We are back home for a few weeks, now that I am back from Chicago and all of us are back from Minnesota. Both trips were really worthwhile, enjoyable, helpful, and busy! I went to Chicago to attend something put on by Interact International called "TCK (third culture kid) Pre-field Educational Planning Seminar." It should have been called "everything you need to know to help your kid survive yanking them out of the united states (or your home country) and plopping them down in a foreign country." Just kidding. Sort of. We all know that it is no small thing, this decision we are making for our children. But we have actually considered it. We have counted the cost, we are not bringing them along as an afterthought. And we truly believe that this experience, though painful at times, also has the potential to be a gift for them, not just a challenge. I would definitely recommend the conference to anyone moving overseas as a family, be it for international business, diplomatic work, military, or otherwise. As I said before I went, I don't even know how much I don't know. I don't even know what questions to ask, because I've never done this before. Education was only one part of the event, and academics only one part of education. We also talked about second language issues, connecting with your host country, and dealing with transition. The most important thing is that we are going as a family. If something isn't going to be in the best interests of our family, then we don't want to do it. But we believe that we will not only survive in Kenya, but thrive!
Chicago was like nothing I've ever seen. Prior to this trip, I had only seen O'Hare. I was staying out in Wheaton, but various things took me into the city three times, and definitely came to appreciate the lack of traffic (or traffic lights, for that matter) in our little town. It is a trade-off, of course. I mean, could you find this in Haviland? ;-)
Don't let the whole fish part scare you. I try to enjoy many authentic cultural experiences, but honestly, I don't eat strange things. And I am so glad that never really came up in Senegal. They do serve the fish this way sometimes, but you can just pull the meat off it same as you do here, when you are grilling a whole fish. Anyways, it was fun. I have to say, it is easy to romanticize things the farther removed you are from them. Let's just say my Wolof is pretty rusty. (Actually, closer to non-existent. Although i did dream in Wolof for a full 4 years straight after I came back. closure issues? perhaps.) When I went into this restaurant, I remembered how flat-out uncomfortable it is to be in unfamiliar surroundings, not understanding what is going on around you, not knowing what is expected of you. Just good to keep in mind. I don't want to have unrealistic expectations about how hard Africa can be. Not just Africa. Any foreign country or cross-cultural experience.
The next night, I braved the city traffic again to visit some of our partners, and meet their little guy. We are so grateful to have had the chance to interact personally with nearly everybody, and some we will get to the end of the summer. Also while in Chicago, I went out for coffee with a former AIM Air person, and she shared all kinds of stories and information about their career in exactly the same places we are going to. If we aren't prepared, it sure won't be for lack of trying!
I then went straight to Minnesota and met Patrick and the kids, and my mom and Bob came down to meet us there. It was really interesting, coming from this seminar about kids in transition, to see mine reacting to going back to another "home." And even more so, because we stayed at the same house we lived in all last year, and some of our things were still there. They were are a little confused. Honestly, I was a little confused. Little things, like the muscle memory of finding your way in the dark, knowing where the light switches are and how far to turn the tap before its too hot. And to be inside your house and recognize the sounds that are going on outside. Just very very familiar. But I think the point is, for us, home doesn't have to be just one place. And definitely not just one group of people. We were able to reconnect with nearly all our neighbors, and many people at our church.
I recently shared something on FB that someone much more eloquent than me wrote about the challenges and rewards of coming and going, from a military family perspective. Is it worth it? The awkwardness of getting to know people, of making new friends, and then the pain of leaving? The emptiness of having friends and loved ones all over the world who hardly ever see, or maybe even shared life with for a set period of time and then never will again?
I am going with yes. Pretty sure that in every area of life, the most rewarding road is never the easiest. Relationships can be hard, messy, and difficult to maintain from long distances. But I think the absence of a physical home causes us to appreciate all the more the importance of the other things that make someplace home: wherever you are known and loved.
Some friends let us borrow all kinds of toys and even bikes while we were there. The ways people have reached out to us and helped meet our needs are as numerous and varied as the road trips we've taken. Thank you thank you thank you. We feel so blessed.
Incidentally, the afternoon we had slated to hang out with the neighbour kids, Ben's mother collapsed and had to be taken to the hospital. I think she is ok, but it was terrifying for the kids, as they came home from school and found her. I do not think it was an accident that we were there, I feel like God wanted us there for them at that time, of all the afternoons we could have chosen. They stayed with us the rest of that day until she came home. Helped me remember He loves those precious kids in our neighborhood, and He will take care of them.
My older neighbour was so excited, I told her we could come over for coffee, but couldn't stay for lunch, as we already had an appointment for lunch. Somehow I ended up eating coffee, popcorn, this sweetbread (she made the entire thing for us to take with us), two kinds of meat entrees and one vegetable, with injera (this interesting traditional flatbread thing), and, homemade beer, of all things. (That was a new experience for me. She said I would run into alot of it in Kenya. Alas, I didn't get the vibe it was more for the men, either. Have to think of a culturally appropriate response for that one. ;-)
Good times in Minnesota! When I do think about the difficulties of saying goodbye, I always think, if I had never of said goodbye in such and such place, I never would have made the friends in the next place. I know God has many relationships yet to make, and we are really looking forward to being a part of the AIM Air community, and also make friends with the people around us. (Which is why, crazy person that I am, I just downloaded a learn-Swahili app. ;-)
I cannot say enough how excited and thankful we are to our partners, and to the Lord, who has so faithfully led us and provided for us. We only have two trips left this summer, one for training purposes and one to visit my mom in Canada. We have some more opportunities to speak locally, at some churches and to a few groups. The rest of the time, we will be doing regular things: swimming lessons, VBS, eating watermelon, and barbecuing, before we head east in August to go to Virginia, and then start Technical Orientation, ie. last stop on this train!