Thursday, July 30, 2015

Highlights!

By Hester Bentil

From my last blogpost, I promised to tell you more about my wonderful and resourceful friend Eddie Oketta (EO) who currently manages three businesses in Gulu, Northern Uganda. As much as I want to inspire you by telling you his story, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to share some of my significant moments while in Uganda.

As the saying goes, “everything that has a beginning has an end.”  All too soon, I am at the tail end of my summer internship.  Though challenging, it has been a great learning experience. While in Uganda, I had the opportunity to interact with senior business leaders and influential people, including the Senior Presidential Advisor on African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), Commissioner for External Trade, Ministry of Trade which has been a great leadership development experience for me. You will agree with me that interacting with all these professionals require mental curiosity and the skill of asking intelligent questions while exhibiting high ethical standards.  Having the opportunity to interact with these leaders and establishing great relationships has been deeply gratifying.

Let me give you a background into AGOA and Ministry of Trade.  AGOA is a non-reciprocal trade preference program that provides duty-free treatment on U.S. imports of certain products from eligible sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries. The Ministry of Trade on its part facilitates trade transactions in Uganda. As part of my field research, I needed to engage with senior leaders of both institutions  to gather credible information. Below are some pictures for my repertoire!

Hester and Senior Presidential Adviser of AGOA, Uganda
Hester engaging the team at Ministry of Trade, Uganda

Engaging with the only lady carpenter in Kampala (an entrepreneur currently awarded a Mandela Washington Fellowship for African women leaders to study in the U.S.A, and represented her country on CNN as a woman entrepreneur) has really been a humbling learning experience for me as a woman. With an IT background and deep experience in the creative industry, she spends most of her time teaching and mentoring others as a way of giving back to the community. She is famously known in Uganda for her luxurious high quality furniture and accessories.

Hester and the Entrepreneur

It may seem all fun, but like I did mention earlier, challenging at the same time. One of the challenges had to do with communication gaps which existed due to the language barrier (Nancy Kasvosve, my fellow intern, you are not alone in this). Due to the historical war in Gulu, most of the indigenes had no opportunity to complete their education pursuits, a situation that has partly contributed to their inability to understand and speak English fluently. This made communication with some individuals (other than those in the formal sector) a bit challenging. The worst case always happened anytime I went to the market to shop for food ingredients - I was constantly faced with a communication barrier particularly with impatient sellers, thus spending a greater part of my time on translation. Such a pain!
I didn’t want to end my stay without showing off my WDI-Summer internship cute flag and how athletic I am. I guess, I may be fit enough to compete in the next Olympic Games! As my slogan goes, once an athlete always an athlete!

Confidently showing off
 
Business Director of TMP helping out for a great capture
 
An attempt to touch the sky!
 

You can touch the sky too. I hope you enjoyed reading!

Monday, July 27, 2015

My Language Struggles in Brazil!

By Nancy Kasvosve

I cannot believe it but I am sadly at the tail end of my time in Brazil :(! .  Before this internship, I had never imagined I would ever come to Latin America. Brazil was one of those countries I grew up loving so much, because of my insane love for socce,r and had only gotten a taste of it through meeting Brazilians in college, including one of my closest buddies Bruno. When Bruno moved back home after college,  we never thought we would see each other again but look at us now!

Bruno( on the right), Vinicri and I on the town!
When I applied for this internship, I honestly  did not think I was going to get it. I knew I was a great candidate for it but the one thing I did not have was Portuguese. I was sure if someone else with language skills was as passionate about this position as I am I would lose it to them. Fast forward a few months later, I landed in Sao Paulo having bravely given up an offer to be in my old stomping grounds, Africa, for this novel experience in a new place . Armed with Duolingo and a “Learn Brazilian Portuguese”  audio book, I embarked on my 13 week journey in Brazil.

My first week on the job was already in the deep end of the language struggle. It was a field research week where my boss took me around Sao Paulo to conduct some market research through interviewing various stakeholders relevant to renal services in Brazil. It was a very enlightening week of meeting nephrologists, clinic administrators and patients and hearing their thoughts on how to improve the delivery of renal care in Brazil; it was all in Portuguese. My very first struggles were just trying to follow what was happening around me and trying to stay awake. My boss would be typing notes from the interviews in English in her laptop while I looked over her shoulder and tried to follow the conversation.   Even though I did not have language skills, my boss still had me at the interviews to observe and give a fresh perspective to the things that may not be in the discussion and I followed along trying to figure it what it is I should be looking out for.  By the time we got to our second week of interviews, I was armed with some vocabulary I had been amassing and a good sense of rapport with my boss for following information  such that I actually learnt a lot in the field. 

