Tag Archives: fun

my kind of weekend.

this succinctly captures my feelings on this last weekend.

this succinctly captures my feelings on this last weekend.

I’ve been racking my brain, having too many failed attempts to put pen with paper, and sitting iddly for a bit too long as I’ve tried to figure out how to best explain and describe this past weekend. Then, at 5:37 am on a Tuesday morning I just thought, well, perhaps I should just start from the beginning.
Old Woman Heather
Fridays are one of my two days off this school year (the other being Tuesday) but outside of sleeping in until 7:00 it’s hardly a day off. I typically wake up, run, write, and go to school by mid-morning. Why? Because it’s library day. This consists of me stifling the chaos of hundreds of primary students trying to get their hands on a book. Crazy doesn’t begin to adequately paint the picture. It takes four of my students working the desk and teachers roaming around with sticks in hand to control book check-out. I swear, the next time I enter a quiet and peaceful library, I will thank my lucky stars because while the demand in Ruramira is fantastic, the peaceful demeanor of library etiquiette and culture is coming along much like teaching a puppy to pee outside. Slow.

Anyway, on this particular Friday, I did almost nothing after we closed the library around 2:00. Usually, I’m ready to go and visit some students or teach a GLOW lesson, but I was wiped. I went home, took a nap, and sat on my porch with tea and slippers and watched the sun slowly trickle away from the sky.

Best Day. Ever.
And so Saturday came. I woke up early in order to my run in and prepare for A LOT of things: we had two volleyball matches, two football matches (one for the girls and one for the boys), I had visitors coming (Sara, Suzi, and 3 of her friends visiting from America), and a GLOW leaders party to host (complete with a full meal and two rounds of Fanta; a serious party, y’all). I anticipated it would be a busy but rewarding day. And it was. It was so great it ended up being one of my favorite days at site: it was a combination of all things good in my life here. I went from coaching duties (do we have money to buy water? Do they have their shoes? Is the line-up ready to go?) to being a fan (cheering like a madwoman) to showing the visitors the ins and outs of my village. It’s important to note that our girls and boys won in football with Maisara and Zahara, resident GLOW girls and sisters, scoring a goal each for our girls’ victory. But, winning our match, watching the fans dance to drums (along with a spear that had a rabbit skull on top?), and basking in good ole sports pride didn’t carry the stick for the best part of the day.

That part came here.

After playing, at around 3:00, 7 of my GLOW gleaders, me, and the guests had a party at school. Alphonsine, the woman who helps me around my house, cooked for 15 people, bless her. We ate and then began our party. The purpose? To show our visitors good Rwandan culture and to celebrate the wonderful leadership of our girls. It was Suzi’s idea and I commend her profusely for wanting to make this day special for my girls. She just gets it, and I love that. I took a step back and watched as the girls sang songs, introduced themselves, and demonstrated how incredible they are. I realized it then – I will never be able to capture how inspiring they are in words alone. You see it best in their presence and I couldn’t have been prouder. Time and time again, it’s these girls that give my time here so much meaning. They are the ones that have evolved this from being a “job” to it becoming just a piece of my life. I’m forever indebted. I briefed them on the concept of diversity and explained it further by giving them the meanings of their names to show how they are special as individuals and that they are good leaders because they put their gifts together to make unity. And so naturally, we then tye-dyed shirts to demonstrate colors (like our individual special gifts) coming together to make something beautiful. They loved it. And, their shirts turned out great.

That night we cooked pancakes that we coated in Nutella and peanut butter and crowded in my 2 rooms to sleep 6 of us. And that’s where the weekend gets a little complicated. No, not the guests cramming together, but the arrival of Sunday.

‘The Bread of God’
After the guests headed out for the National Park nearby for a safari, Sara and I decided to tye-dye the extra shirts we had. Great life decision, by the way. Tye-dye is a fun way to spend a weekend morning! Sara went back to her site around 11:00 and as she said farewell, Divine stopped by to give me the “bread of God”. That is, the particular lesson that was preached about. Whenever I miss mass Divine is sure to write and remember the scripture so that I can “be satisfied” from God even if I didn’t go to church. Yes, that is my best friend. She was a hit, by the way, with the visitors. I think everyone recognized how hilarious she is; she is certainly one of the most ALIVE people that I know.

I unexpectedly visited her for like three hours (this frequently happens; I leave my house to accompany her like a good Rwandan, but somehow end up at her home and we continue to talk for a really long time). She already knew, but her suspicions of how crazy I am were confirmed when she found my planner and read every single page. She didn’t know how much of a planner I am (and how I have to write down everything or I will forget) and she was totally amused by this. Planning is a trivial concept here, at least where I am living, and so I think for her to see a major compilation of to-do lists, lesson plan ideas, people to visit, things to buy, places to go, and people to email, she was just like, what?

