Sunday, May 31, 2009

Three posts in one due to poor internet access

Many of your know I have supported Heifer International for over 20 years and I was very excited to meet Charles Stewart at a hotel on Friday. He is the past Chairman of the Board of Heifer International. We talked about the projects in Rwanda and he introduced me to another Charles, the Heifer Rwanda Director who invited us to tour some of the project in June. The government gave many rural families cows but did not train them on the proper care and use of the animals and those projects were not very successful. The Rwandan Department of Agriculture has asked Heifer to take over those projects and teach their sustainability methods. As with many things, EDUCATION is the key! They are teaching people to be more than subsistence farmers and a few projects have 15-20 people working at the dairy farm coops. They are selling milk, cheese, and yogurt so they can to buy more cows, continue to employ local people and expand.
Several of these local Dairy Cooperatives are part of the East Africa Dairy Development Project that was initially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There are so many linkages between non-profits, the government and foundations in Rwanda and they are all working to improve the economy and standard of living for all.

Food and Entertainment
I have been experimenting with different foods and on Friday night I ate at a local hot spot called CARWASH. They specialize in Kenyan BBQ and I had slow roasted goat. It will not be high on my list of things to have again. Overall, meat tastes very different here due to the animals diet. So far I have liked chicken and Tilapia dishes but not much else. I have found a wonderful lunch buffet at HAPPY RWANDA that is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, beans rice and sometimes pasta. They always have Tilapia and a meat dish as well. You can’t beat the price at about $7.50 for all you can eat.
On Saturday night we ate at a restaurant call HEAVEN. It is a beautiful place overlooking the city and they have movie night on Saturdays. We watched Iron Man on a big screen (there are no movie theatres in Rwanda) and after dinner ate popcorn. I had dinner there with the Cultural Attaché at the American Embassy and although Rwanda does not have any movie theatres, they will have a film festival in June where they will take documentaries out to the villages and show them on equipment with generators they will carry from place to place. It will culminate with a showing of the films in Kigali at several outdoor venues. If anyone is interested in starting a business, entertainment would be a good one in Kigali.
I had my first hamburger that night and it will also not be on my repeat list. It was about $15.00 and I cannot describe the taste. One thing is universal; all food is expensive whether in grocery stores or restaurants.

Church in Rwanda
I have attended a few different churches and in two of them I was the only white person in a sea of Black. The services were one hour and 45 minutes to two hours long with two in Kinyarwandain and one in French. I have not found one in English yet but all had uncomfortable wooded benches. When I asked my new Rwandan friends about the length of the service, they laughed and said this was short in Rwandan standards because they usually last 3-4 hours every Sunday and the wooden benches are your penance!
There is much signing, clapping, arm waving and finger pointing by the priest; it is a much more emotional experience than Mass in CA. I returned to the original Eglise of Norte Dame today for Pentecost and although I did not understand any of the words, the Spirit was there. I noticed my response to the drumming was on several different levels. Drumming is part of the church service but also everyday life. I think Marc was onto something when he had us drum until our beat was one.
As I walked back to the apartment I thought about the experience and decided I found my new congregation. If I can feel welcomed as I did today without understanding anything, I believe that is where I belong.
We have a busy week ahead with a meeting with the Educational Minister and three school visits to develop best practices for the Akilah Institute. I will also meet with the Orphans of Rwanda Director, and I may be able to do some work with them while I am here and spend time with children.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chad Williamson joins the team

I was very excited to meet Chad and welcome him to the In-country Project Akilah Team. His enthusiasm is contagious and he has incredible experience in education, hospitality and public service. He is working on his International Project as part of his degree from President Clinton’s School of Public Service. I have found out he is an avid picture taker and video producer; he never goes anywhere without his camera. So maybe that practice will rub off on me! He visited the school for the first time today and I will try to insert his video.

We will focus our energies on developing a 1, 3, and 5 year Strategic Plan for Project Akilah and an operational plan for the school. The work I have been doing on the curriculum will be incorporated into the Plan. It feels good to have the three of us working on the Project and collaborating with various Government agencies and schools.

