Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Nyungwe rainforest
If you know me even decently well, you know that I really enjoy hiking and camping.  They are some of my favorite hobbies.  In fact, when people ask me what I am looking forward to about going back home, one of my answers is having a car to get around more easily and I specifically think about driving to trailheads.  Oh yes, even though there is a lot of natural beauty around me in Rwanda, which I appreciate, I miss going on long hikes and camping in the wilderness.

Well, last week Rita and I satisfied my hunger for exertion and sleeping in the wilderness by visiting the Banda Community in Nyungwe National Park.  Last Wednesday we rode a bus for two hours from Butare to the Uwinka Overlook Interpretation Center in the park.  There we met our volunteer guide, Ignace, who is studying wildlife management.  We put on our backpacks and walked for three hours through the rainforest and the buffer pine forest, down into the valley, and then into the village.  Ignace pointed out different plants and told us their Latin names, which Rita and I were pretty terrible at remembering. 

Pine buffer forest
One thing that was so cool about the hike is that to hike with a guide on a national park trail costs at least $40/person and lasts 4-5 hours.  Because we were visiting the village, we got to walk through the park to the village and back (almost 6 hours of hiking), and spend a night camping, for only $10/person!  It was a great deal (those of you who know me really well know I love a bargain) and it was totally worth more than we paid.

Anyway, after walking through the forests and the Banda village, we arrived at the campground.  It was picturesque.  We were in a valley surrounded by cultivated and natural hills.  Our REI tent (my favorite store!) was set up on a grassy plot surrounded by low bushes to create a little barrier between the other plots, which didn't have tents because we were the only visitors that night. There was a bathroom building that was a step up from a Porta Potty and a little one room cabin that served as the restaurant. 

Our guide took care of all the communication with the kitchen staff and all we had to do was make ourselves comfortable playing cards and rehydrating as we waited for dinner to be ready.  Eventually all the dishes were on the table and Rita and I helped ourselves to the Rwandan staples: rice, French fries, beans, pasta, and stew meat.  We were hungry after the hike so it was great to have a big plate of carbs to fill up our bellies and replenish whatever we used on the hike and would need for the hike out the next day.

Then came the experience that I hadn't had in about a year: sleeping in a tent.  I don't find sleeping in a tent to be the most comfortable thing in the world, but there is just something about sleeping close to nature that I love.  This time was definitely a first because only one twin-sized foam mattress could fit in the REI Half Dome 2 Plus tent so Rita and I shared it (in our separate sleeping bags).  Sleeping in a tent is even less restful when you have two people on a twin mattress, but it was still great.

The next morning we were treated to warm water for sponge baths, a filling breakfast, and a quick visit to a local stream.  Oh, and I can't forget to mention all the little boys who took great interest in Rita and me.  It made me laugh to watch them as they peered through the vegetative fence bordering the campground and even climbed a tree to get a better look at us.  Eventually they left us and Rita, Ignace, and I headed out of the valley to the main road where we would catch a bus back to Butare. 
A visitor to the Umuzungu Zoo!
It was a great trip and I highly recommend it to any visitors or residents of Rwanda.  Here is where you can get more information:
FB: "Banda Community at Nyungwe National Park"
Email: bandacamp@yahoo.fr
Phone: Ignace, +250 785 369 704; Jules Cesar, +250 788 629 410; Illdephense, +250 788 436 763

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

And then there were 19 extra Americans in Rwanda

My normal rhythm of life was thrown out the window June 26th when 1 priest and students from CO State (16), CU Boulder (1), and Catholic University of America (1) arrived in Butare for a week of service.  From then until the group's departure yesterday afternoon, life was a whirlwind of activity, sometimes stressful but full of so many good fruits, as I helped the group get from work site to work site, town to city to national park.  Here are some of the many activities they participated in and the people they served.

