Saturday, December 29, 2012

PO Box

A number of you have asked, so here's the address:

Courtney Kelly
c/o ASYV
PO Box 7299
Kigali, Rwanda

Don't mail anything of value or anything you want me to get in less than 4 months and think of even a postcard as an experiment.

Also internet access does not flow quite as freely as I might have told you, it's been hard to find when I'm in Kigali and super slooooooow when I'm in the village so don't worry if you don't hear back from me for a spell.  (Another factor is that I'm pretty much scheduled from 7 AM to 10 PM every day and after that I tend to take an ice cold shower and pass out.)

Things are going well here.  I've joined a new family, (#8!) of 16 incredible girls, a momma (Momma Daphi) and my new Big Sister (Erica).  The first day the kids arrived was incredible. We were so excited and nervous to meet them and they were 1000x more nervous and excited to meet each other and see their new home.  As a part of the festivities, I helped greet bus loads of kids and their guardians and check "luggage".  Some of the kids came to move in with a small brown paper bag, slightly larger than a lunch sack.  It's amazing where they're coming from, and what they'll be exposed to over the next four years.

We've been playing a lot of ice breaker games and I made a G-Rated Rwandan version of my favorite, Mingle, Mingle, Mingle: House (2),  Moto (2), Bananas (3).

Today we ran "Mucakamucka" which is pronounced like "Mu-Cha-Ka Mu-Cha-Ka" which is like a military jog and sound off at 6:00 AM.  Everyone did it, many in flip flops.

Then we harvested beans on the farm.  I've picked beans before. IN A GARDEN.  Maybe 50 individual beans.  We cleared several acres and made 10 giant 'haystacks' if beans.  It was fun to do with the kids and in the beautiful setting, but I was glad after about two hours when we were finished and I don't think I'd do well as a migrant farm worker.  Let's hope it doesn't come to that when I come home.  Mostly this week we are working on orientation for the new kids and I'll start my professional skills development program after New Years.

This will be two New Year's Eves back2back at ASYV.  It was a blast last year so I'm looking forward to doing the Dougie with my girls and rocking out in the dining hall.

Also, we have a new tradition: Akabanga Saturday when Courtney brings Akabanga hot sauce to the dining hall to spice up the rice and beans.  I need to get you a photo of Akabanga, because it comes in basically a visine bottle and the kids seem to love it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Children were Nestled all Snug in their Beds

Greetings from Kigali, Rwanda.  This is the second-ever edition of the holiday letter from the southern hemisphere (although this time, just barely.  I'm about 4 hours bus ride south of the equator.)  As always, I hope this bulk e-mail finds you happy, healthy and well and if you've grown tired of this particular tradition, do please let me know as this newsletter operates on an opt-out policy.

2012 saw my return back to residence in Washington DC, this time in NE.  It was surprisingly good to be back in town.  Special thanks to Sarah, my close friend and college roommate for adding the title landlord and letting me move into a space she had in her row house on Capitol Hill.  DC is a great town for disc and I made a lot of new friends playing women's club for a team called Veto and about seven varieties of league (spring, summer, fall, women's, weekend, weekday, etc.).

This September I travelled with my mom through Fargo, North Dakota to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota for Sarah's wedding.  (Earning her a rare double-mention in the annual holiday letter, typically reserved only for family and Allen Iverson.)  It was great to see the foliage, the beautiful lake and the moving ceremony.  Congratulations Frank & Sarah!

This year's big news is a career change.  For most of the year, I continued to work for Perfect Sense Digital, mostly in Knoxville, Tennessee for and  ("Hey, ya'll!" to my home away from my home away from home in Knoxvegas.)  In October, I resigned to pursue a year -long opportunity with Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, in Rwamagana, Rwanda, about 45 minutes bus ride east of the capital Kigali.  

I had the chance to visit the ASYV ( last year for about 10 days as an English language volunteer and I just fell in love with the place.  The school is for orphan and vulnerable high school-aged kids.  The philosophy of the organization is one of capacity-building and is about healing kids past, enabling them to maximize their full potential and to help them become successful adults.  I was struck with the effort to give the kids avenues to pursue art, technology and culture and amazed by how appreciative and receptive the kids were to work with.

Now I'm back for a year as a Professional Skills coordinator.  I'll be working to help the kids write CVs, practice interviews, learn about potential future careers and help build and deliver curriculum that will help the kids find paying jobs when they leave ASYV.  I'm so excited about doing this work that feels truly meaningful to me.  I arrived here in Rwanda on December 14th and so far am getting adjusted, oriented and trained.  The new class of kids will arrive on December 27 and that will be the real start of the new job.  Wish me luck as the stakes are higher here than anything I've ever done.  If I fail, I'm failing a kid that needs my help.  If you give to charities this time of year, do consider ASYV, as it's about as worthy an organization as you'll find, and I can tell you from experience that the donor dollars go to fund meaningful programs for these kids.

I'm looking forward to a year working in Rwanda.  I'm trying to learn a bit of Kinyarwanda and also planning to travel in Africa on my breaks (April & August).  Do look forward to next year's holiday letter which will no doubt have some adventures to relate.

My family is all doing well.  My mom got settled into Selma, North Carolina this year and now has a new Golden Retriever puppy, Nolan.  We had a lemonade stand again this year for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and it was a lot of fun:
My sister Lynn is still in Raleigh with her husband Robbie and my nieces Kate and Lindy are doing just wonderfully.  Kate is a freshman in high school now, though no one knows how that happened.  Lindy pretty much runs her elementary school.  

I had the chance to see many of my cousins, aunts and uncles over the Thanksgiving holiday in Louisville, KY.  Here is me and my sister Lynn at Churchill Downs on Thanksgiving Day:

Before I headed out I had the chance to go to hiking with a friend in Virginia and also catch an Eagles game.  (I don't want to talk about it.)

Do let me know if you have any plans to be in East Africa or any interest in going Gorilla trekking.  (Rwanda has the best and safest trekking expeditions for this severely endangered species.)   Otherwise, you can always find my updates here at  

Peace to you in the coming year.

But if you try sometime, You just might find, You get what you need

So, getting used to a new place can be frustrating.  I've been to three (3) different Bourbon Coffee's today trying to get Wi-Fi to send my Christmas letter.  Every transaction with a Visa card is a 15 minute suspicion-filled interaction that finds me resorting to prayer (to Vishnu, Rudolph, Yahweh and the almighty Dollar).  The only thing harder to find than a public restroom is toilet paper.  And then sometimes, when you're super mad and super sad you get a little sign.

Here's a view of my walk home to the Kigali house in Kiyovu:

 Noheli Nziza ! (Merry Christmas!)

Inadvertent Intervals in Rwamagana

This dispatch coming to you from an expat bar and restaurant in Kigali called Heaven which serves a Sunday brunch that includes Huevos Rancheros and, yes, Bloody Marys.  It's a bit touristy, but I'm a bit of a tourist, so 'when in Rome'…

I'll try here to sum up the past 10 or so days which have been quite eventful.

We landed in Kigali airport at 1:30 AM or so Friday morning (Dec. 14) a bit tired but excited to finally be in Rwanda.  We breezed through passport control and down to the luggage carousels.  In an atypical stroke of luck, all of us got all of our bags and the doorknobs arrived as well.  

Here's an optimistic Isabel and a jaunty Avi while we are getting our bags:
ASYV had sent two staff members and a van to meet us at the airport and we loaded up all our luggage.  We became fast friends with Bosco & Eddy.

As a special treat, ASYV decided to put us up in a hotel in Kigali for three days for introduction to the city.  Eddy, a staff member that works as a counselor in the village was conscripted into guiding us through the city for three days on what would have been his vacation.  I probably would have pitched a fit and sulked about losing my vacation time, but Eddy was nothing but super helpful, gracious, cheerful and informative as he showed us around town.

