Saturday, May 9, 2015

A music project as community development

Happy spring from Rwanda!  The best, most enriching experiences I’ve had these past few months have been simple, often mundane, and usually in community: washing my clothes by hand, cracking open peanut shells to make sauce for dinner, learning to cook Rwandan-style from our housegirl, Patricia, digging up sweet potatoes in the field.  (My favorite new activity has been pruning our banana trees with Martin.  It’s an art of pulling thin, sticky, onion-like layers of growth away from the plant’s thick celery-like stem and cutting them away, to prevent insects from inhabiting the space between layers and infecting the plant.)  

I also continue to teach English four mornings a week at the pre-school, where the students have now become experts on greetings, domestic animals, and parts of the body.  After teaching two forty-five minute classes, I usually join the 80-100 kids for a portion of recess.  Eight months in, and the adorable little twerps still haven’t tired of swarming around me, clinging to my arms, legs, and hands (one child on each finger), petting my beard and leg hair, and pressing the buttons on my watch.  Talk about unconditional love!  The unguarded affection in their sparkling eyes overwhelms and humbles me.  

In April I was fortunate to participate in Genocide Remembrance activities in my village, to remember and mourn the horrific organized killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda which began in April 1994.  For several days in early April, every village and neighborhood in Rwanda cancels work for the afternoon and and spends a few hours in a public space reading and reflecting on their painful past.  Two days were devoted to exploring the colonial history and thirty years of government-sponsored hate rhetoric that (at least in part) caused the genocide.  Another two days were were spent discussing the events during the genocide itself, and another two days about how the genocide was stopped, and how Rwanda has been able to move forward for twenty-one years.  Although I could only understand a fraction of what was said, it is clear to me that the nation’s wounds are far from healed.  But that has made it all the more humbling to see how bravely the nation recognizes its injuries and moves on in spite of them.

The main activity I want to write about (something I’m proud of) is a massive music project for the Lutheran Church of Rwanda I’ve been working on for a few months.  So far, I’ve created music notation on my computer for 207 Kinyarwanda-language hymns and made a booklet of the liturgy music and texts used every week during Sunday services.  I decided to do it when I noticed that, of all the people in my congregation and others I’ve visited throughout the year, almost nobody had a copy of the Rwandan Lutheran hymnal, which is no longer in print.  This means that every Sunday when the leaders sing the liturgy, the psalms, and hymns, almost no one is able to participate.  Most people simply sit and listen for the entire three- or four-hour service.  Perhaps they think that that is all they are supposed to do in church— sit and listen, never to lead or even participate.  As someone who believes that healthy organizations and institutions ought to have opportunities for participation on all levels of membership, not just for the official leaders, I decided to do something!  

To my surprise, working on the hymnal and liturgy has helped me think about international community development in new ways.  In a nutshell, I see now more clearly than ever why projects fail unless they’re rooted in passionate commitment by the broader community.    Sometime during my hundreds of hours recording and collecting hymn melodies, typing lyrics, formatting music notation on Finale, editing, and printing for the music project, I realized that it will all mean nothing if the leaders and members of the Lutheran Church or Rwanda don’t care enough about music and liturgy to print it, learn it, and teach it.  The same can be said for public health campaigns in the States, or government efforts to increase agricultural productivity in rural Africa: before the leaders can make any sustainable, meaningful change, the regular folks have to care enough.  Realizing that everything inevitably begins in the grassroots makes progress all the more challenging, but also much more rewarding and authentic.  


Perhaps it seems rather obvious, but I can now understand it at a deeper-than-intellectual level through my music work, having myself been the one to generously pour my time, passion, and musical knowledge into it.  Now, I’m excited to start trying to get church members excited about music, and see if sparks ignite.  I won’t be devastated if I don’t see any tangible progress from my work; the journey in community is more valuable than the intended destination.  But I also have hope that in years to come (especially with the accompaniment of future YAGM), the LCR may discover new richness in its worship and music traditions.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

I'm still alive!

