As the days move into fast forward, both Harvin and I are very aware that our time with the kids is now extremely limited. It’s bonus time for me as I was supposed to leave yesterday, but for Harvin the countdown is real.
We are torn between time with the big kids and the little kids so we crafted a plan that brought everyone together for part of the day.
The morning began with another group run. Both of us went down to pick up the kids this morning and were greeted by all sorts of levels of preparedness and some kids that needed some medical assessment.
While we waited, I told Harvin that Kayitesi had seen some pictures of the traditional dancer that we saw at the Mbanda’s. She asked me what the traditional dance of America was and I didn’t have a good answer so I asked Harvin what he thought. He gave a brilliant answer. He explained the concept of the American melting pot and how everyone brings their own dances to the table. Then they asked to see some. How could we resist? We show them swing dancing, tango, ball room, polka, etc etc. The kids thought we were pretty funny and Harvin and I laughed until we cried trying to figure out how to show them that various dances. Of course we made music as we danced so that added to the humor. They cheered and had lots of “ooo’s” as we shared each one. I had shown the girls the Charleston a few days earlier so they showed Harvin what they remembered.
This entertainment went on long enough for everyone who wanted to run to find their shoes, brush their teeth etc and off we went. I again took the scooter as my foot is still in repair. The scooter also gives the kids someone to track their speed. Sande currently holds the kids record at 24 kil/hour – Harvin at 29 kil/hour. Harvin fully acknowledges that Sande will surpass him quickly as he is a natural born runner.
The running route changes but the path is always wonderful. It’s a mix of cobblestone, dirt, farmland, mud, cows, steep banks, goats and everything in between. Harvin started this wonderful adventure when he was here in January, but then he had Uncle Manuel to help keep the kids together…but he injured his foot. That leaves Harvin with an expanded crew of the bigger boys and girls, which is a lot to keep together when you have super sprinters like Sande, Innocent and Lionel and some stragglers at the back end. He somehow keeps them all together and all motivated. I use the scooter like a shepherd to circle back and forth checking in on everyone and getting ahead when possible to catch some great shots.
Harvin has given them a wonderful new life skill. I hope they each find a way to embrace it longer term.
The end of the run usually ends with visit to ABC Bagel. It’s a lovely sanctuary not too far from the first home. Harvin and the kids are now regulars – he gets coffee and the kids get a donut. They started the routine in January and it continued on this trip. I really enjoyed joining them a few times, but know this is Harvin’s special little time with them so I try to hang a bit in the background.
Late last night we cooked up a great plan for today. On the run a few days ago, Harvin told me he found a perfect place to fly the kite I had brought. It was a huge open field. When I drove by it on the scooter the next day, I suggested we could play football aka soccer there too. He loved the idea and we shared it with the kids after ABC. Yes a run followed by football is sure to get the wiggles out of any kids and ensure a goooooooood night sleep. We seem to be getting the hang of this co-parenting in Rwanda thang’ – aka Mama didn’t raise no fool – as my kin would say!
Now to try to get everyone there with a big jog of water, a watermelon that I bought earlier in the week and sure to be tuckered out kids on the way back. We decided it would be a combination of runners, scooter and van. Harvin is now quite an accomplished driver of the van and of the scooter so he’s quite a diverse talent on the team!
I took off on the scooter with the fast runners and those with tiny little legs like Grace who want to believe they can run like the wind doing their best to keep up. Harvin filled up the van with the soccer ball, plastic baseball bat and ball, big jug of water and some cups.
We all met up at the big dirt field up the hill. The scenery is simply breathtaking. Rwanda is known as the land of 1000 hills and each of them at this time of year is a beautiful green, lush and full of life. The light breeze refreshes the soul and cools down the team. Some of the girls just wanted to cheer so we set them on the side of the field with a deck of cards. They were delighted to be part of the team. We started to divide up into two teams when Harvin and I noticed that lots of kids and teens were emerging to see what these two Muzungo’s were up to this afternoon. They curiously studied our every move and it didn’t take long for Harvin and I to invite them into the game. We divided the teams into two equal teams – or at least our best guess of equal. Then looked for the goalie to stand in their area to be tended. The goal posts were made from tree limbs, the field from dirt and the slop of the field from mother nature…but to this group of kids where were now standing a at the world cup about to begin! Harvin joined one of the teams and after nearly killing himself about 10 times running, leaping, kicking and rolling to the cheers of the growing crowd he scored the first goal. The locals went crazy cheering for him as he ran the length of the field in his best “Rocky – hands in the air – cheering” he could muster.
