Friday, August 17, 2012

On the way out

On the way out

I’m sitting here at the airport now and wondering exactly what I think about this trip. The last couple of days, I was getting homesick and so I feel like patience started to wear thin. It was very difficult to get out cash and due to 2 spontaneous trips, I had run out, twice. At one point, I had visited 4 ATMs with no success. The other thing is that stuff isn’t super reliable simply because they don’t have the infrastructure in place to support the needs. That stuff was the same as it had been before, and actually in many countries I’ve visited before, but because I was starting to miss my family and my husband, the little stuff started to get on my nerves. As we arrived in Kigali, it was very busy and I realized that we were in a different world in Gisenyi. Our driver picked us up and took us to the orphanage. This orphanage only had 125 kids and was MUCH different than Gisenyi where the stench of urine and dirty sheep was almost unbearable. We drove by a market on the way home and they had a coffee shop. I was so amazed at the coffee shop and had I not been so hot, I may have tried to go in there and get some. I realized that we were in such a remote area of Rwanda. We were literally in villages and while Kigali still has it’s issues I’m sure, it was leaps and bounds ahead of Gisenyi in terms of technological advancement. Seeing the orphanage and the town, I found I had a renewed desire to be here. It was unfortunate that it was on my way out. 

I don’t want it to sound like I didn’t enjoy Gisenyi because I did. One piece of the trip that I truly enjoyed was Angel. She was our interpreter since many people in Gisenyi cannot speak english (another thing different than Kigali). So, she went with us to the women and places like that to be with us, speak for us, etc. I loved getting to know her and had such a good time. I think it would’ve been a different experience without her. I also loved the slow pace of life. I was taking bucket showers, my sink had no running water, people were 100% self sufficient as I have written about before. People own their own livestock, have their own farms, make their own clothes, etc. I think I got to experience Rwanda in the way that most Rwandans experience it. I also loved spending time with the women and while it was not as much time in the orphanage, it was equally valuable. 

The orphanage - I’m sad that I couldn’t spend more time there because there were three boys in particular that I adored. Emmanuel, Emmanuel, and Innocent. (FYI, there were also 3 other Emmanuels that I met - popular name). I really only got to spend two days with them because the third day, we cleaned out the library art supplies and organized it. It was a mess. The fourth day, we had an opportunity to see the Gorillas and I am so glad I went because it was absolutely amazing to see the animals in the wild. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. 

My thoughts on the orphanage 

  1. it had a stench that I can’t describe. One room smelled of urine, one smelled of something terrible but I couldn’t place the smell. They had sheep, pigs, goats, cows and chickens. The things that stunk the most were the sheep and the pigs. It was horrible
  2. the kids are SO excited about volunteers being there and they ALL want to be around you. So that meant, Charlotte and I, two of the worst school teachers ever, were trying to teach english to at least 40 kids that ages ranged between 5 and 15. Essentially, children were running around screaming, taking books off the shelves, etc. The art project was a disaster and while I enjoyed it, I don’t think we really did anything beneficial. 
  3. Sports - the one thing I could talk to the kids about was sports. They really like soccer which I knew nothing about and basketball. We played 3 on 3 basketball and it was amazing. We followed no rules that had anything to do with basketball, but I was on Emmanuel and Innocent’s team and we won. I felt like that’s what we’ll do the rest of the time but we ended up cleaning the closet because it was such a mess. I realized that teaching is very difficult, especially with no structure, a varied age group and the inability to speak the language of the children. 

So after experiencing that, I’m glad I spent most of the time with the women because even though I love the babies, I can’t help them in the way they need. Or maybe, two volunteers couldn’t help - they needed more. There are 600 children at Gisenyi vs 125 at Gisimba. 

