Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Murabeho Rwanda, Muraho Vermont.

Saying goodbye to Rwanda was more bitter than sweet. I wrote very little about our last day because I had no words. I am still struggling to find words, but it is still good to share. Our bags were packed and sitting on the floor. They were bulging and heavy. Since there is a weight limit for baggage, we hired a man with a scale from the street to come to our house and weigh our bags for 200 Rwandan Francs ($0.30). Be lugged our bags onto the porch and began weighing. The limit was 23 kilograms. All of our bags except for one was over the limit by at least 2 kilograms. Our carry-on bags were just as overweight but we weren't so worried about those. We knew we would surpass our weight limit but we didn't want to worry about it until the people at the desk said something about it.

We were picked up by the center's truck a little after 5:30pm. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:55, so we thought we would have plenty of time. We met Willy at the airport to say our final good-bye's. I had held in all tears until this time. It was impossible not to cry. I handed Willy my backpack that I had owned since the second grade. In the top pocket was a necklace I had made for his mother, all of my spare Rwandan Francs, and an envelope that said "Dear Willy, Go get yourself a passport! Love, Ally, Elena, Bret, and Dorota." Enclosed was $100. Enough to purchase a Rwandan passport.

At this point we had to get going, so we gave our final hugs. Eye's puffy and watery, we checked ourselves into the airport. Some time passed as we waited in the line to check our bags just long enough for the tears to pass. I was ok. We placed the first overweight bag on the scale and the woman asked us if there was any way to rearrange. We said almost all of our bags are this heavy. She advised us to put all the extra weight into one bag and we would pay $150 for the extra weight. We did as we were told and along came the manager, or some woman of high status. She asked us how much the bags weighed. The woman who was working with us told her the heavy bag weighed 33 kilograms (the limit for overweight bags is 32 kilo's). This other woman was not a happy camper. She claimed that "none of my workers can carry a bag this heavy." She told us to put some of the weight into our carry on. When she saw our carry on items, she told us they were too heavy and were going to have to leave some stuff behind.

My carry-on bag contained ALL of the electronics I brought to Rwanda. After a lot of back-and-forth, and unpacking and re-packing, we were beginning to fall behind schedule, and they would be boarding the plane very shortly. As I fell into tears (again) the woman looked at me and said "Look, I don't do this for anyone, but this is going to be an even bigger mess if you miss this flight, so just pack up this extra weight in your carry-on and go." I thanked her, and we ran to the gate.

Once we got on the plane, I had a steady stream of tears that would last for about 2 hours. I couldn't look out the window to see my body being dragged out of this beautiful country (even though it was dark out). I almost felt like a prisoner of my own life; unable to be where I really wanted to be. I had left jobs unfinished at the center. My good-byes at the center were cut short. Saying good-bye to Willy was rushed and unfinished, but what IS a proper good-bye?

I slept on the majority of every flight. Hoping for some peace to enter my mind every time I woke up. Eventually I was ok. Numbed, but ok.

I was received at Burlington Airport shortly after 4:00pm on wednesday by my parents and Elena's entourage of family and friends (which can be expected because she was gone for 7 months)! The happiness of seeing my parents was a nice distraction from the sadness I had from leaving. They asked my many questions and we shared good conversation. I was excited to show them all of the clothing I acquired from the Josephine and my favorite seamstress, Chantal. Shortly after arriving home, my parents took me out to a new restaurant in town: The Prohibition Pig. They are good friends with the bartender, who would mix up something special for me to celebrate my 21st birthday a little late. We enjoyed a nice dinner together before heading home. My parents told me they would get me a bike as a late birthday and a welcome home gift. That evening, I went with my dad to pick up what would become my first bike since fourth or fifth grade. I was a little excited to say the least, even though I had had a long 30 hours.

I have been in Vermont for a week now. It seems my mind wanders over to Rwanda most of the time. I am constantly thinking about what is happening at the center, what the weather is like, and how my friends are doing. Communicating with friends in Rwanda reminds me of what it must have been like years ago before the internet and Skype. Since they don't have access to a computer every day, it can be weeks or months before hearing back from them. I wish I could pick up a phone and call the center to talk to all the boys to see how they are but that's impossible. I have never appreciated how simple and easy it is to contact someone in the U.S. whenever you want. Maybe one day technology will allow the same easy communication for friends around the globe.

Elena and I gave a successful presentation at Johnson State College. We raised nearly $500 for Willy's trip with the silent auction. I will be sure to keep everyone updated on the status of Willy's passport and visa, and the money we have raised. I owe a big thank you to those who attended and bid on the items. I also want to thank everyone who has supported me over the past four months. I learned more than I could have ever imagined, and I have you all to thank for that. THANK YOU!

If you haven't already, please take some time to look through Elena's blog. She stayed in Rwanda for 7 months, and has shared many stories. Also, current volunteers at the center, Bret and Dorota, are sharing their stories as well. They have a recent post sharing the journey of buying and giving out shoes to all the boys at the center. The video at the end of the entry called "I Have Shoes" was created by Bret and Willy!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity!

