Monday, June 30, 2008

more on the ups & downs

Traveling with a toddler is rough as many of you know well, but I would argue traveling across continents with one is one crazy adventure! God is good as overall our travel was great intermixed with moments of chaos. We missed our first flight to New York (along with most people in O'hare on Wednesday morning) after a United check-in disaster but were able to get a later flight and still made it to New York with time to accomplish our last leaving items.
Annikah & our backpacks...we are ready!
On Friday we packed a truck completely full with the 25 people's crates, boxes, and bags and loaded into vans to drive to the airport for check-in.

That was an experience as the line for British Airlines was long and with all of our luggage (25 people moving to Africa- read here LOTS of stuff) we waited for a few hours to check everything in. During the long wait we got to know everyone better and Annikah played with the other kids moving to Kenya. The most hilarious part was that the fire alarm went off for about 20 minutes blaring in our ears, we just had to laugh at how ridiculous it was. The best way to make an already stressful situation even more chaotic is by a piercing loud noise :) (I have a great video but the loading time here is terrible so, alas, maybe later..)

The flight to London was fabulous, expect that Anni was too excited to sleep. She informed us over and over again "anni, night-night, plane" because we had told her over and over that she could sleep on the plane. Unfortunately she only took her own advice for about 2 hours meaning no sleep for us either. After arriving in London we took a cab to a Holiday Inn to try to nap a bit before our next over night flight. When we arrived at the hotel around 7am they did not have our reservation (even though we had called to verify) but after a few minutes of Annikah tearing up the lobby they found us a room :) We were praying that Annikah would nap and after partaking of some British kid's show with a song about "cakes and biscuits" (cupcakes and cookies) she fell asleep with us. After a few hours of sleep and a shower we headed back to the airport to check in for our next flight. We parked ourselves at Starbucks for a couple hours and used the rest of a gift card while Annikah amused herself with some fun new toys (thank you everyone!). We also hooked back up with some other women traveling to teach at a school in Dar Es Salam. Our flight to Dar was late but we made up some time in the air. Anni did sleep a few hours on my chest and this was the flight that really started weighing on us. We arrived in Dar and 4 of our team members flew over from the island to meet us and then take our excess luggage over on the ferry (all our stuff made it although a couple pieces were opened so we hope everything is in there, we shall see in a month). We had to wait about 8 hours at the airport and did grab some spicy and yummy lunch. Annikah made tons of friends and as I mentioned the people were so warm and welcoming to her. She especially loved flirting and laughing with the taxi stand drivers.

The next flight was to Nairobi and although it was the shortest it was really rough, first there was a delay and after getting through security Annikah started losing her mind and begging for milk which we could not find anywhere. We were feeling so discouraged and exhausted and guilty for putting her through all this. We missed the early boarding (because Jason was off searching for milk) and then could not find our passports when it was time to board (found them after a few moments of panic).

"not another flight!!"
None of this is really a big deal when you have slept but without sleep and with a toddler who is losing it I was hanging on by a loose thread. We boarded and everyone was very understanding. Anni got to try her first soda ever; a Fanta! At first she did not like the carbonation but soon was gulping it down. After a short flight we landed and Annikah actually said "more plane" (she likes the take-off and landing) to which we happily replied "NO!" We picked up our luggage and a couple living in Kenya picked us up. After a short drive through Nairobi we ended up at the guest house.....finally! All we wanted to do was crash but dinner was being served and we knew it was our only chance to eat. We were in the dining room for maybe 2 minutes when Anni hit full on meltdown so we had to make a quick exit and put her to bed. We also had to force Anni's malaria meds down her throat which was so sad for me, she just does not understand why and I felt lik the worst Mama ever. After showers we finally passed out around 9pm. Since her system is so off she woke up around 1am and would not go back to sleep until about 5am. Around 4am (after being kicked in the side for an hour I lost it and eventually Anni and I cried ourselves to sleep), exhaustion is a funny thing, it leads to emotional instability and for me that is not pretty. Although some minor things have been tough everything has been better than expected by far! An awesome moment came when after cuddling a crying Anni for a long time Jason prayed out loud for her and she was immediately quiet and peaceful, it was a reminder in the midst of doubt and chaos that God has called us here and He will see us through the difficulties of this transition. Anni slept until about 9am and after a jaunt to Naku-Matt (The Kenyan version of Walmart- it is AWESOME!) and lunch she is taking a nap now (2pm Kenyan time). We walked about a mile to the market along a busy road and got some nets, an avocado and some yogurt for Anni, a cell phone card for local calls to Tanzania, and some cold cokes :) Time to enjoy the weather before she wakes. It is setting in that we live here now and we have a ton to learn. We leave for training tomorrow and word on the street is that there is "a water problem" (hmmmmm?) and Internet connection is abysmal so probably will not update for a bit.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


