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As everyone knows, I am afraid of birds. Everyone should also know that there are a lot of birds in Rwanda. To top it all off, many of my housemates really appreciate birds and enjoy birdwatching from our front deck or visiting the chickens in their coop.

Crazies.

Anyways, this story begins on our first day of classes. It’s important to know that our classroom is outside. It’s basically a covered garage area. We were in the middle of our second class which was taught by our program director, Michael. Apparently, this is also free time for the chickens. In the middle of our class three of the chickens come wandering into our classroom and start pecking around. I was okay until they started meandering over to my chair.

Once they were behind my seat, the fear set in. I’m not joking, my classmates claim that I turned beet red. My heart rate increased, I got super tense, sweaty palms, the works.

I was trying so hard to hold it all together because Michael was still lecturing, but I lost it when one of the chickens started pecking around by my feet. All of the sudden, everyone noticed my abnormal coloring, remembered my fear of birds, and some got up and heroically herded the chickens out of the classroom.

Phew.

We all laughed and I tried to calm down (and wipe some tears from my eyes, embarassingly enough) and catch up with the lecture, which I hadn’t been paying attention to for the last five minutes.

All was well with the world again…until one of the chickens snuck back in and made a beeline straight for me! Michael grabbed it before it attacked and put it back in the courtyard.

It snuck back in a third time and made another beeline for me. Again, it was captured just in the nick of time, but still the whole experience was quite traumatizing.

We had been talking a few days before about how sometimes culture shock makes us revert to a child-like emotional state…I don’t know, it might be true.

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The last four weeks have been a whirlwind of finishing classes and last-minute adventures. I could have made space for writing more frequent blog posts in the last month, but I didn’t think anyone wanted to read about how I was spending all my time writing two ten-page research papers in one week. That’s not fun for anyone.

We arrived back at the Go-ED house on October 31 and enjoyed an evening of sharing practicum stories and eating pumpkin cookies and caramel apples around a campfire. I then spent the next three days barely leaving my bed and throwing up everything I ate. I finally went to a local clinic and found out I had a parasite. I thought that was pretty cool, minus the fact that the little guy wouldn’t let me eat. So, I sadly took the prescription meds that would soon kill poor little Edmund and end our short-lived patronage.

At this same time we started our last two classes of the semester: African Traditional Religion & Culture with Pastor Antoine and Social Context for Community Development with Professor Emmanuel. Both classes were pretty intense (most classes are when you try to cram them into four weeks) but still really interesting. Antoine was constantly challenging us to take another look at our own Christian beliefs while learning about traditional African religious beliefs, and Emmanuel showed us what it looks like to apply faith to development. I learned a lot from both professors and I am super grateful for these two classes.

In the midst of all of this, I needed to get out of the house a little bit. You know, breathe some non-city air and stretch out my legs. So, three of my friends and I hopped on a bus before the sun was up one Saturday morning with a tent, some sleeping bags, and a bunch of PB&Js and headed off to Nyungwe National Park; a rainforest in southern Rwanda. We went on an incredible six-hour hike through the rainforest and were able to see four or five different waterfalls and lots of monkeys. Our guide was really into bird watching…I wasn’t. It was awesome though, and when we finished up our hike we trekked down to our campsite to set up our tent and take a little nap. Later in the evening, we went back up to the main area of the visitor center to warm up and buy some dinner (we were already kind of tired of PB&J). We had planned on reading and journaling but the power was out, so we ended up just sitting around a candle, drinking tea and eating veggie omelets. We moved back to our campsite after a few hours and chatted around a campfire for a little while before crawling into bed. It was SO cold there none of us really got any sleep. As exhausting as the weekend adventure was, it felt good to go out and do something by ourselves, and to get away from the city for a little bit.

            Thanksgiving was another wonderful adventure. We made a list of all of the Thanksgiving food that we loved most and made an incredible feast. We were able to make almost all of the traditional Thanksgiving spread (we even found turkey!) and invited some of our Rwandan friends over to share the holiday with us. Melissa and I invited Charles and Vanessa, our friends who we worked with at EDD. It was Charles’ first Thanksgiving, so it was really fun to be able to share a bit of our culture with him after he had shared so much of Rwandan culture with us over practicum. All in all, it was a really joyful occasion and made me realize how thankful I am for my community here.