Hello, dear friends!  I’ve reached the middle of my year in Rukira.  The pace of life these last few months have been slow and simple as were the months before, and I love it that way.  Unlike my life in college where my activities quickly changed with the passing of deadlines and the arrivals of new semesters, my activities in the village remain pretty much the same.  With the passage of time, I have been delighted to catch glimpses of the impact of my “work” here: a few belt loops lost around Martin’s waist from our exercises (we started doing living room work-outs twice a day in January), my pre-school students mastering a few more English vocabulary words, my Kinyarwanda conversational skills blossoming.  But what I’m delightedly discovering these days is that, when I don’t catch glimpses of “progress,” I’m no less satisfied.   I’m slowly letting go of my dependency on the Tangibles to measure my “success” or “value” in this place, and ever-more content to consider my worth in this community in terms of my relationships.

Let me explain: Two months ago, I came up with a plan to re-vamp my Youth English Club and more effectively teach village youth how to speak English.  My first months of the English class had felt like a failure: attendance was frustratingly poor, with most people showing up two hours late or only coming once every two weeks.  It had been impossible for me to use a lesson plan, since I never knew who/how many people to expect.  I spent many afternoons sitting around with one determined little kid, practicing verb conjugations and drawing pictures to define English words to which I hadn’t learned the Kinyarwanda translation.  So at the beginning of January, I came up with a plan to improve attendance, to be prepared for any number or skill level of students who might show up, and to make lessons more effective.  I took a few weeks off from teaching the class (no one had been showing up in late December, and I chose not to revive it) so I could prepare attendance sheets, lists of vocabulary words and verb conjugations, and potential lesson plans for my big Round 2 plan of attack.  I was sure that, if I prepared well, I could make the most of any situation and make a real, tangible impact.

Then one day, I ran into Dusabe Philipe, our church’s smily and charismatic evangelist.  He studied English for a few years in school, but lacks confidence and speaks poorly.  I spontaneously asked when we could practice English together; and a few days later, we were sitting in the church office with a notebook and a Beginner’s Bible that my Mom sent to me.  I hadn’t made a “lesson plan” for this casual meeting, but it took only a few minutes to realize that anything I might have prepared wouldn’t have been nearly as good as plain-old conversation.  Soon we closed the Bible as the conversation moved to ports— yes, as in seaside stops for cargo ships.  I remembered that Philipe’s focus in Secondary School was geography.  As he started enthusiastically telling me about the imports that come to Rwanda from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, it suddenly hit me that there was no better way for him to practice English than to tell me about something he’s passionate about. (Duh.)

But the game-changing discovery I made as Philipe and I chatted about ports was that, all of a sudden, I was no longer so concerned about exactly how much progress Philipe would make in English through our lessons.  I realized that, whether or not he is a super-confident speaker by July when I fly home, we will be friends, and that will be enough for me.  My priorities had shifted from a notion of progress and development that I had brought with me, to a perspective which (I believe) is more in line with that of my companions in Rwanda: that building relationships is life’s first priority, and all other priorities are also channels for relationships.  This change inside of me has made all the difference.  It has liberated me from the disappointment I felt when the expectations with which I came to Rwanda weren’t realized.  And it has led me to find more and more fulfillment by centering my teaching and other activities around the relationships I’m building with playful pre-schoolers, vivacious youth, and generously kind adults.

I have lots of growing to do, of course (don’t we all?)  I still have moments of extreme frustration, impatience, urgency, and other ickies.  But I feel a peculiar combination of peace and excitement about the freedom I’m finding by finding my worth in Community instead of the Tangibles— especially as I think about what that freedom might mean when I return home to a culture so bound to “progress” and “results.”  Most of all, I feel grateful that, odd as it seems, the best people to teach me how I might live a fulfilling life in America (or elsewhere) has happened to be a village of Rwandans.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

“Wait,” Part 1: Advent, International Development, and Giving Up Urgency


6th December 2014

            I had never really given much thought to why Christians celebrate the four weeks leading up to Christmas, much less give them a name.  But after my recent retreat and some reflecting with my fellow YAGM and our country coordinator Pastor Kate, I think Advent is pretty cool.  Dare I say it, I might like the concept of Advent more than Christmas itself, because it highlights and celebrates one of the most common and challenging experiences of life: waiting.

