this last week i traveled to kibuye to visit again kiziba refugee camp. this will become a fairly regular occurrence, as iteams has been a presence in the camp for many years and looks to be so for many years to come. i journeyed solo as i was just going to plan a few things with grodya and steph had cakes and things to help with at j.lynn’s. though i missed my wife of course, i welcomed the chance to be alone and regroup my mental and emotional scatterings of the last couple of months. an introvert at heart (and on the surface, let’s be honest), i would be lying if i said i didn’t need this time by myself. so on the bus ride out, reading a tree grows in brooklyn, i vowed to utilize well every daylight hour, spend time at the lake, and do a lot of walking. living in the city of kigali i treasure days in kibuye where i can take a breath in less crowded areas. it fills a very important part of my soul.

and later, at the shore, feet in sand, i soak up the smells of fresh water and water-logged vegetation; to me the smells of growing up in summertimes past where my younger parents and brother and i would wind our happy way past blackberry bushes to a little beach on lake whatcom to swim and collect rocks – as well as the inevitable splinters from the ancient dock. but life changes, as is obvious. yet i am glad to be able to here partake in the sensations so similar to my youth. i think about change in this strange little town of kibuye. not a city by any means, it feels like it could be a forgotten, spread-out neighborhood of kigali. the sorts of developments kigali has seen in recent years are only partly seen here on the edge of the country. i have the sense that such development is slow in coming and almost unwanted. the empty and overgrown ‘business development center’ seems to confirm this, i thought strolling by upon my arrival. then next day i was to see the building in a state of being demolished. though what that means, i don’t yet know.

up in kiziba i stopped off first to say hi to ned, the now director of the american refugee commitee in the camp; he will be moving to a post in kampala next month. i sauntered down kiziba’s main dirt drag, past cries of mzungu! and various other stares. it was an invigorating time for me, my first solo adventure into kiziba. it would hit me later that my life has taken me in such directions that part of my regular routine is visiting a refugee camp. and i think with that i get a feeling of rightness.

grodya and i had a great conversation that first day, talking about this and that and everything. we started hashing out details for the upcoming sports tournaments, discussed various library activities and needs (i even got to hang out for a bit with the english club meeting at the time), and then we dreamed a while. there are plenty of things we want to see happen, from the addition of a nearby bathroom, to quiz events, to movie showings and discussions. heck, i might even write a book. the list literally goes on for some time. essentially grodya and jcm – and us, of course – want to see a reading culture emerge, a generation that seeks knowledge and community rather than violence and ‘hedonistic entreaty.’ hopeless this seems sometimes, and maybe pointless, but i have been often reminded that light exists beyond the long dark of the pit, and good Lord i am humbly elated to be a part of it.

at the end of these most fulfilling conversations i walked myself back to town, down half-remembered paths.

the next day, while grodya finished up one of his incredibly detailed and impeccably hand-written action plans, i hung out with a man named henry, being a part of jcm with grodya. henry plays the keys and guitar and we tossed around some more ideas for some artistic outlets and competitions in the future. he invited me to his little house to show me his guitar, purchased in kigali. it was a simple, small thing, roughly made, but decent enough. he played some, i played some. he said a couple of times when we were hanging out that day that he had been praying for someone to help him with the musical things in the camp and was extremely excited about the prospect of steph and i coming in to help. and i can tell you it is a strange and humbling thing to be thought of as an answer to prayer.

camp business concluded, henry and i traveled back to town together as he had some things to take care of there for his church. we ate lunch, made some copies, etc, then he started the hike back up the hill.

the crowded bus ride back to kigali carries us through villages and woods, over hill, along cliff. the driver guns it consistently. imagine taking highway 1 on the california coast at an average 50 mph, just minus the ocean beneath you. i listen to john mark mcmillan, all four wonderful albums of hope and mercy, watching the landscape and cliffs swirl by. and then, rounding farmed corners, kigali grows out of the green hills ahead, the downtown towers steel and glass prophecies of what will continue to grow. i am thinking much about this ‘progress’ these days, as more and more people tells us how different kigali was just a handful of years ago. and in reading books that unintentionally make me think. a connecticut yankee in king arthur’s court, a recent yard sale purchase, posed questions of the cost of civilization and industrialization. i think of that book and twain’s characteristic cynicism often now as i wonder at africa’s imitations of western ideals, of this curious limbo between the past and the future, poverty and business. i think of kiziba, see it almost as a land left behind in the race towards ‘progress.’ yet while even something like electricity has not yet been brought to the camp, there are generators afoot and some refugees – deemed ‘vulnerable’ – have recently received little solar paneled lights, from which one might even charge a phone. change comes in explosive growth in some places, in tiny baby steps in others. with faith and patience and hope we try to take these steps in kiziba.

i love this piece of paper.

the vision. i love this piece of paper.

sunset over lake kivu.

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1 Response to borderland.

  1. Robbie, your writing relaxes me, like I sort of just melt as I read this. Not like the teenager who melts in the presence of her beau, but sort of swirling, and slowly and gently becoming one with the Kiziba essence you share. I’m there.

    I also, seriously, cannot wait to read you and hear you in 2 years, to listen to those yet future impressions….

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