Observations from Rwanda

I will be in Rwanda this summer advocating for women's rights. In 1994, over 800,000 people were killed. Women were purposely infected with HIV through rape. Twelve years later, these women are still struggling to survive. My hope is to find ways to fill gaps in the current system, whether those gaps be legal, social, or economic.

Location: United States

I am currently a law student hoping to work in the field of international human rights upon graduation.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Final Days

Wow. So this is my last weekend in Rwanda. I feel as though I’m not ready to leave yet – like there is so much left to do and so many places I have yet to see. And then there is the whole part about feeling at home here. Rwanda is an amazing country and the people are beautiful. I was explaining to my dad last night (my daddy called!) that I feel so much love here. The people have expressed their love for us, their appreciation for the sacrifices we made to get here... The overwhelming welcome and hospitality we have received is nothing short of generous.

Pastor Paul, our "Rwandese father," has accepted us as his own and treats us with such care and kindness. I know we are wearing him thin, running him ragged, however you want to put it. He has done everything imaginable for us, from setting up appointments, driving us all over the country, and finding us proper lodging for our time here. He has accepted us as members of his church, as his own American daughters. (Funny story, the other night he gave Jerrae, Carolyn, and I a curfew – we had to be back from dinner by 7:30 pm – any later than that it would not be safe on the streets. He’s so wonderful.) We are attempting to get Pastor Paul to Minnesota in September. We will be fundraising for his airfare, so if anyone’s interested in helping bring Pastor to MN for about 3 weeks, let me know!!!

There is much to do over the next few days. Today, Saturday, we head to Gitarama to look in on a project that combines genocidaires and survivors in building homes. Gitarama was also a site of massive violence against women during the genocide. This should prove to be an interesting day. Sunday is quite full, as we have our 3 hour church service, then a wedding, then gacaca. We have been invited to a traditional Rwandese wedding on Sunday! Yesterday we went to purchase fabric and were measured to have traditional fashions created for us… We get to pick those up today, too. So fun! I’m looking forward to sharing in this experience. After the wedding, I believe we will head over to a gacaca proceeding. I could go on about gacaca, but let’s just briefly say that it is a traditional form of dispute settlement and has been transformed enough to be used to help deal with all of the perpetrators of genocide. During gacaca, perpetrators stand up in front of 100 to 200 members of the community and confess their crimes. Members of the community are able to also stand up and accuse the perpetrators of crimes. This process is used to lead to unity and reconciliation… That is probably the most basic description of gacaca I could provide here, and it really does not enough properly describe the process – oh well. At any rate, Sunday should be a full day.

Monday we have set aside to do some shopping. We have yet to do any souvenir shopping, so we hope to visit some art collectives and other special markets so that we may find some things to bring home. Tuesday I believe we will go swimming again (yea!) and then possibly host a going-away party for ourselves. Should be fun! And then comes Wednesday, which will consist of us packing and heading off to the airport. I will be home Thursday afternoon…

I am looking forward to home on many levels. I miss my family, my friends, my cat… I miss not sleeping with inch worms that are more like centipedes. I miss being able to flush a toilet and bathe in warm water. I miss reliable internet services.

I am going to miss Rwanda so much, though. There is something about this country that pulls you in, that makes you fall in love with it, that makes you never want to leave. A part of me will always be here now, I know that. I will come back, as soon as possible.

I will miss the honey, the tea, the hills, the simplicity of many things… I will miss Pastor Paul and Safari Fred… I will miss the children, the women in the sewing group… I will miss feeling as though every day I’m making a difference. I will miss walking up the dirt path where I sprained my ankle… I think I may even miss the nice hotel manager that appears to have taken a liking to me. I have built relationships here that I do not want to let die. I do not want to disappoint these people, I do not want to make promises I will not be able to keep. I want them to know that I care about each and every one of them, that I love them all and that I wish for all of them peace, unity, reconciliation, growth, happiness, love. I have hope for their future, mainly because most of them also have hope for their future.

This trip has been an incredible experience, one that will stay with me forever. I will always remember the brutality of the genocide and the beauty of the countryside. I will always remember the strength to carry on, to overcome, to heal… I thought I understood the meaning of forgiveness before I arrived here. I knew nothing of the word nor of the effect of forgiveness. I have learned a lot during my time. I hope that I will be able to grow from this experience, and that I will be able to always share the stories with anyone who listens. I know this may take time, that my life here was and is complicated… for those of you who care enough to listen, please have patience with me as I try and deal with what I have experienced.

