Dream, boldly. 

I know that I’m meant to be catching up on past blogs but I have to blog about today instead. See today we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial again to finish the museum. It was hard. One of the last stops is a room called the Children’s Room (or stolen lives), and its dedicated to the children who died in the genocide. 

On the wall was the last picture taken of the child, as well as their name. The plaque below told their story in brief responses such as “favorite food: chips” and ended with the way they died. All of the means of death were horrific. Many of them involved machetes. I found myself breaking down because I didn’t understand. How could anyone do that to an innocent child? I didn’t get it. I felt overwhelmed and I felt myself grasping for anything I could. I needed something positive to counteract the heaviness. The tour ended with a short film that was inspirising and positive. I was appreciative for that. 

But I didn’t feel like I truly had something to grasp on until I talked to my host mama, Jen, that afternoon. I was floored by a simple sentence she said. We were talking about a children’s book that I had purchased called the “ABCs of Rwanda.” It’s written by a Rwandan author, a wonderful woman who actually read the story to some of the kindergarten and first graders at KICS. She said this was really spectacular because there is unfortunately a lack of things like children’s authors in Rwanda. It’s why their ministry with music is so important. But I found myself asking why. Her response isn’t exactly positive but it gave me what I needed to grasp onto.

She said: “What happens is after a genocide like that the country is left with a generation that doesn’t know how to dream.”  

And I found myself thinking immediately. It’s the truth. Unfortunately, in the rebuilding and healing process there are things lost. One of those things is art and ability to express yourself and the ability to dream big. That really stuck with me because in the United States we’re obsessed with dreams. We have an “American dream”, we have Disney shoving wish granting magic down our throats (and don’t get me wrong, I love Disney but you have to admit it’s a bit obsessed with dreams), we have school programs designed to tell us that we can be anything and everything we want to be in life if we just try hard enough.

That’s not necessarily a reality here. It’s not that children aren’t loved and inspired, they are, but a lot of the rebuilding process initially is about surviving. It’s about making the best of the here and now, and not necessarily focused on inspiring young artists, singers, writers, etc. It is of course reasonable, considering that Rwanda has taken massive and inspirational steps toward reconciliation and unity, but it did get me thinking.

We take for granted the ability to dream in the US. I never want to take that for granted again. Instead, I think I found one of my reasons to teach internationally. I want to speak life to children and encourage them to express themselves, to lift their voices, to dream, boldly. I won’t tell them lies. I won’t tell them all it takes is enough trying. That’s not reality. But I will tell them that they are beautifully and uniquely made, they have value, and they should feel able to dream big dreams because they are capable of accomplishing big things. 

I think that’s crucial. I think dreams are something that show us we have value. When we let ourselves dream boldly we are telling ourselves that we are worth working hard for. We’re telling ourselves that we are capable, that we deserve big things. And all of our dreams are different, our definitions of bold and big are different, but when we take away all the differences we share that similarity. Dreams aren’t for keeping our heads in the clouds. Dreams are indications of self value. They encourage us. They inspire us. They give us something to strive for. Sometimes that’s all we need. And every child, in every country, in every culture, in every situation deserves to dream boldly. They deserve to feel valued, to feel capable of pursuing big things. 

As a teacher, I get to play a special role in fostering those dreams. I get to put ideas before them. I can read stories by Rwandan authors, I can speak encouragingly about their artwork, I can listen when they speak. It’s a privilege that I don’t take lightly. As a teacher, I get to give them foundations to attain their dreams. I get to teach them math facts, and the ability to read. More than that, I get to give them foundations for life skills. I get to teach them how to disagree, how to shake hands and respect one another. It doesn’t mean I expect every child to be the next president or to be the doctor to find the cure for all cancers. However, I can tell them that they are capable of becoming doctors, and politicians, and preachers, and teachers, and scientists, and dancers, and artists, and farmers, and anything that fits into their world, their culture, and their gifts. 

That’s special. And I thank Jen for sharing those words with me, because it’s opened my eyes to see how powerful it is to teach people that it’s alright to dream. It’s alright to fail, too. It’s alright to change your dreams, to boldly pursue them, or to let them slip through your fingers like sand. It’s part of this messy thing we call life. 

But it also reminded me of how the day started, with the children’s room. With little lives that didn’t get to dream. It reminded me that we have a responsibility to make sure that never happens again, a responsibility that is failing around the world. And while I don’t think I can stop wars from happening, or violence from occurring, I do think that I can use my passion for teaching to help. I can educate students. I can teach them to dream. 

And maybe that’s not enough for some people. Maybe there is more that I’ll find myself doing. But today, I think maybe it is enough. When we teach our little ones to dream, we teach them to value themselves. We teach them to boldly pursue life. We teach them to use their gifts. And when they begin to do those things, we see lives changed. We see little ones grow up to be big ones who mold our world into something new. I think that’s pretty great.

