Day 5.3 – Disappointed

On a day that held so much potential and that had generated so much anticipation, we couldn’t help but feel disappointed as we drove away from the refugee camp. For one thing, our much-loved Allison had not been able to make the trip in. Then, unexpectedly and somewhat dramatically, we were denied the privilege of leaving the gifts we had intended for the children and the adults.

It was hard to look around the bus. Disappointed is a mild word for how we felt. No one wanted to talk much about what had happened. Although, I believe that each and every one couldn’t think of anything else.

The donations of medical kits, maxipads, markers, papers, soccer balls, and other assorted items had been gathered by our team from family and friends. The duffel bags brimming with supplies weren’t just about stuff. They were a message to people who had been displaced from their homes and their native land that there were people from halfway around the world who cared.

And those bags and those supplies were leaving the refugee camp with us — a message undelivered.

As Benjamin Nkusi would explain to us later, he and the ALARM Rwanda staff had gone to a great deal of effort in arranging our trip to the refugee camp. He had gone through all of the proper channels and completed all of the paper work.

Yet, there in the camp, while members of our team were helping kids draw pictures and were inflating soccer balls, a camp official brought all of our good intentions to a standstill. The letter we had granting permission to make the donations was deemed to be lacking. One more seal, we were told. One more stamped insignia and we would have been allowed to leave our gifts.

You could tell from the slope of Ben’s shoulders that he was greatly disappointed. In fact, when I was trying to encourage him later he would merely say, “This was a bad day for Ben.” He, too, had wanted us to have that moment of charity that would bring a few nice things to these people.

So we were disappointed. As our bus made its way back toward Seeds of Peace Conference Center to pick up Allison, our disappointment turned to fatigue.

As we pulled up to Seeds of Peace, we were feeling some better. Ben had promised to follow through with the authorities in Kigali who oversee the refugee camp and to see to it that our donations would make their way to those for whom they were intended.

And, we were reunited with Allison. She wasn’t 100% and she, too, was disappointed seeing the bags left in the back. But we were encouraged by her good spirit and we set off toward Kigali with the hope of getting lunch along the way.


Day 5.1 – Anticipation

The Seeds of Peace Conference Center was in a beautiful spot, as we realized in the daylight. Lake Muhazi was literally at our doors and it lie still and quiet. Our anticipation for the events of the day grew.

The proximity of the lake also explained the exponentially higher number of insects we had encountered through the night and the carpet of dead bug carcasses stretched out at our front door the next morning. photoAlthough I had evaded the mosquitos, I had a couple of unexplained bites on my arm, likely spider — including one that had created a large bruise from the anti-coagulant injected.

2014-09-23 23.55.20Several members of our group had been excited about the opportunity to visit Seeds of Peace because it held out the possibility of a hot shower with plenty of water pressure. I’m not sure about anyone else, but Malcolm and I had hot water galore. I vaguely remember some noises about plenty of pressure but no heat. Since I was happily clean and accompanied by Malcolm, who had experienced the same success in his respective room and bath, the sad stories of Robyn and Betty about their showers didn’t hold my attention very long.

When we reached the little dining room that had been reserved for our breakfast, we learned that Dan and Allison had become ill during the night. Dan had managed to make it down to the breakfast in search of sustenance for himself and fluids for Allison. Our spirits were dampened as we worried about them. And then we considered the news that Robyn’s congestion had worsened during the night and that she was battling a significant upper respiratory infection. Anticipation, coupled with anxiety, began to fuel our thoughts.

Our breakfast proceeded in this suppressed mode and, as we finished, we one by one gathered outside to await news about Allison. When the decision was made that we would leave her at Seeds of Peace to rest while we went on to the refugee camp, we were torn. We were pleased that she would have a place to recover. We anticipated unknown stresses ahead from the journey and from the events to unfold at the refugee camp. But we were disappointed as we contemplated the fact that Allison, perhaps more than any of the rest of us, had looked forward to this visit with such passion. Indeed, the majority of the military duffel bags filled with items for distribution in the back of the bus had been thoughtfully packed by her. And, there was just a little something disturbing about leaving one of our team behind and alone without any reliable means of communication.

