Monday, July 29, 2013

Checking Back in with Eleanor Roosevelt Family

It's been a busy term and the girls are so much more relaxed and integrated with the rhythm of life at the village.  Here's an update on everybody at the close of the second term.  I don't know if you'll notice a change from before, but they are like totally different kids to me after just a few months here at Agahozo.  For better or for worse, they are really in to modeling and all posed for their photos like I was shooting the next cover of Elle or something.

Josianne has continued to struggle with an allergic cough, but she loves being active in her church choir and sings whenever she can.  She has a beautiful singing voice.  She led our family in the songs at the gravesite rededication.  A genuine homebody, she likes hanging out at the house and spending time with our family mother, which to be fair she has never been able to do before in her life.  She sang gospel songs in English for extra credit in her English class at school. 

Violette is always happy to greet me with a big smile. She has been working extra hard this term on studying to catch up a bit at school. She loves playing volleyball with the other girls.  She worries a lot about the future and seems to especially miss Jeannette.  She is especially upset about having to stay at school over the next vacation.  [So imagine this, the government has just retroactively made an exam required for college applications, like your 8 grade exam. So for all the kids in the village who did not take that exam it is now required.  The village decided the kids that need to study for that have to stay over the next break, and just announced that the school holiday was cancelled for about 2/3rds of the Enrichment Year kids and their staff 'parents'.]

Honorine has really blossomed this term performing at Village Time several times in front of the entire student body.  She has read an original poem and also performed a rap song (in Kiswahili.) She really enjoyed practicing for and performing the sketches at school in English class.

For Ornella, it would really be easier for me to tell you what she's not up to!  She's been a finalist for our grade for the village quiz, played on the district champion girls basketball team, joined a group that creates service projects themselves for the village (currently working on making and installing black board trays at school to catch the chalk dust), joined a village fashion collective, appeared several times in the village video news magazine, "What's up, ASYV!"  (Think E! or extra extra for your high school) and hosted village time as the emcee.  She's working busily on her sketch-up drawing for an architecture contest being held in the village.  She's a busy girl and really doing well adapting to the village.

Adelphine is a gamer.  She tries hard at everything she does and gives it her all.  She might have the loudest laugh in the family.  She also might be the 'girliest' girl in the family, when it comes to doing makeup and worrying about what people are wearing. I am always embarrassing her with my dirty shoes.  (Rwandans wash their shoes between each wear just like you might clothing if you were a cleaner person than me.  This lasts for about one minute on the dusty dirt roads in the village, but then the kids just start washing their shoes again. Since, my shoes just get dirty again right away, I don't bother with the shoe cleaning loop, which drives Adelphine a bit batty.)  She really surprised me at the gravesite insisting on singing her own song without the family.  She cried and cried while she sang and it was very touching.

Chantal is doing just great.  She has been working so hard on her English and is now one of the strongest speakers in her class, which is a big improvement. She is often called on to have the larger roles in the sketches the English teachers are always assigning the kids to put on.  She still enjoys to sing and to dance at the Boom!.  (Boom! is a dance party that happens on the patio of the dining hall on Friday's after dinner.  Bertrand (Sr. 6) spins the hottest Justin Beiber, Chris Brown and P-Square hits and all the kids dance.  I go and chaperone shady corners where too much 'dancing' occurs, and also dance a bit myself.  Chantal is not afraid to dance with me, which is really saying something.  She is still almost always smiling and so positive and I use her attitude as inspiration almost every day.

Noeline is still the most conscientious and hardest working kid in the family.  When we do chores she starts first, stops last and doesn't take any breaks.  I sit next to Noeline in the dining hall and she says grace for such a long time before she eats that I am often sitting there waiting for her to finish, brimming over with questions.  (How was school? What are you doing this afternoon? etc.) She is an absolute dear and works hard to track down plates and forks for me when I come to meals late, which sometimes happens if meetings run long.  Noeline is a correspondent for ASYV News and is her stories can often be heard at Village time.  She recently covered our family trip to Rugalika and a story about a football match between Sr. 5 and Sr. 6 that ended in a controversial forfeit.