A note on the hotel.  It was really nice, and fairly new, but construction in Rwanda is not what we're used to at home.  Some things, maybe even most things, are just a little off. Getting building materials is expensive and difficult.  Because items can be sourced from all over, they often don't integrate well together.  (E.g., a Chinese sink and a faucet from Belgium with different sized fittings.)  Experienced laborers with standardized skills are also difficult to find.  It's common to find sinks that don't fit with the faucets obtained or strange improvised installations.  (The showers at our house in the village are, perhaps due to the pipes available, about 9 feet off the ground and could comfortably suit a giraffe, but douse the entire bathroom with splashes when the water is falling all the way down to me.)

Case in point, our hotel room was off the end of a long hallway.  At the very end of the hallway was a door, with a handle, that led out to nothing but a three story drop.  Who knows?  Maybe the original plans were for there to be a terrace?  Maybe this spot called for a window in the blueprint but a door was cheaper or available?  Maybe there was no plan at all.  See what I mean?

Here's my view out our hotel room of Kigali which is a beautiful and hilly city:

On our first day in Kigali we went to the State House Museum, the former home of President Juvenal Habyarimana.  There you can see the actual wreckage of the April 1994 plane crash that killed President Habyarimana as well as Burundi's president Cyprien Ntaryamira, signaling the start of the organized genocide.  The home was opulent, outfitted with French furnishings and chandeliers and secret passageways and gun closets.  There is a chapel in the top of the house where Pope John Paul II performed a special mass for President Habyarimana in September of 1990.

Later that day we also went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which I had visited on my trip last year.  The images of violence and the scale of the atrocity was no less shocking this time around. 

Somewhere in the communications between the New York branch of ASYV and the Rwandan staff on the ground, the wires were crossed such that we were not only 7 volunteers coming to help at the village but perhaps a set of elite foreign dignitaries because our every need was catered to down to the last detail.  We were taken to several very nice restaurants including a typical Rwandan buffet restaurant (salad, rice, potatoes, cooking bananas, stew with meat, rolls) where we also met the director of the village.  Over the weekend we also went to an American style restaurant that served pizzas and pastas and a newly opened Chipotle style restaurant called Meza Fresh.

Friday night they took us to a club, Papyrus, but we went around 10 PM and we didn't know that Rwandans go out after midnight, so we basically had a private club to ourselves.  Here's Michelle buying a Skol beer in the empty club:

On Saturday we met 4 students from the village who took time out of their holiday vacation as well to come and tell us about their experiences in the village, at school and answer any questions we had.  The kids were impressive, with impeccable English and so much school pride.  They spoke warmly of teachers who treat them like parents and truly want them to learn and all the opportunities at ASYV for clubs and activities.  We went with the kids, led by our guide, to a popular vacation spot, Lake Muhazi.  There we were treated to a traditional lunch buffet outdoors by the lake while we asked the students about their plans and dreams for the future.

Lake Muhazi:

Sunday was a bit more touring of Kigali and also some necessary errands re obtaining Rwandan cell phones and showing us where to buy laundry soap and candles and the like.  We also met Inuma, who is the housekeeper for the Kigali apartment where we are allowed to stay in town on our weekends off (every other one or so, barring an event in the village for which we need to stay).  It really is an amazing perk that ASYV has a place for us to stay in downtown Kigali that is convenient to shopping and just a short walk from restaurants and coffee shops.   

Then, finally, we headed to the village.  It was about an hour van ride through gorgeous countryside.  As I told you before, the village is beautiful.  We had a nice lunch at the village in the dining hall and met the kitchen staff and the head chef, Helam, who greeted us all warmly.

The five American girls will all be staying together in the same bright yellow house with a large sitting room, a kitchen, two bathrooms and three bedrooms.  (It's a very nice house and I'll get you a photo soon.)

I had time for a run around the village before dinner and between the jet lag, the hills and the elevation, I was dogging it, but it felt great to move around a little again.

On Monday we had a very thorough tour of the whole ASYV property.  There is a large functioning farm that supplies more than a third of the village's food needs for 500 kids and another 150 or so staff.  The farm grows cabbage, beans, corn, cucumbers, peppers, bananas (two varieties), pineapples, mangos, coffee, avocados, has cows (for milk) and about 200 chickens for eggs.  There is one tractor which is a gift directly from the First Lady of Rwanda!  Solomon, the farm manager is an amazing guy with a warm smile who invited us to come back down to the farm to purchase spare eggs any time.  Oh yes Solomon, we'll be back!

The living area has 32 houses for the kids and more houses for staff that live in the village (counselors, grade coordinators, maintenance), guest houses for visitors, as well as administration buildings, computer labs, art, music and science centers and a health clinic.

There is a sports area with a basketball court, a volleyball court, and a soccer field.  That is next to a large dining hall that also serves for school assemblies and 'village time'.  Up a steep hill from the dining hall is the Liquidnet Family High School which has classrooms for all of the kids, a library and some more computer labs.  The front of the school is an amazing view:

Up at the top of the hill near the school is a nature park, green houses and bee hives.  The village is filled with beautiful birds and butterflies.  A past volunteer documented 200 (!) different species of birds on the village grounds.  They are everywhere.  Here's a beautiful heron-like bird that was out in front of the house next door to ours one afternoon:

And here's a little gecko on the ceiling. These guys are everywhere in the village:

Tuesday through Friday I had the privilege to attend a staff seminar on village methodology.  Five educator trainers had travelled from Yemin Orde in Israel to facilitate the sessions.  I found the entire occurrence improbable.  My brother-in-law Robbie is a high school principal in North Carolina and I kept imaging what he would say if I put this to him.  "Hey Robbie, over Christmas break we're going to need the entire staff to come in for 4 days, from 8 AM to 5:30 PM.  We need all the teachers, the nurse, the cafeteria workers, social workers, maintenance and facilities, transportation, basically any adult who comes on campus.  We're all going to sit together for 4 days of methodology and make sure we're all on the same page about the language we use with the kids.  No problem, right?"  No chance.

The training is based on the concept that it takes a village to raise a child, and that these children need to be healed and made whole in order to succeed in the future.  We discussed the importance of the kids past experiences and how that has shaped them.  We discussed strategies to reach difficult and traumatized children.  We learned methods to try and rebuild damaged self-esteem and discuss the delicate line between helping kids and spoiling them of their self-sufficiency.  We learned and practiced the DNA (Discussion - Negotiation - Agreement) method used when any child at the village makes a mistake.  There are no punishments in the village, only mistakes and agreements how to correct the mistakes, and these agreements are a consensus between the child, the educator and involved parties.  If that sounds almost impossible to you, you're right, but they just keep talking, and talking and talking and listening and listening and listening until they move to a place where the resolution doesn't embarrass, anger or alienate the child, but actually brings her/him to a closer sense of belonging.  The guys from Yemin Orde swear by it.  I'm looking forward to seeing this used in the village.  

I left the seminar feeling so motivated to work with the kids, so inspired by the potential of the village and so excited to work with all the educators with the same mission to create futures for children and help them maximize their potential.

