My Heart is Glad & My Soul Rejoices!

“I will declare Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You” ~ Psalm 22:22 

With my husband, my travel partner for life! Juneau, AK

My husband recently told me that the travel bug bit me. May be he has a point? Looking back though, I don’t think I remember when I first got interested in traveling. Growing up in Rwanda, you can easily drive from one end to the other in less than a day. It’s that small! Many Rwandans don’t necessarily vacation outside their homes, and still a few do get the luxury to travel outside Rwanda today. Like most, my first plane ride was later in life. While in college in Rwanda, I was awarded to attend an international conference organized by ITU (International Telecommunication Union) in Cairo, Egypt for young IT engineers. It was a huge deal!! First time on the plane and outside the country!

High Falls, Rochester, NY

Couple years later, when I first moved to the United States, its size and opportunities it had to offer must have stirred something in me. The idea of flying for hours inside one country left me puzzled! While I took some history and geography classes in high school (least favorite topics then for a Math & Physics major), I was still clueless about the world map and where countries were located on the map. For example, when I first moved to the States, in Rochester, NY, that’s when I found out that Canada was right across Lake Ontario just north of me. How shocking!

Hanoi, Vietnam. 2019

While in grad school @ RIT, I didn’t get to travel much even during breaks; while it may be normal for students not to have a lot of money, my situation has always been unique. Even after I got a full time job that paid relatively well, I had already been used to splitting 4 ways every blessing that ever came my way. The more I had, the more I felt compelled to make sure that my siblings didn’t need anything in this life. Although I very well know that our parents will forever remain irreplaceable in our lives, but I have come to believe that I was spared for a reason. If it is to play even a small role in their healing process, I have no regret in this life!

Amsterdam, 2016

Honestly, it never bothered me that I couldn’t have everything other girls around me had. It was no different when I had my first job: to this day, one of my greatest fond memories is when I received my first paycheck as a Teaching Assistant, a job that was offered to me at the same college I went to in Rwanda. Prior to graduation, the College chose a few of graduate candidates with top grades and offered them a Teaching Assistant job. I didn’t have to wait, or do job hunting; I felt so lucky! After a month, my first paycheck, about $400 (in 2005), all of it, was mine! I couldn’t believe it. This was the largest amount of money I have ever owned.

Downtown Kigali, Rwanda, at night!

As soon as it was deposited in my bank account, I called my siblings, with the most exciting news: I was taking them shopping! This very first time, they were not going to be wearing hand-me-downs. Up to this time, a cousin had been picking clothes that were too small for him and handed it down to my brother. I shared clothes with my sisters. But this time, they were all going to pick whichever ones they liked, brand new. I sat down, watching their excitement; I got emotional! I told them to pick anything they wanted. I didn’t really care, that a half of it went to their clothes, and I gave them the rest for school. I knew I’d get more next month. To this day, this personally remains a fond memory that I treasure all my life. The joy of my siblings I call my kids has been my greatest gift! My heart rejoices in the Lord of my Salvation!

Duomo di Milano, Italy

While memories like this one are an absolute treasure, I have tons others that I wish I could blot out completely and erase forever. Memories like that of relatives who have hurt and abused my siblings and I instead of being there for us. An aunt who told me that I would never amount to anything in life, and later burned all my clothes and high school diploma. She was so sure that this would stop me from attending college where I had been awarded a full scholarship. She probably thought this would mean the future filled with uncertainty for me! Read Beyond Broken Memories or Hope; God is Real!

The Pont des Arts. Paris, France 2012

But some of the most humbling experience were my early days of college where I lived off campus. Since there were no rooms on campus for incoming freshmen, I had to figure out where to live, a place that’d allow me to walk to school everyday. While this was absolutely a concern, the major challenge was $50 to register for college. Miraculously, I got that money and started college. However, the next 2 years would bring days where I had to visit people I knew around lunch time, in hopes to eat with them. It was my last resort, after not eating for couple of days. I had been close to becoming homeless, or worse!

Food in Croatia was the best. The country and its people stole my heart ❤

Recently, my husband and I traveled to Alaska, It was my first time there. I was struck by beauty and nature found in its capital, Juneau. We participated in a few things as any tourist would do, without going crazy. We hiked to the Mendenhall Glacier, visited Nugget Falls. However my favorite part was whale watching. While it’s an incredible experience watching those creatures showing off their water skills, my favorite part was when our tour boat was cruising around Juneau (for 4 hours). There were about 40 or so people were onboard. My husband being like me instead of sitting inside, we went out back and rode on the deck. As we cruised chasing whales around, the engine was very loud at 30 miles/hour. Since a conversation was not an option during that time, I got time to reflect.

The Glaciers in Juneau, Alaska 2019

With the water as far as my eyes could see, perched between beautiful mountains designed to perfection by the Creator, I couldn’t help but praising the Lord! I marveled at their beauty and got lost in their gaze. The water was so beautiful, and waves splashing, clear blue sky, warm weather that Juneau has not seen in 112 years, it was a dream! Somehow my brain raced back to when I had nothing, and no one. I couldn’t believe the beauty, majestic creation that surrounded me, while in the embrace of the most amazing man that only God could have created just for me! I thought of my siblings, my past, my nonprofit, my life, my husband, my adopted parents, my friends, my blessings!

