“I have a girlfriend, it is you.”

Quotes from my week at Rwamagana:

“I’ve taken craps more painful than that birth!” (Sarah)

“I know that they hate us, but I don’t think that they know that we know.” (student about people who hate black people)

“I have a girlfriend, it is you.” (student)

“You have two parents? You are lucky.” (student)

“You are my Selena Gomez.” (student)

This is my life.

It’s a constant roller coaster of incredible joy and deep sadness. Although I missed Hoima and all the people there, God is good and He brought good out of the situation. We spent the week at the Center for Champions in Rwamagana, Rwanda. It is a center for street children. Most of these children are orphans or they lived in the streets because their families could not afford to take care of them. The center provides a place for them to live and a family for them to be a part of. They have formed an amazing community there. They truly are a family. It also is a school that allows students who dropped out of school to catch up. God is doing such big things at this place. I was blessed to be able to be a part of it for just one short week.

We spent most of our days working on small projects or just hanging out with the students. We organized their library, which will hopefully open at the start of the new school year in January. We worked on the facebook page (Center for Champions, check it out). We helped out in the art room and made crafts with the students. We held a Bible study. We danced fer dayyyzzz. We listened to Justin Bieber nonstop. I think I heard Chris Brown’s “Yeah 3x” about 300 times. We played football and basketball for hours upon hours everyday. Most of all, we spent time connecting and forming relationships with the students. This was not a difficult thing to do. These students are so lovable and so eager to be loved. It was impossible not to fall in love with these students. The girls are sweet as can be and to be honest, a little crazy once you get to know them. The boys are wonderful, though some may be convinced that they are in love with you. They are such hard workers and so hungry for knowledge. Their desire to learn is inspiring and encouraging to me, as a future teacher. Some of these students could talk to me for hours about politics and government in the United States, stuff I don’t even know about!

These students will say something that will fill your heart with joy one minute and then break it the next. They have endured so much in their short lives. They were some of the strongest and most inspiring people I have ever met. I wish I could take them all back to America with me so everyone could experience their joy and be humbled by them as I have.

We are back in Kigali now, but hopefully we will be able to still see some of the students. They are on holiday so they stay in different places around Rwanda with extended family members. Some students, who have not remaining family, stay at the center so we may be visiting them there as well.

Sadly, practicum is over and now it’s back to the grind.

after a long game of mud football. so much fun.

dance party

Samwelly (Samuel)

Justin!

Amani.

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Bus rides and birthday cake

Today I turned 20. Today I also received a pineapple as a birthday present. What more could a girl ask for?

The past few days have been bittersweet.

The goodbyes were difficult, to say the least. Heartbreaking is more like it. All I could do to keep myself together was continue to remind myself that I will be coming back one day. I don’t know when that will be, but I’m praying that it is soon. I could go on and on about the overwhelming amount of emotions that I dealt with until it was to the point where I kind of just felt numb, but I’ll spare you guys from that and move on to the good things God is doing right now.

First of all, God kept us laughing in the midst of our tears and even in the toughest moments.  A special thanks to Pastor Danny for that one. That guy has a gift. There is never a dull moment with him. He can honestly make you laugh in any circumstance. Praise God for that. We also got to share one last meal with Stephen. Thank goodness because he was one of the hardest people to say goodbye to. By the way, this meal was at a Japanese restaurant in Kampala. Best Japanese food ever and it was in Africa.

the wonderful Pastor Danny and Dovie

this guy...

After a treacherous 10 hour bus ride we had a short time back in Kigali to rest and transition. This was a blessing because God used this short time to change my heart and prepare me for this new practicum site.

We are now working at a place called Center for Champions. It is a school/center for street children who never had the chance to receive an education. Some of these students are orphans, some were too poor to afford school fees and others faced circumstances that put them on the street. All of them have suffered. It is a really great place that is doing great work.

