Monday, February 4, 2013

No Means No

One of the projects that I volunteer with is a teacher mentoring program.  As a volunteer, I am paired up with one or two teachers and we arrange to meet one on one at least once a week.  The goals for the mentoring is to build friendship, help improve English conversation and pronunciation, and for me to learn more about Rwandan culture.  

I got paired with one of the most experienced teachers at the school.  Esparanza (or Hope) has been teaching since the early 70’s.  You’d never guess it by looking at her, but she has three grandchildren.  I can’t believe that she has been teaching for over 40 years.  

For our first meeting, I invited her over for tea.  She unexpectedly brought one of her daughters - but I had guessed she might bring someone and had prepared extra tea and biscuits.  We spent the hour getting to know each other and sharing our expectations for our meetings.  As our time came to a close, we planned our next meeting for the following Sunday at 6pm.  She had invited me to her home. 

A week went by and the weekend predictably followed.  I had planned my whole Sunday around meeting Esparanza that evening.  That same day, both the Crowson’s and Miller’s had left for Kenya leaving behind their kids in my care.  Meredith agreed to stay with the Miller kids during my meeting and we agreed that I would stop in and check on the Crowson kids on my way home after the meeting since it was close by.  

I perfectly timed my walk and arrived at 6:00 on the dot at our designated meeting spot.  I wasn’t at all surprised that Esparanza wasn’t there to meet me and show me the way to her home.  Being on time isn’t a Rwandan characteristic. So, I called her to let her know that I was there and to see how long I would have to wait.  “Hello, Juliette.  I will leave here in a few minutes to come and meet you.”  

(A side note, I go by “Juliette” here as it is more familiar and easier to pronounce than Julie.)

So I take a deep breath and set my mind to waiting. Hoping rather than expecting that it will actually be just a few minutes.  I am standing on a corner of an intersection several streets off the main road.  A couple walks by with their two young kids who giggle when they see me.  With a little push from their mom, the kids run up and give me a hug, still giggling.  I greet them, hug them, then wave and greet their parents.  After a while a young guy on a bicycle stops by to greet me in English.  He wants to know exactly which house I live in and when he can come by to visit.  I give a general wave in the air and explain that I live close by and he can greet me whenever he see me walking on the road or in town.  Then he asks for my phone number, which I politely decline to give.  He understands, says goodbye and rides on.

Several groups of teenagers walk by in whispers and muffled laughs.  I’m glad that I can’t understand what they are saying.  

Four older women have been walking my direction and finally stop close to me. Traditionally dressed, they are small with backs and shoulders rounded from a lifetime of carrying heavy loads.  Two of the women clutch walking sticks as they peer up at me.  “Muraho!” I greet each one with a hand shake while my left hand touches my right arm just below the elbow as a sign of respect.  They all nod, return the greeting and keep peering up.  The youngest one boldly demands in English. “What is your name?”   In Kinyarwanda, I reply that my name is Juliette, then I ask each one for their name.  After repeating my name several times followed by other kinyarwanda words beyond my limited vocabulary, they each introduce themselves.   

Having exhausted my kinyarwanda language skills, I stand and smile expecting them to say goodbye and move on their way.  But they keep standing and peering and rapidly talking in Kinyarwanda.  They start to close in on me and pat me on the hip and thighs.  While surprising and totally inappropriate by western standards, this has happened many times.  I only assume that the women are discussing how easy it must be for me to have babies with hips as wide as mine.  But their touching doesn’t stop and suddenly one of the women pats me in my “no-no area”.  I grab her hand and strongly say “Oya” (No).  She laughs as another lady begins to pat my chest.  I grab her hands and again say “Oya”.  Unsure of what the women intended, I break away, smile and say goodbye as I quickly walk to the Crowson’s.  The women seem disappointed, but my departure doesn’t interrupt what has become a lively conversation.  

