Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Happy to be home

The news that we would be moving back came a bit quickly although our general sentiment about wanting to be closer to family and friends has been growing over the last couple years.

Before we left Uganda, I was sort of expressing that I thought it would be hard on the kids as Uganda has been their only home.  The woman I was talking to said that when they left Thailand after many years, the "shock" of the move was greatly mitigated because they had moved back to the same area as family and the value/reality of being near family was intuitively a good thing even for younger children.
Anyway, I would say that we are finding that to be true.  Though the kids do miss Uganda and have had some bumps (anxiety, sadness, some bad dreams), they are largely seeming secure and settled much quicker than I was expecting.

Some photo highlights below.  Not shown are some great visits with friends this summer (Mehls, Anna, Jen and Joel, Ellie and her family, Gwyn--Lisa and Eddie, Christine) and visits with some friends on the horizon.  

A huge reason we wanted to be back: FAMILY!

We had lovely summer visits with my siblings and their kids (our newest adorable nephew came to PA this summer)

Some joys of being back in the homeland:
1. Awesome museums
2. Baseball games
3. Time with Grandma (and Grandpa but I don't have a photo!)
4. The "big city"-- Girls were going up and down the escalator near Macys.  Most shopping/arcade/glittery wonder is still pretty exciting esp for the girls.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

the unexamined life

"the unexamined life is not worth living"--Socrates

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

So, this is where I am a bit in our current state of life. 

(Addendum-- in looking up the Kierkegaard quotation I found a gold mine of quotations that I love-- guess some day I should read more Kierkegaard.  I think he was my kind of thinker. :) 

I'll attach a round of photos that record some lovely things of the last five months.   We are settling in well all in all.  But I do find that due to the significance of the move, the surreal element of how this life relates to our prior decade+, the sheer quantity of details that has come with the move, and the energy that I've committed primarily to helping the kids feel settled, I am somewhere in limbo land of my own self-awareness. 

But, as per Kierkegaard's guidance, I do not want to stay in this mode for too long as I do think our spiritual life is very much tied to our own self-knowledge and our own development/care for who we are and what makes up our days. 

Okay, more specific blogs to come but just wanted to check in and explain the lack of my "unexamined life". 

Addendum: More quotations:

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” 

“Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” 

“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” 

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed.”
― Søren KierkegaardThe Sickness Unto Death
“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.”
― Søren KierkegaardEither/Or: A Fragment of Life
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you'll never have.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

Friday, May 30, 2014

What made Mary cry

On the last day of school (in April--we did one term at an international school from Jan-April), I was driving the kids home from Kampala.

Mary was reading the cards that her classmates had written to her.

She began crying, really crying.  Rachel and Daniel asked her why and she said, "I just feel really sad about something someone wrote to me." We all begged her to tell us who and what they said.  Sad to say, I joined with the kids in trying to guess and speculate who the person was and why she was crying about him/her.

She was very determined not to share with us about who and what had made her cry.

About six weeks later my curiosity could take it no more.  So at the breakfast table when it was just Mary and me, I said, "Mary, what made you cry on the way home from school?"

She still refused to tell even despite my efforts to explain that we could write a note back, etc.

I asked her if it was some of the expatriate girls in the classroom, asked if it was boy, etc.

Finally, she told me.  "No, mom, she was really black.  Like actually black."  I knew that this meant Sudanese as many Sudanese have gorgeously dark skin--more bluish brown than others.

I told her that we could write a note to that girl.  She explained that it would be weird to write her a note because she had a sister at the school.  I told her the sister wouldn't really expect a note also.  Then she said the sister (or maybe cousin) was also in her class.

Okay, yes, now I see why that would be a bit awkward.

"And mom, I won't see them again.  I could see Kayla Joy or Maya again (British and American) but I doubt that I'll see that friend again."

"And that is why I cried."

