Thursday, August 7, 2014

#290 The Final Chapter -- Debriefing and Re-Entry

Grandpas and Cousin Gabriel meeting us at the airport in Baltimore.  Other pictures are from our time in Europe.

Although I was hoping to reach 300, it is quite astounding for me to see the body of written work I have created in nearly weekly installments about the events of the past 6 years.  I treated the task as a ‘spiritual discipline,’ a public journal to allow others to share in the experience of a North American Christian family working and living in a small Francophone African country.  I am thankful for the grace to have been able to complete it from beginning to end.

While there is much that I was not able to say in a public forum -- indeed some of our most difficult struggles are left unmentioned -- I do feel pleased that I was able to create some narrative unity in the experience we had there, including some of the true highlights and challenges. 

Not surprisingly, the reflections chronicle changes in me more than anything else.  The zeal for going out and doing something like this is not the same impulse that makes creating life and community as an ex-pat. a sustainable reality.

As far as value, the blog did serve as a useful distraction if nothing else.  Even during hard times, on a bad day, I could take some small solace in being able to retell our woes on the blog.  In more practical ways, quite a few people who were moving to Burundi found the blog and even became friends; a few others made connections to our partners and started to support projects.  All of these were unexpected positive outcomes.

I hope in the future, it can become meaningful for our children to read when they are older and want to understand who we were as parents, and a family when they were young.

I admit, I have found myself frequently re-reading old entries to remember not only the event, but the creative  re-telling of it.

I read two books on the way home, one was Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, the other was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi.  They are in no way similar, but both do deal with the theme of ‘re-telling’ events to bring out or perhaps create meaning, understanding, hope.  While I do not consider myself a writer in any serious way, I do feel the deep joy of ‘telling’ our story and somehow enobling the ordinary, raising it, modestly, to the level of myth or legend.  I think there is an honest, and a dishonest way of doing this, and I hope I did this with integrity, not confusing story-telling with lying.

To put on the final chapter:  We have completed our two week break between departure and re-entry which we spent in several places in Europe.  The primary reason for stopping there was to participate in an official debriefing, run by an organization called Le Rucher, which prepares missionaries and long-term workers for return back to their home countries.  Although they specialize in trauma and crisis situations (ex: hostage-taking or death of a team member) they also do general counseling for missionaries returning after a long absence to one’s home culture, a process which has complications of its own. 

Our European soujourn began in Zurich where we spent a night at the home of a friend of Rebecca from grade school.  Caroline and her family welcomed us to spend a night there. 

The condominium was the beautiful perfection of Danish modern décor. In fact, I finally truly understood the real appeal of IKEA.  Every square inch of the place was white except the blond wood floors.  Even the piano.  The beds were covered with a single duvet.  It was very simple, yet elegant. The 4 floor walk up gave us a nice view out the window.  The neighborhood was quaint and the public transportation was incredible. 

We left at noon the next day to travel by train to Stuttgart, Germany where we spent 4 days with Tanja and Stefan Hoffman and their three boys Silas, Nils, and Luis.  These were some fellow missionaries who were in Burundi for 5 of the six years we were there. Nils was one of Oren’s classmates during the entire time. Their family had returned home to Germany last summer and we really missed them.  It was really nice to see them again, and to talk about the realities of re-entry that they have already experienced -- a bit of peer counseling, maybe.  

We did some outings and hikes in the area around where they live.  They live in a village outside of Stuttgart in which every tree is a fruit tree—plum, apple, peach, cherry.  You could just walk around and pick a fruit to munch on the way.  We visited a castle in part of the old city.

For Rebecca and I, a highlight was being able to swim in a fabulous pool every morning while their kids were in school.  There was an incredible public pool facility a short walk from their house.  It had 5 pools and several water slides.  One of the pools was a 50 meter lap pool.  The water was so shimmering clear -- you could see from one corner to the far corner! -- and the people swam in such an orderly way that it was almost intimidating.  After being used to swimming in an opaque pool in Burundi where people swim somewhat haphazardly, this was too good to be true.

