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MOMOTOMBO

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Every time I think something is difficult, or dangerous, or scary…I think of this. This mountain, this volcano, this adventure. I think of Momotombo. It was about halfway through a 10-day trip to Nicaragua to visit/adventure (they really go hand in hand when we’re together) with my friend. We had just spent a couple of incredible days living the Island life…you know the version where you traverse the rocky edge of an island for hours, are escorted off of private property by military personnel, camp out, bathe in the ocean and climb coconut trees. But that’s a story for another time.

After taking the smallest plane ride of my life (practically sitting in the cockpit where one pilot took a nap while the other filed paperwork) back to capital of Nicaragua, we navigated our way in the dark through the crowded, crazy streets of Matagalpa to our hostel (my friend is a rock star at driving in Central America). With intermittent wifi connection we tried to confirm plans for the following day. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to climb a volcano…but we hadn’t narrowed down which one. I recall our overly tired conversation with our physically exhausted bodies going something like this…

“How about Momotombo? That one’s near Leon… I think I heard something about that one.”

“Yeah, it’s not the highest one, but I think I read that it’s one of the hardest. Sounds good to me.”

“This website says they provide special safety gear and masks to wear at the top.”

“Sounds serious…I don’t want it to be a touristy excursion though.”

“Me neither, but it doesn’t look like we can hike it without a guide (because of the permits needed, etc. etc.)…Lets go with this company…it’s all in Spanish so it must be locals and probably less touristy.”

“Good plan. Can we go on such short notice? (Less than 24 hours).”

“Yeah they said it’s fine.”

“ Ok, cool.”

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After getting some much needed rest, we woke with the help of pancakes and coffee; filled up the tank and started the couple hour drive to Leon Viejo. Turns out Leon Viejo is different then Leon…as we discovered after we arrived in Leon only to find out we had missed our turn about 45 minutes back. We made it to the tiny little village street where we would meet our guide. We had been told that we would be hiking part of the way up the volcano that afternoon and then stopping to camp and continue to the summit the following day, so we had a big lunch at the only restaurant around and waited for our guide. Actually he waited for us to pack up the rest of our meal for the road.

We hopped in the back of a truck with our guide and a farmer and started down the unpaved road toward Momotombo. And by unpaved, I mean we should have been in a rock crawler…this was serious off roading for a farm truck. As we neared a big gate, the truck slowed and the driver rolled up all of the windows except for his as he and our guide spoke in hushed voices. We pulled up to the gate where the old goucho (cowboy/farmer) exchanged a few words with the guard…we passed through and continued on our way as the driver rolled the windows back down. We had successfully been smuggled into the…hydrothermal power plant without a permit.

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After making our way a little further up the base of the mountain, the truck began to struggle in the thick soft dirt and so the driver backed up to a clearing and stopped. We were fully prepared to hop out and start walking up the mountain when our guide began to unload his backpack, and a gallon of water, and another, and another, and then a whole ice chest… and more. Before we could figure out what was going on, the farmer said hasta mañana (no really, that’s exactly what he said). After looking around and trying to decide how this was going to work, I asked our friend (the guide) if we were going to start hiking. No, he said. This is our campsite. We’ll camp here and hike in the morning. …”so…what are we going to do until then? It’s 3pm.” Well according to him, we had lots to do, and he began cleaning the campsite. Yes…he grabbed a stick and started sweeping away all of the leaves and loose dirt from the…dirt. My friend willingly helped and I… well I tried, but I couldn’t quite understand why were trying to “clean” the side of the mountain of its natural qualities. So I held in my laughs and took a picture and pretended to help as I kicked around some of the dirt that would stay there.

After cleaning the campsite and setting up our tent and even having some watermelon, it was now a late 3:30pm. So, we wandered through the brush and trees for a bit to a small clearing where we could see a big lake and a small volcano in the distance. I climbed a tree for a better view (naturally) and when the guide didn’t seem fond of my idea to “wait” for the sunset there, I drew in the dirt, picked up some stick and we started our own version of “volcano side darts in the wind.” Yes, it was every bit as exciting as it sounds. We played more rounds than I expected and I even saw our guide smile once…he took the competition very seriously. We had some chicha (pink drink made from corn and artificial flavors…yep, as weird as it sounds), watched the sun set through the clouds and made our way back to camp.

After sharing some food and new words in each of our languages, my friend and I headed to our tent, and our guide to his hammock, where we got a few hours of restless sleep on volcanic pebbles (we were packing super light…tent but no sleeping bags) before waking up at 1:30AM to have some coffee and bread, pack up camp and start our trek up the volcano. At 2 am we started up the incline of thick soft dirt blindly following our guide in the dark as it began to sprinkle. Despite the obvious challenge of not being able to see… I think hiking in the dark is actually easier. Primarily because of the fact that you can’t see where you are or where you’re going…you just have to focus on what’s in front of you and take it one step at a time. Our path seemed to get a little less steep…but also a little more uneven as we sank further into the side of the volcano with each step. At one point, I fell behind just enough to escape the harsh blinding flashlight of our guide up ahead and was able to see that we were traversing across a steep slope of volcanic ash.

