Why I Went Grey

Whether you spell it gray or grey, it’s not blonde, brown or red.

I got my first grey hair at the age of 21. I was sitting outside a friends house when another person said “Sharon, you’ve got a grey hair!” and promptly pulled it out (thanks Mrs. Haines). It’s all been downhill from there.

In the end I ended up colouring my hair once a month. In Kenya it’s pretty expensive to buy the hair dye so I would get it in bulk when I was back in Australia and it would keep me going for a year. I’d do it myself because it was way cheaper than going to a hair salon.

I made a decision that by the age of 50 I wanted to stop dying my hair. That was easy to say but what about the important thing – what my husband thought.

I started by researching online, watching YouTube videos and seeing photos of people who looked fantastic with silver hair. Silver sounds more glamorous than grey. Pete was silent on the matter, which meant he didn’t approve. Basically he didn’t want an ‘old looking’ wife. Fair enough, but he wasn’t the one putting chemicals on his hair and therefore going into your body.

So, I stopped colouring my hair about August and when the skunky look happened I started using a coloured hair spray. It’s one where you match your hair colour with the bottle and just spray it on. It’s fantastic, but only till you wash your hair again. When you go running every second day, it was becoming a drag.

hairWe were heading to the US in December on a speaking tour so Pete suggested that I invest the most money I’ve spent and get my hair professionally done. I went into the salon in Nairobi that specialises in foreigners hair, which is totally different from Kenyans. I told the lady that I wanted it to be highlighted as I was growing it out. I walked out exactly the same, and cried. Thankfully the owner organised for it to get redone and I absolutely loved it.

The first thing Pete said was “You look just like your cousin Jeanette” This is the only thing I felt I had ever really been selfish and done for myself, and I was okay with that.

And I’m never going back to colouring my hair.

In most cultures, having grey hair is really not appreciated, in fact, it is very much looked down upon. Well, too bad, my grey hair is going to stay. I stopped colouring my hair simply because I decided enough is enough – for me.

I’m over 50 and I’m embracing the more senior years of my life. We should enjoy each stage of our life and what it offers. Be comfortable in your own skin, and if you feel you need a few adjustments or something that makes you view yourself better – then go for it.

So if you want to go grey here’s some things to consider:

  • It will take at least 2 years to grow it out
  • You’ll need to put oil in the ends of your hair to stop it going straw like
  • There’s a high probability that you’ll need to change your makeup colours
  • Use purple shampoo once a week to stop the ‘brassiness’ that can occur
  • Get regular hair cuts to promote hair growth

 

 

 

 

 

Living With A DVT

April 9th

I thought to myself “I’m definitely going for a walk along the beach tomorrow morning.’

 

April 10th

‘Something is wrong and I think I need to go to hospital.’

 

5.45am

I work up with what felt like a pulled muscle on my left inner thigh. I got up and did some stretches, which made absolutely no difference. I went back to bed and couldn’t even stand having a sheet over my leg.

 

7.00am

I woke up Pete and said ‘Something is wrong with my leg, I think I need to go to a medical clinic.’ When I got up I saw that my leg was swollen to twice the size from my knee up, except I didn’t actually have a knee to speak of. I knew the day was going to be long so I insisted on a 30 second shower even though standing was a killer.

Then I discovered that I couldn’t even dress myself. Another reason husbands are handy.

 

7.45am

We finally got to a health clinic in Whangaparoa. I hobbled into the reception and they got me a wheelchair. I’ve never been so relieved. The doctor there wondered if Elephantiasis was rampant. My thought was ’Dude, that was a waste of your medical studies’. Even I knew what it was.

$98 later we were told to go to the hospital because they would get the blood results back faster.

leg

Rest of the Day

We got in pretty fast to the Emergency Department of the North Shore Hospital. The first doctor, who was from South Africa agreed it was probably a Deep Vein Thrombosis. Basically the rest of the day was having blood tests, waiting for results, getting injections, and having an ultrasound. Because it came on so suddenly and had been 5 weeks after I had flown they needed to check that the clot hadn’t broken off and gone to my lungs or heart.

