The world of TCKS, or Third-Culture Kids, is where I spend the majority of my time these days, and I love it.
In 2003, when I first started teaching American kids whose parents were working in Uganda, I don’t think I even knew the term third-culture kid. I had not really considered many of the implications for children who grow up in a culture that is not their parents’ home culture. But, thankfully, there are books, articles, and conferences all addressing the specific strengths and struggles of kids who grow up between more than one culture.
Over my time in Uganda, Sudan, and now Kenya; I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about TCKs and their strengths and struggles. Especially now at RVA, I’m learning from these kids how hard it can be to not feel like a specific place or country is home. But, I’m also seeing the amazing resilience, empathy, creativity, and flexibility that third culture kids often have. My recent trip through East Africa was with 4 TCKs, and I watched them try out French and Swahili, build relationships with younger TCKs while the adults had meetings, reconnect with friends from school, provide great music for our car-ride, and generally make things much more fun. The diversity of places where they have grown up means that they really can feel comfortable almost anywhere, and I learn from them how to gracefully cross cultures.
Today, classes resumed at Rift Valley Academy, and in the bustle of routines beginning again, I’m trying to see beyond the busyness and remember that living as a part of many cultures is a gift to these students and to me. And hopefully, their strengths of cross-cultural living will be a gift to the larger global community that they call home.
“I could look down on narrow valleys of cultivated fields and up at steep hillsides, some covered with grass, others quilted with groves of eucalyptus and banana trees and dotted with tiny houses roofed in metal or thatch…The little nation, centuries old, straddles the crest of the watershed of the Congo and Nile rivers, just south of the equator in East Central Africa. It is bordered by Tanzania to the south and east, by the Democratic Republic of Congo across from Lake Tanganikya to the west, and by Rwanda to the north. It’s a landlocked and impoverished country with an agrarian economy that exports excellent coffee and tea and not much else-a land of dwindling forests that still has lovely rustic landscapes.”-Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder
From Bundibugyo, we headed south and set our sights on Rwanda, crossing the Equator, and spending one night camping in Queen Elizabeth National Park. We made it to our campsite, set up tents, drove through the park looking for animals, ate grilled fish from Lake Albert, and watched the rain move in. The rain thankfully seemed to keep the hyenas and other wildlife away, and we slept pretty well. Of course, packing up wet camping gear can be a muddy endeavor, but we did our best, and then piled back into the car.
We reached Kigali on the day before the 20th anniversary of the genocide. A sobering moment to return to a country that has lost so much, and that has taught the world about the power of forgiveness. We were dirty, and tired, and ready to be out of the car.
We stayed with a Rwandan family whose children attend RVA. It was good for me to get yet another picture of what life is like for the students I work with every day. We were received with warmth and kindness and great Rwandan coffee. I was also privileged to hear stories of the genocide: loss, grief, trauma, forgiveness, grace, and hope. There’s something remarkable about bearing witness to to the freedom that forgiveness can bring.
On Sunday, we walked through the streets of Kigali on our way to church. Once there, we sang and listened and prayed, hoping that change would still be at work in Rwanda. Then, we loaded up the car, and continued on to Burundi.
Burundi has many geographical similarities to Rwanda: hills and valleys and green as far as the eye can see. There are also similarities in language and tribes, and a similar history of violence and loss, though one that was perhaps less publicly documented by Western media. If you haven’t read it yet, let me recommend Strength in What Remains for a redemptive story and a good descriptor of Burundi.
You can’t begin to wrap you mind around the nuances and specificities of a place when you are only there for a few days, and it feels foolish to even try to describe Burundi after such a short visit. But, I was struck by the beauty, the poverty, the chill in the air, and the warmth of the people.
I can also tell you that the team of doctors and educators pouring their lives into the work at Kibuye Hospital are amazing. And not amazing in the, “wow you are so impressive and tough that I don’t even know how to relate to you” way. But more in the, “wow, you are all so interesting and open and surprisingly funny and humble and dependent on Jesus, and I would like to be your friend” sort of way.
This new team came together to train doctors and build up the medical education program at Hope Africa University, and as they do that they are delivering babies and doing surgeries and responding to emergencies and learning new languages and building into a community. I’m excited to see how they will continue to grow into the new roles they all have in Kibuye.
As though that was not enough, we then traveled sought to Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, where another Serge team is starting, working on the campus of Hope Africa University. It was fun to briefly reconnect with the Bonds, who visited our team in South Sudan, and are now making their home in Burundi.
Though I would have loved to complete the circuit of the journey with the Myhres, I had to leave them in Bujambura and board a plane for Nairobi so I could make it to an education conference where I was helping to give a talk on trauma.
