Monday, March 27, 2017


It’s funny how new settings can make you rethink the same old things always swirling around your brain.  When I lived with the most wonderful German family all I could think about was how I wanted to live like them when I have a family of my own – surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, children, friends, everyone.  I loved the constant stream of visitors and how 24 of their closest friends and family went skiing together every winter for a week.  

Now I’m a part of a different kind of family.  A family not tied together biologically but with a set of values.  When youth come to live at ASYV they become a part of a family.  It’s a very important part of how these children heal from their troubled pasts.  Each family lives in a home with a Rwandan Mama.  The Mama signs a four-year contract and very much becomes a mother to her 20 teenagers.  In addition, for the first year of school, each family has a Big Brother or Sister (an ASYV graduate) and a Cousin (a foreigner to help with English – that’s me!)  Each family creates its own set of guidelines, but we all live by our Core Values: respect, commitment, support, integrity, learning community, role model, and interest of the child.  It’s that last value, interest of the child, at the heart of it all.  Everything we do, we do in the interest of our youth.  I love having these values as daily reminders of why it is we do what we do.  Seeing my family members take on these values as their own is also incredibly humbling.  Though I’m only a physical presence in this family for one year, I hope we all continue to learn from each other for a long time to come. 

Something else I learned last year that I am re-learning right now is having a family, while incredibly rewarding, is also incredibly difficult.  Balancing the wants and needs of a big group of people while also keeping everyone’s best interests at heart definitely poses a challenge: whether it’s making sure I gave enough attention to each of the three wonderful German children or engaging equal amounts with each of my 20 Rwandan teenagers and not just the better English speakers. 

Another thing about families is that sometimes they don’t work out.  My Rwandan Mama is currently in the US visiting her daughter and won’t be back until next term.  My Big Sister has left the Village and won’t be back except to visit.  That happened in the middle of exam week and in the middle of a service group.  Needless to say, taking on both of their roles has been a bit tiring.  But I’m here for the students, and what an incredible group of young women they are.  Even though our family feels a little lacking right now, we still stick together.

I’m incredibly grateful for all of the families I’ve become a part of over the years – whether they be Brasilian, German, or Rwandan.  I’m also quite lucky that my family of origin happens to be pretty rocking.  I miss your crass commentary, our dumb diatribes, and of course your jokes and your love.  Shout out to all the families around ☺  

The day we became a family!

The day we received our name - Gandhi!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

goats & sunsets

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt “inspired” (or maybe “motivated” is the better word) to write.  My first service group came and went, I traveled to Israel for JDC Mid-Year Seminar, and now I’m about to have another service group.  That pretty much sums it up.  In between I turned 23 (yay?), read a couple of books, and ate approximately 6 mangos and 4 pineapples.   I’ve also started to accept that at the end of the day, even though I do love it here, it is just a job.  We have plenty of paperwork to complete and emails upon emails upon emails, but there are also the little moments of pure joy.  I don’t just mean seeing baby goats or a beautiful sunset, but meaningful conversations with people. 

On the day I returned from Israel I drove to the Village with several of the Science Center teachers.  Incredibly animated and thoughtful, we immediately got into a conversation about the intersections of religion and science.  They didn’t hesitate about asking me my thoughts on Jesus, God, Heaven, and Hell, and I turned around and asked them right back.  Then yesterday afternoon, while playing volleyball with a student, we had some of those same conversations.  He even started to ask me things like “if you had to change one thing about your body, what would it be,” or “if you were going to die in a few minutes, what is one thing you wish you would have said to someone?”  These students never cease to amaze me.   I’m supposed to be helping them with English but I think I receive a lot more in return.

Thank you to some awesome cousins for making me feel special on my birthday :) Peter made a delicious cake out of an amandazi (donut) and fried bananas with chocolate!

Cookies & ice cream in Israel

Wouldn't be a visit to the Holy Land without a stop at the Western Wall!

Sunrise yoga with some members of a service group

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Cheese Part 2

Today marks 7 weeks since we arrived in this beautiful country.  Beautiful despite the fact that I’m currently spending three hours and counting stuck in the dining hall listening to a never-ending rainstorm. At least it gives me quality time to work, read, write and maybe think for a change of pace. 

If you remember back to a bit over a year ago (and this would really only be you, Mumsie), I wrote a blog post in Germany about cheese.  Its presence at every meal, its fattiness, its deliciousness.  Well I’ve been thinking again about cheese lately, and not just because of the cute goats that scamper by daily or the cows grazing or the lack of cheese in my diet now.  Or even because of Padre’s daily cheese sandwiches that even his ex from 35 years ago remembers him for.  I’ve been thinking about cheese because of a book I’m reading by Philip Gourevitch called We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.  He writes on pages 170-1 of an encounter with an American in a Kigali bar:
“I hear you’re interested in genocide,” the American said.  “Do you know what genocide is?”
I asked him to tell me.
“A cheese sandwich,” he said.  “Write it down.  Genocide is a cheese sandwich.”
I asked him how he figured that.
“What does anyone care about a cheese sandwich?” he said.  “Genocide, genocide, genocide. Cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich.  Who gives a shit? Crimes against humanity?  Where’s humanity?  Who’s humanity?  You? Me? Did you see a crime committed against you?  Hey, just a million Rwandans.  Did you ever hear about the Genocide Convention?”
I said I had.
“That convention,” the American at the bar said, “makes a nice wrapping for a cheese sandwich.”

This metaphor really struck me.  I’m not going to detail my thoughts on it but it was something I felt I wanted to share.  At the very least, it reminds me that whatever I am doing with my life needs to taste more like a Publix Sub than a plain old cheese sandwich.

And now to continue on with more of my random thoughts…

Sometimes I wonder if I moved to Rwanda just to become more American.  As a former Resident Assistant and Au Pair I’m used to living where I work.  Living in Germany taught me the value of a healthy work-life balance.  After experiencing how wonderful it felt, I swore to myself I would always try and keep that in my life.  Here in the Village it’s a bit trickier.  Due to the time difference, I often get my most important emails in the evening.  I have to keep myself from reading and responding to them as I go to sleep at night or when I first wake up in the morning.  So far I think the balance is going pretty well.  Wi-Fi going in and out can be a blessing in disguise as it sometimes forces you to take a break.  Weekends, whether in the village or away, always provide a respite and some much needed time for conversation with the friends and family back home who keep me sane.

This sort of leads into my next thought.  I’ve realized when trying to figure out my place in a new setting, I revert to what I know.  We often make meals and hang out in the boy cousins’ house.  Whenever I am there I find myself in the kitchen to clean and tidy up.  How could I not?  My mother taught me the peace of mind a clean kitchen can give you and I spent a year living with three young children.  So I happily tidy up our little kitchen. 

Speaking of little, living here often reminds me of how small I am.  I am one person here for one year.  I’m not even going to think about the supposed “impact” we always like to think we have.  I’m just going to try and be a good cousin.  Luckily, when I’m thinking about things late at night sometimes a mosquito stuck under my net can actually lend some perspective.  I remember something we always used to talk about in CISV: Mosquito Tactics.  If you ever thought you were too small to make an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito under your net.  I will hopefully do an activity about this with my family sometime soon so they realize how much they are valued and how much they can accomplish.    

As I finish up my lunch of rice and beans I think back to a beautiful summer in Brasil.  They have a similar dish to the one I just ate - called feijoada.   The most important part of the feijoada isn’t the hearty rice and beans, but rather the small orange slices that come at the end to help with digestion.  Those orange slices will come in handy this year as I try to digest more than just plain old cheese sandwiches.