Wednesday, June 21, 2017

June 21, 2017 - Kristoffer

When I met Kristoffer in 2003, it was clear to me even then that Africa was his dream.  For some reason, he had a thing about Kenya.  He made some good decisions and took some risks and was very persistent, until he got his UN WFP job in Nairobi in December of 2007.  He rode that JPO train (which means funded by his government but working for an international organization) longer and farther than anyone else.  Most people are a JPO for 2 years, maybe 3 if they're lucky.  He was a JPO for 4 years.  That was largely in part to the WFP global hiring freeze after the recession: he could not be hired to stay at WFP, anywhere in the world actually, once his Danish funding expired.  So when it was clear that he really couldn't be a JPO any longer, and actually was quite ready for a professional promotion, he started looking elsewhere and found the World Bank job in Dar (also donor funded!).  Going back to his roots!  After all, his first job out of graduate school was as an unpaid intern at the World Bank in DC (his part time job was riding the Vamoose Bus to NYC on weekends to visit his then-girlfriend).  When it became clear that his initial position in Dar was not exactly a great fit for him, he sought a lot of advice from other World Bank staff (past and present) and began to position himself to do work he absolutely loved in a way that would keep him around Dar for awhile.  His planning worked out very well. 

I think that was all a very roundabout way of saying that one thing I admire very much about Kristoffer is the way he can assess a situation, identify what needs to change, and then make decisions for that change to happen.  He does a great job in the present, while also making a path to the future.  

So he got his Africa wish - 8 1/2 years of it, in fact, but he was increasingly wanting to leave.  So our departure from Dar was just the next thing he was ready for.  He is really good at goodbyes - I might even suggest that he is TOO good at goodbyes.  We were in a long distance relationship for 4 years until we the day we got married, and I can't tell you how many times I'd be at an airport sobbing to say goodbye to him, and he would just be hugging me, smiling, and waving me off, knowing we wouldn't see each other for months.  So while I was preparing all the small people for our move, in our final weeks in Dar he was at the World Bank, working really hard.  

When our transfer to the US was approved, it didn't change the scope of his work.  His job is still there.  So he works here in DC, but has traveled back to Kenya/Tanzania four times in the last year.  One trip was three weeks long - that was almost torture for all of us - and since then his trips have been two weeks long each.  When we said goodbye to Dar, he was literally just saying, 'see you soon', because he knew he would.  When he goes back it is not a vacation - he works and works and works - but he is still there.  Sometimes he gets to see a few friends or bring us some presents from our favorite Dar shops.  His life is mostly here, but a little bit there.  So our experiences of our transition have been very different.  

The World Bank in Dar often has an "end of the [fiscal] year" party in June for staff and their families to get together and have some fun.  It serves as a goodbye party for those staff who are departing, and is usually held at a big beach hotel.  Kristoffer was one of four colleagues leaving last June, and the celebration was lovely.  

For me the highlight of this day was when his colleagues got to say a few words about him.  It was a proud moment to hear his Tanzanian colleagues express appreciation for his positive outlook and friendliness, his genuine effort to understand and respect both their language and their culture, and his sincerity in helping the people of Tanzania in his work.  They have a name for him in their office (I say present tense, because he's there often enough that they probably still use it!) that basically means "the white black guy" because he fit in so well with his Tanzanian colleagues.  People were crying to say goodbye to him and I was truly touched by how many people thanked me for him! 

 On the last day of school, we went to the DYC for what was probably our last sundowner G&T. 

And then it was time to leave.

Kristoffer has taken to our American life really well (politics aside, that is).  He loves our house and he loves to be doing projects on or for or around it.  He likes mowing our (small) lawn.  He likes his 7 minute bike ride to the metro to get to work and doesn't have a terrible commute.  He is thrilled any time we visit Montgomery County's amazing parks and playgrounds for playing or hiking.  Biking with the kids to a playground, playing soccer in the yard, and playing basketball in the driveway are activities he loves to do here.  Like me, he has been impressed with the friendliness of our neighbors and the kindness of the very interesting people who live around us.  The work trips are hard - yes.  He feels extremely disconnected from home life during those weeks, with good reason.  But they are temporary, and they allow us to be living here even though his work is there.  Each trip gets a little bit easier in terms of how well everyone handles the separation.  

To say he is busy at work these days is an understatement.  He is now at a level with a lot of responsibility, but is still close enough to the work on the ground to appreciate the impact he can have on the people of Tanzania.  He is an expert on the use of solar energy for rural water supply, and is preparing to launch a ground-breaking solar program in Tanzania.  He is also preparing a $250 million program on rural water supply in Tanzania.  His work is, literally, never done!  