Good News, I will move into a three bedroom house with FAST wireless on June 8th. That will make my life so much easier plus it is closer to several of the people I have met. I will share photos when I move in.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Peace Week started in Rwanda on Saturday. The kick-off was the Jazz for Peace Dinner and Concert that evening. Rick Della Rata Jazz for Peace performed as he has throughout the world using music as a reconciliation vehicle. The theme of the event was violence against women so it stressed reconciliation within families as well as the country. There were many dignitaries present from the Rwandan Government, the UN, and assorted Embassy people from 7 countries.
High School age kids enacted two plays they wrote about the violence they have experienced firsthand in their short lives and although I could not understand the words, their actions told a very sad story. There was also one of the best “Kodak” moments that I missed because I did not take my camera…The Inganzo Ngali Dancers performed native dances to drums and chanting. It was beautiful and the rhythm hypnotizing. I found a short video of the 2009 Folk dance completion to give you an idea of what I saw.

Now for the social interaction; I met a number of people closer to my age and have been invited to attend a book club next week and a social club gathering on Friday night. On Sunday I went to Lake Muhazi, a six mile long finger lake that I saw as I flew into Kigali. The people I met last week plus a number of other Americans and Rwandan employees at the Embassy were there. It was difficult to meet in Kigali because so many roads were closed due to the Marathon where over 5000 participants from around the world participated.
The lake was an hour’s drive with more beautiful rolling hills on another road I had not yet traveled. The Embassy structure was primitive and you had to bring a bucket of lake water to flush the toilet but we had a great time.
The pot luck picnic included lots of different foods and beverages. I had my first Diet Coke since I arrived because one person uses her allotment for “consumables” (products each state department employee is allowed to ship to a foreign country) for Diet Coke, Fresca and chips.
Some people went out in the boat; others played badminton but most sat around, talked, laughed and told wonderful stories of their postings around the world. I got home around 8:30 after having the most fun so far.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Road Trip

We headed out of Kigali for the 125 KM ride to the previous capital, Butare. We passed many villages and small towns and saw hundreds of people working on the fiber optic project as well as prisoners working on agricultural projects. There were two groups of prisoners: those in orange jumpsuits, first offenders and those in pink pants and tunics for habitual offenders. The Rwanda justice system has a very interesting process on what happens between the period when someone makes a complaint against another person and the trial.
The person who swore out the complaint needs to show up at the jail three times a day to feed the prisoner and if he/she is convicted, the state takes over the cost. Needless to say, this is a deterrent to reporting civil crimes and makes people work things out without bringing the “LAW” into it. This is the opposite of a litigious society.

Our first stop was at an Artisan project established in by a Catholic priest in the 1970's and they now provide beautiful art and functional items (cups, trays, plates etc) made out of tin, the only mined product in Rwanda. The project has grown to six buildings around a courtyard with as many as 10 workshops in each building. One of the reasons we visited is to see how we can use some of their bigger pieces at the school to enhance the learning environment. We really want to incorporate local art and possibly provide art and music activities to supplement the Hospitality curricum.
But the second reason we wanted to meet this COOP Director was to determine if their products could provide a fundraising avenue for Akilah. A “Hot” boutique jewelry company is interested in designing a bracelet made from local resources and crafted by local artists to market at upscale stores in the US with a portion of the profits going to our organization.
They have never done anything like this before but as we looked at their work we found a number of pattern/examples they currently use on other products that could work for a cuff bracelet design. More to come on who will be designing this for us...
We then headed to a local pottery Coop to see their basic place settings and how we can use these for the dining room at the school.
They were all hand done and inexpensive so we would be helping the COOP and providing unique products at the school.
In our travels, we passed the university, a shade coffee project, and a member’s coop for other art. Cow Dung is dried and painted for wall art, masks are hand carved from various woods, drums, (John, I can send a dozen or so drums for Sales use if you are interested!)Baskets and ceramics are available as well.

Architects for Humanity will be very happy with the local art we found and will be able to incorporate them into our school design.

I am haveing trouble downloading the photos of the Tin and pottery workshops but when I get a better connection I will just send some pics and no commentary.

