Thursday, July 31, 2014

Welcome To My World

The salon was now a video store.

Darn it.  I guess a lot can change in a year.

But I still had two little girls next to me with very big hair that needed to be braided.  A woman took pity on me as I was searching for the salon-now-video-store and pointed us in the direction of another salon.

I tried to repeat her directions back to her, and finally she told me to just follow her.  We walked through the dust, past piles of blackened trash and bare concrete block structures, over rocks and around puddles, dodging small children who always stop to stare at the white woman and her two brown children.  Finally she deposited me in front of the other salon.

I poked my head in.  Naomba kusuka watoto wangu?  I asked.  Will you please braid my children's hair?  

Yes.  They welcomed us in.

The small room had two plastic chairs, two salon hair dryers, two large mirrors, and a shelf filled with hair products.  That was it.  On the wall was a poster of a little Asian girl with some sort of inspirational saying on it.  We took our shoes off outside, and they plopped my girls down on the floor and started working on their hair.

A guy came in with his arms full of women's clothes on hangers.  Selling them.  He showed off each piece for the women to admire.  One woman took a bright fuchsia dress and tried it on on top of her clothes, prancing around for the others to see.  They haggled over the price and she bought it.  5000 shillings--about $3.00.

I know from experience that these type of clothes come from huge bundles of used clothing, shipped over from America, cast offs from thrift stores that get too much stuff.  I wondered about the American woman who donated that dress to charity; if only she knew that it ended up in a little salon in East Africa.

This is my life.  How do I even describe it to you?  I've been thinking so much about the women I met and became friends with in America this year.  I've been thinking about how I wish I could give them a glimpse into what this life is really like.

I could have described how earlier this morning, I went to the main grocery store in town--the one that sells imported products.  I could have told you how I the power went out while I was there, and how I waited in line for an hour because the store couldn't get their power back-up system to work and thus couldn't check anybody out.  Finally, in total frustration, my friend and I abandoned our carts in line and left the store.

I could have told you about how when I buy rice or beans, I always put them in the freezer overnight before I put them in the pantry, so that I kill all the bugs first.

I could have told you about the butcher shop where I buy meat, how it stinks to high heaven but he has the best prices and so I put up with it.

I loved my time with you, my American friends.  I'm going to try to give you a glimpse into this life here.  Hang with me while I attempt.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

She's At My Table

Do you remember the story of Zawadi?  Click the link, if you never read it.  And even if you did, read it again, because it's a pretty cool story.

Zawadi has been home for almost a year now, but it happened shortly after we left for the States, so we never got to get to know her and we never got to celebrate with Ben and Lauren.

So it's pretty amazing and wonderful and awesome that now she's at my table, and playing with my children.  Her parents are some of our best friends, so the kids will practically be raised as cousins.

We're pretty happy about that.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Diary of an International Transition: Days 3, 4, 5

My days have been spent unpacking.

My nights have been spent lying awake, trying to get my body to overcome jetlag.  

And that about sums it up.  

Both are improving dramatically.  

On Monday, we unpacked all the stuff we brought from the States.  On Tuesday, we started tackling the garage, where we had stored everything else (except our furniture--the family in our house was using that).  

Seriously, the stuff in our garage looked like it had been there 25 years, with the dirt and the lizards and cockroaches and the moths and various droppings from the lizards and the cockroaches.  I had forgotten how dirty everything gets here.  But thankfully, everything has recovered.  

The above picture is our bedroom earlier today, and right now, it's almost completely put away.  Progress!

Here are a few other images from today.  

We transformed the garage into the kids' playroom. I LOVE THIS.

Our landlord had cut down the gigantic, gorgeous trees in our yard right before we arrived.  She had been talking about this for a while, since the roots were wreaking havoc, but we were still so sad to see them go.  See how lonely that tire swing looks?  

I'm not actually sure our dogs remember us.

Spaghetti sauce cooking on the stove; a common site in my kitchen.  Tomatoes are plentiful and cheap here, and the canned stuff is expensive.  This is about six pounds of tomatoes, cooked down.  

This afternoon the vet stopped by (unannounced; he does that from time to time) and told me that I got fat in America.  This is a compliment in Tanzania.  I did my best to smile and thank him!

Tonight, as I was locking up, I picked up a toy the kids had left on the porch.  A giant rhinoceros beetle fell off it and bit my finger and just about gave me a heart attack.  Thankfully, it only gave me a bloody finger.

Oh yes, I am home.

This is the end of my Transition Diary....I will move onto other topics now.  Thanks for reading along!  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Diary of an International Transition: Arrival Day and Day 2

The five hour flight from Dubai to Dar es Salaam seemed really short after the other parts of our trip.

