Friday, July 31, 2009

Sorry Everyone

Hey to everyone reading my blog,

I am sorry I have not been able to update my blog as I had intended. My laptop crashed and I am currently in Gitega where my internet connection is limited to say the least... I have been keeping a journal so that I will be able to update my blog as soon as possible.

I am doing great, the family is amazing, and I am having a great time. I hope everyone is well and having a pleasant summer.

Until next time,


Saturday, July 4, 2009

My Family In Burundi & Getting Back In Touch

I am going to give a bit more information and background about my family so that the readers can have a better understanding of my situation and get to know my family members better. Here is the list of siblings from oldest to youngest:

Venantie: My oldest sister, she is very sweet, and helped raise the rest of us and when she was younger. She used to have to stay home from school so that she could help my mom out. She carried all of us on her back, which is probably why she is so short (about 5 feet). I get along with her very well and she has written me many letters to describe my childhood when I was going through my identity crisis phase.

Oscar: My oldest brother, he is married and has two children. He is a French teacher at a primary school in Gitega. He is the one who has kept the most regular contact with me either through letters or emails. I have a shaky love/hate relationship with him. He is the one who met my adopted parents and made it possible for me to be adopted, so I will always be grateful for that. He has a way of making me feel very guilty about living in America and being provided with so many opportunities that my other brothers and sisters can't even dream up. He thinks that because I live in America, I must be very rich, and so he is always asking me for money. The concept of relative wealth is very hard to understand for him because he doesn't know the cost of living in America, and so he thinks that I am holding out on him. He makes the equivalent of $40 a month, and so when I send him $200 every once in a while, he thinks that I am rich, whereas $200 is nothing in America.

Nortbert: As a child, I used to adore Norbert. He would bring me back chalk from school and teach me how to draw. He is very smart and hardworking. He just finished university and is looking for a job. We have been able to keep in touch and he the one who answers all my questions. I feel most comfortable asking questions that the others try to avoid. He is very protective of me and we used to get along very well.

Jeannine: She is the tallest sister, she has written me a couple of letters since I have been adopted, but they mainly include requests instead of asking how I am doing. When I was younger, she used to take care of me a lot, and carry me on her back when I got tired. When we were running away during the genocide, she carried me a lot because I was weak and got sick from hiding in an unfinished house while it was raining. She has saved my life in more ways than one.

The youngest brother, I used to also get along with him very well. He is the one who taught me how to walk on my hands and climb trees like an expert. I have not held regular contact with him, and I usually get news about him through Oscar or Venantie. He is more reserved and shy.

She is resentful of the fact that I was able to be adopted and has always been jealous of the fact that I was the youngest. She has never written me any letters, and I get along the least with her. I haven't really developed a relationship with her.

Getting back in touch with the family...

On Friday, June 19th, I finally decided to call my oldest brother, Oscar, and tell him that I was in Rwanda. When he picked up the telephone, I had a surreal feeling. When I told him that it was me speaking, he did not believe me, and he asked me my middle name to make sure that no one was playing a joke on him. He couldn't believe that it was me on the phone and I got really overwhelmed. It was my first time holding a conversation in ten years and I started breathing really fast because so many things were running through my mind. When we hung up, I felt like I was going to choke and was out of breath. I had a little panic attack, but the other volunteers and Mama Arlene were there to calm me down and to share my excitement. I was really overjoyed to hear his voice and to have him talk to me the way an older brother talks to his little sister. He asked me if I was safe, and if I was ok being by myself. It all really touched me. It is as if our roles were finally falling into place and I was the little sister again. He has texted me a couple of times and called me numerously just to say “Hi” and see how I was doing. I also got to talk to his wife, Esperance. She seems nice, but we really didn't have much to talk about other than her daughters.

On Tuesday, June 23rd, I called Venantie to tell her the news of my whereabouts. It was a very emotional experience and she was crying and laughing during the whole conversation. While talking to Venantie, I experienced one of the weirdest feelings I have ever felt. My mind was thinking in Kirundi, but I was speaking French. Words were coming into my mind, and words that I did not even know that I knew in Kirundi, words suppressed and hidden that must have been waiting to come out at the right time. It was a really strange feeling because even though all the words were coming to me in Kirundi, my tongue was refusing to say them and I was translating everything into French. I haven't thought in Kirundi this intensively in so long I forgot what it felt like and it was so comforting to know that it is still there, in the back of my mind. It boosted my confidence in my language ability and it warmed my heart to know that I still have my mother tongue in me.

After talking to Venantie, I called Nortbert to tell him the news as well, and while talking to him, he kept saying “ oya sha.....oya sha....” which loosely translates into “ no way”.

