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.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Kurira (to cry)

The students here are sponges for information.  They are so hungry for it that they believe everything that they hear.  Unfortunately, they have come to believe the he said she saids that have been passed around their community.   
Fortunately, I was able to provide them with some medical truths that I am optimistic will also be passed along.

I met with the secondary school girls again on Thursday.  We had some serious woman to woman discussions.  In fact, I’m blushing just thinking about some of the words that came out of my mouth.  My presentation included puberty, feminine hygiene, conception, abstinence, and what it means to be in healthy Godly relationships with men.  They had questions on anatomy, abortion, and if you could lose your virginity riding a bicycle or wearing thong underwear.  The day before I promised them I would bring a tampon for them to see and so I did.  None of them had ever seen one – or heard of them.  It was a huge hit.  Lots of giggling and questions. 

(I’m sorry to the men reading this – but Ryan gave fair warning as to the possible content of my blog!)

Then yesterday, Friday, I went back to the school and was available for the girls to meet with me one on one.  Most of them have never met with a doctor before.  Ever.  I spent a couple of hours and met with 10.  Most had similar questions about their anatomy and concerned that they might be sick.  They are actually quite healthy and their problems are all very normal (and not problems at all), but they have never had anyone give them that information.  I think a few were bummed that I couldn’t make it go away.  Oh well, they will have to accept the “joys” of being a woman.

I had a few really tough cases.  One girl really touched my heart.  She was a translator for several of the other girls that came to me, so I was already familiar with her.  Her English is fantastic.  She is so bright.  I’m pretty sure she is the one that answered my question about germs a few days back.  As she told me her story, I just sat across from her and wept with her.  This is the girl that has it all together.  Top of her class.  Beautiful.  Funny.  Strong.  And yet a victim of a string of terrible events.  She has held these haunting memories inside for over 16 years, never having told anyone – until now.  I gave her the medical information she needed to know, promised her I would do some research on local resources for her to use, and gave her my phone number.  I told her I wasn’t trained to do any counseling like she needs, but I would be happy to sit, listen, and cry with her (for the next 2 months anyways…)

Her story is devastating.  In fact, it’s your worst nightmare.  Unfortunately, there are millions with very similar stories.  Our friend Pierre who lives with us has a heartbreaking story behind the singing and whistling he does while he happily serves our helpless selves.  (Hopefully we can learn his story soon.  Right now I can only communicate short sentences like “I can’t unlock the door” and “we go buy water.”)

I wish I could heal their brokenness and make their pains go away.  But I know I can’t, so I will be grateful for the opportunity to cry with them.

On a super happy note – my dad is currently on the flight from Brussels to Kigali.  He will get in late tonight.  Monday we will be heading off to Akagera for a 4-day safari adventure followed by a few days in Ruhegeri to see silverback gorillas and golden monkeys.  Yee-haw.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Inika mu mazi & isabune (soak it in water & soap)

I know I said in my previous post that I was going to be spending some time at the hospital this week.  Well, this is Africa and you have to be able to go with the flow when the flow isn’t going where you thought it was.  Instead of being at the hospital I have been spending some time at the Star School doing public health talks with the secondary school girls. 

Yesterday I met with about 50 girls ages 14-24.  We covered topics such as germs, proper hygiene, and safe drinking water.  These girls are bright.  They are getting one heck of an education.  I started off my talk asking if anyone knew what a germ was.  “A small living organism that can cause harm to your body.”  Said in English.  Just like that.  I couldn’t have answered it better myself – in fact, I wouldn’t have. I then moved to how to bathe, the importance of soap, how to wash clothes (again emphasizing soap), the consequences of not being clean (body odor, infections, disease), and why they should wait for the cooks to boil any water for them to drink rather than the immediate satisfaction of the cold water from the taps outside. 

I’ve learned that you can’t say “don’t drink that water, it will make you sick” unless you have a reasonable alternative ready.  All the girls seemed to fully understand the water bit.  They’ve either heard that advice before or have each personally experienced the consequences of the water – or both.  They all laughed and nodded as I rolled around on the floor in the fetal position holding my stomach.  (I had to get pretty silly to get them to come to life.  Rwandans are very reserved – Good thing I’m a goofball.)

