Tag Archives: mom

crossroads

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divine and mama

divine and mama

family

host family love

teaching

showin’ ma how teaching is done – rwanda style

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giraffe, mom, and randy = a great combination

For probably the third or fourth time in the first 2 hours of Mom and Randy’s visit I was explaining how wonderful their experience in Rwanda would be BECAUSE of the “off the road” approach we were attempting (visiting and sleeping in my village for 3 days, using public transport, and embracing volcano-like mountains of Rwandan food to be offered – along with Fanta, obviously). They weren’t sticking to only the “touristy” attractions – we were doing Rwanda with a lot of Heather swagger. I was anxious, giddy, nervous and happy it would be like this. Ater all, to see the Rwanda I love (and let’s be real, sometimes the Rwanda I loathe), you have to give the village and lie here a real chance to show itself. I knew things would be just fine, however, because Randy looked up for a momemt while packing his small green REI backpack and summed up the nature of his and mom’s can-do-Rwanda attitude in three words,

“We dig culture.”

And did they ever.

We saw Mama and Papa’s new home being built, shared handfuls of real Rwandan meals, tasted banana juice at Divine’s, went on long village walks which had to feel a lot like being the Royal Family with all the hootin’ and hollerin’, crossed overland from the edges of Tanzania to the 4th largest African lake bordering the Congo, and I, to no one’s surprise, cooked macaroni and cheese.

Their two weeks came and went quickly.

No words or photos can describe what it was like to have my mama here. After I creepily banged on the window glass to get their attention in baggage claim at the Kigali airport (yes, this drew countless numbers of stares and aghast looks of what a freak) I absorbed all that I could of her presence. I remembered and relished the way she always calls me “honey”, her enthusiastic, ready for anything smile, and her desire to continually want to make things comfortable for me (this included drawing a bath for me one evening – could life get any better?) And what was even better than just having mom here was having Randy here too. Three was not a crowd ¬†and I was immensely impressed with both Mom and Randy’s kindness, openness, and flexibility to greet and love on my community members. They hugged SO many people. I LOVED THEIR CAPACITY TO LOVE.

Should I have been surprised? No.

If you wonder how I can be crazy enough to WANT to live in a rural Rwandan village for 2 years it is because I was raised by love-centered people. Mom, Dad – everybody – demonstrated through everything (because no, my life has not been perfect) we all have an ability and an obligation to love in the best way we know how.

My favorite moment of our trip was exploring the banana fields that belong to Divine’s mother. They go on for what feels like forever. You walk on a thin dirt path to maneuver your way through the land. Behind me, I watched mom and Divine holding hands. By my side was Suzi. In front, further along in the road, was Randy. He was taking photos with some youth, also emphasizing the importance of staying in school. I was in my favorite place in Rwanda with some of the most important people in my life. Not just mom and Randy, but Suzi and Divine too. For a rare moment, pieces of my life were interlaced and together. For a fleeting time, I didn’t have to describe two different worlds, I could just be. That’s the very best a family visit can bring you. That, and delicious meals with hot bathes. Just kidding.

And so those weeks were intensely whirldwind – especially before and after their travels to visit me. Before, I had finished HOURS and HOURS of marking to prepare for the end of term II. After, I exerted every ounce of energy I had at our region’s week-long 2013 GLOW (girls leading our world) camp.

Needless to say, my life has been crazy.

Somehow, it’s become mid-August and I am most certainly at a crossroad with a large fork in the road.

There are two options, you see.

One is to continue as I had planned all along: return back to beautiful America (Lord, I sure do miss home) having had finished 2 years of good work in Peace Corps Rwanda. I have some wonderful experience to carry with me, stories to share, and family and friends to be with. I can come home, figure out the next direction of my life, and soak all that is of my home, America.

The other option is a lot like Peyton Manning reading a different defense post-huddle and calling an audible based on what he sees: stay in Rwanda another year – “extend” as they call it in Peace Corps world – with a different job and living situation. All of the opportunities to continue in Peace Corps (and there are probably around 10 of them within Rwanda) as a Third Year Volunteer often involve working closely with other NGOs while still making a Peace Corps level salary (about 200 USD per month) and keeping Peace Corps status (able to defer loans, qualify for medical care, abiding by the many rules, and so on).