            My experiences in Rwanda (and the act of processing those experiences over the retreat) are helping me to re-conceive of what waiting in the Advent sense really means.  For most of my life in America, the only kind of waiting I did during Advent was what led up to tearing paper off a box and savoring five seconds of surprise over some gift.  Imagine a person at a fast-food drive-through: running late, totally impatient, snatching a grease-stained sack of cheap unhealthy food and hastily devouring it as s/he races down the road, thinking Im late, its the end of the world!!!!  My sense of waiting was like that.  In short, my waiting was rooted in and pressured by the anxiety which comes from fearing the worst (i.e. bad things will happen if Im late, what if I mess up?)

            But I think that the original sense of Advent waiting the waiting for a Messiah was totally different.  Because despite their desperate struggles with injustice (read: actual reasons to feel anxious or fearful), the Messiah-waiters did not feel the same sense of impatient urgency as the fast-food American.  Certainly, I think they longed deeply and expectantly, but with a profound sense of peace or trust not the fundamental fear or anger rooted in impatience and urgency. 

            This brings me to the first of two big things that Rwandans have been teaching me about Advent-waiting: the need to let go of my tendency towards fear- or anxiety- fueled urgency. Im learning this by living on so-called African time: if Im thirty minutes late for something because it rained and the road is muddy, no worries!  Everyone else is probably running behind for the same reason.  If Im thirty minutes late for no good reason at all still! no worries.  In the way that God says My grace is enough for you, people in the village seem to say, Time is our most abundant resource.  Theres no need to hurry: well have time enough.  This has taken getting used to, mostly because Ive been taught that time is money or that time is of the essence, and that therefore the pastor is disrespecting me and everyone else if he preaches for an hour or more without stopping.  But slowly Im realizing that everyone else in the church doesnt seem offended: their sense of time is such that they have the time to listen to someone for an hour without stopping.  Time is seen as abundant, and people are generous with it.  They are patient, and they are not urgent or anxious.

            There is another important sense in which Rwandans are teaching me to give up urgency: they are teaching me to give up my long-term urgency, even in the face of profound struggles.  I started thinking about this when a friend reflected with me that spending a long time on the ground in a developing country makes you lose your sense of urgency about fixing it.’”  Ive found that to be true, and Ive even begun to notice that every time I have an idea about how to fix something in Rwanda (If I teach like this then theyll be proficient in English very quickly! I must design such-and-such resources for teaching music, then the choir will sing in the same key as the keyboard is playing before I leave in July!) is rooted in a sense of urgency and a desire for a conclusive solution.  No matter how well I can recite the script in order for development to be sustainable and beneficial, it must take place over many years and with deep community participation and leadership, I always underestimate exactly what that means.  It means totally giving up the sense of urgency the idea that the clock is ticking, and that (game over!) everyone dies when it stops.

            Because despite the real poverty that many Rwandan villagers feel so acutely every day, theyre okay.  I dont mean to diminish the hunger and hardship and instability that some of these people regularly experience.  But I know them, and I see them smile and laugh and sing and walk slowly and stop to chat, and find help from their neighbors and friends.  Yes, if someone asked them if they wanted more financial security or easier access to medicine or the ability to get three gallons of water without walking four kilometers down and back up a mountain, theyd say yes.  But their lives are not utterly miserable.  And (my main point) they do not live with a sense of urgency about their struggles.  Instead, they wait.  They wait like the Israelites waited for a Messiah.  They are not complacent; they toil and sweat and pursue better lives as they wait.  But they do not hurry urgently or fearfully, as though life will end.  They have the courage to live suspended in the irresolution of pain and suffering, emboldened by the hopeful promise of a better future just like the promise of God coming to be among us emboldens Christians during Advent.

