Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Murabeho Rwanda, Muraho Vermont.

Saying goodbye to Rwanda was more bitter than sweet. I wrote very little about our last day because I had no words. I am still struggling to find words, but it is still good to share. Our bags were packed and sitting on the floor. They were bulging and heavy. Since there is a weight limit for baggage, we hired a man with a scale from the street to come to our house and weigh our bags for 200 Rwandan Francs ($0.30). Be lugged our bags onto the porch and began weighing. The limit was 23 kilograms. All of our bags except for one was over the limit by at least 2 kilograms. Our carry-on bags were just as overweight but we weren't so worried about those. We knew we would surpass our weight limit but we didn't want to worry about it until the people at the desk said something about it.

We were picked up by the center's truck a little after 5:30pm. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:55, so we thought we would have plenty of time. We met Willy at the airport to say our final good-bye's. I had held in all tears until this time. It was impossible not to cry. I handed Willy my backpack that I had owned since the second grade. In the top pocket was a necklace I had made for his mother, all of my spare Rwandan Francs, and an envelope that said "Dear Willy, Go get yourself a passport! Love, Ally, Elena, Bret, and Dorota." Enclosed was $100. Enough to purchase a Rwandan passport.

At this point we had to get going, so we gave our final hugs. Eye's puffy and watery, we checked ourselves into the airport. Some time passed as we waited in the line to check our bags just long enough for the tears to pass. I was ok. We placed the first overweight bag on the scale and the woman asked us if there was any way to rearrange. We said almost all of our bags are this heavy. She advised us to put all the extra weight into one bag and we would pay $150 for the extra weight. We did as we were told and along came the manager, or some woman of high status. She asked us how much the bags weighed. The woman who was working with us told her the heavy bag weighed 33 kilograms (the limit for overweight bags is 32 kilo's). This other woman was not a happy camper. She claimed that "none of my workers can carry a bag this heavy." She told us to put some of the weight into our carry on. When she saw our carry on items, she told us they were too heavy and were going to have to leave some stuff behind.

My carry-on bag contained ALL of the electronics I brought to Rwanda. After a lot of back-and-forth, and unpacking and re-packing, we were beginning to fall behind schedule, and they would be boarding the plane very shortly. As I fell into tears (again) the woman looked at me and said "Look, I don't do this for anyone, but this is going to be an even bigger mess if you miss this flight, so just pack up this extra weight in your carry-on and go." I thanked her, and we ran to the gate.

Once we got on the plane, I had a steady stream of tears that would last for about 2 hours. I couldn't look out the window to see my body being dragged out of this beautiful country (even though it was dark out). I almost felt like a prisoner of my own life; unable to be where I really wanted to be. I had left jobs unfinished at the center. My good-byes at the center were cut short. Saying good-bye to Willy was rushed and unfinished, but what IS a proper good-bye?

I slept on the majority of every flight. Hoping for some peace to enter my mind every time I woke up. Eventually I was ok. Numbed, but ok.

I was received at Burlington Airport shortly after 4:00pm on wednesday by my parents and Elena's entourage of family and friends (which can be expected because she was gone for 7 months)! The happiness of seeing my parents was a nice distraction from the sadness I had from leaving. They asked my many questions and we shared good conversation. I was excited to show them all of the clothing I acquired from the Josephine and my favorite seamstress, Chantal. Shortly after arriving home, my parents took me out to a new restaurant in town: The Prohibition Pig. They are good friends with the bartender, who would mix up something special for me to celebrate my 21st birthday a little late. We enjoyed a nice dinner together before heading home. My parents told me they would get me a bike as a late birthday and a welcome home gift. That evening, I went with my dad to pick up what would become my first bike since fourth or fifth grade. I was a little excited to say the least, even though I had had a long 30 hours.

I have been in Vermont for a week now. It seems my mind wanders over to Rwanda most of the time. I am constantly thinking about what is happening at the center, what the weather is like, and how my friends are doing. Communicating with friends in Rwanda reminds me of what it must have been like years ago before the internet and Skype. Since they don't have access to a computer every day, it can be weeks or months before hearing back from them. I wish I could pick up a phone and call the center to talk to all the boys to see how they are but that's impossible. I have never appreciated how simple and easy it is to contact someone in the U.S. whenever you want. Maybe one day technology will allow the same easy communication for friends around the globe.

Elena and I gave a successful presentation at Johnson State College. We raised nearly $500 for Willy's trip with the silent auction. I will be sure to keep everyone updated on the status of Willy's passport and visa, and the money we have raised. I owe a big thank you to those who attended and bid on the items. I also want to thank everyone who has supported me over the past four months. I learned more than I could have ever imagined, and I have you all to thank for that. THANK YOU!

If you haven't already, please take some time to look through Elena's blog. She stayed in Rwanda for 7 months, and has shared many stories. Also, current volunteers at the center, Bret and Dorota, are sharing their stories as well. They have a recent post sharing the journey of buying and giving out shoes to all the boys at the center. The video at the end of the entry called "I Have Shoes" was created by Bret and Willy!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity!