The end of the journey is often the hardest part for me, since I love the adventure of traveling. But, I’m grateful for places I saw, the people I interacted with, and I’m glad too that Kijabe is currently the place I call home. Nothing like leaving for a little while to give me fresh eyes to see the beauty and adventure of the here and now.
“I would think about when I was staying with Okwudiba in his first small flat…how his neighbor downstairs used to shout ‘Praise the Lord!’ whenever the light came back and how even for me there was something beautiful about the light coming back, when it’s out of your control because you don’t have a generator. But, it’s a silly sort of romance, because of course I don’t want to go back to that life.”-Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Two weeks back from The Epic Roadtrip, and I’m finally finding the words. In this instragramming, always connecting world, people seem report things as they happen. But often, I need time before I can tell you all about it. So, let me go back to the beginning, and tell you where I’ve been.
Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi seen from a LandCruiser: thousands of kilometers covered, land borders crossed, friendships renewed and new friendships formed. There was laughter, and lots of music, and beauty, and adventure. There was prayer, and tears, and study, and thoughtful conversation. It was brilliant, challenging, and over too soon.
We spent some time in Fort Portal, participating in a retreat for the Serge (did I mention World Harvest has changed it’s name?? What do you think of it?) team working in Bundibugyo. It’s a wonderful group of people, working in education and medicine, agriculture and language learning and discipleship. I was thankful to get to know each of them, and so challenged by their perseverance in a place that can be really difficult.
After the retreat was over, I had two short nights back in Bundibugyo. The road is now paved all the way to Congo. This is no small feat, and the drive went so quickly and smoothly. It’s hard to realize that the countless hours I spent on the winding switchbacks of that muddy road are now a thing of the past.
And then, staying in the house that used to be my home, I was shocked to find the Duplex with indoor plumbing. A flushing toilet AND a hot shower. What in the world? Add to this power lines, and I felt like I was in a totally different place. With homecomings, it’s easy to have nostalgia for the past. And I did find myself missing the season when I was privileged to live in Uganda.
I wasn’t particularly good at life in Bundibugyo. I struggled to learn language and build relationships, I had lots of questions about suffering in the world, and I never was able to get my kerosene fridge to light. But my time in Bundibugyo changed my life, and set me on path I would never have planned, and for that I am so grateful. Seeing people continue to engage in life there reminded me again that God often brings you to Bundibugyo as much for what He is doing in you as for what He will do through you.
On this visit, I missed the things I never thought I would: walking out to the purple cho under the light of equatorial stars and how the starlight shines so brightly in a place with no electricity. And also, the quiet that comes from a place that doesn’t have much electricity and so cannot blast music over speakers at 2 in the morning.But, as Adichie says, nostalgia is often a silly sort of romance, because I wouldn’t want Bundibugyo to go back to that life.
Even though there may now be some electricity, a few toilets, smooth roads and telephones; there is still a lot of darkness in Bundibugyo. But this awe-inspiring team shines like stars as they seek to walk alongside the hungry, the sick, the needy, and the poor. Love continues to be the force that will change Bundibugyo, and will change the world. I’m grateful for the season I was privileged to call Uganda home, and I’m grateful for the few recent days of returning.
PS. Have you read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s newest novel, Americanah? I read it as we travelled, since I was in the car for more than 40 hours. Anyway, it was interesting to read about a Nigerian’s experience of America and also about her return to Africa after time in America. She has such a way with words, and though I found the blog posts inserted into various chapters incongruous, I generally enjoyed it. Especially this quote that made me homesick for Philadelphia:
Philadelphia was the smell of summer sun, of burnt asphalt, of sizzling meat from food carts tucked into street corners… Ifemelu would come to like the gyros from these carts, flatbread and lamb and dripping sauces, as she would come to love Philadelphia itself. It did not raise the specter of intimidation as Manhattan did; it was intimate but not provincial, a city that might yet be kind to you.
As Spring starts to bloom in America, I can’t help but think of that city that smelled of summer, and that was more kind to me than I deserved. Perhaps returning to Uganda made me grateful for all the amazing places I’ve called home. Grateful, and a little homesick.
I’m back in Nyahuka, the village in Bundibugyo town that I called home for 2+ years. Many things have changed: road signs, paved roads, power lines. But, the important things are still the same. The mountains loom large, the beauty abounds, and sweet smiling friends greet you with warm smiles and laughter.
I’m especially grateful for a visit to see Adijah and Akiki, the potters who have become my Uganda grandmothers. I wish you could have seen them rush out to greet our World Harvest contingent when we rolled into their compound on Thursday morning. It felt like coming home.
“You.Will.Miss.This”-Annie Downs, originally found here
My friend Gladys, who doesn’t smile in photos, but graciously lets me practice my Swahili AND invited Sarah and I to visit her home and church last term. Also, I apologize for the fuzzy iPhone photo and for the fact that this has become the world’s longest caption.
