Letting the light in
on Rebecca in Rwanda (Rwanda), 15/Aug/2013 14:17, 34 days ago
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"Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." -Leonard CohenTen minutes ago, I was standing in front of my old house with 20 children, some balloons and....my good friend Jean-Pierre. I'm kind of floating at the moment. It's been a weird and wonderful 48 hours in Gitarama. Let me try to capture it.I met with my nightguard Emmanuel last night. I met his wife and heard about his 1 year old daughter. It was a very touching reunion where at one point he grabbed my arm, looked me firmly in the eye and said "Thank you, it's because of you that I have this life." I replied that it was because of God, not me, but the gesture and effusive nature of his comment was quite amazing. I do remember meeting him as a shy 22 year old who would not look me in the eye. I do remember the first 3-4 months when I tried to crack into that shyness by any means necessary which meant soccer games in the backyard, badminton, rocket balloons, Frisbee, Jenga and finally Art Club with the kids. I thanked him also for helping me to set up in Gitarama and I referenced the first few months when I was alone in the house. He offered to walk me to my next stop and I let him. Just walking beside an old friend, feeling secure in their presence, is an amazing feeling.Rwanda, as always, is full of high highs and low lows. Yesterday, I took a walk through the market, bought some fabric and took it to my seamstress near my old house. Turning down my path I was flooded with memories of the kids but the streets were empty. I anticipated atleast one or two of them running out but it was completely quiet. Then, a very quick stomping of feet came up behind me- (So...Rwandans don't really run)- and my protective instinct fired immediately (and appropriately) as I had an interaction with a man who was a little "off". He grabbed my arm, he wouldn't let go, he was yammering in kinyarwanda and I tried to take pieces of what he was saying and put them together in a coherent manner. I'd had 4 encounters like this in my previous time here- none of which saw blog air time. This time, although surprising and unpleasant, I didn't panic. I tried to greet him, I tried to reason with him, I firmly told him to let go and 3 times I tried to walk away and he followed. It's discouraging to have this be the first experience back on my familiar street! But after I shook him off, I walked to the seamstress and decided that one bad experience wasn't enough to freak me out. I think all of the training I've done with various martial arts this past year might've helped me with my confidence level.I had fun explaining the skirt design to the seamstress with gestures and drawings. I left knowing I might end up with something completely different than I asked for but that's part of the fun. I met up with Moira, Ken, Annemiek, Tom and Christi and we had a nice meal. This morning, I walked the suitcase of donations up to the children's orphanage. I forgot how far it was! I think it took me over an hour to haul the suitcase up and along the way there was a steady parade of Rwandans coming and going from church and to work. Mama Arlene and I had a lovely visit, she has 17 babies in her care at the moment. It is so upsetting to hear about Jacob who was found abandonned in a ditch and Sarah who was left for dead and brought to Urukundo by police. It is a relief to know there is a place for police to bring them. And quite impressive to see Claudine- the little blind girl who weighed no more than a bag of rice when she was brought there in 2009. When I was here before she was non-communicative, wasn't walking and quite ill. She is now a curious girl with a beautiful smile. Her heart condition was fixed, her eyes are good enough for her to attend school although she is at a lower level developmentally than most girls her age. Mama and I fed the kids lunch and had a nice long heart to heart talk. The orphanage has a school, a farm, a skills centre where local women learn to sew and it continues to grow.Finally, and most recently, I decided it was time for a second walk through my neighbourhood. (No way am I going to let a nasty interaction with a random get in the way of remembering the kids and the neighbours who were so sweet to me when I lived there.) I took a photo of Jean-Pierre with me and I literally walked from door to door and asked in battered kinyarwanda "Hehe?" "Ndshaka Jean-Pierre hano." The first 5 people I asked shook their heads. I saw other kids but none of my Art Club crew. I was a little discouraged and I stood in the centre of the road and said a quick prayer. Maybe they've moved on, maybe it's been four years and I'm not going to see any of them. Then....from the corner of my eye, I see Serge. He was one of the duo Serge and Thierry. He came over, shook my hand and when he recognized who I was went running back into the house screaming "Rebecca! Rebecca!" Soon, Thierry, Gloria, Angelique, Ivan and many more children came. I took out some balloons (yes to induce chaos) and started blowing them up and passing them around. There is literally nothing sweeter than watching a kid chase a balloon and laugh. Still, at this point nobody could tell me where Jean-Pierre was, even the Art Club crew. I was resigned to him being lost to me.That was not God's plan.In the midst of balloons, laughing kids, taking photos and soaking in the moment- he called my name and I turned to see a young man smiling at me. I think my heart just about burst out of my chest! We hugged, I told him I had a gift for him and he filled me in on his news. His father is fine. He is studying in Senior 2 level and his favorite class is biology. He invited me to watch his soccer game tomorrow in the stadium. I cannot believe that we were able to meet and I feel so so blessed to get to see him again. We left the group of kids- who had now grown to 40 and I definitely didn't have 40 balloons so an exit strategy is necessary at this point-and we walked toward the main road. He is no longer the 12 year old boy with one set of dusty clothes. He is a young man, fit from playing soccer and with a determination to speak to me in English. I'm so happy he is in school. I'm so happy he looks healthy. We walked to the main road and I realized that his little friend Fils was not among the group we'd just met. Fils was the one who stood in front of the umuganda group and told them he was not being cared for at home and did not have enough to eat. I remember that moment when such a young boy did such a brave thing and brought his most vulnerable moment before a crowd of his neighbours to ask for help. I asked where Fils was. Imagine this....just as I asked about him, Jean-Pierre turned and pointed down the street. There was Fils, walking with his school bag towards us. We took pictures, I'll upload them soon. Truly there is no sweeter moment than this for me- not seeing the school, not seeing my expat friends. I cared about these kids and they became my pseudo-family for a year. And now, four years later God decided the time was right for us to meet again.When I first arrived I had a chat with my friend Christi about where my head and my heart were. I described it as being in a dark room and standing in front of a door that was open just a crack, letting in a sliver of light. I described that I was nervous to open the door all the way, I felt safer just letting a bit in at a time. It is a metaphor for protecting oneself from being hurt. But the brave person would just swing that door wide open and let their heart be flooded- and their spirit lifted- by the love being presented before them. God grant me the courage to be brave and let the light all the way in.