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 😦

  • 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 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. “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power.” — 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 “Fair”, He is JUST!
  8. The Truth Behind My Smile
  9. It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” ~ Mother Teresa
  10. My Soul Magnifies the Lord: Now & Always!

God bless you,

Alphonsine

Very Honored. Thank you!

I am very very touched and thankful to The Roofs of Kathmandu, for nominating me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.  I’m not good at writing or blogging by any means; therefore, I am especially grateful that my posts would be recognized as inspiring!

blog-award

 

As per the rules of this award, I have to share 7 things about myself. So here it goes:

1. I am a female engineer and absolutely love the reset button that can reset devices to factory default on network devices. I sometime wish there was an easy quick reset button in the human body system 😀

2. I have no clue what to say to strangers I just met. I would rather sit quietly and make people around me wonder if I speak/understand English.

3. While most women I know enjoy a shopping spree, this one is not my hobby.

4. Some people think that I am funny but I am not sure where they get that from. On one occasion, I shared a soccer game joke to an audience of about 50 people and only 5 got it!

5. I don’t understand sarcasm at all and most of the time I don’t get jokes around here. Perhaps I need more time?

6. I have no talent whatsoever, nothing comes easily to me. In case you are wondering, I’m not good at writing either. I make things up as I go!

7. I absolutely can’t stand pages and pages of instructions. It’s definitely one of my pet peeves. I would rather dive into the process and skim through a few pages when I get stuck! Or eventually end up reading the whole thing because my few pages don’t add up :(. Why doesn’t every topic have only one page of instructions anyway???

The next thing that I’m asked to do to successfully accept this award, is to nominate 15 other amazing bloggers. However, I haven’t had a chance to find many bloggers to follow. So here is my list:

1. The Roofs of Kathmandu

2. 26 Letters – Countless Stories

3. Relationship Over Religion

4. 500 dresses

5. Your World View Defines You

6. Assertive Servants 

To participate, you must

1. Thank and link to the amazing person who nominated you.
2. List the rules and display the award.
3. Share seven things about yourself.
4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
5. If you like, proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

If you’d rather not participate, that’s OK too. Just know you’re appreciated.

A Poem: I’m Not Asking!

“Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for 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

 

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GOD, I am not asking for silver or gold;

Lest I become wealthy and forget your statutes and precepts.

Give me enough to share with those in need!

I am not asking for a supernatural intelligence;

I may be led to believe that I am above everyone;

I’m desperate for your wisdom to discern between right and wrong.

LORD, I am not asking to become a celebrity;

I may think that it’s my fame that works things.

Let the whole world know what You have done in me.

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Dear GOD, I don’t want to be perfect;

I may boast.

I am craving for your humility, patience and guidance.

GOD, I am not asking that things go my way;

I may think that I am leading.

May your will be done every day.

Father GOD, I am not asking you to raise me above the world;

I may think that I rule.

Capture my heart and dwell in it richly!

“No one has the power to shatter your dreams, unless you give it to them.” ~ M. Greyson

Google images

Google images

When I was a little girl, I was my Dad’s princess. As far as I knew, he was the most powerful man alive. I felt strong and safe. I may have been tiny in his arms, but my Dad’s confidence in me assured me that I could be anything I wanted to be.

In the 3rd grade, one day my teacher approached me on a Tuesday afternoon, to ask me if I could teach my class from Wednesday through Friday while she was away. She quickly navigated through what she wanted me to cover while she was absent. I am not sure what was in my mind but I agreed.

Reflecting back, I never needed help with my school homework. I am not sure how but I just understood my subjects very well. So, when I was asked to substitute for my 3rd grade teacher, I didn’t hesitate. I always enjoyed helping my classmates understand the subjects as much as I did. Later that week, perhaps a neighbor brought the news to my dad that instead of learning as a student, I was made a teacher.

