- Spend all year shopping for the best bargains on all the things you have on your list. Have your child try everything on first so that you do not sew nametags into things that you will end up giving away.
- Wonder how you could have accumulated so much in one short year. Request an absentee ballot, update your will, store important things at your in-laws, sell your car, and make sure you have enough support to return to the field. Feel your heart break a little more each day as you start saying goodbye to friends and family.
- Look at all the stuff you are supposed to pack and try to find enough suitcases that do not have holes, missing handles, or broken zippers—and then decide that you will use them all anyway. Pack and weigh everything. Re-distribute to keep them all under 50 pounds while trying to keep all the stuff that will end up at boarding school together. Get a headache. Take some ibuprofen. Pray. Decide what you can live without. Decide you cannot live without the Bible you have used for the past 14 years—the one with the taped-up binding and all the markings, notes, prayers, and praises—even though you now have the same version on your Kindle. Re-shuffle and weigh again. Go to sleep and try to forget about leaving the next day. Wake up the next day at 4:30 AM and remember the pepperoni in the freezer. Repack one more time, because pepperoni is not optional.
- Say goodbye to your family and your two oldest children who are staying in the US for college. Cry. Call everyone one last time while waiting to board your airplane. Watch at least seven mindless movies during your flights, because you cannot sleep sitting up. Do go to McDonalds in Frankfurt, even though the meal costs a ridiculous amount of money.
- Get to the guest house at 1:30 AM. Be glad that there is water and power and internet. Wake up the next morning. Realize that the water, power, and internet are no longer working. Eat the local food. Enjoy yourself. Catch up with friends you have not seen in a year. Open up four different storage rooms before finding the stuff you stored a year ago for your child to take to boarding school. Repack. Fly to another country.
- Arrive at your best friend’s house. Thoroughly enjoy catching up. Take a bus to the boarding school and meet other families going through the same bittersweet experience of leaving a child at boarding school for the first time. Understand one another instantly. Sleep in the unheated boy’s dormitory on ancient bunk beds. Be very glad that you have done this before and brought your own pillow and blanket. Say goodbye to your youngest child. Cry again.
- Enjoy a final cheeseburger and Coke Light. Call your youngest child one last time.
- Get used to walking around the capital city, watching out for pickpockets and ready for either a sudden downpour or the intense sun at 8000 ft. Shop for all the things you cannot buy in your local markets. Find your wireless-modem adapter. Plug it in. Realize you do not have any minutes left. Find a place to buy minutes. Send an email back home. Do not forget that once you disconnect and are reading your emails you cannot click on a link in an email and have the website come up. Eat the local food again. Try to go to sleep (even though it is only 3 PM at home). Wake up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Navigate out of your room into the dark and cold night air to the bathroom down the hall. Sit on the toilet without falling off, a challenge because the toilet seat is not attached to the toilet. Be happy that there is a toilet seat. Be happy that the power is on so that you can find the toilet paper. Try to get back to sleep.
- Fly back up to your “home” town. Dredge the local language out of the deep, dark, forgotten recesses of your brain. Get over the initial shock of how dirty, disorganized, dilapidated, and dingy everything is. Call the electric company because one of the three phases of electricity in your house is not working. Be very happy that the phase of electricity that the freezer is on is working. Try to remember where you packed your sheets, blankets, and pillows so that you can make your bed and sleep tonight. Take your mattress out of your bedroom and hit it repeatedly until there is only a minimal amount of dust flying off. Begin boiling water so that it can get cold in the refrigerator so you can drink it later. Wait for the power to come back on. Clean out the water filter. Go out and buy some bottled water. Sit down and drink some water. Remember that you are back at 7000 ft and do not want to get dehydrated. Fall into bed and sleep for eight hours without moving.
- Wake up at 4 AM to the grinding of the cement-block-making factory and the trickle of pigeon droppings rolling down the metal roof. Begin digging everything out of storage and unpacking your suitcases. Try to get used to having your hands covered in layers of dust every time you touch something. Be very glad that you bought a used vacuum cleaner from someone, even if it does not have a handle and you have to get on your hands and knees to use it. Wash your hands for the fiftieth time. Feel a pang of grief when you walk by your kids’ empty rooms. Remember they that will all be home for Christmas. Smile. Thank God for bringing you home!
Question to consider: What’s on your list as you transition from one country to the next?