Sunday, May 24, 2009

Four Months and Still Learning

Well, fellow family, friends, congregants and travelers, what we take for granted in the U.S. is often not so easyh here in Africa. It has been a while since I posted to this blog, but it is not for lack of effort on my part. I do have access to the internet at a much improved rate than in 2007 but it is stil difficult at times, especially when doing any lengthy work such as updating a blog. Anyway, I will hopefully get this posted before I arrive back in the U.S. for a brief visit. I apologize for it being so long, but a lot has been happening for me.
So what has been going on here in Rwanda. I must tell you that life here is marvelous, busy, funny, and tragic, and wet, wet, wet. When I began to think about recounting all my experiences over the last month, I realized that I would probably end up with a novel, so will quickly recap them and then describe how they have helped me understand exactly why I am here and what I can do to help.
Marvelous: A new-found hobby of photographing birds. The are a huge number of species of birds here and they are so colorful. My camera seems to have great abhility to catch them in flight (I refuse to take any credit except for spotting them!) and I have ended up with some wonderful pictures. Here is one that I took in Kibungo at the LWF comkpound where these two Ross' Turacos landed to grab a bite of breakfast:

Be prepared to look at lots of pictures when I get back - I've already accumulated around 1,600 pictures but I promise I'll edit them and get rid of the not so good ones! I don't go anywhere without my camera and love taking pictures of people, places and events, but especially the birds.
Busy: Staying busy for me has meant working at the Rwamagana Lutheran School (the Rwanda School Project), traveling almost every day, dealing with the necessary bureaucracy, learning how to get around Kigali by learning landmarks (nobody goes by street names), trying to learn enough Kinyarwanda to communicate with those who don't speak English, getting to know the students and learning their names, attending memorial services and visiting genocide sites during National Memorial Week (more on that later), keeping up with my laundry which has to be hand-washed and dried in the sun, and cooking when I get the chance (Jenny loves my cooking - especialoly pasta salad). My day usually starts at 5:15 a.m. and ends somewhere around 10:00 p.m.
Funny: I am still trying to figure out how to tell which matatu (taxi-van) goes where; they all have the names of areas in Kigali but I have found out that they don't necessarily go where the signs indicate. You have to listen to them shouting out the name of an area and when I hear one I know, that's the one I take, praying that I haven't messed up and end up in another town! I have, however, found a private taxe driver who now comes when I call him and will get me where I need to go at a reasonable price. The first time he took me somewhere he charged me an outrageous price and I told him I wouldn't call him again. Unfortunately, he was the one who showed up at another time and I told him I would not pay muzungu prices and would not go with him unless he gave me the Rwandan price. I added a few "oya's" and some finger-shaking and he agreed. I made sure I gave him a nice tip and now he says he is my taxi driver and I recommend him to others to show my appreciation.
We've had some good times at the school and one day Robin decided to introduce variations on jumping rope - we hope to have a double dutch team - and I got some good pictures. One of them is of Robin showing our Office Administrator how to do pairs jumping, and I am including that picture here. We had lots of laughs that day!

Tragic: One of the things I did not do in 2007 was to visit any of the genocide sites. This time, however, the Memorial Week occurred during Holy Week as well as my birthday and it was a very sobering time for me. Several of us accompanied a man from Germany who had been here in 1994 at the request of LWF to verify and document what had happened. He wanted to return to the site where he had witnessed a terrible scene - a catholic church where over 20,000 peoplewere killed. I must tell you that it was a hard trip for me. Several days later we attended a memorial Mass for the widow of the last king of Rwanda; she was a genocide victim. We also visited the gravesite for both her and the last king, and then moved to a museaum where survivors and visiting dignitaries spoke. The day was rainy and we had to walk through a lot of mud, but the events were very stirring and made a much more lasting impression than a little discomfort. Easter day we attended services in Gitarama but it was very different from services I was used to - very sobering as it was so connectedby date to the genocide observances.
Another thing that has been very sobering is learning about many of the students who are attending our classes,. Just about half of the students are former street children who have been taken in by anothyer organization which is housing and feeding them as well as providing them the opportunity to improe their education. Several of the other students are living with relatives or people who have taken them in and they have a hard time paying tuition, paying for transport, etc., and one girl who was not attending regularly, we found out, was missing because she did not have shoes and could only come the days she could borrow a pair from a neighbor.
Wet, wet, wet: I am surviving the rainy season but boy can it rain here! When you have to hand wash your clothes and hang them out to dry it becomes a guessing game as to whether or not you will have enough "sun" time for them to dry before the rains begin. We also have to walk through red mud to get from the car to the classrooms so we are often sweeping out the dirt we tracked in the day before which has dried overnight. Does this count as recycling? I* have learned to have an umbrella or raincoat with me at all times. Dry season is coming and everyone says I will have to make the transition from mud to dust. At least I'll have dry clothes - I hope.

So, all this has been an adventure for the past 4 months but I still find myself asking, "what the heck am I doing here?" Just about everyone I have met is a professional of some sort - medical workers, engineers, community developers, educators. I am none of these. I'm an office worker with some skill in setting up systems, forms, etc. and wonder if I am really needed,. One day while reading my devotions I came upon the following verse from 1 John 3:18, "Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth." When I looked this up in my Bible, I was truly humbled by the verse immediately preceding this (1 John 3:17) which says, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?" I realized that it is not enough to simply acknowledge the suffering of others. Prayer is only the start of what we are to do - we are to add action to our commiseration and sym[atjy. We do that in whatever way we can with whatever resources we have. I don't have much money, but I can help set up a system which will help a school run efficiently so that teachers and administrators can spend their time teaching and fundraising. That is what I can do. That is what the heck I am doing here. You are doing the same thing when you contribute money, materials and books as well as your prayers. And you, Muhlenberg youth, along with other Virginia and California Lutheran Synods and Churches are doing what you can do by raising money to help build the Rwamagana Lutheran School. We do it because we are Ambassadors for Christ and because "God's love abides in us." Never doubt that what you are doing is valuable!

I will be returning home to Virginia for a brief visit in the next couple of days, but in the meantime I send blessings from Rwanda and many thanks for your prayers and support.

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