Sunday, December 11, 2011

hope is where the heart is

As I was walking down the railroad tracks this morning to catch a bus into Seattle, I was greeted by the most beautiful view of the Olympic mountains. Pinks and purples illuminated its snow peaked majesty as it towered over the glistening lake below. The view was spectacular. I thought to myself about how lucky I am to be surrounded by the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. It was a moment where I just stopped to breathe in the wonder of my home. This is a piece of what fills my heart with gratitude upon my return.

Leaving a familiar place is never easy and I don't think it is ever meant to be. It's a reminder that what you've taken a hold of has became yours and it is in fact, a part of you. The last few nights before we flew out were spent reckless and free, soaking in every second with one another. We stayed up running around wildly, playing tag and hide and seek barefoot until the wee hours of the morning. It was as if we had all reverted to our childhood, forgetting the creeping reality of our departure. We laughed hard, soaked in the sun and shared our fears of leaving. A group of us didn't even begin packing our bags until 3am in the early morning before we were leaving. We tried to hold onto every moment, knowing that we would soon have to let it go. 

The looks from our house staff is what made it the most difficult as we said our goodbyes. Their saddened faces clung to my heart as our hands swept the air while we waved from the car. I thought about how hard it must be for them to invest so much of their lives into students each semester who inevitably will leave. Goodbyes that don't promise future hellos are truly awful. It didn't help the situation either that the weather the last two days were some of the warmest we had seen in the recent months. The landscape of the hills, brushed kindly with the light of the sun were the images that I wanted to stick with me forever.

Our plane ride was tiring to say the least but it was with the comfort of friends and that made it bearable. We went from Rwanda to Uganda to Ethiopia to Rome to DC. It was 26 hours of flying and watching the sun rise and set in the sky above to bring us back to the motherland. I was dreading it, only because it was here that I knew I would have to part ways from all my new found friends. The majority all live on the East Coast and were a hop, skip and a jump away from home. I on the other hand, had an added 9 hours to travel with only the company of strangers. 

Saying goodbye in the airport was beyond bitter, I could only hope sweetness would find its way to me later. They were some of the hardest goodbyes I've given yet. I spent every day with these people for the last four months. We learned together, discovered the rigged, pressing, and difficult things in life, side by side with one another. We shared tears and more laughter than your gut can possibly handle plus the beauty of living and growing in a foreign land. This group of people who were once peculiar strangers quickly became like a tight knit family to us all. Now, as we've spread out across the country we're left with texts, phone calls, and computer images to connect us as we share in the difficulties and particulars of returning.

 Being back comes with a new set of challenges and joys. Some days there is a longing and nostalgia that feels as though it could never be quenched. It just sorta drops down into your heart and gut like a heavy stone that you then carry around with you. Other days it feels as though you never even left. I find those days to be the hardest. While life has carried on for the rest of my friends and family, I've gone through an experience that has marked and changed me in ways that are difficult to even begin to describe. Picking up right where I left off is no longer an option after these four months. 

Now, I am left to reconcile and wrestle with what I've learned and found in Africa as I carry it with me while in America. It is an uncomfortable and difficult process, like straddling two countries and trying to find a balance in it. I am only reminded that wherever I am, to throw myself into it wholeheartedly and passionately. Thank-you for reading along with me all the way from Uganda to Rwanda. I ask that you wouldn't stop here, for I know this won't be the last time I find myself in the beautiful continent of Africa.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

a whole lot of goodness!

"There's gonna be a wedding... you're invited." -Aidah (our house cook).
A couple of days ago our neighbors had set up this giant white tent and started MCing right in the middle of our literature class. Come to find out that our neighbors were putting on a wedding and apparently we were invited. Sometimes our house staff forgets to tell us things. But don't worry, we used our handy dandy trampoline to see right over the fence at the festivities. Sure, we probably could've walked on over but where's the fun in that? And yes, you read correctly... our Student Life Coordinators unearthed the pieces for a trampoline last week! Go ED Africa will certainly never be the same. Even though the workload has been backbreaking, we always manage to find a mental break by revisiting our childhood years and jumping wildly.

The last couple of weeks have been such a joy. We had an incredible Thanksgiving feast with over 20 guests and even got to play American football in the National Stadium! Definitely felt like a dream tackling my housemates on the very field that I watched Rwanda beat Eritrea. The food was of course beyond delicious and we even had the macy's day parade playing on the projector throughout the day.

beaches in Gisene
Two weeks back a group of us students took a weekend trip in the western province to a place called Gisene. It's right on the boarder of Congo on the biggest lake in Rwanda. It's one of the "must visit" spots of Rwanda. During the three hour bus ride we traveled through the mountains where the infamous silver back gorillas live. I was hoping to spot one with my pretty little eye, avoiding the $500 fee that it costs to travel into the mountains to see them. It was unsuccessful. But! We did get to see the volcano erupting just 30 miles from us which was absolutely spectacular in the dark of the night. We also had made reservations for a hotel but planned on searching for a hostile once we arrived to find some cheaper accommodations. We didn't quite think that one through since we didn't factor in how we'd be arriving at night and had absolutely no idea where the heck we where (or really even the hotel where we made our reservations). So when our bus finally stopped at where we assumed could only be Gisene, we were searching around for our next move. Miraculously we happened to run into a nun who pointed us towards a nearby church hostel where we slept for only $3 bucks. There are definitely nun like the catholics, that's for sure!

learning to weave but most just poking myself with the needle
cultivating and planting sweet potato
our day spent with the artisans
Pottery at a studio in Butare
We're now in the final week here in Rwanda. It feels totally unreal that it's actually December. Nothing about this place reminds me that it's winter and soon it'll be Christmas. I think we're all in a bit of denial that it's really almost been 4 months. I think the only thing that has reminded me of how long it's actually been is how much my hair has grown since I first flew here. We've got a lot of living to do in this last week!

