Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Kibagaga= Residence

I have an amazing story to tell about answered prayer! But before I do, I want to post a few pictures. (Please note that they took over 20 minutes to load)

The first is me with a "surprised" face when peeling the 'conjoined twins' bananas! These little bananas are delicious and so sweet- so you can only imagine how fun it is to get a bunch that has two bananas joined at the peel! There are really two full sized mini bananas in there :)

While walking downtown, we occasionally pass a store with a mannequin. There are not many, but when we have seen them they have all been white. The first one we saw was a white man with fake eyelashes and makeup on! This woman was just too hilarious and Jess and I wanted to be like her. Of course there were many people down the sidewalk who watched us take this one!

We passed a grandma and this baby on the street and I could not help but get a closer look. This is pretty much a brand new baby. I wasn't sure what to expect because a very young child started crying when it looked at me just a few days ago...but this baby just grinned the biggest grin I've ever seen!! Isn't it so beautiful!

After asking several people, following a hand drawn map, finding a translator, and then being personally directed- we had finally found the fabric hall. There are tons of piles of fabric people are selling and Marissa and I were being very indecisive...but we purchased fabric and will be having clothing made soon! My first skirt was plain purple- and it turned out great except that she measured me over my jeans so it is a little too large. but with all the carbs I've been eating...

Last but not least to add to this post--the Album Cover pic. We were waiting outside a house to see if we could see it. (This is the one we thought was ours, but it fell through yesterday) Someone said they thought the way we were standing could make a great CD cover, so we tried to get serious faces and snapped it. I'm learning the djembe drum for the band.

Alright---now for the really good stuff. Now, there is of course many stories I could tell or thoughts I could share (one of which is that after discussing the cost of toilet paper we decided to start minimizing the # of squares used, and later tonight I noticed that there are no squares on the toilet paper here...just a bit of info for enjoyment)...Instead I am going to tell you about our housing.
The house we thought we had didn't work out. As you may have gathered from other posts, this has been a difficult process. We thought we had a house in Kimihurura, and the other group thought they were ready to sign a contract too...but yesterday we were told that both fell through. Our reason was that the owner called our friend Charles (who is Rwandan and speaks Kinyarwanda) and told him they found someone to pay 200 more dollars a month than the original price...which is not true, he is just trying to make more money. So, that house is out. We were so discouraged. As you can imagine, there are many anxieties we are feeling as we attempt to get ready for the school year starting Monday. And even though living with a family is wonderful, we are anticipating moving into our house and getting settled. Well, we just slumped into my classroom and prayed about it. We were pretty close to tears...ok I had a couple. We prayed and said that we were trusting that if God sent us all the way here that He would provide for us to do what we were called here to do. We prayed for the ability to prepare our classrooms and for the gifts of being excellent teachers. Then while praying for housing, I was really reluctant to be trusting because so many places have not worked out. So, sort of unbelieving I just prayed that the landlord of the house we were going to look at that afternoon would just be a Christian or something so that they would treat us just like any other human and not just charge more because we are white. It was a pretty random thought, but I am so glad I prayed that specifically!
I was the only one able to go with the Headmaster to see the house, and it is in a neighborhood called Kibagabaga. Which, in case you're not familiar with the area, is extremely close to the school! Most every place is 10-15 min from school, but this house is just 7 mins away. The house is in good condition, has brand new kitchen cabinets (most don't even have any), brand new gas stove and refridgerator (Big Deal!), the right number of bedrooms, a small balcony with a great view, and is right in the budget we were hoping for. Now, there is no way I was about to get my hopes up, but I knew if by some miracle it actually went through, that this house would be great for us. So, Charles called the landlord. This is what he reported-- The landlord is out of the country, but left responsibility of the property to a relative. The relative was talking with Charles and said that we could move in this weekend. And then Charles told the woman that we were teachers (definitely the Spirit leading him to mention that detail) and she said- Oh, my kids go to KICS! AMAZING. She promised to hold the house for us, ask her relative if he could lower the price (he didn't, but it is still ok), and we are meeting her tomorrow to sign contracts and can move in on Friday! I don't know if there is a way I could possibly express to you how drastically different this interaction was than all the others. It was a miracle, and a specific answer to prayer.
Keep in mind---this WONDERFUL place to live came with an 'office', which the owner decided to provide a bed for...which means we have a room for any visitors that might want to come :) --this means you-- just let me know if you want to see Kigali!
I'll take pictures of the classroom once its finished, and our house too, and then you'll get to see where I'll be spending most of my time. I must go to bed is almost midnight and I haven't stayed up this late since I was back in the States.