In Butare, there were three main services.  During the weekday mornings the whole group went to the Brazilian daycare/nursery school where my roommate and I like to volunteer.  I had been worried that the guys in the group would find the caretaking boring or that the whole group would overwhelm the site.  Neither were the case.  Each student quickly found a favorite child who would cling to him or her all morning so the students were so happy to return to the daycare to see their special child.  They were also very affected by the life situations of the children.  I knew they are poor, but I didn't realize how bad their home lives are.  Some kids live in places that "are not fit for dogs" (the words of one of the sisters) and don't have beds.  Some kids are the result of prostitution and one of those children has HIV.  These stories were challenging for the group to hear because it made their work seem futile.  Yes, they could love the children for 3-4 hours a day for a few days while they were here, but they can't change their life situations.  I know from Pisuri that that is a hard pill to swallow.

This little guy took Fr. Dave's glasses
The second service was spending time at two centers for orphaned and street kids, one for girls and one for boys.  I had heard that such centers existed in Butare, but I couldn't find them until I was preparing for the CSU group's arrival.  I went hunting in the general direction that was pointed out to me and asked a few questions and all of a sudden I discovered these centers for abandoned kids.  One thing I noticed when visiting the girls center is how affectionate the girls were.  They didn't know me and yet these 9-11 year olds were giving me hugs in the course of my first exploratory visit.  I think each center was visited two times by members of the CSU group.  The group came with a lot of soccer donations so some of that was given to the boys' center.  At the boys center the volunteers played soccer and at the girls center they made bracelets and practiced dances.

The third main service was manual labor in the fields. The group wanted to get some physical work in while they were in Butare so they cleared and cultivated a field owned by the Brazilian congregation.  That field will help the Brazilians to have more food for their community, which frees up more money to spend on feeding the daycare children.   Their second project was to clear as much of a plot of land that will be used by an Emmanuel Community family for a future house site as possible.

In addition to the three main projects, there were a lot of one-day projects and varied night events.  The night of the arrival they joined my students for the weekly school Mass.  The choir sang English songs and I felt like a proud parent watching her kids use what she taught them.  The group was invited over to the house of the Brazilian community to watch the Chile vs. Brazil World Cup game and then to celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul with food and dancing.  The next morning the group joined the community at their convent for Mass and adoration.  Four women from the group spent a morning painting pictures on the trim of a nursery school building.  Almost all of the women (one was sick) came to my school to put on a mini-retreat for the students.  After an initial song with gestures and a testimony of faith presented to the whole group, the students were divided into groups of 20-30 so they could each have an American girl to lead them in conversation and testimonies for the remainder of the hour.  It was so satisfying to see the students eager to continue talking with the volunteers and to hear the American women say how much they loved sharing with the students.  They went to the home of the local coordinator of the Emmanuel Community for a dinner and dance party.  We showed the Rwandans how to swing dance and the Rwandans taught us how to dance Rwandan-style.  Lastly, the group led a night of prayer and evangelization at the Catholic cathedral.  If you are in the Emmanuel Community, "Mercy Night" is enough to tell you what it was.  For those of you who aren't in the EC, let me paint a picture of that beautiful night.  The Eucharistic Lord was displayed in a monstrance (a gold-plated holder on a stand) on the altar.  The lights were off in the church.  Taper candles held in paper bags by sand formed the shape of a cross in front of the altar on the ground.  Enough candles were lit to illuminate the cross, but others were unlit so the people we met on the streets could come in and light one as a sign of their prayer.  Half of the group stayed inside the church to pray and the other half went out in pairs with paper lanterns to invite passersby to come into the church to pray, to light a candle, to pick a paper with a scripture passage on it, to pray with someone, or to go to confession.  The night lasted for 2 hours and many people came into the church to pray.  It helps that Rwanda is such a pedestrian country.  A few highlights were: one man who was very stressed about life so he prayed for more than an hour and felt so peaceful and relaxed after his prayer time; and three people who didn't have time to enter the church, but when I let them pick a scripture passage and they read it, their faces broke into big smiles and they thanked us for the words they had received.
A large group of white pilgrims is a passing attraction

