Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Missionaries of Charity Orphanage and Christmas Plans

Rita and I have started our Christmas vacation.  We are using vacation days to have off from December 18-January 1 so here is the news on how we spent the first half of the break and what I will do for Christmas (everyone asks).

On Wednesday, December 18, Rita and I took the bus to Kigali, the capital.  Kigali sure is a different world from Butare.  There are skyscrapers, ethnic and expensive restaurants, cars everywhere (which cause rush hour traffic jams), grocery stores with products from the U.S., Europe, and India, and white and Asian people.  On one hand I could get used to such a life in Rwanda, but on the other hand, it didn't feel African enough.  I stayed until Sunday night, but Rita returned home on Saturday morning. We stayed with Megan Lyons, an American girl that I was in email contact with through a mutual priest friend from CO.  Her roommates went home for Christmas so she had room for us.  She was super hospitable and showed us around.  The best part about staying at her house was the huge screened in front porch (Minnesotans would be jealous).  We ate our meals out there and read in the morning on the outdoor couch.  I would like a porch like that.

What did we do?  The highlight was volunteering at the orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's sisters).  Unfortunately taking photos isn't allowed so I don't have great pictures to accompany this post.  We arrived on Wednesday in time for the afternoon visiting session from 3-6 pm.  We returned on Friday for both sessions, staying from 9:30 am-12 pm and then 3-6 pm.  It was a joy to be with the children, but it was also eye-opening, shocking, and saddening.  Let me explain the disheartening part first.  The orphanage has two main day rooms and a playground where the children spend their waking time.  One room is for the babies and I counted 21 babies.  There are metal cribs lined up all around the room, one right next to the other.  There is a mat in the middle of the room for the babies to sit and lie on.  I don't remember seeing any toys.  In the other room, there are 12 special needs kids (maybe 2-8 years old and mostly suffering from what looks like severe cerebral palsy) and 12 able-bodied kids (~2.5-5 years old).  One part of the room has tables for meal time and the rest has two cribs, plastic chairs, and a mat.  Again, I saw very few toys, just a stuffed sheep and a Matchbox car.  The outdoor play area did have a swing set, a slide, and a merry-go-round.  Each room had 2-3 staff workers to attend to the children and sometimes the sisters would come down to hold the babies or visit the older children.  You can imagine 24 kids, experiencing the terrible twos or needing to be fed or acting up out of boredom or the desire for attention, being managed by 3 workers and whatever volunteers are there that day.  If I had to pick an orphanage to live at, one run by the Missionaries of Charity would guarantee I would be treated as a person with dignity and worth so that is where I would choose to be, but still, it's an orphanage.  There aren't enough workers/volunteers to give each child the affection and attention they need and desire, which they would have a better chance of having in a family
The rough road the orphanage is on

A sad fact that I learned while there is that the odds of the kids being adopted into families aren't great because foreign adoptions from Rwanda aren't allowed currently, which means only Rwandan nationals can adopt.  That breaks my heart because there are so many kids in orphanages and I know so many of you and given the chance, I would try to win your hearts over to one of these kids so they could become a member of your family.  If I was married and there wasn't a foreign ban, I know which kid I would want to bring into my home.  Her name is Jessica and I would guess she's around 5 years old.  The first day she came across as a trouble maker, crying a ton when she wasn't allowed to do what she wanted to do, taking the few toys from other kids, not listening to the workers, etc.  On the second day I decided to not react to the bad behaviors she displayed (thereby not giving her attention when she was acting up), but then to call her to me and give her attention when she was being good.  It worked!  She quickly got bored with taking the brush I was using to comb a toddler's hair (my first time combing and braiding African hair!) and put it down.  Then at the end of the day, I pulled her into my lap and we had 10 minutes of one-on-one time.  I tickled her, gave her hugs, showed her how to make different sounds with my mouth that she tried to imitate, and protected her from a handicapped adult (also present on the compound) who would reach out to bop her on the head or shoulder.  One time she stuck out her tongue and blew raspberries at me and I told her, "Oya.  If you do that again, I'll put you on the ground."  She smiled and a minute later, this time did it away from me.  I said it again and then she stopped.  That showed me that she can and will be good if she gets positive attention.  And as my mom pointed out, since she's probably the oldest able-bodied kid in the group, she is probably bored and acts out to have something happen, even if it's negative attention.

The best part about being at the orphanage was getting to give love to all those kids.  I tried to spend some time interacting with each of the special needs kids by holding them (such as one boy who is five years old but has a very small body and can't move or talk because he has fluid in his brain) or picking them up by the arms and hands and helping them walk awkwardly around the room.  Even though none of those kids can communicate, I could tell that some of them understand what is going on and what is said to them because they would smile when I called out their name or beckoned them, get agitated when I put them down on the floor to move onto another child, and get excited when it was their turn to walk.  At one point I had three of the boys lying on my legs and one would laugh so much when I tickled him, another wanted me to hold his hand, and the other wanted me lie on me also.  For the able-bodied kids, I didn't spend as much one-on-one time with them, but I took turns pushing a few of them on the swing or inviting a group to sit on the merry-go-round so I could push them in it.  I helped a few of the younger ones finish their food when they were tired of feeding themselves.  As I wrote earlier, I was given a comb, brush, and a bottle of oil and asked by one of the sisters if I could comb a toddler's hair.  It was my own initiative to braid it.

