One of the more difficult parts of being an expat is not only dealing with our own transient lifestyle, but also the transient lifestyle of the people we know. Most people are only "stationed" here for 3 years, on average, and given that we have now been here for 2 1/2 years, we are starting to know a lot of people who are packing up and moving on. Although a little strange to know such a fluid population, this isn't so much a problem when it is "acquaintances" who leave. Nobody we have been very close has left before...until today. The family across the street moved back to the US today and it almost goes without saying that this severely rocks our world.
Over the last two years that we have lived in our house, Jen (the wife/mom/professor/UN consultant) has probably become my closest friend in Nairobi. She was around through my whole pregnancy with Grace, was among the first people to meet Grace, and has been a big presence in Grace's entire life. She knows all the details that most people don't know about our life here (nope, not even you!). Her son Ben was my "pupil" when I tutored him all throughout the school year, and together we built a lot of trust that allowed him to really make academic progress. Mae is Kristoffer and Grace's best playmate in Kenya; she was with Grace when she sat up by herself for the first time and has spent countless hours playing, playing, playing at our house. Tsavo has inspired Grace's sincere love of dogs and "Tsavo" is probably the word Grace says the most everyday. next to "Mama". Almost every afternoon around 4 pm, you could find the group of us watching Mae's tae kwon do lesson (she is a black belt now!), or playing basketball in their driveway, or watching Grace and Tsavo fight over Grace's sunhat. Sam and Kristoffer, more often working during the week than playing in the driveway, also formed a friendship and most weekends would end with our two families sitting on our couch, eating pizza, and watching American Idol.
It has been the kind of family-friendship that you dream of: neighbors with an unlocked door, who will take the baby for a few minutes here or there if you need to get something done, who always have plenty of eggs and sugar and flour to borrow, who will jumpstart your car, and who celebrate birthdays in the family with great joy. It is certainly not the kind of friendship that either of us expected we would find here, of all places, which is why we had such a tearful goodbye today and why I am so, so sad that our dear family-friends are gone. It is one thing to explain our life to our family and friends at home, but it is quite another to have people close by who just "get it" and all the little quirks that we go through on a daily basis because they live through them too. I am so grateful for two years of increasingly special memories with this special American family and wish them all the best in their next adventure.
We know we will see them again at some time and in some place, but in the meantime...I guess we'll always have Nairobi.