When We Return Home

It feels weird to say I’m going home, because Kenya is home for us and the thought of leaving it for 6 months just breaks my heart. I definitely want to be with our daughter Hannah for the arrival of our first grandbaby but leaving Nairobi, everyone close to us and the familiarity of home weighs heavy on me.

han

Hannah is ready to go!

I thought I would write about how YOU can help others like me who return to their home land, even though it is foreign for us. You see we often don’t understand the language, culture, politics and general day to day procedures in our homeland

To me, home is where my heart is at that time and especially where I am with my husband. While were living in Australia that was definitely home. I’ve returned a few times since being on assignment in Kenya and now I feel uncomfortable there. I’ve had several friends move back permanently to their homelands and I’ve asked them how long it took for them to adjust and they all say at least 8 weeks. I can identify with this as we spent 6 weeks in the States last year and it got quite comfortable by the end of the trip.

 

Sharon’s Tips:

  1. Give us time.

Homecomers (HC) usually travel a long way to get back. For me it was more than 30 hours in transit, that’s a really long time. I have done longer but on my ticket I had to be back in New Zealand by a certain date. It can take up to a week to get over jetlag.

Besides that though there are often things HC have to deal with. Organising bank accounts, health checks, drivers licenses and buying appropriate clothes for the local scene. And of course, you have to figure out how to get from A to B to do those things. We only hold Kenyan drivers licenses but it looks like we have to re-sit everything to get our New Zealand ones. That means I have to spend time studying, making sure I get my crazy driving ways out of my system and get to obey the laws here.

While it’s great to catch up with everyone, we come with a priority. For me, it was our daughter. For others it may be relocating back permanently or sorting out family issues. I had lots of people sending me messages and requests for catch ups and I’d only been in the country for 24 hours. It was all a bit much when what I really wanted to do was to just sit down after more than 3 years and watch a movie with my daughter.

flight

Just after landing

 

  1. Don’t assume.

A really hard things is that people assume that you know people, politics, current affairs and where to go for something. While we get a lot of news online, it’s just one of many things our brains are taking in. Our main focus is on the foreign country where we are based, not our homeland. Yes we attend events at embassies but that is to catch up with people of the same nationality and relax for a night. We know who our ambassador or high commissioner are but we don’t know who the MP is in the suburb we used to live in.

 

I haven’t lived in NZ for 15 years, it’s pretty much ALL foreign to me.

 

  1. Realise we are in two minds/hearts.

While we want to be with our families in times of need, we also have a new family in our foreign country. We have a new set of friends there, a new way of living, a new reality. We adjust.

When we return to our homeland we are torn in two. While we try to adjust here, our thoughts are with what is happening in the country we’ve just left. Today is the 2nd birthday of Alisa, our friends daughter. Tomorrow a group of friends will be going to their house for her party. We gave a gift to be unwrapped then but we will miss out on all of the fun. You can’t help but think about it, yet you wouldn’t be anywhere else right now.

Some people are forced to come back to their homeland as their visa might have run out, or there are family matters to attend to. Some have HAD to return for their kids. It’s very expensive to fly your whole family back so many have to decide who gets to return every now and then to the foreign country.

 

kids

At the beach for the first time in over a year

  1. Invite us home.

We find that people like to meet up for coffee or take us out for meals. While that’s great try and see it from our viewpoint. It costs at least double to go to a restaurant and we often think in our minds ‘I could take that extra $70 and put a kid through school for a couple of months’. Do that 20 times and you see a number of children’s faces or the local street children who could actually be getting educated rather than begging, or worse.

We come out for a couple of months at a time but hardly ever get invited into peoples homes. When you’re out speaking/fundraising you get tired of seeing the inside of buildings, offices and meeting rooms. You’re presenting non-stop about your cause, which you are passionate about, and you don’t get ‘down time’. Last time I was on tour I just got my feet wet in the ocean and my daughter said “Mum, your next appointment is early”. 30 seconds is all I got – our ocean is a 9 hour drive away.

 

Give us an option of where to meet.

 

  1. Support us.

It’s VERY expensive to travel to our homeland. It’s the number one reason we don’t return more often. Many of us rely on personal donors to keep us in the field. Some people just stop supporting because they think that the money isn’t needed any more. Often it’s the opposite. Many times things like eating out are cheaper overseas but that’s about it. If you’re going to stop financially supporting someone, at least write them an email explaining it.