Monday, August 25, 2008

How do you see Rwanda?

This is the question I am asked by many local people, and it is a hard one to answer truthfully. I see the beautiful people, kind hearts, many hills (its dry season, but they will be green), precious children, fun fabrics, God’s work within the country, astounding vision for change, great mini bananas, and incredible ex-pat friends. (Although I usually answer a simple: Oh, I love it. It is beautiful!) But, I also see the extremely bumpy dirt roads, insane drivers, the 2 hour long waits for ordering a meal, walking 10 minutes to catch a taxi (paying for a taxi), inconsistent internet, people always shouting ‘muzungu!’ and charging more because I’m white, lack of soap in restrooms, and probably the hardest thing is little to no control over time-which I’m a bit OCD about. Now, if you are reading this- don’t think I am not loving it! I just have a certain realism about my thinking that takes me right through the ‘honeymoon’ stage of being in a new country and right into the practicalities of living here for awhile.

For an example of an awesome experience so far, I will share with you about Movie Night. Apparently it started 2 years ago with 3 people. This past Sunday night there were closer to 15 people in an apartment across from the school. People there are all ex-pats from all over the world! I can’t remember everyone- but I think there was someone from Ireland, US, New Zealand, England, West Africa, Rwanda, and probably others. Just hearing all the different accents was fun! Besides the fact that I was able to meet some neat people, the movie we watched was “adorably bizarre” and I loved it! My expectations for a movie called ‘Son of Rambo’ were not all positive, but it turned out to be a great (and slightly odd) movie. I recommend you watching it.

The next event I want to share was the 2008 Crazy Fashion Show, in which four high school girls went to the market to put on a fashion show. They could spend 5000 or less (which is less than 10 US dollars) and they kept all their purchases a secret. Four of the new teachers went to a house and served as the judges for the contest. We judged on Thrift (least money spent), Creativity/Originality, Color/Accessory, and Wearability. Each of the four won in a specific category, and we had an overall winner who was awarded a trophy made from clothing used in last year’s Crazy Fashion Show. If this is any indication of how cool all the kids are- I’m excited. Anyone who knows me knows that costumes and/or crazy clothes are a passion of mine!

My First Official Day at Work occurred today (Monday), which happens to also be my half birthday. Thanks for the email birthday greetings mom! I am 22.5 today. (I bought ice cream at Bourbon and grabbed 5 spoons to share with friends in celebration) Well, anyways, today was our first work day up at the school. We had in-service/team building in the morning, school provided lunch, and then we had the rest of the afternoon to work on our classrooms. I kept thinking about all my sweet new teacher friends back in the states (Adrienne and Emily- for sure you two) who began their first day of school today- how exciting! I wish I could hear all about it!! Back in Rwanda, I have one week to organize my room, make materials, look at curriculum, buy items for the room, and have everything ready. Although it can be hard to work with the anticipation of materials and not their actual presence, I still feel that I accomplished at least a little bit so far. My classroom is the orange room…pictures of the transformation process to come. Last Friday I at least had help to lower the desks and I rearranged the classroom to try to designate a space for different areas. Today I was given smaller chairs, put up text books in the bookcase, found posters and other supplies, started on a welcome poster, and browsed through some of last year’s materials. As freaked out as I am about started the school year- I think everything is going to be ok, and I am really looking forward to it!

