Hiking

We have a thing in our marriage. It’s kind of recurring problem, called Hiking. We do it on every vacation, and I’m not sure why. I always think I’m going to love it. It sounds so good in theory. And I’m often proud of myself when I’m finished. But overall, I don’t think I actually like it. I spend a good 80% of the time complaining so I’m not sure why BB keeps inviting me.

Although, to be quite honest, I spend a good 80% of my normal life complaining as well so at least on a hike he gets exercise and a nice view.

See, I’m a bit of a Debbie Downer. I’m not just a glass half-empty person. I’m a glass half-empty of spoiled milk person. When my youngest sister was born, we have video footage of when I first met her in the hospital. My eight-year old response to meeting this little precious thing, said with a huff of reality: “Now we have to go through chicken pox again.” I want everyone to be clear that there are bad parts of everything. Don’t get too swept away in the moment people!

I just find it’s important to keep our expectations low. So while I’m hiking, I can’t think of the present moment of beauty. I can only think about how long it’s going to take, bug bites, my need to pee, the temperature, how if I can’t do this simple hike, then I will never amount to anything in life…you know, the normal thought process of a human.

So this vacation’s hike in Nyungwe Forest was no different. Except that when we got to the valley, there were hundreds of monkeys! Almost made it worth the pain.

We started the vacation with a trip to the beach with some friends. Freddy loves swimming/eating sand.

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Then we drove to the rainforest. The lodge was set among the gorgeous tea plantations.

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On the hike, we saw chimpanzee nests.

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And monkeys!

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It was beautiful. But not painless!

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Pining

The good news is that I am now successfully streaming American TV in Rwanda. So long books! *For those of you concerned about the legality of such an endeavor. I’ve made a determination that it’s my constitutional right as an American citizen to watch America TV anywhere in the world. End of story.*

It’s apparently some sort of twisted compliment to tell people that they look fat here. Yesterday, one of my Rwandan friends said I looked like I gained “about 2 kilos.” For the record, I did not. But even if I had, I tried to explain to him that as an American woman, that’s the meanest thing you could possibly say. While I appreciate the fact that skinny woman are not as desirable here, my American brain can’t be ok with looking fat. Alas.

It’s impossible for me to grasp that it’s freezing cold in Chicago and that Christmas is a week away. I feel completely cut off from the holiday. There are a few decorations around town, and we have stockings hung. I listen to Christmas music. There’s a bit of a time warp here with the lack of seasons and weather change (to my vantage).

BB is returning from Tanzania this afternoon. Freddy and I made it through our first time without him here in Rwanda. We did pretty well until yesterday. After two trips to two different bank branches to be told the network was down, another power outage, no water, an inability to light these terrible wax matches, Freddy getting into absolutely everything, and finally, a cockroach crawling up my leg, I was a bit cranky (read: crying and yelling at no one). Luckily, my fits don’t seem to bother Freddy. He was laughing at my while I was crying. Like father, like son.

Am I a terrible mother since I don’t have a single Christmas gift for Freddy? I mean, it was one thing to skip Halloween, but shouldn’t I have something for his first Christmas? Maybe I’ll just wrap one of his toys and books so we can get a photo.

In other news, I’ve run into some issues with my work permit, thus promoting me to the status of stay at home mom with full-time help. It’s nice in many ways, but it is a bit boring. I’m over the initial frustration with realizing that I sold all our stuff and moved halfway around the world for no apparent reason (at the moment). Trusting in the Lord, waiting on Him…again. I keep wanting my life to be clear, but I think the only clear thing is that this is life, and it’s unclear.

I’m very thankful for my life. It’s so extremely obvious living here how privileged I am (and always have been). I’ve never wanted food, shelter, health care, a loving home. I already *knew* that, but I am continually reminded in this setting.

I am also a lot more sympathetic to people who don’t really want to know about the great need and suffering in the world. I have historically been quite judgmental (still am, unfortunately) and wanted people to really see and understand the needs of the world. (As if I had it all figured out!)

Now I see that it’s not about seeing the needs of the world, necessarily. It’s really about seeing the answer to the needs of the world. As a Christian, I have a paradigm to see the world – it’s broken and in need of a savior, one who will come to fully redeem the earth. It’s not a perfectly understandable picture, but it is a picture. But without that, how could one possibly begin to understand this level of evil and suffering? What other choice does a person have but to just¬†live the best life he can and try to insulate himself from this reality? If you don’t have an answer for the suffering, then you are just making yourself miserable for no reason.

This time of year, we groan for the Savior. We remember the Israelites who were waiting for a King – a King who came and will come again. We see that the needs of the earth are so incredibly great, and we call the Lord to come again. “Long lay the world. In sin and error pining. Till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” My prayer for you this Christmas is that your soul knows its worth – knows that the Savior has come and will come again to make you whole.

