as it has been over a week now since we left the usa and we are in the middle of our eighth full day in rwanda, i figure some people back home may want to know what happened to robbie and stephanie besides generally disappearing. between hit-and-miss internets and being inundated with a flood of new information (and trying then to process and utilize that information), the motivation and/or inspiration to tell of our journey thus far has been lacking. but i find myself sufficiently inspired on this lovely rwandan day to tell a story that some may find interesting.
as i have noted earlier, my parents and sister flew out to chicagoland for the goodbye ceremonies. the monday before we left, the swick family held an excellent little get-together with friends and family and supporters. after partaking in some delicious rwandan-inspired dishes, we shared a bit more about what exactly we were heading off to go and do (a picture slideshow awkwardly rolling in the background) and were prayed for. one of the highlights of the evening for us was the reading of messages of encouragement and parting from friends and mentors who could not attend. those got us good.
airport farewells are never really fun, especially when the goodbye is for a goodly chunk of time, but they happen. and we ride our separate planes in opposite directions. i listened through the newest switchfoot album over the dark atlantic. while not amazing, the last two songs give me peace and hope. and in that dark night flying away from everything we knew well, i needed both.
we flew one airline to new york, and they thankfully didn’t charge us nearly as much as they could have for extra bags and the extra weight in them. but to make the transfer to brussels air we had to pick up our bags, find our way to a terminal on the opposite side of the airport and check them in again. and again, the attendant somehow didn’t charge us the $150 for having one overweight bag. perhaps we didn’t bring with us as much as we could have, but, trust me, it sure felt like more than enough. we had two medium sized rollers, one which we carried with us onto the plane; two backpacks; one ukulele; two large beasts; and one old suitcase of suitcases from a previous decade that rolls not at all, requiring me to heft its fifty plus pounds every step of our transitional phases. the best of such phases was upon our arrival in brussels, fairly early in the morning. we piled the bags into a booth on a train into town and somehow navigated the crowds at brussels central station. we then lugged the luggage through old town brussels in the rain over cobblestone streets several blocks to our hotel. it was certainly quite an experience. in brussels we were tourists for a bit, partook in our last tastes of fast-food for a while, and tried to process and anticipate what was ahead. not wanting to repeat the tiring luggage marathon, we took a taxi back to the airport. and there we met with grumpier people who wouldn’t let us escape the overweight fee.
the alps were covered in cloud and we saw corners of their majesty in tiny bursts only. but the sahara was bright and open below us hours later. the flight to kigali from brussels was over two hours longer than new york to brussels. rwanda seems to be pretty far away. not from us right now though. we are standing on rwanda, so we’re pretty close.
the days so far in rwanda have been somewhat of a slow motion whirlwind. we have done and learned and seen so much every day that it feels way longer than just a week since our arrival.
the team picked us up the night we landed and took us to the guest house where we are currently residing for the time being, the same place where we stayed a year and a half ago. we ended up at an english church service the next morning with most of the team, a church that was more or less a rwandan version of the vineyard. it was good to sing some songs we knew, and we figured starting our first morning in rwanda at church probably wasn’t a bad idea. since then we have spent a significant portion of our time with fellow team members joel, liz, and maddy who have done an incredible job of making us feel at home and giving us the scoop on life in kigali. our brains have been thankfully overloaded with all of the helpful information they have bestowed upon us. we have gone to bed every night very ready for sleep. and maybe that’s also helped by jet lag’s lazy arms.
we have had some good meetings and hangouts with jen and serge, and they have been instrumental in helping us find a place in which to live. after traveling around the eastern half of the city with serge’s friend (real estate in kigali is all ‘who you know’) we are very close to sealing the deal with one particular house. it’s near the bakery where steph will most likely be spending much of her time, and while farther away from town than we had originally hoped, it’s under budget and has a lot of greenery, which makes my heart glad. more updates on that to come. still, we are all pretty amazed that we found a good place so quick. this is one of a number of happy little victories, like opening a bank account and completing our first solo bus ride.
everything still feels surreal. we have both gone through phases of various emotions. maybe we miss home and family vigorously, maybe we’re pumped about riding moto taxis again. there are moments when i am terrified of this place and others when i think kigali is by far the best place on earth. but mainly i’m just about right in the middle, still figuring things out, still processing. i feel like i’m waiting for the great slap in my face when i actually realize where i am.
and so while we take the time now to settle and get the feel for the city, steph and i are both very excited to find our place here and get started in ministry life again. we already have a trip out to the refugee camp in the works. i am keeping a mental list of ideas generated as we gather in more stories and experiences of rwanda.
yesterday i took a walk from our guest house to a bookstore (go figure). walking through a new city in a way makes me feel at home. it’s what changed bellingham for me in college and gave me some sort of ownership of places like urbana, il and rome, italy. so with a book in hand i took a good walk and tried to ignore the blatant stares that greeted me on the sidewalks. at the bookstore i was accosted by a small group of men offering me cheap items for sale. i said no and went inside. but while waiting for a ride sometime later, up came the same guy who tried to sell me a map of rwanda minutes earlier. i was just sitting and waiting and he sat too, and we held bits of a conversation in broken english. he often mixed up english’s possessive words, once asking me if i had his father in america. yes, my father is in america. and seeing as though i actually wanted a map of rwanda (even if this one was pretty low on the quality scale) i bought one. it was a strange interaction, unlooked for, but it reminded me of all those african street vendors in rome with whom i often had good conversations and occasionally bought socks from. i have all their names in my bible on a piece of paper of people/things i pray for regularly. i’ll hopefully need a new piece of paper soon.