Home visits

We have happy news that Colin was finally approved for a work visa!  After Colin spent countless hours at the Immigration office, getting on a first name basis with the Immigration Officers, they finally realized that Colin’s technology experience is legitimate and the country could really benefit from him sticking around.  I’m now able to apply for a spouse visa to stay as well, which we hear are generally approved quickly.  We are now legally able to stay in the country, which is quite a relief.

Our other big news is that our gate boy Freddie is no longer with us—he went back to his village and is no longer not letting our guests in.  We miss him already and are sad when our bills come to us directly from our landlord instead of handed to us with a bunch of muddled English phrases.

My job prospects are still constantly shifting, but I believe we’re close to the end, folks.  We made the semi-tough decision of staying in Kigali, even after exploring a pretty great option in Uganda.  We’ve started “nesting” in our apartment—finally buying some floor mats, getting to know the local seamstresses who’ve been making curtains and pillow cases for us, and buying our first lamp.  (Appreciating the little things J )  We’ve firmly established our presence at the local coffee shop, where I’m working with them to replace the side of “chips” (French fries) with a small salad that doesn’t include tomatoes.  They’ll get it eventually, I know it.  We’re also well-known on the Kigali expat sites at this point, where we bother folks with our never-ending mundane questions like “Where do we find trash bags and cheese???”

This past week I spent a bit of time at Mindleaps and got to participate in a tutoring session, a dance class, and two home visits.  The dance class was a fun mix of aerobics, contemporary dance, and ballet.  It was a two hour class and I sweat buckets while the girls laughed at my attempts and constantly reminded me to point my toes.  Turns out my ballet is pretty rusty but it was a such a hoot attempting to leap across the floor, very poorly, to the giggles of the 15 or so girls I’ve started getting to know.

On Thursday, I went with the Mindleaps social worker on two home visits.  These were quite eye-opening and reminded me of that sense of overwhelming need that I often felt working with refugees at Exodus.  We left the Mindleaps office on foot with two young ladies; we’ll call them Sofie and Francine.  The social worker told me that some of the youth walk 1.5 hours to get to the center and in an act of solidarity, she always walks with them for her home visits, no matter the distance.  To get to Sofie’s house, we walked off the main, paved road in Nyamirambo (the bustling Muslim quarter of the city) and entered the labyrinth of tiny dirt paths curling between ramshackle houses and laundry lines.  The immediate and drastic difference between what folks see from the main road and the reality of how many people live in Kigali was stunning.  Kigali’s pristinely clean roads and shiny new buildings paint a picture of glowing economic development—lots of expats talk about how “easy” it is to live in Kigali, and many visitors say that Kigali doesn’t feel like “Africa” due to its incredible cleanliness and order.  But the route to Sofie’s house showed endless dilapidated homes made from scrap metal and mud, and myriad families striving to scrape by in whatever means possible—the reality of how most people live in Rwanda where the majority of the population makes less than $1 a day.

 We arrived at Sofie’s house where we were greeted by her mother, grasping hands and exchanging greetings as a sobbing baby clung to her shirt.  We were welcomed into the home, which was a dark, multi-room concrete structure with not a single piece of furniture except for a radio blasting popular songs from a corner.  Cloths hung over the doorways and we sat on a cloth on the floor, legs straight out in front of us.  Sofie’s mom explained that the baby, tear streaked and breastfeeding, had the flu.  Neither of the parents were working; they performed odd jobs, like cleaning or washing clothes, when they could but didn’t make enough to provide medicine or school fees for their three children.  Sofie and her sister Safa, who is also at Mindleaps, used to simply sit at home day after day with nothing to do, until they found Mindleaps which keeps them busy with dancing and schoolwork.  Sofie is preparing to take the P6 exams on Monday, the test that allows students to enter secondary school, so the social worker spent a lot of time encouraging the family to help Sofie study and to pray for her success.  The social worker then asked if the family had any questions for me so I answered some questions about the USA and Indiana, all translated in Kinyarwanda for the mom’s sake.  The family seemed genuinely pleased that the social worker was taking the time to visit and check in with them; already Mindleaps has made a huge difference in this family’s life, by providing counseling outlets for the family to process their stresses, showing improved academic performance for the girls, and giving the girls a sense of purpose and structure to their days.  It was neat to get to witness the impact and huge kudos to their social worker who seriously rocks at her job.

 We then said our goodbyes, the social worker promising to return soon, and the family walked with us as culture dictates for a few minutes on the path to our next destination.

 Francine lives about 5 minutes from Sofie in a compound with three other families.  Her mother, a large woman with a huge gap between her front teeth that showed whenever she flashed us her huge smile, greeted us and welcomed us into her home.  She also held a small baby, one of 10 she told us.  Their home was dark, either no money for electricity or no access, and we all crowded into a tiny room with a thin pallet on the floor where the family slept.  The mom was embarrassed that she couldn’t offer us better seating but we assured her that we were happy on the floor.  The social worker clearly had a good rapport with this woman, and they chatted away, mainly about mama’s stresses of Francine passing the P6 exam.  As this was all happening in rapid Kinyarwanda, too fast for translating, I mostly zoned out and made faces at the baby.  I’m not sure he’d ever seen a white person before and his eyes bugged out of his head every time I looked him—definitely better than the babies who scream relentlessly when they see a white person for the first time.

 We eventually said goodbye to Francine’s family and walked back to Mindleaps through the maze of trash-filled dirt paths.  I hope to establish a schedule soon to come more consistently and look forward to more silly dance classes and home visits.

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