Tag Archives: wisdom



there is no rain that doesn’t stop.

Kinyarwanda proverb


Divine shared this old proverb with me as we discussed a potential goodbye in the coming months.

The proverb means just that – rain comes, but always, it stops. Things are difficult sometimes and challenges seem so hard to tackle, but eventually you will.

I’ll be in America and miss her. I’m in Rwanda and I miss my family and friends.

You can’t have it all at once. But you can accept this, and try to find the best perspective possible.

After sharing this proverb, we said goodnight on the phone, as we do most nights. Though on this particular evening, she called back minutes later. Why? She was upset that I sounded sad. I told her I was stressed from weighing decisions about the future. Stressed about picking the right path. Stressed about the inevitable goodbyes that will come later this year.

“Heather, you choose what is best for YOU. Make the good decision for your heart. Continue to have¬†kwizera (trust) that God will show you the way.”

everything divine taught me


Divine was walking me home last night, giving me advice on how to handle a couple of different problems – one with school and one with a family in our community – when I greeted a drunk woman on the edge of the road with an enthused and far too chirpy “muraho!” (this means hello). Divine immediately slapped my wrist and though it was dark with only the stars in the grey-blue sky giving light, I could feel her disapproving eyes.

Heather. Umva! (listen) Me, everytime I tell you the culture of Rwanda, but sometimes you forget. If it is day to greet is very nice. No problem! But sherie (basically like saying my dear), if it is night, no! You go quickly and keep quiet.

I nodded but also chuckled because indeed, this was not the first time that she had told me this, or watched me as I naively said hello to creepy men, goats, or people on the road in the black of night. It’s not that I often roam the roads after the sun sets, but when I visit Divine I usually am late to get back home because we get to talking and lose track of time. Each and everytime however, she walks me all the way back to my house, a 35 minute walk. This is probably for two reasons: one, she enjoys my company and wants to show good Rwandan culture. But most likely, she’s a bit freaked out by my friendly-to-a-fault tendencies and wants to make sure I get home without any problem.

Divine always has a lot to tell me and I frequently have a lot of questions. She told me recently that she is well aware of how in Rwanda people “hide their thoughts and ideas” and that it can be “difficult to know a person”. I wanted to give a standing ovation with a rounds of applause; yes! I was overjoyed that she sees this too. Rwandans are great people; but they are considerably closed and don’t always project what they are actually feeling. Why do you think my best friend is a 20-year old student? Relating as strongly to anyone else in my community has proved difficult (most of the men just want to flirt it up, and the other women in my village are typically mamas just trying to get all their stuff done).

So, to combat this, Divine has opened herself up and has promised me that she will not hide anything from me. This was all on her own inititation you know, but Lord knows I appreciate it. Without a doubt in my mind, she’s the one person in Rwanda that I trust completely and will give me a straight answer even if I don’t want to hear it. She firmly believes in the “responsibilites of friendship” as she calls it and this includes sharing all things. In doing so, the girl has taught me a lot. Much more than she probably even realizes.

First, for a frame of reference, let me give you the basics.

Divine’s full name is MUKAMUGEMA Divine (in Rwanda, you capitalize the first name), but unlike a lot of Rwandans, Divine insists that she is just Divine. In church last week, they were reading a list of people going on a trip to a major Catholic celebration/revival/pentecost in another district and Divine was signed up to go. They called “Mukamugema” and I looked on as she didn’t even realize her name was being called. She prides herself on her various nicknames though, and they certainly are numerous: Mama GLOW, Moon, and Ibishymbo (beans). However, a lot of times we just call each other “sha” which is a term of endearment for close friends.

Divine was born in the Kirehe District in Rwanda, in the far Eastern Province, about 45 minutes from the Tanzania border. Her village is quite close to Nyarabuye, the location of a large Catholic church that had a major massacre during the Genocide. This location now serves as a major Memorial Site that people can visit. Divine was about 9 months old in 1994 when the Genocide occured. She told me that her mother carried her on her back and would hide in the forest every day.

