Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Kigali theft experience


~From the Bradt Rwanda guide

It’s a little creepy wondering how the people my age and older I see walking on the streets participated in the genocide. Were they the victims or the perpetrators? Did they betray their neighbors? Do they continue to harbor resentment? Is 17 years enough time to heal from the unthinkable?

kagameEqually uncomfortable is the hidden role of dictator the president plays. He’s had a lot to do with the recovery of Rwanda, but no one can speak out against him. He is a Tutsi leader in a Hutu majority. It’s strange to know no one can give their true opinion about the state of things—It will always be positive if asked. He was sued by the former President of Rwanda’s wife, claiming he CAUSED the genocide and was responsible for her husband’s death. I don’t know the outcome of that lawsuit, but that’s pretty scandalous.

People here are shy, soft-spoken and reserved. They keep their distance. We’ve met people and they are friendly, but Rwanda is no Ghana. These people have much more sadness.

People, as a rule don’t speak about the genocide. But when they do they speak about it with a far off look in their eyes:

“I left Rwanda after the genocide and have just now come back…It is so strange how different it is now. I never thought I would feel safe again. Even after it was finished, they were killing the survivors, so we wouldn’t expose their role in the genocide.”


“My father’s entire side of the family was killed in the genocide. My mother moved to Uganda and even though all 10 of her kids are here she won’t come back because she’s afraid it will happen again. She has barely survived…It was my father, even though uneducated, who was good at business…”

But I never thought about how a lot of people who went through those kind of statistics listed above might have literally gone crazy and never got treated for it.

I was sitting at an internet café extremely focused working on a product launch email. The internet café was my last resort after wifi having failed me at two different restaurants and the internet stick having had a glitch. I guess no one ever promised the internet would be fast in the heart of Africa.

A skinny guy who looked about 40 years old (but people look older than they are here) with intense, big eyes started talking to me. At first he was just friendly, exchanging niceties like names. His was Malcolm X. All of a sudden he got up in my face and started talking about how he barely survived the genocide. He was talking fast. He rolled up his sleeve and told me he got the virus-- AIDS. They killed his family. He barely made it across the border with the help of the Tutsi army. He told me he couldn’t get a job because of his health.

I felt very uncomfortable during this rapid-fire speech, as he leaned in close to me and looked around as though paranoid. He asked me if I would buy him dinner.

At this point I really needed to get back to the launch, so instead of taking him to buy food like I might have normally, I gave him 1500 francs, about 3 dollars. He seemed to me as though he was straight up mentally ill, so I decided to help him. I shouldn’t have. Giving cash is almost always a bad idea. It was likely as I was fishing around looking for change that he took my newly bought cell phone.

I didn’t notice my cell phone was gone until I met up with Jacob, who told me he had tried to call me. A guy had answered and told him I was in the bathroom and he was watching my stuff. It had to be Malcolm X.

We have continued to call each other back and forth over the last couple of days. He answers and asks “how are you?” He sometimes calls us back. To us, he is obviously crazy. It wouldn’t surprise me if the whole country is overrun with basket cases. If not basket cases, at least very troubled souls. That’s eerie.

So I have to admit a different kind of safety problem here: the traffic is orderly, the food is cleanly prepared, people are pleasant if reserved, and crime is low. But—the government can’t be classified as stable. It’s one reason I doubt we’d ever want to settle down here for any period of time.

I reported the thievery back at the internet café and they were completely blasé about it. They even knew the guy. It seemed as though pickpocketing were a common occurrence and it wasn’t anything to even make a fuss about.


Rwanda’s gorgeous exterior is hiding her troubled interior

Friday, February 25, 2011

Body Rockin’




In India, many people commented on my weight loss. In fact, one lady at Church, who can’t speak English, managed to ask me “Health?” Someone said that she thought that I must have lost weight from illness. Women in India are all a little rounder and curvier and generally that’s encouraged; it’s the men who are skinny as sticks. I had hoped a little that my weight gain of last year didn’t make me look that different, that no one would notice one way or the other; now that I’ve lost 25 pounds I know better—I look different. I feel different, too. I feel more confident.