The specialists told me I have a DVT that runs from the top of my thigh to my knee. It’s a super big one.

Just as I was to admit me to the hospital they realised my address was in another district, so I had to be transported to Middlemore Hospital. So, after picking up Liz, who had been waiting all day at a friends, we went through peak traffic to the other side of Auckland.

There we were at 7pm eating Subway while waiting for a bed.

Pete was flying out the next day to Canberra to do a painting job which couldn’t be cancelled, so we packed Liz off to Hannah’s and Pete went home to pack.

 

Since Then

Hospitals aren’t the quietest places to recuperate. Injections, more tests, blood pressure checks, bad food, noisy environment. Thankfully I was released the next afternoon once I had mastered injecting myself. All you do is make sure there’s no air bubbles in the needle, grab some fat, shove the needle in and push down until you hear a pop. Sounds easy right? Even after 10 days of this, it never became easy.

I left the hospital with crutches (on those for 2 weeks), lots of painkillers (drugs are awesome) and 6 months worth of blood thinners.

I made sure I wasn’t a martyr and took the painkillers religiously, not that I had a choice. The pain was incredible. I had to go and buy track pants because I couldn’t fit my jeans. I even had to buy bigger undies because mine were cutting into my swollen thigh.

Hannah made up for a leg rub of coconut oil, frankincense and a whole lot of other anti-inflammatory essential oils. Not sure if it helped, but it sure smelt good.

I came off crutches after two weeks, and just used them occasionally for another week. Thankfully I could still drive, but when Pete came back, he did all of the driving.

I have to be super religious about taking high dose blood thinners twice a day. I can’t skip a dose, and I have to have it with food. Even after 2 months I still forget to take them.

When I return to New Zealand in September I’ll go for a review to see when I can wean off the medication.

According to the specialists if I cut myself, I’ll just bleed more, but if I fall and hit my head, I need to go to the hospital immediately. I definitely bruise a lot easier and a wound takes weeks to repair itself.

 

Today:

I was told I need to wear a compression stocking, but what the doctors didn’t tell me is that I will have to wear it for 2 years. It’s quite warm here in Kenya, and dusty. By the afternoon my leg definitely swells up but nowhere near what it used to.

A weird thing is that my ankle, my knee and the inside of my thigh ache and burns. Mr. Google can’t tell me anything and I guess I’ll have to just live with it.

A really noticeable thing is my speed. I can walk for about 30 minutes before I have to rest and now I walk really, really slow. I have to swing my leg because it feels heavy. My goal is that by September I can start running, but I’m not super confident of that right now.

While it’s a major hassle, I’m really grateful the DVT happened in New Zealand. They have top medical care and it didn’t cost me a thing. If I was in Kenya there is a high chance that I might not be here today and if I could’ve got to a hospital, it would’ve cost thousands of dollars (which we don’t have).

People assume that everything is all better, but it’s not, but I am getting there. My leg aches a lot of the time, like 80% of my day and night.

So it will improve, and thankfully I have a patient husband who tries not to hit every pothole on the road (sometimes there’s more potholes than road) because he knows it’s painful for me.

 

Life is good, we need to make every day above the grave a good one – regardless of how we feel.

Why I Stopped Blogging

I’ve had this blog up and running for some time now but I noticed last year that I was running out of gas. Sure, I’d proclaimed that I would be putting up stuff about our travels and our lives in Kenya, but to be honest, I hit a wall.

The last few years have been quite challenging for me, and it doesn’t look like it’s stopping any time soon. I’ve had a growth in my throat that was removed last year. I didn’t realise it would take months to recover and even now I still have a numb spot just by my chin. But it’s way better than feeling like I always have tonsillitis.

Before that I’d ripped my left shoulder and then last year after returning from Canada, I did the right one. I went from that to having a frozen shoulder, then to physio.

