Inconceivable Heroism Amid Horror

My siblings and I grew up in a large family: two boys and four girls. I am the second and oldest girl; but this post is not about me. I want to share with the world about the fourth child, my little brother Jean Eric Claude. I vividly remember when he was born, I was almost 5 years old. He was a big baby (about 10 pounds), extremely beautiful with chubby cheeks and so much curly hair. I asked my mother if I could hold him, but I was unable to because he was too heavy for me. I am sure you are wondering if I am describing the right person basing on the below picture. By the way, that makes two of us! I am not sure how he grew up to become thinner than the rest of the family.

When Eric was young, him and I used to fight a lot. I am sure I provoked him but he was not that easy either. He played outside always, and was injured all the time from different utensils he collected or perhaps some fights he may have been involved in. He was a stubborn little guy.

On Sunday afternoon, April 24th, 1994, exactly 17 days since the genocide against the Tutsi began in Rwanda, everything changed! God must have stirred something unimaginable in this 8 year old’s heart after my Mom, my old brother Jean Felix, my cousin and I were led by the infamous interahamwe militiamen to the mass grave in the lower Kanombe, suburbs of Kigali, to be killed.

Sparing you the details for now, I miraculously survived but my Mom, brother and cousin didn’t. Although death was everywhere, I undoubtedly cherish that afternoon because God gave me another chance to life. However, the same day I got separated from my brother Eric, and sisters Alice and Mireille, who were all under 10. At this point, they were so certain I was dead, and I thought the same for them.

My handsome brother
My handsome brother, now a grown up man! I’m eternally honored to be called his sister.
With no instructions on what to do next or a moment to think about it, my baby brother immediately assumed the role of a big brother and a parent. Fleeing amid rain of bullets, blood thirst machetes and hiding in unfamiliar areas, he tied up a piece of blanket around his neck so his two sisters could hold on to it.

Sigh…

I often wonder how the blanket didn’t choke him or how he figured out that this would be the best approach for his dear sisters. Few times, the youngest Mireille who was 3, got separated from them; unable to decide what to do, she would simply stay wherever she was left. Was she scared? When you are aware that death awaits you any minute, the sense of feeling becomes numb, even at such age.
As soon as my brother realized that she was missing, when parents left babies to cry to death and everyone was just running for their life, my brother turned around to look for Mireille. No wonder why their hearts have been knitted together ever since!
Also each time they found something to eat after days, my little brother would let my sisters eat first. After they have had enough in their little tummies, only then he would grab some.
Their stories after we got separated still wound my heart greatly. It certainly is where my forgiveness is tried the most. But I praise GOD, for keeping them safe, allowing me to be part of their precious lives, and His amazing Grace!

The spoiled brat quickly became a MAN at that young age, a selfless one. I doubt I would have been able to put my life in danger to find my little sister or keep them safe, when sounds of terror and weeping voices of sorrow rang across all corners of the country. Only extraordinary, rare people would do that. I often wonder what was in his mind, but the LOVE he had for his little sister sure overcame his fear and selfishness of saving his own life. God Almighty knew well that I was incapable of doing such a heroic act and led me alone.

Mireille and Alice: My greatest happiness!
My Beautiful Girls, my Greatest Blessing, my Treasure! Mireille (left) and Alice (right).

Only those who have been through the Genocide can understand my inability to describe the cruelty of the humans who became ferocious animals: babies were cut out of their mothers’ wombs and smashed against walls; relatives denied each other, neighbors turned their back on their friends, husbands killed wives and children, hell engulfed Rwanda. Amid terror, my little brother didn’t care about death that surrounded him, and God used him to keep my little sisters alive. He is my hero, my best friend! If I could get hold of the whole world, I would freely give it to him; if I was part of the Nobel Prize organizing committee, he would get at least a few of those!

My brother’s last name “Mudacumura”, means “innocent in both English and French. This truly depicts who he is. He has every quality you can possibly look in a great man: selflessness, humility, passion, compassion, a big heart, brilliant, kindness, funny, sweet, down to earth, loves God, handsome, a true gentleman! Until this day, he puts his siblings’ interests before his. He is the rock of our family, an exact replica of our father.

I CANNOT wait already for the day he will tie the knot with this incredible woman of his dreams, probably the luckiest girl on this planet. No one deserves happiness more than him. And I can’t wait for the day we will again see our parents, so I can narrate all about a little boy they left behind, now the most amazing man in the whole wide world.

