a field trip to the world: travelling with children

“A ship in harbor is safe. But is that what it was meant for?” Travelling certainly has its risks, but the scales weigh heavier on the ‘just go’ side because new experiences educate our senses and our understanding of others … Continue reading

what I Can do in Canada, what I Ken do in Kenya

I can walk down the street entirely disinteresting and anonymous, in Canada. In Kenya, I ken be the highlight of some kid’s day. I was eager for a walk, so we travelled past the girls’ school, my girls begging me, please don’t go shake hands. Because I can see that our kids’ saturation point of being laughed at has been reached, I followed my children away from the crowd.

I can be satisfied with my three bedroom, two car garage home, two vehicles, full pantry and annual vacation, with enough left over for the occasional non-fat latte or night out. In Kenya, I ken give thanks for my daily bread (chai and a loaf of white), roaring fire with cache of hard-earned firewood, and my family’s health today.

I can be thankful for a tax funded safety net of social services, employment insurance and privately funded food banks. Or I ken see my little children beg, if you would be of assistance, to give me some money.

I ken drink sugary, whole milk chai every morning, sip soda every afternoon, and nibble on lollipops, but still be undernourished and underweight. Or, I can consume high fat fast food, nibble on cheese and crackers, potatoe chips, and frappucinnos, and have no reason for being undernourished yet overweight.

I ken get no reliable internet service. I can get reliable service, just not Telus-friendly service.

The sky’s the limit in what I can access at my local library. I ken get dusty, broken bound classics at the Kapsowar library.  (Why there are books about cross country skiing and low-fat cooking on these shelves, I will never understand).

I can get occasional quality products from a dollar store…you would think so too if you ken get less-than dollar store quality combs, plastic sieves, caps and machetes at the Kapsowar market as your only option.

I can’t forget what I look like in the mirror, how stylish I might be dressed, or whether I’m Shape’s ideal size. I ken be thankful that my six skirts still sit on my waist and that I’m not thinking about coordinating, just glad that my tummy’s full and there’s food in the refrigerator for tomorrow.

I can get a 9-5 job with a half hour lunch break. Or I ken show up at 10:30 and take a two hour lunch break…okay, I’m not actually complaining, because I’m paying so little for outstanding help that it seems unreasonably unfair. Still, just saying, I can’t keep no job in Canada with those hours.

I can expect that I’ll have a visit within fifteen minutes of an agreed appointment. Or I ken expect to wait for hours. Jim, in his conscientious approach, insisted on being at a three o’clock appointment one day–I told him we should not waste time. It’s what I do, he insisted. Okey dokey, I acquiesed. Sure enough, the old African adage came true: North Americans have the watch, but Africans have the time!

I can turn up the furnace. Or, I ken gather the firewood and light the fire.

I can throw the laundry in the front load washer. Or, I ken throw the mound in to the bathtub and rub a dub scrub.

I can watch netflix. Or, I ken catch up on the classics: Dicken’s David Copperfield, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Austen’s Emma.

I ken be simply content with less, thankful for my daily bread, and my little family. Or I can think I should be more, have more, live more, strive more.

I hope I ken bring home Kenya’s contentment, and can live it out in Canada.

shocking that I may be culture shocking so quickly

I am tired. Each evening the symphony of insects eases me into slumber, and each morning the tropical vegetation awakens my senses. As soon as I walk through the station compound, though, I feel I have entered an altered universe. I don’t know how … Continue reading

i love Jim, title suggested by Jim….OR, never the twain shall meet, my title

I thought I’d have to wait till home to revisit rich food. Not necessary. I am in France. Baguettes, cheese and hot dogs for lunch (the kids loved them). The crepes suzette and crepes with nutella and bananas for breakfast (I loved them). And a glass of Bordeaux with dinner and chocolate sorbet for dessert; rich, and wealthy food. For the price of an espresso, I am eating an entire family’s daily sustenance in Kapsowar.

When I flip to the french menu, I instinctively turn it over. Where there is french, there is english. Happy Canada Day! I am well-trained. Turns out, no english. Well, the occasional english. I boast that my six years of french training has equipped me for conjugating verbs, but Hannah declares that as soon as we step on Paris soil, the french phrases are flowing. Still, I can’t understand a thing they’re saying.

