How to be vulnerable

Being unemployed for four months gives you a lot of time for reflection and self-critique. If I’m not careful I will spend more time on self-critique than constructive reflection. I recently discovered Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher who focuses on how people struggle with shame and vulnerability. I just downloaded her book Daring Greatly and I am really excited to start read it.

Vulnerability isn’t good or bad. It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.

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Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. (From Daring Greatly via the fabulous blog Brain Pickings

As I reach the BETTER side of my twenties, I’m trying to embrace being more vulnerable in order to lead a better, more full life. Linked below is a video for those with shorter attention spans: one of her talks animated into a compact, 3-minute short on empathy. I also highly recommend when you have more time to kill watching her TED talk on vulnerability.

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3 months later… and what comes next

This morning I woke to a thunderstorm and springtime rain at my parent’s house in Virginia. For a second, I thought in my half-asleep state that I was back in Rwanda in my house in Kigali. I immediately panicked thinking how flooded and muddy my street was going to be… This is a totally valid reaction as KG 223 literally ate my ballet flat once. The walk of shame was too real.

…. Then my cairn terrier, scared from the thunder, kicked me in the face as she twitched awake. After a quick paw to the face, I realized it had just been a dream: I was home, with my family and thousands of miles away from the springtime rain in Kigali.

My life in Virginia and in the United States is so different than my reality in Rwanda. Coming home, makes the previous 12 months seem like a dream. As the months tick by, things become fuzzier and fuzzier. I have to think harder now to trigger sensory memories of my day to day life in Rwanda: the smell of diesel fuel, people speaking Kinyarwanda on the bus, or how hot my office would get in the afternoon sun.

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This was real, right? Traditional dancers in the Eastern Province

Moving to Rwanda came at a critical point in my life. I needed to move so far away to reconnect with what made me passionate, curious, and engaged. But now that I’m home, I’m painfully reminded how much can happen in a year away. In February, I lost one of the most important women in my life, my grandma. I will always treasure the conversations we had several times over my year there, but will also regret how spaced out they were, and that I didn’t blog more to keep in her up-to-date. Little did I know at the time, but my family members were printing out my infrequent blog posts and Facebook updates and giving them to her.

Me and the special lady, Mother's Day 2012.

Me and the special lady, Mother’s Day 2012.

Most people who chose to live abroad have similar stories of this. When you make the decision to follow your nomadic dreams, you are sacrificing being close to those you love the most as their lives continue to develop and change…

I am a slow processor: when I first came home, I was excited to be back with my family for the holidays. Happy to have the ease and accessibility of America. But as time passes and I move further, and further away from this experience abroad. The more the pain of being so far away from Rwanda urges me to reflect more. I’ve started journaling through events that happened there for clarity, and I would urge anyone who has gone through similar experiences to do the same. I’ve also committed to going to the gym to keep myself from hulk smashing people with emotions. I also highly recommend doing something active to keep the feels in check.

On a (somewhat) lighter note, I have finally decided (roughly) what comes next: I’ve realized that in order to be able to fully commit to going abroad again and being allowed more responsibility within organizations in East Africa or elsewhere… I want more education and/or work experience at home. I have always been incredibly inpatient when it comes to taking next steps in my life: I jump on opportunities and run full speed ahead, typically leaving family and friends in the dust. This time, I know I need to slow down, to grow more, and to learn a more concentrated and professional skill set.

Where is this professional job growth/education going to happen? Drumroll please….

SEATTLE! WASHINGTON! WTF… RANDOM CITY REACTION! 

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Just kidding! Derek (the cinnamon boyfriend) has received an incredible opportunity to join Communities in Schools at their Seattle location, and because cinnamon-swirl boyfriends with a passion for travel are in short supply, I’m going too! In late April or May, I’ll be relocating to the rainy, Pacific Northwest for a new, domestic adventure. We’ve always wanted to live on the West Coast. There are also plenty of innovative, smart organizations doing wonderful things domestically and abroad. I’m excited to (hopefully) join one of their teams (HIRE ME). I’ve had a couple of interviews, and will keep everyone updated when someone takes mercy on me.