On Wednesday, the training wrapped up around 5 and dinner wasn't until 7 so I had time for a run.  It was sunny out and about 75 degrees.  Its seemed like a perfect time for a run, but what happened next was that I went on the craziest, plague-filled 10K run of my life.  A couple of last year's volunteers told me they typically ran down the main road in front of the village until they reached a 5K marker and then turned around.  That sounded simple enough.  Little did I know… 

Minnesota might be the land of a thousand lakes, but Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills.  The first complication was that it is a steep incline up the entire first 5K, and back down then whole way home.  Think Tour de France mountain stages.  That's better than the other way around (down then up), but with the severity of the incline and the air at elevation (2000 m above sea level) I was dying from the outset. The homes surrounding the village are mostly poor and cook over open fires of banana leaves and sticks that children collect during the day.  I had unfortunately timed my run for dinner and found myself jogging slowly, wheezing in a smoky haze like being downwind from a campfire, or maybe inside one.  The road I was running on is dirt and gravel and whenever trucks or a moto went by dust and rocks would be kicked up.  So... steep hill, smoky, dusty air.  Add to that a massive gnat population that gets in your smokey, dusty eyeballs.  And then there were the kids.  Every 200 meters or so some kids would see me coming and all start shouting and run out of their yard.  They would run with me, shouting in Kinyarwanda and smiling, some tapping me or pulling gently on my clothes.  I'm talking 6 or 7 5-8 year olds, barefoot, running in a pack on the road, and running quickly.  I would try to outrun the kids so they wouldn't all be strung out across the road and get hit by a truck or a moto, so picture that when the 7 kids swarm around me, I take off sprinting on an interval (a smokey, uphill interval) and I would be just about dying when the last one would give up.  Then I would get 10 or 20 uphill seconds to recover before the next mob of smiling, shouting children would be on me.  It was the hardest run I can remember in ages, but still pretty fun.  If I can find time for that a few times a week I should be able to stay in decent shape.

After the seminar ended on Friday, we came in a staff van to Kigali for a few days.  We went to the Bourbon Coffee downtown for some Wi-Fi and were surprised to be reminded about Christmas coming up by the decorations:

(LtR: Me, Michelle, Jerrod, Tree, Kome, Shira)

For dinner we went to a fantastic Indian restaurant right next to the Kigali apartment for fast, cheap, delicious Indian food and followed that up with a night of bar hopping to several popular night clubs.  Strangely, we found one of the best hip-hop DJs I've ever danced to (since that guy in Krakow I'm always going on about) that was playing a lot of Tupac, Ol'Dirty and Snoop.  I had a blast and it was a great way to wrap up a big week.

The rest of the weekend we've been hanging out in Kigali, buying some essentials for the house and finding touristy places with free Wi-Fi.  A lot of the goods you'll find for sale on the street are imported from China, and Chinese marketing totally cracks me up.  Apparently someone in China thinks men's underclothes should convey both Dignity and Elegance:

Sunday evening was a big treat.  The traditional dance group at Agahozo Shalom was named one of the top 5 in the entire country and the kids from our school had the opportunity to perform at the main Amahoro Stadium in Kigali in front of the Ministers of Education, Culture, Sport and several other honored guests.  I knew from being in the village that the kids in the 16-member troop had been giving up lots of their vacation to come to the village and rehearse their dance program.  The program was an intricate 30 minutes of choreography with many costume changes, props and interwoven routines, with no music other than one student playing traditional drums and 5 students singing for the entire program.  It was an amazing spectacle of concentration and art and I was impressed with how talented the kids are and proud of our school for vulnerable orphans ranking right up there with the best schools in Rwanda.  Here's just a few of the many photos I took of that performance (oh yeah they made the set too!):

This year's annual holiday letter will be out soon, a little behind schedule.  Here's links to all the previous ones if being thorough is your thing:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Another Extended Farewell

The irony is, I guess, that the more time you have to blog the less you have to blog about.  Lately I've been busy from morning to night hence the absence of updates.  I'm well aware that I've been here in Rwanda for nearly a week, and I have heaps and heaps to tell you about that, but this post is going to wrap up a long overdue update about my departure.

Also a note of warning, this year's Christmas letter is going to be late.  Think New Year's Day…

Despite Sandy putting the kibosh on my farewell from Knoxville, I still arranged to have at least three more going away parties.  (I pretty much only go away for the parties.)  I loaded up all of my possessions and put them in a u-haul storage unit in NE DC.  I hope that Deirdre is not too unhappy about her new living quarters.  On my way out of town I had a farewell at the Big Board in DC.  Do go by there for a burger if you are in town.  It was a super fun time and amazing to see so many people come out for someone who had only been in town a few months.  I had a blast with some folks from the DC disc scene and also a number of normals, friends new and old.  Extra special thanks to Sarah and Frank for dragging out an 8 year old on a school night, Ben Pauker for bringing me crisp 2006 hundred dollar bills in mint condition and the gang from Snack Pack who came from far afield.  I had a super fun time and somehow failed to take a single photo of the event that was marred only by a brief, but insistent, open mic night.

After recovering from that shindig, I got my bags packed and headed out to NYC on the Amtrak.  I had every single thing I'm taking to Rwanda for a year, so as you can imaging navigating inside Penn station with my overstuffed and heavy bags was a real treat.  Jesse and Alyson met me at Penn Station and gave me some keys.  Oh man Brooklyn!  Why did I ever leave?  It was so great to be back in Fort Greene.  Once I got back in the 'Lyn I got to walk Phineas and then I had dinner at Roman's with TG and a few beers at Hot Bird. 

Saturday started with an incredible brunch with Danielle at Dizzy's in the Slope.  Then it was a bit too rainy for a full walk around Prospect Park but I got to see Dave and Ali and take their baby, Ella, to a bar.  She had fun the whole time and never cried or fussed at all.  Then I met Erica for dinner at a place that served us "nachos" on potato chips with mozzarella cheese. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.  Maybe not my best choice for only a few meals left in NYC, but we were in a rush to get to the Park Slope Bier Garden where yet another farewell party was being staged.  Again it was great to see tons of folks.  Special props to Tishler, Erica, and Taliesin who ended the night by pledging a trip to see me in Rwanda and go Gorilla Trekking.  It's in writing now gals. I'm totally holding you to it.  Also high marks for Julie Sussman who stayed late and walked me to the subway.

Sunday was also a fantastic time, including watching an improbable Eagles win at the Dram Shop over Bloody Mary's (see my twitter feed for proof @CourtneyMFK) and getting to go to see the Nets in the new Barclays center. (Thanks Jesse!).  That place is like a space ship, it was incredible inside and tons of gourmet food as well.  The Nets let us down a bit, getting down 32 at one point and losing to the Bucks, but it was still a fun time.

Monday through Wednesday I had orientation for Agahozo Shalom youth village at the the Liquidnet offices in Midtown. The Liquidnet offices were AMAZING and they took such great care of us and brought us food every 5 minutes.  Orientation was truly inspiring.  I had the chance to meet the other members of my cohort who are heading over for a year with me.  We are 5 women and 4 men.  The women are from LA, NYC, Pittsburgh and a recent Middlebury grad from DC (Hello Pranksters!).  The guys are from Nigeria, Israel, Denver and Boca Raton.  It's a fun group and we're all focused on the kids.  

We had the opportunity to meet Anne Heyman, the founder for several hours.  She explained the story of the village from her initial inspiration until now with the village being weeks away from graduating the first class.  It's incredible that it went from an idea to a fully functioning school for 500 kids in the time that it has.  Her vision for development being focused on capacity building and having an exit strategy is compelling.  Her passion for the kids she works to help shone through with every topic she discussed.  We also met the executive director and had the chance to talk to several formal volunteers and get tips and guidance for the year ahead.  During the orientation I had another social style evaluation, and yes Stalin, I am still a Driver.  Oh well.

We went on a learning field trip to look at Images of Apartheid at the International Center for Photography in midtown. That was an exceptional exhibit and a stark reminder about extreme governmental control.  I'll spare you my detailed review of the exhibit in the sake of time, but I will say that if you haven't watched "I Ain't Gonna Play Sun City" in a while, it's a blast from the past and you should: Artists United Against Apartheid - Sun City - YouTube .

Tuesday night was my last night in the good ol' U. S. of A. for about a year and after phone calls to mom Kelly and the Gupton house I attended my third and final farewell party. Thanks to Drew and Cara for hosting on no notice.  It was super fun to eat Pizza, watch Knicks/Nets and play poker.  I even came out ahead by the end (charity perhaps?) and won yet another of those prized 2006 Benjamins.  I had an amazing time and I wouldn't want to go out any other way.