Meze Fresh and a burrito with goat meat
So that's it for the experience at the orphanage with the children.  After the evening sessions both days, Rita and I joined the sisters for an hour of prayer, which was in English.  Woohoo!  We took advantage of the many grocery stores in the area to expand our food selection at our house, which benefited mostly from a visit to the Indian store where we bought dried lentils and chickpeas, chickpea flour (to try to make a corn tortilla/crepe), and popcorn kernels.  We also learned there is an American-style movie theater that plays current movies so we watched The Hobbit 2.  I never would have guessed I'd get to watch a new release in Rwanda.  What a treat!  Another treat and a first for my time in Rwanda was having good-tasting Mexican-ish food.  The Butare American family is in Kigali right now because they had their baby boy up there and they took us to Meze Fresh, a Chipotle-like restaurant.  My first good tasting Mexican food in 5 months!  It cost the equivalent of 7 days worth of unlimited internet, but it was sooooo worth it.

After Rita went home, I attended the national Emmanuel Community weekend retreat in Kigali.  Each day there was praise, Mass, adoration, and a talk.  Everything was in Kinyarwanda and while people translated for me, I often lost focus and then fell asleep during the long talks.  The highlight of the retreat was getting to meet community members from other parts of Rwanda and staying at the home of a newly married couple.  Agnes and Placide speak English well enough so we stayed up late socializing and eating.  The differences between American and Rwandan traditions and culture is always a source of hours of conversation.  I took the bus home with members of the EC, once again with one more person per row than the number of seats, and arrived home with lots of joy. 

Our Charlie Brown Christmas tree,
made of spruce branches tied together
As to what Christmas will look like out here, tonight Rita and I are having a festive dinner with the sisters who live next to us, followed by midnight Mass.  If the timing works out properly, in between the two events I'll join an EC family as they and a large group of other families walk to the edge of town to a cowshed where they will sing praise songs.  Since Jesus was born in a stable, I think it's a beautiful plan and hope to be able to join them.  On Christmas day, I'll spend the day at a local Benedictine monastery with the Butare members of the EC.  We will eat, sing, play games, and I don't know what else.  Rita will hang out with a Brazilian religious congregation.  After Christmas we'll spend a few days in Butare and then head back up to Kigali for a day trip to Akagera National Park (http://www.african-parks.org/Park_2_Akagera+National+Park,+Rwanda.html) and more time hanging out in Kigali.  We'll be there until the 1st and then school starts up on Jan 6.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

One of my Side Missions and a Garden Update

Early on in my Rwandan time (2 days from now marks 4 months already), I was asked by the priest across the street if I would be willing to teach English one hour a week to the eight novices who live with him (one Rwandan, one from the Central African Republic, one Congolese, and five Cameroonians).  [Novices are men in their first year of studies to be priests for a religious order/congregation, such as this group of men who are with the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts.]  Since I didn't have any regular commitments yet, I agreed and for probably 3 months now, every Monday I walk across the street to teach from 8:30-9:30 pm.
In front: Shadrach, Archange, me, Fidele, Wilfred, Gustin, Albert
In back: Gideon, Ivan

It is such a joy for me.  Sometimes I feel lazy and hope that when I ring the bell at the gate, no one will answer so I can go home and have a free evening.  That doesn't happen, though; the door in the gate opens and I am greeted by Gustin, Albert, Ivan, Fidele, Gideon, Archange, Shadrach, or Wilfred and I instantly feel happy to be there.  I walk into the classroom and some of the men are waiting at their desks for me; we greet each other, ask about the week, and soon the last man arrives.

Since I'm not an English teacher by profession, I'm making up the lessons as I go.  I use grammar books I borrowed from the school library to get an idea of what I should teach first and how to teach it.  I'm grateful for the books and the grammar section in my English-French dictionary because they clue me in to the rules of the English language, things I might have learned in school 20-25 years ago but have long since forgotten.  Now I don't remember many of the rules; I just know what sounds right when speaking or writing, which doesn't help a ESL learner learn (such as why some simple present verbs end in an "s" and some don't, as in the example, "I like" and "he likes").

Anyway, the topics aren't the reason why I'm writing this entry.  It's to share what a joy it is to have the opportunity to teach them and to become a part of their community and them a part of mine.  What I love about being them is watching them razz each other about all sorts of things, listening to them laugh (often), seeing their kindness towards me and their brotherhood with each other.  I always come home from teaching them filled with joy and contentment.  I also occasionally attend Mass in English on Tuesday mornings at their house and I smile to hear them say the words of the Mass in English (the fruits of our first lessons together) and to watch them play their instruments and sing songs of praise.  They get so into it.  I already know that when I look back on my time in Rwanda, I will fondly remember my one hour a week with the novices and then I'll laugh.  They always make me laugh.

Here is an example of how they have become a part of my community and me a part of theirs.  Last Monday we were talking about the months of the year and I had them tell me when their birthdays are so they could practice saying dates in English.  Fidele said his was Dec. 10, which was the very next day.  I asked the other men if they were going to do anything special for Fidele, like have a birthday cake or a party.  They started joking about having nothing special and in fact, they were only going to drink water (see what I mean about razzing each other?!).  I decided that I would make the day special for him so the following day, Fidele's birthday, I made a cake and arranged with another one of the novices for my roommate and I to come over at the end of dinner to surprise Fidele with it.  It turns out he was the one to open the door for us so we shooed him away, put the candle in the cake, and walked into the dining room singing Happy Birthday.  Soon the dispersed novices were all gathered in the room, joining us as we sang Happy Birthday in many languages, and Fidele blew out his first ever birthday cake candle.  He's had birthday cakes before but never with a candle.  Needless to say, he was really touched (and soon covered with flour, courtesy of the other novices) and Rita and I spent 2.5 hours laughing and eating with him and the rest of the novices.  I plan to continue the tradition of honoring each of their birthdays with a cake.