I am heading into a busy social weekend with a dinner and jazz concert on Saturday and the ealry Memorial Day picnic with Embassey people on Sunday. A new Consultant arrives on Saturday so I help aclumate him to his new home.
Thinking of all you and miss you! Susan

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

At FAWE, a boarding school for girls that concentrates on the Sciences, I interviewed five extraordinary young women who spoke English well, and who were articulate, perceptive and engaging.
They answered questions that will assist Architecture for Humanity complete the Akilah Institute master plan by giving their preferences on aspects of the school’s design.
They currently live in large dorms and sleep in bunk beds with a matron on each floor. They have pit toilets (very gross) and need to carry buckets of water for their showers. Of course they would prefer smaller rooms for 2-3 girls with single beds, ceiling fans, and a place to lock personal belongings. They would also like flush toilets and smaller bath and shower rooms.
They currently eat porridge every morning and have beans at every meal supplemented by rice or potatoes. On Sunday they get bread. They loved the idea of the variety of food that would be available at a School for Hospitality.
Again I am reminded of how few comforts they have and yet they were so happy attending this school.
We then discussed their perception of Hospitality careers and what we can do to help improve this image in Rwanda.
Christine described hospitality as “character and how we receive someone that creates warmness in your heart”. I love it…
Most had bad experiences in smaller local restaurants where they were made to feel badly because people were rude. They think it is very important to train employees how to handle customers, keep a cool temper and be kind in busy situations. They also said good communication skills are critical because people will be more confident and able to give good service.
They all said there is a stigma with Hospitality jobs. They did not know that a wait person could move up the ladder to become head waiter or manager if they had the right skills. What they considered dead end jobs did not interest these girls because most would be offered scholarships to University.
We asked them what they would do if they did not get into the university and the answers surprised us; Art School, Theatre School, Music School, Tourism and Hospitality. It was ironic that three of the girls do not even like science and would prefer studying the Arts.

On Tuesday I made my first visit to the site of the Akilah Institute in the district of Bugesera (about 25 miles outside of Kigali). It was formerly a school started by a European organization in the 60s and recently it became a government vocational school. It is located on 85 acres on the edge of Lake Cyohoha. It is quite rundown but has infinite possibilities.
The school includes three classroom blocks, a large activity hall, two small dormitories and staff houses, a workshop area, administration office block and storage sheds. We plan to construct a new housing area with dorms, living space and gardens, more classrooms, a new culinary training area/kitchen, computer lab, library and dispensary. We will also renovate the existing buildings to improve the learning environment. All designs will be green and sustainable which we hope will attract donations, and publicity for both the new model of teaching and sustainable architecture.
I stated the facts above but would like to share some thoughts and sights as we drove up to the school. There were hundreds of people of all ages walking along the sides of the road carrying everything imaginable on their heads. We passed a large swamp area about 10 miles outside of Kigali where Tutsi’s lived for months during the genocide. I had a hard time imagining walking to the swamp let alone living in it for extended periods of time. But my life has never been threatened…
I saw firsthand why the country is called the Le Pays des Milles Collines’ or the Land of a Thousand Hills. It is beautiful and green everywhere you look.
There were also large numbers of men and women digging a trench on the left side of the road for fiber optic cable. It was like the 21st century meeting the 19th with all of the rural farmers walking their cows and goats to a market in Nyamata.
We needed an off road vehicle to reach the school (Toyota Land Cruiser called the Beast) and it was a pretty bumpy ride through soy bean and sorghum fields and grazing lands for various animals.
All and all this has been an incredible two days and I will post again after my adventure to Butare on Thursday.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Busy weekend

I feeling much better and think I hit my stride; my work is coming together and I am meeting people. I shouldn’t feel too bad because it has only been a week…
Solange, the Owner of Republika Restaurant (very good review in Lonely Planet Guide) allowed me to interview her staff on Friday night before dinner and I learned a great deal about their education and skill level plus training needs. Their English skills varied so I used my rudimentary French, and pointed to things during the interviews. All were professional, enthusiastic and never stopped smiling (especially Claude the headwaiter). Bezo was a trickster and after we spoke went up to Solange and said “I am so good, the lady said I should get a raise!” When Solange told me that and mentioned he asked her for a raise last week we all had a very big laugh.
Fidel, the cashier is in his last year of Law School and speaks excellent English. Since he has a view of everything that goes on in the restaurant, I asked him what he saw as the challenges and he said “language and not being able to establish a relationship with the guests”. So much of the training we will develop will include English as a second language and customer service skills.
On Saturday I attended a Food Fair at the US Consulate. They were booths we native food from the following countries: USA, Belgium, Holland, France, Ethiopia, Russia, South Africa, China, Japan, Italy, Egypt and a few others I cannot remember. I viewed each offering and sampled some things. Many people from the International community as well as locals attended and Amanda introduced to several people. I now have an invitation to a lake picnic with folks from the US Embassy on Memorial Day and the opportunity to attend two different women’s clubs and a book club. I think my social life will pick up and will need to rely on Amanda as much.
I also got my car (Toyota Carnia) on Saturday afternoon and made my first trip to town and the grocery store this AM. I did not stall (even on the hills) and did not get lost. Of course I did this adventure at 7:00 AM so there would be minimal traffic!
I have a busy week planned so stay tuned for posts about my visit to a girls Secondary School (high School), our School site and a road trip to Butare to visit a tin and pottery factory and various Ministry meeting.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Haunting and Moving Experience

