Day 8 – Contrast

The private bus was waiting for us as we trudged up the hillside at ALARM Rwanda. We loaded our luggage and said goodbye to the ALARM staff already on duty that Saturday morning. Our dear friend and the Alarm Rwanda National Coordinator, Ben Nkusi, was there with a big smile and, if I read them correctly, eyes that were a little sad. There is something that touches the deepest part of our hearts when we see that kind of contrast.

I tried to say goodbye to Ben, but he waved me off. “I’m coming with you to the airport,” he said. When I tried to tell him that wasn’t necessary, he simply asserted, “You are my responsibility. It is my duty to see you safely out of Rwanda.”

And so we all boarded that bus. The driver, his helper, Ben, and seven tired, but incredibly blessed travelers. We were closing out an incredible chapter of our journey and we were already beginning to fill the ache of leaving friends who had just recently been strangers. We were seeing the contrast between our lives before and after we had experienced this wonderful part of Africa and had come to know the people.

At the airport, we said our goodbyes to Ben at the security checkpoint. We had a little extra time — Betty had to look for her passport. But then, papers in order, we filed in, filled out more forms, and negotiated passport control.

The first bit of business was coffee and souvenirs. Our busy itinerary while in Rwanda had not allowed a time for shopping and we all had lists of people we wanted to include in our travel experience. We were soon on board RwandAir Flight 400 to Nairobi. More coffee, a surprisingly nice breakfast, and air-conditioned comfort.

Through passport control in the capital of Kenya, we claimed our bags and made our way to the front of the airport to await our ride with Jackson to our new destination, the Made In The Streets Ministry in Kamulu, just outside of Nairobi.

Photo: Betty Gilmore

Photo: Betty Gilmore

Jackson came in his family vehicle. With luggage and seven of us, we joked about being overloaded. Jackson remarked, “We have room for 6 more Kenyans.” And, despite the cramped quarters, we came to believe that there probably was. The traffic was even crazier than what we had seen in Rwanda. Including the necessity of dealing with “cows doing what cows do,” as Jackson would say.

Everything on the drive seemed crowded. The clean streets and green hills of Rwanda had given way to the dust, the litter, and the throngs of people and cars. Another contrast.

When we arrived at Kamulu, Jackson unlocked the gate to the housing compound. We were beginning to understand that we were in a far different place. Heavy iron gates. Ten-foot walls with wire netting extending 4 feet beyond. A guest house with bars on the window and steel doors with massive bolts. And Jackson’s admonition to keep the doors locked at all times.

In truth, we were very safe and secure. But we were safe because the routine here demanded vigilance.

Our hosts, Charles and Darlene Coulson, soon dropped by and oriented us to the operation of the guest house. That included a lesson in flushing the toilets. We were all quick studies when it came to the bucket flush.

2014-09-27 08.44.15After we had settled in, the Coulsons took us on a tour of Made In The Streets Ministry. We walked down dusty dirt streets and took in not one, but a number of compounds. We saw the learning center, the girls living area, one of the boys living areas, the

Photo: Aaron Horn

Photo: Aaron Horn

chapel. And dusty roads. As we watched the little clouds of dirt around our feet, we were told how fortunate we were that it wasn’t the rainy season. The dust turned to sticky mud and everyone wore heavy overshoes — gum boots. In fact, just in case, there were boots in the guest house.

We were eager to meet the children and we soon begin that process. But even with that excitement, we were dealing with the contrasts brought on by our short plane ride from Rwanda and Kenya. And those contrasts and these kids would touch the deepest parts of our hearts.

2014-09-27 07.54.13

Day 7 – Common

Friday, September 26, was our last full day in Kigali. We began the day with breakfast prepared by the wonderful kitchen staff at the ALARM Rwanda facility and entered our last day of training with the executive staff of ALARM. As a team, we had begun to see and understand what we truly held in common with these wonderful Rwandans and with each other.

Aaron Horn coordinated most of the training that day. In addition to conflict resolution topics, the staff had asked for assistance in business management skills and planning. Aaron’s service played an important role for ALARM Rwanda as they looked forward to submitting their own strategic plan to their board of directors in the next week.

And, the change of pace allowed the rest of us to begin organizing our belongings for our short move over to Nairobi the next day. As is traditional in these settings, the ALARM staff had planned a closing ceremony at the end of the day. We gathered together for one last moment. Our African friends sang for us and we prayed with them — to the One we have in common.

We weren’t quite done. Raymond, the executive director of the Kinyinya District, invited us out to dinner. So we made our way to a nearby hotel where Raymond proudly showed us a pilot project — a beautiful housing subdivision and a model for the rest of Kigali.

Allison in BedWe were blessed. We had so much in common.

We returned to our rooms at ALARM Rwanda and prepared for bed and our next adventure — KENYA!!!

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 2.1 – Hallelujah!

Looking forward to our first full day in Kigali, we questioned — perhaps even dreaded — one item on our schedule. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to go to church on Sunday. We just wondered if we would be in any shape to survive the projected 4-hour service with somewhat serious jet-lag. Hallelujah! God had other plans.

As we were escorted to the front pews — actually plastic lawn chairs — on the front rows of the Itorero Methodist Church, we became fairly positive that nothing about this service was going to make us sleepy. (That thought proved optimistic by the time we got to the visiting preacher’s sermon, however.)

Full of energy, we were treated to a kids’ choir, a young peoples’ choir, and the main, serious-dressed choir. And the kids and our new friends blessed us with praise and volume. We even had a guest appearance by a famous Rwandan Gospel singer, whose name escapes me at this time. A number of personal translators came to our sides. We heard announcements, were greeted warmly as visitors, saw 2 new members embraced into the fellowship of this church, heard more and more songs.

And we learned about “Hallelujah!”

“Hallelujah!” a speaker would call out and the audience would answer with “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!” It became our rally cry as well.

Invigorated from our time inside the cavernous church building — with open screens to permit ventilation and open windows below — we made our way outside to be greeted by the congregants and, of course, the children.

And all we can say is, “Hallelujah!”