Archive | February, 2012

Life in Instagram

27 Feb

J: I imagine that this man was having a conversation with a few others as they tried to fit this bed-frame into the bed of a truck, obviously to no avail.  I then imagine this little man–he was perhaps 5’6″–saying something along the lines of “I’ll just take it down.”

M: So he did. On our way from the bus station to our guest house in Kigali, he ran past us down the hill that leads down from the US Embassy where I take yoga every week. Literally ran. Down the very steep hill. He just trotted his way past us and other Rwandese who were completely unperturbed by his strong-man feat. And in case you can’t tell, this large bed-frame was balanced on his head.

J: The thing about my imaginary event is that somehow this man ended up carrying this bed-frame for about 3 miles.

M: You have no idea if it was 3 miles!

J:) Whatever, I’m sure it was far.  We watched him carry it at least a kilometer.

M: Oooh fancy international traveler. Using the metric system.

J: First of all, the metric system is quite simpler to use and secondly, I can’t imagine anyone I know volunteering to walk this bed-frame down that bigass large and very steep hill.  That was my point.  Regardless of if he took it 1k to 3k.

M: Do you even know how long a kilometer is or would you have to Google it? Because I’d have to Google it.

J: google.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

M: The same day we saw Amazing Bed-Frame Man, we hadn’t much work to do in Gahini so I said on a whim that we should just go to Kigali right away– Monday instead of our usual Tuesday. My cute husband’s eyes lit up and high-fived me across our desk. “Great idea, babe!” he whispered, so we wouldn’t disturb Gerard, our office-mate. And we were off. Our reward for getting there early was getting to go to Quiz Night at Sole Luna!

J: I really enjoy when she refers to me as “her husband” even though you should all know that we’re married and my proper name.  Anywho, Quiz Night was…

M: *makeout break for being cute* Just kidding. Ha, Justin! I even interrupt you when we’re typing. This is so true to us in real life.

J: Oh lord…well Quiz Night was freakin great.  The team below was named “After 69 kids, your mom has the deepest lake in the world.”

M: BECAUSE one of the questions had been “What is the record number of children born to one woman?” Answer: 69 and another was “What is the deepest lake in the world?” Answer: Lake Baikal. Combine those two and you get this wonderful name that won us Best Name (and 5% off of airfare on Rwandair). I thought of the name 🙂 I’m really proud of it. Just saying. Sorry, Ma.

J: But “Best Name” was the 2nd best thing we won that night.  We ended up winning the whole shebang!  Which was sweet because it meant that our adult beverages and delicious brick over pizzas were FREE.

M: You do a lot of formatting things that take a lot of time. But fine they look cool. So anywho because we won, we got to make up the quiz for this week! Which we are about to give in about five hours. To a whole chorus of heckling ex-pats. It’s gonna be great.

J: …formatting shormatting.

M: Justin just told me sometimes I need to let the segment end and move on to the next photo but I just NEED to say that the pizza was delicious and well-worth the exorbitant amount they charged for it. Grampa, my pizza had anchovies on it and they were delicious. Wish you were there.

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J: So we’ve been spending a lot of time at this coffee shop called Shokola Lite here in Kigali when we’re here.  Especially today.  As of now we’ve been here since it opened at 10 am and it’s now 3:40.  We’ll be here for another hour and a half or so.

M: I don’t know if that sounds terrible or not, but to us, it has been close to heaven. It’s like an African ex-pat version of the Gryphon. We have no semblance of Western culture in Gahini to enjoy, so this is an indulgence. And the decor is funky and colorful– there’s a whole wall of wooden dowels covered in sections of African fabric. I’m salivating over it. And some of the footrests and baseboards are covered in this burlap with all kinds of neat sayings on them. Justin snapped this picture when he and Deke came here last week while Jocelyn and I were yoga-ing it up.

J: I should say that if any of the pictures look grainy, they are.  They were taken from my iPhone.  That is all.  Except for this: Our friend Bethany Crabbs Simpson said that these three things are all you need.

M: All you need is love! Do do do do doooooo All you need is love! Do do do do dooooooo…

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

M: Our new schedule has been 3 days in Kigali, 4 in Gahini, repeat until we leave. This weekend, we house/dog-sat for the South African missionaries, Wim and Bertha, who live up on the hill and Deke and Jocelyn came out to visit us in the Boondocks. These are the South African dogs, Becky and Nugget. It was a wonderful, much-needed “holiday” to be able to cook for ourselves and we slept in twin beds so we actually slept well because we weren’t elbowing or kneeing each other all night.

J: Okay, we don’t live that far from “civilization.”  It’s only an hour away from Kigali.  I’m pretty sure my Mom used to have to drive 4 hours just to get to a Wal-Mart.  But yes, here are the dogs.  They’re hilarious.  Perhaps I’ll video them the next time we take them on a walk.  Then you’ll see.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

J: I’m not very good at Bananagrams.  I kind of think that it’s a dumb game.  The second statement is true because of the first one.  I know lots of words, I just don’t know how to make them connect to one another very well.  So I decided to do some “off-roading” in our game the other night.

M: We used to play Scrabble, which I would win, and then we’d play a game of Chess afterwards so he would win. It was only fair. But we had no Chess around, so Justin just did his own thing. Which is what made me fall in love with him in the first place. Doing his own thing. Not Bananagrams. Anywho, this game was played in the replica of a traditional Rwandan milk-hut that is on Seeds of Peace’s deck that I’ve never been in until that night. Then we ate tough goat kabobs and chips a.k.a. Freedom fries. Let me also just say I never ever ever drink soda in the States, but I drink it a lot here. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s what’s available, but Coke is so good with Rwanda’s version of “pub food” like this.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

M: Justin took this when we left Gahini at 7:30 AM this morning to go to Kigali. We hitched a ride with the Bishop so we didn’t have to deal with the smelly, terrible mutatus/coasters. Hale-freaking-lujia!!

J: Yep, there it is.  A sign.

M: I love his Instagram pictures! On my list of “Things To Do When We Get Back To The US” is “Make Justin’s Instagrams into magnets” because I love them so. And also “Put Justin’s Instagram pictures onto cards” that I can send to all my pen-pals.

