Friday, April 11, 2014

Ah, Mexican food...

When people ask me about life in Rwanda, I tell them that there are many great elements of life here.  
  • I usually get enough exercise  because I walk everywhere and the work days are short enough that I have time to go for a run or do a workout video.   
  • Except for bread, porridge, Quaker oats, pasta, and flour, nothing is processed.  Everything is fresh and made from scratch.  The bread is freshly baked.  I eat lettuce and spinach harvested from our garden and avocados pulled from the school's trees.  I drink herbal teas made from lemongrass and mint, which are also taken from the garden.  I definitely get my daily recommended serving of fruits and vegetables each day.
  • The landscape is beautiful.  Green rolling hills, oftentimes terraced with fields.  Blue sky with white, puffy clouds.  Rainstorms that roll in and fill buckets of water in less than 10 minutes.  Tropical flowers, like hibiscus, that grow year-round.  Lake Kivu surrounded by hills.  Wow!  The natural scenery of Rwanda is hard to beat.
  • I live 5 minutes from a church that has two Masses a day and there is a chapel just next door to my house.   
  • The neighborly, community spirit is alive and well.  People encourage me to stop by for a visit anytime and they really mean it.  When I see people I know at Mass, in the city center, or in the street, we pretty much always great each other.  I am sure to get at least a verbal greeting but, more likely, a handshake or two-handed embrace with a three-touch head bump.  That last one is difficult to describe, but imagine the French cheek-kissing and replace it with touching the brows of the forehead three times while grasping the person's upper arms.  Some expats think it's awkward, but I like knowing that physical contact is expected.  When I greet someone in the States, I never know if a wave and "hello" suffices or if I should extend my hand or offer a hug.  I don't mind physical touch; I just don't want it to be awkward when it happens.
One thing that is missing, though, is food diversity.  As a native Californian, I love ethnic (even if it's Americanized) food: Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Indian, etc.  I miss Mexican food the most, which is why I keep trying to prepare dishes that will get close to the Mexican food I miss.  After some trial and error, I finally made a Mexican meal yesterday that was delicious!  If you want to try your hand making Mexican soft-shell tacos from scratch with Rwandan-only ingredients, here you go:
FLOUR TORTILLAS
INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. oil
  • 2 c. warm water
  • 4 c. flour
PREPARATION
  • Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well and add oil mixed with water.  Add flour.
  • Mix and knead, then let sit for 5 minutes.  Make small balls, then roll them out with a rolling pin.
  • Put it in a really hot skillet for a couple minutes on each side.

SPANISH RICE
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup chunky salsa = 1 cup tomato sauce, 2 diced tomatoes, 1 tsp chili powder
Directions:
1.
Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
2.
Mix rice into skillet, stirring often. When rice begins to brown, stir in chicken broth and salsa. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes, until liquid has been absorbed.

QUACAMOLE

Ingredients:
2 avocados
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ripe tomato, chopped
1 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
1.
Peel and mash avocados in a medium serving bowl. Stir in onion, garlic, tomato, lime juice, salt and pepper. Season with remaining lime juice and salt and pepper to taste. Since I finally have cilantro plants in the garden, I added a few chopped leaves to the guac yesterday.  Chill for half an hour to blend flavors. 
BLACK BEANS
Grow black beans in your garden since they can't be purchased in Rwanda.  After soaking them overnight, cook them and sliced onions in water for ~ 1 1/2 hours.  Serve without the juice.


Put everything together in the tortillas, along with shredded cheese, and voila, tacos that remind me of home!
An earlier attempt using corn-crepe tortillas and no guacamole.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Kibuye and Gisenyi - Two lake side towns with different feels

Rita and I had the opportunity to take a five-day vacation last week and it was amazing!!!  We went with Sr. Adeline, who is our neighbor, and Jeremie, one of the Fidesco volunteers in Kigali.  We went to two Lake Kivu towns: Kibuye, which I had never been to before, and Gisenyi, which I traveled to when I went with the school's dance troupe to a competition, but I saw spent most of this trip in parts of the city that I didn't visit before.  Both places were memorable for different reasons, which I hope you will discover in the rest of this post.

