The Laughing Journey

Life is a Journey… Let Go and Enjoy the Ride!

Rwandan adventures, weddings and moto-taxis, A Second Christmas in Ethiopia… and Mbabazi’s wish!!!!

1.7.14
Reminiscing a year later and finally posting more to the site,
here’s a little repeat with little extra adventure!
 

Selam & a second Merry Christmas from Ethiopia! Little did I know I’d be celebrating Christmas again (just weeks after a previous celebration in Rwanda); But, today is the day that Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. This is based off the Julian calendar which pre-dates the Gregorian calendar that is commonly observed. Not only does their calendar allow me to enjoy a second Christmas celebration, it also makes me 8 years younger! So, even though many of you rang in 2014 just a few days ago, I’m currently enjoying another Christmas celebration (Ethiopian style) on Jan 7, 2006!!

Aside from a recent stomach issue that forced me to slow down a bit, the journey continues to surprise me in ways that seem indescribable! Just when you think you couldn’t come across a more beautiful view, person, serendipitous moment or exchange of words, you turn the corner, take a few more steps and there it is…  even more beautiful encounters emerge.

EACH day brings new friends and adventures and so much happens in a day that I find myself barely sleeping at night. If by chance I wake in the middle of the night, it’s almost guaranteed that I’ll be awake for a minimum of one hour (but usually more) until my mind finishes it’s trip down memory lane reminiscing about the days happenings. Some days are so full that it really is the only time to reflect! (I suppose I could improve the bags under my eyes if I’d just learn my lesson of not drinking too much before bed.) But, there’s also incredibly vivid dreams (possibly enhanced by Malaria meds) that come into play! Some feel so real, like all of your senses are awake! Most of them seem to tie in with the days/weeks events, but a few have come with a beautiful message behind them too! Those in particular are when I’ve tried my darnedest not to wake up. Inevitably, at some point, the next day comes and I have no choice but to jump on in… And embrace each moment the new day has to bring!

So, it’s times like today (back in wifi zone, catching up on sleep and my health) that I realize I haven’t even made the time to journal or write. So, here goes the start of another attempt. I promise I will get around to filling in the blanks of where I left off with the ‘I am Able’ project and this beautiful beginning in Ethiopia… Soon! But, until then, here’s some briefs on my last couple weeks in Rwanda… along with Mbabazi’s wish!
 
…..
 
My time in Rwanda was WAY more beautiful and fulfilling than I could’ve ever imagined. The first half of the journey was great being able to reunite with the kids, do a couple bike rides with the ‘I am Able’ team, meet new friends and explore a few new areas. Although it was a treat to be in Gisenyi the whole time, we did buckle down a bit more towards the later part of my stay in hopes to start a decent foundation for Frederic’s ‘I am Able’ project. Still in the beginning stages of development, I’m happy to say we made a lot of progress and I KNOW they will do great things as they continue to develop their plan and shift gears towards a brighter future for all! It was truly a blessing to have spent the time with each of them and to ride beside these amazing spirits full of determination, courage and love. Feel free to check out the ‘Day 1_I am Able’ post to learn more about our first ride and stay tuned for more on further rides and the new direction that they are taking. Until then, please help us spread awareness that we are all ABLE and that we each have a purpose and talents to share!
 
My last two weeks in Rwanda seemed non-stop, more so trying to wrap up what we started for the I am Able project, but definitely with some fun adventures in between. Innocent treated Olivier and I to a day just outside of Gisenyi where he has property and land and later to a special place that I instantaneously fell in love with. His property overlooks Lake Kivu and has quite a spectacular view, plenty of land to grow vegtables, and a house that he gives to the people that tend to his land. This is just a small sign of his kindness, compassion and generosity towards his fellow man. After we visited with his tenants family, who I’m not sure had ever seen a muzungu or a camera before, we left with big smiles and headed up the road to the Inzu Lodge. Innocent knows how to treat a muzungu. I fell in love with this place within seconds. The lodge offers camping or safari type accommodations, with some of the most beautiful and creative bamboo structures on their property. But, they also had a large open veranda with a lounge area, dining area and fun little nooks and crannies where they kept native instruments and the such for us to play with. We each gave our musical talents a shot, but somehow the boys sounded a bit more in tune with these unique works of art than I did. After a lot of laughs and even more stories, we finally headed back to Gisenyi, feeling like we had gone as far as Zimbabwe for a 4 day vacation! It was such a great treat and such great company. I suppose I had been trying to wrap up ‘I am Able’ stuff for a while that I didn’t even realize I really needed a break. And, so did the boys. They both have full plates with their work, responsibilities and school. By some of the laughter that was echoing throughout the hillsides that night, you’d think we were 15 years old celebrating our first day of Summer Break. 

