Fourteen years ago today, my sister and her neighbor comically set me up with a cute European guy who was working at their town YMCA for the summer. We met over watermelon and beer, and when he said he wanted to visit Boston for the first time, one of them told him, "Lisa will show you around!" When he came over a few days later to plan our Boston visit, my sister said, "So, you guys are going to the movies tonight?" I have maybe never blushed like that before in my life, and we ended up seeing Jim Carey's "Bruce Almighty." I wasn't exactly a desperate spinster at the age of almost-23, but there was something about him that immediately felt special, different, right. I am good at holding on to people in my life, and I knew pretty quickly that he was someone I never wanted to let go of. The next four years of long distance until our eventual wedding day were emotional, complicated, incredible. I was devoted to teaching high school in New York City - an intense job that I loved intensely - and Kristoffer was finishing up his graduate degrees before moving to Washington, DC. Right after we were married, we moved to Kenya. And then we moved again to Tanzania. And life has now brought us to Maryland. It is profound to think of all of the small and big decisions that brought us to those places, and how even one or two different decisions could have landed us, together or individually, elsewhere. It all goes back to watermelon and beer. Although I know my sister takes the credit.
So now that you've read all of my "wrap ups," it is time for me to say goodbye to this blog. A couple of people have asked me what else I have been doing this last year, as I have already written so much about everyone else. I intentionally did not try to find work, because I needed to get everyone settled, make our house a home, and adapt to life without staff (no joke). And I did all of that! The four times Kristoffer traveled it was for 2-3 weeks each time, and that was something else to get used to. As I am a woman who needs other women (don't we all?!), I've been working on making friends and figuring out where I fit in here in our new community. I will admit, in some ways that process has been easier and faster to do in my home country/culture than in Kenya or Tanzania as a foreigner sussing out other foreigners. But in other ways, it has been a different challenge to "break in" because people here are settled and have established social lives, without the normal "filling friendship vacancies" that expats constantly need to do. I've made friends through the kids' elementary school primarily and these women are the mothers of our kids' friends, they are neighbors, Brownie and Soccer Moms, go to our church, or are in my book club! I have met so many wonderful and kind women, and it is great to feel that I have found my proverbial "village" here. I am also starting to consider part time consulting work for the fall when Aya goes to her nursery school five days a week. I'm ready to dust off parts of my brain that have been hiding in far off corners for awhile. We've tackled moving and living overseas and having three babies there. Now I'm ready to tackle "American part-time-working-mom" a bit if I can find something that is a good fit.
People often ask me what I miss. I usually say that, other than missing individual people, I greatly miss the diversity of expat life - living in a different culture and being surrounded by different languages and perspectives all the time. In Grace's first grade class of 22 students, there were 15 different languages spoken at home. I miss that. And I miss the schools our kids went to - we seemed to have found "the right" school for each child at the right time and they were each very special. Also, the beauty of East Africa. The honesty of it. The "in-your-face"ness of it. Even the hard stuff...sometimes I miss that too.
It is easy to identify what I don't miss as well. The kids being sick all the time, worrying about malaria or other diseases, little relief from the heat, and inconsistent utlities (water and power). The intricacies of managing people working in your home (even when you depend on and really like them, it's stressful!). Being a target, more or less all the time, and being asked for more and more and more, when you're already being more generous than you can be. That gets exhausting. I also don't miss the anxiety. In hindsight, I think I probably should have been taking some kind of anti-anxiety medication for the last many years. It was not paralyzing, but it was strong. I had a lot of anxiety around emergencies - what if one of us got really sick and couldn't be medivac'ed in time? And when Kristoffer would travel, it would be worse. I hated driving off our little peninsula in case of a car accident when he was out of the country. I felt the burden of not having any family around should something happen to me when he was away. My anxiety is significantly better since we moved back, and that is a huge relief.
While the kids aren't babies anymore, this blog has largely served as their "baby book." We have a wonderful life that I am grateful for everyday. It is not perfect, but it is really good. Having seen up close the other side of the spectrum, I hope to always be humble and empathetic and generous to others when I can be. To say that I've learned a lot about the world in the last decade would be a drastic understatement. I like to think that I am more open-minded, more tolerant, more forgiving (although that European guy I met 14 years ago might not agree!), but it is also possible that I am more cynical and jaded too, although we might have gotten out just in time to avoid any permanent damage. At the very least I am more knowledgable, and I will appreciate that knowledge for a long time to come.
It is apropos that Jeffrey Gettleman, our friend, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times now-former East Africa Bureau Chief, just published his book last month, called Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War and Survival*. It is an incredible read, made even cooler because I've never known the author of a memoir before. Particularly for me, his descriptions of Kenya and the region during the time we lived there were poignant. He brilliantly articulated many feelings that I can strongly identify with and there was a certain magic to reading a memoir that I connected with so personally. His book made me feel deeply grateful for our time in East Africa and also relieved that it is over. While we did not face nearly the level of intimacy, danger or intensity that Jeffrey and his wife Courtenay experienced, in this last year since we left I have walked around feeling that we did, indeed, survive something big.
Speaking of Jeffrey Gettleman, we were emailing back and forth a bit in December and he asked me if we were missing Africa or not. Part of my response to him is the right way to close this blog. We are here now and life is good; I'm a person who leans towards happiness. But it is also true that, as I wrote to him, "I'll be missing pieces of Africa forever."
Cheers to that, and thank you for reading!
(*Note that Jeffrey Gettleman did not ask for, nor does he need, this book review, but really - if Africa is at all an interest of yours, you should read his memoir. If you've ever fallen in love with a place or with a person? If you've ever had a dream and done everything you could to make that dream come true? If you're just a person who's not perfect, but you're trying to be a better version of yourself? Read it! Read it! Read it! It's really very powerful and, and you might even just fall a little bit in love with Africa too. Jeffrey Gettleman will now be reporting for the NYT as South Asia Bureau Chief based in India. We will miss his East African stories, but look forward to following his next assignment.)