Anyway, by the afternoon it was time for a wedding I was invited to. This wasn’t the “real” wedding – just a delivery of the cow for the bride’s family followed by a family meeting to discuss the logistics and plan for the actual ceremony. This is where the weekend got a little…um, fragile? Confusing? Weird?

Bear with me.

Family Drama
This “wedding” was for Maisara and Zahara’s aunt. It was at the house for Maisara and Zahara’s father. However, Maisara and Zahara no longer live there. Why? Because their father is a terrible man. A lying, abusive man. A year ago, them and their mother moved in with their grandmother. Last week though, the mother moved back. Temporarily, she claims, as to help prep for the wedding nupitals, but I’m skeptical. This has left the girls to make their own decision: they don’t want to go back. And no one in their family understands or supports this decision. They are afraid but people in their family just see their action as a denial of their family obligation.

Confused yet?

So there was this family wedding.

And I’m going. But the girls tell me they can’t do it – they can’t go in that house. It’s okay, I tell them, they have the right to choose where they feel comfortable to be. I go with the aunt and the cow and I sit in a dimly lit room with their entire family. I sit with a lot of secrets too. I know what their father has done and their uncle (Yazina’s father), well, I know what he’s done too, but that’s another story. He leads the prayer and I want to vomit.

We drink fanta. Eat food. And that’s really as far as I get. By 6:30 it’s dark and I want to go. The girls arrive and when they do, their father calls them to come. They refuse. For me, I say my goodbyes and say I need to get home to plan for teaching the following day. I make a quick exit but not before Maisara and Zahara’s mother follows me outside, grabs me, and starts complaining about why her girls won’t be a part of the gathering. She’s embarassed, and I can sense that, but I’m quick to defend the girls. I know I should have stayed neutral but the whole things seemed ridiculous. Quite literally, I was being pulled into two directions – the girls insisted we leave and the mother wanted to continue to explain her side of the story. I was standing between Maisara and her mother with my hands pushing both back, trying to keep the peace. Again, I wanted to vomit.

The girls walked me all the way home. 45 entire minutes, one way. We held hands the whole way and I hugged Zahara when she cried. Their family is separating again, and her pain is raw. I am heartbroken for them. My family split under different circumstances, but somehow I could sense a small piece of what the heart feels like when that happens. Right now, they are living away from their mother, left to cook and support themselves after studying and playing football each day. They just tell me how they can’t stop studying. They tell me they can’t give up on their future and that their father threatens that. I’m speechless and can only muster to say I love you. I commend them for the decision they have had to make. I don’t support or encourage family disagreements but how can I not support their courage to fight for what they believe in? These are the kind of girls that score goals, ace exams, help others, and live life well. They excel in GLOW because they believe in what they can do. But what happens when the “support system” around them doesn’t?
This was my weekend.
As usual, there are no words to describe the completely beautiful moments or find the easy answers (or answers AT ALL) to the complicated tangled web of problems here. I’m not discouraged, though.

Divine regularly lectures me (among other things) on the importance of kwihangane and kwitonda, that is, essentially being patient and not freaking out about something. She says that to succeed in Rwanda you have to have these two things. True. But what’s awesome, is that in return, I lecture her on the importance of being honest, of speaking truth, and not being afraid to express what is in your mind. She integrates these two cultural values – much like the rest of my girls – and creates a mixture that is uniquely them. And so, while I do worry, fret, and feel very real heartache when the girls are going through problems, I know they are as equipped as anybody to handle them. Not because of me, but because of them. They’ve had the skills all along. And so, it’s just a matter of hoping that they use them when the time calls for it.

If nothing else, I find myself inspired this Tuesday morning, really just wishing that the people I love the most back home could know these girls like I do. They change lives and they are changing mine.

we have a dream, like martin luther king


My old worn pink asics are on, I’m wearing my Hendrix capri sport pants, and my hair is thrown in a messy bun. I’m ready for sport. It’s just like most other days in my life—when it comes to my daily life, there’s a good chunk of time spent running, doing yoga (or some other random workout video on my computer), playing football, or going on long walks around the village. This is what I do. This is my element.

Only this time, one thing is different. Oh, and it’s pretty major. I’m playing goal ball and so I’m wearing black goggles that block out my vision. That’s right—I’m playing this particular sport without the ability to see. It’s what makes goal ball unique.

