Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Young Ladies of Eleanor Roosevelt Family

Here's the deal:  I wouldn't write anything here that is secret, or that I wouldn't want the girls to read, but I want you to have some sense of the new family I've been blessed with.  If all this sounds a bit too corny or Stepford Wife coming from me, maybe so, but the thing is: no matter what, when a 16 teenage girls decide to love you, just have to let them, and then, you love them back. If (probably when) they read this blog, they'll see things below I've already told them.  Now you can know them a bit too.  

(I certainly won't be blogging about their "story", or why they are here; that is their's to tell, but it is widely published that Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village is a place for orphaned and vulnerable youth, and in a country with ~3M orphans there is an extensive search process to determine who is the most vulnerable.  What I find amazing is that when I get down (it can be hard here sometimes), these girls are the ones who cheer me up, and I had thought it might be the other way around...)

Jeannette is the tiniest girl in the family.  She is at least a year younger than the other girls, and weighs maybe 20 pounds less. She is like a tiny creature.  She loves eating all manner of leaves and where ever she is walking to and from school or the dining hall she has some leaves in her mouth.  She is shy and quiet and has a ready, easy smile.  She does not like working on the farm or service.  When the adults are not around, I hear, she is the silliest one and makes all her sisters laugh.  I call her Rabbit, which the other girls have adopted as well.  Rabbit:

Josiane (small) has been sick most of the time she's been in the village.  She has been in the hospital for three days and to the clinic umpteen times.  She eats a special salt-free diet which she must secure from the kitchen below the dining hall before each meal.  She usually hates the food (rare here, all the kids eat huge plates at each meal) but she pushes hers around and looks sad.  She loves to play cat's cradle with string.  She does not like it at all when I ask her to "please take two more bites" of lunch or dinner.  She has an amazing singing voice that still sounds like songbird even though she has had a persistent hacking cough since she arrived in the village.  She wrote a poem for her end of term English project about how God has a plan for all of us and everything has a reason.  Josiane:

Honorine makes a point to get near me and hugs me a lot.  We were partners on potato harvest day and I know I made her carry 3 more loads that the other girls because I was setting an example and she just went right along with it.  She LOVES mangoes and will climb any branch to get to one. She gives her all on the girls football team and at Mucaka mucaka.  Honorine (and me):

Agnes has these melting soft brown eyes.  She is the quietest girl in the family, and usually looks stern or serious, but when she smiles her whole face warms up. She is working hard on her English.  honestly, she has been the hardest girl for me to get to know, but she is finally getting used to me always looking for her and asking her how school was.  Agnes:

Josiane (tall) is one of the more rural girls in the family with very limited English, so she's been a bit harder to get to know as well.  She loves to joke with me in silly little ways, like saying it's night when it's daytime.  Sometimes she seems maternal to me in her mannerisms, even though she's just a kid.  When we have to work around the house she always knows what to do and shows me how to do it. She especially loves the "Susan" game.*  She taught me to carry things on my head with a weave of grass.  I am terrible at it, but she thinks it is funny.  Every assignment we have on the farm she knows how to do and does with a lot of confidence, and even tries to teach me the right way to do.  Josiane:

Violette is a sunny, happy girl that loves sports like karate and volleyball.  She is tall and lean and smiles a lot.  She is always happy to see me.  She closes her eyes and furrows her brow so tightly when we pray at the end of Family Time. I need to work harder to get to know Violette.  Violette:

Grace truly lives up to her name; she is a delicate, poised child, soft spoken and serious.  She floats around the campus.  She gets sooooo tired at family time.  When she wants me to know that she knows a word in English, she will carefully say "for example" followed by a synonym.  She is a dear that always wants me to sit by her at meals, which is unique and a social price, because the other kids usually hate having a chaperone around for meals (nearly their only 'free' time) roll their eyes when I sit near them.  If I sit somewhere else, she gently scolds me that next to her is my place. Grace laughing:

Alice is tall and looks a bit like Hillary Swank.  (Really!)  She is so responsible and earnest.  She smiles widely like her face is going to crack open on a hinge.  She nods seriously the entire time our family mother talks, (and talks).  She is a real dear.  She loves playing football (soccer) and is always happy to see me. Alice:

Ornella is from Kigali and is basically just like any American high school freshman you know.  She has ben to Kenya, Tanzania and Unganda.  She likes Nikki Manaj, The Hunger Games and wants to be an architect.  She is on the basketball team and is working hard at practice (5 AM!).  She organizes the other girls in the family, and perhaps bosses them around a bit, but usually in ways they need, like to clean up or to be respectful when others are speaking. She's a confident girl with amazing English. She likes modern dance and hip hop.  She explains everything that is going on to me in the dining hall in a really patient way and takes very good care of me. Ornella:

