From the Source: Coffee Plantation Interviews

Hey, hey! After days of rain and rescheduling, we were able interview two daily coffee plantation workers, and one supervisor at Cyimbili last week. The interviews took a couple of hours, and our plan was to go on home visits after the interviews to get a glimpse of the personal lives and families of these three, but the homes are 30 minute hikes in different directions, and the rains started shortly after the interviews. Soon, everyone says. Soon, like, when the rain stops, we’ll move.  It’s been five hours and we have not moved.

*We did finally move three days later. Pictures of these visits are here, and stories from the hike are here.

The interviews were interesting, as all three represented different experiences, families and interests.

Interview 1The first was a widowed grandma who cares for several nephews and grandchildren (nine total, I think) and is the primary earner for her family on $1.50 USD per day, loads higher than any other job in the area. She has been widowed for 15 years, and with her earnings, she pays school fees for several of the kids, maintains the home and food supply, and retains health insurance for the family at the clinic in Cyimbili.  She has many friends in the plantation because of working together every day, and reports before attending the required devotions as a plantation worker, she used to steal firewood and coffee. She says, smiling, the devotions have helped to change her heart and hear God’s words about how to behave.

Interview 2

The second was a married supervisor who has been praying for kids for 15 years. FIFTEEN YEARS! The social and spiritual views on infertility are not good, though we were able to offer each other peace and truth. Instant bond, he and Jeff and I, and I am happy to pray for them, as they report they are happy to pray for us.  With his earnings, he purchased a house, a small plot of land to cultivate cassava, and has been sponsoring an orphan boy’s education for eight years. He also travels to the eldest “moms” in his family who can’t work and provides food. More on the journey to his village and my meeting with his wife here.

Interview 3The third was a 26 year-old single female who lives with her parents and 9 brothers and sisters! She, her two brothers, and her dad all work on the plantation. With her earnings, she has purchased two pigs, has put a portion in the bank, and helps maintain her household with the rest.

ALARM (in partnership with two other organizations- find the backstory here) has totally rehabilitated this plantation and transformed the local economy and community through jobs, pastoral and leadership trainings, and reconciliation efforts within the coffee plantation itself.

Right now, the plantation employs about 148 workers, and 93 are women. (The numbers fluctuate +/- 20 depending on the season.) Each worker is responsible for picking 77lbs of ripe cherries per day, though rainy season is hard, with lots of half-days scattered in due to downpours, and none of the cherries can sit overnight—they must be processed at the washing station the same day to remain fresh! Some employees pick and harvest, others wash and shell, others dry and bag. Each day, workers are divided into groups and given their tasks.

Here are some statistics that will blow your mind, when you consider all of this is done by hand: With almost 40,000 total coffee trees, The plantation averages about 928 pounds of ripe cherries per day and 27,000 pounds per month! The average amount of dried coffee produced each day is about 97 pounds, and per month is about 2,917. That’s a ton of coffee. Literally. In the rainy season, workers have the option of working six days per week for extra income, as the season yields such a huge harvest.

Over half of the women employed are widows and primary earners in their families. The three interviewed and others we visited with list the main benefits as being paid at a higher rate than others in the area, participating in daily devotions and coffee choir, and being together daily. The workers agree that by living and working together every day, and attending the morning devotions together, they “create unity with no segregation. All people are accepted here.”

Because of sand erosion, many individuals have a hard time growing their own food and rely on the coffee plantation as a source of income to be able to purchase food from surrounding village markets and cities. Before the plantation was rehabilitated, many families struggle to eat because they couldn’t maintain their own gardens, and they did not have a source of income.

Currently the plantation grows, harvests, shells, washes and separates their own coffee by various grades for packaging, but does not have the capacity to roast, market or export their coffee. Their production is also stunted by an insufficient water system for washing the cherries, and too few employees during rainy and harvest seasons.  They also hope to continue to renovate the grounds, adding sports equipment and a boat to attract area hikers and other volunteers to spend time at the guesthouse, generating additional revenue. As ALARM is able to generate funds to divert the plantation, they hope to continue its growth and impact in the community.

For more info on how you can get involved, check out ALARM and download the June issue of WND magazine.


Language: I can speak an entire sentence of greetings.

Welp. They speak Kinyarwanda here, and we speak English with a touch of German (J) and Spanish (me). Not helpful at all. The learning curve has been steep! But we are constantly overwhelmed by people who want to help us learn, or who want to practice their English with us.

Most of the time we welcome the conversation and connections. Times we do not welcome the conversation include the 6th hour of bus travel when the guy in front of us continues to says things like: Do you find the ponds? The ponds have fish. Do you find the hills? The land has one thousand hills. Do you find the climate? The climate is hot. Do you find the cattle? These are the cattle… despite the fact my eyes have already closed; during the 20th hour of the day or the 1st hour of the day, when our patience has either expired or not yet woken up; on the 12th time we’ve tried to make the Cy sound and failed; when nobody laughs at our jokes, which were translated bluntly and literally, losing all craft!