London Tower Bridge, 2016

As if in a prayer, I whispered to God, my Father & Provider, counting my blessings: I could afford to be in Alaska without breaking a pocket. I experienced luxury without my siblings missing a meal or school. I can eat or afford anything I want. I have stayed at 5-star resorts and luxury hotels, flown first class without spending a fortune. My travel & hotel statuses often afford me a treatment that is more than I anticipate or expect. I have traveled almost everywhere, from small towns to big cities and everything in between. I am truly grateful!

At the United Nations Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland!

I have been blessed with a job that had allowed me that opportunity for the past 7 years. I didn’t ask for it, but perhaps God knew that I enjoyed traveling but couldn’t afford it so He gave it to me! Yes, I did work so hard in school, but so did/do many people. However, while things may seem like it’s going great, there is something that I had asked God long time ago: not to allow my heart to be too merry to forget my painful past.

“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food allotted to me. Lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-9

Downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, 2018

Just like Moses pleading with Israelites & cautioned them against disobeying God after entering the land God prepared for them.

“So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full— then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” Deuteronomy 6: 10-13 

While my daily prayer is that I am able to forgive and love others as Jesus has loved me, I never want to allow myself to forget my beginnings; I want to use my suffering, tragedy, loss, hunger, struggle, and wounds of my past to help and be a blessing to those who aren’t as fortunate. I have been given a chance, not because I am better or righteous; it’s far from it! It’s only God’s Grace! For that, I am forever humbled & amazed by His love!

Beautiful downtown Kigali (on the top of the hill), the Capital of Rwanda

It is for this the reason that I weep for people who are hurting, I can relate to them. People in need, poor, homeless, move me with compassion! I have been given a chance, a voice, and an opportunity to serve God. I eternally pray that I always seize opportunities God makes available for me to act! Simply put, I am able to truly love, because I am loved so well, by the Lord!

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.” 1 Samuel 2:8

❤️ On This Day, I married my Best Friend ❤️

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope ~Jeremiah 29:11

The love of my life, my husband ❤

It was a beautiful day.  Well, as best as it can be in Rochester, or the rest of the upstate NY, in January. Why Rochester, of all places, and in winter, you may wonder? You see, Rochester holds so many beautiful memories that are close to my heart. Not only that it is the first place where I first arrived and lived here in the US, but also God knew well that He had so many great plans for me there. If you’re new to my blog, my story truly starts in 1994, in Rwanda. During the worst atrocities of the 20th century, I lost my parents and 2 of my siblings. At the age of 13, I survived along my 3 younger siblings who were all under the age of 10. I wrote so many posts about the loss I endured as a young girl, but here is one of my favorites: In a Garden of Fame where their Memories Grow Fonder.

Our Wedding Day

Fast forwarding to 2006, I was very blessed to receive a full scholarship to grad school at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester. Little did I know then, God Had been preparing incredible people who would literally change my life, for good. In April 2008, I met an amazing lady, Darlene, at a church event in Rochester. We bonded immediately; she had been to Kenya, and deeply loves Africa. She later invited me to her house for the 4th of July event the same year. There, I met a good friend of hers, her name is Glori.

Darlene & her husband Ed

In ways that God alone could orchestrate, Glori, and her husband Bob welcomed me into their home very soon after. We bonded right away; they call me daughter and I call them my mom & dad. Them into my life, I had been given another chance to feel the parental love, on earth, at last. It felt like fairytale. My new parents who are very much close in age with my parents in heaven, welcomed me with open arms, and told me that wherever I’d be on this planet, that their house would be my home. God is good! Here is a post I wrote about my mom in heaven, and my mom in Rochester. 

So, it fit so perfectly that we would get married in Rochester. My God brought me there for a reason. It actually was my fiancé’s idea to have our wedding in Rochester, before I could even propose it. I was deeply touched by his caring nature already! Then it was a done deal, no matter how much snow or cold 😀

My parents from God, Bob & Glori 

Words cannot express my gratitude and the amount of love I feel in Rochester. I never doubted God’s grace, but my wedding experience left me in awe of the Lord. My parents who have been no different to me than if they have given birth to me, shocked my fiancé & I with a proposal to pay for our wedding. These aren’t people who did it because they had nothing else to do with their money or because we couldn’t afford it. They are the most generous people I have ever met.

Traditionally in the US, although not officially, the bride & her family assume the responsibility of most of the cost of the wedding, which is the opposite of the custom in Rwanda, where the groom & his family assume the financial burden of the wedding, traditionally. So, the fact that my parents consider me as their daughter, and felt compelled to pay for the wedding still humbles me to this moment and brings tears to my eyes each time I think about it. God alone knows how eternally grateful I am to them both.

I am truly blessed

My New Parents, by Love

On top of this, neither me or my fiancé lived in Rochester to plan for our “destination” wedding. SO, without hesitation, my mom did everything for us: finding the venue, cake caterer, DJ, photographer, florist, everything. I have never been so relaxed in my whole life about something this big. Any planning in the past always fell upon my shoulder, alone. But not this time; I had no worry in the world! Instead, I was busy with my work as usual, as if I didn’t have a wedding coming up. My mom did an amazing job. See for yourself from the pictures.

