Friday, we left Kijabe, me almost in tears. Instead of an orderly morning of handing over all the NICU babies on rounds to the young doctor who will be responsible for the two weeks I'm gone, we were intubating baby Richard who was sliding down towards death. No bed in the ICU where the ventilators are, so through begging (by me) and grace (by nurses) we arranged to "borrow" a ventilator and bring it to nursery, and there I was a few minutes before departure showing the next doc how to set it all up (as if I really know that much, I don't). Not ideal. As of this morning he's still alive, so keep praying for him, but it was a hard way to leave. Still, as we finally piled all our bags into the back of our LandRover for it's maiden family road trip, ran back for one more forgotten item, then headed steeply down into the valley, I did feel the relief of the road trip, the letting go and moving on.
From Kijabe to Tenwek, I think the two biggest mission hospitals in Kenya, certainly both places rich in history and amazing in pulling off incredible amounts of care with few resources. Dr. John Cropsey of the aforementioned McCropder team gave us a tour, which is something only a few of us can love, the bustle and smell of humanity compressed into ward after ward, dangling mosquito nets, ingenious light-bulb-heated home-made baby incubators, a spiff new surgical suite and teaching amphitheater, some high-tech equipment and row after row of simple beds. From the hospital we checked into our guest-house quarters and then joined the McCropders for an evening of pizza and fellowship, talking about anything and everything. It felt very normal to us to have a baby in arms and seven 2 to 5 year olds romping around and not-always-sharing the blocks . . I'm sure they could not imagine the blink of an eye that occurs between that situation and our three teens exiting post-pizza to hang out with RVA friends at Tenwek. We already love this fledgling team and are rooting for them. The WHM board will decide in the next two days whether they believe God is calling us to send this group to Burundi. Praying for clarity and peace and courage as we move ahead together.
Saturday morning, pancakes and hugs and goodbyes, then we hit the road again. We knew we were in the general area of the village where Scott spent a summer as a college student 28 years ago. He knew the name of the village and the pastor with whom he stayed, though he knew the pastor had had diabetes even back then and was almost certainly dead. We still wanted to thank his family for the care they gave Scott that summer . . he was their first of several American summer student missionaries, and they really took him into their family, caring for him through illness, feeding him, sending him out to teach Bible in many elementary schools, staying up at night to process and talk. The roads that were dirt are now paved, and everything seemed a little different. We stopped repeatedly, asking directions, getting help, winding and bumping about an hour off the paved road into the deep rural countryside of patches of crops, cows, markets, bicycles, red dirt and green tea fields. At last we found Cheptalal, and looked for the oldest men hanging out at the shops. They told Scott that Pastor David Chumo had died ten years ago, but found us a young man who could lead us to his homestead. Another mile or so, a dirt trek that was barely a path, and there was the house just as Scott remembered it. Pastor Chumo's 75 year old widow remembered Scott, as did his 50-year-old eldest son (Scott's peer with whom he had walked and worked that summer). It was pretty cool to sit in their home, see the room where Scott had stayed, recall some stories with the family. They quickly picked ripe sweet garden-warm pineapples and cut them up, fingers dripping with stickiness, and made us promise to come back for a real meal. I hope we do.
The trip down memory lane is always a little longer than one plans . . so it was mid-afternoon before we headed northwest, back across the Rift Valley, climbing then into the Nandi Hills and at last swallowed up by the Kakamega Rain Forest. There we had arranged to spend the night at a Christian Retreat Center (Rondo Retreat), an improbable lovely little English-cottage cluster of porches and chairs, tasteful rooms and groomed gardens, carved into the forest. A hike in the forest at dusk, the noisy flapping of a flock of Great Blue Turacos, slippery muddy paths, humidity. Then a very civilized dinner and restful sleep before heading on to Uganda today.
Traveling with TCK's is always fun. Checking our time as we started: "Julia, it looks like you need a new watch" "Mom, all I need is a better piece of duct tape". Counting the trucks lined up to cross the border: 196. Scott turns on our newly-fixed air conditioning, our first time to ever travel with this luxury, and the kids reject it, preferring the wild-blowing-familiar-rush of all-windows-down. As we cross into Uganda, Jack remembers the good greasy hot chapatis at certain roadside stands, and we scan every row of shops until we find them, buying six wrapped in a piece of brown paper-bag. Earlier, Caleb bargains through the window to get us roasted corn. Everyone appreciates the irony of being passed by a truck driving haphazardly on the shoulder of a two-lane road, with a slogan about "patience" painted on the side. We stop once for cold sodas at the only flush-toilet bathroom I know of along the day-long journey, and Julia alertly spots the man with the TP hoarded in the hall, and we ask for that luxury too. Caleb spends the day putting half a shirt or pair of shorts out the window to dry at a time; he had washed out his own sweaty clothes the night before (after RUNNING the path that the rest of us walked) and used the trip to dry them all. We all realize how acclimated to Kijabe we've become. Uganda is HOT.
But it is also green, and vibrant, and somehow bright and rich. I smell charcoal fires, something I don't notice in Kenya. There is color and life along the roads here, craziness, a flare that the subdued cousin Kenya somehow lacks. I suppose it is because it feels like home. Caleb fixes my phone up with my old Uganda sim card, not expired even though it should have, a small welcoming gift. And here we are like old times, at the ARA, the place we fled to when we had nothing but a diaper bag and the clothes on our backs, the place where my kids learned to swim, where the staff welcomes us like old family. And we eat at our favorite restaurant in the world, Khana Khazana, ordering the same courses we always do, and finding them just as amazing as we remembered.
Tomorrow to Bundi. It will not all be greetings and warm feelings. It will be a re-entry into the field of spiritual battle, no doubt about that, this time in the role of holding up the arms of the Johnsons. Last night a lorry full of CSB students overturned on the way back from a soccer game. Miraculously, only a few broken arms, no life-threatening injuries. But the "accident" won't be seen as an accident here, people will be nervous, cautious, wondering what curse caused the event. Pray that whatever was meant for evil will be redeemed for good, that instead of FEAR the students and their families will sense the perfect LOVE of a God who saved them from death. Pray we would be more of an encouragement than a drain to poor Travis, sick with malaria, and Amy, and Anna, and Scott Will. Pray that our kids would reconnect with home, and we would reflect God's love to those who struggle to see the Kingdom come in Bundibugyo.