Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 5

Day two in Rwanda and we woke to the ever constant smell of smoke from the home cooking fires in Kigali. Each morning I wake hoping to see a beautiful view of the city with the sun peaking overhead. Instead, I see a haze of smoke that stings my eyes and reminds me of the fire season of summertime in Boise.

Driving in this city has not yet been scary to me. Maybe it should be, but I’m too busy looking out the window. Mostly I look at the people. I cannot quit looking at them. I want to get out of the car and talk to each one. Who are you? What is your life? Do you have a family. Where do you live? Is life good for you? Do you know Jesus loves you? Instead, I stay in my seat wishing.

I love that our guesthouse is on the top of this hill. I see everything, through that haze of smoke. It is a fantastic view and the drive from one side of the city to the other is a roller coaster of windy, up and down roads. I stare at the long rows of mud built, shack like shops. I want to stop and shop, but I know we will instead be taken to the tourist market, the cleaned up market selling silly things to people like me. I want to spend time in the real life of Kigali. I don’t want to stay a tourist!

This morning I sat on the deck with the sun shining and the birds singing. Farther down the hill a man began singing. There are only fancy rich homes immediately around us, which is kind of a bummer, but if you go down the road just a tiny bit, there will be a mud hut with small children playing in the dirt. There is always a guard roaming the courtyard of our guesthouse. The gate is always locked, and we must be buzzed in. When we went to the shop to exchange money, we were stopped by a guard at the entrance of the parking lot and questioned and asked to open the glove box. We hear always about how safe Kigali is, but I wonder about these types of things. Is it safe only because they are under such strict surveillance? Without these controls, would crime and violence creep in?

As we drive through the countryside, the constant smell of smoke and diesel is nauseating. My sinuses are unhappy. As we leave Kigali behind we find cows along the roadside and some goats. I love the intego. Everywhere, even in the city center of Kigali, if there is even the tiniest plot of dirt there are women working it with giant hoes – really giant hoes! Men and women carry huge loads of bananas on their heads, some are loaded into flat baskets but many women carry them just piled high on their heads. Jerrycans filled with water are also carried this way, by all the people even the smallest of children.

Mostly there are just so many people walking. In crowds, in pairs, alone, children alone, women with babies on their backs – which makes me terribly homesick.

As we drive along the slower roads we wave and say murahoo to everyone we pass. There is always a smile, a wave. These are the friendliest of people - or they are simply curious about the muzungu.

The Dream Center at Africa New Life provides a sewing class (and daycare, which is vital) to women who are on the fringes of society. Some have been prostitutes. Here they rebuild their lives. They regain their dignity. We were each asked to talk with the ladies. I told them my grandmother was a seamstress with a shop of her own and three employees. I told them my grandmother made my wedding dress. It was a nice moment of connection. Afterwards, we prayed and this is always such a humbling experience.

We then made our way to the Center’s beauty school where the students were doing character building, which we might call devotions. They paused to make time for a quick visit from us and we all introduced ourselves (again). My travel companion Ashleigh mentioned she liked to dance and they insisted she dance for them. I played the song “Happy” from my iPhone and soon we were all dancing about the room. Again, here the women are learning terrific skills that will enable them to  become self sufficient and this changes everything in their lives and the lives of their children.

Did I mention it was a long day!

We then jumped back in the car with our ever present guide, interpreter, and “minder” Annette and our driver Bosco. I teased Bosco so much the first day because I had given Annette, Jen Hatmaker’s latest book For the Love, and we found him reading it every time we returned to the car. The next day I asked, “Where is your book?” He nodded towards Annette and said, “Where is my book?” Bosco and Annette make the long drives fun.

Later we made the drive into the countryside to my friend Fabrice’s home. Fabrice is a twelve year old Rwandan boy who is living in Boise temporarily to receive medical treatment. His medical treatment has been generously and fully donated by St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon and Walgreens Pharmacy. This medical treatment has saved his leg, as the doctors in Rwanda were going to amputate.

