Wednesday, January 21, 2009
(note - see youtube video posted as listed 2 entries below) Tears that won’t stop flowing. A few days before I was to leave I helped the Mommies, Aunties and Kids understand that I would be on a plane to America soon. The kids are able to understand this in English (well sort of), the adults require a sense of naming or counting days and then me making the universal airplane sign with my arms spread out while saying “America” and using the Kinyarwanda word for “tears”. Eventually they get it and then say “channie” tears. Meaning VERY MANY tears. A fews days from departure it really didn’t matter to the kids, but the night before I was to leave they started crying. The older ones simply withdrew and stopped talking to me. I tried to get them to play and sing songs and they just sat there staring at me. I asked if they were tired or sad, and they said sad. I tried to get them to shake the sad feelings but it wasn’t possible. They just stared at me. Then one by one they put themselves to bed without the big fun goodnights. Ahhh, my heart was breaking. The adults were eager to get in their last English lesson with “Teacher” Donna so we worked very hard at the key things. They would have gone on for a long long time but I eventually needed to get some sleep. After I went to my room I heard them out in the living room having a go at it by themselves. It was so wonderful to hear them trying to help each other with colors or key words like shirt, pants etc. Speaking of “shirt”. Remember when I said they had some difficult with the letter R? Well some of the aunties could only pronounce Shirt as Shit. I tried to explain that is was the a word for poo ( I use the term delicately) by motioning to my rear end while creating the sense of being on a toilet. They eventually got it and thought it was very very funny. OMG, they laughed so hard. As I gave my goodnight kisses all around each of them said “thank you” in English. They were so proud to be able to say the word in English. I walked by to my room and started to cry. I simply don’t know how to leave these people I love these kids with all my heart. They are my kids to me, not some distant collection of kids in a far away African country. I love them to the depth of my soul. I cried and cried and cried then began to pack. I got up at 5 am the next morning and was there for each child as they opened their eyes. I rarely was there at the moment over the past 2 weeks so they loved the surprise of having me there with a smile and my ‘da-go-coonda’ greeting (I love you!) I decided I needed to try to keep the kids happy that morning rather than sitting around with a bunch of teary eyes. Early on I took my luggage to the gate. As is our tradition, the kids love to carry anything when we are walking some place so each wanted to carry a bag, I spread things out so they could each have a little something. My water bottle, a camera bag, a duffle, back pack , jacket etc etc. They giggled as they tried to manage some of the bigger pieces. Then they got sad but I quickly got them back to the yard and started to play so they didn’t have to stare at the bags. I love morning at the homes. The kids get up early. The older kids in the top bunks carefully take the mosquito netting and tie it up above their heads. The netting is massive as it covers the top and bottom bunk. Then they make their bed in the top bunk and work their way down the ladder. After making a pit stop they all go to the living room and take their cup and toothbrush from the cabinet and the oldest one puts a little toothpaste on the toothbrush. Next they head to the dining room area and put the tiniest splash of water in the cup and head to the yard. They crouch down and begin brushing their teeth in a line. When they are done they take what little amount of water is left in the cup and wash their face. Some of the kids have pj’s so they look so adorable crouched over washing their teeth. Dorcus is the funniest. Everything is funny to her so brushing her teeth always makes me laugh. As the kids are starting to get ready the Aunties are already beginning the process of scrubbing every inch of the floors with a towel or old broom with a towel on it. It takes a long time but is reflective of the pride that they have in these homes. Everything is spic and span. They also make every bed with military precision. The jersey sheets that some friends of mine donated 2 years ago are still holding up nicely. We brought another supply of cotton ones that will get rotated in as the older ones wear out. The kids from the 1st home came over early. They surprised me as they rounded the corner of the court yard. I had spent some time with them the night before and they too were crying when I left. Mostly Marie Rose and Dorene. Tanteanay Claudin looked at me so seriously and said “Miss Donna”…and put her arms out like an airplane and sat it with a question in her voice. Yes was my reply and then she said “no!” at which point I burst into tears and quickly headed down