Tuesday, October 28

Itafari Foundation

So as you all know I went to Rwanda with Vicky the president of the Itafari Foundation, for more details click on the link on the right hand side, I'm mentioned under travel archives (Itafari Board President, Victoria and Sara, an American scientist living in London, traveled to Rwanda to visit the people we serve, our partnering organizations, as well as review and audit all Itafari programs. Visit the Itafari Blog to learn about their adventures.)

You can also buy goats for a mere $25 to help child headed households (CHH) - Last year I gave everyone in my family one - Vicky even sends you a certificate which you can present as a great Christmas present! If you'd like more info about these CHH or how the program works feel free to contact Vicky or me.

Please also remember that even in these times of "financial crisis" there are still others who are suffering much more than we are!

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My new Nokia 6600 slide phone

I got my new FREE upgrade phone today, check it out by clicking here. Pretty cool, huh? What's best about it????? It was FREE!!!!!!!!!!

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Monday, October 27

21 October 2008 (Day 21 Rwanda)

My final day here in Rwanda, we had a leisurely breakfast, checked email, paid hotel bill, and double checked everything was packed.

At 11.15am Pastor Francis arrived to pick us up & bring me to the airport.

A bit of chatting, a few late photos and then I headed for the queue to check in for my flight to Nairobi.

Flight left on time, landed safely, spent many hours bored in the airport before getting on my second flight headed to London, where we flew over night & landed safely in London.

Sadly my adventures in Rwanda have come to an end for now . . . until next time!

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20 October 2008 (Day 20 Rwanda)

BUSY BUSY BUSY day . . . walk to bank (up hill in sun) to get some cash, confirm flights, exchange money, go to Christ Gospel Church to pick up our basket order, open our COOJAD bank accounts, meet Alex from the ex-child combatants camp to discuss the paperwork we'd been working all week on, dinner at the Bloom Hotel in Kimironko with Sistah Heatah, Jean (missionary who houses SH), Charlotte, Charles, Beatrice, Chrysologue, Momma Itafari and me - our farewell dinner :(

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19 October 2008 (Day 19 Rwanda)

Went to church, had brunch at the Serena Hotel with Sistah Heatah where we gave her a much a care packed Momma Itafari & I had come up with (sort of a survival pack for after we leave for her to open when needed), then city tour with Vicky's mate (name I've now forgotten) and then dinner with Poppa ASSIST and his pastor & the pastor's wife.

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18 October 2008 (Day 18 Rwanda)

Met Vicky's son Arthur for a late breakfast and then went shopping at Nakumatt for treats to put into a surprise gift for Sistah Heatah before going to meet with COOJAD a cooperative bank, similar to credit unions in the US. We met with their team in their office and then had a great dinner with them at Chez Lando's.

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16 & 17 October 2008 (Days 16 & 17 Rwanda)

Paperwork in our "office" both days, but on Friday the 17th we had bagels from Speak I'm Listening be delivered - YUM!!

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15 October 2008 (Day 15 Rwanda)

Went with Poppa ASSIST (Emmanuel) to the North, basically almost to Uganda - saw 6 cooperative sites and visit with local government and had dinner at Republica with Vicky - another 13 hour day on the road, which isn't bad just exhausting!

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14 October 2008 (Day 14 Rwanda)

Up for breakfast with Vicky at half 8, check email, decide that Chrysologue will come with me to Kenya Airways to change my ticket and exchange some money before spending the day in our "office" just outside Vicky's room 7 at the Iris Guest House.

more kinyarwanda words I've learned:

  • Kuba Kugihe = to be on time (probably rarely heard - LOL)
  • Bimwe = the same
  • Ubu = now
  • Kira = said after you sneeze (doesn't translate to bless you)
  • Rimwe = one
  • Imana = God

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13 October 2008 (Day 13 Burundi)

Awoken by rooster at 4am with repeated crow as if he had a snooze bar on him, we had a wonderful breakfast before heading out to see the mountains around Bujumbura. After viewing the city from the mountains & learning about how up to 2 months ago there were ten thousand rebels living in the mountains who would try to bomb the city to get attention, we then headed back into the city to see Rita's office & meet some of her coworkers at World Relief. Vicky did a bit of coaching and then we headed back to Rita's house for a huge delicious lunch and then an hour of down time before heading back to the airport.