If you’re reading this, I hope that somewhere along the way you were told that life is precious. I hope you were told that you can dream big, because you are loved, you are valuable, and you deserve to share your gifts with the world. I pray that you were told that your gifts are special no matter who’s definition of “big” they fit in. I hope that if you weren’t told these things, that you’ll read them again and find it’s never too late to start dreaming, and to start acting on our dreams.

The world will lie to you. It’ll tell you that what I’m writing is cheesy and naive. Maybe it is. But then again, I’ve heard a lot of success stories that begin with, “a teacher/friend/parent once told me that I was capable, they encouraged my dreams.” 

It’s also fair to say that humans have an uncanny ability to respond to the opposite too. To say that teachers, parents, and friends beat them down and said their dreams were silly and would never happen. But then they overcame that and did it anyway. 

So maybe it is naive and hopelessly optimistic, but that’s okay. I’d rather speak life to children and watch them boldly pursue life than crush their dreams. Especially when life is such a gift, and our world is dark enough without me contributing to it. 

So..yeah. I hope that you keep dreaming, because life is cruel, and unfair, and too short. But it’s also beautiful, and filled with the contributions of people who learned to dream, boldly.

All my love,

Brandi

Musanze & Gisenyi

Hey everyone! Sorry this post is so late but I’ve been incredibly busy like I said. This post also won’t have pictures because wifi hasn’t worked well enough to upload them but when I can/if I can I will add those. The monkeys are gorgeous, and the cultural village was definitely worth seeing. If you’d like to see the photos now you can check out my Facebook page. Thanks!

So, our trip to Musanze included a few hour car ride in our safari jeeps. We really like these because they’re big and roomy, plus speed bumps are more fun and less painful in these cars. Once we got to Musanze, we had lunch and settled into our hotel. It had a very Western feel, complete with cactus plants and sand colored houses. It wasn’t the most comfortable place but it served its purpose. After lunch, we drove to the cultural village. This was the coolest thing. 

Basically, the cultural village was created for three reasons: to give former poachers a job protecting gorillas instead of poaching them, to teach guests about the historical lifestyle of native Rwandans, and to raise support through donations and tour fees for gorilla conservation and supporting the former poachers in their new careers. 

Let me expand a bit. Essentially, the village is named the Guardians of the Gorillas, because the village works to protect the gorillas living in the mountains at Volcano National Park. Many of the workers there were once poachers of these gorillas because the money was better and it could provide for their families. The village was opened up to change that. By giving them jobs and by supporting them with resources such as goats and access to education, they were able to give up poaching as a means of providing for themselves. Not only that, but they were taught the importance of conservation which benefits everyone. With tourism being such a huge industry in Rwanda, they were able to use this village to help people change their lives. 

Second, the village teaches people like me about cultural Rwanda. A lot of people that I know didn’t even know Rwanda was a country, so it was nice to be able to learn about the traditions. We watched things such as making Banana Beer and grinding seeds to make flour. We tried our hand at shooting ancient bow and arrows. We got to explore a Kings Palace and learned about the traditional roles of people. 

My favorite part was being invited to try the traditional drums. Anyone who knows me knows that I love drums, and apparently I’m good at playing. Or maybe they said that to make me feel better, who knows ;). I got to play drums with the villagers and couldn’t help but grin ear to ear. It was amazing. The drums are so beautifully designed and the music just lifts your spirits in a way that makes you forget your worries. Not only did we play drums for awhile, but we also got to witness a traditional wedding ceremony and join in the festivities by dancing. 

I loved to dance with the villagers. It was such a wonderful experience to move to the beat and feel a part of the community. They really focused on that a lot. They wanted us to be involved actively with experiencing their culture. They were also extremely welcoming. Our visit to the village even started with loud drumming and poems and dancing in the form of a traditional guest welcome. It was excellent. 

After driving back to the hotel, we had dinner and went to bed. The next morning we woke early to go to Volcanoes National Park for the golden monkey hike. We started the hike with more traditional drumming, music, and dancing. Then we drove to the starting point. This hike was..muddy to say the least.

I definitely struggled on this hike. The mud was so thick and I had the wrong shoes for this type of hike. I must’ve lost my shoes four times on the hike, but it was worth it. Slipping and sliding up the volcano was fun, even if I fell too many times and completely ruined my pants and shoes. It was just a good hike. The trees were beautiful, there were stunningly vivid butterflies and beetles, and it wasn’t that long of a hike either. The best part was Emmy, our porter. He helped me a lot because I’m definitely a clumsy person. He helped rescue my shoes at least twice, and made me laugh more times that I could count. He was spectacular. 

