Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Not Your Normal


Today No.41 is participating in a global giving day, hosted my Mercy House Global, called She Is Priceless. Don't worry, I'm not asking you for money. Yet. I wanted to tell you a story. My story about lack of comfort and convenience and her story about survival. This post is inspired by my amazing (actual writer) friend, Kristen, the founder of Mercy House Global, and her latest post here.

You have heard me moan and complain somewhat consistently on this blog, however I'll be honest and say that I've not always been totally honest. Or maybe I've just not often given you the whole story. What I mean is, I've gotten pretty good at glossing things over, or at least waiting to talk about circumstances until everything is generally fine or on it's way to that. Hindsight is 20/20, it's also much easier to swallow. Perhaps most important to note is, the privilege (and expectation) of a comfortable and convenient life because of where and how I grew up is not at all lost on me. Equally true is that pain and struggle is more often than not the disadvantage (and expectation) for so many I've come to love because of where and how they grew up.

Living in Rwanda, for me, has been far from a walk in the park. I love it, obviously, and I'm (usually) up for the challenge. I wouldn't still be here if I wasn't, but I also have reasons to stay. The purpose that I feel here far outweighs many of the struggles most encounter in the day to day life. And I won't pretend for one second that I and my family don't live here very comfortably, by Rwandan standards. I had a sweet friend in the States, trying her best to understand my life here, ask me one time, "But why is it so hard?" and, well, it's hard to explain. The best answer is, it's not normal. Not one single thing on any single day is normal, our normal. Let me be clear, as a foreigner, living in another country, I don't think it should be normal for me, but the reason I feel like I'm bumbling around so much here is because it IS normal for my friends and my family here. And it's hard. Harder than your normal could ever imagine. Maybe I'll try to talk more about that in a later post, but today isn't about me.

".... I couldn’t wait to leave her home. I didn’t feel brave at all and longed to return to my normal.
But as soon as I thought it, I heard the words thunder in my heart: This is her normal.
I closed my eyes and silent tears slid down my cheeks. My God, this is 75% of the world’s normal.
It’s a truth that’s easy to avoid: a small percentage of us have most of the world’s resources to last a life time, while a large percentage of the world don’t have enough for one day.
It’s so easy to get absorbed in our own little world that we completely miss the way the rest of the world lives.
And I can say it because that’s what I did for a very long time. But I dare you, I beg you to here this truth:
your normal isn’t the world’s normal and the greatest deception is that you believe that it is." -Kristen Welch

I've learned so much from Rwandan culture about faith, joy, contentment, forgiveness, resilience.... I could go on. They are a proud people and they have every reason to be, that's why so often I don't feel it's my place to talk about the hard, especially when it's not my own experience. But the fact that I don't talk about it, doesn't make it any less true. For many families here, some of my very best friends, it's a daily struggle to survive; to have a roof over your head, to put food on the table and have clean water to drink, to find work, to get paid for work.... It's a daily struggle for rights and for justice.... I could go on. But I would rather let my precious friend and colleague, Patrice, tell you about her life and her daughter, Isimbi.

"I love my daughter, Isimbi. She is 8 years old. I got her from violence by the boy who wanted to be my friend by force. I stayed in his house for two weeks and got Isimbi since then! It is very difficult to be a mom. Sometimes, when we did not have anything to eat, my daughter used to ask me, "We will live like this until when?" I used to cry and answer, "Some time things will be better."

My job at No.41 has helped me so much, because I no longer cry! Now, I have people to talk to, I can pay school materials for my daughter, I can pay food, the rent of my house.... It makes me very proud to help myself and other moms fighting to feed their children. This is the unbelievable thing, that a lady like Patrice can do something helpful in the community. It is only the blessing from God! It makes me strong and confident of my future! I hope in future, Isimbi will finish her studies and become helpful in our community too."

Y'all. If you don't have a knot in your throat right now, you may want to check for a heartbeat. Patrice is priceless! For the first time, she is starting to realize that for herself and she is going to be able to pass that down to her Isimbi. Patrice had no idea that by the work of her very own hands she could, not only provide for her family, but come alongside so many other hardworking mothers in her community to help them provide for their families, as well. She is doing dignified work, supporting her little families, as well as the 1000s of families she supports by providing meals to students in her community. For the record, I don't believe that any person or any job gives another person dignity. Dignity is God-given, bestowed on each one of us; however, I do believe that every person has the ability to affirm or deny the dignity of another. Patrice was denied dignity for far too long. But no more!

Today we are joining our hands around the world and raising money for 8 non-profits who exist to empower women in oppression and poverty with She Is Priceless, a Global Giving Day.