            We finished classes on Friday, and Saturday morning headed out to Akagera National Park in the east for a two-day Safari. We rode in legit-looking land cruisers through the forest and saw herds of giraffes, zebras, antelopes, buffalo, and warthogs. It was awesome! We camped at a beautiful site overlooking one of the lakes and got to stargaze for the first time since coming to Rwanda (we can’t really see the stars in the city).

            This week we are doing some debriefing to prepare for coming home, and trying to fit in some more last-minute adventures before we leave Kigali. I am so incredibly excited to finally be home after six months and be reunited with my friends and family, but it is definitely going to be hard to leave my community here though, and to transition back into my life in the US. I have a lot that I have learned here that I want to apply to my life back home, which is going to mean making some big changes. Despite the anxieties about going home and facing my culture with a changed worldview, I know that God is good and is going to be with my every step of the way.

“I have chosen the way of truth;

I have set my heart on your laws.

I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD;

Do not let me be put to shame.

I run in the path of your commands,

For you have set my heart free

Psalm 119 v. 30-32

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This post is long overdue.  Quick catch up: Three weeks ago we finished our first block of classes and went on a mid-semester vacation to Kampala, Uganda. It was a crazy few days full of traditional dancing, shopping, long car rides, good food, and rafting class 5 rapids in the Nile! It was an incredible way to end our first full month together before we broke up in our practicum groups for another 5 weeks.

Two weeks ago, Melissa and I moved out of the Go-ED house, a place that has become our home these last 5 weeks, and began a full month of truly living in Rwandan culture. This second portion of our semester abroad takes us out of the classroom and into a practicum placement and host family where we will get to experience what it is like to live and work in the culture.

We are living in Kanombe, a suburban area about 10 minutes out of Kigali. We live with a very nice, fairly wealthy, Christian family. I am definitely being challenged to value simplicity during this season. I have to embrace things like cold showers (or bucket showers when the water gets turned off), living out of my duffel bag, frequent power outages, and just the slow pace of life here. We are definitley not roughing it, though. Our home is very nice and comfortable and we are provided with a lot of good, African food (and theiy are vegetarians! Score!). But it is definitely a different experience living in a Rwandan home with a Rwandan family rather than just living in an American home in a Rwandan city. I have to really dive into and embrace the culture, which is proving to be a lot more challenging than I thought it would be. I’m glad I have Melissa here to keep me sane! We have to have occasional “American moments” where we watch an episode of a TV show I have on my computer and eat Luna bars or bisctuits (cookies), or walk down to the corner store and have a cold Fanta or an ice cream cone if they have them.

Melissa and I are working at Les Enfants de Dieu, an organization that provides safe housing and education for boys living on the streets of Kigali. We spend most of our days working in the library to help the boys with their reading, let them color pictures or play board games, and make sure they don’t tear the place apart in the process. It was a little overwhelming at first, but I am beginning to love that library. The boys are able to read and comprehend many of the picture books (and there are tons!), but there are shelves of chapter books that have never been touched. I have been working my way through some of my favorite books from childhood during the quieter afternoon hours. Two days a week, we let the boys play games and I usually play Mancala…and win :)

The staff at the center are really friendly. There is another American volunteer working there right now, Vanessa, who has become a great friend to both of us. Charles, a Rwandan who works at the center as a program coordinator, has also become a good friend, and even took Melissa and I to a wedding a few weeks ago so we could witness a dowry exchanging ceremony! Tonight after work, the four of us walked down to the one restraunt in this part of town and got Fantas and split a few baskets of chips (fries). It felt really good to hang out with friends, rather than feel cooped up at home.

That’s about all I have for this post! Sorry it was so delayed (I actually don’t know if anyone reads this, but if you do then I am sorry I haven’t posted anything for a while, haha). Melissa and I would both appreciate prayers for energy and perserverance as we want to make the most of these last few weeks.

Amahoro (Peace).