            These reflections have been making me re-think my notions about international development (Ill keep this as short as possible; but if it interests you, check out this excellent article which articulates better than I ever could.)  Simply put, having any sense of urgency in the action of helping a community (or saving the world, to use the hyperbole) gets in the way of actually doing so.  If, however, international development workers are able to relinquish their urgency to live without fear of the problems facing the communities where they work they can recognize thattheres no need to hurry; well have time enough. Having this attitude is essential, because 1. it celebrates the resilience of the people who are not debilitated by their hardship, and 2. it makes it possible to take time for the practices which lead to successful development projects: going slow, listening deeply and creating strategies with all the stakeholders in a community, and rigorously collecting data and hypothesizing why the program worked/failed in a very particular time and place.  Counterintuitive though it may be, one might say that ceasing to worry and hurry to reach the most ideal solution is exactly the way to reach that solution (although expecting a perfect solution in our naturally imperfect world.)  Or one might say that, one the other hand, doing projects with a sense of urgency usually ends up harming the community more than it helps. 

            So, this Advent, Im learning (trying) to wait in a new way, and to forgo my urgency.  Not to wait fearfully, but to wait hopefully in a way that enables people to live with a peaceful mind amidst the chronic uncertainty and irresolution and instability and pain and brokenness of our world.  Im trying to imagine how, if I pursue a career in international development, I might learn to work without urgency like the people Id be helping, and in so doing make a lasting difference.  And Im excited for the sudden moments when the Messiah will appear”— when in little ways every day, the pains and uncertainties and afflictions of life begin to fall away.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Lutheran Church of Rwanda

Nov 22, 2014

Time for a little history lesson on an organization that flavors my experience of Rwanda in a big way, and the institution which invited me to serve in their country: the Lutheran Church of Rwanda.  In no small way, it is also Martin’s history: he was one of the founders of the LCR.

The history begins in the 1950s, when violent anti-Tutsi massacres caused many Rwandans to flee to the neighboring countries of Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and— most pertinent to our story— Tanzania.  As it happens, Tanzania has more Lutherans than any other country in the world (or, at least, it’s near the top of the list).  Martin has described the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania as being “like a state religion”: it has power and wealth, and a huge percentage of membership.  (Kinda like Minnesota, maybe; but without any of the Scandinavian ethnic stuff we often associate with American Lutherans, and with a lot more high-energy dancing choirs.)

Among those who fled to Tanzania was Martin, then a teenage boy.  He and many other Rwandans began to worship at Lutheran churches.  They became part of the social fabric of Tanzania.  For the next forty years, they tilled the land, bled, sweat, made love, raised families, lived, and died in Tanzania.  But always, they looked back to Rwanda, waiting for the day when it would be safe to return.  Kiswahili could never quite replace Kinyarwanda; the country next-door would never quite pass for home.  Never has a Biblical term like “exile” seemed to me so befitting of real people in the 20th century as it did for so many Rwandans.

Of course, looking homewards was a gloomy sight.  The violence of the 1950s escalated until its culmination in the 1994 genocide.  Over the course of a few short months, the entire nation was all but destroyed.  It finally ended when an army of mainly Tutsi refugees, called the Rwandan Patriotic Front, captured the capital of Kigali and overpowered the genocidaires.  Almost immediately, tens of thousands of Rwandan exiles flocked back into the country, eager to return home— despite the lingering danger, chaos, and destruction.  

Re-enter Martin et al.  Like many other bright young male Rwandan exiles in Tanzania, Martin decided to attend seminary and become a Lutheran pastor.  He attended Makumera Theological College in Arusha, was ordained, and served for nearly thirty years as a pastor in Tanzania. He was content there.  But when the genocide finally ended in 1994, a small group of other Tanzanian Rwandan pastors asked him to return with them to minister in a country with a deep need for healing and grace.  Martin reluctantly agreed, largely to heed the requests of his wife.  In November 1994, Martin and six other pastors founded the Lutheran Church in Rwanda.

