just like people, places change.

Just like people, places change.

Flying into Kigali, Rwanda last week by way of Denver, Detroit, and Amsterdam (read: crazy amounts of jet lag), I was unable to ignore the expansive landscape of bright, yellow lights over the rolling hills that I have seen many times before.

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The Convention Center is open and the Marriott is now operating. Plentiful (perhaps unnecessary) roundabouts have been added to the city roads as more and more cars seem to fill them. There is a new dance club, a handful of new restaurants, and newly launched start-up companies. Whether in the IT sector, drones consulting, or in business incubation, Kigali has transformed into a flashy choice for investment. I saw this happening years ago and yet it still it surprises me. This city isn’t the way I left it.

My work has changed immensely too.

With The Women’s Bakery, I was most recently in Rwanda at the end of 2015 when we were at the tail-end of our first cohort, before the launch of our first Kigali-based bakery. We had a group of women, start-up capital, and big dreams. We were fine-tuning our business model, trying to refine how we could best educate and empower women for economic opportunity throughout Rwanda (and East Africa).

This week, I had the incredible honor and experience of baking, observing, and tasting our nutritious (and delicious) bread from these same women, in our 6 days-a- week bakery. Beet, banana, carrot, and honey bread galore, the intricate process of making this bread proves, once again, that the application of education is potent leverage for opportunity. Our bakery, lined with green metal, sits amidst a bustling part of the city as proof that commitment, belief, and grit can make dreams a reality.

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My eyes filled with unexpected tears when I was shown how to properly knead and shape some of our new products, like our tresse bread, for example. Patient with me, our ladies demonstrated the varying preparation techniques for ideal fermentation and shaping. I loved being taught. I loved baking with women who were now our teachers. The moment was small, but it left a deep impact.

Our work as a service-provider in Rwanda continually changes too. We’re training more women’s groups this year AND for the businesses we’ve co-launched, we are seeking and exploring avenues for profitability.

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To see tangible change like this is evocative and meaningful because you are reminded (humbly) that the things we work, sweat, yearn, and long for can actually happen.

Though incremental at times, change does deliver.

In the year since I’ve last been on this side of the world, my work, the landscape, culture, and atmosphere of Rwanda aren’t the only pieces of life that have changed here.

The girls I have supported in school since 2012 are all nearly graduated and exploring post-graduate options. The teachers, like the students have moved on too. My Peace Corps site in the Eastern Province has since seen 3 additional volunteers and educators. The sports materials our soccer team acquired through a grant were stolen. The care-taker of the cows at my old school passed away. My host father has a booming milk business. My Kinyarwanda teacher got married and a baby. The woman who helped take care of my house (and me) has made enough of an income to buy goats, pigs, and a cow. One of my students now posts regularly on Instagram.

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Rwanda has provided me a unique lens by which I can measure the change around me – and within me. I’m realizing, each time I come back, that I come back a different person. Like the changing architecture, views, and life circumstances of my friends in Rwanda, I too have pivoted, made mistakes, adopted new ideas, achieved new successes, and continue to grow into just being me.

Sometimes, these changes are visible. It’s easy to see when I’ve grown my hair long or have opted for a different style of clothing. It’s also relatively straight-forward to speak about updates on my family – their work, homes, and families.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder, how to express the internal change that has molded, shaped, and impacted our development as people.

How do I contextualize the joy of a new relationship?

How do I give words to the changes I’ve experienced in how I view gender, faith, politics, and policy?

These are just some of the questions.

Change happens over time – with small (and big) experiences – and we are challenged each day to enter conversations, relationships, and life with what has already happened to us.

Perhaps the struggle is not choosing how we express our change, but instead, we can choose to faithfully move forward into it. We don’t have to be afraid of change. It’s going to happen. The weighty, more implicative question remains what we will do.

I sat in our Kigali bakery this week, chatting with a Rwandan male that explicitly (and genuinely) expressed concern over what the implications would be with the plethora of executive orders released throughout the week in the United States. Like many, he was apprehensive about the onslaught of change happening so quickly.

Today, on a much-needed slow Saturday morning, I took the time to catch-up and read all that was taking place in public policy from the White House. I was appalled, shocked, and in disbelief.

I considered the changes I have noticed so intensely within our bakeries, within Rwanda, and within myself and wondered, how much change can America take?

I don’t know. I’m tired of not knowing, but honestly, nobody does.

What I do know, for certain, is that change does not have the final say. We do.

Like these hills that remind me all that I have been through for the past 5 years, we will overcome.

And whether it’s about your country, your work, or yourself, we have the communal responsibility to join each other. We can’t give up – not now. Not ever.

Because places, like people change, I think they can serve as mirrors for the way in which we see our own progression through life. Perhaps places can serve as powerful mechanisms in this way, addressing change without agenda, without reservation.

I’m grateful for Rwanda because of this. I’m grateful I have a place that helps me benchmark my life, propelling me forward with new dreams, goals, and hopes, mindful of how far I have come.

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express yourself.

Most days, give me a pen (I am a big fan of the thin, sharpie color pens), paper, and a cup of coffee and I’m good to go.

