Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Comic Relief: International Travel with Minors

 

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Planning to travel around the world with young children in tow?  Let us encourage you.  We know what you’re thinking: “This is going to be a disaster – how am I going to survive this trip without going mad?”  We know this because we were having the same thoughts no less than a week ago. 

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In hindsight, however, I realized what an advantage our unique set of traveling circumstances actually was.  So, from one globe-trotter to another, I took it upon myself to jot down a few notes, recommendations, and encouragements based on our family’s most recent excursion.

1. First and foremost, ALL your children need to be well trained in the art of mindless television viewing.  It works best if your youngest is at least 3 years old due to this requirement.  This is essential for the emotional well-being of all members of the family (not to mention those fortunate enough to be assigned seating within earshot) and can be easily achieved now that most major airlines have a movie screen just inches from every traveler’s nose.

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2.  No doubt you are keeping up with all the latest international travel regulations and requirements.  The list of “Anything we can do to make your travel experience more enjoyable and less stressful” that is put together by the good folks in charge of international relations and travel continues to growth in breadth and ingenuity (cough).  The most recent addition to this list is that all electronic devices need to be charged sufficiently so that they can be turned on if a customs agent so requests.  “If a customs agent so requests” is a big if and one that I’m happy to say is possible to avoid.  As we traveled across 3 continents from Nairobi to London to D.C., we were asked a grand total of 0 times to turn on any devices.  This leads me to #3, which is really the lynchpin of the whole operation.

3.  It’s already assumed that you are traveling with young children so that should go without saying.  But if you can add to the mix any number of respiratory infirmities, I promise a significant increase in leniency at nearly every checkpoint.  I know, you know, and every customs agent on the planet knows that those set on doing others harm are not dumb enough to carry out their plans for mass destruction alongside their young, sickly offspring.  That being said, get in the habit of announcing your arrival; have your 3 year old daughter, 5 year old son, or 32 year old wife (the combination of all three is really effective) start hacking up their lungs.  You can be sure this will drastically expedite your screening process.  We must admit we stumbled onto this revelation by accident, but oh, how it worked miracles.

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In fact, anything you can do to create in others a sense of pity will be to your benefit.  This includes but is not limited to the following:

a.  Wear a ridiculous fishing hat along with an oh-so-out-of-fashion fanny pack.  They’ll just shake their heads and usher you through.

b.  Always be shouting things like, “Cover your mouth!  Do you want to get all these nice people sick?”

c.  This will come without even trying, but be sure to wear it with pride: a harried look of overwhelmed exhaustion.  Against a backdrop of coughing and hacking, toddlers running in and out of security lines, and generally mass confusion, this is sure to be effective in garnering sympathy from even the most hardened customs officials.

d.  Pack way too many carry-ons.  You’re allowed several per ticket holder, so this is well within your rights.  The hidden benefit lies in the increased level of chaos that is achieved by trying to keep track of yet one more item on your way through each checkpoint. 

e.  Every time you approach the front of a line, put on your best “I’m completely clueless right now” face.  Act as if you’ve never done this before, don’t understand why you’re doing it now, and have no intention of ever attempting it in the future.  You know you waited in this line for some purpose; surely there is some proof of your existence that this person needs to see.  Boarding passes?  Luggage stickers?  Passports?  Immunization records?  You probably won’t know anyways, so don’t let the eye-rolling bother you.  Just politely say something like, “I’m so sorry, but what is it that I’m supposed to show you?”  They will more than likely smile courteously and barely glance at your documents while calling “Next, please” and waving your troop along.

f.  Mumble.  Especially when they ask if you’re bringing anything into the country.  Notice I didn’t say lie.  Just mumble.  Or pretend like you forgot (you probably will anyways).  Trust me on this one.

g.  DO NOT freshen up in the airport bathroom during your layover.  DO NOT bring a change of clothes.  DO NOT consider the ill-effects of neglecting to brush your teeth for a period of more than 24 hours.