Staying with Jesse and Alyson in the apartment I used to live in in Ft. Greene was a several hundred dollar donation to ASVY who would have put me up in a hotel.  Thanks Guys! In addition to helping the orphans it was great to be back in Ft. Greene and a real treat to hang out with Alyson and Jesse, and (of course) more importantly Phineas!  Phineas is super smart and also acts like a person and watches TV and looks at you with a proud condescension.  In the mornings before heading to orientation I would gather my belongings on the edge of the couch while I was getting ready, like a staging area.  By Wednesday, Phineas had figured out this meant I was going to leave soon and let me know what he thought about that:

Wednesday was an abbreviated orientation day so we could get back to our luggage, do laundry if necessary and any last minute shopping or errands.  Then I hailed a car service to JFK (thanks again to Jesse's help).  At JFK all of us assembled our heavy, overstuffed bags and, wait for it, three bags of doorknobs.

Sidebar: There's an entire post here on the doorknob situation, but I'll sum it up since I'm already so far behind.  Sourcing building materials in Rwanda is very difficult.  (Foreshadowing here for some weird fittings in my 'luxury' hotel in Kigali in a future post.)  Most of the construction materials for the village were actually sourced from China, which fit the budget, but it turns out the quality has really varied, so some items, like doorknobs, have had unexpectedly short lifespans.  This time around a decision was made to purchase higher quality doorknobs, but then they need to be shipped to the village, a process for the landlocked country that is more than 3 times the cost of the already more expensive doorknobs.  Since every cost trades off directly with services for vulnerable kids, these are hard decisions.  ASYV is trying to send the doorknobs over piecemeal when people from the states visit the village, but this means boxes of doorknobs crowding the tiny NYC office, coordination required to get the doorknobs to the traveller and an inconsistent stream of supplies to the maintenance team in the village.  Making do and improvising are a reality.

After waiting in a long check-in line and a longer security line we made it into the terminal just in time for one final farewell beer on American soil together.  The flight to Istanbul was an uneventful 9 hours, filled with movies and meals and a nap.  We were on the ground just long enough in Turkey to take our Malarone get a coffee and wander around the terminal a bit.  The flight to Kigali was another 7 hours with movies, naps, flashcards and some pretty gross Turkish Airlines meals.  The flight landed at 1:00 AM a few minutes earlier than expected and we were all glad to have finally arrived.  After preparing for months to come here, it was a huge relief to finally be here.  I was tired, flight-grimey and glad to be in Rwanda!

Next Post - Landing in Kigali and Beyond.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Preparations and a Whirlwind Farewell Tour: Pineapple to Meet you Too.

Hey there.  Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.  All is well.  I have been busy getting ready to move to Rwanda and saying farewell to so many people.

I am in pretty good shape, preparations wise.  My mom gave me great quick dry towels and bug resistant clothing for early Christmas presents and my sister gave me tons of bug spray with 99% deet and lots of other supplies.  (Tiny speakers, quick dry clothing, etc.)  My super thoughtful nieces got me stuff to take and share with the kids (like frisbees, playing cards and school supplies.)  Those kids are about 10Kx more thoughtful and considerate than I was at that age, or maybe even now.  I am looking forward to them taking over (the planet).

If you, like many laggards,  have not yet celebrated Christmas, here's a great gift idea if you know anyone who owns a pencil.  (Thanks Kimberly Kay).
(Some people on the interwebs don't like to expose links like this, but I sure do.  Why not be transparent about it?)

I am trying hard to learn Kinyarwanda, the mother-tongue of the kids I'll be working with (though thank goodness when I teach professional skills, that will be in English).  Kinyarwanda seems full of vowels and lots of the words sound very similar to me.  This has already let to some fun mix ups where I count "seven-left-nine" and say "turn seven" and "how beef are you?" instead of "how old are you?" and my personal favorite "Pineapple to meet you."

7: karindwi
8: umunani
9: icyenda
left: ibumoso
right: iburyo
how old are you?: ufite imyaka ingahe?
beef: inyama y' inka
it's nice to meet you: nishimiye kukubona
pineapple: inanasi

So, maybe you can see how I would mix up "Inanasi kukubona" for "Nishimiye kukubona" and have said "Pinapple to meet you".  Or "Ufite inyama ingahe?" which I guess is something like "You meat how much?" instead of "~You years how many?" Ugh.  Then again, maybe not.

I will probably get thrown out of the country for nonsense like this so don't worry about missing me while I am gone, because I will be back soon.

The planning to go away has given me a great excuse for a whirlwind farewell tour.  Dorko and I went to Philly to see an Eagles game (against the Beefboys.)  I had fun for the entire first half.  Here's me and Brian Dawkins before the game:

 As for my beloved Eagles, I have picked a pretty good time to leave the country.  Let's just leave it at that.

Kate McLaughlin came to DC, which was super fun and we hiked a bit at Great Falls on the Virginia side.  Here's me in a tiny cave and moments later, Kate in that same tiny cave:
I guess in Manhattan it would list as a studio.

Thanksgiving was jam packed with family this year.  I swung by Louisville to see my Aunts, Uncles and many many cousins on my Mom's side and the Guptons drove to Louisville from Raleigh so I got to say farewell to everyone in the same place.  On Thanksgiving Day we all went to Churchill Downs.  It was a lot of fun to hang out with everyone at the racetrack.  Look at these cute kids down on the rail:

This is Kate, my niece, with Lauren, Clare and Hayley (my cousin's kids).
 And this is Hayley and Lauren again with my niece Lindy:

 As you can see it was a gorgeous day. Here's me and my sister Lynn looking stylish in our fasihonable sunglasses.  Pretty much the cover for vogue or some such. Fancy:

This is a crazy coincidence, but on the final race that day, a horse named "Court's Journey" was in the field.  Several Mint Julips coupled with enthusiasm for my big trip led many of my family members to wager on said horse.  I was nervous about costing all my second cousins their college tuitions (you saw how cute they are) but there wasn't much I could do about it, and to my complete surprise, "Court's Journey" won the race.  Here's the race results for the day if you think this story is just a bit too convenient   (I know who you are.)

I am taking win that as a good omen, though I suspend and resume my superstitiousness several times a day for my own convenience.

I also had a chance to visit Allentown PA to see Amy & Simon.  They are doing great.  Even though they have the cutest dog in the history of time (sorry Phineas!), somehow I forgot to take any pictures of Trotsky. What a fool!  We has a great time on a hike and saw a herd and half of deer, and also won some money on the slots at a casino.  Amy is getting settled in as a professor at Muhlenberg College which seems like a well funded and peaceful place.

It was a brisk but sunny day for the end of the WAFC fall league and I had a lot of fun with Snack Pack, though we didn't play that well as a team.  Here's all of us:

And here's me setting a not that effective mark, but I like the photo anyway:
(Kiddos in Parinella's how to play ultimate book he explains you are supposed to jump over on your toes on the mark, not lean and get all off balance as I do above.)  Note the now all brown ponytail; the blonde is gone for my trip.

Somehow in all of that  travelling around I've seen a few movies: Argo (with Simon & Amy), Lincoln here in DC and Wreck it Ralf (with 7 tiny, adorable girls).  Argo was the best movie I've seen in ages, even with my general disdain for Ben Affleck.  I think it should win the Oscar for best film. Lincoln was long, and historically accurate.  Wreck it Ralf was pretty cute, though I generally expect a bit more from John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman.  I am always glad to see Qbert again in any context.

Some of you have asked me about the M23s in the DNC.  Don't worry.  I am not going to be anywhere near that and Rwanda is very stable and safe.  It does seem that the Rwanda government is meddling in some stuff it should not be, which as an American makes me feel very much at home.  Here's the best article on what they hey is going on anyway if you're looking for that intel:

And finally, as a very special non sequiter just for you, this is a horse on a beach made out of driftwood:
Don't doubt. Anything is possible.  Even a horse on the beach made out of driftwood.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ch-ch-Changes: Don't want to be a richer man

The other obvious title option was "Going back to Kigali, (I don't think so!)"