J: This one willnot be on any of those cards and/or magnets.

M: Well, this is where we live, so I love this picture.

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

J: Holy crap…I would have never even tried this in the U.S. but we both had Carrot-Ginger soup with this pita bread on the side for lunch today.  It was unbelievably delicious.  Maggs can’t even believe that I like it that much.

M: It is probably because it was reminiscent of Indian food. I think the menu said it was “cooked with exotic spices.” But yes, it was delicious. And only 2900 Rfws, which is about $5. Yum!

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J: Here’s a video I took of ants…there were thousands of them…I read about these kind of ants in Barbara Kingsolver’s book The Poisonwood Bible.  Sometimes they spread out and overtake entire villages, forcing the villagers to run to the nearest body of water and jump in.  Makes the ants in the U.S. seem quite pesky but tolerable.

M: Good grief I am SO glad you didn’t tell me that when we saw them. But now I understand why my sister hates ants. Because when there are just a few, they’re whatever. But put them in a line 20 feet long, and it’s creepy and gross. In my incredible powers of estimation, I would say there were probably a million or more. Truly. They were crawling out of a hill in the side of the ditch and down, down, down the hill into another hole on the same side of the ditch. Blech I just got the goosebumps. Or ant-bumps, rather.

J: We’ve got another video coming your way…below is a link, but when I get the time, I’ll embed it in this post.

http://static.photobucket.com/player.swf

M: Dang it, I’m getting hungry again. More soup, anyone?

J: Delicious pizza is just…oh 2 1/2 or 3 hours away…we can make it!  Hold fast my love!

M: Too bad it won’t be free this week.

J: Why is it that something that is free is always better?

Love,

M&J

Home

21 Feb

My husband is very careful with his language. He has taught me that an Autistic child should not be defined by their diagnosis– so she is a child with Autism. A mentally disabled person is a person struggling with mental disabilities. A homeless person is a person experiencing homelessness because they are not defined as a person by the fact that they have no place to live. Having two beautiful little sisters with Down Syndrome has driven this point home for me. They are my sisters and the fact that they have Down Syndrome is merely a part of who they are– it is not the defining piece in their puzzle. Before Justin helped me relearn the importance of my language, it wasn’t like I defined my friends with Autism by their diagnosis or the folks experiencing homelessness by their lack of housing– it’s just that now my language intentionally reflects that. It takes a lot longer to say “person experiencing homelessness” than “homeless person.” That annoys me sometimes; to save my energy, it is tempting to say less words. But to honor the person I am speaking about, I make the effort because they are worth those extra syllables.

So I have been thinking about what to call myself lately, in an effort to be linguistically intentional. And I have reached a decision– for now. For the past six months, Justin and I have been homeless. We are not experiencing homelessness in that we are not at odds with the systems in place because of our substance habits, family situation, ethnic identity, etc. The fact is that we have no home. This reality is so big that it defines us at the moment.

As humans, we are looking for a place to belong– that is the constant struggle of the human race, I think. To belong somewhere. To find identity in the fellowship of others. To have a community and a physical place you call your own. And the “physical space” part is really important: Whether it’s a house on the Nantucket Sound or a shack in the Kibera Slums in Kenya, it makes a difference when you have four walls and a roof you can claim as your own. We do not have that right now– and I acknowledge that many others are in the same situation with more of a finiteness than we have. Justin and I have each other, and for that I am infinitely grateful in a way few will ever understand. He is my home. But Justin cannot provide a bed for me to snuggle into. He cannot be the wall on which I hang our art collection. He cannot be the IKEA wok in which I make Trader Joe’s fried rice. We have been transient for six months and probably will be for another six. In anthropology, this is called the liminal stage. In transit between two other stages. It is not sustainable and it is unhealthy when prolonged.

In August, we left Philly to go to Miami where we lived with some gracious people in their guestroom for four months. Then we moved into an apartment with friends for a week before we left to go to Rwanda for three months. Here, we live in a guest house. Then we’ll be in Europe, skipping around in hostels and the couches of friends, and then finally back to my parents’ house in Virginia where we will collect ourselves before trying to move back to Philly posthaste. It’s exhausting just writing that. All this time, we’ve schlepped our things along with us, but haven’t settled ourselves and our belongings anywhere in any sort of permanent state for a long time. Chances are, we will have been homeless for over a year before we find an apartment, a physical place to call our own again. I am weary of this.

That makes me sad. Not sad in the whiny, teary, dramatic way that I *ahem* sometimes succumb to. But deeply sad, in the pit of my stomach. We have no home. Wait, seriously? Yes. I hate that that is a very large part of our identity right now. But I am trying to turn this reality around, into something generative– I am willing myself to recognize the gift of running water every time it rushes over my hands. I pray that it would sink into my very spirit that it is a privilege to have a toilet that flushes, soda bottles on the desk next to me with no large cockroach sitting at the bottom, and a car. Oh, a car! I can’t wait to dive into my life in the US headlong again. I miss it. Not having a home makes me realize what is important here and back in the US.

I long for home. Sometimes I say the word to myself over and over again. Home. Home. Home. Home. Home. I miss our tiny apartment in Wayne, with all of my treasures all around me. I miss my Indian tapestries and the bottles I decoupaged with Sarah and Kathleen for my wedding. I miss my clothes and my jewelry. I miss being able to read the signs around town and navigating transportation without the aid of an interpreter. I miss my blanket I splurged on at Anthropologie and the hand-made wedding quilt that Aunt Lori painstakingly stitched for us. I miss our sheets that are quite literally as soft as a baby’s bottom. I miss my spices, our amalgam of kitchenware, our thrift store flatware, the plates that Justin and I have collected for years. I miss Justin being able to wear his “fancy boots” from Aldo with his skinny jeans tucked in. I miss watching “Downton Abbey” and “Jersey Shore” in the same sitting and having clean water to drink from the faucet whenever I want it. I miss my things in a way that is far from superficial– I miss that they are indicators that I am home, that I am settled, that I am not homeless.

