Thursday, July 19, 2018

Our Little Prince

Hey there.

Last time I was here I went on and on about this hard life I love. I realize it's a fine line; wanting to be seen and known for the truth of what it is, but also wanting to be understood for the choice I made and why I would choose it over and over again. Today I have a really good example of the hard, but just like the regular hard. The stuff you don't necessarily think about, but this is exactly the kind of stuff that wears on you daily (or hourly), just like a dull tapping on the shoulder, that makes the actual hard feel like it might, actually, kill you. 

Please hear my tone in this, I'm not complaining. I'm just telling you a story. I was shocked and scared and now, that it's mostly finished, I'm rolling my eyes and laughing about it.

It started on July 4th, Independence Day in the States and Liberation Day in Rwanda, when Wizzy had finally had enough. He, too, was ready to declare his independence. From the reign of Prince. 

Wizzy, Prince, Frank, Caroline, Bobby
In case you don't know, Prince and Wizzy are our dogs. We also have two more; Bobby, the baby, is a year old and we've had him since he was about 2 weeks old, and Frank, the famous "lion cub" who moved to Rwanda two years ago. Prince came first, as a puppy, about 3 years ago and Wizzy a few crucial months later. Crucial because, in that time, Prince had fully established himself as THE prince of our world. When we found Wizzy, also a puppy but maybe 8 months younger than Prince, living in the garden behind our house, Prince's world was rocked. And not in a good way. Prince has been jealous of Wizzy from the minute they met. Thankfully, Wizzy could not be more laid back and he has always just let Prince's displays of dominance roll off. Until Liberation Day.

Wizzy's first day home

The boys were out of school and Terry and Mo were off doing their thing. Chazzo, Myla, and I were at home because Prince, Wizzy, and Bobby had an appointment that day to be neutered. AT OUR HOUSE. Which, in and of itself, would have been a big event. More on that in a minute. I had just put the baby down for her nap and when I passed through the dining room I noticed all three dogs (obvs, not Frank) in a tangle in the backyard. It's not the first time, it's happened maybe three or four times, but usually the boys can stop it or Wizzy will eventually let Prince win and we all go about our business. No one or nothing has ever been hurt, except my feelings. This time was different. 

First, Bobby was involved and that's never happened. It seemed like he may have been backup for Wizzy but, in the tussle, I think it just became every dog for himself.... I hollered at Chazzo to go out there and break them up. For those of you who know Chazzo, this is laughable. He meandered out the backdoor and ambled over to the dogs saying, barely above a whisper, "Prince. Prince." as he started to reach for his collar. I could see blood, but not the origin of it, and I, screaming at Prince and heartbroken for Wizzy, yelled at Chazzo to get a stick. And then I ran to my room in tears. 

Moses usually handles this kind of thing, or Innocent, not Chazzo and definitely not me. I frantically called Terry, who should have been on his way home, and he didn't answer. Then I called Moses, just because I needed him to know, or because I expected him to magically fly home and stop this, and he didn't answer. Then I went back to check on the fight, still in progress.

Chazzo was hovering around with his stick and Fabi, our day guard, had entered the ring with a broom. Mama Kevine was standing on the sidelines, shouting for Bobby. At this point, I'm equally worried for the people as I am for the dogs. Dogs, as pets, are new to this crew and so often they don't understand cues and body language and just how to treat dogs, in general. More so for the staff than the boys. I told Mama Kevine to come in the house because I didn't want her to get hurt, and she did, but not before storming over the fight, grabbing Bobby by the arm, like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, and dragging him inside. OK.

So, by now we're maybe 3-4 excruciating minutes in to this, it feels like an hour. Bobby, in the kitchen, is limping and crying, his ear is bloody. I have paced every room in the house because I can't bear to see what's happening. I have called the boys 467 times. Chazzo and Fabi are sweating and tired, and Prince and Wizzy aren't showing any signs of slowing down. And then, from the front porch, I hear Prince yelping. I ran to the backyard to see that Chazzo and Fabi have dragged Prince and Wizzy, respectively, to their corners. Panting, fifthly, bleeding.


I put Wizzy on a leash and took him outside the gate; we instantly had a crowd. Kids and adults were staring and barking and hissing... laughing.... This is hard for me, always, but especially then because I was stressed and scared. And, as usual, different. Prince stayed in the yard, Bobby in the house. Ten minutes later, Terry got home, and an hour later the "vets" showed up. They got right to work; using the wooden base of one of the dogs' bed as a makeshift operating table, they brought in Terry as an assistant, and Bobby was up first.

