Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Rwanda is like the State Fair (?)

So, I've been home for a week and a half now. I figured I had to post a “reintegration” blog, just to wrap this entire experience up. But at the same time, I’ve been delaying it as much as possible, because this kind of feels like letting go. I’ve been working on the same post for several days now, writing a paragraph or a few sentences every day – so, I apologize if it’s a bit scatterbrained.

I guess the main thing that I have to report is that I had some of the best two months of my entire life this summer. People at home – friends, coworkers, etc. – keep asking me, “So you were in Africa, right? How was it?” and I still haven’t come up with a good answer. The nine weeks that Tate and I spent in Rwanda can’t be summarized in passing; there were so many adventures and troubles and sagas to elaborate on that I find myself answering, “Oh, yes, I was in Rwanda. It was awesome!” which is the most drastic underplaying I can possibly imagine.

I don’t think I’ve experienced culture shock. Certainly not to the same extent as I did in Rwanda. I definitely got some jet lag, but coming home has been easier than anticipated. We were warned about the worst, but it’s been fun coming home to hang out with my family. It’s been comfortable, that I get to plop down in my bed and watch Netflix and OH MY GOD, IF I HAVEN’T SAID THIS YET, IT NEEDS TO BE NOTED. I forgot how fast the internet is! It’s wonderful! I can send a message on Facebook and it APPEARS! Right away! I don’t have to wait for the internet to summon the strength to toss the email or notification out into cyberspace – it just goes! Small miracles, people.

There have been a few surprises – for example, a few hours after I returned home from the airport, I was thirsty and went to get myself a drink. The fact that I could go to the cabinet and grab a glass, then take only two steps to the refrigerator and press a button for ice and for perfectly sound drinking water – straight from the tap! – was practically a miracle. I yelled excitedly to my family, “HEY GUYS, GUESS WHAT I’M DOING???? I JUST GOT WATER FROM THE FRIDGE!” Not surprisingly, they responded, “….Cool, Caroline…”

I suppose the biggest thing that’s different is trying to talk to people about the small differences. People love to hear about the elephants I saw or how women carry baskets of fruit on their head, because it seems so Africa-ey and cultured. But I’ve noticed that people just can’t relate to the smaller things, like the way we had a “house girl” to clean for us or riding moto taxis. Strangely, it’s tidbits like these that are harder to relate to – I’m not sure why. These are things that could potentially fit into our American lives, but they don’t, and maybe that’s why they’re so weird.

The only other thing is talking to people about the poverty that Tate and I witnessed. It doesn’t bother me, exactly, but the conversations I had make me realize how different my viewpoint is now.
For example, I was talking to one of my sister’s friends yesterday about going to Rwanda, and he had recently visited Honduras. When I spoke about the rampant poverty that I had witnessed, he nodded and kind of shook his head – because that’s something that you can’t un-see. But many others have shown the “Gee, that’s sad. I just can’t understand it!” face – a face that I used to wear. Interesting to think how far I’ve come in just two months.

At the same time, though, I think I’m the same person. Maybe a little more thoughtful, maybe a little more world-conscious, but I’m the same. I’ll probably make fewer “Clear your plate; there are starving children in Africa!” comments. Well, actually, I’ll probably make more. And then it will get super awkward because I’ve interacted with those starving children… HMM.

At work today, I got an email from my friends back in Rwanda, asking about home and following up on the work that Tate and I are going to do back home. I have a meeting set up with the YWCA of Milwaukee, I’m hoping to sell some handicrafts, we’ll be talking to CWS and other potential donors, and we’re editing PowerPoints and printing brochures. Just sending the email made me nostalgic, though. This is the last time on this blog, I promise, that you’re going to hear it – but yes, for the final time, Rwanda made me cry.

I’m done now. This is my last post. When I started writing this, I thought I wanted to post some final hurrah, drop a giant bomb on people so they’d go “Oooh, she must have really thought about that one! What insight!” But, the truth is, my work isn’t done. I’m staying in touch with the YWCA, I’ll keep thinking about the people I’ve met and I’ll help them out forever. I want to make a difference in some lives. And I’m not sure how I’m going to do that, but one day it will happen. We’ll see. It will be fun, seeing how this all plays out.

I was looking through my sticky notes on my computer, making sure there wasn’t anything else that I wanted to say. I came across this gem… so, here’s a fun insight that I had halfway through my stay.

Rwanda is like the State Fair (which, coincidentally, is going on now and I will hopefully be attending tonight or later this week)

Sometimes, cows just cross your path. They walk around, wherever they want to. And they’ll bust into the scene when you least expect it.

Fashion sense is not what you anticipated. People do not look like they do in your regular life. You question their motives.

There are moments where you don’t understand why people are doing what they’re doing. Maybe you’ll stare at them with curiosity, and maybe they’ll stare at you.

The food makes no sense. It sounds like a good idea at the time, but it turns out that you probably shouldn’t have eaten that, after all (Tate).

Sometimes, there are some weird smells that you just have to accept, and ultimately, it won’t bother you anymore. You get used to it.

You can’t help it – you want to go back. Year after year – no matter how much fun you had or how little fun you had at times – there’s a special place in your heart.

The main difference: they don’t have deep-fried beer in Rwanda. Although they do have sorghum beer, which is absolutely disgusting. We tried it when we were on the "Cultural Museum" trip, up in the Gisenyi area. Don't try it, guys. It's pretty gross.

Maybe I'll think of more to say later, and maybe I won't.
For now, though, I'm signing off.

Thank you for staying with me through all of my travels. It's been amazing, if I haven't made that clear already. I've learned so much, and I'm so thankful that I got to see it all and meet the people and learn so much. I maybe haven't mentioned this, but I actually applied for this internship on a whim. I didn't think I was going to get it (what IT Management and Psychology major gets picked to for an International Studies prorgam??) and at first, I didn't know that I wanted to get it.
But, it turns out, there's always a plan. I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I hadn't gone to Rwanda. I wouldn't have met Tate! I wouldn't have this appreciation for Africa. I wouldn't have 26 (Rainia counted them the day before we left) mosquito bites on my legs.

You win some, you lose some.

All in all, though - thank you. I'm so grateful.
This has been such a blessing. (I picked that phrase up from Pudentienne!)

All my love, kiddos.
And a giant hug to all of my friends in Rwanda. I miss you so much and I love you to pieces.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Last Weekend, First Prostitutes!

Tate and I keep having those moments where one of us will look at the other and say, "Can you believe that this is the last time we'll ever ______?" It was the last weekend we spent in Kigali, it was the last time we took a bus home to Muhanga, it was the last birthday Tate will ever have in Rwanda. An amazing weekend, for sure. But underlying all of it was the bittersweet feeling that in just one week, we'd be gone. And now that time is even shorter. 

Tate and I leave Rwanda on Saturday evening (I still need to check what time our flight is). Our last day in the office will be Thursday, after which we will grab all of our clothes and souvenirs from our beautiful house and head to Kigali. We'll spend Friday doing last-minute runs for gifts and generally enjoying the precious few moments we'll have in Rwanda. I can't believe it's coming to an end. I can't believe I'm going to have to say goodbye to these hills (mountains), my work, these people. It's been 8 weeks! I've been in Africa for 8 weeks! Me! Caroline! I'm one of those people who, "No, obviously, I've never been to Africa. That's too exotic!" and yet now, I can say that hey - I've got a family across the ocean. That's just crazy. It really is. 
Blahhh. No words.

So I suppose I should tell you about our weekend now.