The details are set to be hankered and hammered out THIS week at what is called our Close of Service (COS) Conference. I’ll be coming back to America later this winter no matter what path I choose to take and so really it’s a question of what the right thing to do is as I consider the next year, 5 years, and 10 years of my life. What exactly do I vision for myself? What do I imagine my life could look like?

Discernment can sometimes feel 100% easy or a lot more murky.

This one, it’s been all over the place.

I am trusting that God will help me choose the next phase of my life that provides safety, purpose, passion, and open doors.

My soul has felt scattered and all over the place and so I’ve put together a pro-con list, raised my hands, and I am submitting my fears, doubts, anxiety, and worries to God. Prayers appreciated.

IF I EXTEND A 3RD YEAR IN RWANDA

PROS

-job security

-I really enjoy living and working in this country despite the challenges

-maintain Rwandan relationships very easily

-opens a lot of development opportunities down the road

-builds on my first 2 years in Peace Corps while also creating a new and challenging job

-more people could have the opportunity to come and visit Rwanda!

-already aware and immersed in the language and culture

-more possibilities of sports development experience

-living in a beautiful country

-maintain Peace Corps contacts and connections

-experience with grant-writing

-can easily visit my old village and community

-a paid (via Peace Corps) holiday home in the winter

-have the suppot of my family

-I can always leave if I decide it’s not the right fit for me

-can continue to defer loans

CONS

-more time away from home

-missing out on family and friend life events

-isolation from American culture in general

-avoiding an inevitable goodbye to this country

-still living on a Peace Corps salary

-continuing to regularly deal with Rwandan frusturations (water issues, electricity issues, lack of internet, being DIFFERENT than everyone else, always having to explain who I am…)

-all of my friends from my group (called ED – 3 – the third education group in Rwanda) will be finished with their jobs in Rwanda

-loneliness

-putting off time I could be using to get a master’s degree

-dealing with skeevy Rwandan men

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mama

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I knew I hit the mommy jackpot when once, I had my teeth pulled out (those darn molars) and my mom dealt with me, her vicodin-induced daughter, gabbing and singing our entire trip back home to Aurora from the dentist’s office in Denver. She helped me through our door, tucked me in on the couch with a down comforter, brought me both rasberry and pineapple sherbet (the angel that she is), and as she readjusted the ice pack on my face, snuggled me in with my beloved stuffed elephant, Boo Boo.

(I was at least 16 or 17 years old, mind you.)

A mother’s love, I think is a special brand. She told me this before, too.

“You’ll understand when you have children someday.”

And I’ve witnessed–not just experienced–it as well. With my mother and also with my grandmothers and aunts who would do anything for their kids. Grandma Jenny would often drive Lance and I by my dad’s childhood home and she wistfully show us where he played on the playground and the crazy things he did with my two uncles. She would talk about how crazy her boys were, but she would also be sure to always say how much she loved them. And always, without fail, she would say that my dad and mom felt the same things about Lance and I and so that we should always appreciate our parents and what they do for us.

No, I haven’t birthed a child yet but perhaps at the ripe age of 24 (um. am I really in my mid-20’s?!?) I’m on the cusp of having a good chunk of hindsight and a fair amount of perspective. The teen years are over, that’s for sure. I can see my parents as people (yes, they actually went through most, if not all, of the stuff we go through) and yes, the game or movie nights, the occasional grounding, the checking in on homework completion, the time outs, and the family dinners actually did have a lot of purpose. I am finally able to see my parents, Michelle Cupps and Ted Newell, not only as ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ but as friends, spouses, community members, and people. They’ll always be just mom and dad, but I recognize much more fully everything that is a part of them. And maybe I’m starting to also better understand everything they did for me, and also why they did (and do) all these things for me.

