Monday, April 13, 2015

Things I Didn't Expect to Experience in Kenya DISEASES

The title is a total bait and switch. This post is directed to those interested and worried about traveling to Kenya. I have written this email over 6x to people who have questions, maybe by posting this I can help someone who doesn't want to send a personal email. This is my healthcare experience in Mombasa, let's be clear, I am not referring to Nairobi which has even better care, climate and less mosquitoes...

Mosquito net Gwen
I expected to get malaria because the CDC, travel doctors, public health information, and non-profits have some pretty scary content floating around the internet. Malaria is a serious problem and I can testify mosquitoes are the worst insect ever. The thing is, no one mentions the disease is curable. Our malaria reality is very different from rural Africa. I understand the symptoms, know how to treat it, and I assume most people who read this also have the means to purchase the medication. My main message is malaria (and other diseases) should not scare people away from Kenya. Bamba water's accountant explains malaria like this, "You have malaria? Ok, good, you won't die." So matter of fact and it's a good way to sum up the disease. If you have any signs or symptoms of malaria, you can go to a local clinic, get an inexpensive blood test that takes 15 minutes, and the illness is treatable within 48 hours. It is deadly because people people go too long without treatment. I don't know all the reasons why people do not get antimalarials, but experience tells me it has to do with lack of education and cost (approx. $10). So next time you say you're visiting Kenya and you get the YOU HAVE TO TAKE ANTI MALARIA PILLS lecture, I am happy to share my "expert" opinion and ask a few questions, Have you ever read the side effects of antimalarials? Where can you get the most effective and inexpensive malaria medication? In the place it is most prevalent -- AFRICA, not American or Europe.  All of our American interns, fellows, visitors, and Kenyan employees are not on antimalarials. No one, let me repeat, no one has gotten the disease since we've lived here... yet. Knock on wood! Like all tropical climates, mosquitoes are pervasive, and malaria may strike us. If it does it will be similar to a terrible flu and we'll treat it accordingly.

Breaking the scale before immunizations
Travel Doctors
Sometimes I like to compare first-world travel doctors to third-world witch doctors, giving you antidotes for no apparent reason. I can't tell you how many of our friends and visitors come to Kenya with about $200-$700 worth of medications just in case. Or how many of our friends have cancelled trips because of travel doctors. I complained about this to our friend in medical school and he brought up a good point, "People who study medicine spend an exorbitant amount time studying Africa because it is where a lot of diseases started and are still prevalent." After talking to him I get where the experts are coming from, I'm just sensitive because of the cancelled trips and wasted money. Living in Kenya you realize most diseases are preventable with vaccines costing less than $5 or medications for less than $10. If you come to Kenya, get vaccinated, sleep under a net, and don't sleep around with prostitutes and you'll avoid most of the preventable disease in Kenya, and the rest of the world for that matter.

I don’t know much about the US Healthcare
system, and I will never complain about the care I've received back home, but the system of care we've received in Kenya has been wonderful. Ben's gotten the malaria/dengue test 3x, all negative. It is the routine thing to-do if you show signs of a fever. Ben's body has paid the price of eating street food and drinking dirty water, but most of his sicknesses were preventable. I haven't gotten sick, besides the runs and pregnancy, and I really enjoyed my prenatal care. I saw my doctor one-on-one at every appointment, never dealt with paperwork, nurses, and paid flat fee of $24. Gwen’s immunizations were $15. Whereas in the States her first round of shots were $300 and the next round $121. Back home, it seems like there is a lot of red tape between the patient and doctor. Then all the waiting rooms, labs costing hundreds of dollars (all telling me what I knew, no problemos) and waiting weeks to get the bill. In Kenya, all of our treatment, care, ultrasounds, labs have all been onsite and took very little time. Oh and I also got a 3D ultrasound for $43. The only tough thing is the language barrier. Like the time the nurse accidentally said the gender, when we told her not to! I thought she said boy, Ben thought she said girl, we left appointment angry and confused. Doesn't matter, Gwen is still the best surprise ever. Treatment in rural areas is different. Superstitions and weird practices are common, but Kenya doesn't lack good medical care. The best way to avoid getting sick is follow the three steps above and do NOT look at an itemized hospital bill back in the States. 