We were able to swim 3 of the days we were there.  Oren loved the water slides.  David found the water too cold much of the time.  (The water was not cold but the air is much cooler and drier than Burundi.)

We left them on Sunday and headed by train to Geneva for our debriefing.  The location of the debriefing was in a small town (Cessy) just outside Geneva across the border in France.  Someone from the center picked us up at the airport train station and took us there.

The accommodations at the Le Rucher center were comfortable, on a large property in the countryside.  There was a view of the Alps and Mt. Blanc right in front of us (although mostly hidden by clouds).  The food was also very provincial including many cheeses and other dairy products.  My favorite was a gigantic bowl of crème fraiche that was brought out for us to share every morning.

There was one other family there.  They were German with 3 kids coming back from 6 years in Afghanistan.  The debriefing was for our two families,  and there were 5 debriefing counselors that worked with us through the week.

It was a very interesting and helpful process, particularly since it was geared to every member of the family.  We usually began together in the morning with some singing, then the adults and kids were separated and the kids did their own debriefing session with 2 counselors.  The adults would meet as a group briefly and were given an assignment to work on.  Then we would get several hours each of individual counseling sessions with one of the counselors.

The assignments we did included making a detailed timeline of the past 6 years identifying areas of change, concern, criticism, conflict,  and crisis.  We talked about these with the counselors.  Toward the end of the week we focused on re-entry and what we could expect, how to start to make new ties, etc.  One of the interesting things they said was that coming back from such an assignment, you will find yourself with a great deal of highly specialized experience and knowledge that will have no practical application in the context to which you are going.  This can be very difficult to deal with as few people will actually be very interested to hear all about your experiences.   We were reminded that as much as we have changed, nothing in the place we are returning to has remained stagnant either.  People have changed in your home as well.  Don’t assume you are coming back to the same culture you have left.

The kids did a similar thing in a more visual way.  They made a timeline with our help.  But they also made "hot air" balloons and attached strings to them, then attached symbols of things that had tethered them to Burundi.  The next day they had to cut the strings and decide which of those things would be left behind and which could go in the gondola with them.  On the 3rd day they added new strings of things that would tether them to the new place they were going.  Both Oren and David enjoyed doing this.

They were also asked about their reaction to leaving.  Our kids are in opposite camps on this.  Nine-year-old Oren is thrilled to be going back.  To him America is all about Grandparents, zoos, museums, and theme parks.  Five-year-old David is devastated.  He deeply identifies Burundi as home, for him this is not returning, but emigrating to the US.  At one point someone asked him if he was excited about his upcoming Birthday.  “NO.” was his reply. 

When asked why not, he said:  “Because I am going to a country I don’t know where I have no friends.” 

Even though David is 5, the debriefing seemed to be valuable to him and I am glad there were counselors there that were able to process loss and grief with him even at his young age.

The only disappointment about the whole experience was that Rebecca had a terrible cold that was at its worst during 2 of the days we were there.  It was hard for her to be fully present at all the sessions while feeling so miserable.

We left the center on Friday and returned to Geneva where we rented a car.  The last 3 days of our time in Europe were to be spent in Adelboden, Switzerland, a very quaint village in the Swiss Alps.  Rebecca’s friend Caroline had invited us up to their vacation home, (a chalet on a highland farm that had belonged to her husband Phillip’s grandparents.)  I joked that I was very relieved that I did not live in this place, because if I did, I could imagine only being disappointed by the Kingdom of Heaven after I died.

The town was the perfection of Swiss quaint beauty.  Every house was a chalet that looked like a cuckoo clock, in dark wood complete with flower-filled window boxes.  The landscape was all lush green meadows populated with towering Chrismas-tree shaped evergreens with a back drop of snow covered mountains rising into the blue sky.  The meadows also contained many wildflowers and contented cows wearing gigantic bells that echoed in the hills. 