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I have been avoiding this post for a long time…talking about the genocide. We have been studying the genocide in our Issues in Peacebuilding class for the last 5 weeks and through lectures, reading, and visiting memorials I have had a lot to process. I wanted to share about my experience at the memorials weeks ago, but I didn’t even know what to say. How do I describe how it felt to stand inside an underground grave, staring at rows and rows of human skulls and bones? To stand in a church sanctuary and see holes in the walls where grenades and hammers broke through, piles and piles of people’s clothes collecting dust, dried blood on the walls, and a statue of Mary looking down on the whole scene? To be surrounded by the remains of innocent people who were brutally murdered for just being a member of a certain ethnic group. I didn’t have words for that then, and I still don’t.

Seeing all that made me question where God was in all of this, and if healing is even possible after such trauma. Yesterday, though, redemption happened.

Yesterday, Pastor Anastase, our Peacebuilding professor, brought in two guest speakers. He has brought in quite a few guest speakers, mostly people involved in local peacebuilding organizations. I assumed that the man and woman waiting for us at the dining table were in similar positions, although it was strange that we were meeting with them at the table rather than in the classroom. I soon realized though, this was no normal lecture. Anastase began to introduce them and we learned that the woman was a survivor of the genocide, and the man was a perpetrator, a killer, during the genocide. I got chills when I realized I was sitting in the presence of someone who had murdered I didn’t know how many people. But they wanted to share their testimonies, so we listened.

Immanuel told his story first. He was 24 and a Hutu at the time of the genocide. On April 11, 1994 soldiers came to his house and told him that they would pay him to help in the killing Tutsis. They shot him in the arm for saying no, so out of fear for his life he went. He told us of the families and individuals he killed with a machete in the following days. He stopped and returned home, but on April 29, the soldiers came back and recruited him once again to chase people hiding in the bush. It was there that he cut off Alice’s hand, hit her over the head with a machete, and left her for dead among the dozens of others chased out of hiding and killed. Immanuel, a Christian, felt extreme guilt for what he had done and after a few months he reported himself to the district court. They thought he was mad for confessing on his own, but put him in prison for 8 years. After he was released he felt that he needed to approach people he had hurt who were still alive, but found this to be an incredibly hard and frightening task. Eventually, he ran into Alice. She didn’t remember him, but he remembered her and what he had done to her. After some time of working together in the community, he pulled her aside and confessed what he had done and asked for her forgiveness…

Alice then began her story. She was not allowed to continue her education past elementary school because she was a Tutsi, so she lived with her family and helped with the farming and housework for most of her life. In 1991, her father and brother were kidnapped by the Interhamwe and she never saw them again. In the years following, she married, had a baby girl, and built a house. She and her family felt that they had finally reached a time of peace, but it did not last long. On April 11, 1994 the killings started and she and her family went into hiding in a church and eventually moved to the bush near a river. On April 29 a group of men came and began killing those in hiding. Alice had a spear run through her shoulder, two machete cuts in her head, her right hand cut off, and then a man came and stomped on her chest as she lay on the ground bleeding. Miraculously, though, she survived. Some people who had survived the raid came out and cared for her until the RPF soldiers came and rescued those in hiding. Her husband miraculously survived as well, but their daughter was taken out of her arms and cut in half during the attack. It took her a long time to recover, both physically and emotionally. She struggled with seeing Hutus in her church, and worshipping a God who had let these terrible things happen to her and her family. Eventually, she began to turn back to God and began helping World Vision visit families and children in her village. She began to pray that she would have the opportunity to forgive the person who cut off her hand. Then, she met Immanuel and he asked her for forgiveness. She was traumatized by meeting the man who had handicapped her, but after a few days she was able to forgive him.

Their relationship didn’t stop there though. Alice was a judge in the gacaca court that tried Immanuel after he confessed to her, and she helped him to get a lesser sentence of community service for two years, rather than more time in jail. Immanuel has asked her family for forgiveness, and today their children are friends. I was blown away by their ability to reconcile. We have been talking for weeks about post-genocide reconciliation happening among Rwandans, but I don’t think I truly understood the power of that until I hear this story.

Immanuel and Alice are very open about their story, because they want people to know that reconciliation and forgiveness is possible. After we ended, we got a picture with both of them (which I don’t have) and I ended up standing next to Immanuel. He put his arm around me and I felt complete peace standing arm and arm with a man who, although he was a murderer, is forgiven and loved by God in the same way I am for my sins. I am so grateful for this experience to hear a tragic yet beautiful story of how God can work, even out of something as evil as genocide.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 8:21-22

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all those virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” Colossians 3:12-14

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In the last week, we have been on two field trips to rural villages. These have been great experiences, not only to get out of the city a little bit, but also to experience a day in the life of a typical villager.

