Monday, July 6, 2009

what i will miss the most...

now that i have seen, I am responsible 

faith without deeds is dead 

now that i have held you in my own arms, 

I cannot let go till you are 

These are lyrics from a song , Albertine, about a young girl from Rwanda by Brooke Fraser, and they sum up my feelings about Rwanda after experiencing the genocide memorial in Kigali and another memorial in a small town, Nyamata. 

Let me start with the genocide memorial...

Yesterday afternoon, I experienced the genocide memorial in Kigali. It was very moving and incredibly informational. It started with the history of the genocide and specific things that contributed to the horrific events. I saw pictures and read small facts about people and places. They also have the only video of any events that occurred during the genocide. They had interviews that I could watch of survivors, telling about what had happened to their parents, children, and brothers and sisters...a room of pictures of victims...a room of clothes of victims, including a child's superman bedsheet...and finally, a room of bones. The events of the genocide become more and more real with every room. The last part that I walked through before leaving was the hardest and saddest for me. It was full of children who had their lives taken from them for no logical reason. There were poster-sized pictures of these children but the hardest part for me was their short biographies listed below...they gave things like their favorite food, favorite past time, family members, and at the end, how they were killed. It really made the genocide more real to me than it has ever been. These children were brutally killed, basically because of where they were born, and it's only by God's grace that none of us were born here. 

While the memorial provided me with so much information, the church at Nyamata made the genocide real. Nyamata is a small town about 30 minutes outside of Kilagi that saw many deaths in April 1994. The Catholic church we visited was where 10,000 people went for safety, only to be handed over to the killers by soldiers who were supposed to be guarding the area. Now the church is covered with piles upon piles of bloodstained clothes and mass graves with coffins holding the bones of more than 25 people each. Only 7 people survived, and one of the young men walked around with us and shared some of his story. He was only 8 then and went to the church to hide with his older brother. When the killing started, his brother told him to lie down and pretend to be dead. His brother who was killed with a machete laid on top of him so that his blood could cover him and save him. And yet, this man, Charles, can forgive the men who did this to him and his family. He and many others live their lives surrounded by people who were involved, and they preach forgiveness and reconciliation. It is an amazing thing to be able to talk to someone like Charles. 

I have been talking with others here about what could possess men to do such terrible things, things so horrible we can't even imagine, and our only possible answer is the devil. He took over these men's minds and bodies. My other question is this: What can possess men to be able to forgive and live peacefully together after something as horrible as the genocide? The only possible answer is God. God's love and grace is so evident here. I feel as though I can't look around without seeing it, and that is what I will miss the most about Rwanda. 

Friday, July 3, 2009

i've missed you kigali...

Ahhh, Kigali...good food and fast internet, who could ask for more?

We arrived here around 2 after being crammed into a small church van type vehicle with about 40 others. I got to sit on a pull down seat in the middle of 4 others, and I had to fight for that seat! The driving in Rwanda can be a little scary at's very curvy and they drive very fast, passing other cars around just about every turn! But we made it safely, so don't worry!

Yesterday, we finished up at Sonrise. We made a thank you banner for those who sent items in the containers and took lots of pictures with the kids there. We had lunch with several teachers and the Head Master, and we even got to show them around the workroom we made for them. It was very rewarding to see how excited they were, and for us to be able to show them! It was a great ending to my time in Musanze. I was also able to set up communication with a P1 teacher there, Teacher Jane, and take pictures of her students. When I get back to school, we are going to do our best to correspond and send pictures, cards, and letters to our students. I am very excited about sharing this experience with my kids in class and feel like it is going to be an eye-opening for them to see children their age live such different lives.

Last night, we got to go visit with Bishop John and Mrs. Harriet at their home. They just returned to Rwanda and had many visitors over, and we were able to have dinner with them and talk about our time here. It was really a great experience...they are so kind and welcoming. 

We are at Tom Allen's now...we feel like we are at a resort! Happy 4th of July! We will be celebrating here too!

4 days and counting until I get to see your faces,

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

what a day, what a day...

To get you up to date...

Blayne and I went to Gisenyi to see Lake Kivu this weekend. It was pretty amazing, the closest I've come to an ocean this summer. We relaxed on Saturday, and I actually got some sun! Sunday we went to church with the secondary students at Sonrise. We got to see the students sing and dance, and a student preached but we had to listen through a translator which is a little hard...

Yesterday, we went to Sonrise to start on the teacher workroom but the shelves weren't ready yet so we talked to a few students and got some interviews about the containers that came from Fellowship to put on a thank you video. 

But today was a great day! We got to Sonrise and our shelves were delivered so we could start organizing and putting up all the supplies for the teachers to use. It was quite the task, but we managed to finish it this afternoon! Seriously, it was definitely a God thing...just wait til you see the pictures! We had to limit our help to about 6 students, but we could've had about 100...they were very eager and willing to help us which is nice. We went through at least 65 boxes of supplies--books, markers, pencils, math manipulatives, tape, crafts, toys, etc. Basically anything you can imagine, we went through it today! We finally finished and walked outside to the trash where we found about 50 kids rummaging through to find anything that we might have looked over. We didn't miss much, so we saw kids take construction paper pieces, old border, beads that dropped out, pretty much just trash, but they didn't care at all. They were excited to have anything. It made me tear up to see how happy they were with nothing compared to most kids in the states who aren't happy until they have everything. I was sad, but they weren't...they were content with anything we had left over. It was a pretty good life lesson for me! (and I was especially glad Blayne learned it too...haha!)