Mom buttoning my dress 🙂

My fiancé & I wanted a small but cozy wedding celebration. The idea of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a single day has never been a dream of mine. No offense if you think differently. I guess you could say it’s because of the frugal life I had been forced to live in order to support my younger siblings. I am not sure :).

While I come from a culture where you have to invite the whole world around you to your wedding, and learn about most of your guests from videos and pictures after the wedding, I have long resented that idea. Thanks to the western culture, I didn’t have to deal with the cultural impositions. A potluck wedding in my parents’ backyard in the summer or destination wedding in Puerto Vallarta would have been magic but definitely not practical at the moment.

Ceremony set up

The Rochester’s college town’s Hilton Garden Inn Hotel turned out to be a perfect venue for us. They have a beautiful ballroom that fit our needs. Relatively new, everything looked marvelous. We had an amazing wedding coordinator, Austyn, from Del Monte Weddings and she is the best there is. She worked with my mom on day-to-day planning and coordinating for the event. The decoration was everything I wanted. The Hilton Garden Inn Catering Department & team promised and delivered. The food was absolutely delicious.

Reception Setup

Our wedding theme was a shade of green and white (flowers & decor). The Rochester’s Wegmans Floral Department made me a beautiful bouquet that lasted for 3+ weeks. I wanted a natural, earthy look; lots of green leaves surrounding white roses. They did exactly what I had in mind and I was very pleased. Our ceremony arch was top notch. Thanks to my mom’s friend, Anne, who designed it for us, on a very short notice. One thing I realized with my family and friends in Rochester is, don’t ask them for help :D. Here is why: they will not only do it, but also pay for it. The same happened when we asked my dad’s sister Linda to pick up flowers for us. True story. I know the best of people.

My Bouquet; just the way I wanted it

Love love it

I like to say I feel accomplished about these place cards 😀

My dad walked me down the aisle; what a moment that I’ll forever cherish with humility & gratitude. I have never seen my dad in a suit; he doesn’t like to wear one. But he did it, for me, for my wedding. I teared when I first saw him, he looked amazing. My mom cried the whole time, of course, that’s what moms do :D. I glanced at her, during the ceremony, and I could see her eyes filled with pride.

With my Dad

I know it’s my wedding and I am of course supposed to think everything was top of the line 😀 But my dress was. For my friends who know me well will tell you that this is exactly the kind of wedding dress I had imagined wearing since I was a lot younger envisioning my wedding day. And the most amazing part was, that I bought it online, because I don’t like shopping & trying on so many dresses. My mom and I paid a visit to a David’s Bridal Shop but I wasn’t amused by the experience of trying on 3+ dresses and not liking any of them.

Plus, I was looking for a simple but elegant dress, which I personally didn’t find there. So, I did like I always do, online browsing. While I bought the dress and veil separately from the same place, they surprised me by using the same fabric & patterns for both the veil and dress. I was thrilled and still love my cathedral veil. Of course my parents paid for both the dress and veil as well 😍🙏

My Cathedral Veil

Feeling like a million bucks 😀

Our dark chocolate (yes, dark!) & vanilla with almond frosting cake was the best cake I have ever tasted. I am not really exaggerating or because it was my wedding. I didn’t get a chance to eat it at the wedding, but my beautiful mother saved a piece for my husband and I. It was so delicious. Thanks to my mom for picking it for us, the Italian Savoia Pastry Shoppe for making exactly what we wanted, and for my aunt Arleen for paying for it. I love her. She is very special to me!!

The Cake by Savoia Pastry Shoppe

My brother Dillon & cousin Nathan rolled the carpet for me. How special is that! I was deeply touched by my dad’s speech; he started by honoring my parents in heaven, who would have been absolutely proud to witness their little girl tying the knot. His speech, for someone who’s never emotional, reminded me how much I am loved, by God, and His people. The best man & matron of honor’s toasts were touching!

Rolling the carpet

My uncle Steve (mom’s brother in-law) who was our officiant performed a moving ceremony for us. And him being family meant the world to us. Our DJ Mr. Bookhart & our photographer Will of William D’Ovidio Photography made our day special. Thanks to Linda at Bridal Biz Beauty for my makeup & making me feel beautiful, Ines of the Casa de Hair, Rochester for doing my hair so beautifully and exactly the way I wanted, and on short notice.

This was the hard part to find good beauty shops while being remote. The Knot website is fantastic for recommendations on credible vendors. Also, our dance instructor out in Minneapolis, MN. Erika at the Flying Pig Dance Studio turned us into real dancers. Well, at least we didn’t fall ;). Why MN? Because we are world travelers 🙂

My mom making sure my makeup is done right 🙂

I loved seeing our friends from close and afar. There is nothing like feeling loved. While there are a few special and important people who couldn’t make it to our wedding, thankfully we had a live stream going for them which was very meaningful to us. My matron of honor, the most amazing friend a girl could ever ask for, Ginger, has been with me through thick and thin. She and her husband did as if it was their own wedding. My family and friends, they made my dream come true. I cannot thank them enough.

While everything was beautiful & elegantly cozy, my husband’s wedding vows to me were the top highlight of our wedding day. I was convinced that I wrote the best ones and that I was going to finally make him cry (note to self: don’t brag too fast :D). I meant it, because truthfully, it was all about this incredible man God had been preparing for me!

