To my family:
I've arrived! Safe at home... Maybe. Considering I've not spent more than 4 nights in any bed since I arrived Stateside, I guess it's hard to say. Hugs and greetings and unbidden weeping at Wisconsin Campmeeting in Oxford; a few uneventful nights in my house in Frederic; an exploding tire, a southern-born trucker in steel-toed cowboy boots, a state trooper, and a hotel in the rural flats of central Illinois; pool parties and family in southern (heat- and humidity-stricken) Tennessee; more family and a soot-spewing water heater in the U.P.; and long, lazy days in a basement apartment in southern Wisconsin. Now you understand why it's taken me three weeks to let you all know that I've arrived safely in my home country. Of course, I never did inform you what method of transportation I'd be utilizing to make the transoceanic trek; some of you may be surprised at the thought that my steamer crossed the ocean so quickly. But, you know, volcanic ash in the atmosphere only affects air travel these days, not travel by sea. But airline food is quite a bit better than the stuff you find on those paddlewheels.
Life in the United States; WOW. Many things in Kenya didn't seem unusual until I returned to American soil. My first thought as our plane descended into O'Hare International airport? "What a nice, smooth parking lot!" I was intrigued by the smooth, neatly painted, pothole-wanting lot a few blocks from the runway. Thoughts that followed soon afterward? "Sooo many wazungu!" "That guy is speaking English...he doesn't even know Swahili..." "VENDING MACHINES!"
The line at customs went surprisingly quickly. Then again, the line itself moved; I didn't have to push my way to the front (the typical Kenyan way). I apprehensively handed the Customs & Border Patrol officer my customs forms, nervous about what sorts of reasons they'd provide that forced me to open up all my bags and wait in numerous unending lines.
"Countries visited... Kenya and Egypt?? What are you, an arms dealer?"
My eyes grew wide. I managed to stammer a half-baked stream of "uh"s and "um"s and "well"s until his eyes crinkled with mirth and he directed me toward the exit.
On the shuttle to Madison, I couldn't keep myself from staring out the window of the coach bus, gawking at anything from license plates - each car proudly exclaimed the state from which it hailed! - to water towers. We passed oaks, maples, aspens, and popples, but no acacias. We passed a spreading, green field, and I caught myself looking for wildebeest. I looked back toward the road, amazed at how organized and orderly Chicago traffic was, with everyone neatly tucked inside their white-dotted lines, lanes large enough to fit a car and a half. I laid my head back to nap, bracing myself for the inevitable jolt of a speedbump that never came.
My first visit to WalMart: what an experience. Just like a free trip to Disneyland! New, exciting purchases at every turn... Miracle Whip! Doritos! Oversized onions and tiny avocados! Grapes! All varieties of potatoes! An entire rack devoted solely to taco seasoning!!! My reactions of elation and exuberance were met by smirks and eye-rolling from my sisters. They just don't know how to have fun, I think.
Then, we went to Taco Bell.
I was beside myself. I could hardly find time between giggling and drooling to find something on the menu to order. I'm quite convinced that Taco Bell became more beautiful and awe-inspiring and unbelievably delicious in the ten months I was away from it. By the time the delectable burrito/taco combo made its way to our table in the corner, I'd carefully laid out my 10 packets of hot sauce, two of each variety (including two new flavors that hadn't been available when I left). After the blessing, I ceremoniously applied first a squirt of this sauce, then that sauce, then a bite...
You know the rest of the story. Unencompassed by mere words.
Wisconsin Campmeeting: 10 days of spiritual revival, enlightening meetings, and people Jessica knows or is related to. I'm convinced the seventh-person rule - everyone knows everyone else in the world through a series of seven people or less - is reduced to the 1.5-person rule at campmeeting. If I don't know someone, they likely know my father, or my grandfather, or my sister, or my grade school teacher's pet-sitter. It was a grand time, filled with hugs and smiles, even some relative strangers welcoming me back (I figure my article in the recently published Lake Union Herald had something to do with that).
I was asked to present the Mission Spotlight for Sabbath School in the main pavilion, and had determined that nothing in the year past was worthy of a ten-minute presentation except that which I was most passionate about, so I chose to talk about my students. Oh, boy. The presentation went very well - though the picture slideshow I'd prepared didn't - until I uttered the word "students", which was inextricably intertwined with a large sob. I spent the next 7 minutes sniffling and apologizing and trying in vain to pull myself together. I don't particularly enjoy weeping in public, let alone on stage with hundreds of people watching and listening. Praise God, however, for turning a bumbling, sobbing, insignificant college kid into a blessing; I was more than encouraged by the handfuls of people who stopped me to share how the story impacted them. Tears, I suppose, are worth a thousand words. But I'm hoping mission reports in the future don't require the same face-reddening, eye-puffing sacrifice. Good grief.
Since then, mom and I have traveled thousands of miles, and I've felt more and more like a gypsy moving where'er the breeze takes her. I've never been more ready to ditch the suitcase and become a homebody.
...For a few weeks, at least. ;)
I have a brightly beaded pipe cleaner that has spent more time on my wrist than off it these past three weeks. I'm not one for adornment - too much effort, it seems - so this bracelet is a little strange. It looks much like the bracelets clinging tightly to the tiny wrists of kindergartners in a small village on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. In fact, that's where I made it. And that's why I wear it. Just as the pipe cleaner is losing its black fuzziness, my Kenyan memories and experience seem to be fading, and I'm trying ever so desperately to hang on. If I let go, if I move on, it's as if I've given up on my past, as if I've refused to allow the people and experiences and trials of the past year to crack my rough exterior and affect the gooey, unexplored mush hidden inside; as if I never fell in love with Kenya. And I don't want that to be true. So I continue to carry the brightly colored, chunky plastic beads on my wrist, and the memories and faces of yesteryear on my heart.
I'm still seated in the theater. The silver screen is dark, and the lackluster interlude is crackling over the speakers. I'm waiting for the characters to flash upon the screen again; Cassie and Tyson, Inah and Brianna, Martial and Yafet, Derek and Yani. This movie was too good to end; it swept me up into it, becoming more than real life. The credits stop scrolling, the lights come up, and the ushers give me quizzical looks as they scoop up buckets of popcorn and sticky vat-sized cups of pop. The show's over, and I'm rushed to the exit. I must choose another plot and set of characters to join, for we all know that attempting a sequel is never as fulfilling as the original. But now, even in my plotless intermission, I have a story and a soundtrack that keep my mind occupied. I hear a Maasai chorus providing the background music for a scene of laughter with students and the Physics Phantom. A well-choreographed choir sings while I watch in a lab apron and goggles. My toe taps and my heart beats in unison with those a world away. Soon and very soon, we will sing those songs and laugh those laughs in a language known by all, with the One who carefully tucked the music and smiles away inside us. And it will be very, very good.
Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.