Wednesday, May 27, 2015

European travels

When we originally arranged our travel home from Burundi we allotted a 3 day layover in Paris.  When we decided to leave a little early, our 3 day layover turned into a week layover.  Our good friend at Serge was on the phone with the travel agent and gave us our options for flights home.  Surprisingly, the cheapest option (from Tanzania) was through Dubai and then to Zurich.  We were able to keep our return Brussels to Seattle flights.

Our trip started with a short flight (3 hours) from Kigoma to Dar Es Salaam.  We then had a 7 hour layover in the Dar Es Salaam airport, we boarded our next plane at 11pm and flew overnight to Dubai, landing at 6am. In Dubai we had a 10 hour layover, with some very tired kids. We headed out of the airport to the Dubai mall before most stores were even open and pumped our kids full of chocolate milk and chocolate muffins then, before the sugar high could wear off, we began the process of dragging our kids all over Dubai, showing them the Burj Khalif (tallest tower in the world), the Dubai Mall (because a trip to Dubai is just not a trip to Dubai without seeing at least 1 shopping mall), and the old market (souk).

From there we flew to Zurich.  When we found out we were going to Zurich we were very excited to get to see Switzerland.  But everyone we talked to said the same thing "well, that should be ... expensive".  Yes, Switzerland is very very expensive.  We had heard that our friend Alyssa had a good friend who lived in Zurich, so we e-mailed her just asking for ideas of "reasonably priced" places to stay and fun things to do.  We did not expect an invitation to stay with her and her family, but that is what we got.  And they were amazing.  They put us up in their home, they fed us, they showed us some of the most beautiful places around Zurich.  They guided us to their favorite hotel in the Swiss Alps for 1 night, then surprised us by showing up at that hotel the next morning, after transferring all our luggage (which we had left at their apartment) to a locker at the train station, just so that we could have an extra couple hours in the Alps.  It is impossible to put into words how beautiful Switzerland was, and how much more beautiful it was because of the kindness and hospitality of this family who we had never met before.

After Switzerland, we took the train to Paris, where we spent the last 3 days (as planned), and did all the things you are supposed to do in Paris (Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, Louvre, etc).  Touring Paris with a 6 year old also means you are touring the bathrooms of Paris, which were lovely.

So, this afternoon we took the train back to Brussels where we are scheduled to fly out tomorrow morning.  Back home.  Back to reality, as we know it.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

The trains in Switzerland have playgrounds on them!


Swiss Alps

Bini's favorite place in Paris ... our hotel room. 

The Mona Lisa, surrounded by American tourists! 

Me with my tiny coffee, holding on to my tiny man bag.  Could I be more Parisean?

At the Palace of Versailles, I saw this statue behind Bini, and said, "hey Bini, that looks like us", to which he replied, "yeah, it DOES look like us ... but I don't have wings ... and you don't have a six pack"

Now THESE girls look Parisean

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Grain of Wheat

"What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal."
- Albert Pine

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." - John 12:24

There is a cycle found all throughout nature.  This is the cycle of death and rebirth.  I am extremely hesitant to call the last 9 months our family spent in Burundi a "sacrifice".  It was a joy for us to be in Burundi, to live next to these families that are sacrificing not months but years and decades.  It was a joy to see so much of the beauty of Africa.  I often enjoyed the work I was doing in the hospital. But there was some level (however small) of sacrifice involved in this work, and it seems to me that sacrifice of this sort involves this pattern of death and rebirth.  Certain comforts of life in the US had to be forgone and sacrificed in order to enter into this work.

Even as I write this I am on a train travelling through the Swiss Alps looking out the window at one of the most spectacular landscapes I have ever seen.  And what I see is fields of grass and forests of trees all born out of this cycle of death and rebirth.  Every tree I am looking at started with a seed, buried under the soil, under the cover of darkness, which one day sprouted above ground and grew over years and years into an object of beauty and glory.  But without the time spent buried and in darkness, the beauty would never have come to be.

This cycle of death and rebirth I believe is part of God's plan for creation and also of His plan for our rescue.  WIthout the sacrificial death and burial of Jesus Christ, there would be no hope, no true life, no glory.  It was this cycle of death and rebirth that has led to glorification of Christ, which He has called us to trust in and to hope in.  According to His own testiomny, out of His death and His resurrection, we are given a new life, an eternal life.

And so, we take what we have, and we bring it to God and we offer it back to Him, knowing that He will call us to sacrifice and suffer, sometimes in dark places, but that out of the ashes of any sacrifice will rise new birth, new life, and fruit.  And we thank Him for the beauty of His plan, and for letting us play some small part in His story.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed."

