well. first off. merry belated christmas. i feel as though i have fallen behind in my blogging, with little to no hope of catching up, in any sort of accurate way. so we will pretend as if the past month or so has not occurred, and we will continue from here. There is much to tell, but to be honest i dont particularly feel up to the task. i dont really even know where to begin. how to sum up my experiences in africa, when i cant even quite grasp them myself.

i am currently sitting bundled in sweaters in the ywam residences in Epe, Holland. It is here that we are visiting with my dad's cousin Carla. We arrived from Nairobi this morning, i barely slept on our red eye, and now i find myself slightly disoriented. Flip flops to winter boots. Slums to quaint villages.

In the past week, i have swam in the indian ocean, and camped outside the masai mara. On December 25th, i woke up in a tent, watched crazy amounts of animals, and then our van broke down in the rift valley. We stood on the side of the road befriending police officers at a check point, holding up a makeshift "merry christmas" sign to passing cars and cattle trucks. If that doesnt feel festive, i dont know what does.

happy holidays.




this is us being happy in rwanda...


and again...
and lots more too.

and now we are leaving tomorrow and i am not so happy.



canned hotdogs = christmas time.

So my mom emailed me the other day that there is snow on the ground in Toronto. Something hard to believe when I spend my days here running about in a sundress and flip flops, trying my hardest not to get a sunburn, this close to the equator. If it wasn't for the fake christmas trees on sale downtown, between leftover halloween masks and canned hotdogs, I would have difficulty believing it at all.

I only have a week and a 1/2 left in rwanda. Christmas will be in kenya. New years in amsterdam. And if how quickly the past three months have gone is any indication, this will be over before i know it. I feel as though it was only last week i stepped through the metal detectors at pearson, as my dad attempted to take photos and was stopped by airport security. It is hard to know where the past few months have gone. Yet in the same vein, it feels like yesterday that i was sitting on the wooden steps down to a frozen dock, ringing in the new year all alone. The lake an expanse of slate and quiet. I had escaped just after sunrise, tiptoeing between my sleeping comrades to make the drive between haliburton and severn bridge. The first morning of 2007 spent speeding down abandoned highways in northern ontario. the radio up and the windows down despite the cold. Where has the past year gone.

I am conflicted on leaving. at the moment kigali is making me feel unbelievably clausterphobic. part of me thinks that this is yet another round of feeling overwhelmed here. Of surveying the work i have done, but having difficulty seeing its affect to the larger picture of this country. Of witnessing the intense poverty here, and wondering if there really is a solution to such a complex sitation. and so i want to run, because i do not know how to process all of this. Four months, and i still cannot. Although i am of the mind that if i were to spend four years here, and i would still have no better grasp on things than i do at the moment. I cannot quite explain it.

On the other hand, perhaps this merely a defense mechanism kicking in. That I intentionally make myself dissatisfied with a place, because i know in reality it is going to be excrtiating to leave. This way, by feeling closed in upon, leaving will feel like a realease. And then when the time comes to go, it will be positive instead of negative.

I think this is all combined with the fact that part of me resents that kathryn is going home. And yet at the same time i don't. Part of me knows that once the novelty of seeing everyonehas worn off, i would wish i was still far far away. I suppose the uncertainty of the next few months is getting to me . And yet i love the uncertain. Perhaps that is the real problem. That life in kigali has become perdictable. even the unexpected ridiculous events, are to be expected. I am ready for a change.

And then i remind myself, when i am jealous of kathryn's soon to be triumphant return to canada, that toronto is not that change that is nee. At this point it is still reverting.

I suppose it is simply a strange time of year to be away from home. And despite my nerosis, it is going to be hard to leave Africa. I am not used to saying permanent good-byes.



ethiopian food vs. the bad place

(...too much is happening. hence oldish news. old = 2 weeks.)

This is a culture of apology. Or perhaps one of concern lost in translation. I trip on the bricks infront of my house, my guard says he is sorry. I drop a pot of water preparing tea for some students of mine, they are both sorry too. I sneeze, sorry. I forget my keys, sorry.

Or the other night, when Kathryn and I ventured to an Ethiopian restaurant in Remera. Mistaking an entire hot pepper for a green one, she begins involuntarily crying, and the old men two tables over are…sorry. I wasn’t sorry, I just laughed. I am a bad friend. That is why I swallowed a hot pepper accidently a few minutes later too. Serves me right.

The incessant burning resulted in a trek across town to find ice cream, our moto drivers thinking us completely insane.

Fitting for the week. Try explaining why white water rafting is fun to Rwandans who don’t like the rain. Chalk that up there with explaining the purpose of Halloween. Pure insanity. And while we might not have celebrated Halloween this weekend (that was two weeks ago), we did go rafting.

So, last Thursday we left for Uganda. After an eight hour bus ride, we arrived in Kampala. A large grimy city, which oddly reminded me of Toronto. Perhaps the sheer size of if, rather than the cows eating from garbage piles. But, I awoke the next morning to rain on the roof of our banda and monkies in the trees, so I was happy enough.