My social interactions have the more entertaining Portuguese struggles stories. 

My coworkers love to tell everyone the story of how a guy came to talk to me at a bar, and of course I masquerade as Brazilian through the first  3 sentences of exchange, with my flawless oi, tudo bem! His next words, " Voce muito Linda..."
 I replied "Não, meu nome é Nancy..."
My friend who had overheard the exchange was cackling in the background.  Turns out, Linda is one of the many Portuguese words that mean beautiful, but it is also a popular  name of a person where I come from. So while this guy was calling be beautiful, I thought he was saying my name is Linda, and I replied, no that’s not my name, is Nancy! Oops.

Then there is the story of my first date.

I am single, and an avid online dater and so are Brazilians with way more apps than I knew in the US. I guess in a city of 11 million people, you cannot have enough ways of meeting people. My first date  though, was a riveting experience. I had started texting with this one guy, in English, who within a few days asked me out to dinner. I complied and showed up on a Sunday evening at this restaurant in my neighborhood. To my dismay, my date did not speak one word of English in person! After my Portuguese vocabulary pretty much finished at tudo bem, and a handful of other phrases, I started thinking of ways of  escaping what was surely going to be a terrible date!  He sensed my unease and convinced  me to stay and it turned out to be a really sweet and “normal” date, that was conducted entirely on google translate. We chatted about normal date things, like our jobs, families and the things we like to do. He even had some good critical thoughts on healthcare in Brazil and he gave me a first glimpse into how normal people experience the massive government funded initiatives that hold up the  Brazil healthcare system.   We downed a couple of beers and laughed and spend two hours together,  all entirely on google translate.  The people sitting around us must have been thinking why these weirdos keep turn their phones to each other haha. Oh well do what you gotta do.

Then there was the time I went to my first Brazilian music party.
 
Friends on the dance floor and beyond
It came  in the form of an invitation to a country club from one of new friends,  Maiara.  She sent me  a few youtube clips to clarify she meant  Brazilian country music and I loved it! The music was very relatable and felt like salsa, except Brazilians dance to it a little different in a series of fascinating swinging moves they call  sertaneja! It made for a fun night of, a live band, caipirinhas and picking up the swing of  Brazilian girls! One thing though, except for my immediate group, noone else in that place spoke English, like I tried to chat people up to no avail. I then lost Maiara somewhere between the bathroom and the dance floor and I went into complete panic mode about my surroundings. A combination of the three caipirinhas I had enjoyed as well as not having heard one word of English in 5 hours, drove my brain into frenzy. Where was Maiara, what happened to her, what if something happened to me and I had no way of communicating it, and nobody understands me ? What if I get into a cab alone and I do not know how to communicate where my home ?  When Maiara reappeared 5 minutes later it felt like forever. The language struggle was more than real that night! 

Me and my work friends at my birthday lunch!
Over the summer I have however gotten to embrace my language struggle. Duolingo was actually a big help in filling up my vocabulary so much that I could understand what people are saying to me even if I cannot reply in full sentences. I became good at a few survival phrases, and my co-workers find in hilarious when I spit out my elementary Portuguese at random times of conversation. On the flip side, I have been a local celebrity at the office. Everyone wants to go to lunch and coffee  with me to practice their English and I am a landmark in the office for where stuff  is, ohh  my desk is two down  by the girl who does not speak any Portuguese. The biggest lesson from my language struggles have been patience, having some and appreciating that of others. Most Brazilians have been willing to help me understand things and I have had to learn to patiently learn and listen to them.  Most of all communications comes in many shapes and forms. I have gotten by with a buoyant personality,  a little Portuguese, a lot of sign language, a lot of reading body language and of course, thank God for technology, google translate cue my date! 

