And That Is a Wrap! Goodbye 2020!!

Just like any other year, my husband & I spent Christmas 2019 with my family upstate NY & New Year’s with his parents in the midwest! We usually rotate holidays with our families every year, which works perfectly for us. While neither of us is known for New Year’s resolutions & such, still, we felt hopeful & looked forward to 2020, and our 1st wedding anniversary celebration which was around the corner (mid-January). We celebrated it in Palm Springs, CA, with a plan to do a proper celebration the following month in Hawai’i. Palm Springs was a lot of fun, and definitely much warmer than our northern neck of the woods, especially in January!

As we had planned, in late February, we were finally on our way to Hawai’i. It was an exciting moment especially for me since it was my first time in HI. We first touched down at the Honolulu International Airport, on the main island of Oahu, to reach our connection via Hawaiian Airlines. The Honolulu airport & its surrounding reminded me so much about Rwanda’s savannah in the Eastern Province! Shortly after, we were back up and on our way to the beautiful Island of Kaua’i, which is the most northwestern part of the Hawaiian archipelago, and landed at the Lihue Airport.

What beautiful & breathtaking views, water, mountains! It was just as I had imagined, and more. We stayed in the northern part of the island, Princeville. And of course we did as any tourist would do: we drove around the entire island (from Princeville to the north western part, Waimea), visited water falls, Lighthouses, Canyons, hiked rainforests, spent most time at the beaches, of which Kaua’i has in abundance, and not crowded at all. It was a breath of fresh air.

While there, the temperatures were between 70-80s which was fantastic, especially for a tropical weather girl like me. The southwestern part of the Island, Waimea, known for its black sand beaches, was especially warmer and less windy from my experience. The sun tan at the beach there was just what we needed!

As our stay was coming to the end, unfortunately, the pandemic was also making its headway & getting worse by the minute. Looking back, we wished we had extended our stay there and be stranded in a sunny weather instead. Shortly after we arrived back to the mainland US, the lockdown went into effect nationwide. Unbeknownst to most, this was the beginning of the longest, probably most depressing period most people have ever had to go through.

Princeville RESORT, Kaua’i

So when I say goodbye to 2020, I am pretty sure I am speaking on behalf of many people! To say that 2020 has brought so much hardship is an understatement! Although the impact varies depending on individual situation pre-covid, but the most vulnerable in the world (economically, financially etc.) were hit the worst. We have seen it with the street children we work with through Rising Above the Storms in Rwanda; the loss of the source of income & hunger was even severe for their families that were already fragile!

UNICEF says it best: “this is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong; without urgent action, this health crisis risks becoming a child-rights crisis“.

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BEAUTIFUL KIGALI, THE CAPITAL OF RWANDA, NIGHTTIME!

While there are probably way too many posts about how depressing 2020 has been, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight things I am grateful for, and hopefully spread some positive encouragement in a world that I believe needs it so desperately.

As we bit 2020 adieu, I am very thankful to God Almighty for:

– Health & Family

As I type this, there has been more than 83 million cases worldwide & over 1.8 million lives gone due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have lost jobs, the world economy is in shambles. Today, being safe and healthy is a something I never want to take for granted, even after this pandemic is long gone. I am grateful to God for my families in the US & Rwanda who have been incredible warriors through this. My amazing husband who’s a gift from heaven and my best friend! I cannot begin to imagine how hard this must have been for people who live by themselves! I thank God for my job, and the flexibility to do it & Cisco I work for! I say a prayer for everyone who is in any kind of need, and that God will use me anyway He choses!

– A much Needed Trip to Hawai’i

While my husband & I wished we had stayed in the sunny Hawai’i longer instead of returning to mainland US & be in a lockdown here, I am grateful for our vacation there, our experience, warm weather, good food, beautiful views, beaches and hiking trails. It was definitely a perfect timing, because soon after, places were no longer accepting visitors.

– My nonprofit RAS’ Donors & Supporters

I cannot imagine where Rising Above the Storms would be today if it were not for the generosity of so many people who have chosen to believe in my vision & mission to change lives of the most vulnerable children over the years. This year was no exception; despite the hardship endured this year by way too many people, donations have been still coming, and we have been able to keep up with our children’s needs and go beyond to support their families during the lockdown. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Moreover, our Rwanda employees were able to receive their salaries during the shutdown, which makes me forever grateful. As we change lives of the most vulnerable children, my hope and prayer is that families & communities our staff are part of are also positively impacted. That’s my dream!

– Our Board & Teams

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by incredible people who have rolled up their sleeves this year to plow through uncertainties to keep RAS up and running. I couldn’t find a photo that has everyone in it (and looks great) but my gratitude to each and everyone of them is immeasurable. 2020 has been surprisingly the most productive year we’ve had at RAS to date. These powerful women (mostly Cisco employees; we have couple of men too, but they couldn’t make this call) have achieved more than I could imagine: from communications, fundraising, finances, strategies, social media, you name it! I am indebted to them!

Some of the most incredible people who are behind everything good we have been doing!