Every day I have the opportunity to meet more of a multi-cultural team working through the Ministry of Education and Rwanda Development Office. I have met other Americans, Europeans, Africans, Australians, Chinese and Indonesians; the diversity makes it very exciting and exotic…very different from BTV!
On a much more somber note, I took time this afternoon to visit The Kigali Memorial Center. No matter who you are, you walk away a different person.
First of all, the entire center is built on a mass grave of the 10 of thousands people killed in the Kigali area during the 1994 genocide. All the other bodies from mass graves around the city were brought to this central resting place. There is a beautiful garden where I met a few people reflecting on the genocide and the loss of loved ones who are buried under the center; a very haunting experience
The exhibition itself tells the story from 1959 to events in 1994 using photographs, written accounts, video and artifacts. The tears keep coming and I could not go into the “bone” room. There is a moving section dedicated to the children. I have read extensively about the events but it did not prepare me for the descriptions and personal accounts of killings, rapes and mutilation.
It also addressed the lack of world support and the politics involved. Saying it is a disgraceful part of history like the Holocaust, Armenia, Cambodia, and Bosnia is an understatement. Most of the world looked at what was going on in Rwanda and decided it did not affect them and chose to do nothing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

First Business Meeting in Kigali

Amanda and I met Leah Maringa from the Rwanda Tourism College today. We discussed some of the challenges Project Akilah will face with the population we will serve and how we can partner with the College (four year degree program).
It is no surprise that language skills will be the biggest obstacle so I have asked my friends at the Community College District to help me with ESL (English as a Second Language) contacts.
In the past few days with my shopping trips, trying to set up a bank account, and eating at a few local restaurants, I can see why President is so adamant about needing a quality labor pool to build the tourism business. He was out at one of the better restaurants and had terrible service but good food; that seems to be the norm at hotel reception, reservations, housekeeping etc.
Our boarding school for girls will provide many opportunities to instill a strong customer service ethic. They will take turns serving one another at meal times and participate in role playing exercises throughout the program.
There are two photos in this post, the outside of my Prima 2000 building and the meeting with Amanda and Leah. It took me about 50 minutes to post the last blog with the photos of the apartment so I will need to go to the airport to post photos in the future. It is amazing what I take for granted every day; employment, safety, fast internet, grocery stores, good roads, the list goes on for a spoiled American

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I have arrived...

After a delay in Nairobi, I finally arrived in Kigali around noon on Friday.
I flew on a small Regional jet and asked for a window seat so I could see some of the country. Rwanda is lush and green, hilly and dotted with lakes. We landed at Kigali International Airport which is the about the size of Santa Barbara airport.
A young woman who is also working with Project Akilah, Amanda, waited over four hours for me at the airport. We took a short taxi ride on a very good road with no traffic (very different from my Cairo experience) to my new apartment at PRIMA 2000. I am in apt 604 which is on the fifth floor.
I have included some photos of the apartment and views from my deck so you can see what $2065 a month will buy you in Rwanda.
I was very tired after the overnight flight and errand running so around 8:00 PM I started getting ready for bed. I had hooked up my water pick and blew a fuse and burnt out the appliance itself. Luckily I packed a flash light and was able to find my way to the porter at the front gate. He only spoke French and Kinyarwandain. Thank heavens I made it through level one of the Rosetta Stone French! It took about an hour for the maintenance engineer to arrive and he showed me where the fuse box is because he said I will probably do it again with my hair dryer or some other appliance. Hence I have air dried my hair.
Amanda has been an incredible help in working through issues with the apartment manager, bank, supermarket, transportation etc. On Saturday we did a few more errands (bought an inexpensive cell phone) and tried to get passport photos taken because I need them to open a bank account. The photographer was in the store but she said she could not take the photo until Monday and gave no reason why. I am beginning to understand what doing things on Africa time means.
She and her friend Gad took me to an outdoor restaurant on one of the hills surrounding Kigali for lunch and it had a great view of the city. On the way, Gad was a great tour director and pointed out many things of interest.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Speed Tourist

