Monday, April 12, 2021

Daybreak view after the storm

View into the rift

 Far too much time has passed between blog entries, purely because it has been a very eventful time. And at present, I am writing from our highly atmospheric, candle-lit living room in Addis Ababa, enjoying a long power outage and the novelty of my first night of solitude in a very long time. Paul is back in Arusha with the boys. So, as the parent without kids to put to bed, let me see if I can catch up on 3 busy weeks.

On March 17, Tanzania experienced the death of a sitting president for the first time in its history, with quite a sudden announcement of his illness and passing. Ironically, this happened exactly one year after the first case of coronavirus was identified in Tanzania. Many people were taken completely by surprise, and the country rightfully went into a two-week period of mourning.

On the personal level, Paul was finally able to return from Ethiopia a few days later. As we worked and had meetings at Gymkhana, our favorite home office away from home, we were able to watch many of the somber proceedings on national TV. The body of the late president was escorted through many regions of the country over the course of a week. All along the way, the roads were lined with people waving branches to greet his entourage. Many ran out into the road ahead of the hearse to lay down a piece of cloth for the vehicle to drive over (as a souvenir?) – much the way that people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. 

Bible study in the tropics

Some of them, in their fervor to see the president pass, seemed to put their own lives at risk, and sadly 50 people were killed in Dar in a stampede to watch the procession pass by. The funeral was held on a Friday afternoon. Masses of people government officials and foreign dignitaries crowded into tents to honor Magufuli, mostly unmasked. It was an eerie sight, as people maintained complete silence in his honor for at least an hour.

The new president (the former vice president officially takes office within 24 hours) is breaking new ground as the first woman president in East Africa, and she will serve out the remainder of Magufuli’s term – four and a half years. President Samia Suluhu Hassan is a Zanzibari Muslim Tanzanian, with long experience in the government, and she is proceeding humbly but decisively as a new leader. It’s been a traumatic change for the nation, but overall, people are hopeful about their new leader and her direction for the country. And there is no way a woman would have been elected anytime soon – and yet she seems really good for Tanzania. Many people are saying, “kazi ya Mungu: the work of God,” with bewilderment and wonder.

The confirmation class I have been teaching

On the personal level, the official mourning and burial days fell on the Monday and Friday of the final week of our kids’ school term. David was scheduled to perform in the school musical “Matilda” that week, but a light-hearted bit of theatre was not in keeping with the mood of the country. The play is postponed until mid-April, along with quite a few other end-of-term events. On a more mundane level, Paul and I also had much less child-less time for MCC work that week, so we had to squeeze in working around engaging our kids. Paul especially has been under a lot of pressure for work in this period at the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of another.

On the good side, our kids got a three-day sleepover with their best friends here: their parents needed childcare assistance for a special 40th birthday safari, and we were very happy to oblige. And so, we enjoyed all kinds of fun activities at home with four boys: A few board games, swimming, movie night, forcing each set of boys to cook dinner
😉 for the rest of us. And then there was the gingerbread house adventure. We have a family tradition of creating a gingerbread structure every Christmas. But this past December, the kids and I were quite sick right before Christmas, along with finally closing our office on Dec 22, and then right after Christmas we traveled for work, came home and were going non-stop with the handover of the TZ program. We were hoping for a gingerbread white house on January 21, but still ran out of time to do it. Then Paul left for Ethiopia and we needed to wait for him to come back. 

So, we ended up creating a Holy Week gingerbread house. Paul is very good at creating gingerbread constructions and gluing them with molten sugar. And then we let the kids loose with a bunch of fun candy. I think it must have been the most intricately decorated ginger creation ever! We also tried to host ultimate frisbee that Saturday, but sadly got rained out after a half-hour. On Sunday, after church, we took all the boys for grilled meat at a local outdoor restaurant and also had a chance to catch up with our friend Vance. It was a very full weekend, and though the boys had a lot of time together, no one seemed to get tired of each other!

The following day, we headed out for our own family “safari.” After a couple of hours of crucial work, we drove our own car a couple of hours west to Karatu, the town just outside of the Ngorongoro crater. It’s so fascinating to approach the abrupt ascent into the crater highlands, formed by a wall of the great rift valley. And suddenly the weather is much cooler up in the rolling green hills of rich farmland. 