I never realized how much being active affects your confidence; but when I think about it, some of the most confident people I know are also people who make sports/fitness a priority.

So I’m excited to continue increasing my levels of fitness.

Beyond getting abs, I have other fitness goals such as doing a full push up.

Going to the gym, using the weight machines, and running a mile daily was giving me results, but very slowly, and there were setbacks.

Jacob, as my personal trainer, has recommended this website to do my training from home when I don’t have access to a gym (which is often)

I’ve already noticed results after only doing it for 2 weeks. It absolutely removes any excuses about not having the right equipment/not having a gym membership. Not only that, but the average daily workout is only 20 minutes long (this week it’s been 10!), and Zusana, the trainer, comes out with a new routine every single day. Which is nice for someone who doesn’t like to “go running”—the seeming default workout of all American women.

It’s really really hard, but when it gets easier it means you’re getting stronger. I definitely recommend it—I feel great.

What makes it extra fun is it’s run by a married couple who have been “married for three years, blogging for two” and who “love to travel and can’t decide where to settle down.” And she’s Czech, so her accent reminds me of my friend Iva’s. If you’re in an exercise rut, check it out.

By the way, she has a great body and dresses the part, but her breasts are fake (she admits).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I had maybe the worst nightmare of my life shortly after arriving in Rwanda.

I don’t remember all of the details, but I remember that …

Jacob and I knew that we had to escape, now.

We got in the backseat of the car. My mom was driving. An armed guard pulled us over to look over Jacob’s papers. “Hey, these are fake—“ he started, so I yelled at my mom, “Go, go, go!” And we pealed out of there and drove to a hiding place where we hurriedly tried to pack, gather belongings, and escape. All my friends and family from home were there…

We got to an area where there was one checkpoint left and then we would be free. I was filled with relief because somehow I knew  there was going to be a happy ending to this story. Like all films should have. Even in my dream I was confident that we would survive…

As all my friends and family bustled about making the preparations, presumably to cross the border to freedom and safety, I walked into a deserted mobile home to use the restroom. Melissa, a neighbor from back home, came in as well. I was joking with her about how I almost forgot to zip up before leaving when she started screaming.

I turned to see countless soldiers running over the horizon. They began to slaughter everyone I knew. I didn’t watch. I urged Melissa to get down. My only thought was to pretend to be dead and wondered if there was ketchup around so that I could smear it on myself to fool them. I laid there, hoping they hadn’t seen Melissa screaming at the window, hoping she wouldn’t give us away now, hoping they would be fooled by my pretending if they opened the door. My mind was blank with fear. I wondered if it would hurt. My mind was not on my loved ones—there was no room for the thought. It was only consumed with fear of the immediate future.

Mercifully, I woke up, simultaneously chilled to the bone and sweating, and I thought: “I think I understand Rwandans a little better now.”

Only for them, of course, it was not a terrifying dream. It was reality.

I grew up learning about the Holocaust, “because it’s important to never let it happen again.” Little did I know, it had happened again, in Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia in the 70s, in Burundi, in the Congo, in Uganda, in places around the world

and here in beautiful, misty, green, hilly Rwanda.

There’s an injustice there.

Let’s stop saying “never again” and instead acknowledge that it has happened again, and it will happen again, so long as there exists ignorance of commonalities and fear of differences in the human heart, and a government which exploits that ignorance and fear,  that mentality of Us versus Them.


Monday, February 21, 2011

My journey with Islam

    I’ve gone on a journey when it comes to how I view Islam.

          First I was ignorant of what Islam was.

                Then I learned a little and I was disgusted.

                       I learned more and I was indignant.

                          I compared Bible verses to show its superiority to the Koran.

                             I saw Muslims and Christians as separate, with Muslims the clear inferior.

                                I became outspoken against it.

I made Muslim friend after Muslim friend.