 

  1. We still have a job to do.

When we are in New Zealand and Australia this year we are travelling to schools and Rotary clubs to try and raise project funds. It’s certainly no holiday when you return, even though people think so. There’s lots of emails, contacting your team back in the foreign country, making sure there’s funds for projects, visiting people here, grant writing, setting up legal entities and more. You are also working across time zones to balance everything out.

Work does not stop just because you’re in a different geographical place. It’s hard because you want to spend time with everyone but need to keep working. My brother asked what I’m up to while here and I really couldn’t be bothered trying to explain that I’m working because he just wouldn’t get it.

To me a holiday is hanging at the beach with the family, everyone off their phones and out playing games. This trip is so not a holiday. We need to quadruple our personal support level to be able to return to the work we do. Money does not automatically come in and it takes a lot of arm twisting to convince people to part with their hard earned dollars.

me

 

 

 

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Run, run as fast as you can

One of the few things my father left as a legacy was the love of running. I can’t remember what age we were made to start running but I remember being in middle school. I never entered competitions except for the Round The Bays in 1983, just after my father died.

I’m not a fast runner, now I do what I call a ‘granny shuffle’.

But I do like to run. At 46 though, the body doesn’t quite bounce back like it used to.

We’ve lived in Kenya since 2012 and I pretty much decided that running would go on the back burner. While we lived in Sydney I could jog along the streets and then the beach, it was great. I entered the City to Surf, the biggest funrun in the world where 80,000 people run the 14km trek up Heartbreak Hill to Bondi Beach. I ran it years ago.

My finish wasn't so enthusiastic.

My finish wasn’t so enthusiastic.

Nairobi is a little (okay a lot) different to run in. I can’t go for a run before 6.45am as it’s just getting light. At that time of the morning there are footpaths full of people making their way to work. There’s no ‘keeping to the left’ you just have to squeeze in between the crowds. I actually like to go later when there’s less people but it’s way too hot.

One of the biggest obstacles for safely running here is the footpaths, or lack of them. Around where we live there are a few footpaths but they have holes in them or are broken up in places. When you’re running you kind of feel like you’re in a cross country event. About 200 metres from our place you turn a corner to go down and up a hill. You would have to be insane to try and even run over that spot. A few times I’ve nearly twisted my ankle on loose rocks.

And then there are the trucks.

I don’t know what it is about trucks here but they are way overloaded and go slower than a snail up hill. They puff out this thick, dark smoke that doesn’t go in the air but out at face level. It’s gross.

This photo doesn't even show how bad the smoke from the trucks are.

This photo doesn’t even show how bad the smoke from the trucks are.

So for the first few years I didn’t bother running. I set up a home gym area but once you get up to 100 squats, situps, pushups and the like, what’s next?

We returned back from our overseas trip a month ago and I decided ‘what the heck, why not give running another go’. So I have.

I’m only a couple of weeks into it, and amping up the anti to see if my foot can handle a run three times a week. I’ve a Morton’s Neuroma under my right foot which plays up whenever it feels like it. It’s like having a hot, sharp poker up through your foot. In 2011 and 2012 I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. In 2012 the last day was excruciating because my foot played up so much. I just couldn’t wait to get down.

My faithful runners.

My faithful runners.

On March 8th, Lizzie and I will be running 10km’s in ‘The First Lady’s Half Marathon’ around Nairobi. I really want to get up to a half marathon status but not sure if my foot would make it. One of my dreams is to run in the Lewa Marathon through an animal conservancy. Here’s hoping I can do it by next year.

So why do I run?

I run because I like getting out there with my headphones on and not worry about all of the world’s problems. I need to run to keep myself fit. When I run I drink a lot more water than if I sit in front of a computer all day. I run because I can’t afford to go to a gym.

And I run because I like it.

East to West

We’ve been in ‘the West’ for two weeks now. Kenya isn’t ‘the East’ but it is in that direction.

There is A LOT of freedom here than back in Nairobi. We haven’t locked our car doors when we get in. I’ve even put my handbag on my knee when travelling. You don’t get security checked at the shopping malls and can do uturns without worrying about getting pulled up by the police.

Butterfly House in Singapore

Butterfly House in Singapore

Pete is super excited because the roads have overhead lights, white lines on the road AND reflectors down the middle of the road. It makes driving at night really easy. The fact that there are hardly any cars on the road in comparison to Nairobi also makes a difference. Sometimes sitting at traffic lights is a pain but it sure makes everything run smoothly.

