In keeping with the apparent tradition in our new community here in Kibuye -no child’s birthday party is complete without a theme. For this one it was “dress up like your favorite stuffed animal.” Alma of course was dressed up like Boing-Boing – her beloved stuffed bunny that she’s had since (before) she was born.
Plenty of others – kids and adults – played along and were dressed (quite convincingly) as their favorite cotton-filled friend.
Also, every party seems to have some version of the game: “pin the ____ on the _____” – in keeping with the theme of the party. For Alma’s 5th, it was “pin the ears on Boing-Boing” (we’ve previously had “Pin the banana on the monkey” for Matea’sAfrican Animal themed party)
As always the cake was great (especially considering the limited resources one has to work with here) – and Susan created a pretty amazing rainbow cake.
A bit different from last year when we had recently returned to Bujumbura – but I don’t think we knew one other family who was back, so her birthday was just the 6 of us – and we had a fair bit of violence that week – so it was hard to think about going somewhere.
Well, we now have three kids into the double-digit age range. Micah turned ten last week – while we were in Kenya. We actually spent most of his birthday in Nairobi – doing some pretty cool stuff.
First we visited an elephant orphanage. OK – first things first – Micah did what Micah does best – and ate his weight in breakfast foods
We are so proud of who Micah is becoming – the resilience that he’s shown despite all the changes that he’s endured. In fact – when I started looking at pictures from his birthday’s past – I realised that he has only ever had three birthdays while living in the same place.
Last year – for Micah’s 9th birthday we camped out along Lake Kivu in Southern Rwanda
The year before that was during our 7 months in Canada – and for Micah’s 8th birthday we were actually in the midst of our epic road trip – and were at Lake Michigan – with the Balls
7 years old – back in France – also with the Balls. And once again opening Lego with Josh at his side – who appears to be just as excited (seems to be a theme). This would be his third birthday while living in St Martin d’Uriage.
6 years old – with the Balls (the other ones – the relatives – this really is kind of odd) – in St M d’U
5 years old – 2nd birthday in France – 1s one in our house in St Martin d’Uriage
4 years old – just a few days after we moved to France – celebrating with the Simoni’s at their house (where we were temporarily crashing while looking for a place to live) just before they moved to UAE.
3 years old – first one in our newly renovated house in Edmonton
2 years old – living at Susan’s parents place as we wait for our house sale to go through
1 year old – in our first place in edmonton
August 25, 2006 – we become a family of 5.
(not sure exactly what that look is that I had going – but it was 10 years ago – I’m sure it was totally cool then)
And the day before – Aug 24 in the afternoon – Susan being about as pregnant as possible. Later this day (about 11:50) we arrive at the hospital parking lot – where Micah is almost born – and just a minute or two after midnight on the 25th, he was born.
…and another rock. The name literally means “between the rocks” (or actually now that I think about it, maybe it’s just – in the middle of two guys named Pierre ) – but for our family it means a lot more.
If our time in France this summer was a chance to be in places we love, and a chance to spend time with dear friends – then it’s hard to beat our time in this mediaeval village just outside of the town of Sisteron, where provence meets the alps.
Entrepierres is where we were when we started to think and dream for the very first time about something like moving to Africa to do the kind of work we’re doing now. In fact – we were thinking of places to investigate -and realized that collectively our African geography was so bad we required the aid of a beachball-globe from the pool for us to even know where some countries were in relation to each other.
As always – there was lots of biking, running, hiking, scootering, swimming etc – which perhaps explains why we ate so much.
And we did what we do whenever we’re together in Southern France: WE. ATE. SO. WELL.
You see, when you have two families with 4 kids growing kids each, plus adults – who all used to live in France and very much miss eating real French food – you get a bit of a binge-mentality. We would go into town to buy bread only every other day or so (I know – really not French…but hey…we never said we were) – but even then we would very often have to buy 18 (or more) baguette at a time! Once we sent a couple of the kids into the boulangerie to buy the bread – and they weren’t too eager to give the kids that much – I think they thought they were being pranked. Nope – just a lot of people who apparently haven’t yet read Wheat Belly. (in our defence – we do try to limit our bread intake to 1 baguette per person per day)
We (the Dad’s) also decided to take 8 kids (our three oldest, their 4 + a friend who was vacationing with them) for an overnight campout (the day after I attempted a 40km trail race…so at least I had a good warm-up). So we saddled up everyone’s backpacks with tents and sleeping bags, and water and food (and tried to limit the boys to 1 knife each) and headed right up the small mountain directly in front of the house.
I get the feeling that these are the kinds of trips, and the kinds of times that our kids will be talking about 40 years from now.
Since we were already in Europe for our Mission’s conference, we took a side trip to France. There are so many things that we love and really missed about France: wine, cheese, friends, the sea, bread, family, cheese, the alps, pastries, wine, the weather, fromage, families dear to us, du vin, hiking, museums, food, sitting in the park eating pizza, chateaux, boulangeries, du pain…..