Friday, November 11, 2011

just another day in Rwanda

It's been a while since I've wrote here, partly because of the busyness that has ensued but mainly because life has resumed to the ordinary things. Well, at least as ordinary as life is here. We're now half-way through our second set of classes which we are all enjoying quite thoroughly. The work load is definitely more demanding with this set of classes but the reward in it has been worth it. We have our post-colonial african literature class three times a week and then our african culture and traditional religions class usually once a week for seven hours. It definitely says something about our professor, since he's able to keep our attention for the majority of the seven hour class. There's something special about reading the literature of the people here and diving deep into their culture and tradition. I feel all my years at the University have led up to this point where I'm really putting all I know and have learned into what we're doing here. It's no longer facts and theories to be studied but people and actualities to be experienced. It's a very satisfying feature to it all. 

Some interesting events during the week: 
Sunday, me and another girl from the house found a rec Ultimate frisbee team that plays in Kigali. Both Rwandese and some expats come together each week for some games. It was the most refreshing and invigorating thing to get involved in, especially with the sun blazing down with a slight breeze. Bringing me straight back to summer!

I killed my first meal ever on Monday. We had 6 turkeys brought to our house to be killed and sold. Two that are gonna end up on our plates for Thanksgiving. So us students got the chance to begin the first step of this process by beheading the birds. It wasn't as bad as I would've imagined. I think becoming acquainted to the lifestyle here has made it seem a lot less inhumane and more like the way of life and survival.

The same day we had the annual Go ED cookie bake off where we had 8 entries of delicious treats. It's definitely a stretch figuring out how to alter recipes, figure out substitutions for the things they lack here and beat out everyone else with a killer recipe. I ended up last minute making up a cookie recipe of my own with another girl. We called them Crazy Crispy Caramel Drops and they ended up being quite the hit! We took first place with our random creation and now have house bragging rights.

We ended up at another national futbol game at the stadium next to our house yesterday. Tickets were less than a dollar for this world cup qualifying game with seats overlooking that overlooked the cloud filled sky and beautiful hills surrounding the stadium. The scenery felt unreal, with colors I only dream of painting. Rwanda ended up taking the cake 3 to 1 against Eritrea and it made for quite the match. My favorite part was watching the crowd go wild over each call, foul and goal. I didn't even need to know what was really going on, I just had to watch the movements of the crowd and their reactions to get the clearest picture.

Today we leave for Gitarama where we're gonna visit a pottery studio that one of the NGO's set up. Then tomorrow we're doing a program where we live one day in the life of a Rwandan in the villages. We're gonna cook, fetch water, weave and see what it really takes to live the rural life. Should be quite the treat!

The crowd after Rwanda scored their second goal.

The kids at the Center for Champions doing their favorite thing... dancing to Chris Brown!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Life at the Center for Champions

So we’ve been in Rwamagana, which is in the Eastern Province of Rwanda at the Center for Champions for a week now. Tomorrow we say goodbye once again to the kids we’ve met (they’re leaving for break) and then the next day we end practicum and head back to Kigali. I haven’t updated much on what we’re up to now, since we only had 10 days here and it’s been plenty busy but I’ve been enjoying where we are. As much as do long to be in Hoima, I thank God for bringing us to the Center to meet all the kids that we have, they truly amaze me. The Center for Champions is a community for street youth and vulnerable children who haven’t had an opportunity or ability to receive an education. Most of them are orphans and were part of a child headed household. They come into this program and get to catch up on their education, many live in the dorms on the compound and they participate in a myriad of things set up by the Center. It’s funded based on sponsorship, so it’s been pretty neat being on the other side of sponsorship with helping the kids write their sponsors and sending them updates/pictures. Our time has consisted of a few projects: sort, label and set up the library, plan a worship night, bible study, etc. But our main purpose has just been to spend time with the students each day and get to know them in the short time we have. I’ve learned to never underestimate or take fore granted time you have in a place, even if it is few. It’s been a difficult lesson but I am constantly being amazed by how much love these kids have shown us and how we’ve built friendships, even in such a short time.