One laughable thing happened with the Grace Community team, though, during church. Our friend, who had been translating church announcements and introductions, failed to recognize when a visitor introduced herself in English. Our friend leaned over and whispered, I am here visiting from Texas. He was translating English to English.  We realized then he also has a never-ending laborious task of facilitating our understanding to the point his own  conscious processing has actually been numbed. Poor Ben! Proof he was accurately translating, though!

We were relieved after our 8 day stay in a remote village to have a 2-day respite at our friends’ house (they are on holiday in South Africa) to chill out and not talk to anyone! We spent 12 hours not talking. It was a dream.

Here are some clips of the language learning process with our lunch group and our pal Nepo:

Currently, I can have the following conversation in straight Kinyarwanda:

Hello. Good morning. How are you? I am fine. Good afternoon. Thank you. Thank you so much. You are welcome. Good, good. Coffee. I am full.

Hikes and Home visits: A forehead hug

*Make it to the end of this one, it’s where the goods are.

There came a day in Cyimbili when Jeff and I were so tired of the rain and the porch sitting, we took off in reckless abandon. It had cleared for a split second, I put on warm clothes, and we started hiking. Fifteen minutes in, the sun came out, and it was instantly unbearably hot. We had not put on sunscreen. Daggers! After a quick u-turn, a change of clothes, sunglasses and SPF, we again set out on the open dirt road.  We would hike somewhere. Anywhere. We grabbed rain jackets, too, because we have learned, finally, to take the raincoat everywhere no matter what the skies look like. We are on our way to learning this about the sunscreen, but my peeling neck, arms and ears make me feel a little bit brain-dead.

We hiked a giant hill that afternoon, trailed by 35 kids collected along the way— one or two at a time, a little face peeking around the corner, an excited muzungu!, one more kid added to the single-file procession up the hill, all the way to the top. This little (out of focus) bebe was very last and very angry the older kids kept leaving her behind.


Other kids

At the very top, we were escorted by a couple of teenagers to a footpath that led to spectacular views of the plantation and Lake Kivu, where the skies immediately opened up on us—thunder, rain, the works.  We ran down the mountain, and felt very proud of ourselves when we got home. We told others we had hiked to the top of the hill. Yes, they said, smiling.


Imagine our surprise when, two days later, we set out to visit one of the supervisors we had interviewed the day before. A 30-minute walk, they told us. No biggie. We climbed that hill yesterday!

We began walking in the direction of the giant hill, and as we turned onto the dirt path that led up the hill, I thought to myself: Wow, the supervisor must live on this hill. What a steep walk to work and back every day. If only we had known yesterday, we could have visited him while we were just here…

As we walked past all the houses on the hill heading toward the very top, I thought: Wow, the supervisor lives on the top of this hill? So far! And he walks the hill every day? Yesterday we were so tired and proud to have made it. Silly us.

Then we walked over the top of the hill and down the other side toward a village. I looked back at Jeff and thought: No way! He lives up the hill, over the hill, and in the village on the other side? So far! I can’t believe he walks this every day…

Maybe you’re sensing the pattern. Maybe you also wear sunscreen and always carry your raincoat.

As we walked through the village on the other side and continued down toward the main road, I started really wondering. He walks up the mountain, over the top, through the village on the other side and down to the main road?! I can’t believe this.

But then we continued on the main road, past a little girl wearing a Packers T-shirt and another kid pulling a cut-up pill container on bottle cap wheels, onto a steep dirt footpath, and I was like: Whaaaat? He lives up the mountain, over the top, through the village on the other side, down the main road, and up the next ridge? Omg. Where’s my water?!



When we walked up the dirt footpath, up the ridge and through the next village, I was sure this would be it. But we kept walking…

Three ridges, three valleys, three villages later, lots of kid-trains and muzungu squeals, over an hour from where we started, we arrived at the supervisor’s home! We were promptly greeted with chairs and Fanta, and in our cartoon lives, they were fanning us with giant leaves, wiping our sweaty faces.

We spent time with the supervisor and his wife along with all the neighbors packed into the tiny, but clean and welcoming house. Over and over, each person shared how excited the village was to welcome us—many muzungu had visited the coffee plantation, but none had ever gone walking to the villages! Especially not one so far!  Many had never seen muzungu before in person, right here, they said! They hugged and prayed and smiled and offered us more Coke, saying they were so encouraged and blessed by our visit. They insisted we take their greetings home to our families, and we shared greetings from all of you to them.

Spv house

In the most simple display of connection and community, we were all just happy to be sitting there together each enjoying the other’s company.

This supervisor and his wife have been married for 15 years without kids, he had described in his interview the day before. They had been to various doctors through the years, but could not find an answer to their infertility. Here in Rwanda, like so many other cultures, infertility is viewed as a curse, and often leads to isolation of the woman by others. We shared with the supervisor the day before how our own experience had been so difficult, how we would commit to praying for each other, and we sent him with hugs for his wife.

When I found myself face-to-face with the wife that day, she greeted me with a more intimate but familiar greeting of three hugs and cheek touches—left side, right side, left side—but then there was also something I had never been included in until that moment: forehead to forehead, eye to eye, and we rested there for a moment. It was more than a hug. It was like the insides of her soul reaching out to the insides of my soul, through our eyes and foreheads. She and I, in that moment, the same.