– A Trip to Rwanda

What an incredible opportunity to get to travel to Rwanda in October this year! I guess it might come as a shock since I travel there at least once or twice a year; but this trip was extra special for so many reasons. As a frequent traveler, normally a trip like this gets me excited and is always almost predictable. However, for the first time, this was not the case. Due to COVID-19, I was very nervous about the unknowns.

Our Library at the Learning Center in Rwanda

I had so many questions that I didn’t have answers to prior to taking this journey: do I need to stay awake for 17 hours? Can I sleep with a mask on? Are the airplanes safe to be on for that long during a pandemic? How about connecting via Europe that was going through the second wave? Do we get fed on the plane as usual? Will the trip get canceled?

I’d assume that a lot of people have had these questions and more, or are afraid to fly all together. The good news is that you can safely travel during the pandemic. I am not going into details with what the airlines are doing to keep passengers safe, but I think they are doing everything they can to keep passengers safe. My husband and I certainly felt comfortable. Delta has been my favorite airline for the past 3-4 years, and they truly delivered on their promise during this trip.

having a conversation with our team in Rwanda

Landing in Rwanda, it was impressive to see how organized the airport was at handling arriving passengers and prioritizing everyone’s safety. At the time, Rwanda required a negative COVID-19 test valid for 5 days prior to arriving in the country. Moreover, arriving passengers had to be quarantined (at a hotel) upon arrival, and get tested once again. Once the results were in and negative, then you were free to go. Luckily, there were several hotels to pick from to self-quarantine in, including 5-star hotels, of course at the traveler‚Äôs expense. I was amazed by how quickly we got our results back (less than 12 hours) and were able to leave our hotel and see my family. The whole process from landing to leaving the hotel was smooth and uneventful.

Navigating the city of Kigali was made easier by restrictions that were put in place; hand washing and temperature check at every entrance, masks and physical distancing enforced wherever possible. This truly made the experience more comfortable; my husband and I even managed to see the kids at our Center, and visited with the staff. I treasured every moment; I didn’t think it was going to be possible to see them. I deeply appreciated our staff and kids’ resiliency on another level.

just beautiful. Downtown Kigali at night!

I have always been grateful of how far along our kids have come, and admired their strength after all they have gone through in their young lives; however, getting to see them after many months of lockdown and learning how that has impacted them really gave me a new level of gratitude. Our kids were allowed to return to the Center for the first time on October 5th since March. That’s almost 8 months. I had a privilege to have a 1:1 conversation with a few of them.

The common concern they all had was being home for a long time without interacting with their friends, hunger, missing school. They were very excited to be back to the Center where they can eat, play, see their friends and get help going through school work. This experience was a personal reminder of the work we do there and the courage of our staff. I saw joy and hope in their innocent eyes; I saw excitement about the future. If there has ever been any setback about the progress we’ve made, their joy gave me strength to keep marching forward.

I also had an amazing conversation with our staff; they shared how their main priority in coming months would be to figure out ways to help our kids catch up to their peers as they started school this November, and beyond. We talked about their experience during the lockdown. They shared how they did their best to stay in touch with the children virtually, which was difficult because of technology access for those families.

I also learned that while our staff members were blessed to be getting their salaries during the lockdown, they didn’t forget those who were not as fortunate. One staff member mentioned how he and his wife were able to buy food supplies for 4 different families at different times during the lockdown. I was deeply touched by this selfless act of kindness. They shared how grateful they are to be in these kids‚Äô lives; they emphasized on how they love their job, our kids & are grateful to get paid to do what they enjoy doing the most.

Back in April, our Rwanda team also did a food distribution in April where they fed about 100 household members of our kids. The process was tedious because of the restrictions of the lockdown; however, parents were very touched by the gesture. And more importantly, parents and local authorities shared how this proved to them our commitment not only to kids, but their families and Rwandan communities. Since then, the local administration has a newfound appreciation of the work we do there. I was deeply moved!

I left energized and encouraged by the visit. If nothing else, I believe that the pandemic has made us even more stronger.

I look forward to 2021 with hope!

Blessings to you and all your loved ones ūüíēūüíē

‚̧ԳŹ Impore Rwanda; 26 Years Later, We Still Remember! ‚̧ԳŹ

‚ô• If tears could build a stairway,
and memories a lane.
I would walk right up to Heaven
and bring you back again ♥ 

A memorial wreath laid on one of the graves at Kigali Genocide Memorial, Gisozi, Rwanda. Feb 2019

This specific Wednesday night, my parents and 4 of my siblings, we all went to bed, completely unsure of what even the next day would look like; you see, earlier that evening around dinner time, we suddenly heard loud explosions nearby, and saw flames in the sky. We then rushed to listen to our home radio receiver only to learn that the plane carrying the president of Rwanda had just been shot down as it landed at Kigali International Airport; the announcement added that the president died, along the president of Burundi and everyone onboard.

That night, all of us kids slept together in the same bedroom with our parents; we were too terrified to sleep anywhere else. 