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As we got further along, the volcanic ash became speckled with bigger volcanic rocks making it very difficult to find or keep our footing as we continued to follow our guide through the dark. “The good news,” I thought to myself, “is that we’re knocking out the hardest part in the dark. We’ll practically be at the top by the time it gets light.” As we sat down among some jagged boulders and sporadic plants to have what was probably our 3rd breakfast that morning, we were able to see the faintest hint of daylight on the horizon. We could still see a few lights twinkling in the distance and could see the faint outline of a smaller volcano across the lake. I could see even more light up above/behind and could see a horizon, a plateau, something. So I eagerly scrambled up through the boulders and plants to level ground. The wind was strong but the view as exciting; A lake with a view of Momotombito (literally means Little Momotombo) and up above what we thought was just a little ways to the peak of our volcano. Our guide kept saying the day before that we would go part of the way up and stop and look at the view and the volcano and then come back down…unless it was clear enough for us to go to the top. I tried my hardest to understand and nicely explain to him that I do not climb volcanoes, or any mountain for that matter, to only go part of the way. No. I was going to the top of the volcano, so whatever gasses he kept talking about better just blow away. I don’t come to hike just part of a volcano. I guess this was the “part way” point he had mentioned.

“There’s not too much gas,” our guide said. “That means we can go to the top!” I looked up and finally put together that what I naively assumed were clouds covering the top of the volcano the day before were actually volcanic gasses engulfing the summit and pouring down the side.

FUN FACT: After 100 years of being dormant, this volcano became active again in December of 2015. In the 6 months between then and the time we hiked it, the volcano had had over 500 small eruptions. You do the math. Disclaimer: we had no idea how active it was until after we hiked it.

After a couple of photos (since it was finally light enough for some grainy ones), spirits high thinking this was the final push; we started making our way to the top of Momotombo. With our goal in sight, and enough light to actually see where we were going, we didn’t care quite as much about the steep incline, the loose rocks or the extremely strong winds. The incline got increasingly steeper and the terrain less stable. We finally opted to leave our trekking poles along our path so that we could use our hands to stabilize ourselves/crawl up the mountain.

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Soon our path was altogether non-existent as we continued to crawl up the steep slope now consisting of…dirt. A little loose dirt and ash on top of hard mountain. Yeah the combination is as slippery and frustrating as it sounds. We soon forgot our naïve comments about being “almost” there as we literally clung to the side of the volcano, which was getting increasingly warmer to the touch. As we continued our way up and started traversing at a more horizontal angle. There were no nooks or crannies or boulders that we could stop and rest at. If I had known that before, I might have sat down and rested my muscles for a minute before hastily making my way for the “final ascent”. This may be a good time to mention that I had spent the couple of days before trying to climb coconut trees. I don’t know if you have ever tried that before, but it’s difficult. Every muscle in my body was sore. Including muscles I didn’t know I had.

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With physical fatigue setting in and no sign of the summit in sight, I became more aware of my surroundings and the reality of our situation. Now, looking back, if I had actually fallen, I’m not sure what would have happened. I suppose if I laid against the mountain I would have been able to slide down and I would of stopped eventually… Right? But it would have been a long ways down, and at the time, without thinking rationally, the idea of falling was terrifying. Every time I would find what looked like a rock, something to actually grab onto for one second…it would crumble beneath my fingers and start a miniature landslide.

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The side of the volcano soon became rockier and a little more level. While probably just as unstable and unsafe, I could finally relax for the first time in what felt like forever. We followed our guide down and around crater of the volcano, which sat just off to the side. It made sense now, all of the gas he was talking about the day before and how we might not be able to go to the top. Is smelled strongly of sulfur and our eyes and lungs began to burn. Our guide suggested we pour some water on our shirts/ and use it to cover our nose and mouth. We all three soaked in the views in awe and took photos and videos as we followed our guides lead wandering around the edge of the crater. At one point he led us down into the crater a little ways where gasses were pouring out so thick that you could barely breathe or see. This might have been the clearest our guide had ever seen the volcano as he was just as excited as us to be admiring the views and taking advantage of photo ops. After my heart rate finally started to lower and it became harder to breathe and keep my eyes open, we started to make our way back around the crater. Our guide asked if I was afraid to go back the way we came, and I admitted (for the first time in my life that I can recall) that yes, I was scared. He asked if I would be able to make it and I asked him if a helicopter would come pick me up if I said no… he chuckled and started leading the way.

