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.

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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.


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.

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The Friday Five: Ways to Defeat Jet Lag

After being back in the States for the last week, I have once again, overcome my jet lag. Here are five tips on how to defeat that awful jet lag. And yes, this photo is of me in Amsterdam on my way back from a trip last year. James was so kind to take this incredibly flattering photo of me.



1Move to the new time zone immediately

As soon as I board the plane, I change my watch to match the current time of my destination and do my best to mentally and physically follow whatever my watch says, even when it feels contrary to what my body says. I eat when it's mealtime, sleep when it's bedtime and force myself to stay awake if it's daytime. It's a shock to the body, but you can tackle the jet lag quickly if you fight it immediately.

2Arrive at night

The first time I flew to Africa, I landed at 6am. That day still goes down in history as one of the most painful experiences of trying to stay awake throughout that entire day. Ever since, I have chosen to land between 5-7p which allows me to simply get to my hotel, take a shower and go to bed. Same thing coming home, I try to land in Nashville no earlier than 4p to ensure that I only have to stay awake for a few more hours before being able to go to sleep.

3. Find a suitable sleep aid

Jet lag is nearly impossible to overcome quickly if  you continue to wake up at 3am and find it impossible to go back to sleep. A sleep aid allows you to ensure that you get the sleep that your body needs to face another upside-down day of jet lag. It's really important that you talk to your doctor about which medication is right for you for jet lag. I used to use Ambien, but it can be dangerous (just ask James about my hallucination experiences), so I recommend something less intense like lunesta, lorazepam or, some would say that melatonin works. But this is the most crucial thing I bring with me to Africa (second to my passport and malaria medication).

4. Get outside

Your body will adjust to the new time zone so much quicker when you spend your day in as much sunlight as possible. It allows your body (that is convinced that it's night) to be told by the UV rays that it is actually daytime. I have a much harder time adjusting back to the US in the winter because I am inside during the days when I return. In the spring and summer, I make sure to take long walks and sit in the sun as much as possible during the first couple of days upon my return. Exercise outside is a great way to help your body adjust.

5. Get Accountability

Whether it's a family member or a roommate, you need someone to help you defeat your jet lag. Left to your own devices, you will likely give in to the need to sleep at a time when it is least productive for your recovery. It's important to have someone who will make sure you wake up from your nap, who will keep you on your feet to stay awake through the hard moments and who will encourage you through the strange fog of crossed time zones.


What about you? Do you have any jet lag tips to share?



The Friday Five

Here are five photos to share for the week: 1. Marsabit District is populated by pastoralists who move around the desert of northern Kenya. The curved branches on the camels assemble into a dome, and they lay materials over the structure to create their homes.


2. AIDS Support Group in Torbi, Kenya. The woman on the very far right in the blue dress and gold earrings is Clara, our fearless leader and nurse who ensures that those who are HIV positive are receiving proper care and support.


3. Paloma Grace, our 4-month-old niece has made it strongly through an open heart surgery and another follow-up surgery. We are overjoyed to see photos and hear that she is thriving.


4. The Sound of Music (well, kind of). The wonderful group I traveled with to Rwanda all agreed that one of our co-travelers, Susan, looked and acted just like Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. We had just finished attending a special Rwandan celebration (note the lime green dresses) and went to Lake Burera for lunch. We had Susan, a guitar, a scenic background and "play clothes" and therefore couldn't resist staging this photo.


5. Community Health Visits in Lwala, Kenya. The woman in red is Lilian, a new mother of twins. The woman in the back is Sheila, the community health worker who has supported her through pregnancy, delivery and post natal care. The baby in the picture is Godfrey.


A Reason to Hold on to Hope

It has been so sweet to be back in Lwala. Of all the places that I travel, this is the one that feels the most like home. They affectionately call me Anyango Nyalwala - which means born in the morning, daughter of Lwala. It is the rare and beautiful place where my work, marriage and calling intersect with one another. I first stumbled upon this western Kenyan village in 2005 when two brothers lost their parents to HIV/AIDS, and I accompanied a friend of theirs to pay our respects. They shared with me their late father's dream for a clinic to be built in their home community. I looked across the plot of land where they hoped to someday build. This village was several miles away from any main road, without electricity or running water. I could not have imagined then, that I (and eventually my future husband) would get to be a participant in actualizing such a dream.

In the beginning years at Blood:Water Mission, we took a risk to seed fund the opening of the Lwala clinic and drill its first borehole. It was a bare-bones start, but the Lwala community pressed forward amidst a 24% HIV prevalence rate and one of the highest maternal and child death rates in the country. In 2009, they recruited James to serve as Lwala Community Alliance's Executive Director. Today, there are four American staff and nearly 100 Kenyan staff working to break down the barriers of extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS in this community. And slowly by slowly, what was once an empty lot of ambitious dreams is now occupied with a hospital, public health outreach, educational programs, a women's sewing co-op and demonstration plots for agriculture and nutrition for HIV positive people.


