Archive for 2011

Heroic or Mundane

August 24th, 2011 1 comment

I have been working with Cabrini for about a month now and have really been in the mix of things since the beginning.  One of the things that I have noticed about my work is that nearly everything I do could either be seen as incredibly romantic/heroic or incredibly mundane.  I will leave it up to you to decide which it is:

I drove all around the country tracking down medicine so that AIDS patients can live another day
I spent all day running errands and getting lost because no buildings are labeled.

I helped secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money.
I spent all day rearranging documents so they met the US Government templates.

We nursed two TB-positive twins who were dying of malnutrition back to health.
We agreed to change poopy diapers again and clean up messes after meal time.

I oversaw the installation of a multi-site, comprehensive data network.
I called our our computer to guy to ask why he hadn’t installed the router yet.

We moved from a comfortable house in the States to the most desolate place in Swaziland.
We cut our living expenses by 90% and still live very comfortably.

My salary puts me well below the poverty level in the United States
My salary puts me in the top 5% of Swazi earners

I am a missionary in Africa.
I spend most of my day doing paperwork for a growing organization.

The longer I am here, the more I realize that even in Swaziland, we still deal with the same issues, struggle with the same questions, and measure ourselves by the same standards.  Sure, things are much different than what I experienced on a daily basis in the States, but at the end of the day, it is all how you look at it.

Categories: Swaziland Tags: , ,

The 10 thing I miss

August 20th, 2011 1 comment

Over all, I think most people would pretty amazed at how "normal" our life is in Swaziland.  We have a nice home in a safe area.  We can get pretty much anything we need at the grocery store.  We can drink the water.  The cost of living is quite affordable, and we make more than we need.  Of course if we lived in Manzini or Ezulwini or Mbabane, we would have access to even more amenities.  As one person explained it to me, Swaziland is "Africa Lite" and that is a pretty accurate portrayal.  That being said, there are still some things I miss:

  1. The convenience of being able to eat out – There hasn’t really been any foods that I have craved yet, but I do miss the opportunity to not have to fix a meal, or to just pick something up on the way home.
  2. High speed internet (or any regular internet for that matter) – Quite possibly the biggest challenge I knew of when making the move… especially to Cabrini.  If we were in town, we would have decently reliable access.
  3. Being able to easily look up answers – This is related to the prior, but more specifically, I miss access to google / wikipedia / the library / easy phone-a-friend / etc.  I never realized how much I relied on the internet to supplement my knowledge.
  4. Access to news – sure we have the Swazi Times, but unless you are interested in a strange combination of news, gossip and propaganda, you need to look elsewhere. (I have another post I am working on about the Swazi headlines, but I will save that for another time).
  5. Interacting with a variety of people – Here at St. Phillips there aren’t many people, and those who are here are usually all bound up in the same things.  So it becomes difficult to get fresh ideas / perspectives / experiences.
  6. Netflix and Pandora – Yes, I am back on the internet thing… but, most of my "entertainment" came from these websites.
  7. Snobby Selection – I miss good wine, good beer, good spirits, good coffee, good cheese, good cuisine.  We can get some of all that, but not a great selection.
  8. Ice Cream and Candy – you can get it here, but the selection is incredibly slim and it is very expensive.
  9. Being connected / "in the know" – There is a very steep learning curve here.  Multiple times I have been told to complete a task that I have no idea how to do and with no guidance.  I am also having to learn names and relationships by the truckload.  I miss knowing what is going on.
  10. Family and Friends – Without doubt this is what I miss the most.  We left behind some pretty incredible people and nothing can replace that.

And, here is Beth’s quick list of 10 things she says she misses:

  1. Getting things conveniently
  2. Good Coffee
  3. Kitchen Aid Mixer
  4. Reliable Oven
  5. Bath’s
  6. Friends and Family
  7. Internet
  8. Being able to "Go places"
  9. Ice Cream
  10. Having all her kitchen stuff and ingredients
Categories: Swaziland Tags: ,

My Daughter, the SuperStar

August 20th, 2011 1 comment

We are at about the one month point since our big move (depending on how you count it).  And while in general things have gone very smoothly, there is one area that has been especially impressive: Mikayla’s reaction to the transition.