the hallway so the kids didn’t see me “Sorry sorry” was her reply. She is absolutely amazing with these kids. She has so much love to give and does so in abundance. One by one the kids started to cry and it was a mess. I went to my room to compose myself and when I returned she had them all in a circle and motioned for me to come into the center. Each of them put their hand on me and began to pray with tears streaming down their faces. I couldn’t hold it in and joined in the puddles of tears. Dorene just kept looking at me with such sad eyes, the same with MarieRose. Just shoot me and put me out of my mystery. Remember, each of these precious angels has been orphaned or abandoned. So to them I was just another person who was leaving them. It was expecially apparent to the 3 new girls that we received last week as they of course thought I came with the place. The oldest one who didn’t speak any form of English shared her anguish with the look in her eyes and her face. Aghhhhhhh I don’t know how to leave these wonderful kids. We all went to church as a way of creating a nice send off. They were farely composed by then but still have me the longing look of – please change your mind.. Eventually I put each child on my lap. Wrapped my arms around them, said a silent prayer and held and rocked them. Each one cried. Some of them like Esther literally got my pants wet from the tears. Tears usually just stream down the face and are a tiny drop at the chin if they aren’t wiped away by then. I have never seen such puddles of tears. I mean puddles. There was no sound, no wimpering, just tears and the occasionally big eyes looking up at me. When she settled down I moved to the next child. Some of the boys thought it was great fun to sit on my lap and take off my watch or ring etc. Some of the girls were fine too. But most of the kids, especially the girls just were moosh. As I moved to the row behind Esther she just kept looking at me and crying. I eventually reached for her and held her again cradling her deep in my arms. She finally fell asleep and I handed her to Claudine so I could keep moving. Thankfully the last two were Dorcus and Ariene who think that everything in life is fun or funny so they smiled and played with me as I held them. They are total goofballs and I am thankful for them in my life. Marie Rose who was sitting in the front row just kept turning around and looking at me studying my every move. Eventually the service was over and Chantal decided all the kids needed to come to the airport to send me off. I jumped into her SUV and 5 kids piled in the back the rest, including the aunties got into the van. As we were driving I told Chantal about all the tears and the I wanted to make the airport experience fun. She said “what was I thinking, I’m going to have 20+ crying kids and aunties at the airport…how will I get them home?” I was blessed to have MarieRose, Kayitesi, Dorene, Alice and 2 others that escape me at the moment in the car so they proudly sang the news songs that I had taught them to Chantal’s delight. Alice did a solo rendition of “This old man” that was so cute. All the kids think “nic nac pattywack” is very very funny. Alice is so smart she really picked up the concept of the rhyms and remembered how the song went. The kids love seeing the airport and all the activity. By then I was composed an committed to the kind of departure that Chantal did with Issac, Fabiola, Sande and Lionel at boarding school. Kids feed off our reactions so if I cried they would cry. If I blew big kisses they would focus on trying to send them back and laugh as they did it. The kids did great. The Aunties were a mess but they saw was I was trying to do and did their best to mirror my approach. 2 of the Aunties said “Donna, I love you”. The first time they had been able to speak those works in English. Aghhh, the pain. I was doing pretty well until I got to Chantal. As I wrapped my arms around her and hugged tight the floodgates opened again. I told her she couldn’t ‘get go until I found my happy face again. It took a while but eventually I was able to back away and produce a smile and start blowing kisses as I got into the security line. I stopped just before I disappeared in behind the wall and just looked at them trying to memorize each of their faces. Sure I took over 7000 pics and have nearly 200 gigs of photos and video, but that’s different. I wanted to take them in as a family and scan each face, smile,body as a 3d image. I stared as long as I could before Chantal said “Miss Donna, go or you’ll be late!”. I blew them 1 more monster kiss that made them laugh as I disappeared behind the wall. Yes, I stuck my head out for 1 more peak and sure enough they were all still standing there staring into the place that I had been seconds before. I giggled and blew a last kiss. Disappearing behind the wall into security I tried to compose myself but inside every muscle, every joint, every living flowing thing within me was in pain and crying out. To be continued this weekend.
