Back in the USA

May 1, 2010

I made it safely home. Our flights were even on time, the babies on board were quiet and well-behaved, we had a fresh crop of on-flight movies to choose from. After 21 hours of flying time crammed into a 27 hour window, with about 5 to 7 hours of sleep in 36 hours, I’m a little bit spacey-brained. And klutzy: I managed to give myself two new scrapes since arriving home. But it feels good to be here! I’ve never loved my apartment’s shower so much (it never seemed to have such amazing water pressure and hot water before today).

If the shower was that good, seeing my friends this evening (because good company is the best way to keep myself awake and fight the jetlag) ought to be amazing.


Greetings from Kigali International Airport!

April 30, 2010

Thanks to Emmanuel, Mom and I made it to the airport. We hung out at the Bourbon Coffee location outside of security while we waited for Ethiopian Airlines to open their counter. Then Emmanuel went on his way, after Mom and I encouraged him to visit us in the States. Thank you again, Emmanuel – we couldn’t have met nearly as many great people, or learned nearly as much as we did, without your help.

Mom and I proceeded through security, and checked in for our flight. When Mom asked the young woman tagging our luggage and issuing our boarding passes if we could be moved to an exit row, she told us that only men are allowed to sit in exit rows on international flights on Ethiopian Airlines. Mom told her that in the US, such discrimination would be illegal. She said that the official policy specified that not only the physical strength, but mental fortitude of men, was necessary – women were too prone to panic in an emergency. Mom told me I should blog such a ridiculous story. The young woman behind the counter agreed that it was ridiculous, but said she couldn’t do anything about it. So we took the seats we were given, waved goodbye to our suitcases, and went upstairs to the international terminal. This terminal consists of one waiting area with three doors to the outside, beyond yet another security checkpoint.

Before going through our second round of security, Mom and I explored the shopping and waiting area outside it. An artist exhibiting (and selling) some of his work encouraged us to see his wares. We declined, needing to charge Mom’s laptop. When the artist noticed that the outlet we were attempting to use wasn’t working, he ushered us to one that would work – which turned out to be inside one of the shops selling Rwandan goods. So I sat and started typing at the table where the shopkeeper made her transactions. I felt a little uncomfortable helping myself not only to this woman’s electricity but also to her work space, especially when a man came in to buy some coffee, and there I was, computing away as he paid the shopkeeper for a pound of coffee. The shopkeeper didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. It probably helped that Mom went to work spending some of our last Rwandan Franc in the shop as I went to work on the computer.

Now we’ve gone through our final security checkpoint, and are waiting to board our plane to Addis Ababa (via Entebbe). We’re both anxious to get our long journey underway, to get to Addis and board our longer flight to Washington, DC (via Rome). Now that we’ve said our goodbyes, spent our cash, discarded our last bottle of water, we’re ready to hurry up and be home.

Time to board! Bye for now!

Homeward Bound

April 29, 2010

Today was our last full day in Rwanda. It was a very full full day: we had a meeting with an architect and builder to get more information about what building the Butare Girls’ High School might cost, then a meeting with an American transplant who, along with two transplant partners, runs a consulting firm serving medium-sized businesses here in Kigali. We took a break from meetings to have lunch at Hotel des Mille Collines, immortalized in film as Hotel Rwanda. There were no indications of the hotel’s history during the Genocide, as we sat by the pool and ordered off of their ‘business lunch’ menu. It felt like a trendy European hotel – it even charged a credit card like a trendy European hotel, in Euros.

After we ate, Emmanuel let me interview him a bit, to get a record of more of his story. With the last two blank discs for the camcorder, I got some of that story on video. Emmanuel is very comfortable in front of the camera, and I’m excited to see what other people make of his story as he tells it, directly into the lens.

We had to make a stop at the Bank of Kigali after leaving Mille Collines. It took about an hour, four pieces of paper, and two different clerks’ signatures and desks for my mother to get some American dollars wired from her account in the US. Luckily for me, I could sit in the manager’s waiting area and type up the rest of my notes while Mom navigated her banking adventure.

