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!