faiths standing together in egypt

I have been watching the news from Egypt – as I travel mostly through my twitter feed thanks to Al Jazeera – and there are a couple headlines that have stood out in my mind, things that make me proud of humanity.

In the early days of protests in Cairo, I heard about Christians who surrounded Muslims so that they could say their prayers without being disturbed. Today I read about Muslims surrounding a Coptic mass at Tahrir square. In this moment, I want to take a step away from the politics and the protest and the violence and the lack of free speech to celebrate these people. In a time that could become religiously charged, these Egyptians chose to stand alongside their Christian or Muslim brothers and sisters. I find incredible hope in these acts and a lesson that I wish the world would hear. Though our faiths may be different, we can stand together in dignity and in hope.

Where I am presently staying in Rwanda, I can hear the Muslim call to prayer. It is off in the distance and I find it beautiful – an instant reminder of my childhood in Egypt and an ever-present reminder to lift my thoughts in prayer. Today my prayer is that stories like these will continue to happen, and that they might spread like wildfire.

Please forgive me for the lack of details or links about these incidents in Egypt- my internet is slow and limited. If you can provide a link for others to read about these, please leave it in a comment to this post.

bath time

This little girl had just been given a bath. Mom had mostly dried her off and the final drops of water were disappearing to the afternoon sun. And, like always, it is her smile the caught me.

joyful adventure

As we were driving out of a community Thursday morning, Claudette pointed down the road and said, “That’s Uganda.” I knew that we were practically sitting on the border all week and had looked into Uganda from the mountain, but the border crossing was now less than a mile away and I knew that Mike, this being his first trip to Africa, had not yet been to Uganda. So I asked if it was easy to cross and a few more questions. Next thing I know Claudette had talked to Emmanuel, our driver, and we are headed to the border – all of us with big smiles on our faces.

There is just something about spontaneous adventure that is hard to beat. We could have turned around and gone to our next meeting, but we had some time to kill and Uganda was waiting for us. Except I know the visa to Uganda is $50 for Americans, and I did not want to drop $100 to walk on Ugandan soil. But, how can it be adventure if you know how it will work out before it has begun?

When we got out of the car at the Rwandan border (this would be a crossing on foot), I found out that Blandine, who is from this border community had never been to Uganda. Everyone had their papers – three of us passports, one set of national papers, and one set of local papers (that required no visa or stamp to cross). We exited Rwanda and walked to Uganda where I met the immigration officer. I explained what we were doing – that we just wanted to get a soda in Uganda. He waived us on for our little adventure, no visa required. “Please, is there any way to get a stamp in our passports or for you to sign our passports?” I was definitely not above begging. “No – that requires a visa.” (No need to mention the cost for a visa.) So, he waived us in and gave us a small bag of peanuts sitting on his desk – our consolation prize. And so we walked into Uganda with no stamp but eating consolation peanuts. We found the least grungy border hotel, had a warm soda, took some photos, and walked back to Rwanda.

Our time in Rwanda had been great – amazing stories, smiles, laughter, and gorgeous nature. But this adventure was different than everything else. We had conspired together and embarked on a journey that was not planned. No one was in charge and it was all slightly unknown. Both an American and a Rwandan (specifically from that region) visited Uganda for the first time. The smiles and bounces in everyone’s walk were larger than I have seen them any other time. I am so thankful for the good, spontaneous decisions we made that day. Together we journeyed and were filled with joyful adventure.

volcano and clouds

Every day we were in Cyanika it rained. The days started like this – blue sky, sun and clouds around the volcano. The clouds continued to build until the rain started somewhere between noon and 1pm. Predictable and beautiful.

hills or mountains

Rwanda is called the land of a 1000 hills. I struggle a bit with this concept of hill. They do not have the beautiful jagged rocks topping them like the rockies, but the tops have been rounded off with time and their sides are covered with (slightly) terraced farms. But the tops of many of these ‘hills’ are between 7,000 and 8,000 feet. This is far from a perfect picture, but hopefully it helps you get the idea.

seeing stones

“Once you have seen a stone, it cannot harm you.” ~paraphrase of Rwandese proverb

Today was spent with a Rwandese colleague and friend discussing monitoring and evaluation. Not exactly most people’s idea of a grand day. Given the choice, my workday would have been filled with visiting projects because being in the field fills me up and reminds me why I love my job. Instead, today was a reminder of why hours spent in meetings, days spent in the office, and seemingly weeks creating plans are worth it.

In the midst of a seven hour conversation, my friend told me of a Rwandese proverb. Farmers spend hours working their fields with hoes. To turn the soil, they grasp their hoe with both arms and use the strength of their body to lift their hoe high and push it deep into the soil. When the hoe comes down on an unseen rock, the shock of the hoe hitting the rock reverberates through their entire body, hurting to the core. But, if the rock is seen, the farmer can avoid the rock and the ensuing pain.