I am so thankful for my belongings. I can’t wait to enjoy them again! I will wear the hell out of my pants, snuggle the hell out of our pillows, drink the hell out of that tea, use the hell out of my sewing machine. My things won’t know what hit them, I will enjoy them so.

Why is it that we have to leave home in order to realize it was there in the first place? We were just settling into our nook in Philly when we left. I can’t wait to get back there, to friends and real concerts and a church and our weird patchwork culture in general.

I read a short story where a Nigerian author said she pined for the warm weather and palm trees and fufu of her home when she lived in New York. I am pining away for the fall and spring, boots and scarves and jackets, record players and concerts, coconut water and fried rice and salmon and anything without potatoes in it, for Pete’s sake. How does that song go– you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone?

I remember when I studied abroad in India and how I was deeply homesick. I wasn’t ungrateful for my experience there, just as I am not ungrateful for my experience in Rwanda. But I think you can be present and appreciative of an experience while still counting down the days until you are home again; in fact, it is that outside experience that makes you thankful for returning to where you left. It is in leaving that I have found where my heart lies, where my home is. In experiencing other cultures, I have found and made some efforts to claim my own.

Justin’s dad commented on our blog a bit ago that we need to stop with the negative white United-Statesian crap. And he’s right. We jokingly employ self-deprecating humor about our Patagonia rain jacket and backpacks, our Nalgene bottles, Justin’s floppy hats, my affinity for “authentic” jewelry, our inability to do laundry by hand or exhaustion at walking up the village hill twice a day. But we have, feel, do all those things and that’s okay. We are white kids from the US with expendable income to buy treasures. That’s just how it is. We are constantly identified as belonging to this illusive tribe, Hipster, despite having no trust funds (which, you should know, is the mark of a true hipster). I have tried to buck this yoke for a while now, but I think I’m beginning to accept it.

I guess that’s our culture. Hipster. Scenester. Bands before they were cool, plaid shirts, farmers markets, Fair-Trade coffee, Whole Foods. We are white kids who try to live simply, who enjoy ethnic cuisine but still want a good grass-fed hamburger every once and a while, who shop at thrift stores and Urban Outfitters and also make our own clothes, who may have a problem with hoarding arts and crafts, who love and miss their family every day, who like being outdoorsy with nice gear, who can’t wait to see their friends when they get back to the City of Brotherly Love. Sunday dinner with the Pham anyone?

We are homeless right now but have hope that someday we will be back in a city where we think we can finally put down roots. Where we will camp out in Grace and Patrick’s guest room for a bit until we can get our stuff together– haha kidding maybe. Where we will be able to nail in our decorations, happily aware that we won’t have to rip it out and pack it up again for a while. Slowly by slowly, we are accepting what India, Uganda, Rwanda, Costa Rica, and all of our other travels have taught us– that it is not shameful to be proud of your culture and to miss your other life when you are away from it. That you need to go through a searching period before you finally accept your culture, your community, your life. I am praying that this reality will settle itself into my soul like a Tetris piece into its neighboring bricks. That it will be locked there, that Western consumerism will not be able to dislodge it with its whispers that I need more art, travel, experiences, jeans, shoes, spirituality to belong. I am trying to enjoy this struggle of getting home again, of being shaped by my liminal life and the truths I am discovering while on the road. This struggle is normal and healthy and reveals that you are finally– maybe– finding a place to call home.

Love, M

Ramblings

17 Feb

M: Two weeks ago, on our first visit to Kigali, we picked up a few things in the local supermarket, Nakumatt. I think it was just conditioner and lotion. While I was fumbling with my francs, the lady rang up my purchases and printed out my receipt. The bagging gentleman held it out to me and said “Come with me. You have won a gift” in a deadpan monotone.

“A gift?” I said. I was sure he was joking.

But he wasn’t.

So I was hustled over to the customer service desk where they solemnly handwrote my name and information down in a book and then presented me with a package: A brown paper bag with a sign on it that said “A Valentines Gift for you” (and inside, I found out later, was a gift-wrapped bottle of vintage 1999 Chardonnay from British Columbia. I will let you know how it tastes when I’ve opened it).

They made me stand with a tall male employee and get my picture taken while he pantomimed handing me the parcel. I was mortified.

Justin wanted to take a picture with his iPhone but I bolted out of the store, shushing him. “But why do you refuse him?” the kind female customer service rep called after me, as I slunk away with my tail between my legs.

Hooboy– it was a crazy induction into city life, let me tell you.

J: So she somewhat reluctantly let me snap this one when we got back to Deke’s room.  I’m pretty sure it was because she didn’t let me take one in the store…but she was a bit flustered and surprised and I shouldn’t have asked…anyways, here’s that pic I was telling you about.

M: I should have just let him take the freaking picture in the store. I felt so bad afterwards! Justin loves to take pictures and I give him such grief for it, but if he didn’t make me stop to take a picture now and then, we wouldn’t have any.

J: P.S. That bottle of wine is from British Columbia (B.C. for you cultured folks) and the year of Prince’s party, 1999.

M: I already told them, babe. Not the Prince part, though, so you get props for that.

J: Well, just in case they forgot after reading the rest of your lengthy introduction 🙂

M: Bite me.

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J: Just so I can beat Maggs to the punch, “Oh look!  Another sunset!”

M: See? This is why I give you grief for taking pictures!! Because we have a million like this. But they are beautiful and you have a good eye for them and we can make an Instagram collage out of them when we return to civilization.

J: OOH!  Hipster points for referencing Instagram my love!

M: AND I’m wearing a grandma skirt and a grandma hairstyle today. Triple Hipster points.

J: (Picture to follow in the next post)

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M: I make no grumblings about these neat Panoramic pictures J takes with his Hipster application on his Hipster iPad. They are so neat!!! This is the football pitch where he plays with the village young boys– he’s the lone white man out of about 60 Rwandans. And he literally blends right in– I walked past yesterday and it took me a good two minutes to find him!

J: Yes, thank you Brent Spead for the Hipster app and Daniel for the Pad.  And yes, this is the football pitch.  To the far right, there is a lot of grass where the ball gets stuck and you have to kick it really freaking hard in order to get it to go anywhere…although yesterday I tried and it didn’t go anywhere.  I was actually laughing at myself.