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Instead of going back the same way we came (around the mountain…which still terrifies me trying to imagine going back down that way)…we decided to start going down the mountain, literally sledding, and once it got less steep, surfing down the side of the volcano (with our pants and our feet). After making it back down to the plateau we had watched the sunrise from earlier that morning, we had our 4th breakfast of the day before continuing our way back to camp. This time in the daylight. By the time we arrived at our campsite, the Farmer was already there with his truck, ready to take us back to town. With wobbly legs, we loaded the truck and took a deep breath as we looked at each other very satisfied yet partly in disbelief of what we (my adventure buddy and I) had just done. We took the scenic route back to town…literally driving in the dirt along the lake. Our guide left us at the restaurant where we had 5th breakfast before driving to Managua. I think this stands as my record for the most breakfasts in one day…all technically still during morning hours.

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This was almost 9 months ago, and I still find myself daydreaming about it and reliving it in my head like it was yesterday. I’ve wanted to write about it since the adventure itself, but I was afraid of not doing it justice, of not being able to describe it accurately or portray the situation. I haven’t included every detail…that would be too much. But this adventure is too great not to share.

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NEW LIFE

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Meet the newest member of my family.  Words cannot adequately describe the joy of celebrating new, precious, perfect life.  I was lucky enough to meet my youngest nephew less than an hour after we was born, and I’ve seen him a couple of times since.  He is so sweet and small (I’m sure he won’t stay that way for long), yet strong.  His personality and character already show, through his laid back demeanor and his serious look of intent.  This little boy is already so loved.

(These pictures were taken at 9 days old.  Thanks to his amazing parents for letting me be the obnoxious aunt who takes way too many pictures.)

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Until next time.

MUHABURA

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Last weekend, I finally hiked another one of the five volcanoes surrounding Musanze. The night before my hike, I woke up multiple times to pouring rain. It was the, “Noah and Ark, the flood is coming,” type of rain. Thankfully the rain calmed and in the early foggy, cloudy morning, a friend took me and my guide to a tiny little town at the base of Mt. Muhabura, where we waited for the guards that would accompany us. As I stood against a building trying to find shelter from the wind, a crowd of boys and men gathered around me-the muzungu (naturally). When an old man asked me where I was going, I pointed to the top of the mountain ahead. They all roared with laughter as they dispersed.

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After an hour or so of waiting, a large truck filled with armed guards finally pulled up. I joined them in the bed of the truck and we made our way up to the rocky road to the trailhead. The truck drove back to town as my guide, his porter, six armed guards and myself made our way towards the mountain.

I’m not going to bore you with the whole story. That would be a waste of space when there are so many wonderful photos for you to enjoy. However, you won’t appreciate these photos as much as I do. You can’t. You may admire them, and I hope you do, but these scenes can never be accurately depicted in photos, not without seeing them in person and experiencing the struggle that made them that much more incredible to see.

Now, I enjoy a good physical challenge, but this, well…this was a bit much. I should of known better than to try to climb an almost 14er when I was so out of shape. It didn’t take long for me to realize I was in over my head with this one. I said I wouldn’t bore you and I’ve already written more than I intended. Just know, the hike included this: Some laughing at myself, lots of talking to myself (only one of my eight hiking companions spoke any English), coming up with all sorts of mountain climbing-life analogies, a good amount of prayer and some singing. Oh, and lots of water and photo breaks. This hike also required me recognizing and admitting my own weakness (something I hate to do), and to be humbled in a lot of ways that I won’t try to explain here. Ultimately, I was reminded once again of God’s provision and presence in my life. And I got to conquer a mountain in the process.

Enough blabbing. Check out these photos.

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Fun fact:  Yesterday was the first (and only) day I have seen Muhabura since I hiked it a week ago.

SAVE THE CHAMELEONS

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If you are expecting to hear about a real conservation effort, stop reading now. You will be disappointed.

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I have some Aussie friends here who have been working with a group of people up in Kinigi (an area outside of town, up at the base of the mountains). I have been curious about their work and finally had the chance to join them last weekend. I was looking forward to this outing for multiple reasons. One: it meant getting out of town, and I enjoy a more rural experience occasionally. Two: this is one of my favorite areas to visit. It has more natural beauty; has been not been rearranged by the hands of man as much as other areas. I love imagining what places must have been like before man arrived there. Anyways, that’s a tangent I won’t go off on now.

IMG_8407As we were on our way to a small church out in a village, I was enjoying the scenery, when my friend stopped his car. There was a group of kids crowding around the vehicle (which is not unusual), one of which had a chameleon on a stick (lots of Rwandans are afraid of chameleons and will not touch them). My friend took the small green creature with his hand and brought it into the vehicle to admire it up close. It took me a while to catch on, but apparently the kid new that my friend likes chameleons and had brought it to him hoping to receive a pen in exchange. The further you go out of town, the less you hear kids ask for money and the more you hear them ask for a pen. So, as my friend placed the animal back on the stick, he explained to the young girl that she needed to put the chameleon back and protect it. If she did this, he would give her a pen on his way back. This happened a couple of times before we finally reached our destination.