The garden on November 18
Before I end this post, I wanted to include a quick garden update because I was looking at last month's pictures and I can't believe how much the garden has grown.  Here is one of the pictures taken November 18 that made it into an earlier post.  The corn is so small.  There's a lot of soil showing.  Then the picture from five days ago shows a radical transformation.  The corn stalks are huge (some are taller than me) and growing extra support/stabilizing fingers near the base.  The lettuce grows faster than we can eat it.  The carrot tops are full.  The onion tops stand a foot high.  The cucumbers have climbed high up the sticks I imbedded next to them and tomorrow I'll pick off the first cucumber.  A few days ago we cut the first mystery gourd but have yet to cut it open.  I think it will be time to harvest the red beans soon.  It truly is amazing to see how fast and big everything can grow with just sunlight, water, and soil nutrients.
The garden on December 10

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Pilgrimage, Birthday, and Thanksgiving All Wrapped into One

It's always interesting to be in a foreign land on such a big American holiday as Thanksgiving and one's birthday, but since that is often the case with me, I try to make the best of it by gathering whatever friends I can for a Thanksgiving feast and doing something special for my birthday.  This year, definitely the most "foreign land" I've ever been in for the two occasions, did not disappoint.

This year my birthday fell on Thanksgiving.  It was also the 32nd anniversary of the first appearance of Mary to a high school girl in Kibeho, Rwanda.  November 28 was also when the director of Fidesco (who lives in France) was going to visit the volunteers in Butare with his wife.  It was a quadrifecta of events to celebrate, all on one day.  This was definitely going to be a birthday/Thanksgiving to remember and it began with a pilgrimage to Kibeho.
My pilgrimage partner, Paul
I first heard of Our Lady of Kibeho (whose appearance over many months to three girls has been recognized by experts and which predicted the horrors of the genocide if people did not soften their hearts) through Fr. Dave Nix when he called to wish me happy birthday three years ago.  He encouraged me to look up the history of the apparitions since I share a birthday with the feast day of Our Lady of Kibeho.  I eventually bought and read a book about the apparitions when I heard a genocide survivor speak in MN.  That was years before I knew I would be sent to Rwanda with Fidesco.  Coincidence?  I think not.  I believe Our Lady of Kibeho, who called herself the "Mother of the Word" when she appeared, had a hand in bringing me to Rwanda, especially since I live only 18 miles (30 km) from Kibeho. 

The Vigil Mass with the Chapel of the Seven Sorrows
in the background
In thanksgiving for my mission in Rwanda and my life, I decided to go on pilgrimage to Kibeho for the feast day.  I really wanted to walk the 18 miles to Kibeho (the average long day on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella which I walked three years ago) on the 27th and then spend the night there to be there on the 28th.  As Nov. 27 approached, I had two problems: no one to walk with and no rooms at the hospitality houses.  Hmmm, what to do?  I decided to catch a ride with a priest if I didn't have anyone to walk with (pay attention, my relatives, who think I'm reckless) and spend my night in the church along with other pilgrims who didn't have a place to stay.  It wouldn't be comfortable, but at least I would have a roof over my head.

Well, thanks to God's providential timing, I was able to walk to Kibeho and have a bed to sleep in.  What great birthday gifts!  A Colorado girl, who works with Mother Teresa's sisters in Kigali, happened to meet an American Air Force engineer who was traveling to Kibeho for the feast day too.  She told him about me and said I was looking for someone to walk with, so Paul, even though he arrived in Kibeho on the 26th, took a bus back to Butare on the morning of the 27th so I could have someone to walk with.  He also offered me his room at the pilgrims' house and volunteered to sleep outside, which he didn't end up having to do because he roomed with two Emmanuel Community/Fidesco men from Kigali who were staying at the same place.  What a gentleman!  
The Fidesco/Emmanuel group with Anathalie, the visionary
The pilgrimage was great.  My legs were super sore after walking 18 miles without much physical preparation, but the walk was worth it.  Sometimes children walked along with us.  There were green hills and valleys at which to look.  There were a few other pilgrim groups to share the journey with, even if we didn't speak the same language.  Once in Kibeho, there was the vigil Mass the night before the 28th and the 11 am on the day of the feast.  Many people were at the shrine and as the Fidesco director's wife pointed out, there were so many colors in the crowd, meaning the colorful skirts that the women wear in Africa.  There was good food at the Cana Center where all of us stayed.  There was a meeting with one of the three visionaries who saw Mary so many years ago.  She wasn't able to say much because she spoke so much the day before and is often sick (Mary told her that if she accepted, she would have many sufferings to offer up for the salvation of souls), but we prayed together.  The Kenyans, who shared the breakfast table with Paul and I on the 28th, sang me Happy Birthday in the Kenyan English way, which is different than the American song.