(said monkey in tree)
We spent the morning visiting the Kasumi Tombs for the Bugandan Kings. Where we had to wear makeshift skirts, and discuss Idi Amin with a primary class, along with our favourite foods, and whether or not boys actually wet the bed. However, in afternoon, we headed to chill and raft in Jinja for a few days. A town on the shores of Lake Victoria, and home to the source of the White Nile River.

Four days after the fact and I was still incredibly stiff and sore. It is like a morning after snowboarding, when you wake up and all your muscles seem to cry out at once. All I wanted was a hot bath, and yet I was greeted only by a bucket of cold water. Yet, despite this, the sunburns and sore muscles, it was entirely worth it.

Two rafts. Our raft was eight in total; three serbians in teeny scarring bathing suits, three canadians (including Kathryn and i), one brit with two black eyes face planting the water when bungee jumping, and one kiwi, our guide Ruben. A funny fowl mouthed burly blonde boy who clearly thought the world of himself, but seemed to think the world of you too. So it was more endearing then anything else. Add five Ugandan safety kayakers, one more in a safety raft.and set us adrift on grade 5 rapids. A motley crew to say the least.

The entire experience was unbelievable. I think that is the most accurate way to describe it. You would descend these giant walls of water, to be greeted by another rising ominously in the other side. But first you would hover above, as if in slow motion. Everything quiet, deafened by the roar of the rapids. And for this split second you could watch these fields of churning water. Waves braiding themselves down the river. Tying themselves in knots then slowly unravelling and unfurling into massive pools. This moment amidst beauty with your heart in your throat. And then the moment would pass, time would resume itself, and you would begin sliding swiftly forward, as the walls came crashing down on all sides.

Sometimes we would tip. Sometimes we would not, raising our paddles in the air, an act of triumph. However, the times we tipped were more frequent then the times we did not.

One instant it was blue skies, the next churning white, and then black. Two invisible hands grasping at your ankles, pulling you further and further into the depths. A twisting tunnel, forcing you forward through the muffled roar and out the other side. Alice in her rabbit hole. I would resurface choking & grinning.

This process quickly became par for the course.

One time only the boys fell out. Another instance (over a sixteen foot waterfall), it was only Ruben who went shooting over our heads. Grimacing, he swam his way back to our laughing raft. But most often, we all went tumbling over the red sides into the frothing mass below. After one such instance, I made it onto the safety raft with nearly all of our paddles. Hauled up by the operator, an entertaining Ugandan boy named Peter (who told me that he had been a mzungu from Vancouver in a past life). We were too close to the next rapid to return me or our gear. So peter and I laughed and laughed as we watched my raft attempt to navigate the next rapid with only two paddles. Miraculously they made it out in one piece.

But, the last rapid was the most intimidating. Itanda Falls, otherwise known as “the bad place.” And as we soon learned, aptly named. Although, as of the other night, we have concluded that Ethiopian food is more painful then the bad place.

The river was lined with locals, watering long horned cows, washing clothes, or simply observing the spectacles that are the Jinja rafting companies. We had to portage around the first part; a grade six rapid. But it was enormous so setting ourselves adrift part way through was terrifying enough. We flipped in the middle of the river, and were promptly pulled under. A downwards spiral of liquid fists and actual limbs. I cannot tell you how long I was under the first time. But my lungs were screaming by the time I surfaced, only to be pulled immediately under again. This pattern repeated itself another two or three times before I finally found myself disoriented and downstream.

So…rafting in Ottawa next summer? Or the rockies? Anyone? Because I am so in. Seriously.

The ride back to camp from Itanda Falls was close to fourty minutes along dirt roads in rural Uganda. Red dust, mud huts and naked babies in the late day sun. I spent the trip perched atop the back of a converted cattle truck, clutching the metal bars. A wooden bust on a sailing vessel, perhaps with messier hair. A moment I wish I could repeat over and over.

The night occurred sprawled on red lit couches in an open building. A thatched roof, a sand floor, and a spectacular view of Bujagali falls (the first grade 5 of the day!). Two rafts clinking glasses to a job well done. I even got the Ugandan bartenders to play my ipod over the speaker system for a good few hours. Eventually we retired, not to bed, but rather to the field to rehash the day and star gaze. Or more accurately, befriend three friendly camp dogs and play our infamous scenario-digital-camera-game. Something long ago perfected in Kathryn’s Etobicoke basement with the likes of one lovely Katie Hamilton.

For instance, what would you do if…

…suddenly everyone on the raft is wearing scandelously small serbian speedos…
…suddenly you come out of a rapid and all of your clothes have been ripped off in the process (apparently Kathryn would be happy. haha)…
…if you involuntarily swallow way too much water, (which later became known as ‘sips of the nile’)…
… if you could ride on the top of a cattle truck all day every day…
...etc etc...

So yeah. In conclusion, Uganda = Amazing.