Needless to say, today was a happy day for everyone! It is a relief to have the project completed, and we are almost finished with everything we came to do. Right now, I'm enjoying some African tea after riding my bike...yes, I actually rode a bike without wrecking! our favorite restaurant. They love us here, everyone knows our name! We are heading to Kigali on Friday to wrap up our trip...good times, good times! 

As Rwandans say, until we meet again,

Thursday, June 25, 2009

back to everyday life...

I know it's been a while since my last post, but honestly there hasn't been much excitement here. I think I'm starting to see what day to day life would be like here. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I've actually been cooking dinner...crazy, I know. I'll tell you a little about the house reminds me a lot of a beach house, lots of rooms painted bright colors. There is a big yard with a garden in the back. There is a fence surrounding it and a gate with a guard all day and night. It's really nice. Blayne has been working on it a lot to get it cleaned up and somewhat organized. B2R usually sends boxes with food to keep here...things like rice, spaghetti, peanut butter, etc. So, there are a lot of the staples here and then we get fruits, vegetables, eggs, etc. at the market/grocery store. (probably not the kind of grocery store you're thinking!) It's very small without many choices. I organized the pantry yesterday, another big surprise I know...I guess Africa brings it out in me. Don't get any ideas for when I come back though...haha. 

Blayne and I finished the pictures and video for the student profiles on Tuesday afternoon, which means now we have to download all of that and make separate folders for each student. We worked on that most of the day yesterday and we are almost finished. We also did a written profile for each student...they filled out a short questionnaire for us and the school to have on file which took most of today. The students are taking exams this week and next so we had to have lots of help tracking down the kids we needed. Luckily, the students are pretty great here. They still have some of the high school attitude, but generally really want to get to know us and help! I met a P1 (1st grade) teacher today and took some pictures of her classroom. I've thought of some good ideas to connect my kids with some of the students here, and I'll be excited to get those going once school starts again. Next week, I'm going to sit in on some P1 classes and talk to some of the teachers. We will also work on organizing a teacher workroom at Sonrise, which will be fun but there is a LOT of stuff to organize and separate. 

We're going to dinner tonight...I've had enough cooking for this week! And I seriously am trying to load pictures but they just will not upload, so I'll keep trying but keep your expectations low and then you may be surprised, haha! 

missing you all,

Monday, June 22, 2009

oh, virunga...

To catch you up...

Sunday, we went to church with the primary students at Sonrise. It was very sweet and fun. The kids there are full of energy and loved to sing and danced to pretty much every song. The von Trapp siblings sang too, and we even got to hear them sing the yodeling song from The Sound of Music. It has been stuck in my head for about 2 days now. The service started at 7:30 and lasted 2 hours, but it was great. We were introduced to all the kids, and the pastor prayed for us before we left. We ate lunch at a hotel, Las Palmas, and played a lot of cards that afternoon. It was a relaxing day, we were all pretty exhausted. We waited until about 10 that night and walked down to the hotel to call our dads to wish them a happy father's day. It was good to hear a familiar voice!

Yesterday, we went to Sonrise to work on profiles for students who need sponsors to help pay their fees to be able to go to school. We have about 175 to do...which means taking pictures and a 1 minute interview for each. Most speak English but a few only speak French. We got about half way through, and we are going back today to hopefully finish. It was great to be able to talk to them and hear things they loved about Sonrise and what they wanted to be when they finished school. We also asked how they wanted to help Rwanda and become a leader for their country, and all of them are eager to create better living conditions and help the less fortunate. Honestly, I can't imagine many 7-9th graders at home being so eager to help and work hard to make their home and country a much better place. 

After we finished, we took a 30 minute taxi up a mountain to the village Virunga. We decided to have dinner at a lodge there, but first, we hiked about 20-30 minutes to a small village. When we were almost there, we heard a little voice yell "Muzungu!" (white person) and then we saw about 30 kids running to us. They walked with us through the village and were eager to know everything about us. They asked our names, where we were from, our favorite country in Africa (Rwanda, of course!), our jobs, and even our email they were going to email, I'm not sure but they gave us theirs. They LOVED having their picture taken and would practically knock us down trying to get in the picture with us. We saw mothers with their babies, and we even got to hold a couple of them, although I think they were a little afraid of muzungus! Mandy and I wanted to take a couple of the babies home with us, but surprisingly, they wouldn't let us! They followed us throughout the village and almost all they way back to the lodge. They were the sweetest kids, and it was hard to say goodbye to them. I wish you could see pictures of these kids...words don't do them justice. We walked back to the lodge and had a really great goodbye dinner for Mandy and Kell. When we got back to the house, we didn't have electricity so we just laid around and talked. It was a great day.