Basically my days have consisted of at least 3 hours playing basketball, an hour or so juggling the futbol or playin a futbol game, jump rope, art room, time spent in the library and of course some time spent just talking and hangin out with the kids. It’s been great, all of us girls fit in great playin sports each day with the guys. Since it’s the rainy season here, we find our greatest battle to be against the massive amount of mud we encounter after a ridiculous downpour. Yesterday, me and Hannah went out on the field (which is straight up mud after a hard rain) and played Frisbee for a good hour or so. We walked out barefoot since your shoes will basically be destroyed if you try anything else. Two other guys went out and joined us and we slipped and slid all over the field as we played. My hands and feet were painted an orangish tint from the dust soaked earth. We were dirty but we didn’t care. And even after semi-preserving ourselves and our clothes, we ended the night with a hardy mud fight and a terribly cold shower. The days have been good to us.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

look a little deeper

For three nights now I've been dreaming of Hoima. This morning when I awoke it took me a good 30 seconds to realize where I even was. We arrived back in Kigali after a 9 hour long bus ride from Kampala. It's been a good thing to have a moment to stop and really think about everything that has happened. From the time we were told we were being pulled out of the country we were only given 24 hours to pack our bags and say our goodbyes, processing the situation was almost impossible in the rush of events. This time has been good. Our brains have had a day to slow down and unwind. A day to untie the knots that are constantly balling up inside. A day to think.

I've thought a lot about the decision that was made. It's still hard not to feel a lot of anger about it, it's a process I know. I think a lot about everyone we left. I think if it was dealing with only us, it might be easier to let go but it is beyond that. A whole community is affected by our quick evacuation. We had staff that had been planning well in advance for the two upcoming programs. National officials and government workers who were meeting us at the refugee camp, expecting a team of people. Now Pastor Danny is left to clean up after a sloppy decision of a pressured man. Teachers also who were going to be given a vacation during our one week take over are forced to resume as usual. And the one that gets me the most are the HIV women we've spent our time with. We know that even after the staff explains why we had to leave, they still won't understand. Women who have been abandoned in so many ways throughout their lives have been abandoned once again by people who've claimed to love them. You just have to imagine how it must feel, especially when the understanding just isn't there. It looks as though the Americans are just peacin' out at the first sign of danger. Where is the camaraderie in that? It seems as though are lives are considered more valuable than the lives of our brothers and sisters, solely by where we were born.

For us Americans it seems like the best decision. Better to save the name of an organization and shy away from "risky" decisions than to consider the lives within a community. This mentality of running at the slightest sign of danger really sickens me. I am reminded how the most powerful nation has responded in the past. What was the response of the one country that had the influence to change the events of the genocide in Rwanda? They removed themselves completely and waited until it was too late to act. We were too busy bent on whether or not we could put a dictionary definition to the actions that had taken place. Beyond that, I am just astonished how easily we buy into the hysteria caused by the media. Obviously one small ripple in the North means a tsunami for all of Uganda, right? A problem for one city doesn't mean the whole country is in danger. That's stupidity. How much longer are we going to allow ignorance to be our crutch and excuse with these issues?

I've found that throughout all of it, it hasn't been the removal itself that I've found to be so frustrating but the thought process behind it. Thankfully, the goodbyes to me weren't as painful as I know they were for the other three girls who have just fallen in love with these people. I know these people and have already had the surprise and pleasure of being reunited with them. And when I had to leave, I had more peace and confidence than ever that God has seen the desires of my heart and will continue to meet them in the future. It was still difficult saying goodbye, just as it is to know you will be apart from your family for the time given but I have hope for what the future holds.

I want to leave you with a little video that was taken during our time in Kapapi. I never got to write much about our week at the health clinic but I hope this gives you just a glimpse of what makes it just so hard to leave...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

forced to leave

this morning my heart stopped. I hoped it was just a glitche, but morning soon turned into a long day which will now continue into the next two weeks.

Let me explain…
This morning us four girls were called from our deep dreaming into the kitchen for a quick word from Pastor Danny. Our tired eyes from a night of poor rest carried into the next room as we were finding difficulty functioning outside our beds. We sat down, still half asleep and were told something we could have never imagined… the program was pulling us out of Uganda immediately. The words spilled out on the table in disarray and at first we did not believe. We were hoping Pastor Danny was just joking with us as he almost always is. But this time his voice was different. We all stared at him trying to comprehend that giant of a sentence. We tried to get our bearings, simultaneously asking if he was serious. Then he began to explain that Grace (our practicum field director) had called him early in the morning, informed him of the decision and would be arriving shortly to discuss with us about our removal that would happen the next day. My tired eyes still were not adjusting. We were briefly informed that because of the US military presence in the North, there has been concern of our safety from the program director and sending universities and with that, they were evacuating all the practicum students in Uganda. I think at that point it started to hit us as tears of frustration carried down our faces. How can people with no actual on-ground assessment make such an vital decision? We had only twelve days remaining with a week at a refugee camp and teaching at the school.

We are safe. In fact, we are more than safe and that is where our tears flowed from. Being removed from a place where there is absolutely no threat or reason to be evacuated was and still is beyond devastating. Beyond that, I have been utterly disappointed and frustrated with how the Go ED has dealt with this situation. Those relaying the information to us about this decision were equally as confused and distressed, only taking orders from the director who had no actual contact with our site director or us students. Imagine the disrespect to the family that has kept us and cared for us, as well as the staff of UAOG as no one had even been informed about this process of decision making. Frustration doesn’t fully describe what is felt.

