Opportunity

First, some adorable kid photos. Fred is now “two and a half” as he is prone to tell anyone who asks. He talks extremely well, nonstop. I don’t know how he understands as much as he does, but I do know that it’s going to come back and bite me soon. DSC01230DSC01244

Paul is five months old, fat and happy. He’s rolling now, and his favorite thing to do is to watch Fred do anything. Fred is happy to oblige.

We just returned to officially begin our third year in Rwanda after a nice 4 week vacation in the States with our families. It was everything a vacation in America should be with the extra bonus of Maine lobster.

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I’ve been back in Rwanda a week and while much of it has been either positive or neutral, I can’t help but be overcome by the negative. It’s just plain hard here. (It’s hard everywhere, but I’m particularly focused on the hardness of cross-cultural life). Jet lag is torture, especially with kids. It’s exhausting to get back into the routine of managing a house full of staff. While we are so very blessed to have awesome people working with and for us, it’s hard to be a boss – especially cross-culturally and with language issues. There are endless questions and mistakes. I find the challenge of directing particularly hard with all of my White American privileged guilt about the whole thing. Some days I just want to curl up.

And then I lose my temper. A lot. I lose it with BB, with Fred, with the staff, with other drivers. Today was one of those days where I have had multiple beautiful opportunities to ask for forgiveness. I will not get it all right. I will not cease to make mistakes (even big ones). I am warring with my flesh, but I will be grateful for the times that the Spirit leads me to repentance. I am convicted today that my mistakes might not be permanently scarring (all the time), but that my repentance might lead to permanent healing.

Onward we go into year 3.

 

Cars in Rwanda

Last year we didn’t have a car. Cars are very expensive here, and there aren’t exactly car loans. A combination of too many Starbucks, law school and friends who won’t stop running races for clean water, means we don’t have an extra $10K sitting around to buy a beat up 1995 automatic Toyota Corolla. Last year we stretched ourselves with relying on public transportation, friends and taxis. It was freeing in some ways but also quite burdensome.

This year, we decided we needed a car to use more often so we’ve been renting one from a friend here. It’s been wonderful and, dare I say, life-changing. The freedom to move about without relying on others has lifted my spirits.

Of course, with cars come car trouble. To some, car trouble feels stressful and overwhelming, but I actually kind of enjoy car trouble in Rwanda. Rwanda is the very best place to have car trouble – everyone is an amateur mechanic, and everyone is eager to make a few bucks to help you out. It’s one of my favorite cultural experiences.

Today was no different. I drove BB to work, and he noticed the steering wheel shaking a bit. He mentioned that we should check the air pressure in the tires, and I promptly ignored him because I’m an egalitarian feminist in every way except that men are 100% in charge of car issues, killing insects and rodents, and taking out the trash. In all those areas, I submit.

Of course, an hour later, I could tell that my tire was flat. I was almost downtown so I pressed to a quieter street to pull over. The crowds coming by to tell me “sorry sorry,” and “you have a problem,” notwithstanding, I had quick help. Our guard (houseworker who watches the property, does yard work and opens the gate) came to rescue me after about 30 minutes. Once he arrived, and I was out of my car, we had a crowd of moto drivers and passers-by excited to help (and make a few bucks in doing so).

They all spoke for a while about the best course of action (repair or replace), and within a few minutes, they had a plan of action. My new friend John took off on a moto to investigate the cost of a new (used) tire. Another guy whose name I didn’t catch, was off on another moto to get the tools needed. The whole operation took about an hour, and I was on my way.

My one regret is that I don’t have many photos. My phone battery was dying, and I made the prudent choice to save battery in case I needed to call BB instead of videotaping the whole experience for social media.

 

Life

I went back to work (temporarily) so that’s my excuse for never publishing anything – that and the fact that my internet is so bad that I haven’t been able to log into the site for over a week. Nothing too exciting to share here but a few glimpses into life in Rwanda.

We live in Rwanda. Like, we seriously live here. And I hope that someday we have something to show for it other than sun damage to my skin.

But really, that’s part of why we are here, right? We want this to change us. It’s not that something was wrong before, but something was missing.