Once I had made a big enough fool of myself to get them to open up – they really opened up!  There were tons of great questions.  Tons that made me laugh.  And tons that broke my heart…

Great questions: “What are some of the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?” and “What would happen if you didn’t get it treated?”  “Why is it okay to shower and wash my clothes with the bad water but not okay to drink it?”

Funny questions: “How come when she (points to the girl sitting next to her) takes a shower she still smells bad even right afterwards?”   Talk about a candid group of people!  Could you point to your colleague in a business meeting and announce to everyone that they had terrible body odor?   There were a lot of fingers pointed and names mentioned but no one was hurt by it.  They are a close-knit group and they were looking for answers for each other’s problems.  Still…I couldn’t help but crack up at their frankness.

Many of their questions were so basic that I really had to think about my answers.  I can quickly spout off the major infecting organisms that are found in their tap water, their unique symptoms, and 1st, 2nd, 3rd line treatments for each one…. But that’s not what they want/need to know. 
They wanted to know 1. What temperature the water is supposed to be for their shower. 2. Is it okay to use soap on all body parts when showering.
3. What the yellow stains under the arms of their white shirts are, 4. Why certain parts of your body smell differently than others, and 5. Is it okay to use dish soap to shower with.
1. It doesn’t matter.  2. Yes of course.  3. Sweat stains.  4. They just do.  & 5. No, use Irish Spring, Dial, or Dove. – are the American answers to those questions.  We take for granted a ton of information that we don’t even know that we know.  (And no, they don’t have any of those fancy soaps I just mentioned.  They have one type of body soap.  It’s an odorless brown block of wax and lard.)

In a couple of hours I’m going back to the Star School (rain permitting) and I’m going to have a much more sensitive conversation with these young women.  That’s right.  Yours truly is doing the sex ed, this-is-whats-going-on-with-your-body lecture. 
So hang tight- an even more interesting blog is headed your way soon… 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Finally, a blog about medicine.

It has been almost 3 weeks since we arrived in Kigali and I haven’t posted a single blog about Rwandan medicine.  I had BIG intentions to fly halfway around the world to a developing nation and save all of the suffering people.  Now that I am here, I realize how silly that is.  It’s in my nature to get somewhere and want to do do do, rather than to be.  I’m learning that I should take these months to be close to the Lord in the stillness of my eager hands.

Last week I had the great opportunity to tour King Faisal Hospital.  It’s the fancy-pants hospital of the country and likely one of the best in the entire continent.  Dr. Alex is a senior physician at KFH and gave me a very thorough tour (he’s a pretty big deal).  The first part of the tour was to the nation’s pride and joy – the radiology department.  As it turns out, they have the same equipment that we do in the US.  It’s pretty and shiny and new.  The only difference is that they have 1 MRI machine, 1 CT scan, 1 ultrasound machine, and 1 x-ray machine… for 11 million people.   I expected them to be in constant use, 24 hours a day, with a line of people waiting for their turn for imaging, but they’re not.  That morning there was one person being imaged. The people here just can’t afford the luxury of a plain x-ray, let alone an MRI scan.

Next we went to the other departments: Med/Surg (which was mostly used for patients with malaria or those using one of the 6 hemodialysis machines in the country); NICU (which has a fantastic monitoring system…for one baby); Labor & Delivery; Physical Therapy; ICU; Emergency (which is so quiet compared to the ERs I’ve been in - no monitors beeping or people yelling at each other); & Outpatient (family medicine and pediatrics for people who are willing to spend a couple of dollars to avoid the street clinics).  The only department I didn’t go into was the surgical suite.
There are 3 types of patient rooms – private, semiprivate (2 beds, 1 bathroom), and not-private-at-all (10 beds, gender-specific community bathrooms down the hall).
Each bed comes with a mosquito net and a curtain to separate you from your neighbor.  All of the staff speaks English.