If you have been following my blog all along, you would have a pretty good idea of who my friend Willy is. You may know that he has had a life that not many of us can relate to. It has been his dream to visit the United States. He has heard so much about our homes, our friends, and our families. We made him a promise that we will try our hardest to keep. We are going to help him come to America.

You have an opportunity to help us help him get here! If you make a donation using the side bar Donate button, 100% of your donation will go towards the purchase of Willy's plane ticket. I will keep everyone up to date on the progress of the visa process and the amount of money we have raised! So far I have $65 from selling some crafts.

Thank you all for following along during my stay in Rwanda. I am home now, and I am very busy with some school work and other things I have to catch up on. That being said, I am presenting some stories from my trip on Tuesday, April 24th at 4:00 at Johnson State College. There will also be a silent auction of fabrics, arts, and crafts before the presentation. All money raised will go towards Willy's plane ticket. The event is free and open to the public if you would like to come. I hope to see you there!

Final Weeks

Here's an entry I was working on about a week before I left. Enjoy.

I have been in Rwanda for almost three months now. I've met some of the most incredible people, and I couldn't be more thankful for everyone who helped me get here. 

My last week will be a busy one. New volunteers, Bret and Dorota, arrived today so we will be showing them everything they need to know about living in Rwanda and working at the center. We will be teaching them about our projects in the library and storeroom so they can finish what we started. I am very glad they are here to do finish this work!

Here's a quick update on the library and storeroom. We have finally finished cataloging all of the books in the new library. Right now we are in the process of cutting out and taping the appropriate numbers to each book. The other day we did this for 3 hours and got through about 400 books. It's going to be a long process that hopefully Bret, Dorota, and Elizabeth can finish within the first few weeks after our departure. We have also cataloged some games that will be kept in the library!

The storeroom has been a beast to tackle. I've written a lot about the storeroom, and maybe you can start to see how far we've come. We've spent hours sorting through the enormous amount of things the old storeroom was holding. We brought things in very carefully to make sure the things entering the new storeroom were things that would be useful for the center. Things such as broken electronics, broken toys and games, and other garbage has no place in the new store. Keeping these things out, however, was much more difficult than you might think.

The building which housed the old storeroom is getting demolished as we speak. The center does not have an efficient way to dispose of trash, so much of it is kept. To make a long story short, they brought all of the trash we separated out and brought it to the doors of the new storeroom. Since we didn't want most of it to enter the new room, we left it outside. Eventually, the boys took it somewhere else, but I have no idea where.

The other items brought to the door were things we weren't ready for. Things such as tools, boxes of old records, and other random items. We still didn't have a place for these things, so they remained piled on the floor, just as they were before. It was overwhelming to enter the new storeroom for a few weeks because of all the stuff that was brought in. 

Two lovely volunteers, Ian and Emily, visited for two weeks. During their visit, we handed out pencils, sharpeners, colored pencils, some candy, and English/Kinyarwanda dictionaries. We also began the process of sizing the boys for sneakers. Most of the boys only have rubber sandals. Since the store was full of shoes, Ian and Emily talked with Rafiki and Josianne to allow the shoes to be handed out. Since there weren't enough correct sizes for the boys, we arranged to sell some of the TOMS shoes that were impractical for them to wear. We sold some to our friends in the States. This gave us enough money to be able to buy enough pairs for the boys who didn't have a pair that fit them. Giving these things out felt really good because if we hadn't gone through and organized the items in the storeroom, these things would have never been given out.

The boys writing their names in their new dictionaries!

Trying on some shoes

The second to last day I was with the boys, I threw them a party. I worked with Willy to collect some Rwandan hip-hop music to give them one last night of dancing. We spent the day Sunday collecting music, and renting a speaker and mixer to ensure we would have good sound. I was so happy to be able to share over three hours dancing with the boys before I left. The only reason we stopped when we did is because my computer died. We were having too much fun.

The following day would be our last visit to EDD. We worked in the library tagging more books, and doing some more organizing in the storeroom. We taught the store keeper, Agnus, how to do inventory with the new books we are creating. This way every donation is accounted for correctly.

We ended our day a little late due to a meeting that lasted far longer than it should have. We said our goodbye's to the boys in the dark. I shed a few tears, but we were able to take many pictures with silly faces to keep our spirits up. It was definitely not an easy thing to do.

Our last day in Rwanda was spent doing some last minute shopping, and packing. We had a bittersweet goodbye to Willy at the airport, and after some baggage complications that caused us to nearly miss our flight out, we were off.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Right Place, Right Time (Again)

Saturday was a late start. We'd been working so hard at the center for the past few weeks that we all slept in until 11:00 or so. We had no plans that day, and were very excited for it. Shortly after I woke up, Willy called and asked if we wanted to go to the Salax Awards. He told us it was the Rwandan music awards, and that was about it. Elizabeth and I thought it might be a cool event and we had just enough energy left in us to be able to go. 

We met Willy in Remera at 5:30 to walk up to the event. At this point, I still didn't really have any idea of what we were going to. On the walk over, he told us all of the biggest superstars would be there to perform and dance. Suddenly I was even more excited for the event. The tickets were about $3.33 each, sold right at the gate as you enter. The event was sponsored by MTN, a popular cell phone company. They handed out free minutes and bandanas to everyone who entered. 