Karatu landscape

We stayed at a fantastic property that was offering a very low rate to encourage local tourism, as the lodge tries to stay afloat without hardly any foreign tourists. Ngorongoro Farm House Lodge actually includes a large working vegetable and fruit farm, well-arranged and edged with beautiful flowers. All that fresh produce lands on your plate at every meal in the form of fresh salads, make-your-own veg stirfry, and well-stewed eggplant dishes. 

The kids' room!

The rooms are spacious and beautiful, and we shared a bungalow with 2 interconnecting rooms and big veranda. The property is enormous, big enough that a walk around the perimeter took more than an hour, in the quiet fresh air. And David especially enjoyed having time in the pool, playing with us, as well as a couple of schoolmates who turned up as well. (It’s a popular place in Arusha!) Oren was reluctant to go on this getaway, concerned that he wouldn’t have enough time to focus on his exam preparation. In between fun activities, he also took time to work on practice tests and revision.

Our big adventure was to finally spend the money and take a day trip into the Ngorongoro Crater—we had been delaying because it costs so much in park fees, as part of the preservation of the area. But we needed to go before we leave Tanzania. We had a really amicable and knowledgeable driver/guide who picked us up at our hotel, dealt with the formalities and helped us enjoy spotting so many animals. It’s definitely rainy season and we were nervous about getting stuck in the mud, but the gravel roads are well maintained. 

No seatbelts on safari!

The weather cleared a bit and we had gorgeous views of the landscape going down into the crater. At the same time, the low clouds and passing showers also kept things cool, which meant the animals stayed out in the open in the middle of the day, and photos were better. I hadn’t realized that there is a soda lake down in the crater (makes sense!) with so many different kinds of wading birds, and so I learned about a few new ones. We spotted huge numbers of herd animals, with a pair of rhino’s way out in the distance. The highlight for me was coming upon a serval cat on the edge of the road. She was crouched, tensing, and then leaped high into the grass, hovering and pouncing down upon her prey. She bounced up and down quite a few times before she emerged victorious from the grass with a very fat bush rat in her mouth. She even let us watch her play with the rodent for a while, lose it and catch it again, before she headed down the road to enjoy her meal. Paul has all the best photos with his great camera and maybe he will add some...

We were on our way to the lunch spot and saw a few lions hidden in the tall grass, sleeping. One lioness was almost invisible, except that a pair of golden jackals were pacing around near her, yipping, trying to get her to wake up and hunt so they could enjoy the leftovers!  Our guide suggested that we have our own lunch and then return. And sure enough, four lionesses emerged right on time, lying in plain sight just a few meters from us. And then three large cubs tumbled out of the grass behind them, playing, nursing, getting groomed. It was delightful to watch all the interactions of that group for quite some time. We had great views of hippos basking, flamingos flocking, Kori bustards hunting crickets, and a pair of crowned cranes shepherding their babies away from our vehicle. At our lunch site, we needed to defend our sandwiches from a black kite who had learned how to swoop down and steal food from your hand. It was quite a fascinating day of being with wildlife. One of my favorite moments was five minutes of watching a herd of zebras and just enjoying the complete silence except for the sound of their grass-munching. We saw very few other vehicles down in the crater – one benefit of tourism in the time of very low tourism.

Lunch in the garden

We stayed an extra day at the Farmhouse so that we could actually walk around, enjoy the grounds and pool and just experience the ambiance throughout a whole day. Paul had lots of emails to attend to and Oren was studying, but David and I made the most of the time we had!

We returned home on Thursday of Holy Week, in time to have a family supper and remember Jesus’ last supper and foot washing. Although our church has been meeting for worship, we are avoiding sacraments which require a lot of close contact. A large gathering for all the touching of foot washing and communion is out of the question. But our church has been encouraging people to celebrate these occasions with worship at home. 

The next morning, I helped lead music for our church Good Friday service. I’m so glad that I can still be part of facilitating worship in this season—it makes it even much more meaningful for me. Yes, we wear masks the entire time we lead singing, and expect the congregation to also sing with masks, and it’s a little harder to breathe, but still very much worth it.

