A dog is a helpful creature for a myriad of reasons, but the largest is this: in a world of transience and misunderstanding, she is a spot of consistency and acceptance. Which is pretty much what we all long for in a home.
We are grateful for many prayers. Basically we brought Star to Bundibugyo as a puppy ten years ago, and she never left. We brought in vaccines once or twice, we treated her ourselves for some ailments, but she was pretty much healthy and strong and low maintenance. Which is great until it is time to get official. We had a Ugandan immunization card with one sticker in it . . and with that and her puppy papers we threw ourselves upon the mercy of a vet in Kampala (recommended by the Johnsons, thanks!). The vet made it clear that we had been remiss, but thankfully she was one of those practical people who saw the reality of the situation: a family of five in Kampala on the way to Kenya with jobs and responsibilities, not really at liberty to take an extra week or month to jump through the numerous hoops that could be erected. So she administered updated vaccines, heart-worm medicine, did an exam, checked all the boxes, and even inserted a microchip, a sort of sub-cutaneous electronic tag that we're told is necessary for international movement.
Then Friday we loaded the vehicle and pulled out at dawn for the 11 1/2 hour trek to Kenya. Our man Salim, the border angel, met us and took all Star's new and old paper-work. As he and Scott managed each tedious stop through the no-man's-land of the border zone (car, sticker, insurance, visas, stamps, this, that) we kept Star quietly in the back seat. No one asked to actually see her. But they did keep sending Salim back to Scott for more "fees". Scott asked, is it because we don't have the right papers? No, Salim explained, "your papers are perfect. It's just that everyone has to 'eat'." Ah, classic. But it was worth the cash flow to bring her over to our new country.
We spent the night in Eldama Ravine at our favorite missionary guest-farm, and completed the long journey with another 4 hour drive on Saturday. The closer we got to Kijabe the more excited all the kids became. I had forgotten what it was like to return to Bundibugyo with them--I would be dreading opening the house, bugs, laundry, people with problems, demands, a month or more of groceries to put away, camping gear to sort out, etc. and they would just be thrilled that we were coming home. This is the first time we've all left Kijabe and come back, and I realized they had fully made the transition. This is home now for them, and there was unmitigated relief to be back, to pile out of the car, to show Star her new yard, to run back into their own rooms.
There are many things about Uganda that I still miss, perhaps moreso this very moment, after a visit. Uganda is lush and green and abundant, in foliage and personality, hospitable and generous. Uganda is warm (OK, hot actually). I miss the security of a mosquito net. The depth of relationships forged by trial and time. The intimacy of being on a team. The craziness of life on the edge, the border, the challenge, the end-of-the-road-last-resort nature of existence. The sense of place in the community. The respect I have for people whose lives I know well. The view of the mountains. The sacred places that have become rests for us over the years. The ability to understand the local language, to talk to a patient's mother easily. The amazement and hope that comes from sitting with our students and dreaming of their futures.
But the transfer of Star, the transfer our kids' loyalty, is another step in the goodbye and letting-go process. (My Dad died five years ago today, which is a big part of the whole picture of loss, transition, moving on, in my heart at the moment too.) Kenya is more stark, more windswept, with a harsher beauty, a caution that reflects a more complicated relationship with outsiders. But it is also a beautiful place. There is a cool dry-ness here that feels fresh. I love my house. The fridge was ON and COLD (no kerosene, no matches, no moldering warmth). I've already got three loads of laundry on the line, the advantage of machine over man. There are nearby paths without houses or crowds, places to walk and run alone. Though we start back to work tomorrow, and we find it more medically and intellectually challenging, more demanding in many ways than Uganda, the spiritual oppression and emotional drain are just so much less here. The Kingdom has pushed into Kenya further, and deeper, and it shows.
It was good to go back, and it was also good to leave again, each time a little more fully. Our brave team's initial mantra was to build on the wisdom and history of the past, not to change too much too soon. But a year down the road, they are ready to embrace their own vision, to prune and to redirect growth. And so we step a little further away with this trip and return, with blessing and release. Which makes it good to have our dog here with our family, and to call this, for now, home.