At the airport Momma Itafari flew through passport control, much to my dismay as I stood there having my passport inspected over & over & over again. The lady did not like my new additional pages which have legitimately been placed there, but since it's been a few years since my original was made they have a different design & apparently looked suspect, but as I don't speak Kinyaburundi and she didn't speak English I just stood there and tried to smile, until she finally made a huffing noise, stamped the passport and let me through.

Vicky & I brought some pringles for ourselves and a large chocolate bar for Sistah Heatah (Lauren) and of course the always needed fanta l'orange. We sat chatting about hairs in apple juices, Dead Rita's Wisdom (Vicky's book) and assorted other topics until the point where we were in such hysterics we could barley speak! Coming up for a breath of air I suddenly realised we'd not hear anything about our flight and yet it should be leaving "any minute", we were immediately calmed when we looked around & noticed nobody else had moved an inch since we arrived so we'd no missed it or anything.

We decided to move our seats for a better view of the one & only exit (which btw doubles as the VIP entrance - NO joke!) About ten minutes later a few "official" people start to gather by the door and then walk outside and look out at the horizon. Low & behold a Dash 8 appears, lands, a few passengers disembark, they call us to board and we're ready.

The sky had turned rather dark during these last few minutes & it was starting to spit with rain as we headed down the runway, but I thought nothing of us and just prayed for a bump-free flight . . . no such luck, but thank goodness it's only 30 minutes until we arrived safely in Kigali, Rwanda! It was rather bumpy I gave the seat my death grip & saw a bit of lightening of course to add to my worries - VERY scary for me, but not Vic, she's a pro at flying & her husband even built a plane which she's flown!

We taxied back to our home away from home, which we were so happy to see, picking up Sistah Heatah along the way! We met Poppa ASSIST (Emmanuel) at the Iris who brought us the wonderful news that I could stay an extra week as they'd found me a seat on the plane! My sistahs & I went to celebrate at Heaven (the restaurant just 3 streets away).

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12 October 2008 (Day 12 Burundi)

Vicky & I were both running late today but scarfed down our "strawberry shortcake" breakfast before Alfred picked us up to bring us to the airport for our trip to Burundi to visit Vicky's mate Rita.

We should have known African time we'd not be late, as our flight ended up being an hour delayed. Thank goodness for Lauren & her texting ability who kept us amused in the waiting area. Lauren's nickname had become Sistah Heatah because when a boy asked her name & she told him, he replied with "that warms my heart to know your name" so the same just seemed appropriate. Vicky's name was of course still Momma Itafari and at the time my name was Scientist Sistah Sara, but that didn't last much past the weekend, when I became known as Sistah Mudugudu (which means neighborhood, now this name wasn't given to me it was self appointed, cause I liked the sound of the name, and with Poppa ASSIST & Momma Itafari liking it as well, it just stuck!)

The flight to Bujumbura was only 30 minutes but even in that small amount of time Vicky managed to get a hair in her mouth thanks to the Rwandan Airways apple juice - I was smart and had a fanta l'orange . . . I think she learned her lesson to always have a fanta!

Upon arrival we bought our less than 72hour visas for $20 and then turned the corner to see a lovely smiling face waiting for us, Rita. Big hugs all around and then out into the warm Bujumbura, Burundi air. We went straight back to her house to meet Eric and have a lovely lunch. After lunch we went to the zoo to visit with the crocodiles, alligators, snakes and a few deer. Then on to the beach where we saw traditionally clothed dancers & drummers. After a relaxing fanta l'orange (no apple juice!) we took a quick tour of the city before being back home before 6pm.

We had dinner around 7pm, during which a grenade exploded somewhere near by, but it didn't seem to phase any of us - just sounded like fireworks to me, so I continued enjoying my meal! We had learned earlier in the day that it's not safe to be out & about (even driving) much past 6pm especially when it gets dark.

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11 October 2008 (Day 11 Rwanda)

Up slightly earlier than normal to prepare for the children's party at Christ Gospel Church in Kimironko (Pastor Francis' church). Alfred our cab driver took us and we picked up our sister Lauren along the way at Chez Lando's. We were greeted by 145 children some of whom I'd met at church the previous week.