I guess you can lean whichever way you want depending on your Bowie vs. Ladies Love Cool James sensibilities.  In the end, I went Bowie, and I think there's no shame in that.

(If I were a big production company I guess I would issue two copies of this post and my biggest fans would feel compelled to buy both, so let's all just take a moment to be glad, once again, that I'm not a big production company.)

Breaking News:

I had a great time visiting Kigali and the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village last December.  Now I'm going back for a little longer (1 year).  I'll be working in the village for ASYV as a professional skills development assistant for high school aged orphaned and vulnerable students.

(I've resigned my job at Perfect Sense Digital and that will be wrapping up in the coming weeks.  I'll miss the whole gang there and at Scripps in Knoxville, but I am so excited about what is coming next.)

 I'll be moving to Rwanda right after Thanksgiving this year.

The ASYV hosts 400 orphaned and vulnerable kids from all over Rwanda.  There they receive care, a first rate education and services that go beyond a lot of traditional care facilities: mental heath screenings, a family-like home life, musical instruction and constant prodding from the staff to dream big and plan to achieve those dreams.  When I visited I was amazed at the work done to make these children whole again and into leaders.

Many Rwandans work on family farms and in family businesses so being an orphan means you have no family *and* no career path.  I'm really excited to help teach kids paths forward in hospitality, technology or farming and also build relationships with businesses in Kigali where students could gain experience or find entry level employment.

On the selfish side, I'll be living right in the village where I'll work, so my commute will go from flying to another city to walking a few hundred meters.  I'm looking forward to spending less time in airports and on conference calls.  And also basically skipping winter, because Rwanda has rainy and wet seasons but no real cold season.

I'll be in DC for the next few weeks packing, getting vaccinated out the wazoo and collecting paperwork.  Before I head out, I have a couple days of orientation in good 'ol NYC so I'll try to catch you in one of those cities before I'm on another continent.

Start planning your Gorilla Trekking trips for next August, when I'll likely have some vacation while the students get a break from school.

Before I leave, I'll be in Louisville for Thanksgiving to see my whole extended clan and make some extra spending money at Churchill Downs.

I'm excited about the opportunity ahead of me to work at an amazing facility and dedicate myself to giving something back.  I'm a really lucky person and I'm not immune to the fact that I've spent a lot of energy over the past decade playing frisbee, collecting sneakers and watching professional sports.  I love all that, but it's time to pay it forward a little bit, so that these kids can get into their own offbeat hobbies.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Some Summer Pics (as promised)

In no particular order:
 It was great to see Green Means Go captain and cheeseburger expert Dorko in DC last weekend after sectionals.  This is Keri "not drinking" at the Argonaut. We promise.  Keri and I are taking over Philly the weekend of November 11 so look out.

This is a crazy, wack moth-like bug I saw in Raleigh near my sister's. (Actually outside my niece's dance studio.)  It's wings look just like leaves.  Nature!

At Oak Island, met this super cute baby dog. He is a Havanese, so likely a communist.  If that's what Communism looks like, I am all for it.

Here's Danielle, Me and Emily in NYC at her surprise 40th b-day party.  I am looking forward to turning 40 and looking like that!

 I hope to never own a car again.  If I do ever own a car, I hope it is this one I saw on H st NE DC.

A certain someone got a pretty high score on my semi-functional Ms Pac Man machine and wanted to make sure I captured it.  My 2nd place 52360 is particularly embarrassing given my home court advantage.

I went to the Kennedy center with Sarah and Frank to see Seinfeld.  This is the "Foyer of Flags" or some such nonsense.  I am looking forward to their wedding, which is coming up soon.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Summer? What Summer?

Peanuts, Cashews, Pecans, Macademia Nuts.  You name it, this summer has been nuts!  Sorry for the dearth of updates.  I've been busy.

I've been playing a lot of league disc and also with a women's club team called Veto.  It's great to be playing women's.

I just got back from Labor Day at Oak Island where I saw my mom, her dog Goofus and Lindy and Kate & their parents.  It was great to be back at the beach.  We had a pretty rousing game of kids vs. parents "ultimate".  Clear eyes, full hearts.

I got to see Jerry Seinfeld at the Kennedy Center with Sarah and Frank. That guy is still pretty funny.

I'm back running track workouts again.  There's just nothing like it for total exertion.

Watching the olympics was great.  Congrats especially to the team USA gymnasts. These were my two favorite memes to come out of the spectical:

I'll log back in to this post and get you some pics at some point.

Watching the US Open now.  Pulling for late-career heroics from Andy Roddick and continued distruction of anything in her path by Serina.

Also CANNOT wait for the NFL to start.  Eagles vs. Browns 9/9/11 1:00 PM.  Let's Go Eagles!

Looking forward to Sarah's wedding in a couple of weeks in Minnesota.
Also, what *may* be my last ever USAU regionals, at the end of September.  I know I've said that before, but it has to be true at some point, right?!?!?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Days of Birth; Nights of Sportscenter

Well, if you follow me on Twitter then you know I've been watching the NBA playoffs every possible minute, as well as much fruitless scrutinizing of pre and post game interviews and reading of D-league assistant coaches blogs to break down lineup options to try and make sense of it all.  At one point the Spurs were unstoppable and there were no good teams left in the East.  I remember that pretty clearly.  Then LaBron literally sucked the remaining life force out of the aging Celtics and used it to stop the coolest, funnest team in NBA history.  Doodle Jump?  Doodle Jump?!?!  Just ask James Harden's Beard's Cat how sad it all was.  *Sad Meow*  That's how sad.  I'm just hoping that this is the first battle in a long storied Heat/Thunder rivalry where two meteorological forces battle for intergalactic supremacy for years to come.

Suddenly I find myself with a bit more free time, so I'll update ye Olde Blogger account.

Summer is going pretty well.  I got to see sweet baby Kate graduate from 8th grade which was pretty insane.  She does not look like this any more:

 I also got out to Oak Island to the beach house.  Robbie took us out on his boat and I had fun playing in the ocean.

We held another lemonade stand.  Thanks so much for everyone's donations to fight pediatric cancer.  We had another great stand with tons of help from the Guptons, balloons and posters and raised more funds for research.  It's not too late to donate.  You can send a quick text from your cellphone “LEMONADE E83129” to 85944 to make a $10 donation directly to our stand.  Lindy is doing great but kids are diagnosed every day. Here's Emily (Kate and Lindy's cousin) Kate, my Mom, Ayer Jennae and Lindy at the stand:

I'm playing in twice as many ultimate summer leagues and a pretty casual women's club team as well, so I guess I still have not retired from ultimate despite all common sense.

The birthday was super fun, thanks to Sarah who also supplied a top secret surprise guest.  Thanks for dinner.  Mom made me my favorite food and an old fashioned Rum Cake and thanks for all my presents.

Speaking of birthdays, 1) Lindy turned 10.  2) I got to welcome Chip Stout to the great decade of the 30s with Jen and a lot of his old truck stop teammates.  Seems that vast quantities of bourbon are not gatorade for skeeball as I was led to believe by those scoundrels.  3) I was also up in NYC for one minute for a surprise 40th celebration for Emily O'Halloran.  It was great to see her and hear about doing the Ironman.  I guess once I turn 40 I'll start acting like a badass too.  That's how it works, right?  NYC is always amazing and what little time I had in town I spent just walking around enjoying the city.  I stayed in the Millennium Hilton and had this incredible view of the 9-11 memorial which is a lot bigger than it seems on TV: 

 (Sorry if you are in NYC and I didn't tell you I was swinging through, it was a surgical strike.)

