Lucy Steinitz and Bernd Kiekebusch went to Africa as tourists, but came back to their Columbia home hooked on that huge, tumultuous, fascinating continent, able to think of almost nothing else except how to get back there.
So in December -- after trips to Africa and one extended stay there -- they put the word out on the Internet. Resumes were posted, contacts were made, and within months they had jobs, a place to live, a new rabbi and scores of e-mail friends in their new home: Namibia.
Come June 13, Steinitz and Kiekebusch, who have been married 17 years, are packing up their two children and moving to Windhoek, the capital of the desert-dominated country on the southwest coast of Africa, home to 1.7 million people.
Kiekebusch, 51, a computer services administrator in Rockville, says moving to a foreign country without having set foot on its soil is exhilarating. "This is really not the normal thing that computer people do," he says with a laugh.
The family plans to stay in Namibia at least 13 months, Steinitz working as a volunteer social worker helping delinquent teens in a "colored" township -- populated mainly by people of mixed racial descent -- while Kiekebusch works as a computer systems analyst for the Namibian government.
Steinitz -- a 45-year-old child of German Holocaust survivors and former executive director of Jewish Family Services of Central Maryland -- says her family is doing "what other people only dream of doing. It's very exciting to start life again, and to have the opportunity to do it as a family is wonderful."
Wanderlust has long infected Steinitz and Kiekebusch. The pair met while on a camping trip in Iceland in 1978. Kiekebusch, who is German and not Jewish, was an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Wuerzburg in Germany, and Steinitz was a Ph.D. candidate in social work at the University of Chicago. They managed to communicate in the few words of English and German they shared and were married in 1980 after a commuter courtship.
The couple traveled all over the world, but found that Africa held an undeniable pull. They visited Morocco and Egypt in northern Africa and did the inevitable safari in Kenya.
They began to envision the change from tourists to residents in 1994 when they took a three-month sabbatical in the southern African country of Zimbabwe with their children Alsita and Sergio as volunteers for the Jewish Volunteer Corps, a nonprofit organization that matches American professionals with short-term assignments all over the world.
Steinitz says the one thing she always regretted not doing was joining the Peace Corps in her early 20s. In Zimbabwe, she worked as a volunteer in community development and fund raising in rural Zimbabwe, while Kiekebusch worked for the same organization on administration and computer systems.
During their three-month stay in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, Steinitz, Kiekebusch and their children, both adopted from Guatemala, lived in a two-bedroom apartment with no refrigerator, no telephone, spotty electricity and a some very curious neighbors.
"Zimbabwe was a beautiful, warm, open country," Steinitz says now. "The people there were so wonderful to us and our children during our stay there. They touched our lives even more than the volunteer work we both did."
Steinitz says the family is moving to Africa because she and Kiekebusch want to continue the Jewish ethical imperative of "tikkun olam", which means the "healing and repair of the world" in Hebrew.
"I'd like to think we're helping to repair the world, one person and one community at a time," Steinitz says. "The joy is in the relationships, in the openness we experienced and the relationships we built."
The couple's German will be useful in Namibia, where many still speak the language of the country that colonized that part of Africa and ruled it until World War I. More recently, Namibia was dominated by South Africa -- which called its neighbor Southwest Africa and imposed on it the system of racial separation called apartheid -- until Namibia held its first free elections in 1989, a vote that preceded the changes that took place South Africa.
"The experience in Zimbabwe told us that living in Africa was good for our family," she says. "Going to Zimbabwe taught us that we could do it, we could leave everything and go back to a place we knew almost nothing about."
Kiekebusch adds: "It's very gratifying to be able to teach our children that life is about giving back. Africa is not an unknown, frightening place. It can be an adventure."
Both say the family will return to the United States before their children finish high school in order to improve their chances of getting into an American college. In Namibia, Alsita, 10, and Sergio, 9, will start out at a local public school with Namibian children, but will transfer to an international school later in the school year.
To make a firm commitment to their new life thousands of miles away, the family sold their spacious, airy home of the past 13 years in Harper's Choice. They're renting it back from the buyers until they leave.
Besides clothes, Steinitz says they will take with them to Africa only the things they absolutely need -- binoculars, cameras, lap-top computers, a toaster oven, lots of medicines, and boxes and boxes of books.
They will live frugally, travel and soak up as much of the culture of their new homeland as possible.
Kiekebusch says they'll miss their friends, but eagerly anticipate the exquisite adventure they are confident awaits them.
And he says: "There's always e-mail."
Pub Date: 5/25/97