Mamajojo's Muse

"Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say; here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58: 6-11

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16

Yesterday we said farewell to the Tellys and Lauren Kories... just barely! We made a casual, somewhat late arrival at the airport, and JUST got them checked i before the time that Ethiopian Air requires all passengers to arrive. We had yet another adventure at the craft market, for those last items that we needed for gifts. Then a lunch at a local place that took some time, and then a ten minute sprint to fit all the new treasures in their already snug baggage, so when we pulled into the airport, we didn't even get to hug them goodbye! But what a fine time we have had together. And what a true blessing to have such a great team for Rwanda!

I will back up, to describe the few days we had in the game parks. Everyone enjoyed the first night at Tarangire Tented camp. Amy and I had the usual lux tent, with soft comfy beds, warm blankets, and hot tiled showers and flush toilets. But obey the rules and STAY IN YOUR TENT after the lights go out at 10 or 11. We had great proof that wild animals roam near the tents: a scattering of elephant poop right outside our tent door! But because Diane, Ally, and Lauren were three, they had a cottage at the very end of the line of tents, overlooking the cliff and endless plain of the park. The
As usual, all were surprised at the crystal, linens, and great food at the open air dining kibanda.

The Keefes had joined us by then: Elaine, Bill, and Sydney and Meghan, both of whom were students of mine at Central. I quizzed them at dinner one night, overlooking Ngorongoro Crater, and only Meghan, who had me this last year, remembered Plato's Cave! Ah, well, maybe something else stuck. All 5 girls got along well, and so for a few drives, they had one car, and the adults had the other. We got great photos of them standing in the car ahead of us, taking pictures of the wildlife along the way. They are all very pretty, and look like a poster for Park East African tours. And they laughed and stayed up late, playing games and talking, at most of the parks.

There has been less rain this year, so I saw that there were fewer animals in all the parks than I have seen before, and I suspect they had already moved on in search of water and more food. It was very dry, but still very lovely in a golden hazy dry season way. The lake at Ngorongoro Crater, which is alkaline, was pure, bright white, and the clouds dribbled over the edge of the crater as the sun burned them off by noon. My favorite place on earth, I think, other than 98 Old Bethlehem Road.

The Keefes have had a few extra days in Serengeti, and we talked to them this morning by phone, from the Masai Village they were visiting. Meanwhile, Tellys and Lauren and Amy and I came back from Ngorongoro on Thursday, by way of the orphanage near Lake Manyara, and a smaller Masai village along the main road. As usual we paid $20 each to visit the boma, to be greeted by the young warriors, who have passed their circumcision event, and danced and sang for us, flirting with the girls and teaching them to do the jumping that the young men usually do. Lauren held back with her camera, and is taller and looks older, so i think they saw her as an adult, but Amy and Ally joined right in, and each had a marriage proposal. Amy's second, I believe. I happily videotaped the whole dance, or so I thought. Nope... it was on portrait setting. I will kick my self forever for that one!! Got some great portraits, though!

Then back to that great market in Arusha. The girls got a great start on their kanga collections, and we all bought a dozen earrings, for about a dollar a pair. And bags, beads, and lots of fun gifts. On Friday, my payday, I needed to go to an ATM to get more cash, but didn't notice that the electricity was not on. So in goes the card. Not much response, so i pushed more. Still no response. But the card was stuck, and I could touch the edge of it, but not retrieve it. OH, HELP! Another dumb mistake! But our brilliant driver/guide, John, disappeared for a minute while I stood guard, and found a safety pin somewhere, that he bent into a tiny hook. I was happy to see that card! off to Barclays Bank, which fortunately has a generator. Electricity is terrible here, in Arusha, and is only turned on a few hours a day. We have had to time our hot showers carefully, and sometimes have missed!

Yesterday, Friday, the Telly's left, and I went along to the airport with them, but Amy stayed safely at the guest house, sleeping. The strange food? Malaria prevention tablets? Something has been bothering her stomach. We went to the druggist today, who happens to be an expert on the medication she is taking, and told her to take it at a different time of day. She is SO happy to be here, so it is a terrible shame that this stomach think drains her energy every few days. But no fever or other symptoms, so I think we just have to fix diet and medication time. Don't worry, Mom! She is still giggling and greeting everyone in sight in Swahili now, instead of Kinyarwanda, and still wants to stay forever. And I STILL haven't let her on a motorcycle!!! Not for lack of trying... But she will have to do that on your watch.