I've been working my usual spate in Knoxville.  When in DC, I'm running and biking when I'm not on the way to league.  I had fun at the DC stop on the Tour de Fat.  Was pretty interesting so check and see if it's coming to your town this summer and since they are doing so much for cycling rights and awareness, maybe go ahead and order a Fat Tire or a Ranger next time you are out.

RIP Ray Bradbury who was right about almost everything. Go to a used book store and get a copy of Dandelion Wine as Ray did not want you reading it on a Kindle or a Nook.

Or go ahead and read all Summer in A Day right here online in about 8 minutes (it's 3 1/2 pages long) and deep, hard, stomach punch.

Looking fwd now to Wimbledon, the Olympics (track and field mostly) and the NFL pre-season.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Spring Recap

So far, spring in DC has involved playing in two ultimate leagues, running on the mall, watching the NBA playoffs and a bit of the NHL playoffs as well (though with the Caps out that will likely end). 

Women's league on Thursday night has been SUPER FUN and reminded me that playing women's ultimate is one of the most fun things to do on the earth. Co-ed spring league has pretty much exactly lived up to my expectations of co-ed, which probably says more about my setting expectations for activities than it does about mixed league.

I've enjoyed catching up with the Stouts and Sarah now that we all share a lack of congressional representation.  I've explored U Street and Eastern Market, but H Street NE is my new home, with several strong brunch options.  (Good thing I've been running.)

Oh yeah, watching and re-watching Justified is a good way to spend some of your time.  Boyd Crowder is my new Omar. 

I saw the Nationals win a game in their nice park which is not too long a walk from my apt.  This town is going nuts with the Nationals and Orioles in first place in their divisions.

This round of the NBA playoffs is going to have some time tested themes Celtics/Sixers (Age vs. Youth); Pacers/Heat (everyone loves an underdog) Lakers/Thunder (Changing of the Guard + Derek Fisher forgets who he now plays for and scores on his own goal) and Spurs/Clippers (over-achiever vs. under-achiever).  Still expecting the Thunder to beat the Heat in 6 in the finals (as much as it PAINS me to see Fisher get ANOTHER ring he didn't earn.)

Barb and I are holding another Lemonade Stand for ALSF, this year with the help of Lindy's Brownie troop. I'll be the one drinking lemonade laced with Valium.

For the record, my posting infrequency has nothing to to with my addiction to a certain Draw Something app.  Nothing at all.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Relo: Party like its 1789

So,  it has been a while. I moved.  I live on Capitol Hill in DC now.   It's weird to be back in a city I lived in when I went to Georgetown.  I think I saw the whole city pretty differently then.  DC isn't my favorite place in the whole world but it is doing it's best to change my mind.

Capitol Hill is actually pretty rad.  I have been running around the sand path on the Mall at night.  That's fun. This is me on the way home at the 4 mile point.  Despite the look on my face I didn't pass out right after I took this:

Last weekend was Fools.  You know it was pretty foolish. It was nice after the games to drive home for 1 hour not 3 or 6.  Check out the classy poster Taliesin made for us.  Here's me and Jen repping our old school Ambush hats:

I had a blast. (We played pretty well and had the most fun.) Taco Forever.

Tonight I played in a WAFC women's spring league.  It was super fun.  The Washington ultimate community has their act together in a way that NYC has never quite pulled of for whatever reason.  It was fun doing drills and playing women's.  They have 85 women out playing spring league.  Look out.

In a non-DC note I'll just take a moment here to brag that I won my NCAA pool again this year.  I am already breaking down next years teams in preparation for my 3-peat.

Next up: coed spring league this weekend and researching the availability of chairs on freecycle.

If anyone out there has any tips for how to get that Carly Rae Jepsen song out of my head please speak up! (Warning: do not click that link unless you want the song in your head forever.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rwanda Rwithdrawl

Here’s a recap of my trip to Rwanda. If you don’t want to read this all, the nutshell is that it was really awesome, and surprisingly nice. There was nothing difficult or “developing” about this trip. Kigali is a modern city and the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village treated me, and all the volunteers, like royalty so it was a really cushy, easy trip with none of the expected complications of traveling in Africa. The kids were amazing and I hope to go back one day. I wish I was there right now.

I took a few photos and you can see them all here:

Now that I’m home I wish I had a lot more photos, but you have to choose to have the experience or document it. At the time, having my camera out was often a distraction.

Getting there:

I flew from CHO to Dulles to Brussels for 8 hours, then had 5 hours in BRU waiting to fly 8 hours to Kigali, so the whole trip was long and tiresome and I didn’t know if it was day or night when I landed. The most unpleasant part of the entire experience was the flight to Brussels. I was in “deep coach” seated next to an old, skinny middle-eastern guy. He moved and tossed and turned constantly, elbowing me with every motion, but what really bothered me was what I’ve termed his “TB-Rag”. He had a stained handkerchief that he coughed productively into every few minutes. In between hack sessions he tucked this rag into the seat back tray table and then closed the tray, leaving the cloth dangling by one edge. Then he would take the other edge and fluff the fabric, as if to best spread his germs throughout the plane (or perhaps to dry it out.) It made me gag and compulsively use my hand sanitizer for the entire flight.

I had inadvertently told Orbitz that I wanted vegan meals for the trip when I purchased my ticket. This was awesome and I totally recommend it for anyone traveling internationally. First off, ‘special’ meals come out first, so I got my meal before anyone else and the selections were really good and much better than the rubber chicken pasta everyone else was offered: Bulgar wheat and grilled veggies, soy chocolate pudding, fresh fruit. I’ll be flying vegan from now on.

For some reason, the sun comes up in Belgium at about 9 AM this time of year. That was pretty disorienting.

The flight to Kigali was uneventful. I reread Night and The Diary of Anne Frank. I was trying to remind myself about children’s first person reflections on the Holocaust as a sort of perspective for the upcoming trip for the Genocide museum in Kigali. I had recently read a couple books on the Genocide to be a bit more informed before my trip: We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories From Rwanda and As We Forgive. I knew the trip to the museum was going to be difficult. Humans really are the worst.


Once I arrived in Kigali, I went through passport control easily and then retrieved both my checked bags, which is pretty good luck. 3 of the 4 short term English volunteers had all their bags make it. (One volunteer had one bag, unfortunately for James with most of his clothes, delayed about 5 days.) For whatever reason, we were warned that flights into Kigali are a bit less reliable with luggage than you might be accustomed to. The Kigali airport is not unlike the other airports I am spending a lot of time in these days: Knoxville, TYS and Charlottesville, CHO: small, tidy, and efficient. Kigali Airport has 3 gates, elaborate security and a Bourbon coffee shop. (Coffee is a big export of Rwanda, but Rwandans typically drink tea so coffee shops are something of a novelty and are filled with mostly tourists and expats.)

After I got my bags, I was picked up by Mara, the volunteer coordinator, and met the other volunteers. Mara had a van waiting for us to take us to a house the foundation uses in Kigali. It was about 9 PM. After dropping off our luggage we went right across the street to Dolce Bar for pizza and beer. At this point, Kigali felt a lot like any US city in the South. It was warm out. The pizza was good. People were out drinking beer and eating pizza at 10 PM on a Thursday evening. After the food, we were all exhausted from the long travel day. We went back to the house and went to bed. I quickly passed out but woke up with a headache* at 3:30 AM for the day. (For more on this headache and many others like it see my separate section below on Malarone.)

We had a day to explore Kigali before our planned short van ride east to Agahozo Shalom that evening. Mara got us some treats for breakfast that included Rwandan style donuts (not as sweet, 5 times as heavy) bananas and yoghurt.

We spent the morning walking around getting a sense of the city. We changed money. Rwanda is a little behind on the ATM network. Anywhere else you travel in the world, avoid exchange bureaus that usually charge you a higher fee than your bank will, and often don't have the best rates and just use the ATM at the airport to withdraw local currency. It works in South Africa, all over Europe, Australia. In Rwanda the ATMs aren't connected to the intentional network (that Pulse or Cirrus icon on your bank card.) ATMs in Rwanda are for Rwandan bank accounts. That's it. Not you. So you have to go to one of those sketch little exchange bureaus. I did that. It was fine.