We have known since early on in our daughter’s life that she was pretty special; she is incredibly good natured, adjusts well to change, and is always happy.  But, we knew this move of 9,000 miles, 7 time zones, and two hemispheres might be a bit much.  However, Mikayla has never waivered.  She has been happy, and spunky, and open to change, and has taken everything in stride.

Just think all that she has been through in the last 2-3 month.  She has:

  • Seen all of the furniture in her house slowly dismantled and given away.
  • Had nearly all of her toys given away or sold.
  • Moved out of the only house she has ever known into a borrowed room.
  • Had the few possessions she still owns packed, unpacked, and repacked countless times.
  • Put up with parents who were stressed, sad, anxious and excited.
  • Endured trips all over as we tried to cram in last minute visits.
  • Had her sleep routine totally disrupted.
  • Said to goodbye to all her family and friends.
  • Taken 72 hours to move across the world.
  • Flown on three planes for over 25 hours of flight time.
  • Been drug through more airport terminals than we can count.
  • Had to sleep in front of a ticket counter because we missed our flight.
  • Put up with her parents as they stressed about their travel plans.
  • Moved into a third home in less than two months.
  • Gone from a crib to a toddler bed to a mattress on the floor to a couch to a twin bed and back to a mattress on the floor.
  • Had to travel over an hour for any "quick trips into town."
  • Lost access to things like parks and play areas.
  • Been mobbed by kids twice her size because they are so interested in her.
  • Tried to figure out why everyone speaks funny.
  • Been kicked out of church (twice) and Sunday School.
  • Had to get used to her Dad working again and her Mom being home.
  • Traded the family dog for two new mission dogs.
  • Had two new family members introduced (the twins).
  • Been forced to share attention, food, and toys with these new kids.
  • Been kicked out of her room again.
  • Had to get used to taking showers instead baths.
  • And, has made all new  friends.

Yet, in spite of all these changes and struggles, Mikayla is still the same resilient, cheerful child she has always been.  She has not skipped a beat, has barely shown any jealousy and hasn’t even been cranky.  All of that is a lot for anyone to go through, let alone a two-year old.  Forget the "Terrible Twos," Mikayla has demonstrated the "Terrific Twos"… and did I mention she was a SuperStar.  I am pretty sure she has handled the transition better than we have!

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

Tour of our Home

July 30th, 2011 7 comments

Here is a video walk through of our new home.  Just as a side note, don’t expect many more videos… it took almost two hours to upload this one and fortunately we found a loophole in our internet connection so we were not charged for the whole time.

The Rest of the Story

July 24th, 2011 4 comments

My last blog post was from my kindle and was typed in the middle of night stuck in Newark airport due to a missed flight.  At the time, things were still pretty up in the air, so I figured you would probably like to hear the rest of the story.  If you follow my twitter feed (@kickert) you will least know we arrived in Africa, but getting there was interesting.

After missing our connection in Newark, I ended up staying up the entire night so Beth and Mikayla could catch some sleep while I watched our stuff.  We basically took over a corner of the ticketing area and made a fort:

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Part of the reason we stayed at the airport instead of getting a hotel (besides the fact Continental refused to help us cover the costs) is because our bags were at some indeterminate location: they came in on Continental, were supposed to go to Lufthansa on the connection, our rebooking was for an earlier Lufthansa flight, but it was being handled by United.  With so many transitions we wanted to be able to physically see our bags to make sure they made it with us.  That meant bugging the baggage agents every hour until they found our stuff. (On a side note, I have never encountered customer service employees as rude and unconcerned as the people at Continental in Newark.  I could write a whole blog on that!)

Eventually they found our bags (actually I saw them rolling past on a luggage cart and recognized them and made them give them to me) so we  could recheck in on our next flight.  It was nice to have our luggage with us because we could get extra clothes out and have the peace of mind that it would probably make it on the plane with us, but it also meant we had to move it all around by ourselves on undersized baggage carts.

I felt pretty confident in my packing ability…


…until we found the cart couldn’t fit through the elevator door.

