Sunday, December 18, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is fast approaching.  Thankfully, Scott and I are all set to go.  I just need to figure out a couple of desserts to bring to the family gatherings.  This year, we'll have four Christmas celebrations and one trip to the "Great White North."

Scott's on break, and it's been wonderful to have some quality time together. He successfully completed his first semester of second year. I have four days to go... but the students are so ready for break. They are getting frustrated with one another (lots of tattling) and have decided they no longer care what I'm teaching.   They were probably ready for break a week ago. So, this week will be a bit rough.

To get us all through the last work week before the holidays, here's a lovely homemade e-card form us. This wasn't some fancy website either.  Scott started from scratch using Photoshop.  Enjoy!


We went and got the kitties their Christmas present: cute sweaters, hats, and scarves.  Yep, we're those people.

I'm pretty sure they were slightly disappointed this Christmas.  Really disappointed (see previous post)


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Decorating: Part II

If you remember from my last post, I was a little disappointed that I didn't have a Christmas tree this year.  I was making do, but Scott must have noticed our house was lacking a little bit of Christmas cheer (or just didn't want me whining on here about not having a Christmas tree). I got home on Friday night from work, and Scott said that he noticed Meijer had a 4 ft. tree on sale for $25.  Obviously, I was pretty psyched. Knowing that we'll be shifting from apartment to apartment over the next few years, a small tree seemed like a perfect choice. So, we went off and bought the tree.

We were slightly disappointed by the extremely small box... but it was a tree. Now, if you remember from last time, Scott insisted that we shouldn't have a tree because we have two little terrors, I mean, adorable kitties, and won't be home much to control them.  But, they were eager to help out.

We bought some ribbons for decoration and ornaments...  (Side note: Ribbons can make surprisingly nice tree toppers if I do say so myself) and got it all set up.   It's really short...and we're convinced it's not actually four feet... but it works perfectly for our cozy little house.
While all our ornaments could be categorized as our first Christmas since they're all new to us, we did need something to add that "special touch."

Our presents are finally all wrapped. :)
While this all looks nice and merry, it is time to give Scott some "I told you so" credit.  While he was very humble, he was 100% correct.  Trees and cats don't mix.  Apparently, they had their own Christmas party while we were sleeping.  I woke up the next morning and counted 15 ornaments on the ground.  Today, we at least lessened the count to 12.

Don't worry, though... tomorrow, I take our little guys to the vet to get castrated. Our tree may look pretty for a while, but I'm pretty sure our kitties will be very angry.  Right now, they are convinced we won't hurt them.  They're starting to just stare back when we try to spray them away from the counters, food, etc. It's pathetic.  They're spoiled.

I'm sure we'll be getting Floyd's glare quite frequently after this week..
On another completely unrelated topic, two weeks until my break and 5 days until Scott will be on break. :) We're looking forward to some much-needed husband/wife time.


Monday, November 28, 2011

'Tis the Season for Decorating

I love Christmas.  My husband wouldn't let me a buy a Christmas tree this year.  We're moving in June.. so the reasoning makes sense.  He also says he doesn't want it because we have kittens.  We're going to have cats for along time, so I'm not letting that be a valid excuse. Anyway, it definitely puts a damper on my favorite parts of Christmas.  (In Scott's defense, he did just let me steal his old tree from his room at his parents.  It's about a foot tall, and was decorated with some sparkly pipe cleaners...).

I love the decorating around Christmas.  I revamped my mom's Christmas tree in high school.  We took away the ornaments made in elementary school (or at least all that she would let us) and added a nice color theme, only white lights, and some silver ribbons.  By the way, ribbons on a tree look gorgeous. I could only find this picture of the tree...from when I got my fancy camera.
 My old college roommate was so into Christmas.  Seriously, I've never seen a family with so many Christmas decorations. By the time she was in college, she already had a 6 foot tree that we eagerly decorated every Christmas.  There were ribbons, ornaments, lights, random Santa Claus decorations, the works.  The Christmas cheer in our apartment was always obvious.

Since I don't have a fancy tree to decorate (except for my lovely 1-footer), I've spent extra time wrapping gifts.  If I'm being totally honest, my favorite part of gift giving is wrapping the gifts.  Of course, I love the smile on the receiving end, but wrapping is so fun! I've decided to share a tutorial on how to get lovely DIY bows.  There are plenty of other tutorials out there for this exact thing, but I'm adding some holiday cheer to my blog.
First, you need scissors, ribbon (I prefer the thicker kind), and a wrapped gift.
Now, wrap the ribbon around the present both "hot dog style" and hamburger style."  I just tapped down my ends, instead of knotting it so that you can add the lovely bow at the end.
Now, cut a ribbon that is about half the width of your original ribbon and about 8 inches long.
Now, you need to circle the ribbon around so that you have about seven or eight layers, depending on how big you want your bow.
This is what it looks like flattened.
Using your scissors, cut two 1/4 inch slits in the center of your layered ribbon, 1 on each side.  Don't cut too deep, or the bow will fall apart.
Secure the layered ribbon with your thin 8-inch long ribbon.  It will sit right at the slits.   I made a double knot.
Tie your bow onto the cross section of your present.  Don't worry, it will cover up the tape at the end.
Now for the lovely bow...
Pull apart the layered ribbon, starting from the inside on each side.  You can move them around to whatever look you desire.
Curl any of the ends so that they blend in with the bow (or use this for any parts that may have fallen out).  
Add the finishing touches... 
And, voila, the final product. :)

To Scott's family, one of these is yours. :)
To my Secret Santa, the other is yours. :)


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Long time no see?