We have some new neighbors on our compound – a family from North Carolina with 3 kids. David has really been enjoying playing with their two boys, who are younger than him, but appreciate all his crazy outdoor antics. Good Friday evening we gathered with them and the founders of our compound to christen a new firepit in the guest campsite. It was very well designed with bench seats built in around it and we enjoyed roasting our sausages, sharing salads and having good conversation while the kids messed around with the dogs in the dark.

Other Saturday activities included making and delivering a birthday cake for our housekeepers’ daughter, and coloring eggs. That was particularly interesting this year as we tried out a new technique batik eggs, using wax to set one color before dipping the eggs in another color.

Easter morning included an actual egg hunt for the kids (indoor since it was pouring rain!), before I left to go help another lady with Easter music. And actually we had lots and lots of people coming to the church – attendance has been more sparse lately as lots of local people prefer not to wear masks in church and can go elsewhere, while older foreigners are staying away. It was very joyful to end the service with self-serve communion outdoors in a big circle and sing the promise that He will raise us up.

Celebrating communion

On Monday, we did another frantic morning of work before heading off on another adventure: three days of camping with good friends. We retraced our steps back to the edge of the Crater highlands, to a gorgeous campsite perched halfway up the steep hill. We have camped at Migombani before in the rainy season and really enjoyed it, but we learned from experience how important it is to rent one of their sturdy, furnished safari tents, so that cloths and books and stuff don’t get wet! This turned out to be excellent foresight…

The kids had time for a good long swim together with their friends, and we created a great dinner together with our friends. The stars were shining clear and bright as we sat around a firepit for several hours, talking. It was such a good time for adult conversation since all our kids mix and play well together and took themselves off to different spots to play games. 

What a pool!

And finally, we all dispersed to our various tents for the night, with Paul and I in the pukka, high-class tent with an actual bed in it. But when a huge storm rolled in at about 2 am, there was no sleeping through it, no matter how comfy the bed! The thunder was tremendous, rolling off of the rocky hillside above us and the winds were incredible. The older boys next to us got some water in their tent but seemed to be dealing with it. The younger boys never made a peep, so we assumed they were ok…until David showed up at our tent door at 5 am, shivering and completely soaked! I guess it wasn’t that cold, and the 12-year-olds just kept trying to roll over and ignore the fact that their sleeping bags were soaked. But at a certain point, it was too much. Ah well, there was room in our bed for David to warm up. 

And soon after dawn, the clouds lifted, and the sun came out hot and intense. Which was good, because actually everyone but us was dealing with wet bedding by morning, but it was all dry again by lunchtime. There’s nothing like a little adversity to make a camping trip extra memorable.

We had time all day for long swims, reading, card games, lots of email catch up (Paul), math tests (Oren) and some much-needed naps after the storm-induced vigil of the night before. In the late afternoon, Oren and I went for a hike up the mountain above our campsite. It was a very steep and rocky path but well worth the effort to get a great view and some good exercise. We returned in time to share in cooking dinner and enjoying more good conversations around the campfire. And thankfully no big storms hit on our second night.

clean up crew

Back in Arusha, we had tons of work to do to catch up on being away for so many days of the kids’ school holidays. It’s really great to enjoy some of our last excursions in Tanzania, but there is definitely a price to pay with the full inbox. Up until now, most of that burden has been on Paul, as the one more familiar with our Ethiopia program and partners. Hopefully, I will be more up to speed on those questions soon.

Meanwhile, there were many home-focused tasks to do before I left for Ethiopia. One of the most strenuous ones involved taking our cat to the vet for de-worming and getting a microchip inserted into his shoulder in case we need to have him travel. The violence and anger the cat expressed was epic on this particular occasion, including the sight of him dangling by his claws from one hand of the vet assistant, while his other hand was valiantly trying to plunge the syringe with the microchip. I told them to use a towel and gloves. Really, I warned them! But instead, we had deep scratches and flying fur, and a long 40 minutes of trying to coax a very stressed and traumatized Tramp out from under the hideout to which he had fled after the successful microchip insertion. Other errands were not so worthy of stories. But the fate of our cat remains undecided at this point. I really love him and love his company, but I don’t think he will be happy in Addis, in a household with dogs that come into the house and sleep on the couch.