This week marked the 20th anniversary of the LCR (and, I’m told, the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation).  For the occasion, all the Lutheran pastors in the country— perhaps thirty or forty of them (one of them is a woman)— assembled in Kirehe, a town near the Tanzanian border where the first congregation was founded.  I attended.  There was a festive six- or seven-hour service, complete with choirs, lots of prayers, speeches about the history of the LCR, and the main event: the planting of two trees.  I was tired by the end, but it was special to be there— especially to see Martin and the other living founders of the Church, witnesses of God’s enduring power and faithfulness to God’s people in the most despairing of times and places. 

Today, the LCR is very small, and has very little institutional power.  All but three of its congregations are in the eastern side of the country, close to Tanzania.  Many people seem to see it as a “Church for Tanzanian exiles,” and not especially welcoming to anyone outside of the particular shared history of its founders.  It has problems retaining youth.  It is criticized by the growing East-African Pentacostal movement for its liturgy and songs as being “boring” and “uninspired,” and for its use of theology as evidence of “relying on the head instead of the heart to have faith in Jesus.”  (The Anglican and Catholic churches face similar criticism.)  The biggest difficulty that the pastors express, though, is financial.  The LCR is unable to offer any kind of salary to its pastors, and the weekly offering monies are typically so meager each week that the small percentage which is given to the pastor usually equal less than a dollar.  For this reason, pastors are usually unable to minister anywhere except their ancestral hometown, where they have inherited land for growing enough food to subsist— precisely the reason why most of the churches are close to Tanzania.


Living with Martin, and having met and spoken with many of the LCR pastors, I often wonder how I can help them build a stronger institution.  I have done some little things I know how: I teach child and adult English classes at the church.  I teach guitar, piano, and music skills to church choir members.  I typed up a digital copy of the Kinyarwanda liturgy for the pastors to cheaply print for their members (instead of buying expensive hymnals).  But as for how to solve the bigger problems they face, I can only listen and offer my ideas and foreign perspectives with a few grains of salt.  It is one of the ways that my year as a Young Adult in Global Mission has been an exercise in “living the questions.”  It can be frustrating, but it’s also somehow liberating to admit that I don’t have any answers.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Church Choir

8th November 2014

Several weeks ago I wrote about my first week at church.  Since then, I’ve had many more weeks to figure out a few things about the way things work in the church.  Of particular interest to me has been the music.  (Watch out: I’m about to get nerdy about music.  If that’s not your thing, you might skip this post.)

Choral music is a major component of church in Rwanda.  I’ve visited a number of churches around the eastern part of Rwanda with Martin, and every single one— even the tiny one that meets under a tattered tarp hanging from tree poles on a grassy hillside— has not one, but two choirs: one for the adults and “youth” (people ages 18-35) and one for the kids.  The size of the choir depends on the size of the church, and also on the time time of the year.  (For example, our choir in Rukira swelled in size a week ago, when several youth returned home after National Exams in their final year of secondary school, the Rwandan equivalent of an ACT or SAT test.)  The Rukira Lutheran Choir, known as “New Life Choir,” has about twenty or thirty members.  Most choirs have only a couple of men, but New Life has five or six on a good day. 

Each choir sings an average of two songs during the church service, each of which have approximately twenty-eight verses.  Or, at least it seems like twenty-eight, because they all have the exact same simple melody around four chords.  It gets a little tedious to listen to, especially when I haven’t mastered Kinyarwanda well enough to catch the lyrics.  As they sing, they step together in simple patterns, and use a handful of different hand gestures with the lyrics: raising their open palms as if pleading to God, waving their pointer fingers so as to say “no,” and waving in praise. 