I love my brother with everything functioning in me. Him and his two sisters are the reason I am alive, there is no doubt about that.

They will never, EVER, need anything my ability can provide; God and my parents in heaven have my word!

It hurts my feelings when I think that one day I may not be the first person they all run to for help. Of course I work hard for their independence, but it will greatly shatter my heart. They will always be my children, little in my eyes. And they certainly have all my love and attention, all my days!!!

And this, my friends, is the source of my strength and hope: God, the great I am!

“Rwanda…..is it that next to Texas?”

No kidding. I wish this was a joke but it actually happened, when a Northeastern man, who shall remain nameless, approached one of my friends to ask where she is from. It is true, United States is massive, with many large states that I call countries. By the time you fly from New York to LA for example, someone who had left about the same time may have landed in London and rested. Rwanda is only 395.18 sq miles larger than the state of Maryland. Maryland ranks 42nd in size, out of 50 states. Per Wikipedia, the continent of Europe is only 135, 899 sq miles larger than the United States as a country (this includes water for both). So don’t blame me if I call states countries. It’s no wonder some Americans imagine their country as being almost the whole world and everything else tiny and surrounding it.

Some citizens, especially in New York City have this pride of thinking the city as it being the whole state. I attended grad school in Rochester, NY. Recently though, I met someone in Long Island who is from Brooklyn; when I mentioned that I lived in New York, this person answered: “FYI, we don’t consider upstate as a part of New York.” Go figure! Oh and by the way, there is a map that shows how a New Yorker sees the rest of the US. I did not want to attach the image because it uses some language I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing, but New Jersey is apparently considered the armpit of NY. The mid west is called Tornadoes and Jesus and it has just one big city or something (Chicago!); the north west is a place you fly over to get to Seattle. And that’s the entire north, pretty much. I am sure a Texan sees United States differently too. You gotta love these people.

8391 miles apart
Kigali is about 8391 miles from Houston 😀

So you see, it’s not just the rest of the world viewed as a miniature by some Americans, it’s everyone else. As an advice, if you are from another country, don’t be offended if someone tells you that they never heard of your country before. Many Americans have not visited all 50 states either. But I just like the sense of humor in it all. One day, I volunteered for the Shepherd’s Table Soup Kitchen, a Christian organization that feeds the homeless. I met a very sweet woman, probably in her 60-70s. Shh, I am terrible at guessing age. On one occasion, I met an other lady on the plane and we became friends. During one hour flight, she insisted so many times that I guess how old she was. When I relented, I was 10 years off :(. She really looked like my auntie Angela who is 95.

So this wonderful lady at the Soup Kitchen asked me where I come from. By the way, some people think Africa as one country, so often I try to spare details and introduce myself as from Africa. Normally when I say just that and someone answers: “cool”, then I know they don’t really know much about Africa or where it is. But I wanted to keep a conversation going so I asked this lady: “Do you know much about Africa”?  And the sweet lady answered innocently with excitement: “Yes of course I do. I have been on a mission trip to HAITI”. YEP. True story!

Actually, I was not any different before I first arrived in the US. I thought that Canada was in Europe, because they speak French. I was shocked that just on the other side of the Rochester’s Lake Ontario lay the Canada’s Toronto. BUT this was my ignorance; since last year, I made it my goal to learn the world map. I must say that I am doing pretty good. My intention with this is not to point out anyone’s flaws or judging. I am just writing what I have seen, that’s all. We are after all brothers and sisters.

  • Weight versus Age

These two are a big deal in these two countries, and this is especially for just women. Back home, some women throw birthday parties until they turn 25, and after that, they just stop counting. The following year may be another 25th birthday. Unlike in the US, I don’t remember the last time I was asked about my age in Rwanda. At a birthday party, you come, eat and go. You simply don’t ask how old someone is. It’s not being rude, it’s just our culture I guess. After I arrived in the US, I was shocked to hear someone asking me how old I am, in front of a group of people. Seriously? Why? I wondered. But in the end, I realized that it’s just as asking your name. BUT the weight, it’s a no no. Do never ask someone around here how much they weigh.

On the other hand, the weight number isn’t a big deal in Rwanda; but the way we approach it, it can get sensitive and personal. It’s just more than asking you how much they weigh. If you gain so much weight in Rwanda, someone may walk to you and let you know that you might be bursting out soon if you do not stop eating whatever you are feasting on those days. They will remind that you should join a gym or starve. They don’t use polite or sweet expressions such as you have put on a few pounds; they will make you aware that you are fat. Facebook isn’t that helpful either; if you post a picture, someone may ignore a cute dress and shoes you have on to comment that you are simply huge and asks you what had happened to you. We somehow learned to laugh it out. After being in a culture that reacts differently, it made me wonder if it hurts people back home to be told such things.