M: Is that where you kicked the stone?

J: No, that’s somewhere slightly left of the middle of the picture.  And I didn’t kick it.  I tripped over it.  And again found myself laughing at…myself.

M: See? This is why I don’t play football. Or any sport for that matter. I’d rather make the other villages and myself laugh at myself by sliding down a 6 in. hill and landing on my knee in a perfect Icecapades position. While wearing my fancy, no-slip sandals and holding two large backpacks.

J: I have absolutely no idea what a “Icecapades position” is, but it sounds fun!

M: I just kneeled really gracefully with both of my arms out at my sides, okay? As if they didn’t have enough to stare at me for.

J: I’m sure the judges gave it a 10.

M: Winning.

J: Twinning.

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M: Do you want to write on this one first?

J: Sure, this is my plate from dinner the other night. (Notice, there are no lack lack berries?) For now, I’ll simply say that we got 5 very large avocados at the market the other day (think twice as big as they make them in the U.S., yes, even Texas) for about 50 Rwandan Francs.  600 Francs equals a dollar.  You do the math.

M: I knew you were going to type “You do the math.” I think this is my plate, though, because you don’t eat avocado!

J: Nope, I did eat one.

M: Was it dericious?

J: It was actually pretty good.  The avocados here are so fresh they almost have a sweet taste to them…wouldn’t you say?

M: Yes, I want to bathe in them. They’re amazing! So light and almost fruity. The perfect accompaniment to spicy beans, rice, and tomato (pronounced to-MAH-to) sauce.

J: Ugh!  Bathe in them? SMH.

M: Never again. Never again use that acronym in my presence.

J: Anyways, back to the food plate.  We also had “chips” which are simply really good potato wedges or as some of you might know them, “Freedom Fries.”

M: We’ve had Freedom Fries, Freedom Toast, and Freedom Ketchup.

J: Let’s just say that Freedom has been busy on this side of the pond.

M: This is basically what we eat for lunch and dinner. Every day. Luckily it is yummy and filling and sometimes they put less twigs in it than usual. Sort of kidding.

J: Oh, don’t be so negative.

M: You’re right. Other people cook for us three times a day and I’ve only gotten a branch in my greens twice. Isn’t it hilarious that, in a restaurant in the U.S., we would immediately send that dish back and ask for a refund plus free dessert or drinks? Here, I just removed the fibrous stalk from my mouth, calmly set it on the plate, and kept eating. Puts things in perspective.

J: Heh, fibrous stalk.

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J: This is a picture of the capital city, Kigali.  Just so some of you know that there are “proper” cities on this continent.

M: We had delicious Indian food for Valentines lunch (including a paper dosa and biryani! Yay!) and I found a yoga mat at a Chinese store called T2000 AND I took a yoga class with a bunch of expats at the U.S. Embassy. Which looked laughably (or maybe not so laughably) like Fort Knox.

J: She absolutely loved the yoga class!  Many thanks to our friend Jocelyn (see below) for hooking that up!

M: We’re going to try to go to Kigali every week to do some work with Deke (since he graduated from the same program as Justin) and to get our expat food, people, outings, etc. fix. We’ve deemed it necessary for our sanity, you know? Just to get away and be with familiar people and things and activities for a few days a week. It is a welcome break and relatively easy to do. Though those busses are going to have to grow on me.

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J: This is Deke.  He’s slicing tomatoes or onions for our homemade salsa!  Notice the iPad to the left, Deke keeps recipes on there for when he’s cooking!  Pretty sweet eh?

M: So glad we bought ours. It is such a precious luxury– so portable and useful.

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M: While Jocelyn and I were at yoga, Justin and Deke cooked us V-Day dinner– guacamole, real tortilla chips, homemade salsa, and fajitas made out of filet mignon pieces and peppers and onions. In Rwanda, and much of the rest of Africa, tender meat is not valued– they prefer tougher meat. So Deke picked up our filet at Nakumatt for $5. Drool.

J: Also, while Maggs was in the shower, Deke and I decided to make a chocolate cake to surprise her with!

M: That was for me?!?!?

J: Yeah, you were the last one to know about it (we tried to hide it from both of them, but Jocelyn came in and discovered it) and we wanted it to make you happy since you had been having a rough couple of days, there.

M: You are the sweetest thing! And smart to know one of my weaknesses. Which is, of course, chocolate. This cake was to die for. I don’t know if it was on purpose but it was just a hint salty so it was sweet and decadent and crunchy and then the salt hit you and it was just a party of deliciousness in your mouth.

J: Eso es lo que dijo ella.

M: Para.

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M: Here it is, in all its glory. When they took it out of the oven, the boys threw it in the refrigerator. And that made it collapse. I’m not sure why, but at the time, it made Jocelyn and I crack up to imagine them pulling the hot, delicious cake out of the oven only to think it was a good idea to put it in the fridge. That may have been the passionfruit mimosa talking, but I swear it was the best joke I had heard all day. That crunchy top was just divine!

J: It sounded like a good idea to us at the time.  And I think we might have simply thought that it would be a good way to keep it hidden from Maggs…I dunno.

M: You are so sweet. And wickedly funny– sometimes without meaning to be. Regardless, it was delicious.

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J: Here’s the homemade salsa, guacamole, and chips.  Deke sliced tortillas for the chips and then I put them in oil to harden them.  They were super delicious, as was the guac and salsa.

M: It was just superb. Seriously. This meal blew me away– and not just because I had eaten rice and beans for the past 983479283 days. It was so simple and flavorful and good. A simple meal, but it made me so happy!

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J: Here’s the filet with peppers and onions made into shish-kabobs by the cook there.  Deke and I could have done it, but Jaqi absolutely loves showing off her cooking skills (especially to Deke’s friends) so she was really excited to make them for us.  They were freakin delicious!  (As a token of our thanks we gave her one and she seemed to really like it because when we woke up the next day she had done all of the dishes we were going to do before breakfast!)