Then, there was Noels wedding which was an all day affair, starting with a dowry offering in the morning, a church ceremony that lasted hours, a photo shot and some other sort of gatering and then finally a reception later that went until dark. There was a lot of love and ‘hallaleujahs’ and ‘can I get an amen’ being shed that day. And, the paparazzi was there to record every moment. Funny because at times you couldn’t even see the bride or groom… camera and movie camera’s were literally surrounding the couple and you’d think that they were trying to be coo for the public, because you rarely saw them smile. I never figured out if this was a tradition the bride was not allowed to smile or not, but I mighta caught a few grins throughout the whole day. It was a bit mind boggling, although I can’t blame here with all the flashes going off left and right and all around her. And, then there was the music. They know how to rock it out for their weddings. I think a few of us got up in the church ceremony to clap along and sway a bit from side to side, but with this band you thought people would be stomping all around the church. You could definitely hear the band for MILES away as they rented the latest and greatest amps for their set up. Noel looked so handsome and I was happy to see him smiling more throughout the day. He and all his groomsmen were adorned in the brightest of all James Brown RED suits and the bridesmaids all looked beautiful with their cute mini hats, placed perfectly on the side of their heads. Later during the reception the bride and groom washed one of the other few muzungu’s feet in front of the crowd. Kristi and I were a bit confused but later learned she was Noel’s sponsor who had helped him finish school and obviously still is involved in Noels life. I know that he expressed his heart-felt thanks to her but we’re still not exactly sure about the feet washing station that we all were watching for many minutes. Later we learned that the washing of the feet resembled an act reminiscent of Jesus’ feet being washed, but my religious knowledge and memory is fading at this point. If it comes back to me I’ll be sure to fill you in, or feel free to through your insight my religious upbringing is limited.

After a full day of wedding bliss, my mzungu sista Kristi and I were exhausted saying goodbye with, ‘Can I get an amen’ and again our heart full of joy being a part of such a special day. Later she informed me that she had a treat for us for Christmas. Just as the ‘I am Able’ team was wrapping up most of our self-assigned projects a few days later, I was invited to stay with Kristi for my first Christmas celebration of the year. She had rented a beautiful home close to Lake Kivu and the Congo border and she even came with a few special Christmas decorations, costumes and goodies to share. It was such a treat to be in a nice home with a beautiful sitting area, kitchen, water filter, refrigerator (even though it was in one of the bedrooms) and most of all the great company of a new friend and soul sista (who had known Roz and the kids of the Imbabazi for many years as well). After staying up to the wee hours of the morning exchanging stories and laughs, we slept in on Christmas morning, enjoyed some fresh brewed coffee at our leisure and we continued to relax as the rains came down on the tin roof. After the daily rain came and went, I finally made it out to give my final rounds of last minute good byes, via one of the most exciting and scary moto-taxi rides yet!
 
Being in a new area of town that I wasn’t familiar with and also realizing that the day prior when Fidelle drove us to our new accommodations, Kristi and I were talking the whole time and I really didn’t pay attention to where we were. I was able to catch a moto-taxi just a couple blocks down the road, but he did not understand any English. As we were still trying to understand one another, a kind young man who ‘understood’ English stopped to ask if he could help. I needed the driver to know that I had a few stops to make and wanted to come right back here to where we were starting from. As long as I could get back here, I should be able to find my accommodations no problem, but I also needed him to know our stops would take a little extra time. Our interpreter was able to explain all of this to the driver. I gave the approximate locations, but reassured him that I could direct him along the way. So, after agreeing on a price, I hoped on the back of the motorcycle, adorned my helmet after he’s already off and running (like so many of them do!), and we were on our  way to our first stop at the market. I just needed a few more ingredients for our fresh Christmas guacamole and I wanted to pick up some special bread for Zachary and his family.