We played "A sailor went to the sea sea sea, to see what he could see see see", the Hokey Pokey, Head shoulders, knees & Toes, let them sing for us, let them dance for us, played with bubbles, interviewed some of the children for their sponsors, took photos, fed them a large lunch on tiny plates with can you guess it????? fanta l'oranges with paper umbrella straws! Amazingly very little dropped on the floor considering how high they piled the food onto these small plates. We also played the Itafari game & handed out goody bags at the end. We were there from 9.30 to 5pm so by the time we got home this evening we were KNACKERED beyond belief, so we lay down in Vicky's room ("our office") watching some telly, checking email, and chatting, well really more like laughing cause we do a lot of that! Especially at one point I said, "sounds like Emmanuel's car" (his breaks make the most horrible squeaking noise) next thing we knew the phone rang & Poppa ASSIST (aka Emmanuel) was on the other end - in reception. He stopped up to our office to help Vicky with her letter to his Excellency President Kagame for a bit and then we went our separate ways for dinner.

Vicky & I decided we'd have dinner at the hotel cause we couldn't face going out! Now as we all know sod's law says when you're exhausted your food will come slowly right??? Well it did, in the mean time whilst trying to avoid falling asleep we were doing a bit of people watching.

The "silver fox" came to dinner and as always gave us something to talk about. The Silver Fox is one of the other visitors to the hotel, who we rather enjoyed making up crazy stories about, just cause we could - nothing mean, just something to make us laugh so we could stay awake until our meals arrived. These "foxy tales" as I will call them continued throughout the rest of our time together - whenever we saw something out of the ordinary or when we were just bored, one of us would start telling a story & then pause so the other one could chime in with her thoughts on the story - we normally got ourselves into hysterics with these foxy lil tales!

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10 October 2008 (Day 10 Rwanda)

Met with Charles from Kigali Parents School at 10am about plans for their secondary school building project. Not one of our finest meetings, but not much anyone can do about the it at the moment - Rome wasn't built in a day, nor will KPS's Secondary School - After that meeting we headed over to "Speak I'm Listening" for some much needed bagels and to pick up some paperwork from Beatrice. Once we had everything in hand, we headed back home where we got our bagels toasted and ordered some butter, cheese and of course the much needed piece d'resistance . . . can you guess . . . probably by now you can a fanta l'orange for each of us!

The afternoon was spent on paperwork, writing and a dinner at Emmanuel's house.

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9 October 2008 (Day 9 Rwanda)

Up again early today to meet Pastor Francis and Emmanuel to drive over to the ex-child combatants' camp. We where a great success, see Itafari Foundation blog, for more details & photos. It took us 4 hours cooking over a campfire with 5 child chefs.

Briefly, I taught them about hygiene and bacteria before we started, then we got the sauce going, the meatball making began, then finally the spaghetti.

After everyone was done eating (seconds were served!) we played the Itafari game (where I stand with an itafari (brick) in my hand with my back to the boys & they pick which side they think I'll raise the brick on, before saying, "1, 2, 3, Sara" I raise the brick & then they roar with laughter & cheers, until ultimately there is one winner, who received a small prize) After the game was over the boys danced and sang for us until it was time for us to head back home.

All in all it was a perfectly wonderful day - I can easily say one of my best yet!!

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8 October 2008 (Day 8 Rwanda)

Got up early and waited for Emmanuel, Chrysologue, and our RAV 4 driver Oscar to arrive before heading to Huye (Southern Providence) which is just over a 2 hour drive away from Kigali. We picked up Sofia the area director for ASSIST Rwanda. She navigated the rough dirt roads which all looked the same to me, but obviously are not.

We visited four different sites. First area we met with the local government (21yo revenue guy, 28yo accountant, 30 yo something and a 32 year old something else - which just amazes me that they're SOOOOOOO young!) After a quick coaching sessions we headed to our first ihene site, where we met & spoke with the head of the cooperative for a few minutes. During this time Vicky had a great idea so she announced that next year they should have a meeting of all the cooperative heads to help them discuss their problems/questions/ideas for the future. The girl thought it was a great idea, but was rather shy about expressing it verbally, but you could tell from the look in her eyes.

Two more sites were visited again with local government being met as well - stats like about 65% are under the age of 35 while only 20% are over the age of 50 were given to us. We saw many many ihene and small children who loved to touch my muzungo (white) skin or my hair.

One of our last stops on that day was to meet with Jean-Paul. He's a 21yo child headed household (CHH) but who actually has no other family left at all. The local people have helped him build a house and an ihene enclosure (see Itafari Foundation blog for the photo).

Our final stop was to meet with 3 girls who have 12 goats at a former scout camp site. It was so nice we decided to sit on the lawn to chat until it started to rain, when we rushed back to the RAV4 and headed back to Kigali.

