The Packing Challenge – Part 3

Again, I thought I was done after Part 2. However, I know people were praying for us in our travels, and I need to brag on God and what He did on our behalf.

We’d repacked everything, readjusted, moved things, gotten everything to weight. In some cases, I knew I was pushing the weight limit allowed by the airline. (50 pounds or 23kg — BUT 23kg goes all the way up to almost 52 pounds because a kilo is 2.2 pounds.)

We’d used an industrial scale, the finding of which was a God thing. It just so happened that the son of the people who picked us up from the train had a scale he used to fill propane tanks and it just so happened that he was on vacation and wouldn’t be needing it until after we left and it just so happened he didn’t mind if we used it for our luggage.

We got everything repacked on Saturday afternoon so we didn’t even have to think about it on Sunday. But think about it I did, almost to the point of obsession. I knew I was worrying. There was little I could do to stop myself. All I could do was use the worry as a motivation to pray. So many people told me they were praying too, whether through text message, Facebook, or at church.

Sunday afternoon I called Debbie Guimon. I don’t know how many times she’s made this same trip, many times with large amounts of luggage for the orphanage in Soroti. She couldn’t offer any definite answers, but she did give suggestions for how to handle things if the airline turned out to be as particular as Amtrak had been.

We left for the airport at 7AM on Monday and arrived almost 4 hours before our first flight was scheduled to leave. There was no one in line before us and the good people at Delta/KLM focused on our luggage, as did the TSA people.

They only questioned the weight on one bag — a piece that was already overweight (70lb) but needed a couple pounds removed. Then, they allowed the overweight bags to count toward our luggage allotment and didn’t charge us extra — a savings of $300!

TSA was just as great! They didn’t let James handle any of the bags they searched, but they willingly zip tied the containers and put everything back the way they’d found it. Going through the luggage since then, I’ve not found anything out of place from where I put it!

Everything was still in good shape when we got to Uganda. All the luggage made it intact. Everything got through customs.

Today we head to our house and begin the unpacking process. I love unpacking. It takes so much less time than packing. 😛 Just take the items out and put them in their place. Ah! The relief of it! Order from chaos! It also means this challenge, for this trip, is finally at an end.

A Downside

It’s one of the most painful things we have to do.

It makes our life feel transitive, impermanent, without real physical or emotional ties. It hurts.

It’s a struggle for my kids in particular. This hurts a mother’s heart.

We do it here, then we have to do it again in Uganda.

We have to say goodbye.

We say goodbye to family. This grows harder each time we see them. People grow and age and life circumstances change. Will this be the last time we see my grandma? Our parents? I hope not, but there is no way to know. Will my kids still have fun with their cousins next time they see them or will they have changed so much that there isn’t a connection anymore?

We say goodbye to good friends, people who are like family to us. Unlike family, they have no obligation to us. It’s more of an effort to see them and sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever have another chance.

We say goodbye to people in our church, both our home church in the US and our churches in Uganda. Some of our Ugandan church members emigrate to other countries and we might never see them again this side of heaven.

We say goodbye in each and every church we visit where connections are made. People are busy. I’m busy. We go on with our lives and don’t keep up with those connections like we should.

We’ve said goodbye to missionary friends on the field as they move their family back to the states. Their children are friends with my children. It adds to the isolation we sometimes feel.

Technology is a wonderful thing. It means my kids can keep in touch with people in the US, even talking with them face to face from time to time. They can know their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. They can see their friends.

But technology is a double edged sword. It also means we keep busier than we ever have before. Social media makes us feel connected, but the connection is on our own terms, at our own convenience. It can increase feelings of loneliness for people living overseas, because we see all the activity of those in the states and we feel left out. Even worse, sometimes we struggle with feeling ignored, insignificant, and forgotten.

So, as you pray for missionaries, pray that God will give grace through the goodbyes.

(Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a downer, but merely to express one thing we face and deal with as missionaries. We say goodbye and go on in the joy of the Lord. Some days, however, it is a struggle.)

The Packing Challenge – Part 2

There was never supposed to be a part 2 to this story. I felt like my last post on it was sufficient.

Then we got to the train station Saturday morning.

James and I worked all week to get the packing done. We weighed, repacked, weighed again, repacked some more, until we got everything up to the weight it was supposed to be. Or so we thought.

Packing Part 2

Upon arriving at the train station at 5:30 Saturday morning, we were informed that the bathroom scale we were using was 2 pounds off and all our bags were overweight. Amtrak would not allow them to be checked. They had to be 50 pounds. They wouldn’t even allow them if they were 50.5 pounds. 🙁

I cried. Again.