Eventually Uncle Manuel – who was playing Ref wanted into the game and traded places with Harvin. Ok, not to bust Harvin here, but he is the first to admit he doesn’t know all the rules so he would just wait for Sande to speak up if there was an issue. With no whistle in hand, he took a leaf and found a way for it to make a noise as a replacement. Yes, inventions come in all forms!
Ref Harvin noticed the locals had sort of taken over our World Football Game with their kicks, passes etc. Harvin game them about 3 warnings- they had to pass and let ALL the kids play or they had to leave the field. With not much improvement in their ‘sharing’ they were eventually removed from the game.
As the game continued I took the plastic bat and super ball like ball and started my own game of American Baseball. Well just basically pitching while they hit and fielded. The line grew as did the fun. Trying to pitch and show them how to hold a bat with the proper stance was quite entertaining, but ever so much fun. Eventually Harvin wandered or to our game and offered to pitch so I could catch and help with the batting.After baseball we wanted to try another round of headstands for April. April was the great love of Eric Mbanda and died just about a year ago. One of the fun things he does to honor her memory is to get people to headstands and handstands in lots of different places. This place seemed perfect. Harvin of course can do both effortlessly, but he is also a good coach who worked with the neighborhood kids to join in the fun. Success was had – with giggles that could be heard echoing through the mountainside.
We eventually decided it was time to head home. Fabiola remained insist that their was enough wind to fly the kite…something she had never done. We assured her their simply wasn’t. Deciding that giving our kids clean water to drink and watermelon to eat while the locals looked on would not be proper etiquette so decided to just pack it all up. The kids really wanted water …as we all did…but we explained that it would be right and they understood. Harvin filled up the van full of kids and I tried to inspire the runners they could make it back. As we pulled up out of sight of the neighbors Harvin and I called each other on the phone and agreed that the kids should now stop and drink some water. Ahh, the simply pleasures of life.
Back at New Hope Homes the kids spread out flat and kept saying “I’m soooooooo tired” as they laughed their hearts full.
It was time for lunch and time for a little break for Uncle Harvin and Miss Donna.
We sat and enjoyed the watermelon that was left over from the kids and savored the moments of our new World Football League and our mutual love for these precious kids of New Hope Homes.
We gathered up our strength and our surprise bags of apples and headed down to the 2nd and 3rd homes. Greeted at the gates by the little kids yelling Harv Harv Harv and Missy Donna Missy Donna we hugged and loved each one as they game running full steam ahead. The afternoon was spent with Harvin making up a modified game of baseball where he threw a tennis ball against the house and then there were runners and catchers and bases. It was all a little twisted upside down, but again, the kids think he rules the world with this endless games and entertainment.
I played and danced with the little kids and simply found time to love on them. I remember all the time I used to spend with Fabiola, MarieRose and the other ‘now big kids’ when they were this age, but there just isn’t enough time to go around. Nor enough hands. Harvin and I laughed the other day when we were concerned that there might be 6 people coming on this trip. We worried that it would be too many, but with every passing day we know that there is always room for 1 more. ALWAYS. So please let me know if you want to come on any of my trips. I am in Rwanda in April, August and December each year.
As the sun hit the beautiful afternoon glow we decided it was time. Yes, it was time. Time for what we believe would be our newest tradition. Bobbing for Apples. Harvin filled a bucket with water, got the little kids to sit on the ground quietly while he cut of up small piece of apples for them. You might be surprised to know that apples are a huge treat for the kids. They LOVE them. They are tied with or almost slightly behind ice cream in the favorite category. They are rare treat a they are super expensive. Harvin’s Mom was gracious enough to fund this special time for the kids. THANK YOU! As the little kids sat in the grass patiently eating their apple bits Harvin simply asked who wanted and apple? Marie Rose was the first to take on the challenge. She didn’t quite know what she was signed up. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head when Harvin dropped some in the water and tried to explain to her how he works. He confusion lead to him do a demo. The kids yelled and screamed in delight has he demo yielded success. Ahh, a wonderful apple emerged from the water in his mouth.