Walking around Kigali was really pretty. There is no trash. They have no fast food or plastic bags and as a result I saw almost no litter. The gardens are all very well manicured. There were a lot of people employed in Kigali to work on the gardens and lawns. Most of the people I saw working were trimming lawns and weeds by hand. It looks painstaking. I'm not sure if this is because the implements of the genocide were mostly common lawn machetes and no one wants those tools around in plain view to bring back up the memories, or if because it takes a lot longer to do the work by hand and the government wants to create as many jobs and keep as many people busy as possible.

Kigali is very hilly and the homes are built precariously up the steeps slopes of the hills. There are green lawns and flowering trees everywhere. The streets were crowded with people going to work or going to lunch. Rwandans dress more conservatively than Americans, even with the heat. Some women had silent babies tied to their backs with a bright piece of fabric. Some men were carrying goods on their heads.

We went to a buffet style restaurant for lunch that had rice, beans, potatoes and various cooking bananas and some stewed beef. This is a fairly traditional fare for Rwanda. They will also eat goat brochettes. Baaa. (Not pets.)

There are a lot of transit options in Kigali that range from more to less formal. There are large buses that go to all parts of the country and sell tickets. There are hotel-type vans that go to specific parts of the city and are covered with totally random advertisements to encourage use (images of Eminem, Kanye West, Manchester United and Arsenal were common choices). These vans are cash only and will wait where they are until they are full, and by full Rwandans mean so overstuffed that no one can move or breath. There are also Motos everywhere. Moto drivers drive mopeds around with spare helmets and will give you a lift for hire. You can describe how far something is by the cost of the moto ride. "It's not far, about 500 Francs on the moto." Motos observe some traffic customs and eschew others (waiting at lights) and are, of course, totally unregulated so sometimes break down or run out of petrol or get lost enroute. I only took one moto ride and it was super fun and more than a little exhilarating, especially on the steepest hills.

We took motos to the Genocide museum. [This is that part of the movie where the needle scratches the fun pop song that was playing while the tourists weave in and out of traffic. Obviously, the genocide museum was a tone change.]

That's me reflected in one the numerous unfathomable vignettes around the grounds of the Genocide Museum.

I thought I was prepared. I had reread historical summaries. I had learned about the root evils of colonialism and the short term political power struggles. I knew about the massive hateful national media propaganda campaigns. I knew that nearly a million people had been murdered brutally in about 100 days. I even knew that the US and the UN had good awareness of what was happening and did nothing to stop the slaughter. Of course, one cannot be prepared for the unimaginable.

The Kigali Genocide museum is on the site of a mass grave for a quarter of a million victims that were Tutsi, or Hutu moderates, or unwilling to commit murder themselves or simply in an unlucky place. The grounds are decorated in beautiful gardens in tribute to all those who lost their lives. The museum lays out some historical background about Rwanda, describes the events that led up to the genocide and then details the scope and breadth of the slaughter. I was prepared to learn about killing. I was shocked to learn about so much torture. So much willful pain added to the process. So much suffering.

When I think about the worst, most gruesome horror of fiction, it really can not come close to real life. There were organized efforts for those infected with AIDS to rape Tutsi women and and let them survive so that the community would be burdened by the AIDS epidemic for generations to come. Radio stations blared that anyone seen taking pity on children was weak, untrustworthy and should be killed. There are victim testimonies of bands of genocidaires finding a clutch of hiding victims and chopping their feet off with machetes first so that none could run away and then slowly, inefficiently hacking them to bits to exact as much pain as possible. That is even why the testimony exists at all, because instead of killing the group quickly and moving on, the genocidaires, in this instance, took so much time torturing that they actually ran out of time, and didn't finish everyone off. Something else interrupted them and they were force to leave and search a new location and some of the now footless victims crawled away and somehow survived to describe recount the ordeal. Incomprehensible.

There are many stories of people trying to take refuge in churches. Rwandans are very religious and observant. They went and holed up in churches, so churches are the sites of some of the largest massacres. In most cases their priests and leaders did nothing to protect them when the killers came. In the worst cases they took up the cause. Here's a quote from the museum that is one of many troubling examples, "In Nyange, two thousand congregants were sheltering in the church when Father Seromba gave the order to bulldoze the church building. He murdered his own congregants in his own church." This or worse happened in case after case. I was shocked throughout my visit about how religious and observant Rwandans still are, despite how badly their churches failed them in their most dire hours.

The thing that really strikes me about all this is that I know from my basic corporate work how hard it is to get anything done. Even when everyone agrees something is a good idea there are usually several meetings on plans and strategies and another follow up meeting to see why it still hasn't been implemented. This kind of massive suffering, enacted on such a scale took planning. Lots of planning. There must have been meetings of the AIDS spreading committee. Strategic goals for the machete distribution task force. There were action items. There were follow ups. This was not a horrible, impulsive, crazed act. This was a careful plan, that 'worked' incredibly effectively. It is really hard for me to imaging human beings attending those meetings. Working on their action items. It goes beyond the lazy kind of evil and ignorant kind of evil that I can comprehend. This busy, productive kind of evil is much more frightening for me.

The Genocide Museum is hollowing and shattering. There are rooms of victims' skulls and bones. Rooms of vignettes of what happened to children. There is also an interesting effort by the Aegis Trust to place the Rwandan Genocide historically among the great atrocities of the twentieth century in Armenia, Cambodia, Nazi Germany and the Balkans. This section for me was particularly depressing. Genocide felt common, probable. It felt like rolling doubles in Monopoly. Sadly, a common response to this section of the museum, which is not intended to be exhaustive, is that some other candidate event was not represented. There are a lot more genocides than space in the museum...

I cried a lot and it was time to go.


Malarone is a common malaria prevention medication. The guide books list malaria as the biggest health threat in Rwanda because the country has a tropical climate and plenty of mosquitoes. Travel doctors recommend you take a malaria prevention medication. I was offered three choices, one that causes depression, paranoia and vivid nightmares (Mefloquine), one that causes extreme sun sensitivity (Doxycycline) and Malarone, which can cause stomach upset. I went with the Malarone. You’ll recall I have something of a tendency for headaches and stomachaches. I had a splitting headache pretty much the entire first 4 days of the trip, which was increasingly accompanied by nausea and sour stomach. I was exhausted each day, and would pass out for an hour or two when I went to bed, and then be awakened with a railroad-spike-in-the-brain style headache that kept me up from 1:00 AM all night, tossing and turning and sweating and listening to mosquitos buzz. I was really worried I would feel bad my entire trip and also it was a little harder to feel I could get control of the headaches than at home. At home, for a headache like this I would take some Tylenol, drink a cold ginger ale and watch Sports Center. By the time the Top 10 plays comes around I'm usually feeling a bit better. Here there was no cold drink and no Sports Center on ESPN, and the Tylenol didn't seem to help. I decided to quit taking the Malarone. (Sorry Mom.) I felt better pretty much right away. I decided that if I got Malaria, I would't have symptoms until I got home, and I would get treatment easily in the US and it would be easier to deal with. I never really had that many mosquito bites anyway. I hope I didn't catch Malaria, but I'm glad I felt better for the rest of the trip.

Agahozo Sholom Youth Village:

After the Genocide Museum, we went back to the Kigali house for our luggage and loaded up in a van for the ride to the village. The countryside is lush and beautiful the entire ride and we saw simple homes and crops being cultivated in the fields: sorghum, corn, bananas and coffee.

