Crescent Island

While we were in Kenya to take Jonah to RVA– we had a free day while he was in school -before we headed back home.  We decided to use our day by driving down the hill about an hour to a place called Crescent Island (fact: not an island) close to Naivasha.

dsc05478The animals were apparently brought here for the filming of 1980’s Academy Award winning film: Out of Africa (fun fact: Susan and I just watched it for the first time when we were in France this summer. Wow. Apparently really long, depressing movies were the thing 30 years ago)

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just verifying the fact that – yes, a hippo would chomp off your upper body with one bite

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There is not much to say about this place – but merely see. So here are some pictures of what we experienced there:dsc05483



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Great Rift

So this post has actually been a long time coming – mostly because it’s been something so significant that we’ve really needed some time to process.

At the beginning of this school year – we took Jonah to Rift Valley Academy about an hour outside of Nairobi.

photo from www.rva.org

That’s right:

We left our child in Kenya for school.

There’s a phrase I never in a million years would have believed that I would utter.

dsc05232The whole thing actually kind of snuck up on us. In late August we started thinking about what next year might look like, and started to look into RVA – and then the idea of going this year was raised. We contacted the school -even though we knew there was no real chance of it being possible (people often are registering a year ahead of time) we asked – and there were two spots for 9th grade boys.

So we found out that it was even a possibility via email and 10 days later our family was landing in Nairobi.

Suffice it to say that it was a bit of a whirlwind of activities -and emotions – for all of us.

 

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typical sight in front of Jonah’s new dorm on moving-in day – Land Rovers on the lawn with roof-racks packed with their kids stuff


Rift Valley Academy is (not surprisingly) along the Great Rift Valley – which runs north-south right through much of East Africa. (Fun Fact: from a technically geographical stand point – it starts in Lebanon, includes the Dead Sea and runs to Mozambique) RVA itself  is up quite high overlooking that Rift, sitting 2200m above sea level, so it’s really quite cool (well – relatively speaking – we are still in East Africa).

It’s a school that has kids representing over 30 nationalities – but that number probably under-estimates the international, multi-cultural flavor of the place. I think Jonah is not that out of the ordinary  -where he represents one nation on that list (Canada), but has spent most of his life in several other countries on multiple continents.

It’s a place that is full of Third-Culture Kids – kids for whom the answer to the question “where are you from?” or “where is home?” – is almost always followed up by “what do you mean?” or an answer hedged in contingencies, and explanations. All the kids there are from families who are serving as missionaries in different parts of Africa – so they all have that in common- which is nice because those kids (I’ve been told) often can feel like they’re pretty different.

We obviously feel that this is the best thing for him – but that doesn’t make it easy.

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let’s just say the playground equipment was a pretty big hit with the other kids

One thing that has made all of this easier is the experience of those close to us – who we trust. We have several teammates here in Kibuye who themselves went to RVA. We have Serge teammates on other teams who have had kids there recently. We have a Serge team at Kijabe (mostly working at the hospital there) who also have kids currently at RVA. Is the place perfect? – of course not.  But it would be hard to imagine a place better suited for kids who have had life experiences like ours have.

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…because let’s face it, I’m not sure I know of a single ‘real’ playground in the country where we live

There are plenty of positive points about it, and lots of things that make leaving him more manageable: there really are no great schooling options for him in this country, he would have had an even harder time fitting in at any school (Canada, France etc) where he is ‘that strange kid’ who has lived and traveled many places, having good friends who can testify to what being at RVA meant to them as either students or parents, and of course the way the whole thing seemed so orchestrated by God – having a spot available at the very last minute and everything working out smoothly for getting there, staying with friends, etc

That doesn’t change the fact that even just a year ago I would have said “we will never send our kids to boarding school”

It doesn’t take away the thought that most people send off their children at 18 – and that we feel like we’ve somehow had this happen for the first time 4 years before it was supposed to. 