The market was closing when we got there, but that is the perfect time to arrive… deals, deals, deals! Those vendors don’t want to carry all the produce back home and if a muzungu is there… heck, they are in no hurry to close up shop and they’ll do their best to sell you the rest of everything they got.

Back on the moto, I continued to speak to my driver, in my best combo of KenyaRwandan and English, just incase he caught some chance to correspond and share a few words. Like most people you come across who don’t understand a thing you are saying they just smile and nod yes. So, eventually I added the name of our next stop, with my finger pointing in the general vicinity and a, ‘Do you know where that is?’ Of course he nods his head yes, so I sit back and take in the views until I realize we are passing the street where we need to be turning. I quickly point in front of him (towards the road that we are passing), scaring the bejesus out of him and me, but we are already half way past! Either acting on instinct or just as any young macho moto-taxi driver would, he chooses to swerve in front of many other oncoming moto-taxis and cars without slowing down a bit and we are slowly back in the direction of traffic that we want to be in. At this point, I realize our kind interpreter might not have understood all that I said either. So, from here on out, our journey was a lot of finger pointing, but at least the driver was used to it and I gave him plenty of notice.

We finally made it to our next stop and thankfully my new son, Olivier (story to come in a later post) was there. I was able to give him a small gift and a big hug for all that this amazing kid (young adult) has brought into my life. I was also able to say goodbye to some more of the staff and the night guard who was used to this muzungu coming and going throughout the previous month. Plenty of smiles and ‘see-you-laters’ filled my heart, but it was getting dark and I needed to be able to see where we were going in order to direct my driver to Zachary’s house. So, before my final hug with Olivier, I asked him to explain the general vicinity of Zachary’s (of which he had never been to) to my driver. I told him it was back towards the Congo border, right by the 7th day Adventist church. He reassured me that the driver knows where that church is and I say my goodbyes to this beautiful young man who was there when I needed him and since then, has truly enriched my life and is a constant source of inspiration.

After a quick squeeze, I’m back on the moto and we’re off again. But, this time he’s taking the back road again. I won’t be able to point him in the right direction until we get to that church but if he thinks the back roads are quicker, so be it. We were losing light and at times, after holding on for dear life, I was ready to be done with all this roaming around. (Mind you, these back roads are not lit up at all and they have pot holes and some trenches that could swallow a moto whole, while launching the passengers across the border!)

Eventually, we get to a seventh day Adventist church near the Congo border, it’s not the one I was thinking of. UGH! The back roads of Gisenyi look very similar, especially at night and now my driver is starting to get annoyed. But, I have no idea where we are so I keep trying to get him to get to the main road. I mention a few places I know of nearby, but he’s not getting it so I just tell him to go towards the border, thinking I’ve been on the main road at the border crossing and can get us back to where we need from there. This takes us even more out of the way, but since the kid didn’t want me to drive, it was all I knew to do to get my bearings straight. Oh man, this kid was revving the engine, getting pissed as we lost almost all light. Eventually he stopped to have someone else interpret where the heck this muzungu on the back of his moto taxi needed to go and we were pointed in the right direction.

I had walked the roads near Zachary’s house every day that I stayed there, but very rarely at night (without Zachary or someone walking with me to their home). I did remember those particular red earthen roads being really rugged, with volcanic rocks emerged out of nowhere, but the recent rains had adding much more washed out parts, some of which I had to get off the moto for him to pass safely. I was actually surprised he was patient enough to insist on that at times … and that he let me back on! These road finally slowed down this driver but I could still feel his tension! After finally reaching Zachary’s place, I was bombarded by some of the most special little hugs and smiles you’ll ever come across. But, feeling bad for my driver who was waiting outside the gate, I finally was able to explain to Zachary what happened during my last 45 minute taxi adventure and asked him to go explain to the guy that I would reimburse him for his time and still need him to take me back to where we started… but, also that I wanted to stay and visit with them for a few minutes first. The driver started complaining about how he agreed on certain fare before he knew really how long and how far out of the way he would have to go. Zachary reassured him that I would compensate him for all of the misunderstanding and he agreed to wait a few more minutes so that I could give the kids their gifts and give my final hugs to Zachary, Ishimwe and all their bundles of joy.