No Trash There is something wonderful about the way our homes and the country of Rwanda approach trash etc. There is none. Plastic bags are not allowed into the country, in fact they take them away at customs if they are in sight. They were banned in 2005. In our homes everything that isn’t food, clothing , furniture, charcoal cooking stove or a water bucket doesn’t’ exist. Because there isn’t any pre-packaged foods there aren’t any packages etc. It becomes dramatically apparent as I study the contrast of zero garbage coming from the 26 people that I live with in the compound that comprises the 2nd and 3rd homes and ME! I bring over small cans of chicken to eat, snack bars etc. The contrast is remarkable and embarrassing. Other than skins of a pineapple or bad leaves of kahl , or the shell of an egg that goes into the compost bag, the kids, aunties, cook and nightwatchman produce zero garbage. As the country moves forward and embraces more of what we consider progress this is sure to change….for the worse. Let’s consider who is more progressive in this story? Oh what we could learn from the wonderful people of Rwanda. Te
Share the journey of: Chantal's introduction of our 3 new girls: Anastaci, Grace and Florence The children welcoming them at our learning center. The children singing a welcoming song. Watch Anastaci overcome her fear to share a song. As painful as it is to share the fear and sadness that overwhelms her, know that 24 hours later she was running and playing with the kids. The photos posted earlier in this journal share the before/after. Video is posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJK-gdFlkgo or go to youtube.com and put newhopehomes in the search bar (note-no spaces among the 3 words. More to come.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Fetching Water Our homes are plumbed for water and someday we hope to have it actually working. Water is in short supply in Rwanda as is the pressure to pump it most of the time. Thus we get water from a big drum in the yard or go about a 25 minute was to a pump where we can buy it for 100 rwandan francs per jug. Or about 20 cents. But when you consider the average person make just a dollar a day you can see how carefully that water needs to be used. Bathing. The little kids sit in a small kid size tub and the Mommies carefully place water and soap on them. The older kids can do it a bit by themselves. They stand in the bucket and use a small amount of water from a pail to suds up. The kids use just a tiny tiny bit of water for brushing their teeth etc etc. This week I joined Valence (the night watchman) as he went to get the water. Of course it was a day that rained and I had all my camera gear so I didn’t get too many photos. He was sweet, he kept tucking under overhangs so we could try to stay a bit dry. One of the stops was for another pump system. There were about 25 containers lined up ready to be filled from a garden hose like thing. It was stationed in a small building much like you would find when filling your propane tanks in the states. The people there thought the Moozoongoo (me) was a most unexpected visitor. First they did not want to welcome me, but eventually they warmed to my presence and eventually let me take just a few shots. They waved goodbye as we continued on our journey. The wheelbarrow that carries the water is light on the outbound (empty containers) trip but on the return is was slow going. The slower we move the better from my pov as I love to soak in the life that surrounds me and let people react to me and me to them in return. Not many people welcomed me to take photos but I did get a couple as you’ll see in this entry. If I had my way I would just hang out and get to know these wonderful people. But, alas we continue on. The people love seeing their photo in the display of the camera. It’s great humor as the 1st time they seee it they giggle, then the crowds form and want to see it. The adorable young woman kept bringing more and more people from her house to see the photo and then kept posing. We had a great time.
The Koch family handed me an envelope with $100 in at as I was heading to the airport for my trip to Rwanda. They told me to use it how I thought best. Chantal initially thought about buying 2 goats and then some ice cream for the kids. An alternative would be to make storage cubbies for the kids to organize their clothes etc. After 1.5 weeks of debating we finally decided on a new bike. The Koch family's oldest son Anthony has been really engaged with supporting our kids. About a year ago he donated 1/2 of his savings to buy the kids 2 new bikes for Christmas. With this many kids and only 2 bikes (both of which are stored at the 1st home with the school, we thought the 2nd and third homes would love to have one to share. Needless to say, it was a hit. Next thing is to get some helmets from the states as falling without one is not goooood.
