Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Into Rwanda

We left Uganda about a week after getting there. I was very excited to get to Rwanda because Jason had really fallen for the country and had made a lot of friends that he was excited for us to meet. Rwanda is a beautiful country. There are many mountains and the country is very green and tropical. The farmland was like patchwork fields of tea, coffee, and rice. There are littering laws in Rwanda, so there is no trash along the streets. The people seem to care about the environment and try to build gardens where they can.
Patchwork fields

Mountain top view

City in the trees

City street

Jason trekking for chimps

In Butare we stayed in a nice house that is called CASA House (Come and See Africa). CASA is the organization that brought us to the area. All of Jason's initial contacts were made with people in this organization. CASA's goal is to support students from the University of Rwanda in their spiritual lives. It is a place for teaching faith-based classes and a place for University students to gather and to serve. The house itself had three bedrooms, a nice sized living/dinning area, an office, a kitchen and a bath. It was located about a 20-30 minute walk from the center of town in a neighborhood called Mukoni.

View of the CASA House from the street

CASA House

View from CASA's backyard

There was a wonderful girl named Rose who cooked us 3 meals a day, cleaned the house, and did our laundry. She spoiled us. She was very sweet and a little shy. There was also a great guy named Jack who was the guard. He was friendly always smiling. Many of the homes in Rwanda have a wall or fence around them and often families hired guards to watch their homes. Jason really loved Jack and Rose because they were there from the start of his trip. When he was very sick they took care of him. They were special to him.

Jason with Rose

Sweet Rose doing our laundry

Rose lived in the house with Robina, you heard about Robina from Jason's emails. She is the "manager" of the CASA house. She was a "fire cracker". She was always on top of things and always busy meeting and greeting. She was a lady who could get things done; a true business woman. She had a wonderful sense of humor and was a lot of fun to hang out with.

Robina with a neighborhood family

Robina leading a morning devotional

Frank was also an employee of CASA. He lived with his wife and two young girls. He was Jason's interpreter and friend during the entire trip. He was one of those people that Jason was very anxious for us to meet. Frank was always smiling and laughing. He was great at telling funny stories and had a lot of friends.

Frank, making a joke as usual


Pastor David made a huge impression on me. He was a member of the CASA board. He was Anglican priest who quit his job to start a community service that catered to children and others in his surrounding neighborhood. He runs an after school program for children. He also has a program to teach sewing (tailoring) to women, so that they learn a skill in order to get a job. He has built this wonderful set of buildings that he uses to serve others in the community. I think the thing that impressed me the most was how wise and understanding he was. He seemed to understand our silly "American" ways. He respected everyone. He had a sense of quiet service that touched people. He, his wife and family were a true blessing to me.

Pastor David with children

Pastor David's garden

Outside the sewing class

Pastor David's neighbors

Pastor David's wife let me borrow traditional dress

Say cheese!

The other Americans on our team where Chris Foreman (the director of CASA) and Mark Shin another confused American like us. Mark was in his early 20s and just wanting to see and do something different when he decided to come on this trip. He was a lot of fun. Always positive and kinda quirky, he was a great friend and we really enjoyed him. Chris was a great guy, as well. He was busy doing his own mission work, so he was very understanding of us doing our own thing. He was funny and laid-back. We really enjoyed our entire "team".

Mark Shin, Mark Singleton, Chris Foreman, me, and Johnson (McCoy0)

Three amigos

Mark playing for the kids

Living through the Nile

The view from our personal porch at The Nile Porch

After a few days in Uganda, we were ready for a vacation. Really, Jason was ready. He had been in Rwanda for 4 weeks and was ready for some time away from his research and work. He had planned a 3-day holiday for Mark and I at the Nile River Explorers Camp. This camp was for people who were brave (and crazy) enough to raft the Nile. Most of the campers were backpackers and thrill seekers. I was just there because of my crazy husband. The camp ground had a dorm, tents with small beds (where Mark stayed) and some really nice private suites for those that wanted to pay more. Jason and I opted for the really nice private suites. This consisted of a big tent with two double beds, a sitting area, outdoor private bath, and a breathtaking view of the Nile from our own private porch. My favorite part was the hammock that overlooked the river.

Our private suite

Our front door. Can you see the bath to the right of the tent?