What an odd expression.  If you really think about it, why would anyone phrase something like that? Anyway...

I haven't written a blog in a while.  I'm sure you like to hear excuses, so here goes: Conference time.  For a teacher, that means absolutely no life. My school has 100% participation requirement... so you must meet with each parent, regardless of whether they want to meet (because of that last statement, you get a lot of no-shows). Thankfully, I'm nearly done.  I have one that I'm still waiting for, but we'll get it scheduled eventually.

Then, of course, Thanksgiving.  Being married certainly adds to the to-do list when it comes to Thanksgiving dinners.  However, it led to three delicious meals. :)  I also got to do some cooking/baking, which is always fun.  My favorite new addition to the recipe book is a delicious white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake.  Delicious... but extremely rich. We got to eat a lovely meal at Scott's grandparents', Thanksgiving at my mom's house with Grandpa and Aunt Rebecca (and Scott kicking butt in Scattergories!), and an additional meal at my Grandma's; where, once again, Scott and my team kicked butt in Guesstures. :) Have I mentioned my family loves board games?

Complete Topic Change...
A while back, we went to a Downhere concert with Scott's parents (and sister).  It was a really good concert, so I figured I'd share some potentially new music. First off, the lead singer, Marc Martel is becoming quite popular with his audition for the Queen Extravaganza.  He has quite the voice.
Go vote here! :) 

Don't worry, he's not famous for singing Queen.   They have many albums that could be featured, but I'll just showcase their well-known Christmas song, "How Many Kings":
I really could do a whole four-page blog with songs that I find worth listening to, but I'll let you explore here.  There's a button up at the top to listen to their music.  Do it.

While you're listening, here are some pictures from the concert!
Photo Credit goes to Scott
VIP Passes 

Let me know what you think! :)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fall Festivities

As a teacher, I don't care for Halloween.  At our school, Halloween parties are supposed to last an hour, and the students must bring their costumes to change into. So, if you want them to get changed at school, you need thirty minutes just to allow students to run back and forth from the bathroom to change (with every other fifth grade class).  Needless to say, it's just a hassle.  So, I tried to ease my frustration by just watching a simple movie, allowing them to pass out candy, and I brought in my favorite fall treat: apple cider.  I couldn't believe that so many kids had never had it before.

Other teachers went crazy. Susan, if you're reading, this is for you. Black lights, scary costumes, even scarier contacts (I hate those...), spider webs everywhere, etc. Something that screams, "You're the coolest teacher ever!" ..So, in my shame of disappointing the kids, I promised to at least put a little effort into decorating Christmas.  Besides, Christmas is 10x cooler.... minus the snow.  I'm dreading winter.  I'm sure I'll post more on that later.

Anyway, as a kid, I loved Halloween.  I think I was fairly creative too... looking back I've been a genie, duck, cowgirl, TY Beanie Baby, Oompa Loompa, Cinderella, and many more that I can't remember right now.  I was always determined to never repeat a costume, and not buy one from whatever store was mass producing Halloween costumes.  In fact, all of my costumes were homemade.  Though, I'm disappointed as I go through my collection of pictures and not finding a single digital proof of any of what was said above. :(

I was excited to pass out candy this past year. I've never lived on a street that actually had houses close enough together to go Trick or Treating. I wanted to guess the costumes and see kids. Rather, I saw repeat costumes, a lack of creativity, and greedy kids.  It was very disappointing. This year, however, I'll be at school... probably.. grading papers into the night.  Scary, right?

Anyway, back to the point of the blog... Kyle, our hometown friend (and one of Scott's best men), came up here this weekend, and we participated in my favorite Halloween tradition: carving pumpkins. This year, I tried a new technique where you scrape off the skin.  It was difficult and I cut my finger, but I was proud of the result.  Kyle and Scott had great pumpkins too.

As a side note, Scott doesn't care for Halloween at all.  I was slightly appalled that he had never even carved a pumpkin.  I don't care if he doesn't like Trick or Treating, but I was determined to start this tradition with him. :)

My husband is slightly obsessed with time lapses. We're still in the beginning stages, but now you get to see us carving our super awesome pumpkins.

I completely forgot to do a kitty blog (but Scott beat me to putting pictures on facebook)... but you can see them being hilarious in the video above.

And, the final result:


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekend Excursions

So, Scott and I had quite the weekend planned.  I was (im)patiently awaiting for the weekend to arrive, telling my colleagues and students that I was going sky diving.  Seriously, I think we ordered these tickets last May.  I was ready for it, too. It had been a stressful jumping out a plane seemed like a worthwhile investment.

Doesn't that just look awesome!?  And, Scott, of course:

Since these pictures are definitely very different, I'm sure you can tell that our weekend went a different direction... and that was just Scott's fancy editing.

Yep, the wind got the best of us.  I think I can confidently say that Scott and I have terrible luck.  It happened to be too windy of a day, so we were grounded. I suppose it saved us a drive to Mount Pleasant, and it gave Scott a huge sigh of relief when he realized he had a whole Saturday to study (and watch those Spartans beat the Wolverines!!).   We contemplated rescheduling, but with his schedule and my realization that cold is nearer (tear...), we decided it would be best to get a refund and delay our sky-diving experiences.  It was quite sad, but maybe someday... we were so close...