Since we returned to the hotel, we’ve been starting to organize our suitcases, preparing for our departure tomorrow. I’m ready to go home in a number of ways – mostly because I miss my family and friends – but it’s sad to accept that the trip is coming to an end. There will have to be more written on this blog once I return, not just to confirm my safe arrival, but to continue to process what I’ve experienced here. This might be my last entry written in Rwanda, though, so I’ll say murabeho (goodbye) and murakoze (thank you).

We’re off to a last dinner with Emmanuel – at a Chinese place down the street from our hotel. We’ll return his Tigo mobile modem, finish our packing, maybe watch another Bollywood movie in our room (the only non-CNN entertainment in English). Tomorrow we have a meeting with the Ministry of Education before we go to the airport and begin the work of getting ourselves home.

Back to Kigali

April 28, 2010

I’m working on a longer post about something other than just day-to-day happenings, but since two days have passed since I last updated, I feel compelled to let you readers keep tabs on Mom and me. We made it back to Kigali from Ruhengeri yesterday.

After arriving in Kigali, getting ourselves settled into the Hotel Beausejours, we had lunch with Emmanuel at a restaurant called Afrika Bite. We got to try some of the traditional Ugandan and other African foods Emmanuel had told us about: posha (a doughy white steamed bread made of cornmeal), cassava, mashed banana, ground nuts, rice, beans, stewed vegetables. This meal made me want to look for Ugandan or other African restaurants in Chicago – or recipes for these foods.

Yesterday evening we met Euben Rulinda at Sole Luna, to get his insight on the process of registering as an INGO (International Non-Governmental Organization) in Rwanda. Like most bureaucratic processes in most countries, the process of gaining INGO status here is complicated and time-consuming. Somehow eating pizza, joking about attending church – and giving testimony in church – as a means of finding a husband or wife, made the discussion of different government ministries more palatable.

By the time we returned to our hotel, Mom and I felt ready to rest. Cumulative effects of our malaria pills, plus our drive from Ruhengeri to Kigali, plus our week of hard work here made us especially grateful for the comfortable beds in our hotel room. And for the later start we would have today.

Emmanuel, Mom and I visited Fawe Girls’ High School in Kigali today. It’s a public school, run by the government in partnership with FAWE (Federation of African Women Educationalists). Bishop Nathan’s daughter is a student at the Fawe School, and he serves as President of their Parent-Teacher Association. His vision for the Butare Girls’ High School has an eye toward Fawe as a model of excellent technical and scientific education. The headmistress was kind enough to speak with us about her school and what makes it successful, even though she’s been ill with malaria.

After our visit to Fawe, we went to the MTN Center – a mall in one of the ritzier neighborhoods in Kigali – to do some shopping (for future fund-raising events, as well as for our own purposes). I was excited to see the MTN location of Bourbon Coffee, a Western-style coffee shop that sources and roasts its own local coffee beans. Rwandans don’t drink coffee, but they do grow it. Bourbon Coffee is the only chain of coffee houses in the country – no Starbucks here yet.

My mother and her colleagues used the shop as a place to do business on their trip here in fall of 2008, and we saw some Muzungus in suits there today, taking their coffee and briefcases to one of several semi-private business-casual seating areas. Other expats and locals alike ate full meals, Western-style sweets, or gelato. It was easy to see how Bourbon Coffee made itself into a hub for the international community in Kigali.

The rest of our day has been low-key, spent in our hotel room, trying to organize some of the notes I’ve taken and video I’ve recorded on the trip. It’s impressive to look back on all the people we’ve met, information we’ve gathered, all we’ve learned. I still feel like I’m struggling to take in and process what I see here, let alone share it. It’s good to look over my notebook, and find the memories fall into context around the words I wrote.