And the diseases our friends and interns have experienced start with a wicked case of pink eye, colds, migraines, diarrhea (prettiest word ever!), dehydration, we think measles (not sure, it cleared up in a few days), lice, and jet lag. Ok, lice and jet lag are not diseases, but they both stink. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I DID Expect to Have a Baby in Kenya

One of my favorite pictures, crowd around Gwen, hand on mzungu hair
Gwen has reach celebrity status here in Mombasa. I joke that we need to move back to the States because she receives too much attention. I guess the most obvious difference between having my baby in Kenya compared to the States is what Gwen assumes is normal, I find peculiar. She is rolling with the punches and loving it! 

I’m pretty sure in most cultures there is a certain level of machismo, but in Kenya babies make males melt. I love when men approach Gwen and act like fools. A few days ago, pulling out of our parking spot a Persian guy from our apartment asked if he could greet Gwen; we assented, and he hopped in our car gave her two kisses and continued to play with her. If that happened in the States it probably would have made me uneasy, but Kenya has made me soft.

I don’t think there are social norms when it comes to babies, besides people expecting you to allow them to do whatever they want with your baby. Friends at church explain that I am being selfish when I don’t share Gwen. People at my apartment, the beach, restaurants, will reach out expecting me to hand them Gwen. Sometimes I get the polite person who asks, “Can I carry your baby?” It took me a while to realize they want to hold Gwen, not carry her away. At first, I was skittish sharing Gwen with strangers, now when I recognize the glimmer in their eye I just give her up. Last Friday, I caught a women, with only her eyes peering through her niqab and abaya, staring at us. I approached her and handed her the Gooz. I thought the lady was going hug me out of gratitude as she started sharing details about her older children living far away. (This was also a good lesson on not being egocentric and assuming she was staring at my "immodest" swimwear and naked babe, all she wanted was to hold the baby). I hope this handing off is helping Gwen's sociability. 

One adjustment is people are very forthcoming with their advice and opinions. Steer clear of strangers in Mombasa if you are sensitive cause candid remarks about what is “wrong” is common. For Gwen and me, it is her birth mark, I don’t dress her properly, babies must wear socks, she needs to eat porridge, front facing baby carriers are bad for her legs, don’t let the baby cry, formula is dangerous, all mzungus look like boys, etc. I appreciate most of the advice from mothers because they are constantly reminding that Kenyans know to survive. I agree, and wonder how did babies ever survive without swings, hand sanitizer, white noise machines, etc? I should work on my patience with men as they share their two cents, in my head I am thinking Bwana you probably have a few children but I know your wife probably breastfed for 2 years, carried the babe on her back until it could walk, and you’ve never helped in the kitchen so please spare me YOUR advice.

I do love Sammy, because he loves Gwen and he made her a Maasai necklace.
I have had one breakdown since living here. One of the hardest days was when I “gave up” on mothers milk, I say gave up because according to the Internet, 90 year old women can magically get their milk back. When Gwen was 5 months I went from producing about 10oz of milk to 3-4oz, it was feast then famine for Gwen. She struggled with the transition. I researched and blew my friend’s minds pumping every two hours only to produce two bottles a day. I don’t know if it was the climate, traveling, moving, change of diet, but the only thing I felt during that transitional period was guilt. Totally over it now cause Gwenji is thriving, but it is those hard days, long sleepless nights, that make the distance between friends and family the hardest. I have also had to train myself by not yearning for the finer baby things Target and Amazon has to offer. American expectations, or maybe just mine, are unreasonable luxuries here. Kenya's physical environment, harsh climate, and people help make motherhood a humbling experience. I think raising a child is difficult anywhere, from fancy nurseries to dirt floors, it is hard work. At the end of the day I am grateful for a healthy baby and supportive husband. A family is all I have ever wanted and the love for children I've witnessed in Kenya is a constant reminder of the joy that comes from family. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Things I Didn't Expect to Experience in Kenya CITY MALL