The Mass for the feast day of Mary, Mother of the Word, or Our Lady of Kibeho, was full of interesting sights and things to ponder.  First, the gospel reading was from John 1, which is all about Jesus being "the Word" which came down from heaven.  I thought that choice for the Gospel for the feast of Our Lady of Kibeho was very telling.  I know some of you who read this blog are Protestant and probably wonder why we Catholics spend so much time loving Mary, but this feast shows that when Mary appears in the world, it's to help people love and know her Son better.  People were drawn to Kibeho on the 28th because Mary appeared there, but once she gets us there, the Mass calls us to mediate on Jesus who is the Word.  The Word that created the universe.  The Word that gives us life.  The Word that heals us (I think of the line in Mass which says, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul say be healed."  After the feast day, the meaning is different for me: "Only say Jesus, who is the Word, and my soul shall be healed").  Another interesting thing was when the bread and wine are presented to the bishop in the middle of the Mass.  This part of the Mass is called the "presentation of the gifts" and it's a time when all of us in the congregation are supposed to place our spiritual, physical, mental, etc. sacrifices before the Lord along with the bread and wine.  At this Mass, though, people brought literal gifts to the altar, just like in the Old Testament.  People brought sacks of potatoes, buckets of laundry detergent, mops; you name it, they brought it. 
Some of the gifts brought before the altar
Lastly, at the end of Mass there was the blessing of religious articles and water.  When Mary would appear, she would bless buckets of water that were in front of the visionaries and then the visionaries would walk through the crowd sprinkling the people.  Sometimes the visionaries would even tell Mary that the people were thirsty and needed water and then it would begin to rain.  Luckily we didn't get rained on the entire pilgrimage, but the priests did walk through the crowd sprinkling holy water on everyone and the jugs of water they held up.  Here is a link to a video I posted on YouTube of the crowd praising during the song of thanksgiving after communion: http://youtu.be/pmBqWkFbpAs

Sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner

After the religious celebrations, I caught a ride back to Butare with the Fidesco Kigali team and started preparing Thanksgiving dinner.  Because this post is getting long winded, I'll make this part short.  Rita and I had the French volunteers in town, the international director and his wife, the French volunteer in Kigali, and the Rwandan Fidesco employee to our house for Thanksgiving dinner.  We made stuffing with dried sausage, mashed potatoes without gravy, green bean casserole, corn fritters, and sweet potato pie.  You'll note the absence of turkey.  No day-after turkey sandwiches for me.  Dried cream of mushroom soup and homemade fried onions went into the casserole.  One can of corn went into the fritters, which cost less than having enough canned corn for creamed corn.  Sweet potato pie is dense, but it turned out perfectly.  Segolene, the French mom, made a carrot orange cake, which became my birthday day loaded with candles.  Her children drew pictures for me as birthday gifts and Segolene and Rita gave me a skirt that is just my style.  It was definitely a birthday and Thanksgiving I'll never forget.

31 years old!

Sweet potato pie

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Happy early Thanksgiving

Since I don't know if I will access the internet before Thursday, I wanted to take the opportunity to wish all of you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. 

I am thankful for your support of my Rwandan mission, either through the prayers many of you offer for me and the people I work with, your financial contributions to Fidesco, the packages and letters you send me, or all of the above.  I remarked to my roommate recently that I receive more cards, packages, and emails from my family and friends while I am in Rwanda than I ever have and I am grateful to you for the love and care you show me (and the students with your books and craft items).  As I said in my fundraising letter, I really do want you to share in the mission with me and many of you are doing that by supporting me.

I want you to know that your lives, needs, and concerns aren't forgotten by me either.  I might not know what they are, but many times a week I am praying for your intentions.  I've taken up the habit of praying the rosary while I walk around town and one of my five regular intentions (one intention for each mystery of Jesus' life) is for "the family and friends I left back home and the intentions of my benefactors."  Since I walk into town often, that means I'm praying for your intentions regularly, just as you pray for me.

As for what my Thanksgiving will look like, it definitely won't be like home.  I plan to spend the morning in Kibeho, which is 30 km (18 miles) away and is the place where Mary appeared to some high school girls in the 1980s.  Thursday is the 32nd anniversary of her first appearance, exactly one year before I was born, so I will join thousands of other pilgrims at the Shrine of Our Lady of Kibeho to celebrate her feast day, my birthday, and Thanksgiving.  In the afternoon I'll return to Butare and will have dinner with the Fidesco volunteers in town, as well as the Fidesco director and his wife who are visiting the country.  If we go out to eat, I'll make a sweet potato dessert of some sort to have the Thanksgiving-themed dish.  If we eat at the French family's house, I will prepare some traditional dishes, such as mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and perhaps stuffing.  No turkey, though.  I haven't seen any in the country.
Celebrating with the MN Emmanuel Community in 2011

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Cooking and Growing Food Experiment

Corn, red beans, lettuce, and carrots
One thing that I appreciate about serving in Rwanda is all of the first-time experiences, especially in the garden.  For the first time in my life, I have planted red beans, carrots, onions, lettuce, and cabbage and I learn so much from the locals about how to care for the crops.  I've learned that onions can be transplanted and that it's best to pull out the shoots and replant them after a rainstorm so the ground is pliable and wet.  I've learned that cabbage can be transplanted too and the rules above apply.  Cabbage grows a long taproot so the shoots that are transplanted early survive better than ones transplanted later.  Today I thinned the last of the cabbage plants, but they were too big to replant.  Instead they became rabbit and cattle food, in addition to the carrot tops you'll read about next. 
Mystery gourd or melon
I've learned that carrots can't be transplanted so even though I sowed the seeds close together, today I had to pull out a lot of the carrot tops so the remaining shoots can develop fat carrots.  (By the way, sowing the seeds close together wasn't a mistake on my part.  That is what the online resources say to do.)   I've learned that once the carrots are thinned, the soil should be pushed up around the base of the shoots so the carrots have more soil to grow in or something like that.  I've learned that the seed for red beans is a red bean.  Rita and I bought beans for eating and I took a few and put them in the ground. Now that they are growing tall and climbing up the sticks I placed
Red bean pods
near them, I've learned that the beans grow in pod which look just like green beans.  The first time I saw the pods, I asked myself, "Did I accidentally plant green beans?"  Given how often we eat green beans, that would have been a good idea.  I've learned that red beans are susceptible to a parasite that attacks the flowers and keeps the plant from growing pods and when I see the telltale black spots on the stems or leaves, I have to cut off the infected part or tear out the plant to keep the bugs from spreading.  I had to tear out three plants today once I was informed of the problem.  I've learned that the mystery gourd pictured above, which we inherited with our garden plot, grows very well and is probably a local variety of pumpkin that will turn orange on the inside but not the outside.  I've learned that lettuce grows very fast once it gets going and that it can be cut off near the stem and will continue to grow through at least five cuttings.