So here we are, in this lovely, peaceful guest house, relaxing and reading, catching up on journals, having tea in the garden, and reading her summer book aloud: The Once and Future King. Great choice for a magical trip. n>

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 12

No internet here, but I am sitting in our tent, well zipped up and secure, hearing all the morning birds and listening to our noisy neighbors. Sound carries, and we spent the night with two hacking, snoring, loudly conversing Frenchmen! But Amy and I still got a good night's sleep in our tent. The two beds were very comfortable, and the blankets just right to be cozy against the cool night. there is a zipped section for a flush toilet, hot tiled shower, and a sink and mirror, with guest soaps wrapped in banana leaf covers. The electricity was turned off at some time in the night, but I didn't know it. We had a good dinner, candles and crystal, in the dining room. Spinach stuffed ravioli, fresh veggies, a salad I didn't let them eat, and a dessert buffet and tea/coffee. And leek/potato soup as an appetizer, with fresh rolls. Roughing it! There is a sign we all obeyed, NOT to go out of our tents after the lights are out. We are blessed with elephant poop in front of our little porch, and I heard an animal sound last night that I never heard, by the side of my bed, but we had an armed guard all night, so felt secure.

Amy skipped dinner. Her stomach is still not right. But as soon as she feels pretty much better, she will try something interesting, like the deep fried fish tail that came with Jubilant's Chinese food at the Arusha restaurant! She doesn't have a fever or headache or any signs of a real disease, and I think she is just reacting to all the different food and water. We have bottled water everywhere, but who knows... Maybe the goat legs she ordered last week?!! She was the best linguist last week in Rwanda, and still remembers her greetings, but is now working on Swahili. I managed to keep her off a motorcycle so far! But she is enjoying standing up in the safari cars, wind in her hair, snapping pictures of all the game we see.

I was so happy to get Diane, Ally, and Lauren back yesterday. They stayed with Diane's friend Grace, and his family, in Kampala, Uganda, and attended a wedding. What a fun experience! I was jealous that they drove to the lake and saw the absolute source of the Nile River. There are springs that bubble up and join lake water to start a river, and that is the actual source that all those explorers were searching for. I have to get to Uganda some day!

The Tumaini Guest house is a fantastic place to stay in Arusha. To drive there, go to the very end of the new road to Nairobi, still under construction, and turn left at the barriers and rocks. Go down unmarked, narrow dirt "streets", left, right, swing to the right, left, swing to the right, and look for the sign at the locked gate. It is a poor area, with little shops and goars running in the street, but behind the gate is a manicured lawn, lovely flowering trees and shrubs, and a perfect little guest house that has 8 rooms bed and breakfast, and a well appointed conference room that seats 40. Andy, the owner and designer of the place, is a cousin of Jubilant's, and a gracious host. I hope we can stay there any time we are in Arusha.

So, today we eat at 7:30, do a morning game drive here in Tarangire, and then, after a box lunch at the gate of the park, we drive to Lake Manyara and tour there all afternoon. I have been letting the girls take most of the pictures, but today I will see what I can catch!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

July 11

Back in Tanzania!! And so happy to be here. We arrived Sunday at lunch time, and we are staying in a wonderful guest house, at Jubilant Wera's cousin's place: quiet and comfortable, and the best hot shower I have had on this trip, after a 10 minute wait for the hot to turn on. Electricity in TZ is worse than ever, but things are peaceful. The electricity seems to be the most pressing political issue!

Emmanuel Wera met us at the airport, and took us to the guest house while his dad, Jubilant, and mom, Rose, were taking three young kids back to boarding school. They lost both parents recently, and so the Wera's have had a very full house. Now they are safely and happily in a good school, and will come home here for holidays.

They took us to an EXCELLENT Chinese restaurant, Darrell, you would have loved this one. I really enjoy talking to them and hearing about the business, and they were happy to hear Mike finished his school designs. Jubilant thinks he may have found another sponsor for the school project, and would like to try to go ahead with it. ALARM was also glad to get a copy of the plans.