Rubbing Elbows with Orphans and the Ambassador. Kate enjoyed her 1st full day in Rwanda. She has such a joyful spirit. She slept well under that mosquito netting and we had to wake her for breakfast as she was dreaming such sweet dreams. Lots of play time with the kids. Then I arranged to go meet the office of Orphans of Rwanda. It’s a group that sponsors orphans for the University. I met the Director while in NY so I wanted to visit with their local office here in Rwanda. They send over 160 kids to the Universities throughout the country to help them achieve their ultimate best. We’ve got both ends of the spectrum covered now. We’ve got the little ones and they have the older ones. Kate and I did this adventure on our own with a driver so we felt quite impressed with our communication skills etc. Kate is going to help teach the driver some English and he in turn will help with her Kinyarwanda. Next came a very special time. We were invited with about 100 90 other Americans to the home of the new US Ambassador to Rwanda. He in his wife have been the country for about 3 months. He was gracious beyond measure and spoke from the heart about his desire for us to do “Collateral Good” in the country ie when helping someone here, try to grab hold of the person next to he or she to bring them along too. He asked for people to speak about something wonderful we have seen while being here. Two people spoke up. I was one of them. It was lovely to be able to speak about the work that Chantal and her husband are doing here. The Ambassador spoke about the strength of the Rwanda army helping fight the genocide in Darfur. Powerful imagery when you think about it. He said this country can live under the shadow of the genocide or shine a light all the good things that are happening here. The peace corp is coming in 12 days and it is a BIG deal here. They view it as great sign of progress. It was an honor to make yet another powerful connection with people that love this country that I grown to love. To Kate’s family. Your daughter is a gift to these people. Fear not, she is in great hands and is already and asset to our precious children.
Water is so precious. I wish as American's we really understood that. Clean water is even more rare. Water is used very respectively and responsibly. When you bathe with buck you get it. Here is our wheelbarrow with empty water jugs as we prepare for the trip to the waterpump. Round trip it takes about an hour or 1.5 hours. Water is 100 rwandan francs per jug...or about 20 cents. If you make a dollar a day, you see how important it is to not waste any water.
Good shoes are treated like gold in the homes. The Mommy washing them up each night. Not sure what happened here, but suddenly Dorene started washing hers in the middle of the day. Not sure if she did it on her own since they got dirty or if Mama told her to do it. It was the only time I saw one of the kids doing it so I think she did it on her own as a matter of pride.
The last few days have been a blur. I will try to capture some of the key pieces. Paying it BACKWARDS Perhaps the best concept I have created in my life is a new one that I am calling the ‘pay it backwards’ idea. We all know about paying it forward. I have noticed that while the kids are doing wonderfully in their English studies the Mom and Aunties have zero understanding of the language. They see the kids advancing and don’t know anything about what they are saying etc. Of course they all speak Kinyarwanda and is always their 1st choice. But in order for the kids to thrive and the caretakers to feel a part of their lives they need to grow together. Kate and I bought some simple English books on the street in downtown Kigali, then Chantal took us to buy some large pieces of paper to serve as poster board. Next was a small notebook and pen for each of our new adult students. The 1st night the adults gathered after most of the kids were down. They came in so eager to learn. We practiced the basics. Hello, what is your name etc etc. Then a bit of colors and things. It’s great doing it in the home as the props are the key things that they need to have a handle on. Table, chair, shirt, shoes etc etc. Kinyarwanda language pronounces R like L’s and it exceptionally hard to get their tongues to make the sound of an R. Frankly it’s nearly impossible but we keep working on it. But this teaching is old news. The new idea was to continue the learning on a ongoing why when I leave, then after Kate leaves etc etc. In order to grow together the kids can help. So, Marie Rose is now the official teacher in the 1st home and Kayitesi is the teacher in the second