Even though I must admit the whole adventure was quite fun, it was definitely one of the scariest (and humorous) adventures I’ve ever been on! Finally my driver dropped me near where we started but I realized that all the gates of this particular area look familiar as well. Finally I got back home and continued to laugh as I explained the whole thing to Kristi. Soon we were whipping up some guacamole, a special bowl of ramen & pouring some fine wine from our chilled box that took up most of the space in our fridge. There’s nothing like Christmas adventure followed by a fine Christmas Dinner! After helping one another get a fresh perspective on our current last minute projects/duties of the night, (mine being I am Able and hers Roz’s Museum project), we finally put those projects aside and continued to share stories, laughter, and an impromptu photo shoot with some of the wigs and props that Kristi had brought. Delirious from all that had taken place within the weeks prior and the last 48 hours of laughter and fun, we had no idea what time it was when we heard the first rooster crowin’. For some reason we didn’t equate the first one with morning… it was more like background music that we heard but didn’t acknowledge to each other. Not until the second or third rounds of their songs, did we each freak out knowing I had to catch a bus in a couple hours. Needless to say, that morning I left Gisenyi with about an hour of sleep behind my eyes and bittersweet feelings (as I was leaving family and friends). But, full of joy and gratitude, I was also excited to see what these next steps along the journey would bring.

Thankfully, Frederick and Innocent met me at the bus stop to give Frederick his computer back with all our I am Able work and for our final goodbyes. After they helped me on the bus, I settled into a small seat in the back with my backpack in my lap. As I was waving goodbye to these two and blowing kissed, I was full of joy and gratitude. They are each an inspiration and they have given me more than I could ever explain. Soon we were off and I embraced my last views of the lush green terraced hillsides, the colorful fabrics and smiles of the people walking along the streets (carrying things on their head to and from the market), kids herding cows singing and laughing along the way. Overall, I was content but quiet as I took in some of the most heart-felt scenery that is also a part of my blood. At one point the bus came to a stop on the road. Soldiers got on and off the bus and it is safe to say you could hear a pen drop. This was a little uncanny as no one knew what was going on, but all I knew was the stories I heard of during the times when soldiers would randomly stop buses along the road during the time of the genocide and a few years thereafter… some ending with not so pleasant stories. I felt chills up and down my spine and even though I knew deep inside we would be ok, my heart went out to each and every passenger of the bus knowing that what I initially felt for just a few seconds was something they lived with for years. God bless these souls. They have been through something unimaginable and horrific. Thankfully a few whispers emerged and some conversation came and went. But, we still sat there for a good 30-45 minutes. Shortly after the third person came on board and again straight towards me, I realized they were pointing to some tape on the window. So, we waited as driver and one other passenger dismantled the tinted window tape that I suspect was blocking the view into our bus from these watch stations. Even though all this departing was bittersweet, I was really ready to get to Kigali!

Rwanda is one country that is so beautiful in so many ways, but somewhat hard to describe. It’s land and people continue to thrive and carry on, but there’s a sense of a more conscious, grateful and joyful awareness than I ever witnessed 11 years prior when I first visited this gem. After such atrocities that occurred just over two decades ago, it is truly amazing to see what Rwanda and it’s people have overcome. After arriving in Kigali, I had one more goodbye to get to. Umuhoza was one of the angels that I believe brought me to the Imbabazi and I wasn’t leaving Rwanda without one more hug. She and her friend escorted me to the airport for our final goodbyes. I have to say as hard as it is to leave the ones you love, I gave my last hug feeling so alive and full of love, joy and gratitude so thankful for all those in my life and for the mere chance of being able to reunite with these not so little kids of the Imbabazi again.

