Besides my parents, the most influential adult in my life as a child was my Nana. She personified for me unconditional love, fun, comfort and security. I have a vivid memory from my childhood…curled up on Nana’s lap with my head leaning against her chest listening to her heart beat, my Mam sitting at her feet and the two of them nattering about this and that, and my 7 year old self thinking, “this is love; this is about as good as life gets.” She died at the age of 94, having lived on her own for the previous decade after my Papa died, three weeks before I returned from Africa for the second time…
It was always a wrench to leave Nana as I headed off to explore the world the very first chance I got. But she would always say to me, “say cheerio, not goodbye.” To her, ‘goodbye’ seemed so final, whereas ‘cheerio’ implied that we would see each other again in the very near future. Now, as we countdown our last remaining days in Kenya before moving to Ireland, I find myself remembering this farewell.
I first moved to Africa when I was 23, almost 20 years ago. As a child, I was inexplicably drawn to Africa. I know now that is was God’s call on my life (that’s a whole other story), but back when I was younger, I would have simply described it as a magnetic pull. I had a geography teacher in secondary school who was extremely social justice minded and he taught us about the inequalities that existed in the world and why. I would go home and bore my parents half to death with my rants of how the world we live in is so unjust; how the majority of the world’s population live below the poverty line; how we (in the west) have so much in comparison. As soon as I qualified with a skill that I could bring to Africa, I left for Lesotho for 2 years, where I worked as a English language and literature teacher. I lived in a remote village, without electricity or running water, and taught Shakespeare to young kids, some of whom had to walk up to 3 hours to get to school, whose one meal a day was served at lunchtime, and whose parents scrimped and saved every spare penny to provide them with an education.
The minute I set foot on the snowy landscape of this mountain kingdom, my heart was forever hooked. I did a whole lot of traveling overland during the school breaks, by bus, matatu, train and boat, and was completely enamored by the different cultures, colors, and landscapes that I experienced. I loved my time teaching in Lesotho but felt constrained in the impact I could have by the confines of the classroom and the commonwealth curriculum I was teaching. I went home to Dublin and started my Masters degree in International Development, studying with individuals from all over Africa and beyond. Armed with more understanding and knowledge about development issues in the majority world, I left again for Africa, this time heading to Tanzania for 2 years where I worked in leadership training and community development. And, of course, this is the country in which I found my husband…wandering across the world, teaching orthopedics in low-income countries, pushing 40 and needing a strong woman to take him in hand! I succumbed to the challenge, fell in love, married him in Dublin, and moved to Bend, Oregon for 9 years. I stayed involved with Africa by working for an international relief and development organization and when God called Mike out of private practice, we were ready to go back.
Three and a half years later after living in Kenya, we are on the move again. This time, after 20 years of living overseas, I am going home to Dublin with Mike and the kids. I am eager to “do life” with my family and friends and relish the thoughts of us being together. In these last few days, however, as I anticipate leaving this continent, God has opened my eyes wide and broken my heart all over again at the injustices that exist in this part of the world. The lack of access for the majority of Kenyans to good healthcare. The difficulty for parents to find enough money to pay for school fees for their children. The lack of choices and opportunities. The frequency with which death affects families. And it’s like God is imprinting on my heart once again, my connection to this soil…to these people…to this call on my life. So, this is certainly not goodbye for me. I cannot wait to see how this all ties in with what God has for me in Ireland, because I know with certainty, that somehow it will. And so we say, cheerio…for now.
We have been keeping our friends and family up to date with our decision to leave Kenya and move to Ireland, via mail chimp. If you are not receiving these more personal updates and would like to, please let me know and I’ll add you to the list!