A friend once said that if we don’t set spiritual goals for our lives (like financial, physical, career goals), then we wake up each year the same.  As a Christian, I believe we are on an eternal journey toward holiness – becoming more Christ-like. It’s not attainable in this life of course, but it’s where God seems to be calling us.

So Rwanda is a piece of that, for us. Every part of our lives should be a piece of that.

I’ve been humbled in awe at some of the memories we are creating as of late. Last Friday night, we had about 25 kids and a teacher in our driveway teaching a Bible class. Freddy crawled in the middle, poking their faces, saying “hi,” clapping along with the songs.

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Now that I am back at work, Freddy spends his days with our three Rwandan staff members – Phoebe (“BeeBee”), Mugenzi  (“Mu”) and Adrian (“Abada”). I watched him running in the yard with them laughing and cheering him on.  He dances when they arrive and yells “bye bye” from the window when they leave.

BB spends his days learning how to become a manager and then how to be a manager in Rwanda. I’m not sure how he will ever be able to capture his education from this time period into a resume (not that he would ever consider actually working for someone!), but the lessons he is learning are priceless. And his employees are being challenged and encouraged in ways that I am positive couldn’t have happened without him taking a chance on them.

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And me. Well, today I’m a high school English teacher preparing to give a test on Beowulf. This most certainly could not have happened anywhere else in the world.

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God continues to confound and amaze us. We’ve struggled a bit financially with starting the business. In America, it would not have been different, but feeling so separated from all that is familiar makes normal struggles seem scarier. And yet at every turn, God has provided for us (and so so much more!). He provides not in just the financial way, but he provides friends who listen, family who encourages, and neighbors who have us over for dinner when we are tired.

This experience has both shaken and deepened my faith in Jesus as Lord. My faith is being refined. I’m learning to discern the true Jesus from the false, the fundamentals from the false fundamentals. I’m letting old beliefs about the world fall away and fade into gray.

At the same time, I’ve never been more convinced that God is real and that he loves me. I think being far away from most of the people who love me makes me crave his love more.  I see his person in the beauty of his creation and his people. I see the way he provides for the broken-hearted and the broken in body and spirit by sending his people out as missionaries.

So we are accumulating things in our backpack that we will take with us on the next journey, wherever that might be.

We are here in Rwanda until January. Lord willing, we will return to Chicago for a mild winter and be adding one more little joy to our family sometime in late February or early March. Our plan is to return as a family of four in May.  Whether these are God’s plans, I cannot say. But we will keep walking through the open doors and are happy to share the journey with all of you.

Our house

Welcome to our house. This year we moved a few street down into a new (to us) house. The set up is largely the same, with a few exciting additions.

Front of the house

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View from the porch

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Living Room/Play Room/Dining Room

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A much bigger kitchen! Rat free!

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Fred’s room that he has not slept in once.

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Our room.

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The Office. It was supposed to be BB’s, but I have already taken it over.

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But the main attraction is the urban farm.

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ChickensP1050436

BunniesP1050438 P1050440

DucksP1050437Mama Lucille and Baby BusterP1050439

Cats and Dogs living together. P1050434

Come visit us! You won’t be disappointed, and we won’t make you clean up any animal poop.

A day in the life

Thanks to all of you who wrote such nice comments, sent emails, FB messages, and texts after yesterday’s post. I appreciate all the encouragement! One thing I love about blogging is that every time I post something that feels a little scary, I hear from you all that you feel the same way. It’s comforting to know I’m not (that) crazy.

After our month of vacation, and some upcoming big expenses, our cash flow has slowed down a bit. As a small business owner and consultant, we don’t really have a regular salary. And sometimes it’s a little scary looking out on the coming months and not knowing exactly how much money will be coming in.

Now I love security and comfort. These are my idols. So any disruption to my security and comfort makes me feel a little psychotic. Like when we run out of chocolate, for example. Jesus and I are working on that.

Living in a different culture, especially in the developing world, and dealing with money challenges feels so weird. I’m sitting here counting pennies, stressing out, while people outside my gate live on a razor’s edge of life and death. Our friends are missionaries who live on prayers. All the Christian clichés are busted. “God will provide” falls a bit flat in a land where his people starve to death.