The air was fresh and crisp, the water was melted glaciers, the milk and cheese were produced right in front of our eyes.  At one point we even went into the home of one of the nomadic herders and saw the large copper kettle on a woodstove where they made cheese.  In his cellar were shelves upon shelves of aging swiss cheese.  We could not resist buying some to bring home with us.  I can only imagine that Tolkien got his inspiration for the life of Hobbits in the shire from the Swiss.

We took several hikes into the Alps and rode many cable cars to get around to different places.  Cable cars were like public transport and you could actually buy a day pass to get around to different places.  In the winter, of course, this is all for the purpose of skiing.  (The first cable car ride Oren almost refused to get on because he thought it was a roller coaster that was going to descend 1000s of feet at top speed.  He was relieved to find they were, in fact, slow.)

We arrived on Swiss National Day, which they celebrate with fireworks like our 4th of July.  Oren and David were thrilled to be able to light some off with Benjamin, Caroline’s son.  They would now like "playing with explosives" to become a regular family activity. :-( Caroline’s parents were also with us, who had been friends of Rebecca’s family when she was growing up in Bangladesh.

The whole stay was magical, although several morning the weather did not cooperate until after noon.  But we enjoyed the whole time thoroughly.  Oren got a souvenir Swiss Army Knife on our departure.

We drove to the Zurich airport on Monday morning and boarded a British Air flight to Heathrow and then on to Baltimore.  For me the flight was really the true transition from our old life to our new one and I was happy it was long.

In Baltimore we were greeted by Rebecca’s parents and my Dad and cousin Gabriel.  (My mom was at home with one of the other cousins.)  They drove us to my parents house where we spent the first night.  The kids were so excited to be back that despite jetlag they stayed up to nearly 11 pm to play with all the toys at Grammy’s house that they remembered.

The next day we did many errands including registering the kids in school.  We saw some friends and family, particularly Rebecca’s brother’s family Paul and Gwendolyn with cousins Miriam and Gabriel.

But the other friends we saw were Naja and Thomas Spanner with their kids Elias and Aviaja.  These were our Danish friends from Burundi who left last year to come to Baltimore to work with World Relief.  Elias was also in Oren’s class in Burundi and will be at the same school Oren is attending.  It is actually very nice that they will be here this year and perhaps ease the adjustment back as they share many memories of us of our past life.

Rebecca and I are currenly at MCC headquarters for a day to do our final work debrief and ‘hand back the keys’ so to speak.  We were asked to share some our personal experiences.  Here is a bit of what I had to say:

It hard to convey the deep satisfaction that we feel for the work we were able to do in Rwanda and Burundi.   We felt called by God to do this and the experience has been transformative for us.  But it was not sustainable, put another way, it was sacrificial.  We were blessed to do it, but it did wear us down.  It also remade us.  Who we were when we left is not who we are now.  That is both a blessing and a challenge.  Among the things we learned in life was how to find ways for renewal that are built into rituals of routine, daily, weekly, and in larger cycles.  Daily, we found the ritual of physical acitivity (swimming) followed by Bible reading and prayer to be very lifegiving.  The weekly ritual of yoga and brunch, church and small group, the quarterly folk dances, the annual vacations, all became important in helping us sustain ourselves during our assignment.  Even the writing of the blog was important part of the ritual of living there.

One lesson I have learned in general is that the motivations that push us to take an action may have nothing to do with what actually happens.  And that is OK.  As a cautionary tale I will say that one of our big motivations for going was to give our children an exposure to a culture not their own.  (Like we  ourselves had as children.)  In our fantasy we would expand their world view and they would learn a new language and appreciate a culture very different than their own. 

In practice, the experience was difficult and even traumatic for Oren.  Children will have a very different experience than you will.  For some language learning comes easily, for other it is difficult.  In Burundi, taking a child on a field visit, for instance, subjected them to a level of curiosity by local people that bordered on harassment.  They were stared at, often touched, pinched, squeezed, laughed-at, and even taunted.  Sometimes Oren would not even get out of the car and was treated like a goldfish in a bowl with hundreds of onlookers.