Once we changed terminals to check in, we found that Lufthansa did not open their ticketing counters until much later in the day.  We were hoping to check in early so we could get rid of our luggage and then go back into the secure area, but no such luck.  We were fortunate enough for Mikayla to find another small child to play with.  That helped pass the time.  I was also able to grab a 45 minute nap which was nice.

Eventually Lufthansa opened their counter and things seemed to be going well until they tried to charge us for our "extra" baggage.  If you will remember, I was already upset because Lufthansa had promised 2 free bags, but Continental had charged us b/c they were the airline of origination.  I flatly refused.  Fortunately, we had a great agent who was very patient and realized the fee was a mistake due to the rebooking.  In fact, she even went out of her way to let us pick our seats.  We got seats right behind first class so we had extra legroom and no seats in front of us for Mikayla to kick.  She even promised to try her best to improve our tickets on our final leg.

20 hours after we landed in Newark we were finally on our way to Germany (we were supposed to have a 2 hour layover).  We were able to talk with the sisters and they were able to extend their stay in South Africa.  I was also able to get in touch with my friend Ben in Frankfurt and he was able to rearrange his schedule to still meet us at the airport.  Overall the flight across the Atlantic was uneventful and even a bit relaxing after what we had been through so far.

Upon landing, I decided to go ahead and get our boarding passes for our next flight before we left customs.  That is when things started getting interesting again.  It turns out that when we were rebooked, they had us listed as standby, but neither the rebooking agent, nor the Lufthansa agent mentioned that to us.  Not only were we on standby, but the flight itself was overbooked.  Frustrated, we walked away to try and figure out what we should do.  I couldn’t imagine the sisters being excited about staying two days extra.

After thinking about things for a bit, I decided to go back to the Lufthansa agents to figure out my chances of getting off standby and actually on the flight.  At least we could try and plan better if we knew how things might turn out.  The agent told us that we had a slightly better than 50% chance of getting a seat.  We took what we could get and headed through customs into Germany.  Mikayla played at a playground in the terminal and we grabbed a quick snack to wait for Ben.

It was very cool to be able to catch up with him when he finally did arrive.  It had been 13 years since I was in Germany visiting him, and almost 7 years since Beth was in the country visiting.  At this point we were all in great need of a shower.  Ben took us back to his apartment where we were able to freshen up and grab a bite of real food.  Mikayla took a quick nap, but eventually we had to wake her up.  She was so tired she fell asleep in the shower.

We then went back to Ben’s parents’ house.  It was pretty cool to revisit the place I stayed for 3 weeks back when I was 16.  Lots of memories came back that I had forgotten.  The Dornhoffs are incredible hosts.  We had coffee and cake and Ben’s mother played with Mikayla for quite a while.

We headed back to the airport to try and figure things out.  We said bye to Ben and head through customs.  We were told our best bet to get off standby was to be at the gate as early as possible, so we made sure we were there over 3 hours before the flight left.  While that was probably good advice, it didn’t do us any good because the flight actually left an hour after we thought and the agents didn’t get to the gate until an hour and half before that.

By far, this was the most stressful part of the trip because we were in limbo not knowing if we were going to make it out of the country that day.  You could say that the worst part was knowing that it could be worse.  This was the only point of our entire journey where I was so anxious I needed to take a Xanax.

Once we did talk to an agent, we were told that even though we were first on standby, things were still not looking good.  They didn’t tell us our chances, but by the way they were talking to us, I have a feeling we were below the 50% mark.  The one comforting thing was knowing that if we did have to stay another night, at least we had people in the area who could pick us up and give us a place to stay.

Once people started loading the plane, we got more stressed out.  Beth and I talked about our options and decided that if we could only get one ticket we all would stay, but if we could get two tickets only, Beth and Mikayla would fly out and I would follow the next day with the rest of our stuff and rent a car.  We divided our stuff up so that could work if it needed to.

With about 10 minutes left before the plane was scheduled to leave the gate, the agents began looking to see if any of the standbyers could get on.  With great relief, I heard my name called.  We all got three tickets, but they were all separate.  I told them there was no way Mikayla could be in a seat apart from us.  They took our tickets and tried to work something out.  The best they could do was get us all in the same section of the plane and hope something could work out.  We took what we could and board the plane with all our stuff.

