Sometimes birthdays are memorable for the celebration, the milestone, or something learned. This last one will be remembered for an entirely different reason. After spending some time in the States to work on a few things I returned to Kenya to meet the family in Nairobi and have some quality time together. The day we were to return to Mombasa, April 1st (the day before my birthday) turned out to be the beginning of a long few days. We decided to drive across downtown Nairobi in order to avoid massive traffic jams on the way to our flight. A few days earlier it took us 2 hours to go 12km. However, this meant we had to sit inside of a coffee house (Nairobi Java) for about 4 hours. The kids studied, Erika and I read, we played games and ate. Every seat was filled and the place was packed. After about 3.5 hours we were getting ready to pack up and as I was exiting the bathroom Brennen came in an announced that we had a problem. With a strange look on his face he proceeded to tell me that Erika’s bag was missing. Now if I pause here just for a second and give a little background, it will help you understand my response. A few years ago the kids thought it would be really funny to tie every t-shirt and pair of underwear of mine together in a rope and then put them back into my drawers. I can still remember them rolling around on the ground unable to control themselves as the roared with laughter. Fast forward to Brennen announcing to me this seemingly bad news. Intent on not being hoodwinked again I made sure I heard him correctly and then marched out of the restroom and back to our seats with a big grin on my face. My smirk, which was meant to communicate, “you didn’t get me this time”, was not reciprocated in the way I was hoping. Erika had her ‘serious’ face on…yeah that one. She was not happy and I quickly realized I needed to switch gears. I prayed for God to give me the ability to handle and work through whatever it was that I was about to encounter. As it turns out, while we were seated in the crowded area, someone took her bag. Yes, the bag. The one that has ‘everything’ in it. And this time it had more than usual. We had just made several trips to the US Embassy to apply for new passports for the kids. This meant she not only had all of our passports, but their original birth certificates, not to mention $450 cash, credit cards, debit cards, her ID, our US taxes, her bible, journal and pictures of her great grandmother. Without IDs we wouldn’t be able to board the plane. Without money or cards we were kinda stuck. Since I have watched too many secret agent movies I proceeded to make the rounds of the mall, check all the garbage cans on the premise, walk the surrounding neighborhood (not quite advisable) and look into the windows of cars in the parking lot to see if I could spot someone rifling though Erika’s favorite bag and wallet. A funny aside is that as Syd and I stood looking out over the parking lot, her thought was that she was wearing sandals and if we saw the person she could kick them off and run barefoot with me to catch him.
To make a long few days and story short I’ll just hit the ‘highlights’. We make some calls, cancel our tickets, ask our amazing friends the Hyodos if we can crash at their place and then arrange for a driver to pick us up. Two hours later, with all our bags and in the middle of heavy traffic we make our way to a police station to file a report. The officer proceeds to tell us that though they are the closest, the theft took place across the street and we needed to go to another station. So we made our way to the second of the night. We entered and had an officer stare at me for about 2 minutes before asking what I wanted. He reluctantly said he could do something for us, though the pace with which he moved could have fooled us. After about an hour (with the kids still sitting in a car down the alley) he opened a huge ledger book and asked us what was taken. Actually, he asked, “where are the items that were taken.” Barely able to control ourselves we patiently explained the situation. Then he took a white piece of paper, ripped a square corner off, wrote a number on it and stamped it. He then told us they only had one copy of the form we needed and that we could either come back the next day or go to any police station and they could help us. Now pause with me for a minute. There are no computers, no network…just the huge ledger and me with my torn off piece of paper. The thought in my mind was, “how in the world is anyone going to be able to help me at another station if all the information is in that book.” I was assured it could happen and was told something about them calling this officer and him reading to them what we had just enumerated. Completely unconvinced, but without any other options, we left to the Hyodos, arriving at around 11pm. We cancelled cards, called Jeff and Malia (great friends in the States), called the US Embassy emergency line and prayed (though we were praying throughout). The next day we woke up and went to our third police station in two days. I was semi-arrested a few days earlier and held for a couple of hours as they tried to get money from me so technically it was the fourth police station, but that is a story for another day. This station didn’t have even one copy of the form we needed, so a trip to a nearby cyber cafe was in order to print our own copy. With paper in hand we returned to the police station and the same process as the previous night ensued. The officer opened her huge ledger book and asked what was stolen. Erika repeated the same list, she wrote the list of items in the ledger and on our form, stamped and signed it and we were on our way. Next stop, the US Embassy. With copies of our passports in hand and an emergency appointment we were ushered into a completely full waiting area. 6 hours, one trip to get pictures taken later (serious security every time you enter) and $1000 lighter, we emerged with emergency passports for the whole family.
It is Easter weekend so there are no available flights for 4 days. We invade the Hyodo’s home, which was already full of visitors and they graciously hosted us. We enjoyed an amazing birthday dinner which wouldn’t have taken place had we not been in Nairobi. We got some more down time and hung out with our friends. We saw God provide for us in the midst of what was a pretty stressful time. I don’t think I remember very many of my birthdays, but I will definitely remember this one. Life may suck sometimes, but God is always good.