When I went home to the States I was bombarded with questions about Kenya. I looked back on my blog and realized I mostly wrote about weekend getaways and work. I did a poor job communicating what resources are available i.e. organic baby food, favorable healthcare, and most importantly our friends. I want to finally be honest. This photo journal may not be pretty, but I want my family to have a better idea of whatlife is really like. One of the first things I did not expect to experience in Kenya was City Mall. It hosts three things I did NOT expect: Nakumatt, Creepy Muzungus (white people), and American Chains.

For everyone who thinks Kenya is all mud huts, this place will blow your mind. Nakumatt is East Africa’s largest supermarket chain.

Looks a bit like Target, right?

Who doesn't love an aisle dedicated to imported candy?

"Nakumatt chose to emulate an American icon: Kmart. On a visit to Florida in the 1980s, founder Atul Shah, a former mattress salesman, wandered into a Kmart and marveled at its cleanliness. He was so impressed at how the store sold food, household goods and furniture under one roof that he hung out there for hours a day for eight months. He became such a fixture that customers asked him for assistance." Source

The story is verified by a number of people. This guy was infatuated with Kmart and basically brought it to Kenya. Now you can buy a washer, big screen TV, meat, and Pampers all in one store. It has everything Ben and I every needed except for a Swifter. Kenya is so dusty we could really use a good mop. The only downside to Nakumatt is check out. You can be second in line and it takes 30 minutes. No joke. I stand there as sweat pools in every crevasse of my body just waiting there cash in hand. Check out is excruciating and I can finish a whole Sudoku game waiting for one person in front of me, and that is saying much since I am terrible at games.

CREEPY Muzungus
City Mall is where all the expats and creepy muzugus hang out. It is the place to be. To me it is very European to eat at the cafes under an umbrella for 3+ hours, I can barely handle sitting anywhere in Kenya for more than 45 min. The food isn’t that great, but they know how to make a good milkshake. More on that in a future post. Back to the weird muzugus. Besides the European transplants who sit there for hours on end sipping tea or coffee, enjoying a smoke, you’ll spot some peculiar couples mingling. I swear it is always a 60+ year old white man with a twenty something woman. And for some reason my apartment complex attracts the old women who date the thirty-year-old men. Don't worry it is not all sex tourism, I've inquired. It is the same story, divorced retiree comes to Kenya and gets a young lover, spouse, or new family. I get not wanting to be lonely and I am all for love, I just hope love is the reason people are together. I hate hearing stories like this one guy from Holland who was bragging about his three Kenyan wifes -- good for you buddy. Yes I am judging. I asked Mary, the maid at our apartment, what she thinks and her face crinkled in disgust, “It’s odd. You see in Kenya it’s disrespectful. If a women is older and her husband dies she is not suppose to marry again. And I don't understand why young women go for older muzugus. The men will die soon.” Well thats it, the men will die soon so all women should just give up on finding a rich, old mzungu. I love asking our friends their opinions. Mary also thought this is norm for ALL mzungus. Like if Mary went to the USA she’d expect to see most couples with a 20-40 year age difference. I set her straight. Kenya attracts some weird visitors and I guarantee they are NOT telling their family about their escapades. Not everyone does this but it is common enough I had to write about it.

Let the record show I AM a creepy mzungu creeping on these "couples"
Dem legs

American Chains
This is summed up in pictures. Dominos and Cold Stone for when we are really missing home or familiar food. Priced fairly large pizza about $14USD and small ice cream with two mix-ins $4. I wake up every Saturday excited knowing our family and the Fairbournes will be having an all American meal.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Malindi, Kenya

Spent the weekend in Malindi a few weeks back. It was a successful trip because Ben was healthy, unlike the last time we went there.