On March 26 Rita, Sr. Adeline, and I rode two buses (4 1/2 hours) to Kibuye, a lakeside town on the western border of Rwanda and about halfway between Cyangugu in the south and Gisenyi in the north.  I had been told before going that our Fidesco predecessors liked to travel to Kibuye whenever they had a free moment and now I understand why.  The Home St. Jean where we stayed is located on a hill above Lake Kivu.  The first night we splurged ($9/person) for a room with a view and were placed in a room that had lake views from 2 of the 4 walls.  We pretty much spent all of the first day and the second morning sitting in lounge chairs outside our room (the photo at right) or sitting next to the water at the base of the hill.  We talked, read, wrote in our journals, prayed, and ate our meals from those chairs.

 
Jeremie arrived the second day so we met him in the city and started our grand tour through the city and hills and along the lake shore.  Along the lake we saw elements from the three-step process of fishing in Lake Kivu for sambaza, small fish that look like sardines but aren't salty.  First there were the fishing boats, one of which is pictured here.  The picture only shows one boat, but there really were two boats connected together with the wood that is going into the water in the left of the picture.  The sticks that bend over the front and back of the boats are used to suspend the nets in the water.  Even after seeing more than one set of boats, I'm still not sure exactly how it works, but it must because then we arrived at the fish processing co-op.  The second step is the drying.  The co-op was along the shore and included many screens suspended horizontally above the ground with the little sambaza drying on them in the sun.  As we were admiring the process of frying up some sambaza in huge woks heated over wood fires (the third step), Sr. Adeline convinced the lady to let us try some.  Before we knew it, she salted the cooked fish and handed us a take-out container full of them. They are only 1 - 1 1/2 inches long so we ate the entire fish, eyes and fins and all.  
After enjoying the oily, salty sambaza, we walked under a crossing guard gate that no one was manning and ended up in the private gardens of a colonel.  No one was there so we kept walking until we discovered a sandy beach.  Wow, if only I had my swimsuit with me at that time!  Most of the lake shore along Lake Kivu in Kibuye is rocky or covered with grass, but here was a sandy beach with two benches in the water and a jumping platform.  Jeremie had his boardshorts so he enjoyed the jumping platform and we ladies sat on one of the benches with our feet in the water.  Wow!  We only left because we could hear thunder in the distance and then the gardener told us it was a private garden.

Later that day, in the late afternoon, the four of us walked down to the lake below our guesthouse and sat there until it was dark.  We sang Emmanuel praise songs.  We took pictures.  We shared about our hopes for the future.  I wove a crown out of pine needles, which we ladies took turns wearing.  We ate dinner at an outside table until a rainstorm pushed us inside.

The third day, Friday, we rode a boat from Kibuye to Gisenyi, the northern lake town.  The trip was three hours and the inside cabin was definitely a vision of the developing world.  More people were on the boat than there were seats so people made seats out of sacks of rice, beans, and sugar.  A woman unrolled her woven mat and sat down comfortably.  The cabin was too crowded for our tastes so we went to the front of the boat where there were fresh air and great views but no open seats.  My feet hurt after three hours of standing, but the ride was worth it.  We were surrounded by water and the green hills of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  We saw local fishing canoes up close.  We got another taste of Rwandan life.  And we even met an American named Kyle who was spending the year traveling through Europe and Africa and spent most of the ride talking with him.
Our boat is the one in the background painted with the Rwandan colors: green, yellow, and blue
In Gisenyi we stayed at the home of Sr. Adeline's nephew and niece-in-law, Michel and Claudine.  They have two kids: Shema who is five and Sara who is 1 year and 2 months.  Staying with a local family makes for a different type of vacation because they had things they wanted to show us and do with us so we didn't lounge at the beach all day.  The time in Gisenyi was different than that in Kibuye, but it was also nice.

