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:

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.