I sit. I think. I ponder. I pray. Suddenly, like smooth rocky rivers, innumerable words rush onto pages; a collaborative, collision of ideas fall upon my mind and yes! The real sweet spot of a writer flows steadily and effortlessly. It’s not about posting blogs, planning book content ideas, or even creating a masterpiece of art. Simply, and truthfully, it’s liberating to access the depth of expression that writing brings. You have access to language and words and phrases in a way that no other process allows. It’s intimate, real, and authentic.

Yet, for whatever reason, like a barren, dusty, over-cultivated field, writing has been strenuous, empty, and blank for nearly three weeks straight.

Ugh. It kind of sucks, frankly.

I have hardly been able to muster a short paragraph in the morning for journaling on daily life; much less work on anything I would like to publish, blog about, or invest creative energy into.

Confession: I stared at this very blank white word document in Microsoft Word for a good 15 minutes, trying to muster a good writing topic. Should I write about Paris? Burundi? Should I talk about The Women’s Bakery training happening right now? Or, maybe, as usual, I should just talk about what God is teaching me lately…?

Nothing felt right. So I sat. Fiddled a bit. Fidgeted more. And then, I figured, oh whatever. Whatever comes, comes.

In thinking through this a bit more, I’ve also been immensely busy, exhausted, with my mind twirling in about 20 different directions. We all struggle with this, don’t we? No matter our circumstances – rural, urban, employed, unemployed, man, or woman – our minds are pulled and prodded in all kinds of ways on a daily basis.

So overwhelmed by this, I had to take a time-out from work last week and find an escape in the city. I went to Caiman, a lovely restaurant-bar on one of many Kigali hills and just stared at the sunset over hills (and more hills). I asked myself, when was the last time I had done this – watching the sunset I mean – when was the last time I just sat here, for the sake of sitting?

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Needless to say, it had been too long. I had hoped my time away from work and our home in Kigali would be a way for me to get back on track with writing. I was wrong. It was about just sitting and enjoying the moment. Being still; giving God thanks for the very small, little things that make life worth living. I finished my ginger tea that evening at Caiman, feeling full and rested. I amusingly laughed on the motorcycle ride home; I’m often racing to finish just one more task and I end up working far harder (and eating up way more time) to reach a point where I think I’m ready to rest as opposed to just resting moment by moment and approaching my obligations with a full (not half-hearted) heart and mind. Just some food for thought.

Still, being unable to write was even more frustrating because life has been happening boldly, quickly, and intensely since my return from Kenya a few weeks ago, and I have been feeling like I can’t capture it. Just in the last two weeks: I’ve been called to immensely challenging conversations that God has prepared me months for; training for the bakery has enabled some fantastic opportunities for new connections, friends, and experiences here; and suddenly, transitioning back to America (NEXT WEEK!) is simultaneously exciting, crazy, and undefinable.

A-ha. Undefinable.

That’s it. My creativity to pen stories not about myself, but about people, about God (the things I always love to write about) has been sequestered because I feel limited in my own capacity to define them (by the way, I’m making this realization right as a quarter-sized cockroach crosses my feet. Gross.)

I’ve been reading Esther in preparation for my final bible study this week in Rwanda, and something very clear to me is that God prepared Esther and her situation for years before and years after so she could fulfill the place he had her. When you sit with the impact of what that really means, your mind will seriously (as we like to say) “be blown”. Wherever you are in this moment, in this time, is meaningful. Whether you can write about it or not.

It means that our lives are in a constant ebb-and-flow of preparation, action, patience, and revelation.

I’m fearing the undefinable – and thus avoiding writing – even though it’s in this time and season of the unknown where creativity looms largest. Think about it: the most resonating pieces of art exist because they capture the universal human experience of confronting that which we cannot define; that which we do not know.

Life is in fact, undefinable much of the time. Even if we can point to words to explain the reasons behind things (like, evil as a supplication for the terrorism that’s enveloping in every corner of the world) we still can’t explain what it might be like to be a friend of someone who has been killed. We can’t capture the precise explanation for the very real presence of panic in witnesses, in citizens, and victims.

We can’t let this keep us from communicating. It’s more than just a little writer’s block – the unknown and undefinable in life leads to fear which keeps us from talking to people in our immediate communities, our connections outside our day-to-day contacts, and the world at large.

It’s uncomfortable – maybe even annoying – but keep expressing yourself. In meal-times with friends, in messages, in journals, in prayer. Whatever it is for you, don’t stop. Especially in times like this.

Feeling “blocked”, as it were, can lead to isolation. Which, let’s be real, is not what this world needs right now. That’s why I’m even writing this at all. It might be frustrating that I feel limited in my creative capacity, but I know, I trust, it will be back. It’s real, it’s life. These things happen and yet it doesn’t change the importance of sharing with one another. Express yourself.

*

 

 

 

the valley of ukwezi

Poplar Street; Norfolk Street; 44th Avenue; Rifle Street; Iran Street; Veasey Hall; Umubuga Village; Gacuriro Sector; Otero Place.

Just to name a few.

