Update on furlough, beginning of 2013-2014 school year, Westgate, and daily life

Hi there everyone! (This was written at two different times, September and October, with pictures added finally in November – then posted!)

It has been way too long since I last posted. One might think that other family members would decide to help out…. 🙂


Vanilla pie!


Leonard family cousins

Our first furlough this past June and July went very well. We left Kenya for the states the night of our last school work day at the end of the school year. It had been two years since we were in the states and we were ready for time with family and friends!


Swartz meal fun


Kratz cousins

Anisa and John were both sick that last week of school, Anisa still even on the plane flight, but all seemed to go well for the most part. (Neither Karen or Anisa like to eat plane food so they said they were hungry….) Anisa did manage to sleep much of the time, in airports and on the planes, which made the other three of us envious.




We arrived safely in PA two days later where we were met by John’s parents, Jim and Margaret. What fun! I loved actually hugging them, instead of just hearing their voice or seeing them on Skype, and then I enjoyed admiring the view all the way to their place from the airport. Everything seems so open since there are very few high walls around properties. Also, the order on the roads was truly amazing and soothing.





Karen knee-boarding in Florida


on the boat with Mike after tubing


Anisa knee-boarding in Florida


Butter-beer in Harry Potter World, Florida!


with the Hills in Georgia



From then on, our summer pace was a bit hectic. We spent an average of three nights in one spot that first five weeks before moving on to another location. It felt cumbersome, yet there were so many people we really wanted to catch up with. In the second week of July we actually stayed in one place for the last three weeks when the girls were involved with some sports camps at Eastern Mennonite University.




Johnson family

Highlights were the memories of each location and the people we were with. We were able to spend time in PA, VA, KY, GA, and FL. Karen and Anisa also enjoyed spending time with friends in VA. Karen, being the busy person she likes to be, also squeezed into her schedule horse riding as often as she could.


Driving lessons with Grandpa -Anisa


Driving lessons with Grandpa -Karen






Grandma Tine, Aunt Teresa, and Grandma


Our 3 party with Katrina, Eliot, Hattie, and Mona.

Then, on July 27 we headed back to Dullas International airport with 12 pieces of luggage to return to Kenya for our next two years in Nairobi.

Once we arrived safely in Nairobi, we unpacked and settled in for three or four days, and then John and I began attending back to school meetings.


Smiles with Mona

About a week after we arrived back in Nairobi, the Kenyatta International airport caught fire! This caused all kinds of havoc with families trying to enter the country for the start of school as well as the rest of Kenya and East Africa. At this point Kenya is using a “tent” setting where I am told many people wait to get on planes and then also retrieve luggage once they arrive back to Nairobi.


Uncle John and Aunt Sylvia


Karen and Anisa with Sue




Karen with Jennifer and Lisa at Karen’s favorite place, Lisa’s horse farm.


First day of school -2013 -Karen grade 8, Anisa grade 9

School appeared to begin well and we looked forward to when a routine would be established so we wouldn’t be tired all the time.

Anisa is now in 9th grade, Karen in 8th grade, John is teaching high school English and coaching varsity women’s and men’s basketball, and Glenda is teaching 4th grade. (Did you catch my note that we now have a high schooler in our family?! )


Anisa on JV -9th grade -2013


Anisa breaking free!



This first sports season Anisa, Karen, and John are all involved in basketball. I, Glenda, tend to fill

my after school hours with taking girls to doctor appointments, grocery shopping, school work, cooking, looking for items needed for the house, etc.


Karen playing defence -8th grade -2013


Karen taking the ball down the court!



Going for the points!

We are also trying a new church this year called St. Julians which so far we really like. (No Mennonite churches nearby for us to consider.) It tends to use a liturgical style of worship and so far has included sermons which challenge us to search for meaning in the scriptures. The number of people who attend any given week varies from about 15-50. We meet in a small one room chapel in the country at St. Julians retreat center about 20 minutes from Rosslyn where we live.


Anisa’s 14th birthday celebration!


friends came over for Anisa’s birthday

We finally felt about a week or two ago that we may be getting a rhythm to our weeks. Finally. It seemed to take longer than what we thought it should.

And now, as of this past Saturday, three days ago, Kenya has been thrown into turmoil with the terrorist attack at Westgate Mall in Westlands, an area of town about 2-3 miles away from Rosslyn Academy. It has been very surreal. Details abound on the situation, yet no one really knows which ones are accurate.

Our family usually goes to do our grocery shopping at Village Market which is closer than Westgate. However, there are times when what we need can’t be found at Village so, in many cases, then Westgate is the next option to try.

For example, the other week I wanted to price a mattress. The Nakumat at Village, Kenya’s version of Walmart, is under construction so they are not carrying mattresses at this time, so I went to Westgate on a Saturday to see what they had. (I had tried to call to find out and save me a trip, traffic can be awful, but phone calls are tricky here. I tried hard to communicate clearly, but was told, no -they do no sell mattresses. Although I knew just a few weeks earlier I had been there and seen them!)