With spirits dampened, we boarded our bus and again began winding our way through the hills of Rwanda, stopping several times along the way to ask for directions. At a wide spot in the road, we turned left, circled a number of locals waiting for transportation, and headed up a washed-out, but dusty road. Passing through several villages, we slowly made our way up to the refugee camp. Anticipation grew.

We had been told that the camp had about 500 souls — with about 150 children.

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

Photo Credit: Betty Gilmore

As we closed in on the headquarters for the camp, we saw more and more of the Congolese refugees. We would later learn that more than 6,000 children resided there and 3,000 women. We never heard an estimate of the number of men. But they were definitely in the minority.

The further we moved up into the camp, the larger the hordes of children and adults grew. Our anticipation gave way to excitement, coupled with just an edge of anxiety.

(Note: With the exception of a few pictures of our training sanctioned by the refugees camp administrators, we were not allowed to take photos inside the camp.)

Day 3 – Flexibility

Day 3 was a learning day for us. We had been told that flexibility was a key to our success while in Africa. We began to learn about flexibility even before we began to train security forces in Rwanda.

Our training session was to take place in a meeting room of the Top Tower Hotel in downtown Kigali at 8 a.m. Our transportation convoy (a Toyota Prado Land Cruiser and a Corolla) was eventually ready to roll from the ALARM Training Center at 8:15 a.m. That departure time put us in the midst of rush hour traffic.

Rush hour takes on new meaning in Rwanda. Pedestrians, buses of all sizes, bicycles, cars, and the ever-present motorcycle taxis swarm like ants on a fallen ice cream cone.

Apparently, stop signs serve only to warn you that there may be vehicles coming from other directions — because you don’t stop. Evidently, the stop sign doesn’t necessarily indicate which vehicle may have the right of way either.  And crosswalks seem to be designed to inform motorists the areas where they should speed up. Those on foot enter the crosswalk at their own risk and then run as fast as possible. Both the pedestrian and the driver bearing down on them seem to enjoy the game.

You also need to know that is apparently acceptable to drive your vehicle in any open space on the road. And everyone uses their horn as a declaration of the assumption of that space.

Yet, we saw little anger or frustration. Perhaps its because this is a culture dominated by flexibility.

District Executive Secretary, Raymond, & ALARM Rwanda National Coordinator, Benjamin Nkusi

District Executive Secretary, Raymond, & ALARM Rwanda National Coordinator, Benjamin Nkusi

We arrived at the hotel about 45 minutes late and then waited another 15 minutes to begin. Why? Because the executive secretary of the district had stepped forward to encourage the security officers. And since he had the floor, our arrival as the training team didn’t seem to dampen his desire to continue. Over the next 2 days, we learned to love this man, Raymond, and all of those who worked for him.

We spent a great deal of time engineering our presentations and the overall schedule. Our event organizers noted that and then worked out the final schedule in coordination with the hotel in regard to breaks and lunch. Then, pretty much, we were on our own to try and fit our materials into whatever time we actually had.

And it went very well.

The participants were totally delightful. In their role as security officers, these men and women walk the streets of the district at night and are the first responders — the unarmed first responders — to any problem. Behind them stood the National Police and, if necessary, the military. But most conflict is handled by these fine folks. And, even though they are night-time workers, they came to the training prepared to listen, to participate, and to learn.

Sixty-seven participants.

Flexible. When breaking for tea and coffee, they stood patiently and happily even though the hotel had assigned only one person to pour beverages. And the breaks were rarely at their scheduled time. Fifteen minute breaks stretched to one hour.

Practicing flexibility. The participants listened respectfully as each word we said was painstakingly translated into Kinyarwandan and just as patiently when what they told us was translated into English.

