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Navigating Kenya

Did you know that Uber is really popular in Nairobi? We never used Uber in the US and actually laughed out loud at our missionary friends here when they said it is their primary means of transport in Nairobi.  Sounds crazy right? You are willingly getting into a strangers car who is registered to an online entity. That sounds crazy even in America, yah?

Well, come to find out, it’s great!  Seriously simple, easy, and dependable in general.  Drivers are polite, and the app calculates your fare based on where you get picked up and dropped off.  It is a way cheaper option than using the public transport or normal taxis in Nairobi.

We then got into our Uber to go to Nyayo House, the building where Kenya Immigration Offices are located.  Jenny had Sophia in her ergo baby carrier on her front with facing her. Sophia was quieter than usual when we ride in cars and really cuddly.  After a 25-minute drive in city traffic, we were close enough to see Nyayo House from the car. All of a sudden Sophia started throwing up, a lot!We say all this because we had to visit Nairobi a couple weeks ago to extend our visitors visa while we wait for our work permit to be approved (still waiting!)  We had a nice breakfast at Java House (the Panera of Kenya) and Sophia ate a ton of bacon and milk.  In hind sight, too much of both.

Amazingly, it only got on Jenny and Sophia (well maybe a little hit the seat).  After a minute of barfing, the driver turns around and asks, “Did she vomit?”

           We looked at each other and cringed while we reassured him that none got on his seats.  Obviously, we got out of the car as soon as possible.

When Jenny unbuckled the the carrier and handed Sophia off, there was a terrible “plop” of bacon-milk vomit that hit the ground.

We had extra clothes for Sophia (since she is generally a mess), but we never pack extra clothes for us when we go out.  We forgot to pack an extra jacket for Sophia, which normally is not a big deal, except in Southeast Africa everyone is really serious about children being warm enough.  It will be 65 degrees outside, and you see kids with winter hats and big coats.

After we got our extension, we waited for our next Uber outside.  While we stood in the drizzling rain, a very sweet young mother with a baby on her back and an umbrella stopped us on the sidewalk to ask if our baby was sick.  We told her about the vomiting and having to change her clothes.

She was so worried that Sophia would be cold that she tried to give us the baby blanket she was carrying and the umbrella she was using. 

We declined, and Jenny then took off her jacket to put around Sophia.  In a world where women should not have exposed arms and shoulders, we realized it was better to be stared at for being scandalously dressed (in a tank top) than “neglecting” our child.


We are three months into Swahili study, and next month we will be starting in the hospital.  We are still waiting for our work permit to be approved, and we are praying that this will happen soon.

Jared & Sophia after an afternoon run.

Until our work permit is approved, we are somewhat limited in what we can do in the hospital. We cannot practice medicine or supervise learners, but we can teach, build relationships and get a better understanding of how the hospital functions.

We are excited and nervous, since it has been over 6 months since we have practiced full-time medicine.  We have been spending a few hours each day reviewing and refreshing on topics as well as doing online continuing medical education.  Thankfully, we practiced in Malawi for two years previously, so there won’t be quite as large of a learning curve when it come to “tropical medicine.”

Swahili study is the other thing we do for hours a day.  Language learning has been challenging, humbling, and very frustrating at times.  

Swahili is nothing like English or even Spanish.  It is funny because sometimes when trying to communicate in Swahili a Spanish word will get mixed into our sentences.

How a boy from Louisiana eats ugali: with Crystal’s Hot Sauce. 

We are well into the “story telling”  portion of the curriculum (GPA, Growing Participator Approach). After a couple weeks of children’s picture stories, we decided to tailor our lessons to have more medical content.

This has made studying the material a bit easier since we are more interested in the context.   Fortunately, we now know more vocabulary and understand more of the sentence structure, and it’s even easier to understand when someone speaks to you.  Speaking Swahili is definitely still REALLY hard! There is this uncomfortable mixture of incomplete knowledge and insecurity which gives us flashbacks of our 3rd year of medical school.


Some Swahili take home points:

1. What takes 5-7 words in English generally only requires 2 in Swahili. 

English:  He is buying the potatoes for me.  Swahili:  Ananinunulia viazi.

2. There are rough and gentle ways to say things: 

English: deliver a baby

Swahili (correct but rough): kuzaa mtoto   [literally: zaa- give birth, mtoto- child/baby]

Swahili (correct but gentler): kujifungua mtoto [literally: fungua- open, kujifungua —to open self, mtoto- baby/child)

3. There is a huge variance between Swahili spoken in different countries

Swahili originated in Zanzibar which is just off the coast of Tanzania.  As the language spread west across to Kenya, Uganda, and the DRC (Congo), some of the rules, grammar, and vocabulary was lost. For example, if you go to the market and ask for a parachichi, they will look at you funny because (1) you are a mzungu (non-african) speaking swahili and (2) here its just called an avacado. Its known as a parachichi in Tanzania, where they use the more traditional/formal form of Swahili in general.

4.  Context is very important. 

Words exist that sound the same and are spelled the same but mean very different things.

Swahili:   ua

English:  fence (noun), flower (noun) or to kill/murder/destroy( verb)    

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