I’ve even worn my jandals/thongs/flipflops for 4 days in a row. In Kenya I get hassled because they should either be worn in the shower or around the house. Here in New Zealand it’s just what you do. The weather has been exceptional, much warmer than what we ever thought it would be. There’s nothing like kicking off your jandals and putting your toes in nice warm sand.

Pete with the sunflowers at the airport.

Pete with the sunflowers at the airport.

However, it’s not all wonderful. We knew it was going to be expensive to eat out here, but didn’t realise how much it would really be. In Nairobi we buy a bottle of water or Coke for around 60 cents, as apposed to $3.50 for the same item here. There is way more variety of gluten free food here and it is half the price of what we pay for back home.

We’re really lucky to have the use of our soon-to-be son-in-laws car, which saves us getting around on buses. Petrol is $2.07per litre in Tauranga, in Nairobi it was $1.36 – go figure that one!

Mt Maunganui

Mt Maunganui

The biggest difference so far is how moist it is here. I didn’t realise how dry it was in Kenya until we left. Sure, we are much closer to the ocean but overall it is less dry and very green. It might not seem much to you but you definitely feel the difference.

The fact that the houses have large windows, there’s very few gated communities and we even left the laundry out one night and it didn’t get stolen – all these still shock us.

Native plant of New Zealand

Native plant of New Zealand

Even though it’s been a couple of weeks we still can’t believe how light it is at 8.30 at night. In Nairobi it starts getting dark at 6.50pm and then it’s pitch dark by 7pm. That happens 365 days a year. We had these ideas of going for a walk at night because that’s one thing we miss but we are so busy visiting people it just hasn’t happened yet. We did get to put our toes in the freezing cold ocean once, here’s hoping for more.

Basically what we’re experiencing is reverse culture shock. When people come to Kenya they struggle with the differences, meanwhile we embrace them when we return to our ‘other home’. We know it’s only for a few more weeks but we are enjoying the variety of food, the green grass and the options of freedom. Yes we do miss the familiarity of our new homeland and the special friendships we have made there but also know to make the most of each moment here. flowers

 

The Expat Dilemma

I’ve read about it, but experiencing it is quite different. I haven’t lived in New Zealand for 12 years and Australia for 16 months. We’re on assignment in Kenya (East Africa) and this visit was to make connections and raise much needed funds to keep us in Nairobi.

Firstly of course is the reverse culture shock – where you return to your home of previous residence. The only chance on our 4 flight trip to exit an airport was in Singapore where we went to my cousins for the day. I’d never been to Singapore so everything was very cool until I spotted a sign that said ‘Be considerate of other drivers and indicate’. I just started laughing in the back seat, I’m not quite sure if it was the 2 sleepless days catching up with me or the thought that this would NEVER happen in Kenya. When we arrived in Sydney there was the increase in early morning train rides that were a shocker and where you felt like an idiot for not knowing. One of the things that really bugged me was the lack of free wireless on offer at the malls. Every mall in Nairobi has some form of free wifi. Because labour is so cheap, toilets at the airport and malls leave for dead the quality of toilets in Aussie. I was so disgusted with Sydney airport toilets but I did appreciate those hand driers that are supersonic and dry your hands with just one pass in the drier.

liz surfing

Liz boarding. The bonus of NOT being 9hrs from the nearest beach.

The biggest sense is that of not belonging. I miss the familiarity of Nairobi and how Kenya works. Sydney is definitely not home anymore. Partly because Pete isn’t there and partly because we have moved on. Liz and I even went to a leaders meeting at our local church and my thought was ‘It’s great here but man would we be bored if we returned’. While it was great seeing friends and family, I also have friends and family in Kenya.

We were only in Sydney for just under 2 days to fly to NZ for a family reunion and then kick off a 6 week speaking tour. The last time I was at a family reunion I was 8 and our family lived about 4 hours away so we didn’t see the others very often anyway. So here’s this bunch of total strangers spending a weekend together at a remote beach that only those 60+ really have memories of. The rest of us sort of knew each other but it was just a matter of who are you, whose your parent and what have you been up to for the last 36 years? The saddest thing about choosing to live overseas is the lack of connection with family. There’s no holidays together, no shared memories. It doesn’t sound much, but it is quite a huge thing.

ang n shaz

Downside of 8 weeks on the road – wild hair.

