Best friends, Elephants & 84 Steps


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).


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:


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.


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


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



Well, how about playing with baby elephants?


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.


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?)


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.

photo (6)


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.

photo 2 (2)

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.


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).


Kenya Beckons


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.

photo 2 (1)

What I Expected


On April 10, James and I welcomed our son, Jude Francis, into the world. It has been 11 weeks of wonderful mixed with a thorough helping of disorienting and, well, life-altering. I didn't spend very much time reading up on What to Expect while I was expecting but even if I had, I don't think you can ever really be prepared for what being a new parent requires. As I emerge out of the initial fog of keeping a newborn alive while trying to remain sane, I find myself laughing at the discrepancy of what I was expecting during maternity leave compared to what is truly was.


What I expected:In the weeks leading up to our due date, EVERY friend with kids told us to get as much sleep as we could because we wouldn't be getting it again for the next 18 years. I heard them loud and clear - I expected to be tired.

What I didn't expect:That the lack of sleep would cloud all parts of my life and make me feel crazy. Crazy tired, crazy emotional, crazy indecisive, crazy crazy. I mean, I haven't had more than 4 uninterrupted hours of sleep in 91 days (but who's counting?). I also didn't expect that eventually you really do adjust to being able to pretend to be a fully functioning person with so little reserves.


What I expected: I would have to feed the baby every 2-3 hours, even through the night.

What I didn't expect: "2-3 hours" is a euphemism for "All The Freaking Time". Let me explain: you count a feeding cycle just like a menstrual cycle (the first minute of the first feed to the first minute of the next feed). When each feeding takes 40 minutes, that's only 1 hour 20 minutes between feedings. Within that 1 hour 20 minute "break" I also had to pump to store milk for returning to work. So basically, I'm a sleep-deprived milk factory where every day feels like Groundhog Day.


What I expected: Just like every other baby, my baby would cry a lot.

What I didn't expect:That I would be the one crying more. The compounded nature of pregnancy, delivery, nursing, sleep-deprivation, raging hormones, and the utter loss of autonomy brought more daily tears from me than it did from my baby. I remember a few horrible nights when Jude was crying inconsolably and all I could do was to cry back at him. I may have even pleaded with him, hoping we could reason our way out of the long night. We were a hot mess.


What I expected:Twelve weeks of maternity leave would give me ample time to work on projects in the house, grab meals and coffee with friends, let me catch up on lots of books and Netflix, pick up new domestic skills like baking banana bread and taking trips to Target.

What I didn't expect:See points number 1, 2 and 3.


What I expected:Our friends with kids all said that parenthood would be the hardest job we would ever love; that we would find ourselves staring at our little one with wonder and delight; that we won't be able to believe how much we could love one little baby.

What I didn't expect:That they would be right. Cliches are cliche because they tend to be universally true. I don't even care that I get pooped on, puked on, spit up on - he's still the most adorable being in the entire world. I am head-over-heels in love with the way he falls asleep on my chest, and the way he squeaks when he eats, or how his chin quivers when he cries in a pathetic high-pitched wail. I melt in love when he smiles (especially when it's not gas), when he stares with fascination at ceiling lights and fans. I love his little "startle arms" that shoot up when he least expects it, and his big eyes with a look of surprise. I love wondering who he is and who he will become as he grows. I am crazy in love with this little boy and I can't believe it when I say that I would do it all over again just to experience the delight of my son.

If you've gone through something similar, what other surprises did you encounter in your first several weeks of parenthood?