I, personally, had a great first year, I think. I didn't really experience the culture shock that some do. I never wanted to leave. I was nearly always quite happy to be here, even in some of those more challenging times. That's what I had wanted, the challenging times. Isn't that what life is about? Challenge, going through difficulties, growing closer to each other and to the Lord? So, like I said, all good. I loved Africa, Kenya, and even Lokichoggio. And I was confident that that would soon be reciprocated, to fulfill my expectations of the community and relationships I so desired. But I have to tell you, honestly, that I have recently been experiencing some less fulfilling times. And while it hasn't taken me by surprise, exactly, it isn't fun. I liked the honeymoon stage better. Too bad it couldn't last forever.
Before we moved here, my friend Breanna, who lived here for many years, some of that just their family so her husband being the only pilot, and also had a premature baby to throw into the mix, told me three important things about Loki: it's hot. its dirty. there are lots of bugs. Well, pshaw. What's a few bugs? We're missionaries for crying out loud. If we can't handle some bugs and some dirt, then ship us back home. Right? I remember being vaguely insulted, one day long ago, when someone referred to my two years in Senegal as "short term." It didn't feel short at the time. It felt like a lifetime. But now I know what a lifetime may start to feel like, when there is no end in sight. When the days, and the years, stretch out in front of you, one dusty, thorny, ant-filled suffocating day after the other. The things that didn't bother me too much for a year start to really seem like big things. Let me tell you. Those bugs start to matter. And I've started to question myself. To see my weakness. To doubt my commitment. More than I ever have before in my whole life. And I came to the conclusion that its ok to get to the end of myself. Its where I go from there that shapes the future.
I've learned alot these last 20 months, and developed some skills that would come in handy in no other life whatsoever: packing and traveling overseas with young children; navigating the city of Nairobi, big things like driving the stick shift comfortably, being confident in traffic with no stop lights, how to avoid City Council parking meter people if at all possible, to go the opposite direction if you see a crowd of people, no matter how curious you are or how urgent your business might have been; but small things too: where in Nairobi to get the necessary ingredients for our traditional Easter brunch; where to get the best mandazis, some special places that significantly reduce my stress level, what size shoe I am in European sizes, what British textbooks I can use in our homeschool so I don't need to bring them from America. Finding doctors, dentists, and other professionals. Favourite restaurants, churches, and friends. And of course, things about rural life: I can make sour cream from buttermilk, pretty good pizza, salsa, caramel sauce, all manner of food from scratch. I can guess how long the fridge can go without power, and approximately how long the diesel will last in the generator depending on how much power we're using. I know to buy something when I see it, whether or not I wanted it at that point, because it might not be there again for awhile. I know the float test for eggs is worth it, because one rotten is just, ew. I know what the initial symptoms of malaria feel like. I know that standing still in church makes me look more silly than moving along with everyone else, even though inside I feel opposite. I've learned to relax into the role of language learner, and accept that I will just look and feel stupid regularly, and even young children will laugh at me. I've even learned some of the many local berries and "fruits" that are edible and enjoyed by sheperds and traditional Turkana in the bush. I've learned new vocabularies for so many things, including some British words that we now use like chips and queu. I've learned to always check your shoes for crawling insects and your drink for flying ones. I've learned that you really do not want to forget your shoes when walking at night. And that a flip flop is very handy not just a shoe but as a fly swatter. I've learned a decent amount of Swahili, but even more so I've learned that having my precious three little people at home is a pretty good compromise for not achieving the level of fluency I would have wanted. I have learned that some places in Kenya are quite chilly, and to be prepared. I have learned that there are some days that can only end turning the phone off, turning the phone off, and hiding out with a familiar romantic comedy and cookie dough in some form. I've learned that the amount of energy and effort it takes to take care of my family, and myself, in this environment may not leave alot left over most days, and that is ok. I've learned so. many. things.
But the list of things I have yet to learn is also long. I am right now in the process of learning that although I thrive on being independent (and, let's be honest, in control), and don't like to be needy, or at times even too sociable, I will literally go stark raving mad without Patrick here with us, for too long. I am learning to be content in all circumstances, whether those circumstances include power or not, fresh fruit or not, malaria or not, community/fellowship or not, a single second in the day without sweat or not, well behaved children or not. I would like to learn that it means for joy to come from inside. For peace to be unshakeable, even when the power goes out again, my child is sick again, my husband is gone again, i am covered with terribly itchy, oozing bug bites again, I feel so alone, again. I can't say I've learned those things. I want to learn to be content in wherever God has me, to not wish myself somewhere else, doing something more exciting, more purposeful, less mundane. I want to learn to not judge my success as a parent/wife/missionary on a day to day basis, but to try to be faithful in the small things and leave the future up to Someone with more insight and control than I. I want to learn to be patient when I don't know what the future holds, when I can't fix the problems I see around me, when our purpose seems unclear and that makes one question everything. I want to have enough humility to accept that I don't just need Jesus to do big, exciting, life changing things; I need him to get through the day.
I recently bought for myself a bracelet from Turkana Beads, and Patrick commented it looked like the Wonder Woman logo. I decided I liked that, and have kept it on for a while. There have been some afternoons, 4 or 5 o'clock, when I feel myself starting to lose it, just like any mother anywhere. (Husband traveling, no power, tired of homeschooling, friends coming by to tell me they are hungry, or even worse, sending their children. Spent too much money in America so eating lentils and rice. again. You know. first world problems.) And I glance down at my wonder woman bracelet, trying to get myself together. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I am capable. I have always been capable. I love Africa. I have always wanted this life. I still want this life. I am strong enough for this life. The dust can't get to me. The heat can't get to me. The soft potato and moldy cabbage can't get to me. The lack of community can't get to me. The day in, day out, stuck in this tiny town for 4 months, never going more than a mile in any direction can't get to me.
But I've realized I am not Wonder Woman. It can get to me. I am really not that capable. I am a weak, whiny, short tempered, irritable mess sometimes, and I want to run away. To put jeans on, blow-dry my hair, wear make up that wont melt off, and sit in a lovely little cafe in Nairobi eating chocolate cake and drinking a latte. Where no hungry people will come to my gate. Where no giant roaches will crawl over my toothbrush and into my shoes. Where I will never eat another lentil again.
You're probably wanting me to wrap this up with a nice, neat spiritual success story. But I can't do that, its a journey. Its my journey, and maybe its yours too, in some way. In church this morning, a lady read Psalm 121. She talked about Lokichoggio, saying, sometimes its a hard place. When it is 38 degrees (Celsius), with scorpions and big snakes, what do we do? But the Lord is the shade at our right hand. The sun will not harm us. He watches over us. So, all I can say is, I will lift up my eyes to the hills. Maybe you're looking that direction with me.