It was the 20th birthday of my very best friend in all of Rwanda - none other than the lovely and talented Ms. Tate Ryan-Mosley. Although she was less than enthused to leave her teenage years behind, she was excited to see all of our friends. And rightfully so!
We headed to Kigali on Friday night, to spend the night with Ernestine's family. (I know, right? Aren't they sick of us yet?) We hung out and played with the kids and all of the zillions of cousins running around, then went to bed. We woke up late (per usual) and had some tasty breakfast, then set out to go shopping. Tate wanted a dress to wear on her birthday that didn't look like she was about to go camping. Neither of packed a particularly scintillating wardrobe, never expecting that we'd have to do fancy things, or really that we'd do anything besides go to work and sit at home. Well, since we actually have had a social life while we've been in Rwanda, it has been quite an adventure trying to look cute.
Anyway, most of the afternoon was spent searching for a birthday outfit for Tater Tot. I kid you not when I say that we probably went into 15 stores, trying to find one stinkin' dress. Actually, I ended up buying a dress for the equivalent of $4, while we were out on the street. It was just a guess that it was going to fit me, since it was just a guy wandering around trying to sell a few dresses, and Pudentienne and Ernestine actually haggled for it while we were standing on the side of the road. Well, it worked, and actually it's a really cute dress. I'm definitely going to wear it at home -- score!

But back to the dress fandango - 15 stores, one of which Raissa (who we were shopping with) spilled a soda in (all over the floor, and a little on my feet since she was sitting in my lap). Luckily, the millionth time's the charm, and Tate ended up buying a cute black dress to wear.
Well, then we had to find shoes.
Nine thousand (or over 9000? ........sorry, everyone who got that reference.......) stores later, our group was finally able to put the shopping behind us, because Tate had a dress and heels to wear for her birthday dinner! Huzzah!

With a dress and shoes for Tate, we headed back to get ready and then went to Assumpta's house. We met the entire extension of family there - about 30 or so people all told - cousins, aunts, uncles, kids... the whole shebang. From there, we walked to dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. Apparently there's a giant population of Indian people in Kigali - who knew? At any rate, the food was absolutely DELICIOUS. The best part of the night came after the food, when the lights went out and a parade of cake and presents and singing waiters came out to serenade Tate and lavish her with gifts. Every family had chipped in to buy flowers, a dress, bags, etc. for Tate's birthday. 
Tate said that she had never been away from her family on her birthday before, and honestly -- she still wasn't. Even though we don't necessarily look like we quite fit in with the group, being two pale blonde girls, we feel like part of the family. Everyone has accepted us into their homes, let us borrow toiletries or pajamas, fed us... it's amazing. We're so undeserving. 
There were a few speeches, even, thanking us for coming and being a part of their lives - hah. Needless to say, there were a few tears. But most of all, I kept thinking, "Are you crazy? We are the ones who should be thanking YOU!" I've said it before, but we're spoiled rotten by these people. I'm glad that some of them will be coming to the US, and I hope to share even a fraction of their hospitality. 
When the dinner was over and we had enough photos taken to last a lifetime, Tate, "the Steves" (Steve, Blaze, Davy), Eugene (the chaperone) and I all headed out to go to a club or bar for Tate's birthday. We stopped at a few places that were semi-classy but overwhelmingly empty, and ultimately settled at a slightly smelly but overall hilarious bar. Of course, we were out on the dancefloor, shaking our booties, and -- OH! I forgot to mention this!
I saw my first prostitutes!
While we were driving, the boys kept pointing out that "Hey, there's some prostitutes on the side of the road." Tate and I wondered how they could tell, and asked them. "Why else would those women be waiting randomly on the street?" Well, fair point, but still. 
So here's where it gets even better. There were prostitutes in the club! 
I was raising the roof next to a prostitute who was showing off her moves. 
In retrospect, I should have thrown down and we could have had a dance battle... alas. Hindsight is 20/20.
We went home, slept in the next morning, of course, and spent the day lounging in the sun on the front porch. I got my hair combed, messed up, then re-combed about 300 times that day, by various children who were fascinated by my blonde locks. I'm going to miss that when I go home. But not the hair-pulling part.
We took the bus home - potentially our last bus ride ever. Probably our last bus ride ever. DEPRESSING.

On Monday, Tate and I went into a deep depression about how we're leaving soon, then proceeded to panic because there's still SO MUCH to finalize. 
Hey guess what I made, though? Quickly threw it together, but if you want to see a video featuring some adorable 3-5 year olds, take a peek - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUpLUMOfQnQ&feature=g-upl !
For the entire day, we were pretty focused on getting our work done. At the end of the day, we had a little side trip to make before going home. Monique took us to the market to buy some cloth, and we brought that cloth to a nearby tailoring shop. We commissioned some shirts to be made! Out of fabric that we picked out!
I've never had anything tailored for me, before. I got my measurements taken and everything. How cool is that? I think that we'll pick up our shirts tonight, which will be awesome. I hope it fits! -- but then again, how could it not? I got measured! 
While we were getting measured, though, the power went out in Gitarama. Everywhere. We were measured by flashlight, and then proceeded to walk a mile or so home along bumpy dirt roads, using only the light of Monique's cell phone to see by. Needless to say, because we were carrying computers, eggs, and our own precious bodies, it was a bit adrenaline-inducing. But, it's kind of funny to think it - it wasn't completely unexpected. Tate and I roll with the punches now. "Oh, the lights just went out across the city and we have to navigate a series of potholes and gutters to find our way down a dirt road home? Alrighty, well, let's get to it, then!"
And in just two months. 
Imagine if we were staying longer!
I wouldn't be fazed if someone pants'ed me on the street and ran away.
Okay well, maybe. But you know what I mean.

Soooooo anyway. Tuesday. Similarly to Monday, we worked diligently all morning. The interesting part was in the afternoon. Tate and I had been looking at handicrafts, picking out some to bring home. We'll be trying to get partnerships with YWCAs in the US, so that they can either sell handicrafts or perhaps they can partner on other programs. In any case, we're bringing home a bunch of bags, jewelry, baskets, etc., to give a better idea of what YWCA Rwanda can offer.

At any rate, while we were speaking with a woman in one of the YWCA working groups about how her products were made, etc., Tate got a phone call from an unknown number. It turns out, it was Bruce, calling to say that he and Raissa would be at the YWCA in five minutes.
Good thing we knew they were coming to visit??
We had spoken with Ernestine about "the Steves" and Bruce coming to the YWCA to see some of the beneficiaries and to see what types of things we were working on, but had never gotten anything confirmed. New items kept popping up, and "the Steves" were often unavailable. Actually, Steve had texted Tate that morning, saying that he would "tell us by noon if they could come today or not." Needless to say, that text never came.
But, Bruce and Raissa did!

They rolled in just before lunch, and I took them on a mini-tour of the compound while Tate finalized things with the handicrafts. Then, we all had lunch together and afterwards, they helped us translated some of the brochures that Tate and I had finished, into Kinyarwanda. 
This went on for a little less than an hour, before we left to show them the field visit to the Batwa.
We decided to go see Frieda Grace, Tate's "adopted" little girl. Bruce and Raissa had brought some clothes that they and their siblings had outgrown, so the community (Frieda in particular) could have something clean to wear. 

We all piled into the car with Monique, and then went to Monique's house to pick up her two children - Titan and Teta - to bring them along with. Raissa and Titan are the same age (11) and in the same grade (P6), and they adorably flirted the entire time. Teehee.
But at any rate, we had to navigate the way by memory alone, since Sylvere was not with us to call ahead. When we reached Sara (the woman who adopted Frieda)'s house, we found the house empty, except for Frieda alone on the floor. 
Needless to say, Monique found the girl's adopted older siblings and put them in their place. We fed and dressed Frieda, and played with a few of the children in the community.
I think the experience was really good for Bruce and Raissa, and even Titan and Teta. They all seemed to be touched by what they saw, and Bruce in particular seemed shocked by what he had witnessed. Titan said that he would talk to his teacher about making donations on a monthly basis, which, if it works out as it should, could be truly beneficial for that community.

I was exhausted after that day, and fell asleep at about 8:30pm. I left my phone at work, so I didn't have an alarm to wake up to in the morning - so I ended up waking up mid-morning. It was a good rest!