Wilderness

BB’s will be here in a few hours, and we just can’t wait. We are in desperate need of some vacation. In the cultural adjustment literature, we are in the “crisis” stage. It means that everything about our lives here in Rwanda feels frustrating, and we miss the conveniences of home. Think of it as being in a constant state of PMS, and everyone around you is your husband. That’s what it’s like.

But then I sit here and feel a cool breeze coming in the front door, and I look out over the most gorgeous mountain range I’ve ever seen in person. I walk into the living room, and my son is playing on the floor with two devoted women who are folding our laundry. I spend the morning worshipping with Rwandans, and the afternoon studying the Word with them.

There are always the thorns and thistles amongst the roses in this cursed world. Beauty from ashes. It’s never enough. Today I studied a passage in Exodus where God tells Moses that he has to ask Pharaoh to free his people so that they may “serve him in the wilderness.” Some translations say “worship him in the desert.” I always think of God freeing the people to take them to the promised land. But first, the wilderness.

I am in the wilderness. I will be in the wilderness until I die or the Lord takes me home. When will I stop thinking that I’m in the promised land? I strive after the wind, but the Lord tells me to be still and serve him here, where it’s hard and ugly and messy.

God is the same today as he was when he called them out of slavery into the wilderness. He provided for there every need in the desert and watched them by day and night. He did bring them to the land of milk and honey, and I need not doubt that the same will be for me.

 

 

 

At least it’s cold

My friend Nisky (remember him from when BB & I met!) used to tell this story about a friend who got hurt skiing, and then said “at least it’s cold.” It goes something like that, and the “at least it’s _____” phrase is one used a lot in our house when everything is going wrong.

I’m having some of those days lately. The honeymoon period has officially come to an end. Those cute cultural things that used to be incredibly charming are now incredibly annoying and frustrating. Nothing earth-shattering over here. Just coming to terms with the fact that this is life, and sometimes life things are annoying. Add to that the fact that everything (like everything, including, but not limited to, things such as: grocery shopping, cooking dinner, drinking water, buying pens, washing diapers, taking showers, finding conditioner in the store, getting gas for the car, communicating with anyone, making copies, getting directions, sleeping) in Rwanda is challenging and different, and you’ve got one frustrated mama.

Last night I dreamt that I was in a packed elevator at the Daley Center (the courthouse in Chicago). For those of you who’ve never experienced that joy, just imagine being smashed up against a large man that smells like coffee and last night’s whiskey. I think maybe the dream was reminding me that life could be worse.

Of course, the book of Philippians tells me that I should not complain.

But really, that was written to people in Philipi. Who’s to say it even applies to me?

Ok. It does. Sorry.

Life here is just fine. Fred got his yellow fever vaccine today and is in perfect health. BB’s work is going well. There’s a particular client who I’ve taken an interest in, and her trial went really well on Tuesday. It’s looking likely that the perpetrator will be convicted so that’s fabulous news. Tomorrow night is date night. Last night I ate delicious sushi with some fabulous ladies.

But I’m annoyed! I just want to turn on the faucet and get hot water to wash my hands. Is that too much to ask? What is wrong with the world such that we can’t get hot water here!?!?

At least there’s a termite infestation in our bedroom.

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Kigali Half Marathon

Someone (a Rwandan woman) recently told me that I was the most beautiful American she’d ever seen. She said she didn’t believe Americans could be beautiful until she met me. I tell you this not to brag, but to provide context for the day I tell you that I’m never leaving this country.

BB ran the half-marathon on Sunday. Freddy and I had fun watching him. It was a really tough run (according to BB, which is saying a lot as he’s a bit of a masochist when it comes to running). It was hot, sunny, no water (he purchased some along the route), and extremely hilly. He finished only slightly slower than his best times in Chicago so it was a great accomplishment.

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More than that, we enjoyed the cultural experience. The race was actually really well-run, and it was fun to see all the Rwandans running. Freddy and I watched him come by our neighborhood near the start of the race.

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Then we went to hang out at the finish. When I got to the stadium the security guard thought I was asking to run the race instead of just watch. He was skeptical that I could run 13 miles with a baby on my back.

We watched them setting up and enjoyed listening to strangely dubbed American rap music (i.e. leaving in some explicit swear words and dubbing out words like “lick”).

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Here’s a photo of the winner being interviewed. Rwandans have a different idea of personal space than I do.

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I got distracted at the end so I didn’t get a good photo of the finish, but here’s BB leaving his running mate just a few yards from the finish.

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Way to go BB! A good memory for all of us.