April 26, 2010

We made it to Ruhengeri, after some drama with Emmanuel’s car. The transmission was sticky going uphill, and his mechanic couldn’t repair it expediently. So we arranged to rent another car from a friend of Emmanuel’s, and got on our way to visit Bishop John Rucyahana. We arrived about a half hour late for our 11:00 am appointment with the Bishop. Mom and I were a little green around the gills after the hour and a half drive on poorly paved, winding mountain road. The views from the road were stunning; Ruhengeri has lived up to its hype as especially scenic. There’s something satisfying in the fact that as we went north from Kigali, we also went up, climbing in elevation to the dormant volcanic heights of Ruhengeri.

Our meeting with Bishop John was brief but meaningful. He greeted us warmly, sat down with us on the plush black leather sofa set in his office, and set about answering our questions. He spoke openly and in some detail about the opening and operation of his school Sonrise. Bishop John founded the school as part of his reconciliation efforts, with the “first and foremost goal to bless the children with excellence of academics, but also with commitment and excellence in ethical education.” The majority of children who began attending the school in the Elementary levels 1 through 4 in 2001 were orphaned by the Genocide. The school has more than doubled in size since its founding, and will graduate its first class of Senior 6 students (high school seniors) this year. As my mother and Emmanuel posed him questions, I tried to simultaneously type responses and observe the Bishop, who compelled with a presence that was both strong and humble.

From Bishop John’s office in the Cathedral building, we drove to Sonrise, to see its High School for ourselves. The school’s art teacher, Gabriel, and Anna, an English teacher from Arkansas volunteering through an organization called Bridge 2 Rwanda, toured us around Sonrise. The school is very impressive: the campus is a series of classroom, administration, and living spaces arranged around several landscaped gardens or courtyards. The feeling of community built into the interconnected buildings of the school was carried forward in the interactions I observed between students, teachers, and staff.

One student, Gene, a former prefect and current Senior 6 student, went from speaking to Anna about schoolwork to assisting as a third tour guide. Gene, nicknamed Barack by his classmates, told me that he wants to study civil engineering and someday be the President of Rwanda. He talked about wanting to help people, and wanting to learn how to best rebuild his country. He was also curious about my Mom and me – he wanted to know about our trip, what we thought of Rwanda, when the Butare Girls’ High School was opening, whether the people in the brochure Mom showed him were actually going to be students there.

After our visit to Sonrise, Emmanuel, Mom and I checked into the Ishema Hotel, Bishop John’s guest house on the grounds of his Cathedral and other Diocesan facilities. We had a late lunch, made all the later by an hour-long wait for the food after we ordered, during which we witnessed a bout of the torrential rains that go along with the more mountainous setting of Ruhengeri.

We spent the evening as guests at the Project Rwanda house. I was especially glad to meet these folks as I’d served as a mule for them (their term, not mine), carrying some motorcycle parts from the US to save them the time and expense of shipping. It was a treat to visit yet another home, and be fed more home-cooked food. While Kim, Jock, and Max work out of their house in Ruhengeri, the computer- and bike-dominated space felt warm and welcoming. Thanks to Kim’s pasta dinner, the presence of the seventy-pound Boerboel puppy Zulu, and some pet-focused conversation with a young family of expats who dropped by to pick up a bike, the evening took on a homey glow.

Tomorrow we return to Kigali. This visit to Ruhengeri, like our visit to Rwanda in general, is proving to be all too short-lived. Forgive the schmaltz, but that sentiment just cued up The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” in my head: “there is more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done…”

Logistics, Statistics, and pizza… oh my!

April 25, 2010

This is partially for my own benefit: a logistical re-cap and forecast. We flew into Kigali and drove straight to Butare last Tuesday. We spent three nights in Butare, two days with Bishop Nathan Gasatura and his team, then returned to Kigali. Tonight (it’s 11:15 pm here, or 4:13 pm Central Time, as I type this) will be our third night in Kigali, where we’ve had time to relax and visit Emmanuel’s church, home, school, and favorite Indian restaurant. Tomorrow (Monday) morning, Emmanuel picks us up and drives us to Ruhengeri, where we’ll meet with Bishop John Rucyahana and tour his Sonrise School. We’ll spend the night at Bishop John’s guesthouse in Ruhengeri, and return to Kigali on Tuesday. We’ll spend Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in Kigali, doing some sightseeing, shopping, and maybe a few more meetings and school-visits. Then we fly away on Friday, to arrive home on Saturday.