I know what I just described to you sounds really nice – and by all African standards it most certainly is - but even the nicest medical center in Rwanda is enough to make any American doe-eyed.  I was invited to spend some time shadowing Dr. Alex at KFH, so I’m going to take a few hours each day this coming week and learn from someone who practices the kind of medicine that isn’t watered down with machines and prescription pads.

(I don't have a picture of the hospital yet, so I've attached one of a hillside of Rwandan homes.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Yes, please!

On Monday morning, Ryan and I adventurously drove off towards Akagera National Park (the Rwandan safari park) knowing that our map is outdated, not to scale, and in French.  It’s only 3 hours out into the country, down a paved road, and you take a right, and then a left, and then go down a dirt road, and there may or may not be any signs on the way…  My dad is coming to visit in 10 days and we wanted to be sure we knew how to get him there.  I won’t go into too much detail of our trip yet because I know my dad is reading this and I want him to experience the same surprises and excitements that Ryan and I encountered when we showed up to the safari lodge.  The point is it was spectacular, and we didn’t even do the game drive (we’re waiting to do that with him).

The staff at the lodge was so warm and welcoming. It was clear that they had been extensively trained in formal hotel and dining service and were taught a few important phrases in the English language. When we spoke to our waiter, William, it quickly became evident that he didn’t understand us and his responses were recited phrases.  Our favorite response was  “yes, please!”  William would say it as a response of absolute pleasure and confirmation to whatever we ordered from the menu – or to anything we said, really – and he said it with a big smile.  If we ordered a bottle of water, he would say “yes, please!”  If we wanted the club sandwich… “yes please!”  If we asked where the restroom was…“yes, please!” If we thanked him… “yes, please!”  Ryan and I started saying it to each other ALL the time, especially when it didn’t make any sense.  It’s tough to say why that tickled us so much.

So, on our way to the lodge, about an hour away from the entrance, on a terrible dirt road in the absolute middle of no-where African countryside that leads only to the lodge, a pick-up truck blew past us in a hurry.  Tied down in the back of the bed was a 300+ lb pig.  Alive.  It was so crazy to see, especially since we haven’t seen any pigs at all since we’ve been here.  Ryan scrambled to get his camera out while he stepped on the gas and I grabbed the steering wheel.  We got one blurry picture – the truck was going way too fast. 

Anyway, that night we had excellent pork medallions for dinner.

We stayed there for 2 nights, played tennis on clay courts that were on the edge of the mountainside overlooking beautiful valleys, got sun burned, and relaxed.  (We really needed a vacation from our sabbatical...)
Akagera Game Lodge is now one of my favorite places on earth.  The scenery is breathtaking, it’s quiet and peaceful, and there are super-fun fuzzy animals all over the place.
Am I excited to share it with my dad in less than 2 weeks?  Yes, please!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

“I would like you to thank me for eating your dinner.”

Ryan & I had our first dinner guest over last night.  His name is Latimer.  He is a close family friend to Nathan and works as the finance director to his projects.  We’ve been helping him with one of the projects (I’ll get into it in a bit), so we decided to have him over to finish the work and get to know him.  With Latimer’s translation help, we asked Pierre to join us for dinner.  (I’ve tried several times through my broken Kinyarwandan to invite him to our table, but I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m asking him to do the cooking, and then he gets offended when I take the spoon out of his hand and do something totally American -and evidently quite offensive- like put tomato in the beans.  And so he walks out of the kitchen and well, so much for my dinner invitation.)  At the end of the meal, Pierre told Latimer to translate 2 things to me.  
1: to tell me, in whatever the English way is, “thank you for the meal.” 
2: to tell me that in Rwanda, I am to thank him for eating the meal I have prepared for him. 
…you’re welcome?  …thank you?
As it turns out, the thank you comes from women standing over the cook fires preparing the meals for the men who are out in the fields.  The women are privileged to work in a place of warmth, light, and safety, so they must thank the men for that. 
Usually, I thank Ryan for eating my first-year-of-marriage-experimental-meals… but I have never thanked him for allowing me the privilege of cooking for him. 