We waited in the stadium for about an hour before the show started. It was a very simplified version the Grammy Awards. There was a large television screen above the stage where they had a live camera set up on "the red carpet" leading into the stadium. The camera followed all of the stars from their cars to the venue, where they would enter less than a minute later for everyone to see with their own eyes. Some of the stars had very interesting attire that reminded me of Lady Gaga's statements at big events. One singing group wore kilts, and another dressed as if they were in a wedding with the woman in a wedding dress and veil and the men in white suits and red ties. Young Grace, a popular rapper, had two young girls accompany her, all wearing pink and white suits with matching hats. They won a new couch and the equivalent of $500 for best dressed.

Urban Boyz
Just Family
Young Grace and her sidekicks.
Traditional Dancers
King James wins four awards including Best Artist of the Year

Here's another fun fact about the venue and it's organization: There was no crowd limit for the bleachers, where we were sitting. By the time the show started, and even before then, the stairs on both ends were filled with people trying to push and shove their way through. There were two policemen holding back the crowd. Throughout the show, the people would sneak their way through to try and get a seat, only to find out that there really was not an inch of extra room to sit. We were hip bone to hip bone, and sometimes had even less room.

It took a long time for all of the artists to enter, so towards the end, the crowd began chanting a song which Willy translated for us "We're tired, let's go." Not too long after, the first performance was by a girl Willy knew who went to a secondary school very close to the center. He said people called her Celine Dion because she had such a nice voice. She sang "I Willy Always Love You" note for note in memory of Whitney Houston. It was beautiful, and everyone loved it. That performance was one of maybe 4 live performances.

Other performances were simply the singer going up and singing along with their recorded song. I couldn't believe it at first, and then it just became funny.

One of my favorite performances was the group who won Best Traditional Group. They had so many beautiful dancers who were all perfectly in sync. During this performance, I stood up to get a better view. When their performance was over, everyone went to sit back down. I turned around and there was absolutely no spot for me to sit. Willy and Elizabeth had found a seat, but there was absolutely no place for me. There was a kind older man sitting next to Willy, and he was yelling at the guy who took my place to move. Soon everyone around this other guy were pulling at him to get him out of my seat. Once they got him out, everyone wanted to give me a high five. That's what we get for not having real assigned seats and selling too many tickets!

So, to say the least, the event exceeded my expectations. If you have more questions, please ask them.

On Sunday, we had plans to go to a football game. It was a Rayon Sport game, Willy's favorite team. After a quick visit with Josephine at the market, we walked to the stadium to see the game. Elena and I wore blue to show our team spirit. Soon after we got through the security, a man approached us asking if we knew about Rayon Sport. (This is where being in the right place at the right time comes in). We told him of course, that's why we were wearing blue and white! After a brief conversation, he spoke to Willy in Kinyarwanda, and soon we were following this guy dressed in a long blue robe to the stadium doors. Willy quietly told us we were getting better seats.

This guy, Claude, turned out to be the President of the Rayon Sport fan club. He invited us to join him in the VIP section of the stadium. We sat only a few seats away from the coach of the Rwandan National Team football coach, and a few rows behind us was a player for the Women's National Team. I sat in amazement as the game began. Willy wanted me to guess the score of the game since I predicted the score of the last game to be 3-2, with Rayon Sport as the champion and I was right. I bet Willy that Rayon Sport would win 2-0 in the end of this game. At half time, Claude invited us in for drinks. We followed him to this special room where everyone important goes during half time. We shared Fanta with everyone, and Claude told everyone that I played football in the states. Everyone was very curious about that fact. They said if I ever come back to Rwanda, maybe I can be sponsored to play for the Women's Rayon Sport team since they're not very good right now.

Rwandan National Team coach

During the second half, Claude brought me over to the rowdy section 17 so I could take some video's of them. I wrote about this section in the blog I posted after my first day. Claude told them to sing one of their chants, and I got some pretty cool footage.

Rayon Sport, as I predicted, won 2-0. I caught both goals on camera!

Section 17
Rayon sport has the home jersey's: White with blue stripes.

After the game, Claude brought us to a local bar and restaurant for more drinks and some food. He told us he would give us all Rayon Sport t-shirts, and also invited us to go with him to the next game. He's also the manager of a hotel in Remera, and told us we were welcome to swim at the hotel any time we wanted. We thanked him so much for everything, and went on our way.

Talk about an eventful weekend!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Temperature Times Four

Against all odds, the power came back just in time for us to have the dance we had promised the boys the week before. Friday, all of the boys received their most recent school reports, and many of the boys did really well. We had some of the top students for each grade at the local primary school. Willy was in the top 10 of his class in secondary school, so he visited the center to share his marks with Rafiki and the other staff. The mood at the center was very positive and happy. Just as we heard of everyone's successes, the power came back! 

The timing couldn't have been better. We still had time to get everything together, including Willy's speakers, which were at his house a few kilometers away. They arrived at 5:30, and we started dancing at 6:00. We had 200 glow sticks that Woonsocket High School donated along with about 1,000 books. It didn't take them long to realize that you could crack them open and spray the insides all over themselves and the building. They were splatter painting everything possible.

