Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Our First African Christmas!

Our first Christmas in Rwanda was a wonderful time. We were able to skype with family and friends and watch them open the gifts we had sent them. It just amazes me how much technology makes the distance seem not quite so far. We attended a wonderful Christmas Eve service at our church. Matt was asked to give the message at the Christmas Day service. It was such an honor for him to be asked. He did a fantastic job!

Matt was also able to go white water rafting on the Nile River in Uganda over Christmas break with some of the other teachers from school. It was an amazing experience!

Some of our new African ornaments.

Matt got Emma a new dress and some beads on his trip to Uganda.

Making cinnamon rolls.
I splurged and bought Emma some fresh strawberries. I think it was about $6 for this small bowl of berries. They were a bit sour but we still loved them!

Friday, December 10, 2010

I love me some baboons!

On our safari Saturday, we came upon a large group of baboons. They were Emma's favorite part of the day. It was so fun to watch them interact with each other. The babies were riding on the backs of the mommies. The little ones were chasing each other all over and wrestling. One little one was picking bugs out of his mama. My absolute favorite part of entire day was the interaction between this mama and her baby. I am so happy that I was able to capture each part.

I first noticed this little tiny baby sitting alone with his mama behind. I could see through the lens that she noticed me. I actually got a little nervous because she looked at me and started walking closer.

The baby looked back at her for protection.
She walked up to him and looked so tenderly at him. Then she picked him up just like you would your baby.
She pulled him close to her for a little snuggle.
Then placed him on her lap for a minute and watched the others play.

Then he grabbed on and went for a ride.
He is just so precious. I seriously almost cried watching this precious interaction between mama and baby. The guide said that baboons love their babies very much. If a baby dies, they actually morn them for about a week before burying them.

How Amazing God's Creation Is!

Thanksgiving, Visitors, and An Exciting African Adventure

Wow! It has been so long since my last post. We have had an incredibly busy yet exciting couple of weeks here. First we had a huge Thanksgiving bash with about 50 other westerners...mostly Americans but a few Canadians snuck in! It was so fun to eat turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, pumpkin pie, etc. It was fabulous! So much so that we also had a dinner Thanksgiving party with the school staff. So, we were officially stuffed for a couple of days!

Then on Saturday right after Thanksgiving some friends arrived for a visit! It was fabulous! We had an amazing time showing them Kigali and what everyday life is like here. They also came to check out the school and I am so thrilled to say that they are coming next year to serve at KICS with us! We couldn't be more excited to have a little piece of home here with us. Emma is very excited to have her friends live here and go to school with her, too.

Matt took them to the orphanage on Sunday right after they arrived. They all had an incredible time playing with the kids. I planned to take them back on Tuesday but we ended up not being able to go for a few different reasons. We did take them to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali. That was the first time for Matt and I to visit as well. It was very moving. I highly recommend that anyone coming to Rwanda visit the memorial in Kigali. It is very eye opening not only about the genocide that took place here in Rwanda but also about genocides that have happened in modern history throughout the world. We all left a bit speechless.

One of the best days of their visit was being able to get them out of the city and into the true Rwanda. They chose to go on a day safari at Akagera National Park. We love it there so we were more than happy to take them. We hired a tour company to drive us for the day. We had traveled about 2 hours and were maybe 5 miles from the park enterance when the car just would not move anymore. Smoke started surrounding and filling the car. Emma was asleep on my lap. The driver turned around and shouted, "get out!" We tried but the one door in the back for all six of us wouldn't open. Matt's door in the front was stuck for a time as well. A bit of panic set in until the doors finally worked. By this point Emma was so freaked out she wouldn't let me hand her out the door to Matt so her and I just stayed in the truck because we realized that it was not actually on fire and going to blow. Of course by this point, there was a huge crowd of on lookers. One of the local men decided that we should push the truck down to the entrance where there is a mechanic. So, Emma and I road, Elizabeth steered and the rest of the gang pushed along with some villagers. We didn't make it far before a truck of military men pulled up. Our driver explained what happened and they told us to hop in the back of their truck. They drove us to the Akagera Lodge where we waited for 4 hours for another park truck to take us on safari. When the truck finally arrived, it was a completely open truck! It was awesome! We could stand up and everything. We had an amazing view and I got some fabulous shots.
The next few hours were full of adventure as well. A man who is "foolish in the head" was walking through the park and started throwing stuff at us. It started to rain so the guide took us to a house where we waited on the porch for it to clear. It was such an African adventure. We were so happy to walk through our front gate late that night all in one piece. Everytime Emma has played with her dolls and toy car since then, she says, "the car is smoking, get out, get out!" It's hilarious!