Now that I feel I have made the first step to reconnecting with my family, I am more and more anxious about physically meeting them and it seems as that it is taking forever to reach that point. I am as ready as I will ever be.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mama Arlene & The Four Volunteers

This is a picture taken right after a Sunday worship. From left to right: me, Andi, Mama Arlene, Meredith ( Peace Corps and helps out at Urukundo) and Brittany.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Claudine & Me

This is Claudine, the little three year old who is blind and very under developed. She loves being tickled and swung in the air. She has the cutest smile, and I love it when she reaches out to me when she hears my voice!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


This morning I did the usual routine, washing and walking to school with Aline and Natete again. Then Brittany went to play with Claudine while I went to help some of the Mamas in the kitchen. I helped peel sweet potatoes and green bananas. We used these really big knifes, so I had to learn the right way to use it, and I got the hang of it pretty quick. When Brittany joined in later, she had a bit more trouble than I did because she had never done it before. It would have been so much quicker of we had peelers, but we have to do with what we have.

I really liked sitting down with the women in the kitchen. I think that they felt more comfortable talking among each other and asking me questions. I got to learn a lot about the Mamas' lives. I feel as though they have really accepted me, and they are all very patient with me. They ask me about the kind of food that I used to eat in Burundi, and they tell me that they will try to find it at the market and make it for me. They always point at food and tell me the name and ask me if I have had it in Burundi and if they have it in America. They were very surprised to hear that there were a lot of potatoes in America and it made me laugh. They told me that they only though that Americans ate fries and pasta.

A couple of times, they have made a small plate of food for me that we had talked about previously, and it really touched me. They would hand me the plate saying “like Burundi”. They are really nice to me and I am glad to have been able to connect to these women.

Another question that they seem to ask me over and over is if I am married and have any kids. One of the Mamas is only 24 and just had her second child. They did not believe me that I was going into my third year of university either. They think I am too young. One of the Mamas asked me if it was also tradition in America for the family of the bride to get cows when they got married, and I told them that no, it was not tradition, but that I was sure that my brothers in Burundi would appreciate some! I feel like I am learning as much as I am teaching. I have found a great way to ease back into my culture back because these women know all the songs and the stories that I used to hear as a child. They joke that I am like a kid because I get very excited when I hear a song or a story that I remember.

There is no water!!! Thankfully, there are three big tanks of reserved water, and so we have to get buckets and haul the water from the tanks to the kitchen and anywhere else where we need water. The buckets get heavy and tiring after carrying them for a while. This also happens frequently, especially since we are in the dry season, but Mama Arlene and the staff are always prepared and we also have water bottles. However, we cannot take showers because that would just be a waste of water, especially since we don't know how long we won't have water for...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Late Night & A Flying Light

I stayed up way too late last night. Meredith, Brittany and I just hung out and got to know each other. We realized how much we had in common and it was great to just talk to them. Both are really interesting, and I am quite happy that I have made two friends that share the same passions I do. By the way, Meredith is in the Peace Corps and lives two houses away. She just comes over a lot to take showers and use the Internet, which she does not have at her house. She is really fascinating and knows quite a bit of Kinyarwanda. She took three months of classes before coming here. The kids love her. She is of Chinese heritage, and the kids don't really know what to make of her and they either refer to her as “muzungu” or “la chinoise” (the Chinese). She is able to communicate with the kids pretty well and they all love her, she is great with them.

After Meredith went to her house, Brittany and I tried to stay up so that we could greet the new volunteer that was coming in at the airport at around 10:45. We stayed up until 12:40, but then we went to bed because we were too tired. At 5:00 in the morning I heard knocking on the front door and I went to open the front door, and it was the guards with suitcases. It figures that Andi's plane had been delayed for four hours in Nairobi. Her plane had landed at 4:00 AM instead of 10:45 PM. Mama Arlene had waited for her the whole time at the Kigali airport. Andi was exhausted and she went to bed, while Mama Arlene rested for 30 minutes and she was back up on her feet running the business as usual.

This afternoon, I taught the biggest Taekwondo class yet. There were easily 40 or more kids. A lot were from the neighborhood. We had a great time, and everything went better than usual. Brittany helped me out as much as she could, and class lasted for about three hours. At the end, we formed a really big circle, and the couple of students, who have taken martial arts before, did some demonstrations, which were really great. Of course they wanted me to perform and I made up a combination that ended up in splits. I found out later that I ripped my jeans and so now I only have one pair of jeans left! Brittany, Andi and Meredith made so much fun of me for it, and we had a good laugh about it throughout the night.

Right as we were about to go down for dinner, the kids started yelling and pointing at the sky, and I looked up and I saw the most amazing thing ever. I am not sure if it was a shooting star, a comet, or whatever, but it was very low in the sky and very bright. It was absolutely breathtaking and incredible! I really wish I knew what it was, because I have never seen anything like that before. According to Mama Arlene, it was too low in the sky to be a shooting star… but it was just amazing!

After that, we also found out that there was no electricity so we had to eat by candlelight. The kids were not fazed in the least by the lack of electricity because it is something that happens regularly.

When we were all walking back to our rooms, the sky looked so pure and clean and the stars were so bright! There was no electricity at all in the town so we had a perfect view without light pollution. I thought that the Iowa sky was amazing, but it doesn't even compare to here. It was as if an artist had painted the stars in gold on a black canvas.