Rwanda will always be in my mind and heart. I know the path I’m on will eventually lead me back there, but right now… I need to be in the U.S., not only for my family but also for me. This pacific northwest adventure could lead to who knows what. I’m sad that my reunion with East Africa will be delayed, but also very excited for what comes next. Murakoze cyane CYANE, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and Tanzania, for waking me back up and making me committed to your potential for greatness.

I am also going to start using this blog as I shift towards this new city and new adventures! Canada! Hawaii! Alaska! Portland! Granola! Liberals! so stay tuned. 

Trying not to pee from fear on the Nyungwe Forest suspension bridge...

Trying not to pee from fear on the Nyungwe Forest suspension bridge…

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#blacklivesmatter

It’s a very strange thing to watch America’s current events play out from another country, especially through the lens of the international media. I am not an expatriate who trash talks America. I’m proud to be from America. I believe in America, and its potential to be great. However after watching everything play out in Ferguson from afar, it makes my heart break.

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When I first graduated from George Mason, I worked for Americorp in Baltimore, Maryland with kids from West Baltimore. My kids were all black, all teenagers, and many of them, looked like Michael Brown. What particularly stuck out to me from this story was that Michael Brown was about to start at a technical/vocational college a few days after he was killed. He could have been one of my kids. Many of the kids I worked with were already enrolled in vocation high schools. Born into a neighborhood with few opportunities to excel, they were trying to carve out career paths at 14, 15, and 16 years old. They showed up at that state park at 6:30AM every day, Monday through Friday, and worked with me on projects that were physically draining, until 2:30PM all summer. They chose to make a paycheck over hanging around their neighborhood streets. I can’t imagine how these same young men and women from Baltimore, now roughly Michael Brown’s age, feel watching the news right now. They will see there will be no justice for one of their peers, who was slain in the street in broad daylight. To be young and black, and born in the wrong neighborhood, can be a scary thing.

I didn’t know Michael Brown personally, so I cannot attest to what he did or didn’t do during his confrontation with Darren Wilson. However, after reading the grand jury testimony and the presented evidence, (in my opinion) none of this warranted him being shot 6 times, including multiple shots in the head. At worst, he was a young man with a bad attitude. Show me a teenager who doesn’t have a bad attitude at times. I just don’t see how any of these factors warrant a police officer pulling out his gun.

I am saddened by my white friends who are still trying to act like the U.S. has moved beyond race. That somehow the U.S. has become post-racial. I’m talking about my friends who post on social media about how the people protesting are making a “big deal” out of something as simple as a court ruling. What has happened in Ferguson, and the subsequent protests, shows that we can clearly do better.  As a friend on Facebook (roughly) put it: acknowledging white privilege does not discount any of your own struggles or personal gains. However if we continue to act like our own privilege doesn’t exist, we will only continue a vicious, and very real cycle of oppression of minorities in our country.

Michael Brown Casket

Michael Brown’s funeral on August 25, 2014. Photo by Robert Cohen-Pool/Getty Images via Slate.com

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Rwanda Nziza

RWANDA from MAMMOTH on Vimeo.

I saw this video by Mammoth Photography on Rwanda a few months ago, and ever since then I’ve been showing it to everyone possible. They did such an excellent job capturing Rwanda, its people, and the scenery. If you’re curious to what Rwanda looks like IRL, watch the video above!

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11 Months Down

Woops.

Somewhere between my last post in February until now (November 2014) I forgot to record my time in Rwanda on this blog. Or I was just too lazy. One of the two. Recording my daily life has never been my specialty. I usually would only break out the camera for the big trip, or for a weekend outside of where I was living. Documenting daily life is way more difficult.

This has obviously held true during my (almost now) year living in Rwanda. At some point, this became less of a daily adventure, and became (something better, I think) my everyday life. Now with five weeks left in my stay here, I feel good: comfortable and confident of how to get through my daily routines (grocery shopping, taking motos, the bus system). I’m also realizing there are so many things I still want to do and experience here.