Before going to the hotel, we stopped at Nakumatt to pick up all of our dry ingredients for the ex-child combatants spaghetti dinner tomorrow, before we finally were able to have dinner at our home away from home.

NOTE: from 8am till 9pm we only consumed 1 Fanta l'orange and half a protein bar each! Oh btw no bathroom stops either!

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7 October 2008 (Day 7 Rwanda)

Got up and met Vicky for a morning of shopping for 10kilos of ihene, 10kilo of spaghetti, 50 litres of spaghetti sauce, etc etc followed by a lunch at Bourbon Coffee before attempting to exchange some money and get money from the bank - which is an experience that I will spare you the details of, just remember it's a large building in the sun without A/C or fans and the service is not exactly speedy or for that matter organised - Africans in general don't get the concept of queuing, not an insult to them, just an observation, which coming from a background where you queue for most everything, it's a bit overwhelming to have people reaching over your shoulder when you're at the bank teller counter.

Okay back to our day, after all that fun we went back to our office (room 7 at the Iris Guest House) and worked on some of the paperwork for the ex-child combatants ihene (goat) program before meeting up with Lauren for dinner.

NOTE: when writing this update in my diary, Vicky & I were laughing at one of the men who's staying at the hotel who's been wearing the SAME socks for 3 days and in case that wasn't funny enough, they're brown & tan Mickey Mouse socks, but so far today we can't see them, which is very upsetting to us

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6 October 2008 (Day 6 Rwanda

We were suppose to have a meeting with Brigadier General John Bagabo at 9am, with one of the men who works in the office, Alex, picking us up and 8.45, but since Alex was what I call on "African time" he arrived at 10.45, so as you can guess our whole day was thrown a bit off.

The morning meeting went really well, meeting Faustin and BG Bagabo and the chairman (who's name I've now forgotten), but the main point is they gave us approval to go ahead with the spaghetti dinner with the ex-child combatants on Thursday :)

After that meeting we headed to the church to meet with Herman (Pastor Francis' brother who runs the sponsored children program at the church) and David (who helps) to discuss the child sponsorship program & party which we would be holding on Saturday. David only speaks Kinyarwanda and French so at once point I was translating en francais about the lack of personal letters the children were sending and how they need to improve their letters in order to help secure the sponsorship program overall.

After that meeting which ran WAY longer than we had anticipated especially considering how late our day had started! We then went to spend a quick five minutes with the weavers of the Rains of Hope, before our taxi came to bring us back to the hotel where we scarfed down a protein bar and guzzled a Fanta l'Orange (cause a day in Rwanda without a Fanta just isn't right!) before dashing off to our next meeting with the minister in charge of registering Itafari Foundation in Rwanda.

A funny thing happened when we were there, we couldn't find the room, we tried 2 floors, and a few different rooms, before sitting down to meet with a very nice man who seemed a bit confused about our arrival, but was pleasant enough to meet with us for 20 minutes. Upon completion of the meeting as we were leaving the building Emmanuel (who was helping us with the process & translating for us) stopped us to say we'd met with the wrong person . . . hence his confused look when we arrived. So we went back into the correct place, room 10, for yet another meeting which lasted about an hour, but we got a full list of exactly what needs to happen in order to register here in Rwanda - so even though we were rather exhausted and hungry, the day full of meetings, we felt very accomplished!

That evening we took Emmanuel to Heaven for dinner

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5 October 2008 (Day 5 Rwanda)

Woke up at 2am this morning to an earthquake, no clue what it registered as since we don't have a daily paper, but it was very cool and wonderful timing as Vicky had just told me yesterday how they have them often - who knew?!?!?

Pastor Francis came by to pick us up to go to church. It's an evangelical type church so as you can guess from all my religious talk that I do on here, I was a bit in over my head - everyone had their own bible (now let me set the record straight - I do OWN a bible, just it's in a box safely stored away in a storage unit in Schroon Lake, New York, USA). Okay back to my point, I figured I'd be a bit in over my head since I'm not a regular church goer, and although I can name some of the books of the bible in order I might add for both old & new testament: genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, numbers . . . Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts of the Apostles, Letters to the Romans, Corinthians 1 & 2 . . . it doesn't mean I'm up for a lot of bible chat. BUT, the feeling of this church was amazing. These people don't have a lot of money to eat but show up in their best outfits with the largest smiles I think I've ever seen. Minus Pastor Francis & Vicky, they were all strangers to me, but they welcomed me with open arms.

