We have now lived in Africa for almost 18 months. We are heading into the last six months of our two year commitment with World Medical Mission. Several people recently have asked me if I feel like I am in the home stretch or downward slide but I don't really. Honestly, I feel like I have just really gotten adjusted to living here. It takes time and I guess in my case it took even longer. I'm pretty sure the preschool years with three kiddos are some of the tougher times in mothering but by leaving all of my family, friends and support system during these years was, um, exceptionally challenging. I've been the only mom of all preschoolers in lower station (the non RVA part of Kijabe) for the entire time we've been here. I've REALLY missed the community and support and fun of sharing life with other women in the same stage of life as me. If I'm being honest it has been pretty lonely at times. But I feel like I am at a point where I can safely look at our life and assess what I really miss about home and what I don't.
It goes without saying that we miss our family. But it is so much more than that. We have missed weddings, birthdays, holiday celebrations and a handful of major illnesses and a few major surgeries. We've missed life with the people we love the most. That is the hardest part. Our nephews are 4 and 2 and changing just as fast as our kids do. They know us mostly via Skype. Our kids are familiar with our family but don't truly know them, as much as I hate to admit it. I'd say this is more true for my 1 year old and 3 year old who don't have many memories to build off of pre-Africa. It is much easier for my 5 year old who has references and memories that we can talk about, laugh about and she can ask me questions about. But we've managed with a lot of love, support and understanding from our family. We know it hasn't been easy for them and they have offered a tremendous sacrifice for us to be here. I am an only child and had very few relationships with extended family growing up (I was a military kid and lived far away a lot of my life too). It is painful to walk away from the family that I have now because it is always something that I have prayed for and desired. This is tough stuff.
On a lighter note, the next thing I really miss is driving. We have a car here that I drive locally around Kijabe. Picture me driving on the right side of the car, left side of the rocky, sometimes/somewhat paved roads dodging donkeys, school children and other obstacles while my children bounce around happily unrestrained in the back and my one year old sits shotgun (also unrestrained although sometimes he likes to sit in my lap and pretend to drive). This is all I can handle so I don't take the next step which is to drive on the insane roads and highways. Rhett on the other hand has driven a truck on a muddy hillside in Honduras, a motorcycle through the jungle in Peru and now he takes to the highways of Kenya like a Matatu driver :) What I really miss is jumping in my car and driving off to do whatever I had in mind that day - listening to the radio - chatting with a friend on the phone - or just relaxing and enjoying the drive. No enjoyment on the road here. It is stressful and dangerous. I also really miss driving at night (not safe on the roads here because people drive without lights on and bandits are on the roads). It would be nice to not have to plan our day around the fact that we must return by sunset.
I miss not being able to just go out and get whatever we need. That might sound a little materialistic but I don't mean it that way. I have to plan weeks to sometimes months to get things that we want or need. I can't just realized that the kids are almost out of vitamins and run to the store to get them. There are many things available in Nairobi but the cost can be prohibitive ($40 Barbies, $80 duplo blocks) so you better plan in advance for birthday gifts for your kids! Gus will be potty trained this summer so I better arrange for someone to bring over some big boy pants for him - I can't just run to Target and pick some up. I guess along this same idea is how far I have to plan food shopping and meals. Some things are available locally but a lot of things are only available in Nairobi. I have to plan pretty far in advance for meals. I also miss the spontanaity of Rhett coming home from work and saying "let's go get Mexican!" as I breath a sigh of relief for being off the hook for dinner and happily head on over to Sol Azteca for a #18 special and some cheese dip (and drive home in the dark :)
So what DON'T I miss about being in the States . . .
TV. I really don't miss it at all. We watch movies and DVDs on our computer so we aren't completely devoid of entertainment. I wouldn't mind watching the news and I know Rhett would like to watch some ball games but it is something that is gone from our life and it is really nice not to have the distraction and time waster. We wonder what we will do back in America? 186 channels seems a little overwhelming from where we are sitting. I did hear that you can suspend Directv for up to 6 months of the year so I'm proposing a May - August shut off at our house in America.
I don't miss feeling like I need to DO something and not know exactly how to do it. I remember being moved and inspired so many times by scripture or teaching to go and make a difference, help someone, minister and disciple - live out my faith. I also remember feeling really confused as to how to actually do that. I felt like I had to seek out an opportunity, find the time in my day or my week to go and do something. I guess just by being here I am doing something by supporting Rhett in his work (although a lot of days I am just trying to make it until nap time and feel just as far from making an actual impact as I was before). However, it doesn't take long before need shows up at my backdoor. A friend is in need and I can help. Not always with money but just some encouraging words and bearing their burden with them. Need just seems a little more accessable here although I think no there are were a lot of needs around me I just didn't see them as needs or know how to respond. This is probably going to be the toughest part of re-entry for Rhett whose work and faith and service are all jumbled together in a really wonderful way here. I really pray that he is able to figure out how to live out a little of what he has learned here in that context. It will be a challenge, I know.
I do not miss not having a personal relationship with the people I encounter in my everyday life. Kijabe is a bit like Mayberry in that I know the shop keeper, the people in the market, the person who delivers my paper, the guards at the hospital. They are the same people day after day and we have become friends. Life in the US seemed a little bit anonymous. I might see a few familiar faces in various shops or at the bank but it wasn't the level of friendship I have with people here. Actually, the only person in the US that I remember have a relationship with was a bagger at Publix who was Kenyan! It is nice to have people notice that you haven't been to the market that week or inquire about your family member who has been sick.
So 18 months ago I would have had a different list I'm sure. It would have been long on the lack of conveniences of the USA which start to fade after a while and become more annoyances than anything else. But the rolling black outs, occasional water outage and slower internet just sort of become part of your life and you deal. Now I feel like a have a little bit better perspective just in time for my life to turn upside down again in 6 months!