Today, no one is in the office. There is a meeting in Kigali with people from Uganda. Although Tate and I were invited, we declined because we have too much to do before we leave. Besides office work, we have to prepare a final presentation that outlines our achievements, our work that is still pending, and our recommendations for the future of the organization. I don't want to start on it yet, because that will seem too final. Although I guess it's 5pm here now, so Tate and I should probably start that soon...

Well, I guess that's it for right meow. 
I'd like to send out one more plea for donations - www.ywcaofrwanda.org/we-need-your-help . We are aiming for several thousand dollars in the next few days, so that we can send it all as one big money transfer (international transfers end up being very expensive). The window is closing, people! You don't have forever. Just drop a few bucks our way? 5 dollars can feed a family for a week. That's not an exaggeration.

Love you all.
(And I'll see you soon! Some of you sooner than I'd like.......... just kidding!)

<3 <3 <3 

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Can You Reduce Your Breasts After You Take This Medicine?"

Possibly one of the more strange questions that I've been asked while in Rwanda. People have covered some obscure topics, to be sure, and many that I just didn't know about in terms of American culture, but I will be honest with you - this was probably the most flooring.
I was sitting at my desk on Thursday, minding my own business. Out of the blue, my coworker turns to me, and shoots out a quick inquiry...

Christine: "Caroline, I have a question for you. Can you reduce your breasts after you take this medicine?"
"I am wondering if, after you take the medicine to make your breasts large, there is medicine to make them back to the way they were before."
I'm still not following.
This came along with gesturing and pointing, to be sure. She waved me over to her computer to show me a news article that she was reading about a woman who (apparently) had an injection to make her breasts bigger. I couldn't read it, as it was in Kinyarwanda, but - don't worry - Jean Berchmans came over to ease the translation. This woman was searching for $5000 dollars, because such an operation would boost her self-confidence.
The question was then repeated - could you make your breasts go back to normal after having the injection?
Oh. Like I'm the expert on this?? Is that something you think I know about? (Is it that obvious that I've done it?)
Just kidding.

But seriously... 
I explained that I didn't know anything about that type of medicine, but that I knew you could get surgery where they actually cut you open and add or remove flesh. (Jean Berchmans made a face. I guess it is pretty gross. But I used to watch Extreme Makeover back in middle school, so I'm pretty sure that makes me a plastic surgery expert.)

Just a little tidbit of my life. 
You're welcome.

Luckily for her, Tate was absent for this little adventure. She was at the hospital with Monique, a Batwa woman named Sara, and the little girl that the Batwa picked up from the side of the road. Seriously. When Tate's mom was visiting, we went around to several of the beneficiary sites, to give her a taste of all of the programs. One of our stops was in our favorite Batwa community, but to a house that we had never seen before. There, we met Frieda Grace, a little girl whom the Batwa literally found on the side of the road, abandoned by her family. They took her in, and have been taking care of her for about a year now. She's just beautiful. In any case, Tate fell in love. She's kind of adopted her. 
I think that you should probably read her blog to find out a bit more about it, if you haven't already -- http://tate-themountainbetween.blogspot.com/2012/07/grace.html -- it's really worth the time to read.

(Also, I think she did a better job of detailing our safari adventure, so check out that post, too.)

But yes, that's where Tate was. She got back just in time to come with Pudentienne, Jeanne, Pudentienne's friend, and me to the Ibakwe school, where Pudentienne's friend surveyed the grounds and the buildings, assessing their value and estimating the costs of building a primary school. With that information (which, we hope to hear the final results on Monday), the last piece of the Ibakwe Booklet Puzzle will have fallen into place, allowing us to pursue a potential partnership with Catholic schools in Minnesota (Tate's homeland) or elsewhere. Yay!

Anyway, I don't have much to report - Tatey and I have been busy, busy bees. There's been a lot of work on the website, some brochures, videos, etc. Our biggest triumph to date, and the one that I am really wanting to share before the weekend arrives, is our brand-spanking-new DONATE BUTTON! Yes, people, we've figured it out. PayPal didn't want to let us get this functional, but the fact of the matter is, we thought that it was necessary. And, voila - brought to you by your very own Tatey and Caro, http://www.ywcaofrwanda.org/we-need-your-help/

Now, keep in mind a few things: 
One, we've worked really, really hard, and you like us.
Two, tomorrow is Tate's birthday. If you want to give her a present, but maybe you've never actually met her, I think that shooting a few bucks in the direction of YWCA is a really good place to start.
Three, and this one goes out to my loyal followers - I mentioned this before. How many times have you visited my blog, checking up on my shenanigans (or lack thereof)? For every time you've clicked on my page, maybe donate $1. Consider it.

In any case, please take the time to donate a few bucks. 

I INTERRUPT THIS POST TO SAY THAT PUDENTIENNE JUST WALKED INTO OUR OFFICE, HOLDING A USPS BOX. I JUST GOT THE PACKAGE FROM MY MOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I've been waiting for it for weeks now. I was told that it should have arrived around the 4th of July... guess that one was a bust. But it's here now, and that's what counts!!!!
Fruit leather, Swedish Fish, crossword puzzles, and homemade chocolate chip cookies -- my day could not be better.
Seriously, I kept pulling things out of the box, and exclaiming, "Hey! Goldfish!!! ... Hey! Sour Patch Kids!" This box is honestly filled with my favorite things on this planet of ours. I could not be happier. 
Thank you so much, Mommy!!!! 

Here is a picture of me being really happy about candy:
p.s. No, this was definitely NOT taken while I was still at work.

I'm really in a good mood right now. Tate and I have made some serious strides in the past few days, solidifying potential partnerships and wrapping up all of our marketing collateral. We begin our walk home every day at a little after 5pm, and look for some clothing shops to stop by - Tate has been searching for the past week, trying to find an acceptable outfit to rock on her birthday. I hate to say it, but we've been wildly unsuccessful thus far. We're hoping to score a dress or a cute shirt in Kigali when we head there this afternoon, but we'll see. It doesn't help that we both packed like we were going to be living in the boonies of Africa (Tate more than myself, thankfully... at least I didn't bring hiking boots and a shirt with sweat flaps), and thus are completely cute-clothes-less. 
Please don't spend it in emotional distress, as I did on my birthday a few short months ago.

This weekend promises to be exciting, as we'll hopefully be celebrating our little hineys off, making the most of what is our last (ulp!) weekend in Rwanda. This time next week, I'll be having heart palpitations and probably crying, since we leave the country in just 8 days. 
Holy crap. 
I can't believe I just reminded myself of that.

Well, just wanted to toss a post your guys' way before signing off for the weekend.
(Don't have a panic attack, Daddy. I'm not that far off the grid!)

I love you all, and I promise to write soon (Monday) and recount all of our birthday adventures.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for being your amazing self.
(Yes, you -- you're awesome!)

Jeepers, I'm in a good mood.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Hooooooooh baby. Please just let me apologize profusely for waiting so long to post, and then let me explain why. I realize that it's been almost a week since I last blogged, and - even worse - it's been more than a week that I just haven't told you about. The last post, I described two Fridays ago. You must be feeling so deprived. 

I'm not sure why I've been slacking so much on my blogging lately. I seriously have blogged with the regularity of Tate. WAAAHT. It's been a very low priority for me. It used to be crucial, as though everyone at home couldn't survive without knowing what mishaps Tate and I had gotten ourselves into. Well, the mishaps haven't stopped - we're always making fools of ourselves - but they seem more average now. Plus, in all honesty, I think that Tate and I hang out more now. We've become better friends over the course of these past weeks - it's been almost two months of nonstop Tate and Caroline. And I actually don't hate her. Which is kind of huge for me. And, even better, I'm pretty sure she doesn't hate me either. I don't think I'll ever get over how lucky that makes us. We've essentially lived like a married couple, only neither of us had any say in who we had to marry. 
It's like an arranged marriage.
Except neither of our families got any cows! 
(That I know of.... You never can tell with Wisconsinites and Minnesotans.)

