Travel

One-Way Ticket

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I’ve flown out of Nashville hundreds of times before, but this flight was different for so many reasons. It was a true departure without a return. A one way ticket to the next wild and uncertain season of my life. (In case you read last week’s “Bookends” post, this is the second bookend I was referencing).

Though it's only been a couple of months that we've known that the Bay Area would be our next stop, James and I have know for the last year that something was brewing inside of us, which might necessitate a move out of Nashville. I just can’t quite believe we are actually doing this.

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During the first days of Blood:Water, Roger Parrott, president of Belhaven University, asked if we would rather be a motorboat or a sailboat. A motorboat gets you to your destination quickly but doesn’t require much skill. A sailboat requires teamwork to operate and sometimes you have to be willing to change direction or make other adjustments to find the wind.

That’s how I believe we are supposed to move in our personal lives, as well. We must remain fully surrendered to where the wind will take us, not where we want to force it. Sometimes the patterns of our sailboat don’t make sense; sometimes it feels like there is no wind at all. And sometimes the wind carries us somewhere we never saw coming. But if we fully surrender to and trust the wind, we are sailing exactly where we should be. That doesn’t mean we let go of the mast and say, “Good luck, hope we don’t capsize.” It means we work the boat and sail into the direction into which we are led.

After a lot of prayer and hard conversations, James, Jude, and I are setting sail to northern California. I have never been more grateful for living in a day and age where technology allows me to telecommute. I will still be involved in Blood:Water, visiting Nashville and Africa often, all the while promoting my memoir. But my day-to-day work will be done in The Golden State. James has accepted the principal role at the Skoll Foundation in Palo Alto. The job will (should be) less demanding than what he’s been leading over the last six years. The pace we have been running is simply unsustainable if we want to be healthy and present for each other and for our son. We need to catch our breath.

The leaving is not out of an inherent desire to leave. It is out of a hope that a new location in proximity to family, to the beautiful outdoors, and to occupations that won’t occupy the whole of us will help us build and develop the muscles of a whole person that have atrophied over the years. That our marriage can find its way back to adventure and romance amid the diapers and the logistics of toddlerhood. That to take some of the edge off 24/7 responsibilities and 100+ days of travel a year will help sustain us through this season so we can come out of it full and ready to take on the next big, audacious goal. That somehow we rest, even if just for a season.

That way when the wind blows again, we are ready to surrender and follow.

 

P.S. I'm sure I'll will be posting more about this transition and our new life in California. Stay tuned.

Pap Camp

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Earlier this month, James and I were in a bind. James needed to be in Kenya during the same time I needed to be in Los Angeles. For the first seven years of our marriage, this was not a problem. But now we're parents, it's not so simple. What were we going to do with Jude? Enter Pap Camp.

That's right - Jude's Grandpap (and Lovey) said they just happened to be taking enrollments to camp at their home in San Diego during the very week that we needed help! Luckily, we got our application in on time and there was one spot open for a 15-month-old boy! Jude and I flew to San Diego to drop him off at his very first camp. We couldn't believe what we found.

Okay, first - here were the camp counselors for the week.

Here's Lovey greeting Jude at the airport.

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And here's Pap. (We made sure that Jude came with his camp uniform: a smaller version of Pap's blue polo shirts):

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Okay, now onto the Camp itself. We took a tour of the facilities, and I mean, are you kidding me? #BestCampEver

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I was sad to say goodbye to my baby, but I felt pretty comfortable heading up to L.A. for a few days while he attended his first camp. The photos that the counselors sent along the way confirmed that he had a pretty grand time.

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Daily walks to Mission Bay (by way of wagon) to swing, play in the sand, and blow kisses to all the strangers.

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Afternoon playtime indoors in Jude's Clubhouse.

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Lunch dates with matching polos.

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Putting on Pap's hat and cheering for himself each time.

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I came back to pick Jude up from camp, and he wasn't very interested in leaving. Thanks for an amazing adventure, Pap and Lovey! We can't wait to come back again!

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Just Passing Through

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As I spent the week in Haiti, the consistent narrative in my head was the theme of just passing through. I was coming as a tag-along (with a family foundation on whose board I serve) to a country I have never been, nor spent much time learning about. My interactions would be brief and superficial. Passing.

So in moments when I could go one step further to truly get to know someone or stay out later with the team, I declined. I'm passing through, I thought. Save for the dramatic impact of the 2010 earthquake, I am clueless about the cultural cues, political realities, historical wounds or triumphs that inform Haiti today.

