ending the silence to build a maternity ward…

There has been a long period of silence on this little blog. Its been mostly intentional, but you know how life gets busy and perhaps the silence lasts a bit longer than one might have intended. During the last eight months K and I have had some rather life altering changes and have transitioned back to the states. We are extremely happy to be home and among family and friends, but there is a sense of loss that we have both felt on and off since leaving our crazy life in South Sudan. There is a crazy feeling of purpose and drive you get when you work in a crisis situation and you miss it when you are no longer apart of that kind of work.
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I experenced that feeling for the first time when I volunteered with Mercy Ships in West Africa over ten years ago and I imagine that K and I will always gravitate to some kind of emergency and relief work throughout of lives. It’s totally life changing and you cannot begin to look at the world the same way after experiencing it. And this is why today I am breaking the silence on the blog because we are on the verge of another life altering experience of becoming parents. As I am less than three weeks away from my due date there is a a new project that is extremely close to my heart and filling my sense of purpose and drive. A friend of mine who I met in Sierra Leone, West Africa over ten years ago is raising money to build a maternity ward in the very place where we first met. The project is called Somebody’s Mama. Please take a look and read about the project and consider donating whatever you can to help. But let me give you a few reasons for why a maternity ward is so very much needed in Sierra Leone. (I borrowed these facts and pictures from the Somebody’s Mama FB page)

“Sierra Leone has the 4th worst maternal mortality rate on earth. Most people live on less than $1 a day. For a population of 6 million people, there are only 200 doctors, 3 of which are OBGyns. Despite the fact that Sierra Leone launched a program to provide free healthcare for all pregnant and post-natal women in 2010, is simply too difficult for many of these women to travel the distance to the nearest hospital or clinic.

This clinic will cover the needs of nearly 1/4 of the population of Sierra Leone.

These women need a safe place to deliver.

THAT is why we are building a maternity ward.”

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This soon to be Mama, who is incredibly blessed to have a wonderful hospital a mere seven minute drive from my home is asking you to be a part of this project. I am asking you to feel the sense of purpose and drive to change a small part of world for both Mamas and children. Click here to donate to the Somebody’s Mama Project.

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sister is getting married…

I want to write this post in all caps because I am that excited. My amazing sister is getting married in a few weeks, and I cannot wait to wrap my arms around her and jump up and down to celebrate. This is the trouble of living so far apart, I have not been able to squeeze her and lay on her bed and dream about the perfect wedding. I mean we have some serious catching up on girlie sister time. Firstly, I need a re-inactment of the proposal. Then, we need to go dress shopping, where I pick out the ugliest wedding dresses for her to try on… and when she looks at me like I am crazy I’ll say “Don’t say no until you try it on.” And then we would laugh as she walks out of the dressing room in all kind of lace and tool.

I've got a gift for picking out the perfect dress.

I’ve got a gift for picking out the perfect dress.

We also are overdue on girlie sleepovers that include watching “Ten Things I have About You” and watching the wedding scene from “Sound of Music” at least three times. We also should be on wedding bootcamp which would include running green lake and then having coffee and taste wedding cakes. I mean I am dedicated to making sure sister’s wedding is perfect!

You have to have more than a taste to really know if its the cake for you.

You have to have more than a taste to really know if its the cake for you.

So as you can see I am anxious to get home and commence these sisterly duties. Only a few more days until the Vetter girls are back together and wedding mania can officially begin. Sister, you got a ring on your finger so there is no reason to hold back now! (And just imagine we both thought at one point we would be nuns… we would have been crappy nuns!)

Don't you wish you were a sister?

Don’t you wish you were a sister?

coming home…

Coming home. Makes me smile just thinking about it. K and I are jumping on a plane Thursday to go home for three weeks. We are both excited beyond words. Not only do we get to spend time with family and friends but we also get to celebrate my sister’s wedding. It’s going to be a great time. Now I just have to get myself through the next three days and then the two days of travel. Fortunately, for us, we have a longer layover in Amsterdam where we are able to take a train into the city and see some good friends for an hour or two. It will break up the long flights back to Seattle.

I cannot wait to be in cooler weather, to drive on paved roads, to drink good coffee, sleep on soft beds, and to hug my family and friends. Before we scheduled this trip home it did not feel like we had been gone for that long, but now that I know we are going home it feels like I have not been there forever and every second I have to wait until I am there feelings like an eternity.

Also some very exciting news… Birdie will be joining us in the states! K and I have been talking about when to transition her back to the states and the timing has worked out just right for this trip. Birdie’s journey will be slightly longer than ours as she has to make a short visit to Uganda before she can fly to the states, but she will be stateside within a week or so of us. It will be a bit of an adjustment as she is not a fan of rain or any kind of water, but then again she is a street dog, who is highly adaptable.