Reflecting on Memories of my Family and Childhood in what used to be our home. Feb 2019

The next day brought a usual warm and sunny morning, that’d have otherwise been a great opportunity to be outdoors. Unfortunately, nothing could ever have prepared my family for what was about to unfold before our eyes. My little sister Marie Claudine (I had 5 siblings) had been visiting her godmother, Theresa, who lived about 15 minutes away, for Spring/Easter Break. All of the sudden, Theresa, showed up at our house unannounced. She wasn’t alone, but not with my sister either; instead, behind her were men carrying a dead body –my little sister’s, we found out! Theresa informed us that Hutu militiamen attacked her home that very morning, killed her 2 kids and my sister, and looted her house. Theresa had been in hiding at the time of the attack.

With our world crumbling down piece by piece, it was as if a double edged sword has cut deep, deep, through our hearts. Unbeknownst to us then, this very Thursday morning, April 7th, 1994 would mark the beginning of the genocide, the Tutsi ethnic cleansing in Rwanda. Theresa’s kids and my little sister were the first victims in our area. The next 100 days would cost 1 million lives of men, women, children, young, old, strong, beautiful. Their crime? The way they were born, something they did not get an opportunity to bargain with their Creator during their births!

That staggering number would include my parents, and 2 of my siblings, neighbors, classmates, friends, amazing people who had an entire future ahead of them!

Beautiful Kigali, the Capital of Rwanda. Feb 2019

Fast forward to 26 years later, today, our whole planet is reeling under a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, a global pandemic that had brought our normal daily routines to a near standstill, my beautiful home country Rwanda included. Countries imposed lockdown to stop imminent spread of the virus. Families are huddled in their homes, some with the possibility of dying of hunger especially people whose income was based on jobs that cannot be done remotely. The losses of lives are astonishing, and no country is immune to the impact.

Somehow, unfortunately, this danger and fear feels all too familiar to me, although not to the same extent. My eyes have seen things that no young child should ever have to endure. The people of Rwanda have been through so much already, and my heart is heavy for them, especially around this time of the year, during this unprecedented time.

So, will you allow me this opportunity to pour my heart out for my people in the Land of a Thousand Hills? Will you indulge me for a moment, while I weep, grieve, remember, honor and commemorate innocent lives that we lost, the shameful death our loved ones died in 1994? Spare me a moment of silence, to reflect, to pray, to cherish memories of the people who meant the world to me, whose lives were cut short!

Allow me to ponder on the dates that are forever a reminder of the horror that descended on Rwanda, scars that no lifetime can ever heal: Thursday April 7th, my little sister Marie Claudine (11) was killed. Sunday April 17th, my Dad (43) was killed. On Sunday April 24th, my older brother Jean Felix (15) and my Mom (40) were killed together.

Here is tribute I wrote for them on the 20th Anniversary of their death: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder!

The Kigali Genocide Memorial, the final resting place for 250,000+ victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Feb 2019

Today Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

  • We remember, commemorate & honor all those Tutsi who died in shame! They didn’t choose to be born the way they were born. May they rest in Eternal Peace with you Jesus, until we will see them again, in a life that knows no sorrow or pain!¬†
  • God, we pray for Your comfort and love wrapped around every Rwandan genocide survivor. Please Lord, give each and every one hope, endurance, strength, prosperity, courage, a voice, healing, ability to forgive. You alone can heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.
  • We remember & pray for those left vulnerable‚ÄĒwidows, orphans, women who were raped and left with pregnancies and diseases, and those inflicted with physical scars that bring emotional trauma and recurring nightmares.
  • We remember those who were not a target but chose to hide Tutsi, risking their lives. They are heroes of our survival stories!
  • We pray for the leaders of Rwanda, the president, and everyone around him: for wisdom to lead the country with justice and fairness, and continue to move Rwanda forward.
  • We pray for peace over Rwanda; and for genocide perpetrators that themselves will receive forgiveness, come to know the Lord, and repent. That we will leave vengeance to God, as it is written that vengeance belongs to Him, He will repay.
  • We thank you Jesus for the unity, renewal, and healing, progress, prosperity, that has been bestowed upon Rwanda and her people. Amen!

My favorite song, for you Rwanda ūüá∑ūüáľ: Muririmbire Uwiteka (Sing to the Lord)

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.‚ÄĚ Revelations 21:4 (NKJV)

Reblog: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: 23 years later!

Resharing a blogpost I wrote 3 years ago:

Source: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later!

Lighting candles in memory of our Loved Ones who were taken away from us so soon!

In Loving Memory: 22 Years Later ‚ô•‚ô•‚ô•‚ô•

My flesh and my heart fail;¬†but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

‚ô•If tears could build a stairway,
and memories a lane.
I would walk right up to Heaven
and bring you back again.‚ô•

‚ÄúBlessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted‚ÄĚ ~ Matthew 5: 4

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 7.23.04 PM

My Family. Before April 1994

Jean Eric, Alice, Alphonsine, Mireille Noella

My Family, after April 1994: Jean Eric, Alice, Alphonsine, Mireille Noella

Grief is NOT Cowardice, Forgiveness is NOT Being Defeated: Rwanda, APRIL 1994

‚ÄúAnd God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.‚ÄĚ~ Revelations 21:4

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” ~ Mathew 5: 4

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.‚ÄĚ~ Revelations 21:4

It’s almost February and April is around the corner. Oh how I anxiously wait for this month all year around! Why is April a big deal? Because it will be the 22nd anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, in¬†which¬†I lost my beloved parents and 2 of my siblings. Unfortunately, although a lot has happened since then, it ¬†still feels like it was yesterday to me!

