Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Equator Crossing, More Conversations With Josie, Trying To Find My Place - Traveling with Kids in Kenya

You know Josie is sort of my saving grace here right.  I feel bad complaining.  I just read this book today about the guys that founded this program...wow their wives did some amazing things with them.  Joe and his wife went to Afghanistan after he finished residency.  He turned down a cardiology fellowship at Duke to join the Peace Core and try and start a medical school in Afghanistan. The Peace Core gave him $75 a month and a bicycle for his trouble.  They had zero supplies and zero teaching materials.  Apparently he'd put together lectures and then had them transcribed out into Pashto so the students had materials to study.  The hospital had no supplies at all.  People just basically came there to die.  I read in the book their house was always covered in dust and he told me that there were no stores to buy anything at.  They'd purchase food from farmers (when there were crops to be purchased) and even their furniture they had to make themselves.  He said they built a bed out of 2x4's and then had a man come and fill a big huge cotton sack with cotton as their mattress.  Bob, Dr. J's adviser, after his chief residency year where he worked something like 330 consecutive days, including the day his wife gave birth took his family of four to Haiti for a year.  She lived in a little hut with no windows, electricity, or running water.  I read that at night they would put the kids to bed and then play scrabble.  After that they'd turn off their kerosene light and hop into bed as fast as they could, trying to get under their nets before the bats would fly in the window.

My complaint..I'm bored.  Doesn't that make me seem incredibly shallow and pampered?  I had assumed most of my days would be spent trying to get food together and take care of the house.  Turns out I live in a compound where food, shelter, water, and house cleaning is provided.  It is nice in some ways, but in others it sort of feels like a cushy prison.  My children are getting stir crazy and I am along with them.  It seems like anytime they find something they enjoy I have to take it away from them.  One of their favorite things is playing in the canal/gutter that line our street.  I'll admit it makes me a little nervous when they walk the edge, especially since they get deeper as they go down the road but they love to slide into them and climb out of them and walk down them.  The problem is the other parents don't think this an appropriate way for our children to spend time so if they see my kids in the canal it really stresses them out.  I feel for them, especially since they have to live here for always and they are worried their younger children are going to fall in the gutter when they are not around and I'm just this weird interloper but I also feel for me, because my kids are going nuts.  The other thing they found particularly fun was hanging on the gate as Michael opened it and closed it for incoming cars.  It seriously probably wasn't the safest but people we are living in a prison of pampering.  Some of the residents here though got upset with Michael about it, as if it is his fault I let my kids do unsafe things so now I won't let them do that either.  It just doesn't seem right that he should get into trouble for my kids.  So instead we just walk the compound over and over and over. 

And I'm sure this makes me incredibly boring which is such a bummer.  Since Jill, Kristin, and Corrine left our table has been absent any extra interlopers so I eat most meals alone with just the kids.  It is sort of a bummer deal and yet I really can't blame people.  I mean first off the kids are crazy, Cheetah is always trying to run away, Peach always has her shoes off, Gigi won't eat with a fork and what do I have to contribute.  "I walked this compound twenty times today.  We pulled Guava off a tree.  I fought with the kids about how many movies they could watch.  I listened to a guard and a student from west Africa have a heated argument over the merits of polygamy.  (The guard, who is studying business, was for it.  He said it helped men deal with their biological imperative in a legal and safe way.  The West African who is a medical student in France and is just here for the summer to improve his English so that he can more easily work on a research project he is doing was against it.  He felt like it was degrading to woman and that men should be expected to behave better) "  I seriously have nothing to share.  There is a this super annoying girl here, I mean she just drives me nuts.  In fairness to her I probably am weighing too heavily  a rude comment she made the first time I met her, but even trying to ignore that, she just is a little bit of a pain and yet that girl is in much higher demand than I am when it comes to dinner/traveling companions.  It is enough to weigh a girl's heart down.  