Our promise of two more weeks with this wonderful family of people was now cut short. We cried seriously as we imagined having to say goodbye, leaving our work unfinished. A week would no longer be spent at the refugee camps, no more time with the kids at Precious Children and no time to even say goodbye to all the women we’ve built relationships with in the time we’ve had. This was it. No warning to any of these people we’ve invested in. We carried ourselves to church, upset, devastated and partly in denial that this would be our last time at Victory Family with the people we’ve already grown to love. I think people were slightly confused as to why all of us girls were crying during the whole service. It was hard knowing that we’d have to part so abruptly from all our friends. All of a sudden all the wonderful things were just so bitter. Hearing the kids laugh made us well up with tears. Having church members greet us made us wipe our faces. And oh my, singing together made me seriously ball. It was a sadness of a different kind. We sang “I’m so glad to be a part of this great family…” None of us held back our tears during that. I smiled while I cried. These people changed my heart once before and now they had only grown that love all the more. I laughed as I cried too because their joy caused me to do so. Somehow I couldn’t help but smile as we sang and danced together, even though I was shedding tears because I knew it was over.

After informing the congregation and staff of our unexpected departure we quickly planned a barbeque dinner for a small sense of closure. Tonight we roasted duck and pig. I’ve never laughed so incredibly hard and felt such an overwhelming sense of love and belonging. It’s pained us all to have to explain the situation and how we have absolutely no control. We told them, if it were us, our hearts are saying “If we are to die, we are to die together.” Unfortunately our hearts do not have a say in the decisions of our leaders. After eating, we sang together and shared so much laughter it was almost painful. We ended the night each by explaining the impact that we’ve had on one another and how we truly had become a family. They gathered around us and prayed over us, all praying together. This really brought the tears as each of our hearts melted and were completely humbled by these people. We are really loved here.

Tomorrow morning we are forced to pack our bags and leave for Rwanda, something we are not willing or ready for. The pieces of our hearts that are grafted to these people are being painfully torn.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I'm home!

Wowzers! I apologize that it has been a while since I've been able to write you all, we've been so busy that I've found it difficult to sit down and write about everything that has happened. Also, power here is pretty scarce so my computer spends most of it's time dead, unable to be charged....

The kids at Precious Children
Well! I'm almost unsure of where to even begin, so much has happened since I've arrived in Hoima. Saying I'm happy to be here doesn't begin to describe how unreal it is to be back. It feels like I've returned home. Seeing all the familiar faces has made coming back so sweet. Not only that, now I have three other friends/classmates of mine joining with me on this great return. The place is just as I remember and even better!

Holding on for dear life in our mode of transportation-a truck bed
Well, let's see... This last week has been a bit of a whirlwind. Each day we'd do morning staff devotionals at the UAOG (Uganda Assemblies of God) Rescue office aka the school (Precious Children), it's kind of a common place that we all gather together at.
early morning devos
Then after our devotions we go and work in the school with the teachers from like 9-11am, then after time at the school we head out to do home visits with the HIV positive women. UAOG Rescue has a program called Restore Hope where women who are HIV positive come together as a community to learn to live life positively with their illness and situation.

So every week the women come to a gathering at the office where they sing, play games, dance, share laughter and hope with one another. Beyond the once a week meeting the staff of UAOG Rescue goes out and does monthly home visits. Because we're came for our practicum they've focused this week on the Restore Hope program. Each day we've gone out in two groups to visit 3-4 women in their home and to hear their stories, pray and build relationships with them. It's been unreal.
praying over a woman during our home visits
Part of the Restore Hope project is that they give micro loans to the women that have preexisting businesses so that they can save money and create sustainable projects. So as we visit we get to chat with the women, hear their stories and then see what they do for their different projects.

this lady grew mushrooms for her sustainable project
Being gifted papyas after our visit
picture sharing time!
a woman who sold the most delicious chapati for her project
After our home visits we grab some lunch and then we are on our way to do HIV/AIDS prevention in the Secondary Schools. It's been stretching as we learn about the issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic here in Uganda. It's hard to describe the norms and mindset here. It's not something that's easy to reverse, that's for sure. Sometimes my heart gets heavy when we go to the schools and we're faced with the vast problem of promiscuity among the students. Regardless, I am thankful to be apart of this team that is bringing awareness and light to these issues.

handing out books of hope and Bibles at the schools
Becca during the HIV prevention
game face-small group talks
Then after HIV prevention we return to the office for either Praise and Prayer Meetings, Worship Practice or just a time of debriefing and planning for the next day. We begin early in the mornings and go late into the evenings, so whenever we rest it is certainly sweet.

all the women from A Day To Remember
Then on top of all our daily activities we've been planning for a special event that happened yesterday. It was a 6 hour program for the HIV women called "A Day To Remember." We rented out a hotel, provided lunch and made an entire afternoon just for them to relax and truly feel appreciated. This was pretty significant, especially after hearing each of their stories. These women who already have a life-threatening disease are usually the only ones left to care for their family, so you find them toiling each day just to provide so their children can survive. Many of the women are 50+ and still spend countless hours digging in the fields. All of that to say, they never really get a break. Then on top of that, they have to battle each day through the social stigma surrounding HIV as well as all the burdens that come with life.
painting the women's nails during A Day To Remember
We had this special event where all the women dressed in their best gowns and came for a day to remember. We painted their fingernails, ate lunch, sang worship, had a dance competition, brought in comedians, had hulu hoop competitions, and played games with balloons.
Balloon contests
Singing worship for the women
After all the laughter, fun and joy we shared between one another we spent the second half of the evening ministering and lavishing love on them. We did a skit about baggage, led more worship, prayed with one another and then finished off the night by washing their feet.
Foot washing
 Man, that act of service was probably one of the most powerful and most humbling experiences yet. All of us girls and the staff just sang worship songs as we sat each woman down to wash her feet. It was incredible to see how loved those women felt. And for some, it was the first times we had really seen their faces light up. The program was really more than I could've expected and planned for. Each of us girls put in some heavy planning and a late night to make the program happen and honestly we were so surprised at how well it went. God is so faithful to honor our efforts.

