Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Life after Rwanda...

So we’re back in Texas, and the #1 question that is asked us is “what do you think was God’s purpose for sending you to Rwanda?”  It’s been about 6 weeks and to be honest, we are still working on the answer.  I do know that our relationship was strengthened far beyond anything a counselor could have done, our communication is great, and we have experienced trusting each other in a way that most newlyweds (or married couples of 30 years) may never experience.  A friend of mine and I agree that every married couple should spend 3 months in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone and you don’t speak the language (she and her husband did it as well).  It is an incredible thing for your marriage and I highly recommend it.  I had no idea that our relationship could have gotten any stronger, our communication this much better, and that we would possibly be able to trust each other any more than we already did… oh man, was I wrong.

I’m also pretty sure that I was sent there to learn how to be a better pastor’s wife.  It’s really no easy task regardless of what continent you’re on.  Someone should put out a manual or something.  I pretty much married into it with my pearls shined and my cardigans dry-cleaned, and though I don’t like to admit it, there is a piece of me that wants to learn how to quilt.  But there’s a lot more to it than that.  Luckily, I have a great husband who lets me pitch fits every now and again in private so I can maintain the smiles in public. 

So here we are, completely reintegrated into our lives and moving forward. 
 [We both experienced a couple weeks of depression (diagnosed in hindsight) and it took about a month to be able to eat Mexican food or cheeseburgers without getting ill.] 
 We’re in the process of moving to Corpus Christi where Ryan will be serving a new church.  I’m interviewing for PA jobs and am excited about the possibilities available there. 

Did I mention that we have a great dane?  Yeah.  He’s enormous.  A giant puppy that eats an absurd amount of food, trips on his oversized paws, and is just the cutest thing EVER. Lexi loves him too (I know you were wondering how she was taking to the new giant).  We named him Latimer after our great friend in Rwanda. 
His full name is:
His Excellency Sir Latimer Fancypants, Duke of the Snugglies.  
 (Don’t tell Ryan.  He’s not crazy about it.)

So onward we go to the sparkling city by the sea where I look forward to starting my career, eating fresh seafood (caught by my husband, of course), and reconnecting with my best friend from elementary and jr. high school. 
Hasta luego.

Friday, April 15, 2011

beWEAVE it or not...

I got my hair did – Rwanda style.  My great friend Anabel has a sister named Lis who owns her own saloon.  (It’s really a salon, not a bar…)  I called her and made an appointment.  Her saloon is a small single room with 3 walls and a curtain for an entrance.  It’s very clean and has a couple of chairs and a long bench in it.  I went in and looked at several pictures of different hairstyles (none of which had any white women posing).  I told Lis : “Um, whatever you think.” 

[This was my thought process:  Whatever happens, it can’t be anything that an American professional hairdresser can’t fix or that won’t grow back…..  Hey, when in Rome...right?]

So Lis sent her assistant on a bus-taxi into town because she didn’t have any blonde weave in stock – and why would she? 
“Is weave necessary?  Can’t you just use my hair?”
Her response was clear – we needed weave.  Ooookeedokee.  You know, I am not the adventurous one when it comes to my hair.  I have had (more or less) the same haircut my whole life.  Longish and natural. I’ve never colored it and I’ve never had it shorter than my shoulders.  I’m a total chicken when it comes to doing anything more than a trim.  Ryan on the other hand….. J

So while we waited for her assistant to come back, Lis insisted on doing my eyebrows.
“Yes!  They are out of control!  Wait.  You don’t use wax?  Or tweezers?  Or even the string?  You want to use what?  A SURGICAL BLADE?  On my EYEBROWS?  Uhhhh, yeah, okay.  Go ahead.  Don’t cut me…  Wait, are you for real?”

She was.  And she did.  And they look great.   

Her assistant returned and they got to work.  2 women; 4 hands; 4 ½ nonstop hours (that’s 9 man-hours!!) of pulling and tugging from all directions later, I finally saw the finished product.   I’ve got me some braids.  Lots of them.  They’re fun.  Or “unbeWEAVEable” as Ryan says.  I came home and had to take some Ibuprofen because my head was so sore.  In fact, 24 hours later it is STILL sore.  These women are tough.

I’ve gotten an interesting reaction from the locals.  They actually stare less.  I must look like one of them.  Last night I went into a couple of stores to look for a clip to help tame my out-of-control braids but couldn’t find one.  However, the women were all far more helpful than usual and one even offered her ponytail tie out of her own hair.  No thank you.  I have one of those.