I left off, promising to write about last Saturday and Sunday, and now I have a full week to cover between now and then. Let me do my best to recount the highlights.

Saturday and Sunday were spent doing "tourist" things. Even though we're so clearly not from Rwanda, Tate and I haven't actually done many touristey things since we've been here. I suppose that we went to the National Museum and the Genocide Memorial, but that's as close as we've gotten to tourism. That past weekend was our time to shine. Whip out your khakis and weird hats, kids, because we went on a safari!

On Saturday, Tate, Mrs. RM, Nepo, Archimede, and I all left Gisenyi to go check out some volcanoes and some parks. Have I remarked on how classic it is that I saw my first volcanoes in Rwanda of all places? Of COURSE I saw a volcano in Africa, and not one that's in the United States. I've been to China and Rwanda, but never Hawaii. Cool. Good vacation planning.
Anyway, we headed northeast from Gisenyi, 'til we were about in the middle of the north of Rwanda. We actually went to see the border with Uganda. (Count 'em, that's three countries I saw in one day. And then on Sunday, I saw Tanzania. BOOYAH!)

So, we went to the border with Uganda, saw some Ugandan mountains and some Ugandan people, and then promptly turned around and headed towards the Volcanoes National Park. 

We saw some cultural stuff (medicine man, sorghum beer, Batwa dancing) and then headed home to Kigali. On the way, we had a really in-depth and really interesting conversation about politics. Although I'm not typically one to go in for things like that, preferring to stay away from arguments which typically have no possible resolution, this was different. This was more of a history lesson, and an insider's perspective about the government. I actually can't share any of the conversation on here, because that's how it works in Rwanda. 
Let me just say, as I've said many times before, Rwanda is just SO NOT the United States.

When we got back to Kigali, we stopped off at Pudentienne's house to say hello, then spent the night at Ernestine's because we had to get up early in order to get to Akagera Park by 7am, so that we could see a lion or two! The predators, we were told, only were active before and just after the sun rose. 
We went to bed at approximately 1am, thinking, hey, maybe we just won't sleep - we have to get up at 4 in the morning anyway! 
Turns out, that was a bad plan, since I was subsequently dead tired.
Luckily, the adrenaline kicked in shortly after reaching the park, where I saw my first wild baboon. Then I saw my first hippo, followed by some gazelle. We were ambling around the ridiculously bumpy dirt road, when all of a sudden the jeep jerked to a stop because, YES, THAT'S A GIANT ELEPHANT STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATH. We had to be quiet, because elephants have been known to charge, pushing cars into lakes and generally trampling things when they get agitated. The car had to turn around and drive off slowly, waiting for the elephant to clear. (Un?)fortunately, I was sitting in the back of the truck with Steve. We had front row seats to the giant mammal, but we also would be the first ones crunched if she had decided to charge. No big deal or something.

Well, as you can guess, we survived. 

The rest of the safari, I hung out the window, photographing zebras, giraffes, impala, hippos, birds... you name it.
But don't name a lion, because there aren't any at the park.
Although we were told that by waking up obscenely early, we may catch a glimpse of these predators, our guide told us that the park actually didn't have any.
Good thing I woke up at an ungodly hour for this!

I'm just complaining needlessly, though. The whole experience was amazing. 

I got to walk up and stare a giraffe in the face.

Man, those things are BIG.


On Monday, Tate's mom was scheduled to leave. In the morning, she got a few presents to take home to her family, and explained how much she loved the YWCA and was overjoyed with how well they've been treating Tate and I. Yeah, we're really spoiled here. Everyone is much too nice to us. Her goodbyes made Tate and I think of the inevitable day that we would have to leave... bringing on even MORE tears. Perfect.
That afternoon, we took her to the airport, and said some more sad goodbyes. Tate was sad to see her mommy leave, and I was sad that I didn't have my mommy there to say goodbye to. It was really nice having her, though. I think I wrote about that in my last post.

On Tuesday, our lives were back to normal. Or, as "normal" as things get around here. It had been a while since Tate and I had made the mile-and-a-half trek to work, just us.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday passed in a bit of a blur. Our office buddies, Jean Berchmans and Christine, were gone at meetings in Burundi and another district in Rwanda, respectively. So, Tate and I blasted music and danced ourselves silly every day, enjoying our freedom.
Just kidding.
But only about the dancing part. We did blast music while they weren't here.

The best news, though, is that I started the YWCA Rwanda website! Yes, there's finally a landing pad for all of the information about programs and stuff.
Check it out -- www.ywcaofrwanda.org ! Hopefully it will give you a bit more of an idea about some of the programs I'm working on. 
AND, please let me know if you have any corrections. 

Tate and I just hung out together on Friday night. It was a welcome change to have our own time, not having to deal with anyone. Alex and Ryan Brick (Alex from Notre Dame, who had been doing research, and Brick from UW-Madison, who was doing a program through ROTC) were leaving the following afternoon, and I wanted to say goodbye to them, since I hadn't seen Alex in a while, and I hadn't seen Brick at all while he was in Rwanda.

Unfortunately, my laziness overcame my desire to get to Kigali to see them, so instead of getting up early and taking the bus, Tate and I slept in, made toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and read while sitting on our roof in the sun.
And want to know the best part?
That's the first sunburn I've had in probably a year. The sun really improved my attitude. I was sorely missing those rays, man. 
I finished two books in those few hours in the morning and early afternoon, and started to feel like my old American self. That's something that's very crucial to me - Caroline time. Without being able to spend an unreal number of hours just sitting and reading, preferably in the sun, something was off-kilter. I didn't realize it until I got my fill of sunshine and literature at long last. It really felt good, though. Makes me happy just thinking about it.

For the rest of Saturday, Tate and I made our way to Kigali, where we were picked up from the bus station by Blaize and a driver. For the remainder of the night, Tate and I hung out with Steve and Blaize (brothers) and Davy (a cousin), as well as their friends. People our age, and people who go to school in America.
(Classic. Going to Rwanda to hang out with people who go to college in the United States.)
It was really perfect, though. I know I'm not being particularly descriptive, but it just felt like home. And I think that both Tate and I needed that. I've said before how being in Rwanda, no matter what, can make you feel exhausted just by virtue of you being a bit out of your comfort zone. Well, for a few precious hours on Saturday, we were back in our comfort zones. We were able to just be Americans without ridicule, we were able to talk without focusing too hard on our accents or on others'. We got to joke about American things and - best of all - talk to people that weren't us. That sounds a bit Dissociative-Identity-Disorder, but what I mean is, I got to talk to someone that wasn't Tate. And she got a break from all-Caroline, all-the-time. Which, I can imagine, was pleasant for her.

On Sunday morning, Tate and I awoke in a bed in Assumpta's house to a text that read, "We are leaving but there is anything you need in the house and Ernestine is coming by later." Well, alrighty then, Steve. So Tate and I ate breakfast and waited for Ernestine. 
She showed up an hour or so later, and took us to meet Pudentienne. We spent the afternoon at Pudentienne's house, before going back to Muhanga that night.
I feel so bad about it, though; every time we go to Pudentienne's house, Tate and I end up sleeping for over half the time we're there. Granted, Tate was sick one time, and we only stayed for a bit another time, but still. I am either asleep or reading or eating while we're there. It's amazingly restful, though. The house is very quiet, the garden is beautiful, and it's really just peaceful. But I feel like I should be having a conversation or something. Ahhh, well.
In any case, we left for home after dinner, and upon reaching our abode in Gitarama, we promptly fell asleep. No food, no shower... I just hit my pillow and passed out for 12 hours. (Tate and I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before.)