It is about 6:45 when I arrive at the Crowson’s still shaken up by what just happened.  I don’t think the women intended harm, but it is still very, very strange.  Esparanza calls around 6:50 wondering where I am waiting.  With apologies, I explain that I had to leave and reschedule our meeting.  Pretending like nothing happened, I join the Crowson boys in an episode of Hogan’s Heroes.  Thus ends the day that I had planned around meeting Esparanza. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Hike - Part One

It’s Monday afternoon.  Every muscle in my body moans in protest to any movement.  Despite the pain, my sore muscles bring a smile and a proud sense of accomplishment.

I had no idea what I was saying “Yes” to.   A few weeks ago I met Genevieve, who is a Peace Corp volunteer and has lived in a village about 30 minutes from Musanze for the past two years.  “I am planning to do the Diane Fossey hike, anybody wanna go,” she asked the table of muzungu* girls.  We had all randomly met each other around town and were now crowded around a table enjoying Saturday morning brunch on the porch of La Paillotte, Musanze’s version of Panera Bread.  Most of the girls kept talking but I paused and for some unknown reason said, “That’s sound fun, I’d love to go.”  Later I googled “Diane Fossey hike” and discovered that it was a semi-challenging 12 mile hike (round trip) to visit the grave and research center of Diane Fossey.  “Mostly flat and sometimes muddy; Beautiful relaxing hike; Possibility of seeing monkeys and gorillas;” the reviews said.  As I would later find out - these reviews were written by someone with with an entirely different understanding of the words ‘flat, muddy, and relaxing”.

On the morning of our hike, the hired car picked us up at 6:00 am and with uneasiness in my stomach, we set off for the “Volcanoes National Park” where we would pay the entrance fee and meet our guide.  There were five of us Muzungu girls.  My roommate Meredith, and Genevieve along with two friends who were teaching in Kigali, Ally and Sarah.  Once in the park, we met up with six other very fit and seemingly expert outdoorsy muzungus who were eager to tackle the 12 mile hike.  Trying not to feel intimated or judged for my overweight and obviously out-of-shape self, I put on a brave and friendly face and introduced myself to our hiking mates.

After a short “orientation” from our guide, Eleana (one of five female guides compared to the 30 plus male guides).  We all piled back into our hired cars and drove thirty minutes farther down the road to the beginning of our trail.  The drive would have taken only ten minutes, but most of the road was uneven volcanic rock.  Our driver smiled and told us to enjoy the “African massage”.  The constant and severe jolting from the absurd road can not be described by words.  Truly, it can only be experienced. It reminded me of that game we used to play on the trampoline as kids.  One brave kid locks his arms around his knees and tries with all his might not to break his “egg” while all the other kids are  jumping around him seeing how high they can get the  “egg” to bounce.   

Fully and completely shaken up, we arrive at the base of our trail.  I am amazed to discover our parking lot a total mud pit and the temperature to have dropped at least 10 degrees.   Our group gathers and walking stick are distributed.  Eleana approaches me with a man in a blue work-suit.  He is a porter and Eleana encourages me to hire him.  It is a short hike and I’m only carrying a small pack with lunch and water - but I agree to hire him and hand him my bag.

We start hiking up the road till we reach the Park sign. Then we hang a left and walk on a flat trail where the only obstacles are the occasional cow and lots of cow poo. I start regretting hiring the porter.  “This is a breeze,” I think to myself! 

Then Eleana stops our crew and asks for the slowest hikers to come to the front.  She of course means me, so I make my way to the front of our group.  Eleana smiles and gives some kind of speech about how we are all a team and we will complete the hike together or not at all.  I try not to feel too self conscious.  Then she turns and looks up at the volcano that we have be hiking beside and announces, “Now we go up to the Park wall.”

Turns out, we aren’t even INSIDE the park yet.  We still have another 40 minutes of hiking up before we make it to the park wall where we find half a dozen armed military soldiers who are there to protect us from the wild buffalo, elephants and gorillas that roam the park.  But, considering we are sneezing distant from the D.R. Congo - I kind of think they are there to protect us from other things as well.

