Day 2 – Special Edition

I hesitated to post the earlier entry, “Hallelujah!”, because I was hoping to snag a video from the church service from another team member. Several tried to connect me to theirs last night. But the file was too big and the bandwidth too small. So, after several days of frustration, I’m pleased to announce that I have video from church on Sunday.

These Rwandans are singing people. I hope that you enjoy this little slice of heaven on earth.

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 2.2 – Genocide

After attending church and sharing a relaxed lunch back at the ALARM Training Center, our team loaded up and headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center. From the time Dr. Betty Gilmore envisioned this trip for us, this was the moment that we had the most questions about. How do we come to understand one hundred days of history in this small country where ordinary citizens were persuaded to join military forces in the brutal murders of their neighbors and friends?

The Kigali Center, one of several genocide memorials in Rwanda, is a somber place. Our team slowly made its way through turn after turn of narrow halls packed with photographs and the stories of that dark time in history.  Cold, calculating individuals manufactured this slaughter set within the context of a Rwandan civil war. Slowly at first, propaganda achieved its inevitable purpose as a tribe of people, the Tutsis, were targeted as undesirable and labeled as insignificant. The consistent cry was heard across the nation — “Kill the cockroaches!” When the genocide finally ended, close to 1 million Rwandans were dead.

Burial Place SignToward the end of the exhibits were three rooms that cut deep into our souls. In the first were displayed countless human skulls, bones, and some of the weapons that were used to maim, torture, and kill. In the second were thousands of pictures of individuals who died. No stories. Just family photos clipped to string after string after string. Each picture a story and a sharp pain in our consciousness.

The last of the three exhibits was most likely the most chilling. Through several rooms, large photograph enlargements were accompanied by simple plaques that provided the name, the favorite foods and activities of the little children who were killed alongside their parents or hunted down like animals. Oh, and one other item on those plaques — the method by which each child had been executed.

The Kigali Center is built on the side of a hill looking back toward the downtown area. Outside the center, on its grounds, are buried some of the victims of the genocide. Two hundred fifty thousand is what we’re told. As Dan pointed out, in the space provided, it would be difficult to have 250,000 people standing close together, much less buried. Yet, that small piece of land that we trudged over in less than an hour, is the final resting place of a quarter million people. We left that area dazed and wished the story was make believe — a horror story.

Hotel RwandaWe were uplifted a few minutes later when we visited the Hôtel des Mille Collines. This Belgian luxury hotel was where hundreds of Tutsis and moderate Hutus were sheltered by a caring hotelier, a Hutu who was married to a Tutsi. Known popularly as “Hotel Rwanda” because of the movie by that name, we were reminded of the fact that, even in horrible times, the goodness and the resolve of individuals stands as a testament to the greater good that God has placed in all of us.

In the days to come, we know that we will see the great effort being made by the Rwandan people to claim that greater good.

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!”

 

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.