We had some difficulties getting the music together. I had made a playlist of American music they were familiar with, and Willy brought some Rwandan pop music that the boys also really love. For some reason, we couldn't get everything hooked up right, and the boys handed us a CD that we had made for them. The CD had songs like Teach Me How To Dougie, Waka Waka, Kiss Kiss, Fire Burning, and Temperature. These songs were repeated over and over, and every time the boys were just as happy. They have a choreographed dance to Temperature, so every time it played, they would all get together and do their dance. They taught me the first time it came on, and by the last time it played, I knew their dance. If we were the DJ's at any party, I think we would be fired due to song repetition.

We had some left over glow sticks when we were leaving, so we decided to hand them out to random people along our ride home. We were able to give a glow stick to everyone on our first bus to Remera. They took it in amazement, and slowly shook it back and forth. I had a few stuck in my hair, and after a few minutes of playing with it, they stuck it in their hair too. Two of the women thought they were the funnies thing, and began asking us where we were from and what we are doing in Rwanda. By the end of the bus ride, we made two new friends and we have already received two calls from them asking us if we want to come to their house for a meal. We'll see if we have the time and energy for that in the next two very busy weeks.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Celebrations of All Sorts

Thursday was my 21st birthday. While most people don't remember how their 21st birthday ended, my experience was quite different I'm sure.

There's a lovely Americanized restaurant about a 15 minute walk downtown called Heaven. On Wednesdays they have drink specials, and Saturday nights they show movies on a big screen with a buffet dinner. We caught a double feature showing of The Muppets and The Ides of March last Saturday for St. Patricks day. Both were very good movies although unlike the kids who came for The Muppets, the Ides of March was a very good movie that I strongly recommend if you haven't seen it yet, even though I hated the ending.

The drink special on Wednesday was a Spiked Lemonade with a fresh rod of sugarcane. Since Thursday would be my birthday, Elena, Elizabeth, Willy, and I decided to head to Heaven a night early to catch the drink special. We had a LOT of food, and I wasn't quite prepared for how my meal would end.

Willy has obviously never experienced American dining, so he was in for quite the treat. We shared appetizers and meals so everyone could get a taste of everything. By the time we were finished with our meals, I was very full. Little to my knowledge, Elizabeth had spoken with the manager while on a "bathroom break" and they arranged a whole platter of dessert samplings to go with the homemade ice cream we ordered. I was in the middle of explaining something to Willy when I caught a glance of a large group of people gathering outside the kitchen and I saw the candle. I said "Oh great, there's a candle" and kept talking to Willy trying to mask my blushing face. The group of people emerged from the kitchen and began singing in Kinyarwanda. They were walking towards our table, and I knew it was for me, but for some reason Willy thought it was for someone else in the dining room. Much to his surprise, they gathered around out table and proceeded to sing Happy Birthday. It was very cool, and I was amazed at the large platter of desserts set in front of me. Willy was so shocked that they did that for me. He kept saying "I can't believe it!"

After three courses of food, a few drinks, and a lot of good conversation, we were ready to go. I owe many thanks to Elena, Elizabeth and WIlly for making the evening so enjoyable.

Thursday morning, Elena and Elizabeth surprised me with pancakes in the shape of 21 on my plate. It was dressed in a thick layer of Duo, which is similar to Nutella. We had some passion fruit and passion fruit juice as well. It was a great start to the day.

We had something special planned for the boys on friday night, although it didn't go exactly how we planned. During our store room clean-out, we discovered over 200 hats, and almost 200 jerseys. Elena did a project online to collect packages of underwear for the boys since they had none. I brought them over when I came in January, and we've been waiting for a good time to give them out. The Woonsocket group also brought 200 glow sticks when they came in February. So we had all of these things we wanted to be able to give the boys. I thought it would be a good idea to turn a weekend evening into a party. We wanted to give all of these things out and then have a dance in the dining hall. We kept it quiet from the boys because we weren't sure if we could get everything together in time.

We got permission to pass out the hats, and the underwear and glow sticks were ours to donate, so we could do what we wanted with them. We needed to get permission before handing out the jerseys, but we were unable to get the go-ahead before friday. So, we arranged our plan to give out the hats, underwear and glow sticks before our dance.

As the evening approached, we realized there was no power at the center. Willy would be arriving any minute with the speaker system, and there was no power to work them. We waited around in hopes the power return.

During that time, the boys were getting really anxious about the party we had planned for them. Some of the boys got together and started singing some of the new popular songs in Rwanda. There was so much positive energy in the air, and we were all hoping the power would return.

7:30 approached and there was still no power, so we decided to organize the distribution of hats and underwear to not disappoint the boys too much. The boys were organized in a line outside the dinning hall from youngest to oldest. The table was lit by candle, and the hand-out began. Once every boy received a hat and underwear, we received a few thank-you speeches from the boys. We were really happy they were finally able to use these hats and that every boy now has a pair of underwear.

Within minutes of receiving the underwear, Kaka, one of the boys, came up to me with his hat on. I told him he looked so cool, and asked where his underwear were. (You have to understand that Kaka's nickname is Spiderman, so the kids Spiderman underwear were picked out with him in mind). Kaka then lifted his shirt, and pulled the side of his pants down to reveal the spiderman picture right front and center when it was meant to be in the back. 

