Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jiminy!...there’s a cricket in my room (actually 2, plus 2 spiders and a roach)

I grew up in the woods, so I am not a stranger to the occasional critter or creature lurking about; however they seem to flock to my room in Rwanda! I’m getting better at dealing with them, and as long as one of the local spitting cobras doesn’t slip through the cracks, I think I’ll be just fine with whatever crawls off of Noah’s ark and into my room. (to the right is a picture of me outside my Rwandan home)

Today marks my 2nd week in Rwanda, which is hard to believe. On one hand the two weeks have flown by, however each day has seemed to last forever, so it’s a bit of a contradiction. Regardless, my formal seminar training is over, and the students arrive next week, which is when my job will truly begin. Stepping away from what was my “real world” and stepping into this new life for a year, it has become glaringly obvious that had the opportunity presented itself earlier, I should have done this long ago. It is all about timing though, and this time I got the timing perfect. Once you get away from a situation that feels too habitual and stale, you can really start to peel away the layers of life that had been repressed and ensnared. My mind already feels clearer, my body feels lighter, and if it’s possible, I can already sense a little bit of happiness peeking out from within me.

Aside from the obvious observation of finding critters sharing my space and observing my renewed sense of freedom, I have seen quite a few things that have made me stop and take notice.

  • Observation 1: Personal Space – it doesn’t exist here. I noticed this the first day, and every day since for that matter. The first few times, it can be a little off-putting; however I’ve grown used to it and have come to realize that this is a very familiar and comfortable culture when it comes to people getting close to one another. It is not uncommon to meet someone and for them to put their cheek right up next to yours, or their hand on your back. There is also a lot of touching, not in a lascivious way, but in a tender, caring way. The people here truly care for one another. For instance, when you meet someone, you will either do the triple-cheek “kiss” or the multi-level hand/arm touch-shake.
  • Observation 2: Rain = Stop – When it rains, it does in fact pour, but people here also stop what they are doing and stay inside. Right now we are finishing up the short rain season, with the short dry season up next. The intense all-day rain begins in April, and lasts about 2 months, and then there is a long stretch of it being dry. The 2 rainy seasons enable farmers to produce more product than locales where there is only one rainy season, so it’s a good thing, however I am just amazed how people just stay put and stay out of the rain when it moves in over a certain area. I followed suit this past weekend and camped out in a coffee shop for a few hours while the sky opened up outside. When in Rome…
  • Observation 3: Goat – I have gone through many phases when it comes to food. When I was a kid, I LOVED ribs and steak, and chicken livers. After being stuck on I-80 in Nebraska in 1999 next to a cow truck, and shortly thereafter passing a slaughter house, I stopped eating meat. I even became vegan for a short bit. Nowadays I only eat chicken…well, that was until I got to Rwanda. Now it seems that I’m back to being a vegetarian. Rwandan chickens are not like American chickens, and after hearing my friend Miki relay how he bought a live chicken in Rubona and watched it get massacred, only to find that there was barely any meat on the bones, I pretty much lost my chicken appetite, at least while I’m in Rwanda. One thing that would serve me well was if I ate goat because it is served EVERYWHERE. Every picnic, every restaurant, every little stand in the smallest of rural towns has goat bruchettes (see picture to the left). No, I haven’t taken the plunge, but give me 8 months when my mouth really starts to water, and my stomach really starts to growl, and then we’ll talk.
  • Observation 4: Family – Moving around as many times as I have, I’ve been exposed to a lot of living and work environments that consider themselves a “family.” Like families, they were each dysfunctional in their own right, but looking back, I now realize that they were each much more of a community than a family. I have only been here 2 weeks, but I have already started to uncover the difference between a true living and/or working family vs. a community. Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village epitomizes what it means to be a family. It is a village that prides itself on core values, a mission, a philosophy, and an overall understanding of, and appreciation for teamwork, cooperation, flexibility, support, and affection. Last night I was told a Rwandan proverb that translated into, “a tree by itself does not a forest make” and that sealed the deal for me. Although this journey is mine alone, I am not alone throughout this journey. I am surrounded by wonderful people. (to the left is a picture of my Big Sister and me, and below is my Rwandan Mamá and me)
This afternoon we wrapped up our training with a picnic celebration to celebrate the beginning of the next phase of this journey, and to celebrate the creation of a new family. Each of the Fellows was assigned to be a “cousin” in a family, and we found out who our Rwandan Mamá is going to be, and who our Big Brother/Sister was going to be. Being nearly 10,000 miles away from my family in the states, and a life away from my brother Kurt, it is so important to me to have that kind of foundation and support surrounding me right now. This afternoon I felt the love, I observed the bonds emerging, and all I could do was smile and tear up at the same time.


  1. I enjoy reading this... and I am happy for you, this seems like something that will continue to reward you through-out life!

  2. Hey Barre, I just wanted to let you know I'm following along and truly enjoying the updates you are posting. Thanks for taking the time to write them! ENJOY! :) Amie H.

  3. The weeks & months will fly by, but the days (often) seem to last forever. And, for the record, I too wasn't eating meat when I arrived in Rwanda. But it wasn't long before I found myself in the bar in Rubona eating a brochette. Once you go goat, you don't go back. Brochettes are DELICIOUS! :)


  4. Yes, this time you got the timing perfect:) So glad that you have a Big Sister and a Mama in Rwanda:)

  5. Fantastic experiences, Barre! So glad to hear things are going well. Thank God you found coffee! (I can live with cold water.... but without coffee??? I don't think so.) Thanks for sharing!!

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  7. goat meat is awesome!! you've definitely got to try it out!
    -Ali B.