Ubuzima bwiza

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Ubuzima bwiza is Kinyarwanda for “good life.” Life has indeed been pretty great lately, extremely busy, but fun. There is a lot I could write about but I will try to hit some of the highs and lows for this update.

Last weekend I visited the hospital in Kibogora. It is about a 5 or 6 hour bus ride and the road goes down south, past where I live, continues on a twisting path through Nyungwe forest, and eventually spits you out into a land of endless tea fields and the beautiful shores of Lake Kivu with gorgeous views of the rolling hills of both Rwanda and the Congo. It was a nice trip down and since I was the first person on the bus I was able to snag the very front seat with enough legroom to sit without my knees jammed into the seat in front of me and that seat offers a decent amount of personal space. It was totally worth showing up at the bus station at 4:45am to have a nice and comfortable ride. I got off the bus in a tiny town called Buhinga and took a 45- minute ride on a motorcycle to the hospital.


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Once I arrived I spent the afternoon at the guesthouse, taking long hot showers and had a marvelous nap during an afternoon thunderstorm. It was a truly wonderful afternoon. In the evening I ate dinner (chicken pot pie and vegetables) with an American nurse who lives in Kibogora. We played board games and listened to music while her cat Peter napped on the couch. It was a bit like being transported back to America for a night. The next morning I went down to visit the NICU. They were the painting the little room they use as a NICU so they had moved the isolettes and cribs into another room but luckily one of the kind nurses showed me where to find them. Since the other foreigners who visit the hospital don’t speak Kinyarwanda they love to chat with me and spent a majority of my visit quizzing me about my job, my family, and most importantly my love life. One of the nurses applauded my decision to wait to find a husband but many of the mamas warned me that if I wait too long none of the men would want to marry an old woman. Always comforting to hear. The babies were adorable I had a wonderful time visiting with the mamas and nurses. In the afternoon I returned to my room for lunch and since another big storm rolled through I really had no choice but to take a nap. Pretty rough life.

On Sunday morning I survived a dicey moto ride on a muddy dirt road and arrived safely at the bus stop. I managed to get a good seat right at the front but it ended up not being an ideal location. The road through Nyungwe has a lot of sharp turns and curves and the drivers don’t really slow down much and when they do it usually results in jerky movements that throw all the passengers on top of each other. As it turns out Rwandans get carsick frequently on this journey. The woman next to me spent the entire drive through the forest vomiting into a small plastic bag. I put my headphones in to drown out the retched sound that is so wonderfully unique to a person throwing up and although people almost never approve of open windows this seemed to be an exception to the rule and the fresh air felt amazing. Part way through the trip I felt her using her fabric wrap to wipe vomit off my leg. Fantastic. Nothing like pants soaked in vomit to make a 6-hour bus ride fun. In front of this woman there was a little girl sitting on her dad’s lap. I would estimate that she was maybe 7 years old. An hour into the trip she too succumbed to the twisty turns and began vomiting all over her father. He promptly freaked out and turned her so she was throwing up into the little stair well of the bus where you climb on. I would have been fine with his solution except in resulted in her puking on my shoes. We eventually had to pull over so people could empty their vomit bags and the poor dad was forced to clean up the areas where his daughter had been sick. Of course the mamas stepped in to help him out since he seemed pretty overwhelmed. I spent the break trying to rub the vomit off my new pants and cleaning my shoes with leaves I collected from the side of the road. Overall it was a pretty disgusting trip and I was thrilled when I finally saw the stop for my village approaching.

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This week was review week since the kids have exams next week. We have been studying how to write comparatives and superlatives and after two weeks of meticulously detailed notes and endless exercises I felt like there was NO way that they could fail the quiz I gave them. Well it turns out there was a way and many of them found it. I felt so defeated grading their papers, like maybe they don’t understand a single word that comes out of my mouth. But there are a handful of students in each class that did really well and I guess that gives me hope. Sometimes it can be really frustrating to teach and not feel like I am making a difference, but I suppose this is a problem that every teacher has to deal with at some point in time. On a positive note my kids this year are really cute and energetic, so even if they don’t learn a ton of English from me we find a way to have fun!

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My lessons were pretty boring but I did go to watch a soccer match that was really fun. The football (soccer) coach informed me that the match would start Tuesday at 2pm. So after class I went home to cook lunch and then it started raining. By the time I made it back up to the field at a neighboring school it was 3:30pm and the match had yet to begin. It was a moment straight out of a movie. I showed up at the field, the only white person, and hundreds of kids from other schools just staring at me. At first I couldn’t find any of my friends or students and felt like a complete loser. To make matters worse I decided to sit down and sat down in mud and stained my pants. So when I stood up to move the hoards of children were laughing hysterically and I wanted to teleport myself anywhere else but where I was. Luckily I had a jacket so I took it off and wrapped it around my waist. Once I moved the girl’s match started and some of my students from last year came to sit with me. At 5pm the primary school got out so lots of my little friends came and found me and I was starting to feel less like a loser. It ended up being really fun and I am so glad that I decided to stay even though I was so uncomfortable at first.

It is through situations like this that I can clearly see growth from last year. Last year I would have left after five minutes of sitting by myself like a loser. But now I am learning to be patient and to be more confident in uncomfortable and new situations. One of my favorite memories from the afternoon was when some girls from another school were asking me if I was married. I said no and of course they felt the need to lecture me about finding a man and how I was getting old. So I pulled some big strands of grass and tied one together to make a ring, slipped it onto my finger, and declared that I was now married. All the girls wanted rings so we spent 20 minutes making grass rings, listening to the song Dancing Queen on my phone (Rwandan radio stations LOVE playing Abba songs) and discussing our future husbands. It was an afternoon of laughter and joy- one of the times when I really feel like I am here for a reason. Here is a picture of some of the kids running to watch the shoot out at the end of the girl’s match.

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Every Wednesday I go with my landlord, Alexis, to pray at a small Catholic church near the school. We usually leave at about 6am and the views from the road are extraordinary. I love watching the sunrise over the hills and lately there has been an insane amount of fog in the mornings. I stopped this week to snap this picture. You can see the top of a hill but the entire valley below is filled with a sea of fog. Eventually it rises up and snakes its way through the village until it finally dissipates and gives way to a beautiful day.

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I spent Wednesday afternoon down at the orphanage. It is a time of great change for all of the workers and kids since the government is in the process of shutting down all the orphanages. I just found out that 37 of the kids are being sent out to families or relatives in April so they will be gone when I return from America. It is so heartbreaking for me. I don’t want to get into the politics of the government’s decision but I pray that these kids are returning to homes where they will be loved and appreciated. I pray that they will be safe and healthy and continue to go to school. It is a time of great uncertainty and uncertainty can be really scary. The remaining 15 children will stay at the orphanage until they can find foster/adoptive homes for them. Big changes are coming soon but for now I am just enjoying my time with the kids. We spent the afternoon reading books coloring paper hats that they wore for five minutes and then ripped apart to transform into paper airplanes or oddly shaped pistols used to ward off ninjas lurking in the field of banana trees.

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Well I feel like that is a sufficiently long update. Life is great. Not always (or really almost ever) perfect but I am trying to remember to always be grateful for this experience and that helps me get through the bad days. I will leave you with a shot of two cuties from the orphanage who are loving life as well! 🙂

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