Though I still grieve for them with a deep sorrow and always will, however, I have encountered someone who has deeply touched my shattered heart with a mighty healing power and gave me a reason to rejoice forever: my Lord and King Jesus! He has turned my mourning into dancing! Therefore, I grieve with hope!

That’s my prayer for anyone who has lost someone close, especially tragically. I¬†know how you feel!

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who¬†weep” ~ Romans 12:15

My Dearly Beloved Parents

My Dearly Beloved Parents

Today, I am again reminded that life is extremely short and that tomorrow is NOT guaranteed! I knew that already, but my weary heart needs a constant reminder. This evening, I learned of a death of someone so young and full of life. This young man was a newlywed to an extremely beautiful young woman who is a close friend to my family in Rwanda.

He died of a motorcycle accident, the most popular means of public transportation in Rwanda, besides buses. Quite frankly, a cruel fact may be that those commercial motorcycles probably claim more lives than any other cause of death in Rwanda.

I weep so deep with this very young widow. My heart breaks¬†for her, her family¬†and many¬†whose loved ones have been taken away so suddenly. This life begs more questions than answers unfortunately. You may have many examples. My prayer is that the whole world will come to know how much God loves us despite¬†our circumstances. That’s very important.

You see, the Bible tells me that one day, God will make everything new, and wipe away all our tears. Our mourning will be no more. This gives me hope! And that we will see again all those who died in the Lord, in the new life that knows no sorrow.

There, hatred, discrimination, accidents, killings, injustice, tragedies, natural disasters, diseases, illness, hunger, wars, all will lose battle. Love & peace will be victorious and eternal life will be our song forever!

Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me,‚ÄúWrite: ‚ÄėBlessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.‚ÄúYes,‚ÄĚ says the Spirit, ‚Äúthat they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” ~¬†Revelations 14:13

Father God, I pray that You’ll¬†comfort all those who are grieving & hurting. You alone are their Strength, Shield and Salvation. You are capable of consoling them even when the outpouring sympathy & support is¬†not enough. Will You send them Peace, surround them with Your unfailing Love and Kindness! Will You be their only Joy, Hope and Refuge! Now and always!

In Jesus name! Amen!

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.‚ÄĚ~ Revelations 21:4

Grief is NOT Cowardice, Forgiveness is NOT Being Defeated: APRIL 1994

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (ESV)

As a father shows compassion to his children,¬†so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.¬†For He knows our frame;¬†He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14 (ESV)

Dear Father GOD in heaven, thank you for accepting me for who I am. Since no creature is hidden from your sight, this is the truth in my heart: APRIL reminds me of the terror that engulfed my beautiful country, the shameful death my loved ones died 21 year ago: April 7 (Marie Claudine, age 11), April 17 (Dad, 43), April 24 (Mama, 40 & Jean Felix, age 15). This month brings back horrific memories to relive nightmares that filled the emptiness followed their departure from this world.

I often wonder why they were gone so soon and how could anyone harm them!! I tearfully wish they lived to see and be proud of who I am today. I truly hate when doctors here ask me about my parents medical history or how they died; what am I supposed to say? It’s hard to let go of the fact that my parents weren’t there to see their youngest son Eric getting married last December. When I am struggling, I miss Papa’s voice telling me that everything will be okay.

My Dear Parents!

Mama (photo taken in 1976; she was 22) and Papa (1985: he was 34)

Dear Lord, it’s not easy to accept that their grandkids and later generations will only meet them in my pages. My heart wanders each time I need someone to remind me of things from my childhood. I can’t help but wondering how my parents would have loved to see my place, meet my friends, see my new car, and hear about my job and stories of places I travel to on business. Father, I think that they’d have been proud. I am so sure of this!

Jesus, I very well know that where my loved ones¬†are in your heaven, they’re no longer worried or¬†suffering!

Will You please tell them that Miette, Alice, Eric and I miss them so deeply and love them very much!! Will You delegate your angels to narrate to them everything You had done for us for the past 21 years? Will You please assure Mama that You have been everything we ever need, that Your richness in us surpasses all our understanding? Will You tell Papa how your Protection keeps us safe, Your Love is our shield, Your Glory our success, Your grace our happiness?

Will You tell them that You have been our Provider, Defender and a shoulder to cry when we miss them? As I wrote last year this time that You and I would take care of their son’s wedding, will You please tell them for me that everything was perfect because You were our Guest of Honor? You are able to¬†explain it better than I could ever do.