I have no regrets about our desire to expose our children and even for the experience they had.  They will process it and hopefully it will be redeemed to them fully in the future.  But I want to emphasize the fact that no matter what we imagine the future to be, we make choices, but WE DO NOT CONTROL EXPERIENCE, for ourselves, and even less for our children.  We do the best we can, but we are always boarding a raft on white rapids and hanging on for the ride, paddling does very little to affect the course.

We are out of one river and are about to enter another.  I feel a bit like this is more of a canoe ride on a slower current. 

We don’t know what is next for us, but I am glad that we bring back with us a faith in God that gives us both hope and perseverance to face the good and the difficult things we will encounter as we move forward.

This is the end of this blog.  I am amazed that I have come to this point, I still have such vivid memories of the beginning.  As a former choreographer, I do believe a work of art, a creative act, must have an arc.  A beginning, a climax, and a well-conceived ending.  So this is my ending of the story of our journey to Burundi and back.  I thought about extending a bit into the re-entry experience, but I think that we will do that more privately.  It has been a pleasure and an important part of processing our experience to be able to re-tell it to those who have been interested in reading.

I thank the many friends who we know and don’t know who have taken this journey with us vicariously through this blog.  I know many friends from Poughkeepsie, our sending church PUMC as well as friends family and churches in Baltimore (Valley Baptist, NBMC, Long Green Valley) have been following faithfully the entire time.  We picked up many friends and followers along the way, especially fellow ex pats. from Burundi.  But many other friends from Facebook who we have known in our lives have kept up with us as well.  

I don’t know who you all are who had followed this blog, but I appreciate anyone who took the time to read the stories and reflections that were shared here.  I hope we will meet again sometime.  If you would like to leave a comment on this final entry, I would appreciate knowing who you are.

For now...

Imana Ibahezegire
Dieu vous benisse

God Bless You.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Out of Africa

Saying goodbye to Avril at Pinnacle 19.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us….

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith
No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

---Bishop Untener of Saginaw

It is my turn to be up late, unable to sleep.  We are at about T – 18 hours from departure from Burundi.  We are holed up in the small but very comfortable apartment adjoining the home of some German missionary friends.  They have generously let us use it in our last week as we have moved out of our house entirely and have, just yesterday surrendered the key to the landlord, having completed all cleaning and inspection.  We left on very good terms with him.

Flashforward 24hours--  We are now sitting in Heathrow airport waiting for our final connection to Zurich where we will do some visiting and ground travel to Stuttgart to visit our German friends who had left Burundi last year.   But I will talk more about that when we get back to the US.

Looking back over the last 5 days is worth some reflection.  How does one leave a home and community?  What do you do in the last hours as you set aside a way of life?  These were questions that we did reflect upon before the final hours were upon us.  I would encourage anyone who is leaving a place to reflect and plan before the last hours are upon you.

The last week itself remained busy and passed quickly.  The biggest responsibility we had left in the first half was making our final trip to Kigali to drop off our SALT  volunteers, Julia and Matt who were returning to the US at the end of their assignment.  Although it felt like a bit of burden in the very last days, we were grateful for the chance to make a final visit and have real closure with our partners and service workers there.

The highlight event (besides closing our bank accounts) was a dinner we hosted at the guest house we staying in, for all of our partners, the host parents of our SALTers, and our other service workers and local staff.  We were about 18 all told. 

It was not unlike other such events we have had in the past weeks.  There was dinner, speeches and counter speeches, prayer, and gifts.  We felt that we left Rwanda well and at peace with everyone there. 

The next chapter for the new reps. who will be based in Kigali, will be quite different as MCC is now registered as an official INGO in the country.  This will come with many new opportunities and challenges that were not part of our experience when we were the Reps. 

