Thursday, September 8, 2016

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda 2016 Part 8

Remember that time I visited our World Vision child, eleven year old Noel, and scared him to death by fainting in front of him. Yeah. That was a good day.

That was my day Tuesday in Rwanda.

The day began nicely enough. Kevin left early to guest lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Kigali, and I jumped into the car with Fred Tumusiime, the sponsorship officer from World Vision’s Kigali office to make the three hour drive to Nyamagabo in Rwanda’s southern province. It was one of those drives that won’t let you to take your eyes off the road, even though I was low on energy and fighting what I thought might be a stomach bug. Rwanda’s beauty wouldn’t let me nap.
I saw things I hadn't seen before in Rwanda. Lots of pigs. Pigs are good money earners as each piglet brings a good price. Coffee washing stations dotted the side of the road. We even passed a station that said, “Roasters for Stumptown Coffee.” In the middle of rural Rwanda I found Portland’s own Stumptown Coffee. Crazy!

We arrived at World Vision’s district office in Nyamagabo, where I met district director Jean de Dieu and was given coffee and mandazi (Rwandan donut), a favorite of mine. I thanked Jean because just the day before, Prince, one of our young Rwandan friends in Boise had messaged me, “Have you eaten mandazi yet?” I hadn’t and didn’t want to get in trouble back home.
mandazi - my favorite Rwandan treat
World Vision does incredible things in Rwanda. I thought our sponsorship money just went to Noel, when in fact it helps develop a sustainable community by teaching improved farming methods, good hygiene and nutrition habits, digging wells, and providing vocational training. They help 11,500 people in Noel’s district alone. World Vision works in partnership with the community and one of the ways they assess needs is by holding regular meetings with school teachers and local pastors.
those clever fish farms
After sharing coffee and mandazi, Jean stayed behind while I went with Fred and Christella, a World Vision field worker, to find Noel. We drove another forty-five minutes on blacktop before turning onto a dirt road. We drove by fish farms. Ok I have to stop. These fish farms are genius. A pond is dug and filled with water and fish, then rabbit hutches are built over the pond. The rabbits do their business and feed the fish. Genius! Also, the ponds attract amazing birds, which we didn’t have time to stop and see.

We drove over a wooden bridge, up a steep, steep hill, passed a genocide memorial and reached a village. We went down the hill, then up another steep hill to another village. We went down that hill, got stuck on the dirt road, were rescued by the villagers and continued our drive. Finally, we parked and continued on a path through the fields and up a hill.
Fred had told me it was a forty-five minute “walk” to Noel’s home. I understood walk to mean a walk. On a flat surface. But I soon discovered “walk” has different meanings, and it’s meaning on this particular day was a vertical walk. In Boise we call that a hike.
The climb
The evening before I had sent a prayer request to several friends and my mom. I was feeling exhausted and a little sick. I asked that they pray I would be able to see Noel. He knew I was coming, and I couldn’t NOT go even if I was sick.

So we jumped out of the car, and I grabbed the bag containing Noel’s gifts but I forgot my water. Oh water, water, water, water. I love water.
Before I knew what I was getting into.
The walk was incredible. One of those, “I can’t believe this is happening” experiences. We walked over handmade wooden bridges while I worried about losing my balance. 
Alphonse - I thanked him a million times
We passed homes and farmers and goats and pigs and coffee plants, and people resting on small wooden stools in the shade of their homes. And I was feeling worse and worse. We began to climb a very steep hill and I asked, “Which is Noel’s home?”  Fred pointed to the home at the top and I got worried. I stopped to rest. I felt like I might vomit. It was noon and the hottest day of our trip. I felt incredibly foolish for not having water. I put my scarf over my head to shield me from the sun. We kept walking. I rested some more. I felt more foolish. I dreamed of water. I knew nobody on this mountain. Kevin was in Kigali. I had met my World Vision friends only that morning. 
My World Vision Friends
We climbed that mountain in the hot sun for forty-five minutes. Finally, Fred said, “There is Noel’s home.” It was so close, only about 150 feet away. Yet, I couldn’t get there.