Father, will You again read the below TRIBUTE I wrote last year to Mama, Papa, Marie Claudine and Jean Felix? Thank you so much for putting an end to their pain and suffering of this life, and for making them dwell in your heaven and resting them in your eternal peace! And thank you for enabling me to honestly forgive their killers! You alone can make broken lives beautiful!

A Tribute to my Loved Ones on the 20th anniversary (2014): 

In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later!

“For there is no distinction:¬†for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,¬†and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:22-24

Expatriate Moments of Brevity: Life Abroad!

When you relocate to a new country, there are many inevitable awkward moments you run into, whether you’re extremely cautious or simply go with the flow. I’m not even talking about the food where it is apparently normal to add sugar to baked beans or meat, or eat jello with turkey.

It’s not about eating raw fish¬†or crunchy little lifeless animals from the water! And I won’t go into details about a story of someone I know who yanked treats from kids as they rang the door bell for tricks or treats on Halloween. This new comer thought kids were handing out candies!

In the fall of 2006, I said goodbye to my dearest siblings and many friends who gathered at Kigali International Airport in Rwanda to send me off halfway across the globe. I was very excited about the opportunity to continue my studies and experience a new culture. My next stop? United States. The next paragraphs are my observations and experience!

With my bro and sisters on my brother’s Rwandan Traditional Wedding Day!

  • Comparison & Conversion

When you arrive in a new country for the first time, in order to adjust, you start first by comparing everything around you to what you were used to in your home country. You compare buildings, cars, people, dress fashions, you name it.

When you make a trip to the store to buy milk and realize that it’s sold in gallons, yes a gallon (what is that?), for $3.21, you immediately convert it in your own currency to see how much that would be, for example, in Rwandan Francs. Oh, before you figure this out, you first wonder what is a gallon compared to liters etc. Then you do the math to make a decision if your purchase is ideal.

In my very first effort to get my hair done when I arrived in the US, two friends (white and Asian) took me to the best place they knew. The stylist lady who was either white or Latina (definitely not black) assured me that she knew well how to work with black hair. I was ecstatic! The whole process lasted about 30 min. I was very impressed because it normally takes no less than an hour in Rwanda.

To my dismay, not only did my hairdo look as if they didn’t do anything to the hair, but it also cost me around $80. The hairstyle I was looking to get would normally have cost me around $10 in Rwanda. That was the last time I tried…well, until an African friend took me to an African beauty salon where someone finally knew what she was doing!

  • Translation

Oh, yes! You definitely think in Kinyarwanda at first (or whichever your native language is) and translate into English before responding to someone who just asked you what courses you are taking or your major at RIT or how long you have been in the country or simply what you do for a living.

Researchers say that you will know that you are comfortable in a new language when you no longer need to translate in your head from your native language to your new one before you speak or answer a question.¬†Caution: At some point, you may become too comfortable in your new language¬†that you might need to translate back into your native language before you talk; isn’t that funny but true?

Few months ago at¬†my brother’s wedding, I vowed to myself that I’d make an effort to use Kinyarwanda only during my 5 minutes speech. Howbeit, in front of our honored hundreds of guests, as I searched in despair how to say “on behalf¬†of” in Kinyarwanda, I feigned a smile as I apologized to the audience because I had no other word to replace it in order¬†to complete my phrase. I indeed felt betrayed by the language I have spoken my whole life¬†ūüė¶

  • Moments of Boldness

As funny as this may sound, it is a moment of truth! Most likely, casual, humorous conversations and jokes will be different in your home country from your new home. For example, in Rwanda, weight issues are not only an icebreaker to start common daily conversation but also a way to let people know that you pay attention to their size.

People are not afraid to remind you that you’re fat and that you should probably start exercising. This is not a private conversation. It’s in the open for everyone around you to hear. Or perhaps that you are too thin and someone fears you may not have enough food in your home.

A woman carrying a sac on her head!

So, take a person from that context and into the United States. Also note that the only English words this brave person knows how to say related to weight is skinny and fat. Well, you can connect the dots. This creates an awkward moment when you tell someone in the US, especially women, that they are fat (they didn’t just “put on a few extra pounds” because you probably have never heard of such an expression).

I think that the cultural influence, in addition to the language barrier, may bring embarrassing moments for newcomers!

I am normally very careful in what I say to people because I am afraid to hurt their feelings, but once a dear friend poured her feelings out to me and some friends. I went on to tell her it was a first world problem. YEP! I sure did! Back then, it seemed like an innocent comment to go along with our fun conversation. Now I know that it was not the case.

Oh! Did I also mention that I once told a friend¬†I had known for a few years that it¬†was¬†probably about¬†time he started thinking about¬†growing up, because after all, it was a new year and¬†his sense of humor wasn’t amusing anymore! Who in the right mind says that? Fortunately, this gentleman found it funny and laughed about it! A word¬†of advice: DON’T DO IT!

      • Weird obsessions

When you move to another country, at first you tend to stick to what looks familiar. For example, when you spot at the grocery store the powdered milk NIDO used a lot in Africa for tea, you want to jump with excitement for all shoppers to know that you have found a hidden gem in your new home. Similarly, when you go back to visit your country, everything looks so amazing that you want to snap photos of women carrying baskets on their heads or babies on their backs, in the streets, or just a typical traffic jam in the city.

