Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Trying to comprehend

Today was a day filled with trying to comprehend so many things.

It began like any trip to Kibeho. A bit of chaos, lots of excitement and an hour behind schedule. We decided to start our adventure at 6 AM so I could a the right places at two points of the days for work calls. The kids know who goes on each trip to Kibeho as they rotate each time. The drive is about 4 hours so there is some prep…the right number of kids, proper food for the drive and back up in case we have a problem, extra water for survival if needed and of course the most important…chicklets (gum) which seems to help prevent the kids from throwing up and of course a Ziploc bag for each in case they do.

We had some confusion about the rotation of Issac and Sande when we made th final decision yesterday so we had to right the problem today. That meant they both came and they agreed to the rotation going forward. When we shared the news with the kids that were staying there was great confusion and challenges so Harvin and I had to stay until it was clear we were not picking favorites – it was indeed an honest mistake. It’s very important to Chantal that all decisions which involve some kids getting to do something and others not…that the communication needs to be crystal clear so they know they are all loved and there is clear rational. This of course takes time….hence the delay.

Packed in the van we said our prayer for a safe drive and off we went down the coble stone road.

For those of you that are new to the Kiebeho story simply know that this is a very very special and remote place in Rwanda where Mary – yes that Mary – the Mother of Jesus appeared to some kids for over 7 years in the early 80s. The apparitions as they are called, are barely known, yet the stories are clear and proven and at their peak you could find crowds of 100,000+ there. Mary also warned about the genocide before it happened. I learned about this story after my 2nd or 3rd trip to Rwanda and now visit there each trip. It becomes a part of the adventure with each visit. It’s also some great quality time with the kids as we have them trapped for 4 hours each way! One of the 3 girls that Mary appeared to on a regular basis has devoted her life to staying there and sharing the story day after day to visitor after visitor. She is named Anathalie and we have a wonderful visit each time I come. I now have her phone and we trade messages when I am coming to alert her. It’s quite a privilege to have this relationship. She started to text me this trip which blew me away. It’s not like you get a text message from a church sanctioned visionary every day. ☺

Anathathlie has a great desire to speak English. I brought her some translation books a few trips ago so she has been studying on her own.

The speed at which she has learned the language is simply incomprehensible. Harvin looked at me part of the way through as he was writing the English phrases she wanted to learn “wow, she has a gift”. I looked back and said…”ya, I think she has a few of those” and we laughed.

The kids were really helpful in translating and were very well behaved. It’s hard to sit in a small room for over an hour squirmingless and giggle free. They mostly made it. When they broke the code of silence, Harvin just gave them the ‘bad cop look’ and they were again little angels.

Given our conversation with Lillian last night and the country being in such broken- hearted place as they mark the 18th year in memory of the genocide this week and month, I asked her to share her story of how she survived. She had told me in detail about a year ago but I wanted Harvin to hear it. She did the highlights. She hid in her home at the beginning and then would go out a night to help others. Eventually people came and said she needed to run now. She fled with the Bishop and some other people on foot to the Congo. It took them 4 days to get there. Upon arrival she stayed with some Nuns for a few months and then when to Kenya for a year. She has lived in her tiny home at the top of a hill in Kibeho since she was a teen – the only exception was during this time period.

To be in Anathalie’s presence is to feel the love of God. Yes, I know there are many people reading this blog who don’t believe as I do, but even if you don’t, know that you would feel something special in her spirit.

Harvin then took the kids for a visit to the church so the kids could pray for about 10 minutes before they went to lunch. This is my window to spend some private time with her. Despite the language barrier she knows that I love her and believe in all that she has shared. My Father, in particular believes that he was spared death about 4 years ago so he could spread the word about a particular rosary that Mary shared in Kibeho called the Seven Sorrows Rosary. She knows that I buy many of them each time I come so this time she was prepared!

If you want to know more about this story, read a book called Our Lady of Kibeho or reach out to me at

If you are a person of faith…you can try to comprehend what it must have been like for her to visit with Mary for many years and now spend her entire life dedicated to sharing the story. That -my friends - is an understanding of a life purpose and a commitment to it.

If faith is not your groove thang. then simply try to comprehend another first hand story about surviving the genocide. Try to comprehend the type of death that the majority of those endured. Try to comprehend survivors’ guilt. Just try to comprehend.

We had a wonderful lunch at our usual spot overlooking a few of the many hills that give Rwanda the name – the land of 1000 hills. Harv got them all settled and ordered while I took time to pray and take more photos. The irony is I seem to take the same photos each trip, yet try to do it a little better each time. The ride back was silly fun. The kids were jazzed up from their lunch and ready to get the party bus going on the way back as they slept a good portion of the way down to Kibeho.