Then we finally reached the Golden Monkeys and wow..that’s all I can say. Wow. The monkeys were beautiful and playful. They were jumping through the trees and chattering away. They’d come so close we could touch them if we’d been allowed to or wanted to. Some of them even put on a show for us, sitting in an open area for a good fifteen minutes. The baby monkeys were the best. It was a huge reminder of how great this world is. It’s definitely a breathtaking once in a life time opportunity and I loved it and I’m thankful for it. 

Hiking back after the monkeys was just as messy as hiking there, but we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the volcanoes and great memories. We drove to Gisenyi after the hike, which was to experience Lake Kivu. This was a fun trip because it was Megan and Dorothy’s birthday, and we celebrated Madeleine’s as well. We also stayed at Inzu Lodge which was just gorgeous. I can’t wait to upload pictures of our glamping tents and the view of Lake Kivu.

After unpacking we navigated down to the water for a very…interesting boat tour. The boat was rocky and older. It also sat deep in the water and it was sort of intimidating but Lake Kivu was stunning. It was unfortunate though because several people got scared and sick and our tour guide didn’t really go back quickly. I still enjoyed the boat ride though, but wished it was better for everyone.

We enjoyed Inzu Lodge that night and I had the best club sandwich of my life. The next morning we headed back to Kigali, in massive need of a good nights rest. 

Sorry again this was so late, but thanks for reading!

All my love,

Brandi 

Inshuti

Nestled behind a gate in the heart of Kigali is a home called Inshuti. There are several buildings, connected be a covered walkway. One of the buildings is a classroom with a few toys and chairs. Inshuti in Kinyarwanda means friend, which is fitting for the home. The home is a place of refuge for individuals with special needs. Their stories usually begin in tragedy, and yet Inshuti opens its arms to them and provides as best as it can. A few days ago, our class was able to visit Inshuti, and as it does with the individuals it cares for, it opened its arms to us and let us in to the special world created there.

At first, Inshuti didn’t feel like a completely friendly place. I knew going into the building that it was a home for people with both mental and physical disabilities, but in my own naive and prejudiced way, I thought that it would just be like special needs classrooms at home. It wasn’t. The main room that we entered had several wheelchairs lining the outer wall, with people in each chair. In the center of the room were thin mats with nuns and children laying on them being spoon fed a pureed version of some kind of meat and vegetables. It was hot and rather small for the amount of people it housed, and I felt rather claustrophobic, if I’m being honest. But then I opened my eyes and paid closer attention. On the faces of the nuns were warm smiles, friendly and inviting. They were happy to have visitors. They greeted us with kind words, and welcomed us to place our things down and feel free to interact with whoever we wished to.

I was immediately sold. I set my bag down and approached a young girl. She was six years old, and was sitting alone, eating her food. I sat cross-legged beside her and asked if it was alright to sit with her. Her smile was enough of a response. It lit up the room, making it feel bigger, making it feel happier. I couldn’t control the grin that spread across my own face. She’d stolen my heart with one glance. We were told that the children loved to sing, and so I asked if we could sing. Her nod gave me the confidence to lift my voice. I started with Disney songs, as it was the only thing my brain could grasp lyrics to at the moment. Despite loving to sing, I found myself wondering if my voice was good enough, if I could be a good enough singer to make this little girl happy. She met my eyes for the first time once I started to sing, and her smile returned, which led me to keep singing, through every Disney song, every kids Christian song, every Kindergarten song I could think of while she finished her meal. I had forgotten my initial feeling of discomfort in the five minutes I sat with her. I realized I had been so horrible when I first walked in. I had immediately looked around and judged that Inshuti wasn’t living up to its name. That was wrong, and I am deeply humbled by that realization. Inshuti is not a special needs center like those in the United States, but the nuns who work there, and the people who live there, are treated with respect and love. Life is spoken over them when the world condemned them to hear only death. Miracles fill that sweet building nestled behind it’s protective gate. I am ashamed that I didn’t see that first. While I had wished that Rwanda had the same resources available to the nuns as the United States, I found immense comfort in the fact that the nuns were making sure every individual there was loved, fed, given a place to sleep, play, learn, and grow. They continue to take in these miracle children that others discard, and show them love. That is what makes Inshuti live up to its name.