Some general geography to inform these logistics: Kigali, the capital, a city of more than 1 million people (in a country of about 10 million) is centrally located in the Maryland-sized country. Butare, where Bishop Nathan’s Girls’ High School will be, is about a 2 hour drive south of Kigali. Ruhengeri, and Bishop John’s Sonrise School, is about a 2 hour drive north of Kigali. Both Butare and Ruhengeri are much smaller than Kigali.

A few people have asked me about Kigali: how metropolitan is it, what other cities does it resemble, how big is it… they’re all good questions that I can only stab at answering in my own subjective and limited way. But here goes. I’ll take on the most straightforward question first.

How big is Kigali? Wikipedia, via Mr. Google, tells me that Kigali is composed of just under 1 million people in about 282 square miles. Which is a third of the population of the Twin Cities in about one twentieth of the area. Dense. This is one of the ways in which Kigali resembles other cities, although it doesn’t much in others.

Kigali looks unlike any other city I’ve seen. It feels like a city in the sheer density of people, seen most glaringly in the steady stream of traffic. There are cars, trucks, motorcycle-taxis (the drivers of which are required by law to carry a second helmet for their fares), and the over-sized vans that serve as public transportation. Then there are people on foot, of all ages, ranging from the National-Geographic-primed image of a woman carrying a basket of bananas on her head to businessmen carrying briefcases. The international community has a strong presence here, too: while Muzungus attract beggars in some neighborhoods, they don’t turn heads in others.

Traffic flows on streets that are usually no more than two lanes (one in each direction) wide, and limited control on traffic is maintained by roundabouts, or the occasional stoplight or speed bump. Other traffic controls are incidental: major thoroughfares are tarmac-ed (as Emmanuel puts it), some roads are cobblestone, and many are still rutted red ocher dirt.

The city is under construction. Mom reports visible changes since her first visit here in fall of 2008. One such change is the hotel where we’ll stay on our return to Kigali – it’s brand new. The hotel we’re staying in now is mid-construction on upgrades to its restaurant and bar. It’s hard to go far without seeing a new building or renovation taking shape. The sight of construction cranes, temporary fences, and workers feels urban.

Kigali looks unlike any other city I’ve seen for a number of reasons. Its skyline is dominated by the contour of its hills and valleys, rather than tall buildings. While hilly-ness might remind me of San Francisco, Kigali’s hills are more rolling and its construction more in keeping with the natural landscape than that of San Francisco. There is no grid to speak of here, and buildings follow the same terraced construction plan seen in rural villages. The winding nature of the roads and the shorter buildings (I think the tallest one I’ve noticed is the new casino, which I’m guessing is still under 10 floors – definitely under 20), feels more suburban than urban. The removal of almost all homes, restaurants, schools and hotels behind tall walls and gates makes Kigali feel more like a densely-developed suburb than a city.

Kigali feels modern and city-like in its cleanliness and safety. Businesses close on the last Saturday of each month for a public cleaning day. Even roadsides, between sidewalks and security wall exteriors, are landscaped and tidy. Tropical green is everywhere: hills of cityscape are green till sunset reveals lights, flowers bloom, banana trees boast the extra-small extra-sweet fruit I eat for breakfast each morning. Mom read somewhere that Kigali is the safest city in the world. Between the armed police officers’ strong presence on the street, walls between every street and residence, and security guards at every business’s gate, I’ve felt very safe here.

