We arrived to our new, very temporary home in Washington D.C. on January 1st and quickly got busy resettling. We found a new Classical Conversations group and a new church. John dove into JMAS: Joint Military Attaché School, where both civilians and representatives from all branches of the military train to be attachés at a U.S. embassy abroad. Living on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling meant a very quick commute, a safe neighborhood for the kids to play, and beautiful trails along the Potomac to enjoy.
During our short time in DC, we had more more visitors than any other time in our married life – we’ve never lived so (relatively) close! We enjoyed getting to be tourists alongside family and friends, checking out museums and monuments and state parks.
Much of our time in DC was spent figuring out the logistics of our move to Botswana, unpacking our shipment from Monterey to strategically repack with a weight-limited move in mind. After completing JMAS, John and Kirsten had a week-long course together focused on emergency preparedness and different contingencies that could arise in an overseas context. April included a fast trip back to IL see the final season of the Zion Passion Play, which we and our families have been involved with for many years. John was gone for the month of May training in his new plane, and upon returning we travelled to Pennsylvania for a belated memorial service for John’s grandmother, who’d passed away earlier in the year. Back home, June brought more visitors and three waves of movers. In between shipments, we snuck in a quick weekend trip to Ocean City – John’s first time there in several years and with kids old enough to really make memories. After a full day of playing on the beach and enjoying the magic of the boardwalk, Daniel declared that it was his favorite day ever.
In July, we drove back to IL/WI with a stop to visit Uncle Chuck and Aunt Annette in Ohio (thank you!), arriving in Zion to celebrate Audrey’s sixth birthday with pizza on the beach. The following weeks were full of quality family time – lots of people to see! Thanks to both sets of grandparents, we got away without the kids for a quick trip to Colorado. Kirsten bagged her first fourteeners (four of them!), we enjoyed some beautiful hikes around Vail, and we were able to visit with good friends and family in Denver and Colorado Springs. Later in the month, we traveled up to Door County, WI for a few days with Kirsten’s family and made sure to get out on the water a bit before moving to a landlocked country. Inevitably, the end of the month-long visit came faster than we imagined possible, bringing many bittersweet goodbyes and uncertainty about when we’d next get to see many of our loved ones.
On August 1st, the six of us, more than a dozen bags, and our German Shepherd Kaia got on a plane and flew to Botswana. The kids traveled amazingly well, all but three of our bags arrived with us (and we got those within a few days), and Kaia made it (somehow, after 28 hours of travel, with a clean crate). In the jetlagged blur of those first few days in country, John left on his first trip in the C-12. Due to some maintenance delays, our house was not available for the first two months of our time here, but we settled into temporary living and began to figure out the lay of the land.
We found a solid local church, in which close to 20 countries are represented on a given Sunday morning. We were able to move into our home at the end of September and receive our express shipment, which arrived by air and included our much-appreciated kitchen essentials and linens. Unfortunately, our main shipment has been delayed half a dozen times now, which, among other things, has made for some creative homeschooling. When we packed up in June, we expected a 3-4 month wait, not a 7-8 month wait! Eventually though, we look forward to truly settling in and making our house a home.
One of the kids’ favorite parts of our new house is the pool! They’ve been swimming just about every day the weather allows. Our yard is perfect for catching lizards and watching a wide variety of birds. Kaia met her first monkey on our roof – thankfully we haven’t seen him since! Daniel and Audrey are progressing in swimming lessons and eager to get back to piano once our shipment arrives. We’ve been able to connect with a number of local families with kids and look forward to building those friendships over the next few years.
John got busy right away with two new jobs – one as a pilot and program manager for the C-12 aircraft based in Gaborone, and the other as the Air Attaché assigned to the embassy here. In the first role, he supports embassies throughout southern Africa by helping transport people to hard-to-get places in their assigned countries. It’s important for diplomats to get out of the capital cities, but in many cases roads may be dangerous, seasonally impassable, or non-existent. Travel time could be days or weeks, and there may not be any commercial flight options. Because the C-12 can land on short, dirt strips, John and the other pilots play a (fun!) role in connecting both U.S. diplomats and host nation personnel to far-flung regions of their countries. In just our first few months here, John flew to Angola, Zambia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, and throughout Botswana. Closer to home, as an attaché, John works with the Botswana military, especially the Air Force, to better understand our mutual security interests in the region and improve opportunities for cooperation. He also advises civilian leadership at the embassy on military issues, and together John and Kirsten represent the U.S. in diplomatic roles for official visits and events.
We were able to spend Thanksgiving in South Africa visiting John’s brother Stephen and his wife Jessica who serve as Bible teachers in the Pietermaritzburg area (about ten hours from where we live in Gaborone). It was almost surreal to be together – something we never imagined would happen before this assignment. We took a little hike in the Drakensberg mountains, played plenty of board games, and introduced the Thanksgiving holiday to a house full of guests from all the different circles of their life. A big highlight for Kirsten was attending a Bible study with Jessica and getting to see a glimpse of her ministry and the ways God is at work in the relationships they’ve been building.
Leading up to Christmas, we traveled north with Stephen and Jessica to visit Chobe National Park and Victoria Falls. Although it’s considered to be low season for wildlife due to the rains (more available water and thicker bush means it can be harder to find animals), we had an amazing trip! Early morning game drives and evenings on the river provided an abundance of animal sightings. It was a gift to enjoy so much quality time with family, forming memories we’ll cherish long after these years of being neighbors.
It’s hard to believe how much was packed into this year – full, but rich. Heading into the height of summer on the other side of the world, we’re not missing the sub-zero temperatures and howling winds of the Midwest – though we’re certainly missing family. Thankful to God for his many blessings, home and abroad, we’re excited to see what this next year brings.