                                My heart began to soften.

                              I realized there aren’t better people out there than Muslims, in many ways.

           I realized that in most religions, flaws are found, but in most religions,

beauty is found as well.

                         I moved to acceptance for Islam’s flaws..

                   I saw the good Islam has to offer and recognized its similarity to my own beliefs.

              I grew to love the people who practice Islam.

        I now feel a part of my heart is Muslim.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Tabassum and I have a funny friendship.

I don’t recall ever being in the position before as the “corrupting” friend. Yet, with my friend Tabassum of Calcutta, she is one of the most sheltered, naïve 28-year-olds that I have ever known—so I am the liberal, radical, rule-bending one. Well, come to think of it, my Mormon friends probably view me that way as well Smile She is Muslim, a religion more conservative than my own, which is rare.

She makes me laugh.

For example, she asked me, “Do you cover your head when you greet your brother-in-law in the morning?”

I broke into laughter as I imagined wrapping myself in a shawl to be properly attired for Luke. I explained that  women don’t cover their heads in America—not even some of the Muslim women there.

We walked around the park one day, holding hands. In most cultures around the world, it’s very common for people of the same sex to hold hands. She was oblivious that this might be awkward for me. She kept elbowing me and pointing at couples and giggling. It took me a while to figure out that she was scandalized by the physical displays of affection going on on the benches, which didn’t consist of much more than hand holding and sitting close.

I felt obligated to explain to her that in America, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you do those things in public—even unmarried. I told her Jacob and I actually kissed before we got married. She couldn’t believe it. She didn’t know I was capable of such a thing. Somehow she accepted it but it really stunned her. In her mind no one with morals would do such a thing. I tried to tell her that women don’t hold hands in public; men and women do. And it’s all not a reflection of being a bad person. I’m not sure she really understood. And how could she? Her marriage was arranged.

She insists on paying for everything when I am there because I am “her guest.” She probably lives on 1/100 of my salary.

She laughs for a full minute when I describe what poverty in America looks like (because she asked if we had slums similar to India). “We are the American poor!” she keeps repeating (because she has a house and a refrigerator). But not really—she doesn’t have a toilet or a.c. which I imagine most American poor do.

She takes me out to eat at a little hole in the wall, not realizing how unappetizing the fly-infested dishes look to me, and I take her out to eat at the nicest restaurant in Calcutta, not realizing how unimpressed she would be with how slowly the food was brought out.

Precariously tied together bleachers at the circus


Tabassum (in blue) with sisters and mom



The gifts Tabassum’s daughter Humaira, who calls me “Auntie Kalli” so generously presented to me.

Tabassum and I have a funny friendship. But it’s one, I have a feeling, that will span our whole lives.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Most people probably think we’re crazy for going to Rwanda. Anyone who has seen the movie “Hotel Rwanda” knows why. (The assassination of its president, the absolute breakdown of government, the exit of the UN, the mass genocide of 1 million people in 3 months.)

But that happened 17 years ago almost, a generation practically, and it’s one reason I was interested to visit.

The next is because Paul Rusesabagina gave a speech at BYU and I was very impressed by him.

We are also hoping that we will be able to do a gorilla safari, with Dian Fossey’s gorillas. (This depends if we can get the permit in time.)

Finally, it’s because my research showed it’s one of the safest countries in Africa. Safety in a country is actually of prime importance to me. Not only for obvious reasons, but also because as night owls we like to walk around when it’s late, and people in safe countries are generally much friendlier than those in crime-ridden ones.

Rwanda is the safest country in East Africa. I suppose it’s technically Central Africa here, but you hear about Kenya and South Africa as the countries most people visit—and these countries have extremely high rates of violent crime, muggings, and kidnappings. It baffles me; people wouldn’t hesitate to visit Buenos Aires, when I know of no person who has visited the city without being violently threatened, often with a weapon—yet, they wouldn’t dream of going to Rwanda because of its tragic history or Morocco because of fear of terrorism or China because it’s Communist. It’s all about what’s in vogue, I suppose—and Buenos Aires and South Africa are more comfortable/developed than Kigali, sure, but not safer.