I am sure the people who had already boarded were not excited to see us come on dragging all our stuff and obviously holding up their departure.  The flight attendants were able to get Mikayala and Beth together, but I was a couple seats over in a different row.  That was fine by me… at least we were on the plane.  But then, something really cool happened.  The guy in the row with Beth and Mikayla heard what was happening and about our journey so far and offered to switch me seats.  He traded a window seat for a center seat in the center section for an 11 hour flight.  Let me tell you… that guy should be nominated for sainthood!  It made the whole flight much easier with all three of us next to each other.

This last leg of our journey was great.  The service was astounding, the food was great, and it was long enough that all of us could get some decent rest.

We landed in Jo-burg and made it through customs without any problem.  Our luggage all arrived and the only problem we had was some of Beth’s mouthwash leaked.  We met the sisters at the gate and were ready to leave.

The whole way to the vehicle you could tell the sisters were a bit nervous.  They had been in South Africa long enough that they had their own luggage with them and they were afraid our stuff wouldn’t all fit.  There was even talk of one of them catching a bus back to Swaziland.  On any other trip, this would have been a concern to me, but after our journey so far, this seemed like a minor issue.  I had actually already thought about this possible problem and thus had packed parachute cord so we could strap things to the roof.  We packed what we could into the SUV and strapped one bag to the top.  No worries at all.

The drive back to St. Phillips took about 6 hours, but was thankfully relatively uneventful.  Sister Barbara was pulled over twice for speeding, but was able to sweet talk her way out of a ticket both times.  The border crossing was easy and they didn’t even want to check our bags.  Excellent!

We grabbed pizza on the way home, got back to the mission, unloaded our stuff and were finally able to breath easy.

From the time we left Bowling Green to the time we arrived at St. Phillips, our entire journey took 72 hours.  By contrast, if our original flight had landed 15 minutes sooner, we would have only had a 48 hour trip, and if we had flown South African Air, it would have been a 35 hour trip.

I must say, in all of this, Mikayla was a super star.  This trip could have been much worse if our toddler had chosen to be a brat, but the worst she got was the last 15 minutes of our flight when she decided to kick the seat of the guy in front of her.  If that is all we have to deal with, I am super happy.

Our first night we headed to bed early.  Mikayla got 15 hours of sleep and Beth and I got 12.  Normally I would think jetlag would be an issue, but our trip was so crazy our bodies had no idea what time it was.

I will end this post with a touching note.  Once we had everything unpacked and all our stuff figured out, I asked Mikayla where we were.  I was hoping she would say "Africa" or "Swaziland" to show she understood that we had just made the transition we had been talking about, but what she said was even more significant. 

"Mikayla, where are we?" I asked.

"Home" she said…. and she was right.  After a month of being displaced and in crazy transition, we have found our new home… and things are great here.

Categories: Family, Swaziland Tags: , , ,

the newark connection

July 20th, 2011 No comments

so today has been interesting to say the least. our final goodbyes went well as did our security check (besides the fact that i was selected for the xray machine and ended up opting out and got the enhanced patdown). then things went downhill.

our initial flight to newark was delayed due to heavy air traffic. we probably could have made it but then we were put into a holding pattern and landed 20 minutes before our connection.  beth grabbed mikayla and a couple bags and made a run for it with our passports and boarding passes while i got the rest of our stuff.  i ended up running through th airport with 3 backpacks and the stroller and car seat.

i was hoping our flight would be delayed but i got a call from beth saying just as she got to the gate the plane was pulling awa and there was no gate staff there. i eventually madeit (after another enhanced patdown) but tere was nothing we could do.

after a half hour on the phone witheveryone saying here was nothing they could do and going through all 3 terminals we found an airline service counter. i waited another half hour to talk to someone and they were able to book another flight the following day at 6pm. however since the delay was not mechanical they refused to comp a hotel room. als they had no idea where my bags wee or where they would go. the only thing i could do was check baggage claims the next morning at both contenital and lufthansa get my bags and then recheck them on united.

we decided to spend the night at the airport so wecould take care of things as early as possible. the best we could do i grab some chips and find a quiet corner to set up camp.