I love each and every one of you. The love I have in my heart is something I know I need not shy away from... It makes me vulnerable, I realize, but it also makes me who I am. My passion for others is what defines me. This trip has helped me to understand that about myself… This is my reason for being and my reason for pursuing this line of "work."

Time is up, I must go… Thank you for reading through this entry and sharing in my experiences with me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

UNO and African Tea

Up until this point, I have written mainly about the meetings and other activities that have taken place since my arrival in Rwanda. I thought it may be now to share with you a little about the daily living situation.
First of all, the hotel we are at is amazing. First of all, I cannot figure out for the life of me why it’s called a hotel. It’s more like a nice little compound of maybe 10 different rooms, each with its own bathroom. I’ll take pictures and post them if I can. The rooms are of nice size and are pretty cozy. The bathrooms have all the necessities: a toilet, a sink, and a shower. Sometimes the water pressure isn’t enough to actually shower, so I find myself washing under the running tap or bathing out of a small basin. Interesting experience, I must tell you. Then there’s the issue of when there’s no water at all, which happens often enough that I may go for a couple days without showering. And electricity – well, that’s a whole different story. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes the backup generator is turned on, sometimes it isn’t. But all in all, we have an amazing place to stay, the staff is amazing, and I’ve only just recently run into the problem of having my own personal inch-worm infestation in my bedroom. I finally couldn’t tackle them all myself and had to have the night manager come up with his stick and insect spray stuff. So gross. And the spiders! Oh my! I’ve been very grown up about the whole situation, killing them all myself or even catching them in a cup and releasing them back outside. I only screamed once this whole time, and that’s when an inch-worm fell right on top of me from the ceiling. Really gross. Finally is the fun times of sleeping under a mosquito net every night. For some odd reason it adds a nice comfort level to the sleep. I definitely love it – may have to invest in one upon returning home. Hehehe.
The food – oh my the food! For some odd reason someone told me I’d likely lose weight this trip. Ha! Every morning we are fed an egg omelette, two pieces of bread (sometimes toast), fruit (pineapple, passion fruit, an unidentifiable fruit, sometimes oranges), and tea. The tea is AMAZING! I think I’m addicted. If I don’t have at least 2 thermoses full of tea a day I feel like I’m lacking in something. I must find a way to bring some of this tea home with me. Yum. And the honey!!! The honey is so delicious that I must have it every morning on my toast. No joke. My day is not complete without the honey. And lunch and dinner consists of your choice of chicken, beef, or fish; chips (fries); rice; cabbage salad; peas or green beans; and Fanta or Water. And if we’re crazy enough to go out for dinner, there are all other sorts of options. Yeah. Definitely not losing weight, but enjoying the food immensely. J
One of the BEST things I brought with me on this trip – my UNO cards. No joke. Us girls played almost every night upon our arrival. It helped us bond like you would never believe. And then we started playing it with our hosts. Fred, Eddy, Pastor Paul, Pastor Joseph – they’ve all played with us and loved every minute of it! So much fun!!!! Who would have ever imagined that a deck of UNO cards would bring Rwandese and Americans closer? Good times. Definitely. Definitely good times.
Hmm, we also try to get to the internet every day or every other day. Some days we spend maybe twenty minutes, and a few times we’ve been there for an hour. The internet connection is slow at best, but it works. The walk to the internet is pretty short, maybe five minutes. Okay, I realize as I type this that it is completely impossible to "walk to the internet." But somehow we’ve gotten into this habit of saying "we’re going to the internet" and have completely dropped off the "café" part. Not sure where we picked that one up.. Anyway, tangent, sorry.
The market is up near the internet café. We make daily trips up there as well so we can stock up on bottles of water, fruit juice boxes, Pringles, and other such necessities. J (Did you know that they sell Sweet Thai flavored as well as Salt and Vinegar flavored Pringles?) And of course we have to buy clothes detergent. We wash our clothes in basins, by hand, and they usually take two days to dry.
There are these random birds that like to start singing at about 430 AM. And they sing until sunrise at 6 AM. Then we don’t hear them until the sun starts setting, and they get quiet when it gets dark. The wake-up call comes a wee bit too early for my liking, but I’m fascinated by this bird. I have yet to see it and take a picture of it – but I’m determined. Maybe I’ll be crazy enough to get up at 430 when I hear it and go outside in search of it. Yeah. Most likely I won’t do that. But at least I thought about it!
What other random things can I write about? It’s rained twice since we’ve been here. The rain showers both lasted maybe 20 minutes at most. Otherwise the weather has been just perfect. Sunny, a nice breeze. In the shade it feels maybe at 75 to 80 degrees. Under the sun, however, is a completely different story – I burned after maybe 10 to 15 minutes of exposure without any sunblock on. Haven’t made that mistake again. Like I said earlier, the sun rises at 6 AM… It sets at 6 PM. There are barely any street lights in this whole country (and forget about having any light signals or stop signs that are enforced). Any time we go out at night on our own, which isn’t often, we bring our flashlights. Jerrae has this head lamp – no joke – and it has turned out to be most useful. The flashlights have also been nice for when the power goes out unexpectedly. (Thanks for the flashlight, Dad! Works like a charm!)
Right, well, I think I’ve written more than enough here. I realize my thoughts are all over the place, and I blame that completely on the bird that wakes me up every morning at 430 and refuses to let me go back to sleep. Or it could be that I’m just writing whatever comes to mind… te he!
Oh, and just to let all of you know – I have fallen in love with this country and the people. I’m determined to find a way to get a job here once I’ve graduated from law school. Not sure it will happen, but I must try. And I will find a way to return here soon. The lifestyle, the pure love and affection, the determination to overcome the past… There is a sense of peace and calmness here. There is something here that fills my heart and soul… Yes, I’ve hit rough patches and some days are better than others… But no matter the issues I run in to personally, I still feel a sense of longing to stay or find a way to return for a longer period of time.
At any rate, I’ll stop here. Thanks for reading this… I love you all!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Catching Up