Today gave my Mom and me an interesting sampling of what Kigali has to offer. Emmanuel took us to his New Covenant Church for Sunday Services in the morning. I hope to share some of the video I took of the Worship Team singing during the service – the music was incredible. The congregation welcomed us warmly, both during and following their gathering. I felt honored to be included in their prayers.

After visiting Emmanuel’s Church, which meets in one of the buildings of St. Patrick’s Secondary School, where he teaches entrepreneurship, we visited Emmanuel’s home. He and his wife Lydia were kind enough to host us for lunch. Lydia prepared a menu of traditional Rwandan food for us, and it was the best food we’ve eaten on our trip so far. There was rice, brown beans cooked in a tomato sauce with onions and peppers, green bananas in a sauce of vegetables, fried sweet potatoes, cassava leaves stewed with smoked fish, and passion fruit juice to drink. The presence of these traditional foods in a family home that might, on other occasions, serve Spanish food (Lydia grew up in Spain), seems an appropriate symbol for Kigali: developed and developing, sophisticated and conventional, urban and organic, all at once.

Warning to those not food-obsessed: you might want to skip this paragraph. The green bananas and cassava leaves were my favorite dishes. The green bananas had a delicate starchy-and-sweet-but-slightly-tart flavor like a cross between a plantain (they were the size of plantains but were not, in fact, plantains, Lydia assured me) and an under-ripe imported-to-the-US banana. The cassava leaves, a less delicious form of which I’d had at a restaurant in Butare, are a bitter leafy green, much like spinach in texture, with an acidic flavor that paired nicely with the earthy weight of the smoked fish.

After lunch, Mom and I returned to the hotel for some food-coma-computing. After some emailing and some Canadian made-for-TV movie-watching (three whole English-speaking channels on our TV here have been a real treat), it was time for dinner. Mom took me to Sole Luna, a pizza place down the road from our hotel.

Like the Indian restaurant Emmanuel and Lydia took us to the night before, Sole Luna claimed an authentic window on foreign cuisine. And like the Indian restaurant, the claim to authenticity was not entirely unfounded. Both meals were quite good, and very satisfying in the diversity of options they presented. Both meals felt like a commentary on Rwandan cuisine, in the differences I perceived between Italian and Indian cuisines in the US and Italian and Indian cuisines in Rwanda.

I might be extrapolating too much from a small number of data points here… Our return to Kigali will afford more opportunities to learn about the city, and one of my favorite features of any city: food. It’s late now, and time to get to sleep. As usual, I feel like I’m only skimming the surface of my list of stories to tell. More soon, from adventures in both Ruhengeri and Kigali.


April 25, 2010

Here are 23 of the photos I’ve taken here in Rwanda, all from our epic second day with Bishop Nathan. This day began with Emmanuel conducting his talk-show interview with Bishop Nathan, and only became more exciting from there. We visited the future site of the Butare Girls’ High School, a massive and beautiful piece of land about 30 minutes’ drive from the Cathedral in Butare. From there we proceeded to an Anglican church, parsonage, and former Bible School in a village called Mububanu. This former Bible School facility, with some renovation, might serve as temporary housing for the Butare Girls’ High School until its own campus is built. This second site had even more impressive acreage (or hectare-age) of breathtaking land. I was tempted to start singing “The Hills Are Alive… With the Sound of Music.” Which would be a pretty accurate description of Rwanda.

Rwanda Album on Flickr

Mom is doing a little dance to tell me she’s more than ready to go to dinner. We’re going to walk to a pizza place near our hotel here in Kigali. More to come – soon!

Africa, Side B

April 22, 2010

At breakfast this morning, Mom and Emmanuel and I were all  discussing the video-interview with Bishop Nathan to come. We had all agreed that he should serve as talk-show host to pose pertinent questions to the Bishop, with the goal of capturing the Bishop’s vision for his Butare Girls’ High School Center of Excellence on screen. We came to this agreement easily, both because Emmanuel is a charismatic and dynamic speaker, and because he is well aware of and confident in this strength of his.