I have had a lot of first-time experiences in the kitchen too, but given that the food doesn't always turn out as well as it would in the States, I wouldn't mind having to be less creative/adaptable in the kitchen.  One example from my early days in Rwanda was when I tried to make a Mexican meal of tortillas, Spanish rice, beans, and guacamole.  Since there was no wax paper or plastic wrap in my kitchen (still isn't), I tried to pat down the corn tortillas by hand, but they were too fat and weren't very flexible when it was time to eat them.  The beans were average, but the Spanish rice was close to authentic.  Another example was my attempt at foccacia bread.  Since our oven only has a working coil on top, we have to make thin breads, cakes, and quiches.  Otherwise, the underside will be undercooked or raw.  Hence, the foccacia bread.  I used instant yeast that was at the house from the previous volunteers and
Homemade pizza without cheese
it didn't have quite the life it should have.  The dough managed to rise the first time but didn't rise once I laid it out in the pan.  So instead of fluffy foccacia, we got dense foccacia that reminded me of an olive-oil-saturated pie crust.  What to do with it?  I know, let's make pizza with the ingredients at hand.  Tomato paste and water became pizza sauce.  Sliced tomatoes and onions, shredded zucchini, and chopped garlic became the toppings.  A short time in the oven and we had a delicious pizza.  I was disappointed when the foccacia bread didn't turn out like it was supposed to, but with a little bit of creativity, we managed to make it work. 

If you know my personality well, you can imagine that I don't like it when a project, such as a cooking project, doesn't turn out as it was supposed to, with the end result I expected to have, but my Rwandan kitchen is teaching me to be flexible and make due with whatever is the end result of a project, even if it wasn't what I expected.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Being White Attracts a Crowd

Timothee, Segolene, and Nolwenn in the Benedictine forest
I imagine most of you have seen pictures or video of a white person in a rural African village, surrounded by children.  At least I had such a picture in my mind when I came to Rwanda and only recently was it fulfilled in my life.  I have two experiences from the past week to share.

On Sunday the Butare Fidesco volunteers (that’s Rita, the des Horts family, and myself) welcomed the newest addition to Fidesco team serving in Rwanda, Timothee from France.  He will serve at the center for street boys in Kigali and had a whopping eight days in Rwanda under his belt when we all got together.  First we went to morning Mass at the local Benedictine monastery, followed by a tour of some of the grounds and then lunch.  [Sidenote: I am very impressed by the stewardship practiced by the monks and the people they employ.  On their grounds there is a small forest from which they harvest wood.  The wood is used to build fences and to fuel the wood-fired ovens that are used to bake bread.  They have a seedling nursery to replace the trees that are cut.  The residual heat from the ovens heats water, which is then pumped through pipes in the adjoining room to create a heated room in which the dough can rise.  It’s ingenious.]  Okay, back to being white and drawing a crowd.  After lunch we piled into Segoline and Ronan’s car and drove to the medical clinic where the two of them work.  It is in Sovu, which is where the female Benedictine convent is located.  Ronan parked the car and we set off for a 10 km loop walk through the countryside.  We traveled on dirt roads that Segoline and Ronan know well from running or making trips in the car to distribute mosquito nets, but they had never walked the road before. 
Thibaut, Ronan, and Vianney

Soon after we left the convent property and passed by mud-house homesteads, children began to gather
Louisia (back to us), Segolene, and Vianney
around us.  Some were shy and kept their distance or hid when we tried to take their picture, but others hammed it up for the camera and then ran to see what the picture looked like on the digital screen.  The four year old son of the des Horts, Vianney, organized races and all the children, black and white, took off running down the dirt road at the start of each race.  The children stayed with us for at least a mile, maybe longer, and only left us when a local man told them in Kinyarwanda that they needed to return to their homes.  It was like that each time we entered a cluster of homes.  Children walked with us and adults came out of their homes and watched from their yards.
One of the better-looking homes on the walk. 
The walls are made of mud and the roof of clay tiles.
A small boy herding cattle

The second experience was Tuesday when I went to a beautiful mission run by the Servants of Mary of the Heart of Jesus, a religious congregation that has both men and women.  Monday through Friday, 7:30 am – 12:30 pm, the brothers and sisters welcome the 2-6 year old children of local women who work at the produce market or as prostitutes.  The children are fed breakfast and lunch; their teeth get brushed; they are bathed and their clothes are washed if they are really dirty; and they have classes in Kinyarwanda, English, and French.   