...Depite our last taxi driver at 5 am taking us to the bus station. He had to shake the car back in forth to keep it from running out of gas. Kathryn and I flailing around the back seat in the dark. But I got to watch the sun rise on our bus back to kampala.

I feel as though significant moments in my life (if only internally) are always tied to either sitting in cars, rainstorms, the early mroning or some combination of the three.

Either way, I routinely forget how pretty it is.



snake on the road.

First of all, I need to say, I am astounded by both the amount and content of responses I have received in regards to my last post. Whether public or private they were all honest, open and insightful. I feel privileged to have such supportive family and friends, who are so willing to discuss with me, regardless of differing opinions or beliefs. So thank you.

I was (obviously) feeling a little spent last week, so I decided to take off with five other canadian ex-pats to Gisenyi. A border town on Lac Kivu, brimming with tropical languor, poverty, abandoned architectural remnants of colonialism, and great swimming. We stayed in an old mansion turned hotel, with enormous windows that opened wide, (I definitely spent a good chunk of the weekend curled up reading on our two foot deep wooden window sill). If you looked one way you had a fantastic view of the water, if you looked the other you saw Goma. A tiny town in the DR of Congo, half buried under volcanic rock after an eruption in 2005. I walked to border on our second day. A metal bar swung open and shut. Shocked that there is more security around a house in Kigali, then the border to a country with a foreign affairs warning.

The six of us were looking for adventure, and made it our mission to find the Ginsenyi hot springs. Volcanic hot springs; sounds great right? WRONG. After taking an unnecessary and expensive boat ride across a channel (it was easily walkable) in loud fluorescent mandatory over-sized life jackets, we arrived at the hot springs…or should I say hot puddles. Hot puddles full of naked children and men in see-through underpants bathing.


But, we were not deterred, promptly stripped down to our bathing suits, and joined the group. This was clearly quite a spectacle and immediately attracted an audience. Overall it was rather hilarious. The “springs” were also “run” by an old man sporting an enormous moth eaten fur hat, and multiple strands of wooden beads. He shuffled about shaking a large stick, and muttering in Kinyarwanda the entire time. Although, I’m not sure he would have been comprehensible, even if I spoke the language.

I think it was good to get away, and clear my head a bit. Also, Sometimes it is just nice to hang out with other canadians. People who understand your humour, references, & perspectives. People you don’t have to explain yourself to. There is something undeniably refreshing about that. I am happy enough to be outside my culture and comfort zone, I just start to go a little crazy when I get home at night and often realize I haven’t had a legitimate conversation all day. I have begun helping prepare a large meal for street kids in the gikondo district every Friday. Five or so hours of peeling potatoes and shredding cabbage with big rwandan mamas. The last time I went they gave me a kiyarwandan name. Uwitonze, meaning quiet one.

Gisenyi was beautiful, but oddly enough, I think my favourite part was the drive home.

Sandwiched in the back corner of the bus, we left at dusk, snaking through the mountains. I have now seen my first live volcanoes. Towering black pyramids billowing a thick grey smoke that hangs in the air. A chain of seven in congo, and three visible in one of rwanda’s nearby national parks. Ten in total looming through the trees. It was unbelievable.

Then darkness fell and the drive continued. The interior the bus enveloped in slate overtones, silhouetted heads leaning against one another, or looking out fogged up windows. Every now and then I would run my palm against the glass. It reminded me of long ago family vacations. Road trips to the east coast, fair havens, the cottage. The back of our big brown oldsmobile. Writing names and drawing pictures with delicate fingertips. Gliding swift and steady across the cool wet glass. Temporary masterpieces in the moisture of a humid interior. It was these same nights that sarah, christine and I would loosen our seatbelts, sit on our pillows, and rest our heads on the back dash staring upwards. We would watch the night through the reflection on the windshield, and pretend to be astronauts with only a window full of stars. Barrelling vertical in stead of horizontal.

But this night, I only cleared my view in one quick gesture to see the stars, still sitting static. It made me miss my sisters.

Under stark headlights, eucalyptus trees look suspiciously like birch and maple. And despite the deep valleys we skimmed the tops of, with no light to distinguish their depth, they merely appeared as expansive black fields beyond the tree-line. It was only in approaching Kigali that our height became tangible. A series of flashlights gripped at the base of a large dark funnel.

And then our bus hit a snake, and backed-up the road for a good two minutes to avoid supposed bad luck. Only then did I fully remember I was not in canada.

I feel I revert back to my childhood a lot here. Specifically fair havens, probably because it’s always warm and always raining. I watch the rain from my couch, and yet I am seven and sitting on our picnic table. Scraped and freckled knees tucked under my chin. Watching the water flood the gravel roads and pool in the edges of our green and white striped canopy.

Mom and Dad gave away the trailer a few summers back. A retro staple of my childhood. Its orange circle patterned curtains and vinyl seats that would stick to the back of your thighs in the heat. The bees caught in the screening, petrified after summers in the sun. The green canvas wings with tiny holes covered in duct tape that glowed in the mid afternoon; the summer my sister decided to use a sharp pencil to create her own personal universe.

