Looking Back at 2019: I am Beyond Humbled!

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me. ~ Psalm 13:6 (NKJV)

My People, my Family, my Treasure, my Blessings, my Gifts from heaven!

Another year in the books! 2010’s coming to an end, and we are about to start a new decade. As we wrap up 2019, I want to take this moment and reflect on the past 12 months; I am deeply humbled and filled with gratitude to Jesus, my Lord & King, to my amazing family, incredible friends, and community around the world. 2019 may have been my busiest year to-date, but it has also been the best year of my life! The Lord Has truly been great to me!

So here is to summarize my 2019:

  • I got married 

I tied the knot with the man of my dreams! I ask him often what took him so long ūüėÄ He is by no means perfect, and I am not either. But he is absolutely perfect for me! Almost a year later, I love him even more, if possible. I shared more details about our big day in this post: ‚̧ԳŹOn This Day, I married my Best Friend‚̧ԳŹ

Our First Dance

  • I made it to the Asian continent, for the first time!

Xin ch√†o (hello in Vietnamese)! After a long deliberation and having way too many options (which doesn’t always help), we finally ditched the idea of a honeymoon in Hawaii at sunset for a completely different, new place. In my defense, it’s very hard to find a location that my husband has not been to. His professional career has taken him around the world, to countries and places that will take me a lifetime to catch up to. Luckily, Vietnam happened to be one of those places he had yet to visit. So, it was settled!

At the Ho Quoc Temple, Phu Quoc, Vietnam overlooking the Gulf of Thailand

As an added bonus to our choices, my husband found a JW Marriott resort, which made our decision much easier since I have been part of their Marriott Bonvoy top tier for the past 2 years I have been staying with them. The Vietnam’s island of Ph√ļ QuŠĽĎc was decided on and we booked our travels without a hitch. And it turned out to be one of the best travel experiences of our lives.

JW Marriott Resort entrance in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Ph√ļ QuŠĽĎc is an Island located south of Cambodia. Relatively undeveloped, and mostly part of the National Park, it’s also home to the world’s longest cable car, white sand beaches, tropical jungles and so many other hidden treasures. We loved it there and the Vietnamese people were very nice to us.

We also visited the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi

  • Cisco Award

In addition to being nominated as one of 10 Cisco Bridge Award Winners (2018) which I wrote in this post: A great Privilege that I got to be named one of them, I was voted as the Cisco 2019 Community Hero. I am absolutely not a hero; but it was my greatest honor to be bestowed upon this title by my Cisco global community, and our Leaders.

Accepting the Award from our CEO Chuck Robbins & EVP & Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas

Part of this award, Cisco donated cash to my nonprofit Rising Above the Storms for our work in Rwanda. Moreover, Cisco flew me and a media crew to film my childhood neighborhood in Rwanda and my nonprofit work there. They produced a short story to summarize it; click here to watch: Cisco Community Hero. The experience was incredible and surreal!

The Award

  • Moving Across Country

This is an understatement to be honest with you. I don’t know if I call it an accomplishment but it did happen! After our wedding, I relocated from one US coast to to the other, literally. Moving is never easy, but moving across country is a huge task to undertake. Luckily, my husband is a great planner, which made the process bearable for both of us.

The pod getting packed up

I chose to (and obviously had to) get rid of things that were not worth keeping, packed the rest and we loaded it up in a moving pod. My car was shipped separately of course. Thankfully, prior to the wrap up, we had already moved anything that could fit in suitcases by plane, without any additional cost, since Delta allows my husband and I 2-3 free checked bags each. It was a blessing! Our moving pod and car made it to their destination without a problem and ahead of time.

  • I finally visited Alaska

Well, in my head, Alaska sounded far away and unique. The first time I got intrigued by the beauty this place is dates back to the movie The Proposal by Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in 2009, about Sitka. I then joked to my friends that I couldn’t wait to visit the country of Alaska. Of course I knew that it was a state, but in my defense, some US states may as well be called countries since sometime laws vary from place by place as if they were independent countries.

