Tuesday, April 19, 2016


I said two blogs ago... "But I will… mark my words. I will ride a chukadoo down a hill in the near future."

This is a Chuckadoo going down the road by my house. 

Well, today I had a meeting at the British Embassy outpost here in Goma by the border of Rwanda. The reason I tell you it's by the border is so you understand that there is a lot of traffic there. Big trucks waiting to cross, lots of cars and a lot of motos waiting to pick people up after the cross. After we left, we were walking down the street when a chukadoo driver jumped off his very patriotic chukadoo, laid it on the ground and went into a store. The police officer sitting outside saw me eyeing the chukadoo and said "hey white girl, take the chukadoo" (in Swahili and French mixed). So I did. 

I picked it up. There were so many moto drivers and pedestrians there watching and wondering what I was going to do. Of course I was wearing 3" wedges (I do that a lot here...not sarcasm, I do)and I'm sure most people were thinking I would just pick it up and look at it and then put it back down. 


I've seen this done enough to know how to get started...

So I gave Dieudonne my purse and I used my left leg to start to push, I maneuvered around Raj... our driver picking us up, and then when I had enough speed I jumped on with both feet and started down the ever so slight declining road to Rwanda. My form was excellent

as you can see... my form is excellent. The guy in the green t-shirt running after me, then turning around laughing is the chukadoo driver. 

Please also add Chukadoo ninja to my repertoire. Since I didn't actually know how to use the brake... or even if this chuckadoo had one... when I got to a certain speed and looked up to see a car coming toward me, I decided to jump off and turn around. Otherwise I was planning to rush the British embassy yelling with my best British accent "SANCTUARY"... but then I decided "maybe not".

Chukadoos are HEAVY. They are solid wood. So after I got that sucker turned around (btw. the shock system was pretty comfortable) I skated my way back up the street to return the chukadoo.

I returned the chukadoo to it's rightful owner with a loud round of applause from the moto drivers across the street. Next up. World domination. 

Much love from Goma. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Easter, water bottles, Zamuda...nailed it.

I love Easter… it’s my favorite holiday.

The Un Jour Nouveau Chapel celebrated Easter (Pâques) with multiple events. Baptism in the(super cold) lake, A killer service with SOOOOO much dancing and singing, a huge party after the service (complete with a massive buffet of home made goodness) to celebrate our 2 year anniversary as a church… and then I was able to go to a concert at another church. I love the local concerts here. They are SO. MUCH. FUN! Singing and so much dancing… and a great workout.

Unfortunately, 13 of the kids from Minova were back in Goma with Malaria. Four of them needed to be admitted to the hospital, including Augie. The kids who were doing better than the 4 in the hospital were staying at Mama Zamuda’s house, including Sifa. 
 originally it was just going to be a picture with Jojo (my ninja turtle) but we were rushed by 3 others. 
 I think Arsène was going for fish face.
Sweet Esther was so sick. She muscled up a smile, but just wanted to cuddle
Sifa loves to share. But she wants to feed you. One bite for her, one for you...potatoe straight to the face! And occasionally up your nose. Jojo and Arsène know this and sit close to get extra food. 
 Vicky, my Belgian counterpart, giving Augie a kiss to wake him up. 
 Augie LOVES Esther. It's so cute
Poor little guy was so sick again, but not to sick to take his first selfie with my phone. He pressed the button. He's a smart one.

So, even though it’s an unfortunate situation, I was able to have Sifa with me ALL DAY for Easter! Here is a picture of Chad and I in our matching Easter outfits (the entire church wore the same fabric)… sifa is playing peek-a-boo (a game I recently taught her) behind the desk.  

She is seriously so different from the little girl who did not smile, did not look at you… so different. It’s the coolest thing to see her personality. Also… a very cool thing was to see Chad get baptized along with 19 other people! Halleluuuuu-yurrr!