I think I'll just show my students the first picture when they ask, and see who is the first person to consider that I should have had more protective gear and such when skydiving and ultimately realize the picture was fake... :)

P.S.  Yes, we know... our yard needs some raking (but the neighbor's is I think we're okay).

Much love,

(P.S.S. I know we need to post new kitty pictures soon... I'll try to make that the next blog.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

City versus Country

It's been another long weekend of cramming, with an exam coming up tomorrow.  So, that means a weekend of finding things to occupy my time.

I was happy to have Angelina come up here for the weekend.  We went to an apple orchard, where we went to a corn maze, on a hayride, and had my favorite... donuts and cider. :)  Here are a couple of pictures.
Ha, Keagan clearly didn't understand why Malea was crouching down.

I tried cheating...and even that was hard.  Okay, so I lived in farm-country for almost 15 years...and I still don't see how you can design something like this while sitting on a tractor.

Later, Scott joined us and we met up with my other sister, Anna, and her boyfriend for dinner.  It made for a nice Saturday.

Then... to Sunday. Around 7pm, I figured I should probably do something with my day other than sitting around watching movies from our new 3 months of free HBO service, grading papers, and napping (yep...quite the exciting day).  To give myself some credit, I did go grocery shopping.  Anyway, I decided that I needed to go somewhere other than my couch.

So, I decided to somewhat attempt a run.  Now, I'm not a runner...and anyone that knows me knows that.  I secretly feel very accomplished after running a measly mile.  Anyway, I've lived in Grand Rapids for nearly 2 months, and I still have a phobia of running around in my neighborhood.  It's safe, don't get me wrong.  It's just not what I am accustomed to when running. Since I've started this whole "running" thing, I run on back roads by my parent's house, with the occasional car passing or dog being walked.  City running makes me nervous.  It's the narrow roads.  With all the parking on side streets, I get a little creeped out when a car pulls down slowly next to me, while waiting to drive down the middle of the road.  But, I faced my fears and went out for a walk/run today.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Though, I did learn a few things:
1. Grand Rapids is very, very hilly.  My parents live on "Big Hill Rd." (literally...)... and it does not compare to this. Whatsoever.
2. Country living is a lot different than city. In the country, every car that passes you waves. Any dog walker, stops and asks you how you're doing.  Cities? No.  I tried doing the whole "hello" thing to the first few people I walked past, and they just stared at me...

But, overall, it was a nice experience.  I think it's ridiculous that I faced my fears in October..when it should be cold. But, at least I know it's fine for when spring rolls around. :)

Hope you all enjoyed this gorgeous weather!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Miracle Teacher?

I can't tell you how many times I've heard or read the saying about the many "jobs" of teachers.  And, not to "toot my own horn" but I've learned that they're very true.  We're not only teachers, but counselors, parents, nurses, etc...

However, I think we can say that about many professions (at least those who deal with people daily).  Below, Scott depicted the many different "roles" of a doctor through various sketches: a fixer, a counselor,  and an adviser, all while going home to reflect and handle whatever life brings.  (Isn't he talented?)

Anyway, from a more comical perspective, I would love to hear about this concept from a kid's point of view.   After being a teacher for four whole weeks now (!), I have a feeling that their job description for me would be quite a bit different.  Let me explain.. with real examples from my classroom.  (T stands for Teacher (me!) and S is for the student)

#1 Job: The Entertainer ... also known as the Billionaire.
A few weeks ago, five minutes into my math lesson, I find a note being passed around saying "I'm already bored!" Seriously, you're already bored!? I've been teaching for five minutes! Later, I pulled the instigator aside:
T: "Only five minutes into my lesson, you said you were bored.  What can I do to make it more exciting for you?"
S: "I don't know... we need like video games or something. 
T: "Of course."

#2 Job: The SuperHuman
A student with no papers in hand walks up to my desk (As a side note, I also have many names: Mrs, Teacher, Hey You, etc."):
S: "Hey, I don't get problem #3."
T: "Hey, I have no idea what problem #3 says." 

S: "You know, I'm doing the problems you asked." 
T: "Why don't we go over and look at the book? I haven't had the time to memorize all the problems yet."
S: "It's just a quick question... I moved the number, but I don't know what to do with it now." 

... Trust me, he really didn't want to walk back to his desk.

A similar example:

After taking a standardized test:
S: "What score did I get last year?"
T: "I have no idea.. I would have to look that up in last year's records." 
S: "My last year's teacher could tell us."
T: "Hmm.. she must be better than me.  Did she have a paper in her hand when she told you?"
S: "Yes... but you also have papers in your hands."
...He had a point. I had the papers... just not the right ones.

Last one:
#3 Job: The Relationship Master
[boy, earlier]: "[girl] is bothering me... can you make her stop?"
[girl] to T: "I need to know where [boy's] locker is."
T: "No, I don't think that's a good idea.  Lockers are our own personal space." 
T to [girl]: "Do you like this person? As in more than a friend?" 
[girl]: Yes, that's why I want to put a letter in his locker.
T: "Well, he's not feeling it right now.  I think he wants to try being friends for the time being." 

...All in one job's work.  :)


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fair Week

It has been a crazy week! I worked around 15 hours/day this week.  While the check might be helpful in the long run, my goal for this weekend involves sleep. Lots of it.  The week included getting to school by 7:30ish (at the latest), working until 4 at school, then work at the fair until 10 or 11pm.