Perhaps it is because, in many ways, this feels like one giant camping trip. A never ending summer of sorts. Not unlike my entire childhood.

Slightly dirty with lots of improvisation.



a question of faith.

I suppose I owe it to expand upon the last statement made in my blog.

I tend not to talk about my faith a whole lot. I am of the mind that it is a guideline to live my life in the best most loving way possible, and not an opportunity to convert or condemn people. But I have been feeling a little blindsided since coming to Rwanda, looking for some clarification on things I am not able to wrap my head around. I am not confused by my role here. That is something I find very clear. I am to love, empathize, listen and mourn alongside, whether or not I am actually succeeding in said role is irrelevant.

I just have two questions (or more like 20 million). Kathryn and I have been discussing endlessly, and I have been delving into my bible a lot these past few weeks. But I am still hitting a brick wall. I am not doubting the existence of god, rather his involvement or lack of.

Thus, I figured I may as well attempt to open up a dialogue. I am posting this on my blog and my facebook, because I am feeling entirely at a loss, and looking for any insight I can get.

I will try to make this as concise as possible, albeit a little convoluted even to me.

The first thing is related to, but not, “why do bad things happen to good people.” It is not that simple. For I understand there are terrible things in the world. I believe in creation and evolution, like Galileo, simply viewing scientific fact as reinforcing the other. Anyhow, as I see it, just because god is all-powerful does not mean he is all-controlling, or the ability to choose wouldn’t exist. And if free-will doesn’t exist, then the potential for relationship doesn’t either. So he gives us free choice, even if that means choosing to do the wrong thing, even if that means choosing to something horrific. And because he is not a dictator, and lets us make our own decisions, we have the ability to affect one another positively and negatively. Therefore, I think most bad things exist because of the hateful and violent decisions individuals make on a daily basis. I do not think they are punishment from god, or any other such nonsense.

With that said, the bible shows us countless examples of god stepping in to stop bad things from occurring. So my question is this, if god does not inflict evil in the world, but is capable of divine intervention, where is the dividing line? When does he leave us to the results of others execution of free will and when does he intervene? And if he is merely taking a back seat to free will, what is the purpose of prayer in these situations?

I understand prayer as an open dialogue with god to build relationship, and not as a personal wish list. But we ARE occasionally encouraged to pray for the things we want, specifically including deliverance and protection. Does it matter if twenty people pray as opposed to one? I would argue no. and if god leaves us to the mercy of free will, however terrible, then why pray unless for feeling at peace?

We are told that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, but you cannot tell me that the thousands of people who were mutilated and murdered in the places they went to worship, during the 1994 rwandan genocide, were not praying for deliverance, and had less faith then a mustard seed. Christians have a history of being persecuted (as well as persecuting – although that another whole conversation I have much to say about, and I think those are people who missed the whole point… aaaaaanyay), but this conflict was not based on religion, rather a muddled ethnic divide, resulting more from economic class distinction, and decades of resentment inflated by sheer propaghanda.

I can see god in the aftermath of the genocide. In the reconciliation, the peace movements, the strength of character, the immense examples of forgiveness, the unwavering faith of those involved. I mean I just returned home from three day trauma healing workshop, where genocide survivors and genocide perpetrators, now released prisoners, sat side by side, worked in groups and openly dialogued in an attempt to bring peace and reconciliation to their communities. Genuine forgiveness and genuine regret. I can see god in that, I don’t believe it is possible otherwise. Maybe that’s just me.

but I cannot see god in the genocide itself. And I am having difficulty understanding why not, because I refuse to believe that god is a vengeful, vindictive or removed deity.

where is the dividing line and why didn’t it fall on the other side of this conflict?

thoughts anyone?



a hard day.

I am amazed at how quickly I can switch between feeling entirely capable and content here, to feeling completely overwhelmed. And this has been a weekend of the latter. So I am sorry if this is a little dark. I do not mean for this to be sensationalist. At all. I just need to write a bit, in an attempts to process.

I must preface the following, with the fact that my time in Rwanda has been unbelievably positive thus far. This is a beautiful country full of astounding people. Sadly it is also a country with a tragic past and complicated present. I am thankful that I am now able to associate so many things other than the genocide with this place. However, I think everyone should visit Rwanda, to see how far it has come and learn from its history. The extensive reconciliation occurring here is a humbling experience, and is proving to be an enormous lesson in forgiveness.

We visited one of the larger genocide memorials on the outskirts of Kigali yesterday afternoon.

I have been struggling with whether or not I wanted to go, but I have realized it is not a matter of wanting to go. But needing to go. I needed to face the things that happened here head on, to better understand them, and to pay respect to the people I have come to know as my colleagues and friends.

Yet three things specifically incited my decision this week.

First of all, Kathryn and I have decided to participate in a HROC workshop in a small village outside the city. We leave today. It is a three day seminar, which works to bring together genocide survivors with genocide perpetrators families, or the genocidaires themselves. This is to promote reconciliation and reintegration, as many people have never received any trauma councilling, and multiple prisoners have completed their sentences and are now being released back into their same communities.