Divine no longer has her father. He died in December 2011, after a battle with a “muscle disease.” Just recently she filled in more of the blanks on her past – about how her father had 4 wives as was the norm in old traditional culture – and how when he was sick, she took a year off from studying to be at home to help him. She told me that they had a good relationship and they shared a similar “culture” of loving to laugh. I didn’t realize fully until she explained all of this how much she misses her dad. But, she also has a deep love for her mother and a whole fun batch of family members – Medi, Joseph, and Donatha. I mentioned how Divine has the nickname of beans, and it was actually her family that started this whole food-name business. Her mom is pineapple, Medi is sweet potato, Joseph is avocado, and Donatha is doughnut. They christened me as plantain because I eat so much of them. And because her mother said my nose looks like one. Yeah, they are kind of a bunch of goof balls and when I first met them, I could instantly see why Divine is the way she is. Certainly, that’s the best part of meeting families of people you love, isn’t it? You better understand where they are coming from.

She loves to eat plantains and beans and has a soft spot for porridge made with corn flour. Divine is 20 years old and studying in Senior 3 (like the equivalent to 9th grade) but it’s not unusual because many Rwandans are late to finish their education. Maybe they stop because of money or a family problem for example, but eventually continue when they can work through things. It’s just what happens. She recently mentioned for the first time- after being friends for 1 and 1/2 years – that she is the first person in her family to study as far as Senior 3. All of her siblings before her dropped out before then. I don’t know why she didn’t tell me this earlier; I think it’s something she is very proud of but doesn’t want to appear boastful or having too much pride.

She is incredibly wise. Her way of thinking is rooted in a lot of traditional cultural values, but she balances these with progressive notions too. But not always. We sometimes have disagreements on situations because of the perspectives we carry. It’s healthy though, because we are both able to see why we think the way we do and it’s in our many conversations about life that I feel most American. Which most of the time, makes me quite proud. In her cultural values, I should note, she isn’t backwards or uncivilized. There are just some things in her life that carry heavy importance – cleanliness, respect for elders, and helping around the home – because that’s just the way it is. It’s very easy to judge the values of others, but if you take a step back and reevaluate your own particular ways of seeing the world, you can then realize how steeped these often are in the culture you originate from.

Her two greatest skills are understanding people and making people smile. She can walk into a room and light it up. It’s not that she is the most loud or obnoxious as I tend to be, rather, she is just absolutely hilarious. And when I say that she can understand people well it’s because she can know instantly how someone is feeling about a situation, can see things from multiple perspectives, and is never hasty when discussing something with someone. If you tell her something, she will think about it, and give you an answer when she has considered the words she wants to use. It’s not just in English that she does that; it’s in Kinyarwanda as well. I asked her about this once.

Divine, you have no fear to speak. But many times, you think before you use the words. You are choosing very carefully.”
Of course! It is very important to think about the ideas in your head before speaking. You want to use the good words.”

The great love in her life is God. She is very proud to be a Catholic and prays at church at least twice per week. I’m not exaggerating when I say that she is the most faithful person I know. She always trusts that things will get better and that God “will give us the answer.” When I was dating somebody who wasn’t a Christian, she was horrified. Not in a judgemental way at all (hello, her best friend is Muslim so she is very open on the religion spectrum), she just struggles to understand a worldview outside of God. God is her bread, her walls, her leader, her friend, her everything. Everything for Divine begins and ends with God.

She’s really weird and like I said, funny. She calls me sometimes at night and simply tells me to go outside and see how strong she is (she is referring to the times that we have a full moon; moon is one of her nicknames and so she gets excited).

I said I would give you the basics and this was as “basic” as I could keep it. I could talk about this girl for days if people would let me. I think I mention Divine on the phone with Suzi every time we talk on the phone. Which is nearly every day.

Now, for the school of Divine. The following are quotes/ideas/advice/nuggets of wisdom/general thoughts on life that Divine has mentioned to me at one time or another. I thought this would shed good light on the kind of character she has and exactly how important she has been to my time in Rwanda, as she has consistenly been my confidante.

The School of Divine

*”Heather, stop using agatsiko to describe the English word groups. It means very bad things.” (She was right. It’s an almost direct translation for gangs. Please know I was using this word in class, each and every time I wanted to the students to break off into groups. Awesome.)

*On why people change their minds, “if you are sad, you can say the things that aren’t true. But when you are strong again, your ideas change.

*“LIFE CONTINUES” – her answer to each and every life problem. It’s not to say that the problem isn’t worthy or that it doesn’t need to be dealt with, but her philosophy refers to the most basic of all life truths. There will be another day, life does go on.

*Sunflower flour is even better than peanut flour when cooking a delicious Rwandan sauce.

*In Rwanda, the parents’ wishes must be honored.

