a touch of my garden’s beauty

I love my garden in Kigali. It is a wonderful haven – a place in which to escape and be filled with peace as you soak in the beauty around. Although plants grown year around on the equator, with the rains, the garden wakes up and the colors become more vibrant. Here are a few pictures I took on a walk through the garden a few weeks ago. This is just a small piece of its beauty. I wish we could meet for a cup of tea or a Saturday brunch and soak in its beauty together.

drying wheat

This is the mountain that I visit regularly here in Rwanda because it is where our water projects take place. It seems like I nearly always visit during rainy season though – not intentionally, just the way it happens. It is fun to see it change with the seasons, here with wheat drying.


bee and flower

I just got back from another quick trip to the Sorwathe Tea Factory, which I promise to tell you about soon. For now, a picture from their gorgeous gardens.

easter at lake kivu & genocide memorial week

Sometimes watching four episodes of The West Wing (tea cup in hand) is what it takes to free the mind and want to communicate with the world. This is just one of the many indicators that I am indeed an introvert. The much more fun thing is why an afternoon like that was needed – all the time spent with family and friends (whom I really love) in the past weeks at absolutely beautiful locations. And since Easter was just last week, I want to tell you about the Easter travels to Lake Kivu.

I have often said that nothing is simple in Africa, and this past week is a reminder of how true a statement that is. At last minute my parents ended up in Rwanda for Easter (just another story for my crazy family). This means that they were also here for Genocide Memorial Week. Part of their time was spent in Gisenyi, a town on Lake Kivu next to the DRC border. Here are some tidbits of what we did and what we learned.

Gisenyi, Lake Kivu & Paradis Malahide

I remember reading about Lake Kivu in some of my Environmental text books because it has methane and carbon dioxide gas at its bottom. It is a mountain lake that sits at around 4,800 feet and is 1,500 feet deep in parts and, in theory, could flip and kill those around the lake. There are only two other lakes with gases trapped at depth – both in Cameroon. Maybe this makes you bored or scared – it made me smile.

For my first trip to Lake Kivu, I went to Gisenyi. Really, I went to a hotel just outside of Gisenyi called Paradis Malahide because our little group never found a reason to leave the hotel. Paradis Malahide seems like it is plopped in amongst a wandering village, with a bit of beach and hillside carved out just for guests. It was a perfect escape – for us, an Easter escape. If you go, bring a swim suit, books, games, an appetite for some yummy fish in the evenings, and be prepared to enjoy the bonfire each evening at the restaurant. What I learned: Paradis Malahide is a perfect place for a quiet weekend, a place to be rejuvenated with relaxation. But, if you want to be active, probably not perfect. I shall definitely be back in the months to come!


The beach at Paradis Malahide, our rooms in the back.

Carcassonne, a favorite board game.

Bonfire fun – don’t forget to import your marshmellows.

Genocide Memorial Week

Each year Rwanda takes a week to remember the genocide of 1994. The government chooses a theme for the week, everything shuts down the first and last day of the week, and most afternoons as well. To some degree, this continues for 100 days – the length of the genocide. This is my second time to be here for this week, and the country takes on a somber, even depressed, mood. As an outsider, there is little to do but respect that which is everywhere you turn and pray that those mourning would find comfort and healing. If you visit during this time (or any other time) this what I have learned: If you want to know stories, read books because retelling is reliving, and who are we to ask such a thing? If you have advive for someone who lived through the genocide or has family here, keep it to yourself – this place and history is more complex and greater than we can understand. If you want to learn – listen, observe, and respect. Like all rules, sometimes these should be broken. But, they are a good starting point.

And now it is time for this introvert to turn from The West Wing to the book that is filling spare moments with smiles: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.


sunset at the tea factory

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago when I was at the Sorwathe Tea Factory for the night. It was absolutely stunning and wonderfully peaceful. Before long, I will share a bit more about the bed & breakfast, the view, and the good work that Sorwathe does. For now, I am sitting in the airport getting ready to head to another country filled with beautiful hills – Scotland – so it shall have to wait. Get ready for pictures of old buildings, good food, and beautiful countryside to be taken with my camera that is waiting there for me. Sigh. Vacation will be wonderful. So thankful my brother and sister-in-law moved to Edinburgh!

tropical substitutions: papaya in carrot cake

One of the things about moving across an ocean is that you have to find new and imaginative ways to alter tried and true recipes. Things that were the norm because they were cheap, easy and accessible are expensive, time consuming and hard to find. It means finding a new norm.

In America I regularly substitute some of the oil in baking recipes with apple sauce (plain, un-doctored apple sauce). It cuts some of the fat, and often adds good moisture with but a small change in flavor. I often had an open jar in the back of the fridge just waiting to be used. Here in Rwanda when I can find apple sauce, it is expensive. True, apples (though not particularly cheap), could be made into apple sauce. But I work a job that is more than full time, so that is, at best, a laughable option.