I should mention that we did take advantage of the drive upcountry to drop in on some friends.  Samantha and Isai Torres, are missionaries that arrived about the same time as us, and set up a center for vulnerable children, in Bukeye.  They have 2 young children.  Their mission is called Cries of a Child and they are currently building a clinic in this remote rural town.

It was good to share and pray with them on our final visit up country.  We had lunch together in the Kabira Forest Guest House at the top of the hill in Bugarama. 

We got back to Bujumbura from Kigali on Thursday afternoon and went to dinner with our Ethiopian friends.  It was Rebecca’s Birthday (pretty minimal this year) but we did have a fabulous Ethiopian meal, complete with coffee and Café Gourmand pastries. 

Friday I closed our Burundi bank accounts and Rebecca and I took shifts closing the house.  Our staff had pretty much cleared it out while we were in Rwanda and there was not much to do.   By the afternoon we were able to return it to the landlord and ended our stay in the house on good terms.

Saturday was a special day and we planned it as a family day to do some of our favorite things.  Rebecca and the kids stopped off at Musee Vivant while I ran a quick errand.   (I gave one of our old computers to Odifax, one of our house staff who also works as a pastor.)  From there we went to Café Gourmand for lunch.  We took some photos of Oren’s icecream sundai and the pastry counter. 

In the afternoon we went to Club du Lac Tanganyika for the last time.  We swam in the pool and lake.  Jennifer Price stopped by and we chatted.  We left there and stopped by Pinnacle 19 to say good-bye to Avril the chimp.  Avril knows David very well and immediately took his hand and led him to the trampoline. 

We spent about 45 minutes there then headed to Ubuntu for dinner.  Ubuntu is a place of special significance because it is where we had our first meal out in Burundi.  In fact we were brought there the very first day of our arrival to meet the MCC team.  To have our last supper there gave us a sense of closure as it was  a place we loved to go. 

We shared our last meal with very special friends:  Pastor Emmanuel Ndikumana and his wife Asele.  Also friends that we have known since our first days in Burundi.  Emmanuel Ndkikumana is one of the truly prophetic voices for the Burundian church. 

In fact, Sunday morning (the next day) he was preaching and gave an inspired message based on Acts 4-6 to the church regarding corruption and distraction as tools the devil uses to undermine the church. 

The last church service was fairly emotional as well.  We were asked to come forward and give a testimony.  We both talked about how the BICC congregation was really a home for us and the place where we really established sustainable community bonds in Burundi.  Both through the church and the small group that we formed out of it.  It was here where I also shared the poem at the beginning of this blog.  It was read at the funeral of Arch Bishop Arhur Romero.  It captures a bit how it feels to leave, not having completed nearly as much was set out to do.  The work is far from done, but we are no longer the people called to do it here.

We were prayed for and commissioned.  Sent back to the US to bring what we had learned from Burundi back to the US.  We took pictures of ourselves with several good friends (they are here in the blog).

We went home and finished packing.  Miraculously I was able to get all 9 of our suitcases into the car with our family.  Fortunately people who wanted to see us off did not meet us at the apartment expecting a ride! 

We said goodbye to our friends Samuel and Sabine, who had been hosting us, and headed to the airport at 4 pm.  We found on arrival, about a dozen wellwishers. 

At that point things began to get very surreal for me.  First handing off my cellphone and all my keys to Felix made me feel almost naked.  I am never without those things and the idea that the car, the office, my house, and the phone were no longer mine to use really made the feeling that the job was over sink in heavily. 

It was not so much a feeling of freedom as one of loss, like a heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders and I found that without that I was not able to keep my feet on the ground and was blowing away like chaff in the wind.
I really understood, at that moment that this was it.  We were not coming back after our nomal one month vacation in the summer.  There is no ‘back’ to come to now. 

Patrick and Michael in the Bujumbura departure lounge
To add to the surreal feeling were some surprise passengers at the airport.  Both DRC service workers (Patrick and Michael) were getting on the same flight for completely unrelated reasons.  All of us flying together was completely by chance.  I also saw Ali Blair, another old friend who was dropping someone off at the airport.  Ben Carlson was getting on the flight as was another father from the Ecole Belge—Marcus, Nicola’s husband.