The three dogs, still lunging and snapping at each other, couldn't be together and the vets didn't want the following patient(s) to see what was happing to the current patient, so Chazzo, Fabi, and I were at our various stations around the yard, exchanging dogs as they waited to go or finished up. Look, it was brutal; they did have anesthesia, so there was no crying, thank God, but it was really short lived and, surprisingly they were all up and around within minutes. Maybe you don't know this, I'm no doctor. But if I was, I may have done things a bit differently.... These jokers made two incisions, popped out the goods, and called it a day. Bobby was bleeding all over the place so they, at my insistence, agreed to give him a couple of stitches. The end. No medicine, no follow up instructions... just me, Google, and my oils.

So, there you go. Two things are just weird and random. And hard. They are hard, weird things that didn't happen in my life before I lived in Rwanda. I've always had the luxury of systems, or professionals, things that benefitted me but were completely out of my control. If that makes sense? Here, and maybe it's because I'm different and require different things, EVERYTHING is somehow in my control. Or in the realm of my responsibility. It was that way when we built our house, too. If I asked for something, like an indoor kitchen, and a sink with hot water hadn't been done before, it couldn't be done. Unless I told them how. They specifically asked for someone who "studied electricity" to wire our house because "Tara asks for special things", like multiple outlets in a room.... For someone like me, and I don't even really know what that means, that's hard.

So, back to the dogs. It's been two weeks and everyone is healing nicely. They all had lots of minor injuries from the fight and Prince and Wizzy, probably because they didn't get stitches, had the roughest go with their "surgery", but oils, man. Lavender and Tea Tree fixed those boys right up! If only oils could mend relationships... After some time on leashes and walks around the neighborhood, Bobby was able to be back with both Prince and Wizzy. But, even now, Prince and Wizzy can't be together and we made the heartbreaking decision to give Prince to a friend of ours. 

We don't really have a choice and it probably, truly, is the best decision for everyone, but it's still hard. Prince needs to be the only dog; he needs to be doted on and spoiled and that's exactly what he is going to get. Sameer, from India, is single guy whose dog passed away not too long ago, living on a stunning tea estate not far from our house. The boys joke that Prince is "being promoted" to King. We know that Prince will be loved and we know we'll get to see him and we know that, should anything change with his new situation, he can always come back home. But nothing's easy, right?.....

Last night, Terry and I walked Prince from our house to his new house. It's about an hour walk. When we arrived it was dark and they had dinner ready for Prince. We sat and talked while he ate and then stayed about another hour just to make sure he was comfortable. We mentioned to Sameer that when we moved from our last house, Prince escaped in the night and we found him sitting on our old porch the next morning. We thought that, especially because he wasn't with his family, there was a chance he would try to escape again. When I woke up this morning I fought the urge to call Sameer and  check on him. When I didn't hear anything, I was pleasantly surprised. No news is good news.

At 9am he called. Sameer had gone to work early and couldn't get away. He said that when the house staff arrived, Prince wouldn't let any of them come near him, and that he had lunged at the housekeeper, so she locked him in the room. Obviously, I came immediately. She was fine, but scared, and he was so happy to see me. I put him on a leash and walked him around, introducing him. Once he had settled down, I took him off the leash and she feed him breakfast, the fastest way to his heart. I sat on the porch to do some work and Prince explored the, crazy beautiful, expansive grounds. Prince is used to people, we have workers at our house constantly, but Prince has never been without his people. And he's a guard dog, so I was watching him closely, as there were lots of male gardeners milling around.

After about an hour, it seemed like we had met most everyone. I politely told them to ignore Prince as he ran around, busy, marking all his new territory. And then I heard him scream. I jumped up, couldn't see him, called for him, and he came sprinting through some bushes, followed closely by a staffer we hadn't met who was throwing bricks at him. As I've said, most Rwandans don't do dogs and this man didn't know Prince now belonged here. He was surprised, and stopped immediately, when he saw me. He was saying in Kinyarwanda, "I thought he was from outside" and thankfully there was another staffer close by who explained that Prince lives here now. Prince was fine and that man was apologetic but, you know, just more of your average hard.

So, I'm posted up here, probably for a couple more hours, in this beautiful garden, writing you this blog, hoping that our little Prince will be fine. And knowing that I'm going to miss him so much.