Tuesday was my first time volunteering with the program and it was wonderful.  I arrived just before breakfast and as I passed out the bread and bananas, the children would reach out to touch my hand or hold my arm.  They were so curious and desired to be close to the “umuzungu” (white person).  After breakfast I sat on a lip along the wall outside and soon I had children all around me.  They stroked my hair, touched my arm and my cheek, and compared my religious medals on my necklace to theirs.  Once it was school time, I grabbed a small white board that had the English alphabet on it and began to teach in the different classrooms.  I taught them, “A for apple, B for bird, C for cat, etc,” and the English names of the safari animals that are painted on the dining room walls.  I made animal sounds and actions when appropriate (such as “L for lion, M for monkey”) and the kids enjoyed acting like monkeys along with me.  Soon lunch was served (rice, peas, green beans, and meat mixed together) and then we all went outside to play and to wait for their parents or older siblings to arrive.  I sat on a curb in the playground and once again, I had children clamoring to sit on my lap, use my leg as a pillow, have my arm around their shoulders, and play with my hair.  I was happy to offer them the affection they wanted so I rubbed my hand through their hair (or stubble), caressed their faces, tickled their necks and sides, and let them use me as their chair/pillow/backrest/etc.  I intentionally left my camera in my bag on this first day with the children, but the next time Rita and I have a morning off during the workweek, she and I will both go so we can take pictures of the other person surrounded by children.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Recent Recreation

Most weekends I spend in Butare.  I sleep in and then work in the garden on Saturday mornings.  On Saturday afternoons I usually catch up on emails or spend time working on crafts and talking with the students.  Sunday there is morning Mass and then some event to attend, either a lunch to celebrate the presentation of a baby at her church or tea and beignets (think of a plain donut) with the sisters next door.  Sunday night I try to eat with the students.
The ladies are wearing traditional Rwandan outfits

The past two weekends, though, I've had the opportunity to travel and recreate outside of Butare.  On October 27, I crammed into a bus designed for 15 but carrying 18 members of the local Emmanuel Community and we headed off to Kigali for the wedding of two other EC members, Francoise and Theoneste.  We had two buses so there were almost 40 of us who headed out of town at 7 am and returned after 9 pm.  I attended the dowry ceremony in the yard of Francoise's family house, followed by the Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church (where I sang in the choir), followed by the reception, which rivaled any reception I've seen in the US.  I plan to write about the wedding and dowry rituals in my second mission report so you'll just have to wait for that.
Enjoying meals outside

This past weekend I went to Lake Kivu with a large group of expatriates: an Australian family of five, the French Fidesco family of six, an American dad with his three boys, a married Englishman whose wife is out of the country right now, and four of us single folks from around the world (Portuguese, Australian, Rwandan, and American).  Our destination was the Kumbya Retreat Center, which is a place for Protestant missionaries to relax and is about halfway between Cyangugu and Kibuye.  I'm not Protestant, but the Australian family is so that is how we all
Friendship bracelets
got to go there.  We stayed in two cabins that are without electricity or indoor toilets, but there is a flush toilet outside one of the cabins.  The schedule for the weekend was basically sleep, eat, swim, repeat.  I'm not much for taking naps so after lunch I taught the French girls how to make friendship bracelets and played Uno and Rummikub.  Saturday night I watched lightning flash through the sky from the back porch of one of the houses and then enjoyed the fireplace inside.

On Sunday, my car stopped at the visitor center in Nyungwe National Park.  We four single people and the Brit paid our money and met Narcisse, the guide who would take us through the fields of tea owned by the Gisakura Tea Plantation and into the rainforest protected by the park.  The destination was a waterfall about three miles away.  I loved it!  My hike in Nyungwe was the highlight of the weekend.  The tea fields have the neon yellow-green color that reminds me of spring in Minnesota and that's because the harvesters pinch off the top 3-5 leaves for tea and then new leaves grow and have the yellow-green color.  The rainforest is so lush, with moss and plants growing out of the bark of living trees and vegetation everywhere. And it's definitely a rainforest.  It started to rain when we were in the tea fields and continued as we entered the forest.  Eventually the rain stopped and only the drops from the trees continued to get us wet.  Thanks to the rain and it being the rainy season, the waterfall was very full, creating a spray that was visible from far away and that made it hard to keep camera lenses spot-free.  As I walked, I was reminded of the days I spent backpacking in Costa Rica with Outward Bound.  That too was an equatorial rainforest during the rainy season and the similarity between the two forests made me wish even more that I had my backpacking gear with me in Rwanda.  I would love to spend days backpacking (with a guide, of course) through the forest.

The Gisakura Guesthouse

Lastly, this wasn't a weekend activity, but yesterday I was invited to travel with the cathedral's pastor to the major seminary on its patronal feast day of St. Charles Borromeo.  I attended the Mass in the seminary chapel and the sight of the orange bricks and 120 seminarians in cassocks (the religious dress that is normally black in the US) reminded me so much of my time in Denver and attending Mass at the Christ the King chapel attached to the seminary.  How I love the sound and sight of many men singing and planning to give their entire lives to the service of the Lord and his Church.  After the Mass, there was a graduation ceremony to pass out their degrees from a Roman university and then the reception.  The seminarians played guitar, sang, and recited poems.  The bishops gave many speeches, which were translated by the pastor who invited me.  After the reception was over, some priests, religious sisters, and myself were invited to the rectory for some more drinks and celebrating in honor of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and the men who are being trained to be shepherds after his own heart.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thanks Mom!

Joy, joy, joy!  10-12 pounds, many shopping hours, and $75 in shipping later, I received a package from my mom and brother today.  How exciting.  It's the biggest care package I've ever received from my family and it's full of goodies for my students, for my kitchen, and for my recreation.

It's possible to fit quite a lot in a box that is around 1'x1x5".  Each thing will be helpful for my quality of life or my work.  

