On Tuesday afternoon…

Abigail and I will land in Minneapolis. It will have been 1,365 days since I was in America. Almost 4 years. I have been living in a developing country in East Africa for almost 4 years…

I know things will be different. I know I will feel different. I will probably be confused about a lot of things. I might wonder where your water filter is and why you are drinking water from the tap. I might freak out that the cars are driving on the wrong side of the road. I might even accidently start speaking to you in Swahili instead of English…

Here are a few things on my mind in between trying to get everything done and pack suitcases….

1.) I am not culturally relevant.
  I don’t know what’s cool. I don’t know the newest slang. I don’t know what season Game of Thrones is on, or even really what it’s about. I don’t use snapchat, or know anything about all these filters I see. I don’t know anything about whole 30. What is popular music these days? Macklemore’s thrift shop was where it was at when I left…

2)My clothes are awful
Yup. In addition to not being up with the times, my fashion sense is also…. not with it. My clothes are old. Most I bought at the second hand market in town, which means who even knows when they were in fashion. Many have holes and stains and are stretched from hand washing and line drying. I need to go shopping.

3)We’ve experienced trauma
Abigail had open heart surgery not even two months ago…. In a rural African hospital. I watched as a child died. I’ve shared condolences for countless funerals. I’ve held newborn infants who were left to die. I’ve seen children so malnourished, they can’t even try to eat. I’ve seen and heard things you could never believe still happen today.  I’ve lived in a culture that doesn’t cry in public unless you are mourning a death. I am raw and my emotions live just under the surface. Please don’t be afraid of that.

4)I need more than 5 minutes
When you say, “So tell me about life in Africa”, I have no idea what to say…. I might say, “It’s good!” but really, what does that even mean? I’m hoping more than a few people will say, “Welcome back! Let’s go for coffee and talk!” and we can both listen and share about our lives over the last 4 years.  I am not the same person I was when I left and I am sure you are not either.

5)My ‘Thank You’ isn’t enough
How can I adequately express just how thankful I am for everyone who prays, encourages, and supports us? I’ll bring back a beaded bracelet or some other unique thing from my overseas home and say, “Thank you. I wouldn’t be able to do this without you.”  I am so aware how short words and trinkets will fall. However sincere, my ‘thank you’ isn’t enough, but I still hope you know how much you mean to me.

One in a hundred

I never would have thought or expected it.  A few hours after Abigail was born and the pediatrician came to examine her I heard the words “heart murmur”. I didn’think any thing of it. Heart murmurs can be a normal thing right? My worries went away when no follow up was scheduled. “She must be fine” I thought. 

Time passed and I talked to some friends. They told me to schedule an appointment with our pediatrician to double check. Sometimes heart murmurs can be a sign of bigger problems. I started to get nervous and set up an appointment. They day came and for sure I was told, yes, that’s a large heart murmur. And then he said “I think she has a hole in her heart.”

We had to go to the other side of the country to see a pediatric cardiologist. There is not a single one in Arusha. We sat in an overcrowded room of people with all sorts of different heart problems and waited for our number to be called. When we finally got in with the Dr and saw and heard Abigail’s heart during her echocardiogram we knew something was wrong. What the Dr said next tore my heart into a thousand pieces.

“She has a large hole and a moderate hole in her heart. There is no way they will be able to heal on their own. Surgery is your only option.”

My heart sank and the tears started leaking out of my eyes. How is this possible? Why my little girl? Why was she the 1 in 100 to be born with these Congenital heart defects. There is no reason or any answers to why her. There is still no known cause for congenital heart defects. 

Abigail is almost 6 months old. She is barely 11 lbs. Because of these holes in her heart, her heart is constantly in overdrive making it very hard to gain weight. It’s like she’s running a marathon all the time. Since our appointment in January she has been on diuretics to help prevent heart failure. She gets tired when nursing and so it’s hard for her to even get full. She still needs to nurse every 2 hours to be satisfied.

I have spent hours and hours researching where we could have surgery. It’s not an easy thing here in East Africa. We have found a mission hospital outside of Nairobi Kenya through a friend. They have an American surgeon team coming the first week of May and have already put Abigail on the schedule. The only thing standing in the way of our daughter having this life saving surgery is $3500.