For the past 5 years, I've been the marketing director of our local fair. Here, I design their brochures, publications, and website.  In addition, I help out wherever needed, interact with our sponsors, and dabble in various secretarial duties. It's a nice job for the summer and has very flexible hours, so it was perfect over the past summer for finding a teaching job and planning a wedding. I got pretty lucky with the job, as I didn't go to school or have any training whatsoever in website design or marketing (thank goodness for high school business partner connections).

Anyway, the fair could be said to be a "big deal." Our school even gives the students a day off for "fair day," although we teachers had professional development.  Animals and 4-H crafts tend to dominate the week for students.  I had two students gone for the entire week, and a few that were off and on.  It makes this week difficult from a teaching perspective... several students are missing an entire week's worth of learning, while the students that are there are too tired from a late night at the fair with excessive amounts of sugar.

This whole post was just so I could post this Ferris Wheel picture. The Ride Company is using a new "Century Wheel" with LED lights that are pretty snazzy.  When it finally gets moving, you get pictures like these (too bad the Pirate Ship was going at the same time).

Monday, September 19, 2011

2nd Year

So, second year of med school is proving to be pretty different compared to first year.  The most obvious difference is the instructional style. You could argue you that first year was similar to undergrad with just a LOT more studying.  Scott would go to class, have live or broadcasted lectures, and come home to study.  From a girlfriend/fiancee perspective, I would only see him on the weekends and try to avoid or plan accordingly for the weekends before an exam.  For some reason, med school loves to plan exams on Mondays (as if Mondays need more depressants).

Second year has a completely different feel to it. The school has a more independent study approach.  They assign topics/cases and the students are expected to research it.  Class is less frequent (of course, the price is still the same), and the stress has increased significantly with Step I (the first part in the US Medical Licensing Exams) in less than a year.  Ask me last year, and I probably couldn't have imagined that. The exams are less frequent, which makes studying harder.  For instance, his first test had a three-week window. Without any exaggeration, the exam covered a massive amount of 700 pages of notes.  Good for them, but I don't think I could do it.

From a now wife perspective, second year is plenty different as well. Since I'm working and gone all week, I expected it to be about the same.  The hardest part is probably that his studying can't stop just because he hasn't seen me all week or that I'm finally home and free.  It hasn't been too bad so far (though not an easy adjustment).  We do make meals together and play with the kitties, but the weekend before this last exam involved a lot of random projects to keep myself busy for the rest of the time. I got the house finally cleaned, my sister's family took me to a circus, and you readers got a finished blog.  It's just a different lifestyle... that involves plenty of patience and independence.

That being said, the exam went well. We had to put off a lot of things until this coming week (simple going to the store for shoes)... but there's lots of catching up to do.  It seems like med school, no matter what the year, always involves some catching up...either on studying or whatever lies outside of school.
Our twins, however, don't seem to mind the studying.  In fact, they take advantage of the large books.

With love,

Sunday, September 18, 2011

First time reader?

I don't think I've ever actually posted my blog on facebook or any other social media site.  Therefore, after the first "official" post on the updated blog, we may have some first time viewers. For you first time viewers, below you'll find some up to date information regarding where we are right now... since some of you may have not had an update on our lives since... oh, I don't know, high school!?

I'm Selena. I'm sure you guessed that. I graduated undergrad in December of '10 and am starting up my teaching career as a fifth grade teacher.  We're only three weeks in, but I love being in the classroom with my students.  They certainly make life interesting. On the side and in the summers, I am the marketing director of the Centreville Fair.  Today is opening day, so for all you home-town residents, make your way over there.  For those of you not from the St. Joseph County area, the fair is a pretty big deal.  They even give the kids a day off from school! (Not me though... I have Professional Development) This week, I'll basically be working 18 hours/day... School, then Fair.  Busy, Busy, Busy.

He's Scott. While I (Selena), will be writing most of the posts, Scott will pop in occasionally.  In fact, up until now, he's been dominating this blog with his Rwanda experience. Let me emphasize, once again, it's a wonderful and educational read.  If you have time, start at the beginning and relive his experience.  We did have some comments on the blog, but I couldn't transfer them over on the new site. So, to all our former readers, we're sorry. :( Anyway, he's now back to med school.  He's in his second year and has gone back into "school mode," meaning I'll probably update for him.   The first question we usually get about Scott is about his career path and what type of doctor he is planning to become.  Right now, he's not sure.  Maybe Internal Medicine? Maybe something different... When he decides, we'll certainly post it on here.

While you're waiting for the next post, feel free to look at our other pages.  You'll find some more about us (pretty much what I said above), our new little family, and some wedding pictures! :)

With love,

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

New Blog Site!

Welcome to the new blog site! While you're waiting for some new posts, check out Scott's blog below from Rwanda (transferred from our old site).  Happy Reading!


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

If you knew me, and you knew yourself, you would not have killed me.

I think we’ll call this the penultimate blog entry for my time in Rwanda.  I start the 30 hour trek home tomorrow afternoon, and it’s bound to be a rough process.  Here’s to hoping that I don’t get stuck in a middle seat, and that there are no complaints about leg room from the peanut gallery on the ride home from Detroit. Also, I’m under the impression that there’s a certain female waiting for me, so here’s to hoping that she doesn’t mind awkward tan lines, 30+ hour unbrushed teeth, and a face that hasn’t had a thorough washing in four weeks.