  • First, many spices.  There are spices here, but they are exotic in the country and therefore expensive.  Now I have a huge variety that I can use to make different recipes, which I enjoy doing.  
  • Then, to help after I use the spices, dish gloves.  We wash everything by hand and sometimes the pots are gross.  
  • And who could miss the Jif peanut butter in the picture?  It's my first brand name peanut butter in 3 months and the first non-powdered peanut butter in 2 months and the first peanut butter in general in 1 1/2 months.  I already celebrated its arrival with a peanut butter sandwich.
  • Then there are things for the students: 10 books, 3 bundles of nylon string that I'll use to make knot rosaries with and for the students, and various holy cards and religious trinkets that were sent to my mom to solicit funds.
  • Then for me (besides the food): a letter from my sponsored child in Kenya, the last two Backpacker magazines in my subscription, cleansing clothes for my face when our water is cut off, mounting tabs to keep my USA and Africa maps on the wall (with masking tape, they kept falling off), and a sun hat.  The sun is triply strong in Rwanda because there is less atmosphere to block the rays because of the higher elevation and the rays are stronger anyway because we are near the equator.  I sat outside from 6:30 am - 12 pm with the students a week ago as we waited for their parents to pick them up and my face got so burned, mostly my nose and forehead.  I had raccoon eyes for a few days so I am grateful for the hat.

What would you ask to be put into a 10-12 pound package if you lived away from home and wouldn't return for 9 1/2 months?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Just Musing

I've started working my lesson plans for next year and as I was reading the YouCat (a youth catechism), I came across this great quotation from St. Edith Stein: "What did not lie in my plan lay in God's plan.  And the more often something like this happens to me, the livelier becomes the conviction of my faith that - from God's perspective - nothing is accidental."  I don't know what the context of this quotation is, what the "something like this" is referring to, but I agree with the message of the quotation. 

So many times I make decisions by trying to predict the outcome of my future if I take one path over another.  If I do Fidesco and/or stay for two years, will I miss out on my chance to get married and have babies?  If I take one job, will I miss out on a better one that would have come along later if I kept searching?  I'm always trying to predict the future and to plan what will come next, but St. Edith Stein's message is that we don't have to try so hard.  We don't have to stress ourselves out trying to control the future and the outcome of every decision.  What if we just relaxed, tried to make wise decisions each day, and then let life happen to us?  God knows what's best for us anyway and he wants that for us.

An example of what I'm talking about is a friend of mine who was heart-broken over an ended relationship.  She moved back home to be close to her family and to heal, I assume, and there she met a good man and it about to be married.  She so wanted to marry the first guy, but when that didn't go as she planned, God used the heartbreak to bring her home where she would meet her future husband.  His plan was better than her plan.

As to how this relates to my own life, I have been blessed in Rwanda to live day-to-day.  I know the future is out there, with decisions to make as to whether I will renew my Fidesco contract at the end of my year or what jobs to apply for and in what state(s) when I return home, and questions that come with those decisions, like which increases my odds of meeting my husband or being happy in my work, etc, but I don't worry about those things out here.  And even those questions are the wrong questions.  The future is not a matter of odds; it's a matter of God's Providence.  I could meet my husband in a city with very few Catholic men or I could not meet him in a city full of them.  Nothing is accidental so as long as I serve God and strive to do his will, he will put me in the right place at the right time for all things.  And here in Rwanda, I feel I am in the right place, doing the right thing, and even if I had always planned to do Fidesco with a husband (that's why I waited 8 years before finally doing it), God had a different plan and I'm happy with it.  I look forward to discovering step by step what else he has planned for my crazy, blessed life.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Words for the Upcoming School Holiday Period

Last week I read a quotation from Pope John Paul I.  He was talking about a professor at Bologna University and this is what he said: "Giosu's Carducci ... was of the race of those who say: 'To teach John Latin, it is not enough to know Latin - one must also know and love John.'  And again: 'The value of the lesson depends on the preparation.'"  This short passage speaks to my experience recently and soon in the future.

Yesterday 2/3 of the students left the school for their "summer" break.  They will be gone for more than two months.  On November 8, the remaining 1/3 will also leave, this time for good because the Senior 3s will likely be assigned to a new school for their last three years of secondary school and the S6s will graduate.  The night before the students left, the various Catholic movement groups on campus had a going away party where the S3s and 6s said a farewell song and the other students gave individual tribute to them.  As I looked at the faces of the girls standing on the stage who were singing their goodbye song, I had to hold back tears from the thought of those girls leaving and not coming back.  It was bizarre because I can't even tell you the names of most of the girls, but I know their faces and I have memories of playing cards, untying a human knot, eating dinner, teaching, and traveling to Gisenyi with them.  I asked myself two questions during that night:
  1. How do full-time educators do it?  How do they bond with students and grow to care for them over 1, 2, 3, or 4 years and then watch them disappear every single year?  Either they get used to it or it's always brutal.
  2. If this is how I feel after only two months with the students, what will it be like when I say goodbye to all of them after another seven (I subtracted the two months I won't see them in November and December) or nineteen (if I renew for another year) months?  Gosh, it will be heart-wrenching.
These thoughts and emotions connect to the first part of the quotation by Pope John Paul I.  I do want to teach the students well, but more importantly, I want to know and love them.  Odds are, ten years from now, they won't remember what I taught, but they will remember my example and how I did or didn't love them.  I hope they remember me for loving them well.

The second part of the quotation applies to what comes next for me during this "summer" break.  I anticipate my work hours will be boring since I won't have the students to spend time with, but one good thing is that I will have plenty of time to prepare lesson plans for the upcoming school year.  Since that feels like doing homework every single day, I'm not looking forward to it, but I know it is necessary and helpful for my effectiveness as a teacher.  As John Paul I said, my preparation makes or breaks the lesson.  Once I get started on the work, I'll probably enjoy it, but the procrastinator in me is thinking it will be terrible. 

