Thursday, November 10, 2011

Progress, Humor, & Breathing Deeply

Well - we are making progress. After about a week in the country, we have cell phones, we've looked at a couple vehicles to purchase, we're learning our way around (Chris can successfully get himself home with a taxi driver who doesn't know where he's going), we've possibly made some friends, and we're pretty sure we've found a place to live. Whew!

Apartment shopping here is unlike anything I've done before as an adult - it basically involves driving through an area we think we'd like to live (a decision based only on how it looks, feels, and how far it is from Chris's work), stopping at anything that looks like rented housing, and asking the guard at the gate if there's anything available. As we're still working on our swahili, we've experimented with every possible form of asking for available housing in English:
* Do you have any space?
* Is there any vacancy?
* Are you full?
* Is there anything to let? (common phrase here 'to let' meaning to rent)
* We are looking to rent - is it possible?
* Do you have any empty units/flats?
Or, a combination: "Do you have any vacant empty flats to let or rent that are available?" - this was the most successful.

After two full days of driving around terrible roads in terrible traffic we think we've found a place. (Note on Kenyan traffic - our driver explained to me today that we were in 'good traffic' when we were going about 10mph. I clarified he meant good and not bad, he said "oh, it's moving so it's good. Sometimes you can be completely stopped. Then it is bad. To stay stopped for a long time, then it is bad. As long as it is moving - you'll be ok. You are getting somewhere.") So, we found a pretty great 3bed 2.5bath on the ground floor of a complex, great security, swimming pool (slightly green), and a gym (sort of...). It's freshly painted and we love all the trim & tiles inside - we're happy.

I also think we're on the track to making some friends. I had an eventful day yesterday...story time:

I decided to take the kids out to do some errands - to look at a vehicle at a dealer, to buy Kai diapers & a few other necessities at the grocery, to pull out Kenyan shillings from the ATM, to purchase Mika diapers from a woman who had advertised in my former high schools newsletter, and then to meet a family friend for a cup of coffee at a coffee shop with a playground. It was ambitious, but I assumed doable.

Well, I did it...but I'm not sure it was doable. After accidentally using my credit card, I successfully removed money with my debit card while Kai wandered away to engage in some polite conversation with some Germans (ambitious of him as he doesn't speak German). Juggling Mika & my purse, I 'discreetly' put my money in my purse (offensively large by any non-mother standards) and went to the grocery store, Kai retrieved from the Germans.

The grocery store, Nakumatt, has these very kid friendly carts with the equivalent of a playschool toy car attached to the front of the cart so kids can 'drive' while parents shop. Kai loves these, but mostly loves them because he can open & close the door, and get in & out. This obviously makes shopping very difficult. As does having absolutely no idea what brand of anything to buy - Bread? 4 minute decision.  Diapers? 8 minute decision.  Shampoo? 10 minute decision. Produce? What is that?! Maybe later. Meat? I give up and decide to try again another day. Another note about Kenyan grocery stores & running errands in general - almost no one does it with kids. I am an absolute anomaly walking around with Mika either in an Ergo or in my arms, and Kai in the cart. All other children are at home I suspect...I'm attempting to change the trend, but I may fail at this self-appointed task and resign effective immediately.

So, needless to say, the grocery store run didn't go well & ended with Kai wandering away with the Nakumatt employee putting away our cart/Kai's 'car'. When I called him, he decided it was an appropriate time & place to throw a decently sized fit - to my severe irritation, and I believe to the entertainment of everyone around, though I ignored eye contact in an attempt to maintain some semblance of dignity/anonymity/denial.