Sitting on a plank of wood laid across rocks, I listened, watched and tried to sing along with the joyful people singing and dancing in the crammed quarters of a small building of sticks and mud. This was quite the contrast to my usual Sunday mornings at a local Anglican church where I attend their early morning English service. After a short time I went with my friends to help with Bible class. I followed a large group of children out the door as they carried the planks they had just been sitting on and carried them to an unfinished structure where we would have class. After several hours of church, we began to make our way back to town.

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We hadn’t gotten very far when groups of kids, even teenagers began shouting at us as they held out sticks of chameleons. My friend couldn’t pass any of these groups without stopping and holding the small creatures and explaining to the kids their responsibility to protect the chameleon they had found. Usually it was just one or two chameleons, and then we reached a group where tree branches were shoved through the driver’s window as soon as we stopped. I believe there were about seven chameleons present at this point. Word had obviously gotten out that there was a man who would give you a pen if you brought him a chameleon.

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So, while my friend is trying to encourage these children to leave the chameleons alone and protect them…all the chameleons are first being captured and brought to the chameleon loving muzungu. At this point, my friend and his translator got out of the car and gave quite the speech on the importance of these small creatures and the necessity of protecting them. I don’t know if it was his words or their fear of the small animals crawling all over this man’s hands, but they were very attentive.

So there you have it. A less than normal day of my life here in Rwanda.

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A DAY IN THE LIFE

Despite my efforts at keeping this blog updated, the results are obviously lacking. So instead of another apology… (oops, I think that’s what that just was. I’ll stop there.)

Last Sunday was not a typical Sunday for me. Excited to share some photos I had taken and some stories to go with them, I began to write a blog post about my atypical day. That’s not what’s in this post though. I decided it wouldn’t make much sense to share my out of the norm day when I haven’t even shared a normal day. While it seems a little silly to me to share what one of my days typically looks like, I realize that my normal may be quite different from your normal. I’ll let you be the judge.

After looking out the window to make my initial forecast for the day’s weather, (which is really pointless with the ever changing weather here), I make may way to the kitchen where I look out over the backyard hoping to be greeted by a clear view of Muhabura. Okay, I actually go to the Kitchen to make my tea, but checking the volcano visibility while I’m there is obviously a must.

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As I pull back the curtains to unlock (and un pad-lock) the front door, Einstein’s whining gets louder in anticipation of what he thinks is a chance to come inside. As soon as he sees me, the dog makes himself comfortable again. He knows I’m not going to let him in. I greet our night guard Everiste who is most likely working in the yard as I make my way out of the gate. With consIMG_8313truction going on at the neighbor’s house across the street, these days my first step onto the street is met with several sets of eyes as the all of the workers turn their heads towards me. After a simple, “Mwaramutse,” (goodmorning) to break their stares, I make my way down the dirt road soaking in bits of early morning sun and the sounds and smells that come with it. I catch pieces of conversations from young students on their way to school or people commuting to work on the back of bicycles, as they pass by, rattling down the bumpy road. I pass by women who look as though they’ve already been hard at work for many hours. I wonder where they are coming from and going to.

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Opening the gate at the schoolhouse, I am always greeted by some beautiful flowers, and if I’m lucky, some sun rays to go with them. My next greeting isn’t quite as soft, but is just as bright and beautiful! It is a rare occasion for me to be the first one at the school. One student is usually sitting quietly on the front porch waiting, until I am within distance of a running hug.

Since you probably know more about my preschoolers than anything else about my life in Rwanda, I’ll fast-forward to the end of the work day. After a glimpse of my student’s practicing for their potential future professions. They deserve their own post with plenty of space for me to brag on their progress.

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Somehow, the day goes comes and goes, and by the time I begin to make my way home, the sun has already begun its descent. The evening sky beckons to me as I leave the school. Occasionally it is successful in enticing me to take the slightly longer way home for a better view of the volcanoes and setting sun.

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My time at home is usually just a quick break before heading out to dinner at the home of one of the missionary families here, or a night of pizza and Euchre with some friends. And after that, well, it’s usually around 8pm and my night ends not long after…right back where it began.

So there you have it, a typical life in the day of Mary in Rwanda. Some seem to think that living in Africa means a life of constant adventure. While there is potential for adventure (just as there is anywhere), the day-to-day here probably isn’t much different from there.  It’s just in a different setting, with a slightly different twist.