Isaiah 53:5

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hidden Gems

Up until a few weeks ago, I knew almost nothing about Kigoma, Tanzania.  As the political situation in Burundi deteriorated, our team met to discuss the possible evacuation routes and it was explained that Tanzania was the closest border and that Kigoma was the nearest town with an airport.  Last week after the embassy told us to leave Burundi and we made the decision to go through Tanzania, one of the "Canadian refugees" staying at Kibuye told us that him and his family come to Kigoma for vacation and that it is their favorite place in the world.  They gave us the contact information for the missionary guesthouse where they stay and so on Sunday we ended up at Jakobsen beach in Kigoma Tanzania.  

To be honest, even as I write this blog post, I have feelings of guilt.  We are not supposed to be on vacation right now.  We are supposed to still be in Kibuye, finishing our last week there, packing our house and saying our good-byes.  But here we find ourselves, in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, as Burundi remains in a frightenly precarious situation.

Yesterday, I woke up, walked outside our room at the guesthouse and stood about 6 feet away from a family of zebras lounging about.  They did not seem alarmed at my presence in the slightest.  I then spent the next several minutes trying to decide if I should wake the kids to see this amazing site (as this almost never happens in Bellingham!) or let them sleep.  I decided to let them sleep, and thankfully the zebras were still there when they woke up, surrounded by about a dozen Vervet monkeys.  

After breakfast we went on a long walk along the shore to a hilltop hotel for lunch (and internet).  The coast along Lake Tanganyka is incredible.  Steph said she felt like she was hiking through Ireland.

This morning, Ella and I had a special Daddy-Daughter adventure (the other 2 kids opted to spend the morning swimming at the beach).  We hopped in a taxi and travelled about 20 kilometers south of here to a town called Ujiji.  Once again, I had not heard of Ujiji until recently, but it is the site where David Livingstone met Henry Stanley and exchanged those famous words "Dr. Livingstone I presume".  The story of David Livingstone's life has been a great fascination for me, and even more so after our time in Burundi.  Livingstone was a Christian missionary, physician and explorer who was ultimately searching for the source of the Nile River (which was later found to be about 30 minutes from Kibuye, Burundi).  In his search for the Nile he mapped out huge sections of Africa.  Ella and I had both read his biography, so to get to go to Ujiji was for both of us a completely unexpected treat.

Tomorrow we leave Tanzania, and Africa as well (for now).  We will be spending a week in Europe on our way home.  Our love for Africa has only grown during our time here, and we are so grateful to God who has opened the doors for us to have this time together as a family in the heart of Africa, where we now leave a big chunk of our hearts as well,

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Happy Evacuation Day

I wonder if Hallmark has ever considered making a "Happy Evacuation Day" card.  As our new friend George reminded us, "it is like a vaca ... but with an "e" at the beginning.

I am happy to report that we are safe and sound in Tanzania.  I am tempted to recount the story of our day with details of how we sped to the border under the cover of darkness, then ran through a hail-storm of gun-fire in order to make it to safety.  But our evacuation experience was a bit less stressful than all that.  

This morning Jason lesiurely drove us to the Tanzanian border, which took about 3 hours.  The drive was lovely.  After reading the news reports of over 100,000 refugess fleeing Burundi, I was expecting to stand in a line at the border for hours, maybe days.  There was no line.  I walked right up, paid our visa fees, waited for about 15 minutes.  Then Jason drove us across the street where there was a line of taxis.  We transferred our luggage and drove about an hour to a missionary guesthouse in Kigoma, on the shore of Lake Tanganyika.  I imagined we would be walking for hours with our luggage surrounded by a sea of refugees, but that simply did not happen.  The guesthouse we are staying at for the next 3 days could not be more beautiful, with monkeys, zebras and our kids spent all afternoon swimming. 

We were given three options for leaving Burundi.  Yesterday we received an e-mail that the US government was chartering a plane to fly US citizens from Bujumbura to Kigali.  However, they said they would take people on a first come first serve basis, with no gaurantees, and that we would be asked to reimburse the US governement $620 per person ... for a 30 minute flight ... and would be on our own after we got to Kigali.  Thanks US governement!  Our second option was to drive to Rwanda. We were told that many US and Canadian citizens were taking this option.  We chose option #3, Tanzania.  It was the closest border, we had not heard of any unrest or blocked roads on the route to Tanzania.  The downsides: the visa fee and once you reach Kigoma, you still have to take a flight (or a 48 hour train ride) to reach the closest major airport in Dar Es Salaam.

Our hearts are still heavy thinking about what the future of Burundi will hold, as well as the futures of our Burundian friends who remain, and our missioanry friends, some of whom have also left the country and some of whom are staying to continue to serve in the hospital where they are much needed.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Time To Go

Well, how can I sum up the past few weeks in Burundi in a single blog post.  Not easy.  Although we have tried to remain somewhat silent about all that is going on, it seems that Burundi has finally made the national news this past week, so I thought I would update anyone reading this blog about where things stand right now.  