Today, James and I hopped on the back of a motorbike to make some home visits into the communities. As we rode slowly along the uneven dirt road, we passed familiar faces and homes that have woven their stories into ours.

We collected stories of families whose lives have been changed since the hospital and outreach programs began. We held babies whose lives would never have been possible without the medical intervention and safe delivery in the year-old maternity ward. We met mothers who have been supported and encouraged by the LCA's community health workers. We met children whose diarrheal diseases have disappeared since the rain tanks, latrines and health clubs graced their schools.


It has been my joy to return to this place over and over again for the last seven years - and to see the beautiful work of the staff and community here. This one community has become the heartbeat of our vocation and calling in Africa, and I am so thankful that we have a place in Africa that we know and love deeply, and are known and loved in return. There will continue to be the unbearable stories that will break our hearts, but side by side, they are accompanied by the ones that give us reason to hold on to hope.

Scrub, Rinse, Wring, Repeat

This morning, I awoke with a simple chore ahead of me: laundry. I have been traveling through the desert of northern Kenya and the volcanic hills of Rwanda, and have arrived in western Kenya with a pile of dirty clothes. Contrary to the ease with which we wash our clothes in the US, doing laundry in Africa is more time consuming and labor-intensive. Instead of Tide, washing machines and dryers, we use rain water, home-made soap, two basins, two hands and the equatorial sun.

The best time for washing clothes is in the early morning while the air is still cool and the clothes can dry in the mid-day sun. I filled a basin with rain water collected from a tank (thanks to Blood:Water Mission) and added a liquid soap made for washing hands, dishes and clothes. (Some of the women who had been trained by Blood:Water Mission in water, sanitation and hygiene were the ones who now make and sell the liquid soap to the community!)

I soaked the clothes in the soapy water and did my best to scrub the dirt out of them. From clinics to schools and churches to homes, remnants of the places I have traveled released themselves from the fabrics of my journey into the basin. I spent a good hour and a half with my hands to my clothes - soaking, scrubbing, rinsing, wringing, and hanging to dry.

I felt gratitude for the access to water and to soap. I felt admiration for the women beside me who do this on a regular basis with competence and strength. And I felt conflicted about the drastic differences between life here and in the US. I wondered who I felt more sorry for: the women here who are bound to the slow and heavy labor of life's necessities or Americans whose fancy machines have developed efficiencies and expectations that leave little room for the slow and connected life.

The Friday Five

Just got off the plane in Nairobi. So, here are five secrets to surviving international travel:


1. Carry-on ONLY

It is entirely possible to carry all that you need without checking baggage. It forces you to only bring what is essential, makes you a more versatile traveler in case you have to switch flights and assures that your things arrive with you. I've been stuck in Rwanda with a bag in Orlando or rerouted from Amsterdam to Paris enough to know that it's better to have your bag wheeling behind you. You can always include a packable duffle if you want to come home with more than you came with. A delayed bag on your way home is less important.

2. Pouches

I travel with all kinds of pouches and they make travel so much easier. Here are some pouches to consider:

  • Walgreens carries pill pouches that are basically miniature zip lock bags that allow you to leave your pill bottles at home. HUGE space saver.
  • I use small packing cubes to separate my electronics, toiletries and work items.
  • You can even have a pouch for yourself - REI carries something called a Cocoon which is basically like a sleeping bag made out of a really soft sheet. It keeps me warm on the plane and at ease in strange beds in hostels and villages.

3. Vegetarian Meals

Little known fact: If you request a vegetarian meal while you book your flight, you will be the first on the plane to be served your meals, no matter where on the plane you are seated. It allows you to be fed earlier on the flight so you can get a good chunk of uninterrupted sleep instead of waiting for your meal. Besides, who really wants airplane chicken?

4. Chair Massage

This may sound extravagant, but it is a GAME CHANGER when it comes staying physically comfortable on consecutive long flights. I fly 8 hours to Amsterdam and go straight to an airport service called Back to Life for a 15 minute chair massage. It works out the kinks and helps improve circulation, gearing me up for the next 8 hour flight to Kenya. It is worth every penny (or Euro), and is still dramatically cheaper than any upgrade.

5. Husband

I actually met mine on an international flight in 2007. And ever since, I do everything I can to ensure that James is my traveling companion on long flights. Besides the fact that James is the best company for long journeys, he is also a fabulous body pillow and makes it feel like I have two seats instead of one. On today's flight, I swapped between having my head on his shoulder to having my legs on his lap to using his lap as a pillow. I was really comfortable. For this reason, I'm not sure if "Wife" would make his top five.