So it's been awhile since I actually wrote about what I've been doing here. I typed this latest entry Sunday night... Thank goodness for my iPod Shuffle - it doubles as storage space for files and pictures! Yea!! Thanks Anthony! :) Anyway, before you get to my exciting entry below, I must tell you...

I was a part of history today! At the last minute an invitation was extended to all of us Americans to attend the inaugural session of the Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa Commission. The room was full of maybe 100 dignitaries and VIPs from throughout Africa as well as several other European countries. I heard that the US Embassador was supposed to be there today, but we didn't see that person. And, to top it off, the President of Rwanda was there to formally launch the commission. It was such an honor to be sharing in this momentous occasion. I was closer to the Rwandan President today than I have ever been to any American president. Go figure. After the

Anyway, had to share! Read on!!


Wow. Okay, so things have been pretty hectic these past weeks – hectic on Rwandan terms, that is. Last Monday was really relaxing… It was Pastor Paul’s day off, so we ran a couple errands in the morning with him, and then he took us to this resort-type area where we sat by the pool, swam, and ate food at this amazing outdoor restaurant. And when I say outdoor, I mean outdoor. There were stone paths and green arches and open grassy areas, tons of trees and bushes and flowers… The tables were dispersed throughout the grassy areas. That day rejuvenated my spirit in ways I did not think possible.

Tuesday we finally bought a cell phone so we could make our own appointments. I honestly do not remember much about Tuesday, which is BAD. I remember we tried again (in vain) to find a cash machine that takes our ATM cards. Frustrating times.
Wednesday was really insane – we had a 9 am meeting with a coordinating group called “Care and Treatment of Genocide Survivors Infected with HIV/AIDS” (try saying that 3 times fast!). Then we had an 11 o’clock meeting with Solace Ministries, which caters to HIV/AIDS-infected genocide survivors. There we spoke with 2 sisters – 2 survivors – and heard their stories of their lives from the time of the genocide until now. Then we moved on to AVEGA Central at 3 pm. AVEGA is the Association of Genocide Widows. Unfortunately we were late for this meeting, so we had to reschedule for this upcoming week. Oh. And I sprained my ankle that day walking down the dirt path returning from the internet café. Yeah. Go me.