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LOOKING FORWARD THROUGH REFLECTION

For my last minute personality, it is too early to be thinking about what’s next. But there’s no escaping it. Funny how the mention of a plane ticket back to the States sends your mind hurling into the unplanned future. For those of you who may be wondering or are bound to ask me (if you haven’t already), I have no clue what’s next. I have some ideas, but no I don’t really know what I’ll do once I leave Rwanda, and I haven’t made plans past spending much needed time with my family this summer. Maybe I’m being irresponsible; maybe I’m too old to be living my life on the fly just playing things by ear. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop figuring things out as I go, and I’m okay with that.

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See that photo (the one of me in an obnoxious orange t-shirt –ayo waves!-standing in front of a white board)? Just before I started thinking about, “what’s next,” I was going through old photos as I tried to clear space on my always full disk drive and I came across this picture. A simple yet powerful reminder of God’s guiding hand in my life. I always joke that I don’t need to figure out what to do next, because I know God already has something in mind. Anytime I doubt that, I look back. I look at times (like in this photo) when I wasn’t so calm about what was next, and I didn’t even know where I would be the following month. Yet looking back, I can see how God not only had a plan for what I would be doing that next month, but for where I would be three years from then and how it was all connected. Talk about planning ahead.

Okay, back to the photo. The summer after I graduated from Pepperdine, I was still living in Malibu, not wanting to leave, but not sure how to stay. Working part time doing advertising was not going to be enough reason to keep me there, and I didn’t want to take that particular job to a full-time level.

Earlier that year I had committed to going on a short-term mission trip to Honduras the end of that summer. I was excited to get out of the country again and determined not to let this become another case of “voluntourism.” After our initial plans of roughing it in the mountains while helping with a project there fell through, we ended up spending a few days at a school hanging out with the kids while the more qualified members of our team carried out a medical clinic there. As the only Spanish speaker in my group, someone there at the school had the bright idea to have me teach while I was there.   Yes, teach. Looking back, it makes me laugh, picturing my International degree, working in advertising, never liked school much anyways -self, going from class to class standing in front of a class full of students waiting for me to offer them something their own teacher couldn’t. English. At the time I thought nothing of it. “You want me to teach? Okay.” We laughed about how I was almost left at the school one day because nobody knew I was inside the school teaching, and then I’m sure everyone forgot all about it (as I myself had, until about 3 years later).

After returning to the States, I made my way back to California, not knowing if I would even be there another week. A couple of days after reaching the sunny, salty coast, I had secured a job as a teacher’s aide at a private Christian school not far from my house. It was a great opportunity and I could have been content staying there a long time. As much as I loved my job working with some awesome kindergarteners and co-workers, and loved living life with some amazing community that I had come to consider family (not to mention living ON the beach: A lifelong dream of mine), I knew when it was time for me to leave. I didn’t know why I should even consider leaving a place and people, even a job that I loved, but God was calling, so I followed.

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My backyard (in CA). Literally.

After finishing up the school year I made my way back to Colorado. Despite the long drive through nothing but desert, my destination came all too soon. I wanted to just stay on the road and keep driving until I figured out what I was going to do next. I trusted God enough to act when I felt him pulling me to leave CA, but I had no idea where he was calling me to, or when. All I knew, is I wouldn’t be in my home country much longer.

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Some of my preschoolers working on an art project.

After spending time with family and getting in some good hiking on my mountains, I finally started making progress with figuring out what was next. So I thought. After turning down an opportunity to teach English in Thailand, and another one to tutor in Italy, I began to doubt. Had God really called me to leave my second home? Did I make a mistake? Did I give up an awesome job and amazing community for nothing? What am I doing back at home? Why did I think this was ever a good idea? I became very antsy and somewhat remorseful. About a week or so after having a serious talk with God and revisiting my reasons for leaving California, I had committed to go teach some missionary kids in Rwanda.

Turns out, he wanted me to stay more than just the planned 4.5 months, so…. here I am (over a year later), still teaching in Rwanda at what is now a new American International School. If you told me this time last year that I would still be here, I probably would have laughed. But 3 years ago, that day I stood up in front of a class full of students for the first time? I would have raised my eyebrows and written you off as crazy.

Would I like to know what’s next so that I could plan accordingly and have an answer for every time someone asks me about my future? Yeah, that would be nice. But am I worried? No. I am absolutely confident that God is still working and doing a lot more planning for my life than I am. Is it tempting to doubt, when I feel like I should have things figured out by now? Of course it is. But God has given me too many reasons to not have complete faith in him. I can’t wait to look back on this time 3 years from now and see how everything was coming together despite my seeming lack of direction.

In case this novel didn’t make my point clear… no, I don’t know what’s next and no, I’m not worried. It doesn’t really matter what I do, what’s important is how I do it.