All of those events happened in six days.  Whoo!  It was a sprint, but my work with the group wasn't finished yet.  We went from a sprint to a long walk, 18 miles to Kibeho to be exact.  On July 2, I guided the group on their pilgrimage from Butare to Kibeho.  I've made the walk two times before, once in November with the visiting American, Paul, and once in March with the university prayer group, but this was the first time I walked in more-or-less in silence and it was great.  I had so much time to pray and to reflect on what I lived in Rwanda and to prepare for what I am about to live in Minnesota.  We spent 3 1/2 days in Kibeho.  There wasn't much of a schedule for the time, which was so nice for the group after two heavily planned weeks (they spent a week in Kigali before they reached me in Butare).  The bulk of the retreat fell on Fr. Dave's shoulders because he led people in prayers for spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical healing, which took about an hour per person.

The plains are so brown right now
because it's the dry season
The first view of the elephant from across the water
After Kibeho the group caught two buses, one back to Butare and then one from here to Kigali, on July 5.  We went to bed relatively early because we had a 5 am bus pick-up to go to Akagera National Park.  The group was so lucky with what we saw.  At one point we were watched an elephant about 1/4 around a lake from us.  When the elephant disappeared out of sight, we loaded back into the bus to try to see it again near the road.  Well, we definitely saw it!  As we were driving on the dirt road, we saw the elephant only 30-40 feet away from us, facing the road.  His ears were spread wide and our guide told the driver to put some distance between us and the elephant quickly.  If we had stayed right in front of the elephant in our big bus, there is a chance he could have charged us to show his dominance.  Needless to say, we drove past the elephant and stopped where we could still have a good, but safer, view of him.  It was the closest and the longest I've seen an elephant in the wild.  We also saw hippos out of the water again and some giraffes, but not as close as my first trip to Akagera.  One interesting perspective was seeing how dry the great plain in the north was.  Normally there are many, many animals grazing in the green grass, but the animals were as abundant this time because the plain was so dry.  As you can see in the pictures, a lot of the grasses are brown and dried up.  The dryness made for a lot more dust flying into the bus and coating our skin with dirt.
The view from where we stopped the bus
Left to right: Kevin, Ryan, Laura, Fr. Dave, Tod, Jenn, Jordan, Alexa, Joe, Ben, Colin, Kaylin, Alana, Alec, Emily, Jade, Andy, Kasey, Angie, me

Yesterday was the group's last day in Kigali so they took advantage of the free day to go souvenir shopping.  They also got to see the boys from the Emmanuel Center in Kigali play soccer decked out in the jerseys, shorts, shin guards, cleats, and goalie gloves that the group had brought them.  They looked so cute and proud.  They were ready for the World Cup of Kigali.

I took advantage of the day to go to the dentist to get some sensitivity checked out and to hang out with the Kigali Fidesco guys.  Some people made me afraid the dentist would be dangerous to go to here because of poor sanitation, but I thought it was very Western looking with new instruments for my visit.  My one complaint is that the cleaning was a bit painful.  The dentist was more firm in his use of the instruments than they are in the States.  With Jeremie and Timothee we went out for an evening of bowling at the Mamba Club.  That is an experience, partially because the lane sloped slightly to the right and because there is a man who sets up and clears the pins by hand.  Due to the sloping lane, I probably had my worst score ever, somewhere in the 60s.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Visiting the Crown Jewel of Rwandan Tourism