We spend a lot of our time just hanging out with the students and getting to know them. We spend hours on the football field and the basketball court. This has been therapeutic. We are working on some projects as well. We have been organizing their library so that they can begin to allow students to check out books. These kids are so eager to learn. As a teacher that is a beautiful thing. We also helped them write Christmas cards to their sponsor families. It is weird to be on the other side of those cards. I’m used to seeing a picture child’s face on a postcard with a short description. Now I have the chance to actually get to know the person behind that picture. It definitely makes those child sponsorship programs seem much more real and not just somewhere you send a check to. For anyone who sponsors a child, know that you are making a great difference in not only that child’s life, but also the lives of entire communities of people.

After only two days at the Center for Champions I know that God is going to bless our time here. Although I miss Hoima and the people there so much, I know that God has work for me here. When I’m working with kids who have endured so much pain and are still joyful, how could I be bitter?

This life is so unpredictable. It’s like being on a constant emotional roller coaster. But, I’m glad for that. I am glad that God somehow gives us overwhelming joy even in times of sorrow. He’s just keeping us on our toes, I guess.

So that’s that. My birthday was a good one. I got to hang out with the students all day. I got a couple origami flowers for gifts. My friends had a surprise party for me in the, wait for it…hotel lobby. We had cake. We listened to JBeibs. I’m pretty sure they used salt instead of sugar in the icing. My cake had a firework for a candle. I got to talk to Stephen (from Hoima) on the phone. It’s not everyday that you experience a birthday like that. Now I’m the big two oh. Watch out world.

 

thanks mom!

P.S. Tonight my water was miraculously warm and I took a hot shower for the first time in a month. Happy birthday to me.

Terrible horrible no good very bad day.

You know those days where you think everything that is happening is just a bad dream? When you can’t imagine that it’s actually real and you keep rethinking the situation over and over again. That was our day yesterday. Instead of writing to you about how great our week was in the health clinic last week or getting to talk about how life-changing the refugee camp would have been this week, I write with a deeply hurt heart about a very unfortunate change of events.
We were called out into the kitchen early in the morning. Pastor Danny said he needed to talk to us. He told us that we were being removed from our practicum and from Uganda tomorrow. You can imagine our shocked faces. He informed us that he had received a call just that morning saying we were to leave as soon as possible. Apparently our program and/or our home universities fear that we are in danger because of the U.S. troops that were sent to Northern Uganda a few days ago. These troops are military advisors that were sent to help resolve a conflict that is not currently active. The massive and dangerous force they are fighting against consists of about 400 rebels. Yeah, 400. That is 400 people. Not troops or battalions, people. As I said this situation is located in Northern Uganda, far from where we are, and our U.S. troops have not been involved in any combat. Thanks a lot Obama. I never had a problem with you before, but couldn’t you have just waited another 12 days to send the troops?
Not only are we devastated by this decision, but we are greatly frustrated. We are frustrated with the fact that we are powerless in this decision. We were not involved in the decision making process nor were we ever asked what the situation was like or how we were feeling. We are frustrated by this apparent belief that our lives are so much more valuable than the people here that we must flee at the first miniscule sign of danger. Hate to break it to you, but we are studying abroad in Africa. There will never be a 100% guarantee of safety. I kinda understood that when I signed up for this thing. With that said, we are as safe as we could be here. There is no pressing danger.
We feel terrible for the wonderful Siega family that has graciously hosted us and all of the staff at UAOG Rescue (the ministry we have been working with). Not only were they in the dark about this decision, but they voiceless as well. We had a lot of work still to do here. There were projects that were arranged and people that were expecting us to help them accomplish them. I feel ashamed that they have been disrespected in such a way. We have let many people down. I am deeply disappointed with the impression that our program will leave on this community. I can only hope and pray that the people remember us and our time here separately from that of the decisions of our leaders.
We have spent an amazing two weeks with these people. They have truly changed my life and my heart. I have been so humbled by them. I have been filled with their overflowing joy. I have been blessed by their smiles and their laughter. All the blog posts in the world wouldn’t be enough to explain how wonderful these people are and how much I have grown to love them in the past two weeks. Thankfully we were able to have all of the staff over for a BBQ last night. We ate and laughed into the late hours of night. It was a bittersweet evening. I was overwhelmed with joy as I spent time with these people. We sing a song in church that says, “I love this great family of God,” and we truly mean that. We are a family. In two short weeks we have truly grown to become a family. The fact that our time here should have been twice as long is heartbreaking. This situation is unfair, to say the least, and I am devastated to leave these people. I feel that I have been robbed of my time, my relationships and my overall experience here.
The only thing that brings a little light to this situation is now I have no other choice but to come back. I have promised the people and myself that I will come back to Hoima as soon as God allows. And next time I will come with only myself to be held responsible for my safety.
I will miss these people greatly. I know that they will be in my thoughts and prayers everyday until I return.
It was a day filled with enough tears to fill a freaking ocean. A day in which I felt more powerless than ever before. A day fllled with frustration, anger, sadness, confusion, and hurt. How’s that for a terrible horrible no good very bad day, Alexander?