We are donning our pearls (#putonyourpearls), taking selfless selfies, giving sacrificially and standing up to say we see these injustices, these desperate women who are begging God for provision so they don’t have to make desperate decisions.

Will you give to one of the organizations we are partnering with–working in hard places, with the most vulnerable?

God doesn’t call us to a convenient life—He calls us to an important life…We aren’t meant for self-gratification, but eternal greatness…and greatness is giving our lives away. -Ann Voskamp

I'll tell you what, maybe giving your life away feels like a big ask for a Tuesday, it's ok. You have the ability to give life with just your dollars. Please don't miss the opportunity. xo

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Knock on Wood

Hi. I mentioned last time that I recently made the mistake of talking about, out loud, with my big, fat mouth, the smooth sailing our little family had been enjoying these days. Not blogging, not to you, but to one of the boys. I actually said the words, "because we're fine. Like, everyone here is fine, and studying, and we don't have any problems."

Well, I'm sure you know what that means.... THAT DAY it started.

First it was Wizzy, our sweet little village pup. We got Wiz from our neighbor a little over a year ago. They have a small working farm and couple of dogs that aren't fixed and, I swear, they have a litter of puppies every... something crazy. One day I found Wizzy rolling around behind the house and asked if we could keep him. Of course we could, once we were able to grab him, and the boys named him after Wiz Khalifa (eye roll). He was a street-hardened 2 month old; he didn't want to be touched, he wasn't afraid to tell you about it, and he gave our big, jealous Prince a run for his money. He didn't know it then, but life with Prince and five boys who are just learning to really care for and about others (especially animals), has a way of humbling you. Also, there isn't a person or a dog (or a chicken, it seems) living in house this that isn't spoiled. What I'm trying to say is, Wizzy grew up to be the kindest, gentlest, most laid-back guy there ever was and he hasn't seen a street or a village, without his leash and his boy, ever since he came to us. Until that stupid day.

The gate at our new house doesn't have a handle yet, so we just kind of wedge it closed and hope for the best. Occasionally, a worker will come through and forget to close it, sometimes the wind blows it open, or sometimes a brave kid wanting to get a look at the "lion cub" (aka Frank) will push it open and run. My heart always stops a bit when I see the gate hanging open. Most Rwandans don't love dogs, especially out were we live, and it's pretty common to stone or beat and kill a dog on site. There have been a couple of instances where Prince and Wizzy have wondered out the open gate, but I have always run out to find them just hanging around the 41shops. Chilling. Until he wasn't.

We have a pretty big backyard area with lots of segmented parts and the whole thing is still basically under construction. It is currently "paved" with killer lava rocks while we wait for them to pour concrete. The new kitchen, half built, stands in front of the current, makeshift kitchen which is one of the stock rooms for the No.41 shops. There is a sectioned off garden, with a half built fence, in the center that is full of beans and that the dogs use as a playground. And the drainage ditch/ "laundry room"/chicken run off to the other side. On any given day, there are people and animals milling around all over and it could be easy to lose someone in the shuffle. Especially our quiet, independent explorer. 

Now that I blabbed all of this, let me try to make this long story, short. It was a Friday night. Angel came home from work at 6p and the gate was open, but she didn't say anything and just closed it. All the boys have to be home at 7p and everyone shuffled off to bed by 10p. Around 10:30p Inn and I were the only ones still up and I went to lock the back door before going to bed. Prince and Wizzy both sleep outside for added security. As I closed the door Baptiste, our guard, said, "Boss. Wizzy, no." I asked Inn if he had Wizzy and he didn't. I checked the front yard and the kitchen to see that he wasn't locked inside. Panic mode came fast and strong. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen him. I calmly (read:not too calmly) woke up Mo and Terry and they walked the compound, inside and out, calling for Wizzy in their own special way. "Weee! Weeeeee!" "Wi-zaaaaard-eeeee!"

In Rwanda, again especially where we are, 10:30pm may as well be 2:30am. There is no one around and pretty much everything is shut down. I felt helpless and just stood next to the road looking side to side, willing the tears not to come, as the boys sat around and talked about what could have happened. And what was bound to happen if we didn't find him soon. I have mentioned before how I try to maintain some kind of balance between loving and caring for our animals, yet being sensitive to our friends and neighbors about how we do that. I didn't want the boys to see me cry, because I've learned they feel out of control, if they feel like I am. And crying means you're not in control (even if you are). I also didn't want to be the crazy dog lady going door to door looking for our pet. So, a few minutes later, we wandered back into the house and I heard their bedroom doors closing, one by one. I went into my room, prayed, and cried myself to sleep.