Yes, now, I totally understand.  Though I feel sad about fellow expatriates that we are leaving, and though I feel sad about the University community that we are leaving, I also know that the more chasm-like-losses are with people with whom we have a very everyday relationship.

We have learned here that one joy that is different from home is the very present way of being with people, the lower expectations to say and do just the right things, but rather the mellow sort of relaxed way of being with people that is primarily being present in the day in and day out, the sitting with people without answers, without the pressure of conversation, action, etc.  This very thing is the very thing that won't be the same when we leave these people of our everyday life.  And though I intend to write notes, and phone call, and facebook with certain people, the reality is that this loss is a real loss.

And its a real loss worthy of a good cry.  Thank you, Mary for the reminder of true things.

This was Mary's first friend at UCU Daycare named "Papa"

Friday, May 23, 2014

Some goodbyes in photos...

I will try to post a couple blogs of photos capturing some "last" things.

One thing that should be a "first" thing if I'm going to keep up with this blog is how to move things around and arrange photos and texts on the page.  So please excuse the execution of these photo catalogs of last things.

I've been feeling a bit remiss that I'm not putting words to the emotions of leaving but I think I've decided that many of those feelings and even capabilities to verbalize things will unfold in the coming year.  "We live forward, understand backwards".  And it is partly true of human experience and I do think part of what will clarify the loss and change will be the reality of being in the thick of the "new" life, new culture, new roles, new home, new routines, etc, etc.  I suspect that is where many "ah-hahs" come so for now, I'll try to be a bit consistent on documentation and save reflection for later!

And as for readers, I'll be honest that at this point I'm mostly recording these things as a personal journal of sorts as I'm not great at doing a written journal.

The beginnings of last things:

Last days at Acacia International School included a sports day where the girls won medals for their trampoline moves.  I can only say that is due to years of a community trampoline on campus!
Mary on trampoline

Rachel on trampoline
At Carol's birthday party--Carol turns 4

The outgoing executive director of Uganda Partners at a local ministry with a Uganda Partners team
At a birthday party for Kadin
Doing a slideshow of photos of our expat friends over the years

Easter lunch at Cissy's
Rachel holding Baby Hannah at Cissy's

Ready for Introduction--the cultural form of engagement/marriage 
Pre-wedding, waiting for the bridal party

The set of photos with Rachel, Lisa and Eddie are photos taken from a trip to Western Uganda where we visited our friend Vincent(USP driver for 10 years) and then headed over to Queen Elizabeth National Park.  The trip was a bit of a last hurray for this season of life at least with USP colleagues, neighbors and friends.   It felt like a lovely grown-up trip exploring Uganda.  We were hoping to see tree-climbing lions and didn't manage that but the scenery, the drives, the companionship and the general enjoyment of travel with friends was a real treat.

Hiking up from Vincent's house in Rukungiri, his rooftop behind us
Visiting with Vincent's family, his sister, mother and grandmother

Soon to come, some photos of last dinners with friends in Mukono.  One day Mary said, "Why are we going to so many dinners at people's houses?" And I said, "would you rather stay home with Dorothy?" She said, "Definitely not, I was just wondering." I told her, "We want you to remember and enjoy the people we've known in Uganda and see all the different ways that family live, host visitors, share about their lives and share together about the time and roles we've had in each others lives."  A bit wordy, but I am really grateful that the kids are now at ages where it is easy to bring them along.  So, I have some photos documenting that but will also try to capture some of the traditions that go with dining and hospitality in Uganda.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Goodbye Events

1. USP Farewell
2. Easter cake for Sunday School
3. Easter at Cissys
4. Daniel and Mark did trip to Mburo and Kisoro
5. Maureen's wedding
6. Dinner at Sarah Taboswa's
7.  Tearful goodbye with Dorothy (who works with the Froes family, also sister to Joy Obetia who was a friend of my mom's and sister to Beatrice who works at Dennisons and lost her son to cancer this year)
8. Trip to Vincents and then to Ishasha with USP colleagues/friends
9. USP staff farewell