The place where I have volunteered during my three and a half years here in Tanzania, has offered to help fundraise with us. Please message me or email me at g.kellymarie@gmail.com for a way to donate that is tax deductible. If you don’t care about that, feel free to donate at http://www.paypal.me/abigailsheart

Thank you for your prayers and support to save Abigail’s life.

Abigail Nainyori Dickson Mollel

img_7121I’ve always believed names carry strong significance. Naming a child should be no easy task, and we thought long and hard about the name for our child. I wanted to share what we are speaking over her life when we say her name.

img_7104Abigail – “Joy of the Father” or “Cause of joy”
Scripture References1 Samuel 25:1-42; 2 Samuel 3:3
Abigail is as “a woman of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance.” In her, winsomeness and wisdom were wed. In her, loveliness and intelligence went hand in hand. Her own soul, like that of David, was “bound in the bundle of life with the Lord God.”

Nainyori –  This name comes from the language of Maasai (KiMaa) and was given to her by her grandmother. Nainyori means beloved one, one who is dearly loved and loves greatly. Her essence is love, and from her comes loves.

img_7114Dickson – In Tanzanian culture, all children are given their father’s name as their middle name.14671098_10153773772941567_3953655848242299353_n

Mollel – Our family name. One of the most common surnames in Northern Tanzania, as part of the Maasai tribe. img_7345

The House a Village Built

The days kept passing and my frustrations continued to grow. I asked God “why” over and over. How much longer would we live in our single room. How much longer would I trek back and forth to the outhouse. How much longer would I have to cook three steps away from my bed?

I know I will look back on the first 6 months of our marriage crammed into that tiny room as a strengthening exercise. And truly, I feel I learned more about Tanzanian culture and life in that time that any other time here. I truly lived like my neighbors live, though often whole families, inside one single room.

But this past Sunday I finally let out a sigh of relief. We could move into “the house a village built”.

I am so thankful for every single one of you who helped us get to this point. They say the easiest part of building in Tanzania is getting the walls up and I found that to be true. The material for the walls is so cheap. It’s the “finishing” that eats up your money and takes the longest! We are not completely finished, but we can sleep easy knowing this is OUR home and we are excited to grow our family here.

Here are a few pictures, excuse the slight mess!

In the future we plan to add plastic carpet to the rest of the rooms, not just the sitting rooms, as the cement is very cold! We will add tiles on the walls in the bathroom (hence the “half paint”) and add a shower and the flush mechanism to the toilet once we can get a water storage tank. We will build some shelves/cabinets in the kitchen. Also we have no interior doors (hence the curtains!) I did not take pictures of the two bedrooms because they are still getting organized but I will later!

Because people have asked, these additional projects we still have to finish will cost as follows: Carpet -$200, Tiles – $90, Doors – $180, Shower/Flush – $30, Water storage tank – $450, Cabinets- $150. These are in no way urgent needs and all in all we are SO happy to be moved into our house.

Karibuni sana (you are very welcome) to visit!

A letter to my Unborn child

Dear Baby Mollel,il_214x170-927607008_3iy3-copyNot much longer til we get to meet you now. I mean, I hope you stay put until you’re good and ready to come out, but we are so excited to meet you. As you grow bigger and stronger I feel you more and more, wiggling all around in there. I’ll admit it took me awhile in the beginning to figure out if it really was you moving. Sure enough, you made yourself known.

You know, never in a million years did I think this is how it would go. I never expected to fall in love in Tanzania. Trust me, I am so glad I met your Baba, and God knew what he was doing bringing me here but we have and we will continue to face many challenges. Some people think I’m crazy to give birth to you here in Tanzania. But this is my home, this is your home. This is our home.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what your life will be like. Will you prefer English or Swahili? Will you identify as a “Mzungu” or “Mswahili”? Or both? Will you long for America even before you know where it is? Or will you be content here in Tanzania? Will you have your Baba’s big nose? His deep, dark brown eyes? Will you be born bald like I was?