So, Latimer’s current project is to find sponsors for 18 children to board and attend the Star School.  It’s essentially like one of those commercials you see on TV that “for less than $3 a day you can change a child’s life.”  I know.  You’re rolling your eyes.  But really.  For less than $3 a day, a child will be boarded on the school grounds, fed 3 meals a day, provided with safe drinking water, and will receive an education that would rival most American schools.
Once you meet the kids on those commercials, you don’t roll your eyes anymore. Ryan and I got to meet and take pictures of 18 children that are currently waiting for sponsorship through the World Help program (one of Nathan’s US partners).  Three of the children, sisters, are victims of a scenario far too common out here:  Both parents died of AIDS.  Their mother’s entire family (entire = mom, dad, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc.) was killed in the genocide. Only her youngest sister survived. The youngest sister had to quit her job to move to Kigali in order to take care of the girls.  Now she has no job and 3 nieces to house, feed, and make sure they get an education (which is required by national law). Nathan had heard about her family’s trouble and chased her down, convincing her to bring those girls to his school and he would find a way to help them.

My heart is breaking in ways that I’ve never experienced.  The people of Rwanda are incredibly stoic.  I’m learning heavy lessons from the least of God’s people.  I should be thanking them for more than just eating my dinners.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Inyama (Goat)

Yesterday Ryan and I had the day to our selves. We got up and went for a jog.  We ran half a mile…  Don’t judge us; this altitude is killer!  Maybe tomorrow we can do a whole mile?  Please.  Who am I kidding?  We get winded walking across the street.

We then set off to find the Blessed Mango Tree Church to take pictures of the roof being put up.  We ended up in Bugasera – which if you look at a map, you realize we definitely took a wrong turn somewhere.  It happened to be exactly the right wrong turn for me.  We drove about an hour into the countryside and boy is it beautiful.   It’s exactly what I pictured Rwanda to be: Vibrant green hillsides covered in banana trees.  A winding river through the valleys.  The lushest scenery you could ever imagine.  And tons of goats.  Okay, I didn’t actually picture all the goats, but it was nice to finally see a fuzzy face.  (We miss our dog.)

Once I had decided we had gone far enough (once my anxiety couldn’t take it any longer) we turned around and guess who drove us all the way home?  Yup.  Me!  WooWoo!  This place is the PERFECT place for woman drivers.  You get to do whatever you want whenever you want.  You can honk the horn, flash your headlights, wave your hands frantically, and drive in the oncoming traffic lane if you want to as long as you avoid hitting pedestrians – it’s a lot harder than it sounds, but so far so good.

I have been praying for some answers as to why I was here and asking Him to show me what I should be doing.  Lord, if only there was someone with whom I could effectively communicate with and who understands my profession…

Last night, our landlord called and asked if he could come by, meanwhile honking to be let into our gate.  (Hey, at least he called, right?)  He brought over a doctor friend of his, a Rwandan who studied medicine in the UK and worked there for 15+ years.  He’s an internist who specializes in diabetes, speaks perfect English, understands the Western thought process, and knows what a PA is!!!  He invited me to tour King Fasial Hospital with him on Friday morning.   
Murakoze Imana! (Thank you God!)

Monday, February 14, 2011

It smells like fish...

Ryan & I went to the Remera market today and loaded up on fresh fruits and veggies.   But instead of reading about it, click on the like below titled "At The Market"and watch our experience:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hari imvura iri bugwe? (Is it going to rain?)

I went to my first Rwandan church service today - 2 of them actually – and they are no joke.  When Rwandans praise the Lord, they PRAISE THE LORD.  It was an incredibly exhausting 4 hours. 

First, we went to an English-speaking service at the Anglican Cathedral.  I was starting to feel better but still pretty fragile, so when I watched Ryan get pulled away from me and heard something muttered about “someone will find a place for you” I began to feel that insecurity sweep over me.  Of course, I got pulled to the front row.  My eyes began to well up with tears and I realized I had 2 choices: I could burst into tears in front of 100 strangers, OR, I could start singing along with the choir.  