M: I know I complain a lot about our situation here, but I am truly thankful for how it is revealing to me what I have, what I take for granted– especially back in the U.S. After eating goat kebabs that made my teeth ache the other day, this meat made me groan with pleasure. Literally. I could slice through the tender pieces with my teeth alone! It was like butter. I hope that sort of appreciation will sink deep down and take root in me so I am always thankful for tender, flavorful, simple food.

J: Mmmm…just looking at this picture gets me excited for next week; we’re planning on having dinner with them every Tuesday!

M: I guess we should go order our beans and rice for dinner now, huh?

J: ::looks at the time on his phone:: Yes, we’ll be back…enjoy…you’ll never know we left.

J: So much for uneventful!

M: I know you can’t tell, but that took way longer than it usually does. First, because we had to interrupt a dance party in the kitchen, and second, because a large thorny branch attacked me in the dark when we were walking back to our room. By attacked, I mean I tripped over it and then it lodged itself in my legs and skirt. Justin, my knight in shining armor, pulled every piece out and even got a war wound: a thorn prick on his finger. Hilarity ensued.

J: We might not like it very much over here, but boy does Rwanda keep making it, at the very least, interesting and new each day.

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M: Anywho, we’re back. These are our Valentines Dates. Deke apparently has a habit of doing this in pictures, so don’t hold it against him.

J: Notice the chapati in Jocelyn’s hand, it’s filled with that delicious filet you saw.  Soo good.

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M: We were talking here about going to see the gorillas in North Rwanda, I think. Then Jocelyn and Justin started talking about the hippos they’ve seen and how I won’t go swimming in Lake Muhazi (the lake right outside our doorstep) because someone at Deke’s work said there used to be hippos there.

J: This is Jocelyn’s impression of a baby hippo.  And I’ll let you know how swimming in the lake is after tomorrow morning–I’m gonna wake up to work out and play basketball with the Bishop’s son, Sam, and his friends, tomorrow at 6 am.

J: Ugh, just read the above statement again! Who am I?  6 a.m.?

M: This is just a place for abnormalities for us, kiddo. Get used to it. I will be sleeping in and then watching “Ever After” so I’ll see you when you get back, my lovingest love.

J: Not so fast, we’ve still got a few more pictures and I haven’t eaten yet.

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J: I took this to show you Kigali at night.  There it is.

M: What a talented husband I’ve got! Ugh, your breath smells like a Jolly Rancher.

J: I’m drinking Rwanda’s President’s water company’s apple juice.  Still with me?  Okay, it’s essentially Green Apple concentrate flavor, water, and for kicks, some more sugar.  It’s pretty good. (And I didn’t want to mess with the settings on my camera so the picture below is somewhat fuzzy and pixelated, FYI.)

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J: They HATE Sherlock Holmes here!!! O_o

M: As mentioned previously, J likes to take artsy pictures of windows and doors. Another thing he has an affinity for is signs– like this one that forbids detectives or smoking or something, rusting away in the hall on the side of the Guest House where we live. It may or may not find its way into our bags when we depart.

J: Nothing to say about possible theft, I plead the fifth (does that work here?).  And the best part about this sign is that it’s leaning again a fence pretty much in the middle of nowhere on the compound.  It’s definitely in the least traveled area on the premises.

M: So they won’t miss it if it’s gone. No seriously, I’ll ask Alfred if we can have it when we leave. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.

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J: Whoa!  Just noticed that the bottom of the picture didn’t load!  Freakin goofy internet…it took me about 3 hours to load these damn pictures onto photobucket this afternoon.  Thankfully I had some Angry Birds and Plants beating up on Zombies to keep me company while I waited and Maggie read/took a siesta.

M: I dreamed I was still reading my book. While it was on my face and I was actually sleeping.

J: The best part of writing this is that Maggie and I sit silent the entire time…not talking, simply reading what the other has to write and awaiting a reply.  So you are a bunch of eavesdroppers…

M: Thank you for eavesdropping. Everyone has had such nice things to say about our ramblings; we really appreciate it. We are doing this to keep ourselves sane and like that it maintains a connection with our lives back home.

J: And we’re trying to get famous.  So we’re gonna start writing things about “Snooki” and “Jeremy Lin” and whomever else is “hot right now” so that we can get tons of hits…

J: Okay, that’s a lie, we don’t care.  In the words of Andy Bernard, “I said no hits!”

M: I would actually like to get famous.

J: On second thought, make my potatoes a salad.

M: Bless you for coming out in public.

J: Mazeltov.

 

Lots of love,

M & J

Theological Reflection 2: Eve was the first human.

16 Feb

(I apologize in advance if this is too pretentious or academic.  I’m supposed to do 5 of these for my final class in grad school and I just figured I’d share them.  If the first paragraph is too pretentious, please just skip it!)

I believe that to study anything about humanity well, ontology—the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being—is precisely where you need to begin; since ontology is the starting point of studying humanity, this alone must be the foundation of academia (i.e. Ontology must be the foundational tenet for studying humanity because being itself is the starting point of humanity.) The reason being: ontology has massive implications for academia and yet not a single field of study has actually addressed the importance of—or even the existence of—ontology as a foundation for approaching each respective subject. You’ll only discuss ontology if you’re into philosophy or if you’re reading Martin Heidegger. However, the problems caused by this lack of ontological exploration is magnified tenfold for Christians since their faith is rooted in the hope they have as children of God. Christians find their vocation in their identity, which ultimately is found in what it means to be human—more precisely, what it means to be human as God intended. If identity—both who we are and whose we are—begets vocation, and identity is rooted in ontology, then why has ontology lost its place as the foundation of what it means to be human for both Christians and academics?

