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