Secondly, I rode behiend a dead body strapped to the top of a cattle truck last Sunday. It is the first time I have been confronted with a corpse outside of a coffin. Death has always been altered faces caked with thick layers of make up. Death is Wards Funeral Home in Weston. Death is oversized bouquets above shells of those who no longer resemble the people I love. It has become a formula of sorts. Not a body tied carelessly across three metal bars with no shred of dignity or respect. I am not sure which bothered me more; the fact that I was witnessing a corpse parading through the streets of a major city, or the fact that no one seemed to notice.

Perhaps when death is so a part of your history, you become complacent, or more accurately, numb. I am sure the pedestrians on the side of the rode that morning, have witnessed far worse within their lifetime, then the limp legs of a dead man swaying with the bumps on the road.

Thirdly, this week it really hit me the extent to which I am living in history. I discovered that my neighbourhood was home to the UN Belgium base in 1994. I pass by the building itself multiple times each day as it is adjacent to our market in kicukiro centre. A large white building with a promenade lined in palm trees. During the genocide thousands of tutsis and hutu-moderates sought refuge there under UN protection. So when Belgium lost ten soilders and decided to pull all of their troops, thousands of people were left vulnerable to be slaughtered. After the attack there, the interhamwe rounded up any survivors in Kicukiro and the surrounding areas. They were forced to march north to Sonotubes, a round-about approximately ten minutes down the road from us. But deciding it was too public a place for a mass execution, these people were turned back around and began a death march back through kicukiro. They walked directly past the compound we live behind, and were all killed on the top of the hill we live on.

And so yesterday we went to the memorial.

To be honest, I don’t really have the emotional stamina to re-write and re-hash, so I will simply include what I scrawled in my journal upon arriving home last night:

“I sat in a room of faded photographs and cried this afternoon. Hundreds and hundreds stung along metal wires. Faces frozen in emulsion. Weddings and birthdays. Studio portraits and candid snapshots.

I walked the paths of mass graves.

258,000 people beneath concrete slabs.

I browsed cases of skulls and femurs.

Only 2000 names known.

I knew the history, the stories, the statistics coming in. but it is entirely different being here, living here. Putting visuals to words.

It is nothing short of horrifying.

The seond floor was a memorial for children. Floor to ceiling photographs, each accompanied with a small write up. Name. age. Favourite: drink, toy, song. Best friend. Demeanor. Last words. Cause of death.

Hacked with machetes.

Bludgeoned with a club.

Shot in mothers arms.

Stabbed in the eyes, then in the head.

I have just sat here for the past few moments with my pen hovering above the paper.

I am at a complete loss for words.

I don’t know what to say.

This isn’t just information I am able to file away. I cannot imagine having lived through this. And the fact of the matter is everyone I see, everyday, were and currently are affected by the events of thirteen years ago.

A dark and swiftly flowing undercurrent.”

Yesterday afternoon was difficult.

I am wrestling with God a lot these days.



thanksgiving africa styles.

I dedicate this entry to sammi smith.

1. because I have now vanquished the pests you always feared, first hand and in abundance. And…
2. because I have also become the cook extraordinaire, you and the food network, always hoped I might be for the past two years we lived together.

A few Saturdays ago, it was becoming increasingly clear that we had a cockroach problem. After a june-bug-thought-cockroach incident at 383 queen west two summers ago, (which caused hours of google-image-searching to ensue), I have become quite the expert on distinguishing what is and what is not this dreaded insect. And we most definitely had roaches.

One day there was one. The next day there were twenty. However, the last straw was the day Kathryn woke up to a roach nearly two inches in length beside her pillow. So the war was on. My pacifist ideals set aside for a day.

The first item on the agenda was to gut the kitchen; a dimly lit closet of a room, with wooden shelves running the length of one wall, two petrol burners on cinderblocks and a sink that drains onto the floor (this was before the glorious addition of a bar fridge and toaster oven last Wednesday). They scattered with every object removed. Black streams pouring over edges. Encampments within precarious stacks of dishes. Families in paper bags. Six or more under each egg. Cinder blocks the equivilent of an apartment complex.

Equipt with cans of BOP (the African version of Raid), bandanas, fly swatters and a giant bottle of bleach, we won the war – after hours of washing everything on the lawn.

Now... we suspect that rats are living (and fighting?) in the ceiling.

In other news, to everyone's suprise (specifically ours) we had a thanksgiving dinner! Granted it took place in shorts on a humid monday evening, but thanksgiving none the less! Using our joke of a kitchen - now cockroach free - Kathryn and I managed to cook up a dinner for seven; including a honey glazed ham, stuffing, brown sugar carrots, curried green beans, apple & japanese plum chutney, mashed potatoes, french rolls, hot apple cider, and our crowning achievement of not one, but two, PUMPKIN PIES from scratch. Who knew pumpkins even exist in africa? Although, I think we may have found the only one.