This trip has been such a build up, probably about 10 years, so I’m still trying to digest everything that I need to digest. My initial thoughts are that this trip was probably more for me than anyone here. I don’t think I really did much other than waved to a lot of people and attempted to speak their language. Maybe that had a bigger impact than I realize, but in my mind, I had imagined something different. I guess I was thinking that I’d be like, changing the world or something, I don’t know. What I have learned about myself is that 

  1. I think I am actually a fairly generous person. 
  2. It’s amazing how interested I am in travel, languages, and cultures. When we saw the traditional dancers at the Gorillas, I had to hold back tears. That sounds silly, but I was just so amazed, I could feel it in my chest
  3. I am fairly good at learning a language and remembering words. I’m not saying I’m coming back speaking Kinyarwanda, but I did an okay job at learning a lot of things in 2 weeks. 
  4. My heart is still in Greenville, SC and I can become homesick very easily. I really love my husband and can take him for granted sometimes. I’m also very close to my family and actually my husband’s family, especially my mom. I’m not sure I could actually move that far away. In my mind, I imagine moving to Italy and having a goat and olive tree farm, but I would have a very hard time being away from my family. 
  5. I also really love my dad and appreciate the experience and knowledge he brings to my life. 
  6. I can remain calm in stressful situations and when in doubt, I pray. 
  7. I really enjoy telling people I’m Catholic even though I’m not technically Catholic yet!
  8. I have some kind of weird connection to Michigan. Every time I get stressed out, I’m lonely, someone from MI pops up. It’s so odd. 
  9. I feel like I’m fairly thoughtful. That’s something that’s changed over the years and I definitely have selfish moments, but I have become a thoughtful person and I am glad that I try to think of others, even if it sometimes means I’m uncomfortable myself. But not in a way that I feel like someone owes me something. 
  10. Lastly, I have reconfirmed to myself that what I imagine in my mind and what things are in reality are completely different which means that any opinion I have of anything that I’ve never experience first hand is an illusion and I need to let it go. How did I form that opinion anyway? 

I’m very grateful that I was able to take this trip. I absolutely love Rwanda, it’s an amazing place that I would recommend anyone visit. It’s very safe, in spite of what people say, and I even walked alone a bit in Gisenyi. People are just very friendly here, as I have written many times!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Thoughts

I am sitting here talking to my travel partner, Charlotte, who is from Australia. We have spent a week and a half helping women in their cooperatives, making beads, baskets, etc. As we sit there and help them, we think how we can help them on a larger scale. The conclusion we've come to is that we simply don't know. There are so many infrastructure problems here that I'm not sure how I can really apply my skillset. For example, things I can help them do is create a business plan, set up a budget, marketing, etc. The issue - they have no access to the internet, to transportation, nothing. A lot of the women walk up to 2 hours to get to their coop. So how are they going to deliver their goods to the post office, to the market, to anywhere? How can they promote their business if they don't have access to the internet. They need someone who can help them permanently. They need someone 1) who can speak kinyarwandan since most of them only speak that 2) who can advocate and market their products 3) who can teach them how to create a business out of what they do have and much more. That task seems impossibly daunting.

I will be interested to see what the orphanage is like. Based on previous volunteers descriptions, the orphanage is fairly self sufficient because it has to be. It can't depend on volunteers coming down to spend a month teaching them english. They need to have some type of process in place to make it when there is no one else. So I think what we'll be doing is essentially helping them fulfill basic duties like feeding babies, teaching english, things like that. What they need are more resources. They need money to provide a cleaner place, to send the older kids to school, things like that. There are 600 children in this orphanage alone.

So, with all of that in mind, my thoughts are - how can I really help? I don't think I can. I don't know how to contribute other than showing up daily and doing what is asked of me. It's only 3 days so I don't even really know how that will help. It's a bit discouraging thinking that what I'm doing here may really not be that helpful, but what can I do? The struggle I think society has is that it seems almost impossible to abandon your own life to help others. It's not something that can be done on a 2 weeks vacation once a year. People need to be helping all of the time. But people have to support themselves as well. That's where my thoughts are today.

I also very homesick and am ready to be back. If I could get an earlier flight, I think I would, but because I've spent most of my time with the women in Gisenyi and no time in the orphanage, I'd like to do that even if it's only for 3 days. That's where I am today.