But the contrast between Dubai and Dar is enough to boggle the mind.

Dubai is one of the richest cities in the world, and the airport is practically a small city.  It has three terminals, and Terminal 3 is the largest building in the world by floor space and the largest airport terminal in the world.  Yeah.  Imagine huge glass ceilings and gigantic sparkling pillars and marble floors.  And Dubai has only 2 million people.

Dar, on the other hand, has over 5 million people.  However, its one and only airport's arrival terminal consists of two rooms.  Two.  Rooms.  You walk into the immigration room straight off the tarmac, and go from there into the baggage claim/customs room.  Our flight had over 200 people on it, so you can imagine that we all got up close and personal in the airport.

Talk about culture shock.

We arrived around 3 pm but didn't get out of the airport until 4:30.  Things go a little slow in there, especially when waiting for 13 pieces of luggage.

Our wonderful friends Ben and Lauren (and Zawadi!) were waiting for us....what a welcome, wonderful sight after so many good-byes and so many hours of travel!  They also made us dinner and brought us groceries.

And today was our first full day.

We are back in our previous house, the house Gil and I have lived in the longest since we've been married.  It is such a huge blessing to come back to a house, and we are so thankful for the family who stayed here while we were gone.

Today we spent our time unpacking, arranging, get the idea.  We went to the Voda store to get our phones working again, and picked up some groceries.

It's all very surreal.  One part of me feels like we never left, and that somehow last year was a very long, involved dream.  Another part of me feels like all of this is very familiar, but not where I belong, and that somehow that was a different person who lived that life in Tanzania.

It's weird.

Long time habits that I had forgotten about are coming back to me.  How to smash the cockroaches in my cabinet.  To laugh, not scream, when I pick up my toaster and a gecko runs out.  What type of mayonnaise to buy.  What sweat feels like.  How to convert shillings.  Swahili.

They say that when people first move to another country, the first six months are the honeymoon period, when everything is exciting and adventurous.  Then they start hating everything for a while.  Eventually, they adapt and come to a happy medium in their new life.

I think that in re-entry to a country where you previously lived, you skip the honeymoon and go straight to the hatred.  Ugh.  The traffic.  The insane drivers who seem to have no value on human life or property.  The ticks (spent an hour today de-ticking our dog).  The cockroaches.  And to top it all off, we had no electricity today from 10 am until 7 pm (and no back-up systems currently working).  It's almost as if Tanzania was laughing at me.  Oh yeah?  You really thought you wanted to live here?  What were you thinking?  

Thankfully, I've done this enough times to know that the "hatred" phase won't last very long either.  I know I will get used to life again soon and maybe even be brave enough to drive in a few days.

You call me out upon the waters 
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

I didn't take any pictures today.....a little too overwhelming.  But here's a post from a few years ago with pictures of our house, if you are interested.

Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you would call me.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Diary of an International Transition: Countdown Day 1--Departure Day and Traveling

I woke up at four yesterday morning and couldn’t go back to sleep.  Darn it.  I was hoping to make it till 6. 
I always have trouble eating on Departure Day.  I forced down some breakfast. 

I bathed all the kids and slathered them—literally—with lotion.  The dry air on the plane makes their skin look like the Sahara Desert. 

Did one last load of laundry and stuffed the rest into our already bulging luggage.  Sealed all the tubs with zip ties. 

Forced down a little lunch and packed up our van and my brother’s SUV.  Off to San Francisco.

Miraculously, the guy checking us in didn’t even look at the scale.  Whew.  Huge sigh of relief. 

We said good-bye to my family and pushed our weeping children through the security entrance.  It never gets easier, but I knew we would be okay once we went through the door.  We were, though I still am trying not to think about all we have left behind.

Once we got through security, I was all at once exhausted and ravenously hungry as the adrenaline leaked out of me.  We had made it, and only had the plane trip ahead of us.

As we were boarding the plane, there was a table full of complimentary newspapers for the taking.  Almost all of them had their full page cover story on the Malaysian airline crash.  Um, yeah, I think I’ll skip a newspaper today.  You would think those would be good times for the complimentary newspapers to be removed.  Or maybe, it just boosts their alcohol sales on-board.

A couple of months ago, we were at Disneyland and Josiah asked me, “Is Disneyland really the happiest place on earth?”

I told him that I thought there were lots of happy places, and gave him some examples.

He thought about this a moment, and then said, “I think the plane is the happiest place.”

I just about doubled over.  “Really?” I said.  “Why?”

He smiled, “Because I get to watch so many movies.”

Ah ha.
He is right.  The plane is the only time the kids are allowed to watch 5 movies in a row.  The only time. 