While I still love what I wrote about and for him, he absolutely amazed me, and everyone in attendance. This is a caliber of a man I get to call mine, someone I asked of the Lord. He’s been someone who would never let me go from the very first time we met, and I too silently praised God for bringing such an amazing guy into my life. He is the man whose rib I was made into (Genesis 2:21-23)

The Love of my Life

The Reception

His love for God, his witty personality, knowledge and open mindedness, world travel experience, exposure to other cultures, living in other countries for years, speaking a second language beyond English (yes, bi-lingual, and so un-American :D), his understanding of my personal life & loss I endured at the young age, my siblings I call my kids, his love & support of my ambitions, dreams and hopes, work ethic, not to mention handsome :), mature and so many other things.

His Vows

My Vows

I gave him my heart & a ring 😀

Our First Dance

Father-Daughter Dance. Dad made me laugh so hard!

Because it’s Rochester 😀

God Has been great to us, and we are in awe of Him. As we embark in this new journey together, we pray and ask the Lord that He will go before us and be the center of our marriage, now and always. Blessed be His Holy Name!

“I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works.” Psalm 9: 1

Looking back at 2016: Reflecting With Gratitude!

Another year is gone! I don’t know about you but I feel like 2016 just flew by. While this year has generally been a great year for me and my family, it has also been my busiest as far as I can remember. In addition to my regular job and non profit work, I have also had a decent amount of travel, both in the US and outside the US. It has been a full plate!

My Family Vacation!

Our Family Vacation Time!

As we bid 2016 adieu tonight, I would like to take this moment to express my gratitude:

  • First and foremost, to God who is my Strength, Hope, Counselor, Provider, my reason to rejoice. He Has a new mercy for me everyday and for that I am forever in awe of Him!
  • I am indebted to an incredible group of people who have been walking with me & caring for a cause very close to my heart, Rising Above the Storms. A few individuals who worked tirelessly around the clock, juggling their busy lives and dedicating their time, talent and finances to make our First Annual Gala a success! I can’t thank them enough.
Our RAS Team @ our First Annual Gala

Our RAS Team @ our First Annual Gala

  • Many people who believe in me, my personal story of hope and my life’s dream to change one life at a time, through sharing a message of hope, empowering through education and advocating for orphans. I am especially thankful to my Cisco community, my immediate team that organized an event to raise money for RAS, many individual Cisco employees who donated, Cisco that matches donations, every single donor (small or big) who is contributing to making our dream coming true! I am forever humbled!
1st RAS Annual Gala

First Annual RAS Gala, Sept 22, 2016

  • I am very excited about our very first partnership with a non profit (Amahoro Builders Ministry or ABM) locally based in Rwanda and set to launch on Friday, January 6, 2017 in Kigali. Our main focus there will be to care for street children by listening to their voices and needs, helping them reintegrate in the Rwandan community and guiding them to a future filled with hope. ABM is a non profit organization that places focus on the well being of the family, youth and early childhood development in Rwanda. Their main office is in the Eastern Province.

RAS & ABM Facilities in Kabeza, Rwanda!

  • My friends, too many to mention here, who are always there for me, even when I am not as available for them. I am very thankful to know the greatest individuals!
  • My adopted family in NY and relatives who have given me another chance to have a family that truly cares about my well being. My adopted Mom who has been the greatest supporter of my hopes and dreams, even when my vision seemed impossible.
  • Last but not least, my siblings who are my greatest boast in the Lord, my source of inspiration, my best friends. I cannot imagine my life without them. In addition to my brother and his beautiful wife, last year our lives have been blessed with a little bundle of joy, my nephew (I also call him my grandson) that I love beyond imagination. I know his real grandparents would have loved him as much as I do and more.
With my 14 month old Nephew, Igor Adley

With my 14 month old Nephew, Igor Adley!

I look forward to 2017 with great anticipation! Happy New Year to you and all your loved ones! God bless you!

An Important Reminder for Stressful Moments: “Be still, and know that I am GOD” ~ Psalm 46:10

 

moi

Posing for a photo shortly before our gala. Sept 2016

It has been a busy few months, or year for that matter. What a journey! Since January of this year, I have traveled to more than 20 US states (many of them first time), dozens of cities, and three European countries (mostly for business), as well as working 50-80 hours a week on average for my full-time job. If that was not enough, add planning, thinking, worrying, coordinating, and struggling to keep up with what it takes to coordinate our very first annual gala, on top of being the founder of a startup nonprofit.

Let me first start telling you a little bit about me: I am a female engineer; I speak English as a third language. I am terrified by asking people for money, even if its sole purpose is to help orphans out of hopelessness and enable them to dream.

I am not eloquent by any means; I am a nervous wreck before speaking to a large audience. I don’t know how to talk to people I just met. A group of strangers terrifies me, even if they are all friendly. I grew up in a third world country and moved here later in life, but certain aspects of the American culture still puzzle me a decade later!

I dislike conflicts; I don’t like it when someone is mad at me! I can’t keep up when humor revolves around the art of slangs, cursing or sarcasm. I have never met anyone in the same situation as me: running a nonprofit with another full time, technical job. Oh, and I have zero talent!

Well by this time, if you are still reading this, you are wondering, “Why is she saying all this?” I have a point, I promise! Now, if you can tie it back to everything I lack or my busy life, you may wonder why anyone like this would want to start a nonprofit. Well, that makes two of us. I have a secret though! This one may make you think over everything that makes you doubt yourself.