Returning to the little girl, I found myself mesmerized by her eyes. While she couldn’t speak, her eyes could. They spoke volumes, they expressed her joy and happiness, they expressed her laughter. I felt so connected to her even though we were only there for a short while. When she finished her meal, I asked if she’d like to go for a walk. The day was beautiful, though cloudy, in typical Rwandan fashion. She agreed and together we gently wiped her chin and held hands. We walked together, slowly, but with every step my pride for this child swelled in my chest, and the lump in my throat grew bigger. See, I was told a little of her story. They said when she was found, they thought she wouldn’t make it. They thought she’d never walk. Yet here she was, holding my hand, and walking down the sidewalk. Here she was, able to run even. She inspired me. She humbled me. She made me realize how foolish I’ve been. Too often I overlook the miracles that are right in front of me. This six year old child floored me with five steps. I think that’s what I love most about this trip. I didn’t expect to change the world, but I also didn’t realize how much the world would change me. I don’t feel like the same person, and that’s a good thing. My eyes have been opened to seeing life from an entirely new perspective.

As we were walking, an older boy came to me and took my hand. He must have been about the same age as me. I greeted him with a smile and welcomed him to our little group. His hands hurt as he gripped my own, but I didn’t flinch. Instead I lifted my voice and continued to sing as the three of us made it to the front building. There we were greeted with other Alma students and The Governor. The Governor is a man at Inshuti, he was their first resident and knows everything about everyone. He’s extremely friendly and loves to hear people sing. My two friends and I sat down and listened as another Alma student began to sing Hallelujah. Other residents began to sing along with their own abilities, and I found myself singing too. The little girl leaned into my side, and I brushed my fingers through her hair when she spotted my own. She began to reach for my hair and twisted it through her fingers. I had promised myself that I wouldn’t cry while visiting Inshuti, but it was extremely hard not to when she reached for my hair, because just that morning I had played “saloon” (yes, saloon, not salon here) with my pre-kite kiddos. They did the exact same thing as this precious child curled up against me. I found myself wishing again that things were different in Rwanda. As much as I love this country, it’s hard to not be upset that special needs aren’t really a part of the culture here. Many of the children in Inshuti began their stories being left at the gate, found abandoned in the streets, or otherwise in precarious situations. Sometimes it’s because people don’t have the resources to care for special needs, but sometimes the reasons are more difficult for me to understand. I acknowledge, of course, that cultures are different, but I desperately wanted this little girl to have the same opportunities to experience life as the pre-kites who styled my hair that morning. That was when I took a breath and remembered that she does have the opportunity to experience life. The nuns at Inshuti gave her that opportunity. They took her as she was and nurtured her to the miracle of walking, laughing, playing, and living. It just wasn’t easy because in the US we have such a different toolbox for children with special needs.

I let her play with my hair as I spoke to her. I don’t remember all of what I told her, just that she was so beautiful, and that I loved the way she was styling my hair. It was enough to draw out those lovely smiles again, and that was enough for me. Knowing she was safe and filled with joy was enough for me. As time was running out, I walked with her back to the room we started in. This time I picked her up, and felt her tiny arms wrap around my neck. I embraced her as she returned the hug, and felt that lump in my throat return. I kept the tears away, knowing she deserved my joy, not pity, not tears, not anger or any other emotion. She deserved pure joy and love.

I had to leave her for a moment while the nuns showed us the classroom. This was so exciting because the teacher there was so wonderful with working with special needs children and adults. The classroom was rather basic, as I said before, but it was perfect for the needs of the students, and the warmth there was radiant enough to be felt. What I didn’t expect was to see the little girl at the door. She poked her head in, squealed at me and ran away as I chased after her. I scooped her up in my arms, laughing along with her as I exclaimed that she’d found me. This new game was wonderful and I enjoyed hiding and finding her several more times before time was dangerously close to being up.

At the end, I sat down on a bench and placed her on my lap. She responded with laying her head against my chest. I told her how happy I was to have met her and was rewarded with another beautiful smile. That was when they said it was time for our visit to be over. My heart shattered. I realized I desperately didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to get back in Black Bertha, our horrible borrowed van, and pretend that everything was fine when it wasn’t. I wanted to stay longer. I worried that our planned visit would be harmful, not helpful. But then I noticed the nuns, and their smiles. I heard them say that our visit was appreciated, that it was good for everyone to meet new people, even if the visit was short. That didn’t mean I was ready to let go though. This six year old girl had touched my heart in a way that would leave its mark for the rest of my life. Two hours sure can do a lot to a person, let me tell you.

But I did have to let go. I gently placed her down, told her she was loved and that I was so blessed to meet her, and said goodbye. I started to walk when little arms found themselves around me. That was when my eyes started to burn, but I swore I wouldn’t cry, so I fought it. I realized she thought we were still playing the game, so I plastered a grin on my face to match hers and scooped her up. I carried her through the walkway, singing and playing with her until the van was in sight, and then I said goodbye again. I set her down, grateful for the nun who took her hand. She was safe there, I realized once again. Safe and loved and cared for. What more could I ask for? It was a reminder of my beliefs. I believe people are inherently good. I believe that no matter how first impressions come across, hope can be found in every situation. Those nuns gave me hope. That little girl gave me hope. They were all going to be just fine because love was the foundation for Inshuti. I mean, of course it was, right? What are friends if not people who choose to love you?