The plane is one of my least favorite places on earth.  Especially with children.  It’s hard enough not to get claustrophobic in a steel tube 30,000 feet above the earth for 20 hours, let alone trying to sleep sitting up and in between, keeping the kids from spilling their meal onto their lap (or mine).

I definitely would not win any Pinterest awards for “creative activities for kids on the plane.”  While packing last week, I came across Grace’s math flash cards and contemplated putting them in her carry-on.  That lasted about five seconds until I came to my senses and remembered that we don’t have any cool little parent/child learning moments on the plane in our family.  It’s not about “using our time well.”  It’s about survival, and that means 5 movies in a row. 

I also am not above using children’s Benadryl.  Hey, until you’ve had a non-stop, 16 hour flight with your kids, don’t judge.

Obviously, it worked.  Look at Lily’s sleeping position of choice.  Notice where her head is (on the right) and where her bum is (on the left).  Comfy, eh?

We flew over the North Pole (which is pretty cool from 30,000 feet up) and down across Europe (thankfully avoiding Ukraine) and into the Middle East city of Dubai, which is one of the richest cities in the world.

I am writing this from Dubai.  We are near the end of a fifteen hour layover.  Thankfully, our airline gave us complimentary hotel room and even food vouchers.  It’s amazing what a real bed and a shower does for the soul after spending 16 hours in a metal tube. 

Soon, we’ll leave for a five-hour trip (which seems positively short right now) to Dar es Salaam.  On our way back to the airport from the hotel, Grace reunited with one of her classmates (and family) from HOPAC, also heading back to Dar.  Cool!

The adventure continues.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Diary of an International Transition: Countdown 2 Days

 My poor little lonely key chain.

You don't really think about how keys ground you in a sense of belonging until you don't have them anymore.  You have house keys and car keys that give you a sense of place and permanence, and work keys that give you an identity.  

When I move overseas, I lose all my keys.  They come off one by one until I feel homeless and weightless and identity-less.  

It's not as hard this time, since we have a house and a car waiting for us--that's never happened before.  But as I looked at my empty key chain this afternoon, I couldn't help but feel....loss.  And an uncomfortable sense that I don't belong anywhere.

So when the walls come falling down on me
And when I'm lost in the current of a raging sea
I have this blessed assurance holding me

All I know is I'm not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

And this is the song that keeps going through my head.

I will have keys again soon, but may I not forget where I really belong.

Today.  The day before departure day.  What happened today?

Laundry.  Errands.  Picking up last minute prescriptions, taking back a couple things that just didn't fit in the luggage, buying vitamins for a Tanzanian friend who I just found out is pregnant.  

Printing e-tickets.  Calling banks and credit cards to tell them we are traveling, so they won't flip out and put holds on all our accounts.  

Stuffing, stuffing, stuffing more things in the tubs.  Weighing them again to make sure they are exactly 49.5 pounds each.  Drilling holes around the edges so that we can seal them with zip ties.  Labeling all of them with addresses.  

Gil did one last Chuck E. Cheese run for our poor beleaguered kids who are struggling with the good-byes and seeing all their toys disappear and all the chaos around them.  Josiah couldn't make himself eat his ice cream tonight.  That's when you know my little buddy is having a hard time.  

Grace wrote this in my planner a couple of months ago, as soon as we bought tickets.

Tomorrow is the day.  We leave for San Francisco at 1:00, and our plane leaves around 5:00.  Sixteen hours non-stop to Dubai (in the middle east), a 15 hour layover, and then 5 more hours to 
Dar es Salaam, 
East Africa.
The other side of the world.  

I will try to blog from the airport tomorrow, and maybe from Dubai.  Otherwise, you'll hear from me on the other side of the world.

Leaving one home for another, but ultimately, neither is where I really belong.  Just give me Jesus.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Diary of an International Transition: Countdown 3 Days

There's no such thing as a free lunch...unless you work for Google.  

In addition to gyms, volleyball courts, gigantic gumball machines, bicycles, refrigerators full of free Odwalla juice, and the freedom to bring your dog to your office with you, Google has 23 restaurants on campus for their employees....for free.  Oh yeah, and they can bring family or friends for free too.  

I just happen to have a brother who works for Google.  So of course, we ask him for our free lunch from time to time.  That's where we went today.  

If Google takes over the world someday, I am really glad I have a brother who works there.  

Other than that...well, let's see.

I woke up at 5:30 and couldn't go back to sleep.  
Darn adrenaline.  

I did some paperwork.  
I organized our important documents.
I went shopping and finally found a pair of sturdy, brown sandals I had been searching for. 
I helped Grace finish her scrapbook from this year.   

