My Inzu is Your Inzu

I write, with 4-month-old Evelina sleeping in my lap, sitting on a couch we bought from a stranger 2 months ago, and feet on the rug we brought back with us from Kigali 5 months ago. I’m in the place we call “home”.

The tag line of a blog post I read this afternoon said, “Repatriation: The hardest part of moving overseas”. That doesn’t resonate with my experience, repatriation for us has been pretty smooth, but it does put into perspective how intense this time feels.

“Home” doesn’t feel like anywhere but where Renjie, Francisco and Evelina are. That’s been true for a long time–I think it was true even before Renjie and I were married, and I think that’s why we chose to do life together.

Sitting in this building, this house, on this couch that probably won’t still be ours once we leave this place, with my feet on a rug that we’ll likely cling to wherever we move as a fond reminder of the time we called Rwanda “home”, I recognize that our living room furnishings kinda represent well how I’m viewing the world these days.

This couch is a take-it-or-leave-it item in our house. We like it, its serviceable, and right now it belongs with us. That’s what living in the United States feels like at the moment. It’s a place we’re glad to be, we’re doing what we feel like we should be doing, but I don’t feel much attachment to it–probably because in many important ways life here is essentially new to us.

The rug on the other hand, that rug was underneath some fancy midwife drop cloth that I gave birth to our son on in our bedroom in Kigali. There’s all this sentimental value attached to it, and I schemed hard to find a way to get it back to the States. Rwanda is like that–it came with us, you sort of wouldn’t believe the stories behind it, and is still very much part of our day-to-day. 

We have 3 kinds of people in our family. One, Francisco, was literally born and raised in Rwanda, and for him, that’s home. Two of us, Renjie and I knew the US as home before we called Rwanda home, and calling either place home has felt right. For Evelina, Rwanda will be part of her story, but not a part she will know from memory. It’s kind of odd that in this move to Chicago we set ourselves off on different kinds of journeys–one to a new home, 2 to a place called home-but-not, and 1 to come into a world the rest of us are getting acquainted with but for her will be the [first?!] place she calls home.

The rug in our living room reminds us that we aren’t home because Rwanda is tied to our sense of life as a family, but we are home because this is where we and our things dwell, and reminds us that we are so very fortunate to be in this place, to have been in the places we’ve been, and to be sorting through life together. Repatriation is definitely [a sometimes exhausting] part of the adventure. Thankful for a couch to sit and contemplate on. 🙂 (Agh! I know! Kind of a lame analogy to begin with. I’m done.)

Post script: “inzu” means “house” in Kinyarwanda. 🙂 And, as we’d say in Kigali to friends near and far, you’re always welcome to visit. (Seriously, I’m done! But, do come visit.)

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A Few Favorite Things

In no particular order, these are a few things I love about Kigali:

1. Year-round fresh-picked strawberries  2. Plants that were dried up and looked dead a few months ago after a long dry season have bounced back to life and are thriving.     3. People tend to be very generous with their stuff here. This chair, which has been loved so much by Francisco was passed on to us by a friend.  4. The best Ethiopian food I’ve ever had is 15 minutes from our house.

5. Our friendships are forged around some very unique life experiences, and we see those special relationships lasting a lifetime.

6. We have a gorgeous view of the lights Kigali at night from our house. Pic forthcoming.

7. We’re a few hours drive or less from scenes like this:           8. Last but not least: A trip outside the city to the place that in a sense brought us here, St. Michael’s Church, filled with students from Sonrise School, leading (in Kinyarwanda) a celebration service upon the visit of Canon Jay and others from Church of the Redeemer in Chicagoland. [summary translation forthcoming] 

Lessons from a Palm Tree

Living in Rwanda has taught me a lot about perspective. I was 32, nearly 33 years old when we moved here, I’d “been around the block” a bit in life already, and felt I could claim I had a couple things figured out at least about myself, if not the world. …Sigh. You read the title of this blog–I’ve had some lessons to learn.

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This is a panoramic shot of our porch–a favorite part of our house. Do you see the big palm tree just over Francisco’s left shoulder? One of the best parts of the porch is the view of the palms from underneath, splayed out in their tropical beauty.