I’ve lived in all sorts of different kinds of places; the American Suburbs, early 90’s neighborhoods in Denver, vintage college dormitories, newly furnished campus apartments, tin-roofed homes in Rwanda’s countryside, and castle-esque mansions in Kigali’s tucked away urban hills.

I didn’t even really know the name of my Kigali neighborhood until, like, two days ago. Kind of pathetic, honestly, when you’ve been staying there for over two months. In Rwanda, community names are structured in a relatively orderly fashion. From the most localized level to the broadest, the breakdown is as follows: village (umudugudu), cell (akagali), sector (umurenge), district (akarere), and province (itara).

The Women’s Bakery is in the process of organizing a bread demonstration event for Rwanda’s Global Entrepreneurship Week; we are planning to showcase our baking process with local women in our nearby market so we have a solidified relationship with where our office is located.

Confession: I put the wrong community names on the initial registration form. Oops? That’s a hard sign that you should probably dig a bit deeper into where you are. And so, I finally have the cell name memorized. Phew. And even better, I can give motorcycle drivers a better sense of where I live when getting rides home. Excellent.

With this new information in mind, I went on what I would call an “exploratory run” several evenings ago. At just around 5, right when the sun was finally cooling from the day, I began my ascent up the hill to our nearby “black road.” Important fact: 5pm is the pedestrian rush hour of Rwanda. I ran into men, women, children, all coming home from long days at school and work. As per usual, I listened to occasional hissing noises (common to appeal for attention), calls for “umuzungu,” and general surprise as they watched a white girl with heavy breaths, sweat, and black nike shorts run past them.

All this just made me tired. No, not the running, but the ever-present commentary on my existence. It’s to be expected, of course, but I could feel myself slipping into honestly, a whiney attitude, as I turned further down the road. Man, I really am tired of having to listen to this. I really wish I could turn up the music on my IPOD…

Right in that moment, as I prayed for some sense of peace to relax on my run, a neighborhood shop-keeper from my village greeted me. A dearly sweet man, I smiled and greeted him enthusiastically. Okay, I can do this. Keep your head up, girl.

So I did. And then, because of the exploratory nature of this jog, decided to head into the valley below our home upon a hill. I left the crowded black roads and opted for a light, dusty road that guides walkers with wood-bridges over swampy grasslands. The valley crept upon me, and in just a matter of minutes, I was seeing a Kigali I had never seen before.

Smoky, grey, smelly, and full of stench – this is not the Kigali people usually visit. I could feel the culture shock seeping deeply and rapidly into my veins. This was not in the intensity of seeing the rural village areas for the first time; this was different. Perhaps because it was so close to my home, but also because these kinds of places in Kigali are truly tucked away from the general public eye. Homes are stacked upon each other – 1,2 room plots holding who knows how many people. Charcoal stoves are everywhere. Rags. Litter. Pollution. It was overwhelming. I kept running. Mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. I realized quickly that the wooden path ahead led back to an intersection near my home. Perfect Couldn’t have planned that any better.

I maintained my 10:00 mile pace through the valley and encroached a football field. Almost there.

With just a few minutes left to reach my goal of 4 miles, I ran faster. As I sped up, I passed by a middle-aged woman carrying a bulky, burdensome black bag. I heard a small nudge. After your run, go back. Help here.

What. Realllllllyy?

I just wanted to go back home. Back to my comforts of water filters, couches, and 4,000 square feet of freedom. Go back.

So, obediently, I did. I introduced myself.

Mwiriwe, ndashobora gufasha….” (Hello, I can help you…)

She hesitantly passed her bag over, uncertain of my end-game. I told her I just wanted to help her because while running, I saw her struggling, and knew I had a few minutes I could offer. God told me to, I said. She flickered a look of relief, and the conversation continued.

Nitwa Bernadette,” she muttered. She told me she worked for one of the government’s ministries as a cleaner. Her back hurt. She was tired. Worn down. She needed to get home. She had 4 grown children, but she still had obligations in her household so they could continue to study and maintain a functional life. She escorted me through the over-populated village. We stepped to the side and worked through a maze of doors, apartments, sewage, and people. What was this place?

When we finally reached her home, we set that dang black bag down. I was exhausted. I was….well, I just couldn’t believe there were people living like this just 4 minutes away from the home in which I was staying. Life is weird.

We prayed together. I prayed that God would protect her home; bringing comfort and security in Him, no matter what the physical structure of the walls were made of. When she was showing me the way out, so I could get back home, she told me the name of the village proudly.

Ukwezi.

Over the corner and to the side, the parallel village name was Izuba. Moon (ukwezi) and Sun (izuba). I found this ironically perfect. It might just be the name of the place, but for many, these are the names of home.

That’s why it’s important, I see now. Because these structures, community naming systems, and identifications provide a way for people to share a piece of their life.