By the way, did I mention that gaining weight may be a complement somehow? When a woman gets married and doesn’t put on few pounds, she must not be happy in her marriage. Losing too many pounds may be equally negative. When I first arrived in the United States, I lost several pounds; it took me a while to get used to the food around here. And guess what? Rumor had it that I must be poor and starving here. Yep. As a proof, most my Facebook pictures have such comments asking me why I am so thin. Of course this is nothing hurtful comparing to gaining weight.  Don’t get me wrong, Rwandans are the most hospitable people I have ever met. This is just another casual conversation. I will write more about hospitality in my next post.

One day I joked with friends about this weight topic. One of my friends made it clear to me that she would rather be asked how old she is than her weight. She is very tiny by the way. And I let her know that I would rather repeat my weight to everyone rather than my age. It is very interesting how different cultures can be. Needless to say, that night was full of laughter. Our mutual friends teased this friend that next time when they see her with a few extra pounds, they would ask her if she’s been feasting on McDonald’s. Another friend mentioned to me that if she came to Rwanda and someone told her that she looked fat, she would simply cry. Sadly, I told her that I was just preparing her in case it happens!

  • Being On Time

This is just a language we don’t speak where I come from. When I first arrived in Rochester, New York, I was blessed to have someone to give me an advice. He was a Rwandan Professor at RIT. He said that if I wanted to succeed in this country, I would have to be on time. He said that if it’s 10 am, I should plan to arrive anytime before 10 am and wait by the door if needed. He made it clear that if I was a minute or two late, they may not take me in. I was scared and in rush always. Why is that? Okay so in Rwanda, when you arrive at a place on time, it probably means you are not that important and have nothing else to do. If you were such an important person, you would have been busy with other things.

It took me a while to arrive at 7pm to a party that starts at 7. Not because I am important, but because I was used to show up when I can. Ceremonies in Rwanda end when everyone leaves! When you host a party, 7pm probably means 9pm. And people won’t even display any sign of remorse for making you wait for them, or arriving late. Everyone just somehow thinks that the time is there to get you going, not necessarily to follow it. One American writer who currently lives in Africa said it well: “the African time runs a couple of hours  behind the real time”. This is nothing but the truth!

If you have lived in another country, what were key takeaways in the new culture comparing to yours?

“This Is Hope: God Is REAL”

Thank you for stopping by. I hope and pray that you enjoy my story of how I found Hope in God, through disappointment and hopelessness. Be encouraged, even when those you trust the most turn out to be “not what they claim to be.”

Although almost two decades later, I specifically chose to write this page in the present tense, to truly describe the intensity of suffering in the eyes of a young girl I was back then.

Please click here to read my story under the page called HOPE.

Many many years apart. It looks like I haven't changed much!

Many many years apart. Have I changed much?

This is my story!

God bless you,

Alphonsine

“You Are All Invited”

This is probably not a phrase you hear or see often, at at least not in America, especially on a wedding invitation! However, this sounds all too familiar to anyone who has been invited to a wedding in Rwanda.

Before you are pronounced “husband and wife”, or more specifically say “I do”, it is customarily to go through THREE different types of wedding ceremonies in the Rwandan culture: the engagement party (dowry distribution), the town hall (before the mayor), and finally the church wedding. The engagement party is in normal circumstances a 2-3 hour ceremony where the groom’s family & friends metaphorically bring a dowry to the bride’s parents’ house, to ask her hand in marriage.

My best friend during her engagement party (2009). Probably the most beautiful bride I've ever seen!

My best friend during her engagement party (2009). Probably the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen!

Traditionally, a dowry used to be mainly a cow (a symbol of wealth in Rwanda, and still applicable in some areas); but nowadays, it’s mostly money in cash. Depending on the arrangement between the groom and the bride’s family, this amount of money is most of the time handed to the bride-to-be in advance for the wedding shopping spree. Even so, there still has to be a gift exchange during the ceremony(if not a cow), as a symbol of a dowry. The second part to the engagement party is that it’s the day the bride actually receives her engagement ring (in the western term: the proposal), in front of all guests.