The dance has been postponed for next weekend. We are hoping for the power to be back by then. We are also hoping for the hand out of the jerseys to be approved so we can hand them out at the dance.

Stay tuned!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Uncovering Gold

A visitor can receive an entire tour of the center without ever knowing these rooms exist. There are two of them. They are the Store Rooms. Upon first glance, you might think they are junk rooms, but after a little digging, it's really gold you've come across.

As you might know, our biggest project at the center right now is organizing the new library and store room. Most of my updates have been about the library because that was something we could do right off the bat. We were able to catalog all of the books the center owns to prepare them for the new check-out system. Over the past couple of weeks, a lot has happened at the center. The room for the new store was finally cleaned and prepared for us to begin moving everything in. While we were waiting on the finishing touches, we moved in all of the school supplies to the shelves in the side room. That only took a day and we hand counted everything, including over 3,000 pencils.

School Supplies

Last week we started organizing the upstairs store room, which looked like this:

We had a lot of work ahead of us, but we knew it had to be done. After some discussion on where to start, the work began. In this hot, congested room with no airflow, our plan was to separate all of the stuff into categories. There were basically 3 categories: clothing, shoes, and other. I thought the other pile would end up a lot bigger than it actually was, due to all of the stuff piled in this room. We used a large barrel-like container to collect all of the shoes. The large barrel wasn't big enough for all of the shoes. In fact, there was a whole other sack full of TOMS!

This wasn't all of the TOMS shoes.

Once we sorted out all the shoes, we cleared a space so we could have enough room to make neat, folded piles of all the clothing. We went through boxes, and boxes of used, and unused clothing. There were baby clothes, teenage girl clothes, very large man clothes, and a variety of practically everything you can think of.

After every article of clothing was sorted and folded. Plus I put on this nice outfit.
The process took 2 days, and we are currently in the middle of moving all of the sorted clothing into the new store room. That's where today began.


It's Monday, and we arrived at the center at 9:45am. Like every other day we arrive at the center. We were greeted by a few girls who neighbor the area and go to class in P1 at the center, and Dariya, the cook's 3 year old daughter, although I'm sure she must be turning 4 soon. They came running at us the second we walked through the gates. They gave us big hugs, and after we asked them how they were, they responded with "We are fine." That's some of the very little English they understand, although Dariya understands a lot of what we say to her. 

After the welcoming greeting, we were excited to check out the library, as it recently received it's final paint job! It's blue, and it looks great. We then went into the new store room, where we found the floors clean and ready for us! The only thing we had to do before moving things in was wash the shelves that we were moving in to use.

Once the store room was ready, we had to make another plan: How to transfer the clothing without causing too much of a scene. Since the younger boys were not in class, we wanted to transfer the hats first because they were in a large white sack. It would be impossible for the boys to know that this sack contained over 200 hats. We took them into the new store room, and dumped them all over the floor. Then we sorted through them until the boys had class again. 

Having some fun with all the hats!
Almost done sorting them.
It was time to move the clothes. This process was simple. Elena and I made a chain from the upstairs of the store room to the downstairs, where we would temporarily hold the clothing. Once our clean spot was filled, one person brought the piles from the old store room half way to the new store room, where the other person would be waiting to take it all the way to the new store room. This was to keep kids out of both buildings. We didn't have any help from the staff so we had to make sure everything was kept safe from sticky hands. As the piles began forming in the new store (which has clear glass windows all along both walls) the boys began watching. They saw all the hats, and all of the clothing. There was no more hiding the items of the store room. As we moved the clothing over, Agnes, the store keeper, took some soccer jerseys out of the downstairs store. She did this right before lunch, which was not the brightest idea because she then had to sit there with the jerseys and eat lunch so none of the boys would take them.

After lunch we moved all the jerseys to the new store. The upstairs also contained 4 or 5 practically full team sets of soccer jerseys, on top of the ones in the downstairs. As we began folding and sorting all the jerseys, the windows became full of faces. Boys were peering in with amazement at all the soccer jerseys we were dealing with. It was like we were watching us dig through a gold mine from the outside of an electric fence. I would estimate that we have about 175-200 soccer jerseys of all sizes at the center.

All the clothing and jerseys excluding the ones we pulled out to give away.
The exciting thing is that we are planning a give-away dance party on friday, where each boy will receive a glow stick (courtesy of Woonsocket High School), a pair of underwear (from Elena's Amazon Christmas drive), and a soccer jersey (hopefully). We will then hold a dance (with Willy as the DJ). It should be a really fun night, so hopefully all goes according to planned.

Things are finally on a fast track, and we are very excited that all of these donations that have been sitting around for a few years will finally be put to use. Stay tuned, as we are hoping to finish this whole project before we leave!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Mish-Mash of Things

This post will contain lots of bits of information. It's been a while, so I'm catching up!