10 years

We celebrated our ten-year anniversary this past weekend. I would say we blew last year’s celebration of breakfast at Starbucks out of the water this year. We spent the weekend in northern Rwanda – at the foot of the Volcanoes National Parc – the most beautiful place I have ever been. And we spent it with two of our closest friends who came all the way from Chicago to see us (and some baby gorillas may have sweetened the deal).

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We did not have a chance to exchange gifts or write cards this year. Life is just too busy sometimes. While P&L were stalking baby gorillas, we drove up to a fancy lodge and went for a hike. of course, a hike in Rwanda is never a solitary affair.

We hiked to the top of a peak and shared a snack. We gave apples to two of our “guides” – they had never had apples before!

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We met lots of lovely folks with whom we exchanged email addresses. Fabian has been emailing me all week – he’s preparing for his school examinations this week.

Tejean showed us him home and his cow.

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John, an orphan, showed us the teeny tiny light he uses to study by. I couldn’t even take a picture because it was pitch black in the home with just the tiniest little light. One of the most humbling moments of my life.

We finished back at the lodge and enjoyed some tea and cookies.

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It was not the most romantic of adventures, but it was memorable, and very much “us.” Ten years is a long time. We were babies, and we didn’t know what we were doing. We were in love, but we didn’t know anything about love. We didn’t yet know the trials that would come our way. We bounded forward with idealism and plans. I think that’s the way to do it. I don’t think anyone would ever get married if they really knew how challenging it would be, but then they would miss out on one of life’s best joys.

To know and be known by my husband is pure delight. To be confident in his love and trust at all hours of the day and night. He makes me feel safe and loved. He allows me to flail and flounder without (too much) criticism. He greets me with a smile even when I haven’t been so nice.

I’ve never met anyone who cares as much as BB does. He cares about everything, and it sometimes drives me crazy. He makes me madder than anyone, and sometimes he drives me to eat a lot of chocolate. He challenges me to learn how to really forgive.

These ten years have flown by and yet I feel like we are still just kids trying to figure out how to do life. I love my sweet, humble, aggravating, patient, loving, not funny BB.

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Target

Not the store. Although part of me is salivating at the thought of grabbing a cart and spending $300 on a whole bunch of shampoo and paper towels and then grabbing a Starbucks on the way out. Mmmmmm. Stop it!

In other less convenient shopping tales, there’s a few big markets here in town where you can buy almost anything – produce, cooking oils, rice, flour, sardines, a leg of goat, you know, normal stuff. The biggest one in town is called Kimironko, and it’s just what you would think of in an African market except for some reason there’s very little price fluctuation. This is one thing I have not understood here in Rwandan. A loaf of bread always costs 1200 francs. Always. A gallon of gas – 1000 francs. In the market, the sellers are working right next to each other, but it’s almost impossible to get them to bid against each other to find a lower price. The American capitalist in me cannot grasp this.

I digress. So when I get to the market, I am immediately swarmed by men who want me to hire them to take me around the market and carry my purchases. They see me coming, and the herd starts. It’s kind of frustrating because I like to just wander around and check things out, but it’s hard to do when you have a pack of men pushing you around and yelling things about tomatoes. So now my Kinyarwanda has advanced to knowing the words for hello, thank you and “I don’t need any help.”

A few weeks ago, I went to buy fabric and have a skirt made by Josephine, a well-known tailor at the market. Her friend, Patrick works with her and speaks good English. Patrick helped me that day get the skirt and also took me to get my vegetables. I’ve been back to the market twice since then and each time, within five minutes of entering, Patrick has found me. I don’t call him. He doesn’t know that I’m coming. I don’t ask anyone where he is, and I enter at different places. And yet, I turn around, and he is there holding a bag for me.

It’s hard for you to comprehend, but it’s a huge place! Here’s a photo from the first time we went.

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It’s just so weird to be a mini-celebrity. I don’t say this as boasting. (Although I did always want to be famous. Still kind of do.) It happens all the time here. We were shopping for fabric downtown with friends a few weeks ago, and we went our separate ways for a bit. When they were returning up the road, they knew exactly where to find us because the Rwandans were telling them where the muzungu (white) lady with the baby was.

 

There are times that I don’t mind living behind the walls of our property because everywhere else, I am on display. I have a new understanding of why often times ex-pats spend a lot of time together. I used to judge that – thinking why would anyone move to a foreign country to hang out with other Americans. But it’s truly necessary sometimes to be in a room where you aren’t being watched.

Tomorrow we are going to our first Rwandan church service. I fully plan on being scrutinized, which is why I’m going to wear my new African skirt. Freddy will be passed around and squeezed and poked. He won’t remember any of this, but we’ll be sure to tell him that he was once one of the most famous babies in Rwandan.