Having this huge number of people I knew all going out with us added to the strangeness of the whole departure.

Nonetheless. We left without incident on Kenya Airways which stopped in Nairobi where got on a British Airways 747 to London and Zurich.

We are currenly in Zurich where we will take a train to visit some of our German missionarly friends and then do a professional ‘debriefing’ /reentry retreat to help us make the transition back to our culture smoother.  I am looking forward to that.

The poem at the beginning captures a bit what it feels like to leave.  So many seeds we harvested that we did not plant, but also so many seeds we planted that we will not be the ones to harvest.  Some will grow and flourish, other will wither and die.  But we are no longer the tenants in that place.

This is the first time in nearly my life where we are not going to something.  The future is unknown for us and the past 6 years are so rich that looking forward will be difficult.  I pray that the 'Grace that 'brought us safe thus far will be sufficient to lead us home.

 I plan to add one more entry to this blog once we are back on US soil and we begin a new season in our lives.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Farewell to Dogs and Other Adieux

Saving money, we decided to send David and Oren by airfreight.

It’s awfully difficult to sleep during our last days in the African Great Lakes region. So much to think about and process and plan for. So many details to think through. So on this last day in Kigali, I find myself up at 3 am, giving Paul a boost for one of the final blog posts of our sojourn in Burundi.

This past week has contained a wonderful, dizzying blend of final visits with friends, mixed in with frantic disassembly of the house we have lived in for 5 years (we moved to it near the end of our first year in Burundi). Actually, we moved into 2 houses that were completely set up, and included lots of other peoples’ useful things (and a little junk). We’ve done little to diminish the contents since.

And so, in spite of sorting and clearing things out for our leaving sale more than a month ago, I’ve found out in the past week that our “empty” closets and drawers still seem remarkably full. I have thrown away at least 3 rice sacks full of precious kid’s artwork. I have filled about 10 large baskets with random items that I can’t imagine how anyone would use, but they aren’t quite trash – and shown them to our house staff, who miraculously “disappeared” about everything.

Alongside that, I’ve been packing up all the useful pots, pans, dishes, pharmaceuticals, bedding, books, and misc. for the Rep replacement couple to take on. That’s all in one pile. There was another huge pile in the garage (once we liberated the garage) for a new volunteer to set up her household in Gitega. All categories, including furniture. There was our row of 8 suitcases, bound for Europe and then our new home in Baltimore. Another suitcase for our last week and trip to Kigali. Various piles of leftover things that would bless one friend or another. Some things to donate to our church.  And I’ve just been spinning from one pile to the next, dropping things off in the appropriate location, pausing to check Facebook to see if someone has agreed to buy this or that piece of unclaimed furniture or want to rent our beautiful house starting in August. I will confess that with all this packing and clearing out, I’ve been as close to having my head explode as I’ve ever been in my life. Because almost all of the sorting and packing has taken place between the hours of 8:30 pm and midnight, to leave room for the RELATIONSHIPS!

We have had some very lovely, meaningful final visits with people who have been important to us. On Tuesday afternoon, we invited our house staff to come share Fanta’s with us, together with their families. I had seen Odifax’s children the week before when I dropped him off at home with their newborn baby (after paying the hospital bill). It was so wonderful to welcome them with their 4 older children and newborn to come see our house. Finally his kids know where Odifax has spent his working hours, and they got to meet Oren and David. Our substitute cook Ghyslaine also brought her 6-year-old daughter. All the kids really enjoyed trying out the trampoline and rolling around on the
scooters. Gaspard, our night guard, couldn’t bring his family from up-country, but we enjoyed seeing him happy in his new job, back with the Hieberts. And Marceline came a bit later, with her now healthy 2-month-old Jakin and her husband. It was a joy to serve Fanta’s and snacks with this group, to share speeches. Very moving at the end as we asked our staff to pray for us, especially for Paul’s employment moving back.