The children have a separate section, cause there are so many of them, and to my amazement they all sit on their little benches quietly & attentively listening. Vicky & I were introduced at both adult & child services. When the service was over I think just about every child and adult came over to say hello, give a big hug & the traditional 3 kisses. Actually even before the adult service was over the children were sneaking down the aisles to come & say hello the the "muzungus" (Vicky & me).

I sat and chatted with all of the children. Some only spoke French & Kinyarwanda, but my French was good enough for 10 year olds to comprehend, while others only spoke Kinyarwanda, but there were also a few who spoke English and were nice enough to translate for me. We took photos and videos until it was time to go.

I met a woman named Mary who helps with the Rains of Hope Co-operative who make baskets. I told her that my mother's name was marry & so she said she would be my Rwandan mother. Vicky & I picked out some baskets which we wanted to come back & get at a later time and set them aside.

Just across the road from the church is Chrysologue's new house, which he's building from itafari (bricks) he makes himself! So since we were so close we got a full tour, before Pastor Francis drove us home where we had our much loved lunch of avocat vinaigrette.

Just after lunch Mona and Baby John (her son) came over to visit. Mona works at the US Embassy as a nurse, even though she's actually Canadian. She's married to a Rwandese musician named Ezra (who was not around that day).

That evening around half 6, Leigh, the American I'd met a few days before came round for dinner at the restaurant just 3 streets up called Heaven. We had an interesting chat about Sarah Palin and other politics.

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Friday, October 24

4 October 2008 (Day 4 Rwanda)

Today Vicky & I spent out at Charlotte and Charles' home visiting with them and their 9 month old baby, Chael. At 3pm after a wonderful homemade "local" meal, we headed back to our home away from home to meet up with Emmanuel from ASSIST Rwanda (aka Poppa ASSIST) to discuss the coming week's schedule. After Poppa ASSIST filled up many of our days with trips to see the ihene projects we headed over to Joy's house for another wonderful home made "local" dishes meal.

New words I'd learned up to this point:
  • Muraho = Hello
  • Amakuru = How are you?
  • Ni Meza = I'm fine
  • Murakoze = Thank you
  • Murbeho = Goodbye
  • Yego = Yes
  • Oya = No (slightly confusing cause "oh yeah" in English sounds a lot like "Oya" but means the opposite!!)
  • Nit wa = My name is
  • Meza = Good
  • Mzungu = white person
  • Ihene = goat

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3 October 2008 (Day 3 Rwanda)

Woke up, had quiet breakfast at the Iris before meeting with Chrysologue and Vicky about a few plans, before we headed off to Speak I'm Listening where Beatrice works. Bought some beautiful banana leaf cards which orphan girls where making in a back room along with some larger 8.5"x11" size designs. Took some photos of the girls working & then a group photo, before I started the ever exciting "self" photos with the girls - they found it hysterical. After they'd all seen the fun photos on my camera I went to find the rest of my group, who to my surprise where standing around watching everything bagels being made!! Of course we had to buy a few before speeding off to the Union Trade Centre in search of some cream cheese, which we never found but we did find some cheddar with herbs which along with a Fanta l'Orange (of course) made for the perfect lunch!

Back at the hotel we quickly checked our email before going to meet with the Minister of Agriculture about billy goats from South Africa. A very promising meeting which made us all happy.

Back to the hotel for a meeting with Brigadier General John Bagabo to talk about a potential spaghetti and ihene (goat) meatball dinner with the ex-child combatants. V&I left that meeting feeling like it was going to happen - yeah baby yeah!!!!

During the meeting with the Brigadier General, Leigh showed up. Vicky & I didn't know Leigh, but she had been in the Peace Corps about 5 years ago with Liz. Liz studied at LSHTM with me 3 years ago . . . hence our slight connection. Leigh is now working in Kigali - we had a quick chat & decided to try to meet up later in the week.

Rather exhausted from all of our successful meetings that day we decided to just pop next door for some Chinese, note to self: it's worth walking further if you're in search of edible food!

Funny story: upon leaving the restaurant a guy asked if we wanted a taxi, we politely said no, but for some reason the two of us could not stop laughing about what if we had said yes & then told him we wanted to go to the Iris (literally RIGHT next door) as we walked up the driveway to our home away from home there were 2 men sitting outside shaking their heads at us - I'm sure they thought we were off our face drunk . . . if only they knew we were high on life!

