I have been meaning to write this wrap-up post for our trip for a few days... not sure why (or what happens differently,) but some days I can pump out a ton of words in no time and others... well... I can get hung up editing my first sentence for a half-hour.
At any rate, Sunday dawned in Kigali and after an hour or two of hard-core packing (I was bringing home some Rwandan beer for Dan and needed to make sure it was well-cushioned!) we ate breakfast. We had been served eggs for breakfast every single morning of the trip, and for the few among us (ok, it's Kathy and I) who aren't fans of eggs, it was really no biggie-- we simply opted for toast with jam and lots of coffee or what they call milk-tea (delicious chai tea with milk and sugar.) The kids (who at home eat cereal or oatmeal 90% of the time) were thrilled to have eggs.... but by day 9 were a little over them. I told Shami they were used to eating cereal and peanut butter sandwiches every day, so this had been an adjustment for them. He told me he had those "cheap staples" at his place, and had I said so sooner, he would have brought some over. Who knew! (And whoever thought the kids would ever prefer cereal to eggs...)
After breakfast, we headed to Shami and Emily's church, Christian Life Assembly. It is an English-speaking church and felt much like my home church, PCC, although with a Rwandan flair. It was an amazing feeling... here we are, in Kigali, Rwanda, surrounded by mostly African nationals... and singing out together, "Christ alone, cornerstone. Weak made strong in the Savior's love, through the storm, he is Lord, Lord of all." Love it! And, I thought, who knows, six hours later, my friends back home might be singing the same song. How cool!
After church we went to visit Emily's Rwandese mom, Mama Nyanja. Like many older Rwandese, she has a storied history, having lived through the genocide. She lost her children (thought they were dead) and was reunited with them years later. Yet to see and meet her, you would never know she had lived through such crazy circumstances. She was probably the most outgoingly joyful person I have ever met, constantly "yelling" at Emily in Kinyarwanda and laughing, hugging all of us multiple times (although at one point she had Kathy wrapped in an extended embrace, and called to Emily over her shoulder, "I know this is your sister! I can tell!" Emily laughingly pointed out that, no, I was actually the sister and Kathy is a cousin. Well Mama dropped Kathy like a hotcake and scuttled over to give me the long, joyful hug experience.) We were only able to visit with her for a few minutes and we had to head for the airport. Before we left, Mama gave us a half dozen bananas to take with us "for the road."
We made it to the airport with no trouble, unloaded our luggage and headed inside. Thus began the long and painful process of saying goodbyes... I could feel the tears welling up inside as the kids all hugged Emily and Shami goodbye. I told hugged Shami and (tearfully) told him thank you for taking such good care of my sister. Then I hugged Emily... and lost it. :( I hate goodbyes. And it's not that she isn't exactly where she is supposed to be, or that I worry about her all that much... it's just that... it's so far! And she's all alone over there so far from family... I guess it all just piled up on me and I was a mess. I finally pulled it together, and we went inside to tackle ticketing.
(taken just before we said goodbye)
Once we finally got the airlines to only check our luggage through to DC and not Philly (see Day 1 for that ridiculous saga) we went upstairs. The kids were hungry, so we all went to the coffee shop to get samosas for the plane.Well. Apparently our plane was scheduled to leave earlier than expected (of course we couldn't get out of the country without more plane drama!!!) because we were paged over the intercom to pass through security for immediate departure. Our samosas were in the oven and we had already paid for them, so Kathy and I waited for them while Alezah took the kids through security. They couldn't board the plane, however, because I had all the passports. When Kathy and I finally had the food (and had chugged a final Coke!) we got in line, and soon after, an airline official irritatedly asked us to come to the front of the line, ostensibly so the plane could leave on time. (We had checked the departure time earlier that morning and were WELL ahead of schedule. Who knows...) So Kathy and I start wiggling our way to the front of the line, only to be elbowed and to have our carry-ons shoved aside by some more assertive male passengers. I gave the official the "YOU see what's going on! What do you want ME to do about it?!" look. We made it through, amidst much bumping and jostling, and then... we had to throw away the bottled water I had JUST purchased at the coffee stand!!