Chantale. Wow!  The MOST POSITIVE person I have EVER met.  Every day was great. Every class was great, or "somehow great". She loves her extracurricular assignments.  It's not because she doesn't have more English to express herself, because her English is strong.  She says "great" and "very very okay" with the most genuine smile.  She tells me every night that she prays I will dream of God. She loves to sing and has a beautiful singing voice, and finds me in the dining hall and teaches me songs.  She is super fun to watch sports with!  Whenever ASYV plays a football (soccer) game, we sit together and she jumps up and yells "Wow!" with every nice pass or quality shot. Chantale:

Yvonne is super fun to dance and party with.  She loves to play with my hair. She is one of the jokers of the group and also a good way to get an honest read on the family.  If something is going wrong, she will tell you, not sugar coat it.  She is amazing at leading the other girls when she is called upon to do so and takes over like she is used to leading an army.  She beat me 2 out of 3 at Connect 4 (she let me go first all 3 times).  She is my dance partner at every performance in the amphitheater and is working hard to try and teach me to dance like her.  She is also trying to teach me the songs we sing during mucaka mucaka, so I know what I am saying as I jog along chanting syllables in Kinyarwanda. Yvonne:

Adelaide, oh my Ad.  She is so enthusiastic.  She is on the basketball team and her coach tells me she is the most coachable girl, listening well all the time and following instructions.  In the family, she is earnest, and emphatic about integrity and respect (shouting 'yeeeesss!'  and 'of course!' when others say something about a core value).  She has very strong English skills and will translate for me what is going on during family time.  she is a bit of a jock in her style and likes modern dance and hip hop. Adelaide:

Noeline is from Uganda and speaks better English than Kinyarwanda. She is a very good kid, and studies very hard.  She worries about breaking rules and imagines scenarios where she might break a rule and tries to avoid them.  "What if I need to do x, but that would make me late...?" She exclusively calls me 'cousin' and thinks incorrectly, but understandably, that I have a lot of information, asking questions about what will be taught at school, when things will happen, why certain decisions were made, etc.  When we have service in the dining hall she gets really nervous and scurries around and rounds up extra chairs and forks for the table she is responsible for.  You can tell she is used to working very hard and getting yelled at a lot if anything is amiss.  She had some really strong feelings about Valentine's day and about how much her grandparents loved each other, that were very sweet and a bit of an outlier from the other girls thoughts about love. Noeline:

Samila is shy and has a big smile.  She is soft spoken but loves to sing.  She surprises me with her opinions in the family debates, she is usually on the less popular side and fighting hard, my unlikely devil's advocate.  She is in to current events!  She somehow found out recently about the asteroid over Russia and is worried about one coming to rwanda.  I told her it would probably be okay [based on nothing, but my general belief that it is better to assume things will probably be okay, regardless of the actual odds when there's nothing you can do about it anyway].  She was very concerned about lighting striking a church where the pope was as well.  Samila:

Happyness is a modern dance choreographer and always wears makeup that makes her look like she is going out to party.  She can drum on a chair with a rock in a really cool way.  She can be so sweet to me and when we were working in the kitchen she gave me her peeler and took my knife because she feared for my fingers and took pity on me. She likes to learn songs in English. Happyness:

Adelphine is my prankster.  she is always laughing and scheming. I know I am in for it when she starts her sentence with a high "Ko-nee, …" .  She is the most animated in the debates (and gets a bit swishy).  when we work on the farm she is always embarrassing some poor farmhand by telling me that he loves me and wants to move to NYC with me.  Of all my girls, she is the the most interested in marrying me off.  This week at mucaka mucaka I took off from my slowly walking group and starting jogging with a pack of boys that were moving at a decent pace.  iIm in the pack and it's quite dark, but as the sun starts to rise, I can see that at the front of the pack, hanging right with them is Adelphine and she's not on any sports team or anything.  She ran the whole way and back singing the entire time.  Adelphine:

*The Susan game:  The girls like to play a game where we pretend i'm a high school student from Texas named Susan and they get to ask me questions.  It's weird for me and a very basic form of "acting" or role playing but it KILLS them and they laugh their face off because I am saying answers that aren't true about myself.  For example, they ask me if I have a brother (in real life I don't, which they know; they are very interested in anyone with some family relations) but I say yes, Susan has 2 little brothers and then they all laugh for 5 minutes because I made something up, which is just so silly and frivolous to them.  I wonder if Rwandan kids ever play 'make believe' when they are little.  I had thought that was universal but now somehow I don't think so.  They all want to know how I know all this about Susan, and I try to explain that I don't, that she isn't real and that just makes them laugh even more.  For me, the whole experience is surreal, but it comes up a lot because they LOVE it.  The whole thing makes them seem very young. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

courtney your family is beautiful.
please tell those beautiful young women i said hello.
your wedding photo'swere great too. you look so pretty.
love u