Baby Prince as his foster home
Prince was originally adopted as a gift for Ange when she lived at home

Prince and Innocent share a birthday

 We love you, Princess!! xo

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Becoming Love

“Jesus talked to His friends a lot about how we should identify ourselves. He said it wouldn’t be what we said we believed or all the good we hoped to do someday. Nope, He said we would identify ourselves simply by how we loved people. It’s tempting to think there is more to it, but there’s not. Love isn’t something we fall into; love is someone we become.” Bob Goff, Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People

Muraho, it means hello, because I'm trying to use more Kinyarwanda these days....

headed down to visit No.41
Recently, I had a friend visiting here in Rwanda; a friend that works here and loves here and spends a considerable amount of time here. This short trip was different for her because she wasn't necessarily working, she was here on personal business and, as they say in Rwanda, I profited from that. I spent a few days with her in Kigali and she came to spend a few days with us in the village. One night we were sitting out on the back patio after I had dragged her all over taking photos of artisans and products for No.41. I don’t entirely remember the context of the situation, I remember that I was somehow busy, as in not sitting still and just listening, and she was working, too; she said something along the lines of, “...because your life is hard.” I think my response was a quick, “thank you for noticing and thank you for saying that.” Because I think it’s kind of hard, too. 

And that was it. Since that quick exchange, I’ve thought to myself several times, “I wonder what she meant, specifically?” What was it she saw or experienced that seemed hard....? I mean, outside of the obvious, our house isn't finished or that comfortable yet, and the boys and I weren't necessarily getting along at that time, we have a baby, and crazy dogs.... But all of that is just kind of normal.  And so many times, from the outside looking in, I don't think it seems that hard. My feeling is that most people's perception (or what I convey) is that our life simple and sweet, romantic even. And really, having her here, with me, made everything feel like a breeze, even a certain situation that would have normally knocked the wind (and the sun, moon, and stars) out of me felt somehow easier. Turikumwe, we are together. 

It felt weird to be wondering what seemed so hard, when I constantly feel like I'm screaming under water, THIS IS HARD.

And then I remembered another quick conversation I recently had with another friend, where I casually mentioned, “...because it seems like I wake up most days here at a 7 (out of 10).” Like, I don't just ease out of bed to my coffee and The Today Show (like I would like), it's a bit more abrupt than that. So, I thought you might be interested in a day in our life....

The boys usually wake up and slam every door in the house between 4:30-5a, workers show up sometime around 6a, sometimes they work inside, sometimes out, sometimes both. That work is Myla's alarm clock and she's up around 6-6:30a, just as the boys are leaving for school. 

Thankfully, Terry makes my coffee most mornings when he wakes up, so I can just grab the baby and beeline for the caffeine. I get her situated for breakfast, usually an egg from our chickens (Sarah thought you should know that) and an avocado or a banana, if the boys left her some, and toast, if they didn't. Moses is the last to leave for school and, before he goes, we usually have some kind of meeting with our main contractor about the work going on that day or week and, inevitably, there is always a payment required. Paying $100+ a few days a weeks, in your pjs, before breakfast, requires more coffee. 

Our house keeper, Mama Kevine, arrives around 9a, the same time sister is ready for her morning nap, which sometimes works out and sometimes doesn't. It's not necessarily cultural, especially out where we live, to keep the baby's schedule or to pay attention to the amount of noise going on during nap time. We're (the boys, the workers, the house staff...) still working out the happy balance. 

Motos aren't quite as convenient as a car, especially with a baby, or if you plan on buying anymore more than a sack of groceries, but they are also alot like therapy.
Once Myla is down for her nap, I usually walk up to check in with the 41 ladies and then, unless I have work at home, JD (with his car) and I will head out to run around doing whatever the day calls for, sometimes personal (groceries, power, gas...) sometimes business (artisan partners, materials, meetings....), sometimes both. I usually skip lunch and afternoons usually fly by. Depending on when I get home, Myla has woken up and been fed some kind of potato/bean/veggie concoction and I'll find her cruising around in her car while Mama Kevine works or sitting on the wall outside our gate with our day guard, Fabian, watching the cows go by. She's ready for another nap between 2-3p and I wrap up any work for the day (or take my own little cat nap). Once My is back up, we usually just kill time playing outside with dogs, guards, and chickens until bath and bed around 6p. Then the boys get home, we eat, they do homework (aka chat on facebook), and we are all usually heading to bed between 8-8:30p. And then do it all again the next day.