Vasco da Gama Pillar - said to be the oldest European monument in Africa 1498

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tiwi Beach & Shimba Hills Kenya

We spent the weekend in Tiwi with the Fairbournes, Leah, Tatiana, Kolby, and Lydia. I really appreciated our time in South Coast because Gwen and I got out of the house! Pictures below document some of Gwenji's firsts.

Gwen's first time in the ocean. The rays of light reflecting off the water was mesmerizing, she wouldn't look up. 
Thanks to Gwen's lovely schedule we get to witness the sunrise every morning

Shimba Hills hike
Family selfie

Trying to figure out this whole GoPro thing. Hoping to get better at videos this year.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Paris - La Ville Lumière

On our way back to Kenya we decided to take a break from traveling with Gwen, 24 hours of flying with an infant in lap was daunting. We justified stopping in Paris because of its price and location. 

Ben and I have shied away from traveling to the popular European cities because they tend to be expensive and lack outdoorsy activities. Everything I knew about Paris was from Sex and the City, history class, artsy people, friends who speak the language or want to be French (any place is more enjoyable when you can communicate). Here is the thing, as much as I love Carrie Bradshaw I have nothing in common with her. As we arrived in Paris, I was dying to know what the City of Light really had to offer.

I want to remember some of the conversations Ben and I had as we experienced the city. It happened more than once when we’d look at each other and ask, how? How?!...

Every morning I would walk to the boulangerie patisserie by our hotel order a croissant and point to two different treats to try (I lacked the courage to speak French, I am so self-conscious when it comes to languages). I would bring it back to the hotel, watch Ben as he tasted each item, wait for his approval, and we’d both always end up saying how are all of these so good? The croissants were so flakey and we'd get flakes everywhere; on Gwen’s head, our clothing, the stroller.

The streets of Paris are beautiful -- uniform and classic. There are some aspects of urban sprawl that Ben hates, so Paris was pretty much the antithesis of Ben’s disdain. Paris has also put some serious thought into lighting up the city and its buildings. Perfect lighting made it easy to take a lot of great pictures. We'd take pictures and wonder how are these turning out so well? Then joke oh yeah it's cause every corner cafe was picture perfect. I mean even the boats had great lighting. 

Notre Dame Cathedral 
One of our favorite things to do while visiting the churches and walking the streets was to think about how old everything was... This is older than the USA, than Christ, every thing we've studied is right in front of us, Napoleon himself probably walked these streets!  


At the Pantheon we sat down to take in how big it was and tried to think of a place like it in America. We couldn’t come up with anything. Then we started to think what if America tried to build something like the Pantheon? No game. How did people construct such incredible buildings in the early centuries?

Basilica of Sacré-Cœur

The Louvre was way too big. I have always heard it was a big museum, but come on. You could spend a week there and still not see or appreciate everything. My favorite thing about the museum were the rooms. They're huge and as impressive as the art pieces themselves. I loved seeing all the famous paintings. The Mona Lisa is smaller than I expected while other works are bigger than the apartment I live in. Nothing could have prepared me for The Wedding at Cana or Rubens' Marie de' Medici Cycle. I also enjoyed all the artists sprinkled about sketching other famous works of art.


Ben and I are happy to say people were remarkably kind. Our hotel and cafes were very accommodating as we rolled in with a bundled up baby and stroller. I think people really appreciated Ben using his broken French (Creole). We were able to communicate almost all of our needs and sincerely express our appreciation for the great serviced we received.   

There were references to the Charlie Hebdo shooting throughout the city. I think the terrorists hoped to propagate fear, but I didn't sense any breakdown in Parisian spirits.  

We were impressed with how easy it was to travel around Paris with an infant. The streets are wide enough for a stroller, people love babies and the extensive metro system made visiting every arrondissement easy. We did spend a lot of time carrying the stroller up and down the metro stairs, but two people carrying the Gooz wasn't difficult. Strangers were also helpful and willing to lend a hand.

I realized all my reservations about Paris were superficial. I was a wide-eyed tourist and left understanding why people adore this city. We hope to visit France again and take our time through more of the beautiful sites.