But in the experience of visiting a country that is unfamiliar to me, and in this arms-distance attitude, I am surprised by one overwhelming distinction of this trip compared to my recent visits across Africa:

felt so much.

I saw poverty with fresh eyes. And injustice. And babies and their mamas. And mountains and a bay of water. Cinder block homes and scrambled roads. Sunsets, colors, vibrant urban life. Spicy food and rainstorms. I could feel Haiti in a way that I haven't been able to in Africa due to a familiarity that numbs the sensations of place.

And as a new mother, I could feel the protection and love I wanted to extend to the twin babies in the safe house on the border of the Dominican Republic, and to the teenage girls who are growing up together in the safety and care of the transitional home and for the baby girl the same age as my Jude who was in physical therapy to build muscle in her atrophied legs.

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My greatest tour guide of the week was Haitian author, Edwidge Danticat, as I read her memoir, Brother I'm Dying. I felt her every word, sentiment and description of her home country, even with as passing a visit as I had. There's a whole layer of human and familial suffering that I don't know from personal experience, and I am soft, not exposed enough to know if I could be as resilient as so much of humankind has had to be.

But I fly home with the sense that maybe my visit to Haiti has and will impact me more than I'd like to let on. I can't seem to shake it like I thought I would. I sit with emotions I can't identify.

Maybe there was a room that needed expanding or reorganizing. I'm moved and vulnerable in it. I want to go home and hold my baby fiercely to my chest and never let him go. I want to look James in the eye and remind ourselves that the three of us are the most precious gifts we have for each other in this passing life. And nothing should cause us to forget that.

In a world as wild and unpredictable as the one we occupy, the only way to navigate it and make meaning in what we encounter is by holding closely to each other, and then being willing to continue to give ourselves away so that other families can do the same.

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Graced with Second Chances

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Betty and Teddy (on the left) are the leaders of our partner ACT Ethiopia. Nadia (on the right) is my Nairobi-based colleague. 

My short trip to Addis Ababa was powerful in so many ways. It was my first time to back to visit a Blood:Water partner since I was pregnant with Jude in 2013. It was also my first visit to Ethiopia - and to see the work of our HIV support to our partner, ACT Ethiopia. I had the gift of walking through Suki, being welcomed into the homes of new friends and hearing their brave and remarkable stories. I have so many to share, but here are a few remarkable people you should know.

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Suki is an informal settlement on the southwestern edge of Addis - where most residents of the capital city have never heard of - it's a dwelling by default, because there is nowhere else in the city to stay. The families here are dramatically overlooked, and those who are HIV positive have endured traumatic experiences of loss, abuse and isolation.

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Meeting Ehetenesh nearly broke me.  She is an HIV positive single mother of two small children. One night, a man came into her home with the intent to sexually abuse her 3-year-old daughter, and Ehetenesh offered herself as a substitute for her daughter. She became pregnant with twins, and endured a bought of tuberculosis during the pregnancy, which caused her to lose one of the babies. The surviving twin, Yonathan, is now 10-months-old and still HIV-free.

Ehetenesh acknowledged that cannot speak regularly of these past experiences because she does not want to hate her baby. I couldn't blame her.

"I am a free woman," she said surprising me with her resilience, "both physically and spiritually." Ehetenesh is an active member of the ACT program and receiving HIV treatment. "The support group really cares for one another. They cared for me when I was sick. They packed lunches for my children and took them to school. I thought the community would stigmatize me, but they have been helpful and kind."

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The next day, we met Alem, a 45-year-old widow with a 9-year-old boy Tigstu (means His Patience) and a 4-year-old girl Banchamlak (means By Your God). Both children are negative. They live on a mountain community next to Suki, called Fana. Alem has received care through ACT over the last two years. Her CD4 was 140 and it's now up to 360.

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"I used to be beggar. I couldn't help my neighbors or be a part of the community. But now I am well, I am weaving baskets and baking injera to sell in the area. I can now be a part of the community, I can attend funerals, I can help the sick." Alem's faith in Jesus is her rock, giving her the confidence that she can face anything. She has become an ambassador in her neighborhood, visiting others and encouraging them to get tested for HIV.

Alem's hope for her future is that her children continue with an education and that they thrive. Alem has requested that the blood:water community remember her and her children in their prayers.