It really is amazing how a country the size of Maryland can still leave you curious, engaged, and can still have corners left for you to discover. Rwandans are more introverted than their other East African neighbors. Rwandan culture takes time, lots of time, to even begin to understand. There is so much depth here underneath the initial shock of beauty, that it makes it very hard to walk away. But that’s something we all have to do at points in our lives. So when I leave Rwanda in December, it will either be see you soon or see you in a while, but I know I will be back.

When I lived with my Rwandan host family in a rural community, it was definitely hard. Probably the most challenging thing I’ve undertaken mentally and physically. Three months of limited access to running water and electricity. But when I came out, I found I had fallen in love with Rwanda. Its easy to appreciate how nice a place is to live, its another thing to feel head over heals with a place and the people who live there.

To all my friends and family, who were excited about me keeping this blog, my bad. To make it up to you…. drumroll… here’s a list of some of my favorite moments from the past 10 months. As told with photos!

1. TANZANIA

Zanzibar Boat Sunset    IMG_1379

Tanzania… you are my boo. You have amazing scenery, delicious food (seafood, Swahili food), and semi-stable infrastructure. I will forgive you (just this once) for that 100 USD on-arrival tourist visa, because you are home to my now favorite place on the planet: Zanzibar. After emerging from three months in the village, my coworkers and I met in Tanzania for the most glorious vacation of all time.

2. UGANDA AND BURUNDI

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Visiting two of Rwanda’s crazier neighbors, Uganda and Burundi, resulted in two awesome extended weekend trips in February and May. I got to go on my first safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, and experience Ugandan roads. I also ate all of the street food. In Burundi, we met up with a tour guide who drove us around the country for three days. Meaning we got to not only see the better known capital city, Bujumbura, but also see other parts of the country that are less traveled.

3. MY RWANDAN HOST FAMILY

Homestay mom and sister   IMG_6730

I don’t know where to even begin with this one. There are no words to accurately describe the bond you can have with a family when neither of you speak the other’s language fluently. I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my host mom for three months. She boiled my bath water (even when I told her not to), and sat at the end of my bed when I got food poisoning. She also stole my clothes out of my room to wash them when I was too lazy to do it every three days like she required. I had so many moments with this family. Cackling with them about the little kids doing crazy stuff, gossiping about my scholars and their host families, and going to church every Sunday. I can’t imagine moving forward in my life without them being a part of it. Luckily they’re still only an hour away by bus, but it will never be the same as the summer I spent with them.

4. SUMMER INSTITUTES (3- AND 8 WEEK)

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This summer, my coworker and I undertook the intense task of running two summer Institutes with 24 students total. By the end, we had facilitated the curriculum in a rural village, kept all of our students alive, and came out with (most of) our sanity. I was able to mentor and bond with a particularly special group of students for the eight week Institute, and watched as they created micro-enterprises with local community members. Then I came home and napped for a solid week.

5. KIBUYE, RWANDA

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Kibuye, Rwanda is unreal. Located on the coast of Lake Kivu across from the DRC, its a pretty amazing place for a weekend getaway. I’ve gone there a few times now over the course of the year, and I love it. I got to take my BFF, Carley, there when she came to visit. You can take boats out on the water, swim, and get sunburned. The three hours motion-sickness inducing bus ride is totally worth it.

6. NYUNGWE FOREST (PART TWO) 

The best weekend trip I’ve had so far was renting a car a few weekend ago, and driving to Nyungwe National Forest with Derek. With the car, we were able to do and experience so much more of Rwanda along the way. We got to eat roadside snacks several times, visit the National Museum of Rwanda, and go to Cyangugu on the boarder with the DRC. Cyangugu was particularly awesome because its the very southwest corner of Rwanda. We were able to have lunch looking over into Congo, and see a part of the country we would not have been able to visit without our own transportation.