Soon Amy and I will enjoy an African breakfast here, while the Keefe's sleep for a couple of hours. Then we will take them to the marvelous craft market in Arusha and on to the airport to pick up the Telly's and to Tarangire National park, to stay at the rather luxurious tented camp. I am looking forward to that. From there to Lake Manyara lodge, and that park, and then to Ngorongoro Crater, and a tour of that wonder of the world We will be back in Arusha on the 15th, i think, and i may not be able to blog again until then. Just picture herds of wildlife, wide plains and tall cliffs, winding roads up escarpments and a sunken volcano full of every animal but giraffes (not enough trees).

I am enjoying just riding around seeing wildly painted minivans and little shops like the "Wall Mart" we passed yesterday. So good to be in Tanzania!

Friday, July 8, 2011

July 10

Happy Birthday, Darrell!! Wish you were here to celebrate in Rwanda! I'll make a cake when we get home...

Yesterday was very busy, but very productive. The night before I met with Nathan, the head of the ALARM office here in Rwanda. I know that contributions from the US must be down, with our recession, and we talked about ways to make a profit at the office here, so that they can become self-sufficient in their day to day expenses, which must be high. There is the beginning of a two story building here, that is stopped until funds come in, and other spaces that are not used efficiently, so Nathan would like to expand the one meeting room in a large all-purpose building, and rent it out when ALARM is not using it for its ministry gatherings. Part of it is unused smaller storage spaces and rooms, that could make it better for large groups.
I suggested a shop for ALARM visitors and embassy and AID personnel to buy gifts etc, and also a used book swap, in this town that doesn't yet have Barnes and Noble. Just last week, a visitor had wished for the same shop, so Nathan and Bosco and I brainstormed some ideas. Diane had wished that she could buy a traditional dress in Rwanda,but had to leave for the airport right after our time in IWE. I think many visitors don't have time to go to the market, and may be intimidated by that atmosphere, and so clothing, tee shirts, jewelry, maps of Rwanda, etc. would be a good business. They could open it to other groups on "market days," maybe 2 Saturdays every month, and invite local craftsmen and even furniture makers and plant providers to come sell. it would bring in the community to ALARM. Nathan suggested not just an adult used book stall for adults, but a library for local kids to come, sit and read if they want. That would also welcome in the community. All the book project would take would be spreading the word to visitors to bring high-interest English books in each suitcase. The schools have recently switched to English, rather than French, for all instruction, so more English books would be in demand.
Then it dawned on me that writing picture books about every day Rwandan life would be good too, as tourist gifts for kids back home, and for English practice here. So yesterday afternoon we went to a coupled of publishing offices to see what it would involve to produce ALARM's own kids' books for sale. I made contact with a lovely young woman at one office, and also told her about Highlights' Foundation, that supports new writers and invites internationals to their wonderful conference in Chautauqua. She was very interested. Maybe I could get a couple of people from Highlights to do a conference here?! Valerie spoke only French and Kinyarwanda, but explained through Bosco's interpretation that there is no culture of reading here and that their company, started by a Swiss/Rwandan couple, is trying to inject that reading culture here starting with children. What a great movement to get involved with!
Yesterday we also visited a tiny Vocational school about half an hour from here, that Joanna and I had seen 4 years ago when we were here. They teach electricity, welding, masonry, engine repair, and driver's ed, for people who then can pass an exam and get a learners' permit, for a job as a driver. But they need some basic equipment like a big power saw, a bigger better welding machine, and about $300 worth of wiring and electrical supplies that would hold up for three years of practice electrical work. I want to try to help them apply for the same Ambassador's special self-help fund that bought a generator for our project back in Tanzania. One grant would change the whole nature of their school and the number of street kids they can serve. They give free vocational ed to the very neediest kids, who are identified by local churches, local government, and their own graduates recommendations. But they can't serve as many as need this training. They also need a used car that they estimate would cost about $2,600. That would be worked on by the students, and serve as a profit making taxi for the community, for emergency runs to the hospital, etc. Right now the engine repair students work on old engines in the yard of the one room school!
I also spent precious time translating the story of Emmanuel, who came from Burundi to see me. Many of you have contributed to his education, and he will graduate from college in January, with a degree in Sociology and the desire to counsel those who were hurt by genocide, war, and even slavery to rebel groups, as he was for 8 years. He has a miraculous story that I hope to turn into a book!
Time to go to market. Amy and I want to scope out products for the new ALARM shop... and do some shopping of our own!
I have been reading The Lord of the Rings again, and feel like we are on our own "quest" here. I fall asleep in the glow of my ipad, with Tolkien's hobbits in my dreams!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