Sincerely,
Heartbroken in Hoima

A Day to Remember

During our first week in Hoima we focused a lot of our time on women who are HIV positive through the church’s “Restore Hope” program. First of all, let me tell you about the sweetest old woman who ever lived.
Her name is Jolly and she is amazing. Picture like an African woman version of Ghandi. I swear. She is so inspiring and encouraging. The minute we walked up to her house she was grinning from ear to ear and greeting us ecstatically. She is HIV positive and has suffered greatly because of this, but she does not let it get her down. She is completely independent. She grows all of her own food and sells some of it as her business. She has a nice house that she has worked hard to build herself. She takes care of 4 orphan children. She disciples and leads other women. She is so incredibly strong. I was in awe of her overflowing joy and love for Christ. She was just downright beautiful.
At the end of the week we put on a program for the women involved in Restore Hope. We held it a a local hotel. The women arrived dressed to the nines. They were wearing wedding attire, which is basically like an African prom dress. Once they got there we painted their nails to make them feel pampered. These women spend most of their time digging in their fields so their nails are usually caked in mud. If they’re not in the fields, they are cooking or preparing food so we paid for them to have a full meal at the hotel. Keep in mind that these women do not just cook for themselves. They hoe the fields, plant the seeds, care for the crop, harvest the crop, store the crop, prepare and cook the crop for an entire family. Enjoying a meal in which they did not labor to produce is rare. If they’re not in the fields or cooking, they are taking care of the children so we made them act and feel like children. We played silly games with them and sang and danced. We gave them a chance just to laugh. And believe me, they laughed. They laughed at us white girls trying to shake our hips to their traditional beat. They laughed at the silly, and kind of awkward, comedians. They laughed at our childish games we had them play. They laughed with each other in conversation (I couldn’t understand, but it sounded joyful). They laughed at Pastor Danny, as usual. They laughed at us doing our “American Dances.” Side note on that, they probably think Americans are so dumb. We did two “American Dances” for them, the Hoedown Throwdown and the ChaCha slide. Both of these dances are literally telling you every move to make. Whatever, it’s all we could think of.

priceless

Pastor Danny..always making people laugh

We also performed a skit that represented how God carries our burdens and takes our “baggage” from us. To wrap up the wonderful day we washed the women’s feet. In the book of John, Jesus washes his disciples feet and explains that this is an act of love. He came not to be served, but to serve. These women are constantly serving others. Rarely, if ever, does anyone serve them. We took this opportunity to let them know that they are worthy of being served as well.
If the women enjoyed this day even half as much as we did, then it was an incredible success.

the amazing ladies

Hairy Pork

So there is a saying we use here in Africa, TIA. It means This Is Africa. I’m pretty sure it’s from a movie or something. Here are some circumstances I have used it for in the past week or so.

No power for days at a time. TIA.

No water every couple of days. TIA.

Showing up to the school and finding that a class is just sitting there without a teacher. TIA.

Teaching that class for the day without any idea what you are doing. TIA.

Being called beautiful every time you go out in public. TIA.

Getting proposed to at least three times a day. TIA.

I’ve also created my own acronym: NIA, Not In Africa.

For example:

Dr. Pepper, NIA. This is something I am rather upset about because I heard a rumor that I would be able to find it in Uganda. So far that rumor has been false.  I am craving it like a pregnant woman. I even had a dream about it.

Donnettes, NIA. I didn’t really expect to find these here, but a girl can dream right?

Anyways, we arrived in the little ol’ town of Hoima last Thursday and have just been living it up ever since. We are living with a missionary family from the Philippines. They have 4 kids and they are all so wonderful. It has been a busy and humbling week.