I don’t mean to sound crude here, but remember the ultimate goal; you want to get through this experience unscathed, quickly, and with as little effort as possible.  Soon this will be a distant, foggy memory and you may, one day, be tempted to chuckle a bit at how your family (or your marriage) managed to survive.  Uneventful travel is the goal.  No good stories to tell others upon your arrival is the goal.  “Customs was a cinch!” is what you want to be able to report.  These and other ideas like them proved invaluable on our trip – they can help you on yours. 

And please, whatever you do, don’t sweat the sideways glances, the turned-up noses, the cold shoulders or the eye-rolling.  I promise you’ll never see these people again and you have enough friends as it is.  Or think of it this way:  How much fuss do you go through on a daily basis to make yourself presentable to the world?  Here you have the opportunity of a lifetime, the chance to take a day off, an excuse to throw caution and personal hygiene to the wind.  No one will judge you (not to your face anyway) and as soon as they see the motley crew your blessed to travel with, I promise the pity will inevitably follow.

July 2014

** If you enjoyed this shameless tongue-in-cheek humor, you may want to check out the prequel. Comic Relief: Passports for Minors

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Parental Mirror (Part II)

I seem to remember someone, somewhere writing something like parenting isn’t so much designed for our happiness as it is for our holiness.  Or maybe that was marriage.  Well, either way, I’ve noticed this trend MANY times over the past six and half years as a parent.  Here are two things I’ve picked up just over the last weekend. 

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1.  “He will not let you fall”

We sang this several times on Sunday, amidst the chorus of a song in church.  Nate (our 5 year old) was standing with me on the back of the pew in front of us.  Inquisitively, and a little louder than necessary being only centimeters from my ear, he asked about the line we kept repeating. 

“Why does it say, ‘He will not let you fall’?  Because when I’m climbing trees [or riding my bike, or running down the hill, or sometimes just walking] Jesus doesn’t stop me from falling and sometimes I get hurt.”

What could I say in the next few seconds that would answer his question in a satisfactory manner without disrupting those worshipping around us?

Similar questions arose while our family studied Psalm 121 this past year.  God makes some pretty bold promises there.  “The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Psalm 121:8

How do you answer the 5 year old (or the 20, 30, 42, or 77 year old, for that matter) who submits real, hard evidence contrary to verses like this?

In the proceeding moments, I hurried off a whispered explanation that the ‘fall’ we were singing about refers to the one we are protected from eternally.  God has us in the palm of His hand and NOTHING can take us out.  Once God grants us salvation, He will never let go.  Thankfully, this seemed to satisfy my precocious offspring, and we continued singing.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”  John 10:28-29

I have had several conversations recently with students who live in fear of losing their salvation; they get so focused on the doing, they fail to recognize what God has already done.  My consistent encouragement to them is that, praise God, our eternal security does not depend on us.  He will not let us fall and we are secure in His capable hands!

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2.  “I’ll just follow you”

Ethan’s Kindergarten class held a class activity last Friday evening.  This posed a unique opportunity for him to stay up late.  Around 8:30, I went to pick him up from Titchie (the elementary school) and we started the five minute walk back to our house. 

A few things to visualize about this setting: Ethan is rarely up this late and being outside after dark is even more foreign.  Another is the uneven and potentially treacherous “foot paths” that provide shortcuts all over RVA’s campus.  These often lead to scraped knees and twisted ankles in broad daylight, so you can imagine the challenge at night.  Finally, it’s probably important to note that we were without a flashlight!

Ethan likes to mosey.  Even if you’re walking “with” him somewhere, there’s a good chance he’s behind you.  He enjoys stopping to smell the roses (or pick up the rocks, or stop and gaze into the trees, or jump in and out of the ditch, etc.)  This evening was no different.  He was following several paces behind me as we made our way home.