Sifa is obsessed with water bottles. I have a theory. It all centers around her trauma. Being stranded with no food or water for two weeks has done a serious amount of damage. She is still very insecure about whether, when she sees food or water, she will actually be given any. She usually carries water bottles around with her like baby dolls. If you try to take it from her she will freak out. Case in point. We needed to wash our hands to eat after church. We went to the bathroom, I took the bottle and put it to the side of the sink so we can wash hands. The water bottle is literally RIGHT THERE on the sink and she started screaming and tears streamed down her face. I reassured her I would give it back, made her wash hands for a few more seconds, then gave it back. As soon as I put it back into her arms, she stopped screaming and the tears went away. Immediately.
 She was debating whether or not to go share with Chad

Then we walked outside to go to the buffet line. She saw people sitting at tables with food and again freaked out screaming with tears as she reached for the food. Of course everyone is looking at me like I’m hurting the child. I again, reassured her that we were getting food. She screamed for a few seconds longer then finally trusted me after I cut in line and grabbed a plate. There is a long road ahead of her for healing. Augie as well.

They are both easily calmed with my sunglasses. If they start to get upset we just put the sunglasses on them and they calm down. Sifa does this funny "ehhhh" sound, smiles and lays back for you to admire her. 

But she is really cute with her water bottles. She waddles around and collects them. Then she looks around and decides who she wants to give them to. She waddles over to you, gives you the bottle like a gift with a huge smile and proudly walks away. It’s a big deal for her to chose you. But don’t get too excited. She will come get it back in less than 2 minutes to take back her bottle!

Mean while, Mama Zamuda… she is in HEAVEN! She is part of UJN's daughters of Congo women. She lives in one of our houses (with 2 other women) while she is getting back on her feet. Literally. This woman lost her entire family during a rebel attack. She suffered severe physical assaults during her rape and it took years for her to physically heal. Even now, because of the severity of her attack, her hips and legs did not heal properly and walking is very hard for her. She doesn’t let that steal her joy. She is the meanest chair dancer I’ve ever seen and she even has a few moves she can still hustle out while standing with her massive walking stick. Half of the pictures we take together are blurry because she’s dancing so much!A woman after my own heart. 
 Mama Komeza, Zamuda and Esther. Getting this picture was hard because Zamuda wouldn't stop dancing and singing! 
Mama Melena, me and Zamuda... dancing and giving thumbs up

She always wanted to take care of orphans; it was her dream. For the past week she had a house full of kids. She LOVED it. I went to the ouse everyday to see the kids. Each time I came and Zamda was home, you would find her sitting in the living room laughing and looking out for the kids. When the kids were released by the doctor to go back to Minova, Zamuda was so sad to see them go. In her words, it was “terrible” they had to leave. “especially Sifa… I love her”

This woman makes me smile just thinking about her. She really only speaks Swahili, and on occasion will blurt out something in French. Every now and then she repeats what I say in English. Last week, as she was saying good bye to the kids, she said “thank you” in perfect English. I loved it and said “nailed it”… which she repeated. I died laughing. It was the cutest thing. When asked if she feels better (she was in the hospital for her heart) she says “Iks beddah now”! She gives the best hugs and she also does THE BEST Congolese yelling thing at church. She’s a very thoughtful woman and very opinionated. One thing I love, rather than calling me Muzungu (white person) she calls me rafiki wangu (my friend) and on occasions she says Jenni… but mostly "Na kupenda sana Rafiki wangu"(I love you so much my friend".

this was caught on tape... right after she said "nailed it"... I lost it...clearly!
Esther caught this moment when she was in the hospital. I climbed into her bed and Vicky and I prayed with her. 

much love from Goma...

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Minova... the first of many reunions

Recently a photo journalist came to do a follow-up story on the women of Minova. Two years ago, there was a major rape trial held in Minova (the small town where Mama Masika lived). Mama Masika was a driving force behind this. She gave the women encouragement and strength to stand up for their rights as victims of sexual violence.  There were also men who were victims during this time. Sadly, there were very few convictions and many of the predators were never charged with crimes, only the subordinates.  Still, the women are doing very well and finding healing. But it’s harder now with Masika gone. More on this in a minute.

I was able to go with Diana, her fixer, and the Un Jour Nouveau psychologist/head of security. Honestly, as much as I wanted to meet some of the women and hear their stories, I wanted to go and see Sifa and the other children in Masika’s center. When we finally arrived, I made the rounds saying hi to the kids, giving kisses and fist bumps (they love this). When I found Augie (on one of the older girls backs) he immediately started smiling and then laughing. Then I found Sifa. She had just woken up from a nap and was crying. As I rounded the corner, she recognized me, put her arms up and when I picked her up she stopped crying. After I changed her diaper (which is a thin piece of cloth, not actually a diaper. She immediately started smiling, laughing and making the silly faces I taught her in the hospital. The reunion was beautiful!
Augie, Me and Sifa... the band back together again.
bath time for chubby baby... 