After that, the girls and I hung out and we got to know Andi a bit better. She fits right in with the group. She is 21, from New Jersey, a fourth year at Vanderbilt, and easy to talk to.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Learning In The Kitchen

My day started great. The shower water was hot the whole time! I have come to appreciate the simple things that make a lot of difference and that I used to take for granted just a couple of days ago.

Brittany and I went over to the girls’ house, and I showed Brittany how to wash them, apply lotion, and dress them. They all know how it is supposed to be done, so when we don't know what to do, we ask them, and they are very helpful and independent. We wash the girls from a basin, if they are lucky, the water might be a bit warm, otherwise the water is freezing. We wet, soap, and rinse them, and then they all stand around the basin so that everyone gets rinsed with clean water.

Even when the water is freezing cold, they never complain, and that makes our job easier. They are all very easy to take care of because they have never been exposed to anything else and they are not spoiled.

We walked the girls to school again, and Brittany came along. The other kids were starting at her, and saying “ Muzungu” but she didn't seem too fazed by that. She was just happy to be able to walk the girls the girls to school and see what the school looked like.

After we got back, Brittany took care of Claudine, and I went to help some of the Mamas with laundry. I did two basins full of clothes and my back was killing me. My hands were red from the scrubbing. I then went to go do my own laundry, and even though I didn't have much, it still took me a good hour and a half. I usually say that I have it easy in America but I never realized just how easy I had it. Two of the Mamas spend about three hours a day just doing laundry by hand. That is a lot of clothing considering that there are 40 kids at Urukundo. The three hours that they spend doing laundry could so easily be spend doing something else if we had washing machines. Not to mention that the work is absolutely backbreaking. For me, that was definitely a reality check, and made me really aware of what I have and don't have. Thank God that I brought very little clothes with me!

I later on went to help the Mamas with getting lunch ready. I want to learn how to cook the food that I eat, so that I can do it once I am back in Maryland and Iowa. I observed very carefully what they did and wrote down a couple of recipes. The Mamas were a bit surprise at my willingness to help clean and they kept asking me if I was tired and that it was ok for me to stop at any time. I don't think that they have had any volunteers help them with the cleaning and cooking the way I did.

It is important for me to be involved because this is something that I have missed out on, and I am desperately trying to make up for the time I lost. I talked to the Mamas, and I think they understood my need to learn and to feel like I was one of them. I could see that they made an effort to ask me about my past, about the food I remember, and try to teach me what they know. I am really grateful that they are so understanding, and that they see how excited I get when I rediscover something I have not seen since I was ten and five years old. For me, a lot of things are like relearning and rediscovering. It is great!

Sunday, June 14, 2009


It is tradition for everyone who stays in the guesthouse to eat breakfast together at 8:30. A good friend of Mama Arlene (who works in Kigali for the government and comes over to visit every weekend) made an omelet and it was delicious. We then headed over to the boys home for worship. The kids led it, and it was wonderful. They read verses from the bible (the message was working in unity), sang, and danced. Even Natete and Aline had their own little traditional dance, and they looked great doing it.

I later gave a Taekwondo lesson and Brittany joined in. The kids were helping her keep up and correcting her moves. They did great as usual.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Victor's Glass of Milk

I woke up early again, this time to walk one of the older boys, Jean Paul, to the local soccer stadium in Gitarama. It is about 35/40 minutes away. We got there just in time for his first game. He played very well and his team won. Rule of life in Rwanda: Soccer = football = life.

I wasn't able to watch the second game as well, because after the first game, I found myself surrounded by nearly 30 kids, all asking me where I was from, and why I spoke differently. I was able to answer most questions, but I guess they were intrigued and didn't leave my side for the rest of the game.

On the way back, I bought Jean-Paul some milk from a little stand, and we had to sit inside the stand, behind a little curtain for Jean- Paul to drink his milk. It is unheard of in Rwanda to eat and drink in public, because it is like flaunting your wealth, saying that you have enough money to eat outside of meals, and because in Rwanda people are very discreet, when you buy something to eat at a stand, you have to eat it there, or put it in a bag to eat in the privacy of your own home. It also helps with littering and I notice that Rwanda is very clean. I think that is a very good rule, and I have only seen foreigners drink in public.

After dinner, I met another volunteer who is going to be here until August as well. Her name is Brittany, she is 23 and from Florida. She seems really nice and the kids liked her.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rice & Lice

I woke up at 5:30, got ready, and went over to the girls’ house. I washed Aline and Natete, we ate breakfast, then walked them to school. Again, they were pointing out objects to me. I came back and played with Claudine. I had her do a bunch of little leg exercises that Mama Arlene showed me. These help with her leg muscles. We did two hours of Taekwondo and the kids were attentive every second. It makes me really proud to see how fast they learn and how much they remember after seeing something just once. I have never told them to practice, but they practice on their own regardless, and every once in a while, they come and get me from wherever I am and ask me for the next move because they are stuck. No matter how simple and basic the forms that I teach them, they execute it with detail, precision, and sharpness. I am really proud of my kids.