I looked back as I got in the van, reassured once more that as much as I loved being there, I wasn’t needed. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t work there in a heartbeat, but I certainly wasn’t needed, and that was okay. It was one of God’s reminders for me about balance. I have a problem, I must confess, with wanting to save the world. I wear my heart on my sleeve and invite people to take from it. I care about people in the depths of my soul. It’s who I am. But the truth is people don’t need me to save them. The truth is also that it’s okay to want to save people. Most of the time it’s not even “saving” it’s just helping. It’s wanting people to feel loved, to feel cared for, to feel happiness. It’s compassion. The problem with having a compassionate heart is reality. Reality is that things aren’t always fair. Some countries have more resources than others. It doesn’t make one better or worse, it just makes it different. Reality is that some people don’t view all people as being valuable and worth something. That applies to every culture, every country, everywhere in the world. But reality is also that there are good people everywhere. There are places like Inshuti, everywhere. There are miracles, everywhere. They exist, even if our first instinct is to judge and to see what’s lacking. What does this have to do with balance, you ask? Well, I realized that it was okay to care about Inshuti without feeling like I had to act. It was okay to remember that God has a calling for me, and that maybe Inshuti isn’t part of that plan. It’s okay to cry, too. It’s okay to wish that everything was fair for everyone, everywhere. It’s okay to seek perfection, because what I’m truly seeking is for the Kingdom of God to come. And it will.

I think that’s the beauty of finding balance. You still get to care, you still get to wish for what you know is coming, without finding yourself unable to move forward. Does that mean I didn’t cry? Of course not. After getting home I cried like I haven’t cried in a long time. I poured out my heart to God because I felt guilty. I felt angry with myself for judging so quickly. I thanked him for these miracles, for walking, for lives saved, for the nuns who opened their arms to those others rejected. And I did cry because I wanted them to have the resources they needed to keep opening their arms. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. The important part was that my tears ended, and my prayers quietly finished with an amen. I let myself be humbled and changed by the experience, but I trusted that things were going to be okay. I’m a very optimistic and idealistic person, and I know sometimes that comes across as a savior complex, but more I think it’s just me having hope. I have immense hope for this world because of places like Inshuti, because of six year old girls with smiles brighter than the sun, and because of nuns who offer up a hand. Why wouldn’t I have hope, right? Why wouldn’t I have hope when there is so much good in this world?

I apologize for this long and emotional post, but I hope that you’ve seen some of the same things I have. Rwanda is beautiful, and like any country, it has it’s challenges and things I disagree with. I have that in the States too, a lot, actually. But just like everywhere else, it also has amazing, beautiful people who make all those challenges seem tiny and small. It’s filled with people who love Christ, who speak life, and who have the courage to wake up each morning and breathe hope. I didn’t realize when I first came to Africa just how God would open my eyes, but Inshuti was one of the experiences that really made me see. I’ve been a hopeless optimist with a habit of wanting to help and save everyone and everything. Inshuti has made me realize that there are a lot of people like me out there, finding balance is a beautiful thing, and that in the end, everything will be made perfect. In the meantime, I can continue to seek God’s calling for my life, and I can continue to welcome this world, and the people I meet, to change me. I eagerly await the next fingerprint to find my heart, and I can only hope that someday I’ll place my own fingerprint on someone else’s. That’s the beauty of relationships. We touch each others lives if we simply have the courage to open ourselves up.

I’m incredibly thankful for Inshuti, and if you’re reading this and ever get the opportunity to visit, I encourage you to do so. Just a few minutes listening to the nuns stories, or a few minutes with any of the individuals who they’ve taken in, will mark your heart in the most spectacular way.

May you be filled with hope today.

All my love,

Brandi

General Updates + Catching Up

Hey everyone, I know it’s been ages since I’ve made a post but things have been incredibly busy and exhausting. I just haven’t had the energy at the end of the day to blog, and we’ve actually lost power/been without wifi several times lately too, but that’s part of living in a third world country, beautiful as it may be. For instance, our water tank is empty right now, which means no showers. It’s very easy to become spoiled here, and that definitely brings me back down to reality. Rwanda is beautiful and I love it so much, but there are definitely challenges here too, just like anywhere.