My friends and I performing a traditional Rwandan dance at our gala. Sept 2016.

I lost my parents at the age 13. Though I was absolutely alone and left to fend off myself at that young age, I encountered someone who became my hope in trials, my refuge in time of trouble, my comfort in sorrow, my counselor in hopelessness, my provision when no one cared, a father to the orphan, a friend in need. That is Jesus, my Savior and King, my God!

You see, all these things I lack, and many more I didn’t want to bore you with, He’s taken upon Himself. Before God, I am warrior, victorious, loved, a daughter of the Most High. I am able to do everything through Jesus who strengthens me. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what keeps me pressing on in spite of my lack of experience in nonprofit management and many other things in life.

So, circling back to my nonprofit: YES, it was very stressful to combine my schedule and responsibilities as I got pulled in many directions. It still is and I often wonder what I got myself into. However, a constant reminder as I navigated a busy schedule this year has been a reassuring voice telling me to be still and know that God will be glorified as David quoted in Psalm 46:10 NKJV.

This is what kept me calm even when people and promises fell through and schedules didn’t align with our planning needs and requirements. After all, this vision is God’s work; I don’t really need to worry, as long as He is on my side. Obviously, He doesn’t need my skills or experience. All He wants is my obedience!

I have been fortunate enough to understand my life calling, the reason God spared my life from the machetes and bullets of 1994 in Rwanda. I may not accomplish much in this life, but as God has been to me, so I will be to others. Today, I can afford anything I need, and my siblings feel the same way. God has been everything we ever need, up to this very minute as I type this. My prayer and hope is to be God’s hands and feet through loving and being a blessing for those who have not been as fortunate.

Matthew 25:34-36 (NKJV) gives me a glimpse of how things will look on the judgement day, when God will impartially judge all the nations. This long chapter is wrapped in the true meaning of LOVE. Also, Paul said it well: although all these three are excellent: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of them is LOVE.

rasgala214

Sharing my story and our vision at our gala. Sept 2016!

Through God’s LOVE that spoke the earth into existence, I hope to spend the rest of my life striving to learn and practice what it means to love everyone unconditionally regardless of who they are or their life choices: race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry etc.

I am really thankful that our first annual gala was a success, and we are currently almost halfway to our final goal in terms of raising funds for our first learning center in Rwanda to benefit street children and at-risk-youth. God has been great to me, and blessed me with a great team of volunteers who are very passionate about my vision and cause.

Will you join forces with me to share this hope, advocate for orphans, and empower the most vulnerable children through education? I am eternally thankful that the Lord would entrust me with this great mission! I still cannot believe that He picked ME!! Rising Above the Storms (RAS) is not a work I feel burdened to do, it is simply my life story, and a soul that has been truly satisfied & touched by God’s Mercy!

Tour d’Europe Number 2, and counting!

The London Tower Bridge in the background

The London Tower Bridge in the background. Isn’t this the most beautiful view ever?

Earlier this year, I had a great opportunity to go to London, UK for a business trip. It was my first time there and I was thrilled about it. Thankfully, my work location was in central London, right by the River Thames. Mind you, before you are ridiculed because of pronouncing the Thames the American way, you may want to ask a Briton first or consult Google, or Siri, or what have you! Apparently, Britons read it like “tems” and rhymes with “gems”, or “James”.

Fortunately, my black cab driver from the London Heathrow Airport was extremely friendly. After a long red-eye flight into Heathrow from RDU, NC, I couldn’t have asked for a better ride. Although I was very exhausted and sleepy, since I was up the entire flight (we landed around (5am London, 1am EST, my bed time), my brain was surely awakened by the beauty that this city is!

The view of the River Thames from my office building

The view of the River Thames from my office building

The cab driver of 40+ years of experience under his belt, kindly explained everything from the airport to my hotel, without even being asked. He gave me tips on must see places and where to be careful. As we crossed the River Thames bridge to my hotel, he made it clear that it’s pronounced like “tems”. Oh how I love the British accent. Although later I was told that Britons will hide their annoyance behind a pleasant smile, I personally found them to be extremely kind. During my 8 day-stay there, there was not a single person who wasn’t extra nice to me!

Citizens and tourists outside the Buckingham Palace waiting for Changing the Guards ceremony

Citizens and tourists outside the Buckingham Palace waiting for the “Changing the Guards” ceremony

Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace encompasses colorful spectacle and British pageantry. The ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and usually takes place daily at 11:30 from April until the end of July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. ” ~ Royal Collection.

I must say though that people there aren’t necessarily good at giving directions: when you ask someone where the bus or metro station is, they will simply point that it’s over there, when there’s no such a thing in sight. I found that quite interesting. I got to ride the London tube once, otherwise I mostly took taxi cabs. While in Europe, I also got to visit Belgium and the Netherlands. My last time on this continent was in 2012. Remember the post “Tour D’Europe, In My Own Words!”?

  • FOOD

Now the fun part of my experience there besides the fact that it was bitter cold and windy the whole time I was in London, was food. What’s up with arugula on every meal? The first time my meal arrived I wondered if it was a mistake; I definitely remembered my order at this Italian restaurant pretty well. Also, while in London, if you order chicken, make sure you specify that you want chicken breast. Otherwise, chicken legs/thighs will land on your plate. When I ordered the chicken pasta meal, at an Italian restaurant, I was shocked when they brought this:

Chicken pasta brought to you by Jamie's Italian Restaurant, London

Chicken pasta brought to you by Jamie’s Italian Restaurant, London!