Another great thing is that we Found a House! After all of the trouble we have had in trying to find a place, we finally think we have a home to look forward too! The headmaster was able to take pictures and draw layouts of two houses that we were not able to go to. We chose one and are looking forward to negotiating a contract tomorrow* (*=hopefully). For now, as all the teachers are currently waiting on housing, we have been split up to stay with different families. I have the privilege of staying with the Jenkins family and their wonderful and sweet cook, Topista. Today we ate pancakes and watermelon for breakfast- it was awesome after a week with stale toast. Tomorrow I look forward to getting more supplies organized in my classroom and getting a handle on the plan for the first week of school- there are a lot of things I’d like to accomplish! As always, thanks for reading and don’t forget to keep in touch and remember me in your prayers. I imagine I will have great need for patience, rest, and encouragement. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Yesterday in Africa

I finally came back to add highlights of my first several days in Kigali. In my first email I highlighted a few wonderful aspects of Rwandan people, told how wonderful the school is, and about the beautiful country! (if you'd like that email just send one to to let me know)

Yesterday was probably my favorite day so far--so I'm just going to write about my first Tuesday in East Africa...
First, other teachers and I made our deposits into the bank accounts we set up Monday and had coffee at the hotel next door to where we are staying. Then we jumped on the bus that has taken us around and went to the Kigali genocide memorial. I learned much more about how the ethnic division began and was able to listen to personal stories and see many pictures. After walking through the hall with pictures, videos, quotes, etc., you entire an area with 3 rooms. One is a room with clothing and artifacts and a screen playing interviews of survivors. The same survivors are shown talking more in the next room: the picture room. The whole room just has walls of pictures that family members have submitted of victims. The last room is the most horrifying- the bone room. There were glass cases- 2 filled with leg bones and 2 filled with skulls. Most of the skulls had obvious damage and broken bone from machetes or clubs. The upstairs of the memorial had information on several other genocides worldwide, most of which I was surprised I had never heard of. The last room had blown up pictures of a few children and plaques saying things like their favorite food, personality characteristic, or best friend. That was incredibly sad. The name of the room said something about the children who should have been the future.

The next culture experience I had was going to the market! I don't know if you knew this...but white people do not go unnoticed in public. Everyone is saying "muzungu, muzungu". The open air market was many fruits, vegetables, flowers, beans, flour, and further down there were household items, clothes, etc. I bought tangerines and mini-bananas!

Now for the 2 best places ever! There was a place where women are brought in from villages to learn to be master weavers so they can work for profit to support their families. The company hires them, trains them, purchases their work, and then sells to Macy's! We walked in and looked around the room at tons of women sitting on the floor weaving. I felt strange just looking in on them, and said "so we can just do this.." thinking that staring at them was a little intrusive. Well, Amanda (previous teacher and our personal tour guide) thought I meant learn to weave--so we did! I sat down with a lady named Arizee and she must have been very good because others took their work to her to measure up. She was so sweet! We could barely communicate, but smiled and laughed a lot. She taught me some tricks, too.
The second of the wonderful places from yesterday is called Cards From Africa. Child heads of households (teenagers who take care of their siblings because their parents have died) make homemade papers of all colors and varieties and then follow a design to make cards. The materials they have are minimal..they use scraps of paper from businesses and in a dark concrete room they use pulp, water, and a screen to make paper, flatten in down, and let it dry. The card designs are all different, and they sit and cut out every little piece of the picture from colored paper. They are so awesome! And it provides and income for these teenagers to provide for their little brothers and sisters to have medical care, food, and schooling.

To top off my night of cultural experiences, we ate at La Fiesta. That's right- Mexican food! african american from DC owns the place, a rwandan woman in a mexican outfit waited on us, and the music playing was french and country! Pretty unique place!