Last week, I started Swahili lessons. Finally. And there was a part of starting to study that felt like letting go.
I’ve now lived in Kenya for (gulp) 6 months. In talking to my friend Jennifer last week, she reminded me that in patterns of cross-cultural transition, 6 months is often considered a low point. Past the honeymoon period where everything seems new and wonderful and exciting, and not yet in a place where things feel stable and certain and like home, people can often feel sad, discouraged or grouchy. Awesome. Doesn’t that make you want to hang out with me??
But, it is also a point from which things start to look up, where you begin to find footing in a new place and a new life, and start to put down roots.
Of course, my transition has been a bit unusual in that my work in Kenya started as a temporary situation that then was extended, somewhat unexpectedly, for the next 2 years. I also lived in someone else’s house for the first 3 months, and then in month 4, I went back to the States to see my family, which means it’s really only been about 3 months of making Kenya home. During that same time, the political system of South Sudan seemed to collapse, leaving me with mixed feelings of relief at being far away and a strong compulsion to return. Add to that the fact that the team of Americans I worked with in South Sudan have now almost all left Mundri, meaning that even if I went back it wouldn’t be the same, and it can all feel like a jumble of loss and relief and unanswered questions.
It’s easy to take the complexities of unexpected transition in unhelpful directions. But here is what I’m learning right now: This day, this work, this place-all of these things are purposeful and good. And while I might not be able to decipher all whys of how I ended up here, but I am still grateful for where I have landed.
Last week, after a sweet day of meeting with students, I took an early evening hike before heading home to make dinner. And unmistakably, I knew that one day, I will miss this. The beauty, the community, the sunset over the rift valley, the winds and rain and laughter and tears. It is all a gift. And I could spend 2 years wondering if I made the right choice to leave Sudan, and wondering why my story hasn’t turned out differently, and believing in my heart that things might be easier somewhere else. But that would be to despise the gift, to miss out on all the beauty that is here now.
The reason that starting to study Swahili was so hard for me is because I haven’t finished learning Moru yet. Or Juba Arabic. Or Lubwisi, for that matter. Bits of all these languages jumble in my mind, creating confusion more than communication. I’ve realized that being here means being open-handed about things left undone elsewhere, and starting, little by little, to become a part of this place. I’m learning that being “finished” was perhaps not ever the main goal of life in Sudan or Uganda, and won’t be the goal in Kenya. All those languages, from different places, studied and struggled through, aren’t wasted. They stay with me, keeping me connected to the other homes that hold parts of my heart.
The big catalyst in starting to study language has been the arrival of the Massos, who worked with me in Sudan and Uganda, and are now my neighbors yet again. We’re studying together, and that has made starting Swahili feel a little less disloyal to life in Sudan. What a gift, to have others who know me so well, and can work with me as I seek to speak new words to more fully articulate my life in Kenya. And to have faith that this little sliver of life in Kenya is part of a bigger story of hope and transformation being written the world over.
One day, I know, I. Will. Miss. This.
For the gift of the here and now in Kijabe, I am growing in gratefulness and joy.
First of all, let me say that I currently live in what I believe to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. The mountains, cool air, greenery, birds and blooms: it’s hard to describe how lovely it is here. Especially as I think about dry season in South Sudan, I realize that I am in a really different place than I was last year.
And yet, even in this place of sweaters, sunshine, and steaming cups of chai I still feel the need to get away sometimes. I want space from the intensity of my job, and also time to regroup and gain perspective. This weekend, I headed into Nairobi with Karis and Stephen Rigby, who are also a part of my World Harvest community. He works to train Kenyan soccer coaches and she coordinates and leads internships for college students who want to spend 2 to 4 months volunteering in Nairobi.
They graciously hosted me, making sure I was filled up with good food, rich conversations, time to rest and think and pray, and time to enjoy being in a city. On Friday, we went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Have you seen it? I know it got some not so great reviews, but I liked it, especially the reminder to live adventurously while acknowledging that the most lovely parts of life can be hidden in what seems mundane. Also, there was beautiful scenery of of Iceland (can we go, please?) and music by Jose Gonzalez and Of Monsters and Men, which made the movie worth the price of admission.
On Saturday, we went to Diamond Plaza, which has this crazy Indian food court. As soon as you sit down, you’re surrounded by 20 men all waving menus in your face. And then, if you say something like, “Maybe I want chicken tikka,” each of them starts shouting that they have the best chicken tikka and you should order from them. It was entertaining and stressful and awesome, and I enjoyed trying lime/ginger/sugarcane juice and bhajias for the first time.