On Monday, we awoke refreshed and ready to work. Hahahahahh, that's a joke, I'm never "refreshed and ready to work" when it's 7am. 
But, we made our way to work despite this fact, and I got to work on the website again when I got to work! That's the greatest thing ever, for me. It's a tangible impact, and a sorely needed one. I feel so much more content knowing that Tate and I have made that difference, at the very least. And for a pretty minimal monetary impact. Apparently they had paid a man to help them with the website over a thousand dollars in years past. I got the site up and running for $200, and that included buying the domain name. I'm so glad I could help.

The important part of Monday was - oh, I forgot to mention this, but Christi from Azizi Life (one of our fellow white Muhangans) had stopped by our house on Saturday to say hi, and had invited us to talk about selling handicrafts, since that's what she does - meeting with the people from Azizi Life. We went over to their building (which is conveniently located only a 5 minute walk from our house) for lunch, and talked about topics ranging from handicrafts to managing people to transferring money to pricing. We were there for a few hours, and, in all honesty, although the information we gained was really interesting and helpful, it was a bit disheartening. There are a lot of barriers to selling handicrafts in international markets, and there are even some giant hurdles to accepting individual donations from the international community. That means that, because of bank transfers, it's almost impossible for one person to donate enough money to YWCA Rwanda online for it to make a difference. Plus, PayPal allows Rwandan accounts to send money, but not to receive it. SO THAT SUCKS.
But, really, it was fun talking to them. They were very knowledgeable about the culture and the operations of their business - which, I guess makes sense, since they'd been working in Gitarama for about 5 years, I think.

Christi also mentioned to us that it's very odd in Rwandan culture to eat things "on the go." Tate and I have been known to take our breakfast of bread and jam or peanut butter with us on the way to work, and Tate's even carried coffee with her once or twice while we were heading to work. And now we know why that garnered way more stares than usual....
We asked Pudentienne about the custom when we returned to the office, and I cannot even express how much she laughed upon hearing that we eat food while we walk. She told us that people would think we were either absolutely crazy, or very impolite. She also added that we'd never get boyfriends if we continued that tradition here. 

On the way home from work, we stopped at one of YWCA Rwanda's shops and I bought some souvenirs. I seriously cannot stop buying earrings here. And I never wear dangley earrings - I seriously have been wearing studs for the past 4 years. But I have about 4 pairs now. Which I will most likely end up giving away. But they are very dear to my heart now. Maybe I'll be that weird girl on ND campus that wears giant African earrings. YOLO.
I also bought some other things, but they're going to be a surprise because they're presents. Or maybe I'll just keep them for my dorm room. You never know.

On Tuesday, we had a typical work day. The same as always, seriously. 
We did, however, go to the market with Monique after work. We were searching desperately for cute outfits to wear on Tate's birthday (Saturday)!
...But let me clarify something quickly; by "cute outfits," I mean "something other than jeans and the one tank top that I wear twice a week." And in Tate's case, a cute outfit might be described as "something other than her mother's tank top." The cutest outfits we own, I am not kidding you, are almost exactly the same. Pink tank tops and jeans and Toms. Embarrassing or what? SUP, FELLAZ?!?! GET AT ME!!!
On the plus side, we had the TASTIEST DINNER - toast with avocado, tomato, and onions. Since I can't cook (baking is my thing), Tate manages that, while I slice and dice whatever fruit or vegetable she tosses my way. Our system works pretty well, I think.

And now it's Wednesday. I think this makes a week since I last blogged??? Whoops.

Anyway, stay tuned for some safari pictures that I'm trying to upload right now to the blog. They're already on Facebook, since that's waaay easier to facilitate than putting them on here.
BUT for people like Grandma Gertie who don't have a Facebook, I must persevere. 

I must say, the photos are pretty cool, though. I only put a few up. Check out the side bar!

Please don't hate me that I haven't posted in a while.

I'm still alive, Mom and Dad!

And I'll be home sooner than you think. We leave in a week and a half.
Oh god, that sounds like no time at all. That IS no time at all. I will be leaving for home in 10 days.

Love you all to bits,

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Unlimited Love.

This is a bit out of the correct order. This is from last Friday, actually... sorry about the delay. It was (a) really hard to write about, and (b) I ran out of time to do it last weekend. I was operating on zero internet, except what I could borrow from Tate - and Tate's internet wasn't working. Classic?
In any case, it's from the 6th of July. Sorry about the disarray in chronology. 


You know how sometimes, I see some really hard things while I'm here in Rwanda? How sometimes, there's just those moments where I can't imagine how the world is how it is? Visiting some of the people in the eastern province, in the Nyabihu district, I had another one of those emotionally exhausting days. STAY TUNED FOR MORE STORIES ABOUT CAROLINE CRYING!! WHEE!

On Friday, Tate, Mrs. Ryan-Mosley, Archimede, Nepo, and I all went to visit some not-beneficiaries for Giving Hope. Although Church World Service does an absolutely amazing job of funding the already-identified orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in some districts, their funds simply cannot reach everyone. On Friday, we saw some of those stories of need, some children who just aren't being reached by Giving Hope. If I thought that seeing orphans who Giving Hope HAS reached was hard... well, let's just say that no beneficiaries had actually seen me cry about their situation -- until the Nyabihu visit. All in all, we saw the people whose situations were most desperate. They don't get help from CWS, and they won't get help from CWS. THey need outside sources. 

Our first stop was Beatrice, whom we had actually seen in a video that Archimede had taken when he had done a visit to Nyabihu earlier. The small clay house seemed familiar, and Beatrice came out to meet us with her little brother at her side. We were invited into her home, to speak with her and hear her story. We saw her "Dreams" poster, which expressed her sadness at losing her parents -- she saw them killed in front of her very eyes during the First Congo War (starting in 1997). She was just six years old.
Archimede mentioned how strange (in a good way) it was that she was talking to us. When he had come on an earlier visit, Beatrice had just cried the entire time, and it had taken hours to hear her story. This girl is literally traumatized.
Her little brother, although he's 10 years old, looks like he's 6, because he has malnutrition. Beatrice has a 15 year old sister who has a baby, because she was impregnated while working as a housegirl in Gisenyi (a neighboring city, where we stayed, actually). 
How do you pull yourself out of that poverty? There aren't any steps you can take. And it's not like these children are lazy; they were all running around, going to school, going to the market. Any money you make goes directly to food. There's no way to invest, because if you invest, that's food that's not in your stomach. And if there's not food in your stomach for days, you die. It's as simple as that. 
The good news is, with cases like Beatrice (and another boy, whom I'm going to talk about in a bit, this can be overcome. It's all about that initial investment. Although they can't come up with it themselves, paying for vocational training - riding a moto, learning how to sew - can mean a better life.

The next stop was to Jean D'Amour, a thirteen year old boy, and his family. You will not believe this story when I tell you, but here it is.
JD (that's what I'm calling him now) and his family - mom, dad, and sisters - moved to the Congo to avoid fighting (there have been intermittent battles for the last 15 years, near the Congo border). While they were there, his dad had a mistress. This mistress ended up poisoning - yes, seriously. POISONING - the kids' mother. The father, mistress, and kids moved back to Rwanda, where the kids were subsequently abandoned by their father and left on their own with literally no friends or family. JD was 11 years old when he became the head of the family. This was two years ago.
JD and his sisters now live on their own, purely reliant on the donations of the community. They have a mentor, a 23 year old named Pascal, who is actually an orphan himself. Pascal checks up on the kids once a day or so, making sure they're still alright. That's a huge amount of dedication, because Pascal has no permanent job, and has to find someone to work for every day (doing manual labor of some kind) or he doesn't eat. 
Oh, and did I mention that the kids have a 2 year old sister who was taken away from them, to a foster family in the Congo, because they couldn't take care of her? They miss her terribly but have no way to find her or to take care of her, even if they did get her back.
Through all of this, the kids still go to school, and have hopes for the future. JD wants to be his teacher; the oldest of his sisters wants to be a doctor. These kids, I tell you, they are an inspiration. They have one meal every day, but they eat it together. At night, they curl up together and tell stories. I asked them if they were ever afraid at night; they responded that no, they weren't - they were used to being alone now. On Sundays they go to mass at a Pentecostal church, because their mother was Pentecostal.