First, the family fed us like kings.  Friday night there was both fish and beef, along with the usual assortment of rice, beans, potatoes, green cooked leaves, cassava dough, green bananas, fruit, and Rwandan tea (milk and sugar).  Saturday morning we ate outside under the avocado leaves and enjoyed bread, avocado, honey, and tea.  Saturday night we ate at the home of Sr. Adeline's sister-in-law (her deceased brother's wife) and again we were offered fish and meat and the usual assortment.  Sunday morning we ate beignets (basically plain donuts with a different shape) and omelets and returned home after Mass for another meal of the Rwandan staples along with fresh pineapple.  Yum, yum, yum!

Secondly, Michel showed us a part of the city that tourists normally wouldn't see.  From his house we walked about an hour to his new plot of land that he plans to build a house on someday.  I noticed a few things that are different than I have seen in Butare or Kigali, such as: uneven dirt roads that are rutted or bumpy because of the volcanic rock underneath, and houses without walls around them so I could see the women grinding floor or washing their clothes.  As I walked through the streets, I thought to myself, "This is closer to what I pictured when I thought of Africa," and I loved it.  I could envision a ministry of presence where someone's ministry is to walk through the neighborhood, get to know the people, be present to listen to their stories or problems, offer what little medical skills or food one has, etc.  I'm not saying it will be my ministry for the next year, but if God wanted to call me back to Rwanda to walk the streets of Gisenyi, I wouldn't mind.  The desire is helped by the fact that wherever we walked, children ran from their houses to get a closer look at us, yelled "Abazungu!" (white people), and waved at us.  The African children bring me so much joy, but it is easy to bring them joy too.  All it takes is a wave and a smile.  Once we arrived at the plot of land, I made friends with the children who were in the street flying a handmade kite.  I taught them how to have thumb wars and let them ham it up for pictures.  We had quite a group following us and walking with us and holding our hands as we walked home.

 After the morning trip to the plot of land, we had another opportunity to encounter local people through an afternoon trip to some hot springs.  When Rita spoke about hot springs, I pictured a nice natural pool that we could soak in, just like a jacuzzi.  Boy, was I wrong!  We arrived at the hot springs to see some pools just bigger than puddles and very, very hot!  A man told me they were 75 degrees Celsius, which is hotter than I could stand to be in for longer than a few seconds.  Yet I was amazed to see Rwandans sitting in them and washing themselves with the "healing" water.  I was treated to a hand massage by some children who escorted us to the springs.  The spring water fed into the lake and while Rita and I didn't feel comfortable stripping down to our swimsuits in the midst of so many curious people (we amuzungus were already making quite a stir and attracting onlookers at the hot springs), Jeremie went into the water and interacted with the boys by throwing them into the water and spinning them around.  Soon we left those springs for an escorted trip to the other hot spring in the area, this one only for men.  Adults and children guided us from one spring to the other.  Since the other spring was for men and was just as hot, we quickly left and started the walk back to where we started, this time with more of an entourage than we started with (see the photo above).  Eventually the children left us and we caught a bus to the last stop of the day, the beach near the Lake Kivu Serena Hotel. 

From this part of the beach, the lake reminds me of the ocean. Sometimes there are small waves and the land across the lake is far enough away that it could be Catalina Island off the shore of California.  The sun sets over the water so it is like the view of the sunset from Cali.  There is sand and a small pier that is fun to jump off of (it's less than 10 feet above the water).  We arrived in the late afternoon so we didn't have a lot of time to swim, but Jeremie, Rita, and I took advantage of the time that we had.  Jeremie and I went over to the pier and showed off our jumping skills to a group of local boys and young men.  We raced against four of the men in freestyle and backstroke, during which Jeremie had a fish enter his mouth.  He didn't eat it though!  Soon it was time to walk back to Michel's house in the dark so we walked along the lake sidewalk for as long as we could and saw all the fancy houses.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Photos from the Prayer Group's Pilgrimage to Kibeho

I never got an official count, but there were ~ 33 of us on the pilgrimage,
mostly from the university Emmanuel Cty prayer group
Gazing at the hills of Rwanda never gets old

Singing, praying, talking.  These things kept us busy during the 7 hour walk to Kibeho.
A video of our entertainment during the walk: http://youtu.be/-sHRBqJPJQY
Our group was quite an attraction for local children during our lunch break
Some of my brothers from the prayer group: Onesphore, d'Amour, and Didace

Roomies!