I think we have the same smile.

Jojo practicing his name on their "chalkboard"... all the little guys are watching.

We stayed in a local Catholic Parish. It was clean and safe and that is really all I needed. However we looked at a few “guest houses” hoping to find something a little nicer… instead we found a place that gave you a bible on each bed and a condom on each night stand. We got a good laugh out of this, but chose the stay in a place a little less sketchy.
The sketchy place... 

Our Parish bedroom

Dining room. The food was pretty good. Super fresh

a VERY simple bathroom.

sunrise at the Parish

The next morning we drove as far as we could, then parked the car and walked out into the countryside to meet up with some of the victims. One woman in particular was about 65. After her attacks (when M23 came through) her husband left her. Now she sells juice to make a living, but she struggles to provide for herself. She has an amazingly positive attitude despite her situation. She says Masika used to come and visit with her, give her counseling and pray with her for healing. Now that Masika is gone, it’s been very discouraging for her, but Desange (Mama Masika’s adopted daughter who is taking over the organization) has been coming and carrying on her legacy. It’s very hard for the women here to know who to trust, but they trusted Masika. Now they are building relationship with Desange and learning to trust her and receive counsel from her.

Me and DesAnges

I told this woman she was beautiful in Swahili and she lit up. 

I also partially fulfilled my goal of riding a chukadoo down a hill… It was REALLY muddy so I chose not to go all the way down the hill… didn’t want a broken leg while I was at least a 30 minute walk out in the bush!  But I will… mark my words. I will ride a chukadoo down a hill in the near future. (a chukadoo is a bizarre bike looking scooter transporter thing. They are specific to the Eastern part of Congo, specifically the Goma region. The guys that "drive/ride" them ride them like skateboards down the road. I want to take one on a hill. This one was a smaller one, because the boy using was only about 12...the ones in Goma are MUCH bigger).

DesAnges trying to pull me back

On our way out, we stopped in a displacement camp to meet with another victim. My goal, living in another culture, is to always be respectful of the peoples dignity. I don’t come in with cameras take pictures, without asking, especially when I am not associated with the people in any way. (at UJN, we are family so everyone takes pictures together ALL THE TIME!). This was a very sensitive situation, so I chose to leave my camera/phone in the car. So as Diana went into the hut with the woman and her fixer, I stayed outside with a quickly gathering crowd of the residents of this camp. It started out with all the kids staying a good 8-10’ away… the moms even farther back and the men all gathered together about 15’ away just watching… “what is this woman going to do”.  Actually, a lot of the men started to take pictures with their phones and one guy even had a camera. Which is how I ended up getting all these pictures!
slowly moving in...

Keep in mind, I am very tall. Here in this camp, most of the people are very very short. The children were somewhat scared of me initially. I squatted down and started to use the limited Swahili I know to say hi and ask names, how you are… and then started offering up fist bumps, or “chinzs” (again, they love this!)… pretty soon, the circle closed in on me and we began playing games. I also started to teach them English. I would say something in Swahili and then have them repeat it in English. It was so fun. Eventually, the kids started clapping and singing, to which I began to dance. (My DNA does not allow me to hear music and not exhibit some sort of movement). One of the kids went home and got his big drum. It turned into a very exciting dance party. The matriarch of the camp was a TINY, old woman with tribal tattoos on her face.  We danced together, she taught me a few moves. I wish I had a picture of her, she was beautiful. So beautiful! 
 Learning a few moves from the Matriarch with the red scarf on her head. They gave me an umbrella because the sun was hot and I am "so white"! 
oh yeah... this move was caught on camera. It's all in the hips.

The plan is to eventually go back and do some sort of kids camp here. The people of this camp have been displaced from fighting in their villages for more than 15 years. They are often over looked, so we are trying to plan some activities for the kids there in the next few months.
a view of the camp from the road.

much love from Goma...