I cannot wait to invite myself to all the Brazilian events back at school to show off my new dancing moves and my Portuguese :)!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

You are Welcome

By Puneet Goenka
(This post was typed up two weeks ago but is being posted now)

It’s been the same drill every day, irrespective of whether I meet an influential Government official from the Ministry of Health or a community health worker at a tiny health center outside of Accra.  I sit down, make sure my phone is on silent, take out my notebook and pen, and hear the words “You are welcome” with a 5 second pause that follows.  If I took too long and fumbled to find a pen in my bag, I would hear it a second time, “You are welcome” – same tone, same patience, same warmth. 

Taking the term quite literally, Ghanaians I met didn't wait for you to be thankful to welcome you into their space.  And so even though I know a formal thank you isn’t expected or required, I’ll say it anyway.

Thanks for being so warm – literally and otherwise
Coming here from Johannesburg where winter was setting in it was good to feel the heat and humidity.  The cloudy, rainy, humid weather was perfect and was a good consolation for missing out on Bombay’s monsoon season back home.  And if the rainy weather is coupled with deliciously giant mangoes, how could I not be happy and content.

Peacocks hanging out outside the hotel

Roadside lunch
But beyond the weather, people I met in Ghana exuded a warmth that was genuine.  I was invited over to join a group of strangers at a restaurant when they realized I was dining alone.  A few Government officials didn’t shy away from putting their hand on my shoulder while chatting with me (this may seem as an invasion of personal space from a U.S. perspective, but from another perspective it signals affection, friendliness, and cooperation).  Colleagues made sure I knew about all the vegetarian food options around work so I don’t struggle to find lunch.  The kids and security guards around my apartment building got a cab for me, helped load my suitcases in the trunk, said their goodbyes and saw me off as though I were a close friend or family member.

Thanks for being so safe
Not that I am recommending it as common practice or even common sense, but my ground level apartment door would inadvertently stay unlocked every third night.  I’d step outside for something, come back in and forget to lock the door before going to bed.  That’s how safe I felt.  After safety and crime always being at the back of mind thanks to the endless warnings I got in Johannesburg, it was a great feeling to roam around freely again – not worrying if my wallet can be easily flicked or if my phone is too prominent in my pocket.

I felt safer in Accra than I have in some large U.S. cities.

Thanks for being so fun
It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the beach, waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store, or traveling on a bus – dancing just seems to be a way of life.  If you hear music, changes are extremely high that someone around you is being not-so-subtle about swinging their hips, moving their hands, or tapping their feet rhythmically.  Even though I didn’t partake in it myself, it was fun watching people be so carefree and comfortable with themselves. 

But I know saying thank you is not the Ghanaian way of doing things, so I’ll just end by saying, you are welcome. 

Slave prison/dungeon at Cape Coast

Learning how to cook Ghanaian food

Republic Day at Labadi Beach
 

Monday, July 20, 2015

On Breasts, Talking to Strangers, and Other Things My Mother Taught Me.

Julio Villasenor

Have you ever thought how cool it would be if our eyes had little cameras that could capture moments and the emotion behind them? This is something that I find myself wishing for lately. Imagine it.

Blink. The image of a five year old boy with the biggest smile waving to you when you pass by as he carries a bag full of branches bigger than him on top of his head. Blink. The joy of seeing a truck that has been bouncing you around all day being loaded with the mill necessary to make porridge. Blink. The wonder of driving through fields on the back on a bike on a night so dark yet so full of stars that it feels like the sky is a giant black snow-globe that has been pierced by thousands of tiny needles. Blink. The warm feeling of seeing a sea of little six year olds in their school uniforms run towards you to shake hands and sometimes hug your legs. Blink. The sense of peace as you watch sunrays and clouds play hide and seek behind rows of endless hills. Blink. The awkwardness of having a stranger’s breast pop out. Blink. Having another stranger pop out a breast. Blink. And a third one…

Ok. Wait. My little eye-camera wish hasn’t happened and those last blinks might need some explanation. After all, this is not that kind of blog.

As I mentioned in my last blog I have been going to Health Care Centers to understand more about the healthcare system in Rwanda, implement a small market survey and meet the women that participate in TIP’s programs. Meeting these women is always a fun experience. I especially enjoy watching how women handle and carry their babies. In Rwanda women will bend forward from the waist, balance their babies on their backs and then drape a piece of cloth over them, tie the blanket in the front and proceed with their daily lives. The final effect is like a small strapless backpack with a little doll head popping out of it. Sometimes they’ll also tie a blanket around their necks use it as a cape Superman-style to cover their babies.