A big crew turned out for frisbee on Saturday

And on Sunday, right after church, I left the rest of my family behind to come spend two and a half weeks in Addis for work. Flying alone is pretty easy. But ironically, no one at the airport could believe that my final destination was Addis. Apparently only tourists are flying these days, in and out of western countries. People kept asking, no, where are you flying to after Addis? It seems that very few people are doing routine work travel between African countries. I’ve never had that experience before. I brought along our djembe drum as a carry on, just to get it to our new home. That was a bit of an issue as well. Guitars are fine as carry ons. Not drums. People kept inspecting it, trying to play it and test it through the basket cover we’d put on to protect the drumhead, and it took an extra visit from a security supervisor to affirm I could take it. And then it wouldn’t even fit anywhere in the cabin, so I need to check the thing anyhow at the end of the day. Well, it survived the trip, and so did I. Our very gracious and resourceful logistics officer Wondwesen met me at the airport at 8 pm and drove me to our new home (I was suggesting that I could get a taxi on a Sunday night, but then Paul pointed out that I don’t even know where I live, and I can’t speak Amharic to give anyone directions, even if I knew!)

So, here I am and there will be lots and lots of work to do in these few short days. But I’m glad to be here and to really push forward to get my head in the game and my heart in a forward-looking direction as well.

 Bonus photos:

Gingerbread designs

The finished product

Farm house flower and vegetable gardens under banana trees

Our egg collection

Dawn after the rain

My hiking buddy

Paul on vacation (with computer)

no good at selfies. Oh well. we were sweaty from hiking anyway!

David the fish

many card games in the bar while camping




Friday, March 19, 2021

Fourth Ethiopia Update

 Facebook does not accept posts from the Ethiopia blog URL for some reason, so here is the latest update from Ethiopia. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Split-screen life

staying present to the present
We knew that it would not be easy to endure these weeks of separation, while Paul is carrying on work in Addis, and I (Rebecca) am back in Arusha with our kids in school. It was just harder to anticipate exactly what would be difficult. I’m just starting to name the real hardship: struggling to be present where I am. When my husband and best friend and colleague with whom I job-share is thousands of miles and a (and a frustrating 3-second WhatsApp delay!) away, I’m constantly living in tension. Do I give Paul a call after dinner to see how his evening has been? Or do I play Munchkin with David, or make sure that Oren is attending to his art homework? (or do I spend the time just trying to get the kitchen back to zero?) I want to do all of it, all of it is good, and yet I end up having to make choices to give time and attention to one person I love and not another. It makes it even harder during this time to maintain phone calls with our parents.

evidence of campus tree-trimming

Our time in Addis coincided with the kids’ half-term break, and they were due to resume classes the day after we returned. On short notice, the school let us know that kids would be moving to online school for a week. Apparently, the mandatory process of tree trimming had not been completed, and they needed another week to work on the trees in order for the kids to be safe on campus. It was one of the more ingenious ways that I can think of to make sure that any kids who might have traveled during the holidays had a week to “cool off” at home. At least I didn’t need to struggle with the question of how long to keep my kids out of classes and have them fall behind.

dough creations including dog, rabbit and mom
I found that both kids were much more adept at doing online classes this time around, engaging well and doing their work diligently. Of course, I still also needed to be working on work, which was also all screen-based. It is just so weird to have staff meetings with our new team, and to gradually learn to just know them by voice. The internet is usually not quite good enough to use the video camera for our team calls. We had a little more time for home projects. David had been inspired by an airport bakery and so one afternoon we created various creatures out of bread dough. 

There was some recreational painting, as well as Oren’s school art homework. And there was lots and lots of Monopoly. Sadly, I just couldn’t stop winning. So much winning I was tired of winning. I guess that was my divine reward for giving so many hours to monopoly as a parent, but it made it a little less fun for the kids.

After a week of being cooped up, we were so glad to have a chance to spend time with our friends the Taylors at Rivertrees, a local safari lodge that is particularly green and restful and very much outdoors. I really valued getting to talk to adult friends about all the complicated feelings of this moment. And the boys really enjoy being with their friends, hanging out in the pool, throwing a frisbee, playing cards, etc.