Yes, we will pray for those two- these who have put at least two orphans through school and help support several village “moms”- and we believe they will pray for us. We offered each other peace and truth in spite of those blasted ancestors…

Aaaaaaaand then we hiked the hour-and-a-half home at sunset, back through the villages and the valleys and the ridges, collecting another muzungu parade of kids, just like the supervisor does every day to and from work, rain or shine, and I think his quads are probably ripped!


For the entire photo album, click here!

But in the meantime, how about some cute twins who were terrified of us?

Twins 1Twins 2Twins 3happy twins


When we first arrived in Kigali, Jeff and I were  in total awe of the city’s cleanliness, beauty, and smooth roads. Plastic bags are illegal here, and Umuganda requires monthly community service to maintain the land and roads, as we witnessed and participated in last Saturday. In fact, when we crossed rain-distressed roadways or mudslides covering the path (Blooke- do you find the load? Do you find how the load has been destroyed by the lain?), people were quick to say This area here needs Umuganda, and so it would be.

That said, during these wonder and awe moments, we had not yet ventured outside the city. In fact, only 20% of the roads are paved in Rwanda. The main roads leading to major towns or inter-country access roads are shiny and smooth but other than that, you need a land rover and a prayer!

I first understood this as the back-left passenger in a 12-passeger van carrying 15 people and their luggages. We had smooth roads form Kigali to Gisenyi, but then had 1.5 hours on an unpaved lakefront mountain road, leading to a small coffee-plantation community nestled in a valley. I was dizzy for 4 days. To this very moment, weeks later, my balance has not been restored as evidenced by two (TWO!) shower falls. Something about my inner ear…

I was more diligent the next time we made this trip, put out a serious call for prayer and antinausea meds, and was sure to never close my eyes and always hold my head steady. It worked, and I even found a way to take a little video or two to share. This first clip is on a main road in Gisenyi- meaning, this is better condition than any road to any village! The second clip is going through a village on one of the mountain roads:

One of the tasks we had while at Cyimbili was to check out the Congo Nile Trail, which sits on top of a continental divide. On one side, water flows down the ridge toward the Nile, and on the other side, into Lake Kivu (a volcanic lake- one of only three known lakes of its kind in the world and top 15 deepest), bordered by the Congo. We are hoping to build a WND team to hike part of this trail in early 2014 as a fundraiser for WND and an opportunity for others to learn more about ALARM’s work at Cyimbili. The most efficient way to get an overview of the terrain in the amount of time we had was to do it by moto.

SO. Imagine that video above, only you’re clinging to a Rwandan you almost totally trust on two wheels, for 4 hours, with a constant threat of rain. Jeff did this! The views were amazing, and he came back with reports of endless lake and mountain villages nestled in all the ridges and peaks and coves along the way. The terrain was diverse, ranging from cattle ranches to terraced fields to national forest to beautiful catholic churches and fishing villages, and many people of all ages yelling: Muzungu!

Jeff and V

He also returned with a bruised coccyx. Five days later, he’s finally feeling better, but still has a significant visible bruise up his back. His poor badonkadonk! Riding on all those badonkadonk roads! The crazy thing is that people make this trip multiple times daily, to and from the market, to and from Gisenyi, often times in downpours.

Such is the life in rural Rwanda. Thanks, V, for the ride, and for keeping J safe :)

Quick Easter Recap

Hey! Happy belated Easter!

J and I spent Easter week in rural Cyimbili, with no real access to anything except coffee and rain. Just kidding.  We also had some great hikes and home visits, and we made some great friends this week: Eriane, V, Anastasi and Nepo- all our ages, except Anasasi who had a decade on or two on the rest of us :)

With these four we shared every meal, most hikes, and all the hours of downtime watching the rain from the front porch:


Easter week was surprisingly quiet. There were no Holy Week events or services or even a Good Friday something-or-other!  Most were celebrating the month-long break from school, which began on Good Friday. Jeff and I were a little sad about the lack of community commemoration, but found ourselves quiety observing things in our own way.

Then, out of nowhere- BAM! Easter Sunday was an explosion of colors and song and dancing!

The Service was 3.5 hours long, and celebrated the gathering of all the surrounding village churches in one giant service. The morning included a singing processional to the beach for 4 baptisms, 14 choirs from surrounding villages, 3 offerings (money, or for those without money, an offering of words or goods- beans and a chicken were offered on Easter morning!), praise and worship, sermon, announcement, strategic plan update, funds update, communion, and benediction. Whew! Below is a link to the Easter photo album, followed by three short video clips of the Kids Choir, some Easter Dancing and the Praise and Worship time after the offering was collected:

Easter Album click here.

Right after the service ended, the thunder rolled, winds picked up and it poured for 12 straight hours! We had a relaxing day on the couches of the front porch sipping hot coffee and tea and visiting with our friends. Not a bad East! (As Nepo kept calling it: Happy East! Happy East!)  Kirisito yazutse! Christ is risen!

The Ole Vanilla-Vinegar Trick and Other Silly Stories

Alternate titles for this post: In Which We Stumbled Into a Student Choir In the Dark
It’s laining! Blooke! The lain! The lain over the rake!

Three days ago, the plantation director, agronomist, house lady and I sat around the kitchen table racking our brains on how we might obtain ingredients to make an “American” breakfast and dinner, per the request of Anastasi, the woman who cooks for us.