The next morning when I woke up all the boys were gone. I found Angel in the kitchen and asked her what we could do. She said we should bribe the neighborhood kids to find Wizzy, if they found him we would give them cookies. So that's what we did. She rallied the troops and, for the rest of the day, you could hear kids all over calling for Wizzy. But for another night we went to sleep without him. I slept in fits and had terrible dreams. He always came home in the dreams, but he was always badly hurt and broken and bleeding. When I wasn't sleeping, I was praying.

At 4am on Sunday, I woke up to what I thought was me screaming in my dream, but I quickly realized it was a dog, crying, and heard Terry saying, over and over, "Are you serious? Are you serious?!" I ran down hall and out the backdoor to see them! WIZZY WAS BACK! And he was fine! Sweet Baptiste had been walking up and down the road looking and he found him, disoriented, but trying to come home. He was missing his collar and his tail hung down like maybe he had been hit on the back, but other than that he was perfect. He eventually woke up the whole house with his crying. I don't know who was happier, him or us. So, on Sunday, all was right with the world again. For one day.

Monday afternoon one of the boys decided to "pull a Wizzy", except that it was for four days instead of two and I have a lot less to say about that because I was mostly just furious. Anyway, in case you think it's all fun and games and wifi and music around here, we deal with quite a bit of pain and trauma, too. These aren't my stories to tell, yet they have become my reality and the biggest part of my prayers and the stacks of books I read. Though he did eventually come home, a couple of days later he wrote me a letter and slipped it under my door before he went to school. As I read, I smiled, he was very sweetly apologizing and telling me how much he loved me. And then he asked me to "find him a new home" because he was "so tired of being in this one". That evening, in a conversation, we crossed that hurdle (aka cry for attention), but only a couple of days after that, it was back. This time we were out of options and I gave him what he thought he wanted. His freedom. He packed his things and I let him go. He was mad and so was I. Obviously, the story doesn't end here, he hopes and we hope he'll be home again soon, but it's overwhelming and frustrating and confusing. Heartbreakingly so. For all of us. And yet, the world spins madly on.

So, I would like go on record saying, out loud, with my big, fat mouth, we are not fine. Like, everyone here is not fine, and not always studying, and we have a few problems. Ok, bye. xo

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Sweet Caroline

A couple of weeks ago I introduced Terry to the greatness that is Survivor. He is a little binge watcher after my own heart and we flew through the season. He loved it. I knew he would love the challenges, but I wasn't sure how much he would understand the strategy. I think that's his favorite part. One thing you pick up on pretty quickly on Survivor is that as soon as someone starts to feel comfortable, that's when they should be worried they're next. I made that mistake recently. I opened my big mouth about how good things were and, well....

Today, I thought maybe I would tell about Caroline, one of our chickens, because that feels lighter than life lately and easier to manage. If you follow along on instagram (instastories) you know that Frank tried to eat Caroline last week. I really do think it was an accident. He likes the chickens; we have 7 and a rooster and I think he considers himself their manager somehow. Just, you know, keeping them in line. Their coop is a little house with a full size door and little "doggie" door (ironic) for them to go in and out into a little screened in yard with another full size door. Wednesday morning I went to feed them, as usual, and Frank, who usually takes his place along the side to watch, barged right though the door and straight through the doggie door into the coop! Chaos ensued. The girls all went nutty; flying, yelling, feathers everywhere and I think Frank just couldn't help himself. He grabbed Caroline. I was screaming, trying to get Frank to stop and to keep Prince and Wizzy (our big dogs) out, and all the while Frank just gnawed. And Caroline just laid there.

By the time I was able to get Frank out, I thought she was dead. I wrangled all the dogs to the front yard, but when I came back she was gone. At this point, I was too scared to go into the coop. I had just started getting used to the chickens, working up my courage to like them and touch them. And it was the same for them. This little incident may have put us all over the edge. I called for Angel to come and help me and go in to find Caroline. When she pulled her out, she looked fine but shocked. When we laid her down, her left leg just hung, paralyzed, and as we looked her over we found four puncture wounds, two near that leg and two on her back.