Buffalo & Zebra watching you eat
I know high-school was a long time ago for me, & I probably don’t’ remember everything accurately…but I’m pretty sure there were not Big Game trophies in the cafeteria from the classes a generation before ours.

However – what it does –  is re-emphasise that feeling – that belief – that we are not ultimately in control of how our children turn out. We are the largest single human influence on them, our words, and more so – our actions – have a massive impact on our kids. But I refuse to believe that we are guaranteed outcomes – if we are good parents and make all the right decisions, our kids will turn out great, and if our kids don’t  -then clearly we’ve made grave errors. Thinking that way does two things: makes us really, really stressed out and fearful because we live with the knowledge that any mistake we make may be the one that irreversibly screws up our kid. Secondly, it’s actually pretty vain to think that we can basically do all the right things to overcome all other influences in the world (spiritual, emotional, social, physical) and have

We believe that there is a loving God – who loves our kids more than we do, and who knows much more than we do, and who knows our kids even better than we do. If he has more influence over our kids than we do, if He is more in control than we are – than some of that fear and pride gets taken away.

So – this post is so late in coming – that we will actually be reunited very soon – for the entire month of December. Jonah flies in on Saturday – and his siblings have been counting down the days until his arrival for weeks.

 

incredible failure

One thing that I was really, really looking forward to while we were in France this past summer was running a trail race in the Alps. Le Grand Duc is a 80+km trail race through the mountains, the route changes every year, but it’s in some of the most amazingly beautiful Alpine scenery that you could imagine.  I ran Le Grand Duc one time before when we lived there – in a relay of 5 with guys from our church. It was an amazing experience – my first real trail race. This year I was too late to get on a team to run as a relay, however this year they introduced the “moyen duc” which is just over half the distance.img_6150

That meant a race of ~48km and 3000m of elevation gain.  That’s a bit more than a marathon on top of over 3km of climbing up. That’s a lot.
I knew that it would be tough, and had been training quite a bit. The Moyen Duc meant running the first three of the 5 stages.
The first stage was about 18km – but the first 10k were the killer.   From the starting line we ran about 500 m or so – and then -boom. Side of a mountain. About 1km of elevation gain right from the start. It felt like it was just straight up for a LONG time.
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at the start – just moments before we took off. The first stage went up over the top of the ridge that is above my head – where the mountains meet the tree in the picture
Long story short…I utterly failed.
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I came in to the transition from stage 1 to 2 feeling surprisingly good. I had kept a good pace, made it through the hardest climbing, and felt strong.img_6149
  I threw up about 5k into the second leg.  (for the life of me I dont know why. This seems to be ‘a thing’ I do – if i run more than 2 hours or so-seems to be connected to how much sugary-drinks I have…honestly I can’t really figure out the cause)img_6161
From there my energy just dropped. Its REALLY hard to stay hydrated and keep your energy up when you are literally tossing both those things onto ground on the side of the trail. I was able to finish off the rest of that leg…but that was it.
I debated starting the next leg…so that I could just FINISH -to do what I said I was going to do. But that next leg was another 20km – essentially right over a fairly high mountain. There is literally nothing between the village where that leg starts, and the village where it ends – meaning that if my body completely gives out half way – I’m 10km from anything in any direction. Probably not an ideal situation. I really wanted to try – but I just couldn’t. It was hard..but I had to abandon the race.
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On the plus side – it was a beautiful day – I ran through some amazing places. Since the relay team of guys from our old church were running, there were lots of people we knew there.dsc04885Plus it’s hard to beat a beautiful sunny day in the Alps….well, I guess not puking would have beat it but still…
However – it’s also hard to beat having the undying support, and love of my amazing family….that makes everything else seem incredibly insignificant

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So there is my failed attempt at le Grand Duc (yes- actually just le Moyen Duc) 

For Remembrance Day.