Its not long now, only four more sleeps and we will be on our way. See you soon Seattle!

32 and counting…

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I am five days away from my 32nd birthday. I know a lot of people who down play their birthdays and say its just another day. I am not one of them. I think I’ve tried the low key birthday before and just was not a fan. I’m pretty sure it all stems from the year that I threw myself a hawaiian theme birthday party with colorful plastic leis and little umbrellas in the drinks. I was 12 and it was awesome, just asked the lucky girls that were in attendance.

Actually I think I have my Mom to thank for special birthdays. When my sister and I were little my Mom started a tradition of serving us breakfast in bed on our birthdays. It started the day off on a special tone. I can remember getting up early to help prepare breakfast for my sister as her birthday is a month before mine. It was exciting to take the tray up to her room and walk in with a silly smile on my face to be the first to wish her a happy birthday. The tradition was that the siblings of the birthday child would sit on the edge of the bed and watch the birthday child open cards and eat breakfast and help celebrate the start of their special day. I love every bit of this tradition.

There were a few rough birthdays years. Years where I expected the day to be special but was disappointed by how un-special it turned out. (There was even a year where the entire day fell apart and I ended up crying myself to sleep, we don’t speak so often of that birthday) After a few of these less special birthdays I learned that it was up to me to make the day great. So for the last few years I took work off on my birthday and would create a special day for myself. I have gone out to breakfast, gone hiking, kayaking, shopping downtown Seattle, and got my butt kicked in a family game of croquet. (I think my Dad secretly practices so that he can bet us)

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Two years ago when I was turning 30 and feeling a bit unsure about it, some of my very good friends threw me a very glamours backyard party. My Mom made me a dress. (There isn’t anything this woman can’t do) It was magical. As friends were arriving and enjoying a cocktail before we sat down to a beautiful dinner outside under the stars I kept thinking to myself this is what birthdays are all about. Its a chance to bring friends together and celebrate.

This year my birthday magically felt on our R&R. So keeping with my tradition I will not be working and I will be in place where going out to breakfast is possible and perhaps even some fun shopping, good cheese and nice bread, and a movie in a movie theater. (Its the small things guys) My brilliant husband even orchestrated a trip to the spa the day after my birthday. (So perhaps we are celebrating for two days this year) Its going to be a special day. I will miss the gathering of friends and family and would prefer being with everyone over a day at the spa, but knowing that K and I are on vacation without a responsibility in the world sounds pretty magical as well. Perhaps, I will convince K to have a hula contest with me, it was a real hit when I turned 12. Twenty years later I think hula is still a great way to celebrate a birthday.

eight days and counting…

I cannot tell you how many times I check my phone daily to count the days until our next R&R. It feels like a lifetime ago that we were walking the streets of Greece with my parents, enjoying good coffee and eating as much greek salad as we could shovel in our mouths. The last several weeks have been extremely trying. Both K and I have been sick. (I am just now getting my appetite back after weeks of just crackers and 7UP) We also had to say goodbye to a good friend, who was heading home after a year and a half in South Sudan. Life here feels a bit empty without her, I keep waiting for her to come into my office with some crazy story or a weird food combination for me to try. I am laughing less these days without her, its been rough. So needless to say that we are more than ready for a break.

This little one wanted to give me a dirty rag... and then all the kids laughed.

This little one wanted to give me a dirty rag… and then all the kids laughed.

There have been some high points in the last several weeks as well. K has been battling with the elements (literally) to get supplies up to a remote field site. He loaded a large truck with supplies and day after day he tracked their progress (or lack of) and heard about delays due to weather, mechanic trouble, flat tires, and communities physically delaying the truck, you name it and it has delayed this truck. When it looked like the truck just wasn’t going to make it K chartered a flight to fly in supplies to this field site. (This is the man you want in charge of getting you supplies!) So he chartered this flight and bought all new supplies to send and loaded the plane. Can you believe that the chartered flight and the truck arrived with in hours of each other to this field site? You have to laugh, honestly more supplies at this field site is a win for everyone. It was a ton of work and coordination, but worth it… right K?

This little one was super happy to see her reflection. I couldn't help but smile.

This little one was super happy to see her reflection. I couldn’t help but smile.

I have been battling donors, project reports, and new proposals. A few weeks ago I was successful getting one of the proposals that I wrote accepted by a new donor. Its short term funding, but will really help bridge a funding gap in our programming. It was a really great feeling to have this proposal accepted. I felt like I might actually be good at my job! When sharing the news with my brother he kindly reminded me that even if it wasn’t accepted I was still good at my job. Love that guy.