Alas, within about 45 mins of our departure, we drove by a big accident and those gathered started to shout about our tire. I had just started a conference call with a bunch of folks from our team around the world when we had to pull over to check the tire. Yes indeed flat. Let me be clear, it is very difficult to host a conference call when there are about 30+ people surrounding your van filled with sweet kids shouting at you. I took the ‘exit stage right’ approach and simply exited the van and stood in a field about 150 ft from the car as the crowds grew and our drive tried to change the tire. Moozoongoo (white people) attack crowds in general, but a moozoongoo in a van with a bunch of kids and a flat tire is newsworthy. The van was surrounds by lots of people all peering in while I tried to get some work down. My eyes never left the van in case curiosity turned into trouble. At one point the policeman came and chased everyone one away, but that lasted about 3 mins. When I saw the tire was changed and the people appeared to be giving the driver a hard time and the shouts grew louder, I gracefully exited the conference call with a simple “hey guys, I think we about to have a riot here, could you please call me back in 5” I worked my way through the crowd and got the front door open to confirm my suspicions that they wanted some francs for the privilege of staring at us as they didn’t to anything to change the tire other than put rocks under the tires to caulk them from rolling back. I am more than happy to pay someone for their help, but in a crowd of this size, if you handed out money, there would be no way to distribute it and the crowd could potentially get angry.

So, my best NYer instinct took over. I went to the crowd and forced them to back away from the van. I cleared a path and then thanked them and asked God to bless them for their kindness….all in kinyarwanda might I add. They thought this moozongo was quite funny, but they listened. With hands out stretched for money, I filled it with a thank you hand shake as I motioned the van to star moving. The shouts grew until I simply started yelling “oiya” which means NO. In their 15 sec hesitation from this sweet moozongo turned yeller, I was able to get the passenger door open, Harvin jumped to the back seat and we were off. The kids all laughed and cheered.

As we pulled away, Esther said they wanted 2000 francs…about $4US. Of course we would have paid if were a handful.

The rest of the ride was much less eventful, with laughter, zzz’s and the longest game of ‘who are you’…you know the one…person place or thing? Sande’s mind twister lasted for about 2 hours. I kid you not.

At one point the kids asked about the genocide as we passed village after village with people gathered to commemorate. Someone said “did you see the bones?” I said “which bones?” They all seemed to know that we had passed something important on the way down to Kibeho and wanted to be sure we knew it. As we were just about to get off the endless dirt, bumpy road, the kids yelled “there”.

What Harvin and I witness next was truly incomprehensible. We saw all these bones lying on plastic tarps, what appeared to be open graves. I asked the driver to turn around and Harvin we parked outside the gate. I was torn whether to take a photo or not as Anathalie – the visionary – asked us not to take pictures of her this trip in respect for genocide…so the last thing I wanted to do was to snap pix of people who had died.

Harvin and I chatted with the policeman who was stationed outside the gate. He invited us to enter. There we greeted some wonderful people who told us that they have been digging up the mass graves from the genocide in this area for about 2 weeks, then preparing the bones for a proper burial in an above ground mausoleum type structure. 500 hundred were cared for with 5000 to go. After they spoke with us and understood our hearts truly felt sorrow they gave us the privilege of walking through their work. We saw bones properly laid in rows. A large area of skulls. Piles of clothing they had removed from the bones. Their tools of the trade were scattered about. Picks for digging. Gloves for protection and masks to attempt to break out the stench of death now 18 years passed. Amidst the death were signed of lift in beautiful flowers that find some reason to reach for the sun amidst this pain. I could have stayed for 2 hours to try to soak it in. When you stand amidst death like this, there are not words.

It is truly impossible to comprehend.

When you see it all first hand vs in photos or film, it’s impossible not to feel helpless. As the tears rolled down my face, I tried my best to thank the worksers for the love they are showing these people and to again apologize as I have done so many times for the world not being here to help stop this horror.

The death and their work are truly incomprehensible.

Harvin and I tried to talk as we walked through it, but the words were few.

Getting back in the van, we tried to transform to the happy entertaining funny people that we were when we exited the van, but alas it was impossible. Without a word or a plan each of us seemed to attempt to return to the joy in the van while the other person simply looked blankly onto the roadside as we tried to take in what he had just seen.

Arriving back at New Hope Homes we hugged the kids we left behind and tried to learn about their day. Harvin took charge of ALL the kids after dinner while I taught English to 3 of the aunties.

Lastly we somehow decided to change names as we walked down to the house for dinner…they names seems to have stuck as we walked home for the evening. I chose a random name of Jane. When Harvin heard it – he said he had to be Tarzan and did his best ahhhh…aahhhh king of the jungle scream. Sande is “who are you”. Lionel is “grrrrr”, Isaac is Shaggy, Nshimeye is Tom, and Prince is frog, We reintroduced ourselves to our night watchman as we walked into tonight. He thought were quite amusing.

Thanks for sharing our journey. Look forward to an update from Harvin in tomorrow’s blog.

Needless to say, the juxtaposition of our lives at New Hope Homes is indeed sometimes incomprehensible for me.

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