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While ACT's primary beneficiary is the HIV-infected and affected family in Suki, they are also focused on the well-being of vulnerable non-HIV families, especially in the areas of malnutrition and mental illness. Dejene & Asalefech are not HIV positive, but their two week old twin boys (Isaac & Nathaniel) were only 1kg each. They were severely malnourished and they searched for help for two weeks, eventually learning about ACT.

The ACT team has been providing formula, water purification packets and other basic resources that the family has been needing. Four months later, the twins are healthy, vibrant and full of life. "We were so worried about our babies," the father said. "Thank you for what you have done, and thanks to God that we can praise Him as our children are getting better."

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This photo captured their reaction when we asked them to smile for the camera and think about the moment they first met. It's possible that Nadia and I both cried.

When Fantaye's first husband died, she feared that it might be HIV. Eight years ago, at the age of 52, she met and fell in love with 60-year-old Kombi-Ketere. She attended a health and water treatment education outreach hosted by ACT and she learned about ACT and their testing services. When she tested positive, she told Kombi (who was negative), and contrary to most spousal reactions of rejection and abandonment, Kombi held her. He feared that if people found out Fantaye was positive, that people would try to separate them.

He suggested they leave Suki and hide away in his family's village so they do not lose each other. This demonstration of love is like nothing anyone has seen before. When the ACT nurse Hiwot began working with them, she assured them that they didn't have to disclose any information to the community and they could stay together. They continue to monitor Fantayes's health and provide support to ensure that it is not transfered to Kombi-Ketere.

Fantaye feels significantly better since starting ART and ACT gave her a watch to help alarm her when it's time for her to take her medication. "Because of God and ACT, we are well. Our medical and food expenses are covered. When we are facing challenges, they are praying for us. We are living full of joy, love and comfort. This organization has helped us so much. May The Lord bless you for all of your efforts."

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I have taken in a lot this week: the horrific combination of HIV/AIDS and abject poverty; the social isolation of stigma and fear; the overwhelming stories that tempt one to question the goodness of God; the transformative power of social workers and nurses who walk with those who feel as though they have no one to go to; the Lazarus effect of bodies and souls that rise with access to medication, nutrition, education, acceptance and community; and the lasting belief that everyone - no matter your story - should be graced with second chances. I am so proud of Blood:Water's choice to champion a partner and a community that go - and stay - in the hard places.

Best friends, Elephants & 84 Steps

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After a 24-flight delay (thanks to two dramatic inches of snow in Nashville), we finally embarked on our first trip to Kenya as a family of three. The only benefit of traveling with a baby (and I promise, there is only one) is that they put us in the bulkhead where there was more leg room in front for Jude to move around. A baby bassinet hangs from just below the TV - but Jude was a little too big to fit comfortably in the makeshift crib. So he ended up on James' lap for most of the 20+ hour journey (Saint James). IMG_9714

And after flights from Nashville to Detroit to Amsterdam to Nairobi - and after forgetting to pack CASH for visa entries - we made it! (And so did that other guy).

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By the way, who gets on a plane for a month to Africa with only $47 dollars in her wallet? Yep, that crazy lady with a stuffed giraffe hanging from her side. Thankfully James happened to have some random Kenyan shillings to cover our difference.

We spent Sunday getting acquainted with our Airbnb furnished apartment and reuniting with one of my best friends, Autumn, who is joining us for the week during her R & R from her intense humanitarian work in South Sudan. James introduced me to some other working moms he knows through his NGO contacts and arranged for driver and nanny support while he works from Lwala. We oriented ourselves to the peculiarities of the water pump and heater, the occasional power outages and the 84 steps (yes, I counted) that it takes to get up to our top floor apartment. Here is our view from the patio:

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Dealing with the jet lag with an eleven month old has made that previous international flight feel quite mild. An upside down clock for a baby is not something you can reason your way out of. So each morning, Jude and I have been walking down the 84 steps and across the street to a nearby cafe to shake off the long (or rather, short) nights. At that time of day, the air is a perfect 60 degrees before the warmer sun comes out.  Jude has won over our regular waitress, Jane, and he loves to interact with anyone there who will give him attention.

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Which is why he was in extroverted baby heaven when the Kenyan national rugby team showed up for an early breakfast yesterday!

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Scrambled eggs AND rugby players who think he's cute? What more could baby Jude ask for?

 

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Well, how about playing with baby elephants?