After a long day and an incredible time with the women I was informed that the next morning I would be preaching at Pastor's church -Victory Family Church. I thought he was joking. Apparently he wasn't. Hah. Anyways, that was this morning and I spoke about having abundant joy in suffering. Many of the women from the program showed up too! I was so thankful. I'm certainly no pastor but it went well and I was thankful to have the opportunity to share.

preaching on joy
To end a tremendously long post, next week we spend at the medical clinic in the village. I believe we're doing household surveys and then holding a free clinic. I'm sure this next week is going to be filled with new adventures!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Research in Mpanga

the hills surrounding PROCOM's farm
 It's interesting what you'll find when you finally take what you learn in class and you begin to put faces and actualities to it. I've found it to be rather troublesome actually. It's a feeling of powerlessness, of walking into a situation almost empty-handed. It is painful but it is rewarding. 

I have spent this last week conducting research in the sector of Mpanga in the eastern region of Rwanda. Our group slept in tents, battled black ants and gave up on showers for a dusty week of visiting families and learning more about the needs of the community. This trip to the farm was the final project for our Social Context of Development class. We learned everyday about development, exploring what we can do and what needs to be done as development workers within Rwanda. And then there we were... meeting families, conducting surveys and putting all we've learned to some use. We spent three days from 8:30am until 2pm going from house to house with our translators and interviewed individual families from a survey. Each interview took about 30-45 minutes and usually included about 20 kids and various people surrounding the bench that each family pulled out for us to sit on while we talked. In the three days that I walked around with my translator I had interviewed a little over thirty families. Our survey in itself asked questions dealing with health, family and house size, how much water they consume in the wet and dry seasons and how far they go to collect wood. The real task as a researcher came in when we got to pose our own set of questions once the formal survey was over. I asked questions regarding meals, schooling for the children, sources of income and membership within the church. It is a terrible thing when your curiosity gets the best of you. Once the truth was exposed and I was left sitting with families of 6 or more people crammed into a 2 room mud house, living off of two or less meals a day, reality became a very difficult thing to be grafted unto.

widowed woman who takes care of 7 children

Day three troubled me the most. The first two days I felt useful, like I was contributing to something of worth and then we visited Rubaya... It was here that I met a lady who was suffering from a tooth ache that had turned into a complete disaster. When we approached her place I could tell something was wrong with her face, each cheek was painfully swollen to an unimaginable size. Then, to top it off, she had two scabbed holes right on her jaw line that was dripping out pus from her infection. I could hardly look at her when we were going through the interview. The smell that was emitted from her wounds, plus the continuous leaking infection brought me to the point where my stomach started to turn and I was afraid I was gonna lose it. She told me of the pain she was in and how the clinic, the medicine and even traditional healers had not helped her at all. I knew I had to offer her the only thing I had... prayer. I got a chance to pray over her face and for the pain she was experiencing and when I was finished she told me that she was starting to feel better already. She told me that she believed that God would heal the rest of her face that day, she had such confidence and faith. I found this entire exchange to be rather ironic because her name actually means Mercy. It was beyond encouraging to see this woman radiating with joy as we exchanged our goodbyes.

another kind family that I spent time with interviewing
Even though looking into the faces of poverty was heart-wrenching and difficult, I found each interview to be rather enjoyable. At times I felt as though, through the beauty of their language, that they were singing to me with their words.

greeted by a group of curious faces
The final two days of our time in Mpanga consisted of a compiling of all our data and a break down of statistics. The last day we got the opportunity to present our findings to the village leaders and locals. We had three different groups that worked together, created different posters, and presented the issues and statistics we had found. We then got to talk with the local leaders about what has been done for some of the big problems (like lack of water, food and hygiene) and also what needed to be done. They wanted answers from us, which we weren't anywhere near to having. But we also got to spark ideas through the questions we posed. It was a great way to finish off a challenging week, seeing the fruit of our labor.

me and my classmate presenting on the summary of our vulnerable household study

village leaders and members that showed up for our presentation
As a final note on this long post, I have some very exciting new that I want to share...
Tomorrow we leave for Uganda where we are going to spend 3 days in the capital (with a nice little adventure of white water rafting in the Nile). And once we leave Kampala on Thursday we are heading for our practicum sites. While we were in Mpanga our SLC's and practicum coordinator placed us at the sites where we will be living for the next month annnnndddd *drum roll please*

I am returning to Hoima, Uganda to live with the family I spent a month with last year!!!!!

This is basically all I had dreamed of and prayed for when I knew I would be returning to Africa. I can't begin to describe how much I have missed that family and the people that I quickly grew to love. I am BEYOND excited to see them again and partner with them in their ministries. Not only that, this time I am bringing three of the other students with me to work and help out with their different projects. I'm not sure yet all that we will be doing but once we're settled in and if internet is available I will be updating you all about what we're up to from my new home.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I have seen a lot of beauty.