Finally, we met Alezah and the kids at the gate, rushed onto the plane... and found out we were seated in 3 different groups. At this point, I was like like... whatever. Let's just sit down and we will figure it out later. We pass out the samosas, the plane takes off, and we land shortly thereafter in Entebbe. At this point, about 100 older Ugandan muslim men and women board (looks like they are headed to a conference as they are all wearing lanyard name tags.) I am sitting with Livi next to me and Will directly behind me. As all these people slooowwwly board, Will starts having issues. He wants to sit next to me. I am sympathetic, but realistic: I can do nothing to help this situation right now, kiddo, you just gotta wait. Well about 10 minutes later, a Ugandan woman taps me on the shoulder and loudly and clearly states, "Excuse me. Ma'am? Your child is crying." I turn around to Will in tears. AHHHHH!!! And keep in mind I am not even sitting with Hallie and Tristan; I have no clue how they are faring. I get Will calmed down... and we make it to Addis. One more flight! As we leave Entebbe, the sun is setting.
We sit around Addis for a couple hours and then board about 10:15pm local time. We are flying at night this time, so I am hopeful for a smooth night ahead. After a couple hours, the kids zonk out (as do we all!) ... but around 2am we awaken to the cabin lights coming on... and the plane descending. Apparently on the return flight from Addis to DC there are strong headwinds, so they stop in Rome to refuel. Rome, as in ITALY. If it had not been 2am, I would have been much madder that, on my first time in Italy, I did not even get to deplane. Thankfully the kids slept through the pitstop, and an hour or so later, we were winging our way westward again. The kids slept about 8 hours (amazing!!!) and I think we adults fared about as well. The sun chased us across the Atlantic and finally caught us, just as we landed at Dulles.
(sunrise out the plane window)
We collected our luggage and after waiting in a tortuously long line (seriously, Olivia had about HAD IT by this point...) we made it through customs and... we were home free! We stopped at Starbucks (obvi) and headed back up to Philly, where I dropped off Kathy and Alezah (who was flying home to Ohio the next day.) Then I drove (the longest) 2 hours home by myself, with 4 tired, jet-lagged, cranky, excited-to-see-daddy, stir-crazy kids. We finally made it at about 3pm local time on Monday.
I was exhausted. My memories of that afternoon/evening are very hazy... I remember sitting at the counter and Dan telling me not to fall asleep! And I remember wanting him to come stand by me so I could just lean against him... (not to sleep, I swear!) haha. I think I made it to 6:30 that evening before I went and laid down on our bed "just to rest"... and woke up 12 hours later! Over the next few days we all transitioned out of jetlag and back to normal. The trip was over.
I want to publicly thank Kathy and Alezah for all their help on the trip... if they had not been with me, I could not have done what we did! I hope we get to travel again someday together. Also thanks to Dan for supporting me continuing on the trip, and to Emily and Shami for being the most gracious, fun hosts ever. And thanks to the Lord for keeping us all safe and (mostly!) healthy and bringing us home again in one piece!
As I have thought back to our time in Rwanda over the past few weeks, there is so much I didn't tell here. So many memories, so much laughter, so much we saw and did and learned... too much to tell in a smattering of blog posts.
On our way to the water filtration project, we had passed a small school in a village called (something like) Shining Stars Academy. While I don't remember the exact name of the school, the tagline on the sign was "Choose to shine bright." I loved that. Isn't it true -- that shining is a choice we can make? I love that kids in a Rwandan village are being taught they can go big places and be big people... and that they can choose to shine bright. I hope that all of us, not matter what we do or where we call home, will choose to shine bright, every day. Let's remember the kids in a sunny village in a faraway land... and honor them by choosing to shine bright.