What’s truly remarkable is that nearly every number has original lyrics.  Yes, that means that the choir members somehow memorize two-dozen verses of lyrics which were written by their peers.  (I’ve been trying to fathom how they do it, but I don’t have the slightest clue just yet.)  Sometimes they forget and awkwardly pause to re-group mid-“performance,” but it works out.

I think I subconsciously expected that there would be rich four-part harmonies and elaborate drum beats in African choirs— probably from my experiences singing choral arrangements of African songs in high school and college choir. But in my church, the choir is accompanied by an Yamaha electric keyboard, played by a hip twenty-year-old dude called Umunezero (“Happiness”); and with the keyboard behind, the singers seem to prefer not to harmonize (a huge pity, I think!)   Umunezero is an expert at navigating the settings of his instrument, laying down bombastic synthetic drumbeats and heinous synthesized instrumental voices, and rapidly firing through the successive inversions of I, IV, and V chords with the occasional vi and surprise I7 leading to IV, all in complicated rhythms.  But most of the time, his chord changes and rhythms are completely out of sync with the choir, making for a confusing (sometimes painful) aural experience.  What is most agonizing for me is the process of selecting the settings at the beginning of each song: as a soloist leads off a song (without having pre-determined a starting pitch), the keyboardist shamelessly bangs on one key as he transposes the keyboard into a key he can easily play (i.e. Middle C sounds an E-flat), and then messes around with drumbeats as the singer continues.  Almost every time, the singers suddenly stop after one or two verses as their leader strolls over to the keyboardist, explaining that the rhythm or key he chose aren’t what they were looking for.  (I’d like to suggest they just plan out their settings before starting.)


Having been deeply embedded in American choirs, where we read music and plan out our starting pitch and definitely do not dance and use cheesy synthesizers, my understanding of music is not the same as that of the New Life Choir.  But I’ve realized that the singing isn’t really the point of the choir here.  You’ve probably already guessed: it’s the community.  Which is lucky for me, because I have no better opportunity to make friends with the church youth.  I attend choir rehearsals on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, not because I can actually sing along with their twenty-eight verses (although I do get a kick out of standing in the group to do the dance moves and make the kids laugh).  I do it for friendship.

Monday, November 3, 2014

100 American Shirts

3rd Nov 2014

One of the most bizarre and sobering things I’ve observed in Rwanda is the endless supply of American shirts.  Every day, everywhere I go, I see familiar images and distinctly American names and slogans on people’s clothing.  Those shirts which don’t have logos or text or pictures are probably also from America.

It is evidence of an economic cycle in our globalized world, where Americans (and probably not Europeans, as far as I’ve observed) buy new clothes in American stores or on vacations, get tired of them, and take them to the thrift store, from which they are soon shipped on palettes on barges to poor countries, where people find them in the most remote of villages and buy them for a very low price.  In the sense that poor people are able to clothe themselves at very little cost, it may seem a very positive thing.  But, on the other hand, a constant supply of unwanted clothes from the States also inhibits the possibility for Rwandans to produce and sell textiles in Rwanda: they can’t compete with free clothes from the States!  This causes problems for Rwanda’s economy at large: some studies claim that it is nearly impossible for a country to build a strong economy without a strong domestic textile industry.

It’s a complex global issue, and there’s not necessarily a right way to feel about it.  You can think it’s morally right or wrong, or “intellectually stimulating,” or funny.  But I’ll tell you how I feel: I’m sickened.  I think that Americans need to be less wasteful.  Read the list, and decide for yourself!