If she has something to offer to others, I don’t see why she shouldn’t do it“, my Dad answered. He always believed in me. I knew I could become anyone I wanted to be. I was encouraged to dream, by the most positive influential and amazing father on this planet. My Dad was always proud of me, I could see it in his eyes, although I was young. No wonder why I enjoyed his attention so much.

From Google images

Google images

After I lost my parents to the Rwandan genocide, it was a remarkable change in everything that surrounded me. I was no longer a princess, smart, or allowed to dream. I was someone none of my relatives really wanted, of which to this day I still don’t understand why. One of my aunts (mentioned here) told me that I had no future ahead of me, that I won’t be able to accomplish anything in life.

Also, one religious icon that we all looked up to in high school once told me that I am an orphan, and that is limiting. Or painful expressions like “orphans grasp from the crowd; they don’t really have to be told things”. As I left that cult, I was few inches close to denying God for good because of this false preacher. During high school and college, I didn’t have anybody to encourage me to stay in school, leave alone someone to cheer me when I did well in my tests. As I faced hardship, no one even whispered to me that things would be okay. But Jesus did!

You may have been told some of these things and possibly many more. It may have come from family members, relatives or friends telling you that you are naturally weak or a failure, that you will never do well in life. It may be the devil’s voices that tempt you to despair, reminding you of your past mistakes. Or it may come from life’s trials and tribulations on the road to success. Or you may perhaps have been bullied in school because you looked, talked or acted differently, and that may have led you to believe that you are simply incapable of accomplishing anything major. The list goes on.

Google images

Google images

Today I have good news for you. It does not matter how disappointing your past may have been, it is not too late to keep dreaming. It may not be what you had wanted to become when you were young, but today is your day. Remember this: God is not dictated by bad wishes directed to you from the devil or people.

Don’t let what others say or think about you shape your life decisions. Don’t spend time contemplating on your past failures; things, plans, projects, people, friendships, relationships that didn’t work out. Use it as stepping stones to navigate the road to a hopeful future. God’s plans are to prosper you, not to harm you.

Do you have something that you have been praying for and wishing for a long time? Keep asking. GOD’s ear is not deaf, I am sure of this. While you are waiting: pray, love, work hard, dream, believe, hope. I CANNOT promise to you that you won’t encounter challenges or delays, life is very unpredictable. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, to extinguish and squash our hopes, but God Almighty is STRONGER. If one door closes, knock on the next. Keep climbing, keep walking, keep striving.

Don’t give up, do not lose hope! A small, slow progress is better than a lost dream. Great things happen to those who persist. If you look around, some people have made it, and you, too, CAN!

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Making Wise Decisions

My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right. Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.Proverbs 23: 15-18

Do you ever wonder if the life decision you are about to make is wise or if it is God’s will? Five ways that can help you during the process. By Will Toburen.

1. Have I searched what the Bible has to say about my decision?

2. Does this decision make a good sense?

3. Have I sought the counsel of other believers?

4. Have I committed this decision to prayer?

5. What is my ultimate motivation?

More at God & the rest of the week!

Overcoming Shyness!

For lack of a better post title. On a serious note though, one of my greatest weaknesses is that I don’t know how to start up a conversation with someone I just met. And Google amazes me. When you search on “how to start a conversation”, it gives you a bunch of things to try out but it just seems like ten things to do to land a dream job, or how to stay healthy or even better, read food recipes. It is just overwhelming, especially that I use Google search enough, and I read so much material for my job throughout the day; therefore, the last thing I would want to do is to sit down and learn how to do an icebreaker, after work. Unless it’s a graded homework, so thank God it isn’t.

I really never considered myself shy before, but I guess I am but that’s not the only the problem I encounter. In addition to the fact that I would rather keep everything to myself than figuring out what to say and what to leave out, I cannot recall people’s names and where I know them from. I feel terrible about it. I honestly have no idea what happened. During my undergrad, I used to be able to memorize school books cover to cover, for certain subjects and courses, to the point that my classmates joked that I cheat with my head.