It did not help that I’d only slept about two hours the night before. (A combination of nervousness about waking on time and lower back pain from all the packing.)

Thank God the train was delayed which gave us enough time to make all the adjustments. We found a way to reduce the weight enough that Amtrak would take the bags in question. This added a box we would have to carry on to the train, but we had no other options.

Then we waited.

And waited.

Then waited some more.

An hour an a half after we were originally scheduled to depart, the delayed train arrived, we all got on with our carry on luggage and found a place to sit.

Thank God for train travel! It’s so much more convenient than car travel, especially when you are tired! We arrived in Chicago along with all our bags, unloaded and met the people who were to pick us up. By some miracle they got all our stuff and our bodies into the vehicles they brought with them and carried us to where we’d be staying over Sunday.

They also had access to an industrial scale. We were able to weigh each and every piece of luggage to verify the weight and add or remove things to get it right! Now we’ll see what happens when we get to the airport tomorrow. Should be interesting, and, as always, never boring.

The Packing Challenge

Numerous times we’ve had people say to us “We appreciate the sacrifices you make!” While we acknowledge the sentiment, we don’t feel like we are sacrificing by living on the mission field.

I have a corner full of luggage that can attest to this lack of sacrifice. :-/

It’s difficult to condense one’s life into a series of 50 pound pieces of luggage, but we must do this every time we make a trip back to the US and return to Uganda. We have to take items we will need but can’t get there. This includes:

  • Sheets for the next couple years. Cloth wears out faster in a tropical climate. We go through about one set of sheets per bed, per year. Growing up, I had a set of sheets given to me that lasted me until I got married. The rate at which sheets fall apart in Uganda came as a huge surprise to me.
  • Clothing is much the same. We line dry everything and we’re careful not to leave it out too long, but it just wears out faster, especially socks and underwear. We have to pack clothes for 6 adult sized people and 2 child sized people for the next term, planning for the growth of the kids in the family. There are clothing markets in Uganda, but the clothes they sell no longer fit my older boys. It’s difficult to find quality clothing in the market. (I’ll come back to this in another post.)
  • School books for all six kids for the next school years. And school supplies. Just before we left on our last furlough, I started to see higher quality crayons and markers available there. But we still can’t get good colored pencils or mechanical pencils of any kind.
  • Shoes for all of us. Half of us can’t buy shoes in our size in Africa. So if we need them, we have to take them with us. You can buy higher quality shoes there, but you pay for it. It’s cheaper for us to watch for sales here and take the shoes with us, even if it takes luggage space.
  • Chocolate chips – or any baking chip we might want. You can’t buy chocolate chips where we live. The available chocolate is poor quality. I stock up on chips here (and dried blueberries and cranberries) so we have them for baking when we get back there.
  • High quality kitchen implements. I cook a LOT in Africa. It takes hours every day to prepare food there, even meals that are “easy” in the US. We’ve invested in a number of items that will make this take less time.
  • Mexican spices. We can get Chinese and Indian spices but not Mexican. Indian chili is NOT the same as chili seasoning. Found that one out the hard way. If we want something to have a Mexican flavor, we have to take the spices to flavor it.

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I had the packing well in hand in preparation for leaving for Uganda.

I was wrong.

Or delusional.

Probably delusional.

Remember how I said that every piece must weigh exactly 50 pounds and be securely packed? Yeah, well that’s easier said than done.

It’s rather like putting together a 15,000 piece 3D puzzle with pieces in a variety of shapes, sizes, weights, and volumes and in total weighs over 1,000 pounds.

I had most of the packing already “finished.” Friday, I had the kids sort all the things they needed to have packed and make a pile. Saturday, I worked to get one piece that was full but did not weigh 50 pounds up to weight. I worked on that for an hour. No matter what I did, the container could not hold 50 pounds with those contents. I finally had to stop and move on to another container. Then that container could not reach 50 pounds no matter what I did. By this time, I’d been working for several hours. I was hungry, hot, and tired. And I was crying.

I think I’m just bad at packing.

Saturday night I barely slept. Remember the puzzle analogy? I laid awake thinking of ways I could get those pieces up to the right weight and still have room for everything.

Conclusion? I opened every piece of luggage with any flexibility on contents and pulled out the heaviest items. Then I took the lightweight items out of the containers and distributed them among the luggage. My nice, neat, orderly row of packed luggage was ruined.