As a Christian, I look to Genesis for ontological hints, not in an exact science—as if it actually matters whether or not the world is 6,000 or over 100 billion years old—but in a way that can help speak to questions of Christian identity. Christopher West says, “the creation stories were never meant to be scientific accounts of the origin of the world. Scientific knowledge is certainly valuable as far as it goes, but it can’t tell us the spiritual meaning of our existence.” Here are my thoughts on what we can glean from Genesis regarding the ‘meaning of our existence’:

Looking back at Creation, God created Adam and Eve in order to reflect divine communal nature. What prompts God to create Eve is Adam’s desire for community—a desire to fully image God. This is not to say that Adam dictated what God did, for God chose to create Eve, not out of Adam’s desire, but rather, as a result of seeing that Adam’s desire revealed an inability to fulfill his created purpose because he lacked community. Humanity was created in the image of God and thus our deepest desire is to reflect this, thus the reason for Adam’s dilemma; his deepest desire and purpose for existence was to live in community and yet he was unable to do so. Humanity was created with a desire to image God relationally, not in the sexual or physical, but also the ontological. The desire is to be in communion, not only with God, but also with something that is both similar and at the same time different. The Trinity is in fellowship with itself because God has the unique ability to be different and yet also remain of the same substance—different as God the Father is from Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Because while they are different persons, they are ontologically the same. God is one in the same (3 persons:1 nature) while Adam (1 person: 1 nature) was created to image God. Therefore, God does not need another being for this inter-relationship. Adam however, is not properly enabled to image God’s example because he only is (ratio wise) one person in one nature. This required God to create a creature that was similar to Adam in person and nature that was also creatively different. Thus, Eve was created. Adam realized that Eve made him fully human as he is able to—finally—properly image God. Eve does not have the same realization as Adam (at least not the very same one) because she never experienced isolation from a being that is different in nature but similar in being. This differs from Adam’s experience because he experienced God as being different both in nature and being. Eve, I would argue, was not only the pinnacle and perfection of creation but was also created fully human in that she was immediately human. What this means is that although Eve was created after Adam, she was immediately 100% human because she was able to image God both in the horizontal (her relation to the rest of Creation…especially to Adam) and the vertical (her relation to God). Eve, from her genesis, imaged God not only in her being but in her relationships. Adam existed outside of humanity, or as an incomplete human, prior to Eve’s creation. Adam’s uniqueness among all of good creation, pre-Eve, was so momentous that God declares “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18) and subsequently creates the first full human—yep, Eve was the first human. However, saying this is in no means to take away from Adam’s uniqueness because Adam is unlike any other human in that he was not perfect until Eve was created. Adam means “man” and Eve means “life,” thus Eve gives Adam life. Adam without Eve was, in a sense, partially lifeless. Perhaps this state of lifelessness is not to the point where Adam ceased to exist but, at the very least, the point at which he was not fully human—that is, he cannot fully or appropriately image God.

Understanding our identity in creation is utterly important for Christians because if we are to live into the Missio Dei then we must understand our identity and purpose. Understanding who we are in Christ must dictate how we live. Being a disciple of Christ has implications for how we body forth our existence—there is a Christian ethic that accompanies our identity; they are part and parcel.

Abode Video

15 Feb

Well folks, there you have it. That’s where we live.

Not too shabby eh?

 

Love,

J & M

(P.S. Yesterday we got too busy and tired to write anything about Valentine’s Day.  We’ll probably do that tonight…maybe.)

Little Things

13 Feb

Today, we finished work at 4 PM in order for Justin to go play football with the boys who go to school here in Gahini. We got there just after 4, only to sit under the tree by the side of the pitch and wait for another 45 minutes until the rest of the boys started trickling in. We met Derek, who conversed with us effortlessly in English, telling us he thought America was a beautiful country, that in his biggest dreams he wants to play for a European football team, and that Africans don’t have the physical energy that Americans do to play soccer.

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Derek is in front of the frame with the blue and red striped jersey, running away from the scary muzungu, Justin.

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I was so proud of my husband. He was so brave! Situations like this paralyze me– you are the only one different in a whole crowd of “others” and you all want to do something together so you just have to jump in. And he did. We sat under the tree for a bit, as I said, until he finally got up to “stretch”– which basically means comparing break-dance poses for a while– with some younger boys. Then he was off across the pitch to play.

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I don’t know why I was so touched by his courage. It is just something I could never do. Not in a million years. A) I don’t play soccer and B) I am terrified of putting myself out there like that. But he just went. And I took pictures!

…which is why there were suddenly (I kid you not) 200 small children crowding around me jumping into my pictures.

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They poured out of the primary school and I said hello to one and before I knew it, familiar cries of “Muzungu!!!” carried across the school yard. 200 kids. 200. 400 eyes staring at me like huge full moons.

I was so terrified.

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Not that they would do anything to me. They were scared of me, after all– some running out of the way when I swung the camera towards them, others jostling everyone else out of the way to get a “Foto! foto!” And at the end, one little guy put his hand out towards me so I put mine out, palm up, and as he gingerly lowered his hand towards mine I GRABBED his with my fingers. He shrieked and fell back into the crowd. Another mistake, because then every 200 of them wanted to touch my hand. 400 little hands.

Then one of them sneezed on me. Which she continued to do a few more times during the remainder of J’s game. And coughed on me. I thanked God silently for the bazillion antibiotics and acidophilous I am taking.

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I can’t describe it. It was just insane. I can’t imagine seeing someone and finding them so odd and interesting that I would just sit and stare– that is what living in a diverse city for the past 23 years of my life has done. Justin and I were trying to think of someone we had never seen before, only heard of, that we would stare at if we finally got to see them. The closest we could think of is a Maori warrior from New Zealand.

Just the sheer number of them. Packed in like sardines to within six inches of my legs. And then one boy would shove everyone from the back and suddenly they were all falling down and the tiny girls were getting trampled and there was a mob. A mob of little people all around me. I wondered if one could be killed by a stampede of children.

But they just kept crowding. Jostling each other for a picture, to see the LCD screen on the back of the camera with their faces on it, to grab my hair or pinch my arm and then run away. I had the zoom lens on to take pictures of Justin out on the field so I couldn’t get all of them in, but trust me. I felt overwhelmed.

A teacher (I assume) in a white lab coat came out. “Please,” he said. “The children have to do community cleanup, now.”

As if I wanted all 200 of the ankle biters surrounding me, dude. Give me a break.

“Sorry!” I stammered. “I just had my camera out and they all came over to see the pictures.” At this point, I recognized that vacant look in his eyes I have become all-too familiar with: He had no g.d. idea what I was saying.