I REPEAT: I am not a mother. I have no children or plans for children on the horizon.

However, in the last few weeks my role as a motherly figure within my job here has felt more pronounced and called upon.

Let me explain.

Last weekend, I brought four of my students to Kigali to meet with other volunteers and students who would run at the National Stadium (Amahoro ‘Peace’ Stadium) for the Kigali Marathon (they would be running in the 5K run, however). It was so fun!

I took my kiddos for ice cream within 20 minutes of reaching the city and though they were skeptical, scared even, at first, they loved it. They are still talking about it, y’all. Teacher, remember how cold the ice cream was!

And hello, what a chance for them! To see the big city (for my kids it was their first time to Kigali. Ever.), to meet other students, and to stay at a church compound with only two people per room. For them, this was pure luxury.

Yes, it was indeed great fun. But logistically, I felt like a mom in JCPenny’s when her rambunctious child decides to play a fun “game” and hide under the women’s clothing racks, waiting for their mother to find them (based on a real story). I had to constantly check and make sure we were together, make sure I had enough travel money for each of us, and keep them hydrated. It was exhausting.

But worth every minute. Because wow, the feeling and emotion I felt when I saw Maisara finish the race (the first girl in all of the 5K race to do so) was really strong. I got a little teary-eyed. So, maybe this is what mom felt like at all of those field hockey matches? At those soccer games? At the summer softball tournaments? At my short-lived attempt at gymnastics when I was 6?

Don’t even get me started on how I’ve evolved from the girls’ football coach into the official team mom. I would put crazy American team moms to shame.

I facilitate shoe check-out at every practice (oh yeah, we have a FULL set of CLEATS these days), provide filtered water post-practice, ocassionally provide crackers from a nearby boutique if I have the funds, lead stretching and conditioning exercises, check practice wounds, store the girls’ sports clothes in my house, give access to my lotion (Rwandan girls are obsessed with moisturizing), host team meetings, and also scrimmage with them and attempting to not get my butt kicked.

It’s not that I’m a god-send to these girls–it’s just doing all of these things makes me happy. It’s completely one of the best parts of my week. It also solidifies all of the work and time that the grant has required of me; this is exactly how we envisioned this. We’re finally a serious team.

And maybe all of this mother tender-heartedness feelings feel more on the table because of my GLOW girls and the kinds of conversations we are having this term. In the club sessions, we have been discussing healthy and unhealthy relationships and women’s health which are driving me to ‘google’ things like,

“how to talk to your child about puberty”
or
“how to help your child understand menstruation.”

Yes, I’m roaming self-help sites for mothers.

The girls ask general questions like what to do when a boy says ‘I love you’ and how to say ‘no’ when a boy ‘wants to kiss’. They’re opening up and so I feel 100% obliged to at least try and respond.

To take it one step further, some of my GLOW girls–my friends–and I discuss more intense life experiences one on one. One girl was recently approached and pressured to have sex. A couple of them frequently ask about changing bodies, emotions, irregularities in their health, what’s appropriate when it comes to physical affection, and who the best person to go to for advice is. It’s all over the place. But, it’s been great both ways, because I’m able to answer from personal experience and so I can open up as well.

I would never EVER fill the place of the girls’ mothers. Nor would I want to.

But, the nurturing, motherly side of me is coming out more these days. Maybe it’s because I know a lot of these girls so well at this point or maybe it’s just the nature of my personality and of theirs. I don’t really know, y’all.

But, it’s got me thinking and more than anything, thanking the good Lord for my lucky stars. The women I grew up around made me feel comfortable and supported. I just hope maybe that is what is happening here in Rwanda. They do call me ‘Grandmother GLOW’, after all.

It was Mother’s Day recently and I told Divine about how this holiday is celebrated in America (Rwanda doesn’t have this day in their calendar). She said she wished Rwanda had this kind of celebration because “mothers are the ones who make their babies strong.” And she wasn’t just talking about breast milk, believe me. I laughed and then spent a large portion of that Sunday remembering and cherishing what my own mom brings to my life.