On Friday we visited a village called Muhanga, in the west. I and 4 other people in my program spent the morning helping some women with their daily tasks. We peeled cassava and sweet potatoes for lunch, hiked down to their fields to hoe and pull weeds, cut grass for the cows with mini machetes, carried bundles of grass on our heads, and carried water in jerrycans. It was hard work! I was amazed by how they lived in such a close relationship with the plants and animals around them. We enjoyed a typical lunch of boiled cassava (a starchy vegetable, similar to a potato) and sweet potatoes, beans, and avocado (which I don’t normally like but are delicious here) and ate with our hands. In the afternoon the women taught us the art of basket weaving. These women are part of a cooperative of artisans who sell their art to Azizi Life, an organization that allows rural artisans to sell their art at a better price than they would at the local markets. We learned how to weave bracelets and earrings out of the dyed fibers of the Sisal plant. I was definitely clumsier than them in my weaving and my earring (I only had time to make one) looks a little wonky, but I’m still proud of it!

Yesterday, we went to a village in the eastern part of Rwanda to learn a traditional Rwandan art called Imigongo from an artisan cooperative. To make imigongo you must follow a very specific process:

1. Start with a rectangular wooden board.  

2. Using charcoal and a long blade of grass, mark the midpoints along the sides of the board in order to draw a straight and symmetrical pattern.

3. Take a generous pile of cow dung and mold it (with your bare hands) to create a ridge along your charcoal pattern.

4. Let sit in the sun for about 3 days.

5. Wash your hands!!

6. Sand the poop ridges so that they are even and smooth.

7. Cover the board with a pink primer and let dry.

8. Paint your masterpiece with black and white paint (sometimes you can use color) and let dry (takes about 2 minutes in the hot sun).

Et voila! You have your very own crappy artwork to hang on your living room wall! Actually, they turned out looking really cool. I painted one that was pre-made by one of the artisans and they let me keep it! I am definitely going to hang it up in my living room…well, when I have one.

Working with cow poop was surprisingly fun, and didn’t smell as bad as I was expecting. Even though we washed our hands multiple times, I was still glad that they let us eat our starchy but delicious lunch of cassava, sweet potatoes, and beans with forks.

Even though these were really fun experiences, I still feel burdened by the amount of poverty I saw, especially just passing through village after village on the long car rides. Please be praying for peace and clarity as I continue to process. 

*I’ll post pictures soon! We’re about to start our weekly blackout night where we don’t use any electricty or electronics…so uploading pictures will have to wait until tomorrow :)

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View of Kigali from my bedroom window.

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We arrived in Rwanda late Friday night. As we were going through the airport and driving through Kigali to our house all I could think was “this feels a lot like Kazakhstan”. I assumed that I only thought that because my brain was just too tired to really process what I was seeing. Even after spending two days in the city it still feels very similar to Almaty, just with African people instead of Kazakh people.

Well, okay, there are quite a few differences. It’s much easier to communicate with people here because many people speak and understand English, which is good because Kinyarwanda is hard to remember! We learned a few phrases before we went downtown and by the time I got there I had forgotten everything we had learned. There is also a suprising variety of food and restraunts here. Today we had lunch at a place called MezeFresh, which is basically the Chipotle of Africa, and saw Chinese, Italian, American, and African restraunts.

Yesterday we went on an adventure called “muzungu matatu madness” (muzungu literally means “aimless wanderer” in Swahili, but is the universal slang term for a foreigner or white person, and a matatu is the bus that we take through town). It’s basically our program’s way of getting us to jump into the culture and try out public transportation. We got into small groups and went on a scavenger hunt through downtown Kigali searching for different buildings, shops, and landmarks that are helpful to know. It was really fun and definitely gave me a better sense of the city. I felt super safe walking through town and taking the bus.

We start school tomorrow and I’m really excited to have a schedule and get into a routine here. I think that will help me feel more at home here. Prayer for getting over jet lag and starting classes would be much appreciated.

Thanks, friends! 

