Friday, 9 May 2014

living with poverty


We don't have to go far to relate to poverty. Even with our thick brick walls, we are not isolated from it. Rwanda is far from the poorest country in the world, yet many people in our rural community live in poverty. It surrounds them, controls them, and threatens to consume them. In our brief time here, we have met many people struggling to survive, and have heard of how poverty has a devastating effect on their lives.

A friend of ours had a break in recently. The thieves came into the house during the day, unnoticed, and hid under a spare bed. During the night, they emptied the room of the bed, most of the family's clothes, which were kept in there, and whatever else they could find. This father relayed his sorrow at having had a break in, and that now he couldn't pay for his children to attend school after the semester break. Having already arranged to buy some pigs from him, we bought them straight away so his kids could go to school.

Our colleagues have started visiting the sick in their homes, providing basic health care and giving health related advice. They came to the home of a very poor family. Their one year old didn't crawl or eat solid food, and our colleagues could see that the child was malnourished. When asking about the family's diet, they heard that the family lived solely on corn. The family was allowed to grow some crops for themselves on some nearby land, and had recently harvested beans. During the night, thieves had come in through the windows, which had no bars or glass, and had stolen the entire bean harvest. The family was back to surviving on corn and waiting for the next crop of beans to grow. Fortunately, our colleagues could point out a naturally growing tree in the area which is very nutritious, giving the family hope.

A woman and I were talking (with hand gestures) about how many children we have. She held up 3 fingers, then took one down again. She had recently lost a child. I thought maybe she'd had a miscarriage or a stillborn, but when talking to someone about it, I found out that her 3 year old had died suddenly during the night. The likely cause of death was malnutrition, but as the child hadn't been seen by a doctor, either before or after death, it's guesswork at best. I just wanted to cry.

Our washing mama came looking for work. She and her husband hadn't eaten for 2 days, giving whatever food they had to their two young boys. She has been washing our clothes since we arrived, and last week she asked me if we had a spare t-shirt or 2 for her children. I didn't understand her words, but I knew what she was asking. I found a translator just to be sure, and told her I would have a look before the next time. I knew we had done a heavy purge of the kids' clothes before leaving Denmark, but we still have a lot compared to many people around us. Lucy's clothes were the only size her 2 boys would fit, and Lucy and I picked out a t-shirt together that she wanted to give, making sure it wasn't too girly (of course, they don't care about that). We sent Christian into town to buy a few things and he came home with a small stack of previously loved clothes. The mama was so surprised and grateful to get so many clothes.
Yesterday she was here again, washing our clothes, and Alexander suddenly said,
"They're poor, aren't they?"
"Sorry?" I asked.
"They're poor, because they asked us for clothes."
"Yes they are. but nobody likes to be poor. Do you see how hard the mama is working, so she can buy food for her family?"
"That's why we pay her," he said, "because she's working for us."
"Yes, and she came to ask for work, not for money. She wants to do what she can to help herself."

Hearing these stories makes me angry, sad, frustrated, grieved, hopeless and full of despair. Some days, when I just stay at home, I don't need to see what's happening around me. Some days, I don't want to know. Some days, I just don't know what to do. Living with poverty, right outside our doorstep, is one of the things I was most worried about, when moving to Rwanda. How can we help all these people? The problem is just too big.

And when I get stuck in that thought, it helps to remember something Mother Theresa said,

"Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you."

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

weekending in kigali

the drive to kigali takes about 3 hours through breathtaking country. lush, gently rolling hills are dotted with cattle. the traffic is light, but there are a lot of people. always people. on bikes or walking, carrying their load in their arms and on their heads. even though the drive gets a bit tiresome with three grumpy kids in the back (they are terrible at road trips, but great at flying. go figure!), it's worth doing it once a month.

this weekend we got to enjoy all the things that we don't have where we live. a trip to the bagel shop for bagels and doughnuts, a jumping castle that we visited about 6 times over the weekend, a trip to the cinema to see rio 2, afternoon coffee from a cafe, a supermarket stocked with cheese, salami and sweets, blending in (sort of), and some different eating out options.

we also had plenty of what we're used to. car troubles, delays, people staring and wanting to touch the kids, too many people following us, and falling into bed exhausted after a full day of impressions. it was a full weekend, but a good one.

Friday, 2 May 2014

moments {a weekly collection}

we picked some wild "flowers" on our walk this week. an empty mayonnaise jar made a great impromptu vase, but we had to take them back outside when isabel's face got all red and blotchy.
christian went to umuganda - the monthly community work day. they made mud bricks for housing for refugees returning from tanzania.
learning life skills - washing the dishes. surprisingly, the kids love this chore, especially "queen elsa".
we found this giant beetle. it was the size of lucy's hand, but she was too scared to get close to it (me too, i might add!)
 "cheese"!
this little guy visited us all week, staring at his own reflection in our mirrored windows. the kids named him "Mister Pjuskede" or Mr Fluffy.
building a new home for the "bunnies" was a team effort.
new sandals!
getting started on lucy's birthday present, a house for her sylvanian bunny family.
playing with hama beads.
we finished painting the dog house. having a toddler helper resulted in a necessary haircut (fyi, toddlers and oil based paint don't mix) for lucy. isabel wanted her hair the same, so they now have these cute little fringes.

we're off to kigali for the weekend. we look forward to going to the cinema, drinking coffee, and buying groceries we can't get hold of here. have a great weekend!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

the barbie house

Welcome to the Barbie House! This has been our home for the past 2 months and, as strange as it is to show off your home on the internet, I know you're all curious to see how we live here. We moved in here with our friends, Christian and Anne, when we arrived in Nyagatare, and it had already been dubbed "The Barbie House" due to its' fabulous colour. The girls love it!