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2 October 2008 (Day 2 Rwanda)

Up at 06.17 to shower, get dressed, cover myself in bug spray, find anti-malarial pill and head down for a 7am breakfast. At 07.30 Jean and Lauren arrive. Lauren (soon to be nicknamed Sistah Heata) is an 18 year old girl from Vermont who came to Rwanda to work with Pastor Antoine who is working with East Africa Evangelists. Jean is a missionary working with Pastor Antoine. It is not long before I find out that Lauren is not religious at all! Her parents were in the Peace Corps in Rwanda 20 years ago where they met Antoine (not yet a pastor at the time). She is feeling rather lost in her 3rd day in Kigali. She wants to work with women and children, but nothing has been planned for her yet and she's feeling a bit of pressure with all the religious people around her. I explain I'm not at all a missionary and we chat about our common dislike of how others feel we need to become religious.

Vicky, Lauren and I head out on the City Tour. We started off with seeing where the movie Shooting Dogs (Behind the Gates in America) was filmed. From there we went to the first building in Kigali, built by a German with wonderful views of the city. We passed by a prison where we learned prisoners are always in light pink outfits with little barbed wire around them. Right next to the prison was a primary school. The combo of being next to a primary school and not nearly as much "protective walls" as I'm use to in the US seemed rather strange to me, until I learned that everyone else knows who they are, so even if they did escape and manage to find alternate clothes, they would be identified very easily.

We toured around a few streets and onto the Genocide Memorial, where all I can say is words cannot describe it! They have a pond with sort of a star shape, showing the past with fleeing Rwandans. Next to it is a lovely round pond with a fountain, showing the hope for the future. There were mass graves which were 6 metres deep and covered in concrete. A wall with a long list of names of lives that were lost.

From there, the tour continues rather disjointedly into the "rich" sector of town, by rich I mean houses which cost about half a million USD! These houses were being built by Rwandans and rented out primarily to EU and US members.

When the tour was done, the three of us popped into Bourbon Coffee for a very delicious meat samosa and of course a Fanta l'orange!! We walked back to our hotel where Lauren was picked up by Jean. Vicky and I started an afternoon of meetings in our "office" first that afternoon was Beatrice of Speak I'm Listening, followed by Pastor Francis and his wife Dorothy of Christ Gospel Church where Itafari has 171 sponsored children.

Dinner that evening was with Eric, Beatrice's son, who runs the Bloom Hotel in Kimironko (near Christ Gospel Church). A great thing I learned about Eric was that instead of firing employees, he keeps them in order to train them, because as he pointed out if he doesn't train them who will? It was amazing to me to see a man who was in his young 30s running an entire restaurant basically on his own!

We had dinner at a restaurant called Heaven, which was just 3 streets up from our "home away from home". The hotel was opened recently by an American couple, but with local staff who they've trained in hospitality and cooking. They have the best BBQ chicken!

A wonderful thunderstorm with heavy rains cooled the hot day temps and brought an amazing peacefulness to the city - it was breath taking.

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1 October 2008 (Day 1 Rwanda)

Left Heathrow last night at 8pm on a plane with five children sitting in the row in front of me, three of which decided to cry the majority of the way. Once in Nairobi (Kenya) queuing for the next flight I found out two of the children were coming "with me" and as luck would have it, once again right in the row in front of me!!

Arrived safe and sound in Kigali where the immigration officer was just lovely and taught me my first Kinyarwanda world, Muraho (meaning hello). Once I'd found my luggage (slight delay as a man travelling on the same flight had attempted to bring in a suitcase full of mobile phones), I turned to look for Vicky or at least a sign with my name on it. It wasn't hard to find either as there was only one blond haired woman in the crowd and right next to her was a man holding a sign with my name on it - I felt very relieved and famous both at the same time. "Relieved" because as most of you know I'd never met Vicky so there is always that worry that since I'd heard from her 4 days before maybe something had gone wrong and she wouldn't be there. "Famous" because never had anyone picked me up at the airport with a sign bearing my name!!

After brief introductions, I learned the man holding the sign was the Country Director of Itafari, Chrysologue. From there we proceeded to the car, and after a rather short ride we were at the Iris Guesthouse. The place was quiet, beautiful, and seemed very friendly. The vegetation reminded me slightly of being in Costa Rica.