Fabrice’s family lives an hour from Kigali. We were super excited to get into the countryside. A few neighbor kids stopped by to check us out. Fabrice’s parents loved the video greetings I had made of Fabrice. As they watched the videos, I watched their faces. They were beaming, making periodic remarks. They were amazed at his ability to walk and run as the last time they saw him, he was in was in a wheelchair. Also they couldn’t believe how big he was and how great his English had become. It was the best. I gave them photos I’d made of a map of the world and then a map of the United States and showed them where Boise is. I also brought an aerial view photo of Boise so they could know more of their son’s life in America.

Returning to Kigali we saw hundreds of school children dressed smartly in their uniforms running in both directions down the road. . . this is because there is a great teacher shortage in Rwanda, so school is split into two shifts – morning shift and afternoon shift, so some kids were going to school and some going home. You could tell the ones going to school. They were running.

Did I mention it was a long day!

My favorite part of the day was next. We returned to the Dream Center to work with the Dream Boys. These are at risk boys who are not yet eligible for regular sponsorship. Many are former street children. We went into the classroom for the boys ages six to eight. I had been asked to teach a Bible study, so we first played a game of “who am I” and I had made them all be famous soccer players (with help from my friend Kamana). The boys thought it so amusing when their teacher played it but became shy when it was their turn.

This was my first time teaching through an interpreter. Bible study was so fun and the kids delightfully engaging. We all sat on the floor with the kids crowded around me. I told the story of Jesus’ baptism and how he is our great rescuer, that each one of them is the loved one of God. I would point to one boy and say, “Patrick is the one loved by God.” “Joel is the one loved by God.” When we were finished they said thank you a dozen times and clapped and clapped and clapped. I said, “Who is the one Jesus loves?” And they all threw up their hands.

Did I mention it was a long day?

We then went on our first Hope Visit. Hope Visits are visits to the homes of children who are waiting for sponsorship. We went to the home of a third grade boy, who when we asked what he would like us to pray for him, replied immediately, “for wisdom for my school work.” His favorite subject is reading. His mama is expecting her fifth baby. She has four boys and I said to her, “You need a girl to help you.” She laughed and we shared a knowing look. Girls in Rwandan culture are a great help to their mothers. I told her my story of being pregnant with Rebecca. The doctor told us she was a boy, but her brother insisted he wanted a baby sister. Every night Caleb prayed for a baby sister. And then came Rebecca. When we prayed together I asked that she get her baby girl. I mean if Caleb could do it. . . 

Did I mention it was a long day?

The next home visit was not so easy. We walked down a long dirt path lined with banana trees. Children began following us and saying hello, wanting to hold hands and have their photos taken. They were all smiley and jumping up and down. When we arrived at the home, the first thing I noticed was their cooking area. It was in an alley outside their front door.

Upon entering the home, a tiny square room with concrete floor, we saw the only furniture was a narrow bench along one wall. This was their home. Mama Gilbert (in Rwandan culture mother’s are known by the name of their oldest child or in this case her oldest son) has eight children and will give birth in November to her ninth. Her husband recently left her and began a new family with a different woman. We were looking into the faces of extreme poverty. Her younger children were beautiful little girls happy as could be. They wanted to talk with us and pose for photos and were just delightful.

We had come on this Hope Visit because Gilbert needs a sponsor. Gilbert was very dear. His smile was sweet and his younger brother Olivier loved the camera. Sitting beside Gilbert was his sister Clementine. I asked Clementine what grade she was in, and she turned her face away to tell us she had stopped attending school a year ago to help her family. Tears ran down her face as she said it. She desperately wanted to be in school. I started crying and decided I would break my promise to Kevin that we would not sponsor any more than the six children we already sponsor. We three Americans prayed for this sweet family, for this good mama, because when children are wearing rags and eating less than they should but whose eyes are full of light and laughter, they have a good mama. Mama Gilbert then prayed for us. She prayed for our safety. She thanked God for bringing us to visit her. She thanked God for his good care. It was humbling.

When we finished praying, Ashleigh, one of my travel companions, asked if she could please sponsor Clementine, and she would find Gilbert a sponsor when she returned home. 

If you would like to sponsor a child, there is a long, long list of children waiting for sponsorship. Sponsorship includes school fees, uniforms and shoes, medical care and oversight by an Africa New Life social worker. Sponsorship is $39 per month and changes the lives of these families forever.

And did I mention it was a long day?

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 6

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