Beauty in my fellow housemates. In their life stories of difficulties overcome. In the sweetness of my friendships with them and the laughter that we share. Beauty in the landscape. A country of a thousand hills, layer upon layer of green gardens, banana trees, small huts and rock walls. Beauty in the bodies of water. Fresh crystal blue lakes, mud soaked rivers, and even kids bathing each other in watering holes. Beauty in lives of the Rwandans. Smiling faces shining like diamonds, tired feet resting on the side of the road and communities gathered as they sit and share life together. Beauty in the Creator for giving me eyes to see and a heart to experience it all.

 I couldn't be more thankful.

We just arrived back this evening from a weekend at Lake Kivu in the western region of Rwanda. It was like a vacation really, despite the 2 1/2 hour long bus ride, twisting through the mountains. We stayed in a lovely hotel overlooking the beautiful lake, got to take a boat out to some of the neighboring islands, went on a few hikes and swam till my arms about fell off. Now, tomorrow we ship off for another long bumpy bus ride to the eastern region in Mpanga where PROCOM's farm is located. We're going to spend a week camping in tents there and participating in a research project where we'll be carrying out household surveys and compiling data for PROCOM (who is a NGO located in Kigali). I'm really looking forward to actually participating and contributing to some of the development work that they've been spearheading. I'm sure I'll have plenty to share once I return!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"you have come to a country where every house is a ghost"

These quotes tell a story. A story of my learning, of the lessons and lectures I have sat through. Some difficult to swallow. Many lessons that were disheartening, disturbing and discouraging, while it wasn't intentional, they were only speaking truth. No one really sugar coats anything here. Some days I would leave our classes feeling close to hopeless, wounds too great to comprehend. The past has been hideous and now the future too seems maimed. So much pain with so little progress and no easy fix. Most of these quotes are from my professor who is a Rwandan Pastor, others are from guest speakers we've had visit. All tell a story... A story that binds itself together in the issues of peace and reconciliation.

"If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me" -Felicien Ntagengwa
"Don't kill him. Kill what is in him."
"Dead bodies had become a common place"
"The people who should protect you are the very people who kill you. You see... that was an issue."
"Being a refuge is a terrible thing because you have no right to yourself... you are an inferior person." 
"Rwanda had become worse than the animals. Even a dog had been more friendly to a human." 

"don't look at my physical, I am dead while standing"
"They have built a fence inside themselves and cannot open"
"There is this silence in others that has caused them to suffer within"
"You have not killed but you have not helped"

"you can feel angry about something unrighteous or unjust"
"God shapes events in history, some are fortunate and unfortunate as well"
"...trying to revive the values in human beings"
"will this justice be justice?"

"I have been killing you within my heart because of my hatred towards you."
"Forgiveness detoxifies the memory. It purges the poison from the offense"
"people have come back to being people"
"seeing where we are now is a miracle"

While the beginning weeks have been overwhelming, we're now seeing glimpses into the sweet redemption of God's moving hand. It's been a difficult and painful journey to reach this point but the reward is and will continue to be worth it.
"healing invades when we accept the suffering of another."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

This was my day today...

Usually I'm off to play futbol with all the boys but i've been noticing more and more that there is a huge separation between the girls and boys when it comes to sports. One of the things that have drawn me into sports education has been the specific aspect of empowering the girls and women. All of that to say... I spent today dancing, being laughed at, and playing excessive amounts of tag with all the girls.
This game here was outrageous! We all played it in a group and the foot you put out challenges the other players foot and if you do the same one you lose. Let's just say they were really graceful when they pulled me into the circle and I couldn't c-walk like they could.
Then they played and sang so many great songs with me. Some of them we would join hands, spin, stop and drop to the group. All of them brought me waaay too much laughter and joy. On the other side of that we played tag for days. I think I probably ran like 10 miles with those crazy gals and it didn't make it any easier that they were all as fast as lightening! We even played a game known as "stick" that is basically a relay where you again run your life away. I definitely got my fair share of exercise today. Eventually, after a good hour and a half of running and tag I vouched for some sitting games. I'd like to say it's probably the elevation at 6,000 feet that leaves me so winded but in reality I think the delicious food here has done me in.

Monday, September 5, 2011

part of a bigger family

This Sunday our group experienced our first traditional Rwandan church service! 7 songs, 3 preachers and 4 hours later the service had came to an end. Oh, and did I mention that they had our group do a song special for the congregation? We decided seconds before we walked in without practice or really even remember the lyrics fully but it was still hilariously great. Then to top it all they had us dance on stage with them, which I clearly seized the opportunity to reach back to my non-existent African roots. Regardless, it has been one of my favorite experiences yet. Afterwards, we got invited to our friend Justin's home to share a meal with his family (he's the one in the plaid) which the Rwandan hospitality was such a treat. The last picture is from tonight... me and another one of the girls took a bus to a hotel to listen to some live music. It is the actual hotel that the movie "Hotel Rwanda" is based on. Always enjoyable getting out of the house and enjoying the company of another.