Whereas our American cultural background would have led us to believe that we had a right to complain, these people simply sat back, enjoyed the moment, and smiled.

One of the biggest delights was coming back from our first break and having the participants spontaneously break into song. While we might have felt a slight edge of frustration from the delays of the day, they were telling us that flexibility and calm would make all seem right.

They were teaching us about peace and the release of internal conflict.

Odd . . . wasn’t that what we were supposed to be doing?

Well, yes. In fact, we were.

Security Training 1And, in fact, we were. We were teaching and they were teaching. We were sharing and they were sharing. In our bonding in a required environment of flexibility we were forming an international bond of peace.

And that’s exactly what we were meant to do.

Flexibility is an integral part of peace. We just about have that part down.

Day 1 – Airplane

When determining the day counts for this blogalog, I set Day 1 as the day that we would finally be in Africa. For a while it seemed like an airplane might stand in our way for that to happen. In fact, a couple of airplanes entered into the equation.

You already know about the first. We learned last Thursday that our direct flight from DFW to Amsterdam had been canceled. No last minute mechanical problem, no real reason. The flight — or perhaps the airplane — just totally disappeared. In the grand scheme of things, the way ours disappeared was much preferable to other high-visibility plane mysteries of the day.

After great work by our travel agent and the fact that our fearless leader, Betty Gilmore, stayed on the phone and on social media for most of the day Thursday, an alternate plan took shape. Dan and Allison would fly to Houston and then to Amsterdam, while the rest of us flew to Philadelphia and then to Amsterdam. The happy reunion was to happen aboard KLM 579 as Aaron, Betty, Malcolm, Robyn and I joined Dan and Allison for our flight to Kigali. At several points along the way, we thought that might be simply a dream long lost.

10635925_924679183919_4084515460219195764_nDan and Allison did well on their end. Flights took off, four-hour layover in Houston, and another four-hour layover in Amsterdam.

But that’s not the airplane story.

The rest of us arrived in Philadelphia just a little late. But we made our way over to our flight to Amsterdam. Once aboard, it seemed we would arrive with about 2 hours to spare. As travel conversations go, we then began the what-ifs of security lines and customs and boarding passes yet unseen. Still, we were on our plane and almost on our way, when the captain tweaked the intercom and apologized for a small delay — a mechanical problem that had not been fully explained to the crew was going to delay us just a while longer.

A while became longer. The attendant crew chief made the next announcement of the good-news-bad-news variety. First for the bad news. The plane we were on, the one fully-loaded and with our in-flight meal in the warming ovens, was not going anywhere. But the good news was that, just a few gates away was an identical plane (sans the aforesaid mechanical problem and the warming dinner) awaiting us. We were told to move quickly to the new gate for reboarding.

2014-09-19 18.48.33Which we did. But the plane wasn’t ready and the time was set back yet another hour. Our new arrival time gave us only one hour between flights in Amsterdam. And again we began running the scenarios and the possibilities. By the time we were on board the new airplane and seated, the pilot had updated our arrival time to be less than 30 minutes from our departure time. Dan and Allison were over the Atlantic. We sent a few social media messages up to the cloud and hoped.

The new plane did fine. Unfortunately, one of our fellow passengers had a medical emergency disrupting the sleep for almost all of us. And when we did land in Amsterdam, we were told that we would have to remain on the plane until our stricken passenger could be removed by medical personnel.

Just in case you think this is all bad news, there was also a follow-up cabin announcement that the party going to Kigali (that would be us) would need to meet the gate agent who had our boarding passes in hand and who would escort us to our new gate.

Aaron and I were the stragglers getting off the plane, which had a little bit to do with the fact that Robyn shouted back for us to grab her bag — it was right above our seats — and a lot to do with the fact that our seats were only 3 rows from the back.

As we made our way on the jet bridge and high-fived the medical emergency guy still sitting in a wheel chair waiting for the medics, Betty called down the long square tube, “Run! Our plane is leaving and there’s not another one to Kigali for 2 days!”

