Wednesday, March 21, 2012

leave this world better than how you found it

My brother Kurt was a brilliant research scientist who lived life full-force, without regret, and without hesitation. He seized every opportunity to do all he could to make a positive difference in his life, and positively impact those he loved, as well as those he had yet to meet. He was the perfect combination of strength and bravery, mixed with love and emotion. He was a mama’s boy in the best way possible, a guy’s guy, his wife’s best friend, and his sister’s fearless protector. He was what so many twice his age have yet to achieve. He was balanced and level-headed, a harder worker than anyone I have ever met, and a man who loved with all of his heart and soul. He lived his life well, full of passion, and lived it to the fullest. He lived his life right, and when it came time for his life to end, it ended by him being who he was - an athletic outdoor enthusiast.

I am publishing this post on what would have been my brother Kurt’s 34th birthday. For those close to him, there will always be a hollow cavity of emptiness that can never be filled now that we live in a world without him. One of his mentors whom I have built a friendship with said to me the other day that he sees that I have come to terms with acknowledging that void in the way that I am “making transformative changes in my own life, that in turn are making measurable differences for others.” He went on to say that he can “hardly think of a better or more appropriate way to ensure that all of the good things that Kurt embodied continue to influence the world in a positive way,” in reference to the work I am currently doing in Rwanda. Kurt left the world far too early - nobody should be deprived of reaching the age of 34, but I have to agree with his mentor that when Kurt left this world, it was a little bit better than how he found it. His mentor said that, “too many people who live many more years than Kurt did, cannot make the same claim.” Kurt made this world better through the work he did, and because of the person he was. His mentor acknowledged that now, inspired by that, I am most certainly doing the same.

The point of this post is simple – each of us needs to be cognizant of our ability to positively impact the world around us. Inspired by the messages conveyed to me in my exchange with Kurt’s mentor, coupled with the some of the inspiration that I have found here in Rwanda, I realize that each of us has the opportunity to make this world better than when we found it. To take that sentiment a step further, I would dare to say that not only do we have the opportunity, but each of us has an obligation to make this world better. Each of us has a certain immeasurable power, a talent, the ability to inspire, and the means to make a positive impact. If we use our gifts wisely, as a collective whole, we can have a considerable influence. Think of the ripple effect and how even just one small gesture, one small act of kindness can have a monumental effect on an individual, a group, a community, etc. It is amazing how a smile can brighten the darkest of days, how a soft touch on someone’s arm can convey that you truly care about them, and how an uncomplicated “hello” can make someone not feel so invisible. Small actions yield large dividends. In the Rwandan culture, it is considered rude to walk by someone and not acknowledge them. It does not have to be a complex conversational exchange, but a simple “muraho,” or “mwaramutse” will do just fine. The point is to acknowledge one another’s presence and existence in this world. In addition to acknowledging peoples’ presence around you, I also urge you to recognize your feelings and express them to those you hold near and dear to your heart. You have likely heard it time and time before, but if you love someone, don’t hesitate to tell them. Never be too busy, too preoccupied, or too rushed to get off the phone – speak up! A few years ago I started telling my brother that I loved him every time we spoke on the phone. Being the proud, strong man that he was, he always sort of scoffed at my silly exchange of words, but never failed to say, “I love you too, Boo.” Maybe somewhere in my capricious mind I knew that there would only be so many chances to tell Kurt “I love you,” I don’t know, but I have to say that I sure am glad I told him when I had the chance. Each time you have the opportunity to make a small, positive impact on this world through action or word, do not hesitate – do it, and do it with full gusto, full of life, full of passion, and full of meaning. Don’t waste your life, don’t waste the moments, don’t waste your love.

This week in my Village in Rwanda, the first year students chose inspirational people, after which their houses will be named. It is quite a process, involving many hours of research, debate, and discussion. Everyone from Steve Jobs to Mother Theresa to Dr. Livingstone was discussed. One of the boys who is quite close to me asked what I would name my house, and who my inspirational figure would be. Without hesitation, I said my brother Kurt.

I have always looked up to my big brothers and fought to achieve even a slice of their success in life, which for the Frankel boys, is plentiful. In a family full of direct, goal-oriented brothers, I am the whimsical, free spirited sister who has always chosen to take the path less traveled, and has regularly opted to create my own path through the jungle. To think that I am even coming close to impacting the world in a similar manner to the many ways Kurt influenced his world, is breathtaking. He is my inspiration, and if you are searching for someone to emulate, someone to motivate you and give you an incentive to make a positive difference, feel free to share my inspiration and think of Kurt.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

oompa loompa feet and picking your nose

It still catches me off-guard at times when I stop and focus on the fact that I am living in Rwanda. I feel like I have been in a bit of a daze since July, and the reality of life catches me by surprise every once in awhile when I emerge from my state of bemusement each day. The process of grieving has had me at times feeling like I am floating on a cloud, and at times feeling like I am stuck in a flimsy rowboat at sea with 20 foot swells crashing down upon me. Each day is a new adventure with respect to facing my own personal challenges, learning my job and the ways of the world in the Village and in Rwanda, and adapting to a new life in a new world. This past week I started taking note of things that no longer seem odd or out of place, and I realized then that I have settled into my new life here and become accustomed to that which would be unusual/extraordinary/unheard of back in America. I decided to make a list.