In case you're wondering, we have a full-time day and night guard. Fabi works 6a-6p and Baptiste works 6p-6a. They have a small house on our property with a toilet, shower, small cooktop, and a bed. Fabi tends to the chickens and the garden during the day and Baptiste, along with the dogs, keeps watch overnight. Mama Kevine is our housekeeper and she works four days a week. MWF she cooks for us and the dogs, cleans the house, and does the laundry. Tuesdays she cooks and keeps Myla so I can work. And Thursdays (and the weekends) she doesn't work at all. It's very common to have house help in Rwanda, as it is fairly inexpensive and provides jobs for those who may not otherwise find them. Plus without conveniences like a dishwasher, washing machine, vacuum.... I would be drowning. Our staff is like family to the boys, Myla, and I, and to our extended 41 family. They take care of us and we take care of them.

So, that doesn't seem so bad. And it's not. It's a sweet life and I get to do it with the sweetest people, but this is a perfect day. A fictitious day. There are no surprise issues at work, or with the local government, there are no delays or dog fights or dead chickens, and all of the parts of our house remain in tact. I visited the 41 ladies on this perfect day, but I didn't do quality control on the same product for a 5th time and lose yet another week of work. The boys are behaving and Myla's not teething on this perfect day. No one needs money that I don't have, no one stole or lied, there is no mile long to-do list stalled out at no.2, yet again. I didn't wait for hours, for nothing. And I probably had a glass of wine before bed.

But that's life. I know that. For some reason, I need you to know that it's hard, like, not always cute babies, and dancing, playing with new product designs, and weekends in exotic places. And I, equally, need you to know that I love it, hard and all, because I know this is where I'm supposed to be and I know the reasons why. Because so many of you have supported me, our family, and No.41 I think it's important to share that I'm constantly working on the healthy balance between allowing myself to be me, which means allowing myself some of the (rare, here) comforts that are so ingrained in everyday life for the typical American, (yes, I know our house is cute and it will get cuter). and allowing my situation to be what it is; to be a true member of this community here, not the queen or the life support, and to be ok and content with where I am and with what we have. I just want to be "normal" whatever normal means in both cultures and sometimes that feels impossible. Hard. It's ok to build a life here. It's ok work quietly and to, boldly, be who He created me to be. I don't get it right very often, but I wake up and try again every day.

I've been reading the new Bob Goff book Everybody, Always. I didn't want to like it because he's just sooo likable and simple. But I love it, because he's just sooo likable and simple. Hopefully, you’ve never heard me call myself a missionary or talk about "my ministry"; it's not that I have anything against either of those, it's just that I really like what Bob Goff has to say about it: "Instead of saying you're a missionary, why not just go somewhere to learn about your faith from the people you find there and be as helpful as you can be? ....We don't need to call everything we do "ministry" anymore either. Just call it Tuesday. ....People who are becoming love give their love away freely without any thought about who gets credit for it. Jesus doesn't need credit, and we shouldn't either. When the heavens themselves declare His glory, He doesn't need our endorsement." 

Becoming love, I like the idea of that and I can feel it happening, mostly because I have so many people who model this love in my daily life. Service, grace, and love. Even if. xo

**Stunning photos by Sarah B. Sasson Photography (@sarahbsasson) ;)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

We Did Some Things


You wanna talk about No.41? It's been awhile....

Last time I mentioned our crew, I told you we were closing our feeding program and were going to be moving in a new direction. Actually, that we were going back to an old direction and we were going to be focusing all of our efforts on the women of No.41-- the reason we started.

So, how's that working for us?

Well! It IS working!

First, you need to know that there has been something in the water around here and we have had a may-jah baby boom! Miss Myla was first, followed closely by Baby Boy Dani, Xavera's son. Vestine and Baby Girl Nadia were next, followed the next day, by Solange and Baby Girl Brigitte. Pulling up the rear will be JD's son, due to make his entrance into the world any day now.

Everyone is doing so great (we finally have our whole crew back from maternity leaves) and the ladies are so excited about all that's been going on. For the first part of the year, they were wrapping up a very large order from our friends at Fair Trade Friday. In April, as our family moved into a new house, No.41 also moved into a new shop. The good news is, it's in a larger shopping center which has meant even more curious customers and clients for them, but the bad news is, it's a much (much) smaller workspace. Which is a problem for us, because we are growing!

We, officially, have added two new women to the team and hope to add a few more, in the next month, who are still in training. We started English classes for the ladies, as well as a handful of men and women from our immediate community, which is so amazing and so sweet and hilarious and wonderful. We also hired a "famous" tailor to come work with the women 3 days a week, to fine tune their tailoring and finishing skills.

In other big news, we have added two new artisans partners who have been working on samples for us; one wood and one weaving. And hopefully another in baskets really soon. I have always known that we have the ability to reach more people, but I've learned that our ladies don't (nor do I) have the ability to do it all. (Yeah, duh.) And so, we're expanding our team without necessarily increasing our load. The main difference between our women and our partners will be that our partners don't work at the shop. Both new artisans have home-based shops within walking distance of where we are and, because relationships are key to who we are and what we hope to see, we are looking forward to getting to know our partners and their families even more. As always, we will be working closely with them to create products within their skill set, but unique to No.41.