Come on in!
Our living spaces are large enough for the 7 of us, and we're really happy that Christian and Anne had all this furniture already, because we don't have much yet.
The kitchen. The green walls certainly wake you up in the mornings! Behind me is a huge walk in pantry for all our food and extra bowls, etc.
Our school/play/sewing room. This is a big space and we are in here every day. We're not allowed to hang anything on the walls here, so it looks bare and dull.
The children's room. The three of them have been really happy to share a room together. Being in a new, strange place, it's nice to feel the comfort of others close by.
Our room. Yeah, we sleep on a mattress on the floor. Like I said, we don't have much furniture yet. Note the mosquito nets, a neccesity here. 
Our bathroom. Not very pretty, but we are really lucky to have both an indoor toilet/shower, and to have running water in here. We're not complaining. Even without hot water, we are extremely privileged to live here.

Wondering where our washing machine is? We don't have one. Although there are many days I wish we did, the usual way to wash clothes here is to employ someone to do it for you. We've weighed this up quite a lot, but ultimately we can help a family here by giving someone a job. Meet our washing mama. She lives a few houses down from us, and works from day to day to survive, as does her husband. Our laundry takes her only the morning to do, but she earns the same as two full days hoeing in the fields. A happy compromise.
Here is our "new" ute/truck/pick up, whatever you fancy calling it. It's old, and breaks down every second week or so, but it enables us to get around (when it's working!) and to transport stuff, even during the rainy season when the roads are just mud.
Outside the gates. Gates and walls are also a neccesity, unless you want your stuff to get stolen or people to just walk in all the time. They have a group culture here. Whatever one person has is shared with everyone. Sounds lovely and idyllic, perhaps, but has it's downsides like every culture. We also appreciate being able to relax in our garden, as our kids are such a novelty to people here, and it gets pretty tiring being chased around, having your picture taken, or being yelled at.
The road outside our house is just dirt, or mud, depending on the season! It's also a really beautiful place to go walking, especially in the evening when the light is soft and the day's heat has subsided.
If you're lucky, you will see the most beautiful sunset in the evenings, and perhaps even see the mountains of Uganda on the horizon. The sun goes down between 6 and 6.30pm every day, all year round. 

We've really enjoyed living here. It has been such a good transition from what we are used back home, and what is actually normal here. This is a total luxury house. There are plastered walls, tiles on the floors throughout the house, a flushable toilet, water connected to the bathrooms and kitchen, a wall and gate, and a lovely garden. The whole outdoor area is paved, which means we don't track in much mud. There is a lovely big verandah on the front of the house, and a little one on the back. Although not perfect, and wonky in places (our bedroom floor is sloped!), this is still a fantastic house.

We have just signed a rental contract for a house in Ryabega, the village where the project is. We are really looking forward to having our own place, and being close enough to the project to walk up and visit. Hopefully it will be ready for us to move in the beginning of June!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

celebrating seven

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Alexander's seventh birthday. It was a day of all Alexander's favourite things. We started the day with singing and presents in bed. This year, books were a big hit, especially books about animals, including an encyclopedia and a bird watching book, and Lego Star Wars. We followed up with a breakfast of freshly baked bread rolls and scrambled eggs, then set up the wii for the first time since we got here. Alexander was so happy! We played wii party and mario kart, and it was so much fun. Christian drove down to the post office to see if there was anything waiting for us, and there was! Two packages arrived from Denmark with gifts for Alexander (and my birthday), and the three Amazon packages we'd been waiting on. Talk about good timing!
The weather was fantastic, sunny and hot, so we headed outside and filled up the "swimming pool". It was the first time we got to use it, as the rainy season has meant the weather hasn't been warm enough. 

We found a cool streamer cylinder, powered with compressed air. Before we celebrated with birthday cake, we told the kids to stand in the living room so we could shower them with streamers. It was so loud when the cylinder went off that both the girls ran away. The look on their faces is priceless!
Alexander's final wish was for a traditional Danish lagkage, or cream cake. We stumbled onto some strawberries in Kigali, as well as cream, and were able to make his cake wish come true. He had a great day, and it was nice to be able to make his birthday special.

I can't believe it's been seven years since he came into the world, and turned our lives upside down. He is a sweet, sensitive boy, creative and imaginative. He's very social, and loves Lego, Star Wars, wii, and drawing. He has just started reading small books, and loves to "read" encyclopedias.

Happy Birthday, Alexander!