Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Few Funny Things...

Here are a few photos I find amusing.

Back of his shirt reads Miami Beach.
If you haven't already, check out my post titled "Miami Beach, CA

Bebe and his stylish coat

Miss Thing aka Dariya modeling for the camera

His shirt reads, "I FART in your general direction."
I'm sure he has no idea what it means.

A sign on the lake we stayed at in Uganda.
Clearly created by a  Westerner.

Dariya's vest on JMV

DJ Ivan and his scarf 

Ernest gearing up for the music video shoot

Eric pulled this costume out of nowhere.
It's really just a turtleneck with holes cut into it.

No explanation needed

Love the hat!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda

This weekend, Claire and I decided it was time for another little getaway. This time, our destination would take us across the border (and more importantly, get our 90 day visas renewed in the process). With our backpacks and our passports, we ventured out of our Kigali home. Eight hours, and three different types of transport later, we arrived at our destination: Byoona Amagara, Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda.

It definitely shouldn’t have taken that long, BUT we are on African time here. I will deem this weekend the weekend of strange transportation adventures. We took a mini-bus from Kigali to the border of Rwanda and Uganda. This mini-bus did not leave until it was full which happened to take an hour and a half. I tired to sleep as we waited, but the constant parade of people moving in and out of the van trying to sell us food, bracelets, or children’s clothing made that impossible. Eventually the van was full and we were on our way. We were dropped off near the border, walked through customs, and picked a shared taxi up on the other side. This taxi looked like any other I have seen: a typical car with five seats. So, naturally, we put eight people (plus a baby) in the car. The taxi dropped us off in Kabale, Uganda where we picked up motorbikes, or bota botas as they are called in Uganda.

 Side note: I have to add that Claire and I each had our own motorbike on the way over, but had to share on the way back. Now try to envision two muzungu girls and a bota bota driver on one bike. I held on to Claire for dear life as we climbed back up the hill. That was an interesting and precarious ride to say the least.

Our composting outhouse... and a nice view!

We drove through the mountains, up and down dirt roads until we arrived at the lake where we took our very own dugout canoe across to our accommodations. It was a 50-minute paddle that brought back memories of canoeing at summer camp. Just when I felt my arms would fall off, we spotted our island. The place we stayed was amazing. A backpacker from New York developed the facility. He worked with the local community to create a sustainable tourist destination that could generate revenue to support projects and enhance lives. Byoona Amagara Island is truly paradise. 

Our Geodome!

Everything on the island is eco-friendly. The toilets are compostable, they used natural materials to build, and they use and serve local food. We stayed in a Geodome, which is an open-air building shaped like a dome. I loved it, but I did tuck my mosquito net in very tightly. We watched the sun rise in the morning and star gazed at night from our beds! The highlight of the weekend was the food (of course!). I’m a sucker for seafood and to my surprise, Lake Bunyonyi is crawling with crayfish. If you’ve never had them, I highly recommend it!  

Crayfish fishing

Fresh from the lake

We found some swings!

It was a great weekend overall, but it’s good to be home again. Now we are refreshed and ready to start another week!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

We Got Game

Yesterday, a few of the boys at the center and I played a game of basketball. Last week, showed them a picture of myself playing in high school and they didn’t believe it was me. So, I decided to challenge them to a friendly game of half-court. Using a slightly deflated soccer ball, we played two on two. This quickly changed to one on four, myself being the one. I often had a few boys hanging on my arms as I attempted a layup.

I found it quite difficult to dribble a deflated soccer ball, so today I decided to bring a real basketball donated by my friend Katy for the boys. We pumped it up and we headed to the court, this time with enough boys to play a full five-on-five game! We had a great afternoon playing together, and it was great to see some boys who do not often get a chance to play football (the older boys usually dominate the game) play ball with the everyone else.