We flew into Geneva after our conference rented a car..and spent a few weeks of holidays, catching up, sharing the stories of what we’ve been doing in Burundi, seeing people, and just enjoying la belle France.
For all us – and in many ways especially for the kids – France feels a lot like home (and yet of course, never would ever really feel like home). Micah started school in France, Alma never left Europe before she was almost 3 (except for a trip to Israel), Matea and Jonah were (in hindsight) really little when we left Canada.… They all still have friends, and strong memories of living here in France.
We had a fantastic opportunity to spend some time in some of our favourite places. While in Grenoble we were able to meet up with quite a few of my colleagues from PhD studies there.
We drove down south to visit Uncle Milton and Aunt Sharon, which for us is as close to a family holiday tradition as we have. We first visited them in Pezenas back in 2000 or so, and our kids loved our trips down here.
Now I admit – living in a very rural and impoverished part in the middle of the poorest country in the world with really bad/show/unreliable internet – I never really considered that I was totally up to date with everything. But there were several occasions when I would say something, and be shocked at the response. There were several occasions when I would mention a feature in our rental car – couched in a firm manner of shock, awe, and almost disbelief – only to hear “that’s actually a required feature for all cars starting this year” sigh.
It was a great break for our family. Saw so many old friends, and places we love, and the mountains, and the sea, and the food, and the wine.
In June we had a fantastic time in Spain at our organisation’s triennial conference. This conference brings together our workers from all over – who do an incredibly wide variety of work. Southern Europe is kind of central for us collectively – well, as central as it can be for people in Africa, Asia, North America & Europe (and as of now…South America). Serge has people who work to bring clean water to villages, people who train and support local pastors, people who teach medicine, people who run businesses to help raise people out of poverty, people who provide counselling to those in need, doctors filling the gap in places where they are desperately needed. We are teachers, engineers, doctors, pastors, entrepreneurs, medical professionals, and more. We have people overseeing the finances of our organisation so we can continue to do these things, people who care for and support the educational needs of our kids, and on, and on, and on. So it truly is at the same time a widely varied, and uniquely focused group of people
We ate a lot of food – and some really good food. (yes, I realize our standards may have dropped while living in the land of rice&beans…but still…) The kids really enjoyed being able to dish up their own, go back for more, and the presence of ice cream 2 meals a day was not lost on them. There was a pool, there was a beach, and lots of kids, and lots of really good times together, etc.
It wasn’t all fun and games – on top of all the sessions, and workshops that we attended, I gave a few workshops on using business to transform communities. We (everyone in the family) had appointments with counsellors (some of us multiple) to try to work through some of the things that we’ve experienced over the past year. That was good. Not easy, but good.
To be honest – it’s a shocking group of people. I think for many people it’s hard to not have some lingering sense of “well if you can’t make it back home…” when thinking about people who volunteer to go overseas for work like this. That those who go overseas are those who can’t make the cut. There are so many people on Serge teams around the world who are skilled, qualified, talented, certified and smart enough to do a lot – some people I think could be doing almost anything they wanted. But the collective sense is – this is more important, more fulfilling, more urgent. Not only that – but it’s a lot more interesting, a lot more fun, and makes for some great stories.
There were many tears shed for and by our co-workers – many of whom are enduring incredible hardships in their work and or lives right now. We heard stories of teammates who left too early, business that just don’t work out, kids being bullied at school, family issues, illness, etc etc. But to me there were two things present was in the midst of all this, in spite of them, perhaps even more so, because of it: humility & hope.
There was a degree of honesty amongst people there like I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. From newcomers to the organisation, to 20+ veterans, from short-term interns to our executive council, there was transparency and vulnerability. This can really only happen amongst people you trust – so obviously the level of trust was very high. It was a breath of fresh air – and something that is all too rare.
There was also hope. Despite all the hard things that were shared – there was hope. Perhaps even because of the hard things -there was hope. There was a sense that things won’t always be this broken -and we can do things now to play a hand in the renewal of things.
We’ve only been gone from Europe for about two years – but there were sure some things we loved getting back to. Some things were noticeable – and then shocking that they even seemed different (one example was driving at actual ‘highway speeds’ on a highway…and watching km after km just whistle by. Around here, there is that one place between here and Buj, if you take the back way, where you can shift into 5th gear….)
We were able to spend relaxing time with people we know from our Burundi teams, people we met at our East Africa conference (also triennial – but due to some scheduling peculiarities – ended up being only 14 months prior, meaning we caught it just after we arrived on the field), people we met at our interview/orientation with Serge when we came on board, and lots of new faces.
Overall it was a great time, a really welcomed break that I think we needed much more than we realized, and incredibly re-energizing and encouraging.