Village children at the start of the Bisoke hike
In February I traveled to the volcanic region of Rwanda to climb Mt. Bisoke, a dormant volcano that has a crater lake at the top.  Rita and I were felled during that trip by food poisoning so we resolved to make a second trip to the region, which we did this past weekend.
Mt. Bisoke obscured by clouds.  Irish potatoes are growing in the foreground.
We traveled with Doug and Caron, a married American couple who live in Butare.  Caron and Rita decided to not attempt Bisoke so Doug and I got up early on Friday morning to be at the park headquarters by 7 am to meet our group and guide.  Here are some stats on Mt. Bisoke: only 9 km (5.6 mi) round-trip, 3900 ft of vertical gain, four hours up and three hours down, and in our case, lots and lots of mud.  It is supposed to be the dry season, which would make for a strenuous but pleasant hike, but since it rained the day before we arrived, this description from the Bradt guidebook is more accurate: "Far more demanding is the day hike to the 3,711 m peak of Mount Visoke, which is topped by a beautiful crater lake.  Departing from a car park at an altitude of around 2,500 m, the footpath up the mountain leads after one hour to a clearing that was used as a resting point by Dian Fossey en route to Karisoke.  From here, it takes another 2-3 hours to get to the peak, passing through lobelia and hagenia woodland, and following a path that is steep and muddy at the best of times, and outright treacherous after rain - you'll be sinking to your knees in the bog with almost every step, and do much of the descent sliding along on your butt."  Mud, mud, mud.  My shoes camouflaged with the soil after the hike, as you can see in one of the pictures.  It was one of those hikes that you are proud you did it in such terrible conditions, but you would never volunteer to do it again in such conditions.  We didn't sink in to our knees, but the mud often went right to the top of the shoe and only a quick pull out kept the mud from entering into it.  Sometimes a quick pull out almost resulted in the loss of the shoe in the mud.  It was crazy!  Luckily we were given bamboo hiking poles at the beginning of the hike and there was a porter, Emmanuel, who held onto one or two of the four of us tourists to keep us from falling on our butts every minute.  I still managed to fall on my butt two times in the first seven minutes of descent.
Check out the steepness of the trail and the mud
"Welcomes you to Bisoke Crater Lake.  Swimming is not allowed"

A group two days later had such bad weather that they couldn't see the lake
Where do the shoes end and the mud begin?
The land as the base of the volcanoes is so beautiful. 
Here are black volcanic soil mounds ready for planting.
It's a good thing Doug and I survived the Bisoke hike in one piece because our group had a reservation to track gorillas the next day.  The highland mountain gorillas are the crown jewel of Rwandan tourism.  As a visitor pointed out, lots of African countries have savannahs for safaris, but only Uganda, the DR of Congo, and Rwanda have wild highland gorillas.  It really is something else to see a wild gorilla in its natural habitat without a zoo barrier separating us from it, and let me tell you, many people (1/3 of whom are Americans) are willing to pay a lot of money for the experience.  A non-resident foreigner pays $750 for the opportunity to trek through the jungle and spend one hour with a gorilla family and in the dry season, the permits are always sold out.  Wow, how the money flows in!

Since foreign residents don't have to pay nearly as much, Rita, Doug, Caron, and I took advantage of living in Rwanda to experience this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Once again we gathered at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters at 7 am to check in and to enjoy the traditional dance show that is performed every morning for the visitors.  Then all the tourists were separated into groups of 8, the maximum number to visit each gorilla family, and my group of four was joined to four other Americans, a dad and son and a mom and son.  We loaded into our Land Cruisers and drove for 20 minutes along very rough, rocky, and rutted roads to the trek starting point.  Along with our group of 8, we had one guide, three soldiers with guns, and one porter.  We later joined up with three trackers who were following the gorillas since the early morning in order to tell our guide where to take us.

The hike was beautiful and so different than the vegetation on Bisoke.  We started by walking through fields and villages.  Once we climbed over the stone buffalo wall (built to keep the park's buffaloes from leaving the park and eating farmers' potatoes), we were in a bamboo forest.  It was raining by that point and the bamboo didn't do much to stop the rain from reaching us.  It promised to be a wet and cold day and that is what we got.  Thank goodness for synthetic hiking clothes.  Once we left the bamboo forest and ascended into the jungle, we were surrounded by leafy plants and plants that smelled like lantanas when broken. 