So between my weave, riding motorcycle-taxis (which I can’t anymore because I’m pretty sure my head won’t fit in a helmet…), and occasionally mixing up our personal pronouns (him, her, he, she) we are officially Rwandan.  Now excuse me while I make some breakfast of porridge and bananas and put on a sweater because its 75 degrees outside….

Monday, April 11, 2011

Part 1: Its okay to pick up hitchhikers in Africa…right?

Allow me to set the scene for you:

2 whiteys in a big safari-esque SUV heading down the road with our useless foreign maps to an area of Rwanda we had never been to.  The car tires are squeaking, the back door is rattling, there’s some strange sound coming from underneath the car, there’s a giant *clunk* when you change gears, the entire car shakes when you go over 70 kilometers per hour, and it’s a gamble on whether or not we have enough gas to get us where we are going.

Okay so basically it’s just another day driving through the hills of Rwanda and Ryan gets pulled over by the police.  The police are all on foot so when you see someone on the side of the road in a neon yellow jacket raise their arm you pull over.  Its pretty rudimentary but it works.  In a country where everybody knows everybody and they all live on top of each other, you can’t afford to not be a rule-follower.  So, the rule-following temporary residents that we are  pulled over. 

[Sidenote: Ryan gets pulled over a LOT.  Rwanda is making a big push to make sure all drivers have permits and insurance so there are a lot of traffic stops, but they always peer inside our car, see white people, and wave us on through.  I’d like to take the time to point out that I had not yet been pulled over by Rwandan police.]

So Ryan pulls off and the policeman asked if we could help him by giving someone a ride.  
Here’s the thing:
1.  Rwandan policemen aren’t exactly the warm-fuzzy type.  They are serious and they mean business.
2.  We really don’t want to get arrested for something stupid (or at all for that matter).

“Um I guess.  I mean, sure.  I mean, yessir Officer.  Uhh?”
So this woman gets in the backseat of our car and off we go down the road to our destination of Butare. Is she even going to Butare?  Where do we drop her off?  Regardless of our confusions with the whole matter, I said to Ryan , “I bet I know who is the most uncomfortable person in the car and its not me or you!”  I imagine she'll be telling her neighbors for years to come about the time these Mzungus gave her a ride because they didn’t know that they could say no to the police.

I had a short conversation with her in Kinyarwanda and found out her name is Diana and that she's married, has a daughter and a baby on the way.  Don’t be too impressed with my foreign language skills – it was like playing charades.  About 20 minutes into the ride she handed me a piece of paper that had her name and her address.  On the bottom of the paper she wrote “I love you” in English.

We pulled into a bus stop in Butare with the rain falling on our windshield.  Diana thanked us and we went our separate ways. 

In our 24 hours in the Southern Province we saw the National University of Rwanda, the National Museum of Rwanda, the King’s Palaces, and the National Art Museum.  They were all fantastic.  Can you believe that the Rwandan King lived in a grass thatch hut well into the 20th century?!  Crazy.

And afterward, on our drive home….

Read “Part 2: Transporting armed (police) men in Africa” at to find out what happened.

The King's Palace in the 1930's

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nitwa Kimu. (My name is Kim...moo.)

In the last 12 days I have:

Stayed in a private bungalow hidden in the most spectacular flora imaginable listening to the waves of Lake Kivu lap the stairs to our door; Shopped in 3 different Rwandan outdoor markets haggling the best deals on African fabrics; Coughed, sneezed, and snotted all over my sweet husband (I caught a cold working in the hospital); Kayaked along the Rwandan-Congolese border; Had delicious Rwandan dinners at the houses of some great friends we’ve made here; Been licked by a cow; Laid on a beachy shore under a palapa umbrella; Chewed and spit sugarcane with a local; Held hands and smiled with a genocide survivor AND her perpetrator;  Used the phrase “well, we’ll know in 12 hours” after eating raw vegetables (…a couple of times); Shared a wonderful girly-lunch date with a beautiful young lady; Been attacked by one of the Kevins; Saw 3 different pigs being walked with a leash…to the market; Prayed with the people of Rwanda on the 17th anniversary of the genocide.

Among some of those days Ryan’s father and step-mom came to visit us.  They shared in many of the experiences listed but the best part of their visit was the time we had to grow in relationship with each other.  Lots of memories.