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She is the kind of mom that organized my bagillion member family to bring signs and decorations to my last high school field hockey game. There’s a photo of them in the stands and it’s one of my favorite photos – ever.

She lets me go on (and on) one of my tangents during car rides to lunch on her days off from work in the summer.

She says “I love you” every day and also, I might add, completely supported me in my beanie baby craze when I was growing up in the 90’s. I had the Princess Diana bear with a tag protector IN a case. That’s legit.

She took me on special trips just because and even toted the best dog ever, Buddy, along with her to a trip to Arkansas to see me at Hendrix one time.

Every week that I have been in Rwanda, she has called me. She’s listened as I’ve gushed over my friends and families here, as I’ve dealt with loneliness, as I’ve had boy problems, and cheered me on in each and every situation. She has never made me feel bad for making the choice to live in Rwanda for two years; in fact, she’s encouraged me, which has pushed me to really put all of myself into living here. Other volunteers have not had this kind of support and I really do think it makes all the difference in the world.

And maybe what I love most is that not only is she the greatest mom around, but like I said, I can see her strengths as a wife, friend, sister, daughter, and woman of God.

And in turn, as I get older, she’s my determined and passionate mother but also a best friend for me. I get it because in some way, it’s how I feel for my girls–Divine, Maisara, Yazina, and Zahara–I’m a teacher for them first, but also a mentor, and a friend. Relationships actually can have overlapping roles and the rewards are beyond amazing despite the difficulties.

If I’m doing a good job with my girls it’s because of my mom. She taught me what it looks like to do anything for the people you love, especially as a mother. That’s the greatest gift I have. I hold it, cherish it, and do my best to use it. I’m far from perfect, as is mom, but when it comes to deeply loving someone, doing whatever you can for them is the root of a strong, abiding love.

Thanks mom, for showing me that.

It’s been nearly 630 days since I last hugged you at the airport, and in 2 short months, I’m finally going to be able to see you again, hug you, laugh with you, and show you a really neat place in the world. You’re going to meet some really special people and I just can’t wait for you and Randy to get here.

mama4

fhmom

gmas

 

 

mama5

always one more time

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Have you ever had that sinking feeling that comes with knowing things you shouldn’t know? It’s that drop in your gut when you are let in on a secret that threatens all of the notions you have built to help you believe the good in all things. Secrets. They’re dangerous. They are close cousins to lies and distant relatives to gossip. Gossip, lies, secrets.

I’m in my second year of living and teaching in my community and I’m a bit aghast. I assumed things would be “easy” at this point. I have friends, people understand that I’m not some Kigali woman (yes, I actually live here), and I speak enough Kinyarwanda to get by. Not to mention, I don’t even think twice about using a latrine or a headlamp at night or a bucket as a bathtub or using internet once every week or two. This is my new normal.

But, I’ll warn you. My start to my second year has been lacking of fluff, ease, and light-heartedness. Like a horse right out of the gate, I’m pushing forward with all of the strength I can muster, but I’m just kicking dust into thin air as I try to go forward. I’m being a bit more exposed to the darker side of things. I’ll get to that. But I can tell you this much: in my first week back from my England holiday, I spent an inordinate amount of time considering leaving. Yes, leaving Peace Corps. The days haven’t been bad, actually. I just have questioned to the core if I can really do this anymore. You’ll see why.