Right before lunch, the Grinnell alum who got me in touch with Urukundo came to visit from the school that she was visiting. She came with two other friends, and Mama Arlene gave us a tour of the place with stories about how Urukundo started and such. I learned a lot, as it was my first actual tour; I was more than impressed with Mama Arlene's accomplishments and dreams. If anything, I learned how much one person can change lives and really better a place because they sincerely care about other's wellbeing. Mama Arlene is an incredible woman and I am honored to be working for her.

Right before dinner, I went with Meredith to teach English to some of the guards. Two of them could not take notes because they do not know how to write, so they rely on their memory and pictures to say the words in English. Another thing that I noticed with the guards and the kids, they interchange their “L”s and “R”s, so the guards had a lot of trouble saying “rice”. They kept saying “lice”, and no matter how many times we would make them repeat it, they kept on saying “lice”. They could hear the difference when Meredith and I were saying it, but they couldn't say it themselves.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Children Are Teachers Too

I woke up at 5:30 this morning without too much difficulty. I got ready to go to the girls’ home at 6:00. I helped dress the two small girls, Aline and Natete. They are absolutely adorable and showed me a couple of the dances that they had learned at school. Both girls are very comical and decided that they would teach me Kinyarwanda, so they decided to point at everything in the room and make me repeat the word in Kinyarwanda. It will help me with my vocabulary, so I am very grateful for my two little teachers!

We then all ate breakfast, which consisted of porridge. The porridge brought back memories of my childhood as well. It is as though everything that I encounter here is somehow related to my past, and I am really glad about that.

One of the helpers, Mama Betty, and I walked Aline and Natete to school, and again, while on the way, they made sure to point out everything that we saw and make me repeat the word in Kinyarwanda. They are just too cute!

After dropping off the two girls, I went to see Claudine for our daily walk, and she seemed to enjoy it. When I think about how old she is (three), it is really scary. She can barely hold her head up, she can almost sit up by herself, but she can't even eat hard food. It really breaks my heart to hear her story and how she came to Urukundo. When Claudine's mother realized that Claudine was blind, she gave her to her mother, but the grandmother didn't want her either, so she didn't feed her, and put her on the side of the road, to die. Eventually, someone found her and she ended up at Urukundo.

After my hour with Claudine, I taught Taekwondo for an hour, then the kids taught me some Kinyarwanda and made me write out the words in a notebook. At the pace I am going, and with the help of Aline and Natete, I should be fluent by the end of the summer!

For lunch, we had Ubugari (cassava flour and water made into a sort of paste) with beans and meat sauce. It was absolutely delicious, especially since I have not had it since I was adopted. It tasted better than I remembered. Gosh it is good to be back!! I ate with my hands, as all the other kids were doing, and I realized that a lot of things are really never forgotten, just put aside for the right time. To top it off, we had passion fruit for desert.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Making A List

Sorry I am just posting this now. I have not had Internet connection in two weeks.
Hope everyone is doing well!

I woke up a really late today. I guess I did get jet lag after all. I woke up in the middle of the night and then I couldn't fall asleep for about three hours, so I didn't hear my alarm go off and got up at 9:30. For breakfast, Mama Arlene had saved me some soup that the cooks make once every week. The idea of eating soup for breakfast was a bit odd to me, and it was very different from anything I had ever eaten before. I didn't really like it, but I finished it out of courtesy for the cooks.

After breakfast, I made a schedule of the things I am more or less expected to do during the day. This includes helping wash and dress Aline and Natete (three and four years old each), take them to school, take Claudine out and play with her to help her develop muscles, help with the washing, help serve lunch and dinner, teach Taekwondo for two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, help Meredith teach English to the guards, and help the kids with homework.

My schedule is not set in stone, which is cool, but at the same time, I know that I have a certain amount of work that I have to get done, so I have a somewhat flexible schedule, which I really like.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Finally In Rwanda!

Hey everyone!

Thanks to everyone who sent me an email. I was very touched and it made me really happy to be part of the Grinnell community. Everyone has been so supportive, and I really appreciate that. So thank you much!!

So... I AM IN RWANDA!!! Finally!

The flight here was too long, but I was happy to have my friend sitting right next to me. We stopped in Rome for fuel, and then flew across the Mediterranean sea over to Ethiopia. When we were flying over Egypt and Sudan, the view from the airplane was absolutely stunning. I also got to see the sunset, (or sunrise, I don't remember) and the colors in the sky were breathtaking.

The plane was an hour and a half late, and I was scared to miss my connection flight to Kigali, but I barely made it. I thought it was interesting that while on the airplane, everyone was speaking to me in Amharic. They did not believe me that I wasn't Ethiopian, they really insisted and told me to stop playing around!

I slept for most of the ride from Addis Ababa. I was exhausted, and really glad when we landed in Kigali. After seeing my Burundian passport, the guard at customs started speaking to me in Kinyarwanda, and even though it took me a while to respond, she understood me and it made me smile inside; I was thinking that I might still have it after all!

