I’m borrowing this title from The Hobbit. The most recent Hobbit movies were made in New Zealand by New Zealanders and I really thought when I wrote another blog post after leaving Cambodia, it would be from New Zealand. But instead we have been on an unexpected journey for these past 8 months.
Before we even left Cambodia, I used some of my air miles to purchase ONE-WAY tickets to New Zealand from the US. During our holiday in New Zealand from Cambodia, we fell in love with the country. Though we felt is was necessary to leave the organization Stephen worked for (in the face of a raise and a promotion no less) and that also meant leaving Cambodia, we were by no means ready to give up international living yet. New Zealand seemed like it would be a nice change of pace. We would still be living in a different country and culture but a much easier one: milder climate and English speaking. Stephen was going to look for work with the Maori people to improve their health and I was going to get started on a Master in Early Childhood Education to work with preschool Maori children. We were prepared to get jobs on the ground if our job search from the states didn’t yielded any job offers.
But that is not the way things worked out.
It was only after we arrived back in the states that we discovered that my mother had become very ill. She and my dad needed our help. We decided that moving back overseas right away was not what we wanted to do when my family needed our support so urgently. Even though our flights were still months away, we purchased return tickets from New Zealand and turned our planned move into a holiday trip instead.
Meanwhile Stephen was asked by a former colleague to work on a project. The colleague needed some engineering design work done on a project to build grain dryers for Kenyan farmers. Though we hadn’t been back in the states more than two weeks, Stephen decided to accept the work because it seemed like the kind of project that would be interesting and allow him to refresh his engineering design skills. So he set up his own consulting business and began relearning CAD, engineering design software. He was able to work remotely so it worked well for the unique situation we found ourselves in.
So we lived in rural Montana for this time, which has some challenges not unlike a third world country. The nearest grocery store is 30 minutes away but better stores with more to offer and better prices are an hour away. Very similar to our situation in Tugela Ferry, South Africa. Greytown was 30 minutes away but the selection was not always what I wanted. Pietermaritzberg was 1 ½ hours drive one way and that’s where we did most of our shopping each week. But now that I think about it Tugela Ferry DID have a small grocery store. I only shopped there maybe twice, but it was there. AND Tugela Ferry had one restaurant. We actually ate some delicious chicken and rice there a time or two. :) There are no restaurants in Sylvanite, MT, not since The Golden Nugget burned to the ground.
The Yaak valley has severe weather. More than half the days of the year have temperatures below zero. One day we accidentally left a Nalgene water bottle full of water in the car after a trip to town. The water froze solid and stretched the bottle, though amazingly didn’t break it. We never had to worry about anything freezing in Cambodia. There we had to worry about chocolate melting all over the place or bread molding too quickly if left on the counter or fruit rotting…so many more things needed to be protected from the heat. In the Yaak we had to learn new habits to protect things from the cold!
Cambodia has yearly flooding that causes deaths, displaces people, and ruins crops. We had our own flooding in the Yaak this year. Because the snow was still pretty deep on the ground it held the water so it was all hands on deck to work to dig trenches to divert the water and shovel it out of the garage.
To dig a good trench on the other side of the outside fence, Stephen had to stand in ice cold water up to his waist with only thin rain pants and snow boots with the liners taken out so he could fit into them. We weren't prepared and did not have the gear for such weather.
Our water source is a mountain spring, and after the flooding I had pretty severe swelling in my throat, an allergic reaction to something in the water. We had to buy bottled water and then a Brita filter which helped but didn’t completely eliminate my allergic reactions. Our water source in Cambodia was from the city and it too needed to be processed to make it safe for drinking.
In Cambodia the water came through the tap warm. Which was just about the right temperature for showering, especially if you’d just come in from spending any length of time outside. In the Yaak, the water comes through the tap so cold it “burns”. You have to run the water for about 2-3 minutes before it starts to run warm. And when you are showering if anyone uses water anywhere else in the house you get a blast of freezing cold or burning hot water. I think I’ll take Cambodia!
But just like I would in a third world country, I have tried to make the most of the situation. I did have an oven, something I longed for in Cambodia, so I baked and roasted up a storm. I’m putting together my own cookbook of recipes I’ve invented or modified that I love. I love pastries but the traditional recipes have nutrient poor white flour and way too much sugar. I’ve been finding recipes and then making sweeping modifications to get the healthiest version of scones, cookies, cakes etc. that I can. It has been fun experimenting. I am not afraid to take risks in baking! Of course not everything turns out wonderfully but that’s all part of the fun. I don’t just bake with my oven, I also roast lots of vegetables. It’s easy and they taste amazing. And during the winter I also roasted and baked meat and poultry. I’ve stretched my culinary skills even more which is important to me, building on the skills I developed in Cambodia.
And I do love my horses. Caring for them and my parents’ cat over these past months has reminded me how much I love animals. My horse, the foal of my sister’s horse, was never properly trained. She’s only “green broke” as the cowboys say. I’ve only ridden her once and she bucked me off. I’m not a horse whisperer (which is what I’d need to be with her advanced age) or I would have been riding her all winter. I have deep respect for the big and powerful animals that horses are and I’d rather neither of us got hurt.
By April, my mother’s health had improved enough that Stephen and I felt we could start looking for our next field position. He began applying to job after job all over the world: India, Canada, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ethiopia, Botswana, Singapore, Japan, Swaziland, the US, and Cambodia. We thought he was well qualified for every job and hoped and prayed that one would soon turn into a job offer. Waiting to hear back is so tough and it’s often weeks of waiting to hear either way. So with several job applications pending, we decided to take a tour of the Western US National Parks. It would help us from feeling so anxious while we waited for any news on the job front but also we thought soon we would be headed overseas and might not have another chance for several years to take such a trip.
Just before our road trip, Stephen had an unexpected email message from his old supervisor at Sacred Heart. They wanted to know if he would be willing to come back to his old job as a bio-medical engineer for the mechanic heart/heart transplant programs. He met with the team and told them we really wanted to go overseas again and if a job came through we would take it, but that if not he would come back and work with them again.
During our national parks tour, Stephen received one rejection notice after the next and it began to look like taking the offer to return to his old job was our only option. Stephen even applied for a country director job in Cambodia that we thought he would surely be a strong candidate for. But a week after the closing date he received a message “your application has not been successful”.
So here we are: Stephen is going back to work at his old job part-time/supplemental and we are staying in the US and not moving overseas. For now. This is most unexpected. I did not think we would still be in the US by this point and certainly not back to the city where this journey to pursue a public health degree to serve poor people all started for Stephen. We don’t know what lies ahead but we hope and pray that somewhere in our future is another opportunity to live amongst extremely poor people to serve and care for them. We would appreciate your prayers too for another opportunity to live and work overseas.