So, I turned to the readily available tropical fruits: bananas, mangoes, tree tomatoes, pineapple, passion fruit….papaya. Nearly everyone I know who likes papaya grew up eating it or intentionally developed a taste for it. As a baby in Kenya, it was my first food… need I say more? But here is the deal: it is filled with moisture, easily mashes (just scrape the insides and you have instant puree), and readily available. So I gave it a shot when baking my famous and much loved carrot cake. It is as divine as ever. So now I have little bags of 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup amounts of mashed papaya in my freezer ready to go. A bit of creativity and now I have a new oil substitute that is cheap, easy and accessible. In case you presently live in a similar tropical location, here is the now-adapted, but proven, carrot cake recipe. I am still perfecting the cream cheese icing without cream cheese; I will keep you posted.

Carrot Cake for Tropical Locations

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar (if not cooking for Americans, reduce slightly)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup crushed pineapple (if using fresh: finely chopped with some juice)
  • 3/4 cup mashed or pured papaya
  • 3/4 cup vegetable or corn oil
  • 1 cup coconut (can do without, just add a few tablespoons flour; desiccated coconut is available in Nairobi)
  • 2 cups grated carrots

Mix all ingredients except the coconut and carrots. Fold in coconut and carrots, one at a time. Bake in a 9×13 pan (do not grease or flour the pan) at 350 F for 45 minutes or until test stick comes out clean. I have recently been using a 9 inch springform pan, which takes 50-55 minutes. Best served with cream cheese frosting.

beginnings of community

Sometime ago I wrote a short article for an online magazine about maintaining community in the midst of a life that has me constantly on the road. I talked about it not being an easy journey, but that it was indeed possible if one was intentional. Lately I have been reminded of those words as I work to build community, to build a home, here in Rwanda.  Community is something that is found and built; it is not happenstance. In takes time – it is an investment. It takes perseverance to find, to build, to maintain. Sometimes there is a precious gift of stepping into a community that is waiting for you and welcomes with open arms. Even then, it takes time to make it your own.

I do not know any perfect formula for this process – but there are a few things I will do until I fall into bed exhausted. Coffee dates, weekly meetings (Bible studies, pub quizzes, long walks – whatever it is that works for you), and gathering over food in my home. It does not take a grand excuse for people to gather – sometimes a small one is even better – it is just an excuse to share in a piece of life together. And from there shared history begins.

I smile because on Sunday some of us gathered for a picnic in my backyard. It is dry season and the grass is dry and the little ants wanted our food. But it was sunny and warm and conversations drowned the music. In that moment, there was a piece of shared history. Maybe when the rains start, we will gather inside over soup and think back to that time we lounged under the shade tree when the sun made the afternoon hot.

As I write this, a Jars of Clay song came on, and smiled at how perfect it is for today’s thoughts, “In the shelter of each other, we will live.” May we all be so blessed that this would be true for us.

the light is out

My kitchen light has been out for about a week now. In this kitchen of mine, there is exactly one lightbulb – a florescent tube. In so many ways, this is not what I would have chosen, but it is what I have. It worked great until the day I thought the light bulb burned out.

I had no spare bulbs (is it actually called a light tube?) in my pantry. It was a busy week, and I did not feel like carving out the time to run to town to get a bulb because nearly everything takes longer than anticipated. At night I used a candle or headlamp as needed in the kitchen. Somehow this seemed neither surprising or particularly frustrating.

On Saturday, I got a bulb plus a few extras for future use. Then on Sunday my housemate and I tried to change the bulb which included standing on a not particularly stable table and hoping the light switch was off because the wiring is a far from perfect 220V.

New lightbulb in and it still doesn’t work. Part of the end of the fixture looks sketchy and rusty. Did we not do it correctly (how does one mess this up)? Or maybe the fixture is simply busted. Now it is Tuesday night and those candles and headlamps continue to work well. It is just another day. I guess it is time to break down and call our handyman. I’m sure I will do that sometime later this week…

wall art for my africa office

When I look at a space, I think about how it is decorated, how that space is (or could be) made to be full of life and welcoming to all who are there. I love spaces that invite long conversations over tea or a glass of wine, inspire the mind to create, and awaken the senses to the possibilities of life. As I write that, it makes me step back and wonder at the grandeur that I am asking of a space, but I know it is possible. Often it takes little more than open spaces, warm colors, and overflowing plants. With my move to Kigali, I have been working to do the same of my spaces here – large spaces where everything is painted off-white.