I can’t reconcile all of the complications of this feeling. I can’t explain what it feels like to be so obviously blessed in the midst of such hidden and obvious poverty. I do know, however, that guilt is not what God is calling us to live into, and so just because we don’t have answers, doesn’t mean we can’t exist in these kinds of tensions. It’s evil in the world. But we exist as light; therefore, we don’t have to run just away from these complexities just because we don’t understand. That’s freedom, and I thank God for that. We actually are able to live in accordance with His will, if we are willing to try. Moreover, something God has been teaching me in a variety of ways is understanding that His blessings are not without purpose. So, instead of feeling guilty that you have blessings – financially, intellectually, physically, etc. – you can actually steward and share them. Bam! That’s called freedom, y’all.

So, I know that I can humble myself – even in a lack of comfortability – and walk or run that direction, knowing that I might just encounter someone who could use a bit of help. Heck, that person in need of help could very well be me.

*

looking down into the valley.

the walls of our house; adjacent to the valley.

and yet.

I see the work of your hands, galaxies spinning a heavenly dance

God, all that you are is so overwhelming…

I delight myself in You, captivated by your beauty

I’m overwhelmed by You.

God, I run into your arms, unashamed because of mercy

 There is no one more beautiful.

–Big Daddy Weave, Overwhelmed

*

I never run at night.

Yet, for whatever reason on this particular muggy Monday evening, I was running. At just around 8:30pm. I was supposed to meet JP at 8:15, but alas, Africa time got the best of me (again).

JP and I ran on the straight pathway bound for the Embassy of the United States. An ominous building, it raises the American flag high, with large black gates, protecting a pearly white structure (the pool is visible from the sides!) and is a good marker to indicate distance for long runs. Exactly 3.5 miles from the brick-walled home I have been living in; a round-trip will cost you 7. Hope your legs are ready.

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ahem. yeah. that’s the US Embassy. Kigali, Rwanda. photo from a great blog, mountains & miles

I am often lost in my thoughts and music when I climb these Rwandan streets with my pair of feet, but this evening was different, as JP and I conversed on our top three favorite & least favorite things about Rwanda & America. For reference, it’s a great topic to kill time while running. We knocked out a least 25 minutes while on the subject.

When we finished – perspiring, worn, and ready for bed – I turned on my street corner near the bus stop to head home. At this point, it’s just around 9:35pm.

Rwanda just received a top 5 ranking of countries in the world safest to walk around at night, so believe me, my worries were few.

I had wanted to put my musical jams in my ear to listen to – for whatever reason, I didn’t.

I thought about running the rest of the way to my house – again, I didn’t.

I had to be in the perfect moment, in the perfect place, at just the right time for what was about to happen.

Haven’t you heard? That’s how God works. A master orchestrator, conductor like no one has ever seen, we too often take miracles as coincidences, or divine intervention as mere circumstance. I know, I trust, I believe that our lives are so intricately designed that in moments God plans (and is planning).

You think you have total control of your day with your planner, as I am so often inclined to believe? Hmm.

I don’t think God needs a day timer, that’s for sure.

*

A short, unassuming woman side-steps me on the cobblestone path.

‘Mwiriwe,’ she states, ‘Amakuru?’ (In English: Hello, how are you?)

‘Ni meza…nawe?’ (I am well, how are you?)

‘Wapi…minsi wapi…’ (Bad, today has been bad…)

She started to explain her circumstances – her problem in that moment – and instead, I rudely interrupted. I kid you not, in this woman’s moment of despair, I chose instead to be defensive and spit words like this,

‘I am not an ATM machine! Just because I am a foreigner doesn’t mean I can just give money…honestly, what can I do…?

In a moment where I can only describe as ‘being slapped’, my voice stopped mid-sentence. I couldn’t speak. Instead, I gestured my right-hand to bring her closer. In a miraculous instant, I realized that whatever I was saying, frankly, was stupid. I needed to listen. So, I beckoned her over, and she came.

Stopped like that in my tracks, I opened my ears. My heart began to flood with sympathy. My eyes saw the need for a deeper kind of empathy. Her pain, her circumstance was causing great hurt in her. As I listened, I prayed for forgiveness in my initial harshness. Eugenie was headed to a hospital about 5 miles away. Everything she had was in a small, worn duffle on her left side. Her baby was already there – but with no health insurance. The cost for the government subsidy – which she would qualify for – per year is approximately seven (7) US dollars. With no other family, her sick baby had created unbelievable stress for her; she was afraid the illness would result in something more serious.

My blinders removed by the grace of God, I invited her to come down the road with me. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew it would be okay. Turns out, during our walk close to my home, she ministered to me. She had been praying for an answer to this problem. Yes, she knew and strongly believed that God would come through. She proclaimed further, in an enthusiastic, deeply assured voice,

I have been saved by the blood of Jesus. It’s what keeps my hope alive. I have nothing in this world. But I have everything.

She said this verbatim and went on – the entire walk – about how Jesus changed her entire life. No family (her mother passing away from cancer years prior) to speak of, she is here, in the city, with her only child. Her husband left her last year. So, she searches for work. Seemingly hopeless. But, she assured me, she is living for something greater.

I couldn’t believe this conversation was even happening.

I sent her on her way with the equivalent of $10 USD, two bananas, and an extra pair of shoes. For some reason, it seemed like she might need them. We prayed together before she left and as I watched her walk away, I was overwhelmed.