I undoubtedly signaled the waiter that he may have brought the wrong order. To my shock, he confirmed my fear. I may not know much about different cuisines, but this doesn’t look like chicken pasta to me. Not only that there was bread in lieu of pasta, the chicken didn’t taste good at all :(.

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Arugula salad for ever meal! I guess I eat a lot of pasta. I must be Italian somehow, somewhere!

If you know me very well, you know that I can eat pretty much anything, right? Kidding aside, even in a place like London, it was not easy for me to venture outside my hotel and find food that I like :(. My taste in meals is a real challenge for a frequent traveler like myself. The good thing is that at least I now know restaurants to go to and meals to order during my travels. Salmon is my favorite fish.

When I searched for seafood places near the London Bridge and the Borough Market, I was excited to find the Wright Brothers Borough, a seafood restaurant. It was only minutes from my hotel. When I got there, not only that there was no salmon to save a life there, they didn’t have fish. I am not kidding! Luckily, I found Black and Blue Steakhouse right across from them, and I finally enjoyed a normal American looking meal there.

That's more like the food I like to eat, unfortunately! I can't help it

That’s more like the food I like to eat, unfortunately! I can’t help it. @ Black and Blue, London 

  • A playground for grown-ups 😀

London has other many unique things, such as this one here in the picture! Those people are not children I promise.

I didn't get a chance to explore it though, but it seemed like a lot of fun!

I wasn’t brave enough to bounce on it though, but it seemed like a lot of fun!

I loved London and its people so much. I hope to go back when it’s warm and sunny.

  • Belgium

Now, moving across the water south east to Belgium. Judging from the next picture, I am pretty sure that this country may never have an issue with obesity, in my opinion. After a long day visiting the Netherlands, I was very hungry when I arrived back to my hotel room in Brussels. I was too starved to wait for room service, so I immediately headed down to the hotel restaurant, Bien Belge.

Fish of course is always my first choice and lucky for me, they had salmon on the menu in French and English. I don’t always eat large portions, but when the waiter brought my dinner, it made me wonder if they thought that I needed to lose a few pounds ;). I will let you judge for yourself, from the next picture. Salmon is in there somewhere 🙂

A $USD 22 meal to quench your hunger

Lo and behold, a $25 dinner to satisfy your hunger. I am not kidding!

  • Bedding

Another observation while in Europe was about bedding. This sounds like an odd one, but please bear with me. I grew up in Rwanda, where a normal bed has one fitted and one flat sheet, or 2 flat sheets, and a comforter on top of that. This is the same in the United States. Europe is different apparently. You only have a fitted sheet and a comforter. You should have seen the look on their faces, every time I asked the hotel staff for a second flat sheet.

Of course the sweet housekeeping ladies spoke practically no English, so the front desk was the main contact. The only problem, every morning when the housekeeping came through, my flat sheet was obviously gone, understandably. Then it’d be the same thing over again in the evening. I just don’t understand how people use the comforter only. I am going to spare my imagination from wondering if they wash the comforters every time a guest leaves!!

  • Egg mystery

First, I must say that the European hotels breakfast is nothing similar to what I often see here in the United States, even in similar hotel brands. In the US, many hotels don’t offer complementary breakfast to their guests; and some that do, choices are limited. Take it from someone who has had her share of traveling, although I don’t always have time to eat breakfast before work.

In European hotels, not only that breakfast is absolutely complementary, they have no shortage in breakfast item choices. That was my observation in all European countries I have been to so far. I may be biased toward the Hilton hotel chains I stay at, but I can’t imagine that it’d be different from other hotel brands.

The Hilton Executive Lounge, London @ breakfast

The Hilton London Tower Bridge Executive Lounge @ breakfast

Now, while in Brussels, one morning after breakfast, I grabbed a snack for later. One of the few items I took was an egg. I was pretty sure that it was a hard boiled egg that I was going to snack on later. Well, “later” came around, and with excitement, I cracked the egg, only to be surprised with a mess everywhere on my room desk. I was horrified. The egg was raw; I will spare you the rest! I guess I can’t tell the difference between a hard boiled and a raw egg, but I think that I simply did not pay too much attention.

One thing I remember though is that in the morning when I was at the restaurant, there was no chef, I am positive, to make omelets for guests on spot, or hard boiled eggs for that matter. I spent 3 nights at this hotel, and grabbed breakfast every morning. What raw eggs were doing next to bread, fruits and other breakfast items is beyond me. I still haven’t found an answer to what Belgians do with raw eggs on the go 😀

The sign says it all ;). I enjoyed touring the city of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Centraal: I enjoyed touring this city too

In addition to Amsterdam, I also visited Haarlem, in the Netherlands. I plan to write about my trip specifically to Haarlem in another post. I am so thankful to my friends in Brussels who took me to Amsterdam and Haarlem. It made my trip easier rather than having to figure things out on my own, especially that apparently Amsterdam is known for drugs and prostitution, and I was certainly there for neither!