Now, just to keep my blog honest- I will tell you that many things have been difficult thus far. Culture shock is definitely real, and I'm already feelin it! As you would probably guess, there isn't a lot of convenience. The line at the bank is about 100 people long (and I'm being serious, my number was literally over 100 numbers away from who had just been called up!). At the MTN center there were no lines--just people clumping trying to get ahead. Finding a house has been very difficult..we've spent 2 full days and our principal has spent more trying to see houses. We have a contact, who knows a guy, who knows the landlord. So- we drive there. (there are no addresses so we are pointed there) and when we pull up we knock on the gate and wait for someone to open it. Many times it takes several phone calls for this. Then, after we see the house, the price changes by a few hundred a month because they have seen that we are white people....and that would be the easiest of the house-hunting situations. I could go on, but for now I'll spare you the inconveniences and just mention that I'm going to try to upload pictures with this blog! Wish me luck! And email me anytime :)

Saturday, August 16, 2008

We made it!

I am officially in my new city! Kigali is beautiful, just like all the pictures I've seen. I'm sitting in the middle of the courtyard of our school building using the wireless connection because for some reason we couldn't connect in a coffee shop. If it weren't after 10pm here, and if I had taken my camera with me, then I'd definitely have a picture of the view from the school uploaded right away! I'm glad we came here at night because the school sits on top of a hill that overlooks a lot of the city and the lights everywhere looks really neat.
I left Minneapolis on August 14th at 6:45pm, spent the night in DC, got up and flew out of Dulles at 10am and landed here in Kigali just before noon today! I've got to go, but wanted everyone to know I made it safely and will be writing some of the highlights very soon.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

2 Weeks Notice

Here’s the news: since July I’ve met my first Rwandan friend, packed up my life and moved out of my house in Abilene, said ‘see ya later’ to incredibly influential people in my life, crammed my brother’s storage unit full in San Antonio, made the 2 day journey to Brunswick, GA with the best grandparents anyone could have and their ever more endearing dog, Molly, and continued bumping up and down the roller coaster of thoughts about shipping off to Africa.

At the same time that I am getting increasingly anxious about leaving my favorite people and chapters in life I can never return to, I am also receiving more affirmation and excitement about the new place I’ll be. When I first accepted the teaching position at KICS, I hardly knew anything at all about the country or the school. All I knew was that God had planned for me to be there. The more information I have, the more I see that Rwanda is an inspiring place and KICS is fulfilling an exceptional vision.

I won’t go into details about every little thing, because I could write pages and pages that would be too long to keep your attention…but I want to see what pops in my head tonight that I should share.

One thing is that where I am going is a safe place. So go ahead and let out a sigh of relief if you were worried about me. Next, a little about the school…Kigali International Community School, KICS, was started by a few families who were looking for a better educational option for their children. The school is run like American schools and has adopted Texas State standards. Last year the school had grown to 91 students and this year it has doubled to 180 students! I will be teaching a class of 15 first graders- they will be my first classroom of children ever and I cannot wait to meet them and see their precious faces! The school moved from meeting in a house to a brand new school building that has been sitting vacant for a couple of years. The government of Rwanda, as part of the 2020 Vision they have set for their country, built a “Model Community” in Kigali that includes everything they want for their country in the year 2020. This community has apartments to live in, nice green grass, paved roads, a town hall, a church, and a school. And guess what?! God gave KICS the school building that is a part of the country’s vision for the future (which I think is just amazing).

Now, living in Kigali should be comfortable, although there will be quite a bit of change to get used to. Certain foods that I’m accustomed to, like chicken and chocolate and sonic drinks, will not be available. I’ll be hand washing my clothes, and will not have access to ATMs. English will be spoken in school and church, but I’ll also want to communicate with people that speak kinyarwanda. However, the school has wireless internet, coffee will be plentiful, and the equatorial location makes for wonderfully temperate weather year round and delicious fruits (my favorite food group).

Just sharing this small amount of information seems to have already filled up about 2 pages, so I think I’ll wait to post again soon.

Travel Itinerary:

I will be flying on the 14th of August from Minneapolis to D.C. The next day, I will fly to Ethiopia and then to Kigali, Rwanda. I will arrive on August 16th after, I believe, a total of close to 20 hours of flying time. Good thing I have plenty I want to read and a new found interest in sudoku!

If you want to receive email updates while I’m gone, please email me at and let me know :)