Click here for a video describing a bit about what Kristoffer does.

And on the home front, here are some of the highlights of his first year here in Maryland...

He had the spontaneous idea to go to a Springsteen concert last summer!
 His birthday was in September, but he was in Dar, 
so we celebrated when he came home in October:
(Grace's birthday party)
 Being greeted after a long trip away:
 For Christmas, my parents gave him a Tesla :)
 There was not much snow there, but he helped them make the most of it!
 Last weekend, on Father's Day, we did a small hike (Aya walked on her own!).  
I hope he knows how much these three love their Far.
Last night, we went to the U2 concert at FedEx Field.  It was an amazing show - despite our party bus (with friends and their friends) breaking down on the side of the Beltway on our way there.  We waited and transferred to another bus and still got there in plenty of time.  The Lumineers were an excellent opening act, but U2 was just amazing.  As when we saw them 2 years ago, they delivered an inspiring  show and we LOVED hearing The Joshua Tree album live. (It was also sweet to be kid-free on a Tuesday from 4-12!  Next week is the 14th anniversary of when we met!)  

With our tenth wedding anniversary just a couple of weeks away, it is certainly interesting and nostalgic to look back and reflect on this very big decade we've had.   Like every other couple, we've had ups and downs, celebrations and challenges, laughter and tears.  And as much of a romantic as I am...and, oh yes, you know I am...being married to someone is more than just romance.  It is more than just friendship.  It is more than just love.  It is a choice, to get through life together.  I remain grateful that Kristoffer and I are choosing each other and choosing this life together.  Wherever we are in the world, be it Kenya, Tanzania, Denmark, America, or wherever else life may take us, I know we are together.  Pamoja.



Monday, June 19, 2017

June 19, 2017 - Aya

Our sweet Aya, our only American born baby, landed in Dar for the first time when she was 6 weeks old, to no hot water and a very moldy house, if I recall correctly.  But she soon got used to life under a mosquito net, doting big siblings and their friends, being hot pretty much all the time, a very attentive staff (Oliver & Christopher), frequent blood tests, baby music class and swimming pool play dates, and weekend mornings at the beach.  She experienced two long beach weekends, two safaris, and two trips to South Africa.  Just over two years old when we left Dar, she had also gotten used to spending weekday mornings at her lovely preschool - The Schoolhouse - with adorable friends and loving caretakers.  Although she went there for only 5 months, they were wonderful.  We tried to keep her routines in place towards the end - she had a week of no school before we left so she went to  a few hours of "camp" with Oliver and mostly just hung out with Oliver while I was running around like a crazy person.  She does not remember these days, and I suppose that is what makes me the saddest:  Grace and Noah will always remember things and people about their life in Dar, but Aya will not.  She had a great life there, so we'll have to remember it for her.  Her last few weeks in Dar looked like this:
 Aya got her first hair cut!
(not much to cut at all - just a clean up job, really)

 Croissants on the beach, saying goodbye to friends.
Last day at Aya's wonderful pre-school!  
She did a weird tongue thing in all of the pictures, but was a very happy girl at this school and adored all of the women who cared for her there.
Dada Joyce
 Teacher Helen
(or Rosie Rosie, as Aya called her)
 Miss Vicky
Walking out! 
 Her future's so bright, she just had to wear shades...

And the hardest goodbye of all (at least, for me), with Oliver.

And then it was time to leave.

The greatest thing about being two is that really, despite all of the things you love, you pretty much just need to be with the people you love to feel that everything will be okay.  So Aya just carried on being charming and sweet when we moved.  She instantly loved to play with the neighborhood kids outside, particularly the 14-yr-old babysitter next door.  She had never been a good sleeper in her entire life, so switching to a big girl bed when we got to our new house didn't cause any disruption.  She loved being in a big bed, but continued to be a terrible sleeper.  The research I had done on pre-schools for her here initially turned up a few good possibilities, but nothing that we liked nearly as well as her school in Dar.  A neighbor told me about a wonderful school nearby that would most definitely have a waiting list, but she thought we might want to check it out.  As luck would have it, another little girl had given up her spot the same day I called the school and so Aya was fortunate enough to get in for this past school year (they strive for gender parity, and all of the other children on the waiting list were boys!).  The Outdoor Nursery School is a play-based nursery school with a focus on nature and outdoor play.  It has a very Scandinavian feel to it, and so was really the perfect fit.  Two-year-olds can only go two mornings a week (it was weird for both of us after five mornings in Dar), so it was a surprise to us how much Aya learned and developed in that short amount of time.  She grew very attached to her teachers and to the 11 friends in her class, many of whom joined a soccer team with her this spring. 