100 American Shirts

1.   Maple Grove T-Ball
2.   Wauwautosa Parks and Recreation
3.   picture of animals from Madagascar wearing Santa Claus hats
4.   John Cena (photograph and text)
5.   Phineas and Ferb (picture and text)
6.  American flag (girl’s dress)
7.   picture of American football, text: “Don’t Give Up Ground”
8.   One Tough Cookie (picture of Cookie Monster)
9.   Flight Squad Ace demolition pilot
10. Cleveland Clinic Police Safety Fair
11.  West Pine Middle School presents Mulan
12.  The Sushi Room (blue waiter’s polo)
13.  LOVE
14.  picture of Sonic the Hedgehog covers entire shirt
15.  Brooklyn
16.  picture of USA map on top of an American flag
17.  San Francisco (text above a tye-dye peace sign)
18.  Little Rock CTC (picture of dueling guitars)
19.  Union Catholic Alumni (polo shirt)
20.  Kelloggs (polo, picture of Tony the Tiger)
21.  FISD physical education
22.  Mountain Dew (vintage logo)
23.  Practically Perfect (pictures of small butterflies and tropical flowers surround text)
24.  Sweater: “When will I be famous?”
25.  Holiday Park Zoo
26.  A baby romper covered in UK flags
27.  full-shirt picture of Superman, Flash, and Green Lantern
28.  IBM
29.  Reading Road summer reading program (picture of a mouse in a care, USA flag behind)
30.  LSU Tigers
31.   Chicago Blackhawks (jersey)
32.  US Coast Guard (button-up shirt)
33.  picture of the Grinch and his dog Max
34.  “Life is a game, TWIRLING is serious”
35.  I always give 100% at work (pictures below, probably with a joking message)
36.  ARMY
37.  Pike Place Market
38.  Mexico
39.  Smithsonian National Zoo
40.  San Pedro Racing Hand-Grooved Wheels
41.  University of Michigan College of Engineering
42.  Athens Middle School Blue Hornet Band
43.  Noah’s Ark Summer Camp 2010
44.  ALBION
45.  American Eagle (gray polo)
46.  ProTec Safety First (fleece vest)
47.  GAP (90’s-style half-zip fleece)
48.  Polo Ralph Lauren (red polo)
49.  Newcastle Brown Ale (striped referee style jersey)
50.  Samsung
51.  Irish Whiskey
52.  Spongebob Squarepants
53.  Life’s a Game; Hunting is Serious (pictures of hunting weapons behind text)
54.  Mickey Mouse
55.  Dolce & Gabanna
56.  GAP
57.  Mark Zhen Designs Spokes
58.  “The Drums” (hoodie with picture of trapset)
59.  Crown only a king wears (zip-up sweater)
60.  RVCA
61.  The Avengers (animated comic book characters)
62.  Your Brain in the Game (basketball silhouette)
63.  BMX Motorcross (motorbike exploding from shirt)
64.  J├Ągermeister (worn by little girl)
65.  Pretty Little Cowgirl (cheesy cartoon)
66.  Biscuit Shop (cartoon pictures of baked goods)
67.  Abercrombie (below text, a winged shoe bearing the number ’72)
68.  USPA (giant logo)
69.  Basketball (silhouette of a male athlete)
70.  Full Speed Sport
71.  The Avengers (picture from the recent movie)
72. Yu-Gi-Oh (picture of one of the main characters)
73.  TROY (picture of a boyish Zac Efron from High School Musical)
74.  Time to Sleep (pajama shirt?)
75.  Animatrix 06.03 (advertising a movie release)
76.  Kauai (picture of flip flops)
77.  Pembina Trails School Division
78.  FOX (brand name with a fox head silhouette in place of the letter O)
79.  Crestview Schools
80.  Imperial Valley College
81.  Jersey: Urlacher, Chicago Bears
82.  “Stop pretending you don’t want me”
83.  “Punk Princess Rocks the Future” (pictures of various punk-style things, like plaid hearts with wings)
84.  Alvarez Harvesting— Wimoma, Florida (snap-button jacket)
85.  Shaun of the Dead
86.  Batman (seal)
87.  Obama-Biden (their faces imposed over stars and stripes)
88.  Bart Simpson
89.  Forever Love (punk hearts)
90.  Amherst soccer
91.  Bart Simpson on a skateboard
92.  Snoopy and Woodstock
93.  Alaska Adventure ’86 (fleece jacket)
94.  Levi Strauss & Co.
95.  Iowa State
96.  MN Vikings jersey: #84 Randy Moss
97.  Solid Rock Christian Summer Camp
98.  “I’m Bad, Meaning Good”
99.  Hello Kitty (at least three)
100.  Spider-Man (at least five or ten unique shirts)