Mama Arlene and two Americans who had been visiting Urukundo Village for two weeks greeted me at the airport. Todd and Andrea were their names, and they were very nice. I got along with Andrea very well. She is a kindergarten teacher in Arizona.

Mama Arlene took us to a traditional Rwandan restaurant, and it was absolutely delicious! I had missed the food so much, and I enjoyed every single bite. I also had an orange Fanta. I had also missed Fanta so much, and it tasted exactly the way I remembered it: water, sugar and orange. It felt good to be back, especially right there and then! For those of you who don't know, the Fanta that is found here is very different from the one in the states. It comes in tall glass bottles, and it is pretty much the drink to have.

I kept falling asleep on the road to Urukundo Village, and it was very hard for me to stay awake, and the heat was unbearable, it was very hot and dry. The roads were just like the ones in Burundi, they have a lot of turns because of the many hills. There are also no traffic lights, so people warn each other by honking.

When we got to Urukundo Village, we were greeted by some of the staff. We said “Hello,” with me reaching out my right hand and my left holding my right forearm, as the Burundian and Rwandan way of showing respect. They asked me in Kinyarwanda if I spoke the language and if I was from Rwanda, and in Kirundi I told them that I was Burundian. I got the nod of acceptance. I think that they are so used to seeing "Muzungus" (white people) that they were a bit surprised to see another one of them.

I was showed to my room in the guesthouse. It is tiny but cute. I have a bed and a dresser, all I need really. I right away unpacked all the books and clothes I had brought for the children, and after that one of my suitcases was pretty much empty! I talked to Todd and Andrea for a while, and they gave me a little bit of insight on the place. I was quite sleepy at that point, but I wanted to stay awake so that my body wouldn't be too jet lagged, so I told them that I wanted to keep occupied.

Andrea was craving mango, and she really wanted to try a local mango before she left, so I went to the market in town with Andrea and two people who work here. As soon as we got out of the car, people surrounded us, all saying "Muzungu! Muzungu!" to Andrea. They studied me as well because they could tell if I was from here or not. They spoke really fast at me, and I could barely keep up with what they were saying. Andrea and I shared a couple of understanding looks because we felt a little bit overwhelmed and the people kept following us everywhere we went. The women started talking about Andrea and I, and for me, it was a bit amuzing because I could understand what they were saying, or the general idea; but I didn't know how to respond, or if I should respond at all.

One of the staff that went with us, Anette negotiated the price for a cloth that Andrea wanted, and it was funny to see how we negotiate prices here. Nothing has a set price, and the better you are at negotiating, the better price you get. If Andrea had gone by herself, they would have given her the "Muzungu price" which could be twice what they would normally charge another Rwandan. We ended up getting a pretty good deal thanks to Anette. We then went on a mission to find mangos, and it was harder than I thought. They are not in season right now, and the couple places we found them, they asked for outrageous prices, and after running around in vain, we finally bought one for the equivalent of one dollar. Still 99 cents less than at WalMart! At the market, I saw guava, and I got really excited because I also had a guava tree next to my house, and I used to love them as a child. I bought six of them for about 40 cents. They are a different type than the ones I had back in Burundi, but they tasted good nonetheless.

When we got home, Andrea gave the cloth to a neighbor so she could make a dress, and then I went to visit the rest of the village. I got to see Claudine, who is only 3 years old, but is very late on her development. She is tiny, can't walk yet, and has cataracts and an enlarged heart. She is absolutely adorable and I got to carry her while I visited the rest of the dormitories’ surroundings.

I then went to play basketball with a bunch of the kids who were on the basketball court. It’s unpaved and very uneven, but it serves its purpose. I think they were surprised that I could play basketball, but we had a great time, I made some friends and then we headed over to diner. The food was delicious, very simple, but for me it is a treat since I haven't had this kind of food in ten years. I was introduced to all the kids, and Mama Arlene asked me to tell them a little about myself. A very beautiful girl, Deborah translated for me in Kinyarwanda so everyone could understand. When Mama Arlene told them that I did Taekwondo and that I was a black belt, the kids went absolutely crazy, and I found myself surrounded by all the kids, all asking me about Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and if I could teach them right away. I was excited to see that they shared my love of martial arts, but I was very surprised and a bit overwhelmed. I was asked to do a little demonstration, and I gladly obliged. They made me promise that I would teach them the next day, and I did.

After that we went to a sort of worship where the kids sang religious songs and played the drums. They are pretty impressive and they definitively wowed me. Later, I talked to Andrea and Todd a bit and then we all went to bed. I slept very well!

I woke up at around 8:30, showered and got ready. Todd had made an omelet, boiled eggs, and toast for breakfast. It was delicious. It was Andrea, Todd, Meredeth, Mama Arlene and I at the table. It was very nice to get to talk to everyone.

I then spent the morning with Meredeth and Andrea. It was Andrea and Todd's last day and then they left. I got the chance to talk to some of the staff a bit more, and I kept myself busy.

