I had a wonderful last week. The preschool finished their little exams and the children will have a break for October and November. To celebrate, Cathy and Teste had a "feast" for them and the staff. Cathy cooked an enormous amount of meat and had two huge pots of rice. The children don't often have meat as it is too expensive so this was very exciting for them. A few were waiting at school at 6 am......
I could not believe that small children could eat so much -
Julie, Emmanuel and I went to the market to buy "Boda Boda's" - the plastic sandals children wear here. Julie had given me money for my birthday and this is how I spent it. We were able to buy 13 pairs for a few dollars. Some children have no shoes, some have mis-matched shoes and many have broken shoes. Many walk a long way to school so they need shoes. Cathy fit some with their new shoes and the joy and happiness on their little faces was so wonderful. Again such a small thing that means so much. These are moments I will never forget!
I said my good-byes to the staff and children - lots of hugs....it is amazing how attached you get after a month. The kids don't really understand - they were still saying - "See you Monday".....I will miss them all.
Georgeann, Pat and I left for Kigali at 2 pm on Friday with Marcel, the driver who picked me up at the airport when I arrived. It was a great drive - the scenery is just awesome and you can hardly believe the beauty of this tiny country. Georgeann and Pat are staying in Kigali for the weekend to see the Genocide Memorial before they leave on Tuesday. They are so great and it was special to share these past two weeks with them. They have been travelling in Africa for 6 weeks. I now have new friends in Idaho and a new friend in Brisbane, Australia.
Emmanuel took the Virunga (bus) to Kigali and met us at their hotel. He took me to the airport and then is being a tour guide for Georgeann and Pat on Saturday. Manno and I said our good-bye's - he gave me a special note that he wrote on the bus. I will miss him so much - I feel like he is my new African son. I spent so much time with him and he made my stay in Rwanda very meaningful. He is off to University on October 10th and I wish him love and success.
My flight left Kigali at 8 pm - I flew all night to Brussels and then to Zurich - it was gruelling and took over 26 hours in total. Jaye and Andrew picked me up - it was so wonderful to see them. Jeffrey and Able are in Montreal for the weekend. I will finish this blog by sharing special news - Jaye and Andrew are 15 weeks pregnant and due March 22nd......We are all very happy!!!
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Well, it is finally here – the big birthday! I feel so great and have had such a wonderful month.
Last night I was invited to Patience’s family home for dinner. He is the young teacher I talked about whose family fled the Congo when he was a little boy. They have seven children, Mom is a teacher and the father used to be a pharmacist in the Congo but here is not working as he has poor health. I met them the other day after church and was honoured to be invited for dinner.
It was a traditional African meal of Urgali, meat and chapatti’s. We also had warm milk right from one of the three cows they keep at the house. We ate with our hands and had great conversation with some translation from Patience. His Mom is a teacher so she speaks fairly good English and the Dad tries hard. It was such a great evening....
Patience is a wonderful young man like Emmanuel. He is working to help pay for his sister’s secondary school education so it is unlikely that he will have the opportunity to go to university for awhile. I do hope he has the chance one day as he is very bright.
This morning, I opened my birthday card from Jaye and Andrew and of course had a couple of tears. I do miss them so much. I was greeted with birthday wishes from Cathy, Teste, Emmanuel, Pat, Georgeann and Julie. Julie gave me money to buy Boda Boda’s (plastic sandals for the kids) at the market and Emmanuel wrote me a beautiful note and card that I shall keep forever. We are going out for dinner tonight. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness of these wonderful people.
I prepared some gift bags for the staff at school with peanuts, a few soaps, candy and a small amount of money to show my appreciation for all they do and for being so nice to me. They were very happy and I got lots of hugs. Today was the Mama and baby class – we had about 10 Mama’s and they are wonderful and so interested in my life even though their own lives are very difficult. They have to buy their water for cooking, bathing and doing laundry and then carry it home. This is after they work in the fields all day. At the end of the session, they sang me Happy Birthday and all hugged and kissed me. It was the best feeling and the best birthday.
Thursday we are going out again for pizza – as it is my last night for Georgeann, Pat and me. Friday we are taking a car to Kigali – they to a hotel for the weekend and me to the airport. Emmanuel is coming too to make sure I get there safely. I would love to put him in suitcase and take him home! But I can’t.In the next few days, I will drink in as much as I can. This has been a month of reflection and reconciliation for me. I am starting a new chapter of my life and I could not be happier or more excited. When people ask, “how did you spend your birthday?” – Well, I can say I spent it in “The Land of a Thousand Hills” – Rwanda – a very special country......
I was picked up just after 6 am by a driver that Teste arranged to take me to the Volcano National Park – Gorilla Centre. He was a very pleasant fellow and played country music by Kenny Rogers during the 40 minute drive through the country side. The scenery was beautiful with people planting Irish potatoes in the dark rich soil. All farming is done by hand here – women, men and children busy in the fields.