Thursday through Saturday we were in Kibungo at the Reconciliation Retreat, where we also visited the “refugee camp.” I spoke of these events a bit in my last blog entry. Which brings me up to today… We went to church, where us girls led an activity with the children… We read them scripture explaining how God loves children, taught them a song called “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” and then gave them all cut-out hearts that said “Jesus Loves” and then proceeded to write each one of their names in the hearts. A little something to remember us by, I suppose. A pastor and his wife from Cloquet, MN (no joke) gave the sermon today. They’re staying here at the same guest house with the rest of us Minnesotans. The two have actually been in Uganda for the past 11 months doing ministry work. Right, crazy, I know. After the service, the Team met with the women of the church to ask them about income-generating ideas they had… The meeting went in circles, and the women kept asking us for money or supplies to help with their decorating jobs… It was a bit frustrating. And then this evening we went to a orphan compound and met with some orphans. There is this compound of land that was purchased for the purpose of building homes for orphans. Currently there are 10 homes (although there are 15 plots of land) and 52 orphans living at this compound. The houses are of decent size, but the orphans have no running water and no electricity. The age range at this place is 3 years to 28 years. The homes each house a specific family, some larger than others. The orphans organize themselves, manage the compound, and take care of general oversight. From what we heard tonight, they do not hear much from the widows’ association that actually built the homes. Weird, if you ask me. Anyway, the kids do get education paid for by the government, but transportation to school is a huge problem. Having enough money to pay for taxis, clothes, food and other necessities is also a problem. Anyway, I could go on about the needs of these orphans. This experience coupled with the “refugee camp” experience makes my soul ache and my heart cry… Meeting basic needs is a daily struggle. *Sigh*

At any rate, I suppose this is all for now. I just wanted to catch you all up on my exciting life here. I love you all and hope that everything is well for each and every one of you.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Reconciliation Retreat

Hey all! SO much has been going on this past week, and I have been so overwhelmed I've failed to journal or catch up on my blog. Hopefully I'll be able to do that tomorrow (Sunday) after Church.

Thursday the Team headed southeast to Kibungo for a Reconciliation Retreat. We stayed in Kibungo until today (Saturday) and then headed back here to Kigali. Tomorrow the girls and I are to lead a bible lesson/activity with the children of Pastor Paul's church. There are about 200 children. Oh my! I think we'll be focusing on one single theme: Jesus Loves Me. We've got a lot of planning to do tonight for that, but I think it should be great fun tomorrow.

The retreat was amazing. There were about 30 people in attendance, not including 4 pastors and our team of 6. There was much singing and dancing and praying and each pastor spoke about the power of the cross and the blood of Jesus and the mercy and glory of God. The focus was on finding the ability to let go of the hate each person has towards what happened during the genocide, to open room in their hearts for the love of God to come through. Forgiveness was key... The group split up into two Saturday evening, the women going in one room and the men going in another. Our team heard the stories of 4 women - their stories of their childhood, of the genocide, of their families, of the current state of life. Each of them have lived such difficult lives...

Early Saturday morning, Pastor Paul and Pastor Joseph took the Team to a refugee camp right on the border of Tanzania. Actually, it isn't technically a refugee camp, as everyone staying in the camps are Rwandese - they are internally displaced people, and they are all suffering. They all live in tents that are placed in row after row. They are out in the middle of nowhere. They have little to no water to bathe themselves or wash their clothes - most of them only own the clothes on their backs. The only food they receive is corn and beans. And they get water, but they have had to learn how to boil it and prepare it for drinking. Spending time at that camp was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. There were 717 people at this camp... more arrive daily... And most can expect to spend 5 to 15 years in that condition. *Sigh*

At any rate, there is so much to share, but that's about all I've got time for now. I must get going. Much love to all of you. And thank you SO much to all of you who have written me comments or emails. They mean the world to me... Keep them coming!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More Genocide Site Pictures

Genocide Site Pictures

Monday, June 12, 2006



These past couple of days have been an emotional challenge for me. I have decided to write here on my blog what I wrote in my journal on Saturday night. What I am sharing with you now are my uncensored feelings and thoughts about my experiences here in Rwanda…

