Thursday, January 05, 2012

A beautiful post by Harv (donna wrote the headline, not Harv :)

Hello. It’s Harvin again Donna asked me if I would like to contribute again tonight. To be honest I wondered if I had the energy. It’s been a very exhausting, long day filled with an incredible range of emotions for both the kids and adults living here at New Hope Homes. Yet all these emotions have a story connected to them, with one in particular that will haunt me for a long time, so I’ll do my best to let you relive them here with my words. The stories are not chronological, but framed by the emotions I felt today.


Those of you who know me know that two of my favorite and favorite activities are running, and Yoga and I am happy to say that I managed to do both today!

I had started running in the morning, joined yesterday by Isaac, and today Sande tagged along as well. This of course turns my run into more of a run/walk since 12 year old boys the world over tend to think they are better athletes than their young bodies allow, but it’s worth it to have some alone time with the two older boys. One of the best parts of running in a new city is that you often find yourself discovering things you wouldn’t have otherwise. Like the Old Italian guy who has been living here for 40 years who’s accent was so thick the boys didn’t realize he was speaking English. Or the African Bagel Company (ABC) café we found on a rutted side road off the main highway. Yes, I finally I have a source for coffee in the morning! After trying it, Sande and Isaac couldn’t understand why I like the taste of coffee, but then again they can’t comprehend living in a place (Mpls) that’s colder than the inside of their freezer. They had no problem acquiring a taste for a bagel smothered with jelly though!


Upon our return, Donna (who was now very happy by her surprise bagel delivery), Anna, Grace, Marie Rose, Nshimye, Fabiola, and Ester decided it was time Harvin got some decent African clothes, so the eight of us walked down to the market, where the girls picked out fabric for me and I negotiated with a tailor to make me a couple shirts. If boys the world over think they are better athletes than they are, than girls the world over think they have an incredible fashion sense, and that isn’t always true either. But the shirts will be done by Sunday so I’m committed to wearing them at least once for them before I leave.


There is a coal market we walk by on the way to the main market, where people buy their coal to heat their stoves to cook by. It’s dirty, and the people there look old and worn. Yet Donna makes a point to walk through and greet each of them.

There’s also a point of cultural difference I should mention if you ever come to Rwanda. It’s considered rude to just whip out your camera and take pictures of people without first asking permission. As a photo addict, I thought I had found a way around that particular problem by giving my camera to Grace, the smallest of the kids, and asking her to take pictures. I figured that out of the hundreds of photos she was likely to take as she played photographer, I would get a few good ones to save. Donna’s camera iPhone camera had also found its way into the hands of Innocent, a name that couldn’t have been more apropos.

It was all working out so nicely until we arrived at the end of the coal market, and this aged woman started, rightfully so, reprimanding the youngest and most ‘innocent’ of our group. You can’t imagine the feeling of remorse I felt as I stepped forward like the guilty sibling to take the misplaced blame. In the end Donna’s limited language ability and charm won the ‘mother’ over, but it remains a lesson in humility, and reminder to respect the cultures we visit.


Nothing like doing Yoga with 8 orphan children in Africa to put one in a state of contemplation. Donna and I had pulled two of the wet floor rugs (a result of leaky plumbing in the bathroom) out into the sunshine to dry, and it struck me that we had inadvertently created a fine place to do sun salutations. After setting the tone with some relaxation music from the handy iPhone, the kids and I practiced Yoga together. Somewhere between learning to breathe, our up-dogs and down-dogs and a lot of giggles, I think they also took away the more important lesson taught. Like how Yoga, like life, is always just practice, not perfection, and that’s ok, since most of these kids will never experience anything close to a perfect life.


So I Skyped with my Mom today. After my sister was kind enough to help her get it set on her computer, we actually connected with very little problems. It was wonderful to see her, and for her to meet the kids here. They sang her a native song, met my dog Roxy via video, and asked her questions about both myself and her. Donna was kind enough to throw in a compliment about how well I have connected with the children, and for this I am thankful. Both to Donna for the compliment, but mostly to my Mother. You see I don’t have any children of my own, and most of the time… no scratch that… all of the time I really have no idea what I’m doing. I can only surmise that any success I am having with the children here I owe to the example set my own Mother as a single parent raising two teenage kids. So thanks Mom, from all of us. How do you feel about being Grandma to 29 more kids?