I also bought some fish for our fish tank. That was a huge failure! I was so happy to see the fish swimming around at first, but then they started dying one right after the other. I called the fish store, arranged to pick up a man who helps care for fish as needed (makes house calls) and found out I had been sold diseased fish! I then said surely the store would replace the fish, but no, that was not their policy. I was told maybe they would if I had called within the day I had bought them. Well, I didn’t know I had a problem then! Sigh. Kenyan shopping is very different than American. The customer is not always right and it is often hard or impossible to return items once bought. I have been able to return a light bulb once when I got the wrong type as long as I had a receipt. So, some things are returnable. Just hard to know.

Anyway, back to Westgate. This past Saturday, Westgate was stormed by terrorists during the early afternoon when malls tend to be very crowded. Many people from our Rosslyn community were affected. A staff member and her husband were caught in the building for a few hours while the shooting and grenades were going off. Thankfully they made it out ok without injuries, but were very shaken.

Two students in middle school were injured, one was shot in the arm and the leg, the other has severe burns from a grenade blast. The student who was shot also lost her father who died from gunshot wounds and the other student lost his mother. Many other students at our school were caught in the building for a while, but did manage to get out safely. There are deaths in extended families and or friends of students from school. All are in mourning.

As a school we are doing all we can to support our community. School is continuing, we have counselors present, teachers have been briefed in trauma response, but parents are told to keep their children at home if it doesn’t feel safe to send them or if they need more time to heal. The 50 flags in front of our administration building which represent the countries of our student body are all flying at half mast.

It is now Tuesday night and for the last three days we have been hearing non-stop helicopter noise as they fly overhead, sporadic gun fire noise, and could view thick smoke coming from Westgate yesterday when a fire broke out. (Sunday night around 4am we woke with a start because transformers outside our house burst and gave off loud bangs and flashes of light. I found my heart rate went up considerably at that moment.)

Now, we wait for closure. We are numb from the pain of this situation. Trying to move on with life, even though the “background stress” of an on-going siege just a few miles away is taxing. Praying to God for healing, hope, and peace to all involved. We are thankful for the many who are praying on our behalf.

(That was written in September and then I never got around to adding photos of our summer trip so it never got sent.)

Now for part 2, October 2013.

We are just finishing up our first quarter of this school year. I have parent teacher conferences tomorrow.

I was in the mood to bake this weekend so bake I did! Friday after school I made whoopie pies. A group of high school students “dropped” by after school as well because they were friends of Anisa and Karen and were waiting for an evening school music program. They sampled the goodies.

Saturday I made funny cakes, the crust for the dough was in the freezer from an earlier time, I just needed to thaw it and roll it out. Then I made Savory Brazillian Beans from Extending the Table cookbook for our dinner. I ended the day by making chocolate chip cookies. Some more students ended up stopping by today. They got a snack too.  🙂

Anisa and Karen said their friends talk about how they really like having John as their English teacher, he is so interesting and funny! And they really enjoyed our hospitality! Hmmmm, now how to let them know we don’t want to feed them every day and that weekends, a time when many students tend to hang out at campus to play soccer or basketball on their own or with friends, teachers don’t want to spend a lot of the time with the students at their house! We told the girls once in a while is fine, just not all the time. The girls said students also “drop by” other teacher’s houses from time to time to get a drink or bit to eat as well. We are now one place on the list. Our life is never boring. But how would it be with an eighth grader and ninth grader in the house?

(Interesting notes – The sugar we use here is brown in color, larger granules than the sugar in the States, and at times has little stones or bits of dirt in it. I pick out the bigger dirt that I see but know I don’t get it all. A bit of roughage, I guess. We don’t have chocolate chips so I cut up choc. bars to use instead. My oven heats unevenly, so I always put an extra tray under my baking tray. It seems to diffuse the heat for more uniform baking and less burning. My oven is tiny! I can only use one small tray at a time, no room for more.)


Jacaranda tree in bloom next to school pool. Beautiful.

Karen is not able to play basketball right now because of her hurt wrist. She needs to give it complete rest for a few weeks to see if that can help it heal, otherwise she may need surgery and we really do not want that. She had to give up horse riding too. It hasn’t been easy. In PE right now they have their swim unit. Because she isn’t allowed to swim because of the wrist, she has to run! We are telling her she will be in great shape for soccer season which is next!

Anisa is in her JV basketball season and doing very well. It is fun to watch her play. She has quick feet and knows how to take the ball down the court strong. She is a tough competitor.

John is also in his basketball season, coaching the varsity girl’s team. They have made quite a bit of improvement over the season which is what you want to see. That has been good, but it wasn’t enough to win against the top two or three teams in their league. John has put a lot of time and energy into coaching, and has done a great job!


Remsburgs visit from Saudi Arabia!

In October John and I went to our favorite place to relax, Mt. Lodge. Loved it, as always.


On road to Mt. Kenya. Notice guard rail jutting into road.


Bananas for sale by the side of the road.


Three men on a motorbike.


hauling by bike

Karen had her Cultural Field Studies trip the other week. She said it went well, although she never wants to camp again! They spent their time hiking an extinct volcano named Suswa, helped out at a rural school, and helped to build a road. They also spent some time with the local people of the place they were visiting.

Well, that is it for now.
I will try to write more frequently.
It is important to have good intentions. 🙂

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