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Autumn, Jude and I visited the Sheldrick Trust where there is an elephant orphanage, and an opportunity to interact with the baby elephants. It was such a great experience - an intimate hour-long program that allows you to learn about the protection and preservation of wildlife, and to see (and touch) the 30 elephants in their care.

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Their skin felt like you were touching a dirt path. Not so sure if Jude was truly taking this in. (He'll probably love to see these pictures of him when he gets older, right?)

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So if the baby elephants weren't enough, we thought we would stop by the Giraffe Center to feed the giraffes. It's a delight to get to be so close to them. Jude wasn't as delighted, but I'd say he was cautiously interested.

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Oh, and it was such a gift to share the experience with Autumn. For so many reasons - but shared histories and common passions in the world make for rich and enduring friendships.

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Besides enjoying the elephants and giraffes, it's been lovely to catch up over meals together and enjoy the familiar company of a dear friend.

It's possible that Autumn and I were more excited about the excursion than Jude was because when we got home, Jude returned with great vigor to his favorite activity: blocks in a can.

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So, I didn't remember to bring any cash for our month in Kenya, but I did, however, find a way to pack Jude's can and blocks from Nashville. (Saint Jena).

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Kenya Beckons

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I'm not quite ready, but in less than 48 hours I will be boarding a plane to head back to Africa - after nearly two years of being stateside. I knew that having a baby was going to change my life, but after traveling to Africa every three months for TEN YEARS (!), it was a major adjustment to be so homebound. Prior to pregnancy, there was a rhythm of life that I had established - one foot rooted in my Nashville life, and another in my African (mostly Kenyan) one. But over the last two years, I have had to adjust to a new rhythm - one that holds the fort down, whether in the home or in the office while I have sent James or my Blood:Water colleagues to the places I love the most. It's been sobering to watch my them travel to and fro, feeling both joy for their opportunities and jealousy as I felt like I was missing out. I've had to wrestle with questions about my identity without that consistent African rooting, alongside the addition of my added identity as mother. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have been given so many new experiences, joys and adventures by way of ushering a new life into the world.

This is the last time James & I were in Africa together (Cape Town, South Africa 2013)

So, now the time has come for my return. And I am different now. James and I will be returning, not as two, but as three. I will no longer be called Anyango or Nyakenya. Instead, they will call me Mama Jude. And I am proud of that name, but I am still getting used to it. I think Kenya will feel different for me now. I have never felt as vulnerable as I do now as a new parent. Or as cautious or unadventurous. (Don't get me wrong - taking our 10-month-old to Kenya is certainly going to be an adventure - but I feel less wanderlust and more circumspect. I feel more exhaustion in anticipation for long plane rides and jet lagged nights, too!).

But I am also so excited to bring Jude to the place that his dad and I love so much - to introduce him to another part of the world (I'll have to take a lot of photos since he won't actually remember where he'll have been). It will be Kenya light - spending most of our month in a nice apartment in Nairobi, working remotely and reconnecting with old friends. My dear friend Autumn will be joining us on her R&R from South Sudan for our first week, and I will get to visit some Blood:Water partners in Lwala and Ethiopia, as well. And maybe we'll take Jude to the giraffe manor. I bet he'll love it.

We're scrambling and packing and my heart is full of anticipation and joy because the time has finally come - Kenya beckons!

p.s. Baby Jude got his first haircut today to be ready for his big adventure. Cutie pie.

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Travel Photos: Bring Your Baby to neW{y}ORK Week

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Last month, James and I had several work reasons to be in New York so we thought we’d see what would happen if we brought five-month-old Jude along with us. It’s certainly work to bring a baby in tow, but we had a lot of fun together as a family. Here are some photos of our 5-day trip…

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The perks of two parents being Platinum on Delta? “Free” floor space to kick around in. You’re welcome, Jude.

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Early lunch in New Jersey at Van Gogh’s Ear Cafe. Cool vibe, yummy food. James & I recommend the Brie + Apple Pizza or the Foccacia Pizza Salad.

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Jude recommends Sophie the Giraffe.

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We went on to Rockaway, NJ where Blood:Water and I presented at this year’s Collyde Summit. The theme was “Overcome.” I shared about what it looks like to stay with the commitment to justice even on days when you just don’t feel like it. (Jude hung in the back with James).

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Here’s my colleague, Michael, introducing our Give.Hope.Kits for churches to use this Christmas to help bring clean water through biosand filters.