I was in a HC watching the woman in front of me do this simple yet elaborate baby wrapping dance when the toddler next to her started pulling at his mother’s skirt. The mother, who was midsentence, grabbed the baby by the arm, quickly placed him on her lap and nonchalantly pulled out her breast for some baby casual dining open-air style. All of this without the slightest pause in the conversation she was having.

So what do you do in this situation? Do you politely turn the other way? Make eye contact followed by a slight “good job” nod? Stare into space? Ask how you say “bon appetite” in Kinyarwandan? Pretend something super interesting just happened in the opposite side of the room and turn around? I was tempted to go for this last option but suddenly all the children started pulling at their mothers who did the same exact thing the first one had done. No corner of the room was safe, I was cornered by bare breasted breastfeeding mothers… It was a feeding frenzy…

The only thing is, I was the only one that was freaking out. The rest of the room went on with the conversation they were having despite the fact that half of them where flashing each other. Once I realized that the skies weren’t falling and that what was going on was absolutely natural I actually started seeing the beauty in the scene and was slightly embarrassed by my initial reaction. You see, I am in Rwanda to help a business that is focused on fighting malnutrition by giving people fortified porridge, but what if not a mother’s milk is the original fortified food? What best way to fight malnutrition than by breastfeeding? And if we are really getting poetic, what best way to strengthen the bond between a mother and child?

I guess at this point I should acknowledge that my mother is a card-carrying member of La Leche League, a group dedicated to supporting breastfeeding. I should also say that my amazing wife breastfeed our kid even past the point at which it was no longer “socially cool”, which I have a feeling is now sadly around the three week mark. So, if anything, I now question when and why breastfeeding became uncool in the more “modern” world. Don’t you think it’s a little bit strange that, as a society, we are obsessed with super foods but whenever a mom super-feeds her baby people in the room get super uncomfortable?

Anyway… food for thought……

But now that we are sort of talking about families, let me tell you the quick story of how I spent father’s day this year.

The designated Sunday found me slightly hung-over (another story) walking around Nyabugogo (the taxi-van/bus station) looking for my ride home. I met a driver who recognized me and pointed me to his taxi-van. As I approached it I noticed that the vehicle was already very crammed and the only remaining seats were those in the first and second row next to the door. Not the best seats because sometimes the taxi will pick up people on the way back to Ruli, if the taxi is full (which it always is) and you are in one of the aforementioned seats, people WILL seat on you. So, not feeling up to the task of potentially being a stranger’s cushion I asked the driver if there was another taxi leaving soon. He replied in the negative and so started an exchange that was partly English, partly French, partly Kinyarwandan but mostly hand gestures the objective of which was to get me in the taxi-van.

The driver, though friendly, was adamant and so I did what any self-respecting modern day person would do: I pretended my phone rang and somehow conveyed to the driver that it was going to be an important and long call. Once the taxi-van drove off I finished my imaginary conversation and started looking for a new ride. I soon found one, mostly empty, that was waiting for passengers, so I took a seat in the corner of the very last row. While waiting for the taxi-van to fill up, which took about an hour, I had the pleasure of regretting the previous night’s beers, so when the engine came alive I had a mixture of happiness at the prospect of finally getting home and dread at the road that would get me there.

The taxi, as always, was crammed to the point at which I marveled that I wasn’t fluent in Kinyarwandan yet simply by virtue of osmosis. As I pondered these thoughts I made eye contact with a girl sitting two seats away from me who had been looking at me inquisitively. She told me her name was Leopold and asked me what I was doing in Rwanda. This sparked a small conversation about me and my family so I brought out my phone to show her pictures of my loved ones. Before I knew it the phone was taxi-van public property; as it went through different hands people started commenting on the pictures they saw and asking me more questions. The woman sitting in front of me started having some form of argument with her husband; an argument that was resolved when she grabbed my hand and, forgetting that it was still attached to my body, pulled it forward to show her husband, seated in the row in front of her, that there was a ring on it.

