Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gaiser or Geyser? Yes!

We're writing you from Jackson Hole, Wyoming! It's been a few days and we have quite a bit to share with you, starting with Wednesday's long trip through South Dakota and Wyoming.

Wednesday morning we woke up alive but looking as if we'd acquired the chicken pox. The night before we'd pulled into our campground in Kennebec, SD and were welcomed by mosquitoes and deer flies. Not to mention one of my tent poles was broken. Needless to say setting up the tent was a feet, but we survived!

Wednesday was packed! First, the Badlands, then Mt. Rushmore, then Devils Tower, and finally historic Sheridan. Oh, but not to leave out Wall Drug - a random tourist trap store along the highway that started sensational billboard advertisements 300 miles before the exit. That night we stayed at a comfy KOA Kabin and met our neighboring campers, Bruce and Dee Laporte from Watertown, NY! They were wonderful company and invited us to join them for elk sausage with grilled peppers and homemade cucumber salad. A first for both us and hopefully not the last.

Thursday! Kyle's Dodge Stratus made it up and over the Bighorn mountain range, which was a relief! Then onward to Yellowstone, where we spent the day watching old faithful, and many other bubbling beauties named after Kyle's family. The other impressive sites were the Great Geyser, Cascade canyon falls, and tons of bison that didn't seem to care about breaking traffic laws. The night was bone chilling cold and we heard coyotes in the night, but thankfully no bears.

Friday we journeyed to the Grand Tetons, a breathtaking experience that surpassed both of our expectations. We took pictures of old Mormon settlements and then went separate ways to spend the evening writing, praying and listening to music on Jenny Lake with the sun setting beyond the
Tetons. We happened upon a nice couple that was retracing the route Louis and Clark took on their journey west - a 10,000 mile, 3 month journey by boat that began in Pittsburgh and will end in Oregon. Friday evening we checked out downtown Jackson square where we discovered two fantastic micro-brews: Moose Drool and Snake River.

And that brings us to today! The highlight today was by far an 8.6 mile hike called Cascade Canyon. It was by far one of the best trails that we've ever hiked, with stunning views of the Teton divide, a meandering river, a bull moose, wildflowers, boulders, and wooded forests.

Tomorrow morning is our last day in the Tetons. In the afternoon we head to Salt Lake City where we get to stay in a real bed in a real hotel room!!! Until then, watch out for those bison and practice drawing your bear spray from your holster.

Friday, August 19, 2011

It was the dry season and everything was covered in dust - the seat I was sitting in, the bus window I was looking out of, the air outside. And there, on the dirt covered ground of a Malawian bus station stood a mother with her two children. All their belongings were wrapped in a single bed sheet. What voyage lay ahead of them, what dangers, what uncertainties? What circumstances drove this family to pack up and move?

Sometimes journeys are planned and expected, sometimes they are simply necessary, and sometimes they are forced upon us. As I pack for California, for grad school, I think of this unknown family making their way to a new destination. My souvenirs from Rwanda take up just as much space as all their belongings.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Photo Albums and Movie about Rwanda

Hi everyone!

I've posted links to my Rwanda photo albums as well as a video that I made to say "Thank You" to all those who financially supported my school and church in Rwanda.

The video here:

The first half of the video is about my school and the second half is about my church, and all that your support provided for both of them.

Thank you!!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sell Everything

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
- Mark 10:21

Difficult words.

This morning's sermon was based on this passage, and it reminded me of an old bucket list I had started in high school and happened upon the other day when cleaning my room. On that list, scribbled with my messy high school penmanship, was written, "live poor." Depending on whose standards you use, you could say I accomplished this when I was living in Rwanda: lacking clean water, electricity, food variety, and common accessories or luxuries. In fact, many people naturally compliment and even admire my work or any other volunteer's work based upon this reason alone. "It must have been difficult."

Today the two most provoking words in this verse, sell everything, took on a different spin for me. I did not sell everything. I sacrificed time, energy, even money for the poor, but the whole time that I was "living poor" I had another home awaiting my return, a room with a bed, a closet full of clothes, belongings gathering dust, a budget for travel and another for resettling back in America. In my attempts to live like the locals and understand life from their perspective, I soon realized that I would only be able to view from a distance. Even if they were my neighbors, even if I lived life with them day in and day out, I could never fully grasp what it was like not to have the money to pay for a bus fare or watch your kids go hungry, the fear of not having anything to fall back on, the emptiness of losing your family to war and genocide, the lack of opportunity to go to school or use your degree after you've earned it.

I wonder if this is why Jesus says to sell everything: not just because a rich man cannot serve two masters, but because he knows that as long as we have another option to fall back on, we aren't fully trusting him.
And as long as we aren't fully trusting him, we will never be able to fully understand and experience life. Perhaps this is Jesus' definition of "faith." Faith is not so much about belief, but more to do with trusting Him because we choose to abandon all other options in pursuit of Christ. Just as I could sell everything in order to truly understand what it means to "live poor", Christ calls us to abandon all other options to living our life and follow him in order to truly understand what it means to "live rich."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


As I recall, one of my first surprises when returning stateside was lint. Yep, those little fuzzy balls that get stuck in your belly button or the stringy remnant of socks that stick between your toes, lint was one of the first wake up calls that I was indeed back in America, the land of washing machines and tumble dryers.

