Tag Archives: girls

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.



Running was easy today.

More than easy, it was as if all of the joy, energy, and enthusiasm that were flowing through my mind, body, and heart were filtering right into my blood, lifting my legs with a strength I hadn’t felt for what seemed like days and weeks prior. I could have run for hours if the sun wasn’t saying goodbye to our little piece of the world. The sun was setting, it was getting close to 6:00, and on my way home I ran into some of my GLOW girls still making their way home from our over 3-hour long celebration for International Women’s Day. We greeted each other in a classic Heather-student sort of way.

Me: “Superwomen!!!!!”

Girls: “Yessssss….superwomen!!!!”

Me: Today I am very happy. The party was wonderful!

Maisara: Today I am so happy!!!

Me: But I am sorry! Be patient. You are very late to go at home. Go home and eat! You are hungry, yes?
Zahara: No!

Me: No? You are not hungry?

Zahara: No! We are satisfied because we eat love.

Maisara: We eat happiness! It is very important in the life!

Me: *rendered speechless from how cute this little interaction was*

Jeannine: Today was the best day. The best day.

Me: Yes! You girls have a nice night. Good journey home! I love you!

Girls: And meeeee! See you tomorrow, Heather!

Like I said, running was easy. How could it not be when I had all of this to process? For the first time in weeks, my run wasn’t heavy, full of questions, frustrations, and sadness. For some reason, well a lot actually, it’s been a more difficult week or two emotionally, and it’s showed in my running. It wasn’t fun anymore. I dreaded it. But I did it because it still managed to relieve my stress, somehow.

Today was my favorite day in a very long time. Today was just one of those days that reminds you why life is beautiful, why God always gives you what you need when you need it most, and what it feels like to see the fruits of your labor.

Today, at GLOW club, we celebrated International Women’s Day. To make this extra special, I received a phone call last week from a fellow 3rd year Peace Corps Volunteer, Sarah, who works with the Nike Foundation/Girl Hub (an initiative to encourage girl empowerment projects and activities throughout Rwanda; specifically there is a publication called Ni Nyampingai that serves as a radio broadcast and magazine to get these kinds of ideas to girls all over rural Rwanda) who wanted to visit our GLOW club. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, knowing my girls would be overjoyed. And so we spent the week prepping our songs, dance, and poem for the coming guests. We cut pieces of the same igitenge (Rwandan fabric) so that we could be unified and have a common sign for being a part of GLOW club. And, I put together a lesson that I would be giving on the day that the guests came: it was a brief history of Women’s Day, a brainstorm session of what makes women super, and finally, some lyrics to Alicia Keys’ song, Superwoman.

On the day of our celebration, the guests came into our classroom and the girls were beaming. I mean, I was almost knocked off my feet from how beautiful, energized, and happy they looked. And then, they did their traditional dance and sang their song that greets guests (very important in Rwandan Culture) and I could barely contain myself. Yes, I’m kind of an emotional basketcase when it comes to these things, but I’m telling you, it was just SO inspiring to see. They really had no fear. No fear. No fear. We have been repeating this mantra all term and wow, they just completely got it.

Our guests included a representative from Ni Nyampinga magazine (check out their link here: ), Sarah (the third year Peace Corps Volunteer), a professional photographer, two interviewers, and a translator. The girls particularly loved the representative from the magazine as she was a young, beautiful Rwandan woman that talked to them about women’s empowerment and spoke to them extensively about these sorts of things in Kinyarwanda. That was my favorite part of this whole thing; it’s one thing for me to stand up in front of my girls and preach about self-confidence, goals, and fighting fear, but for a strong Rwandan woman to do the same is much more powerful. It brings it home for them, and as she was speaking to them about their dreams for their futures, I watched as their eyes just lit up as they shared their dreams to be teachers, doctors, and presidents.

After welcoming our guests and giving the lesson about Superwomen to the girls, they engaged in conversations, read the magazine, and two of my girls, Divine and Maisara, gave interviews for nearly an hour about the club, what we do, and why it’s a safe place for them. I haven’t read their answers or anything, but the interviewers told me they did great. I’m totally not surprised. Not in the least. We also shared juice, had a dance party, practiced our model walks, and really, just celebrated being young women. What more do you need than that to have a good time?

The girls also did a sketch for the guests (the one we did about fighting fear) and we did the trust circle to demonstrate the importance of the girls trusting one another to help them in all things.

A bagillion MILLION pictures were taken and so I can’t wait to see the finished article (they came specifically to do a piece about the girls) and see how great the pictures and interviews turned out.

I just loved today, mostly because my girls got to feel and BELIEVE that they are, in fact, superwomen. They often tell me how much they love me…and after today, I just want to hold them tight and tell them over and over again, that it’s THEM who are my heroes. It’s THEM that makes me want to show up for work every day, and it really is THEM who makes me believe that the world can be a better place. I know that’s cheesy, fluffy, and all sorts of idealistic, but I promise you, had you been in that room with me today, you would think the very same things. I couldn’t have been a prouder mama, and there’s nothing that could have made celebrating Women’s Day so beautiful. I’m just so proud I get to try and be a superwoman alongside these girls. They are everything to me and are the reason that the string of bad and difficult times can fade into the background. They are the reason I can endure. They are the reason I love being a Peace Corps Volunteer.