Our guide and one tracker used machetes to cut away plants covering the trail and later they used their machetes a lot to cut a new trail for us to follow.  That is how it is on a gorilla hike.  We hiked up to a certain point on a more-or-less established trail, but then the trackers told our guide that the silverback (the dominant male) was moving down to the creek bed so we had to backtrack and head down into the ravine to meet him.  Down the established trail we went, but then, at some point, we left the established trail and started slipping and sliding along the side of a mountain and then down the mountain to the creek bed.  I thought that part was pretty cool; it made the hike more of an adventure.  Once in the creek bed, we left our poles and backpacks (no food or drinks near the gorillas) in the care of the soldiers and hiked up the bed to where the silverback was enjoying a mid-morning leafy snack.

Watching Mr. Lucky from the creek bed. 
He is to the left, out of the shot.
You can't even imagine what it's like to glance over a rock above you and see a 500 lbs silverback gorilla sitting there with his back to you.  He was huge, just like King Kong.  We walked around to his side and watched him chomping away on leaves.  The guide and the main tracker often made rumbling gorilla noises to appease him and keep him calm.  More than once, Mr. Lucky, as the silverback is called, hooted and then stood up to beat his chest.  Contrary to popular opinion, gorillas beat their chests with their open palms, not their fists.  The guide told us that is his way of calling his family (5 females and their babies) to come to his location.  He would beat; the females wouldn't come.  He'd move to a new place, eat, beat, and the females still wouldn't come.  Eventually he made his way back up the hill we had slid down and back up the trail we had come down so we followed him back up the hill and back up the trail.  He sat down and made himself comfortable, no longer eating, and seemed to be frustrated with these females of his who wouldn't listen to his call. 

Once he settled down, we were able to get pretty close to Mr. Lucky, only 10-15 feet way from him.  It was amazing. I could see his huge potbelly and his face.  He would cross his arms and scratch his triceps.  He just sat there and waited for the females to come to him and eventually they did come.
Mr. Lucky
Mr. Lucky
First there was a juvenile gorilla.  He put on quite a show for us, rolling around and thumping a tree with his feet.  Soon the twin two year olds showed up and a few big females.  A mom carrying the youngest baby in the park, a 1 1/2 month old, appeared very briefly holding her baby to her chest, but she moved on very quickly.  Two scary moments occurred when the silverback decided to move from his post by walking right towards the narrow trail our group was standing on.  We quickly scattered to move out of his way and he passed right by us.  Later one of the females did the same, choosing to walk right through where we were standing.  Rita even got bumped out of the way by one of the gorillas.  It sure is frightening to see a 300-500 lbs wild gorilla moving with speed and certitude in your direction, but what a cool experience too.  One humorous moment was when one of the babies, either one or two years old, walked right in front of some of us and started playing around on a rock.  It was like he was showing off for us.  Doug and I were only a few feet away from him (the park rule is to keep back 21 feet) because there wasn't any place for us to move back to.
One of the females
After at least 45 minutes tracking Mr. Lucky and at least 30 minutes with the family, we had to leave the gorillas to their normal life.  We walked back down the established trail and through the bamboo forest to the park boundaries.  We climbed back over the buffalo wall and walked through the fields and the villages.  Village children called out "Hello" to us and waved.  That is one thing I noticed going to the gorillas and to Bisoke.  So many more children waved at us and called out greetings than in any other part of Rwanda.  I guess the tourists are part of their daily entertainment, but seeing them was part of my daily enjoyment too.  Rwandan kids are so beautiful, affectionate, loving, etc, so it made my days to wave at them from the car or from the trail.  Man, how I will miss Rwandan children!  To show my appreciation for them, when we reached the cars, I pulled some candies out of my pack and gave them to the kids who were following us, including these three. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

My new job is now official!