Finally we reach the park wall. We had been hiking through fields of cultivated agricultural vegetation. But, on the other side of the wall is pure, impenetrable jungle.  The path becomes rockier, muddier, and steeper - so my hiking becomes even slower than before.  I can just hear the line of expert outdoorsy adventurers behind me groan with frustration at my slow speed.  But I take a deep breath and will myself forward.

*muzungu - local term used to refer to white people

Genevieve (mastermind of the whole hike) with Eleana, our guide, in the background.

The road up the small hill from where our truck parked. That's me in the green shirt.
Some of the "expert outdoorsy hikers" on our first small incline.

The five muzungu girls.  Sarah, Genevieve, Meredith, Me, and Ally.  We are trying to seem adventuresome!  Despite what the sign says, this isn't close to where the parking lot was.  

After the sign, we turned left and enjoyed a nice flat hike!  

Then, we turned right and started hiking up.  He a rock wall acts as a barrier to a nearby field where flowers used for insecticide are grown.

We keep heading up and up.  You can see me in the foreground - I'm had started hiking in the front, but was quickly overtaken by the more exuberant hikers in our group.

Taking a break and looking back to see how far we have hiked.  Those building in the distance on the left are where we parked our vehicles.
I am back at the front of the line setting a slower pace.

We are getting closer to the Park Wall, which is near the tree line.

The porters in blue help all of us navigate climbing over the wall.

Before the hike - Ally and I pose.

Still feeling confident before we start hiking up.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

9 Easy Steps for a Happy Bucket Shower!

It was around 5:30 on the third day of camping.  I was wiping down all my exposed skin with Insect Repellant wipes when I noticed how dirty the wipes were after I used them.  

Camping Lesson #1: When using bug wipes doubles as bath time, it is time to brave the showers!

Taking a shower at camp was an interesting process.  Process, being the key word!  For those less experienced, I’ve developed a no fail, 9 step process to the camp-bucket-shower-system. 

Step 1: Be prepared.  Gather everything you need for a shower and put it in something that can hang on a nail.  Some of the things you might need include soap, razor, shampoo, conditioner, foot scrubber, towel, appropriate after shower clothes to walk back to your tent in, and most importantly, your water bucket. 

Step 2: Claim your shower stall.  Cautiously knock on a shower door, keeping in mind that these doors don’t lock.  Hang up shower gear in open stall on provided nails, making sure not to drag your dry towel in the pile of wet leaves on the ground.  In the likely event that both showers are occupied, skip to step 3 and wait for an open stall.

Step 3: Fill your water bucket.  Walk up the hill from the showers with your empty water bucket.  Approach the curious group of Rwandan kitchen workers with confidence and smiles.  Fill your bucket 1/3 full with the steaming hot water which comes from the pipe running through the furnace.  Ignore the brownish color of the water and fill up your bucket from the cold water tap.  Test the water temperature and add more hot or cold water as needed.  Now that your bucket is full, continue to ignore the brownish color of the water and do your best to carry the heavy bucket down the hill to your shower without spilling a precious drop. 

Step 4: Fill your shower bucket.  Using the handy pulley system, lower your shower bucket.  Transfer water from your water bucket into your shower bucket.  Now that your shower bucket is full and heavy, heave it back up and secure at appropriate height with rope and nails.  Tips: pull bucket up in gentle and smooth motion as to not slosh out any water; bucket height should be just high enough to stand up underneath while being able to reach the red handle which open and closes the shower spout; check to make sure shower spout is closed before filling shower bucket with water.  

Step 5: Secure shower door.  Now that your shower bucket is filled with warm water and set at the appropriate height, turn around and do your best to securely close the shower door.  Since this is nearly impossible, it is important to always be on the alert for approaching voices and foot steps so that you can quickly and loudly announce that your shower stall is occupied.  

Step 6: Get naked.  Forget about the curious group of Rwandan kitchen workers at the top of the hill still staring in your direction.  Forget about the unknown person on the other side of the brick wall also naked and showering.  Forget about the monkeys jumping from limb to limb in the tree above your head.  Forget about the leaves, and who knows what else dropping into your shower stall and water bucket from the trees and monkeys above.  It is time to get naked!  Gingerly step out of clothes while avoiding stepping into a pile of wet leaves or mud.  Hang clothes on nail. 

