one final post, not from Rwanda

I’ve been trying for over two weeks (and failing up until now) to write a post to close out this blog.  My tardiness stems in part from how busy I’ve been since I returned to the US. To blame my schedule, however, would be a incomplete explanation.  I’ve had enough time to write, plenty of internet access, and even some fresh Rwandan music to inspire me to author the greatest blog post in the history of blogs. What then, kept me from writing?  Put simply, I was overwhelmed by the depth and extent of the experience that I was trying to “sum up” in a few paragraphs.  I was at a loss for words, a state I rarely find myself in as anyone who knows me will readily acknowledge.  I don’t really have the words now, but I’m going to write anyway. Now, lets get on with this post……

I learned a great deal during my 4 weeks in Rwanda—about the country, its people, and myself.  I picked up a few words of Kinywarwandan, the most important being “amazi” (water).  I acquired an appreciation for Rwandan music.  Personal favorites: Kitoko, Dream Boyz, and King James.  I witnessed affluence and poverty, often side by side. I saw images that will remain etched in my memory for years to come, some beautiful, others horrific. I heard stories of violence and conflict, brokenness and division.  I heard stories of unity and hope, redemption and reconciliation.  I confirmed that I do, in fact, want to pursue a career working on issues related to peace and security in Africa.

Since my flight home wasn’t scheduled until 1am, my final day was a long one.  It started with packing, then goodbyes at NCV.

Next Chris and I went to Kigali to meet up with a few of our new-found Rwandan friends  We did some  shopping, enjoyed a relaxing dinner and then met up with the NCV staff at a Chinese restaurant. After another round of goodbyes, Chris and the NCV crew took me to the airport for the final sendoff.  When it came time for me to go through security, the entire group walked me up.  And then I was off.  Actually I waited 5 hours at the gate for my flight to take off (4am by that time, thanks Turkish Airlines)

As I conclude, I want to offer a word of thanks to you, the faithful readers of this blog.  Chris and I thoroughly enjoyed checking the stats on our posts. We were pleasantly surprised to top 1000 views.  Then again, my mom may have accounted for about 500 of them…

Everyone at NCV seemed pretty confident I’ll be back in Rwanda at some point. Sounds good to me!



Some final thoughts

Welp, it’s my last full day here at NCV. My flight leaves tomorrow just before 2:00 pm for Kilimanjaro. There are a few odds and ends things here for me to finish in the office. The women have basically finished hoeing in the orchard so I spent some time this morning clearing away excess brush from the area (with no gloves I must add). Yesterday we successfully fixed the plumbing. The vision for NCV’s expansion is definitely underway.

As I take in my last full day here are some thoughts to sum up this leg of my adventure.

Rwanda is a place that I hardly knew anything about before I came here. I knew that genocide happened but that was about the extent of my knowledge. Now I think that I probably know more about Rwanda than 95% of Americans. It has reaffirmed in me that I/we should never stop learning. Every place in the world has different lessons that we can learn from. Even if traveling isn’t your thing, pick up a book and learn about different areas of the world. There is always new knowledge out there for you to gain.

Rwandan kids are tough. Obviously they’ve been through a lot emotionally, but I’m talking physically. They will fall down, get hit in the head, or split a lip and bounce right back up. If they shed a tear it is short lived. It would be such an easier job being a baby sitter here because you don’t have to deal with so many tears.

Bananas can be served so many different ways. First off, did you know that there are two different types of bananas? There are ones for cooking and ones for eating raw. They were a staple in our diet here and I have grown rather fond of them in cooking.

Working at an orphanage or similar place is tough. Inside the walls of the orphanage, the kids have it pretty well. They get 3 meals a day, have multiple changes of clothes, watch movies, and have craft supplies. However just outside the walls and in the surrounding community kids are shoeless, have to walk miles to get water, and are always dirty. It is tough as a volunteer to see the contrast in living conditions. I have come to the conclusion that places like NCV are ultimately good because it has given 17 kids a leg up, and as it continues to grow, it will be able to help even more. Still, it’s tough to know that you can’t help everyone, especially when it hits so close to home.