It’s dry season here, and we’ve had close to no rain since late May. Things are pretty brown, and really, “tropical beauty” isn’t what comes to mind when most vegetation is in view, because right now a lot of it looks dead, or at best, “slightly alive”.

Dry season has lasted longer than usual this year, and while I don’t mind it as much as I did the last couple years, our palm tree got me thinking about Rwanda, theology, and perspective. First things first. Take a look at this full-length view of the palm tree, and then a couple views from beneath:

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This last pic shows you an almost all-green view of the tree, which is what you’d see most of the year–when we’re getting rain regularly. The first view, the full-length shows what the tree and the landscape look like when it’s been very dry for a long time. The second view shows a mix of the two–the dry and the green.

That second view is what got me thinking about Rwanda, theology and perspective. When we first came to Rwanda I viewed this place–the landscape, the culture, the lifestyle much like I view that green bit of palm–it’s inviting, it’s beautiful, it’s wonderful and inspiring to witness in so many ways.

This experience is much like what I feel when I’m about to start running a long-distance race–especially a half marathon. Love half marathons. They’re hard work, they require a gut check near the end, and they’re just short enough that I’m not questioning whether I’m a masochist in the last couple miles/kilometers (as I most certainly was in training for and running a full 26.2 mile marathon!)–it’s an energizing and fulfilling experience. That’s what life here felt like to me early on. A good thing.

Last year was a hard year in so many ways. It wasn’t all hard, a lot of good, wonderful things happened, but, I can look back at every month and point to something that was really challenging–health stuff, change and transition stuff, etc. That, “I’m running a half marathon” feeling rapidly switched to, “brace yourself, woman, because this one’s a marathon.” I wasn’t ready for that, and I asked God often to help me make sense of the many ways my weariness impacted my perspective.

My very least favorite thing about running a long distance is being thirsty. I’d rather deal with blisters. Hate feeling parched, especially if I’ve got a ways to go. It’s hard to keep focused on the goal ahead–the finish line, because my eyes are longing to spot a water station.

When I’m tired–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I tend to look at life in Rwanda as though I’m seeing those brown parts of the tree–I’m focused on the water, the life that’s lacking. I feel discouraged, disappointed, frustrated, angry–any of those things. I forget that this stretch that feels so long is only one part of the life of this place. Most of the time it’s beautiful. Most of the year the landscape is stunning. The life and spirit in Rwandan culture and it’s heritage are in so many ways vibrant and remarkable. It’s a gift and an honor to be here.

While we were in the U.S. in June and July I found it difficult to put into words what life, and especially the last year in Rwanda had been like. Somehow, I couldn’t find a clean translation. These images of the palm tree, and that feeling of being dry, almost desperately so, anxious to know when the rain will come, when the water will hit my lips and slake the thirst–those things I think translate well, and so I share them with you.

What I’ve found is God knows what we need. Often when I’ve run races I’ve questioned the forethought of those who planned the distances between water stations (where people prepare cups of water or Gatorade for the runners)–surely they were too far apart. But I’ve never been even close to dehydration in a race. The people planning the route knew what they were doing–it was just difficult for me to trust. Sometimes my faith in God is small, and I’m impatient with the way he’s constructed the route I’m on. I find it difficult to trust.

I’m thankful for this time to learn again to trust, to remember that, in some kind of way, God has made, created us to run with him. I might have trotted up to the start line having wishfully, or willfully heard “half marathon” when he said, “marathon–26.2, sister”, but that doesn’t mean the goal has changed–there’s still that finish line, and the joy of pursuing it with the best possible running partner–the only one who can make the run possible.

Training for a full marathon is completely different than training for a half. A full requires a level of commitment of time, energy, pain and rest that a half doesn’t. I’m headed into this year with a full marathon in mind, and that’s helped me see the beauty in the “mostly dead/still slightly alive” vegetation here. There’s hope in it–because I’m sure the rain will come, and it will be what it was made to be–vibrant.

Long training runs use me up, and I’m pretty wilted by the end, but there’s no way to describe how worth it that feeling of being used up is when the finish line is near, and when I’ve crossed it. Rwanda is in many ways in the middle of a long run itself, and they’re making it look good–it might be hard to see their anxious longings inside, but they’re running with hope, it seems, and I applaud the courage that takes, and thank God for the grace he’s given to enable this beautiful nation to run.