Step 7: Commence washing.  First, make a plan.  Consider all that you want washed and the amount of water in your shower bucket.  Then, decide what you really need washed.  Stand under your shower and open the water valve with a twist of the red lever.  Quickly get your whole body wet, using as little water as possible.  Turn off water and lather up. Shampoo hair. Soap up your body, including feet.  While balancing on one foot with shampoo still lathered up in your hair and your body all slippery with soap, use your foot scrubber to clean the rough and blackened bottoms of one foot.  Put clean and soapy foot back into flip-flops, balance on clean foot without touching the slimy brick walls enclosing your small shower, and clean opposite foot.  Before turning on water, lather your face up with face soap.  Now, turn on water and rinse face, hair, body, and feet as quickly as possible.  Once you are soap free, let shower bucket down and determine if remaining water is enough to condition hair.  Continue to ignore the brownish color of the water.  If enough water remains, lift bucket back up and secure with rope, add conditioner to hair and rinse.  If not, make note of how you foolishly used up too much water and suffer the consequences of dry hair.

Step 8: Dry off and walk back to tent. By now, there are several people talking on the other side of your shower door, patiently waiting their turn for the shower.  Self consciously, pick off any leaves that have fallen from the trees above and are sticking to your naked body.   Hurriedly dry off and put on decent after-shower clothes without letting clean, dry clothes drag on wet and muddy floor.  Gather up shower gear and put into empty water bucket.  Check to make sure underwear and other unmentionable garments are secure for the walk back to your tent and not still hanging on a nail in the stall.  Bravely open shower door, comment on how clean you feel to those waiting and carefully walk up the hill in your slippery wet flip-flops while waving to the curious Rwandan kitchen workers.

Step 9:  Congratulate yourself on actually enjoying the camp shower and being clean! 

This are the two shower stalls.  Looks inviting, right?

The shower works on a bucket pulley system.  Pull the rope down to hoist the bucket up and let the rope up to bring the bucket down . . . more easily said than done, especially with a full heavy bucket!

Here is the bucket lowered all the way down.

A close up of the bucket.  The red lever kind-of blends in with the brick behind it.  The red lever controls the flow of water through the shower head.  

The main meeting hall buildings.  The kitchen is the building on the left and the showers are just down the hill on the far left.  The hot water is located in the middle of the two buildings.

The kitchen building.  Look for the green bucket to the right of the center of the picture.  This is where the cold or normal water comes out.  The two holes in the side of the building are part of the furnace over which all the food is cooked inside. 

Between the two buildings is the other furnace.  The hot water is located to the left of the furnace.  Usually this is where all the curious Rwandan kitchen workers hang out...because that is the kitchen on the left.

A close up for the hot water tap!  Be sure you don't fill up too much on the hot water - cause it is really, really, really hot!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Called Out to the Wilderness

I wrote this on my first day of camping....

What am I doing here at this camp?  What made me or anyone else think that camping out in Africa for 9 days was a good way to relax?  These are the types of questions going through my mind as I unroll my borrowed sleeping bag inside a borrowed tent.  
I am out in the beautiful Rwandan wilderness.  Rwandan wilderness is different from other African wilderness.  This wilderness is green and wild instead of desolate and dry.  There are curious monkeys to keep out of the food and unpredictable bats that peer at us through the night.  There is a lake filled with volcanic gases where children boldly laugh and play.  
There is a cool brick meeting hall with exposed wooden beams that still resemble the trees that they once were.  There are glass-less and screen-less windows all around the building to let the cool breeze pass through.  At first glance, it seems like an historic building where Quakers once met.  There should be bronze placards at the front describing how John and Abigail Adams met inside at a community dance.  It is rustic except the florescent lights rigged to the beams and the tall metal water filter and tank that supplies clean drinking water.  
At little ways down a path is a community of tents where some of us westerns are “roughing it”.   Top of the line tents from Bass Pro Shop and R.E.I. filled with the latest camping gear to make this week of camping more comfortable.  Even in our camping - we have more than those who live in the surrounding villages.  Yet, I complain about the dirt and the bugs.   
The Lord called me out here to this Rwandan wilderness for a reason.  It seems the Lord tends to call people out to the wilderness as a way of preparation for a future work.  I think of David camping out as a young shepherd tending his sheep.  I think of the Israelites being called out of Egypt.  I think of Jesus being tempted in the desert. 
I don’t know why God wants to call me out to a place so incredibly outside my comfort zone - but maybe this wilderness is in the center of His comfort zone.  And I must be willing to meet Him anyplace that he calls me to.