I was so impressed with the village. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the village is really, very nice. I stayed in a guest house that was a lot like a nice college dorm room. I had a twin bed with mosquito netting and storage space in a cabinet in a clean spacious room that I shared with two other English volunteers. We had our own bathroom ensuite. Everything was clean and new. The entire village is landscaped with beautiful flowers everywhere. The students stay in 16-person houses, four to a bedroom in bunk beds with another room for their house mother and a group living room. They will live in that house all four years they are in the village together with their new family. All of the structures in the village are new and in good repair.

This is the gorgeous guest house I stayed in.

The village is an amazing facility. It covers everything these kids need to be healthy and heal and visualize bright futures. The kids live in furnished homes in the village. There is a health clinic to care for the students. There are music and art enrichment centers, a science center and a computer lab. There are basketball courts, volley ball courts and soccer field and a track. There is an outdoor amphitheater for performances.

The village has a working farm that grows bananas, pineapples, beans, avocados, coffee, corn, chickens for eggs and cows for milk. The farm doesn't quite grow enough to feed the 500 or so students and staff that eat three meals a day at the village, but it is a strong supplement and the farm is still expanding and becoming more productive. {There is an effort at bee keeping on the farm that is struggling a bit at this point. I was able to go on a fascinating bee keeping demonstration to see the hives, several of which had been infested by a pest and no longer had bees. Another challenge to be addressed by the staff and volunteers at ASYV.}

Meals are served at a large dining hall that also functions for assemblies. Meals are served family style. I got to sit with the kids at meals and they were a lot of fun to talk to. Breakfast was a roll, tea and some porridge. Lunch and dinner were typically some variant of rice, beans and potatoes or cooking bananas, though occasionally there was salad or a vegetable stew. Some of this kids were not used to regular meals, and being able to serve themselves and would pile their plates unimaginable high with rice. The staff would just remind them that the meals would be there again, three times a day every day, but since these students had just arrived they were still getting acclimated and learning to trust.

When I arrived on Friday January 30, the newest students had just arrived at the village from all over Rwanda. They were meeting each other, fitting in to new families and learning about Agahozo Shalom. They had only been there for three days.

Somehow, the next day, for New Year's Eve they were able to put on an amazing talent show in the assembly hall. There were several traditional dance performances, traditional drumming, singing and sketches. It was incredible to see how talented these kids were, and how quickly they were able to work to pull together their acts to bravely put on for their entire class. The director of the school gave an invocation wishing the students the best in the coming year and hoping that they would make the most of the opportunity available to them at Agahozo Shalom. There was a traditional count down (Ten! Nine! Eight!) and then much hugging and celebrating about the new year. The kids had a dance party. Its funny who is popular in Rwanda from America, the kids all seem to like Justin Bieber (even the boys) and Rihanna and Chris Brown and Jay-Z and Beyonce.

Two boys dancing traditional at the New Year's Eve Celebration

On Sunday, New Year's Day, most of the children when to a nearby church of their denomination and the volunteers worked on our English curriculum for the next week.

The school in the village has a three year high school curriculum that is preceded by a single enrichment year that helps all the students get to a similar academic place so they can do the coursework for the school. They have widely varied academic backgrounds coming in to the program. The students have different levels of comfort with English, which is especially critical, since all of the classes in the high school are taught in English. {Rwanda recently went from teaching most classes in French to English, so some of the children are more fluent in English than others. Some are more comfortable in French. Rwandan's all speak Kinyarwanda at home, so these students would all be working on a third language.}

All of the new students were divided, based on a brief assessment, into three levels of English speakers (introductory, intermediate and advanced). I was assigned to a group of introductory English speakers with two of the longterm volunteers. We had about 22 students in our group. We worked with the students for 3-4 hours per day. My group was very new to English and was working on the Alphabet, basic vocabulary for around the home, school and village, and basic verbs. Over the course of the week the students all worked very, very hard and improved to be able to have a basic introductory conversation. In contrast, some of the other sections were so advanced they were discussing world leaders and different concepts of power. For our section, obviously we were't going to teach them English in one week, but my goal was to give them some confidence and extra practice on a few vocabulary ares that would be really useful to them. I also really wanted to focus on having the students practice and work with each other. A lot of Rwandan school is traditionally lecture based and does;t have that much participation. This was an opportunity for the students to get some comfort in expressing themselves and working with each other. Some were just so quiet and shy. It was great to see them practice brief skits in English by the end of the week. We also had some fun drawing pictures and labeling things, playing Simon says, playing bingo and dancing the hokey pokey.

School Vocabulary Bingo

Each class, I was amazed how positive and friendly and earnest all of the students were, despite having had such instability in their lives. I really doubt any class of 14-16 year old American students, any honors class, could have been that well behaved, that focused and on task and willing to try anything. These kids had only been at ASYV a few days! I am sure when they graduate in 4 years they will be ready to take the world by the tail.

Even though I only worked with them for a few days, I became really attached to my students and quite proud of them. It was very sad at the end of the last class and several of the students made me farewell cards that I adore. I wonder what they are doing now.

ASYV is a truly amazing place. They give children a life and a future. If you have any interest in helping support this foundation, you can donate here:

Here's me with most of the students from my English section and the two long term volunteers who also taught my section.

A bit more time in Kigali:

On the way home, I spent another night at the house in Kigali. I went out with several of the volunteers for delicious and super-cheap Indian food, better than anything I ate when I lived on E. 6th St./Little New Delhi. Before flying out the next day, I went to a crafts co-op to get some jewelry and cute little things for my nieces. I also got a painting of sorghum being harvested that I am having framed for the apartment. There was time for one last farewell lunch at a really nice western-style pizza place, New Cactus, and then I headed out to the airport via a taxi.

The trip home:

I was sad to leave. I was just only well and truly over my jet lag and Rwanda is a really nice place to be. The flight boarded a bit late. Some people flying out of Rwanda are taking every possible thing with them, so there are lots of over-sized carry-ons spilling out their contents on the floor and in the aisles. There were the usual spate of crying babies.

On the plane, the flight attendants spray bug spray inside the plane after the doors are closed but before take-off to try and stem the spread of malaria. It smells like cherry flavored baby-aspirin. My route home from Kigali stopped over for a couple hours in Entebbe, Uganda. Then back to Brussels. More vegan food and silly movies (The Help, Dolphin Tail). I had 6 hours to kill in BRU. I had some breakfast and hung out for a long time in duty free, browsing to kill time. They have many varieties of foie gras in the Brussels duty free. Imagine boarding the 8 hour flight home with that, and a spoon?!?!?!?

The flight back to Dulles included several moms flying with 4 or 5 kids each under the age of 8. The moms were outnumbered and quickly overrun, as was the plane. I gave up on sleep or concentrating enough to read and watched lots of movies: (Contagion, Cedar Rapids, Crazy Stupid Love, Horrible Bosses). I was stuck in the Cs.

After I landed in Dulles, passport control took over an hour, just because it was a long line. I was at the desk for 5 seconds and they didn’t ask me any questions. Customs was even quicker, grab bags, no questions. No sniffer dogs, which surprised me. Instead of taking my connecting flight to CHO after another 4 hour layover, Dave offered to come pick me up (which was more than 5 hours of driving for him)! However, even though I was leaving the airport, you have go back through security to get into the airport to leave. (Thanks Dulles!) That took another hour or so. I was so tired from all the traveling. Finally, I am dumped into the C terminal and can take a train to the exit. I was really glad to see Dave and glad to ride home in a car instead of waiting more at the airport. It was wonderful to not be in a plane.

It was great to get home and take a long hot shower, do my laundry and work on getting back on Eastern Standard Time. I came down with a nasty cold (fever, cough, headaches) about my second day back in the country. I’m not sure if I caught that on one of the fights or when. I’ve felt pretty crummy since I’ve been back, hence the delay in posting my recap here on the blog. I think I am starting to get on the right side of it, but still feel pretty icky. Maybe that is just my Rwanda Rwithdrawal.