This is a re-post of something I wrote several years ago after visiting Normandy just before the 70 anniversary of D-Day. It’s gotten more reactions than any post I’ve written, and I feel it still reflects my feelings on a day like today.

Right now, here in France, it’s early morning June 6. 70 years – to the hour-  since the start of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. Having recently taken a trip with my Dad and my son to see a lot of the WWII sites, this idea of ‘properly’ remembering D-Day and events like it, has been on my mind.

Canadian troops arriving at Juno beach

How does one go about Remembering D-Day?

It’s 70 years since thousands of Allied troops landed on the beaches that spread out in front of the sea-side towns along the shores of Normandy. These coastal villages, used to welcoming tourists to their beaches, and their fishermen back from the sea now welcomed a liberating army on their beaches as the largest assault ever put together in modern military history arrived on their shores. There is no way to avoid the signs of the war in these towns along the Norman coast,  simply impossible to ignore what happened here in the days and months surrounding June 6, 1944. Code names like Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword are tied to a material reality here. They are real places, just across from someone’s house, a place where kids fly their kites, some farmers field. The memories still seem so fresh with year-round flying of US, UK & Canadian flags in the streets of these French towns. Yet when you stand on the beach, it seems almost impossible that these events took place, or if they did is must have happened a very long time ago.

One thing that struck me in Normandy was this juxtaposition that a time frame of seven decades can create. On one hand, it doesn’t really seem that long ago. Find someone at least 80 years old, and they will likely remember it well. My own mother was in elementary school. 1944 was the year George Lucas, Ban Ki-Moon, Lorne Michaels were born, Jimi Hendrix and George Harrison, Steven Hawking were one, and they don’t seem all that old.

However, 70 years without our nation being involved in such a massive conflict is long enough that neither me, my son, nor my father have ever faced the brutal reality that is warfare.

As we stood on the coast of Normandy where so many young men lost their lives, and specifically on Juno Beach where the toll on the Canadians was so high , it was cause for reflection. There we were, three generations, lived (so far) in peace.  Fully aware that to a large degree this privilege is due to the sacrifices of those who did experience hell-on-earth in that very place where we were standing. For us the harsh truth is that remembering D-Day is something we can choose to do, or not. For any who took part in the struggle here, or any battle anywhere, forgetting will not ever be an option.

While we were in Normandy, there was something I saw on a lot of memorials, cemeteries, graves and other places, that kind of rubbed me the wrong way:

“TO OUR GLORIOUS DEAD”

Really?

I understand wanting to honour the sacrifice of those who felt compelled to put their lives on the line for the struggle of their nation.  However, I’m not sure I can agree a teenage boy having his body blown apart by a farm-kid from the neighbouring country is “GLORIOUS.”

I decided I should, perhaps just this once, know what I’m talking about. So I looked up the definition:

glorious |ˈglɔːrɪəs| adjective ~having, worthy of, or bringing fame or admiration

So perhaps, glorious is an appropriate word – even if it doesn’t feel like it. Worthy of admirationseems about the least we can say about those who died to honor their memories.

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So, how does one properly ‘remember’ an event like D-Day?

How do you balance respect for the individual, order-following soldiers who died fighting on the winning side, without demonizing the individual, order-following soldiers who died fighting on the losing side?

How do you recall battles fought, won and lost, lives saved and ended, and human conflict elevated to the level of armed hostility without glorifying war itself?

“Love the soldiers – hate the war?”

When we were wandering through the Juno Beach centre, taking in the exhibits, an older gentleman was standing next to me, saw Jonah and asked with an English accent if ‘the lad was interested by the war.’ I think I replied something like, “well, not interested in the war, but I feel he needs to learn about it.’

The man said something like “well that’s good – because we can’t ever let it happen again” and then he turned and continued on.