You know you’ve become a “local” when the following things don't strike you as odd:

1. Seeing someone carrying a machete down the street

2. Seeing someone using a machete to cut the grass

3. Seeing bicycles used as modes of transportation for bundles of bananas and pineapples, instead of people

4. Seeing babies dangling off of the backs of mothers in the street, held on by a piece of material and nothing more

5. Seeing children play with sticks and tires as their main form of entertainment

6. Being followed by gaggles of school children any time I walk anywhere outside the confines of my Village

7. Cramming myself into a “bus” holding 19, when it was only meant to hold 14

8. Smelling the ripe smells of Rwanda and not thinking anything of it

9. Keeping my mouth shut as I shower, so as not to ingest the tap water

10. Using bottled water to clean my toothbrush each day

11. Drinking tea when I feel pangs of hunger

12. Using fresh mint, lemongrass, and sage to make my own tea

13. Seeing a spider the size of a tarantula on the wall and not uttering a ear-splitting scream

14. Realizing that after washing clothes, they aren’t really “clean,” but being content with the fact that they are cleaner than they were

15. Staying inside when it’s raining outside, just like the Rwandese do – why get wet when you can just wait it out indoors?

16. Seeing all the clothing that Americans donate worn throughout Rwanda – one man’s trash is another’s treasure, right? I’m still waiting to find a t-shirt from my own personal donation bin

17. Seeing people spit on a regular occasion – watch where you walk!

18. Seeing people (kids and adults alike) clean their noses with their fingers…catch my drift?

19. Seeing people sweeping the roads and sidewalks to keep each city and town clean and free of garbage and debris…this country is immaculate!

20. Seeing little kids carrying HEAVY jerry cans full of water for miles. I’m strong, but I could barely carry one across the Village grounds!

21. Seeing people patiently waiting in line at the local water well pump, waiting to fill their jerry cans to use at home

22. Being told “give me your number” by nearly every Rwandan man I sit next to on the bus – they don’t ask, they order

23. Seeing more goats than dogs, more cows than horses. There are actually only 4 horses in all of Rwanda, and I’ve actually seen them!

24. Seeing cows, goats, and chickens roaming freely down the roads – you better hope your bus driver has fast reflexes!

25. Sitting at a local pub, realizing that the “screams” being heard are not that of a child, but a goat getting its last sound out prior to being slaughtered out back and made into brochettes for those dining. Yes, it was an AWFUL realization!

26. Dressing in layers, knowing that although it’s really cold in the morning, it sure will heat up during the day and then drop in temperature again once the sun goes to sleep.

27. Applying sunscreen as part of a daily morning routine. It may be cloudy out, but the sun is hiding behind those clouds, cooking all those who mill about below on the ground.

28. Oompa-loompa feet - the dirt here is orange, so by the end of the day, my feet take on the look of an oompa-loompa. No worries, a good scrub in the shower brings them back to a semi-normal hue. Quite honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll ever have truly clean feet again in my life.

29. Realizing that NOTHING ever goes as planned, so letting go of control and giving up the concept of having a concrete plan is a good thing

30. White rice is delicious and a meal unto itself

*BONUS: Seeing Rwandese wear the same outfit two days in a row - who says they can't or shouldn't, right?

Things to note from the past 2 weeks:

· Rainy season is upon us in Rwanda, so the season has changed and I wish I had more cardigans with me.

· I found that when people come up to me and start screaming Kinyarwanda at me, the closest I can imitate them and make them understand what it sounds like in my head is to recite the state song to them – "Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California…" The Kinyarwanda screaming stops and the perplexed look is right on target. I don’t look Rwandan, so I’m a little dumbfounded as to why people think that I am fluent without asking me first.

· When the girls in my family were asked to describe me as part of an activity, among other things, they described me as, “brown.” I guess my freckles have joined together and I look brown to them, more so than white. Amusing :)

· Highlight: the Village Founder arrived last night and I was lucky enough to escort her into the dining hall this afternoon to see the kids for the first time this school year. Immediately, a round of applause broke out and everyone in the dining hall (all 650 people) had a look of awe on their face and a huge smile. It was a breathtaking and touching moment. One person really can change the world, one idea at a time, and Anne Heyman and this Village are prime examples of that.

· Lowlight: I often wondered what would happen if I was on a moto taxi and it started to rain – would the moto park under a tree, or find some place out of the rain to pause? Nope, I found out first-hand last weekend that the moto continues on in the rain, even as the rain intensifies and it feels as though someone is pelting you with a million paint balls at once. It is not exhilarating or fun, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

· I have received a few inquiries about sending mail to me. Mail is great and makes my day! For those of you interested in sending me snail mail of any size and making me smile, here is my address:

Barrett Frankel

Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

PO Box 7299

Kigali, Rwanda

*2 things to note – 1) snail mail takes a LONG time to reach me – 3-4 weeks for an envelope, 3-4 months for a package; 2) please let me know if you do send me something so that I can have our driver check the PO Box, as he does not check it on a regular basis. Mwaramutse!