We have been volunteering in the pre-primary school. It is chaos. The kids are little heathens, but they are so cute at the same time. A little girl came up to me during lunch time not he first day and melted my stinkin heart. She knelt down in front of me (a sign of respect in their culture) and offered me her piece of bread. I tried to refuse, but she said it was a gift and walked away. Next thing I knew there was a pile of bread and cassava in my hands. I couldn’t help but laugh when my friend Lindsey walked in and just gave me a look like “Why on earth are you holding half the students’ lunches?” I couldn’t allow myself to take what was already a meager lunch from them (and I wasn’t hungry) so I gave the students back their food. So their craziness is made up for by their pure innocence and cuteness. The way they say, “Teacha Kally” everytime I walk into the room and hug me makes me fall in love with them over and over again. Even when they are punching each other and crying and screaming, “He beat me!”

so joyful

they are so stinkin cute.

We have also been going to secondary schools to do HIV/AIDS prevention. We basically go and discuss this issue with the students. We talk about why it is such an issue and how we can stop it. It has been sad to realize the reasons why so many of the students are having sex. Often times it is in order to have someone to provide for them financially or for a girl to be able to get a job. On a lighter note, when we ask the students to write questions they use this as an opportunity to confess their, obviously, genuine love for us.

now that's true love.

I took my first bucket shower. It was actually quite enjoyable. We usually don’t have power. The water stops working occasionally and the food is an adjustment. I thing crossing the Atlantic did something to my taste buds because I thoroughly enjoy fish now. I actually prefer it over the pork (maybe that is because the pork still has hair on it, but either way I like the fish). Mom, you should be happy about this.

Some other new foods I have enjoyed:

Sugar Cane- straight off the cane. Fun to eat and so cheap. We got a whole cane for like 10 cents.

Passion Fruit- right off the vine. Uhhhhhmazing.

Papaya- I don’t think I had ever had this in the states, but I wasn’t missing out on much. Kind of smells like throw up.

Cocoa- Weirdest texture ever, but so good.

G nuts- Like a peanut, but better.

Surviving Uganda

My experience in Uganda so far can be summed up in one word…chaos.
It all starts with the bus ride from Kigali to Kampala. It was a 9 hour bus ride. They drive on the left side of the road in Uganda so I was thrown off from the start. There were a few moments when I was pretty sure the bus was going to hit someone or something.
Then there is Kampala. I had no idea it was such a big and crazy city! It was like a mix between San Francisco and Tijuana. Very busy and very dirty. I was fascinated. We went shopping all around town and saw markets and shopping centers that were the size of a small country. We went to this one market that is similar to most of the markets here, with tons of fruits, vegetables, dry goods, shoes, secondhand clothes and a ton of useless junk. But walking around this market was like walking around the maze in the Triwizard cup. Did I mention that it was right next to a parking lot full of matatus (taxi buses) about the size of one of those gigantic Disneyland parking lots. Don’t even ask me how they are supposed to get out. I almost lost my left hip to one of those suckers.

the so-called taxi park?

Last, but definitely not least, there was the “River Nile.” We took a guided rafting trip down a portion of the Nile. This was probably one of the craziest things I have ever done in my life. I thought, being from Oregon and rafting the Rogue my whole life, that I was prepared for this rafting excursion. Well, I thought wrong. These rapids were ranging from class 2 to class 6. In other words, class “oh this is fun” to class “holy freaking crap I’m going to die.” We went down the first rapid and of course we flipped right away. After being hit in the face by the boat and swallowing about half the Nile I was convinced that I was drowning. I finally surfaced and thought to myself, “What did I get myself into?” (I may have said and thought some other words that aren’t blog appropriate. Don’t judge me, those were desperate times). I was a little freaked out after that experience, but I kept with it and it turned out to be an incredible day of rafting. We flipped quite a few more times, but it was a thrill. It made rafting the Rogue seem like child’s play. I’m pretty sure I still have a good gallon or two of Nile water in my body, but it was definitely worth it.

the definition of sicky sicky gnar gnar.

 

Oh yeah…and I’m like an official African now.

ma hur did.