The Harwood group just left after a three week stay in Rwanda. This was the same trip I was on in 2009 when I decided I had to return. We were very busy while they were here. We decided we wanted to be very involved with their activities because we could offer some different perspectives and help them with some ideas on how to manage various activities with 27 people not including the three of us and Gyslaine and Alexis, the group leaders. They spent their first week in Kigali working with some schools, including EDD! They also spent some time in the market. We introduced them to Josephine, our fabric lady. We helped them pick out fabrics, we gave them the prices, and helped to put back the fabrics that had been taken out. It was quite chaotic, but also really fun to be in the fabric business for an afternoon. Josephine was so grateful for all the business we brought her. 

Before leaving for the southern region of Butare, we visited a few genocide sites. The first was the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where 280,000 people are buried. Revisiting the museum brought a lot of emotion. The written stories of various victims went straight to my heart. The most difficult part was the children's room. The children's room contained enlarged photo's of children who were killed during the genocide. The photo's were the most recent of the child, and sometimes the only pictures their families had. Below each picture was a simple description of the child's favorite things, and how they were killed.

We also visited two churches that were attacked during the genocide and are now used as memorials. The first was Ntarama, and the second was Nyamata. I had visited them in 2009 and it was a very different feeling visiting these places again. Ntarama contained a coffin of a body that had been recovered just a week earlier. There were about 9 new coffins since the last time I was there. They are still finding bodies even 18 years later.

On the Monday before we left for Butare, the group came to EDD to do some projects. They primed the walls of the library, and began varnishing the outside walls of the dinning hall. They had plans to build some bookshelves for the new library, but we had some troubles getting all the supplies together in time. The good news is that we have all the materials now, and we can build them soon!

We were very busy in Butare. We took a tour of a few coffee washing stations, one of which is where Green Mountain Coffee Roasters buys beans for a seasonal roast. We also spend time with a group of coffee farmers. We worked along side them pulling weeds, talking, and dancing.

We also spend a few days at Burate High School. It is the top secondary school in the country. The students speak impeccable English. We were able to spend some good time getting to know some of the students. We talked with them about all sorts of things. Most of the time we compared the United States with Rwandan norms. From hanging out with friends, to Country laws. I learned so much from talking with these three young ladies. We also got to challenge some students to basketball and volleyball. We didn't have a chance to win, but it was fun anyway.

After time in Butare, we travelled west towards Lake Kivu, where we spent three nights. The food was delightful, and it was really relaxing to hop in the lake for a swim throughout the days and to have time to get some work done.

After Lake Kivu we travelled to the eastern side of Rwanda to Akagera National Park. Harwood had a grant that allowed them the opportunity to spend a night in Akagera and participate in a five and a half hour safari. We were lucky to be able to join them! It was such a neat experience. 

Spending time with the group was really fun. It gave me a lot of time to think about this country and it's history and the direction it's headed in. It brought many answers as well as many new questions. I loved getting to know the kids in the group and sharing the Rwandan experience with them. It was a really nice change of pace, and now I am energized to return to EDD and get to work in the store room!

A Journal Excerpt From March 1st

I wrote this entry the night after I revisited the most difficult and powerful genocide memorial site I've ever seen. The memorial is in Murambi, on top of a secluded hill holding the walls of classrooms and dormitories of an unfinished high school. About 50,000 people were killed here. The bodies were bulldozed into mass graves then covered to hide the evidence. A survivor, who escaped and hid in the bushes of a neighboring hill, saw what the perpetrators did with the bodies. If it weren't for him, they may have never found the mass graves of preserved bodies that now lay on tables within the walls of the classrooms they were killed in.


Translation: "If you knew me, and you knew yourself, you could not kill me."

Today my head reached a climax of questions. Most are questions that may never be answered. What is forgiveness? Why is it so easy for some yet so impossible for others? How do you truly know if someone has forgiven? Why does human existence have to include events that require forgiveness? I've heard so many stories from various Rwandans who experienced genocide first hand. With every story I've heard, the teller is in a different stage of forgiveness. Whether it be forgiveness because of fear, for the sake of God, or a true understanding and whole-hearted forgiveness, Rwandans are trying to forgive.

50,000 people were killed in Murambi. Among those people were Willy's immediate family members from his mom's side. I wish so badly to know all their stories, but they will remain untold. How did Willy and his mom survive? Where did they go? Why is it so easy for some people to talk about the events that took place during genicide while others are left utterly speechless. I can only imagine the kind of pain Willy's mom endured. I know she lost practically her entire family. She lost her husband and a child, Willy's twin. She was raped. The rape left her with a life-long illness of HIV. She will live with this haunting memory for the rest of her life. She knows who killed her family but cannot bare to tell Willy who. How does he continue on every day without knowing the answers? How is he so happy now even though he cannot forgive those who hurt his family? It is something I will always be curious about. 

How is it that people can live so close to such a retched smell? This horrendous smell of death lingers all day, every day. How do these women wake up every day and go out to their garden to work and see the school with open classroom doors filled with bodies, and smell this awful smell every day? There's no way these women were victims. There's no way they lived there during the attack on April 21st, 1994. How does anyone from that town continue on after the massive attack? When will the poisonings end? When will every Rwandan feel safe? The human being is remarkable. The mind has the potential to be so powerful, and so weak. The process of healing and forgiving go hand-in-hand. In order to heal, I believe that people have to prove themselves in order to receive forgiveness. Someone would have to prove to me that they are truly sorry. There's no way it could ever be possible over night. I believe the process of forgiveness takes years to accomplish. Support is a necessity during this process, whatever form it might come in.