But it worked. I filled the containers. They weighed 50 pounds. I fixed the suitcases and made those weigh 50 pounds. I cheered every time the scale hit the desired weight.

It’s a process. 🙂

It also ought to be a challenge or a reality show: Packing Xtreme. Pick up your life and make it fit in as few 50 pound pieces of luggage as you can using only a bathroom scale to check the weight.

Born Abroad

When you have a baby in America, everything with registering the birth is very straightforward. A nurse comes to your room later in the day after the baby is born or the next day. They take down your information – Parent’s full names and birth places, and that sort of thing. They give you a paper on how to get a Social Security Number. There is no running around, no trying to figure out if you have all the right papers, very simple, very easy.

Having a baby in another country is something else altogether. We discovered that the last few weeks as we tried to register Brennah’s birth. The first step was to contact the American Embassy. James did this just a day or two after Brennah was born. A lady there sent James a list of paperwork that was needed. Here are the steps to register her birth:

  • Obtain a short form birth certificate from the town of birth.
  • Obtain a long form birth certificate
  • Turn in these along with the form for the Consular Report of Birth at the American Embassy

We were to obtain a short form Birth Certificate from here in Mbarara. Thinking this might take a couple weeks, James called the hospital. They were happy to help and he went there and filled out the paper, which was signed by the Dr. We had it only a couple days later! We were thrilled! Things normally aren’t that easy in Africa.

Then James got an appointment at the Embassy in Kampala. You have to apply in person for all the paperwork and an appointment is required. Sometimes it is hard to get an appointment. The only available times were early in the morning. Since we were already going to be in Kampala for the field conference for our mission board we made the appointment during that trip.

We’ve been trying for months to get our work permit paperwork through but things often move very slowly here. About a week before we were to drive up to Kampala James went up on the bus to turn in the short form birth certificate and get the long form one. He also had to check on the work permits so it was a trip with multiple purposes. When he got there he found out that the birth certificate we’d gotten from the hospital wasn’t the right one. We needed one from the Town Council. He called me on his way back and we sent our language helper, Osbert, to get that process started.

In order to get a birth certificate from the town council you have to first buy the paper that is the certificate itself. Osbert did this and the next day brought it to us. James carefully filled it out. The next thing you have to do is get all three LCs to sign it. You have to pay a fee to the first LC and he stamps it, then the other two just sign it. This is where the fun began. The first LC signed it and then Osbert went looking for #2. The second LC took one look at the birth certificate and told Osbert it wasn’t filled out correctly. The first LC could have told us that but didn’t. Instead, he just took the money and signed it, knowing we’d have to come back later and do it again and pay him the second time. So Osbert came back, we got a second paper and James filled that out correctly. Then Osbert went back for the signatures only to find the first LC had left on a trip to Kampala.

The worst part about all this is that we now only had 2 days until we left for our trip to Kampala with our embassy appointment that is hard to get and one of those days was Saturday when they don’t work. We started praying hard about this. That LC really needed to come back! Thankfully, he came back the next day. Osbert was able to pay him for his stamp and signature again (but not before the LC asked for huge bribe!) and then was able to get the other two signatures very quickly. God worked it out so we had our short form birth certificate in time for our trip!

Sunday we traveled to Kampala after finishing at the refugee camp. Monday morning James got up early and went to get the long form birth certificate. The lady that was helping him with that had told him the week before that she’d have the paper filled out in readiness for seeing the short form birth certificate. All that would be needed was the signature at the bottom. But she forgot. She felt terrible about it. But our appointment was in 45 minutes! What would we do? She took pity on James and dropped everything she was doing and filled it out right there for him. He got back to pick Brennah and me up just in time for us to make it to our embassy appointment. God worked it out so we had both our long and short form certificate.

Thankfully, the appointment at the embassy went well. We were able to get all the forms turned in and should have our Consular Report of Birth very soon. We’ll have her passport and SS# soon after that. There was a little issue with the passport photo. We had to go get another one taken and that took a very long time to get done. It took longer to get the passport photo right than it did at the appointment!

Now Brennah is a citizen of both America and Uganda. When she turns 18 she’ll have to choose with the American government which country she’ll be a citizen of permanently. (Uganda recognizes dual citizenship but America doesn’t. She’ll always be a Ugandan citizen.) Until then, we have a true African-American living in our house and all the Africans we introduce her to remind us that she is one of them. 😀