You see, I’m playing goal ball with a handful of boys who are partially blind or cannot see at all. And what’s amazing is that there is this game at all—it’s called goal ball—and you spend 20 minutes in a crouched position, waiting for the ball to be served (like the size of a kickball), and to come your way (you can’t see it, but it has a special bell inside so that you can listen for it). When you hear it, you prepare to block it from entering the large goal behind you. You have two other teammates by your side, ready to block right along with you. To serve, the best players place their hand on our goal to spot check, and just as quickly, the spin and dish the ball on the cement ground. They keep it low, and it somehow reminds me of a cross between bowling tactics and old school kickball on the playground. You can’t see—remember?—and so you have to clap your hands and feel the ground in order to position yourself correctly and communicate with your teammates.

To go from seeing everything to nothing is intense. And I did this for approximately 19 minutes—I can’t even begin to imagine what the boys that I played with must feel like everyday. In some ways, I imagine it’s incredibly isolating and frustrating. But these boys, well, they are without a doubt, a special group.

They made up 5 of the 65 boys we had at our recent Eastern Province BE CAMP (Boys Excelling). These boys came from all over the East to represent their schools as leaders and instigators of new ideas and change in their communities. The camp is sponsored by Peace Corps, so all of these students either have a Peace Corps Volunteer in their community as a teacher or as a health worker. I brought four boys to camp: Robert and Yousef from Senior 3, and Tom and Dieudonne from Senior 4.

We had the girls equivalent of this camp this last summer (GLOW: Girls Leading Our  World). And quite literally, that experience changed my life. I was able to see the real, concrete, and powerful effect of being a proverbial seed-planter. I’ve come to realize that is really what being a Peace Corps Volunteer is all about: we are here to encourage, to share, to love, and to support, but many of the ideas and resources we bring act as seeds to a much larger garden. I won’t see most of the changes that I’ve worked towards this past year and will continue this next year in 2013, but that’s okay—it comes with the territory. Camps seem to be an exception to this rule, as after just a few days of being together, singing songs, playing games, studying life skills, and dancing, Rwandan youth find so many ways to come out of their shells. You can often see them radiate with self-confidence and happiness after the camp is over, and though you never know how exactly these students will apply the knowledge and skills that we tried to teach them, you can instantly see what it feels like for them to be told that yes they can and that as leaders in their community, they have the power to make things better in their own lives but also in the lives of others.

When GLOW finished this last August, I couldn’t wait for the next camp. It was like I was addicted to this feeling—is this what it feels like to make the world a better place, I asked myself. I wrote the date for our BE camp early on and I had been looking forward to it ever since.

Yet, to be perfectly honest, I was also much more nervous for the boys version of camp. When it comes to working with youth and I have conversations that connect me emotionally with students, I have noticed that I connect much more strongly with young women. And so, anticipating the week long training with over 50 boys initiated a lot of questions on my behalf: will I be able to ask the right questions? Will they trust me to open up? Will they be as open to new ideas as the girls were?

All of these questions were put to rest as we stood in a circle in the great hall at HVP Gatagara (a school for the visually impaired about 90 minutes from my house), with burning candles held in our hands, singing Silent Night, after a stirring speech from one of our Peace Corps Volunteers, Christina. Silent Night always gives rise to emotions in my heart, and so a few small tears fell down my face much in the same way that the white candle wax was leaking through the brown paper onto my hands. I was crying out of happiness though; these boys, much like the girls from GLOW, inspired me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. In just 4 short days, I felt like I watched these boys learn new things about building relationships, commit themselves to achieving their dreams and visions, and working together to make new friends and learn more about themselves.

Abouba told me about his life as an orphan. His school lets him study and sleep there in exchange for his extra work on the holidays.

Erneste explained his passion for goal ball as we held hands and I guided him around campus. He is one of the best players around—yes, even in Rwanda and East Africa—as he was able to travel to Algeria and compete internationally just a few years ago. He may be blind, but he doesn’t view this as a handicap—just another challenge in life. We all have challenges, he told me, and it shouldn’t stop us from doing what we love to do.

Froudard was the incredible winner of Limbo at our carnival (I still can’t believe how low that boy got) and then he outdid himself in the talent show when he performed Rwandan traditional dance with boys from his school. He did the splits for nearly a minute and most of the volunteers watched with shock and gasps on our faces. That boy got skills!

Alphonse brought his guitar out every night and sang some classics (Country Roads and Hero for example) before singing some of his own songs. His ability to play guitar and sing is unparalleled by many other musical gifts that I have seen, and it’s all the more amazing when you realize that Alphonse is also visually impaired and cannot see. But that’s never the focus when you are in his presence; he is constantly keeping the people around him laughing and completely in awe by his musical talent.