We were regular 1950's housewives. Although, I doubt those women had a sing-a-long to the weakerthans while they cooked.

In conclusion we have established that we are a cooking powerhouse, and upon returning to canada, will be the ultimate canoe-tripping, camping duo.

It was hard being away from home, when my entire family was at the cottage together for the first time in six years. There was definitely more then one moment where all I wanted was to be bundled in a sweater and toque, lying on the dock. A crisp fall day, the forest the colour of fire. But I chose to be here, and it was still a good weekend. There are just times when i wish i could transport myself home for one afternoon, one evening. At least being here reminds me I how much i really do have to be thankful for.

happy (slightly belated) thanksgiving!



i'm not as technologically inept as i initially thought!

well i finally figured out how to post some photos! lucky you! it has taken me any hours with a bad connection, over many days.

me & a four seater bike in amsterdam.

catching my flight in nairobi!

the "road" by our house (after it was fixed with large rocks)

kathryn and our first pineapple! This is ourside our house and our dog bogie is in the background. we love him.


residents of kigali have been complaining that everyones getting malaria, so they are spraying everyone's house. Therefore, in our second week, we had less less than 24 hours notice to gut our entire house so that it could be sprayed by this man with poison. yay!

We met this woman in Kibuye. She is part of the Friends Peace House Femme En dialogue program, bring together Hutu & Tutsi women after the genocide for community building projects. and this is kibuye.... i'm getting kicked out of the internet cafe. more later!

i love rwanda.


Hello, my name is Rola.

I am writing quickly in the downtown core of the city, before going out for dinner with some friends. I would have updated sooner, but the other day I walked to my trusty internet cafe in Kicukiro, to discover it has disappeared. Like gutted-room-no-sign-disappeared. Weird.

As much as I have been enjoying my time in Kigali, it was time for kathryn & I to get out of the city. So we headed up to Kibuye, a small town on the coast of Lac Kivu across from the Democratic Republic of Congo, last weekend. And by "heading up," I mean death defying Atraco bus ride for 3 hours. Atraco buses are both the TTC and Greyhound combined, as they are run both within the cities and between them. But instead of streetcars or large buses, take a minivan, add two extra benches (five in total), put four people per bench (not including many babies - our ride home was 24 people in one minivan. TWENTY FOUR), throw in some tassel adorned windows, and a hilarious slogan in metallic letters on the back windshield.

Some good slogans so far include:
YEAH! (in that dripping blood font)
Rest In Peace (makes you feel so safe to get aboard)
No forget me.
50 Cent
20 20 Vision (just in case you were wondering)

...and my all-time favourite of a large photocopied cut out of Snoop Dogg with dollar-sign glasses on. Which is fitting considering, our soundtrack consisted of "gin & juice" to phil collins to jay z t sarah brightman to the BEST EVER "a whole new world" from disney's 1992 Aladin. I officially love rwandan radio stations. All of this occuring at 6:30 in the morning.

Our ride there was the equivilent of the last leg of driving to Tofino on Vancouver Island, if one was going double the speed, and passing cars at whim with little visibility. But it gave us a great chance to just to soak everything in. At one point, our van was being chased by a herd of little girls. Their deep royal blue uniforms fluttering behind like tiny wings. Baby swallows, swooping, laughing, diving. Their delicate bare feet smacking the ground, raising red clouds of earth with every step. One hand clutching dog-earred notebooks, kept safe in unico pasta bags, the other flailing wildly above their heads caught in a wave. A minature flock of birds.

Rwanda is unbelieveably beautiful. The Mille Collines is aptly named, if not an understatement.

And i can honestly say that Kibuye is one of the prettiest places I have been in my life. We stayed at the St. Jean guesthouse in a tiny stone cabin, on a tropical looking penninsula, hundreds of feet above the water for only 10 dollars a night. Every morning I would sit overlooking miles of mountains and the lake drinking tea & drawing, listening to fisherman singing far below. Odd that such a peaceful place was a location for such horrific events, as Kibuye where one of the most comprehensive slaughter of tutsis occured during the genocide. 11,400 people in less than three months. The only other thing on the penninsula was a church and genocide memorial. A beautiful building we attended mass in on sunday morning. A place of such sorrow, exuding so much life.


Life goes continues on in Kigali. School is well under way. i spend most of my day in a room equipt with 9 old singer machines, operated by foot pedals, a literal IRON iron heated by filling it with coals (and we thought the industrial irons were scary, my beloved fashionistas....), and 30 or so hilarious energetic students ranging from 15 to 22 years of age. So in some regard they are essentially my peers, but I think that is working to my advantage. The other teacher Samuel is only 22 himself. And needless to say all of the donated supplies were accepted excitedly, and have immediately been put to use. So a big thank-you to everyone who so generously contributed from the Mwana Nshuti school!