I also ran out of brain power. One thing I’ve noticed here is that we get mentally tired. There’s so much going on, all of the time. Things in Kenya are complicated to say the least. I was worried that we were juggling too many balls and they would start dropping one by one.

Looking after your mental health is REALLY, REALLY important, especially when you’re living in a complicated developing country. While I was looking after myself physically, I’d let the whole mental side of things down.

For the first time, we took a real holiday. Pete painted houses in Australia and New Zealand so we could take the kids and grand kids to Hawaii. We did 9 days of speaking and then took a total break for 2 weeks. It was the best medicine ever. We’ve decided that each year we’ll shut down the office, send all of our staff away and everyone can take a break over December. It worked well last year, so why not do it this year too.

I’ve found that people don’t like to talk too much about mental health, but it’s so important. I see the tide turning now, but generally you’re considered weak if you have a mental health issue. However, we’re all battling something, trying to improve ourselves in some way and be accepted.

I’ve observed lots of volunteers in developing countries and there are similar challenges for all (loneliness, finances, cultural issues, family). What you can cope with when you’re in your home country is magnified when you’re based in a developing country.

You’ve got to be tough, really tough – on the inside.

So while I don’t promise to blog regularly, I will try.

just us

 

 

 

Looking After Your Mental Health Abroad

One thing I can tell you from living in parts of the world that are considered ‘developing’ there are many challenges you don’t have to face in a First World country. All of us expats agree that it’s not for the faint hearted.

mental

Lack of freedom would be the biggest loss you face. Not traveling far when it gets dark. Locking your car doors and not putting your windows down. Security checks for bombs and weapons to get into a mall, mosque, government office. Not to forget getting your bags checked several times a day. It’s a hassle but it’s life here and there are other places that are way more strict than Kenya.

The separation from family is a daily challenge. We’ve got it lucky though because of technology. But when you’re reminded how many birthdays and Christmases you miss, milestones in your grandkids and the fact that they only know you through a computer. It is 8 years since we have had Christmas with our kids. A few years ago we made the decision that 2018 we would get together and after much saving and scrimping, it is only a few weeks away.

christmas

One thing people aren’t aware of is the loneliness that can eat away at you. I’ve got expat friends who move every few years because of their spouses work. It’s hard for them to connect with people as they know they’ll be gone soon. It’s also hard to find info about basic things like where to buy stuff and how the system works here. It’s okay if you’ve got kids and work but what if you’re the trailing spouse?

It’s expensive. There’s the assumption that Africa is cheap to live in. Sure, the local fruit and veges are a good price but pretty much everything is as expensive as in Aussie, but mostly twice the price. For us our funds come from New Zealand and Australia and we lose about one third of our income because of the exchange rate. Some expats who are employed here get bonus packages (housing, travel, insurance etc) which makes it very attractive for them. Not in our case as development workers.

Some companies send out their expats every 3 months on a 6 day paid holiday. We saw that and totally understand why. The pressure of being a foreigner and the daily living conditions put on you a pressure you that you don’t have to face in your home country. A few times a year we try to get out of Nairobi, grab our tent and get among the wildlife. It’s really good therapy.

wild

A really big challenge is not having someone to talk to about the issues you face within your marriage, family or life. A local doesn’t understand what it’s like for foreigners and have those pressures. I’ve come to the thought that the challenges you might have in your home country and you get through them, become really big cracks when you are in a developing country. We’ve had good friends who didn’t really have issues until they went to another culture but through the pressure of having to come up with the finances of putting their kids through international schools (super expensive), trying to set up their work in a place where people didn’t understand English too well and struggling to get an income, was just too much for them. Some returned to their home country pretty quickly, while others separated.

Broken Relationship

Looking after your mental health is really important, anywhere in the world. So, if you’re out on foreign soil for a long time, here’s some of my suggestions to help you last the distance:

 

  • There’s nothing wrong with taking time out! Our Christmas break is actually an investment into our mental health. I’m calling it my mental health break after a really challenging year.