“I’m not being honest with myself. I’m not facing the realities of what I’ve been experiencing. I have not allowed myself to really reflect about what I have encountered. Basically, I think I am hiding from the horrors that surround me.
Today the Team had a meeting. One of our members started to cry as she explained how she has been trying to get her head around the brutality of the genocide. It was through her tears that I realized I have not been true to my own emotions. I have not allowed myself to cry. Every time I thought I would cry over the past few days, I held back. I did not want to appear vulnerable in front of the others…
I have felt weak this whole trip. I have felt as though I have been holding the Team back, starting with my illness at the beginning of our trip. I’m not thinking straight, my mind is in jumbles. My inability to cope, I think, is now coming through when I sleep. I have had nightmares every night…
I have been hiding behind the stories, behind the facts. The pure brutality of things haunts the back of my mind. I’m not sure what will happen to me if I allow myself to REALLY think on things… I’m not sure I’m capable of handling it.
My skin color has become a new reality for me. Every day, several times a day, I hear people calling out Mzungu at me. I have never set myself apart because of race and I realize that I live in a society where people with white skin are favored over others. I am now in the clear minority here. It feels weird, disconcerting, upsetting, to constantly be set apart by those around me. I did not choose my skin color. I did not implement the race-based society we live in in America. So why is it that I now feel as though all the burdens of the past have been placed on my shoulders?
I also feel a great burden to help the people of Rwanda. As a face, a person to connect with, I feel I am seen as the American who is here to help. Everyone looks to us with great expectations. I had no idea that by my coming here, the people would see such hope and opportunities for their future. I came here to learn, but now I feel that my purpose is much greater than that. But what is it that I can personally offer to the people, aside from my love, compassion, and belief in their abilities? None of this can help provide for them or make their lives any better. Can it?
Another thing I struggle with daily is religion. I am surrounded by Christians, people who quote Scripture and carry their Bibles. The Pastor who has given so much of his time has asked what church we all go to, what religion we are, if we are Christians… Because he has given us so much, I want to make sure to give back to him in some way. And I do not want to let him down. In this area, however, I feel I am constantly disappointing him… I know no scripture, no prayers, no blessings, no hymns… I feel as though I have nothing to offer in helping to prepare for the Sunday School lesson we are to give next week… I am reminded daily in some way of my inadequacy in this area…
Inadequacy is a good word for what I am feeling on many levels. My inability to handle these experiences and lack of knowledge of many things leaves me without initiative. Where I normally lead, I now follow. I made this trip happen in many ways, and now that I am here I am unsure of what direction to take, which questions to ask, who to go to for assistance…
I know deep in my heart and mind that I am a strong person, that I am a unique individual with many special talents and capabilities. Right now, however, I am not sure of myself or my surroundings.
I am exhausted…”

Day by day, things get a little better for me. It took me a week to figure out my own feelings and emotions, and it will take me time to now cope with them. This is a learning experience on so many levels, and I’m not quite sure I expected this. But I am here, and will be for two and a half weeks. I will learn to cope, to manage, to overcome…

I miss you all. I love you so much. Thank you for loving me enough to read through my blog. J Until later…

Friday, June 09, 2006

A Difficult Journey

Hi all! I typed this up last night at the guest house, and am now posting it here. It's long, and I apologize... but there is just so much to say, and this barely covers everything that has happened... Read at your leisure... :)

9-Jun-06 09:26

Hmm.. Okay, the last post I made referred to my frustrations and illness. I am pleased to say that life has been more productive and I have healed to the utmost degree possible, which is terrific. I’ve got energy and I am excited to experience Rwanda in all of its glory.

Today, Thursday, was a good day. We have officially been in Rwanda for a week now, and have only three weeks left…. The ladies and I headed over to Paul’s church after breakfast in order to spend time with the sewing group. I do not believe I have mentioned this group yet. This group is made up of widows and young women, orphans. Paul has purchased some sewing machines and hopes that through the use of some teachers and resources, he can teach the widows and orphans a trade that they can then use to support themselves later down the road. We met this group on Monday. Pastor Paul was there to act as our translator. The women were shy at first, but opened up to us and explained their situation to us. Most of them have no family. Most of them have no home. They have no money to pay to feed themselves. Four of the women have a few children each… Each day is a struggle for them in the most basic sense. We asked about current aid that is in place in Rwanda. The aid programs are here… SO many organizations are here. Yet the aid is not enough. It does not reach everyone. None of the women we spoke with have received assistance from the organizations. It appears the only aid they have received has been through Pastor Paul and his sewing machines.

The team I traveled here with has decided to help this sewing group in any way we can. We are to teach them how to make quilts, so that they may sell them and make money. We purchased a bundle of fabric to donate to their group so that they may make new clothes for themselves. The scraps left over will be used to make a quilt. Today, we showed them a small sample of a quilt and how to make one, as well as handed over the donated fabric. One of my fellow travelers took many pictures, which I hope to obtain sometime soon.