With that being said, here is a list of blog posts you can be expecting in the next day or so, please bear with me as most probably won’t have photos currently, it just takes way too long with the wifi. I have uploaded LOTS of photos to Facebook though, so if you like seeing those, please take a glance at albums on Facebook. Thank you! Anyway, blog posts:

  1. Inshuti
  2. Volunteering at KICS
  3. More than Sparrows
  4. Volcanoes National Park (Musanze/Gisenyi) 
  5. Canopy Walk/Waterfall Tour/Lake Kivu

So I hope that you will bear with me as I post a bunch of updates. I love all of you! Thank you so much for your support.

All my love,

Brandi

Hakuna Matata 

Hakuna Matata everyone! No worries! Rafting was amazing, and I have so many thoughts and feelings to share so bear with me. First and foremost, I do have pictures, amazing pictures taken by a professional from the company but I won’t be able to upload them until I get back to Kigali. Second, the Nile River is both beautiful and terrifying. 

So, our day started at the hotel in Jinja. We had breakfast and then headed out. I put on so much sunscreen but it didn’t help at the end of the day because I’m incredibly burnt, especially my legs and face. That’s alright though, it was worth it. 

After breakfast we headed down to White Nile Rafting, which has the most amazing guides ever. We got to eat breakfast there again, and having chipati for breakfast is something I’m seriously going to miss about East Africa. Uganda is so green and beautiful, and the starting place was just stunning really. It was here where we got our instructions and safety rules, life jackets, and helmets. It’s also where we got our first pictures. Abraham lifted me up onto this huge trailer carrying four rafts and several kayaks. I took a picture hanging from the rafts like a monkey really. Then we all piled into the back of the truck. It’s like a truck that carries goods or wares and stuff, but has been changed to have benches along the side and then bars over top. It was crazy riding in the truck since the roads here are so horrible but it was a lot of fun. When we finally got to the starting point of our rafting experience, we were sorted into groups. Two extreme groups and my group which was the milder one. I’m glad I picked the group I did because I think tomorrow is going to really hurt. Rafting is exhausting and we still did all class four and five rapids, we just did more fours than fives and I’m totally okay with that. 

Our tour guide William was in our group which was great. He was so funny but he liked to try to scare us by trying to tip the raft or say to go to bigger more ridiculous rapids. Our guide for the rafting trip was Abraham, he was amazing. I trusted him 100% to keep us safe. He had us do a bunch of tests including flipping the raft in calm water. This was quite scary, as me and Whitney got stuck under the boat for a few minutes. But then it was okay.

Our first rapid was a class five over a huge waterfall. It was insane. I screamed and nearly fell out of the raft but my group all stayed in. It was so insane but my adrenaline was pumping so much. It was pretty amazing. On the second rapid, our group hit some huge waves and we did flip. This was terrifying. I got pushed under and couldn’t breathe but it was really only a few seconds and then we were able to get back on the raft after some time. The rest of the rapids we managed to stay in because Abaraham taught us a new technique of staying up on the sides of the raft and hardcore paddling with the waves. 

We got off at one point because the rapids were class six and too shallow for the rafts so we got to navigate the riverbank for a bit and take some more pictures next to extreme rapids. It was after this, once we were back on the water, that we became the sort of “saving raft” as we kept pulling people back in after they fell from other boats since we did the class fours and they did the crazy rapids. But honestly, I’m not ashamed of doing the 50/50, class five and four, because I had so much fun and didn’t feel like I was drowning 8 times. 

Abraham was really funny about that too, he said he was glad we were able to help save people so they wouldn’t end up in Egypt. I honestly loved Abaraham, he was a blast to raft with. 

For lunch we were given glucose biscuits which are basically graham crackers and literally 1/4 of a pineapple each. I’m never going to be able to eat pineapple in the US again, it’s so sweet and good here. We were also able to go for a swim, and the water was so warm and comfortable. I still can’t really get over the fact that I was swimming in the Nile, with fish, and otters, and crocodiles and whatever else is lurking there, but it was incredible. 

For the last rapid we were able to paddle through again, and it was so much fun. I swallowed so much water, I’m bruised and sunburned and my muscles hurt so badly but I would do it again in an instant. We also went swimming again after the last rapid. It was crazy because the safety kayaker had us swim to one side more because he spotted a crocodile, then he had us swim to the other side because something (apparently a hippo?) was on the other side. It was also raining for part of the trip, and lighting at one point which made everything more extreme.

After we got out of the water, we carried the boats up and were given Nile Specials which are beers. I chose to have Coke over the beer but I did have a taste, it wasn’t horrible, but I’m not a big drinker. The ride back in the truck was just as crazy. On the truck we sang songs out loud as a group at the top of our lungs (Hallelujah, journey songs, etc.) and everyone was laughing so hard we were almost crying. We were also able to stand up on the benches, which I did. We were driving so fast and the roads were so bad but it felt so good to stand up on the benches in the back while we drove. 