My one shinning bit of life since the girls all left (Jill, Kristin, Corrine) is Josie and for the most part on the weekdays she keeps me pretty entertained telling me about Kenya, her family, customs, the novellas she watching, asking about the states...whatever.  So here is an interesting little side note on the dowry.  Remember when I said that dowry keeps a girl's worth, well it does for the family she is born into, but once the dowry is passed you essentially no longer belong to your family and none of that wealth or price should go to you.  Josie told me that it is even taboo to eat anything that was given as part of your dowry, to take anything that was part of your dowry, or to use anything that was bought with money from your dowry.  Once you are married you are expected to give up your family and to now belong to your husband's family forever.  I was talking to her about how someday maybe we'd have a little mother-in-law suite for my mom or mother-in-law to live in and she told me how much she wished that she could live with her mother again, but that it isn't possible.  "Isn't possible," I said, "anything is possible."  "No," she said, "not in Kenya."  I sort of had already known this.  Jill had told me earlier that a friend of hers who had married more than one wife whose 1st wife wasn't very happy about it had moved back with her parents.  Her parents let her come home but they were exceptionally liberal in doing this.  They were educated city people.  Back in the village this would almost never be allowed to happen because if you did allow your girl to come home the whole village would shun her and the rest of your family.  So this sort of leads to some impossible situations for woman once they are married.  They are given no wealth from their dowry and they can't go home so if things aren't great with the husband, if he wants to marry a second wife, if he is cheating, if he abandons the family, if he gets an STD, if he beats her, whatever the case, if you leave him or he leaves you very few woman are going to have any wealth or property and will not have anywhere to go.  I'm not saying that all marriage are unhappy or all woman need an exit strategy or anything like that, I'm just saying if your marriage is unhappy there really isn't an exit strategy.  So that is sort of a depressing side of Kenya.

People what am I going to do with my life?  Dr. J keeps asking me this question about our family, "What are we going to do with our lives?".  He is suppose to be finishing up his fellowship application if he wants to do fellowship and he just can't decide what to do.  Joe tells him he should just stick with primary  care.  His heart tells him he really wants to go closer to home.  His wife gives him a blank look and says, "What is it that you want to do?  I'm sure whatever it is you can make it work."  But the truth is his wife doesn't know what she wants to do with her life either.  There is so much need here and all over the world that I just can't be happy sitting here in the house trying to figure out how to rig it so that I can cheat and get Pandora and Netflix.  I said to Dr. J, I really think it is time for me to go back to school.  I need to get a degree in nursing, or be a radiology tech, or nutrition or something because just being this useless lump isn't helping anyone.  

A few weeks ago one of our friends here was asking me for advice one how to help his kids deal with his impending divorce.  I shared the very few bits of wisdom I had and then listened as he sort of described the situation they currently found themselves in and as I listened a cold chill settled on my spin.  I think Mo told me that in their married life they had lived in 28 countries.  They'd done all kinds of amazing things, helped all kinds of people, won all types of awards and recognition but in all that time his wife had made their children her primary focus, and here is the truth people, someone has too.  I mean really, you don't do that kind of amazing time consuming stuff and have well adjusted kids by accident, someone really had to put the time in.  That someone was his wife.   But now the kids were starting to leave home, and maybe he wasn't as attentive as he should be, but she just felt like her life was empty because none of the achievements of their family were things she could truly own.  It is a balance people and I don't have any really great answers but I do know that when you spend your time surrounded by all these amazing and interesting people spending your days walking ten times around a compound just can't do it for you, it is not enough because you just feel like you are not enough, and there are so many needs.  You just feel like you need to do something.  So what should I do with my life? 

And on that sort of negative note please enjoy my family picture at the equator.  It took us about 1 hour to get there.  I'm fairly sure that this was the first time in my life I'd ever been in the southern hemisphere, weird but true fact about me.  How much cooler are my kids than me, they aren't even in double digits yet and they've already been on both sides.  There was a cute little nick knack store right here on the crossing but they had no one manning it so all we have to mark the occasion is this picture.  Here are my observations of being on the equator.  It is not nearly as hot as I thought it would be, but what do you expect when you are living at 9000 feet.  Weirdly enough even though we are just slightly to the north of the equator we are in our "winter" right now.  It seems to be driven more by when the rains come.  They are pushed by cool air, hence why our sweaters and long sleeves have actually been getting worn.  Even though the temperature is fairly mild the sun is pretty darn strong right here.  It doesn't take a whole lot to get burned.  One of the new guys was teasing another new guy about his safari hat.  We were like, "Nope he's the smart one, try and sunscreen those ears up so you don't get burned."  