After time at the church, Pastor Paul took us to a meeting with a Minister of Labor to discuss capacity building. Our meeting was called short because the Minister needed to attend a last-minute meeting with the President’s cabinet. (I’m not sure President Kagame is back in town yet, he may be – he was in the US just this past week – did anyone notice?) Our meeting was rescheduled for Saturday evening, and we will go to the Minister’s home for tea and discussion. I am looking forward to this time.

Then, after the meeting, Paul and his driver (and my new friend) Fred drove us girls around New Kigali – the new area of town built after the genocide. We drove around the neighborhoods, past the new beautiful golf course, and stopped at the Tennis Club to get a drink and talk. Pastor Paul is an amazing man. He has such compassion. He is so genuine. He has given most of his time and provided his car and driver for us every day since we have been here. His generosity humbles me. I hope that I will be able to give back to him in a way that is meaningful.
So, a recap of the past few days… They have been a whirlwind. Sunday was spent at church, and the service lasted until about 2 – this was due to the translations, I believe. Long service due to us Americans. Go us. Anyway… Pastor Paul was actually in Uganda this past weekend, so there was a guest pastor named Joseph. He was amazing. The whole service was amazing. A small group of women sang, a youth group sang (which I found out most of the youths were street kids and/or orphans… *sigh*), a girl about my age gave testimony… Anyway, it was beautiful. And the kids. There are about 200 children that attend Pastor Paul’s church. 2 girls attached themselves to me during the service. It was very special, even if we could not speak to each other…

Monday as I said we spent with the women’s sewing group. Tuesday Pastor Paul and Fred took the group out to Ruhengeri, where we were able to sit in on a reconciliation meeting involving ministers in Pastor Paul’s circle. Several members of the ministry gave testimony for us, talking about how they reconciled themselves and now live together, Hutu and Tutsi. One woman explained how she refused to accept her husband after he participated in the genocide; that is, until she found the church and attended a reconciliation retreat. One man told of how he was a government soldier at the time of the genocide and how he had to teach himself to kill the way they requested, and how afterwards he thought he would be hated by his neighbors… Instead, he was accepted by his Tutsi neighbors – this led him to the church and to assisting with the mission of reconciliation. The meeting was so emotionally charged, I felt quite exhausted afterwards.

Wednesday was a very difficult day. Fred, Emmanuel, and Eddy (our hosts and drivers) took us to three genocide sites. We saw one from the road, but the other two we were able to tour. One of those tours was of the church in Ntarama, where 5,000 people were killed. The church has been left untouched in many ways… We had to walk on the pews to avoid stepping on bones, skulls, and random items… There were shelves upon shelves of skulls and bones. One building was full of bones yet to be cleaned and buried, as well as all sorts of clothes found in the church. Another building, as we learned, was where the soldiers burned people (they beat the people, tied them to mattresses, and then burned them alive). Our tour guide was a survivor of the massacre in that church – he is one of 10. He is the only one without lifelong disabilities, because he lost no limbs… He survived by hiding under the dead bodies. He then escaped to the bush and lived there for a month before being rescued.

The third site was the church in Nyamata. 10,000 people were killed in this Catholic church. Pope John Paul II sent a rosary and glass case to Nyamata a few years ago… It sits on the bloodstained cloth covering the altar. This church had been cleaned, but not repaired. Bullet holes were all over the walls and the roof. Beneath the church lays a woman and her baby – this woman’s story is still one of the most difficult for me to handle… If anyone is interested in hearing it, I will tell you. But it is hard, and I do not want to post it here…
Behind the church are the mass graves, where over 20,000 people are buried – the 10,000 from the church and then the others that were found in the surrounding villages. We were able to walk down into the ground and view the caskets, and more skulls, and more bones…
Needless to say, the day was heavy. Upon returning to Kigali, us girls went out to eat at an Italian restaurant and ate pizza. The beauty of the countryside was in such stark contrast to the horrors I had seen earlier in the day. This country has been through a lot, and yet it is amazing to see how they continue to reconcile and rebuild. The people here are strong, they are beautiful, they are inspirational.

This post is really long, I apologize. I will stop here, and will wish you all well. I love all of you so very much.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

My First Update... More to Come!

Hey all! Here is a little bit of what I wrote a few days ago. When I get a chance to write more, I will. And believe me, I have much more to write about, including our visit to a reconciliation meeting in Ruhengeri and yesterday's visits to three genocide sites, including Ntarama and Nyamata. Much love to all of you!