I can't believe that it is almost Christmas. We have been recieving Christmas packages in the mail and can't wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus with our new friends here in Africa. Matt is planning a 4 day adventure with some of the teachers to Uganda the first week of break. They are going to raft on the Nile River in Jinja. Matt has wanted to do this for a long time and we have heard that they are building a dam and the rafting will all change soon. So, I am really excited for him to have this chance to experience it. Emma and I will just chill out here and have some girl time. It is a 13 hour bus ride each way from Kigali. Not my idea of a good time with a 3 year old!

We have 3 Christmas parties this weekend so we are going to be very busy again. I am looking forward to some time off to relax.

There are tons of pictures on my facebook of the safari. I will post some here soon for those who don't have facebook.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I don't really know where to begin in describing this weeks visit to the orphanage. I can't really describe it in detail because I need to be careful what I say. We did not massage the babies. We were told that we can no longer do this. I am asking for your prayers that God would reopen this door. It is such a valuable and important thing for babies. I am praying that my descriptions of my visits were not the cause of this change. I have only said positive things about the orphanage and the workers so I am sure that is not the case. I just can't help but wonder.

This week they brought us a few handicapped children. It was so difficult. We were not mentally prepared to handle this but we said a quick prayer and God directed us. Fortunately, the mommy that I was with is a physical therapist so she knew right what to do and walked me through helping each child. It was so difficult emotionally...and physically. I can't really get into details just pray for these sweet children. Our hearts were breaking as we held them.

We were both nearly in tears by the time we left. We said quick goodbyes and gave hugs to all our little friends. We are not sure if we will be able to see them again in the future. We are going to go again next week and hopefully we will be able to make progress and find favor with the director. Please pray that her heart is changed and she sees that we are doing good. My heart is just breaking for these little miracles and for you waiting families. Again, we just ask for your prayers that when we return next week we will be able to love on those little babies again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I'm back!

First of all...so sorry that I have been gone for a couple of weeks. I didn't make it to the orphanage last week because I was sick on Monday and didn't want to risk getting any of the little ones sick.

But, I did get to go yesterday. It was a bit of a roller coast experience this week. We were all heart broken to see a new little guy in the big baby room. I would guess him to be about 12-16 months old. It is so hard to tell. He was so stiff. He would hardly move. His fist was clenched so tightly that his little arm muscles were flexed. He is so beautiful though. His skin is so rich and creamy looking. One of the moms who I go with is a physical therapist so she worked with him just about the entire hour we were allowed to be in the room. By the time she was done with him, he was smiling and bending his legs. What a precious little smile he has. All of our hearts were just breaking. He has been at the orphanage for just about a week. I can't even to begin to imagine what is going through his little mind.

On a happier note...the little guy I taught how to high-five a couple of weeks ago totally remembered! It was so fun. He crawled up to me and reached out his hand. And even more fun, he was wearing a shirt that one of the ladies with me donated to the orphanage. Her sons are both from there and so she passed along some of their things. How incredible to think that this little Reebok shirt was worn by a little boy adopted and now in a home and he passed it on to another little boy in the same orphanage. What a privilege for this mommy to see that circle of love. It nearly brought tears to her eyes.

There is also a beautiful little girl there who looks exactly like my dear friend Ariel in San Diego. I was able to hold her and give her a massage this week. I love telling her that she looks just like Aunti Ari. She just smiles.

We had an incredible Orphan Sunday service at church on November 7. We had a panel discussion on the current orphan situation in Rwanda. The panel was made up of members of our church who are involved with orphans and at risk kids in Kigali in various ways. There is one gentleman who moved here from California with his wife (she is Rwandan) and they started a safe home of sorts for street kids. They now own 2 homes and have 20 children whom they care for. The children keep their names and attend school. It is incredible.

Rwanda has 1 million children in vulnerable situations. It is estimated that 13% of Rwandan homes are headed by children. In the US we think of an orphan as a child who is without a mother and a father. In Africa, a child is considered to be an orphan if 1 parent is deceased. If both parents are deceased, they are considered a double orphan. It is estimated that there are 200,00 double orphans in Rwanda. The country has about 30-35 registered orphanages. There are about 4,000 children in those orphanages around the country. That means that the others are either being cared for by extended family, in non-registered orphanages or homes, leading their own household, or on the street. Our church is currently praying about how we can be involved in the solution to this problem. There are many adoptive families in our church and there is a true heart for orphans. We are praying for guidance and an opportunity to be God's hands and feet.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.' James 1:27

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Sanctuary

There is a small group of us here in Kigali doing BSF together. If you don't know what that is, it is Bible Study Fellowship. It is a Bible study that is done by thousands of people all over the world at the same time. We all started at the same time and are doing the same lessons each week together. It is a pretty cool feeling to know that my mom is studying the same thing as me on the other side of the world. This year's focus is the book of Isaiah. We talked this week about the sovereignty of God.