While in Haarlem, it was obvious that it’s not a diverse town, whatsoever. I have never laughed so hard than when one of my friends (all from Rwanda) made a joke. She said that if our other friend lowered his hat and held it upward, that everyone around us would have started putting Euro coins in there. Not sure if poor people there are mainly black but the town is exclusively white for sure. The joke made my day because I laughed so hard!!

Needless to say, it was an amazing experience and getting to connect with my friends in all these places made it even more enjoyable. I hope that my next visit to Europe will be to Germany and Poland at minimum. Can’t wait!!

Confessions of a Westernized Mind!

Remember that post I wrote a while back on expatriate living? If you haven’t read it, you definitely should. You can get the link here: Expatriate Moments of Brevity: Life Abroad! This next article is almost a continuation of this previous post; yet again, I write about my own experience and some observations as I compare first and third world countries. My intention is NOT to offend anyone or point out weaknesses. I only share my personal experiences (good or bad), and hope that you will be entertained, or encouraged!

When you relocate to a western country, some of the following things may be a true sign that you have indeed adjusted and feel at home in your new home. In this context, the western country is the United States. I haven’t lived in any other country besides the US and Rwanda. So, buckle up and enjoy yet another one of my life’s experience blog post.

NY JFK Airport. My heart holds lots memories from this one including my very first day in the US!

In my opinion, you’ll know that you have truly blended in when:

  • Your life absolutely revolves around a Calendar

In United States, every single person has a calendar. When I say a calendar, I don’t mean the one you hang on the wall or stick on the refrigerator and use it to remind yourself what day of the week it is. Although that one is good too, but that’s not what I am talking about. This is a list of plans and appointments one has per day, week, if not the whole year: it be meetings, doctor’s appointments, shopping spree, dinner plans, an afternoon at the park, going on vacation. I won’t even go there for those who have kids.

Seriously, you have to live off of one of those otherwise your life will be extremely complicated. A single day gets filled with so many stuff that can barely fit in 24 hours. Whether you have an easy or the busiest job, everyone just has a busy life around here. It’s normal to hear that someone cannot get together because their schedule for the whole week or several weeks is all booked up.

In Rwanda, a busy schedule like that is normally for important and super rich people. If you told someone in Rwanda that you will have to check your calendar first before responding to their dinner invitation, they may wonder if you just fell from another planet! If you are a foreigner living in Rwanda, they’ll assume that it’s foreign stuff; if you are Rwandan, you’ll definitely be called arrogant.

Which one do I take :D. Waltham, MA

Which street do I take? So confusing :D. Waltham, Massachusetts 

  • Your patience shrinks over time

I often joke that my patience stayed behind when I left Rwanda for the United States. In Rwanda, everything is almost in slow motion, people are always late and have no decency to apologize or show remorse for their being late. When you arrive on time, it actually indicates that you have nothing better to do. Being on time doesn’t just mean anything to anyone over there. During one of my visits home, my siblings and I attended a service on New Year’s Day at a local church. A preacher was announced and given 30 minutes to talk.

Almost 2 hours later, the preacher didn’t show any sign of wrapping-up. It was very hot inside, which is normal there because most places aren’t air conditioned. As soon as the preacher finished his message, I made my way out as soon as I could. When it was noticed that some people started to leave (I wasn’t the first one to leave I promise), the ushers closed and guarded doors to stop people from leaving. I was in shock!

Then, I remembered that I was in Rwanda, where people can go on and on and ignore that others have other plans for the day or families to go to. Some religious or government events may last for 3-5 hours and people don’t complain or threaten to leave, even if it’s very hot! Like most Rwandans, this is something that never bothered me before, not until I moved to the US. Most events in Rwanda have a start time, not the end. Everyone knows that it ends when the last person leaves.

On the contrary, in the United States, you better be punctual in everything or you may end up in a room by yourself. Everything and everyone has a determined schedule. Unlike in Rwanda, a meeting scheduled to start at 10 am does actually start at 10 am in the US. As you drive down the street, there’s always someone in so much hurry to get anywhere but there. You certainly cannot be late for a meeting; everything is on time and according to the schedule. I am not saying that everything is perfect; but comparing to what I was used to in Rwanda, it’s definitely the opposite.

The aerial view of the Dallas Fort Worth Area

  • You complain often about “simple things”  

I like the name it has been given to justify the frequent whining reasons: “first world problems”. It does not matter who you are, there is always something to complain about around here everyday: a long line at the grocery store checkout counter, a long wait before you are seated at a restaurant or the meal arrives, how unfriendly the website browsing experience is, a slow internet connection, an order that took an extra day to arrive, a hard time finding a parking spot or parking too far from the door, a slow computer application, forgetting your phone/computer charger, no free Wi-Fi in a public place, and the list goes on.

If you live in United States, just recall one of your long days. If you live in a developing country just google “first world problems” and you will understand what I am talking about.

My fav hotel of all the time. Simple, friendly, clean, affordable!

My favorite hotel of all time: simple, friendly, clean, affordable! I whine less here 😀

I have to admit that it makes me sad when I find myself doing exactly the same. For instance, I travel often on business and get to stay at very nice 4 or 5 star hotels. Perhaps because of my hotel loyalty status (frequent traveler) or my employer, sometimes junior suites type of rooms get priced the same as a regular room or close for my stays. So, when I book one of those but the hotel staff doesn’t honor my reservation, I get so annoyed.