We aren’t nearly as ready as I hoped we would be. Being a “type A” person has got my stomach in knots thinking of all the things I haven’t been able to do. We haven’t  even been able to move into our house yet and the thought of bringing you into this world while still living out of this single room sends my heart into a panic. I also prayed and wished your big brother would be home with us first. We continue to pray that it won’t be too much longer for him.

You are so loved. I’m sorry I haven’t taken much time to document your growth thus far. I feel like I’ve been in shock through most of this pregnancy, but you ARE real and you will be here SOON! Despite all the chaos around us, when I sit still and feel you move I am filled with peace. As I sort through your little clothes and teeny tiny shoes my heart is overwhelmed. I love you so much.

Your Baba is excited too. He’s always talking to you and dreaming about your arrival. In a lot of ways he’s probably more prepared than me! He’s always so calm and collected about things but he’s so excited about your arrival. He’s ready to be “Baba “insert your name here”, and he wants the world to know it.

We are waiting for you but please, no hurry.

img_6718

“Simple” grocery trip?

In general, there is no such thing as “a simple errand” here in Tanzania. Or even a “simple chore” at that. Everything takes longer than you would expect, and there are plenty of additional difficulties. With our simplistic life, and our current single room living situation, the littlest tasks can take a whole different approach. Dishes to wash? Grab your bucket of water that has come out of the pump over at the in laws house. Fill a basin with dirty dishes and water. Have a second basin for clean water. Wash from the first basin, rinse in the second and then find a cloth to dry them to place them back on the shelves. When finished the second basin can be emptied onto the “porch” area so you can mop as well.

Another thing that is not so simple here? Grocery shopping…. Here are some comparisons from when I lived in the US to now.


Getting To the Supermarket

US: Walk a few steps from my kitchen to the driveway where my car is parked. Drive to grocery store. Park, usually not very far from the front doors of the store. Done.

Tanzania: Depending on which supermarket I want to go to that day. Say I want to go to Nakumatt, the largest (though not best stocked so I usually only visit once a month) supermarket on the opposite end of town. I leave my house and walk about 20 steps to the waiting point for a dala dala. When one arrives check to see if its standing room only or seats. If seats are available climb on board. Ride all the way to the end of the route, which is a giant open lot of tons of dala dalas going every which way. Walk quickly across the lot while trying to avoid getting run over and all the conductors trying to get me to climb into their dala dala. Exit the lot and cross one of the busiest streets in town. Walk about 5 minutes and enter the supermarket.


The Supermarket

US: The store features huge shopping carts, wide aisles, and some kind of pleasant background music. No one looks at me or cares that I am there, except for the occasional employee who asks if there’s anything I need help finding. There are a million different kinds/brands of most products.

Tanzania: People stare. Often I am flirted with/asked for me number even though I wear my wedding ring. Employees constantly ask if you need something or are welcoming you. The stock varies and you can usually only find one brand/kind of anything, that is if you can find it at all. The “Americanized” items are 3 or 4 times the price you would pay for them in America, or occasionally even more ridiculous like 6 times the price.

What I Buy

US: Whatever is on my list. Usually enough food to last us a week. Often this includes things like freezer and convenience foods, pre-washed produce/veggies, cheese and breads.

Tanzania: Whatever is on my list that is also actually in stock that particular day. Since I do not own a car, I also have to plan for carrying my bags to public transport and being able to hold them on my lap for the duration of the ride. My fridge and storage spaces are limited and so there is very little “stocking up” and more so what can I get by with for maybe a week.

My meat is generally bought at a separate store. As well as most fruits and vegetables are bought at the market. In order to get everything I would want to buy for the week I generally need to visit at least 4 different locations, though without a car, I cannot accomplish all of that in one day. 

Getting Home

US: Reverse of “Getting to the Supermarket.”

Tanzania: Hand carrying bags of groceries to public transport where you then find a way to hold them on your lap and not spill out contents onto the floor while people stare at you. Try to ignore looks you get when someone sees you carrying a large container of mayonnaise or other specialty items.  Get off the dala dala at the same place you got on and carry the bags up to the house where you fiddle with the padlock until you can get inside.