Most of the time I tell stories about partners doing amazing work and communities being transformed. Stories and images that inspire. But we spend a lot of time looking for stones that could cause roadblocks and pain along the way – stories that are untold. Weeks, months, and years invested in the details and in communities. Stones mean that a water project takes longer to implement, a latrine is not constructed quite right, communities are not transformed, expansion happens faster than is sustainable, or that needed funds are not raised. Monitoring and evaluation plans are about looking for stones. It is not glamorous but is critical to success. And so tomorrow will be spent just like today: seven hours of conversation looking for stones.

This entry was written for Blood:Water Mission. Check them out at

in the shadow of the gorillas

As I drove north from Kigali today I saw signs for Volcanoes National Park, each of which had gorillas on them. This park is one of the famous ones in Africa; here you can pay good money to see gorillas that are now heavily protected. I finally asked, “Is the park near here?” You see, Rwanda is a small country, so maybe these were just signs to tempt the tourists. But moments later we passed a sign that read, 11 km this way. I was close enough to wild animals I had never seen that I could practically taste it, and I thought to myself, “Maybe next trip I will plan an extra day in Rwanda.” 

As we approach the project area, which is called Cyanika (pronounced chy-a-nika), I realized that we are practically underneath the park, and that the Cyanika region spills over to the next hill, butting up against Uganda. And that is when I connect the dots: the Batwa were kicked out of the Volcanoes National Park. 

The Batwa are pygmies who originally lived in the forest and now struggle to survive in their forced new lifestyle. Through the amazing, transformative work of MOUCECORE (Blood:Water Mission’s partner in this project), the Rwandese in Cyanika have reached out to the Batwa and are teaching them skills they need to survive. Skills like basic agriculture, nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, and how to build permanent homes. The people of Cyanika also found land for the Batwa to build homes. When able, they have provided for the Batwa. Although the Batwa still have a long way to go, my heart is full from what I have heard. 

This group of Batwa number less than 150. 

Today rain and time prevented me from visiting the Batwa. Next time I will plan an extra day in Rwanda to visit with the Batwa, who live in the shadow of the gorillas. 


[Note: this is my understanding of the situation.]

it’s just not simple

In Southern Rwanda, I visited the villages of Kanyonyera and Rubugu where I saw water lines and water taps recently constructed by a local partner organization. The cement platforms and structures were well constructed, and the piping and hardware well chosen and installed. A seemingly ideal image of water provision in a rural region.
In Kanyonyera, a woman by the name of Pellina told us of the value of this water tap. She said that they used to get water at the lake, which was dirty and was a long way to walk. This problem was compounded by children collecting water who could only stand on the edge of the lake, where the water was the dirtiest. To top it off, every year children would die from drowning in the lake. Pellina was happy about the clean, flowing water at the tap. 

A little while later I noticed Pellina, deep in conversation, did not seem happy. I found out that the mud bricks near the water tap were hers. She planned to build a house, but the land she was going to use was taken to build the water tap. Now she had clean, flowing water, but no place to build her house. In such circumstances, the Rwandan government works to compensate the individual and provide alternate land. But, that was still in the process of happening, and today Pellina was stuck in the middle of the complexities of development. She had mud bricks to use, she had access to clean water, and she had no place build her home.

Clean water provision is so simple on paper. People need water, and water is provided. People walk long distances carrying large quantities of water by hand or by head, and now they walk short distances. People had little water to spare for laundry and hand washing, and now more is available. It would seem that the simple provision of clean water would solve so many problems. And yet we were told of a another village where a team (not funded by Blood:Water) came in and drilled a well. Fantastic…except the people never used the well. I don’t know if the water did not taste good, did not smell good, was in a politically poor location in the village, or if there was some other cultural issue. Bottom line is that a well was drilled but was not used; a ‘simple’ solution did not work. 


This past week I found myself in Arusha, a town near Mount Kilimanjaro to attend a conference. The conference itself was interesting, but beyond that also I got to go on a site visit to a school and a Massai women’s group, and visited the Rwanda War Tribes Tribunal. The most interesting thing at the school was the biofuel that was being used to in the kitchen (the school was boarding school). The biofuel was made of compacted sawdust. It is less expensive than the alternatives (wood, charcoal, or kerosene), burns extremely hot and for long periods of time, and produces no smoke. Absolutely fantastic!

The Massai women sung and danced for us. They make bracelets and necklaces to sell to tourists…seeing as all the money goes directly to the women, I couldn’t help but buy a few things. The women watched as I tried on different bracelets and admired the necklaces. Then when a woman pulled a necklace off her neck similar to the ones I was admiring, it was impossible to not buy it.

The Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal has been going since the end of the Rwanda genocide. As it is in Arusha and open to the public, it seemed that I should attend. Most of the people wore black robes, and one even had a wig. I sat listening with my headphones to the translators as the lawyers, judges, and witness went between French and English. Nothing earth shattering, but it was good to simply sit in a trial and see how they are done.