I think the last of our big news is that we have have our first American on the payroll! (And we have another one in our sights but, as fate would have it, she is also on maternity leave, so it's probably meant to be;)) Our raddest pal, intern extraordinaire, Lacey Harper, aka Auntie Lace, has started working, part-time, running all of No.41's social media and brand outreach. I, literally, cannot even tell you how good it feels to have that off my plate and to know that it's getting done and being taken such good care of. (I never thought of myself as a control freak, until I became a mom, and No.41 is definitely one of my babies.) Lacey knows our team and our heartbeat and I am so so thrilled to have her on board. Say hi to her, like her posts, she's working hard! Especially today...

Today, we are putting on our pearls! We are honored to partner with Mercy House Global joining our hands around the world, and raising money for 12 different non-profits who exist to empower women in oppression and poverty with She Is Priceless, a Global Giving Day.

With your help, No.41 is working to raise $5,000 to get us over the hump and into our very own brand new shop! With the growth we've already seen and the growth we expect to see, we need a bigger space and one that we can rely on. We've been saving our pennies all year, we have our sights set on the perfect location, we have 50% of what we need, and we need your help with the rest to make it happen! It's so easy! Click here.

So, I think that about does it.... We have a completely random smattering of all new products, from various artisans, coming your way so very soon! Some are already in the States! I can't wait to show you what all they've been up to! And, hey, please consider a donation today, large or small. It means more than you know.

More soon. xo

Friday, March 2, 2018

Even If

Sometimes I don't remember what it was like to speak only English. Not British English, not Kinya-English, just plain English. I'm not fluent in Kinyarwanda, or even close to it, but you learn enough to move around; you use the Kinyarwanda words when you have them, occasionally some French or Kiswahili may be helpful, or you can just pull out the English words that you know are most familiar to your Kinyarwanda speaking friends, and it all just becomes this jumbled mess. So, sometimes I have a hard time remembering what's "correct". 

What I'm trying to get to is, and I can't remember if this will make sense, 'even if' is a full sentence around here. In fact, it's kind of become our unofficial family motto. So much so that I was telling one of the boys that I would like a huge, blown up print of just the words "even if." at our new house. It covers a multitude of topics. For instance, if I make fun of one of the boys clothing selections, I get the duck-face-one-shoulder-shrug, "Even if". (Translation: Even if you don't like it, I know I look good.) Or when someone tries to take my....anything (clothes, perfume, bags...) and I say it's for girls, thinking I could change their mind, and they respond with "Even if!" Not all "even if"s are cute. Some are hard even if you don't like it.... even if it hurts.... even if you're sorry.... even if we're not together.... I love you. Even if.

And now for the point: I got several really sweet messages from people who were worried or concerned about me, our family, our house... and I just wanted to say thank you so much. We are fine. We will be fine. This is our life, and we are so incredibly blessed, even if. 

Maybe you know that I always stumble around talking about callings; I don't know if God called me here, to Rwanda. I think that He called me to Him and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt He met me, here. He has used me and more than that He has changed me and challenged me and grown me in ways I could never put into words. And that hasn't happened because it's been easy. He carries us and He has never, not for one second, not proven Himself to be faithful. Even if.

Life is hard here, that's just reality. It's uncomfortable more than it's not and I think that's often putting it lightly, but I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. Even if I don't like it. Yes, we fight, but we are fighting for something so much bigger than ourselves. And, ultimately, when I can breathe, I appreciate that. I want to be brave with my life. Brave for Him, brave for my family, brave for my friends. And being brave requires taking risks. Looking back over the last 7 years, I can't think of a time that I stepped out in brave faith and came to regret it. (I can think of a few cowardly regrets....) I know that this little blip in time will be no different. Even if it's overwhelmingly difficult, it's more than worth it in the long run. Like, the eternally long run.  

Thank you for caring. Thank you for taking the time to reach out with kind words, support, and prayers. It's never my intention to downplay what's happening, not the good or the bad, because the sweet spot is right smack in the middle. We are thankful more than we could say. xo

PS. We got the final, scary budget to finish the house and we have about a month to raise it and get the work done. It feels daunting and I don't want to use this blog to publicize our personal financial needs, however if you are interested in helping push us over this last hurdle, shoot me an email and I'll shoot you one back with the breakdown.
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