Cruising around Juneau, Alaska

Regardless, I wanted to visit it. Luckily for us, when we visited around the 4th of July, it was the warmest summer that Juneau had seen in 112 years apparently. It was in the 80s for the whole time we were there, which was a real treat for me, a tropical weather lady. The caveat, people there don’t speak the air conditioning language. Can you blame them?

It was funny to find out that even our Four Points by Sheraton (a Marriott Hotel) or the Juneau airport didn’t have air conditioning. I mean, who needs AC when the weather rarely makes it to 73 degrees? We couldn’t sleep that well because it was too warm and the space fans didn’t do the trick, but man, did we have fun whale watching, hiking the Mendenhall Park and exploring the Glacier (Nugget) Falls!! It was an amazing experience.

Anchorage, Alaska, at 12:01am (July 7th)

We also visited Anchorage, Alaska, which was an experience of a lifetime for me to go to bed past midnight and it was still bright out. I have never seen anything like that! The sun set around 11:30pm. I couldn’t believe it. In Rwanda where I was born and raised, the sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm, as long as I can remember. Rwanda is only a few degrees below the equator.

  • RAS Board of Directors 

Yes, I finally have a group of incredible & successful women who have decided to help me take RAS vision and mission to the next level. I am extremely excited, grateful to their expertise and I look forward to what 2020 has in store for us, for our kids in Rwanda and the future. Check out our team’s bio.

With some of RAS Board Members

  • Rwanda Learning Center Computer Lab

Yes, you read that right. This past November (2019), we introduced laptops at our Learning Center in Rwanda, to help forge our kids’ confidence, promote skills learning, while we provide them with a motivation to stay in our programs, and prevent them from going back to the streets, and prepare them for a future career in technology.

The Laptops installed in our Rwanda Learning Center Computer Lab

I believe that, giving RAS youth access to technology that they can‚Äôt afford in their home environment, will help them catch up with peers, enable them to engage others outside their communities, and maybe turn out to be a career path for some of them. It is so moving to see how excited they are to learn and can’t wait to see how impactful the knowledge will be to them.

The kids busy learning; Dec 11, 2019

  • I made Delta Diamond

It’s a big deal  to me ūü§∑‚Äć‚ôÄÔłŹūüėä I switched to Delta at the beginning of 2017, from American Airlines. Comparing with American, I personally think that Delta makes it difficult to climb up. However, I realized that Delta was my best shot to travel to Africa because of its partnership with KLM that really makes the journey bearable between the US and Africa. When you reach the diamond status, you are flying at least 10k miles a month and spending a lot of money to accumulate enough base miles (MQMs) and dollars (MQDs). So, I guess you could say the 3rd time is a charm here, 3rd year!

Delta diamond medallion requirements

  • Who’s keeping Score?

Well, I think I broke record this year; I managed to be on 3 different continents, and connected through the 4th, all in one week. How did that happen? After spending about a week and a half in Vietnam, we returned to the United States on a Monday. The very next day, Tuesday, I left for California, where I spent couple of days. Later that week, I left for Africa from San Francisco, via Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I arrived in Rwanda the same week I left Vietnam, on a Sunday. It was a crazy week.

A picture with our kids at our Center in Rwanda

I spent 10 days in Africa; toward the end of the trip, understandably, my body gave in. I went down with a cold. Flying sick is the worst. Getting back to the US, I only had 48 hours to recover from my cold before my husband and I could fly [across country] to finish packing my stuff to get our home ready for rental. The wedding, honeymoon to Asia, a trip to Africa, moving across country, to name a few, all happened between January – March this year.

As we enter 2020, I am even more hopeful and excited about the new beginnings, changes, experiences, travels, new friends.

Thank you very much for reading this. I pray for the Lord’s blessings on you and your loved ones, this holiday season, the New Year and always.

“For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 116: 8-9

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‚ÄôEurope, 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 :(.

IMG_1081

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 ūüėÄ

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 ūüôā

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 ūüėÄ

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 ūüėÄ

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 ūüėÄ

IMG_2130

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?