We didn’t get a photo of it, but right after that staff party, we met the whole Miller clan for dinner at a new-to-us Chinese restaurant. There was so much to talk about and share about – our faith heritages, how Free Methodism gets worked out in Burundi, the realities of life here as foreigners. Our kids had their own table and enjoyed themselves, giving the 6 adults (including Janette’s parents) time to really talk and share. We were grateful for that quiet, meaningful time of closure with these good friends.

On Wednesday during the day, we kept working on chores – Paul finally completed the process of moving ownership of our vehicles to Scott. Oren and I snuck away to Buja Day Spa for an hour – I had promised him one last outing to do a pedicure together. It’s not just pampering to get that kid’s feet in better shape! He hates shoes, and his feet really take a beating around here.

Our collective family activity that afternoon (after continuing the brain dumping with our replacements) was the disassembly of our beloved trampoline. Scott and Anne Marie and kids worked together with us so that they would know how to put it up again when they are fully established in Kigali. It was certainly not an easy project! Getting all those springs lose under hundreds of pounds of pressure took all of us pulling together. We were glad to have fully used the trampoline the day before with our staff’s kids.

We took some moments that evening to recognize that it was our final family teatime on our own veranda in Burundi. It was a lovely evening, made sweeter with thoughtful music that Paul finds and a Good Earth/Rooibos blend in the pot. The mountains of Congo were even a faint shadow for us behind the dry season haze. We have enjoyed many wonderful evening moments in this spot as a family.

Later in the evening, special friends from our church bible study came to pay us a final visit. Goretti Niragira, and her daughters Sonia and Ariane have become dear companions on the journey as we have talked and prayed over the past two years. There are many requests that we have seen answered over those years, and several big ones that we are still waiting to see fulfilled. The waiting and hoping and trusting in God together have drawn our hearts together. These ladies blessed us with a unique map of Burundi, cut out of local fabric.

Sonia, Ariane & Goretti
On Thursday afternoon, we took time off to meet with members of the Carlson family for a really unique outing. The women of my Wednesday morning ladies’ bible study blessed with the farewell gift of a photo shoot, done by the very talented Mrs. Kristy Carlson. She offered to help us document special places and events of our life here in Burundi as a memory (one that would fit more easily into our suitcases also!). So Kristy brought over her son Myles (Oren’s friend) as her second shooter and we messed around our house for a while. We took our dogs for a little walk to buy milk at the local boutique a few steps away. We mimicked family teatime. And then we headed off for the zoo!

Oren and Myles digging holes at the beach.
Our kids just love their close encounters with wild animals, so we did all the normal things you’ve read about in past blogs: scratching the leopard behind the ears, pulling the banana snakes out of their cage, feeding Kita the chimp peanuts. We even agreed to feed one last guinea pig to the ever-ravenous crocodile (how else does a third-world zoo animal get fed??).

 Our last stop was Pinnacle 19. I guess messing around with animals has been a theme of our life here! We had a lot of fun playing with Avril, who even wanted us adults to pick her up and cuddle her this time. It was a gorgeous evening and we were so glad that Ben and little Neo could also join us for a final time of drinks and conversation. It’s always so meaningful to discuss this transition with other expats who have been alongside us during this journey.

On Friday afternoon, we enjoyed a very different kind of closing event on the beach. Our MCC Burundi partners organized a “Fête de depart” for us at Petit Bassam, a fairly new children’s playground. Oren was thrilled to have an occasion to go back there one more time. For most of the evening, through the dinner and speeches, Oren, David, Samuel and Luke had a blast, jumping on the vast bouncy castle, trying out the trampoline with the harnesses, going on the little train ride and the carousel, even swinging on the modern swing sets – all of these attractions are absolutely unheard of anywhere else in Burundi.

On the adult side, we had a good time of speeches and sharing, between our partners and ourselves, remembering many times we have passed through together. 