As the follow-up post to my job announcement post, I am now free to announce which parish I will be working at.  I will be the youth director at St. Timothy's in Maple Lake, MN, and the middle school religion teacher at the parish's school.  Here is the website if you care to look it up: http://churchofsttimothy.org/index.php?q=node/1

Maple Lake is a rural community of about 2000 people approximately one hour northwest of Minneapolis.  As my brother pointed out, it has all the staples of a MN small town: bowling alley, pizza place, pub, coffee house, and church.  The closest grocery stores, Walmart, and Target are 8 miles away in Buffalo.  I once lived in a rural community in Texas so I'm not new to the experience.  I think this time it will be more sustainable to life because the closest Catholic church is in town, not 20 minutes away like it was in Texas.

I have heard from other priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis that St. Timothy's is a great parish and I believe it from what I have read on the website and from speaking with Fr. Meyer, the pastor, and the school's principal.  One thing that I am very excited about is that the parish has an adoration chapel that is open 24/7.  Any parish that can guarantee adorers 24/7 must be solid in the faith.  Plus, all that time praying in the church helps the parish to stay on the path of truth and life. 

Here is the official announcement from Fr. Meyer.

Hello all,

I hope you’re having a great Father’s Day weekend.  I wanted to write to tell you that we have hired a new youth director and middle school religion teacher.  Before making that announcement, though, I want to thank Jacob Nelson once again for all of his great work with the youth these past few years and his work with RCIA.  I know he will be deeply missed as he leaves us at the end of June.  He has done a great job, has grown the youth group, developed the Core Team, instilled a strong sense of the faith in our children, and done many things for our parish.

At the same time, I’m excited to announce that we have hired someone to pick up where he left off and continue leading our youth in their faith and expanding the youth group in new ways.  Please join me in welcoming Heather Quinlan to our staff at Saint Timothy’s.  Heather is currently serving in Rwanda as a teacher and campus minister with Fidesco.  She has a Master’s Degree in Evangelization and Catechesis with the Augustine Institute, has experience in youth ministry at Saint Stephen’s in Minneapolis, has designed and facilitated retreats at a Catholic Camp and in the parish, has delivered many talks on a variety of topics related to the faith, and much more.  Heather is also a part of the Emmanuel Community, a community of the faithful whose three pillars are adoration, compassion, and evangelization.  It is a growing movement here in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which began in Paris, France in 1972.  Due to her teaching commitment in Rwanda and her travel, Heather won’t be able to join us at Saint Timothy’s until August, but we look forward to welcoming her soon, and she looks forward to meeting everyone as well.  I know she will be a great addition to our staff and our parish and school.  Please join me in welcoming Heather, and let me know if you have any questions.  Again, Happy Father’s Day to all of you.  God bless.

Posted June 15, 2014 at http://sainttimothys.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/staff-announcement/

Saturday, June 14, 2014

How to Carry a Baby Like a Rwandan

After months of seeing babies carried on the backs of their mothers or other women, I finally got my chance to carry a baby Rwandan-style for more than 2 minutes.  All you need is a big enough blanket or towel and voila, you have a baby carrier!  It might help prevent or cure hip dysplasia too, based on what the treatment brace looks like and the experience of a young baby out here who potentially had it and then didn't after months of being carried like this.

STEP 1 - Get the baby to ride piggy-back with his or her arms down.  The arms can be free, but trapping them in the blanket avoids hair pulling.

STEP 2 -Wrap the blanket or towel around the baby, making sure to roll the top of the blanket first to create extra support for the baby's head and neck.  Get someone to turn the baby's head to the side before pinning it with the blanket.
Proceed to tuck in the top corners of the blanket across the woman's chest to hold the upper part of the baby in place.  It needs to be tight.  Otherwise the baby will feel like he or she is falling away from you, which is distressing.

STEP 3 - Hike the lower portion of the blanket under the baby's butt and legs and pull him or her upwards.  This motion is like hiking up one's heavy backpacking pack before attaching the hip belt. 
You can choose to keep the baby's feet outside of the blanket or you can keep them inside.  Most women have the baby's feet outside of the blanket.