I feel disappointed when a fancy hotel room has towels or a room that is not so clean, a small bathtub, a TV screen that’s not as fancy as the hotel, or simply when I get a rental car that’s not the same one I booked online. I complain about US Airways all the time; this airline services have been so bad every time I flew with them so far. I was very disappointed when I learned their merge with American Airlines, my favorite airline. Silly things like these!!

When did I become so spoiled, I often wonder!! How do I get carried away and tend to forget my past hardships, for example when I didn’t have a place to stay at some point in life or food to eat? I have to say this though, growing up in a third world country, I learned to keep my frustration to myself.

To be honest with you, it’s easy to get irritated here for reasons I still don’t grasp myself. I’m not sure if it’s because of the possibility to dream here (the American dream!), or the freedom of everything that tends to make you take life for granted. Whatever the reason is, when you move to the US, you will know that you are home when you experience the first world problems and you aren’t ashamed to freely express your frustration.

  • You need some “ALONE” time 

I don’t know how it is in your home country but everyone knows everyone in Rwanda. Whether you keep your life private or not, people will know where you live, the school that your kids attend, when and who comes over to your house, everything. Don’t worry, you won’t have to give anyone a memo. For things they are not sure about, they will map out a scenario sometimes to complete your life story, in their view point.

A Treat by Embassy Suites during one of my travels!

A Treat by Embassy Suites (New Jersey) during one of my busy travels!

For example if you are my age and still single, they will come up with the reasons why you’re not married, even thousands of miles away. If you are too skinny, it’s definitely because you are poor and don’t have enough food. No explanation needed! Everyone is in everyone’s business. It gets better: when you have a ceremony, party etc., you have to invite everyone and their brothers. If you don’t, then there comes your enemies and you become a talk of the whole town.

Fortunately though, when you are sick or need help, everyone will be there even if they are not that close. They will visit and stay until you hope and pray that they will leave so you can rest your eyes and tired body. People will bring food and be there for you even if they are not your friends. So, that’s community in Rwanda as I know it. There is never a quiet time; there are always people in your home and everywhere, talking and whatnot. There’s no such a expression as “alone time” in Kinyarwanda, not for general use anyway!

SO, when you move to the US, you will definitely want some time to yourself, at home or somewhere alone, sometime doing absolutely nothing. If you have felt or been through any of these, welcome home! You are NOT into this alone! You have just been Westernized 😀

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Bienvenue au Paris, France! 

I love what both the American and Rwandan cultures have to offer; I enjoy learning new things and writing about it. What has been your experience when you moved or visited a first world country from a developing country or vice versa?

 

The Art of Trust: Our Assurance!

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.Jeremiah 17:7-8

Sometimes, when I share my experience during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and its aftermath, my audience often asks me what I struggled the most with after the loss I endured. I have talked about the pain of watching my siblings especially my youngest sister Mireille who doesn’t recall much about our childhood or our loved ones we lost during the Genocide against the minority Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda. This truly breaks my heart. I also talk about how God enabled me to forgive my family members’ killers. However, there is something else I don’t say often.

Trust2

Trusting people does not come to me easily. As I talk more about my personal life, my failures and fears, although I must admit that it has been both challenging and thrilling, it has certainly helped me with healing and forgiving. I am very thankful for another chance I have been given to life and the great opportunity to be able to share my story with all kinds of people. It may help someone. However, I still struggle to trust people.

It’s still painful to grasp that neighbors who spoke the same language, whose children we attended the same school and played together, worshiped at the same mass every Sunday, would murder their fellow neighbors, people who meant the world to me. It hurts so badly to feel abandoned by relatives when you’re young and need them the most. It changes everything when love is taken away from you at a very young age and people who should care don’t feel empathy toward your horrifying circumstances.

It absolutely hurts when a friend you trust so much lets you down or people you rely on are not there when you need them the most. It is disappointing when you share a personal struggle with someone but they don’t take it seriously. It hurts when you have expectations for certain people and trust them but they turn their back on you when you need them. It is heartbreaking when a religious leader you look up to turns out to be your worst nightmare.The list goes on..

trust

The truth is that, people will probably let you down. Unfortunately some people change and we often make wrong choices. We are human beings and the devil takes advantage of our weaknesses. But also, Timothy explains what is to come:

“But understand this, that in the last days, there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” 2 Timothy 3:1-5

Nonetheless, you’re not meant to place your trust in your friends; there is not a single person in this world who is perfect. On the contrary, you are called to love everyone unconditionally and put your TRUST in GOD alone. He is the only one who will NOT: disappoint you, let you down, turn his back on you, forget about you, leave you as orphan, irritate you, or delay.

You can trust that God understands your pain better than anyone else and that He will come to your rescue. Even though people may not be there for you, God will never let you down! You can trust Him fully and fix your eyes on Him! When you feel all alone and disappointed, remember that you are not into this alone. You can trust God with all your life!

Although it is a great weakness of mine to open up and trust easily, God Has been patient with me. He Has enabled me to trust Him completely first and foremost, and to forgive when people I am able to trust let me down. His Grace has also been overflowing through seeking forgiveness when I am not there for those who need me the most. Thank God for His wonderful promises we have been given:

Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” Isaiah 49: 15-16

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” Psalm 125:1

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior”. Isaiah 43: 2-3