Upon arrival, I registered and gave them my permit. It is expensive to go on a Gorilla Trek - $500.00 US as well as $100.00 for transport and tips but who would come to Rwanda and not go and see the world famous Gorilla’s. This is where Dian Fosse did years and years of research. The research centre still does wonderful work here, years after her murder. The Gorilla’s are protected from poachers and from humans – there is a stone fence marking the National Park from the community. On occasion, the gorillas do come out of the park for Eucalyptus but then go back quickly.
After an entertaining display of African drumming and dancing, we were divided into groups for our trek. While waiting, I met the German Ambassador to Rwanda and his wife. Our group consists of about 8 people from Denver, New York and Ottawa – very nice people. With our guides, we talked about the group we were trekking to see today – The Umubano tribe, consisting of Charles, The Silverback leader, three females and a number of offspring, including a small baby. The tribes are family, rarely leaving each other. They nest at a new place every day, eat, rest and clean themselves.
Our group then drove another 35 minutes up to the edge of the park – a very bumpy and rocky road – the driver said it was “The African Massage”. It was more fabulous images of children, families and daily life. Upon arrival, we chose a porter and were given a walking stick and off we went. It was wise to hire a porter as it is a challenging trek with slippery and muddy trails – they just grab your hand and haul you along. Even though, I think I am fairly fit – it was difficult going in the dense forest. It would take about an hour to get to the point where we would leave the backpacks and porters and then continue on with the guides.
The Guides speak Gorilla language – they know where the “family” is as they are constantly monitoring them. Off we go, with more “hauling” by the guides. We finally see Charles who is having a lounge – he is not too interested in having company. Maybe he did not get the memo that we were coming today. The guides spoke to him assuring him that we bring no harm. It was fabulous seeing him – then young 3 year olds arrived, playing in the trees. We followed Charles to another location and saw the female with her baby. Along the way, I fell a couple of times, had fire-ants going up my leg and into my shoe and was stung by “Nettles” – a plant you don’t want to touch. One of the guides picked them off me – I should have had “gators” on – next time I will know! I got some amazing pictures but then just stopped and enjoyed the moments watching these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. We did not get to see all the Gorilla’s in the group today – sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. This is their natural habitat and not a zoo so the guides are never sure how many will show themselves. Everyone must be very quiet, no pointing, no camera flash and no sudden movements. You only get an hour with them because more time than that will stress them. It is not much time but it is an hour I will never forget.
Then we headed back down the muddy and slippery trail to meet the porters and hike the trail through fields to the bottom. Regis and Job were very helpful to me so I made sure to tip them when we made it down to the parking area. They make such little money here and work so hard. The trek is done after months of dreaming about this day. What a special experience.....
Friday, September 23, 2011
Giving out goats and Care Packages
Walking to school today was extra special – I just happened to see a little girl playing with some beautiful flowers....maybe she was playing “wedding” like my daughter used to do when she was a little girl...I took her picture which just turned out to be so beautiful. Of course, then a whole group of kids joined in. A little bit further along, a little boy was building a kite......all these moments I would never ever see in Canada – because life is just too hurried – it seems as if the little things are lost somehow.....
People who were to receive goats were already waiting at the school when we arrived. This is a special day for them – they are honoured to be getting a goat and care package. Soon the government official arrived and it was time to present the goats. I did this two weeks ago and it was even more special today. All you wonderful people who donated money for goats.....you have no idea what a great thing you have done. It is an understatement to say that you made a difference........I was here to witness true gratitude and joy......And then I was able to give out care packages with a pan, rice, meat, blanket and a jerry can for water......once again, this makes a huge difference in the daily life of a family.
Another Mama and baby class this afternoon with lots of Mama’s and babies from 1-2 years old. This is probably the only group of its kind here in Rwanda. Cathy is providing supports for families that are really not being provided by anyone else here. She is such an inspiration to me and to everyone who meets her. Again, great questions and normal questions from Mama’s. Some of the babies were playing on the mat with toys; others were clinging to their mothers’. This is a great opportunity for the Mama’s to get together – a rare afternoon out of the fields to just relax. We encouraged them to bathe the babies and themselves daily, to drink at least 4 cups of water a day in order to have adequate breast milk and to also give the babies water. We talked about keeping the children safe in an environment where it is challenging. They cook on open fires here so children often get burnt. Children play in the dirt with chickens and goats so often get worms. We talked about talking and singing to them to encourage language. In fact, we all sang some simple Kinyarwanda songs to the babies. At the end, a Mama put a baby on my back and one on Georgiann’s back – they laughed and laughed at us as we must have looked very silly indeed. But it was such a natural way for us to connect as women, no matter the language or culture. I have learned so much here about the culture and the people but more importantly about myself. You must have a very open mind and heart to do volunteering like this. As always, I have learned way more from the people here than they have from me. I have learned how to be more patient, tolerant, to enjoy simple joys and I have not worried or been anxious about anything...............