My fallback breakfast staple is eggs in a basket, which I call one-eyed sailors (gets a laugh every time), and French toast, because almost everybody has eggs and bread. Milk was an issue, but after two days of discussion, someone brought a few bags of whole milk from Gisenyie, and so the French toast plan came to life.

I asked if they had things like cinnamon or vanilla or syrup for French toast. When they didn’t understand me, I showed pictures on my laptop. I am still chuckling at the sight of everyone gathered around my laptop, scratching their heads as they studied a picture of cinnamon.  We don’t have, they said, totally puzzled. They didn’t recognize the picture of syrup, and I could never really explain what it was to satisfaction.  I decided to improvise with honey (which has crystallized into a thick paste), boiled on the stove with water until syrupy. I asked about vanilla. They got very excited and said, Yeah! We have! We have!

We gathered the next morning with the ingredients for eggs in a basket, and they stood around the stove ooooh-ing and ahhh-ing as I cut holes in the bread, cracked an egg inside, and flipped each piece of bread like a pro. We all enjoyed, and it earned a table-wide applause.

TeachingThe cooksFrying panCookingBreakfast

The next morning I woke up, and the team was assembled in the kitchen as they had been the day before, but this time with the ingredients for French toast proudly displayed on the counter: eggs, bread, milk and vinegar. Wait, what?!  I picked up the vinegar and looked around like, What’s going on here? Everyone smiled and said, Yes! Yes! Vanirra!  It turns out, our accents combined with misplaced emphases, plus all the interchanging ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds make vanilla sound like vinegar.


They were crushed, and also laughing. They had no idea what vanilla actually was, and we had no electricity to show them on the Internet.

In the end, we made some spectacular French toast with plain old milk and eggs, and I sprinkled a tiny bit of sugar on each side as it cooked. We water boiled the honey into syrup, and we sliced sweet bananas on top. Five of the six present loved French toast, and report they’ll make the breakfast for their families this weekend. Score! Anastasi, however, doesn’t drink cow’s milk, so she showed up at the table ten minutes later with her very own self-prepared Egg in a Basket. Double score!

French toast

In other news, no electricity and straight rain all day.

But we did accidentally stumble into a student choir in the dark. We heard this music in the distance as we were sitting on the front porch, and we and set out to find it. We found it in a dark classroom.  The high school students were practicing at the end of their school day, and the lyrics (as translated to us by one of the students) say something like, “Don’t be afraid, I am your God” and “In life there will be struggles, but I have died so you might have life.”

And finally, I leave you with some ‘l’ and ‘r’ exchanges that gave us pause…

  • Blooke! You will swim in the rake?
  • Yes, you are here with ARARM…
  • The organization is called Aflican Load (Road)
  • Licardo will pick you up?
  • Here you will find an example of servant readership
  • Yes, they have lapid services!
  • So, as we crose…
  • She will prepare the coffee for loast!
  • It’s laining! Blooke! The lain! The lain over the rake!
  • Now we will take bleakfast.
  • You have the right in your heart. Harejullia!
  • Ah! You are praying cards?
  • The students! The football, they are praying!
  • Ahhh, so glad I see you are arive!

This One Goes Out to All the Grandmas

Presenting: An Overview, only three weeks late.

I realize this may be the type of post only my grandma reads, but alas. Here are the details of life and work in the last three weeks:

Barry, Jeff & I on our first day in Kigali

Thurs March 7: On arrival, we were met at the airport by members of ALARM and escorted to their guesthouse at the Center for Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The center sits on a hill in the outskirts of Kigali City, in a sector called Kagugu, which feels far-removed, but views over Kigali city are amazing! Also amazing are the avocados that grow and fall freely all over the path outside our room, and the giant hawks that attack them.

Our good friends from Wisconsin, also met us at the airport, although they’re not really from Wisconsin. Rachel is from England, and Ricardo is from Mexico, and their two little boys have the cutest Mexican-English accents you’ve ever heard! They are living in a sector called Kimihurura, on another ridge in Kigali City, working for UNICEF (Rach) and the University of Sussex (Ricky). These are the friends we went to Cuba with a few years ago, and it was a total coincidence to meet here at the same time. Fab. They will henceforth be referred to as R&R.

The third sector we have become familiar with is Kacyiru, which is where our host family lives, and we’re able to walk from here to the library, several Internet cafés, the burrito shop and the Embassy. More on this Fam later.

I tell you these locations up front so you can appreciate this inner monologue, which demonstrates our learning curve as we try to navigate between these different sectors on different ridges by taxi and public transport:

Where do R&R live again?  Kitchy-huru? Kimikura?  I know it’s not Kacyiru, because that’s where Ben lives.  And it’s not Kagugu, because that’s where ALARM Center is. So it must be Kimyhura. Wait Kinyahurura. Wait Chimy-hu-ru-ra. Yes! That one. We are going to Kimihurura!

The city is sprawled across four ridges and valleys, with the city center on one ridge, the main government buildings on another, and different sectors and cells on other ridges. Typically (but not always), the nice big houses are on the ridges, and the poorer houses and communities are in the valleys. At times, you can see where you want to go directly in front of you, but there’s a valley in between, and it’s on the next ridge, so navigating around the valley makes getting places counter intuitive sometimes.