What was that? What just happened?

*

My soul rose the next morning quite weepy. Yet, without a trace of sorrow, my entire body was instead filled with inexplicable awe.

My week had been full of revelations of weaknesses and sin I have maintained in my relationship with God.

Just to name a few:

acceptance by others & the world (the fear of not being liked); perfectionism; reliance on doubt; selfishness; & pride. And yet. And yet.

And yet.

It doesn’t end there. The story isn’t over in our brokenness, humanness, or weaknesses.

GOD STILL USED ME IN THAT MOMENT. ON THAT MONDAY. ON THAT RUN.

HE STILL USED EUGENIE TOO; I NEEDED HER AS MUCH AS SHE NEEDED ME.

*

I was blessed enough to be a blessing. Despite every imperfection I carry, He is still faithful.

He is not a God of sacrifice. He’s one of mercy (Matthew 9:13).

We don’t have to fear our short-comings. We don’t have to define our relationship with GOD because we’re having a bad day and messed up. Or, we said something mean to our friend. Or, maybe you think you’re worse. You think you have done something that is unforgivable. Maybe you cheated on somebody, maybe you stole, maybe you physically harmed somebody…it doesn’t really matter. The Gospel isn’t about what you did. It’s about God, about Jesus, and about the bigger picture.

I was overwhelmed by this, reminded of this story, and encouraged that nothing I do separates me from Him. It might be a simple thing to say, but it’s an overwhelming standard by which to understand the world. But hey, I’ll take that worldview, each and every time. Humbled, grateful, and renewed, I’m thankful for Eugenie and her message. I’m thankful for God using me, but also using her. She proclaimed His name – even in times of deep trouble – knowing she was secure in the identity she had.

Speaking of identity, one more thing.

I forgot to mention the Kinyarwanda translation of her name. Yes, her first name was Eugenie. However, her second name? Ukuri.

It means truth.

*

 

kigali unseen.

Describe Rwanda in a word: complex. 

Describe Kigali in a word: growing. 

*

How can you truly describe a city? Can you find the most accurate of words, people, places, images, smells, food, and sounds?

The sweet burning of corn kernels over fire infuse your lungs while smog of over-sized buses and sounds of street sellers desperately shouting your name so they can sell you on over-grown, far too smelly shirt surround you. Lord knows where the shirt came from.

How then can you tell a story?

I prefer words most often, but with our words, we need visuals. Words bring to life; photographs bring color, possibility, and recognition.

In efforts to push the boundaries of adventure, I decided to seek something different to do last week.

Kigali has a plethora of delicious restaurants these days (Indian, Asian, Mexican….you name it, it’s likely here), and there are even more sporting events to attend, and art galleries to peruse. I desired something gritty. Something a bit more, in the thick of things.

I have lived in-and-out of this lovely country since late 2011 and in that time, had never had the opportunity to photograph and see Kigali intimately. It has felt rushed here sometimes, and usually inappropriate to whip out my Canon and say hey! I’m taking a photo! And so, despite that duration of time, I had never been able to take my time, to really see what Kigali is – underneath the nice scrub n’clean that you see from miles away. It’s a clean city – nobody would deny that- and it’s changed a lot. Therein lies a story to be told. Change.

I have known about Vayando for a while now but had never participated in any of the experiences or activities offered. Started by a couple of old Peace Corps Volunteers (go figure), Vayando seeks to “put micro-entrepreneurs on the tourism map” by matching interested travelers with up and coming local businessmen and women. Want to try basket weaving? There’s a place for you. Maybe night fishing is your thing? That’s available as well. Once a traveler is booked and has their experience, the entrepreneur is compensated, marketed, and continues to receive a steady stream of revenue, highlighting their ingenuity, ideas, and skills. It’s a different kind of tourism, and it’s a heck of a kind of awesome.

Wanting to practice more with my beloved Canon I nearly jumped at the opportunity to do street photography with Yakubu.

I booked almost immediately, grabbed a friend, and prepared for a day around the town.

It was better than I even expected. We went on the tops of buildings, in streets that I had not ever walked, and in corners of the city that I didn’t even know existed. We got to see varying attitudes of photography in Rwanda – why people get so nervous with cameras around – and how Yakubu himself, a freelancer, negotiates with community members to ensure them that he is telling a story – not doing anything else. I asked him how he found “just the right photo” and he emphasized that especially with people, it’s about them. You may be clicking the button, but it’s art when an image tells a story of who someone is without saying anything at all.

I loved that he said that, and I loved that I had the chance to receive advice, angles, and tips from someone so well versed in the photography world. It excited me even more that he’s Rwandan; growing on the international scene of photography talent; paving a way for future photographers to come from the country too. I got to spend three hours with Yakubu, traveling by foot around town, learning, watching, observing, and clicking away. If you find yourself in Rwanda, check this out. You won’t be disappointed. Especially if you so happen to love telling stories. It’s just another way of sharing with the world what God has made so beautiful – life.

more shops, more development, more buildings. for kigali, it's more.

more shops, more development, more buildings. for kigali, it’s more.

together.

together.

apartments, kigali style.

apartments, kigali style.

because they can.

because they can.

buses. from the top.

buses. from the top.

we all need some water.

we all need some water.

road photography with yakubu and trevor.

road photography with yakubu and trevor.

shoes in the city.

shoes in the city.

all the buses; all the thanks for Jesus.

all the buses; all the thanks for Jesus.

amavuta y'inka - cow butter. hot commodity, y'all.

amavuta y’inka – cow butter. hot commodity, y’all.

boxed in.

boxed in.

selling.

selling.