we are here, or should I say there- Nairobi, Kenya. I write this in a haze of dizziness, I am exhausted, excited, grateful.
Some stats: 4 flights, 1 missed flight, NO Lost luggage (miracle), 18 1/2 hours total in the air, 6 hours spent waiting in lines or security, 26 hours of layover time spent entertaining Annikah in various airports (yeah, we are tired), 3 bus rides, 1 taxi ride, 3 van rides, 6 short lived Anni meltdowns, 1 meltdown with some tears for me, and countless moments of being so proud of our little traveler. Considering Annikah has not had any real sleep for 3 days she was BEYOND ROCKSTAR! We also met our team members in Dar for lunch before catching our next flight, although we were rather zombie-like as we tried to chat it was awesome to finally meet them. They were great and took our excess luggage over to the island on the ferry. Anni made tons of new friends here already, the taxi stand guys were her favorite to flirt with at the Dar airport. She already feels comfortable saying hi to the locales, even surprising the immigration officer in Kenya with a sweet "jambo." I have been so grateful that the people have been soooo loving and warm to her, a lady at the restaurant we ate lunch at today held her and walked around with her for a few minutes so I could eat. Annikah seems to LOVE this adventure and was a trooper, we know this was a result of much prayer- thanks! Tomorrow we get to spend the day in Nairobi getting ready to travel to training and recover, hopefully I will write and post some pictures when I actually know what time it is, know what day it is, and have showered. Kwaheri!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rohrback family farewell in Lake Geneva

We are currently at my parent's place in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and leave at 6:30am tomorrow for O'hare. I am overcome with emotion and exhausted and at the same time excited and relieved that the past four years leading up to this are really here. We are really doing it, we are not talking about how we are moving to Africa, we are, tomorrow at 10am we start the long journey to get there.

My parents rebuilt their house and it is really beautiful and after hearing just a few minutes of the stereo and sound presentation yesterday I teased my parents that maybe by the time we get back they will actually know how to turn on the radio and watch a movie :) My brother and his girlfriend Annie drove out yesterday (after just getting back from California- thanks guys!) and my sister and mom and dad were here as well to send us off. My sister gave me a beautiful bracelet with a verse from Psalms engraved on it. My mom made a fabulous dinner and we enjoyed a boat ride (Anni has a love-hate relationship with the boat, loves the water and other boats and hates the cold wind and her life jacket but at least she could rock her sunglasses). There were also numerous golf cart rides, trips to the park, more eating, final packing, and some more tears as we said goodbye. Today it was just my mom and Jason, Anni , and I and my mom treated the girls to pedicures (something tells me my feet will not look this good for a couple years- thanks mom). Anni loved the foot bath part but did not want her toes polished. We were sure to end the girls time out with a ice cream as big as your head. My mom is awesome at treating us to Diva Days as she calls them!

Annikah also entertained everyone with her naked Hokey Pokey. It is pretty adorable and she LOVES to scream "more pokey" whenever I try to end the song. There is no stopping her naked Hokey-Pokey!! We will miss you all and love you so much! Thanks for making our last few days in the states worry free and special. Again, we are reminded of the blessing of family and how much we will miss you all!

Bye Chicago!

Monday morning was CRAZY as we got EVERYTHING & ANYTHING left in our place out in about an hour. The youth pastor from our church brought some teens over to grab our couches we were sleeping on and after some final clearing out and cleaning we loaded the car and took off to Lake Geneva. Nothing is left in our home of over five years!! As we finished putting a few things in the storage space in the basement Anni decided to close herself in there. She really understands we were leaving Chicago and, I think, like me she is sad. As we drove away we waved together "bye Chicago" and then when I asked Anni "where are moving?" she replied "tanz." Smart girl! It was rushed goodbye but not without fond memories shared as we drove away. We love Chicago and will be back! On to Africa!