If you have been following my blog all along, you would have a pretty good idea of who my friend Willy is. You may know that he has had a life that not many of us can relate to. It has been his dream to visit the United States. He has heard so much about our homes, our friends, and our families. We made him a promise that we will try our hardest to keep. We are going to help him come to America.

You have an opportunity to help us help him get here! If you make a donation using the side bar Donate button, 100% of your donation will go towards the purchase of Willy's plane ticket. I will keep everyone up to date on the progress of the visa process and the amount of money we have raised! So far I have $65 from selling some crafts.

Thank you all for following along during my stay in Rwanda. I am home now, and I am very busy with some school work and other things I have to catch up on. That being said, I am presenting some stories from my trip on Tuesday, April 24th at 4:00 at Johnson State College. There will also be a silent auction of fabrics, arts, and crafts before the presentation. All money raised will go towards Willy's plane ticket. The event is free and open to the public if you would like to come. I hope to see you there!

Final Weeks

Here's an entry I was working on about a week before I left. Enjoy.

I have been in Rwanda for almost three months now. I've met some of the most incredible people, and I couldn't be more thankful for everyone who helped me get here. 

My last week will be a busy one. New volunteers, Bret and Dorota, arrived today so we will be showing them everything they need to know about living in Rwanda and working at the center. We will be teaching them about our projects in the library and storeroom so they can finish what we started. I am very glad they are here to do finish this work!

Here's a quick update on the library and storeroom. We have finally finished cataloging all of the books in the new library. Right now we are in the process of cutting out and taping the appropriate numbers to each book. The other day we did this for 3 hours and got through about 400 books. It's going to be a long process that hopefully Bret, Dorota, and Elizabeth can finish within the first few weeks after our departure. We have also cataloged some games that will be kept in the library!

The storeroom has been a beast to tackle. I've written a lot about the storeroom, and maybe you can start to see how far we've come. We've spent hours sorting through the enormous amount of things the old storeroom was holding. We brought things in very carefully to make sure the things entering the new storeroom were things that would be useful for the center. Things such as broken electronics, broken toys and games, and other garbage has no place in the new store. Keeping these things out, however, was much more difficult than you might think.

The building which housed the old storeroom is getting demolished as we speak. The center does not have an efficient way to dispose of trash, so much of it is kept. To make a long story short, they brought all of the trash we separated out and brought it to the doors of the new storeroom. Since we didn't want most of it to enter the new room, we left it outside. Eventually, the boys took it somewhere else, but I have no idea where.

The other items brought to the door were things we weren't ready for. Things such as tools, boxes of old records, and other random items. We still didn't have a place for these things, so they remained piled on the floor, just as they were before. It was overwhelming to enter the new storeroom for a few weeks because of all the stuff that was brought in. 

Two lovely volunteers, Ian and Emily, visited for two weeks. During their visit, we handed out pencils, sharpeners, colored pencils, some candy, and English/Kinyarwanda dictionaries. We also began the process of sizing the boys for sneakers. Most of the boys only have rubber sandals. Since the store was full of shoes, Ian and Emily talked with Rafiki and Josianne to allow the shoes to be handed out. Since there weren't enough correct sizes for the boys, we arranged to sell some of the TOMS shoes that were impractical for them to wear. We sold some to our friends in the States. This gave us enough money to be able to buy enough pairs for the boys who didn't have a pair that fit them. Giving these things out felt really good because if we hadn't gone through and organized the items in the storeroom, these things would have never been given out.

The boys writing their names in their new dictionaries!

Trying on some shoes

The second to last day I was with the boys, I threw them a party. I worked with Willy to collect some Rwandan hip-hop music to give them one last night of dancing. We spent the day Sunday collecting music, and renting a speaker and mixer to ensure we would have good sound. I was so happy to be able to share over three hours dancing with the boys before I left. The only reason we stopped when we did is because my computer died. We were having too much fun.

The following day would be our last visit to EDD. We worked in the library tagging more books, and doing some more organizing in the storeroom. We taught the store keeper, Agnus, how to do inventory with the new books we are creating. This way every donation is accounted for correctly.

We ended our day a little late due to a meeting that lasted far longer than it should have. We said our goodbye's to the boys in the dark. I shed a few tears, but we were able to take many pictures with silly faces to keep our spirits up. It was definitely not an easy thing to do.

Our last day in Rwanda was spent doing some last minute shopping, and packing. We had a bittersweet goodbye to Willy at the airport, and after some baggage complications that caused us to nearly miss our flight out, we were off.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Right Place, Right Time (Again)

Saturday was a late start. We'd been working so hard at the center for the past few weeks that we all slept in until 11:00 or so. We had no plans that day, and were very excited for it. Shortly after I woke up, Willy called and asked if we wanted to go to the Salax Awards. He told us it was the Rwandan music awards, and that was about it. Elizabeth and I thought it might be a cool event and we had just enough energy left in us to be able to go. 