 

  • It’s okay to get out and have some fun every now and then. A missionary over here said to us ‘Don’t let people see you’re out having a coffee or people will think you’re mis-using their donation’. That’s ridiculous! You have to have an out. I go to the movies a few times a year (only $4 here) and Pete indulges in a bought coffee. Anywhere there’s nothing wrong with that. You have to live a real life.

 

  • Enjoy the journey, don’t endure it. You are in a unique part of the world so go and experience the things you can only do there. A few years ago I went white water rafting on the Nile. Who else says they’ve done that? We have got to know some absolutely amazing people that we wouldn’t have if we’d stayed back in Aussie.

 

  • Mostly, remember why you’re here. I say to Pete when he gets over something ‘We chose to live here and have to put up with the crap that comes with it’. Stay focused on why you chose to come here and remember that no one forced you to do it.

 

Have you lived in a developing country before? What we’re some of your challenges?

 

The Unseen World

The online world of social media is a one sided, glimpse of a moment kind of thing. None of us want to put the real us out there, just the smiley, it’s all awesome picture.

So I thought I’d share what goes on behind the scenes to get what people see about us and the work we do.

 

  1. Motorbike

bike

Actually this was one of the many frustrating moments in Kenya. The mechanic had promised to have our car repaired by the Thursday as we had planned out of town trips to do project work.  And of course, he didn’t deliver on time. In fact, it wasn’t ready to get picked up until the Monday.

Hence, we had to take our motorbike out to Isinya, which is a 90 minute ride. Doesn’t sound like much but the seat is harder than concrete. Mix that with lots of potholes, huge speed humps and crazy drivers. I had to get off twice each way just to stretch my legs and butt. While we are smiling, I never want to get on that bike again – but of course, I’ll have to.

 

  1. Eldoret

build

What people see is the nice finish of the first stage of a block of toilets. What they don’t see is the 4 days of Pete and Lucian trying to communicate with a non-English speaking team led by a guy who didn’t want to build the way we wanted. In fact, the labourers refused to unload a truckload of building material because they didn’t get paid extra. Hello, aren’t you getting paid by the day no matter what you do???

 

  1. Smiling Sharon

fam

I hate being in front of the camera but do so occasionally because we need it for our newsletter. What you don’t see is me with a frozen shoulder which aches 24/7 and especially when I’m trying to sleep, but can’t. Of course, we’ve always got to be smiling! Actually this was on a really bright day and I was dreading jumping on the motorbike for a trip home. We’ve been working non stop for weeks without a break but committed to the weekend of meetings for our friends. I don’t regret it, but knowing we haven’t had a day off for over 2 months is a bit much for my brain.

 

  1. Kids

me

Nothing gets raving reviews like a photo with kiddies. This one was done at a primary school in Kenya. What you don’t see is the little autistic boy in the green sweatshirt who kept running his greasy and dirty hands through my hair. And of course, we were staying at a place where it had a run around shower so couldn’t wash my hair – and I left the dry shampoo at home in Nairobi. He came alive when I brought my phone out, which meant it too was covered in goodness know what.

 

  1. Alice

alice

Here’s a nice photo of Alice, our Kiwi visitor with Scholar and her mum. When people see a photo like this, they usually go ‘oh that’s nice’. What they don’t see is the team walking through a slum area literally over a rubbish heap, with people shouting for the items we’re carrying in bags ‘You should give me the sugar’, going through alleyways not much wider than your body, having to watch you don’t whack your head on a sheet of metal. What you also don’t see is the hours young Scholar has put into preparing a meal for the four of us in her 3 by 3 metre home. Or meeting her mum who is super quiet because she thinks her English isn’t acceptable.

 

  1. Tonya

tonya

Tonya is a doctor who lives in a very remote area of Kenya. We see this awesome photo and go ‘Oh, so cute’. What we don’t understand that Tonya has been awake straight for 38 hours. She doesn’t get a day off unless she is away from the clinic. Her friend Linda who runs in a school in a Masai area, are the only white people in the area. They have lived for 10 years without electricity, running water and some of the most unreliable internet in the country. It is only this year that they had an x-ray machine. We don’t see the hardship, the times they’ve been robbed at gunpoint nor the loneliness that comes with being on the mission field.