Unlike the stereotypes, all Parisiens aren’t snobby. I’ve had loads of compassionate french souls serve as GPS or manage the Metro. Since Hannah has decided she will move here one day, I will have to become familiar. So maybe one day she’ll see the Mona Lisa. We decided not to wait for the two hours the line appeared to be…first Sunday of the month is free. We’d rather spend our money.

I thought I’d have to wait till home to know reverse culture shock too. Not so. We walked down the Champs d’Elysse and Rachel asked if we can look at the Disney store. Oh no, we didn’t come to Paris for Disney. Never the twain shall meet. Hannah: Mom, what about EuroDisney? Touche. Disney stores, Guerlain, H+M, shopping, shopping, shopping….in Kapsowar, I see stalls of sub-quality plastic chai strainers and laundry scrub brushes. Here, the sky is the limit. Literally. The sky high gift shop at the Arc de Triomphe was worthy of a few Euros.

Everyone is dressed in their best, Hannah observes. Yup, fash-in-ableBut I’m gonna guess it isn’t their finest, they’ve got even finer. FANSEE! (fancy, au gauche). We’re still dressed in our African attire. We look like bumbs, says Madelyn. Yup, but we looked wealthy in Kapsowar, cause we were wearing watches, glasses and running shoes. Here, we’re right out of Value Village, and actually we are.

There’s order in traffic here, and a lot of Audi, BMW and Mercedes. In Kapsowar, matatus, with thirty folks hanging out, hanging on, falling off…There are garbage cans and recycling containers here. There is garbage on the streets in pools of running water, and chickens and goats munching through it in Kapsowar.

Brown people live in Kenya, observes Zach. No one stares at us as we’re walking down the street. Everyone is a muzungu here, including the Japanese and Saudis. All the colours of the rainbow live here. We mindlessly say, asante, instead of merci. And I’m awfully tempted to say habari to the African folk.

It’s all a wee bit different, Kaspowar and Paris. Could we have chosen a more striking contrast? I am, unquestionably, more comfortable with the predictable order here. I feel more at home then I did first arriving in London, because the six weeks inbetween were so not familiar. Yet, I am clearly not bringing home anything from Chanel or Versace. We’ll pass those Euros on to our Parisien hotel and the airlines that transported us. But as Hannah shared today, I’d like to go back to Kapsowarit’s the warmth of the people, the kindness of their generous hands to which any western country has a lot to learn.

out of africa

When we finally got on the road with the less-than-prompt tour service operator, we had to reorganize our morning, and say hello to the baby elephants another day. So we went for a Safari walk. A knowledgeable tour guide led us to see every animal in the park, except the pygmie hippos. A definite advantage of the cooler season–animals are alert. We were followed by baboons, watched albino zebras grazing beside cape buffalo, languished in the lounging lions, discovered eland and bongo, differentiated between leopard and cheetah, and kept away from the crocodile couple.

Massai warriors met us for lunch. No, really. They were standing outside the Ranger Restaurant, awaiting our arrival, so we could form a dancing line, photo and videograph, and then extort money from Jim. But it was very cool to meet them, kinda like Disneyland when you meet Sleeping Beauty….Kenya with the Massai!

Baboons and warthogs distracted the kids as we ordered lunch. I ordered the spicy coconut and mushroom soup….mmmm, yum. But the waiter returned to say they didn’t have it. I’ll try the sweet potato with tamarind soup. Waiter back in five–sorry, they don’t have that either. Well, then I’ll try the vegetable quiche. The waiter returned again–don’t have that today. Why don’t I just bring you roast vegetables, he asks. Okey dokey. Haven’t had this much trouble ordering since our visit to the Arctic Circle, seven hours from nowhere. While we waited, and waited, we watched baboons jump a foot away from our table, watch mama baboons piggyback their babies, watch other baboons pick ticks out of each other’s hair, and watch warthogs scrounge in the savannah. An hour observing and lunch is served!

Off to the Giraffe Center, where we fed giraffe their lunch pellets from a fifteen foot platform, eye level to these five friendly females. Two orphan giraffes, one seven months and the other three years, with three grown aunties. Madelyn got a great close up as she mouthed a pellet and was kissed by her new friend.