Nyarugenge Modern Market. Fruit, fruit, and more fruit. Bananas, oranges, tree tomatoes, passion fruit, mangoes, apples...it's as perfect as it sounds.

Nyarugenge Modern Market. Fruit, fruit, and more fruit. Bananas, oranges, tree tomatoes, passion fruit, mangoes, apples…it’s as perfect as it sounds.

watch out for pedestrians.

watch out for pedestrians.

moto life. always.

moto life. always.

city slickers.

city slickers.

all the greens and yellows.

all the greens and yellows.

Nyamirambo overlook. The oldest part of the city.

Nyamirambo overlook. The oldest part of the city.

Nyamirambo, a man and the 12 disciples.

Nyamirambo, a man and the 12 disciples.

three lessons.

Lesson One: You are a small piece of the puzzle (keep humble, my friend).

The afternoon brought me back to an incredibly familiar Kigali road. I don’t know the name exactly, but it’s the one wedged between the blue, yellow, and green AMAHORO (translated directly as ‘peace’) Stadium and the colorful, eclectic, and over packed market of Kimironko. I was on a business mission; bouncing from revenue authority to local authorities’ offices to remain compliant as we forge forward in our organizations’ operations. Mid-afternoon places a glowy sweat on my skin, but I bounce around on the broken pavement any way. Coming from the most recent US Peace Corps Rwanda group’s swearing-in ceremony at the ambassador’s residence, I was energized with inspiration, motivation, and really good food (we’re talking deviled eggs, carrot cake, fresh fruit, and unlimited sparkling water, oh hey). I looked to my left as I moved steadily forward, taking in the pedestrian-driven city full of business men, shopkeepers, street cleaners, drivers, and old women. Just like it always is.

Yet, something different caught my eye. A woman with highlighter yellow shoes, a stick, and a medium-sized black paper bag waved me over. Instead of just smiling and continuing my jaunt by, I obeyed and stepped over the ditch and went to sit alongside her.

I greeted her, shook her hand, and in an old, tired Rwandan voice she mumbled something rather inaudible.

I pressed further, “Ma, ugiye he? Wabaye iki?” (Where are you going? What happened?)

She told me she was going out of town – out of the city proper. Somewhere indecipherable. Old women have always been good friends of mine – especially in Rwanda – but their accents, age, and traditional slang often leave me clueless in the world of cross-cultural translation.

Internally debating, I asked, Lord, what do I do? She asked for 500 RWF (about a dollar – okay, really, it’s less than that when you complete the exchange) and I still pushed to question the amount based on her destination. Typically, on bus, Kigali journeys are around 300 RWF – and yet she reiterated that she was going to visit someone by the name of Eric, someone who did not reside in the city limits. I smacked the faded fig lipstick against my teeth and just knew she was speaking truth. I found my red and green African-fabric’d wallet and couldn’t find enough change. Loose coins from Mexico, the US, and Rwanda didn’t add up enough and so I glanced only at the two remaining options at my disposal – the 2000 RWF or 5000 RWF bills I had tucked away. The 5000 RWF bill was for any extra food purchases I might need to get at the grocery store. The 2000 RWF was for my impending cup of coffee. Should I do it?

Of course I should, of freaking course.  She needed this far far more than I ever would. And so, I handed her the purple bill of 2000 RWF into her shaking hands. I think she was surprised by the amount, but I can’t be sure. I told her that Jesus loved her and she proceeded to wish blessings upon my future. I simply nodded and got up to leave. I didn’t want to make a scene; I didn’t want her to feel like she had anything to owe for me. It was simply an act of obedience that I know I was guided to follow.

I felt far more humbled in those few steps away from her than I have felt in a long time. Over the last couple of days I have talked to numerous people about the hardness of life, about dis-empowered situations that people find themselves in, and of the incredible need that exists in our world. I only walked for about 5 seconds before spinning back around, eager to get the woman’s name. I had forgotten to ask; and I certainly wanted to pray for her and for the journey she had ahead. I took just a couple steps back on that very road and poked my head behind the sign she had been hiding behind.

No one.

Nothing. No sign of anything in sight. There’s absolutely no way that she could have moved that quickly. The woman could barely walk and the bus stop was nearly 100 feet down the road. I checked back further. Again, no sign of any old woman in sight. I laughed aloud in the streets. Alone, in Rwanda. I laughed. I’m absolutely certain I looked crazy, but in that deep humility I began to felt an even deeper awe and respect. Exactly who was that? What was the moment actually all about it?

I really just can’t be sure. But I do know it was what I needed. A strong spoon of humility and a stark reminder to keep your eyes open. Always. You never can expect what might be coming your way.