The children of the Imbabazi are a rare breed… a large group of young adults who are aware and grateful of their blessings and who continue to strive to be the best that they can in honor of their mom, Rosamond Carr. They have risen from the darkest times of their journey and joined as a family, only to become kind, compassionate and determined young adults who constantly bring love and light to all those that they encounter. As I said goodbye, I couldn’t help but be proud of each and every one of them! They have given me way more than I could ever give in return. Seeing these kids in their daily life reminds us all how important it is to choose a happy life, one full of joy, love and forgiveness but also with openness to helping others who are in need. With my heart full, and only one hour of sleep behind my eyes, you’d think I slept like a baby on that plane but there was no way I could sleep being feeling so full. As we flew over the Land of 1,000 Hills, my eyes were fixed on the views of this beautiful place that has engraved a spot in my heart!

 I finally arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the evening of the 26th for a few hours of shut-eye before I met up with the next group that blew me away just as life does when you open your heart. We spent the last week in Yetebon (at Project Mercy) along the foothills of the beautiful mountains of Ethiopia, on the other side of the great Rift Valley. This project and the woman (Marta …. & her family that started this) is overwhelmingly beautiful in so many ways!

 In fact there is so much to say about this woman, her project, this country that I must put this to a halt to make sure I get around to what was motivating me to sit down and write again in the first place. This beautiful girl below is one of the many amazing kids I worked with 11 years ago in Rwanda and she asked that I share her wish… so, without further ado (and a promise to pick up where I haphazardly left off) please meet Mbabazi.

 …..
20131208-193231.jpg*** Meet Mbabazi Annoncithe…

Mbabazi is one of the beautiful children of the Imbabazi Orphanage that I was with 11 years ago. As a young woman now, I was happy to reunite with her and many others. Before I left, Mbabazi stopped me to share more of her story. Basically she was not able to finish her last year of secondary school before she left the orphanage and she is now wanting to do so. It is my understanding that most of the kids that do not finish secondary school either didn’t pass or were advised to look into vocational schools.

Mbabazi informed me that she really wants to graduate from secondary school so that she can make a better future for herself and she asked if I knew of anyone who might be interested in helping/sponsoring her. School fees including materials would be approximately $507 for the year. I remember her 11 years ago as a child that was always smiling, laughing and helping others. She was also eager to learn and her smile and her wish today is just as reminiscent as I remember.

If you or anyone you know is able to help fulfill one beautiful girl’s wish of finishing her basic education and making a better life for herself, please let me know. As I am no longer in Rwanda and in between wifi connections currently in Ethiopia, also feel free to contact the Imbabazi Family (via Facebook) which is basically the group of children from the orphanage who started their own support group to keep each other informed and help any of their brothers and sisters in need. I know that any help would be greatly appreciated from her and I do believe she will do well if given the chance. The school year is either days upon starting or perhaps it may have already started, but I did want to send a shout-out … just in case someone might feel that they want to give. This family, group of young adults, country and continent has been one of the greatest reminders for me of the power and beauty of giving… And that sometimes miracles do take place with a little prayer, awareness, generosity and grace. Much gratitude to each of you that might even just extend a prayer that her wish will be answered.

*** Mbabazi has since received kind donations and is currently in the process of finishing school. Thanks to all of you who made a difference in this beautiful girls life!!

 

… Farewell for now Rwanda …

Christmas with Kristmas Kristi

Christmas photo shoot (take 10)

Christmas photo shoot (take 10)

Christmas photo shoot (take 30)

Christmas photo shoot (take 30)

Noel's Wedding

Noel’s Wedding

Washing of the feet, with the paparazzi ready to capture the moment

Innocent Sandwich @ Inzu Lodge

Innocent Sandwich @ Inzu Lodge

My son, Oliver, @ Inzu Lodge

My son, Oliver, @ Inzu Lodge

 

Lucky and Clemence

Lucky and Clemence

Day 2_I am Able cycling tour. Safari and I, back on the tarmac!

Day 2_I am Able cycling tour. Safari and I, back on the tarmac!

Frederick and Innocent spreading trails of hope, love & inspiration!

Frederick and Innocent spreading trails of hope, love & inspiration!

Muzungu smiles and looks of wonder!

Muzungu smiles and looks of wonder!

…….

onward to Ethiopia

Marta and I at her college in Yetebon, Ethiopia

Marta and I at her college in Yetebon, Ethiopia

Smiles across Ethiopia

Smiles across Ethiopia

Many more Ethiopia photos to come… stay tuned for the 2014 blog catch up!

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This entry was posted on December 31, 2014 by .
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