As soon as the kids got back from school, they wanted their Taekwondo lessons, so we did just that. I was more than impressed with all of them. Their sheer interest, enthusiasm, and willingness to learn made the lesson a lot of fun. We spent about two hours learning the basic front punch, back punch, front kick, and back-front kick. The speed at which they were learning blew my mind at. Even the little two year olds were able to keep up! I then taught everyone the first part of the first yellow belt combination. They did wonderfully and I was very proud. Most of them are naturally outstanding. We were quite a sight to see, all lined up on the basketball court. Some people from around the village stopped and watched us perform, and they seemed to like it. We then took a break because the sun was hitting really hard.

Later on, we had a little basketball tournament going on, and I played much better this time since I knew where the wholes were in the court! The kids here are ridiculously athletic and energetic.

Dinner was delicious once again. We had sweet potatoes, (quite different from the ones in the states) beans cooked with eggplant, and rice. For drinks, we had this sorghum drink that almost brought me to tears because my mom used to make it back in Giheta and I used to love it! I definitively had some flashbacks to my younger days when I used to BEG my mother to make it, but we only got it on rare occasions. After that drink, I was more than satisfied!

After that, I went to worship with the kids, and it was beautiful. They can play the drums like none other, and they have the sweetest voices!

Now it is super late, almost midnight, and I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow, including getting up by 6, so I will say good night now.

So far I am really happy and have no complaints!

Until next time,


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Last Minute Packing And Such

I can't sleep, I am too nervous, anxious, excited and I have butterflies in my stomach!!

So I am done packing! I have one big suitcase and a smaller one. One is about 20 lbs, and the other one is 65 lbs. I just really hope they won' charge me extra for the excess weight. The weight limit is 50 lbs.

I am flying Ethiopian Airlines, my flight is at 10:05 AM from Dulles and I land at Addis Ababa at 8:20 and leave arrive in Kigali at 11:55 AM! It is going to be a long ride, and I am actually really excited because one of my best friends, who is also in my Posse is going to be on the same flight! She is going to be working for an NGO in Ethiopia. I think being with her will calm my nerves and distract me from my nervousness.

So today I went shopping for clothes for my two nieces that I have never met. My mother and I went to Baby Gap and we bought two really cute dresses. I got really emotional when we went to the store, and I sort of just wanted to buy all the clothes for my nieces. I kind of got carried away at the idea of meeting them for the first time. One of them is two years old, the other one is only a couple months old. My brother send me pictures of them and they are so adorable! Their names are Cadine and Osty (The picture on the bottom part is of my brother at his wedding).

My father talked to me today to give me a " father-daughter" talk about the shock that I will experience. He reminded me that I will have to act as an adult and be culture sensitive, and follow other people's lead and just embrace the culture. He also talked me to me about my family and how I have to realize that even though my siblings are biological, that is pretty much all we have in common and how I am going to have to take initiative and reach out to them and get to know each and everyone one of them equally.

Talking to my father made me realize that I don't really know what to expect of my siblings once I met them. The only memories I have of them are pictures from ten years ago and I think that I expect them to still be the same, to look the same and act the same. It sounds silly when I write it down, but I really don't know how much they have changed. They probably still only remember me from when I was in fourth grade, and that idea seems absurd to me because clearly I have changed since then, but then again I have had the chance to see myself grow, while I have had no pictures from any of my other siblings other than my oldest brother.

It's funny the way I have been feeling homesick. I have this need to see my house, (the one where I was born) and the village and see what is left of it, and see how much it has changed. I have not been back to Giheta ( my village) since I fled with my siblings during the genocide. The last image I have of my house, it was all trashed, the banana trees had all bee cut off, and the courtyard (Urugo) had been set on fire and there was still smoke. It is a shame that it is the last image I have of my house because I remember the days before the genocide. And my house looked nothing like the one I last saw. My house was always busy. I come from a big family, so there was always something going on. I remember we also had some goats and chickens.

Last time I went to Burundi, I couldn't go to my village because it was too dangerous and my parents did not want to take the risk. But now I am dying to know and see what happened to my house, and see if it is occupied or not. Maybe I will even be able to see my mango tree if I get to go to Giheta!!

My biological mother had given me a little plot of land with a mango tree and had told me that I could grow anything I wanted on it. I grew peanuts because they are the easiest to tend to and roasted peanuts were a favorite of mine (to this day).

I have so many memories coming back to me right now, and it is so comforting.

I should really go to bed now since I have to be at the airport by 8 AM. And I think it is a good place for me to stop because of all the good memories, and I might just dream about my mango tree!

So good night (and I still can't believe that I am really going to be in Rwanda the next time I write...)!

Until next time,


Friday, June 5, 2009

Getting Ready

I am completely freaking out as I am starting to pack. I don't remember experiencing as many emotions as I have the last couple of days.

I have decided to pack as lightly as possible considering that I will be gone for two whole months. One of the main reasons why I want to pack light is because there are no washing machines at the village, so I am going to have to wash all my clothes by hand. I am also going to bring clothes, and whatever else I can, to the village so that Mama Arlene can give them to the children as needed. I have talked to the founder, Mama Arlene, and she told me that books are very scarce, and she would appreciate anything that I can bring. I have packed 45 books that range from baby books to adult book. While picking out the books for the children, I tried to be sensitive to the cultural differences because I know that some books might simply not be appropriate for the children, because of the different cultures and values. For example, I could not bring "Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul" because I don't think that the children would be able to relate.