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Finally.  Something I was familiar with.  Before the song was over, I was singing, clapping, and smiling.  Rwandans clap all the time and at everything.

Next we hurried over to the Blessed Mango Tree Church - a truly Rwandan service spoken in Kinyarwandan. (I attached a picture of what it looked like today.  This was the last service before using the new building.)  I was ushered to one of the rows in the back and a nice man named John sat next to me to translate for me.  By the end of the service he was, by all American standards, sitting in my lap.  I’m telling you, there’s no such thing as personal space.  At some point in the service (I can’t be sure because I’m not really sure what was happening at any point in the 2 ½ hours) I was called to the front of the church and introduced.  It wasn’t exactly like when I get up in front of the people of University.  I was instructed to greet the people.  Um… I don’t public speak.  I’m the muganga here, not the mushumba.  Anyways, I just yelled “mwaramutse!” (good morning!), and everyone went wild.  However, that wasn’t enough.  They wanted more.  So I said some things in English, watched everyone smile and clap and wave their hands, and then scurried to my seat in the back.  Ryan did a fantastic job preaching today – not that I expected anything less.  He’s a big hit around here.

One last thing about our Sunday: it was our first laundry day since we’ve been here. Thankfully Pierre is here to help us.  I have NO idea how to do laundry in Rwanda. So, now we have our clean-ish clothes hanging on the line outside and it has been raining on them for the last 6 hours.  As soon as we realized this, Ryan and I burst into laughter. 
This Is Africa.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Iki bacyita iki mu Kinyarwanda? (What is it called in Kinyarwandan?)

Is there a Kinyarwandan word for “meltdown?”  As in the emotional kind.  Not the kind where you start smelling smoke coming from the hood of your car on a hot day outside of a partially built building in the middle of Africa -though that too has happened within the last 48 hours.

You know, I have felt pretty good since I have arrived in Kigali.  I’m not exactly sure what the trigger for my meltdown was since all we have been doing is seeing the sights, smelling the smells, visiting schools and churches, walking the unfamiliar streets, navigating my husband through the winding hillsides where stopping doesn’t exist where 2 or 3 (or 4) roads merge or intersect, handling the constant stares, not being able to communicate with anyone, being hungry all the time, being super conscientious of what we put into our bodies as to not get cholera, always aware of where the toilet is because I never know how quickly I may need to find it again (please have a toilet and not just a hole in the ground, I can’t afford to drop my sunglasses in their again…), going to a wedding of two people we don’t know (and don’t know us) and get moved to the front row center immediately in front of their parents with the spotlight and video camera on us instead of the bride and groom……

I know the Lord sent us here.  I thought I knew why, but maybe I made up a reason that sounded good in my own ears.  Maybe I’m not here so much to serve the people of Rwanda but to be served by them.  To be taught what it means to let people get close (very very very close.  No really, there’s no such thing as a personal bubble to Rwandans), to be broken down by humility (the good kind; the kind that says “get over your Muganga self), to struggle with the bare necessities of life, and to be placed in a position of honor when you’d much rather be a wallflower in an uncomfortable surrounding.

Whatever the reason, I’m going to try to hold it together long enough to soak in the beauty of this country and its people.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ikawa & Igitotsi (coffee & bananas)

Mwaramutse!  (Good Morning!) 
It's 8:15am of Day 3, and I have turned into a true Rwandan.  It's a gorgeous sunny morning in the upper 70's and I'm wearing the insert to my ski jacket while I sip my ikawa. What?  It's cold okay?  Pierre was wearing a parka-like coat too.  Ryan is taunting the Kevins with his best moo-chirp.  I need to start carrying the video camera at all times.  

