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By this Author: karenanddennis

Gustave waves a paw goodbye

Written by Gustave

sunny 77 °F
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Woof! Woof woof!! Woof woof woof!!! Someone is at the gate. I always bark when a car pulls up to the gate. It's my job. I'm a guard dog, and I have the fiercest bark is all the land. And I bark a lot.

My name is Gustave. I think. I'm not really sure because my people call me a lot of different things — Gustave, Gus, Goose. Anyway, let me tell you about the last year of my life. It's been the best year of my life, but that's not saying much because I'm only 6.

It all started when some new people arrived — Dennis and Karen, I think I heard Ephrem and David say. I went crazy when I heard their van pull up to the gate. Boy they had a lot of stuff. So much to sniff! I hoped these people were nice and would give me lots of chicken bones.


Turns out they were nice, and they did give me lots of chicken bones. And cheese. And bits of pie crust. And some things I didn't care for, like carrots and something called rhubarb. I always made sure I was in the kitchen when they cooked, in case they dropped some tasty morsels.


I like to sprawl out, right in the middle of them. I guess I get in the way because they try to open cupboards behind my bum, but I don't care. I make them work around me. I like to be the center of attention.


They make me work for my attention on occasion. For example, when they give me chicken bones, they make me do tricks first. At first I complied and did each trick perfectly. After a few months, though, I learned that I could slack with Dennis. He gave me the goods even if I didn't sit or did a different trick than the one he asked for. Karen was more strict.

Sometimes I get too much attention though. Like, one time a tiny human came over and he wouldn't stop petting me. I gave him the stink eye.


Living with Dennis and Karen is pretty fun. We have a good time around the house, like that one time we had a picnic in the yard. And when I catch flies. And that one time I convinced them to let me in their bed. Apparently I brought a bunch of mosquitos and dirt with me and they never let me in the bed again.

large_2f14da11-e43f-44de-800f-7a31e4021ad1.jpgCatching a fly


And Christmas! Christmas was so much fun because they gave me a whole chicken carcass. But then they put this stupid hat on me and made me pose for a photo. Ugh. Humans.


We have fun in the house, but sometimes I yearn to break through that gate and explore the world. Whenever the gate opens, I creep up to it and peek outside, dreaming of what lies beyond my land.


Sometimes I become so desperate to get out that I do bad things. One time, I couldn't hold back. When the gate opened, I ran out and attacked another dog just so my owners would have to take me to the vet. It was a real adventure!


Next time I needed to see the vet, for my regular vaccines, the vet came to the house. I couldn't even feel the shot. I'm that tough.


Sometimes I get to travel outside my kingdom with permission. When Thomas comes. I LOVE it when Thomas comes! Oh my goodness, I can't contain myself when I hear his motor bike approaching the house. He takes me on 2- or 3-hour walks three time a week, and it's heavenly. Then, when we return, he gives me a bath, cleans my ears and brushes my teeth. Woowee, I love those days! The only negative is that after my baths Karen won't let me on the couch until I dry off.


After my walks I get really tired. But it's not always just after my walks. I'm just kind of lazy and privileged, so I take lots of naps.


I'm not totally lazy though. Sometimes I help Dennis and Karen work. They stare at these screens that sit in their laps a lot. They call it work. I don't really get it.


Whenever I want to get up on the furniture, I have to ask permission by resting my chin on the couch and wait for them to give an emphatic, "Come on up, Goose!" They think it's really cute for some reason that I'll never understand.


If I'm lucky, Dennis will give me a good ear scratch.

When Dennis and Karen aren't working, they're always talking about their wedding. Sometimes I dream what it would be like to get married.


I had a girlfriend once. Her name was Lassie. We had a litter together, but we never married.


One day she just disappeared and I moped around the house for a while. I think Dennis and Karen noticed my blues.


A few days ago Karen and Dennis brought out all those bags again that they arrived with and tried to get me to pose for pictures. They were wearing these silly matching shirts with their photos on them that say "Have a good day!" They're weird. They also hugged me a lot, which was also weird.


They put all the bags in a car and left. They go away regularly though. I'm sure they'll be back. In the meantime, I'll watch the house as I always do.