Anyway, we’re still here to talk about the past couple days. Yesterday was the first really planned and organized event we’ve had in a while and essentially the last we’ll have on the trip. If you remember back, we kind of started our visit with the Kigali Memorial Center, and we pretty much wrapped up the visit with some more memorial sites.  We first met up with Ernest, an expert on the genocide, following our visit to the Kigali Memorial Center, and we met up with him again as we headed to the church at Ntarama.

The church wasn’t anything fancy; just a long room with pews, on a compound with a one room Sunday school building, an office for the traveling minister, and a garden.  The only real catch was that there were still holes in the walls from grenade blasts.  And the walls and rafters were covered with piles of rotting clothes hanging toward the floor.  And there were skulls and bones on shelves in the back of the sanctuary, with skulls in rows and the rest piled on separate shelves. And the Sunday-school room had a large stain on the wall where the heads of children had been smashed.  It’s actually not an uncommon approach to memorials here in Rwanda, and it’s undoubtedly more effective than just bulldozing the place and tossing up a monument.  We actually visited a similar memorial a short walk from CHUK for the ten Belgian soldiers killed at the beginning of the genocide.  While they have an actual monument set up there, the main power is held in a bullet-riddled building with grenade damage in a corner and clearly threatening messages in Kinyarwanda preserved on the chalkboard. 

The Catholic church in Nyamata had a similar story.  We entered and clothes of the dead were piled on every pew.  The tin roof let in tiny beams of light where grenade shrapnel had pierced it, essentially looking like stars dotting the ceiling.  The barred door to the church showed signs of being blown open, and there were once again blood stains on the wall, with a splatter pattern reaching the ceiling, where the skulls of children had been smashed open.  Churches had been a place of refuge during the bursts of massacres (pogroms) stretching back to the 1950s, but they essentially became slaughter houses in ’94.  Priests even played instrumental parts; in the case of Nyamata, asking people packed into the church to provide their names, promising it would be used to recruit help, but instead turning over the list to the Hutu Interahamwe. 

From a logistical standpoint, I was particularly impressed with the way Naymata was preserved and presented.  The ceilings were covered with clear Plexiglas to retain the effect that the shrapnel had caused, and a basement had been created to house bones and some possessions of those killed. At an even deeper level, serving as a memorial to the thousands of victims of sexual violence during the 100 days of genocide and only visible through glass, lay the coffin of a woman who had been raped at least 15 times, with a sharpened pike eventually shoved through her vagina to her head.  Behind the church were two mass graves, one of which was opened for us.  While the guide explained that one approach to mass graves is to pile twenty-some sets of bones in a coffin and bury the coffins together, this one had rows and rows of skulls and piles and piles of bones, from floor to ceiling.  Using the flashlight on my phone, you could see various methods of death on skulls, from the crushing of a club to the chopping of a machete. 

Outside, Ernest spoke some more on the topic of genocide, particularly the long lasting effects on individuals and society.  He addressed the gacaca court transformation set up to try the hundreds of thousands of accused perpetrators (over the course of seven years, only 3000 people had been tried in court for acts of genocide, so these local courts used for petty crimes/civil suits were converted to help clear up the massively overpopulated prison system).  He also pointed to a woman we had seen sweeping the grounds when we entered the compound, explaining that she did not work for the memorial site but was instead the widow of a man buried there (keep in mind that she’s done this every day for 17 years now).  This led to the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder and its increasing effect on people in the country.  We also discussed the long road ahead of the country, pointing out that there were still death threats written on bathroom stalls in 2001 when Ernest was still in university.  The occasion of Hutu marrying Tutsi is also still somewhat of a rarity, pointing to increased level of education as one thing that seems to alleviate these perceived differences. 

I still contend you wouldn’t realize genocide happened hear less than 20 years ago if you weren’t looking for the evidence, but it takes me back to one of my early blog entries: the country and its people have moved on because they have to move on. There are still plenty of issues lying under the surface, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future, particularly as Kagame nears his term limit.


While the memorial for the Belgian soldiers uses the damaged complex to powerful effect, they also have a nice monument set up.  Composed of ten pillars, each pillar represents one of the soldiers killed on day one, with pillar height reflecting soldier age. 

Unrelated: While not appropriate for the above entry, we had a goast roast tonight.  A couple butchers were brought in, and thehy (along with our guard, Jonas) killed, cleaned, and gutted the goats on site.  We then ate goat brochettes (kabobs) from 6:00-9:00, with a seemingly constant flow of food (when we weren't eating goat, they were bringing out grilled potatoes or plaintains).  It was a really good time and quite the way to go out on the trip.  A number of people from AMU were here, along with Ernest and some others.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mille Collines: Part Deux

So here we are, my last Sunday in Rwanda falling on the last Sunday of the month.  Besides being a special occasion for me (I guess?), the last Sunday of the month is also umuganda for Seventh Day Adventists... and that’s really all I have to say about that.  When I saw a large group of people with shovels and various other tools (basically the same ones we used yesterday), I asked a guy on the bus into town what was going on, and it would appear there’s actually a decently large population of Adventists here.  Suppose that’s your trivia for the day.

Anyway, the group went to Hotel des Mille Collines this morning for an all day buffet poolside.  For 10,000 RWF ($16.67 USD), you get a decently large buffet (with waffles, pasta, hummus, guacamole, brochettes, burgers, etc.) and access to their pool.  With the buffet advertised to run from 10:00 – 4:00, we had the hope that we could cover all of our meals for the day while hanging out by the only pool I’ve seen in Rwanda.  Of course, the buffet ended up running from 12:15 – 3:00 (“Rwandan time” strikes again)... and they didn’t care to do a last call on the food... but it was still a good time, and I feel like I got my fill on the first couple go rounds.  Moreover, they took Visa, which was particularly nice given my low cash reserve (I’m at the point where I’m pretty sure I have enough to get by, enough so that I don’t want to take out anymore money).  So, that was my day.  I ate food and swam in a pool that I’m convinced is so cold they must actually refrigerate it (probably the only pool I’ve been in where it’s warmer to get out and drip dry). 