We finished up with the museum and went outside as we had signed up for a guided tour of a bunker which had (fairly recently) been discovered under the beach. The tour was lead by a Canadian university student working at the Juno centre. As he started his presetntation, he said “I just want to give a special welcome to Mr Hyde, a veteran of D-Day.”

Commonwealth Cemetery -Bayeux, France

That man from inside the museum was a D-Day vet from the Royal Air Force. He had manned the guns onboard an RAF bomber that came in to support the Canadian and British troops who landed at Juno. It was impossible to imagine what this place must mean to him. What memories does he hold, that he can never forget, even the ones he wants to? We were touring a bunker that was used to collect intelligence and co-ordinate the counter-attack on the plane he was in.  For me, D-Day is a historical event. For him, it was probably the one day – the few hours – of his life that will stand out for ever. For him, remembering D-Day, is not an option, because forgetting it is not possible. Me, my son and my Father were struggling to imagine what it must have been like that morning. For him, I’m sure there are more days when he struggles to forget. 

I recently saw a series of ‘then and now’ photos, contrasting the same place. (NOTE: stop reading NOW and go look at this nice interactive one here, and a really big set here. Seriously  – go look, they are fascinating)

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When I look at the pictures showing sunbathers lying on the beaches that a few generations ago were literally soaked with human blood, it feels like poorly behaved kids yelling and playing in a graveyard. People relaxing, seemingly without a care in the world. But in some way, isn’t that part of the freedom those soldiers were fighting for? They sacrificed for us to enjoy the chance to sit on the sand and enjoy a day at the beach. They wanted their countrymen to be free, to live in peace and security. You can’t lay on the beach if you fear an invasion. We – Canadians, French, Americas, British, and Germans and so many more enjoy a kind of liberty that was very hard won. 

So how does one remember D-Day?

I guess I’m left with: let’s enjoy things like a day at the beach, but never forget the price was paid for us to do so.

More importantly, let’s honour the request of Mr. Hyde and all those like him – and never let it happen again.

Ever.

Nairobi

Despite the fact that we all had very mixed emotions over the reason why we were in Kenya, there was no disagreement over the good times had in Nairobi.

Despite being a giant city – with some fairly ‘interesting’  traffic – we were able to see and do some pretty cool things – especially considering we were actually only actually in Nairobi for not much over 24 hours.

We were all actually pretty impressed that on our ride from the airport to our hotel – we saw Zebras.  There is a new ring-road on the south-side of the city that skirts right along the edge of Nairobi National Park – which means that there is actually an animal preserve – with zebras, lions etc – inside the city itself. Strange.

We got up and had an enormous breakfast at our hotel (Watts Family Travelling Rule #1: eat what you can, you never know when you’ll next get the chance®) – and since some of us who are known to eat their weight in breakfast foods, finding a hotel with breakfast included pretty much always works out in our favor.  That morning was also Micah’s 10th birthday – so he got a few presents – and all the bacon & eggs he could handle (not entirely sure which he enjoyed more)

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Our first stop that day was the David Seldrick Elephant Orphanage, a place (as the name would suggest) that takes care of young elephants who have been left without parents – mostly due to poaching.

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It’s a pretty cool experience to be able to stand so close to such amazing animals – and get to learn more about them.

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…and also…an ostrich

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Since she’s had a stuffed elephant since she was tiny – Matea was pretty thrilled to be this close to a real (unstuffed) elephant

 

Our next stop was The Giraffe Centre – and again, they’re not trying to hide anything with the name – is a collection of giraffes – right in the city. Strange.

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The centerpiece is this raised platform where you can be at the height of a giraffe, in order to feed them. There are staff standing around, just waiting to give you a handful of these pellets of food, that you hold out for the giraffes to eat.

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watching the warthogs down below

 

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big-brother/little-sister tag team feeding

 

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one of us got a LOT MORE into it than others.

 

We topped the day off with milkshakes at Java House – a coffee shop whose products, decor, and clientele can make you almost forget you’re still in East Africa. strange.

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