You cherish everything that keeps you close to things you grew up seeing. You want to take everything back with you when you return to your new home…food, clothes, traditional decorations, everything. Likewise, if you could take everything you started liking in your new home on the trip with you, you would just do it. In the end, sometimes people will notice some obsessions that seem all too unfamiliar to both cultures.

You see the first picture with my siblings where my sisters and I are wearing Rwandan women traditional outfits? Those outfits have been around for ages. They’re basically worn by women on special occasions in Rwanda. Married women can own and wear them anytime (for parties etc.) but single women mostly¬†rent them for special occasions.

Now, I am not entirely sure why I am beyond excited to own not one, but two of those, for myself, which are the gifts my brother and his wife gave to me on their wedding day. I cannot wait to wrap one of them around me and walk in it. And why am I obsessed with this? I have no clue!

Speaking of obsessions. I love everything about this photo. Why? Every detail in the background!

      • Where are you from?

This one will probably follow you always especially if you move to a new country at an older age. Your accent will always be such a giveaway. As soon as you open your mouth, at least in the United States, people are eager to ask where you’re from. Some people are funny enough to conclude that every black person with an accent must definitely be from Jamaica, and that’s probably one of the states of Africa, because after all, Africa is one country with many states just like Unites States.

      • Challenges on both ends

As harsh as it sounds, when you go back and forth between the two cultures, you will definitely realize that you blend in neither culture. You just choose what to adapt to and what to ignore. For example, time is very important in western countries, while it doesn’t mean anything in Africa at least. When in Africa, I often find myself annoyed by people who are late for meetings, especially when they don’t call to let me know that something came up.

When that happens, people around me wonder if I just fell from another planet because being late is normal in Rwanda. Similarly, as much as I try very hard, after several years, I still struggle to find the food that I like or adjust to the cold/hot weather in the US. Rwanda is a tropical country and the weather is close to perfection: (high 50s – low 90s) all year around.

      • Language butchering

In a country that speaks a different language than yours, you will realize that when you don’t pronounce their language the same way, you may be asked to repeat. Shortly after I arrived in the United States for the first time, I asked someone a question that had “learning” in it but they definitely heard “running“. Only then I realized that, “R” is pronounced differently from “L” in English while in Kinyarwanda they are identical.

Downtown Kigali in the distance on the hilltop!

Downtown Kigali in the distance on the hilltop!

      • Lagging behind

If you visit your home country, no matter how often you do that, you will realize that you live in the past (or at least the last time you were there). You will be amazed by how much everything has changed: new fashions, buildings, roads, sayings, new obsessions. Even if little has changed, it’s a big deal to you how everything looks. The excitement may plunge you into long explanations, only to realize that you sound like you are speaking a foreign language to your own people.

Believe me! Your efforts to describe that new beautiful tall building they just built where the bus station used to be won’t seize¬†the moment for those who have seen the building under construction¬†the year before. The breathtaking view from the hill¬†where you can see¬†most of the downtown Kigali at night with its beautiful lights? It’s just in your head, no one else finds it that stunning! It’s just life, you go into a series of emotions, whether young or older.

      • Embracing the new culture

This is very important and the final phase in the process of adjusting to the new culture and definitely a big deal if you want to enjoy your expatriate life. Some people tend to stick only around the community of people from their home countries. This one may render you bitter toward the new culture when you’re faced with a situation outside your community.

I once met a man from Rwanda who had been living in the US for 12 years at the time, but this man couldn’t speak English for a whole minute, literally. I was heartbroken! Take time to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. Be patient, humble and respectful. Explore, learn, master the language, and adapt to the culture. This will definitely make your life easier.

How about you? What has been your experience in a foreign country?

God is Exalted: My Blogging Experience So Far!

When I started this blog back in July 2012, unlike most bloggers and writers I know, I honestly didn’t have a goal in mind that I wanted to achieve with it; for instance, reaching a specific type of demography, audience, how many people per month/year, or what type of posts to focus on, not to mention that English is not my 1st or 2nd language, can’t you tell ;).

Back then, I didn’t know how to work on a website, leave alone writing a blog that people would be interested in visiting and¬†reading. I didn’t really have an exciting adventure to share with the world. I didn’t just move to a new country or enter a new era such as motherhood, a new career or discover¬†a hidden¬†talent. I¬†was not a blossoming writer who was embarking on this journey with skills to enlighten people’s ears, hearts and minds.

Thankfully none of my friends asked me what I wanted to achieve through this blog. I honestly wouldn’t have had an answer to that. I mean, who else starts something without short/long term goals in mind? Anyway, now you know who I am, a blogger¬†without blogging goals. Well, may be not so fast. There is one important thing that I haven’t noted here yet, it can may be help you judge then?

Part 1: Most visitors on this blog are located in United States, then Rwanda, India and so on.

Part 1: Most visitors on this blog are located in United States, then Rwanda, India and so on.