The country of Rwanda is about the size of Maryland, but with 11 million people crunched inside. Every square inch of rural land (except the national forests) is terraced and farmed. There are five provinces—Northern, Southern, Western, Eastern and Kigali. The City of Kigali is divided into three Districts, 35 Sectors, 161 Cells, and 1061 Umudugudu (neighborhoods). All these distinctions make it confusing when telling a taxi where to go, and really confusing when I’m trying to understand what they’re yelling out of the matatu (taxi minibus), and really super confusing with all the interchangeable ‘k’ and ‘ch’ and ‘l’ and ‘r’ sounds.

We spent Friday Mar 8- Monday Mar 10 at the ALARM center combating jet lag, organizing ourselves with phones and internet connections, meeting the staff of ALARM, and learning about their mission, programs, projects, and activities. We had an unexpected interview with two university students being sponsored by ALARM, both graduates of the IWE girls school mentioned below.  We attended a National Rwandan League basketball game on Saturday with R&R, the KIE University Fellowship Church service on Sunday with Ben, the country director of ALARM, and met with members of the Rwanda Christian Lawyer’s Association on Monday.

Kabuga Vocational Training

On Tuesday evening, we picked up a three-person team from Grace Community (our home church) who had come to explore a formal partnership with ALARM as one of the church’s Frontline Ministries.  With this group, we packed in a quick tour of all ALARM’s main projects within the country into four days. By Friday, we had visited a vocational training center for street kids in Kabuga (above), a boarding school for girls called the Institute of Women for Excellence (IWE) in Rwamagana, met with a group of pastors and government leaders in Nyirangarama who had participated in a leadership training facilitated by ALARM, spent two nights at a rehabilitated coffee plantation making strides in economic development and reconciliation in Cyimbili, visited with a women’s microfinance group in Musanze (the Volcano town!) who call themselves the Social Blessings Women’s Group, and ended the week at Ben’s Baptist church in Kacyiru on Sunday. We said goodbye to our new friends and saw the team off on Sunday evening, played catch-up and joined our host families on Monday, and attended a joint Rwandan ex-pat Bible study Tuesday with R&R.

Student at IWE School
Student at IWE School

Back to the host family: We are staying with the country director, his wife, and their five daughters, who range in age from 2-20! Ben’s home has been a sweet time of visiting, talking, and coffee drinking, because shortly after moving in with them, the rains began and the electricity stopped. This has provided lots of time for conversation and visiting. We have loved fielding questions from the oldest daughter (age 20) about life in America, as her impressions have been almost entirely formed by E! –

  • “Does everyone there have loads of money to spend on breast implants?”
  • “Are people really like the Kardashians?”
  • “When the police are called, do a helicopter, and a news van, and 50 police officers respond every time?”
  • “Is it true that when you call 911, the police come immediately?” 

She has had a response like, “I knew it!” almost every time we’ve set the record straight, as though E! has been trying to trick her all along. She is bright and fun and has answered all our equally ridiculous questions about Rwanda.

We have also enjoyed conversations with the second oldest (age 18), who is an avid debater. Her most recent debate required her to take the affirmative position on whether or not Rwanda will become a middle income country by 2020. It was interesting hearing her arguments for both sides.

The youngest three are adorable (ages 2, 6, and 7) and have really warmed up to Jeff. He’s thrilled about this since my own nieces have taken almost three years to even stand next to him in the same room :)

Jeff & KidsJeff & Kids 2

Meals have been consistently the same, no matter where we’ve been. There is always some form of irish potato, either boiled or fried, always rice, always beans, and usually some kind of ugali bread or cassava. Ugali (left) is Swahili for this special maize bread, and the texture is like a smooth, tasteless grits patty. Ubugali (right) is the Kinyarawanda word for Cassava Bread, which is green and stretchy, tasteless, and is made to absorb the flavor of other foods and to swallow without chewing. It has taken some getting used to :/  Three-four nights per week, we’ll have fish, chicken or beef. Breakfast is boiled eggs, bread, banana and sometimes mango or passion fruit. The exception is when we are taken to buffets, and there we also find avocado, fried cauliflower, and pasta salad. We have obviously remained healthy and full (fat).

Ugali (maize)Ubugali (cassava)

On Wednesday (Mar 20), Jeff, Barry, and I returned to the IWE girls’ school to spend more time with the staff, interview some of the girls, and get a better understanding about what life is really like there, and what attending this school means for the girls and their families. In all, the trip took 7 hours, and we were only at the school for 2! The bus system is hectic and slow, but, you know. We made it. IWE and the Kabuga Voc Center are next on my list to write about in-depth, so be looking for those.  On Wednesday night, we met the husband of the next PT director for Hillside Clinic in Belize at Hotel des Mille Collines, which was the hotel portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda. It was kind of surreal and eerie to be there, but what a small world! He was there doing contract work for a few weeks with World Bank on vocational training success.