The country of Rwanda is testing the power of humanity. It is the first country to endure a genocide, and coexist in the end. The next ten years will be extremely important and worth learning from. This outcome will heavily depend on the generation of youth right now. Their parents were filled with fresh memories of genocide during their childhood. How do they learn what really happened? Will these kids learn to constructively question authority and to question the information given to them? When will the titles of Hutu and Tutsi really disappear? When will they really be a thing of the past? Will these titles continue for the sake of story? Will the world ever have a handle over genocide or will it continue to strike other populations of the world? Why is it so difficult to prevent? Will there ever truly be peace everywhere?

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Market and More

It's been a long while since my last post, so maybe some of you are very curious as to what I have been up to! So, due to some housing issues, we moved into town. Town is the busy part of Kigali where all the big businesses are, and lots of people around all the time. We are living in the Sulfo compound. Sulfo Industries is the company owned by Faraz and his family who also own EDD. We were very excited to move because termites were migrating into our house, and that is never good. We also lost water very often, which sometimes made it difficult to cook and clean. We were very thankful for the water when we did have it. Our new house has been very comfortable and we are surrounded by very friendly people who have all been helping us out. There is one woman who works as the accountant at EDD, her name is Sangita and she is from India. Her family has warmly welcomed us and they continue to help us find super markets and vegetable markets close by. So far, living in town has been very convenient, although our commute to work is about 40 minutes.

Our new place!
The center is doing well. The library is practically ready to be painted! The Harwood school trip arrived on Tuesday, and they are planning to spend Monday at the center building book shelves, painting the library, and varnishing the outside of the dinning hall. We are very excited for their helping hands to join us!

We revisited some street boys from Remera a few days ago. We had met with them about a month ago to speak with them about what their lives are like on a day-to-day basis. You can read more about that visit here: Patience is a Virtue. This time around, we brought some hand-me-down long sleeve soccer jerseys which were donated by Elena's cousin. Please read about it here: Blue and White.

Ok, now for the market! Elena, Elizabeth and I visit the market on at least a weekly basis. You would think that by now I should have everything I need. There should be no need for me to have anything more to do with the fabrics at the market. Anyway, to make a long story short, Josephine and her fabrics are nothing short of addicting. I think I have only visit the market once without purchasing a piece of fabric. I have a stack of fabrics amongst my other articles of clothing that are still awaiting their opportunity to be transformed into something beautiful. Every time we go to the market, I bring one or two of my pieces. I always hope that my favorite seamstress, Chantal is there. She comes in and measures me for whatever article I am asking for. So far I have four skirts, two pairs of baggy capri's, two dresses, a shirt, a jacket, and a traditional Rwandan outfit. 


It was a regular afternoon. We were on our way to the market on a wednesday after work to pick up some of our clothes we had left a few days earlier for alterations. It was hot, but not too hot. We arrived at Josephine's fabric stand to see if our things were ready. She greeted us with her usual "Hi, my sista."We tried on our clothing and found a few things still needed some changes. As we were waiting, I noticed her mannequin had a new outfit. It was a green traditional outfit that looked like it would fit me. I noticed a lot of things I liked about the shirt. The stitching was impeccable, and the lines were beautiful.

I like to make Josephine laugh, often, and in many different ways. There is usually music playing, so I tend to dance a lot. Other times I just say funny things. This time, I decided to surprise her. She was gone to check on our clothing, and I decided to undress the mannequin. The shirt landed over my own, and I sat on the counter like everything was normal. When she walked in, she began laughing. After a short while, she said I looked "so good." Then the long skirt found it's way around my waist. I walked out of her booth into the open court yard that is surrounded by other booths. Many people began to laugh and say "you look so smart." We sat around for a while as we waited. The outfit totally grew on me, and the decision was made quite clear in my head that this outfit would be mine, and I would pay 15,000 Rwandan Francs ($25) to keep it. 
Me and Josephine
The shirt was taken back for some alterations to make sure that it fit me perfectly. A zipper was added so I could easily fit it over my shoulders, and would zip up to fit like a glove.

Just as I though we were almost ready to leave, Josephine told me I forgot something. How could we forget about the head piece?! Josephine handed one of the seamstresses the remaining piece of fabric, and she began to drape it around my head, making sure it stood high into the air. I took another walk out to the court yard, and received many thumbs up and some applause, so I took a bow.

My journey wasn't about to come to an end. We still had a few things to do before returning home. The first on the list was traveling to Willy's house to meet his mom for the first time. We left the market and walked about a mile to reach the bus station. I have never been stared at so much in my lifetime. "You look smart" echoed my path as I made my way down the road. Apparently that means I look well-dressed. As we neared the gates of the bus station, the line of moto guys all stood up and began clapping (Willy's mom enjoyed hearing that story later on).

I suppose for many, or maybe all of the people I passed, I was the first white person to be out in a traditional Rwandan outfit. Many thought it was funny, and others appreciated my new look.