Also, because 'r' and 'l' are interchangeable here, my name is awful. I am either Lola or more commonly Rola to my students (or mzungu when they think i'm not listening). The girls were quite reserved with me at first, some still are, but five of them sat me down yesterday and attempted to teach me some songs in Kinyarwanda. Clearly laughing both with and at me. But it was a nice ice-breaker. The boys on the other hand have loved me from the start (perhaps a little too much..."how can you...show me..that you love me?"... ummm fake husband here we come!), but seem to debate my sewing abilities. Which is frusterating, but i suppose I'll just have to prove myself, as both a seamstress and a figure of authority somewhat. Regardless, all of these individuals are orphans or were street kids, and incidently have been through quite a lot.

So I am willing to wait on feeling accepted by them.



internal whiplash.

This has been a bizarre week on a number of levels.

I think I am acclimatizing remarkably well. There are times I feel as though i'm back in Toronto, until suddenly, something snaps me back into the reality of the moment.

An invisible and internal whiplash of sorts.

Like when the water stops running for 3 days, or when i see a man balancing 16 (we counted) yellow jerry can water jugs on his head in the middle of "downtown," or when three men wearing pink uniforms are ushered past us on the way to the market by a guard clutching an AK47. Prisoners, past-genocidaires, doing their community service.

It is moments like these that i don't even know how to comprehend what i am witnessing, or begin to know how to respond.

We were invited out to dinner last friday, for my friend & neighbour Scott's birthday; an amazing indian restaurant called Khazana, down the road from the Mille Collines. The food was unbelievable, although i must admit there was something terribly odd about being served by rwandans in traditional indian garb. Especially, when the restaurant's clientele was primarily white. THEN because of Scott's birthday, everything suddenly went dark, a spotlight hit our table, and out of nowhere, our we were quite literally engulphed in a barrage of singing & dancing, that lasted for at least ten minutes. Around 20 people congo-lined around the restaurant, then continued to circle our table with drums. It was beyond surreal & quite hilarious. And I thought a Jack Astors sparkler cupcake was special.

And while moments like that are fantastic, there is something that all feels very colonial about the westerners here. We hired a guard this week, at the insistance of all north americans we've met thus far. Vioneste, 24 year old "orphan & christian" he proudly told us in our psuedo interview. We only have a guard though. Most westerners here, enjoy impeccibly high living situations, with a fleet of people working for them. And while i understand it is beneficial to employ people, I think I'd always feel a little strange paying people to do things i could easily do myself. Specifically when "payment" is near laughable.

Our guard gets 30,000 Rwf a month, less than 60$ US, to sit outside for 12 hours everynight, before he goes to school for a full day. Surprisingly we're paying him considerably more than most night guards make, and he was more than happy to accept the position. I think some people think we were foolish to pay him that much, whereas I feel as though I'm ripping somebody off. So we bought him a large golf umbrella, lent him kathryn's rain coat, my maglite, and make him tea/soup everynight.

Only a year older than myself, Vioneste feels just like Kathryn & I, as we play with our dog (or dogs? two more have arrived out of nowhere), chat about our days and generally joke around. Then internal whiplash occurs yet again, as i focus in on the three scars that run across his brow and cheek. And I am reminded that his parents we're murdered, and he headed up his remaining family of three siblings, at the age of 11.

We are not similar at all. In april 1994 i was having a pirate birthday party.



a few lessons.

disclaimer: mom, i'm sorry for yesterday's "lesson".

looks like i learn something new everyday.

today's lesson was that i am able to venture into the local market without rwandan accompaniment. I bought beautiful brown and green printed fabric & am getting one of the local women to sew me a skirt for 300 rwf (aproximately 80 cents).

yesterday's lesson is this. I love motor taxis.

they wait in packs beside the market. boys no older than myself, wearing oversized neon windbreakers and winter coats. Dozens of green & yellow helmets gleaning in the harsh sunlight, as they laugh & elbow eachother, rolling back & forth, reving engines. Odd religious slogans in broken english slung across the front of most bikes. They grin & surround us, i barely need to barter as they try to out do one another in terms of both cost and bravado. Little boys with inferiority complexes.

Despite being the most efficient form of transportation, (the buses are not only clausterphobic, they take upwards of two hours for an under ten minute journey,) with the roads woven in and around the hills, it feels like your quite literally soaring above the city. Walls of mud brick houses, stacked atop one-another, lining the deep valleys of Kigali.

and yes, i wear a helmet.

Tomorrow i am getting my official tour of the mwana nshuti - i am a little nervous, but mostly excited to be starting work. and tonight i'm going to a book club started by a few other westerners, individuals who work for ngos in kicukiro, and a few UN members living in the area. Should be interesting and i'm cannot wait for some new reading material.

we're hoping to post some pictures soon. but the internet is a little slow, so we will see.

in other news - there is a pineapple in my bag waiting to be eaten. so i will write more later.

much love.


banana leaves & brick walls.

it sounds like it's raining nearly all the time. Raindrops on a tent roof; tiny fingers beating out irregular rhythms outside our open window. Instead, it is just the wind blowing through the plantain leaves. I have learned that real rain is much louder on a tin roof. More like balled fists flooding our rooftop & front steps, then beating down the ground around them.