Yet to come:
1. Goodbye to Rachel Robinson--in this context, in these roles
2. Dinner at Vanessa's
3. Dinner at Opols
4. 3 different dinners out with 3 sets of good friends
5. UCU Farewell
6. UCU Thanksgiving at church--I'm not quite sure if we will manage this
7. Farewell to Women's fellowship
8. Last day at Kingfisher with expat families
9. Day at Kids World with Dorothy's family
10. Thanksgiving meal that our house staff will make for us

I'm posting this list with hopes that I'll write up my memories/highlights of the farewells, post photos, etc.  But for the immediate, I trust that those reading the blog will keep us in your prayers-- to stay present, to be grateful, to express the right thoughts at the right times in the right ways, to help the children feel stable and to help them process their emotions, to remember/honor that all of us and all who we are leaving are feeling/thinking particular thoughts/feelings based on their personalities, their life circumstances, their relationship to us, to not be too overwhelmed/proud to miss out on receiving the appreciation and love that others have to give us, etc.   I will try to get a slideshow of these goodbye events up by June/July!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


In high school, we use to "emulate" passages by other authors-- basically use their style but replace our own topic.  I'm afraid I'm going to be somewhere between emulating and down-right plagiarizing, but since only a few friends and family read this, I'm not worrying!

Everything in Italics is my mostly copied/a bit adapted description from a mama congo blog writer:

In about three months our lives will drastically change. My husband and I, with our three children, will leave the place we’ve called home for the last ten and half years. We will probably never return to live here again.
When we first came to Uganda, we didn’t know much about the place, we came because we were young, my parents were here and it seemed worth the experiment for a couple years.  We didn’t have plans to start a family in this country. My, how everything’s changed.

Just as we had a “feeling” we should move to Uganda. Now we have that same “feeling” that it’s time for us to leave. It just feels right and we have wonderful plans on the horizon, but boy is this hard. In fact, we’re feeling a bit lost in our last months here. This is the only home our children have ever known. Our kids have been loved by Dorothy, our nanny, who’s helped us raise them for as long as they’ve been loved by us. This will be hard, but it is time.

And so I have lots of questions about how to do this, but more importantly how to do this right. Will there be something meaningful I forget to say or do? Do we make a big deal out of our last goodbyes? Or are our children really too young to understand? There will be tears. There might even be sobs. I hope we don’t needlessly upset them.

I can’t help but think about how much easier our departure would be if we didn’t have children. Their little lives became a game changer for us living in Uganda. Once we had children and the people around us began to care for them and love them, I could feel the roots sprout from my feet and bind us here. They helped us burp our girls when they were babies, nurse them back to health when they were sick, they’ve memorized their every tick and tock.  This will be hard, but it is time.

Will our children, especially Rachel, have any authentic memories from these first years of their lives? Or will their only understanding of Uganda come through the stories we tell them over and over? Will the photos they see when they’re older be the only images that remain in their heads? This will be hard, but it is time.
My husband and I always say the hardest part about having living abroad is the leaving part. Goodbyes in your host country are usually forever. Sure, it’s hard leaving the United States and saying goodbye to parents and grandparents, but you know they’ll always be a part of your life. You’ll see them again. They’re your home base. They have the internet and email and Facebook and all those other lovely things that keep up connected to those we care about in the States.
When we leave Uganda, it is unclear what kind of communication we'll have.  We will not see many pictures of the loved ones we leave here. We will miss births and weddings and illness and death and all the minutiae in between that founded our friendships. This will be hard, but it is still the right time.

So, here her writing ceases and mine begins. What she said. But also with so many particular moments, memories, people, places, routines, smells, textures, plant life, seasonings, ways of praying and greeting and honoring and being present.   So many things that you can't replace, you can't have from a distance, you can't pretend will be remembered in all their fullness.