Xavera is our manager at No.41 and often times ends up being like a mother to me here. She is who I go to for local cooking tips, advice on parenting, where to find this or that.... Chicken medical care, apparently. I ran up to the 41shops, fully knowing she was going to think I was crazy and she would want to kill and eat Caroline. On a serious note, I try to be sensitive about my thoughts on animals, in general. I care very much, but it also has to be balanced against the fact that people are poor and many times hungry and don't consider chickens and goats to be pets, but food. And they don't think dogs in tshirts, eating cupcakes are cute. You don't name animals, they are an "it" and that's it. You know? It's not uncommon for children, babies, to sleep on the ground and Frank sleeps in my bed. Prince and Wizzy sleep outside, but even they have beds. They all eat they same breakfast, lunch, and dinner that we do, which is more than many of our human neighbors. For the record, our dogs don't wear clothes or eat cupcakes, but they are spoiled and, what I'm trying to say is, I try to keep that to ourselves for the most part.

So, back to Xavera. I told her I wasn't going to kill the chicken, but I just wanted her advice on how to treat the wounds and what about her leg. She said there is no medicine for chickens, they are only for two things: eggs and meat. "Your chicken will be dead by Friday. If not, it's the miracle." She laughed and left. "Ok," I told Angel, "she's going to see a miracle."

For the first time ever I picked up a live chicken. I brought Caroline inside and started googling how to help her. I flushed her wounds with warm salt water, and treated them with lavender and tea tree oil and a layer of coconut oil. I wrapped her in a towel and carried her everywhere for the next two days. I made her a little bed out of an apple crate and she sleeps on top of the dresser in my room. 

We made it past Friday with ease and these days Miss Caroline does have a bit more pep in her step, but she still isn't walking. We sit in the sunshine and try to keep her socialized with her friends so they don't hate her when she comes back. Sometimes she tries to stand, which requires a lot of wing flappage that I'm getting less afraid of. In case you were wondering, there are threads online about potty training your chicken... Don't worry, I haven't taken things that far, and don't intend to, but that means the poor Mama Kevine (our housekeeper) has been keeping a rotation of her towels clean and I've been keeping her feathers clean, which means regular baths and....blowdrys. There are a lot of things I have done in Rwanda that I never thought I would do. I think maybe blowdrying a chicken tops the list. (Also, she loves it!) 

The boys mostly ignored us, at first. They are very used to me and my crazy ways. But now that Caroline is still here and they can see progress and her personality, they've started to like her. Occasionally, I'll see them wander off into my room and hear them talking to her. Mo calls her Line-y. Yesterday when Chazzo came home, he stopped in to chat with me and was sweetly petting her while we talked. Last night, as he was petting her Terry said, "I want Caroline to be mine." I laughed and said, "What do you mean?" He said, "You can have Elena. I want Caroline." It's my favorite thing to watch them learn to love. Anything.

We each have our 'own' chicken, which really means nothing, because Mo and I are the only ones who care for them. Terry, Angel and I all have girls named after characters on Vampire Diaries; Elena, Bonnie, and Caroline. Inn's favorite English phrase, as in he just thinks it's funny to say all the time, is 'chicken noodle' so, naturally, his chicken is named Noodle. I named Mo's chicken Betty White, but he never could remember it, so I would say, "Mo, what color is she?" Now he calls her White Betty. And I think that's funnier. Chazzo and Richard's chickens are named Ruby and Pearl (which they may or may not even know). And the rooster is named Rob, after our friend who funded this whole she-bang.

So I think that's all there is to say about that. Tomorrow will be one week for our little warrior chicken princess. Hopefully, in another week she'll be walking and back with her crew. If you have any chicken tips or success stories, I'd be happy to hear them. And if you have some extra prayers you'd like to offer up for our little family, we'd take them. xo

Friday, April 21, 2017

One Fat Digression

Let's see... When we left off last time, I had just gotten word from JD that my favorite house on the hill met all of our criteria (electricity, indoor plumbing, at least 5 bedrooms, and on the main road). It wasn't finished yet, but the owner said that it could be livable in the 11 days we had remaining on our current lease, and he just so happened to own the bank of boutique shops directly out front. AND he would rent it all to us for half the price we were currently paying!

  1. a temporary departure from the main subject in speech or writing.

    "let's return to the main topic after that brief digression"

So, just to unpack all of that a little, I don't think I ever seriously considered moving. One, for the last lots of months we had been working on renovating our house. Making it a home. We painted almost every room, hung actual decorations and pictures on the walls, our veggie garden had just started yielding fruit, the flowers in our new window boxes were filling out, we just built a chicken house... And two, moving in Africa. Yeah, I didn't know either.