Emmanuel’s self-assurance carries him through all that he does, whether it’s guiding two Muzungus (gringos) from Kigali to Butare, meeting an Anglican Bishop for the first time and assuming a role on his community development team, posing for photo ops with village children he proclaims to be ‘dirty,’ or leading an impromptu group in a roadside multi-lingual prayer. Emmanuel and Bishop Nathan spent a lot of time talking about what it means to them to be pastors, to receive and answer their calling from God. Bishop Nathan teased Emmanuel that they are both atypical pastors, and Emmanuel agreed: he resisted becoming part of a group he once disdained. Both men grew up in refugee camps in Uganda, and knew pastors as poor, downtrodden, uneducated, helpless men rooted in refugee villages. Neither wanted such a future for themselves. Both men have had careers beyond their role as clergymen.

Emmanuel has an amazing amount of energy, both for creating new ideas and sharing them with everyone willing to listen. He reminds me more of entrepreneurs I’ve known (one of my brother’s high school friends comes to mind) than pastors. As we ate passion fruit and drank tea, waiting for appointment with Bishop Nathan, Emmanuel told Mom and me about his ideas for television programming in Rwanda. Currently there is one National Rwandan Channel – Emmanuel was quick to laugh at their tag line, “Thank you for choosing Rwandan National Television.”

Emmanuel would like to create another channel, with public access opportunities, and some programming featuring his own journalistic skills. Mom and I agreed that Emmanuel would make an excellent Rwandan version of Oprah, and encouraged him, in the course of this breakfast, to reach out to Ms. Winfrey regarding the international focus of her upcoming talk show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. In all honesty, Oprah would be lucky to have Emmanuel on her team. Mom and I also encouraged Emmanuel to approach NPR, or apply to Harvard or whatever university he might like to attend. His story is incredible, he knows it, he knows how to tell it, and he’s motivated to sell it.

Part of Emmanuel’s vision for his television programming would be his own talk show, called “Africa, Side B.” (Emmanuel’s visions are very thorough: his vision for a family- and youth- friendly restaurant in Kigali, to employ orphans and genocide survivors, is called Christian Atmosphere). Africa, Side B would feature Emmanuel’s perspective on his continent and country: a positive, optimistic one. Rather than emphasizing war, poverty, disease, he would show people images and stories of hope, reconciliation, reconstruction. The other side of the broken record most of the world hears on Africa, on Rwanda.

At lunch today, Bishop Nathan asked Emmanuel what his five-year plan is for his future. He proceeded to list a plan – each one a worthy goal for ten or more years of one individual’s life – for each of his next five years. And then he kept listing more plans as he thought of them. One of his plans is to open veterinary health centers in rural communities, to promote the well-being of the cows at the center of so many villagers’ well-being. And he’s already entered several fund-raising competitions to realize this plan, Cow-Max.

Like most of Emmanuel’s stories and plans, this account feels like an ambitious work in progress. As Emmanuel himself acknowledged, “there are so many stories to be told here.” He said it of Rwanda in general, but it’s true of any of the individuals I’ve met here, too. We all contain multitudes, and in the people I’ve met here in Rwanda, that seems to be true in the extreme. I feel dumbfounded at all the stories here, and at the story of the country itself. As we brushed our teeth with our bottled water and put lotion on our fresh sunburn, we discussed our day a bit, and our continued shock at the history of the Rwandan Genocide. I expected to see or feel more evidence of this history in Rwanda, especially given the fact that the Genocide occurred less than twenty years ago. 1994.

People we’ve spoken to discuss the Genocide, and the pain it continues to cause Rwanda and Rwandan people. And while my sample is small, and potentially biased by their perspective as clergymen, the people we’ve spoken to are more hopeful and joyful about the future than many of the Americans I know. They speak of forgiveness, transformation, reconciliation, moving from surviving to living to thriving. With people like Emmanuel leading the charge at developing those values and enacting ambitious plans, it’s hard not to believe in their vision for Rwanda.