For example: on their first day, we were leaving the mango tree church and a young guy who sings there (and doesn’t speak a single word of English) hopped in our car and came home with us.  We didn’t invite him over but we also didn’t ask what was going on (nor could we if we wanted to). That sort of thing happens here a lot.  We give a ride without knowing that’s what’s going on… just usually not to our house.  He came in sat down, and by using hand motions asked me to pour the soda I had offered him into a glass I had brought him.  What was I thinking just putting them out there in front of him…?  After he was finished he started hollering “Kimu, KIMU.”  I was in the kitchen making lunch – and didn’t know that I was Kimu.  Ryan said “Honey, I think he’s calling you.”  I came in and he pushed his glass towards me and flicked his wrist letting me know it was to be taken away immediately!  You should have seen Ryan’s face – he was mortified and said “I didn’t know that’s what he wanted!”  Had it been anyone else, I would have been completely offended and said “you’ve got the wrong woman, buddy”, but I was so shocked that I laughed and took it.
Then, a boy from down the road who we have seen before (once or twice) shows up and is sitting at our table with us.  Evidently he is there to translate for us.  I’m instructed by our guest to stop making lunch and listen to what he has to say.  When he was finished (a couple hours later) he wanted a “push” home (a ride…) and that was that.  He didn’t even stay for lunch.  To say we were all confused would be an understatement.  But hey, it’s just another day in Africa.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nyereka aho ivuriro riri. (Show me where the hospital is.)

On Monday morning, Ryan and Mitch took off to go gorilla trekking up a volcano while I put on my white coat and walked over to the regional hospital in Ruhengeri with a couple of American doctors I had met in the hotel restaurant the week before.  At 7am we met with all of the doctors of the hospital to discuss all of the deaths that occurred over the weekend.  I missed most of what was said – I’m not sure if it was in French or Kinyarwandan, but I don’t speak either… All I know is that it was very nonchalant and matter-of-fact.  Too many deaths occur on a daily basis.

The hospitals in Rwanda aren’t large buildings with several floors.  Instead they are several one story buildings sprawled over a large plot of land.  Each building houses a different specialty – pediatrics, internal medicine, surgery, emergency, maternity, the pharmacy, etc.

I set off with one of the American doctors to find out what department was understaffed for the day.  That day it was the acute pediatrics ward. 

I was warned that the acute pediatric ward has the worst smell.  As soon as I walked through the door it hit me like a brick wall.  I have never smelled anything like it before, and 5 days later I can still smell it as though I was still there.  It wasn’t the smell of body odor or dirty diapers.  It was the smell of sickness and I will never forget it. 

There were 3 rooms with 8-12 beds in each room.  Each bed had 2 patients and 2 mothers, and maybe another child or two if a mother didn’t have anywhere else to take them.  So at least 4, but up to 6 people per bed.  Babies were crying, everybody was coughing, and there was no way to isolate the very contagious.  It was loud, it was smelly, and it was time to get busy.  We started at one end of the first room and went down the line, one patient at a time.  By the time we were at the last bed, I turned around and saw that all of the beds were full again with new patients.  I wanted to cry.  There was no winning.  There was a flood of sick babies and we could barely keep our head above water.

I forced myself to focus on the patient in front of me with all that I had so that I wouldn’t vomit or run out crying.   If I let my mind wander to the possible (and probable) germs floating around the non-ventilated room for one second it was over and I had to go outside, breathe, and regroup.  That happened a couple of times.

I worked side by side with an American doctor and a Rwandan resident doctor.  I wrote in the charts, examined the kids, and tossed in my two cents on differentials.  I mostly asked questions when it came to ordering labs and prescriptions.   The American doctor had 5 weeks of internalizing what he was seeing and hearing, but empathized with me as I scribbled the African treatment plans the resident was telling me into the charts.   

Every child is started on gentamycin and ampicillin on arrival to the hospital regardless of their chief complaint.  Once the doctor sees them (which can take up to a few days) they may be switched to amoxicillin, ceftriaxone, or taken off antibiotics altogether.  Almost all babies are given aspirin.  Everyone is tested for HIV and malaria.  Chest x-rays are unreliable and urine dipsticks don’t exist.

I left after 5 hours and didn’t know what to think.  I walked back to our hotel in the rain reflecting on what I had just experienced.  Being a muganga is a dirty, thankless job.