I saw home in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. I told Raymond, our tour driver, that I was feeling called to Africa as we walked up to the gorgeous home of Out of Africa‘s author, Karen Blixen. Meryl Streep and Robert Redford weren’t in attendance, but many of their 1986 film set pieces were. Zach began his spiral into fatigue-induced, incorrigible behaviour as he ran laps around Ms. Blixen’s dining room table. So we headed for the hills, not the Ngong Hills, though they were awfully scenic…rather, the Mennonite Guest House. And in rush hour traffic, that meant a solid hour and a quarter before our arrival.

After dinner, Hannah asked for the room key so she could go to bed. That is a first in eleven years! The kids were toasted…sauteed…whipped into a frenzy with all the activity, and crumbling at the end of this day. But six weeks into our adventure to Africa, and we have seen African animals!


Jim woke us when the vivid stars were still glittering in the black sky. Next time I bring a telescope. The kids and the luggage sat in the back of the ambulance. We three sat up front, in the two seats. David, the driver, stopped for two additional passengers, and we set out pre-dawn on the washed out, rusty-hued roads. David navigated the mud slide of a road like a monster truck professional.

We passed no one for the first hour, like Africa was beamed up to another planet; there are 40 million people in Kenya, 34 million in Canada–I’ve never seen it so quiet. We watched Olympian hopefuls run alongside the road in the second hour, then huge swaths of runners, and finally, before seven, we saw uniformed children walking to their schools. All the while, we hoped we would make it to the airport, on time. And we did, fifteen minutes before the plane lifted off. The airline staff asked, why are you late? Ha, I am amused. We are in Africa, everyone’s late. Jim did not enjoy telling her that the driver insisted we leave when we did, cause Jim would have had us leaving an hour earlier, and he hates being late. (We arrived before the JetLink staff last time).

Smartly dressed flight attendants offered sodas and peanuts, a welcome reprieve from our empty tummies. As soon as we were up, we were heading down. We were met by a Samaritan’s Purse matatu, with the driver and a cardboard sign, Dr. Dean Wiedrick and family. The driver took us through post rush hour traffic, where we sat for twenty minutes, alongside tiny roadside markets, men selling newspapers car to car, slums of garbage, tents and people….people walking, people talking, people on top of matatus, people hanging on to matatus for dear life. Kenya has a lot of people. Nairobi has ten million of them.

I insisted we head to a Nakumatt to buy groceries, in case we miss a meal at the Guest House. Before entering the mall parking lot, we were greeted by uniformed military personnel, and big ole scary African guns, looking for the al Shabaat (aka the Somali form of al Queda), because they threw grenades into the Mombasa public square yesterday (a few hours south). My first mall security check. We had a quick bite at the African alternative to Starbucks, Java Hut–super yummy latte! And bought a few bags of groceries from the Nakumatt…there is so much selection in Nairobi…then, we were outta there!

Like shooting stars in the African night, the kids are now crashing and Jim is picking up the debris.

kwa herini…we’ll see you again

The bags are packed, three of the four children are in a melatonin-induced sleep, the fire is hot, and smoking, and the rains are pouring. Hours away, we will awaken and walk out the door to our ambulance taxi, to hopefully arrive on time for our eight o’clock JetLink flight to Nairobi. Our six week stint is complete.

Sitting in a Chapter’s Starbucks only a day before we left, a friend remarked that it will change your life. I wanted her to explain more, what did that mean? Now I’m beginning to come out the other side and understand. Life expanding, that’s how I’d put it. I heard the stories, I’ve paid attention, I’ve cared what others’ lives are like, and now I can see a little more clearly the enormity of comfort to which I am accustomed. I’ve been taught to be a little more content, a little more capable of extending myself and a little more aware that I can indeed slow the days in my life.

In the afternoon, the girls whipped up a batch of brownies for the station residents. We hosted chai for Pastor Charles and his grandson, Victor. Rispah and her son, Bryan, came for an hour chat. We bought a case of twenty four soda for the neighbourhood children and played with them one last time. We made our faces present at the Sunday evening bible study. We all know that the trip is nearing an end when three year old Zachary asks, please have some malarone. Off to malaria country. Hannah frantically photographed everything knowing that this will be her last time seeing Kapsowar, this year. Kwa herini…good bye, we’ll see you again!