concept here, but born of necessity. The town is growing quickly and fast becoming more cosmopolitan. Many of the women work and can no longer rely on extended kin for childcare. Most who can afford it, hire full time caregivers, but they also bemoan the difficult of finding reliable help. So, Hope, this enterprising young woman who is trained in child development, opened up a daycare, which has quickly filled to capacity. It's lacking a lot, but the women there work really hard and the children generally seem happy when we're there.

11:00 AM: We visit a nearby pre-school during their outdoor time. Both the teachers and the children adore Caleb and they've begged me to leave him with them for the day. I keep insisting he is still too young. They turn some of his antics into lessons for the children. He was throwing rocks into a bucket of water one day and saying "oooh!" as he did it, to which the other kids would respond "ooh!" and laugh hysterically. The teachers said, "yes! You see? A, E, I, O, U. Ooooh, is the U sound."

11:30 AM: We return home to play with toys, read, color, sing songs with Jane and then eat some lunch. Usually an egg or some pasta and some fresh fruit. Papa tries to join us most days.

12:00: Caleb takes his first bath of the day. He needs it! And every Kenyan has told me to bath him during the day and before his nap to help him sleep. So far, it's worked really well!

12:15 PM or so: Caleb takes a 1.5-2 hour nap. This week, I've been taking this time to meet with some of the IPA staff and learn about their projects to suss out possible future work. I've learned loads and enjoyed the adult conversation immensely, but it's definitely enough to fill another post, so I'll leave that for now.

Afternoon: These are less structured. We'll usually have a little adventure, like heading to town on a matatu or to the market or simply searching for new friends. This is VERY easy. We just step outside our house and we find children walking home from school in their brightly colored school uniforms. In case they don't notice him (no threat of that), Caleb typically runs in the direction of anyone under 4 feet tall screaming "hi! hi" and he has instant playmates for at least 20-30 minutes.

6:00 (sometimes earlier): Papa comes home for dinner. These have consisted of anything I can scrable together with vegetables, eggs, rice, flour and pasta using two burners and a toaster oven. Mainly, it's stir fries, pasta, scrambled eggs and pancakes. Sometimes Colin will bring food home from "Msafiri" the little ... 'restaurant' is probably conjuring the entirely wrong image... It's more of a food stall with some tables and a hand made poster menu taped to the wall. We usually get chapati, rice, sakumu wiki (greens), kachumbari (tomato/onion salad) and lentils. All cooked in fat and delicious!

We can pretty much expect the power to cut out at some point in the night, so some of the eating, cooking, storytime, we'll be done by lantern light. When the lights go out, it usually terrifies poor little Caleb, but he's never far from our arms and we quickly reassure him and find a new light source.

7:00/7:30: Caleb finally falls asleep. We put him in his pink crib, make sure his bednet is secure and pray for a restful night.

Colin and I don't stay up too much later since we're both so pooped most days. We don't have a TV and streaming videos eats up a lot of expensive bandwidth. We read, catch up on emails and with each other. We've gone to friends houses twice, one time we even left Caleb at home with Jane. And I, for one, soak in and relish the adult conversation. But nightime is pretty tame most of the time, which is
a good thing considering our days are so full.

This is probably more than anyone wanted to know. But now you have an answer to the "What does a typical day look like?" question.

I'm guessing a "typical" day will evolve as I find work, but so far I'm really enjoying my stay-at-home mom typical day in Busia Kenya.

Monday, October 11, 2010

First Impressions

How do I feel about living here? When I'm in a good mood, everything is an adventure. Every exchange a chance to learn about another culture and practice Swahili. Every harrowing journey a good story for the folks back home. Not having any work to go to (and, with domestic help, little to do at home) is freeing and means I can enjoy precious time with my rapidly growing Caleb.

But when I'm feeling down or far from home, it all feels a little too alien and I feel a creeping purposelessness. Walks around the neighborhood and to IPA become reminders that I'm the only one here not working and that I have no one who I can truly call a friend to visit.

I know that these things will change with time and I try and remind myself that my enjoyment here is in good part all about my own perspective.

While we don't have easy access to old friends and modern conveniences, we live in close proximity to abundant natural beauty and people who are curious and eager to know us and who will teach us new things. I miss the convenience of getting around in a car, predicatable access to hot water and consistent electricity, but our lives here leave a much smaller environemental footprint. I miss cooking (and eating) any of our favorite foods and the ability to decorate our home to suit our tastes and lifestyles, but I have to admit I enjoy never having to make our bed or do our laundry.

Caleb seems incredibly happy for the most part, looking for goats and chickens and playing with the neighborhood children. He doesn't quite understand what all the excitement is about or why the children come running from all directions once any of them have spotted the "mtoto mzungu," but he's sure something fun is going on and he lights up around the children here. As trepidatious he is around the adults - many of whom want to grab him from my arms - he's doubly excited around all of the children. In fact, he runs towards them enthusiastically waving his oustretched hand and screaming "Hi! Hi!" which just about melts my heart.

The kids here think everything he does is hilarious (and I totally can't blame them). I overheard one of them saying that the "mtoto mzungu" .... "kama ngombe" (the white kid walks? like a cow) since he's not yet as good as most of the kids at navigating the craggly dirt paths. But mostly they're charmed by his brazen enthusiasm and chuckle at his excitement over chasing cows and chickens. So, he's still an anomoly and ends up looking like a tiny pide piper when we try and walk anywhere, but I know as the novelty wanes he'll find some consistent little playmates who stop seeing him as diiferent and just play together as children.