(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trip to the US

Things came at me rather hard and fast when we returned from the US. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to catch the blog up with some of the more important things. Given that I am using this blog as an account of what has been transpiring over the past few years (i.e. for me), I’d like not to skip the more interesting events.

For now I will backtrack to the recent vacation. Doesn’t seem so recent now unfortunately. 

The Hague
We began the trip by stopping in Holland to see some friends. We have been doing this most trips to the US over the past few years. It’s nice to break up the trip (get the kids out of the airplanes/airports), see some people that were good friends of ours from when they were living in Burundi and also explore the Netherlands. 

Int. Criminal Court, Kiran in foreground
It was a wonderful time of year to be in The Hague. Though we’d been there this time of year before, we never really had a chance to roam about the place and see what it has to offer. I must say, I was impressed, particularly to do it on a bicycle. Yes, the Netherlands has a wonderful reputation of being bike-friendly but until you’ve hopped on a bike and experienced it yourself you probably don’t appreciate how amazing it is. We were particularly enjoying it since we live in a place where that sort of infrastructure doesn’t exist.

Ann and Jan have kids around our age so that’s a bonus as well. Makes it more fun for them since I’m quite sure that our girls were oblivious to the charm of the city.
Priya and bike

Leaving from Europe is of course a much easier way to get to the US and starting from East Africa. Nonetheless, the airlines were still incapable of getting all of our bags to our destination. Fortunately I’m quite familiar with the lost baggage staff at most of the airports that we frequent in the US. We always eventually get the bag(s) but it’s annoying and one would think that it wouldn’t need to happen every trip to the US. 

Overall I felt that our time in southern Indiana was relaxing. As you might expect, it gets easier as the children get older. They are lots of fun when they are tiny but it’s a lot more work. 

One thing that is nice is the simplicity of rural life. The girls had the chance to pet the horses, feed the chickens, see wild rabbits and raccoons, etc. Also, the weather this year was much more manageable than in previous years. It’s usually unbearably hot. This year, partially because it was scheduled a bit later than normal, we were able to spend more time outside and depend less on seeking the solace of air conditioning.

With four airline tickets, it’s also far more expensive than it used to be. However we’ve agreed that it’s been so valuable for the girls to build relationships with family in addition to the overall experiences of being in the US. It’s significantly different from their lives in Burundi. And we have a good time as well.

St. Louis
We did squeeze in a bonus trip to St. Louis to see some friends of ours who had recently relocated there from Bujumbura. We’d considered it clear back when we first heard they were going. I looked it up on Google maps and figured out that it was only about four hours away. I didn’t know at the time that we’d actually be able to pull it off but I’m very glad we did. In addition to having a wonderful time with them and seeing their new lives in the US, it was a place I don’t know very well. I went through there a couple decades ago but hardly stopped and I didn’t remember much.

Though we only went for one night, we were able to see quite a bit. What we saw impressed us (maybe we’re easily impressed these days…). It’s definitely livable and I wouldn’t mind going back and exploring more later.

We stayed in a hotel while we were there since our unfortunate friends’ container, carrying all their belongings from Burundi, happened to get routed to Peru. It’s a long story but between that and the fact that their stuff from Virginia was also delayed, their beautiful new house was mostly empty. Not pleasant for them now but overall I think they’re going to like living there. 

St. Paul
When we left Louisville, we made the short trip north to Minnesota. Our friend Kathy lives there and we budgeted two nights to hang out with her in St. Paul, our second and last Saint of the trip. In addition to just a lovely time catching up on things with Kathy, we again took advantage of the time to explore this area as well – something we haven’t done in the past. Usually it’s our first stop in the US and we are normally quite brain-dead due to travel and jet lag. This time we had the rare benefit of already having been in the States for a couple weeks.

I have to say, I was quite impressed. We have several friends from Minnesota and we’ve heard good things but we have generally had to take their word for it. This time we drove around and see what the place has to offer. I realize that it’s probably not for everyone – iced over or a few months a year – but if you can tolerate the winter, there’s a lot to experience.  