I have just battled my way through my first rwandan downpour to reach the market, my feet & ankles coated in a burnt orange mud.

we have taken this week to organize & orient ourselves. although I still feel a little lost in terms of both. So i have decided to update as often as i can, as soon i will have less time on my hands.

The most immediate struggle i have come up against is language. Whoever told me english was at all prevelant here, was lying through their teeth. It is an incredibly isolating feeling, when language is not a barrier, but rather a brick wall. My french is horrendous, but considerably more useful than my english. Despite being frusterated, i will attempt to face this all as one big challenge to better myself, but it is difficult when you can barely communicate with your roommates, aside from hand gestures. I am slightly dreading the school environment, where the students apparently only speak kinyarwanda. go team!

cue cards? check.

english on one side, french & kinyarwanda on the other. I intend to return to canada, as trilingual! (hah.)

I have already learned some kinyarwanda. Muraho means hello. Amakuru means how are you. and Mzungu means white (ie. my second name at the moment). Literally.... i step outside our yard, into empty back streets and i still her the far off call of "mzungu" despite the fact I cannot see ANYONE. Kids are by far the best. I have been hugged, high fived, and had timid attempts at english, more than i can remember.

However, the most entertaining, but most terrifying moment was last night. Kathryn & I decided to go for a walk after dinner, and ended up on the main road running through kicukiro. Imagine a two lane road with the level of traffic and intesity of speed as the 401, that you walk up along a thin gravel shoulder. (If I wanted i could reach out and high-five the passing motorists. Funny thing. I don't want to). Now, insert a CLAN of tiny children (all under the age of five) chanting "mzungu!" in high pitched voices on the opposite side of said street. NOW imagine these this giant group of tiny-baby-children darting between the traffic to get to your side of the street, still sqealing "mzungu!" while scampering infront of mac trucks and motor taxis. Despite our best efforts to stop them, we were soon surrounded, by a dozen grinning faces (some of which covered in stickers?) gripping eachother, bouncing with excitement. We attempted to engage them in conversation, but they had all fallen silent, with the exception of some giggling. After making sure they had gotten back across safely we continued on our way. I'd like to say this was an isolated incident, but i'm sure it won't be. And minus the involvement of high speed traffic, i really don't mind.

Well, we're going to attempt to venture into Centre-ville this afternoon(downtown - not a lame attempt at an amusement park on the toronto islands) , via the mini-buses (ie. delapitated mini-vans coated with people) to buy a phone and register with the Canadian Embassy.

Wish me luck!



unaccompanied minor abroad!

well. we knew it was going to be a good trip before leaving canada as we walked up to the klm flight desk at pearson

1. to be asked if we were "unaccompanied minors" (yes, i know our entire families + katie were there to see us off but... do i seriously look twelve?!?)
2. travelling to our final destination of afghanistan.

um. what. (blank slash horrified stares ensued).

however, three days, sleeping in a park in amsterdam, not really sleeping at all, killing hours in nairobi, watching the run way in bujumbura(burundi) lined with local men on bicycles watching the flights come in, and we are finally here in rwanda. NOT afghanistan.

we are living at a guest house in the Kicukiro district in kigali. It has spotty electricity, no fridge, no shower (go buckets!), a toilet we don't know how to flush, and a garbage "pit" in the yard. all apparently par for the course. kathryn and I have decided it will be like a long stint at the cabin. But the house is clean, our roommates are fabulous friendly people who have been more than willing to help show us around, we have a beautiful yard, and a dog named bogo.

it is still an enormous adjustment so far. culture shock is an understatement. but i know this will all take time. i suppose i don't know what i was expecting. perhaps that i might blend in a little better. but i don't. at all.

on our first (overwheming) trip to our local market this market, we were greeted with blank stares (from like one hundred people all at once), and the occasional hissing (not to itimidate... although it did... but to get our attention). however, our second trip out today, alone might i add, has been much better. we even (clearly) found an internet cafe. although the electricity has gone out once, and i'm hoping it wont again.

ulitmately, we have only been here for a day so far and i cannot even think of how to process or record all that i have seen. it is though kigali is life stacked, sandwiched and woven in and amongst itself.

i want to write, photograph, and draw everything all at once.


5 hours till take off.

so this is quick, because at this moment i want to be having tea with my mom & sister. Playing with my nephew (who will be so much bigger by the time i return - which breaks my heart a little). Not staring into a computar sceen. Which would be a terrible last memory of being here in Canada.

5 hours till take-off.
which still feels entirely surreal.

i'm not sure if i feel ready. And because i cannot control what i am walking into, perhaps i overcompensate in preparation. My suitcases are filled to the brim with sunscreen, sketchbooks and everything in between.

I have been packing my days as full as I can. Perhaps I have convinced myself that these condensed set of memories will sustain in me in the weeks and months to come, when I feel so very far away and miss my friends and family so.

well i have too much to do still. see you on the other side.