So I tried to put the camera away because I realized that had been what had drawn them all there. I sat down by our backpacks and tried to pull out my book, but then they all pushed closer. I don’t often feel claustrophobic (occasionally on elevators) but this was a whole new world. They all just looked down at me from various heights above my own head. “Okay, I’m standing up again,” I said to the hordes.

It just kept going. At one point, Justin saw me from across the field and came over to check on me (love that man). As he came through, the children parted like the Red Sea before Moses, screaming! Screaming!! Running away from my gentle man. It was hilarious. They were tripping all over themselves, losing their shoes and tackling each other to get away from the bearded wonder.

“I just wanted to make sure you’re okay!” he said, chuckling at my predicament.

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said, laughing, because I didn’t know what else to say. So he returned to the game and the sea closed up over me again.

Remember, most of them speak no English and I speak incredibly limited Kinyarwanda, so the extent of our verbal exchange was “What is your name?” “Maggie.” And then I couldn’t ask all 200 of them their names so that stopped there. “How are you?” “I am fine, how are you?” [Bashful silence, more stares, giggling] So there was another wall. “How old are you?” from the back. “23.” And of course, I didn’t want to know all 200 of their ages, and few would answer me when I tried to volley the question back to them. Instead, they just kept staring.

I saw an older boy in the back– Alex, whom we had met a few days before. “Alex,” I cried, trying not to sound too desperate, “Would you please tell them to go away?” I paused. “Nicely!!” I added as an afterthought.

He said something in Kinyarwanda and they all just laughed at me.

So clearly that worked.

Not one of the massive horde moved a muscle. They just kept staring at me with their luminous eyes. And I kept not having a clue of what to do next.

And I kept looking around, clutching Justin’s precious camera in my hands and checking on our bags to make sure no grubby paws swiped his iPhone or our keys, watching more and more tiny kids pour out of the schoolyard. The sea grew.

You know, I don’t pray anywhere so much as in the majority world. I remember when I studied abroad in India being struck by the fact that it was there that God was all I had. People didn’t speak English enough to help me if I got lost. I couldn’t have my parents come get me out of a bind. He was all I had. It was us against the world. Me and God.

So as I watched more blue sweaters, dresses, and shorts surround me, I giggled and prayed under my breath for God to keep me safe. From children. How ludicrous! But it was terrifying in the moment.

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So God sent another teacher– and this one had a stick.

He ran around, bless his heart, on his one lame leg and one good one and chased the little buggers away! He carved a no-fly zone around me, vacated by the kids who ran shrieking from his brandished stick. I think he must have told an older boy to help him, too, because this other fellow in a black shirt and camo pants helped herd the kids away more.

The whole crowd of them then proceeded to run directly through the soccer field.

Only a few stragglers trickled back. And finally Patrick, who was wearing a Harley-Davidson belt-buckle in the shape of a bald eagle head on two olive branches, all framed by a circle of bicycle chain, came up to chat with me. He must have been about 10 and was a shameless flirt who only knew the standard English phrases that we discussed before. Finally, I gained a smaller, more manageable crowd.

And by the time Justin was done, I had covered the back of my hand and wrist in my Kinyarwanda lesson from these kids. We’d point to things and say them in our respective languages for a while until I realized this opportunity that was right in front of me. So I grabbed my pen out of my bag and wrote it all down. I’ll teach you soon.

An older lady joined the crowd and took her place directly in front of me. This turned out to be quite the vantage point because she could bend over and shout the pronunciation of the word in my face if I didn’t get it the first time. Which actually helped quite a bit. She even gave me a sheet of paper from her bag to write on instead of my skin.

So at the end of the day, I was covered in ink and my husband in the red dirt of Rwanda.

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Then we went up the hill to Wim and Berta’s house (South African missionaries; he’s a doctor and she’s a teacher) to pick up a package we are going to take into Kigali tomorrow. We saw this beautiful sunset (yes, another one) outside of their back porch. They have the best view of the lake and almost the whole valley. Justin apologizes for the fuzzy photo; but I think it’s beautiful.

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It was just a weird day. I felt unsettled by the whole child-ambush thing. Not sure why. I think that one of the reasons is that I was suddenly aware I had pictures of strange African children on our camera whose names I would never knew. Just like every other white tourist who visits the continent.

And it didn’t make matters worse that I saw my first cockroach before dinner. I won’t tell you where he came from, only that I steeled myself and smooshed him with the aluminum foil that covered our plates. If you know me, you will know how absurd this story is because I can handle most creepy-crawlies– but not cucarachas. Something I inherited from my mother.

I think it helped that he looked like the cockroach from “Wall-E” and so I decided he wasn’t so gross as he could have been.

Then I saw two spiders, each the size of my palm.

“Did you see that?” I asked Justin of the gargantuan arachnid that had just scuttled back outside through the gap under our front door. “Nah,” he shook his head, nonchalantly, communicating to me that he had, in fact, seen every leg on it but just wanted me to forget it.

Then another one crawled towards our storage closet.

I will be blocking the gap under our bedroom door tonight with towels. And gasoline prayer.

I was just unsettled by a lot of little things today: little children, little cockroach, big ass spiders.

It was just… weird. Just a reminder that I’m not home. I don’t speak the language (and don’t have enough time to learn sufficiently), am an obvious outsider because of my skin, and most days just want to stay in bed with the Internet to keep me company. But I must learn to be content and present where I am. J and I both agree we aren’t exactly happy here, but it could be worse– and someday it will be a great three-months worth of memories and stories. Not to mention that we get to go to Europe when this is over.

So now I’m going to bed. Where I will be praying the mosquito net keeps all of these flying and crawling beasties away from my body and that of my husband. We are going to Kigali tomorrow to visit our friends, Deke and Jocelyn. And I get to take a yoga class at the US Embassy with Jocelyn. I might cry, I’m so happy just to be doing something I love with a friend. It was the small things that threatened to unhinge me today, but they’re also what keep me going: a good lunch, the promise of a yoga class, killing that mosquito, my hilarious husband, being asked to do the readings at the English service on Sunday as a couple. Justin and Deke are going to play more football, and we will drink the bottle of wine that I won at Nakumatt last week. It will be a wonderful anti-valentines day. Perhaps we’ll tell you tomorrow why we don’t celebrate Valentines.