Rivertrees is a sweet place
So here are some of the complicated feelings. Having been to Addis now, I am more keenly aware of the apparent gains and losses. In terms of our work, it’s not even fair to compare the former program of Tanzania with that of Ethiopia. MCC Ethiopia is a massive and ambitious program. Our program supervises multiple well-funded projects in conservation agriculture. MCC has played a key role in supporting local partners to lobby for Conservation Agriculture to become a recognized and chosen strategy by the Ministry of Agriculture. It is really exciting to be part of this meaningful work. The Mennonite church in Ethiopia is involved is many different kinds of high quality development and relief work, including planning a relief effort in Tigray through local churches. There are so many high capacity partners. And our Ethiopian MCC colleagues are such kind, wise, experience people, who are truly not afraid to give us good advice and keep us out of trouble. I am incredibly grateful for all those good aspects of what we can look forward to.
Arusha green beauty

On the personal side, however, I do feel a lot of grief. I am not going to sugar coat it. We have worked hard to build a community here, and to be connected in our local church, and we have made some very dear friends. While I trust that we will find new friends and a new sense of community, that will not happen immediately or automatically. It will take time and work. And the friends we have made cannot just be replaced. As I have mentioned in past years in this blog, I am very tired of moving around and leaving friends and making new ones. It is a weary prospect to think of having to do that again. And I greive in advance, especially for Oren, who will need to leave friends here, and then leave a new set of friends in Addis after just two years when he graduates from high school. It’s hard for a kid to bear this.

Contrasting colors at Gymkana

I spent at least a full week being back in Arusha grieving the impending loss of other things that really give me life and a deeper sense of connection with God. Addis is vibrant and interesting, with interesting entertainment options, but it is not clean or green or quiet. After the kids were back in school, I also returned to savoring a bit of solitude, as well as a few walks around the coffee plantations that surround the kids’ school. Even 7-minute walks in the morning before driving to school, in the quiet, fragrant, green serenity of our compound, do more than I can say to help my heart praise my God. It will be hard to leave the beauty of nature here.

I need to go on faith that God will provide other ways for me to feel connected to Him and refreshed in my spirit. I also need to consider that peace, calm, and well-being are gifts, and not entitlements for us as Christians. Suffering is also often required of those who serve the Lord, as much as I don’t want to contemplate that. A helpful scripture: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 7:24). I don’t like that Jesus says this, be he only asks that we follow in the way that He leads.

Coffee cherries

In the midst of keeping up with my split screen work life in Ethiopia, I have also need to continue to shepherd through a few administrative details of the closure of the TZ office. One concerns the National Social Security Fund, which collects mandatory pension contributions from every employee and then disburses them, upon request, when that employment is complete. But in the midst of working on simple employee payments, I get to learn about sad justice issues that impact ordinary people here.

We had a Maasai guard who formerly worked for our last country director. He was let go in August after she moved. He went home to his village out of town. Since September, he has been striving to reclaim his money. First, they told him that he could not collect his money unless he opened a bank account for it to be deposited into. He lives hand to mouth, so it was hard for him to spend the money to open an account, but he did it. When he brought his bank information back to the NSSF, they noted that his name on the bank account didn’t match his NSSF account or his ID card. The poor guy can’t read or write and so he had never realized this. He had to hire a lawyer to prove he was the same person. Every futile trip to town cost him money he did not have. Finally two weeks ago, the NSSF started asking for his employer to provide receipts documenting things from 2011. Finally a call came to me (I had no idea he was still struggling with this), and I was able to go into their office with the papers, faithfully filed and findable by our former Adminstrator, and sort out the thing. God willing, by the end of this week, he might finally get his money. But it’s incredibly difficult for illiterate or poor people to navigate a system, which in theory is supposed to benefit them. In the end, I think many people might give up, leaving money in the bank for the nation to invest…

I’ve had a little extra time for walks because the kids both currently have supplementary activities at school every Saturday morning. Oren is doing extra preparation for his exams in May, and David joined the school drama team. They will perform Matilda next week. Anyway, there has been more time for Lenten reflection on those Saturday mornings. And we’ve taken to treating ourselves to lunch at a restaurant afterwards, since we have some very good outdoor, safe options here.