Adelaide continues to be a leader in our family and in our grade.  She recently came in 4th in a school-wide English spelling bee, beating out the all of the kids from Sr. 5 (juniors) and Sr. 4 (sophomores) and was the highest finishing girl.  She played basketball well all season and was a very coachable asset at practices.  She has a confident voice and speaks up a lot in family time.  She loves the Justin Beiber / Chris Brown song 'Right Next to You' and can often be found humming it.  She has performed a number of times at Village Time in a Christian modern dance group somewhat misnamed "Drama Club". 

Agnes is starting to open up a little.  She was sooooo quiet first term, and English is still a struggle but she is starting to find her voice in Kinyarwanda and talking more with her sisters.  She has also started play-fighting a lot and will sometimes greet her sisters with a playful pinch or punch, like an older sibling might.  The girls have started telling me Agnes is a "beast" but with big smiles and lots of laughs so I'm not too worried.  I think the joke is that she is such a quiet, timid girl and is finally asserting herself some small way, by engaging in a playful physical skirmish. She's not actually a bully, just the one you'd least imagine playing this way.  When the girls are chasing each other around laughing, I can't help but think they are getting comfortable with each other and getting closer.

Alice is her own woman.  She's not that worried about lectures from anyone at the village.  She does what she wants, and when she gets tired of that she does the next thing. She endures a lot of lectures for this fairly atypical* attitude, and is often called out in family time, but honestly I can't blame her. The 100th time you sweep your room with a hand made 'broom' (bundle of twigs) maybe it gets a little old.  Most of the girls stare straight ahead like zombies while they receive daily lectures on concepts like 'integrity' and 'time management' but Alice goes ahead and rolls her eyes and makes bored faces, so at least there's two of us. I think she'll be okay.  Alice holds court in the family in Kinyarwanda, telling long stories while the other girls gather around.  I have no idea what she is talking about, but the other girls laugh a lot so maybe she's a skilled story teller, a gossip, or both.  (*Atypical for the incredibly well mannered Rwandan teens but pretty much standard for any other teenagers I've ever met.)

Samila has gone and written a movie script!  It's a little soapy honestly, with a plot that revolves around a man with two wives and their respective children not getting along, but I think it's great that she, entirely on her own, saw the opportunities at the village and decided if there were cameras to film things and kids to act she could make a movie, so there.  Samila always makes a point to ask me about my day, which is really sweet and I appreciate that she comes to find me and talk to me.  She is getting along much better with all the other kids this term and the village is a lot to take in, so I can totally understand taking a little while to open up.  She's still one of the more sophisticated girls in the family and recently asked me to download a zombie movie to show to the girls.  Any suggestions?

Grace is doing so well in school. She has really stepped it up a notch this term.  She studies hard and I am very proud of her.  Grace is a Seven Day Adventist and recently chose to be baptized in Lake Mugasera in a full on dunking in the lake ceremony.  She was very excited.  When my birthday was observed in the village (all the June Birthday's had to go sit on the stage) I was embarrassed and frightened because all the instructions were in Kinyarwanda and 'birthday parties' here are tortuous.  (It's a typical Rwandan ceremony with lots of protocol and lengthy moralizing speeches.) I made Grace come and sit with me and hold my hand.  She did a great job keeping me calm.  

Yvonne is just the cutest thing ever.  I may have to post a YouTube of her talking just so you can see her personality because there are not words to capture it. She is confident and sassy and will just tell it like it is. Her face is an amplifier for her mood and you can tell from a mile away if she is happy or not. I am always giving her a hard time about spending too much time on Facebook and she argues right back with me.  She likes to dance on the Drama team with Adelaide and Happyness.  I downloaded Toy Story for the girls to watch and also Planet Earth. They hated both of them.  They think all cartoons are for babies and animal programs do not interest them.  I was trying to think of movies where my poor English speakers could still follow along.  (Toy Story, for the record, does not resinate if you never really had any toys.) The family nominated Yvonne to give me a real tongue lashing about bringing a movie with "people, real people" for them to watch.  She's so emphatic.  I think that's what make's her stand out so much.  Some people might be tentative in a second language, but Yvonne uses her volume and expressions to convey what her vocabulary will not allow.