I cannot even tell you how much I cried during this visit. JD is as old as my youngest brother. Can any of you imagine Connor taking care of three little sisters? There were four kids at that house, just like my family. It just hit way too close to home. I couldn't believe the bravery you could see in these little bodies. These children... I couldn't even imagine the tragedy they'd been through. And yet, they were making the best of everything. They had hope and courage and, geez Louise. Even Archimede and Nepo were crying when the kids said that no, they never fight. "We love each other." They have their own little chores, be it fetching water, gathering wood, peeling the potatoes that someone donated for their lunch... It was all I could do to not strangle hug them and take them home with me right then and there.

Look at these faces.

Tell me you don't want to take them home with you and never stop hugging them.

Even as I type this, I can tell that my words are inadequate. I'm not doing a good job of telling what an amazing, heartbreaking experience it was to talk to these kids. Words cannot express. They're 13, 11, 6, and 3 years old. And they have no parents. And they still go to school and cook their own meals and go to church and wash their own clothes - even though they don't have any soap to wash with.
But those are just facts. The reality of the situation is, they're abandoned and alone, but they have each other, and that's enough for them.

I miss my siblings, now. I love you, babies. And if I had to take care of you like that, I'd probably do a crazy horrible job of it (so, sorry for that). But I do really love you guys that much.

That's what it is, I think. There was just so much love in that home. Despite everything, in the face of all those odds, these children had so much love. SO much love.
Impossible odds, and unlimited love.
Amazing, really.

The final stop was to a boy named Emmanuel, who, like the others, was impacted by the Congolese Wars. Two siblings and his mother were killed in these wars. His parents were killed when he was just 1 year old, so he was raised by his grandfather. His grandfather was, if we were told correctly, 95 years old. That's actually unheard of for Rwanda. I mean, that's old for the United States; here, that's nigh impossible. The house they lived in was quite rickety; Emmanuel said that during the rainy season, the pair had to live with their neighbors because the roof leaked too much to make the home habitable. 
When we talked to him, Emmanuel hadn't eaten for three days. He hadn't been able to find daily manual labor for the past three days, so he literally just didn't eat. His grandfather couldn't get out of bed, couldn't even stand up, because he was so weak from hunger.
Emmanuel expressed that he had no hope of going to school, because he had never attended a day in his life. He did, however, hope to get vocational training - although, as you can imagine, when you haven't eaten for 3 days, that seems a bit out of reach. 
Although Emmanuel was part of a support group, he had no friends outside the group -- where would he make any, when his life revolved around getting food for just one day at a time? 
That visit left me absolutely exhausted. How do you keep going, when there's no light at the end of the tunnel? How do you continue in a life like that, living from meal to meal? You're teetering at the brink, every breath you take. That's the most terrifying existence I can imagine. In many ways, Emmanuel seemed even more vulnerable than the children we had seen earlier.

As I said, these visits were rough. In other situations, it's been clear that, okay, Church World Service donates $50, and this group can achieve X. In these cases, I looked at Archimede and said, "So, what can people do? How could someone help, if they wanted to?" He would respond simply that he didn't know. The point of Giving Hope is to create a sustainable lifestyle, so that these orphans can ultimately become self-sufficient. But, how do you do that, when they are so alone? When they can't stop the vicious cycle that they're living, because they simply have to eat if they're going to stay alive? What's the answer? You can't just donate food again and again. But you have to. That's the best option. 
It's very scary to think about.
It's one of those things were I literally have no idea what I would do, if put in their situation. Every single person that I met that day was stronger than I am. It was humbling, to be sure; but, I felt the need to nurture them all. 
Again, I question why I'm so fortunate. Why was I born into an American family, and not in rural Rwanda? Was I really good in a past life? Is this karma? Is it just luck of the draw, and I lucked out? How do I make it right? I feel guilty and responsible and sad and in awe of them, all at once. I can't sort it out. I don't know how I feel.

Even now, I'm sitting in the YWCA office. It's certainly no office like you'd see at home, with a cement floor and no wall decorations. But even this is a phenomenal building, compared to the majority of the surrounding buildings and houses. Like... what? How? Why? And I feel so removed from what I saw, a little less than a week ago. I can't believe that it really happened. It just doesn't seem like the world could have such people in it.

Words are failing me right now. I'm not sure where to go with this.

I'm going to go off on a quick tangent now.
Here's something that it might be strange for me to ask. I want you to tally the number of times that you've looked at my blog. Every time you open the page, make a note of it. Estimate how many times you've taken a peek in the past. Believe it or not, I've gotten thousands of views on this thing since I've been here. My idea is, however many times you looked at my blog, donate a dollar. Maybe not a dollar, maybe just 50 cents. Even if you only rack up 5 bucks, that's a week's worth of food to some family. Just keep track, and whenever the YWCA website gets up, donate that money. YWCA Rwanda doesn't waste a cent; your little contribution will literally go directly to a family in need. 
You, combined with the other random people who stumble across this, could actually make a difference in the life of a child that I've met. This isn't some commercial playing on tv, while Sarah McLaughlin sings in the background and pictures of orphans flash across the screen; this is my real life and people that I know. Just consider it. 

The rest of the day was strange. We went and did some sightseeing. After what we had witnessed, it was hard. I couldn't get those children out of my mind. The other stories seemed more doable, just because the oldest child was a bit more, I don't know, worldly? But seeing those little four kids lined up, talking about how they climbed into bed at night to snuggle and pray and tell stories... Jesus. Now I'm back on that again. I will never forget them. Ever ever. They hit me like a ton of bricks. 
Seriously, someone please adopt them. Immediately.

Anyway, sightseeing. We saw some hot springs and the brewery that makes like, all of the beer in Rwanda. We went on a quick walk, stopped at a hotel (not our own) that opened up literally right into Lake Kivu. We went out on a mini peninsula and stared at the water. We were actually approached by an Australian (I think) man who was on his 26th (I think) wedding anniversary with his wife. Mrs. R-M joked that he had come up to us because he was sick of talking with his wife after all that time (his wife had stayed behind at their dinner table, to smoke cigarettes and have a drink). 

For dinner, we went downstairs to the hotel's dining room, and were surprised to find a giant group of college-aged students from America. They were from a variety of schools, and we asked them a few questions about their program. They were studying peace and conflict resolution, and had been in Uganda for a few weeks earlier. We then explained that we were interns for the YWCA, coming from Notre Dame, and they replied, "Notre Dame?? No way! We have two girls from ND in our program!"
Sure enough, two girls -- Anna and Jaclyn -- were at the hotel. Seriously. We were at a random hotel, in RWANDA of all places, and managed to find ND kids. Are you joking me?

WELLP, that's about all I've got for you from Friday. 
I'm partially done with the Saturday/Sunday post - touristey things. We saw a cultural museum, and went on a safari. Guess I'm in Africa, after all!
I think that I'm done with the depressing stories, from here on out. At least, I hope so. I learn so much, but it's always so painful.

Speaking of painful, Tate got a chemical burn from the interaction of battery acid (her flashlight melted or something), her face wash, and contact solution last night (Tuesday night). She woke me up at midnight, saying that she had blisters on her face.

I swear, you guys. Girlfraaand is a mess. See what I have to live with??

Woooosh. I'm wiped out, after that post.