The rest of the ride home was a taxi-van conversation on family, marriage, porridge, kids, the economy, health and several other subjects. Everyone chimed in, everyone laughed at my broken Kinyarwandan and everyone shared something about themselves. It was dark when we made it back and as I walked home I reflected on the amazing father’s day gift I had just gotten: I had boarded a taxi full of strangers and, by sharing pictures of my family, by the time we got to Ruli I got out of a taxi full of new friends.  

Hide-and-seek
Loading our truck with the hammermill


How much life do you see in these two pictures
 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Get Outta Town - Because There's More to Life than JUST Work!

A lovely accommodation while hitching to Livingstone 
By Samantha Madden

This post is dedicated to those throughout Zambia and beyond that have brought a sense of cultural awareness to me. To those that picked me up from an intersection and gave me a lift, taken me in their village for a hot meal, and shared stories among stories (with many awkward laughs in between due to the language barriers!).  To the family in a town outside Siavonga that served me up my first plate of local nshima and enticed me to eat with my fingers, to the South African couple who let me ride in the back of their truck bed for over 250 km and wished for nothing in return, to all the babies and local children that let me run and play and act like a total kid again, to all my fellow travelers I met passing through and kept me awake on long bus rides, and mostly to this beautiful country and continent for confirming what I thought may be the truth- it’s hands down my most favorite continent I’ve visited yet. (And that’s saying a lot since I only have Antarctica left on the list!) 


Women on the way home from the market


Though we envision what our summer or internship may look like from afar, once your feet are on the ground, once you take that first breath of African air, or get in your first taxi, or have that first glimpse of children running through the streets playing with makeshift cars made out of trash, you know that what you envisioned and what you’re about to experience are two very different things.

Push-Toy made out of garbage
Look at that excitement!






Victoria Falls- Livingstone, Zambia
South Luangwa National Park
I’ll be honest. I don’t want to leave this place- at least not anytime soon. I’m mesmerized by this country and its people. I want and need to see more. I need to travel across more borders, have more thoughtful conversations with people that have come from other developed countries and settled in these stunning places, squish myself in more mini-buses between a mother, child, goat, back of rice, and sack of tomatoes, and mostly just feel alive and genuinely happy. It has now been 3 months since my last latte from Starbucks, my last pedicure, my last transaction with a credit card, my last trip to the mall, my last double chocolate chip muffin from my favorite bakery in AA and honestly… I don’t miss it!  Sure, there are nights when I miss my bed or my family or friends or would kill for a proper coffee but in reality the need for all those things seems so distant once you’re immersed in a culture like this and I’d like to hope and think and pray that I don’t forget this feeling when I get home. Oh, and last thing- Africa I will be back for you. I don’t know when or where or for how long, but I won’t forget you…ever! Thanks for the experience J Sorry for all the pictures, but I TRIED to pick out my favorites and it was just so hard!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Of ZAMs & SMAGs in Zambia

Hello my fellow WDI interns!

Hope that all of you are thoroughly enjoying your experiences thus far, wherever you may be J     As some of you may or may not know, those of us in Eastern Africa have been dealing with quite the energy crisis and as the weeks go on it seems to just get worse and worse- there are points in the week when we are without electricity and water for far over 48 hours, and while it certainly makes things more difficult for us on the project, the strain and demands that it places on the local individuals can be certainly be seen and felt by all.

This summer I was given the opportunity to work with Africare Zambia. We began work on a three year project that aims to demonstrate high-quality entrepreneurial Zambian Maternity Homes (ZaMs) and evaluate if the model is operationally and financially sustainable, thereby improving equity of maternity access care for the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in the Lundazi and Mansa Districts in Eastern Zambia.

Phase I of the project was completed late last year and with additional funding from Merck and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, phase II was able to build upon what research and data analysis was obtained from phase I.  Maternity homes, or residential dwellings located near health facilities where women in the late stages of pregnancy can stay to await delivery and receive postpartum services have been used previously in a variety of settings as a 'geographic bridge' to overcome distance and transportation barriers that prevent women from receiving obstetric care in a timely manner. Unfortunately, implementing maternity homes tend to be small-scale, unstandardized, and ultimately failed to be responsive to community needs.
 