And of course, even in our need, we are rich by local standards. One of our workers asked for a loan this morning (essentially a salary advance), which is normal and expected. It made me bristle a bit since we just returned after paying salary while we were gone (and she didn’t have to work), and we are about to pay her three months maternity leave as well.

As I tried to explain that I couldn’t give her an advance right now, but in a month when she goes on maternity leave, I will pay her for those three months up front, she looked at me quizzically. And rightly so. I’m telling her I don’t have the money right now, and I don’t think that concept is translating cross-culturally. When I say I don’t have the money, it means something different to someone who has experienced the actual reality of not having the money. She saw me pay for groceries this morning and get change in return so she knows I have some money! Caught in a lie, I suppose.

And while my American pride tells me that she should know better than to ask for an advance given the circumstances, I am reminded that we live in two completely different worlds. To her, I have an endless source of money somewhere (which is true in some ways). To me, we are struggling.

What an education! How can two people see a situation so differently and both be right? This is a bit random, and I’m not sure the point. I just find these interactions to be so fascinating as we live this weird life over here.

I owe you photos of the new house and farm. Coming soon. Time to make dinner. No matter what I do, we all still need to eat 3 times a day.

Back in Rwanda

We are back – in a new house, with a new supply of chocolate chips, and a new set of questions and reactions. We have farm animals this year, which is both delightful (fresh eggs! endless Fred entertainment!) and noisy (goats).

Being home was wonderful. We enjoyed lovely conversation with family and friends who encouraged us and prayed for us. We ate so much delicious food and enjoyed all the comforts of home. Freddy loved playgrounds, the zoo, splash pads, the pool, and the beach. So many people took care of us – lending us cars, cooking for us, letting us sleep in their houses. It truly takes a village to live this ex-pat life.

Freddy and I traveled home together alone as BB had to return early for work. We survived. It was not pretty. I don’t think I’ll do that again if I can help it, and that’s all I’ll say about that!

We are back, and life hits hard. The internet has essentially been non-existent. BB’s work has had some unexpected challenges. Fred is having trouble adjusting to the time change and new environment, and I desperately miss cheese (we can’t even get the smelly Gouda cheese right now since it’s dry season, and the cows are all dehydrated). I find myself spending a fair amount of time feeling like the Israelites wandering the desert asking God if there just weren’t enough graves in Egypt for them.

What I am doing here in Rwanda? That’s the million dollar question that everyone asks me. I don’t know. God brought me here, and I’m wondering the same thing.

I wish I could say that I’m fighting for HIV+ mothers or solving the problems of the poor. I wish I could say that I’m baptizing people and leading people to Jesus. And then I’m horribly depressed that I’m not doing that.

I came here to DO something. And yet, not unlike my life in Chicago, I find myself talking a lot. So maybe my new answer is that I’m doing nothing. I’m waiting. I’m praying. I’m listening. I’m caring for my family (sort of). I’m getting out of bed and sometimes showering. I’m reading books and singing songs to Fred. I want to do more, but God is telling me to wait (as far as I can tell).

So I wait. I keep walking. I grumble. I kick the dust and complain. Sometimes I cry and get mad. And then I make dinner and watch Seinfeld and eat cookie dough. That’s what I’m doing in Rwanda.

Finish Strong

We made it. We get on the plane in six days, 10.5 months since we left. We are packing, sorting, shopping for gifts, saying goodbye to those who will be hone when we return in July. We are dreaming of reuniting with family and friends and eating cheese and blueberries.

A few times during the last 10 months, I’ve wondered why we are here. I don’t have an answer other than it’s where God led us. But on Sunday, I experienced what suffices as reason enough for me. I attended my friend’s birth on Sunday night. I saw a sweet baby girl be born. I don’t have words to describe the beauty of seeing a loving husband and wife unite together in the task of bringing new life into the world. I feel honored, privileged, spoiled. To hear a newborn’s first cry is to hear God breathe life into another. To see the baby look at the face on the body she so intimately knows is to see the face of God.

Why was I in Rwanda for this? I don’t know. But I am grateful. I am thankful that I met this family and can call them my friends. I am overjoyed to have been present for this little girl’s entry into the world. I don’t know whether we will walk with these friends for a short or long time, but I know that they have forever left their mark on my heart.

See you on the other side!