Another reflection lover.

Another reflection lover.

I was able to spend a few days out at a field site, which I loved every minute of it. I was able to attend a community meeting and inter-act with the local community. I had so many memories of being in communities in Zimbabwe. It was a great trip to see our field teams in action. I did not see any scorpions during my visit which was a bit of a let down, but cause I was on high alert for these little creatures. But I did have a lovely wake up call by a baby bat, so not all was lost.

Little man super bored during a community meeting was pretending he was driving a motorcycle. It was awesome.

Little man super bored during a community meeting was pretending he was driving a motorcycle. It was awesome.

We are both tired and ready for some time just the two of us in Nairobi. (K has booked us a trip to the spa for my birthday!) And we are super pumped to meet up with our friends Nicole and Josue in Zanzibar and live on the beach. I can’t wait to take deep breaths of ocean air. It’s going to be amazing.

And Birdie keeps growing. I love that K is wearing the same shirt in both pictures.

And Birdie keeps growing. I love that K is wearing the same shirt in both pictures.

But for the eight remaining days I going to enjoy every moment of turning on our bathroom sink tap and have the shower turn on… don’t even ask because I have no idea.

rough week…

Just in case you think that all K and I do is fun and exciting I’ll share with you this last week’s challenges. Monday I woke up with red blotchy spots on the right side of my chest, underarm and up my shoulder. The spots were sensitive to the touch and super scary looking. But other than the discomfort of the spots I felt fine so I did what any good Vetter does, I went to work and didn’t think about it. Finally by Tuesday afternoon I was in a lot of pain and K convinced me to go to the clinic. At the clinic I was diagnosed with a staph infection and given antibiotics. Before sending me on my way the Dr. googled staph infections and showed me pictures of staph and what I should look for if it got worse, it was horrifying.

Now I pride myself on being a clean person and was totally disgusted with myself for having contracted a staph infection. I was embarrassed to tell K what I had and did not want to tell any of my friends and colleagues. I was super diligent in the medication regiment; it was four pills a day that you take on an empty stomach. So either an hour before you eat or two hours after; it sounds simple but it becomes a bit complicated and very structured. Not only did the medication make me feel like I was coming down with the flu but it also gave me wicked heartburn like I have never experienced. But still I carried on.

By Friday there had been no change in the spots and I was still struggling with the discomfort. I decided to return to the clinic for a follow up, hoping for a change in medication. However, on this visit a different Dr. introduced me to the Nairobi Fly and told me that I must have had a run in with one. He explained that while the Nairobi Fly does not bite or sting, if you come into contact with their internal guts it would leave a burn on your skin similar to an acid burn. Its best to flick them off your person instead of slap them or squish. I must have felt something on my shoulder or chest and rubbed it instead of flicking it off, hence all the burns on my skin. I was given burn cream, told to stop the antibiotics and sent on my way. The burn cream worked like a charm and I was feeling relief within the first application. I was also feeling so much cleaner to know that I did not in fact have a staph infection. Things were looking up.

K and I went about our weekend, had dinner out with friends and attended what was called “the party of the year” (which it totally was not) but near the end of our Saturday evening K began to feel a bit sick and went to the car to lay down. By the time we reached home he was burning up with a fever and feeling nauseated. It was a long night of cold sweats, losing his dinner and high fever delusions. In the midst of a high fever delusion K made me sweat that I wouldn’t use the fire extinguisher, he was extremely adamant. By 8am the next morning I was on the phone to the clinic to see if there was someone who could see K as it was a Sunday morning and the clinic does not have office hours on Sundays. Unfortunately, the clinic staff was up all night with a patient who had to be medically evacuated to Nairobi, so they were busy until 11am, but told us we could come then. So we waited out the morning. 15 minutes before we had to leave I noticed that there was a flat tire on the only remaining vehicle at our house, so I rallied some help in changing the tire (thank you Paul and Stanley) and finally drove to the clinic with the help of a good friend (Sarah Almari you are the very best there is). K was admitted to the clinic and given a shot to reduce the headache and fever. He was tested for malaria and several other common issues seen in Juba. All the tests came back negative, but the Dr. was convinced that with his symptoms that it was malaria. Often in the beginning stages of malaria a person will test negative. Its a tricky disease that malaria. K also had a chest infection, which gives him a nasty cough and could also contribute to the headache and fever. Pretty much he was a mess. We loaded up on medication to treat the malaria and chest infection and drove home totally exhausted.

