Reading My Way Home: The Last Train to Zona Verde

As I wrapped up living and working in South Africa, flew to the U.S., and transitioned to life in the U.S., this book was my companion. It was a very fitting companion. This memoir is American author Theroux’s last travels on the continent of Africa. The book starts in Cape Town, South Africa, and moves up the western coast of the continent. Theroux spends significant time talking about the various people’s along the western parts of South Africa and Namibia. This was, for me, a special treat as I spent the least amount of my time in South Africa on the West coast and was always wanting to learn more about the people there.

This is my second Theroux travel memoir. In the first one, Dark Star Safari, Theroux traveled overland from Cairo to Cape Town. In his writing, I found him to be confident, bold, and well, frankly, privileged. But in this memoir, he was aware of his vulnerabilities as a non-African traveler. It made him more humble and reflective. Therefore, I found this memoir to be much more relatable and enjoyable.

At the end of this memoir, Theroux, an American, begins to ask some important questions about why he is doing this. And it is at that point that he is ready to return to the U.S. and use his same lens of curiosity to look anew at his home country. This was the perfect sentiment to carry me home to my own home country.

I, too, will be using what South Africa has taught me in order to look at my home country with new questions and curiosities. I’m interested in what I will find. And I’m interested to read what Theroux has since written about the United States.*

* Specifically, I am interested to read Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads.

The Last Train to Zona Verde: My Ultimate African Safari by Paul Theroux, read July/August 2017

For more about the Reading My Way Home project, check out this post here.


Reading My Way Home: A Yearlong Reading Project

If you know me personally, you know I’m a reader. In fact, my passion and interest in reading has grown over the last few years. And so, as I enter into this time of transition, I have decided I want a reading project to go with it.

So, here’s the plan. I’ve designated the time-frame as a year. Nothing scientific about that designation. But I want it to be long enough to really acknowledge that transition is a long process. I want to have a list of possible books I might read while still giving myself room to be inspired and to change tracks. Therefore, no assigned reading. I want the books to be about this year of transition: books about North Dakota and Minnesota, books about important U.S. issues, books about making home, etc. I’m very open to ideas and suggestions but ultimately I will decide what I’m feeling pulled toward for my reading.

I’ll be posting about my transitions reading on this blog. The project is called “Reading My Way Home.” You can follow it with the tag “readingmywayhome”.

I already have a collection of possible books. Some of them I had. A couple of them I bought. The picture is below. We’ll see how many I read. And what else I read as well. Do you have recommendations for me?

People time

Sometimes, people have thanked us for our sacrifice in serving as missionaries. I always struggled with that as it did not feel like a sacrifice. I was (and am) so grateful for the opportunity. But it is fair to say that time with family and friends was sacrificed, on all sides. In fact, family in the U.S. probably felt the “sacrifice” more than we did.

And so now, in this reentry time, it is really nice to be available to time with family and friends. There are so many tasks and projects (like unpacking from the move!) I am expecting myself to do right away. But the truth is, how can I pass up a chance to be with someone when so much time was missed? And because of all of the travel in my job plus the time our family spent apart since last September, I am reveling in just being around my family. The truth is I can’t really focus on much of anything anyway.

You can’t make up for lost time. But, you can enjoy what you have. So, I’m doing my best to do that.

(Isaac with my sister, Sara, at Concordia College’s annual Corn Feed)

What’s Next?

Way back, before Jon and I had any clue how our transition might actually go, we talked about how we would find jobs in the U.S. in such a way so that we could have a home in the school district where our kids would start school in the (northern hemisphere) Fall of 2017. This seemed like a very ambitious goal. But we knew that more than anything, we desperately wanted our kids to start school on time in the schools where they would stay.

We never got to actually executing that transition timeline as Jon started his U.S. job in September of 2016. And in fact, our kids ended up starting U.S. school a whole semester ahead of our goal. That was a gift as it gave them time to transition and adjust before the pressure of new school year starts. So, our main goal in transition is accomplished. Whew!

Now that our whole family is in the U.S., people wonder what I’ll be doing. Me, too! Let me share with you what I know. First, it is expected that it takes some time to adjust and “restart” life in he U.S. Even though Jon did tons of this for our family, there is still plenty to take care of to get us smoothly operational in a new setting and a new country. Thankfully, the ELCA factors this in for its long term missionaries and there is some salary coverage, based on how long you served, to aid with the bridge time.

With that economic pressure off for a bit, I am leaning into this reintegration time and trying to do the deeper work of arriving. Besides adjusting to living again in the U.S., I am working on settling us into our house and getting everyone ready for a new school season. I am finishing up financial reporting work from my old job as well as doing catch-up medical visits, etc.

In addition to these life tasks, I want to use this intersection to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider what is next for work. Yes, I want a job. But also, I want to be doing the “yes” work – the work to which I am especially called. Is it a congregation? Is it a nonprofit? What does it mean to have accumulated the experiences and skills from the last five years and where/how must I use them? I am curious and open. I don’t know the answers. But I know I don’t want to speed past the exploration.

So, we’ll see what the coming months hold!

Ordering Breakfast, American Style

A few days after returning to the U,S,, I (Tessa) had the opportunity to go out for breakfast with a friend. When the waitress asked me what kind of toast I wanted, I said a tentative, "brown?". The waitress and my friend had a bit of a laugh and it confirmed my suspicion that this was not how to order toast in the United States. Unsure of the correct answer, I asked, "what kinds do you have?". She started listing options and when she said, "wheat," I knew I'd found the comparable response and I indicated that one.