As a genocide against the Tutsi survivor and orphan by definition, God Has done so much in my life that I was feeling selfish to keep it to myself. If I started writing one by one, it will not be just one book, but multiple. Because God is great in me, that’s why I started this blog. If you look close, I have no talents! The credit goes to GOD.

I hope that this is convincing enough to you; I am very grateful for your time reading this. Oh by the way, although I must say that I have been learning a lot about blogging since 2012, I am still a work in progress. My full time job? I am an engineer, hopefully that explains it, or may be not.

What the above stats mean, it’s not about numbers; absolutely not. It’s a prayer to each and everyone who reads this blog that they will learn and/or be encouraged by the God who¬†changed my life for good. I am so thankful to all my readers in the listed and unlisted countries.

Part 2: Continuation from Part 1

Part 2: Continuation from Part 1

My prayer today is that God who has been amazing to me in Rwanda, United States and other places, that He will build his kingdom wherever you are as you read this, win all the nations back to him and that his name will be lifted high.

Am I allowed to have favorites since I am the one who wrote these articles? May be! I love every post I have shared but here are the top 10 among my readers (statistics) and myself. Click on any of these below to read details and you will understand the reason I blog:

  1. In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder
  2. ‚ÄúTo describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Maya Angelou
  3. Inconceivable Heroism Amid Horror
  4. Rising From Ashes: Beyond Broken Memories!
  5. Is it Always Possible to Forgive? This is how I understand it!
  6. Hope
  7. God is not ‚ÄúFair‚ÄĚ, He is JUST!
  8. The Truth Behind My Smile
  9. It‚Äôs not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.‚ÄĚ ~ Mother Teresa
  10. My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Now & Always!

God bless you,

Alphonsine

My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Now & Always!

For He Who is Mighty Has done great things for me,¬†and Holy is His name.” Luke 1:49

Is it just me or 2014 flew by? I cannot believe that in just few hours 2014 will be in the past! Reflecting back, this year has been an amazing year for me personally for several reasons that I cannot be able to mention here all. I got to celebrate a lot of life achievements for my siblings that I call my children, among other things. I will share a few of them; as you read it, would you please praise God with me?

It has been indeed twenty years since we lost our parents and two of my siblings during the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi but God Has been everything for us. He is our Father, Provider, Comforter, and everything we ever need! Overwhelmed by His love and Mercy, I can humbly quote what Hannah prayed to God after her barren womb was healed and she bore a son, Samuel:

My heart exults in the Lord;¬†my horn is exalted in the Lord. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap¬†to make them sit with princes¬†and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,¬†and on them he has set the world.” 1 Sam 8: 1, 8

In 2014: 

  • My children and I managed to take a rare vacation for just 4 of us. Flying in from different corners of the world, we were able to enjoy our time together. Saying that it¬†was the best week of my life would be an understatement!

Alphonsine, Alice, Mireille  & Eric. March 2014

Me, Alice, Mireille & Eric. March 2014

  • My little sister Alice who has been studying in India for two years graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a second Master’s Degree in International Relations. When I sent her to school there, she was required to get just one degree, but she surprised me with taking a second program in parallel. This is just her character: she is a hard worker. I am¬†very proud of her accomplishment and I praise God for being with her all the way.

Alice on her Graduation Day!

Alice on her Graduation Day! May 2014

  • My brother’s fiancee, Redempta Ingabire, graduated with a Master’s Degree in Information Technology from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Kigali Campus. I’m a very proud sister in law!

My brother and his fiancee on her Graduation Day

My brother and his fiancee on her Graduation Day! July 2014

  • My adopted son, Gilbert Shyaka, graduated from the University of Rwanda with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology. Words cannot express my gratitude to God for everything He has done for this young man. To read his story, follow this link: A Story of Hope.

Gilbert on his graduation day.

Gilbert on his graduation day! August 2014

  • In November, my brother Eric completed his Master’s Degree in Information Science from Mount Kenya University.¬†He’s currently waiting for the graduation day that will take place sometime next year.
  • My baby Mireille Noella (Miette), the youngest child of our family graduated from Kigali Independent University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting. Privileged to have witnessed the ceremony, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and pride as she walked the stage.

Mireille on her Graduation Day!

Mireille on her Graduation Day! December 2014

  • My brother is now a grown up man. Him and his best friend Redempta tied the knot 11 days ago. I am privileged to have been there along with my Mom whom God placed in my life to be exactly a replacement of my Mother Colette I lost¬†twenty¬†years ago. I will never be able to thank God enough for His wonders.

My bro gets married!

My bro and his wife on their wedding day! December 2014

Mireille, Eric, Redempta, Alice, me and my Mom Glori

Mireille, Eric, Redempta, Alice, me and my Mom Glori. Dec 2014

I truly praise God for everything He has done for my family this year. The rest of my life is not enough to share about the work of His hands and live for His Glory! I look forward to 2015 with anticipation.

Happy New Year to you and all your loved ones.
God bless you,
Alphonsine

She Is A Princess! The world deserves to know!

