If I had to describe this past year in one word…I am not sure I could. Unpredictable? Roller coaster? Change? It was quite a year, from the very beginning to the very end. Here are a few of the highlights, more or less in order.
1. I made it back into Kenya. In December of 2013, I was desperate for a my Christmas break. I was exhausted and careening somewhat haphazardly towards the edge of burnout. I had landed in Kenya on September 17, picked up a few things in Nairobi, drove out to Tenwek, moved into my house, met my new roommate, took approximately 30 minutes to look over the curriculum, and started teaching on the 20th. It was a bit of a whirlwind. My Christmas break was suppose to be a break–I was moving into a new apartment, baking cookies, planting my garden, sleeping late, writing Christmas cards, and not walking into the school room. Not. Even. One. Time.
And then I got the phone call everyone wants to get just three days into my break. “Lisette, we have a problem. You have to leave the country.” (Yes, that is a direct quote.)
It turns out that a simple visa renewal was complicated because, well, they don’t do that anymore. You have to leave the entirety of East Africa for 72 hours before coming back into get a new visa. So instead of baking, packing, and settling, I was scrambling to find an affordable, last minute, international flight the week of Christmas. After looking through dozens– or probably hundreds– of flights and options (London! No, Paris! Could I possibly go all the way home! Yes! Crap, No! The Seychelles! Morocco! Italy? Greece? Spain?) In the end, my cousin and his wife graciously invited me to spend time with her family in Germany. Once I finally made a choice and booked a flight, I had 2.5 days to take down my Christmas decorations, pack up my house, move into an apartment that wasn’t quite empty yet (because I wasn’t suppose to move until the next week), arrange transportation to Nairobi to get on the plane, find clothes appropriate for Germany in December, and then pack those clothes. Oh, yeah, and celebrate Christmas. Needless to say, it wasn’t quite the break I had hoped for.
I arrived at the airport less than 24 hours after moving the last of my boxes into my new and not quite vacated apartment, with a slightly expired visa. I was hoping that with the new rule changes and the fact that I was, in fact, already leaving the country, they would overlook that detail. Instead, the immigration officer grilled me about what I was doing in Kenya, why my visa was expired, and then proceeded to stamp an official “warning” in my passport and informed me that I would not be allowed to return until I had my work permit. I stumbled to my gate in a daze. By the time I took my seat on the plane, I was almost ready to use the vomit bags. I remember gazing out onto the Great Rift Valley as it disappeared in the distance and wondering if I would ever see Kenya again.
I was (almost) certain that the immigration official had been blowing smoke about needing a work permit to get back in, but having someone stamp a bright red “warning” in your passport has a way of shaking your confidence.
I loved Germany and spending time with family around Christmas, but I fell asleep every night, wondering if I would ever get back to Tenwek.
When I finally landed back in Nairobi four days later, on January 2nd, I scanned the faces of the different immigration officials and picked the one who looked the least scary. She was a woman and I thought maybe that would work in my favor. As it turns out, she looked at my paperwork and the words “Tenwek Hospital” and started smiling.
“Bomet is my home!” she told me excitedly. “I know Tenwek!” She barely even glanced at my passport as she stamped the new visa. She even thanked me for my work in Bomet. I practically danced all the way to the baggage claim.
2. I became an aunt. On February 5th, the most adorable baby I have ever seen (I have another niece arriving any day) came into this world. She is also the smartest baby I have ever met. We don’t share pictures of her online, so you will just have to take my word for it, but I have seen a lot of babies and not one compares.
3. I did not go to Ethiopia. Yes, most of the major events of this past year revolved around whether or not I had the right paperwork. Welcome to my life. Three months after I came back into the country, I was still waiting on the paperwork to allow me to stay more permanently and they were still not renewing visas. We waited…and waited and waited. Finally, my bosses gave me the go ahead to buy another ticket out of East Africa. This time, I had a bit of warning and had done some planning and had picked Ethiopia.
It is actually the cheapest flight out of Nairobi, but requires quite a bit of planning and prep work– something that was not going to work with just a few days notice at Christmastime. In early March, however, I was prepared. I had a guesthouse picked out, had arranged the transportation once I arrived, and was excited to see some new parts of Africa. Then, with less than 18 hours until my flight, we got the call: my visa had been renewed. I was tempted to take the trip anyway–school was out for Spring break and I really did want to visit Addis Adaba, but, in the end, I just got my refund.