July 7

After 4 years, the compound at the ALARM center in Kigali has grown, and so has the city around it. Rwanda truly is thriving in many ways: great technology and communications, relatively stable government, and a very low crime rate. I feel very safe here, and with all the locks and window bars at the guest house, VERY safe in this place! We are in a two story octagonal building with a steep tin roof and a round glassed in observatory at the top, to look down the hill at Kigali and up at the amazing stars. On a clear night, the milky way is like a road across the sky, and you can see shooting stars every ten minutes if you watch closely.

Yesterday we left IWE, and it was a sad parting: we all would have loved to stay longer! The girls were so cooperative as we interviewed them. They shared their histories with us: most have lost one or both parents, to genocide, AIDS, malaria, or sometimes desertion. The genocide was building from 1990 to 1994, and then in April it hit full force, with the planned murder of about a million citizens, 25% of their population. These girls were infants or toddlers then, and several told me their mothers were still pregnant with them when their fathers were killed. Some of them told how, as young children of 3 or 4, they were wounded on the head by panga knives and left for dead. Some were in the churches where members ran for safety, only to be killed by grenades and bullets, and these children were found still wrapped in khanga's, tied to their mothers' backs, protected by their bodies.

As Rwanda thrives and moves ahead in development, these orphans, and those widowed and disabled by horrific injuries, are usually the ones left behind in poverty. That knowledge now has many faces for us: Angel, Carine, Odette, and the others. Many of the girls have distant family, siblings, grandparents, or one parent to go home to on breaks, but have no source for support or school fees. It is possible to sponsor these students, and have a writing relationship with them, for about $1,000 a year, which covers all room, board, uniforms and supplies. About 79 of the 190 have sponsors, and a handful are from two-parent families in the area who can pay, and just want their girls at this excellent secondary school. Sponsors are needed if you are interested!

Each of the girls told me her dream for the future. Many said doctor or lawyer, and many added that, then they could make a good salary, and use it to start an orphanage. Two of the girls told me they want to be airline pilots! All of them seem to believe that now, with an education at IWE, they will succeed in their dreams. It seems that they will! We were invited back to the school for the very first graduation in October, which will be a pretty miraculous event. All of the 12 or so graduates want to go on to college, and if their sponsors continue with them, they can.

Our goodbye ceremony was another "Oprah moment," when we were honored with gifts and speeches and choir songs and traditional dancing. I gave out prizes for the best stories that they had turned in to me in the 4 days together, and it was fun to make the presentation. First place received an new journal, funky purple pen (thanks to whoever left it in my classroom!) and a little bag of bath gel and lotion.

Then they invited me to speak, as I knew they would. It was hard to hold back tears after sharing such sensitive stories and getting to know the girls. Ally sat with Angel, her new friend, and the rest of us sat at a front table with a table cloth, like dignitaries. I looked around the room at all those lovely faces that have gone through so much, so young, and thanked them for the honor of working with them. When they asked me to pray, I said that I usually pray with eyes closed, but that I wanted to see the blessing that I was thanking God for, so I walked around the room to the teachers, girls, our team, and the headmistress and chaplain who watch over the girls so well, and prayed for each of them. It was HARD not to cry, and I couldn't look at the rest of the team, because they were in tears, (especially Diane, but EVEN ALLY!) but I made it through and was glad to be able to call down a blessing on them all.

Then we walked down the dusty red path to the hotel for the last time (last time to see the "ox" and establish that it really is udderly a long horn cow), and past all the cute kids who ran out to greet us each time. We got lots of good kid pics! We had a quick dinner at the hotel, rice and cooking bananas in gravy, Mchicha, fresh pineapple, and packed quickly for the drive back to the city.
Oh, and I must mention that Amy wanted to try something new at dinner the night before, so she ordered "Goat Legs." They were all out, so she got goat brochette (shish kabob) These girls will try anything! Impressive!