Now to see who else could follow. One by one they battled the bucket and one by one they had success. As the game continued Harvin noticed the stem of the apple was being used way to frequently for his liking and he began to remove the them. The kids cheered each time someone figured out how to manage to emerge with an apple in their mouth. Many took several tries and some got a little assistance from Harvin but in the end, each enjoyed the sweet taste of victory.
Harvin kept stepping over the little kids to keep them entertained with bites while the bigger kids bobbed. As the late big kid completed the task Harvin walked over to the Aunties and Uncles and offered them an apple. I came running and said…Oya! (NO). They too must bob. The kids and Aunties and Uncles cheered the idea into fruition.
It was hard to tell who was having more fun. The big kids, little kids, Aunties, Uncles or Harvin or me. The laughter and smiles were spread ear to ear.
As the big kids enjoyed their apples Harvin lined the little kids up in single file to get some more pieces. They line up to wash their hands, to get pineapple bites, pizza pieces and this time…apples. They each say “thanks” and then go to the back of the line, hoping they will get another shot. The most exciting person to have in the line was Desami – who, by the grace of his walker - was able to get in line just like the other kids. Seeing him standing there turned my enless joy into an endless stream tears. I so pray that the Auntie’s will continue to work with him to at least 2 hours a day and we keep the funds to get him to PT 3x a week. I do believe we’ll get our miracle. Join me in that belief.
Abby joined the fun midstream and the kids ran to the gate to meet her yelling Abby Abby Abby. The kids are so blessed to have this woman as a constant in their lives.
With the great day complete. Harvin, Abby and I set out on an evening adventure in the van to have dinner. Abby, now a local has all the scoop on the hidden Kigali treasures that I never knew about. After wandering the back streets trying to get through the endless deadends where the President lives, phoning a friend for directions getting someone from a hotel to jump in the van with us to find our hidden treasure of a restaurant we settled into a an evening of quiet peacefulness.
I toasted these amazing two people in my life. Abby who fell in love with Rwanda 4 years ago and is now a teacher here and visits the kids each week. And Harvin, someone I worked with for years, but never knew who visited the kids in January and returned faster than anyone else has ever done just 3.5 months later for this trip. These two people love our kids unconditionally. I wiped away the tears as I thanked from for caring so much for these sweet orphaned and abandoned kids. Chantal and I know that our commitment to these kids is for a lifetime, but up till now, we thought we were the only ones. It’s a daunting feeling knowing that 29 kids future is resting on God’s grace to help us provide what is needed for each of them. It’s humbling to know that these kids will only have a bright future in school and life if others join our team. Abby and Harvin are two more lights in our path and we are grateful for their presence in our kids life. I often tell Harvin, we are simply happy to receive whatever you have to give this kids of yourself.
I thank each of you for whatever you have done to help these kids reach their maximum potential or what your heart says you can do in the future. No gift of time or money is ever too little.
Dinner was delicious and I was a bit quiet trying to process all that is on front of me as we dream of moving the kids to a new city and building a new home. How will we pull this off? I know it is only with God’s hand, your prayers and your love that it will be possible. But how it comes together…so much to process.
With dinner complete, we drove Abby home and wandered around lost of a bit trying to get from her home to New Hope Homes.
Another day complete. As we opened the door and peeked in on each of the boys sleeping their tired bones for the night, I gently kissed their foreheads and told them ‘dnga coon da’ which means I love you. And yes, that love for these kids is so real is hurts at times. Tonight is one of those nights.
Harvin, the Uncle, the ref, the co-parent, the muzungo, the teacher, the coach, the hero, the driver, the soft shoulder for the boys to cry on, the arms that wrap around the kids cradling them in love and safety is spent for the night. It was a day well lived. In great part due to this wonderful new friend of New Hope Homes.