4. I climbed a volcano. Instead of going to Ethiopia, a few friends and I spent the last full day of the Spring Break hiking Mount Longonot, outside of Nairobi. It was cold and rainy, then hot and muggy, breathtakingly beautiful and utterly exhausting.
5. I finally got an answer about my work permit. And it was not what we had been hoping for. On June 5th, the evening after our last day of classes, I was walking into a presentation about plans for the future of Tenwek Hospital. I had brought a notebook to take notes–I would be leaving to spend the summer in the U.S., talking to people and ministry partners about Tenwek and I wanted to have the latest info. As I sat down, my phone rang. It was my boss and I knew.
It was a Thursday evening. The work permit committee met every Wednesday and the results were posted every Thursday. I knew that a Thursday evening phone call meant they had an answer. When I heard the tone of their voices, I knew the answer. They didn’t take long. They told me how sorry they were, how this was not the answer any of us wanted, but it was clear. They told me they appreciated my contributions to the Tenwek missionary community and that they would be praying for me.
I walked back into the room. The presentation had already started. I did not take notes, partly because I no longer needed to, but mostly because I could not make my hands stop shaking. For the next week, I walked around feeling like I had been punched in the stomach. Somewhere in London, during my three day stopover on the way back to the US, that sensation gradually disappeared.
Wrapped up in this event are all the goodbyes and endings that accompany an international move. It was hard and sad. I learned that I am a pre-griever: I grieve before things happen and then they happen and I am done. It was a good thing to learn about myself.
6. Oh, yeah: I visited London. I have learned that I transition better between countries if I have a buffer country. I need to completely leave my life in one country for a day (or two or three) before I can fully step into the new life in the new country.
London was beautiful and interesting. I watched street performers and wandered through halls of famous artwork. I took a selfie next to the statue of John Wesley and ate bangers and mash. And then I got back on the plane to the next part of my life.
7. I decided to move to Uganda. In a completely unexpected twist, God opened a door to ministry in Uganda, working in community health empowerment. In fact, He opened it so quickly, I worried that it was nothing more than a rebound ministry. Surely I would have to be in limbo longer than a few weeks, wondering what was next, right? But God is good and kind and merciful–things I know, but often forget. He does not leave us wondering or wandering blindly. He does have a plan and sometimes we have to wait to figure it out and sometimes He just leads out one door and right into another. I am thankful this is one of those times.
8. I moved into my great-grandparents old apartment. In fact, I realized just the other day that my favorite picture of my beloved Grandma Miller is taken in what is now my living room. She is laughing and looks exactly like I remember her in my childhood brain. My grandmother owned the building and rented the apartment to her parents in their last years. And then, when I came back in July, she rented it to me. It’s small and cozy, with an exposed brick wall in the kitchen and a funky kitchen countertop that looks like seashells encased in transparent yellow plastic. (Oddly, three different children have asked me if I made the countertop.)
Everything about this place is kind of perfect for me. I even have my Grandma Miller’s lime green formica kitchen table, with matching lime green vinyl chairs. The best part: my cousin lives in the other downstairs apartment. It is like have a roommate, but not sharing a kitchen.
9. My grandmother died. She was 91 and not in good health. When I moved to Kenya in September of 2013, I said goodbye to her and was convinced I was saying goodbye for good. In fact, she was insistent that she would probably die while I was overseas and I was not to come back for her funeral. It would be a waste of money, she told me emphatically.
When she caught pneumonia last spring, I thought I would have to make the choice. (I was determined to come back anyway, just to be with family during the funeral. Also, I do not like being told what to do.) I never had to choose. She recovered and lived until December 23rd. She had a wonderful life, but her last years were very limited and full of physical challenges. The last ten days of her life, she did not leave her bed and was only occasionally coherent. I am rejoicing in the knowledge that she is walking around in heaven, free of pain or even a walker. That left knee finally works the way it is suppose to. And though she would have thought it scandalous while here on earth, I hope she is even dancing with my Grandpa. She was sweet and generous and I am still adjusting to the idea that she is gone.
My pastor encourages us to pray for a new word for each year. And some of the bloggers I read are talking about it, too. I have never done it, but I think I am suppose to this year. I am not sure what it is, or if I will share it here, but I am hoping for a word like consistency, or perhaps peace. Vacation would be a pretty great one. Something that conveys a sense of rest and not massive life change. I am not convinced that will ever be in the cards for me, but who knows?
I do know this: I am looking forward to 2015, whatever it brings. I hope you are, too.