The basketball crew

Although the boys have fun in any situation, I noticed the conditions of the basketball court were less than ideal. On one hoop, the rim has been completely torn off. I fear the other is close behind it. Have you ever tried to shoot at a hoop with a rim that is twisted sideways? Talk about difficult…I hope to replace one hoop using a donation I have received from my Aunt Jeannette. Eventually, I would like to have both hoops fully functional and the lines on the court be repainted.  

Broken rim

Non-existent rim

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Day 1 in the Field: Bohoro Bohoro

Friday marked my first day “in the field” as they call it at EDD. This is a day when one of the boys goes with a social worker to do a home visit. Most of the boys at the center have at least one surviving parent. For whatever the reason, the boys left home and were brought to the center in the hopes of a better life and more opportunities.

Many of the boys have asked Claire and I to join them on their home visit. But none have been more persistent than Bienvenue. Bienvenue (his nickname) is only eleven years old and is already sporting more grey hairs than people four times his age. He is a quiet and contemplative boy who is wise beyond his years. Bienvenue somehow ended up on the street and was placed at EDD a few years ago. When it was his turn for his first home visit, he and a social worker drove to his previous home, only to find that his mother had moved, without leaving trail to follow. Bienvenue had been asking for weeks to try and find his mother and the subject was clearly bothering him. Every time I saw him, his face was serious. His visit was postponed twice last week, and he told me more than once that he didn’t think it would happen at all.


But on Friday it finally happened and my first day in the field was devoted to tracking down Bienvenue’s mother. Bienvenue, Napo (a social worker), the driver, Claire, and myself piled into the EDD truck, determined to find some information. Our first stop was the home of a taxi driver who Bienvenue had known before. He believed that this man might have some information. This eleven-year-old boy navigated us through dirt roads and up steep paths until we finally found the house we were looking for. A woman answered the door, her son wearing a ripped and graying t-shirt, clung to her leg. She immediately recognized Bienvenue and embraced him, beckoning us inside the dimly lit house. As I sat on the couch, listening to the conversation between the social worker and the woman, I couldn’t help but stare at Bienvenue. He was looking out the window, his lips pressed tightly together. The woman told us she had not seen his mother for some time and her husband, the taxi driver did not know her whereabouts. She offered Bienvenue a place to go during the holidays and said he would always be welcome in her home.

As we left the house, I rubbed Bienvenue’s head. He immediately grabbed my hand and held it for a moment, leading me back to the truck. We had one more lead we needed to follow up on. We drove down the road to meet a schoolteacher and a former neighbor of Bienvenue’s mother. When all was said and done, they both committed to searching for more information and let is know the results. Once again, we piled in the truck and headed back towards the center. When asked how the day went, Bienvenue replied, “Bohoro bohoro” which is a saying in Kinyarwanda meaning, “slowly by slowly.” As Claire rubbed his head and I held his hand in the backseat, I felt that we had achieved something that day. Bienvenue was much more willing to offer us a smile and even rolled his eyes and called us crazy for singing loudly and dancing to the radio. Slowly by slowly, we are making progress.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Making of a Music Video

I thought Monday would be just like any other day at Les Enfants de Dieu. But I should know by now that normal does not exist at EDD. There are always new faces to see, new boys to meet, and new activities going on. On this particular Monday, the center was teeming with excited boys ready to participate in the making of a music video.

The backup dancers waiting for their part

I already mentioned Sam in a previous post. He was the mastermind behind the whole operation and recorded the song with a few of his friends. When a French photographer visited the center for a few days, he agreed to help Sam create his very own music video. The older boys at EDD were more than willing to lend a hand as backup dancers for the video. Decked out from head to toe with ridiculous clothing combinations that can’t help but make me laugh, the boys busted a move for the camera. 

Sam doing his thing

Saturday, October 8, 2011


I am a firm believer that gender equity is the baseline to solving the problem of poverty and all of its side effects. I would even say that in terms of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, Goal 3: Gender Equality is the keystone to all the others.

When it comes to gender equity, Rwanda is leading the African continent and the world. According to the UN website,

Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians in the world with women constituting nearly 50 percent in the Chamber of Deputies and about 35 percent in the Senate.