We went to dinner with good friends who have invested in my life and our ministry since I was a teenager. 

Tonight Lily had a nervous breakdown when the band-aid covering the (microscopic) cut on her knee came off in the bathtub.  Apparently the removal of such band-aid caused her knee to thus be in unbearable and unending pain.

I did not have the patience for this tonight.  

I sent her to bed and decided I needed to send myself to bed.  

We leave the day after tomorrow.  Thursday night is our last night in America.  
My head is too full of suitcases and documents and shoes and the tasks in front of me to really comprehend that thought.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Diary of an International Transition: Countdown 4 Days

I told Grace, "Guess what?  Zawadi is going to stay with us for a couple days next week while Ben and Lauren go away!"  

"YES!"  she yelled.  And then she gave me a funny look.  "Next week?"  

"Yep, Sweetie.  Next week we'll be in Tanzania."  

She knew this, of course.  It just sounds really strange when you say next week.  

Honestly, it's one of the strangest thing to get through my brain.  I sit here in California, in the house where I grew up, with pavement outside and organized drivers and English speakers and wealth everywhere.  And this time next week, I'll be on the other side of the world.  

Everything is different there.  It feels like a different planet.  I feel like a different person there.  It's hard to wrap my head my head that I will be there next week, even though it's the only thing I've thought about for days...weeks.  


Today we went to the outlets to get Grace and Lily school shoes.  Because, of course, we apparently didn't have enough to pack yet.  

Cousin Emma came to visit.  

Gil spent 5 hours detailing our car to get it ready to sell.  Anyone want to buy an Odyssey?

The living room now looks like this.  And I despaired as our "maximum" number of pieces crawled up from 13.

I went to Target to buy bigger tubs to replace some of the smaller tubs and prayed that the airline will have mercy on us.  

Next week, I'll be unpacking them all, in my living room on the other side of the world.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Diary of an International Transition: Countdown 5 Days

Adrenaline and butterflies have been my constant companions for the last few weeks.

I wake early every morning and instantly I'm up.  No alarm clock needed and no sleeping in these days.  Instantly my brain starts working and the blood starts pumping and the butterflies of excitement and anxiety start stirring up my stomach.  Many times, they all mix together into nausea.  

I'm going to attempt to blog every day for the next week or so, here and on the other side.  Have you ever wondered what it's like to move overseas?  Well, here's my diary.

We are now at my parents' house until we leave.  Today, we took over their living room.  Actually, it's more like we threw up all over their living room.  We unloaded every single thing that we want to take to Tanzania, in an attempt to get it organized for packing.  

Goal:  Fit all of this into 10 pieces of luggage.  

After the butterflies in my stomach took a few nose dives, I took a few deep breaths and dug in.  

Packing for plane travel is nothing like packing for a normal move.  In normal moves, you pack according to the room in the house, carefully labeling each box.

Packing for plane travel is all about weight and space.  Each luggage piece has to be a certain size and weigh no more than 50 pounds.  It's like a giant game of Tetris.  There's no "kitchen" or "bedroom" box here.  Everything is mixed up according to how it fits in the box.  For example, don't pack a water bottle until you've filled up every inch of space inside it.

Get out the bathroom scale and keep handing tubs to your long-suffering husband so that you can check the weight.  Rearrange.  Add more.  Take more out.  Repeat.  

This is where I spent the entire day.  

Of course, between Gil and I, there was plenty of, What were we thinking when we bought this?  How on earth could we have this much stuff?  And many thoughts of wanting to set it all on fire.  

Tonight my aunt and uncle came over for dinner and brought extremely cool bubbles.  Thankfully, they don't need to be packed.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

That Guy

My whole life, I wanted to be a missionary in Africa.  

I also really, really wanted to be married.

I didn't really think that I would get both.  After all, the ratio of single missionary girls to single missionary guys is like 30:1.  (I know, it's pathetic.)  

I figured that was a sacrifice I might have to make.  I was all set to go out single when Gil (and God) intercepted those plans.  I wrote out the story a few years ago here, if you're interested.  

But even though I knew I was marrying a dynamite, missions-minded guy, I still didn't really know for sure if God would take him to Africa.  

But He did--nine months after we got married.  

And now, after spending 10 of our 13 1/2 years in Africa, we're going back again.  

How thankful I am for this guy, who has remained my best friend and partner in ministry in Africa.  Don't think for a minute that I underestimate the significance of this blessing.  

Last week, we ditched the kids and spent a few days in Pacific Grove, celebrating our 13 1/2 anniversary. (We were on the road for our 13th and probably won't really get a chance to celebrate the 14th.)  

We really do have a lot to celebrate.  To God be the glory.