Posted by karenanddennis 11:43 Archived in Rwanda Comments (3)

Don't sing in the shower

sunny 80 °F
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Things We Will Miss About Rwanda

  • The vibrant colors. Maybe it's some perfect combination of how the sunlight and storm clouds light up the lush green hills dotted with red rooftops, but somehow the lighting is stunning. And the brightly colored kitenge dresses on the local women against the green hills and brown earth make for extra vibrant scenes.
  • The many people walking outside at all hours, just living their lives — men pushing incredibly heavy loads (200 pounds or more!) on bicycles up hills, women carrying heavy and lopsided loads on their heads and babies on their backs with absolute grace, kids running to and from school in their oversized uniforms telling you "Good morning" even if it's evening.
  • Weather so comfortable you can rely on natural air 100% of the time.
  • Our Rwandese friends who always cherish our friendships, treat us like family, and would drop anything to help us.
  • Specific food items. The little bananas — they're so much sweeter than bananas in the U.S. Carrots (again, they have more flavor here). Passion fruit and passion fruit flavored items, like yogurt and juice. The rhubarb pie that Dennis makes every other day (but who are we kidding, he'll bring that tradition home).
  • Being able to explore other African countries so easily. We were able to make it to many this year: Madagascar, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and the Seychelles.
  • The prices. Forty-cent haircuts. Two large bags of fresh fruits and veggies for under $10. Seventy-cent beers at restaurants. Rent for less than $100 outside of the capital.
  • Speaking what little Kinyarwanda we mastered.
  • Gustav.

Things We Are Looking Forward to About Being Back in the U.S.

  • Food. So many things. High quality meat, period. Our favorite granola and Greek yogurt. Salads and uncooked vegetables in general (or eating them without worrying they might make you sick). The veggie spiraler so we can make zucchini noodles. Bacon — good ol' fashioned American-style fully cooked bacon. And being able to buy all this delicious food in one place.
  • Drinking water and brushing our teeth straight out of the tap. Not being scared to sing in the shower (for fear that some water will get in).
  • Driving. So many things about driving: Time, road rules, safety precautions. We look forward to driving 50 miles in 50 minutes instead of in 3 hours. We look forward to not getting pulled over on nearly every drive outside of the city. We look forward to orderly rules that everyone follows, like stopping at stop signs, staying in your lane, and people actually using their headlights at night. We look forward to driving reliable cars and not being worried that the car will start smoking or the windows won't role up or the doors won't unlock from the inside and you have to roll down your window (if you can) and use the key from the outside to let yourself out of the car.
  • Reliable internet. Reliable electricity. Reliable water.
  • Communicating with colleagues, friends, authorities and strangers with ease.
  • Getting married.

Posted by karenanddennis 10:14 Archived in Rwanda Comments (2)

For a good cause

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Part I - Written by Dennis
Not too long after moving in, I had seen signs in the neighborhood for something called "Talking Through Art" and all I knew was that it had a pictogram of a person in a wheelchair painting a picture. Sometime in November our roommate Ashley invited us to a going away party for a friend of hers that was being held at Talking Through Art (TTA). TTA is situated in a repurposed house in our neighborhood that now serves as a display area and point of sale for hand-sewn baskets, an office for the sale of the baskets, and a basket weaving work area. There is also a small garden and some chickens at TTA. There I met Petr Kocnar, a young energetic man from the Czech Republic who founded TTA. I talked with him for over an hour and learned of how TTA currently works and how he started it.

Talking Through Art works to train Rwandese women with disabilities to be able to make a living by weaving baskets, and in addition to their basket-weaving training, they learn English, life skills, and participate in art therapy. The women are paid an above-average wage for the baskets they make. Their baskets are very high quality, which is especially impressive given their physical limitations — one woman is missing an arm and sews using her teeth in combination with her functioning arm; another woman is blind.

Just after our trip to Ethiopia, I contacted Petr about volunteering at Talking Through Art. He said they were in need of English teachers for the advanced English students and I was glad to hear this as it sounded fun. I was nervous going into my first class -- what would their level of English be? I have no training in how to teach English -- will I feel inadequate? What will I do with them for 2 hours a week? Petr did ask me to have conversations with them for these two hours and to teach through conversation, but what would I talk about?