I KNOW HER BY THEIR LOVE

I wrote this a month ago, and then decided against sharing it.  Through the help of family it was shared on Facebook. I figured I might as well share it here.  Sometimes I need a little push when it comes to putting my thoughts and emotions out for all to see.

Up until recently, I had never lost a grandparent. I don’t know what it’s supposed to be like. But really, I don’t know what it’s like to have grandparents. At least, not the type that you see in movies or hear all of your friends talk about having. I don’t know what it’s like to live near a grandmother and be able to bake cookies with her, go to the park, hear stories of back when, or whatever else Grandparents typically do with grandkids that live close by. I barely know what it’s like to have a Grandmother that is healthy enough to recognize, remember or know who you are when you visit every year or so.

When my sweet Grandmother passed away last month, I didn’t know how to feel. It didn’t seem fair to grieve over the loss of a Grandmother that I hardly knew. I hurt so much more for all my family that does know her, as I think about what they must be going through.   My heart had been aching. Not from personal loss. But from the pain that so many, close to me were suffering. Even more so perhaps, for the lack of personal loss at my Grandmother’s passing. I never lived near my Grandparents, and my Grandmother has been sick for all of the scattered visits I can remember. I began to grieve, not because of a relationship I would miss, or time spent together, for I never had much of either. I grieved at the fact that I didn’t’ even know my Grandmother. Not like other family members did. I felt I didn’t even have a right to miss her, when compared to so many others, I didn’t know her. Then I realized I did. I did know my Grandmother. Just not in the same way.

Let me tell you how I know my Grandmother.

I know she liked to look nice. Due to my curiosity and desire to know what my Grandmother was like before she was bedridden with M.S., I found myself, on more occasion than one, trying on pieces of her beautifully diverse jewelry collection and fitting myself into a few of her fun jackets and vests. Maybe this wasn’t appropriate to do (or appropriate to share right now), but I know my Grandmother had a sense of style and I know she always looked good.

I know she found joy in the little things and found pleasure in small details. My Mom has a great appreciation for birds and always finds joy in seeing them. I know no other reason for this other than the fact that her mom had a love for these simple, seemingly insignificant, beautiful, free creatures. I know her attention to detail by the way she carefully dressed and positioned the dolls sitting on shelves and counters throughout her house.

I know she was attentive and did not like to miss out. Even the last time I visited my Grandparents, despite her body (unable to move) facing out the window away from the rest of the room, and her mind slowly fading… she couldn’t bare to be left out. Any time a word was spoken that she couldn’t hear, she demanded to know what was being said. She must have been quite the social butterfly.

I know she was strong. From the little I did know of her, she was stubborn and strong willed. Though she usually seemed very agreeable, she could put up a fight if she wanted to, and in her last days (from what I hear), she most definitely did.

I know she was joyful. Oh, so full of joy. I know this by the full smile that spread across her face in photos of her as a young mother. The same one that she wore each day she lay in bed, completely dependent. Anytime words were spoken, time given or a touch shared, she displayed her beautiful smile as brightly as I believe she ever had. And I know this by their joy: by the joy of her children. My mother and aunts are more full of joy than anyone I know. And I imagine my Grandmother must have enjoyed a good time. I know she always liked a reason to laugh. She must have loved to, “ride the ponies!” (A phrase my family uses when they’re having a good time together.)

But most of all, I know her by their love. Yes, their love. The love of her husband, my dear Grandad, and the way he patiently cared for her so many years.   Even till the end being ever so caring and loving with each touch and word. And the way her children took care of her, giving of time and energy. Given to her, not out of obligation, but love. I know this by the way they love and care for their own families. These kinds of actions could not be produced from obligation, or command, but only in response to a love received. I know her by my Mother’s love. The way she loves me unconditionally and lives with a servants heart loving not only her own children, but also all of those she comes in contact with. I know her by their love. The love which they give so generously and freely; a love that can only be given in such abundance when it is overflowing from another source. Love can’t be taught through discipline or commanded by the authority…even that of a parent. Love can only be taught by example. My Grandmother must have loved well. Because without much to go off of, but what she left behind, I know her by their love.

I’m truly rejoicing over my Grandmother being restored and made whole. Free from pain and physical restriction. Reunited with her savior in her vibrant youthful state that I always imagined seeing her in. Soaking in untainted love, at the source.