*

Lesson Two: You’re Not the Only One Changing.

One of the first weekends I spent back Rwanda-side of the world was actually in Tanzania where we spent a couple of days checking in on a couple of bakery groups and projects that had been trained earlier this spring. Tanzania gave us time on the road – 10 hours each way – and I was excited to have spent that time with my new co-workers, getting in-depth field observation of what we do, and a taste of Tanzania to boot. Our trip was encouraging and full; we got to witness the actual baking process that some of our women are taking part in a couple of times a week, and taste a newly developed product that is being seen in some of our small local markets. It’s an exciting time for our team and for the Women’s Bakery, and so particularly on our drive home, I was basking in loads full of gratitude.

That same basket of gratitude came in handy just a week later.

Awaiting the arrival of Maisara and Zahara at the madness of the bus station, my heart was racing. I hadn’t seen the girls for nearly a year! Last time around, I was here working for a local bank and had visited their home in my village. This time, they were both passing through the city, headed to their last term of school for the year, and so we had a way of intersecting, even for just a few hours, so we could catch up.

Though they were nearly a couple of hours late – because it’s Rwanda – the joy of reunion was inescapable. Giggly and enthusiastic, it was as if distance and time had never really existed. The girls and I had a few hours to share together and we would do so at their uncle’s house. I had expected he lived in the city. Um. No.

We traveled by motorbike about 15 minutes away and then crossed a rickety, oddly spaced bridge across one of the largest rivers in all of Rwanda. As if it would be any different.

We sat together, shared a Fanta, and they told me story on top of story of what had transpired in the prior year. A new home built, increased problems with their father, innovative teacher training for Zahara as she pursues her dream of becoming an educator, and a continual commitment for Maisara in her sports’ leadership roles. I sat back in awe for most of the conversation, again, appropriately humbled.

I wasn’t the only who had changed. These girls had changed too; if not more!

Most proudly of all, they proclaimed that they had both decided to become Christians. Quite intimately, they shared with me how they engaged in that process, how they had started singing songs from a Kinyarwanda hymnal, and spoke with their mother about this change in their lives. Unsurprising to me, their mother supported and felt strongly they should have the choice where they would pray.

In their storytelling and adamant commitment, I could feel lines of joy forming in my face. I knew the kind of freedom they were talking about. I just didn’t know it would be with them that I would have that kind of conversation, and I sure didn’t expect it to be on a rainy Saturday in Kigali, Rwanda.

Change is never just for you. Ever.

We parted ways that day in peace. Somehow, an understanding that near of far, we are united by something far greater than ourselves. They are growing up, maturing, becoming the women they are meant to be, and I feel more than honored that I can bear witness.

*

Lesson Three: Timing is everything.

One of the co-founders of The Women’s Bakery (and an old friend and Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda), Julie, helped me bake a yeast bread one of the first days I arrived back in country. With training, curriculum development, operations management, and business decisions ahead of us, it was also important to get a bearing on why we do what we do. We bake. We sell. We empower.

Obviously, a girl needs to learn how to make a solid loaf of banana bread if I’m going to keep up with these women!

Julie taught me the proper way to knead (significantly harder than it looks!) and the recipe nuances and flexibilities that do exist. One thing that seemed non-negotiable? Time. It must bake just perfectly as to capture the right moisture, texture, and taste.

It was like that in taking this job back in Rwanda, but it was also like that in how our daily life pans out – from the friends we meet, the things we see, and the words that are spoken to us. One thing that consistently draws me back to Rwandan culture, I think, is this unwavering trust in what is (or isn’t) provided is precisely how it’s supposed to be.

On hazy Kanombe roads (a subset of Kigali, just a mile or so from the international airport) a few evenings ago, I was meandering the curvy paths with Lilliose. Lilly, as I lovingly refer to her, was my Kinyarwanda teacher in Peace Corps from yes, four years ago. Now old friends, we share stories of weddings, life changes, moves, and professional moves as if we had experienced them together. The sun was barely present in the black – orange night as she showed me the place she took her civil ceremony vows with her husband. Rwandan weddings traditionally involve three different ceremonies, with the civil being the involvement and recognition by the government and country as officially married. She chuckled as she remembered nervously seeing her husband that day, and how she was so uncertain about what her life would hold.

She divulged her insecurities about how the finances would work, how they would adjust as a family unit, and biggest of all, when her desire to be a mother would be fulfilled. Made to be a mother, it was something she had always wanted. Yet, she was waiting. And had been waiting for a long time.

Lilly remarked, “I just had to ask God, please. Show me how you can make this happen. How can I have a child? And still have to pay rent? How is this possible?”

She indicated she was drawn into an intensive season of waiting. She knew what she wanted, but she knew also that it had to be given in the precise moment. I nodded silently, understanding. There has been much of what I desired in life that couldn’t work. Largely, too, because of timing. We turned towards the gates of the authorities’ office to move closer to the restaurant we would share at least four fantas later into the evening.

She murmured, “But God is good! We have started to build our new home – one that we will own – and will be ready for next month….