home with help from Innocent and Alice. It took a bit for the kids to get the hang of it, but when the did it was like a HUGE floodgate opened for the adults and they loved it. The way the concept works is the “teacher” says “what is this?” touching a chair or holding a cup or bottle etc. The ‘students’ then have to answer one at a time. The teacher points to each student and makes them say it correctly. The teacher often laughs that they don’t’ have it right but the adults just laugh and are not offended in any way. When they have it correct the “teacher” applauds their work and the students cheer for joy. After 2 days of doing this, I see the adults asking the kids what things are and the kids joyfully answering. We look for learning time while the Mommies and Aunties are working. A great time is when they doing the laundry or everyone is eating. Colors and What is this are easy then. So imagine the adults sitting on water buckets doing the laundry by hand and a small child standing near them asking what this are. “What is this?” holding a pair of shorts. “What color?” Perhaps the color is red. Then the teacher says “find more red”. The adults look for shoes, shirts parts of their clothes…anything that is the same color and quickly point it out while repeating the word. I will attach a small video here that shows how it worked in the beginning. It’s getting way better now. Alice is a bit shy with her colors, but she’s eager to help. Yesterday I walked into the 2nd home and found the Mama with 2 babies on her lap along with the teaching book and 2 young young kids trying to learn on their own. I also made simple charts with colors, numbers, objects and key phrases for each home. Chantal thought it would be a great way for them to study it when they pass by. I cannot fully express the joy on Mama Imaculee’s face when they proudly says “Hello Miss Donna…how are you?” And she has finally master “yes and “no”. Kate will continue the technique over the next 6 weeks and ensure the concept sticks. We are also going to try to create a simple program that continues when the next set of visitors arrive. I can hardly wait to see how we progress over the next year. I don’t say this to be boastful, but when God puts a simple thought in your head, you run with it, and you see it thrive….it’s exciting. We had a very fun experience on my last night of teaching. The kids had gone to bed and the adults from the 2nd and 3rd homes gathered for lessons. I wasn’t sure if they wanted to as we had been teaching over the course of the day. When someone passed by I would say “what is X doing?” The right reply was “Amina is WALKING”, “Charlotte is sweeping” , “Mama is washing” etc etc. But they wanted to proceed so we went for it. Part way through it I decided to get a big bag of red fish (the gummybear like things) that I had brought from the states. I stood there holding the bag and they couldn’t figure out why I had it. Then I asked what color something was and the 1st person that answer it right got a fish. They laughed until they split a gut. With the bar now raised they were much more attentive to trying to get it right. When they all answered at about the same time I ran around the room and gave them each one. They thought this was soooooo funny. One of the colors they keep forgetting is “white”. Finally I had to give them the simple reminder. “Miss Donna?” “Moozongoo?” WHITE was the reply. They laughed until they couldn’t breathe. RAINY DAYS and FACEBOOK. Africa rejoices when it rains (unless you live in the muddy slums…but even then you find some joy) but 30 kids trapped in their homes makes for some challenges. Of course it was a Saturday and I wanted to get all the kids together to play at one home. All day I had been waiting for the kids from the 1st home to come to the compound for the 2nd and 3rd. As luck would have it, the second the rain came they arrived dripping wet, but ready to play. We went for the basics. There are lots of songs they like to sing so that gets the party started. They especially like ones with hand motions like head and shoulder knees and toes etc. Thanks to some fast replies from many friends on facebook we added quite a few new ones to their collection. Kumbya, He’s got the whole world etc etc. But, by far the most entertaining new one was “This old man”. I they kinda got the idea of the rhyme but the part that made them laugh every time were the word “PATTYWACK”. They giggled and giggled. One of our fun songs is do, re, mi. We start low working our way up, then up down then doo me me, me so so, ray fa fa…..I hold the last tea tea for a long long time making funny eyes at