Engagement Party Decoration Example

Engagement Party (Traditional) Decoration Example

Few days or weeks later, the groom & the bride, along with their witnesses have to show up before the district mayor in order to become legally married, since churches don’t have a power to legally marry people in Rwanda as of this writing. The process lasts about an hour or so, and is followed by a small reception.

Finally, few or several days later, it is the final day in the process where, in a church, the priest or a pastor officiates the wedding and the couple exchanges vows, rings & I do’s. This is followed by a reception (it can last up to 5 hours), and everyone, I mean “everyone“, attends. You purposely have to rent a gigantic reception hall, unless you can’t afford it or don’t know a lot of people.

The wedding invitation cards are distributed a month or two before the wedding, and not only it reminds guests that it would be the couple’s pleasure if everyone could be there to celebrate with them, but it also specifically stresses: “you are all invited“. In other words, you have to hand out an invitation card to everyone you know: co-workers, classmates, neighbors, church members, acquaintances, friends, relatives etc. Even better, now with the use of social media, people either post the entire wedding invitation on Facebook visible to the whole world, and/or create a Facebook event where they invite you without even knowing if you are in the country or not.

Therefore, if you have a cousin/friend who’s in town visiting and other friends you were supposed to hang out with that day, you all simply make a trip to this wedding reception. In the end, the total number of guests may range anywhere from 300-1,000 people, sometime more, depending on how famous you are, not to mention that since the invitation card isn’t required at the door, anyone can show up as they please. For that reason, most of the time you cannot feed them all, and you may never know that they were at your wedding.

Rwandan Traditional Dance

Rwandan Traditional Dance

Needless to say, the Rwandan wedding ceremonies are amazing and I still believe they are the best out there: the music, songs, outfits, cultural dances, beautiful people, extremely eye satisfying! And like they say “the more the merrier,” you do not need to hire a wedding coordinator: your friends do everything for you at no cost. Besides professional tasks such as photography, video shooting, hall decoration, food preparation, etc, friends are likely and eager to help out as if it’s their own, as well as contributing some cash.

With this in my head, I was extremely sad when a co-worker at my first job in the United States got married and I wasn’t invited. I wondered what wrong I had done, to not be included. And I was even surprised to hear her sharing the wedding details and excitement; in Rwanda, if you aren’t planning on inviting someone, you simply don’t say anything to them. Only later I learned that around here, people invite a specific number of people, just family and close friends. And the ceremonies are much more smaller, private! It makes sense.

While the newlyweds in Rwanda will definitely not know every single person who made it to their special day, at least not until they watch their wedding DVD and see pictures, in the United States, the bride and the groom specifically walk around to say hi to their guests and thank them for coming. They also make sure everyone who attended feels welcome, gets food, and a seat!! Back home, if you arrive late to a wedding (not to mention that the “Rwandan time” runs a couple of hours  behind the “real time”), you may risk to stand in the back, since seats are first come first serve, unless you are a family member, a close friend or an important person in the wedding.

Church Wedding Day Convoy

Church Wedding Day Convoy, it may consist of a large number of cars

So this week, I received a wedding invitation from a friend I had known a little bit over a year. I was deeply touched because I am not that “very close” to her. Now that I learned that to be invited to someone’s wedding is an honor, I treasured her invitation and couldn’t wait to tell her how excited and special I feel by her invite. I am honored!

The Truth Behind My Smile

I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” Psalm 22:22

Thank you for stopping by. God has put something on my heart that I hope and pray will encourage you. Even if everything else I write here is forgotten, I hope this post forever remains a testimony of my gratitude to God Above ALL.

Bene

It is doubtful whether God can use a man greatly, until first He wounds him deeply.”
– A.W. Tozer

The reason that I am deeply rooted in God does not revolve around all the great opportunities and choices the first world countries have to offer. It is not measured by the credibility of schools I have had the privilege to attend, a job I always dreamed of, the greatest company I work for, the wonderful church I am honored to be part of or things that I achieved in my life. And it’s definitely not because I have nothing better to do.

My life song is about the God who picked me up right after I lost parents at a very young age, hopeless and homeless. It is about the Most High, the Father of the Fatherless who never left me alone. He was there as I juggled and learned what it was like to figure out life all alone when no one else cared. He is the strength behind my growing up in Rwanda. Through struggles of all kinds, He alone kept me going. He is the Comforter who walked with me through the days I spent in the college campus clinic. Attached to an IV, I could not attend most of my classes because of stomach problems resulting from the Genocide aftermath. Yet I graduated with best grades.