Engstrom family farewell

On Sunday we said goodbye to the Engstrom clan at Jason's Aunt Ruth and Uncle John's house in Elgin. It was a great time of swimming, enjoying the beautiful weather, and eating. Grandpa Lower shared some scripture and Jason's dad prayed for us. It meant so much that everyone traveled to see us off. Anni and her cousins (especially Silas) were inseparable and they gave her a beautiful laminated book full of pictures of them together that will get a ton of use the next couple years as well as some fun crayons and stickers to keep her busy on the plane. Grandma Rhoda also made her a gorgeous apron with her name embroidered on the front so she can cook with Mama in Africa.
All the kids also got to hit a pinata although surrounded by all the boys Anni was a bit timid but was not too shy to enjoy the fruits of the violent whacking. I love these pictures of Joel & Silas with the spoils (or sugar) of their labors. Thank you all for making the day another special memory we can take with us of the loving family we have here in the U.S. We are blessed and we know it!

Monday, June 23, 2008

asante sana

Thanks so much in Swahili to everyone who came, planned, and blessed us at our going away party in Chicago this past Saturday. It was awesome to have so many people who have touched our lives in one place.
They even ordered Garcia's (our favorite Mexican restaurant) and I think I ate enough guacamole for a small Africa nation, at least I acknowledge and embrace the fact that I am coping with the stress by over eating a bit :)

The hosts were so thoughtful and planned tons of fun kid activities as there were many families that have really impacted us there. There was a time of sharing and prayers and of course I was in tears. After the party we were saying we are grateful for this opportunity to share how much people in our lives mean to us, without a major event like leaving we often let important things go unsaid. So asante sana to everyone in Chicago (and elsewhere). We will be far away but we will take part of you all with us as we travel.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

life, death, & candy

Jason's grandmother passed away Tuesday night and her funeral was Thursday. The events leading up to the funeral were a bit chaotic and stressful. Here is a brief list:
On Wednesday I was driving home from a fabulous lunch with Beck & Laura when I thought a car in the other lane was a little too close so I over-corrected and hit a parked Chicago city truck. I cracked the side mirror on my in-laws car and immediately started crying. Annikah fittingly commented on the mess by saying "uh,oh Mama" from her car seat. Yeah, a BIG uh-oh, crashing your borrowed in-laws car!! We found out that due to a budget crisis at our church our monthly support was being cut, Jason finally decided to see the doctor after realizing the duct tape was not fixing the glass embedded in his foot (no idea how it got there). We spent more time at Target in recent days than sleeping trying to get malaria meds for all three of us and other needed supplies. Ugh! After Jason's cell phone screen cracked for unknown reasons (other than to further complicate things) Jason dropped our brand new international cell phone for Africa in the toilet. After being out in the burbs for the funeral I forgot I was supposed to hang out with a dear friend from high school (she took the train to see me only to call my cell (from outside our condo) and find out I was in the burbs). Sorry Kristie!! I have just been brain dead and unable to even check my planner (if I even knew where it is now?). The day my mom was supposed to help Jason unload our moving truck she hurt her knee followed by a crazy lady at the post office hitting her car. Another highlight was waking up to Annikah covered in poop, at least it was her own but it was everywhere, only an early morning hose off remedied the situation. Plus, tons of other minor but nonetheless irritating but not monumental stumbling blocks. Like, seriously is it easier to just die than get out of your Bally's gym contract?

All of that really means nothing in light of more important things but they have weighed on us in an already stressful time. Jason loaded, drove, and unloaded the moving truck all in one day to wake up Thursday morning at 4am to make it back to the suburbs for Grandma's funeral. Anni and I drove up and my mom watched Anni for the day so we could attend the funeral. I usually have quite an aversion to funerals, I know no one particularly loves them but I have distinct memories of my friend from high school's funeral. She was killed suddenly at 16 by a drunk driver and it rocked my world. I could not understand how a loving God could allow this to happen. I struggled with the injustice of it all, the pain, and the fear it created in my heart. Then my paternal grandfather passed away the same year. I guess part of living is seeing others pass away, life witnesses death and yet life continues. Loss reminds me that tomorrow is not promised and that I can only live for today and there are no guarantees except the finished work of Jesus.

Attending Millie Lower's funeral was different . It may be that I am older and maybe a half percent wiser. Perhaps part of it was that while we are certainly busy and chaotic these last few weeks but once we arrived and took a breath it was the best place we could be, with family celebrating Millie's life. We are so thankful we had the opportunity to be here, just a few weeks difference we would be reading about the funeral over email. This has, of course, been in our thoughts as we prepare to move so far away. We will miss out on our life here, on new births, possible deaths, joys and challenges and building memories with family & friends but we are confident God will be with us and with you all, that technology will help bridge the gap of time & space, and that we will be back to celebrate, cry, laugh, and love our dear ones again.