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And then he floored me.  In one line, he woke me up to the significance, the potential for influence, and the responsibility I hold as a parent.  And it went way beyond parenting my own kids.  Courtney and I feel strongly about the call to nurture the students here as well.  For many of them, in the absence of their own parents, we can play a crucial role in their development as disciples of Christ and future leaders in His church.  One line – my 6 year old summed it up in one line.

“Daddy, it’s so dark, I can’t see anything.  But I can see you, so I’ll just follow you.  Is that okay?”

Wow.

This probably needs very little commentary, but let me probe a bit.  Isn’t this exactly what parenting is supposed to be?  As clueless as I feel as a parent most days, as dark as the world we’re bringing them up in seems, we have a responsibility to walk in a way worth following.  Isn’t this exactly what mentoring a younger believer should be like?  Paul recommended himself for this role, serving the Corinthian church as they struggled to find their way as baby Christians.

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  I Corinthians 11:1

Challenged by my eldest son, I replied, “Yes, Ethan.  You can follow me.  I know it’s dark and hard to see, but if you walk where I walk, I think you’ll be ok.  You can hold my hand if you want.”

Even in my own response the lesson continued.  Extending my hand for him to hold would require slowing down a bit, waiting for him to catch up, giving him concrete evidence that I’m there for him, walking alongside, supporting him when he needs me most.

Thanks, boys.  Keep the lessons coming!

Friday, May 23, 2014

School Spirit

RVA is steeped in tradition.  The video below is just one example.

Blackrock, a Varsity Rugby tournament, takes place tomorrow in Nairobi.  This, however, was the rugby team today at Chapel. 

Have a fantastic weekend!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Moving to Kijabe? Don’t Know What to Bring?

One thing I love about blogging this overseas life is the communication with families who are preparing to move here themselves. A few families have contacted us over the past year or so with questions about what to expect.  This truly makes my heart happy, and I want to be a resource as they prepare for life in Kenya.   I think its so helpful to know the availability of things prior to coming (especially families with children).  So stalk away, stalkers, and shoot us an email if you have questions!

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I’ve put together a list of things that made the cut for our big move and things I will be replenishing during our time in the States this fall.   Hopefully this will be helpful to folks preparing to come to the Kijabe area. 

HOME:
For the KITCHEN: Sharp knives, silverware, kitchen utensils, kitchen towels & hot pads. All are much nicer in the states – bring those along. We bought a KitchenAid mixer used once we were here, but many people bring theirs along. I’ve never used it more than I do here.  All cooking - ALL COOKING - is from scratch. Overall, these were heavy items, but we spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking.  At RVA, a big part of our job is hospitality.  A big part of hospitality is food.  We did not, however, bring pots and pans, and I'm glad that we didn’t since they're so heavy and can be purchased here. Things that are important to you now, that you can’t live without, bring. Keep in mind that big appliances (ovens, refrigerators) and even small appliances (toasters, coffee pots) can be purchased here for the most part.

For the PANTRY: LOTS OF sliced pepperoni, chocolate chips, taco seasoning, American chili powder (Kenyan is super spicy), maple syrup (if your husband is a maple syrup snob like mine), craisons, walnuts, sure-jell (for making jelly), seasoning packets, Crystal Light mixes and/or Kool-aid mixes, food coloring (the paste tubes are way nicer than the powder here). Most spices are easy to get and very cheap, but not the special mixes. Bring what you can fit. American candy is a delicacy here (Reeses peanut butter cups, skittles, etc. Pack some if you have room.) Also, Ziplock bags are like gold! Actually, you can buy something similar in town, but they’re not freezer bag quality.  Bring lots in several sizes – stuff them in the empty corners of each bag that you can. I also like the Scotch Brite sponges from the states – these are lightweight, easy to bring & far more durable than sponges here.   

Sheets and towels: I brought two sets of sheets for each bed and enough towels, including beach towels. These were actually really nice for packing around breakables. I also brought comforters for my kids beds, so that their room would feel familiar and instantly be their own. I have no idea if this helped, since they were so young, but I like to think it did. I brought wall decals and we decorated their room with those. It was simple (and easy to pack), but again, I think it helped make their new room here feel special. I did pack a lightweight quilt for our bed as well to make it feel more like home. Heavy blankets can be purchased here easily and aren’t worth the weight in packing.