We met Willy in Remera at 5:30 to walk up to the event. At this point, I still didn't really have any idea of what we were going to. On the walk over, he told us all of the biggest superstars would be there to perform and dance. Suddenly I was even more excited for the event. The tickets were about $3.33 each, sold right at the gate as you enter. The event was sponsored by MTN, a popular cell phone company. They handed out free minutes and bandanas to everyone who entered. 

We waited in the stadium for about an hour before the show started. It was a very simplified version the Grammy Awards. There was a large television screen above the stage where they had a live camera set up on "the red carpet" leading into the stadium. The camera followed all of the stars from their cars to the venue, where they would enter less than a minute later for everyone to see with their own eyes. Some of the stars had very interesting attire that reminded me of Lady Gaga's statements at big events. One singing group wore kilts, and another dressed as if they were in a wedding with the woman in a wedding dress and veil and the men in white suits and red ties. Young Grace, a popular rapper, had two young girls accompany her, all wearing pink and white suits with matching hats. They won a new couch and the equivalent of $500 for best dressed.

Urban Boyz
Just Family
Young Grace and her sidekicks.
Traditional Dancers
King James wins four awards including Best Artist of the Year

Here's another fun fact about the venue and it's organization: There was no crowd limit for the bleachers, where we were sitting. By the time the show started, and even before then, the stairs on both ends were filled with people trying to push and shove their way through. There were two policemen holding back the crowd. Throughout the show, the people would sneak their way through to try and get a seat, only to find out that there really was not an inch of extra room to sit. We were hip bone to hip bone, and sometimes had even less room.

It took a long time for all of the artists to enter, so towards the end, the crowd began chanting a song which Willy translated for us "We're tired, let's go." Not too long after, the first performance was by a girl Willy knew who went to a secondary school very close to the center. He said people called her Celine Dion because she had such a nice voice. She sang "I Willy Always Love You" note for note in memory of Whitney Houston. It was beautiful, and everyone loved it. That performance was one of maybe 4 live performances.

Other performances were simply the singer going up and singing along with their recorded song. I couldn't believe it at first, and then it just became funny.

One of my favorite performances was the group who won Best Traditional Group. They had so many beautiful dancers who were all perfectly in sync. During this performance, I stood up to get a better view. When their performance was over, everyone went to sit back down. I turned around and there was absolutely no spot for me to sit. Willy and Elizabeth had found a seat, but there was absolutely no place for me. There was a kind older man sitting next to Willy, and he was yelling at the guy who took my place to move. Soon everyone around this other guy were pulling at him to get him out of my seat. Once they got him out, everyone wanted to give me a high five. That's what we get for not having real assigned seats and selling too many tickets!

So, to say the least, the event exceeded my expectations. If you have more questions, please ask them.

On Sunday, we had plans to go to a football game. It was a Rayon Sport game, Willy's favorite team. After a quick visit with Josephine at the market, we walked to the stadium to see the game. Elena and I wore blue to show our team spirit. Soon after we got through the security, a man approached us asking if we knew about Rayon Sport. (This is where being in the right place at the right time comes in). We told him of course, that's why we were wearing blue and white! After a brief conversation, he spoke to Willy in Kinyarwanda, and soon we were following this guy dressed in a long blue robe to the stadium doors. Willy quietly told us we were getting better seats.

This guy, Claude, turned out to be the President of the Rayon Sport fan club. He invited us to join him in the VIP section of the stadium. We sat only a few seats away from the coach of the Rwandan National Team football coach, and a few rows behind us was a player for the Women's National Team. I sat in amazement as the game began. Willy wanted me to guess the score of the game since I predicted the score of the last game to be 3-2, with Rayon Sport as the champion and I was right. I bet Willy that Rayon Sport would win 2-0 in the end of this game. At half time, Claude invited us in for drinks. We followed him to this special room where everyone important goes during half time. We shared Fanta with everyone, and Claude told everyone that I played football in the states. Everyone was very curious about that fact. They said if I ever come back to Rwanda, maybe I can be sponsored to play for the Women's Rayon Sport team since they're not very good right now.

Rwandan National Team coach

During the second half, Claude brought me over to the rowdy section 17 so I could take some video's of them. I wrote about this section in the blog I posted after my first day. Claude told them to sing one of their chants, and I got some pretty cool footage.

Rayon Sport, as I predicted, won 2-0. I caught both goals on camera!

Section 17
Rayon sport has the home jersey's: White with blue stripes.

After the game, Claude brought us to a local bar and restaurant for more drinks and some food. He told us he would give us all Rayon Sport t-shirts, and also invited us to go with him to the next game. He's also the manager of a hotel in Remera, and told us we were welcome to swim at the hotel any time we wanted. We thanked him so much for everything, and went on our way.

Talk about an eventful weekend!