The funeral was really special. Each one of Millie and Jim's five kids shared memories and a tribute to their mom. The tears flowed as each adult child shared how their mother profoundly and subtly taught them, encouraged them to seek and find their unique gifts, served and loved them. Although each one shared something different it was similarly familiar. Jason's mom Rhoda read from Proverbs 31: "She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her." This was a truly fitting tribute.
The Grandsons were all pall bearers (including Jason who wore a borrowed shirt and tie- thanks Mark!). Although it is always sad and painful to say goodbye to someone we love on earth there was a peace about the day, not only because "she lived a long life" but because she was secure in her faith and left behind a legacy of people who were changed by her life. The emotions of the day took a physical toll, many of us were commenting on headaches. It is profound the way the mind, body, and soul are interconnected. Mostly, my headache was the result of crying on and off all day and trying to hold back tears. I sometimes wish our culture was more accepting and encouraging of mourning, the kind of weeping talked about in the Bible, the kind that involves letting go. Not just the sniffles and guarded whimpers but real sobs. Not only because I am usually an emotional mess but because real weeping can be therapeutic and healing, it marks and end and a new beginning.
After the service, prayers, and singing at the grave site Jorie broke the mood by suggesting a stop at the "popcorn shop" as it was known by every and any kid that grew up within a 30 mile radius of Wheaton.
It is actually called the popcorn store and is a 5 feet wide, long and skinny store filled with sugary goodness for mere pennies (well, that was back in the day when I would buy gummy bears for 2 cents and then lick them and throw them so they would stick on the screen of the Wheaton theater- I know what a punk!)
We made the detour and I am sure we were the most over dressed bunch to ever load up on treats but the familiarity and sameness of the rows of glass fish bowls filled with possibilities and the memories of pennies saved and sugar highs of long ago was perfect and peaceful. In a small way it was a reminder of childhood, of change, of life, death, and candy.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Annikah has a good friend Aislin (mostly because Mama has a great friend Beck) and Annikah LOVES to talk about Ais when Ais is not around (she gets too shy when she actually sees her and is completely silent). Anni is always saying "Aisy house....babies....park" Translation: I want to go to Aislin & Indigo's house because they have TONS of babies and baby paraphernalia plus a kick butt swing set in their backyard. It is pretty much a pimpin' kiddos house. Anni shamelessly picks her friends for what cool stuff they have. This week Beck brought Anni a cupcake and since I did not want her to have a sugar high right before nap I saved it for later but was sure to tell her that Beck, Indigo, & Aisy gave it to her. I recorded her brief thanks to Ais as proof she actually does love talking about Ais. (Beck- i finally got it on camera before we go :) And since we are going to miss Aislin's B-day tomorrow I had to post this in honor of Ais. Enjoy Aislin!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

june 25th

there is milk in my fridge that will be around longer than us. Ok, maybe this is weird, sort of an OCD tendency if you will but whenever I have a big date coming up I always think of the time elapsing in relation to the expiration date on my milk.

Since we drink milk rather slowly it usually is in the fridge until the date printed on the milk (or a few days after) so this count down works well for me. So, for example I'll think, "that milk will be gone 2 days before we get to go on vacation" or "only one more gallon of milk before school is out" (hey, whatever gets you through teaching the first year) or "this milk will go bad exactly one day after my curriculum unit is due." I remember buying a gallon of milk that was imprinted with the date September 2, 2006 and thinking "we will have a baby before this milk is gone." And we did, although I am sure that milk sat in the fridge long after that date. It was sitting alone on the shelf through our hospital stay and a week of new baby euphoria with me acting as super woman until the sleepless, weepy, overwhelmed mama set in.

Milk is a good measure to me since we always seem to have it on hand and I glance at it frequently as I grab a glass with a cookie (ok, or 6) or to pull it out to rearrange the crowded top shelf real estate. It occurred to me today that our milk is dated 6/29/08, 4 days after we leave the states. Crazy! We are leaving soon. That is what my milk is telling me.
So, anyone have an OCD tendency you want to share? C'mon we all have our weird thing....