To put this in perspective, in the current United States Congress, only 16% of seats are held by women.

In a nutshell, Rwanda has the right idea. Last week, I was able to see a small part of this push for gender equity in action. I visited a grassroots organization, which specifically works with survivors of genocidal rape, sexual violence, and HIV-positive women. This organization is called WE-ACT: Women’s Equity in Access to Care and Treatment.

According to their website:

In the 100-day genocide of 1994, an estimated 250,000 Rwandan women experienced multiple episodes of brutal rape, torture and violence. Many of women contracted HIV, likely as a result of the this brutality. In late 2003, the women learned that the perpetrators of their rapes who were jailed while waiting trial at the International Tribunal were receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART), while their victims died of AIDS. Women’s Equity in Access to Care and Treatment for HIV (WE-ACTx) was created in early 2004 in response to a request from these women for help in accessing ART.

The women involved make crafts to help fund project. When we visited, women were busy cutting patterns from brightly colored Africa fabrics or hard at work in the sewing room. I walked away with a beautiful new bag and a smile on my face because their constant laughter and happiness was contagious.

Claire and I with one of the ladies at WE-ACT

For more information about WE-ACT, visit their website at:

A Hip Hop Dream Come True

In November, a UK-based hip hop group will travel to Rwanda to teach the boys at Les Enfants some new moves.

Here's a taste of what is yet to come:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


It’s hard not to see Les Enfants de Dieu as a place of happiness and joy. I watch 130 boys sings, dance, and play every day. Their enthusiasm and smiles are contagious. But it is easy to forget that many of them have complex pasts. Some were street boys who got into drugs and other trouble. Some were neglected or orphaned. Some were abused or witnesses to horrible things. Most suffer from some type of emotional disturbance. And every once and awhile, they are reminded of this dark past.

Perhaps the reason why I love this center so much is because for many boys, it has given them an opportunity. Any boy is free to leave the center if they want to. The powerful part is that many of them stay. They stay because they want to stay. They learn because they want to learn. And because they have seen the worst, they understand they are in a good place. The center helps make the boys, but these boys also make the center. You cannot have one without the other.

The duality of Rwanda is something I have struggled with ever since I returned in 2009. Perhaps I have been looking at it in the wrong way. Past and present are so deeply intertwined here, it is impossible to separate the two. Just as the pasts of the boys at the center have shaped them into who they are today, so too does the history of Rwanda shape the country and it’s people into what it has become. We cannot forget what has made us who we are, nor should we.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Few Pictures...

Dahria being Dariya

Les Enfants is a center for only boys. The only females on the grounds are workers...except for little Dariya. Dariya is the daughter of the cook at EDD. She is three years old and she is one of the most talkative kids I've ever met. She already knows basic English words and sometimes likes to sit in on English class. With 130 "brothers" at the center, you might think she would be pushed around easily. And you would be wrong. This girl is sassy and will take on even the older boys.

Looking at the Center from the field

EDD has many different buildings, including: dormitory, cafeteria, 3 classrooms, a library, a kitchen, and administrative offices. A new cafeteria and additional dormitory space is currently under construction.

Getting ready to feed the goats

The boys at EDD all contribute to running the center. Part of this includes taking care of the animals they raise to sell. They have fish, rabbits, goats, chickens, and ducks. They are also in charge of taking care of the gardens and cleaning the buildings.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kibuye Getaway

This past weekend, Claire, her mother (who is visiting for two weeks), and I decided to get away from the hustle and bustle of Kigali and venture off into the countryside. Our destination was the town of Kibuye, which is one of many towns on the shore of Lake Kivu. It is a small town with not too much to do, but that was exactly what we wanted.

We took a three and a half hour bus ride from Kigali through the many hills of Rwanda. The road itself is always twisting and turning and made my stomach to feel a bit uneasy. But it was all worth it to see the gorgeous views.

View from our hotel ($7.00 USD a night!)

We had a relaxing weekend overall. We walked, talked, and ate great food. Can’t ask for anything more than that.