We all got pulled up on stage to join them for a group song with plenty of dancing!
Group picture on Safari
 Blues and Jazz night at Hotel Del Mille Collines.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Past couple of days

This week has been pretty rich with activities... movie nights, life stories, writing papers at hotels, late night ice cream shop hunting and the rest is told through the pictures!
This is our group... an awkward bunch.
Genocide Memorial at a church.
Donuts every saturday at the greatest place in Kigali... Africa Donut Co-op! Seriously the biggest expat hangout around. I've never seen so many white people in one shop. After two donuts and a bagel sandwich I entered into the realm of gluttony.
Our usual weekday hangout with the kids that we play soccer with.
some of the boys from the soccer team. Best homework break we could ask for!
Lastly, our own trip to a National futbol game at the stadium right by our house. Rwanda vs Cote D'Ivoire

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Handing over self-entitlement

I'm beginning to realize that it is easier to take everything as a gift instead of trying to own it as my right. Monday night we lost power twice, which inadvertently lead to our internet getting unplugged and therefore completely eliminating our connection for the last couple of days. Also, our water heater broke so I've been avoiding the 6:30am morning showers that chill right through my bones. Day one it was easy to feel like we were entitled to these things and therefore complain when they had been taken from us. Slowly but surely, I decided to take that time to reflect instead and eventually came to the conclusion that all of these commodities are truly gifts, so who am I to complain as if I own them and deserve them? It's been good allowing God to fine-tune and adjust my attitude in even the smallest of ways. Convenience has been so intricately woven into our american culture that these things truly become a thing of self-entitlement, well one way or another that will slowly become unraveled while I'm here. Although at times it is difficult, I am thankful still.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Let your hearts not be troubled.

I am still trying to grasp this statement as I delve into the depths of war and genocide. Right now, all I have left is to cling to the peace that He gives. Here is a glimpse into what I've been experiencing these past couple of days. It's a reflection paper I just finished writing for my issues of peacebuilding class...

Genocide Memorial Reflection
Upon entering into the first genocide memorial at the Kigali center, I almost felt a distance in my heart as it almost felt impossible to grasp the atrocities that have stretched across all corners of Rwanda. It feels overwhelming being so bluntly acquainted with the grief of this country upon our first couple of days here. We were told before leaving a rather perplexing statement that I could not fully receive, “we are all seeds of genocide.” We were told that the genocide here would no longer be some foreign monster that we had no relationship to but instead, we would see the potential that all of us have for evil apart from the grace of God. This confounding statement soon found its way into my reality.

My first encounter with the sharp pain of genocide hit me as I watched “Sometimes in April” the second day after our arrival. I had seen that movie before and expected to be moved but I wasn’t ready to be as troubled as I felt while we watched it. I wept bitterly over how people could afflict such pain upon each other. It felt as though I had reached out and grabbed sorrow’s hand, which in turn filled my heart with an anger I couldn’t begin to comprehend. I questioned justice and God. I approached God lost as to who He was… are you a God of genocide? Yet, we spoke of the forgiveness that Rwandans have found for one another and I folded before Him, broken at His feet. I wondered how could this all be?

Upon my first visit to Kigali Memorial Center I had prepared for the worst and instead found this site to be much more mild than I was expecting. Almost to the extent that I could distance myself from the grief that I knew would soon confront me again. Leaving this memorial I was able to continue on as normal with only one sharp thought reentering my mind that brought with it a cloud of sorrow, the children. Reading their last words and how they were viciously slaughtered disturbed me somewhere deep within. Their stories just would not leave me. Unfortunately, I was not able to distance myself as easily to our other two visits to the memorials at Ntarana and Nyamata.

Walking into the churches with remains stacked like harrowing giants and torn, dirt soaked clothes surrounding us at all corners, pressing upon me an almost inescapable and overwhelming sense of disparity. Our guide explained, “this wall here, is where they smashed the babies. They grabbed them by the foot and smashed their heads here.” It felt unreal looking at the ominous dark spot that clung to the wall. Next, “this stick they used to torture the women by putting it up their female organ until she either bled to death or they would shove it so far, up to their head.” After that we began to exit and he concluded, “that was Sunday school.” That was it. What am I to think of this all? I want to be angry. I want to reconcile my understanding of God to the massacring of ten thousand people in a church but I cannot. I feel a war almost welling within me but silence is my choice weapon as my understanding is still so far from true comprehension.

Finally, I hear you, Anastase comforting another student who is also wrestling as she asks, “where was God in this?” I hear whispers of the faith that arose from the people, despite the crippling fear and carnage. I hear about how such persecution distilled an unshakeable confidence in the Rwandan people towards God. I hear about the reconciliation and the resilience of the people and this is what almost troubles me more. It stretches my understanding of God, causing an uncomfortable tension that I must push through until it fits over my experience of these places and encounters with these people. It grows my faith and leaves me baffled, thirsting for what these Rwandans have found through their grim past. It leaves me humbled as I learn more and dig into their history. I will never have experienced such horrific events, or even come close to understanding the grief that they are left with but I can only hope that I will leave with a fraction of the courage, depth and wisdom that Rwandans have.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

what a week!

The conversation and laughter in the Go ED house was nearly out of control tonight! Nights like these where I am reminded of how thankful I am to live with such wonderful people. Anyways, it is almost unreal to think that this has only been week one of four months. This week has felt more like a month with all of the things we've fit into it. Beyond class from 8am-3pm everyday we've had the opportunity to take part in some pretty neat things. The first picture was from the genocide memorial we visited on Thursday.

There were rows and rows of these concrete mass graves, with still more being added to them as remains are discovered. Visiting this memorial was obviously a very sobering experience, especially coupled with all the history we've been learning through our classes. This memorial site is definitely more mild than the one we're going to visit tomorrow.