The boys of Martin Luther King Jr. (my hero group—we had a total of 8 hero groups so the boys could be in smaller groups to discuss and have a family like atmosphere) won the cheer-off on day one and I couldn’t have been prouder. After I explained Martin Luther King Jr. to the first boy who came to camp, he proceeded to explain the works and life of King to the rest of the boys who arrived throughout the afternoon. They owned and paraded around the campus with the pride of being in Dr. King’s group. I would yell, Where is the King? and the boys would respond equally loud and obnoxious with we are here! When we were all together we would sing our cheer which went something like this:

 Where are you going?

What what?

I said, where are you going?

WE (clap clap)

ARE (clap clap)

GOING (clap clap)

TO (clap clap)

WASHINGTON! (clap clap)

(here the boys and I bring our arms together in the middle of the circle, raised in the air, to symbolize the Washington Monument)

(we stay silent for about 3 seconds and then…)


We want freedom!

We want equality!

We want love!

So we tell them…

We have a dream!

Like Martin Luther King!

A dream, a dream, a DREAM A DREAM A DREAM!

It should come as no surprise that by the end of camp, I could barely talk and when I did, I sounded like an old man who has been smoking cigarettes for far too long.

Besides lessons on various topics like HIV/AIDS, gender equality, and communication, the boys had journaling activities (oh yeah. totally my doing), a career fair (we had visitors that included a journalist, a police officer, a soldier, a teacher, and an IT specialist) so they could share their experiences and journey within their respective vocations, a talent show, spontaneous dancing, and afternoon activities like sport, the American classic of the egg drop challenge, and cooking (some PCVs taught the boys how to cook bread over a charcoal stove).

I should emphasize the dancing: holy cow, I danced so much that week. I think GLOW was where I fell in love with teaching baseball in Rwanda and it was BE where I fell in love with dance. I’ve always enjoyed dancing (who doesn’t??) but I felt so free the entire time we were at camp. When the boys arrived at camp, we drummed the traditional Rwandan sound on the lunch tables and danced. Between meals, we danced. And when we finally landed a sound system for the talent show, we danced. I love moving around freely, but there is certainly something intensely special about the Rwandan cow dance. You move your arms to represent the intore, the traditional African warrior, alongside the proverbial cow, which is of the upmost importance in Rwandan culture. You move everything in your body along with the beat of the music, and it’s just about the most beautiful dance I have ever seen. And I sure do try. Sometimes, I actually feel like I can do it pretty decently—and the boys told me so! In the spirit of building confidence, they told me I can do the cow dance and so all week long, even in the absence of a melody to follow, I was moving my feet and legs, just like many Rwandans. Proof # 384 that I’m becoming more and more Rwandan with each passing day. (on a side note: I should also indicate that I have video proof of me doing the wobble along with about 20 other students and another PCV who taught us. Believe me, this is one for the home video collection!)

BE camp, just like GLOW, will without question, be a highlight of my Peace Corps experience. It just works. In our communities, working in the classroom everyday and building relationships with our community members, it can be sometimes quite difficult to witness, understand, or even believe that you are making any kind of difference. But at camp, you just know, and it’s one of the most powerful emotions I have ever experienced. To be standing there, in a crowded room, knowing that lives have been changed—what more could you ask for? And what’s even better, is that you know that this change isn’t possible just because of you, it’s also because of them, and it’s also because of God. Who knows when I’ll meet with some of those boys and girls again—if ever—but we were together for a powerful time, albeit short, and that counts for something. We have memories to take with us, feelings to carry on, and the world to change for the better. When I participate in these kinds of camps, I always walk away reaffirmed and believing that the best of our world lies in the youth. They have the capability to do it—it’s just telling them, reaffirming them, and giving them the knowledge and capacity to do so. Just like with GLOW, I walk away from this camp absolutely convinced that this is what I want to do with my life. I want to be the person that says yes you can and if I could be doing this alongside lessons about life skills and going outside to play sport, then I would be even more happy. These boys (and the girls back at GLOW) write notes of affirmation, telling us how much they love us, and how important the camp was to them. I write them notes back too, not only telling them how great they are, but giving them thanks, because whether they know it or not, they have also given me the confidence to believe in my life, to believe in my work, and continue to know that we all have something special to offer the world.

Yes, like my boys said, we have a dream, like Martin Luther King.

And, I am so blessed to be apart of it, no matter if it’s big or small.

Even on the hard days, I often find myself thinking that I must have one of the best jobs in the world. And maybe the best part is that it’s not really a job for me—and it never really has. It’s just my life and my dream coming together and giving some sort of outcome for the vision I have had for myself for so long. And really, it’s just the beginning. Not just for my Peace Corps experience, but for what I hope for the rest of my life. Yes, all of this I gain from a few small days of playing sport, holding hands, and cheering with a group of boys. They are that inspirational, believe me. They are going to change Rwanda for the better. They are going to be the ones to change the world.