Seven years in Africa did little to enhance my technological savvy, but it did open my eyes wider than any of the YouTube shorts I’ve since seen. I’ve never My Spaced, Facebooked or tweeted and as “under a rock” as it may sound, this is my first venture into the blogosphere.
I moved to Kenya after marrying my husband who is a foreign service officer and spent the next seven years following him around for his job. I was 32 when I got married. My husband turned 33 a month later. I’d had a career and was living in DC. Oddly enough, I didn’t stop to think what I’d left behind until one of my friends was lamenting about all she’d missed to join her husband overseas.
What did I give up? A job I really didn’t like, a singles scene that was increasingly tiresome and my family on the other side of the map. My family was the only thing I missed.
What did I gain, besides the coolest safari one could ever hope for? A live-in best friend, three impossibly cute children and a new awareness on life that’s changed me, I hope, for the better.
I grew up in a fairly traditional Mormon household. My mom stayed at home, my dad worked at the local high school and on our farm. My parents weren’t the stereotypical 1950s Mormon couple, however. My dad was nearing the ripe old age of 27 when he married my old-maid mom, just shy of her 23d birthday. She was a teacher when they met and my dad was a businessman with a dream to own a farm.
Five kids later, with me as the caboose, they were living on a small farm in southern Idaho. My mom was almost 40 when I entered the scene and my closest sibling was seven years older. I was the only child born in Idaho. My parents led a nomadic lifestyle before settling on the farm. Perhaps that made it easier for me to pack up hearth and home every two years to follow this crazy life I now live.
Regardless, life was pretty good on the old farm. I couldn’t’ have asked for a better childhood. But as small towns go, the opportunities were lacking and the atmosphere stifling. We moved when I was 11 and I thought it was the end of the world. We left the fertile brown soil of my childhood home for the barren red dirt of Southern Utah. I hated it.
Southern Utah ended up being a fertile land for my growth, with numerous opportunities I’d never have had in my little hometown. I was a social misfit for the first few years until I found my niche in school and then somehow, I came into my own, did well enough in school and went on to college. If someone asks where I’m from, I never say Idaho. I’m a desert girl now.
So how did a little Idaho farm girl turned desert rat end up three continents away in Africa?
My first trip overseas was to visit my brother who was then working as an animator for a studio in Ireland. It was a watershed moment. The travel bug hit and I was hooked—line and sinker—into a desire for life, or at least travel, overseas.
I served a mission at age 21—I couldn’t get my papers in fast enough—and hoped I’d get sent overseas. I did, but not to Russia as I’d first supposed and secretly hoped. Several months before my call, the Finnish mission was split in two. Helsinki East was the mission that was assigned to Russia and that’s where I was called. Little did I know that just a short time before I got my call, permission was granted to open the Russian mission in St. Petersburg and the “Helsinki East” mission re-merged back into Finland. I was ticked.
I entered the MTC with five elders, who all looked 14 years or younger, and three other sisters, who later became some of my best friends and eventual roommates. After making it through the MTC with some sanity intact (2 plus months of the same routine begins to grate), I landed in Helsinki tired and confused. What language were they speaking? It didn’t sound anything like what I’d learned in my language classes in Provo.
My first post was Helsinki. Our house was walking distance from the mission president’s home. Little pockets of Finnish forests surrounded us and often made up our path from one destination to another. Our walk through the woods to the mission home took us past wild raspberry plants that tasted unlike any store-bought berry I’d ever had.
The lakes, trees and quiet splendor seeped into my soul and I became as Finnish as any true blue America girl could. I love that place. It stole my heart and so did the people. I didn’t regret Russia after all.
I can see how so much of who I am has come step by step, some through my own home and some through another’s. I’m not who I was and yet I am. The journey of a thousand miles is a step into the unchartered territory of our souls and with it an illumination of who we’ve always been but just didn’t know it. I felt like that with my marriage and with my first taste of motherhood and with each step along this wild journey that’s become my life.
Finland was a turning point for me. I returned and charted my course on a career that eventually led me to DC where I later met my husband. I’ve visited a lot of places: Ireland, England and Finland of course, Sweden, Holland, New Zealand, Fiji, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Djibouti (yes it is a country), Ethiopia, Dubai and Australia.
Two more continents and I’ll have stepped foot on them all, but there was a time in my life when I didn’t think marriage or motherhood was a stop on the map for me. Blessedly, God took over the compass and I wised up enough to follow. That path too started with a reluctant step and like the pioneer trek that led my ancestor’s westward, my path led through storms and calm, sands and snow and ultimately the place I now call home—the heart of my husband and our three beautiful children—whatever country that might be in.