Other than Mille Collines, we also had the trip back, which seems to always be an adventure.  A couple days ago we tried coming back around what I assume must be when everyone got off work, and there was a massive line waiting for us, causing us to eventually bail and grab a taxi (usually run from $8-10 USD).  Today we tried our luck at a bus stop closer to our location but away from the usual center of the spokes, and it turned out our bus didn’t stop there.  So, after walking back in the opposite direction, we finally got on our bus.  The good news is that, when the bus finally arrived at the last stop near the bottom of our hill, a neighbor who had seen us at umuganda yesterday stopped us in his pickup truck and offered to take us up the hill (30 minutes turned into 5). It was nice and appreciated.  On the way he told us about more upcoming construction projects, including a “university of tourism” and street-paving (looks like people won’t be washing off their tans as much next year).

As for tonight, we had some euchre games going, and I’ve been getting by munching on my staple snack here: Frosties.


For those wanting to avoid the personal-bubble-busting of the bus system or cost of the taxi system (which essentially amounts to people in unmarked cars calling themselves taxi drivers), there are moto-taxis.  These things generally cost around $1 USD to get home, and they are absolutely everywhere... in hordes.  The catch is that they drive like maniacs, bobbing and weaving through traffic which is already iffy to begin with (I've hardly seen any traffic lights, although I have seen a couple).  Moreover, from what I've heard, 70% of traffic accidents involve moto-taxis, and the results aren't pretty.  You'll looking at neurological damage and shattered bones.  But, they're always there if you're willing to roll the dice. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011


So here we are, my last weekend in Rwanda falling on the last weekend of the month.  Besides being a special occasion for me (I guess?), the last Saturday of the month is also umuganda, a day when shops are closed in the mornings and Rwandans are required to do work in their community.  This is essentially what we took part in last week at the AMU near Kibuye (although not officially the same), and we joined in with the one in our neighborhood this morning.  Frankly, we probably accomplished even less than we did while tearing down the building (even with our brick passing expertise), but I suppose it means something that they let us join in.  This time around we were cleaning up a dirt road a ways up the hill from our house, and we obtained some tools to help with the process (probably the dullest of the bunch).  Shovels and hoes tended to be the best at clearing weeds and brush, but I worked with what was essentially a rake (kind of looked like a bent trident) and a machete as dull as a butter knife (likely explains why so many people survived with scars on their heads and necks).  We once again joined in after work had begun, and we had probably finished within an hour.  After that, there was a community meeting held in Kinyarwanda, but we stopped in to say thank you.

After singlehandedly saving that road from certain disaster (possible overgrowth), a group of us decided to walk down to the Rwanda International Trade Fair held in town (about an hour or so walk).  Running for about two weeks, this seemed to be a fairly big deal in town, garnering multiple billboards... but it would probably be comparable to a county fair back stateside.  They brought in a bunch of vendors including ministries of this and that, beer tents, tea tents, people selling everything under the sun (from farm equipment, to bags, to musical instruments), and rickety carnival rides (one of those spinning swing contraptions, which had quite the line).  The one catch was that it was umuganda... and we hadn’t necessarily accounted for that.  Since the expo was a big deal, the general consensus was that it would be open as usual, but it was umuganda... and we waited.  I think we showed up about 11:30, and it didn’t actually open until 1:00.  Thankfully, we were at least let in a little early while most vendors were still setting up, and we went to one of the vendors which was run/managed/something important by a South African.  He gave us some free drinks while we were there and told us they’d be grilling burgers later in the afternoon.  We thanked him and eventually made our way toward the rest of the vendors. 

The good news is that I came away with a fair supply of souvenirs.  The bad news is you definitely win some and lose some in the souvenir game (I feel like my game face breaks down after a while, particularly since this was plausibly our last souvenir day).  Anyway, I walked away from a particular vendor having traded my State hat and still gotten ripped off, but at least it was a fairly fun process, and I bought the hat on sale for $10 a year ago (and it was covered in red dirt/dust by this point).  Also, I took a picture with the guy wearing my MSU hat, easing the pain a bit (I’ll assume picture is worth 1000 Rwandan francs in this case).  Moreover, my HU hat fits better anyway.  And, I’d already lost my sunglasses on the trip, so it seemed fitting that I lose all of my non-liquid sun blocking capabilities (can you tell I’m reasoning through it at this point?)  If nothing else, I’d say there were some wins in the souvenir shopping game to (somewhat) cancel out the losses, and we had a good time at the vender providing free drinks and cheap food.  It turns out that they had a guy from Toronto cooking up cheeseburgers, and I was able to get a double cheeseburger and fries made by a guy who knew how to make a double cheeseburger and fries for $5 USD.  It was a nice respite from Rwandan food, if you could call it that. (I actually like the food here for the most part, but they certainly limit the spices/sodium content, which can be rough on the American palate).  And for the Canadians in the crowd, the cook said he was originally from the Hamilton area, and he had two kids recently graduate from med school, one at McMaster and the other in London.  He was apparently here to open a fastfood joint (I have yet to see one in Kigali) after spending ten years in Siberia opening restaurants. 