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CLOTHING:
For the kids: I did bring bags of clothes in the next sizes up for the kids. Kids clothing sells in the Nairobi malls for upwards of $30 a piece. You can purchase used clothing at the LARGE market in town, but it's a hassle and it takes a full day. It's an adventure, too, haggling and searching for what you need, but not something you want to do every time your child grows out of his shorts.  Also, I would highly recommend packing plenty of socks & underwear! Bring more than you think you need. We line-dry all of our clothes and its amazing the wear and tear that puts on them. In addition, we walk everywhere – so our socks get thread-bare quickly.  As far as shoes go – in my opinion, a few pairs of durable kids’ shoes are nice to bring with you but, you can get them here, about the price and quality of Payless.  And for all the bulk and weight shoes add to your luggage, I would use it on adult shoes, not kids shoes.


For yourself: It’s always fun to pull out a few new outfits after months of wearing the same stretched out things. (See paragraph above regarding the wear and tear on clothes)   It’s important to have supportive shoes – our roads are terrible! I recommend a few pairs of Keens/Clarks/Merrell’s – something known for its support & comfort. I think the space and weight is much more wisely used packing quality adult shoes.  And again, I can’t say it enough: bring plenty of socks and underwear. You can’t just run to Target when you need new undershirts. Also, make sure to bring warm clothing, jackets, and rain gear for the whole family.  At 7,400 ft above sea level, it gets downright chilly during rainy season and at night.  You’ll be thankful for slippers or wool socks when lounging around the house – no carpet here!

SPECIFICALLY for the KIDS:
Toys/Gifts are very expensive here (at least 3x's the price as at home). It’s definitely worth bringing out some special new things for Christmas/birthdays. This is in addition to special toys/games that you would be bringing already. Dress-up clothes - there are fun birthday parties and playgroup and there's a "carnival" at the end of October where the kids dress in costume.

MISCELLANEOUS:
Sturdy wooden clothes pins - the plastic ones you can get here work but aren't as sturdy. Tupperware - if you like the ones you have, use them for packing small breakables or liquids. I purchased real Tupperware brand containers from someone here and they are completely worth it for food storage. Seeds for a garden/herb garden. You can get some veggie seeds in town, but not too many herbs. Things grow really well here. Sunscreen & bug spray – both very expensive if bought here. Band-aids, cold medicine, ibuprofen – medicines can be purchased here but who wants to drive an hour for cold medicine? Better to have some on hand initially.  Any hygiene products for which you are brand-particular.  Most things can be found easily here, but often the brands are very different.   Christmas decorations – I brought our stockings, a lot of ornaments, our Advent wreath. Anything you have in the way of traditions, try to bring. Anything that will help make it feel like Christmas to you, bring.  I recommend jarred candles in scents that feel like home. You can’t find scented candles here like you can in the states. Scrapbook paper or craft supplies for decorating is a good idea too. Some craft supplies can be purchased here, but I’ve never seen the pretty scrapbook papers or fabrics like the craft stores carry in the US. DVDs of TV series are good to have for breaks.  We enjoy watching shows that we can’t otherwise watch here.

I think that about covers what I deemed to be important to us.  Obviously this list changes depending on your family’s needs and how long you will be living here, but it gives you an idea.  We came out for two years initially, as a family of five people, with 17 checked bags. 

Speaking of bags, I highly recommend these bags for linens, clothing, and more.  They are durable, withstanding international travel multiple times, and pack 50lbs. easily.  For footlockers, we went with the Rubbermaid version, though people also like Contico.

Hopefully this blog can continue to be an ongoing resource to those preparing to come, in addition to providing updates to our loved ones back home. 

What would make YOUR list of non-negotiables when packing to move to Kenya?

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