Another photo of the Rwandan countryside, this time with fields in the valley

Children start working young in this country.  They're carrying water.

Tea fields
The Fidesco volunteers of Rwanda.  Never mind my outfit.  I know it's hideous.
Most of the group on the last afternoon of the pilgrimage
Jesus, I trust in you!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Holy cow, it's been a long time since I last wrote!

HELLO!  Sorry for my silence.  I knew some time had passed since I last had the time to write, but I had no idea it was almost a month.  What has been going on?

Well, the constant activities have been teaching and volunteering at the daycare run by the Brazilian religious congregation.  This week I haven't taught because the students are taking final exams, but before that I was happily teaching nine periods a week.  My mission report will mention some of the topics I've taught recently.  On Tuesday mornings I head over to the Brazilians' place to spend a few hours with children 2-6 years old.  This past week it made me so happy to hold a girl who wanted to snuggle during the play time.  It is so nice to have a child in my arms.

There were some one-time events for the year, such as saying goodbye to the French Fidesco family, hosting a Mardi Gras party, and attending a special retreat in Kigali. 

First, the Fraternity of Jesus retreat on Feb 28-March 2.  The Fraternity of Jesus is a sub-group of members in the Emmanuel Community who feel called to be more radically available for mission in the Church and in the context of the Emmanuel Community.  I made the trial step in the Fraternity in December 2010 and remain in that stage.  Anyway, the retreat was nice.  I had good translators, which makes a world of difference when listening to hour-long teachings.  I still fell asleep sometimes, but I heard enough that I went away challenged to be more faithful to my prayer time.

The King Cake
Second, Mardi Gras!  Rita and I had a dessert and soda party the night before Ash Wednesday.  In attendance were six Belgian medical students we had just met, two novices from across the street, and four young adults from the Emmanuel Community.  I looked around the room with joy as I saw the different groups and nationalities (Cameroonian, Rwandan, Portuguese, Belgian, and American) speaking with each other.  I made an American version of the king cake (minus the colored sugar) and hid a button in it.  Later I cut the cake into 14 pieces and made Jean d'Amour (the youngest) say who would receive each slice.  It turns out I received the button, which means I have to make the king cake next year.  Since most of us won't be here next year, we joked about having the cake the following week, but I told them it would have to wait until Easter, the season of celebrating!

Third, Rita and I said goodbye to our fellow Fidesco volunteers in Butare, Ronan and Segolene des Horts and their four kids, on March 15.  Sad.  They had finished their two years of service so it was time for them to head back to France and resume life there.  Rita and I had them over for brunch on the day they drove to Kigali, two days before they would fly to France, and it was really sad to watch them drive away for the last time.  We know other expatriate families in town, but I think it's fair to say we shared a special bond with the des Horts family because we were part of the same organization and they were the ones to welcome us when we arrived.  Here are some pictures from our time together.
My welcoming team the night I arrived in Butare on the bus
November 2013.  My roommate and I are on the left side and the guy on the right is Timothee, one of the two French volunteers in Kigali at the center for street boys.  Jeremie arrived a little over a month ago so no photos of him yet.
Birthday presents from the des Horts' kids
One final picture before saying goodbye
One new thing is that I am working with the local music team from the Emmanuel Community to teach the members the EC songs in English and to translate songs.  Clearly I am not translating into Kinyarwanda, but I have the desire to take a few of the KR songs that I know the best and to translate them into English, which I plan to work on when Rita and I talk a little vacation next week to Lake Kivu.  As far as teaching the English songs, there is a small group from the university prayer group that I teach every Monday for an hour and then, at the prayer group during Lent, I have taught 1-2 songs each week.  It's nice to be able to contribute to the group.  One of the main frustrations for me in Rwanda is feeling like I have gifts that I can use to serve others but not being free to use them because of the language barrier.  When I get to teach the prayer group a song in English or take a local song and translate it into English, I feel like I am able to contribute to the group.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Educating the Youth

I recently had my six-month anniversary of arriving in Rwanda and sometimes during the past six months, I have been frustrated because I don't feel like I have enough responsibilities at the school or that my work really matters to the administration.  Maybe it's true, maybe it's not, but that is the impression I have sometimes.  A few times this has really gotten to me, but overall I strive to remain positive and not let other people's ingratitude affect me. This may sound like a weird introduction to a post about educating the students at my school, but I include it because in the past few weeks, I feel that I am making a difference in the lives of my students.  Even if it is rarely acknowledged by the administration, even if I don't have a super crucial role to play, I am still able to contribute to the lives of the students I teach.