And we are expecting….I now have a baby in me for now two months!”

I leaped, shouted, and again, did some weird things in the middle of these darn Rwandan roads. What a beautifully, wonderful way to share the way God has provided in her life. An expanding family, a stable living situation; not because it’s perfect, but because the timing is. She waited, and God came through. That’s faith, if I have ever seen it.

I’m learning that lesson again (and again). You can never learn it enough, I think. Our lives move in these patterns that draw us to places we don’t expect. While along for the ride, just wait. Abide. You never know what element of perfect timing is next.

Because that’s when the bread will rise, the timer will ding, and it will be time to eat. That’s when all will be right and for a small moment, you’ll understand why some things really do fit together.

*

rendered speechless

ME: “Where will you be in 10 years?”

 DATE #1: “Drinking Malibu.”

ME: “Describe America in one word.”

DATE #2: “Cool.”

ME: “Well…have a fun night!”

DATE #7: “Wow! I’m just so happy….Wow…..Okay….Thank you….this has been so fantastic…”

*

Um. Please gain some self-control and do not get the wrong idea here, sir.

These were some gems of dialogue from my latest Kigali adventure: speed dating. Yes, you did in fact read that correctly. When I casually asked a friend of mine his Friday night plans, ‘speed dating’ was not even on the radar for what I expected him to say. I was thinking, okay, he’ll probably get some dinner, go to the club, the Kigali usual. However, when he mentioned something so different, I knew I had to go. I was just too darn curious.

*

I met with him and four other old Peace Corps friends at Chez Robert, a fancy restaurant just across the street from the famed Hotel de Milles Collienes (‘Hotel Rwanda’). Why in the world we showed up on time, I don’t know (we should have known better), and so we sat on comfy couches in a dark corner of the lobby as people slowly filtered in, running on typical Rwandan time.

Eventually, enough people showed – a surprising balance of both men and women – and we could start.

The women were sat at their own table (complete with white tablecloth – ohlala) as the men were given numbers to wear and lined up near the bar. 8:00pm rolled around, they entered the dining room, and our continuous 4-minute dates commenced.

Here’s the trick, y’all: have fun with it. Do not take yourself too seriously. I asked all sorts of questions, basically whatever I could think of that would get the most interesting and thought-provoking responses. With some men, 4 minutes felt laborious, but with most, it didn’t feel like enough. With each date, you used the provided slip of paper to write the date’s name and general notes from your discussion. I filled that space with the funniest things that they said, such as,

“my eyes are actually color blind.”

Yeah. I’m sure they are.

I indicated 2 of the 11 or so men as “persons of interest” and we’ll all soon (supposedly) be getting emailed if there was mutual interest from the person (or people) you wanted to continue to speak with.

I left the table and evening with few words. I couldn’t really believe what had just transpired; not only did I do that but it was in Kigali, Rwanda of all places. And heck, I had fun. What a pleasant surprise.

*

Divine once taught me a word in Kinyarwanda that encompasses the “I have no words”/speechless sort of emotion. Birarenze. I like that word. And that feeling not only came up after this strangely wonderful Friday night but flourished the following day, Saturday evening.

Not only did I successfully spend the afternoon in my pajamas (always the sign of a relaxing and lazy Saturday morning, erm, afternoon) but I was able to easily skype mom, Jordana, and Markey for over an hour each. What?!? I can do one more – Jamie, my country-lovin’ Oklahoma-rooted roommate and friend, told me about a FREE country concert happening in town. Of course, we HAD to go. It was beautiful, lovely, under the stars, and I could hardly handle myself.

Live.music.

LIVE COUNTRY MUSIC.

Too good to be true?

No. Far better than I imagined!

The concert featured the Hummons, with a bit of an African twist. The writers of “God Bless the Broken Road” and “Cowboy Take Me Away” sang alongside a Rwandan drummer, Ivan, for a cool, hip, and fun sound. Covers like “Free Falling” were sang and even though I’m notorious for NEVER remembering lyrics, they came easy. The only thing missing was my cowboy boots.

Jamie and I cheered, clapped, sang, and received a glance or two from audience members. The event was held at a German Institute and so there wasn’t a plethora of Americans; yep. We were the American weirdos. Always.

These are the kinds of events and things needed in a city like Kigali. Things that are just DIFFERENT.

We drove home and I, along with Jamie, could barely articulate how cool the experience was. The writers has put on the concert in the first place because they happened to be visiting Rwanda and exploring opening a market for a hand-maded oil product associated with Thistle Farms, a residential program and social enterprise based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Check it out; the wife of the lead singer has started, maintained, and promoted an amazing cause for women who have been through the unimaginable: prostitution, sex trafficking, and addiction.

*

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, Jamie and I also moved homes. In less than 3 hours. I had never – in all my life – seen a move go so smoothly. Rwanda keeps surprising me. We moved to a new home, about 15 minutes away, to down-size just a bit and save some money on rent. It’s a cute, red-bricked home with a lovely front patio that I have spent most of our first days here on. July looks to be a great month ahead; if this is how June closes out I can’t wait to see what’s up ahead.

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