Inside the tent

My favorite place

Mark's modest place

After two nights of rest, we awoke early one morning not realizing that we were about to look death in the eye. We decided to do the grade 5 rapids (in the US you have to have certification to do grade 5). We went through a total of about 7 major rapids. The first two we cleared (only Mark did get thrown). The third, we did not. It was the longest rapid of the day and our boat turned over at the beginning. We all got a taste of what it would feel like to drown. We were under water instantly and the waves kept pushing us under so that we had to wait till the waves died down before our life jackets carried us up for air. I was terrified. We had a total of 8 people on the boat and it took us at least 20 minutes to find all of them. Needless to say I was a bit tense going through the rest of the rapids that day. But we made it through them all without falling out again. Afterwards we had a big meal and drank a few beers with our fellow rafters. It was quite a memory!

View of Nile river rafters from our room

Jason and Mark calming down after rafting

"Yes, honey, I still love you even after you made me do grade 5 rapids."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Starting in Uganda

I don't really know where to start in explaining our trip to Africa. It was incredible. It was heart breaking, overwhelming, inspiring, and exciting. Some days were extremely fast paced and high energy, others were slow and long. We would joke about how the trip was so "bi-polar". It started out in Uganda. I flew into Entebe and met Jason on our 4th anniversary. We stayed in a very nice hotel in Kampala. It over-looked Lake Victoria and had a restaurant that served gourmet food. It was a relaxing and romantic start to my stay in Africa.

View from the hotel

The next day Mark flew in and we "enjoyed" a more typical hotel room. Most hotels we stayed in where small and dark. They had a foam mattress and mosquito nets. The floors and walls were all cement. The bathrooms usually had a toilet with a shower head right next to the toilet. Most of the showers I took involved water getting all over the entire bathroom because it was tiny and there was no shower curtain. Often there was no shower stall; just a drain in the floor.

The day after Mark came in we went to the Entebe Zoo. It was so much fun feeding the monkeys. We came upon a whole bunch of monkeys in the park. At first I was excited to have one come so close as it touched my shoe. Little did I know that a few minutes later, we would be having a popcorn picnic with them.

"Look, a monkey!"

Touching my foot

Sweet little one

There is plenty for everyone!

Popcorn picnic


The next day we went to Kampala where we stayed in a hotel in an area of town that I wouldn't recommend to anyone. In fact I would recommend staying out of Kampala all together. Kampala is the capital of Uganda. It has about a million people and just as many vehicles: cars, buses, and bota botas (motorcycles). There are no traffic laws (can you imagine driving around a big city with no lights or stop signs?) There is also no littering laws so the city is extremely dirty. Crowded, dirty and overwhelming...that is Kampala.

View of Kampala intersection

Even though the city was stressful, the people we met there were amazing. Gordon was a friend that took street kids into his own home and was working on starting an organization for orphans in the city of Jinja. He took us to several churches on Sunday morning where we were the guests of honor. Jason and Mark both "preached" and I said a few words to the congregation (my first of several public speaking events). The second church we attended was the church that Jason had been to several weeks earlier, the one that he mentioned in his emails. It was the church that had really touched him. They were very excited to see Jason again. They had traditional drums and dancing, it was a lot of fun. We felt very welcomed in both churches.


The first church we attended (on the left)

Inside the first church

Church members

Inside the second church


One of the most touching things that we did on the trip was to visit Gordon's projects. The first was the program for orphans. They had just completed the building and they wanted us to see it. The children involved with the program performed several songs for us. There was also a group of girls that did a traditional dance for us. The children were very talented. We felt honored.
The new building

The children greet us

Cha, cha, cha

Mark showing his dancing skills

Next we visited a school for poor children. Children have to pay to attend school in Uganda and Rwanda. Those who cannot afford to pay for school do not get to attend. This school was for community children who could not afford to go elsewhere. The school really was special to me because it started at pre-kindergarten age (the age I work with and love). The children were very sweet. I really enjoyed seeing the young ones.

The school building

Teacher workroom and library

Learning Vowels

This classroom was added onto recently.

School kitchen


Jason talking to the students

Listening to the children perform songs and poetry

Cheering for their new soccer ball

Sweet girl

Meeting the crowd

Shaking hands

Visiting Uganda was an experience that I will never forget. There was a lot of things that were difficult to see but it was important for me to see these things. It increased my awareness and understanding of how other people live; the things they have to endure and the difficulties. Nothing is easy in Uganda and it made me so thankful for the comforts that I have. We are spoiled in America. We have so much. I now have a deeper appreciation for my home.