As I have come to realize, my experience with lint is a fitting analogy for what people usually define as "reverse culture shock." It's the little things that you don't expect, and it isn't about the American culture itself as it is about the effects of our culture on our lifestyle. So, coming back to America isn't so much about culture shock to me as it is about lifestyle readjustment.

For example, hot showers, driving a car, using a washing machine, the attitudes of people, the way Americans think and interact with each other - these are aspects of our culture to which I adjusted rather quickly and soon accepted as normal because it is what I've grown up with. However, while taking a shower every morning feels completely normal, I am surprised and even appalled by how much perfectly clean water I use - and waste. As a conservative estimate, the amount of water I used to shower this morning (assuming 6 liters per minute for a very low flow showerhead) was about the equivalent of five day's worth of water for bathing, drinking, washing dishes, and cooking in Rwanda. Factor in the water pouring from our faucets, flushing our toilets, and flowing in our dish washers and washing machines and you'll have an idea of how big of an adjustment this is to me.

Another readjustment is how having a car at my disposal increases how sedentary I am. The most I need to walk anymore is from the house to the car and from the car to the store. Before, I was used to walking everywhere, even kilometers, to run an errand. It seems so crystal clear to me why Americans are overweight, why we are prone to more diseases, why we make exercise a sport. I'm recalling Back to the Future III right now, where Doc , in 1885, is laughed at for saying that people in the future "run for fun." At first I enjoyed the freedom of having a car again, but now I'm starting to feel the urge to walk or bike places. I just can't stand taking a car everywhere.

As the honeymoon phase of being back in America settles, I'm starting to see these differences and wrestle with the changes in lifestyle. I'll try to post more "lint" ideas as they come, and I would like to hear what you think of the differences and how we should respond to these differences, if at all.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Closer to the Kingdom

Before I left for Rwanda, almost 15 months ago, I remember talking with a close friend, John Varga, about cultures and Christianity. He offered a thoughtful question to think about when traveling: "How is this culture closer to the kingdom of God?" I've dwelled a lot on this question, I took it with me to Rwanda, and throughout the year I wrote down a list of how Rwandans are closer to the vision that God has for a transformed Christian life, society, and church. On the other hand, I also jotted down how I think they could improve, usually on the days that I came home frustrated or tired of being "culturally sensitive." Of course, it goes without saying that these are also generalizations that don't apply to everyone in Rwanda, but they make for good starting points...