Most of the time, materialistically I had nothing, but Jesus shined through every little thing I possessed to make me look like I was just a regular happy college girl. When I didn’t have food for a couple of days, my physical appearance didn’t change a bit to reflect the starvation. It is God who provided for my siblings when I was a student and didn’t have any income. He was right on time and didn’t let them drop out of school or starve. He was our shelter when we’d have been homeless. It is God who patted my back, and with a soothing voice told me that I was not alone as I prepared for the state exam at the end of high school to qualify for college, when the only door to my promising future seemed to be closing.

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.” 1 Samuel 2: 8

I have done nothing to deserve to make it to this day. My parents and many other nice people didn’t make it to see what I see today: It is GOD’S GRACE, LOVE & MERCY. He is my only REFUGE. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

My faith in Christ my Savior, is beyond the shadow of doubt. It has been perfected by the pain, suffering, loss, poverty, disappointment, shame. If there is one thing I am so certain about, it is the hands of the TRUE GOD on me. I am very grateful that I don’t have a “to-do list” to be accepted by the Lord. Jesus endured it all, on the cross, on my behalf. And GOD accepts me just the way I am. He Has won my full attention and captured my heart, for all my days.  To this day, what He has done in me is far ENOUGH to ensure me that every promise He made will be fulfilled, in His timing. Because God is not a human being that He should lie. However long it takes, I will wait. Yes, because the one who started the good work in me is capable of bringing it to completion. Until that day comes, I will still pray, love, hope, trust, seek and rely on Him.

This is what keeps me going, even on the worst of my days, when fear cripples me. I don’t have it all figured, but I have GOD.

What is the reason behind your courage, testimony, brevity? If everything else fades, where is your safe refuge? If it’s the true God, cling to Him, you will be truly SAFE in His arms when trials and tribulations come.

God bless you.

God is not “Fair”. He is JUST!

By definition, being fair means: “free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice. A fair decision; a fair judge; legitimately sought, pursued, done, given, etc.; proper under the rules.” When we get what we truly deserve, in a good way, it’s called fairness. The jurisdiction system should be fair.

On the other hand, God is not “fair“. This is simply a definition we give to “justice”, in our eyes, not God’s. A simple example is Psalm 103:10 (NKJV): “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.” If you read the definition I shared above, this is not fairness at all. If you continue and read a few more verses up to 14, in lieu of fairness, we see mercy.

So, digging deep into the meaning, if God was fair, there shouldn’t be tragedies. Of course God does not cause them but He is mighty to stop them from happening, right? But we, as human beings, have ways of justifying what we “think” is right, or fair. But this does not necessarily mean that God sees it the same way, although we tend to believe so.

Let’s look at these few examples:

  • The city of Moore, Oklahoma pummeled by the tornado is beyond comprehension. Emotions of lucky parents reuniting with their survived children from the two elementary schools debris were simply contagious and very moving. The news of some other parents who waited on what may be their loved ones’ fate was simply heartbreaking.
  • Watching the news as the death toll climbed every minute, of people whose lives depended on the little money they made for hours in a country half way across the world, at a Bangladesh garment factory, didn’t make sense at all.
  • Words cannot depict the earthquake that reduced the Haitian capital city to rubble, where more than two hundred thousand people died in January 2010 and the country incurred heavy irreparable damages. My heart was overwhelmed with fear as I waited for the news of a good friend we met in grad school: Katarina, her husband and their baby boy, who was less than 6 months old at the time. By God’s grace, although they lost everything they owned in Port-au-Prince, they were safe and later returned to the United States. My friend’s survival story is unthinkable.
  • Last but certainly not least, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda remains the worst atrocities of the 20th century; about a million Tutsi (and some Hutu who opposed the genocide) were killed in a period of 100 days. Roméo Dallaire, a Canadian UN Force Commander (UNAMIR 1993-1994), with an objective to assist the implementation of “Arusha Accords” between the Government of Rwanda and the opposition, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), wrote about his experience. I highly recommend his book: Shake Hands with the Devil.

Romeo Dallaire

You can add a lot more stories, and sadly more are happening as I type. Of course the cause of these tragedies always has little to do with people who encounter them. Also, the conclusion is not about who suffered the most or who deserves the most attention. I personally believe that it’s about what we learn from the experience and finding God’s Power & Plan amid the situation.