Today was a whirlwind; the Citadel, the Coptic and Egyptian Museums assorted Mosques and a souk rounded out the day.
I just tried to download a photo but I must have hit the video setting instead and have no photos... John, you can stop laughing now!
It has been speed tourism at its best but now I am ready to reach my new home and life in Kigali.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Susan of Arabia

The only way to get up close to the Giza pyramids is on camel or horseback. I arranged a ride on Moses and here we are smiling for the camera. We started around 9:00 AM so it was not too hot and crowded yet. It was well worth the expense…

After several hours exploring Giza, I headed off to Imhotep and Saqqara. They had a small museum and I was able to walk down into one of the tombs. This chamber was for one of his three wives.

My guide and I had lunch in a restaurant called the Oasis in a Bedouin tent. We ate all our food with our fingers and about 4 hours later I had a much extended stay in the bathroom. The good news is Achmed had just dropped me off at the hotel so I did not embarrass myself.
This is the smiling Acmed and I must say most people I have encountered were always smiling whether I had my camera out or not.
The last stop was Mit Rahina in Memphis where I saw a fabulous statute of Ramses.

Everyone I have met has been extremely friendly and most speak English very well. They are interested in providing service but they expect tips for everything. One person who pulled off part of my ticket at the museum asked out for a tip as did the tourism police. Acmed explained the average salary for people working at Tourist sites is 600 Egyptian Pounds about $100 US a month. It is a very poor county and he explained there are an upper class and the poor, no middle class and he believes until Mubarak is replaced as their leader, there will not be a middle class. This is just one man’s view of politics and economics in Egypt.
I had arranged a trip to Alexandria today but my stomach was not settled yet and I cancelled the trip and took it easy with a little shopping in the afternoon. I visited one of the Carpet schools (could not take pictures of students on the looms). If they work for 4 hours at the carpet school, they are able to go to regular school for five hours a day at no charge. I fell in love with 12 year old twins working one loom. They said it’s boring but they could not afford to go to school if they did not work at the Carpet school. They only work on silk and the school produces beautiful work. Of course I found a small red one that will hang in my living room when I return. I wish the twins got a % of the sale.
Tomorrow will be my last day in Cairo and I will visit the Cairo Museum, The citadel, Arab and Old Cairo, the bazaar etc. before I leave for Nairobi and finally arrive in Kigali on Friday morning.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Day One Cairo
I did not have a very good introduction to Cairo because our pilot pulled out of the landing and amid screams of the passengers we ascended and five minutes later we were told that the sand storm was too blinding to land on that runway and we would make another approach from a different angle. Luckily we landed the second time but deplaned in no man’s land and took buses to the main terminal. The sand storm was still kicking up and we all covered our heads with whatever we had to keep from inhaling.
After over 20 hours in route and no sleep, when I saw my name on the Le Meridien sign I thought all would move swiftly…wrong. The young man was an expediter to help me get through the system which included taking my temperature and passing a number of checkpoints. Troops and police were everywhere. It was a good hour before I was in the car.
You all know how I can get car sick well let me tell you I have never had a ride like the one from the airport to the hotel; a four lane highway turned into two and then one but cars, trucks, buses, bikes and even some donkey and horse driven carts shared the road with thousands of pedestrians. There were no lanes or rules of the road and horns blared. It was difficult to see much because of the sand and pollution but you could smell plenty. After another hour and 15 minutes we arrived at the hotel which is directly across the street from the Pyramids. The entrance to the hotel was blocked and a bomb sniffing dog was walked around the car before we were able to pass through to the hotel entrance and I had to go through security screening before I could get into the lobby. I was definitely not in Kansas anymore.
It is now 9:00 PM Cairo time and I have lost track of the time in CA and body clock so I will try to sleep and be ready for my 9:00 AM tour of the Pyramids including a camel ride (a photo op for sure).

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Thanks to Betsy, all my French lessons are on my Ipod and David helped me download the photos to my first blog takes a village to get Susan on her way to Rwanda!

The kids gave me a goup hug goodbye and I am ready for the adventure to begin.

A very astute young woman sent me this quote and suggested it should be my African mantra:

" Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the Life you imagined...Herny David Thoueau. I am ready to begin and will post agian form Egypt.