In Kenya, customer service is a top priority but obviously not here. A taxi driver said about our one suitcase “I’m not lifting that into the car by myself”, hmm, don’t become a cab driver then!

I keep reminding myself that it is just different and we are not here forever. It’s not all bad. Family go out of their way to make you feel welcome. People are interested in your story and so far the weather has been good.

It’s early days yet but I think this trip will be worth it. I hold my breath and hope that we raise the necessary funds because we really do want to stay in Nairobi and work with the most amazing young people on the planet.

 

 

 

My Confession

I’m not Catholic, but I think there’s something healthy about confessing something. It may not change the situation but you feel unburdened and hopefully get a fresh start.

I am jealous. Not even a small amount, I mean jealous with a capital J.

 

1. The thing I’m really jealous of is that people have the capacity to earn money.

Gone are the days when we could redecorate someone’s house, paint a building or do a photo shoot to get some extra cash or travel overseas with. I really miss those days. Sure, it may not seem much to you, but to both Pete and I it’s a huge thing.

Instead we have become professional beggars, accosting friends and family around the world for donations to live off and do our work in East Africa.

begging

Even people here have that one on us. Sure, there is a huge unemployment rate but I really admire the people who even have a stall on the side of the road selling foodstuffs.

There is something about earning a good dollar. A friend who is a trained counsellor told me that job satisfaction is the top priority for people in their 40’s and 50’ and I can identify with that. However, the pay also makes it worth it.

Actually, it’s not about making money, but having the freedom to do so.

I think that’s like a lot of people here who have far less options than us right now. They feel like their hands are tied and unlike us they don’t have hope nor a good circle of supporters who are doing life with them. So, although I hate this feeling, I’m thankful for what we’ve had, do have and will have.

I am thankful for every single person who partners with us. This whole thing makes us rely on God and to be honest, it doesn’t get any easier. But if I can trust God to save me, I can trust Him to take care of us each day.

 

2. I get jealous of photos people put up of the beach.

We lived in Sydney for 11 years and loved every moment of it. For the first two years I would wake up and say ‘another day in paradise’. Not sure what happened after that but we really, really enjoyed it. I loved going for a run most days and then spending 30 minutes at the beach – a 4 minute walk away. If there’s anything I miss, it’s being able to get out the door and go for a good walk. Here it’s a high risk sport going for a run by the road. In our first week here we almost got hit by a person pretending they could drive. I’ve never seen a driver with such large eyes.

beachOur nearest beach is a 9 hour drive – and not an easy drive either.

There’s a place we drive by that has this large unused field lined with trees and Pete would say in our early days here ‘I’m just imagining that there is a beach behind those trees’.

This past week we finally got a coffee table and we indulged in spending $20 on this absolutely beautiful canoe shaped bowl. We bought it specifically to put in it shells we had bought from Hawaii (my favourite holiday destination) which have been packed for the last 12 months. I look at them with fond memories and yes, I’ve even put one up to my ear to hear the ocean.

That’s what it’s about though – gratefulness. We’ve travelled all around the world, have seen amazing things and met some incredible people. I’ve someone working in our office who has never been out of the country and until a few months ago hadn’t been to a town only 2 hours away.

It’s about keeping things in perspective.

photo

3. I get jealous that you get Mainland Cheese.

Pathetic I know, but man does it taste good. I mean, it’s creamy, soft and melts on toasted sandwiches.  Even when we lived in Sydney you could buy Mainland Cheese there. No wonder I couldn’t keep the weight off!

There are several times I wish people could bring back real cheese in their suitcase. The cheese here just doesn’t taste like anything. Apparently you have to leave it in the fridge for a couple of months to get anything decent out of it.

I long for the days of macaroni cheese, toasted sandwiches and a decent cheese sauce over the cauliflower. What’s the point of having cauliflower anyway if you can’t have cheese sauce!

Actually you can buy New Zealand cheese here, for $30 a kilo. Even then I’m not totally convinced that it’s the real deal. Liz is in NZ and told me she had nachos the other night with stacks of cheese on it. She asked my sister for a whole pile of cheese. Proof that it’s not just me!