 

Every photo has a story, both good and bad. However somehow in our minds we take that moment and don’t realise that there is so much more to the situation. We don’t understand the hours, the sacrifice, the loss, the struggle with mental health, the days when you want to be invisible.

Let’s just be careful to remember there is more to a person than what we see online. They have feelings, bad and awesome days.

 

 

Don’t judge your life by the snapshot, but by the movie.

The Hustle

One thing I’ve learned from my Kenyan friends is how to hustle. Hustling involves trying to make ends meet and bring in extra income. Kenyans are very clever at finding ways to have several small streams of incomes. Some of our friends started out by renting a tuk tuk while at college, then owning one, then renting it out and finally selling it. Other sell rice and soap on the side. One sells sweets and biscuits, while having a part time job and learning to sew so that she can put herself through uni. Another mate when he is driving 8 hours to his village will stop at a bus park and offer a seat at a reduced price, that way his petrol is covered.

tuk

You’ll see very few beggars compared to other countries because people get it that asking for money doesn’t really work – but doing something, even if it’s small, makes a difference. There’s no social welfare here so you work or you don’t eat.

We live on a very small budget. In fact a usual missionary/development worker the average budget is $45,000, we’re on half of that. A huge influence is the exchange rate and over the last year we’ve seen the Aussie and Kiwi dollar go down the toilet. So if there’s anything extra that comes our way, well, we have to trust God to get us through. As things are so expensive here, we make sure we buy items when we travel as they are WAY cheaper overseas. But for dental and optical needs it’s cheaper in Kenya, so we get that done here.

However, it’s not just about praying and hoping, it’s using your brain to see where you can ‘hustle’.

So we started thinking about how could we bring in money when we couldn’t hold down employment in another country. We are now kid free so have two bedrooms and a spare bathroom available. While it can be a hassle having extra people at home, the monetary benefits are worth it – most of the time. We’ve met some great people from lots of countries, with some of them still keeping in touch years later.

air

This has enabled us to pay for extras like car repairs and travel. We have a bunch of supporters from New Zealand and Australia that help us get buy each month but there’s always things we can’t budget for. Our car is a big one because the roads are so rough. Every three years we need to cover our visas to stay in country and you can kiss goodbye $1,500 on that one.

When we head back to New Zealand and Australia (which has been way more often than we ever intended). People often ask Pete to do some painting of their house. He always gives a really cheap rate but the same people also put us up at their house and feed us.  Pete started his handyman business when we lived in Sydney and he is really good at what he does. He won’t compromise on quality and always does his best. It’s helped us to buy tickets home. It will also help us have a family holiday together for the first time in 8 years.

8 years ago there was no son-in-law nor grandkids!

And there’s the occasional time that people give us extra money to hire cars or buy tickets. It doesn’t happen a lot but when it does its mega awesome. When Pete’s dad passed away, it was a couple of people who stepped up and covered both of our flights. Trust me, it was really expensive in January. It’s always very humbling when people partner up with us because we know it’s a huge sacrifice for them. They could be spending it on their own holiday but they give it to us, with no strings attached.

Everything we have in our home is because people have generously donated towards us. From the TV to the beds to the microwave to every other piece of furniture in our house.

The time is coming soon when our car, which is costing us more in repairs than every before, will need replacing. We’re not sure how that will happen and we’re not stressing about it (not right now anyway) but Pete does have his eye on another one.

car.jpg

We’re also working with our team on how our organisation can raise more funds for projects and office costs. So we’ve been all learning how to make such things as hand made soaps, candles and bracelets to possibly sell at markets both here and overseas. It costs around $500 a month just to pay our staff and run the office, so we need to find that extra.