i eventually found another contential desk that told me to come back at 5 to find my luggage but then told me it had been so crazy that they doubted they would talk to an customers till 6.

so now mikayla is sleeping in her carseat and beth is curled up on the floor trying to sleep. i am staying up watching our stuff and writing emails and blog pots on our kindle (hence all the lowercase and typos.)

tomorrow we will try to get it all figured out.  looks like we are heading to frankfurt on unitedthen catching south african air to joburg. we will still make it into frica on thursday but will arrive at 11p instead of 9a. i havent talked to the sisters yt to see if they can still pick us up.

no matter what else happns i am gaurunteed this will be a memorable journey. unfortunately it will be for the wrong reasons. but at the end the day we are in good spirits and mikayla is dealing well. we will keep you all posted as we can.

Categories: Random Tags:


July 19th, 2011 No comments

Right now it is the calm before (in the midst?) of the storm.  We leave Bowling Green in about 3 hours and family is scheduled to arrive any moment now.  Last night we said our goodbyes to close friends and didn’t finish our packing until a few minutes ago.  It has been a crazy few weeks.  It would have been nice to have a few more hours or days, but we have been planning this transition for over 4 years now so I can’t really complain.

Mikayla is very excited about this departure.  We have tried our best to prepare her and she certainly has a grasp of what is about to happen; but of course there is no way she can comprehend how much her life is about to change.

We have about 50 hours of traveling between Bowling Green, KY and St. Phillips Swaziland and that might be interesting with a toddler.  The sisters are meeting us at the airport on Thursday morning and then we have a 5 hour drive to get there.  It sounds like we will have some time to settle in, but there is so much to be done, I have a feeling I will jump in pretty quickly.  It will be nice to have Beth at home to help get things in order.

Lots of thoughts going through my head now.  We are certainly going to miss our friends and family, but I realize it is much different to live overseas now than it was even 5 years ago.  We may not reliable internet, but things like Skype and Facebook will keep us connected when we have access to them.

It is at times like this that the title of my blog, "Dynamic yet consistent" takes special meaning.  A whole lot has changed in our lives in the last 5-10 years, but looking back it is obvious that we have been moving in an intentional direction.  And while today’s move is pretty substantial, it is simple another step towards where we have been heading for years.  I am sure 5-10 years from now things will again look much different, but I am confident the movement will be consistent and for the better.

We will do our best to keep you posted.

Looking forward,


Categories: Family, Swaziland, Thoughts Tags: , ,

Crunch Time

June 23rd, 2011 2 comments

We are down to less than month before we depart for Swaziland and things have been alternating between hectic and laid back.  One one hand we have a lot to get done before we leave, but on the other hand we have been able to enjoy some great relaxing time with friends and family.  Here is our time frame:

June 27 – We want to be out of our house and have it completely prepped for our new renter.  We are in the process of painting, cleaning, moving, etc.  Lots to do in the short term to get that ready.  On the plus side, we are very excited about the tenant who is moving in.  Seems like a very nice guy who wants to stay a while.  Great for both of us.

June 28 / 29 – Head to Somerset to spend some time with Beth’s family.  We will see them again, but this will be our last formal trip that direction.

July 1-3 – Camping with Friends in the Big South Fork.  Again, it won’t be our last time with them, but it will be the last big trip we take in the States for a while.

July 5ish – Catherine and Dave Altmaier are coming through town so we will get a chance to connect with them (Catherine was just in town for a couple days and it was great to catch up.)

July 14-17ish– Spend time with both sides of my family.  First in Western Kentucky (and perhaps elsewhere) and then at Kentucky Lake with my Chicago family.  We ended up pushing back our departure date to make sure we could see everyone.

July 18 – Casual day with friends.  Basically we are planning on just relaxing and enjoying our time with friends the day before we leave.

July 19 – Departure at 5:00 from Nashville.  We are planning on having our immediate family there for the final send off.

July 21 – Arrive is Swaziland.

As you can see, things are getting pretty tight.  In all reality, the only days we have truly free between now and when we leave is the week and a half or so between the Altmaiers coming heading to spend time with our family.  So… if you want to catch up with us before we leave, those are days to make it happen.