My room was not quite ready, so I took a nap in Vicky's room, whilst she went to a meeting. Around noon she arrived back at the Iris and we decided to go for some lunch. We went to the Union Trade Centre, which is very close to our hotel. Inside of it there is a great lil place called Bourbon Coffee, where we had meat samosas and the first of many Fanta l'oranges! After our meal we decided to check out the new (as in opened a month ago) store called Nakumatt. It's a Kenyan based store which is now open 24 hours a day and has just about everything you could ever imagine and more. We got a few favours for the sponsored children's party and upon checking out discovered they accepted VISA cards, which is virtually unheard of, but a great sign of how the country is growing in leaps and bounds, so we were very excited about that! I cannot say enough about how lovely the people are (I'll probably say this again and again during my Rwandan post, but it's cause it's true!) The cashier at the Nakumatt introduced himself, asked our names and how we were doing, asked us to return again soon and for God to bless us - when does that happen in the US or the UK?

Back to the hotel, where Vicky made a few phone calls and started to fill in our calendar for the next few days. I cut stickers into groups of two and counted up all of the party favours to make sure we had enough for all the children. We had straws with paper umbrellas, pens, pencils, chocolates, toothbrushes, erasers, and mini puzzles). We also chatted with Chrysologue about our city tour we were hoping to take in the morning.

That afternoon I met Vicky's "daughter" Charlotte and her "son in law" Charles. That evening we had dinner with Vicky's best friend Joy, who is part of Gahaya Links (some of you might know the name from the baskets sold at Macy's).

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Thursday, October 23

1001 things to be thankful for

I don't have time to write them all down, but as I was sitting at lunch listening to lots of people complain about "their problems" I suddenly mentally was transported back to Rwanda, where for 21 days I don't recall anyone talking about their problems - they maybe had minor set backs but they were all looking forward to the future, so I think everyone who reads this blog should leave a comment with at least 10 things they're happy/thankful for today! To start you off I'll lead with:
  1. I have a job
  2. I have the best sister in the world
  3. I have a flat to live in with heat
  4. I have more than £50 in my bank account
  5. I have clothes which fit me and I can clean on a regular basis in a machine (not by hand in a sink)
  6. I have wonderful friends AROUND the world
  7. I have the best loving, supportive, open minded parents in the world
  8. I am able to eat more than one meal a day
  9. I am able to have hot running water at home
  10. I met some of the most amazing people in Rwanda

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Tuesday, October 21

1000th post from the land of a thousand hills

This will be my final blog from within Rwanda as I fly to Nairobi, Kenya later today & then after an 8 hour layover I fly back to London. Now for those of you who've been through Nairobi's airport you will know that there is basically bugger all to do, though I did find out from an American living in Kigali that they just put in a coffee house at the end of the airport so I reckon I'll go set up camp there for the day with my books.

Just paid my bill, finished packing, checked my email, swallowed my malaria tablet, so I'm basically just sittin around waitin. I do have to exchange some of my money with the lovely VHT Bank - they have great rates and work at a pace I can deal with unlike yesterday's experience which took me 45 minutes to get money out of my account, even though there was nobody else in the queue or in the bank for that matter!

If you haven't done so already please visit Itafari's website, just click here. Feel free to buy a goat or email the lovely VHT if you would like to sponsor a child whilst your on the page.

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Tuesday, October 14

more detailed update from Kigali, Rwanda

We've been based out of the Iris Guest House in Kigali, but take day trips other places, I think earlier that I mentioned I'd been to Huye, in the south to see some ihene (goats), well if you're looking on a map & can't find it, that is because it use to be called, Butare .

On Sunday we went to Bujumbura, Burundi, which on on a lake which is supposedly the longest in the world along with the deepest, but then again every river I pass is the start of the Nile, so I'm not sure how true those facts are! Bujumbura is what I imagine Kigali was like about 20 years ago. Even the street on the way to the presidents office is filthy - it's definitely a full time job for about 20 people for the next few years to say the least. The people don't seem to be as motivated or friendly as they are in Rwanda. There were soldiers on almost every corner with large guns & on the other corners where the local police with equally as large guns. It has made me reassured that my decision to not join the peace corps was the correct one. I was speaking with Rita (who works for World Relief in Bujumbura) and & her coworker Eric who both said I could easily teach science at university in Rwanda because as of next year everything will be taught in English with French & Kinyarwanda being taught as electives ("on the side") and Kigali is such a great city - I cannot say enough about how wonderful the people of Rwanda are. I have never been more welcome into strangers houses than I have been here - it's as if I'm walking into A&J's or K&PJ's house after having been away for a few months - utterly amazing to me.