Preparing food in a make-shift area outside a local birth clinic (a current establishment that will be upgraded) in the Lundazi area, Eastern Province of Zambia.
The initial weeks of my summer were spent gaining an insight into the organization of Africare itself and getting myself familiar with where the project currently stood, who I would be working alongside, and what tasks I would most dedicate myself to. Certainly before I came to Zambia I had ideas and visions about what this work would look like, but truthfully once you’re on the ground it almost feels like you are a part of it all because we’re such a close group of colleagues.  Rightfully so, the IT individual can easily be connected to our financial director, who’s then tied to all of us, on the ground or not.  So, it became clear to me that though I would have certain objectives and tasks, I would become very familiar with the logistics of everyone’s part on the project very quickly.

Recently we wrapped up solidifying what exactly our ZaMs accountability structure would look like- see below.  Ideally we wanted to construct it such that it is not only sustainable in the short-term with us on the ground, but that once we depart, the oversight and management of such facilities (ZaMs) continue to operate in efficient manner.

You’ll see in the red box where I most dedicated my last month of time to:  Maternity Home Committee, ZaMs Caretaker and ZaMs Coordinator. You’ll see that the community-supported ZaMs model is accountable to the community and to the government through the Ministry of Community Development and Mother and Child Health (MCDMCH).  Additionally, the Maternity Home Committee is made up of 6-10 community-elected representatives from Neighborhood Health Committees, health facility staff, Safe Motherhood Action Groups (SMAG) members, and traditional community leaders who will make up the governing structure of each ZaMs.  Our hope is that this structure promotes government recognition of ZaMs as an integral part of the health facility.  We believe that incorporating MCDMCH and local government throughout the implementation period will in turn lead to a seamless transition to full government oversight post-project.  Long-term operational and financial sustainability is essential to the success of the ZaMs model thus much of our time is devoted to these two topics!

Women waiting outside another clinic we are going to use as a foundation for another ZaM
3 women we spent quite a bit of time with discussing things like cultural acceptability to the ZaMs, the importance of local women involvement in the project and our ideas for financial sustainability and their thoughts
Next blog post I’ll share what we’ve accomplished thus far regarding the financial sustainability initiatives this project will employ.
 
Cheers!

Posted on behalf of Samantha Madden

Beatitudes of the Disabled

Posted by Rebecca Baylor

Adapted from Beatitudes of the Aged
By: Jacqueline Colaco
Blessed are they who do not shun me
Just because I have a disability
Blessed are they whose concern for me
Goes beyond pity and charity
Blessed are they who make me feel
That I should be given an equal deal
Blessed are they who think I should be
Given a chance to develop the skills in me
Blessed are they who encourage me
To overcome the embarrassment of disability
Blessed are they who don’t hide me away
Just because I am different from they
Blessed are they who because I am blind
Don’t also think I have no mind
Blessed are they who do not balk
When I dribble all over or struggle to talk
Blessed are they who are patient and kind
Knowing it takes time to work things in my mind
Blessed are they who looked away
When I was clumsy at mealtime today
Blessed are they who put themselves out
To include me too in what they’re about
Blessed are they who give me way (in a queue)
Knowing I can’t stand as long as they
Blessed are they with a cheery smile
Who stopped to chat for a little while
Blessed are they who see in me
A person of WORTH & ABILITY
Posted on behalf of Rebecca Baylor.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Continue my Quartz

Shukun Ma

Previously on "Thousands of Experiences in the Country of a Thousand Hills,” I rambled about my experiences in Rwanda, a picturesque landlocked nation. Before I realize, two months has gone by. It was time for me to continue my Quartz journal. (Quartz is a digitally native news outlet. I like the style.)

Before that, I have to say “don’t underestimate yourself! You will never know what you are capable of!”

By saying that I mean I am really surprised that I have been having the exactly same lunch for five days a week in two months. This comes from someone from China where there are countless food choices and one could possibly not be able to try all in his entire life.  I believed that I would at some point get sick of it; however, the reality is quite the opposite: I still have the craving for the same every day when it’s approaching noon.  Oftentimes, the thought of it is enough to make my mouth water, even at the moment of drafting this blog.



Now, my rambling starts:

Protest like a party!
In my limited knowledge and experience about protests, there are usually a mass of angry people holding signs and shouting slogans. I was surprised by how “merry” the protest was weeks ago in Kigali.