What is it that makes God sovereign? He is in control. He is all knowing. He is just. We serve a sovereign risen Lord. How do you see God? As a sanctuary, a cornerstone, a father, a friend? As I think back over the past several years, I have to say that He has been a sanctuary in my life. We went through years of trying to get pregnant, to dealing with infertility, to a 2 year adoption process and now a lack of adoption process in Rwanda. Through all of this, God has been a sanctuary...a God of hope. Without that, I don't know that I could have made it through those rough times.

Our study asked the question, which image does your life communicate to others? I hope that I am portraying Him as a sanctuary to all of you who are waiting for your little miracles. He is your sanctuary. Rest your hope and trust in Him.

I did visit the orphanage today. What a blessing those little ones are to my heart. I was able to work with a sweet little boy with the most precious face. He was so happy. He loved being massaged and just laid on his back and smiled at me with his mouth wide open. When I was done with his massage, I just held him close to me and he nearly fell asleep before he was taken back to the baby room. He was so peaceful.

Another of the little guys is so much fun. Just full of life and spunk. I was playing with him while waiting for the little babies to come. I taught him how to give a high-five. He stopped me a couple of times as I walked past his crib. He would reach out and grab my sweater and then hold up his hand. As we were leaving, I reached across several cribs and gave him another high-five. He got a huge smile on his face and kept his hand raised as we walked out the door.

Tuesday is quickly becoming my new favorite day of the week!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Intore Dancers!

Our pastor and his wife threw a fabulous ice cream social last night. It was an evening full of fun and fellowship along with some incredible entertainment. They hired a local Intore dance troupe to perform for us. This is the traditional Rwandan dancing once performed only for royalty. There are different stages of the dance that touch on peace, reconciliation and courtship. The men dance as warriors to show power. The women dance with grace to show love and care. It is also said that their dance emulates the movement of cattle because cattle are a form of wealth in Rwanda. Each performer wears bells around their ankles. Emma loved the drums and the girls with baskets on their heads.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

To the Waiting Families...

I have been receiving emails this week from Rwanda waiting parents. I am so blown away by the response from my last post. Thank you first of all for even reading my ramblings. You put things out here into space and never know if anyone other then your friends and family are listening. I hope that sharing my life in Rwanda is helping you cope with the wait and I guess it is.

One of the major reasons that I wanted to take the huge leap of faith and move to Rwanda was to do just this. I want to be able to be sort of a bridge for waiting families to their children here. I know that when we were waiting for Emma I would have done anything to know where she was and what her life was like. As I said before, it really is a blessing for parents to know where their child is. You can pray so specifically for that child. I hope that I can help you to understand the culture and the people here. That was so important to us when adopting from China. When we landed in Beijing we felt sort of at home because we had read and studied so much about the place and the people. It really felt like the only connection I had to Emma and her birth family during the wait. Sort of my way of trying to understand her birthmom I guess.
I am trying to be that sort of link for you. There are those really dark horrible gut wrenching days when all you want to do is get on a plane and get your baby. You just need some sort of connection to your baby. My desire is to be a comfort to you. Know that there are 3 adoptive mommies loving on your baby every Tuesday afternoon in a dark room with light blue walls and cream colored cribs. We have felt every single thing that you have felt through your wait. We know what you are thinking and understand. Know that we are praying for your child when we hold him and we are praying for you, too. Know that we are cheering them on when they pull themselves up in their cribs, when they stand on a blue mat and try to dance to the music, when they clap and make adorable baby noises. Someone is paying attention. That was hard for me. I don't really know what Emma's life was like. I don't know how much she was paid attention to. I want to be your hands and heart until you arrive to bring your baby home.

And I pray that happens soon.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Witnessing Joy in a Dark Room

i started volunteering at the orphanage today. i think that I am still processing this afternoon's trip. I didn't really know what to expect from it really. when the teachers go on sunday afternoons, they are not allowed to go in the baby rooms. they play with the 2-4 year olds outside. because my friend has been involved with adoptions for so long here, she has been able to work with the nuns and educate them on the importance of baby massages. so we got to massage the little babies!! i couldn't believe it! I was in the room with babies who looked to be about 8-13 months old. now they might be a bit older but they were just starting to stand up and try to walk so i would guess about that age. when we got there they were feeding them. a couple were crying...a couple were sleeping...others just hanging out. after a few minutes, they brought us 3 little babies. i would say they were about 5 months old. all boys. i swear...adorable!!! we loved them and gave them massages, did a little Physical Therapy muscle toning type stuff and just held them until it was time to go. while we were there, they got out a new mat and let the kids crawl around. some where trying to stand and attempting their first steps. I couldn't help but think of emma at this age. they then put on some french children's music and the kids started bopping and swaying around. I thought of Emma's nanny telling me that she enjoys joyful music.