My first class went swimmingly and most classes since then have gone beautifully as well. I got to know my two advanced English students quite well. Bernadette is a humorous slightly older lady who hates fish but loves ketchup. Lorenze is very eager to learn English and walks two miles each way on a rickety prosthetic to get to TTA. I taught them and several others advanced English and when they were not present I taught basic English. It was not easy -- each time I came home after the 2-hour class I was exhausted. But it always made me happy to teach and gave me a sense of well-being and accomplishment.


Part II - Written by Karen
Volunteering was on my to-do list since I arrived in Rwanda. I didn't manage to do it, at least not formally, until late in the game. My time volunteering was short, but it was sweet. I found a truly deserving organization called Solid Africa. I had known before I moved to Rwanda that the public hospitals are not able to provide food for their patients. It's up to the patients' families to bring them food, but many families live in villages far away from the hospital. Additionally, hospital patients are not allowed to leave the hospital until they pay their medical bills. Both of these facts bother me at my core. The Solid Africa founders must have felt the same way because they work to provide food to patients and also help pay bills and for procedures for the most critical patients.

Right now Solid Africa provides breakfast for about 400 patients at the main public hospital in Kigali every morning, and they provide lunch once a week. I volunteered helping to serve breakfast. The first time I went my job was to hand a role to each patient who lined up in the pediatrics ward, where we set up, with their own thermos' or bowls if they had them. In addition to a piece of bread, the patients received porridge and milk. Another time I went they received porridge, bread and a banana.


All of the food is prepared in private homes and driven to the hospital, according to Isabelle, a generous, hard-working and good-hearted woman who founded the organization. She has made substantial progress in the years she's been doing this work, and she has big plans to continue expanding. She hopes to eventually feed all hospital patients in the country three meals a day, which is why they are building a large-scale kitchen. One day Isabelle took me to tour the kitchen, which should be finished later this year. It was an impressive operation, complete with several large rooms for designated tasks — prepping meat, prepping veggies, disposing of waste, etc. The kitchen has a loading station to pack food trays into delivery vehicles, it has a lift to transport heavy items to the second level, and it has a fantastic view. The majority of the funding for the kitchen came through the first lady of Rwanda's Imbuto Foundation which receives significant funds from the king of Morocco. Isabelle has worked tirelessly for many years to get to this point. Hers is a model that other countries could emulate, and I imagine they will.


Because we genuinely admire the work of Solid Africa, we have suggested our wedding guests make a donation to the organization as one of our registry options.

Posted by karenanddennis 06:03 Archived in Rwanda Comments (1)

Dennis' birthday

Always an adventure

semi-overcast 74 °F
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Something unexpected happens nearly every day in Rwanda. Maybe the door lock breaks, the car explodes, there's a leak in the pipes or the lights stop working (all of which have happened in the last few weeks). Or maybe you see a double rainbow, or bump into a silverback gorilla on a hike (both of which happened to us or a friend this past week). In short, there's never a dull moment. And yesterday was no exception.

It was Dennis' birthday. The morning started out smooth. I was home wrapping up and submitting my report to be reviewed for tenure — a task that has taken the majority of my time this past month. Dennis was out, working at the hospital and then volunteering. After lunch, we had a series of errands to run, including shopping for food and drinks for the birthday party/going away party we were throwing that night for about 30 of our friends. Grocery shopping, and running errands in general, usually takes a long time here, because of those unexpected things that happen. Over lunch we took bets on what time we would return home from our outing. My guess: 3:45 p.m. Dennis' guess: 5 p.m.

We left home at 12:30 p.m. Our first stop — the U.S. Embassy. We had to return our security badges and complete a check-out process as it was our last working day in Rwanda. We had to get to the embassy before 1 p.m. because most businesses close at 1 p.m. on Fridays. That should've been no problem, as the embassy is only 10 minutes from our house, but we got caught up in a traffic jam. We made it right at 1 p.m., just in time.