End of Week 2 - Gisenyi, Rwanda

The end of week 2 - Gisenyi, Rwanda

I’m almost at the end of week 2. We have spent all week working with different cooperatives here in Gisenyi. The cooperatives are made up of women who are either HIV positive or victims of gender-based violence. They meet together to make crafts in which they sell to volunteers, in the market, in whatever way they can. They then use the money to get what they need. If there is a woman in need of insurance for a year, which costs something like $6,000 Rwandan francs (I need to check that fact), they will give her the money and buy it for her. If someone needs medicine, they will get it for her. They make the crafts together and they share the profits together. Most of these women live in villages in Gisenyi and walk up to 2 hours to get to the cooperative. They make labor intensive crafts with the hopes of building some type of business to support each other. They’re not on the streets begging for money, they are trying to do what they can with no education. I admire their sense of commitment because it seems overwhelmingly hard. I also admire their sense of community. Not one of them is left behind. They will sacrifice their own knowing that one of their fellow friends is in need. Most of Rwanda is that way. There is an overwhelming care for his/her brother. The idea is to lift up the country versus lifting up the individual. It makes for a place that is very welcoming and loving. 

The other thing that is amazing to me is the amount of people who were affected by the genocide. If you do not know, in the early 90’s, after years of dissent amongst two tribes that never existed before Belgian occupation, the majority Hutus decided to exterminate all of the Tutsis and moderate Hutus throughout Rwanda. Over 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed. That may not seem like a lot but you’re talking about a country who isn’t much bigger than the state of Maryland. I hear that number and think, wow, that’s a lot. It’s always been a fascinating story to me, one that brought me to Rwanda in the first place. But what’s overwhelming is this; since I have been in Rwanda, 3 members of the FVA group, the group that I am volunteering with, have worked with me. Claire, the program coordinator, Angel, our interpreter, and Amani, our house manager. Of those 3, all of them had a family member die in the Genocide. Amani’s story touched me so much because his father was killed, their farm including their cows (something very expensive in Rwanda), and they house was burnt down. Amani’s family was very poor, him being the youngest of 10. They had hard times for a long time until Amani was able to travel to Kigali, the capital city, and work. He is currently building a house near his mom’s farm, is learning english, and eventually wants to be a bus driver. He only finished primary school because you have to pay to go to high school in Rwanda. He is a very happy, kind person. Our interpreter, Angel, said Amani never gets upset because he knows he’s had a hard life and is grateful for what he has now. 

That’s how everyone seems to be here. It’s amazing. As we walk down the street, people will stare because I am white. As soon as I smile, they smile and wave. I say, Muraho and they laugh because they are so excited that I am attempting to speak their language. I know I keep saying overwhelmed, but I can’t think of another word to describe it. I’ve never been to a country that has had so much heartache and turmoil but still has such a good spirit. Life is much simpler here. There are bucket showers, lots of walking, most roads are not paved. Their irons are just literally an iron with hot coals in it. Sewing machines are like the ones we used in the 50’s. They buy their fabric in the market and have people make them. There are not many restaurants. Many people have chickens for their eggs. They have cows for their milk. They have goats for their meat. While I do miss a hot shower now and again, I’m loving the simplicity. 

More than ever do I feel like I was called to this country. I don’t really know the purpose quite yet, but I feel like this is somewhere I’m going to return to as much as I can. When I have a desire to give money to Africa, I know where to send it. When I think of what cause I want to help, I know what it is. I almost feel like I’m apart of the community here. My goal is to try to start a website where I can help the women in the co-op sell their goods. I’ll try to post pictures of the orphanage so people can send money and buy specific things. I don’t know exactly how I want to do that because it seems a bit hard, but I figure the hardest part will be promoting in which I will need the help of my family and friends. I know that overall, I’m so glad that I came here because Rwanda has helped to restore my faith in people. It’s also helped me realize that some of us westerners can learn a lot from people in the third world.