Here’s a couple of questions to ask yourself:

  • What can I do in my situation to bring in a few extra dollars?
  • Can I cut back some areas in my spending?
  • Do I really need those new clothes, shoes, car right now or can I save it and wait?
  • Do I have some painting that Pete can do for me in 2019?

 

 

Navigating Airports

You can’t avoid airports, but you can help yourself and make it easier. Some people make it bigger than Ben Hur so let me help you out by giving you some tips.

 

  1. Travel as light as possible

Everyone packs way too much stuff. Pack for 4 changes of clothes – remember you can always wash them! Weigh your bags BEFORE you get to the airport. You can go to places like Kmart and for less than $10 buy a small bag weighing scale. There’s nothing more stressful than to get all the way to the airport and either getting whacked with excessive baggage fees or having to dump some of your gear on the lovely people that dropped you off.

Best not to go over the limit on your hand luggage weight as some airlines weigh that bag as well.

bags

  1. Check in online

If possible, check in online before you get to the airport. This saves you time and also covers you if you get stuck in traffic on the way.

 

  1. Get to the airport early

I would much rather be bored at an airport than stressing while sitting in a taxi which is stuck in a traffic jam. Try to avoid peak traffic times for transit. Before you travel, check which of your airports does have free wifi.

traffic

  1. Get your money exchanged at a bank and not at the airport

You’ll get a worse rate at the airport than anywhere else. US dollars are accepted in any country so always have some of those to keep you going. Pretty much at any airport you can buy things in US dollars as well. Also have several ways to access your money. If your wallet gets stolen or lost, what can you do to get cash? When traveling I carry one card with me, and leave the other in a safe place, just in case. Also download an exchange rate app on your phone so you have a good idea of what things will cost you.

 

  1. Wear easily removable shoes

It would be great if all airports had the same way of doing things, but they don’t. When going through security checks sometimes you have to take off your shoes, and at other times you don’t. Keep an eye out for what others are doing, and don’t be afraid to ask. If possible, wear slip on shoes at the airport, it makes easier. If not, at least undo your laces before getting into line. Always, always get your laptop out early.

shoe

  1. Take a jacket

I’ve been on a 14 hour flight from Abu Dhabi to Sydney and frozen my butt off. Literally everyone on the plane had one or two blankets over them. We were all complaining about how cold it was and yet they didn’t turn up the temperature! I always carry a hoodie on the plane just in case. Wear comfortable and breathable clothes.

 

  1. Keep your passport on you

I was in a toilet at the Auckland Airport and there sitting on top of the toilet roll dispenser was someone’s passport. Of course, I took it to a security officer and then I heard the person’s name called out over a public announcement. I’m always super conscious about NOT losing my passport. In lots of places you can’t even hold your passport as you go through the security scanner, so don’t forget to take it out of the tray!

passport

  1. Go directly to the gate

I always tell people that once you’re through the security checks go directly to your gate so you know where it is. There’s nothing more embarrassing than your name being called repeatedly over the sound system and then a whole plane load of people give you the hate look as you finally make your way onto the plane.

hall

  1. Walk as much as possible

You’ll be sitting down for a very long time on some of your flights. Try and walk as much as possible while in the airport rather than sitting down all of the time. After a couple of days of flying I’ve even resorted to laying on the floor just to catch some sleep for a few minutes. Otherwise I get on my phone on the free wifi and walk when I can. When you’re on the plane get up every now and then for a quick walk or at least do some foot exercises to keep the puffiness down.

 

  1. Wait to be called

When the staff call people up for the flight they will always ask for those who are part of their loyalty program, then those with small children or needing assistance and then by zones. Sometimes it becomes a stampede, as if people are going to miss their flight! It must be frustrating for the staff when they ask for Zone B people and Zone A rock on up. All they do is send you to the back of the line. There’s no harm in waiting.

lines

Don’t presume that everyone on your flight or in the airport have flown before. I met two ladies in their mid twenties who were flying from Johannesburg to Bali and I was shocked that they were first timers. They were fretting about our flight delay because they didn’t know about time zones.