Psalms 23:1-3 (The Message)
"God, my shepherd! I don't need a thing. You have bedded me down in lush meadows, you find me quiet pools to drink from. 
True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction."

Psalm 55:6-7 (NLT)
"Oh, that I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest!
I would fly far away to the quiet of the wilderness."
My view while I am sitting by the lake.
Rwandan Wilderness

The rustic meeting hall.
The building had a room on the left where we worshipped, this room where we ate meals and played games, as well as a large kitchen in the back.

With the tents so close to each other, we could really hear everything.   It was an interesting insight into family dynamics.  I've never been more thankful to be single with no kids!   Young boy named Cannon:"Dad, I dropped my toothbrush in the dirt!"  Dad:"Cannon! (sigh) Honey, Cannon dropped his toothbrush."  Mom:"Well, wash it off with some clean water. Look, it's not that bad. Cannon, you gotta be more careful.  Who left this wet towel on my bed?"  
This was designed to be a four person tent, but I am so glad there were only two of us sharing the space.  It was a bonding experience!

Phillip and Amiee Woodard, our tent neighbors, were part of the visiting team from The Hills Church of Christ and were there with their three kids.

The Reeves, a family of 6, shared one tent.  And, they were still speaking to each other by the end of week!

Lake Kivu borders Rwanda on the west and the D.R. Congo on the east.  Some of the kids line up to jump off a make-shift diving board.

The lake was very clean!  No leaches or snakes!  And, only a really slim chance of catching that weird snail bacteria thing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

If you give a bug a bean . . .

Matt and Andrea Miller have a beautiful woven straw living-room set.  The coffee table is slightly concave in the middle with glass over the top, which leaves a nice, creative space between the coffee table and glass.  A few weeks ago, in spite of Andrea’s hesitation, Matt bought 15 kilos of multicolored beans to fill the space and it looked great!  
Unbeknownst to Matt, there were a few bugs hiding in those beans when he bought them at the local market.  Over the course of a few weeks, those bugs multiplied and gorged themselves on the plentiful beans in the coffee table.   
When I arrived at the Miller house last week, the Miller’s and the Bean Bugs were engaged in an all out war.  Matt had just gone on the offensive by spraying bug poison under the glass.  As a result, the bean bugs were crawling out and dying in droves.  It appeared that Matt was winning.  However, the next day it became clear that Matt’s toxic assault didn’t totally wipe out the enemy.  
A Miller Family Summit was convened and all agreed that the only way to achieve complete victory was to radically dispose of all the beans, thus depriving the bean bugs of their food source.  
So, all 15 kilos of beans along with hundreds of plump but defeated bean bugs were scooped out of the table and hauled away in paper sacks with the trash.  As an act of ultimate dominance, Matt carried the once lush bean bug habitat outside and invaded every nook and cranny with a dust broom and poisonous spray.  
I returned to the Miller house on Sunday to find only a few resolute and resourceful bean bugs that had survived Matt’s “search and destroy” mission. My response was swift and blunt.  
Today, the bean bugs only inhabit our memory while three, bug-free baskets inhabit the coffee table. 

A bean bug free living room!
My room at the Miller's.
Aidan going out for a bike ride after school. The Miller's are renting a duplex, using one side as bedrooms and kitchen and the other side as an office, dining room, living room, guest room, and storage room.  The "other side" is where I stay and where we have school.