i didn't really know how i would react today. i didn't know if my thoughts would be for our future children or more directed to emma's past. i was definitely more connected to emma's past. i think it was a bit easier because emma was in foster care at this age. i noticed their cloth diapers...not a rope or bungee cord to be seen thank goodness as this is often the case in china. i watched the little ones try to dance around the room and thought of emma's ankle scars from being tied to her crib. it made me grateful for this orphanage. the nuns seemed to be enjoying their time with the little ones. they were singing to them and clapping along. the children were all smiling. there was joy in that dark room.

it is so different from our china experience. i was probably in the same room as my friend's little girl. and the children of some of you who are reading this blog. my friend has had her dossier in rwanda since january knowing exactly where her little girl is and where she will go to get her. with china, we had no idea where emma was in that huge country until we got her picture. so different. what a blessing for the parents waiting to be able to pray so specifically for their little ones.

so much to process. i'm just so happy to finally be able to go. i have been so scared to go for the last several weeks given the changes in the rwanda adoption seen. i just wasn't sure if i could handle it. orphans and their care are constantly on my heart. i feel like this was my reason for moving here. i'm just praying for God to use me to help the orphans here. there are about 1 million of them in a country of 9 million.

i'm starting small and praying for something big.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Where God Sleeps

I have been to many beautiful places in the world...The Great Wall of China, Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, Loch Ness in Scotland, the mountains of Germany and Austria, Hawaii, the rolling hills of Italy and England, the Rock Mountains, and the list goes on. I must say though that the place I just returned from is the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life. The volcanoes and lakes of northwest Rwanda form the most breathtaking landscape. The colors are so vibrant...almost electric green leafs and grass, blue lakes, orange dirt roads, every shade of green and yellow you can imagin form rectangles across the mountainside.

Not only are the views amazing but the people are too. A friend told us about Virunga Lodge. It is, according to the guidebook, the best hotel in Rwanda and right up there with all resorts in Africa. Our friend, who used to live in Ruhengeri said that Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck stay here when they visit Rwanda. It is $500 per night per person. Yikes! We decided to drive up and check out the view and have lunch. The lodge and food were amazing (I have been craving a delicious steak and I had one finally!) But, the best part of the whole thing was the ride down the hill. As we drove back down the mountain, the village children sprinted after the car. We gave high fives and waved. We stopped and Emma, Abby and Lucas shook hands with the children out the window. In fact, when they saw Emma, they got very excited. They probably haven't seen many Chinese children. They kept running after us and shouting and cheering. We handed one little girl a can of pringels...she was so thrilled. We finally figured out that they were shouting "pen." They wanted pens and pencils! We dug through our bags and the truck and started handing them out the windows. They were so excited! It was an amazing 15 minute drive down the mountain.

We then drove over to Volcanoes National Park. If you have ever seen the movie "Gorillas in the Mist," this is where it all happened. The mountain gorillas live in the bamboo forrests on these volcanoes. It is really expensive to go on a gorilla treck so we thought we might be able to just hike around the park with the kids. Didn't happen. It costs $100 a person just to hike the lower levels of the rain forrests. Someday, I will see the gorillas but not this year.
The next day we decided to head out to a fishing village we saw on our map. First we stopped in town at a shop trying to find pencils and pens to give any children we might see again. When Matt and Spencer (our friend) where in the store, the truck ended up surrounded by children and women. I started chatting with one little boy. He spoke very good English. (we were about 25 minutes from the Uganda border where they speak English.) He asked me for my email address! It was hilarious! No pencils or pens to be found so we stocked up on suckers.

The fishing village was beautiful...of course! We walked along the shore of the lake which was all lava rock. There were children fishing and playing, women doing laundry and men playing cards. The colorful fabrics that they wrap around as dresses and capes where laying out on the lava rocks to dry. I loved seeing the carved out fishing boats and talking to the boys who were fishing. It really made me wish that my Grandpa Hubbard where there to experience that with me. Anywhere he goes, he must check out the fishing seen! The little boys were using worms they had found in the fields and catching very small fish. I don't know if they were catching those to eat or to sell as bate for catching larger fish. I just know that it was great! The children sat on the rocks and watched as Emma pretended to fish like the boys and Abby and Lucas ran around the mounds of lava rock. The children are so lovely.

On our way back to the main road, we busted out the suckers and the children went crazy! It was awesome!

I finally understand why Rwandans say, "This is where God sleeps." It is the most breathtaking place I have ever been. I really can't imagine a more pleasant place for Him on earth. It just amazes me that the people of this part of the country can be so full of joy and happiness after everything they have been through. Ruhengeri was one of the hardest hit places during the genocide and yet they thrive. Is it reconciliatoin? Is it true forgiveness? Has God reclaimed this place for Him? I don't know. What I do know is...

God is peace and God sleeps in Rwanda.