  1. Ah, the joys of being the trailing spouse. :)

    I also dream of going back to school one day. When we can afford another round of tuition. Haha. But I have no idea what I'd do...so basically I don't know what to do with my life either. And Andrew has no idea what he wants to do when he graduates either. I've met few people who have.

    The last one was a super annoying 19-year-old girl who was assigned to our ward for a while. She had her whole life mapped out through law school and was so sure of everything (even though she'd done zero schooling since high school). She yammered on and on to me at a RS activity about how knowing what you want is SO important because then you just have to go get it. I just smirked at her because PLANS CHANGE! :)

    Sometimes I feel like taking care of kids isn't a big deal either. I feel like "a lump." BUT Andrew's great a reminding me that taking care of the children is a huge deal. Duke does a lot of research on that very thing, actually—how much stay-at-home parents contribute to society. It's super important. And you are raising wonderful people who will also do wonderful things.

    Too bad I couldn't come with you! Then we could laze around the complex together again (but at least have company—and double the number of crazy kids). ;) Seriously—being a trailing spouse is so hard. I totally feel your pain.

    Sometimes (like right now when Andrew's busily working on a grant proposal after spending all day working on campus and I'm utterly exhausted and feel like my brain has melted into a puddle of goo) I wonder what I did with my time. I supervised bike riding for a while. We had a friend come over to play (her mom—my friend—has a "preemie born" she's tending to). I took the kids swimming for a couple of hours. We made some bead pets. I read stories. Did a few chores. I AM EXHAUSTED. BUT I DID NOTHING.

    But surely I did something. Something of value. I'll just keep telling myself that.

    The value is certainly on a different scale than my husband's. We're not working in the same currency at all. But my work has value. And yours does, too.

    That isn't to say you can't go to school one day to do something to "contribute" to society. It's just to say that I think you're contributing more than you realize. (And this is something that I often have to take a deep breath an tell myself, too).

    Perhaps it's cocky of me but I often use the word "we" when talking about Andrew's schooling and I think I always will. "When we were in grad school..." Because, honestly, putting my dreams on a shelf to help his dreams come to fruition? That's difficult stuff. But you're totally right—someone has to be there for the kids. Someone has to sweep the floor. Someone has to force the other one out of bed when the alarm clock rings.

    I'm going to stop writing now. Just know that I totally get where you're coming from.

    One day you and I will get to go to school just like Bridget did! :) Someday. Somehow.

    My plan is two fold: 1) all the kids are in school and 2) Andrew has a job with tuition benefits. It's going to be awhile...

    Sorry I have no ideas for how to relieve your boredom from here. Sidewalk chalk? Crocheting baby hats? Or making linens for new babies? I don't know if they do that for hospitals down there—they certainly could have used some in Egypt (our sheets were gross and we had to bring all blankets ourselves—I don't know if that's how it works there and if it is...if people have trouble coming up with things (sounds like it's coldish)). I don't know where you'd get supplies...but surely there's a fabric market or something close by-ish.

    That's what I would do. Or work on baby books. Because so far I have NOTHING for my children. ;)

  2. This post resonates with me. I'm not feeling the lump-ish-ness right note but I have felt that before and probably will again. A while back, back when we lived in IL, I was like "wow, some of these book club ladies have been here for so kind and seen so many people come and go. Go from being their neighbors and Ward members to all corners of the globe. You could really spread a message that way. If you wanted to spread a message you would just have to tell it to every person and it would go all over the world." So then I got to thinking that I would be that woman someday, because Jacob wants to be a professor. I am going to be the professors wife, living in a college town where people come and go, come and go. So what would I share? I did some soul searching, came up with an answer, and that helps me live with more purpose.



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