***Closer to the Kingdom***
  1. Resourcefulness. Everything is fixed or reused for something else. Hardly anything is thrown away. Rwandans recycle rubber tires to resole shoes. Plastic bags are banned. I could probably fit all of my 14 months worth of trash in 4 garbage bags, and that's from my more "western" lifestyle.
  2. Friendship. Focus on friendship and the healthy/good obligations that come with it. Friendships are not about convenience like they often are in America.
  3. Focus on the present, not the past or future. They live more "in the moment," so they're more flexible and don't get stressed out easily.
  4. Community oriented "Umudugudu" (translates to "Village"). Not only is it fun to say, but it's extremely effective. Each umudugudu is made of about 50 families. It's the smallest unit of societal/governmental structure. They meet every month or so, usually under a tree, and talk about the issues and needs in their community and help each other out. Every few years they vote for new leaders by going to a field and standing behind their candidate of choice. This ties in nicely to Wendell Berry's idea of "community" as opposed to the widening separation of "public" and "private" life in America (see his essay titled, "Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community").
  5. Responsibility. Students say that they have a responsibility to help disabled classmates. That is, they feel an obligation to step up and help, where without their help the disabled person would not be able to attend school. The responsibility was NOT the school's. The only thing the school does is to ensure that a student is available to help: like retrieving water for a girl who's missing a foot and on crutches. There's good and bad to this system, but I admire the hard work and community responsibility rather compared to a complicated school/budget/taxes/bureaucratic program.
  6. Reconciliation oriented: Gacaca courts (village courts where they dealt with genocide crimes that occurred locally and with the intention to restore peace and cooperation). Openness to state wrongdoings or disagreements with others in meetings.
  7. Generous: It wasn't uncommon for a cyclist to offer me a free 6km bike ride home on the back of his bike, and truckers always refused money when I hitchhiked. As I made friends with one particular shop owner, he would always be so glad to see me that he would give me free candy or bottled water.
  8. Energy. Rwanda's focusing on sustainable and renewable energy (geothermal, methane and hydroelectric projects).
  9. Healthier, more natural diet without a lot of (bad) fat, sugar, and salt. As long as they stay clear of the sugar cane, African's teeth are usually spectacular. Same can be said for their eyes. Maybe cuz they don't have TV or light in the nights; the need for glasses is smaller.
***Possible Improvements***
  1. Organization and communication. Do I need to elaborate? Poor organization leads to poor efficiency and lots of delays (lots). Poor communication leads to mistakes and wasted time, energy, and money.
  2. Stereotypes. Their stereotypes of Americans/whites. The word "Umuzungu" translates as "white man" and "rich man." They believe America and Americans hold the key to their success and America is an easy life, with money growing on trees.
  3. Saving money. When people were surprised that I could travel so much yet I owned the cheapest cell phone I told them it's because I would rather save my money and use it for traveling. Many people are used to just getting by, so when they get a surplus of cash, it's easy for them to just spend it on the cell phone with a camera, music player and internet. Of course, the added status symbol is an extra incentive.
  4. Status Lifestyles. Alcohol and food is also a status symbol. Stereotypically, poor men drink water while rich men drink alcohol and are fat. To be rich and important tends to imply a riskier lifestyle.
  5. Waste disposal: no garbage, littering, especially as more packaged products are being introduced. Human waste is all underground, not good for water table and not used for things like biomass to electricity. Also, many Rwandans don't compost their leftovers. We had a compost pile, but we never used it for fertilizer.
  6. Amusement and Water Parks. Hello? Anyone heard of splash lagoon or a lazy river? Yeah, I could've used some of that for hot boring days.
  7. Think! Critical and independent thinking is not always encouraged. Rote memorization and obedience to hierarchy is the norm. Historically, this limits productivity and business entrepreneurship and increases the chance of poor governance and blind acceptance (groundwork for the genocide).
  8. Globalization. According to the book "Ishmael," Rwanda is a Leaver society becoming more and more like the Takers. The director of Environment and Water repeatedly told me over a drink that, "this world is ours!!" Every bit of land is farmed, threatening population, diversity of crops, and deforestation. As the number of tea and coffee farmers increases, they are transitioning from subsistent local crops to a fluctuating global market economy, which also lowers the value of their crops and increases foreign dependence.
  9. Libraries. Few (or no?) public libraries outside of Kigali. Why not open the school libraries to communities?
I don't think the lists are complete and I don't claim that they're completely accurate or even biblical, but that's why I'm posting them here - to wrestle with these ideas and to hear your opinions too! Now that I'm back in America I am reminding myself that the experience is only half over...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sliding Glass Doors

I am in the Mumbai airport, listening to Chopin music over the loudspeakers and envying the people boarding the Kenyan airways flight to Nairobi. Fourteen months ago I was leaving all that was familiar for something new and completely different. And now, here I am doing the same thing. I'm not going "back"- that is, not much will be the same and most everything will be familiar in the most unfamiliar way. I will miss Rwanda. I will miss Africa. I will miss India. I will miss the freedom of roaming the planet and visiting the homes of amazing people in amazingly diverse cultures.

It's strange really, how, when sitting on a cold sterilized steel airport bench, the emotion and essence of places and personalities so quickly fades to deteriorating memories. How is it possible that I am sitting here typing on my iPod, the people around me reading their Kindles and watching movies on laptops, when an hour ago I was sitting on the floor of a slum eating curry, rice and cake in celebration of an Indian boy's first birthday? How can a wave goodbye and sliding glass door turn the world inside out so quickly and so easily?

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Top 10

If you're going to live in Rwanda...

10. Always check if there is toilet paper before going to the bathroom.

9. Don't mention pizza. Don't even think about it.

8. Don't let your candle burn too low or else it will fall through the coke bottle, leaving no base for the next candle.

7. Be prepared to wait 10 minutes to open a single web page (sometimes 20).

6. While it's impossible to be friendly with every Joe Schmo who approaches you wanting to know every detailof your life, keep in mind that the guy you snub walking down the road or sitting next to you on the bus might be someone really important, or might become your best friend.

5. "Malaria pills? Oh, I forgot about those months ago..."

4. You will become addicted to the same food over and over and over. Mainly, chapati and tea every morning and the infamous melange: rice, beans, cooked bananas, and chips covered with vegetable or meat sauce. Oh, how much I will miss it!

3. Go hiking! On a clear day from the highest point in the southeast you can see Tanzania, Burundi, and the volcanoes on the other side of the country.

2. Chew Rice cautiously to avoid the rocks.

1. Every morning is like going white water rafting! A little imagination goes a long way in making cold bucket showers enjoyable.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rainy Day

12 January

Rainy Day

It's 6am and raining cows and chickens,
Sending everyone at the market scattering like the dickens.
My morning run will surely face delay,
And laundry will have to wait for another day.
No cell phones and no transport when it's not sunny,
And teaching is moot amidst a tin roof cacophony.
It's raining outside and not much else to be said,
So I think I'll just crawl back into bed.