I was struggling with 2 opposing thoughts: 
1.)  My God, I never ever want to go in there again.
2.)    I have to go back.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Popcorn & Friendships

There are a few things that I instantly think of when I think of my dad.  One of them is popcorn.  For as long as I can remember, my dad has loved popcorn - and for as long as I can remember, I have been sneaking handfuls of popcorn from his bowls.

On Wednesday we took my dad to the isoko (market).  He seemed to have a great time watching Pierre and I pick out fresh fruits and vegetables and haggle for the honest price, rather than the Muzungu price.  I bet it is entertaining to watch.  I’ll point to a pineapple and say “ngahe amafaranga?” which means “how many francs?”  The seller will respond in Kinyarwandan.  I probably should have learned my numbers first because it does me no good to ask how much and not understand the answer.  So that’s where Pierre comes in.  He then types the amount onto his cell phone so I can read it.  If everyone agrees the deal goes down and off we go with a pineapple (…or 2 if the seller can’t make change).

As we were walking around the market my dad pointed out a huge spread of popcorn kernels on the ground.  I asked Pierre if we got some, could he could make us some homemade African popcorn at home.  Either he didn’t know how or he had no idea what I was asking him.  Regardless, we didn’t get any.

On Thursday as we packed up my dad’s stuff and got him set to go, Pierre moped around the house a bit.  When you can’t communicate with words, you learn to read body language – and Pierre was definitely sad to see my dad go.  Pierre makes few requests but in his best English he said, “I want photo Mzee.”  (Mzee is the Kinyarwandan word for “Old Man” and it is a title of absolute respect and honor.  That was my dad’s name for the 2 weeks he was here – we never introduced him as Eldon; always as our Mzee).  So we took some pictures, my dad gave Pierre a nice new Columbia shirt, and there were lots of hugs. 

When Ryan and I returned to the house from dropping my dad off at the airport, Pierre quietly walked over to us and gave us a big hug followed by an even bigger sigh.  That perfectly summed up all of our feelings. 

Last night (Friday) Pierre came in and handed me a gift.  He bought me a little bag of popped popcorn.  The 3 of us shared it and it was a sweet moment that touched me deeply.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mutware (Chief)

Ryan, my dad, & I have spent the last week at Akagera National Park.  We did a 3-day safari and this is a list of what we saw and experienced:

Zebras.  Lake Ihema.  Palapa huts.  Warthogs.  Refering to warthogs as “Pumbas.”  Pumbas grazing outside our room.  Baboons fighting outside our room.  Tennis matches on clay courts.  Baboons watching us play tennis.  Impalas.  Giraffes.  Chasing giraffes across grasslands.  Pictures with giraffes.  Good food.  French fries with ketchup.  Baboons running into the dining room for breakfast.  Baboons sneaking into the dining room for lunch.  Swimming in Africa.  Swimming in a pool that overlooks Tanzania.  Watching baboons drink from said pool.  Water bucks.  Hippos.  Safari boat ride.  Finding an elephant swimming in the lake on the boat ride.  Circling the elephant for 30 minutes in the boat.  Bald eagle.  12’ crocodiles.  Cape buffalo.  Those little white birds that live on the buffalo.  Velvet monkeys.  Flat tire.  Ryan changing flat tire in the bush.  Repairing flat tire in a big town for $2.50.  Finding tire flat the next morning.  Repairing flat tire in a village barnyard for $3.00 + a bunch of bananas.  Topis.  Oribis.  Incredible tour guide named Cecile.  Laughing with Cecile.  Crying with Cecile.  Becoming friends with Cecile.  Cape elands.  Red buck.  Buying 50cents worth of the best little red peanuts from a kid in the village.  Free Kinyarwanda language lessons.  Monitor lizard.  Biting horseflies.  Thousands of biting horseflies in the car.  Thousands of dead biting horseflies on the floorboard (thanks Dad). 

There just isn’t a way for me to write about our every detail from our safari trip.  It was an incredible experience and I wouldn’t have changed a single minute of it.  We were even lucky enough to encounter Mutware, the nationally known 42 year old elephant who was separated from his herd and lost his tusks to poachers.  We heard a guy say that in his 70 game drives, he has only seen an elephant twice.  Yeah…we were excited.  Still are.

Tomorrow we will head north to Ruhengeri.  Monday morning, Dad & I are going to climb a volcano in search of silverback gorillas, and then the next day, the 3 of us will trek back up the volcano to see golden monkeys.