Rwanda is an awesome country.................
After an hour at school, Teste picked us up and off we went to Goat Market. Georgiann and Pat were buying one goat, Julie was buying four goats and I was buying five. Teste did the “picking out” and negotiating prices. After a brief walk around the market and being stared at a lot.......we arranged for a truck to come and transport the goats back to the school. The goats were lifted into the truck and Julie and I decided to ride in the back with them – yes I know this was very unsafe – but it just seemed like a fun thing to do at the time. We did hang on very tight and the driver promised to drive fairly slowly. It was so much fun, especially to see people laughing and laughing at us along the way. Muzunga’s riding in the back of a truck with goats – dinner-time conversation for them.
Back at the school, out came the goats and the crazy white women. This afternoon is Mama and Baby class for 1-6 month olds. Only two came today as it was the first day, but it was so special. They had great questions like Mom’s anywhere else in the world do. Why won’t my baby sleep through the night? When do I start to feed solid foods? Of course, they also wanted to know lots about me and about life in Canada. One question was, “Do people have marriage contracts” – another “do father’s pay child support after divorce?” All this with translation from Patience and Emmanuel of course.
Last night we went out for a lovely dinner – we don’t do this often as the money is better spent on more important things, but it was fun and delicious......
It has been raining a lot lately – we are in rainy season here. The electricity goes on and off occasionally as well but it is really no big deal. You just adapt to the situation you happen to be in...................
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
A typical week-day here is going to bed early – at least by 8 pm and getting up very early – at least by 6 am. A quick breakfast of bread with peanut butter, maybe a banana, tea or coffee and then we walk to school at 7:15 am. As I said, school starts at 8 am. They are now preparing to give the children some examinations, written or oral as the school session is over at the end of October. This gives the parents a chance to see how the children are doing. The kids have a couple of months off for their break and then start again. Today, we were doing reviews with the children.
We took a walk today to a nearby community to see a house that is being built for a woman whose husband passed away. Julie from Australia has provided the money to build this house from her fundraising efforts last year. It cost $1500.00 to build a small house here. It was a lovely experience seeing this in progress with the Mama and her little son helping with the building. Her baby was sound asleep strapped to her back.
Sunday was also a great day. Emmanuael and Patience took Wendy and I too an Anglican church service here. It was lovely and after we were invited to the home of two doctor’s who live and work here with there family. They have been here for 8 years. It was a lovely lunch and they proudly showed us their donkey – the only donkey in the area.
On the way home we met Patience’s family who are just lovely. What a great day we had! Tuesday is Goat Market day and I am buying more goats and care packages. More later...............
Saturday, September 17, 2011
I have two more weeks here. I am trying to memorize the children’s faces – the names are hard but I know a few. I spent time in a couple of classrooms today, helping the kids with printing ABC’s and drawing a fish and printing the word fish. They do such a good job – they are only 3 and 4 years old. There are almost 40 children in each class with only one teacher so they really appreciate any help. I took some song boards that I had made and today sang “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” with some translation help – they loved it so I did the song twice. The teachers are starting to use some of the materials that I brought so that makes me very happy. They just adapt it to the level of the children and make it work. The classes are from 8 am to 12 with classroom time, outdoor time, time for snack and time for music and singing.
Cathy had a line up of Mama’s and babies seeking medical attention. One little boy had a very bad burn on his leg – no one is sure how or when it happened but Cathy cleaned it up and the little guy was so brave – Cathy gave him bread so he was quietly eating while she tended to his leg. It must have hurt but he did not make a sound. She put burn ointment on the burn and gave the Mama medication for the little boy to drink and instructed her to come back tomorrow to change the bandage and get more medication. Another Mama was given instructions on how to bathe her baby and wash his clothes. She might come to the Mama and baby class next week. It seems like a simple thing to us but a lot of people are not educated and very poor so hygiene is a challenge for many.
This afternoon, I went with Emmanuel to the market to get him some clothes for university. He told me that his father passed away when he was four and his mother died of Aids when he was six. He had only one brother who eventually also died. Emmanuel has had a hard life but he has a bright future as I have said. He told me that he just wanted a “Mom” to go shopping with him. Cathy is his “Mom” and is so great to him and many other boys his age. Off we went to the market to get two pants, a shirt, and other items including paper with her permission. He could not find shoes today so another day, he will look again. Again such a small thing but it meant the world to Emmanuel – his reaction moved me to tears. Again, these are simple ways to make a difference in someone’s life. We all know what a new outfit does for our self-esteem....All the items we bought today cost about $35.00 US. That’s all.........
Home again – so Emmanuel could try on his new things for Cathy and Teste - he w as so proud – and me – well I felt better than I have in a very long time............... Here is a picture of Emmanuel and another of a Mama bringing her little ones to school.............