It was actually a real encouragement to see these partners organize such an event and invite us to attend. It certainly shows the strength and maturity of our Burundi partner coordinators. 

Their work is effective (not just in throwing parties) and their personal testimonies continue to inspire us.

On the way home, we made one final stop at Ice World, one of the kids’ favorite spots. Oren can now fluently order his ice cream creation of choice in French, with all the changes he wants to make to it. That night for me was the final push in packing and sorting – Paul was starting to panic about whether we would be ready to move out of our house the following day. With reason. I stayed up til 3 am, working on emptying the final corners, and still didn’t finish.

Oren ordering at Ice World
But we still had FINAL YOGA. A really nice group of people accompanying us, right to the end of our term. For the final session our Ethiopian friends Genet and Melkamu joined for the first time! 

Final Yoga brunch
We still had a few moments to linger over coffee and cinnamon rolls (though we used plastic plates and all the broken mugs I hadn’t packed up). In between, a guy came to buy our old beat up salon set. It was incredible to see the way he transported it out of our house: the three-seater sofa, 4 armchairs, 1 coffee table, 2 side tables and cushions all went onto the back of one bicycle. Who needs a pick up truck??

By 11 am, we were in a frenzy of moving out. Well, we didn’t move the entire contents of our house to the nearby apartment on bicycles ourselves. We actually did hire a pick up truck and taxi to help us out, both of which were fully loaded and rolling by 11: 45. We were glad to have some friends and volunteers stay to help us move boxes in and out. We also needed to fit in a final visit with our newest volunteer, Sata, and with our old nanny, who dropped by with her basket gift. There are definitely different categories of final visits, we’ve found. One group of people wants to bless us and pray for us and share with us—I’d say those are visits from friends. There have been a whole other round of visits from “clients,” who always also come with a request or need. Several clients have found it incredibly difficult to part from us, and have come to say adieu two or even three times, with a request every single time. This leaving process is starting to get far too expensive for us! We’re starting to understand why many Africans do not announce their final departure dates until just a few days before they leave: this doesn’t represent lack of planning, but rather fiscal wisdom.

Which is a second reason we were finding it more and more pressing to MOVE OUT OF OUR HOUSE!!! First reason: it was almost impossible to finish the packing when our children were circling behind us, pulling things out of boxes and out of the trash, creating new messes, and needing to be fed meals, which create more mess. So, on Saturday afternoon, we loaded most of our packed suitcases into Melkamu’s car and dropped them off at the guest apartment of German missionary friends Sam and Sabine in a far away neighborhood. What a Godsend to land in that peaceful, well-appointed and equipped little hideaway!

There was also the dog drop-off. Our predecessors, the Hieberts, are back in Burundi. They agreed to reclaim their old dog Bella, and also to foster Noël (who will go to our replacements in January) for the time being. The Hiebert girls were so excited to see their new dogs and we are so grateful and happy to be leaving them in a loving home. But it was clearly very hard for Noël (who has never changed owners or even slept outside our compound in her life). Noël was literally climbing back into the car with us as we tried to pull out and she had to be leashed and held onto tightly. She literally worshipped Paul; so to be parted from her master is very, very difficult. Bella seemed to take it all in stride, fortunately.

We closed off the evening with a final dinner together with other German friends, Markus and Nicola and boys. They have been in Burundi almost as long as we have, and we have shared a lot together. Our oldest boys have been in the same class the whole time, and Frederick has really encouraged Oren to learn and use playground French over the years. One thing we will really miss when we leave here is the daily interaction with other parents as we all drop off and pick up our kids at Ecole Belge. There is always a chance to check up on each other, to share a word of sympathy or just a smile. It’s been a real place of connection in our close-knit community.

And so, at 9 pm, we were finally moved out of our home. We landed, exhausted, back in our guest apartment. The work isn’t totally finished. The house is not completely ready to surrender to the landlord. There are still final tasks to do. But we were able to move out, as planned, on Saturday. Whew!

Bonus video: Rebecca holding Avril the chimp at Pinnacle 19.