If you have visited my blog more than once, I’m sure you have met my siblings that I honorably¬†call my children. This is not by coincidence. Since after God spared my life during the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi, He¬†entrusted me with the 3 most amazing siblings¬†on this planet. Although they were all less than 10 years old at the time, I cannot imagine my life differently. Even though I have never been young and never got a chance to be selfish, I don’t have a regret.

This year, 2014, marks 20 years since after we lost our parents and two siblings, and how long I have been raising my siblings: Eric, Alice and Mireille. If I had to start all over again, I would do it in a blink of an eye. These 3 are the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Every single moment and breath I take, I praise God for honoring me with such great and important responsibility: to love and be a mother to an incredible man and two beautiful women anyone can ever wish for in their lives. I call them my TREASURE! Just shortly after the genocide against the Tutsi ended, the day I learned that my 3 siblings had survived, too, was my first sunshine of hope to give me a reason to live for, thrive and strive in this life.

It was the best day of my life!

My Adorable Baby. Isn't she a beauty?

My Adorable Baby Mireille Noella. Isn’t she a beauty?

You may have read the article I wrote about my brother Eric “Inconceivable Heroism Amid Horror”¬†and another post about my sister Alice “She is A Pure Beauty. And a woman of God“. However, this specific post is unique in its own way, because I get to talk about my youngest sister, our princess Mireille Noella. She is my baby and I don’t feel any different than if I had birthed her myself!! This is very true. During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Mireille was only 3 years old. I certainly owe everything¬†to my little brother Eric who, at 8, kept both Alice (6) and Mireille (3)¬†safe, when it was a matter of life and death and everyone running for their own lives. He sure is my hero!

When I share my story, people often ask me what I struggled most with since after the loss of my parents. My audiences wonder if it has been forgiving those who killed my family members or raising my siblings. Surprisingly, it is neither. My greatest life challenge has been to slowly realize how much Mireille doesn’t have many memories about our parents or life before the genocide against the Tutsi. For 13 years that my life was a paradise with the most incredible parents that ever existed, my baby does not remember much about her portion.

It can range from simple things like our family childhood¬†dog’s name. Or routine things¬†like the fact that we used to pray together every night as a family. She absolutely doesn’t remember this at all. When I sing our¬†Mom’s favorite Gospel songs that she always sang to us when we were little, it sounds made up to her. Instead, she randomly remembers things that none of us knows where she got it from.

Few treasured photos we have of our parents and two siblings we lost in 1994, my little sister is unable to connect those images to our childhood before the tragedy. She’s completely disconnected from¬†memories I hold onto so dearly! It breaks my heart. This is the deepest wound that I will probably¬†carry for the rest of my life.

I will never find words to express to my readers¬†that can accurately describe how much it hurt when Mireille speculated her greatest wish in this life: to¬†see our parents again so she can get to call them¬†“Mommy and Daddy“. Undoubtedly, this is a precious part of her life that has been snatched from her before she could get to live it. No wonder why she didn’t really talk much¬†until after high school. It’s very touching when she calls me MOM;¬†it absolutely melts my heart.

Very Stylist and Chic. She can easily be a model!

Very Elegant. She can easily be a model!

Mireille and I are almost 10 years apart; for this reason, she will always be young in my eyes, and simply a¬†PRINCESS. I already accepted the fact that¬†I can never replace our parents’ empty spot in her heart, but I know one thing: I love her with all my heart, for the rest of my life. There is simply nothing she can ever need that I am able to provide. She’s not only the youngest of 5 siblings. I watched her growing from a malnourished 3 year old out of the orphanage where the government placed my 3 siblings after the genocide against the Tutsi ended, to the most beautiful woman she is today!

Absolutely gorgeous and a fashionista from head to toe that I often wonder how we are possibly related, she is smart, a hard worker, intelligent, creative, loves God and people, very funny, although she may appear to be shy sometime. She is also spoiled, not only by me who would give her this planet if it was mine, but also by Eric and Alice who love her endlessly.

I will probably never fully understand why my little sister had to grow up without parents, but there is one thing that sustains me: GOD Who has been our Father, Comforter, Redeemer, Provider and everything we ever need to this day. I owe to the Lord every good possession and health that my siblings and I have.

Mireille may have been deprived of her precious childhood and forced to grow up in a hurry, but today she is finishing up her college senior project to graduate this¬†December with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. And there are so many opportunities that await her ahead. I know very well that she will¬†do amazing things in life!

Even if I have children of my own in the future, Mireille will always remain my oldest child as long as I shall live! Her, Eric and Alice will never, EVER need anything within my capability. This is my standing PROMISE to my parents in heaven and Jesus who has them with him. The Holy Spirit bears me witness! Although it may sound unreasonable to say, I praise God who has allowed me to somehow remain single this long so that my siblings can enjoy my full attention, which I certainly have for them, undivided.

I love them beyond comprehension. Mireille will always be my baby and spoiled until God calls me home. When I will see my parents in another life, I will be eager to narrate everything to them!

My love for my 3 siblings is unconditional, all my days!!