So, there’s my day in a nutshell.  Not sure how it got into the nutshell in the first place, but it was probably a slow process if my sense of “Rwanda time” serves me right. 


For no reason other than a lack of new pictures, I'm going to talk about the busing system in Kigali.  For 160 RWF (about a quarter), we can take the half hour walk down our hill and hop on a bus to take us into town.  The buses essentially operate in a wheel-and-spoke approach, with all buses running to a central location "in town" and then running back out. I think the key to keeping prices so low is that their "buses" are really just 15 passenger vans, and it's not uncommon to pack 18-20 people into a bus, including the driver and guy handling the money (record is 21 at this point).  If the bus isn't full when you get on, it's your lucky day.  It's now going to take you 2-4 times longer to get where you want to go as you drive a block, attempt to get passengers, drive another block, attempt to get more passengers, and repeat.  So, if the process is so bad, why do you even use it?  Please see the parenthetical of the second sentence above.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

AMU Stars


Yesterday, we began a sort of AMU doubleheader with members of the AMU Stars, a football team composed of “at risk” kids (based more on home situation than whether or not they have HIV/AIDS).  AMU provides balls, uniforms, and a coach, and they act sort of like a travel team would stateside.  They have a U-10 team, U-13 team, and U-16 team, with the U-16 being based more on “football age” than real age.  (From the sounds of it, it’s common to lie about age in these situations, since many Rwandans come across as young for their age, meaning you end up with some “big kids” in the U-16 age range.)  The teams had games scheduled for this morning, and the intent of AMU was for us to get to know some of the players before having us root them on.

In order to become closer with the kids as planned, AMU set up home visits utilizing three interpreters (splitting us into three groups again).  Prior to heading off, we were provided with one bag of flour + sugar (basically oatmeal) to give to each family as a gift in exchange for letting us visit (this was apparently purchased with funds we raised prior to leaving Michigan).  With bags in hand, we first walked to Samuel’s house, winding through thin alleys between clay houses, and eventually arriving at a tiny three room hut/house with no yard and children collected out front.  We packed into what I suppose could be considered their living room, a space maybe half the size of our bedroom here, with no windows and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling (surprisingly, they did seem to have electricity in a limited fashion).  While only five of Samuel’s siblings and his mother were visiting with us today, his mother had apparently given birth to 17 children, with 12 surviving.   His father was in prison, and his mother worked various day jobs to support the family.  It was a rough thing to see, but the family was incredibly welcoming and talkative while we were there. 

The trek to Frederic’s home wasn’t any easier or straightforward than that to Samuel’s, requiring us to walk down what I suppose was a steep alley with a deep gutter running down the middle (the gutters here are huge, allowing for necessary drainage in the rainy seasons).  Frederic’s house was somewhat larger, at least having a window in the room in which we met, but his father was also in prison, with his mother working day jobs.  While we never asked about why Samuel’s father was in prison, we learned that Frederic’s father had been accused of taking part in the genocide, and he had been waiting for his gacaca trial for three months.  Being that the 100 day genocide took place 17 years ago, this was a bit of a revelation, although not necessarily surprising.  In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if Samuel’s father was in prison for similar reasons.  However, for me at least, it did bring up the question of just how many children have been born well after the genocide, only to lose fathers to prison years after the fact.  It’s incredibly hard to sympathize with men who murdered and are now getting (limited) justice, but I do empathize with children who played no part but are now scraping by as the legal system catches up.  (Keeping in mind that rape was used as a weapon in ’94, a genocide survivor close to our program this summer actually spoke to us about children being born as results of rape during the genocide, and their lives seem particularly difficult, as extended family often disown them and mothers struggle with their own trauma.) 

After the morning visits, I went into town on my own to exchange some money and buy some pop (I generally live on warm water and enjoy some flavor when I can get it).  On the ride back, I sat next to a man on the bus who had a linear scar running from his cheek, through his ear, and to the back of his head, with an additional scar on the back of his neck.  It was just another example of how signs of the genocide survive today and people continue to live on. 

Side note: Yesterday we had a first rainfall since we arrived on July 6th.  

The Games
This morning, we met briefly at AMU before heading off to watch the games scheduled against YOSC  (Youth Sports Contact), which I believe has a mission comparable to that of the AMU Stars program. The field, which was part of three tiered complex, was composed entirely of dirt and had goalposts without nets.  Since the field was built on a hill (as are most things around here), one side of the field was walled off by a steep incline and the other had a steep drop into a neighborhood.  The incline was fair game, and it was treated essentially as a wall would be in indoor soccer.  The decline was guarded by ball boys, and teams took throw-ins if the ball went out on that side.  We were stationed with a horde of kids on the hill overlooking the field. 

We arrived at the beginning of the U-10 game, and it was quickly apparent how much the kids cared about the game (if it wasn’t already).  Granted, I don’t know how many of the kids were actually under 10, but it was still impressive seeing them heading the ball around pulling out moves that I may or may not have been able to do in my “prime.”  The AMU stars won that game 1-0, and on came the U-13 teams, from which we had visited players yesterday.  Samuel predicted that their team would score 3 goals, and Frederic predicted a 4-0 blowout.  Sure enough, their team won 4-0 (they must do some serious scouting here).  Throughout the process, the kids surrounding us started paying less attention to the game and more attention to the muzungus around them.  It’s not uncommon for them to want to pet my furry arms/legs, but today was especially full of it.  They were petting my arms, petting my legs, petting my head, petting my eyebrows, rubbing their faces to my arms... If I had a personal-space bubble it had been popped many times over.