Happyness has been suffering from a lot of stomach issues this term and missed a fair amount of school. This does not stop her from singing with the Isheja traditional dance troupe.  Happiness is an amazing singer and sang the lead parts of the family song at the gravesite rededication.  She also choreographs many of the dances for the Drama dance troupe.  She also sang an acapella solo in English class.  She has the softest speaking voice in my family, but she always has interesting things to say, so when she speaks everyone quiets down, like EF Hutton

Josianne got her first pair of jeans this term and it was a big event.  Josianne likes to have me read her English homework to her and enjoys that I do a lot silly pantomimes.  She cannot believe how frivolous and silly I act because she's never seen any adult act this way.  Academically, Josianne is really blossoming.  She was not in the greatest school before coming here (read no books but plenty of corporal punishment), and the first term was a huge change for her, but this term she has shown the biggest improvement in her grades of any girl in Eleanor Roosevelt. You can see she's more confident in the way she walks around the village.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Gravesite Rededication

So today, the Eleanor Roosevelt Family traveled to Rugalika in Kamonyi District, to the site of Jeannette's burial.  (The girls have been raising money for a gravesite improvement all term.)  We were planning on contracting with local laborers, which turned out to be Jeannette's uncle.  A couple weeks ago, there was a pretty tense scene when I was supposed to negotiate labor costs with the bereaved family and maybe didn't drive a hard enough bargain, but in the end it all worked out okay.

Today we got up early and headed to Rugalika.  It was a couple hour ride over some pretty rough roads and we were pretty cramped in the van:
1/5th of me, Happiness and Jeanette.  Grace and Yvonne are practicing the song in the back row.

For various reasons (some Rwandan and some universal), we arrived about one hour late. For me it was a hard day, but ultimately it was a success.  I was very nervous about all the details.  Death rituals are cultural and leaving so much up to an outsider made me feel we might leave out something essential or inadvertently offend someone.   Jeannette was in the ASYV family for 4 months, and in her biological family for 15 years, so showing up and taking over felt stiff and forced.

Going over those 'roads' in the van makes me think about how terrible her last hours must have been.  So sick. Vomiting and septic.  Her guardians realizing in a panic way too late just how sick she was. Struggling to get off that steep hill and get to a 'health clinic' that couldn't do a thing for her anyway.  It just rips me up. 

The girls had prepared a whole ceremony with an MC, prayers, songs, poems and speeches.  They all cried their little eyes out and hearing 15 girls sing through tears is heart wrenching and must be some special Priority Mail® type of prayer.

The Agahozo Shalom Youth Village Founder, Anne Heyman, was expected to attend, but fell ill this morning and sent her apologies.  In her absence, Jeannette's family decided to lavish undeserved praise on the only white person within 30 kilometers, yours truly.  The entire ceremony and speeches were all in Kinyarwanda and while I was able to follow the general tone of course, I had no idea what was going on.  You can hardly imagine my surprise when Jeannette's Aunt, a catholic nun, whipped out some perfumed oil, lunged across the room and started washing my feet. Jiminy fing Cricket!!!  My face contorted into a wildly inappropriate tight smile that is my 'go-to' a lot these days when wanting to run and scream but not appear socially insensitive.  My mind was racing.  I wanted to strongly reject the Christ imagery and the notion that I was deserving or superior.  But I didn't feel I could communicate in delicate way that I was rejecting the overture because I felt it was unnecessary and not because I was rejecting the Aunt.  

In the end, maybe just due to he path of least resistance, I just went along with it and the ceremony moved on to the next agenda item before I had fully wrestled with what this meant, what it implied and how I should react.  

I was later called on to speak and it was difficult.  I was struggling a bit, and then in some way that I am culturally blind to, it 'became time' to serve the Fanta, so while I was talking about Jeannette and the ongoing impact she'll have on me and girls in Eleanor Roosevelt, someone was walking around with an opener and a crate asking "Orange, Citron or Coca?" and that somehow made it all so much easier.  This is sad, and grief is grief, but there is Fanta to be had so we will have it now thank you.  Life goes on.

In the end, as sad as the girls seemed, it is probably healthy for them to have some ceremony to commemorate Jeannette's death and to be able to participate.  Hopefully this was a purposeful step in the grieving process. 

Here's the Before:

And a few of the After:

The new gravesite is finished in concrete that will hold up much better in the Rwandan rainy seasons.

The large cement cross has a space for a photo you might recognize:

The ride home was long and hot and cramped and the girls were tired.  I was tired. I am tired.  I am going to bed.