On Sunday, we went to a lovely Kenyan church with energetic Swahili singing and dancing, and a warm and welcoming community. Then, a quick stop to buy fresh produce and frozen yogurt, and I was back up in Kijabe by 5. It was a great weekend, and I feel ready to jump into this last month of school.
I’ve been thinking about the ways we get away from things. It’s good to take a step back, to give yourself space, to find rest and renewal. The book I just read on introversion was a good reminder that things profitable and creative can happen when we step away from the intensity of community.
But some of the ways I chose to step away are not always good: too much media, too much time looking at people’s pins and pictures, too much chocolate or coffee or what have you. These things appear to offer refreshment, but can are just leave me craving more and more without actually giving the rest they promise.
In a couple of days, Lent begins, a little later than usual. It’s a time to think of giving up some of the ways we normally get away from life, and instead seeking to see that there is really only one Refuge. I’m thinking about what I might let go of in order to find more rest and joy in Jesus.
I’ve been listening to Ellie Holcomb’s new album on repeat, after hearing her sing a couple of times while I was in the States over Christmas. “Songs of Deliverance,” says, “When these waters rise, I’ll call for you, I know you’ll hear my cries. Your intentions are not shaken, everything that once was breaking, tear me down and bind me up, in You I place my trust. Your intentions are not shaken…I know you’ll answer me.”
I’ve been thinking about that, about the fact that God’s intentions for me, for my friends in South Sudan, for my students at RVA, and for you wherever you are; His intentions are not shaken. As confusing and hard and difficult as things may seem now, His goodness and faithfulness are greater. So, I enter Lent by faith, looking for God to answer and acknowledging that the other things I look to for rest may be good, but they are not sufficient.
I’ve been reading Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, and appreciated this quote from a woman whose infant son died because of SIDS:
Tim Keller once said that God gives us what we would have asked for if we knew everything He knows. The idea that the prince of Heaven would empty himself and become poor, to live and dwell among us is humbling. The idea that there is nothing in the human experience that God himself has not suffered…is sustaining. And the idea that in His resurrection, Jesus’ scars became His glory is empowering. God will use these scars for His glory as they become our glory. Indeed, the end hasn’t been written.”
May Lent allow us the opportunity to embrace the humility of Christ, to be sustained by his identification with us, to by empowered by the glory of His scars, and live in the hope that he is bringing beauty out of our brokenness, that the end hasn’t been written yet.
“The more I work… the more it happens that I need to read poems. And work my garden. Beauty restores your trust in the world.” -Elaine Scarry, quoted here
This weekend was RVA’s annual banquet weekend, a time where 11th and 12th grade high school students get all dressed up and attend an amazingly elaborate dinner theater.
In a boarding school context, with conservative roots and a strict(ish) no-dancing policy, this is as close to a prom as these kids are going to get. It’s been a fun 6 weeks of seeing girls get asked to the banquet, and hearing them plan their dresses and shoes, and discussing countless details and hopes.
I spent Friday afternoon making snacks, styling hair, and doing make-up with girls in the senior dorm. If you know me, you know that doing hair and make-up in fancy ways is not really my strong suit. But, it was fun to see these girls transform, suddenly all curls and swirling skirts, heels and mascara and giggles. I braided Julia’s hair, slipping flowers through the loops of hair, hearing her laugh with her friends as they got ready together. It’s still a little hard to believe that the spunky 3rd grader I taught in Bundibugyo now hovers on the edge adulthood, going to banquets and getting ready for college.
At 7 o’clock, the girls’ dates began to arrive, bearing flowers and nervous smiles. As flashes went off and mom’s begged for just one more picture, the kids were off to celebrate and savor a beautiful night.
I love Elaine Scarry’s idea that beauty in the world can lead us to work for justice. And there is so much beauty around. Kijabe especially is filled with glorious scenery that still amazes me. But we can get so accustomed to the everyday, and beauty can almost seem mundane. So, it was nice to take a night, and focus on beauty and celebration and joy. And more than that, the beauty of these students is also have a huge capacity to impact the world by fighting both for justice and for beauty. My job especially can pull my eyes towards what is broken and hard about life, so it’s good to remember the power of pausing for beauty.
Elaine Scarry also says, “Beauty always takes place in the particular.” So wherever this week finds you, I hope you too catch glimpses of beauty in your particular circumstances. And, I hope those pictures of beauty encourage you to fight for justice and joy in a world where beauty can be easy to miss.
And, if the cold and snow of lingering winter is making beauty hard to find, or even if you just need a good and redemptive read, may I suggest The Language of Flowers? Maybe it’s because I work with many adoptive families, or maybe because I think flowers are cool, but I was surprisingly captivated by the beauty of this book over my mid-term break.