Fast forward a few more days and I was again ordering breakfast, this time with my dad. Luckily I had him order first. When the waitress asked how he wanted his eggs, he said "over medium." That reminded me of how to order fried eggs and when it was my turn, I indicated that I wanted my eggs "over easy." Embarrassing moment avoided. I suspect I wouldn't have remembered the right words had I not followed my dad's example.

This is just a sample of the adjustments and "reprogramming" that is involved in moving to a new country, even if you have spent all but five years of your life in that country.

For the curious, in South Africa, most often, bread is "brown" or "white."When ordering eggs, they can be scrambled. Or, if you want fried eggs, all you need to do is say "soft," "medium," or "hard." It is assumed then that the eggs will be fried.

Grieving and Grateful

As of July 20, all four members of our family are in the U.S. I (Tessa) landed in Fargo on July 20th. It was a wonderful reunion with Jon, Sophia, and my dad greeting me. My dad took us out for dinner after we collected my FOUR bags. And then, I tried to stay awake.

I had one day at home to get repacked for the next part of the journey. Saturday morning, Jon, Sophia, and I set out to pick up Isaac at Norwegian language camp. It was great to have the family together! We then traveled to Minneapolis so the kids could fly out the next day to visit the grandparents. And the day after that, Jon and I flew to Chicago to join other missionaries for the annual Summer Missionary Conference. We spent 5 days at a retreat center outside of Chicago, enjoying a time of worship, learning, and relationships. Everybody at the conference is involved in Global mission service. It was a very good community to be with, especially right now.

Now, as of this afternoon, Jon and I are with a smaller group of missionaries who are ending missionary service. We will meet tonight, tomorrow and Sunday. Our retreat is being led by a counselor who will aid us with "re-entry". All who know our story know Jon has been back for many months. But all the same, I think it will be good for both of us to spend this time focusing on reentry. On Monday, we will rejoin our kids in Minneapolis and then drive to our home.

I still hesitate to say "home" as my heart has not yet fully arrived. I am so grateful to be with my family. And I am so grateful to have had this opportunity for the last five years. But I am still grieving as I left one home for another and am missing life and community in South Africa. It will be a process of reentry. We will keep you posted.


Hello Everyone!

It has been a while! Time to catch you up!

Currently, it is fall in South Africa and spring in Minnesota. Why am I telling you that? Because the Leiseth family is currently living in both places!

Here’s the story. In May 2016, we let Global Mission know that the 2016-2017 volunteer group would be our last group. This was a really difficult decision as our hearts were not ready to end. But ultimately, it was the timing for our children that guided us. Isaac is ready for high school. Since we wanted to have our children complete their education in the U.S., it seemed only right to give Isaac the full high school years in one school.

We knew that timing would be tricky for our return to the U.S. Jon was nearly ready as a diaconal minister (now “deacon”) in the ELCA. I am already on the roster as an ELCA pastor. Where might we live and serve? How could we find employment while living on another continent? How would we listen to the experiences of the last four+ years in shaping the life and work we would be a part of next in the U.S.?

In the midst of these conversations, there was one job that kept calling to Jon. It was a post at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. That is the same place we both worked previous to coming to South Africa (and did our undergraduate degrees!). The post was a newly formed Minister of Faith and Spirituality in Action. As we each read the position posting, it was clear that the potential fit for Jon was great. And so, with a leap of faith, he entered the application process. That ultimately led to a job offer. And so, in September 2016, Jon moved to Moorhead, Minnesota, to begin his work.

I carried on in South Africa, with the help of friends (especially when I had to travel for work).The kids finished out their school years in South Africa. In December 2016, Sophia completed Grade 6 and Isaac completed Grade 8. Isaac even got to compete in the National Debate Tournament before we left (more about that in an upcoming post).

The kids and I flew to the U.S. to be together as a whole family for the holidays. Jon had worked hard and had found us a house and a puppy. The puppy was a surprise to greet the kids when they arrived. They also got to meet the brand new baby of their cousin, Brianna. Those first days were dizzying as we took in the next chapter that was laid out waiting for us.

I returned to South Africa in January for the second half of the YAGM program year. I’ve made a couple of visits back to the U.S. since then. Jon, with the help of family and friends, is solo-parenting and working a busy job. The kids began school in January – to repeat the 2nd half of the grades they had just completed; it was only fair as they skipped half a year when they moved to South Africa.

So now, we have nearly made it during this time of separation. It has not been easy. But regardless of how the transitions and timing played out, there were bound to be challenges.

I will end in mid-July and then Jon and I will be together at Global Mission summer conference and a weekend of “re-entry” for returning ELCA Global Mission personnel. The kids will get some much-needed grandparent time during this week.

After that, the horizon is open for me. I’ll write more about that upcoming, too. I’m not worried. Just curious as to what will be next.

Please keep following this blog. So much has happened in the last 4-5 years. I mean “events” and “activities”. But more than that, we have been remade. I hope we can continue to share that with all of you as we continue to live our lives and “unpack” the impact of the last 5 years. Thanks for reading along!

December 2016, Running to meet dad after 3 months apart (photo credit Sara Moon Waltz)


December 2016. The reunion. I was yet to arrive. The kids & I had missed a connecting flight and we had to split up in order to get flights to Fargo during the busy travel season. (photo credit Sara Moon Waltz)