Saying goodbye to Barry
Saying goodbye to Barry

Barry left for South Sudan on Thursday, and Jeff and I met with the Country Director for As We Forgive on Friday. The meeting was blessed, and I am moved by the work this organization is doing- along the same lines as ALARM, but more narrowly focused in their reconciliation work. If you have the chance to read the book As We Forgive or watch the award-winning documentary ($8 on Amazon), DO IT! It’s captivating. I can’t wait to write about this more in-depth. The most meaningful story was the recalling of a woman’s work toward reconciling with an avocado. There, now you’ll have to read the blog when I find the time to write it :)  We plan to attend some memorial week activities with As We Forgive, squeezed into our time with ALARM that week.

We took Saturday and Saturday off to catch-up on notes and writings, walk around the city, and get our bearings in our new Sector. We discovered the public Library, which was beautiful, and found several coffee shops and Internet hot spots, although “hot spot” should be renamed “slowest internet I’ve ever seen in my life spot”.  We spent Saturday night celebrating the birthdays of R&R at their home, meeting new friends and dancing the night away, and Sunday morning at Christ’s Church Rwanda waving palm branches. So fun!

On Monday Mar 25, we packed up again and loaded the matatu to come back to Cyimbili for a week. Our purpose this week is to spend time with the workers on the plantation for ten days or so to integrate as much as we can into life and work in this magical little community. We will work alongside the daily workers, picking, shelling, washing and drying coffee. We will interview some of the workers, go on some home visits, collect audio recordings of the coffee-picking process and different language clips, and… wait for it… roast our own coffee! We hope to check out the Congo Nile lakefront trail, which may become fundraising trek for World Next Door in the near future, and we are trying to convince the police boat to ferry us over to the island across the lake to see the farming on the island, and to capture a bird’s-eye view of the entire Cyimbili plantation.

Today, Tuesday, we are working our way down a task list of things to accomplish while we’re here this week, but we have been stalled by the rain. The workers went home, and I am now trying to find ingredients to make an “American” breakfast and dinner, per the request of Anastasi, the house lady. My plan is Eggs in a Basket (which I call one-eyed sailor, though I don’t think that would translate, really) and French toast for breakfast. You should have seen the way everyone gathered around my laptop and scratched their heads as they studied a picture of cinnamon. Also, syrup. We’ll be eating cinnamon-less French toast with honey instead of syrup, and for dinner we’ll have vegetable pasta. This, in exchange for learning how to make Ugali (maize) bread, and Ubugali (cassava) bread.

How can you pray for us?

Well. For starters, there’s all this.

Also, as we get to know people, outer layers start peeling off. Stories and little details about things I hadn’t considered emerged, for example how teenagers get moody during April (memorial month) even though they were only infants or 2-year-olds during the months their families hid or fled before and after the genocide, how the entire country is irritable because of all the triggers accidentally sparked by government leaders or commemoration speakers, or how hurt and angry some might feel when speakers who didn’t experience the genocide give speeches to or on behalf of the country during the memorial period- all of these things are anticipatory stressors. Even facial expressions are changing in preparation.

All this to say, I’m praying about approaching the memorial time with the right balance of respect, emotion, reverence.

So. There you go.

Three weeks packed into one irresponsibly long blog post. You’re welcome.

Confessions. Blast!

So, I’ll just get to it.  Lots of things are a little bit off. For starters, I am having a hard time balancing. It’s (surprise!) difficult to experience, article-write and express my own sentiment all at the same time. I sort of thought this would all be in the bag. For optimal quality, each task requires being fully present, and my brain is evidently only capable of two things at a time. I can experience and internalize, but not fact-gather. I can fact-gather and express, but without much sentiment. I can internalize and reflect, but I can’t, in that moment, be experiencing. We are always experiencing, and I am totally backlogged.

Here’s the kicker: I process through writing. So backlogged means I am currently a jumbled mess of girls’ schools and street kids and TV antennas made of metal padlocks and vocational centers and genocide and escape stories and reconciliation stories and coffee communities and traditional dance and outdoor kitchens and church services and landscapes and moto bikes and rainy season and memorial sites and stretchy green bread and music and orphans and polygamy and widows and ancestral spirits and gorillas and laundry and language and ways in which the ancestors screw up fertility.

Plus, when your job becomes your former hobby, you get kind confused about which content belongs where. I feel safe writing about scarves and Wait, what? moments, but I haven’t even told you the basics like where we’re living, or who we’re with, or the type of work we’re doing, or what we’re eating, or what the weather is like!

To make things even more complicated, the World Wide Web is— as you might have guessed— worldwide. Everyone is on Facebook and WordPress and twitter. Gone are the days when I could see something and throw it on the Internet for all 8 readers to vicariously experience without risk of harm. Today we’re all right here in the same space—you, me, and the person or community I’m writing about. I post a story, WordPress publicizes it to Facebook and twitter, and my host sister is reading it ten seconds later in the next room. This takes a special kind of crafting, understanding, permission and respect. I refuse to be a reckless observer.

And a layer below that? It’s about to get real.

Because I refuse to be a reckless observer, I don’t feel competent. What can I possibly offer that hasn’t already been written or expressed about Rwanda? How can I share these things—the history, issues, people, stories—accurately? I can’t wrap my head around the genocide. And, once I stop trying to put that piece together, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that life continues on the other side. That people are working and eating, walking along these same streets and attending these same churches, that kids play and women do hair and taxis commute and bikers bike and people laugh and sing and purchase data plans and watch 24. All this with an entire ethnic group almost entirely wiped out of the population, resting in mass graves under this very ground.