Love from the land of spiders as big as your palm,

M&J

[Hello boys and girls!  It’s me.  Maggs had quite the experience today.  I was genuinely worried for her with the horde of children around her.  And she’s not joking when she says there were 200 of them.  At one point, I watched one child emerge from the pack in a bright canary yellow jacket–which looks exactly like Maggie’s rain jacket.  I saw Maggie had her back to the child and figured the child had slipped it on and walked away.  I watched this child walk all the way to the other end of the pitch, battling internally on whether or not to run after this child and snatch Maggie’s jacket back.  Alas, the girl turned around and there was brown writing on the front of her hooded sweatshirt.  I told Maggs this later and she said, “Could you imagine how scared that girl would have been if you had run up to her?”

Also, I want you to know that tomorrow I am going to post a video and some other pictures that are on my iPhone/iPad.  For some reason, my computer won’t register either of them when I plug them in and so I’m unable to get the pictures off of them!  But tomorrow we’ll have wireless internet (not just this “modem” internet that is really just a flash-drive with a cellular SIM card in it).  One of these precious items will be a video of our abode here.  It takes you from our bathroom and out to our porch.  It’s got the best commentary too…I think, I don’t remember.  Anyways, speaking of bathroom, today when we got back from down the hill, while I was still red-faced and sweaty, we both got to take a nice shower.  Mind you, it’s quite a bit different of a shower than in the U.S.  It’s more of a “shower” than a shower.  Nonetheless, it felt incredible.

That’s all for now, I’m exhausted and we’re waking up early (6ish) to catch the bus to Kigali tomorrow.

I’ll leave you with two flies mating]

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[Classy as usual, babe. And may I also add that my shower was remotely warm at the end? It was another little thing that gave me hope.]

Fat Kids Do Laundry

12 Feb

J: So Maggie and I were looking back on old photos of us recently and we realized that we’ve both gained quite a bit of weight since we first got engaged/married.  (Me especially, I’ve gained at least 40-45 lbs!)

M: Yeppers. I was always one to deny the reality of the Honeymoon Period 15 or 30 or whatever, but it has happened to us. I guess that’s what living within walking distance of a Chipotle for a year and then eating Cuban food for four months will do to a body. And so, without further ado– two chubby white kids attempting to do laundry, Rwanda-style.

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M: Luckily, one of the housekeeping ladies walked by and laughed at us. She mercifully relieved us of 2/3 of our laundry– which she then proceeded to do in half the time it took us to do the remaining 1/3. AND she was quite pregnant. “Ndashaka!” she pointed at our laundry. “I want!” Thank the Lord she did!!

J: And like the dummy I am, I left 2/3 of the shirts I needed washed hanging on their pegs in our room.

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J: Here’s our fancy dryer.

M: I secretly think that the staff came to laugh at our underwear. Or, not so secretly– as I told Justin I hoped the female staff would come laugh at his.

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M: I spent hours making all these skirts to bring to Rwanda/wear for years afterwards. I dyed this white one this exquisite coraly-peachy-pink color, and of course, Rwandan water sucks the dye right out of it.

J:  She also dyed my hands pink.

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J: During a break to fetch clean water and pour the old water in our toilet (we’re so economical and green), this little guy fell in the washing basin.

M: He is one of the less formidable bugs we have encountered here so far.

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J: No worries though, I saved him!

M: I’m so proud.

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M: Then we washed up to go to a wedding up the hill. However, we neglected to “schedule” lunch and arrived up at the top of the hill to see the wedding guests all leaving for the reception. Oh well. It is hilarious that we were late to an African wedding though. “Late” is what they do best here! So instead we walked around and took pictures.

J: What Maggie has neglected to inform you is that we would have been on time had we received our lunch when we had asked for it; instead we arrived 2 hours late.  (Sweet fences, eh?)

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M: In typical white fashion, I had to conquer something African. So I stood on this tree.

J: Hard to tell from this picture, but it’s a frickin sweet tree.  From the roots up it twists in an odd manner from left to right.  And the leaves are in bunches, only at the end of the branches. Not to mention it’s HUGE.  Hence the large root system that Maggs is standing on..

M: You twist in an odd manner from left to right.

J: O_o

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M: There are all these inspirational signs in a lovely courtyard in the English-speaking primary school. One of them says “Even Girls Can Make It”

J: I took this picture with Grace Ciak-Linton in mind.  I figured she’d appreciate it 🙂

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J: In case the first one wasn’t clear enough. (M refused to caption this, saying “It’s the same sign!!!”)

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M: This is a relatively even part of the massive hill we have to walk up and down twice a day.

J: And she’s going down hill when the sun isn’t shining.  Normally we do this in the heat of the day with backpacks and sweat our faces off.

M: Someday we’ll tell our children Mommy and Daddy walked to work uphill both ways for months.

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J: Pay no mind to the way that I’m standing.  I was caught unawares.

M: All lies. He posed for the cows.

J: Now who looks like a liar!?  There are no cows!

M: They’re just outside the frame. Admiring your eagle powers.

J: I’m sure they are.

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M: Bougainvillaea that looks like a sunset!!!

J: For a proper sunset see below.

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J: I snapped this at the base of the hill.  It gives you a literal snapshot of what we see on a daily basis.  The buildings on the other side of the fence on the other side of the road are the Seeds of Peace center where we live.  The white vans with blue stripes are taxis.  Then there’s  truck and a boda (motorcycle taxi).  To the left you can see a fabulous sign with 5 girls that says something about not needing a “suga mama” or “suga dadi.”

M: It’s actually three girls and two boys. Regardless, you can see Lake Muhazi just behind the center.

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J: This is a window.

M: Justin has THE BEST eye for finding beautiful windows and doors wherever we travel. I love the vibrancy of this shot.

J: If only they paid people for finding doors and windows!

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M: Just another day in paradise.

J: Another slightly boring day…in a rural and lonely paradise.

M: Time to go find a margarita. Oh wait.

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J: The end.

M: You’re the end.

J: You come off it!

M: You.

J: You infinity.

 

Love,

M & J