That afternoon the city seemed so full and hurried after a few days in a village! We drove around the hills of Kigali, where the downtown is on a hilltop, and the US embassy looks like a fortress, and went to the national genocide memorial. The guidebook I bought actually has all the pictures and information in it from the exhibit, if anyone wants to learn about that event, and then there were lovely gardens all around the building, and large slabs of concrete, mass graves for the 250,000 that died in Kigali in that three month period. There were roses planted all around them, and sculptures and vine shaded pathways. The most wrenching part is the last few rooms, that have huge portraits of children, smiling over soccer balls and birthday cakes, and a sign telling a favorite food, best friend, and how they died. "Bludgeoned to death." "Cut with machetes." But I read them all, so that they are remembered by the whole world.

Then dinner, and a quiet night at the guest house. Mourning doves and roosters even in the city!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

4th of July!
It is liberation day here in Rwanda, too, so today we will walk up the hill to the school for some ceremonies, and work with the girls on interviews in the afternoon.
It is so good to be back in Africa! I knew I was back when we rode in a wildly painted van, with the slogan, "My God" painted all over it, with cheerful African music blaring and the smoky sweet wind in my face.
We are all well, after a long trip on Ethiopian Air. 13 hours to Addis Ababa, then a long hot wait in Addis, and short jumps to Entebbe and then Kigali, Rwanda.
We are at the Dereva hotel here in Rwamagana, Rwanda, and you can see that on line if you look up its website.
More later! Time to run.

July 6
I think the short time we were here miraculously stretched, as we have formed some great relationships with the girls and staff at IWE. That first morning we sat in the dormitory eating/gathering room, and I was amazed to think that Ally and Ellie's book bought many of those red bricks that surrounded us. The government had issued a long statement in Kinyarwanda, which one of the teachers translated for us. It reviewed the history of Rwanda since the liberation of the nation following the genocide. The translator was very careful not to even mention the names of the tribes involved in the troubles, but still outlined the changes, improvements and challenges that remain for Rwanda. I took notes (partly to stay awake, due to jet lag!) and also because the government statement was the basis for the troubles that individual girls at the school have suffered.

We walk from the hotel along the busy tarmac road here in Rwamagana, and then up a hill of rutted red clay roads, past homes and fields and dozens of beautiful children who run out to meet us and follow us part way to the school. It is a good walk, and slow, as we stop to greet everyone along the way and practice the few words of Kinyarwanda that we have learned. Amy is the linguist among us, and not a soul goes by that she doesn't greet with a beautiful smile! Lauren quietly greets everyone as well, and I can see her absorbing so much, and being moved by it all as she takes hundreds of great photos. Ally is multi-tasking all the time, thinking about language, greeting people and figuring them out, planning the next version of the book, and even thinking of future research projects. Diane is quietly loving all these kids, sharing deeper thoughts in conversation with girls who almost all lack a mom to care about their ideas. What a great team! I am so privileged to introduce them to Africa.

After the Liberation day celebrations, and a walk back down to the hotel for lunch and a very short break, we started our interviews with the girls. We entered a classroom of girls and I introduced the book we had produced when Ally was in seventh grade. They were fascinated, and many of the girls who had contributed stories by email in 2008 found themselves in the original book! I challenged them all to write another biographical story for us, and also to meet with us to tell their stories and answer questions. I have offered a reward for the best written story, and all who wrote are hoping that they will win the mystery prize. That first group started interviewing and taking pictures with the girls, getting giggly and friendly enough to drape Amy and Ally's long hair over their own shoulders, for a photo of how they would look with long straight hair! I continued on to each class with a translator, and could tell the girls were excited to take part in a newer bigger book. They were shocked at the amount people paid for one book and that $9,000 had been raised by the girls already, so sharing their personal and often painful stories with people in America, who obviously care about them, became an important act of courage that they wanted to do with us.

There is so much to tell, but it is time for breakfast and I HOPE a good internet connection to post all this for you. Thanks for praying!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

4th of July!
It is liberation day here in Rwanda, too, so today we will walk up the hill to the school for some ceremonies, and work with the girls on interviews in the afternoon.
It is so good to be back in Africa! I knew I was back when we rode in a wildly painted van, with the slogan, "My God" painted all over it, with cheerful African music blaring and the smoky sweet wind in my face.
We are all well, after a long trip on Ethiopian Air. 13 hours to Addis Ababa, then a long hot wait in Addis, and short jumps to Entebbe and then Kigali, Rwanda.
We are at the Dereva hotel here in Rwamagana, Rwanda, and you can see that on line if you look up its website.
More later! Time to run.