First major opportunity: coaching one of our students, Marlene, for a public-speaking competition.  The competition was organized by Never Again Rwanda, an NGO that promotes peace-building and tolerance mostly among young people, and the theme was, "How can we, as young generation [sic], deal with the past to build peace in the Great Lakes region?"  The GLR is composed of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  My school sent four students, two who would present in French and two who would present in English, and they each had to speak for 5 minutes and then answer 3 minutes of questions.  Last week the teacher who was in charge of organizing the speakers asked me if I could work with one of the English speakers.  I wasn't thrilled by the idea because that meant more work for me (the inclination to laziness is amazing in a bad way), but I accepted the job.  I mean, Valery was already coaching three students so I could handle one.  So, from Tuesday until Sunday, I worked with Marlene.  We worked through a few drafts of her speech until it was solid.  I coached her on the appropriate amount of movement good gestures, the importance of making eye contact, and smiling.  I challenged her with possible questions that could be asked by the audience.  I recorded her practice speeches with my digital camera so she could watch herself and become her own critic.  Then the morning of the competition arrived and I sat with her as we waited for her turn to present, showered her with praise when she was finished, and consoled her when she did not take first place. 

The experience was really fulfilling for me and I think for Marlene also.  Pretty much all of the activities at the school are group-oriented and the students are scheduled practically 24/7 so very rarely do I get to interact with a student one-on-one.  I try to mentor them through little discussions as we walk together from class to lunch or after the clubs end but before the study period starts, but in general I don't get enough one-on-one time with the students.  Working with Marlene gave me that opportunity.  During the study period we would squirrel away in the staff room or the library to correct the drafts and then perfect her presentation technique.  I would continually encourage her and shower her with affirmation to counteract Valery's statements that not winning equals a failure.  Since each English speaker only had a 7-8% chance of winning, I thought it was possible to be successful without winning and I told that to Marlene.  I told her that, no matter what the final result was at the competition, I was proud of her and she should be proud of herself because she gave a speech in a language that is not her own and her final presentation was 100% better than what she started with and it was true!  When she delivered her speech, she was confident, used good hand gestures, smiled, and made eye contact the entire time.  She was great!!!  This afternoon I showed her the video of her presentation and she said something that made me so proud of her.  She said something to the effect of, "I may not have won, but I feel I did the best job I could do so I have no regrets."  Amen!  That is the attitude I wanted to impart to her and whether it was my doing or not, she has the right attitude.

Second major opportunity: my class periods.  After some schedule changes, I finally ended up with nine class periods a week, one in each of the classes for Senior 4-6.  I try to mingle my lessons so sometimes I am dealing strictly with English and other times I'm imparting tools that will be helpful for life.  Some of my recent favorites have been:
  • Your Worth Comes from God: Self-Esteem - The first half of this talk is focused on how much we mean to God (he loves us, he created us, he wants us to exist) so that we can have that as the foundation of our self-love.  I show a video clip called "The Father's Love Letter" to drive the point home and the students love it.  The second half gives some tips from psychology to challenge self-critical thoughts by identifying the underlying lie in them and then answering back with the truth.  I show a great video from a YouTube guy called Blimey Cow about the "seven lies you believe about yourself."  Anyone with a teenager, or rather everyone, should watch it: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SpwBmhR1go
  • The Five Love Languages - Once the students learn to love themselves, I help them understand how to love each other by recognizing how they give and receive love and how others give and receive love.  The students really enjoy taking the 30-question profile quiz that is in the back of The Five Love Languages for Singles and they laugh so much once they discover what love language they have.  If you've never read or heard about the five love languages, I recommend you read the book by Dr. Gary Chapman or check out the website: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/
Soon I will give classes on how to be happy and how to discern the will of God and make life decisions.   After the April break, I will give a long series on human sexuality, love, relationships, dating, and vocations.  Even in Rwanda, the teenagers are fascinated with relationships and love.

