I knew I was back in Africa when it took me a full 30 minutes to walk the 100 yards from my apartment to the library – greetings and “welcome backs” all along the way. (That’s about the same amount of it would have taken me to walk the 3kms from where we stayed in Cambridge to Tyndale House.)
As for my arrival: It doesn’t have the same burst through the doors feel any more. I sent an sms the second the plane landed – “touchdown”; I raced through immigration (yes, I managed to be the first one through); I scanned the waiting throngs through the glass doors at baggage claim and immediately picked the love of my life out of the crowd, . . . then had to wait an additional 20 mins for my bag to arrive before I could greet her properly.
We got home after the kids had already gone to bed, so Friday morning had that festive Christmas feel – bleary-eyed parent gets startled awake at the crack of dawn by very excited kids and stumbles into the living room to hear all the dramatic stories that have been saved up for weeks. Christi even put on some Christmas music for the occasion.
After eight heroic weeks of single parenting, Christi was ready for me to dive right back into my usual parenting roles; but after six weeks of less than enough sleep, and two successive nights of only three hours of sleep (one in the final push at Tyndale, one seated on an airplane), I didn’t exactly step up to the plate the way I was supposed to. 😦 All our dreamed of plans for long talks, make-up back rubs, and foot massages kind of went out the window when we realized that the kids would be home for mid-term break – Friday through Monday. Now that the kids are back in school and I’ve slept a bit, we are both feeling much more relaxed. It’s nice just to be able to talk about things as they come to mind without having to write them in an e-mail or save them for our next chat.
Christi found out about a little cottage near Lake Naivasha
that a retired missionary doctor makes available as a retreat for others. We escaped there – as much as one can with four small kids – for the extended weekend. From the safety of porch in the early morning, we enjoyed seeing hippos grazing and giraffes meandering down the flamingo ringed lakeshore. Later in the day, we ventured down to the lake and could see the occasional hippo bob to the surface – now safely back in the water.
It rained most of the time at the cottage, but we escaped to Hell’s Gate National Park, where it seemed the rain waited for us to leave each area before deluging it. The kids were full of adventure and excitement as they led us on an hour-long hike down a picturesque gorge with hot springs trickling out of the cliffs. About half-way through the walk, Liam decided that it would be more prestigious to have the Masaai guide help him down the cliffs and back and forth over the stream bed. “No, Daddy; guide help me!” Christi rewarded their efforts with a gallon of chocolate ice scream at the end. All in all, we had a great time, but we are happy to see the kids skip off to school on Tuesday morning.
Little ones change a lot in eight weeks. Leila seems much more happy and at peace with herself than she was two month ago. A trip to America seems to have done wonders for her. She prayed for “contentment” for her birthday and says that God answered her prayer two weeks early. Liam is quite the communicator – as far as words go, the bigger the better. And he carefully measures each word to make sure he is getting the syntax right – often self-correcting mid-way through a sentence. We visited some obsidian caves in the park and he got right into yelling “obsidian” as he threw obsidian rocks down the hill. Back at school on Tuesday, Leila was proud as a peacock when she got to “teach” her class the differences between the obsidian rocks, we collected in the park and the pumice we had picked up on the lake shore.
Kids aren’t the only changes I’ve seen. Even as I am readjusting to bumpy roads, roads that had seemed to be eternally under construction are now suddenly finished – smooth works of beauty. It’s like Kenya is undergoing an infrastructure revolution. (This give me hope that I will be able to say the same for faster internet connectivity in the not too distant future.) The color scheme of Kenya’s towns is changing too. Safaricom’s green endures, but the reds and yellows of Celtel has given way to the pinks and purples of Zain. (In most towns, it appears that mobile telephone companies offer free painting services in exchange for turning your stores into billboards for their company.)
Then as we drove through the majestic Rift Valley with picturesque volcanoes dotting the landscape, we were jolted back into the reality of how this year began. There in the midst of the Rift Valley’s majestic beauty stand the telltale white tents and the UN SUVs – camps for Internally Displaced People.
Back at home the kids don’t skip a beat. We have noticed that Joy is starting to speak with a hint of an American accent. The daily routines of school, and the security of getting to play with all her usual friends seems to help alleviate (at least bit) some of the pains of home sickness. I guess she’s experiencing the paradox of being “home” without her parents. The majority of her day is the same, apart from the fact that she starts the day and eats lunch “across the hall” from where she used to, and she doesn’t get to go home for those precious moments with her family that used to begin at supper time. She definitely adds more Joy to the mix of our family; our three are visibly more happy to have her around. Yesterday at breakfast, Christi was lightheartedly telling the kids that being a Byerly meant being smart. I chimed in, “And when we find other smart kids, we just add them to our family.” The shy grin that spread across Joy’s face was priceless.
Slowly but surely I’m beginning to settle back into the rich community here – so many wonderful people. I’m a little surprised by all the people that want to catch up; it’s as though I was actually missed. Wednesday, we had a surprise visit from and old friend from DC, and a fun time with a young, dynamic couple that has just moved to Kenya. Thursday afternoon, I joined the second half of the old vs. new student’s football (soccer) game; we lost 1-0. I managed to escape with only a stubbed toe, but I’m so out of shape I puked afterwards. (To those of you who know me from high school, this will not come as a surprise, but it’s honestly been years since I did this. 😉 I did go for long runs down the river in Cambridge about once a week, but that’s no substitute for staying in game shape.
Friday night, we went out to Christi’s parents house to spend some time with her brother Michael and his family. They are currently transitioning between Uganda and Southern Sudan. Saturday, we went out into the plains behind their house and saw lots of wildlife – including a group of 27 giraffe. For lunch, we went to a nearby ostrich farm, and all the kids took a ride on an ostrich. (It’s less than $1.50 each). I was slightly over the weight limit, but the handler encouraged me to try it anyway. The ostrich protested when I sat down.