In other news, we were able to talk with the Sisters at Cabrini the other day and they are super excited to have us come.  Should be a great environment to be moving into.  Also, they informed us they will be upgrading our housing.  The duplex we were slated to stay in would have been fine for us.  The common areas were a bit small and it lacked a few amenities and was a bit rougher.  But, the new place is excellent.  A good bit more room (especially in the kitchen and living room), better yard / porch with great privacy and shade.  It has ceiling fans and mango trees in the front yard.  I have included a video a previous resident shot while he was staying there.


And then, totally unrelated… here is a picture of my always cute daughter:

Early June and VBS guide 018

Hiking at Shanty Hollow with Mikayla

May 18th, 2011 No comments

The day started out cold and dreary – unseasonably so for mid-May in Kentucky.  It would have been easy to stay inside and waste the day watching TV and surfing the internet.  But, Mikayla and I had plans and we weren’t going to let the weather affect us.  We decided to go hiking at a small lake in northern Warren County called Shanty Hollow (a popular climbing spot for locals).

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Ran into a guy I went to college with and he snapped a few pictures for us.

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Our destination was the waterfall.  Mikayla enjoyed it, but had much more fun just throwing rocks in the water.

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Many people know about the waterfall, but don’t take the time to follow the creek down where it cuts through the rock and makes a very cool ravine.

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We then hiked out along the creek bed, stopping every 100 feet or so for Mikayla to throw more rocks into the water.  Although it was a bit cool and a bit wet, it ended up being a great morning to be out.  Here is a video of Mikayla throwing rocks!

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Here is Mikayla’s tough girl look.  She picked some honey-suckles and then wanted to walk the last quarter mile on her own (up until then she had mostly ridden on my  back).

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Our last stop was the lake shore… where of course she entertained herself by throwing more rocks.  She also found a hawk feather laying on the trail.

Overall it was a great morning that served as a simple reminder of the joys of getting off your butt and into nature.  I figure we had better enjoy the cold, wet weather, because the next several years won’t have much of it!

3 Generations of Chacos

May 10th, 2011 No comments

I got my first pair of Chacos 7 years ago right before my wife and I got married.  A friend’s dog chewed up the cheap pair of Tevas I had and I saw it as a great excuse to invest in some good "hiking sandals."  For most of those 7 years I wore my chacos 200+ days a year.  After about 3 years I had worn the heel almost all the way down and my straps were beginning to fray.  For the next 3 years I kept telling myself I need to get the resoled, but I kept forgetting until Spring rolled around and by that point I couldn’t bear the thought of being without them.  After 6 years they were looking so rough, yet still felt so comfortable; they had molded to my feet and the straps were stuck in the optimal position.  Yet, I knew I had to start looking for a replacement.

I found a new pair of chacos in my size priced half off for a winter sale, so I picked them up  and set them aside for when the inevitable came.  Eventually my lack of self-control got the best of me and I broke them out and started breaking them in.  That was about a year ago.

Then, this past spring while traveling in Africa, I tweeted about wearing my chacos everyday.  Because of that, I was contacted by ChacoUSA.  I told them we would be heading to Africa for 5-10 years and only had limited space, but would love to take an extra pair of sandals.  They graciously sent a gift certificate for Beth and I.  Incredible!

Well today, my new chacos arrived.  In true nerd fashion, I lined up all three generations for a "family portrait:"

Chacos 005

 Black and Blue and New.

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From the worn down "Colorado" soles of my first pair, to the still fresh year-old pair, to the brand new ones.

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Chacos 008

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7 years of wear

When I first took the pictures, I expected there to be a dramatic difference between the old pair and the brand-spanking-new pair… but looking at them, it is pretty obvious they have held up well.  With the Chacos I currently have, I fully expect to get at least another 15 years out of them.  That is a testament to quality workmanship and excellent customer service.

Sure chacos are expensive compared to other brands, but this is a case where I am too poor to buy cheap stuff.  These sandals can go the distance (and even if they can’t, you can always get them resoled / restrapped).

Thank you Chacos for making great shoes!  Here’s to you!