A little view from our house... Really is such a treat living here.

This weekend our group woke up at 3:30am on Friday to leave for a weekend Safari in Akagera. A night spent on the highest point overlooking mountainous hills, covered in wildlife with beautiful lakes lying below us, capped off my weekend trip.

We saw all sorts of animals and we even woke up to Zebras hanging out with us as we ate a quick breakfast and were off again at 6:30am for the rest of our safari. Barreling down rough terrain and dusty roads, we hung out the window of our prados for well over 7 hours, collecting dirt in our teeth and bruises from hangin on so tight. We even held down the fort as we fiercely battled swarms of nasty biting flies, that we couldn't seem to get rid of. Despite the battle wounds and tired, dirty body, it was definitely an experience that wasn't worth passing up.

Monday, August 22, 2011

time for school

Today was the first day of classes and although we've had a lot of reading on our plates for today I couldn't be more stoked for all the material in these courses. My first class of the day, Social Context of Development, which goes from 8-11am is taught by a professor who used to be the president of a non-profit called Food For the Hungry. Professor Jackson has more experience and knowledge in the area of development than I can even fathom so I know this class is gonna equip me in ways beyond what I could have possibly expected. Then my second class, Issues of Peacebuilding, which is from 1-3pm is taught by a Rwandan pastor. Thursday we are visiting one of the genocide memorials for that class and I already know this class is going to be difficult to process. Thank God though that through the difficulty I look forward to a tremendous deepening in my faith.

One little tid bit of the day... one of the girls invited me to go running with her before dinner, which I have already voiced my disdain for activities such as that AND I had just awoken from a nap but I decided to adhere to her request and take a jog out in the city with her. We went on all the dirt roads from our house, attempting to reach a church we visited and ended up taking a few wrong turns leaving us on a road where a bunch of kids were playing soccer. Well as we were approaching we already decided we were going to join them and as it ended up, we spent our whole time there until the dark threatened us! I can't even describe how fun it was to play with all the kids as they yelled "MZUNGU!" and constantly passed us the ball. They even clapped and cheered after every shot we'd make. It wasn't long until people were lining the streets watching these two white girls running around wildly with all the boys. I think we will definitely end up there again at some point. Alright, well it is getting late and class will be early so farewell and thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Today I was in Africa

Today my heart broke. Today I cried over a past that has created wounds so fresh that those as young as myself still carry gaping holes within themselves. Today I touched sorrow’s hand and felt anger. Today I questioned justice. Are you a God of genocide? Today we talked about forgiveness. Today I wept as I prayed to you. How can it be?

Tonight we watched Sometimes in April. I've seen it before but it took on new meaning now that we've looked at the Rwandans and have seen them eye to eye. Our group cried together and I know we will also struggle through together.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

torn skirts and tired eyes

The first 30 minutes into my time at the house and I already ripped my skirt playing soccer... this is going to be an exciting four months! Truly though, despite the grueling 12 hour flight from DC to Ethiopia we have reached the peak of the night in our excitement towards this next chapter. The house set up is pretty sweet and we're all just walking around from room to room talking about how much we love everything. Now we're starting to unpack and get ready for bed. We stayed up after our flight to fight the jet lag and it's definitely made this day feel never-ending! Besides that, Rwanda is beautiful. Our house is on a mountainside, it's quiet, has a peaceful feel to it too. Rwanda definitely seems a lot cleaner than Uganda and the people are more reserved, at least these are my first day comparisons. Tomorrow we're going to visit one of the local churches, learn the bus system and do some more orientation stuff. Then on Monday we begin classes! I guess our first class starts at 8am and then we have a lunch break and finish the afternoon off with our second class. I should probably get back to unpacking and settling in... thank-you for the prayers and encouragement!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I've finally arrived

I feel like I've said goodbye to my friends a thousand times. It was interesting living in Kirkland, moving back home, coming up, moving back, and then finally flying out of Seattle. I guess it made things feel more surreal. But I'm here in DC now and I'm getting to know the group I will be living with for the next four months. For those of you who don't know what I'm up to, I'm studying abroad for a semester with a program called Go ED. I'm taking four different courses in Rwanda... Issues of Peace-building, Social Context for Community Development, African Traditional Culture and Religion, and Post-Colonial African Literature. In between the first two classes I will be doing a month long practicum where I will be doing hands on work out on the field in a position that I will later apply for. Right now, the group that is heading to Thailand is with us too. There is seven of us girls and one guy going to live in Kigali and I have a great feeling that we're going to have a blast together. One girl brought 4 frisbees, another girl is an outdoor nut and we are all already dying laughing at one another. The alumni from past semesters are also with us. It was really cool, one of the gals from last semester sang all of us a song she wrote about Rwanda and then each of the alum gave us words of wisdom for our time. It's so crazy to hear each of the past students as they comfort us in their words. One girl just said, "all you need to know is that it's going to be ok." I really like that one.

Anyways, tomorrow we are going to see some of the monuments and such, which I'm super excited for. Everyone here is from the East coast besides me and another girl from George Fox so I'm stoked to see this side of the country. Friday we leave for Rwanda and Saturday we will actually arrive in Kigali. Until then my friends, thanks for reading! I miss you all already!