Next stop — Abraham Konga Collections. Abraham is a jeweler. His shop was mentioned in a recent National Geographic article. We commissioned him to make Dennis' wedding ring. Problem was, he had stopped responding to our messages. I don't think he was being intentionally rude; many interactions in Rwanda are just more successful face-to-face. We're leaving soon, and there was no sign of a ring, so we needed to stop by the shop and talk to him. Unfortunately he wasn't there.

Next stop — Go see Thacien downtown. He was sewing me a blazer and I had to pick it up.

We're on the way downtown and we're driving through a residential neighborhood when all of a sudden we pass by a thin Rwandan man passed out face down on the sidewalk convulsing! I slammed on the breaks and turned on the emergency lights. Dennis leapt into doctor mode, grabbed some gloves from our trunk (we carry a first aid kit for exactly this reason) and approached the man, who was lying in a large pool of foamy saliva and still convulsing. Dennis flipped him over and began to assess him. The man stopped convulsing but was unresponsive and completely stiff. He was still breathing though. Meanwhile, I tried to call 112, which I thought was the number for the ambulance (I learned later that is the number for police, not the ambulance). But it wouldn't work on my phone (good to know). I flagged down the next person to drive by and asked her to call an ambulance. After several minutes the man came to and sat up. He was out of it, but he was able to tell the woman who called the ambulance in Kinyarwanda that this happens to him regularly. He refused the ambulance. He said there's nothing they can do for him at the main hospital. He has to go to a specific medical center that is relatively far away. He said he takes medication for his illness but that he needs an injection and can't afford it. It costs $8. The man slowly stood up and hobbled over to the grass. I suppose he wanted a softer surface to sit on. He was clearly injured, unsurprisingly, since he fell limply flat on the stone sidewalk. We offered to take him to the hospital but he declined. We gave him enough money for the injection and a bus ride to the medical center he needed and left him sitting on the grass. Needless to say, we felt terrible for this man.

Kinda hard to focus on getting my blazer fitted after that! But there was nothing more we could do for that man, so we had to carry on.

After the blazer pick-up, we visited three different grocery stores, as per usual, because you can't get everything in one place. By this time, it was getting late. We had hours of food prep to do for the party. But none of the stores we visited had kale or butternut squash, two main ingredients we needed for our dinner. Quickly we texted Garden of Eden (our go-to moto delivery grocery service) and asked them if they could do an emergency delivery. Thankfully they could. We finished our last two errands and arrived home just before 5 p.m. Dennis won.

We threw on our aprons and got straight to work cooking. We immediately put the beer in the fridge. It wasn't going to get cold by 6:30 p.m., when the party started, but that was OK because many Rwandans prefer their beer room temperature anyway. The next hour and a half was a frenzy of chopping and mixing and stirring and cleaning. We figured people probably wouldn't show up until 7 p.m. or later, but apparently Rwandans don't abide by the "fashionably late" criteria. One of my students attending the party showed up at 6:10 p.m. We weren't even close to being finished cooking, so we put him to work. He ended up taking drink orders all night. I think he liked the job.

One by one the partygoers arrived until we had a house full of friends. Everyone seemed to have a great time — there were lively conversations, singing and even some brief dancing. Dennis was thrilled he finally found an occasion to wear his new custom-made Mutzig shirt (Mutzig is a popular beer here). Everyone raved about the food — a hearty sausage, kale and butternut squash soup and a Moroccan couscous dish — so it turned out to be worth all the prep time. The guests demanded a speech from Dennis, and they sang him "Happy Birthday." He also received a gift, an imigongo painting (traditional art made from cow dung). I received a gift too, a wooden carving displaying unity, from the students whose theses projects I'm supervising. Neither of us were expecting gifts. It was quite touching. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone, knowing it would be the last time we would see most of them. It was a day with a lot of contrast and a lot of different emotions that ultimately left us feeling grateful, which perfectly sums up all of our days in Rwanda.


Posted by karenanddennis 13:05 Archived in Rwanda Comments (3)

Our last Rwanda getaway

(Written by Karen)

semi-overcast 73 °F
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We've been super busy working lately, trying to finish as much as possible before our time in Rwanda is up. But we wanted to take one more in-country trip, so last weekend Dennis, Myles (a medical student who is living with us) and I went first to Butare for some work, then to Nyungwe National Park to go chimpanzee trekking, then we drove up the west coast along Lake Kivu to Kibuye, a calm vacation destination on the lake, before returning home.