*”If you say yes, mean yes, and if you say no, mean no.”

*”Heather you have taught me that in the life, if you have compassion you can have a good heart and do good things. To be compassionate is important if you want to make God happy.

*”Laughing is the same as eating, breathing, and washing. You need it in your life.”

*”Heather, me I think, you have water. You have soap. Why don’t you wash very well? It is very nice to have pride in the clothes and the body to show that you have the self-confidence. You are beautiful girl, so remember to wash very nice.” – referring to the fact that sometimes my feet are not super clean.

*”Wow! To cook in America and Rwanda is different. But this food is nice, so congratulations. But for me, I don’t understand very well this food.” -referring to macaroni and cheese.

*BE PATIENT. BE PATIENT. BE PATIENT. (that’s really a Rwandan universal truth in all aspects of life)

*”For me, if I cry, there are tears in my heart. I don’t show them on the face.”

*”Your friend is the most important relationship. To be a good friend, you must share your problems and try to find good solutions.

*”Heather, when someone speaks you think it is true every time. Sometimes it’s not true. You need to remember to ask questions and try to find more information to be sure.”

*Hugging me after the terrifying motorcycle accident, “God will continue to give miracles. He never goes out.”

*”Fetching water is a sport.”

*Me: “How do you do all of these things every day?”
Divine: “I am strong! God gives me the chance to be strong in the mind and the heart and it is possible to do anything I try to do.

*On the heartache of missing another person, “ahhhh, it is very difficult. Even for me, I miss my family every day. But you have to believe! You have to believe you are together in the spirit.”

*”You cannot love someone by the things they give in the life. Yes, the things are nice. But you need the good action and behavior. You need to see the love they have for you in the heart. That is when you know where the love is coming from and that it is real.”

*On confronting people right away with a problem, “Teacher, in Rwanda, we don’t do that.

More than just her insights and eternal truths, the way she lives her life is a testament to the heart she has.

Her friendship IS one of the primary reasons I have stayed here in times of doubt. It’s not a relationship about me being a teacher, an American, a rich girl nor her being a student, a Rwandan, or a person coming from a poor family. Those things don’t matter. Finding something like this here (and anywhere, really) is GOLD and nothing BUT the hand of God. I can’t stress it enough.

Some people don’t get it:
why are you such good friends with a STUDENT?
Or on her end, is that white girl your sponsor or something?

People ask these things because they don’t understand. Because they don’t understand how it is possible.

But for every reason that a friendship like this couldn’t or shouldn’t work, well, it just does. I am treated with love, respect, and equality. Again, when in the situation that I’m in, this is a big deal. She knows me very very well.

She tells me about my “easy heart” (her words, not mine) which I have come to understand as being very sensitive. True.
She knows I don’t handle unhappiness well. True.
She calls me out when I try to solve a problem IMMEDIATELY as opposed to trying to feel out all of the alternatives. True again.
She understands that I value quality time above all other things. She laughs at my jokes and strange behavior. She teases me for all the questions I ask. And when I’ve had a crappy day, she knows just what to say and do to cheer me up.

Her ability to understand me to a strong degree blows my mind – I remember thinking when I first moved here, will I ever be able to BE MYSELF? Will I constantly be in the mode of “integration” and never fully open up to show all of who I am? Oh, and there’s the whole language barrier thing, but in the most rare of circumstances, a good friendship can overcome anything. And this one has. As for the language thing, well the girl is quite wonderful at speaking English, and even though my Kinyarwanda skills are quickly sinking like an overturned ship, we make a mixture of the two which we call “Kin-glish.” And you know what? It works.

I am more convinced than ever that when you need it most, God gives you exactly what you need. I needed a friend here in my little part of the world and I got way more than I could have ever imagined. I got a best friend that I deeply admire, love to be around, and makes this life enjoyable, happy, worth all of the difficulties, and just…exactly what I had hoped it would be. And more.

“I came to Ruramira and I didn’t know what my future was. My father died and I lost the money to go to the school by my home. I was sad. I missed my family. I didn’t have friends in this place. But, I saw you at the school, and thought maybe it would be okay.”

“I remember seeing you in the class and thinking, I want to know more about this girl. This girl, she’s different. She’s always smiling, always wanting to study very high, and has good ideas.”

Divine smiles and says with a great deal of conviction,

I think God brought us together. I think He wanted us to be best friends.”

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.