While sorting through the books, it made think back a lot about my intro to sociology class with Erickson when we discussed culture and the norms of society, and I guess I tried to use what I had learned in the classroom into a real life situation.

I guess I tried to apply the same concept of respecting the Rwandan culture for the clothes that I will be bringing for myself and the children. All my skirts and shorts are bellow the knee and I will not be wearing any spaghetti strap tank tops or revealing tops for that matter. Mama Arlene sent me a visitor's guide to the village so that I would have an idea of what to expect, and some things that I should be aware of when going to Rwanda. I just learned while reading the pamphlet that it is extremely rude to eat while on the go and that I should never walk on the grass for it is against the law. I already knew that I should not drink water that has not been boiled, and that I should not use ice in my drinks unless I know for sure that the water used to make the ice was boiled before.

Talking about health precautions, I went to the doctor's last week to get the yellow fever vaccine and malaria tablets. The rest of my vaccines were up to date including meningitis which I had to get before going to college. I had to start taking the malaria tablets 2 weeks before going to Rwanda and continue 4 weeks after coming back. They taste absolutely disgusting, but at least I only have to take them once a week.

In my own ways, I have been getting ready to go back to my culture (Rwandan and Burundian culture are very similar in terms of food, language, music and lifestyle). Since the DC area is not exactly booming with Rwandans and Burundians, I have turned to the internet for a lot of information and just getting back in touch. I have been watching YouTube videos one after another on anything that is related to Burundi or Rwanda. I have been watching a lot of music videos (very different from USA!) and every time I see the traditional dances and hear the songs, my heart swells with pride and it makes me realize how much I love my country. The women dance and sing with such grace, and it just makes me feel so damn good to be part of that culture. The songs, they bring me such comfort and memories from my childhood and my heart really feels like it is about to burst. The way the women move their necks, their arms, in such beautiful, light and harmonic ways, no matter how many times I have seen these moves, they still leave me in awe. I have a couple of songs that I have downloaded on my iPod from a CD at home that I have been playing over and over again. This one song "Murabanza Muribaze", my favorite, I have played 79 times already.
To see a more traditional type of singing and dancing on YouTube click here, or right here, or even here.

For a more modern Burundian song: click here.

The last song is by Khadja Nin, an artist whose voice almost brings me to tears every time I hear her songs. Look up her other songs, they are amazing as well.

In terms of language, I still speak some Kirundi, but I am not as fluent as I used to be. I also left the country at a very young age, so my vocabulary was one of a child. I understand a lot more than I let on, but when I am with other Burundians, I get self conscious and prefer to listen and if I have to answer, I usually respond in French or English. I do not know how to read or write (children start school at 7 in Burundi) and my father never taught me. But I have found on the internet a website that has vocabulary and phrases, so I have been using that and reviewing almost everyday. I remember the last time I spoke in Kirundi at a gathering and someone made fun of me because I use words that are specific to the region where I was born and they called me the equivalent of “Country”. But I do not deny my roots, and in fact I am very proud of my very small village. It bothered me then, but now I realize that it is the same as when you notice when an American is from the south, Midwest or whatnot. I am not really worried about the language barrier because I know that once I am in Rwanda, I will be able to pick up the language quite easily. As my father says, I still have some Kirundi left in me although "much of her vocabulary is dormant somewhere on her hard drive and will come back quickly once she gets immersed in the milieu."

That is it for now. I am probably going to listen to one more song before I go to bed, because I want to be completely packed by tomorrow afternoon.

So until next time,


From The Start

Hey there again,

So keeping a blog is a bit harder than I thought... it requires a lot of discipline, time management, and will power to sit down and write regularly (this is going to be a nice challenge for me).
OK, so I figure that in order for the readers to have a better understanding of why I am going to Rwanda, I should give a little background information on how I got the grant and the events leading up to that.

It started last summer (2008). I decided that it was time for me to go back to Burundi and see my family again. The last time I saw my family I was in the fourth grade and things didn't go too well. Emotionally it was very hard on me and I returned to the states with too many questions still left unanswered, and ended up more confused than ever. Sure I was family, but I felt like a stranger invading personal space. I wanted more than anything to just be with my brothers and sisters, to talk to them the way siblings do, to hang out with them and get to know them. There was so much separating us; they had grown up together, as a family in Burundi while I was doing my own growing up, but in Bethesda. So it was like, even though we were from the same tree, we were two completely separate branches growing in opposite directions. I still could speak Kirundi (Burundi’s official language), but I was going through emotional trauma and I found myself, essentially, muted. I was almost unable to communicate with my biological siblings while I had absolutely no problems communicating with my adopted parents and siblings.