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Recycling in the Brussels airport!

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Today is the day! I’m en route to Rwanda! I’m currently sitting on a plane headed to Brussels. I just finished watching two of my favorite movies (Lincoln and Mulan) which took up a good portion of the long flight.

The last few days have been a whirlwind. I felt so loved and blessed by the friends and family I was able to see during my (incredibly short) time home. I was reminded of how much I love my community in Newberg, which definitely made it hard to leave on Tuesday. I was definitely fighting tears on the way to PDX and on the flight to DC, but I know that this is where God wants me right now, and that gives me peace about leaving a place that I love (again). I’m also excited about the new community I am already finding in the other Go-ED students. Although I’m leaving behind a lot, I know I will be back soon and I have SO much in store for me in the next few months.

I arrived in DC on Tuesday evening and after waiting in the wrong spot for over an hour for the hotel shuttle, I finally found the right spot and made it to the hotel where I met the directors of Go-ED. The rest of the students arrived on Wednesday morning. There are ten of us: nine girls and one guy. We spent all of Wednesday afternoon exploring DC. I absolutely loved it! We walked around the city all afternoon seeing different buildings and monuments. We visited the Holocaust museum as well. Going through the museum and seeing all the details of the Holocaust was really emotional and hard to process. I think that is only a taste of what I will experience in Rwanda as I learn more about the genocide that happened there.

 By the time I am able to post this I will be in Brussels for a short layover and then on another 8-ish hour flight to Kigali! It is surreal to finally be on my way to a place I have been dreaming about for a long time. Please be praying for continued safe travels, rest, and that everyone’s luggage would arrive on time! Thanks, friends.

Peace & blessings.

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I still have about a week until I will actually be in Rwanda, but I decided that I need to start this blog thing now so that I will (hopefully) keep it going once I get there. A few things need to be explained before I actually start my adventure though…

The Title. The title is kind of an inside joke with a friend, but I have been planning on using it for a while. One of my good friends likes to tease me about two fun facts about myself: that I am afraid of birds and that, at the time, I was a vegetarian. We got to talking one day about how I was planning on giving up my vegetarianism while I worked at camp and lived in Rwanda, just for convenience’s sake. It is so easy to be a vegetarian while living on my own and cooking for just myself, but while I am relying on other people to cook for me (especially in a new culture) I feel like it would be pretty high-maintenance of me. We also realized that I would have to face my fear of birds while in Africa. After doing some research I found an alarmingly large variety of birds common to Rwanda (one species is called the Painted Snipe, which you may find humorous if you have ever participated in a “snipe hunt” at camp). Anyways, my friend and I came to realize that my semester in Rwanda would be a stretching experience for me and that I would return to Oregon a new woman who eats meat and no longer fears birds. He decided to call this new version of Shelbye the “fearless omnivore” and said he would refer to me as such upon my return. I doubt that I will be less afraid of birds when I come back, but I will definitely be a changed person and I chose this title to reflect this period of growth and transformation.

The Trip. I am going to Kigali, Rwanda with a study abroad program called Go-ED. This program is specifically focused on studying peace and reconciliation in Rwanda as well as issues in relief and development. I will get to take classes on peace and reconciliation, Rwandan culture and religion, and community development. I will also have the opportunity to do a month-long field practicum with a NGO there. I am so incredibly excited for this chance to study things that I am already very passionate about and to live in a completely new culture!

This Summer. The last 8 weeks I have been working at Mount Hermon camps near Santa Cruz, CA. I have been a counselor for a small, high school camp called Echo. Echo focuses on teaching students different spiritual disciplines, especially service. I have spent my summer leading my campers in study and discussion, washing countless dishes in one of the kitchens on the mountain, and going on so many awesome adventures. This summer has been all about learning how to lean on God for wisdom and strength, and surrendering to Him every single day. I am so grateful for this period of getting closer to God and learning a lot about community and about what it means to fully surrender to God. I feel like He has been preparing me more for what is in store for me in Africa!

 

So, that’s a brief snippet of where I’m coming from and where I’m going! I hope to keep this blog updated pretty regularly as a way to help me process what I am experiencing in Rwanda and to keep friends and family updated. I would really appreciate prayer while I am in this crazy period of transition. Thanks for reading, friends!