Jacob and I base our choices on statistical likelihood of something happening. We’ve been very lucky so far, but honestly, America (outside of the suburbs) is a much more dangerous place than almost any place we travel because of its gun/drug/crime problems.

So, yes—Rwanda. It’s environmentally conscious: orderly, with clean streets, and plastic bags are illegal. It’s slightly boring, even. The downtown area consists of a few shops and one mall that’s nearly all foreign currency exchange booths (and one fantastic, huge, Walmart-style store where you will find every expat in town)

Basketball is Rwanda’s favorite sport, and Jacob has already trained their national team. Here he is getting phone numbers of some local players:

DSC01415 DSC01408

This is the extent of the tiny national gym.


That said, there are a few uncomfortable reminders of the past.

There are men with machine guns on every corner at night, and Hutus and Tutsis look so clearly different even I can differentiate between them. Hutus are shorter, squarer, darker. Tutsi women are thin and elegant, and Tutsi men are tall verging on gaunt.  And we see people constructing things with machetes, which gives a little shiver down my spine because that was the weapon of the genocide as well as the cause of Dian Fossey’s murder.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rahul’s requests

I tutored Rahul, the sharpest boy at Daya Dan, for the month we were there.

He made me a list of countries which Jacob and I should visit, including dates.DSC01401

He asked me to sign and date the document, and to give it to Jacob to sign and date as well.


He also asked me, when I went home to America, to see if there was anyone who could be his tutor for longer, more than a month. He doesn’t like going without tutors, and he doesn’t like switching to new ones all the time. He wants a permanent tutor.

My heart broke a tiny bit for him, so I’m passing the message on:

Rahul, age 14, very smart, would love a permanent tutor.

While I was there this time, another girl came back from Japan who had visited when I was in Calcutta in May. She missed the boys and had to return. So you see, the boys at Daya Dan are very special. It’s not just me who thinks so. Many of the volunteers who visit return again and again. Come and see for yourself.

Jacob came with me one day and was fascinated by the repetitive hand movements one of the blind boys does (wave the hand, touch the nose. Wave the hand, touch the throat). He sat there and tried to mimic it, and the head nun came and watched him do it. Jacob was oblivious anyone was watching him. I burst out laughing when he realized Sister Jonafa was watching him copy the handicapped boy. No offense taken; it was pure inquisitiveness on Jacob’s part.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy birthday Mom

Mom’s birthday is February 13 so I will do a birthday post for her because we are leaving for Rwanda and I don’t know if we’ll be able to talk on the phone.

When I think of the three things that are most important to my mom, I think of family, the gospel, and music.

As time passes, I realize how much sacrifice it takes to become a mom as I contemplate the step myself. My mom truly devoted herself to our family. She tried (and succeeded) to cultivate an atmosphere that was fun and uplifting. She instilled in us a desire for education and to work hard in school. She is always just a phone call away if I need anything.

When I am a mom one day, I hope my kids will be able to say the same.

My mom lives a life very much striving to be close to Heavenly Father. I have never doubted her sincerity. I don’t know how many times as a child I walked in to see my mom praying on her knees.

When I am a mom one day, I hope my kids will be able to say the same.

My mom is probably the most talented person that I know. Actually, I think of her as a creative genius. Although I have not chosen to pursue a full time music career, I will always be grateful for the joy in musical expression and for the ability to be instantly useful when entering an LDS Church building. Smile Really music is an amazing gift that brought me the ability to be hard working, independent, and grasp difficult concepts. I know music is a legacy worth sharing.

When I am a mom one day, I hope to share the gift of creating music with my kids.

I think those 3 things are a wonderful legacy to leave. My mom and I are very different in some ways, but I love and respect her and hope she knows I am grateful for her.


This is the day Mom drove the 350Z across the country because I didn’t know how to drive a car with a shift stick!

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