Love you all, so so so so much.
Missing home kind of a lot.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Getting Back Into a Rhythm & Claudia Ryan-Mosley - The Woman, The Myth, The Legend

Although I suppose we're finally going to get a semblance of normalcy around here, with no more guests and no more visits, I'm going to miss having a million things to do. It's good and bad that Tate's mom is gone; when she came, it was just the pick-me-up that Tate and I needed to break the tedium we had settled into, but now, it will be good to really get cracking and blow through the checklists of what needs to be accomplished before we leave. 

I feel really lucky to have met Mrs. Ryan-Mosley. She's such a mom, always making sure that we had enough to eat and that we were comfortable, and when Tate and I wanted to act like the children we really are, she let us be kids. But she's also really adventurous, like I assume not many mothers are. Although my own mother is (similarly) a walker, a hiker, a doer, I don't think that the majority of moms out there are quite like that. She wanted to ride in the bed of the truck; she hated being treated like the "grandmother" they called her; in general, she came to Rwanda just to see and experience the country and the culture - that's a pretty big commitment. 
And if you're reading this, Mrs. R-M -- thank you for EVERYTHING. I loved having you here, and I think it goes without saying that Tate appreciated having you here more than words can say! Love ya!

At any rate, I'm writing this on Monday night. We slept in this morning after our exhausting trip to Akagera Park on Sunday. Waking up at 4:00am, on the road by 4:45am, at the park by 7:00am -- all to see NO LIONS, I might add! -- was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I was happy to be asleep by 9:30pm after getting just three hours of sleep the night before. 

After going to work a few hours late and working until we were called into Pudentienne's office, we spent about one tear-filled hour listening to "goodbye"s and "thank you"s from YWCA members and Mrs. R-M alike. Once again, I was struck by how thoughtful and utterly welcoming my coworkers are. They're all just giving people, to their very cores. I'll admit that I teared up, thinking about how much they all mean to me. Each and every one of my coworkers are amazing people; Mrs. R-M's leaving made me think about the 19 (oh my GOD, 19) days that Tate and I have left in Rwanda, and I can't believe that time has gone by so quickly. I cried, because I will miss Tate's mom dearly; I cried, because I saw how much she had become accepted into the hearts of YWCA members in so short a time; I cried, because I couldn't believe that the week and a half had flown by so swiftly; and, I cried, because sooner than I'd like, I'll be heading home. Granted, I miss my family and I miss Notre Dame and I miss the United States and GOODNESS GRACIOUS I miss Jimmy John's sandwiches -- but I have a family here in Rwanda, too, who I know I will miss with all of my heart. I never expected that.

In any case, we ultimately went to lunch, did a bit of work in the afternoon, then went home to retrieve Mrs. R-M's bags and take her to the airport. We arrived in Kigali around 5pm, and, after a bit of a scuffle with the airport workers, we sat down in the airport coffee shop for a snack and a beverage. In the Kigali airport, the security gate comes before the check-in area (not sure what the thought process was behind that one, guys...!), and obviously Tate's mom didn't want to say goodbye two hours before it was actually necessary. The security and other workers repeatedly told her that, no, she could NOT come back out to say goodbye after she had already gone through and checked in to her flight. She had to finagle her way into being allowed to come back out the gate to eat with us and hang out for a while before she actually got on the plane. Ernestine came to the airport to see her off, bearing gifts of tea and coffee for her to bring back home. Rwandan coffee, guys... there's nothing like it!

Following a tasty dinner/snack, we had a (surprise, surprise!) teary goodbye. 
I feel like I have to talk about me crying wayyy too much on these blogs. I'd like to think that in daily life, I'm not so much of a crier, except when it comes to goodbyes. (Although, you should have SEEN me on my 20th birthday! In fact, I guess some of you did...) However, trying to avoid the cliches, this is something else. I have witnessed some intense things while I've been here. There have been some major ups and downs in emotion.
Next, Tate and I headed back to Gitarama, with Nepo driving. I was sitting in the front seat, and spent the entire hour back to Muhanga trying to figure out the language of the road. I kid you not, there is an entire language behind flicking on and off the brights and the blinker (shout out to Archimede for recently learning the word "blinker" !! haha), which I may or may not have gotten some insights into throughout the trip home. 
Speaking of Nepo driving, though, I've got to just take this moment to talk about how awesome this man is. I would let Nepo drive me anywhere, at any time. If it were possible to take my life literally into my own hands, I would give it to Nepo to hang onto for safekeeping, when I wasn't using it. He's just this solid, calming guy. It makes sense that he's a social worker. I totally get it. Except sometimes, when he accelerates to about 60 miles an hour around hairpin turns on the mountainside, I swear he's thinking to himself, "I'm about to scare the #@*$ out of these white girls...!" Hahaha.

Well, it's now the end of the night and I'll be heading to Tate's room in a bit to watch some Greek. Our power just ran out again -- literally just now -- so, remind me that we have to ask Jeanne for some more electricity when Tate and I go to work tomorrow!

Goodnight, world. 


My next portion will actually be a "guest blog" from Mrs. Ryan-Mosley. She wrote a bit about her experiences in Rwanda, so in case my blog and Tate's blog aren't enough for you people, we're throwing one more perspective at you. Check it out!

This is Tate’s mom and I have never blogged before so this may be more special for me than you.  I arrived last Wednesday in Kigali and today is the following Thursday already!!  How did that happen?  First time in Africa.  If you have been reading both Carolines and Tates blogs then you know the details of this last week so I won't replicate that.  If you have not read either or both of their blogs, I highly encourage you to do so.  They have poured out their hearts in writing and this blog will serve as their journal for a lifetime.  Same days it is hard to write for them and some days they can hardly wait. Grab a glass or wine or a cup of tea and enjoy their journey through this blog!

I arrived at the airport, without my bags I might add, to a sea of African women smiling at me with two white girls in the midst.  I had not met Caroline before and I was struck with the similarity between the two "muzungus", tall, blonde, beautiful and smiling as well.

After handshakes, cheek kissing, hugs and tears, we were off to begin my exposure to Carolines and Tates life here in Rwanda.  My three, yes three, checked bags finally joined me on Saturday.  For the record, my personal clothing could have fit in the small one.  The others were jammed packed with things the girls had asked for as well as some materials and gifts for the nursery children.  Just as an aside, the United Agent saw the 3 heavy bags and after hearing where I was going and what I was bringing over, she waived all the baggage fees.  We are surrounded around the world with good and kind people.

We spent my first night together with an amazing family, Ernestine and Eugene and their 4 kids along with at least 10 other people who were related somehow.  I now know that they all come from Eugenes side of the family with his three sisters a brother and their spouses, all of whom I have now met and now love.  Kind, gracious, curious, loving people.  They all talk at the same time and they all have fallen in love with Tate and Caroline.  They are their families in our absence and they have done well.  If any of them are reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

The days have gone by fast.  We have seen and lived with the very wealthy and seen and lived with the very poorest of poor.  We have spent time with women with HIV/AIDS whom are beginning to emerge from their cloistered and segregated lives due to their involvement with the YWCA, and with women who run companies, high positions in government, heads of schools and families and are extremely talented, articulate and impressive to say the least.  We have spent time with children of the upper class, whom go to private schools here in Rwanda in preparation for boarding schools and universities in America; and children whom don't have enough money for their basic health needs, no less schooling.  (Tate has fallen in love with one of those children, Grace Freida, who was abandoned in Muhanga and found and taken home by a Batwa family who does not have enough money to feed their own children. This child cannot walk nor speak so she is working with the Y to get her medical attention as a start).

I have seen gorgeous landscapes and views that are unmatched in the US; and I have seen the devastation of a generation from the genocide through the work at the genocide museum. 

We were all able to watch in person and read about President Paul Kigame, elected with 97% of the peoples votes at the last election, clearly a dictator but from what can be seen and read, a benevolent dictator at his core.  The country clearly was in need of strength and clarity, and the success is obvious and tangible.