After the U-13 game, we made our way to the shade of a tree with the kids and basically hung out there for the duration of the U-16 game.  There was more mauling and some little games of soccer.  While we were over there, we were informed that we would need to put a team together to play against their U-16 team after the game.  With most of the girls in our group having left for lunch, I think we ended up finding 8 of us to play, and they supplied some players to round us out.  Thankfully, they took it plenty easy on us, and we ended up “winning” after their keeper let a shot through his legs... and a spectator by one of the posts deflected the shot in. 

In the process, I got fried.  I had been getting minimal color at best this trip, likely less than I would have back home, and I hadn’t actually applied sunscreen since my first week here.  However, we were outside much longer than planned this morning, and my attempt to put on sunscreen after I had already gotten too much sun was quickly offset by more mauling and petting (they liked to rub sunscreen off of arms and smell it).  The good news is that I wore a shirt all day, meaning I can still sleep at night.  Also, my face and neck seemed to take the least heat, so I should still look okay in a tux. 

After the game, we went back to AMU for some corn (pretty waxy), some Fanta, and a dance party.  I don’t quite understand the reasoning behind it, but it’s apparently a tradition.  They had kids from both AMU and YOSC there, with music pounding through some speakers they set up... and it was a sweaty free-for-all.  I believe we finally got home around 4:30, at which point I was running on a hardboiled egg, some bread, and Fanta (I was actually in the bathroom while the corn was being passed out).  It was a long day, which was compounded by the girls’ demands to go out tonight (remember that they ate at a buffet while the rest of us ran around a dirt field). So, I’m exhausted.   

Like I said before, my camera is toast.  So, here's a picture of my bedroom.  It's pretty bare-bones, with two beds, two mosquito nets, and some windows.  The mosquito nets aren't exactly the most effective devices, just barely reaching down to the bed.  While the nets at the hotel in Kibuye covered the entire bed and reached the floor, you have to tuck these under your pillow and hope that your head or an arm doesn't come out during the night (the mosquitoes are vicious if it happens).  It's even worse if a mosquito manages to spend the night inside the net.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Today had safari #2 on the docket.  A true safari in comparison to visiting the golden monkeys, we boarded our safari bus at 4:00 AM again this morning and headed to Akagera National Park on the eastern border of Rwanda (by Tanzania).  We once again had Claude the bus driver as well, but this time neither vehicle had a flat (we split ourselves into two groups, and the other group had a flat early in the trip on Friday).  And for those keeping track at home, I have now been to the northern border of the country (Volcanoes National Park), western border of the country (Lake Kivu), and eastern border of the country (Akagera National Park).  Of the three directions we’ve traveled, I’d say this area came across as the poorest, and I noticed that a number of the kids outright held out their hands in a sort of begging gesture rather than waved. (With a mass of kids waving as we pass everywhere we go, it’s likely that a number of them do so in hopes that we’ll stop and give them something, but up to this point begging has been mostly reserved for when we’re walking by some children). 

Anyway, the park is quite large, and it took us 7 hours to get from the southern section to the northern section (a whole lot longer than the golden monkey expedition, which cost twice as much).   From the outset, the safari actually seemed promising.  We saw a bat hanging from the welcome center building, and we saw some baboons, monkeys, and monster storks early on in the trek... and then came the flies.  Two hours of flies.  Constant bombardment of flies.  Biting, blood sucking flies.  We saw a couple fish eagles and some warthogs in what I’ll call the “fly zone,” but it was mostly flies.  These flies could bite through clothes.  These flies also could survive kill shot after kill shot.  They also seemed to revel in the smell of DEET. I was twitchy the whole ride home anytime I thought I felt something, so let’s hope there’s no long-lasting trauma.

After the fly zone, we finally started finding some animals.  We had been warned ahead of time that many of the animals had likely migrated toward the northern end of the park where more water was available (it’s the dry season here), and that seemed to be the case.  Early on in the “animal zone” we saw a number of hippos, water buffalo, and impalas.  The impalas then carried on for the rest of the park (they’re everywhere), and we stopped at a distance from a lake where we could see some elephants through binoculars.  Zebras were another animal in large supply (also everywhere), and we reached a plain with a number of giraffes as well.  Overall, it was a good time, and I was able to borrow someone’s point-and-shoot camera to get a few shots (although they were spread over two SD cards, and my computer seems to only read one of them).  With that said, I’ve decided to share a few pics along with some wikitrivia (I’m going to force you non-clickers to learn something today). 


Impalas: The breeding season of impalas, also called rutting, begins toward the end of the wet  season  in May.  The entire affair typically lasts approximately three weeks.  While young are usually born after 6-7 months, the mother has the ability to delay giving birth for an additional month if conditions are harsh.  When giving birth, a female impala will isolate herself from the herd, despite numerous attempts by the male to keep her in his territory.
Zebras: Zebras have excellent eyesight.  It is believed that they can see in color.  Like most ungulates, the zerba has its eyes on the sides of its head, giving it a wide field of view.  Zebras also have night vision, although not as advanced as that of most of their predators.
Giraffes: Old males are sometimes nicknamed "stink bulls."  There are at least eleven main aromatic chemicals in the fur, although indole and 3-methylindole are responsible for most of their smell.  Because the males have a stronger odor than the females, it is also suspected that it has a sexual function.