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Guitar lessons

25th Oct 2014

As soon as I accepted the call to a year of service in Rwanda, I decided I would bring my guitar, if possible.  I figured it wasn’t worth the risk to transport my precious cello in the airplane, on a public bus across Rwanda and up a bumpy dirt road to a remote village; but I couldn’t stomach the thought of going a year without an instrument.  So, guitar it was!  And, I’m happy to report, it turned out to be a great decision: the instrument is undamaged, and it’s super nice to have.

Of course, my guitar has not only been a source of entertainment for me; it very quickly became a way to connect with Rwandans.  During in-country orientation in late August, I played guitar in Sunday worship at the Kigali parish alongside my friend Emily.  On the last day of orientation, when I brought my luggage to the parish to meet Pastor Emmanuel for the journey to Rukira, I again whipped out my guitar upon request to accompany some singing.  And seeing that I had a guitar and the ability to use it, Emmanuel asked me as soon as we boarded the bus if I’d teach lessons.  I agreed.

Fast-forward about two weeks.  I’m still getting acquainted with Rukira, my new home.  Martin and I go for our routinely evening walk at dusk, and return home to find a young man patiently perched on the couch of our sitting room.  I had the sense enough to know that it’s not uncommon for people to just show up in your house (on the contrary, it’s very polite to pay others a visit to their home), and even to guess that this young man might be hear to greet me.  But I had no idea that this mild-mannered sixteen-year-old, John Paul, had shown up to have a guitar lesson.

I retrieved my guitar from under my bed; and in my very-limited broken Kinyarwanda, I struggled to explain the basics to John Paul.  The word for “strings” refers to yarn, so what can I say instead?   And how could I translate or explain guitar-specific terminology like “strum” or “fret” or “pick,” for which there are probably not words in Kinyarwanda?  And— most agonizing of all— could I explain that, when a string doesn’t ring, you need to wiggle and adjust your left-hand fingers until you hear a clean sound?

It turned out that, like so many instances in life, I was seeking too much control over the situation.  Yes, I did learn some vocabulary words which help me explain things: guitar strings are called imirya, and clumsy phrases like “Gufata kumirya ibiri n’ikosa; ugomba k’umurya umwe” (“To touch two strings [with one finger] is bad; you must touch one.”) sometimes get ideas across.  But what has really worked is time, presence, living by example, and listening.  

Now, only a few weeks later— and with almost no real substantive speaking or direction on my part— John Paul is playing quite well.  All I really do on lesson days (twice a week) is to show up, listen, adjust his fingers now and then, maybe demonstrate what he can work on.  The rest happens apart from me.  John Paul is deeply perceptive and hardworking; at each lesson I’m delighted to see that he has clearly been practicing (I leave the guitar at the pastor’s house by the church so he can practice anytime) and that, despite our many inhibitions in communication, good things still come.


This all reminds me of a very important thing I learned during my training for this year as a “missionary,”— in fact, a theological idea which has everything to do with that baggage-ridden title of “missionary” and the program’s name, Young Adults in Global Mission.  The idea (shall I say a truth?) is that God’s mission in Rwanda, and my life, and in the world, is unknown to me and outside of my control.  Rather, God is working with and through me and John Paul and everyone else in this dusty little village in ways that we can’t necessarily identify— even when that work is occasionally made real by our hands.  It means that that title “missionary” loses its heavy baggage, because I no longer have to pretend I have the ability to consciously work towards “God’s mission.”  It means that I can trust that God will enact God’s mission through me when I simply show up, offer myself to others, listen, and love.  It means that I don’t have to worry about the outcome: no matter what, good things still come.