Everywhere I look I can see the stories I’ve heard playing out in my mind’s eye. In my field, we call this vicarious trauma. A tiny corner of my heart feels bruised every time I walk out of the house and look around me at the land, while the rest of it functions as normal in present day.   I just can’t make sense of it.  The only two thoughts I have, and they’re not fully developed, are this: here is an entire country demonstrating the reality of post-traumatic growth.

If you look at the Disaster Response Phases graph below (provided by my pal Mary, who teaches the Foundations to DMH class at the Red Cross in Indy) you can note the different responses a person or community has pre, mid and post disaster. There is a new term emerging, though, after a post-traumatic event called post-traumatic growth, wherein the person or community, on the very far right of this graph, actually ends up at a higher level of functioning than they were before the event. So, the person reaches a level a growth that would not be possible had that event not occurred. This country is living out that term.  This doesn’t mean things are spectacular.  There are still—and will always be—triggering events and memories generations deep, but I have met people coping and forgiving at a level I am not even able to comprehend. They are not doing this in spite of the event, but because of it.

God restores, is my point.


My second thought is the truth in this statement, which was originally printed in my NOLA church bulletin on the 5 year anniversary of hurricane Katrina, adapted for Rwanda as we head into memorial month: We will remember [the genocide] and give sacred honor, but in worship we inherit all things anew for this day.

Yeah, you do, Rwanda.  I am so thankful for all things newly inherited by you today.

…And then (you thought I was done?) someone posts this article, which cracks open another forgotten corner of my heart, and I remember where I was and who I was three weeks ago, which seems like at least ten years ago. That familiar ache returns for a minute, and I can’t find the words for the prayer.

The world spins, I can’t make anything fit into any categories, my brain and heart are totally unorganized, and I am tethered by a poem shared last week by my friend Kim (I’m always snatching content from her, but God uses people, I think):

You can only pray what’s in your heart.

So if your heart is being ripped from your chest
pray the tearing

If your heart is full of bitterness
pray it to the last dreg

If your heart is a river gone wild
pray the torrent

Or a lava flow scorching the mountain
pray the fire

Pray the scream in your heart
the fanning bellows

Pray the rage,
the murder and
the mourning

Pray your heart into the great quiet hands that can hold it
like the small bird it is.

-Elizabeth Cunningham

In Which My Scarf Saves My Life (logistically)


Here are all the life-saving uses for my scarf, which I stuffed into my suitcase at the last second:

  • As a head covering when it starts to pour
  • As a light jacket when it turns instantly cold at 6p
  • As a pillow when I ball it up and take a bus nap
  • As sunscreen when I wrap it around my peeling neck
  • As a tie to secure my laundry bag to my messenger bag so I don’t leave my laundry in the taxi (again)
  • As a blanket when I’m cold at night
  • As a seat covering when the chair is wet or muddy
  • To carry my baby. No, wait. That’s not me. But if I had one, I could totally carry it hands-free!
  • As a head wrap when I’m on my 4th day of unwashed hair. What? Bucket bathing and/or ice cold showering  is kind of tricky when your hair is a curly mess.
  • As a purse when I tie it up and carry it over my shoulder
  • As a lens case when I wrap it around an un-cased lens in the fanny pack. Did I just say fanny pack? I meant my rugged Eddie Bauer hip bag.
  • As a microfiber cloth (it’s not) to clean any laptop screen, glasses, sunglass, lens, phone or ipad
  • As a fancy accessory when I’m wearing my blue shirt for the third time.

And so me and my scarf have triumphed over the conservative packer that tried to talk me out of these types of indulgences. Ladies, if you travel, bring your scarf- it’s magical!

Land Laws and Lawyers

Hi! Two posts in two days—how about that? Maybe you’ll applaud when you get an understanding of the internet situation. It’s widely available, but connection speed and signal strength and power outages and monsoons make uploading or downloading a challenge. Here is what I had to do to post yesterday’s video:

Record the video on my iPhone, transfer it to my laptop, and transfer it again from my laptop to the iPad using USB, because my phone doesn’t have 3G and the wifi connection on the laptop is too slow to upload video. I then tethered the iPad to Jeff’s iPhone, which has a 3G connection through a Rwanda carrier, and uploaded the video to the internet. So. There it is: iphone to laptop to ipad, tethered to Jeff’s 3G connection, to internet. Boom! The video uploaded in about 45 minutes, processed for another 35 minutes, and a full 24 hours after the event: posted.

Now for the juicy stuff

Land Law

Imagine this: Your family owns a plot of land in the 50s, but due to instability you are forced to flee. Lets say your family stays out of country, and a new family establishes a home and farm on that plot of land. Pretend that family lives there for 20 years, but is forced to leave in the 70s due to instability. Now a new family establishes a home and farm on that land, lives there until the early 90s.  But, due to mass exodus before the genocide, or due to the direct acts of genocide, the family is no longer on that land.