Last summer, I felt this urge to see my family. I think that I had decided that I was emotionally able to handle seeing them again and I felt like I would be able to deal with it in better ways. From then on, I set my mind that I would be going to Burundi this summer. All I would have to do is save up enough money for the plane ticket (about 2,000 USD) and from there I would be set because the currency exchange in Burundi is really good for dollars.

So this spring, I met with some people from the CDO (Career Development Office) at Grinnell and told them of my plans to go back to Burundi and possibly working as a volunteer at the orphanage where I had lived before being adopted. To my biggest disappoint, I learned that I would not be able to go to Burundi through any Grinnell Grants because the State Department has travel warnings/regulations because they don't think it is safe enough. I am not going to lie; I was heartbroken and devastated because I did not know how else to get money for the plane ticket.

After talking to the director of the CDO, she recommended that I volunteer in Rwanda because it is the closest to Burundi, and that if I really wanted to help children; a child in need is still a child in need, regardless of the country. So I followed her advice and started looking online for legitimate organizations that I felt I could contribute to and found Agahozo Shalom Youth Village. After 3 letters of recommendation, 3 essays and lots of stress, I received an email saying that even though they thought I was a strong candidate, they only accept college graduates!

While waiting to hear back from Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, I had applied for the Posse Summer Leadership Award and was denied, so I wrote a letter of intent with my background, my goal for the summer, and asking for two thousand dollars to cover the airfare. I then sent Grinnell College President, Russell K. Osgood an email asking if he would meet with me so that he could help me out. (I figured I would start from the top...)

President Osgood emailed me back and suggested that I meet with Houston Dougharty who is the Vice President for Student Affairs. I met with Houston, gave him my letter of intent and my Posse Summer leadership award application as he requested, and told me that he would be in touch.

All this time, I had been emailing various professors on campus, sending my letter of intent as an attachment. I got back in touch with Anthropology Professor Brigittine French, whom I knew from my first year when she had asked me to give her introductory class a lecture about my experience surviving the genocide. She put me in touch with a Grinnell alum who happened to be doing the exact kind of volunteer work that I was interested, and even more, she was working in Burundi and Rwanda! It was fate!

As suggested by Houston, I had also sent out an email to the Vice President of Alumni Relations Mr. Munley. I sent out the email on May 06, 2009 at 4:43 PM and at 6:48 PM, he responded saying that an alum from New York had given me 3,000 USD for my summer. That quickly, my life was completely changed. It felt that at the snap of a finger, my dreams were going to be made true and I felt overwhelmed with emotions.

At first, I cried because I was so surprised at the generosity of a stranger and excited at the thought of working and teaching children. After a couple of minutes, I started bawling in my roommate's and boyfriend's arms because I had come to the realization that it would allow me go to Burundi from Rwanda and see my family again. I was completely freaking out because I felt like this would be another opportunity to get to know my family again, but all the while I was having flashbacks from my last visit, and I cried harder; tears of joys, sadness, and anguish.

Later that night still crying I called my parents to let them know about the good news.

After I found out that I would not be able to work at Agahozo Shalom Youth Village as planned, I got in touch with the Grinnell alum and she introduced me to another children's home. I got in touch with their founder, and after sending my resume etc. I was accepted to work there. So it is settled... I will be working at Urukundo Children's home for the two months. By the way, Urukundo means " LOVE" in Kinyarwanda and Kirundi. I will be paying $70 per week for room and board while there. The village survives through donations, which is why I am paying room and board.

This entry is way too long, so I will write some more tomorrow.

Good night for now,


Monday, May 25, 2009

Reason For This blog

Hey to anyone reading this blog!

This is actually my first time ever writing a blog, but I am excited to see how it goes. The reason why I am keeping a blog is because I was given a grant, by an alum of Grinnell College, to go to Rwanda and work with orphans for two months this summer. I will be helping teach English, French and basic computer skills as well as serve as a mentor. I will be working at the Urunkdo Home for Children. If you are interested about the village you can click here to learn more.

The reason why this is so significant for me is because this experience is something that I can relate to. I was an an orphan after the Tutsi genocide in Burundi and I spent a while at an orphanage. Naturally, it was not a pleasant experience, it was overcrowded, understaffed, and despite only being five years old at the time, I was given many responsibilities because I was one of the oldest children living there. I remember cleaning the children, washing all the clothes, and helping keep the orphanage clean. But I also remember this one lady, one that I hated with all my little heart, who used to make me do her chores all the time, and who would punish me if I complained or tried to tell anyone (her name was Elizabeth).

Regardless, I am beyond ecstatic at the thought of going back to Africa. I also forgot to mention that I have three brothers and three sisters still living in Burundi that I have not seen in ten years! My oldest brother also just got two baby girls, so I am an untie!! I can't wait to see them. I don't really know what to expect, but the idea of being reunited with my family brings tears to my eyes.

I don't think that the alum who gave me this money realizes how much they are going to change my life. This alum is not only helping me make a small change in some orphans' lives, he is reuniting a family, and that is just amazing. [Alum, if you are reading this blog, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart!]

I just got really emotional thinking about seeing my family again, so I am going to log off and go cry happy tears.

Until the next time,