Let's go back to yesterday:

Day 2.  I had an interview with the Director of Nursing at the Central Hospital of Kigali, the large government hospital.  It is several one story buildings sprawled over 10+ acres of dirt roads with people everywhere - hanging out of windows, standing in doorways begging for help, sitting on the porches, walking around (though nobody looked as lost as we did).   The interview was... interesting.  There was some difficulty trying to explain what a Physician Assistant is since there is no equivalent in Rwanda (and the language barrier wasn't helping either).  They didn't understand why a medical assistant would be performing surgeries.  I'm not a medical assistant.  Nor am I asking to perform surgery.  And no, I won't have the language mastered in 2 months to be able to communicate with patients unless they want to talk about coffee and bananas (2 of my best vocabulary words). 

The fruit here is amazing; the best we have ever had.  Mangos, pineapples, bananas, tiny bananas (?), and a few fruits that we can't find a name for - and neither can the locals.

Fun fact- one of the very few decorations in our house is a stuffed cat.  No really, its as if they stuffed their favorite house-pet and stuck it in the central bookshelf of the living room to preserve its memory forever.  Or something.  It's hands-down the creepiest thing we've seen yet... and that's saying a lot.

Here's a picture of the Kevins.  I'm sure they will be making my blog often.  I know what you really want is a picture of the stuffed cat (Fluffy).  I'll see what I can do.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Mushumba and Muganga Arrive

As it turns out, Africa is a HUGE continent.  The last leg of the flights from Europe to Rwanda is not to be underestimated.  28 hours after we started our travel, we arrived in Kigali (that's pronounced 'Chigari').  You will be getting lessons in Kinyarwandan throughout my time here.

Nathan and Esther were at the airport to pick us up and they took us for an "American meal" before bringing us to the place we are living for 2 months.   It's a wonderful house which we have all to ourselves - 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 offices (one for Ryan to spend time writing, one for me to keep all of my medications and equipment in), living room, kitchen, 2 giant peacock-looking birds wandering the front yard (our pets for the next couple months- we named them both Kevin after the bird in 'Up') and a very helpful house-boy named Pierre who has been taking great care of us.  His English is about as good as my Kinyarwandan.  Yeah...there's a bit of a breakdown in our communication, but we are getting by with hand signs, loud repetition of the words neither of us are familiar with, and trying out different sentences in our respective language in hopes that something clicks.  It hasn't clicked yet. Today, in my attempt to speak Kinyarwandan without my translation guide, I yelled "TOMORROW"  instead of thanking him for turning on the hot water.  

Nathan picked us up this morning and took us to tour two of his schools.  He must be a very busy man.  They were fantastic.  The younger kids all ran up to hug us, shake our hands, and say "how are you?"  A few of them wanted to touch our skin just to make sure we were real.  We are in fact real - we have the jet lag to prove it.  The older kids mostly stared from inside their classrooms where I overheard lectures of calculus logarithms and the Ideal Gas Law. 

As Ryan and I were introduced to several teachers, school administrators, and other important adults, I could tell (from my small Kinyarwandan vocabulary bank) that I was being introduced as the Mushumba's wife (mushumba = pastor).  Evidently that title holds much higher esteem in African society than Muganga (doctor- which is what I am considered here).  At first I was a little put-out but then I just decided to roll with it, which is really the best attitude to handle just about everything over here.  Hakuna Matata.  No seriously.  Its for real out here.

Now its nighttime.  Ryan and I are going to play cards and listen to the crickets.  We should probably head to bed soon so we can get some sleep before the Kevins begin their early morning calling which sounds like something between a moo and a chirp.  

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crocs, Elephants, & Blogs.

I have a tendency to jump on bandwagons long after they pass me by - sort of like my new pair of red crocs that I wear zealously - which is why I am just now starting my first ever blog (and almost ready to buy a pair of Toms, for that matter).  But really, what better time to start a blog than when Ryan & I are about to embark on a 3 month adventure to Africa (did you notice the elephant in the background?)  

We leave on Monday, and have everything but our clothes packed... I'm hoping to fit our sweet Lexi-dog into one of those air-tight compression bags so she can come with us.  Not really.  She is having a blast chasing squirrels at her winter home in South Texas with her uncles, Scout & Ranger. 

So here's to practicing African medicine, playing tennis on clay courts, and relaxing in paradise with my husband.

Stay tuned for my updates from the beautiful hillsides of Rwanda.