I stopped to rest again, leaning against the terraced hillside, in the shade of a tree. I waited. I don’t remember fainting, but next thing I remember I was lying on the ground with my head in Christella’s lap. Fred was furiously fanning me with my scarf.  A dozen people stood over me fanning me. Alphonse, a teenage boy, had been sent at a run to our car for water. Just before I woke, it felt like I was having a really nice dream, then I opened my eyes, realized what had happened and instantly started saying “Ni meza” (I’m fine) and “murakoze” (thank you) (like a million times). Fred and Christella got me on my feet. Noel hugged me. I was embarrassed. His grandmother hugged me. I was more embarrassed. I couldn’t stand by myself, so Fred and Christella held onto me until they sat me down on a chair in Noel’s home. That chair was the best thing I saw all day. I loved that chair. I fell into it and immediately began visiting with Noel and his grandmother, acting like I was fine but really I wanted to lie down so badly.
Noel with his grandmother
Fred kept fanning me, while I began pulling out the gifts I had brought. I wanted desperately to make everyone forget I tried to die in the front yard. . . I brought out the fabric for grandmother. I pulled out the bag of marbles. I gave little sister Marie a harmonica, because every parent loves a noisy gift (yeah, I didn’t think that one through too well). But it was when I pulled out the soccer ball that the entire room went, “oooooohhhhh” simultaneously and Noel might have smiled a tiny bit.

Suddenly Alphonse burst into the room wearing a backpack filled with bottled water, sweat pouring from his face. I drank a liter of water and kept visiting with Noel. You guys, our family photos are on their wall. Every family Christmas photo I’ve sent is on their wall. I wanted to cry. At least I’m good at that.

Noel and I sat together but he was so shy and never, ever smiled. Christella kept saying, “seka, seka, seka” (smile, smile, smile) to no avail. His grandmother encouraged him to talk to me, but he would only respond to my questions in whispers. I scared this kid speechless. Trying to make him smile, I told him he’ll have the best sponsor visit story of all his friends. He just stared at me.

The entire village had come to welcome me and crowded into Noel’s home, spilling out of the doorway. They danced and sang their traditional welcome for me. I love this welcome! Noel stood up and said the Hail Mary for me (I mean, I’m sure he felt if anyone needed it, it was me). The eldest gentleman in the room stood up and made a speech. I was overwhelmed. I felt so undeserving. I am just me.

Before leaving, we stood together for photos and Noel and I played a bit of soccer, but mostly I tried to stay in one place. And also upright. It seemed wise.

The village followed us down the mountain to say goodbye. Christella wouldn’t let go of me. I kept saying, “I’m fine. I’m fine.” Fred replied, “Yes but now we don’t believe you.” I smiled. He’s a fast learner.
Saying goodbye at the car
I teased Fred saying I hope he’ll let me visit another year and he said, “Yes but you must bring Benedict (that would be Kevin) with you.” He told me all he could think of when I was unconscious what “What am I going to tell Benedict?”

World Vision took Noel’s family and me to dinner at a restaurant in town. It was the first time Noel had been to a restaurant. I will carry these memories with me always. Little Noel sitting across from me, his plate piled high with food, his eyes so big. Never speaking. Never smiling. Just staring at his wimpy muzungu sponsor. When we said goodbye I said, “Maybe someday you’ll send me a photo and you’ll be smiling.” I’m hopeful.

The “walk” up the mountain was hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I love these words my friend Alison texted me after reading an account of my day. She said, “What a picture of God’s grace. Here you’ve been helping Noel and he and his family had the opportunity to help you.” Every time I read her words I cry.

I collapsed into the car, and we made the long three hour drive back to Kigali. It was dark when I arrived. It had seemed wise to tell Kevin of my day’s adventure via text. . . and I fell into his arms as he opened the car door. Exhausted. Relieved. Embarrassed. Grateful. The entire staff at the guest house welcomed me. I had scared them all half to death. I was too nauseous for supper, so Emmanuel our cook made toast for me, but took it away saying it was too cold now and would make more. Rwandans love so well. I want that in all of us. Can you imagine that world?

I didn’t represent us muzungus very well that day. But I got up the mountain. I saw Noel and I loved him. I can’t explain how meeting your sponsored child changes you. It just does. You begin to love your child when you get the first letter or picture, but that first hug changes everything. From that moment the love you share becomes forever love. You never read those letters the same way again. Because you are never the same again.

Sponsorship may change a child’s life. But mostly it will change yours.

Please sponsor a child. It is good for your soul.

World Vision

Africa New Life Ministries

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