To some a slightly damp carpet in the sun is a Yoga studio, to others it’s a place to create and build. In Donna’s never ending quest to provide these kids with unique experiences, she somehow found a very kind hearted connection at LEGO’s. Ramphies Lopez, an employee there, donated dozens of LEGO sets for her to bring with her on this trip. Personally I haven’t played with LEGO’s since I myself was a kid and I must say they have improved their product considerably. It was quite a sight to see both the boys and girls equally absorbed in building the fun and colorful figures. Once could practically see the gears in the minds working on replicating the gears on their toys.


Per the usual routine, we all met at the lower house for dinner. As we arrived at dusk we realized they still didn’t have power, since the power box that has been broken for two days hasn’t been fixed yet. Looks like poor Manuel the cook will be whipping up the rice and bean staple dish in the dark once again. The kids don’t seem to think much about it, so I imagine that life here without electricity must be a relatively frequent occurrence. Donna has always made a point to not only try to help the kids in need, but also to take moments to help the aunties, or ‘taunt-te-nes’, with their English. The moment of the night came for me when I found myself, who barely can remember Hello, Thank You, How Are You, and I’m Fine in Kinyarwandan, with three aunties and a language book laughing our way through the language barrier as we tried to teach each other with a well thumbed translation book and a penlight.


Never try to teach the basketball game of PIG in Rwanda. The Kinyarwandan word for pig has about a billion letters and there is no way I’ll ever be able to pronounce it no matter how many times I try. These kids are great with a ball on their feet, but put a ball in their hands and the baskets come few and far between. Settle for COW, or INCA, and just know the game still will take along time.


The last story takes a name, one of Isaac, the 12 year-old boy I referenced earlier. He is a remarkable young man, who stood out to me the very first time I met him. He is looked to by the rest of the house as their leader, he is compassionate and playful with the young kids, a guiding force with the middle children, constantly called upon by me and Donna to translate for us, and he handles the responsibility with an intelligence, poise and grace not seen in most adults. That and he has these penetratingly deep, soulful eyes that speak to the life he has lived for one so young, one of abandonment and abuse before finding his way to the sanctuary that New Hope Homes has provided.

You see today is visiting day. A day where those here who still have family outside the walls can come to visit. Perhaps a sister, who’s single parent had to make the hard choice to keep only some of her children? Or a mother, who was diagnosed with Aids and on her deathbed, but through anti viral medication beat the disease enough to live but not to care for her child. The stories range in degrees of tragedy, but the real tragic stories the kids here who truly have no one, for it is on these days they feel their abandonment most keenly. They clearly know that the other kids at New Hope Homes are their new brothers and sisters and Chantal and Mbanda are their wonderful parents….but still, they understand somewhere in their soul that they are orphaned or abandoned.

After I had returned to the market this morning, I met a few of these visitors, and then went inside the house. Isaac was there, with a few others. They were playing cards but he was alone and silent on the couch. As most rose to go to lunch, I playfully grabbed him, asking him if he was ok, that he seemed a little sad, hoping he might open up his normal calm and guarded demeanor and express himself.

What does one say to a 12-year-old boy when he sits with tears streaming down his face telling you that his father died when he was two? What does one do to comfort the rock that everyone here looks to for support and guidance when he tells you between sobs of abusive horrors that he lived through after his father died? You can’t say that it will all be better because for most of these kids it won’t. You can’t hold him and tell him you will always be there for him like a normal parent could, because these kids have already been abandoned once and unless you truly mean it, it would be the cruelest of all lies. So I tell him what I can. That I will think of him every day for the rest of my life, because I will. That I admire him for all the reasons above and more, because I do. That I love him, because I do. Given the context, it all sounds to helpless. So in the end it’s him who steels himself, returns his emotions behind those sad eyes, and goes back to the playing the role of leader, friend, confidant, and best brother to all the other orphans here.

I came on this trip hoping to find some inspiration in my own life. And I have. His name is Isaac. A twelve-year old orphan boy who has touched me forever.

1 comment:

emily.a.groves said...

Wonderful and inspiring story.