Perhaps, I’ll start with gossip. There are rumors swirling around my “mission” here. People are being told I came to choose two Rwandans to “American-ize”–that is to bring them to the U.S. to give them financial support in all aspects of their lives, oh hey! And even to build them a house! I’m not kidding. That’s just the beginning. People gossip not only about me and my choices (what I eat, who I hang out with, who I am or am not dating, and why in the hell I don’t have children as a 24-year old woman) but also about everyone else. People I love, even. Divine told me that people don’t understand why she goes to study (she’s 19, so they presume that a woman her age should just skip studying all together and get a husband and do what everyone else is doing) or why Yazina, her BFFL, is friends with her because Divine is “too dark” and “does not have a good face”. I scoff. What? Divine? UGLY? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Which brings me to lies. Read my past blogs. If you don’t get the vibe that I really like Rwandan culture then you’re not reading closely enough. I love it here–and I have for quite some time. But, I’m going to go ahead and be real. I’ve had it, absolutely had it with one part of Rwandan culture–that is, the culture of lying. Suzi told me once of a conversation she had with a Rwandan man at a writing workshop that she attended. She expressed how she felt guilty about lying in a situation and this man assured her immediately. Feel guilty? No, no, no! Embrace it! He said lying is simply what people do. They don’t want to offend others (which is why some Rwandans move houses at night as to not show the belongings you have; which is why you carry the goods you buy from a shop in a brown bag so that people don’t see what you have purchased; and which is why when you are eating food you close the door so people don’t catch a glimpse of the meal you are putting in your body) so they lie. The other people usually know they are lying. But they don’t call them on it–they just accept it, as is. Divine put it most simply, “Ah! Heather. To lie in Rwanda, that is the culture. Bibaho (it happens).”

Mmkay. Good luck trusting anybody.

Imagine what it’s like to operate in this environment. Anything could be true, anything could be a lie. Sometimes, it’s a small lie, such as “I will visit you” or it’s something much, much bigger like, “that man killed people in the Genocide.” Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. To be an outsider, ahem, me, leaves no other option than to accept the most realistic truth I can find: I’ll never know for sure.

And so this is what has led me to a point of exhaustion, calling into question my entire passion and drive for being here. I’m tired of not knowing who to trust. This can and could be a problem anywhere in the world, but it certainly is magnified when you stack together this kind of culture, with a devastating history, and with my position on the outside-looking-in. It’s not like I haven’t struggled with this (heck, I’ve been struggling with this my entire service) it’s just now it feels like everything is compounding together.

And then, there are secrets. Everyone has them, I’m no fool, but learning about them is rocking my already shaky solid ground. Divine (who apparently I use as a source for all knowledge as I’ve cited her for nearly everything) told me some of hers. For example, she lives with her uncle currently because her mother’s house is in a community where the school fees are too expensive. Her uncle helps her with nothing. He provides housing of sorts and food to eat, but in exchange Divine has a ridiculous amount of jobs she has to do for her family. Fetch water, cook multiple times per day, search for fire wood, cultivate….I could go on. She told me that finding leisure time is extraordinarily difficult. But, she also told me that this has to be a secret. Why? Because speaking ill of her family is bad culture. It just can’t be done. So, she confides to her BFFl, Yazina and myself only.

Secrets, secrets, secrets. They make me think that sometimes, after all, ignorance is bliss.

Worst of all, Divine recently let me in on a secret that Yazina has been holding close to her heart. She didn’t share in a malicious-gossipy sort of way; Divine was sincerely trying to seek help for her friend. This secret. It’s bad. It’s disturbing. I don’t feel comfortable writing publicly about it. But, I’ll say that on top of EVERYTHING that my girls and my students have to deal with (poverty, excelling in school, being good family members, helping with an endless amount of chores) it’s unfair that their challenges can soar to new heights. It’s totally. completely. utterly. unfair. Her secret is safe with me but it’s making me sick. I think about it and I literally want to throw up. I want to help her, but literally, I CAN’T.

Gossip, lies, and secrets. That, when you boil it all down, is why I have been struggling as I’ve settled back into my life here.

When I was writing all of this furiously in my journal this morning during my off-hour, downing my 3rd cup of coffee, jamming the Rwandan equivalent of a doughnut in my mouth (they are called amandazi), I would have stopped there. Full stop. End of story. There is no bright spot this time, I thought to myself.

However, as it just so happens, I just finished reading this incredible book by the great Rob Bell. It’s called What We Talk About When We Talk About God.
He discusses a lot of things. Seriously. He talks about atoms, quantum physics, good Einstein quotes, anecdotes from small-town America, food, and between all of this references scripture to demonstrate his belief that God is with us, for us, and ahead of us.