We sequestered ourselves to our room, slept/watched movies and shows all day and it was lights out before 9:45pm. Although we had a better night we are still slow going. K will stay home for a few days to make sure that he kicks the malaria and chest infection. I am trudging through, but definitely slowly. Its been a rough week.

birdie and protection work…

Birdie

Birdie


For as long as I can remember K and I have wanted a dog. Our lives in Seattle were not at all pet friendly. We even had an incident of fish suicide on our hands, and it was probably due to neglect. So even though we have always wanted a dog, we both felt like it would be cruel to have one and keep it pent up for the better part of every day.

Our lives in Zimbabwe had a bit more flexibility and once again we tossed around the idea of getting a dog. We even went as far as visiting the dog pound and picking one or two of them out. But our plans fell through when the funding for our programming changed and we ended up leaving Zimbabwe and coming home for several months.

Now in South Sudan for almost four months, we began to pick up the dog conversation again. (You would think we would have learned by now) K wanted to find a dog once we got back from our first R&R. So now that we have been back nearly two weeks we sprinted forward in our plan. The “plan” was to find a stray dog in the market and make our own little Orphan Annie story. And surprisingly it worked out. K and I were walking in the market one lunch time and we spotted a little scruffy puppy roaming the market, with no one really looking after it. So we inquired about this puppy with the market ladies that were around and through a series of misunderstandings they told us to come back after 5pm to get the puppy because we could not take it now as the mother dog was close by. As you can imagine I did not have a lot of faith that this puppy would still be around after 5pm but we agreed and K planned to circle back to the market after work.

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I chose to walk home after work with a college that night, but true to their word the market ladies had this puppy for K when he arrived. And so we now officially have a dog of our very own. However, I had not factored in the fact that a stray dog on the streets, even a puppy in it’s short life would have developed a serious trust issue with people. Dogs are not treated very well here, and a stray dog in the market would probably have been mistreated daily. So when we began to interact with the pup she would scream (I’m serious, I’ve never heard a dog scream before but she totally screams) even before we would touch her. She often would cower and cry as you picked her up and run from anyone she encountered.

That first night of having Birdie I was a little overwhelmed with the project that we had on our hands. But K being the patience and caring guy that he is continued to work with her and give her space yet hold her close on occasion and let her know that she was safe. It was a long first night, we got up often in the night to quiet her cries and calm her hysteria. The next morning we brought her to work and she pretty much just cowered under K’s desk all day long. She wasn’t eating or drinking much. But we did discover that she loved mangos and took it as a small victory.

The weekend began, and K still worked tirelessly with Birdie. By Saturday late morning Birdie was a whole different dog. I would not have believed it if I had not seen it myself. She was acting like a normal puppy. Running and playing with K, chewing on anything she could find, chasing after whatever K found to throw. She was even interacting with other people and loving being touched and snuggled with. It did not take long for her to warm up to her new life. She was as normal as any dog I’ve ever seen. Well mostly. As she began to warm to us and play she began to jump and bite. On everything and everyone. I was not okay with this behavior, but Birdie did not react well with the usual tap on the nose as correction. She became even more aggressive and would respond by biting more and jumping more. We changed our plan of correction and began to use a squirt from a water bottle. It was a magical response. She stopped biting and jumping, but was not aggressive. (She is super smart, but I could be bias.)

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After this experience I began thinking about how similar it was to the protection work that Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) is doing in South Sudan. We are working with communities and individuals that have seen 50 years of war and violence. There are several generations who only know violence and retaliation as a way to solve problems. It is hard to wrap your mind around it, but when your only problem-solving example is fighting and violence then naturally this is the kind of response you will also have. Often in Juba a small fender bender car accident will result in one driver beating the other driver regardless of fault because this is how individuals solve problems. In my mind the worst part of this is that people around these drivers on the street will allow the fighting to continue, no one steps in to help the driver who is getting beaten. This is just normal behavior just as Birdie responding aggressively to being tapped on the nose. For her, this correction was seen as violence and she responded in kind. NP is working to teach other ways of responding to problems. Our work is to be the bystander of that car accident on the street and stand in the way of the fight as well as offer other solutions. We support those who are unarmed and caught in the cycle of violence. We visit water points and farm plots so that women feel safe to go about their daily activities without risk of harm. We train communities to report incidences of violence and provide ways for individuals to protect themselves. It’s a slow process, because unlike Birdie we cannot take people out of their violent situation, we have to work within the current context of continued violence. Unlearning violent behavior will take generations; it will be messy, and often extremely uncomfortable work. It will require a change of behavior and a change of heart, both are extremely hard to accomplish, but both are incredibly amazing to be apart of.