Aya did gymnastics with me once a week, and became great friends with a super cool little girl in our neighborhood, Lucy.  She also became a big fan of going to the public library!   And if you were to ask Aya today who her best friend is, she would very likely say "Bethy".  Beth is the big sister of one of Noah's friends from his class who lives in our neighborhood; she is 11 years old and just graduated from 5th grade.  She took a liking to Aya very early on, and they had a standing play date once a week for much of the school year.  Aya was a big girl and would even go to Beth's house by herself (Beth's and Lucy's moms have become my friends, along with many other lovely women in our neighborhood) .  Amazing!  What a joy it has been to see Aya change so much this year.  She potty trained in early March and turned 3 at the end of April.  She also started sleeping through the night (consistently! finally!) at that time.  About 6 weeks ago we dropped her nap because her night time sleeping was regressing again, and now that she isn't napping and has very full, busy days she is the best sleeper she has ever been.  I can definitely notice the difference in my own energy levels because I am finally sleeping through the night regularly (for the first time hem...8 1/2 years!).

Here are many favorite moments from Aya's first year in Maryland:

Little Aya's first performance in our basement, the first time we had family over to our house:
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First day of school.
 Teeny tiny pony tail!
 She had a big Doc McStuffins phase...this would have been her Halloween costume but was more appropriate for Dar's October weather than for Maryland's.
 Aya loves to play with her cousin Ally!
 She also had a Minnie Mouse dress phase - where she wore this for days on end, 
even in her sleep.

 Then again, she often likes to wear odd things in her sleep...note, the headphones:
Aya's first pumpkin for Halloween:
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Speaking of Halloween, we opted for a warm lion (simba) costume.  
It was ch-ch-ch-chilly for her, but she loved the parade and party at her school, and trick-or-treating.  You'd never have known she was a total rookie :)

 When Farmor and Hans visited, Hans was teaching Aya to play UNO.  
I love how serious she is in this picture!
She had her first sledding experience:
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 Aya LOVED her weekly gym class, and now that soccer is over she is asking all the time to go back to gymnastics!

Beautiful Aya Karen on Easter.
Aya first celebrated her birthday at school.
(Grace had to miss a field trip because of her tonsillectomy post-op recovery, so she got to come to Aya's school with me.  Aya was THRILLED and kept telling everyone "this is my big sister!")

 She is right in the middle of her biggest phase yet - Paw Patrol!  
(Never thought anything could top Dora, but I was wrong!)

And at home, she turned 3 on April 21st, with great joy and celebration.  

 A casual playground party with her friends from school was the way to go!

Nene and Pops arrived from Massachusetts, just in time to celebrate.

One of her birthday wishes was to have a sleepover with Grace and Noah.  
Ta da!
 Out riding her new wheels...
Nene and Pops took Aya to Build-a-Bear for her birthday gift...she loved it and, no doubt, chose a Paw Patrol pup: Skye, this pup is ready to fly!

 Playing Rock Star on wii at Uncle Mark's house when we visited Ohio.  
She loves to dance to pop music, but also to jam to heavy metal!
Aya's soccer season was very sweet:
(in theory I'm opposed to participation trophies at every age, but it was actually adorable)

Her last day at school, finishing up her year in the "Pine cone" class and moving on to the "Sassafras" class next year (5 mornings - whooo hoo!)

 With Mrs. McCormick
 And Mrs. Baker
 Aya loves to have her nails painted! Look at that smile!

I think Aya has had the year of greatest change; when we left Dar, she was still our baby, but now she's really a "big girl" with a big vocabulary, big heart, and big personality!  She is known in our house for saying funny things (she might be repeating out of context what she has heard one of us say) like, "I'm so frustrated!" when she's really happy about something.  She's also known for giving great hugs (even around the neighborhood) and being super loving and friendly.  She thrives on attention from her big siblings and loves to play with them, but also has an incredible imagination and ability to play by herself.  She is a wonder and a joy, every single day (even though her threenager phase totally shows up her terrible twos).  I often ask her if she's my best friend and she'll almost always say, "No!  Far is your best friend!  I'm your lovie-love."  I'll take it :)

Remnants of Aya's life in Dar still show up in her speech, calling trash "taka taka" or motorcycles "piki pikis," for example.  And she'll insert "Tanzania" at unpredictable moments, like when she sang "Frosty the Snowman, who lived in Tanzania..." at Christmas time.  She can sing most of the Tanzanian national anthem (I sing it to her almost every day) and the "Jambo Bwana" song, and she can count to 10 in Kiswahili by herself.  But those are small things; I know they won't last forever and she will soon forget ever having lived there.  It is our job to remind her of her first two years of life, on a charming little peninsula that sticks out into the Indian Ocean...8,000 miles away.