It is now Saturday and the internet is back. We are now up in the Northwest part of Rwanda on a "field trip" where we have visited 3 "vulnerable" families where the eldest child, 17, 16 and 13 respectively, is raising their family.  Unbelievable, heart wrenching.  Above all, reaffirming ones ability to survive in the worst of circumstances.

We have seen the border of the Congo, the Primus brewery, the hot springs and the volcanoes.  We are hopeful to do a safari tomorrow and I leave on Monday.

I am so appreciate of this time with both girls and their Rwanda families.  Most 20 year olds, (mine is not quite their yet but will be soon) are not focused on issues like this during their summer break.  Caroline and Tate have been living this world and are able to do it for three more weeks.

They are truly and inspiration for me as well.  Thanks for reading…

Claudia (Tate’s mom)

Fourth of July 'til Friday

Wow, this is really late. Sorry about the internet being slow (slash, nonexistent?). The next few posts are going to be out of chronological order...

This was written on Friday, July 6.

The Fourth of July is a holiday in Rwanda, too! Although theirs is a bit more recent, and therefore possibly a bit more potent to the people who currently celebrate it. It's called the "Liberation Day," which celebrates when the liberation army triumphed over the government during the genocide, putting an (official) end to the mass killings. This army restored a semblance of balance to the nation, and set up a new regime that would bring the country to the state it is today.

Anyway, having a 4th of July outside of the United States was a bit sad, especially when I realized I wouldn't be seeing any fireworks. I've never spent the Fourth in another country... but I DID wear red, white, and blue all day! Granted, nobody got it, but hey. USA! USA! USA!
Beyond that, though, the day was amazing. Tate and I haven't had a day off since we got to Rwanda - I mean, we've had weekends, but we've always had things planned; there have been memorials and museums to visit, parties to host or attend, or we've been staying at someone else's house. Wednesday was different, though. We woke up having no power - and this wasn't from a power outage. We just didn't have energy in our house, because we had used it all. 
Yeah, that's a thing here. Apparently there was a meter on our house that tracks how many kWh we have remaining before everything cuts out. We never even knew to look for it. 
In any case, without energy for our computers, Tate, Mrs. R-M, and I were forced to do nothing. With literally nothing to do besides sit, eat, or read, we were shanghai'd into relaxing. And let me tell you - it was WONDERFUL. I sat in my pajamas in a chair on the roof of our house, reading a book. I haven't sat in my pajamas and read for hours in I can't tell you how many weeks. And anyone who knows me knows that reading too much is a staple of my life. I didn't know how much I missed it until I realized I could do it. We had no obligations whatsoever. There was nothing to do besides sit and wait for someone to come and help us figure out the power situation. We were helpless (per usual...) and it was liberating! Happy Liberation Day! I'm not sure that's how you're supposed to celebrate it, but that's certainly how I chose to. 

We ultimately got our power back that afternoon. Jeanne came over to our house, looked at our power meter, and typed furiously into her phone for a few minutes. After a while, Tate and I watched her, mystified, type a series of numbers into the keypad on the meter, and miraculously, power was returned. You can add power from your phone!! There's no electricity bills... you just buy energy as you go. How cool is that??
Anyone from Rwanda is probably reading this right now going, "Well, duh..." but just realize that hey - we don't do that at home! 

It's Friday morning right now, but I just wanted to note that yesterday on our drive to Gisenyi, Archimede was talking to Tate and I about our blogs. "I love to read your blogs," he said, laughing. "You talk about everything that happens to you! If a cat crosses the road, you make sure to include that."
Well, I'm not sure that I include EVERYTHING, but most of what we see here is exceedingly bizarre, coming from an American viewpoint. Tate and I explained to Archimede that a lot of what we talk about is completely new to the people reading our blogs. Sorry if I'm boring you guys, though...! Haha.

So, yesterday, as I quickly noted, we drove to Gisenyi. We started off our day at work, and packed in a little bit of work in the morning hours. We had a speedy lunch, grabbed some snacks from the grocery, and hopped in the truck with Nepo and Archimede on our way to the north-western region of the country.

Gotta pause the action for a minute to just note the following:
I'm in my hotel room right now, and I can literally see a volcano right now. Right now. In my hotel room. WHAT. I've never seen a volcano before today!
And Mom... don't read this.
I can also see the DRC from here. The Congo. It's less than five miles away from our hotel. It's right nearby, just beyond Lake Kivu.
Oh my gosh; I can see Lake Kivu from my hotel right now, too. Lake Kivu!!!! I can see a volcano, a giant lake, and another country from my hotel room. We ate dinner last night on a restaurant right above the water. I could have leaned over the balcony and spit into the waters of Lake Kivu. I didn't, of course, because I am a proper young lady and don't spit... but I COULD have.

Resuming the action:
We were driving to Gisenyi. I now understand why the south province, where we live, is considered "flat." These are some SERIOUS mountains going on here. Not only are there volcanoes, but there are just MOUNTAINS. EVERYWHERE. And, per usual, the roads wind like crazy, and Nepo shoots around the corners like nobody's business. It's not scary, though; I would drive with Nepo any place that he chose to drive. As much as it feels ridiculous, bouncing up and down or going through mud that, by all rights, we should be stuck in -- Nepo can drive through it all. What a guy. 
Anyway, it took about two hours or so to get to Gisenyi. We first went to the Nyabihu district, which is where the western branch of YWCA is located. Gitarama is where the headquarters are (where we work), so this was just a very small branch where two groups (one young, one old) gather for trainings, etc. 

Arriving at the YWCA in the west, we were greeted by all of the members (probably around 50 ladies) waving, singing, and dancing. They were SO excited to have visitors; Archimede said that they were like this whenever he visited. They're just grateful to have people come see them!
And we were certainly happy to oblige. After (awkwardly) dancing along for a few minutes, we went inside for introductions and to hear a bit more about what these ladies did. We talked about their groups, they asked us a few questions about womens' groups and gender equality back home, and we got a quick tour of the compound (essentially, just one less-than-stellar building). 
We took some pictures with the group, and then Tate and I got individual pictures with two girls who were our name counterparts - Teta and Caro. Too funny. 
It was hard to say goodbye, but we finally backed off and headed to our hotel to settle in for the evening. 

Our hotel is called Musanto House Hotel, or something like that. I keep forgetting the first name. It looks out over the beautiful view that I described before; volcanoes, mountains, Lake Kivu, and the Congo. Wooh. Mrs. R-M keeps asking Archimede and other people if where we are is safe... and we keep being reassured that yes, although there's fighting in the Congo right now (as evidenced by all of the refugee trucks we've seen, as well as the refugee transit camp that we passed just yesterday), it's very far away and not an issue.

I've just gotta say, Lake Kivu... Beautiful. When we asked if people swim in the lake, seeing a few boats and jetskis (!!) out on the water, Archimede answered that it was possible, but you had to "swim at your own risk." Now, normally, when you hear that phrase at home, it means there's no lifeguard on duty. Be careful in the kiddie pool! Don't dive, and don't stay in too long, because there's no one watching you except your parents!
Well, granted, there isn't a lifeguard on duty here. But, more specifically, that rule refers to the fact that you could die from the methane gas that crops up randomly, because the Rwanda/Congo border is on two techtonic plates. Hence the volcanoes. And the methane gas. 

Well, anyway, for dinner, we took a taxi to a nearby restaurant (a mile or two away), called Bistro or something, while Nepo and Archimede had to go find another hotel, as the one we three ladies were staying in ended up being full. After stuffing ourselves silly with pizza, we walked back in the nice warm dark. By that point, tired and full of food, I washed up, put on my pajamas, and crawled into bed.

Today, we went on a few field visits to see some families that Giving Hope has not yet reached. 
As you can guess, my heart broke today. Will I ever get used to this?
I've never cried in front of the beneficiaries before, but today I did.
I'll write about it in my post tomorrow, I think. 

xoxoxoxo kids