When we got to Willy's neighborhood, we were excited to see the look on his face. We saw him about a hundred meters down the road, stopped frozen in his footsteps with his hands over his mouth. He was shocked and absolutely loved it.

Willy's reaction...
Anyway, it was a pretty funny evening, and it was so nice to finally meet Willy's mom. She has been very sick lately and is recovering from a fall she took not too long ago. It was really nice talking with her and giving her something to laugh about. 

Mama Willy made sure she put her head piece on for the picture too
One last thing, Willy began secondary school last monday, and upon his first visit to a basketball practice, he made the team! They won their first game that Willy played in, and he had 9 points for the team who would win by 13 points!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Anything Can Happen in Football

Many changes have been occurring at the center. The ministers have been granted their power back, and there is a forcefield of happiness from the boys that spans the center. You can read more about the root of the events here: Elena's blog

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we have been working very hard with our class on respect and listening. We know their favorite game to play is football (soccer) and that is what they've been waiting for ever since we started the class.

This week, we planned to introduce the footballs. It has been something we have been working towards for four weeks now. On monday we re-explained the game of blob tag. We explained the steps very slowly through speaking using our vocabulary words, and through acting. To our surprise, they followed almost all the rules of the game, and practically everyone was wearing a smile. Since the game went so well, we had some spare time at the end of class. We decided to set up a relay race. We made two teams and had each kid hop on one foot to the end of the basketball court and back, where they would tag the next person to go. The team that finished first were the champions!

Part way through the relay, Elena came to me with a brilliant idea. This is how we would introduce the footballs. They understood how the activity would work, and everyone would have an equal amount of time with a ball. Since we had already planned an art day on Tuesday, we would introduce the footballs on Wednesday.

Tuesday came, and we made baggies of crayons for each table. We decided that there would only be six to a table to eliminate arguing over colors. To begin we gave each table one of our vocabulary notecards that had the word in English and Kinyarwanda, accompanied by a picture describing the word. The kids were to draw their version of the word, and on the back create whatever drawing they wanted. Many of them attempted drawing the same picture that was on the cards we passed out, but they were all different colors and all unique. They also each got a sticker, which they could incorporate into their drawing, or put somewhere else. Many of them attempted to draw what was on the sticker they received. They enjoyed having the freedom to use the crayons, which they normally don't get to use on a daily basis.

Finally, Wednesday rolled around. We had to strategize how we would transport the footballs without any of the kids seeing. We had to do this because if these kids saw the balls, they would completely disregard anything coming out of our mouths. We found a small duffel bag in the volunteer room, which would fit three of the four footballs. The other one was put in my green bag, along with the cones. We transported the balls from the teacher's room to the volunteer room while the kids were still in class. We had the teachers tell the kids to meet us on the basketball court. After some planning for the store room and a quick meeting with Rafiki, we brought the bags out to the basketball court. We set up cones for four relay teams; one cone on one end, and another on the far end. We planned to do a few different relay races, so we placed extra cones on top of each first cone.

To begin, we gathered the class on a grassy patch next to the court. We waited for everyone to be quiet, and began to explain. Since we had already worked with the concept of a relay race, it was a fairly quick explanation and demonstration. In order to keep their attention, we brought out a hackie sack. The hackie sack was exciting for them, and it helped them understand the concept of waiting for the person to get back with the hackie sack before the next person could go.

We split our class into four teams. There were some even numbers, but it didn't really matter to them. The first person on each team was handed a hackie sack. I said "ready, set, GO" and blew my whistle. The race went well. We gathered the boys' attention and explained to them we are going to use footballs. You should have seen the look on their faces. I walked over to my bag and pulled out the first ball. Our class, wearing huge smiles, began clapping. Elena pulled out the other three, and they were all so excited. Some were yelling out "Ahhh thank you!!" We told them to keep good manners and we would be able to use the footballs more. They were so well behaved, it made me speechless.

After one round of down and back, I put four cones between the first and last. The boys were to dribble through the cones in control. Every one of the boys kept their smiles on for the rest of class. With fifteen minutes left before lunch, I gathered teams one and two together, and three and four together. I told teams one and two to defend one goal, and three and four to defend the other. Once again, the boys let out noises of pure happiness and excitement. The boys took off running to the football pitch. There was no order of positions or anything, but it didn't matter. I went to the middle of the pitch with one ball and kicked it straight into the air. They were off.

One boy had a whistle, and he designated himself as the referee. He called corner kicks, goal kicks, and throw-ins, but no fouls. Anything goes in this game of football. The boys traveled with the football in what seemed like a flock of geese. There was passing, but for the most part, the game was very back and forth and every man for themselves. Each team had a goal, and they were both celebrated as you see in the World Cup, or other big football matches. One of the P2 boys, Renee, celebrated with a roundoff back-handspring.
Our referee!

A corner kick that would result in a goal for team one-two

Towards the end of class, I began to wonder how to stop the game and collect the ball once again. We figured we'd blow the whistle and hope for the best. If worst came to worst, I'd be the one to chase the ball down. The time came, and I blew the whistle three times, as you would hear at the end of any football match. Everyone stopped and looked. The boy who had the ball last calmly walked over and handed me the ball, and the boys were off to lunch. Anything can happen in football.