My Split-screen tension was worse in last week because we had another round of online MCC leadership training over 3 evenings. This time I had to enlist the help of a taxi to pick the kids up and bring them home because the start time of the training was exactly when the kids were ready to be picked up. 

David's burritos
They were even more resourceful about helping out and making dinner and getting to their homework – I guess they are getting used to this kind of drill. But it really makes me sad and tired when I just don’t have any evening time to spend with them. And it’s pretty hard to keep concentrating on work discussion up to 8 pm, when I need to get up at 5 am every day to get us out of the house on time.

Paul has been working very, very hard there in Ethiopia, and has a huge head start in fully understanding the partners and projects there. I’m glad I have at least a small inkling of what our work will look like in the future, but for now, it’s also been really hard to keep up while I’m far from the center of action. We are in the midst of a recruitment process for a new Ethiopian team member. Due to unavoidable delays, Paul needed to stay a week longer in Addis so he could conduct in-person interviews (I was online of course).

My work buddy Tramp

He was finally supposed to be flying back and arriving this evening—right now! Unfortunately, yesterday afternoon, his CV test for travel came back positive. It was absolutely devastating news. We are so weary of being apart. So weary. We are definitely a couple that is better together. And it’s scary to contemplate the possibility that he could get sick and be alone in a different country. Thankfully, up until now, he remains symptom-free. Would you please pray that he remains healthy and that he will be able to return to us as soon as possible?

That’s all for now.


View from our commute to school -- lovely but I've done too much driving (2hrs / day).

Yours truly, with camera-shy Oren

An enormous mango, and it was tasty!

visiting the neighbor cats

Playing after school

Dance practice for "Matilda"

aloes by our house

Monday, February 15, 2021

Living across borders

Beauties of an Arusha shopping trip

Rebecca here: You may have already read about our Ethiopian reality from Paul, on the weekend. But a few words from the liminal space are in order: while Paul has been conveying the excitement about our new home-to-be and the work that we will do there, I have been back in Arusha dealing with a totally different reality. As much as possible I tried to join Paul by phone as he met with our new team members in Ethiopia and learned about them and their projects. Poor internet quality precluded a video connection, so basically everything was only audio. It was quite a surreal experience, sitting at Gymkhana or driving home, putting away dishes, and hearing the sounds of this group of colleagues sitting peacefully, discussing very interesting and distant work, with unseen birds calling in the background, and with me still going about by normal everyday life in Arusha. I think I must have been on the phone for at least 3-4 hours each day, just trying to listen in.

During the first week of Paul’s absence, I was also required to attend a three-day leadership training session on Zoom – it was very interesting content, dealing with conflict and critical conversations in the workplace. I was very interested and stimulated by the opportunities to think about how deeply our wrong assumptions about other people’s actions can work in our hearts to create conflict, if we don’t go back and check their intentions. We also had great opportunities to interact with other new MCC leaders, many of whom we’ve been able to meet in the past months, and many of whom are “repeat offenders” like ourselves.

David and I both doing homework

The complication of this training lay in the fact that it started at 4:30 pm and ended at 8 pm – yep, right through the time that I would normally spend checking in with the kids after school, supervising homework, and having dinner together. David, Oren and I had a serious conversation about the difficulties before this training started, and I was really thankful for the ways that they were willing to pitch in and get dinner ready. David tried to do his homework next to me while I was online. And we spent my 15-minute breaks together jumping on the trampoline.

On our first Saturday without Paul, both kids had extracurriculars at school on Saturday morning (drama practice for David, and extra math and art tuition for Oren). I decided to explore the coffee plantations around the school and took a long walk to try and unwind from the week. 

In the afternoon, the kids’ friends came over to keep us company and give me a bit of a break. And we enjoyed a great bible study meeting on Sunday afternoon, at the beautiful compound of a German friend, where our kids could play together in an extremely inviting pool. Paul was even able to join us for bible study by Zoom.