What's great about these topics is that they go beyond the classroom, beyond the school setting.  If they can remember what I teach, they can have the tools to battle discouragement and depression, to successfully love and be loved, to strive after the things that will bring them happiness, and to figure out what God wants from them.  These are all tools that I have learned as an adult and sometimes I wish I knew about them a lot earlier than I did.

So, these are just a few ways I have been able to contribute to the well-being and education of the youth at my school.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What I've been up to during my blogging absence

I apologize for my multi-week absence.  As you will discover, my weekends have been full so I haven't had the time it takes to write a long blog entry.

I can begin with February 1-2.  Even though now is technically called a dry season, it is the shorter, wetter dry season so I was informed that seeds have to go in the ground now, as opposed to 1- 1 1/2 months from now when the long rainy season begins.  A few brothers from my Emmanuel Cty prayer group had offered to help me in the garden and even though I am content to spend hours in the garden by myself, I took them up on the offer.  Feb. 1, Saturday, Valens and Onesphore came over in the morning to till and fertilize the soil with me in preparation for future planting.  After we finished, I invited the guys to stay for a late pumpkin pancake breakfast and they did.  The three of us and Rita sat around the table eating and talking for a few hours.  It was great.  Later that same day, I met with the other members of my EC faithsharing group for a festive dinner and time of conversation at a restaurant.  We ordered "Rwandan plates," which consist of beans, rice, green bananas, French fries, and veggies (either cabbage and carrots or green beans and carrots) and can be bought for 800 RF ($1.25).  There should be a few small pieces of meat, but they didn't bring any that day.
video
February 2 was another day to be with the Emmanuel Cty.  Once a year, each sector of the EC in the country has the responsibility of assisting at a monthly healing Mass and Eucharistic procession in Ruhango.  Ruhango is a town about an hour from Butare and is known as a center to experience the divine mercy of Jesus.  There is a big Divine Mercy Jesus statue there and once a month the people of Ruhango and around the country gather there for a big Mass to pray for healing.  On the day I went, the Butare EC group helped manage the crowds before, during, and after the Mass and procession, and man, were there crowds!  I heard an estimate of 10,000 people and I believe it.  The picture can help you picture the number of people that were there and it shows only part of the crowd.  Since I don't speak Kinyarwanda, I paired up with a guy I know named Olivier (who was really good about translating everything) and we were place as ushers in front of the choir, off to the left of the stage area.  We didn't have to do much, but we did have a good view of the altar area.  When it was time for the collection, we and many other ushers went through the crowd with plastic trash cans with holes cut in the lids for people to drop their money into.  As the only white person in a crowd of 10,000, I definitely caught people's attention.  Later, when the Eucharistic procession began, Olivier and I cleared a path in the crowd near us for the priest and his entourage to walk and we followed after him to keep the crowd back.  It was a long day (7:30-4:30), but it was rewarding.
The following weekend, February 8-9, brought a trip to the northwest part of Rwanda and to the border of Volcanoes National Park.  Rita and I went with three French men: Ronan, the father of the Fidesco family in town, and Jeremie and Timothee, Fidesco volunteers in Kigali.  We planned to climb Mt. Visoke, one of the volcanoes in the park that rises from 8,000 ft to 12,000 ft.  On the best of days, the trail will be dry and not slippery.  On the worst of days, the trail will be a mud pit and super slippery.  Our group had the best of days, which was so great, but unfortunately, Rita and I weren't on the mountain with the men.  We must have eaten something bad at our house before we left (perhaps the carrots from the garden still had traces of manure on them or it was the fried eggplant that didn't taste as good as it normally does) because I was hit with the symptoms of food poisoning on the drive up to Kinigi, the village where we stayed, and they remained severe throughout the night and the next morning.  Rita started to feel iffy on Saturday morning so she stayed behind with me and proceeded to get worse throughout the day.  A test at a local clinic confirmed I was infected with e.coli.  After a restful morning, we felt good enough to walk in the surrounding countryside, which was beautiful.  Volcanic ranges were around us.  We walked in grassy fields that reminded me of Ireland and passed herds of cows and their shepherds.  We came across young children filling containers with water so I helped the smallest ones carry their containers towards their homes.  As Rita and I turned back to leave them, they called out, "Good morning, goodbye!" until we were out of sight.  We walked through a wheat field and a deaf man, who appeared to be in charge of the field, took some heads of wheat and gave them to us to eat.  So, all in all, even though we didn't get to climb the volcano, we made the best of it and took in the natural beauty of the region.