7. MY KIGALI HOUSE/MZUNGU MANOR 

My house is the best. No seriously, I live in the best house in Kigali. Its cheap, I have awesome roommates, and I live in a great neighborhood. Coming home to this house everyday has made my year here so, so much easier. It comes complete with hot water (most of time), stable electricity, and a gorgeous view of the valley. Coming home on a moto down our hill when the sun is setting, is my favorite moment of the day.

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Monitoring + Evaluation: Recording the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Hi friends and family, I wrote a blog for my organization on our work in Eastern Rwanda… I’ve copied and pasted the blog entry below. You can read more of our blogs + learn what we’re working on in other countries by clicking here

“My daughter’s a city girl now,” my homestay mom said to our Country Coordinator as we arrived in Nyarubuye from Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. After making our rounds to say hello, and spending some time playing with my host brothers and sisters, we set off to conduct monitoring and evaluation surveys with the design teams who worked with us during the 2014 Winter Institute.

Our goal with monitoring and evaluation in our communities is to have local participants quantify their progress and experience during the Institute so that we can improve the experience for both scholars and community members. Here at ThinkImpact, we are concerned about both sides of the coin—we want our scholars to have a productive experience, but we also work tirelessly to ensure that our programs leave a positive, sustainable, and high impact legacy in the communities where we work.

At times, the monitoring and evaluation process can be tedious since it is different from our normal interactions with community members, and tends to be much more structured. But out of the conversations we had with the design team members during our visit, two in particular stuck out to me because of their similar entrepreneurial spirit.

We first went to visit the Nyarubuye Mushroom Farmers, who worked with the ThinkImpact Summer Institute in 2013. The mushroom farmers are using grow-it-yourself kits to grow and sell low-cost Oyster mushrooms to their community. They recently invested in a new structure to house their mushrooms. We sat down with their treasurer, Abel, who also houses the new mushroom structure in his backyard. To begin, we asked Abel quantifiable questions about his business and financial tracking. We then switched to questions about what types of skills Abel felt he received from working with ThinkImpact. Abel said that he gained skills such as marketing, financial tracking, and public speaking, but more importantly, he said that if this business were to fail, he would feel confident in his ability to begin another venture.

Flash forward to our next interview with Cecily, who has served as a homestay mom for multiple Institutes, and now works with two design teams in Nyarubuye which began in 2012 and 2013. She also rents out the extra room in her house to ThinkImpact for events and meetings. Curious to see if she felt the same way as Abel, we asked her if she felt confident starting a new venture after her experience working with ThinkImpact. Cecily said she did, and to add to that, she has already started taking donations and small seed funding from friends and neighbors to turn her spare room into an entertainment center where people could come watch T.V. and sporting events by paying an entrance fee.

Cecily and Abel had the common driving force that all successful entrepreneurs possess, the willingness to stick it out even when the going gets tough. Statistics typically don’t favor the small business and even in the United States, most fledgling enterprises are expected to fail within their first three years. Many founders and CEOs don’t expect to pay themselves for their first few years. After speaking with Cecily and Abel, it seemed as if they had gotten the big picture from their current small business: this venture might not work out, but they had the confidence to try again.

When it comes to monitoring and evaluation, it’s important to not only quantify the progress of our design teams, but also to take note of the incremental success stories and mind shifts that individual members experience. Cecily and Abel are perfect examples of the impact we are having across Africa and Latin America—we are working together to empower people all over the world with the skills and confidence they need to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and try, try again.

(Via ThinkImpact’s Blog Roll)

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Heroes Day in Rwanda

“On Saturday, I woke up in sunny, green Kigali. As someone who was born in exile, stateless and forbidden from ever entering Rwanda (it said so right in my UNHCR-United Nations High Commission for Refugees travel document) the fact that I can even wake up here is a miracle.”

This weekend, Rwanda celebrated Heroes Day in honor of the men and women who lost their lives during the 1994 conflict, many of whom were  defending those who could not defend themselves. In reflection of this weekend, I’d like to share an article written by a Rwandan Journalist and Blogger, Sunny Ntayombya on his personal website: “An Ode to the giants who got me home.” 

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