The next week held significant Arusha-based challenges. On Monday, I plucked up the courage to check on all the online portals of the government offices, to see if MCC had successfully been deregistered and removed from their systems, now that we are officially closed. My heart sank as I realized that all the work Lucia and I had put into closing properly in November has basically had no effect on the official record. There was also the question of our kids’ student visas for Tanzania. We had been attempting to renew them since last October. The lawyer at the kids’ school, who helps with this, told us that there were problems in the government system and that we should wait until January to apply. When I reminded him in January, he said that the system was now purely online, and that he could no longer lodge paper-based applications. But, in a perfect catch-22, the mandatory online application process was not yet fully operational online for student passes. And my kids’ visas expired that Thursday. There was also the question of registering for COVID tests for travel. And finally, a very complicated issue to deal with involving getting driving licenses for Ethiopia.

David has been handy in the kitchen in Paul's absence! 

So, Tuesday morning, I girded my loins to go do battle on multiple fronts. I started with the kid’s visas, as I dropped them off for school in the morning. When I went to see the lawyer, I was informed that he had lost his father to a sudden illness and would be out for a week = no help from him on the visas. His assistant gave me our kids’ files and I decided to go to immigration myself to see what I could do.

View from our watertower by David

Next, I went to the revenue authority to deposit a letter and see how we could get de-registered from their online system, which keeps claiming that we owe payroll taxes. At this present moment, with the rapid spread of “viral pneumonia” in the community, I absolutely hate going into that building. At least masks were required to enter (a new development as of last week). But in order to talk with someone, you need to go up into a large open-plan room, where at least 50 people are busy at work, and another 50 people are milling about waiting to talk to them. There are a few open windows at each end, but it is basically a super-spreader horror to even walk into that place. After going to an officer who had helped us in the past in the big room, I learned that I needed to lodge a whole new letter to the regional manager, which would take more work. So, I left.

At immigration, at least I had the name of the particular individual who could help. And when my turn came, she had good news for me: the online system for student passes had just become active 10 minutes ago. So, I could go and apply for the visas myself. Maybe I would even be able to pay before my kids’ old visas expired! That seemed like good news to her, but I knew that I could not apply without the help of the school. And both the lawyer and his assistant were off work for the father’s funeral.

Burka coffee farm walk

On the driving license issue, it turns out that Ethiopia will only grant a new license if you can prove that your license from another country is valid. This takes a letter of validation from the issuing authority. I needed a lawyer to help with this, and so my next stop was to go see him. He had done some advance work for me and had found out that it would be necessary to actually go to the police to get a letter from them. I had picked up Paul’s license from DHL, and brought along mine, and so I the lawyer agreed to work on getting the correct document from the police. However, the Arusha police don’t follow up on anything without “facilitation” or “encouragement” and so I had to agree to a fairly large facilitation fee for the lawyer. I knew that I would then need to send our licenses to the Ethiopian Embassy in Dar, but there was also the problem of still not knowing exactly what the Ethiopian embassy would need from us, and there were problems with reaching the right person to get answers. So, three big issues were not entirely resolved.

And then there was the question of paying for the COVID-19 tests I had booked – it’s been hard to do that in the past and has taken hours standing and waiting for a government control number to arrive in time. I wanted to take care of that payment early, and so walked up to the government hospital – but even when I found the right people, they told me I would need to get the control number from the hospital actually doing the test. So, basically, I felt like I had lost pretty much every one of the fights I had gone out to wage that day. Ironically, that same week, I had stumbled into a book called “Burnout” by Amelia and Emily Nagoski (no time to read, so I’d been listening to the audiobook). They talk in a very compelling way about the fact that stress and feelings are actually biological – we hold them in our bodies – and how important it is to complete the stress cycle in a physical way, to burn all the way through the adrenalin and cortisol and return our bodies to a state of feeling safe again. They also talked about redefining success and developing an unconventional relationship with failure. These were timely things to consider!