I realize now that all of the renovations were about me, and about me finding little ways to take baby steps back to myself. The thing is, a long time ago, I couldn't even pinpoint when, I lost myself in the identity of No.41. Which was a bit of a pickle, because I'm not No.41, and No.41 is not about me. Especially in Rwanda, I hide behind it; I hide behind the girls and behind JD because it's not about me, it never was, and it never should be. To put it lightly, they are true heroes of this story and to even stand behind them is my greatest honor. In the States, it's a bit more tricky, knowing how to best convey the life, struggles, and value of one culture while sharing the basic life, perspective, and values of another. All the while, trying to own what's mine, from both sides. I haven't always (or maybe ever) been graceful about it. The second part of that is, in recent years as No.41 struggled, and wrestled with it's own identity, I fell even further into the unknown. "What if this was nothing? Did that mean I was also nothing? If we failed, that could only mean I was a failure." But I digress.

The point is, I was looking for who I was, like really was, and I started to find it loving this house and loving the family who made it a home. I've needed to say that for a long time because I've carried guilt about what you must think, if you've felt my life shift from No.41 to our family. I needed a life, a real life, outside of my work. Outside of my passion. Because I am so passionate about No.41, but I had forgotten. God, obviously, knew that and He was about to take it one step further with a clean slate. Our own space. Their own space. Together. With the girls taking the lead.

Ok, so we weren't looking to move, but with the news of this house and the price, we set the wheels in motion. We gave our landlord a, post-dated, 2 week notice; by the time we told him we were only remaining with 11 days. And we had been advised (wrongly, we would soon find out) that the 2 week notice, even if it was after the lease expired, was already covered in the rental agreement. To put it mildly, the landlord wasn't happy about us leaving and immediately set out on his rampage to get any and every thing he could out of us before we were gone, starting with a lawyers request to pay for the 14 days. There was (a lot) more to come.

This brings us to our next blessing. The money. One of the things smart people probably think about is the cost of expanding a family. Maybe especially when your growing family includes 5 teenage(ish) boys. I've never professed to be smart. I couldn't understand for myself what was happening and if I couldn't, how could I ask for support? The kids came and we (read: He) just worked it out. Somehow we always have what we need. The ladies at No.41 had started working on their own, supporting themselves with local business; which on so many levels is amazing and necessary and what you would hope for, but at the same time, I felt like I was letting them down. (FYI: Healthy Tara knows it was never my job to hold them up.) So, as the ladies moved forward creating and selling their own line of bags and clothes in their community, that was great, but someone still needed to feed these students. And He always did. I don't know why I continue to be surprised at God's provision, but I guess I...am. Your student sponsorships kept us going, a couple of half-hearted fundraising efforts on my part helped a bit, and Fair Trade Friday.... Digression ahead.

Fair Trade Friday, on two different occasions, was the reason I didn't quit. The reason we were able to keep going. They offer the most beautiful Fair Trade products, from all around the world, delivered to your door every month. It's a subscription box, like Birch Box, but way more beautiful and purposeful. I'll never forget crying out in prayer, the first time on my mom's living room floor, that He would just get us through the year. "Send the money and we'll be done." The second time, on the concrete floor of my bedroom in Rwanda. "Why won't You just let this die?!" I'm dramatic, it's a gifting. But seriously, FTF is life changing. And mine is just one of thousands and thousands. One order from them employed our women for the better part of 6 months and, in turn, fed our students when I didn't know how we could. God ordained No.41 and, in spite me and my many shortcomings, He intends to sustain it. One day I'll remember that.

And we're back. To recap, we weren't looking to move. We didn't (don't) have any money. No.41 had been in transition for some time, but had been gaining ground. Well, they had been gaining confidence in themselves, outside of me, and I had been finding myself, outside of them. I think maybe I had been praying, or mostly just pinning on a secret board on Pinterest, about a shop for No.41. They needed to get out of our house. Out of our backyard. They needed a space where people knew they existed. Where they could thrive. Our short term solution was for them to work in the driveway and open up the gates because, again, we didn't have funds and I didn't have the headspace or confidence to ask for it. Turns out, in God's economy, none of that matters. He didn't send the money. He sent the shop. In front of the house. And saved us money. Because He can. And He does. Every time.

So, now, I think there is nothing left to tell, except to finally get to how the actual house is everything I never knew to pray for. To tell you about when I took the first tour how I felt like each room had a name on it, one for each of us. And one room with a bunk bed, just in case. To tell you about the day the girls saw their new shop and were blown away. To give you a little tour. But that's for another time...


P.S. I would love for you go "meet" some of the No.41 crew.
And you should 100% get a FTF box. It would make such a great Mother's Day gift. I just subscribed to the 'Earring of the Month' Club. For myself. (But you can borrow them until I get home, Mom.) :)

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