Moving to this past weekend, there was a big EC celebration for Valentine's Day and the visit of our two Fidesco brothers from Kigali, Jeremie and Timothee.  Valentine's Day doesn't seem to be a big deal in the country, but the Emmanuel Community likes to make it a day to celebrate love.  It began with a 6 pm Mass at the Butare cathedral.  During the Mass, there was a time when all the single people went forward and promised to remain faithful to the Lord while they waited for the revelation of their vocation, then the widows and widowers made a similar promise, and then the married couples went forward and renewed their wedding vows.  After the Mass, there was a dance party across the street at the diocesan welcome center.  Rita and I and everyone else sang praise songs and then danced to secular music after dinner until 11:30 pm.  We walked to the French family's home (don't worry, we were with two EC guys) to pick up Jeremie, who would be sleeping at our house.  Once we got home with him, we were hungry because one meat shish kabob for dinner doesn't cut it.  We stayed up until 1:30 am cooking and eating crepes.

Saturday was very full with celebrations of Timothee's 24th birthday and the monthly EC weekend.  After teaching two class periods in the morning, all of the Frenchies came over to our house for a late brunch.  Rita and I made pumpkin pancakes again (we had ~8 pumpkins in our garden) and enjoyed the company of the others.  Then I went to the EC weekend for the afternoon and after that ended at 6:30, I walked to a local restaurant to join the others who were having drinks to celebrate Timothee's birthday.  Afterwards we went to the French family's home for dinner, but before we ate dinner, a spontaneous dance party erupted.  Timothee played music on his laptop and soon all the furniture was pushed out of the way and Segolene and Ronan, Rita, Timothee, Jeremie, the four kids, and I started dancing in the living room.  It was great.  As we danced, I made a point to remember that moment because Segolene and Ronan and their kids will finish their Fidesco contract in one month and return to France.  Then it will just be Rita and me in Butare, Jeremie and Timothee in Kigali.  After the dance and after the kids were put to bed, we enjoyed eating cheeseburgers (yum!!!!) and talking until late at night for the second night in a row. 

Sunday morning I was up early to head off to a full day with the Emmanuel Community and then work began again on Monday.  Now you can see why I haven't been able to write any updates.  Soon I would like to write about the topics of my lessons since, as a teacher, I have the great opportunity to impart wisdom to the students and that is what I try to do.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord

I learned this afternoon that the director of Fidesco USA, Denis Leblond, died in his sleep on Monday morning.  He wasn't sick so his passing from this life to the next is shocking.  I can only imagine the sorrow his wife, six children, four children-in-law, and five grandchildren feel with him being taken from them without warning. 

Even I, who knew of Denis as an Emmanuel Community brother for years but only got to know him during my Fidesco journey, am so saddened by his death.  I can hear his words of encouragement during my decision-making process and his continued encouragement once I was in the mission field.  I heard from him only three days ago when he said he would look over the draft of my second mission report and get back to me after the weekend, but that email will never arrive.

Once again, I am reminded that we do not know how much time we have in this life so we need to make the most of each day: tell our family members and friends that we love them; give ourselves in the service of others; dare to radically live for Jesus; live in such a way that in our last minutes we are satisfied with the life we lived. 

Please pray for the eternal rest of Denis' soul and for the consolation of his family.