This morning, our friends Mandy and Kelly left. I was sad to see them go, we had become good friends and it was nice to have them around. Blayne and I are getting ready to go back to Sonrise to work on the profiles some more. The house is feeling a little more empty everyday...people keep leaving us! We are working hard and having a lot of fun! Love you and miss you all!

More to come soon...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

gorillas in the mist...

It's been a couple of days since my last update, and about a thousand things have happened, so this may be a long one, get ready...

Friday morning, Mandy and I left the house at 6:15 to go to Kinigi which is where the volcano parks/gorillas are. We weren't sure if they would be able to fit us in or not, so we got there and talked to the head guy and had to drop a few names :) and wait. After about an hour, he put us in a group only to take us out and make us wait about 20 more minutes! Finally, we paid and got our permits and were able to join our group and get ready to go. There were 6 others in our group, mostly people our age, and a guide/porter (someone who helps cut branches, etc. out of the way), and 2 armed guards (scary, huh?). We had a driver who took us on some very rocky roads about 20 minutes up. When we got there, around 8:00, we hiked about an hour through some farming areas. About 10 minutes into the hike, I stepped in about a foot of mud and was covered almost to my knees...isn't that a great way to start?! We finally got to the wall to cross into the volcano state park around 9:00. (A little background to gorilla trekking...2 trackers go out that morning and look for the gorillas and radio the guide to tell him where to take us, the whole trip usually takes around 4 hours). When we got to the wall, our guide told us we would see gorillas in about an hour. 4 HOURS LATER, we finally got to where they were! And let me just say, this is a hike through very treacherous terrain...none of you will actually believe I did it until you see the pictures! At 1:00, we saw our first silverback. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. We were literally 10 feet away from this huge gorilla! We got to spend one hour watching the family, and one even walked right in between us, I could have reached out and touched him. There were 4 or 5 babies, rolling around and climbing on the momma's backs. We took about a thousand pictures, and one hour was not enough time to watch! We had to leave around 2:00 and hike back almost 2 hours. Our trip lasted 7 hours, and the next morning I could barely walk! I will have lots of pictures, but I can't post them right now because the internet isn't great, but I can't wait to show everyone!

Yesterday, we went to Kwita Iniza, the baby gorilla naming ceremony. It is a really big deal in Rwanda, and there were thousands of people there. It lasted until about 3:00 and last night, we had dinner for about 15 people at the house. It was very interesting to see a Rwandan ceremony with native singers and dancers...quite an experience!

More to come, but my computer is dying right now! 
Happy Father's Day!!!! Love you and miss you all,

Thursday, June 18, 2009

I made it!

I finally made it! After 26 long hours, by myself, I finally made it to Kigali. Tom Allen, B2R's country director in Rwanda, picked me up from the airport around 7:00 Tuesday night. He, Julie Hamilton (a friend from college), and I went to eat at a restaurant called New Cactus. It was actually really good...I had chicken pizza, probably not what you were thinking as African cuisine, huh? I spent the night at Tom's house in Kigali and slept in the next morning. Tom picked up 2 girls from South Carolina, Mandy and Kelly, from the airport that morning and we all headed for Musanze. Kelly and Mandy have been in an orphanage in Tanzania for about 2 weeks and came to Rwanda for a week. They are great, and we have become good friends.

It takes about 2 hours to get to Musanze from Kigali, and we finally arrived around 4 that afternoon. We made one minor stop at the jail there to help a friend of Tom's who had been wrongly accused. Tom helped to get him home, but the jailer there tried to trade him for one of the girls...luckily Tom didn't let that happen!

We got to the Musanze house and made our first trip to Sonrise. It was amazing! We went to the primary school (grades 1-6) and saw the kids playing with the new soccer and basketballs they got. They were so excited and having so much fun!

After our trip to Sonrise, everyone in town for Kwinta Inzina (the gorilla naming ceremony) went to dinner at Hotel Gorilla which is just a couple blocks from our house. There are about 12 of us in town right now, including the von Trapp siblings (yes, they are grandchildren from the Sound of Music) and a few others. We had dinner together and went back to the house for a night discussing our answers from The Book of Questions. It was really fun and interesting to hear everyone's different viewpoints. 

Today, Blayne, Kelly, Mandy, and I went to the open market. It was quite an experience! Luckily Blayne knew a few tips so we didn't get Muzungu (white people) prices! We also went to the fabric market and looked around. Muzungus feel a little like celebrities here, everyone stares and waves at you, and is generally happy that you are there. We took some pictures there, and all of the kids love to see themselves on your camera. 

We also went to Sonrise this afternoon and played kickball with a 4th grade PE class...I'm not sure they actually got the concept of kickball, haha, but we had a lot of fun with them! After our kickball game, we went to chapel at the secondary school where the von Trapps sang for all of us. They wrote Sonrise's school anthem and sang it with all the was pretty awesome. 

I do have some pretty exciting news...Mandy and I are--hopefully--going to see the gorillas tomorrow morning! We have to leave at 6:15 and hope they will have a spot for us, most likely, they will, but pray that we get to's going to be an adventure! I am very excited! 

Hope you are all doing well! Rwanda is wonderful, but I do miss you guys!