3 June 2006 23:50

I am currently in a pretty good state of mind. Jerrae and Carolyn came to my room after dinner to watch a couple shows Jerrae had on her laptop – Conviction and LOST. We all get along pretty well, which is great. Those two girls have kept me going and have been taking good care of me. Lauren seems to be spending most of her spare time with her mom in their room. I would hate for us to go this whole month without us really getting to know one another. I do know this – Lauren and I both have a love for musicals – we connected over RENT today. Good times. Definite good times.

I have been quite frustrated these past couple of days. We landed in Kigali on Thursday morning. I have spent a majority of each day since then in bed, dealing with some kind of stomach illness that I think I picked up while in Germany. I’m not sure, as I managed to get incredibly ill on the plane from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa. I have been unable to get online to contact my parents. I am sure they are worried about me, and have yet to even receive a phone call. And being so ill makes me just want to be in my own bed with my family around me. Yeah, this sucks. I’m starting to get a little better, although my diet has been strictly bread, crackers, and now a little bit of rice. And water. Soda does not work for me yet. I hope my body heals soon…

What I have seen of Kigali has been beautiful, yet incredibly sad as well. This city appears to be undergoing a whole ton of construction. The Judge says that this has been happening since the genocide – the whole country has been rebuilding itself in every possible way. The country is made up of green hills and the city is crammed with homes. Every home and compound is gated. The people are everywhere and have been very good to us. I wish I knew French… I feel quite uneducated, not knowing French or Kinyarwanda. I am here wanting to help people, but I am making this more difficult by not meeting the people on at least this one level. *Sigh*

Friday we went to the Kigali Memorial Center, which is a genocide memorial site. The memorial center includes an outside and inside portion. The outside is home to several mass graves and a rose garden to remember those murdered during the genocide who are not buried there. Inside there are several different rooms, each with a different purpose. In the lower level, the history of Rwanda and the genocide is described in detail. There are three smaller rooms, one that has pictures of victims brought in by survivors that also has a film constantly playing, another that has bones and skulls of victims, and the final that has clothes and other types of linen that were found in the shallow mass graves created by the genocidaires. The upstairs level contains two rooms, one that explains the history of several other genocides that have occurred throughout history (Armenia, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and several others), and a second that is dedicated to the child victims of the genocide. This last room was definitely the most difficult for me to witness. There were pictures of a handful of children, each with a plaque providing personal details, favorites, last words, age at death, and method of death. I am still reeling from that experience.

Today we were to maybe visit a few genocide sites in the area. That has been postponed until Monday, when Pastor Paul is to have time to bring us around himself. Pastor Paul is a kind and amazing man. He came in to pray over me Thursday night… He has invited the group to his church service tomorrow. We are to be picked up at 9 am. From what I hear, these services last for most of the morning and early afternoon. We shall see what it is like. I am excited to see Pastor Paul in his element.

Today, instead of visiting the sites, we spent most of the morning trying to change money. Let me tell you, this is not as easy as it was made out to be to me. Cash machines that accept American credit cards are impossible to find. Hopefully we will find someone soon who will help us out. For now, we have to go to the main branch of the Bank of Kigali and spend 30 minutes filling out paperwork and such to draw money out of our accounts. It was ridiculous. And to avoid crazy fees, we have to change our money to Euros and then go to another money exchange to have the Euros changed to Rwandan Francs. Oye! Anyway, we got some money, then picked up our laptops and went in search of free wireless internet. We found the restaurant where the girls got their service yesterday (I was back at the guest house in bed). Unfortunately, I could not get the connection on my computer, and when Lauren allowed me to use her computer, the connection was lost. Then we all came back for an afternoon nap.

The past two nights Jerrae, Carolyn, and I have been playing some crazy mad games of UNO. I am grateful I brought that game with me! It has provided many hours of entertainment for us thus far, and I am sure will prove to continue to do so as the time passes. I also brought a regular deck of cards – the other Minnesota Judge that is here has requested that we play some poker sometime. I think we’ll be using toothpicks for chips.

I’m sure there are 20 million more things to talk about right now, such as my time in Germany with Monika, Roland, Jess, Diana, and Leo, but I’m exhausted and must get some sleep. I hope to post this sometime Monday. We’ll see if I get that chance. I hope all is well with everyone. I miss you and love you much.

I’ll try to post some pictures soon…