In my human mind, of course it’s not fair for children to die, or innocent people to suffer, or bad things to happen to good people. It is very hard to understand that some people may be in abundance while in some places others die from hunger. When all this happen, we start blaming God and wonder where He is as everything happens. Many expressions in Rwanda later quoted that the “God of Rwanda” was absent starting the evening of April 6, 1994.

In some scenarios, we even take it further, by suggesting the Mighty God what would have happened, had He been there! We’re not the only ones though. When Jesus arrived 3 days after his friend Lazarus died, his sister Martha started to blame him. She instructed Jesus that if he had been there sooner, that her brother wouldn’t have died (John 11:21). Of course Jesus was there to not only raise Lazarus from the dead, but to also glorify His Father’s Name. If Jesus healed him instead, I am pretty sure that the miracle may have not been as powerful to them as bringing him back to life.

The truth is, no matter how one may seem to have it all together, we each have struggles on our own levels. We face different challenges in life, but the good news is that God cannot give us more than we can handle. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it“. 1 Corinthians 10:13

To sum up everything, I know without doubt that God is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient. It’s absolutely not because certain places or people are cursed that they should deserve what happens to them. “For God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust“.(Matt 5:45). God is Just, Almighty, a Healer, a Counselor, a Father to the Fatherless, filled with unwavering mercy and everlasting grace. Along with that, His calendar, schedule, curriculum, budget, judgement are NOT reasonable to our terms.

God does not cause earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes, but He is right there when and as it happens. After all, we hear survivors’ amazing stories. After all, it’s not by their own power that those are spared. God is forever on the highest throne; His ways are not ours, nor His thoughts are like ours. You cannot advise Him nor question what He’s doing. He does according to His will on earth as it is in heaven. He rules the world with Truth, Grace and Justice. If you trust Him, when everything falls apart, you will be safe in His arms.

Weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who celebrate. Treasure each day you have, tomorrow is not granted. Be eager to lend help, you never know when you may need it, too. Be considerate, mindful and sympathetic. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.

May God comfort those who mourn today and ease pain for those who are suffering, in the name of Jesus. May today all those who are in distress hear His soothing voice and may their hope be lifted high.

May His Holy Name be praised, now and always!

My Little Sisters

Okay, so, when it comes to talking about my children, wait a minute, my siblings, yes I took the liberty of adopting them as my own, I get super excited. You can blame GOD who gave me the love I have for them.

So, it was my birthday few days ago. How old I am? Let’s just say I was born many moons ago. In Rwanda, at least when I was growing up, we didn’t really celebrate birthdays; people barely remembered it was even their birthday, leave alone celebration. That has drastically changed recently though, and I guess it is because of the western influence through movies, TV, Internet, social networks & media etc. Not to mention that you do not ask a Rwandan lady how old she is, and this is almost true :).

My favorite part is best wishes messages I receive from friends and family. I have some friends whom we normally don’t get a chance to talk often, but they sure know when to drop me an e-mail, exactly to wish me a happy birthday. How thoughtful they are! I keep records of inspiring notes from friends, on paper or by heart, but for the sake of this post, I wanted to share this year’s messages from just my two sisters. Whether they used a dictionary, or Google translate, got a help from our brother or whether I underestimate their English skills is irrelevant here. I just love everything about them and their effort. I was deeply touched. “Ndagukunda” means “I love you” in Kinyarwanda.

Mireille Noella

Mireille Noella

Mireille, above, is the youngest of our family. I just love it when she calls me Mom, it melts my heart. I am sure parents would understand. This  is her message on my birthday:”My beloved sis and Mom, may this day brings and makes your spirit bright and there be many pleasant surprises for u from morning to night. May all your dreams come true  and this day be just right especially for u because u deserve it and all My Love.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY. NDAGUKUNDA.

Alice, below, wrote: “I’m so thankful that i not only have a magnificent sister, but an amazing friend that stands by me and supports me, by giving every piece of her life. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LOVE U SO MUCH.”

Alice

Alice

My brother Jean Eric’s messages, like always, are full of wisdom and beautiful wishes from the heart. His English is far better and I don’t get surprised as much as I do when it’s a message from Mireille or Alice.

I love them more than I can ever put in words. I sometime have silly thoughts when I picture my siblings’ respective wedding day. I wonder if I will be called “the mother of the bride/groom” or just “the sister of the bride/groom”, or later a grandma or just auntie. Either way, it will certainly be my best moments. Even if I had to start over again and raise them, I would do it in a twinkling of an eye.