Thursday, September 28, 2017


Last month there was a musical festival in Jinja, Uganda, a small town famous for being the mouth of the Nile. Not super into music festivals, I decided to go anyways.  While some friends were at the festival, I could get an adrenaline rush with some white water rafting. Because this is a pretty big event, we were able to find a bus going overnight from Kigali directly to the festival in Jinja. We left 2 hours late and then spent 2 hours at the border, but otherwise we made it smoothly. 

The ride back was a different story. 

Sunday night:*

6:00 – Bus is supposed to depart and everyone is waiting at the designated spot.  It begins to rain.
6:06 – Oh wait now the bus is leaving at 8.
7:47 – Bus is half an hour to an hour away.
9:30 – Bus arrives and we start to board.  People whip out their melatonin and eye masks and settle in for the ride.
10:12 – Less than a kilometer up the road, the bus gets stuck in mud.
10:58 – Get off the stuck bus, stand in rain, and figure out what to do.
11:15 – I get back on the bus to grab our bags.  It’s like walking in one of those fun houses because the bus feels like it’s going to tip over.  We find a taxi and start to look for a place to sleep.

Monday morning:*
1:45 – I’m having trouble sleeping because I’m waiting for a call that the new bus has arrived.
2:37 – The new bus arrived but also got stuck in the mud.
9:09 – Bus finally got unstuck and arrives at the hotel.

We spent the rest of the day drifting in and out of sleep and watching the Ugandan landscape slip by.  In between we saw our bus driver pay fines (or maybe bribes?), got to eat some chocolate cake at a café in Kampala, and smell the lovely smell of unwashed people and belongings muddy from rain.  24 hours later than expected we finally arrived back at ASYV, ready to shower and not go anywhere for awhile.

This brings me to the title, #TIA – right before we left for this trip I hosted my last service group.  When I gave them my spiel about being flexible one of them mentioned #TIA – This is Africa, and explained it as “anything goes.”  #TIA became a common theme throughout their trip as they said it when the bus was late, when the kitchen forgot to prepare food, or when any other small changes impacted the plans.  It was definitely a hashtag on my mind with the whole bus from Jinja fiasco.  But it’s not necessarily one I like.

Many people make a myriad of generalizations about this massive continent.  Rwanda isn’t yellow and dry but lush and green.  Except for inside Akagera National Park, you don’t see any sprawling savannahs.  There’s a huge biodiversity of birds but no lions roaming our roads.  At ASYV we are fortunate enough to have water, power, and even Wi-Fi most of the time.  Rwanda is also the safest, cleanest, friendliest place I’ve ever lived and probably ever will live.  I clearly stick out as a white person but not once have I been catcalled and I can comfortably walk alone wherever I go.  In regards to cleanliness, Rwandans take so much pride in it you can literally see the difference in trash from Rwanda to Uganda the minute you cross the border.  These two factors, plus Rwandan hospitality, make it an attractive destination for foreigners. 

So, #TIA, huh?  I’d love for that to be This Is America.  Pictures of Millenials and their avocado toast? (Rwandan avocados ROCK just saying.)  A child on a leash in Costco?  (I truly love and miss Costco.  I also say that I would need a leash in the main market in town because I find it terrifying.)  A birthday party for dogs? (I wish it were my dog’s birthday because they get hard boiled eggs and I want one.)  Anyways, the list can go on and on without even getting in to politics or all of the huge issues we have in the States.  That being said, it’s still my home.  Though I love it here (enough to extend a couple months) I’m stoked to go back to the States.  More on that in the next post J

The view from our hostel was absolutely breathtaking.  You can almost see Moses!

The Nyege Nyege Music Festival.

Trying to get the bus out of the mud...

Us and the bus.  We done did it.

*Most times are approximate as I did not want to know the exact amount of time wasted.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What's in a Name?

I recently read a New Yorker piece about a couple struggling to pick a name for their son.  Choosing a name is a huge decision.  It’s something your child is stuck with, for better or for worse, for the rest of his or her life.  Luckily for me I always liked my own name.  I like being named for the females in my family.  And even when I struggled to write it in kindergarten and got annoyed with people pronouncing it “Mary” instead of “Marie,” I liked being the only Marie-Claire I knew. 

Lately, because of my Rwandan family and friends, I’ve thought more about names.  Rwandans don’t typically have family names.  Instead, they have a French name (Sandrine, Diane, Jean, Pascal, etc.) and a Kinyarwanda name given based on the circumstances of the baby’s birth.   Most of the students, at least when talking to foreigners, go by their French name.  But once I realized how interesting I find the Kinyarwanda names and that many students prefer to be called by them, I set about learning them.  Here are some examples of Kinyarwanda names:

-       Uwase: Our Fathers
-       Turatsinze: We are Winners
-       Rwagasana Byukusenge: Wake Up and Pray
-       Turishimye: We are Happy

One of my favorite moments in Family Time happened when we had visitors and one of the girls stands up to introduce herself and says “Hello my name is Thanks be to God,” the translation for her Kinyarwanda name Imanishimwe.   Another special moment is when they gave me my Kinyarwanda name, Teta, or “treasured.”  I love when they call me that, but what I’ll really treasure are the memories of spending time with this incredible group of young women J

Treasured, Our Fathers, and Thanks be to God

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Umuganda & Challenge

The last Saturday of every month is a mandatory day of service in Rwanda called Umuganda.  We do service every Saturday here in the Village, but because of Umuganda last month, some of our students went out into the local community for service.  We partnered with an organization called Earth Enable that makes sustainable flooring.  They donated 4 floors to genocide survivors.  Some of the students helped with the flooring and others did landscaping throughout the neighborhood.

I went along because I wanted to see how Umuganda takes place in the community and not just within ASYV.  At first I felt a little awkward; I wandered around checking out the new floors and seeing the neighborhood.  Then, one of the students asked me if I had ever used a machete to trim hedges.  I said no and asked him to teach me.  I then had way too much fun with it and proceeded to trim the hedges around the house for the rest of the morning.  Some locals found the sight of the white lady swinging a machete mildly entertaining and took pictures of me.  The woman whose house it was started talking to the student who taught me how to swing the machete.  He later translated for me that she was surprised/impressed that I could do it well.  I have him to thank for making Umuganda so much fun.

I truly enjoyed this Umuganda experience.  It’s neat to live in such a little country and see what can happen with a smaller and more homogenous population.  I wish something like this could happen at home!  I guess I can just go help my Padre with the yard since I have him to thank for teaching me to work outside as a kid J Padre, since I’m not strong enough to hold the hedge trimmer at least I can help with a machete now! 
M-C wielding a machete

At ASYV, we live by our seven Core Values.  One of those is Learning Community: seek and maximize opportunity for growth and development.  To embody this value, the whole staff, from Finance to Family Mamas, gets together for an hour and a half every Wednesday morning to learn together.  Topics range from learning about adolescent trauma to better understand our students to learning to tango.

Since the start of the year I have wanted to lead a Challenge Course Learning Community.  Last week I finally got my chance!  I got to use the skills I worked on at the FSU Reservation to run a few team building activities for everyone.  Adapting these activities to a bilingual community proved quite fun.  Everyone got competitive playing tag and then we practiced silent communication and working together in different teams towards a common goal.  Overall, it seemed like those who participated enjoyed the experience and learning a little something.  I definitely remembered how much I love the Rez and everything I learned there.  Now to look forward to a Cousin Learning Community coming up – Jewish Cooking! 
Challenge Course!