"what we talk about when we talk about God"

“what we talk about when we talk about God”

He ends his book this way:

Back once more to that table with the bread and wine on it. There’s a reason why people have been taking bread and wine and remembering Jesus’s life and death and resurrection for the past two thousand years.

We need reminders of who we are and how things actually are.
And so we come to the table exactly as we are, some days on top of the world, other days barely getting by. Some days we feel like a number, like a machine, like a mere cog in a machine, severed and separated from the depth of things, this day feeling like all others. Other days we come feeling tuned in to the song, fully alive, hyperaware of the God who is all in all. The point of the experience isn’t to create special space where God is, over and against the rest of life where God isn’t. The power is in the striking ability of this experience to open our eyes all over again (and again and again) to the holiness and sacred nature of all of life, from family to friends to neighbors to money and breath and sex and work and play and food and wine.

That’s God all in all, bringing together all of our bodies and our minds and our souls and our spirits and all the parts and pieces that make us us, as our eyes are opened in the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the inspiring, and the gut-wrenching to the presence in all of life of the God who is with us, for us, and ahead of us.

Rob Bell is right, you know. We see again, again, and once more again that LIFE is sacred.

Maya Angelous says something along these lines too, in her own poetic way, “have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” (love.her.)

Mom has good ideas too.
I told mom about what was pulling on my heart–namely Yazina’s secret–and she gave me the advice I needed more than anything to hear. First of all, pray. God can help in every situation. And then you just need to continue to be her friend. Be there for her. Just. be. her. friend. You have a purpose, Heather.

Oh, and God speaks for Himself quite often as well. I went on a slow run today, on one of my favorite loops, passing old mamas and young children screaming my name as I passed. I smiled and waved. And it was a good day today. But my heart still ached deeply for Yazina. It will continue to ache for Yazina. But, God is here. That’s all I heard in my mind.

The sun was setting perfectly over the booming clouds, meeting in the middle of the sky with the banana trees, and I smiled, remembering how much I really do love this place. It’s beautiful. I thought about my students, my girls, about Divine. This is a girl who is 19 but has in all honesty, turned my life upside-down. She’s inspired me; she has shown me strength in its very raw form; and she’s funny as hell. I wish I could describe her accurately, but words don’t do her justice. She gave me one of her most precious belongings the other day. She gave me her necklace that she uses to pray. It has Jesus on it. It’s scratched and worn but she wanted me to have it–to “wear it every day”–so that our prayers could be together. So that Jesus will always hear me. “He is always ready to hear your ideas and questions, Heather.” I have worn it every day since.

There are days where I just don’t understand. I don’t understand the gossip, or the lies, or the secrets. I don’t understand the pain that some people in my community–in the world, really–have to go through. But, I did understand, to a greater degree that even with 6 months left in Peace Corps, my community is far more than the sum of its secrets and that on a personal level, I have just as strong of a purpose. It may not be the sports project, the library, the English, or the integration after all. When I pack up all of my things and tell people what I did here…it may not really be any of those things that matter.

I was a friend. Sometimes this feels so small. Like it can bring nothing. But, when you see through the lense of God, when you have eyes to see, somehow this is enough. Even in the worst of circumstances. It is enough, you are enough, and this life, it’s enough.

Please pray for my friend Yazina. Please pray that she can find strength on her own terms, that she knows how much value she has, and that she is not alone. Please pray for my community. Pray that the good will always win. Please pray for me and other volunteers as we struggle in this season. Things, it seems all across the board, are very difficult right now. Please pray that we recognize God’s grace right before us and that we embrace this grace in order to forgive the mistakes we make as well as the mistakes of others. May this grace also propel us into a mindfulness for just how blessed we are and that this can in turn, affect positvely the work we do in our communities. Pray for those harboring doubts, fears, and loneliness. Pray that a friend is always there for them. Let us pray for the problems we see every day: be it stress, hunger, loss, poverty, uncertainty, and anxiety.

Most of all, let us all pray that we will trust God in all things, in all times, and under all circumstances, for we can know that He is here.