Besides working on lesson plans, I'll also help organize the books in the library.  Since I like to organize things and I like books, that could be fun.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

After Finals Fun, Books, and Gardening

Wednesday afternoon the Senior 1, 2, 4, and 5 students finished their final exams and began a week of leisure as they wait to receive their grades.  They still have their regular chores to do but other than that, they have time to watch movies, play sports and games, make bracelets, etc.  I was really missing my time with the girls when they were in finals week so I am so happy that they are done and we can spend lots of time together.

The last two mornings I passed out embroidery thread so they could make bracelets.  I had to come up with a system to pass out the colors in an orderly way; otherwise the girls swarm around me and put their hands in front of my face so their hand is the closest one when I pass out the strings.  That was crazy!  Finally I decided to pass out the strings in a slow but less chaotic way.  The girls stand in a circle around me and I go around the circle asking them to pick one color, which I then distribute.  I keep going around the circle until the strings run out for that day or everyone has five strings.

I've also been playing a lot of cards with the students.  I taught them Crazy Eights when I first arrived, but since the redundancy week began, I've taught them Spoons and Slap (aka Egyptian Ratscrew).  I have plans to add Rummy, President, and Nertz to the mix once enough girls know the other three games.  A deck of cards is a great thing to bring on any trip; people can be entertained for hours with something that takes up hardly any room in a suitcase.

Lettuce!  Only a week or two until we start eating it.
Yesterday was the market day (Rita and I shop on Fridays) and as I walked home from the market, I said a little prayer to the Lord, which was, "Lord, it would be really nice if the package Carl mailed to me was finally at the post office."  And sure enough, after a week or two of waiting expectantly for the books he sent, there was a note in our PO box saying I had a package in the office.  It took 27 days to arrive.  I was so happy and even happier when I saw what he sent.  Thanks to Carl Bunderson, my Augustine Institute classmate and Denver friend, I now have the entire Chronicles of Narnia, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre to loan out the girls and then leave for the school library when I return home.  Thanks a million, Carl!

Left: the first corn shoots.  Right: beans
Lastly, Rita's and my garden continues to grow.  It's a great source of satisfaction for me.  My Saturday routine is to wake up, eat, and then head out to the garden before it gets too hot.  Even today at 8 am it was warm already.  Saturdays is when I plant new seeds and I think the plot might finally be at capacity.  In the course of the past 3-4 weekends, Rita and I have planted corn, beans, zucchini, cucumber, cilantro, spinach, parsley, red onions, carrots, cabbage, and two varieties of lettuce.  The beans, carrots, onions, and lettuce have been up for a few weeks now.  The corn is just starting to pop up and the first two cucumber seeds have sprouted.  I'm still waiting for the other two cucumbers, two zucchinis, and the spinach to sprout.  I planted extra lettuce today to fill in the gaps where the previous seeds didn't sprout.  On the other days of the week, I will often swing by the garden to look for new growth and to pull weeds.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Long time, no post

Traveling to the competition in a private bus
I apologize for not writing for a few weeks.  I've been working on my first mission report, which Fidesco will send to all those who donated and those on my contact list, so I've been saving some good stories for the report.  I don't want to tell you all the news in the blog and have there be nothing new to read in the report!

The beautiful hills of Rwanda, covered with fields
Since it will be at least a few weeks and probably closer to a month before you receive the report in the mail or in your inbox, let me give you the big picture of what has been and what is happening out here.  October 4-6 I traveled with the school's traditional dance and singing troupe to Gisenyi, which is in the northwest of the country and along the shores of Lake Kivu.  The troupe was competing in a national dance competition set up by the Ministry of Culture.  They faced off against 12 other schools and came in 7th.  The girls were disappointed by the results, but as I told some of them, they beat 20 other schools in the course of the quarterfinals, semi's, and then finals to become 7th in the nation.  That's pretty good.

Gisenyi is a little paradise
A couple geographical images from the trip.  First, the northern shores of Lake Kivu remind me of the ocean.  The lake is very wide in the north so waves wash onto shore just like at a beach.  The waves are small, but looking at the shoreline reminded me of being on the coast of Cali.  Second, driving in Rwanda is like perpetually driving in the mountains, although you don't always go up or down in elevation.  The road twists and turns, the land slopes up on one side and down on the other, and people get carsick.  Oh, yes, it happened to one poor girl who vomited through most of the 5 hour trip to Gisenyi and part of the 4 hour trip back home.  So even if the mileage isn't long, places take longer to get to because of the reduced speed required by the curves in the road.  Third, people graze their livestock on the shoulder of the road.  On the drive home, I saw many cows, goats, and sheep grazing on the side of the road, often with boys with sticks shepherding them.

I would have swum, but only men were swimming.
Most of the troupe enjoying the lake shore
Back at the school, life has been quiet.  The students in Senior 3 and 6 are finished with their final exams and are now studying for the national exams they will take from October 28-November 8.  The other 4 years of students are in the midst of final exams, but tomorrow they will finish them and then have a week of fun at the school as they wait for their grades.  Needless to say, I've been quite bored while the students are occupied with studying and taking exams, but I do get to be with them in the afternoons.  I look forward to the week ahead because a lot of the students will be free and we will play games and cards together, I will teach them songs and how to make friendship bracelets, and I plan to show them an American movie (to improve their English, of course).  I need to store up as much joy from being with the students as I can because in less than a month, they will all go home for two months and I will be sad.  I do have offers from students who live in Butare to visit them at their homes so I plan to take them up on that.  It will be a good way to better understand the lives of the students here and to get to know them and their families better.

A few pictures of the different dance troupes

Notice that a lot of the groups have male dancers also

My girls