On our way to Butare we stopped at King's Palace — one of the place's on our to-do list. It rained the whole two-hour drive but conveniently stopped just after we arrived. We toured the traditional huts that the king of Rwanda lived in at the end of the Victorian Era. The king lived in the biggest hut with his wife (or wives). He would drink banana beer every morning when he woke up and several young women would sing songs all day long in his hut. A separate smaller hut was for the milk girl, who saw after the king's milk. She had to remain a virgin to keep the milk pure. A boy who lived in a third hut acted as the king's guard.


Next we toured the modern house that more recent kings lived in. Finally, we got to see the famous long-horned cows that live here. They are regarded as sacred, so no one drinks their milk. Nowadays they are used in festivals or can be hired for weddings and other special events. The span between the tips of their horns can be up to six feet long.


When we arrived in Butare, we had to hit up the Chinese restaurant for what was my last time (Dennis went back to Butare a couple more times - he made sure to eat there every time). Everyone calls it The Chinese Restaurant, but we realized it has a name — Good to Back Restaurant. I think they forgot the word "Be."


The drive to Nyungwe National Park was beautiful, like all drives in this small, vibrant, hilly country.


We arrived to our guest house just in time for dinner and then hit the sack early. The next morning we were ready at 5:55 a.m., when our chimpanzee trekking guide was scheduled to pick us up.


At least, that's what we thought we had arranged. The guide never showed up. After an hour of waiting and several phone calls, we drove to the ranger station, then to another ranger station across the park. Eventually we got a guide and hit the trail at 8 a.m. We heard the chimps screaming almost immediately after we started walking, but we couldn't find them. We continued to hike off-trail and down a steep hill in the thick rainforest for an hour, where the trackers knew that another family of chimps was hanging out.


When we first saw them, they looked small because they were high up in the trees, but then we found another group in a closer set of trees. We spent an hour and a half watching them scoop something out of the inside of flowers and eat it until they'd exhaust all the flowers on one tree and swing to the next one. We saw about 10 chimps total but spent the majority of our time watching three — a mom with her baby and what I presume was the dad. The single one peed twice while we were there, which is pretty impressive considering they don't drink water and get all their H20 from the trees. My photos of the chimps are terrible, but it was pretty amazing seeing these human-like creatures in the wild.


It was amazing just gazing at them up above until — OW! I yelped at the pain. It was a fire ant. You wouldn't think an ant bite could be so painful, but this one made me bleed! Our guide found several more on my feet and legs. He picked each one up and threw it off me. He knew just how to pick them up, pinching them from the back, so they wouldn't bite him, kinda like picking up crawdads!


After our relatively quick, but steep, hike back up the mountain, we stopped for a traditional lunch of rice, beans, french fries and cooked spinach and then set off for Kibuye. The drive, again, was stunning. I'm really going to miss the gorgeous scenery here and watching all the locals go about their lives, carrying supplies on their heads and babies on their backs and yelling "mzungu" when we drive by.


We arrived to our guest house just in time to get a hot shower and a cold beer and watch the sky turn dark over the lake.


The next morning Dennis and I decided to hire two local young men to take us fishing. We couldn't help but notice the roof of the boat was a giant portrait of the president. First we stopped at "Monkey Island," which we visiting several months ago but didn't see any monkeys. This time, we had better luck. This monkey, named Monkey, ate banana right out of our hands.


The fishing was the highlight of the morning though. We joined some locals and fished off their boat. The fishing poles were long, flimsy sticks of bamboo with a short piece of fishing line tied to the end. There was no reeling in the line. Just grab the little hook at the end of the line, put some nasty little piece of smushed fish head on it and toss it in the water. The fish who nibbled at our lines were all teeny tiny, and most of the time they managed to eat the bait and swim away. But luckily, just one time each, we were able to feel that tug that was a little harder than the others, and pull up a little baby tilapia as the local cheered for us! It was an authentic experience and a fun way to end our last weekend getaway.


The bait and the catch.



Posted by karenanddennis 11:48 Archived in Rwanda Comments (3)

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