It happened when Rwanda’s General Emmanuel Karenzi Karake, the 54-year-old director of the country’s intelligence services, was arrested in UK as he is wanted by Spain on charges of war crimes, which date back to the 1990s. 

Hundreds of Rwandans gathered in front of British High Commission, demonstrating against the arrest and demanding his release. It was one-minute walk from where I stay; therefore I witnessed the entire process.

At the initial stage, there was the anger part that fit my “stereotype” of a protest. I remember that it lasted at most a day before it turned into a “party” after they set up a whole set of stereo on a pickup.  In the following three days, they played upbeat local music and danced to it or occasionally sang local songs.  24 hours non-stop. 

I am a big fan of dance. Whenever there is music, my body can’t help moving. It is like a reflex. When I was at the site, I encountered dilemma between my body and mind. My body had this urge to swing but my mind strongly forbid such move, shouting to my body that it was not a joyous occasion and that their dancing did not mean I could do the same. As a foreigner, I kept reminding myself that I have to be sensitive and respectful. One night, some bottles of beer with a friend relaxed my mind. On my way back home, my body beat my mind when I passed by the “party.”  I joined them and danced together with the protesters. They cheered.


















Met someone beyond my imagination!
What if someday, someone you can only read about in tales showed up in front of you?
Growing up, I always heard of stories about a human child raised by a wolf, a bear or other animals.  To me, it was an entertainment like reading Tarzan of the Apes.  It rarely occurred to me that it is actually happening in real life, until the moment when an 11-year-old boy was sitting next to me in a bus, gazing at me with the purest smile I have ever seen.

Being a foreigner, I have gotten used to the intensive stares from local people. This gaze from the boy was different which made me want to meet but at the same time avoid.  I felt there is definitely a story behind that gaze I want to know but I am not sure if I could handle.  A little bit chubby, unusually dark in skin color and in white T-shirt and pants, he kept talking to me in a language which I was not sure whether it is a legitimate language.

I turned to my colleague sitting at the other side of me, asking for help to understand what was happening.  To my greatest surprise, she told me the boy was raised by a gorilla and was found and brought to human society two years ago.  He grasped the skill of walking upright not too long ago and is now learning to speak human language. What's more, he only wears white.

My colleague did not have a clue of what he said either. At every stop, the bus driver teased him by calling him “gorilla.” I doubted he could understand that. What he did was smile and talk in the way that only made sense to him.

After I asked more people about him, I knew that he was left by his parents in a forest during genocide as his parents believed that it was the only possibility that the baby could survive.  He did and I believe he is happy.

My little best friend!
So far, I have talked nothing about my work.

The company I am interning at is Nuru Energy, a social enterprise based in Kigali. It offers off-grid solutions to people living at the base of the pyramid without access to electricity.  The job involves a lot of trips to villages which is my favorite part. There I met with local villagers and tried to understand the impact Nuru has brought to their life. (Check out the FB page and "Like" it: https://www.facebook.com/nuruenergy?ref=hl)

Most of families in rural Rwanda are still struggling with basic needs.  Kids are wearing tattered clothes and walking barefoot on dirt path and in mud. Many of the households are able to afford one meal a day.  

I met this kid, Blaise, my little best friend, during one field trip delivering lights to families.  Like other kids, he was curious to see a Muzungu (foreigner or white people) and greeted me after morning classes. Later, he came back. Sitting beside me, he tried to talk to me with the basic English he knew. Communication was not smooth or effective. In the entire afternoon, he followed me wherever I went. He always tried his best to strike a conversation, even though I could not know how to respond. Sometimes he just stood or sat with me quietly as company.  He was shy but smiled a lot. Not like some kids, he did not approach a Muzungu to ask for something. From the occasional talk, I felt his strong curiosity and longing for knowledge about the outside world, even his country’s capital Kigali which he had never been to. Many villagers joked about us being best friends already.

It seems true on some level. It was not long and we did not talk much, but somehow I felt like we had known each other for long. From what I understood, he wants to be a nurse when he grows up because he wants to help people. 

Before I left, I gave him my phone number and UM name card. Since that day, he has been texting me through WhatsApp using different people’s phones. (That’s the case: many people don't have electricity but they have mobile phones.)

I know that someday I will come back to that village and meet my little best friend again. I know that someday I want to take him to Kigali, to United States, and to China.