When we got back to the place we started  e were greeted with a huge barbecue with steak and potatoes and pasta and bread and fruit and of course more Nile Special. The last rapid is actually called Nile Special because the boat carrying all the beer once flipped over in it and all the beer was lost. But Hakuna Matata right? No worries! Today was all about being relaxed, except for the eighth huge rapids we did. 

After we ate we watched the slideshow of all our pictures and laughed and shared stories some more. It was really wonderful and I loved the people so much, our guides especially. They said Hakuna Matata to us all the time, no worries, and genuinely gave us a once in a life time opportunity to enjoy the Nile and adventure. I’d go back tomorrow if I could, truly. 

Tomorrow we are touring some historical sites in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. And then we will fly back to Kigali to start week two. I love Africa so much you guys, seriously. The food, the people, the nature. Every day is a new adventure and another reminder that God is so cool. I mean I got to swim in the same Nile that existed hundreds of years ago, I got to walk along the riverbanks and slip and slide in the mud. I can’t fully process that I was actually there in this huge and beautiful creation. 

Also, because I’m not planning to go back and do a post for yesterday, let me share a few things. First, Entebbe and Jinja are beautiful, and so is Kampala but Kampala is just crazy with traffic. Along the way to Jinja, I needed water so our van driver flagged down a water truck and they both pulled over. I literally got off the truck and paid 20,000 shillings for 20 liters (4 5lt bottles) of water. It amazes me because in the US that would be like flagging down a Coke truck heading for Meijer and buying a case of Coca Cola. Still, I was grateful and amazed. 

The hotel were staying at is called Source of the Smile, which is adorable. We stay in little houses that are like huts but are so beautiful. There’s a swimming pool and lots of beautiful trees and shrubbery. It’s really really pretty. The wifi here is pretty bad but it’s okay, no worries right? I’m going to try to add a few pictures here if it works and then get some rest before heading off for a busy drive back to Entebbe and tour of Kampala. 
I’ll make a post later with more about rafting in the Nile and pictures from our group. Thanks so much for reading guys, and seriously if you ever get a chance to go rafting, go to Uganda and go with White Nile Rafting. It’s 100% worth the cost. There is no words to describe how amazing it is to swim in the Nile River, or to describe the adrenaline rush of the huge rapid.

The rafting definitely taught me that I’m stronger than I thought, and capable of living my life with the mindset that I can do  all things, with Christ,  with no worries. Hakuna Matata, get out there and explore your own strength. 

Alright, goodnight everyone!

Brandi 

Visit to Kimironko

Hey guys! I wanted to apologize for not getting a post out about yesterday but I was absolutely spent by time bedtime rolled around. As I said before, we visited KICS for our placement, but then we went to the Kimironko market, which is what a lot of this post is going to focus on because it truly is a one of a kind shopping experience, but more than that, it’s a one of a kind relationship experience.

So, after school we drove over to Kimironko to visit the market. The market is indoors, and is separated by type of product, basically. There’s a section of fabric, a section for food, a section for shoes, crafts, and so on. The market can be..quite overwhelming, to put it lightly. It’s hundreds of stalls crammed into tiny spaces and thousands of options for fabric, crafts, shoes, etc. On top of that, it’s fairly dark in the market, and there are a ridiculous amount of people there. It’s hot and truthfully, the smell can be overwhelming too. With everyone there in the heat, cramped up against one another. The floor is uneven with random bumps and holes throughout and it can be very easy to trip.

Each of the stalls is filled with wares that people are trying to sell, and what makes it difficult is that a lot of the stalls sell the exact same thing, whether it’s the same exact fabric or basket or what have you. It can be difficult because as a muzungu you really don’t have to walk far into the market. If you see something you like and point or say that, many people will crowd into one stall trying to offer you the same thing at varying prices. You know that this is people’s livelihoods and they depend on making sales to provide for themselves, just like anyone who works anywhere, so it can be difficult to decide what you want to purchase.

That’s where relationships come in. We were able to get fabric from this beautiful and kind woman named Lilios, she sold us a ton of fabric for a really fair price, but it was because we were with Jen and Lance. She called Jen, “Mama Grace” which is typical for Rwandans. They will either say the oldest child’s name or youngest child’s name, so Jen is “Mama Grace” or “Mama Miles.” What makes the relationship really neat is that a friendship is genuinely formed. She said that Jen was like her own mama. Jen can go there when she needs fabric and knows that she will get a fair price. The best part is that both women get a relationship out of it. Liliana knows about Jen and her family, while Jen asks how Lilios is doing and genuinely seems to want to know.