For example, in order to stay a week longer, when there were no seats left, Emmanuel went yesterday whilst I was in Burundi & sorted it all out with his friend who works at Kenya Airways, because he really wants me to come with him tomorrow to the north to see the ihene child headed household cooperatives. Emmanual is one of the four founding members of ASSIST Rwanda and it has grown & grown - he's wonderful with the kids and has a great business sense (according to Vicky, who is def an expert on that).

Burundi is not a place I'd recommend - we heard a grenade go off during dinner time - and there were 10,000 rebels hidden in the mountains until about 2 months ago - you still can't be out at night time, as it's too dangerous. I'm glad we got to go, but not planning on returning any time soon, plus the plane was one of those small DASH-8s with little propellers which I'm not a fan of & on our way home we went through a storm & I even saw lightening outside the plane - SCARY!!!!!!!!!!

Today I've been busy typing up some reports for Itafari.

For a more detailed update about our trip, check out Vicky's Itafari blog.

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follow me in my last week

Muraho, Amakuru? Ni Meza! (hello, how are you? I'm good! in Kinyarwanda, the local language of Rwanda)

so I'm leaving one week from today, which will be a very sad day for both Vicky & me, but we both must go back to our paying jobs (LOL)

Follow us here at the Ifatari blog to keep up to date with info & even a few photos.

Got goat?

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Saturday, October 11

Ihene, ex-child combatants and child sponsors

Since I last wrote we've been VERY VERY busy, unfortunately I don't have enough time to go into it all right now, but I'll try to give you a quick update.

On Wednesday, Vicky, Chrysologue, Emmanuel and I went to Huye aka Butare (south of Kigali) to check out some of Itafari's ihene (goat) child headed household cooperatives. We visited with four of the cooperatives, getting to see their ihene, speak with the head of the cooperative, and take a few photos. It was a very long day, driving out of the hotel parking lot at 7.30am and returning at 9pm.

On Thursday, Pastor Francis, Emmanuel, Vicky & I went to the ex-child combatants camp where the boys are between the ages of 8 and 16 to cook spaghetti with meat balls from minced ihene meat. When we got there we chose 5 boys who were interested in learning to cook. Taught them about hygiene & bacteria. Started warming the sauce, cutting up the vegetables & frying them up, before adding to the sauce, then making the ihene meatballs (eggs, breadcrumbs, ihene, spices), and finally cooking the pasta. It took us 4 hours over camp fires which were burning wet wood which made it tricky to keep a high consistent heat in order to cook, oh and don't forget about ALL the smoke in our eyes!!! In case you thought this sounds easy, remember we had 10kg of ihene, 10kg of pasta, 50kg of sauce, 20 onions, 1 cabbage, 1 container of garlic salt, and 3 containers of Italian spices. For dessert we had oranges and candies. After we eat the boys danced & sang for us (I'll post a video later) and then we headed back home.

Today, Vicky, Lauren and I went over to Christ Gospel Church in Kimirongo to have a party for 145 children which Itafari sponsors. We played games with them, fed them a delicious lunch, interviewed a few groups of them whose sponsors had sent gifts for their children. It was fantastic, all the kids had a great time and the three of us are completely knackered.

Now we're contemplating going to Heaven (the restaurant) for dinner . . . so how many of you have bought a goat or brick???? Don't lie, as I'm with the President of Itafari so I'll know when you make your purchases. Remember all those times I bought girl scout cookies I didn't really need, or the millions of popcorn & wrapping paper from your children? Or for those of you who were raising money for MS, cancer, CF, AIDS, or assorted other research, I never thought twice, so why not give generously to the Itafari Foundation!!

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Saturday, October 4

from Kigali, Rwanda

hello everyone!

keyboard is French & very confusing to me, so please bear zith me if the spelling is off - i do not have time to spell check. Vicky & I are having a great time here and getting lots of meetings acccomplished. I think everyone should go to Itafari's website (on the right side bar) and buy a brick for the Kigali Parent's School (aka KPS) you can even have your name on the brick & trust me after I get back and post the photos of these children you will not be able to say no to donating to such a great cause - they are fabulous, intelligent potential leaders of the future & do not deserve to stop schooling because a few Americans could not be bothered to spare 75 dollars.

I know these are hard financial times, but remember you still have a solid roof over your head, a family around you, shoes on your feet (probably multiples pairs to be exact) and even if the market totally crashes tomorrow you could spare 75 dollars!!!!

okay off my soap box - write again soon

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