MEET THE PRESCHOOLERS (PART 3): THE LITTLES

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Though I like to refer to my remaining three students as my, “littles,” this really only refers to their age. They are by no means little. Between the three, they have big eyes, big hair, a big vocabulary, big imagination, big smiles, big tears and BIG personalities. Though they can make teaching (older kids) a challenge, they brighten my day an insurmountable amount and I am going to miss having them in my class when we grow and split my class into two In January. Meet the littles…

DYLAN:

Dylan turned three just a few weeks into the school year. He is a tiny, little guy, and for the most part, pretty quiet. Until just a couple of weeks ago, he would rarely speak, in English or Kinyarwanda, and often seemed to be in a constant daze.  He was content watching others, his big eyes glazed over, without participating or interacting. It has been so fun to see Dylan come out of his shell. He is full of energy now, and loves to run around laughing and growling. He is still content playing independently and can hold a (constant) conversation with himself in his own mumbly growly language whenever I am trying to teach or read a story. He loves to watch the older boys in our class and is sometimes brave enough to join in their rowdy games…but he is very much still a baby, and if something doesn’t go his way…get ready for some crocodile tears. I think the other students are growing concerned with how easily I go on like nothing is wrong, despite his wailing. According to Dylan’s parents, he now insists on being addressed by his American name (same spelling, different pronunciation). So, I guess he likes school. And his proud grin after doing something all on his own, is priceless. Also, those eyes.

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KEKE:

This girl has a lot goin’ for her, and she is a sweet, fun loving girl, but man can she pout. In the beginning, I had a hard time not laughing when she didn’t get her way…she can cross those arms, stick out her chest… and that lip. She’s got some lip. Like most of my students though, she has grown and changed a lot in these few short months. I actually can’t remember the last time I saw her strut around to let others know she was unhappy. For the past month, she has been nothing but giggles and smiles. She is very playful, and also very nurturing. Though she is not one to sit and listen herself, she becomes very distraught when other students are being too wild or aren’t following rules, and she’s not afraid to take action in letting them know. KeKe speaks French, and until recently, refused to even attempt words in English. No matter how many times you tried to get her to repeat words, she would only reply with, “oui,” as she raised her eyrbrows. She now not only repeats English, but can say several things on her own, one of her most common phrases being, “Miss Mary, one big, big, BIG, push please,” which she shouts from the swing that she would sit on all day if I let her. In her little French accent, it’s hard to deny this request, and I rarely do.

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KeKe loves to wear flowers in her hair…and fortunately for her, they stick like velcro

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JULIA:

Even though VVA is an International school with several American students…. my youngest student, Julia is the only fair skinned, blond haired child in our class. Unfortunately for her, the other kids are fascinated with these features and don’t allow her much personal space at school. This caused Julia to be somewhat stand off-ish for quite some time, but she is learning to stand her ground now, and between her vocabulary, English skills and bright mind, you wouldn’t know that she is the youngest. She is from Spain and speaks Catalan (and a lot of English). She has the smallest, high-pitched voice I have ever heard, and though she loves to speak and sing at inconvenient times…I must admit, I love to listen to her ramble in her distinct little voice (when it’s not distracting other kids). I know that kids are sponges at this age, but I am still amazed at how quickly she has picked up English…among other things. I’m sure this is due to good, active parenting. Until she speaks Catalan (which is not very often anymore) you would never know that English is not her first language. Despite being very bright and very verbal, she also loves to be silly and joke around. She can also be demanding (she is part of the “Miss Mary, push me!” swing posy), and still likes to test her boundaries at times. That’s just part of being a two year old. But spelling and writing your name? I don’t think that’s a normal part of being two. She spells her name for me on a daily basis, and yes, she attempted to write her name yesterday, and was fairly successful in creating the general form of all the letters.

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Julia loves to play in the rain. Thankfully, she loves umbrellas too!

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Teaching me the game that she made up.

 

 

Well, hopefully this gives you a glimpse into the diverse personalities that make up my preschool class. They are really an awesome group of kids, and I’m sure you would love them as much as I do if you could meet them in person. They just assume that any muzungu visitor is there for the sole purpose of playing with them…and if given the opportunity, they will waste no time in wrapping their arms around you.

 

MEET THE PRESCHOOLERS (PART 2)

Before I introduce you to more of my students, lets just take a moment and look at how cool these kids are.  Maybe one day I’ll be on their level.  I’m taking notes.

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RAEAN:

This is RaeAn, my one native English speaker.  She was adopted from China by one of the missionary families that started this school.  If anyone loves school, it’s this girl!  She is a constant stream of energy and enthusiasm.  She is a very bright (almost four year old) preschooler, and she has an excellent memory.  Whether it’s answering my questions in class or pretending to be “Miss Mary,” during play time, she a is a good reminder of how kids pick up on a lot more than you realize.  Every teacher needs a student like this to make them feel good about themselves and keep them on their toes!

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RaeAn has been eager to learn from day one, and learned how to write her name all by herself in no time!

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That energy though. She can outlast anyone…especially the sleeping kid on the swing next to her 😉

 

ROMEO: 

Romeo joined our class a week into the school year, but watching him, you never would have known.  From his first day of school he has been the quiet observer who watches and follows by example, paying close attention to every detail.  Whether he’s in the classroom, or playing sports outside, he always gives one hundred percent…until he wears himself out and falls asleep.  Romeo is so full of joy, and always has the biggest (toothless) gin.  He is also quite a little gentleman.  The small stature of this five year old has nothing on his big personality!