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I loved seeing Lilios and Jen interact with one another. It was a real friendship formed over time. Plus, Lilios was so incredibly friendly. She shook our hands, helped us decide on fabric that would suit us and our favorite colors, chatted with us about our lives and answered questions about her own.

With that being said though, the market was still quite overwhelming. In Lilios’ stall there was a good fourteen people trying to squeeze in and anytime anyone said they thought they might like something, twelve people left and returned with twenty options of said item. It was really different than anything in the US, and yet I found myself overwhelmed because of the amount of people and choices, but at the same time I felt very comfortable and calm. I felt confident to talk with people, I laughed and joked with them, and all the while got to pick out some really beautiful and amazing pieces.

Another relationship I really loved was with Amos. He was our sort of market guide. He navigated the rows and stalls with us, would translate for us if we needed him to, and would take our bags from us and carry them for us. He was really funny and friendly, and I definitely would feel comfortable going to the market on my own provided I could seek out Amos, which he is more than happy to share his number and meet us. Plus, we pay him for the service of being a guide, which he appreciates and we certainly appreciated his help in getting through the market.

I think that’s the beauty of the market. It’s easy as a foreigner to feel lost and overwhelmed. It’s easy to feel guilty too. For me though, it was just an incredibly humbling experience. I thought that I wouldn’t like the market. I thought it would make me feel claustrophobic and overwhelmed to a point where it was unpleasant. Instead I found myself desiring relationships with those that I met. Everyone shakes your hand and introduces themselves. They ask questions, they try to pick out things perfect for you, they’ll help you get ideas for what to gift others, and while of course part of it is that they need to sell their wares to eat, but I feel that another part of it, a large part of it, is just about building relationships and friendships. It’s really wonderful, and it made me love the market. I could spend hours getting lost in the rows, meeting people, and hearing their stories. Maybe that’s just part of who I am. I love people, and I love their stories. I love getting to know them. I love sharing part of me with them. The market was surprisingly a place where I felt that I could do that.

I had expected stalls and products everywhere. I had expected intense bartering, people pushing things into my face, insecurity about protecting my money and purse, that sort of thing, just based on the warnings you get when you research travel in this way. Instead, I found wonderful people who wanted to make a living, but also wanted to share their lives with you. I’m very grateful that this was my experience, as the market isn’t for everyone, but I definitely want to go back. It’s also definitely the last thing I thought I’d be doing. I never pictured myself weaving in and out of market stalls, sharing laughs and exchanging goods in Africa. Yet, surprisingly enough, I felt like it was completely natural. I could see myself visiting the market all the time, not always to buy a ton of things, but just to continue building relationships with people.

And with that, I need to finish packing for Uganda and the Nile Rafting trip!

I hope you all enjoyed the read, and if you ever get a chance to squeeze through market stalls in Rwanda, I highly recommend it.

All my love,

Brandi

Taking it easy

Hey guys, it’s time for another mobile blog because I’m being incredibly lazy right now. I don’t actually have a whole lot to say tonight because today was actually fairly similar to my daily life at home. 
I spent the morning at Kigali International Community School. I was placed in the preschool classroom which was absolutely amazing. I got to work with 17 children who represented five different countries, and spoke several languages. They were very curious about me and I loved answering all of their questions, while asking my own. I got to do the “normal” school routine with them, from working on our letter of the week which is C to building puzzles with them during centers. The big difference was the fact that I also got to pray with them four times, I got to talk about the love of Christ, sing praise and worship songs with them, and teach through Bible stories. This week is all about Daniel in the lions den. I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it is to see four and five year olds stretch out their hands and praise the Lord. It’s beautiful to hear their prayers as they pray for the class and their day. It’s humbling to hear them discuss their understandings of who God is and who God says they are. It’s remarkable. The fact that I can combine my love for teaching and my love for Christ with children from such different backgrounds makes me so incredibly happy. It was definitely my favorite part of the day. 

After school I got to go to the art gallery again, this time with some francs so I could buy a few things. It was so much fun listening to the young man who worked at the gallery. He told us about the gallery and how they give 40% of all their income back to the children in the community. They sponsor art outreach, and support children through selling their beautiful crafts. I purchased a painting of elephants, a beautiful weaved basket, and a beaded giraffe keychain. I really enjoyed hearing how the pieces were made and how by purchasing them I could help support the community. It really does feel like this community is my own now too. 

In the evening we had an amazing taco salad buffet with the family, and then all of us “kids” played board games until pretty late. Its really nice to just sit and talk with the family and have time with them. It was fun to ask questions about education in Rwanda, and health care, and everyday things we take for granted here in the states. It was really just a nice quiet night, and I appreciate that.

Tomorrow is another day in KICS and visiting Kimironko market since I didn’t get to go earlier this week. 

Thanks for reading!

All my love,

Brandi