I also could easily memorize phone numbers. At any given time, I would unintentionally cram most numbers I often called, and it’d be a few dozens to be specific. Most of those I surprisingly still remember to this day. But in the last 5 years or so, I have only  been able to memorize no more than five phone numbers. Another weird past memory, it was very easy for me to memorize license plate numbers; who does that? But that’s in the past, apparently it’s all gone.

So, one of the Google suggestions to overcome shyness, is to tell a funny joke; oops. Trust me, I had tried. It’s just not for me. The last time I tried to tell a soccer game joke to an audience of about 40 people, less than five people got it. The joke goes like this: There were two fans at a soccer game who were rooting for their teams and doing what normal fans do during a game: they yelled at the players instructing them what they should or shouldn’t do. Then one of them got up and loudly yelled: “that guy just hit our team’s player, it’s not fair.” Then he slowly sat back down and leaned over to whisper to the second guy: “what are the names of teams playing today?”. That’s the end of the joke, and good luck figuring it out :).

Source: www.google.com/images

Source: google images

And about how to approach people? I am simply intimidated. But I am absolutely okay if someone else approaches me and asks me questions. Nothing is as terrifying as a group of individuals I have not met before; I would rather sit and make people around me wonder if I ever open my mouth. I smile though, I promise, to assure people around me that I understand English. One day, after going to our church young professionals gathering for a little bit over two years, one girl who attended for the first time that night approached me to say that she really liked the message and that she would come back. And I am sure I said that I am glad to hear that, and added that I enjoyed it as well. And then she proceeded to asking me if I plan to come back. Then I smiled and mentioned to her that I have been coming for two years and I am sure I will come back. Apparently, when you are quiet, it may be a sign of loss of interest??? I don’t understand why most of the time I don’t feel like I have something important to say to people.

One weekend, I was asked if I’d be interested in reading a Bible passage in front of our church congregation. I was not sure if I should say I will pass, or thank you for asking but I am scared :D. But I gathered my courage, prayed and responded that I would be honored to do it. Before the day could arrive, I was trembling with fear and nervousness when I imagined standing in front of hundreds of people, but the time came and God gave me strength. I was astounded to hear that people didn’t detect fear in my voice. And by the way, I call myself a Motivational Speaker. I guess I don’t know what that means. I have been sharing God’s work in my life with different groups of people though, and all the credit goes to God for real.

But there is much more to my awkwardness: I cannot keep people’s names or where we met. The easier the name is, the less likely I will remember it. I recently attended a conference on a weekend and carpooled with several people. In the end, as we parted, I gathered my strength to give a warm send off to one of my new friends by politely saying that it was nice to meet this friend. Then my new friend looked annoyed by my unreasonable excitement and responded that we had met many times before, once at my house and other places, and added a thank you. I was heartbroken and disgusted by my memory leak.

On another occasion, this one person looked familiar but I didn’t believe we had met in person. So again, trying to stretch my comfort zone,  I extended my handshake to say: “I don’t think we have met. My name is Alphonsine.” My new friend looked at me as if I was crazy and answered that we met during an other yet long trip where we had a chat about different things. Not only we had met before, we were friends on Facebook. What a shame. Oh, and sometime I blank out on names of people I had known for a while, especially if I haven’t seen them in a long time. I can go on and on with my awkward moments. The best thing that stays in my head though, is people’s life stories. Although I can’t often put the name and the story together, when we get to know each other better, we click right away.

So to overcome my challenges, I stay quiet until I have something better to say rather than embarrassing myself :(. I can write long paragraphs and stories though, can’t you tell? :D. I definitely find it more easier to interact with laptops and smartphones. And that’s the modern technology, which has clearly proved to supersede any social interactions. It’s very sad.

This is my struggle. I am not happy about it and I am trying the best I can. I hope and pray that I overcome, and that my friends are patient with me. How about you, how do you embrace a new culture and start a conversation with people you just met? I would like to hear your opinion.