There’s always more…

And that’s just the groceries. I could go on about all the other tasks of daily life that require more effort here. We don’t own a washing machine, dust covers every inch of every surface until cleaned multiple times a day. I have to COOK my dogs food from scratch. We don’t have a oven, all meals are prepared over a gas stove. There have been months and months of every other day power outages (from 7am-7pm). I buy all my clothes at a giant second hand clothing market. There is no Target or Walmart for one stop shopping.

Please don’t think this is all about complaining. I am trying to be more intentional in sharing what life really looks like here in Tanzania.  It’s been almost 3 years and I have gotten use to the routine of life here, but I realize most of you don’t even know what “routine” for Tanzania even is!

Maybe our next goal after the house is finished will be a car 😉

 

On being pregnant in Africa…

annoucement
Looking back to three years ago, I was packing my bags getting ready to move to Arusha Tanzania, East Africa with only a tiny picture of what that would actually look like. Sure, I planned to work with Neema House (now Neema Village). Sure, I expected to fall in love with a zillion little babies and toddlers. I expected, and planned, to live in the volunteer house. I set a loose time line of a year…

Fast forward to now. Almost three years since I set foot in Arusha. I am married. I am pregnant. And we are pursing an adoption! Can you say a huge change from a single, short term volunteer? Arusha is now my home. We are building our house. I am growing my roots (which happen to be intertwined!) and making new relationships, and speaking Swahili as if I’ve known it my whole life! I tried to think about myself 5 years ago, and where I had thought I’d be now and how my life would look and I can’t even believe it. This was NOT the plan, but I am happy and fulfilled and at peace. Sure, life is a challenge, but there is joy and there is peace and I know I am where I belong.

So getting back to being pregnant in Africa. I’ve tried various google searches of blogs of expats pregnant in Tanzania and have come up with basically nothing. So maybe someday someone will be in my shoes and happen across this! Granted, I was never pregnant in America, and so I can only compare my pregnancy to stories of friends and family. The first thing about pregnancy in Tanzania that really stands out is that no one talks about it! There are no celebrations like baby showers or sex reveal parties or maternity photo shoots. Rarely do people comment on your ever expanding midsection. Many women actually wear loose fitting clothing throughout their pregnancy to hide it even. Like I wrote about before in the harsh truth about pregnancy,  for many women they are uncertain of how to feel about their pregnancy. There can be many risks associated with being pregnant here in Africa.

I am nervous, as any first time mom would be I assume, but we are also so excited. We are excited for our ever-growing family. Specifics for Arusha, I have been attending the prenatal clinic at Total Care which is run by the head OBGYN from Selian Hospital, Dr. Sweke. Selian Lutheran Hospital, otherwise known as ALMC, is the leading hospital in Arusha. This is where I plan to deliver, Total Care clinic is just closer for my regular appointments. Selian is also where our pediatrician (for the Neema House children) Dr. Matthews, works. He’s an American doctor who has been here in Arusha for over 9 years. Due to how often Neema House uses Selian Hospital I know many of the doctors and nurses already.

One of the hardest things has probably been that I am totally disinterested in Tanzanian food. And I’ve had some miserable cravings for McDonalds and donuts. These sound petty, I’m sure, but hey a girl can dream. Things like public transport get more and more uncomfortable, with the crazy bumpy roads and tight, small spaces, with lots of interesting smells. There is also the thing I think all pregnant women think about and that is if everyone just thinks I’m getting fat or pregnant, haha.

There are things we will have to figure out afterwards, like getting the baby’s American passport and registering their birth abroad. And of course things like choosing a name! In Tanzania, all children are giving their father’s name as their middle name, regardless of sex of the child. We plan on giving our child a traditional English name, with consideration to Tanzanian pronunciation, and the child will also be given a Maasai name as per custom with my husband’s family. We have a few ideas, but we are not sharing the name, or any name ideas, until the child arrives.

We hope to be moved into our home before the baby comes. I will admit that has been a bit stressful. If you would like to sponsor one of our remaining items they are as follows:

Ceiling boards = Materials $175, work  $75
Flooring = Cement $70, work $75, tiles $90
Inside doors= 3 doors at $75 a piece
Glass for windows = $40
Primer/Paint = $120

Every little bit helps! You can donate directly through paypal (link in sidebar) or through my youcaring page.  You should be able to click on each photo here to see the caption/description.