Now you want to come back. Rwanda law says that landowners, once they return, must take back the land even if others have lived there for 30 years or more.

So, any members of any of these families can return at any time and believe they have rights to this land. The government has only recently begun issuing land certificates because of this problem, so the way these conflicts have traditionally been resolved is by collecting the testimony of the neighbors. But which neighbors? Neighbors from 1959, 1973 or 1994? If neighbors cannot be located for testimony, or the issue cannot be resolved, the government requires the family to share the land. At this point, post-genocide, landowners are like: But how? I think he has killed my family!

As you can see, a large issue right now is land law, which runs very deep.

In my entire lifetime, I will likely never encounter the need to flee, the experience of my land being owned by another family, members of my family being killed or exiled, or being forced to live on the same land as those who murdered or exiled my family member. Here, people are dealing with all four of these things simultaneously!

Rwanda Christian Lawyers Association

Last Monday, we met with the Chairman of the Rwanda Christian Lawyers Association (RCLA), along with two other Family and Land Law attorneys who are members of the Association. RCLA is another initiative of ALARM, which invests in, builds up, and supports local organizations toward leadership and reconciliation.


The lawyers describe the RCLA initiative as going something like this: The community was destroyed after the tragedy of 1994, and right about the time Celestin (founder of ALARM) said to the local lawyers, Get up! Organize yourselves! the local lawyers had already gathered to do something, because the problems that led to the destruction involved the law and human rights. The lawyers were asking each other, What must be our contribution to build up our destroyed community?  

And so they formed the Rwanda Christian Lawyer Association—I am right now realizing I don’t know the date, but it was sometime after 1995. There were 6 members when the association was first formed, and now there are about 75 Christian lawyers, judges, prosecutors, legal practitioners and state attorneys from different churches and denominations.

In collaboration with ALARM, the 75 members of this association are equipping churches, grassroots leaders and government leaders to have a clear understanding of the law through teaching, mentoring, and volunteering for those who don’t understand or can’t afford representation.  We have learned in the short time we have been here that the community has confidence in pastors and government leaders as administrators, so RCLA believes if they train pastors and government leaders, people will listen.

Some objectives of RCLA are to:

  • Collaborate with the government, churches and other NGOs to promote a culture peace-building and conflict resolution
  • Facilitate reconciliation and mediation between those in conflict (communities, families, or third parties)
  • Organize and facilitate seminars and legal clinics in churches
  • Defend the rights and interests of vulnerable people, including widows, orphans, women and prisoners
  • Base daily activity on the Bible
  • Sensitization on laws to the population and make proposals against unfavorable laws enacted by the Parliament

Since local leaders at the grassroots level are the first to put into practice the law within the community, RCLA targets these leaders to train on the following: What are human rights? What is the responsibility of the people? RCLA wants these leaders to have a clear explanation of the law and a clear explanation of rights to pass onto the community members.

Right now, women lawyers carry a lot of influence, because the community sees them as intellectual advocates. RCLA also seeks to bring women attorneys together to share about different cases, topics and societal problems. Many times, women lawyers are the only ones able to “get the story of a violated woman” and have free access to the story for the purpose of prosecution.

An interesting connection: Watermark Church in Dallas, where Jeff’s brother and sister-in-law attend (wait, what?!) helped to fund the start-up of this Association. Watermark partnered with ALARM to gather and send lawyers from the US and other countries to Rwanda to discuss Universal Human Rights. Funds were raised through ALARM for costs, and ALARM hosted the group.

Each year, an Annual Conference is held in a different country, and attorneys from all over come to share experiences and present their contributions to promote peace internationally.

In Rwanda we have a saying: If your neighbor’s house is burning and you don’t react, your house can be burnt. It’s important to understand the issues going on in the countries around us. We meet at seminars and conferences, and by sharing our different cases we can come up with solutions that might be applicable to our own countries or other countries. If they are not yet applicable to our own country, they might soon be, and we have already gained new insights.   – Sophonie Sebaziga, Chairman of RCLA

This year’s conference is in Uganda from April 21-25th.


RCLA is totally run by volunteers and members. Paola, one of the Family Law attorneys explains the majority of her time is spent trying to balance her job and the amount of pro-bono work she does around the city. Because her church and office are in the same town, she is known by many in the community as the person to call when there is conflict.

Just recently, Paola received calls from both a policeman and a husband in a domestic dispute. A man had kicked his wife out of the house and closed the gate.  The woman came back with a police officer attempting to get back in, because she had nowhere to go and this was her home. When the police officer instructed the man to open the gate for the woman, the man called Paola. The man expected confirmation that his wife didn’t have a legal right to her own home. “Because I am a man,” he said, “I can close the gate. I have paid the dowry to her family. I don’t have to open the gate.”

Paola says she was able to educate the man and the police officer on the rights of the woman—that she has the right to come home and the gate must be opened. The gate was opened, and Paola invited the couple into the office the next morning for mediation.

Men and women like Paola receive calls at all hours of the day and night from people in need of legal assistance, and they advocate and assist for free!  Through ALARM, the Association is able to raise funds to attend and facilitate trainings, seminars and conferences at training center or in local churches.

Do you want more info about RCLA? Check out the June issue of World Next Door magazine or contact

Over and out!