Here she is, Miss Value!

April 22, 2010

So much to blog, so little time! Since the time I wrote my last post, we’ve had a full day of meeting with Bishop Nathan about his plans for a new girls’ high school in Butare. We spent yesterday morning just talking (or video-recording and photographing and note-taking, in my case) in his office. We, in this case, includes Bishop Nathan, his associates Reverend Lambert and Reverend O’dilo, my Mom, myself, and our associate Emmanuel Ndoba. After 4 full hours and 3 full videodiscs of questions, answers, and various tangents (talk ranging from genocide survivors to snowmobiling), we all went to lunch at a restaurant adjacent to a guest house for nuns. After lunch, we visited a French-founded Catholic girls’ high school. We got to meet and interview the Curriculum Director there (via some French translating by Emmanuel and Bishop Nathan), as well as a cross-section of students. Among the girls who spoke to us was the campus beauty- and strength-of-character queen, Miss Value. And yes, I felt honored to be in her presence.

After our school visit, we returned to the Shalom Guest House in Butare, which is part of Bishop Nathan’s complex of buildings around the Anglican Cathedral here. Which is where I’m sitting right now. I apologize for rushing through this post, but I’m now five minutes late to breakfast downstairs. I hate to keep Mom and Emmanuel waiting, but I wanted to update everyone (thank you for reading! love and hugs to you all!).

Today will be another full day – Emmanuel plans to interview Bishop Nathan, Oprah-style (except larger-than-life in a born-again Rwandan way), about the Butare Girls’ Center for Excellence. I get to play camera-lady, in the hopes of capturing some magical moments for future fundraising. I’ll have to write at greater length some other time about just how magical a  talkshow interview between these two might be…

We’re here! All’s well!

April 22, 2010

[From 4/20…]

We’ve arrived in Rwanda. Our flight from DC to Addis Ababa was about 3 hours late, but mercifully our connecting flight from Ethiopia to Rwanda was also late, so we made it to Kigali. We staggered off the plane, into bright hot 100% humidity-laden sunlight, down stairs and across a beautiful spread of tarmac to the Kigali International Airport. Our flight seemed to be the only one in the airport at the time, which made deplaning and going through customs on 16-hour-vegetated legs a bit easier.

Two helpers met us at the baggage claim: Allen came to fetch motorcycle parts that I transported for Jock of Project Rwanda, and Emmanuel helped Mom and me with the rest of our baggage. Emmanuel then drove and guided us through money-changing in Kigali and onwards to Butare. With the help of a motorcycle taxi driver, we found the Shalom Guest House, and got settled into our room, where I’m sitting and typing this entry. Publishing this entry will be a separate project, though, as there is no internet in the Guest House.

First impressions: Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Hills, lush green vegetation, terraced farms and red-earth-brick homes on hills remind me of a cross between Tuscany and Mexico. Emmanuel kept up an equally lush monologue as he drove us the two hours from Kigali to Butare. Too much excellent material to delve into right now. Highlights: “Thank God for Mr. Google!,”  “Those are goats!,” feeling of déjà vu as Emmanuel discussed his calling to serve God, his initial resistance of that calling when going through a particularly tight curve in the road; general  accompaniment by a blur of villages, switchback roads, signs, goats, uniformed schoolchildren and adults schlepping cargo on top of their heads.

Tomorrow morning we meet with Bishop Nathan, the man in charge of White Dove Foundation’s chief business here: the construction of a girls’ high school. I’m struggling to charge the camcorder battery, in an effort to prepare for my official work here in Rwanda: documenting Bishop Nathan’s ideas and plans for the project. The better the video footage we capture, the better the fundraising stateside. Here’s hoping that the tabletop tripod, various electronic devices, and jetlagged brain all cooperate tomorrow. On that note, it’s time to sleep. I got maybe a handful of hours of dozing in on our flights, but I woke up at 5:30 am Central Time and it’s been 32 hours since then.