Today our dog died.  We've had several good long-lasting-like-family dogs and this was one of those. Her name was Athena.
The kids had dressed Athena and Rufus in sweatshirts and the dogs kindly capitulated
And I cried hard, in a sort of heaving way which I don't usually do.  I know I was crying for her but I know she was sort of also a conglomerate of so many confused emotions-- loss of her, loss of a season of our life, loss of control about the future of other loved ones here that we may or may not be able to help in their times of need.

I'm sure I'll give more specifics later but for the bare facts-- we will leave in June.  Mark is taking over as the executive director of Uganda Partners (please be discreet with that as it will be announced formally in June), we are celebrating 10 years of USP this semester, we are trying to pack up, get in quality time with lots of friends and loved ones, trying to anticipate some things but also let emotions roll as they will.  We will live with my folks at the beginning (in PA) and then see how that arrangement works; open to renting in Sewickley while we look into our longer terms thoughts and plans.

Obviously, the main thing stabilizing me is a sense that this was the role that would give us more connection to Uganda.  And that for all the people who will miss us, we have many people who will welcome us and care for us-- having missed us for the last ten years.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Feb Photo update

January and February are hot months in Uganda.  Not my favorite, I'll admit.  But there have been some dry air, blue sky days with banana leaves blowing in the dry wind that makes you think, of course Africa is beautiful and relaxed and full of life.   And the picture of pity that is often depicted doesn't even compute as people are smilingly pushing their wares down the street, chatting with friends as they sell chapatis on the side of the road, bathing their children and dressing them for school, hanging out at night around the charcoal stove laughing, singing, recounting the tales of their day.  

Mary has started a sketch book of "the way Ugandans do it"-- cooking, carrying babies, growing food, etc.   And I'm grateful for my time here that will never really allow me to pity another culture-- all people merit compassion with sickness, war, corruption, lack of access, financial hardship, etc.  But there are really no broad-brush strokes to paint a culture and its way of life as more or less lacking than another.  

I'm not really trying to be comprehensive in any real worldview statement as much as I'm saying that despite my personal aversion for the hot months, I can see and relate to the joys of the sun, the joys of a culture that is more connected with the earth and its seasons.  I know that when we move back and I meet up with a Ugandan friend for coffee some fall or winter day, at what I deem to be a cozy, sentimental time of year, I will understand what they are missing.  They are missing the equatorial sun that really does feel a bit nearer, the sound of leaves flapping, the laughter, the crowds, the loud music and evangelistic sounds systems strapped to pick up trucks, the meals of matoke with family who somehow also includes whatever visitors/extended family/clansmen/church folk/ etc happens to be there that day, wheelbarrows of pineapples and mangos and the ever present social life of their home culture. 

Okay, ramble aside, here are some pictures from the last 6 weeks-- two kittens have now left home leaving us with momma kitty and Orie (yes, keeping the tolkien naming theme strong here) .  

3 kittens in a basket!
Nursing mother keeping Daniel company!
A sketch of crested Cranes on barkcloth
The colors of Uganda to me-- was trying to work on some t-shirt designs for USP
Jean's birthday-- getting some assistance for smiling!
The cat has definitely been under less duress than the dog with the whole feeding babies thing!
Rachel's birthday when my parents were still here

Rachel and Noll both have Feb 4th birthdays--Rachel turned 5 and Noll turned 2!
Rachel definitely growing out of young child stage to fun child stage!
While the girls may have finished at St. Elizabeths, Jean has just begun and seems to be doing well!
We're all watching the monkeys playing... I have a one minute video but can't get it to upload!  Suffice to say, pretty fun to watch monkeys playing with a wiffle ball and each other!
Noll's cupcakes--- have to admit that after Mark, Jean, Rachel, I find I'm pretty done with the birthday gig! Sorry, Noll.  Luckily, I think you won't really remember this. :) 

Was trying to capture the three kids swinging, one girl jump roaping and Noll in the background toddling around with a toy CD player-- playing the same song over and over.