Monday, June 16, 2008

First Free's new building..opportunity

Anni & Charlotte

On Sunday Anni & I needed to make ourselves scarce so Jason could actually get some work done without someone following him around pleading "papa, up....papa up." Our small group from church was serving at MidSommer Fest in Andersonville so we decided to head over and hang with the kids in the new nursery and Rock Star award recipients Beck, Rob, and Kim who were holding down the fort (quite a task with 6 kids running amok during the witching hour*). It was awesome to finally see the new Family Life Center that First Free has been raising funds for and working on for the years we have been there. The kids explored various rooms and we followed behind being sure to pick up anything in their wake. Watching these toddlers run through the space that was so drastically different even months before was a reminder that change is good, it can prepare the way for new challenges, new relationships, new opportunities. That is my prayer for First Free, a place where we have found an amazing community of people, a place where we have been challenged in our walks, a place where we have learned to serve and love, and grow; that the new space would be about dreaming big, about serving and loving the community and would welcome even more kids to run amok in the halls. Before heading out the kiddos had quite an after hours dance par-tay (see video)!! On our way to the car (parked at least a mile away) Anni and I strolled through the crowded festival and it was cool to see our church's booth as they were giving away compact fluorescent bulbs and raffling off a rain barrel this year; way to go green First Free!
*the witching hour is what I call the time after nap until bath or bedtime, usually around 4-7, that is mostly categorized by unreasonable melt downs and general emotional outbursts for no apparent reason.

I actually ran...see

Since I never posted any pics from the actual race I thought I would post a few of my runnin' self finishing the Dam to Dam.

another stop....the zoo

We had to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo before we leave, or as Anni calls it the "monkey place." Maybe it is because we have called her monkey girl since she was a baby or just because monkeys rule but Anni was obsessed with watching them. We did take her to see other animals but she always wanted to come back to "monkeys." All the way home she mimicked the monkeys eating, swinging, and she was also very enthralled that she saw one "pee pee." It was rather amusing as one large ape made her way to the top of the habitat and positioned herself exactly over another unsuspecting ape below and let it go. What can I say? We are easily amused. Annikah also could not understand why the various animals did not respond to her sweet "hi's" but she stil enjoyed talking to them and laughing at their antics.
On our walk to the car we made a pit stop at the Nature Museum because we heard it was free day. We only had time to hit the butterfly room but Annikah loved it, especially the one that landed on Mama's bag.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Papa Day!

Today I want to say Happy Father's Day to my best friend, my husband, and Annikah's Papa. I am so blessed to watch Jason father our little girl. He is an awesome papa and I am glad we get to take this parenting journey together: Happy Father's Day J!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

artist of the wall.... another stop

Every year in Rogers Park there is an annual Artist of the Wall event where people paint the bench spaces along the lakefront and for the past 5 years or so Jason and I have walked past everyone painting and said "we should do that one year." In the spirit of not wanting to regret not doing anything before we left, we decided this was the year.

Not that we did not have a billion other things we should have been doing but we felt creatively inspired and decided to check it out. Last year we went the morning of the event and were turned away because there was no spaces left. This morning we went for a coffee run (we sold our coffee maker at our moving sale) and took a stroll along the lake. We saw the organizers setting up and ran into some friends from the neighborhood who were preparing to paint and were informed the theme this year was "Winds of Change." We immediately thought we had to see if we could snag a spot as winds of change is just too perfect for us right now plus it would be our chance to leave our mark on our lovely little 'hood before we move. After inquiring we entered a lottery and after waiting through some mixed messages and disorganization (yeah Chicago!) we finally got our spot, a nice small-ish step spot right in the middle). After hurrying home to collect some art supplies and sketch out an idea we returned with determination to get a much done as possible before Miss Annikah either A. melted down or B. needed a nap. We were able to enlist an artisy friend (thanks Jill!) and began painting. We decided to paint Chicago on one side and Africa on the other with a cross separating the two. We then painted constant on the cross and winds of change in a breeze over the entire picture. It was our way of representing that Jesus is the constant amidst all of our change. Annikah LOVED painting (no surprise) and really got into it.
She was so enthralled with expressing herself through acyclic that she skipped lunch (Yes- that is how into it she was) and we actually had to drag her away later in the day after she put her finishing touch of her hand print as the palm tree leaves) for fear that she would stay out there adding leaves until she died of heat exhaustion. She helped to paint the sun, all the dark blue waves, and some clouds. Here are some pictures of our masterpiece. I also included a video (Jason is the master of the camera who shot most of it sideways but you get the idea though). We enjoyed our sweaty and creative day, we love our little neighborhood and if you pass along the lakefront path this year stop and think of us and our winds of change.