STEP 4 - Proceed to twist the lower corners of the blanket around each other once or twice before tucking the ends under the blanket.  This also needs to be tight. 
I found that I couldn't breathe in deeply with this method of carrying a baby because of how tight the blanket has to be to keep the baby from sliding down.  I also happened to put my lower knot right at the point of my solar plexus, which was uncomfortable.  With more experimentation, I hope I can find a more comfortable place to put the knot and the edges of the blanket.

 STEP 5 - Enjoy hands-free baby carrying that allows you to do things in front of you without worrying about the baby getting hurt or being in the way.  I could have played a guitar, cooked, or carried something without squishing the baby.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I have a job when I return to the States!

I have two pieces of great news to share with you.  First, Fidesco has bought me my plane ticket home so I will arrive in California the evening of July 28th.  Second, last week I was offered the youth minister and middle school religion teacher positions at a parish in MN (I've edited this post to keep some of the work details hidden because my new assignment hasn't been announced to the parish yet.)

One of your questions might be, "Why Minnesota?", especially when I am a California  girl.  Well, that's an easy question to answer.  I like the sense of community and the down-home country values of the Midwest.  It's also where my spiritual family, the Emmanuel Community, and a lot of good friends are.  To be close to the brothers and sisters of the EC, especially the Minnesota ones who are so close to my heart, is important enough to me that I will gladly live in the frozen tundra of MN.  Will I complain when I walk outside and it's 20 below?  Oh yes, but I will be so happy to have a weekly faithsharing group and a monthly community weekend as part of my faith life.

Another question might be, "What will you do as the youth minister?"  A lot of hanging out!  That sounds like I'm joking, but I'm not.  One thing I really appreciate about the youth minister position is that it is very people-oriented.  There is a weekly hang out time, retreats, a summer faith camp, a high school core team, and other things to direct.

Another question might be, "How many hours do I have to teach?"  I will teach 5 hours a week.  I have a friend in MN who teaches middle school religion (you know who you are) and she loves it.  Every day she gets to pass the truth onto young people and help them grow in their faith.  I remember listening to her stories and thinking, "Wow, maybe I should reconsider being a teacher."  Well, now I have the opportunity to try my hand at teaching religion in the States.  I must confess that I am nervous about the responsibility of teaching ~40-45 students four days a week and all that entails, but I'm sure I will love it once I get over the nervousness.

One thing that really strikes me about the opportunities awaiting me in MN is how God used this year to prepare me for them.  Before Rwanda, the only classroom teaching experience I had was at The Pines Catholic Camp in Texas and that was not the same as teaching in a school.  5th graders would arrive for four days, our team would teach environmental classes, and then the students would leave.  We didn't have to deal with bad behavior for long or give assignments and grades.  But now, by the time I return home, I will have a year of classroom teaching under my belt.  I've had some experience trying to motivate disinterested or sleepy students to pay attention, to manage student behavior, and to discover which activities engage the students in the process of learning.  I think I still have a lot to learn because a Rwandan classroom is not the same as an American one, but I am not as much of a neophyte as I would have been in the same position last year.

My time at the ENDPK has also given me one more year's experience working with teenagers and answering their difficult questions.  A cool story of hanging out with the students comes from last Friday.  I finished teaching the last period of the day, but the students and I were rained in; if we left the classroom, we'd get drenched.  One of the students said, "Don't go outside.  Stay with us," so I did.  I walked over to one of the students who was practicing traditional dance moves and started to copy her.  She delighted in showing me different moves to practice and the whole class watched with enjoyment and often laughter.  She then asked me to show the students some American moves.  Hmm, what to teach?  I ended up showing them some disco moves while singing "Staying Alive," the basic salsa step (I know it's not American, but they asked for it), and the waltz (also asked for).  It was hilarious to watch the students pair up with each other and practice a basic waltz box step.  An example of the type of questions I get asked sometimes is this one from a class about marriage and religious life, "If a priest stands in the person of Christ and marries the Church, and a sister stands in the person of the Church and marries Christ, why don't a priest and sister marry each other since one represents Christ and the other represents the Church?"  Good question!  These are just two examples of my work in Rwanda and how it has better prepared me for my work next year.