We made it out to the car, both kids screaming & groceries successfully loaded. 5 min to next appointment with Tish, the diaper ad. (side bar - most vehicles in Kenya are equipped with several security features - wheel locks, gear locks, steering wheel locks, etc). I put the key in the ignition and go to put the car in reverse - it's absolutely jammed. I try & try, with no luck. I begin to tear up. Tish calls & asks if we can change our meeting place to a bit closer & still in 5 min. I admit my current dilemma but say I'll do my best - she sounds nice & says she'll come help if I need it. I hang up, and call my mom (who is in Ghana, by the way) and say through my tears "is there a trick to this car?" while what I'm thinking is "why did I move here and why did I have children?" She calmly asks "did you take off the reverse lock?", problem solved.

I make my way out of the shopping center, still fighting tears and convinced I will break down at the next kind look, regardless of who its sender might be. As I exit, I pay the 50c required parking fee now in place at all shopping centers & pass the cars entering the shopping mall who are being checked inside & out & under for any security threats due to heightened security in Kenya since recent Somilia/Kenya developments. I arrive at my meeting location with Tish - babies still screaming and wait. She calls 5 minutes later, I'm at the wrong Montessori school - there are two in the same block. She arrives & we strike up an enjoyable conversation. To make a very long story a bit shorter - I threw myself at the possibility of friendship saying something along the lines of "well, I'm new to the area and don't have any friends so you have my number & if you're ever bored, feel free to give me a call."

She replies she'd love to & by the time we've finished our 10 minute interaction, we'd established we would get our families together for dinner sometime early next week...yeah! Progress.

I went to match up with my coffee date, and met another mom with a son Kai's age...again, I threw myself at the possibility of peer interaction/mom interaction - saying "do you come here often? I'd be happy to join you." And again, my reckless appeal for friendship was met positively - we've agreed to meet up again sometime soon for the kids to play. More progress.

Kai & Mika are slowly beginning to sleep at night, and Kai has already started picking up Swahili - progress.

While every day here is a challenge, and I have cried every day, we are settling in, and the challenging/irritating/incredulous aspects of each day are a bit less challenging, irritating, and incredible. Life is full here - the second one steps out of their driveway, life is swirling around with an unpredictability that is incredibly predictable. Everything takes longer than expected, and surprises are around every corner. While it is at times stressful, I found myself thinking today that this is a place where life is deeply lived, not floated through. I think I prefer it that way.

It is, as I've told people before, a place where my soul breathes deeply, taking in the fullness of life. My soul breathes deeply of beauty & of tragedy, of compassion & of resentment, of excess & of desperate need, of order & of chaos, of practical & absolutely senseless. Kenya seeps its way in to me again, and despite how uncomfortable it can be, my soul is again breathing deeply.

I promised Chris I would finish this up 20 min ago, so I've got to scoot. I'll write again soon, and Kai promises he will too - he has some great insights on being here so watch for another "through Kai's eyes" sometime soon.

Til then! 


  1. Wow! Can't believe how much you guys have already accomplished in such a short amount of time. Praying for you and your little family!

  2. Hi Sarah! Glad to find your blog.... you and your family are in my prayers; you're also heros of mine for moving overseas with a young family (what I hope to do as well). :) May God surround you with His peace that surpasses all circumstances, and may your cup overflow with His joy and comfort.

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  4. As I said, you write for me - all these years of experiencing much of the same. So glad to have had these few days. You guys are champs through the tears, the learning and the countless joys.

  5. Sara + Chris +Mika + Kai...i am delighted to finally embark along side of you on your life journey via this blog. i must admit i am taken a back at the eloquence of your blog post Sara. , not that i didn't think you were capable of it, but rather it has been so long since i have seen it written. your cry out for friendship i think is extremely brave, something many would never think of doing in their life time. We all have needs for a community...yours there is newly beginning but im confident in your family to soo be the go to spot for everyone there in 3 months tops :). (ok off to read your other posts and comment some more) - everson

  6. South Africa (where I live now) is much the same as the USA. Soul draining and materialistic to say the least. I was in Uganda last week on business, and it of course reminded me of the place I call home, Kenya. U are so right it let's your soul breathe!!!! I felt good! I think it's part of God's voice calling us to where we must be, to where he has our soul breathe the best!

    Loving your blog!


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