Then we were off to the West. While I don’t mind the flatness of the places we visited thus far – and they are all flat – I admit that I began to look forward to higher altitude and some mountains. I think it’s part of my DNA. Though we don’t live in the mountains in Burundi, we can see some. It’s better than nothing.

We sort of hit the ground running in Boise. We had one night to pick up our camping gear, get organized and head to the mountains. It doesn’t sound as complicated as it was for some reason.
We don’t camp the way I used to do it when I was younger. My siblings tend to crank it up a notch or two nowadays. Though a lot of us still do the tent thing, as a group we tap into the luxury of RVs and a rather elaborate spread. It’s not rustic but it’s fun. One day, when the girls are a bit older, I’d like to take the family backpacking in the woods.

After a few days of camping we made our way to my parent’s place about four hours away. Like Priya’s parents’, it a nice retreat. Strangely enough camping is not really a retreat. It’s a lot of work and activity with not much down time whereas small town Idaho was an opportunity to regroup, get our doctor’s visits in and hang out with my folks. Also, everything is relatively close so we didn’t spend all our time in the vehicle. 

After a few days in Kimberly, we headed back to Boise for our final couple of days to shop, pack and ready ourselves for the return. 

Shoshone Falls
Overall it was a full and fulfilling visit. I’m always amazed at how much we fit in over a relatively short time. 

the rodeo
end of a great trip

Alas, it was time to return to the trenches. I’d been tracking things in Burundi on an almost daily basis. We had to decide if the security situation in Burundi would allow for the family to return with me. In discussion with my team and assessing the overall trend of events, we determined that there was no significant risk for our expatriate staff and their families. It was a difficult decision either way but in retrospect it was the right thing to do. We continue to monitor the situation and it could still take a turn for the worse but for now, we are back and life goes on. Peace remains elusive.

"To move freely you must be deeply rooted."

-Bella Lewitsky, dancer (1916-2004)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Good to be back

We are back. Safe and sound. Overall there were no major mishaps and all of our luggage arrived intact (except for a box of Nesquick that exploded in one duffel and coated everything, in some cases inside and out, with a fine light brown sweet-smelling powder). We did have a bit of a problem with our final leg on Ethiopian airlines but we were able to work it out just in time to board the plane for the final twenty minutes of our travels. 

After a brief stop-in at my office, we continued to our house. The family hadn’t seen their home in about two and a half months. The girls were ecstatic. It’s the only home they’ve known. It was never more vivid than when they stepped out of the vehicle. Their exuberance was a pleasure to watch as they greeted staff, retrieved toys that had sat idle for two and a half months, rapidly moving from one to the next. Moving around so much for so long has been tough for them. Kids are resilient but they do crave stability.

My poor wife had her birthday in a toxic travel haze at 30,000 feet who knows where. The day after we arrived we were able to have Priya open a couple of presents – a belated birthday “event”. It wasn’t really a party unfortunately. We ended up celebrating a bit on the weekend, complete with a small cake and candles. 

Soon after we arrived we heard a few grenade blasts and apparently there was some gunfire as well but generally it's been calm since we've been back. The city is certainly not devoid of violence but for now things seem fairly stable. 

So we return to our routines, catch up on emails and try to get back to "normal". In spite of the delicate situation in the country, it’s good to be back. Many of the expat community have not returned, particularly those with families. During a meeting yesterday it appears that a lot of organizations and embassies are waiting until after the inauguration scheduled for next week. It is the next date that could trigger violence. At some point people need to commit, whether the institutions will maintain accompanied postings –whether or not return.  Schools will be starting soon and the limbo cannot continue indefinitely.

We continue to monitor the situation and will make changes if needed. The country stumbles forward, for the most part out of the gaze of the international community. As usual. I have been reading a book by Robert Krueger, the US ambassador to Burundi during the terrible period between 1994 and 1996. I think he aptly describes this lack of interest in the country’s troubles, and thus the backdrop of our situation today and many other similar situations around the world:
“There are many reasons that the world has paid little attention to the fate of Burundi: it is isolated and poor, and neither its culture, it’s economy, nor its politics has ever significantly affected the developed world; and it is perhaps easier to ignore people who are suffering terribly than to know their fate, because to know it might make us subject to caring about them.”