the drive to kibuye was, as many roadtrips are, a bonding experience – full of chatter, singing, laughter and anticipation. as we set out, each seat was filled – with students, bags, and one row with a trunk of books to be delivered to the library. i felt the crispness of a fresh trip, the spaces on the bus waiting to be filled with conversations and curious questions, new inside jokes, secret hand-holding and the drowsiness of the road with ipod playlists and engines whirring as our soundtrack.
i sat next to robbie and watched the trees go by, anticipating bringing our new friends to meet our old friends in the camp, hoping for enlightening experiences for each. i chatted with jen, the youth pastor and team leader, and her husband doug – heard about jen’s passion for leading youth into genuine relationship with Christ. we also swapped stories about the time we spent at the same campus ministry, CCF, at the university of illinois – for them it was “the edge”, several years before i arrived and we changed the name to “axiom”. small world connections everywhere.
after some time we stopped for a bathroom break and a walk across a bridge that spanned a wide river marking the half-way point on our three hour drive to the lakeside town of kibuye where we stay before heading up to the camp. as i crossed, i stopped to chat with different groups of students taking photos and attempting conversation with some of the less shy local kids who came to check out the odd parade of mzungus. we shuffled the team back on the bus and set out for the rest of our journey.
it was fun hearing the observations being made throughout the bus on our drive. they noticed the different types of plants, the electrical wires, never ending hills of terraced farmland – even some “wild cows” on the side of the road. this seeming discovery was debunked by serge who pointed out the elusive boy-with-stick sitting under a nearby tree minding said animals.
we arrived at home saint jean, the guest house that has welcomed robbie and i time and again on our journeys to kiziba. but this time we showed up with seventeen extra people. with these unusual numbers, we certainly monopolized the common areas during meals and debrief time. one thing i really appreciated about this team was their value of learning, processing, debriefing and really desiring to make their experience stick. that night, we enjoyed a dinner buffet and more of this thoughtful conversation, preparing for what we would see the next day. after dinner, serge shared his powerful story relating to the conflict that lead to the existence of this camp and answered questions about what we would be seeing the next day. many of these students work with relocated refugees in their hometown. i could sense their anticipation to get a look at the lives that refugees lead at the beginning of the journey that leads them to resettlement.
the next morning, after a rwandan breakfast buffet, and a little accidental hot sauce in the tea, we loaded the bus and headed up the hill for our first day at kiziba. about two-thirds of our way up, we noticed a car bumper in the road. to our surprise, our driver stopped, got out and picked up the bumper and loaded it into the aisle of our already very crowded bus. as we continued our drive, the driver would stop each moto-driver and give out his number in case the car with the missing bumper was seen. the kindness of humanity.
we entered the camp, drove the familiar route to the “end” of the drivable road, and got off to be greeted by our friends nathalie, grodya, henry and johnson and introduced them to the new group. after many hugs, greetings and wading through mobs of curious children, we led them down to the library. at first, we gathered to observe and fellowship with an english class that was going on. grodya shared some words of welcome and about jcm’s mission. each person in the room went around and introduced themselves. then jen stood to introduce our team. it was a strange feeling to not feel like the new person, to be able to stand in the gap and bring these two groups together.
after introductions, we broke off into groups of students, both from chicago and kiziba, to talk about life. the students shared about the differences and similarities in life, school, work, home, family… i watched the faces of each group change as the processed these foreign experience and gained a new understanding. and then they took a tour. robbie and i stayed behind to talk with grodya and some of the other jcm members and to check out a computer lab in the camp that has been outfitted with solar power. we have been exploring electricity options to bring power to the library to have a few computers, play films for movie debates, and have a radio available for news. we learned a lot and took some steps in the right direction. more on that later.
by the end of that first day, the students were tired and it was time to load back in the bus. when we started to board, the bumper from the drive up was gone – its owners had come back up to the hill to retrieve it. that night, we made it back in time for some swimming the lake and then another buffet and debrief.
the next morning would hold some different activities. the team had brought with them a number of board games requested by jcm and we got to have a game day. people gathered in small groups to learn the new games. some of them were easy to pick up – cards and dice. but some were a little more tricky, like monopoly. it was fun to see how the games brought the two groups together, sharing laughs and working toward a shared goal.
that afternoon, we played some basketball. though girls aren’t generally encouraged to play sports in the camp, there is an all girls basketball team who challenged some of the americans to a game. lacking a place to change, the girls from faith lutheran played some five-on-five in long skirts, and were beat pretty well. it really is hard to run with feet of fabric trailing behind you. after that, the guys played a game. everyone was thoroughly tired and headed back to the library for a snack of mandazi (a thick, fried, sort of sweet dough ball) and fanta. however, this time, quickly evolved into impromptu music from the refugees, then the team, then the refugees, then the team, then everyone, all together in kinyarwanda, dancing in a big group and praising the Lord. this was one of my favorite moments from our trip to kiziba. the two groups had shared experiences and were then praising in unity. after hugs, goodbyes, and some information swapping, we left the camp and headed back for kigali and what would come next.