So, after weeks of political protests in the capital (Bujumbura), some of which turned violoent, on Wednesday, there was a military coup.  The airport was shut down as were all the borders.  Our embassy told us to stay at home and sit tight.  On Friday, the coup leaders gave themselves up.  That morning the embassy told us to stop sitting tight, and start getting out.  Same message from the Canadian embassy.  Apparentely the Rwandans and Congolese were one step ahead of us, because their embassies told them to get out weeks ago.  

So, we are still in Kibuye, where thankfully, all has remained calm, and we are making plans to evacuate soon, across to a neighboring country (I was told I should not make public exactly where we are going).  Two days ago, while there was a lull in the violence in Buja, 3 Canadian missionary families living in Buja came to Kibuye to get away from the unrest.  They all moved into our quadplex of apartements, which we have now converted into our "Canadian refugee camp" (see photo below).  Today 2 of the families found lice in their children's hair.  Now all we need is an outbreak of dysentery to complete the refugee experience.

This is our families first coup.  Although as I said we have felt safe up-country, there is still an element of fear for our safety (especially when they told us every possible way out of the country was blocked). There has also been sadness for this country that we have grown to love, compounded with the sadness of saying goodbye to all of our freinds here.  So how do I deal with fear and sadness?  I pray and I make jokes.

We are praying for peace here.  We are praying for the families we are leaving behind.  We know God is good and we know that He loves this country more than we do.  

Canadian refugees.  They can look so pathetic sometimes.  I think I saw that guy at our local Bellingham Costco.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Freedom of Simplicity

Last Friday was my birthday.  In rural Burundi, there are no places to buy presents, there are no restaurants to go to for a birthday dinner, and there is no Scotch.  So, how does one celebrate a birthday in a place like this?  Since we came to Burundi last August, each member of my family has had a birthday here, and so we have learned how to celebrate without all the frills of a typical birthday celebration in the U.S.  This is in many ways freeing, and gives people an opportunity to express their creative side.  I had a wonderful birthday, and felt greatly loved by my family as well as by the community we are living amongst here in Kibuye.  So, how did we celebrate my birthday?

The day started with my usual Friday morning jog with Joel and John.  After returning, the kids cooked breakfast for me and gave me their gifts, including home-made cards, crafts and home-baked cookies.  Later that day they shared with me the music video they put together to one of my favorite songs.  Steph and the kids had a school field trip planned that day, so I thought I would hike up to Kibuye rock to be alone and reflect on my life.  However, I have been here long enough to know that there is nowhere in Burundi where you can go for a walk and be alone.  So, off I went, and as usual was quickly accompanied by about a dozen Burundian children, who followed me all the way to the rock, and then sat with me, for my entire time on the rock, and then walked all the way back home with me, all the while trying to talk to me in Kirundi.  So much for solitude.  

That evening we had all the other muzungus over to our house for cake, tea and board games.  They gave me cards, a stick of pepperoni, homemade trail mix, and Joel recited a poem that he wrote for me (see below).  They also sang for me the birthday dirge, taught to them by Frank Ogden and sung with great morose: “Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Pain and sorrow fill the air, Death and Dying everywhere, Happy Birthday”.  

Saturday afternoon, John gave me his gift, my much anticipated “piki” (motorcycle) ride.  Much thanks to Jason who let me use his motorcycle.  John led me through about 30 minutes of dirt paths to the top of a hill with one of the most spectacular views of Burundi I have seen.  It was such a joy and I am pleased to announce that I have since decided to retire from medicine to pursue a career as a motorcyclist.  

To finish off the weekend, Heather arranged on Sunday for us all to drive to Mweya, a local town where there is a bible college and a couple who hosted us for the morning.  There were 2 visiting pastors (from Washington state!) who led us in an open air church service on top of Mount Hope, and afterward we had a wonderful potluck lunch.  

I think I will likely remember this birthday weekend for the rest of my life.  And all this took place without expensive gifts or dinners … and somehow without Scotch.  

Joel’s birthday poem:

Today’s the day our ode to give
Two score and one is a long time to live
We’ve only know you a few months tis’ true
Bur friends are made quickly in this milieu

Your gentle spirit is evident to all
And among Burundians you sure are tall
Thoughtful and concerned for patients and students
Does that grace extend even to rodents?

When you pray and sing it seems that you know
The One who has called you to step out and go
Despite the risks you’ve brought kids and wife
Choosing Kingdom over the so-called “good life”

The faithful obedience is to me an example
We can trust God’s provision to be more than ample
In this year and in the ones yet ahead
May most of your patients be alive and not dead

May the gases flow freely and the access be easy
May those early morning runs not leave you too wheezy
Keep seeking and serving in this year 41

Happy birthday intern, AKA Greg Sund.

Mweya as seen from Mount Hope.

Shay's birthday card.  A few more years in Burundi and I could look like this guy.