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How could you not love that smile?

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Little athlete. He’s a bit of an entertainer too.

 

MAILA:

Meet Maila.  Though this student is not a regular at our school, she fits in as if she were there every day, and the other students love her!  Maila lives in the capitol, Kigali, where she attends kindergarten.  About one week each month, she comes to Musanze with her mother (who comes to town for her job), and we are lucky enough to have her in our classroom during that time.  Maila has great hair, a big imagination, and loves to talk!  I have to admit, I was a little thrown off when this student began to volunteer comments, stories, and questions one after another during her first week at our school…I’m obviously not used to outgoing, English speaking students.

 

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Girl’s got style!

 

HAPPYNESS:

Well, I think the name says it all. This little girl is feisty, go getter, and it takes a lot to get her down.  She is bold and spunky.  Happyness has a loud personality, sense of style and voice.  She is usually very happy and laughing about something, but she is also full of fight and can hold her own.  She wants so badly to speak English and I must commend her for the bravery and confidence with which she throws out English words any chance she gets…even if they are unrelated to the topic. I can’t wait for the day when the correlation between these words and their meanings click for her.

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Wearing her sequins loud and proud! This girl is not lacking confidence.

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So much sass.

 

Yes, this is going to take three posts.  Come back to meet my littles!

 

 

 

 

MEET THE PRESCHOOLERS (PART 1)

Some days I love it here and I can’t believe I live here. Other days, I can’t believe I live here and can’t remember why. This past weekend I struggled with the latter. Maybe it’s because I was exhausted and needed a break. Maybe it’s because the holiday season (and lack of seasons here) is making me miss home a little extra, and the thought of not being with my family for Christmas is making me realize what it means to be homesick. Or maybe it’s because I had been sick and when I get sick, I get cranky, and I lose whatever filter was left as thoughts come pouring out of the corners of my mind and then out of my mouth.

I promise this post is not all about me. We will get the to kids…just hang on.

Still not feeling well, I had a difficult time mentally preparing myself for Monday morning…then as I walked out of the school, before I could even get out the words, “good morning,” ten little sets of arms wrapped around me in a big group hug as they shouted, “Miss Mary! Miss Mary!” each with their distinct accent. In case it isn’t obvious enough; this is why I’m here. I’m here for these kids. There are days when I don’t think I can muster up any more patience or energy for them…and those days are always followed by ones when I can’t stop smiling and can’t believe I let myself forget (again) that they are my purpose for being here, and they are more than enough reason to stay.

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My small class of ten preschoolers is made up of kids representing six different Nationalities and five languages, coming from different cultural and socioeconomic groups (which we will be adding to in January when some new students join our school).  Really, they each need their own post…but with 10 kids and my posting pace, that would take all year.  Meet my preschoolers…

PRINCE:

Prince will be six before the end of the school year making him the oldest in our class.  His mother is the sweet worker at my house.  She is an incredibly strong woman, and Prince already takes after her in this.  He (like most of the kids) speaks very little English, but that doesn’t keep him from taking charge, wanting to be a leader and always trying to help others.

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Prince can write his name and loves to copy other words on his own. Check out the Rwandan flag he made!

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KELSEY:

This is my second oldest student, Kelsey.  As you can see below, he recently had a Birthday.  He was so excited to celebrate with his friends at school; he refused to have his party at home.  Kelsey is trilingual (yes, I’m envious).  While French is his first language, he also speaks Kinyarwanda (the local language) and knows a decent amount of English.  During the first few weeks of school he would sometimes act as the translator between me and the other students.  Kelsey loves responsibility, and often pretends to be the teacher.  He also has a great sense of humor and will make a joke of something any chance he gets.  This kid also has great manners. Props to his momma.

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Apparently it is Rwandan culture to let kids cut their own Birthday cake. The five year old is holding a giant knife. No big deal.

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I’m sure Kelsey was the one who started this creative play of making computers during center time. He’s learning his father’s businessman ways already. Sometimes he sells balls to the other kids (for leaf currency).

 

AMANDA:

Meet Amanda.  I’m still trying to figure this one out.  She is extremely shy and soft spoken; I have to strain to here anything she says.  Within the past couple of weeks she has relaxed a little and become more comfortable and confident.  The almost constant, “deer in the headlights,” look she had has now softened to a bashful look of interest, often interrupted by a big smile and laughter.  Her laugh sounds just like the one one Mario, if you know what I’m talking about.  It’s pretty great.

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Confession: I thought Amanda was four (turning five) until her parents came to celebrate her Birthday at school and brought a cake with a big number 4 on it. She is a very tall four year old.

 

Seven more preschoolers coming your way…