However, I have found an okay Camembert cheese for the rice crackers people have sent us. Unfortunately it has to be a special treat every few months, which is probably good for my waistline.

cheese

4. I get jealous of those overseas photos on Facebook

Actually that’s a total lie. I don’t at all. It’s the same when people put up photos of their latest car, clothes or anything very cool. Some people feel bad that they get these things while we are ‘giving it all up to live in Africa’. Not at all. I love to celebrate every single adventure people are having.

We are so blessed to be able to do what we do and yet live in an online world that allows us to live with a global family. Please, please, please keep putting up those updates and photos of your adventures. There’s enough sadness in the world and we need to learn to celebrate what and when we can with those that we care about.

If I can say anything, it would be to get out of your comfort zone and go on an adventure.

I have a friend who is a little older than me who is travelling through Europe and she looks like she is having an absolute ball. I love seeing her smiling face enjoying the sites, people and ice cream sundaes. I love the fact that after all these years she is taking a well deserved holiday.

You see, jealousy can be a driving force to eat you up about what you don’t have or it can be an opportunity to enjoy what you actually do have. If I spend all my time whinging ‘I don’t have this, I don’t have that’ it takes my focus off the joy of the moment and appreciating what we do have.

Sure, I’d give my right arm to get on a plane and shoot to Dubai for the weekend, who wouldn’t. We could do that and not eat for two months – that’s not exactly a winning situation. Or, I can enthusiastically look forward to our 6 visitors this week, knowing we have a house big enough for them all. It’s probably the first time in our lives that we’ve had a place big enough that people don’t have to sleep on the floor when they come. Now that’s something to be happy about.

When we lived in Sydney one of our kids (who will remain nameless but it begins with H) would always complain about living in a ghetto – Dee Why. We would remind her that our 2 bedroom apartment rental was a half a million dollar ‘ghetto’. After taking her on her first trip to Africa she really saw the meaning of the word and we didn’t hear a peep out of her about it from that time on.

People tell me that I am so lucky doing what we do. But let’s hear it people – what are you jealous of?

New Years, Gunshots and Sparklers

It was only a few days ago we were glad to see the back of 2012 and celebrated the coming in of 2013, hoping it would be more prosperous, peaceful and an improvement on the past.

While we’ve been in Kenya for New Years before, it was different this time because we’re actually living here, not just visiting.

It was the first time I can say I got home sick for Sydney, for the entire day. I thought watching the fireworks online might help, but it made it worse. I missed the beach, the cafes by the beach, and being able to walk down the beach any time I wanted. I missed the conveniences of living in a first world country, like internet all of the time.

By the end of the day we had a large group of people over for a good Aussie barbeque, some fireworks and an outdoor movie (Mission Impossible 4), and the homesickness had gone.

It was interesting to hear from different people at the barbeque, from 5 different countries talking about their usual New Years Eve habits. What interested me most though was what has happened in Kenya over the last few years.

The last elections were held in 2007 and resulted in a lot of deaths, tribal fighting, destruction of homes and businesses and overall civil unrest. It all kicked off on Boxing Day. I remember being in Australia on the phone and internet for the whole day making sure my university students from here were all okay. I remember some saying that there were gunshots everywhere and they weren’t sure if their family members were even alive.

Move a few days ahead and apparently some people were letting off fireworks, the really noisy ones, which when people are already traumatised, is totally wrong. Hence, fireworks are now illegal. But, they are still sold in shops – go figure.

We had a few sparklers and even some loud fireworks which totally freaked out the little kids.

Not our Kenyan fireworks

Not our Kenyan fireworks

Kenya seems to be a country of irony. There are armed police everywhere, but their AK47’s are so old they probably wouldn’t even fire properly. In fact forty something police were killed by cattle rustlers not that long ago. If they had working guns, they would’ve had the upper hand.

People are now fined $1,000 if they don’t have a first aid kit, emergency triangle and fire extinguisher in the car. However, you can get away without your brakes, indicators or lights not working.

Guards at the malls check the boot of your car for explosives but in reality if you wanted to blow up a place you could put them under your seat.

Of course, the best one is that there are a few sets of traffic lights, but no one seems to obey them.

I’m sure the shine of a new year is fading for many already but we’ve decided to embrace all the differences of living in a new country until we can really call it ‘home’. I’ll probably watch the fireworks of Sydney online again, but by Dec 2013 I am sure that I’ll simply shrug my shoulders at any new and whacky laws that come out and simply say TIA (This Is Africa).