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From there, we took the train into New York. Despite sticking to our carry-ons only policy, it was still cumbersome to get everything into the packed train and then cram our way through the subways…

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… but we eventually made it to our favorite little hotel just outside the city.

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Obligatory walk to our Venezuelan favorite, Arepas Cafe. Black beans, plantains, avocado, yum.

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Jude was spent. Note how he fell asleep mid-teething toy.

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The next morning, we went to James’ old church and then visited our Charity: Water friends, Scott & Vik Harrison, so we could meet each other’s babies.

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We swapped stories about adjustment into parenthood amidst high-demand & travel-heavy jobs. We marveled at how our baby boys have turned our priorities upside down, or right side up – in such a good way.

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James went on to some pre-meetings for the Clinton Global Initiative. Jude and I hung out at the hotel and cheered on the 49ers, despite losing to the Cardinals. (Colin Kaepernick is the one with the football; Jude is the one with the musical whale).

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Dinner with Uncle Milton and other members of the Lwala Community Alliance.

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The next morning, James and I dropped Jude off with a babysitter at a subway corner where they walked through the park and along the river. We ran off to attend the Social Good Summit hosted by Mashable, the UN Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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The main theme was focused on innovations and hopes for the world we envision for 2030. Several influencers spoke about their vision. Here are NY Times’ Nick Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn sharing about how actions speak louder than hashtags. (Please note the irony in this photo).

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My BFF Melinda Gates was on stage discussing her Mothers & Babies initiative while TV show, Nashville’s Connie Britton finished speaking on women’s rights, as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN. (Making us proud, Connie!).

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Here was my stated hope for #2030NOW.

(And, that MOTHERS OF INFANTS GET MORE SLEEP. #TiredEyes)

James took meetings at the Clinton Global Initiative while Jude and I people-watched from the Sheraton lobby. The place was packed with heads of state, philanthropists, celebrities, NGO leaders and the press. It was a strange experience to be on the mommy/wife side of the equation.

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Actually, it was a stressful experience because Jude needed to both nurse and be changed, and I had been needing to go to the bathroom for the last several hours, but didn’t know how to manage it all in a stall of a crowded bathroom, all on my own. (How do New York mamas do this?!?).

Enter my dear friend, Ruthie McGinn, an immediate answer to a hasty, “Lord, I can’t hold any of it any longer” kind of prayer. Ruthie is Special Assistant to (my mentor) Gary Haugen at International Justice Mission, and she was in the lobby waiting to prep Gary for his meeting. She kindly became Most Special Assistant to Stressed Mama and Crying Baby.

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Ruthie gave me the key to her hotel room, and in the madness of it all, Jude and I found a bathroom and a haven.

And an amazing view.

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The next day, James went on to more CGI meetings while I participated in a maternal & child health gathering hosted by Johnson & Johnson. (We met another babysitter, this time at a Barnes & Noble, where she played with Jude in the children’s book section).

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Nobel Peace Prize Winner (and Vanderbilt grad), Dr. Muhammad Yunus: “It goes without saying, if you’re poor, you’re poor in health. If you’re a poor woman, it’s the worst.”

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My new Nigerian hero, Toyin Saraki: “As a pregnant woman, you cannot reach out for the help you need if you don’t know what that help is. Midwives in Africa are the key to providing that education, to allowing a pregnant woman to have accurate info on what will keep her and her baby safe. Lack of access to this information is simply another form of poverty.”

I’m so inspired to continue to advocate for safe mamas and babies through our maternal and child health work at Blood:Water.

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I rushed off to meet the babysitter, but we both got stuck on opposite sides of a 10-minute “freeze.”

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Meaning, President Obama was about to pass through (he was attending the United Nations General Assembly), so no one was allowed to cross streets or drive through a blocked off radius. I stood stuck in a frustrated human traffic jam for ten minutes. (New Yorkers are not accustomed to standing around).

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Once cleared, Jude and I met up with James in Central Park between his meetings.

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 And then Jude and I had a final date at Le Pain Quotidien before heading to the airport. We found a corner bench. Amazing avocado toast for me…

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…and, Sophie the Giraffe for Jude.

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It took extra coordination and energy to bring Jude along, but he was great company and he certainly added more joy and adventure to our traveling days.

- See more at: http://jenanardella.com/2014/10/travel-photos-bring-your-baby-to-newyork-week/#sthash.MxU9tLkF.dpuf