them as they know what’s coming next…we do the do me me. me so so really fast and they all run around screaming. Someone taught them duck duck goose. I didn’t know they knew it until I saw the teacher playing it. I wasn’t sure it was possible to play it inside with all the kids. But Mama said “yeggo” (yes) and we pushed the furniture back and had at it. I made the Mommies and Aunties play too as they had never done it. The kids LOVED “goosing” the adults and the adults laughed so hard when they goosed each other. Laughter and more laughter. Keeping a ton of kids entertained takes a lot of energy but they are so worth it. The light that shines in each of their eyes is so bright. A full out belly laugh is good for their souls and mine. Everyone once in a while I think about what their lives would be like had they not come to New Hope Homes. Orphans being raised by an older Orphan or a small baby disgaurded at our gate. They may have found some definition of love but their tiny spirits would always be living in some sort of fear. They certainly wouldn’t have the opportunity to achieve their personal best much less know about The Lord. Sure, 30 kids is just a small dent in the needs of this country. But at least there are 30 more kids that will one day be able to help shape the future of their country. I thank God for Chantal’s vision for New Hope Homes and the tenacity of her commitment. CHANTAL Speaking of Chantal, I ask that you keep her in your prayers. It’s very clear to me the impact of adding the 3rd home has been on her time. When we had one home it was super manageable. Two became a bit more work, but a 3rd home and 30 kids is a serious undertaking. Simple things like getting their food supplies, thinking about menus, treating sick kids, getting them to school, working with the Mommies, Aunties, cooks and night watchmen to ensure they are doing things properly much less keeping their bonding strong. Sieba the social worker that the government required her to add now that we have 30 kids helps relieve some of the pressure but it’s still an endless responsibility. An update on our 3 latest kids to join the home – Anastcia, Grace and Florence They are doing well. Florence the youngest (about 2ish) is the most delighted to be here. She some running filled with glee to greet us and seems to have adjusted nicely. Her favorite place is to be in Kate’s arms. Grace is the middle girl and is generally quite happy. She loves posing for photos and seems to have fit in quite nicely. Anastacia the oldest and initially the most skeptical is 75-80% there. Most of the time she is playing, laughing and smiling from ear to ear. Then there are those moments where she withdraws to some place deep inside. I don’t know if she’s missing her Mom who died or just trying to take it all in. She’s sooooo far behind in school that she seems a bit aware of this. The teacher is terrific and keeps encouraging her. When she withdraws her face looks down and you simply can’t get her to look up. But I will focus on the 75-80% of the time where she is full of joy. Her best pal seems to be Marie Rose as they are at each others side all the time. Last night I cuddled up with her while Marie was “teaching” English. I held her a long long time and finally asked Marie to ask her if she likes it here. Her reply was “yeggo”/yes. I think asked if it was good or “chanay” good…VERY good. “Chanay” was her repy. VERY MUCH. I take that as serious progress over the past 1.5 weeks since they landed on our doorsteps. I give it about 2-3 weeks until the light is fully burning in her eyes too.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Tuesday January 13th. We played all day. It was a nice to to simply just chill with the kids. I was able to spend time in the classroom in the afteroom at the 1st home and work with the teacher and kids with conversational English. We practiced changing the "lucy lucy" to Excuse me Miss Donna - Look at this! Miss Donna then replies "What (insert name). They replied "See the (insert sometime...elephant etc etc.) We welcome the wonderful Kate to our home tonight. Kate is 25 and lives in Colorado. She works for Compassion and took at 2 month leave to come stay and play with the kids. It's her 1st time leaving America and she immediately filled the homes with a sweet spirit and joy. We'll be roommates and I welcome her presence.
A quick update on the 3 sisters that we welcomed a week ago today. They are doing great. They laugh, dance and enjoy their new brothers and sisters. Here's the photo evidence to show the transformation of Anastacia, the oldest and most skeptical and Florence the littlest.