David's homework

On Wednesday, I did some hard exercise before taking the kids to school and prepared to do battle again. I started with one big win: the lawyer’s assistant was back at work, and together we sat for an hour and managed to complete the online applications for my kids’ visas and even get receipts to pay for them. Next, I was finally able to reach the Ethiopian Embassy, but I learned that I would need to get additional stamps of validation on our licenses from the ministry of foreign affairs, before the embassy would validate them. This ministry of foreign affairs being in Dar es Salaam, it would be absolutely impossible for me to complete the process on my own. I needed an agent. We used to have a guy who did stuff for us in Dar, and I tried his number once, but it didn’t work. I went to the Orthodox church at the kids’ school for about 15 minutes to try and calm myself and pray. And then I tried a different number for the agent George, and I reached him! He agreed to help me out with the whole issue, as long as I could figure out how to do all the payments necessary. By the end of the afternoon, I had managed to:


Victory: payment for student passes! 
Pay for our kids’ visas – so at least I could arrive at the airport immigration with receipts showing they were in process

2)      Pay for our COVID tests in advance

3)      Lodge a new letter with the tax office, asking them to de-register us from the system

4)      Pick up our licenses from the lawyer, with stamped letters from the police, and send everything on to George in Dar by expedited mail

5)      Figure out how to automatically move money from our bank account to our mobile money app to be able to pay for all these ridiculous expenses remotely as they came up!

It was a tough day, but after a solid day of losing, I felt I had finally returned home with some wins. And we even enjoyed a nice dinner and conversation with our neighbors that evening.

On Thursday morning, I decided to take a little time to emotionally recover from bureaucracy (so strange how gutting it can be do deal with these processes) and so I parked at a friend’s house to do a little morning birdwatching after dropping off the kids at school. From her place, it’s possible to take a lovely walk into deserted hills and spot all kinds of birdlife not found in the urban center. I was breathing deeply and really enjoying the acrobatic flight of the white-fronted bee-eaters. And then there was this other yellow bird…I had my binoculars up and was stepping back to get a better look, and suddenly there was nothing under my feet and I was falling down and backwards. When the dust settled, I realized that I had fallen into a porcupine hole, about a meter deep and slanted down under the road from the edge of the verge. I had walked 20 minutes to get where I was and so I hoped adrenaline would carry me back to my friend’s house because I could tell I’d twisted my left knee. Thankfully, she checked in with me and then came to find me with her car.

My first hospital card!

From that point in the day, I somehow just kept finding one kind person after another to provide me with an ice pack or a bag of ice, since I needed to stay on the school side of town all day until evening. I was very thankful for their care! Oren had an important event at school: he received the results from his O-level (IGCSE) mock exams and had the chance to talk with teachers about his options for A-level courses next year. He was pretty pleased with the progress he’s made in a number of subjects, and I will just say that the number of A’s far outweighed any other letter on the list.

Beautiful view

After a quiet Friday, trying to keep weight off my leg and keep it iced, I was able to get a doctor’s appointment on Saturday at a private hospital. It was my first actual medical visit on my own account in Arusha, so I guess I was proud (?) to finally get my own hospital card.
😉 The orthopedic doctor felt that I didn’t have anything torn, just strained ligaments that would take 6 weeks to heal and gave me a good brace. I was able to see a PT the following week, who gave me an even more promising assessment and some exercises to speed up healing. But that extreme birdwatching accident definitely slowed me down for the rest of the week.

Kids enjoyed being dignified too!

Other highlights of our weekend included a beautiful sunset evening on the rooftop of Arusha’s newest and most prestigious hotel. The occasion was to say a sad farewell to our friend Beth Marie. We have really enjoyed her friendship and did our best to just enjoy each other’s company, together with our friends the Taylors. The fun on Sunday mostly involved early morning COVID-19 tests with the kids. I then took them back home so that they wouldn’t have to stay with me through a long church morning and Annual General meeting, where I officially ended my term as a church elder.

The remainder of our short week in Arusha mostly involved packing – trying to figure out things we treasure and want to have with us in Ethiopia, but that we don’t really need presently in Arusha. David especially did a phenomenal job of packing up his favorite things all by himself. I’m holding back on bringing our camping gear, hoping that we will be able to do some more camping still in Tanzania. Finally, we flew out of Arusha with minimal difficulty on Thursday afternoon, eager and ready to join Paul in Addis and to start getting to know what will become our new home.

Packing up