I may have found my honey moon destination or least one place to consider. A couple weeks ago we went to Gisenyi (great timing too because the conflict with Congo has picked up recently and Gisenyi is a hop skip and a jump away from the border). It is an utterly beautiful place situation right on Lake Kivu. As you know if you have been reading our blog, Daniel and I got to share a king-size bed in our own private hut complete with outdoor restroom and shower. It was the kind of place you want to want to spend with a significant other not a friend (sorry Daniel).

I really appreciate what the Daniel Owens’s of the world do. I say this because A: I hate research and B: I don’t think I could make policy decisions that could potentially lead to war and death. However I have the utmost respect for people that can do that. It is clear to me now that aid in general doesn’t necessarily help the way it was intended and in many cases it can make it worse. That being said, aid can be good thing, but we need the Daniel Owens’s of the world to make sure it is directed in the right way.

Time really does fly. I can’t believe I have been here just under five weeks. I have seen and done so much and yet it seems I only just arrived. Pretty soon I’ll be back at OU living on Mill Street. Don’t get me wrong, I am super excited for senior year, but that means I only have one year left. The real world looms and I will continue run from it faster than Derek Brockman from a stray dog.

Thanks to everyone who has made this trip possible! Thanks to the NCV staff and thanks to Hope College for giving me this opportunity.



Today we attended another 4 hour church service (our second since being here).  Unlike last month’s, there was no translation done over the microphone.  Instead, Daniel and I were given our own personal translators.  It was a bit uncomfortable for me since I was taller than my translator and I had to strain my neck.  However I really appreciated the gesture.

Daniel and I have both talked and written about how it feels weird to be treated special because we are Muzungos.  However this was something completely different.  It was all about making their guests feel welcomed.  It wasn’t about special privileges.

Last night we were at our driver’s house.  He offered us food and drink, so to be polite we of course said yes (plus, who turns down free food).  Therefore he proceeded to leave his home to go buy some sambusas and Cokes.  I would have felt bad if that wasn’t the culture here.  Multiple times we have been places where the hosts leave go buy whatever we want to drink.  It’s something that would never happen in America.   Here its completely normal and I actually like it.  It is such an open culture that they people go out of their way to accommodate guests.

As Daniel’s trip ends tomorrow, and my time at the orphanage ends on Friday, I think that is one thing that I will try to bring with me back home.  I hate how in our culture it’s rude to take extra food at a buffet, or ask for something to eat/ drink when at someone’s house.  Here, if they run out of food, they bring out more.  That is just the expectation.  I have learned so much from living in this culture for a month, and I will be sad to head home.


what’s your name?

If you’re a faithful reader of this blog you might remember that Chris and I are often called “mzungus”, the Kinyarwandan word borrowed from Swahili for “white person”. The prevalence of the term is magnified in the rural area where we are staying because there are only a handful of white people in the entire district, making us true novelties.

Having the term mzungu directed at me so frequently has been frustrating in several respects. First, the term is widely associated with power, wealth, etc—all things that inhibit my ability have open, honest conversations with a broad cross-section of the local community. That I’m usually riding in a car when I pass by people walking or pushing bikes along the road only reinforces this dynamic. Second, it forces me to represent “white people” as a group rather than just myself. Finally, I, like most people, prefer to be called by my name rather than objectified.

Two weeks ago we took NCV’s kids out to a nearby field for a soccer game. Much of the neighborhood soon joined, and, not surprisingly, “mzungu mzungu!” rang in my ears as I traversed the field. In response, I began telling the kids “my name is Daniel, what’s your name?” Despite their limited English, nearly all of them responded with their name—many were shy, some hesitant. While I only remembered a few of the names (there were SO many, and most were difficult to pronounce), this exchange of names helped me feel less like an object of fascination and more like a kid out playing soccer.

As I walked through the same field a few days later, I heard “Daniel, Daniel”. When I turned around, I realized it was some of the kids I had met during the soccer game. I waved; they waved back. Progress.

On an unrelated note, I only have four days left here in Rwanda. Tempus fugit. (Latin phrase for “time flies”)

Some Photos

Being introduced to the congregation

Learning the correct form

We got dressed up for a wedding… Didn’t quite make it there

Everyone wants to be in a picture with a Muzungo

Daniel has moves for days

Boating on Lake Kivu

Daniel and I shared the honeymoon sweet in Gisenyi complete with outdoor shower

Taking a hike just outside NCV
After the film viewing with Eric (center) 

Walking around the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Yay Hope College