In the past, these thoughts (especially those involving embassies) sounded a little glamorous. A little piece of American soil that I can visit right here in Kenya! I think most of this misconception comes from too many Jason Bourne movies, but I still think it would be cool to have a second passport.
So, when John and I realized our passports were going to expire in just over 6 months (the period of time needed for travel), we trekked into Nairobi to see what this embassy was all about. Now, some of you may remember that the US Embassy in Kenya was bombed by Bin Laden et al back in the 1990's. Thus, the new embassy (pictured here) has some pretty beefy security. And no place to park. But once you get through security, it's really pretty smooth. The reality, though, is that it's more like a little piece of American bureaucracy rather than American soil, but even that can be heartwarming. I haven't yet met any Americans there. Most of the people in the "American Citizen Services" section (which is open just a couple hours in the morning) appear to have originally come from Somalia, and the chosen television programming in the little lobby is Al Jazeera, which is, at the very least, ironic.
I do give them some credit for efficiency. John and I's passports had to be flown to DC, renewed, and flown back. How long did this take (without being expedited)? 7 business days. Whoa. 2 years ago, Rachel got hers renewed stateside, and it took 12 weeks. Thus the moral: if you want your passport renewed quickly, fly to a foreign embassy for the deed.
After getting the passport (which by the way, has more than twice as many pages as my old one), I had to head to Kenyan immigration in order to get the work permit and re-entry pass from my old passport transferred to the new one. This is always a bit intimidating, but thankfully there's a very friendly Kenyan guy in Nairobi named Johanna who met up with me and saw me through the snares.
Now that all that was done, it was time for the biggest challenge. Rachel and I are trying to arrange a visit in September to the little nation of Burundi, in order to check out some possible future McCropder options. Since Burundi has virtually no tourism, they won't issue a visa at the border, and you have to get one before leaving from... the Embassy! Thankfully, they do have one in Nairobi.
But where? During our internet research, we found 2 addresses and no less than 6 phone numbers, none of which worked. We asked a ton of knowledgeable people, and no one knew. So, we stopped by the post office today, and asked if they knew. They looked it up and gave us an answer that matched one of our addresses, so we headed out. Five gridlocked roundabouts later, we discovered that it had moved, and five more roundabouts later, we discovered that they were open Monday through Thursday 11am-1pm. Since it was precisely at Thursday 1pm that we learned this, along with learning that we were missing about 4 essential items for a visa application, we headed back to the guesthouse, satisfied that at least we were the very first people in Kenya to learn where this elusive embassy is currently located.
Situations like this make us ask: Why don't they have a website? Why don't they have a reliable phone? Why are their hours so limited? The answer lies in the observation that the Embassy of Burundi in Kenya appears to be a single individual sitting behind a single table, and if there was a phone in the office, we didn't see it. Considering that this tiny nation is the 2nd poorest in the world, I guess we should just be thankful that they are there at all.
We keep learning.
RVA is a unique school that caters primarily to missionaries' kids from all over Africa. The diversity is therefore stunning - back when I graduated, over 40 countries were represented at the school of 500 kids. 90% of the students are boarding students and the other 10% are like my siblings and me, whose parents worked in Kijabe, the town in which the school is located. For those interested, there is a biography written about RVA called “A School in the Clouds.” It is even possible that some of the McCropder kids might end up attending this great school for some of their education.
Last weekend, in addition to reminiscing about the glory days, I competed in the alumni vs. varsity rugby game. This was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend for me. I got to play for the first time with my youngest brother, Caleb, who is in the black shirt below and I am right behind him. I did come away with the predictable realization that I am not as young as I used to be, and I am thankful that I didn’t break my neck in the scrums (but probably fractured a rib).
As you can partially see in the picture below, the field is perched on the edge of The Rift Valley and has a spectacular view of about 80 miles – probably the most beautiful location for a field in all the world, but then I might be biased.
The best parts of community are, well, the community. Adjusting to life at Tenwek has not been as difficult as most of us anticipated, and that's primarily due to the fact that there are three families—we all know each other, we're friends, we're sharing similar experiences coming from similar cultures, and we can talk about our triumphs and failures and frustrations with people who know exactly where we're coming from. We can talk about people and places back home with others who know what we're talking about. We can worship together, pray together, listen to Knox sermons together. And we feel that as a community of 6 adults, we can accomplish more than if we were 6 separate adults. Jess and Heather are fantastic at watching Maggie if I have to go in emergently for work. If I'm in the middle of a surgery and get “stuck,” Jason is there to help. When Eric and I get terrible pinkeye, John comes down and gives us eye drops. :)
When we first started talking about the McCropder concept, some people warned us about the downsides to community. One man warned about the “ideal” of community, the desire to have everything work out perfectly, destroying the members of the community. Many warned about being “exclusive” or clique-y and not reaching outside our group to get to know other missionaries, or other people we serve and interact with on a daily basis. Decisions get made much slower when 6 people have to agree. We can split the cost of a van between 3 families, but what happens when we want to go to 3 different destinations on the same day?