Asher doing school work at the dining room table.

The Miller house. 

Abby is stringing beans while she skypes with a friend in Birmingham.

Anna Marie in her boots, ready to go on a walk.

The roof of the Miller house as seen from the road. 
Pictures from my walk with Anna Marie.  This boy and the one below were tending a small herd of goats.

We loved watching the goats and picking out the prettiest ones.

The oven is in the office - another story for another time.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ntakibaso (not-chee-boz-o) . . . No Problem

I know what you want to ask me.  
“Are you getting settled?”  
That’s the question that I’ve heard most often through emails and from folks here in Rwanda.  The quick answer is “No, but that’s ok.” 
It’s a good thing that one of my greatest strengths is adaptability!  Since I arrived last week, I haven’t spent more than four nights in the same place.  
My schedule for the next three weeks is to spend Sunday night - Tuesday night with the Miller family who lives in a village about 30 minutes south of Kigali.  They have a very simple home and I was surprised to get my own room! While at the Miller’s, I am helping three of their four kids finish the current school year.  My day starts at 6:30am with either a cold shower (if the water is on) or a steaming hot sponge bath.  After getting ready, I have about thirty minutes or so of quiet time with God and looking over the day’s lessons.  About 7:45 or 8:00 we all sit down and enjoy the breakfast that Andrea Miller has prepared.  School starts after breakfast has been cleaned up.  We break around 12:30 for another delicious Andrea Miller meal.  School will last until 2:30 or 3:00 depending on how difficult the day’s lessons are. The afternoons are always different.  The whole Miller family will usually squeeze in language training.  Andrea finds time to prepare another delicious meal.  (Really, I don't see how Andrea has time for much else beside cooking!)  Last week, I joined Abby, who is 13 years old and the oldest Miller kid, for a bike ride.  And, Abby promised me another bike ride this week! Hopefully, I'll have pictures to share on the next blog!  There's also a whole story about bean bugs - but I'll save that for later.
So three days with the Millers, then I switch to the Crowsons in Kigali.  While in Kigali, I am staying at a quaint guest house run by nuns and I am sharing a quaint room with my friend Jessie, who is spending a year in Kigali working with Let’s Start Talking.   
Thursday - Saturday I work one-on-one with the Crowson boys who are diligently working hard to finish their school year before the next on starts in September.  My days are similar as described above but my evenings are usually spent with Jessie or other Americans who are also staying at the same guest house.  
Today is Sunday, so I am re-packing and looking forward to spending the next three days with the Millers.  
So far I have been blessed with great health, good rest, respectful students and the ability to remember Jr. High Algebra.  I’ve got my iphone unlocked and working on the local network!  I even had a delicious BBQ Pork sandwich for lunch today!  I miss home and family like crazy.  My laundry is starting to pile up and I still have thank-you notes to write to some of you who have sent in financial donations.  But, the Lord had blessed me with courage and joy renewed each morning.  While I’m not physically settled, my spirit is a peace.  That’s why it is all ok! 

Here are some pictures of the guesthouse in Kigali.

 It has rained today, so everything is looking especially green and saturated with color!

Now, welcome to our confusion in our small living space!  Jessie uses the front room and I use the back room.  Luckily we have a private toilet that we share! We even have hot showers on most days!
I am standing in the bathroom doorway.  To the right is the tiny shower and to the left is the toilet.  The sink is straight in front of me.
Here is my room - luggage and all.  It would drive my super organized sister-in-law batty and my mom could clean in here for days, but I just try to ignore the mess and am thankful for a comfy room.
 This is from the doorway of the back room looking forward.  And, that's Jessie who is also living out of luggage and trunks like me.

 Just outside our door is beautiful Kigali!
 It is Sunday here and there are lots of visitors who come to worship with the nuns who run this guesthouse.
Rwanda is the "Land of a Thousand Hills".  And on the next hill over from our guesthouse is the airport.  See the tail of the airplane in the center of the picture?  So, hearing jets fly over helps me think of Atlanta and makes be feel at home!