So we ran. I am proud to report that many of our team are quite fast. And I can report that because I saw them disappearing from my view at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, we all arrived at Gate A47, the KLM crew was amazing and helped us through security. And thus it was that we fell aboard Flight 579 and saw, to our great relief, Allison and Dan.

Everything was good and this new airplane was a wonder of technological sophistication. A woman from Uganda even helped me get my personal little TV to work. We were in the midst of our dinner when we, for a few moments, thought that this airplane, too, might not deliver us with the desired effect to Kigali International Airport.

As our Dutch pilot would later explain, he didn’t expect the turbulence that caused our plane to drop what seemed like several thousand feet or the ensuing winds that howled outside and pushed us sideways. You heard me, we could hear the winds howling outside. It was a little frightening. On the bright side, I saved several hundred calories. Because I, along with most of the other travelers, simply put my fork down and vowed never to raise it again.

Another serendipity was the growing relationship I had with the woman from Uganda in the next seat. At each jolt and bounce of the plane, she reached out to hold a wider and wider piece of all things around her which, at one point, became me. While I would like to say it was a bonding moment for 2 strangers facing impossible odds, it simply felt like a death grip on my arm. So another serendipity was that the pain in my elbow made me forget some of the turbulence-related issues.

About the time we entered Grecian airspace, we moved past the turbulence and the captain came on and reassured us that all was well. And, in fact it was. Everything else happened as scheduled — unless you count the fact that my Ugandan friend and I were skipped during the afternoon ice cream service.

Upon landing, we found that our bags that were routed through Philly had not made it on board during our 10-minute layover in Amsterdam. We hope to have those by Monday night because those 4 were some of the supplies slated for the refugee camp next Wednesday.

So, if you want the short story. We took a couple of airplane rides. We arrived. Our hosts from ALARM met us at the airport.

We are in Africa on Day 1, safe and sound.


1 Day and Counting – Inconvenience

When I first opened my computer this morning, I started to make my post for the day. Some time ago, I had selected the topic “Blessings” for today. However, I was distracted and didn’t get right on it. A little later in the day, Robyn posted on our FaceBook group page, “Joey, in case you need a topic for the ‘one day and counting’ blog! I think you found one!” In fact, I had. As the picture here would indicate, our team was being presented with an inconvenience.

Under normal conditions, a notice that your flight has been canceled is a cause for at least mild concern. But when your flight is from DFW to Amsterdam and there are 6 other team members on your flight . . . let’s just say it elevates the inconvenience a bit.

We received this news late this morning. Ever since then, our fearless leader Betty has been on the phone with the airline and with our travel agent trying to work everything out. The last bulletin states that 5 of us will be going to Amsterdam by way of Philadelphia. Dan and Allison will be routed through Houston. Or at least that was the last news I had.

Even now, Karen, our travel agent, is on the phone with the airline still trying to get confirmations. One by one, I’ve seen emails come from the team that they have received theirs. And, since I typed the period on that last sentence, I’ve learned that my itinerary is done as well.

So, for now I’m planning on flying out of Abilene on my original flight and I’m just hoping that neither the airline nor the weather delays the flight. Okay, it’s more than hope. It’s fervent prayer.

Regardless, in the grand scheme of things this will be just one of the inconveniences we are likely to encounter. As I look over at the somewhat regimented pile of stuff by my bag, I’m anticipating that my next one will be when I realize I’ve left something vital behind.

No, cancel that. Latest post from Dan and Allison. Now the airline is saying that they don’t have tickets to Houston. So that’s the next one.

Since this could go on all night, I’m just going to sign off and ask for a simple prayer from all of you. Please pray that Dan and Allison and Aaron and Robyn and Malcolm and Betty and I all have seats on planes that will take us to Amsterdam tomorrow. Otherwise, we might be looking at an inconvenience.

Tune in tomorrow!