Lastly, I wanted to leave you with one of my favorite passages from Scripture.  It is one that I have turned to hundreds of times in my life when the future is uncertain.  I turned to it when I was submitting my resume and cover letters to job openings the past two months.  I turned to it when I worried that I would be too far from my friends in the Twin Cities.  I turned to it when I was intimidated and stressed by the number of teaching hours (originally there were more) and the anticipated workload of a new teacher.  And I'm sure I'll turn to it again many more hundreds of times before I end this life.  I hope it brings you the same comfort it brings me.

He said to [his] disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Notice the ravens: they do not sow or reap; they have neither storehouse nor barn, yet God feeds them. How much more important are you than birds! Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your lifespan? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. - Lk 12:22-32

Monday, June 2, 2014

Back to the Orphanage and the Beginning of the Going-Away Parties

This past weekend I stole away from Butare after classes on Saturday morning and headed to Kigali for a short, 30 hour visit.  I had a few objectives: visit the Missionaries of Charity orphanage that I hadn't been to since New Year's Day, go shopping at a market that has great prices on Rwandan handcrafts, and see the French Fidesco volunteers and a Coloradan woman, Megan.  I succeeded in accomplishing all three objectives and still managed to fit in a free jazz/blues concert at the Goethe Institute (a German organization) and a late-night dinner of Mexican food at Meze Fresh.  Yum!

The highlight, for sure, was visiting the orphanage after five months.  When I arrived on Sunday afternoon, there happened to be a going-away party for three of the sisters who will move to other convents so all of the babies, children, handicapped adults, and sisters were gathered outside in the lower level for the party.  It was really nice to see all the children together because the older girls (6+) entertained and looked after the younger kids so the children weren't bored.   I saw little Jessica, the girl I wrote about in my first mission report and on the blog, and said hi to her, but she was so busy dancing and looking at a history textbook with an older girl that she didn't need attention from me.  So instead, I got to hold a baby for most of the party and when she was taken from me, I sat down on the curb and played with a few other children.  One touching encounter was with Katy, a seven year old, who was sitting a few seats away from me.  I noticed she was sucking her thumb and not interacting with anyone so I touched her to get her attention and smiled at her.  She smiled back and then moved from her perch to sit next to me on the curb.  I put my arm around her and she grabbed it and held my hand.  Eventually she rested her head on my knee and I stroked her hair.  When it was time for me to leave, she held my hand the whole way to the gate.  Katy is a good example of how not only young children, like Pisuri and Jessica, need affection but also older ones.  

A few weeks back the young adult members of the Emmanuel Community and a few members of the university prayer group asked if they could throw a going-away party at Rita's and my house.  Even though I still had more than two months left in my contract and Rita, three, they wanted to have the party now because a lot of the young adults are students who would go home for the summer (one interesting cultural note is that the party was at our house, but it was thrown by others.  Culturally it is acceptable to ask others if one can come to your house for dinner, a party, etc.  It puts the asked person on the spot, but it's nice to be the one asking).  We said yes so 25-30 people showed up at our house on a Tuesday night.  They brought crates of Fanta and beer, peanuts, and a huge speaker.  I put out the guacamole and brownies we had made and, voila, we had a party!  We sang and danced to Rwandan praise songs, then transitioned to Emmanuel praise songs, which was followed by eating and more dancing.  It was a holy house party!  And like most house parties, it kept our neighbors, the sisters and the family on the grounds, from sleeping.  Oops.
Dancing Rwandan-style to praise songs
Left to right: me, Onesphore, Jean d'Amour, Rita, Didace