This is my office – the place I work from during the days when I am not on a plane or with a partner in the field. Inspired by a local coffee shop and being the African-based operations for Blood:Water Mission, I turned to the locally available African fabrics. (This decision was supported by the general lack of art or crafting supplies in the country…. creativity is required.) I bought wood frames normally used to stretch canvas from a local artist, scraps of fabric from a woman in the fabric market, hunted down some ribbon (only three colors to choose from), and a new friend blessed with use of a staple gun. That is how creativity is done here – dream up what you want, alter the dream when you find available tools, and smile at the outcomes. Then get a cup of chai and sigh at how much happier the space has become.

families of water tanks

This blog post was written for Blood:Water Mission. The original post is found here.

On Friday I had the joy of visitings a water tank in Northern Rwanda that was just finished. It is now collecting water for 10 families to use during the dry season that is just about a month away. After talking with a few of the people this tank will serve, we began to walk down the path to our car (our little 4WD could not make it up the final bits of the mountain road/path). As we walked, there was happy talk that was eventually translated for me.

“That tank over there is the grandmother tank.”

“And that one is the mother tank.”

In this community, the tanks have been given family trees. When the first tanks were built, many families shared one tank, carefully rationing the water and hoping to make it through a dry season. As more tanks were built, fewer families shared a tank. And the community, in which children are prized, calls this process one tank giving birth to another. So, on Friday, I saw the grandmother, the mother, and the baby tank. Along with it, a lot of smiling women and children who no longer walk down a mountain to get water from a lake.

The goal for this project is to have each tank serve 10 families, and the last tanks are being built right now to make that possible –  a process that has taken several years. The community provides all the local materials – the stones and wood and labor – to make the project possible. But, they need a lot of cement for each tank – about 54 bags. Would you think about partnering with communities like these? Match their resources with yours to make water projects possible. In doing so, you will change lives this Christmas season. To take part in this campaign, go here.


i am moving to rwanda

I am moving to Rwanda. The final decision was made last Thursday, and I celebrated with drinks and games (I kid you not – I love board games and card games), and announced it to the world on twitter. I said there would be more details this week, and so here I am getting ready to share a few thoughts.

But, what I really want to do is to go back to that discussion on toilets and dignity. You see, there is this great article titled, “Donor aversion to ‘unsexy’ water projects threatens development goal.” It is all about the sanitation goal to halve the number of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015 and how that goal will not be met because sanitation is not sexy. But, I guess the article is written, and you can read it, so I shall get back to Rwanda. Just know I will return to toilets again in the future.

I will be moving to Rwanda in October to do my current job with Blood:Water Mission while based in Africa. The idea is that this will save me a lot of hop-skipping-and-jumping over that small pond called the Atlantic Ocean. It should also prevent days being lost to jet leg and hopefully I will get to be home (my new home) a bit more on the weekends while getting to be with our amazing African partners even more. For you dear readers, this means more stories and pictures from Africa.

I have started to think about the move. Part of me wants to say much more right now, but I need a chance to think, to process. And then I will share. You see, transitions are not easy. They are hard and difficult and beautiful too. They are stories of living, of goodbyes, of helloes, of the past and of the future. It all gets jumbled up and sometimes it is hard to sort out. And that will very much be where I am for the next while.

Right now, I know that I ordered a some fun bowls and plates to take to Rwanda. Yellow and purple, they are bright and happy, just what I imagine my future kitchen to be.


rain on the porch

My first week here, I had saw a lot of sun and the days were hot. Then the rains came. There has been some sun, but there has been more fog and cloud cover and afternoon rains. This was taken on the porch – the porch rails reflected in the water gathering. With this storm there was some fantastic thunder and lightening too.

working from rwanda

This post was written for Blood:Water Mission and was originally posted HERE.

For two weeks, I am working from Rwanda. Nashville has been unusually cold this week, and Kigali unusually hot. With temperatures over 90 F each afternoon, I find myself thankful for low humidity and wishing for an afternoon shower – or maybe a fan. Here we live with the climate – hot or cold – there is nothing to change the impact of the weather save opening or closing some windows. But this is not a post about the weather – it is a post about working here. It is just hard to separate the two when I my mind is melted and I am in need of a shower.

Normally I visit our African partners to collect stories, talk about work completed or yet to be done, and build relationships. This  trip is something a bit different – while doing the above, the focus is on preparing for a training next week. Training manuals have been translated (not by me), copies printed, materials gathered, and plans for implementation have been made. The rest of the time I am sitting here on my laptop doing my work as per normal. No, I did not have to be here this week. I could have flown in at last minute and not helped with the details. But then I would have missed so many opportunities – to help, to learn, to teach, and to be blessed.

In the coming months we will be talking more about how Blood:Water Mission is in true partnership with our local partners. This is just a piece of that. Choosing to work alongside rather than zip in at the last minute. And so, every afternoon when my body is caked with a layer of sweat and my mind is melted and does not want to work, I am thankful that I get to be here, to work alongside our amazing African partners.